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The Fiction Writer's Handbook

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The Fiction Writer’s Handbook is the definitive volume to explain the words and phrases that writers and editors use when they talk about a work. In a highly competitive publishing world, today’s writers need to stay ahead of the competition and make every sentence count. This book will help new writers who need an understanding of the writing process and it's also for sea The Fiction Writer’s Handbook is the definitive volume to explain the words and phrases that writers and editors use when they talk about a work. In a highly competitive publishing world, today’s writers need to stay ahead of the competition and make every sentence count. This book will help new writers who need an understanding of the writing process and it's also for seasoned writers who need inspiration. It’s a powerful tool. “I can honestly say that Shelly Lowenkopf wrote the book on fiction.” —Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay It Forward and Jumpstart the World “Shelly Lowenkopf has cooked up literary gumbo for all writers. Once you’ve sampled it, you won’t be able to stop coming back for more.” —Ehrich Van Lowe, producer of The Cosby Show and author of Boyfriend from Hell.


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The Fiction Writer’s Handbook is the definitive volume to explain the words and phrases that writers and editors use when they talk about a work. In a highly competitive publishing world, today’s writers need to stay ahead of the competition and make every sentence count. This book will help new writers who need an understanding of the writing process and it's also for sea The Fiction Writer’s Handbook is the definitive volume to explain the words and phrases that writers and editors use when they talk about a work. In a highly competitive publishing world, today’s writers need to stay ahead of the competition and make every sentence count. This book will help new writers who need an understanding of the writing process and it's also for seasoned writers who need inspiration. It’s a powerful tool. “I can honestly say that Shelly Lowenkopf wrote the book on fiction.” —Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay It Forward and Jumpstart the World “Shelly Lowenkopf has cooked up literary gumbo for all writers. Once you’ve sampled it, you won’t be able to stop coming back for more.” —Ehrich Van Lowe, producer of The Cosby Show and author of Boyfriend from Hell.

