Archive for ‘Nonfiction’

May 23rd, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: On Writing: A Memoir of Craft

Author: Stephen King

Published: July 1st, 2001

Number of Pages: 288

Rating: 4/5


“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told. [From Goodreads


Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it 0 is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.

Drink and be filled up.


I love this book! (That’s my favorite way to begin a review!) Some of the only things in this world that I find more interesting than writing are people. I’m fascinated by them – their loves, hates, motives, what they say – it’s all mesmerizing. I love On Writing because it is a book about a writing and an individual.

I have never read a novel by Stephen King. The closest I’ve gotten is watching Stand By Me on edited television (and oh my gosh that scene with the leeches!). I must confess that I’ve always considered his books… silly pop fiction, but it’s evident after reading his memoir that the dude is brilliant. I can’t wait to read his books now (recommendations are welcome)!

On Writing begins with the man and proceeds to the writer. We start with Mr. King as a child and get to see how he develops into one of the most well-known men of the past century. There’s probably not a single person in America over the age of twelve who would not recognize the name Stephen King. So upon what did he build his fame? His love and appreciation for writing.

I love that he digs into the minute details of writing. The craft of it. He begins by listing the essentials in a writer’s “toolbox”. I was really hooked once he delved into the more delicate aspects, specifically theme, symbolism, and dialogue.

As every one of you knows, I’ve been struggling with the second draft of my book, The Lemonites. Whenever I sit down to work on it, I freeze up and suddenly can’t recall any of the millions of ideas I’ve had. One thing I’m very aware of is the lack of an overall arc. I need to tie the entire book together so that it has that flow and wholeness that a good book has. A key to this is determining the theme of the novel, and Mr. King did a fantastic job of explaining how he goes about this. I finally feel like I can wrap my head around the concept. Here’s a paragraph from the chapter focused on theme:

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. Not every book has to be loaded with symbolism, irony, or musical language (they call it prose for a reason, y’know), but it seems to me that every book – at least every one worth reading – is about something. You job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft – one of them, anyway – is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.

That’s what I’m looking for: a more unified story.

Theme is one of the dozens of things I’ve learned from On Writing. It’s such an enjoyable learning experience, too! There’s nothing better than learning and being entertained simultaneously. I know that I retain more information when the delivery of said information is riveting. Stephen King manages to pull you in with his almost brutally honest examination of life and writing, and the load you learn is simply a bonus (and a much-appreciated one at that).

I will never be as intrigued by a hobby, past-time, or job as I am by writing. I love it. It truly is the water of life to those of us who have discovered its value. Writing is fulfilling. It is a way of life – a mentality. Why not read a book that teaches about and glorifies it?

March 15th, 2011

Hooked by Les Edgerton; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One And Never Lets Them Go

Author: Les Edgerton

Published: April 12, 2007 by Writer’s Digest Books

Number of Pages: 256

Rating: 4/5


Breaking rules doesn’t make one original – pick out any juvenile delinquent loitering on the street corner and you’ll see what I mean. Working within the rules and delivering original and creative stories is what makes one original.

And successful.


Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It’s just that simple. Hooked provides readers with a detailed understanding of what a beginning must include (setup, backstory, the inciting incident, etc.); instruction on how to successfully develop the story problem; tips on how to correct common beginning mistakes; exclusive insider advice from agents, acquiring book editors, and literary journal editors; and much more. [From Goodreads]


I picked up Hooked when I was on a writing-related-books rampage at Borders a few months ago. Among the others I chose to buy that day, Hooked , with its less, well, boring cover and Edgerton’s humorous, lighthearted voice, stood apart.

Writing good (not decent or standard or acceptable) beginnings was something I’d been thinking about. I know that I judge every book’s first sentence (and often the first paragraph) critically. Hand me something like Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, and I won’t be able to resist buying and finishing the book, even if the first page is the best part in the entire thing.

I wanted a beginning like that. The sort of hook that readers wouldn’t snap at, nibble, or bite, but one they’d swallow. And that’s precisely what Hooked‘s all about.

Edgerton immediately dives into listing the basic components of a good beginning (and how they’ve evolved, particularly over the last 150 years), such as the inciting incident, story-worthy-problem, surface problem, etcetera. He makes a point of addressing the alpha and omega of misused story components, backstory and setup.

