How to make summaries exciting

When you read most chapters of a book, usually you’re witnessing a scene of some sort, where the characters are committed to an action. For this book, The Girl With All the Gifts, that is exactly true. Primarily scenes. Minimal summary. But, there’s a third type of chapters: reflection.

I think the biggest part came from supplementary character POV, for example Soldier Parks.

See? Parks is no fool. He knows what’s being done here, and he’s served that purpose silently and uncomplainingly. He’s served it for the best part of four years now.

Rotation was meant to happen after eighteen months. (Carey 73)

That isn’t to say that this paragraph isn’t also a summary. But, this whole chapter is also a reflection of his inner thoughts, and even if it’s a summary, there’s enough confusion, conflict that his own thinking lends itself to the tone of a scene. There’s also explanation for everything, like what’s going on and why. Why this setting? Why’s it so important?

The answers to these sorts of questions help grip the reader because these are the sort of the questions that the reader is looking to answer.

I also like how the chapter overviews Parks life so far, how he got wrapped up in this school to where he’s in discussion on how he got in some trouble with some junkers. This is a good way to do the history of the story, using someone else’s perspective. It gives the reader someone to identify with so that even though it was a heavy summary chapter, it reads very quickly.

The takeaway would be by lending perspective and emotion from your characters, you can give an otherwise long, tedious summary conflict and sympathy that makes for easy reading for people.

Carey, M.R. The Girl With All the Gifts. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print.

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A shadow of the imminent future

Foreshadow.

How do you know when it happens? I guess some people call it a sixth sense. Like, when some people can tell that something bad is about to happen because they get this sinking feeling, which you get from experience…like, if you keep hitting the spray can like that, of course, it’s going to break.

I got this feeling while reading, and it wasn’t hard to miss.

A human figure had been watching the fence from the edge of the woods, almost out of sight among the trees and the waist-high undergrowth.

Not a hungry. A hungry wouldn’t hold a branch aside with his hand to maintain a clear line of sight.

A junker, then. A wild man, who never came inside.

And therefore, she reasons, not a threat. (Carey 67)

This seems almost blatantly obvious. I mean, if someone is watching you like a creep, chances are, they’re probably a creep. And there’s no such thing as a good creep, only bad. I mean, at this point in the story, she thinks that she has bigger concerns inside the compound rather than outside. After all, it’s a military base, they’re behind a fence.

But by divining the type of man, and spending time to reason whether or not he will be a probably threat…it’s like inviting fate to punch you in the face. Of course he’s going to turn out to be a problem. Just not the biggest.

I think this is a good lesson on how to write foreshadows. Not necessarily a line-by-line how to, but more of a big picture. To write a foreshadow, your characters need to notice something. They can measure it as a threat or not, but they need to notice, need to spend time thinking on it. This shows the reader that if it’s important enough to mention, it’s important enough to notice and will come back later in time.

Carey, M.R. The Girl With All the Gifts. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print.

Personification with disease

Being human, we identify with things that also act human. Hence, when you talk about animal rights, we identify through the fact that they can feel pain and can experience emotions…which is why when it comes to writing, if you’re writing about something that isn’t human, painting it with human words make it a better picture.

But at some point a Cordyceps came along that was a lot less finicky. It jumped the species barrier, then the genus, family, order and class. It clawed its way to the top of the evolutionary tree, assuming for a moment that evolution is a tree and has a top. Of course, the fungus might have had a helping hand. It might have been grown in a lab, for any number of reasons, coaxed along with gene-splicing and injected RNA. Those were very big jumps. (Carey 54)

Cordyceps – a fungus that used to bond with ants, as a parasite

This I thought was a beautiful paragraph from the book I just finished. Here, it describes the fungus in human-like terms, using phrases like clawing up a tree, jumping the barrier. It puts it in terms simple enough that any reader can grasp, and yet gives the fungus a sort of life-like animation to make it feel like a real enemy we’re working against rather than just some “disease.”

Another strength of this paragraph is the sense of stream of consciousness. The flow is beautiful with the way thoughts stream together, going from jumping to clawing and defining how it got there, that someone could’ve put it there. This reminds me exactly as somebody thinking and brainstorming. It goes from one thought to the next, all in a logical order – at least logical for the person who’s a scientist.

