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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Some Tools to Help You Survive NaNoWriMo

I'd be the one playing with the cat.
I'll admit it.  I think the people who do National Novel Writing Month (commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo, which is rather odd for people who want to accomplish high word counts in short amounts of time, but whatever...) are crazy.  Maybe a good kind of crazy, but still a bit crazy.

For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is an even that lasts the month of November.  In this month, writers attempt to write a 50,000 word novel (1,667 words per day).  For more, go here.

If you're trying this, I applaud you.  But you might also want some help.  Here are a few tools to get you through.

Written?  Kitten! 
Frankly, I think this site is genius.  The premise is simple.  You write your novel, in the box provided.  For every 100 words you write (or 200, 500, or 1,000), it shows a new picture of an adorable kitten.  What better motivation could you want?  To try it out, click the link above and paste this entire blog post into the box a few times.  Isn't it awesome?

Dr. Wicked's "Write or Die"
As the site says..."putting the 'prod' in 'productivity'".  This is excellent for forcing yourself to write.  First, you set a word count goal, for a certain amount of time.  For example, 100 words in 20 minutes.  If you don't write for a few seconds, there are...consequences.  Serious consequences.  Also, you can choose how strict or forgiving you want it to be, and it goes from gentle mode to "electric shock" mode.  Trust me, it works.  It's a bit scary, but it works.

Okay, this is probably more for after NaNoWriMo.  Still, it's an incredibly useful tool.  Paste a few chapters of your novel into this machine, and it'll let you know if you're overusing adverbs, have commonly misspelled words, point out weak words that you like to use, point out cliches, and other useful things. 

WordOne Lite
This is a free (for the Lite version, $1.99 for the paid) app that helps you track your word count.  Enter a word count goal, and a date you want to finish by.  It'll tell you how many words you need to write each day to reach that goal.  If you enter how many words you wrote today, and the next day, and so on, it'll adjust your words per day to account for if you're ahead or behind or right on track.  As far as I can tell, the only difference between the free and paid version is that in the free version, you're only allowed to have word count data for one project at a time.   

And, when all else fails, just get yourself to the order page of this website.

I'm sure there are loads more writing tools on the web to help you survive NaNoWriMo.  If you know of any others, let me know!

For more NaNoWriMo prep, check out my complete list of writing articles. If you have any writing questions, comment on this post (or any old post), or send me a note at theanniemarie(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What You Need Before You Begin Your Novel: The Bare Minimum

There are as many novel-planning styles as there are novel-writing styles.  And there are as many writing styles as there are writers.  No two are alike.

Therefore, the number of different novel-planning styles is infinite. 

How cool is that?  Everyone has their own way of preparing.  At one end of the spectrum, there's the people who fill out extensive outlines and chapter summaries and use the snowflake method.  At the other end, we have writers who dive right in without hardly any planning. 

Some of you probably know exactly what your style is.  You know your methods, and what works for you.  But some of you might not know.  The best way to figure out is to try different things, and see what you like best. 

Who is doing National Novel Writing Month this year (where writers write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November)?  Anyone?  I'm not, but some of you are.  And if you haven't started planning your novel yet, you probably want to get on that about two weeks ago.  Or right now. 

What is the minimum amount of preparation I need for my novel?

There are two answers to this, according to my novel-writing philosophy.  Answer one is that you don't need any planning at all.  That is, if you want to spend loads of time editing.  Okay, you'll spend loads of time editing no matter what you do, but this will take you loads more time.  Unless you're a magical being that spits out perfect novels in one draft.  (If that's you, then can we trade lives?  Please?)

Otherwise, you're going to need two things, at minimum, before you begin writing.  The first thing is a main character who wants something.  (You might also have heard this as conflict.)  You don't have to know anything about your main character, necessarily, except what they want.  This is the core of your story.  This is your plot.  Your  character wants something, whether it's a physical object, a person, a mental state, escape from something, etc. 

The second thing is an ending.  You don't have to know much in the way of specifics, but you should have a fairly clear idea of where your novel is headed.  If you don't know your ending, you probably don't know the steps you need to take to get to that ending.  Your run a good chance of rambling on and on and having a story with a confused direction.  And you don't want to have to edit that out, believe me. 

Now, I would never start only knowing these two things.  I'm a planner, both in life and in writing.  I don't plan much more than the skeleton of my novel, but I still have a bit of an outline to work with.  Not having a plan tends to freak me out a little (what can I say?  I'm INTJ.  We like to plot stuff.  We are the 'masterminds'.  Gracias to whoever decided to call us that). 

