Archive | September, 2010

The Unity of Opposites

21 Sep

by Julie Eshbaugh

Conflict! What is a story without it?  But despite the fact that we all know the value of conflict, striking the perfect balance of opposing forces isn’t always as easy as a writer might like it to be.  But have no fear!  The principle of the unity of opposites is an amazing tool to have at your disposal when testing out a new premise or drawing up a new outline.

So what is the unity of opposites?

Imagine a Philadelphia couple walking into Citizens Bank Park to cheer on the hometown favorites, the Philadelphia Phillies.  They are both dressed in Phillies T-shirts and ball caps.  When they reach their row, they find that the neighboring seats are occupied by a couple dressed in T-shirts and caps declaring their support of the opposing team, the Atlanta Braves.

An argument ensues.  The argument escalates to insults, taunting, and eventually shoving and swearing.  Finally, a punch is thrown.  Soon the two couples are engaged in a near brawl.

Is this conflict an example of the unity of opposites?  No, because although the two couples, when it comes to baseball, may be opposites, they have no unity.  Nothing binds them to each other in a way that would prevent the more civil couple from simply brushing themselves off and walking away.  In other words, this is not a case of a conflict where only one party can win.  If one couple walks away, no one has really lost, and in fact, no one has truly won.

Now imagine if the two couples, instead of brawling, make a bet.  Say each couple takes out a hundred dollars and puts it on the wager, winner take all.  Now imagine further that the Atlanta couple splurged on their trip to the game and under-budgeted for expenses, and this very hundred dollars which they are betting was wired to them this morning by the wife’s overbearing and unforgiving father, for the express purpose of paying for gas for the drive back to Atlanta.  Add to the story that our couple from Philadelphia both are compulsive gamblers, and this hundred dollars that they are betting is owed to a dangerous loan shark.

Now there is a unity of opposites, because one cannot win without the other losing.  The conflict cannot be abandoned without one party accepting defeat.

The unity of opposites is not essential to conflict, but without it, there is always a danger that a character might give in or give up without seeing the conflict through.  Worse yet, the reader may wonder why a character continues in a conflict when walking away might be far more rational or advantageous.  A unity of opposites ensures that the characters cannot walk away.

Sometimes the unity of opposites involves a matter of life and death.  In The Hunger Games, only one tribute can live.  Compromise is impossible, since the tributes are united in their mutual goal to kill each other.  No one can win unless all the others lose.

A unity of opposites can exist without mortal death being the consequence of failure, of course.  Death of an important character trait or valued conviction can be a painful consequence to the loser.  An example of this type of unity of opposites can be found in Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are bound together by their mutual attraction, but conflict exists because both of them are unwilling to compromise their proud and judgmental attitudes for the sake of the other.  Neither can “win” without there being a “death” to an essential characteristic of the other.  Likewise, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, though bound by their feelings for each other, the lovers are at conflict because they belong to opposing families.  Their love forms the unity; their family connections make them opposites.  Despite the efforts of both to overcome the power of the conflict between the families, eventually it is his loyalty to the Montague clan that leads Romeo to kill Juliet’s cousin.  The unity that binds Romeo and Juliet puts them in the perfect position to fall victim to the force of conflict between the opposites, a force which drives the characters to their tragic ends.

The idea of the unity of opposites is at its best when the protagonist and antagonist want the exact same thing in a story.  Some refer to this as perfect unity of opposites.

For example, in Romancing the Stone, the protagonist, antagonist, and villain all chase after the same precious emerald.  Indiana Jones and the Nazi officer are both pursuing the ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The most perfect character triangle occurs when two characters are both set on the same third character as an object of their love.

The unity of opposites can be a fantastic tool, because it ties the protagonist and the antagonist together.  If you invent it effectively, it prevents one or the other from simply admitting satisfaction and walking away from the story, because neither can win without the other losing.

Can you think of other good examples of the unity of opposites?  Does the unity of opposites appear in your own writing?

Disclaimer:  Although the author of this post is a devoted Phillies fan who will be at Citizens Bank Park to see the Phillies take on the Braves on the evening this post appears, she has never gotten into a brawl or made any sort of wager with fans of opposing teams.  Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.

