Unexpected Resolution

This book is not what I expected! Not in a particularly good or bad way, but in a random-thoughts-translated-as-random-interwoven-plots kinda way, with each different conflict finishing in a subtle and unexpected fashion.

I guess I should explain. There’s a few conflicts within Ishiguro’s book, which I’ll list below:

  1. The married couple, Axl and Beatrice, were supposed to visit their son.
  2. There was a vicious dragon that warrior Winstan was supposed to kill.
  3. There was a vicious dragon that knight Gawain was also supposed to kill—no idea why the two men couldn’t help each other.
  4. Everyone kept recognizing husband Axl, no idea why—I secretly thought he was King Arthur lost among the people after the forgetful fog.
  5. There was the boy Edwin, whom was bit by some secret animal—I kept wondering if he was going to turn into a werewolf.

Any of those align with your expectations? No?

What do you expect to happen?

Now compare that to what actually happens:

  1. The married couple remember by the end of the book that their son had died earlier, and now they could only visit his grave, meaning all their travel was for nothing.
  2. Winstan killed the “vicious” dragon, who was actually really old and was going to die soon anyways, and he didn’t kill out out of the goodness of his heart (being that the dragon’s breath created a mist that made people forget) but because he wanted people to remember their vengeance in order to create disorder and chaos before the Saxons invade.
  3. Knight Gawain never wanted to kill the dragon; he was the dragon’s protector, protecting the beast so that Master Merlin’s spell of forgetfulness would make people heal and forget the past—the mass murder that King Arthur had commit.
  4. Axl turned out to be just some small peace-maker, one of the knights of Arthur’s round table.
  5. Edwin was bit by a dragon, whose pull could actually pull you toward it. No idea how this works considering the Dragon was so big it Should’ve just swallowed him, and was so old that it never left it’s nest. Feel like this plot was concluded since the Dragon died but was ultimately left unexplained.

Overall, even though this was a slow read, I thought this was a very interesting book. Because of its numerous conflicts, the way it interwove these numerous stories, it was very complex and it tied itself up at the end. I feel like it was so subtle that it was very thought provoking, and I like the fact it had no big reveal. I’ll have to think on this book some more.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Stringing your reader along

I don’t know where it is in this book, but I swear I remember it saying that King Arthur had disappeared. You see, in Ishiguro’s book The Buried Giant, there is a man and his wife traveling to their son’s village. And in the midst of their journey, they encounter a warrior.

“That warrior’s an admirable fellow, didn’t you think so, princess?”

“No doubt,” [Beatrice] replied quietly. “But that was a strange way he had of staring at you, Axl.” (73)

At first, this made me think that this warrior was their long lost son. What irony that would be! But, without the author revealing more, I had to continue, at least until this came up again. This time the warrior, Wistan, was asking another knight to gaze upon Axl’s face.

“I beg you, sir, look at this man beside you and say if you’ve ever seen him in days past.”

Sir Gawain gave a chuckle…But as he gazed into Axl’s face, his expression changed to one of surprise—even shock. Instinctively, Axl turned away, just as the old knight appeared almost to push himself backwards into the tree trunk. (108)

Again! There’s something in Axl’s face that everyone recognizes, which leads me to believe, what would two knights have in common? A king perchance? I don’t even remember if it  King Arthur was missing, or what was his role in the plot, but with this ‘fog’ causing all the people within the land to forget, I have to wonder that if Axl plays a bigger role than we thought, especially with the way he keeps remembering more and more of his warrior-like past.

Then, finally, I get more of a reveal on page 180! Tell me if this isn’t irksome.

“Sir Gawain, were we not comrades once long ago?” [Axl asks.]

“The mist hangs heavily across my past,” Axl said. “Yet lately I find myself reminded of some task, and one of gravity, with which I was once entrusted. Was it a law, a great law to bring all men closer to God? Your presence, and your talk of Arthur stirs long-faded thoughts, Sir Gawain.” (180)

Right now I’m on page 204, trying to find out more but really struggling, not because I don’t like the book, but because I think the constant jumping back and forth between memories has thrown me for a loop. With my skim reading and how subtle Ishiguro’s style is, I miss a lot of the transitions taking me into a character’s memory, and it really pushes me away when I get confused in the layers of action. I’ll have to focus on this later, and discover why it messes with me so much.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Revealing your background

They followed him, just a short distance behind, the monk continually glancing back at them over his shoulder.

