THE FALCONER

Post 23 Pics

I’ve noticed through my query-reading experiences that many aspiring authors have a hard time being original. There are so many vampire romances, demon-slaying paranormals, angel stories, faerie mythologies, etc. But the important thing to remember is that it’s perfectly okay to write these. So long as you have something original to add to the genre (and you clearly and interestingly express that in your query).

I give you The Falconer by Elizabeth May.

This is another one of “those faerie books”, but I was intrigued because rather than being set in America or England, The Falconer is set in Scotland. That, combined with the steampunk technology, made me want to buy and read this book.

Little did I know that these aren’t even what really set this book apart from the others. Setting is such a minor thing when compared to plot and character.

The Falconer is awesome because May is an expert with plot twists and engaging fight scenes.

Plot twists, by definition, are unexpected and often exciting. That’s their function: to throw the story in a different direction or to reveal a previously unknown fact. But May produces them in such a way that they amp up the tension and provide greater conflict.

At first the reader is led to believe that the entire purpose of the story is for Aileana to avenge her mother’s death by killing the wicked faerie who murdered her before her eyes. But that’s not the big picture at all—and accomplishing such a task proves to be harder than Aileana could have ever realized. That’s all I can say without revealing any spoilers. So go read The Falconer to see for yourself how May pulls these incredible twists off.

It is said that each scene in a story should accomplish more than one thing, and The Falconer does this effortlessly.

Anyone who has taken a writing class knows that blow-by-blow fight scenes are rarely the way to make a fight scene engaging. Such a style makes the writing feel staccato, unrealistic, and even boring. But May’s writing style is so engaging that she’s not only able to give us blow-by-blow fight scenes at times, but she also combines that with sections of telling (as opposed to showing) to string her fight scenes together. Just when Aileana defeats a faerie, a dozen more will take its place. The scenes never finish when you think they will. And May uses that to pull more tension out of the scenes. It’s incredible.

I’m an Amateur Writer Because…

I say “novel” after clearly stating something as fantasy (i.e. “Please consider my fantasy novel”).

I’m submitting to a publisher even though I self-published my book last week.

I don’t really read books, but I enjoy writing them.

I’m querying a book I haven’t finished writing—or even started for that matter.

I take my manuscript to book signings with the hope that my favorite published authors will show it to their agents.

I say I want to be a writer when I haven’t written anything.

In the case of queries…

I tell agents that my book is unique without saying why, mostly because I don’t know.

Instead of stating the major conflict of my story, I say that my book is about inner discovery.

I’m querying a novel I haven’t finished yet.

I’m asking an agent to please consider my 125,000 word middle grade novel.

My book is a YA, but all the main characters are adults or nine years old.

I say my book has 27 chapters and is 307 pages long. I don’t bother to mention the word count.

My story is about the battle between good and evil, and I will neglect to tell you anything else about it in my query.

I tell agents that I know they’ll enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Sometimes it’s hard to be professional. As writers, we desperately want to get published, and, in the case of those who are already published, we desperately hope that our next book will sell too. Regardless of what publishing state you’re in, don’t forget the basics. Remember to hang in there. Because it’s the writers who stick with it, no matter what, who make it.

Hang in There Kitty

Escapist Magazine

On Hooks and Promises

We hear the term hook thrown around a lot. Your story needs a good hook. No one will read past the first page if you don’t have a good hook. What’s your hook? And so on and so forth. But what exactly do we mean by this?

Hooks are, simply put, the interesting bit in the beginning of your story or your novel or your screenplay that…well, that hooks the reader into the story. I think, however, that we get used to talking about hooks in terms of “what’s the new exciting thing that will engage the reader” and less in terms of “what does this hook say about my story,” and the more I think about it, the more I think we need to be talking about that.

