Posts Tagged ‘writer problems’

Recently I read a book that disappointed me. I’ve been trying to share reasons why that book didn’t work for me. Again, no author or title — this isn’t meant to be personal. So I’ve mentioned that the villain was mostly a caricature, and that the main characters were too powerful compared to those they were up against. My last lesson is about pacing and suspense.

Over and over, this author introduced a problem and then telegraphed the solution within a few lines. For example, two different MCs had to work together and they had never met before. Someone would ask, “What if they don’t get along?”

This was a great question. It created tension. The stakes were pretty high. If one of the two refused to cooperate, things were going to get ugly.

But then in the next paragraph, someone else would say, “It will be fine, they both share the same element.” And, indeed, when the two characters met, they got along just fine, for exactly that reason.

After this happened a couple of times, it was pretty hard to worry about the things the author was saying we should worry about. They wrecked their own suspense by giving the answers away. I wasn’t sure if they wanted the reader to worry, but not too much worry, or if they were a know-it-all and couldn’t resist telling the reader everything.

Whatever the reason, the lesson here is to know when to quit. “What if they don’t get along?” would be a great way to end the scene. No rebuttals, no reassurances, just go on to the next scene and let the reader sit with that worry. “What if they don’t get along?”

To me, this would make the reader more invested as they try to figure out what will happen. What do you think? How do you keep from spoiling your own suspense?

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Last time, I mentioned a book I’d read that left me disappointed. The villain was a caricature who talked a bigger fight than he delivered. Today I’m thinking about issues with the main characters.

First of all, there were too many of them. There were about four groups of characters in the same locations, but nine points of view. It was hard for me to keep track of which were working together and where they were. I could have looked for maps or a family tree, but honestly? If you have to stop and read the footnotes, the author is not expressing relationships clearly.

In addition, several characters were only the POV when they died or were otherwise taken out of the story. My lesson here is that the author could have chosen one POV for each of the four groups (including the villains) and the story would have been more consistent over all.

My second issue was with the power levels of the main cast. In this setting, all witches and wizards drew their power from channeling a divine source. But some of them had a much stronger connection, so that they basically mopped the floor with every opponent. The author would build up to a battle, and try to make you worry, but then it fell flat because the MCs were so much stronger than their opponents.

This isn’t so much a lesson for me, since I usually focus on the humble characters, but your MC cannot be too godlike. The essence of a great story is how characters overcome obstacles. Even the most powerful characters have to be challenged.

In other words, when you have Superman in your story, don’t forget to pack the Kryptonite.

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So I read a book by a highly respected author and it… disappointed me. No names, no title, because this shouldn’t be personal. I’ll be examining that book for my next few posts. Just trying to pick apart why it didn’t work and what I can do differently in my own stories.

My first issue was with the villain. He was all swagger and bluster, with an incredible arrogance. He was so indignant that his enemies were defying him. Just because he was invading them, torturing and murdering a certain segment of the population, oppressing everyone else — why could they not see his greatness?

Which sounds like a villain, right? But that’s all there was to his character. There was no characterization, it was all shtick.

Plus, for the first 3/4 of the book, his reputation as a villain was way out of proportion with the abilities he showed on the page. When he finally started doing evil stuff, as opposed to just badgering underlings, the author was so coy about it. He would look at “the thing in the cage” and gloat over what he’d done. But I had no idea what he actually had done. Maddening!

As a writer, I can guess that the author was trying to create suspense about a Big Reveal. As a reader, I felt like I was being played games with.

This is my first lesson from the book, because I have a hard time with villains, too. I usually have two POV characters who are in opposition, and I tend to focus on their conflict. The so-called villain is left as an afterthought. I really need to not be such a weenie, I guess, about fully inhabiting my villains.

That said, playing games with the reader is definitely not the answer. What do you guys think? I could use a few tips for creating effective villains.

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How do you decide what to call your book? For some of us, this can be almost as difficult as actually writing the story. This matters to me, because I frequently tweet about the status of my WIP, and it helps me tie those together if I know what the title is going to be.

