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Site Challenge: Reading like a Writer (September 2018)

Dana, that book sounds nuts! lol

As for the longer chapters, one thing I'm loving about my book is that the chapters are really short. It works really well with the pacing, and I love that each chapter focuses on a single scene or event.

This also makes the reading experience better. If I don't have much time to read or need to take a break, I don't have to stop in the middle of a scene. I can just wait until the end of the chapter, which is never more than a few pages away.

I'm finding inspiration in this structure for my own work. My chapters range from 2000-7000 words and always feature at least several scenes. I'd like to try scaling that back a bit, see what it does for the pacing and flow of my stories.

AJ – I'm glad you found a book that captures your interest more! 🙂

NaNoWriMo 2018 Progress:
Quote from Heather on September 16, 2018, 12:02 pm

Dana, that book sounds nuts! lol

I think "nuts" is...probably an understatement. I don't even think there's an appropriate word.

I just finished the book, and I'm going to spoil you guys to a few plot points, here, because this book messed me up, and I need to share because I can't even...logically explain how this author hasn't been accused of being on the Good Stuff.

(He's clearly trippin', guys, and in this most-likely-incoherent summary, I will try to explain why I think that is).

As a recap: Main character Tommy was a moron and brought a cursed rag-doll, with a note written in Vietnamese pinned to its body, into his home. Rag-doll becomes animated, morphing into a rat-snake critter that tries to tear him apart. It is immune to bullets and has a fascination with fire. Later, he flips his Corvette (because the entity crawled into the engine and broke it as Tommy was driving) and runs into the pretty waitress (Del) who served him at a diner earlier that night. Del ultimately decides to join Tommy as he runs from this rag-doll demon monster, and they banter in between the moments the entity catches up to them.

A few other supernatural events occur throughout the book. Del is seen hot-wiring several vehicles (from cars to yachts) within seconds (and without tools). A mass of hundreds of birds appears out of nowhere to overcome the demon at one point. Et cetera.

The book ends with us discovering that one of Tommy's mom's friends accidentally summoned the demon when all she wanted to do was scare him enough to come back to his Vietnamese family and be The Good Son. (If you recall in my post about Chapter 1, I was whining because Tommy was very redundantly whining about his heritage and how much he wanted to be free of his Vietnamese family's traditions/expectations and be accepted as wholly 'merican). So, naturally, they race to Tommy's mom's friend's place (because a demon can't harm the person who summoned it, of course), and long story short: demon loses its power at dawn. Everyone is safe.

But that's not all. After all's said and done, Tommy and Del have a Vegas wedding (a grand 18 hours after their first meeting), after which Del reveals her parents were abducted by aliens and she’s some by-product of alien genetic experimentation with her parents’ egg/sperm. Oh, and she has powers. Which helped them survive this petty Vietnamese hedge-witch's morphing demon doll's chase. And which she's been using throughout the course of her life to help people and stop paranormal shit from going down.

No joke, this is what I just read. I don't know how to handle this. I can't...cope with this level of crazy.

Now, what did I learn from this finale? As a writer?

I have no idea?

Ticktock, clearly, is not strictly defined to the horror genre. It sits in thriller/suspense, too, while also brushing into science fiction and paranormal fantasy. I think reading it did remind me that writers shouldn't be bound to a single genre and that no idea is too weird, or too "out-there," to be considered worthy of reading. By someone. Somewhere.

I do also want to say that the relationship between Tommy and Del was actually very darling. I ship it. Their families, too, were great. I think that also says something about characterization: a reader will be willing to accept almost anything, so long as the characters are strong, relatable, and/or likable, in either a good or bad way.

Outside of that? *shrugs*

What I do know is that the month is only half over, so I'm going to start Stephen King's Revival. King is Master of Horror, and I am invested in finding a comparison for Ticktock. 

So here we go again, I guess.

I am already far more pleased with the first sentence of Revival than I was of Ticktock. This is my sort of strong, simple start. It instantly piqued my interest.

In one way, at least, our lives really are like movies.

