Guide to Fiction Writing (by Phillis Whitney)

The late Phyllis Whitney was a fairly prolific American author in the 20th century, who lived to the ripe old age of 104. I haven't actually read any of her novels, nor had I heard of her; but I came across this book, about fifteen years ago, in a library sale: the book was being discontinued. As a fledgling hopeful writer, I snapped it up.

'Guide to Fiction Writing' was probably the first book I read about writing. I've read several other over the years, but have remembered this one positively. Having just re-read it, I'd still say it's one of the best books I've read on the topic, covering just about all aspects of writing fiction.

It particularly focuses on novels with examples and quotations from some of the author's own, when she wants to make a particular point. However, the sections of characterisation, plotting, emotion and so on are relevant to all fiction writers. Indeed, I think many non-fiction writers would probably benefit from reading this book.
Admittedly it's now rather dated. It was published in 1982, so the author was still talking about using a typewriter... something I am very thankful to have left behind many years ago, in favour of a computer. The short section at the end of the book on submitting documents for possible publication is also a little out of date in an era of email and useful websites.

But that's the only slight gripe I have with this otherwise excellent book, and I can hardly complain about a 25-year-old guide being out of date. Re-reading it in the past few weeks has enthused and encouraged me over again.

Sadly, though unsurprisingly, it's long out of print. Still highly recommended if you can get hold of a second-hand copy.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 7th July 2009

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