The Emotional Craft of Fiction

28915986by Donald Maass
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My CP’s recommended this to me and I’m so glad they did! Packed with practical wisdom and insight, it’s one of the best craft books I’ve read.

Many books about writing novels focus on the elements of a novel. The plot, setting, characters, pacing, etc. All of those are important, but this book takes a different approach. If the most important element of the reading experience is how a book makes you feel, approach all of the tent poles of a novel with the emotional effects in mind. The best story in the world falls flat if it doesn’t connect emotionally. When you recommend a book, isn’t it because it made you feel something or think about something in a new way? I know that’s definitely true for me!

Broken into sections that highlight the inner and outer journeys of the character, and the journey of the writer in bringing that character to life, it lays out tips for what causes our emotional reactions to fiction and how to guide those reactions to create the resonance you intended. It’s definitely not easy, but the rewards are huge.

I found this to be immensely helpful, and much less condescension towards women / genre writing than is typical in craft books (at least in my experience!). There’s also a helpful checklist in the back of all the techniques covered, so you can quickly refer to them. This is one I will be referring to a lot going forward!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Emotional Craft of Fiction is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – I’ve heard great things about this screenwriting book and I keep meaning to check it out! Many authors recommend this as one of the most helpful books they read.
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.
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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

32191710by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

This is perfect for anyone like me, anyone with a lot of questions about complicated matters and who isn’t entirely sure how to Google them. I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot!

Perhaps the most charming element of this book (aside from corny humor) is that the response “We don’t know yet” is presented with excitement rather than embarrassment. The sense of wonder in this tiny volume is pervasive and infectious!

Organized roughly chronologically and small-to-large, the chapters discuss topics ranging from the origins of the universe, spheres, and chemical compounds to life on other planets, dark matter, and stars. There’s a lot of information packed into this book and it truly is ideal for picking up to read 20 pages at a time. And despite taking some of the greatest mysteries humans have encountered, it presumes only a high school level of education and is easy to understand.

Highly recommend for everyone! I’ll probably check out more of his books–somehow he’s had time to write quite a few.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – Another slim volume packed with bite-size insights about links between seemingly unrelated events. I really enjoyed this and it’s great for learning to organize information in your mind differently than you’d expect.
  • The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Another short book that ruthlessly pares down your possessions to only those that “spark joy” in you, leading to a simpler, presumably happier life. Or if not happier, definitely less stressful. See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey – Although perhaps not quite as informative on a grand scale, this is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size. See my review here.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

28110858by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

I found this little book while browsing a hole-in-the-wall bookshop on the Venice Beach boardwalk. The title charmed me, the jacket intrigued me, and the first chapter pulled me in–I brought it home and I finally read it by the pool, utterly absorbed!

Bailey was struck with a sudden, severe illness at age 34 that left her bedridden, unable to perform the smallest tasks without fatigue and pain. She spends years in near-isolation, with doctors baffled and her friends unsure how to relate. But one day a friend brings a pot of violets with a small woodland snail they found, and leaves it on her nightstand because she “might enjoy it.” Wryly, Bailey wonders how a person “enjoys” a snail. Honestly, this is what amused me enough to buy the book–I shared her skepticism over this small, slimy creature!

As the days passed and she spent days unable to do much but watch the snail explore its new environment, she became acquainted with its habits, its interesting skills, and–yes–its personality! The snail’s pace closely matched her own, and her curiosity about it sustained her through the frustrations and setbacks of her illness. The chapters chronicle many interesting facets of snail life and behavior, and she always manages to tie it back to our lives with humorous or pithy remarks.

The book is broken up into six parts, and each part felt like a small meditation on life and our place in the world. I highly recommend it as a means of coping with stress–it’s a good reminder of what a life lived means and that no life is big or small–it’s just a life.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – One woman’s journey along 1,000 miles of the PCT in an attempt to heal her heart from devastating loss. See my review here.
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A short, cute memoir about the first two floor girls working for a summer at Tiffany & Co. in New York City in 1945. Anyone who has been a transplant from the Midwest to a big city, or has worked in the service industry, will enjoy her snapshots of retail life filled with diamonds and celebrities.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz – A fish out of water account of moving to Paris and attempting to build a new life. I found his stories to be funny and informative, and the recipes are decadent!

