YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: THROUGH TO YOU by Emily Hainsworth

Through to You HC_FinalIf you’re looking for a writer whose work typifies the phrase, “Leave space for the reader to inhabit,” Hainsworth is your girl.

It’s difficult for me to allow myself the luxury of reading for long, long stretches, but once I slipped into this book, it was difficult to escape.  The prose of this YA novel is so eloquently written, each detail so carefully selected as to–at times–be almost sparse, that I glided through it in just a few hours.  Everything from the protagonist’s voice to the description of the setting feels authentic, giving the reader just enough detail to enjoy, picture, and relate to what occurs in a given scene–allowing them plenty of latitude to fill in pieces for themselves.  It’s fitting that, in this novel which plays with the concept of moving through a portal to another reality, Hainsworth has left the perfect about of space for the reader to inhabit.  She draws us into her world by making room for us.

The story question, deceptively simple, raises all kinds of problems for Camden PIke: What if he were able to see his dead girlfriend, still alive in an alternate reality?  The setting, despite Camden’s ability to move between realities, is closed and simple, and the book’s cast of characters–limited.  By doing this, Hainsworth funnels the reader’s attention more toward the internal story–Cam’s struggle as he compares what he thought he knew about his girlfriend’s basic nature to her possessive, reckless behavior under the conditions of this alternate universe.  This is while Cam, at the same time, confronts another version of his own story where a positive attitude and different choices lead to greater success.  The blame for how his life turned out in his own reality rests squarely on his shoulders…with one small caveat.  Cam will learn that the people who enter his life–and those he makes an effort to keep close to him–ultimately help to make him a different person.

Hainsworth is one of those authors who makes it look easy but whose work, upon close examination, can be appreciated down tot he sentence level for exactly how much effort was put into it.  And this is only her first novel.  An immediate fan–I can’t wait to plunge into her next book.

Michelle Joyce Bond

 

 

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Stick Figures

A Book So Good You…Have To Put It Down?

imageThere is a book in the other room that wants to eat my brain.  I’ve shut the door, I’ve turned the key…but I can still hear its voice in my head…

Reeeeeeead meeeeee…

Tension keeps the reader hooked.  Masters of tension know how to manipulate us because they know what makes us tick.  They use our own psychology against us, keeping our eyes glued to the screen or the page–twisting us all up into ball of contradiction and unanswered questions, spinning us so we’re never sure where to look, leading us on a merry uphill chase, and allowing us to think we may have reached the answer right before kicking us back down the street and into a stranger’s yard where everything blows apart and we’re left to try and make sense of the pieces.

There are few books that have made me this tense in my life–probably a result of the fact that I’m not big on suspense novels.  I don’t think a book necessarily has to fit into that genre to make my heart feel like it’s about to rip out of my chest and do the Can-can across the floor.  In fact, the last book that did this to me was Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop which is a fantasy novel.  But suspense novels are written with the express purpose of doing just that–they are wonderfully intricate machines of thought that turn you inside out.

What book is causing such delicious frustration that I’ve purposely left it in the other room because I really, really want to find out what happens next but am so twisted up, I can’t stand to turn the page?  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  It’s one of many on my long I’ve-saved-you-up-for-summer-and-now-here-it-finally-is-so-YAY!-let’s-do-this summer reading list.

What I’ve taken away from this experience is namely this: I need to go back in the other room and turn that page.  I need to read more books like these as articles or books on the craft of writing suspense because I WANT TO MAKE MY READERS FEEL LIKE THIS!

What are some books you’ve read–in any genre–that were so good you had to put them down?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Writing

Why (In My Opinion) Books Built Around Characters Are Better

imageThe best books are the ones that change you–the reader.  They stay with you for a long time and lead you to question or think about either yourself or the world around you in a different way.

That is–those are the best books in my opinion.  There are plot junkies out there who might say otherwise, but they may never have been shown how to find the deeper meanings in literature.  To read closely.  To probe.  Once you learn how to do this, you don’t see movies, read books, or even listen to music in the same way ever again.  You’re always searching for hidden treasure…and are sometimes disappointed when you find yourself treading shallow water.

There are so many facets or ways of looking at a good book that it’s really unfair to take it all apart.  What makes it work is the symphony all those pieces create when they work together.

But If I were to start in one place and say, “Here is the heart of the story,” I would start with character.  In order to create that depth of emotion and change in attitude so desirable in a well-written book, you need to be able to access the reader on a fundamental level.  The only way you are going to get there is through strong characters.  Characters are vehicles for the reader.  We follow them as they themselves are tortured, defeated, learn, grow, and change.  Build your book around a strong, multi-faceted character with flaws and goals.  Put them in a situation that is really uncomfortable for them–that will force them to change.  Raise the stakes and make their goals something they care deeply about.  Then, hold that carrot away from them.  What will your protagonist give up to achieve his or her goal?  Their job?  Their life?  A piece of their soul?