But you're not me.  Thank goodness, because my brain wouldn't really like to have two bodies.  And because you're not me, you might be someone who doesn't like to plan their novel.  In that case, you can start your novel knowing the two bare minimums.  Beware, might be overly difficult for you.  Or it might be your cup of tea.  Who knows?

What's your planning style?  Are you doing NaNoWriMo?  (Also, anyone know their Meyers-Briggs code?  I enjoy discussing them.  And while I'm at it, what are your thoughts on two bodies with the same brain?  I'm almost kind of tossing around the idea for a novel possibly maybe someday.)

Before you begin your novel, you might also need a computer with a keyboard.  Or a pencil and paper, or writing utensils of some sort, calligraphy brush, quill and ink, stone tablet, whatever magicalness Tom Riddle spelled his name with on the Chamber of Secrets, or whatever you write with.  Just so you know. :)

For more NaNoWriMo prep, check out my complete list of writing articles.  If you have any writing questions, comment on this post (or any old post), or send me a note at theanniemarie(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1) by George R. R. Martin

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Released: January 1st 1996       Pages: 835
Publisher: Bantam                    Source: Library
Sorry, I just had to.*

First Look: ***** It was probably only a matter of time before I read this.  It was going to happen, sooner or later.  I kept putting it off, because lately it seems that high fantasy novels have been more misses than hits with me (even though it's my favorite genre).  I guess I'm a bit unhappy with recent YA high fantasy debuts like Defiance or Throne of Glass, since I didn't really care for either.  Also, older stuff like the Dragonlance Chronicles looked as if they had all the ingredients to be awesome, but fell short.  (And then there's The Cup of the World, which isn't recent but it's just...I can't even begin to describe how it made me want to pound my head against a nice brick wall.)

And still, I gave this a shot.  (Sort of because I just wanted to see what the hype was all about.)  After all, it's high fantasy with plenty of intrigue.  I'm glad I tried it. 

Setting: ***** I love the setting. I really do.  Possibly because, unlike some people, I'm rather fond of the standard European-based fantasy setting, providing it's got enough unique elements to keep me interested.  And this one definitely did.  I like the weird seasons aspect, and I'm curious as to whether or not this will be explained in the rest of the series.  Or maybe it's just a thing that happens in this place just because they rotate around the sun differently or something.  I don't know. 

But, apart from the interestingly illogical weather, I still liked it.  The setting itself is so full of backstory, which makes it interesting.  Yay.

Characters: ***** I actually can't stand half of these people.  Um, I mean, there was some great character development going on here.  Even the people I didn't like *coughJoffreycough* were realistic and had distinct personalities and motivations (but no one likes Joffrey, anyway.  Do they?  How could you like someone who *spoiler alert-highlight to read* ordered Ned Stark's head chopped off? *end spoiler*).  And yes, a good portion of the people do drive me crazy, but I suppose that's the point.  You can't like everyone in a kingdom full of schemers and manipulators. 

And then I went ahead and made the mistake of picking out my favorite characters.  Arya Stark, Jon Snow, Bran Stark (I suppose I'm rather fond of all the Stark kids except Sansa), Tyrion Lannister, etc. (and I've got my eye on Theon Greyjoy, because I have a feeling he'll be up to something in the next few books).  Guess what happened to one of my favorites...he fell from a tower.  I've been told not to get attached to anyone in this series because George R. R. Martin is notorious for killing off major characters, but I couldn't help it. 

Plot: ***** It was a little slow, in places. Other than that, I really enjoyed it. The plot was compelling, probably because the characters were compelling, so I wanted to know what would happen to them.  It was very complex, too, which I enjoyed.  Sometimes it's just plain fun to sit down and immerse yourself in an 800+ page tangle of plots and schemes. 

Uniqueness: *****
I've heard some complaints that this series borrows too much from other fantasy series.  I could see some similarities, but...*shrug*  They didn't really bother me. 

Writing: ***** This story is actually told in about eight different POVs. (I didn't count--I just threw a number out there. If someone knows, please let me know!) While these confused me a bit at first, I ended up liking it. I got to experience the story from so many different angles, which I really enjoyed. Also, I never lost track of who was narrating.

Likes: Dragons!  At the end!  Yay!  Also, I really like this book's title.

