Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Classic of the Week: Hamlet

Today’s Classic of the Week is probably my favourite Shakespeare play, and certainly one of the most famous. One of the reasons I love it so much is that David Tennant (the best Doctor ever) performed as the lead character a couple years ago and did an amazing job. Also, I just love the style of play. It’s a revenge tragedy, but instead of having a blind desire for revenge, the hero is a university student who would much rather be studying than trying to kill his uncle. The play is….

Hamlet holding the skull of Yorick, the jester
Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Almost everyone will know the basic plot of Hamlet. Two months before the play starts, Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius kills his father and marries his mother, becoming king of Denmark. Hamlet isn’t very happy about this, but when his father’s ghost appears to him and tells him it was murder, he decides to get revenge. The problem is, he’s not sure if the ghost is telling the truth. So he gets some actors to put on a play of the murder to see if Claudius will look guilty. Claudius ends up leaving halfway because he can’t stand to hear it, so Hamlet is sure that Claudius is a murderer. Then, due to some complications that I couldn’t mention earlier, Hamlet ends up getting in a fencing match with another young man at court, and, thanks to a lot of poison, everyone ends up dying.

Hamlet creeps up behind Claudius while he's praying
Hamlet could have been a normal revenge tragedy. Uncle murders father, Hamlet murders uncle, everything works out fine. In fact, this is how it all works out in The Lion King, which is basically just Hamlet re-done with lions. But what Shakespeare does that is so brilliant is create a hero that is very poorly suited to a revenge tragedy. Hamlet is a quiet young man, a university student. At the beginning of the play, his one request is to go back to Wittenberg, a center of learning. Hamlet is saddened by his father’s death but he has no interest in getting revenge, until his father’s ghost appears.

Then it takes a good long while before Hamlet actually decides to kill Claudius. Hamlet has several opportunities to get revenge but he decides to wait for two main reasons. First of all, he’s not sure that Claudius did in fact kill his father and he wants to be sure before he kills someone. Secondly, he chooses not to kill his uncle while he’s praying because he wants the uncle to go to hell, not heaven. This may sound really cruel, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. After all, Hamlet thinks that his father was murdered without time for prayer, sending him to purgatory. If Hamlet kills his uncle only to send him to Heaven, then that’s not revenge at all.

Hamlet and Ophelia
All in all, I would highly recommend Hamlet to anyone. It’s not actually as hard to understand as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, especially if you watch a film along with it. Kenneth Branagh has a wonderful uncut version of the play, making it easy to read along, but I personally prefer the David Tennant version which is absolutely hilarious. Before I watched this I never thought Shakespeare could be that funny, but it certainly is. Shakespeare somehow manages to combine tragedy and hilarious comedy to create Hamlet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Transition Trouble

Lately I’ve been thinking about transitions between scenes inside a single chapter of a novel. Here are a couple different ways you can do it (I’m using the example of a girl going from her house to her friend’s house.)

1- The first kind is to simply tell everything that happens in between, to not have a break at all. In this case, the girl would go down to the garage, start the car, back out of the driveway, drive onto the freeway, pull off into her friend’s subdivision… you get the idea.

Pros:  This way works especially well whenever something interesting happens on the ride that’s not important enough to get a whole scene but needs to happen. Like maybe her car won’t start at first, foreshadowing a full breakdown a couple chapters later. Or maybe she’s driving along and she catches a glimpse of someone walking along the highway who later becomes a major character.  Also, if your character has a lot of thinking to do, you can have her think while driving. Interiority is always more interesting if your character is actually doing something.

Cons: This can easily get boring. Your readers probably aren’t interested in a character driving along a highway to a friend’s house. Unless something interesting happens or the MC is thinking, it’s probably best not to use this technique.

                2- The second way would be to just summarize it really quickly. You’d write about the girl deciding to go to her friend’s house then say ‘a minute later I pulled into her driveway.’

Pros: This is great because you leave out most of the boring stuff while not actually using a section break, which can be choppy. Since you probably don’t want to use too many section breaks this is a great way to splice two scenes together without one.

Cons: This can still have a lot of unwanted information. You don’t want to jump too far when you’re just skimming so you probably need to give some details, which can still get boring. Also, if this is poorly done, it can feel really awkward jumping so quickly from scene to scene. This was one of my main problems with Mockingjay. Collins would combine so many scenes in one chapter, jumping forward a couple weeks in a single paragraph. It was rather disorienting, actually.

