Writing Exercise: Review of Book Reviews

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Review of my book reviews.

I average over 100 book read a year for the last few years, since I made a requirement to do a book review every time I read a book I’ve actually been able to keep track through my Goodreads count. I passed the magic 100 books in November 2017, which is when I am writing this post in preparation for tax season during my NaNoWritMo craziness.

I’m going to be way less than previous years (182 in 2015 and 128 in 2016). Each year I get a little less because I (1) don’t count books I edit and (2) don’t count books I slush read. As my editing and slush reading increases, the pleasure reading decreases.

With the magic 100 book level, I thought I would see if I raved or depraved too much. As an editor and author myself, I sometimes feel like I need to take it easy on other writers at which point I pull myself up by the shorts and remind me I am writing the book reviews to become a better editor and writer. If I don’t be honest about what I read, I can’t learn from it.

The review levels between Goodreads and Amazon allow me to give higher marks on Amazon reviews.

one star Goodreads “I did not like” / Amazon “I hate”
two star Goodreads “It was ok” / Amazon “I did not like”
three star Goodreads “I liked” / Amazon “It’s okay”
four star Goodreads “I really liked”/Amazon “I liked”
Five star Goodreads “It was amazing”/Amazon “I loved”

If you notice, a four on Amazon is equal to a three on Goodreads. So if someone gets a four star on Goodreads, I usually give them a five on Amazon because of the difference in the grading scale. This helps soothe my writer’s heart, supporting friends and co-workers. The write-up portion of the review is cut and pasted between the two review sites, therefore same review shows up on both, just star level are different. Oh, and Goodreads allows spoilers to be hid but Amazon does not – I sometimes need to work around that.

The Goodread scale for me is as follows:

One Star – Total fail, should not exist. Hated it, usually unable to finish. (One or more of these reasons.)
Two Star – Serious structural problems to the story. A “trunk” story where the author is learning how to write, but should have never been published in its present form. Did not like book. Able to finish reading the book, but frequently thought about quitting.

(Stars One and Two often inspire Editing Rants and Writing Exercises.)

Three Star – Readable. Some flaws. Bland. Nothing stands out. Liked book.
Four Star – Good book. Solid. Really liked it.
Five Star – Loved story – which I have discovered means incredible worldbuilding is involved.

(Stars Four and Five often end up in Author Spotlights and Book Review posts the following year.)

How did my 2017 reading split up?

Five Star – 11
Four Star – 42
Three Star – 28
Two Star – 12
One Star – 7

The disbursement may seem top-heavy, but remember many of these books are edited by publishing companies and many self-published people use editors as well which will reduce the pure clunkers. People want to publish books to make money, therefore most books overall will be better than mediocre.

I think the split between stars is a good disbursement. I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade.

WRITING EXERCISE: Go to your recently finished reading pile and pull out three books. Write a review for each of them figuring out what you liked about them and what you didn’t and post them to an appropriate review site. Of the three books, which book stood out the most and for what particular reason. What book received the lowest score and why? Looking at your present work-in-progress, can you apply any of the lessons you learned from these review-critiques to your own story?

***

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (published by Tor) – 5 Stars – Why I loved it the most: Worldbuilding. New thing learned: working with a multiple person POV allows unlikable as well as likable main characters, adding interest to the story.

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler (published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy) – 4 Stars – Nothing stood out.

Villains Rule by M.K. Gibson (published by Amber Cove Publishing) – 2 Stars – This humorous satire is exactly what I expect from humorous satire. Unfortunately going for the easy joke can be very misogynistic (The Pop Culture Detective Agency covers this well in “The Adorkable Misogyny of the Big Bang Theory”.) New thing learned: This story is very Meta about breaking down the Fantasy tropes and helped me be aware of a few.

Taking the thing I learned: I write likable characters. Maybe I should try for some unlikable ones. All three of these books have at least one of the point of view characters be a unrepentant villain. Something to think about.

If you would like to see all my book reviews on Goodreads, you can follow the book review links above and follow me there.

Other Cool Blogs: Magical Words May 23, 2014

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mind the Gap

Magical Words continues to give in the new year, despite being shut down, as I review the website again and again for advice. This one is from Jodi McIsaac,Three Tools for Plotting Success“.