Not-so-great: Nothing worth noting.

Other: (And once again, my image links have gone weird.  Oh well.  Anyway...)
Also, I'm wondering if I'd be a more successful fantasy author if I changed my middle initials to R. R.  Tolkein did it and became a bestseller, and so did George R. R. Martin.  (And for the longest time I was convinced Tolkein's full name was John Robert Robert Tolkein.  I don't know what made me think that.)

Overall: This book is well worth the time it takes to read all 800+ pages.  I grew attached to some of the characters, and wanted to know what would happen to them and what everyone would do.  It was so easy to sit down and immerse myself in the story.  It's wonderfully complex, and has so many different sides to it.  I'm glad I finally read it.

Similar Books: Eragon, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Possibly Dragons of Autum Twilight?  aGoT is much more political than Eragon, and much less quest-y than LotR.  Its only similarities to DoAT are that they're both high fantasy and they both have this gigantic epic tome feel to them. 
*On second thought, no, I'm not sorry at all.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

Released: September 18th 2012         Pages: 408
Publisher:Scholastic Press                 Source: Library
First Look: ***** Like many people who loved and adored The Scorpio Races, I went out and followed Maggie Stiefvater's blog.  Like everyone who reads her blog, I was excited when she announced this new novel, and showed us the cover.  And like everyone who saw that post, I waited eagerly for it to come out.  (And, okay, like not so many people, I went out and read Shiver and Linger, because I hadn't done that yet.)

And here my story deviates from the "like everyone else".  I read it soon after it came out.  I liked it, but...not as much as TSR.  Or even Shiver.  It's pretty good, but not as good as expected. 

Setting: *****
I liked some aspects of it, but not others.  I liked the feel of the town, and the interesting effects Aglionby had on it.  I got a good sense of what kind of place it was.

The actual location of it, though, had me confused.  It took awhile for the book to say where we were, so for whatever reason, my brain just went ahead and assumed this took place somewhere in England.  I don't know why, but it was a bit disorienting, then, to be told that we were actually in Virginia.  I'm not sure if this is my fault, or the author's. 

Characters: ***** I feel like I should separate this into two separate categories.  One category for Blue, and a separate one for the boys and everyone else.  Blue, for me, was hard to like.  I don't have any specific reason for this.  I couldn't connect with her, couldn't bring myself to care about her.  She didn't seem to do much.  It wasn't that she was passive, it just seemed like Gansey was making things happen in the story, not her. 

Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah were the reasons I still mainly enjoyed this book.  They kept the whole thing afloat.  They had wonderfully characterized, distinct personalities.  I think part of the reason they appeal to me is that they remind me so much of the boys from Dead Poets Society.*  The same boarding-school-angst thing, which is all too easy to overdo and mess up, but when done right I love it. 

Plot: ***** I  Three stars for this?  Four? I don't know. Again, the thing with Gansey's search for the ley lines and the mythical king dude (that is a highly technical term that historians everywhere would approve of) was fascinating, and I really enjoyed it.  The same with Adam's home troubles, and Noah's whole story.  In fact, when I read that That Thing About Noah That I Dare Not Mention For Fear Of Spoilers, I was downright shocked (in a good, plot-twisty way). 

Okay, for those of you who somehow managed to forget what's up with Noah or for those of you that are desperately curious, I'm referring to the fact that *spoiler ahead-highlight to read* Noah is actually dead. *end spoiler*  There you go.

But then there's the whole thing with Blue, and how her true love will die if she kisses him and the sketchy things Neeve is doing in the house.  I cared about this plotline much less, and it wasn't all that interesting to me.   

Uniqueness: ***** It was, indeed, fairly unique. I'm having trouble filling up my 'similar books' section.

Writing: *****
It didn't have the sparkly magical wonderfulness that was TSR.  I was kinda hoping for that, but *shrug* oh well.  The writing was pretty good, for me.  Nothing annoyed me or hindered my reading.  And there were a few lines here and there that made me go "Ooooh, cool!"

Likes: Gansey!  And Adam.

Not-so-great: What was the point of Chainsaw?  It was a bit cute, and a bit creepy, and I don't really understand why it was even in the book.

Overall: I have mixed feelings about this book.  I really liked the Aglionby boys--Gansey, Adam, Noah, and Ronan--I thought they made very interesting characters.  Their search for the ley lines was fascinating.  On the other hand, I couldn't connect to our main character, Blue.  I couldn't bring myself to like her all that much, and her side of the story interested me much less.  This is a definite 3.5 star read, but because of rounding it's getting bumped up to a four.

