Last fall, I thought my suspense novel, Krieger's Rescue, was ready to go, so I read the websites of a few dozen agencies. Some of them post tips for submitting work. One of them recommended this book.
Usually, I don't like books with numbers in the title: seven ways to do this, five secrets of that, etc. But I thought I should be sure I was not making the most common mistakes before I submitted to an agent.
I enjoyed reading this book, and was pleased to see I was not making most of these mistakes. I was even more pleased to see that I was making several significant mistakes and that I could correct them. This led to a fourth draft. My weekly writer's group at The Mechanics Institute Library tells me it is a significant improvement.
Bickham says a scene consists of a goal, conflict and disaster, and must be followed by a sequel that includes emotion, thinking and decision. I found this compatible with what I knew of acting and directing scenes in plays. These tools helped me de-bug my book.
Jack M. Bickham got his start writing westerns in the era of pulp fiction. At the end of his career, he wrote a successful espionage series about a retired tennis pro, Brad Smith, who works undercover for the CIA -- sort of Dick Francis meets Ian Fleming. I've read a couple of them, and he was a more-than-competent writer of thrillers. He died in 1997, having published 75 novels in his lifetime.
From 1969 to 1990 he taught fiction writing at the University of Oklahoma. His books on writing come out of that experience. He learned to recognize the 38 most common mistakes by reading students' work for 21 years.
Over the years, I've attended lots of conferences and workshops, and some of them featured artists (actors, guitar-players, writers) who are the best in their fields. It seems like they would be the best to learn from, but that's not always the case. I've benefited most from those like Bickham who are also teachers.