Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Too Many Books, So Little Time

How many books do you read in a year? Supposing you read regularly, but not for long periods of time (say, while you’re drinking tea, or sitting on the bus) you can probably finish a book a week. Or maybe you’re a bit faster than that, and you manage to finish two books a week. If you read really fast, maybe you’ll finish three or four.

Whatever the case is, unless you spend all your time reading, you’re not going to finish more than 200 books a year. Even that is pretty insanely fast. My goal for this year is 100, and I’m worried about making that because I started kind of late. On the Goodreads challenge, the average is just 70.

Now for some statistics. Google estimates that there are nearly 130,000,000 books in the world. If you want to read them all, even working at the crazy-fast pace of 200 a year, that’s going to take you 650,000 years. That’s over 8000 lifetimes.

Of course, you can’t even read all of those. What about the books published in Estonia or Iran or Turkey? Let’s also assume that you’re only interested in English books. And to make things easier, let’s only think about the ones that are recently available. According to Bowker, 288,355 books were published in the US in 2009 alone. That’s a little better, right? You’re only going to be spending 1400 years reading. Oh, wait. I forgot. That’s just one year’s worth of books you’ve finished. By the time you’re done all of 2009’s books, your backlog will be 415,743,030 books long. Time to settle down for another 2,078,715 years of reading…

At the more normal rate of 70 books a year, for each book you read, there’ll be at least 4000 others published that year that you won’t get to read. Then again, you probably don’t actually want to read all the books in the world. There are cookbooks, and lame self-help books and children’s picture books that you have absolutely no interest in. Maybe, like me, you’re mainly interested in young adult books.

Guess what? There’s still way too many of those. Goodreads has 845 young adult books listed as anticipated reads for 2010 and 2011. For you, that’s 422.5 books to read each year. More than twice what you could read, even if you were insanely fast. And those are just the most anticipated books; it’s not a comprehensive list. If you’re a slower reader, you’re going to miss out on about 400 fairly high profile books every year.

I could continue, but I’m sure you get the picture. There is absolutely no way you’ll be able to read anywhere near all the books that you see on blogs, or that your friends talk about, or that you notice in the bookstore. It’s just plain impossible.

But you know what? That’s okay. When you learn that you can’t read everything, it also means that you don’t have to read everything. If you don’t like romance, then you don’t need to read it. There are plenty of action novels being published. If you don’t like fantasy, then go pick up some general fiction instead. It’s that simple. The sheer number of books being published may seem overwhelming, but it’s also so wonderful. It’s like standing in the middle of a candy shop. You can’t eat everything or you’ll get so sick. So instead you just eat a bit of your absolute favourite kind.

I have close to sixty books ordered at my local library, and another ten at home that I haven’t read yet. In three months I’m moving out. There’s no way I can read 70 books in three months while working and writing. A lot of those books are going to have to go. It’ll be hard, choosing the ones I don’t want to read, but I’ll end up with a summer of fantastic stories in genres I love. What could be better than that?

Monday, May 30, 2011

IMM: Week of Paranormal Romance

This wasn't done on purpose by any means, since Paranormal Romance is certainly not my favourite genre out there, but I ended up with three out of the four books this week being paranormal. They aren't stories I normally would have read, but when I won them, I decided to give them a try.

Inkpop had a writing challenge a couple weeks ago based on this book, and (thank you Tara Hudson!) I won it. My other three books arrived last week, but I just finally got this one, and I feel kinda cool because it's release date isn't until June 8th. :)

This is the only book here that's really my sort of style. A post-apocalypse world where they live in the middle of the forest and try to stay away from Zombies... And the title! I love it.

I had heard a lot of mixed opinions about this book, anything from 'This is as stupid as Twilight!' to 'I can't stand Twilight, but this is good' so I put it on my to-read list.

I won this 'accidentally' in a giveaway (as in, I entered because it was easy and I didn't think I'd win) and then it turns out I did win, and then I read it and didn't like it that much, so... Giveaway coming up!

