Writer Gabrielle Chana’s Reviews of Writing Instruction Books

Characters_and_Viewpoint

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Characters & Viewpoint

Highly recommend this book to writers who want to create fully dimensional characters that have the potential to transform the readers. From everything to how to choose a character’s name, to what kind of story you are telling (character story, with grand settings, mystery style, or dealing with disorders) Orson concisely and brilliantly tells you how to deal with it in your writing. He says that knowing what kind of story you are telling, will show you how to open it and end it. He tells you how to choose and portray major and minor characters. He explains how to make the writing and characters emotionally powerful. His book is one of the best on how to make your characters work in the story, to make a serious character credible and interesting, or how to make a comic character funny. His section on how to choose and use point of view is the best I’ve read yet on this subject, even outdoing an entire book on the subject I have called Mastering Point of View. I love his section on using third person point of view and on different penetrations inside that point of view. As a writer, I find point of view a confusing subject and Orson really clarifies how to use point of view in a novel in a manner that will make your story work as you intend. For my novel Silver Skies, I use third person limited, but my levels of penetration inside that point of view change and Orson discusses how to manage this. He really helps you to choose the best point of view for your novel and is far less confusing than another book I have on this subject Mastering Point of View.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Characters & Viewpoint
Date written: 10/23/2018
5.0 / 5 stars


Creating_Plot

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot

Found this book really helpful to me on my current writing project Silver Skies 1996 Version, a novel in progress. This book is designed specifically for novelists and found the sections on outlining and the execution of the outline to the creation of the story excellent. He emphasizes that if your story does not have a workable plot, it’s like trying to build a house without its beams and foundation. His chapter on increasing intensity is brilliant, where he explains how the conflict for the main character needs to increase in intensity or your novel is a flop. The section on pacing, where he explains that increasing intensity needs occasional breaks to maintain interest, that too much intensity without a break actually becomes boring. He also explains how and when to characterize, or how to manage your characterization (how to show who your characters are) in the story. His explanation on beginnings, middles and ends is real nuts and bolts. The chapter on parallel plots and subplots are more nuts and bolts, with real practical ideas that work on real stores. His insights into when to introduce subplots and parallel plots and how to do them is very practical and workable and he really goes into nuts and bolts here and if you read him carefully, it gives you a real grasp on how to do subplots and parallel plots. He offers keen insights on how to portray characters, that seem very workable to me. I highly recommend this book to anybody who wants to write a great novel.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot
Date written: 10/23/2018
5.0 / 5 stars


Plot

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Plot

A book for beginners, but excellent. Even more advanced writers can sometimes forget the essentials that made them great. I agree with her position that you should never break point of view in a scene. Point of view is basically how you write the scene, through whose eyes you write the scene. Those who write omniscient or God’s eye point of view will understand this to mean you maintain your strong omniscient voice in the scene. But she doesn’t cover much about voice. So if you like to write in God’s eye point of view, she doesn’t give you nuts and bolts about how to maintain a consistent omniscient voice in a scene. I expect to find that in one of my other writing instruction books, to help me with sections of my novel where I may venture into God’s eye point of view. This book should be read alongside Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint to get maximum benefit. But she gives real nuts and bolts advice about how to handle that pesky exposition, a real problem for me as a fantasy writer. Exposition in writing is telling rather than showing usually and it can get boring fast. She shows you how to work around this. Her emphasis on making sure your subplots are tied to your main plot is excellent and so important. How to manage melodrama is also much needed advice for any fiction writer. Her nuts and bolts about building for the big scenes, the explosions in your story and how to deliver, really works. Love the section on using symbols, mirrors, images to enhance the emotional impact of any story. She covers pacing, transition, flashbacks and the frame story, and recommends simplicity and elegance over complexity in plot. Then she covers types of stories not written with a traditional plot and why they work, despite not having the cause and effect of a traditional plot. As a writer who has trouble with endings, I found her section on endings very insightful. Circular stories have more thoughtful endings and linear stories end with a bang. This book is an absolute must for any serious fiction writer.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Plot
Date written: 10/23/2018
5.0 / 5 stars


Creating Character Arcs

★ ★ ★ ★
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure (Helping Writers Become Authors)

K. M. Weiland is a real nuts and bolts writing teacher. She really clarifies many aspects of the writing process and this book goes through the three basic character arcs (the change arc, the flat arc and the negative arc) and how to execute these in your writing. It seems to me that the most effective stories, the ones that move you and make you want to reread the book to experience it over and over are those authors who have mastered these arcs in the creation of their characters. The only problem I have with her approach is that while you are creating your character arcs you might want to read Orson Scott Card’s book on Characters & Viewpoint first to create your character, so that you can be sure your character will not be a cardboard cut out. Once you have the heart and soul of your character inside your heart and soul as you write, THEN read K. M. Weiland’s book to outline your character’s events in the plot. If you use her method first without thoroughly thinking through who your character is, you run the risk of creating a flat and boring character, even if that character successfully navigates through all the points in K. M. Weiland’s arcs. So read Orson Scott Card’s book first and THEN read K. M. Weiland’s Character Arcs, and your story will move and interest your readers. Unfortunately, I have found that the process of finding your characters can take time, so if you can’t beat them out according to their arcs right away, I’d just go ahead and write and plot the story just to get to know your characters on the page, and perhaps when you are halfway or a quarter of the way through your book, stop, and create your character arcs. You will have to go back and rewrite some sections, but your book will be richer, more believable and filled with fascinating character complexities that will be missing if you try to force your character into K. M. Weiland’s arcs at the very beginning of your manuscript before you really know who your character is.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure (Helping Writers Become Authors)
Date written: 10/23/2018
4.0 / 5 stars


