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Book Reviews
January, 2008

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Book Reviews - December
Only the best will do
By  Anne Duguid and Ben Parris

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: Characters And Viewpoint
Author: Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
ISBN-13: 978-0898799279
IN Rating:
Reviewer: Anne Duguid

One of a series on fiction writing, Characters And Viewpoint is the classic must-have for any start-up novelist. Indispensable for the beginner, it still has a lot to teach more advanced writers racking their brains as to why their latest masterpieces are not quite up to standard.

Best known for his award-winning science fiction novels and his writing courses given in universities and workshops across the United States, Orson Scott Card is a prolific writer. He writes novels, plays, scripts, review columns, and he is a storyteller par excellence.

His chatty, easy to read style, illustrated with excerpts from his own writing, makes this a book that is hard to put down. As an intermediate writer you may find it going over ground you have covered before, but his excellent analysis of each topic covered will always throw up new insights, new inspiration.

The book is divided into three parts – Inventing Characters, Constructing Characters, and Performing Characters (the section that tackles viewpoint). As stated in the Introduction, his premise is that writing like other arts has a composition stage and a performance stage. The author is both storyteller – the man who creates characters, plot, and scene – and writer – the performer who creates text, dialogue, style, and point of view.

His book aims to help writers do both jobs well. From the start, he encourages readers to think for themselves adding twist after twist to his examples to prove how his methods work. Perhaps surprisingly he leaves physical description to the end of his first chapter entitled What Is Character? In this first section he covers what makes a good fictional character, where the ideas for characters come from, and making decisions as an author.

In the second section, Constructing Characters, he highlights four basic factors vital for creating character in all genres – milieu, idea, character and event. But in his use of the idea he shows the flexibility a writer needs to create different characters for different genres.

The Performing Characters, the third and shortest part of the book, gives one of the clearest and most comprehensive explanations of viewpoint that I have ever read. Drawing on his theatrical and cinematic experience, Orson Scott Card does more than divide viewpoint into first and third person accounts. He covers voice, presentation versus representation, dramatic versus narrative, unreliable narrators, and the many levels of access to the story ranging from the omniscient narrator to the limited vision of a particular character.

By the time you reach the end of this book, you will look at your own characters anew, analysing their role in the story. Your characters will continue to develop and grow with every outline, every draft. As a serious storyteller, you will create your own private population. And one day, says Orson Scott Card, you may well look back on something you wrote years before and find one of your characters doing or saying something that astonishes you.

If you are hoping to discover, develop, and present your characters so skilfully that your readers feel they know them better than their own families, this book provides many ideas and techniques to help you achieve that ambition.

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.

Title: Steering The Craft: Exercises And Discussions On Story Writing For The Lone Navigator Or The Mutinous Crew
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Publisher: The Eighth Mountain Press, Oregon
IN Rating:
Reviewer: Ben Parris

Review: The author clues you in right at the title that this book is about writing exercises, and as such it is the very finest example of its kind. This deceivingly slim volume has the feel of a college course that runs from bread and butter to creativity at every step. And indeed is an extended version of Le Guin's workshops, but what a delightfully painless workshop it is.

With chapters about syntax, implicit narration, tense and person of the verb, she offers the sort of topics that some of us usually shun with garlic and crossed fingers. Yet, by the time you finish, adjective and adverb will be as familiar to you as Toad and Badger if you've ever read Wind In The Willows. Her method is about sifting the secrets of exposition out of language itself. Says Le Guin, "Craft enables art."

The first chapter starts easy with an exploration of the sound of word combinations that will have you experiencing a re-birth and shedding of inhibitions. You thrill to Gertrude Stein, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain through the eyes of the master who gave us The Left Hand Of Darkness. In that context, you write your own mini-masterpiece for reading aloud in an indelible lesson that will give you new respect for the marvel of sound in the written word.

As you work your way through the book, you will find yourself stretch, demonstrating a range you never knew you had, and writing desires you never knew you held. Along the way, Le Guin meanders to delightful out of the way topics like grammatical correctness and the fictive mask of narrative tense. You feel like a tourist who has gone native, sampling local cuisine, leaving the world of fast food behind.

For those who missed more than they thought in English class, Le Guin rounds it all off with appendices like Forms Of The Verb, and a glossary. Steering The Craft is truly the hidden gem of writing books.

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.

Title: How To Write A Book Proposal
Author: Michael Larsen
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio
IN Rating:
Reviewer: Ben Parris

Review: Michael Larsen's How To Write A Book Proposal is a guide that will put a song in the hearts of beginners and maven freelancers alike.

Even though the advice is about getting your book sold to publishers and the public, it is in many ways a writing guide that you would do well to read before you embark on any project, and then re-read as your career progresses. Larsen cuts to the heart of the matter on his very first page with two sentences that may save you years of work: "Why this book? And Why you?" If you cannot answer those questions, Larsen essentially opines, you are either not ready for your chosen topic, or publishers and the public are not ready for you.

As many of us know, we writers can have one or more early successes in our careers and then falter. Larsen includes some special sections, providing valuable advice – that I have not seen anywhere else – on your book's title, your bio, and other things that may explain why you have not gotten the recognition your past performance might promise. Today's publishing business increasingly demands that authors use both sides of their brain. Larsen says that you should treat your book as self-published no matter who publishes it.

One key concept covered exceptionally well here is platform, an author's ability to promote her work. Other than acquiring appropriate credentials, much of it has to do with your track record for cross-county speaking engagements. Larsen calls it, "having enough visibility to make your book fail proof." He goes on to distinguish between a platform and a promotion plan, tells you exactly what promotional services publishers do for you and don't do, and dramatizes the vast difference between what happens when you promote you book and when you do not.

Another aspect I found especially useful in these pages was the outline strategies, including a verb list, hooks, and creativity exercises. Lest you think such an approach is only useful for one type of book, he modifies his advice to cover how-to, biographies, memoir, interview, humour, exposé, and anthology. How To Write A Book Proposal, now in its third trade paperback edition, has earned a revered place on any freelancer's bookshelf.

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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Anne Duguid is a features writer who loves travelling and telling other people's tales. A subeditor in the days when metal type tinkled and stone subs proofread upside down, she now freelances for newspapers and magazines in the UK and websites worldwide. Email: free

Ben Parris is a freelance writer, panel moderator, and public speaker based out of New York. As a science, education, and corporate technical writer, he has contributed to such diverse publications as Scholastic Administrator, Long Island Science News, Apex Digest and Dollar Stretcher. Email:

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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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