Play Unsafe was not what I expected - not what I was promised when I read the back of the book. I wanted information about Improvisation, tips and triPlay Unsafe was not what I expected - not what I was promised when I read the back of the book. I wanted information about Improvisation, tips and tricks for keeping things going. What I got was a set of proscriptive guidelines that in many cases seemed to be simply the author's personal taste presented as set-in-stone rules.
Taken as suggestions for trying new things, some of the material presented wasn't too bad, though it wasn't exactly novel. I'd never heard the idea of building drama by starting during an 'ordinary' routine called a "platform" before, but the name he gave it was the only new thing about a very common idea.
The real problem with the book is the tone it is written in, and the fact that it is simply incorrect in places. He states that true drama can't be created without the platform technique, that starting amidst the action doesn't work. However, beginning a story in media res is not only a very common, very useful storytelling technique, it's arguably a more dramatic way to begin things. What better way to challenge a player and build a fascinating story than to start him or her in the middle of a difficult situation and allow them to narrate not only how they got out of it, but what got them into it in the first place. It works well in novels and stories, creating a sense of mystery as we wonder the why and hows of the situation, and it can work just as well in games.
The short of it is, I didn't get anything out of this book at all. It is full of a lot of platitudes (play unsafe! If something scares you, do it!) but you can get that from countless blogs and any number of self-help books. This book claims to help you improve your improvisational skills, but all it actually does is tell you to "do it." To me, less than useful. ...more
This book hovers on the brink between 4 and 5 stars for me. In the end, it gets five, if only because it contained so much useful information and analThis book hovers on the brink between 4 and 5 stars for me. In the end, it gets five, if only because it contained so much useful information and analysis that I hadn't before seen written in such a clear, concise manner. The section on story structure, the largest section of the book, is itself worth the price of admission and although i'm not yet sure I agree with everything he said, it's certainly making me look at stories I am reading in a different way, more analytically, with an eye to what the author is doing in each part.
The major downside of this book is that much of the space is wasted. Brooks has clearly been teaching and pushing his views on planning and structure for a long time, and in that time has encountered a great deal of resistance from people who prefer to work "organically", without planning their stories, and who view any sort of planning or structure as some sort of offence against their own creative impulses. I've certainly met people who held this view myself.
In this book, Brooks strives to meet those objections head on, and argue against them. However in doing this, he finds himself constantly repeating himself, making those same arguments, over and over in almost every section, when discussing any new topic. These discussions alone probably take up a full third of the book and after reading the same line of argument for then third, fourth and fifth times, the author starts to come across as very defensive.
Brooks is also very proscriptive in this book. He has obviously been working on these ideas for a long time and come to the conclusion that they represent Truth. This likely also goes part of the way to explain all of the arguments presented against the expected detractors. I can't help but feel however that the direct proscriptiveness of his approach may well work against him if his goal really is to reach those that might otherwise be unreceptive to his message here, I found my own inner stubborness rising at several points, despite having no real personal disagreement with anything he said.
All that aside, there is real, solid gold insight in this book, and whether or not it really does represent Truth in Storytelling, there is definitely more than enough to get you thinking productively about craft, story and structure.
How you rate this book, I think, depends primarily on what you expected when you sat down to read it. Lets clear up all confusion by starting off withHow you rate this book, I think, depends primarily on what you expected when you sat down to read it. Lets clear up all confusion by starting off with what it -isn't-.
This book is not: - A how-to guide on the nuts and bolts of writing. - A how-to guide on getting published. - A how-to guide on growing potatoes. - A how-to guide. - New.
This last I think is particularly important to understand, Scalzi maintains a very popular blog that I myself have read daily for several years now where he covers topics ranging from his own work and the work of his friends to the politics of the day. It is well written, broad of topic and always entertaining. (He once taped bacon to his cat you know.)
Scalzi on Writing is a collection of posts on writing, or tangentially about writing, taken from the archives of this blog and arranged and edited to make a book format. This is not to detract from the book itself, it is arranged to flow very well and the articles are top-notch, but anyone who was expecting new material will be sorely disappointed.
That said, much of the material included dates from before I was a Whatever reader and so was new to me, so I didn't find this an issue. Some of the material has dated, some quite amusingly so, but on the whole this remains a useful book for any writer's shelf.
So what exactly is it about? It is divided into sections, each somewhat thematically linked, but what it is on the whole is a series of essays focused on the life of a working writer. He covers a variety of topics from how he supports himself and his family (it isn't with his novels), how much a writer can expect to make (not enough for that yacht you've got your eye on), how the publication industry works (blood sacrifice and virgin writer tears) to, my personal favourites, writers/publishers behaving badly. (Plagiarism, Dishonest vanity publishers, scams.. so much fun.)
It's not a large book, but there is a lot covered in the accessible, light-hearted manner that Scalzi's blog-writing is justifiably famous for.
The only thing that was missing was a picture of his cat....more