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Book Reviews
Book Reviews - June
By Billie A. Williams
June, 2006, 23:42

une into IN reviews for the best of How-To 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: Ease-of-Read, Educational, and Entertaining.

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Title: Write Away, One Novelist's Approach To Fiction And The Writing Life
Author: Elizabeth George
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-056-42-8
IN Rating:

Review: Elizabeth George begins with her take on the overview writing in general. Then, she goes from the basics, through techniques and process, concluding with examples and guides.

Uniquely organized with dated journal entries, the book let's us enter her thoughts and experience her muse. It shows her process in actual, real-time events with these journal entries. It's not a dry laundry list To Dos and complaints, but rather it's a collection of mini essays.

George spends a good amount of time developing her characters, guiding us with precision and technique – the very things she admires in other writers. By reflecting on the relationships between characters, their strengths and weaknesses, and their conflicts in order to find and understand the theme of her novel, she shows us how to do this, with our own novels.

She uses examples of her works to illustrate her points further. It is in this book that I first discovered references to THAD (talking head avoidance). She uses actions that become metaphors for a character's motivation, illustrating character in some subtle way while avoiding the talking heads.

Voice, according to George, is a combination of things and comes from the character analysis you've done. It entails your characters background, level of education, position in society, personal and familial history, prejudices and biases, inclinations and desires belief system, and purpose and goal scene-to-scene, as well as the overarching story goal – the character's core need.

In Chapter 22, George creates an outline of her process with reference to the chapters that will help a writer carry out each step. This is the process used and described through out the book. The appendices hold valuable notes, index, and a bibliography that continue the illustration of her process, her analytical mind, and writers she admires.

Her process – so thoroughly examined in this book – is a superb classroom. The journal entries pull the learning writer to her side as she intimately shares her writing experience. You can't get past the apprenticeship stage without doing some of the work, and George takes you by the hand leading you along a path of work for writing and publishing success.

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Title: Breathing Life Into Your Characters
Author: Rachel Ballon, Ph. D.
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
ISBN: 1-58297-181-1
IN Rating:

Review: In every good novel, characters that the reader can empathize with and root for are essential. Rachel Ballon, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with writers, uses her expertise to show you how to create such characters in her book Breathing Life Into Your Characters.

Ballon leads the writer to examine and mine what's inside them to look for the gems of creativity. She encourages the writer to "write what you feel, not what you know."

"In every good novel or film you will discover that a character is fighting for something and would probably die for it if necessary. That is how you get meaning into your characters and give your story a plot that has purpose and a goal that is desperate," Ballon writes.

"I have tried every device I know to breathe life into my characters, for there is little in fiction more rewarding that to see real people interact on the page." James A. Michener

"Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives." William James

Quotes like the ones above sprinkled liberally throughout the book support and enlarge on Ballon's words. She provides a method by which to study and enrich your characters. She shows the writer her experience and demonstrates that emotional conflicts, the human condition, personal relationships, personality, inner motivation, and self-esteem are all central to building believable, engaging characters. Ballon says life and fiction mirror each other. Each story has "a character with a goal who encounters obstacles in her life script."

Passion for psychology and enthusiasm for writing fill the pages of Breathing Life Into Your Characters. Ballon directs writers to search deep inside themselves so that they can deepen their characters with real motivations, conflicts, and goals.

Ballon concludes each chapter with writing exercises to do all of the above and more. The intelligent, in-depth study of human nature is a pleasure to read just for her prose, and then re-read to work through each and every exercise. Here is a book that is sure to have you building compelling, engaging, life-like characters that will gain you fans and book sales.

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Title: Writing Your First Play, Second Edition
Author: Roger A. Hall
Publisher: Focal Press
ISBN: 0-240-80290-X
IN Rating:

Review: From a sketch of different stage styles to a discussion of actual plays – some written by his students – Roger A. Hall takes the neophyte from idea, through plot, to final curtain call in his book Writing Your First Play.

"I saw that a scene could be complete and whole without words because a play isn't about words, it's about people doing things, and speaking is only one of the things they do." Hall says. To prove this point, the first exercise at the end of the first chapter asks you to write a scene without any dialogue only action. This exercise begins an excellent adventure in applying what you read. With Hall's mentoring style and knowledgeable direction, you will soon be on your way with confidence and the tools you need to build your own play.

A play has to be built, according to Hall. In his approach, a play is encouraged to evolve slowly from one idea to another.

We sometimes say a book we read was a hundred times better than the movie. Hall helps you see the reason behind that. It could it be that some things easily written and developed in a novel defy portrayal on the big screen or stage?

To discover the basic elements of drama think ACDC: Action, Conflict, Dialogue, Character. Straight narrative does not fit into the makings of a play. Writing a play and adapting one from an already published novel are two branches of the same tree. Your eye and ear have to be tuned to the stage – to the action on that stage. The premise is the same. "You begin with a seedling of an idea and nurture it carefully before asking it to bear the fruit of a mature tree," Hall reminds us.

"I believe in order to learn how to write a play you must immerse yourself in the world of theatre. You must see and feel the dramatic format that you will apply and why certain choices are better than others are for what you will portray." Hall re-enforces that premise, asking the reader to devour plays both in written format and presented on the stage. Study them for what they are, what they do, and how they do it.

The emphasis is on Action, Character, Dialogue, Conflict the same as in a novel but with out the extra verbiage of narrative. To write a play well, you have to develop a greater awareness of human behaviour, and the intricacies of personal relationships. Your character's interactions are your play. The way they react to their environment, other people, and the world are the primary concerns of drama.

With exercises throughout – taken from Hall's classroom lesson plans – you are directed, encouraged, and tutored in the art, design, and construction of your first play. Hall never says it's easy, but with this book as your guide you will be ahead of the game. Beginner and seasoned playwright will benefit from the mentorship of this book.

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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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Billie A. Williams lives in Amberg, a small rural northern Wisconsin community. She has published over fifteen novels ranging from Cozy Mystery, Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Young Adult Historical Adventure and more. She writes a “Whodunit?” Column for Voice In The Dark Newsletter for the and is owner/manager of three writing groups. Go to for more information about her writing.

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