James Frey’s Awesome Books on Writing


I’ve read a lot of books on writing over the years. Many of them I find too dry or elementary. James N. Frey’s books, however, are excellent.

I read them backwards, starting with The Key: How to Write a Damn Good Fiction Novel Using the Power of Myth.  In it Frey describes how to use the Hero’s Journey, also known as the monomyth, to create characters and plots that resonate with readers because they tie into age-old human instincts about story.

I proceeded to How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques, which provides details on how to induce the ‘fictive dream’ by getting the reader involved emotionally. Frey also discusses the art of creating suspense and developing realistic characters and details the importance of premise, “a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the actions of the story.”

Both books are written in a humorous, easy-to-read style and provide ample examples from movies and literature, which you can skip if you get the point. They’re quick reads that aren’t a chore to plod through. Frankly I found them as much fun as fiction, and they provided a boatload of useful information.

After reading the other two, I figured Frey’s first book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, would be too beginner-oriented to  interest me. I was wrong.  Frey is such a genius that he can put a new spin on even the most basic concepts.

Frey’s books are more than just educational. They’re a source of inspiration. Every time I start feeling beaten down by the agent search, or contradicting criticisms, or the enormous amount of time it takes to get a book published, I remind myself of what Mr. Frey said at the end of How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: “Anyone with a passionate desire will succeed if he gives himself to it fully, knuckles down and masters the craft, works hard, has good teachers and reliable readers, learns how to re-dream the dream and rewrite in answer to criticism, and actively pursues the selling of the script in a businesslike manner. I 100% guarantee it.”

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5 Responses to James Frey’s Awesome Books on Writing

  1. Hi Lisa, I’m visiting from the kidlitosphere and enjoying your blog. I enjoyed Frey’s How to Write Damn Good Fiction and will now look out for the others, thanks.

    As far as your earlier post goes( about web sites, blogs etc), I was in the same quandary. I opted to buy a mac and design my web site with iWeb software which seemed to be klutz-friendly. A blog is included, so that’s where I blog. That has the advantage of constantly updating my site with fresh content. The disadvantage is, I am not part of the whole blogger/wordpress/typepad community. And I lack some of their bells and whistles (probably those same ones that drove you crazy!)

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  2. I read Frey’s first book several years ago and loved it. The other two are now on the TBR list. Thanks for the recommendations!

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  3. Bridget Zinn says:

    Thanks for the book rec! I haven’t read James Frey yet — I just put the first one on hold at the library. Do you ever feel like you’ve read EVERY writing book possible and than you discover there are whole troves that you haven’t gone through yet? But I agree that the really good ones are as enjoyable as novels so I’m glad I keep discovering them. Have you read Writing the Breakout Novel? It has kind of a shmarmy title, but it’s way better than the title suggests. I’m planning to blog about it soon.

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  4. lisanowak says:

    Bridget, thanks for the tip on the writing book. I’ll check it out.

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  5. I loved A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, and Bright Shiny Morning, but have yet to read Frey’s books on writing. Thanks for the great review! I’ll be sure to add them to my to-read list.

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