*If you don't know this by now, that is one of my all-time favorite movies. If not THE favorite, then maybe, top 3?   Somewhere around there.  It'll have to fight it out with The Princess Bride, August Rush, Bedtime Stories, all LOTR, and How to Train Your Dragon
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Friday, October 12, 2012

How To Write A Novel In 70 Easy Steps

  1. A wild Shiny New Idea appears!
  2. Experience mini spazz attack over awesomeness of said idea.
  3. Figure out first, middle, and last names for all characters, even though you don't hardly know the plot yet.  Spend hours searching Google images for the perfect picture of said characters.
  4. Realize the Shiny New Idea isn't worth anything, and abandon it.
  5. Work on some other project.  Or possibly something productive and necessary, like Stats homework.
  6. Forget about idea for a week.
  7. Suddenly remember idea while in the shower, and accidentally get shampoo in your eye out of excitement.
  8. Sit down at computer and start madly typing the first chapter.  Something beginning with "It was a dark and stormy night" will do.
  9. Realize you only half dried yourself off from your shower.  Go back and get a towel.
  10. Type more words, and realize that you have no idea where this is going and need to do some planning.
  11. Buy one of those massive post-its and start making a ginormous plot diagram for said book.
  12. One does not simply make a plot diagram.
  13. Realize that your email absolutely must be checked right this very second or a baby panda will start to cry somewhere in China.
  14. Make a playlist for your novel.  Listen to it constantly.
  15. Eventually finish plot diagram. (Key word: eventually.)
  16. Return to writing.  Write two more chapters.
  17. Spend hours searching the internet for the perfect quote to put at the front of your book.
  18. Write a few more chapters.
  19. Realize that once again, your email must be checked RIGHT THIS INSTANT or WWIII is bound to start.
  20. Make a New Year's Resolution: Become J. K. Rowling.
  21. Return to writing.  Add a spontaneous battle scene.  Family members enters room and wonders what on earth you think you're doing.

  22. Finish battle scene.  Clear Google search history, because "How long does it take someone to recover from getting slammed in the head with a sword?" and "How big of an army would you need to conquer a small country?" just look suspicious.
  23. Decide that this novel is going horribly and it's not worth it to finish it.
  24. Abandon said novel. 
  25. Rename computer recycle bin "Dianoga Trash Compactor".  Right click novel file.  Computer asks "Do you want to send Best_Novel_Everrrrr_ASDFJKLYEAH!.doc* to the Dianoga Trash Compactor?". 
  26. Click "yes", and spend a moment congratulating yourself on your wittiness. 
  27. Spend a day free of work-in-progress woes.
  28. Remember how beautiful and glorious Best_Novel_Everrrrr_ASDFJKLYEAH!.doc was, and revive it from the recycle bin  Dianoga Trash Compactor.
  29. Continue writing novel. 
  30. Include a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference in novel, because, well, why not?
  31. Write more.  And more.  And more.
  32. MORE.
  33. Spend an entire Saturday writing.
  34. Wake up Sunday morning unable to form a coherent sentence.
  35. Finally write that British Literature paper you should've started a few days ago.  Accidentally write about one of your own characters instead of a BritLit character.
  36. Write a fabulous argument between protagonist and antagonist**.  Spend half an hour watching that one GIF of Tyrion Lannister slapping Prince Joffrey for inspiration.  (That random guy in the corner...his face...LOL.  I don't know who he is, but his expression gets funnier the longer you watch it.)   (I had this, but the link went weird and I lost it.  Hm.)
  37. Finish another chapter.
  38. Decide that the sidekick actually needs to be a girl, not a boy.  Spend a very long time changing all related pronouns.
  39. Decide pronouns are the worst idea in the history of mankind.
  40. Yet again, your email MUST BE CHECKED.  Or else...
  41. Write for five more minutes.
  42. CHECK EMAIL.  After all, some African prince probably needs your bank account number right this second.
  43. Keep writing.  OHMYGOODNESS, you're almost done!
  44. Or at least, semi-close to being done.  Kind of.  Getting there.
  45. WORDS.
  46. Invest $0.99 in a one of those NaNoWriMo word count goal apps.
  47. Decide some of your characters need to be eliminated.  Have a massive Round Robin Mariokart tournament.  The loser gets the big old delete button.  So does the character who drives the entire Rainbow Road without falling off once, because anybody who can actually do that has way too much time on their hands.
  48. Go through another anger spurt against your novel.  Delete it again, and this time empty the recycle bin.
  49. Realize that you've made a horrible mistake.
  50. Remember that you just saved your novel on a flash drive a few days ago.  Revive novel.  Breathe sigh of relief.
  51. New character appears.  Name him/her Qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm because you can't think of anything better.
  52. Write more.
  53. Have one of those wonderful writing hours in which it takes you exactly 61 minutes to write 53 words.
  54. Realize you've reached the final chapter.  Have another spazz attack.
  55. Start writing at about 8:30 pm.  Stay up writing final chapter around 11:30, even though you usually go to bed around 10 and you have to get up for school tomorrow.
  56. Realize you've reached the last sentence.  
  57. Write a final sentence.
  58. Realize that your final sentence was "I can't believe I'm actually done with this thing; I need chocolate."
  59. Delete said sentence.  Type an actual final sentence.
  60. Sit there staring at sentence for ten minutes, unable to bring yourself to type that final period.
  61. Finally bring yourself to finish the sentence.  Realize that your book is actually finished.
  62. Whoop of joy/grin like a six-year-old who just stole a cookie without being caught.  
  63. Sob of loss.  
  64. Repeat steps 62-63.  And again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.
  65. Go into withdrawal because you have no idea what to do with yourself now that your work in progress is finished.
  66. Spend the next few days in a daze of "I can't believe I did all this.  What do I do now?  How do I words?"
  67. Revise novel, etc. etc.  
  68. Write a query letter.
  69. ?
  70. Profit.

