We were always told in English Lit. that good writing isn't something you can be taught, its just an innate skill, a gift, a calling. They'd tell you...moreWe were always told in English Lit. that good writing isn't something you can be taught, its just an innate skill, a gift, a calling. They'd tell you the same thing in art class, but I'm pretty sure they still explained about the basics of light and shading. In english class I can't even recall being taught basic sentence structure and grammar, its just assumed you pick these things up as you go along. And as far as writing a novel goes, apparently you just have to randomly become a genius and get stuck into it.
Now I really love writing, but my head is full of ideas and characters that I just don't know what to do with. And I can't do the 'just start writing, it'll happen' thing, I really can't. When I turned to my author friend Thomas for suggestions, he pointed out this book to me. I am so glad he did, it's the most useful thing I've read in ages.
With Story Engineering, Larry Brooks puts forward the idea that while talent may be innate, the skills you need to write a novel (or a screenplay) can definately be taught. What he calls the 6 core competencies - Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution and Writing Voice. The ideas and creativity have to be all your own, but you can learn how to actually assemble your ideas together in the shape a novel.
At first I admit I was slightly skeptical, because Brooks starts with a lengthy intro about how important these ideas are. And theres a lot of repetition, every section starts by going on about how this skill is important, and the others are too, and how you can't just practice, you need this skill. Okay so the repetition annoyed me a little, but when you get into the grit of it, the important parts, he really actually does know his stuff. I mean really.
I basically learnt a metric shit ton of stuff from this book. Including; the difference between concept, idea, premise and theme. What exactly are the three dimension of character. What variables each character has to flesh them out. How to treat peripheral characters. The important milestones/plot points in a novel, where they come and how to build up to them. And where to actually begin a novel (I shit you not).
One of the cool things about the book is that in a way you're not just being taught how to build characters, scenes and plots, but also how to break them down and analyse them. So this stuff isn't just useful for writing a novel, its also pretty darned useful for reviewing novels too. Hopefully I can put this stuff into practice and both improve my reviews and get stuck into some serious story writing. I feel like I can now, and thats a start.
Honestly, I feel a bit funny about sharing this review with people, because it's like I just got superpowers and now I'm revealing the source of my powers to the public. But hey, everyone deserves the chance to learn something new. You better appreciate it. ;)(less)
It took me a long time to finally get my firstreads copy of A Dog's Purpose, but I'm glad I made the effort to track it down, because it was well wort...moreIt took me a long time to finally get my firstreads copy of A Dog's Purpose, but I'm glad I made the effort to track it down, because it was well worth it. Not something that I would normally pick up either. But this is one of those novels that is so much more than it appears on the surface. Dare I say - more than you could judge by its cover!
Our protagonist's first life, is as a one of a litter of four feral puppies. (Yes, I did say first life, this will bake more sense later). The dog's small world at first consists of not much more than his mother and his littermates. But not for long, as his mother must teach her puppies to fend for themselves, and all the tricks that wild dogs must know. Such as where to forage, and when and how to hide from humans. Unfortunately the life of a feral dog is fraught with danger, and must end sooner rather than later. But then our dog is born once again.
In his second life, our puppy is taken in by a loving family, and given the name Bailey. And Bailey becomes the beloved companion of his boy, Ethan. In this life Bailey learns more about love and loyalty, and picks up a few tricks aswell.
Bailey is reincarnated several times throughout the novel, each time learning something new about the world, and finding a new purpose for his life. And each time using what he has learnt before.
One of the reasons I loved this book was because it reminded me so much of one of my very favourite tv shows: Quantum Leap. Bailey steps from life to life, striving to find his purpose in each time, and to put right what once went wrong... Yep, its totally Canine Leap. But it was really good. And pulled more than a few tears from me.
Lesson learned: always give a try to books that aren't your usual fare. Its where you find the most suprises.(less)