Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey”

Interesting but not convincing

Not sure what to write about this book. I read the first edition and it’s now up to a 3rd edition. No idea how much is changed.

But the book I read? Part writing text (not a good one), part psychotherapy session (meh), part homage to Joseph Campbell (does a bang up job there), part mysticism (meh). The book is overtly about screenwriting, what is offered can apply to any scribologist.

Did I learn things from the book? Yes, some. I’d recommend this book more for people writing journals, memoirs, and such. Also for people working out their own issues via the stories they craft.

 
It can provide a framework for making a story work. It is definitely full of examples and most are from movies so you can stream/dvd/download many of his examples.

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Cosmic Critiques – How&Why ten science fiction stories work

(except this book doesn’t)

Cosmic Critiques is the first “how to write” book I had real, recognizable problems with. Go no further, I do not repeat do not recommend this book to people wanting to learn the craft of writing.

However, this book is a gem if you’re a literary historian; the included stories were all written when science fiction was undergoing a major transition from authors schooled in literature to authors schooled in technology.

My first problem was that none of the stories worked (my opinion). They were all droll, trite, rather meaningless, uneventful, unengaging, and blow-offs. Some, if I remember correctly, were praised in their day.

That brings us to problem 2; these stories are very much of their time (1950s-1980s). Wells, Verne, Burroughs, and Baum’s stories endure because the stories are about people doing things and the human condition endures. Stories written in the 1950s-1980s tended to be about people dealing with technology doing things and any story with technology as its focus can’t t endure (except, as noted, with historians, anthropologists, any and all folk interested in time periods, not literature).

Specific to Cosmic Critiques, the earlier included stories signaled the move from interesting character driven stories to temporally interesting gadget stories. The United States had become the technology giant of the world and popular culture – which science fiction is a part of – followed suit.

 
The most interesting part of the book (to me) Is contained in a paragraph of Isaac Asimov’s introduction:

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Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics”

A Series of Open Book Exams on Writing, Regardless of Genre

This is another book I picked up years ago during my first round at writing. Longyear signed it and I’d highlighted parts of it so obviously read it before and didn’t remember doing so.

The power of this book is that it’s written from a student’s perspective. Longyear (I’m thrilled to see he’s still active. I lost track of him for several years) puts in the effort to remember his mistakes and the mistakes of others, and show the reader how to correct them. Another strength is the book’s examples – mostly from Longyear himself – with detailed explanations of what’s wrong with them and how to fix them.

 
Each chapter comes complete with an extensive Q&A/Study guide at the end, every answer to which can be found in that chapter or by combining knowledge gained from previous chapters with the current chapter. Anybody remember “Open book exams”? This is one and it’s a wonderful training program.
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Oakley Hall’s “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing”

A definite keeper. A resource. Read it twice and will read it again.

Rarely have I read a book that covers the entirety of a subject so well, so elegantly, so masterfully, with detailed examples and explanations. I had trouble finding pages I didn’t dogear, highlight portions of, make notes on, et cetera. This book is a must for anyone learning/practicing/perfecting their craft. My great loss is my local library not carrying any of his books. I’ll spend the money to see how this wonderful teacher applies his craft. If he’s half the master at writing as he is at teaching, Whoa!

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Stanley Fish’s “How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One”

Is that an adverbial clause in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One was an interesting read that spawned my Great Opening Lines blog posts. I enjoyed it, didn’t always agree with it. The one truly fatal flaw (to me) is the lack of exercises, something like “Here’s a rotten sentence, fix it. See possible solutions in Appendix A”.

 
Fish’s explanations of what makes a sentence worth reading become – to me – increasingly complex as the book progresses. I was bordering on being lost by the time I got to his “First Sentences” chapter and started skimming, looking for the meat – the very thing he warns authors against – too many readers, when unsure of what’s going on – skim until they get to something they can understand.
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