Robert Newton Peck’s “Fiction is Folks”

Robert Peck’s Fiction is Folks was a difficult book for me to get through on my first read and an entertaining book on my second read. I’ll read it at least one more time before I’m satisfied I’ve sucked all the marrow from its pages (that odd phrasing is one of his suggestions. Such odd phrasings wake the reader up. You may not like that one, that’s fine, and learn the technique. Practice it. The technique useful even if my example is not).

My initial challenge was the reason I was entertained on my second read: Peck is homesy and folksy. He is direct, clear, honest. He’s a native Vermonter and it shows in both his prose and his examples.

An important point about his examples: most of them passed over me on my first read because this entire book is an example. He explains something and read his explanation again. It’s an example of what he’s explaining. Now look at the example he uses for his explanation. Yes, it’s an example and it contains a thread to the next example.

Also (and like most Writers’ Digest books I’ve read) he covers a broad range of topics well beyond character (the main item in this book). A partial list includes:

  • Blurbs
  • Plot
  • Character
  • Covers
  • Story
  • Marketing
  • Structure
  • Language
  • Exercises
  • and this doesn’t touch on the general stuff you need to know to get your work published

Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Ansen Dibell’s “Plot”

First, Whoa!

The book’s entitled Plot and it has immediately useful (to me) techniques and examples on

  • Plot (duh!)
  • Story
  • Structure
  • Setting
  • Description
  • POV
  • Exposition
  • Scenes

and it does it all in 170 pages (which includes a seven page index)!

I’m blessed because I purchased most of my writing texts in the 1970s-early 1990s, long before anybody with a mobile could claim expertise and back when people had to demonstrate their abilities repeatedly to make any kind of claim.

One such demonstration was (duh!) getting a book published on a subject in which you demonstrated expertise. Publishing books cost money and took time. Honest-to-god real editors (line, copy, proof, continuity, …) actually read through a manuscript before sending it on to printing. Publishers weren’t going to put money into a project just because someone said they were an expert, that someone had to demonstrate they were an expert. Often.

And let me add, most people didn’t claim themselves to be a guru, maven, jedi, rock star, queen, genius, leader and last but not least, expert. Other people claimed it for someone once said someone proved their guruness, mavenhood, jediability, et cetera.

And usually it took a lot to prove.

How I long for the time when people’s expertise was actual expertise and not a vacuous claim because, by god, they’re going to get their fifteen minutes if it kills them.

But I digress.

Dibell’s Plot is comparable to sitting in a writing intensive. There are examples throughout, and she picks her examples wisely. Each example demonstrates several techniques but she never throws them at you all at once. She starts by demonstrating how someone is a good story/novel opening then cycles back to show how the exposition reinforces the nascent plot elements then cycles back again to demonstrate how the character reveal points to plot elements yet to come.

As I wrote above, Whoa!

Want more? How about Dibell’s explaining alternative plot structures (beyond traditional western 3-act, conflict oriented plot) back in 1988? (I’ll admit I missed these in my first reading.

Plot is one of several Writer’s Digest books I bought way back when. As a working author, they are revealing in so many ways. Most of these authors are recognizable by work if not by name, and all were full-time authors.

What causes a full-time author to write an how-to-write book? All the Writer’s Digest books I’ve read are wonderful learning tools. These authors definitely know their craft and are able to share it.

But writing an how-to-write book took time away from their writing their stories. I know I loathe anything which takes me away from my crafting (save posts such as these, were I relax my authorial muscles, stretch my imagination tendons, and basically take either a necessary or welcomed break from being creative (being creative is work. Ask any woman who’s gotten pregnant and delivered a child).

But writing an how-to-write book is another creative process. What this their relaxation?

Perhaps it was their way of testing their own knowledge? Of encapsulating it? I critique other’s writing and learn as much about my own craft as I do helping them with theirs.

And such musings are largely irrelevant. Plot is an excellent learning tool and strongly recommended.


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well”

I feel sorry for fiction writers and author-wannabes who pass by On Writing Well because it’s subtitled “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.”

Don’t let that fool you. This book is a gem.

It’s not laid out like most books I’ve read on (fiction) writing (the TOC’s chapters include The Transaction, Simplicity, Clutter, Style (okay, I recognize that one), Unity, The Interview, Writing About a Place (Oh, you mean “Setting,” right?), and other obscurities) and readers should expect that; Zinsser’s writing about how to make your writing better, more exact, more succinct, more communicative of what you want to communicate.

He’s writing a book for people who need to have their writing understood by a specific audience.

But…umm…isn’t that what fiction writers want, too?


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Orson Scott Card’s “Characters & Viewpoint”

First and up front, I’ve never enjoyed an Orson Scott Card book. I could never get into them. They didn’t interest me. When a reviewer favorably compared my The Augmented Man to Card’s Ender’s Game, I scratched my head. Grateful, of course, and still confused.

However, Card’s Characters & Viewpoint?

Another story (forgive the pun) entirely.

Although titled “Characters & Viewpoint”, the subtitle is “How to invent, construct, and animate vivid, credible characters and choose the best eyes through which to view the events of your short story or novel.” Tear that subtitle apart and you get (or, at least I got):

  • Character
  • General story building elements
  • Story concept
  • Scenes
  • Story structure
  • POV
  • Narration

I so dog-eared this book my folded pages made it twice as thick as normal.


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Writing Something Horrifying in Three Steps

[A different version of this appeared on Timothy Bateson’s blog in Oct 2019.]

Psychologists and philosophers debate “horror” as a concept. Authors have it much easier. They want to make their readers uncomfortable, nervous. They want to give readers chills. They want readers to turn on all the lights, to check locks on the doors, to tuck their feet up under themselves so nothing can grab them from below, to check under the bed before getting under the covers, to look in their closets, to look at their loved ones suspiciously.

Most people, reading the above, will travel a psycho-emotive path from casual interest to mild anxiety. The psycho-emotive path occurs in the above due to progressive word choice – easier, uncomfortable, nervous, chills – followed by a series of recognizable anxiety behaviors – turn on lights, check locks, tuck feet, check under the bed, look in closets – and then we have the capper, the threat of personal betrayal – looking at their loved ones suspiciously.

Readers shouldn’t be able to recognize their growing anxiety. If they do, they’re paying attention to themselves, not the story, meaning the story isn’t fully engaging them. You want your readers concerned about what happens next in the story, not that they’re uncomfortable reading it.

Build Discomfort Slowly


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!