Making Things Personal

In Gifts of Rith, my current editing work in progress, I have a villain.  This villain lives up to every expectation of a villain— he fights against the main character, is hugely powerful, and wants to destroy lots of people the main character cares about.  He makes mischief for much of the book, blocking the main character at every turn and fulfilling expectations as to villainous behavior.  Then, at the end, (spoiler alert) he dies.  As villains do.

Unfortunately, his death hit the wrong chord.  Instead of feeling powerful and satisfying, this villain’s death felt… jarring.  Several eyebrows were lowered in confusion, including my own.  Instead of satisfaction, the readers felt slight disgust at how cruel the main character was for killing this guy.  The scene as a whole felt— dare I say it?— unnecessary.

You don’t need me to tell you that that reaction was exactly the opposite of what I planned.  I wanted a dramatic fanfare, a slow-motion shot of the hero straightening up, victorious over the body of his nemesis.  I wanted a good villain death— is that too much to ask?

If the villain’s death didn’t mean anything to the main character… well, yes.  It is too much to ask.  What was the problem?  I needed to make things personal. Read the full post »

The Lost Prince: ARC Review

Thanks to Egmont USA for the ARC of Seaborne: The Lost Prince, by Matt Myklusch.  The real thing comes out next May.  (Is it worth the wait?  Read the review, but the short answer: yes.)  Of course, this review will be spoiler-free.  Here’s the synopsis:

Dean Seaborne is thrown off his ship by the Pirate King and given one last chance to redeem himself before he meets Davy Jones’s locker. He has to spy on the Pirate King’s biggest rival, Gentleman Jack Harper, and find the treasure hidden on the mysterious island of Zenhala.

Once on Zenhala, Dean finds that the inhabitants of the island think he is the lost prince who went missing 13 year ago. In order to fulfill his mission for the Pirate King, Dean undergoes intense and fantastical trials to prove he is the lost prince. But the longer Dean stays on the island, the more he questions his mission.

I had a blast reading this book.  Matt Myklusch is one of my favorite local authors, and while his books aren’t that well known, everyone who has listened to my recommendations has enjoyed them.  (I have already reviewed the first and third books of his Jack Blank trilogy.)  Based on previous experiences, The Lost Prince does not disappoint. Read the full post »

Getting Rid of Parents (Fiction Only)

Many difficulties come standard in the task of writing child protagonists.  To a certain point, a person is a person no matter how small, but there are subtle differences in younger characters.  Their behavior can be slightly different from that of an adult— less logical at times, or not quite sure of morals yet.  Their physical limitations, of course, must differ.  A ten-year-old boy cannot take the same amount of knocks on the head as the adult hero of an epic fantasy (there is considerable debate on whether the hero himself can take that many hits realistically, but the point remains).  Most importantly, however, there is a child’s place in society to consider.

Any middle grade fantasy will grind to a halt when the child’s parents decide she can’t cross the street without permission.

But books about children have been around for centuries, from the Brothers Grimm to C.S. Lewis.  Many people have solved this problem for their stories, many different ways. Read the full post »

Romantic Tension and Why Love Triangles Hurt

A romance is never just about the romance.

Whether subplot or main plot, a romance plot line is not about the love itself.  It’s about the process of falling in love.  Now, as we know well from Disney, that process can take place within the space of a single song.  Unfortunately, that’s a three-minute character arc.  Romance introduced— romance over with.  Everyone is bored, let’s get back to the explosions.

That’s why romance is never just about the romance.  Romance can be a really quick thing, but we need it to take longer.  We need it to cover hundreds of pages, ramping up conflict and tension between characters as they near the climax.  If we introduce and finish the romance quickly, it’s ineffective, not worth including.  Either that, or really good for a joke.

If left to itself, a romantic plot line would resolve itself in less than three minutes, with song, dance, and birdies chirping.  That’s why you can’t leave it to itself.  You have to figure out a way to slow it down, while making it feel like it can’t possibly go any faster.  You have to create romantic tension.