 

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Critique Partner Relationships

20 Sep

Okay, so you’ve written a novel—or at least the first draft of one. Or maybe you’re not all the way done yet, but you’re pretty darn close. You stumbled upon LTWF’s Critique Partner page and found yourself an awesomesauce beta reader. You’ve gotten to know each other a bit, discovered that you both have a secret weakness for chocolate-covered gummy bears in your late night ice cream and a fondness for melodrama. Things are going good.

Then it comes time to send him or her your story.

Eep.

This can be a nerve-wracking experience both for you and your new beta, especially if neither of you has ever critiqued for a critique partner before. And even old hands can get nervous when working with someone new. What if they get offended? What if they don’t tell me what they really think? What if I come across as a total jerk? What if they secretly hate my story but refuse to tell me?

Here are a few ways to smooth over this transition.

First of all, if you’re new, let your CP know! As a writer gets more and more work out there, his skin grows thicker. I’ve gotten a lot more resilient to critique since I first started. Good, honest critique is very important, but there are many ways to phrase something.

For example, if I’m critiquing a manuscript for someone I know well—someone I’m good friends with and who I know has been writing a good long time, I might just say, “That ballroom scene isn’t grounded enough. Your characters seem to float in a void, and I don’t feel an emotional connection to the protagonist.”

But for someone I know is new and who might not be ready for more blunt, straight-forward remarks, I might phrase things differently: “I think you could improve that ballroom scene; maybe try adding a few sentences about how the other girls’ dresses look or how the chandelier sparkles or things like that. Right now, it’s hard to picture the characters’ surroundings. Also, I’d like to know a little more about the protagonist’s feelings. That way, I can sympathize with her more.”

See what I mean? Both get the same points across, but the second is a little gentler about it. Of course, always be polite! No one appreciate your saying, “The ballroom scene sucks.”

Also, if you’re the one getting your story critiqued, try helping your betas out by letting them know what points you’d like them to focus on. For example, let them know you’re having trouble with world building and ask them for their thoughts. Or maybe you’re afraid your protagonist is too whiny, but you’re not sure. Ask them! Think your middle lags a bit? Or that your epilogue is too neat? Ask for advice, and you shall receive 🙂

Every critique partner relationship is different. Some like to do line-by-line comments. Others like to exchange the story chapter by chapter. Still others want to read the whole thing at once. Each adds its unique perspective on your story, and all are incredibly useful.

So get out there and start marking up some stories!

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Plain Kate / Erin Bow Blog Tour: Interview and Plain Kate Giveaway!

19 Sep

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

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As you all probably know, I absolutely loved Erin Bow’s YA novel, Plain Kate (which again, I highly recommend!).

Today, we’re the third stop in Erin Bow’s blog tour – and we even have a copy of Plain Kate to giveaway, courtesy of Scholastic Canada.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Bow, and I must say, I am INCREDIBLY excited to share her answers with you! For those of you who don’t know her, Erin Bow is the author of two books of poetry and a memoir (published under her maiden name, Erin Noteboom) – and Plain Kate is her first novel. She also studied particle physics and worked briefly at CERN (European Centre for Nuclear Research), but left in order to pursue her passion for writing. And she’s  married to YA novelist James Bow.

For those who aren’t familiar with Plain Kate (or just need a refresher), here’s the description from Goodreads:

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

If you want to know more about Plain Kate, check out my review for it here. And now, onto the interview!

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Vanessa Hi Erin! Thanks so much for joining us. Plain Kate, your first novel, draws a lot from Russian folklore. Does it draw from any one in particular? What was it about Russian folklore that inspired you to write Plain Kate?

Erin Bow: Right before the beginning of PLAIN KATE came to me, I read this huge collection of Russian fairy tales.  I love fairy tales and I thought I knew them, but the Russian ones blew me away.   They’re full of white nights and strange transformations, villains that read as tragic heros, doomed heros that still stand tall.  When I read the Grimm fairy tales, they often seem familiar, as if you’ve heard them or part of them, as if you’ve been to that Kingdom.  The Russian tales aren’t like that.  They come from just over the edge of the map; they are wilder and darker.

