Monday, August 30, 2010

Realistic vs. Believable Fiction

In the last few weeks, there has been some interesting discussion on author Nancy Kress’s blog and The League of Extraordinary Writers regarding the believability of the Hunger Games books.

That got me thinking about the whole concept of realistic vs. believable. Which is more important? Can you have one without the other? Or must they have equal weight? Let’s look at the definitions:

1. interested in, concerned with, or based on what is real or practical: a realistic estimate of costs; a realistic planner.
2. pertaining to, characterized by, or given to the representation in literature or art of things as they really are: a realistic novel.
3. resembling or simulating real life

1. to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so 2. to have confidence or faith in the truth of (a positive assertion, story, etc.); give credence to
3. to have confidence in the assertions of (a person)
4. to have a conviction that (a person or thing) is, has been, or will be engaged in a given action or involved in a given situation
5. to suppose or assume; understand

So, basically, one can see if something is realistic either by the way something is shown, or by relating to it with personal experience. In either case, it’s a tangible or specific kind of thing. If one finds something believable, then one may not know whether it’s real, but it’s been presented in a way that looks/sounds/seems plausible.

In Ms. Kress’s case, she found the premise behind the Hunger Games unrealistic, but many people still found it believable. So does that mean believability is more important than realistic? Maybe. It all comes down to how it’s done.

Many science fiction or fantasy novels are based on ideas that aren’t realistic: spaceships, cryogenic freezing, magic wands, dragons, etc. However, the best of these stories are solidly constructed such that the unrealistic becomes believable. Achieving this goal can be done by creating a rich and thorough setting with established rules.

Take Candor, for example. In the real world, it’s not possible to brainwash someone through subliminal messages (not to this extent, anyway), but the story is so solidly constructed that the reader can believe it’s possible in this instance. Same with Harry Potter. Rowling built her world with so many intricacies and details that the reader can totally believe there’s a whole world of magic hidden from normal humans.

But what about people? What does it mean for characters to be believable and realistic? Here, I think the need changes drastically. I think characters need to be equally realistic and believable. Actually, with characters, I think the terms realistic and believable are synonymous. For example, it’s neither realistic nor believable that a parent would briefly pop in on a beloved child in the hospital, even if that child was a teenager or a legal adult. Not without a good reason, anyway. A really good reason. No. That parent would be at his child’s side for the duration, providing all the love and support he could.

This also applies to groups of people. Here, however, there is a need for caution. It’s easy to lump a group of people together and think of them as one, and then assign them a certain behavior. Some examples:
Career women don’t spend enough time with their families.
Old people can’t keep up with the times.
An oppressed populace doesn’t have the will to rebel.
It’s more accurate to say that some career women don’t spend enough time with their families. Or that most old people can’t keep up with the times. Or that most oppressed people don’t have the will to rebel against their oppressors. But it’s neither realistic nor believable to make a statement like this about all of them.

A crowd /populace/category/etc. of people is really a group of individuals. And individuals react differently to different things. This needs to be taken into account as a group evolves over time. Change doesn’t happen easily within a group, but it does happen. And it almost always starts with an individual.

This post is now entirely too long, so I’ll stop. But I’d love to know what you think. Do you think believability is more important that realistic? Do you think it extends beyond what I’ve talked about here? Do you think I’m wrong? Please, do tell!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In My Mailbox...

In My Mailbox is an exploration of what books I brought home this week, and is organized by The Story Siren.

I got a couple interesting books this week...

ARC of Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
While other teenage girls daydream about boys, Calla Tor imagines ripping out her enemies’ throats. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. Calla was born a warrior and on her eighteenth-birthday she’ll become the alpha female of the next generation of Guardian wolves. But Calla’s predestined path veers off course the moment she saves the life of a wayward hiker, a boy her own age. This human boy’s secret will turn the young pack's world upside down and forever alter the outcome of the centuries-old Witches' War that surrounds them all.

ARC of The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Mackie Doyle seems like everyone else in the perfect little town of Gentry, but he is living with a fatal secret - he is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now the creatures under the hill want him back, and Mackie must decide where he really belongs and what he really wants.
A month ago, Mackie might have told them to buzz off. But now, with a budding relationship with tough, wounded, beautiful Tate, Mackie has too much to lose. Will love finally make him worthy of the human world?
What did you bring home this week?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Winner of the August book giveaway!

It's the end of the month, and time to announce who won ARCs of these books:

And the winner is...

Emily Heinlen!!

