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World-Building: A writer’s guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets by Stephen L. Gillett is 1 of 4 books that are in the Writer’s Digest Science Fiction Writing Series that was Edited by Ben Bova. This book is one of my essential writing books. If you’ve been following me from the beginning, you know that I’m really big into science and technology. If you haven’t been following me for very long — yeah well, I guess I just told you. I’m a geek for science and technology, it excites me and makes my brain go into all different kinds of interesting directions. I’m telling you this because this aspect of my personality is what makes me love this book so much. If you are the type of writer who just wants a list of questions to answer about your world-building project, this is not the book for you. You’ll most likely find it dry, arduous, and boring. On the other hand, if you enjoy science and sometimes have the secret desire to read science text, then this book could be for you. It’s super geeky, and you could be surprised about the interesting stories you could come up with simply based off of the world you create for your stories.
A WriterAlina Book Review
Stephen L Gillett’s World-Building helps the science fiction (and fantasy) writer understand the importance in world-building in storytelling. I’m not talking about world-building in the context of culture, customs, and modes of transportation, though the ideas in this book address the effects; I’m talking about creating a planet. Gillett writes about the importance of the astronomical setting of your story. His goal is to help a writer use real science to create a “sense of wonder” in a story.
To help the writer World-Building: A writer’s guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets is broken down into four topics of study: basic astrophysics information, information about stars and solar systems, information about planets, and information about Earth. I have not listed these topics as they come up in the book, but they are the base information that he feels is important for a writer to consider when writing their stories.
Throughout the book, Stephen introduces the reader to real physics and how it can potentially apply to stories. He also gives several examples of stories written by classic science fiction writers such as Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Arthur C Clark, and Larry Niven (just to name a few) that demonstrate why it could be important to understand the astrophysics of your story’s world.
There are several astrophysical concepts discussed in Gillett’s book: such as gravity, orbits, escape velocity, seasons, Roche’s Limit and much more. Ideas such as these are addressed because it’s important to understand how gravity will affect a planet and the creatures on it. Does having orbiting satellites (moons, space debris, etc.) have an impact on a planet’s surface? What will your people see in their day-time and night-time sky? Will it be possible to build a space station that orbits your planet?
Stars and Solar Systems
With all the talk about gravity and orbits knowing what kind of star your planet revolves around could be essential to your story. The kind of light the planet is exposed to, the distance of a planet from its sun, the shape of a planet’s orbit around said sun; these are all essential developmental pieces of the puzzle that will make up your world’s environment. At one point there is even a discussion about whether or not a life-sustaining planet like Tatooine can exist.
When Gillett talks about Earth, he talks about what we understand about the Earth to be like today and what Earth was like in its past, before humans existed. He goes through the development of the planet from its initial formation around our sun to today, lending ideas to possible story settings and explaining how humans might or might not survive in the Earth’s evolutionary past.
There is extensive discussion regarding the possibilities of what a planet can be made of. What conditions can create such different planets with varying environments? What could live in a world that has seas made of sulfuric acid? What could live if Ammonia were the most prominent element on your planet?
WriterAlina’s Take On World-Building
World-Building: A writer’s guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets by Stephen L Gillett is not your typical book about world-building for writers. In my opinion, this book is like reading a science book for the non-scientist; but I have to admit, my opinion is probably bias because I’ve read physics and chemistry books in university. And this book isn’t nearly as complicated as reading a book on astrophysics.
I was surprised at how inspired I became while reading this book. Even though I love science, especially physics, I’ve always kept a clear barrier between my fiction and my knowledge of physics. I never had a problem incorporating technology; but when it came to the actual world-building, I only every stayed with what I knew. Earth as we know it today. Mars as we know it today. But World-Building by Stephen L Gillett made me think that I could expand my worlds into something more creative.
As I read through this book, I wondered about the validity of the years of summer and winter in George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I thought about Anne Mccaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books. I was convinced that the concepts that I was opening my imagination to in this book are what inspired the creation of such worlds. This book also made me realize the importance of understanding what you’re creating in your world. I have to admit, I’ve read one too many stories lately that didn’t ring true for me because they didn’t apply real-world science to their story. Reading Super Man is one thing, but trying to convince me that a guy is “strong” on Earth because the gravity on his own planet is less than Earth is simply unbelievable. Yeah, unfortunately, that last thing is a real example, and I’m not going to destroy the author by directly incriminating him/her. But! I think if they had understood the concepts in this book, the author would have been able to pull off their idea more effectively.
For what it’s worth, World-Building: A writer’s guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets by Stephen L Gillett is one of the books on my bookshelf that I use to enhance my world-building and storytelling techniques.
So, again, I’m going to say that this is a difficult book to determine a definitive recommendation.
If you’re not much of a science person the math and physics equations in this book — yes you read that correctly — will probably intimidate you. The equations are simple and not complicated, but some people’s brains turn off when they see y=mx+b. Yeah, if you’re one of those people, this might not be the book for you.
If you’re not intimidated by the occasional equation, and you enjoy geeky science talk, then you’ll totally be fine. You will rock this book and hopefully find as much inspiration in it as I have.
Have you ever read World-Building: A writer’s guide to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets by Stephen L Gillett or even heard of the Writer’s Digest Science Fiction Writing Series? Have you ever picked up a science book to justify what you want to create in your world? I have, but this book was much easier to use. I hope I’ve peaked your interest in World-Building. I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment for me below, and we can start a fascinating conversation.
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass was a recommendation from a writer friend shortly after I started attending my first formal critique groups. The novel Writing the Breakout Novel is basically the same as the workbook, from what I’ve been told, but I really like the workbook aspect of the presentation. This book is set up in such a way to ask questions that compel you to think about your stories and characters in a critical but particular way. And that’s what I enjoy best about Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I am so grateful to my friend for suggesting that I purchase this book because it’s helped me grow significantly as a storyteller. This is on my list of favorite writing books.
A WriterAlina Book Review
Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook
So, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is written by Donald Maass, a big time NY literary agent, who has not only spent his time representing hundreds of authors in the publishing world but also spends his time analyzing what makes some books/stories stand out more than others. The novel version of Writing the Breakout Novel was first published in 2001 and the workbook in 2004. Through these books, Maass gives concrete examples of what is more likely to help your story stand out, not only for agents and publishers but audiences in general.
Maass’s book is broken down into three parts: part one deals with character development, in part two the focus is plot development, and part three guides the writer through various story techniques that help one’s manuscript stand out. The best part is that Maass uses many examples from published fiction and movie of different genres to explain the points he is making and trying to help you, as an author, understand about compelling storytelling.
Part one of Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is all about character development. Maass discusses how can you make your protagonist into a hero, not a superhero but the type of person that your audience can root for and see them as being a heroic person. There are exercises on how to identify the inner and outer conflicts of your characters and how to dig deep for who your character is. These topics apply to more than just your main character but your secondary characters and your protagonist. There is a lot of emphasis on not brainstorming to the nth degree and analyzing every angle of a situation to provide a unique and emotionally compelling, and sometimes heartbreaking, challenges for your characters to face.
