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Book Reviews
January, 2008


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Book Reviews - September
Only the best will do
By  Anthony Ackerley

Tune into IN reviews for the best of books about writing – all genres – from high adventure to haiku, from fact to fiction, cookbooks to commentary, and much, much more. Always check IN to see what's in. We only publish the best and our rating scale below is based upon the values of the three Es: Easy To Read, Educational, and Entertaining. If you have a how-to-write book that you would like us to read and possibly write a review about (we only publish reviews of books that we deem are best of the best) please send it to us. Our snail mail address can be found at Contacting IN.

Title: Writing For Soaps
Author: Chris Curry
Publisher: A&C Black
ISBN 10: 0-713-6612-16
IN Rating:

Review: Few things have held the public's interest over the years as much as Soap Operas have. My grandmother watches and records her stories daily and will fondly retell memories of shows past. To her, and countless others across the world, the characters and story-lines blur the line between fantasy and reality to become fixtures in their lives. When a favourite character dies, we cry. When we find out that Sheila has an evil twin who is pregnant with her husband's child, we gasp. And when the nefarious villain gets his, we cheer...and wonder when he'll be back. The stories may seem far fetched to some, often prompting comments like "I could write a better story than that." But is it really that easy? Not if you want to be a success. Chris Curry's Writing For Soaps reveals just what you need to write those stories and gives her readers the tools they need to make a go of it.

Unlike some books on writing, this is not a book a novice Soap writer will be able to pick up and leaf through. At least not if they want the full benefit of Curry's knowledge. They may be able to pick up a tip here or there, but the true strength of the book comes from reading the whole thing. It is a comprehensive guide of everything Soap Opera, beginning by revealing the one qualification Soap writers must have, and ending with a sample script to practice your craft with. It builds in steps, and each step is crucial to the ones that follow. Once you go through the book however, it will be a valuable resource to return to any time you need a refresher in a specific area.

Of particular use is the section, "Writing the opposite sex...". An important lesson for any writer who deals in characters, but especially important for Soap writers who are often forced to deal in broad stroke, or stereotypes. Characters come in all shapes and sizes and if you're a female writing a male character (or vice versa), you must know and understand mannerisms you may not be familiar with and be aware that consequences in any given situation would be different for males and females. Curry names several tendencies in Soap writing for both male and female characters, and offers her advice on how to avoid them to create compelling characters that viewers will love (or love to hate).

Chris Curry gives her readers the full spectrum of Soap writing in detail, while keeping the information concise and easy to digest. Her knowledge and clarity draws readers in and the sample pieces at the back of the book allow them to see her teachings in action. Writing For Soaps gives the beginning Soap writer a solid foundation on which to build through experience. If you've dreamed of holding a Daytime Emmy for soap writing, this book can start you on your way.

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If you like this review, take a look at Our Members Library Of Recommended Reading for books that have made a significant difference in our members' writing careers.

Title: The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines
Author: Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders
Publisher: Lone Eagle
ISBN 10: 15-80650-244
IN Rating:

Review: "Strong characters may carry a weak plot, but weak characters cannot be hidden by a strong plot." Readers will find that quote at the beginning of the book, and I feel nothing sums up the objective of this book more accurately. The Complete Writer's Guide To Heroes & Heroines is meant to give writers basic understanding of what makes memorable characters by providing them with the sixteen master archetypes (8 male, 8 female) used in virtually all writing. No matter the situation, this book will provide you with what you need when building your characters.

Since this book deals with the formula behind different characters, I felt it appropriate that the book's structure took a formulaic approach as well. For each archetype (including the Bad Boy, the Chief, the Seductress, etc.) the same approach was taken: A general overview of the character type, qualities he or she may possess, virtues and flaws of the character type, and even suggestions on occupations they may hold. The fact that each type of character was set up the same way made this book easy to follow and made it easy to find any specific bit of information you were looking for. I enjoyed how the structure of the content reflected the content itself.