Congratulations Emily!  I will get those books out to you asap.  As for everyone else, come back next saturday to see what I'm giving away.  Hint: it'll be another two ARCs, one of which comes out next month!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Candor by Pam Bachorz

Oscar Banks has everything under control. In a town where his father brainwashes everyone, he's found a way to secretly fight the subliminal Messages. He's got them all fooled: Oscar's the top student and the best-behaved teen in town. Nobody knows he's made his own Messages to deprogram his brain. Oscar has even found a way to get rich. For a hefty price, he helps new kids escape Candor, Florida before they're transformed into cookie-cutter teens. But then Nia Silva moves to Candor, and Oscar's carefully-controlled world crumbles.

This book is a lot like The Stepford Wives, except with kids instead of wives. It is disturbing on so many levels, and incredibly intriguing on many more. I loved it.

Oscar’s dad has created this ‘Pleasantville’ type town where all the kids have been brainwashed into behaving like perfect little angels. And if any of them rebel, there’s a special place where they go for ‘rehabilitation.’ It’s lazy parenting taken to the extreme. I can see the advertisements now: “Got a kid who talks back? Doesn’t listen? Has no respect for authority? Don’t bother taking responsibility for your own parenting styles, or even try to make the situation right by stepping up to the plate. Instead, bring him to Candor! We’ll brainwash your kid into becoming the model student who obeys orders, won’t have sex, and will even wash your socks.” It’s all so *wrong*, and I could not tear myself away from this book.

Oscar is one of my favorite kind of characters. He starts out just like his dad—greedy, selfish, and only concerned with making things go his way. But when Nia moves to Candor, everything changes. He changes. It was wonderful to watch him grow from someone who wouldn’t lift a finger unless something was in it for him, to someone who would make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of another. Definitely recommended.

Monday, August 23, 2010

You’re My Hero!!

Today, I want to devote my blog post to all my favorite heroes and heroines in all the books I’ve ever read. Er, actually, that’s probably not a good idea. If I did that, then I’d be here all maybe I’ll limit it to the top ten of each.

My top ten favorite heroines, in no particular order:
Bryn—Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
DJ Schwenk—Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock
Raine Benares—Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin
Theodosia—Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
Nya—The Shifter by Janice Hardy
Nastasya—Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan
Aislinn—Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Cammie Morgan—Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter
Jenna—The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
Calpurnia Tate—The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Frankie—The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

My top ten favorite heroes, in no particular order:
Oscar Banks—Candor by Pam Bachorz
Bo Marsten—Rash by Pete Hautman
Connor—Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Marcus—Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Titus—Feed by M.T. Anderson
Chris—Shift by Jennifer Bradbury
Marcelo—Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Seth—Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
Jerome Foxworthy—The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks
Enzo (I know, he’s a dog...but he’s a *male* dog, so it counts)—The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Putting this list together started out as a fun thing to do, and the only goal was to see what it looked like in the end. But, once it was done, I noticed something. I relate to all these characters on a very deep and fundamental level. See, I’m very much an explorer-type—external or internal. I’m all about trying to find what else is out there, or what else is within myself.

Many of these characters are the same way. Whether it’s taking your identity by the horns, as in Jenna’s case, or learning how to step back and see the big picture, as in Marcelo’s case, all of these characters have stepped into the unknown. Either by choice, circumstance, or necessity. Dealing with the unknown requires courage and determination, and I have a healthy respect for those qualities.

These are the kinds of characters I endeavor to write. I want my own characters to have as many layers as these do, and I want them to have to deal with the discomfort and fear that comes with the unknown. After all, that’s when you’re true colors shine...

So, what about you? Who are your favorite characters? Are they the ones that you want your own characters to live up to?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

Hunger for nourishment.
Hunger for touch.
Hunger to belong.
Half-human and half-faery, Ani is driven by her hungers.
Those same appetites also attract powerful enemies and uncertain allies, including Devlin. He was created as an assassin and is brother to the faeries' coolly logical High Queen and to her chaotic twin, the embodiment of War. Devlin wants to keep Ani safe from his sisters, knowing that if he fails, he will be the instrument of Ani's death.
Ani isn't one to be guarded while others fight battles for her, though. She has the courage to protect herself and the ability to alter Devlin's plans—and his life. The two are drawn together, each with reason to fear the other and to fear for one another. But as they grow closer, a larger threat imperils the whole of Faerie. Will saving the faery realm mean losing each other?

I thought this book was okay. Not terrible, but not something that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go...not like Wicked Lovely did. There is no doubt that Marr does an excellent job of world building and creating intricate plots. But her characters don’t pop off the page as well as they used to, and the tension isn’t as palpable. I didn’t find Bananach as terrifying as I think I was supposed to, and I didn’t sympathize with Ani at all. I liked Devlin, though. He was the most interesting character in the whole story. Though the resolution with Ani, Devlin, and Rae felt a bit...icky.

