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Bold new essays on how to craft a thrilling read--in any genre--from the bestselling author of The Dead Lands Anyone familiar with the meteoric rise of Benjamin Percy's career will surely have noticed a certain shift: After writing two short-story collections and a literary novel, he delivered the werewolf thriller Red Moon and the postapocalyptic epic The Dead Lands. Now, Bold new essays on how to craft a thrilling read--in any genre--from the bestselling author of The Dead Lands Anyone familiar with the meteoric rise of Benjamin Percy's career will surely have noticed a certain shift: After writing two short-story collections and a literary novel, he delivered the werewolf thriller Red Moon and the postapocalyptic epic The Dead Lands. Now, in his first book of nonfiction, Percy challenges the notion that literary and genre fiction are somehow mutually exclusive. The title essay is an ode to the kinds of books that make many readers fall in love with fiction: science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, horror, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Anne Rice, Ursula K. Le Guin to Stephen King. Percy's own academic experience banished many of these writers in the name of what is "literary" and what is "genre." Then he discovered Michael Chabon, Aimee Bender, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, and others who employ techniques of genre fiction while remaining literary writers. In fifteen essays on the craft of fiction, Percy looks to disparate sources such as Jaws, Blood Meridian, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage issues of plot, suspense, momentum, and the speculative, as well as character, setting, and dialogue. An urgent and entertaining missive on craft, Thrill Me brims with Percy's distinctive blend of anecdotes, advice, and close reading, all in the service of one dictum: Thrill the reader.


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Bold new essays on how to craft a thrilling read--in any genre--from the bestselling author of The Dead Lands Anyone familiar with the meteoric rise of Benjamin Percy's career will surely have noticed a certain shift: After writing two short-story collections and a literary novel, he delivered the werewolf thriller Red Moon and the postapocalyptic epic The Dead Lands. Now, Bold new essays on how to craft a thrilling read--in any genre--from the bestselling author of The Dead Lands Anyone familiar with the meteoric rise of Benjamin Percy's career will surely have noticed a certain shift: After writing two short-story collections and a literary novel, he delivered the werewolf thriller Red Moon and the postapocalyptic epic The Dead Lands. Now, in his first book of nonfiction, Percy challenges the notion that literary and genre fiction are somehow mutually exclusive. The title essay is an ode to the kinds of books that make many readers fall in love with fiction: science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, horror, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Anne Rice, Ursula K. Le Guin to Stephen King. Percy's own academic experience banished many of these writers in the name of what is "literary" and what is "genre." Then he discovered Michael Chabon, Aimee Bender, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, and others who employ techniques of genre fiction while remaining literary writers. In fifteen essays on the craft of fiction, Percy looks to disparate sources such as Jaws, Blood Meridian, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage issues of plot, suspense, momentum, and the speculative, as well as character, setting, and dialogue. An urgent and entertaining missive on craft, Thrill Me brims with Percy's distinctive blend of anecdotes, advice, and close reading, all in the service of one dictum: Thrill the reader.

30 review for Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    Novelist and comics writer Benjamin Percy imparts his literary wisdom in Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, most of which make a lot of sense and contain useful advice and tips if youre looking to develop seriously as a writer. Im with Percy in being a strong believer in story over artiness (though that neednt exclude art, just that entertainment should be the primary focus with novels). If youre someone who wants to write books where it takes 80 pages to describe a sunset or whatever, Thrill Me wont Novelist and comics writer Benjamin Percy imparts his literary wisdom in Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, most of which make a lot of sense and contain useful advice and tips if you’re looking to develop seriously as a writer. I’m with Percy in being a strong believer in story over artiness (though that needn’t exclude art, just that entertainment should be the primary focus with novels). If you’re someone who wants to write books where it takes 80 pages to describe a sunset or whatever, Thrill Me won’t help you, but if you’re looking to tell an engaging, plot-driven story, Percy has more than a few pointers for you to consider. He goes through the basics of how to plan, develop and pace a story, highlighting everything from giving your characters higher-order and lower-order goals (the former being the overarching aim and the latter being smaller goals to achieve on the way to realising the former), how to write and when to deploy set pieces, how to withhold information and delay gratification, when to show and when to tell - all stuff to keep the reader invested in what you’re writing. Percy is a writing teacher and this book shows he’s a pretty damn good one - he knows his subject inside-out but he’s also a popular writer which lends credibility to his lessons. I don’t read many of these kinds of books so I can’t tell whether he’s repeating stuff from other writing books but I did feel like some of the instruction mirrored Elmore Leonard’s. Like: if it sounds like writing, cut it, and don’t bother with backstory - if you do, make that the main story instead, which sounds a bit like Leonard talking about doing away with prologues and just labelling it “Chapter 1” instead. While he does explain himself well for the most part with pertinent and illuminating examples, he does have a tendency to belabour the point, which is probably the teacher in him making sure his student understands exactly what he’s saying. Fine, but I found reading multiple examples that repeated the same thing to be a bit tiresome. And some of his points are a bit obvious, ie. language and tone should mirror the scene/circumstances - duh! Mostly though, Thrill Me is an excellent resource for writers, whatever your skill level. Amidst the many valuable lessons he imparts, arguably the most important are to remember not to be pretentious, the importance of revision, and to stick with it, no matter what. Insightful, practical advice - highly recommended to anyone interested in writing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    The best book on writing fiction that I've read in a very long time. No matter what genre you write, but especially if you write at the intersection of literary and genre, between realism and the supernaturalthis book is for you. Fantastic. I nodded my head the whole time, not just in agreement on the content, the lessons, the methodsbut the examples, as well. Everyone from Stephen King to Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy to Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury to Flannery O'Connor. Ben is one of the few The best book on writing fiction that I've read in a very long time. No matter what genre you write, but especially if you write at the intersection of literary and genre, between realism and the supernatural—this book is for you. Fantastic. I nodded my head the whole time, not just in agreement on the content, the lessons, the methods—but the examples, as well. Everyone from Stephen King to Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy to Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury to Flannery O'Connor. Ben is one of the few authors who can publish in both The Paris Review and Cemetery Dance. One of my favorite authors writing today. If you are writing fiction, you owe it to yourself to read this book ASAP.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Petry

