Monday, July 30, 2012

Fiction Fun: WIP

I have been working through some pretty major revisions on my WIP for the past several months. I'm nearing the finish line, though, and I'm really excited about this story. It's taken so much of my time and concentration due to its complexity that I haven't been able to visit other blogs or forums much. Which really bums me out, but I'm hoping to make up for lost time soon.

Anyway, since I've been working on these revisions so much, I don't have a post for today. Instead, I thought I'd share a snippet with you. So, here are the first two pages. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Family Lies
I am a genius.
Well, technically, I’m not. My IQ score is actually five points away from the genius range.
But, really, it’s close enough. Aristotle says ‘The energy of the mind is the essence of life,’ and I can speak six languages. I can also solve a Rubik’s cube in less than twenty-five seconds.
The only person I know who can do it faster is my best friend, Brian Quinlan, and he’s two years older. It’s only a matter of time before I’m the reigning champ.
I jumped. My fork flew off my plate, clattering to the floor and scattering mashed potatoes everywhere. Oops.
My mom glowered at me, brown eyes narrowing. “I asked you to put that Rubik’s Cube away.”
I shoved it into the pocket of my Tesla sweatshirt and hunched over my plate. “Sorry.” Honestly, though, I didn’t think she’d notice. I mean, she was so busy talking to my Aunt Demi about some beef stew recipe. Boring.
“Aunt Demi asked you a question,” said Mom.
“Oh.” I picked up my fork, wiping it off with a napkin. “I didn’t hear. What did you ask?”
Aunt Demi set her wine glass on the table. “I asked how you like Lewis & Clark High so far.”
Finally! An interesting subject. “It’s great! It’s the best high school in Chicago, you know. And the teachers are really smart.”
“What’s your favorite class?”
Hmm. Calculus? Chemistry? Close, but not quite. “Physics. Mr. Steep is really cool. I just did an extra credit project on how the Wright Brothers developed the Kitty Hawk. Did you know they built their own wind tunnel?”
Aunt Demi shook her head, smiling.
“They did! And they used it to test different wing designs. They were some of the best innovators of all time. I’m learning much more than I did at my old school.”
Mom sighed, reaching for her wine glass. 
She hadn’t wanted me to start high school this year. She said I was too young. But I’m twelve, almost thirteen! I’m not a kid anymore. And I can handle everything my teachers throw at me.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Winner of the July Book Giveaway!

And now it's time to announce who won this month's book giveaway...

For Prize Pack #1


For Prize Pack #2


Congratulations! I'll get your books out to you asap. As for everyone else, stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.
Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

I first heard about this book last year at an SCBWI conference. It intrigued me, and I put it on my to-read list. And then I got the chance to read an ARC! I snapped it up very quickly, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s like a cross between Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Feed by M.T. Anderson, and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

The characters are the best part. The dialog and camaraderie feel authentic, and I laughed out loud more than once. Tom is likable and sympathetic, and fairly easy to relate to.  He also feels like your typical teenage boy with hormones and the tendency to jump to conclusions. I thought the author did a good job of capturing him as a person. The interactions between Tom and his friends is the highlight of the story, actually. There is a section where this is taken away, and I really missed it.

Another aspect which I enjoyed was when Tom and his friends are learning how to write software programs. I have to give props to the author because she clearly did some research on the subject. Their first encounter with the value ‘null’ is hysterical because it’s right on the money. I remember my first experience with this when I was learning to program, and had the exact same reaction. Not defining all your variables is a typical newbie mistake and the author captured it well. If there had been some infinite loops, that would have made it even better (an even more common newbie mistake).

For the most part, the plot kept me reading and interested, with only a few moments of head-scratching. Those instances were clear that the plot was driving the story instead of the characters, which bummed me out because they felt a bit contrived, but then the characters took over again later on. And Tom was most definitely driving the story for the conclusion, which I loved. We already knew this aspect of his character, but it was awesome seeing it in so blatant and brutally ‘out there.’ Some may not like him for it, but I ended up liking him more. I’m looking forward to the next book. 