The monastery buildings were now dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace. (147)

This is an interesting paragraph, not because of the lack of dialogue and constant motion, but because of the method of how it draws your eyes. And thus reveals one of my weaknesses.

I love to focus on the movement of a character, so if we cut everything down to just the character, the me-version would read as follows:

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

It’s like it paints half a picture, just like the old television shows where Scooby Doo and Shaggy were painted in these bright pastels, always moving since they were in the foreground, while the background was dark and shadowy, never changing.

And, if I wanted to add the background, I would use the movement of the character to draw the reader’s attention to it.

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, which prompted them to turn back and stare at the monastery buildings behind them, dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

Of course, it gets very repetitious when I have to keep saying stared, looked, watched, peeked, glanced, gazed…their eyes followed… It’s much easier to do it just as the way Ishiguro did. When you expect a character to turn and look at something, don’t start with the character, immediately jump into the imagery instead. Just like Ishiguro.

There is an alternative, and I almost prefer this one…

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, watching in case anyone left the monastery buildings behind them, in case anyone was following. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

I like this one better for 2 reasons: 1) the character is interacting with his environment and 2) there is some reflection on the action itself. Right when I mention”in case anyone was following,” you can see the characters are worried and careful. I think this draws a reader more into the story, although Ishiguro’s way can be described as a more artful way, since it really shines on the imagery.

But I guess it really depends on which effect you like the best.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Snyder’s Strengths

Maris Snyder is who I would describe as a new adult author with a quick-writing style. I’ve always been a fan of her because of how quick her books move, always fast-paced action, her writing always direct and to the point. And this book is no different.

Shadow Study is meant to continue Yelena’s and Valek’s plot line—the Poison Study series, and while I wonder if it’s one of the last, it definitely leaves the series open enough to continue. (I won’t spoil the ending.)

But in the manner of reflection, there’s a few high points I want to focus on.

1. Using nicknames to denote character familiarity

Onoro had disappeared into the forest. probably climbing a tree. And then he wondered when he’d stopped thinking of her as Little Miss Assassin. (238)

I love how her characters can be humorous and annoying. She does annoying so well, which makes me wonder about her personality, ha. But what I particularly like about this section, is how she shows Janco calling Onoro nicknames, slowly fading it out until you realize, when did he stop? It forces you to go back and look.

2. Using cliffhangers to keep you reading

I hesitated. A dagger slammed into the ground near me.

“Let go or my next knife will not miss.”

<end of chapter> (249)

This is how almost every one of her chapters end—with a huge cliffhanger. It definitely pushes you to keep reading, always advancing the tension with what happens next? It definitely gets old after a while, especially if you make it to obvious. I know there was cringe-worthy cliffhanger, ending with, ‘when he took off his mask, she gasped. She never could’ve guessed it was end.’ Or, something along those lines. Either way, withholding his name, kinda mean for the reader.

3. Using flashbacks to elaborate the relationships between characters

“…Get me the name of the patron and I won’t go after the assassin.”

“And why would I do that?”

Time for the ace. “because you owe me a favor and I’m collecting.” (256)

What I really liked this is that throughout the book, I was questioning why Valek kept having flashbacks. It was a smooth blending in and out, to the point where I had to go back and reread the transition, but I kept wondering is, why now? It’s interesting and all, but what’s the point? Until…I got to scenes like these, where she would reference the past. And here is where I was grateful for the flashbacks. I felt like such a insider after I witnessed them.