There’s no one tale being retold in Plain Kate.  In fact the only thing explicitly Russian in the final draft is a rusalka — a sort of vampiric ghost — and the setting is more Eastern European than anything.  Still,  I hope I got some of that wildness and darkness, some of that sad triumph.

V: It took you six years to write Plain Kate. Did the story change drastically over time?

EB: Oh, yes. I remember having vague ideas about Linay going to see a king to have a wish granted, and Kate having to stop him with some heroic act of carving, such as making a statue of the King’s dead son. There was this bit of magic, you see, where if you could make the king cry he would grant you a wish, but he was rather mad and didn’t cry, and Linay needed Kate’s shadow to weave into his violin to make his music sad, but Kate’s carving trumped that by getting at the root of the king’s madness: grief.

Well.  It’s not a bad story, but you can see that I didn’t exactly have it flushed out.  And in the end, none of that turned out to be right: there was no King, and it was Linay that was mad.  This is often the way with me: I have only the vaguest notion of where I’m going, and I usually turn out to be wrong.

Even in this iteration of the story – the Roamers, the fog, the rusalka, the journey to Lov — I went through four different versions of the ending before settling on this one.  In fact I sold this book to Scholastic with a radically different ending.  Thank heavens my editor called me out on it.

V: You’ve said on your site that of all writing, you like poetry and children’s stories best; that, “they have in common mindfulness about the magic of language”. Why do you think most stories for adults lack that magic of language?

EB: As a reader, I like YA best, but I also do read a lot of literary fiction for adults.  I am often disappointed with it in a particular way.

If a piece of writing is magic, is a spell, then too much literary fiction is a spell that does nothing.  It gives us exquisite characters, wonderful prose — and then no story.  You get to the end of a book and think: that was beautiful, but what was the point of it?  The individual words have  this tremendous power but the spell as a whole just fizzles away.

In a YA book you can’t get away with that.  Young readers know all about potential and many secretly dread that growing up means fizzling away.   So they won’t put up with it in their books.  A YA novel will, therefore, never be a spell that does nothing.   The spell may not come off, it may blow up in the author’s face, but it won’t do nothing.

I also think young readers — along with poetry readers — are more willing to fall under the spell of a book than the average adult reader.  Think about it:  is there any book we love like the books we love as children?

V: What are some of your favourite children’s stories?

EB: For children — as opposed to tweens and teens — I love E.B. White’s stuff.  Trumpet of the Swan was my favourite book when I was eight or ten; it’s about a mute trumpeter swan named Louis (that went right over my head) whose father steals him an actual trumpet.  Now I like Charlotte’s Web better.  It’s got one of the great opening lines in fiction:  “What’s Pa going with that axe?”

I could name many more books, but E.B. WHite has a special place in my heart.  I loved him as a kid, and I still love him now.   He tells wonderful, deeply human and humane stories with his animal characters.   Yet he doesn’t write down to kids the way, say, C.S. Lewis sometimes did. As a kid, you just know it’s a magical, wonderful story.  As an adult you can read it aloud and marvel at the rhythmic beauty of the sentences.

V: Taggle was my favourite character in Plain Kate; he made me laugh, he made me cry, and he had a wonderful personality. How did his character come to be? Was he your favourite character to write?

EB: From the moment I wrote the first sentence, I knew PLAIN KATE contained a talking cat. I really don’t know where characters come from; they seem to be gifts from some great giver.

Taggle got away from me, though.  He was meant to be a sidekick, but he grabbed himself a character arc, and made a pretty good bid at being the hero.  There’s a scene in the middle where he tells Kate “I can’t cry,” and then cries, that made me cry too:  I could suddenly see all the possibilities for where he was heading.

And, yes, Taggle was my favourite character to write.  He’s so honest, and everything he does is so outsized.   He was break from writing the small, subtle reactions of dear Kate, the hidden ones of Linay.  And his body language was fun to do — I got to spend time watching cats and consider it part of my job.

