Downtown Delaware, Ohio merchants will be having an Open House on Saturday, December 10 to promote local businesses during the Christmas season.
If you’re there, stop into local cheese-and-fine-food shop The Greater Gouda and say hi! Owner Terri-Lynne Smiles, who’s also an author, will be hosting a book signing with a half-dozen local authors, including me.
The Holiday Open House is December 10 from 11 am to 3 pm. The book signing will be from 1 pm to 3 pm at the Greater Gouda. I’ll have copies of both novels and two anthologies available for signing.
Last week I posted my Magna Carta I, a look at what elements I enjoy in a novel. Here’s my take on the Magna Carta II, a corresponding list of things that bore me in a novel. If they’re bad enough, these factors can make me roll my eyes, skip sections, or possibly even make me stop reading.
The lists are called “Magna Cartas” because they’re to be used as a sort of master list of Dos and Don’ts of novel-writing as I prepare for NaNoWriMo in a few days. Credit for this idea goes to Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, in his book No Plot? No Problem!.
My Magna Carta II:
- Openings that try to pull me into the book in a manipulative way. For example, a first sentence like: “Harry’s fingers slipped as he dangled from the cliff edge.”
- Long prologues, especially in italics.
- Bad grammar and spelling!
- Long passages of exposition or worldbuilding.
- Exhaustive character descriptions. I don’t want to hear about the planes of the face, the aquiline nose, the shape of the eyes, etc. At least, not at length.
- Ranting about real-world politics, religion, etc at the expense of story.
- Stereotypical villains that aren’t real.
- Main characters who don’t seem three-dimensional.
- Battle scenes that detail every troop movement and tactic. *closes book*
- Too much action at the expense of dialogue and characterization. Rushing around here and there.
- Starting the novel with a lengthy passage about the character’s ordinary day.
- Lack of relatable characters. (I want to like at least one of the characters.)
These are a lot of things, and a Nanowrimo novel by its nature might be prey to some of these. After all, the Nanowrimo novel is a rush product that hasn’t been rewritten or edited. Sometimes there hasn’t even been much in the way of prior planning for the novel. So, my first draft might end up with some of these problems. Still, they’re things for me to keep in mind and try to avoid as I write. A goal to strive for!
Here’s a link to my post on my Magna Carta I.
Good luck on Nanowrimo!
** Featured image is by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash **
Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote a book called No Plot? No Problem!, in which he outlined his steps to writing a novel in 30 days. One of the very early steps is to make a couple of lists, which will serve as the writer’s “Magna Carta” during the frantic rush to write 50,000 words in one month. List One is a personalized list of What Makes a Good Novel; List Two, things that bore or depress you in novels. The idea is to hang these lists up and use them as your personal Dos and Don’ts.
Just for fun, here’s my own take on the Magna Carta I:
- Speculative fiction! (I love it best.)
- Complex main characters.
- Main characters that change.
- Not too many points of view.
- If there’s magic, it should require some cost or consequence.
- If there are aliens, they should be developed as carefully as the human characters.
- Excellent, in-depth worldbuilding that’s obvious in the story and dialogue, where there is a real reason for things in the world to be as they are — but not too much time “describing” it!
- Attention paid to diversity, BUT —
- Diversity that doesn’t hit me with a hammer.
- A touch of humor.
- An antagonist who’s real (more than a paper cut-out villain).
- Good, realistic interpersonal relationships shown in dialogue and action, not just sex.
- Good imagery.
- Some sort of religion/belief system/code that may vary by social/occupational class or culture — because that’s part of life.
- Well-described but short action/battle scenes.
That’s a long list. (It would’ve been even longer, but I forced myself to stop thinking of things.) Some novels I like quite a lot wouldn’t meet all these requirements. But still, these are the things that keep me reading, and things I can aim for in my next attempt at NaNoWriMo.
Note: I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice. (A third time I used the event to begin the process of finishing and polishing my previous NaNoWriMo novel.) Once I thought the event was useful, and one time I quit in frustration. My previous posts about NaNoWriMo are here and here.
Photo Credit: The header image is from a photograph by Anastasia Zhenina, from Unsplash.com.
These Bird of Paradise flowers are part of the California Summer Border at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. They are so striking I couldn’t resist adding another flower picture to the blog.
Here’s a link to the museum’s page about the California Summer Border.
I had a wonderful time at the Yellow Springs Book Fair, until we got rained out pretty late in the day. Most of the booksellers had tables of used books (children’s, cookbooks, science fiction, even a Girl Scout Brownie handbook from a LONG TIME AGO that brought back memories), but there were a few authors there as well.