(Notice the words that all relate to biology, because the characters are scientists.)

Carey, M.R. The Girl With All the Gifts. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print.

Lightbringer Series: Plot Examination, Part 3

At this point, everyone’s probably thinking, how much more can you talk about this series? So, I’ll try to summarize all the characters perspectives as much as I can in order to focus on the question, how do each of these add to the overall plot?

SPOILER ALERT!

Point Of Views:

1. Karris (in book 1, start chapter 18)

Karris, is a bichrome drafter and a Blackguard, and in this series, we follow her perspective as she learns about the true identity of Prism Gavin. Here, I have to be honest. I saw no point to her POV. She found out about the identity, which added to the overall romance between her and Gavin, but I’ve never been a huge romantic. There was a point that I thought her POV would add tension since her brother turned out to be the Color Prince – the leader of the old religion and new war, but nothing developed from this. Her POV doesn’t get truly exciting until the third book, where she becomes the leader of the Spectrum. I expect her role to grow in the fourth book.

2. Liv (in book 1, chapter 30)

A bichrome drafter, who serves the Color Prince. Her POV took on a huge role that slowly grew in importance because as you read, you’ll learn that she takes you through the perspective of the villains. By serving the Color Prince, she is serving the enemy. I really appreciated this perspective because the villains aren’t always painted human, and having her here, it really gave the Prince some depth and added dimensions to the conflict, besides just that of “war.” Of course, with her becoming a god with the superviolet…she’ll ease take on one of the greater roles in this series.

3. Teia (in book 2, chapter 28)

A used-to-be-slave, Blackguard inductee, and paryl drafter. Honestly, with Teia making such a late appearance, I didn’t expect much of her. She was a late development, but this can be explained considering the trajectory of Kip’s education. When Kip learns about the Nine Kings Cards, he learns about Janus Borig, the shimmercloaks. This is when Teia’s education begins, when she learns that she’s not only a paryl drafter but a lightsplitter. This is where she becomes apart of the team of shimmercloaks, known as the Order of the Broken Eye. Because these are a secret guild whose purpose is built on keeping order in the land, I’m sure they will become immensely important later in the series. Weeks is building himself up for a finale – so much complexity!

4. Dazen (in book 1, chapter 3)

Real name, Gavin Guile – the old Prism elect before he was replaced during the False Prism War. Honestly, I was expecting him to break out. If a man is in prison, and you read about him ready to escape, waiting to escape, you bring along the expectation that he will free himself, so when he was murdered, it’s safe to say I was disappointed. His POV I then saw as filler. His craziness didn’t really do much at that point other than add to the true Dazen’s own craziness, to show how desperate he was that his brother not escape.

5. Corvan (in book 1, chapter 59)

The war general for the true Dazen or current Prism. I don’t think I read too much from his perspective. He was rare. I would have to go back to read his specific chapter, but I feel his POV didn’t amount to much. It didn’t influence the plot a lot, and his own influence doesn’t ramp in importance until he becomes a satrap. And at that point, I would’ve liked to seen his perspective. We missed so much time between when he saved a city and became the husband of a seer. I would’ve liked to seen that. He deals important information, being the main correspondence. (Maybe this would be better as a side story since it doesn’t contribute immediately to the plot.)

6. Ironfist (in book 2, chapter 6)

Commander of the Blackguard (and the most fierce character besides Gavin). This man has had a few chapters for his POV, and although I don’t think it’s necessarily important for him to have the camera, I think his perspective has been helpful for seeing scenes that we need to see in order to develop background. I think the only reason he was used was because he was well-known to the reader and got around easily around Chromeria.

7. Gunner (2-10)

Ship captain. This guy is crazy. Literally crazy. He wants to be famous, legendary, and his perspective gives us some of this insight. But even with commanding Gavin as a slave and releasing him, I feel like Gunner’s perspective, as few as it was revealed, didn’t add to the story. At least, I don’t see the point, not yet.

8. Aglaia Crassos (2-56) – teia owner

Teia’s old slave owner. Her perspective wasn’t necessarily important, but I think it was important to justify the command one of the leaders of the shimmercloaks – Master Sharp. Mostly to help develop his character. Not strictly necessary, but a fun scene to read.

