Smooth Introduction

Then there’s Schwab. I liked his last book, and I like this one so far. So simple, so smooth. His story moves like a fine brandy or rum, moving with a building heat as you read more and more.

“Kell wore a very peculiar coat,” he started (1).


Schwab starts A Darker Shade of Magic with this small fact, stating the coat is quite unusual, before developing more reasoning behind why its such a strange coat, and why it was so important for the character, Kell. Kell needed this coat for his traveling between realms, which not only gave some development to the character but also built the type of world it was for the reader.

This is a quick scene setting done well. All it required was simplicity.

And then he wraps up this section of the book in the same fashion:

“Kell stepped forward through the door and into darkness, shrugging off Grey London like a coat” (35).

Isn’t that superb? Opens and closes the same way.

Overall, Schwab’s style of writing is very simple, no foreshadowing, no hidden details, which I know is not for everyone, but the story itself is moved so smoothly that you find yourself devouring the book like  Thanksgiving meal – quickly. Rather than savoring the meal you slaved all day cooking.

Happy Reading!

Schwab, VE. A Darker Shade of Magic. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

PS. Did you guys know VE is short for Victoria?

And from the depths of the sea…the Kraken!

I like calamari. Of course, that has nothing to do with China Miéville’s book, Kraken, except maybe a distant relationship to his brother octopus. But thinking of both of them brings a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach – probably the beginnings of heart burn, or something. Ha.

But seriously, I liked it. Just finished reading it, courtesy of one of my students. He was captivated by the ending. I was captivated by the details and a few other things.(Spoilers!)

+ I loved the critic on religious beliefs. It was entertaining to read about these different religions, whose gods took different forms. Kraken, sea, ferret…It was random. And entertaining. It puts religion in perspective, how silly it is to argue different beliefs because you can never prove one write, and why should you when it’s a belief and not a fact.

+ I liked the introduction. It was this hilarious deceit, showing you through a scene, oh – this is how all the tours go. And then it breaks the continuity, and says, oh – the tour didn’t go like this. It actually went like this. It was this funny contrast between usual and now. And I really enjoyed that comparison.

+ The random extra characters. Miéville has a great imagination, and he didn’t let me down in Kraken. He invented all these extra characters, who don’t really add anything to the novel, except to show more details behind this society. The one guy I liked in particular was this guy who went to a villain meet-up, and they were auctioning the job. Everyone got greedy hearing the prize, but there was one guy – he was allergic to greed. He had to run out of the room (184). How hilarious and random, is that?

There was also one other guy – Jason. Anyone who met him thought they knew him; his knack was familiarity, recognition. Everyone thought they recognized him, and it allowed him the ability to walk in to secure offices, to walk around without a badge, to take information without asking. It was cool until someone with powers recognized him for what he was and until the bad guys found him and killed him. Poor guy.

I don’t like Billy. This is where I feel like Miéville is definitely a plot-oriented author. For most of the book, Billy was in mourning for Leon, being dragged to and from events like a little kid. He didn’t contribute anything to the book until it was time for the conclusion, where he re-wrote the laws of nature with the strength of his belief. Billy was a flat character. At least in my opinion. I got more feeling from Marge.

I am…unsure about the ending. So in the end, they figure out the villain is Grisamentum, who has preserved his life in ink – that was cool. But then after the good guys beat bad guys, Billy’s all, oh no! Port me! Port me now! And all the sudden, it’s like, Nope! Vardy’s the bad guy, and has been all long. He’s the one setting the Earth on fire because he can’t deal with having no belief…I’m sorry. But this to me seems like atheism, and is a legitimate belief… I don’t know. I didn’t like the “twist” ending even though it is explainable with Vardy’s beliefs.

I’m not sure I liked the pace. This is something I have to go back and examine, but for the first half of the book, I’m struggling to read it. It’s interesting, and I want to learn more, but it’s not captivating. Then, a little more than halfway, it’s pulling me along. There’s action; characters are interacting; they finally have a plan. I really do want to look back because to me, the most interesting part to study is why do I feel this way? (My hypothesis is that the first part of the book was just setting up the story of the three character sets: Billy/Dane/Wati, FSRC, Marge.)

Miéville, C. Kraken. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2010. Print.


When to cut chapters, Part 2

Instead of focusing on whole chapters, I want to narrow my focus to singular chapters with multiple scene shifts, which usually coincide with changes in perspectives, such as the case with Dark Orbit and its two main characters, Thora and Sara.

And since this is part 2, let’s focus on Chapter 2!

