Review: The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

IMG_20160531_181721Publication: October 1st 2015
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Pages: 286
Source: Bookmobile
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Supernatural, Paranormal, Magic, Magical Realism, Romance, Writing Resource, Anthology, Short Stories
Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

Among my family and a few close friends, it’s no secret that I hope to be an author one day. And with that hope, I’ve tried to read everything I could to become a better writer with little success. The writing “how to” books I have stumbled across were written more like technical manuals that gave advice but didn’t actually show how to use the advice in actual creative writing.

I read Stiefvater’s, Gratton’s, and Yovanoff’s anthology on short story writing The Curiosities last year and fell in love with it. I loved seeing how these three very different authors each with their own unique style come up with stories which originated from the same prompt, and I loved reading their comments and edits on each of the stories.

After reading, I found out that The Anatomy of Curiosity would be published in late 2015 and would focus on novel (or novella) writing. This was the exact type of book on writing I was looking for, one that not only gave advice for how to write but gave examples through the authors’ own writing for how they progressed through their stories.

To better explain the book, I’ll highlight each authors story and what they hope to get across to readers.

“Ladylike” by Maggie Stiefvater (characterization)

Aside from Stiefvater’s short stories in The Curiosities and The Raven Cycle series, I’m not too familiar with her work or voice and am still unsure of whether or not I’m a fan of her stories or not. Some of her work I adore while others (like The Raven Cycle series) leave me disappointed or bored. This story didn’t help my in-between feelings for her writing. Some parts of the story I loved like the world, Petra and Daniel’s characterization, the twisted ending (SPOILER: I wouldn’t know whether to feel horrified or flattered that I didn’t get eaten either Petra) and the subtle theme of colonization (which reminded me of a subplot in The Raven Cycle series) that were present in the story, but my overall feeling of the story was…meh.

Stiefvater’s advice on characterization was fantastic though. I loved reading how she came up with Geraldine and Petra’s opposing character traits, as well as reading her notes throughout about subtle changes she made in lines and motives to better show character development throughout the story. It made me realize the many ways characters can change from the first to final draft, which is something I’ve never thought about.

“The Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton (world building)

Like Stiefvater, I’ve only read Gratton’s short stories from The Curiosities so I’m actually even less familiar with her works and voice than Stiefvater. I will honestly say though that while reading The Curiosities I wasn’t a huge fan of her stories. I did enjoy the fantastic worlds she created in them and the plot lines that existed in those worlds, but their were only a couple of stories that actually drew me in. I felt the same way with “The Desert Canticle,” it just never sucked me in as I wanted it to. The world of her story was amazing though and it makes sense why she was in charge of giving advice on world building. As the story continued, I did enjoy the themes of gender and sexual identity and the struggle that can come to understand and accept them came about. I thought it was handled very well and in a way that wasn’t preachy but teachy (can I rhyme? Too late.).

Gratton seems to create intricate and immense worlds so easily and  out of the three writers in the anthology she was easily the most skilled in giving advice on it. While I didn’t fully agree on her advice in some aspects, and some points in her story on world building made me confused with the comments she made versus what was happening in the story, I did learn much more about world building than I have from other writing how to books.

“Variations on Drowning” by Brenna Yovanoff (ideas)

Brenna Yovanoff is my favourite and I’ve only read her short stories (and this novella) from The Curiosities. I always got excited when her stories were next in the first anthology, her voice is so different from Stiefvater and Gratton and her stories really stuck out to me. I really need to read some of her novels.

Yovanoff’s portion of the anthology was my favourite but also unconventional. It differed greatly from the other two where instead of a full 100 pages of novella it was an eight chapter guide of where ideas come from and how ideas stay and change when writing a story. Her section was definitely my favourite because unlike Stiefvater and Gratton who spoke in speech bubbles what they had changed, readers actually get to see how Yovanoff’s story changes. She explains her personal experience which stemmed the idea for her story, shows reader’s the first draft of her story, and then includes the completed draft. It was so interesting to see the writing process so truly, to feel Yovanoff’s frustration and struggle with finding out exactly what she wanted to write and the satisfaction when she figures it out. The final draft of her story was eerily beautiful and creepy (like most of her stories I’ve read) and my favourite in the anthology.

I really need to read some all of her novels.


The Anatomy of Curiosity is a must have book for all aspiring authors. It’s informative, fun, and completely mesmerizing. Even if you aren’t interested in writing should read this book for the novellas alone which easily suck readers in to the individual worlds of these three writer’s stories.


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