Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Boring Main Characters: Improving Relationships

Last week I talked a bit about how to develop your character’s traits by making a list of traits and figuring out how all those things affect your character’s lives. Now I want to take a moment to talk about how to develop relationships between your characters.

The example I used in this post was of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. Whatever you think of the books (I loved the first two and hated the last one) one thing Collins does very well is relationships. Katniss has a clearly defined relationship between all the other characters. She is protective of her sister. She hates President Snow. She looks down on her mother. She admires Cinna. And, of course, there’s the whole love triangle with Gale and Peeta.

Think for a second of your own life. Think of people you know and figure out what you think of them. Maybe there’s the girl in your school who you’ve hated for as long as you can remember because in grade 6 she told you that you were weird. What’s your relationship with your parents? Your siblings? Do you admire your best friend? Are you jealous of him/her? What about your girlfriend/boyfriend?

My guess is that you can’t think of a single person who you don’t have some sort of mental association with. Hopefully there are very few people who you flat out hate, but there are going to be a lot of people you don’t like that much or find slightly annoying. Your characters will be the same.

Before you write a scene (especially when it’s dialogue between two people) figure out how the characters relate to one another. What I did in WANDER was to write out a chart where I plotted the characters relationships to each other for all the major characters. Even if you’re writing a book in first person, it’s still important to figure out the other character’s perspectives. Also, keep in mind that people change. Katniss’s idea of Peeta is constantly changing throughout the story. It’s a good idea to make a chapter-by-chapter outline of what your MCs think of each other, or at very least to find the major turning points and figure those out.

If you’re a seat-of-your-pants writer, you may not care for all this pre-plotting advice. That’s fine. You don’t have to do this all beforehand. What I’d suggest is that you take your finished draft and then figure out all the relationships. Through writing freely you can find out new things about your characters that you wouldn’t have in the plotting stages, and using character charts you can apply it to your novel.
However you decide to do it, inter-character relationships are definitely important to having interesting MCs. Next week, stay tuned for one last post on how to make your characters come to life on the page. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: Catching Fire

By Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Why I read it: I had read and loved The Hunger Games and so I was eager to read Catching Fire as soon as it came out. My parents gave it to me for Christmas.

What I liked: I was a little worried about this book. After all, the first one had brought a whole chapter of the story to a close and so Collins would have to come up with something different. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the plot of Catching Fire ends up being quite close to The Hunger Games without giving us needless repetition and it works just as well.

More characters are introduced in this story and they’re all interesting in their own way. To begin with I found both Joanna and Finnick annoying, but as the story progressed I grew to like them. The old characters were just like before: Peeta is just as amazing, we finally see a bit more of Haymitch’s real personality, Cinna continues to be one of my favourite characters and Prim, even though we don’t see her much, is still so sweet.

What I disliked: Very little. The plot seemed a little repetitive of the first book but the ending completely opens it up in a whole new way and increases the stakes, which makes me a little worried about the third book. Like the first one, this is a very violent story so I wouldn’t give it to anyone under around 13.

From a Christian Perspective: Like the first one, this book is quite clean. There’s no swearing and no real sexual content. This book is a little edgier however; Peeta and Katniss do share a bed (although it seems like it doesn’t go farther than that) and Joanna strips naked at least once.

To buy or not to buy: To anyone who liked the first one, this is certainly a worthy sequel. If you haven’t read The Hunger Games, go read that first and then buy this book. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Who Teaches a Homeschooler?

**Before I start this blog post I just wanted to have a little party... I finished the second draft of my research paper on Milton's similes last night, and it's 2500 words long citing 12 different sources, and yeah, I'm pretty proud of it. It's not done yet by a long shot, but at least I've got it to a point where it's not a complete disaster. :) Anyways, on to the real blog post.**

One of the main questions I get is “Who teaches you, your mom or your dad?” For years my answer would have been ‘my mom’, since she stays home to teach us while my Dad goes off to work at the university. For all my highschool years, however, my mom did very little teaching. Basically, I learned everything on my own.

The math program I used for grade school
How would this work? There are so many programs written especially for homeschoolers. We used Apologia Science which came with text books, dissection kits, instruction clips on a CD and an answer key to make it easy for parents to mark the tests. My English and History courses were written for homeschoolers, and my math was from Singapore.

At the beginning of the school year I’d sit down with my mom and pick out all the books I was going to use throughout the year. Then I’d make my own rough schedule so I’d know how many chapters I’d have to do every month to get finished in the year. Normally I actually stuck pretty close to this schedule and most of the time I was done school by April or May.

