Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Rules of Writing

So Eric, over at Pimp My Novel, had a post a couple of days ago about Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing. He got it from somewhere else, so if you're really concerned with accurate citation, you can follow all the links back. Eric runs an awesome blog though, so even if you don't care about proper citation, go check his post out. :)

These 8 rules really got me thinking and I wanted to share both the rules and my thoughts on them. I realize that I'm no "professional" when it comes to writing. While I have published a couple of random magazine articles, I'm not JK Rowling. Still... I read a awful lot, and I have some opinions on these. Plus, it's my blog and therefore I get to do what I want. :) Vonnegut's rules are bold, and my thoughts on each follow. Enjoy....

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Now this I completely agree with, expecially since I'm the kind of person that almost always finishes a book that I start. I think I've only stopped reading a book, like, once, maybe. I always push through to the end, but with some books that leaves me feeling disappointed. I think that all art, be it a book, painting, or song, should do something for the person experiencing it. It should leave them feeling as if the time spent on that piece of art was not wasted; that they are maybe better for it. This concept, to me, also ties into the whole indie-publishing 99cent novel thing. Granted, many of the 99cent books may not be good, but I haven't yet felt like my money was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Definitely agree with this one, though I sometimes have a hard time with it in my own writing. We HAVE to care about at least one of the characters. I recently finished reading Matched by Ally Condie, which has gotten a lot of buzz. A full review will come, someday, but I had a hard time with the main character. I couldn't sympatize with her. I didn't care whether she succeeded or not becuase she just felt whiney. Contrast that to one of the best characters of all time to root for- Harry Potter. We all wanted Harry to succeed, not just for his own personal gain, but for the fate of the whole world.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Another item that I really struggle with, though I did just figure out what my main character wants in my current WIP. :) I think the bigger trick here is making these desires known to the reader and making the reader want the character to get what she wants. Sort of a combination of 2 and 3. If a character wants a glass of water, but I hate her so much that I want her to dehydrate, I'm not sure that will really work for an entire novel.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
Now this one is powerful, especially if you've read any of Vonnegut's own writing. I'm not sure that I agree with this one though. One of my favorite authors is John Steinbeck who has many sentences that do neither of these two things. Rules sometimes, were made to be broken. I love good description of setting and such, though it can be overdone and is terrible if done poorly.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.
Amen to this one. Maybe it's because I just finished The Roar and I felt like I could have easily cut the first 2/3 of that novel. I think that this can be difficult. I know that I have a TON of backstory in my current WIP, but you really do just have to leave it out. Don't drag your reader through 20 years of a character's life before she gets to do something awesome.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading charcters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Also hard for me. I want to be a little Pollyanna-ish in my writing, but honestly, that's not life, and it shouldn't be writing either. Crappy things have to happen to your characters to make them change, grow, and take action. My main character's father dies in the opening pages of my current novel. Is is epically sucky? Yes. does it spur her into action? Yes, definitely.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Ha... I love this one, partically because of how it's phrased, but also the actual message. Don't write to please everyone. Don't write about vampires/werewolves/angels/whatever just because it's hot right now. Don't write planning to make a billion dollars on marketing and movies and stupid dolls of your characters. Write thinking of that one person for whom your book will change her life. If her elebenty plus friends love it as well and you get movies and candy and dolls, then great, but write for that one person first.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Well.... maybe. I read and loved Graceling which give us nothing to start with and is all kinds of mystery for quite a while. I also love books that give me everything. I actually really like prequels, where I know where the book has to get to by the end and am excited to see how the author takes me there. But, I know that this may not work for all people. I'm also the person who likes to read the last two lines of a book before I start it, and doesn't mind watching an entire football game even when I already know who won. I think for me, this rule works, but I would imagine that most of the population likes a little bit more mystery in their books.

So, those are my thoughts on the rules of writing according to Kurt Vonnegut. I'd love to hear your take on the rules. Any you particularly love or hate? Does writing need rules at all or should we just do whatever we want as the creators of our worlds? What are other writing rules that you subscribe to?

