Have I convinced you yet?

FYI. There’s so many SPOILERS in this post that you’re going to cry. Because this book’s been SPOILED. ← I feel like that could be a catch phrase. 

While this next book is also for YA audiences, I don’t think that should stop you from reading it. Cue The Golden Lily‘s entrance. The 2nd book in the Bloodlines series and the 8th book in the Vampire Academy universe, this book follows Sydney the Alchemist as she questions her entire existence, whether vampires and dhampirs are truly as evil and unnatural as the Alchemists have been led to believe. And while this book sells itself as a YA paranormal romance, including the stereotypical love triangle with the protagonist, it does a much better job than most books in the genre. Characters don’t like each other just for their hotness (although this does happen, just like with every other romance), they like each other based on the other’s actual characteristics.

And you’re also one of the most fiercely loyal people I know-and caring, no matter how much you pretend otherwise. I see the way you look after Jill. Not many people would’ve traveled across the country to help her. (136)

I also love how they’re willing to go out of their way just to make the other one happy:

Liquid sugar. Yes, that was exactly what it had been. I hadn’t wanted to drink one, but I’d known if I’d just brought a slush for Adrian, he really would’ve read that as pity and refused. I had to act as though I’d wanted one too, with him as an afterthought. He seemed to have believed my lie about the drink’s sugar content. (158)

I love how mundane a lot of these instances are. Reminds me of cooking steak for my boyfriend, even though I’m a vegetarian. You can go to great lengths to please someone you love (or like).

Sure, sunstroke and sunburns were concerns, but I loved the sun and had a high tolerance for it. Vampires did not…”Come on, we have to get out of here before you get worse. What were you thinking?” His expression was astonishingly nonchalant for someone who looked like he would pass out. “It was worth it. You looked…happy.” (307-308)

But, I don’t want to talk about their relationship, although I could spend forever talking about how great of a job Richelle Mead did. There’s so many hints and foreshadowing that the transition is really quite smooth. And she achieves the same smoothness in building-up/revealing the antagonist. But the facet I really want to focus on was how Mead had achieved a slow character reversal for Sydney.

First, Mead sets the standard; letting the reader see Sydney’s ideal perception.

We believed vampires were unnatural creatures who should have nothing to do with humans like us. What was a particular concern were the Strigoi-evil, killer vampires-who could lure humans into servitude with promises of immortality. Even the peaceful Moroi and their half human counterparts, the dhampirs, were regarded with suspicion.  (8)

But of course nobody’s perfect, so Sydney has her doubts of herself.

Despite all the running around [my Moroi/dhamphir] friends made me do, I’d missed that motley group almost the instant I left California…Now, feeling that way confused me. Was I blurring the lines between friendship and duty? (17)

At this point, the reader’s got the perfect exposition, all within the first chapter. And throughout the book, we should see a slow reversal until the book resolve itself with Sydney thinking completely opposite to how she originally was, where she believes that “I’d been taught the existence of vampires was wrong and twisted, but I was about to witness was the true atrocity. These were the monsters” (375). But a writer cannot automatically change a character’s POV. Readers have to be convinced, so hence, you have to convince them with a slow build-up, an exposition if you will.

And just like any persuasive essay, you have to tackle the haters first. Cue Sydney’s instinctual responses to her vampire friends.

I laughed out loud and immediately felt guilty. I shouldn’t have responded. (22)

But, we’re only human. We have to doubt ourselves, and doubt instills that idea: Is she doing the right thing? We then have to repeat this train of thought occasionally in order to remind the reader of the conflict of this plot: Are all vampires are monsters?

A bit of the anxiety from the bunker returned, making me question if what I did was truly Alchemist responsibility or the desire to help those who-against protocol-had become my friends. (36)

But she can’t help but have grown comfortable. They’re her friends. Of course that instinctual-evil reaction was going to dull over time.

It was a sign of my progress that vampires talking about “food” no longer made me hyperventilate. I knew she didn’t mean blood, not if the dhampirs and I were being involved. (47)

And yet there are some things she still can’t stand, showing how much progress she still has to make.

I could take a lot of Moroi things in stride now, but drinking blood-human blood-made me shudder every time. (91)

But when it comes to her friends, there’s nothing she won’t do. Especially when looking at her personality, showcased earlier in para. 3. She can’t help but help.

