Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Composition: A fiction writer’s guide for the 21st century
By Linda A Lavid
Paperback: 108 pages, June 5, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-1593304768
Composition: A Fiction Writer’s Guide for the 21st Century is a brief but illuminating read about how to write a book from concept to creation, and then get it out there. It’s super easy to read, and for a non-fiction book, fast paced and fun. It’s also a good example of the advice author Linda Lavid offers – a self-published book which is well written, well designed, and well promoted. Lavid’s prose is wonderfully light, encouraging and accessible, and inspiring – making use of common sense to illuminate exactly why, and how, a writer can produce, publish, and promote his or her work. She is always relaxed, casual, and intimate with the reader:
Clearly a sustained, focused advertising program is one way to reach me. And once you find me, tell me about your book. What type of story is it? Then show me an excerpt and some reviews. To sweeten the pot, put your book on sale and make it easy to buy. Lastly, and more importantly, write a great book to be followed by another. Get me hooked as one of your regular readers! (82)
Composition is split into two halves – the first half is about the craft of fiction. It employs gardening metaphors to take the reader from the planting of a seed, through watering, tending, filling the garden and digging the weeds. In terms of creating a piece of work, that translates into coming up with a good story idea and goal, creating plot, writing scenes, developing the story through elements like action, dialogue, and description, and finally rewriting. The chapters of Composition are, at times, a little broad-brush in their approach, providing, for example, just a paragraph each for the elements that constitute the heart of the story, but that is, perhaps, one of things that differentiate this book. It isn’t designed to go into great detail about how to create good transitions – just to remind you that you need to do it, with a single suggestion on how. Actually, it’s an excellent suggestion, but of course there are many other ways of doing transition, just as there are other methods of writing good scenery or creating dialogue. But Lavid’s simplified method is helpful, and particularly valuable for newish or nervous authors who want a clear pathway through — to continue her gardening metaphor — the chaotic vegetation. Throughout the section, there are examples, and personal anecdotes.
The second part of Composition looks at the publishing process. This one drops the gardening metaphor and uses simple headings like Decide, Prepare, Publish, Market and Sell. Sounds easy! And Lavid makes it look easy too – presenting the options, providing information on what the reader needs to understand, explain what needs to be prepared in order to send a book out to a POD or subsidy publisher, and then how to market and sell the book. Of course along the way are minefields, and Lavid provides tips on avoiding those, but each chapter could, of course, be expanded into a complete book. Nevertheless, most books on self-publishing have a definite non-fiction slant, and it’s nice to read a book that uses fiction examples, and talks about the promotion of fiction. Lavid knows what she’s taking about because she’s learned it all the hard way, producing and promoting her own books, and the benefits of her experience are valuable.
There are, in fact, complete books on writing fiction (a few of which are referenced in the Reference section), on plotting, on characterisation, on scene setting, on dialogue, on thematics, on self-publishing in general, editing, on typesetting and manuscript creation, on promoting, on marketing and on selling books out there, many of which the would-be self-publisher will certainly need to access. Composition is simply too brief to be the only bible a would-be fiction writer needs, and it isn’t presented as such (though a more extensive bibliography of some of the best of those books would be a useful addition). Instead, for new writers in particular, it’s a terrific and inspiring overview that will assist in getting a person started on their way to having their own fiction book in print. Although brief, some of Lavid’s suggestions are not generally used elsewhere and are quite innovative, for example, using “Natural Readers” software to have your book read back to you (Acrobat does this now too) as part of the editing process, or using Emotion, Weather, Dialogue, Name and Time to do transitions. The book ends with a sample press release ready to be used as a template, and a guideline for writers groups.
While you might need a few more reference books on your journey from a person who dreams of being an author to someone who has a book of his or her own to sign and sell, Composition is nevertheless a useful starting point and a reference you’ll find yourself going back to along the way.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.