Part two of Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is all about plot development. There is a big emphasis on stakes and what your characters have to lose in each situation they find themselves in. If there’s nothing to lose, you should rethink why your scene is in the story. There is some repetition about inner and outer conflict, but in part two, Maass focuses on how to use what you’ve learned in part one and applying it to weaving these details into your story to create a compelling plot. We don’t just want our characters to go from point A to point B because, well that’s just what happens, we want there to be a good — character driven — reason. Maass explains how the turning points and high moments are supposed to fall in the arc of the character’s development. He also points out common traps that many writers fall into that lower the tension in stories. There is a time and place to lower the tension of course, but not when you want your character to get from the beginning to the end of his/her story.
General Story Techniques
The General Story Techniques discussed in part three of Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook vary from actual writing tips, such as creating the first and last lines of your story, to the more abstract concepts of your story, such as your story’s themes and symbolism. The neat thing about part three is that you can go through many of the exercises before reading through parts one and two. Knowing your setting and whether or not you are going to use your setting as a character is nice to know at the beginning of your development process. Deciding on a point-of-view for your story can happen either at the beginning or during the middle of story development. But the main idea is that part three of this book contains supplementary development questions and techniques.
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook Appendixes
In the Appendixes of the book, Maass gives a brief suggestion on what to include in a novel outline and goes through a checklist that highlights the relevant contents of the workbook to review during story planning and editing. If you are looking for outlining guidance, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook was not written for that; Maass assumes that each writer already has an outlining practice that they are comfortable with, so when he discusses outlining it’s in general terms and not in a step-by-step manner.
WriterAlina’s Take On Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook
I’ve read through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook countless times; the very first time I did, I tried to apply each chapter consecutively to the story I was working on at the time. This approach didn’t work for me. I found it overwhelming and felt like I needed to have my story written before going through a lot of the questions. Honestly, at the time, I was hoping for a step-by-step how to develop and plot my stories. That was a pretty naive expectation about real writing.
After overcoming my initial disappointment of not finding a story writing road map and reading through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook from beginning to end, I realized the gem that I had in my hands. As I skimmed the book a second time, it dawned on me that I could use this book to plan, execute, and edit my stories. It became apparent that some chapters were perfect for brainstorming character or plot ideas before starting your story, where as others were ideal for the editing process. There are even a few sections geared toward what to do after you’ve finished your novel (tips on how to pitch your story to an agent or editor for example).
The exercises in this book have inspired me so much that I transcribed many of the exercises into my Scrivener outlining templates so that I can use them for brainstorming, outlining, and editing. I go through the list of character, plot, and other story questions before and after completing every story. It’s cool to see where my brain takes me when I go through the exercises.
- Oh, I need to show how my heroine’s strength and weakness at the beginning to show her potential growth.
- This subplot needs to be woven into the story differently.
- What are the antagonist’s real motivations at this point in the story?
- The stakes need to be even higher during the climax to make any emotional impact.
For me, it was worth while to put the exercises into Scrivener because now I have the questions at my fingertips instead of having to carry the book around with me everywhere.
I highly recommend Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass for any writer who is just starting out and wants to learn more about the craft of storytelling. It’s highly educational and, again, the examples are clear and thorough. There are direct quotes from books along with detailed descriptions of what the purpose of reading them is.
I also suggest this workbook for seasoned writers who already have a good grasp of technique and storytelling. I think that the exercises in the workbook are worthwhile for anyone who wants to improve their skills as a storyteller. You never know when the right question or proper exercise will throw your imagination into a realm it’s never been to before.
What are Your Thoughts?
Have you ever read Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook or Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass? Perhaps you’ve picked up one of his newer books like The Fire in Fiction or The Breakout Novelist? I haven’t gotten around to either of those, but they are on my to-reading list, and I’d be interested to know your thoughts on either of those. I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment below.
I’ve read a lot of writing books over the years, as a teen and as an adult. They come and go; some books hit me profoundly but unfortunately, most don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I find reading through many of them once worth while, but there is only a hand full that really make an impression on me and entice me to go to them over and over again. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is one of the few writing books that has hit home for me. I read it for the first time over a year ago and (contrary to my Goodreads status) I’ve read and listened to The War of Art multiple times. It’s one of my favorite writing books.
A WriterAlina Book Review
The War of Art
The War of Art is not exactly a how-to writing book. One of the reasons this book speaks to me is because it is more about encouragement and the creative process. The War of Art is for everyone who wants to achieve anything great in their life, it’s not just for writers even though the primary examples Pressfield uses are writing related because he uses himself as the object of example many times. But like the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, the book is meant for anyone who has an artistic, spiritual, or business venture. I think that’s why Pressfield titled the book The War of Art instead of the War of Writing.
About The War of Art
Pressfield divided The War of Art into three parts: Book 1 – Resistance: Defining the Enemy, Book 2 – Combating Resistance: Turning Pro, and Book 3 – Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm. Each part is distinct and can stand on its own, but when read together brings the whole book into a magical coalesance.
The War of Art Book 1 – Resistance
The War of Art Book 1 is a discussion about what holds us (the artist, the writer, the entrepreneur, the spiritualist) back from our aspirations. Pressfield gives many examples of how people sabotage ourselves and/or set ourselves up for failure. He encourages his readers to identify what it is that you do in your own life to avoid what he calls “doing your work.” As I mentioned, he often uses himself as the primary example of someone “combating resistance” and he is extremely blunt and scathing in pointing out these actions and attitudes of sabotage. He also points out that we need to overcome our own need for psychobabble, there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for why we do the things that we do, but in his estimation, we are just using many of the things we do as an excuse to avoid fulfilling our dreams.
The War of Art Book 2 – Combating Resistance
Combating Resistance is, I believe, the primary goal of this book. The discussion in book 2 is about what you can do to transition yourself from a hobbyist to a professional. Combating Resistance is all about taking yourself seriously and deciding to be a professional at what you do. Again he uses himself as an example but here, more than elsewhere in the book, he uses many other examples of people who “turn pro” or act like a pro. It’s obvious that Pressfield enjoys golf and admires Tiger Woods for many of his turning pro examples involve Tiger Woods.
The War of Art Book 3 – Beyond Resistance
In Book 3 – Beyond Resistance, Pressfield turns to a more spiritual or ethereal in his approach and descriptions. He obviously believes in a “higher” plane of existence and there are forces that help and hinder humanity. This more abstract perspective might be off-putting to a lot of people, especially if you don’t believe in God or believe that there are unexplained forces in the universe that influence our lives. But the fact that he does discuss his inspiration in such a way is what attracts me to read this book again and again. It is obvious to me that this man follows the voice of his spirit and is unashamed to tell the rest of the world that.
Here, Pressfield also shares how we can change our minds about our work, where we fit into the world, and how we can succeed.
