Novelist Richard Skinner is the Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy in the UK and has taught its six-month course ‘Writing A Novel’ since its inception in 2009. In his book of the same name, he predominantly targets new writers: those who are yet to write their first draft. His breakdown on the various considerations, along with the latter chapters which delve into redrafts and publishing, make for an insightful overview of the writing process.
Skinner’s style is very relaxed and easy to read. He keeps his text informative but chatty. At around 200 pages, it’s also not a time-consuming read. Scattered throughout the book is an occasional exercise to help writers grasp an idea more fully. Skinner also uses quotes and extracts extensively to introduce a section or provide an example.
Anyone interested in writing a novel will have heard of some of his teachings before because they’re universally acknowledged as some of the foundations of good writing: read more, “show, don’t tell”, choosing a point of view, etc. He doesn’t skimp on his discussions of these common lessons, allowing the reader to gain a better grasp on each idea. This is particularly useful for those starting to think about novel writing, but also gives a fresh, interesting reminder to those who have heard it before.
There is a lot of information packed into this relatively short book. Other issues range from characterisation to the overuse of adverbs. There’s also a lot of food for thought on more complex concepts: story vs plot, the passage of time, setting pace, writing historical fiction and biographies, and brining the story to its ending (as opposed to its climax).
Keep a pen or some Post-It Notes handy while reading through Skinner’s book. There’s a lot to revise and many good points worth revisiting. By writing in plain English and explaining himself effectively, How to Write a Novel will be a fantastic tool for budding novelists of all ages and experience.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2018