There are tons of writing craft books out there, and I’ve read a lot of them. And then, there are those craft books I keep returning to again and again. The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing by David Morrell is one of those books. Morrell, author of First Blood, The Brotherhood of the Rose, Testament, The Totem, and most recently, Murder as a Fine Art, Inspector of the Dead, and Ruler of the Night, is a master thriller writer, one of the best working today, so a book on the craft of writing from his perspective is a must read for anyone serious about writing fiction. With four decades writing bestsellers, let’s just say he has a lot to say about writing and the publishing business.
With chapters broken down into lessons, we start with the real nitty gritty stuff: ‘Why Do You Want To Be a Writer?’ Sounds like an easy question, but it’s not. He’s serious, and you should be serious as well. Writing is tough, lonely, and takes a lot of discipline. But if you’ve always wanted to write, and you’re serious, then you’ll get there if you put in the work. The next lesson, ‘Getting Focused’, is the lesson that resonated with me the most. I’m definitely not a ‘pantser’; I need some kind of roadmap to navigate me through my story. Outlining is boring and frankly I’d rather watch paint dry, but it’s necessary for me to write. Morrell understands this, and offers a nice alternative to outlining that’s easy and fundamentally sound to achieving the focus you need to get started.
Continuing, the next lessons focus on plot, character, structure, point-of-view, even first person narrative, and all this before you even get to the lesson about ‘The First Page’. Along the way, Morrell supplies us with his personal insider information about writing and the publishing business you won’t find anywhere else. Another section of the book I found most inspirational was the lesson about ‘The First Person’. It’s a good chapter, and I highly recommend you approach it with an open mind, as many writers prefer the first-person narrative, which when done right, can be amazing. But when done wrong, well … chances your book will be published diminish quickly, regardless how compelling your character or story is. Though it sounds simple, first-person narrative is sneakily deceptive, and takes lots of practice to master to full effect.
Finishing off with Dealing with Writer’s Block and the Business of Writing, Morrell takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of his experience with getting First Blood adapted for film, and the continuing saga of John Rambo. Even though Morrell is not known as a horror genre writer, it’s important to know he is one of the masters of suspense, which is really what makes any story scary anyway. There are just as many ways to write your story as there are books about the craft of writing, and everyone likes to do it a little differently. If you’re serious about learning the craft and improving your writing, David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist comes highly recommended.
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