Is it worth it to print out your entire novel for editing?

My friends, I used to be a doubter about printing out the novel. But now, I am a firm believer. Although it took me a while to get there.

The first time I printed out my entire manuscript, it was useless. One pack of paper and toner cartridge later, I realised the novel needed some major structural changes. These changes included (but weren’t limited to) writing new scenes, extending entire chapters into more chapters, developing characters, inventing new characters, and deleting huge sections of plot.

And I didn’t need to print out anything to determine these changes were necessary. Reading the manuscript on my screen was sufficient to conclude that I needed to blow that Popsicle stand. The changes were so big, they were obvious. It wasn’t an entire rewrite, but it was close.

So, to save paper, ink, and time, I have the following suggestion: If you know what changes to make in your manuscript, don’t print the thing. If you know what prevents your novel from reading like a novel, don’t print the thing. If you have structural edits to make and not line by line edits, don’t print the thing.

Instead, wait.

Wait until you’ve reached the point writing your novel where you don’t know what to do to make it better. When you’ve done the best you possibly can.

Okay, so now your novel is at the point where it’s chilling in some kind of document on your computer completely edited and you have no clue what to do with it next.

And now we print?

No. Put that sucker away. Don’t look at it. Don’t work on it. Do something else. Send to some beta-readers for a fresh perspective. Wait some more. Wait a long, long time, until you can no longer recite the entire manuscript from beginning to end and recall the exact contents of every chapter.

Once you’ve acquired some distance, you can return to your manuscript. But don’t read it on the screen like you have been for these past million drafts. Now print.

I did this last week and it’s been so worth it this time round.

I don’t know if it’s the time away from the manuscript, or looking at it in a different format (on paper instead of on the screen), or what, but mistakes just are popping off the page for me. I believed this wouldn’t happen because I grew up with computers and I have no problem reading stuff on the screen. I didn’t think that the printing copy would take me to a place of editing enlightenment.

But it has.

Since printing my manuscript, I’ve found stuff that sounds awkward, small nit-picky errors, and other hard-to-classify improvements (like wouldn’t it be more logical for the protagonist to think x instead of y in this situation). And even though I’ve read and played with many sentences a million times, the new format is allowing me to pick up how to strengthen sentences I believed were as strong as they could be.

Now my only question is after this draft, will I have to print out the novel again?

My answer: Probably.

As all writers know, it’s never over.

 

“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” by Yaba Badoe

I haven’t read a magical realism book since Isabelle Allende’s “House of Spirits” in high school, which was a fan favourite with our grade eleven class due to the copious amounts of sex in it. Well, sorry to disappoint, but “A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is a magical realism novel without copious amounts of sex. But you should totally read it anyway, because it deals with some heavy themes and the writing is gorgeous. (How’s this for an intro? Sorry, I did really like this book.)

“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” starts with a shipwreck of migrants and refugees from Ghana. The sole survivor is Sante, a baby, who is found floating ashore in a treasure chest of her people. Fourteen years later, the story then follows Sante’s life as a member of a circus containing people of all races and nationalities. Despite being orphaned, she’s managed to find her family. However, the dead from the shipwreck are calling on Sante to avenge her people.

This novel deals with a lot of tough issues, such as sex trafficking and murder of refugees in a pretty matter of fact way. And despite the matter of factness, there is a lyrical quality to the writing with symbolism, dreams, and strange magic from the spirit world. There are universal themes of identity and family and belonging running through the entire plot line. In addition, the relationships between Sante and her adopted siblings Cobra and Cat are fleshed out and feel real. Essentially, “Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is chock full of good stuff and has a unique voice.

Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that people sank a ton of ships containing many, many people and their families just to collect some insurance. It is both horrific and tragic. Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wondering how Badoe managed to write so beautifully about something so terrible. Amazing and thought-provoking.

 

“The Last Namsara” by Kristen Ciccarelli

Asha is convinced she is morally corrupted. Not from killing dragons, but from telling forbidden stories. Ever since her childhood, she’s killed the creatures to protect her father’s kingdom, trying to redeem herself for a mistake she made when she was young that harmed the city. But now dragons are hard to find, and Asha is forced to tell the old stories to lure them out. Old stories that result in sickness and death and destruction of those who tell them.