How_to_Write_Science_Fiction_and_Fantasy

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

Orson Scott Card addresses with brilliance the special needs that writers of science fiction and fantasy have. First off, he helps you decide if what you are writing is science fiction or fantasy. I’ve concluded my Silver Skies novels are epic fantasy and Christian fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy writers have special problems over how to handle exposition and Card advises them to drop it in and wed it to the plot and characters, not to dump it all at once in a huge expository dump, saying we writers need to give our readers credit for having brains. We don’t have to tell them everything. They can infer many things. We only need to say enough to eliminate confusion. He explains why the use of metaphor, which can be brilliant in most novels, is discouraged for writers of speculative fiction, because it could confuse the readers. Though he says to go to town with simile. He gives pointers on how to create your story’s world, which is handled differently by science fiction/fantasy writers. Orson Scott Card is a great writing teacher. Recommend this book to anybody who writes science fiction or fantasy. Card gives advice on how to write a moving story in these genres, and how science fiction and fantasy readers approach the stories they read in these genres.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy
Date written: 11/05/2018
5.0 / 5 stars


Mastering_Point_of_View

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Mastering Point of View

Point of view is the area where I usually mess up. This book goes really deep into the various points of view and you need to read it carefully to benefit from its instructions, including reading all the recommended exercises. A careful read will help you decide on point of view or a combination of points of view. She has a reading list of books in all the major writing genres at the end to help you understand better how point of view is used in all the major genres of books out there. You really cannot benefit from this book, without doing some outside reading to see how various authors in different genres handle point of view. If you read her book carelessly, it could do you more harm than good and you may not fully grasp how to use point of view or even which point of view you are writing in, which could really mess up your book. But if you read her book carefully, it can be very helpful in deciding on a point of view for your book and how to implement it.

I think beginning writers may want to skip this book, at least until they have mastered first person and third person limited point of view. Once you master first person and third person limited, then pick this book up and read it. It will make more sense. Until you master first person and third person limited, this book may just confuse the daylights out of you, because it is very deep into all the various points of view and could be bewildering to a beginning writer. But, because it opens your eyes to other possibilities with point of view, it is highly recommended for intermediate to advanced writers, who want to expand their vistas!

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Mastering Point of View
Date written: 11/05/2018
5.0 / 5 stars


Beginnings_Middles_and_Ends

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Beginnings, Middles & Ends

Clear cut, easy to understand instruction on how to do a broad outline of your book or story, with specific help for beginnings, middles and ends and where you can go wrong in the beginning, the middle or the end. I found especially helpful her section on middles, where she advises you how to structure your book into various formal structural designs (straight chronological structure, regularly recurring viewpoints, multiviewpoint chronological section, or parallel running scenes) to keep your reader on track as they read your book. She gives concrete nuts and bolts instruction on how to get out of any rut you might have in the beginning, middle or end and how to tell if you are having problems with your beginning, middle or end. In her instruction to beginners, I found her advice about how to honor the implicit promise you made to your readers, to be something every writer should understand! Whatever story you promise in the beginning, needs to be the story that you end and she discusses how writers can lose their focus and write a confusing story that readers will toss into the garbage bin, if this is not honored. 

This book is geared more to beginning writers. But intermediate and advanced writers would do well to not forget some of the basics, and this would be a good refresher course. If you don’t master what she says here, you aren’t ready for advanced work. Though it is for beginners, she does such a good job of explaining the basics, reading this book would help writers to remember to stay on track with their stories and to be sure they have a strong beginning, middle and end, which is the foundation of any good story, except for the more experimental works. But then experimental works should only be attempted by those who have already mastered what is in this book and who have a good gut instinct about what works in writing, or their experiment will turn into a disaster.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Beginnings, Middles & Ends
Date written: 11/05/2018
5.0 / 5 stars


