Blog Post / Spring 2020

The Hidden Machinery Craft Book Review By: Taylor Nosekabel

The Hidden Machinery by Margot Livesey was the first craft book that I have read (besides the one that we read parts of in Fiction I, Narrative Design). One thing I liked about her essays was that when she would describe something, she would share an example from a famous author (such as Jane Austen or Shakespeare) and then show how they used it within their novel. I have analyzed these stories from a reader standpoint, but it was interesting to analyze them from a writing standpoint.

I also like how she broke down a lot of her points into steps, so it made the book really easy to follow. For example, on page 275, she is writing about Shakespeare and discussing some of the aspects in his plays that make them timeless and great pieces of literature. She then goes on to list out sixteen “rules,” or pieces of advice, that are present in Shakespeare’s plays that help make a great story. I won’t put all sixteen, but some “rules” that stood out to me were, “Don’t be dismayed or surprised if some pieces of work turn out to be rehearsals. It sometimes takes several attempts to find the right form for the material” (Livesey 276), and “Develop your characters individually and in society. Let the reader know who are the major characters and who are the minor” (Livesey 276). I particularly liked these two pieces of advice because I felt like it related to the story I am working on right now. For the first one, I have rewritten the beginning four times now, and I obviously know that books go through many different rounds of revision before getting published, but there are days where you can’t help but feel discouraged about the story you are writing. It was refreshing to hear her story about the challenges she faced in her writing endeavors, as well as the triumphs. Because the triumphs are all the more rewarding when you know how hard you worked to get there. I also liked the other rule because I feel like with the story I am writing I know all the characters individually very well, but I haven’t fully developed how they play into the world and society they are a part of.

One of the things I wish there were more of in her craft book was the “how” aspect. She talks about worldbuilding, language, and character development, and she will include examples of stories that do it well, and even break it down in list function, but rarely does she explain how to actually do it. Like with the example above, “develop your characters individually and in society” is great advice, but how can I go about doing that? I know for something like creative writing, each story is different, and each writer has a different writing style, so it is hard to give “concrete rules” for how something can be done because each writer can do it differently, but still be effective at it. The writer has to choose what to do based on what is best for the story that they are writing, so it is not something like math where everyone can add the same way. That being said, I still would have preferred a couple of different strategies that a writer could go about using and then tweaking them to fit their individual story.

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