[on Lukeman's The Plot Thickens]
June 24, 2002
THE PLOT THICKENS:
8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
Noah Lukeman, St. Martins, $19.95
Lukeman’s second book on writing—after 2000’s The First Five Pages (a third volume on dialogue is still to come)—discusses the craft of writing well-plotted fiction. Lukeman, a literary agent, rallies against the lazy and mundance that cross his desk in the form of 50,000 manuscripts submitted in the last five years. Initially, at least, he is less concerned with artfulness than the simple need to make the book compelling beyond the first few pages. He asserts that the foundation (and often the first casualty) of a book is character, and accordingly, Lukeman dedicates the first two chapters to an exhaustive list of questions a writer should ask about the "outer" and "inner" life of each character. He encourages a Dr. Frankenstein-like approach to creating realistic fictional characters: devising them with the intention of bending them to the writer’s own will, but at the same time investing them with enough life that they are capable of making their own way in the world—and ultimately surprising their creator. A third chapter called "Applied Characterization" discusses how to use this knowledge to form a plot. The remaining five chapters cover different aspects of plotting: "The Journey," "Suspense," "Conflict," "Context" and "Transcendency." Lukeman’s advice is practical—and often entails multiple, time-consuming steps—without a hint of the flakiness that creeps into many writing guides. The closest he ever gets to sounding like a guru is when he sagely stresses, "Real life is the best teacher." Though Lukeman works with books, he wisely asserts that the observations in this volume are applicable to all types of imaginary writing, from film to poetry. Indeed, it is a worthy addition to any writer’s reference shelf. (July 8)
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