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.

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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.

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.

Delivering a moment

If you haven’t heard of Moss yet, it’s an online journal found here.

Anyways – I went to APRIL, which had a small convention at the Hugo House, letting small indie presses sell their wares, and Moss was one of companies. Apparently, they just made a new first-time-ever print edition, and me having known about them for a while, and being irresistibly excited by print, I bought a copy.

First story – “Family Life and Sexual Health”

After I finished this story, the first thing that comes to mind is a motif about brothers, siblings. You can tell from reading this story that the main character, Elle, really wanted to be something other than an only child. And this is a great feeling to focus on – I feel like a lot of children/people can relate to this feeling.

And for its one positive to focus on – pacing. This author’s style is similar to mine as of late. At least when I’ve been riding the bus, and writing in between bus stops, I find myself favoring the quick, jumping scenes, ducking in and out of the story, and Texeira has successfully accomplished this.

She writes, What do you mean by and stops.

Elle keeps her eyes on the paper, “Sex?”

A few uncomfortable attempts and she finally figured out the angle at which something could go inside. (4)

A lot of scenes are like this, cutting in and out with dialogue or some concrete imagery, with each scene not being more than a moment, maybe a few minutes at most, before continuing on with the story. I think this makes a short story really successful, delivering only the most crucial details. In this case, Dan’s repeated visits to Elle, always eating pie, always asking for a fork, sharing a timeless moment, is something you would see between siblings, quickly getting the motif across. It makes me wonder if Texeira wanted one.

Guy, Connor and Alex Davis-Lawrence. Family Life and Sexual Health. Seattle: Moss Volume 1, 2015. Print.

Instant Gratification

One thing I love about writing: It instantly makes you happy, which can progressively increase with interest. (And that’s a purposeful pun!) And it doesn’t have to just make the writer happy; it can make the reader happy too.

Because the nice part about writing, whatever you want to happen, you can make it happen. And you don’t have have to wait for it. You can make it so that the event occurs immediately! Instant gratification!

Take for instance, this section of A Stranger in a Strange Land.

“Jubal, you go see what the score is. I can’t go back.”

“They’ll take you back with open arms and never ask why you left. One thousand on that prediction, too. Ben, you were there less than twenty-four hours. Did you give them the careful investigation that you give something smelly in public life before you blast it?” (Heinlein 369)

And not too much later – the next page even:

Twenty-four hours later Ben wired Jubal two thousand dollars. When, after a week, Jubal received no other message, he sent a state care of Ben’s office: “What the hell are you doing?” The answer was somewhat delayed:

Studying Martian-aquafraternally yours-Ben” (Heinlein 370)

I loved this! Mostly because there was this huge in-depth scene, showing this argument between Ben and Jubal, where Jubal was making fun of Ben for skipping out on this polygamous, everyone-shares-everything relationship, and then not two paragraphs later, I get the resolution to this miniature conflict: Ben was won over.

And I don’t know why! I don’t know how!

This is a beautiful driver. I get the resolution to the story, but I don’t figure out how it occurs because the writer skipped all the drama, fast-forwarding to the ending, which creates a reverse effect for me: Interest is upped. I have no idea how this happened, and I want to know how, so I’m going to keep reading to find out why.

What a beautiful trick that anybody can used. In this case, according to Freytag’s arc, I can skip the ‘falling action’ part and go straight to the resolution, in order to change the timing of the story and create more interest.

It’d be a nice trick to try at some point.

Heinlein, R. A Stranger in a Strange Land. New York, NY: Ace, 1961. Print.

Huxley’s 1984

I submitted to peer pressure.

A lot of my friends had talked about the book, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, including how much they liked it and how traumatic an ending it had. They pressured me to read it, telling me again and again, it’s a classic. You should know the story.

So, I read it. I submitted to peer pressure and committed the deed. And fortunately, I didn’t feel contaminated afterwards, which tends to happen after I read a book I didn’t like. But this book was so interesting, and there are so many things I want to talk about! This book had a weird style; it was similar to 1984; the ending was weird? Forced? Rushed?

I’ll divide up my thoughts and try to make them quicker than usual, since I did a no-no and left a whole book for a post.

PREFACE

Within the first chapter, you get the setting of the book: future time period, a society where humans are artificially grown in a lab, set to undergo the Bokanovsky’s Process (where fertilized eggs undergo duplication until there are ninety-six duplicates), which the Director calls “one of the major instruments of social stability” since, as Huxley says, it produces “standard men and women; in uniform batches” (Huxley 7). Because everyone is a twin of the other; humanity can be standardized and cast into formal castes, based on intelligence. As one of the characters mentioned, “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely” (137). Meaning, the more standard they look, the more easily they can conform and socialize, equating popularity and happiness.

