This was my craft book pick for my second term at the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction master's program.
One of the things I often struggle with inThis was my craft book pick for my second term at the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction master's program.
One of the things I often struggle with in my fiction, especially in long fiction, is the meandering scene. Sometimes things just draaaag in my writing. I've come to realize that part of that is sometimes a lack of focus in my scenes. They're just *there*.
I'm somewhat of an organic writer. I don't tend to plot much and while I do have an idea of where things are going, and several scenes in my head that I would like to hit, it can change without notice. So the idea of sitting down and planning scenes kind of scares me.
But I chose this book to get an idea of what a scene should have in it. And thank goodness, it's not about sitting down and plotting out your scenes a head of time. Sure, there are things you should think about when sitting down to write a scene, but it gives more tips about how to fix scenes (or just get rid of them) once you've written them. It'll come in handy when I sit down to revise my thesis.
And it did improve my writing already. I ended up going back over a scene that felt flat in the pages I'm working on this month and make it serve the story.
So, what's a scene? Ms. Scofield defines a scene as follows:
Scenes are those passages in narrative when we slow down and focus on an event in the story so that we are "in the moment" with the characters in action.
Scenes are blocks of action that serve the telling of the story. This is one thing that I have to remember--every part of the story should be there to serve the story. Sometimes I end up with scenes that flesh out a character--for me as the author--but does the story no good. Those are the scenes that need to be ripped out or summarized.
There are four basic elements to a scene: 1) event and emotion 2) function 3) structure 4) pulse
Yes, the first element there is two things. It's because they're intertwined. In a scene your characters act on and react to events. Characters do and feel. And there should be a reason behind what the characters are doing/feeling that furthers the story (that's element two).
Scenes have structure: beginnings, middles, and ends. In a way, they are little stories themselves, though connected to a much larger piece.
Now, the fourth element, I had heard bantered about, but never understood. Scenes have pulses. What's a pulse? It's a bit more fuzzy than the other elements. It's what makes the story stand out on the page, the heartbeat that keeps it moving forward. It's the tension.
The book goes into describing each of these elements in detail, provides examples and exercises, as well as questions to ask when it comes to your own work.
The most useful section I found was the section on beats. That's another writing term I heard a lot, but didn't understand. What the heck is a beat? It turns out that a beat is a little piece of action and reaction in a scene. All the beats add up to the event of the scene. It's the physical actions of the character that drives the event forward.
Ms. Scofield also talks about conflict and tension, which I'll admit to skimming over a bit. We got the Big Tension Primer from Donald Maass my first term at Seton Hill, so much was repetition of what he focused on. What was useful was a section called Negotiation: An alternate view of conflict. This part of the book talked about tension arising not from characters being in angry conflict all the time, but in character negotiation:
[...] an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the whole interaction falls apart
It's a slightly different way at looking at conflict--that of a process of change and resolution.
Ms Scofield also has a section of the book devoted to reading for technique, that is, studying other writer's scenes, as well as studying your own scenes with an eye to improve them. She condenses the tips in the book down to a few pages of questions to ask as you look at your own writing. This is a goldmine of revision-fodder. I'll certainly be using her tips and questions on one of my revision passes. It's all good stuff, but if I try to implement it while writing, my writing will grind to a halt.
The trick to using much of the knowledge in craft books is to know when to use it. I'm more aware of needing to have a purpose for my scenes, and more aware of the need for tension, as well as weaving in beats of action, but I'm also trying to balance that awareness with just getting the story out. Bones first, then I can flesh the rest out.
Certainly, the Scene Book is one craft book I'll be picking up again, and applying to my work once I'm at the stage where it would make the most sense to do so. In the mean time, I'll take what I've learned by osmosis, and it'll come out in the writing I do now.