Radiant Shadows lacked that inescapable draw that Wicked Lovely had. The characters just aren’t as interesting as Aislinn and Seth—and it didn’t help that Fragile Eternity kind of ended on a cliffhanger, and Radiant Shadows didn’t satisfy that conclusion. It just introduced more questions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for unanswered questions that keep me reading, but I don’t like to feel that I have to wade through something potentially unrelated in order to get to a satisfying conclusion.

I loved Wicked Lovely. Loved it. Raved about it to friends, and counted down the days to when the next book came out. But, since then, the magic that made Wicked Lovely spark has slowly waned. I’m not sure why that is, though. Marr introduced a new aspect of Faerie when she introduced the High Queen, and that was interesting. But the results of the High Queen’s actions, which took up the bulk of the plot, weren’t as compelling as Marr’s other books.

Still, I really want to read the final book, Darkest Mercy, when it comes out. I’m very curious how Marr is going to tie this up, and I am hoping for the original spark to return.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Writing Under The Influence

To read books similar to yours, or not to read. That is the question.

I’ve heard many writers say that they don’t like to read books that are similar to their own, because they don’t want to be influenced by that author. As in, they don’t want to end up with another book that looks/sounds/feels just like someone else’s work. To which I say, yes, you don’t want to write a book that’s too similar to what’s already out there. And, yes, reading a book similar to yours could (consciously or unconsciously) influence your style and story.

BUT. Yes, of course there’s a ‘but.’ :) The same thing can still happen even if you haven’t read books similar to yours. How? Quite simply, it’s possible for two separate people to come up with two similar ideas, and then write two similar stories. For example, Fallen by Lauren Kate and Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick are very similar, yet they were written and sold independently. They even had release dates within months of each other. How’s that for bizarre coincidence? :)

What if you write a book that’s similar to something that’s already been published? If you don’t read books in your genre/subject matter/age group, etc, then you won’t know about this book. And then, when you’re querying, you might come across as uninformed, which could also translate into unprofessional (maybe, not definitely).

So, now we have a dilemma: read and possibly be influenced by other authors, or don’t read and possibly come across as na├»ve or uninformed. What’s the solution?

There is a solution, but it’s not an easy one because it requires a lot of time and effort on the writer’s part—read widely, broadly, across the spectrum, anything and everything you can get your hands on.

How does that help?

Well, look at it this way. If you read one book that’s very similar to your own, then, yes, it could easily influence your writing. Especially if you liked that book. But if you read, say, ten books that are similar to your own, then it will be harder for just one style to jump out and dominantly influence you. Instead, you’ll have several influences all mingling together, and the end result will definitely not be a clone of one of those books. Plus, once you start querying, you’ll have a large array of books or authors whose fans might also enjoy your book. Presenting this information will show the agent or editor that you are involved in the book community, which means you’d step up to the plate with your own book when it’s time.

Of course, if you want the other books’ influence to be watered down enough so they don’t make such an impact on you, that means you have to read a lot of books. A lot. Some people don’t have time to read so much, plus write at the same time. I’ve seen writers read extensively before starting their own books, and then set reading aside until it’s done. I’ve also seen writers find a way to balance both. I, personally, have more time to read than to write because my kids are home with me often. So I end up reading a lot while I’m working on a project. But if I had more writing time than reading time, I’d probably go the other way.

What do you do? Do you read while you’re working on a project? Or do you set it aside until you’re done?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson

Claire is having the perfect sixteenth birthday. Her pool party is a big success, and gorgeous Matthew keeps chatting and flirting with her as if she's the only girl there. But that night, she discovers something that takes away all sense of normalcy: she's a werewolf.
As Claire is initiated into the pack of female werewolves, she must deal not only with her changing identity, but also with a rogue werewolf who is putting everyone she knows in danger. Claire's new life threatens her blossoming romance with Matthew, whose father is leading the werewolf hunt. Now burdened with a dark secret and pushing the boundaries of forbidden love, Claire is struggling to feel comfortable in either skin. With her lupine loyalty at odds with her human heart, she will make a choice that will change her forever.

This is a light and interesting story about a sweet girl who discovers she’s a werewolf. I liked Claire. She’s basically a good girl with a good heart. And even when she was defying her mom, she didn’t go off the deep end and get herself into serious trouble. Yes, that can make a good story, but it’s nice to read about more normal characters, too.

I also liked that Claire wasn’t the constant victim of mean girls who didn’t think she was good enough for the highly popular Matthew. She got a few snarling looks here and there, but that was it. Quite refreshing, actually.

