A book of memories

Let me just start out with saying this: although this book kept me disinterested for 3/4 of its content, I have to say that when everything came together in the end, it was fairly intriguing and noteworthy to think about. And really, I’m wondering if my disinterest was a symptom of confusion as to how all the characters related to each other. So in order to entice more possible readers, know this:

Richard: Son of Inga Beart (famous writer), raised by his Aunt Cat, father to Neil; retired middle school English teacher, currently in Paris doing research on his late mother

Neil: Son of Richard; historian in France doing research with his Professor

Magdalena: Friend of Lina; girl who sees people’s truths on their skin, who meets up with Neil to exchange their parents’ Christmas presents

One thing that I think is really noteworthy about this book is not necessarily the plot, because the characters themselves don’t really do too many noteworthy things, but the reflections that the characters partake in, particularly their musings. SPOILER ALERT.

As they hiked up hillsides covered with olive groves, Magdalena listened to Rachel talk about her days doing junk, sleeping in doorways and robbing her mum, and it occurred to Magdalena that the things she’d gotten used to reading as her mother reached for a pan or changed her skirt or stretched out her toes to let the polish dry had something in common. They were stories Magdalena had heard as a little girl, or they were hints of stories her mother might someday decide to tell her, and a number included phrases in the imperative tense-don’t pick the thin-stemmed mushrooms, check that the butcher’s scale is zero to begin with-as if her mother had made notes across her skin of the things that Magdalena ought to know. (206)

Two sentences, in which they ramble on and on about her internal musings, not necessarily about the route she was taking or how hard the road was on her feet or how everyone was avoiding or annoyed by Rachel, who must’ve repeated her story five times to each individual person. This story focuses so much more on memories, thoughts, and reflections, which I think is why this book has such strong, well-rounded characters. They definitely have wants. Fears. And I think for a first book, Adelia Saunders did a great job crafting her characters. Her style is certainly unique. One of my favorite stream-of-conscious in the story is shown below:

Starts with Ellameno, Neil said once when it was his turn to choose a letter, and his dad thought that was so funny that they started making up a whole world populated with made-up fantastical things: the ellemenopede who liked to eat ellamenoghetti twirled around forks held in each of its ellamillion hands. (214)

The trick to Saunders’ reflections is not only the fact that she writes this huge enormous sentences (which could attribute to the book feeling so slow and drawn out), but the fact that most of her reflections are descriptions of a memory. She could’ve stopped at ‘they started making up a whole world filled with things starting with ellameno,’ but she goes beyond that memory, describing the actual scene of the world itself. Saunders has so many fantastic visual descriptions, which develop the whole life of the character. Because even as she describes this single memory, it evolved into other times Neil and his dad would spend time together, what happened when they didn’t, and what happened when they grew apart. I love how these 2 pages defined how their relationship changed before and after certain significant events. It really helped strengthen the characters.

Other than that, I like how this book also addresses our memories – maybe that’s a motif for this book – because while this book examines Richard’s singular memory of his mother’s red shoes, convinced she had come back to see him, this memory evolves as we learn more and more about his mother’s situation, which in turn shows us how memories are subject to your own delusions or interpretations.

SPOILER: I’m specifically thinking of when Richard finds out how his mother gouged out her eyes. Initially he was mad at his Aunt, thinking sooner or later he would’ve learned the truth that she went crazy and had caused her own death. But later he realized that she had gouged out her eyes because she didn’t want to see him when he was flown back to Paris to meet her. See page 259. 

So I’m going to stand by my opinion that I liked this book. I think it’s hilarious it was marketed under Science Fiction because although Magdalena can see “truth” on people’s skin (and it’s revealed a number of additional people can as well), this played a minor part of the story. It may have been the driving force behind a few of the character’s actions, but it didn’t play an enormous visual role in the story, which is typically how science fiction or fantasy books work. It was very subliminal, which convinces me to argue this is more of a fiction than a sci-fi piece. And although it’s slow, I think it’s still well worth it to pick it up and read.

Saunders, Adelia. Indelible. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2017. Print.

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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.

Reminder: Recall and Remember

I’ve been noticing this more with books lately, but upkeeping your character’s train of thought is a good thing. For instance, the two books I just finished, they mention the character’s thoughts, reminding the reader what they’re thinking every number of pages or so.

I find this is good because it reminds the main character – this is happening. It reminds the reader, this is what we’re concerned with, and it helps explains actions/reasoning.

For instance:

It was a dream! I wanted to shout at myself. I had to stop letting it get to me.” (McPike 33)

Just as in real life, when Lali has a disturbing a dream, she can’t help but think about it. It’s common for us to continuously remember something that bothers us since we can’t help but process and re-process it as we try to come to terms with what we experienced. I found this to be a very lifelike attribution within the novel.

Lexicon does this too.

“He began to feel unsure, because her face was strange. And then it came to him, in a fountain of dream that began somewhere unidentifiable and ended in his testicles: He should not be here. He should not have led men with guns to his girlfriend.” (Barry 11)

They’re both quite similar. Both books have their characters recall and remember before they react to the physical act of recalling. This is important, probably the most important part. I did not include it for Wil in Lexicon, but he wanted to run away, just as Lali wanted to yell at herself to forget it.

This lets the author remind their reader that although the plot may deviate, we’re still focused on this earlier detail. It helps crank up the tension when it may be draining due to more menial plot points. In Lali’s perspective, she was in school, necessary to meet an important character. In Will’s perspective, he thought he was safe in the car, but he couldn’t stop. We have to keep that tension going, have to keep the characters moving.