It's a very useful book and I recommend the it if you have issues with meandering scenes or scenes that just seem... flat. There's a lot of good advice on how to deal with those issues....more
Pleasantly surprised by the book. Great tension, moves fast. I like that Claire goes from running to standing up for herself. I liked the twists I didPleasantly surprised by the book. Great tension, moves fast. I like that Claire goes from running to standing up for herself. I liked the twists I didn't see coming. It's YA, but enjoyable for us older people too.
I didn't like that is ends with a cliffhanger. I know the intent (probably publisher not author) is for the reader to run out and buy the next one. I just mentally ended the book the chapter before.
This book felt more like a draft than a polished novel. The concepts were interesting, but the actual writing was confusing. It could have been a wondThis book felt more like a draft than a polished novel. The concepts were interesting, but the actual writing was confusing. It could have been a wonderful story had the author taken the time to edit and polish.
There was a lot of head hopping, so it was often hard to figure out from whose POV we were seeing the action at any given moment....more
**spoiler alert** Gabrielle is an up-and-coming (and stunningly beautiful) photographer. Lucan is an ancient (like 900 years) Breed Warrior, a vampire**spoiler alert** Gabrielle is an up-and-coming (and stunningly beautiful) photographer. Lucan is an ancient (like 900 years) Breed Warrior, a vampire who hunts down vampires that have gone rogue and are wantonly killing humans. He falls for her, but cannot commit because he's a warrior and that's his number one priority. He's not about to tie himself down with a mate. She falls for him and discovers that he's a blood-sucking monster... or so she thinks.
Turns out these vampires are noble and fabulously wealthy and only drink the blood they need to survive. They don't need to kill and can wipe the memory of those that they feed on (or, if they want to kill, they just feed on bad guys.. drug dealers, the like). They also can procreate, the old fashion way, through sex, but only with a few select women whose DNA is compatible with them. These woman are breedmates, and the vampire who drinks from a breedmate is bound to her forever. (By feeding her his blood, the vampire keeps the breedmate eternally youthful.)
Guess what Gabrielle is. Yup.
The vampires don't have it easy, though. They are in constant danger of giving into bloodlust... the overwhelming urge to just keep drinking, to be a scourge on humanity, to become a rogue vampire. And none are more venerable than Generation One vampires.
Guess what Lucan is. Yup. That's his weakness. He's *this close* to losing it and giving into bloodlust.
Oh, yeah, the vampires are all descended from The Ancients, these beings from outer space. Yeah. That bugged me. I mean, it's an ok plot device: have a race that needs to feed on humans fall to earth and start a vampiric breed, but... but... Gen One vampires like Lucan, who are more than 900 years old, how did they *know* that their father was from another world? When he knew his father, people didn't have the concept of "another world" or "aliens" or "space ship". Those are modern concepts, not something you'd encounter or *understand* in the 1100's. These beings would be considered devils.
So, I kept trying to figure out how *they* figured out that the Ancients were crash-landed aliens... Maybe that's my scifi/fantasy background for you. It just didn't work for me.
And really, my first thought upon reading that plot device was: Vampires from outer Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaace! And then I couldn't stop giggling.
Overall, the plot was fine. It kept me engaged. The sex was pretty hot. Lucan was good and hunky. Gabrielle was dumb in places, but mostly so Lucan could rescue her. I mean, the heroine has to be in mortal danger at some point... and if you're smart and cautious, you just don't get into those situations where the bad guy kidnaps you.
I did get annoyed by one aspect of Lucan that were entirely writing-based. Lucan's voice in the beginning of the novel as an old-fashioned feel to it, how he phrased things, the way he spoke, which makes sense for someone 900 years old. But by the end of the novel, that was completely gone, and he spoke like some bulking guy out of a modern street-warrior scene. The shift was drastic and noticeable. I wonder if it was one of those things where the author changed her mind about how she was going to voice him, then didn't do a good enough job of going back and cleaning up the earlier chapters.
I also found the other breedmates (ugh. I hate that word.) kind of shallowly characterized. But that's also an aspect of this kind of romance, I think... the non-heroine women characters kind of act as a plot device to calm the new girl, and show her around the fabulous new world she's fallen into, and to tell her that the men that make up this world are fine. I suppose they're a kind of chorus, in a way.
