- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; Edition Unstated edition (September 15, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0898798213
- ISBN-13: 978-0898798210
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 70 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #378,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes Edition Unstated Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
This month's Book With Buzz: "Stranger in the House" by Shari Lapena
In this neighborhood, danger lies close to home. A thriller packed full of secrets and a twisty story that never stops - from the bestselling author of "The Couple Next Door." See more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Fictional life, according to Jack Bickham, is better than real life. You don't get struck by lightning. You are not subject to random acts of cruelty. Events proceed logically. On the other hand, Bickham says, "In fiction, the best times for the writer--and reader--are when the story's main character is in the worst trouble." Not good if you're a fictional character. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes is as engaging as Bickham wants your fiction to be. It is sharp, focused, funny, and pointed. And it is demanding. Bickham, who has written over 65 novels and several fiction-writing guides, has little patience for wannabes. "Writers write," Bickham says. "Everyone else makes excuses." Bickham's pronouncements are decidedly negative: "Don't Describe Sunsets," advises one chapter; "Don't Write About Wimps"; "Don't Let [Your Characters] Be Windbags"; and "Don't Worry What Your Mother Will Think." But his lessons are positive. Behind each dictum is a terse, entertaining, and utterly well-reasoned examination of why the problem is a problem, and what you can do to expunge it from your prose. --Jane Steinberg
From School Library Journal
YA-- An easy-to-read book full of valuable information for would-be fiction writers. Bickham issues many ``don't'' statements, but says that behind every negative is a positive. He tries to help writers overcome the 1001 reasons that they develop ``blocks'' with common-sense advice. Slim enough to slip into a briefcase or to keep handy next to a typewriter or word processor, this book will remind some of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
You can read this in one sitting. Highlight memorable elaborative phrasings, then skim it before your next project.
I double check the table of contents before proofreading my own work or editing somebody else's.
TWO IDEAS I LIKE:
1. Character Actions.
(page 104) Characters should "do things for what they see as good reasons and that will achieve their ends. Don't have characters do things just because you, the author, want them to." Personally, I do not like the following which I have seen too often.
1. a character lies which does not fit his motivations.
2. heroine stupidity. I'm happy to read about a flawed or stupid heroine, but don't make a rational heroine do something illogical.
2. Too Much Pondering.
(page 66). "Scenes (peaks) represent the high points of excitement and conflict. Sequels (valleys) are quieter times when conflict is not on stage - when the character has time to feel emotion, reflect on recent developments, and plan ahead. Your character reacts to the disaster that just took place...then plans what he is going to do next. Scenes move swiftly; sequels move slowly. If your story feels slow, you may need to expand your scenes and cut or shorten sequels."
(page 22) "Don't write about wimps. It isn't interesting, watching somebody sit in his easy chair and ponder things. Your character has to be a person capable of action. He doesn't have to be a super hero. He may be active - refuse to give up or stop trying - yet still be scared or unsure of himself."
(pages 14-15): "Don't do long descriptions. Fiction is movement. Any description stops movement. Characters' thoughts and feelings are descriptions. Descriptions of the character's state of mind and emotion should be brief. The accomplished writer will tell (describe) a little, and demonstrate (show in action) a lot."
SEVEN IDEAS I QUESTION OR DISAGREE WITH:
(pages 62 and 104) Bickham says every scene/chapter must end in a disaster. I disagree. Bickham defines disaster as "Whatever your viewpoint character wants he must not get at the end of the scene. For if he does, he has suddenly become happy...story tension relaxes...the reader goes to sleep...and your story has failed. Most of your chapters must end with developments that hook the reader with a new twist, disaster or realization that defies the reader to quit at that point." Personally, hooks don't keep me reading. I read for specific periods of time and often stop in the middle of a chapter (like when I'm on the treadmill, when I'm in a waiting room, or when I'm on the train). I don't need hooks. Sometimes I don't want hooks. I look at the book as a whole. Things will be solved at the end. That keeps me reading.
I don't like requiring authors to jump through hoops to create hooks when it doesn't fit the flow. Scenes have natural endings. Some of them end with here's what I need to do next, or I've just met a new person.
2. Adjectives and Adverbs.
(page 59) Bickham discourages the use of adjectives and adverbs. Most experts agree with him. The thinking is don't use an adverb to help a weak verb. Use a stronger verb. That sounds reasonable to me, but I think too many experts go overboard in their ostracism of adverbs. J.K. Rowling uses tons of adverbs in the Harry Potter books. And her books are the most successful fiction books in the world! Following are some wonderful adverb examples from the first Harry Potter book. "eyed them angrily" "whispering excitedly" "acting oddly today" "said as casually as he could" "appeared so suddenly and silently." And for those of you who may argue that certain genres lend themselves to adverbs, please note that John Grisham also uses them liberally in his legal thrillers. Grisham is another top selling author. Examples from Grisham's book "The Client:" "slowly looked at Ricky" "he exhaled calmly." "Mark carefully picked a cigarette from his shirt pocket." "Mark suddenly remembered." "He mumbled loudly."
One author who writes about cutting adverbs wrote the following sentence in her novel. "Mary awaited his visits with the utmost impatience." This is clunky. I prefer "Mary impatiently awaited his visits."
Some editors say adverbs are like spices, use a little not a lot. They would probably consider Rowling and Grisham as too many. The bigger question is who should define "good writing" - english dept. academics and the experts they educate or all the people who buy the book? Personally I love the way Rowling and Grisham write.