Because while a hook is certainly grabbing and engaging and interesting, it also makes a lot of promises to your reader—promises that they’re going to expect you to uphold and fulfill. So let’s talk about the larger scope of hooks. Not the opening line or even the opening paragraph—but the opening scene (or scenes) that set the tone for your work and tells the reader exactly what they’re getting themselves into.

image from rebeccaberto.com

The bulk of my formal writing education was taught by people who write different sorts of books than I do. While I write fantasy and have had the privilege to learn at the feet of some of the great fantasy writers of our time, a lot of the writers I’ve looked up to in the recent years write action-packed fantasy, full of rule-based magic systems and grand adventures. I enjoy reading those books, of course, but I tend to write…quieter stories. Fantasy that is focused on clashing cultures and social structures and political strife—and while there’s still plenty of action and adventure that happens in my books, the climaxes of my stories are more likely to happen in a single room than on a grand battle front.

Neither of these types of stories are better than the other and there’s an audience for both, but the sort of hooks that work in big action-packed epic fantasy aren’t going to work as well for the sort of things I write—and it took me longer than it should have to realize that.

First of all, hooks don’t have to be action sequences. I realized that I kept trying to start off my books with explosions and chase scenes when my books weren’t really about explosions and chase scenes, and by trying to set my books up with those as opening scenes, I was making a promise to my readers that I had no intention of fulfilling. When a book opens with a fast-paced fight scene, that’s what the reader is going to expect throughout the rest of the story. Almost every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer opens with a scene of Buffy taking out some big bad demon and that sets the tone for the rest of the episode. It says, “Hello, viewer, in this show, you are going to get cool fighting choreography and witty banter.” But if you take the opening scene of Buffy and attach it to, say, an episode of Gilmore Girls, the people who tuned in for the cool fighting choreography are going to be disappointed (though the people watching for witty banter will probably be pleased).

A hook needs to set the tone for what you’re writing. That’s its main job. Pride and Prejudice opens with the arrival of Mr. Bingley at Netherfield and Mrs. Bennett’s assertions that he will make a fine husband for one of her daughters. That hook promises romance and some fun commentary of class and social mores of the time. One of the first scenes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix involves Harry and the Dursleys being swarmed with owls from everyone from Albus Dumbledore to the Ministry of Magic, all carrying conflicting messages, which makes the promise that while Voldemort is certainly a problem in that book, the Ministry of Magic is going to be an even bigger and more immediate problem. Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens with Captain America and Black Widow embarking on a mission for SHIELD. The scene makes the promise that this movie will have lots of cool fight scenes, that it will focus on Captain America and Black Widow and SHIELD, and that Captain America’s ability to trust the people he’s working with will be a major plot point.

Which brings me to the next point: your hook should do more than one thing. It does more than set the tone, it also introduces characters and plot points and setting—and The Avengers: Age of Ultron did a remarkable job of that. (Warnings for mild spoilers of AoU. I know it only came out over the weekend, but the opening did too good of a job to pass up.) The movie starts in media res as the Avengers storm a Hydra Research Facility in Sokovia, a country in Eastern Europe, where they hope to reclaim Loki’s Scepter. The whole gang is there, but the characters who seemed to get more screen time than the rest were Black Widow, the Hulk, and Hawkeye. Later, we’ll find out that each of these characters have personal issues that will become substantial plot points. (Which is especially nice because the other characters get entire movies to themselves to sort out their personal issues.) By focusing on those three characters in the beginning, the movie promises that these three will be big players throughout the rest of the film.

And that’s not all the intro did. It introduced us to Sokovia. Which happens to be where the final battle takes place, and which happens to be where Pietro and Wanda Maximoff are from—and oh yeah, Pietro and Wanda are also going to be big players in this film and they also get screen time in the opening fight scene. In the opening scene, we see Iron Man’s preoccupation with protecting innocent civilians through the use of his Iron Legion program and that particular preoccupation is what launches the whole story forward. The intro also focused on Loki’s Scepter, although at risk of unleashing major spoilers, I’m not going to tell you why this is important to the rest of the film. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

In the opening sequence, they set the tone for the movie (lots of action! Captain America and Iron Man bickering! More fighting!), they showed us which characters were going to be important (Hawkeye, Black Widow, the Hulk, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff), they introduced us to an important location (Sokovia!), and they hinted at important plot points (Loki’s Scepter, Iron Man’s Iron Legion program)—and all of that was done in about fifteen minutes of a movie that runs nearly two and a half hours long.