For a chance to win an ARC, go here and fill out the form. Good luck!

Monday, July 23, 2012

22 Rules of Storytelling, Part Four

Last week, I pulled from Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling and focused on revision. Today, I want to focus on the general craft of writing.

Rule #10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
I can’t even begin to say enough about how helpful this is. Pulling apart other stories has helped me understand myself and my writing in HUGE ways. Knowing ourselves is the key to writing amazing stories because of the truth it brings. There’s no faking truth.

Rule #14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
All stories have basically been told. It’s now a matter of telling them in new and unique ways. This rule is the key to doing that. If you can figure out why your story is so important that it must be told, that will come across to the reader and he will want to read it.

Rule #16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
This is akin to the idea of throwing your character off a cliff and giving them a shoe string to climb back up. I do this by imagining what’s the worst thing that could happen, and then making that happen. After I do that, then I will figure out how my characters will get out of it. Sometimes it’s really difficult to figure out, and most often they don’t succeed the first time they try. And then they have to deal with the consequences of failure on top of that. If your reader is invested in your character, all of this will suck him in and keep him reading.

Rule #20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
This builds on rule #10. Finding the elements that you like is just as helpful as finding the elements that you don’t like. Changing the story into something you do like will go a long way toward helping you understand your own writing style, which will lead to more effective stories.

Rule #22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
This builds on rule #14. Once you know the heart of your story, the theme and essence will grow out of that. Once you know the essence, you can build on that. BTW, you probably won’t know this until at least the 2nd or 3rd draft.

That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed these ‘rules’ as much as I did. Happy writing!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable--and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

I enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Divergent, fairly well. I had some issues with the adults, but found the rest of the story engaging and compelling. I found Insurgent to be similar: I still had issues with the adults, and some of the plot points were a bit too convenient, but overall I found this story entertaining.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that Tris is suffering from something like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder regarding the violence she endured in the previous book. Stories never go there, so I am glad this one did. And did it well. I found her difficulties with violence and mental blocks against certain items completely believable.

Tris and Four drove me a bit crazy though. I like that their relationship wasn't easy-as-pie, and that they didn't give up on each other. It shows that some things are worth fighting for, and that relationships aren't easy. Actually, they can be scary in some ways, and this comes up really well in their relationship. I thought it went a bit too far, though, and got frustrated with the fact that they didn't just sit down and talk things out. That said, this is also a typical trait of teens their age, so it’s still believable. I just wanted less of it.

Others have said that this story is boring compared with the first book, but I disagree. Much of the book is Tris struggling with her injuries, mental and physical, which some might find repetitive or boring. But that was my favorite part because it felt the most real. We get to delve into her mind in many ways, and some may come out not liking her as much. I came out liking her both more and less.

I also enjoyed that we get insights into the other factions, as well as how they function as a faction. We see the headquarters of Amity, Candor, and Erudite, which I found interesting.

The end isn't completely predictable, but it also wasn't completely surprising. Some of the characters' motivations seemed questionable, which made me question certain events, but the story still flows well and kept me interested. The ending leaves you hanging with a pretty big reveal, and I'm interested enough to read the next book. I’m wondering how everything can get resolved in one book, but am willing to go along for the ride. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

22 Rules of Storytelling, Part Three

I thought I'd scheduled this post! I've been hunkered down revising and am almost finished with this draft, so I haven't been coming up for air very often. Soooo, here's today's post--apologies for the lateness...

Last week, I went over the plot-related items from Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Today, I want to focus on the rules related to revision.

Rule #2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
Losing your audience is the kiss of death. That’s the first step in losing your fan base, which will end up killing your career. That’s not to say you have to always write for your audience, just that you have to keep them in mind as you write. You can still do what’s fun as a writer, and you can take time to explore fun stuff for yourself in exercises and such. But in your finished work, don’t forget about the audience.

Rule #3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
You might still have the same theme when you reach the end of your story, but it should at least have more depth. And, you should have some sub-themes to go with it. If you don’t, then you missed some key exploring points along the way. Even the best planners can’t see everything from the start. Explore your story in great depths—you’ll be surprised at what it can become.

