Trailer for Radiance

September 8, 2010 at 5:41 am (Feature, New Release) (, , , , , , , , , , )

This is the trailer for Radiance, the first book in the new middle grade ‘Radiance Series’ by Alyson Noël. Alyson expands her ‘Immortals’ story by giving Ever’s little sister, Riley, her own brand-new series.

More about ‘Radiance’:

Riley has crossed the bridge into the afterlife—a place called Here, where time is always Now. She has picked up life where she left off when she was alive, living with her parents and dog in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. When she’s summoned before The Council, she learns that the afterlife isn’t just an eternity of leisure. She’s been assigned a job, Soul Catcher, and a teacher, Bodhi, a possibly cute, seemingly nerdy boy who’s definitely hiding something. They return to earth together for Riley’s first assignment, a Radiant Boy who’s been haunting a castle in England for centuries. Many Soul Catchers have tried to get him to cross the bridge and failed. But all of that was before he met Riley . . .

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Shiny

August 25, 2010 at 5:24 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Shiny, glittering, distractions.

It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.

It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.

Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.

Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.

Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.

Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.

Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.

And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.

You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.

So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?

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Why Writing a Novel Is Like Baking A Cake

August 13, 2010 at 5:37 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Okay – before you jump on the attack I am going to counter this soonish by explaining why writing a novel is not like baking a cake.

There are many reasons why writing a novel is in fact like baking a cake:

1.  There are certain ingredients that must be present or it will not work. You can argue that there are eggless/flourless and everything-else-less cakes out there and some of these are very, very good. However, for the most part, leaving out critical ingredients in a cake or a novel will just get you into trouble and have your taster (reader) wondering what went wrong.

2.  The better you plan it out before beginning, the better the process goes. This is true for me, I know.When baking a cake I do a lot of pre-organisation and pull all the ingredients out and line them up on the bench. I even measure most of it out into various cups and bowls and have it all just sitting and waiting to be added. Far too many times I’ve entered the cooking process and go to the cupboard to get out the… Forgot to buy it. Now I have to go to the shop and get some more, meanwhile the oven is heating, and I forgot the shop is already shut. Plus, I know what sort of cake I’m making if I plan it out. I don’t get mid-way through and think I’d like to add some apple but then I’ll have to add more flour because the apple will make it too moist and I’ll probably add too much flour and then I’ll have to add a dash more milk. This all relates to novel writing in that I can plan out my characters, their motivations and goals out before the story so I won’t get too many surprises during the writing. I can make sure I’ve researched any vital plot points and have that research at the ready. I also know what sort of story I want it to be. So I’m not getting midway through and thinking, wouldn’t this be better if I just went back and rewrote the whole thing (though sometimes the plan fails and despite all the careful thought we do have to go back, and back again).

3.  It takes time. Okay, cake time to novel time are really not comparable but they both take time and rushing the process makes for a bad cake/novel. It takes as much time as it takes.

4.  The right tools help get the job done faster and better. In cakes this means whisks, pans, bowls and ovens that actually heat evenly and consistently. With writing this means at least a basic understanding of language and probably a word processing program of some sort that includes some basic editing assistance (such as spell check). The writer’s tool kit also includes their knowledge of the genre and plot conventions and all the other things you need to write the story.

5.  The proof is in the pudding. The taster of the cake can tell you if the cake is good. The reader of the story will tell you if the novel is good. Yes, you can pre-taste (read and evaluate yourself) but you are probably not the best judge. Like with cooking you will either be too harsh (I’m a terrible cook) or far too generous in your evaluation (its awesome and only burnt on two sides…).

There you have it. Five reasons why writing a novel is like baking a cake.

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I have a plan

August 11, 2010 at 5:04 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m not using it and I haven’t referred to it – but a plan exists. Surely that counts for something.

