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Book Reports - Kara Bosshardt

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Book Report

  • 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, by John Gardner

1. It taught me that the rules of writing a novel have roughly been the same ever since the beginning. It also taught me that all rules to writing are breakable and many of the early authors broke these rules to some degree or another. Therefore, if I feel that a rule should be broken for my own writing, then I'm at liberty to do so. This is comforting as well as empowering because it gives me a freedom as a writer that I didn't know I had before.

2. The first lesson I learned is that every author has their own style, but whatever your style is you need to own it. Also, style is not something an author should force, but let the process happen naturally. The second lesson was about the real reason to read fiction or poetry. It's to enjoy the experience, to get caught up in the world the author creates. Gardner specifically mentions that the critical analysis of literary work in school "has had the accidental side effect of leading to the notion that the chief virtue of good poetry and fiction is instructional." This is exactly why Les Miserable was ruined for me as a teenager and to this day is tainted. My English teachers analyzed the hell out of it until the entire class was bored to tears. While themes in stories give them depth and texture, books without huge, overarching themes and lessons can still be just as fun to read. This helps me relax a bit when I think about my own writing because I no longer stress that I'm not filling it with enough themes and morals.

3. I did not find anything that conflicted with the novel writing program within this book, but to be honest there could have been. This was a hard read for me due to the older English it was written in and the constant referencing of stories that, most of which, I've never heard of. The author also used older writing terms that I am unfamiliar with and couldn't place what those terms may be called today.


Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

1. This book had a little bit of everything to teach me from plot to publication, which helped me a great deal. The fact that Maass is not just an author, but also a literary agent gave me a different perspective on this entire process of writing a novel and trying to get published. He pointed out several things that I can improve upon, but also helped me realize that much of what is required for a breakout novel are things I already have in place.

2. I learned so many little things (and huge things) that could help to improve my story it's hard to pick just a few to talk about here. One of the first 'Ah-Ha' moments I had was when he wrote about setting, specifically the psychological effect your setting has on your characters. I had never before analyzed setting in that way; to describe it according to the way it makes my characters feel, rather than describing according to looks or what objects are there. The second point I learned a great deal about was the entire section on subplots. I always thought I knew what a subplot was until I read this. I like that he mentioned to keep subplots to a minimum and that some stories may not even need to have a subplot at all to be successful. This was so refreshing because I have often worried about the scant number of subplots in my story and whether or not I had enough. It also helped to read about the section on Narrative pace and Maass specifically mentions that authors use trusted readers, instinct and 'an iron conviction.' Not many books about novel writing, that I've read anyway, speak much about instinct, but I find that this is something I use all the time when editing my manuscript. So, it was nice to hear someone mention it with years of experience in the industry. The last really important thing that I learned from this book was about voice. I especially liked this passage:

"You can facilitate voice by giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own unique way. You do not talk exactly like anyone else, right? Why should you write like everyone else?"

This was so marvelously freeing to hear. I had often worried about whether or not I was finding my 'voice' in writing and then worried if I was getting it right. Thank you, Mr. Mass, for helping relieve that burden from my shoulders!

3. I didn't find any lessons from this book that conflicted with the online novel writing program. To the contrary, I found much support in what I've already learned so far as well as a boat-load of material that, I believe, adds to and even expands the novel writing program. I think this book is a great addition to this course.


The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

1. Overall, I learned that every writer appears to struggle with the same things. We all want to write because we are passionate about it, but despite our enthusiasm for our work it is still a desperate struggle to focus day in and day out to get a project done. It's nice to know this battle is fought by even the best of us. This means the difficulties I encounter with my writing are normal.

2. One lesson learned is that to be a slow writer is normal. I've often anguished over how long it has taken me to get my story to a place where I finally feel like it is as good as I can get it without professional help (is there such a thing as novel therapy?). To know that the process of completing a manuscript is slow for everyone alleviates the pressure I've put upon myself. The other major lesson learned is that I am not a literary writer. I knew this to an extent, but when Dillard wrote the small excerpt about a writer who asked a potential writer/student if they liked sentences then I knew. I knew in the moment I read that passage that I am not a literary writer. I do not like constructing intricate sentences or making each one sound flowery or ornate. I like writing stories. This is why my grammar is often incorrect and my punctuation are absolutely abysmal (stupid commas), but the reason I persist is because I want my stories to be read by others. I want my characters to see the light of day, to become real people in the minds of my readers. I am not writing my novel because I like sentences. I write to open people's minds to the world I have created.

3. Since this wasn't a 'how-to' book, but more of a collection of Dillard's experiences as a writer and the lessons she's learned then it can't really contradict anything that's been taught in this writing course.


Write Away, by Elizabeth George

1. It taught me that my novel is somewhere between a seven-step story outline and a reverse hourglass plot. It taught me that putting a physical setting map in a visible location while I write would be a good idea. It taught me that I'm already doing some things correctly with my writing. Most of all though, it taught me that the reason I like writing is for those satisfying ah-ha moments when I've finally figured out a solution to a complex problem within my story after wrestling over it for hours, or even days.

2. One major thing it taught me was to let go of the rule book that I've created in my head. There are no rules! As long as I'm writing well and finding solutions to the problems with my writing then I can do whatever the hell I want to do. This is where I always get stuck because I'm so paranoid I'm never going to get published because of some rule I didn't follow that I've never heard of. It was nice to have George reemphasize this point over and over again: there are no rules to writing. None!

Something else that I found very informative was George's explanation of plotting. She specifically mentions that in order to create suspense within your plot you need to give your characters intentions and to let these intentions be known to your readers. Thank you! I knew my characters' intentions, but I haven't always let these things be known in the story. Many I've kept for myself as backstory, but now I know which characters need to be clearer about their intentions to fill in what's been missing this entire time and build the element of suspense and/or foreshadow.

3. If there is anything in this book that contradicts the writing course it would be about plotting. George gives several examples of different plot structures and how each one can work depending on the type of story you are creating. This course only emphasizes the 6-Act, 2-goal plot structure as being 'more' successful than all others. Perhaps that's true, but I have seen within my own novel that it doesn't fully follow the 6-act structure and is actually a cross between a hero's journey, a 7-point plot and a reverse hourglass plot structure. This is why I liked George's emphasis about how there are no rules to writing because to force my novel into a perfect 6-act structure feels, well, forced.

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