What If? (by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter)

I have quite a selection of books about writing - the craft of plotting, ways to build up characters, methods of writing and marketing novels… I read them avidly, and usually enjoy them, although I tend to find the ‘exercises’ at the ends of chapters a bit frustrating. Either there are too many of them, or they aren’t relevant to me, or for some reason they don’t appeal. Despite having several such books already, I gradually acquire more.

I don’t remember where this one came from, nor do I know anything about the authors Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, both of whom are (according to the blurb on the back) writers and teachers of creative writing in the US. However this particular book, ‘What If?’ is a little different from most, in that it’s nothing but writing exercises, intended to help with particular parts of writing. The introduction explains the importance of writing - any writing - and of understanding techniques, from plotting to correct punctuation.

I like the layout of the book, and it’s clearly intended to be something to dip into, for inspiration and ideas. However, I’m reading my way through my collection of writing books, so I thought, about six months ago, that I’d work through this one. I began by doing some of the exercises, although for some reason I didn’t find most of them particularly inspiring. Still, they encouraged me to write. Circumstances - and general procrastination - didn’t conspire to let this continue so I abandoned the book for a while, then eventually I just read the rest of it, looking at the exercises and thinking that, perhaps, I might get back to them one day...

There are lots of good points made in the book without labouring them too much, and without condescension. The exercises are a mixed bunch, encouraging the reader to be creative and let imagination loose without necessarily leading to anything longer than a paragraph or two.

There are exercises for honing stories that exist already, for picking out certain features of other people’s work as examples, and for trying entirely new techniques. Another feature is that in many of the sections there examples given of student responses to the exercises, done in writing workshops.

I do hope to get back to this book and dip into it again, from time to time, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who writes.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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