In case you are wondering what I am talking about, it is the old to plan or not to plan argument in writing. As always, I outline, know where I want to go, and then dutifully ignore any of it and write whatever anyway. From the number of unfinished projects I have stacking up, this may not be the most effective method, but it works for me. I don’t want to lock myself in if I’m not feeling the characters lead me in a certain direction. And I don’t want to be endlessly worried that they haven’t progressed as neatly from point a to point b as I would have liked.

I love to write. I love words. If I can eventually tidy them up enough to make a story, great. If not, I’ll have enjoyed the writing anyway and maybe at some future time I’ll return to the story and figure it all out.

That’s kind of what’s happened at the moment.

I came across a fairly old story (in fact I don’t remember when I started it). I didn’t even have it on my computer any more. I only had the paper copy I printed out. It wasn’t finished and as I was reading it I realised I really wanted to know where this story ended. Only I didn’t remember.

Fortunately I also printed out the plan and included it in the file.

Unfortunately having just read the first act of the story, I realised why I abandoned it. The plan didn’t make any sense. There were entire sub-plots that were clearly leading to X but just didn’t appear in the plan at all. The main character was clearly not motivated by D but by P and those two characters over there were as likely to be conspiring as a spider with a fly. I’d had a plan but the way I’d written that first act just made the plan entirely irrelevant. The story was better than the original plan and the characters a great deal more interesting but it made the second act almost impossible to write without an entire overhaul of the over all goal of the story.

So now I need to figure out where the story should be going and how I’m going to get it there and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it written. I’m not going to commit myself to it but I have a strong feeling that I’m going to spend quite a number of sleepless nights thinking about it in the near future.

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Learn to Love Them – They’re Going to Be With You Forever

August 10, 2010 at 5:32 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Okay, maybe forever is a slight exaggeration but you really do have to be able to deal with having your characters in your head for a long time.

You spend so much time making them real, getting to know them, putting the through hardships and helping them overcome difficulties. You watch them grow – you help them to grow. You direct them and guide them and shape them at every turn.

Elspeth had an excellent post last week on characters when she shared her 10 Tips for Non-Perfection. It was her list to help the writers out there not view their characters through rose tinted glasses and it is a great list – well worth the read.

As a writer I’m truly cruel to my characters – particularly in drafting stages. Mostly because I want to see how my character reacts under every kind of pressure I can throw at them. In the end I usually pick the crisis that has the most interesting reaction and go with it, but when I’m still developing the character I can be really nasty to them.

But when all of that is said and done, underneath, I still really love my characters and can feel pretty caught up in their lives at times. One particular WIP that I’m still thinking about revising continues to stump me mostly because in the face of the massive danger being faced, nobody dies. Well, one character does, but we didn’t really like them and other than a brief mention in act one they really failed to have an impact.

I didn’t even intentionally write it that way.

It just turned out that after I’d finished the various minor skirmishes that were going on in the huge and dusty battle, every named character (villain or hero) tragically survived. It was a cold blooded conversation with a friend when I sat down with the draft and started systematically listing each character’s attributes and why they should die/live. I still haven’t actually rewritten it.

How do you and your characters get along?

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What a character

August 1, 2010 at 5:45 am (Character, fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was recently visiting Nancy Kelly Allen’s blog and found some excellent advice on critiquing a manuscript. I must admit however, I was drawn to Nancy’s advice on the main character.

Is the main character active in carrying the plot forward? The main character should be responsible for solving the problem or reaching the goal. Uncle Hamm or an older brother should not step in and save the character that is experiencing the trouble.

This advice I have heard before. I don’t recall which blog I read it on but the author explained that the problem with book 6 or the Harry Potter series was that Harry was spending all of his time trying to win a sporting trophy rather than trying to solve any of his problems. In point of fact, Dumbledore deliberately kept Harry in the dark about what most of those problems were which meant that the reader was cheated out of a possibly more interesting story than the one we were delivered.

