Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Martian

The Martian has been on my reading list for quite a while, especially after having seen the movie. All I can say is, the book was even better.

The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who ends up stranded alone on Mars when the rest of the crew is forced to do an emergency mission abort. Believing him dead, the crew is forced to leave him behind.

Naturally, Watney turns out to be not dead, and thus ensues his story of survival. Watney has to fight against the elements of Mars, as well as make modifications to everything he has in order to make it last until help arrives. Back on Earth, when NASA quickly discovers Watney survived, everyone is pulling together to try to bring him home.

Before I knew a whole lot about the book, aside the premise, I was a little uncertain how interesting it could be. It’s the story of one guy all by himself. But author Andy Weir uses a log entry format to tell Watney’s story in first person, without making it boring or seem like he’s talking to himself.

I also loved that, despite being stranded, Watney is still pretty snarky. I relate to that on a very deep level.

While the movie was slow in parts, the book flies by. Weir does an excellent job of knowing when to give details, and when to allow “I drove 90 kilometers today” to cut it.

The Martian is an excellent book for when you want something sci-fi, but you want it to feel realistic. For some people, Mars is still the space goal, and this book could turn out to be historical fiction ahead of its time.

Either way, it’s still just a good read. The only thing missing was my favorite quote from the movie, which, despite not being canon, was utterly in keeping with Mark Watney’s character. He would totally have said, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

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Exploring dialogue again

Over the last few weeks, one of the writing exercises that has been the most fun for me was one related to dialogue, specifically expanding it.

It was a simple exercise; take a line of dialogue and rewrite it five times, each time changing the amount of details in it, the wording, ect., while keeping the meaning or theme. The dialogue provided for the prompt was, “I’ve never let you down.” Then, after the fifth rewrite, add a line of dialogue from another character.

It was really interesting to see how changing one line of dialogue exposed so much more to the story (or has the capability to, since I didn’t have a story to go with the dialogue for the exercise). But this simple technique can very easily be applied, even mentally, to sentences that feel awkward in the story, or even just parts I don’t like. By rewriting, it can open the door for additional developments, new pieces in the storyline, and just plain better dialogue. And it’s an easier route to start with than going line by line through a story asking, “how does this move the story along? Did they say this on purpose?” I’ll be honest, when I try to do that, I burn out quick. And by burn out I mean, I forget to keep doing it after a page or two. Whereas, this way, I can just read. I’ll obviously notice anything I don’t really like or that doesn’t feel right, and then I can work from there.

I’m still trying to rewrite the second half of my story. It’s messy. Part of me wants to just erase it and start completely from scratch. Part of me is horribly paranoid that I’ll erase it and then want it back immediately. So, I’m struggling through, trying to fill in what I need, and then go through to see what I don’t need and what specifically I need to adapt to new developments. It’s a little tedious, for me, and it’s been challenging to push myself to do it. This week has not been my best for self-motivation. But I’m trying, and that has to count for something.

A Conjuring of Light

The final piece of V.E. Schwab’s series, A Conjuring of Light was almost everything I wanted it to be.

In this final book, White London is awakening, but not as innocently as it seems. Kell, taken captive in the end of the second book, is quickly rescued by Lila, but they are catapulted into chaos as Osaron, the sentient, rogue magic from Black London, attempts to take over Red London.

Kell and Lila find themselves paired with unlikely allies as they set off to find the once thing that they hope can contain Osaron and save all the Londons.

This book has a lot more deaths, and meaningful, painful ones at that. But, it also has the long-awaited romance too. I’m not sure if I love or hate books and authors who leave two characters locked in romantic tension until the end. I think it must be both, because there’s something fun about crying in exasperation, “just kiss already!”

This action-packed finale wrapped up all the loose ends, except one. Kell decides he doesn’t want to know his past, even though he has a spell to find out– and is told that the memory-repressing mark on his arm is held in place largely by his unconscious desire not to know. It’s great and all, but some of us are curious and want to know, even if he doesn’t.

The series, as a whole, was excellent. The characters had depth and grew throughout the story. They felt like real people, and wrestled with real emotions, even in the midst of everything else. The writing moved the story along, and I didn’t feel like it got bogged down by fluff or filler. Even when Schwab was using the second book to develop characters and set the stage for the finale, it moved at a good pace and the development was interesting to see.

It’s a fantasy series readers will want to return to again and again. I know I will.

To keep on keeping on

I’m more than halfway through the month, and my resolve to write every day is being sorely tested. There have been days that I’m tired and don’t want to do even the littlest bit more work. There have been days that feel like cop outs, where I’ve done the tiniest bit I can. But I’ve stuck with it so far. And I can see where my project is going.

After realizing last week how much additional stuff I could work in, and after writing a couple scenes, I realized the whole second half of my book was going to need some rearranging. So, I took one day (ok, I took a 15-minute break at work) and I plotted out barebones how the second half of the story needs to look. And in so doing, learned some new details about a problem character (turns out he’s a lawyer. It’s good, I didn’t really know what he was before, but it makes sense now). And learning these details allowed me to, perhaps, finally solve the most problematic thread in my story, while at the same time possibly rendering that it completely moot anyway.

I’m not working on this project every day. And sometimes it feels like I’ve barely made progress, despite the brainstorming. But I’m letting the details mingle in my mind, getting a feel for this new timeline. And in my time off next week, I’m really going to sit down and make some solid progress, instead of keeping my nose stuck in a book (I’ve got book reviews written through the month of October, I think I can take a couple days off…)

In the mean time, I’ll count any step forward as a victory.

