Montage: For Books!

Montages in movies are a lot of fun.  They spend a tiny amount of time showing us the most interesting parts of training, scientific discovery, and any other thing that needs to happen but would take a lot of time to live through.  Rocky goes from inept to competent in a matter of minutes.  Hiccup discovers the quirks of the man-killing beasts he’s feared all his life over the course of weeks, possibly months— condensed into a handful of quick scenes.  Iron Man builds a suit in his basement through trial and error, without destroying the pacing of an otherwise quick and fun movie.

Can books do this?

It’s a question I’ve had for a while.  Movies are easy to consume because they take little time compared to books, but books and prose are what I want to write.  The techniques that work in movies— the character arcs, the plot twists, the magic systems— usually work in books as well.  But those are story elements, for the most part.  The presentation of those elements, such as slow pans, jump cuts, close-ups, and the like?  Those are restricted to movies.  They have parallels in the book world, of course, but the book world has its own tricks movies can’t match.

So how can we take the idea of a montage and apply it to prose? Continue reading “Montage: For Books!”

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Calamity: A Review

This review is spoiler-free.

Good news: This book wasn’t as bad as some books I’ve read recently!

Bad news: It also wasn’t very good.

As the third book of a trilogy, this book had some living up to do. The first book was wildly creative and excellent. The second was a bit lacking, but still twisty and enjoyable. The third needed a bit more time in the incubator and some serious me-time with the author.

The characters were excellent, but… only in ways that carried over from previous books. Phase 1 characters— introduced back in Steelheart— were for the most part excellent and just as fun as ever. Phase 2 characters— from Firefight— continued being themselves (but didn’t grow in any way). Phase 3 characters— completely new to this book— had almost no bearing on the book’s emotional impact. In writerly terms, Phase 1 were dynamic. Almost everyone from Phase 1 had some sort of development or fleshing out to do. Phase 2 were static. They didn’t change, but they still felt alive. Phase 3 were cardboard. With one exception (based on spoilery things, one character could have been considered Phase 2 or even Phase 1), these characters just didn’t add anything of meaning.

But how can I say that? Surely they added something. Why else would they have been introduced? Well, they changed the plot, aiding or opposing the main characters in some way. But no Phase 3 character (with the aforementioned exception) had any bearing on any Phase 1 character arc. No Phase 2 or Phase 3 character had any arc to speak of.

Let’s keep examining the book, though. Perhaps these books are t0o short for dynamic characters to emerge in the third act of a trilogy. Perhaps there are redeeming factors in the other aspects of the book. Continue reading “Calamity: A Review”

Beta Readers Wanted!

With the end of Spoon-Fed Camel, I have turned my attention toward editing my previous novel, The Tailor’s Song.  I almost can’t believe I didn’t post here when I finished that novel— I had a blast writing it, and personally I think it’s my best yet.  But I’m biased.

Anyway, as part of the process, I need a beta readers to help me see this thing from other angles.  And not just any beta readers will do— I want you as a beta reader.

“Oh, but I’m not a writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m not a very good writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m such a better writer than you are,” you say.  It doesn’t matter.  If you’re at all interested after you read the pitch below, please comment.  Beta reading requires no particular skill set besides enjoying a good story.  If what I’ve written rubs you the wrong way, I just need you to make a note and tell me which part.  You don’t have to fix it for me— let me do the hard work.  Just point at the spots I missed.

I’d really appreciate your help!  I’ll take as many beta readers as are willing— just say the word.  Without further ado, here’s the pitch.

Tessa thought nude magicians were the worst of her problems.

For the last nine months, Tessa has run her parents’ clothing shop.  Her powerful, entitled customers appreciate her ability to take their nonsense in stride.  Her senile, penniless tenant appreciates her ability to pretend that yes, the rent was up-to-date, not almost a year overdue.  Tessa, in turn, appreciates her punching bag’s ability to absorb her frustration; it dies a thousand deaths after close of business each day.  Life is manageable.

