Thursday, 28 June 2012

Writer's Corner: Boy Oh Boy!

Last month I discussed the difficulties of writing distinguishing female YA heroine POVs. See THIS POST for a refresher. This time, I want to talk about the other most significant (usually) character in a YA book: The love interest.
      The same problems that I encounter when trying to write a heroine are cropping up when I start to craft their love interest. Writers who claim they don't put their own likes/dislikes into their love interests are deluding themselves. Why would I want to write about someone I don't find attractive?
      The strange thing is that when I'm reading other people's books I fall in book love with many many different types of love interests. I have book crushes on Dimitri Belikov from Vampire Academy, Jonah Griggs from Jellicoe Road, Will Trombol from Saving Francesca, Finnick from The Hunger Games, Curran from the Kate Daniels books. These boys come in all shapes and sizes. I can see the slight similarities but for the most part they are all different. Yet when I go to write my own love interests they all essentially morph into this:

Or really, what he represents to me. The tall, dark, handsome silent guy. So, I'm the first to admit I have a Ben Barnes obsession, but now it's just getting annoying. And pretty boring too. I want to be able to write the funny guy, the sensitive guy, the sarcastic guy. I just can't get the right feel for them. And I'm doing the future telling thing again, but  I can imagine readers picking up on the extreme similarities of my love interests once I have more than one book out.
     I think the main issue is that I take the love interest mold and then try to create the plot and everything around an already established, very much fixed character. As than having a character evolve organically. For example: I am plotting a book about angels. Cue Ben Barnes cut out love interest. Before I know it, I've created a million scenarios to fit around his personality. And I try and make him perfect. Despite the fact that my angel character is disenchanted with humanity and is just really over having to save a race of selfish, deceitful humans. I know a snarky, egotistical personality would be more fitting for my angel, but I keep wanting him to be wise and compassionate instead.And this cycle happens again and again in all of my books.
     I know that there are no new personalities in book just as there aren't really any new plot ideas, but as a reader, I think I'd get a bored reading about the same kind of love interest all the time. I could try to tweak my love interests, but I'm worried I won't be as interested in them and therefore won't be able to write as strong a character as I intend.
      Now that this has turned into a babbling mess of a rant, my real question to you guys is: Who is your all time favourite love interest and why? Are there times when you get bored of reading about one "type" of love interest? And most importantly, would you read a book devoid of love interest material altogether?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Review: Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

It starts with a whisper: “It’s time for you to know who you are…”

Violet Eden dreads her seventeenth birthday. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, disturbing dreams haunt her sleep and leave her with very real injuries. There’s a dark tattoo weaving its way up her arms that wasn’t there before. Violet is determined to get some answers, but nothing could have prepared her for the truth. The guy she thought she could fall in love with has been keeping his identity a secret: he’s only half-human—oh, and same goes for her. A centuries-old battle between fallen angels and the protectors of humanity has chosen its new warrior. It’s a fight Violet doesn’t want, but she lives her life by two rules: don’t run and don’t quit. When angels seek vengeance and humans are the warriors, you could do a lot worse than betting on Violet Eden…


The Basics
There's no doubt in my mind that Jessica Shirvington is  a gifted writer. She has such a way with gripping, descriptive prose that is also simple to follow but with maximum dramatic impact. Shirvington's writing brings to life Violet's story, a newly actualized half angel in a world where dark and light are warring. Violet has never known her mother and he father is distant to put it kindly. Struggling to move on from a traumatic incident in her past, Violet looks to Lincoln, her friend, martial arts trainer and big time secret crush for support and comfort. But when Lincoln turns out to be keeping secrets from her, Violet no longer knows where to turn. I was predisposed to fall in love with Lincoln from the outset. That is my pattern. But for some reason, maybe it was his lack of page time, I couldn't really make the connect. Truth be told, in spite of the gorgeous writing, I couldn't really connect with any of the characters or their struggle and the only thing that really kept me reading was the flow of the words.

The Rant
Couldn't you see this coming? I think I could have loved the world of Embrace. I still keep trying to look for ways to forgive it. Let's face it, I have a soft spot for Australian authors. But no matter how I try to dress it up, make excuses for it, I just couldn't overlook the fact that Violet is not much more than a spoiled, selfish, poor little rich girl. Maybe I could have even forgiven that had it not been for the fatal flaw in this book. LOOK AWAY NOW if you don't want to read a massive spoiler. 