Despite her service to the kingdom, her people still hate her. And with her upcoming wedding to her father’s cruel commandant, Asha hopes for an escape. Her father offers a trade: the head of the king of dragons for her freedom from the marriage.

However, when Asha starts the hunt, a slave boy challenges everything that she believed to be true about herself, about her relationship with dragons, and about her kingdom.

This novel describes a rigid society with unusual customs and tensions between traditional values and the new regime. It also contains many beautiful short folktales interspersed throughout the chapters. These stories contribute to building Asha’s world and help to understand the present of the novel in context with its past.

It has a beautiful message about how in order to find your true self, you have to look beyond society, beyond your family, and beyond whatever toxic truths you’ve been told and internalised about your character. In Asha’s world, there is prejudice and racism, and the younger generation must work to break these barriers down and fight against injustice. Asha is a strong heroine and the conflicts she deals with in her fantastical society apply to today’s world as well.

Scrivener: A Writing Software Review

I should preface this review by saying that I bought Scrivener with my own coin using the discount given to all winners of Campnanowrimo way back in 2015. Scrivener did not solicit this review and all opinions are my own.

I’ve been using Scrivener, a writing software, for nearly three years now. Originally, it was recommended to me by someone in my university writing club. Once I started using it, I never went back to Word.

Before using Scrivener, I wrote a first draft of a story using Word. However, once I switched to Scrivener, I never went back. Here are some reasons why:

1) Scrivener encourages you to divide each chapter into a folder and each scene into its own file. It is very easy to navigate from chapter to chapter and scene to scene, which is great for editing. Say goodbye to the massive scrolling option that Word would force you to do to get to a pesky little scene in the middle of your manuscript.

2) With Scrivener, you can easily swap the scenes into different orders (say you realise something is better suited at the beginning than in the middle) with a simple drag of the mouse.

3) There is a cute cork board option that lets you outline each scene and move it around.

4) Perhaps most importantly, there is a snapshot feature. This feature allows you to copy and save old versions of your scene indefinitely. And if you don’t like what you’ve currently written to revise the scene, you can roll back to the previous version. I must admit that I very rarely review my previous versions of a scene, because once I know something needs to be changed, it needs to be changed for good. However, my copious snapshots act like a security blanket. It’s nice to know that I’m not just deleting all my previous work and can come back to it. It makes it somewhat easier to edit relentlessly.

5) Formatting with Scrivener is pretty easy. You just hit compile and it compiles your document to a word or pdf (your choice), and then you can see your work in its glory. It will have a header, the page number, and the chapters labelled halfway down the page. Basically while you work on your book, you can read it like a book ought to be read. You don’t have to waste much time ensuring the formatting works and fiddling around with spacing or what have you. Scrivener will do it for you.

Of course, there are some cons to using Scrivener.

1) For the most part, Scrivener is fairly intuitive. However, sometimes it has glitches. Fortunately, the site itself and the general online community have plenty of tutorial guides and how-to fixes. Usually a quick google search will clear up “Why is my header always upside down” and “Why does italicised text compile as underlined text” and the like.

2) Scrivener compiles for word and pdf formats admirably. I just tried the ebook format and it seems like it should work, you just might need to play with the settings to make it look fantastic. Some even more obscure formats don’t seem to work that well. So if you really want your book to compile to LaTex, you might want to look into this. Or just write it in LaTex directly, which if you’re writing a more symbol based book (like math or physics or comp sci or something), you probably already are doing. If you are writing a standard novel, it should work fine.

3) Once I tried to write a university assignment in Scrivener. This worked well until I needed a bibliography. Scrivener doesn’t have a bibliography function. If you need a bibliography that is cited in the text, don’t use Scrivener. Instead, use Word.

 

 

10 Things I Learned about Writing in 2017

1) Beginnings are the hardest part. You have to figure out where to start your story (right as the action is about to happen) and how to seduce the reader to commit to more. And the blank page is intimidating as hell. You might spend more time on the first chapter than anything else, and that’s okay. Once you get over it, it gets much better.