This is a big component on which the society is built, and even though their civilization has changed in more than one manner, I think this component, for being such a small deviation from the norm, still resulted with a largely different plot, in which is discussed the importance of the individual versus society. Hint: All it takes is one deviation from the norm to create a good framework for a novel.

 TRANSITIONS IN CH 3

“Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending.”

Green corduroy shorts and white viscose-woolen stockings turned down below the knee.

“Then came the famous British Museum Massacre. Two thousand culture fans gassed with dichlorethyl sulphide.”

A green-and-white jockey cap shaded Lenina’s eyes; her shoes were bright green and highly polished.

“In the end,” said Mustapha Mond, “the Controllers realized that force was no good. The slower but infinitely surer methods of ectogenesis, neo-Pavlovian conditioning and hypnopaedia…” (50)

Most of the chapter was this way, and it was crazy to read, because it was constantly changing scenes, switching back and forth between the repetitious nurses (who used hypnopaedia to sleep condition citizen’s ethics and morals), to the reflecting Controllers (who explained how society became this way), to the average Lenina, acting as the typical citizen in this society. Because it switched so often, my brain struggled to keep up. But one thing I liked was that it showed all that was going on at the moment, drawing direct comparisons between each of these situations.

While the Controller, Mustapha, explained why society acted this way, the nurses showed how we conditioned society to act in this manner, using Lenina to demonstrate the typical behavior. For example, the nurses repeated, “Ending is better than mending,” encouraging citizens to always buy new clothes while Huxley described all of Lenina’s clothes, showing how she conforms to these conditioning’s (50). Hint: These quick transitions draw direct comparisons between scenes or characters, making them relate to each other.

1984

Remember how 1984 was a direct contemplation of the politics and social criteria to make a totalitarian society? One of the criteria it required was a sex-less society, where sex became a chore, and the standard woman behavior (of the middle and high class) was abstinence. As a direct opposite, Brave New World is sex heavy. And although the two books share opposing views to create a submissive society, both of them encourage society members to never be alone, to always be in public, and to never ruminate in their thoughts. For example, while 1984 encourages doublethink to disable individual thinking, BNW encourages the use of soma, a drug that Lenina says to take “when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly” (92).

It’s interesting to compare the books side-by-side since they both study social behavior of their own fictional society, constantly examining what-if’s. Where 1984 took a ‘hate everything, be at war approach,’ Brave New World took a peaceful ‘everyone’s happy’ approach, which you can see is drilled into the mind of every citizen on page 75: “‘Yes, everybody’s happy now,’ echoed Lenina. They had heard the words repeated a hundred and fifty times every night for twelve years.” Overall, it’s funny how similar and different they are, considering they both had the purpose to have a stable society for forever. Note: Notice again how this book doesn’t have to be sneaky with its purpose, again having the characters reflect on the same theme throughout their thoughts and dialogue, just as obvious as 1984. This gives a good method on how to reveal your theme: Make the characters examine and reflect on your purpose.

SOMA

I really like the use of drugs in this book, the one named soma. In the case of this book, as previously mentioned, characters take these drugs whenever they’re feeling something other than happiness, using soma as an avoidance method for any strong negative emotions, in effect, never learning how to deal with them (examples seen on 171 and 176). This is a cool similarity with our society, even though drugs aren’t as heavily used as in BNW, where they’re used as currency. But I think the reason this drug made the book stronger is that it shows the degree of happiness that characters feel. They depend on this sort of artificial happiness, which is by no means a true substitute for real happiness. As the Controller says, “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand” (221). What the Controller means, is the kind of happiness their society achieves is tiny compared to the kind you earn in the face of sadness. You cannot achieve true happiness without its opposite, and by eliminating the negatives, they’ve diminished the positives, but it’s okay! It’s all in the name of stability, and wouldn’t everyone rather safety? Leading us back to 1984’s statement. Would you be willing to give up your freedom for safety? How much are you willing to give up for survival? Hint: Running symbolism, as is the case of soma and the society’s dependence on artificial happiness, is a great way to exaggerate the theme of your book.

ENDING

This one I won’t include any references, but I will include plenty of SPOILERS. With the end of the book, came a general conclusion, where a few of the characters were banished from society, being too creative and intelligent for the general society. And then one character decides to banish himself, not being able to accept this artificial happiness that they have created, through the avoidance of all negative emotion.