The Princess Saves Herself in This One

32334098by Amanda Lovelace
Poetry
4 of 5 stars
Debut: March 23, 2017

My nonfiction entry of the month! There aren’t exactly any surprises in this volume but it was a satisfying read nonetheless.

This was originally self-published via CreateSpace and much like Milk and Honey, it garnered such a response that the same publisher grabbed it and put out a hard copy. This deeply personal collection explores the arduous healing process after abusive relationships and has an uplifting ending. Broken up into four sections (The Princess, The Damsel, The Queen, You) it’s only after reading the darkest parts of the earlier sections that the final one can provide universal inspiration.

A short, powerful read and one that bravely lets you step into someone else’s soul. It’s impossible to ignore the emotion and courage poured into each piece, and it’s lovely reminder that no matter the grief and loss you suffer, there are bright spaces ahead of you.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Princess Saves Herself in This One is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – This emotional journey is tragic, beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. I’ll be reading this many, many times.  Highly recommend – these simplistic and raw verses can speak to anyone! See my review here.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson – Dickinson’s unique style is often well-remembered from English classes. This collection is unaltered (many collections change her punctuation or wording to “clarify” the poems), presented in chronological order, and even includes several drafts of some of her work. She explores all kinds of themes (life, death, loneliness), but the ones that hint at her unconventional life as an unmarried woman were the ones I found most interesting.
  • Classic Haiku edited by Tom Lowenstein – This collection of four haiku masters’ poems (Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki) is poignant, reflective, and at times surprisingly funny!
  • Moon in the Pines translated by Jonathan Clements – This has a really good intro that helps you understand and enjoy the poetry. Beautiful artwork is interspersed and there’s some brief interpretations of the poems in the back. I loved it!

Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan

740082by Junichi Saga
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My lovely CP Ella rec’d this to me for Fox Story research and it was immensely helpful! Aside from that though, I just found it to be incredibly interesting.

Informative and brutally honest, this collection of interviews details life in a poor fishing village from a variety of perspectives. It was all fascinating, and made it feel like you were there. The sections are well-organized so that you can see how the different layers and branches of the town functioned together. Each section is short as well, as the person describes a specific detail of life. This kept the narrative focused and honestly, had me wishing for even more.

Anyone fortunate enough to get anecdotes like this from grandparents or great-grandparents knows the feeling of getting a sneak peek into the past. Not what a history book tells you or what a history teacher may have tried to instill (probably with limited success, bound as they are by the “Memorize these names and dates!” teaching philosophy). These are stories from experience, and they make you feel like you were there.

This period in Japanese history was a brutally impoverished time for most people, right before industrialization created wealth for so many (though these interviews express the dubious change in societal values as well).

I’m so glad this doctor saw the value in capturing these stories and viewpoints and I would love to see more books like this one about so many regions. I enjoyed reading this a few chapters at a time–it would probably be overwhelming to read in a few days!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Memories of Silk and Straw is available on Goodreads and on Alibris’ website here. (It is currently out of print, so secondhand stores are your friend).


Similar reads:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller – An interesting memoir about growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the ‘70s. There are moments of humor and heartbreak as she grows to understand her mother’s alcoholism and the social issues of the time.
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox – An anthropologist’s take on the quirks of modern British society that (in my limited experience) is spot on. Often hilarious, and definitely informative!
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A really cute find I stumbled upon at the library! These stories are both funny and poignant, detailing her experiences in NYC in 1945 during a lively time in U.S. history.  Anyone who has worked in the service industry will find her snapshots interesting and relatable. Marjorie and her friend Marty were the first two women to work the shop floor at Tiffany & Co.

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

28814910by William Burnett
Nonfiction
4 of 5 stars

I heard an interview with the author on NPR and the process he described intrigued me, so I went out on a limb and grabbed a copy! (Pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve gotten a book rec from the radio?)

What caught my interest was the process he described briefly in the interview, which is the premise of the book here. Basically, if you aren’t happy with how your life is going in any area (work, play, love, health) there are ways to analyze what is making you unhappy and what you might be able to do to change that.