2) Endings are the hardest part (unless, of course, you are talking about beginnings). Trying to wrap up an entire plot is like wrestling a rabid bear. Just as you think you’ve got subdued the beast, tied up all the limbs and muzzled the jaw, a giant paw will lash out and a mouthful of sharp teeth will bite you in the butt. And you’ll have to wrestle the bear some more and now your butt is aching and now you have rabies. Thanks bear.

However, one tip that saw me through my ending was realising that my protagonist had to step up and become the hero. I’m not a huge fan of disappointing endings full of setbacks. Or worse, endings where the protagonist is in the same position as she was in the very beginning (I’m looking at you, second books of trilogies!). That meant my protagonist had to rise to the occasion and triumph (at least sufficiently).

3) You have to get over how people who know you will react to your writing.

For instance, my husband teased me relentlessly about the kissing scenes. It was embarrassing even though he’d directly inspired those scenes (perhaps that’s what made it especially embarrassing). It was mortifying. I turned bright red.

On the other side of the coin, you also have to get over the scenes that people who know you will be shocked by. Since I’m a very anti-violence and anti-gun person, the intensity of my action scenes might surprise those who know me. Oh well.

Also some of your writing will touch on issues that people may interpret oddly. Obviously, your story exists independently of people and events that happened in your life. However, your experiences do impact your art. Still, your story isn’t a carbon copy of your life in the real world. Unless of course, you’re writing a memoir–in which case, good luck!

4) Three things need to be happening in every scene. This advice changed my life. If your scene just is there for one reason, like only setting or only characterisation or only plot, it isn’t good enough. Or worse, if nothing happens in your scene at all! Like your character is sleeping or sitting around being bored. When you first start writing, you may think that your novel should mimic real life as closely as possible. You might end up with tons of these habitual scenes, since you’re trying to understand your protagonist as a human being. Fine. But those scenes are boring. Novels need to be dramatic!

For example, in one scene, you can push the main plot along, hint at an upcoming romantic subplot, and describe an interesting setting. All that together becomes compelling. Suddenly your story begins to read like a real book.

5) Every sentence has a purpose. This only comes along in later drafts when you have the whole work banged out in one document, but it’s important. One sentence needs to lead to the next, which then needs to lead to the next, and so on. If you have two to three sentences saying the same thing, condense them into one. Your writing becomes more focussed, and then the plot moves forward. When a novel has too many filler sentences, it is hard for the reader to ground themselves in the story and know where the story is taking them. Your sentences have to flow like the current in a river, pulling a reader along to the rising action or, at least, the focus of a scene. If you have too many sentences saying the same thing or nothing at all, the writing is stagnant and the reader doesn’t know what kind of journey the book is taking or why they should care. Harsh, but true.

6) Your novel probably will deal with some sensitive stuff or some emotionally charged topics. In the politically correct world we live in, it can be tempting to leave these topics alone for fear of not doing them justice or offending someone. Don’t. This sounds like your story’s about to get real. And that’s what art’s for.

Your characters won’t always make the morally correct choice (if such a choice exists) and sometimes they will be downright offensive. Your characters, like people, are flawed. They make mistakes.I’m not saying to write the most offensive thing possible because you should try to totally get away with it. I’m saying, if your characters aren’t always PC and seem somewhat limited in their views, you as a writer can do a lot with that. Talk about things that are real in a real way. Our world is full of ugliness. Your readers know this. Show them the ugliness, but do it for a reason.

Sometimes you won’t be able to show every aspect of a social issue as in depth as you’d like. It’s only one story. Just do the best you can with the story you have.

7) On a lighter note, this year I learned how to use commas. At least, I learned how to use commas better than I did in days of yore.

Does anyone else struggle with with commas? If we ever covered commas in school, I wasn’t there–either physically or mentally. I vaguely remember some teacher saying “you put a comma where you take a breath.” This works on some intuitive level until it doesn’t.

So, I pulled out the Chicago Guide to Style and read the entire section on commas. Although I’m not claiming to have become some mythical comma guru and mastered every case in the universe, I have become way more confident about their placement. In fact, I’m going to do a series of posts about how to use commas correctly to help others who also get confused about whether to comma or not.