And shoot, sorry, the summary, before I forget:

The new minister came to Harlow, Maine, when Jamie Morton was a boy doing battle with his toy army men on the front lawn. The young Reverend Charles Jacobs and his beautiful wife brought new life to the local church and captivated their congregation. But with Jamie, he shares a secret obsession—a draw so powerful, it would have profound consequences five decades after the shattering tragedy that turned the preacher against God, and long after his final, scathing sermon. Now Jamie, a nomadic rock guitarist hooked on heroin, meets Charles Jacobs again. And when their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, Jamie discovers that the word revival has many meanings….

Yeah, King's a pretty good writer and even better at giving writing advice. I was way into him in high school – read every book he had available at the time, which was already quite a few.

I wish I could've recommended one of his older books to you, but I hope the one you chose turns out good. Looking forward to reading your thoughts as you progress!

NaNoWriMo 2018 Progress:

I haven't read a lot of my book yet, partly because I was on vacation for a week with a friend and didn't have much downtime, but largely because I can only read a chapter at a time since it's pretty emotionally intense. So far the writer has done a good job of pulling together various people's experiences and, as mentioned, conveying the emotion of the time.

And Oz - what even was your book. Sounds like the author had a few different ideas laying around and decided to put them together but didn't put too much thought into the 'glue' of the story.

I finished my book last night. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy it, but I picked up on several things that I'm sure will be useful:

1.) Never start two sentences in a row with the same word.

I've always tried to stick to this rule, assuming it was an important one. This offer breaks it all the time, and you know what? It works really well.

2.) In fiction, simple, straightforward language works best.

I already knew this, which is why I've spent the last several years cutting back on excessive description, unnecessarily complex words, and adjectives/adverbs. This book did a beautiful job with simplicity, proving that telling a good story is far more important than showing off. It was fast-paced, easy to read, and everything about it was vivid and clear.

3.) Short chapters are awesome.

I already addressed this above, commenting on how much it helps the pacing to limit chapters to a single scene. Planning to experiment with this in my own writing.

4.) To write magical realism well, you have to treat it like it's realistic.

I loved how the author handled the more fantastical elements of this story. He didn't over explain or attempt to justify their existence. Instead, he treated them in a matter-of-fact way, blending them seamlessly into everyday life.

This is something I've also noticed with Harry Potter and other well executed fantasy/supernatural/magical realism. When the author approaches it in a straightforward way, almost taking it for granted that this universe could exist, it comes off as much more authentic.

5.) Catchphrases are cool.

Apollo, the main character in this book, has a mantra he uses whenever he's in a difficult situation. He tells himself, "I am the god, Apollo. This mantra gives Apollo strength and courage, that little extra push he needs to face his fears.

I loved this. I loved it so much that it got me thinking that all important characters should have their own catchphrase. What would your main character (or mine) say to themselves in times of crisis, bolstering their bravery or their determination? What phrase would remind them of who they are, what they're trying to accomplish?

I think it's important to know the answer to those questions, even if we never use the catchphrase in our stories. It's such a strong, simple way to understand the essence of our characters, you know?

I'm definitely going to incorporate it into my future character development!

– – – –

I won't have time to start another book with everything else I have going on this month, but I've thoroughly enjoyed this! Would love to do similar challenges – maybe we can plan something after the NaNoWriMo/holiday season is over? 🙂


NaNoWriMo 2018 Progress:

I’ve added your book to Goodreads, Heather. It sounds amazing.

As far as Revival goes, I’m enjoying it well enough. King is still setting the stage for the main act, I think, so I don’t have very strong opinions just yet.

In contrast to Ticktock, which was 3rd person past tense, Revival is written in 1st person, and the narrator is speaking as though through a journal as he looks back on the events of his life. Foreshadowing, naturally, is a VERY effective method King uses to keep readers interested.

Also, I love how he titles the chapters in this book. They’re like little summaries in their own right. Chapter 4, for instance, is titled “Two Guitars. Chrome Roses. Skytop Lightning.”  I have no idea how these keywords will manifest in the plot, but it’s neat to know they WILL, somehow.

I didn't make a lot of progress with The Curse of the Gloamglozer, by Stewart & Riddle, partially because I was completly hooked on another book, and partially because I could not keep all the story elements in my head.

I switched over to action thrillers, a genre that would no longer immediately grab my interest. So, I was curious to see whether the kind of books I read years ago could still get me now.