In addition to the romance plot between Lucan and Gabrielle, there was a sub-plot of a brewing war between the good vampires and the rogues... someone is organizing the rogues (who are usually just chaotic bloodsucking fiends). Some of the good guys die, there's a betrayal, and a foil for Lucan.
The subplot was interesting enough that I'll probably read the next in the series....more
**spoiler alert** Sharon Shinn is one of my favorite authors. She tends to write romantic fantasy and science-fiction. Quite often, her books are abou**spoiler alert** Sharon Shinn is one of my favorite authors. She tends to write romantic fantasy and science-fiction. Quite often, her books are about love, though I wouldn't classify them as full-blown romances. She has a beautiful writing style that draws me into her books and keeps me there.
So, I was curious to see how she would write a young-adult fantasy. The short answer is "fabulously". The longer answer is with the same careful details she puts into her "adult" fantasy and science fiction, but in a much more focused and tight package.
It's set in a pre-industrial kingdom, though not quite medieval. It reminds me more of a kind of colonial countryside. In this world, there are Safe-Keepers, Truth-Tellers, and a single Dream-Maker. Safe-Keepers are people to whom anyone can come and unburden a secret. The Safe-Keeper will never tell. Truth-Tellers are people compelled to tell what is true. The knowledge of a truth comes to them, and they are obligated to tell. They do not lie. The Dream-Maker is a person to whom life has been exceedingly cruel. They have personally suffered great tragedy, but others around them find their dreams coming true. The Dream-Maker travels around the kingdom, hoping that the good luck will rub off onto others.
The book, except for the prologue, is told from the point of view of Fiona, the Safe-Keeper's daughter. It chronicles Fiona's youth and her growing into adulthood, surrounded by the people who come together to make up her extended family.
The Safe-Keeper's Secret is a charming story, full of family, heartbreak, and love. The love here is bigger than just romantic love (though that is there too) but the love of friends, of parents and mentors, and of siblings. The interaction and bond between Reed and Fiona, brother and sister in all but blood, is wonderful.
Fiona decides very early that she will be a Safe-Keeper like her mother. But she also grows to love gardening and the earth and is mentored by Elminstra, the neighborhood witch and herbalist. Eventually, Fiona becomes an herbalist herself, as well as the village Safe-Keeper, after her mother. Fiona's biggest challenge in Safe-Keeping is her desire to right the wrongs she hears about. She is not just content to keep secrets... though she does do that too... but starts to solve the problems people bring to her. Some of the secrets she hears are heart-rending, and Shinn does a good job at presenting those hard-to-hear secrets, as well as giving Fiona ways to ease the pain of those who tell them.
The story is partially Reed's too, though seen from the vantage of his sister. Reed wants desperately to know how he fits into the world. He's rumored to be the bastard son of the King, but he doesn't know for sure. Even though he loves his family, he spends much time trying different careers and traveling different places, all in an attempt to discover himself and who he is.
Shinn's writing is artful. I love the way she carves out the details of the world and creates memorable characters. The book partially revolves around the festival of Wintermoon, where Fiona's entire extended family gather to celebrate the holiday, and to make wishes for the coming year. The details of living are believable and you can see such a time and place existing.
Shinn also does a good job at allowing the reader to see a bit more than Fiona. There's a wonderful section of the book where Fiona moons after the boy that all the girls moon after, and though we can see his casual cruelty, Shinn lets Fiona's childish and romantic image of him stay until its the right time for Fiona to realize just what a horrible person he really is.
Fiona also has a complex relationship with her mother's lover: the Truth-Teller Thomas. He tells Fiona as a child that she will not follow in her mother's path and become a Safe-Keeper, and from that moment on, Fiona dislikes and distrusts the Truth-Teller. But as Fiona grows into adulthood, her relationship with Thomas changes, and he remains a beloved part of her family.