V: Who was the most difficult character to write, and why?

EB: Kate herself was the hardest to write, because  when she feels things strongly — particularly if she’s angry or afraid — she shuts down.  The more she feels, the less she shows.  That’s tricky to portray on the page.   Just when your editor wants you to ramp things up, the character wants to harden herself away.  Then the editor writes “but what is she feeling?” in the margin, and you want to say, “she doesn’t know, and if she did she wouldn’t tell you.”  But you have to find a way to show it anyway.

V: What are you reading right now?

EB: I am reading NICKLE AND DIMED, a non-fiction book about living on near-minimum wage.  I want to read STARCROSSED or THE REPLACEMENT or MOCKINGJAY next!

V: Last question! What are you working on now? Can you share a bit?

EB: I’ve been telling everyone on the internet about SORROW’S KNOT, my work in progress that’s almost done.  Would you like to hear about THE TELEPORTATION OF GILBERT PEREZ instead?  I’m just getting started on it.  Here’s the first page.

On October 24, 1593, a young soldier named Gilbert Perez was found wandering dazed in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. On being told where he was, he insisted that he had just been on sentry duty in the governor’s palace in Manila ― and indeed he was uniform of the Philippine regiment — and offered the news that the governor had just been murdered.
He was arrested for desertion and on suspicion of witchcraft.
It’s in the history books.  Look it up.
***
About all that’s left of me — of the boy who staggered beside the ruins of the serpent wall  in the blinding sun, covered in blood, clutching his head – is the boots.  They just don’t make boots like they used to.  These days it’s all steel reinforced toes and orthopediac arch support.  Give me cross-bound leather any day.  And dye it red.
Blue jeans, now, blue jeans I’ll take.
And the name, Gil.  I’ve tried to hold onto that.

(It really is in the history books.  Look it up.)