    Benjamin Percy has written the most concise, clear and useful book on the writing craft that I have ever read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    If I get at least one major thing from a writing book, then I think it's a great writing book. I got more than one thing from this one.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Like many readers I enjoy books about the writing craft, even though I'm not a fiction writer myself. I have not (yet) read Benjamin Percy's fiction, (I follow him on Twitter?) but I gave the first essay a chance last night and found his writing voice fresh and compelling. ..... Upon finishing: I liked this book a lot. I felt as if Percy had taught me the secret handshake and let me in the door of the fiction writers' clubhouse so I could eavesdrop. He'd make a great writing teacher to study Like many readers I enjoy books about the writing craft, even though I'm not a fiction writer myself. I have not (yet) read Benjamin Percy's fiction, (I follow him on Twitter?) but I gave the first essay a chance last night and found his writing voice fresh and compelling. ..... Upon finishing: I liked this book a lot. I felt as if Percy had taught me the secret handshake and let me in the door of the fiction writers' clubhouse so I could eavesdrop. He'd make a great writing teacher to study with.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    A collection of work by Percy is fabulous, but its extra-exciting when its published by the amazing Graywolf Press, purveyors of fantastic non-fiction. This is a wonderful collection, surrounding things to do with fiction. The title essay is a challenge to the notion that literary and genre fiction are somehow mutually exclusive, and the whole books is full of Percys advice, wit, and wisdom on the craft of writing. GOOD STUFF. Backlist bump: Refresh, Refresh: Stories by Benjamin Percy Tune in to A collection of work by Percy is fabulous, but it’s extra-exciting when it’s published by the amazing Graywolf Press, purveyors of fantastic non-fiction. This is a wonderful collection, surrounding things to do with fiction. The title essay is a challenge to the notion that literary and genre fiction are somehow mutually exclusive, and the whole books is full of Percy’s advice, wit, and wisdom on the craft of writing. GOOD STUFF. Backlist bump: Refresh, Refresh: Stories by Benjamin Percy Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/listen/shows/allt...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Benoit Lelièvre

    Not your usual nuts-and-bolts "gets from point A to point B" book about writing. This is more of a "make the road from point A to point B" as interesting as possible kind of book. It reminded me of Donald Maass' The Fire in Fiction, in that regard. Sometimes, its fragmented nature made it difficult to care about certain of the more "basic" essays like "enjoy revision" but otherwise Benjamin Percy's (who I have never read) original and contextual outlook on literature was worth more than the Not your usual nuts-and-bolts "gets from point A to point B" book about writing. This is more of a "make the road from point A to point B" as interesting as possible kind of book. It reminded me of Donald Maass' The Fire in Fiction, in that regard. Sometimes, its fragmented nature made it difficult to care about certain of the more "basic" essays like "enjoy revision" but otherwise Benjamin Percy's (who I have never read) original and contextual outlook on literature was worth more than the asking price.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mbogo J

