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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2011
Writer's Compass presents a methodology for constructing the 1st draft of your story -- as a map -- allowing you to view and know your story on a single page. The methodology enhances the standard 3 part structure and 5 plot points with additional elements, building your draft in 7 stages. Being able to view your entire story, including stories B and C on a single piece of paper (I recommend a large sketch pad) is a powerful advantange. You can not see your story if it is burried in pages and pages of an outline, or pages and pages of a rough draft. You will tend to wander off into the weeds and bore the hell out of your audience. The Writer's Compass is also a great tool for a collaboration team of writers. The team can split up scenes, plot points, sub-plots, and know where it is all headed, know how and where to connect the dots by following the map.

Book negatives. I think the author tries to do too much in one book: she tries to cover all aspects of writing a novel\screenplay in short chapters where complete books have already been written that cover these topics. If you're new to story writing, then these chapters may be useful to you. Otherwise ...

Here is a glimpse of what's inside the book:

Contents:

Part 1 - Building a Writing Life
Part 2 - The Story Map and the 7 Stage Process
Creating Your Story Map
Developing Ideas
Building a Strong Structure
Creating Characters
Dialog
Structuring Scenes
Increasing Tension

Again, some of these chapters are covered much more completely elsewhere by entire books. But if you're new ...

For the new writer and for the experienced writer, and writing teams, collaborators, the chapters on building a story map will be a gold mine. With the methodology in this book, you will build a stronger, more intense story.

Read Nancy Dodd's book. Then get John Truby's or Robert McKee's book. Add what those writers teach about story to Nancy Dodd's story map methodology - and you'll be fully armed to tell a compelling, suspensefilled story.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2011
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Reviewed by C. J. Singh (Berkeley, CA)
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THE FOCUS ON THE THREE-ACT structure makes "The Writer's Compass" equally applicable to short story, novel, screenplay, and stage-play writing.

Basically, there are two very different approaches to generating the preliminary draft of a novel: Bottom Up and Top Down. The bottom-up approach calls for beginning with characters in a scene fragment; developing the fragment into a full scene; and then growing the scene into a sequence of scenes. The top-down approach begins with a one-sentence statement of what the novel is about; expanding the sentence to a paragraph that describes the major events and the end; sketching each of the major characters; listing the scenes; and synopsizing in a 1000-word or longer essay.

"The Writer's Compass" combines the best elements of the two approaches to present, stage-by-stage, the process of organically creating a map for your story. "As you come to know the characters, the plot, the obstacles, and the background, what you are really trying to say will emerge and develop.... Then when someone offers you feedback, you will know whether it will improve your story or lead you away from the story you want to write" (page 25).

It's impressive how effectively Nancy Dodd packs so much excellent instruction in just 216 pages. In the introduction, she sets up the book like "a three-act structure with Acts I, II, and III, represented as Beginning, Middle, and End" (p 1). The bibliography includes Syd Field, who pioneered screenwriting-craft books based on the three-act concept and plot points in his book, SCREENPLAY. Later, he added the concept of pinch points Refreshingly, Dodd is far more flexible on the location of the plot points than Field.

Part I, "Building a Writing Life" draws on Nancy Dodd's own experience while completing an MFA and a Master of Professional Writing degrees at the University of Southern California. Inspiring 24 pages, replete with practical tips.

Part II begins by explaining the concept of the story map and detailing the seven stages to a finished draft. Dodd titles the Seven Stages as follows:

"Stage 1: Forming Stories and Developing Ideas,

"Stage 2: Building Strong Structures,

"Stage 3: Creating Vibrant Characters,

"Stage 4: Structuring Scenes, Sequences, and Transitions,

"Stage 5: Increasing Tension and Adjusting Pacing,

"Stage 6: Enriching the Language and Dialogue,

"Stage 7: Editing the Hard Copy and Submitting."

Part III is devoted to goal-setting and writer's lifestyle.

Dodd's emphasis on planning the draft is highly persuasive: "When a story is developed strategically using the 7-stage process your writing is stronger and does not have to be revised as many times. For example, Stage 6 is `Enriching the Language and Dialogue.' If this task occurs before the structure is in place or the characters are developed, the writer finds herself needing to rewrite but not wanting to `disturb' the writing that has already been perfected. Because of this, she may hold on to scenes or bits of dialogue that do not work" (p 2). Exactly.

I wish I had this book to cite couple of months ago at the concluding workshop of my MFA degree program, when I argued that the overemphasis on the bottom-up approach leads to "darlings," which, many fiction-craft books advise writers to "kill your darlings" (citing Ernest Hemingway). I argued that it's better to avoid having darlings in the first place by focusing on the structure of the narrative before writing the preliminary draft.

Chapter 3 introduces the story map as "a type of outline written horizontally instead of vertically. It is more visual and does not need to be written in some sort of chronological flow. Nor does the story map need to be as detailed as an outline, and it has to contain only the essential elements good stories need" (p 35). Template of the story map is available for downloading at [...]. (I promptly made enlarged copies of the template on 11x17 sheets for my writing projects.) The chapter concludes with a suggestion to create a picture map using your drawing talent or by downloading clip art "that represent elements of your story" (p 59). I worried about the picture map. I'll go for the clip art suggestion Dodd offers. In any case the picture map is optional.

