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Here are two writing guides that, despite divergent themes, both offer informal, conversational texts that prove hard to put down. In their book, novelists Mittelmark (Age of Consent) and Newman (The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done) define and illustrate nearly every way to write a lousy novel, the idea being that if you read these examples (which they themselves devised for the purpose of instruction) you'll avoid the same pitfalls-a surprisingly distinctive approach within the crowded category of novel-writing guides. The authors cover mistakes within each major writing element (plot, characters, style, and setting) and then give brief attention to a few areas truly ripe for trouble: sex scenes, joke telling, postmodernism, and-the final hurdle-selling your novel to a publisher. Each of the 200 mistakes covered is humorously named, given a funny tagline, and then clarified with samples of horrible writing, followed by slightly more serious passages explaining and offering solutions to the problem. This writing how-to should carry a warning: it's the kind of book one reads at the expense of other responsibilities. With a useful index; recommended for most public libraries and for academic collections serving aspiring fiction writers.
Norton (founding director, Santa Fe Writing Inst.; Hawk Flies Above) offers a similarly speedy and approachable read. Only slightly over 100 pages, it gets right to the point about the process of crafting a memoir. Norton's goal is to teach lay writers her own method of writing compassionate and arresting personal memoir. Her instruction focuses on the titular concept of "shimmering images"-memories of blazing detail, manyonly a moment or two in real time, which are imbedded in the mind from childhood forward. Norton first outlines the steps for conjuring these images and capturing them on paper. She then follows with simple instruction for selecting, organizing, and unifying the images. Norton's writing is friendly and refreshingly spare, with most chapters only a few pages long. Though she assures readers perhaps too many times of her years of experience teaching these methods, her book should serve writing novices especially well. Recommended for public libraries.
—Stacey Rae Brownlie