There’s a lot of very useful information for the aspiring novelist in this guide. A literary agent and experienced author of both fiction and non-fiction, Essinger knows his craft and presents some excellent advice here, breaking down and explaining terms often presented to aspiring authors, such as ‘show don’t tell’, how to make your story into a page-turner and how to make your characters both realistic and sympathetic.
There were spots where I thought Essinger dumbed down the explanation a little too much, such as when talking about ‘plants’, he doesn’t mention Chekov’s Gun, the dramatic principle that every element in a story must contribute to the whole. There were one or two oddities as well, such as using a specific book he admitted he hadn’t actually read to illustrate a concept, which I thought strange. And the fact that he doesn’t mention self-publishing as an option AT ALL struck me as deeply biased and frankly, snobbish. There are thousands of writers self-publishing books which mainstream publishers turned their noses up and doing a great job of it.
As a romance author, there were things Essinger says which directly contravene ‘conventional wisdom’ in my genre, such as never using first-person alternating to tell a story, something which is very common in romance as the reader likes to know the emotions of both main protagonists wherever possible. The examples Essinger uses are mainly from the literary fiction, suspense, and crime genres, though he also uses popular films such as Back to the Future and Titanic to illustrate his explanations. Much of the content here can be applied to any genre, particularly the appendices where he covers some really obvious mistakes novice writers often make. I think if you’re an aspiring romance author I’d point you to Writing the Romance Novel: Crafting a Love Story that Sells by Leigh Michaels rather than this, because romance has some very specific rules that aren’t covered here.
For anyone aspiring to write any other genre of fiction, there’s a lot of very sensible, professional advice here, even if the author is heavily biased towards the trad publishing model. Overall, I’ll give this four stars.
Writing Fiction: A User-Friendly Guide is available now.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book via Rachel’s Random Resources.
Author Bio –
James Essinger has been a professional writer since 1988. His non-fiction books include Jacquard’s Web (2004), Ada’s Algorithm (2013), which is to be filmed by Monumental Pictures, and Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership (2019). His novels include The Mating Game (2016) and The Ada Lovelace Project (2019).
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