    I noticed a curious thing, I have been reading a lot of books on how to write fiction. I have no intention of ever writing a novel, a more honest assessment I think I lack the ability and the discipline to actually write a novel. No book should lie to you that writing a novel is easy.... I really enjoyed these essays mostly because I could see the writer Benjamin Percy in them and he looked like a fun person. There was some good writing advice, priceless really but the former reason accounts for I noticed a curious thing, I have been reading a lot of books on how to write fiction. I have no intention of ever writing a novel, a more honest assessment I think I lack the ability and the discipline to actually write a novel. No book should lie to you that writing a novel is easy.... I really enjoyed these essays mostly because I could see the writer Benjamin Percy in them and he looked like a fun person. There was some good writing advice, priceless really but the former reason accounts for my high rating. If you have ever read Wikipedia articles you know how soulless writing looks like, drab similar could be produced by a person or machine just, just cardboard writing but then it is one of those small joys of life that you can come across prose that has personality in it, the writer is alive and your reading is a communion with their writing. No machine learning algorithm wrote this. A real writer wrote this. This is the first book I've ever read where action is given more weight over contemplation. You should read this if the story you intend to write rather than a character pensively sipping tea high above the balcony,the window slightly ajar a gentle breeze coating the tea with a cold layer as the storm in a tea cup subdued, produces baby waves a silent ode to time slowly passing us by....instead your story has the character scald the intruder with tea, break the cup into a galaxy of pieces, throw some at the intruding baboons while strangling six cobras with their bare hands. Obviously I have exaggerated a lot and Percy had more tact than yours truly but genre writers, action writers, "popular acclaim writers" will benefit a lot from this. A silent pat on the back to the unknown writer reading this, may be as a distraction from that MS Word tab minimized, tired of the accusatory blinks of the cursor asking you why you are not writing, you got this! If you are having a block add a story line on a troupe of bandit baboons that steal from tourist purses singling out mostly women to dispossess them of crisps and yogurts [this actually happens in Lake Nakuru National Park, deep in the Kenyan heartland] or add something on deep learning AI that goes berserk,no one understands AI anyway not even your editor. You got this. Keep writing, even after all the rejections, keep writing, at the very least you wrote for you and you are the most important reader, everyone else comes second. Keep writing.

  9. 5 out of 5

    L.K. Simonds

    This is the best book on the craft of fiction that I've read. I think that's because Benjamin Percy focuses entirely on what works for readers. He's an unusual guy in the world of literary fiction, coming to it reluctantly from adventurous genre stories, television, and movies. Nevertheless, Percy is well-versed in literature, and I added no fewer than half a dozen books to my Goodreads to-read shelf while I was working my way through Thrill Me. It's apparent what Percy likes is what works. For This is the best book on the craft of fiction that I've read. I think that's because Benjamin Percy focuses entirely on what works for readers. He's an unusual guy in the world of literary fiction, coming to it reluctantly from adventurous genre stories, television, and movies. Nevertheless, Percy is well-versed in literature, and I added no fewer than half a dozen books to my Goodreads to-read shelf while I was working my way through Thrill Me. It's apparent what Percy likes is what works. For the reader. What thrills us and keeps us turning pages. Here are a few of the passages I highlighted: "When a reader first picks up a story, they are like a coma patient - fluttering open their eyes in an unfamiliar world, wondering, where am I, when am I, who am I? The writer has an obligation to quickly and efficiently place the reader in the story." A few pages later, "Just as you should orient us in the beginning of a story, you should orient us throughout. Every time we jump to a new setting (whether that's a character boarding a plane or entering a locker room or dropping through an open manhole), we need to feel immediately stabilized." One of my favorite passages, on symbols that have been overused to evoke mood, "These, of course, are clichés - ready-made symbols with meaning already attached to them. To throw them into a story or an essay or a poem is to lazily roll your cart into the literary Walmart and pull them off the shelf like hundreds of thousands of poets and writers before you." My copy of Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction is a used paperback that was already marked up by another student of craft when I got it. It'll be a lot more marked up before I'm finished with it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    LindaJ^