Grade 10 Biology
When I tell people this, about how I basically ran my own schooling, the most common response is “I couldn’t do that.” I don’t think that’s true. What’s so much harder about teaching yourself than learning from a teacher? I’ve heard so many horror stories about bad teachers who make no sense or who grade poorly. Learning directly from books eliminates that problem. As for deadlines, you make your own, and if you have trouble keeping them then your mother will just have to remind you… This can also be a good thing because it teaches independence in preparation for University.

This isn’t to say that homeschooling is for everyone. I know a lot of smart people who went to school and are doing well in University (much better than me, in fact.) Homeschooling is not always a superior choice. However, it’s always a viable option. I believe that everyone is capable of teaching themselves.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boring Main Characters 4: Adding Details

We’ve already seen that too many amateur stories have boring MCs, we’ve examined what doesn’t work, and we’ve seen some examples of well rounded MCs. Now I’ll talk about how to make your characters as three-dimensional as those in my examples.

The first way is to figure out all sorts of little details about your character. I’m guessing you’ve all seen the basic charts. They usually look something like this:


Charts like this have their uses. You obviously need to know your character’s name before you can start to write a book about them! (unless the fact that they don’t have a name is a factor in the story) This is the first step in creating a living, breathing character.

That’s just it. This is the first step, not the only step. There’s lots to do once you’ve figured out their physical features and basic likes and dislikes. The next step is to find out a lot more about them, and how these things affect them. Maybe your MC goes to an expensive private school. Does this make them just a slight bit snobby? Or do they feel the need to apologize, and explain that their family isn’t that rich? Do they have lots of friends at school or in the real world? How do they liked their parents?

Write a list of stuff about your character. Try to get a hundred short phrases. If you can’t think of enough things, write one for yourself first. Include things like favourite colour, political views, favourite school subject, most precious possession, do they have bookshelves in their room, how many siblings, how many friends…etc… Then, after you’ve got this long list, write how all these things affect your character. If your character likes pink, is she really girly? A guy who has an Obama poster on his door will probably be really active in politics. Someone who’s good at math will be very analytical in the story. A character’s most precious possession will probably get mentioned. Perhaps your character is a bookworm, so when they talk they would frequently mention characters from books (yes, you can mention characters from other works without breaking copyright). If he only has one little sister ten years younger than him, perhaps he’s really protective of her. Maybe your character has a ton of acquaintances, but no real friends.

I hope this doesn’t seem like a waste of time to you. Yes, most of the details will never make it into your story. That’s why it’s so much more important to figure out how the details affect the character. Maybe it doesn’t matter to your story that your MC has ten identical teddy bears sitting on their bed. It’s what it reveals about their personality that matters.

What are you waiting for? Go write about your characters! Next week I’ll talk a bit about relationships between your characters.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games

 By Suzanne Collins

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place. 

Why I read it: Every month a lady in my church would give us a scholastic catalog and I would eagerly look through the teen section. One book that I noticed over and over was The Hunger Games. So I went and got it from the library (after waiting forever despite the one week loan policy) and wow…

What I liked: I won’t keep this a secret: I love The Hunger Games. Katniss is a wonderful protagonist, strong and defiant but she has her softer side. All the other characters are also three dimensional and I grew to love or hate them all along with Katniss. The world that Suzanne Collins creates is detailed and all too realistic.
This novel basically runs on plot, which is fast-paced and almost impossible to put down. I loved how she managed to spend at least half the book on the preparation for the games and it was just as riveting as the action in the arena. Throughout the whole book there is a very anti-violence theme; I appreciated how Collins uses a semi-gory, action-packed story to show just how terrible this violence is.

What I disliked: The easiest answer is ‘not much’. The story is obviously quite violent, as you would expect when you hear about 24 teenagers fighting to the death on live TV. This makes it not appropriate for younger readers.

From a Christian Perspective: Another thing I liked is that this story is quite clean. There’s no swearing and no sexual content other than kissing (which seems impossible to avoid in a YA novel). Haymitch is drunk regularly, but it’s portrayed as a fault. There didn’t seem to be any religious themes in this novel.

To buy or not to buy: Yes! I got lucky and found this book for $1.00 (new!) at Value Village, but I would have paid the list price. Anyone who likes YA or action stories will absolutely love The Hunger Games.

And in case you haven't already heard, the movie's coming out March 23rd, 2012, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. I'm excited already!  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Other Writing Blogs You'll Enjoy

There’s just so much good stuff out in the blogging world for writers. I thought I’d write an extra post today advertising some other blogs which you might enjoy.