I knew all about what it was like to have a father who continually judged, whom nothing was ever good enough for. I understood as well the warring emotions…how one day you could say you didn’t care, yet be yearning for approval the next. And I certainly understood motherly attachment.

You don’t have to help, my inner voice warned me. You don’t owe him anything. You don’t owe any Moroi anything that isn’t absolutely necessary…”Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.” (103-104)

And when someone finally returns the favor, you can’t help but grown more comfortable. More appreciative. More trusting.

“How many times does she have to refuse?” Adrian demanded. “If she doesn’t want to, then there’s all there is to it.”

I dared a peek at Adrian. He no longer look angry, but there was still a fierceness there. It was almost…protective. A strange, warm feeling swirled in my chest, and for a brief moment, when I looked at him, I saw…safety. (108-109)

Leading to this nice back-and-forth of helping each other, until the characters reach some sort of threshold of trust.

Skipping lunch wasn’t going to compensate for those calories, I thought glumly…I suddenly felt stupid for even attempting this ruse…Then, I thought back to that brief moment by the car, and Adrian’s fleeting look of contentment. (159)

And then finally realizing that not everything is black and white.

Adrian using spirit to bring Jill back from the dead was still a troubling matter for me. Every bit of Alchemist training I had said that kind of magic was wrong…At the same time, whenever I saw Jill bright and alive, I was convinced Adrian had done a good thing. (161)

That you have to look beyond preconceptions to the person underneath.

“I did it because he wasn’t fair to you. Because you deserve credit for what you’ve done. Because he needs to realize you aren’t the person he’s always thought you were. He needs to see you for who you really are, not for all the ideas and preconceptions he’s built up around you.”(243)

Of course, Sydney goes on to demonstrate how much she’s grown to trust her vampire friends, such as on p. 299, p. 306, and p. 320. I loved watching her questioning herself, even as she grew more comfortable, always wondering did she make the right decision? This doubt is what makes her seem human, makes the character seem real. And by supporting her acceptance of vampires with multiple scenes, Mead reinforces Sydney’s decision, that not all vampires have to be evil. And not everything is black and white. You have to look beyond those original ideas and think for yourself.

I think Mead’s major strength in enacting this is reflection. Because she drew attention to the same idea multiple times, she forced her character and the reader to consider this topic. She treated this reversal as a persuasive argument by first presenting the idea and then slowly presenting supporting scenes that would prove that vampires could be good people too. Which leads me to my final question, have I convinced you to read this book yet?

Mead, Richelle. The Golden Lily. London, England: Penguin Books, 2012.

Advertisements

Father Earth’s been missing it

“The path that the Moon naturally follows. Instead of letting it pass again, lost and wandering, bring it home. Father Earth’s been missing it. Bring it straight here and let them have a reunion.” (390)

In the previous book, The Fifth Season, I learned about orogenes—people who can manipulate the kinetic energy around them, usually in relation to dirt and rock. This means that they can fix the energy released during an earthquake, or can manipulate the rock around them. In the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, I learned something new. Besides there being a new kind of beings called Stone Eaters, called such since their skin and hair resemble stone, I find out that Father Earth is alive. And he’s fighting a war.

This book makes me excited because of the layers that Jemisin has again woven into its plot. While still focusing on Essun and her search for her daughter Jija, the book begins to weave the story of a war going on between Father Earth and the residents living on his surface. It tells the story of a two-sided war, those who would like to stabilize the Moon to bring it back into orbit, to end the seasons, and those would like to bring the Moon home and end all humanity. This plot line gets me excited mainly because it is similar to a book I want to write, one that contemplates how the Earth feels about people living on its surface, because surely if it was alive, it wouldn’t be happy with us.

One thing I didn’t like, which was more something I had to get used to was the unusual second-person perspective. I have seen authors use “you” before in order to insert the reader into a specific viewpoint, but this book is written using this POV for Essun’s perspective, and it’s very jarring starting out. Mainly because I think it breaks the norm. Once you get used to reading it, I think it’s very interesting. And it really separates the reader from Jija’s perspective since it flips back and forth, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. I might have to think about it a little more.

