What I found in the pages of Nathan Bransford's How to Write a Novel is nothing new for someone in my shoes. But this is not a criticism of the work - its actually one of its strengths. What Bransford touches on throughout are time-honored traditions that will feel familiar, but they're presented in his easy-to-digest, subtly brilliant sort of way. His work as a long-time blogger gives his writing that personal touch, as if you're sitting across from him chatting about writing rather than reading a book about it, and his years as a literary agent and industry commentator give weight to his insights.
This is a solid little book that I'll keep readily at hand, because its a quick-reference dream. Broken down into the "47 Rules", its very easy to navigate and revisit. Its the perfect little compendium to the books I've mentioned above, and I recommend it especially to those who may not have read a lot of "how to write" books. Its an accessible entry into the craft of the craft.(less)
There were A LOT of grammatical and punctuation errors throughout, so that was a bummer. But the characters are strong and the setting very cool, so i...moreThere were A LOT of grammatical and punctuation errors throughout, so that was a bummer. But the characters are strong and the setting very cool, so it kept me going. Really liked the story.(less)
My 2 star review is 2 stars because "it was okay." I wish I could give it more because I think Justin Cronin is a talent...moreI think I'm done with this...
My 2 star review is 2 stars because "it was okay." I wish I could give it more because I think Justin Cronin is a talent and lyrical writer, just not in this genre. I couldn't finish the book.
I think the same thing happened for me with Colson Whitehead's Zone One. Absolutely loved the guy's ability and its obvious he has considerable talent. But a zombie book is not what he should be writing.
This is certainly a bit of a quandary, and it takes a certain type of writer to pull it off, but when trying to inject a new spin or voice into genre fiction, one must still respect some of the genre's basic tenants. Both Cronin's The Passage as well as Whitehead's Zone One, in my opinion, misunderstand one thing important to readers (at least this reader) of vampire and zombie fiction, regardless of how "literary" they're trying to make it: I want stories with quick pacing. This isn't to say we need things dumbed-down or that we need an author to employ "fast" writing for the sake of pacing, leaving out details that could help us better emerse ourselves in the story. Jumping from action set piece to action set piece is "fast", yes, but it leaves out the interwoven tissue that binds a story together and makes each chapter feel more like an episode and less like a piece of a puzzle. So it is possible to pace something with momentum and connection and still give us detail and insight and all that. It can be done. It wasn't done here. I listened to this on audio book and I can tell you that I was nearly 10 hours in and I felt that NOTHING had happened.
Another problem I had with this book is that each character seemed to reflect the author's perspective too much. They all sounded the same. Carter's "inner thoughts" are simply what the author wants to say; there is a disconnect between Carter's flowery, introspective inner voice and the dialogue he speaks to those around him. That's fine, that juxtaposition and contrast, if Carter was supposed to be a deep-thinking, philosophical man who has trouble articulating himself or lacks certain social skills. And I think this was his character. And it worked. But every character in this had those deep, romanticized, lyrical thoughts going on. Grey, the sisters, the agents, all of them. Characters should be rich and deep, yes, but each of these characters were oceans resting between the same two continents. Some people, whether we want to admit it or not, are not oceans. They are puddles. I would've liked to see more puddles in this story. It was have kept the author's perspective from interfering with the narrative experience and given the characters some of their own identity.
All in all, Cronin has talent. But I don't think he quite respects the genre he was hoping to cash in on. His experiment didn't work for me, but obviously has worked for others and maybe it will work for you, too! Happy reading.(less)
Wow. This book was great. Funny and fresh, insightful and inspiring - all the these I've come to expect from Mr. Thurston. I first fell in love with "...moreWow. This book was great. Funny and fresh, insightful and inspiring - all the these I've come to expect from Mr. Thurston. I first fell in love with "Burritotunde" when he appeared on the Nerdist Podcast (for more niche-flavored self-improvement goodness, check out Nerdist host Chris Hardwick's The Nerdist Way) Ever since then I've tracked down other interviews with Baratunde, stalked him silently and ever so whitely on Twitter, and download his Baratunde Cast whenever the busy Director of Digital has time to drop one. I was highly anticipating this reading (or rather, listening) and it did not let me down in the slightest. Derrick Ashong's poem "Water", which he reads for Baratunde at the end of the book, is worth the price of the audiobook alone. I will be buying the hardcover version of the book to add to my collection, and look forward to revisiting it and the audio version anytime I feel the need for some blackness in my life.