This blog, run by eight YA writers, is currently hosting an agent pitch contest. What does this mean? Basically, you give them a two-sentence pitch of your novel, along with the first sentence of the book, and an agent will pick the best one. The winner will have their complete manuscript read by this agent. If you have a finished manuscript ready for submission, this is a great chance to have your story read without spending all that time querying agents.

Even supposing they weren’t running this contest, YAtopia is a great resource for YA writers, with helpful posts on all aspects of writing.

Inkpop Blog

This blog is run by the team at and contains regular posts about all things in the publishing world. There’s news about books being made into movies, new books coming out, author interviews and all sorts of contests (I recently won I Am Number Four, Beastly and the first two Pretty Little Liars for just commenting!) I recently read a really useful interview with Lauren Oliver, author of Delirium, on how to create interesting main characters. Considering I’m working on a series about the same thing, I thought it was worth a look.


People on the site inkpop may remember Emily from her engaging novel Before You, which made top five back in August. Since then Emily hasn’t been on inkpop much, but she’s been busy blogging. It isn’t a blog about writing (though she does have regular book reviews), but it’s bound to bring a smile to your day. Emily talks about a variety of topics, from helping sponsor children, to pranks she played on her friends, to fashion, to her little terrier puppy. This may sound simple, but her friendly, non-judgemental outlook on life draws in 1000-2000 visitors daily. Emily’s blog is one that I make sure to keep up on.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Problem of Evaluation

One question that a lot of people asked me when I was homeschooled was, ‘Do you get grades?’ For most subjects I’d have to say no. I simply worked through the material, learned it and moved on. Even for Science, which did come with tests, I’d learn all the material and then take the test. Partly because of this, my marks were all above 95%, even on a subject which wasn’t my strong suit.

Now, before you accuse me of cheating, I want you to think for a second about the purpose of school. Why does the government force children ages 7-16 (I believe those are the compulsory ages in Canada, sorry if I’m wrong) to go to school? To educate them. To let them learn. Getting a 95% on an exam is not the purpose of education; it is only the method that teachers use to evaluate their student’s learning.

Apply this to my Science tests. The test mark isn’t proof that I’m so much smarter than a public school kid who got an 80%. Maybe if I had been in public school I’d only have earned a 70%. The point is not the mark. What counts is that I learned the material.

The problem with our education system is that grades very often don’t reflect the actual knowledge of the student. I recently earned a relatively low mark on a history midterm. I’m not going to post the mark here, but let it be said that it’s the lowest mark I’ve ever received and I was not happy with it. I had studied really hard for the test and I thought I knew the material quite well. I learned a lot. Even though the mark was still a pass, it was a letdown. Then, when I went to see the professor I learned that my poor mark was actually one of the better ones.

After hearing this, I started thinking about what the mark really meant. The professor was evaluating my learning through 25 multiple choice questions. It’s likely that this evaluation was wrong and I actually deserve a better grade. But does it matter? A mark is someone else’s idea of how much I learned. The evaluation can be accurate or it could be way off, but either way, I know how much I learned. The purpose of schooling is to learn. Yes, I’m upset because of the low mark, but I know that in the long run that doesn’t matter. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. And that’s what’s important to me.

Boring Main Characters: A Few Examples of Cool Characters

ng Over the past two weeks we’ve considered the problem of boring MCs, and what won’t fix the problem. This week we’ll take a look at a couple books that have really interesting MCs and start to figure out what makes them so fascinating.
Since I started out this series by bad-mouthing Twilight, it’s only fair to use another Paranormal book as a good example. In this case, let’s take a look at Evie, the MC in Kirsten White’s debut novel Paranormalcy. Evie has an unique job at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s got a funny ‘voice’, and she’s got a well-developed character. She has a favourite TV show. A favourite colour (pink). A best friend. She likes to paint her walls. She has a certain taste in clothes. All these little things come together to make her a really realistic character. (annoying, perhaps, but what real person isn't annoying sometime?)

 Now let’s consider Katniss, heroine in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, which is perhaps my favourite YA book. Katniss has an interesting role in the story and a recognizable voice, she has a real personality even before she gets thrown into the Games. She likes hunting. Her father is dead. She and Gale have an interesting relationship. She wants to protect her little sister. She resents her mother. She hisses at her sister’s cat. Relationships play a dominant role in the story and from the very start of the book we already know what Katniss thinks about those close to her.