Though there was a section on layering archetypes (for example, Creating a Warrior who is also a Professor) I would have liked to see more attention paid to this technique, since rarely in life (or in fiction) do we encounter a person who is completely one type. Blending can be a key to creating interesting characters that come to life for the audience. However, I will admit that this book deals primarily in the basics and thus it is more appropriate not to go into too much detail about one technique or another. So while I would have liked to have seen more space devoted to it, the fact that there was not did not diminish the value of this book in the least. The authors do an excellent job of staying true to their goal.

The examples provided use well known characters from film and print to illustrate the different archetypes, and is one of the key strengths of this book. By using characters like James T. Kirk of Star Trek (a Chief), Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters (a Charmer), or Annie Reed from Sleepless In Seattle (the Spunky Kid), characters we are familiar with and relate to, the authors provide us with a wealth of resources to view and study characterization.

This book gives its readers the fundamentals needed to build characters. It is their talent and imagination which allows them to use that information and apply it toward their own work. I think it should be sitting on every writer's shelf, and show the wear and tear of a well-used resource. It is something you can return to for inspiration at the beginning of any project because everything you need to know for understanding your characters' personalities is right there.

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Title: Getting to the Point
Author: Elizabeth Danziger
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
ISBN 10: 06-09807-609
IN Rating:

Review: The cover of this book promises "Painless advice for writing memos, letters, and E-mails your colleagues and clients will understand." It also claims to be written in plain English. Aside from a paper cut which Ms. Danziger can hardly be blamed for, reading this book was completely painless. In fact, it was quite enjoyable. And it may be written in plain English, but plain certainly does not translate to dull here. Get To The Point is full of life, witty, entertaining, and above all else, informative. Elizabeth Danziger delivers on her promises, and then some.

Danziger's use of imagery was surprising, and pleasantly so. Books dealing with similar subject matter can often read like instruction manuals; the information may be accurate (you hope) but the way it is presented can put even the hardiest insomniac to sleep. Danziger manages to entertain, showcasing her wit and insight, while displaying a clear understanding of the subject matter and how to teach it to other people.

The following is the opening to Part 6: "Your words are like arrows that carry your meaning to your reader. Some words are strong while others are flimsy. Some are armed with poisoned tips while others carry harmless suction cups. Some are new and fresh while others have been shot across the archery course so many times that they're about ready for the firewood pile. The work you've put into structuring your document will help you aim your message accurately, but you've got to choose the right words to carry your ideas... Flimsy 'arrows' will not penetrate the mind of a thick-skinned reader."

That passage gave me pause for two reasons. First, I was struck by the imagery of the whole scene and could easily visualize a busy target range. Secondly, I was impressed with the insight of that analogy and how true I believe it to be. It was as if Ms. Danziger was talking for me, not just to me. And this was just one instance of many.

I think the part about choosing your words carefully (the part the quote above comes from) alone makes this book worth reading. The tendency to be verbose in an effort to impress people, particularly in a professional setting, is a common trap almost all writers fall into. This part dispels the idea we must be walking dictionaries to communicate on a professional level and reminds us of the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method of doing things. As a result, we should be able to streamline our writing, which will lead to increased clarity and understanding.

Get To The Point is a practical guide to the everyday writing world. These tips and techniques can be adapted to every form of writing. I urge all writers, especially the business types who need to communicate ideas quickly and effectively in order to be successful, to read this book. Danziger practices what she preaches, gets her point across loud and clear, and you'll be a better writer if you listen.

Buy this book from Amazon!

If you like this review, take a look at Our Members Library Of Recommended Reading for books that have made a significant difference in our members' writing careers.

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Anthony Ackerley is a professional writer who lives in south west Ohio. He has worked writing for a newspaper, been published in an online children's magazine, and currently has an adult romantica novel out. He enjoys sports, cooking, and playing games. See his novel at Lulu.com

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