Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Which I Compare Different Books to See Why I Liked Them So

I’m a reader of eclectic taste. I read fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, classics, occasionally sci-fi… you get the picture. Today, I want to examine four wildly different books that I loved and see what made me like them so much. 

The books are:
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – Epic fantasy/heist – A group of mismatched thieves plot to steal the Dark Lord’s gold. (Another pitch I’ve heard for this one is “What if the hero of prophesy failed?” but it doesn’t really cover the plot of the book.)
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John – Contemporary YA – A deaf girl becomes the manager of a local rock band.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal – Historical fantasy – Essentially a Jane Austen-esque story with magic.
Anything by Terry Pratchett, with emphasis on Going Postal and Monstrous Regiment (yes, that’s more than one book, but whatever) – Fantasy/comedy/thoughts on human nature – Going Postal: A con man is offered the chance to mend his ways by reviving the failed post office of Anhk Mor Pork. Monstrous Regiment: A girl cuts off her hair and joins the military, where she and her regiment have many adventures. (That sounds like a pretty bland pitch, but the book is so good.)

Things I liked about Mistborn:
-          The characters and character development. Sanderson’s characters felt very real and relatable.
-          The magic systems.
-          The plotting/plot twists.

Things I liked about Five Flavors of Dumb:
-          The characters. Flawed, but real and likable.
-          The premise. A deaf girl becomes manager of a rock band? I couldn’t just let this sit on the shelf. I had to know what happened.
-          The lack of anything too inappropriate. One character clearly wanted to be inappropriate with another, and there was one case of strong swearing, but beyond that, it wasn’t bad. I’m very wary of contemporary YA because I’m afraid that every time I get to a kissing scene I’m going to have to skip over a couple pages. (Although Steampunk paranormal murder mysteries are proving to be a problem too…)

Things I liked about Shades of Milk and Honey:
-          The magic system and how Kowal incorporated it into the everyday lives of the characters and society.
-          The story. It was like reading a Jane Austen story, sans weird grammar and punctuation, but with magic. I don’t fancy myself a romance reader, but for some reason Austen and Austen-esque stories pull me in. My guess is because I like the characters.
-          Flawed but likeable characters.

Things I like about Terry Pratchett’s books:
-          The humor. All the books I listed above have spots of hilarity, but Pratchett blows them out of the water. Clever humor, silly puns… he does it all.
-          The characters. Who can forget people like Moist Von Lipwig, Lord Vetinari, and Sam Vimes? Or the recurring side characters like Sargent Angua, C.M.O.T Dibbler, and Death? Each one is unique his his/her own way, and so very fun to read about.
-          The setting. Most of the Discworld novels take place in the city of Anhk Mor Pork, which could count as a character all on its own. It’s rich with different people and customs and quirks (which he uses to discuss human/troll/vampire/werewolf/etc. nature).
-          The thoughts on human nature/examination of the world and how it works. In the space of a paragraph you can go from talking about something ridiculous to something deep and profound. It’s wonderful. And it isn’t jarring. Everything weaves in together.
-          In the case of Going Postal, the premise. The idea of a criminal being put in charge of the post office is too good to pass up.  

Okay, now that I have that list, let’s compare. 

The first thing I notice is that I like well-developed, real-sounding characters. This does not come as a surprise. People with hopes and dreams, flaws and conflict are much more fun to read about than goal-less, personality-less, perfect people doing nothing (or doing something boring/cliché.) 

I also like humor. Again, not surprising. Though I didn’t list it for every book, humor had its place in all of them. Another example of my liking humor is in the character of Marcus from Dan Wells’ Partials. According to Wells, no one liked Marcus when the book came out, and everyone liked the character Samm. I always liked Marcus more than Samm because Marcus is funny (and he’s a nice guy.) 

