As it was in the beginning: how does an author hook a reader?

 

Wherein I promise the advice every writer wants and fail to deliver…

Especially because I don’t give advice. I don’t have the credibility, but I can read, and I am constantly working to become a better writer. I have started my latest project three or four times (I honestly can’t remember), and every time there was a problem. The most recent problem was “too much, too soon.”  I had a great beginning to introduce the character and some special qualities of his–he’s a musician and poet, and he has the ability to speak to goddesses, something that is rare to say the least–and an interesting situation.  But once I started writing, I realized that a lot of stuff was happening and that we actually hadn’t gotten to know the main character.  I wrote about twenty thousand words before I realized that readers actually hadn’t connected with the main character, despite an interesting first chapter.

And I realized that a lot of my favorite books, books where I am totally hooked from beginning to end, actually don’t do a lot in the beginning.  The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, for instance, begins with a bizarre and exciting prologue with a guy blowing himself up, but after that, Chapter 1 is people walking into town, getting ready for a party.  Plenty of books do start with a bang, but those that do usually settle into the fairly regular rhythm of daily life for the main character.  But at the same time they don’t seem mundane. Continue reading “As it was in the beginning: how does an author hook a reader?”

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The Anatomy of Story (Goodreads Review)

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master StorytellerThe Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a classic storytelling manual, and it certainly adds something unique to the storytelling world, but I had a lot of trouble telling what that was. If you are the sort of writer who devours writing books and collects advice, able to weigh it against everything else you’ve read, then this is a good book. Based on my reading of it, however, it is not a panacea. Not that it has to be, but I would advise against having expectations as high as the jacket copy suggests.

My complaints follow. Continue reading “The Anatomy of Story (Goodreads Review)”

Back to Back to Basics: Phases of Life and Story Structure

Life and our ability to assess our own knowledge goes in phases.  There are many summaries of this, but since this is a writing blog, I wanted to point out that attitudes about story structure can change over the course of a life, or over the course of writing a novel or story.  I am working my way through a new novel during NaNoWriMo, and I’ve noticed that although I’m a great fan of story structure (for reasons I’ll go into below), I don’t really follow the structure religiously, and yet things seem to work. Continue reading “Back to Back to Basics: Phases of Life and Story Structure”

Aristotle Says “Pitch Your Book”

Western literature’s oldest critic tells us why critique partners help us avoid the idiot plot… .

marathea
Cool fantasy maps make inconsistent stories totally okay, right?

I finished revising The Last Omen last week, and have moved on to trying a new approach to short story writing.  The novel came up in conversation with my wife two nights ago and I discovered, yet again, that telling the events of the story does wonders for ironing out the plot.

My wife is not a fantasy reader, in fact, she reads very little fiction, and since discovering audiobooks has gotten most of her “literature” from Audible.  She does love a good supernatural story, but mostly in contemporary form, and on TV or a movie.  I think fantasy readers are especially forgiving when it comes to certain elements of plot as long as there is cool stuff going on.  As an example of this attitude, Brandon Sanderson’s most important law of magic is “err on the side of awesome.”  We write and read fantasy because it’s fun, and because it satisfies our craving for the stupendous, but someone really into that side of things is not the best critic when it comes to plot. Continue reading “Aristotle Says “Pitch Your Book””

A Wrinkle in Time

Should you go see the new adaptation of the classic book? Maybe…

Here is my Goodreads review (follow me on Goodreads), or scroll down for what I thought of the film.

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why ask me? This book is a classic that goes beyond all internet reviews. School librarians and teachers will forever be recommending this book, and with good reason. If you’re going to read it as an adult, don’t expect too much, but kids will remember it forever. I just read it to my children and we went to see the movie. It’s a cerebral, magical, wonder-filled book that is great for children from 8-12. I highly recommend it for reading aloud or reading solo. The kids loved it. It’s imaginative and adventurous, with plenty of laughs and cries. The thing I liked most about it was reading a children’s book that quotes Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, and Cervantes in their original languages. That’s the kind of book I want to read to my kids. Continue reading “A Wrinkle in Time”

Superior Readability

An exploration of what makes a book readable and hooks readers, in which I alienate beer drinkers… .

Readability is not a joke.  Of course, this is how I treated it a few weeks ago when I first noticed the readability of Peter V. Brett’s debut novel The Warded Man.  The speed at which I read the first book of Brett’s Demon Cycle series and the way I kept going back to reading it–and actually enjoying it–left me thinking it was just really easy to read.  This was funny because a book should be easy to read, and if it’s a pain to read, and you have to drag yourself into reading it, then why are you reading it?  It reminded me of a billboard for Bud Light that hung over the entrance to the O’Neill Tunnel in Boston: “Superior Drinkability.”  If you’re selling a drink it really ought to be drinkable, or else something is wrong. Continue reading “Superior Readability”

Nah, NoWriMo

In which I alienate my fellow NaNoErs.