I think the rule should be write the first word that comes to your mind. Then when you reread, evaluate the adverbs. Remove them if they are not helpful, if they are redundant, or if you find something better. But don't remove them because Big Brother says.
3. Tough Guys.
(page 97) Bickham discourages having a tough guy/gal because it represents a false pose. "The character denies all impulse at the delicate or the soft by being over-tough, over-cynical, over-gruff, or over-bitter." I wish Bickham would have shown examples. I would probably agree if he was talking about the cartoon villain tying the damsel to the railroad tracks. But one of my favorite characters is tough guy Jack Reacher by Lee Child. He's a top selling author. Tough guys are not always bad.
4. Check Facts.
I know "some" readers want facts, figures, and historical accuracy in their fiction. Therefore, I reluctantly accept Bickham's recommendation to fact check everything. But personally I don't care. I want to be entertained. And if the author makes things up I'm fine with it. In fact, sometimes made-up-things are more fun than existing things. I'm not reading fiction for an education. That's what encyclopedias are for. I recall a contemporary suspense book with a stealth helicopter that made no noise. The heroine was alerted to its presence by wind chimes. I thought the wind chimes alert was so cool. Even though those helicopters probably don't exist.
5. Outlines Rule, Don't Deviate With A Muse.
(page 69) Bickham wants writers to create an outline and not deviate. "Beware of late-blooming ideas that seem to come from nowhere during your writing of the project." I think this depends on the author. In my opinion, if you are moved, let the muse take you. Worry about logic and plot later. You can cut creative bursts later - maybe use them for something else. It's lack of creativity that hurts most books.
Stephen King never plans a plot. He thinks of a situation, puts characters into it, and then watches the characters try to work themselves out of it. Most of the time the outcome is something he never expected. He says "I plot as little as possible. Plotting and the spontaneity of real creation are not compatible" from his book "On Writing."
6. Don't Use Real People in Your Story.
(page 18) Bickman says they are dull. "Your idea for a character may begin with a real person, but to make him vivid enough for your readers to believe in him, you have to exaggerate tremendously, you have to make him practically a monster - for readers to see even his dimmest outlines." I don't have an opinion on this. But I do know that using real life people worked well for Stephen King. His first hit novel "Carrie" was based on two girls he knew - the two loneliest most reviled girls in his high school class. One of them had an overly religious mother. Steve combined the two girls into Carrie and used the religious mother as Carrie's mother. And yes he exaggerated the characters in his book. Steve might be an exception, but he is a top selling author.
7. Point of View.
(pages 34 and 35) "In a novel, there may be several viewpoints, but one must clearly dominate. It's a fatal error to let your viewpoint jump around from character to character, with no viewpoint clearly dominating. Figure out whose story it is. Get inside that character - and stay there." My thoughts follow.
A. I usually do not like stories that are told from one viewpoint. For example, a bad guy enters a home and kidnaps a child. The main character (detective) is told that the child was kidnaped and takes action to solve the case. Because I was never in the bad guy's head or the child's head, I never saw how it happened, I never had a feeling about the bad guy, and I never experienced the child's fear or trauma. So I like multiple viewpoints, which Bickham allows but discourages.
B. In the novel "Carrie," no one is the main viewpoint character. The reader is in the minds of many different characters throughout the book. It worked. I liked watching the thoughts and feelings of various characters. But this was an exception and may not be the best advice for others.
SEVEN MORE IDEAS I LIKE:
1. Start your story with a threat - change.
2. Fiction must be more logical than real life.
3. Be obvious, not subtle.
4. Don't write in slang where you drop letters and use apostrophes.
5. (pages 29 and 104) Avoid excessive luck or coincidence. Fix it so the character has the desired experience by trying, rather than by luck. Reading about someone blundering along, getting lucky, is neither interesting nor inspiring.
6. Once you introduce a character, like a doorman saying something, use the doorman later to do other things. It's better to have fewer characters. The same applies to events. If you have a car accident, try to do other things relating to it. For example someone has an injury. Someone else saw the accident and does something as a result.
7. (page 104) The ending of the book "must answer the question you posed at the outset - clearly and unequivocally." My thoughts: I've read too many books with unsatisfying endings because they were incomplete or too abrupt. I love epilogues.
Story length: 117 pages. Swearing and sexual content: none. Copyright: 1992. Genre: nonfiction.
Learning the creative writing craft is not easy. There are issues of pacing, plotting, character development, setting, description, point of view and viewpoint character perspective, showing not telling, etc., that all must come together in your writing. These essential elements are all addressed in this book with his rules of thumb. Perhaps those who gave the book low ratings already know all those aspects about writing. My writing is pretty good and improving all the time and a lot of this I knew from reading several books on novel writing and reading about the craft as well as taking writersonlineworkshops. However, when I started I wish I'd seen this book earlier and followed his advice. If you are teaching yourself or if you are seriously interested in improving in the actual mechanics of the process and craft of creative writing this book as well as books like: Frey's, Sol Stein's book, Writing tools and self editing for fiction writers, among others, are must have books.
His tone could be better in that he's pretty strong willed and blunt about presenting an example of a mistake and saying things like: "Don't do this. It looks dumb. Do this instead. Here is why." Regardless, I'll give the author 5 stars because the advice is generally correct and to the point. If someone wants to argue he gave 1 point of bad advice about something (I didn't see it) maybe they also need to remember the "rule" about creative writing - there are no rules (just "write")!
Most recent customer reviews
This thin volume is packed with solid information in an easily understood format. It's succinct, focused, and often humorous.Read more