Damn Fine Story – Chuck Wendig

As you might guess from the title, Chuck Wendig uses whatever words best suit him at any given time, and some of them are of Anglo-Saxon origin. This book, and – since I quote him more than I probably ought – this review are to be avoided if that bothers you.

It’s probably a little funny that I keep on reading books about writing when I haven’t written a word of any significance in … oh, a few years now. My novels have languished, to say the least. But I am still endlessly fascinated by these books of writing advice – I did feel like a writer once. “It is necessary to know where the comma goes, and how sentence construction works to create pace and rhythm, and how to know the rules in order to break them and to break the rules in order to know why we needed them in the first damn place.” Yes, exactly – I’ll take care of commas, don’t you worry.

“Some of this book will help you. Other parts will be worthless to you. Discard what you find distasteful, and hold the rest to your chest like a beloved child. Do whatever works.” “Real talk time? A lot of writing, storytelling, and even publishing advice is bullshit—but never forget, bullshit fertilizes. Ideas have value to those who can use them. So even if I just make you challenge or reconsider your processes without adopting the specific pieces of advice, hey, I’d call that a win.” Writing: “It’s a trick. A ruse. And in order for it to work, it has to feel real. We can’t see the wires or the mirrors.”


Wendig uses Star Wars to make several points – which is brilliant. Odds are if you’re reading this book, you know Star Wars well enough to know exactly what he’s talking about when he discusses story structure. This is good writing as well as good teaching.

I have a huge number of quotes saved from this book – and as I always say (sorry, to those paying attention), if I have a lot of quotes and notes it means that a book was either really bad or really good. For this one, a lot of the quotes are because they felt like Chuck Wendig found a way to scrape the thoughts right out of my brain and word them better than I ever dreamed of.

In discussing character – possibly the strongest part of this book, or at least my favorite – he echoes something Joss Whedon (I think?) said in the commentaries on the Firefly DVD’s (if you haven’t listened to those, you need to. If you haven’t seen Firefly, I have nothing more to say to you): “Every character believes himself the protagonist.” It’s an important point, and an attitude I’ve found in some of my favorite writers. Barbara Hambly, for example. I always have the feeling that if the focus of the story were to turn on any given character, even an unnamed background character – that woman herding geese, that man gossiping over beer – that a book could feature any one of them – and it would be a really good book. Her featured characters are never pigeonholed into “sidekick” or “quirky friend” (though there are plenty of those) – they’re the protagonists of their own stories, and it’s obvious.

“Sometimes you just have to start telling the story. The act of writing, of telling the tale, is also the act of laying traps. And it is in these traps that we capture our muses. In other words, we capture them, they don’t capture us.”

Wendig goes directly from a joke involving Patrick Swayze movies to – well, this: “A story can exist without a character, but only in the way that a human body can exist without a brain or a heart. You take those things away, the body remains a body, and it remains, by some definition, a human one. It just isn’t alive. It has no purpose, it has no thought, and it certainly has no soul.” (EXACTLY.) “I often refer to a ‘give-a-fuck’ factor when writing characters — meaning, we need reasons to care.” This is why I hate reading books when none of the characters connect with me. I don’t have to like all of them – or even any of them, I suppose – but I need to be given reason to keep reading, to be interested in what happens next, and next, and after that. “Forget liking them, but do remember that we have to live with them.” Well, yes, thanks, that does say it better than I did. “Look for the little story. Look for the story about people. Then you can wrap it in a generous swaddling of space ninjas and swamp monsters and explodey-boom-boom-pyoo-pyoo-zap.”

And, obviously, this book is really, really funny at times.

If I used all the quotes I saved in this review, it would save me saying much – they speak for themselves, loudly, about the quality of this book – but it would also probably get me sued. And this would be even longer than my usual. Which is long. But I will leave you with one more quote that proves that Chuck Wendig is brilliant and this book is to be taken seriously: “The Princess Bride, by the way. Go watch it right now. Never don’t watch that movie when you have the chance.” EXACTLY.

“Rock out with your Spock out, you crazy diamond.”

My thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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