Now, you finally know the secret to writing a novel (just in time for NaNoWriMo!).  After all, only 70 steps?  How hard can it be?

I'm sure all the non-writers are thinking that I'm weird.  But if you've written a know what I'm talking about.

What are your favorite steps?  Least favorite?  Anything to add?

*Don't deny it.  We've all named our story file something that intelligent.
**I don't know about you, but I love writing argument scenes for some reason.  Especially ones between two protagonists.  I have too much fun with those.
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

UnWholly (Unwind #2) by Neal Shusterman

It’s finally here. The long-awaited sequel to the bestselling Unwind, which Publishers Weekly called a “gripping, brilliantly imagined futuristic thriller.”

Thanks to Connor, Lev, and Risa—and their high-profile revolt at Happy Jack Harvest Camp—people can no longer turn a blind eye to unwinding. Ridding society of troublesome teens while simultaneously providing much-needed tissues for transplant might be convenient, but its morality has finally been brought into question. However, unwinding has become big business, and there are powerful political and corporate interests that want to see it not only continue, but also expand to the unwinding of prisoners and the impoverished.

Cam is a product of unwinding; made entirely out of the parts of other unwinds, he is a teen who does not technically exist. A futuristic Frankenstein, Cam struggles with a search for identity and meaning and wonders if a rewound being can have a soul. And when the actions of a sadistic bounty hunter cause Cam’s fate to become inextricably bound with the fates of Connor, Risa, and Lev, he’ll have to question humanity itself.

Rife with action and suspense, this riveting companion to the perennially popular Unwind challenges assumptions about where life begins and ends—and what it means to live.

Released: August 28th 2012              Pages: 416
Publisher:Simon & Schuster             Source: Library
This series is extremely relevant right now.  Personally, I think the author and/or the publisher timed the release of this book very well.

Because that's the beauty of this series--it makes you think.  It asks hard questions and puts beliefs to the test.  It takes bioethics to a whole new level.  Some of the ideas are shudder-worthy.

This book follows the story of our old friends Connor, Risa, and Lev, all likable and fleshed-out (I definitely should not have used that.  No, I shouldn't have.) characters.  Lev, especially, is three-dimensional and stands out like a real person.  It also introduces some new ones, like Miracolina and Cam.  I don't know what to think about Cam.  I suppose that's how Neal Shusterman wants it.  I'm utterly appalled by Cam, but I feel sorry for him.  It's not his fault.  And Cam raises even more questions that I don't have an answer for.  That I don't think anybody has an answer for. 

Frankly, this book bothers me.  As it should.  I don't think a human being can read these books and not be bothered.  But at least...there's no freaky unwinding scene in this one.  Yay.  That scene was necessary to the first book, but I'm so glad I didn't have to read another one.

