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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Guidance for Writers, Story Tellers and Critics, 25 Aug. 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 127,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Story is a Promise: Good Things to Know Before Writing a Novel, Screenplay or Play (Paperback)
This is the best "how to" book I have read on writing screenplays, novels, and plays. The advice comes alive through extensive analysis of well-known stories, using a disciplined outline of story elements. The application of these points is greatly aided by questions directed at helping you write your story. Although intended for fiction writers, this book is equally applicable to nonfiction writers and can add great balance to critical reviews of literary works.
If you are like me, you learned to write by doing small exercises . . . such as short stories, scenes, and descriptions. That's all fine, and it does improve one's writing, but somehow something is left out when you sit down to the first blank sheet of paper and begin writing a longer work. It is for just that moment that this book is wonderful.
The purpose of the book is to help you create the kind of gripping stories that vividly fulfill peoples' unmet needs. The method is to give you a way to create a structure (and fill that structure) that serves that purpose. This structure features creating a promise to your readers in the first scene, creating a story (separate from the plot) that fulfills the promise, a story line to flesh out the story, a plot to support the story, a plot line to flesh out the plot, developing conflict, and employing thrusts and counterthrusts to create and sustain dramatic tension. Using this structure, you ruthlessly weed out what is extraneous, even if it is terrific writing.
You are probably nodding your head agreeably at this point. But what you haven't seen yet is Mr. Johnson's wonderful analysis of Romeo and Juliet, The Hunt for Red October, Rocky, The Usual Suspects, Moby Dick, Die Hard, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Reservoir Dogs, The Exorcist, Pride and Prejudice, and other powerful stories to examplify these points. These examples are incredibly effective in bringing the structure to life. They also make it clearer what critics and book reviewers should be on the look-out for in reading fiction.
Section one of the book develops the key theme, a story is a promise. Section two works on helping you design the elements of your story. Section three looks at the distinctions between story line and plot line, and introduces a structured analysis to help you. Section four focuses on that dreaded moment of getting started with the writing. Section five contains detailed reviews of several popular stories to help ingrain the lessons outlined here.
One of my favorite sections deals with the mistakes most often made by new fiction writers and how to overcome them. This section is worth the price of the book alone!
Each chapter also has extensive questions and assignments, which can turn this into a workshop-like experience. The author also suggests ways for you to take your answers and assignments and get feedback on them. If you live by yourself in an isolated area with no telephone, he even gives you ideas for trying to help yourself to improve the writing as your own alter-ego.
Highly recommended for aspiring writers!
After you have finished thinking through this wonderful book, I suggest you move on to one question that Mr. Johnson did not raise. What should be the need that your story fulfills? Most stories today deal with wounds, like not having enough love, feeling low self-esteem, or being helpless. How can you pick needs that will make people stronger and start a chain-reaction of good results? For example, rather than showing people how love can conquer death (the Romeo and Juliet theme), how about showing people how giving love will help them acquire love? I suspect that we can create a much more wonderful society if we pay a bit more attention to the promises we make in our stories. We need to balance building capability with healing wounds if we are to reach our full potential as people.
Write a great story!
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