    It is hard to describe how much I enjoyed this book on how to write fiction. I loved how the Percy made his points by using relatively new books and authors, many of which I've read. I loved how he used movies and personal experience to make his points. This book contains 15 essays that address important points about writing, and reading, fiction. I won't touch on all of them but just on a few of the points that made it hard for me to put this book down. The first essay - Thrill Me - tells It is hard to describe how much I enjoyed this book on how to write fiction. I loved how the Percy made his points by using relatively new books and authors, many of which I've read. I loved how he used movies and personal experience to make his points. This book contains 15 essays that address important points about writing, and reading, fiction. I won't touch on all of them but just on a few of the points that made it hard for me to put this book down. The first essay - Thrill Me - tells Percy's own experience with reading and writing and how he came full circle on the "thrill me" issue. I appreciated his point of view on genre versus literary: "But really, you nerdy fussbudget, when you start to worry about whether someone is literary or genre, or literary crossover (whatever that means), you are devoting valuable brain energy to something that ultimately doesn't matter. These are phantom barricades that serve only to restrict. ... Toss out the worst elements of genre and literary fiction -- and merge the best. We might then create a new taxonomy, so that when you walk into a bookstore, the stock is divided into 'Stories that suck' and 'Stories that will make your mind and heart explode with their goodness.'" The fourth essay - There Will Be Blood: Writing Violence - talks about how to make the reader a participant when you write violence. Often that is done by having the violence take place offstage, i.e., off the page in the reader's imagination. Examples from movies and books/stories are used to demonstrate how this can effectively be done. Authors used to demonstrate how it is well done are Flannery O'Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, and Cormac McCarthy. He uses as bad examples passages from works by Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, noting that "[t]heir flamboyant style aestheticizes the mayhem, as if the authors love what we are meant to despise. They linger on the violence, wallow in the gore, celebrate it to such a degree that I can almost see them smirking, hear them snickering, and they essentially become that kid we all went to grade school with -- Cody: big ears, buzz cut, braces -- who would fake a punch, and then, when you startled, would screech, 'Two for flinching,' and sock you twice in the shoulder. Don't be a Cody. Nobody liked him." But Percy doesn't stop there. He talks about the role violence should play: "Violence is a powerful and simple way to embody conflict. Violence is redemptive. Violence is transformative. But more than that, violence is a necessary reflection of this world and our wounded lives. ... This is the world we live in. You don't have to look far to find horror. And your job as a writer, no matter how uncomfortable, is to occasionally but responsibly shine a lamp lit with blood into those dark corners of human existence." The ninth essay - Sounds Like Writing - talks about style and how it has to fit the character and the situation. In this essay, he starts by using music to make the point. First he uses Johnny Cash's "Five Feet High and Rising" to illustrate how the music and the voice notch "up and up and up, as though aurally climbing onto the furniture, the roof, heightening the anxiety. The style replicates the content." Then he describes how Jimi Hendrix's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock made a political statement expressing "the 1969 revolutionary's cry that the American dream has become the American nightmare" by "pervert[ing] the style of a song so many hold dear. Then he describes how an author can use style to do those same things, using examples of writing by James Baldwin, Annie Dilliard, Anthony Doerr, and Donna Tartt to explain how it can be done. He uses examples of Michael Chabon's writings to show how it can be done superbly and also be overdone so as to put the spotlight on the author and not on the story. He concludes with the advice: "Wherever [your characters are], however they are, should tone the sentences, replicate the experience in a complementary correspondence that will make your reader feel as they do." So why did I find these essays about writing so wonderful? Because they helped me understand why I really loved some books and really did not like others. Perhaps this will help me write better reviews!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tim Weed

    A most worthy craft book, entertainingly written and filled with excellent and useful insightsthough in my view it does have a few weaknesses. Like other craft-book writers with a background in film, Percy seems to operate from the assumption that as related forms of narrative art, movies and novels are interchangeable. In truth the readers and the viewers experience of the two genres are qualitatively different, which is why Im suspicious of craft books that are ostensibly focused on fiction A most worthy craft book, entertainingly written and filled with excellent and useful insights—though in my view it does have a few weaknesses. Like other craft-book writers with a background in film, Percy seems to operate from the assumption that as related forms of narrative art, movies and novels are interchangeable. In truth the reader’s and the viewer’s experience of the two genres are qualitatively different, which is why I’m suspicious of craft books that are ostensibly focused on fiction but nevertheless take many or most of their examples from film. The nature of the distinction is crucial for fiction writers to understand. Fiction’s great strength is its ability to portray the human interior, while film excels at portraying the exterior. In movies, you have no choice but “show don’t tell,” but that’s not the case in fiction, where the famous writing “rule” would more accurately be stated as “show and tell.” This gets to the heart of what fiction can do that film can’t. Novels will never be supplanted by movies, because novels allow us to escape the profound solitude of our own inner lives and experience the world from within the perspective of an alien consciousness. When we become swept up in the vicarious experience a good novel offers, it’s irresistible. It grips us. It can be hard to stop reading. This is the magic of good novels. Everywhere on the planet, even as you read these words, people are being transported and enriched in this way by good fiction—and this entirely different from the ways they are enriched by good film. And this brings me to the point where another of Percy’s apparent operating assumptions misses the mark. Specifically, I don’t accept the idea that by its very nature narrative summary (as opposed to fully dramatized scene) slows momentum or bores the reader. Quite the contrary. Used well—whether to get across backstory or front story or to show the agonized internal processing of a novel’s all-important guiding consciousness—narrative summary is a key vehicle for interiority. It can also be a highly propulsive element in its own right, especially when used in concert with dramatized scene. Another of Percy’s blind spots, possibly related to his failure to make a clearer distinction between film and fiction as narrative arts, is the equivalence he consistently draws between “action” and “drama.” Action and drama are not the same thing! You can have action that is completely devoid of drama (seen a ho-hum Hollywood blockbuster lately?), and you can have high drama that involves very little in the way of physical action. Gripping stories often do not need moments of what Percy calls “blowing up helicopters”—and in fact such moments are often a poor stand-in for drama. It is drama, not action, that is the main storytelling fuel in fiction. Ok, rant over. Please don't let the above quibbles deter you. Percy is an accomplished storyteller with plenty of hard-won wisdom to share, and if you’re looking for a good recent craft book to get the creative juices flowing I do recommend this one!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Embry