8) Writing without an outline can brings great joy. It’s fun to watch the characters make decisions of their own and come to life in the document and surprise you. However, writing without an outline can lead to drafts without direction and purpose.

Outlines have their time and place. Eventually, as unromantic as it seems, sometimes you have to go through every scene and figure out what has to happen so that you can reach the end. But there is a balance. Spontaneity is valuable. If you have an intuitive feeling that you are heading the wrong direction, you probably are. Hit the drawing board, re-evaluate, and try again.

9) Writing routines are great, but it’s okay to take breaks sometimes. All over the internet, there’s loads of advice about the virtues of a writing routine where you write everyday and don’t wait for an elusive inspirational moment to come. I agree with this. The problem is, I FORGET TO CHILL.

A creative process takes a lot out of you and if you keep working everyday if you are tired, you will burn out. So, you need to unwind. Some people have personalities where their default state is one of chill. I envy these people. They know to watch lots of TV and play video games and don’t take things too seriously all the time. They don’t stay up all night with insomnia worrying about random stuff. They turn off the lights and fall asleep immediately. If you’re one of these people, please. Tell me your secret.

See, I don’t tend towards procrastination. I have the opposite problem. I try to do everything at once. I need to schedule time where I watch bad TV, play Kirby’s avalanche, and google endlessly whether it’s better to own a rabbit or a guinea pig even though I can’t own either because my apartment doesn’t allow pets. If I don’t schedule these things, they don’t happen. And then my life isn’t balanced.

Anyway, if you have my personality type and you read these articles about writing constantly, it’s okay. If you take a breather to chill, you aren’t procrastinating. You actually are helping your writing by making sure you don’t burn out.

10) Twitter has a large writing community. I was hesitant about joining Twitter this year, because of its spammy nature and my shyness and paranoia about posting stuff to strangers on the internet. However, I’m so glad I did. Twitter has a huge writing community where people are at all stages of their journey, and they share their progress and their struggles. It’s great to connect with other writers that are going through the same things as I am.

A Marvellous Rant: The Avengers, A Review

This holiday break, unlike the rest of you who watched “The Last Jedi,” I watched Marvel’s “The Avengers.” To which you say, “You haven’t seen ‘The Avengers’ yet? It came out in 2012! Have you been living under a rock?” And to which I say, “No, I haven’t been living under a rock, I’ve been living in Australia.”

(Honestly, that’s not fair. The “Last Jedi” is out in theatres here too, I’m just too cheap to go. Also, I moved to Australia waaaaay after 2012, so that statement doesn’t even make sense.)

(Wait, that statement’s also waaaaay too mean. I like living in Australia. Melbourne is a bit too big for me, but the wildlife in the surrounding areas is outstanding. Not to mention there’s no snow. No snow. Let me repeat that in case you didn’t catch it: No. Slipping. Snow. And Melbourne is kinda cute and small town-y despite the five million other people, because when you send out your Christmas cards you write “card only” on the envelope to get the cheaper rate and everyone believes you. And when you walk in stores, everyone’s playing 90’s music like the city’s on some kinda time warp, but I like 90’s music so it’s cool.)

But back to “The Avengers.” My husband was really impressed that I took out this movie from the library because the last superhero movie I ever watched by Marvel was “Batman” where the bald guy climbs out of the pit for a million years. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

And then I was like, “Actually, I’ve seen tons of Marvel’s superhero movies. Like that really old one about the guy in the blue tightie whities? The one who my mum thinks is hot? You know, Superman?”

And my husband was like, “That’s not Marvel. A different company made Superman.”

And I was like, “Oh. Wait–what?”

And my husband was like, “But you’ve seen Spiderman, right? That’s Marvel.”

And I was like, “Yeah. Except not Spiderman 3, because I fainted in the movie theatre parking lot before I even got to watch it because I ate too many mangoes.”

Long story.

Anyway, after watching “The Avengers” I had so much burning inside me to say that I figured I might as well write a post about it. Just keep in mind the person writing this post only watched “The Avengers” because she figured she liked superhero movies because she read “Zeroes” cowritten by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. (Superhero books are different than superhero movies – for one, they actually contain emotions. Ba-dum pshhhhhh.)