WriterAlina’s Take On The War of Art
One of the reasons The War of Art spoke so soundly to me is the fact that I saw myself in many of the examples explaining resistance. I admit that I do hold myself back from my writing, from my art, and from expressing my true self in the world. Though I’ve been on this journey for a while, it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to admit this to myself. Now I have to decide to “overcome resistance” and live my life, write my stories, express my art.
Turning pro is what I’m doing now. I stumble often, but I’m so grateful that I have The War of Art to guide me and remind me of what I have to do in order to be a professional. I believe in treating art as a business and that it’s important to train the people around me that it’s a business. That is how I can move forward.
I gain my inspiration from many places. I like the idea of haing a prayer or doing a short meditation just before doing my writing. Even though I may not be having the best of days, this five-minute activity helps me to reconnect with myself, my spirit, my inspiration so that I can create the best art I can create. I haven’t perfected how I invoke my muse, but I’m getting there. I thought about stealing Pressfield’s poem from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T. E. Lawrence, but it just doesn’t fit for me. It’s a good idea though.
My second major takeaway from this part of the book is the idea of focusing on “territory” instead of “hierarchy.” We are human; we all think about hierarchy at one point or another. I’ve never been good at the hierarchy game, the rules never made sense to me, and I don’t like to play. But here, Pressfield gave me a different concept to think about and integrate into my thinking. Territory.
Instead of comparing myself to other writers, bloggers, storytellers, whatever I figure out what my territory is. What is my expertise? What do I have to offer? What is my story? I have to focus on creating my territory and maintaining it. So I say some of the same things as other people, but no one is going to the same thing in exactly the same way as me. Some people may connect to me and some may connect to someone else, but the point is to focus on my message, my story, my truth.
I absolutely recommend The War of Art by Steven Pressfield to anyone who wants encouragement to accomplish their goals. It’s a book that could potentially nudge your mind just enough in the right direction that you can find the strength within yourself to create your life.
My favorite takeaway from The War of Art is the following quote. It really conveys an idea that I’ve always believed myself and I feel Pressfield expresses eloquently.
“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art (p. 146). Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.
Hmm… I might steal this as an affirmation one of these months. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.
What are Your Thoughts?
Have you ever read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield? Did I inspire you to pick up this book for yourself? To be honest, reading this book certainly inspired me to add a couple of his books to my “to read” list that’s for sure. What about you? I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment below.
I’ve been going through my writing books lately extracting inspiration and learning from specific books. I’m reminded of various aspects of writing from the technical to the creative as I read. This process has inspired me to share with you what books, audiobooks, and videos that are on my bookshelf. Most of what I have I’ve only read or “gone through” once, but there are several that I’ve gone through multiple times, sometimes multiple times a year since purchase. Some items I peruse over and over until something better came along.
I’ve organized my lists into category types: English Grammar, Writing Genre Fiction, Writing and Storytelling, Name Books, and Inspirational. Most of the lists are in book form, but I do indicate which I have in audio or video format. So, I hope that is interesting and helpful for you.
Writing Books on WriterAlina’s Bookshelf
Books About English Grammar
I actually have very few books on English Grammar. I try to look at them while writing; but to be honest, I use these resources mostly for learning and if I have an immediate question I usually ask the internet.
- The Everyday Writer: A Brief Reference by Lunsford & Connors
- Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
The Great Courses
- Building Great Sentences: Exploring The Writer’s Craft [DVDs]
- English Grammar Boot Camp
How-to Write Genre Fiction
In my early years of writing, I purchased and received many gifts regarding my choice of genre fiction. I also purchased How-to Write packages from Writer’s Digest. Some of the books were super helpful and inspiring and others not so much, most of the time much of the information was repeated over and over but said most effectively in ones I’ve read multiple times and are also listed as my favorite writing books.
- The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova
- The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume One edited by Dave A Lay and Darin Park
Writer’s Digest Science Fiction Writing Series
- Aliens & Alien Societies: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Extra Terrestrial Life-Forms by Schmidt Stanley
- Space Travel by Ben Bova and Anthony R Lewis
- Time Travel by Paul J Nahin
- World-Building by Stephen L Gillett
The Writer’s Digest Genre Writing Series
- The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans
- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
- Writing The Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper
How-to Write and Tell Stories
These are also books that I’ve bought myself and received as gifts. Many I’ve purchased in recent years thinking that I’d gain some edge to my process but realized in the end that many of these gimmicky sounding titles are just that. But sometimes you have to go through some of the obvious sounding titles to find some real gems.
- 20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them) by Ronald B Tobias
- 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron [kindle & audio]
- The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maass
- GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
- How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell
- Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition)(Crafting a Self-Publishing Career Book 1) by Susan Kaye Quinn
- Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 1) by K.M. Weiland [kindle & audio]
- Story Structure Architect: A Writer’s guide to building dramatic situations & compelling characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
- Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keyes for Writing an Outstanding Story (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 3) by K.M. Weiland [kindle & audio]
- The Writer’s Journey 2nd Edition Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
- The Writer’s Two Journeys (A DVD Course) by Christopher Vogler and Micheal Hauge [DVDs]
- Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine
- Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
- Writing the Fiction Synopsis (How-to Series (Memphis, Tenn.)) by Pam McCutcheon
The Great Courses
- Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques
Writer’s Digest Elements of Fiction Writing
- Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
- Scene & Structure by Jack M Bickham
Writer’s Digest Writing Great Fiction Series
- Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell
- Description & Setting: Techniques and exercises for crafting a believable world of people, places, and events by Ron Rozelle
Yes, I own baby name books, I have for a long time. I prefer using baby name books over using baby name websites. I’ll use websites when I want a quicker reference on a name meaning, but when I’m creating a name for my characters there’s nothing like looking through a book and feel what’s right.
- 20,001 Names For Baby: From A to Z — The Best, Most Complete Baby Name Book by Carol McD. Wallace
- Baby Names Around the World (Over 50,000 Names) by Bruce Lansky
- From Aaron to Zoe 15,000 Great Baby Names by Daniel Avram Richman
- The Writer’s Digest Character Name Sourcebook (Second Edition) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Creativity, Encouragement, and Inspiration
To be honest, these books have been some of my most valued of my writing books. I say this because in the end my writing and my personal growth are connected; if I spend time working on my personal growth then my writing will be more connected and the ideas will gush out of me.
- The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron [I own the book and audible versions of this book.]
- Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series) by 99U [kindle & audio]
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Thinking Write: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind by Kally L Stone
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield [kindle & audio]
WriterAlina’s Recommendations for Writing Books
Of all the videos, books, and audiobooks that I’ve watched, read, and listened to over the years these are the ones that help me the most. Many of these books I come back to over and over again at different points of my writing process to gain knowledge and encouragement. Some books I’ve had since I was in high school and others only a year or two, but each has touched me in ways that inspire me to go back to them. I never get tired of reading, listening, or watching them.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
The Artit’s Way reminds me how to keep my mind open to creativity. I often use the various exercises in this book to inspire my creativity and grow as a writer.
Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Character and viewpoint reminds me how to understand the psychology of my characters so I can capture their deep POV and effectively express that POV to the reader. Some of my attempts are better than others.
