"Between the Lines: Master the subtle elements of fiction writing", Jessica Page Morrell

Pros: Incredibly insightful and analytical; presents solid, helpful techniques that I just haven’t seen broken down and analyzed anywhere else
Cons: So much information to assimilate!
Rating: 6 out of 5

Review book courtesy of F+W Publications

There are so many things to take into account when writing fiction. Trying to achieve all the subtleties of pacing, tension, characterization, emotional intensity, and so on is such an artful balancing act that many people believe it’s something you either get or don’t, and cannot be taught. Very few people have ever been able to break this art form down to the point where it really can be taught–or if they have, they’ve only been able to break down small pieces of it. Finally, however, Jessica Page Morrell has done the most amazing job I’ve ever seen of transforming all those subtleties into solid, understandable tips, techniques, hints, rules of thumb, and guidelines.

She balances specific techniques with a true understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all “solution” to any given issue. Instead of saying “you have to do this” or “most writers can’t make this work so don’t do it,” she goes into great depth on what usually works and doesn’t and, most importantly, why (or why not). Instead of being told that you shouldn’t use flashbacks, you’ll be told what they’re useful for and how to make them work if you need them–as well as when you might want to cut them out.

She includes a wide variety of techniques and suggestions for any given situation, and covers so much ground ranging from the calmest moments of literary fiction to the most intense thriller climaxes. She uses examples from books of all kinds (as well as movies), making it easy for the reader to see what works and why. Despite the depth she keeps her suggestions comparatively simple and straightforward, organizing her chapters well and breaking things down into lists and numbered options where possible.

Truly amazing and useful books come in two varieties for me: those I read in a single day because they race by, and those that are packed so incredibly full with deep, resonant information that it takes me forever to make my way through them even though I never grow bored or tired of them. “Between the Lines” fell in the latter category, taking me more than a week of steady reading simply because there was so much to ingest.

“Between the Lines” contains one of the best discussions of theme & premise I’ve ever seen in a writing book, changing them from something that can seem clumsy and contrived into a much more organic, understandable, necessary thing. The book covers transitions, foreshadowing, backstory, cliffhangers, flashbacks, imagery, pacing, sensory details, setting and sense of place, subplots, tension, suspense, and so much more. Always it delves into not just the how but also the why and why not, allowing you access not to some formula, but rather to an entire workshop of subtle techniques. The mysteries of fiction become so much more understandable when viewed through Ms. Morrell’s eyes, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough.


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