(These are from the above link, which in turn borrows them from Vonnegut's Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spells- Aprilynne Pike

Spells by Aprilynne Pike

Spells is the second book in Pike's trilogy. If you'd like to read my review of Wings, which is the first book, check it out HERE. If you haven't read Wings and aren't interested in spoilers, then stop here!Actual review is after the jump.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Character with a Zillion Names

I've been trying to get back in the writing saddle this week, working on plotting and flushing out beats and scenes for the book. My first novel I pantsed. For those non-writer out there, that means I just started writing with an idea and little else, not that I embarrassed my book by displaying it's awesome My Little Pony underoos. :) At any rate, I just started writing with my first novel and it ended rather disastrously. I hummed along quite well until about two-thirds of the was through the book and then I fell apart. I knew where I wanted it to end, but I just couldn't get there. So, for my second book, I've decided to do some serious plotting. I been using Save the Cat (which is awesome) and The Writer's Journey (also awesome) to help me pace the story and make sure that I have all of the proper beats in it.

So anyway... long story to get to a shorter point, in the process of planning a scene on Monday, a new character popped up. This totally stopped me in my tracks, because while I could picture her and knew exactly what her personality was going to be... I don't have a name for her and it's driving me nuts! NUTS!

Being a teacher, I've had a really hard time finding names for my characters. I've taught so many kids over the years, that lots of names have connotations with them... sometimes good, sometimes bad. And to add to that complication, I always get all wrapped up in the meaning on the name. Envisioning high school English students years from now analyzing my choices and writing papers about how fitting my names are. Ugh. So I'm just stuck... I have my main characters' names: Katy and Tom, though now it makes me think of Katy Holmes and Tom Cruise... so that may not work out. :P But this third character... no idea what she's going to be named.

So... I'm turning to you my lovely readers. Any suggestions? For my writer friends out there, how do you come up with your names? I'm floundering a bit here... I get so lost in baby name websites. And if it helps- girl in question is poor, shy, very kind, smart, loyal, and plain but pretty... at least that's what I've gotten of her so far.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Roar- Emma Clayton

The Roar by Emma Clayton

My absolutely lovely school librarian (people whom I believe have a special place in heaven) always has new books to share with me.  The Roar was one such book. I usually try my darndest to read an awful lot, not just because I like reading, but also for my writing and to be able to recommend books to my students. So, since my librarian hadn't read this one, I told her that I'd read it and get back to her. My report.... not so good.

In a super simple version of the plot, so as not to give away what little spoilers there are: Mika and his twin Ellie live in a dystopian near future. Due to an animal plague, the entire population of the planet has been moved behind The Wall that rings the top of the globe. Ouside the wall, the Earth is decimated from all of the chemicles that had to be used to kill all the animal and vegetative life and irradicate the plague. Inside the wall, society is highly stratified- literally. The richest live at the tops of the cities in the Golden Towers, while the poor live underneath those towers in The Shadows. The story opens with Ellie trying to escape from bad guy Mal (yes, bad = mal... thank you Clayton).She has been thought dead by her family for over a year, and is trying to get back to them. She dosen't succeed. Meanwhile, Mika and his parents live in the bad part of the city and while his parents have already grieved Ellie's death, Mika is sure that she is still alive. We go back and forth between the Mal/Ellie perspective and Mika's perspective throughout the book. Mika and his fellow classmates are all enrolled in the Fit for Life program, meant to get them healthy and bolster their measly "fab food" which is really just processed mold. Then everyone competes in a video game. The top players keep moving up in the ranks, blah, blah, blah. I'll not spoil what actually happens to the winners, or Ellie and Mika as that's really the ONLY thing that kept me reading this book.

