Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly

I read this book and Stephen King’s On Writing back to back. They flowed into each other perfectly, thanks to the ending sentences of King’s book: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

Gail Carson Levine (who I treated somewhat badly here and wished more from here) redeems herself with this book. If I were younger, Writing Magic would be the perfect push to get me thinking and dreaming and really working out the mechanics of stories. While she is writing for a different audience, GCL echoes many of the concepts King laid out. She usefully backs each lesson up with concrete examples, some from personal experience and some invented for teaching purposes.

One of the instances I was struck by was a character sketch from her novel The Two Princesses of Bamarre. GCL wanted to make her king a remote father (with the purpose of spurring his daughter into a quest) but couldn’t find an authentic way to do it. The solution came through a prop, a book of homilies the man reveres, that came to her out of the blue: In every situation, instead of speaking from his heart, the king tries to apply something from the book, whether or not it is appropriate. The book unlocked the character, creating the emotional distance Levine was looking for when she began. However, the homilies were slightly ridiculous and their silliness rubbed off on the king, ultimately making him sympathetic. GCL reports she had a great time writing the king, and I, as a reader, completely felt that when I went through the novel. He was memorable and complex, all thanks to one perfect detail.

It is clear that Levine’s heart lies with young readers, both because of this book and because of her blog, where she regularly and responsively answers questions about writing. (Heart you, GCL!) Her constant refrain of “Save what you wrote” is touching, and her final lines speak to her writing philosophy:

“Write to nurture yourself. Write to tell us about being you. Write to tell us about being human. There can never be too many stories.  Add to the reservoir.”

It’s a nice counterpoint to the stratified approach King takes, and I can’t really tell which one is more valuable. I’d like to think with a mixture of hope and a healthy dose of self-knowledge, I might be able to get my feet wet and add just a little something to the literary ocean.


  1. I'm so glad I discovered your blog, and I've awarded you the Stylish Blog Award. See my post for how to pass it on if you would like!

  2. Ohmigosh, that is so sweet! Thank you. :) I'll have to post/pass it on.