Each of these books has a “Gee-whiz factor” in them. (Something about the premise/plot that grabs you by the collar and says “Hey! Read me!”) For Going Postal it was the idea that a criminal gets put in charge of the post office; for Five Flavors of Dumb it was the idea that a deaf girl becomes the manager of a rock band; for Mistborn it was that second elevator pitch about the hero of prophesy failing; for Shades of Milk and Honey it was the idea of Jane Austen with magic. To add a less extreme example, the “gee-wiz factor” of Gone Away Lake is the idea of two kids exploring and hearing stories about the old town that a swamp has now taken over. It’s not as “gee-whizzy” as the others, but it doesn’t need to be. 

Something else I didn’t mention for each book but applies to all is that they were well written. I like well written books with plots that keep me hooked. 

I also like cool magic systems and worldbuilding. 

I think this all boils down to the advice/observations you hear all the time: People like well written, occasionally funny books about real-sounding people and interesting, creative premises.

Now I can use the information I gathered to improve my own writing. I don’t know how I’ll use it, but it’ll be there when I figure it out. What are some recurring things you see in the books you like?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fun with Notes: Part 2

A few weeks ago I posted a list of funny notes that I've found in my work in progress. Well, since my blog is called "Lily's Notes in the Margins" I think I'm going to keep posting funny notes as I find them. Today I'm going to post my chapter titles. You can tell I semi-pantsed this story and knew things would change between drafts.

Chapter one.
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter whatever
Chapter Helianthus
Chapter Quaquaversal
Chapter Graviloquence
Chapter Radiance
Chapter Azalea
Chapter Heliotrope
Chapter Clementine
Chapter Amorphous
Chapter Sesquipedalian
Chapter Ibuprofen
Chapter Bananas
Chapter Tourmaline
Chapter WHAT?
Chapter CLIMAX!
Chapter whateverthewhateverth

In the last draft I also had a chapters called Somethingorother and Somethingorotheragain.

Sometimes the random names I give to my chapters are words I like, sometimes they're the first thing to come to mind, sometimes they're things on the table.

That's all for this post. I'm off to go storyboard. (More on that to come.)

Kirk out.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Short Story: Revenge of the Plot Bunny

Remember how awhile back I wrote a short story called Adventures in Editing? Well, this another story following the same character, only this time she learns the consequences of abandoning a plot bunny.
(Click here to read the original Adventures in Editing, though I've since revised it and need to post the updated version.) 

