Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine

This is a wonderful, well written, friendly, and very informative guide to writing. Although ostensibly written for older kids (e.g., teens), there is so much great information in here as to be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in – or who loves – the craft of writing. The focus is purely on all aspects of a story, from making characters sympathetic to setting and dialogue. But more importantly, the book is liberally sprinkled with very good advice from a beloved published author who drew upon the most asked questions on her blog for the foundation of this title.

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The book breaks down as follows: Section One: Being a writer (writer’s’ advice column, the spark, drops of blood); Section Two: Character Building (the depths, character cogitation, fear of flat, use your words, the outward show, here we are); Section Three: Character Nitty Gritty (like me!, to change or not to change, villainy, creature creation, creature country, love’s labor found); Section Four: Hatching The Plot (stirring the pot, the plot thickens, have at it, nail biting, plotting along); Section Five: Aspects of Story (midstory crisis, looking back, peering ahead, mysterious, stranger than fiction, theme park); Section Six: Underpinnings (tense choices, word grazing, clarity and gizoxing, the writing and publishing clock); Section Seven: Poetry Country (write your story a poem, write a story in a poem, poetry flies the flag of freedom, rhyme time, playing with the poetry deck, come again? Listen!, M.E.); Section Eight: Closing the Circle on blogging.

As can be seen from the table of contents above, there is a large breadth of subjects covered. Although a strong focus is on fantasy, especially children/teen fantasy, nearly every point made in the book is applicable to any genre of fiction.

The two most important points brought away (and emphasized often) is to save everything you write and to look deeper at life as it happens around you. From observing what people do on a subway train (blocking seats by sitting in the aisle or putting a backpack on a seat to discourage sitters) to what happens physically to different emotional stimuli (e.g., fear is a heart beating faster, blood rushing from face, open mouth, wide eyes, etc.). It is through those observations that the writer learns to write with depth, variety, and conviction.

Especially poignant for young writers, at the end of many chapters are specific assignments that will make use of the points made in that section. Author Levine sets up hypothetical situations and asks the readers to write a story around them. An example at the end of one chapter includes: Writing a scene imagining how the future dictator of the world would behave if left alone in someone’s kitchen. Then traveling on a train and how she acts on it. Then waking up in the forest with another character and how she handles herself. All have to do with exploring a certain character in different settings for the chapter on settings and character development.

This book should really be a classic – the perfect gift for any child (or adult!!) interesting in writing. As Levine notes, writing isn’t fun but it is an absolute necessity for many people to take those words and stories out of their heads. This wonderfully written, friendly, encouraging, and motivating guide helps make the most of the transition from mind to paper/screen.

Reviewed from an advanced reader’s copy but also purchased immediately afterwards for my 11 year old.

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