Reviewed by Susan Crawford
Writing Novels That Sell is a comprehensive workshop-style book for authors who want to create publishable novels. Bickham covers everything from work habits and the nature of story to practical elements of the craft like developing the psychology of characters and scene structure. Other elements include point of view, setting, handling time, and conflict. There are also exercises at the end of each chapter to help you apply the concepts to your own work.
I’ve read this book all the way through a few times and have learned something new each time. But the chapter on scene and sequel is the one I’ve bookmarked, highlighted and returned to over and over. Bickham says, “Gut-level understanding of scene and sequel is the single most crucial factor in becoming a successful novelist.” He contends that unless an author has sold several novels, she undoubtedly does not have a solid understanding of dramatic structure. I’m starting to believe he’s right. When I read a scene that works, it always follows this pattern:
GOAL à CONFLICT à DISASTER
It seems so simple. Somehow, though, when I start writing my own scenes, everything gets a little blurry and those elements aren’t so easy to apply. But Bickham assures his students that learning scene structure and the other elements of storytelling is not easy for anyone. It takes lots of time and practice.
I highly recommend this book for any fiction writer, regardless of his level of experience. Bickham’s lessons are full of helpful information and he writes in a way that’s straightforward and easy to understand. He encourages us to give ourselves time to let it all soak in and then, keep at it.
Thanks, Susan, for your review!