So Violet is deeply upset with Lincoln for keeping the secret about her true identity from her. She believes that he has used his knowledge to get to know her and feels betrayed. Fair enough. I concede this point. She pointedly ignores him (as much as she can when the plot device of their partnership keeps pulling them together) and makes friends with another angel named Pheonix who just happens to show up at the most opportune time and you guessed it, he's super hot. What's wrong with that you ask? Nothing under normal circumstances. Except that Pheonix has a special power of his own and he uses it to his full advantage. And Violet allows him to do so. With encouragement I might add. 
     You see, Pheonix has the ability to influence emotions. Violet knows this and yet she always wonders why she feels so drawn to him. FACE PALM! He uses this ability to get Violet to lose her virginity to him. Then she finds out that he's known about her all along. That he's the son of one of the most evil angels ever to walk the heavens. That he's been using her. So at this point I was expecting Violent to go mental and really give him a piece of her mind...and yet nothing. Lincoln is exiled for trying to protect her. Pheonix does a psychic rohypnol thing on her and she's fine with it. GAME OVER. 
     I want to shake and slap Violet over and over at this point. Remember said traumatic incident that is the catalyst for Violet's entire self defense kick? What happened to that? Is it suddenly okay for guys to take advantage of you because they're hot? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!
     There are many other small things that I took issue with throughout this book but they pale in comparison to the above. I've overlooked many flaws in this book and others, but I have to check out when it gets all date rape approving. Had it not been for the great writing, I wouldn't have been able to finish this book.

The Apology
I keep promising to try and be more professional in my reviews. I want to be better. But these plots keep sucking me back in. I need a 12 step plan. Or I'll just stop reading/reviewing books that aggravate me so much.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Writer's Corner: Too Much Character?

Whenever anyone asks me if I had imaginary friends as a child I always emphatically answer "NO! That's weird." I didn't have imaginary tea parties or make believe buddies to walk to school with. It's kind of redundant to have an imaginary friend when you have five siblings who just won't get out of your face. In fact, I think I wanted them to turn imaginary at one stage or another.
     Then I reached high school and a funny thing happened. I started making up stories. I don't know why. Maybe the real people just weren't interesting enough. I'd lived 16 years without a single vampire/werewolf/zombie showing up. So I made up my own. Now I can't stop doing it and the result is that I keep trying to cram all of my characters into the books I write.
     As a result, my books tend to be supporting cast heavy. The writer in me keeps trying to push this agenda despite my inner reviewer crying out for rationality. Sometimes lots of supporting characters add a richness to the story. Think Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. But mostly, when a book has too many characters, they tend to blend together and become indistinguishable. I've read a few of these types of books and they often frustrate me more than anything else.
    So I've been thinking about the techniques that writers use to make characters stand out. Sometimes they give them unforgettable names. Sometimes they have special powers or cutting edge personalities. And sometimes a writer has to do the unthinkable and cut down their cast. I did that a few weeks ago. I cut two characters from a MS I'm plotting. It didn't feel good but I'm hoping that weeding out characters will make others more prominent. It still leaves me with a group of six supporting characters that I have to breathe life into and make memorable.
   And still I think six is too many. I want to keep reducing the number but each and every one is essential to later books. It's a good thing I have you guys to throw ideas around with :) What do you think guys? How many characters is your absolute cut off number? Do too many characters put you off reading a book or is your motto the more the merrier?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Review: Dark Confluence by Rosemary Fryth

The small Queensland country town of Emerald Hills is under siege. Jen McDonald, a small, neat, almost-overlooked spinster in her fifties faces a quandary. Traumatised by a car accident after seeing a mysterious, dark-shrouded figure on the road, the last thing Jen wants to be is a heroine. Is she losing her mind, or is there a far more malign reason for the terrible storm, frightening deaths and vanishings, and other mysterious goings-on in Emerald Hills. Jen feels trapped, not only between warring factions of the Fae, but also by her desire for one of them and that she may be fated by her special gift to be the town’s defender.

