How to be a Fantastic Writer, by Danuta Reah & Penny Grubb: #BookReview.

Subtitled ‘A Handbook for Writers of Commercial Fiction’, this book is precisely what it says it is. As a reader, I’ve tended to shy away from what I saw as ‘commercial’ fiction, but, in practice, I now realise I’ve actually read a good deal of it. As a writer, my fiction veers toward the non-commercial, if sales are a reliable guide. (They are on a certain level, of course, but they’re only a single factor among many).

Having seen the names of the writers these two excellent authors include in the examples they use from commercial fiction, I perhaps need to re-adjust my own definition of the genre. Who wouldn’t want to be in the same company as Charles Dickens, Stephen King, and Kurt Vonnegut?

So, I’d already learned a valuable lesson before the book even starts.

The authors have diligently studied the structure and techniques of fiction writers to reach conclusions they can pass on to readers here.

They’ve analysed many works to discover why some succeed and others fail. And the hints and examples that arise from this study they pass on to those who want to learn. Count me in!

The topics covered include the understanding of structures within the novel: flashback, time-jumps, point-of view, and descriptive prose, and they examine how different approaches can affect the tension and pace of a scene. All valuable insights for the author who wants to gain readers.

How students of technique use the book is left to individuals. There are no hard and fast rules, merely examples provided with analysis pointing out strengths and weaknesses. Different approaches are suggested for beginners and experienced writers.

I don’t plot: it doesn’t work for me. But plotting is probably the best way to begin when new to the craft. For me, working as a pantster, the advice presented in this book is much more useful during the initial editing stage; that period of intense restructuring and attention to detail that follows the creative burst. I have three or four unpublished novels I now feel would benefit from the techniques and structures advised here. I certainly intend to follow the erudite guidance and see whether I can rescue these potentially good reads from oblivion. It’s an exercise I look forward to under the instruction of these two gifted writers who share their knowledge so well.

The manual is divided into only 6 chapters, but each is then subdivided into numerous discrete packages presented in a form that’s easily absorbed and followed.

I gave the book a full read-through initially, to see whether it would be of benefit to the writer of several published several novels. And the answer is it most definitely will. A second reading exposed many new ideas to me and filled me with such inspiration that I’m now eager to put these to the test.

A very useful addition to the library of any writer, but especially valuable to those who want to try their hand at commercial fiction.


[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]

Purchase direct from the publisher, here.

2 thoughts on “How to be a Fantastic Writer, by Danuta Reah & Penny Grubb: #BookReview.

  1. This sounds really useful. I write commercial fiction, but am also a pantser. It took me ages to realise that all the plotting advice in books could apply just as well to when I’m doing the first big edit.

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