Chapters 4 through 10 explain step-by-step the process of developing the draft in the seven stages. Throughout these chapters examples abound from classic and contemporary works by writers like Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and Toni Morrison; playwrights like William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, and Susan Glaspell; and films like "Beauty and the Beast," "Blade Runner," "Star Wars," and "Memento."

Five shining stars for this book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2011
This little book with wonderful graphic layout delivers exactly what it promises (somewhat rare these days). It leads you from a story map to as far as to your finished story draft. For a strictly non-outlining writer: the story map is extremely useful tool (no exaggeration here). Definitely recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2012
Masterful. I have really used this book as a tool to improve my own fiction writing stage by stage. I have stacks of books on writing, but most are highly theoretical and I never found the tools I needed in any of them. Dodd's book is different. This is a real "how to" by someone who really understands the theory, craft, and art of writing. I think any aspiring writer or anyone with a story trapped inside should buy this book and keep it at hand.

Finally a book on how to write that actually teaches people how to write!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2014
This is hands down the best instructional writing book I have read. It resonates with me as no other self help writing book has. It's like taking a class. The topics are very well organized and the book itself is well structured. Directions for creating a story map are clear and concise. It details the different writing styles, and how to apply the lessons to what ever your personal writing style may be. It gives in depth understanding of what it means be a "writer". This is one book that will genuinely take you from story idea to a finished draft. Each of the seven stages is clearly delineated. I have read this book from beginning to end. I started at the beginning and made a concerted effort not to skip around. I'm glad I didn't. For me, the book follows a clearly marked, distinct path, which has lead to a positive writing experience.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2011
Perfect book for getting to the heart of what is necessary in writing a novel. A must for anyone who is serious about writing and serious about getting published.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2013
this is a very good book - first I got ahead of the estimated time and to that Thank You Amazon -
the book is great in that in sets inside you your true compass and truly is very supportive in helping you out with letting the story you have inside, it helps you put it in paper bit by bit, there are very generous ideas and exercises about the whole writing process, the writer is very authentic in expressing her desire to help writers and she delivered
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2013
I found the concepts in this book EXTREMELY understandable; Nancy Ellen Dodd - at least in my opinion - has taken all the classical explanations of storytelling skills and explained them in a way that makes complete sense and is very easy to remember. Out of all the books I've studied about how to tell and write fiction, this is the most memorable one. She's found a way of combining the three-act structure with several other concepts to create a "picture" or "map", which can be applied to any story, fictional or not. I really enjoyed this book.

I do have one minor complaint. It almost seemed that she was on an agenda with the use of the feminine third-person pronoun "she". Everything was "she" or "her", and I only remember one instance of "he" being used, and this in a negative light, in reference to an editor who didn't "get" one of her personal story submissions. It seems to me that if you're going to attract people to your side of the feminist agenda, this overuse of the pronoun "she" becomes so noticeable so as to detract from the overall message of the book, which is not feminism, but storytelling. She could have said "he or she", or "he/she", etc.

Nonetheless, as I said, this is a MINOR complaint, and is just my opinion. I think this book is awesome, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2014
I am fifty five, more than half a century old, and yet have written very few books. I have read dozens of books and magazines about how to write but still felt confused and like I didn't know what I was doing. I've had news stories and essays published but just couldn't seem to figure out the fiction. Structure and style seemed to be my biggest problem and I felt like giving up numerous times because I knew what I was writing was crap, but I didn't know what to do about it.

I am so happy I found this book. I am only on stage 2, but the writer has taken me to a place where I now feel inspired. In the first chapter, she describes her own experience with being confused, all of the classes, workshops, books, critique groups, I think she felt buried too. But finally she had a light-bulb moment and everything fell into place. The result was The Writer's Compass and it is the best book on how to write I've ever read. At the very least, it is a good place to start and then read more books that go into further details about character, style, plot, structure, etc.

This book has given me direction and I'm grateful for it. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has aspirations to write fiction.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
Nancy Ellen Dodd's book is quite simply the best single book on storytelling and writing ever written. I should know as I've shelves of such books in my workspace and have read them all. Like writing classes and graduate degrees, both of which I've completed some years ago, everyone comes at the basic concepts of good storytelling using slightly different and thereby confusing terms and emphases. The book, The Writer's Compass, distills all of that down to the essentials of all well-told stories, then gives you seven steps, each building on the previous, in which anyone can build a story into a thorough, deep, well-thought-out-and-executed story in any format desired, from novel to screenplay to play and so on. Although I worked on my own novel throughout grad school and well beyond, Nancy's method for coming at the story, the meaning, the importance to me as author through her drafting system crytalized what I was trying to do. I cannot recommend her book more highly. My novel, The Sausage Maker's Daughters, will be out this November so you can judge for yourself the result of Nancy's remarkable, user-friendly, and thorough method as explained in The Writer's Compass.
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