One of my favourite examples is a Fantasy published in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Despite the older style of writing and the fact that this book is written in third person (rather than first like my other two examples) Bilbo’s character comes out clearly from the beginning. He completely forgets about Gandal’s promised visit, he hospitably lets the Dwarves come in to tea, he likes fireworks, and when he gets sent off on an adventure his biggest worry is that he forgot a pocket handkerchief. At Bilbo resembles a stuffy English gentleman but as the story progresses he becomes more of an adventurer; this change is part of what makes the story so interesting.

All of these stories have strong MCs and what makes them so good is that they’re not ‘flat’. They have numerous aspects to their personalities and their relationships to other characters are well defined. Next week we’ll look at how you can use small details to build up your characters.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Homeschooling Q&A

Throughout the years of I’ve had so many people ask me questions about homeschooling. It’s about time I answered these questions in public form. Please note that these are just my answers; other people may do things completely differently. Here’re a couple of the most common:
Do you do your school in your pyjamas? Believe it or not, this is the number one question from other kids. My answer is No. I don’t see what’s so appealing about the idea of doing school in my PJs. PJs are great but I find that I do my best work whenever I’m all dressed, hair done and completely awake. For some reason it’s easier to slack off when you’re wearing pyjamas.
One of my best friends (left)  and me (right)
Do you have friends? Right now, yes. I have so many amazing friends both here on PEI and in Ontario. The thing is, it hasn’t always been this way. Up to my teen years I didn’t have many friends and I was always trying to find a real ‘kindred spirit’ (to quote Anne of Green Gables). This is the problem of having a small homeschool group; there simply aren’t as many people to be friends with. That being said, our homeschool group is fairly small as homeschool groups go, and it's rapidly growing. My younger sisters and my friends in Ontario have no trouble finding friends in their homeschool groups.
My Mom (and teacher!) and me
Does it feel weird to have your parents teaching you? Well, no. That’s the way it’s always been.  My mom has been teaching me for as long as I can remember. By the time I hit junior high I was doing most of my schoolwork from textbooks, so I was actually teaching myself. It was a bit different to learn from professors in University but I didn’t find it hard to adjust (probably because all my professors are amazing.)
Do you think homeschooling prepared you for University? Definitely! Even though I’m just 17 I’m taking three second year courses and one third year and keeping up fairly well with all the work. I’m not saying this because I want you to think I’m some sort of super genius or something, because I’m certainly not. This is just proof that homeschoolers do well in University. All the work I did by myself in my highschool years prepared me for hours of study in Uni. Most of all, homeschooling taught me to love learning. I can honestly say I look forward to going to class every day.

Hopefully I'll be posting more of these Q&A sessions on future Saturdays. If you have questions of your own, please to post them in the comments. As for any fellow homeschoolers, feel free to elaborate on anything I've said. I'm interested to hear what you do differently. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Boring Main Characters: What NOT to do

Last week I touched on the problem of Boring Main Characters in YA literature. This week I’m going to give some advice about what not to do.
You might have looked over your manuscript and decided that your MC isn’t as interesting as you want them to be. They’re flat, and, (you have to admit) just a bit boring. What’s the first thing you do?
For a lot of authors, their first response is to make their character do a lot of interesting stuff. Has anyone else noticed the rise of stories written from the perspective of murderers, vampires, assassins or some strange creature? By making their character do something interesting, perhaps someone scary or even a villain, the author hopes that that will make the character be an interesting person.
Sorry folks. It doesn’t work that way. Character is much more than just a person’s actions. Consider this quote from the movie Get Smart. “They may be bad guys, but that is what they do, not who they are. Until we view them as real people, with real likes and dislikes, we’ll never be able to defeat them.” I’m pretty sure those aren’t the exact words, but you get the gist. A person’s job is not what makes them a real character. You need a lot more. You need a ‘voice’.
When people realize that they need a voice, that they can’t just tell their story from some flat, literary perspective, a lot of them tend to go overboard. The voice completely overwhelms the story. This voice is often one sided, most often snarky and rude. While this may work in some stories, the narrator is still ‘flat’.
I’m not trying to say that you can’t make your MC an assassin with a snarky ‘voice’. That’s perfectly alright in some instances. However, you can’t just do that and sit back and expect a perfectly interesting well-rounded character to come cartwheeling out onto the page. There’s more to characters than giving them an interesting vocation and a kick-ass attitude.
What more? Next week I’ll talk about some MCs that are anything but boring, and we’ll see what makes them that way.

