The Craft of Novel Writing by Dianne Doubtfire (Part 1)

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“Knowledge has strange hiding places,” Zen Scribe said about this slender how-to book picked up from a remote book vendor.

Textbooks can’t provide craftsmanship but they can provide a sense of direction. In her book The Craft of Novel Writing, Dianne Doubtfire talks about the regular book creation bits and bytes: theme is not plot, plot is action, structure is conflict, etc.  Yet, it’s surprising how much you can read about writing and still learn.



While characters in a plot could be saved by deux ex machina, which genius story was ever borne of a plot creator?


One statement that writers may have heard is that the book you write should never be about YOU. It shouldn’t really, but the problem is that it usually is and Doubtfire throws in a quote by Tolstoy:  “One ought only to write when it leaves pieces of one’s flesh in the inkpot each time one dips one’s pen.”

In order to create such flesh and blood experience, you need to plan using your notebook (remember Lamott?) and write down every shred of any consequence and any epiphany that your book could be about.

When you are writing a book, what you need is to use all this recorded disembodied material in a structured format. Doubtfire advocates a tried and tested Plot Structuring method that many novelists have benefited from. What you can do is take a foolscap sheet or a Word doc on your computer and list ideas from 1-30. Scrivener must allow this too as does InstaScribe where there is an option to add chapters.

If you know what Chapter 1 and Chapter 30 are about, then you will have to fill in the blanks. This gives you a reason to write. Many writers don’t use techniques such as these, but since technology allows such parameters to be drawn, why not use it?

“Get on with writing. Don’t be afraid of it.” is my quote of the day.

Do’s and don’ts of dialogue

Doubtfire uses quotes from great writers like Alberto Moravia and several others. The last time I remember seeing Moravia in print was during post graduation when I had to read a book called Two Women. I remember how beautifully he writes, and so seeing his quotes in a tiny hand book made me happy. You never know where happiness can be found.

You may know these things: reading aloud is a better way to judge dialogue, ping-pong dialogue should be avoided and unless you are Alice Walker, stay away from dialect.

What you may not realize is that good fiction must contain 30% dialogue.

It was around the time of Flanney O’Connor’s death anniversary that I read this and there’s nothing like a short story by her to understand how important good dialogue is in the shaping of a story:

Owl or Lark?

The Keep writing ideal is easier said than done. I like the way Doubtfire casts away all doubt about writing everyday. It’s just a matter of deciding if you are a lark or an owl. If you do follow a strict regimen everyday for two years averaging 750 words a day, then you have a book.


For a slender book, this book has a lot of writerly wisdom to impart, more in Part 2.

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