4. Using multiple perspectives to show where readers hoard knowledge

Kiki slowed as a wagon appeared, traveling toward them. Odd. (374)

In the previous chapter, we saw Yelena strapped to the wagon, after she had been kidnapped, so seeing her boyfriend riding her horse, her horse figuring out Yelena was there, it was quite mind-blowing as a reader. It makes you want to stand in your seat, waving your arms, pointing the wagon and saying, Go save her you nincompoop! Too bad he never figured it out…Either way! It was a fun scene. Made you feel like you had insider’s knowledge.

Synder, M. V. Shadow Study. Don Mills, Canada: MIRA Books, 2015. Print.

Reactions

As I wrote earlier on my blog, when writing, there are three things that are most important: actions, reactions, and reflections, meaning that after you show an action, your character should be reacting. This could include a flinch, a jolt, a motion of some sort, but if you’re like me, you like to focus on the face (although there’s plenty of other places to look). And I’ve noticed, when writing from first-perspective, it’s really important that you focus on your character’s internal reactions. It can jump start your readers’ reactions. Here are a few to start you off:

VISIBLE REACTIONS 

Happy Sad Angry
  • His eyes lit up…
  • His eyes twinkled…
  • His eyes crinkled…
  • He smiled…
  • He grinned…
  • His mouth twitched…
  • He brightened…
  • Her eyes swam with tears…
  • His eyes glistened…
  • He shut his eyes…
  • He sniffled…
  • His lower lip trembled…
  • He glared…
  • His nostrils flared…
  • He ground his jaw…
  • He gritted his teeth…
  • His cheeks turned pink…
  • He scowled…
  • His eyes flashed…
  • He stormed his way…
  • He barged ahead…
  • He jutted his chin…
Surprised Fear Disgust
  • His eyes widened…
  • He gaped…
  • His eyes went bug-eyed…
  • He inhaled a sharp breath…
  • He paled…
  • He blanched…
  • His skin went white…
  • He shrank…
  • He skulked…
  • He forked his fingers through his hair…
  • He stuffed his hands in his pockets…
  • He leered…
  • He sneered…
  • He stuck his nose in the air…
  • His brows knitted together…
  • He curled his lip…
Contempt Remorse Anticipation
  • His eyes narrowed…
  • His forehead puckered (or furrowed)…
  • He pursed his lips…
  • His eyes rolled skyward…
  • His eyes drooped…
  • He grimaced…
  • He winced…
  • He hunched over…
  • He curled into a ball…
  • He slumped his shoulders…
  • His eyes darted…
  • He scrutinized…
  • He nibbled on his lips…
  • He edged closer…
  • He paced…
  • He rocked on his heels…
  • He drummed his fingers…
  • He fiddled with his…
  • He squirmed in his chair…

A few trick phrases include, “His eyes burned with…” in which you can pretty much substitute any emotion, which is kind of hilarious. I guess you can burn with any sort of passion. Or, there’s “He screwed up his face…” Also a freebie.

INTERNAL REACTIONS

Happy Sad Angry
  • A flutter of joy
  • May feel tearful or moody or irritated
  • May feel tired or lethargic
  • May feel a tightness in your chest or throat
  • May feel empty inside
  • May grind teeth
  • May feel flushed or pale
  • May clench fists
  • May feel a temperature change, i.e. blood boiling
  • May feel a prickly sensation
Surprised Fear Disgust
  • Quick breath
  • Heart skips a beat
  • Sudden sweating or heart palpitations (fluttering)
  • Easily startled
  • Heart’s beating faster
  • Taking quick, shallow breaths
  • Inability to focus except on worry
  • Sweating
  • Freezing in place
  • Feeling to fight
  • Cold hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Trembling or tightening of the muscles
  • Frowning
  • Gagging, or pursing the lips
  • Turning stomach
  • Averting your gaze
Contempt Remorse Anticipation
  • Maybe a tightness in the chest?
  • Maybe a burning, like embarrasment?
  • Butterflies in the stomach

Note: Most internal changes register as a change in heart rate, temperature, or muscle tension, though most people only register a heart rate and palm sweating (Nummenmaa, Glerean, Hari, Hietanen; 2013; p. 649).

Finally, I’m not recommending this book—mainly because I haven’t read it, and hence, have no opinion—but it seems like it’d be a good read for studies such as this, and I’d love to hear what people think of it.