Book Review: The Scorch Trials

By James Dashner

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

Why I read it: I had read the prequel, The Maze Runner, (I will review The Maze Runner eventually, but I just want to re-read it first) and LOVED it, so I just had to read this. I was a little worried that this would fall prey to ‘sequel sickness’, but if anything it improved upon the first book.

What I liked: Just like the first book, the plot was fast paced. It was hard to find a slowish place where I could take a break! The basic plot idea was fairly simple, but there were so many twists and turns that it was completely impossible to guess what was going to happen next. Secrets are revealed little by little, and the mystery only deepened.
The characters were all developed further, especially Thomas (I love how the story is written in third person, but Thomas is still such a fleshed-out character) and the new characters were equally fascinating. The relationships between characters also deepened, and a bit of a love triangle developed. I like how Dashner introduces a bit of romance to further the plot, but it doesn’t come close to taking over.
Dashner’s writing is also very good. His descriptions are spot-on. Never does he give us a huge chunk of description or backstory, but always just enough so that we can really see what’s going on.

What I disliked: This story is one that lends itself to being extremely violent. Thirty dead people hanging in a room, insane ‘cranks’ with no noses, molten metal that severs heads, creatures covered in bulbous growths and razor-sharp blades… Everything bad that could happen to the Gladers does happen, and Dashner describes everything. For this reason, I wouldn’t give the book to anyone under 14.
A warning to all  my writer friends, a lot of the sentences do tend to start with ‘and’ or ‘but’. I do this myself sometimes, but it started to annoy me in this book.

From a Christian Perspective: During my first reading I didn’t notice any religious themes in this story at all. It’s certainly not a Christian book, but it doesn’t seem to be anti-Christian either. What I liked was that it was quite clean, with no sexual content (the farthest they go is brief kisses) and no normal swearing. The Gladers do have their own slang, which includes swears (one of which gets dangerously close to the F-word) but there is no religious profanity.

To Buy or Not to Buy: I plan to buy this book. The violence was a bit of an issue, but I find that it’s so hard to find clean action/adventure books with riveting plots that I’d get it anyways. If you’re the kind of person that likes distopia/futuristic stories, then you will enjoy The Scorch Trials.

Where to buy: I got this book from the library. Since it’s new and fairly popular, most libraries will have it.
Your local bookstore:  $17.99 (US) or $20.99 (CAN) $12.08 or $15.15

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How I got into University

The new student center
For most people getting into University is pretty straightforward. Homeschoolers, however, find it a little bit more difficult since most of us don’t have marks and we might not have worked through specific courses. Throughout my highschool years I had a specific Science (Apologia) and Math (Singapore) curriculum but everything else was pieced together from various sources. This makes it difficult to convince a University that I had completed highschool.
This is how I ended up in University half a year early. It’s not the traditional way of doing things, but I know more and more homeschoolers who are trying this method and it certainly worked well for me.
UPEI has one of the only vet colleges in Canada
Last fall (September-November 2010) I took one course from UPEI. Getting into one course is relatively easy. I simply met with the Dean of Arts, bringing along a couple samples of my writing. He was a very agreeable man and let me into UPEI as a part time student without even looking at my writing samples! The course I decided to take was a simple Introduction to Literature course taught by a wonderful professor.
During this course I read two books of Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. My professor was teaching a third year course on Milton the next semester, and she kindly allowed me to take it despite my age. Since I had been admitted into one course and I had no real plans for homeschooling in the next term, I decided that I might as well try to go to UPEI full time. I don’t actually want to go to UPEI for my full University career, but being a full time student will make it much easier to transfer somewhere else.
Cass Building, where my Dad works
My dad (who is a math professor at UPEI) talked to the registrar several times. I made up a small (four page) portfolio showing the courses I had done in highschool, as well as all the extracurricular activities I am involved in (drama, writing, dance, volunteer work…etc…). The registrar took their time reading this, so when courses started I wasn’t actually enrolled as a student yet. I went to class anyways, just hoping that they’d let me in. Two weeks into the term, on the deadline for registration, the registrar finally got back to me. I was in!
Now I’m in my seventh week (the home stretch!) of full time University, and I love it. I’m taking two English courses and two History. English is my favourite, but I’m thinking of doing a History minor. My midterms are done, which is great, and I didn't do too badly.
The Main Building at UPEI
For all homeschoolers who want to get into University and don’t want to spend forever compiling a transcript and doing SATs, I’d suggest taking a course as a part time student and then getting your status switched to full time. Doing a course is a great way to prove that you’re capable, and you earn a credit at the same time. I admit that I had an easier time getting in since my dad teaches at UPEI, but I believe anyone can do it. I know of at least three other homeschoolers who’ve done the same thing at UPEI in recent years. A University’s registration rules may seem strict but what they really want are students who are capable and willing to work. Any homeschooler who is coming up to graduation and wants to get into University should consider taking a course part time in their grade 12 year.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Boring Main Characters: The Problem