Romantic tension is what allows a romance plot to slow down and yet remain engaging.  The reader knows two people ought to get together, but something is keeping them apart— even though it’s hardly life or death, that much tension can keep the reader reading in this style of plot.  How to create romantic tension?  One word: obstacles. Read the full post »

Jokes, Gobbledygook, and Cardboard Cutouts

Over the past week, I’ve pondered many things, but none of them long enough— or originally enough— for them to merit entire posts.  Because I’m too lazy to expand them, here are a series of partial posts that will hopefully all make sense on their own.  Feel free to comment on one, comment on all three, or bring up something completely different.  They are yours to expound upon or ignore as you will.  I hope you get something out of each.

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Humor

Humor is important, as I’ve said many times.  In fact, this last week, I used humor as a tool more than I ever have.  I made more people like me in that week than in months in other places.  Correctly placed, it is a tool.  Incorrectly placed, it destroys just about everything you work to build.  But I’ve posted on that before, so I’ll let that lie.

Brandon Sanderson believes humor can be cultivated into the tool I mentioned, every time you need it.  Many others believe humor is spontaneous, a gift for those lucky enough to have an edge.  More and more, I’m finding Sanderson’s opinion correct.  He’s not a funny fellow, all by himself and spontaneous.  But when you give him the time, he writes killingly funny quips.  He’s admitted to purposefully raising his humor level in books, especially Warbreaker.  While he isn’t quick on his feet as, say, Howard Tayler, he knows the system of humor and uses it as a tool.

Moral of the story: humor is a tool, not something you’re born with.  Practice it, perfect it, and use it. Read the full post »

Guest Post: Emotion, Tension, and Zombie-Moms

Robyn Hoode has been my faithful follower for a very long time.  It was only recently, however, that she made herself a blog, so I could give her publicity via a guest post.  Give her post a read, then follow her blog.  It’s worth it.  Enjoy the post.

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(Thank you for this guest post, Liam. This is awesome!)

One of the things I have been working on is the emotions of scenes. This is a concept that I’ve had some trouble in understanding and it’s kind of difficult to work on a specific concept if you don’t understand it.

When it comes to writing emotions, ideally, the reader should be feeling the same thing as the POV character or some sort of sympathy or something like that. Unless there are scenes where the reader just wants to keep reading and doesn’t necessarily feel anything. However, the character should still have emotions and those emotions should still be in the scenes.

This is where I struggled. What if the character doesn’t have a specific feeling? What if they’re almost indifferent, just like the reader who wants to keep reading? Because humans don’t necessarily have constant emotion all the time, either. What about when you’re watching a movie that you’ve seen a thousand times before? What about when you’re just making dinner? Unless you actually are sad about the onion you’re chopping, those tears aren’t emotional.  And what about when you’re sick? I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, I don’t want to do anything except curl up on the couch, drink hot tea (which I do not normally drink at all), and watch My Little Pony.

But wait a minute. I do have emotions during all that. When I’m watching that movie I’ve already seen a thousand times, it’s because I want to and it’s probably a favorite (unless it’s something my siblings picked and then I might ignore it to write). There’s emotion there, right? It’s how I feel. When I’m cooking dinner, I’m usually thinking about something or I’m hurrying to get done with the hands-on work so I can read or write or just do something else. And when I’m sick, I’m often too emotional and am thoroughly convinced that everything I write is awful. Read the full post »

Multifaceted Mysteries

A mystery is never just a mystery.  A mystery, no matter what, is a group of mysteries conspiring to make a soup of clues that all work out in the end.

I recently read Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage, which, as you can rightly deduce from the title, is a murder mystery.  The murder occurs early on (at the vicarage), and the author piles clues to the rafters about who killed the poor man.  Miss Marple is on the case, of course, but even she has seven suspects at a time to think about.  And with the plot twists coming thick and fast, no one knows anything for sure.

Now I’m going to spoil the end with as few spoilers as possible.  The murderer is discovered, after a baffling series of twists.  Not only that, but in the denouement of the book, no less than six mysteries were solved, not to mention other character conflicts resolved.  The murder mystery was far from the only part of this murder mystery.  Indeed, in order to have as many clues as the author introduced, she had to include each of the six mysteries— otherwise it would be obvious who did it.