Over to you... have you read any of these books? Are you jealous that I get a copy of Hereafter early? Are you a fan of The Forest of Hands and Teeth? Do you think Hush, Hush/Crescendo are just Twilight repeats? Any suggestions for books I absolutely must read over the summer? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Problems with Poetry 2: Meter

Poetry is something that confuses a lot of people. Maybe you find it really easy to write, but when you try to critique someone else’s all you can say is ‘This is great.’ Or perhaps you’re more like me and you really struggle writing poetry, but you love critiquing other people’s work. And yet, sometimes you just tell someone ‘this isn’t working’ and you don’t know why.

One thing that a lot of people don’t understand about poetry is meter. Years ago, I thought meter was just the number of syllables in a line and if I just counted the syllables properly—like a haiku—I’d have poetry. I never understood why it didn’t work out.

While syllables are certainly important, what most people miss is that some syllables are stressed, and others aren’t. We all unconsciously know about stresses; after all, you need to know the stressed syllable in a word to know how to pronounce it. For instance, ‘family’ is FA-mi-ly, not fa-MI-ly or fa-mi-LI. My favourite example is trying to put the emPHAsis on the wrong syLAble. It’s actually kind of amusing when you try to say certain words wrong on purpose.

In many poems, even unrhymed ones, meter plays a large role. My professor likes to use the example of a famous Doctor Seuss rhyme:

That Sam-I-Am
That Sam-I-Am
I do not like
That Sam-I-Am

The syllables in bold are the ones that you stress whenever you say it. For instance, if you were using this as a jump-rope rhyme, those syllables would be the ones where you jump. There’s no way you’d say THAT sam I am. It just doesn’t sound right.

Whether or not you’re sticking to a meter in your poetry, just be aware that words with more than one syllable will have one stress, and it’s not always the first syllable. DANger, PRACtice and ACtive all have the stress on the first syllable, while aGREE, heLLO and baNAna have the stress on the second syllable.

With this in mind, consider the following ‘poem’:

Banana, Banana
I love my banana

It works, right. Unstressed, then stressed, then unstressed. Repeat three more times. However, this next one (even though it has the same number of syllables) doesn’t work:

Banana, Banana
Please agree, banana

Aside from the fact that the poem is complete and utter nonsense, what’s wrong with it? In the second line, the stress is all wrong. The rhythm makes us want to say A-gree, rather than a-GREE, and we know that’s wrong, so we start stumbling. It’s possible to say it sensibly, if you cut the sing-songy voice you’d use for doctor Seuss, but it doesn’t roll as smoothly off the tongue as in the first example.

When you’re writing poetry, one thing you want is for it to have a nice rhythm. Next time you’re writing a poem and a line just sounds off, or someone says that they found themselves stumble over it, start checking stresses. The ‘perfect’ word can’t just have the right number of syllables. It also has to have the proper stresses.

So, that’s my really brief lesson on meter. If you’d like to hear more about meter and how some famous poets, such as Milton and Shakespeare used it, I’d be happy to write another post or two. Otherwise, I’ll move on to some aspects of more modern poetry. Please comment if you’d like more on meter, or if there’s anything else you want me to talk about. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: Divergent

by Veronica Roth

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her. 

Why I read it: I’ll admit it… all the hype did kind of influence me. But there were so many other reasons: it’s dystopia, it’s a futuristic slightly sci-fi story, the author is a Christian…etc… I read the first hundred pages online and LOVED it, so when I won three books from HC, this was an easy choice.

What I liked: What grabbed me immediately was Tris’s voice. I absolutely loved her character from page one all the way up to the end. I loved how she was brave, and still tried to be selfless. How she was noble and yet cruel. How she has so much talent and still admits her faults. She was such a dynamic character, constantly changing, and I loved her no matter what she did.

