I like Googling things. Sometimes, I’m told that I should Google things rather than ask questions. I don’t always agree with this. But Google is treated as a library, encyclopedia, professor and research assistant. Like it or not, you gotta get with the times, kiddo. However, Googling only gets me so far. In my opinion, nothing beats a good, educational book. AKA: a textbook.
Why read textbooks when you can just read novels? I’ve frequently heard that the best way to learn to write is to read a lot of novels, then slyly steal styles and techniques. I guess that’s one way of doing it, but I also like to read books on how to write alongside works by other authors, so I better understand the tools they are employing. Then I can make mental notes on how they use them effectively. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then how can you take it and use it?
Incidentally, over a year ago (pre-Covid, I should say) I sat next to someone on the train to university reading a writing textbook. It was called Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by Nancy Kress. Intrigued, I tried to read it next to them without them noticing me peering over their shoulder.
What I noticed is that this book had practice exercises. I like exercises and drills, more than I like Googling things. What can I say? The grade school mentality never left me.
Even more intrigued, I looked up the book on Amazon. I went through the previews on my phone next to the man reading Kress’ book, but he seemed too engrossed to care. The reviews seemed good, so I bought the book and finished it.
Overall, I’d say this book is great if you’re trying to improve how to write characters, aren’t sure what you’re doing wrong and/or how to fix it, or even if you want to refine techniques. Kress lays out the basics clearly and succinctly. She also does an excellent job of explaining how to show rather than tell characters’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions (that relentless phrase we’re all sick of hearing). She provides numerous examples to support her instructions, which I found helpful in understanding the concepts she presents.
And really, what’s wrong with running through the basics? I do it all the time in martial arts; you must perfect the basics to build up to the tougher stuff. Like Kress notes in her book, if you’re struggling with the basics, editors and agents may be less likely to work with you. So get in there and read it, even if you think you have it all figured out!
This isn’t to say that online resources aren’t helpful, either. I learned a lot from podcasts, Limyaael’s Rants, and the r/writing subreddit. Still, reading this book was immensely helpful. I recommend it if you’re struggling to understand concepts like showing rather than telling emotions, or want to write stronger, more complex characters and utilize various viewpoints effectively.
Any thoughts? Want more details on the book? Have links to good resources? Disagree with me entirely? I’m happy to hear either way, just leave a comment below.