Also, keep in mind that the person writing this post was not intimately familiar with the Marvel franchise. She hadn’t even read the Marvel comics, since the comics she likes to read are indie and gay. She didn’t even see Spiderman 3 because she fainted from eating too many mangoes.

Of course, since the internet is filled with reviews from people who are clearly not the target audience of the media they’re reviewing, I expect my review will fit right in.

So without further ado, let’s go!

1) The major problem I had was with the characters.

a) First of all, I had no clue who anyone was. I kinda figured out Captain America because the movie wouldn’t let you forget it, and Black Widow (I’d heard of her before), and the Hulk because he was angry and stuff. But as for the rest, I had no freaking clue. There was jerky dude in the shiny red suit with blue glowy things, Brad Pitt (later I learned he wasn’t actually Brad Pitt) with a hammer, and an arrow throwing guy I was left to assume was Cupid’s older brother. Now, eventually I figured out fake Brad Pitt was Thor. However, nothing informed me as to who red shiny blue glowy dude or Cupid’s older brother were. Their superhero names never were said once in the movie. The back of the DVD informed me that the dude in the red metal suit was Ironman. However Cupid’s older brother’s name was nowhere on the back of the DVD. My husband told me his name was Hawkeye so I’ll have to take his word for it. It would have been nice to learn everyone’s names in some corny suit-up sequence montage in the beginning. It. Was. Not. Clear.

Also, I have no clue where the eye-patch dude fits in. Does he have a super power? Or is his only power navigating his disability in an able-bodied world? If so, that’s admirable, but I had no idea why he was there.

b) I felt no emotional investment in the plot. I didn’t care about the characters. One minor character died and all the heroes were practically crying with emotion. I didn’t feel anything because that guy had five minutes of screen time and I couldn’t remember how he was helping the good guys at all. Eye-patch dude said something about him being a spy, but I never saw dead dude spying so I think I misheard him.

Basically you can’t have six heroes in one movie taking up equal screen time. Because that is six stories and not enough time to develop them. They should have focused on one or two characters and the others could have cameos or something. Then touching scenes can actually be touching.

c) When Thor and Ironman were fighting I didn’t care about who won or lost. I think I was supposed to be like “Oooh will Thor’s hammer kick Ironman’s butt or will Ironman’s blue electric glow dominate Thor’s lighting?” Right, that didn’t happen. And not just because I didn’t know Ironman’s name. The fight reminded me of two little boys playing with their action figures and it was really, really boring. I spent the entire endless scene wondering what the point was. Apart from some homoerotic undertones this scene had nothing going for it. Because frankly, the person who wins, wins because the script writer wrote it as so. And the scriptwriter wrote Captain America breaking them apart and winning which leads me to my next point.

2) The second major problem I had was with the super powers themselves.

a) Captain America. I really hate this guy. I know he’s supposed to fill you with the warm, patriotic feels of American ideals. But even though I’m technically dual citizen American, I grew up in Canada. And let me tell you, the Canadian part of me laughs at Captain America so hard.

Let me create a new superhero for you. Let’s call him Captain Canada. He wears a white suit covered in red maple leaves. And he goes around beating everyone up over the head with club that’s really a super strong taxidermied beaver carcass. And no matter how awesome everyone is, he always wins because Canada knows best. If you think this is ridiculous, you’re right. It is. But it’s no more ridiculous than Captain America.

Now, I’m not saying national pride is bad. In fact, I think that Canada should suit up and kick some dead beaver butt and actually take pride in empowering their citizens to innovate technology and create art, instead of relying on their star spangled neighbour to the south to innovate and create everything for them. However, there is a balance. Captain America is not always right. And when he goes around saying corny punchlines and dominating the battles to save the world, he comes across as uneducated and arrogant.

b) The Incredible Hulk. This super power has issues stemmed in permissive male rage.

Why male rage? Since the morphing form of The Hulk is hyper masculine with enormous muscles and a half-naked body it clearly refers to male qualities. And since the change from man to Hulk only happens when the character gets angry, it is pretty clear it refers to anger issues.