After a sort, society tracks him down and continues to make fun of his culture’s tradition, where he learned to welcome pain and suffering as a sort of cleansing process, making him feel better. But the society warped this, making him go crazy until he rebels against the crowds, whipping people and eventually killing – what I believe to be – his ‘love’. In the face of this, his hangs himself.

This felt overall, too quick, rushed. This happened in the last 10 pages, and the pacing seemed quite strange. It slowed down quite a bit after the argument between the main characters, delving into a sort of epilogue before it re-entered the action, with the unhappy character moving away from society, flashing through quick moments of his life until we arrived at the moment of him going crazy, and killing himself in the face of murder. And because this felt forced for me, I don’t think it had the same sort of impact as it did on other readers. What about you?

Edit: I still want to say I’m not a huge fan of the ending, but I want to change part of my answer. While I was discussing the book with a friend, someone said, I know you didn’t like it, but was it effective? Causing me to consider it for the first time. Was it an effective ending? And in short, I want to say yes. It was effective.

The character who killed himself thought he couldn’t deal with the guilt at killing his love, so he ended up committing suicide. I thought this was funny – yes, funny – because he was in opposition of this consistently happy society because it was artificial through the constant use of soma. And yet, when he was faced with the situation of unhappiness, he couldn’t handle it and killed himself, showing, maybe the fake-happy society has it the right way. Because the only thing this ending showed us was that, no, people can’t handle the truth, so continue to feed them soma.

I liked that. Continuing the trek of the story by reinforcing the incorrect notion.

Huxley, A. Brave New World. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1932. Print.

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.

Chapter Transitions

A while back, we discussed transitions from a paragraph to paragraph basis, but it’s different when you move from scene to scene, chapter to chapter. In the case of While Beauty Slept, chapters were like different scenes from the main character’s life as the reader followed her life story. And it made for very different transitions as Elizabeth Blackwell tried to capture only the most important parts of Elise’s story.

I did not meet the woman who was to transform my life until my second week at the castle. It was an encounter that remains vivid in my memory to this day, for it was the first time I glimpsed the darkness that lurked beneath the pageantry of court. The first tiny step in my loss of innocence. (Blackwell 57)

Every chapter started out like almost a thesis, laying out what was going to be the topic of focus for the following chapter. For the one mentioned above, it was a specific woman, and although she was our focus, the chapter remained oriented from Elise’s perspective and showed us a detailed scene of when the woman first appears.

I liked this organization because it showed us Elise’s whole life, but it only showed the most important parts, like a selective biography rather than a diary that showed every little aspect, which can drag and get boring at times.

This book showed that the organization of your novel/story is just as important as the story itself and can lend a great deal to the narrative of your book.

Blackwell, Elizabeth. While Beauty Slept. New York, NY: Berkley Books, 2014. Print.

“Old Paint” by Megan Lindholm

When someone says old paint, you think of an old adult stripping wallpaper from the wall with a glue-covered scraper in one hand and a hand full of ’40s reminiscent wallpaper. You don’t think of super futuristic smart cars rebelling against the owners (SPOILER – too late). But maybe that’s just my thoughts. Either way, the title fits, and you won’t figure out why until you read the story.

This was a good read. I really enjoyed it. Partially because it was direct and to the point and partially because it encompassed a large timeline of the family’s life and was squished into a short story, in order to frame the main character – the car. Lindholm did a good job weaving in intermittent characterizations, transitioning over great lengths of time, and using miniature scenes to sketch over what happened rather than dive into each of the events. I think it would be accurate to say, she’s really good at writing summaries.

1) Intermittent characterizations

Most authors spend great lengths describing their characters, and for many authors that can do this, it works. Others like to develop their characters through actions and words, which is what Lindholm primarily does.

“Mom, I think you broke it,” Ben said. “Maybe we shouldn’t touch anything until we can have a mechanic look at it.” Ben was fourteen then, and for some reason, he now believed that if he didn’t know something, Mom didn’t know it either. She just snorted and got out of the car and went around to open the hood the rest of the way. (Lindholm 16)

For example, when she mentioned Ben, she snuck in a single sentence about his character. This was toward the beginning of the story, so this is one of the lengthier examples. The next sentence – Mom opening the hood of the car, showed that his mother knew her way around cars. This is what was to be expected for most of the story for characterization – defining through actions.

2) Transitions

There are two kinds of transitions I want to emphasize in this story – the obvious and the subtle.

