When I saw this "illustrated guide to creative imaginative fiction" at my library, I swooped it up. It has more of magazine feel to it than an actual...moreWhen I saw this "illustrated guide to creative imaginative fiction" at my library, I swooped it up. It has more of magazine feel to it than an actual book, maybe because of all the bizarre art and cartoonish creatures which chop up the pages, so I skimmed through it like I would a magazine, looking for articles that appealed to me.
What I enjoyed most about it were the articles by other writers that Jeff Vandermeer included, especially the ones by Ursula K. Le Guin (but you can find the same article, on "A message on messages" on her website) and by Lev Grossman on revision.
Vandermeer's own writing, on writing, was either a little too complicated (felt it belonged in a university research publication on writing) or a little too "out there" - like his "ecosystem of the story" but it was nevertheless very solid advice. (less)
Absolutely convinced this is helpful to novel writers as well as screen writers. And bonus - it's fun!
I loved the wisdom of the first chapter - comin...moreAbsolutely convinced this is helpful to novel writers as well as screen writers. And bonus - it's fun!
I loved the wisdom of the first chapter - coming up with a logline FIRST. Before anything else.
The 15 beats you need for structure were also helpful, and the story board, and the chapter with all the creatively-named tips - from "Pope in Pool" (please read that correctly: I first read it as Poop in the Pool!) to Mumbo Jumbo. (less)
After you've read the writing books that point out all the errors you made when you were starting out, and then you've read the writing books that mak...moreAfter you've read the writing books that point out all the errors you made when you were starting out, and then you've read the writing books that make you feel like you'll never "get there" with your writing, this book is a refreshing boost to your confidence.
"If you’ve read rabidly all your life, believe it or not, you know as much as just about anybody in the writing game. You may not be able to articulate it as well as some professors, but you don’t have to. All you have to do is follow your gut."
So that quote runs the danger of making it sound like great writing is really easy, but that's where all the great exercises in this book will set you straight. Some of the exercises are short and fun (e.g. easy), but most take quite a bit of thought, imagination, and research. Yes - research! Okay, I admit, I've only done a few so far, and they took me a lot longer than I thought they would, but the result was well worth it.
Here's an example of one of the exercises: "A great way to warm-up your voice is to pick the character and tone you want and write a letter to your best friend using it, no longer than a page. Or pick four words that you associate with the scene and free-associate three more words for each of these (word clustering)."
The book is well organized and breaks down voice into some of its components: tone, rhythm, and imagery. In addition to the exercises, it includes discussion of good voice-building techniques. For instance, some of the techniques discussed come from actors, and are adapted for writers:
"Successful actors make marvelous use of their own individualities in creating the roles they play on the screen. You can use the same technique to create the roles you play on the page."
The book ends with some quotes/excerpts from authors, agents and editors discussing why voice is so critical. Here's a couple short quotes:
"Your goal should be to communicate with the reader the same way they would when telling a story to a good friend."
"For fiction to work, the reader needs to feel the presence of a live and sweating human being behind each sentence, a governing sensibility, a certain way of inhabiting the world."
The author uses his own distinctive voice throughout the book, for as he points out several times, voice is important in non-fiction as well as fiction. For a truly great example of non-fiction voice, combined with excellent writing advice, I also recommend "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. (less)
My favorite writing book is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, but now Birdy will have to share the #1 spot. Bird by Bird and the Fire in Fiction are both...moreMy favorite writing book is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, but now Birdy will have to share the #1 spot. Bird by Bird and the Fire in Fiction are both about writing but cover completely different things. Bird is about the writing life, getting your first draft down, how to keep your butt in the chair, why you should aways keep paper and pen in your back pocket.
Fire is about specifics. You've got your first draft done. Even your second or third draft. But it's still not getting interest. The Fire in Fiction skips the basics, such as hook and point of view. It goes much deeper. It teaches you how to keep your readers reading after the hook.
Want to make your protagonist more memorable? Even harder, want to make your secondary characters more memorable? "Special-ness comes not from a character but from their impact on the protagonist. What are the details that measure their impact? How specific can you make them?"
The books that cover the basics teach you that your book is built on scenes and all scenes worth their weight need conflict and must move the plot forward. This book digs deeper and talks about inner and outer turning points in each scene. Maass uses the analogy about how action scenes in movies are planned and shot in detailed frames. He shows you how to rewind and fast-forward through the scenes and how to use oblique angles to heighten effect (and we are talking writing here, not just camera work).
Oh and don't forget the tornado effect - that's a powerful device. Sorry you'll have to read the book to find out what it is.
The book provides excellent exercises, broken down step-by-step, for how to accomplish things like:
- stripping down dialogue to heighten conflict. - Make setting become its own character. - How to link details and emotions. - Develop a character's voice. Experiment with narrative voice. - The extra steps you can take (you MUST take) to make a real antagonist. - Three different techniques to help your reader suspend disbelief (if you are writing fantasy, SF or thrillers). - There's even a chapter on developing humor and satire
What you won't find: plot structure - the excellent three act structure or hero's journey structure. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is next on my list for that. (I also recommend the Writer's Journey for this).
Here's an example of a step in an exercise that I just picked at random:
"Create three hints in this scene that your protaonist or point-of-view character will get what he wants. Build three reasons to believe that he won't get what he wants."
The last two chapters are the very best of all. What's the secret to unstoppable page turning? It's NOT action. What? No really. It's micro-tension. Don't know what that is exactly? Maybe you can guess what it is, and are curious about how to implement it? This is a MUST READ.
And the last chapter, simply titled "The fire in fiction". All the chapters give you fuel for a good hot fire, but this last chapter is the fire itself. This one blew me away. I'd love to tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.
No seriously, get this book (after you feel like you've mastered the basics). Buy it, because you'll want to keep it on your desk for constant reference. Make a rule that no other book ever gets placed on top of it. I really think it's that good. (less)