9. Vox (2-59)

Shimmercloak. This is one of those once written scenes, where they’re confusing to read because you haven’t been set up in the setting or character-head orientation. I had to re-read this, after knowing who was who. And knowing that, I think this was mainly set up for the Shimmercloaks – their purpose, and who the people were who killed Janus Borig.

10. Samila Sayeh (2-63, 3-53)

Color wight. Okay, I’m going to be honest. I love this perspective. In the story so far, all color wights are bad and evil, and having this perspective in combination with the color prince, who speaks for the defense of not killing people once they break their halo…this proves that maybe the Color Prince has some grounds on what he’s saying. Maybe he’s not as wrong as we thought. Maybe we should doubt the Chromeria. After all, they’re killing people before they even break the halo. Maybe they’re not as innocent as we thought.

11. Blackguard commander (2-65)

I don’t even know who is talking, which is weird because for most of the book, we’re in a third person perspective, and all the sudden we get this random first person POV. That must mean it’s important, right? Or, is it because we’re closer to the character’s thoughts, we’re supposed to think what he thinks? The commander is contemplating the line between normal and wight-like. When is luxin-body modifications okay? The Chromeria says no. The Color Prince says yes. Who’s right? Maybe that’s the point of this chapter.

12. The master (2-91) – andross guile?

Another perspective I’m not sure who it is, but there’s a few clues. With the gloves, the cloak, and the constant heat-vision/red-luxin, I have a good hunch it’s Andross Guile – the red wight. This was kind of cool not knowing who it was, not getting much of a chapter, and seeing a nice contrast compared to the logical blue wight, Samila Sayeh. It also shows us how Kip has something Andross wants.

13. Zymun (3-7)

A young, prideful drafter and Karris’ son. He doesn’t seem too important yet. And I kind of would prefer him not to have a perspective. He keeps struggling for power, and even though he can draft nearly all the colors, he hasn’t quite gained a good position yet. People keep rejecting him because of his personality. I would prefer if he stayed that way – as a way of the author rejecting him as well, but I have a feeling he’s going to come back. It seems like there might be a battle between him and his half brother Kip.

14. Darjan (3-13)

I believe this is someone who used to be an old God because they speak of Atirat needing them as a pure drafter for her command. But then they go to another color to draft and become something wight-like. In the back, Weeks defines her as a “legendary drafter during the time of Lucindonius and Karris Shadowblinder” (766). Is this meant to give us a glimpse into the old religion?

15. Arys Greenveil (3-31)

Sub-red on the Spectrum. Another Master Sharp moment, when he kills the sub-red leader on the Spectrum. Kind of cool to see this woman’s perspective considering how much Gavin made fun of/depended on her weaknesses, but I feel like this just reinforces Sharp’s behavior. Always working a job. Mostly emotionless, shameless.

16. Quentin (3-60)

A luxiat, or priest of Orholam. This gives us some insight into Quentin’s own goals. And my gosh, here we learn the luxiat want the special knife back, the one that steals colors from drafters. But instead of just stealing it, they ask Quentin to shoot Kip to get rid of the heir. Is this… Now I’m going to have to read back on what happened to Quentin. I remember the two were close, but I don’t remember him shooting a bullet or aligning with Kip. I’m going to have to read back.

17. Shimmercloak (3-62)

This is like the origin story of all things Shimmercloak, and I enjoyed it. It was kind of cool to see the “science” of how it was done. And now we see why the knife is so important. It’s the color-taker, and apparently it has more power than we think. If it can take the Prism’s powers, can it give them back? Can it grant anyone the power to be Prism?

This series is already so complex. Weaving a story about not only a culture but a battle between beliefs, this is surely one of the most complex stories I’ve read in a long time and deserves to be called something along the lines of an epic, if not that.

I think one of the strengths of this series was not only its story complexity but choice in perspective. A lot of the characters chosen here were based directly on their perspective, meant to develop both sides of the war – good and evil, and then twist our minds enough that we’re confused on which side is truly good.