                3- The most often used way would be to simply give a section break to indicate time passing. Here you’d say, ‘“See you in a minute,” I said. * * * * Ten minutes later, I pulled into her driveway.’

Pros: This clearly indicates the passage of time, giving the reader a bit of a breather space and keying them up for a new scene, possibly with a mood change. If you’re transitioning between two very different scenes, this is probably the best way. The best thing is, you can jump as far as you want and start up again wherever you’d like.

Cons: This can easily become choppy, especially if you have many section breaks. It’s probably not a good idea to have more than two of these breaks per chapter. While it’s a great method for transitioning between two very different scenes, if the scenes are super similar it’s probably best to use method number two.

So, here are a couple ideas for switching between scenes inside a single chapter. Do you have any to add? Which one of these is your favourite? 

An Explanation

Hi Everyone!

I just wanted to say sorry for not posting the past couple days. I've been really busy with the end of the first summer term, since it came at the same time as a lot of other random business, so I really didn't have time to post. Since it's now officially summer and I have nothing to do but work and write my novel (35K now, guys. Be proud of me!) I should be able to get back on track with this blog.

Upcoming series should include:
1- Help with beginning your novel
2- University tips (for those of you starting in the fall)
3- Anything you'd like. :)

See that last one there? If there's anything you'd like to see more of, be that writing tips or book reviews or updates on my WIP or just random posts about what happens on this wonderful little Island that I call home, then just leave a comment and I'll do my best to get to it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Book Review: Wither

Why I read it: I heard a lot of buzz about this book all over the blogosphere, especially about the ultra-gorgeous cover. I also loved how it was a dystopia, and I was interested to see how she was going to handle the issue of polygamy.

What I liked: Wither certainly lives up to its cover. The book just ‘feel’ like the cover, rich but a little bit empty, dying and trapped but with a bit of hope. I loved the range of emotions that Rhine went through and how they all felt realistic. We see this new world through her eyes and we can’t help but both love it and hate it as she does.

I loved the other characters, the sister wives especially. Jenna and Cecily were both so different and well rounded characters. I would have liked to see a bit more of Gabrielle, the main love interest, but I really liked Linden, her husband. He was such a great character, so innocent and fragile, the sort of person you want to hate but can’t help loving. In short, I really felt for all the characters, stuck in this terrible situation.

What I disliked: A lot of people have brought up issues of believability with this story and I partially agree. I’m perfectly willing to accept the fact that a virus kills everyone at a certain age and that North America is the only continent that survived (it’s called ‘suspension of disbelief’ guys… plus, I have a thesis that the other continents still do exist and Rhine just doesn’t know) but I don’t understand how polygamy and kidnapping necessarily follow from that setup. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to sell off the less beautiful girls rather than killing them? And instead of kidnapping, couldn’t they just choose brides from an orphanage, like Linden assumes they do?

At times I found it a little hard to understand Linden and his father, Vaughn. I loved how Linden was ignorant of everything that was going on, but he obviously still knew he was in a polygamous marriage. How did polygamy ever change from wrong to right? We’re not given a very solid idea of the history of polygamy and how acceptable it is. Also, Housemaster Vaughn seemed like a super evil character and I was never sure what he was doing and why. In short, I guess all my dislikes are just questions I had that weren’t really answered. Hopefully I’ll get more answers from book two, Fever.

From a Christian Perspective: Considering that this book features a polygamous marriage, it was much cleaner than I expected. She and her ‘husband’ never actually do ‘consummate’ their marriage, but Linden does sleep with both of the sister wives. Sex is talked about once or twice. Rhine kisses both Gabriel and Linden, but these kisses are fairly clean. There’s very little swearing, except for one quick occurrence at the beginning of the book. There are some slightly graphic descriptions of childbirth and illness but nothing too bad, I don’t think.

To buy or not to buy: I may well pick up a copy, whenever I actually get around to ordering something on Amazon. I think this is a book that I would read again, and I’ll certainly read the sequel, Fever.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WIP Update

I was supposed to post a writing tip today, but when I checked in my file, I found that I had no pre-written posts ready. Since today is a busy day (I have to watch Hamlet, read all of The Tempest, start studying for my final exam on Monday, go job searching, tune my 34 string harp, help my mom garden, and try to find some time to read and write) I don't have the time to spend the hour thinking up a good topic, writing about it and then cutting it down to something resembling a reasonable length. So, to make a long short story long, there will be no writing tip post this week.