    Ive loved Benjamin Percys essays in Poets & Writers magazine, where he evoked the power of thrills and chills, horror and terror to inspire even the most literary of writers. Now hes gathered more than a dozen of his essays on writing into Thrill Me, a volume dedicated to putting the power of genre writing into literary fiction. Or, if you please, showing genre writers how to hone their most cherished tools without descending into clichés. When people ask if I grew up a reader, I say yes, but I’ve loved Benjamin Percy’s essays in Poets & Writers magazine, where he evoked the power of thrills and chills, horror and terror to inspire even the most literary of writers. Now he’s gathered more than a dozen of his essays on writing into Thrill Me, a volume dedicated to putting the power of genre writing into literary fiction. Or, if you please, showing genre writers how to hone their most cherished tools without descending into clichés. “When people ask if I grew up a reader, I say yes, but not the type of reader they image: a small, scholarly child with glasses perched on the end of his nose. . . A book was never far from my hand – balanced on my nightstand, shoved into a back pocket, tucked into the glove compartment of the truck – but usually it was a broken-spined mass-market paperback with an embossed title.” From a boyhood immersed in the words of Zane Grey, Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy; fighting alongside Conan the Cimmerian; zipping breathlessly through hundreds of thousands of pages by the likes of Anne Rice and Stephen King, Percy dropped with a shock into a creative writing class whose rule was: no genre submissions. Miraculously, he survived and indeed fell in love with the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro and more, and realized that in spite of his omnivorous reading, he had failed to understand, “the careful carpentry of storytelling.” It was from those literary writers that he realized the basic rules of story had been in plain sight all along, even in the goriest and most shocking of genre tales. And in Thrill Me, he lays them out for his readers (and fellow writers). First things, though, Thrill Me isn’t a cook book. In fact, at one point Percy assures us that there are no rules. Except there are “rules” which writers are free to break – once they’ve mastered the rules and understand what they’re doing. And if they can make the breaking work. However, for a refresher of “rules,” Percy starts with the first commandment of all storytelling: establish a clear narrative goal, and takes us through the steps needed to develop a sense of urgency in readers (“. . . the most basic reason we read (is) to discover what happens next”). He follows this with discussions of how to stage the kind of “set pieces” – the pivotal scenes “that you cannot forget. . . that (readers) will take with them to their grave.” (Tip: be sure a short story has at least one such scene, a novel at least four.) And of the basic methods for designing suspense; how to deal with backstory (his preference is to eliminate backstory – except of course, when the backstory works); of the importance of setting; and the uses of interior monologue (“There is nothing wrong with characters thinking. . . so long as it is strategically employed”). And yes, he tackles that bugaboo of genre writing: violence. “The concern here is not with what is moral, or right, or proper, but rather with what is effective, asking how depictions of violence best serve a story,” quoting that “dark-hearted godmother of literary fiction,” Flannery O’Connor: “the man in the violent situation reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him.” But lest we forget, Percy warns us that merely splashing buckets of gore across the pages can throw readers out of our stories, in the manner of excessive special effect in movies – “I’m not weeping or laughing or even gripping my armrests . . . I’m simply marveling at the way computers can create illusions.” One of the “rules” of writing – if it feels like writing, cut it – applies as well to depictions of violence as to depictions of pretty scenery. More even than the how-tos of dealing with violence, I give Percy an A for his attitude toward revision. “So much of revision, I’ve discovered, is about coming to terms with . . . letting things go.” After spending a year rewriting his third novel, his editor’s take was “Fantastic. Exactly what we wanted. Now would you mind cutting. . . and fixing. . . and while we’re at it, how about let’s rethink the ending?” It’s enough to make a writer cry. Of laugh, pick up the tools, and try again.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    This is the best book on writing that I have read since Stephen King's On Writing. I thought it was going to be a book about reading fiction, which is more up my alley since I don't write fiction at all (or nonfiction really, other than book "reviews"), but it turned out to be a collection of essays apparently adapted from Percy's college classes on writing. To be honest, I wasn't aware of Percy at all, and had to look up his books to find out what sort of books he writes (horror, thriller, This is the best book on writing that I have read since Stephen King's On Writing. I thought it was going to be a book about reading fiction, which is more up my alley since I don't write fiction at all (or nonfiction really, other than book "reviews"), but it turned out to be a collection of essays apparently adapted from Percy's college classes on writing. To be honest, I wasn't aware of Percy at all, and had to look up his books to find out what sort of books he writes (horror, thriller, literary fiction, short stories...). So I don't know if his fiction is good, but his essays are killer. He lays down the law about keeping the reader interested (no backstory!), eliminating unnecessary detail (forget the reuben, focus on the ninjas), and building suspense throughout the story. He uses lots of examples from current and past novelists, from his own work, and tosses in some personal stories from time to time. I don't know if I'll decide to read some of Percy's fiction now but I will definitely look for any further nonfiction he writes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Macpherson

