So the editor and publisher chose an unfortunate title: “How to Write Killer Fiction.” There are sections in this book that are much more sophisticated than that. And in fact, they contain material that is subtle and artful and difficult to find anywhere else. Not without a lot of wading anyway. Carolyn Wheat presents things to us in a straightforward way.
It’s not entirely a book about how to write murder mysteries and suspense novels. In fact, I skipped over much of the first part about mysteries and was no worse for it. It’s really a book about how to create suspense and build scenes and story patterns in any genre. To help us out, she first provides a succinct list of novel categories and types, de-mystifying the book market genres and showing us which are the most popular at the airport bookstand.It is up to us to apply her information to the type of book we are writing.
Wheat’s discussion on how to use the outcome pivot devices of “yes, but…” and “no, and furthermore…” are worth the price of admission. There is lots of advice about action arcs and reversals and tricks of the trade. Examples are used that require some inference. I am not sure if a beginning writer can catch all the subtleties and complexities. The book has a good share of writing nuggets, some so profoundly basic and true that we can tend to skip by them. On the first go-through anyway. This is a book worth reading more than twice and can kill your highlighter. I keep my copy with the other handy writing reference favorites (to be reviewed as well in upcoming posts).
Wheat doesn’t overload us with inspirational and cutesy writing fluff, like so many of the other writing books out there. Some of the material, like the last section of general writing advice, is ordinary, but her advice on creating suspenseful scenes, employing outcome tricks, and identifying genres is about as rare and useful as you can ever find. But we have to think and apply. It’s not a hand-holding type of writing guide.