V: I definitely will be looking that up in the history books! Thanks so much, Erin!

~~~

Giveaway Details:

Want to win a copy of Plain Kate? Here’s the scoop:

Contest is open to Canadian residents only (sorry all you non-Canucks!), and will be shipped directly from the publisher (much ❤ to Scholastic!).

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview.

For extra entries, you can do any (or all!) of the following:

+1 for following LTWF on Twitter (add your twitter name to your comment so I know you’re following)
+2 for commenting on my review of Plain Kate
+1 for following Erin Bow (@erinbowbooks) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for following Scholastic Canada (@scholasticCDA) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for being a fan of LTWF on Facebook
+2 for following this blog – (if you don’t, just subscribe to us with your email!)
+1 for sharing this contest on Twitter – (please provide the link of your tweet in the comments)
+2 for sharing this contest on your blog – just be sure to leave a link (so that we know who you are, and how you’re sharing it!)

There are 12 entries in total. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview, otherwise your extra entries won’t count. And don’t forget to add your email so that we can contact you!

The contest ends at noon EST on Saturday, October 2nd. The winner will be picked using random.org, and will be announced on Sunday, October 3rd.

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Blog Tour details:

In case you’re interested in following the blog tour (which I suggest you do!), here is a list of all the stops (including past ones and those upcoming):

September 17th:
http://eoseventeen.blogspot.com/

September 18th:
http://www.blogger.com/www.yabookshelf.com

September 20th:
http://www.lil-library.blogspot.com/
http://www.lavenderlines.wordpress.com/

September 21st:
http://www.21pages.x10hosting.com/
http://www.bellasbookshelves.wordpress.com/

September 22nd:
http://www.todays-adventure.com/

September 23rd:
http://www.themoodyteenager.blogspot.com/

September 24th:
http://www.maybe-tomorrow.net/
http://www.shelfelf.wordpress.com/

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Male Contributors on LTWF

18 Sep

We had a question asked of us recently on our Question of the Week Page that we wanted to answer, but didn’t think belonged in our standard QOTW format. The question was this: Just curious, but I’ve noticed there are no male contributors on LTWF. Is there a particular reason for that, or was it just some chance thing that happened?

The fact that we are all female happened completely by chance. We had a potential male contributor at one point in time, but he was so busy that he didn’t have enough time for us, and we decided to amicably part ways before he was announced as a contributor.

The truth of why we don’t have any male contributors now, and why we didn’t start with male contributors in the beginning, has to do with statistics. All of our contributors must have originated on FictionPress. FP is composed of mostly female writers. Therefore, when Sarah sent out an email asking the original contributors to join, it was just chance that they all happened to have made a name for themselves, while being female.

Since then, except for our once-potential contributor above, we haven’t had any applications for male contributors. We expect that, statistically, when/if we open back up for contributors, we will receive a male applicant one day.

In summary, we’re not opposed to male contributors at all, we just haven’t really had the chance to have one. 🙂

Saturday Grab Bag: Mashup and Quotes

18 Sep

Mashup:

Here are some great links on writing, the industry, and all things book related. Some are serious, and some are just downright hilarious. We highly recommend you read them!

  • The Hardy Boys The Final Chapter…
  • – An interesting yet sad article about the writer of the Hardy Boys. He hated the series, but he had to write them in order to live through the Depression.

  • Critique Partner Page
  • – Need a critique partner? Well, check out our CP page! Lol, yes… we put up a link to our own blog here. But there are still people looking for critique partners!!! So if you’re also in need of one/want to be a crit partner, check it out!

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Quotes:

“For all my longer works, for example novels, I write chapter outlines so I can have the pleasure of departing from them later on.”
— Garth Nix

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“For anyone who is: just keep writing. Keep reading. If you are meant to be a writer, a storyteller, it’ll work itself out. You just keep feeding it your energy, and giving it that crucial chance to work itself out. By reading and writing.”
— Robin McKinley

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“Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”
— Neil Gaiman

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“Detail makes the difference between boring and terrific writing. It’s the difference between a pencil sketch and a lush oil painting. As a writer, words are your paint. Use all the colors.”
— Rhys Alexander

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“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

— Ursula K. Le Guin

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“I don’t know where my ideas come from, but I know where they come to. They come to my desk, and if I’m not there, they go away again.”
— Philip Pullman

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What We’re Reading:

Sarah: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Savannah: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Jenn: Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

Kat: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Julie: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Vanessa: Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley & Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Vahini: Raw Blue by Kristy Eager

