Nonfiction · review · Review Copy · writing

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy


Paperback, 173 pages
Expected publication: October 18th 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Raincoast Books

I have been, recently, reading a spate of books on writing by authors because I learn better through example rather than instruction. So in a partnership with Graywolf, over the next few months, I will bring to you guys my reviews of some of “The Art Of…..” series by Graywolf Press as well as the odd book about writing (not necessarily from Graywolf).

The first of these reviews is from Benjamin Percy who I was not at all familiar with and whose fiction I still haven’t read mostly because he writes horror and I don’t read horror. What? I happen to like sleeping.

Let’s have the details before we continue.

Thrill Me begins with a essay about Percy’s own life, a glimpse of the things that inspired him and made him the person and writer he is. One thing I know for sure, he was a terrible big brother. As a younger sister with two older brothers as well, I fully empathize with his younger sister.

The chapters following the first are less essays on fiction and more an explorations about the techniques that make for a good novel. Let’s be clear that we are talking genre fiction here and not the so-called literary fiction.

The second chapter deals with suspense and discusses the times required to create suspense in a novel so the reader is compelled to continue reading. Percy lays down clear rules that lead to good fiction, for example, creating urgency and deadlines to give tension to the plot.

The third chapter discusses set pieces; the pieces in a work of fiction imbued with particular (if not logical) importance. These can be anything from an orange that appears just before anything important happens in a book or something benign like a smile on a particular character’s face. Sort of like a cue or a low-level foreshadowing. I didn’t know this technique at all and can’t wait to try it out in my next project.

The fourth chapter which talks about the importance of being judicious in your portrayal of violence lest you make your reader insensitive to it has been very helpful to me. I was stuck on this scene where someone has to die a particularly gruesome death but I didn’t think I wanted to describe it but felt I had to. Percy’s chapter helped me write my way through the scene and I feel particularly happy about the result.

Thrill Me tackles a whole lot of writing techniques like designing suspense, fictional journeys, flashback scenes, and modulation. While I do not agree with all his advice (styles differ and what works for one writer may not work for another), I appreciated all of it. It is the first time someone has so clearly articulated answers to my questions in book form. The look at how another writer writes is fascinating. His close reading of many other texts plus the discussion that follows his readings is also a treasure trove for both writers and literature students.

If you are a writer or are interesting in honing your craft, you should definitely pick up a copy of Thrill Me. You won’t regret it. I know I don’t.



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