I suppose one thing that might help is to walk through a bookstore and see what kinds of titles are being used. You can also search online, of course. Certain trends will jump out right away.

Currently, there are a lot of book titles that are some form of “the Thing of This and That.” For example, the popular series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. These kinds of titles have an interesting flow, but there are so many using that format already that I wouldn’t want to go that route.

There also are a lot of titles that are just one word. Jaws and the YA novel Crank are both strong one-word titles. There might be two words, as in The Firm, or three (including ‘the’ as a word) as in The Dragonbone Chair and The Dark Tower.

Some are like, “The Thing’s Thing.” The Ranger’s Apprentice is a well known juvenile series. There’s also my own The Magister’s Mask. Then you have “The Thing of the Thing,” made famous by The Lord of the Rings.

For me, I really want to have a strong rhythm, while at the same time saying something accurate and engaging about the book. The Seven Exalted Orders is one of my favorite titles. For my current WIP, I really only know the location of the story, a place called Fang Marsh. So I’m tweeting about Fang Marsh, but ultimately I think I’ll need a little more than that for a title.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think makes a great book title, and how you create good titles for your own work.

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A lot of things have stacked up for me in the past few weeks. I feel like I’m juggling time bombs!

The major one is that SpoCon, our local SF Convention, is just two months away and I’ve started laying out the programs. This is always a combination of great excitement, because of so many wonderful ideas for panels and presentations, with frustration because there are 150 ideas and only about 75 spots. Now is when I have to cut back, and it’s always a special agony.

I also have a group yard sale this weekend that I haven’t gotten my donations ready for. Time is short to get on with that.

Next thing is, the end of the school year. I’m madly trying to get the last bit of teaching that I can. Next year I’m assigned to a different school, so I’ll spend the remaining few days packing up my things and making sure the teachers who are left get all the right data from my students.

In two weeks, I’m at Sandemonium, a small one-day convention in Sandpoint, ID. I’m presenting on “Ugly Tropes and How to Destroy Them.” I haven’t really prepared for that one, either, although at least I have done the pre-thinking part. Actually writing the presentation should go pretty quickly.

The weekend after, there’s an event in Moscow, ID that commemorates the MosCon Science Fiction Convention. I’d love to go, even though I’m not on any panels, because I have such fond memories of MosCon. We’ll have to see how the money holds up for that.

And hopefully I’ll get a chance to write on my novella during all this!

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I am happy to say that we solved our Internet connectivity. I’m somewhat conflicted to say that we solved it by bailing from our previous provider and switching to someone else. I feel bad because we were with them for a long time, and this was the first major service outage.

Maybe it’s dumb of me to even feel guilty. We had neither land line nor Internet for almost two weeks. There was a big storm that flooded a junction box, apparently. Still, for a major utility to be unprepared for storm damage is pretty surprising.

Anyway, my husband couldn’t stand it any more and arranged for a different provider. We’re in the thick of getting everything set up. Just like you don’t realize how much you depend on the Internet, you don’t quite realize how many places you have to enter that password. I’m sure we’ll be finding things that need updates for the next several days.

So! What’s going on with you guys?

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This will be short, because I’m using my cel phone as a hot-spot. That’s because our Internet is down. A cable is broken. It may not be repaired until May 31st. First-world problem, right? I mean, all three of us have cel phones. But our cel data is limited. The DSL isn’t.

It’s been very frustrating, and kind of pathetic, how limited we are without the Internet. We’re so used to it. We take it for granted.

“There’s nothing on TV…” because we don’t have Netflix. While a shelf full of movies gathers dust. “I can’t hear my music…” because Pandora is unavailable. We do have a rack of CD’s patiently waiting, though. “I can’t write…” because my favorite blog is online only.

That last one is my daughter’s complaint. I’m old fashioned and write on a desktop PC, which is doing just fine despite being an ancient dinosaur from 2012. However, the outage has hobbled my ability to market my books and communicate with friends.

So please, CenturyLink, repair the cable and let us live in the modern age again!

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