Monthly Archives: November 2015

Should Authors Write Book Reviews?

When searching for the next book I want to read, I always turn to book reviews. It’s gotten to the point where I specifically look for certain book reviewers I trust, and see what they rated a book before considering reading it myself. Without reading book reviews, I’d start a lot of novels I should have never picked up in the first place.

The vast majority of book reviewers are laypeople, meaning they’re your average Joe, or, for the purposes of this post, non-authors (people who haven’t gotten published). However, what happens when someone is an author? Should they post book reviews? What if they start out unpublished and post reviews, and then become published? Should they take down all their reviews or just the bad ones?

4236086905_e88cccb3ba_zAuthor Kristen Lamb posted on her blog the Three NEVERS of Social Media for Writers. In this post she talks about avoiding posting distasteful and crude online comments, including being rude on Twitter, and never writing bad book reviews. She believes that a person cannot be both an author and a reviewer.

On one hand, I agree with her. Authors should support each other and one big way to do that is by not posting bad reviews about another author’s work. And, while an author is only human, just like actors and singers and politicians, their opinion – in fact this is the case with anyone who’s looked up to – holds more weight than an anonymous person.

Not to mention that authors tend to think about point of view, character arcs, setting, plot holes, etc. a lot more in depth than most readers. Sometimes this makes enjoying a novel more challenging because authors focus on the smaller aspects of a novel that many lay readers gloss over or accept as part of the fictional world. Readers are reading for enjoyment, and if they find a novel entertaining, regardless of the plot holes or flat, stereotypic characters, they’re more likely to rate a novel favorably. Authors are more likely to get distracted with nit-picking. (An example? In a book I read, character B doesn’t own a cell phone. However, five pages later, character A texts character B. How? I have no clue, but it happened, and I ended up ranting to my friend for a few minutes about how irritating it is to find small inconsistencies like these in novels. My friend laughed and shrugged off my annoyance, telling me to just enjoy the story.)

Because authors are familiar with the craft of writing, they more readily spot problems within the text. Honestly? That kind of sucks.

But it does make a decent argument for why authors should not post bad reviews. Perhaps, authors shouldn’t post book reviews at all.

On the other hand, authors are people. And just because they’re published doesn’t mean their voices should be squashed. One of the great things about authors is that they tend to be voracious readers. They devour books, and if they end up liking a book, then it usually means that book is one to put on your reading list.

I’m not attempting to state my opinion on this matter – I’m conflicted as to where I stand – but I am curious to know what others think. Should authors remain silent when it comes to reviewing books, or should they be able to express their opinions? Should they only express those opinions when their thoughts are favorable?

(Photo courtesy of jay thebooknerd.)

Antagonists: Protagonists from a Different View

 

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Antagonists. They’re usually not likeable. In fact, in most novels they’re hated by both characters and readers. But antagonists play a central part in fiction. Without them, there’d be no story.

An antagonist is the person who opposes the protagonist, the hero of the story. They’re the villain. The anti-hero. The bad guy.

The antagonist provides conflict.

More importantly, antagonists are the characters that keep people reading. If an antagonist isn’t well written or clear, then the stakes – the tension – isn’t defined.

You might say, “Well, wait a second. I care about what happens to the hero, not the villain.”

Great! However, if there was no threat to the hero, then how would you feel? You care about the protagonist because he is being threatened in some way, and thus has obstacles he must overcome to survive.

So, how do you go about writing a phenomenal antagonist?

For starters, remember that antagonists are real people. They’ve got a backstory, desires, ambitions, etc. They’re not just plot devices. In other words, character drives plot. The antagonist influences the actions and events within a story based on what he wants, and what he wants is the opposite of what the protagonist wants.

Another way to look at antagonists is to see the world through their eyes. To the outside observer, the antagonist is the bad guy, but to the antagonist he’s the good guy, while the protagonist is the antagonist. Crazy, right?

By looking at the world through the antagonist’s viewpoint, you can better grasp the antagonist as a person. The antagonist will become more of a rounded character, instead of a flat character used solely to move the plot along.

What’s fantastic about round characters is that they often fall into the gray zone located between the black and white poles you see in comic books and cartoons, or really any superhero movie.

