The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing edited by Writer’s Digest


THE COMPLETE HANDBOOK OF NOVEL WRITING is a huge anthology with contributions from top authors, agents, and editors, covering all aspects of the craft and business. Since all the essays are by people who are specialists in their fields, there are no really bad parts, just parts that are more or less applicable. It’s a great book to read out of order, skipping to the essays that are most helpful at any given time.

There is too much to cover in one review, but I’ll point to a few of my favorites. “What I Stole from the Movies” by Les Standiford tells of his screenwriting apprenticeship, and how he learned to translate dramatic techniques to fiction. By writing more scenes and less exposition, he ended up with fast-paced, cinematic novels that readers loved.

“Write This, Not That” by Elizabeth Sims challenges writers to think beyond the formulaic to write novels of true substance. Most importantly, she shows how it’s done. “Producing a Knockout Novel Synopsis” by Evan Marshall is the best primer I’ve  seen on the topic. Synopses are evil little monsters, but Marshall teaches us how to tame them.

The biggest surprise in the book was the conversation with Stephen King and Jerry B. Jenkins. I couldn’t imagine what a horror writer and a writer of Christian fiction would have in common. It turns out, not only are the two men friends, but they admire each others’ writing. It prompted me to take a second look at the essay Jenkins contributed to the anthology. His “Beyond Basic Blunders” was worthwhile reading, too.

THE COMPLETE HANDBOOK OF NOVEL WRITING is over 500 pages, so I’m glad I read it as an ebook. However, several chapters contained nonsense characters or blank lines, and one table was completely unreadable (tables in ebooks are generally a bad idea). In all, the transition from print to ebook was not a smooth one, and I wished for better from the publisher.

THE COMPLETE HANDBOOK OF NOVEL WRITING, while not complete, is pretty close. All the contributors have helpful information. They all want to tell us the secret to success. They all want us to understand the one true way. No matter how good the advice, by the end, I learned so much that I burned out, and was unable to absorb anything new. It was as if my brain was full. It was only after rest and reflection that I was able to sort through it all and keep the gems worth keeping.

Although there’s a lot of information in this anthology (probably too much), it just means I will be reading and re-reading it for a long time to come.




rating: 4 stars



This book is best for: intermediate writers


I recommend this book.

3 thoughts on “The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing edited by Writer’s Digest

  1. I grabbed this one during a free giveaway promotion, but haven’t looked at it yet. Now I think I will. Thanks for the review!

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