    Well written, full of a good ideas and advice, I really wish I liked it. It all goes down to the authoritarian voice he used for some of his pronouncements, "Don't use backstory" "Plot out everything" and so on. Not bad ideas but it shouldn't be everyone and then he listed the great writers who broke his rules and he forgave them because they are great writers and they can get away with such transgressions because they are great writers and we mortals with keyboards should not attempt to do such Well written, full of a good ideas and advice, I really wish I liked it. It all goes down to the authoritarian voice he used for some of his pronouncements, "Don't use backstory" "Plot out everything" and so on. Not bad ideas but it shouldn't be everyone and then he listed the great writers who broke his rules and he forgave them because they are great writers and they can get away with such transgressions because they are great writers and we mortals with keyboards should not attempt to do such things because we are not great writers. With public school and college and grad school I have spent 22 years being told do this and do that. I think I am done being told to follow these rules and that certain people don't have follow that rule because they are god like wordsmiths and you, bucko, are not. I like writing. I enjoy the act. I want to do it well, but I guess the part that "thrills me" is when I enjoy trying, doing, failing, writing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cristina

    I have not read a writing book in a long, long time. I recently felt like I needed a shot in the arm. I picked this up at a local bookstore. It was the best thing I could have done. From the moment he began discussing merging the best of literary and genre, I felt like Percy helped me let go of inhibitions. He pulls from all example of storytelling and allows us a glimpse into his own writing journey with its ups and downs. I just needed this at this time, a kind of rooting for the underdog, no I have not read a writing book in a long, long time. I recently felt like I needed a shot in the arm. I picked this up at a local bookstore. It was the best thing I could have done. From the moment he began discussing merging the best of literary and genre, I felt like Percy helped me let go of inhibitions. He pulls from all example of storytelling and allows us a glimpse into his own writing journey with its ups and downs. I just needed this at this time, a kind of rooting for the underdog, no nonsense, how-to guide. Thank you, Mr. Percy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    Pretty weird, in my opinion! It reminded me of A Million Little Pieces in that it said much more to me about the author than it did about its theme. Here is a guy who frequently disparages literary fiction but uses it exclusively when citing examples of good writing. A guy who reveres genre fiction but rarely even mentions it, specifically. A guy who mainly uses his thoughts about movies to make his points about good storytelling, never names the screenwriters, and sometimes seems not to realize Pretty weird, in my opinion! It reminded me of A Million Little Pieces in that it said much more to me about the author than it did about its theme. Here is a guy who frequently disparages literary fiction but uses it exclusively when citing examples of good writing. A guy who reveres genre fiction but rarely even mentions it, specifically. A guy who mainly uses his thoughts about movies to make his points about good storytelling, never names the screenwriters, and sometimes seems not to realize that his faves were based on books. Also, he presents his opinions about writing as if they should be taken as gospel, which is mental. I can't guess who this book is even for. PS: we get it. Ya love Rocky. Goddamn.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Bursey

    This book is billed as "an urgent and entertaining book on craft." It's not billed as a how-to book, nor is there a reason given for its existence. Those who want to know what a genre writer thinks of plot, character development, setting, and so, and who share Percy's belief that those are essential features of a particular type of "thrill me" short story or novel--not anyone who thinks ideas or style are thrilling in and of themselves--may find this book useful. Why 2 stars? Because it does what This book is billed as "an urgent and entertaining book on craft." It's not billed as a how-to book, nor is there a reason given for its existence. Those who want to know what a genre writer thinks of plot, character development, setting, and so, and who share Percy's belief that those are essential features of a particular type of "thrill me" short story or novel--not anyone who thinks ideas or style are thrilling in and of themselves--may find this book useful. Why 2 stars? Because it does what it sets out to do. More on it at a later date.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Terrance Shaw

