Monday, March 26, 2007

Books on Writing - Day 5

There are a few authors who always seem to be at the top of lists for books related to the "how-to" of fiction. One of those is usually James N. Frey. If nothing else, he has a catchy name for his series of books!

First came "How to Write a Damn Good Novel". Of course it was followed by "How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling". Somewhere in there he wrote about how to write a damn good mystery (seeing any pattern yet?).

I read the first two listed, but the best Frey book in my opinion is "The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth." This book is basically a discussion of the concept of the "hero's journey," popularized by Joseph Cambell. My friend Athena referred me to Frey's take on it as she felt it was more accessible as a book.

The idea of the hero's journey suggests that there are archtypes that we are almost hard-wired to enjoy, and by consciously weaving these elements into our fiction, we can tie into something that gives our works a resonance or power that enhances everything we've done. Frey gives plenty of examples from literature and movies (as the Star Wars saga is famously based off the hero's journey). It exists in Homer, classic novels, and numerous modern examples.

Frey goes on to discuss the various aspects of the mythic novel: the hero that is powerful yet has a flaw or need to grow, a powerful evil one to oppose the hero, a journey of transformation, sidekicks, femme fatales, threshold guardians. Even better, he begins to craft a novel within this book that follows all the guidelines he is discussing. This is one of the best practical examples of writing that I have seen in a "how-to" book.

This is one book that I have read again to glean more from it. One of the draws was the fact that my work in process matched so much of what Frey was teaching - unintentionally! Unknowingly, I had used many of these elements in my very basic attempt at putting together a compelling story. Wow.

This is one book I would highly recommend. The ideas do seem to be timeless. Obviously one would not want to be transparent in using this method as a framework for a novel, but the principles work well as a foundation when used skillfully.

I have a little more to share on writing resources still. Stay tuned.

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