Category Archives: Art and Craft of Writing
Secondhand Lions has great actors, a twisty story line, and a lion. What more can a person ask for? My wife and I watched this 2003 movie at the suggestion of a friend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Osment is dumped off by his mother with two old great uncles, who may be rich. At least the Mother and other relatives think so. Initially the uncles all but ignore poor Haley, who has bounced around relatives and orphanages all his life. When he runs away, first the uncle played by Caine, and then the enigmatic uncle played by Duvall, accept the responsibility to raise him. The Duvall uncle has a past that haunts him in his sleepwalking nights. But was he really in the French Foreign Legion, or was he a bank robber, or is all of it bunk? The main three actors give fantastic performances as Haley’s character goes from a castoff young fourteen-year-old to a confident young man.
Writers should watch the director’s commentary where he talks about the balance between exposition and pacing, and character transformations.
I find it less enjoyable reading most books since I’ve seriously been writing, although I appreciate the well-written book more than ever. For example, last night I started a space opera that’s a top ten-seller in its category on Amazon with good reviews. Clearly, lots of people like this book. However, several pages in the point-of-view character passes by a guard holding a rifle. For some reason, the author feels compelled to stop the whole story, and give us three sentences about the rifle. Now this data dump was small, and may be critical later in the story, but it wasn’t the thoughts of the pov character. It was just out-and-out author intrusion, which took me out of the story for a brief moment. I hate to be yanked out of a book like that.
In the author’s defense, weaving the technical stuff into a story isn’t easy. I was proud when a reviewer of my first book, Truth-Teller Rebellion, complimented me on the way I let the setting and Truth-teller world come out in the story, rather than giving it as a data dump.
I’ve found this even more challenging in Magellan’s Navigator, my historical fiction that is nearing completion. I believe a reader of Magellan’s Navigator will want to read about how sailing ships of the time worked and the circumnavigation of the world. I wanted to get that information into the story without slowing it down too much and without obvious author intrusion. It isn’t easy to do that. In the final analysis, that information isn’t the story, which is of the man, Francisco Albo, who piloted the one ship that made it around the world. The book is out with beta readers now. I hope they think I got the balance of story and historic content right.
I recently finished Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the first two books in his planned Stormlight Archive series. Both are thousand plus page books.
The books are an excellent, multi-faceted fantasy with engaging characters and an imaginative world. This isn’t a retread of orcs and elves, but an entirely original world. Most the story revolves around an enslaved warrior, a middle-aged battle-weary prince, and an ambitious young female scholar. In the first book, magic doesn’t seem common in the world, although mysteries abound in the world. In a masterful way, Sanderson slowly reveals the world’s truths to the characters and the reader, although beware, everything revealed may not be indeed be the truth. He does a great job. I found myself identifying with all three major protagonists.
Things I liked are the story’s originality, empathetic characters, and the twists and turns of character reveals. This story is huge and multi-layered. I haven’t figured out how everything fits together, but I will trust the author that it does. I like the way most, if not all, the baddies aren’t out and out evil like the Dark Lord of Mordor. The villains are generally doing what they think is right, although that may not be apparent at the first.
Things that could be improved: there was surprising number typos in the first book. Some people complain about typos in self-published works. Well this book is the product of a major publisher. The second book has far less typos. These books are not page-turners. Sanderson slowly develops things, and as a reader, I relaxed and enjoyed that. That said, enough is enough at times, and one or two hundred pages could be sliced out each book without hurting the story (you can skim without hurting the reading experience.) Occasional scenes don’t seem to ring true, but hey, there are many scenes and another person might have a different opinion.
One takeaway for me as a writer is that I especially liked Sanderson’s slow reveal of his world and characters’ backstories. I’ve always regretted revealing the circumstances of Adam’s sister’s death as early as I did in Download. Originally, it was much later in the novel, but I moved it up after a beta reader said he wanted to know it NOW. Well, maybe he did want to know it now, but that didn’t mean I should have given it to him now.
On the other hand, I did find annoying Sanderson using entire chapters of “five years earlier.” I cringed when I saw that in a chapter heading, and prefer having the backstory weaved into the here and now story.
I just returned from a “traveling light” vacation with my wife, which meant no laptop. No laptop meant no writing, which was a good thing. It forced me into some serious thinking about “my next science fiction novel.”
One decision made was a working title, as “my next science fiction novel” is a bit wordy. I’ve decided on Mindfield. Many thanks to our friend Pam for suggesting it. (Pam is the daughter of Krin, the namesake of the empathetic co-protagonist of my Truth-Teller books.)
I’m excited about Mindfield’s concept and storyline. If the written product is anything like what’s in my head right now, I should have a winner.
I want to write this novel more efficiently. Some authors might sneer at that concept. I’ll agree a purely character driven novel probably can’t be written efficiently. On the other hand, I believe most successful authors of plot driven book thrillers do a detailed outline. Most novels lie somewhere in between these two extremes. Mindfield will have a strong protagonist, who’ll experience serious change during the course of the book, but it will also have a twisty-turny plot.
I’ve always done a rough outline, followed by a first draft. That was fun, but then things got messy. I’d add or delete characters. I’d change plot points. These resulted in tedious rewrites that took time and weren’t fun. All those changes made it easy for me to miss the renaming of a city or a character. That meant more typos to catch, and I hate typos.
I believe that having a more detailed outline should produce a better result with less angst and effort. That outline includes decisions on point of view, characters, protagonist and antagonist, and story arc. I’ll be sharing these over the next few weeks.
Just because I’m still rewriting Magellan’s Navigator doesn’t mean I’m not planning my next Sci-fi work.
First there comes the concept, the germ, the seed of an idea. Many book ideas surface in my head, but an idea takes a second and writing a book takes months. So I must thin these seedling ideas, so the best can grow.
It all starts with what if?
What if the protagonist thinks they’re human, but they’re really an A.I., or maybe they are human, or something else entirely, like an alien. My reader will take this journey of self-discovery with my protagonist set against a little space opera and a little romance.
Think Blade Runner meshed with Old Man’s War.
Future blogs will discuss my own journey in first designing and plotting this book, and then writing it. There are many things to decide. Whose and how many points of views should I use? What events propel the plot? What is the “world” in which the story takes place?