Once you know what isn’t working, you figure out if it’s a problem you can fix, or if it’s something out of your control. You brainstorm things that might be better (although this largely focuses on jobs, it highlights ways to improve your friendships and health as well). Then you try them out with limited commitment, to see if you’re right. And if you are, commit! If you aren’t, try again. In fact, you’ll probably try a lot of things, which is exactly the point!

This was basically how we decided to move to Colorado about 18 months ago. We liked being outside but we had exhausted what St. Louis had to offer. We didn’t like our jobs. We went a bunch of places wondering if there was something we’d like better, staying as long as we could and seeking out not just the tourist attractions but what a real life in different cities would be like. We had so many lists of pros and cons and “this would be ideal” vs  “this would work” and it took two years to pull off. Ultimately, we got about half of what we wanted, so a year later (after even more planning) we moved again to eliminate our commute and upgrade a couple of things and BAM! Life is pretty awesome right now!

Anyway – if you have middle-class resources and a reasonable network (or willingness to meet strangers) this will probably be helpful. It does assume having a college degree, for example. It definitely has some helpful pointers for job hunting and ways to do a personal inventory in an organized way. So for that alone, I’d say it’s worth a read!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Designing Your Life is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – If you feel like your possessions are keeping you from living your best life, this is an interesting and effective method to decluttering your living space and ensuring each item you possess is functional and/or brings you joy. See my review here.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler – The comedian provides insight and humorous observations about living the best life for you and fighting your way through a male-dominated world. If you enjoy her onscreen or onstage you will enjoy this! See my review here.
  • The Book by Alan Watts – As someone who was heavily sheltered from any eastern philosophies and religions, I found this an interesting and easy intro to a different way of viewing yourself and your place in the world. It’s concise and thought-provoking.

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

1383168by John Truby
Nonfiction
3 of 5 stars

This came highly rec’d from many YA authors and I was excited to dive in! Especially since I hadn’t read a craft book in far too long. (If like me, you are not familiar with the author, here is more about him). What I found was a book that rang truer to the 1970s than today, despite being written in 2008…

Personally, when I am studying the mechanics of storytelling it helps me to have a broad range of examples, especially ones that subvert known patterns. Show me a variety of settings or characters or plots that take the basic principles and explore them in new ways. For a book about coming up with original stories, I found this to be very unoriginal itself, which was disappointing.

There are some good tips and nuggets of wisdom here, but the scope of “good storytelling” is so narrow it becomes distracting. Aside from a couple of Jane Austen’s works, the examples you study in each chapter are mostly white male-centric stories from the ‘70s or older. Tootsie, Casablanca, The Lord of the Rings, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Godfather, Star Wars…these are all good stories, yes, but they begin to blend together when you are discussing character arc. How many rising king/wise mentor/bromances do we need? This would bother me less if the critiques of poor storytelling were not confined to female authors (i.e. Jane Austen and Emily Bronte let their emotions get in the way of satisfying endings). Or if the only character not assigned an archetypal role in Star Wars was Princess Leia – deemed “The Princess,” which was not an archetype on Truby’s list, when it arguably could be, feminism aside. (Even R2-D2 – who does not speak – was designated a prince-magician-warrior archetype).

The eponymous 22 step process is a little muddy, mainly because 22 steps is a lot of steps, and because they can be moved around in nearly any order. (Again, I would have liked a few more examples of this bit). Studying the 22 steps individually and reviewing the prewriting exercises are the most useful things in this book. It is easy to see where your own manuscript might be lacking when you look at the key points, and there are some excellent brainstorming tips for each step.

I read this as I was beginning revisions on my rough draft, and I didn’t feel that I missed out too much. I tend to discover themes and connections through writing the first draft that I can’t plan in advance – this is a book that I think you can approach for prewriting work on a story or while you are revising to get some fresh ideas, depending on your own approach.

I found myself drawn to the key points called out in the text, and the helpful exercises at the end of each chapter and skimming the rest. Overall this was very similar to my college courses in writing. I guess I just expect a little more now!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Anatomy of Story is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood – A collection of photos and prompts to help you scribble down a scene or short story whenever you feel like writing but do not have a guide. I love this little book!
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.
  • The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff – This presents several short stories in various states of revision with notes from real-life critique partners, so you can see how a story goes from draft to finished product.

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