When you sit down to write or revise the beginning of your story, look at what parts of the story you’re focusing on and think ahead to what sort of promises those are making. If in your first draft, you opened with a light-hearted romance scene and then the book ends up being about a woman dealing with a mental illness…well, then you need to revise your hook. Readers who are hooked by the light-hearted romance might not be looking for a book about mental illness, and the people who do want that book might be turned off by the opening romance. As a writer, it’s your job to make sure the beginning of the book sets the tone and makes the sort of promises that are necessary to tell the story you want to tell.

Avoid Cliches Like the Plague

Step-Away-from-the-Cliche-606x454

Page One Literary Center

 

More often than not, I find myself having to reject manuscripts due to clichéd writing. Since it’s one of the most common things I see in the slush pile, I thought I’d talk about it so other writers can avoid it.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about occasional clichéd sentences, like “I was so scared that my blood turned to ice in my veins” or “I needed to avoid him like the plague” or other commonly used metaphors and similes. Such uses are often effective when used sparingly and at the right moments. They’re often the quickest way to get your meaning across.

And I’m not talking about tropes found within specific genres (because each individual use of a trope should be unique even if it’s the same type of situation), like the damsel in distress or the chosen one or the guy gets the girl.

I’m talking more about the scene level. Specific scenes that aren’t accomplishing anything new in the story, yet are included anyway. Let’s talk about the most common ones that I see.

  1. The main character describing herself by looking in a mirror.

I swear some people put a mirror into the scene just for the sake of describing their MC. But there are thousands of ways to describe a character without doing this. You can do it through dialogue. You can have the MC outright state it. You can have your character have a bad hair day. Whatever. The important thing is that the descriptions enter the text naturally. Don’t make it sound like you’re trying too hard.

  1. The school scene

In contemporary YA manuscripts, unexperienced authors often feel the need to lay out the main character’s entire schedule. Then we have to watch him go through the whole schedule. Such scenes add nothing to the plot. They only give us minor details and go into great detail about the setup of desks in a math classroom or the posters found in the chemistry room. I don’t care how beautiful the author’s writing is. If he’s describing something that I’ve seen a hundred times, I’ll find it boring.

  1. Excessive use of a character’s name

In first person POV, when introducing the main character’s name, a side character will tack her name at the end of a line of dialogue. But then another character does it. And another. And another. When people talk to each other in real life, they rarely use each other’s names. Only if we’re trying to get their attention.

  1. Bringing a character from our world to a new world

Now this can be argued as being a trope, but this bugs me in certain genres. In middle grade, it’s okay. Do it all you want. For YA and above, I see it as a no, no. It’s cheating. It’s a way to introduce your world building to a character unfamiliar with the new world. I am so sick of reading about the disbelief of the main character and waiting for her to catch up with everyone already a part of the new world. There’s no reason not to just have your main character be a part of the new world already. There are other ways to show the world building to the reader. You don’t need to spell it out to one of the characters. And if you’re doing it for the sake of having a main character who speaks and thinks in modern English, you’re just being lazy, and I will have none of it. (Note that time travel is not the same as world travelling. I think time travel is perfectly fine.)

  1. The completely irrelevant and meaningless prologue

I cringe just thinking about this one. I have to read so many prologues that don’t make any sense. Prologues that are uninteresting and much too wordy. Writers seem to have a hard time grasping why this isn’t okay. Let me put it this way. Books with prologues have two beginnings: the prologue and chapter one. It’s hard enough capturing a reader’s interest once. If you have a prologue, you have to engage the reader twice. That’s an extra opportunity you’re giving him to put down your book. And you’re asking him to sit through meaningless scenes until he gets to where the story really starts. So why bother?

  1. Uninteresting magic

If magic plays a large part of the story, it cannot be bland and unexplained. If the magic feels like that found in another story then you shouldn’t do it. Be unique. There are types of magic. Elemental magic, strength-draining magic, mystical amulets. THESE HAVE BEEN DONE BEFORE. Come up with something interesting. Something that makes sense. Don’t have magic for the sake of having magic. (See my post Three Awesome Shows and Magic That Fails for more information.)

