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  1. AS II – Module 8 Book Reports "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner (a great primer for this commercial program) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? This is the second time I’ve read this book. It should be the first book any writer reads on the craft of writing. It validated the areas of craft that I’ve been studying for the past eight-plus years. The book taught me that you have to know the rules of craft and master them before you can break them or create your own. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. The technique for telling a story through multiple points of view (a technique masterfully used by Larry McMurtry in Lonesome Dove).The most effective way is to have the character do an action. This signals the reader that they are about to enter into another character’s mind. Then, just as we learned in AS II – Module 1, use the four levels of POV to draw the reader closer to the character until we are in their mind. b. Removing needless explanation; or as we like to say in my local writers group: Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE). You find these excess words usually at the end of sentences. Or as Gardner writes, “Needless explanation or explanation where drama alone would be sufficient are other irritants. c. Avoiding dialogue tags that attempt to prop dialogue; e.g., “he hollered” or “he exclaimed.” A simple “he said” works just fine. The same for “he questioned.” If the character says, “Where are you going?”, no need to say “he questioned” as the the questions is already obvious and the dialogue tag is redundant. “He said” works just fine. 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? I’m not sure I’d say it conflicts, but Gardner leaned toward the three-act Syd Field model of storytelling. While it has some similarities, it doesn’t prepare you fully for the two-goal six-act novel that is at the heart of the novel writing program. However, every novel has to have structure, the bones that allow it to stand on its own. When I took a novel writing extension course at the University of Oklahoma, my professor tried to teach me structure. I didn’t grasp the concept and my writing suffered. I’ve since learned structure, and the readings in the novel writing program have also added innumerable amounts of structure that will benefit me as I continue to write and improve in the craft. "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maass (another good primer) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? Like Garnder’s The Art of Fiction, this was the second time I’ve read Maass’s book. What I really enjoyed was learning about the relationship between writer and agent and writer and editor. He presented not just the craft side, but also the business side. Many writers believe that once they’ve finished writing, that’s it, just schedule them for the book tour and off they go. Not even close. I’m fortunate to know NY Times bestselling author Steve Berry and his wife Liz. I’ve followed his career and whenever Liz talks the business side of writing (she’s one of the best at it), I listen and I learn. This validates the lessons Maass is trying to teach. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. Stakes. This is an important chapter in the book. Maass wants writers to ask themselves, “What the worse that could happen to your character? What’s worse than that? Even worse than the second thing? This simple exercise allows you to think about events that will have the most impact and true character is revealed in crisis. b. Multi-dimentional characters. Maass refers to these a layers, like an onion, the more you peel it, the more you discover. The writers who don’t publish have protagonists that don’t act, but react, or antagonists that have no redeeming qualities so the readers can’t connect with them. People are complex. Our characters should be, too. Who wants to read about a character who’s always happy, has no problems, and life is good. Boring. People have flaws, ticks, or as Rocky Balboa said, “don’t get mentally irregular.” c. Maass said, “a useful princple for making place an active character is to give your characters an active relationship to place.” He says writers have setting just to have it, to paint a picture. But fiction is action, like a movie, and the place, like the character, needs to propel the story. The exercises in novel writing program enhance this point and the exercises were wonderful at developing this important technique. It’s an area that’s still a weakness, but with practice, I can turn it into a strength. 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? I didn’t see anything that contradicted or conflicted with the lessons or readings. In fact, a good deal of what Maass writes is reflected in the modules. What I like about the novel writing program is the structure of the two parts, eight modules each, with each module building toward the next until the final module where we put it all together. "Write Away" by Elizabeth George (a no nonsense primer, and humorous) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? My favorite of the four books. The two areas I wanted to improve dramatically in were the preparation phase before writing the first draft, and then self-editing the draft to a ready-for-publication work. Ms. George book had exactly what I was looking for when it came to preparing to write a novel. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. Dialogue tricks. Getting the dialogue to work for you, to create emotion, reactions, and most importantly, propel the story forward. b. Step Outline. Ten to 15 scenes from start to finish of the novel. I’ve actually done this with other novels I’ve written, but Ms. George focuses the process, giving it structure that will be useful going forward. c. Attitude. Voice, is what Ms. George refers to. The story has a sound, a rhythm, a feeling. That was very important in my novel because of the time and place. d. Bum glue. It really works (even for Novel Writing Programs). 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? Ms. George plotting process is different than the two-goal six-act process, but it still contains the important plot points, pinch points, minor reverals, major reversals, climax, and denouement. She did address MacGuffins, which was a plus. "The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard (a look at the struggle) 1. How did the book help you as a writer? What overall aspects of it taught you something? The main thing from this book is that it confirmed a lesson my local writing mentors has said numerous times: don’t butt write. What Ms. George did was to experience life and when she did, she was able to give her words life on the page. This was especially telling when wrote about Dave Rahm, and aerial demonstration pilot who flew airshows and gave Ms. Dillard the ride of her life. I’m very familiar with these performers as they flew at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville (Florida) air shows every other year. Some good friends that I came to know are no longer with us, just like Mr. Rahm. This part of her book was spot on and beautifully written. 2. What two or three major lessons did you learn from the book that you can apply to your writing and/or your novel? a. No matter the adversity, you can perservere. She spent a good deal of time in primitive conditons that today’s writers would find objectionable. Probably the toughest of all is writing long-hand. Who does that these days? And when you meet someone who does, what’s your reaction? It proves that writers who really want to write, can do it anywhere, anytime, and don’t have to wait until inspiration strikes. In fact, you have to use the bum glue, sit, and force yourself even when you think the writing is awful. Keep going. Never stop. Or my favorite saying, “Always forward, never backwards.” b. I enjoyed her writing, her metaphors, the imagery she created, and the courage to go after what she believed. She possess great courage. I hope that type of writing is present in my work. 3. Was there anything in the books that obviously conflicted with lessons and readings in our novel writing program. If so, what were they? No conflicts. An enlightening look at the writing life of a Publitzer Prize writer.
  2. Criteria Ratings 1-5 as follows: 1. Uncertain 2. Understand, But Item Needs More Work 3. Average and Must Evolve To Be Competitive 4. I Believe This Base is Covered 5. Superb and Clicking With Velocity You must apply the above ratings to each of the criteria below, one at a time, and post the results here in your own personal topic. You must also support your ratings with references, discussion, and examples as appropriate. For example, you will simply not say, "Yeah, I'm good at dialogue, and I give myself a high five." No. You must reference the module that demonstrates the great dialogue. If you are reading this now while still working through your modules, you might want to consider this process ahead of time. NOTE: This is my second time through the Novel Writing Program. It's been outstanding in that it reinforced the lessons I learned the first time through. It also forced me to be objective (as much as any writer can with a project they've worked on for nearly 4 years) on craft and storytelling require to make my novel a commercial and sellable piece of fiction. HIDDEN TREASURES is my 10th novel. I've been with my local writers group for more than 9 years and with AS since December 2011. I have no problem continuing to pay my dues until I prove I'm ready to be a working writer. Thank you. The category of MARKET VALUE is most crucial. _____________________________________________________ MARKET VALUE: Originality, freshness, high concept ​4 - While pitching LUCIUS AND THE ONLYS at the NYC Pitch Conference, Caitlin Alexander asked about my 2nd place for HIDDEN TREASURES that I'd won in a 2007 writing contest (an earlier version of the novel). When I pitched the log line, she said the story was HIGH CONCEPT. I still believe that's true today. HIDDEN TREASURES compares well to my comparables INKHEART and INKSPELL by Cornelia Funke, and NEVER ENDING STORY by Michael Ende, because the protagonist is pulled into imaginary worlds that he must fight his way through in order to find the meaning of the story. [*]Clear target readership ​4 - I'm confident the story works well in the Young Adult Fantasy market, especially as it relates to those first adolescent emotions of love. In such constant peril, Christopher has to trust someone, and while he's hesitant, that person is Becka Wellington. The combination of the unique worlds and situations, combined with the relationship of the protagonist and the love interest, will entice a diverse group of readers. While Christopher is pulled into the stories just as Meggie is in INKHEART and INKSPELL, it's the originality of The Reader's Hole spinning and with the help of Harcourt Thigpen's imagination that will engage readers. It's also the unspoken message of how reading inspires the imagination that can attract middle and high school teachers to add the book to their reading lists. [*]Hook ​5 - Strongest part of the book is the idea of a bookstore carved into a magic white oak tree. A bookstore with no breaks, cracks, or dividers, created in one single piece. A work of magic and imagination. STRUCTURE: Act Zero backstory development ​Somewhere between 3 and 4 - With Christopher unable to rescue Becka from the stories by the end of this book, it's obvious that this is a series. In AS 1 - Module VIII, it was asked: What are the loose ends remaining? Anything left unresolved or unanswered? There must be some. There were a host of them (see below). Why did Tess Hamilton leave Becka Wellington in the stories? Why did Tess Hamilton visit HIDDEN TREASURES? Will Christopher go back and rescue Becka? What is the secret of the white oak that will save Becka and free Harcourt Thigpen? What will Harcourt Thigpen do if he is free? Turn to ash? Or turn the real world into a fictional one? Will Roger still be able to talk is he is free and doesn’t turn to ash? Will Thornbridge die or find an heir to replace him as the Keeper of stories? If Christopher rescues Becka, will she be a teenager or as old as his mother upon her return? ​The initial backstory was provided in AS 1 - Module VI and I'm very confident in that backstory and the ability to answer the above questions as the series progresses. [*]Concise, effective setup with inciting incident ​5 - Module VI asked about the inciting incident. It begins en media res in the opening of the story when Christopher is imaginatively pulled from his class and finds himself with Harcourt Thigpen aboard the Mayflower floundering on a stormy sea. By the end of the chapter (long, but it clearly establishes the beginning of HIDDEN TREASURES) the reader learns it's all an elaborate invitation. [*]Plot line arc, and subplots (if appropriate) ​5 - a high score, but here's why. Each character has their own wants and desires and that creates conflict. See the list below. ​Christopher - Doesn't want to read. Tess Hamilton - Wants her son to be a good student; but doesn't want to know that she'd been to HIDDEN TREASURES and left Becka Wellington, her best friend, behind. Barrister Thornbridge - He needs an heir to maintain the long line of Keepers. Harcourt Thigpen - He needs Christopher to discover the secret of the white oak so he can be free of his attic prison. ​Becky Wellington - Wants to escape HIDDEN TREASURES to get back to the real world. [*]Well designed reversals (major and minor) ​3 to 4 - Going through this again I feel there may be have sufficient reversals. The major reversals are when Christopher has to read in order to learn the secret that will open the invisible door in The Reader's Hole. The second major reversal is when Thornbridge changes the story during KRAKEN'S MAZE thereby changing the rules. Christopher attempts to do the same, but fails during SNATCH. I'm worried I may be too close to the story, even after letting it sit and coming back to it through the Novel Writing Program and that another set of eyes is required to help decide if the reversals are effective. [*]Pinch points (at least two) ​4 - In Module VII I listed the pinch points: While making their way to the North Pole, Peary (Thornbridge) wants to rescue Christopher and allow Stonewall (Thigpen) to die. Lord Kraken (Thornbridge) changes the story in an effort to cause Christopher to fail to rescue the princess. And then Sammy (Thornbridge) lays a trap for Christopher at the Gin Mill where the mob boss is holding his mother. [*]Catalytic situation driven ​5 - This relates to theme in AS 1 - Module 5. This is a coming of age story where Christopher discovers himself (as most people do in crisis). What I like about this theme is that the knowledge is not on the surface, it's underneath (the words or inside the person). [*]Conflict, tension, rising action, ​4 - In AS 1 - Modules VI and VII, the goal is to avoid the lazy, sleepy middle that kill novels. There are opportunities for the reader to catch their breath, but for the most part, Christopher is in constant jeapardy from the opening scene until Thornbridge lets him leave HIDDEN TREASURES. The driver of that is that each character has a different want or desire. [*]Every scene relevant (i.e., to driving plot forward) ​3 - This may be the area that needs attention. The primary target will be KRAKEN'S MAZE. It's the longest of the three stories and the most fantasy-driven. What makes it relevant, again as AS 1 - Modules VI, VII, and VII attempt to teach us, as that each action as to be tied to Christopher's discovery of who he is. He sees things about himself (like his ability to know things without being told, like the classified code on the paper in his father's office), but yet he struggles with Becka because he has no real experience when it comes to girls. The key to his escape is learning the meanings of the three stories (again, a good model that school teachers will want to share with students) to learn the secret to open the invisible door. Question: Is there too much story that deludes the main goal of finding the clues that leads to the stories meanings? Or, as with most good stories, the meaning is under the words as a whole, grasping the inference rather than being directly told. I believe it's the latter, but need another set of experienced eyes to confirm it. [*]Effective, believable climax ​4 - It appears as though when Christopher escapes The Reader's Hole he's free, but Thornbridge has yet to understand that the boy must choose to stay on his own, not be forced. That's why the ladders disappear and then Thornbridge is even willing to destroy that which he's supposed to protect in order to make Christopher stay. It's when Christopher shows little regard for the books, dropping them, that Thornbridge realizes his mistake, catching the books and returning them to the boy. [*]Resolution ​4 - If the reader is looking for a concrete ending, they won't be satisfied as the remaining questions from AS 1 - Module VIII will not have been answered. However, if the reader is hoping to read more about Christopher and HIDDEN TREASURES, then they'll be happy to know the stories will continue. CHARACTERS: Antagonistic force ​5 - Thornbridge works as an antagonist as outlined in AS 1 - Module II, but he is sympathetic enough because of the job he has and how long he has to do it (a thousand years). However, his brusque and formal nature has a sharp edge that's not well received. Also, Harcourt Thigpen is Thornbridge's unwitting antagonist foil because he too wants something from Christopher (as all the characters in the story do). Thigpen plays well against Thornbridge because they both want different things and that creates conflict with Christopher stuck in the middle. [*]Consistent opposition ​5 - Because of each of the characters wants something from Christopher, this creates constant tension and conflict. The conflict is compounded as he deals with these characters in the midst of three stories that by their nature are inherently dangerous. Even Thornbridge at on point questions Thigpen about whether his story choice was right for a child. Then again, they want to know if Christopher is "The One," so the most strident test is required. Protagonist’s goals ​5 - Christopher has two goals. His first is not to read. When he's trapped inside The Reader's Hole, he has no choice but to revise his goal by reading the books to he can learn the meanings of the stories and discover the secret that will open the invisible door (so he can escape - his revised goal). [*]Sympathetic protagonist ​5 - In Module IV, I noted five things that made Christopher sympathetic using direct verbiage from the story. There is a line that needs to be crossed for a young reader between boredom and imagination. Once you tilt them to the imaginative side, then they'll read the story. That's what happened to Christopher and that's what I believe will happen to young readers who discover HIDDEN TREASURES. [*]Protagonist’s arc ​5 - In Module IV, I outline the character arc for Christopher, much of it having to do with building his confidence and his relationship with Becka. There are no major leaps in his character as this is the beginning of the series; however, by the time he enters SNATCH, he has the courage to challenge Becka to admit she's not a character in the story. He's more willing to act and has the confidence to even deal with adults. [*]Supporting characters ​5 - Harcourt Thigpen, Tess Hamilton, and Becka Wellington round out the small supporting cast. The characters are unique, they have their own dictionary in their head, they don't sound alike, and they each want something from Christopher. Having a talking mouse was risky, but I believe Roger Williams works because he serves as the protagonist's sidekick, a Robin to a Batman, and the mouse's strong English accent and sense of humor add levity and support throughout the story. It's another level of the fantasy element, but with much of the human foibles we see in people. NARRATIVE DEVELOPMENT: Scene length and structure ​4 - A good deal of effort and attention was placed on the end of scenes, ensuring an interesting hook that would induce the reader to keep going. Story