Croissant, Coffee, and a Cafe

Is that too much to ask for? I mean, really.

I’m going to be blatantly honest with you guys for a minute, so please, don’t laugh. I recently downloaded the app Disney Enchanted. You know, the one where you build your own fairy tales on a quilt. Of course I chose to build Belle’s story first. What book nerd wouldn’t? Your little characters can do actions and my bookkeeper can dine in the cafe for an hour. Did you hear that? AN HOUR!

And the sad part is, I’m jealous of him.

A good coffee shop is my writing paradise. Starbucks is okay, but there are too many giggling girls talking about their boy drama for me to stay there for longer than thirty minutes. I prefer the locals. There was one I was obsessed with in college. It had a back room for us quiet studiers that had a ratty old couch, which of course I always sat on. I practically slept there one week when I was between apartments. I literally wrote my name under the cushion in permanent marker. That’s how often I was there. That’s how far I’d fallen from normal society.

Anyway, I’m craving that kind of home again. My best writing usually happens at a coffee shop, with a warm chai tea (I know I know, I go there and I don’t even drink the coffee…I like the smell, just not the taste) and nondescript music playing in the background. The occasional yelling of a customer’s name. It’s like I’m really there.

Except I’m not. Right now all I can hear is my AC turning on, my dog snoring in the living room, and the crunch of chips and salsa.

But home has its own kind of beauty, too. I may not get my best work done here, but I get some work done here. Nearly all of my work this past term, anyway. People may scoff at this, but you can develop a relationship with a place. Certain places will bring back intense feelings within me. For that reason, there are some places I refuse to return to, and others I can’t wait to revisit.

It’s the same with books. A book is more than just words on some pages. It’s a place you go to. It’s a place you feel you belong. It’s a place that draws out your honesty.

Now that I’ve gone on sentimental on you, where’s the place you belong? It is n a book, in a coffee shop writing, or sitting between library shelves perusing your options? Is it all three?

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Shadow and Bone | Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

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I’m squishing both of these books into one post because I can’t just do a review on the second book in a series. That would be completely irresponsible, right? (Ps. meet Sock Bun, my creepy sock bunny my mom bought me forever ago. He is now the guardian of my books.)

So I’ll be honest, I really liked the first book while I was reading it, but then after I was just like, okay, that wasn’t bad. I wasn’t quite blown away by the plot or the world. It seemed kind of been there, done that. But I still liked it enough to read the second one, and even though the second book is largely a setup for the third, it was when I realized that Leigh Bardugo is a dang good writer.

What do I mean by that? I just said the first book was okay. How can she suddenly be so great?

Honestly, it was during the second book that I realized how flawless her narration was. Her characters still drove me nuts sometimes – I’m just not a huge fan of love triangles – but her execution? Superb.

So without further ado, my thoughts:

Characterization

So I hinted at this above, but some of the characters kind of made my eyes twitch. They can be a little moody and woe is me at times. BUT, and this is a big but, Leigh introduces some new characters in Siege and Storm that I really really love. So if you’re like me and kind of want to punch a few people in the face during Shadow and Bone, just hang tight! It gets better. Promise.

Plot/Narrative Arc

The second novel is mostly setting up for *drumroll please* a siege. But you get a really good look into how Alina’s world works and the politics behind the war. I was surprised at how into it I was. Leigh sets up for multiple possibilities in her third novel, so I’m interested to see where she goes with it.

Believability

So believable. So so believable. Leigh really creates an airtight world, and she includes some Russian culture into it, which is totally respectable. I don’t know a lot about Russian culture, but I’ve been wanting to do the same thing with Polish culture – no, not a Holocaust novel, more like Water for Elephants – so I totally give her props. I do wish we had a better understanding of where magic comes from or how Mal is such a good tracker. To me, his tracking skills seem even more magical than some of the actual Grisha.

Creativity/Originality

The idea of people with special powers in a war torn country isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but making the setting a fictional version of a real world country is on the newer side. The more the story progressed, the more original things became, though the family dynamic did remind me a bit of Victoria Aveyard’s royal family. Not so torn but definitely dysfunctional.