Basically, this character gives the message that as a man, you can try to control your anger but it’s futile. And when you lose control you aren’t responsible because the creature isn’t really you. As long as you’re in Hulk mode you can’t remember anything you did and that’s okay, because when you aren’t in Hulk mode you have the best of intentions and try really hard to stay calm. However, it’s a losing battle. The anger will be expressed and when it’s expressed in an uncontrollable and destructive way that threatens and harms other people, it can save the world. Totally permissive and problematic.

c) The Black Widow. As far as I can tell, her only super power is looking sexy and beating people up. I guess that’s a thing? Her powers to me seem to be more like a fetish than a superpower. Just saying.

3) The third major problem I had was with the villain, Loki. He just looked goofy and didn’t seem threatening at all. I think his smile was supposed to terrify me and feel me with unease or be creepy at least. It just looked ridiculous. And the giant horns on top of his head did nothing to improve this image.

4) Using special effects instead of a plot line. The battles were massive and must have taken a lot of work. However, because I wasn’t invested in the characters I was really, really bored. During the final battle, I actually paused the movie and cooked dinner. When I returned to it, I had no clue what was going on because I wasn’t interested. Even though the saving the world stakes were kind of high, they didn’t feel high because I just didn’t care whether the characters lived or died because they had done nothing to endear themselves to me. No matter how many giant whale space ships they threw into the plot, it couldn’t change the major lack of emotional stakes.

5) The ending. Now I’m going to assume that you (unlike me) haven’t been living under a rock since 2012 and have actually watched this thing. So this next part will contain spoilers. If you don’t want these spoilers, stop reading now.

Still here? Okay. So, you know how the major alien threat was neutralised by Ironman throwing a nuclear bomb through a porthole to blow up an entire alien planet and how the port hole conveniently closes in time so that the US receives none of the fallout?

Well, there is a problem with this.

First, let’s realise that the alien threat really only was shown to be destroying an American city. So, it wasn’t directly threatening the world. It was directly threatening the US. (Okay, okay, the aliens could then spread from the US to the rest of the world, but it’s not really clear that’s their plan. They could just take out the US and call it a day. Basically the immediate the threat and the one we see in the movie is solely American.)

As for the aliens, what kinds of people are these? Well, since Americans have no problem calling actual people aliens, it’s not too much of a stretch to think “Hey, these aliens are a foreign threat. They symbolise people who aren’t American who threaten the US.” Supporting this idea even more is how the aliens were attacking the city. Airships smashing through giant skyscrapers. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Now, I’m not negating an American anxiety about terrorism or invaders or whatever. There’s precedent for them to be concerned. However, “The Avengers” has a message. These acts of violence by a few can only be solved by nuking the entire territory belonging to the perpetrators.

And there is a massive problem with that.

We don’t know much about this alien planet. However, we do know that Loki sided with some group of people living on it who had an army. We don’t know if this alien army represented the majority of the people living on this planet. We don’t know if this alien army was a fringe group. We don’t know if there were tons of innocent people living on the planet who had no idea about what their military planned or whether they supported the idea or whether they were under oppressive rule or what. We don’t know.

And apparently we’re not supposed to care.

It doesn’t matter if an entire environment and innocent lives are destroyed as long as the US triumphs and forces the foreign force into submission.

How’s that for an empowering message?

“The Potion Diaries” by Amy Alward

I fell in love with this book the minute the princess of Nova’s love potion turned indigo instead of pink. There’s a lighthearted, whimsical feeling in the details right from the get-go. The princess poisons herself with said indigo potion instead of her crush, and causes a national crisis by falling in love with herself. And now Samantha (Sam) Kemi, an alchemist’s apprentice, is summoned with the rest of the kingdom’s alchemists to compete to find a cure.

Sam has to travel the world to find ingredients for this cure, from the deepest jungles to the highest mountaintops. The world-building in exotic locals and the mythical ingredients from plants to animals always felt well-developed and real. In fact, after reading this book before bed, I sank into a dream full of unusual pink-tinged winged creatures in the forest where Sam found the eluvian ivy. The settings stick with you for awhile.