In other words, I will pick this up when I want to remember what it means to be myself: a 30yr old, married white musician and author, father of two equally pasty little boys. I'm telling you, this book - and its insightful and hilarious author - can speak to just about anyone with a willing heart and a working set of eardrums or eyeballs. I look forward to more of Baratunde's books in the future.(less)
John Dies at The End is probably one of the wackiest books I've ever read... and I mean that in a good way. I've always loved a creator with a strong...moreJohn Dies at The End is probably one of the wackiest books I've ever read... and I mean that in a good way. I've always loved a creator with a strong imagination that presents me things I haven't seen before. Its why I love writers like Gaiman and Mieville and filmmakers like Del Toro and Gilliam. David Wong isn't these guys, to be sure, but in between the dick and fart jokes and the insanity of this story's cast of creatures are actually a few moments of really beautiful prose. Every now and again Wong would blind-side me with a really insightful paragraph or a lyrical and evocative sentence or two. For me, though, my desire to read this book came from where most people's probably did - Wong's articles on Crack.com. The dude has always made me laugh and that's what I was looking for with the book. In that sense it did not disappoint.
My only complaint with the story is that Wong seemed unsure of how or where to end it. I thought most of the epilogue was unneeded and the reveal at the end involving Dave and his would-be chronicler wasn't earned. So much crazy shit had already happened, that this event fell sort of flat for me. I really would've liked a tighter ending, because the climax was enjoyable but then the tale seemed to meander after that, searching for a rope with which to tie loose ends. In a story this bonkers, I don't need anything tied up, really. Let it be what it is - this isn't LoTR...
All in all a very enjoyable read and I look forward to more of Wong's work. I also think the film adaptation of this looks promising and I look forward to checking that out soon.(less)
A solid book. Seemed to jump around a bit, but McKee manages to balance a line between creative mysticism and literary nuts-and-bolts. I sensed a feel...moreA solid book. Seemed to jump around a bit, but McKee manages to balance a line between creative mysticism and literary nuts-and-bolts. I sensed a feeling of inspiration similar to Pressfield's spiritual War of Art, especially with lines like "talent without craft is like fuel without an engine - it burns wildly but accomplishes little", but I learned a bit more on the mechanics of writing from McKee's work. Recommend this to any writer, really, not just those interest in screenwriting. I have written novels, screenplays, and comics and found most of the lessons in Story applicable to all mediums. Of course, because this is a book on screenwriting, there is an emphasis on that form, so just bear that in mind. Overall I look forward to reading and referencing this book again in the future.(less)
The Ruins of Gorlan, book 1 in the Ranger's Apprentice series, traverses well-worn fantasy paths but manages, against my early...moreWARNING: A FEW SPOILERS
The Ruins of Gorlan, book 1 in the Ranger's Apprentice series, traverses well-worn fantasy paths but manages, against my early judgement, to deliver a satisfying and entertaining adventure.
In the first handful of chapters in John Flanagan's first installment to his wildly popular Ranger's Apprentice series, I couldn't help but shake my head. The opening of this tale, with a prologue featuring the once-thought-defeated enemy, frankly did not inspire me to go on. It's not that it was poor, it was just how so many fantasy books seem to start - some cold-open, info dump where we learn about things that have already come to pass from a villain who will never personally make an appearance in the rest of the book. It's clichéd and not all that effective. Follow this up with our titular soon-to-be-apprentice being an orphaned "ward" of the state staring down the barrel of some life-determining selection or appointment and I was about ready to give up on the novel.
Another early problem with the book is the implied tension in Halt's arrival to the apprenticeship council and Will's rejection from battle school. We're supposed to feel something, I believe, akin to what Will might be feeling - "what's this creep doing here; what does he want with me; why have I been denied what I want; what's written on that piece of paper?" Except we, the reader, know the series is called the Ranger's Apprentice. It's very easy to decipher, then, that Will is expected to let curiosity get the best him and try to ascertain the letter from the Baron's tower, a perfect test for a would-be Ranger whose only admittedly skill is he's a pretty decent climber. This sequence of events felt very heavy-handed and pretty predictable.
All that being said, I soon found myself swept up in the story, once the fantasy novel tropes had been dutifully checked off the list. There are a lot of good things going on in this story. The characters are genuine and play well off each other. The pacing is fantastic and always kept me anticipating the next turn. The world-building, though not super evolved here (I suspect the scope of things expands in subsequent volumes) is well-thought out. I especially enjoy the whole idea of Rangers, who borrow elements from other fantasy figures (I was reminded for some reason of The Wheel of Time's Thom Merrilin The Eye of the World, with his own distinguished "gleeman's" cloak and skill with throwing knives) but manages to create something, while not entire complex, feels unique. Halt is a trust-worthy mentor and his character popped for me.