I finished Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz:

They told him his uncle died in an accident. He wasn't wearing his seatbelt, they said. But when fourteen-year-old Alex finds his uncle's windshield riddled with bullet holes, he knows it was no accident. What he doesn't know yet is that his uncle was killed while on a top-secret mission. But he is about to, and once he does, there is no turning back. Finding himself in the middle of terrorists, Alex must outsmart the people who want him dead. The government has given him the technology, but only he can provide the courage. Should he fail, every child in England will be murdered in cold blood.

And the second book, Point Blanc:

Investigations into the "accidental" deaths of two of the world's most powerful men have revealed just one link: both had a son attending Point Blanc Academy - an exclusive school for rebellious rich kids, run by the sinister Dr Grief and set high on an isolated mountain peak in the French Alps. Armed only with a false ID and a new collection of brilliantly disguised gadgets, Alex must infiltrate the academy as a pupil and establish the truth about what is really happening there.

The Alex in question is Alex Rider, a 14 year old spy recruited by MI6.

The books get a high score for action, suspense, and tension-- even with Alex Rider's outlandish stunts and knack of snatching his life from the jaws of death. I did shelve my scepticism and grave sense of reason in order to let the book be an escapist thriller. Horowitz, a fan of James Bond, included the whole package: gadgets, mad villains, and a stony-faced secret service.

I was also pleased to see some picturesque descriptions, as I have often stayed away from thrillers for the lack of it. Evidently, I am wrong on that score.

As the books are a series, there is a lot of backstory, but I found these integrated well with the action. Indeed, most chapters began with a striking sentence, or action, before later revealing more information.

Characterisation-wise, I am more torn. Alex Rider spends a lot of time recounting the training his uncle gave him-- training he now realizes was in preparation for espionage. We're told that he can speak several languages, do martial arts, and pretty much take care of himself. But there's little grief-processing throughout.

Sure, he gets drafted in against his will, but there could have been more glimpses of how he, who already lost both parents in infancy, dealt with this latest loss. I am currently reading Skeleton Key, book 3 in the series, and the author now atones for this. Furthermore, I needed more examination of Alex's all-t00-evident flaws-- even though the adults around him are much worse.

Certainly, the leaders of MI6 Special Op were painted in a much more memorable fashion. Mr. Blunt, the head, is described as a "grey" man. Using colour to describe characters is very interesting, and I think I will use this.

During Stormbreaker, the number of fragments distracted me. I know that fragments propel action for thrillers, so maybe this is just a personal gripe. For me, had some of the fragments been effective, I wouldn't have noticed them.

My biggest issue was the constant use of:

"He knew that--"

"It was obviously--"

"He guessed that--"

"He thought about--"

"He had to--"

This happens as well in Skeleton Key, where Alex "knows" things despite being in disorienting situation. (But in this book, when it comes to knowing that General Sarov, the villain, has a nuclear bomb, he wants to know what Sarov will do with that bomb!! Burst out laughing at that part).

In all seriousness, I find myself mentally rewriting sentences as I read to get rid of these pointers. I feel guilty doing this, because it's presumptuous, particularly for a book that wouldn't be my chosen genre today. But I must say, that when using Free Indirect Discourse, you can still keep the pointers you need, but then delve into the character's head. Or, if you prefer Deep POV, you get rid of these pointers altogether.

If Alex is trapped in a house with a man who has a nuclear bomb, then I know he needs to escape and warn the CIA. So this:

"Alex had to escape. He had to tell the CIA that Turner and Troy had been killed and that Sarov did have a bomb."

...seems unnecessary.

Here's another example, from when Alex examines an electrified fence to see whether he can escape (I do enjoy the high stakes throughout):

"There were large red signs with the single word PELIGRO printed in white letters. Even without the warning, the fence reeked of danger. There was a low humming that seemed to be coming from the ground. Alex noticed the charred and broken skeleton of a bird hanging on the wire. It must have flown into the fence and been killed instantly."

Now, I love the "reeked of danger" part. That's a technique I will definitely use in my future writing: giving human senses to inanimate things, particularly if it makes them scarier.

