How to Write a Damn Good Novel: My Personal, Albeit Outdated, Bible (How’s This Book?)

Author: James N. Frey
Publication Date: December 15th, 1987
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Page Count: 174 (Hardcover)
Link to Purchase (Amazon)

Writing good fiction is a lot harder than people give it credit for. Crafting an interesting world populated by engaging characters is a far more tremendous and difficult task than you could know without having tried it. Even more difficult is to use properly use the language to turn even the most mundane of exchanges or descriptions into works of art. It can be incredibly difficult to learn and hone the craft without a great teacher. Even then, finding a good teacher is pretty difficult.

Enter ‘How to Write a Damn Good Novel‘ by James N. Frey. This, among with many other books regarding writing, served as a graduation gift from my parents. And among all of them, only one other book tops it in my mind. That one book being ‘You Are a Writer (so Start ACTING Like One)‘ by Jeff Goins. But we’ll get to that in another essay.

This book is a self-described no-nonsense guide to the basics of story telling. It tackles all the basics, such as creating characters and building to a climax, to some of the more advanced things, such as viewpoint and dialogue. Through it’s lessons, beginners will be able to gain a stronger grasp of the writing craft, and long time writers will more than likely learn a few handy tricks.

However, not all of this book’s contents stand the test of time. There’s a fair amount of advice in here that hasn’t aged exceptionally well, which makes it kind of useless. The worst offender of this being at the end, with his advice on refining a manuscript and publishing.

Hey, it was the eighties. It was a very different time.

Voice: A Most Passionate Teacher

James N. Frey does what every good teacher should do. He carries a clear passion for the material, and he presents it in a highly interesting way. Every chapter in this book feels like a highly engaging English lecture.

He also makes excellent use of real examples from classic works and self-built scenarios to hammer the point home. He’ll often bring up works such as ‘The Godfather’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘The One Who Flew the Cuckoo’s Nest’, and other such stories to make his point more clear and interesting. On top of that, his use of his own creative scenarios turn what could feel like a boring lecture into an engaging lesson. One that makes you feel as if you’re participating.

Even though you’re, y’know, sitting in the laundromat. Waiting for your towels to dry. While ignoring the creepy lady who looks like she smokes sixty packs a day. With classical music blaring in your ears.

Don’t ask.

Physical Quality

It’s been a while since I actually talked about a physical book, huh?

This one is pretty solid. The pages are solid and durable, making it easy to handle it with ease. It’s very light, as it’s also very thin. The hard cover is suitably durable, and it’s very comfortable in your hands.

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The font is also really solid. It’s easy to read, both in size and in ascetic. It all looks nice, and at no point did I strain to read it. It was cozy to hold and look at from beginning to end.


This is a very solid read. It’s entertaining and informative, even if it is a bit dated in areas. If you’re interested in becoming a writer, or you want to further refine your abilities, I’d highly recommend giving it a read.

However, this book has one very clear target audience: writers. If you aren’t a writer, and you’re not interested in becoming one, you’d only waste your time reading this one. This is not a book meant to entertain and nothing else. This is a book for learning.

And if I learned one thing from school, it was that learning about something you have no interest in is the single most painful experience you could ever have. That, and being forced to read a book. Few things can ruin reading faster.

But that’s a rant for a whole other day.


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