January 16, 2020 • 2 Comments
Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence came out in 2012 and I bought it shortly thereafter. I read it/listened to the audiobook over Christmas 2019.
Yes, there is a gap between 2012 and 2019.
Hands up all you people who buy writing books without actually reading them! I’m a card-carrying member of your tribe! Maybe putting the books under my pillow at night will migrate the info to my brain? While I’m waiting for that to work, the bookshelf gathers vintage dust bunnies.
Ahem. This year, I will work through that overflowing shelf the non-magical way. I will read/watch one item approximately every week or so and discard the duds. To establish some accountability, I’ll review the ones worth hearing about.
Cron’s book was a great place to start.
I’ve been to enough writing workshops and conferences that I’ve heard a lot of advice before, but this was well worth my time. As the title suggests, Cron brings in principles of neuroscience to support the writing advice she offers, such as the brain’s tendency to filter out unnecessary information, its need to find causal connections, and its preference for specific image over abstract concept. These sections are presented in easily understood terms.
Beyond the brain science, the book contains good, no-nonsense craft instruction. It is not genre-specific, but refers to examples from literary fiction to potboilers. It also covers a gamut of topics in concise, carefully illustrated examples that ensure the reader can follow the lesson. At the end of each chapter is a summary of key concepts useful for editing.
Subjects include (among others): hooks, focus, emotion, character goals, conflict, payoffs, pacing, and backstory. The sections on reveals and backstory should be required reading. These pages alone could salvage many, many wall-bangers.
In my opinion, this book fills the need of the intermediate novelist—those who’ve got dialogue, setting, and plotting essentials under their belt already. This assumes comfort with those beginner basics and builds on that foundation to keep the reader constantly engaged.
I sincerely recommend this book.
While the audio version was competently narrated, I’m glad to have the hard copy for reference, particularly the checklists. Check out www.wiredforstory.com—Cron offers coaching, workshops, and resources. She also has a second book, Story Genius.
February 27, 2017 • No Comments
It’s rare that I go to a movie and think about it the next day and then the day after that–most box office material doesn’t demand that level of engagement. Arrival did, and I’m ever so grateful to be intrigued.
I know there was some grumbling about the authenticity of the linguistic methods used to decode the alien communications. I don’t know enough to weigh in, but the story did make me think about the minimal linguistics I took in university and how very unprepared I would be should heptapod aliens invade and the translation app on my iPhone fail to provide adequate interpretation. Great science fiction asks these questions.
So what specifically did I like about Arrival? The characters. It’s great to see such a meaty female lead role in a sci-fi film, and to see it so well done. Amy Adams handles the many layers of her character beautifully, coming across as deeply ordinary and exceptional at once. Jeremy Renner is endearing. Both have an air of vulnerability and honesty that gave the storytelling weight. Without giving too much away, everything in the movie–the close camera work, the acting, the way the story is put together–draws the viewer into an enormously intimate relationship with the protagonists and their fates.
This is sci-fi, and there is the odd explosion and nifty effects, but this isn’t a movie for those looking for ray guns and a high body count. It’s the kind that makes you go “Waaaaaiiit just a minute” as the penny drops and everything changes.
What did I not like about Arrival? There were a couple of moments when the characters seemed unobservant one moment and capable of superhuman leaps of logic the next, but given everything the film got right, these were small issues.
The story is based on a piece of short fiction by Ted Chiang. I haven’t read it (yet), but going by the fact that the structure of the movie held together, the adaptation was well done.
June 11, 2016 • No Comments
I watched the latest episode of Houdini & Doyle last night. I like the show. It’s fun and colourful with likeable characters and good acting and I can get my history geek on. Sure, I want to rush in and fix plot points for them, but that’s another issue. What I wanted to mention was there was a moment in this episode in which Houdini talks about being born in Eastern Europe and emigrating to the New World. In particular, he tells a story about how an American shopkeeper refused to sell his father food because they were foreigners.
This struck a chord with me, because I’ve heard that story before about members of my own family. A farmer refused to sell my ancestors potatoes despite the fact they were dirt poor and with many children to feed–just because they were first-generation immigrants who spoke oddly and probably went to a different Church or maybe just because they had the bad taste to be penniless. Who knows. But refusing to let people buy food for their children? Seriously?
I don’t understand how people can think that way, but obviously they did and some still do. It was a passing mention, but on behalf of my forebears, thanks to the show for speaking up for those who were in such a hateful situation.
Now, if only the writers would dig into the Society for Psychical Research and their doings. It would be a shame if they passed over the actual paranormal investigations going on at the time.
December 27, 2015 • No Comments
One of the pleasures of Christmas holidays is a little bit more time to read. Book time is also one of the benefits of having a rotten cold since nobody wants to talk to me right now. So, I bring to you a taste of what I’ve been dipping into. This bon-bon fell into my TBR pile a month or so ago. I love historical fiction, I love books about musicians, and I love Mozart so this was a triple win.
Vivien Shotwell’s Vienna Nocturne is the story of Anna Storace, a soprano whose career takes her across Europe and into the sphere of Mozart as well as other musical luminaries of the period. The book seemed to be positioned as something of a romance, but it wasn’t—at least not in the conventional way. Anna has a deeply felt affair with Mozart, but her art is just as much her true love.
Readers who know classical music will lap up the references to the theatres and composers of the period, singing techniques, and the highs and lows of an artist’s life. It’s no surprise to me that the author is also a singer. (see her website). Those less familiar will encounter some unfamiliar terminology and allusions connected with music practice and the history of the period. However, most of it should be understandable from the context.
The book is constructed out of many vignettes that give it almost an epistolary nature, which absolutely suits the eighteenth-century period. There is some gorgeous writing that had me stopping to savor a line here and there. The storyline is straightforward biography but it reads more like a literary than a genre novel, with less detail and a distilled quality of emotion. The form works wonderfully well, never drawing attention to itself and leaving Anna’s discovery of her personal strength a powerful narrative.
I recommend this for music and history lovers, and those who would like to be.