In summary, the main lesson to take away would be on how can you use characters to truly develop sides that aren’t really good/evil but more two differences. I especially like the evilness of wights and then a back-and-forth argument, using multiple perspectives of different wights.

Of course, these only reflect my opinions and are open to debate. As I encourage all readers, everyone should take the time to reflect and analyze what they read in order to learn techniques that may or may not work for them.

Weeks, Brent. The Black Prism. New York, NY: Orbit, 2010. Print.

Weeks, Brent. The Blinding Knife. New York, NY: Orbit, 2013. Print

Weeks, Brent. The Broken Eye. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print

Character’s strengths and weaknesses as related to plot

I just finished the John Scalzi book, Lock In, and even though I don’t think style was the most noticeable feature of this novel, I definitely think character development is, which is what I’ll try to focus on.

The main character is Agent Chris Shane, a newly appointed FBI agent, who is assigned to his veteran partner, the old Agent Vann. Agent Shane is a locked-in Haden, who uses his threep to interact within society and within his job, while Agent Vann is a survivor of Haden, who gained the potential to become an integrator. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, and I’ll go over a few of each in order to stress why this was a great addition to the character’s development.

SPOILER! (Some of these details aren’t revealed until later in the book)

AGENT SHANE – main

Weakness: His threep, or mechanical robot body

I know this is hard to believe for a weakness, but because technically he is a victim of the Haden’s symptoms, where his consciousness is permanently locked into his body, I would consider this a disability. The only way he can escape is through this special biological engineering, where his consciousness can be linked to this robot. This turns around in the book to be a strength, which I really appreciated, because when he is required to travel, his consciousness can be inserted instantly into any threep, leading to him being the only partner who can travel for his detective work. And because his body is technically a robot, he can take far more damage and far more pain than a normal human, leading to him catching the bad guys after any normal person would cave in from abuse. This was a great dual characteristic!

Weakness: His fame, being the son of a famous NBA/running senator

Again, seems like it would be a strength, but fame can be really distracting for a normal life or job, when you’re fame as the son of a famous man and poster boy of the Haden syndrome can influence people to already recognize you or fit you to their own perspective. Shane certainly doesn’t like it, but he ends up overcoming this negative characteristic when he starts his job. All the sudden what was once a burden becomes a critical technique in doing his job. Coincidentally, his job as an FBI agent, conducting cross-country integrator investigations, becomes connected to the same people his father is supporting, directly related to the politics the country is currently experiencing – how many rights are the Haden sufferers losing?

Strength: His brains, or smartness

This seems silly to say, and I’d have to go through to point out exact instances where this comes across, but thank goodness Shane is smart! He can actually figure this case out on his own, although there is definitely some visual struggling. This makes more sense to me as compared to Seven, where the new detective kind of flailed when compared to the old detective. I was happy to get someone smart here since he was hired for his brains. Otherwise, I don’t think he’d be the right fit for the FBI.

AGENT VANN – secondary

Strength: Experienced agent of the FBI

Any time you’re older or more experienced, you have a greater advantage over the newbies, such as Shane. And this comes through the book. Vann is used to arguing with potential perps; she can play the good cop, bad cop routine. She’s used to and good at doing her job. So it makes sense to have her be good at it. If she’s been at it for this long, she should be good. A good detail of her experience is how local law enforcement hates her for taking their cases. I like the added complexity, and it helps make her feel more realistic.

Weakness: Human

This shouldn’t be a weakness. This is how everyone is, and yet, when it comes to a gun fight between good guys versus bad guys, of course she loses. She’s human. I thought this was a good way to reverse Shane’s weakness to a strength and turn her positive characteristic into a negative.

Weakness: Bad experience with integrating

*Integrating – merging consciousness with another human to share the same physical body

This doesn’t come through until later in the novel, but Vann used to be an integrator. You have to go through special training and education, and when she was put through practice sessions, she learned that she had to drug herself to make herself feel comfortable with the process. And when she finally won the job, there was a horrible experience where a Haden client tried to kill herself in Vann’s body in order to know what it felt like. This disturbed Vann on such a level that she is consistently self-medicated, especially during the investigation in the book since it’s specifically about clients hijacking integrators’ bodies – her exact fear. This plays out to why she is at a disadvantage, why she isn’t as big a help as you would expect from the senior detective. I really appreciated this because while it gave the new detective the lead for the investigation, it excused the older detective for her seeming laziness.

