NONFICTION

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal To Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories

illus. by Jack Gantos. 224p. Farrar. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374304560.POP
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RedReviewStarGr 4–8—You might expect that the writing method of the author of such no-holds-barred tales as Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, and the Newbery Award—winning Dead End in Norvelt would be chaotic. You might picture him plucking bizarre anecdotes from his own frenzied noggin and slapping them together in a blind delirium of inspiration. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Gantos has taught writing for almost as long as he has been a published author, and it shows in this entertaining yet disciplined guide to the writing process. He takes a true craftsman's approach—sketching inspirations and taking notes, assembling the work piecemeal before fitting it together, and then going over the whole in multiple passes like a carpenter embellishing, sanding, and varnishing his work. The author's explanations of these steps, illustrated by his goofy cartoons and exemplified by captivating pieces of short fiction, are sensible and straightforward. "Don't be that writer who waits all day for the perfect first sentence," he advises, "or you will grow old while learning to hate yourself and writing." Readers as well as writers will benefit from this structured approach. Being able to identify story elements is essential for critique: If characters don't ring true, is it the result of inadequate exposition of their interior life, or is it the dialogue that doesn't work? Even experienced reviewers will learn a thing or two.
VERDICT A must for aspiring writers.

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