The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova
This was my very first book I ever owned involving the writing process. My mom knew I loved Science Fiction and wanted to write it. She first checked this book out at the library and then bought it for me as a gift to encourage me in my aspirations. Perhaps it’s sentimental, but then Ben Bova is one of my favorite Science Fiction authors, so there’s a lot of talent there too. Every time I read The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells my imagination expands with all kinds of Speculative Fiction story ideas. I’m also reminded of how to keep my stories believable and scientifically inspired.
GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon
GMC is one of my favorite books for story structure because this book explains what needs to be in all of the scenes in your book. If each scene doesn’t have clear goals, motivations, and conflict then I need to think twice before adding the scene to my story.
Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition)(Crafting a Self-Publishing Career Book 1) by Susan Kaye Quinn
The Indie Author Survival Guide inspires my Self-Publishing goals. This book has also helped me to adjust my thinking toward my writing. My writing is a business and I need to treat it as such.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
It’s always nice to hear about the troubles and successes of a popular writer. King’s stories encourage me to take my writing seriously.
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 1) by K.M. Weiland
I love how K.M. Weiland has broken down her process of outlining and made it tangible and repeatable. I use her method while using scrivener when I write. Sometimes the outline is paper thin and other times it’s extremely complex, but there is a map that I use for my stories now.
Scene & Structure by Jack M Bickham
Scene & Structure was one of the first real “how-to write” novels I was recommended. If you could see my copy of this book, it’s all tagged and highlighted, there’s barely an unmarked page. These days I prefer K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel, but I mention Scene & Structure because this goes a step beyond Weiland’s book and gets into the nitty-gritty of how to go from scene to sequel and back again. As a learning tool, this book is great.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
I’ve had this audiobook for a long time. This is one of the first real story structure books I’ve ever gone through. Every time I listen to this book I get into the mindset of how to look at storytelling. This book points out the primary elements of storytelling and what makes one story over another more compelling.
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keyes for Writing an Outstanding Story (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 3) by K.M. Weiland
Like in her outlining book, K.M. Weiland has broken down the various elements of story structure into bite sized bits that can be digested and understood easily. I use her method while using scrivener when I write.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I love this book! Whenever I am feeling down and need encouragement to write I crack out this audiobook. It illuminates what I need to change in my own life to become a successful writer. I find it encouraging and use it as a guide to spark my creativity.
The Writer’s Digest Character Name Sourcebook (Second Edition) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
This is one of the best name books I’ve come across. The content is in-depth and I love how it talks about the history of naming in various cultures. It’s a great resource for generating cultural names.
The Writer’s Digest Science Fiction Writing Series (all of the books)
I can’t begin to describe how indispensable these books have been in building my fictional worlds. Reading through them has inspired me to think of new worlds, to think about our own world differently, and to consider how detailed I want my fictional worlds to be.
The Writer’s Two Journeys (A DVD Course) by Christopher Vogler and Micheal Hauge
I was lucky to purchase The Writer’s Two Journeys as a 3 DVD set on Amazon before it became unavailable. I like this series because it’s more condensed than The Writer’s Journey and I felt like the lessons were more tangible. I was able to apply much of what I learned right away. When I plan out my stories, I use the structure outlined by The Writer’s Two Journeys along with K.M Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel together in my scrivener templates.
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is another book I’ve had for a very long time. It’s an amazing workbook that I use to deepen my characters and stories. The points that are made in this workbook help to ignite my imagination and also help me during the editing process.
What Writing Books Will You Buy?
I hope seeing what writing books are on my bookshelf will help you decide which writing books might be helpful for you. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that not all writing books are created equal and what books work for one may not work for everyone.
One Writing Book that is on my wish list is Writing Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror by Lelia Rose Foreman. This book was recommended by one of my Goodreads friends Hannah Heath. She’s a prolific blogger and book reviewer. I trust her judgment.
I’ve also recently acquired The Great Courses Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft. The Course is 16 sessions long, but I’m hoping it will help my grammar and technical writing. I’ll let you know how it goes.
So what writing books are your favorite? What keeps your writer’s mojo flowing? Do you have any recommendations? I’d like to know. Leave me a comment and we can converse.
Hello, wonderful readers! It’s September 2017 and WriterAlina is back. Finally!
I realize that it’s been forever since I’ve last posted on my blog. This last year has challenged me in many ways personally and professionally. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on writing stories and developing my craft as a storyteller. At first, I felt that I was spending too much time blogging and not enough time writing. Now, I’m focusing on integrating blogging and storytelling together and sharing my time between both. I hope that blogging will help excite my readers about by writing so that when I finally decide to publish, whether that be through e-books or simply free through this website, you guys will be out there to read and respond.
Now on to the theme of this blog post.
WriterAlina’s Affirmation of the Month
My September 2017 affirmation is a concept that I’ve been working to integrate into my life for some time now. I make progress little by little every day, every month, every year; but it’s something I struggle with in all aspects of my life, not just my writing life. This month, I’m contemplating and setting my intention to free my creative spirit.
Being a perfectionist sucks!
When you think about creating the next amazing product — an inspiring piece of music, the most profound prose ever written, a marvelously crafted wooden dining-room table and chair set, the slimmest and most powerful tablet, the next high-tech space satellite — at first you think, “Being a perfectionist is great!” Everything will be exactly as it should be, you find all the flaws in your project and you are determined to fix them all. You think to yourself, “Eventually everything will align with the perfection within my mind.” But then, somewhere along the creation process, reality hits. There are too many flaws, way too much time has passed, perhaps you become jaded by your own ambition. But getting your product out into the world with a strong need for perfection is challenging.
Sometimes my story ideas are so large that I have a hard time grasping them to put onto paper. And when I finally do, I am often dissatisfied because this ethereal idea felt so much greater inside my head than it does after I’ve used my insufficient words to try to give it life. I struggle with great demons that whisper trash in my ear discouraging me from expressing my grand ideas; they often use my own thoughts, feelings, and critiques against me. They will point out all of my mistakes, chipping away at my confidence.
- This character is too shallow.
- This sentence is too complicated.
- This idea hasn’t been fleshed out enough to concisely convey properly to my readers.
Concerns like this may technically be true, but when they pile up one after another they paralyze me into inaction.
The perfectionist inside of me sees my creative vision and that is what I want everyone else to see too. Of course, the logical side of my brain recognizes that perfection is impossible, but it’s difficult to persuade myself to simply put myself out there and share what I have, as incomplete as it may be, so that I can let it go, allow my experiences and ideas to grow from the experience. If I don’t get feedback from my readers then I can never truly grasp that perfect idea; I can never break through the veil of ideas that I can’t see. That feedback is what will help me grow to write the next novel, story, blog post or whatever.
There is a fine line between being too critical and not enough. I hold on so tightly to the idea that I must know everything about the story before I tell it, that sometimes I lose the magic of my own story. So I really do need to let go of perfection. I have to set myself free. I have to allow my story to life and be free. My stories must have a life of their own; lives that will live through me until they have the opportunity to live through you, my reader.
