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Catalyst - Science Fiction by David vanderVeen

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The Art of Fiction

1. This book was helpful in giving insights regarding what to write. It gave perspective regarding the liberties a writer should embrace and the risks he should be aware of. The section regarding basic skills convinced me to develop the habit of writing and then proof reading what I wrote to develop the innate skill to write good sentences. Writing sloppily from the outset creates a huge task to pore over tens of thousands of words correcting multitudes of bad structure.


a. Part 1 is good in helping to formulate personal styles and approaches to a story and how to test those styles whether they are functional for a reader to follow.

b. Part 2 provides excellent meat for a writer to develop a ‘checklist’ of things to correct has he progresses from the first eruption of a story to a quality manuscript.

3. I think this book actually complements the program very well. It sort of ‘connects the dots’ of the points made in the program. The Six Act-Two Goal structure emphasized in the program gives a good outline to interpret the section on plotting. It does introduce some styles of stories that do not fit the Six Act-Two Goal model, the epic specifically. However, identifying the exception validates the rule to my mind.


Write Away

1. Primarily this book is written mostly as a narrative of how Elizabeth George writes leaving to the reader the burden regarding how to apply her points personally. Similar to The Art of Fiction, Write Away outlines a number of tools a writer may use to pursue writing as a craft. It also touches on the inner thoughts a writer must have to produce a quality piece of work. Large sections of the book were not of particular use to me as it was so specific to George, although it did stimulate my thoughts regarding my own personal story as it unfolds. It did seem to me that George added bulk to her book by excerpting excessively long portions from other novels in order to make her point.


a. I found her discussion of voice and point of view especially helpful. The course covers the topic to some degree, but George’s treatment of the topic was especially useful. Especially her distinction between voice and POV. I’ve struggled with where the boundary of the envelope exists in use of shifting points of view, not only from perspective which the course of offers, but within different characters. George’s book both gave me the liberty to experiment plus guidance regarding when the shift is not working.

b. George’s discussion of structure was useful. The courses emphasis of the 6 Act-Two Goal structure is helpful in my current work, but future ideas do not particularly fit and George’s outline of other approaches was encouraging. Especially what she called the Hero’s Journey and what Gardner called the Epic answered some underlying questions I had. One of my favorite novels is David Copperfield which is a Hero’s Journey kind of novel and I’ve been wondering where it fit in.

c. It was good to read her treatment of her life as a professional writer, the discipline she applies and her discussion in the chapter titled The Value of Bum Glue.

3. One could say that her treatment of the different structure types differed from the course’s emphasis on the 6 Act-Two Goal structure. It’s not hard to convert what George calls the Seven-Step Story Line to the 6 Act-Two Goal structure, so in some degree it is semantics more than substance. However, George does not recognize back-story at all which I think is a lack in her description. Furthermore, George’s emphasis on actually becoming familiar in detail with the physical setting is constraining on the writer that I believe is contradictory to the general philosophy of the course. However, it has challenged me to make greater effort to incorporate the physical surroundings in my scenes.


The Writing Life

1. The book is obviously not meant to provide actual practical advice but a collection of essays regarding the personal contribution a writer must make to create something worthwhile. Much of her essays were entertaining and touched on topics that I could personally relate to, some of them even causing me to laugh out loud. I confess to a little impatience at the self-pity that comes through now and then. ‘Woe is me, what a tortured life I lead as a writer’. Anyone who creates experiences the ebb and flow of progress, reversal and compromise. Perhaps her last collection of essays about Dave Rahm recognizes the common trait of creativity regardless of the medium. Spending 30 years as an engineer, I see creation as a pragmatic endeavor and makes me glad for the experience to have perspective for the struggles necessary to create a worthwhile fiction.


a. Writing is a job and a career. 10 to 20 percent inspiration, the rest work. I’m fortunate in that I find as much inspiration in polishing, re-writing, examining and testing as I do in creating the original concept so that I haven’t really gotten board or impatient with the work.

b. There is a danger of falling in love with your own work and loosing objectivity. This is true in other professions as well. I certainly have seen it with engineers. It’s ironic that I have told new programmers how I hate computers and that’s what makes me good at programming. Perhaps a certain degree of resentment for the work is beneficial.

3. To say there were conflicts is not applicable as the theme of the book is less about the specific writing and more about the personal contribution writing takes. It seems to me sometimes that Dillard is more interested in the picture the words create rather than the story they need to propel.


Writing the Breakout Novel

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

I found that it was the best of the four that stimulated a critical examination of my own work. The author’s blending of examples from ‘breakout’ novels contrasted with common mistakes and weaknesses in novel submissions was immensely helpful. It helped me identify where I have fallen into those weaknesses.

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

a. The book provided the best insights for me in applying tension and conflict. Up until then the idea of tension on every page sounded great but seemed impractical. His examples and explanation helped immensely in understanding the concept of tension.

b. I have struggled with identifying the theme of my story. This book was helpful in helping me sort through the passions and motivations that motivated me and has helped understand what that theme is.

c. The definition of sub-plots and how they fit in was helpful. It is interesting for me, since my work is the first part of a series, I have sub-plots begun but will not be resolved until later in subsequent books, assuming I get to publish them.

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

a. As I stated before, your writing program emphasizes the 6 Act-Two Goal structure. If I took that literally as the only structure possible then, yes the book conflicts. However, I understand the concept of layered mastery of a skill and recognize the usefulness of your programs structure for beginners like myself. Therefore these books acknowledgement of other structures and how they are useful for different stories is complementary rather than contradictory. Since my story fits in well with the 6 Act-Two Goal structure I’ve been pretty comfortable with it.

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