How to Write Magical Words: a brief review

While taking breaks from taking care of others, I tried reading one of many books I’d checked out of the library, this particular one called How to Write Magical Words:  A Writer’s Companion, edited by Edmund R. Schubert.  I tend to be picky about books that tell me how to write.  I’ll check them out from the library, take some notes, then return them.  This one, I’m going to buy.  I’m not sure when, but for anything to make it onto my “to buy” list is huge nowadays. 

What makes it good is not just the information.  I mean, if you get down to it, writing is simple.  You read really good books.  You write, hoping you’ll sound good.  You let other people read what you’ve written.  The readers mock it at best, burn it and purify the ashes at worst.  You learn from their reaction and try to write something better.

If you’re really, really, really lucky (or you’ve gotten somewhat good) someone will like what you’ve written AND will tell you which parts are lousy.  The better you get, the fewer complaints people will give.  And by then, you’ll be able to sift through the complaints that apply and the ones that don’t.  Why?  Because of all you’ve been writing.  And reading.

Back to Magical Words.  It’s chock full of essays by writers and one editor about the craft and business of writing.  The beauty of it is that at the end of each article, there’s a couple of comments by a couple of the contributors about the previous essay.  Doing this avoids the “only one way to write” syndrome that tends to afflict beginning writers who learn a bit about the craft.  It also makes you feel like you’re part of a discussion instead of a student looking up at a professor and hoping you don’t miss anything on the next exam.

Overall, it’s wonderful.  It has a bias toward speculative fiction (I think all the contributors write/edit in that genre) but it’s very slight.  No matter what your genre, you’ll find something in this book to add to your bag of writing tricks.  For example, I’ve been worried about a particular scene in my manuscript.  Ed Schubert’s essay, “The Importance of Wanting in Fiction” shows me why.  I need a character who desperately wants something.  Although she really does desperately want something, I’m not sure if I’ve showed that.  It’s a basic thing, too.

However, my favorite essay so far is “Write What You Love” by A.J. Hartley.  In fact, inspired by that essay, I think I’ll end this post and get back to what I love.  At least for the next thirty minutes.

(Brief Disclaimer:  For the sake of complete honesty, I know for a fact Edmund Schubert and I were once part of Hatrack.  He reviewed my stuff and I reviewed his.  I loved his stories from the moment I first read them and I’m afraid that made me a lousy reviewer.  A good fan, though.  I’d be a better fan if I paid for his books.)

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