The Story Cure: A Book Doctor's Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir

The Story Cure: A Book Doctor's Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir

by Dinty W. Moore


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A collection of cures for writer's block, plotting and characterization issues, and other ailments writers face when completing a novel or memoir, prescribed by the director of creative writing at Ohio University.

People want to write the book they know is inside of them, but they run into stumbling blocks that trouble everyone from beginners to seasoned writers. Drawing on his years of teaching at both the university level and at writing workshops across the country, Professor Dinty W. Moore dons his book-doctor hat to present an authoritative guide to curing the issues that truly plague writers at all levels. His hard-hitting handbook provides inspiring solutions for diagnoses such as character anemia, flat plot, and silent voice, and is peppered with flashes of Moore's signature wit and unique take on the writing life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399578809
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 05/02/2017
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 807,130
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

DINTY W. MOORE is director of Ohio University's BA, MA, and PhD in creative writing programs. He has authored various books of literary nonfiction as well as textbooks and craft guides, most notably Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy and his memoir, Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize. He has been published in Harpers, the New York Times Sunday Magazine,
the Philadelphia Inquirer, Utne Reader, Salon, Okey-Panky, the Southern Review, the Georgia Review, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Moore is founder and editor of Brevity and is a frequent speaker and teacher at writers' conferences.

Read an Excerpt



It has been my good fortune these past thirty years to not only be a writer, but to also teach writing, to students of all ages and all backgrounds, in a variety of settings. Some students come to me eager to complete their first short story or essay, while others arrive having already started on a first book.

People often say that “everybody has a book in them.” I can’t tell you whether that is true or not—I haven’t met everybody. But I can tell you that the folks I’m privileged to work with do have a book in them, and most are willing to work hard to get that book out into the world.

My job is to help them. And I very much enjoy doing it.

Before exploring the Story Cure and how it can lead a writer from start to finish in creating a successful book, let me say a few words about what is meant by the term Book Doctor.

A common enough term in the writing world, Book Doctor is used to describe a person who will take a book manuscript—perhaps an early draft of a novel or memoir, perhaps draft sixteen—and diagnose why it is not yet working.

“Not yet working” might mean the author herself is dissatisfied, sensing that the overall arc of the book isn’t falling gracefully into place or the main character is not coming to life on the page. Alternatively, “not yet working” might mean the author has sent a finished draft out to dozens of literary agents or editors, a draft she thought was healthy and ready to go, but has received only polite but impersonal “No thank you” notes, and is now discouraged and wondering “What do they see wrong with my book that I don’t see?”

A Book Doctor is different from a copyeditor or proofreader. The task at hand is not to clean up sentences, adjust punctuation, or fix typographical errors. A Book Doctor looks at the patient as a whole—the plot, the main characters, the voice, the structure— or, to continue the physician metaphor, the arms, the legs, the belly, and the heart. The Doctor’s job is to diagnose exactly why the patient isn’t thriving. 

If you’ve been to a doctor, you can guess what comes next: doctors are full of advice, and they invariably send you out the door with a prescription or two. Sometimes the treatment is simple and quick; other times it can be radical: a transfusion, a transplant, or even an amputation. 

A Book Doctor can also sometimes act the part of psychiatrist, helping authors tackle various self-inflicted problems. 

Though writing should be a stimulating, rewarding endeavor, for too many it can lead to self-doubt and, worse yet, self-loathing. Writing well is difficult enough—drafting twenty or two hundred pages takes devotion, attention, and a healthy dose of stubbornness— but it becomes excruciatingly tough when we let rampaging anxiety poison the experience. 

This Book Doctor, however, believes that whatever is ailing a novel or memoir in progress is not about the writer, it is about the story: how well we understand it, how well we tell it, and how well we enable it to come alive in the reader’s mind. That’s the heart of the Story Cure. 

And what is meant by the word “pain-free” in this book’s subtitle? 

Well, writing is painstaking, meaning the writer must take great care and pay close attention to every detail, every word. But it should not be painful. And if it is painful, it probably hurts most because the author is letting the negative voices of doubt overrun the exhilaration of creativity and discovery. 

We’ll address that as well. 

This book is designed for writers at the beginning of their novel or memoir project, those somewhere in the middle, as well as those who have completed multiple drafts. The goal is to get you to the finish line, to make sure you complete your book and have something in your hands that you can feel proud of.

Even if you are well along in your project, through a first or second draft, I recommend beginning at the beginning of this guide. Understanding how the “heart story” can strengthen all aspects of your novel or memoir will be helpful throughout each stage of drafting and revision.

But no one ever reached the finish while sitting at the starting line trying on sneakers.

So let’s get started.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Notes from a Book Doctor 1


1 | The Story Cure: Diagnosing Problems of the Heart 7
2 | Your First Breath: Where Story Begins 31
3 | Prescriptions for Healthy Prose: Character, Dialogue, and Setting 57
4 | The Lifeblood Test: Scene and Sensory Detail 79
5 | A Visit with the Throat and Eye Doctors: Voice and Point of View 97
6 | The Strong Skeleton: Plot and Structure 125


7 | Keeping Fit: Moving from First Draft to Fifteenth Draft 143
8 | An Apple a Day: Healthy Habits for Any Writer 151
9 | The Book Doctor’s Final Illegible Scribbles 159

Notes 163

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