Story-wise, this wasn't my favorite book ever. Yes, it was compelling, and yes, I liked the characters. The third-person, present tense narration is quite awkward and annoying in places. Still, it's definitely worth a read. I'm not sure how to stop repeating myself on this: it makes you think.

I enjoyed this.  Or, well, I, um, appreciated it.  Because some parts aren't really enjoyable.  So I didn't enjoy it, but I did, but...  We're going to stick with "It's a good book.  Recommended."

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Monday, October 8, 2012

How To Lower Your Word Count (As Painlessly As Possible!)

Any writer knows the horrible feeling of having to lower their word count.  Whether you're 10,000 or 1,000 words over the limit, cutting words can be a tough thing that can make you want to bang your head into a wall out of sheer frustration.  (more on word count frustration here)

Trust me.  I've been there.

Sometimes, you have to cut words in order to fit the regulations of a school assignment.  Maybe you want to enter your 2,500 word story into a contest with a 2,000 word limit.  Or maybe you just don't want agents to cringe at your 115,000 word count.  Either way, you're going to have to do some cutting.

For the most efficient and painless (well, relatively, since there will always be something you hate to cut but have to) word count lowering, it's best to do it in two steps.

Step 1: Big Picture 
Look at your story as a whole.  Are there chapters that don't need to be there?  Do you have scenes that add nothing to the story?  Do you have plot threads not pulling their weight?  Get rid of them. 

But keep in mind--getting rid of them is never your only option.  Maybe you have two scenes that don't quite fit on their own.  Solution?  Combine them.  Then you'll have one shorter, stronger scene rather than two weak ones taking up space in your word count. 

To do a simple does-this-need-to-be-here-or-not test on a scene, a chapter, or whatever, look closely at the part in question.  Ask yourself, "Would the story stand on its own without this piece?  If I took this out, would the story be missing something?"  If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you can cut the scene. 

Once you've eliminated all the big chunks that aren't necessary, it's time to look a little closer.

Step 2: Word-By-Word
Now, go through your story, looking at each individual line.  Do you really need that adjective?  Is there an unnecessary adverb?  Did you say something with two words, when you really only needed one?  Does that piece of dialogue add anything to the story?

Also, go through and look for filler words.  Words like "then", "very", "really", and others are almost never needed in your prose.  (For more on filler words to watch out for, go here.)  Keep an eye on how often your characters use each others' names in dialogue.  In real life, people rarely actually say each others' names in the middle of a conversation.  Make sure you aren't overdoing it in your writing.  Eliminate unnecessary dialogue tags (more on this here).

Often, you'll find that it's easier to eliminate one word here and there than to take out huge chunks of writing.  That way, you won't have to give up a whole chapter--just a bunch of scattered, unneeded words.

Now, cutting words will never be a painless process.  Hard decisions are inevitable.  You're going to have to get rid of stuff you'd rather keep, but that's how it works.  Still, I hope this post made cutting words a little easier for you.
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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Defiance (Defiance #1) by C. J. Redwine

Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city's brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father's apprentice, Logan--the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same one who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but a fierce belief in her father's survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city's top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor's impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can't be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Released: August 28th 2012          Pages: 403
Publisher: Balzer + Bray              Source: Library
First Look: ***** I've had my eye on this ever since I read the pitch (last October, according to Goodreads).  Then I saw the cover, and I was even more excited.  The cover is gorgeous!  The cover model has lovely hair.

Setting: ***** What on earth was the setting, even?  Was it a far-off land entirely disconnected from our own world?  Was it our world in the future, turned medievalish dystopia?  Was it a historical fantasy/steampunk setting?  I have no idea.  As far as I know, it could be any of these.  The standard medieval high-fantasy setup was all there, except...suddenly, gadgets starting popping up out of nowhere.  This society apparently is still in the dark ages enough to be using swords and such.  They haven't developed more advanced things like oh, say, guns and bullets.  But they still can put trackers on people and rig up bombs?  It doesn't make sense.

I think more explanation of the setting would've gone a long way towards my enjoyment of the novel as a whole.  I couldn't suspend my disbelief as a reader because I was given no solid ground to stand on, in terms of setting.

