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J.T.R. Brown - book reports


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BOOK REPORTS:

 

1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something?

2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel?

3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they?

 

THE ART OF FICTION - JOHN GARDNER

  1. This book challenged me on two levels: an abstract/theoretical level and a more concrete “craft” level. As difficult as it is to apply theory sometimes, it is good to pull yourself away from your work and try to look at it from afar. The “common errors” section was actually the most helpful part of the book. Sometimes, learning what not to do is even more helpful than learning what to do.
  2. Reminders to be intentional in my attention to diction and the “continuous fictional dream” were helpful. I have a tendency to slip between colloquial phrasing and more formal writing depending on my mood, level of fatigue (I have two small children at home), and general state-of-mind. This doesn’t make for even tone. The idea of the continuous fictional dream forces me not to be lazy and just tell the reader what I want them to think, but instead rack my brain to show them something that leads them to the conclusion I want them to have.
  3. There was nothing in conflict with the lessons or readings per se, but I would say it was my least favorite selection. WRITE AWAY was practical, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL was brutally honest insight from a literary insider and THE WRITING LIFE was a charming and reflective look at the soul of a writer. I felt like THE ART OF FICTION was pedantic at times and his tone was condescending. I remember a part where he talks about how there is “almost no hope for the adult writer who writes like this” and gives an example. Maybe it’s the social worker in me (my “day job”) but I think every person, and every aspiring writer has something to say because of the endless combinations of life experiences, ideas, and feelings that shape an individual’s perspective.

 

 

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL - DONALD MAASS

  1. This book helped me immensely as a writer in the respect that it gave no-nonsense reflections on what it takes to write a great book that can do well in the traditional market. The unpublished writer (such as myself) bemoans not knowing what is going through an agent or publisher’s head that makes their work unappealing. Well, here’s the answer in convenient book form. It (painfully) exposed many of my preconceived notions of what agents want and what makes a book successful.
  2. The most useful lessons from this book were 1) the setting must have inherent conflict and 2) you can’t coddle your characters; they must be challenged and yes, must suffer in order for their redemption/heroics to be meaningful. The first was something I simply hadn’t ever considered. I thought setting was just “where something happened” but with intentionally creating settings with conflict (and the setting is crucial to my book) it gave my novel significantly more tension. I was a bit squeamish about putting my characters through hell, but now realize it is the key to making them interesting, believable and sympathetic.
  3. Everything from this book was cohesive with the teachings of the class.

 

WRITE AWAY - ELIZABETH GEORGE

  1. The single thing that stuck with me most from any book I read was from WRITE AWAY “You will be published if you possess three qualities—talent, passion and discipline. You will probably be published if you posses two of the three qualities in either combination—either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline.” I don’t know if I have any talent. That’s for you (and hopefully readers) to decide. But I know I have discipline and passion. And if that means I have a high probability of getting published that gives me hope. The one thing I possess is the “bum glue” she speaks of, which I am very proud of and have worked hard to acquire over the years.
  2. As for more concrete/practical applications to my writing: 1) THADs were extremely helpful. I just hadn’t considered making sure my characters were doing something instead of just talking. It gives realistic detail to the scene and makes it more interesting. I try to employe THADs in every scene now. 2) The character write-up sheet is very helpful. This was used in a different form in the lessons from the class and I found it very helpful in telescoping characters.
  3. Everything from this book dovetailed well with the class.

 

THE WRITING LIFE - ANNIE DILLARD

  1. From reading some of my classmate’s reviews there was a lot of criticism of this book, but I was surprised by that. It’s not as instructive as the other books, obviously, but I think that’s kind of the point. I found this book charming and interesting, and I did find her abstractions more interesting and inspiring than Gardner’s.
  2. The section about the abstract idea being transformed into something different really spoke to me: “you are wrong if you think that you can in any way take the vision and tame it to the page…this vision is not so much destroyed, exactly, as it is, by the time you have finished, forgotten. It has been replaced by this changeling, this bastard, this opaque lightless chunky ruinous work.” This stuck with me; if I want my idea to remain pure and unchanged it must remain an idea. But if I truly love it and want it to be birthed into this world, I have to allow it to grow, change and meander.
  3. There wasn’t really any instructive part of this book, but all of the ideas and reflections were in line with the lessons of the class.

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