  1. Dream scenes

Just don’t do it. Dreams are so overdone. Don’t do it to reveal important plot points. Don’t do it to tell things to the reader without the main character knowing. Don’t do it to start off the character’s bad day. Just don’t do it. Show plot progression other ways. Ways that require you to be clever. You’re a writer. You can be clever, so do it.

  1. Fainting to end a scene

It’s okay if your character faints for a legitimate reason at an inopportune moment, but don’t use fainting as a way to avoid a transition or to avoid coming up with what complicated thing could come next in that scene.

  1. A diary holds the secret

No, a diary does not need to hold the secret. The main character needs to do something clever to learn the secret. That thing which will make them discover the next course of action. By her own ingenuity your MC can solve the problem. She doesn’t need to find it in a book. Diaries are lame. Diaries are overdone. Diaries are clichéd. Don’t be clichéd.

No cliches

Maria Murnane

 

You can be smart. I promise you can. You can have unique ideas. It may be difficult, and it may take time, but you can do it. Be brave enough to try.

Dead but Not Dead

*This post may contain spoilers for the following books and movies: City of Glass, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Two Towers, Marvel movies/shows.

There seems to be this trend going right now. Story makers either make you think they killed their characters when they really didn’t (like when Loki “dies” in Thor) or they kill them for real but then bring them back to life (like when Jace dies in City of Glass).

Is anyone else finding themselves horribly desensitized to characters dying?

Hagrid_carrying_Harry

I was fine when it happened in Harry Potter. That was actually one of the first times I’d seen it done (or rather, read it being done). How satisfying was it when Harry came back to the world of the living and kicked Voldemort’s ass?

gandalf_falling

I was even okay with it happening in The Lord of the Rings. I hadn’t read the books beforehand, so when Gandalf died in Fellowship, I was so depressed. Then when he came back in The Two Towers, I was ecstatic, as I’m sure others of my generation who didn’t grow up reading the books felt.

But nowadays things are getting a little out of hand. Everyone seems to be using this dead-but-not-dead trick. Marvel especially is going crazy with this idea. Check this out.

Bucky Falls

In Captain America, Bucky “dies.” Then he comes back in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Loki Falls

In Thor, Loki “dies.”

Loki Stabed2

In Thor: The Dark World, Loki “dies” again! Didn’t buy it the first time, and I certainly didn’t buy it the second time. He’s the best thing about that show!

Groot dies

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot “dies.”

Phil Coulson Death

In The Avengers, Phil Coulson dies, like for real except they bring him back to do Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I would guess that these producers/writers are trying to add more tension to these stories. The stakes are high. Death is a real possibility when you’re saving the world. People, even the heroes of the story, might die. But the overuse of dead but not dead is having the opposite effect. For me, it’s getting to the point where if a character dies, it doesn’t affect me at all because it’s likely that they’re not really dead. All tension is gone.

Since complaining about something isn’t effective unless you have a solution for it, I tried to think of what other writers could glean from this blatant overuse of dead but not dead. If we kill a character, should they stay dead? Or should we not kill characters if we intend to bring them back?

Here’s what I think. As long as authors are aware of this trend and how it affects readers who are used to seeing it, they should be able to effectively incorporate it into their stories. Each story is trying to achieve something different, and maybe some authors are talented enough to convince readers that their character is really dead when he actually isn’t. Good for them.

But I think the really important thing is for us to be aware of what’s already been done by others before us, how it was done, and how readers/viewers responded to it. This way we can decide how best to use the same treatment in our own stories while also being unique.

And since that was a lot of death, let’s end by looking at some happy things.

Richard Armitage

lol-rofl

Ian Somerhalder

Fanpop

Jake

Fanpop

Read a Lot. Write a Lot.

stephen_king

“[R]ead a lot. Write a lot.” –Stephen King

*This is the Monday post you’re looking for*

Without further ado (who am I kidding? I love ado!) this Tuesday’s Monday’s post!