This, I think, is an important concept if you wish to write any sort of mystery novel: there is never only one mystery.  There are several, coinciding to make this period of time worthy of being put into a book.  It doesn’t matter what kind of mystery you’re writing— there is never just one. Read the full post »

Words of Radiance: A Review

It’s going to be hard, but this review is spoiler-free.  This book is still fresh on shelves, and it’s difficult to get a copy if you’re not into purchasing car-sized books at their hardcover premium.  However, I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you, so as I said, spoiler-free.  I’ll do my very best.  Also, Words of Radiance is book two of the Stormlight Archive, so if you haven’t already read The Way of Kings, you should probably do that before trying to read this.  Just a suggestion.

How do I even begin?  I adored this book.  It feels like it’s been too long since I’ve had a Brandon Sanderson book to read— I’ve only read novellas or short stories of his recently, and I wanted an epic fantasy.  (I actually believe I read through Sanderson’s existing works too quickly, believe it or not; when I ran out of them, I went into withdrawal.)  This was a welcome change.  I loved being back in Roshar (the world) with the grand cast of characters.  I’d list them all, but I’ve just found I can’t remember how to spell many of them, and I’m not sure whether those names would be considered spoilers or not.  (As Sanderson himself said once, admitting that there is a sequel is technically a spoiler for the first book.) Read the full post »

4 Things Patrick Rothfuss Can Teach Writers

A couple days ago, I watched a panel from SDCC of eight widely respected fantasy authors.  As they were introduced, I quickly went to GoodReads and marked every book I could find “To-Read”.  Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, Patrick Rothfuss—  Wait.  I had already read Rothfuss.  Never mind.  Sam Sykes, Joe Abercrombie, Django Wexler…

But the panel didn’t only contribute to my to-read pile.  Listening, I found out a few things about the one author I knew on the panel.  Since his books were already on my list, I hereby give him this post instead: four things Patrick Rothfuss can teach writers.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thing 1:  An unplanned novel does not mean a bad novel.

I fell into this trap of thinking a little while ago, after editing my fourth novel in a rush and sending it off to agents.  It was a mess, before and after editing.  I had pantsed it, loving every second of its unpredictable creation, all the while forcibly keeping from my mind the idea that I’d soon have to edit it.  Once I did begin editing it, I found out how weirdly my creation had turned out.  It took a lot of work to get to a slightly less horrible state of being, but I didn’t enjoy the process.  I cut 60k words of unnecessary stuff out of that novel (and that may have been a mistake as well).  I decided that if unplanned novels turned out this badly, I would plan from now on.

The trap was enforced by my next novel being planned and executed beautifully.  I’m editing that now, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s a whole lot better than the novel before.  Yes indeed, plotting was the way to go.

But no.  With or without a plan, a novel is a novel.  It goes through the same general steps to becoming published as any other novel.  An unplanned novel, while not as pretty out of the box as a planned novel, is not inferior.  It just takes more time after the first draft.  More care.  It’s like a garden— some people really enjoy watching things grow, while others just use a grocery store.  It depends on the person.  Neither plotting or pantsing is right or wrong.  Any novel can become a good novel. Read the full post »

No More Whining

Sometimes characters are in tough spots.

Okay, all the time.  (At least, they should be.)  Characters are always in tough spots, and if they’re at all sympathetic, they’ll probably complain a bit.  If characters never complained, somebody would be clamoring for their unique minority to be represented.  Not all characters do complain, but many can and will.  They can’t just ignore their troubles.  That would make them seem unrealistic.

But when characters complain too much…  That’s a different problem.  People who complain are automatically less fun to be around than people who don’t complain.  (That’s why I dislike “Everything Wrong with [popular movie] in # Minutes or Less” videos.  Some of the flaws they find are bad writing, but the rest isn’t worth mentioning, and I don’t care.)  Pessimists aren’t lovable— they’re whiny.  That’s exactly the same effect produced by a complaining character.

That’s not a good thing.  Usually, if things are going wrong for a character, they have something that’s supposed to make them likable.  The unlikable characters can have as much going for them as they want, but the likable characters are always in trouble.  And if the likable characters need to be… well, likable, they can’t be unlikable.  That is to say, they can’t be whiny.

Does that mean they can’t complain?  Nope, because (to quote paragraph two of this post), that would make them seem unrealistic.  Sometimes a character needs to complain and be likable at exactly the same time.  That requires a lot more contortions from you, the author.  That said, you have a couple options. Read the full post »

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