30 review for The Fiction Writer's Handbook

  1. 5 out of 5

    Julie Reyes

    Although I have gone through this once already I think this is going to be a book for me to keep going back to as I dive into writing. It has great information for a new writer. I don't think this is a book I will ever truly finish. I will need to keep going back to it again and again.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    The first sentence tells us the book "is a tool for writers of fiction and for readers who love story." Lowenkopf writes that he was "bored with books on how to write and how to read that begin with explanations" so "instead of a table of contents, you'll find a list of entries." In other words, this is structured as a dictionary of 366 terms which one might find in a writing workshop or creative writing course. Lowenkopf has taught such courses for years. (Christopher Moore, a bestselling autho The first sentence tells us the book "is a tool for writers of fiction and for readers who love story." Lowenkopf writes that he was "bored with books on how to write and how to read that begin with explanations" so "instead of a table of contents, you'll find a list of entries." In other words, this is structured as a dictionary of 366 terms which one might find in a writing workshop or creative writing course. Lowenkopf has taught such courses for years. (Christopher Moore, a bestselling author and one of his students, wrote this book's Foreword.) According to the short biography on his blog, Lowenkopf has also been "an editor for general trade, literary, scholarly, and massmarket book publishers... he's seen well [over] 500 books through the editorial process into bookstores." I don't care for this format. The topics just don't flow into each other, much material is repetitive, and this isn't a good book to sit down and read cover to cover. There's a place for specialized dictionaries. No law student or lawyer would be without the latest edition of Black's Law Dictionary. But it's an aide for when you come across a term you don't know, not the primary way you learn law. A hierarchical organization that brings related ideas together is the best way to learn any material. I'd have preferred traditional chapters, each one dealing with a topic such as plot, character, genre, etc. Mind you, this format with its frequent references in small caps to other entries would have been awesome in a hypertext ebook. But between covers? Then there's content. The entries weren't always as clear as they could be. For instance, under "attribution" Lowenkopf warns against reaching for synonyms for the word "said" in dialogue tagging; "said" is a "blind word" that disappears into the narrative. But he writes that "verbs that convey feelings" could be so substituted. An example of what he meant would have helped there. Moreover, I found the political sensibilities of the author more blatant than in any other book on writing I've read. See, for instance, the entries "a cock-and-bull story" and "the concept-driven story." As soon as we hit the entry "defensiveness" I was sure Atlas Shrugged would come up, and I wasn't wrong. And incidentally, it's John Galt, not "Gault." Not the only mistake I caught about a book. Byatt's Possession, for instance, doesn't involve an American scholar--that's the filmed adaptation; To Kill a Mockingbird does involve race relations, but not slavery; The Crystal Cave is by Mary Stewart, not Renault. These might just be cases of carelessness, and I was reading from an Uncorrected Proof, but I was left wondering if Lowenkopf had really read the books he cited as examples. I did love Lowenkopf's use of frequent literary examples. I wish there had been an index, or at least a listing, of all the works he cited. I appreciated the Bibliography--although I didn't appreciate he recommended his own books. Shameless self-promotion is off-putting and it made me wonder just how many listed works, not just in the Bibliography but in examples used throughout, were chosen because the author was connected in some way to Lowenkopf. As with the political bias and mistakes about the contents of books, it erodes credibility. There are some nuggets of wisdom in this book, without doubt. It's useful to know that the Chicago Manual of Style and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary set the standard for usage in the American publishing industry; I appreciated learning details concerning manuscript format found in such entries as "two-line space break." I loved the distinctions Lowenkopf drew between deadpan, irony and sarcasm. I wish more writers, both wannabe and professional, would read his entry on "intensity in language" and take to heart its admonishment that intensity should be conveyed through words--particularly dialogue with gesture and expression--and not such devices as "italics or exclamation points or all cap lettering." I liked his suggestion that to familiarize yourself with a genre such as romance, mystery or fantasy read 100 "first generation" classics and then the well-known works published in the last five years. His advice to beginning writers to write two thousand words a day, read two books a week, and revise a work eight to ten times is a good rule of thumb--assuming you don't have to sleep or work for a living. His suggestions in "first-draft strategy," "writer's block" and "revision" sound as if they're worth trying. However, there was little to nothing I hadn't seen echoed in other books on fiction writing. I first learned about writing craft and publishing on a forum for new and unpublished authors by the editor of a writing contest. He said that when evaluating a book on writing, first look at the author, and don't just buy anything published by say Writer's Digest. The work should be by a bestselling or admired author (as with Stephen King's On Writing) or a top literary agent (for instance, Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages) or the author should have other experiences as a gatekeeper, such as the case with Renni Browne and Dave King, authors of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, who worked as acquisition editors. I own all four of the books mentioned above, have given them as gifts to writer friends, and I consider each invaluable for anyone interested in publishing professionally or even just hobby writers wanting to improve their craft. Those works are the yardstick by which I measure books on fiction writing. Do I think this book has its place alongside those works? Lowenkopf certainly qualifies as one of those who, given his experience as a an editor, would know what the gatekeepers look for in a submitted work. I will put his book alongside the others on my shelf for now; it has some useful information, but I wouldn't count it among the better books on fiction writing I've read. I should note I received this Advance Reader's Copy for free from the publisher as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Janet Gardner