Continuing on a claim I made in my last post—that I’ve read 150 books so far this year—let me say that I had a reason for reading so much. Since last year I’ve been writing in the new-to-me romance genre, and I wanted to get a feel for it.

But reading so many books is expensive. Erasmus might be able to spend his money on books first, but I like to wear clothes and eat decent meals too. Over the years, I’ve come up with some ways to read a lot on a budget.

(1) The library, duh.

You might not have heard of a library, but it’s a wonderful place where you’re allowed to borrow books for free! It’s book paradise.

But seriously. I know many people who love to read and don’t ever go to their local library because the library never seems to have the books they want. If you have a little know-how and patience, you could read virtually whatever you wanted using only your library. All copies checked out? Place a hold. The title you want isn’t carried by the library? Put in a purchase request. That’s right. Depending on the library, they might go ahead and buy the book for you. (Your mileage may vary).

(2) The online library.

This option is for those who perhaps don’t have the ability or wont to go to the physical library. Increasingly, libraries offer digital media, and as with all technology, the interfaces are becoming slicker by the year. Many libraries’ online catalogs let you download audiobooks and ebooks. For example, the Provo City Library uses One Click Digital and Overdrive. I’ve used both.

Even more exciting, more and more library catalogs have “one-click” downloads that allow you to check out and download the book directly from the catalog without navigating to an external site. But even if the library catalog redirects you to an external site, the process for downloading your books to your computer is extremely easy for even the non tech-savvy.

Companies (like Overdrive, the one I’m most familiar with) are also developing mobile apps that are continually improving. Once you have an account set up (based on your library card information) you can check out and download books straight to your phone or tablet.
All for free!

(3) Online retailers.

Amazon? But this is an article about saving money!

True. I will admit that sometimes I have a hard time finding the titles I want to read at my local library (and sometimes I don’t have the patience to wait for a hold). Perhaps it’s because libraries often carry the most popular books, and I’m to the point where I’m reading in niches and subgenres that don’t make sense for the library to carry. Libraries are the best, but I’m also not averse to buying books if it supports the author. The key for me is balance. I check some out from my library, I buy some from Barnes and Noble or Amazon or wherever.

But here’s a cool idea. Go to your local library’s website and see if they have a program called Buy It Now. This is a fairly new program that some libraries have that allows you to enter Amazon’s website through the library’s Buy It Now portal. For anything you buy, including items other than books, a percentage of the proceeds is given back to your library!

Here’s an example, again from the Provo City Library.

buy it now

Full disclosure: I work for the company that developed the Buy It Now program, but they’re not asking me to pimp it. I just think it’s really, really awesome.

(4) Free ninety-nine.

Try a self-published book or a book from a small digital press.
They often cost much less than a book from the Big Six. I often buy books for as little as $0.99–if you’re braver than me, you can go for the free books.

I’d recommend taking the time to find a blogger or two you like who review indie-pubbed books in addition to books from big publishers. You’re more likely to avoid the low-quality offerings and go straight for the good stuff. In the romance genre, sites like Dear Author and Smart Bitches Trashy Books review indie-pubbed books, and through experience I’ve learned I trust their reviewers’ opinions. Some of the best books I read last year were indie-pubbed and I learned about them because of these two review sites.

For YA and Fantasy, my favorite bloggers are called The Book Smugglers. They will also occasionally review indie-pubbed books. Let me know if you can think of any others.

(5) The book round-up.

The two sites I mention above do a daily deals feature, and they nearly always include books deals for all the major online retailers and from all major and minor publishers. Even if Amazon isn’t your cup of tea, Barnes and Noble and Kobo deals are also featured. Here’s a little secret for the people in love with Amazon’s low prices—Barnes and Noble more often than not price match Amazon. If Amazon is running a great deal on a book, B&N probably is too.

(6) A final note.

For print-only readers I have fewer suggestions, and unfortunately they’re all pretty obvious. Use the library. Borrow books from friends. Swap or trade books at a used book store.

Any way you slice it, writers need to read. We need to know what is happening in our field. All writing is a conversation, and we need to know what’s already been said in that conversation so our contributions can build on the whole and add something unique.