I finished reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frev. It gave me things to learn I frequently ignore. A few tips redefined a few things like what to explain and what to leave out. The book is about writing dramatic stories, not the literary I frequently write. My literary pieces have a strong dramatic storyline and a deep internal conflict. The lessons learned are invaluable in improving my writing.
The character must be fathomable. Explain their motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process. My writing process directly opposes this requirement. I establish a new thought pattern in my head to match the character I’m writing. That’s only possible because I’ve spent nearly a decade and a half mediating. Acting out physical traits isn’t something my diseased body is capable of. That mental model is as close as I can get. Thinking like your character makes the motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process apparent and self-explanatory. It should be second nature. Stuff that doesn’t feel wrong as that character. Everything except that particular action feels wrong. Putting that on paper isn’t tricky at all, except I never know how much to put down. This book helped a lot. Include everything required to understand the characters.
Each scene should be a story in its own right. The scenes should have all the pieces of a story. A beginning setting up the conflict. A middle of rising tension. Finally a build up to the conclusion. When a book has that it’s difficult to stop reading. A perfect example is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It followed that pattern. Each scene was a story in its own right.
There needs to be a connection of causality between scenes. Watch this, the best discussion on causality that appears in a feature film in my opinion. The events must require the events prior to lead up to them. A connects to B, then C. The web of causality must connect from one to the next. Again this is exemplified in Dark Matter. Of course, literary novels frequently forgo that rules. But getting things in line helps to justify those tangents literary is famous for.
Dialogue should also follow the structure of a story. No conflict in dialogue means it can be rewritten or scrapped. Standard conversations we have every day can easily be reduced to one summarizing sentence. We talk about this or that.
Sometimes things go down. You come away reeling and need to spew everything to someone you trust. Those are the sorts of conversations dialogue should be. I noticed that in my first novel. The lunchroom conversations were boring to read but the arguments were impactful. Leaving out the daily dribble of conversation helped my story beyond measure.
Reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel and Dark Matter in a basic requirement for any writer. The theory expressed in the book about writing is exemplified in Dark Matter. Read both and get back to me. Kidding.
I’m reading In Search of Lost Time with a reading group from Book Oblivion. It’s supposed to be a really difficult and punishing read at over 4,000 pages. Sentences are frequently massive and sometimes over 100 words long. The sentences are more convoluted than anything I’ve read. It’s a study in difficult to read writing.
I deeply respect the work of Proust. He has deep insights that aren’t frequently explored to this depth. My tastes just systematically oppose the purposes of this book. I have extensively studied how I remember stuff for years. My memory is highly selective, and changing its focus is extremely difficult in practice. I feel I share a lot of things with Proust as most heavy readers do. Add to the fact my life has basically lent itself to me becoming a writer. And the book is about Proust becoming a writer.
Proust’s masterwork is basically a biography/memoir of his life. That was something special around the time it was written. Today, we have memoirs and things much closer to what Proust is trying to do. I have previously sworn off memoirs. I read Eat, Pray, Love out of my pretentious ideas. I will simply read and like something because a great number of others have liked it. I would rather discover things about life from other sources. Meditation is my preference. I have learned meditation without the aid of a meditation teacher. I learned writing in the same way. Garnering insights from others feels a little like cheating. Insights from the art of meditation has a much bigger impact for me. Those insights don’t fade as easily and give a bigger impact for me. Experiencing a trip around the world isn’t the same as reading about someone doing the same.
That raises the question of why I’m still reading this 4,000-word tome. The length of the sentences fills up my head as few books have. The main reason I like reading is it occupies my head space so thoroughly, I can’t succumb to my anxiety and physical issues. Those long sentences needed a slight switch in the way I read. When reading, the brain assemblies the entire sentence from the words you’ve read so far at periods. Long sentences make this reading process doubly difficult if not more. My first day of reading Proust, a new realization struck through my head. There was a trick to make Proust just one tick more difficult than the average read, instead of the three ticks it had been. Think Shakespeare instead of Beowulf in old English. The easy system of partially reconstituting everything read at semi-colons then it became after each comma. Sometimes this doesn’t work. One example so far. I need to figure a way to un-flip the switch of doing it that way.
