There seem to be about two broad categories of writing book. Some are inspirational/visionary/literary. Others focus on reader interest and organising your writing so that it might sell commercially. I like both kinds and expected this one to fall into the second category, which it did.
When I pick up a book about writing, I don't necessarily expect anything earth-shattering because I've read a fair number of them. What I expect is an opportunity to reencounter ideas in a fresh way that for some reason makes them resonate anew. Intellectual understanding is not enough to further my writing, so I hope a writing book will give me further insight, even if the change is not exactly measurable. I'm not even begging for insights necessarily. A few glimpses over the horizon is often enough.
This book covered a lot of the familiar bases: character, conflict, viewpoint, flashback, etc., but I've just seen it done better or more in depth. He used a few familiar books for his examples, like Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea
, but the execution was perfunctory. His simplistic presentation of premise or theme and its controlling influence struck me as possibly incorrect. I prefer Stephen King's advise in On Writing
, which was to revise for theme after the first draft.
One line on p. 162 almost made the whole book worth it: "Being an unpublished novelist has about as much social acceptability as being a shopping bag lady."