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fairly active member of the site, a writing website for teens run by HarperCollins. The site has around 40,000 projects and hundreds more added every week. I have two stories up, one of which has reached top five and been reviewed by a HarperCollins editor, the other is around rank 100 right now.
One thing that I’ve done a lot of on inkpop is critique other people’s stories. I’ve read and commented on at least 400 projects in my inkpop career, so I have a fairly good grasp of the problems that plague teen’s writing. On the blog I will address these problems in mini-series coming each Thursday. Something I’ve noticed that is a major problem on inkpop is that Main Characters (MC) tend to be boring, all the same. For this reason, I’m writing a six part series on what to do to make your MC unique.

The Problem

The vast majority of you have heard of Twilight. A lot of you have probably read it. I’m personally not a fan, but I read the first two and a half books simply to see what all the fuss was about. Half way through the third book I got too bored, so I stopped.
Whether you hate the books or if you’re one that really enjoys them, you have to admit that Bella is a pretty ordinary person. She, by her own admission, is boring. We’re told that she has hobbies, but we never see her doing anything interesting. She’s not particularly good, or bad, at anything in school. Her emotions are all pretty basic, and her responses are quite predictable.
You might say that Bella is an ordinary teenager. I’d say that she’s not. What’s my reason for saying this? There is no such thing as an ordinary teenager.
Think about yourself. Think about anyone you know. Everyone is unique. Everyone is interesting in some way. Everyone has a favourite book, a specific personality, a different way of viewing the world.
Bella doesn’t. And, unfortunately, many of the MCs I’ve read about on inkpop don’t either. I once read ten stories in a row that all had a MC who could be exactly the same person. These are the characters who walk to school, snooze in the back row, and go back home. They wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. Maybe they’re a bit snarky or they’re shy, they could be popular or not, but somehow the writer has only told us that they’re different, they never actually showed us what makes the MC interesting.
Good stories aren’t written about boring people. Editors right now are desperate for new novels with ‘fresh’ voices. They want unique MCs, perhaps more than anything else. A ‘Mary Sue’ won’t get you anywhere.
So, what are you going to do? Next Thursday I’ll have another post on what not to do.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Review: I Am Number Four

 By Pittacus Lore

Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We live among you. But we are not you. We can do things you dream of doing. We have powers you dream of having. We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen. We are the superheroes you worship in movies and comic books-- but we are real.

Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places no one would look, blending in. We have lived among you without you knowing.

But they know.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They killed them all.

I am Number Four.

I am next. 

 Why I read it: I won this book from HarperCollins through I had seen tons of advertisements out for it and the movie and I love sci-fi action stories, so this seemed perfect.

What I liked: The premise of the story is really intriguing. Nine aliens have come down to earth with a protective charm saying they can only be killed in order. The tagline, “Three are dead. I am number four,” is just so cool, and the plot really follows up.
The writing isn’t bad, and the plot is kept moving fairly quickly. Since the main character is a superhero it could easy have turned into a whole battle of magical ‘legacies’ but luckily these ‘legacies’ don’t develop until half way through the book so it never feels like the author is just using the magic to get his characters out of trouble when he’s too lazy to do it properly.

What I disliked: If you read any review on Amazon they’ll say exactly what I’m saying now: no character development. It’s true. I was expecting Number Four to be a really cool character (he is an alien from Lorien, after all) but he just feels like a plain ordinary boy. His girlfriend is a fairly flat semi-popular girl, and his best friend is a stereotypical nerd. Altogether, there were no original characters in here, and very little in the way of character development.

From a Christian Perspective: There was a fair bit of swearing in this book. It felt like the author was trying to fill the pages with certain swear words just to make it feel like he was a real teenager. There was no sexual content, though, besides for a couple kisses.
This book does contain a number of fight sequences, but nothing too graphic. I wouldn’t give this to little kids, but any teenager can handle it.

To buy or not to buy: This is a classic example of a book with incredible promise which fails… as a book. The lack of character development ruined it for me. However, there’s a movie out which I plan to go see. This is probably the only time I’ll ever say this, but, don’t read the book! Go see the movie!