Some of the twists and turns the book took I could predict, others I could not. The ending may seem a bit contrived to some people, as it is a "happy ever after" kind of ending, but it's perfect for the tale and completely satisfying.
It's the first of a trilogy, though each book can stand alone....more
This is a good basic book on Characterization that touches on POV. Card once again, writes a very accessible how-to book. I do wish the POV section haThis is a good basic book on Characterization that touches on POV. Card once again, writes a very accessible how-to book. I do wish the POV section had been a bit longer, though. ...more
This is one of the classic academic books on the subject. While it focuses on a small slice of the genre of speculative fiction (Todorov defines the fThis is one of the classic academic books on the subject. While it focuses on a small slice of the genre of speculative fiction (Todorov defines the fantastic as a kind of hesitation between deciding whether a supernatural event is real or imagined, rather than uncanny where the event turns out to have a "real world" explanation, or the marvelous, where the supernatural event has a supernatural explanation), there are many points about the genre that carry over into the greater category.
He also sets up a lot of the terminology still used when discussing genres. It's one of the foundational books on the subject.
However, it's very dry reading, partly because it's a translation of a translation....more
**spoiler alert** This book is billed as a dark urban fantasy. It's probably closer to call it a dark, urban fairy tale. It has a quality to it that h**spoiler alert** This book is billed as a dark urban fantasy. It's probably closer to call it a dark, urban fairy tale. It has a quality to it that harkens back to the brother's Grimm, which is rather apropos, since it's set in Berlin.
Wilkins also writes horror, which is evident in that the creepy parts of the book are quite creepy.
The story focuses it's narration on four characters, whom are mirrors of each other in certain aspects:
Christine Starlight, the daughter of two famous rock musicians who tragically die in a car crash when Christine is a teen. The crash also severely injures Christine, who has lived with chronic back pain since then. Christine lives with her lover Jude, an up-and-coming artist and one of those beautiful men that every woman wants. Christine is constantly full of angst that she will lose him.
May Frith/Mayfridh, Queen of the fairy kingdom of Ewigkreis, Christine's childhood friend. She was abducted by the fairies to become heir to the throne. Once in Ewigkreis, she lost all of her memories of her past life, until Christine abruptly arrives in her kingdom, then she remembers, and desires to see the Real World once again. In some ways, her life parallels Christine in that she lost her fairy parents when she was young: at the age of nine, they went out for an evening in the Real World, and never returned.
Mandy Z, an eccentric and somewhat creepy billionaire who supports a colony of young artists through a scholarship program. However, Mandy is even more creepy than anyone expects. He's a sculpture, and his favorite medium is fairy bones. Mandy is creepy. Parts of the story are excerpts from his diary, written in first person, and it just kinda makes your skin crawl to read about him blithely killing and boning fairies. Especially when you read his justification for it. Later, the third person narrative focuses in on him, but I thought the inclusion of the diary bits was very well done.
The minor character is Hexebart, a witch who has the royal magic of Ewigkreis. The previous queen gave it to her for safekeeping, and she refuses to relinquish it to Mayfridh until she proves that the previous queen is dead. Hexebart is a kind of mirror to Mandy Z. She's also creepy and twisted, and hates Mayfridh. Some of her parts are also written in first person, a very close first person, almost stream of consciousness.
Christine is the sympathetic character in her dealing with her pain, the death of her parents, and her fear that she is not good enough for Jude, that he'll leave her for someone else, that he doesn't love her. However, by the end, she grows a pair with regard to Jude. That's always nice to see.
Mayfridh is naive and haughty. She's used to getting her way in her kingdom, although it's clearly evident that she's not much of a ruler. The loss of her parents (both sets) does not excuse her crappy behavior, though. She lacks the empathy that Christine has, pretty much only thinking of herself right until the end of the book. Her kingdom is more or less run by Eisengrimm, Mayfridh's shapeshifting advisor. Where Christine is kind and almost self-depreciating to a fault, Mayfridth is obnoxious to the point of almost cruelty, knows she's beautiful, and uses that. Especially to win the love of Jude.