 Adventures in Editing: Revenge of the Plot Bunny

The cursor of death blinks at the writer, taunting her with the ideas she cannot put into words.
No, actually this is worse. There are no ideas to put into words. The way the cursor blinks reflects what is going on insider her head. An idea will appear, and just as quickly it will be shot down by idea assassins.  No idea seems to fit this gaping plot hole, and the bodies of dead ideas are doing nothing to fill it either.
Behind her, the plot bunny she purchased back in December shuffles around the room. Since abandoned after getting her manuscript back from Chadwick’s, it has taken to the shadows; hiding in corners, making strange noises, and leaping out on occasion to bite ankles, haunting the writer’s house like a poltergeist.
The writer swings her feet up onto her desk and gazes around the room to find the little bugger. She thought for sure she’d use this one, find it a story. Now it doesn’t look like she will. Perhaps she’ll take it to the plot bunny adoption center.
Her eyes catch movement behind a potted plant. There it is. Its smoky fur used to be silver, almost pearlescent. Now the sheen has faded, the fur lengthened, and it hangs on the bunny like cobwebs. Wispy, and gathers in corners.
Plot bunny hair gives new definition to the phrase “dust bunnies.”
“What am I going to do?” the writer asks the rabbit. “Mr. Darcy isn’t going to go on this quest by himself, but that’s the only way the rest of the story will work.”
The bunny pauses in its shuffling, and turns to meet her gaze. Even its eyes have changed. Once sky blue, they are now a dark, almost sea-green-blue, like the ocean during a midnight storm.
Ridiculous metaphor. One cannot see the color of the sea at midnight.
For the first time in weeks, the plot bunny comes out of the shadows, and hops into a patch of sunshine. It locks eyes with the writer. Static electricity snaps between its ears, and an idea sparks in the writer’s mind.
She puts her hand to her mouth. “Oh. Ohhhhhhhh….. That makes sense.”
On the ground, the bunny begins to glow.
“But it would take so much work.” The writer shakes her head. “I’d have to rewrite so much.”
The plot bunny hiccups, causing the writer to look at it again. It’s never made that noise before.
It catches her gaze again, and this time the writer’s mind is flooded with ideas.
A new character. A different plot twist.  A metamorphosing sword.
A revision that would leave nothing the same. And everything much, much, better.
“A complete rewrite…”
The sparks between the bunny’s ears grow stronger, and from its head rise two knobs. The writer sits up in alarm.
“What’s going on? This has never happened before!”
The knobs grow and stretch, splitting and branching again and again, like reverse lightning.
The fur of the bunny is an altogether different shade of grey now. Patchier, speckled, shades of shadow and mist and fog and night. Its eyes catch the sunlight and sparkle like emeralds.
Sitting on the writer’s floor, is a plot jackalope.
The pencil in the writer’s hand slips to the floor. A plot jackalope? She’s fairly certain that this doesn’t happen to plot bunnies very often. She’s never heard of a plot jackalope before.
But nonetheless, one is now sitting on her floor, looking smug. Or, as smug as a rabbit can.
“The rewrite would make things so much better.” She looks back at her manuscript. “But I’d be starting almost from scratch. Well, not scratch, but still…”
The plot jackalope hops around on the floor in what is possibly a rodent break dance.
The phone rings, and the writer grabs it. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Jake. Are you all right? You sound… freaked out.”
“Jake, my plot bunny turned into a plot jackalope.”
The writer nods, then realizes Jake can’t see her. “Yes, a plot jackalope. What do I do with a plot jackalope?”
On the floor, the jackalope cocks its head.
“I… uh… I just got off work, and I wanted to know if you wanted to talk about edits some more, but forget that, I’m coming over. I have to see this thing for myself.”
“Okay. Good. See you soon.”
They hang up.
The jackalope catches her eye again, and ideas come once more. The writer grabs her pencil and starts scribbling notes.
Before she realizes how much time has passed, a knock sounds on the door. She throws down her pencil and bounds to the door, the plot jackalope at her heels.
Jake takes one look at the thing and freezes. “That’s…”
“A plot jackalope.”
“Yeah. I’ve never seen one of these. How’d it happen?”
“It hopped out of the shadows and just… metamorphosed! I’ve seen them disappear before, when the idea is used up, but never metamorphose like this. What do I do with it?”
The plot jackalope gives her a disgusted look.
Jake rubs the back of his neck. “Treat it like a regular plot bunny, I suppose.”