Instead, I'm going to update you on my WIP, The Web. I started it a little bit over a month ago, at the beginning of May. Now, I'm normally a die-hard plotter, and I have complex character sketches and chapter outlines and random ramblings about the story. This time, I started off with only a very general idea of where I was going. For the first 20k everything was great; I loved the story, I had no trouble writing it, and everything came to life perfectly.

After that point I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. I kept slogging on, coming up with new ideas and trying to fit them together with the old ideas and characters and trying to find my way to the planned ending that was seeming more elusive as time went on. At last, when I reached the milestone of 40k, I looked at what I was writing and realized that it was boring.

Boring isn't good for any story, especially not when it's supposed to be an action-packed Sci-fi/dystopia. So, despite the fact that I had been slogging ahead, writing an average of 2000 words daily, I just stopped writing the story. But I didn't stop writing. I got out my brainstorming document and wrote about the story. I wrote about why characters would do what they did, about what they were feeling and what they thought about the other characters. I wrote about how The Web works in my story, figuring out its limitations. I wrote about the conflict in my story, trying to force it to the center and create a well-paced book.

Then I went back and edited. Almost every chapter, even the first ten chapters that I absolutely loved, had to be changed somehow. Some were cut entirely. Other events were moved around. Some characters were cut, others had their roles changed and enlarged.

Just the other day I started writing new stuff. I'm now 31k into it again with a bit of an outline stretching in front of me. I know what sort of things are coming and I vaguely know the order, but nothing's set in stone. The outline is flexible, but at least it's there. I've discovered that I can't write without an outline. I need some sort of a guide to keep me going. 'Pantsing' it just doesn't work for me.

So far, this story has been great experience for me. I've learned how to write without a super-flexible outline, but I've also learned that I need an outline to keep me going. Now that I've learned this about my writing style, I'm ready to go full speed ahead. If I don't suffer another setback like this, I may well have a finished manuscript by the end of July. Wish me luck!

IMM: Week of Dystopia

I didn't specifically plan to get so much dystopia from the library this week, but I guess since that's my favourite genre, it just kind of happened. I also got a couple books that are slight twists on normal dystopia, such as The Dead Tossed Waves which is more of a post-apocalyptic, and Leviathan which seems to be an alternate past story... but we'll see. Still, lots of great action novels which I can't wait to read.

I FINALLY got to read this wonderful book last week. It moved a little slower than I would have hoped, but the characterization was wonderful. Review coming soon.

I'm half way through this right now and it's better than the first one but I'm still don't really like the characters that much. I'll see how it goes. Probably three stars. 

I'm not exactly sure why I ordered this one because I thought it was a MG fantasy, but I just learned that it's actually a YA dystopia, so I'm really excited to read it now. 

I've been eager to read this book ever since I heard it was a book about abortion in a dystopian world. I'm interested to see how he handles such a tough subject.

I just realized how weird it is to be reading this right after Unwind, but it will be interested to get two very different treatments of the subject of organ donors. 

I have read the Pretties series yet, but I've heard that they were pretty good, so I'm looking forward to this other series. It looks like alternate history, sort of steampunk, so it should be good.

And that's what I got in my mailbox this week! I'm pretty excited about all these reads, so it's too bad that I have a really busy weekend with my final exam on Monday, so I won't have much time to read. 

Over to you... what did you get in your mailbox this week? Have you read any of these books, or are they on your TBR pile? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Problems with Poetry 2: Listening to Critiques

While a lot of people assume that writing a poem is dead easy, they also seem to have great difficulty in editing their poetry. Some people think that it’s just feelings, and how can they possibly edit feelings to make them ‘better’? Others just can’t find anything ‘wrong’. A poem is just the words that fly out onto the page, right?

In my not-so-humble-opinion… wrong. Poems that are just feelings, just poured out, uncensored emotions, are like journal entries. They’re true, they’re right, they’re a piece of you… but they aren’t great literature. Just like I wouldn’t hand you my journal and tell you ‘This is the next bestseller’ you can’t hand me a poem you wrote right after your boy/girlfriend broke up with you and say ‘I’m going to get this published.’

A journal entry could eventually be moulded into a story, but there’s absolutely no way you’d publish it as is (unless you’re somehow famous and people want to read about your personal life.) In the same way, your poem, like any potential piece of literature, is going to need work. And for you to improve your poems you’ll need advice from other writers. This post is for all of you who want to improve your poetry writing by listening to critiques from others.