Characters: ***** Once again, I find myself in this same position: Here we have a strong, capable, independent heroine who can match her sword against any boy's and win.  And yet...I feel like the character doesn't really extend beyond that.  The stock "strong female lead" just doesn't cut it, on its own.  I'm going to have to write a blog post about this, because it's happening more and more.  I didn't doubt Rachel's ability to topple any enemies that would dare stand in her way, but I didn't get much depth from her.  I wanted to know more about her, who she was, what she feared, what made her tick, etc. 

And then there's Logan.  Logan, Logan, Logan.  I had much more respect for Logan than I did for Rachel.  Probably because he used his brain before throwing himself into a potentially fatal situation.  I felt like he had much more depth.  I was interested in his backstory, and I could see the way it affected him throughout the story.  And I just simply had an easier time connecting with him, because he's fairly similar to me.

Plot: ***** What's going on here?  Is this a love story, an epic quest novel, a protest against Bella Swanism, or a novel about a revolution?  I can't tell.  It had a bit of all of these, but not in the good something-for-everyone way.  Instead, it felt a bit out of focus.  Novels can and most of the time do have a few different themes and plotlines, but this combo just didn't work for me. 

My other problem with the plot is the lack of background.  Again, the setting, but also the Cursed One.  Is this a dragon, some random spirit, or what?  How did it become cursed (or is it just called that for no apparent reason?)?  And the Commander.  What's up with him?  He's just evil for the sake of evil.  No, no, no.  That's not how it works.  (Full post on that subject.)  There's just too many things that were left unexplored, so much opportunity for conflict that was never taken advantage of.

Uniqueness: *****
Meh.  It doesn't really stand out from the crowd.  There's no aspect that makes you immediately go "I've never, ever read something like this before".

Writing: *****
Rachel and Logan's POV chapters sounded pretty much the same.  Logan's was a little more distinct, but I got lost a few times and had to go back and check who was narrating.  This is disorienting for the reader and never a good thing.  I think that's about it, as writing goes.

Likes: The gadgets were kind of cool....  Also, I'm listening to Bohemian Rhapsody right now.  (Yes, this is always a fact worth noting, whether it's relevant in any situation or not.)

Not-so-great: Once again, I am in the minority and have been deceived by the hype.  Also, where is this "army of assassins" mentioned in the pitch? 

Overall: Overall, I was disappointed in this.  It wasn't a bad book, but not one of my favorites, either.  It was okay.  I was frustrated with the lack of explanation in the setting.  My main problem, though, was that I didn't care all that much about the characters.  The plot was all over the place, and Rachel didn't have a huge amount of depth.  *shrug*  Try it if it looks interesting, but if not, don't worry about missing out on this one.
Similar Books: Throne of Glass, Grave MercyThe Girl of Fire and Thorns (Note: This is the first review where I've tried the "similar books" thing.  Keep in mind that just because they are similar, doesn't always mean they're the same quality.  All of these books are similar in that they feature a spunky heroine, a high fantasy setting, and varying degrees of romance.  tGoFaT is by far the best, though.  Again, just because they are similar does not mean I recommend them all.)
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Such Wicked Intent (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, #2) by Kenneth Oppel

Devotion turns deadly in this second Gothic thriller from Kenneth Oppel. 

When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again—just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed.

If only these things were not so tempting.

When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

Released: August 21st 2012          Pages: 310
Publisher: Simon & Schuster       Source: Library
 Once again, I've come to the point where all I want to do is sit here and rant about how much I wish I could write books like Kenneth Oppel.  Though This Wicked Intent did not have as much of an effect on me as the Matt Cruse series or This Dark Endeavor, it was certainly an excellent book. 

I like the way Kenneth Oppel writes.  He doesn't use flashy, flowery, gorgeous prose.  It's not something you immediately look at and say "Wow, that's beautiferific!" (In this situation, "beautiful seemed inadequate, and "terrific" just wouldn't do.  And so, "beautiferific".)  It's not until after you read the book that you realize that, wait, somebody wrote that.  Somebody wrote this book and used nothing more than words to tell the story.  Everything was so clear and defined in your head that somehow the narration, in a way, ceased to exist. 

I want to be able to accomplish this marvelous feat. 

This book makes me look forward to reading Frankenstein later this year in my British Literature class.  If you don't already know, this series is a prequel, of sorts, to Frankenstein.  The Victor Frankenstein in this book is, well, THE Victor Frankenstein. 

