Tag Archives: writing books

it’s not too late for the self-pub seminar!

Great news, everyone!

Due to the overwhelming interest in our self-publishing seminars, I got the okay from  the library to move the seminar from the conference room to the Civic Space. That means we can fit 7 more people in the group!

Sign up if you want to go. I know this is last minute notice, but I’d still love if you could make it.

Details on the seminar are here.

Register here.

Hope to see you there!


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!

review: the storytelling animal

the storytelling animallink: The Storytelling Animal by Jonathon Gottschall

With a title like this, I couldn’t not read it. I love learning about the storytelling aspect of fiction most of all. This book delves into how fiction (the stories we tell ourselves) infiltrates many aspects of our lives.

This book is not a how-to or a writing guide, by any means.  Instead, the chapters discuss dreams and how we fictionalize our experiences into memories.

The good: it’s an easy read citing a lot of studies.  The chapter on dreams was entertaining, and the chapter on unreliable narrators struck a chord with what I’ve read in other psychology books. I agree with his premise of our need for stories, and how we’re evolving storytelling to satisfy those needs in emerging media.

The bad: it’s long for what it is. Casual sexism proliferates, with women only existing in examples for the purpose of belonging to men or procreating the human race, an object to be enraptured by the (of course male) storyteller.

I found his take on Vivian Paley’s book Boys and Girls to be particularly disturbing. He cites the study she did in her classroom as some sort of inflexible law of how the sexes will always behave–segregation of masculine/feminine (aggressive/domestic) play due to evolutionary tendencies.  But the reality is, gender roles are a construct, and changes made inside a classroom environment cannot have their full impact because the world outside the classroom doesn’t change–their home lives, their histories, and the media they consume.

All in all, this book could have used another edit to trim redundant concepts and sexist language.

review: write your novel in a month

I read Write Your Novel In a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next mostly for the sake of reviewing it, with the hopes I’d pick up a tip or two for productivity I’ve either forgotten or missed.

I can’t figure out how to get started on my opinions, because I’m about to get real “Political Correctness Police” on it (book’s phrase, not mine). So let’s start with the overall:

Tone. One thing I did enjoy about this book was the you-can-do-it attitude. No sneering or arrogance here, only unbridled enthusiasm for the writer who wants to write a novel in a month. Awesome.

Content. Straightforward information to prepare a writer to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Realistic advice, plus a solid plan to get you there. The craft given in the first half of the book is really just the important stuff to kickstart the story, with some afterwards craft lessons to help tighten and edit once the month is over.

Were it not for my quibbles below, this would be an A+, must-read, highly-recommended book. These quibbles are very minor if you’re, say, a straight white dude. You might think they don’t matter.

And honestly, I had a hard time convincing myself to stay angry long enough to write about them. But here I am, because it needs to be said, because even innocent, ignorant, or jokingly-made comments can hurt, they can still be sexist, racist, and homophobic. Continue reading review: write your novel in a month

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.