What Began As A Rant

September 11, 2010 at 5:44 am (From the Book Shelf, September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I actually did have a post planned for today just before I jump into a fairly extended stretch on my blog tour. Incidentally the next five days I will be bouncing all around the place and I hope you will come with me to some amazing blogs (links below). However, I re-read my post and realised that what had begun as a discussion about why I had been disappointed by a trilogy I recently gave up reading had actually degenerated into a rant and I decided to scrap it and try again.

Here is my second attempt.

I recently began reading a trilogy of YA fantasy books and was instantly hooked by the first book. There was this interesting (if a little generic) female protagonist who did some reasonably unexpected things and over the course of the first book I came to really want her to succeed in her goals. The villains were a bit on the melodramatic side and their scheme was clearly delusional and set to fail before it began but you can forgive that in YA because overblown villains are the norm and when stupid people reach for the moon, of course they fail. The story was enjoyable and the side characters well fleshed out.

Enter book two and we see our heroine in a new location only now she’s less interesting because she has nothing left to reveal and this time the actual complication of the story isn’t introduced until half-way through because they are so busy trying to get us to see the protagonist in the new location. Instead of some dark past haunting her every step, we now have petty annoyances and domestic squabbles that fill in time until somehow there just happens to be a serial killer stalking around in her new home and somehow she just happens to be the one who is going to solve everyone’s troubles. Not that she isn’t out of her depth and completely lost and with no actual reason to involve herself at all. In point of fact, the author spends a bit of time trying to convince us that she becomes emotionally attached to one of the almost victims, but this doesn’t really sit right with the protagonists character and ends up just being a plot pointer.

By book three, I was more or less over the protagonist. However, in the grand tradition of trilogies, the danger is now upped to the point where it is so overblown and melodramatic that you fully expect the sky to darken at any minute. And yet, I just didn’t care. The characters of the first book were now mostly too far removed because they had all but been completely absent (other than a tokenistic appearance) in the second. The characters of the second book hadn’t endeared themselves to me at all. And the third book seemed determined to rush us into a complication that made very little sense as fast as possible.

I’m going to point out at this stage that I didn’t finish reading the trilogy. I made it half-way through the third book and then realised I was hoping that mysterious, overblown, master-mind villain guy would just wipe them all out and call it a day. At that point I realised that I’d completely disengaged from the story and there was no point in my finishing it.

The point of this was my wondering where it all went wrong. The first book won me over. I loved it. I was totally hooked into this world and these characters. In all honesty, I think it was the big shift in scenery that lost me. I loved the world that was created in the first book, but in the second we were in an entirely different setting and I didn’t really feel it. I missed too much of the first setting. Perhaps that is a petty quibble but as a reader it threw me.

So my question to the readers out there is this: How long will you read when you know you have disengaged? Do you give up straight away, or do you plow on and hope for a big finish?

Tomorrow Laura Diamond is sharing a post here on the realm and I am off to her blog to talk about females in fantasy writing.

After that I am visiting Alex J Cavanaugh on the 13th, Mason Canyon on the 14th, Carol Kilgore on the 15th and Susan Whitfield on the 16th. Hope to see you on the tour.

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Writing Advice

July 7, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

For a while now I have been reading everything I can about writing. Obviously there is more being written than I could ever possibly read but I have read quite a bit. I just want to quickly share five bits of advice I have read recently, in no particular order, that seemed to have some merit.

  • Don’t worry about being the next big thing, worry about writing a good story. This I read less than two minutes ago on another blog and thought it was brilliant, unfortunately forgot which blog.
  • Social networking, Twitter and the like, can help authors or hinder them, depending on how they use it.
  • Inspiration takes seconds while writing is a long and time consuming labour (though very much worth it).
  • While some people will forgive grammatical errors in a good story, others will reach for the tar and feathers.
  • Writers everywhere rely way too heavily on caffeine. No wonder we’re all just that little bit out there.

Keep writing and have fun.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Why Writing An MS Is Like Being In A Relationship

July 3, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Originally this was an offhand comment I made on twitter. Just a random thought generated by my sleep deprived mind at seven in the morning. Then I started thinking (always a bad idea) and I started to realise how true it was.

My reasons why writing an MS are like being in a relationship are many and varied. And like any good relationship, there is a definite cycle to it all. In the beginning:

  • You get to know your characters, plot and settings. It is all fun and fresh and it feels like everything is possible. There is so much new territory to explore.
  • You start to spend hours alone together, just one-on-one. You and your manuscript notes. You pore over every bit of it, until you think you know every nuance.
  • You become addicted. When you aren’t with your MS, you’re thinking about it. You visualise it in your mind, it dominates your conversations, it is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.