Obvious: “On the way home, she kept pushing buttons…” (18)

Subtle: Explaining DVD’s to her son on the drive home, and then…”We had a parking spot at our building that we’d never used before. The first time we pulled up in the car…” (18)

I really enjoyed the fact that she could use her obvious transitions when she was making great leaps in time, but when she was going from one action to the next, she used the next logical step and its description to move smoothly into her next mini-scene.

3) Miniature scenes (aka micro-scene)

What made these work is her dialogue and details. Scenes are made up of descriptive settings, actions, and dialogue, to the extent that the reader should be able to picture the scene that’s occurring, and Lindholm did not only do this within two to three paragraphs but within a few sentences as well. She conveyed a matter of months and more than a million intra-family conflicts in these seriously short descriptions. For example:

[Ben] kept telling Mom how the car would be safer if it could drive itself and how we could get better mileage because it would self-adjust routes to avoid traffic or to take short cuts, and that statistics showed that car-brains actually reacted faster than human brains in dangerous situations. / “Maybe so, but they can only react one way, and human brains can think of a dozen ways to react in a tough situation. So the answer is still no. Not yet. Maybe never.” / Mom scored big points on him the next week when there were dozens of accidents on I-5 that involved driverless cars. (21)

In the first paragraph (3 sentences long – I didn’t include all of it), Lindholm overviews Ben’s need for upgrades, posing his exact argument, which made it feel realistic, and then retorted with the exact dialogue from his mother (2nd paragraph – 2 sentences and 2 fragments). The third paragraph (7 sentences) then went on to outline how she eventually won the fight, which transitioned into a bigger conflict in the story.

Let me review. This micro-scene was successful because it said and showed how Ben was arguing for his wants and how his mother retorted. We didn’t need to see the exact fight, which for families and children may occur a million times per day. We were more concerned with the dialogue of the fight since it was one of the weird, coincidental fights that transitioned into a main complication within the story.

Lindholm does a wonderful job with details, and she uses these to her advantage. While seeming slightly reluctant to write major scenes, she uses her strengths with summaries and micro-scenes to really overcome this and break the standard for writing short stories. She achieves in fitting a major life event, spanning several months, into a good short story. I would definitely recommend this to others if you’re looking on how to fit a large timeline into a few pages.

Lindholm, Megan. “Old Paint.” Year’s Best SF 18. Ed. David G. Hartwell. New York, NY: Tor, 2013. 34-54. Print.

Transitional Phases

For some people, the hardest part about writing is changing from one idea to the next. In one word – transitions. It can be really difficult. After all, in different styles of writing, you transition in different ways.

In APA format, it’s basically adding a new title for when your topic changes.

For school, you can add a transition word: then, finally, now, but, so, etc. And even though this is a legitimate way on how to write (more transition words here), it doesn’t always make the most sense to me.

I love flow. When your writing resembles a river of cohesive ideas, always constantly moving forward, even when you take time to step back and make a few loops before falling over the edge of the cliff for your climax or resolution, it feels beautiful. The reader shouldn’t notice that it’s a story. Everything should feel smooth and never ending.

But while it’s easy in theory, it can be difficult in context, which is why, like always, I would like to start with a good example:

“That’s all right. You two can do what you want. I’ll be gone soon.”
***
We stayed for an hour or two more, talking about other things, about that bloody porch, and then we waved goodbye and drove off and I parked the car as soon as we were out of sight of the house. “Let’s kill her,” I said. (Cornell 36)

I really liked this transition in the story called “The Ghosts of Christmas.” If you looked at my notes in the book, in which I still feel guilty for desecrating the margins, there’s a little heart with the word transition scribbled quite messily. And it isn’t all that awe-inspiring for most normal people, but it was remarkable for me.

This story builds off its natural ability of scenes, using miniature summaries like “We stayed for an hour…” to branch into the next scene (36). And this is what most transitions are: A review of previous material before connecting that idea to the new idea.

For example, in the first part of the quote, where the character is in the middle of the discussion, the transition to the next scene says, we continued the conversation for another hour before I left. That would be the transition, with an emphasis on the transitional word ‘before.’

These words aren’t a bad thing. Things like first, second, third shouldn’t be used exclusively but words like before, next, then…these help connect our ideas together.

For practice, try writing a stream of consciousness, and then make sure you show how all your thoughts connect. I was blamed as being random when I was younger, but that just means most people can’t follow my train of thought. Show me how you direct yours.

Cornell, Paul. “The Ghosts of Christmas.” Year’s Best SF 18. Ed. David G. Hartwell. New York, NY: Tor, 2013. 34-54. Print.