Of course, the setting/idea of this story really drew me in, too. I’m a huge fan of futuristic societies, so I enjoyed Roth’s version of the future. While a lot of people talk about how it didn’t feel realistic, I personally don’t care. This is a ‘what if’ sort of book, and I loved the idea of the factions, even if it wasn’t realistic. I loved how nothing was black and white. Each faction had their own good guys and villains. Sometimes the lies the villain was spreading were actually true. In short, despite the unrealistic setting, the good vs. evil battle, and Tris’s personal struggle to find where she fit in, felt very real.

What I disliked: A lot of other people have pointed this out, but the plot doesn’t start until about page 350. The first two-thirds of the book are still fascinating and I was hooked, but they don’t really have much to do with the ending plot. I didn’t mind this plotlessness, since it still worked for me, but I know it’s annoyed other people.

Also, the romance felt a little off. I absolutely loved how it began; this certainly wasn’t love at first sight, and if I hadn’t known who she was going to fall for I wouldn’t have guessed. However, after that first kiss it seems like they’re constantly kissing. The first kiss was super sweet and I absolutely loved it, but all the kissing after that just seemed like overkill.

From a Christian Perspective: One reason why I was looking forward to this book is because I knew the author is a Christian, so hopefully her book would be pretty clean. I wasn’t disappointed. I think I found one swear word, and that was it. As for sexual content, there was a fair bit of kissing like I said earlier, but it never goes beyond that. In fact, one of Tris’s fears is that her boyfriend will try to have sex with her. While it’s fairly clean, there is a good deal of violence. It’s not described as much as it could have been, but some images are kind of disturbing. Not for children under 13, for sure.

To buy or not to buy: I won this through inkpop, like I said, but had I borrowed it from the library I would most certainly have bought it. I think it’s my favourite read so far this year. 

Classic of the Week: Othello

Today’s classic of the week, once again brought to you courtesy of the Shakespeare course I’m taking, is one of the Bard’s plays that isn’t often taught in high school. In many ways it’s the most contemporary of his plays, dealing with racism, suicide and domestic violence. Perhaps that’s the reason that many people won’t encounter this play until university; some of the racial content could be considered offensive. Despite that, I believe that this play is yet another of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. And the play is:

 Othello by William Shakespeare

Iago 'pours poison' into Othello's ear
The basic story of Othello is this: Othello, a victorious, black, General, marries Desdemona, the daughter of a wealthy, white, Venetian nobleman. Othello then promotes his friend, Cassio, to a position of honour. Unfortunately, the villain, Iago, is angry with Othello for promoting Cassio instead of him, and he thinks that Othello has slept with his wife. So Iago decides that he’s going to completely ruin everything by making Othello think that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. To make a long story short, Othello ends up smothering Desdemona and then killing himself when he figures out that she was actually innocent.

You can probably see how this play could be labelled as racist. The basic plot ‘Black Man Kills White Wife’ seems racist right there. Also, the play is full of tiny racial slurs, and Othello is constantly called ‘the Moor,’ which only accents how he’s different. However, I don’t think Othello is a racist play at all. For starters, almost all the racial slurs are spoken either by ignorant characters (such as Roderigo and Brabantio) or by the villain, Iago. Desdemona, the only truly good character in the play, appears to love Othello partly because he is black. It’s also obvious that the true villain is Iago, a white male, not black Othello.
Ian McKellen as Iago

Much like Satan in Paradise Lost, the villain Iago could certainly be labelled the most interesting character. The way he uses words to make innocent Desdemona seem like an adulteress is absolutely fascinating. In a single scene in the middle of the play, he changes Othello’s mind from complete love of Desdemona to saying ‘Why did I ever marry?’ This play is well worth reading just as a lesson in how dangerous words can be.