The gray zone is a lot more interesting than black and white.

Think about some of your favorite antagonists. Darth Vader? Hannibal Lecter? Voldemort? Iago? Long John Silver? Norman Bates? Count Dracula? Annie Wilkes? Humbert Humbert? Nurse Ratched? Others?

Why do they stand out above the rest?

If nothing else, it’s because they make you feel strong emotions. You probably love hating them, or you hate that you love them. Maybe it’s a bit of both. (There are some novels I finished solely because I loved the antagonist, and though I couldn’t stand that I was more interested in the antagonist than the protagonist – guilty conscience for rooting for the bad guy – I was conflicted about seeing the antagonist lose in the end. I didn’t want to see the antagonist go because I wanted more.)

The antagonist doesn’t have to be a character. An idea, like racism, a natural disaster, like a hurricane or disease, an organization, like the NSA or some private bioengineering firm, can all act as antagonists. Think about slavery. That is a huge antagonist.

Bottom line: spend time on developing your antagonist. They’re vital to the story, and when something is a critical component, it can make or break a novel.

Got any antagonists you found yourself rooting for?

(Photo courtesy of Cynthia.)

How to Cope with People Who Hate Your Writing

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No matter what you do in life not everyone is going to like it. Take writing for example, specifically genre writing. I’m a genre writer, meaning I write fantasy, science fiction, and the like. However, there are people who can’t stand genre writing, and so they are extremely biased against it. Sometimes to the point where they believe nothing in genre writing is original, and they look down on genre writers. (Recently, one of these biased-against-genre-writers told me that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, I should give up genre writing.)

So, what do you do when you meet someone biased against your writing?

The best tactic is to ignore the naysayers. That’s easy to say, hard to do. But if you don’t effectively mute people who dislike your writing simply because it’s genre or for some other nonsensical reason (and I use nonsensical not intended to belittle anyone’s opinion, but to show that hating on a person’s writing solely because it’s not your type of writing is a tad absurd, not to mention rude), you’ll get distracted from your writing. You may even begin to doubt your abilities.

What’s important to remember is that some people aren’t going to like your writing. Period. There’s nothing you can do to change their opinion, so focus on those individuals who enjoy your writing. (Now, if someone doesn’t like your writing because there’s no plot or the voice is extremely inconsistent, then you may want to listen to their opinion, and revise accordingly.)

Have you ever had anyone dislike your writing for some generic reason? How’d you handle it?

(Photo courtesy of Jenni Konrad.)

“Story of a Girl” Review

305379629_0cf039ac22_zIn high school, there’s always that one girl people whisper about, the one that has the reputation of “school slut.” Maybe she got that reputation from being caught on school grounds having sex with her boyfriend, or she’s the type of girl who steals other girls’ boyfriends. Or she could have been the girl that got knocked up and had an abortion. Perhaps she didn’t do any of those things.

It doesn’t really matter what she did or didn’t do. The gossip and labels her peers give her will define her.

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr is a young adult story about Deanna Lambert, a girl who was caught, by her father, having sex with her brother’s seventeen-year-old friend, when she was only thirteen. Three years later, Deanna is labeled as the “school slut.” Suffering from low self-esteem, a poor and highly dysfunctional family, and crushing on her best friend’s boyfriend, Deanna is stuck within the past, unable to form any true relationships or move on and plan a future for herself.

By the end of the story, Deanna is able to move on. But how does she break free from her reputation? It’s not because the world she lives in changes. Everyone’s views of her remain the same. She’s still considered the school slut, but what does change is her. By learning to forgive others, she allows herself to be forgiven. By changing how she responds, she opens the doorway for hope and change: “Forgetting isn’t enough. You can paddle away from the memories and think they are gone. But they will keep floating back, again and again and again. They circle you, like sharks. And you are bleeding your fear into the sea, until, unless something. Someone? Can do more than just cover the wound.” (147)

From the beginning Deanna’s point of view is two-fold. Outwardly, she’s extremely tough, but, inwardly, she is a very vulnerable teenage girl. This vulnerability makes her highly self-protective. She’s haunted by a past action she wishes she could undo. This memory pains her every time it arises. Deanna has a realistic voice, full of self-doubt, loneliness, and most of all, a need to connect to others. To be needed and loved. By Zarr writing Story of a Girl through Deanna’s point of view, she is making Deanna an authentic teenage voice and relatable to readers, regardless of whether or not they’ve been caught having sex by their father. Because most people know what it’s like to be labeled and to have those labels stick, and to want to break away from what other people define you as.