He does a fantastic job of highlighting the pros and cons of every aspect of a beginning. Arguably, there are advantages to every facet of a story, but whether their disadvantages outweigh them is the determiner. At no point does he call an approach stupid or an idea ridiculous, but instead warns against the dangers of particular ways of approaching things.

It’s not a secret that I struggle getting through nonfiction, though I do gravitate toward those with the topic of writing. While Hooked is, sadly, definitely nonfiction, Edgerton’s voice and style were exactly what the book needed to make it not only informative but genuinely interesting. He continually approached things with a lighthearted tone. I felt that he was offering advice or lending a hand as opposed to instructing or preaching. The fact that he could transform a potentially dry piece of material into something interesting proved that he can, indeed, write, which made learning from him all the more enjoyable. I had faith that I was in the hands of someone who knows what he’s talking about.

I’ve learned loads from this book and found answers to particular questions of mine in regard to The Lemonites. Edgerton repeatedly stressed the necessity of the writer having a concise idea of the protagonist’s story-worthy problem – the problem that encapsulates the whole of the story or the underlying issue that is really within the character and is not resolved until the very, very end. As my friend Miranda Kenneally can testify, this is a concept I’ve been struggling with every since I started thinking seriously about The Lemonites and what it needs to become great. The examples and guidance Edgerton supplies have helped me wrap my mind around the idea and continue to craft Pepto’s character into the sort that has a story-worthy problem that can actually carry the story to the end.

The aforementioned examples were my very, very favorite aspect of Hooked. There were multiple examples from actual written work for just about everything! I loved learning about a concept and then immediately seeing it at work. It allowed me to keep the idea in the back of my mind while reading the excerpt so that I could identify where it came into play and its effect on me. I know this is the second time I’ve brought her up, but Miranda does the same thing when I come to her with a problem or we’re in the middle of a conversation on writing. Using examples from written work and assessing a technique’s effectiveness was the best way for me to learn. It was this part of the book that made it a truly valuable experience for me.

Essentially, Hooked is a remarkably enjoyable book with a great author’s voice that manages to be hugely informative and inspiring.

June 3rd, 2010

The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional by Philip Yaffe; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional

Author: Philip Yaffe

Published: February 1, 2010 by INDI Publishing Group

Number of Pages: 275

Rating: 3/5


People are fond of putting writing into categories – e.g. business writing, academic, commercial, political, scientific – as if they were fundamentally different from each other. They aren’t.

Good writing is good writing, whatever the context.


I was at a loss as to how to write this book review. How do you write a review of a book on writing like a professional without feeling an incredible worry that you won’t write like a professional? Consequently, to save myself from a load of stress, I’m simply going to post the official review I sent to the author (and thank you, Philip, for sending me a copy!):

Philip Yaffe’s The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional so clearly teaches the fundamental necessities of professional writing and speaking in an intelligible way that anyone could understand. He strips the layers off one by one and addresses every minuscule question he poses. Though I cannot honestly say I loved the book, I respect its depth and conciseness. The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like a Professional is a fantastic book for those who find themselves stumbling when confronted with those dastardly symbols we call words.

A few notes:

  • I was surprised by how interesting I found this book. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader. However, when writing is a subject, I’m game.
  • The book seemed too long to me. A near three hundred page book of this content became slightly tedious. I did read every appendix, though, and that added to the length of my read.
  • It’s evident that Mr. Yaffe understands and deeply cares about this subject, and it was wonderful to read with his enthusiasm seeping through the pages.

In blog news: I’m sorry I haven’t posted much this week. My last year of Middle School is wrapping up, and my teachers have decided to bombard us with work. I’m going to try to stockpile reviews and other posts to compensate for times like this. Ideally, I’ll have a post about chemistry ready for tomorrow!

I was incredibly pleased to see the wonderful response my last post received. It’s wonderful to speak your mind and not frighten people. I even got a positive tweet from an author!

I’ve been struggling to come up with decent post topics, and figured, why rely solely on my imagination? If you have any ideas or questions for posts, send me an email!

[contact-form show_subject="yes"]