Home > Uncategorized > Good Books: Smoke and Mirrors & Fragile Things

Good Books: Smoke and Mirrors & Fragile Things

I’ve been having some writers block on my novel recently. I’ve been working on the first draft for nearly five months at this point, writing almost every day, and it’s gotten to the point where everything I’m writing seems forced. Part of it is stress I guess, but mostly I think that I’ve been working on it so long that it’s hard to get immersed in it and hard to ignore the sense that everything I’m writing is crap. Most people who have to write anything fall into this trap every once in a while. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before, but it is still annoying. So I did what I usually do when I’m in this situation. I read something I enjoy to relax my mind for a few days and to remind myself what good writing looks like.

The two books I turned to in this situation are actually two collections of short stories by Neil Gaiman, Smoke & Mirrors and Fragile Things. I’ve always loved short stories and Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers, so it’s a no-brainer I enjoy these collections. And I’m glad I did because they do a good job of showing well-done storytelling and interesting concepts that really helped restart my brain.

Neil Gaiman, in case you don’t know, is the writer of the popular Sandman comic series, as well as many popular books such as American Gods and Coraline. I enjoy almost everything he’s written, but oddly enough I think his short stories are what I enjoy the most. Don’t get me wrong, all of his novels are fantastic, but I think his short stories play more to Neil Gaiman’s strengths. Neil Gaiman clearly has a very robust imagination and can build stories on pretty interesting concepts (one of my favorite short stories in Smoke & Mirrors, for example, has a fantastic concept: a detective story… in Heaven. With angels). A lot of his short stories pretty much allow him to showcase these concepts in an interesting way with believable characters, without having to introduce other elements that distract from the main purpose of the story.

I think one of Gaiman’s biggest strengths as a story teller is his skill at being able to “show, not tell,” and his short stories make that a lot clearer. The majority of Gaiman’s stories in general contain very little exposition. He’s very good at showing the reader what is going on without having to explain it and very skilled at leaving stuff to the reader’s imagination without it being frustrating or disappointing the reader. Almost all of his short stories carry this to some extent, so if you’re a writer, its very enjoyable his stories just to see how he’s able to pull that off.

And, just to put it simply, they’re all very good stories. There are some stories in both collections I feel are a bit weaker than others, but there are none that I outright dislike. I do have a few favorites though. In Smoke & Mirrors, my favorite stories are “Murder Mysteries”, the detective story I already mentioned above (which is probably the best story in both collections that shows Gaiman being able to show things without explaining them), and “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale,” a darkly humorous story about a man who tries to hire a hitman and is convinced to buy assassinations in bulk. In Fragile Things, my favorite story is “How to Talk to Girls a Parties”. The basic plot of the story isn’t that complex (two young guys go to talk to chicks and find out that all the girls are humanoid aliens) but the character interaction is solid and the background on the characters is so interesting that it leaves you thinking about them for a while. While those are my favorites, each story is well done and hints at a much larger world than what is shown. I think the best short stories are the kind that leave you wanting more, to see another window into that world or into the characters lives to find out what happened, and Gaiman is a master of that.

I can safely say that reading these books helped me out of my writing funk and I don’t think anyone should miss out on them. If you are a fan of fantasy or horror, pick these collections up.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 14, 2011 at 1:35 am

    Sounds like a great read, of course, it’s hard to go wrong with Neil Gaiman.

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