Jemisin, N.K. The Obelisk Gate. New York, NY: Orbit, 2016. Print.

Eureka! Talk about theme!

I finally figured it out why I liked this book, and it took me two days and nearly two nights, but before I reveal its secrets, let me give you all the spoilers first!

Starting from the beginning:

“You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated…In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.” (3-4)

Notice how it starts with a wide lens, slowly narrowing focus until the reader is imagining the main characters for this novel: Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who had lived with each other for who knows how long as husband and wife.

As from my previous post, we know now that the couple were searching for their son and remember by the end of the novel that he had already died, so there was nothing to visit but his grave. But this is not how the story concludes.

This is the end:

“We’ll talk more on the island, princess,” he says.

“We’ll do that, Axl. And with the mist gone, we’ll have plenty to talk of. Does the boatman still stand in the water?”

“He does, princess. I’ll go now and make my peace with him.”

“Farewell then, Axl.”

“Farewell, my one true love.”

I hear him coming through the water. Does he intend a word for me? He spoke of mending our friendship. Yet when I turn he does not look my way, only to the land and the low sun on the cove. And neither do I search for his eye. He wades on past me, not glancing back. Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear and he wades on. (317)

I know that’s a lot to paste in here, but I wanted you to see that the end of the novel does not focus on any of the five conflicts I listed earlier, not on the son or the dragon or the boy, Edwin. It focuses on none of them.

The novel instead focuses on the same lens as the beginning – still zooming in on the couple, but not with their being together, but instead them breaking up. This means that by creating this perspective, by emphasizing their togetherness, that this novel is not about any of these previous conflicts but their elderly couple’s relationship.

Here is my argument…

 Conflict Effect on Couple’s Relationship 
 Visiting their son By finding out he died, we learn that the wife was unfaithful to the husband, pushing their son to leave, blaming herself for his death (due to the plague). In turn, it’s revealed that the husband banned her to visit their son’s grave, as some part of vengeance due to her infidelity.
Killing the vicious dragon Through the use of the dragon’s mist, it erased all memories, leaving only shallow relationships between people. This erased all the good and bad memories, and gave the illusion of faithfulness and a lack of problems, which we learn later was untrue with the couple. It’s one’s endurance in the face of these memories that can make a relationship true love.
Losing his identity as King Arthur’s knight Throughout this book, it’s revealed little by little how the husband had committed an atrocity by killing women and children under the order of King Arthur, and while he did not approve of it, he did commit it. By showing how Axl refused to come to terms with this memory, refused to reveal it to his wife, this shows he cannot come to terms with negative memories, cannot handle their weight, which supports Axl’s later decision of refusing to reveal that he banned Beatrice to visit their son’s grave due to petty vengeance. He cannot endure the hardships that come with a real relationship.

Note there is one more argument with how Beatrice is paranoid about the story of the boatman and the island, and if you read the novel, you can see her multiple experiences with this story, how multiple old maids who are always husband-less, which is echoed in the end of her story, but this is for another time. 

As you can see, the fact that this novel uses these multiple conflicts to stage this bigger truth is what makes this novel so strong. I know it can be random; I know it can be slow, but the fact that it takes the time it needs to show the reader that memories are what makes a relationship work. If you can endure the good as well as the bad, if you can communicate, than that’s true love…this novel combats all the fictional fairy tales of princess and prince, and I’ll definitely save this one for my book shelf!!

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

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.

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.

The problem with plot-driven stories

Haven’t posted here for a while, but I feel like it’s time to compile my thoughts on China Miéville, especially since I’ve read one of his popular books (Perdido Street Stations) and am in the process of reading another one (Kracken). He has a tendency to make me think – not a bad thing.

This will contain some spoilers, some heavy opinion, so back toward the door if you want neither of these.

Perdido was good. I liked it. It had this finely tuned plot, that was extremely dependent on details. Miéville never forgot about his characters, kept everyone turning about the clock, picking up stories and dropping them off, always as soon as they were done. What I did not like was the fact that it felt very plot-driven, not character-driven.

For me, the big push to read is the human element. Their voice. Their thoughts. Their opinion. To me, the most interesting writing is the one where people voice their beliefs, where their voices are loud enough to convince me to read. Even if that voice is wrong, stupid, or brilliant. I read because of the strength of their belief, driving a sense of captivation.