Othello and Desdemona
In short, Othello is not an easy play to read. Unlike some of his other tragedies, such as Macbeth and King Lear Shakespeare isn’t dealing with ancient matters of kingship and matters involving whole countries. Instead, he focuses in a very personal way on marriage, on friendship, on love and betrayal. The themes in Othello are ones that are extremely applicable today. It is not a dull, out-dated classic by any means. Once you get past the difficult language, you will be astounded by the insight Shakespeare has into human nature. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Believability In Dystopias

Lately, a lot of dystopian fiction has been flooding into the market. I think this is a good thing; I’ve never liked Paranormal Romance, and I’ve always loved Dystopia (even years ago, before it became popular.) The dystopian genre is different from paranormal in that it is supposed to be realistic. Most dystopians are set in a futuristic world, often after a sort of apocalypse, that’s either defined by chaos or by a strict totalitarian government. Scientific advances often play a role, but most of the time this is just ‘fake science’ and has no real science behind it.
In short, dystopia is a sort of ‘What if?’ genre. What if love was considered to be a disease? (Delirium) What if kids had to fight to the death in an arena? (The Hunger Games) What if everything was decided by a Society, including the person you were supposed to marry? (Matched) What if a virus makes females die at twenty and males at twenty-five? (Wither) What if only teenagers could get pregnant? (Bumped) What if your entire life was defined by what faction you decided to join? (Divergent) Those are just several examples of the ‘What if?’ questions raised by recent dystopian releases.
Like any genre, dystopia gets its share of bad reviews. I’ve read negative reviews for all of these books, and most of them seemed to center not around the writing or characters, but on the believability of the story. Lots of people didn’t like Wither because it doesn’t make sense that a virus would kill all girls at exactly twenty years old. People thought The Hunger Games was unrealistic because there’s no way a society would enjoy watching children fight to the death. One of my biggest issues with Matched was that I never understood why the Society needed to control every aspect of life.
My question for you is… does it matter? Can you still enjoy Divergent even if you think there’s no way a society could ever evolve into five factions? Would you still buy Delirium even if the idea of ‘curing’ love by frying part of your brain seems just a little far-fetched?

For me, it all depends. I haven’t read Bumped or Wither but I don’t think I’ll mind either of them since they’re obviously ‘What if?’ books. The science behind them may be absolute baloney, but I like the idea. I think creating a world where the teens need to get pregnant is a cool (if somewhat sketchy) setting. In The Hunger Games I think the idea of the tributes having to fight the death is cool enough to make up for the minor lack of believability. However, I just finished Matched and I was annoyed because I never understood why the Society needed to control everything and why they were so lenient with some things but so strict on others.

What’s your take on believability in dystopias? Does it bug you whenever a book’s premise is a little unrealistic? Or do you think that a cool idea is even better if it couldn’t happen in real life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this popular genre.


This week's IMM features a number of books I've been absolutely dying to read for a long time. Many thanks to HarperCollins for running weekly writing challenges over on inkpop.com, and thanks to Tara Hudson, author of Hereafter, for choosing my except from The Web as one of the winning entries. Thanks to that, I got to choose three books from HarperTeen. Time for a bunch of dystopias:

Delirium! I'm not a huge fan of romance, but I've heard so many good things about this book that I just had to give it a try. Plus, I love a good dystopia.

DIVERGENT! I've you've been reading my blog you'll know how much I wanted this book. As soon as it arrived in the mail I sat down and read it in just over a day. I'll probably post my full review on Thursday, but let's just say I really loved it. 

This is a book I hadn't really considered getting; I was planning on ordering Bumped by Megan McKafferty instead. Then I read some not-so-good reviews for that book and some amazing reviews for this, so I decided to give it a try. Who doesn't like fairy tale re-tellings? 

I didn't get this one in the inkpop contest; it's Random House, not HarperTeen. I picked it up from the library because I heard a lot about it and (you guessed it) it's a dystopia. I'm nearly done it now and it's good, but not quite what I had hoped.

That's it for my mailbox this week. Have you read any of these books, or are they on your to-read list? What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Problems with Poetry 1: Introduction

Poetry is one of those things that a lot of people seem to have trouble with. Maybe you can dash off a poem in a couple minutes when you feel sad, and yet you can’t critique anyone else’s work to save your life. Perhaps you can read a poem and know when something feels ‘off’ but you have no idea what to tell the author so that they can fix it.