But I would have stopped right after the "charred and broken skeleton of a bird hanging on the wire". I loved that part. It's a warning of what will happen to Alex should he try and escape. Not all signs of danger need action and violence. Just a striking image can send a chill down your back. It's enough. The explanation seems unnecessary and lessens the effect.

I don't want to nitpick, but I also struggled with constant use of dialogue tags such as:

"Went on."

"Cut in."



This was also in The Curse of the Gloamglozer. I know I used to do this, but I am quite surprised to see just how many published books include tags like this. Obviously, many writers must not agree with the advice on sticking to "said" in most cases.

For example:

"Absolutely!" Crawley agreed."

Well, the "absolutely" implies that already.

Anyway, I am getting through Skeleton Key very quickly. Like I said, the action is there. If I burn through this one, I might try one of the adult thrillers available, because I have softened towards the genre. I tend to like slower books, but to be fair, crime fiction has to involve thrills, high stakes, and chases. There is a crime thriller genre. So I have a lot to learn from action thrillers in general.

Recommendations appreciated. (Except for Dan Brown).

Deborah, I've heard the Jack Reacher books (Lee Child) are pretty decent! Not sure what I can say about the writing quality, but my dad seems to find them entertaining.

I marathoned the remainder of Revival today, and I'm going to try to summarize my impressions/what I've learned. As a general note, I've come to realize I suck at reading like a writer (at least consciously), so we'll see if I can make any sort of coherent points here.

There's something to be said about subtlety. 

Ticktock, if you recall from my previous posts, started off with a weird rag doll and then kept steamrolling its readers with weirdness all the way to the end. Despite all the fantasy I read, it was difficult for me to take seriously, and any suspense that was supposed to be garnered was lost on me. Revival was not like that. Weird supernatural stuff only happened in the very climax, and by interweaving hints and foreshadowing throughout the entire novel (which read a lot more like a mystery/thriller than it did true "horror"), King was a LOT more successful at keeping me entertained and at the edge of my seat. I didn't have to force myself to suspend disbelief, and I didn't laugh out loud at how absurd it all was. And that, I believe, is what made the difference. Ticktock was the furthest thing from subtle. It tried to shock and surprise every other 20 pages. Revival was a progression, all culminating into a Big Reveal at the very end. I guess my main take-away is I'm a reader/writer who prefers the standard 5-Stage-Story Structure. Ticktock's accelerate-and-brake sort of plot structure was hardly as gripping as the tried-and-true rise, peak, and fall of Revival.

The "horror" in these pieces of literature wasn't anywhere near horrific.

It wasn't even super disturbing or unnerving, really. It was just weird. I don't know if it's because I need to read more in this genre or if it's because I haven't found something that scares the living crap out of me, but neither Ticktock nor Revival will be giving me nightmares. I enjoyed Revival a LOT more (and will gratefully take recommendations for more King novels!), but the horror I felt when I was a kid reading Coraline and the chills I get when I see horror movie trailers just wasn't present at all during either of these books. Isn't that what horror is supposed to do? I have no idea. I'm kinda determined to find something that does do it for me.

My thoughts on first-person POV

I don't normally read in first person, and the THOUGHT of writing it intimidates me. As I mentioned in another post, King did a phenomenal job with first person in Revival. The book was written as though in a series of journal entries/letters from the main character. It's unclear if he's really writing for himself, or for other readers, but in either case, the mystery was made more tantalizing with the use of very blatant foreshadowing, which was (cleverly) far more prominent in the beginning of the book. It was also pretty wonderful to see the tone of the chapters changing as the main character wrote, the events he recounted spanning over the course of nearly six decades. It was also rather charming, too, because the main character was a self-proclaimed country boy from rural Maine, and some of his metaphors/comparisons/colloquialisms definitely reflected that.

I need to read more Stephen King. 

This doesn't need an explanation, lol. I can't describe his style well, but it's so smooth. Not a blip of dissonance anywhere to be seen. There's an underlying humor that I believe doesn't solely belong to the main character, too, and I enjoy that a lot.

I may have more thoughts later, but for now, this was a wonderful exercise, one that I will probably be continuing throughout the remainder of the year. Because damn, I want to understand this genre more than I do. Two books didn't cut it.

All Writers Are Created Equal