Miéville story was not captivating. Don’t get me wrong. I liked his story. I wanted to read. But it was one of those books that I had to drive myself to read, to push myself forward because I wanted to know what happened, even while my unconscious pushed me in the other direction. This was a book I read slowly. And while there is an audience that prefers this type of book, I am not one of them.

This book was definitely plot-driven.

Personality of a plot-driven book:

  • Excess of setting details – I don’t think it’s a bad thing the world was this well constructed, but I do think this is a significant hint to when a book is plot driven
  • Heavy use of metaphors – I don’t think I’m crazy, but there were a lot of direct comparisons in this book. Between the city and Issac and Yagharek. I’d have to look back to find an example, but I remember thinking this multiple times
  • Heavy use of abstract descriptions – At least in Perdido, there were a lot of heavy abstract descriptions that kept me from accurately visualizing a scene. I had to sit there spending energy on comprehension than on reading. I don’t think this is a hugely bad thing, depending on this ratio of time. For me, for some parts, it wasn’t worth it
  • Discordant scenes – This is where Miéville’s planning shines through. His plot is very detail dependent, and there were scenes necessary to introduce later parts within the story. But this made certain scenes stand out, seem random, and otherwise just not fit in with the rest of the story. For example, the mechanic placing a virus on the floor cleaner.
  • Abandoned/heartless characters – Here is where I’m torn. To me, his characters don’t have enough life, but it could be he doesn’t give them enough life. In Perdido, I saw Lin abandoned when we thought she was dead. And I’m torn. I half-liked it because it created the suspicion that she was dead, but I was annoyed to have the big cliche reveal of she’s alive. In Kraken, his characters don’t seem to have enough life/heart. They aren’t driven, so neither am I. It seems more like the plot is pulling the characters along rather than having the characters driving the plot.

I read for the individual. I read for the psychology. Maybe that’s why I like his other book better. Kraken definitely started out with a lot of psychology. It was all about beliefs, particularly cultist beliefs. And boy did my interest with this book jump forward. I don’t find myself as captivated with this one as with other books. I think it still retains some of the personality of plot-driven books, but he’s definitely picking up some characteristics found within character-driven books.

But while I find a lot of negatives with Miéville, I also find a lot of positives. Miéville is one of the more creative, original, inventive authors, and it’s interesting to read online that he has redone steam punk, making it once more un-cliched. I think I would definitely read Miéville again, if only to learn his method of plotting. His does a good job with his inventions. But, he’s not my style. I wouldn’t mimic his methods, at least for my preference.

Miéville, C. Perdido Street Station. London, Great Britain: Del Rey, 2000. Print.

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

Creating Conflict

Conflict is bourne out of humanity; at least, that’s what I usually think since everywhere I go, someone’s always upset. Whether it’s one person fighting to stop the bus; a student arguing with the teacher to sway their grade; two guys competing to win or lose, there’s always conflict – whenever there’s a discrepancy of ideas.

And it’s not that difficult to create. (Most of the time I think we bring it on ourselves.)

Take Robin for instance, the main character in Glasshouse, all he knows is that someone is out to kill him. And this is where the discrepancy comes to life: survival. And while a lot of authors tend to fight to kill their characters, Stross gives Robin what he wants: satisfaction.

“Think about it,” she says. “It’s a closed community running in a disconnected T-gate manifold. Nobody gets to go in or comes out after it starts running, not until the whole thing terminates. What’s more, it’s an experimental protocol. It’ll be anonymized and randomized, and the volunteers’ records will be protected by the Scholastium Experimental Ethics Service. So-“

Enlightenment dawns. “If anyone is after me ,they won’t be able to get at me unless they’re inside it from the start! And while I’m in it I’ll be invisible.” (Stross 29)

I thought this was a good change of pace. Instead of fighting to kill your characters, bring conflicts out of their choices, make them hidden behind the reflection of good ideas.

If you’re looking on how to create conflict, first come up the idea of what do they want in life. If you look at Robin’s character, you can see his history as a soldier, where now he wants peace, seclusion. He doesn’t want to keep fighting, especially when he can’t remember what he was fighting about – this just creates paranoia.