I must let go of story perfection to free my spirit and allow my story to live.
The concept of the proverb “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” was first coined by Elbert Hubbard in 1915, but was first written in its current, recognizable form by Dale Carnegie in 1948. You can check out a full explanation of this fabulous proverb on wikipedia.
August 2016 was filled will lemons and lemonade for me. This is the reason I’m writing about lemons and lemonade for my September 2016 affirmation of the month.
September 2016 Affirmation of the Month
When life gives me lemons…
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” means a lot to me. I like the good feelings the phrase implies, and it encourages me to be brave and problem solve in a positive way. This proverb also helps me to shift my attitude from feeling squashed to feeling empowered. I take it in a very similar way as my July 2016 affirmation of the month: “All of my actions, no matter how minor, result in spiritual growth.” These lemons are moments or challenges that build character and sometimes influence the course of my life.
August 2016 wasn’t all lemons, in fact early in the month some very nice things happened: I took an inspiring spiritual class, attended a wedding, and visited with family that I haven’t seen in three years. These were all the highlights of my month, which I keep in my memory as beacons of light during a dark storm.
But as you have probably noticed, if you are a regular reader of my blog, I posted a total number of zero times to my blog during the month of August and pretty much went MIA on my social networks. This decision is definitely a lemon that I haven’t quite figured out how to turn that into lemonade yet, but it was a conscious decision. I know I chose to accept this lemon and can only hope that I can use this lemon for something good.
One good thing about accepting this writing related lemon is that not blogging in August gave me the time and space I needed to focus on turning the bushels of baseball sized sour lemons that dropped into my life into a lemonade factory. This time and energy not only effected me but other people in my life in a positive way. With how much pressure those baseball sized lemons produced, I’m not confident that I could have produced anything worth reading anyway. I tried and the results were confused and unpublishable. Shrug. Such is life sometimes. I think that even this post has a little bit of scattered remnants of lemon peals.
As far as my writing goals are concerned, I’ll be revisiting them this month and deciding what direction to my blog should be going in and how to make writing for my blog more closely align with my novel writing goals. So, perhaps you will be reading more about that in the near future. Only time will tell.
But when life gives you lemons…
So when life gives you lemons, what do you do? Get angry? Drink it with alcohol? Paint your lemons gold? Plant a tree? Sell them? Keep them? Make your own lemonade? It’s actually quite interesting to think of all the variations people have thought up for this proverb over the last 100 years or so.
When life gives you lemons, you write about those lemons you got in your next story. 😉
If you enjoyed this post maybe you’ll be interested in one of the following posts by WriterAlina:
Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve written a movie review. But believe it or not, Star Trek Beyond is only the third movie I’ve seen in the movie theater this year. That’s not so usual for me.
I haven’t quite come to terms with whether it’s worth it for me to write these movie reviews for a movie that’s not currently in the theaters. Perhaps if I see a good foreign or independent that didn’t make it big in the theaters I’ll write a review for that, but writing reviews for movies isn’t the same as writing reviews for books. Perhaps if I create a good structure for my reviews, similar to how I write my book reviews, you may see more of these.
Star Trek Beyond Movie Review
My Emotional Reaction to Star Trek Beyond
I really enjoyed Star Trek Beyond! It was fun, smart, and action packed. Most of the characters got to grow in ways that I enjoyed. I especially liked how the screen writers incorporated Leonard Nimoy’s death (February 2015) into the storyline. That was true Star Trek fan dedication. And I enjoyed the thought-provoking plot, which raised many questions about humanity and what helps us change.
I’m A Trekkie
To set the record straight I’m a huge Star Trek fan. I’ve seen all of the episodes of the original Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager at least once. Many episodes I’ve seen multiple times. I’ve seen all of the Star Trek movies (both great and terrible). I even read a handful of Star Trek novels when I was in high school. Unfortunately, Enterprise didn’t hold my interest beyond the pilot episode; it’s the only Star Trek show I couldn’t get into. Maybe some day I’ll get around to giving it a second chance.
The main reason I’m mentioning this is because my experience with Star Trek is extensive. As a Trekkie I have a certain expectation for what happens within the Star Trek universe. The conflicts that arise, the character expectations, and the laws of Star Trek physics are interpreted through my vast filter of Star Trek knowledge. I’m telling you this because I watch everything Star Trek through Trekkie glasses. Just as I watch and read everything Star Wars through my Jedi glasses. These glasses influence my opinions and critiques. Every aspect of a Star Trek story has to fit into the known Star Trek universe, and if something different comes along, it must be explained in terms of the given universe.
What I Liked about Star Trek Beyond
As I said, Star Trek Beyond is a smart, fun action/adventure. The story was a logical follow-up to Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness: the crew is on its five-year deep-space mission. The story was well planned and each scene was obviously saved for the pertinent plot and character information it conveyed.
Here are four aspects of the movie that I enjoyed most about Star Trek Beyond.
General Character Development
I really enjoyed where Star Trek Beyond brings Kirk, Spok, and McCoy. As a Trekkie, the relationship between Kirk, Spok, and McCoy is one of the key aspects that made the original Star Trek so great. The first two movies really focused on Kirk and Spok and I was so pleased to see that McCoy is being brought into the fold in Star Trek Beyond for those who aren’t so familiar with the trio dynamic.
I liked that McCoy got more screen time to show the audience his snarky sense of humor and to show where he fits into the friendship between Kirk and Spok.
I enjoyed Kirk’s maturity as a captain and the struggle he goes through to decide if he still wants to be a starship captain. I enjoyed Spok’s conflict that arose from Ambassador Spok’s demise and the tremendous responsibility and love that he feels toward his people. Should he leave Star Fleet to help his people? Should he sacrifice his relationship with Uhura because of that duty to his people? These are all really good conflicts.
Everyone else still orbits Kirk’s and Spok’s conflicts, but the overall conflict of survival is what really brings out the strengths and weaknesses of all of the members of the Enterprise crew.
I like that Uhura got to play another vital role in the story’s plot: were it not for her no one would have figured out the villain’s plan. This was due partly to circumstance, but also partly to her personal skills, a factor that in my opinion weighed in even more heavily. Nonetheless, I still feel like Uhura’s character has not reached its full potential beyond the love interest stereotype.
Nice Twist on the Villain
I can’t say much here without giving away the ending, but I liked the idea of the villain. The villain brings up a lot of important fundamental questions about the formation of the Federation and human nature (for the lack of a better term). Does humanity need continuous conflict in order to grow? They pose a very interesting question. To a certain extent it’s true. The villain is also a nice example of a fallen angel or could be a hint of why someone would become a fundamentalist. His conflicts are pertinent to today and give the audience the chance to think about some questions that they might not otherwise.
Broke the Red-shirt Rule
I loved that Star Trek Beyond broke the red-shirt rule.
There’s a joke amongst Trekkies that if a person in a red shirt goes on an mission, they are most likely going to die. If you sit and watch enough episodes of Star Trek, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
That didn’t happen in Star Trek Beyond. People of all shirt colors died on screen; there was no discrimination, except where the main characters were concerned — obviously.
