Tag Archives: recommended reading

book review: the art of empathy

The Art of Empathy: A Training Course in Life’s Most Essential Skill by Karla McLaren

I know, I know–you’re probably wondering how a psychology book founds its way onto my reviews of writing books.

But here’s the thing I love about psychology and sociology books. They teach us about ourselves and others, and isn’t that like one gigantic, never-ending character study?

In short: yes.

Empathy, argues the passionate author McLaren, is the sum of your emotional intelligence expressed in myriad ways. All our emotions are gifts to guide us through social interactions and everything else in life–anger to warn us that our boundaries have been violated, shame to warn us to avoid confrontation, fear heightens our senses to protect us. These emotions, and our skills in dealing with them, are key to our survival and to resolving conflict.

I enjoyed this book. The language is accessible and assumes nothing of the reader, save a desire to learn. It handles tough relationships with a gentle, caring hand, and offers emotional honesty. Like I said, it’s a self-help book for people who want to handle their emotions better, but all throughout I saw great information for writers. I have another tool in my toolkit and a new lens to focus my people-watching–the gifts of our most basic emotions, and how everyone deals with them.

Verdict: check it out from the library!

nano what now?

Happy December, writer-types!

I hope your NaNoWriMo went well. And even if it didn’t, I hope you’re doing alright yourself.

We have big plans for 2015, and we’ll have some more details for you as we get them figured out! But for now, let me leave you with some of our big ideas:

Workshops: we’re going to shift our focus from less of Barb talking at you, to a round table. In January, we’ll talk about self-editing, giving/getting feedback on your work, and the likes. Then in February-April, we’ll be discussing the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins from a writing/story perspective. You should be able to follow along without reading (or at least watching the movie), but to get the most out of it, I hope you’ll read the book.

Critique Circles: Once a month, we’ll try to meet and share each other’s work! We’re still working out some of the details on this, but look for us to update the guidelines page for an idea of what to expect within the group. A friendly reminder on critiques in general: the more you give, the more you get out of these experiences. So get involved in the group and be prepared to learn!

Seminars on publishing, self-publishing, querying, formatting: you asked, we deliver! Look for some events to be scheduled in the next few months that touch on how to get work from document to paper.

Happy Writing!

story engineering: a book review

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

The overview (from Amazon.com):

What makes a good story or a screenplay great?

The vast majority of writers begin the storytelling process with only a partial understanding where to begin. Some labor their entire lives without ever learning that successful stories are as dependent upon good engineering as they are artistry. But the truth is, unless you are master of the form, function and criteria of successful storytelling, sitting down and pounding out a first draft without planning is an ineffective way to begin.

Story Engineering starts with the criteria and the architecture of storytelling, the engineering and design of a story–and uses it as the basis for narrative. The greatest potential of any story is found in the way six specific aspects of storytelling combine and empower each other on the page. When rendered artfully, they become a sum in excess of their parts.

You’ll learn to wrap your head around the big pictures of storytelling at a professional level through a new approach that shows how to combine these six core competencies which include:

  • Four elemental competencies of concept, character, theme, and story structure (plot)
  • Two executional competencies of scene construction and writing voice

The true magic of storytelling happens when these six core competencies work together in perfect harmony. And the best part? Anyone can do it!

Barb’s thoughts:

This book promises a lot, and for the most part, it delivers. I’ve used the tools and charts in this book many times through the last few years. Just about any successful story can be deconstructed through the lens of the six competencies. It’s a great tool to see how the masters do it. Even stories that “don’t follow any real structure” probably do. They do it so well we didn’t notice.

The three dimensions of character and mission-driven scene execution are on point.  The four part narrative structure (with pinch points, like screenplays) illuminated beginning-middle-end to me in a way that a myriad other books calling it a three act structure simply couldn’t.

And yet. No book is perfect, and this one could have slimmed down at the line-editing stage. There are pages and pages of pet phrases like “wrap your head around this” and “ever hope to get published.” With all that repetition, the voice of the book sometimes comes off as arrogant or even cynical. But these complaints are small ones compared to the information and perspective provided in the book.

Verdict: a must-read for storytellers.