Dark Confluence is an Australian-themed, short novel in the dark fantasy genre. It is a modern-day adult fable, and through allegory, it deals with themes of self-sacrifice and the acquisition of power at any cost. It is written for readers eighteen years and older.


The Basics
Above all else, Dark Confluence was a surprise. Being an avid reader of YA I don't usually find myself drawn to or identifying with older protagonists. There's something about Jen McDonald however, that hints at a deep seeded vulnerability and I found myself instantly drawn to her. Reluctantly content with a quiet life in a sleepy country town, Jen is the last person who would suspect that a freak accident could be the mysterious workings of a paranormal element. Gifted (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with the ability to see the influence of the Fae, Jen must work past the barriers she's built to overcome the disappointment in the life (and love) she could have had in order to save the town and restore order to the courts of the Fae.
        Dark Confluence is an easy read filled with affable and genuine characters. Jen is unassuming and quite happy with her lot despite the pain of her past. There's no self pity or angst in the way she conducts herself and for that I fell in love with her. Whilst most of the story is told from Jen's perspective, we do get an insight into the thoughts and motives of several other characters as well. There's a distinct lack of melodrama in Dark Confluence and yet the description was so beautifully simple that you can't but feel as if you're right in the midst of it all.

Dark Indeed
Rosemary Fryth does an excellent job of building the tension and atmosphere in Dark Confluence. It happens so slowly that it's almost imperceptible and then before you know it, you're submerged in a cloying fog that smothers every rational thought and you don't for a second see it coming. Silly me didn't realise this is a dark fantasy book and though there are some gory scenes, the worked to add another layer of depth to the often cruel and terrible nature of the paranormal.

Aussie Shout Out!
I'm so proud that Rosemary Fryth is Australian and that I've been to many of the places mentioned in Dark Confluence. This never happens with any of the other books I read so I'm having a fangirl moment here. And yes, the country towns in Queensland are that beautiful and full of those kinds of genuinely nice, neighborly people. Shame I live in dreary Melbourne.

I Can't Believe I'm Saying This
I'm not usually one to complain about lack of romance but if there's one thing that could improve Dark Confluence it would be some more fleshed out scenes with Fionn, Jen's smouldering Fae lover. They barely had any time together and I found it difficult to reconcile their feelings for each other beyond the physical. I'm hoping that there's a sequel to come despite the ending where the Fae world is explored in more depth.


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group: The Comparison

Insecure Writer's Support Group is a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh where totally insecure writers can get together and share the things that are making us go argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      This week I want to talk about inevitable comparisons between books. Or more specifically, my upcoming book Seeder's Poison and The Hunger Games (THG).
       Now that I’ve sent my little MS out into the world for critiquing, I’m getting a bit of feedback which likens my story to The Hunger Games. Someone even told me they're too similar to even bother publishing my MS. So before I ditch my story altogether, I wanted to share this insecurity with you guys and see if you've had similar problems.
       I won’t deny the similarities between my MS and THG: an all-powerful and controlling government situated in a central area, an oppressed populace that’s divided into sections, a strong heroine who is handy with a bow and knows plants inside out. But there are things which are different as well. No love triangle for one. No games for another. Definitely no themes on the hazards of war (at least I hope not).
       Regardless of what I say, comparisons will be made whether I like it or not. After all, there are many  claims that The Hunger Games is based on Battle Royale by Koushun Takami and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Heck, when I described the plot of THG to my husband when we were contemplating watching the movie, he said, "That's the plot of every Final Fantasy game I've ever played."
      Besides, if there's any book my novel could be compared with, The Hunger Games isn't too shabby at all. It's just that I'm a picky reader and I know that I haven't picked up books because they've been compared to other more popular stories that I've read. Half-Blood by Jennifer L. Armentrout (too close to Vampire Academy) and Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon (too close to Twilight..although admittedly I didn't like Twilight) to name a few. And if I could go back and remove the things which are similar I would. It's just that I can't do so without losing the the central theme of my MS. 
     Also, the second book in the series will deviate from what makes my book so similar to THG, but now I'm not sure if I should even worry about writing the next book if no one is going to read the first book anyway. What are your thoughts guys? Would you read a book that's too similar to something else that's popular?