Poetry is one of those things that is both incredibly easy and terribly hard. Most poems are short and fairly quick. They may seem to be simple. You could write a poem in a minute. But to actually write a good poem, the kind of work that will be read and studied and praised, takes practice. Becoming an accomplished poet is no easier than writing a good novel, and critiquing a poem shouldn’t be any harder than critiquing a story.

The main difference between poetry and a story is that poetry is a lot more subjective. You can read a story and realize ‘this is not a good subject for a story’ but it’s really hard to tell someone that their poem isn’t working. If they wrote it on a bad day, when a friend died or something terrible happened, who are you to tell them it sucks?

It’s a lot harder to tell when a poem is ‘perfect.’ Since it’s so short, it may need to be completely re-written, or just a couple of words changed. Some advice for poets: be open to change. In the poem you’re telling your story, your emotion. Perhaps the form that you picked at first isn’t actually the best one for what you want to write about. Maybe the words you chose at first don’t quite work. I firmly believe that in poetry there isn’t a right and wrong way, but there certainly is ‘good’ and ‘better’.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be posting a series on poetry. Next week I’ve got a post on meter all ready to share with you, and I’m working on one to do with choosing the perfect words. I’ll probably think up a couple other topics to write about. If you have anything you’d like me to address, or a tip that you think I should mention, then feel free to post in the comments.

I’m not a really good poet myself, so if anything I say in this series sounds stupid to you, then just ignore it. I’m not trying to tell you how to write a poem, because there’s no way I could do that. I want to inspire you. I want you to think about poetry, and read other people’s poems, and then go write some yourself. I want to give you tips so you can write better, critiquing advice so that you can help others. In the end, I want you all to love poetry and appreciate it for the difficult, and rewarding art it is.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: The Lying Game

By Sara Shepard

I had a life anyone would kill for.
Then someone did.
The worst part of being dead is that there’s nothing left to live for. No more kisses. No more secrets. No more gossip. It’s enough to kill a girl all over again. But I’m about to get something no one else does—an encore performance, thanks to Emma, the long-lost twin sister I never even got to meet.
Now Emma’s desperate to know what happened to me. And the only way to figure it out is to be me—to slip into my old life and piece it all together. But can she laugh at inside jokes with my best friends? Convince my boyfriend she’s the girl he fell in love with? Pretend to be a happy, carefree daughter when she hugs my parents good night? And can she keep up the charade, even after she realizes my murderer is watching her every move?

Why I read it: Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I don’t think I’ll like Pretty Little Liars but I guess the idea of this story (girl finds out she has a long lost twin who has been murdered and so she has to take her place) sounded a lot more interesting to me.

What I liked:  This was a very fast-paced read, which was exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’ve had to push myself through the past couple books, but this one dragged me along for the ride. I finished it in two days, despite being really busy (had I not been busy, it would have been one afternoon.) At 300 pages it’s not terribly long, but not ridiculously short either. It was just the perfect length. And Sara Shepard never allowed it to get boring, either. I was constantly on my toes.
Also, I really enjoyed the setting. For some reason, I’m a big fan of stories where the poor girl (in this case, a foster kid) is thrown into a really rich setting. I like reading about crazy rich people who can buy five hundred dollar boots and consider $40 sunglasses to be a bargain. Shepard does a good job with this setting, making Sutton’s family rich, but not unbelievably so.

What I disliked: The main thing that annoyed me was the narration. It’s written in first person from the POV of a dead girl. This immediately threw me off. What is it with all these dead narrators? (Before I Fall and Hereafter to name a few more.) In this case, it just felt really awkward. Most of the story read like it was third person limited from Emma (the MC’s) POV. Then occasionally Sutton, the dead girl, would say something, and we’d realize that no, Sutton was actually the narrator, not Emma. And then sometimes Sutton would refer to herself as ‘I’ and other times as ‘Sutton’. It just felt jarring.