Sammy: The Passage by Justin Cronin

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Share any interesting links/quotes you’ve come across in the comments! Reading an interesting book? Let us know in the comments. Happy weekend everyone!

Question of the Week: Pacing

17 Sep

This week’s question comes from Renee, who asks:

How do you guys handle pacing in your books? How do you know when you have too much happening in one chapter?

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Generally, I outline to be certain that every chapter ends with an event that leaves a question in the reader’s mind.  I consider that to be the most essential element of pacing.  Some of my chapters are made up of a few scenes that revolve around a single conflict, while others might have multiple smaller conflicts all in the same chapter, but I like to have some sense of unity in each chapter, so that when the reader reaches the end, the question left in his or her mind suggests an answer that might be found in the next chapter.  I also try to raise the stakes as the scenes progress so that rising action prevents the pace from lagging.  As far as too much happening in one chapter, I trust my policy of “unity of events” to help prevent that from happening.  I worry far more about too little happening!

-The Writer Out on Submissions

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The main thing I worry about while working on a story is that it drags. I’ve always been big on description, but I know it takes up a lot of space and really drags a story down in terms of action. So now, having learned from my mistakes, I try to tone down the flowery words and add more action. This seems to be working, because I’ve found less places that drag when I go back over a manuscript. And with my latest project, I managed to outline the entire thing, so it was easy to see where things could use a pick-me-up, and where others needed to be toned down. Outlining, I think, is a life saver when it comes to stuff like pacing.

The Writer Who’s Loving Her Internship

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I never really worry that too much is happening in a chapter, I worry that things are taking too long. Pacing is something I have to work on speeding up because I like to linger with my characters. I let them chit-chat and have conversations that take too long to get to the point. I’m working on it and trying to make every word count and build on the plot.

-The Writer Querying

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One way I can tell when something’s dragging if I get bored while writing it. Other times I have to watch out though, because I’ll be overenthusiastic and put in too much, turning it into overkill. The moment the excitement drops when it’s not supposed to, that’s your clue. Whenever I feel like I’m skipping over things in the reread because I’m not interested, I’ll usually check it over for drag.

In terms of chapters, my advice is to end them where you feel there’s a natural break. Ending them in cliffhangers or really thought-provoking events is generally a good idea because the transition between the end of the chapter and the beginning of the next will give the reader a chance to understand the stakes. It’s like how in rhetoric, when a person wants to get a point across, they say it and then pause for effect. It forces listeners to actually think about what’s being said. The same goes for chapter endings. You can really build excitement and emotion this way.

-The Writer Editing Her Massive Rewrite of a First Novel

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How do you handle pacing?

Book Recommendation: Leviathan

16 Sep

By Jenn Fitzgerald

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I’d seen a couple quotes form Leviathan bouncing around and decided to take a closer look. I picked it up in the bookstore and had to pry my eyes away, twenty pages later, when I realized I had to go home to feed myself (I have this problem where I get sucked into books and don’t eat). Needless to say, the book came home with me.

Steampunk, freaky bioengineering, and an alternative history of World War I. I shouldn’t have to say anything else, you should already be going out to get your own copy. But in case that’s not enough, here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

The pacing was spot-on, the story moved along quickly and the various actions scenes were fast-paced and fun. When it did pause for description, it was a welcome break to take in the oddities of Westerfeld’s Europe. The world building in Leviathan was great; I loved all the different machines and creatures, they were well thought-out and well designed. The descriptions were clear and engaging and occasionally so bizarre that I was as sucked in as the characters—in short, they never felt like info dumps.

The political situation at the beginning of the books is essentially the same as it was in the real 1914, which I liked because it grounded the book enough to make the world recognizable while at the same time fantastic, with technological and biological capabilities far beyond our own. I look forward to seeing how things differ from here on out.

The characters feel younger than they’re supposed to be, and the pictures of Alek don’t help here. They read like eighth graders, not high school sophomores. I can partially explain this away with remembering that they’re Edwardian teenagers and not working class either, so they should be less mature than modern teenagers, more sheltered and all that. I don’t really care that they read young, so that’s just a warning to those of you who might have a problem with it.

