How to Write a Damn Good Novel is the single best book I have read
on the subject of writing dramatic fiction. While it doesn't go
into as much detail as various books dedicated to single aspects of
fiction writing such as Nancy Kress's Beginnings, Middles and Ends
or Jack M. Bickham's Scene and Structure, it's frankly amazing how
much practical advice the author, James N. Frey, managed to fit
into so few pages. This book isn't just a great guide to writing,
it's also a shining example of how to convey as much information as
possible in as few words as possible. Frey urges you not to waste
your readers' time, and certainly sets a good example in this regard.
It's worth noting that, although for brevity's sake the book title
claims to teach you how to write a novel, it actually teaches you
dramatic writing in general, which does apply to short stories as
well but doesn't apply to lofty literary endeavours.
If you're convinced that you must be naturally inspired by your muse,
then this book probably isn't for you. If you want to learn the
craft of planning, writing and rewriting a novel, and it's a task
you take seriously, then this guide is filled with indispensable
When you're first sketching out your idea for a story, Frey has
advice on articulating and sticking to its main premise, on ensuring
every event in the story adheres to cause and effect, and on pacing
both the whole story and each of its individual scenes so that they
all slowly rise to a climax.
After you've written your first draft, Frey talks you through rewriting
your story until it shines. He gives advice on how to make the
dialogue more colourful by making it indirect, and how to engage the
reader by describing sounds, smells, textures, tastes and movement
as well as the static images that are likely already in that initial
sketch of prose.
This book proves that the seemingly mystical process of writing a
good novel can be broken down into simple, realistically achievable
steps. The main requirements are effort and perseverance, plus a
little initial inspiration. With a determined attitude and the
techniques revealed in this book, it seems hard to go too far wrong.
This book does indeed live up to its claim of telling you how to
write a good novel. As long as you don't expect to write a brilliant
first draft, but instead set about your goal methodically and with
purpose, you should notice that each time you learn something else
from this book and rewrite your novel accordingly, the subsequent
draft is slightly better than the last, until finally you're left
with a gripping story, featuring tight structure and told with shining
Given its breadth of advice, if you can get only one book on writing
fiction, this should definitely be it. If you can get more than
one, this should be the first.