She also attracts the attention of Mandy Z, who learns that there exists a way for him to go into fairy-lands and... collect more material for his art.
Jude comes off as shallow. But that's ok, because he is, in a whole host of ways. The supporting characters are good, though of those, it is Eisengrimm that stands out far and away as my favorite character. He's complex, torn by love and duty, and yet also a kind soul. It is Eisengrimm who is the mirror of Jude.
There's a lot going on in this book:
-There's Jude and Christine's relationship -There's the love triangle between Christine, Jude, and Mayfridh -There's the endless pain that Christine is in, and the relief she finds in Ewigkreis and her developing love of that land -There's Mandy's homicidal desire to use Mayfridh's bones to finish his sculpture -There's Hexebart's desire to punish Mayfridh for (she thinks) killing the former queen and taking the throne -There's Mayfridh's fascination with the Real World, finding her real mother, and her desire to remain, though she will be pulled back to Ewigkreis when the seasons change and forget everything that happened to her in the Real World
Wilkins holds the threads together well, and weaves them in and out of the tale with ease. There are some places where it's pretty clear what will happen, but she excels at adding enough tension to keep you turning the pages, despite that. The writing is very clean.
I don't really want to spoil the ending, but I will say that it was satisfying, though a tiny bit predictable. However, the other ending is even more satisfying, as it is written in a true fairy-tale style. ...more
Sensible student librarian Ruth Marlowe was ready for a change. So when she stumbled over New York City's latest muggi**spoiler alert** From the flap:
Sensible student librarian Ruth Marlowe was ready for a change. So when she stumbled over New York City's latest mugging victim--a tall guy with long silvery hair, cat-like eyes, and pointed ears-- her first thought (besides Good makeup, but not period costume) was how to help. It only made sense to take him home. His name, he told Ruth and her friends, was Rohannan Melior of the House of the Silver Silences. How he came to the mortal World of Iron he didn't know, but he did know he must reclaim the priceless item the muggers had stolen from him--the Sword of Maiden's Tears. For a curse had been placed on the blade, one that would transform any mortal who seized it into a hideous man-eating monster.
I would have loved this book if I had read it when it was supposed to have been read, and not nearly fifteen years later. Ann-just-out-of-college would have identified strongly with sensible Ruth, with the time, with the world. Fifteen years on, Mid-thirties-Ann read this and got that same sort of uncomfortable feeling I get when I go back and watch The Breakfast Club. I remember that. I lived that. I'm glad I'm older.
It's the first of a trilogy, and it ends as such, not with a happy ending, but with an unsettling conclusion and the promise of more to come.
The first thing that struck me about this story was that I'm not sure it would be published now. While events happen very quickly in the book, the narrative is *very* wordy. Since I've become so accustomed to almost spartan writing, I was almost overwhelmed by the voice at first, and it took me a bit to fall into the story. It has a lot of the things they warn us not to do: passive voice, people smiling bitterly, and generally adverbing all over the place. It also contains a lot of witty banter and quirky humor, stuff I love.
The book is written in third person, from various character's POVs, and the first person we follow is Ruth. Ruth has a lot going on in her head. All of the characters have a lot going on in their heads. It's one of the aspects of the characters I liked: Each person is different, rounded, flawed, and has stuff they're keeping from each other. But because the narrative jumps from head to head a lot, you never quite settle down into any one head, and some of the stuff they hide... in the case of Ruth, the fact that she as in a coma for eight years becomes important to the story, but we don't find that out until halfway into the story. Sure, she's 30 and in grad school, which is a bit oldish to be in grad school (says the 36 year old grad student), but there's lots of reasons for someone to wait to go back for a Masters (says the 36 year old grad student), so I had this moment of "What? Why didn't you tell me this before??"