Living up to its name, Star Trek Beyond was an amazing movie to look at. Regardless of where the characters were set – on the Enterprise, on the amazing starbase Yorktown, or on the planet Altamid – I was captivated by the beautiful and realistic-feeling settings. The sweeping special effects shots gave me appreciation for people’s imaginations and computer skills. I was totally sucked in.
The Four Things That Annoyed Me About Star Trek Beyond
Nothing annoys me more than things that take me out of my movie enjoyment. It’s actually a worse experience for me than when something takes me out of a novel. Is it because it’s more immediate? Is it because a movie is more visual? I’m not sure. But these four aspects of the movie dimmed my enjoyment of the film.
Action Scene Editing
Action scenes are hard. You have to give the audience enough information, keep them interested, and show story and character development all at the same time. Ok. That’s if you’re a good film maker. It seems to me that director Justin Lin did what many writers are encouraged to do. Make shorter sentences to make the scenes feel faster. In movie terms, cut the scenes shorter. This may work for a Fast and Furious movie that doesn’t require much brain power, but when you have to sit and watch every single second of an action scene in order to not harbor questions later in the movie, that’s not a good sign. I get the quandary – I really do. How much info is too little and how much is too much? But if my husband sneezed at the wrong moment and missed that key piece of action sequence and later leans over to ask what, how, or why, that’s not a very good editing job. (I also talked with several other people who expressed similar sentiments.)
I found this to be truer during the earlier action scenes in the movie. The third-act action scenes didn’t suffer from this effect as much as the earlier ones. During action scenes people need time to absorb what’s happening. The action scene shouldn’t be action just for action’s sake – it’s really a time for character and plot building (or resolution).
Is the Villain a New Alien?
I’m going to remind you again that I’ve seen every episode of Star Trek at least once. The moment I saw the villain I was convinced that I’d seen that species of alien in another Star Trek. Maybe the ridges on their faces were a bit sharper, but I knew that I had seen them before and couldn’t remember from where. It bothered me throughout the movie. My mother (also a Trekkie) said that she had the same experience.
I don’t mind seeing new aliens – in fact it’s expected when watching Star Trek – but when people say it’s new and it really doesn’t “feel” new… we have a problem. But you know, if you’re not a Trekkie, the villain looks like a pretty badass alien. I certainly wouldn’t want to mess with him.
The Villain’s Rejuvenation Powers
In order not to spoil the movie for you altogether, I’m going to simply state that the villain’s powers of rejuvenation really needed to be explained better. Just seeing the guy suck the life out of some random Enterprise crew members wasn’t enough for me. I’m a writer. I came up with at least 4 different reasons on the spot for why the villain did what he did and why the results were what they were. I’m sorry that sounds really vague, but I have to be in order for Justin Lin’s cheat to work for you.
I totally recognized the villain’s climax as a storytelling cheat, and it bothered me that I saw it. Worse yet, I couldn’t understand why the cheat was needed at all. I’m sure that Justin Lin thought the audience needed a more obvious or more impactful visual aid. But people who go to see a movie like Star Trek aren’t stupid; with all of the clues that were given about the villain we could have maintained the revelation whether we had questions about it or not.
Is Sulu Really Gay?
This is my gripe about people’s arbitrary use of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I don’t have problems with LGBT characters. What I have a problem with is when authors “slip” in a LGBT character in order to make it “look” like they’re being inclusive. Really? That’s just insulting. It’s insulting to the people that are supposedly being “represented.”
My other gripe with this revelation is that it is an obvious indicator that the people who wrote the scrip for Star Trek Beyond were not Trekkies. (1) Sulu was never gay in any Star Trek universe — even the original Sulu actor, George Takei, doesn’t agree <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/george-takei-reacts-gay-sulu-909154>. (2) This also shows that the writers have absolutely no clue what the rules of a parallel universe are. Just because a character is in a parallel universe doesn’t mean that their nature changes. Of course we can get into a long philosophical debate about this, but I won’t get into that here.
Again, I’m going to point out that my Trekkie glasses influence my personal opinion, but my professional opinion says that if you’re going to have an LGBT character in a story, you can’t just say, “Oh yeah, he’s gay” and then just drop it after that. That’s not a fair representation of a person’s character.
WriterAlina’s Overall Star Trek Beyond Recommendation
After those points of contention, you might think that I hated Star Trek Beyond, but I didn’t. I enjoyed Star Trek’s many impossible escapes, smart characters, and poignant commentary about the meaning of the Federation. My gripes really only mean that the movie wasn’t perfect, and that is all right. It was still fun to watch, and I’ll absolutely be adding Star Trek Beyond to my movie collection when it comes out in Bluray and digital.
If you enjoy smart action/adventure, science fiction, and good character development, I highly recommend going to see Star Trek Beyond.
If you enjoyed this post maybe you’ll be interested in one of the following posts by WriterAlina:
I first came across Uprooted by Naomi Novik because it was one of the books that audible.com suggested that I might like based on my reviews and purchases. I was intrigued by the premise: a girl who doesn’t know that she has magic is taken by a man called the Dragon. It sounded interesting, so I put it on my audible wish list for later purchase. I come across so many intriguing stories that I don’t always purchase them immediately, unless I can buy the story for super cheap or borrow the book from a friend who doesn’t mind if it takes me a long time to return it. Months later I came across an article on FB that announced the winners of the 2016 Nebula Awards. For those of you who don’t know, the Nebula Award is a prestigious Science Fiction and Fantasy award that many authors hope to receive at least once in their career. When I saw that Uprooted by Naomi Novik won, I immediately purchased the audio and started listening to it.
I was not disappointed at all.
A WriterAlina Book Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Even though Uprooted is a story about a seventeen-year-old young woman, I wouldn’t categorize this as a typical young adult novel. In my opinion, this is a story for the more mature young adult audience for three reasons; the story isn’t heart-poundingly exciting; there isn’t a traditional love story; and the themes of the novel promote a more mature perspective. Personally, I would have loved this book as a teenager, but of course when I was a teen I was reading hard core SF/F like Lord of the Rings, Dune, Ender’s Game, and Mars by Ben Bova. I read more YA now than I ever did when I was a young adult.
Uprooted is a complex and subtle story about growing up, finding your place in the world, learning to follow your own nature, accepting change, and understanding and being who you are. The world of Uprooted is rich, the magical system well thought out, and the characters complex and contrary. The flow of the story takes a logical and inevitable path that surprises the reader if he’s willing to take the winding path instead of the straight one.
This summary was taken from goodreads.com
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
The Story and It’s Delivery
Uprooted is told in Agnieszka’s first person perspective consistently throughout the story. I was surprised and awed by Ms. Novik’s ability to weave forward progressing plot elements with loads of world building and backstory at the beginning of this novel. The writer in me totally recognized the loads of setup that I was receiving as a reader, and yet it was so interesting and felt so relevant that I didn’t mind it. (I hope I can write so eloquently in the near future.)