Rule #5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
YES. Streamlining doesn’t make your story boring. It makes it easier for the reader to follow what’s going on. You can still have lots of depth and a complicated plot, but don’t bog your story down with the unnecessary.

Rule #8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
It’s easier to revise than it is to write perfectly the first time. The perfectionist in your head will always point out mistakes and shortcomings, and you will never finish. Give yourself permission to write crap and you’ll get farther, faster.

Rule #11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
Exactly! It can be scary to write that first draft, especially for new writers. If it helps, then don’t tell anyone what you’re writing, and write with the intent that you’re the only person who will ever read it. It’s okay if it’s crap (see above rule), because you can go through and revise to make it better. Then, you can find a few trusted individuals to share it with.

Rule #12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
More brainstorming! Brainstorming is a writer’s best friend. It’s a really useful tool for truly exploring your story and seeing where it can go (see rule #3). If you do it right, your story and your characters will surprise you—and your reader will be surprised as a result. If you can’t surprise yourself, you won’t be able to surprise your reader.

Rule #17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
YES. Some scenes refuse to be written the first time, and that’s okay. Make a note as to what is supposed to happen, then move on. After you’ve finished your draft, come back to it and I’m betting you’ll know how to write it.

Next week is my last post on this subject, and I’m pulling out the rules that apply to the general craft of writing. If this interests you, please stop by!

Monday, July 09, 2012

22 Rules of Storytelling, Part Two

Last week, I went over the character-related items from Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Today, I want to focus on the rules related to plot.

Rule #4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
This is an extremely high level diagram of how a story builds upon itself. And don’t let the ‘Once upon a time…’ opening fool you. This is an abstract (and simplified) way of setting up something fictional. First, you have a character, object, or event. Then something changes. Because of that, something else changes, and so on and so forth. The events of the story set further changes in motion, and the characters have to deal with these changes. In other words, everything happens for a reason and is absolutely necessary to the story. If there is no reason, it’s not needed.

Rule #7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
Totally! When I sit down to write a first draft, I need to know where I’m going. Otherwise I end up all over the map and end up having to start over. I know you pantsers out there are saying ‘but I want to discover the story as I go!’ Well, you can still do that. Knowing where you want your characters to end up doesn’t take all the mystery of how they get there. It’s like taking a road trip with only a destination in mind. How you get there is up to you—with the exception of Rule #4: everything that happens must be necessary to the story.

Rule #9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
So, so true. Brainstorming tactics like this often trick our brains into giving us exactly what we need, even though we took the long way getting there. I’ve done this many times, with great success.

Rule #19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Yes  yes YES!! Coincidences to get a character out of trouble makes it waaay too easy for them. If I’m going to stick with a character through the end of a story, I want to see him work for a resolution. But if the story ends because the bad guy forgot to add the key ingredient to his magic potion, well, I’m going to feel cheated. I would rather see the main character steal the key ingredient and watch the potion blow up in the bad guy’s face.

Next week I’m picking out the ‘rules’ that focus on revision. If that interests you, then be sure to stop by!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

July Book Giveaway

It's July already! Hope all you Americans had a great 4th. And I hope everyone is having a great summer so far.

And now, on to giveaway business...

Prize Pack #1
ARC of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

ARC of Insignia by S. J. Kincaid
More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.
Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Prize Pack #2
ARC of Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.
Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.
With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it's the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who's everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

ARC of The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots by Carolyn Meyer
Mary Stuart was just five years old when she was sent to France to be raised alongside her future husband. But when the frail young king dies, eighteen-year-old Mary is stripped of her title as Queen of France and set adrift in the harsh world, alone. Determined to reign over what is rightfully hers, Mary returns to Scotland. Hopingthat a husband will help her secure the coveted English throne, she marries again, but the love and security she longs for elude her. Instead, the fiery young queen finds herself embroiled in a murder scandal that could cost her the crown. And her attempts to bargain with her formidable “sister queen,” Elizabeth I of England, could cost her her very life.

