wool cover

Reading for Writing – Wool

Wool hugh howeyby Hugh Howey

One of the first major success stories of the self-publishing revolution, Wool is the tale of a post nuclear war dystopia where what remains of the human race is confined underground in a giant silo stretching deep into the earth. The silo lives under strict protocols which begin to unravel when a new Sheriff investigates a recent series of murders.

A large part of what made this book compelling was its surprising twists, so SPOILERS AHEAD:

What I learned, Part 1 – Bold choices early in a story can give a reader a sense of uneasiness which can carry through the whole book. The first two main viewpoint characters, the original Sheriff and the original Mayor are both killed within the first 1/3 of the novel. Because they are both quite likable and resourceful, as a reader we can never be quite sure that our newest main character is going to survive. It was a risky choice because it may have alienated readers, but I found it to be very successful.

What I learned, Part 2 – A sense of loss can make a character sympathetic. Every ‘good’ character in the book has loss and regret and a desperate determination to do the right thing in the present. These old losses make characters very relatable because we all have moments we wish we could have handled differently.

What I learned, Part 3 – White room syndrome. The setting for Wool was always a bit hard to picture, a weakness I also tend to have as a screenwriter turned novelist (as screenplays put a premium on brevity). This may have been an effect Howey was trying to achieve though, as it reminded me of both THX-1138 and 1984 (which I haven’t read in decades but remember having almost no idea how to picture the setting). The lesson I learned is not to be afraid of focusing on extra setting details, especially early in a book. Howey spent the most time describing the irradiated valley just outside the Silo, and so in many ways that was the most vivid setting in the book.