I also didn’t care for the ending. I won’t say much, but basically I was expecting a bigger revelation. We learn a bit more about the situation, but that brings us back to square one. At the end of the book, Emma is virtually no closer to solving the murder than she was at the beginning. This is certainly not a standalone novel in any way. I guess HarperCollins is just too sure of Sara Shepard’s success (after Pretty Little Liars) to be worried that her future books won’t sell.
From a Christian Perspective: This wasn’t near as bad as I thought it would be. The dead narrator was just a little weird, and I would have liked it much better without. There was very little swearing (unless you count the word ‘bitch’) and just a tad of sexual content. A party is slightly described where they get a little drunk, and Sutton’s boyfriend plans for him and Emma (who he thinks is Sutton) to lose their virginity at this party. As soon as Emma realizes this, though, she runs away, so the ‘romance’ between them stops at a quick kiss or two.

To buy or not to buy: I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I don’t think I would buy this book, but I do see why it’s so popular. If I win more books from HarperCollins, I may well choose this one. I guess it all depends on whether the next books turn out to be good. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Classic of the Week: Macbeth

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth

If you’ve been reading the blog over the past few days, you might have noticed me talking a fair bit about the summer course I’m taking at UPEI: Intro to Shakespeare. I read a couple of his plays while I was homeschooled (Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet) but now I’m learning five new ones for this course. This particular one is a fairly famous tragedy, with a scene that is so well known I was able to use it in my short story, ‘Because You Laughed’ without having ever read the play. This week’s classic is:

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

First off, I’ve got to say that this is not a nice play. It’s very good, but extremely disturbing. It chronicles the life of Macbeth, a Scottish thane who meets three witches and is told that he’ll be King someday. Hearing this, Macbeth decides to kill the King. He then becomes king, but he has to deal with several other predictions by the witches; that his friend’s son would become king (rather than Macbeth’s offspring; he has no children yet) and that he will be killed by one not of woman born. Macbeth’s obsession with stopping these other predictions leads him to murder his best friend and many other people. In the end, it’s Macbeth who ends up dead.
The Ian McKellen Macbeth

Since this is a play with so many deaths, it’s obviously going to be very bloody. Many of the murders actually happen offstage, but the characters still end up covered in blood. While this is all very symbolic, it means that this is not a play for children.

What hurts me the most about this story is Macbeth’s decent into darkness. At the beginning of the play he is a genuinely nice guy. He’s a war hero, fighting for his country against a traitor. Throughout the play, he grows worse and worse. He stops questioning the morality of his actions and instead plunges into them wholeheartedly. All he seems to be worried about is the possibility of getting caught. Shakespeare is an expert at crafting a drama that begins with a likeable protagonist, but then progresses until we have lost all sympathy for Macbeth.

Macbeth and his wife, deciding to kill the King
So far I’ve seen one film version of this play, the 2010 Patrick Stuart version. It’s set in modern day but the dialogue is unchanged (they did cut some lines, but every version does that.) I thought this version portrayed the feeling of the play extremely well. It was so intense that while I was watching it I had to stop myself every so often and go on Facebook or Twitter… anything to take my mind off the story. That’s one thing about Macbeth; it’s not very funny. Hamlet, for instance, is hilarious. There is virtually no ‘comic relief’ in Macbeth.

(Please note, there are bloody images in this trailer. Nothing too graphic, but not for younger viewers)

Would I recommend that you read this play? Yes, I most certainly would. If you don’t study this in school, then take the time to read it yourself. Immerse yourself in it. Perhaps read a synopsis first, so you have some idea of what’s going on, and then read the play. Make sure to watch a film version, as well. The Patrick Stuart version is excellent, and Ian McKellen (Gandalf from Lord of the Rings) also played Macbeth back in the 70s. Nothing by Shakespeare is an easy read, but he has invaluable insights into human nature. This is a chilling story, not just because of all the violence, but because it feels so true.