breaks within chapters were clear due to a change in time, location, or POV. The scenes tend to be longer because the unique worlds Christopher traveled to required greater attention to detail. The concrete detail added verisimilitude and pushed the story forward. [*]Effective transitions ​4 - Careful attention was paid to POV and time and place. Story breaks were effective transitions. Staying with the focal POV character rather than mind-hoping avoided reader confusion and keeps the reader tight in the story. Also, based on AS 2 - Module I, I applied the techniques using all four levels of 3POV. A good example was the River King Model applied to Thornbridge on board SS Roosevelt plowing through ice-covered seas and then drilling down until we are in his mind showing his aggravation that Thigpen has pulled him into such an intemperate climate. [*]Clarity of spatial set ​This is not clear in the module (unless I missed something). I went back through my modules and couldn't find this listed. So answering this would be a guess. I remember having trouble with this during my first time through the Novel Writing Program. If I could receive a better explanation, I would be able to answer this area. [*]Comprehensible prose narrative ​5 - The FIGHT CLUB exercise in AS II - Module V is my favorite. I reposted what I'd written the first time because I'm very happy how that came out. The River King model narrative was a pleasant surprise. Like so many of the exercises, I wasn't sure going in, but as my confidence grew, I attacked the exercise, and the result was good enough that I knew I needed it to be part of the current story. The best part of the exercise is that I proved to myself that I could do it. [*]Tension on the page ​5 - A high score, but I'm confident because each of my characters wants something different and when they do, tension is on every page. [*]Dialogue mastery ​4 - AS 2 - Module I was good at forcing me to write a scene from different character POVs. It also should be reflected in they way they spoke. Each character has their own dictionary in their head. It's developed based on where they come from, who they interacted with, and even what they've read. It drives how they speak. Remembering that ensures that characters sound different. Even Thigpen, when he is in the role of Nickerbaud Stonewall in ICE WORLD speaks with a heavy Scottish baroque. The key to good dialogue is that it's the essence of what is said, not everything that's said. Also I try hard to avoid direct answers to questions. The dialogue, like all the other parts of the craft, has to push the story forward. [*]Exposition delivery ​5 - Just as was required with the FIGHT CLUB exercise, it's evident that the reader will be tight in Christopher's mind, or in the minds of the other characters when the story demands it. My goal - which I believe I accomplished the majority of the time, was the reader will be so deep into the fictive dream that when Christopher sees the twenty-foot-tall Lord Shido Kraken, the reader thinks I just saw twenty-foot-tall Lord Shido Kraken. [*]Narrative composition (quality of set, tension, cinema, character interactions) ​4 - There may be more opportunities for the River King cinematic approach. Moving through he 3POV model through all four levels helps heighten the tension and highlight the interactions between characters. A significant improvement to setting from the original to the revised version. Character interactions are the strongest as each has their own wants and desires and that creates tension and conflict. [*]Cinematic imagery (static and dynamic) ​4 - The FIGHT CLUB and River King exercises brought out the best in this area as shown by the version from my novel using the River King model. It allowed me to revise the story looking for opportunities to enhance the cinematic imagery and make the scene more dynamic and true to life. [*]Proper point-of-view ​5 - I'm pretty confident that I avoided POV issues, and was happy at how I applied the four levels of 3POV. Based on my first time through the course, I paid close attention to the use of the characters' names and pronouns to avoid potential reader confusion. [*]Wise use of craft technique ​4 - Anyone who claims a "5" even after the final 100 pages is lying. Sorry. Just a fact. I can always improve my craft. Even after I'm published, the craft of writing will be a continuing study. I have confidence in my ability having studied the craft of writing for the last nine years with my local writers group and three years with AS. The main goal is the mission of AS, to write stories that agents and editors will fall in love with. [*]Interior Monologue and rumination ​5 - I placed A good deal of effort on drawing tight into the minds to feel-taste-hear-smell-see what the characters do. From the confusion that Christopher faces when he's first pulled into Thigpen's story on Mayflower, to Thornbridge's aggravation at having to be in Thigpen's stories, to Becka's reticence about telling Christopher that she'd been was left behind.
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