But even with the wordiness, one of the aspects of Edghill's writing that I like is her ability to write a close third person narrative. Oh boy, you know from whose POV you're reading. Melior's impression of the world is *very* different from any of the other characters, and each of the human character has a very different point of view, too. By hanging out in the heads of her characters, we really get the interplay between them, and what makes this group of friends tick.
The way Edghill piles the tension on is also pretty well done. The book just rolls on so fast that even the things that annoy you (like all the dated references to stuff) get left behind. Donald Maas talks about thinking of the worst thing you can do to your character, and doing it. Over and over. Poor Melior, that pretty much sums up how his story goes in this book. First he loses his sword, which means bad things back in Chandrakar for his family (like death) if he doesn't recover it. Then, it's stolen by a human, who will become an invincible grendel. Then the people who rescue him don't believe him, then they *really* don't believe him, then he gets arrested.... it just goes on and on and you *have* to keep reading, just to see if he makes it.
The ending surprised me. It's *not* a happy ending. Bad things happen, and then heart-breaking things happen, and just when you think it may end on a happy note... nope! Argh! It does make me want to read the next book, though that will wait for a bit. ...more
**spoiler alert** I actually liked this one better than the first.
I had difficulty getting into His Majesty's Dragon. It took me forever to get half**spoiler alert** I actually liked this one better than the first.
I had difficulty getting into His Majesty's Dragon. It took me forever to get halfway into the book, though at a certain point, it clicked, and I polished the rest of the book off in a day or so. Somewhat of the opposite happened with Throne of Jade: I fell into it, read halfway through in a day, then took a few days to finish it.
I think the opening of Throne of Jade was more compelling for me since the tension was ramped up pretty high, and we fell right into Laurence's emotions and his anxiety at being separated from Temeraire and the knife's edge he stood on with regard to his duty as a member of the military and his morals. Strong personal stuff.
One of the things I admire about Novik's writing is her consistency of voice and her ability to focus on Laurence entirely with her POV. I tend to head hop. I would love to be able to craft a novel from the perspective, tone, and voice of just one character. While I haven't read much Napoleonic Era fiction, the voice seems authentic enough.
I've read some other reviews that talk about how boring it was to be on the sailing ship for the voyage to China, but I found all of that exciting. It was once we got to China that I thought the novel slowed down. I think it was partially due to not getting to see Temeraire interact with the other Chinese dragons as much as I would have wanted... a lot of that happened outside of Laurence's view, so we didn't get to see it. The other issue for me was that I didn't feel compelled by Prince Yongxing's reason for wanting to kill Laurence. I *understood* it, and it made sense in the context of the novel, but it didn't have the emotional impact that I would have liked. Perhaps that was because Yongxing's character was distant and I had no emotional attachment to him. I did become a bit more sympathetic to him due to his relationship with the albino dragon (whose name escapes me at the moment) since she is treated as such a pariah due to her deathly (in the far east) color.
I loved the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire and the fleshing out of these characters. I do feel bad that I didn't feel bad about the characters who died in the novel, but it's *hard* to kill off characters that the readers (and the author) like, but it does make for a more moving reading experience. It'll be interesting to see, in future books, how Temeraire's new understanding of what dragonic life can be like (from seeing the freedom and learning imparted to his kind in China) will end up being successfully transplanted back in Britain (where dragons are treated closer to really smart livestock than as intelligent and capable beings).
I like Novik's dragons. On the one hand, they seem (or rather, Temeraire seems) very wise and yet they're also infused with a kind of naivete that's somewhat refreshing. They're not beasts (which the Pern dragons, despite their telepathy come off as), but they're not human either. It's a nice mix of giving us just enough to identify with the dragons but not so much as to anthropomorphize a creature that obviously is not human.
It was an enjoyable and quick read, and I'll pick up the third book at somepoint, when I'm not hip deep in my required reading. I do recommend the series to those that either like dragons or who like historical fantasy....more