Describing Your Characters

I have a really hard time picturing characters, both in other people’s stories and in my own. Maybe this is why I don’t mind books made into movies, since I never really had a clear idea of the characters in my head to start with. I’m not sure exactly why this is, but unless I see a picture of the character (like on the cover of the book) I won’t know—and I won’t care—what they look like.

Probably one reason for my apathy toward character’s physical appearances is because so many authors, especially amateur ones, do a really poor job of description. In the first chapter they might mention a character’s ‘long blonde hair’ or ‘deep blue eyes’ and then leave it at that. There’s nothing remarkable about that character. If their blonde hair has no bearing on the story, then I might as well think it was black. If it doesn’t matter that her eyes are blue, why can’t I think they’re brown? In short, if a character’s appearance doesn’t matter, then your description is worthless.

The thing is, though, as much as we try to avoid it: appearance matters. It changes the way people think about the character. It changes the way the character thinks about themselves and about others. This isn’t just a black and white I’m-pretty-so-everyone-loves-me or I’m-ugly-I-want-to-be-someone-else sort of thing. It’s much more complicated than that.

I’m short. Most of the time, I’m perfectly fine with that. Sometimes, however, when I’m standing next to some other people who are tall and wearing high heels, and I’m just wearing flats, I feel really small and insignificant. I feel like a little kid. It doesn’t help that I also look young. So, in specific situations, my height and general tiny size, makes me feel somehow unimportant. If you’re writing about a short character, they may have similar feelings. On the flip side, if you have a tall MC, she may feel really self-conscious and shy about towering over everyone.

All of your characters should have some sort of defining characteristic. I’m short and have thick, really annoying brown hair. One of my friends has short, ridiculously curly (but super cute) hair, while another has longer curly hair that looks thick, but it’s really thin when she straightens it. Another friend has freckles on one half of her face and not on the other. My sister has a tiny little bump on one ear that she calls her ‘earring.’

To help your readers picture the characters, give them a defining physical characteristic. This doesn’t need to be anything too weird, just something that the readers will remember. Then don’t forget to figure out what the MC thinks about these features. Does she love her hair, or hate it? Does he still wear glasses because he can’t stand the thought of touching his eyeball to put contacts in? Don’t forget to figure out what other people think about your MC’s looks. I have a friend with huge gorgeous eyes that everyone loves… except her. Perhaps your character’s most beautiful feature is actually the one that she hates?

Physical appearance is something that everyone has to deal with, every day of their lives. What we look like can have a huge impact on how we think, act and talk with others. Don’t be content with giving your MC a generic appearance and then forgetting about it. Let their appearance affect the character’s personality, just as if they were a real person. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dark Inside

Since I received pretty much nothing In My Mailbox this week, I'm going to skip the post and concentrate on something else I found... two contests.

One is a chance to win an ARC of DARK INSIDE by Jeyn Roberts. As you may remember, I interviewed Jeyn about a month ago. Her book, a futuristic, apocalyptic, dystopia, sounds just like the sort of thing I love to read, so I jumped at the chance to win an ARC. Since I'm counting on at least a couple of you liking the genre as much as I do, I thought you might like to enter this contest.

What are you waiting for? Read the interview with Jeyn, and enter the contest!

The other is POSSESSION by Elana Johnson. I haven't yet had a chance to learn much about POSSESSION, but it's another dystopia, and the cover is gorgeous, so I'm excited for the June 7th release date.

Another reason that makes me so excited for this book, is that Elana wrote an entire book on querying, called From the Query to the Call, which can be downloaded for FREE! It's such a helpful resource, and I would recommend that every writer take a good look at it.

So, hurry on off to the contest!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How to Get Published 5: Selling Your Story

Step five in my really quick guide to getting published is titled ‘The Agent Sells Your Book.’ This seems to be a pretty straightforward step where you need to do virtually nothing. From what I’ve heard, this is where the agent really steps in and the author takes a breather. However, this doesn’t mean it’s easy for the author.