In Chapter 2, as I mentioned earlier, the reader opens to a scene with Thora’s audio diary, always recorded in italics (since this is the written record): “Iris, they have called it: the rainbow planet” (Gilman 23). As previously mentioned, this jump-starts the chapter with perspective orientation and scene setting. We now know that we will read from Thora’s perspective as she looks upon the distant planet from the space ship. (The space ship is a little bit of a stretch, but as you read further, you will get that from the beginning paragraph.)

This scene continues with Thora’s internal dialogue as she reflects how she hides who she really is, how she must always pretend to be normal. It’s not until the end of the chapter that we realize Thora’s want: to escape, stated as wanting to escape into the planet’s light, which she thinks is a shield to hide all of Iris’ secrets.

(This is a beautiful metaphor since light normally reveals, and instead, on the planet, conceals all of Iris’ secrets.)

So far what I can tell is that we’re still introducing Thora’s perspective and character, revealing her background and desires, which is where this perspective leaves us. It stops on a detail of Thora’s character, which is not really enough to drive us forward yet but it does help set up the story. 

The next perspective opens with Sara, how she was “practically the last one to arrive aboard the questship” (Gilman 25). Again, this sets the scene, and the perspective continues with Sara’s analysis of the crew members since this is her first time aboard the ship (still in introduction-mode with this chapter). Her perspective ends with an observation, of who is the last character she has to meet.

It seems like so far, perspective shifts are creative choices. Once the author has shown us what she has to say, then that perspective is thorough, although this next scene shift has some flow since both the end and start of the next orientation talks about observation and spies.

Thora begins with “I know the Magisterium must have sent someone here to spy on me” (Gilman 40). And this is true! Sara is meant to spy on Thora. This I consider one of the best scene breaks since Sara stops on this thought and Thora begins on the same one. This scene continues as her natural flow in thoughts, which reveal how untrusting she is. It then ends with a internal revelation, “But if I ever do [become trusting], then I will lose my power, and become like all the other content, unmindful people, ordinary and undriven” (Gilman 41).

So far I have to say that all of Thora’s scenes end with a detail about her character. In the first one, we get a desire, and in this one, we get another desire. Each of these facts are continuing to define her – the entire purpose of this chapter: To introduce all our characters. 

But this isn’t the end to her perspective, only to this specific scene. Her perspective continues with a vague sentence, “I need to record this now, while it is still fresh in my mind” (Gilman 41), evolving into a recollection of her dream and memories of how she found the first murder aboard the ship. Her scene ends with an observation – the final for the chapter – “He almost had the look of a min in love – and in a sense, so he was, for whoever had committed this brutal act was now his prey” (Gilman 44).

Even though this is her scene, the perspective is widening. She has only commented, or reflected, on how the security guard looks when he find out there there’s a murder, which feels like more of a fade out in a movie. We’ve ended the chapter with a complication, an increase in tension, and the perspective is beyond Thora now. The rest of this chapter already finished its purpose: to define our characters. 

In conclusion, in my opinion, each scene break coincides with a fact, particularly the most important ones of this chapter. Because this chapter’s purpose was to introduce characters, each fact we end on is related to the development of all the different characters, including minor ones aboard the ship and the other main protagonist. 

I think if I were to examine the other chapters, I would find the same results: End on a factual statement that can be collected and equated to the purpose of the chapter. 

Gilman, Caryoln Ives. Dark Orbit. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

A Thorough Introduction

I wasn’t supposed to finish this book so quickly. Stuck on a snowy mountain for four days with sore muscles from panicked skiing, I was supposed to stretch this book out to last each evening, and instead I finish it my second night here. Sometimes it’s not the best to be a quick reader.

Titled, Dark Orbit, it’s about two women: Sara and Thora, who are both sent to Iris, a newly discovered planet, and find out they have to save the inhabitants from the outcropping space-folds. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Although Carolyn Ives Gilman is not a poetic writer, I get the impression she is very organized. Everything she writes seems to have some importance, being directly relevant to the story in some way, which I quickly sensed after reading the introduction. It quickly gives her away as being a very direct, focused writer.

In the first line of the book, the reader learns about which planet and timeline we’re on: “In the course of Saraswati Callicot’s vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke” (Gilman 1). Through this internal reflection, the reader learns that in this timeline, the people can travel through a process of particle dis- and re-assembly.