The fact that I’ve heard this advice before didn’t stop me from sitting and going ‘oh’. Mostly because it is one of thousands of things that when you think about it should be obvious but sometimes when you are looking at a draft completely eludes you until someone else points it out. It helps to be reminded, often, and it is a really important point.

Linking back to Harry Potter, one of my biggest problems with the series was that Harry was given the starring role in the first book but was almost the least interesting character in it. Hermione solved most of the problems while Ron randomly ran into things that may have helped and occasionally Harry would do something pretty stupid that turned out to be good. Harsh, but at the time that was how I saw it. The second book in the series was even worse as far as establishing Harry as the hero. Even in a coma Hermione was more useful than Harry turned out to be. She gave him the vital clue that made everything in the conclusion possible.

I actually do like the Harry Potter books and I’m not pulling them to pieces, just the main character who was always a little underwhelming to me.

Thanks Nancy for reminding us of this excellent advice.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about character recently?

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Moving the Plot

July 23, 2010 at 5:43 am (fantasy, Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

You hear the advice all the time. If something isn’t moving your plot forward it shouldn’t be in your story. Given the current goal oriented generation where anything that isn’t immediate becomes dull, this is pretty good advice. Your description of that sunset may be absolutely flawless but if your reader can’t see the point of it (because just being a beautiful piece of writing is insufficient) then it has to go.

I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I hate wading through endless reams of description of settings that in the end don’t make the tiniest bit of difference to the story. Even a fight sequence that has gone on too long begins to irk me and I just want to cut to the chase. So who won and what happens next? I am very much a product of the modern world in that I like there to be a point. At the same time, sometimes I really enjoy just well written work. That witty dialogue or really interesting aside. It may have nothing to do with the main plot and only be very thinly related to character development but if it is written just right, it can suck me right into the story.

That said, how do we move the plot forward?

Plot generally involves a character (or group or characters) getting from point A to point B while X, Y and Z try to stop them. That would be the motivation for the characters and the conflict they will face. If the plot becomes too direct you would have a story in about five lines and it would be incredibly boring.

Farm boy loses family.

Farm boy trains to fight.

Farm boy faces bad guy and loses.

Farm boy takes time out to learn some valuable lesson.

Farm boy defeats bad guy.

The End.

This would be the basic plot of both Star Wars and Eragon and probably many other fantasy – space opera kind of things. Don’t get me wrong, this plot works very effectively (or can), but when you boil the story down this much it gets a bit dull.

I guess the question you have to ask yourself is why does line A (farm boy losing family) lead to line B. Lots of people lose family members without suddenly enlisting to learn some ancient fighting method and going on a quest for revenge and to other throw an evil empire. What about your character makes them take that step and how do they reach that decision? How do you help your reader believe it?

The plot moves forward when you know where you are and where you want to go and you know why your characters are taking those steps. I’ve had many would be stories stagnate because I didn’t know clearly where I was planning to go next and I wasn’t really sure why my characters were doing something anyway. Once you can answer these questions the plot should move forward though it is adding all the small details and weaving those interesting sub-plots that will make it interesting.

Your thoughts on moving a plot forward?

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5 Essentials For Genuine Characters

June 29, 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.

Keeping it simple today. This is quick checklist for creating genuine characters:

  • Don’t shun stereotypes – While the overuse of stereotypes is definitely a no-no, but to utterly ignore every existing paradigm for character creation isn’t such a great idea either. Despite what people say, they actually do like the familiar and dragging them by the hair into totally new territory probably isn’t the best way to connect to your readers.
  • Appearance matters – You have to give your reader some idea of what your character looks like. This doesn’t mean giving the reader an info dump two pages long that ends up describing every single mole. Give them enough to form an image and then move on (and if you revisit physical appearance again be sure you are consistent).
  • Dialogue rocks – Dialogue is where the reader has the chance to hear the character speak in the words that they have chosen. Unless the book is narrated by the character the reader does not get the chance any other way. That means the dialogue should be authentic to the character and it has to be distinguished from other characters.
  • Everybody has a past – unless you sprung from the ground about a sentence before the beginning of the plot. How much of the character’s past you choose to explain or explicitly detail is up to the individual writer and plot but every character has a past, has opinions and viewpoints and ways of doing things. Characters that seem to exist only for the sake of the current plot never really feel genuine.
  • Relationships are necessary – You character is going to be interacting with others and it is important that you understand the relationship that they have with each of the other players. Is there a history? Is it a newly established connection? Are there other connections between the characters? If the relationships don’t work then the characters won’t feel right.

