The Novel Writer's Toolkit
by Bob Mayer
Writers Digest Books (2003)
I had high hopes for this book. Guess I should have read the Amazon reviews then I would have realized that it's written for beginning writers. Not that that's a bad thing. Novice writers need guidance, too, but there are already so many books geared to them and I've been past that stage for a while, so I look for other things, but I'll try to give you an idea of what's worthwhile here.
As you can see from the Table of Contents, the book covers everything from the initial story idea to getting published. The information is basic. Sometimes too much so unless this is your first book ever on writing. That doesn't mean there aren't gems for the novice.
For instance, this is part of what Mayer says about antagonists:
If a novel has a problem that needs to be resolved, who usually introduces the problem? The antagonist. Taking the point of view of the antagonist during outlining can help you focus the plot of the novel. Your protagonist will be reacting to the antagonist's plan until the critical moment at which the protagonist starts to act.
Novice writers have difficulties writing antagonists/villains, so this nicely points out how crucial it is to get them right.
He also acknowledges that new writers want rules. They want black and white. Do this, don't do that, but writing, as he says, isn't ever that easy. You have to know when and how to apply the wisdom you're handed. This is an important point and one he brings up over and over. Such as when he talks about Show, Don't Tell:
First, let me say that it (the rule) isn't completely true all the time. There are indeed times in a novel when you should tell . . . The line between showing and telling is nonexistent at times. It's a sliding scale. At one end (telling) is pure exposition,; at the other end (showing) is dramatization. Telling tends to summarize information, giving it secondhand. Showing allows you to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste firsthand.
Mayer takes a reasonable approach to most rules, such as when he says:
Another problem to beware of: perfectionism. Some people thing that the writing has to be perfect. They spend an inordinate amount of time editing and rewriting. Sometimes, you just have to accept it's either good enough, or that the horse is dead and can't be brought back to life.
Mayer spends a fair amount of time near the beginning talking about organization. If you're challenged in this are, this book does offer some suggestions that might work for you.
There is a newer edition of this book out there. I suspect it will have lots of different things to say about the market. If you're determined to go the traditional route, the advice here is still valid, but in 2003, no one knew how ebooks would change the publishing industry so the author spends no time at all on that route.
So it's not a bad book for a beginner, but it's more of an overview. If you're looking for something to help you with how-tos (like how to show instead of tell, or how to characterize) I'd recommend Stein on Writing above any other writing book.
If you'd like to see other reviews about writing references, I'm starting to get quite a collection, and they can be found here.
What books have you found helpful in you quest to write well?