After that, create a situation where his worst fears come to life. In this case, Robin’s enemies find him, after he spends the whole novel evading them. I think this was the greatest strength: Showing the reader that Robin had failed. He was captured, mind-wiped, and there was no sense of escape. And yet your novel doesn’t have to stick to one conflict. At this point in the book, Robin’s conflict changed, and to create fluid transition with change, just reflect on it!

Hint: Usually this solves any problem with a book, whether it’s a whether it’s a questionable reaction or event, your character’s active reflection will solve it.

It’s time I stopped kidding myself that I can fight my way out of here, and time that I stopped kidding myself that they’re going to let me go in (I checked the calendar) another ninety-four megaseconds…I’ve for a stark choice. I can conform like everyone else…Or I can try to find out what’s really going on. (Stross 137)

Even though the point of the novel has one motif in mind: survival, it can have multiple streams of conflict starting and stopping. Because your book is a fluid transcription of Robin’s life, you’re allowed to start/stop multiple conflicts, ever increasing the amount of complications.

I think the main idea to take away from Glasshouse is that you don’t always have to force a conflict on your characters; most of the time, we do plenty good making the conflict for ourselves.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2006. Print.

Chapter Design

As I’ve written before, chapters are designed to encompass a sort of mini story line within the bigger picture of your book, and depending on your story, they can vary in length, perspective, POV…Now because I just finished The Martian Chronicles, I thought this would be a great book to discuss chapter design since each chapter is a stand alone story.

The overall purpose of this book is unknown to me at the moment. I can tell you the book is mainly about Mars and settling the planet, but each chapter shows a different piece of the timeline. And I say timeline because this book really does span the start to the end of the settling of Mars…probably why it’s called The Martian Chronicles – the lifespan of one species of Martians to the next…but I’m getting off topic.

The first chapter sets the scene of the whole book, telling of the origin of the first rocket launch. And then the next chapter goes into the Martian perspective, telling of how the first expedition failed due to murder. I think this chapter was important for the book (even though most other chapters are from the human perspective) because we need to know what makes a Martian…martian. Now we know they’re telepathic, what they look like, how they live. It really sets the scene on Mars.

The next few chapters tell of similar stories. Of humans struggling to settle on Mars, either being killed or killing each other until finally the Martians are gone, wiped out by disease just like how Europeans killed the Native Americans here in North America. And this sets the tone for the rest of the book. I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that although the book was telling the history of the planet within a span of 5 to 10 years, each chapter wasn’t only telling a piece of the timeline but relating to some bigger theme that tends to be a problem on Earth. This is worth noting because all these same people are leaving Earth for these same reasons, and these same problems follow them here as well.

Maybe the book is trying to tell us we’re creating these problems and we’re the source of them. Our problems will always follow us where we go.

This book is a great example of how to tell a story through a generation or time span, which I feel isn’t possible (or difficult to do) unless you span multiple perspectives like Bradbury did. He does a wonderful job writing each story with a new character, giving them their own wants, needs, and conflict, and shows how that story ends within the chapter while expanding the story of Mars in itself.

For example…

Chapter 8: After man was finally safe to settle on Mars, chapter 8 did a sort of summary discussion of how it was only a few men at first who came to settle Mars.

Chapter 9: Gives one man’s story of how he terraformed the planet in order to create a level of oxygen that was more natural for the humans settling on Mars. This is what helped create a more comfortable planet for the people.

Chapter 10: Used summary to show the growth of the population, including those of men and women.

Chapter 11: This chapter I feel like didn’t fit the story as much since it discussed a sort of…timeline cross. It told the story of a human made aware of a Martian and a Martian aware of the human, who were both in different timelines and couldn’t interact with the other besides talk and listen. Nothing similar followed this chapter.

Then there were more men, more women. There was a discussion of spreading religion to the Martians. A show of boys playing in the debris leftover in the Martian cities, before that was cleared. A scene of women on Earth wanting to go to Mars. Of a man creating a house of darkness, witchcraft and such in order to discuss censorship and rebellion against the old Earth orders…

This book alternates between quick summaries of the general population and long scenes with specific characters to emphasize specific events that are critical to the timeline of the settling of Mars.