  1. Don’t get stuck on the Hero’s Journey
  2. Mind the gap
  3. Twenty bad ideas.

To me, “Mind the Gap” spoke the loudest. It defines reversal of expectation driving a plot, creating surprise and freshness, better than any other writing advice I have read. And “Twenty Bad Ideas” seems like a really good way to avoid common trope pitfalls.

Want to figure out which of the three makes the most impact for you? Go here: http://www.magicalwords.net/specialgueststars/a-return-visit-with-jodi-mcisaac-three-tools-for-plotting-success/

WRITING EXERCISE: Look over your present work-in-progress for a Gap and a scene without a Gap. Which scene is stronger? Which one keeps the pages turning? Can the scene without the Gap have a Gap added?

***

In my flash, The Bleue Toscano Eggs of Power, the supervillain Viper arrives thinking to attack a building. Instead he ends up working on surviving an explosion and escaping the superhero Power Fists. The second scene has him calmly accepting an item, and soon discovers he is out-of-his-depth in the technological world. In both cases his goals changed considerably. 

Writing Exercise: Real Life Inspiration

Widely used piece of stock art from the internet (found 12 uses and no attribution)

“Where do you get your ideas?” FAQ #1 of writers. 

Everywhere. Reading books, the watching the news, walking down the street, head voices which won’t shut up, Facebook …

The challenge is turning a real-life event into a fictional piece. Real-life isn’t neat. There is no defined beginning, middle, and end, no inciting event, rising action, and resolution. At least not in a neat narrative package, bow-tied with theme and meaning.

WRITING EXERCISE: The writing challenge for today is to convert a real-life event, NOT YOURS, into a fictional story. Scroll through your Facebook or other social media feed. (Not on social media? Look at today’s news.) Choose a small event, not a life changing one like cancer or marriage, but more like “ate at my favorite restaurant and got the rude waiter” or “stuck in traffic waiting for the geese to cross the road”. Create a flash of at least 200 words.

***

My attempt is “The Help” which appeared last month. The story came from a sibling’s post. The weekend had been bad with everyone a bit sick, but only for one day. Dad got to return to work; mom, who is nursing, stayed home with the toddler and baby. Three days later the post comes 

“Nothing like an intermittently vomiting toddler to keep you on your toes.
It also keeps you trapped in the house. Plans cancelled, again.

I guess I’ve got plenty to time to research new washing machines, since ours just broke.”

After a flash of sympathy, I have to admit, I laughed a little at the wrench life threw into the works. Cleaning up vomit and no washing machine is a bad combo. I need to write something about that. Scrolling through the comments I discovered the poor toddler had vomited seven times that day. The broken washing machine left an inch of water in the laundry room. Sibling was having a very bad – but fiction-worthy – day.

I have a fictional couple, Joe and Cheryl, with a toddler and baby. These two are not based on my sibling and sib’s spouse – I started writing the Joe-Cheryl show (as I call it in my head) four years ago, long before my sibling had a toddler and a nursing baby. I often used them, Joe & Cheryl, to recreate real-life occurrences I have seen when working taxes at Walmart; “It’s Dirty” is exactly what a toddler said during checkout walking away from money on the floor, leaving a flabbergasted mother behind.

The challenge is the Joe-Cheryl show has certain rules in my head (1) loving couple and functional family unit, (2) must be humorous, and most importantly (3) deals a verbal play, some aspect of language or interpretation based on words: “Inside voice“, “Memory of a Lifetime“, and “Eat Half” are just some of the examples.

Making a sick kid, broken washer, and flooded laundry room smile-worthy would take a bit of doing but possible. My problem is none of those are verbal plays. Then I remember a meme about a guy explaining how he is not “helping his wife”. Perfect!

Smash all this together in my head: the meme, Joe-Cheryl and their rules, and my sibling’s very bad-but-we-will-laugh-about-it-when-it’s-over day. Oh, and this past weekend I was at a function with a teething babe-in-arms. The mother had to carry-jiggle the baby all day. Yeah, need to add that. Torture my characters like a good writer. (Even comic relief characters can be tortured.)

From four different things, “The Help” emerges. 

“Where do you get your ideas?” Everywhere.

