Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction

I knew Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction would be a treasure before I opened it. Hearing it described as a "writers workshop in a bottle" had piqued my interest. Now that I’ve gone through it, I can confirm it’s true. Any writer, beginner or otherwise will find benefit from reading this book. Usually structured around one theme, craft element or one particular way to write; how-to books can be limited on how much they can help you.

Before I go any further, I should probably share that I am an alumna of Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program. I know about half of the contributing authors, either by studying writing under them or with them. And I can only say how much I absolutely respect their skill and knowledge of writing. That done, let’s move on...

Many Genres one Craft is broken into sections discussing “Craft,” which encompasses everything from Style to Character, Plot and Setting. The section for “Genre” discusses genre itself as well as the contemporary classifications we are all familiar with, including romance and women’s fiction, sci-fi and fantasy, horror and suspense, children’s and they even have an alternative section. Most other how-to books don’t discuss anything beyond those topics, but Many Genres one Craft continues with a section about “The Writer’s Life.” It’s true, if it was easy everyone would do it...and this section discusses how to deal with the self-inflicted curse and joy of being a writer. Probably the most useful section of the book for me was the section on “Promoting.”

Within all the sections, from idea generation to promotion of a published work is the wisdom of those who’ve “been there, done that” and are still publishing because they adapt to change, or newly publishing because they know what they are doing. Many of these contributors fondly reminisce on old times, when publishing was kind to writers. But, as Arnzen says in the intro, “Writing is a tough business and it's only grown colder as the trade has evolved.” And that’s why we need books like this.

As you read you feel like the contributors are there talking with you. They are not saying “I’m a great writer I know how it should be done,” they are saying “I’ve been writing, and I discovered this.” These writers are not telling you absolutes, they are pushing you to develop your own judgment. As a writer, your strongest tool will be your own judgment: of your own work, and of what you read.

If you read all these essays closely, you may find that some of the advice contradicts other pieces. This doesn’t mean one of them is wrong. One tidbit of hard-won industry knowledge may cancel out another bit of wisdom gleaned off an insider’s insight. But that doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong. Both pieces of conflicting knowledge are important because they both happened. That’s the way it is.

No one book can tell you everything you need to know to get published. But Many Genres, One Craft might be close.