I also enjoyed the competition between Sam, an alchemist trained in the old ways, and the ZoroAster megapharma company with their synthetic, modern compounds. It reminded me of “Witchworld” by Emma Fischel, which has a similar conflict between ancient and modern magical technology. Of course, in “The Potion Diaries” the conflict wasn’t black and white, mainly because of Sam’s wish to try out the modern laboratory of her rivals and the CEO of ZoroAster’s hot teenage son who greatly admires Sam himself.

“The Potion Diaries” blends magic and romance in a competition that lets one girl try to prove her abilities and help her country. It’s a great read.

“The Problem with Forever” by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Mallory Dodge has difficulty speaking up. In fact, Mallory has trouble speaking at all. Her early childhood experiences in foster care conditioned her to stay quiet, unnoticed, and out of sight. Now Mallory has been living with loving and understanding parents for years where she has been homeschooled. However, she wants to go to college. And to test whether or not she is ready for the crowds and noise and people at college, she is trying out her senior year at the local high school.

This would be hard enough for anyone, but it gets harder. On Mallory’s first day of class, she encounters Rider Stark, her friend and protector from foster care. All the memories Mallory’s suppressed start coming back and she feels drawn to Rider immediately because of their shared past. Can Mallory cope in the challenging high school environment? Can she learn to speak up and face her past? And will Rider help her or hold her back?

This is a book that deals with a lot of sensitive, tough issues. It takes a hard look at the failings of the foster care system, child abuse, and the disparity between the rich and the poor. And yet it is hopeful. The book starts with Mallory in a pretty good place. She’s escaped the abuse, she’s living in a place of privilege, and she has a second chance to rewrite her story and grow. Of course, her scars remain. Why wouldn’t they?

Also, a strong current of attraction between Mallory and Rider drives the plot. Will they become romantically involved or won’t they? Will Rider also manage to escape poverty and believe in himself?

This novel reminded me strongly of Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park” because it deals with very similar issues. It also shares a central conflict, telling a story of a romance between two teens with families in very different classes and how their families respond to their relationship.

It made me consider: Why are people (including me, obviously) attracted to these stories? They are difficult reads. They aren’t escapist. They take a hard look at the problems in the world around us, and some of these problems undoubtedly the reader will have faced or are facing, or people close to them have faced or are facing.

Basically, the conflict and issues in this story gets up close and personal. It doesn’t matter where in the novel the reader sees themself. They may relate to the privileged house of Mallory’s adoptive family, or the meets-the-basic-needs-but-still-full-of-love house of Rider’s current foster family, or the worst case scenario house of the foster family from Mallory and Rider’s past (I sincerely hope not). The reader will see themself in the story somewhere. And yet, no matter which class the reader relates to, everyone has the opportunity to fall in love. It’s human. Love conquers borders, classes, races, everything. Love conquers all.

Because in the end, it’s what everyone wants the most: to love and be loved. And, as Armentrout quotes from “The Velveteen Rabbit,” everyone wants to be real as well.

Stories that deal with this message and show that despite all the troubles in the world that love can still exist, well. Those are powerful stories. And somehow they are the most hopeful.

Minor Characters Aren’t Reference Manuals!

There’s a common character trope that I often read in middle grade and young adult novels. The smart minor character who knows everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Let me give you an example. This example obviously doesn’t exist in a real novel, but it should give you an idea of what I mean. So, we have a character. Let’s call her Geraldine. Now twelve-year-old Geraldine is really smart. So smart she has a photographic memory and she can memorize everything, including plenty of pointless and not so pointless trivia. Geraldine is usually a friend or ally of the main character and isn’t the star of the show.

So the main character and Geraldine and the rest of their gang are on a boat, and they need to navigate to the treasure buried at the bottom of the sea. How ever will they figure out what to do?

Cue Geraldine.

Geraldine knows all the polar coordinates (she memorized them one afternoon while she was still in diapers) and how to read the stars, so she can navigate them from any point of origin to a mysterious South Pacific island. When the characters finally arrive at their destination thanks to Geraldine, they have to scuba dive down to the treasure chest on the ocean floor. But don’t worry, Geraldine will know exactly how deep they have to go within 10 meters to the bottom to avoid getting the bends. And when they reclaim the treasure chest, and the volcano explodes on the island, Geraldine will conveniently know that the melting point of gold is 1,064 °C  so that the main character knows to dip the chest back into water to save the Magical Golden Amulet of Scubadoobadoo before it is destroyed.