Reading something difficult makes reading everything else go faster. Reading speed changes with how much you’ve read and how difficult it was to read. I also want to understand what made this book last beyond its publication generation. And I need to figure out how to be social in the setting of a book club.
At the beginning, I was tempted to read it full blast. If I really tried, I could be done in 14 weeks. The schedule the club is on goes for two and a half years. That’s five percent of each volume a week. I have done independent study before and the results were mixed. Sometimes I’m ahead, and sometimes I’m behind. I decided to read when I got sufficient sleep the night before. That’s another thing that readers of this blog should know. Classics put me to sleep effectively. Without enough sleep, I’ll never get through. I’m five weeks behind and finally got back to reading. I should catch up in 14 days. Not too bad.
I feel so inadequate in the book club. Everyone else has an English degree of some sort or the other. I just have a public school education up to a high school diploma. And two AP English classes along the way that are supposed to be equivalent to college level classes. I am trying to fit in with partial success. I’ll learn from the others and will eventually fit in. I’m learning a lot, and it’s fun.
Sometimes I feel we’re over analyzing the book. Maybe the walking route his family goes on isn’t symbolic. Maybe we’re digging too deep. But another spot in the book made me think it was symbolic. I’m too new to this to really know. I’ll watch and observe. That should help to figure this out.
Sometimes I get annoyed at the overly complicated sentences and the extensive detail to mundane things. I find confusing sentences lazy. But I’m new to this whole writing thing. Maybe those sentences add something I’ve yet to discover. I feel like I’m missing something huge. By the time I finish In Search of Lost Time, I might have this head scratcher figured out.
And I think the book’s theme is time is never lost if you remember what you were doing or learned from the experience.
I came upon a series a few years ago. It’s a series called The Others, written by Anne Bishop. For a long time, I’ve been thinking what about the series makes me coming back, except having purchased the entire series up to now. A lot of things can keep me coming back, but everything from before doesn’t work with this series. The characters aren’t particularly interesting. The world in the book isn’t that different from real life. Nothing is really there from a first glance.
Hopefully, this blog post will help me figure out what’s the appeal of The Others. Written in Red was the first book I’ve read that starts with an introduction that says the history of a fictional world. It basically says alongside humans there was another comparable top predator. Bishop refers to these other people as the Others, Earth Natives, or terra indigene. Well, the Earth Natives control the natural resources and humans make stuff. Everything humans have is basically rented or purchased from the terra indigene. One area in Europe is rightfully under human control without owing the Others anything.
I’ll dissect that idea here. The terra indigene are creatures that take on the form of other top predators they encounter. Most of them have a human and animal form. Some can become smoke. Others shift into the elements. And others can turn into anything at will. This relates to skinwalkers in our world, people of myth that can supposedly take the shape of animals. I equate the Others to Native Americans who have way more power due to their ability to be stronger and just as smart. What happens if the invaders or early explorers found people much more dangerous than themselves? Something very similar to the world of the Others happens.
This dynamic sometimes gets interesting. The clash between the Others and humans is always there in the background, but it isn’t that big in my mind. That dynamic has appeared a few times in other stories. Basically, every vampire and werewolf story is like that. I don’t really like that monster genre. Where the protagonist is a vampire or werewolf.
In the first book, Written in Red the moment that got me in was the nature of the cassandra sangue or blood prophet. Some girls and women have the ability to tell prophecies after they’re cut. That was new to this genre. After cutting, they speak and experience euphoria or hold it in to remember the vision and feel the pain of the cut. That euphoria bugged me for a little bit. I decided that was plain fiction. One such person, Meg is the protagonist of this story.
The combination of those two storylines effectively drives the story forward. Each book delves into a different aspect of those concepts. A series exploring the same facets of something in each book quickly grows repetitive. I haven’t read any adult series, but that makes sense based on the other series I’ve read.