It doesn’t last.  Tessa soon learns her city business license will expire in a month if she can’t renew it.  Her father’s lack of records makes mundane paperwork a scavenger hunt as she searches the city for people who knew her parents well.  Her punching bag lacks power against the mounting stress— however, a young magician, entitled as they come, quickly becomes the focus of her pent-up rage.

As Tessa struggles along, one of her customers falls dead at her feet— rather, hanging upside-down in the air by magic no one understands.  The police, with few options, pinpoint Tessa’s shop as one of their only leads.  Tessa must close down.  Faced with an expiring license, unhappy customers, and a murder investigation side-eyeing her, she can give up and accept the consequences, or fight to stay afloat, innocent, and sane.

If that appeals to you, let me know!  I’d love your help.  Thanks.

My Favorite Author

Today, I didn’t get to meet my favorite author.

Maggie Stiefvater writes some fun books.  She lives a fun life.  She’s inspired and inspiring.  For a long time, ever since I realized she had written a book that wasn’t primarily kissing, I’ve read and enjoyed and sought out her writing wherever I could.  I’ve read a lot of her books.  I’ve learned a lot from her books.  And right now, I’m only talking about her books.  Y’all can research for yourselves what else she gets up to.  She’s multi-talented— nay, she’s dedicated.  To a lot of different things.  All at once.

She’s inspiring, and has been for a long time.  That’s why, when I realized she was coming to NYC on a weekend I was free, I made a plan to go get some books signed.

At first, it sounded like a large commute and small window of fun.  You see, I have obligations.  As a freshman at a service academy, I’m a bit confined as to when I can do things.  This confines what I can do.  But, trekking out into the city for a couple hours to see the Stiefvater seemed like it could work.

Then doors began to open.  I could cut down on the commute.  I could get a little extra time to get over there and get back.  In fact— and here’s the exciting part— I might even get some books signed.  That’s better than just being in the same bookstore.  All this because I got to go home this weekend instead of just traveling from my school.

It was a great weekend.  I got a lot of fun stuff done, listened to a sister’s orchestra concert, made progress in a couple of other projects I’ll break to you later, and in general pushed my life forward a couple more baby steps.  I achieved what I had to do.  When the time came to hit up the bookstore, I was riding a wave of productivity, inspiration, and feel-goodiness.

We show up just before the event is about to start.  The bookstore is crowded.  I’m in my white dress uniform.  We can’t find the checkout line, but eventually we get there and buy a copy of The Raven King.  We get our number for the signing line.

#281. Continue reading “My Favorite Author”

Novel #8

I just finished a novel.  My eighth.

I call it Spoon-Fed Camel.  My progress bar on the right of this blog doesn’t let me update the wordcount anymore, but it is complete at 93,836 words.

It contains no camels, no spoons, and very little food.

A short pitch: When virtual reality magic gets out of control, it sucks two patrons into its chaotic world, forcing them to face and fix parts of it they had never imagined possible.

It’s an adventure story, I think, at its heart.  (I just listened to a bunch of Writing Excuses podcasts that seemed to describe my book pretty well, so I’m calling it adventure.)  Even though the world sucks them in at first, it’s because they chose to be there and chose to have that adventure.  But I also tried (and failed) to put several more layers into the story.  The successful parts were the ones I didn’t expect.

This was a fun story to write.  I always enjoy creating a lot of strange creatures for my characters to meet, and a lot of different environments— think of Star Wars or Star Trek— but this time I took it to a new level.  The virtual reality could become anything it wanted.  I ended up with some pretty interesting stuff to write.  Giant birds, giant snakes, giant monsters made of rock.  Swarms of bugs, swarms of gophers, swarms of pieces of my protagonist.  Rabid zebras, rabid buffalo, rabid cat people.

If it helps, I can list more things in threes. Continue reading “Novel #8”

Your Setting

Surround yourself with things that make you want to write.

This is a lesson I’m learning more and more.  As you learn more about the world, you begin to find a million things that lead you in all directions.  Watching a foreign film makes you want to learn French.  Reading about adventure makes you want to travel the world.  Meeting a champion juggler makes you never want to juggle ever, and that’s that.  All these are great.  If you’re like me, you know that most things are within reach, and with a little work you can achieve them.  Learning French, traveling the world, never juggling— all worthwhile goals.