Okay. So maybe like some kids, Geraldine has some obsessions. She is obsessed with the ocean, with geography and maps, and maybe chemistry too to explain her knowledge of melting points. Maybe Geraldine gets nervous and can’t perform physical feats and her nerd glasses break under pressure – all the typical nerd character flaws.

However, besides Geraldine’s not-so-random obsessions that totally serve the plot and nerd character flaws that are totally cliché, she has no personality. There is no reason for her to be friends with the main character – they have nothing in common. She most certainly does not tell jokes. She never makes mistakes, unless she forgets to round to the proper significant figure in her calculations. She doesn’t serve an emotional purpose that connects with any other characters besides the author telling us point blank that they are friends.

This is because Geraldine isn’t a character, she is a reference manual.

“But Geraldine was integral to the plot!” you cry.

No, no, Geraldine was not.

When Geraldine navigated the crew to the island, she could be replaced by a GPS.

When Geraldine knew the dangers of the bends and the melting point of gold, she could be replaced by Google, an encyclopaedia, or a text book.

If Geraldine made a calculation (like how fast the boat could travel in a harsh wind or something), she could be replaced by a calculator.

Characters like Geraldine don’t just serve as some means for main character to achieve their goal. Characters, even minor ones, have their own purpose and goals in the plot. Maybe they want romance. Maybe they want the Magical Golden Amulet of Scubadoobadoo for themselves, muahahaha. Maybe they don’t even want to be there, but they have to be or else the main character will use the Magical Golden Amulet of Scubadoobadoo to enslave their family.

Please notice I’m not saying that smart kids and teens don’t exist. Some kids and teens DO have photographic memory. And some smart kids and teens without photographic memory CAN memorize an obscene number of facts. However, they have other aspects of their personality as well.

Because smart, bookish, nerdy characters are people too! They have passions besides facts they’ve memorized. They have failings. They connect to others. Sometimes they also like things that are incredibly mainstream like popular radio, or cute animals, or reality TV, or epic Youtube fails. They don’t just nerd, nerd, nerd all the time. They don’t.

So, if you must have a character that can recite pi to fifty decimal places, just remember, they are more than that. They are a human being with their own wants and desires, their own strengths and flaws. And if you can replace your character with a GPS, a smart phone, an encyclopaedia, a calculator – whatever – they aren’t fully fleshed out as a character yet. Find out what makes them tick besides your need for the main character to have a walking, talking reference manual. Please. Your readers will thank you.

Kiersten White’s “Paranormalcy” Series

I really enjoyed “And I Darken” and “Now I Rise” from Kiersten White’s recent series, “The Conqueror’s Saga.” In fact, I needed more of White’s writing now. I couldn’t wait for book 3 of “The Conqueror’s Saga” to come out.

Fortunately for me, White has written more books. I gravitated towards her “Paranormalcy” series and read all three books ridiculously fast. Since I read her newest series first, I expected the characters in “Paranormalcy” to be dark and disturbing and the world to be immensely detailed and historical. However, “Paranormalcy” is a completely different beast. Actually, I was glad to read something lighthearted and bubbly for once. Sometimes the darkness in the books I read gets to me and it was a great contrast to meet Evie, the star of this series, who loves boys, pink, and kicking paranormal butt with her taser.

The dialogue throughout the series was hilarious. Evie is both girly and awesome. Too often I meet the female character who is determined to be so tough that she loses her femininity. This is such a common trope these days, it gets tiring. Evie is a great example of how there is nothing wrong with being a girl and liking girl things. She shows that being a girl does not contradict being strong.

Even though the “Paranormalcy” series is cheerful and pokes fun at common paranormal tropes in YA (cough, cough, vampires, cough, cough), it still deals with serious themes. Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend definitely has some issues with consent and boundaries. These themes play throughout the books, but don’t get too heavy and in-your-face. And, although the evil, sexy faerie trope has definitely made its mark on the YA shelves, “Paranormalcy” is different enough to enjoy. I thoroughly did.