Yes, Virginia, You Can Learn to Write Successful Fiction

Over at Writer Unboxed, bestselling novelist Sarah Pekkanen reflects on how she learned to write a novel. Key word: Learned. There are still some voices out there that say you can’t really learned the craft of writing fiction. Such voices should be collected and filed under “Baloney.” Sarah writes:
Sarah P

Here’s what I took away from that phone conversation [with my agent]: I had my characters down – they were in good shape. What was missing from my novel was plot.

I set out on a quest to learn how to infuse my books with plot. I began by searching for books about plotting, and I bought every single one I could find. The stack still stands on the top of my computer hutch, and if it ever comes crashing down, it might take a few days for them to find me in the rubble – I have that many books. I read every single one, scribbling notes in the margins and folding down the corners of pages when I came across particularly helpful points.

The most important thing I learned is that putting together a novel, for most of us, is difficult – but with certain creative tools, it can get easier. You may never achieve perfect pitch, but you can definitely be taught how to write a book.

Sarah was kind enough to mention a couple of books:

The two finest guides I found were Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.


[T] books by Bell and Maass taught me so much more, and every time I re-read them, I come away with new tips. The best part of all? Now I have three novels of my own on bookstore shelves, and I’ve just turned in the fourth to my editor. But it never would’ve happened if I hadn’t learned to plot – and for that, I’ll always be grateful to the authors who took the time to show the rest of us how it’s done.

Sarah Pekkanen, with three acclaimed novels out now, and a fourth in the pipeline, is a prime exhibit against what I call The Big Lie, to wit, you can’t teach someone how to write successful fiction.

Be sure to read the whole post at
Writer Unboxed,

And if you want to get your novel to that storied next level, click
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One of My Heroes

I want to be this: 96 years old and still writing, still being read.

Herman Wouk, four years short of a century,
has landed another book deal.

I love this!

Wouk is one of our national treasures, the author of numerous great “middlebrow” books.

Middlebrow is something we’ve lost pretty much in our culture, to our great detriment. These were the sort of books that transcended pulp yet were not so highbrow as to be inaccessible.

Wouk majored in such works. Here are a few:

The Caine Mutiny (winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

Marjorie Morningstar

Youngblood Hawke

The Winds of War (his masterpiece, IMO)

War and Remembrance

And these weren’t short books, either. Wouk is a master storyteller. And where did he learn his craft? From radio! He wrote for the legendary radio comedian Fred Allen, and I’m sure that’s how he learned conflict, character and structure. You can’t write sketch comedy without them. Or a successful novel.

The Caine Mutiny proved to be so popular it became the basis of both a film and a play. It is considered one of the best portrayals of Navy life and is stellar courtroom drama. If you’ve never read it or seen the film, do yourself a favor and go for both.

So Mr. Wouk, Godspeed. You are an inspiration. I want to be just like you when I’m looking over the fence at my approaching century mark.

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