Did I forget any? Probably. Let me know what you think.

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

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Plot – Why So Complicated?

June 27, 2010 at 5:45 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.

Everyone will tell you a story has to have a problem. Or a complication. Or a conflict. It all amounts to the same thing. There has to be a central issue that is in some way connected to the central characters. Why? Because otherwise, what is your story about.

If someone handed me a book and said ‘read it’, my first question would be ‘what is it about?’. This isn’t me wanting the blurb read to me or someone’s review. This is me just wanting to know what is the point of the book. Boil all the fancy words down, what is the reason for the story. Read the two answers below and decide which you would read.

1. Luke and Lane are getting married.

2. Luke and Lane are getting married but Lane’s mother doesn’t approve.

The first tells me what events to expect but it doesn’t sound particularly interesting. Unless it is a biography about two people I had heard of and I was wanting to know about their wedding, I’m unlikely to read it. The second tells me there is a problem. They want to get married, but… And that but is enough to keep me interested. How does Lane’s mother react? Does she try to interfere? Stop the wedding? Why doesn’t she approve? So many questions that I instantly want answered and now I have to read the book to find out.

You have to have a complication.

And before you run off and try to think of something so intensely convoluted that even Nostradamus would have asked for directions the central complication doesn’t need to be too complex. The important thing is that there is a point to reading and the reader can expect some kind of satisfactory explanation. It is not really important to try to confuse them. If you want to make your story more complex, you can layer other complications and side plots in later, but the basic storyline should be relatively clear.

What kind of problem could there be?

Most people I’ve spoken to and most of the advice I’ve read points to four basic types of conflict that appear in books.

1. Man against society – The protagonist (for whatever reason) opposes the world and society in which he lives. The story then usually revolves around the protagonist trying to change things in some way.

2. Man against man – Two characters for whatever reason have opposing view points or goals and the clash of personalities creates the conflict. Frequently one will be villianised while the other will be set up as a hero.

3. Man against himself – Looking at internal conflict of someone trying to change who they are within.

4. Man against nature – Protagonist trying to defeat some kind of monster, natural disaster, climb a mountain, save the world, etc, etc.

While these are the basic types of conflict there are many books that use variations or combinations of these, plus if you include multiple sub-plots it will enable you to explore more than one of these within a single story.

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

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Quotes From Books

June 20, 2010 at 5:48 am (From the Book Shelf) (, , , , , , )

I love quotes. I’ve been collecting them for a long time and recently I came across a notebook from about 7 years ago with a collection of quotes from books I was reading at the time.

  • “Hearts do not break, they are only bent and mutilated.” -From Cassandra by Kerry Green.
  • “If the world comes to an end while I’m asleep, just leave a note.” – From Eye of the Daemon by Camille Bacon-Smith.
  • “I heard the chief of police three times today, claiming they expected a big break in the case any time now. You know what dat means. They ain’t got a clue what’s happening.” – From A Modern Magician by Robert Weinberg.
  • “Would you get out of here you twittering numbskull and let me get on with saving your life?” – From Socerer’s Ward by Barbara Hambly.

It is interesting to see that the books I was reading then still have a very special place on my shelf and these four books are ones I have re-read incessantly.

What are some of your favourite lines from books?  Which authors do you find yourself quoting most often?

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