    Theres a new volume to add to the first shelf of books on the craft of writing. Benjamin Percys Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction is worthy to stand alongside such classics as Stephen Kings On Writing and Ursula K. LeGuinns Steering the Craft; books that not only offer invaluable advice, but ultimately expand the mind, inspiring us to question our most deeply-entrenched assumptions about literaturewhat it is, what it isnt, whats good, whats badour prejudices about processwhat works, what doesntall There’s a new volume to add to the first shelf of books on the craft of writing. Benjamin Percy’s ‘Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction’ is worthy to stand alongside such classics as Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and Ursula K. LeGuinn’s ‘Steering the Craft’; books that not only offer invaluable advice, but ultimately expand the mind, inspiring us to question our most deeply-entrenched assumptions about literature—what it is, what it isn’t, what’s good, what’s bad—our prejudices about process—what works, what doesn’t—all the creative-writing-course clichés and stultifying conventional wisdom that narrows our outlook and limits our potential even as it smothers the creative spark we hope to nurture. What’s the difference between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction, and are the two categories mutually exclusive? The worst of genre fiction according to Percy “features formulaic plots, pedestrian language, paper-thin characters, gender and ethnic stereotypes and a general lack of diversity…” Literary fiction at its worst “features a pile of pretty sentences that add up to nothing happening…” A fairly grim, if acutely accurate, assessment; there seems precious little hope or redemption on either path, and even less possibility of reconciliation. “But why not flip the equation?” Percy asks. “Toss out the worst of genre and literary fiction—and merge the best…” This is the extraordinary, some might say counterintuitive, premise of Percy’s argument, what makes ‘Thrill Me’ not only unique but indispensable. “If I’m going to align with anyone,” Percy declares, “it’s with … [those authors] who make an effort to be both a writer *and* a storyteller, someone who puts their muscle into artful technique and compulsive readability.” And Percy shows us precisely what he means, offering generous examples of exceptionally well-written and excitingly-told stories ranging across the literary/genre spectrum from Cormac McCarthy, Shirley Jackson, and Tim O’Brien to Michael Chabon, Pam Houston, and George R.R. Martin, not ignoring the rich vein of contemporary film and novelistic television. In each chapter, these examples are used to illustrate solutions to the problems every storyteller must face at one time or another; creating a sense of urgency in a narrative, finding the language appropriate to stage an effective set piece, dealing with issues arising from the portrayal of violence, employing setting and detail to “make the extraordinary ordinary’, designing suspense, knowing when to incorporate backstory (or not), the use of artful repetition…and so, so much more. As in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, autobiography is employed as a vehicle for insight, a framework for instruction, the writer’s personal experience illuminating broader points about process in an engaging narrative that reads like the best coming-of-age fiction. As a boy, the author relates, “I had too much empathy; it was a superpower (as a budding writer) and a disability (as a functional human being).” But Percy is wise enough to eschew the one-size-fits-all approach to creativity, the arrogant assumption that the experience of one individual somehow translates into universal truth. Nor is Percy afraid to gore the sacred cows of contemporary fiction, fearless—and trenchantly precise—in his criticisms of semi-canonized writers like Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Chabon, yet also lavish in his praise of those same authors where praise is due. Like Ursula K. LeGuinn in Steering the Craft, Percy draws strong parallels between music and writing, citing Aaron Copland’s description of the listening experience (on the sensual, expressive, and purely musical or cerebral levels) and showing how the same principles can apply to a reader’s enjoyment of fiction. Like LeGuinn, he explains how types of punctuation may be equated to musical rests of varying lengths. He invites us to appreciate the rhythmic richness of language, the visceral effects of well-chosen words, and the natural sense of momentum in a well-crafted phrase: “Tone refers not only to voice, but to music, the foot-tapping rhythm of the words. Dialogue is typically staccato [fast-paced, marked] while narrative is typically legate [smoothly flowing at a more leisurely pace]...” Chock-a-block with eye-opening insight and practical advice conveyed in a fresh, down-to-earth style, ‘Thrill Me’ is a must-read for all aspiring writers of dramatic fiction and the next best thing to a refresher course for more experienced authors. Enthusiastically recommended!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor Roth

    One of the most helpful books on craft I've read. Percy cites so many examples to demonstrate various applications of the lessons - from poetry, novels, screenplays, and short stories. He also chooses some great real life stories to build up to concepts, which make the essays really engaging and give them a logical flow. I appreciate how Percy has clearly learned from both literary and genre fiction, and pulls the best from either side of the spectrum. Many craft books feel repetitive, but this One of the most helpful books on craft I've read. Percy cites so many examples to demonstrate various applications of the lessons - from poetry, novels, screenplays, and short stories. He also chooses some great real life stories to build up to concepts, which make the essays really engaging and give them a logical flow. I appreciate how Percy has clearly learned from both literary and genre fiction, and pulls the best from either side of the spectrum. Many craft books feel repetitive, but this one put the advice the best way I've seen it and offered new advice (the importance of writing character's jobs, how to and not to write violence - not just the usual "don't use so many adverbs" or whatever). The book spoke to a lot of my questions about writing, and I'm walking away with actionable steps toward improving my fiction. Some reviews mention he seems overly prescriptive in his rules, but I want to counter that. From page 95: "I know, I know: you don't agree with me and you can think of ten thousand awesome examples [that violate this rule] ... Keep in mind that I often make loud, growly pronouncements about things. 'Do this,' I tell my students. 'But never do that.' My hope is, maybe a week or a month or a year later, they will be seated at the computer, composing a story, and when they violate one of my rules, the screen will open up and my face will emerge and say, 'Doooon't doooo thaaaat.' Think of it as a more aggressive version of Microsoft Word's AutoCorrect, the squiggly green underline replaced by a bellowing spectator. The truth, of course, is that if you're good enough, you can do anything. William Gay can use backstory, William Trevor can violate point of view mid-scene, Alice Munro can write a short story that takes place over several decades, not because they're ignorant of the risk, but because their writing is so good it transcends the violation." He IS prescriptive, but he explains his reasons for doing so - you need to know the rules! And you can't get away with breaking them unless you're really good. If you don't like that advice, you probably need to humble yourself. Learn to walk before you can run, as they say. Push yourself and your work, but do so wisely, with thoughtfulness and strategy and training. The rules exist because in most cases, they're the best practice! TL;DR I loved this book and think it really helped me, even (especially) the rules, which perhaps one day I'll break with confidence and precision and it'll be worth it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Great reminders and useful information. I also have mixed feelings about this one. I wasn't sure about his advice on "don't do this, and don't do that. . ." and then he goes on to talk about some of the greats who did what he said not to do; the beautiful rule breakers. I did appreciate his own personal history with writing as that part was written with humor.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nate Berneking

