Writing Tips: 38 Ways to Improve

Click-bait headlines like “The Six Grammar Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes” or “Ten Rules for Writing Mysteries” lure me in every time, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when a savvy friend forwarded me a blurb for The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham. It was originally published in 1992 and reprinted in 1997. Anyone familiar with this book or him?

Amazon lets me take a look at the table of contents, and it’s charmingly aggressive: Chapter 10, “Don’t Have Things Happen for No Reason,” (so unlike real life, then); Chapter 16, “Don’t Let (Characters) Be Windbags,” (no BOGSAT* here); Chapter 28, “Don’t Worry What Mother Will Think”!; and, something every writer needs, Chapter 37, “Don’t Give Up.”

I have a shelf full of writing-advice books and some are really excellent. And some are more excellent at some times than others. A lot of this advice kind of passes over my head, but when I’m faced with a particular story problem, even one I can’t quite define, the same advice I’ve read many times before finally hits the bulls-eye. A book organized like Bickham’s would at least help me focus on what I think is the problem, though I may be wrong!

While a lot of story constraints and possibilities have changed since 1997—social media, cell phone ubiquity, as examples—the fundamentals of character development, plot clarity, and scene construction stay pretty much the same, unless you’re writing experimental fiction (which I find generally unreadable).

Bickham, who wrote and published more than 90 novels in various genres—crime, espionage, westerns—and under various names, died in 1997. He’s was a University of Oklahoma professor and was awarded the university’s highest honor for teaching excellence. I think that comes through in the down-to-earth approach he takes in this book. If you find you like The 38, he’s written five other books on such craft specifics as scene and structure, short stories, and the like.

If you know this book, tell us whether you found it useful.

*BOGSAT: Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around Talking

Image by Markus Winkler for Pixabay.