A Gathering of Shadows

When V.E. Schwab wrapped up A Darker Shade of Magic, she left plenty of questions without answers, which means plenty of content for additional books. A Gathering of Shadows is book two in the series, and while I enjoyed it, pretty much every question remains unanswered.

This second book focuses a lot more on Lila and her new life in Red London. Spoiler, she doesn’t stay with Kell, instead, she heads out on her own and takes up with a ship captain. During this time, Lila begins to learn how to tap into and control her magic.

Kell, on the other hand, is extremely restless from tiptoeing around in order to keep Rhy safe. Additionally, the king and queen distrust him, and Kell recognizes that his home has become a prison.

Kell and Lila finally come face to face again during the Essen Tasch, a competition that pits the best mages against each other to find out who is truly the best. Meanwhile, in White London, someone has taken the throne and begins slowly weaving a web to catch Kell.

A Gathering of Shadows is definitely a character building, plot building book. When you finish all 500 pages, you realize very little has changed since you began the book, in terms of where the storyline is. But several small, powerful things have happened that set the scene for book three. Kell, tired of being trapped and distrusted, is willing to follow a stranger to White London. Lila, during the games, has proved that she has more power than anyone thought, and though she doesn’t quite understand it, and she is learning to control and balance it, we know she will be capable of coming to Kell’s rescue in the third book.

I’m a little torn, when it comes to this book. I enjoyed it, and I appreciate how Schwab shows her characters’ growth, instead of a little aside, “oh yeah, Lila learned to use magic.” But part of me feels that, as a middle book that was mostly setting the scene for the final showdown, maybe it was a little long and drawn out. Not that it wasn’t well written and enjoyable to read, but with a book of this length, I just expected a little more action relevant to the overall story, or at least a few more answers, or even hints, for all the questions still floating around.

What I can say is, I expect the final book to be packed full of action and revelations. And I’m excited to get to read it.

Stepping Back and Moving Forward

As we all know, the last couple weeks I’ve taken a hiatus from my project because I felt maybe I’d reached the point of needing a critic, and I haven’t found anyone to do the job/haven’t emailed it to the family member(s) I feel would be objective about it. But this week, I decided to give it another read through, after having allowed it to be on the back burner, just to see if anything new jumped out at me. And boy did it.

I think taking a break from a project while editing is a good thing. It allows you to put some distance between you as the writer and you as the editor. It allows some of the unwritten details to fade from your mind a little, which means when you come back to it, you’re more in tune to areas that may need more explaining or developing. I ran into that while rereading the portion where Mason meets with the people claiming to be his parents.

From the moment he meets them, everything happens so fast (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending). The psychological turmoil I want him to experience seems a little far fetched. It hasn’t been nearly long enough for him to start questioning what’s real and what isn’t. So I realized that I need to allow the timeline to stretch out just a little.

But in stretching the timeline, I now need to ask myself, does everything else make sense. The reporter who is looking into his story, does her behavior make sense? What would she be doing, or what would she be reporting? If everything happens within two or three days, maybe it’s OK, but if I spread it over a week, something would obviously have to be different. I’ve also come back around to those stupid medical records that seemed to crucial in the beginning, but now seem to be nothing but plot holes and problems. So I have to ask myself, what are the ramifications of getting rid of them all together? Do I lose anything, other than a couple thousand words?

Finally, when I revisited this whole section of the story and started correcting inconsistencies (it may make sense for people who believe someone is their child to pass up on a DNA test, but if the now-grown child is uncertain, wouldn’t he ask for one, or wouldn’t they decide to do one to put his mind at ease?), I realized I needed someone on the inside, which showed me a little more depth to a supporting character. His loyalties aren’t what we’d assumed them to be.

So, now that I’ve looked through it again, I see several areas I can start working on, again. And more than that, I see pretty clearly where things need to go, which can be half the battle when editing. It’s easy to make something that doesn’t feel right, but harder to know what you need to do to make it work. Some distance can give you a fresh perspective.

So now I’ve been challenging myself to write just one scene a day, plodding along at making the necessary changes that make this story, or at least its characters, believable.

A Darker Shade of Magic

Lately I’ve been sticking more to plain fiction and nonfiction, because that seems to be what I have the most of right now. So dipping back into fantasy was a nice break from reality.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is the first installment of a story about three Londons, each in its own world. Two have magic and one has forgotten magic all together. The only way between these Londons and their worlds are doors, opened and used by two special magicians called Antari. Kell is one of these Antari, in the service of the royal family in Red London, the most thriving and magical of them all.

But Kell finds trouble and a very sinister magic when a poor woman thrusts a talisman upon him–one from Black London, the fourth London that was destroyed long ago by corrupting magic and power lust. Now Kell has to return the talisman before it can wreak havoc on the rest of the worlds. And naturally, the power-hungry rulers of White London would love nothing more than to get hold of it.

The story starts out a little fragmented, narratives of a few characters’ lives as Schwab weaves them all together into one cohesive narrative. It’s clear from the reading that she put a lot of thought into her worlds, and into the rules of her magic, which can be one of the most frustrating things for a reader (magic that just does what it wants with no clear rules). Her characters also developed well and had clear, distinct personalities.

Overall, it was a fun book to read. No grand plot twists, but the story itself was engaging enough that it didn’t suffer the lack.  As the first installment in a series, it draws readers in. And while it ties up the loose ends relevant to the plot, it leaves enough mystery that I’m ready to dive in to the second book to find answers to the underlying questions.