There were a few things, though, that gave me pause. I never got a clear picture of the setting, why Matthew is so intriguing to Claire (aside from his popularity), or how werewolves came to be accepted as real and feared in Claire’s world. These are all big pieces of information that make it possible for me to step out of my own life and into Claire’s. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do this very well.

I was also disappointed in the identity of the rogue werewolf. I kind of understood her motivations for killing humans, but not completely because of other things she did. If we’d gotten to see more of her and learned about what she really wanted to accomplish, then I think I would have enjoyed the big reveal at the end.

I thought the lack of security around Claire’s mom was too convenient, the information that Mom refused to give Claire seemed a contrived way to increase tension, and I wasn’t sure what Emily’s purpose was in the story. Finally, I didn’t understand the benefits of having a pack in Claire’s world. These issues give the story less oomph than it could have had.

A lot of werewolf stories are dark with truly troubled characters, but this one doesn’t go that far. The romance between Claire and Matthew is kept pretty innocent, and even the murders aren’t gruesome with details. Because of that, I think this is great for younger teens, even some middle graders, who like werewolf stories.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Reading Like A Writer

The illustrious Nathan Bransford wrote an awesome blog post recently. Well, he often writes awesome blog posts, but this one was about how a writer should never ask himself a certain question while reading someone else’s story: Did I like it? Nathan shared some great insight as to why writers shouldn’t ask this, and there’s some interesting thoughts in the comments. So, if you haven’t read this yet, you should.

I loved Nathan’s post so much that I wanted to leave a comment saying so, but words failed me. The best I could come up with was ‘yeah, high five!’ Um...<blushing>...I think I’ve been heavily influenced by my two boys running around the house all summer. :) Anyway, it’s been several days, and I’ve had the chance to think over his post and articulate some thoughts. Rather than put them in the comments section on Nathan’s blog, I decided to write them here.

I actually slightly disagree with Nathan. I think it’s okay to ask yourself ‘did I like this?’ because liking or not liking a book is a big part of the industry. That said, a writer should never stop there. If you do, then you’re not learning anything. Nathan says that a writer should always ask this question: did the author accomplish what he set out to accomplish? Nathan, you are a genius. :)

To properly answer this question, two things much happen. 1) The reader must attempt to put himself in the author’s shoes and figure out what he intended to accomplish with his story. 2) The reader must look at the story itself and figure out what it actually accomplished. Both of these are extremely difficult to do, but I think a good writer needs to be able to do this.

For me, reading is as much a part of learning as taking classes on craft, going to conferences, actual writing, etc. I do book reviews on my blog every week, and I always attempt to answer Nathan's question. The books I choose to review are ones that gave me a strong reaction, positive or negative, and have much to explore in the way of craft. Even if my reaction was strongly negative, I will examine and analyze the good parts, because they’re always there (granted, some books have more than others). If there was nothing good, then it never would have gotten published in the first place. An astute writer will be able to find the good things, even if she didn’t love the book. Even if she hated the book.

An easy reaction to a book one hates is ‘how did this crap get published?’ I hear this often, and have been guilty of saying it (in private) myself. You know what? It doesn’t matter how it got published. What matters is that it did get published, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it...except maybe one thing: we can learn from it. Someone, somewhere, connected with this book, and figuring out what sparked that connection can only add to an writer’s toolbox.

As writers, I think it’s imperative to read everything we can get our hands on, and then pick apart each story. What worked well? What could have been done better? What would we have done differently? Asking these questions is a good start toward dissecting a story and creating a good learning experience. You can spend as much or as little time on the pieces as you like, and you might be surprised at how much you see once you pull it apart.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

August Book Giveaway!

It's the first Saturday of the month, and therefore time to give away more books!

This month, I'm giving away two ARCs:

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
Nothing much happens in the sleepy town of Venus Cove. But everything changes when three angels are sent from heaven to protect the town against the gathering forces of darkness: Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, a teenage girl who is the least experienced of the trio. They work hard to conceal their true identity and, most of all, their wings. But the mission is threatened when the youngest angel, Bethany, is sent to high school and falls in love with the handsome school captain, Xavier Woods. Will she defy the laws of Heaven by loving him? Things come to a head when the angels realize they are not the only supernatural power in Venus Cove. There′s a new kid in town and he′s charming, seductive and deadly. Worst of all, he′s after Beth.

Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner
After her mother mysteriously disappears, sixteen-year-old Haley convinces her father to take her to Iceland, where her mother was last seen. There, amidst the ancient fissures and crevices of that volcanic island, Haley meets gorgeous Ari, a boy with a dangerous side who appoints himself her protector.
When Haley picks up a silver coin that entangles her in a spell cast by her ancestor Hallgerd, she discovers that Hallgerd's spell and her mother's disappearance are connected to a chain of events that could unleash terrifying powers and consume the world. Haley must find a way to contain the growing fires of the spell—and her growing attraction to Ari.
To enter, fill out the form below, then come back here on Saturday, August 28th, to see if you've won.  Good luck!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it. That doesn't mean that she's averse to breaking a rule or two.
But when her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Chase, a new teen locked in a cage in her guardian's basement, and witnesses him turn into a wolf before her eyes, the horrific memories of her parents' murders return. Bryn becomes obsessed with getting her questions answered, and Chase is the only one who can provide the information she needs.
But in her drive to find the truth, will Bryn push too far beyond the constraints of the pack, forcing her to leave behind her friends, her family, and the identity that she's shaped?

I’m not big on werewolf stories. They’re never the kind of books I pick up when I’m looking for something to curl up with. However, this book could make me a convert. Extremely well written, with a fantastic kick-butt main character, I enjoyed the first page, the last page, and everything in between.

I love characters like Bryn. She is independent, stubborn, courageous, flawed, and very smart. I found her truly likable and instantly related to her. Her strong will is good at getting her what she wants, but it’s also good at getting her into trouble.

Some reviewers have had a hard time with Bryn’s maturity level (as in, she’s too mature for a 15 year old), saying that she would have had to experience a harder life for it to be believable. Well, I have to disagree with that sentiment. First off, Bryn hasn’t had a life of rainbows and cupcakes. She witnessed her parents’ murder, then grew up in a pack of werewolves where she was jostled around in their fights for dominance. I’d say that qualifies. :) Second, I was that mature at 15. My life wasn’t rainbows and cupcakes, either, but it certainly wasn’t as hard as Bryn’s. So I had no trouble when Bryn was able to think on such a mature and clear-headed level.

Other reviewers have said that Bryn’s attraction to Chase was too superficial because it only stemmed from their similar experiences. Well, I think that’s an excellent place to start when it comes to attraction—as opposed to swooning over hotness. :) But there is so much more to their connection than experiences. Chase has a Knack for surviving, and so does Bryn. In this story, a Knack goes beyond human abilities. Bryn sees it in Chase first, but she also sees it in Wilson and his wolves. And, despite her revulsion, she feels a connection to Wilson. So I think it’s unfair to simplify Bryn’s connection to Chase as ‘similar experiences.’

That said, I do think their relationship could have been better developed. Meaning, I think Chase could have been more fully developed. He was a bit too single-minded in this story, and I’m hoping he’ll be more fleshed out in later books.

Also, at times, I didn’t quite understand Bryn’s relationship with Callum. She should have been furious with him a few times, but wasn’t. And I didn’t particularly like the ‘mind bunnies’ comments. But the end is very satisfying, leaving an opening for a sequel while concluding this book’s conflict well. Definitely recommended.

I’m really looking forward to the next book, TRIAL BY FIRE, and I hope it comes out soon!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Am I Procrastinating? Or Am I Just Not Ready Yet?

Last week, we talked about how procrastination can get in the way of writing. This week, I want to explore how certain things might be considered procrastination, but really aren’t.

About a year ago, I wrote an article about how an idea needs to bake (so to speak) in a writer’s head before it’s ready to be written. I need to do this, anyway, and if I sit down and try to write that story before it’s ready, it will not go well.

Research can fall into the same ‘not ready’ category. So can character worksheets, planning/outlining, brainstorming, and pretty much any kind of preparation work that can be done before you sit down to write your story. I’m a firm believer that this prep work is still considered writing, even though you’re not actually writing.

Nick said last week that he only writes when he feels inspiration—I feel for ya, Nick, cause that’s a hard thing to break out of. :) As he astutely pointed out, this is a form of procrastination. However, waiting until you feel your story is ready is not the same thing. It might feel like procrastination at times, but there’s nothing wrong with waiting until your story is strong enough in your head so you can put it together without worrying that it will fall apart.

There is a fine line between the two, though, and it’s often difficult to tell the difference. But there is a way to put it to the test: sit down and attempt to write it. It might be difficult at first, but don’t give up right away. I’d say give yourself at least fifteen minutes, and then look to see what you’ve got. If you had to struggle through each and every word for those fifteen minutes, then your story probably isn’t ready to be written yet. But if you found a groove and the story started flowing, then you were just procrastinating. :)

So, are you guilty of procrastination?  Or do you lean more toward the prep work and only feel like you're procrastinating?  Or do you not have an issue with this at all?  Do tell!  :)