I think this a good strategy if you are focused more on the plot than a specific character.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.

Story Arc

I really liked my kitty story but while working on it, I had to ask myself, was this the best story? If the characters and conflict were the same, was this way the best way to tell it?

I had to back track. Write down the motif of the story, and then rephrase the theme in a question: which would you choose…? I then looked to Freytag’s pyramid, which outlined the specific pieces of a story arc in the form of a “heartbeat” – seems fitting for a story that’s supposed to have a life of its own. I checked to see if I had all my pieces in order.

freytag pyramid

Image courtesy of Ohio University. 

This is a good way to either check your work or help construct a story. Mainly because all stories should have a beginning, middle, and end no matter how much you protest. If you cut off a movie before the ending, you’re going to have a crowd of angry people wanting their money back. So even if you want to break the “pattern,” you’re still going to have to include the most basic parts of a story.

Exposition: setting up the story with the main character, background, setting

Incident: the initial conflict

Rising actions: the complexities of the conflict evolve

Climax: the high point of the story, the tipping point when the character makes a difficult decision. This is when the reader should be feeling most anxious.

Falling actions: all the consequences of the climax play out

Resolution: events are wrapping up, everything’s about fixed

Denouement: the end

Now, not all stories will resemble this strict single “heartbeat.” Others will take the form of an actual life with multiple “beats” as the story moves up then down and repeats itself through multiple conflicts, straining to reach the overall resolution of the character’s goal. But this is a good place to start!

“Homefront” by Scott Magner

This was an interesting read. I definitely enjoyed the plot, although I was not as big a fan of the characters. They were interesting and showed a lot of depth, but there were times when I felt like their ages didn’t match their actions or actions to their personalities. I was more a fan of the story’s conflict because it showed a lot of complexity, where a lot of the resounding effects wouldn’t have happened without some initial planning.

SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses plot, which gives away a major portion of the book.

Magner has created two sides in this story: the humans and the gennies (transgenic virus victims/mutants). And for the first chapter, we start out in the perspective of the gennies, particularly Jantine:

“I state now for the record that my actions are mine and mine alone. I hereby declare myself free of the tyranny of the Outer Colonies…I commandeered the frighter Argo and killed its crew, appropriating its cargo of workers and colonists for my own use and freeing them from lives of genetic servitude.” (Magner 17)

Her purpose is to establish her team as a separate entity that no one can blame as they try “to establish a secure base, and cycle the sleepers as fast as possible” (28). They are currently sitting in space on a trajectory toward Earth, where, at the same time, Aloysius Martin’s human crew was hiding from the rest of the humanity. On page 62, we learn he is carrying a “still cooking” Alpha and would like to keep it to develop a vaccine for the virus for humans. But, since other people would prefer to kill the Alpha, he stole it and is now in hiding in space.

It is by pure coincidence that these two teams meet, which is an example of good planning. This story could have taken a completely different route. Magner could’ve followed their two separate plot lines as gennies try to establish a base and as Martin hides from the rest of the humans, but by developing separate goals and planning for an incidental meet up, the two stories merge for a single story line and give effect to the resulting conflicts that follow.

I found this entertaining because it’s true that accidents like this do happen. The gennies’ ship ended up hitting the hidden humans, and the humans, thinking they’re still being chased, fight back. The two fight each other for their individual imagined conflicts, never once stopping to identify what’s going on. This is a good example of an accidental, yet realistic, battle. They didn’t want to kill each other, but through the conflicts they each have imagined, they’re stuck defending themselves, not realizing the other is not out to kill them. It’s accidental warfare.

This is definitely a nice break from books where all war is on purpose and the story follows the two sides as they fight. I definitely appreciated the ‘accident’ factor here, which isn’t hard to replicate. It definitely takes a lot of planning in this case, such as each sides’ individual goals, why they’re on the run, why they can’t trust anyone, etc.

If you want to bring a little lift into your story, breaking from the usual routes, try to incorporate some accidents. Think about each situation’s realistic potential, and think about what would yield the most interesting results. (Warning: this will take some brainstorming and organization.)

Magner, Scott. Homefront. Puyallup, WA: Arche Press, 2014. Print.