“But plot bunnies usually only last a few days. This one’s been hopping around for a few weeks now, since I haven’t used the idea, and it’s going to take me forever to enact all the ideas it’s given me.”
“You abandoned a plot bunny?”
The writer curls her toes and looks to the ceiling. “Yeah. It was stupid, I know. I’ve heard they’ll get revenge, but this is just…”
“Yeah.” He pauses for a moment. “I can’t help you on this one. I assume it’s going to poof just like regular old plot bunnies do when you use up the idea.”
The writer drops her arms. “It gave me ideas for a whole new rewrite. It’s going to be around forever.”
“Then I guess it’s just going to hop around until you finish the ideas.”
“Oh, dear. Do I have to feed it?”
“You don’t usually have to feed regular plot bunnies. I guess you’ll just have to see what happens.”
They stare at it for a minute.
“Would the folks at Chadrick’s know about this?” The writer waves at the jackalope.
Jake shrugs. “They might. It’s worth a call.”
The writer pulls out her cell phone and dial’s Chadrick’s.
“Thank you for calling Chadrick’s Editing Counselors, my name is—”
“Rosalind,” the writer says, “I have… um, does anyone there know anything about plot jackalopes?”
Rosalind doesn’t respond.
“Let me transfer you to Eastwood. He’ll… probably be able to help.” A beep comes through the speaker, and hold music starts playing.
A few seconds later, a gruff male voice says “May I he’p you?”
“Hello, I’m one of the writers at Chadrick’s, and my plot bunny just morphed into a plot jackalope.”
“A plot jackalope? I ha’n’t seen one of those in decades. What’d you do to it?”
“I sort of abandoned it, and then it started sparking…”
“Brand new novel idea, complete with one fleshed out character and a couple of intriguing world building details? Oh, and a murder?”
The writer shrugs. “Well, there is a murder, but this is all for a complete rewrite.”
“Oh, you really made it mad, didn’t you? Is this rewrite a good ‘un?”
“Well, yeah. It’s better than what I’ve currently have. What do I do with it?”
“What do you mean, ‘what do I do with it?’ It’s not a disease. You treat it like any other plot bunny. It’ll go away when you have finished its ideas. Although…”
“Well, from what I’ve heard all my years of plot bunny wranglin’, plot jackalopes are a bit more… friendly, than yer regular plot bunny.”
“What do you—ow!” A blunt pain knocks into the writer’s leg. She looks down, and sees the plot jackalope butting her leg with its antlers. Then it twists its head sideways and rubs its noes against her leg, like a cat. “I see what you mean. So I just treat it like a regular plot bunny?”
Eastwood laughs. “You can try, but plot jackalopes have more… personality than plot bunnies. And no two are alike.”
“Is that all you can tell me?”
“Yep. If you have any trouble, call again and I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, good luck. Oh, and you might give it a name. Plot jackalopes like having names.” The phone clicks as he hangs up.
The writer summarizes the conversation for Jake.
“Okay, so what do you want to name it?”
The writer looks at it. “Well, is it male or female?”
She and Jake exchange glances. The jackalope cocks its head and hiccups.
“How about we pick a gender-neutral name?” the writer says.
“Good idea.”
They both stare at it. It stares back. They glance at each other. It hops over to the writer’s desk and rubs the space between its antlers on the desk leg.
“…Jordan?” the writer says.
“Jack? It did high-jack your story.”
“Ooh, true.”
The jackalope snorts and shakes its head.
The writer raises an eyebrow. “Apparently it doesn’t like those.”
“Well, it’s grey. Shadow? Dust? Mold? Grey? Greyhound? Baskerville?”
“Spot? Spotted. Speckled. Mottled. Dappled. Dapple isn’t bad.”
Again the creature snorts.
Jake scratches his head. “Fuzzy? Fuzzy the Green-Eyed Monster of the Rewrite?”
The jackalope turns and headbutts Jake’s leg. Hard. “Ow! Okay, you’re not a monster.” The jackalope snorts and goes back to the desk to continue rubbing its head. A piece of paper falls off the desk and glides to the writer’s feet. She picks it up. “Enthuzimuzzy and Skilamalink.”
Jake does a double take. “What?”
“They’re Victorian slang. I read a thing online about it recently, and these were two I liked. We could name it Enthuzimuzzy Skilamalink. Muzzy for short.”
The jackalope turns around, hiccups, and tosses its antlers.
The write exchanges glances with Jake, then looks at the jackalope. “Do you like Muzzy?”
It hops over and rubs its nose on her leg.
Jake shakes his head. “I think it likes it.”
“Muzzy it is, then. Hello, Muzzy.”
The rabbit picks up the pencil she dropped in its mouth and prods her in the leg with it. “Ow. No need to cause injury.” The writer takes the pencil from Muzzy, who then begins nudging her toward her desk. Another storm of ideas floods her mind.
“I have to write these down,” she tells Jake. “Did you bring your laptop?”
“Of course.”
“Word war?”
Jake plops down in a chair. “Sounds good to me.”