As the relationship progresses:

  • You start to realise that there is a hidden underside to your MS. The characters hadn’t revealed themselves fully. A plot twist deceived you by making you think it would work. Suddenly the setting that seemed so right is just wrong.
  • You begin to argue with your MS. Things don’t just naturally flow into place. Suddenly every decisions leads to three other decisions unravelling.
  • You still spend every moment you can thinking about your MS, but now the thoughts are frequently harried as you wonder how to make it work.

If the relationship is working:

  • Finally, you come to an agreement with your MS, it may not be your perfect vision that you began with, but you see the light at the end and you move forward.
  • All the hours and tears and tantrums start to feel worth it. You eagerly spend more time smoothing over the rough edges and healing the wounds that opened up.
  • You go through a period of rediscovery where you begin to understand what the MS actually is, not what you thought it should be.

If the relationship has failed:

  • You start finding yourself working on other projects – only an hour or two at first, and then you make excuses to spend more and more time away.
  • You want it to change – make it change – and then find the changes unsatisfying. The MS begins to feel resentful and you begin to tire of its tantrums and difficulties.
  • You find yourself rehearsing the ‘it’s not me, it’s you speech’, and give yourself reasons to dump the entire project because it is looking more and more like it is over.
  • Ultimately, you will either begin the whole thing over, or tear it apart and save what characters and lines you can. The rest will end up on a shelf or in a folder, waiting for you to realise how good it could have been.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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The ‘And Then This Happened’ Approach to Writing

July 2, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Those following me on twitter will probably remember that I saw ‘Land of the Lost’ on the weekend and was somewhat less than impressed with it. To be perfectly honest I hated it, and I probably would have walked out if not for the fact that I had bought a frozen coke and it would have been a waste.

My problem with ‘Land of the Lost’ is the same as the problem I have when I read a lot of drafts for stories. Instead of some sort of plan or cohesive idea that is explored within the text, one random event after another is squished together, pasted and held by improbability, and linked only by chance.

Caution – spoilers ahead.

For instance, early in the movie, Will Ferrell’s character meets a young scientist who respects his theories and inspires him to get on with inventing the time travelling device. Fair enough. She found out about him at college and tracked him down. No problem believing that.

Then she returns the next day to find him in a sugar coma. After his response to her the day before, why she returns is never adequately explained, but fair enough. She decides to have a second go and there she is.

They travel into an alternate dimension, by means of a waterfall, which makes no apparent sense (but there have been worse ways to travel between worlds so I will let it go), somehow they survive and are now stumbling through a desert (what happened to the waterfall) where they encounter a group of ape people sacrificing another ape person.

After saving the sacrifice they then chase him, to fall through a pit of sand to land upon a pile of bones. Lots of falling and landing in random places without any real point or link, other then the writers decided they were bored with the old set and couldn’t be bothered writing some kind of transition.

And on it goes.

The part that made me want to walk out was when the writers clearly decided the bit with the dinosaur was getting old, and suddenly our ‘hero’ receives a psychic message from an injured lizard man in a tunic seeking help.

This is very much akin to dropping a clown from the sky and saying ‘ah-ha, the story goes this way’ and waving your arms vigorously in front of the audience and hoping they are too caught up with that ‘wacky’ gags to care, only we aren’t because the script is flat, the acting mediocre and the best performance is delivered by a computer generated t-rex.

Now, I don’t expect a lot of story from a comedy. A loose sketch of characters in a basic setting with a barely plausible context will usually do, as long as it keeps heading in some sort of coherent direction.

Incidentally, foreshadowing is an important writing technique. ‘Land of the Lost’ demonstrates how not to use it, with their “If you don’t make it – it’s your own damn vault” poster at the beginning of the movie, and the line used during the confrontation with the T-rex. This is not foreshadowing, this is a desperate attempt for the writers to remind us that at some stage in the story, there was a point to all the ridiculousness.

As far as cheap laughs, the movie does have them, but that is about the only thing I found to recommend it.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Continuity Errors

June 28, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Have you ever watched a movie where something is happening on a Monday and then the next day is Saturday and everyone is on their weekend? Not because time has passed that you haven’t been shown, but because they have literally jumped to Saturday without any events occurring in between, on or off screen.