Concepts in books can also be powerful, but they fall flat without a strong character to drive the plot.  This is a mistake I sometimes see in the paranormal and sci fi / fantasy genres.  Writers get so carried away with the CONCEPT that they forget about CHARACTERS and wind up with these wishy-washy protagonist stand-in who has no real substance or goals.

Say, for example, you decide to write a book about mermaids.  You have a few ideas for scenes in mind and start writing an outline, including this really cool part where your mermaid chick sings the highest note ever and uses mermaid magic to create a giant tidal wave of awesome!  Then you begin to write–forgetting to develop your character (or unaware that you should).  As you draft, you put words into your protagonist’s mouth and force her to do things—not in order to achieve true change but moves that are completely (sometimes laughably) out of character.  You force your character to do these things because you want something in the plot to happen just the way you had imagined.  Really, it should go the other way around.  Character CHOICES should drive the plot, and these choices need to be based on significant goals.

Let me ask you something.  When a reader turns the last page of your book, do you want them to say, “Gee, such-and-such scene was pretty cool, and I really loved the magic at the end,” or would you rather hear them say, “OMG, that book really messed with me!  I couldn’t put it down because I had to see what happened to (insert your protagonist here).  It really makes me think…(insert personal insight here).”

Now I’m really interested to hear your thoughts because I have a feeling some of you will disagree with me. 🙂

Would you rather have a plot junkie as a reader who just eats up the cool stuff that happens or a reader who reads deeply and who might be changed for all time by your awesome writing?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Bad Metaphor Monday: Writing a Book is Like Crocheting a Blanket

imageThere’s a blanket on my bed I made seven years ago.  When I started it, I didn’t really know what it was going to wind up looking like.  I experimented with different colors and made a plan–the results of which I was very pleased.  It was fun to watch the blanket come together, and I can still see that learning/growing part of myself tangled in its threads.

When you’re learning to do something and you have passion for the subject, you breathe life into your work.  Put a few years into something, and you risk losing touch with that creative spark–that is–if you don’t make an effort to approach what you are doing from a new angle and keep an open mind.

Case in point, I decided to put together another granny square blanket.  Having completed the first blanket, I thought it would be a snap.  I planned it all ahead of time–picking the yarn and drawing a diagram.  There was no room left for experimentation, and though this blanket I’m piecing together now isn’t ugly…it’s not alive.  Perhaps I should’ve ditched the granny squares or blankets altogether and made–I don’t know–a wicked awesome hat with one of those giant pom-poms to smack me in the face when I walked down the street.  That, although dumb, would’ve been more exciting.

The same principle applies to writing.  Writers each have their own “process,” but if the book I’m writing now is any indication, that process needs to be flexible.  It would be nice to be able to plan everything out ahead of time, but I’m sure that is seldom the case with even the most seasoned authors.  I go through a long developing stage before I sit down to actually draft, but even then I find myself changing, changing, changing.

“Wouldn’t it be better if…”

“This part isn’t working…”

“Oh, I know.  I’ll…”

“Cat!  Get off the keyboard!”

Every new book is a new baby, and it’s our job as writers to give that baby what it needs.  My current baby would rather set fire to my scene cards than use them.  She coos when I begin writing off track into something completely different and, incidentally, better.  Hmm.

Michelle Joyce Bond

P.S.  My apologies for the second bad, cliché, book-is-a-baby metaphor.  Can’t help myself. 🙂

By the way writers, how is your book baby coming along?  Is he/she being fussy or is everything coming together as planned?

Writing

Best Craft Book (In My Opinion) of All Time: THANKS, BUT THIS ISN’T FOR US by Jessica Page Morrell

untitledIt is my firm belief that any writer, novice to pro, can benefit from reading this “(Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected” written by an editor who has seen it all. Entertaining and informative, she reveals common pitfalls and guides writers to write the best book possible–beginning with the underpinnings of fiction including plot, conflict, and character. She then moves outward in chapters on sensory detail, dialogue, style, emotion, and more. I come back to this book at least once a year, especially when I’m in the planning stages of my writing. If you are a novice–even if you’ve never submitted a manuscript–consider it your duty to pick up this book!  Seriously…READ IT.

Michelle Joyce Bond

Writing

Leave Space for the Reader to Inhabit

image          A plot—no matter what the genre—should be like a jigsaw puzzle: complex and satisfying to piece together. Stop turning it into puzzle blocks.

          “Careful! The square block goes there!”

          “I know. Put down the megaphone.”

          This kind of hand-holding is apparently the mark of a novice writer.  Limited to a scene, it often takes the form of telling rather than showing.

          Bad: She could see in his penetratingly awesome eyes that he loved her.

          Worse: It was clear that he really loved her. “Kiss me, baby,” he said, throwing his arms wide.

