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Book Reviews
Book Reviews - August
By Anthony Ackerley
August, 2007, 08:50

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 Your Own Plays: Creating Adapting Improvising
Author: Carol Korty
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
ISBN 10: 0-684-18470-2
IN Rating:

Review: Carol Korty's matter-of-fact guide to playwriting will bring aspiring playwrights one step closer to seeing their creation on stage.

Writing Your Own Plays is a beginning-to-end road map that writers can use to guide them in the process of writing their plays. It does so by striking a balance of tone for the reader who wants to avoid being overwhelmed by technical jargon, yet still be reassured the author knows what she is talking about. The voice in this book is somewhere above conversational, yet below textbook sounding, in a range that will appeal to an optimal amount of readers.

From page one, Ms. Korty gets down to business. The first chapter is entitled A Play Is Different From A Story and may be the most critical chapter in the book. If a writer cannot recognize and understand that concept, then they should try their hand at writing romance or comic books. Anything but plays. This first chapter is both a word of warning and a way of educating oneself. Korty is saying, "this is how it is," but backing up her logic with experience and knowledge of her craft. I feel that this direct approach makes readers willing to listen and open their minds to what she has to say as opposed to putting down the book and dismissing it.

The primary appeal of this book is to the beginning playwright, because much of it deals with ideas and techniques that those who have done this for any length of time would know. I do not feel that there are any earth-shattering revelations or techniques inside that will change how we look at writing plays. What you get is a solid foundation to build upon throughout your career, and a valuable resource to return to down the road should you ever need a refresher on the basics. Though one thing that may have the old pros at least giving this book a glance is the appendix in the back containing lists of publishers and other how-to books on the subject. Though, as with any list of resources such as these, one must be aware that addresses and contact information can change over time. Keep this in mind when considering the information. In the end, Carol Korty's book provides her readers with a practical guide to writing plays. She covers the process every step of the way, offering her own unique insight and advice, as well as encouraging thought and self-exploration. Though not extraordinary by any means, this book does deserve a spot on any beginning playwright's shelf.

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Title: The Leisure Pen: A Book For Elderwriters
Author: Joyce S. Steward & Mary R. Croft
Publisher: Keepsake Publishers
ISBN 10: 0-9621354-0-2
IN Rating:

Review: The written word does not discriminate against race, gender, or religion. Nor does it discriminate against age. If you have the ability pick up a utensil and a surface upon which to use it, you have the basic tools to use the craft. The Leisure Pen is a book designed to remind us that there is no age barrier to becoming a writer.

This book was written for what I call the experienced beginner. Those people who have lived life and have treasures of experience to share with the world but who may not have the training or knowledge to fully realize their potential. It also serves well those who may be in need of a refresher, and it does so in a friendly, non-patronizing tone that makes for enjoyable reading.

Divided into four parts, each containing several chapters, The Leisure Pen is a comprehensive writing guide. It covers a wide range of topics from writing lists or journals, to writing memoirs or poetry. You do not need to write fiction to get something out of this book. And while it stays true to its target audience using examples and exercises someone of the older crowd can relate to, you do not need to be retired to gain its benefits. All lessons and advice can be adapted and used in a variety of ways.

A section that is one of my personal favourites deals with the process of writing letters. This section is an intricate component in a book aimed at an older target audience. For those who were raised in a pre-computer age, letter writing was a primary form of communication. To not acknowledge this form in a book such as this would have been a gross oversight. Also, I found this section to be an excellent reminder to those of us who were raised on high-tech that there are other, more meaningful, ways of communication than dashing off an email or text message.

I will admit that I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book; I have many years to go before I consider retirement or find myself with a discounted bus fare. Clearly, it is for the older set, and if you've just retired and find yourself with some free time and are wondering how to fill it, this would be an excellent way to do so. But you don't have to wait that long. I'm confident you'll be able to take something out of this book that you can use at any time in your writing life.

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Title: The Way To Write For Children: An Introduction To The Craft Of Writing Children's Literature
Author: Joan Aiken
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN 10: 0-312-20048-X
IN Rating:

Review: If you've ever had a question about writing children's literature, Joan Aiken probably has an answer for you. She offers many of those informative and insightful answers to readers in The Way To Write For Children.

The question and answer format of this book really brings the reader into the work and gives them a connection with the author that allows them to absorb and retain the information being given to them. There are nine chapters in this book, over half of which start off with a frequently asked question. Those that don't, contain questions as subject headings within the chapter. By presenting her information in this manner I believe that Joan Aiken focuses our attention on many key aspects of this process and really stresses her point without being repetitive.

One of the most critical questions an aspiring children's writer must ask is: "Do I want to write about children or for them?" I think that this is a question that is fairly simple and straightforward, yet one many writers forget when they're getting started. Aiken opens with this question, listing the differences between writing about and writing for, and helping her readers understand that the two are not the same thing. Right away we are given a valuable building block that serves as the cornerstone for all that follows.

In this small book (97 pages), Aiken packs in the information. This is a credit her ability to get right to the point with no flash, all substance approach. You will undoubtedly find books out there that deal with each individual aspect of children's writing (such as crafting characters, or developing plot) but you would be hard-pressed to find a book that covers a little bit of everything as well as this one does. From themes, to dialog, to writing for TV, if a reader compiled a list of questions about things they wished to know before reading this book, they would find the topic at least touched upon. It gives the reader a solid foundation and excellent leaping-off point to begin the journey.

Throw away any preconceived notions you may have of writing for children. If you readsto your child and then say, "I can knock out something like that in an hour tops," I urge you to read this book. The list of things one must consider when writing for children is surprisingly long. And in the end, you will find no harsher critic than a young child they are too young to realize truth hurts, and too innocent to have a hidden agenda. There is no way to rationalize a bad review from a child. So you'd better do your research and be prepared. Joan Aiken's book gives you the opportunity to do just that.

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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.

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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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