Have you ever seen a character wearing one thing and then the next minute they are wearing something different? Or more importantly, they are eating something and it magically reappears, whole and untouched upon their plate in the next minute.

Continuity errors really jump out at me in films because you have to wonder with the number of screenings they do why nobody picked up on it. Of course, now that I’m writing regularly and finishing my own work, the answer has become quite apparent.

Too many details.

My brain is racing around trying to keep up with the main plot and sometimes small details slip by me without a second thought. Even on the third or fourth reading I don’t notice. Sometimes even friends read the story and don’t notice the error. Yet there it is in black and white, just waiting to be discovered and mocked.

I’m a lot nicer in my critique of stories since I’ve been writing.

The biggest problem I have had recently is in weather and the time of day. I particularly had this problem in my second MS (though I had numerous other problems with this MS, including a psychotic protagonist who refused to work as per the plan). The story takes place over six days and is divided into six parts with approximately seven chapters per part.

It all seems wonderfully structured and organised until you realise that chapter three of part one has a character watching a sunset and then in chapter five there is another sunset. Not the same sunset in a different location. Hours have passed and the sun is definitely setting again.

Part three is equally inept with a storm brewing, that never approaches. Not disappears or goes around. There is a storm brewing, everyone is worried about it and then it literally never gets mentioned again. Gone. Unimportant. Except for the reader who flicks back wondering if they missed something.

I also had a problem with directions. If you walk north from this building you end up at that one. Except when you don’t. Except when they head off north and exit the city from the same location, not passing the building they used to arrive at when heading in the same direction.

How to solve all these problems? I would say how to avoid them in the first place, except I know that is not going to happen, so now I’m just going to work on how to identify these problems and fix them.

1. Sometimes stories jump around or are not told in a linear fashion. After you’ve written the first draft, create a timeline of events and make sure that if something hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t mentioned.

2. Around the outside of your timeline, you might want to list any external phenomenon that are mentioned. Storms, tides, wars, grazing animals, etc. Anything that might give the reader a moment of confusion if it changes or disappears illogically.

3. Draw maps. I hate maps, I won’t look at them in books. If I can’t get a feel for the place from the writing, I certainly don’t want to try and decipher someone’s artistic rendering of it. However, for the sake of organising a place in my head, some sort of visual representation of the main areas (main city, main residences, main rooms) will help you sort out your location and spacing problems. Even in rooms, if the chair is against one wall, it can’t suddenly be under the window, etc.

4. As to fixing these problems, don’t do what I frequently do and change the story at one point without following the correction through. That just creates more problems in the long run.

Continuity errors – don’t think no one will notice.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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10 Ways to Know You Are Obsessed With Writing

June 26, 2010 at 5:40 am (Replay, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Today I would just like to share a list of ten things that indicate you’ve become obsessed by writing (not saying obsession is a bad thing):

1. You start re-reading every sentence that you write and then start re-writing every sentence, convinced that you are ‘improving’ them. I know when it’s time to stop when I have just written the same sentence ten times and I no longer even believe it to be written in English.

2. Your partner/best friend/child sends you an instant message asking if you will be eating breakfast/lunch/dinner.

3. You start arguing with your characters out loud: “No, you fool. You have to go…”

4. You have any kind of repetitive strain problem (wrist, arm, finger, neck, eyes).

5. You get home from your day job and your computer is turned on before you have put your bag down, taken your shoes off, fed your pets, or spoken to your children.

6. When you have told your friend/partner/child you will be ready to leave just after finishing one more sentence you write another couple of pages and forget you were meant to be finishing until they unplug the computer at the wall.

7. In your bag you have at least three notebooks and five pens, as well as a pencil in case all of you pens cease working on the same day.

8. Every single thing you read or watch is critiqued in terms of character, plot and setting.

9. When you meet someone for the first time you repeat their name, not to help you remember them but so that you can someday use that name in a story.

10. In conversation you directly reference events and characters you have been writing about (even though nobody else has read it yet).

Add your ‘you know you are obsessed with writing when…’

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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The Dirty Dozen

June 21, 2010 at 6:02 am (Other) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m participating in a blog hop set up by Alex J. Canauagh today. The question being – if I could only round up 12 films which 12 would I choose.

Tricky question and I had to really think about this and in the end I decided to go with the idea that I was going to be stuck in isolation for the rest of forever. Which movies did I have to take and what combination?

I decided to start with the child-hood classics.

1.  The Dark Crystal – Jim Henson at his finest. An epic fantasy tale told with muppets with some of the most interesting characters I ever met as a child. I love Kira and her matter-of-fact nature as well as her ability to talk to pretty much any animal with a reasonable expectation of being answered.