    This book truly changed my life as a writer. Percy takes everything I've ever heard in classes, workshops and conferences and boils it down in compelling, easy to read essays. Every writer needs this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mindy Goorchenko

    I recommend this to anyone writing fiction. I am going through the trauma of editing the first draft of my first novel, and rather than wallowing in the mediocrity of it all, I have a perspective from this recent read which gives me direction and confidence. Not only is Thrill Me well-written; it proffers an appropriate paradigm shift in regards to common problems in fiction. I recommend this to anyone writing fiction. I am going through the trauma of editing the first draft of my first novel, and rather than wallowing in the mediocrity of it all, I have a perspective from this recent read which gives me direction and confidence. Not only is “Thrill Me” well-written; it proffers an appropriate paradigm shift in regards to common problems in fiction.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Skyler Greyson

    Fantastic book. I had never read an essay book, and never thought I would, until Thrill Me. It read like an adventure, from cover to cover. It's witty, funny, insightful, honest, and thrilling. I can truthfully say that this book changed my writing for the better. 5/5

  24. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Wakeman

    Explication, inspiration, and encouragement. Three things I like in a craft book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jen (LOHF/Book Den)

    A few thoughts soon!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Moore

    Terrific advice with compelling examples.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Monica Drake

    I adore this how-to essay collection. So good, so fun, so spot-on.

  28. 4 out of 5

    RoadKing50

    Best craft book ever for writing impactful stories. After the essays on urgency and suspense, you'll need to take a couple Valium to calm down (after writing a killer story first).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    Essential reading for anyone interested in narrative craft. I've had the good fortune of hearing Benjamin Percy deliver lectures based on several of the essays in this book. I think the thing that stood out to me most when hearing him in person and again when reading this book is his dedication to understanding narrative structure. As he explains in one essay, if he watches a movie and likes it, he'll find the screenplay and read through it, taking notes on how the story works. He just doesn't Essential reading for anyone interested in narrative craft. I've had the good fortune of hearing Benjamin Percy deliver lectures based on several of the essays in this book. I think the thing that stood out to me most when hearing him in person and again when reading this book is his dedication to understanding narrative structure. As he explains in one essay, if he watches a movie and likes it, he'll find the screenplay and read through it, taking notes on how the story works. He just doesn't like a story, he is compelled to find out why he likes it. His personal writing process is just as meticulous. But don't let that make you think he's all form and no fun. Thrill Me is as enjoyable to read as it is informative. Percy's writing is urgent and eager, and you'll have to keep yourself from turning the pages too quickly, lest you breeze over an insight or miss a revelation. That's what this book is: a revelation. More than any other book on the writing craft that I've read (and there are lots of those), Thrill Me makes abstract concepts transparent, like building suspense or creating memorable moments. Percy is a cataloger of the ways stories work, a conceptual librarian, if you will. Fortunately, you only have to check out this one book to tap into Percy's meticulous mind.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Artur Nowrot

    Very mixed feelings about this one. I highlighted some quotes, but overall I think I have a very different sensibility than the author. Maybe because I appreciated genre first, literary fiction second, and the book seems to be aimed towards MFA students who turn their noses up at genre; maybe because my stories are not really plot-oriented and I'd rather cultivate my own approach; or maybe because I'm just too blind to see good advice and take it to heart. Either way, the beginning was very Very mixed feelings about this one. I highlighted some quotes, but overall I think I have a very different sensibility than the author. Maybe because I appreciated genre first, literary fiction second, and the book seems to be aimed towards MFA students who turn their noses up at genre; maybe because my stories are not really plot-oriented and I'd rather cultivate my own approach; or maybe because I'm just too blind to see good advice and take it to heart. Either way, the beginning was very strong, the middle irritated me to no end, and the end was okay. I think three stars are a pretty good reflection of my overall feelings.

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