    In spite of initially being put off by Christopher Moore’s rather snarky forward attacking traditional literary scholarship, I was excited to read what promised to be a really different sort of writing book. Rather than a series of chapters covering familiar concepts in fiction writing—character, setting, dialog, and so forth—the book is structured as an alphabetical series of mini-essays on terms ranging from Conflict to Authorial Intervention to Chick Lit. Each of these entries or articles the In spite of initially being put off by Christopher Moore’s rather snarky forward attacking traditional literary scholarship, I was excited to read what promised to be a really different sort of writing book. Rather than a series of chapters covering familiar concepts in fiction writing—character, setting, dialog, and so forth—the book is structured as an alphabetical series of mini-essays on terms ranging from Conflict to Authorial Intervention to Chick Lit. Each of these entries or articles then contains several cross-references to related entries, allowing a reader to discover and follow links between the many aspects of writing. The idea is to dip in, either at random or in search of a particular concept, and then let the book take you somewhere else, perhaps somewhere unexpected. Of course, many such handbooks already exist for students of literature, but I believe this is the first of its type geared specifically towards students of fiction writing. Lowenkopf has clearly thought through his craft and has a wealth of insight to share with his students. He gives lots of examples, drawn from a wide range of literary (and non-literary) models, and he takes seriously both literary and genre fiction. In spite of its promise, though, the book just didn’t pay off for me. The author’s strong opinions give his writing verve, but they can also obfuscate and confuse. The specific terms Lowenkopf chooses to define—and not to define—seem idiosyncratic to the point that could leave a beginning student in the dark and a more advanced writer puzzled. Many terms commonly-used in craft texts and fiction workshops are here (Epiphany, Hubris, Deus Ex Machina, Information Dump, and the like). But there are, for instance, no definitions of “Motive” or “Setting,” terms which a student of fiction is far more likely to encounter (and therefore need defined) than Lowenkopf’s preferred substitutes: “Agenda” and “Arena.” There's nothing on rising and falling action, but several pages on alternate universes. There are longish entries on Captain Ahab, Lionel Essrog, and Sherlock Holmes. Certainly these characters are worth studying, but are they more essential than hundreds of others? As much as the content, though, the structure of the book--the very thing that separates it from so many other volumes on the craft of fiction--will be a hindrance to at least some writers seeking help or advice. If you ignore the cross-references, many of the entries resemble definitions you could find in any book or website on the craft, though often more eccentric, and consequently less immediately clear. If you follow the linkages frequently, however, you’re down the rabbit hole, lost in an endlessly self-referential maze. No doubt some readers will find this fun and fascinating, but others, including me, will find it mostly frustrating. I read this as an e-book, and my final observations apply only to this version. Hypertext seems an ideal medium for a project in which a reader is encouraged to move from entry to entry, following the logic of linkages as well as his or her own curiosity. But there were some problems. Lowenkopf’s preface explains that when you “see a WORD rendered in CAPS or a hyperlink, you’ll find an article of definition for that word or phrase.” I could discover no logic, however, for which words are linked and which merely capitalized. Why, for instance, in the sentence, “Whether the story is genre or LITERARY, agenda is an essential presence,” is “genre” given as a link while “LITERARY” is not? Does the author assume that a reader of this particular article may have an urgent need for a definition of genre but doesn’t need to know right away what a literary story is? Also, a number of terms appear in capitals, when, in fact, there is no article on that term. (“MOTIVE” is one of these.) Finally, several of the links in the e-book are non-functional, including nearly every link to the crucial term “reader.” Bottom line: while this might be a useful tool for a student newly enrolled in a creative writing program or for a very particular type of reader and writer, it is of rather limited value to someone looking for straightforward help with the craft of writing. There are many gems buried in here, certainly, but they are just too hard to find among the glass.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    I gave this book five stars for the simple reason that if you are a writer, publisher, editor, or anyone else in the publishing industry, this is your dictionary. This isn't the kind of book to be read cover to cover, it is a reference book. This book is full of terms used by people in the publishing world and a definition of exactly what that term means in reference to books and writing. Each term then goes on to give writings that are good examples of these terms. Looking for an example of "th I gave this book five stars for the simple reason that if you are a writer, publisher, editor, or anyone else in the publishing industry, this is your dictionary. This isn't the kind of book to be read cover to cover, it is a reference book. This book is full of terms used by people in the publishing world and a definition of exactly what that term means in reference to books and writing. Each term then goes on to give writings that are good examples of these terms. Looking for an example of "the chocking Doberman"? The medical thriller and famous television show House, M.D. is a perfect example. Need a good example of "chick lit"? The author Candace Bushnell is a master. Need to know how to plan your chapters? William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is worth an entire university course according to Shelly Lowenkopf. You get my point. Despite my love of print books, one could argue that this is the perfect book to be read in eBook format. In eBook format each entry has links to follow to corresponding entries which I found every useful (the paperback version I'm sure has these prompts to look up similar entries, it would just require a little more page flipping). The bottom line, I think this book is an excellent reference for writers to add to their shelf right next to their thesaurus and dictionary to be referred to over and over again.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book is more like a dictionary explaining all the concepts of fiction writing. I assumed this book would be a how-to book, but it was better than that! This handbook will be one that new fiction writers will turn to again and again. At the beginning of the book you can find a list of all words and phrases discussed in the book. Most entries in this handbook offer tips, techniques and hint for a fiction writer. While this book will be a great resource for new fiction writers and editors, it This book is more like a dictionary explaining all the concepts of fiction writing. I assumed this book would be a how-to book, but it was better than that! This handbook will be one that new fiction writers will turn to again and again. At the beginning of the book you can find a list of all words and phrases discussed in the book. Most entries in this handbook offer tips, techniques and hint for a fiction writer. While this book will be a great resource for new fiction writers and editors, it will also be a valuable resource that will be turned to again and again for even the most seasoned writer or editor.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lili