In terms of plot, there isn’t any huge climatic ending. There isn’t a major dramatic scene anywhere within the novel. However, the story is powerful. Zarr uses quieter scenes to showcase Deanna slowly overcoming the “slut” label she’s been placed under, revealing a deeper and more accurate view of Deanna. This quiet growth allows for a truer version of Deanna to progress, and shows her maturing in a realistic way. By using subtler moments, Zarr allows for the universal themes of the story to shine: the unfairness of having false identities forced onto you, the ache of being unable to change past events, and the desperate need to belong to a group of people who will love you despite your flaws.

For most of the story, Deanna doesn’t have an accepting family, so she attempts to escape from herself. Zarr uses sub-chapters to weave a story within a story. These sub-chapters act as Deanna’s coping mechanism. In them, she is not Deanna Lambert, but the girl on the waves: “I’d already detached from the conversation. In my head I saw the girl on the waves, bobbing along, thinking my thoughts, feeling my feelings, swimming away.” (30) The girl on the waves acts as Deanna’s emotional buffer, but once Deanna begins to move on, the girl on the waves becomes less of a presence within the story, until she disappears and there’s only Deanna left. Zarr’s use of these sub-chapters gives readers an idea of how fragile Deanna’s internal state is and how lonely and isolated she is. Unable to confront her emotions on her past, Deanna hides behind the girl on the waves, until, finally, she is able to start to take back her emotions and her identity piece by piece.

Story of a Girl is not a happy story. It doesn’t have a fairytale ending. Deanna is not completely healed, but she’s in the process of healing. She’s hopeful and looking toward a future she didn’t conceive of before.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Weisberg.)

Without the Cheese, Please: Creating Non-Cheesy Romance

 

8685962293_e0500d9d14_zI’m all for those sappy romantic scenes full of stereotypes and tropes, however, there’s nothing fresh or exciting about those types of romances. And if I’m not in the right mood for a more chick flick oriented romance, the romance is going to annoy me endlessly. Sometimes, I’ll take my annoyance out on the entire book.

Why?

Because an over-the-top romance takes away from what may have been an otherwise well-written novel. One of the best examples I have is from a young adult novel, where the romance seems thrown in. It was as if the editor and writer agreed that because the book was YA it needed a romance between the protagonist and her male lead.

It didn’t.

Remember that scene from “Silver Linings Playbook,” where Bradley Cooper’s character chucked that book out the window? I was sorely tempted to mimic his actions with this particular YA novel. The forced romance killed the rest of the book, and made the protagonist, who would have been awesome, into some lust-filled whiny girl, who made idiotic decisions.

So, how does one avoid the stereotypic romance?

  1. Keep characters acting like themselves. If your character isn’t the type to trust strange men, then why would she suddenly let a guy she’s known for less than a week make all the decisions for her? If your character is incapable of talking to the opposite sex, then he shouldn’t suddenly be Mr. Charming. Be consistent with your characters. Your characters quirks are what will make the romance unique and believable.
  2. There’s more to a story than just romance. Even romance novels have more going on than just the romance. Something has to keep the two lovebirds apart. When plots get lost in the romance, the story falls flat. There’s only so many times people can read about a cute, shy girl who falls in love with two guys, where guy A is the obvious choice and guy B is there because…why?…because he’s supposed to add drama. (Hint: he only adds irritation and makes the protagonist seem like a dolt.)
  3. It’s about the relationship. Too often romance is focused too much on the physical. Yes, physical attraction is important… when you first meet a person. You’ve probably had this experience: you see someone you find incredibly attractive, you have a very physical reaction, and then that person opens their mouth, and – bam! – that attraction is gone. A person’s looks gets you interested. It’s the personality, and the ensuing relationship, that makes you stay.

How do you avoid clichéd romances?

(Photo courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simoes.)