Saturday, 25 February 2017

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy Review


Novelist and comics writer Benjamin Percy imparts his literary wisdom in Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, most of which make a lot of sense and contain useful advice and tips if you’re looking to develop seriously as a writer. 

I’m with Percy in being a strong believer in story over artiness (though that needn’t exclude art, just that entertainment should be the primary focus with novels). If you’re someone who wants to write books where it takes 80 pages to describe a sunset or whatever, Thrill Me won’t help you, but if you’re looking to tell an engaging, plot-driven story, Percy has more than a few pointers for you to consider. 

He goes through the basics of how to plan, develop and pace a story, highlighting everything from giving your characters higher-order and lower-order goals (the former being the overarching aim and the latter being smaller goals to achieve on the way to realising the former), how to write and when to deploy set pieces, how to withhold information and delay gratification, when to show and when to tell - all stuff to keep the reader invested in what you’re writing. 

Percy is a writing teacher and this book shows he’s a pretty damn good one - he knows his subject inside-out but he’s also a popular writer which lends credibility to his lessons. I don’t read many of these kinds of books so I can’t tell whether he’s repeating stuff from other writing books but I did feel like some of the instruction mirrored Elmore Leonard’s. Like: if it sounds like writing, cut it, and don’t bother with backstory - if you do, make that the main story instead, which sounds a bit like Leonard talking about doing away with prologues and just labelling it “Chapter 1” instead.

While he does explain himself well for the most part with pertinent and illuminating examples, he does have a tendency to belabour the point, which is probably the teacher in him making sure his student understands exactly what he’s saying. Fine, but I found reading multiple examples that repeated the same thing to be a bit tiresome. And some of his points are a bit obvious, ie. language and tone should mirror the scene/circumstances - duh! 

Mostly though, Thrill Me is an excellent resource for writers, whatever your skill level. Amidst the many valuable lessons he imparts, arguably the most important are to remember not to be pretentious, the importance of revision, and to stick with it, no matter what. Insightful, practical advice - highly recommended to anyone interested in writing.

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