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. (more…)

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. (more…)

Is Unputdownable Even a Word?

The concept of pacing complex.  You’ll hear it thrown around a lot in book reviews that a book was gripping, or a very fast read despite being the size of a brick.  This is a result of good pacing, or at least quick pacing– it depends on the novel whether quick pacing is good or bad.

That being said, however, it is a valuable tool.  It’s a testament to the writer when they can rip you through a thick book almost without stopping, as Rick Riordan managed to do for me in his Kane Chronicles.  Thrillers depend on quick pacing a lot, and even epic fantasies suffer occasionally when pacing is done badly.

Pacing depends a lot on structure.  My cardinal rule– when you can’t think of anything to do next, add a duck or some explosions– deals with pacing, as does my general rule about ending chapters with plot twists.  When you can’t think of anything to do next, that’s a sign that you’ve let stuff sit for too long, that the story is becoming boring.  When a story is boring, the reader slows down, maybe even coming to a complete stop.  Thus, there’s nothing better for that than to add action– that will pick up the pace again and hopefully make things more interesting. (more…)

When Instincts Fail

Two days ago, Rick Riordan published the House of Hades, the fourth volume in his five-book Heroes of Olympus series.  This series builds on the world of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but Heroes of Olympus feels much different from its famous predecessor.  Perhaps it was because of a few new characters.  Perhaps it was because of Riordan’s switch from his characteristic first person narrative to third person, meant to accommodate more narrators.

Or perhaps it was because the books suddenly lacked suspense, tension, and the irrational drive to read more that made me finish the Serpent’s Shadow in a mere day.

What would cause such a drastic shift?  Why, after eight successful and gripping books (the five of Percy Jackson and the Olympians plus the three of the Kane Chronicles) would Riordan suddenly start telling bad stories?  Because of his chapters.

Each book in the Heroes of Olympus series has crazily short chapters.  They average around eight pages each, which isn’t bad, but many are only four pages long, followed by several more chapters from the same viewpoint.  The chapters are consistently structured badly.  The chapters just before viewpoint changes end on cliffhangers, as they should, but the previous chapters end on high notes and weird notes, which should never happen– the chapter should end on a plot twist to push the reader through the chapter break to the next part of the story.  These chapters allow the reader to slow down and stop, putting the book down and allowing them to take a week to read the entire book.  What went wrong? (more…)

The 5 Infallible Plot Points of Rick Riordan

In less than two weeks, Rick Riordan will publish The House of Hades, the fourth book in the Heroes of Olympus series.  My biggest complaint about The Mark of Athena was its similarity to its predecessors.  In all ten of the mythology-based books published before it, Riordan had followed a basic formula, to varying degrees of success.  The Mark of Athena was no different– in fact, it was so formulaic I could almost predict the plot twists.  In fact, I did try to predict the entire book just after I had read The Son of Neptune about six months earlier.  It wasn’t exact, but it wasn’t far from the truth, either.

What can we expect, therefore, from this coming addition to the series?  Will it be predictable or will it blow us out of our socks?  Let’s run through a few things that Riordan can’t seem to live without. (more…)

Mini Reviews– Dystopian Edition!

Ta-da!  On this installment of Mini Reviews, two out of three of the books we will cover are dystopian– therefore, we have a dystopian edition!  To recap: these are miniature book reviews, simple as that.  At the end, I’ll try to come up with a few things I learned from the book, which might be helpful.  All reviews will be spoiler free.  The three books are Fragments, by Dan Wells; The Maze Runner, by James Dashner; and The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas.  Let the reviews begin! (more…)

I Did Not See That Coming

At every point in any story, there is a plan.

“We have to get to Mars to negotiate the release of the most awesome person in the world, who is the only person that can stop the end of the world!”

“We must manipulate events to cause the asteroid to deviate from its current trajectory that it might not squash a cheese factory in Wisconsin.”

“I need a sandwich!” (more…)

The Mark of Athena, a Review

This is a spoiler-free review for Rick Riordan’s latest book, The Mark of Athena.  The book is summarized so:

Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn’t appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace. (more…)

Style Over Story

This seems to happen a lot nowadays: I’ll say something that I think is true, and then get turned on my head by something I see a day or two later.

A few days ago, I commented on Charley R.’s blog and said that “I think… it’s better to be born with the ability to craft a great story than the ability to tell one. You can learn to make your prose ring– it’s harder to learn to make original stories.”  That comment got me thinking about Christopher Paolini and how, though he had a good writing style, his stories needed work on the originality front.  I started to wonder why people liked him at all. (more…)

Why Christopher Paolini Succeeded, Sort Of

Christopher Paolini, after publishing the final book in the Inheritance Cycle last November, has dropped severely on the top-ten author lists of YA readers.  Though authors such as Rick Riordan and Veronica Roth have had books published in October or even May of 2011 high on bestselling lists until now, Inheritance is nowhere to be found in Google results for “best young adult books of 2011”.  A lot of people were disappointed with that book and the way the series turned out.  The beginning of one Amazon review reads, “Like a delicate soufflé, rises to an epic climax before collapsing into a tasteless pile of goop”.  And the sad thing is, that synopsis is spot-on.  I apologize to those reading this who haven’t read Inheritance, but I think it’s well-known by now that Inheritance just wasn’t what anyone expected, or what the series needed to finish off.

It’s a whole lot of fun to bash authors that people think are good.  I know I’ve done this on a couple of occasions, with the Hunger Games and Inheritance– but it isn’t really the right thing to do.  If a book is popular, you need to realize why.  You obviously aren’t any better than this author, or you’d be the one with all that fame– so you need to sit down and study the reasons why this author got to the place he did. (more…)