2.  Willow – Again, epic fantasy. This time it is a combination of Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer who are the defnitely draw though the shield bob-sled over snow we probably could have done without. Fairies, trolls, witches, prophesise, what more could a movie want?

3.  The Princess Bride – Because it is awesome. Fantasy and romance and action and adventure all rolled into one very entertaining story.

Moving on some old favourites.

4. Indiana Jones (If I’m not allowed the entire trilogy I choose Temple of Doom – though many fans think that this is the weak link) – With the exception of the Crystal Skull (which I still maintain is not Indiana Jones) these movies are incredibly fun, action packed and scenic.

5.  Clash of the Titans – The original. Clunky stop-go animation but that vulture is hilarious and this was my gate-way to Greek mythology. Can’t be without this one.

6.  The Trouble with Harry – Hitchcock at his most amusing. I just like the twisted sense of humour.

The B-Grade Collection – I have this thing for really bad horror movies.

7.  Tremors – If I can have all four of the movies I will, but otherwise I would have to choose the second one. Underground monsters that get smarter by the minute and eat anything that moves. A great laugh with one or two jumps thrown in (just so you remember it was sort of supposed to be a horror).

8.  Ginger Snaps – Possibly the best werewolf movie I have ever watched and yet you end up laughing more than being scared by this coming of age movie mixed with horror. I will say that the scariest thing in this movie is Ginger’s mother (creepy).

9.  Scream – This one was a toss up between The Faculty and Scream but Scream came out on top for two reasons. One – it gave us one of the best quotes from a bad villain ever: “My mum and dad are going to be so mad at me”. The second reason is that they made sure the last hurrah wasn’t dragged out. Short and sweet and done.

Finally, the feel good movies.

10.  Elizabeth Town – Most people will hate this choice. Yes, it is Orlando Bloom. Yes, it does start with him trying to commit suicide. Yes, it mostly deals with a funeral. It is light and amusing and by the road trip at the end you are genuinely feeling good about yourself. This is what I want in a movie when I need cheering up.

11. 10 Things I Hate About You – An updated take on the Taming of the Shrew and my introduction to Heath Ledger, I love this movie. It is well done and uplifting.

12.  Just Like Heaven – I needed at least one genuine, sickly sweet movie on this list. This is my choice.

You should head over to Alex’s blog and check out the rest of the blog hop.

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Heroic Failure

June 16, 2010 at 5:30 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve previously looked at heroic traits and my favourite heroes but recently I’ve been thinking about why some heroes just don’t live up to their hype.

Personally, I have never liked Superman. I know, this is a terrible thing I am saying and many of you are staring daggers at the screen but I’ve just never really connected with Superman. Why? Because the man in the red cape and blue lycra has it far too easy. The only reason he’s ever in peril is if someone manages to get hold of one particular kind of rock (which is meant to be hard to find but there seems to be prolifically spread throughout the stories) and you just can’t care about someone who is mostly invincible. I did like Tarentino’s take on the Superman story as explained in Kill Bill 2. It may be a long winded scene and the story itself has very little connection to the story of the movie (there is a very loose tie-in at the end of the tale) but it is fascinating hearing Bill’s perception of the man of steel.

So where do other heroes fail and why do they fail? And is it actually failure or is just a matter of these heroes not being directed at the right audience?

Examining movies the obvious character to pull apart would seem to be Riddick (or at least it would be obvious if you were currently inside my head). Riddick was an incredibly interesting anti-hero in Pitch Black and his characterisation and development were smoothly executed, he had some of the best lines of the movie, and while he was the hero of the story at no stage did he make you want to gag because he didn’t have that sudden epiphany of “what have I been doing with my life”. He was who he was and his essential personality did not change.

Then we move on to Chronicles of Riddick and while it might seem a pointless exercise to attack Riddick’s character when the entire movie had issues, I’m going to do it anyway. To start with, the minor developments of character that he underwent in Pitch Black are gone and we seem to be back at the beginning of Riddick’s character development. In their haste to try to develop a back-story we have info-dumps all over the place that weigh our character down and don’t really help us to understand him any better. As a hero he fails to appease the audience because at no stage do we care if he succeeds at overcoming an incomprehensible ‘evil’ army. The worst thing about his character here is that he becomes less heroic and more unlikable by the minute in this film. Heroic failure – though feel free to disagree if you found some redeeming qualities in Riddick.

