Monthly Archives: November 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Top Book So Far

At the beginning of this year, I joined Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge. In this challenge, you pledge to read a certain amount of books during the year. While some of my friends stated they’d read 50 or even 200 books, I challenged myself to read 30. For me, this is a lot…it’s about a book every two weeks. I’m two books away from my goal, and I’m happy that I’ll complete this goal.

5518988345_9ef6af4df9_oI wanted to share one of my favorite books so far this year:

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

If I could give this book more than five stars, I would.

At first, I was put off by the amount of cursing within the opening chapters (heads up there’s several f-bombs), but I quickly became engrossed with the protagonist Henry’s personality, trauma, and, most importantly, story.

This novel engages readers, and forces them to witness bullying, mental illness, and come to understandings that they would normally otherwise rather not think about. Shaun David Hutchinson uses Henry to send some very important messages to readers: “Remember the past, live the present, write the future” and that we do matter; maybe not to the universe or in the grand scheme of things – all of us will be forgotten in time – but we do matter and because we live the present, we’ll keep on.

After all, we’re the ants. And what do ants do? They keep marching one by one.

There’s a deepness to this story that isn’t initially apparent, but then showcases itself brilliantly through the pain of loss, the presence of new love and the guilt and fear that sometimes accompany that love, and much more.

This novel begins with Henry telling readers about how he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, and that they’ve now given him a choice: press the button and save Earth or don’t press the button and on 29 January 2016 the world is going to end. The question remains: will Henry press the button?

Though there is a love story within this book, this novel is so much more complex than a YA romance between Henry and Diego. Henry’s ex-boyfriend Jesse – the love of his life – committed suicide. Henry’s mother is a chain-smoking waitress, who cannot stand her one-time dream of being a chef because that dream reminds her too much of Henry’s dead-beat, door-slamming father, who abandoned them. Henry’s brother is a college dropout. The most popular boy in school alternates between bullying and making out with Henry. Henry’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s. The list goes on, and it is dark and amazing and heartfelt, and at times when readers need it most, comical.

Insight abounds in this novel, and what’s more is that the insight is conceivable. Usually in YA books, the protagonist possesses an awareness other characters miss, and often that insight is too deep or advanced for that character. However, in this novel Henry struggles with the big life questions. He asks others for answers, and the answers they provide create a well-rounded and realistic picture, with each of their answers reflecting the events that have occurred in their lives and how those events have impacted them. This story and its characters are believable to the point I imagined it as real life. That’s a big part of what makes this novel so engrossing, and what had me smiling, crying, and feeling all the emotions throughout the tale.

This book left my mind reeling with thoughts long after I closed the back cover. Definitely take the time to read this.

I’ve read some fantastic books this year, others that weren’t so great, and one that I would have been happy never picking up. Currently, I’m reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I’m only 10 chapters in, but so far this novel has impressed. It’s reminiscent of 19th century gothic novels and is a novel rife with subplots and breathtaking twists and turns. I can’t wait to finish it.

What’s your favorite novel of this year?

(Photo courtesy of Sweetie187.)

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Don’t Mistake Unpreparedness for Writer’s Block: Know What to Write Before You Write

 

Sometimes when you sit down to write nothing comes to you. You stare at the blank screen and you can’t picture anything. Frustration builds until you shove yourself away from your desk and leave writing for later.

Often, this inability to conjure anything to write is termed writer’s block. However, writer’s block isn’t always the culprit behind the inability to write. More often than not, nothing is coming to you because you’re not ready to write.

5033800896_b63b3f63f9_oWhen writing a novel, preparedness is extremely important. You need to know what you want to write about. This doesn’t mean that you have to plan out every chapter in advance. Often you’ll find that the story changes as you continue to write it. But, there are many steps involved with writing a book.

Take a minute to think of them.

What did you come up with?

Some of mine include:

  • Writing a one sentence summary. This boils your entire novel down to its main premise. It gives your novel direction. For example, “A mute snake-breeder becomes embroiled in the chase for a once-presumed extinct snake after discovering a blood-splattered scroll in a half-dug grave.”
  • Ask a boatload of open-ended questions. When jumping into more of the details, I’ll ask myself, “what if,” “who cares,” “how about,” etc. These types of questions help me flesh out the story, and help me spot any plot holes before I write myself into a dead-end. Also, open-ended questions are great for adding sub-plots and complexity to a story, thus making it more realistic.
  • Explore your characters. I usually don’t know all of my characters at the beginning of my story, but I know my main characters. I know what they look like, their backstories, how they’ll act, and more. Having fully fleshed out characters not only helps you know your characters inside and out, but helps you see where the story is going and, even, how much of a role each character should have in the plot. Sometimes the person you thought should be the main character isn’t the best choice.
  • Research. Many times there’s information already out in the world about what you want to write. Take time to explore this information. You never know what useful tidbits you’ll discover that will enhance your story. For example, if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to do intensive research on the time period you’re writing about. If you don’t, the piece won’t feel authentic. Even if you’re writing a futuristic science fiction novel, it’s still important to know what type of technology is realistic in the future. You have to be able to explain where nanites came from or how instantaneous travel is possible, or, if you’re writing a dystopian that occurs after World War III, you need to know what the consequences of setting off nuclear bombs are, etc.

Once you’ve done your research and exploration that blank screen will seem like less of a mountain. Ideas will come to you. Perhaps not immediately, ideas take time to fully form, and it’s likely you’ll discover that more ideas come as you’re writing; you’ll end up going back and adding those new story strands, creating a fuller, more complex, and intriguing story.

(Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.)

The Calm and the Storm: How Weather in Literature Can Make or Break a Story

 

Weather plays an extremely important role in a novel. It provides atmosphere, helps set the tone and setting, foreshadows plot, and indicates a character’s emotions.

Too often we forget how much weather affects us in real life. It influences our mood, health, the food we consume, and the activities we engage in; it sometimes threatens our survival. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, it’s captivating. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, flash flood, monsoon, forest fire, mudslide, or an earthquake, the news captures the disaster and people are drawn in.

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However, most days the weather isn’t exciting. More often than not, it’s cloudy, sunny, or a tad chiller than normal. In reality, people talk about those days, but in writing, those days are boring. Readers don’t want winding descriptions of an average day. They want foreboding weather. They want the remarkable.

So, while it’s vital to include weather in your novel, analyze if the weather is important to the scene you’re writing. If it’s a normal day, briefly mentioning that it’s overcast and drizzly outside is enough. Readers will receive the information they require to picture the scene. If the weather is abnormal or symbolic in some way, then show the weather rather than describing what it is doing. You want readers to experience the weather, instead of simply noticing it.

No matter what, avoid clichés. Describing heat rising off asphalt in shimmering waves, how the wind makes the trees dance, of how the sky is crystal clear have been used too often. Clichés make writing vague and unimaginative. You want your novel to portray your story and your characters. You want to engage all of the senses, so that readers know what the weather smells, sounds, and tastes like.

In James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Joyce uses a lengthy description of snow to showcase melancholy and how all worldly concerns recede.

“It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight…. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Sometimes, less description is more:

In Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” Nabokov evokes the swiftness and unexpected nature of how the character’s mother died. Readers can visualize the quickness and the outlandishness of such a death.

“My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three…”

Concentrate on how you want to use weather in your story, and then balance out how much time you spend on weather in your writing. When it’s extremely important, spend more time showing the weather. Make it an experience readers won’t forget.

(Photo courtesy of Jos van Wunnik.)

When the Books Start Piling Up: How to Settle and Read One Book at a Time

4442380869_6799f03bb2_oI’m always looking for the next book to read. This is great because I never run out of material. However, this often means that I have a teetering tower of books waiting for me.

Too often I find that when I go to select my next book, what I wanted to read a week ago is very different than what I want to read today. Add to that the fact that so many books exist, and I’m constantly finding more books to add to my list. This explains why my to-read list is one hundred three books strong and growing.

When I was younger, I’d attempt to read more than one book at a time. Usually, this resulted in me confusing which characters and stories belonged to which book. I ended up taking longer to read each book and enjoyed the novels less than I would have, if I’d read them one at a time. Then, there are times when I get so excited over new books to read that I lose interest in the current book I’m reading.

I used to force myself to finish every book I started, but with time and energy continuously feeling like they’re shrinking, I put down books much faster nowadays. Which is fine, if the book holds zero interest or is poorly written, but more often I find that I get distracted, whether by other novels I want to read or by the vast number of gizmos and gadgets that surround me…Netflix is a big one.

So, I’ve tried out different techniques to help me focus on the novel I’m reading:

  1. Find a place away from electronics. I keep the TV off, turn my phone on silent (sometimes I’ll flip it upside down), and put my laptop away. It’s too easy to get sidetracked by a text, email notification, tweet, or whatever else crops up. I also enjoy reading when it’s quiet. I’m so easily distracted that I can’t have any type of music playing in the background, even if it’s your standard elevator music.
  2. Schedule time to read. Everyone is busy. It seems like we have a million things to do every day, and no matter how hard we attempt to get every item on our to-do list crossed off, we never quite make it. Knowing how many other things we have to accomplish can make it difficult to concentrate on something that’s considered a leisure activity. However, reading for pleasure has many benefits, including “increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.” So, pencil in time to read, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a day.
  3. Read widely. It’s easy to fall into a rut. This includes with what you read. Occasionally, I’ll find myself reading the same types of books. After a while, I begin to get bored. Books I normally would have enjoyed are irritating me, because they seem exactly the same as the ones I’d previously read. Therefore, I like to mix up what I read. Maybe I’ll read two young adult fantasies and then pick up a six hundred page non-fiction book. After that, I might go to an adult mystery novel. By reading widely you’re doing more than staving off boredom. You’re boosting your creativity, expanding your understanding, increasing your emotional intelligence, and enhancing how different parts of your brain link to each other by growing neural connections.
  4. Join a reading group or reading challenge. At the beginning of 2016, I joined Goodreads’s yearly reading challenge. I pledged to read thirty books this year, which is about a book every two weeks. With each book I read, my challenge is updated, and any of my Goodreads’s friends can see my challenge status. Since I take this challenge as a promise to myself, I’m unwilling to not reach my goal. I want my homepage to show that I succeeded in what I set out to do. Giving yourself goals and letting others know about them, creates a community in which you’re responsible for what you promised to do. This motivates you to achieve your goals, and you get to connect with people to discuss what you’ve read, see what they’re reading, and feel like you’re part of something greater than yourself.

Sometimes, however, nothing you do will help you focus, even if you’re reading something you enjoy. In those moments, put the book down and do something else. Your mood will change, and you’ll end up coming back to the book and binge reading.

(Photo courtesy of hawkexpress.)