First off, you have to realize that even if you get an agent, your first book might not sell. No matter how much an agent loves it, a publisher just might not. Kiersten White, author of the bestselling Paranormalcy, snagged her agent with a totally different story which never sold. While she was on sub (the term for her manuscript being out with editors) she wrote Paranormalcy just for fun. This is good advice for anyone; when you’ve got your agent don’t just sit back and relax. Keep writing. Even supposing your book does sell, what about sequels? Or a new series?

Most of the time, however, your book will sell. Agents don’t take on new clients unless they’re pretty certain. I’d love to give you an average time period between signing with an agent and getting an editor, but the truth is… there isn’t one. Some books can sell within a week. Others may take months. It all depends.

A quick sneak peak into what your agent does: They send your book off to editors, just like you when you queried the agent. Agents will have contacts with editors at publishing houses, so they’ll know who to contact, how to contact them and what they’re looking for at the time. This all sounds like something you could do yourself, since it’s basically just a repeat of the query process, but the publishing industry is all about who you know, and an agent will know many more editors than you do.

At last publishing houses will start offering, and you (with the help of your agent) will choose which one to accept. You could take the one that offers the most money, or the one whose editor you would prefer to work with. After all, this is just like choosing an agent; an editor is another partner for life. This is also the person you’re going to spend the next months with, slaving over your story and perfecting it. Then ARCs will start coming out, and the reviews will start rolling in… and you’ll start working on your next book, if you haven’t already.

This is the end of my How-To-Get-Published Series, and I hope it shed some light on the process for you guys. Please note that I have no personal experience with any of this; I just read a lot of blogs. If there’s anything you’d like me to clear up, then just ask. What do you think my new series should be on?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: Before I Fall

By Lauren Oliver

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.
Instead, it turns out to be her last.
Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Why I read it: I saw it pretty much everywhere and read a ton of good reviews for it, so I decided to give it a try, even though general fiction really isn’t my thing.

What I liked: This is certainly a book with a message, something that seems to be rare in commercial YA. At the beginning of the story the MC is a stereotypical ‘mean girl’ but throughout the book she becomes less self-centered until at the end she’s nothing like the girl she was at first. This transformation was super predictable, but it never felt forced, which impressed me. She went through several realistic stages, a day of complete disbelief, a day playing the bad girl, a day being all goody-goody… She felt so different each day, but it was always so connected that it felt real.

I have no quibbles with Oliver’s writing. Somehow she managed to take the exact same day and twist it so that we could read about it seven times and it was interesting each time. There isn’t exactly anything unique about her writing, but it carried the story perfectly. I always understood and empathized with the MC.

What I disliked: I won’t say much about this because I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I wasn’t satisfied with the ending. Basically, it didn’t seem to really satisfy the moral dilemma. There were so many problems in the story and the ending only seemed to fix one of them. Aside from that, I don’t see how the MC’s actions would really work the way they did…

Like I just mentioned, there was a lot of bad stuff in this novel. One of the main events of the day is a big party, where people are getting drunk or stoned or something. There’s an awful lot of sexual content, and while the MC never actually has sex, it was still a prevailing part of the story. Considering the ending, I never felt like there was any real hope for change. Maybe the MC has realized how empty it all is, but no one else really has.

From a Christian Perspective: I’m not sure if I would recommend this or not. There is an awful lot of bad content. There isn’t exactly a sex scene, but the story opens with the MC deciding to lose her virginity that night, and she gets pretty close at least once. She ends up kissing three guys during the story, and many other characters make out. Sex is discussed regularly, never explicitly, but still… There’s not an awful lot of swearing, unless you count ‘bitch’ as a bad word. The MC and her friends get drunk several times. Like I said earlier, the MC does come to realize that all this is really empty, but it’s never really called bad. The message is more ‘Don’t bully people’ instead of ‘don’t get drunk and have sex.’ I found this book was good for understanding how other people think, but I won’t read it again.

To buy or not to buy: I won’t be buying this book because I have no desire to read about Sam’s messed up life again. Others may really enjoy it, but in the end there’s just too much questionable content for me to actually buy it.