If I look to books then I start to think about Janelle from Ann Bishop’s Dark Jewel’s Trilogy. I love these books and the stories. Janelle’s character is fascinating and frightening and completely mesmerizing, but as a hero she doesn’t really do much for me. Her changeable nature from passive, to fragile, to furious in the blink of a few pages makes her an interesting character, but hard to support as the hero. The characters surrounding her are more what you could call traditionally heroic, but even they are deeply flawed individuals. Great story but hard to find the hero.

Does it matter? Do we need a ‘hero’? Do we have to like the hero for the story to be effective? Clearly in the case of Ann Bishop I didn’t like the hero on reflection and can see all the flaws in the other candidates and yet I still loved the story. In the case of Pitch Black, I liked the development of the anti-hero but found the break down of Riddick’s character in the sequel to be tiresome and boring which completely undermined the little story being told.

Your thoughts?

Who are the heroes that you never liked?

What makes a hero work for you?

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Critical, critical

June 2, 2010 at 10:14 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to admit it. I’m becoming very critical.

I’ve always been critical – particularly of myself – but lately I’ve been really critical of a lot of things.

Today I was given a short story to read. The purpose of the story was to demonstrate how to use descriptive language to create an emotional affect in the reader. Possibly it succeeded in that but the only emotional affect it had on me was the desire to grab a red pen and have at it – I managed to resist the urge but barely.

So what was wrong with the story?

Every single person or thing in the story was described by at least two adjectives in almost every single instance. Every single time. I’m sorry. The person is whistling. Sure, you can tell us how they are whistling and what it sounds like but the next time you feel the need to mention it you could just say whistling. You don’t then need to come up with two new adjectives (or an adverb and an adjective) to describe how the whistling is happening.

Objects were appearing ‘out of nowhere’. Umm, no. Unless they were tearing through interdimensional portals I’m pretty sure they came from somewhere. Maybe it wasn’t an important somewhere but to explicitly state they came from out of nowhere just leads the reader to wonder how that is even possible.

Characters were behaving out of character – which in a short story is really distracting because you don’t even have the benefit of later explaining the out of characterness (I know that isn’t a word).

I’ll admit it. I’m awful and I’m tearing this story to threads. And it lead me to realise some of the weaknesses I still have in my own writing. I like adjectives (not to this extent but I over use them to be sure). I may not have things appearing out of nowhere but I’m sure I suddenly have people in scenes where they shouldn’t be and have no logical reason to be and I’m sure I need to work on it. I need to turn this critical eye away from things I’m reading and apply it to things I’m writing and I need to look at what I could be doing instead.

Plenty of areas here for me to work on. What are you working on improving?

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Vampire Fiction – Again

May 25, 2010 at 6:37 am (Feature, fiction) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been reading a little bit lately.  actually I’ve read more books this last week than I had the entire month previous so I should probably amend that statement. Most recently I’ve been reading YA lit, mostly because I’ve been trying to evaluate texts for use in  the classroom.  This means I’ve been reading a wide range of genres and styles and there are some really strange books out there (also some brilliant ones).

One book that I originally cringed at the thought of reading was Tamara Summers “Never Bite a Boy on the First Date”.  I immediately assumed it would be a bad retelling of Twilight and I’d spend a week reading a single page at a time before finally deciding I just couldn’t read anymore. Yet the cover kind of intrigued me.

Despite my trepidation, I bought this book.  Why? Because I read the first page. Not the prologue but the first page of chapter one. And I nearly fell over laughing while standing in the book store. Not because it was bad, but because it was really quite amusing and the narrator used understatement so well I just couldn’t help but laugh. Once I recovered from my fit of giggles, I read a few more pages and then I bought the book.

It is a very modern vampire story. The narrator is a sixteen year old, newly made vampire, with an interesting personality that is well expressed in her green hair, multiple-piercings and her general ability to forget about the murdered corpse lying on the steps of the school when distracted by a guy with a cute smile.

There were definitely moments where the narration intruded on the story and they were my least favourite moments. Sometimes you just want her to get on with the story and to stop being so delighted with her own cleverness but other times it works really well.

My favourite line: “But he seemed so… non-murdery He was all ice cream and puppies and sexy-swimmer’s arms.”

I’m still on the fence about whether I love this book or not because I know there were definite moments where I really was annoyed at the story but I’ve finished it with a smile on my face. I guess it goes to show you won’t know what lies inside a book until you try it.

Have you ever had a book that has turned out to be surprisingly good?

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