Written in Red was about Meg escaping the compound and finding work with the Others. People like Meg, cassandra sangue were allowed to be held against their will by benevolent caretakers to help them survive their addiction to cutting and the euphoria. Those rules didn’t prohibit cutting the girls to make a profit by selling prophecies/cuts. Basically, the rich wanted that to continue, so they had their lobbyists pressure the government. Meg escaped one of those facilities. Most cassandra sangue weren’t exposed to the outside world so living outside was difficult.
Bishop adds new jargon throughout her books. I found that interesting as a writer. How should I introduce new words through fiction? The learning curve required probably wouldn’t work with how I write, but seeing it for real was something. The first one was A walk on the wild side, basically an intimate liaison between a human and a human form terra indigene.
The storyline was a group of mercenaries went after Meg at the courtyard of the Others. Meg’s visions alerted them to the attack. Premonitions are an effective way to drive stories forward. Each book has them in different lights. In Written in Red, Meg spoke aloud her visions and other people interpreted the few words she spoke. In the second book, Murder of Crows, Meg dreamed her visions first. After cutting, she held in the vision and did everything she needed to do to save the most people. The third book was frustrating. Vision in Silver didn’t show the full prophecies. The bits and pieces we got were impossible to decipher until it actually came true. Right now, I’m reading book four, Marked in Flesh. Meg uses cards to reveal prophecy and other cassandra sangue bolster her abilities.
Murder of Crows is about two drugs, feel good and gone over wolf. Both are the same drug. The Others get feel good, a downer. Humans get gone over wolf, an upper for aggression and courage. Those drugs egged humans on to kill a group of Others that were shifted to Crows, hence the title. A group of people attack the Others’ courtyard like in book #1. Bishop made the similarity between the euphoria cassandra sangue felt and sexual pleasure. The villain drew me in. She was beyond convinced that the Others behaved like humans. A sexy body didn’t affect the others in any way. They didn’t find thin people appetizing, except in rare occasions. Her behavior was strange to them, and that cracked me up. I know I’m strange, hence the moniker radical.
Vision in Silver was about finding a way for cassandra sangue to in live the outside world. The other plot was about the rising friction between the humans and others. Somehow jewels financing the human uprising got into the hands of the Others, and people wanted it back. The Others are more deadly than people can imagine.
Marked in Flesh is the first real attack on the Others. The events leading up to and after the event are chronicled. You can guess what happens when a weaker force underestimates and attacks a stronger and more vicious force. Again, prophecy pushes the story forward.
A few things about the series bug me. The shifter story element seems all too familiar in this genre of urban fantasy. Sometime I should probably read the most successful series in this genre, The Twilight Saga. Haven’t had the pleasure yet, but eventually. The cutting experience is very different from reality in some ways and similar in others. Euphoria doesn’t result, and cutting isn’t as it seems in the book. Cutting is a response to some internal frequently psychological occurrence. A lot of unnecessary details are abundant. I doubt we need to read the characters changing between boots and indoor shoes every time they enter a building. The plethora of characters bugs me. It seems like in every book, a handful of characters just appear. If each character was new, dynamic, and transformative that would be something. The characters, except a few, seem like filler or a different name to use. Those flat characters aren’t even described frequently, externally or internally. Each book assumes you remember quite a lot about the characters, but the books come out months apart. I know a few books down the line, I’ll pull the ejection seat.
Anne Bishop does a few good things. There are a ton of subplots. Something is always going on. The descriptions of the buzzing, tingling, and prickling skin are effective as a divining rod to find the focus of a prophecy. Different characters are used as the point of view for different sections of the book, from chapters to a few lines. Meg’s battle with addiction is interesting, because it doesn’t exist exactly like that in real life. The basis is probably chemical addiction like smoking. I wish that so many Native Americans weren’t wiped out during the settlement of the world. The native people weren’t doing anything wrong, and we needlessly eliminated them in mass numbers. Maybe the world of the Others is how things could’ve been. The aspect of writing simply and getting complex ideas across interests me. Also, the way Bishop manages to put a sinister light on the most basic interactions.