After all, we’re only human. And we never stop.

McPike, KJ. Xodus. Seattle, WA: Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, 2015. Print.

Barry, Max. Lexicon. New York, NY: Penguin, 2013. Print.

PS.

I want to encourage everyone to take a look at Xodus. It’s a new supernatural YA novel with lots of adventure and a tinge of romance that’s sure to come back. My friend just published it, and although she’s a friend, I truly did enjoy it. I found it original, since astral projecting is an uncommon power, and she has a good writing style. There is plenty of tension, and you won’t be able to put it down.

Flow within thoughts

I really love to talk about character’s thoughts (or reflections) within writing, mainly because I think this is a hard thing to achieve realistically. With the way our minds work, we can only thing of one thing at a time, but our brain works so fast, that we may have already thought 50 things within the span of a few seconds. It’s what makes writing stream of consciousness so difficult.

I actually was watching a let’s play for a video game – Until Dawn – and I found myself laughing at it in places. It’s just…even though it is one of the most beautiful life-like renditions, I find myself at odds with the characters’ decisions, where no one in their right mind would do such a thing. For instance, there were two characters hiking through the woods together, enter a mine shift, and almost get killed, and then the girl makes a sexy comment to her boyfriend. I mean, seriously. You get killed and the first thing you think of is sex? Or, what made you go in a condemned mine anyways? What’s a condemned mine doing by a hotel/inn?

There were a lot of points where I had a hard time believing the character’s reactions, which doesn’t bode well for my overall favor for the game.

While this book, The Library at Mount Char, I thought it did a pretty good job. The characters sounded older, like themselves and their personalities, and with such a range. There were average Joe’s, people raised by “aliens,” people raised in the army, even a lion…the range of characters made the feat itself difficult, but all of them turned out to be realistic. I’ll include one short example that follows not long after the introduction.

…”Just a mess at the barn. One of the horses.” There was no barn, no horse. But she knew from the smell of the man that he would be sympathetic to animals, and that he would understand their business could be bloody. “Rough delivery, for me and for her.” She smiled ruefully and held her hands to frame her torso, the green silk now black and stiff with Detective Miner’s blood. “I ruined my dress.” (Hawkins 4)

To me, what made this thought realistic is the flow. Notice she mentioned horses and then she thought of horses, how she lied about them because it seemed the most believable lie to give the guy.

I think all thoughts need to flow or have good transitions. It helps the realism.

Two, the thoughts were framed according to the character. Having just committed a murder, she is going to want to blend in – that’s what she was taught to do, as we say later in the book. Hence, the believable lies.

These two things will definitely help when writing thought processes. And, this entire book is full of them! I would definitely recommend it.

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

Stream of Consciousness: Part 2

One thing I like about the book I’m reading – the book called Flex – is that the character has a very strong train of thought. He thinks about his guilt, his plans for the future, whether something will or won’t work out. His thoughts really encompass the breadth of possibilities, and there’s one scene I really like.

His ‘mancy, this love, was illegal. If anyone at work unlocked the door to Paul’s office, they’d find the evidence for the military to press-gang him into the Unimancy squad. They’d brain-burn him, take his daughter away. Because ‘mancy was evil, it had annihilated Europe, it was the ultimate crime. (Steinmetz 30)

By including a character’s thoughts, we show their humanity and prove the depth of their thoughts. This paragraph does a good job of emphasizing this about Paul – the main character. It showed his worries, it showed what he worried about and what he was scared of happening. It gave proof that this was a cause for concern.

While writing, I think it would help to stop every once in a while and ask your character, what are you thinking? When does their thoughts matter most? Because when you’re in action, you might not have the strongest thoughts, but when you’re standing at the fork of two paths, when you’re in the middle of debate, then it might be worth to hear what you have to say. Why do you make the decision you do?

Show thoughts when it matters most. When it adds depth to the story, when it helps the character to figure out what’s going on, to show the reader why the scene or reaction matters. Show me what I should be thinking.

Steinmetz, Ferrett. Flex. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot, 2015.

Stream of Consciousness

It’s interesting to think of the components of a scene: dialogue, action, imagery, stream of consciousness… These are all necessary components. You need to see where the characters are at, what they’re doing, what they’re saying, what they’re thinking…Which is what I would like to focus on today!

Thoughts!

Not my thinking because I’ve been told I think in weird tangents even though I feel like my mind is made up a series of 3D venn diagrams – bubbles that merge, un-merge and move thoughts around in circles, that constantly grow and shrink with worry/excitement. But, for the sake of our characters, for the sake of their simplicity, we’ll imagine they think in linear patterns.

Example:

What he’d done was wrong. He knew that. But her tolerating his presence felt like a benediction, a sign he deserved some place among the wealthy and beautiful, and oh God, he’d lied and was going to Hell. (Steinmetz 16)

This would be considered a stream of consciousness – a continuous flow of thoughts/reactions to an event. After the character slept with a woman, convincing her to bed through the use of magic, he felt guilty, and this paragraph reflects on that guilt, that satisfaction, then guilt again.

These kinds of thoughts should be in all scenes, maybe not always as long, maybe longer. Never in humongous chunks that take up most of the page. But, they do a good job of giving the reader the purpose, direction, plot, and help them identify more with the protagonist.

Steinmetz, Ferrett. Flex. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot, 2015.