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Book Reviews
January, 2008


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Book Reviews - May
Narrow the field and choose the right books
By  Anthony Ackerley and J.R. Kambak

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: Plot
Author: Ansen Dibell
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
ISBN 10: 0898793033
Reviewer: Anthony Ackerley
IN Rating:

Review: Plot is the engine that keeps any novel or short story moving. Structure, characterization, or any other writing element, will make no difference without plot. Ansen Dibell provides a mechanic's guide to plot to ensure your engine runs smoothly and consistently for as long as you need it to.

From the first chapter – What Is Plot? – Dibell's focus remains clear: to give readers a crystal clear view on the massive entity that is plot, be it in short stories, or in novels. Dibell speaks to beginning and experienced writers on equal terms, recognizing that weak or struggling plot is a problem that plagues all writers. One of the strongest aspects of this book is how the chapters are divided. Each one has a clear heading, identifying the type of information one can expect within. Each chapter is then broken down into smaller sections with sub-headings, presenting the information in small, easily digestible bites, rather than serving up the entire feast all at once. The potential to overwhelm a reader with too much information is great with subject matter such as this, but Dibell overcomes that challenge very nicely.

Dibell teaches readers to distinguish between plot and a scene. Plot is sustained cause and effect throughout a story, a scene is a tool used to carry the plot along. Many writers have the problem of coming up with an idea, believing it to be plot, and then having their story tail off after the first major incident, without understanding why. “Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.” If you, as a writer, have not thought about what comes after ward, your plot is reduced to a mere scene, and will not make for a very compelling read. This book will help you discover which ideas lend themselves to a story the best and help you analyze quickly and carefully any future problems that may arise.

One of the most useful chapters in this book deals with the use of Melodrama. Melodrama conjures specific images in the minds of those who hear the term used, and more often than not, these images are accompanied by negative connotations: cliché, over-the-top situations that have been done and done again, and no longer possess the effect they once had. Used properly as a plot device however, melodrama is a powerful tool that can enhance a work rather than detract from it. Dibell helps you identify those powers, as well as the possible pitfalls, and adds much support on how to harness this technique.

It has been quite some time since I have read a book that I would consider a page-turner that wasn't fiction. This book should be placed in that category. I recommend reading with a highlighter in hand – there are vital tips and advice contained on every page. It's straightforward enough to serve as a primer for the beginning writer, yet candid and informative enough to benefit the long-time professional. Keep it on the shelf in your writer's garage.

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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 Art Of Fiction
Author: Ayn Rand
Publisher: The Penguin Group
ISBN 10: 0452281547
Reviewer: Anthony Ackerley
IN Rating:

Review: The Art Of Fiction is in essence a transcript of an informal course on fiction given by Ayn Rand to friends and associates in 1958. Ayn Rand is an intelligent, artistic, and talented author. And she knows it. Though, occasionally, I think readers of this book would be better served if she didn't.

Rand takes a traditional, intellectual approach to writing, dismissing immediately any writer who says, “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, none is possible.” She contends that to be a writer, one must be aware of where their inspiration “. . . comes from, why it happens, and how to make it happen to you.” She stresses the concretes of writing, not the abstracts. In doing so, she takes her position against many well known abstract writers, like Gertrude Stein and James Joyce. She uses these authors as examples on how not to write, which, to me, is not entirely accurate.

Rand's tone engenders a feeling that you must write like her otherwise you are incorrect. However, I can freely admit that there are far worse things in the world than writing like Ayn Rand.

Looking past her personal opinions on writers and other works of literature, as well as her ego – “In regards to precision of language, I think I myself am the best writer today” – and focusing on her advice, this book can be a valuable read. And many times even when I didn't agree with her, I found myself grudgingly conceding to the points she makes. This book is part instruction on writing and part introduction to Rand's philosophy. If you’re not prepared for it, it can be a bit off-putting.

One of the most useful bits of information in this book is Rand's distinction between plot and plot-theme. Being able to distinguish the differences is important to any writer. And this is the central concern of the book: building a plot that will allow your story to work properly and be as strong as it can be. Rand does talk about other elements of writing, such as different issues of style (metaphors, slang, etc) and specific forms of literature (humor, fantasy, etc), though each topic only gets a page or two of discussion. In a book that deals with fiction as an overall topic, this is understandable, but I would have liked to see some expansion in each area. Still, the information given should be quite useful to any writer.

There is no bit of information contained in these pages that makes me say it is a must-read book. However, if you are familiar with and enjoy Rand's work, or are looking to approach writing from a different perspective, then I can highly recommend this book. Otherwise, I would steer clear and look elsewhere for your information

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Title: Screenwriting For Teens: The 100 Principles Of Screenwriting Every Budding Writer Must Know
Author: Christina Hamlett
Publisher: Micheal Wiese Productions
ISBN 10: 1932907181
Reviewer: J.R. Kambak
IN Rating:

Review: We’re all allured by movie magic and the dream of writing a megabucks screenplay that will dazzle all of Hollywood. But as veteran screenplay writer, John Collee states in this book’s foreword: “In a way, lessons in how to do anything well are lessons in living.” His caveat scripter of do’s and don’ts sets the tone for author Christina Hamlett’s rudimentary instructional processes in screenplay writing that are lucidly set forth in a triad format of Concept, Look and Learn, and Brainstormers.

I don’t know if Ms. Hamlett was being cheeky about the title – most of us have never matured past our late adolescence, still clinging to our armed-to-the-teeth excuses in denial of our own writing flaws – but she clearly addresses the conceptual elements of script structure in a learning approach of systematic appraisal. This teaching style accompanied by tactics that can burst even the most seasoned writer’s jaded perceptions of screenplay structure make this book a gem.

Presented in a simplistic but sophisticated voice, Ms. Hamlett presents each concept with precision, coupled with a Look and Learn resource guide to Internet links of film-related resources. She follows this up getting down to the brass tacks with a trio of Brainstormers exercises to burn the concept into your brain.

Ms. Hamlett has inserted the exercises for each principle concept that must be done to complete the book’s overall purpose of teaching you screenplay writing as if you were taking a workshop. Her approach is so well structured that you’ll be able to make a glass of water talk if you do everything she suggests.

Avoid the hard knocks. Read this book and do the exercises, thoroughly. Then, write a screenplay for a short film, before knocking off your first full-feature script. You’ll be a better person for it and Hollywood will put your scripts at the top of their stack, because, as Ms Hamlett concludes, “it’s a matter of knowing what you don’t know and endeavoring to master it so your skill level will improve.”

If you cave in, write her an essay entitled, Ten Reasons I Really Hate Writing And Would Never Want To Do It For A Living, which she’ll accept via email. And one more thing, this book is equally accessible for those just curious about the screenplay medium and resources.

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

 

J.R. Kambak is a regular IN contributor and award-nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. Contact J.R. Kambak for more information and resources: zentoro@fastmail.co.uk


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