Stages of a Fiction Writer is a short book. Very short. It doesn’t have very much concrete content. And yet it’s eminently readable. I should know, I’ve read it twice now.
Dean Wesley Smith’s Stages of a Fiction Writer is all about recognizing where you are as a writer. Not at what skill level, although that’s part of it, but at what level of development, of realization of what it takes to be a writer. Smith recognizes the four stages as:
- Writers who are concerned with the mechanics of putting words on paper. This is where the “writing in High School English class” type of writing often falls. It’s more important that the comma comes in the right place than anything else.
- Writers who realize that there is more to writing than mere words. They know that writing isn’t a mechanical pursuit and are starting to recognize the importance of plot.
- Storytellers: writers who know that words are mere tools and that there are a lot of other, more important, tools out there. Stage 3 writers are people who have sold some works, and might even be making a living from writing, but they’re not yet at the final stage of being:
- Entertainers. Stage 4 writers aren’t concerned with writing or even story. They’re concerned with readers, how what they do affect the reader. Stage 4 writers are the masters of tension, the charmers of feelings. People who have such control over not only words, but also story, so that they don’t need to think about it – they’re “playing the reader” rather than writing or telling a story.
Smith uses a neat comparison to professional poker players (of which he’s been one) in order to get his points across, and while I’m not sure that I agree 100%, I do think that here’s a very key idea here: that words don’t make a writer. In fact, the goal of writing should be to move beyond the words, to the point where you’re telling a story and controlling reader emotions.
And that’s where Stages of a Fiction Writer shines. It really gets you thinking about what’s important at your stage in your writing career. The downside is that the book doesn’t tell you how to move onwards. It’s not a craft book, but rather an inspirational and business book. It won’t tell you how to write better, but will show you how to think about your writing career.
- Writers have to pass a number of stages before they become masters.
- No writer can skip a stage, but it is possible to move from one stage to another at a rapid pace if you know what you need to focus on.
- Mental blocks are often the most crippling ones when it comes to furthering your career as a writer.
- A writer can never stop learning, but has to learn in different ways depending on what stage they’re on.
- Learn to write, not to re-write/polish/edit.
Who’s it for?
- Beginning to middling writers.
- Writers who feel stuck in their careers.
- Writers who want to advance faster.
I’d recommend this to anyone who’s interested in having a career as a writer, but I don’t think that everyone is able to appreciate the content. I know that I wouldn’t have been if I’d read this at an early stage in my career – but I also know that I did all the mistakes that Smith shows beginning writers to do. Therefore I’d recommend Stages of a Fiction Writer to raw beginners as well. Perhaps someone who’s just starting out can zoom through stage 1 if they know what they need to focus on.