How_to_Grow_a_Novel

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
How to Grow a Novel

At first as I read this, I thought Sol Stein is awful opinionated and some of his advice seemed very inflexible. But as I mulled over his advice, it seems to me he has a good gut instinct about how to write stories that move the reader and make a difference. I have found from personal experience, that just about everything he advises is correct. Building upon his years of experience as an editor, writer and publisher, he advises writers on how to write stories that will move and interest the readers and Sol Stein seems to have a deep understanding about the human psyche and which stories really work. He’s a real straight shooter and if you have a thin skin or are in the writing business to make a name for yourself only or for riches, you may find his approach offensive. But for serious writers, who really want to hone their craft, this book is a godsend! Like his advice to not make your main character a goody goody is RIGHT ON. Or his advice to have dialogue be oblique and to always be moving forward the plot or illuminating character is RIGHT ON. This book is full of writerly (a term he invented) nuggets and each page is a goldmine to writers who are serious about their craft. He does recommend you read his other work, Stein on Writing, (which I have) and does refer you a lot to his software programs (which I used to have). I think if you read this book and his other book, Stein on Writing, carefully, you will have quite a bit to work with. His chapter fourteen on how non-fiction writers mess up when they try fiction, is a goldmine of invaluable advice. In fact, this chapter is so important to any fiction writer, they should practically memorize it. 

I highly recommend this book to any writer who wants to write something that will be around for the next one hundred years. Though some of his advice is outdated, due to the information he had in 1999, most of what’s in here would be useful for many years to come. It’s just solid advice about what makes a story that resonates with the readers and will live on. And isn’t that what all true writers want? If you only care about fame and money, skip this book, it will bore you and your writing will probably stink, too. Stein seems to know the writing craft in and out in all of its aspects.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
How to Grow a Novel
Date written: 11/05/2018
5.0 / 5 stars


Crafting_Scenes

★ ★
Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes

I think Mr. Obstfeld got tired writing this book, because the first half is pretty good. But the last half gets confusing. His advice about describing what a scene is, how to start scenes, determining scene length, deciding on point of view, how to use setting, and ending a scene, is good. His chapter on whether to focus a scene on character, plot or theme is insightful. Making pay off scenes work is described with helpful insight.

When he starts advising for specific types of scenes: action and suspense, comedy, and romantic and sex scenes – he uses examples mainly from the action and suspense genre, so if you write in other genres, you’re out of luck. At best, some of the advice he gives for these specific genres would not work for epic fantasy, what I write.

The book overall is helpful for those who write action and suspense. If you write in other genres, discard much of the advice you get in parts of this book, because what will work for action and suspense, may not work for epic fantasy or romance.

The end of the book is a complete dud for anybody who does not write action and suspense. He critiques the movie Entrapment scene by scene, with NO advice for how this critique would apply to different genres. Most of the advice in this book is geared towards action and suspense improvement. But not all scenes in a romance or epic fantasy book are action and suspense! A more appropriate title for the book would be Crafting Scenes for Action and Suspense.

When the main focus of your work is romance, my focus, he totally neglects the importance of voice and style. He just doles out rules and regulations for how to improve action and suspense. The one chapter where he addresses how to write effective love scenes, had some of the most boring love and sex scenes I’d ever read!

Alas, if you’re a fan of action and suspense, this book may be useful. But if your taste veers in other directions, you won’t miss much by skipping this book altogether.

For writers out there, I’d read this book for advice on how to spice up your action and suspense scenes and how to create original and effective openings. He’s good at brainstorming to enhance creativity and originality.

So read the book piecemeal, using those parts that apply your particular work, realizing you must ignore some incorrect advice that does not apply to your genre. Also, I tend to overthink my writings and for those with this weakness, the advice he gives to rewrite and rewrite and think and think could be disastrous. 

He underplays the importance of honing into your intuition and inner voice, discarding that as automatic rubbish. He just flat out says that all first drafts stink insinuating that listening to your inner voice almost always results in a disaster unless it has been rewritten and rethought over and over. For overthinkers like me, that is a disaster.  

I would say that this book would work for writers who write like Mr. Obstfeld, but not for those who have a different approach or write for a different genre. He seems to prefer pessimistic, cynical writing – definitely not my taste. I admit that I am often guilty of purple prose and he will help me be more aware of this tendency. But his weaknesses lie in the opposite direction. I will refer to this book to help with scene openings and originality, but must view many sections with caution as not pertinent to my style or genre.

It’s basically a book that critiques book or story scenes, showing you where the authors went wrong mostly and then a bit about what they did right. But the critiques are ninety percent about improvement of action and suspense, even in love scenes! The critiques would work on action and suspense, but not necessarily other genres or styles. He seems to favor cynical action and suspense. I am not even sure I agree with his assessment of these scenes, either.

Onto a positive note: If you write action or suspense, especially if you are an atheist, I think this book would be a GOLDMINE. I’m not trying to make fun of atheists when I say this, either. I think atheists are entitled to their literature. I believe in freedom of speech and of what you can read. Just be aware if your view of life is a little more rosy, you may want to skip this book.

On the other hand, I love Wuthering Heights, and that’s not exactly a rosy book. So perhaps I just feel that he seems to prefer works that have a cynical, depressing ending, as somehow being more literary. But Wuthering Heights seems to have an affirmation ending about the power of love, so it’s not that cynical. Cynics will love this book. It will teach you how to write works that appeal to cynics and we seem to have a lot of them these days.

Written by: Gail Chord Schuler (Gabrielle Chana pen name)
Novelist’s Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes
Date written: 11/12/2018
2.0 / 5 stars