Uprooted really benefits from the fact that it’s told solely in Agnieszka’s point-of-view because Agnieszka has her own perspective on what is happening to her and around her, and on why these things are happening. She proves to be a great unreliable narrator who misleads the reader until the character realizes what’s really going on around her. This may be a writing device, but I thought that it was executed well, creating various satisfying surprises throughout the story, especially at the beginning and at the end.
The story takes an interesting turn at the half-way point, and this seems to be where most readers tend to fall into one of two camps. The first camp is intrigued by the turn of events, wondering where the author is planning on taking Agnieszka next, and is ultimately happily satisfied with the results. The second camp quickly loses interest because the story slows a bit, and the magical quality of the first half of the book is tempered with the reality of the world that Agnieszka lives in. As a result, readers in the second camp either stop reading or are dissatisfied because of the lack of magical wonder that penetrated the first half of the book. (This opinion derived from reading the polar book reviews and adding a little bit of my own interpretation after finishing Uprooted.) I absolutely fall into the camp of Uprooted fans and am of the opinion that this novel is a deeply mature fantasy. Agnieszka truly grows up and refuses to become a jaded wizard/witch, and I admire her for that.
All of the characters in Uprooted were quite varied and felt believable. Agnieszka and Sarkan, the Dragon, couldn’t have been two more different magic wielders and the supporting cast may have included some of your more typical roles of warriors, thinkers, and beauties, but they were not necessarily used in the stereotypical ways.
Agnieszka is a sprightly girl who loves her village and the corrupted forest that surrounds her home. She is the type of person who does anything in her power for those she cares about. She’s also stubborn and naive of the world outside her village (something that doesn’t bother her much), and she knows magic on such an intuitive level that she doesn’t even realize that she’s magical. During the course of the story she realizes that she has a rare intuitive understanding of magic, and she gains confidence in her natural inclination to do things differently than has been done before. Agnieszka is belittled and put down at every turn but she fights for what she believes is right and is eventually rewarded for her pain and suffering.
My favorite character, besides Agnieszka herself, was her best friend Kasia, who is shown to be talented, beautiful, and courageous (she is the one that the Dragon was expected to choose as his maidservant). However, difficulties arise for Kasia after Agnieszka is chosen by the Dragon. Because of her positive traits various events happen in her life to make her wish to be different from who she is. She is changed in ways that are unexpected and she learns to still be happy with her life.
Novik uses the characters both against themselves and against each other. It’s all very exciting. Love, hate, admiration, and jealousy – everything is used to challenge not only Agnieszka but those around her as well.
What I loved best about the character development is that throughout the course of the book everyone changed either physically, emotionally, mentally, or in all three ways, and it didn’t matter what age they were: the characters still changed. Even the centuries-old wizards were forced to change as a result of events that occurred in the story.
The second part I loved was the relationship that Agnieszka and the Dragon share and develop. It starts out as a relationship between gruff teacher and student, one that could be very off-putting for many readers because Sarkan is impatient, demeaning, and uncommunicative. Agnieszka is an intuitive witch, who feels her way through the workings of spells, whereas Sarkan is more of an intellectual wizard, who practices magic by following precise, repetitive, and repeatable instructions. But eventually their relationship transforms into one of equals as the two magic wielders realize that their strengths and weaknesses complement each other.
Uprooted is primarily based on Polish folklore and takes advantage of the Polish language to create a world that many westerners are unfamiliar with. The world is painted with every action that Agnieszka takes. The beginning of the novel is heavy in setting up Agnieszka’s world — telling the reader about Agnieszka’s village and home, about the deal the villagers have with the Dragon, about the relationship Agnieszka has with Kasia, and about everyone’s expectation that Kasia will be chosen by the Dragon and be taken away. But once the setup is established and the choosing comes, every other scene is active, and the reader continues to learn new details either by Agnieszka’s actions (such as what she finds and does at Sarkan’s tower) or what she learns from observing those around her.
*** Potential Spoiler Alert ***
A Word Or Two About Uprooted’s Romance
There is only one part of the story that I found a little… strange. And that was the “romance” between Agnieszka and Sarkan. I actually liked the concept of their romance and I liked how it was slow and tentative on both side. I fell in love with the descriptions of them sharing their magic and how that made Agnieszka feel more intimate with Sarkan. It seemed to me that there was a strong sexual charge associated with sharing their magic. This isn’t what I found strange, in fact I really liked the idea of this aspect of using magic. The part that I found out of place was Agnieszka’s searching Sarkan out during the respite of a major battle to have intimate relations with him. I’m not at all squeamish about reading about sex, but it felt gratuitous and out of place. Did Agnieszka feel that this was the final battle and that she wanted to continue the human race or did she want to have the experience before she died? These are legitimate desires, but as the reader I wasn’t clear why Agnieszka chose to do this and at this time.
It is true that the scene was well-written and that it gave the reader a stronger insight into both Agnieszka’s and Sarkan’s characters, but afterward I was still left wondering why this scene had to happen. Is it because sex is part of the Romance “formula?” I certainly hope not.
I felt that the story would have done just as well had the scene been cut out of the story.
This was really my only gripe about Uprooted.
*** Potential Spoiler Alert Ended ***
I totally recommend Uprooted by Naomi Novik to anyone who enjoys a fantasy novel that is well-written, well-planned, though slightly meandering feeling, and seeping with folklore. The story is like walking down a winding path through a forest where you can’t really see too far ahead, but you have an idea of where you are going. The coming of age aspect of the story is very well-executed and mature, and is a good example for those who want the courage to live their truth.
Have you ever read Uprooted by Naomi Novik or any of her other novels? I hear her other series is about dragons, but I haven’t read any of them. After reading Uprooted I’m interested in reading some of Ms. Novik’s other novels. I would love to hear your thoughts about Uprooted, fantasy in general, or anything else you find interesting. Feel free to leave a comment below.
If you enjoyed this post maybe you’ll be interested in one of the following posts by WriterAlina:
I have mixed feelings about UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn. I started this novel expecting an interesting fairy tale retelling. The book certainly delivered that but in a way that I didn’t expect. I’m intrigued enough by the story that I’m interested to know what happens next, but it could be a very long time before that next book comes across my lap or through my headphones.
What I liked most about UnEnchanted is that this fairy tale retelling was told as a unique present-day, urban fantasy story instead of as a straight up fantasy or science fiction story, both of which seem to be the norm for most retellings these days. The book was very light and fun, though heavy on the melodrama and cheese.
A WriterAlina Book Review
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I will admit that I had an extremely difficult time suspending my disbelief of the circumstances, the actions, and immaturity of the first chapter of UnEnchanted. So many disastrously dramatic and cheesy things happened to and around the main character that I really had a hard time taking the story seriously. I kept telling myself that “this is probably meant to be funny.” By the end of the first chapter I was ready to stop the book (I was listening to it) and move on to the next story. But then I decided that the book should be quick to finish and that perhaps I could write an interesting book review for it.
