Writing About Writing About Writing Review 8

Part 8 of an intermittent series where I read or re-read the writing books on my shelf to see if they’re worth keeping. See previous part here

I’ve been on my holidays for a couple of weeks but i still managed to re-read a couple of the books on the shelf.

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I got the Bestseller code as an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) some point in the past. The authors have used ‘big data’ analysis methods to study thousands of books for patterns that bestsellers (NYT Bestsellers) share. There’s some interesting information in here (but it’s in no way a ‘how to write’ book) not least of which is the shape of stories in bestsellers. Also how Dan Brown and E L James write similar books beat-wise (but obviously very different plots). They analyse character, theme and style and say that their model can predict a bestseller with over 90% probability. This book was published in 2017 and I wonder how the model has evolved since and if any publishers have started using it.

It’s an interesting read and I think I’ll keep it but it won’t stay on the ‘how to’ book shelf.

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My copy of Understanding Fiction by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren was published in the 40’s so it’s a bit musty. There is a 3rd edition on Amazon from 1979. Brooks and Warren present a book aimed at teachers of fiction with a collection of classic and contemporary (30’s/40’s) stories that highlight how fiction works in 5 sections and an appendix. There is a note for the teacher (which for some odd reason goes off on a tangent about irony) and explores fiction by intention, what plot, character and theme reveals, ‘special problems’ (style, atmosphere, symbolism etc.) and an appendix on ‘Principles on the composition of fiction.’

Having read the stories before (some of which are quite old and dull e.g. Kipling, Dickens, but some of which are old and still fresh e.g. Chekov, Bierce) I re-read the commentary and appendix. Although it’s a bit fusty it’s more useful (imho) than The Art of the Short Story – which attempts the same thing, but the commentary on stories in that book are by the authors of the stories and very hit and miss.

I found the information to be mostly still relevant and am retaining this one even though its a bit of a monster at over 500 pages. However it seems to be quite expensive to obtain and if I hadn’t picked it up at a second hand shop I wouldn’t have sought it out at the kind of price being asked for. (The fact that the cheapest UK copy on Abebooks is over £100 tempts me to sell my copy!)

Next up I’ll start on the ‘How to Fiction’ pile starting with a general guide to writing: “The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing,” which is over 600 pages so may take a while. After that I’ll read the classics like Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones (I’ll literally start with the classics though! I have a Penguin copy of Aristotle, Horace & Longinus called “Classical Literary Criticism” which I’ll read after the Norton.) This is going to be a long series of posts, I do have a lot of writing books!

Drop a comment with your favourite writing book or tip here or email me via the Contact page. If you’re a publisher or Indie Author and would like me to review your writing book drop me a line!

Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

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