As for the characters, Alek is a spoiled little brat at first, in need of a good smack. Which he gets in a couple forms. But he grows. By the end of the book I adored him and wanted to bake him cookies. He can be thoughtless, but he tries to do the right things. Deryn is almost the same way, she tries to balance duty to her friends with duty to her country, occasionally bumbling things a bit. She comes across as posturing a little too much, but I think her attitude is pretty realistic given that she has to consciously act like a boy at all times. The secondary characters are a fun array of quirky people, from the arrogant Count Volger, to the dangerously clever scientist, Nora Barlow, (who might be my favorite).

The one thing that did kind of annoy me sometimes was the slang. Clart worked as a substitution for cursing, but barking spiders and bum-rag not as much. I think that might have contributed to the characters feeling younger than they are. This is YA, surely they could have let them say asswipe now and again. Also, there’s tons of fun early 20th Century slang that I’d have liked to see more of, if they’re going to avoid today’s standard four letter words.

All in all it was a good book, fun, entertaining, a quick read, and it made me want more. When I finished Leviathan, I was seriously peeved to find out that the next book in the series, Behemoth, doesn’t come out until October. When it does, I’ll find a way to get my hands on it and read it, even if it means skipping some homework, and that’s about as good an endorsement as I can imagine.

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Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.

Oh the Agony of Imaginary Pain!

15 Sep

by Biljana Likic

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Jack opens his glassy eyes and tries to focus on Carol’s features. It’s hard to concentrate. His wound is excruciatingly painful, throwing streamers of agony down his arm. He is breaking out into a sweat and his face is contorting into an ugly grimace, teeth gritted behind pulled-back lips, and throat struggling not to let out a scream.

“It’s okay,” Carol whispers, running cool hands down his arm in attempt to help, horrified at his injury.

Her touch only makes the pain worse.

She jerks back when he cries out, writhing on the carpet of the office floor, eyes squeezing shut and breath coming out in gasps. Carol spears her fingers through her hair, clutching briefly at the strands. She is at a complete loss over how to help him. Close to tears for his pain, she turns to Noir.

“How could you do this to him?” she says, voice shaking.

Noir blinks, utterly confused.

“…It’s just a paper cut.”

…Right.

Basically, the purpose of that was to show in extreme exaggeration how terribly confusing and sometimes downright hilarious it can be if the actions and reactions of the characters don’t suit the scene. Specifically, I’m focussing on pain.

Have you ever sat down to write about a character that’s about to have his arm cut off, but being that you’ve never had that happen, you in truth have no idea what you’re talking about?

If you’ve asked for help with this, I’m sure you’ve heard this before:

Imagination.

…Kidding. (Sort of.) Here’s the better advice.

Use your past experiences. Just because you’ve never had your arm cut off, doesn’t mean you can’t write a scene about a guy getting his arm cut off. Think about the closest thing to that scenario that’s ever happened to you, and try to equate that pain with the pain of what you imagine getting your arm cut off would be.

And if that wasn’t wordy enough for you, here’s an example.

This actually happened.

…The first part.

I was wearing flip-flops yesterday, sitting around outside, minding my own business, and I felt something poking me. I looked down and there was a wasp on the top of my foot, embedded quite nicely into my skin, so much so that I had to take out the insect with my fingers. I’ve forgotten how much stings actually hurt. It felt like a needle but thicker and rougher, and even after I pulled out the wasp, the sting throbbed with pain, and the skin around it rose with the venom.

And that got me thinking.

Imagine if it were a wooden pike instead of a wasp.

First I’d have the blunt ache of something with no sharp edge driving through the skin, tendons and bones. I’d have the feeling of something foreign inside me accompanied by the awareness that it hurts like crazy. I’d have the panic of seeing and acknowledging the fact that yes, there is a pike in my foot. I’d probably try to scream but wouldn’t have the voice for it, and I’d probably be too scared to pull it out right away. But when it is pulled out, I’d have the relief of it being gone. Unfortunately, it’d be followed by the adrenaline wearing off, making the pain worse, turning it into a pulsing agony of gushing blood and the general terror of there being a hole in my body.

And now imagine if the pike had venom on it.

I’d have it spreading up my leg, the skin around the wound rising white against the unaffected parts, becoming puffy and hot to the touch. My quickened heartbeat would work not only to spread the poison, but also speed up the blood loss. Maybe I would go into shock.

While in shock I would be looking at my wound, not really understanding that it’s mine, my eyes would go wide, my pupils would dilate, everything would be too bright, too loud, my breathing would get too shallow and too quick.

Maybe I’d faint.

While unconscious, the venom would spread throughout my body, the wound would fester and become infected. I’d be too weak to wake up. If I did wake up, it’d be to the pain and stench of a rotting foot and the swollen and feverish feel of a body turned septic. I wouldn’t be able to move, let alone crawl to a hospital, and by this point they wouldn’t just have to cut off my foot at the ankle, but at the knee.

Or maybe I’d never make it to the hospital.

Maybe I’d die.

So many exciting possibilities!

All from getting stung by a wasp.

This is the kind of stuff that goes on in my mind when I’m alone and think too much. You are free to make fun. I’m aware that I’m paranoid.