Overall, I appreciated the complexity of the character development. There was justification on why this characteristic should exist, why it makes sense, and it ended up with a balanced relationship between main and secondary characters, which ended up with me happier than I was with the movie Seven. I would call this a nice read and recommend this to others when examining how to develop characters.

Scalzi, John. Lock In. New York, NY: Tor, 2014. Print.

Lightbringer Series: Plot Examination, Part 2

Last time I talked about the plot, I provided a little bit of background about the story before I launched into one of the main characters, and why their perspective was pivotal to the story. There’s one more who I consider of the utmost importance even though there’s at least 10 different perspectives throughout the series.

Let me introduce another main character: Kip.

From the first chapter of the first book, The Black Prism, we know that Kip has a druggy mother: “But Ram didn’t have to feed his family; his mother didn’t smoke her wages” (Weeks 1, The Black Prism). He is fifteen years old, with the following quote putting the reader in perspective of where Kip fits into the history of the Seven Satrapies: “And it had been sixteen years since the final battle – a year before Kip was even born” (2).

We find him in the beginning of the first chapter scouring fields old farmland, which had been ruined from the past battles. Where there used to be figs and grapes, there were now burnt homes/barns and craters as the scars from cannon fire. Here, we find Kip looking for solid Luxin to sell, yellow being the most valuable (2).

SPOILERS!

This is a beautiful introduction to not only one of the main characters, but it leads the reader into learning about the oncoming war, where old religion resurrects to battle the new (or, old gods versus the Prism and Spectrum: Orholam’s main supporters).

MAJOR SPOILERS!

Not only that, but Kip deserves to be the first character we see in the books. As we read later on in the series, Kip is what the people believe to be the new Lightbringer, which everyone calls Diakoptes, or “Breaker.” Here are some clues to prove his purpose (skip if you don’t like spoilers):

  1. He’s a superchromat, meaning he’s extremely color-sensitive, which is rare for men, usually on the order of “one in tens of thousands” (145). This is an important fact because as Gavin mentioned, “if you can see heat…there’s a good chance you can draft it” (146). This is the reader’s first clue Kip is rare. For him to draft green and sub-red, two discontinuous colors, makes him probably a discontiguous bichrome, even more rare.
  2. Kip failed the Thresher, but at four minutes and twelve seconds. Most normal people last around a minute, and even though Kip failed, it was only because someone handed him the rope to pull, interrupting the test. His results are in comparison to his “father,” Dazen who never grabbed the rope. This tells us how stubborn/determined Kip is (279). See his realization on page 574, 587. See the start of his self-inflicted nickname, turtle-bear.
  3. Gavin reacts strangely to Kip’s Thresher results, realizing that Kip is a polychrome (286). Readers get more proof later, hint: page 472, 575. For the real evidence, look to The Blinding Knife, page 20. We get final proof that Kip can draft all colors (The Blinding Knife 356)!
  4. killed the king
  5. rhea library understudy
  6. Janus Borig – the Mirror who reflects only truths – tells Kip that he will not be Prism (207). She reveals to him later, while dying, “I know who the Lightbringer is now” (285). It’s assumed she means him since he’s the only one around, and he’s the one whose purpose she’s been trying to divine. Look at page 352 for confirmation.
  7. Will breaker
  8. According to Blackguard tradition, those who train to join or have joined get a new name, according to the tradition of Lucidonius and his men. As Cruxer – another trainee – said, “So what’s he done? Arm-breaker, Will-breakder, Rule-breaker, Nose-breaker…Chair-breaker…we dub thee Breaker” (263). We learn later that Breaker is a nick-name for Diakoptes or Lightbringer.
  9. Still haven’t figured out what this power is relative to Kip’s skill set, but in the middle of battle, “Whoosh. The world looked beyond real. Kip realized he was seeing the whole spectrum at once” (519). This is the only time he does this, and I imagine it’s a similar skill to the Prism. This is also one of the times he drafts without lenses on, which he has done more than once.
  10. “Kip’s dagger punched straight into the back of Atirat’s head,” (608) which takes care of the old green god that birthed from the green bane. This also marks one of Kip’s major accomplishment: the murder of a god.
  11. “Magic was useful for everything,” said Kip as he reflected on its multiple uses while he was stranded in the jungle (65). It’s the location that forced him to invent shoes with a flexible sole, leaving “an open connection between his feet and the bottom most layer of the sole so that he would be able to adjust the grip of his shoes immediately” (65). Then he did a waterskin (67), fireplace (69), a sunshade (78), blue bandages (80), cocoon shelter (78), cloth/clothes (82)… I think it’s particularly funny that he asks himself, “Am I a genius of magic, or not?” Because this is the exact point we’re arguing.
  12. This is a similar point to #11 because he drafts himself boxing gloves, but he takes it a step further to invent luxen-body manipulation. His first experiment was to speed up his kicks (170-171), but it slowly expands to include running faster, jumping farther.