Blog: Ah-Ha – A Study in POV

Ah-Ha – Take On Me video: A Study in POV

I previously blogged on the Ah-Ha video “Take on Me” in June. You can link to it HERE.

As mentioned, the story presented in the video resounds in me decades later. I use it for my “wake-up” alarm to go to work, encouraging me to take on the world and make a difference.

One of the interesting things about the video is the switching point of views (POVs) for the story. If you have been having problems picturing the differences between first and third POV, dissecting this video may help.

The opening starts with close first-person POV of the heroine. We glimpse her world in the diner, her reading the story for escape from the ho-hum, and her reaction to the hero breaking the fourth wall of the comic to invite her into his world. We see them fall in love. We don’t know why the male choose her or how he had the ability to reach out. That information is not available for her POV; at this point the story has all been about her and what she can see.

Now we switch to third-person omniscient. We return to the real world for a few minutes. The waitress discovers she has been left without the check paid. We see her react but don’t really identify with her as a person – only as a role. Omniscient has that effect; seeing the whole world keeps one from being emotionally drawn in. Next the third-person switches to the other drivers noticing the intruder to their world. The omniscient lets the viewer know what is happening and why, but not necessarily what the main characters are experiencing emotionally.

Initially the POV seems to have returned to the heroine, but it doesn’t actually. The running away, the music being played, etc. could be either first-person or close third-person. But then the hero saves the woman by returning her to the real-world. If we were in first-person heroine, we would not know he turned around to face the bad guys. This one panel lets us know what POV we are in. The switch to close third-person allowed us to know what is happening with both the main characters. The editor in me doesn’t like the amorphous POV at this point – it works for the video but if I ran into it in a story, I would ask the writer to more clearly define the POV. No head-hopping!

Back in the real-world we return to the woman’s first-person POV for the third-act of the story. We see the looming diner population, experience the fear and uncertainty overwhelming our heroine, and initiate the immediate reactions of rescuing the comic and running for her life. For a few seconds the video totally grabs and pulls a watcher in just like the black&white-sketch hand did with our heroine at the beginning of the video.

At her house, the pounding heart slows as she smooths the paper … and finds him dead. Her POV continues when she hears the crash and sees her hero throw himself out of his world into hers.

Would the story have worked if it remained 100% first person or third person? How would the story have changed without viewing the waitress’ actions or the male turning around after our main POV character left?

WRITING EXERCISE: For your present WIP, think about how you have used POV. Have you been consistent in usage? Would letting the reader know the antagonists actions help the story or decease surprises later on?

READING EXERCISE: Think about your most recent read. Was the POV consistent? Was there anyone else in the story you could have “followed” through POV and still have seen most of the story?

Writing Exercise: Writing Prompts

Image: Mark Lewis “Brave” – http://www.flickr.com/photos/83008453@N00/127143656
Prompt: Jana Wilson “Thinking Out Loud” – http://readingandthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com

Prompts

Writing prompts are great for beginning writers. My participation in a monthly one through (the now defunct publishing company) Breathless Press is how this blog started. Prompts come in many flavors, but two major categories: visual and verbal.

Based on a picture of some sort, visual prompts inspire a story through the eyes. The story may be based on the picture or just inspired by it. My recent “Glow” flash is based on a visual prompt from a writing group.

Verbal, or text, prompt come from words. Sometimes the requirement is to fit the words into the story and other times they just inspire. From the same writing group, I received a text prompt which resulted in “To Do List“.

Where might published writers be driven by prompts?

Anthologies are often theme-based, basically a verbal prompt. A couple upcoming anthologies include: Love and Bubbles – an anthology of romances which take place UNDER the sea (due 12/20/2017) – and Other Covenants – Alternate History involving the Jewish people (due 2/4/2018).

Visual prompts may come from being handed a picture to be the cover for a magazine and being told “Write something for this.” During the pulp fiction years, picture-driven stories were common as western, sci-fi, and fantasy magazines bought the rights to paintings.

Using prompts to prime the pump, get practice in writing, or just take a break from a long-form story can be fun.

WRITING EXERCISE: If you are part of a group which recently issued a writer’s prompt, write that story. Otherwise on a google search type in either “Writing Prompts” or “Writing Prompts Pictures”. Write a story of at least 200 words based on the result. If you want, post the results below including a link to where you got the prompt.