Hope you enjoyed!  I need to write more of these. They're so much fun.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Liebster (Again)

I have once again received the Liebster, this time from Robyn @ Spiral-Bound. Thanks, Robyn!

Here are the rules:
Thank and link back to the person who nominated you. (See above.)
List 11 facts about yourself.
Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
Nominate 9 bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers.
Ask them 11 questions.
Let them know about the nomination.

  1. I have a guest-post live on Inklined! Check it out here.  
  2. My sister and I are taking an e-textile class at our library this week. 
  3. That means we're making clothes and stuff that light up/make noise. 
  4. Today I'll make a shirt with blinking LEDs which I'll embroider around to look like fireflies, to go with the song Fireflies by Owl City, which I've programmed into a microprocessor. 
  5. Today is my dad's birthday.
  6. I've been working on the goals/motivations of my villain in Noxumbra, and have confirmed my suspicion that I'll be rewriting the end. Again. 
  7. My mom recently took pictures of me, so I'll be updating that photo of me on my sidebar.
  8. That photo is three years old. It's time it got updated.
  9. I'm writing this post on the family computer, so at the bottom of this post it says that my mom wrote it, when in fact I just used a different computer and didn't bother to sign her out and sign me in.
  10.  I just knocked the mouse of the desk. 
  11. As soon as I'm done with this post, I'm going to fold wash and continue listening to the audiobook of The Monuments Men (which is awesome and you should totally read it.)
Now for the questions:
1. Do you prefer Winter or Summer? Summer. I tolerate heat better than I do cold.
2. What is your favorite section of the bookstore? YA/Fantasy and Sale. Or, if it's a used book store, vintage/antique books. I have a little collection now of old books.
3. What is the most interesting non-fiction book you’ve read? Definitely The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. I haven't finished it yet, but OH. MY. GOSH. The stories are amazing. Plus I'm learning more about WWII than I ever did in school.
4. What is the best writing prompt you’ve ever used? Ooh. That's a hard one. I once wrote a short story off the prompt "I have coated my left hand in magical ink" which I got off the Writing Excuses website. That was fun.
5. The farthest you’ve ever been from home (you don’t have to say where you live)? Philadelphia. My mom and I went there for an early 18th birthday trip and I had SO much fun. Would definitely go back and spend a month there.
6.  What do you do to keep yourself from being bored on long car trips? I don't get bored easily, but I generally bring books to read. Though often my family will just talk. When my sister and I were little, long car trips meant we would listen to any Hank the Cow Dog book by John R. Ericson. They're narrated by the author and fantastic. So funny and enjoyable for all ages. They really are best listened to, because he sings all the songs and stuff.
7. If you could go back in time, what time would you visit and why? Ooh. Hmm. Perhaps Victorian or Regency England, because I have a thing for period dramas that take place right about then.
8. On that note, would you consider yourself a Whovian? If so, favorite episode of Doctor Who? Definitely a Whovian. My favorite episode is Blink, though I love pretty much any episode from Season 4 (the Donna season).
9. Favorite board game? Least favorite? I've had a great deal of fun playing Risk, and I can't think of one that I really dislike.
10. What is the longest book you’ve ever read and about how many pages long was it? I think Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, which is 800+ pages long.
11. Which famous author (living or dead) would you want to read your books and give you feedback? I truly have no idea. One who is good at giving feedback.

My questions:
  1. If you could have any super power, what would it be? 
  2. What is a job you have absolutely no interest in having? 
  3. You are a character in the last book you read. Who are you? 
  4. If you could be a side character in any book ever, which would you choose?
  5. If you found buried treasure, what would you do with it?
  6. What is your favorite smell? 
  7. You are suddenly given the opportunity and power to dictate that one item of clothing or accessory is popular. What do you choose? 
  8. If you had the ability to transform into any animal you wanted, which would you choose?
  9. What are some of your favorite words?
  10. Have you ever broken a bone?
  11. What's a song or piece of music you really like right now?

And that's that.

I nominate Krissy/Weaselbee @ Words in My Soul. It is my great pleasure to give her her very first blog award. 

And she's the only one I'm nominating. Once again, if you want this award, I hereby give it to you. 

Kirk out.