I signed up for National Novel Writing Month this year for a few reasons, but chief among them was that I had resisted doing it in previous years.  NaNoWriMo seems set up for people who have a different set of problems with novel writing than I do, and I used that as a reason to not participate.  My problem is not that I don’t add words every day or that I procrastinate or that I have “writer’s block.”  My problem is that I have a bunch of animals in my house that will starve or (more likely) eat each other if I don’t stop writing for a few minutes a day.  Four thousand words a day would be no problem for me if I didn’t have anything else to do, so NaNoWriMo didn’t seem like something for me. Continue reading “Nah, NoWriMo”

Pumpkins of Death: Brief Update (NaNoWriMo and when to fire a literary agent)

I can’t put my finger on why, but I hate it when bloggers apologize for not posting regularly.  Is everyone hanging on their every word?  Did they sign a contract saying “I will post no fewer than twice a week and no more than eight times a day?”  I’m not doing this because I owe any words to anyone.  I just make a lot of words.  It’s nice there’s a platform where I can put them out where Google can find them for people, but I’m not writing because I owe it to anyone but myself.  Yeah, so screw you people.

Anyway, sorry for not posting for a while.

I haven’t because I’ve been working on a new book, The Last Omen, loosely based on Greek Tragedy and (of course) Shakespeare.  Alyatha is the reluctant queen of Marathea, prophesied wife of the newly-prophesied king.  Marathea is sandwiched between the empire of Habia Korenz, and the anarchic non-state of Nemerev, where warlords and pirates threaten the network of roads and shipping lanes around Marathea.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal if her husband were up to his job: the Habiari are threatening to invade to quell the violence in Nemerev, and someone keeps paying a vile priestess to perform human sacrifices in order to change the course of fate, the most sacred thing in Marathean culture.  The priestess happens to be her husband’s former lover, but when push comes to shove, Alyatha has to join forces with this witch to save the kingdom.  Fantasy hijinx ensue.

I wrote about 14,000 words of this before November started, but I decided to do NaNoWriMo since I was already working on a new manuscript.  Though I always scoffed at it before (“I make my own damn goals, I don’t need a friggin’ website for that!”), it’s actually a lot of fun to track my progress and share it with people.  I’ve written about 37,000 words so far, and my goal for this book is between 90,000 and 100,000.  Because…

I had to fire my literary agent.  I won’t give too many details, but the important part is he wasn’t doing enough to support me as a writer.  He did nothing in the way of editing, and never initiated communication (i.e. he never asked me what I was working on next).  He didn’t tell me what was going on with my submissions, even when I pressed him for info.  When I brought him new material, he rejected it outright instead of helping me make it marketable.  I rationalized it at the time, but have since found out different agents would have worked completely differently.  He never suggested career development like writer’s conferences or classes, and he didn’t do much to make my book marketable.  I have other avenues, so this is nowhere near giving up.  Don’t send me sad emojis.

The manuscript he rejected outright with no assistance to make it something worth his time was Firesage, and I am most likely going to send that one to an open call from Angry Robot books.

I am keeping some short stories in circulation, including “The Harp” and “Killing Montherek, and a new one called “Her Name is Memory.”  The last one was definitely a challenge, as I tried to write from the perspective of a narrator with a damaged memory.  It was rejected without placing in Writers of the Future, where I also submitted “The Harp.”  I probably won’t write any more short stories until I finish The Last Omen, but as I have found saying “I probably won’t write any more short stories until…” is a good way to find yourself writing short stories.

It’s snowing in Vermont.  Pumpkin season.  Yes.  Sentence fragments can tell you a lot.  So can complete sentences.

Phasma (Star Wars)Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book with my kids, who are Star Wars fans. I loved The Force Awakens, but just to add my own perspective, I think the proliferation of Star Wars material is a bit overwhelming and unnecessary to enjoying the movies. In addition, most Star Wars bonus material I have read is not that well done. I wanted to read this book mainly for my kids’ enjoyment, but I was excited to hear that Delilah S. Dawson was doing an entire novel. Delilah is inspiring as a writer and blogger, and gives wonderful advice on how to build a strong career. So I picked up Phasma and was blown away by the amazing prose in the opening pages. The author takes an entirely boring scenario and makes it crackle with tension. I had to read the rest.

If you like anything Star Wars, you’ll love this book. If you like science fiction and fantasy, and good writing, the best parts of this book will be the current-time conflict between Cardinal and Phasma, two rival stormtroopers in the First Order. Phasma’s backstory is an interesting quest with a very well-developed culture, and a mystery that will be satisfying for fantasy readers. I think the best writing and the biggest tension happens toward the end of the book, and it’s well worth getting through some slow “endless desert” passages. The last hundred pages of this book are filled with suspense, and I really had a good time reading it.

Phasma is already a bestseller, so if this is the first book you’ve read by the author, I highly urge you to pick up her original material, which is much much better. For example she has a Weird Western series under her pen name Lila Bowen that I highly recommend, the latest chapter of which is Malice of Crows.

View all my reviews

The Hunt for Story Ideas

The_Hunt_for_Red_October_movie_posterLast week my novel manuscript was rejected by my agent, so I’m spending this week coming up with new novel ideas. Coming up with novels from scratch is somewhat new, somewhat not new since I had to go through the process of actually creating good stories with my first three books. The difference was that I “pantsed” them and so by the time I went to outlining I already had characters, a setting (which in fantasy means a whole world or at least part of one), a main problem for those characters, and a premise (in the sense of Lajos Egri) on which to build a story (I didn’t have good stories, let that be a lesson to you). I also had what I call an “archetypal clarity” or “cosmic principle.” This is the additional element of fantasy that the universe is organized around. The One Power, for instance is the cosmic principle behind The Wheel of Time. Continue reading “The Hunt for Story Ideas”