Whilst this guide to writing *is* helpful and clearly laid out, it isn't particularly inspiring. Books on the same subject by other writers, such as Rosemary Aitken and Marge Piercy, are much stronger on the motivational front, and much more effective (I think) in giving one the confidence to pick up a pen.
Oliver might have written a beginner's guide, but there is almost no advice regarding the difficulty of writing at all; I'm not certain how a would-be writer's ambition could possibly be strengthened by Oliver's suggestion that writer's block could simply be down to "laziness", before stating that "many professionals say writer's block doesn't exist."
There are passages in here which are also downright strange. She tells the student to build up character profiles, including background events, such as "a childhood illness or accident...or their beliefs and attitudes" before making the pointless comment that "In films continuity staff do this." As someone who does work in the film industry, I can tell you that continuity staff do *not* do this. And why bother making this point at all?
In another section dealing with grammar and punctuation, Oliver tells us that some teachers insist that grammar is of no importance, that it is the imagination which is everything, and that these teachers have "missed the point". I'm not sure what teachers she's referring to. I certainly never had any teachers who encouraged me to sacrifice correct grammar, punctuation and spelling at the altar of my imagination.
Although the layout is uncomplicated, I did find it a bit odd (like the sequences above). One chapter, for example, combines the rules for manuscript layout with advice on vocabulary and dialogue; another chapter incorporates the problem of finding a title for your novel with the question of narrative viewpoints. There doesn't seem to be any logical segueway in the chapters.
If I appear overly-negative, it's only because I feel that I have been lucky enough to read books that are so much better, much more actively encouraging, and genuinely inspiring. Oliver's book just felt rather flat to me, full of pointers, some of which were helpful, and some which were mystifying ("Don't let a pregnancy continue for two years"). I read this book to give myself a kind of refresher course, really; and in that sense, it succeeds. But I wouldn't use it as a practical day-to-day workbook.
This book is very easy to read by the way in which it is organised. It is split up into chronological swallow-able chapters - 1. Taking Those First Vital Steps 2. Finding the Right Story 3. Creating the Right Characters 4. Getting Ready to Start etc. And each chapter is organised under subheadings and bullet points, and doesn't have huge chunks of solid writing. This makes it very easy to refer back to, as there is a lot of useful information and crucial advice to remember. If you are one of those people who have been saying for years, "One day, I'll write a book." This book will give you the inspiration and confidence to get going. It is an excellent outline for the general process, but does not delve into specific guidance for the physical writing of the novel - although credit should be given for carefully chosen gold dust Oliver does write. It must not be forgotten that whole books are written on topics such as plot, and this briefly covers all in less than 200 pages!! One of the most inspirational aspect I shall be taking away with me from this book is the notion that ideas are everywhere you just have to see them, and then organise them in a catalogue so there will always be inspiration at your fingertips!!
This book is a bit unusual among writing books Although it covers most of the craft in its length, it does put some items together in an unusual way, and items are included in the same chapter that you would never have thought of as bed-fellows. It is not as inspirational as one perhaps might have hoped. There are some strange non-sequiturs that appear in the text which leave you guessing as to the context. All in all it covers most of the ground, but there are better and more inspirational books out there.