But you have to admit. Next time I need to write about somebody having a pike driven through their foot, I’ll already know what it feels like.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

Just Do It!

14 Sep

By Sammy Bina

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I don’t know about you all, but I have a problem sticking to one project. I’ve got boxes full of ideas that I scribbled down on post-its, napkins, and ticket stubs. I get ideas for stories in the most ridiculous places, and as soon as I get a chance, sit down and start writing. Sometimes I’ll write a hundred words, and sometimes I’ll write 20,000. And later I’ll look back on what I wrote and think to myself, ‘This isn’t so bad. I could really do something with it.’

The only problem is, I don’t.

I’ve currently got a file on my computer entitled ‘Graveyard,’ where I keep all of my unfinished stories. Some of them are just a chapter or two, and others are over a hundred pages long. I mean, that’s a pretty substantial amount in some cases! I’d clearly liked the idea enough to write about a third of the manuscript, so what made me stop? Why’d I give up?

To this day, I don’t have an answer to that question, though I’m leaning toward failed motivation. I still have a file of unfinished stories on my computer, and I’m still combating the habit of starting numerous projects. However, I recently adopted Nike’s well-known slogan: Just do it! And so far, it seems to be working. I even bought myself a new pair of Nikes, to serve as a constant reminder! (Okay, really, I just bought them because I wanted some weird colored sneakers, but we can pretend I did it as a more symbolic kind of thing.)

Motivation is a really important aspect of writing that can easily be overlooked. With the number of ideas we get each and every day, it’s not hard to move from one project to another. That first story seemed like a good idea at the time, but the second one was obviously better, and the third was definitely going to be a bestseller. So you went ahead and finished that last one, but completely forgot about the first two, which were potentially just as good. And why did you do it? A loss in motivation is definitely a potential suspect, among other things. Sometimes we just don’t have time to write, and our excitement over a particular project wanes. Or maybe you read a book that was eerily similar to your own. Maybe you hit a roadblock and don’t know what comes next. All of these things can spell danger for a story, so here’s what I’ve been doing to keep myself motivated lately – hopefully this helps!

Make a schedule. Now that school’s back in session for many of us, it can be hard to find time to write. Students need to worry about their homework and making it to class on time, and those not in school have jobs and families to take care of. Like all of you, as much as I’d like to be writing, I sometimes just can’t find the time. So, to make sure I get an hour or two to myself, I’ve set aside a time each week where all I’m allowed to do is write. From 9-10:30am on Saturday, I’m parked in front of Microsoft Word. Sure, I may have to sacrifice an hour of sleep, but by the end of that hour, even if I’ve only written a hundred words, I feel a lot better. So even if you can only spare an hour or two, pick a time to write, and stick to it. (“Stick to it,” “Just do it…” Are you sensing a trend here?)

Make yourself a promise. I’m convinced I have writing OCD (or I’m a compulsive writing hoarder), because I bounce from one project to the next without much thought. I write what I want at that moment, and if I feel like writing something else the next day, I work on that instead. But a few weeks ago I made myself a promise: I wasn’t going to start any new projects until I’d finished at least one of the three currently being worked on. When I get an idea for a story now, I jot down a few notes in my notebook, and that’s the end of it. So far, the walls are holding.

Write a query letter. Someone suggested this to me a while back, and while I thought it sounded weird at the time, have come to find that it’s actually rather ingenious. By forcing yourself to come up with a general concept for your book, and talking about it as if you were pitching it to an agent, it helps to get ideas flowing. This, my friends, leads to motivation. Also a plus, when you finish your book, you won’t have to write a query letter; it’ll already be done!

Tell other people about your book. With this latest project of mine, I’ve been telling all of my roommates about it. Why, you ask? Won’t that annoy them? It probably does, but since they know what I’m working on, they tend to ask how it’s going. They’ll ask questions about the plot, or the characters, and it serves as a great way to keep me on my toes. I’ve definitely come up with a few ideas based on things my friends have said, or things they’ve suggested.

I know it can be hard to stick to one story sometimes, but the problem with having multiple projects is that sometimes nothing gets done! So today, if you’re in the same boat as me, consider the message Nike’s been preaching: just do it. Pick a story, and just write it. It may be easier said than done, but when you’ve got a finished product in your hand, it’s going to make it all worth it.

~~~

Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior, with a BA in Creative Writing. She is currently querying her adult dystopian novel, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and working on a historical YA piece. She has been a staff member of her university’s literary journal for three years, and is currently an intern for the Elaine P. English literary agency. You can follow her on twitter, or check out her blog.

The Hero’s Journey

13 Sep

Note:

This post has moved to Pub(lishing) Crawl.

You can read the newest version

HERE. 

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.