The event was held on the grounds of the Mills Lawn Elementary School. I loved their beautiful sign:
Before the end of the day, I left signed copies of Color Mage and Sword of Jashan at a local bookstore. They’re available at Epic Books on Xenia Street in Yellow Springs. Here’s a link to the store Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/epicbookshop/
In spite of its title, Captain Fantastic has nothing to do with superheroes. Its protagonist is Ben Cash, who is raising his six children in the wilderness, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He’s not a superhero, just an iconoclast.
With the noble goal of raising “philosopher-kings”, Ben is authoritarian yet honest to a fault, teaching athleticism, strength of character, and skepticism of capitalism, religion and popular culture. His kids scale cliffs and rejoice in the gifts of new hunting knives while reading the classic books of literature and political thought.
Then the kids’ mother dies. Ben Cash and his children venture into the alien melee of modern American life, with its shopping centers, ignorance, and separation from nature, to provide his dead wife the funeral she really wanted – a rescue of sorts from the clutches of the world she had fled.
It’s easy to be distracted by the collision of the isolated Cash children with the dominant popular culture. The kids don’t understand social norms, the violence of popular media, the games between young people who are attracted to each other. It’s funny and painful at the same time.
Then there’s the deeper theme, about the consequences of the choices parents make for their children. We all make them, based on our own values that usually conform more or less to the dictates of our cultures, our religions, our education. Ben Cash’s values are in sharp conflict with the dominant culture. As his sons mature they see the real world and prepare for their own places in it, and they inevitably challenge their father’s choices.
I don’t know why this didn’t occur for the daughters in the movie. I was looking for it, and didn’t see it.
And what if, instead of “philosopher-kings”, Cash was raising his children alone in the wilderness to believe in white supremacy, or conspiracy theories, or something else I don’t believe in? How would that affect my opinion of the movie? Great food for thought!
All along the way there are laughs, complex characters, beautiful photography and gorgeous terrain. The role of Ben seemed perfect for Viggo Mortensen, and the young actors were outstanding. Nobody was the bad guy here; even the kids’ grandfather (Frank Langella), while trying to wrest the kids away from Cash, had only their best interests in mind.
This is a good film, in spite of an ending that seemed out-of-step with the main portion of the story. It works on many levels. I enjoyed it and I’m still thinking about it.
The movie website is at http://www.bleeckerstreetmedia.com/captainfantastic.
I’m looking forward to this year’s Confluence convention in Pittsburgh, where I’ll be a program participant. Confluence is a speculative fiction literary conference with a pretty extensive list of author participants.
Confluence will be held from July 29-31 at the Sheraton Pittsburgh Airport Hotel. Here’s a link to the convention website. My current schedule is below. I’ll be around on the Saturday as well, hopefully attending some of the writing/reading related panels!
I recently spoke to a new writer who didn’t see the point of a critique group.
There might be people who can write outstanding fiction without feedback. Maybe experienced authors with lots of novels under their belts. Maybe someone who’s studied writing for years. Maybe an outlier — a newbie who has a gift.
But most of us live too closely with our work-in-progress to know what’s really on that page when it’s “done”. We’ve revised. Maybe the plot has changed since our original outline. Maybe we’ve changed a character’s name or backstory, or added new characters. What’s in our heads NOW isn’t necessarily what’s on that page when someone new reads it. Only a critique group or beta reader can tell you how your work comes across to a new reader.
“But why should I change my novel based on someone else’s thoughts?”
This is a great question. The answer is: You don’t have to change a single word of your novel. It’s your world, your characters, your story you’ve lived and breathed maybe for years.
But you’re going to WANT to change it.
A good critique group approaches feedback NOT with the intent of making your writing just like everyone else’s. (If this is how your group functions, then run.) Instead, their feedback should help you make your story the best it can be.
Are you doing things that detract from the clarity of your sentences? Is the plot twist you are so proud of in Chapter 20 really clear to the reader? Does your main character come off as loyal and proud or just conceited? These are the kinds of things it really helps to know before you send your story off to an agent or publisher.
I don’t change my story with every bit of criticism I receive. But well-considered comments received from someone outside my own head can help clarify my thoughts about my story, like silt settling out of water. The value of this is huge.
That said, there can be a downside to over-reliance on critique groups. I’ll link to this post by Kristen Lamb, who explains it all much better than I can.
Good luck on your writing!
Wonderful street art I noticed on my last trip to Youngstown:
Just a couple of images, from today’s visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory. Because it’s Spring.