1.       Read their critique through a couple times and give yourself a day or two to think about it.
2.       You don’t need to take ALL the advice. If something doesn’t ring true for you, don’t use it. Just remember to always give it a decent shot before tossing it out.
3.       Be open to criticism. Remember that your poem can probably be made ‘better.’
4.       When someone says something isn’t clear, then you probably need to make it slightly more obvious.
5.       If you based your poem on real life, be ready to change the facts to make it more interesting. Changing names is also a good idea. J
6.       If the poem was written in an emotional moment, give yourself a few days, months or even years before trying to edit.

And lastly, don’t post your poetry on a writing website and ask people to read it if you’re not interested in making changes. If all you want is for people to tell you that you’re wonderful, go show it to family members who have to say that you’re amazing. Don’t post it online and then get annoyed every time someone gives you a critique. I understand that there is poetry that is so personal you can’t stand to have it ripped apart, but if that’s the case you probably shouldn’t be posting it on a writing website. In short, be open to criticism, learn to love it, and get ready to make your poem as amazing as it possibly can be. Poetry’s just another art form, one that requires practice.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: Skinned

By Robin Wasserman

The Download was supposed to change the world. It was supposed to mean the end of aging the end of death, the birth of a new humanity. But it wasn't supposed to happen to someone like Lia Kahn.

And it wasn't supposed to ruin her life.

Lia knows she should be grateful she didn't die in the accident. The Download saved her--but it also changed her, forever. She can deal with being a freak. She can deal with the fear in her parents' eyes and the way her boyfriend flinches at her touch. But she can't deal with what she knows, deep down, every time she forces herself to look in the mirror: She's not the same person she used to be.

Maybe she's not even a person at all.

Why I read it: I was at the library and saw it on the shelf. The cover and pitch (girl dies, brain transplanted into a new body) seemed cool, so I took it.

 What I liked: The concept and setting were both very well executed. First off, the idea of a brain transplant is hardly new, but Wasserman put a unique twist on it by making Lia immortal. The whole idea of the Skinners being shunned created an interesting conflict (a little forced at times, though). This novel is supposedly about ‘finding out who we really are inside’ and it contains some fairly good philosophical reflections on that.
The Second book in the trilogy

Also, the futuristic society that Wasserman creates felt real. There’s a whole set of new slang, lots of new technology (including cool clothes) and a super cool version of the internet. On the whole it was a very well thought out world that felt close enough to our own to be recognizable, but far enough away so that it’s obviously futuristic.

What I disliked: When I picked this up from the library I thought it was going to be a Sci-fi action thriller. After all, it’s futuristic, a bit of a dystopia, talks about brain transplants… My main issue with this book is that it seems to promise action and a noble quest, and what it delivers is 200 pages of Lia trying to find out who she is, and then 100 pages of something resembling romance. Romance lovers may enjoy this book, but I don’t like romance stories at the best of times, and especially not when they come in Sci-fi packaging.

My other dislike was that there’s pretty much no plot. The first third of this book was just her sitting around in a hospital learning about what was wrong with her. It’s not until the last 50 pages that plot really kicks in. Throughout the whole story I was asking myself, ‘What does the protagonist want?’ The answer: ‘To be alive again.’ She can’t be alive again. Thus, the entire book is basically her coming to terms with her ‘death’. This just gets really frustrating, because, as the readers, we know that what Lia wants is impossible by page 50, but it takes her about 250 more pages for her to figure that out.

The third book in the trilogy
From a Christian Perspective: Here are some other major dislikes: There’s a fair bit of swearing, including frequent use of the F-word. There are no direct sex scenes, but it’s certainly discussed. The characters make out several times. This is not a clean book.

Also, this book directly talks about Christians as the ‘Faithers’, a group of religious extremists who hate Lia and think she’s some sort of abomination. Christianity is portrayed as something that went out of style a long time ago, but some weak people refuse to give it up. Near the end of the book Lia catches her father ‘praying’; proof of how desperate and broken he is.