And so it happened that as I finished the story, what I ended up liking most about this book was what I sort of didn't like at first. The fantasy tropes are tried-and-true, the writing is a bit on the nose, and nothing gets extensively detailed, but that seemed to work for this tale. I then reminded myself this is a young adult adventure novel for middle-school boys, and realized that if I had read this book at that age I would've loved it. I have two young sons and honestly can't wait to share this book with them. The themes of loyalty, friendship, bravery, and the subplot of Horace's dealings with vicious bullies are really great things to share with young readers. While Flanagan isn't the most nuanced writer, he writes with a passion for the material, without a hint of cynicism or irony; he has great affection for the genre and doesn't try to be too clever for his own good. All in all I found The Ruins of Gorlan a quick and exciting read, and I look forward to continuing the adventure with the second book in the series.(less)
It's no surprise - and probably no accident - that King's book on writing is as easy to digest as his prose. This doesn't make it any less important,...moreIt's no surprise - and probably no accident - that King's book on writing is as easy to digest as his prose. This doesn't make it any less important, no matter what critics of King's work may try to tell you. King is a phenomenal writer and has a great understanding of story. Nothing of this work is particularly groundbreaking, but the nuggets of wisdom here are presented in such a straightforward and concise manner that I believe it'd be hard for any writer of any literary genre or style not to find something golden within these pages.
I found King's talk on his drafting process - the open and closed door - particularly interesting. I also enjoyed every bit of the "memoir" part of this work. King has an easy voice and an inviting earnestness, even while talking about such heavy subjects as drug addiction, the passing of his mother, and his own brush with death. Having listened to the audio version of this book, I found it even more like a conversation between two friends than a textbook on writing. I was learning things, but it never felt like learning. I'd like to believe this is what King was aiming for.
As a writer myself, I did find the whole section on finding an agent and getting published laughable. This book isn't that old, but it certainly seems old when it speaks on this. King tells the story of a younger colleague (or colleagues, as it were, whose experiences here are mashed together under one pseudonym) who sells around 6 short stories to various rags that publish short stories. (Even this seems like the stuff of historical fiction.) Said writer then starts work on a novel. Seeking representation to help in the eventual sale of that novel, the writer sits down and crafts a polite and interesting letter to an agent before having even finished the book. Then, shockingly, said colleague actually receives numerous cordial responses from actual agent interested in their work. Some ask to see his short stories, some ask to see the 80 pages of his unfinished novel. The idea that any agent in this day and age would ask to see a) stories that have already sold and b) 80 pages of anything based simply off a letter that barely describes a work that isn't finished means either this author is fantastic or that this was what publishing might have looked like before the creation of the slush-pile. My guess is its a bit of both. It sounds like a great time to be a writer, a time where you could create some publishing credentials for yourself and then speak with an agent who is looking for AUTHORS to WORK with (not NOVELS to SELL - and I seriously believe those are two very distinct things.) I don't believe King even once used that dreaded word "query" while talking about finding an agent. Ah, the simplicity of years gone by...
And maybe that is what's best about this book, this air of hopeful ease; the feeling that for a writer, crafting a story should like breathing. No bullshit, no politics, no hoops to jump through. Just practice, passion, and the dedication to write every day. There's no magic bullet, no secret lesson to be learned. Write, and keep writing until you're good enough that someone wants to read what you've written. And when that's done, write again. Sometimes in pop culture, what floats to the top is often the worst of what our "arts" and culture has to offer, dumbed-down works of insipid simplicity, ready-made for a lazy public. This is what "serious" critics have come to learn, and what continues to shape their world-view. Who can blame them, though? There's so much evidence to the rule.
Then again, as is the case with The Beatles, sometimes what's popular is what's best. King is a popular writer, but don't hold that against him. The Beatles wrote the book on writing a pop song. With On Writing, King has written a love song to the pop book. And the world is better for it.(less)
Stephen King is one of those authors I've loved since I was a young teen (I even visited his house during one summer vacation.) However, being a young...moreStephen King is one of those authors I've loved since I was a young teen (I even visited his house during one summer vacation.) However, being a young teen with a short attention span - and King having the tendency to pen some rather thick tomes - I never finished any King novel I started. Pet Cemetery; Gerald's Game; It. I even wrote an 11 page book report on Cujo my freshman year... having not read the entire thing. So King and I go way back, sorta. We've shared some good, albeit truncated, times.
Well, I have finally got around to finishing my first King novel; the trick was apparently that I needed an audio book. The Gunslinger introduces us to Roland Deschain, the titular Gunslinger, as he traverses a barren desert in search of Man in Black, a shrouded and intriguing antagonist with God-like abilities to possess the minds of people and even raise the dead. Along the way, Roland meets a young boy, Jake Chambers, whose strange past causes Roland to think heavily about the world he lives in, and whose companionship is just another woeful test set forth by the torturous Man in Black.
The Gunslinger is a somewhat disjointed narrative - a Fear-and-Loathing-esque head-trip - one that jumps from present to flashback to alternated reality. But for me this form does a good job at putting us in Roland's own disoriented mind. King's description are spot on without being insensate wordy and his characterization is excellent. All in all I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed my trek through Mid-World, and narrator George Guidall was a fitting and entertaining companion. I look forward to continuing the journey.(less)