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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life
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VINE VOICEon May 24, 2009
I'd say the value of any book on writing can be based on its ability to instruct or inspire. Most people buying these kinds of books are looking for advice on how to be better writers, or simply the spark that'll get them started. (I'm not counting the thornier issue of publication.) This collection of talks/essays from the Warren Wilson MFA writing program includes the following:

"Omniscience," Russo -- Claims that the all-knowing third person narrator is the most mature and thereby most desirable literary perspective. A little pompous in places, but entertaining (like most of Russo's work) and almost convincing. 4/5

"Know Myself," Shepard -- Argues that epiphanies are the siren songs of literature: authors think they need them, but they ruin plots. A compelling essay, but mostly it's just an evaluative praise piece for Robert Stone's short story, "Helping." 4/5

"Iago," Neville -- A treatise on how evil (or Evil) is the fire in the belly of all great stories. Juicy, insightful, and an all-around inspiring essay. 5/5

"Voice," Schwartz -- Short and too-the-point, and yet it resists all attempts at summation. Schwartz takes a complicated and overly-trendy subject -- how writers find their "voice" and what that even means -- and makes it relatable and workable. 5/5

"Mask," Wachtel -- Long, pointless, and over-written. Not only does the author fail to make any relevant or specific points at all, but he even admits as much at the end of the essay. Tries (and fails) to do in 17 pages what the previous essay just did in 6. 0/5

"Weight," Silber -- Brief and forgettable essay on perspective that makes a few interesting comparisons but fails to come to any real conclusions. 3/5

"Form," Havazelet -- Uses Chekov to describe how authors should seduce readers with proper form. He leaves the term "form" purposefully vague, and the essay turns into a deep, analytical discussion of the various symbolisms used in Chekov's stories. Certainly interesting, but not particularly applicable. 3/5

"Inflection," Baxter -- Goes over a few ways to provide emphasis and timing to inanimate text (without resorting to ellipses and italics). A nuts and bolts kind of essay that I agreed with but was also fairly bored by. 2/5

"First and Last," Spark -- An essay on opening and closing lines. The premise could easily turn into an excuse to list a bunch of interesting first and last sentences, but Spark actually leaves you thinking. 4/5

"Memory," Brennan - The author uses a tragic personal event to discuss how literature is an attempt to make sense of the world's random confluence of events. Touching and beautifully written, but also pretty opaque. 3/5

"Spandrels," Boswell - Perhaps my favorite essay in the book, Boswell discusses how fiction evolves from concept to finished product. The idea that any good story contains the seeds for its own proper ornamentation is fascinating and it also gets the creative juices flowing. 5/5

"Scene Beast," Hribal - A decent exploration of how to feed your audience's hunger for something to happen. Hribal discusses ways to sate that "scene beast," sometimes without actual scenes. Clever and fun. 5/5

"Cartographer," Turchi - Intelligent and illuminating essay on both perspective and destination in writing. The subject is vast, but Turchi doesn't labor over any points and uses the topic to both entertain and educate. 5/5

"Jokes," Nelson - Discusses the shape and mechanism of jokes and how that can inspire better writing. Intriguing points, but mostly inert. 3/5

"Ruins," Martone - Talks about ways that authors "ruin" their stories (read: buck trends for the sake of aesthetic principal). Ruins his own essay with lots of over-written meandering. 1/5

"Editors," McIlvoy - Basically a love letter to Stephen Crane and an affectionate analysis of his story, "The Open Boat." Suitably scholastic, but not really useful. 3/5

"Democracy," Medina - A complaint about the trend to nationalize authors and their works. I agree with the author, but can't understand how such an essay can be expected to assist writers. 1/5

"Readers," Grossman - A debate on whether or not it is useful or advisable to consider the audience when writing a piece. An excellent topic for an essay, but it isn't very thoroughly explored here. 3/5

"Truth," Livesey - Analyzing the concept of "true" stories. Clever but pointless essay. 2/5
55 comments| 46 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on February 13, 2017
It's got the same advice as almost any other book on writing fiction
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on June 13, 2016
As recommended by Mary Ward Brown in her book "Fanning the Spark"....and with good reason!
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on March 4, 2013
I had to purchase this book for a class on the craft of writing fiction. I have been very pleased with the generous amount of information it has provided. If you want to be a writer and need a good basis for what other writers do in their pursuit of crafting good fiction this is a great place to start. From what I understand it is also out of print so if you find a copy, snatch it up.
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on September 12, 2014
seller great, college purchase
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on December 5, 2005
Although this book wasn't necessarily riveting, envisioning the devil at the heart of fiction writing is most intriguing. Baxter and Turchi combine essays and anecdotes dealing with issues on, technique, devices, and strategies. These anecdotes allow the reader to engage in a sort of dialogue with other published writers who may experience similar problems with creating fiction.

In this book the Devil is interpreted as inhibition; what ever is keeping the writer from writing. But it is the intimacy with this Devil (bringing Him to His knees) that is necessary in order to progress as a fiction writer. This Devil teaches the writer more about him/herself than anything else, as long as he is acknowldged and entertained.
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on March 14, 2006
Serious, well-written, thoughtful and engaging. For any writer who seriously wants to pursue the craft of fiction, this is a must.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse