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aawoods

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  1. With skill and passion, any subject can be done well! I recently realized that I've been running Audrey's Corner for more than a year now and I still haven't made a post about my strange but totally sincere love for World War Z. What an oversight! I know exactly what expression you're wearing, because I've seen it time and time again on the faces of whoever I'm recommending this to, accompanied by a litany of unspoken questions. A zombie book? Really? Aren't they done to death? Aren't they stupid? That all may be true, but Max Brook's epic and far-reaching masterpiece is neither stupid nor overdone. No, in World War Z Brooks takes the well-trod and cliche-to-the-point-of-silly subject of zombies and does what few authors have dared to do. He takes them seriously. Written in a documentary-type style, World War Z takes place after a theoretical (and fictional) zombie war, where a virus or pathogen hijacks human beings to create what we think of as zombies. Looking back on "the war," the journalist who puts together this "dossier" is recording the unbelievable rise of these creatures and then humanity's struggle to survive against such a monstrous and unstoppable force. Sounds like a pretty standard post-apocalyptic story, right? And true, World War Z plays a lot of those familiar notes (the fall of New York being a particularly notable section). But what sets this book apart from others in the genre is that Max Brooks really knows his stuff. He's thought long and hard about what would happen if something as wild as a zombie outbreak occurred. How would the various governments respond? How would the military try to fight back? What would people do when something out of nightmares stepped into reality? What would the effects of their reaction be? Brooks walks the reader through every detail, all the way down to how dogs and whales might be affected by this particular apocalypse. It's so prescient that the book was banned in China at the beginning COVID and the author hosted a viral Reddit AMA about how eerily accurate his predictions were. The book isn't for everyone, especially readers who dislike multi-POV narratives. For some it's too real; for others too ridiculous. But if you want an example of something done with so much passion and meticulous craft that it overcomes the initial "silliness" of it's core idea, then I highly recommend checking out World War Z. And if the zombie apocalypse ever does happen, you'll be that much better prepared!
  2. Find a niche and make it work for you! Everyone likes to belong. We all want to be a part of a group or fan club or exclusive membership. One might even argue that tribalism is one of the most fundamental driving forces of, well, everything! Knowing this, one has to acknowledge the genius of Emily Henry's bestseller book... about book people. Book Lovers succeeds on a whole lot of fronts. It's a quippy, witty, and fast-paced romantic comedy about a career-driven woman and the grumpy, brooding, gorgeous man she's forced to work with because of her job. Overdone trope? Perhaps, but here's where the book takes a brilliant turn. The main characters in Book Lovers aren't big-city lawyers or business executives or high-powered CEO's. They're a literary agent and an acquisitions editor. Few people outside the world of publishing even know what those two job titles are. Everyone who's ever queried agents knows the blank stare your friends and family will offer when you tell them what you're doing. But why do you even need an agent? Even editors are, to the outside world, a vague and unspecified role outsiders only know about because of how often they show up on the acknowledgements page. And yet this story has landed on every bestseller list in the country. Perhaps this is due to Emily Henry's sizable online following and previously successful novels. It's entirely possible that this book's success was compounded by the momentum of her backlist, inspiring readers to take a chance on a topic they know nothing about. But I'd argue that there's a large and satisfied segment of her audience who are book people, who love to see themselves represented on the page. Neurotic, obsessive, half-mad, overworked, heartbroken but still fighting, we in the publishing industry ironically don't see ourselves in stories all that often. Sure there are plenty of portrayals of the genius writer in the rustic cabin, banging out his next masterpiece on his ancient typewriter. Or perhaps the mustache-twirling publishing executive kicking the young hopeful out of their office, or pressuring a late writer about their deadline. But this hopeful, funny story about two people elbow-deep in the back recesses of an industry few people know about clearly has hit a nerve. And it doesn't hurt that both main characters are gorgeous, successful, and talented. It is a romance novel after all. All this to say that it's worth thinking hard about whether or not your project could be targeted toward a small but dedicated niche audience. Are you relying on well-worn tropes like ambitious lawyers, lazy stoners, or manic chefs? Could you shift your story to dig deep into a specific world or culture? Could you write from inside a group you're a part of and speak to those who might not often see themselves in whatever genre you're writing in? Could you, as they say, write what you know? Niche audiences might be small, but don't underestimate their power. Win over your tribe and you're well on your way to success!
  3. When it's all been done before, do it different! The notion of a fresh fairy tale retelling seems impossible these days. Having lived through the YA genre boom that happened in my own teen years, I thought the concept of a new spin on a Brother's Grimm tale was all but dead. After all, how could you re-re-re-tell the same story? As I'm sure you've already guessed, A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow proved me wrong! This novella, as the author herself jokes on her Acknowledgements page, puts a Spider-Verse spin on the tale of Sleeping Beauty. That's something you've never heard before, right? The idea is that there's a Sleeping Beauty in every dimension and that, when there are moments of "resonance" between the various Beauties, one of them might fall into another dimension and (accidentally, messily) save another. It's a sweet, whimsical concept that perfectly matches the author's equally whimsical writing. Beautifully told with plenty of voice, A Spindle Splintered is a slim story that carries a lot of water for a weary sub-genre, and does so with a ballerina's grace. Aspiring authors should read Alix E. Harrow's work for her incredible prose alone, but beyond that, this little book is worth picking up for the sheer brazen newness of it. It's the perfect example of high concept, familiar-but-different, something editors have seen a zillion times but (wink wink) not like this. The fact that the work is playful, lighthearted, and fun to read is a bonus in these disaster-weary times (and one that likely secured the author a sizable advance). But anyone who can take something as hammered-down as Sleeping Beauty and do something different with it is all but guaranteed a publishing deal. The trick is to make sure it's actually new. Are you writing a retelling? How are you ensuring that it's a fresh spin on the fairy tale? Let us know in the comments!
  4. If the people are real, then the story will be too! I went on a real Taylor Jenkins Reid kick last year, as you might be able to tell. In 2021, I tore through basically her entire catalogue. It was heady and wonderful to have an author that just kept delivering, just kept impressing me, and just kept giving the exact reading experience I was looking for. Now, knee-deep in the doldrums of a reading slump, I find myself looking back and wondering what it was about her books that captured me so thoroughly (and, conversely, why the last 20 or so books I've picked up have not). Why did this author blow me away with such predictable regularity? What was she doing that the other books in my TBR list are failing to accomplish? The answer, I think, lies in her latest bestseller, Malibu Rising. On the surface, it's a pretty classic book club type piece. The four children of a famous but dysfunctional Hollywood star (one of them famous in her own right) throw the party to end all parties. It's tense and dramatic and ends in (literal) flames. It's a voyeuristic insight into rich-and-famous culture and a complex and melodramatic family saga, which alone elevates it to high-concept territory. But what really works in Malibu Rising, which is also true of her other books, are the characters. Every sibling in Malibu Rising is richly textured, deeply understood, and achingly real. They're all in pain for various reasons and dysfunctional for various reasons and familiar for various reasons. Each of their points of view feel both fascinatingly different and like you're reading about yourself. And watching them all learn and grow and deal with the oh-so-real problems that life or luck or they themselves have created makes one feel inspired to do so in your own life. As a writer, I spend a lot of time ruminating on the point of stories. It's literally make-believe, often with ludicrous elements like space travel or dragon fights or romantic melodrama. And yet stories are integral to our culture. Why? I've come to think that following a character through a set of challenges in which they grow and learn is humanity's equivalent of virtual reality. It's a safe way to experience the vast complexity of life and learn painful lessons without actually needing to go through them. Seen through this lens, the brilliance of Taylor Jenkins Reid is that her characters are so well done, and their problems so familiar, that it makes them the perfect conduit for this kind of crash-course in life. Malibu Rising is, on it's surface, a flashy, lush narrative about a big Hollywood party. But deep down it's about a group of complicated people dealing with the issues we all find ourselves facing (although admittedly not in beachfront mansions). The messiness of love. The crushing responsibility of family. The burden of success and the burden of failure. And by reading about these characters struggling, falling, and then succeeding, we too can grow. So think about your characters and what a reader can learn from them. If your story is meant to mimic a life lesson that a person can then apply to their real-world existence, what is it they're going to apply? Without telling or preaching, what will your character (and therefore your reader) gain through the course of the story? If you make their problems real enough, human enough, and offer a solution to them, then there's no limit to the audience you can reach.
  5. The author didn't shy away, and it paid off! This book created quite a bit of buzz when it came out back in 2018. A story about the body parts of magical creatures being sold on the internet? Gross! Weird! It was an immediate sensation. Some people thought it pushed the boundaries of YA too far, edging into "creep-out" category. However, with almost 2 thousand Amazon reviews, clearly the audience wasn't creeped out enough to avoid it. Having finally spent the time to read it, I can see why this novel took the YA horror scene by storm. Not only is it a hooky idea, the author isn't afraid to go there. It's bloody, gory, and honest to the concept. After all, you can't really have a black market for magical body parts without the grotesque realities of body parts, some of them being removed from living victims. Trust me, it's just as chilling as it sounds. I'll be honest: horror isn't exactly a genre I spend a lot of time in (can you tell?). But it seems to me that there is an ineffable allure to books that aren't afraid to get as dark and spooky as the real world can sometimes be. It's refreshing to read an author whose characters are just as complicated and vile as real people, whose story reflects the atrocities that humans can and often are responsible for. A lot of fiction, especially in the YA field, pulls its proverbial punches. The bad guys are never that bad. The danger is never dangerous. The stakes never truly reach life or death, and if they do they're often resolved with an easy plot twist or chosen one deus ex machina. So I can see why this novel stood out in a crowded YA market. The characters in this book don't break down easily into hero and villain. Yes, there are some good antiheroes in here, and you're forced to root for people who are sort of evil in their own right. But the thing that I most respect about Not Even Bones is that it wasn't afraid to depict what this concept would truly look like. There's no sugarcoating here, just as there's no sugarcoating in life. And clearly the audience appreciated it. What about you? Do you read horror? What do you love about the horror genre? Tell us in the comments!
  6. Learn visuals from the masters! As you might have noticed, I've been on a graphic novel kick lately. It started with On a Sunbeam, but has since expanded to several series, some of which I might discuss here later on. But one that deserves to be brought to your attention is the creative, beautiful, and eerie masterwork, Monstress. Monstress takes place in a world where there are magical subspecies of half-human creatures whose bodies can be harvested for Illium, which is used by the human world for power and weaponry. In this beautifully-illustrated, violent setting a young woman named Maika Halfwolf is infected with a dangerous demon who both keeps her safe and makes her into a villain. A monstress, if you will. The story is steampunk and weird and sprawling. But the thing I think writers can learn from this and other graphic novels is the value of imagery. Reading these is, in some ways, more like watching a movie than reading a book. You can see exactly the image the artist/author are trying to convey, and there's very little lost in the translation of telling the story. Their fantasy world is immersive and real, the characters vivid, and the experience all-consuming. Because of this, the plot is able to get away with certain... softness. There's a lot of rambling, many parts of the story that feel like filler, and often a feeling of aimlessness in the character's progression toward her (ever-shifting) goal. This isn't necessarily the comic's fault; most long-running series suffer from similar problems. But because of the gorgeous art and imagery, I (a picky reader, as I'm sure you've noticed by now) don't mind those foibles. I'm so happy just being submerged in this world that I don't care if the story takes more time than it needs to reach where it's going. The lesson, then, is the value of well-executed description. As authors, it can be easy to get lost in the drama, the characters, or the plot and forget to build the world around them. What do things look like, smell like, feel like, taste like? While graphic novels have a clear advantage in the visual department, novels can go even deeper, tapping into all five senses. Don't info-dump, of course, but there's a real art to leading your reader into a world of your making and letting them breathe it in. This is not to say to suddenly inject your narrative with only visuals and abandon the idea of plot or story. It's still critically important to value concept, arc, character growth, and plot points. But even a mediocre or slow-moving story can be elevated by the subtle use of human senses. Build excellent visuals and readers will stay for them. Are you creating a world? How are you creating an immersive experience for your reader? Tell us in the comments!
  7. Different medium? New storytelling lessons! I've never been an enormous reader of graphic novels. Sure, I read Watchmen, Dark Knight, and V For Vendetta, but I was hardly a comic book nerd. Comics always seemed overwhelming to me, this behemoth industry with no clear inroads. Where does one start? Which ones are accessible to the uninitiated, like me? Better to stick with novels. However, a few weekends ago a friend pressed this book into my hands and told me to just give it a try. And, because I can't resist a heartfelt recommendation, I did. To my surprise, I very much enjoyed the beautifully illustrated, surprisingly heartfelt, and well-developed graphic novel, On A Sunbeam. Blending elements of Studio Ghibli, Firefly, and boarding school tropes, this mystical and whimsical story takes place in a universe that is clearly not our own. Its main character, Mia, begins the novel joining a crew who travels around in a giant fish-like ship, restoring ancient floating ruins. Through dual timelines, the reader will come to realize that Mia's tragic past tangles with her current present, pulling her and her newfound "family" across their strange universe to find the love she lost years ago. On A Sunbeam isn't your average science fiction novel, and not just because it's illustrated. It's very light on the science, almost more of a fantasy set in space, and depends more on characters than concepts to draw you into the narrative. Mia, the troublemaking misfit, and the crew she falls in with are warm, welcoming, well-rounded people. The experience of reading her story is slow, cozy, colorful, and safe, despite the high stakes and tense moments that culminate in the climax. The whole novel felt dreamlike and atmospheric and left me with a lovely, uplifted kind of energy that I appreciated, especially in this day and age. On A Sunbeam wasn't perfect, of course. There were a few preachy moments that threw me out of the story, and the author's choice to make the entire cast women without ever acknowledging or explaining the lack of men was distracting. But overall, I think that the lesson an author can take from this story is the value of imagery and meticulous attention to the kind of experience you want to provide. In various interviews, Tillie Walden makes it very clear how inspired she is by Studio Ghibli films and how she wants to recreate that experience in her own work. She executes that intention beautifully here, careful to make every element in the story reflect that sort of whimsical, otherworldly charm. Everything from the art to the dialogue has that soft, friendly openness that pulls you into her world and makes you want to stay a while. So think about what kind of experience you're promising with your novel. Do you want it to be soft and cozy? Hard and thrilling? Epic and raw? Tight and claustrophobic? Contemplate what the reader should expect when coming into your story and then do your best to hit that note on every page. And maybe read a few graphic novels. Because no one does style quite like comic artists. What do you think? Do you read graphic novels? Let us know what you think in the comments!
  8. Horror is more than just jump-scares and gore! It might sound strange, and I've had more than a few weird looks because of it, but whenever I'm asked for my #1 book recommendation, my perennial go-to is the zombie classic, World War Z. That's right, this book reviewer's favorite comfort read is a post-apocalyptic thriller about reanimated corpses. But if you haven't read it I do urge you to give it a chance because it is frankly awesome. Maybe I'll write a book review of that one soon... But because I'm such a Max Brooks fangirl, I couldn't resist listening to the audiobook for Devolution, his latest fictional-documentary approach to another classic horror trope: Bigfoot. Again, it sounds beyond weird to enjoy a book about Bigfoot, but let me tell you that I couldn't put this one down (or stop listening, in this case). I was riveted by the story of a bunch of pampered Seattleites trapped in their small, isolated, eco-friendly commune by the eruption of Rainer. There's this wonderful sense of slow, building tension in the story, knowing what's coming, knowing what happened, and then seeing it all play out through the surviving journal of the protagonist, an anxious millennial-type named Kate who goes from not being able to stand up to her own husband to (SPOILER ALERT) bashing in a primate's skull with a rock (END SPOILER). And therein lies the brilliance of Devolution: how well the horror elements link in with the characters. At its core, the book is about how far from the feral brutality of nature we are in our sheltered modern lives. Each of the characters embodies this contemporary naivete, through their blind faith in the government, idealistic veganism, the savior complex of foreign adoption, or sheer gluttonous laziness. At the start of the novel, the group of people who become stranded together in Greenloop are soft and safe and accustomed to the luxuries of their lives. Needless to say, the story forces them to change. Beyond the wonderful way the book challenges the characters to grow by facing something none of us can even imagine (except Brooks, I suppose), the horror is also deep and, if you'll pardon the pun, primal. I'd never put much thought into why the Bigfoot mythology is so pervasive and fascinating. To me, it had always been this weird thing some people believe in, like anal probes in alien abductions. But reading Devolution you realize that Bigfoot is, in fact, terrifying. The idea of a larger, stronger primate species who might have once overpowered us, who might see us only as troublesomely intelligent food, is spooky to say the least. Because primates are pack hunters. They're smart, use tools, and can be maliciously vicious. If you know anything about chimpanzees, you'll know how horrifically they treat the monkeys they hunt down and slaughter. Setting the stage where a group of abandoned humans have to face their most ancestral enemy was a brilliant storytelling tool, because it allowed Brooks to not only push the character development to its limit, but also help the story worm its way into your mind. Reading Devolution, I couldn't help but wonder how I'd react. What I'd do in a situation like this. How it would feel to suddenly be at the bottom of the food chain again. In short, Devolution was more than just a book to scare you. It was a damn good story! What do you think? Have you read anything by Max Brooks? Do you believe in Bigfoot? Let us know in the comments below!
  9. Respect the craft and you can get away with anything! That's right, I'm mixing it up a bit today to talk about Netflix's latest hit show, a 9-episode animated series created by League of Legends to promote their new game. Even writing that, I can imagine the eye-rolls. A video game adaptation? Really? How good could it possibly be? Reader, let me tell you: really f-ing good. Arcane's story centers around the tragic tale of two sisters from the rough, poor Undercity split up and then reunited years later as adults. The sisters are the (apparently) iconic League characters, Vi and Jinx. There are multiple other plots about magic, technology, politics, and rival gangs, but the double-helix spine of the story is the relationship between these two important characters and the trauma they share. And here is where Arcane stands out from other video game adaptations, because I, coming into the show with next to no knowledge about the game its based on, was completely absorbed. There was no feeling of having to know backstory or that the show was leaning on pre-existing lore that only game fans would know about. Vi and Jinx/Powder were fully fleshed out characters with their own motivations, characteristics, and unique, sympathetic backstories. I fell in love with both of them (and many of the minor characters) because of the strength of the writing, not because of whatever cool powers they have or game references the writers made. They were people first and game characters second, allowing the uninitiated (like me) into this dense, complex world through the strength of the show's plot. In short, the show writers respected the craft of storytelling and took no shortcuts, even though they absolutely could have. They were working with a huge and rabid fanbase who was guaranteed to watch the show. They could have phoned it in. But they didn't, and their work has gone viral because of that choice. What can we, who don't have massive, hungry fanbases, learn from Arcane? Well first of all, I'd recommend watching it as a storyteller, because the show has so much going for it in that department. There are evocative character arcs, incredible relationship complexity, cool fight scenes with actual weight and drama, and heartbreaking choices. The show pulls you in from the first beautifully animated panorama and doesn't ever loosen its grip, including its final cliffhanger moment. However, there's a lesson to be learned here even if you choose not to binge-watch this latest phenomenon of nerd culture. It is, as always, the value of good craft. You can have the best (or worst!) idea in the world and so much of its success boils down to proper execution. It's obviously better to have a killer high concept idea to work with. But even if you don't, even if you're wading into some muddy mess of lore or backstory (as most video game adaptations are), Arcane shows that almost any story can be excellently told with the proper balance of skill and training. Hone your writing muscles and, from what I've seen, you can do just about anything with them. Have you watched Arcane? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!
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  11. Any book with this much buzz deserves your attention! Love her or hate her, Sally Rooney is one of the most famous authors of our time. Hailing from Ireland, she came out of nowhere in 2017 with her surprise hit, Conversations With Friends. Blending elements of literary and women's fiction, the book was well-received and widely read, leading a splashy deal for her next book. Which was Normal People. You'd have to be living under a boulder in Croatia to have missed the massive media storm that was Normal People. It spawned a BBC adaptation, sold literally millions of copies, won tons of awards, and probably showed up in your mom's book group. Everyone was reading it. Everyone was talking about it. Which is exactly why we should here. On its surface, Normal People is a pretty straightforward story. It's the painful and frustrating tale of two people who seem well-suited for each other but, for a variety of reasons, keep crossing signals romantically. Marianne and Connell are from different economic strata, which creates tension in their ongoing relationship/friendship. But really, they're both flawed and selfish and tragically bad at communication. But also deeply, deeply compelling. When I first started Normal People I didn't think I was going to finish. The writing was simple to the point of boring, the formatting odd, and the dialogue cringe-worthy (I still go back and forth on whether or not Rooney intended it that way). However, the more I read the more I realized that these two fully-realized characters were getting under my skin. I found myself caring about the self-hating Marianne and the socially awkward Connell. They were almost too real, devoid of the shiny polish that most modern entertainment gives its characters. They were people you might meet at parties, friends you might complain about because they were so stupid. But that was what made them addictive. It was the romance trope of miscommunication done in a hyper-realist way that slipped under my skin and stayed with me, even a year after reading it. I'm not sure I'll read Rooney's next book, but I think the appeal of her writing is the raw humanity that she never shies away from, no matter how uncomfortable. She's unflinching in her portrayal of people as disastrous messes, ever wounding each other because of the issues they can't escape. It might not exactly be pleasant to read about, but it's real and believable and you find yourself praying the whole time that these two unlikable, compelling people can find happiness that, in the real world, they likely wouldn't. So think about your story. How can you bring more authentic honesty into your characters? How can you make them feel so real that the reader can't look away? It doesn't matter what genre you're writing in; every story must have a person at its heart, and the more real you can make them, the more real their story (and the drama by extension) will feel. If you can make them as evocative as the main duo of Normal People, then even the most mundane story can become a page-turner.
  12. Sometimes even death can be boring. I was drawn to They Both Die at the End when I saw it listed alongside my previous read, How To Stop Time. After watching the multi-year buzz for this book, not to mention seeing the raving reviews, I wondered if it might be worth finally giving it a try. Maybe it wasn't as melancholy and naval-gazing as I worried it would be. And the concept of a near future in which a faceless organization called Death-Cast calls people to let them know when they're going to die was intriguing. I checked it out almost two weeks ago. Reader, I still have not finished this book. The concept is indeed very cool, and handled reasonably well at the start. There's an interesting moral question of whether or not you would want to know if you're going to die, and of course the tension of whether or not Rufus and Mateo actually will die at the end. It's dramatic to see them try to put their lives in order, despite only being 17. And Mateo, at least, is sympathetic enough to have me rooting for him. But around the halfway point, the story loses momentum. Because, like in How To Stop Time, there really isn't a story. What started out as a propulsive plot with a clear deadline turns into a meandering, chatty, mawkish meditation on death and life and the things we leave behind. I can see why some readers might enjoy it, especially young readers who haven't been forced to face their own mortality yet. And to an extent I respect what the book is trying to do. But good intentions do not make a good read. Like How To Stop Time, this novel needed more plot meat. It leaned too heavily on the concept and the larger story-question to get people to the finish instead of leading them through something. Maybe a clearer goal from one of the protagonists would have helped. Or a deeper understanding of Death-Cast and either its destruction or redemption. Or a glimmer of hope that could be left behind, like money won or forgiveness earned or mistakes set right. If I'm repeating myself, it's only because this is such an important lesson for writers to learn. Concept is not enough. Yes, it's important. Yes, it's critical to getting sold and talked-about and launched on a career path. But even the highest of concepts will only get you so far. You still have to craft a story. All the way through. Even if the reader already knows the end. How are you keeping your concept from stagnating in plotless meandering? How will you keep your shiny idea sparkling when the novelty has worn off? Let us know in the comments!