It’s around this point in the series, where the characters firmly believe Kip is the Lightbringer and will defend him at all costs.

MAJOR SPOILAGE!

Other people believe that the old figure, Lucidonius, was the Lightbringer who already came, and as we find out from Kip’s later run in with Lucindonius in the library (around p. 522 in The Broken Eye), Lucidonius was the Lightbringer – although a perverse evil alternative compared to Lucidonius and lightbringer that society likes to acknowledge, seeing a much more rosier version.

According to Glossary, Lucidonius is the “legendary founder of the Seven Satrapies and the Chromeria, the first Prism. He was married to Karris Shadow-blinder and founded the Blackguards” (Weeks 773, The Broken Eye).

This brings up the question of how many lightbringers can we have? Are they always as good as the people have been led to believe?

What kind of lightbringer will Kip turn out to be?

Vocabulary:

Blackguard – a group of warriors that defends the Prism and Spectrum

Mirror – a type of person that can reflect a person’s history through ingraining luxen through art

Weeks, Brent. The Black Prism. New York, NY: Orbit, 2010. Print.

Weeks, Brent. The Blinding Knife. New York, NY: Orbit, 2013. Print

Weeks, Brent. The Broken Eye. New York, NY: Orbit, 2014. Print

How long is a chapter?

When you think of a chapter, you think of a book, maybe a textbook, where there is a clear division between segments with a new title and number for each of them. But the question is, if you’re writing, how do you know where to make that division?

The easy answer is when you’re changing topics. For a book, there’s a logical transition through the plot. If you were on a mission to buy a grape, maybe the first chapter would be finding your keys, the second chapter would be starting the car, the third of calling a friend to drive you instead because your car wouldn’t stop…get the idea? Each chapter will have its own miniature plot, where you have a purpose that slowly builds up to the climax and reverses back to the resolution.

The long answer? There’s so many reasons! In the case of James Patterson, he’ll have chapters that are literally pages long. If you look in Maximum Ride, there are some chapters that only last a single page. What’s the point?

Marketing. Shorter pages means a quicker read. For people that measure their books by chapters, readers will feel more accomplished finishing a chapter rather than saying they finished a page.

But there’s more reasons than this. I’ll try to outline some reasons below:

  • Show developments within the plot
  • Change POV
  • Enhance dramatic effect

I would recommend sifting through some comments here. One person, Rob Bignell Editor, presented some good arguments, which I borrowed for my bullet-ed list above.

Other reasons appear when arguing different chapter lengths, outlined below:

Short Chapters Long Chapters
– Short attention spans

– Quicker paced stories

– Simple Plots

– Slower paced stories

– Complicated Plots

The main idea, which AJ Humpage does a wonderful job summarizing, is you cannot “pick a number like 80,000 and then divide it by 30 chapters to give you 2500 words a chapter (average).” Books’ chapter lengths vary. She wrote, “If you have ever read Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’ or many Stephen King novels, then you’ll realise that a chapter can be a sentence long.  Or just one word.  Or it can be 5000 words.  Again, like novel length, chapter length is dictated by what is happening in the story, not by the law of averages and applied mathematics.”

As Brian A. Klems wrote, “When you find those “commercial breaks,” end your chapter and start a new one.”

PS. Keep in mind that not all books have chapters, although it’s most common that they do.