I couldn't get the pencil to sit behind Wilbur's ear, but otherwise, it's a pretty close re-creation! Photo by Kate Ota 2023.
Story Genius: How to us Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron is one of those writing books that I constantly hear about. After my lackluster experience with the similarly lauded Bird by Bird, I worried this would also be a stinker. However, I had an hour to kill at a Barnes and Noble, and when I spotted Story Genius, my curiosity outweighed my hesitance.
Story Genius breaks its advice into a couple sections, but in general it gives instructions on how to plot from idea through first draft. The main focus is to create a story that has a cohesive character arc and an external plot that specifically drives that arc. It also includes how this approach appeals to the brain so well. There are templates and spots where the book instructs the reader to stop and do an exercise that builds toward having a draft.
I highlighted so much of this book. From the advice on point of view to the tips and tricks for each stage of brainstorming and outlining. This book really appealed to how I usually plot anyway, but added ideas to make that even better. I can't wait to try this method, not just with a fresh story but use it on my current WIP to make sure my external and internal plots mesh well.
Is It Worth It?
I bought a paperback for $14.99, but if e-book is your thing it can be yours for $9.99.
Honestly, this book is precisely for the type of writer that I am. I wish I'd bought it sooner, because I think I'll incorporate its method into every project from now on. I think this book is 100% worth the price!
Have you read Story Genius? Have you used the method? What did you think? Let's discuss in the comments.
Note how the cover shows the fantasy element with the spears coming from her right knuckles but has the science fiction in the background and her clothes. Pretty great design!
The Blood Trials by N.E. Davenport was a 2022 debut science fantasy novel. It's what people want to call New Adult, as it follows a woman post-high school/early-college. It's the first in The Blood Gift Duology; the second book (The Blood Gift) just hit shelves this spring.
Kenna is the granddaughter of the recently murdered leader of a council-lead government. The technology is very futuristic, but Kenna also has a secret blood magic gift, which is banned. In order to solve her grandfather's murder, she signs up for a post-grad military program to become an elite warrior called a Praetorian. To become a full member, applicants must pass the blood trials, named for the extreme and deadly selection process. Think Hunger Games x Navy Seal Training x Magic. As the trials continue, Kenna is targeted and often only survives assassination attempts due to her magical blood gift. As she uncovers who may be behind it all, she questions everyone around her.
This book was fine. The POV stayed with Kenna, and was deep POV, which I like. The worldbuilding was interesting and unique, though left me with many questions. I liked the romance element and the magic system. I also enjoyed the characters, especially Kenna. She was often angry, and I like seeing books which allow a female character to be angry.
I had problems with this book. Number one, why kill off hundreds of your best warriors while picking your elite fighters? Aren't you killing perfectly capable soldiers, even if they aren't going to be in the top squad? Seems like a waste. This was never questioned. My other major issue was that the plot resolved at the 70% mark, and then a new plot began and didn't wrap up at the end. It felt like the duology was originally a short trilogy that got repackaged as two books to save paper or something. I really disliked that. My last big complaint was that the plot itself felt very familiar. I read a slew of "Hunger Games x Other Element" novels in college, one being Hunger Games x SATs, which was the most similar to this. It made this book predictable on a plot level.
This book is for you if you like science fantasy, if you like Hunger Games x Navy Seal Training as a concept, and if you like murder mystery as a central element. It's not for you if you'll be bothered by the story ending and then starting anew at the 70% mark, if you don't like fight-to-the-death plots, or if you're not in the mental space to read about men physically attacking women.
Have you read The Blood Trials? What did you think? Should I give the sequel a chance? Let's discuss in the comments!
The Nebula Awards are tonight, May 14th! In honor of that, I'm posting my review of Babel by R.F. Kuang, a Nebula nominee for best novel this year. It's Kuang's fourth novel (others by her are the Poppy War Trilogy and her fifth book, Yellowface). Since part of my reading goals incudes more award winners and nominees, I couldn't pass this one up.
Babel focuses on 1830s Oxford, England, where a magic program exists at the university in a tower called Babel. The magic of this world is based on translation and linguistics and requires silver to work. The main character, Robin, is an orphan from Canton, China, brought to England as a child by his guardian/Babel professor. Robin's journey at Oxford (ten years after moving to England) is the main bulk of this beefy tome (557 pages).
I enjoyed Babel a ton. I'm big into etymology, so the fact that magic was based on it and characters had conversations about word origins really worked for me. I also loved the magic system in general, including that it took a ton of studying but was accessible to anyone who tried hard enough (and had the money) to learn it. For that reason, it will be a comp for the WIP I'm finishing. The anti-colonial themes were deftly handled.
A lot of time passes in the novel, and some of it is glossed over that I wanted to read about. This would have made a very long novel even longer, and I wondered if it could have been then split into multiple books. Then again, I have to wonder why some of those glossed over moments were mentioned at all, since the book was already so long and anything not set in a scene wasn't as impactful in the overall story anyway.
This book is for you if you're looking for a magic system that's fresh and different, if you're a fan of linguistics/etymology (especially Latin and Chinese), and if you're on the hunt for anti-colonial themes. It's not for you if you need a thick book to move at a breakneck pace, if you're looking for secondary world fantasy, or if you're not in the right headspace to read about child abuse.
Have you read Babel? What about The Poppy War? What other great award nominees/winners should I read this year? Let's discuss in the comments.
UPDATE: Babel won the 2023 Nebula Award for Best Novel! Congrats R.F. Kuang!
Wilbur was to cozy to post somewhere aesthetically pleasing, and who can blame him? (Photo by Kate Ota 2023)
Bird by Bird is one of those writing books that’s been recommended to me time and time again. Lauded as a must-read for authors, I had high expectations going in that this book had the power to alter my writing process or philosophy in some way.
The book focuses on Lamott's writing process. She's a pantser, and does that thing where characters talk to her. The book discusses the novel process in stages, which is supposed to make the whole thing more digestible. The title refers to the author's brother needing to write a report on birds the night before it's due, and their father saying they'd take it "bird by bird" or one step at a time.
Normally, I highlight a bunch of advice in writing books and leave little flags on pages I expect to reference again, but none of that was necessary for Bird by Bird. It operates under the assumption that the reader shares Lamott’s creative process. Unfortunately, I’m a plotter and I do not wait for characters to speak to me and tell me their secrets. I’m one who has to actively create. Basically, the entire book fell flat for me.
Is It Worth It?
It’s about $14.99 for a paperback copy, though an ebook ($13.99) would have been just as good.
If you’re a pantser looking for a book that will guide you through that process, this is a good book for you. If you prefer to plot and actively create, then this book will not be worth it for you.
Have you read Bird by Bird? Are you one of the people who loved it, or is there anyone who felt disappointed, like me? Let’s discuss in the comments.