But do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to write?

If you’re a different kind of artist, or your career lies elsewhere, substitute your dream whenever I say the word “write”.  This applies to anything.

As a kid, I read a lot of Brian Jacques books, and I’ve posted before about how much they mean to me.  Through reading and imagining, I began to dream about writing my own stories.  For the past four years, that’s what I’ve been doing, and I love it.  I love daydreaming about it and pushing toward that goal.

The path has its ups and downs, though, like anything.  You start off shot from a cannon, propelled by your amazing inspiration and genuine love for what you’re doing.  Then, of course, comes the letdown when you actually realize you’ve got a long way ahead of you.  But you pick yourself up and keep moving, and you enjoy the work for a while.  Then you poke your head up and look around, and start comparing yourself to other people, and you wonder what you’re actually doing. Continue reading “Your Setting”

How to Learn

Listening is not active.

Maybe you’re a good listener.  Maybe you take the time to sit down next to someone and really hear what they’re telling you.  That’s active, because that’s a conversation.  It may be largely one-sided, but it’s still a conversation and you’re still contributing, whether by body language or word whiskers (mms and aahs).  If you needed to, you could jump in and state your side, then go back to listening.  That’s active.

At times, however, we’re all bad listeners.  The TV is on and you’re hearing it, but you’re looking at the little news ticker on the bottom of the screen for lottery numbers rather than listening to the news.  Or you were having a conversation with someone, until they hijacked it for their own complaints, and now you’re just nodding along to make them think you’re a good listener.  That’s not active.

Here’s the thing: listening itself is not active.  It’s what you do alongside listening that makes it active.  Maybe you’re taking notes as a teacher is talking.  Maybe you’re trying to understand things from another person’s perspective, and interjecting into the conversation once or twice to clarify, or give your own experiences.  Jumping rope while listening is not active listening, despite both being active and listening.  If you’re taking what you hear and making something out of it, you’re actively listening. Continue reading “How to Learn”

BZRK: A Review and Giveaway

This is a spoiler-free review for BZRK, by Michael Grant.  At the bottom of the post, I’m giving away the entire trilogy, consisting of BZRK, Reloaded, and Apocalypse (which comes out on the 13th).  You can do what you like, but I’d appreciate if you read the review before entering the giveaway.  (It makes it easier to enter, in fact.)  Thanks to Egmont USA for the opportunity.

Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind.  Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal:  to turn the world into their vision of utopia.  No wars, no conflict, no hunger.  And no free will.  Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human.  This is no ordinary war, though.  Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain.  And there are no stalemates here:  It’s victory . . . or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose?  How far would you go to win?

BZRK was an interesting read.  It moves quickly, creates some enormous stakes, and reveals an intriguing piece of technology that’s fun to read about.  The characters are immediately engaging, from both sides of the conflict, and moral ambiguity abounds.  There were elements I didn’t like, but the story was good enough that I could ignore them and still have a good time. Continue reading “BZRK: A Review and Giveaway”

Poetic Beginnings and Sad Endings (TCWT)

“What are your favorite book beginnings and/or endings?” 

Thus begins my TCWT post for September, because I couldn’t think of anything cleverer to say.  Since I still have nothing, I won’t bore you with it— right into the beginnings.

One of my favorite beginning is that of The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.  It’s an epic fantasy that doesn’t begin with a battle between the Dark Lord and the few ruggedly handsome who dare to stand up to him.  Instead, it begins with silence.  A silence so layered that you can feel it through the pages.  It’s called poetry, my friends, and it’s beautiful.

It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

Another excellent, poetic beginning is that of The Book Thief.  Poetic, and hypocritical— the narrator tells you the truth no one wants to remember, then talks about colors to help himself forget about that same truth.  It’s a pretty amazing character moment as well as a great hook. Continue reading “Poetic Beginnings and Sad Endings (TCWT)”

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. Continue reading “The Lost Prince: ARC Review”