          Please, DO NOT tell how your character is feeling. Show it. Be subtle—especially when tackling something as multi-faceted and unique-to-character as love. Oh, and as a rule, try not to use the word “love” when writing about it.

          On the scale of an entire novel, the concept of “leaving space” applies to your characters’ development. This means that you are (or should be) revealing backstory in pieces—carefully calculated bits that give readers the exact amount of information they need in order to understand what they are witnessing. No more. No less.

          This also means that you are (or should be) giving us hints to your characters’ endpoints—exactly what will they be like by the end of the book? How will they change (or not change)?  Watching this evolution should be exciting for the reader, and surprises are welcome. Some genres dictate a specific endpoint for characters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shake it up on the way there or challenge the troupes of your genre.

          Remember, it is your job to entertain. If you are standing next to me and shouting in my face that your character, Bob, is feeling lonely, desperate, and is about to do something very, very bad…I’m sorry. I’m just not as interested as if I just saw a figure with a flash of silver in her hand disappear into the darkness. I want to follow that character. In her story, there is space for me to breathe. And a reason to follow.

          Do you struggle to leave space for the reader to inhabit?

          Also, have you read any books that strike that perfect balance, pulling us along with the promise of learning more?

          Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Bad Metaphor Monday: Weeding My Manuscript

imageIf writing a first draft is like planting a couple of marigolds…

and if revising is like ripping out those marigolds, moving them around, and going back over time to add in more varied, layered, vegetation so that everything tangled beautifully together as in an old English garden…

and if you finally realize your damn garden’s too big…

then re-editing is like finding the unnecessary vines, carefully following them to their source, and then ripping them out.

Thanks to the encouragement of my awesome critiquing partner, I finally came to terms with my way too long 133,000 word manuscript, and though I’m still short of my goal, I was able to rip out 16,000 words.  In the past, I’d deleted bits and pieces here and there, but I had to think bigger.  Out came almost three chapters, one secondary character (killed that darling dead), four tertiary characters, and a mess of other not-so-bad-but-uneeded details.

The result?  It’s so much tighter!  I didn’t think I could do without the above for so long, but once I started cutting, I got on a roll.  Now I’m seeing my manuscript through different eyes.  How much more can I cut?  I’m hoping to get down to 110,000, but we shall see.

Shout out below if you’ve ever had to cut a huge amount of words or if you know you have to.  I’ll cheer you on!

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: EVERY DAY by David Levithan

If you are writing YA fiction, you need to read this book.

every dayEvery Day is a perfect example of how a powerful concept can drive the plot.  “A,” is a sixteen-year-old consciousness that changes bodies every day.  I’ll defer to the pronoun “he” to describe A, though lack of a consistent body means A has no permanent gender.  He also has no permanent race, religion, etc.–a concept which allows Levithan to test the parameters by which we define ourselves.

Teenagers are people at a very unique point in their lives as they are working to define exactly who they are.  That makes the concept of A all the more powerful—this teenager who defines himself not by the above mentioned categories but by his own moral code.  He tries as much as possible not to disturb the lives of the teenagers whose bodies he’s borrowing, but in doing so, he sacrifices his own ability to “find himself.”  His character can have no arc—no development and, as a result, no life.

That is…until he falls in love.  A meets Rhiannon, an aptly named girl who exhibits the same open, excepting qualities he values in himself.  And of course it doesn’t hurt that she has the same taste in music.  She takes him out of his comfort zone because–suddenly–he wants nothing more than to see this same person every day.  This is regardless of what body he happens to be wearing.  He wants, against all odds, to develop a relationship with this girl—a happenstance that will, in turn, develop A as a character.

Writers, this is how to do it.  Begin with a strong concept that challenges genre, structure, archetypes, etc. and built around it.  Levithan’s book is not just about an unlikely romance.  It’s not just about a kid with an unwanted power, and it isn’t just about the unique challenges and choices faced by teenagers.  It’s all of the above and more.  It’s the incredibly powerful intersection of those things and the conclusions Levithan comes to when playing with those narrative layers.  It’s art as art is meant to be—a mirror to life.

This book is an excellent read for any YA writer because its high concept mechanism challenges the genre, but that’s not the only reason you should pick up this book.

A side effect of A constantly being thrown into a new body is Levithan’s need to quickly and vividly paint new characters.  Granted, some of these characters are walking stereotypes, ostensibly created so that A can mentally berate them for their behavior, but for the most part, this book is an excellent study on how to introduce a character and show a measure of depth with only a few lines.

Levithan also strives to show many different teenagers facing a range of problems from normal teenage woes to incredible strife.  This makes the book an interesting read for those of us who have a tendency to write the same characters over and over.  Perhaps, like A, you will fall in love with this book, and it will draw you out of your comfort zone.  You will keep coming back, each time discovering more possibilities that will add realism to your writing.  Perhaps you will finally develop. 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

photo credit and author site: www.davidlevithan.com