Ugh... so, in a lot of ways, I hated not liking this book. I really, really wanted to like it. It has a male narrator, which is great for my students- mostly boys. The writing is at a pretty easy reading level, so again, great for my students, but I just can't like it, and really can't recommend it to anyone. It was sort of terrible. The pacing of the book dragged on and on. Nothing was ever really explained. I had so many questions that it stopped moving me forward on the quest for answers and just started irritating me. I feel like this was an awful lot of set up that could and should have been cut. The premise is interesting, and I think it could have been really good had the book started about halfway through. I also really didn't like, or believe, this mystic twin connection that Ellie and Mika share. It was lame. Now, granted, I'm not a twin, so I don't know what it's like. For all I know that's how being a twin really is, but I didn't buy it. The point of view was terribly done and jumped around far too much. The characters were pretty flat, especially the supporting cast. And the ending... on the ending. I was so unbelievably disappointed. It just ended. The action started, questions were being answered, I was maybe going to get excited about what was going on in this book... and then, a page later, it ends. Just ends. Terrible. And there wasn't even enough of a hook or cliffhanger for me to feel excited about a potential sequel.

So, overall, I wouldn't recommend wasting your time on this one folks. It breaks my heart to say it, especially being a writer and thinking about someone hating a book I write so much, but still. Not Good. Now... to be fair, Clayton lives and is presumably from England, so maybe... maybe this is just some British thing that I'm really not understanding... like British humor???? I don't know... but I just didn't like it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Contest Winner!

Thank you all for your kind wishes on my fabulous anniversary! I'll cut right to the chase!

Random Number generator says..... Number 20! Which, after creating a spreadsheet of all comment entries, and then followers means that Miss Sarah is my winner! Yay! Sarah, I've emailed you, so please let me know which gift card you'd like!

As for everyone else, thanks for entering! I hope that maybe I can have another contest sometime soon. That was fun! And I apologize for the stupid format of the number generator picture... my computer is not currently cooperating. :(

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Tail of Emily Windsnap- Liz Kessler

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

      I'll preface this review by saying that I don't often read middle-grade fiction, so I'm not sure that I can be an entirely fair judge of this novel. I picked the book up for some ideas on the "daughter of two worlds" plot line for my own novel. Sadly, I found myself comparing this book to the plethora of YA books that I read on a much more regular basis, and upon comparison, I was rather disappointed.

Kessler's book opens with a girl, Emily, who lives with her mother on a houseboat. Emily is worried because she doesn't know how to swim (her mother has never allowed her to take lessons) and their is an impending swimming unit in gym at school. As an aside, I could totally relate to this fear. The intermediate school that I went to as a kid (grades 3-8) was also the recreation center in town and we had a large swimming pool. Every year in gym we had to do a swimming unit. I hated it. Not because I don't know how to swim, but because I totally hate water in my face. There you go... random fact about me of the day. :)

At any rate, Emily ventures into the pool only to find that her legs begin to fuse together. She plays it off as a cramp, but refuses to swim at school again. As the story plods along, Emily meets a real-life mermaid and finds out that she is part mermaid herself. She only develops a fin when she's in water, and it fades when she's on land. Her new mer-friend takes her to mermaid school and Emily learns that her mother was in love with a merman who is now in mer-jail.

Bored yet? Yeah, so was I. Honestly, I might have found this book cute if I were about eight, but I'm not and it really didn't translate well to an older audience. I thought the plot was trite and irritating. I really hated all the stupid mermaid slang, and it was all around cheesy. In theory, the concept behind the novel could have worked well, but it just never gelled. There are about a bazillion sequels and the book got good reviews on Amazon, so apparently someone likes it, but just not me. Maybe I'm too far removed from my tween days, though, I do love reading Teen and Young Adult books, so I can't be that much of an old fogey yet.

I wouldn't recommend the book for the general audience of my blog, but if you have a young female reader, you might pick her up a used copy. :)

ALSO! Today is the last day to enter my blogiversary contest! Go enter now! 

Book purchased from

Check out all of my other reviews HERE.


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