Because of this prequel-ness, I pretty much knew ahead of time that this book couldn't have a happy ending.  That didn't make it any easier to deal with.  I won't spoil it, but...

Victor's disappointment made me sad.  It really did.  And here lies the heart of the paradox that is Victor.  He's not very likable.  He's greedy and arrogant and selfish and does some pretty nasty things.  He's an antihero. 

And yet...I wanted him to succeed.  I don't know whether or not I actually liked him, but I felt for him.  I was sad when he was sad.  Kenneth Oppel had a very difficult character to work with, because he was such an antihero and was pretty much already defined.  But Oppel worked with it, and he did a great job with it.

Overall, I recommend this series.  Recommended for fans of historical fiction with a sci-fi and/or paranormal twist, or readers looking for something a bit darker and thought-provoking.  Four stars!

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Every Day by David Levithan

A has no friends. No parents. No family. No possessions. No home, even. Because every day, A wakes up in the body of a different person. Every morning, a different bed. A different room. A different house. A different life. A is able to access each person's memory, enough to be able to get through the day without parents, friends, and teachers realizing this is not their child, not their friend, not their student. Because it isn't. It's A. Inhabiting each person's body. Seeing the world through their eyes. Thinking with their brain. Speaking with their voice.

It's a lonely existence--until, one day, it isn't. A meets a girl named Rhiannon. And, in an instant, A falls for her, after a perfect day together. But when night falls, it's over. Because A can never be the same person twice. But yet, A can't stop thinking about her. She becomes A's reason for existing. So each day, in different bodies--of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, walks of life--A tries to get back to her. And convince her of their love. But can their love transcend such an obstacle?

Released:August 28th 2012    Pages: 336
Publisher: Knopf                    Source: Library
First Look: ***** I typically don't go for books that have romance as the main element of the story.  I get tricked into it all the time (pitches promise a book with action and suspense and such, but they end up being a bunch of romantic angst...Throne of Glass, Dreaming Anastasia, BitterblueI'm looking at you!), but I try to avoid it whenever I can.  Still, I picked this book up.  The premise was just too cool to resist.  Waking up in a different body every day?  How on earth will the author handle that one?  And so I picked up my first David Levithan novel.  And I'm glad I did.

Setting: ***** This is the only "meh" point of the novel.  It took me awhile to figure out where all of this stuff was happening.  Still, it wasn't that big of a deal.  I just want to know...why did A stay in one area?  Why didn't he/she (The main character, A, is neither male nor female.  He/she move around all over the world? 

Characters: ***** David Levithan paints us a beautiful picture of someone who has been everyone.  It's an interesting situation, since A isn't really one definite main character, like we're used to reading about.  He/she is basically made up of experiences from other people's lives.  Levithan does a beautiful job portraying this.  Even though it was an unreal thing, it seemed so very real to me.

I also want to praise Levithan for his variety.  Every single person A "occupied", for lack of a better term, was different.  Each of them felt just as real as the last, and stood out in my mind.  They're all memorable, in some way or other. 

Plot: ***** Again, I don't usually read this type of book.  Romance isn't my thing.  But the storyline of this was amazing.  It was gorgeous.  It's utterly simple and vastly complex at the same time.  It's a small story, not world-shattering, but I feel like it encompasses the whole universe at the same time.

This is not making any sense.  Sorry about that.  I'm just so in love with this book that I'm not sure if there even are any sensible things I can say.

Uniqueness: *****
I've never read a book anything like this.

Writing: *****
The writing in this book is beautiful.  I don't know whether Levithan always writes like this, or if this particular book just lent itself to more poetic phrasing, but still.  It's awesome.  Levithan never writes any complex metaphors or uses any excessive wording or anything of the sort.  Instead, he writes something so simple and honest that it becomes beautiful.  Like:
“The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations - all of them rearranging themselves so this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.”   
The entire novel is kinda like that. 
Likes: ...everything!
Not-so-great: I'm not sure whether I like or dislike this, but I don't know whether or not I understand the ending.  I feel like I get it, but at the same time I feel like I don't.  (Anyone care to share some thoughts on the ending?)
Overall: This is a beautiful, beautiful book.  (And you know I've read something good when all I can do is sit here and call it beautiful over and over.)  It's a marvelously written story and life, and love, and the powerful meaning of identity.  The characters are realistic, and I was feeling for them the entire time.  This book has a fantastic premise that was carried out well.  I love it when that happens!  Recommended for...people, everywhere.
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