Fiction First Aid by Raymond Obstfeld


FICTION FIRST AID is the book I lend friends who say, “I’m thinking of starting some writing. Do you have any how-to books I can borrow?” Of all the books on my shelf, FICTION FIRST AID is the best all-around guide for beginners. It shows writers what to avoid without being negative, and shows them what works without being preachy. Obstfeld succeeds mainly because of the numerous good examples he uses. Anyone who reads this book will not only know what to do but how to do it.

The chapters are arranged by symptom, such as flat scenes, bland characters, predictable plots, or low-impact settings. Obstfeld then shows why certain things are not working and offers a cure for the ailment. Although it’s not much help with grammar or syntax, FICTION FIRST AID is tops for big-picture revisions of character and plot. You don’t have to diagnose your novel’s problems exactly in order to fix them. Obstfeld gives enough examples and checklists to help. Some are from well-known books and movies, but he creates most of them himself in order to better illustrate his points.

Although it seems as if FICTION FIRST AID would be completely negative, (since Obstfeld is telling you what not to do) it doesn’t read that way. Going through the checklists, I always feel like my manuscript is just one good revision away from perfect health.

There is a lot of information crammed into this book. Obstfeld tries to cover everything that could possibly go wrong in a manuscript. Of necessity, he glosses over a few topics that he should have covered in more detail. For example, antagonists are the crucial piece of any novel, yet Obstfeld spends only a few pages discussing how to write a good villain. Although I regularly lend out FICTION FIRST AID, I caution my friends that it’s only a starting place.

But what a great place to start.


FICTION FIRST AID can be found here.


rating: 4 stars



This book is best for: beginning writers


I recommend this book

2 thoughts on “Fiction First Aid by Raymond Obstfeld

  1. That sounds like a decent book, something I could use. Shame it is not available in ebook form. Just Hardback at about $10 and paperback at $18. Odd that the paperback is much more expensive than the hardback.

    I might have a look around for a S/H copy, (might even steal yours:)


    • It might be out of print, which is sad because it’s such a useful book. I see that it’s available second hand for a very attractive price, though.

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