Continuing the process of self-reflection, we learn the type of story this will be: “Even with endless experience, she still felt like an anachronism until she accounted for the years everyone else had lived, and that she had spent as a beam of clarified light. / It had been five years in her subjective time since she had left Capella Two” (Gilman 8). This story will be one of science fiction that treads the line between make believe and theory, which makes it a more convincing story to have some anchor in truth. I certainly believed more in the theme. This line also introduces part of the background of the character, slowly transitioning as a sort of past reflection, letting the reader catch up with the character.

The introduction continues by having Sara examine herself in a mirror – oddly cyclic when compared to the ending, though it’s perhaps not a coincident. And then by her past catching up with her for her mission, the true start of the story, the reader gets a sense of the character’s attitude, looks, and background. By the one of the main character’s being an exoethnologist, a scientist who studies outside cultures and ideas, she’s much more analytical of her surroundings, hence the critical POV from this character.

This book would be a good study for authors looking to introduce their story. As always, there’s multiple ways to do it, but by choosing this moment of the story – after her transport by light beam – it gives the reader to catch up with the character, to check out her appearance and the world around her, to reflect on how things have changed from her past and etc. I’m sure everyone would have a good point in a timeline to better examine their characters, and self-reflection seems like a good start on how to do it.

Gilman, Caryoln Ives. Dark Orbit. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

Introduction in a chapter, for a character

Most of the time when writers talk about their characters, it’s about their personalities or physical descriptions. We try to round out the characters in our head before we get them on paper, but we forgot that readers need an introduction because they can’t see them as well as writers can.

Think of it this way – you judge somebody within the first few seconds of meeting them, whether you want to or not. You judge them based on what they where, their skin color or the first thing out of their mouths. But when it’s all on paper, we’re reading those descriptions. Even though it changes the transfer of information, readers still judge them.

Which is why, I consider this one of the finer introductions for a character (even though we learned about him some in the previous chapter).

“In his secret heart, Steve fancied that he was a Buddhist. / A couple years ago, following a whim, he’d picked up a copy of Buddhism for Dummies at the bookstore.” (Hawkins 34).

I loved how it introduced the character with a thought – not even a main thought, just one of those errant thoughts you get in your head as you wonder if something is or isn’t true, maybe you should try it but you’d be crazy if you do… that kind of thought.

The kind where I want to try backpacking for a week or so, but I’m scared of bears eating me in my sleep even though I know that probably won’t happen.

I think it also leads to a great transition because the character is force to mule over the thought, which explains that he wants peace and tranquility and why can’t he do it – because he has a real job as a plumber in Virginia. It gives a great background of the character without outright just stating, Steve is a plumber and he’s a peace-desiring person. It shows rather than tells.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.

How to Write an Introduction

I’ve heard a lot of advice over the years, but I think the most worthy advice to me was from a writer who once said, the best way to start a story is with a single truth.

And although this has worked well for me, another favorite method I use is to start with an image. For me, there’s no better way to enter a story than with a picture. And the book I’ve just started – The Library at Mount Char – truly supports this.

Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78. Most of the librarians, Carolyn included, had come to think of this road as the Path of Tacos, so-called in honor of a Mexican joint they snuck out to sometimes. The guacamole, she remembered, is really good. Her stomach rumbled. Oak leaves, reddish-orange and delightfully crunch, crackled underfoot as she walked. Her breath puffed white in the predawn air. The obsidian knife she had used to murder Detective Miner lay nestled in the small of her back, sharp and secret. (Hawkins 1)

This by far has been one of the most brilliant introductions for a book. Already within the first sentence I get the main character, an image, a hook for curiosity, and some characterization. With only two words – blood-drenched – the reader is brought into the story with a sense of wonder and curiosity, thinking what has happened to the woman so far? She is covered in blood?!

And by calling other people the Americans, we know that Carolyn does not identify with that group of people, already posing her as an outsider.

This paragraph only continues to get better, describing the scenery around her, showing her adoration of human qualities, like cooking, where she reflected on the guacamole. The simple paragraph already showed the simplicity of her life with her stomach rumbling and an obsidian knife, oddly crude in a society that is crowded with manufactured steel knives, etc. Obviously she doesn’t live within civilization.

Then the paragraph ends with the answer for our previous question – who was hurt: Detective Miner. Now we have to keep reading because we have to know why.

Who is this woman that kills with so little remorse? Who is she that she lives outside of society – all the answers contained with the definition of her profession: librarian.

This beginning paragraph did so much with setting, characterization, imagery…it instigated so much curiosity and personality within Carolyn that I was taken with the story rather quickly. I want to thank Scott Hawkins for taking so much care with his beginning because it truly shows.

This paragraph is a great lesson on how to start your novel, and to practice through mimicry is a great way to model your learning.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.