I’m actually glad that I decided to finish the book because once I adjusted my expectations of the novel, it wasn’t as bad, and it turned out to be interesting in the end. The concept of UnEnchated is actually a brilliant one, and I commend the author for tackling such a fun idea. The execution, on the other hand, was a bit too over the top for me. I guess if I had walked into the story expecting that it’s supposed to be cheesy and funny and not really all that serious, I think I would have felt differently about UnEnchanted.
This summary was taken from goodreads.com
Mina Grime is unlucky, unpopular and uncoordinated; until she saves her crush’s life on a field trip, changing her High School status from loser to hero overnight. But with her new found fame brings misfortune in the form of an old family curse come to light. For Mina is descended from the Brothers Grimm and has inherited all of their unfinished fairy tale business. Which includes trying to outwit a powerful Story from making her its next fairytale victim.
To break the fairy tale curse on her family and make these deadly occurrences stop, Mina must finish the tales until the very Grimm end.
The Story and It’s Delivery
UnEnchanted is told in the Mina’s third-person perspective. One thing I can say about the author is that she was pretty consistent about staying in Mina’s perspective and not doing a lot of head hopping, something that happens a lot with less experienced writers who write in the third-person perspective.
My biggest gripe was with the way that this story was told: with a heavy coats of cheese. The immature actions of the teens reminded me more of being in middle school rather than in high school. I don’t remember any boys in my high school days wanting to scare the girls because of a thunderstorm or a quarter of someone’s grade riding on a paper written about a field-trip to a baking factory. Yes, it was totally obvious to me that the author was trying to set up the story or create an ambiance, but all of these situations screamed “middle school” days.
There were glimmers of maturity in the novel, like when Mina talks to her mother about being strong enough to not run away from her destiny or the aspects of the story where Mina struggled with her attraction to the hottest boy in school. The way that Mina handled herself at the climax of the book was also much more mature than the rest of the novel would imply. This was part of the book’s saving grace.
The language used in the novel was pretty simple and straightforward. To a certain extent it was almost to simple – it gave me the impression that the author thinks that teens are a lot more immature than they actually are. But the nice thing is that there’s no sex, senseless violence, or foul language in the novel, leading me to the conclusion that this book is best read by younger readers.
To be sure the only character of any substance and who changes at all during the course of the story is Mina herself. Sure everyone else has their “quirks,” which many writers seem to think substitute for personality, but there wasn’t much there. Mina fits into the ordinary, self-effacing, “I-don’t-think-I’m-pretty” category of female character. She thinks she has bad luck but only says that because she doesn’t understand why certain strange things happen around her. Of course she finds out by the end that, when she needs to be, she can be strong and heroic.
None of the other characters really stand out by themselves. Mina’s best friends Nan is fun and acts confident, but she never really gets the chance to show Mina or the reader that she can actually be a reliable sidekick. That’s too bad, really, because Mina needs another strong character to follow her or even complement her. Not even Harry Potter faces all of his obstacles alone.
All of the boys in the story are paper thin as well, even though Brody is nice and concerned –painted as the perfect boyfriend. That’s all he’s got going for him though, which isn’t much, but to the character’s credit, he doesn’t get enough screen time to get much more. Jared (the other male sidekick) is good looking and mysterious, and Mina suspects that he’s a Fae. Unfortunately that’s not so much to work with as far as a character is concerned. Too bad.
It seems to me that Chanda Hahn spent a lot of time and effort trying to make the world feel like a modern 21st Century world. Honestly, I’m not sure if she succeeded to do much more than date the book. She talks a lot about kids talking and texting on cell phones and using Twitter. We don’t actually know where Mina’s family is living – just some random town – but apparently a small enough town that the high school still has “homeroom.”
There is a lot of discussion about people having tech and cell phones and about Mina’s lack thereof. But I’m not convinced that this is done for the right reasons (or at least reasons that are obvious to the audience). Could her lack of tech really only be because Mina’s family is poor? I can think of all kinds of reasons to not have tech if you’re cursed to live out stories by the Brother’s Grimm, but I want to know why Hahn made such a big deal that she had to mention it repeatedly through the novel.
UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn is advertised to teen readers, but I feel that it is sorely misplaced. This is a book for middle grade readers, not YA. The story is light, funny, and fairly straightforward and easy to follow. The main character has just the right amount of development to entertain a younger audience. I would recommend UnEnchanted to my 11 year-old niece before ever recommending it to a high school teen or anyone older.
Have you ever read UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn or any of Chana Hahn’s other self-published books? If you have a middle grade reader in your life, I hope that I inspired you to pick up UnEnchanted. I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment below.
If you enjoyed this post maybe you’ll be interested in one of the following posts by WriterAlina:
July 2016 Affirmation
The July 2016 affirmation of the month is a profound affirmation for me: “All of my actions, no matter how minor, result in spiritual growth.” It sounds kind of grand and overwhelming, but ultimately it really isn’t. This affirmation inspires me to shift my thinking and to be more aware of the things that I do and don’t do. It helps me to remember that every moment of my life is an opportunity to learn something and/or grow in unexpected ways. Whether I have good or bad experiences there is a seed of spiritual growth attached to that experience. Each moment that passes is a golden opportunity.
I realize this probably sounds a bit “woowoo-ish,” magical, whimsical, too abstract, or just plain out there, but to my philosophical mind, it’s not too big of a stretch to think that every moment, every action, or every decision I make is part of a grand matrix that has brought me to the place I am at this very moment.
And guess what? The choice you make right now (for example whether or not to finish reading this blog post) gives you the opportunity to move forward or backward in your contentment within yourself, in your life’s ambitions, or in your personal or spiritual growth. It’s interesting to think about isn’t it?
Some of the actions we take in our lives may make obvious, profound effects on us. Going to university, getting married, becoming an artist, or becoming a businessman are all examples of potentially profound life actions that push your personal growth in one direction or another. Some of our decisions may not appear to make such a long-term or impactful influence on your life. Do I brush my teeth in the morning or not? Do I wake up at 7 am or 8 am? Do I take these five minutes to brainstorm this blog post or do I play a game on my phone? But each and every one of these actions propels us and influences future actions and reactions. We all take steps forward and steps backward along life’s crooked path, but I find it scary and encouraging at the same time to reflect on the fact that all of my actions contribute to my path to self-discovery.
One of my life goals is to live an authentic life, one in which I allow my true self to shine and also to encourage those around me to do the same. Sometimes I stumble. Sometimes I’m the lighthouse in the rainy storm illuminating the rocky shore.
Ultimately, it’s important to notice what I do in my life. It’s not so important to simply understand why I do things, but just to notice what it is that I do. What are my actions? I can’t judge myself as good or bad. I only need to realize what my actions are and what the consequences of those actions are. Then I can make the decision whether to repeat the action again or not. Again, I may get caught in what I perceive as bad actions, but then I remind myself that this is all part of the lesson. I realize that I just need to keep walking and remember that “all of my actions, no matter how minor, result in my spiritual growth.”
What are your thoughts? Do you recognize your actions? Leave me a comment below and we can have a conversation about it. 😉