To buy or not to buy: This book may interest some romance lovers or people who just completely like futuristic societies. To anyone else—especially Christian readers—I would never recommend it. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Classic of the Week: King Lear

Ian McKellen as a slightly crazed Lear

Now, to continue my Wednesday Classic series, which for the past couple weeks has been exclusively Shakespeare, I bring you another tragedy. While Hamlet is a role for a young actor and Macbeth for one of almost any age, this role is one to crown the career of an old, established actor (such as Ian McKellen, who did a wonderful version just a couple years ago.) The play is:

King Lear By William Shakespeare

This play is one of Shakespeare’s longer and more complex works. There are actually several different versions of the text, so it can be hard to tell exactly what’s the ‘right’ version. The basic plot of King Lear revolves around two families, the Lear family and the Gloucester family. King Lear is growing old, and so he decides to divide his kingdom up between his three daughters, giving the biggest portion according to who loves him most. The oldest two daughters lavish false praises on their father, while the youngest, Cordelia, tells her father that she loves him as much as she owes him, and gets banished. Lear’s other daughters then take over the kingdom and cruelly throw Lear out into a storm.
Lear at the beginning of the play

Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester has two sons. The older, Edgar, is a legitimate son, while the younger, Edmund, is, as he repeats often, a ‘bastard’. Edgar, of course, is due to receive all the inheritance, but Edmund manages to trick Gloucester into believing that Edgar is planning to kill him, so Edgar gets thrown out. Then Edmund throws Gloucester out and takes over.

Edmund, Gloucester's evil,
bastard son
Because of this double plot, it can sometimes be a little difficult to understand King Lear. I personally found it much more difficult than either Macbeth or Othello. The plots do eventually merge and lead to the inevitable conclusion of almost everyone dying, but for awhile it can be difficult to figure out what’s happening to which family.

The most terrible thing about King Lear is that it’s set in a universe that is completely random and merciless. Instead of mentioning God and talking about heaven and hell like Shakespeare does frequently in his other plays, the characters all pray to ‘the gods’ who never intervene as the tragedy only worsens. In the middle of the play, Gloucester, blind and wandering about in the middle of a storm, speaks the lines: ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.’ This idea of the senseless, unfeeling universe dominates King Lear, increasing the sense of tragedy and utter hopelessness.

Keira Knightly is rumored to play Cordelia in an upcoming
big screen version of King Lear.
In short, King Lear is not a play I’d recommend as readily as Macbeth or Othello. Though all three are dark, King Lear is perhaps the worst. Lear makes the smallest mistake of any of these characters, an error that in any other world could have not made any difference. He also repents of it by the end of the first act, but it’s no use. Macbeth and Othello could have stopped the tragedy by changing their minds early on in the play, but Lear is helpless. King Lear is a very good play, but filled with a sense of hopelessness. As my sister said after watching it, “Shakespeare must have been very depressed.”

Complexities of Commas

One problem that I have when I’m writing is that I tend to use too many commas. I’ve know about this for a long time, so in my formal writing I end up using too few commas (I was flabbergasted when my first university essay came back added commas everywhere) but in my creative writing, when I’m just trying to get words out, they appear everywhere.

The problem with commas is that it’s sometimes really hard to tell when you need them and when you don’t. Consider this sentence:

Last year that shop was a restaurant.
Last year, that shop was a restaurant.

Which is correct? The first one is nice and simple, but the second one gives a useful little pause. I personally think the second one sounds better when reading it on its own, but in the middle of a long paragraph, a short sentence can probably do without a comma.

 What about longer sentences? Take this sentence (talking about alcoholic candies…)

Since I’m a bit of a special case, I’m not sure if they’re illegal for me, but I know Phoebe can’t have them.

Does it really need both those commas? Could you read it without any commas at all? I just wrote this sentence about an hour ago when I was racing for wordcount so I didn’t really notice the overuse of commas. Now, in editing mode, I think I’d remove the first comma but leave in the second. What do you guys think?

Occasionally, you’ll come across a sentence that really does need the commas. Here’s an example taken from slightly earlier in the story.

I don’t really feel like re-colouring my nails, but Phoebe insists that the beautiful purple definitely does not go with the dress I’m wearing today, which happens to be green with a thin blue pattern woven into it.

If you took out either of the commas it would just feel a little weird, in my opinion. In this case, it should be fine to leave the commas in. However, if you have two many run-on sentences like this it could start to feel repetitive and a little boring. In that case, the best thing to do would be to re-word the sentence. Here’s a way to reword the sentence to get rid of a comma:

I don’t really feel like re-colouring my nails, but Phoebe insists that the beautiful purple definitely does not go with the greeny-blue dress I’m wearing today.

I just lost a little bit of detail about the dress, but since it really isn’t important to the plot it doesn’t matter. Now I have a sentence with just one comma that says exactly the same as a sentence with two.

In short, commas are very useful little friends that we must be careful not to overwork. Always hunt through your manuscript to make sure to get rid of unneeded commas. Even if a comma is needed the way your sentence is currently written, consider re-wording it to get rid of commas. Remember that commas are great, but too many makes your writing feel choppy. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Both Helpful and Harmful (my response to the WSJ article)

Since I received absolutely no new books this past week (can you believe it? What a sad week!) and everyone’s talking about the (in)famous Wall Street Journal article about dark YA, I thought I’d give a really quick version of my thoughts on the article. First off, I suggest you read Veronica Roth and Robinson Well’s take, since they do a pretty good job of explaining two big points concerning dark material in YA.

What most people are saying about the article is that it’s complete hogwash; kids don’t go and become cutters because they read about a cutter. In the past few days, dozens of stories have surfaced about anorexic teens who stopped hurting themselves once they read about another anorexic girl, or people who were encouraged not to do drugs once they read about how terrible that sort of life is. While I don’t have a story like this, I do find that reading some issue books can help me to understand what it’s like for other people, the ones who don’t have a safe home and loving family to turn to at the end of each day. Books like these help me empathize with people who aren’t as blessed as I am.

On the other hand, these books can and do have a negative affect on people if they’re given to the wrong teen at the wrong time. People keep saying that teens aren’t stupid, that they know their own reading level and that parent’s shouldn’t be censoring them. Maybe that’s true for older teens (17+) but certainly for younger teens, that’s blatantly false. When I was thirteen I began reading some YA material that had broken families, kids wandering around homeless, death, depression… nothing even that gritty, but still. Since I was already going through a hard time with my grandfather’s death, these books hurt me. I remember crying after reading a couple chapters of a certain book, wishing I could tear the pages out and destroy them forever.

Even good books can have this effect. I read a fantasy book, one that I now own and would heartily recommend, but it ends with the murder of the main character. This scene hurt me back when I was thirteen. In all honestly, it sent me into a depression for at least a month. Just that one book, one that I would call a good book and eagerly read again and again now. But back then, at the wrong time, even this good book—but with violent content—had the power to hurt me.

That’s why I think it’s important for parents to have some input in what their teens are reading, at least in the case of younger teens. Because, well, teenagers are stupid. I know, because I am one. When I was thirteen I wasn’t capable of choosing the books that were good for me to read. Maybe some people are mature enough at thirteen, and some people obviously are not. Some people might not be mature enough until they’re eighteen. That means it’s the parents responsibility to help their children find reading material that they’ll be comfortable and that will help them. Yes, gritty books can occasionally help, but they can also harm.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Problems with Poetry 3: Choosing the Perfect Words

When you’re writing a novel, you can spare a word or two. In a short story, every word counts. In a poem, every syllable has to be perfect.

Most poems are short, with fewer than 300 words. Have you ever tried to write a story that short? My short story, ‘Because You Laughed’ is around 3000 words. Most poems are only a tenth of that, and many are much shorter. And yet, somehow good poems manage to pack as much of an emotional punch as any good short story or novel, despite the fact that they are so much shorter.

How do they do that? One way is by choosing the absolutely perfect words. For novels, often we’re told to write simply and clearly. Dialogue tags are a bad thing. Use ‘walked’ instead of ‘ambled’ so that the reader can skim over it and get to the good stuff.

The thing with poetry is that it’s all good stuff. There are no boring parts in a poem, no really exciting scenes connected by a boring conversation or two. It all has to be perfectly crafted. And that means you probably don’t want the reader to skim over any part of the poem. You want your reader to savour every word.

That doesn’t mean that you should crowd your poem with ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s and ‘Werefore art thou, Romeo’s. Using long/archaic words doesn’t necessarily help your poem. On a related note, don’t ever use a word that you’re not sure of its meaning (this goes for novels, too) just because it sounds good. I have seen people use long words just because they think it makes them look smart, when they’re actually using it in the wrong way.

Make sure you know exactly what all your words mean. Know all the possible meanings. Don’t just know that ‘ambled’ means ‘walked.’ Know that ‘ambled’ means ‘walked, somewhat slowly, a little lazily, sort of slow and steady, without-a-care-in-the-world kind of walk.’ You won’t find that definition in a dictionary, but you need to know the associations that come with the word. If your character is upset, you don’t want to say that they ‘ambled quickly.’ That’s an oxymoron, and it really doesn’t fit.

