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The Vocabulary to Understand Your Work

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

How to Write A Damn Good Novel

Introducing James N. Frey – a Guide to Dramatic Storytelling

I first met James N. Frey in a workshop he taught at the coast in Oregon. It was early in my writing career, and he was the first in-person teacher I had the privilege of working with. I had a feel, by that time, for the shambles of the publishing industry – companies buying other companies, agents acquiring clients and then unable to make use of their usual connections to get book deals for those clients.

I was wary of the industry but dedicated to the idea that writing could bring important ideas to life and be a catalyst for change on behalf of the people I knew and loved.

I had a feel for the rhythms of storytelling but couldn’t have explained them to anyone else. I had practiced the rhythms of the pithy joke, the rhythms of an essay, and the rhythms of myth. I knew that the beat of a piece led the reader from page to page.

I had started to use this knowledge to write a novel.

And then, I met James N. Frey. He had the vocabulary I needed to understand the beats of a longer story. He had the knowledge of mythic heroines and the movement of their story from call to action through conflict, the inexorable rise to the climax and the satisfying resolution.

And James N. Frey knew how all of this had to be tied to the through-line of my premise – the core that held my story together.

When I got home from that workshop, I also had James N. Frey’s book – How to Write a Damn Good Novel, to help me recall all I had learned from him. We had discussed every aspect of being a writer, from the design and development of character to the hard and satisfying fun of the rewrite and the search for action and emotion in prose.

James N. Frey cared about each person in that workshop. He helped each one move toward success. The book I started in his workshop was A Fool’s Gold. When I had finished a sixth or seventh draft, he read and critiqued it and made it better. And I know that I am not the only student he treated with such thoughtful care.

Since that workshop, I have taken other workshops with very thoughtful and clear teachers. I learned a great deal from each one of them.

The building blocks of storytelling success came from that first encounter with James N. Frey, from the writers’ vocabulary and the storytelling knowledge he gave all of us during that week in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Since that year, James N. Frey has had many successful students. He has written How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, The Key: How to Write a Damn Good Novel Using the Power of Myth, How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, and How to Write a Damn Good Thriller.

He is the author of nine novels, including the Edgar Award Nominee A Long Way to Die.

Learn more about him at his website:


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