    This is an astute book, one for all aspiring writers and bibliophiles; not a book you read in one sitting, nor is it a book you ever finish totally. It is a book you delve into, a book you explore time and time again. A must for beginners and a must for those who wish to improve their craft. Pleased to receive this as a Goodreads Firstread.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cayt Landis

    I was interested in this book initially because I am in the process of writing my first novel. I am an amateur writer who has always wanted to write this one particular story but who hasn't quite gotten it all down yet. I had hoped that this handbook would help me through the process and it definitely has. The Fiction Writer's Handbook is not the type of book that you read cover to cover. Rather, it is a reference book, more like an encyclopedia or dictionary. The way to get the most out of it is I was interested in this book initially because I am in the process of writing my first novel. I am an amateur writer who has always wanted to write this one particular story but who hasn't quite gotten it all down yet. I had hoped that this handbook would help me through the process and it definitely has. The Fiction Writer's Handbook is not the type of book that you read cover to cover. Rather, it is a reference book, more like an encyclopedia or dictionary. The way to get the most out of it is to pick a topic or word that you're interesting in learning more about or that you are having particular problems with in your own writing, and go from there. Each article in the book covers one aspect of writing, such as the actor or a story arc. The definitions of these terms are laid out in an easy to understand manner and ample real world examples are employed to further your understanding. My favorite aspect of this handbook is the way each separate entry ties to other entries and how starting from any individual point can lead you throughout the book in an intuitive way. Reading about one term will lead you to read about two or three other related terms, and so on and so forth. Soon you will have read an entire branching series of sections that all relate and work together to help you better understand how to write a novel and how to digest other people's writinga. This is a really good resource for any author or avid reader. After reading sections of the book for just an hour I felt I had a better understanding of where to take my current project and how to flesh out my characters in believable ways. This book really helped me to have the confidence that I can finish my story and that it can be a success that other people may enjoy. Read this review and more at my blog!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Graf

    Picture I have to admit that I was very excited to get The Fiction Writer's Handbook by Shelly Lowenkopf. I'm a writer who is growing all the time. I love to get resources to help me. Well, when I opened it up, it wasn't what I expected. Then again, I'm not sure what I had expected. Even describing is not easy. It is a cross between an encyclopedia for writers and a how-to book for writers. I think I was looking for a book that you read from beginning to end. No. With this book, you can open it up Picture I have to admit that I was very excited to get The Fiction Writer's Handbook by Shelly Lowenkopf. I'm a writer who is growing all the time. I love to get resources to help me. Well, when I opened it up, it wasn't what I expected. Then again, I'm not sure what I had expected. Even describing is not easy. It is a cross between an encyclopedia for writers and a how-to book for writers. I think I was looking for a book that you read from beginning to end. No. With this book, you can open it up anywhere and read a section. For example, I turned to 'Family'. I got all the definitions of family plus a few I had never thought of. From there, the definitions slide into how it can be applied to writing. That doesn't even explain it well. The author explains how a family knows each other in ways that others do not and the many different levels families possess. When I pulled back and read it again, I began to see how handy that would really be for me. I was looking for a how-to kind of book. Instead I found a uniquely written writer's encyclopedia/how-to book. You cannot just read it straight through. There is way too much info on each page to do that. You'll find yourself having to read sections over and over again not because they are hard to understand but because there is no way to get it all in one reading. This is a book you'll be reading years from now and still only scratch the surface on how it can help you. This is a book that I'll be referring to later today, tomorrow, and next year. It's one that I think every writer, even seasoned ones, needs. Note: This book was received as part of a book tour with no expectation of a positive review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Julie Goucher

    The concept of this book is rather interesting and is laid out in dictonary format, and as such would not be read cover to cover, yet this is exactly what I recommend you do. This is a collection of literary terms and articles and the e-book version which is the one I had access to is full of links which you can read and follow. This in turns leads you on a literary voyage of discovery. From the Preface, the author recommends that you " Open the book anywhere, read an article, then follow the trai The concept of this book is rather interesting and is laid out in dictonary format, and as such would not be read cover to cover, yet this is exactly what I recommend you do. This is a collection of literary terms and articles and the e-book version which is the one I had access to is full of links which you can read and follow. This in turns leads you on a literary voyage of discovery. From the Preface, the author recommends that you " Open the book anywhere, read an article, then follow the trail of links as far as it takes you. ... You'll see the intent and purpose in a dramatic way." Through the pages the author shares his vast experiences gathered over his teaching career. He also shares his opinions and the book is littered with other reading options, although they do not all appear in the bibliography. Thankfully I realised in the early stages of reading and jotted the titles down. The bibliography has been reserved for books that the author believes are essential for development of the craft of writing. In fact the author says they are - "The following titles are not mere recommendations; they are essentials for the professional writer and the avid reader: The sooner and closer they are read, the better." This was a great book to explore and use as a stepping stone to other reading, and it will certainly be a stable in the writers library.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Teena in Toronto