To enter, fill out the form below and then come back here on Saturday, July 28th to see if you've won. Good luck!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius, and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But Artemis doesn't know what he's taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren't the fairies of bedtime stories--they're dangerous!

I first read this book, I don't know, probably ten years ago. My oldest son is reading this series now, and I'm re-reading them with him. And I'm getting a whole lot more out of it than I anticipated.

Artemis's father is presumed dead, and his mother is suffering from something like dementia. The only adult in his life is his bodyguard, Butler. But Artemis is still the boss, so the relationship is skewed. Hence, Artemis has been running around, unchecked, with little to no nurturing for almost two years. Which has made him cold, calculating, and quite unlikable. This intrigues me to no end because the series is called Artemis Fowl, meaning it's all about him! So why would readers want to read about a character we don't like?

The short answer, of course, is that we don't. In fact, my son set the book down after the first chapter and didn't want to pick it back up. I had to convince him to give it a few more chapters, then promise a reward if he read the whole thing. The reward won over, and he finished the book. By the end, he really liked the story and wanted to read the next book in the series. But it took him a third of the book to get to that point. If I hadn't promised him that reward, he'd have missed out on a great series.

Artemis is more likable by the end, and he grows a bit. But the real saving grace is the story's other main character, Holly Short. She's a fairy, and a badass one at that. Without her, I doubt I would have continued reading. The story starts off slow, but once Holly enters the picture the pacing gets a big kick in the pants. It's non-stop adventure from then on. I had a hard time putting it down, and so did my son.

So, if you can tolerate an unlikable main character through the beginning, then you'll probably enjoy the rest. Possibly the rest of the series.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Rules of Storytelling, Part One

Last month, one of Pixar’s storyboard artists posted her 22 Rules of Storytelling. There is SO MUCH good stuff here. I posted the link a few weeks ago, and now I’ve had some time to digest some of the information. I’m going to take a few of these ‘rules’ at a time and talk about them over the next few weeks.

Today’s topic: Characters.

A good, strong, solid character is what transforms a story from good to amazing. A few of the ‘rules’ capture the essence of what character should be, but I want to expand on that a bit. I’ll take them one rule at a time.

Rule #1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
Yes!! I can’t count how many books I’ve read where the main character gives up before even trying because he comes to the conclusion that the task is impossible. When I was growing up, my mother always used to tell me “you never know unless you try.” That’s what I always want to scream at these characters. If the task is impossible one way, then try a different way. Or don’t do everything at once. Or, do something else completely! But characters need to DO something. I would rather see characters try and fail than give up before anything has happened.

Rule #6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
This is instrumental in showing the reader what kind of person the main character is. As the saying goes, you see a person’s true character when he is under stress. I can’t think of a stress greater than being completely out of your element. How does the character react? What personality flaws surface? How do these flaws affect those around him?

Rule #13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
Most definitely. Everyone has opinions. Even the most easy-going people have opinions. Those who don’t have opinions just aren’t interesting, so why would we want to read about them? Your character doesn’t need to spout his opinions to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen. In fact, he might be very reserved about expressing opinions. But the reader needs to know these opinions because it forms a bond between the two. Actually, if the character doesn’t share opinions with other people in the story, but the reader gets to hear them, it makes that bond even stronger because the reader feels like he’s getting privileged information.

Rule #15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
This gets into the blurry line between the author and the characters. All characters are manifestations of the author, albeit some more obvious than others. Hence, the author needs to know what he would do in any given situation. Then, he needs to figure out what the characters would do. Which brings me to the next rule...

Rule #18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
For storytelling to be at its most effective, the author needs to imagine situations where he has no idea what he would do in a particular situation, so he must make his best guess. Honest guess, that is—the author may not like the answer, but honesty will bring authenticity to the story.

Rule #21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
This is taking the above rule and switching it around. If the character needs to go to a certain, horrible place, what would it take for him to get there? Honestly and truly? Take that answer and run with it.

Next week, I’m going to delve into the more plot-related ‘rules,’ so, if that interests you, be sure to stop by!