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The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction…

The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth

by James N. Frey

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This is a good book. It informs you that all the rules you've been told in other writing books are rubbish. It does go on to explain why this is the case and makes its points well. It covers premise, creating dynamic complex characters (very good), hooks and suspense, and several other useful topics which you should learn once you've learnt the basic rules.

This book is for people who have read all the other books and are ready for the next step in their fiction writing search for enlightenment. In one place he says ask yourself what it is you are trying to do. What do you want people to think about your work? What are you saying with your work? I'm damned if I know, I have to admit. It's a bloody good question though, and one that does need thinking about.

(originally reviewed by PJW in 2003)

Updated comment for 2012: I think I know the answer to that question now. Let's see. ( )
  peterjameswest | Nov 21, 2014 |
workaday rather than inspiring ( )
  ablueidol | Jan 2, 2008 |
As far as writing books are concerned, this has to be one of the worst I've read. It has some interesting points about using mythological structures to shape a story, but overall, its primary goal seems to be to train writers into a "formula" (because we all know how satisfying it is to read a formulaic story... NOT.) Furthermore, the "novel" he uses as an example of what to write throughout the book is absolutely awful. Needless to say, not a very good incentive to use his method. ( )
  caerulius | Jul 13, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312300522, Paperback)

"You don't begin with meaning," according to fiction writer Rick DeMarinis, "you end with it." A critic approaching a story from a mythological standpoint might find a mythological theme, but "there are as many themes in a story as there are critical theories." Hogwash, says James N. Frey. "Mythic structures, forms, motifs, and characters ... are 'The Key' to writing more-powerful fiction," and it is a fiction writer's job to imbue his or her work with them. In The Key, Frey describes each of the mythic qualities (ascribed to the mythic hero, the "Evil One," the "Call to Adventure," and the other elements of the mythic journey) and offers examples of how to use them in one's writing. Don't get the wrong idea. Frey is not interested in academic or overly intellectual writing. Sure, he invents a Proust-reading Nevada cowboy to illustrate the concept of "The Hero's Lover," but there are more references here to James Bond than to Homer. Frey advises using first-person journal writing to get to know one's characters. He emphasizes fiction's need for conflict at every turn. And he recommends working from a premise, as it helps one know what to leave out (everything in the story must work to further the premise). Frey defines every possible mythic character or situation, then insists one not feel confined by them all. "The mythic pattern is not a straitjacket," he says, "it's Play-Doh. Have fun with it." --Jane Steinberg

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:19 -0400)

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Offers aspiring authors of novels and screenplays advice on using the classic themes of universal folklore and mythology to structure their works, and provides examples from well-known fiction and films.

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