Monday, May 30, 2011

Information Dump

Recently I went through a critique session with some of my new colleagues from the RCRW.  I must say that it was an eye opening experience.  First of all, I'd like to mention that I've found myself among a group of extremely talented people.  The pieces of work that I read were positively amazing!  While I think that everyone in the group shows promise, there is one writer in particular that I honestly believe will be among published authors within the next few years and I will be happy to say that she slashed my work to shreds :).

Having other people critique your work is incredibly helpful.  I gained incredible insight into my work that I would have never seen myself, and this has helped me to improve upon what I have already written.  Besides many annoying quirks that I have that I can now avoid, thanks to their comments, I have also found that I am prone to information dumps.  A few people have pointed this out, but I think now I get it. 

Now here's my thought on information dumps.  They aren't bad.  Okay - WAIT!  Before you start getting your panties in a twist, let me finish.  If you are a pantser like me (someone who writes by the seat of her pants and then goes back and figures out what to do with it), they are akin to the character interviews that more structured individuals like to partake in.  The information dumps are a great way to learn about the characters pasts.  To really get close to the character and understand what your characters think and what motivates them.  However - it is also important to recognize them as information dumps.  My information dumps have become very structured (yay W).  Thanks to the many books, conferences, and classes I have participated in, I have learned how to structure a scene.  My information dumps have a goal, they accomplish what they should, the characters are doing what they are supposed to be doing - but here's the key, they contain information that the reader does not need to know.  Sure, the information may be interesting, it may be some of the best writing in the book, but if it doesn't advance the overall goal of the character (not the scene goal - the overall goal), then the reader just doesn't need to know.

I think the key is, knowing when to dump your dumps.  As long as you can distinguish when the scene advances the goal, and when it is something that you wrote for your own benefit - then information dumps can be a very positive thing.  One man's trash....

Friday, May 13, 2011

Picked up stitch....

Okay, so despite my review of Lynsay Sands book A Quick Bite in my last blog, I decided to go on and read another of her books, A Bite to Remember.  I *thought* this was her second book, but apparently it's her 5th in the Argeneau vampire series.  

This book was a huge improvement on the previous book I read.  Here, we have Vincent, the protagonist vampire, and Jackie, the mortal who fears vampires due to an experience when she was young.

The beginning starts strong, Vincent owns a acting production company where a saboteur is ruining his productions, progressively becoming more and more vicious in the process.  He wants to stop the saboteur so he can get back to work.  Clear goal.  Jackie and her partner Tiny are hired to find the saboteur.  Her goal, though the same as Vincent's, is for a very different reason.  She is a detective, she was hired to find the saboteur.  This is her job.  Again, clear goal.  Now, you might say - same goal, no good.  Not true.  They may have the same goal, but they have the goal for very different reasons.  This is good.

Now, throughout the course of the book, we discover certain things about the characters.  There is a little overflow of backstory describing why Jackie is not completely comfortable with vampires and why, despite her attraction to Vincent, she refuses to see him as a romantic interest (other than the whole employer/employee thing).  While the backstory is imperative to the plot, I felt that it could have been incorporated a little better rather than just one single backstory dump, but still.  Her characters are still a bit shallow, but better in this one, and I appreciate that she keeps the cast list small and easily manageable.  At the end of the book there was a large influx of seemingly unnecesary characters that I was unsure about, but due to their small role, I didn't feel that it really detracted from the story. 

This story also had a clear structure.  I have studied the W plot of Karen Docter, and the three act structure as described in Fiction Writing for Dummies.  Both run parallel.  The structure in this book works really well in that regard.  There is  a clear movement from one act to the next and a clear escalation of circumstances.

There were some good complexities in this story as well - like the last one however, there was a sort of Deus Ex Machina ending - the "coincidence" that solves the crime that was a bit too fortuitous to be believable, but this book shows a great contrast in writing.  The story lines are similar, but I think to look at this book, and compare it to the one that I described before is really a great study in how you can turn a troubled manuscript into something workable.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dropped stitches....

Okay - So I haven't really been reading Pale Demon for all this time (for those of you who actually pay attention to my "reading now" books - and yes, I'm still reading Fiction Writing for Dummies because it's on my daughter's Kindle and she won't give it up!).  The truth of the matter is that I really wanted to post something on Pale Demon because it has a great W Plot and gives a wonderful demonstration of hero's journey.  So I thought, I would post that "review" and take it down.  The truth is, I have read The Other Side of the Grave by Jeaniene Frost which I loved because the big bad guy was a sniveling loser just like UBL - I thought it rather apropos, and then I read a hand me down from my sister - A Quick Bite by Lynsay Sands.

I think that it is important to have both positive examples and negative examples from which to learn.  I am a college professor and I routinely in class take student papers and shred them in front of the class.  We tear them apart, analyze them, figure out everything that is wrong with them, and then put them back together.  Now, this may seem heartless and cruel, but the truth is, I only do it for students that volunteer their papers for review, and I am never short of volunteers.  I sometimes have to have raffles to see who the lucky "winner" is that will get reemed in class.  And amazingly, the students consistently report that they learn more from ripping apart the bad examples, then from looking at the plethora of "good" examples that we, as educators give to them.

Why is this?  Well, the truth is, we are all making these same mistakes.  We can see what the good example is, and we see that our bad example doesn't match the good example, but we don't always know why.  So, I think that it's important to share with you some examples that I consider to be bad examples (not mine :D )

***********  SPOILER ALERT  ***************

So this brings me to Ms. Sands novel.  This was definitely not a keeper.  It was okay, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't great.  Kim Harrison is great.  Adrian Phoenix is great.  Jeaniene Frost is great.  Why? Because their characters are well developed, they have clear goals, and they have clear structure.  So why don't I put Ms. Sands on my keeper shelf?  Well, to begin with, the goals are not clearly developed.  It would seem that, at the beginning, the hero is trying to get to his vacation spot (Cancun, I believe), and the heroine is trying to cure her phobia.  So far, so good.  We have some clear cut goals.  But then after a while, the hero's (Dr. Hewitt) flight is cancelled, and apparently so is his goal. 

Oh, but wait - then he has to convince the heroine that she wants to spend the rest of forever with him.  But that *can't* be the goal because we can't have love as a primary goal in a romance (now I know why).  So basically, we have the rest of the book with the hero trying to get into the heroine's pants (or panties).  Then, we have the antagonist.  Some floundering misled priest who thinks the heroine is a vampire (which she is).  But all of his tests to see if she is a vampire, fail.  And yet he still pursues her - subtly and silently.  The conflict is practically absent. Plus, it's so obvious throughout the book who the antagonist is and what's going on and yet the heroine is totally oblivious to it - DUH!  He does everything but smack her in the face ... that is until the end when he points a gun at her and accuses her of being a vampire. 

Then, when all seems lost (rug pull here), her family swoops in and saves her and her vampire lover (did I tell you she turned him into a vampire?) with barely an explanation of how they found her, staked out on the porch of a house in the middle of nowhere.  And everyone lives happily ever after (except that her phobia isn't cured, Dr. Hewitt never gets to Cancun although he does convince her to marry him, and the priest's mind is wiped so he doesn't remember a thing - how convenient - and he goes on ministering to the poor). Ugh! 

So, if you are looking for a book with minimal character development, too much back story and exposition (did I forget to mention the chapter exhaustively explaining where vampires came from, why she is afraid of blood *and* marriage?), and a weak, soggy antagonist, then look no further.  This will explain to you in clear detail why you spend hours and hours pining away at that one last chapter, and developing your story, and making sure it flows.  I strongly recommend it as an example of what *not* to do. (Definitely NC17 rating)

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