Choose words by their precise meaning. Choose the perfect words. Don’t settle for the one you think of first. Use a thesaurus, use your brain, read other poems. Do whatever it takes, but find the absolutely perfect word for your particular use. Listen to how it sounds, and the context other writers have used it in. Always remember, in poetry every word must be perfect. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review: Matched

By Allie Condie

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander.
 But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Why I read it: It’s dystopia, and that’s reason enough. Plus, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in this case the cover fits perfectly.

My Thoughts: I’ve decided not to do a ‘what I liked’ and ‘what I disliked’ about this book, because my thoughts are all over the map. Basically, I liked almost everything, but didn’t really like anything.

The premise is an intriguing one. At seventeen, everyone is ‘Matched’ up with the person they will eventually marry. Cassia is matched with her best friend Xander, and she’s completely happy with that until she puts her match disk in her home port, and another boy’s face appears for a second. I quite enjoyed this premise; the idea of an arranged marriage perfectly calculated on their personalities sounds like something that could eventually happen. However, I was annoyed by the romance in this book. She loves Xander and knows that she would be happy with him; he’s a super sweet guy. And yet, she decides to fall in love with Ky. I never really understood why she liked Ky that much more that she would risk everything to be with him when she knew it was impossible.

The setting was certainly well described. I enjoyed the portrayal of the Society as something that was meant to help the people. Instead of being an evil totalitarian government, they honestly meant to do the best thing for the people. I liked this twist, but it felt a little off when they would do some semi-evil things for no reason whatsoever. I got the impression that it was actually a fairly good society, but Cassia needed an excuse to rebel to keep the book from getting boring, so Condie would make them do something completely senseless, like go door to door collecting all their old valuables. Also, the Society decided to keep only a hundred poems/songs/paintings because the culture was too ‘cluttered’. I never really understood why they’d stop creativity like that.

As for the characters, I liked them alright but I didn’t quite identify with them. I really liked Cassia’s family. Her parents were nice, well-rounded characters, and I loved her little brother. I also really liked both the love interests, Xander and Ky. However, I never quite felt the romance between Ky and Cassia. It always seemed like they liked being together so they could talk about old (forbidden) poetry rather than having any real attraction.

From a Christian Perspective: Matched scores very high in this category. I don’t think there was any swearing at all. There was no sexual content, aside from two or three quick kisses that weren’t sensual at all. Religion is mentioned once or twice as something that ended a long time ago, with the coming of the restrictive Society. One of the major reasons that Cassia hates the Society is because she finds out that the reason everyone dies at eighty is because the Society poisons their food. It was nice to see an anti-euthanasia message in a popular book. In short, this is not exactly a Christian book, but it has nothing in it that would offend a Christian.

To buy or not to buy: I’ve decided not to buy this because it’s just not my type of story. I was looking for an action/adventure, it turned out to be a romance. If you love dystopian romance, though, this is definitely the book for you. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Review

Wow... it's June already. We're almost halfway through 2011! That's just crazy. It's not the best June day out there, a little dark and overcast, but we've had some really nice days recently, so I can't complain. PEI is always really cold in the spring.

Since my Shakespeare class got a little behind (thanks to a midterm and Victoria Day weekend) I won't be posting about a classic this week. Instead I'll do a really quick May Review.

Followers: 53 (up from 43)

Pageviews: 1241 (down from 1800 last month, but a lot of those views were from the poll at the side)

Day with the most pageviews: May 8th

Most viewed page: How to get Published 4: Querying

Website that referred the most views: Inkpop.com

Country with the most views: US

Again, those last two categories are pretty constant. A lot of my views come from inkpop, and most of those users live in the states. A big shout -out to my new followers: Thank you! I'm so honoured that all of you stop by regularly to read my book reviews and writing and advice and just plain ramblings. 

I'm thinking of having a book giveaway whenever I reach 100 followers. The book would be either the first two Pretty Little Liars books (Sara Shepard), Crescendo (Becca Fitzpatrick), or Hereafter (Tara Hudson). I'm not actually a big fan of these books, but I know a lot of you will probably love them, so I figure I might as well pass them on to someone who will appreciate them, right? 

So. Giveaway at 100 followers. At my current rate, that'll be another five months. But you guys can make it happen a lot faster..