Thanks to Bryn Donovan and Sharla Rae for the help with Visible Reactions!

And refer to this poster for even more help!

 

Organizing your story

I want to donate a technique I’ve been using that helps me write and focus on the story. (Mainly because I have a tendency to slow down and focus on the realism of the characters.)

Meet my standard format for outlines!

 Chapter #  Purpose  Conflict
 Here, I write the chapter number. And will outline each chapter in my book – this helps if you think of each chapter like a mini-story, each with its own purpose.  Write the purpose of each chapter here. What do you want to show your readers? How does the plot advance in this chapter?  I’m always worried about a slow story. If you’re reluctant to read, it’s not engaging your interest. What conflict is there to up the tension in the story?

I will do this for every book, every chapter. Lately, I’ve been using this to go back and edit my stories, but lately, I’ve also been using it while I’m writing (for longer stories). It helps me focus on the big picture.

Writing with Multiple POVs

When you think of a typical book, you think of a single-character, linear-timeline, which Allen Steele breaks completely when he wrote Arkwright. Containing 6 different perspectives, Steele covers at least 8 generations of Arkwright’s while following the trajectory of his novel. Refer to the genealogy below.

family tree

Note: It’s unknown how many generations were skipped before Nathan Arkwright II was born. Only that the Galactique landed during Dhani’s lifetime, near after Julian’s honeymoon, and it took nearly 300 years before the first Sanjay Arkwright generation. This is only an estimate from the book. 

I really enjoyed the non-singular character trajectory. I think it makes it a little more fun to write, since you get to cover so many more “mini” stories, but it’s definitely a break from the norm. That’s not to say it isn’t linear—it is. We move from past to present to future. But, at least it covers more than one main character, which I think was relatively done well. I know a little bit about all of them:

Nathan…the writer. 

Kate…the science journalist.

Ben…the engineer.

Matt…the lazy, nomad. 

Dhani…the physics teacher. 

It’s great to pair each of them with a profession and a strong personality because it makes them easier to keep track of, even with a novel that skips characters like this one. And I like the fact that it didn’t skip multiple generations but always traveled into the next one. This way it gave me someone concrete to remember while I expanded my character list. Overall, well done.

Steele, A. Arkwright. New York, NY: Tor. Print.

Stories inspire our future

Steele seems like a great last name for a science fiction writer. Just because it makes you think of metal, which is used to build star ships in space, which are a thing of the future, which for right now, we can only really dream about in books…See! We’ve come in a complete circle!

Steele is a full-time science fiction writer, originating from the south—Nashville, TN. And the fact that I find most interesting about him is this quote from his website: “In April, 2001, he testified before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives, in hearings regarding space exploration in the 21st century” (Allen M. Steele). This makes sense considering the end of his book, which I’m going to spoil before you read it.

“I like to believe that his stories inspired the voyages that brought us to this world, but I know that his were only a few of many. There were countless other visionaries like him, and all had faith in the future.”

With this, he opened the book and began to read The Galaxy Patrol. (332)

From this understanding, it was Steele’s stance was clear—he’s of the belief that science fiction writers are the inspiration for the engineers of the future, which is why I highly enjoyed the ending of this book. The whole time I’m reading, I’m basically watching the birth of the Galactique, the star ship that began the first extraterrestrial birth of our species. And the whole time I’m reading, I’m watching history come alive, skipping generation after generation as Steele skips me through the timeline to watch the most significant moments in Galactique and Arkwright’s history.

And it is Steele’s belief, the same for every Arkwright, that propels the plot of this novel: that we can make it to space and we can travel beyond Earth, if only we set our sights on the stars. This belief, or theme, is what makes this novel so enjoyable for me. Even though the journey itself is only somewhat entertaining, lulling at times, because the theme was so strong, so inherent  from beginning to end, it left me with a feeling of awe.

I think the only thing I can take away from this is to write from experience, and then to take that further until the whole story blows out of proportion, until what you get at the end is a book.

Steele, A. Arkwright. New York, NY: Tor. Print.