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Book Reports—Mikaela Kemsley (Gods of The Fallen)

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The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner

1. One of the major lessons I learned from Gardner’s work was that all questions I raise within a text, I must answer. Otherwise, it leaves the reader feeling dissatisfied. Upon reflection, I discovered that all of my favorite works follow this guideline.They wrap up every individual character’s storyline and identify any unknowns/solve any mysteries by the end of the story. For example, in Les Miz Hugo wraps up the storyline for not only Valjean, but for Cossette, Marius, Javert, Eponene, Gavroche, and even the Master and his wife. They don’t all have happy ends, but they all have definitive conclusions to their stories.   

 Of course, this becomes more complicated when considering multi-book series such as the one I’m writing. After reading Gardner’s book though, I came to the conclusion that each question I raised in book one needs to either 1. Be answered in book one or 2. Have a clear indication that it will be answered later in the series. 

2. It’s my job as the author to either create realistic believability or “engage the reader’s interest in the patent absurdity of the lie” (22). Within a fantasy world such as mine, I interpret that as creating consistency within the lie. If I want to introduce impossibilities such as magic, I need to lend rules to those impossibilities. After reading that section, I went through and created stricter, clear regulations for how/when my magic system worked, as well as the history behind that magic. 

Gardner also wrote that the development of characters should mirror the development of atmosphere and setting. I had never thought of setting and character interacting in that context, but it makes sense. The concept had even more significance in my story because the major characters are gods that contributed to developing the world or “setting.” 

3. Gardner presented three different major methods of plotting: the author borrows a traditional story, works backward from the climax, or works forward from an initial situation. It was a different perspective than the rigid six-act method used within the course, though not directly contradictory. 


Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass

1. I got somewhat of a reality-check from the opening of Maass’s book, when he discusses “The Truth About Book Publishing.” I already assumed it would prove difficult (nigh unto impossible) to publish a break-out novel. But I hoped that once I got my foot in the door, things would get easier, and a career in writing might prove feasible. 

 Maas wrote not only about the trials of getting initially published, but about the struggle to stay published. In the modern market, even established authors struggle to impress editors and bring in revenue. It was discouraging: I cannot realistically think of writing as a potential career field. I think if I do, I’ll inevitably be disappointed. I need to continue writing because I love writing, and because it is a part of who I am, and hope that publication accompanies that without attaching expectations to my work.

2. Maas emphasizes the importance of originality. He forced me to look at my own work and genuinely ask “is this new?” To which my response was a paltry: “sort of.” I don’t know if I was able to use this to springboard myself into a more original premise, but it at least made me more aware of what I was lacking. 

Maas also had a whole section on attaching high stakes to everything in your story. I knew this already, of course, but after reading, I started to look at each individual scene and ask myself: what are the stakes in this scene? How can I raise them?

3. Maas discussed subplots in his book which the course did not address. In the course, there seemed to be an emphasis on more direct plotting, without any side-stories or deviations. Maas wrote more about using subplots to contribute to your primary plot. 


Write Away, Elizabeth George

1. George began her book with a discussion of the hero/heroine of the story, arguing that without a compelling protagonist, the rest of the story development really doesn’t matter. It reminded me that everything in my novel must be character-driven, and a lot of my revisions in the new version of my book centered on further developing my protagonist. 

2. In her sections on setting, George wrote about how sometimes settings can portray character. Going into someone’s home, for example, offers the guest a better understanding of the home owner. I had never thought of setting in that context, and I went through my work to try to tailor individual spaces to my characters. How would the Diviners set up their classrooms in the seminary? How would Darina organize her healing tent? 

I appreciated George’s discussion on dialogue as well. She wrote about how attitudes can distinguish one speaker from another, so I revised to try to give my characters more distinctive attitudes (sarcasm, stoicism, etc.). 

3. I didn’t find any major contradictions between the course and Write Away. George uses a different plotting mechanism, but her seven-step plotting had a lot of similarities with the six-act model. 


The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

1. In honesty, I struggled to fully invest myself in this one. Part of that may be because I don’t believe in any such thing as “the writing life.” I’m a teacher. A mother. Writing is a hobby, and though I desperately hope to become published one day, I cannot classify writing as an actual career. Perhaps wildly successful writers like King or Rowling can do that, but I am under no delusions about ever becoming a King or a Rowling. 

2. Dillard cautioned against “holding on” to material, which resonated with me. As I’ve been revising, I’ve been trying to reveal more information sooner in the story. The truth is that I have a near-endless supply of reveals in my story as well—so many that I couldn’t possibly put them all in the first book anyway. So why not give the reader more as they go? I’ve been stingy. 

 It was encouraging to read about Dillard’s struggles with writing. I often feel like an under-qualified housewife, playing at something out of her depth. It helped to see that other authors, even successful authors, can feel that way too. 

3. This was more a memoir-centered book, so it’s hard to directly relate her experiences with the formats and lessons taught within the course. I didn’t see anything directly contradictory, except that maybe Dillard takes more of a “creative” rather than a structured approach to her writing.   



















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