    This book is laid out like a dictionary, with everything and anything to do with writing listed from A to Z ("act" is the first one and "zeitgeist" is the last one). There are explanations for things that are well-known like "attitude", "pace", "subplot" and "writer's block". But there are also some terms that I'd never heard of before like "bildungsroman", "the choking Doberman", "fish in a barrel" and "verisimilitude". If there is a word in small caps in an explanation, it means it has its own This book is laid out like a dictionary, with everything and anything to do with writing listed from A to Z ("act" is the first one and "zeitgeist" is the last one). There are explanations for things that are well-known like "attitude", "pace", "subplot" and "writer's block". But there are also some terms that I'd never heard of before like "bildungsroman", "the choking Doberman", "fish in a barrel" and "verisimilitude". If there is a word in small caps in an explanation, it means it has its own explanation in the book. For me it isn't a book I could read from front to back ... it's one that I would pick up and read a couple explanations and then put down until another time. I found it more interesting to randomly open the book and read whatever explanation I had come across.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    I really haven't finished the book and will probably never finish with it. This is an excellent dictionary or reference guide for all things literary and it is written in a very readable style. The text feels like comfortable conversation, and many times he answers question his comments had brought to my mind. I've referred back to the book several times as I'm writing my own fiction, but also, because of the way the book is written, and the fact that I have it on my kindle, it is easy to pick u I really haven't finished the book and will probably never finish with it. This is an excellent dictionary or reference guide for all things literary and it is written in a very readable style. The text feels like comfortable conversation, and many times he answers question his comments had brought to my mind. I've referred back to the book several times as I'm writing my own fiction, but also, because of the way the book is written, and the fact that I have it on my kindle, it is easy to pick up, and learn on the subject of my choice. The kindle version also has hyperlinks which direct the reader to additional material. A great book! Thank you Mr. L.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marianne Robin-Tani

    Lovers and writers of fiction-- rejoice! Everything you've ever wanted to know about fiction, from A is for Act all the way to Z is for Zeitgeist, is neatly alphabetized and waiting for your perusal. Shelly's definitions explain and enlighten with wit, clarity and plenty of good, solid information. I believe that many writers will cry "HIBK* about this book before I began my novel, I'd have written a better book." *see The Fiction Writer's Handbook for a definition of HIBK...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Really just skimmed this dictionary-like anthology of literary terms. I found it a useful reference, though a bit more of an introduction or "look for these terms" guide might have been appreciative.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    When I begin a new field of study, one for which I've had only minimal preparation, acquiring a threshold level of vocabulary is, in my opinion, essential. Lowenkopf provides this fiction writer's vocabulary from A to Z, and explains each term. If you are going to write fiction, I'd read this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Aric

    It's been a few years since I've written anything fictional but when I do (if I ever get around to a plot outline) I'm sure I'll be going back to this a book a few times. It doesn't hurt that the foreword is written by my favorite author Christopher Moore (nice selling point for me).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    It had a lot of useful information.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I won this book with Goodreads first reads so I would first off like to say thank you. Set out like a dictionary a fantastic tool for aspiring writers, gives you everything you need to know

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lysa

    I won this book on goodreads giveaway. It's a great book. I passed it on to my mom because she's always writing!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adam Ross

    A good dictionary of writing terms, complete with detailed entries and literary examples. If you're a writer, this should probably be on your shelf.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Loni

    An interesting and useful tool for anyone interested in the craft of writing. Something I can see myself returning to frequently. Thanks for the win, Goodreads!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ashlee

    my dream is to write a book

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robin Red

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Ogren

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adella Dratianos

  25. 4 out of 5

    Frank Klus

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Shanahan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Pia

  28. 4 out of 5

    Legit midget

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marge Perko

  30. 4 out of 5

    Torbjorn Flatval

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