  13. Elevate the mundane with an expertly-crafted plot device! I suppose it's no secret how much I enjoy a good romcom. If an author can make me laugh while also providing some of the romantic warm and fuzzies, then here, take my money! But the problem is that romance is heavily trodden ground. It's incredibly hard to find something that hasn't been done a thousand times, and better. In the game of publishing statistics, the odds of writing a novel romance (pun intended) are against you. Enter: plot devices. Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales has a lot of tropey elements. The story revolves around sassy and smart Darcy Phillips who is blackmailed into helping sexy Australian Brougham get his ex-girlfriend back. What follows is a sort of love-square, where Darcy is in love with her best friend and Brougham is in love with his ex-girlfriend and shenanigans ensue that keep both of them from who they want, only to have them fall in love with each other instead. It's got LGBT representation and the intriguing backdrop of an expensive private school for spice. But what really makes this teen romcom stand out is Darcy's side-business of answering anonymous letters from her fellow classmates and helping them solve their problems. As a plot device, this works exceedingly well to elevate what would have been a ho-hum story of missed timing into a tense and interesting drama. Not only do Darcy's misadventures in giving advice add complexity to the tale, they also provide opportunities for characterization, heightened stakes as you wonder whether or not she'll get caught, a compelling backstory that could come between her and her love interest, and a reason for the whole story to kick off (Brougham discovering Darcy's secret and threatening to expose her unless she helps him). It might sound like a simple fix, and it is! But so many writers would stop at the first level, building a handful of engaging protagonists in loving detail without considering what will make them stand out in a crowded market. Your writing can be gorgeous, your heroes sympathetic and funny, your setting amazing. But sometimes (often) that's not enough. So give your novel that extra something. Who knows? Maybe it's all you need to go from querying trenches to bestseller success! Have you considered a plot device? What are you using to elevate your story? Let us know in the comments!
  14. If your book is all concept, it's all boring! First of all, I will admit to having enjoyed this book when said and done. Even though I'm about to use it as an example of what not to do, it was still a heartwarming read about love and loss and how trust can conquer fear if we let it. But... This novel is a classic case of the concept getting way, way ahead of the plot. So first, the concept: How to Stop Time revolves around a man named Tom Hazard who ages slower than normal people. He's not immortal exactly, but his body takes so long to grow old that he might as well be. Born in the days of witch-burning and religious fanaticism, Tom has learned the hard way how hostile society can be to his condition. Nowadays, as part of The Albatross Society, he follows the command of an ancient man named Hendrich who does everything possible to keep their existence a secret. Including kill people. Now, the plot of the story is fairly straightforward. Tom meets a woman and breaks the most important rule of The Albatross Society: he falls in love. On the surface, this should lead to an exciting tale of him struggling to keep his love interest safe as the Society closes in on her. But it doesn't. That's because the majority of this book focuses on Tom's various jaunts through history, meeting Shakespeare and surviving the suspicious streets of London. We end up learning more about the mother of his only child, who died over two hundred years ago, than we do about the actual present-day person he's supposed to be interested in. There's a bit of danger and excitement toward the climax of the book, but it doesn't make up for the 330 pages of jarring flashbacks and nicely-written but ultimately pointless tangents. And the character of Tom doesn't help matters, spending most of the story aimless, goal-less, and feeling sorry for himself (one might even say that his lack of a goal is the reason the story has no plot to begin with). In short, Haig fell in love with his concept and didn't build a strong enough plot framework to support it. We at Algonkian teach the importance of a high concept. It is arguably the single biggest factor in a book's success. This novel, if anything, proves our rule! Despite its slow pace, plodding and uneven storytelling, and morose protagonist, How to Stop Time is an international bestseller, soon to be a movie with Benedict Cumberbatch. So clearly the hook is working. However, this book could have been much better if Haig had given his protagonist a proper goal or made him more active. If Tom had been driving the plot forward, acting with direction and purpose instead of letting others dictate his life, then the story could have been energetic, propulsive, and impossible to put down. Who knows if it would have made the novel more successful, but I sure think it certainly would have made it more fun. Look at your own novel and ask: have I lost my plot in favor of my concept? Is my main character interesting outside their circumstances? Or am I relying on the flash of cool ideas and settings to hook readers in rather than telling a proper, human story? Let us know in the comments!
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