Archive | 11:20 PM

Book Review: Blink by Malcom Gladwell

7 Sep

Just finished a book so it’s time for my first book review! Everyone strap in tight.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcom Gladwell

Gladwell was inspired to write this book after he was randomly stopped on the streets of New York and told he looked like a serial rapist the police were searching for. Upon seeing the photo of the suspect, Gladwell realized that the only thing he had incommon with the picture was his unruly curly hair. It made him think, how was I mistaken for this other man?

The result is Blink. In this work, Gladwell examines the ability of the human brain to make decisions in two seconds or less. If a piece of art is real or a fake, if the suspect of a police chase is pulling a gun or a wallet, and even our association between woman and family; all can be explained by the science of the brain. Gladwell works to explain that our brain has an overwhelming capacity to make a split second decision that we are unable to rationalize with drawn-out thought, but that those decisions are biased and have to be made under certain circumstances to be accurate.

I can’t remember why I put this book on my To Read shelf, but it went up there as soon as I got on Goodreads. It’s been sitting at the taunting #1 spot for months and I’m glad I finally conquered it. Gladwell has a way of giving you science, facts, and studies in a narrative voice that reads more like fiction. He’s a gifted storyteller. His examples have already been used on my co-workers and husband to make them see that I can tell in a second that they’re lying about where my highlighter got moved to.

Gladwell’s conclusion seems to be that we are generally able to assess quality quickly, but our ability to predict long-term results or the proper response to a crisis are muddled. For example, a conductor can pick out their next classical trombonist in two seconds, but a counselor can’t tell you how long your marriage will last after meeting you. There are various factors that impact our ability to make many of these decisions. If the conductor can see the trombonist, their posture or hairstyle might influence him before the trombonist plays a note. The couple might hold hands and avoid fights, but a breakdown of their facial expressions and conversation might reveal that they’re not very stable.

I’ll stop here before I spoil all of Gladwell’s wonderful examples. Just as a teaser, you’ll meet the women who can foil the Pepsi Challenge every time and a man who can explain what each muscle contraction in your face says about your emotional situation. Read on, fellow bibliophiles!

Quick read, recommended to those who are wary of non-fiction but are feeling adventurous, helped me feel smart.

 

Four out of five stars.

 

Novel Girls: Voice, Description, and Motivation

7 Sep

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a group of other females around my age who are also aspiring writers.  Because we’re all working on long-form fiction, we decided to call ourselves the Novel Girls.  (It’s a novel idea, HAH!)

We try to meet weekly on Thursdays to have dinner and critique each other’s work.  There are four of us, NJ, KK, and SG.  SG’s been on an extended business trip for the last six weeks, so it was just NJ, KK and I last night.

There were three main writing points we went over last night that I wanted to note here, either for my later reference or to help another writer.

  1. Distinctive voice: KK shared a great piece with us last night that rotated between three settings and four characters.  The opening scene was a female character and she used some wonderful description, internal dialogue, and flashback to give the character a very distinctive internal voice.  The next time we saw this character, she was in a scene with three other people and her voice was a little lost in all the action.  The other characters were busy having a conversation and this female was standing by, listening.  It almost seemed to me like KK had rushed through writing that part because she didn’t give the character the distinctive voice she’d worked so hard to give her in the first scene.  This helped me remember that my characters have personalities and will react to everything around them.  It’s important to be sure this personality shines through in every scene and that they have an appropriate reaction to the things they hear and see. even if they’re not narrating that scene.
  2. There’s a limit to what one line of description can show: NJ shared a piece that started with two female co-workers at the end of the day, getting ready to leave for work.  NJ described one as having a large shoe collection that matched her outfits each day and the other as having a wrinkled business suit.  A few lines later, she wrote that unlike the first, the second character didn’t care about her appearance.  This one took me a second to process because to me, a business suit with wrinkles at the end of the day didn’t imply slovenliness.  With one or two lines more of description, the character could be more developed, come across as a careless dresser, and it might not even be necessary to say she didn’t care about her appearance.  This made me realize that my character’s clothes aren’t even described very much in my text and that how a character dresses can tell a lot about them.  (For reference, my book takes place in 1920s Chicago.)  I recently was invited by an acquaintance to visit her grandmother’s old house, where she still has some of the clothing worn in the late 20s and early 30s.  I hope that after seeing these clothes, I can find a way to show my character’s personalities through their simple clothing choices and be a little less ‘show-y’ and more ‘tell-y.’
  3. Character motivation needs to be strong, even if the character isn’t speaking: I have a scene where my male protagonist is trying to evade a female character he doesn’t like AND the scene is narrated by my female protagonist (confused a bit?).  KK’s comment was that she didn’t understand why the male protagonist was doing what he was doing; she couldn’t find his motivation!  Our ultimate decision was that I should switch the order of a few scenes, but it made me realize that in scenes where the non-narrating character needs some motivation, it takes a lot of attention to detail to make sure that motivation is clear.  It could be done with dialogue, description, etc., but it needs to be there.

 

I’m not sure if this helps anyone else, but it sure helps me to think through it!  What’s some advice you can share about writing?  Maybe it will help me with my next critique group!  Please leave a comment and share.