Writing Your Best Story: Advice for Writers on Spinning an Enchanting Tale, Second Edition
By Philip Martin
Copyright, November 15, 2017
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About the book:
“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.” – Flannery O’Connor.
Beginning writers often wonder what it takes to get published. The second edition of this practical book looks at what really makes fiction work: good storytelling! Oddly, storytelling skills, despite their immense value to all writers, are seldom emphasized in writing courses.
How To Write Your Best Story explores three key elements that fuel the magic of story: intriguing eccentricity, delightful details, and satisfying surprises. The proven storytelling techniques are time-tested and used by the best authors, including by winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer, and National Book Award, as well as by commercially successful authors whose books appear on bestseller lists and whose work is treasured by generations of fans.
Written by an accomplished editor and indie-press publisher, this guide draws on the author’s decades of experience in the book trade, studying what really works for emerging writers and editing many books of advice on literary craft and career development.
The practical tips, techniques, and examples of best practices here draw on the work of great literary storytellers – from Shakespeare, Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain to Willa Cather, E.B. White, and James Thurber to Neil Gaiman, Ivan Doig, and Patrick Rothfuss.
How To Write Your Best Story will help you understand how to craft better fiction (or nonfiction) and to get your best work published.
Framed in a story of the author’s creation, Philip Martin sets off to do what all good mentors teach—show, not tell—in this case, authors, how to create a good story that enchants.
Story should rise above narrative, Martin writes; more than groups of words, more than a series of events. It is also an art form. Quoting liberally from ancient to modern works, Martin employs his background as a professional gatherer of stories and histories to show how story works across culture and time to draw listeners in to a communal experience. Writers are more than purveyors of phrases. Writers offer a promise and provide the worthwhile payoff.
As an experienced editor of writer’s advice books, a former editor for best-selling mainstream authors, and the director of Great Lakes Literary, Martin shares his advice and technique for creating memorable works that hopefully attract an agent or editor. He takes a three-pronged approach, and so this book is divided into sections: start with a quirky hook; keep the middle more than readable by using delicious details, and finally, provide a satisfying ending.
Martin is not a fan of Plot. Plot, as a mechanism for writing a book, will make your work…mechanical. Contrived. Agenda-driven. Unimaginative. I believe his emphatic dissing of the term throughout the book is more a rebellion of the idea of plot, an issue of interpretation. After all, experienced authors are familiar with the idea of a novel being “plot-driven,” as in genre work, or “character-driven,” as more often describes non-specified fiction, aka literary work. No real matter, as Martin does make allowance for necessary underpinning of a story, whether compared to a sensual meal or a spider web. Plot is simply structure, whether an author uses it for a flexible framework, or discovers it after the story is complete. Structure works to create a commonly understood or shared experience. Too many authors use plot as a controlled formula, which Martin insists must be avoided.
Whether cyclic or arced or linear, a story has a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s the promise of a fine meal promised and fulfilled. Start with a desire or a want. Bait your hook with enticing morsels. Help the reader invest, establish resonating characters in intriguing environments. Give them a problem to work on. Create anticipation; offer satisfying surprises. “Delightful details” keep the reader’s interest and should build upon the premise. “Detail should triumph plot,” Martin says. Even while he dismisses Plot, Martin embraces Theme. “Theme should tell you what the ending should deal with,” he writes. Don’t try to find it until you’re well into your story. Theme is a message that answers why the story is important. The end of your tale should let the reader know this journey has been worthwhile, that he has returned better for having taken it with you, the story teller.
The book is well written with an easy-to-appreciate style. As mentioned above, he spins a story to show us how to create interesting characters with interesting problems who need interesting solutions to achieve desired outcomes. Martin also shares examples from well-known work to exemplify his points. While geared specifically with writers in mind, those who practice verbal story-telling would certainly benefit from reading and studying Writing Your Best Story. The premises and examples Martin lays out in the book apply to all kinds of writing from short story to full length novel, even on a certain level to non-fiction.
About the author
Phil Martin is an experienced editor of many books of advice for writers. Previously acquisitions editor for The Writer/Books, he had also written A Guide to Fantasy Literature and The Purpose of Fantasy, as well as award-winning books on traditional culture. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he directs Great Lakes Literary, offering editorial services and websites for authors. He also speaks and teaches workshops, and serves on the board of Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp and Writing Retreat, Inc.