Cohesiveness

Like I said, Leigh is a brilliant writer. She weaves together realistic dialogue with an engaging story in a dynamic setting to create a seamless story. The more I think about her second book, the more impressed I am with her abilities. Now I just need to get my hands on the third one…

Overall result: yes! Go read these books.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Stop Talking to Yourself

On Monday I gave some tips for staying in third person with limited perspective. Today, I want to help you decide whether first person is right for you.

Staying it first person is a smidge easier than third. You’re obviously going to be limited to what your character can see, touch, smell, taste, hear, and suspect. You can’t jump heads unless you start a new chapter (or there is an obvious page break within the same chapter, but that’s still pretty jolting and not recommended). And if you do decide to have more than one character’s perspective, you need to decide early on in the novel.

I really don’t think there’s anything worse than getting part or all the way through your book when you realize it could have been written better in another point of view. So how can you avoid that? How do you know if first person is right for you? Here are some suggestions.

If the story cannot be told by anyone else.

This isn’t to say that a first person story is more personable than a third person story. It simply means that the introduction of a narrator, who can be seen as another character entirely, would stand in the way of your message. This is one of those questions that only you as the writer can answer. You have to be self-aware *gasp* enough to know how you can tell this story best.

If you want to keep your audience in the dark.

Of course any good story is going to have a certain amount of intrigue or surprises. But how much surprise do you want to have? And how do you want to deliver it? Yes, you can achieve something similar through a limited third person perspective, but if you want to truly get into your character’s head to deliver the impact to your reader, you may want to consider first person.

If something doesn’t feel write when you try to write any other way.

I promise this isn’t a cop out reason. Have you written a couple test chapters of your novel? If you haven’t go try it out now. Try it with a limited and omniscient third person narrator, and if that just doesn’t feel right, try first person. You’ll know it when you have it because your narrator will feel like an extension of you. You’re inhabiting another being, but there’s a bit of you in it, whether you like it or not (so hopefully it’s not a villain talking). Look at it from the reader’s perspective. Would they want to be in this character’s mind, or would it be better to have a buffer?

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Overall, the best advice I can give is to remember that third person is going to have more freedom, whether they’re limited or omniscient, so decide early on if you need that freedom, or if the restrictions of first person will actually benefit you in the long run.

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

To Write or Not to Write

Last Friday I wrote a blog post about making the decision to go to grad school for writing. I realize now I probably should have preceded it with a post one making the decision to become a writer in the first place, because believe me, you have to make the decision to become a writer.

Writing is no easy task and many people give up the dream of finishing a novel or getting published because it seems impossible. Words are hard, let’s acknowledge that.

So what is a writer exactly? How do you classify someone as a writer? The answer is simple. If you write then you’re a writer. Yes, it’s true. Anyone can be a writer, but not everyone can stay a writer. Because you see, writing is not a one time thing. Writing is wrapped up into the essence of who you are. A true writer can not stray from writing for long. The buildup of words in a writer’s chest is too much to keep inside. They must release them, good or bad.

But how do you decide whether the writing profession is for you? There are plenty of talented writers out there who choose another path. How do you know this is the right one for you?

If you’ve tried to leave it but kept coming back.

Sign #1. You tried not to write. You willed yourself not to do it. But reading just wasn’t enough for you. You couldn’t bear to just be in someone else’s world. You had to create your own.

If you know you’re in it for the long haul.

There is no such thing as instant success in the writing world. It is a long and arduous path. You will be exhausted, you will feel disappointed, you will want to quit. But your vision is long-term and you can handle the waiting game.

If you’ve looked writer’s block in the eye and made it your b****.

Yup, I went there. Writer’s block can take you down and keep you down. You have to choose not to let it win. You have to fight for every word you write. If you can do that, you’re a writer.

If you’re willing to make sacrifices.

Writers make all kinds of sacrifices, whether it’s their social life, having a secure job, income, etc. You don’t have to quit your day job to become a writer (definitely pay your bills, people), but you may have to cancel your evening plans in order to stay true to your scheduled writing time. Or maybe instead of that lavish vacation you’ve been wanting, you should look up writing conferences instead. Writers make sacrifices, but they know it will be worth it.

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Writers are magicians. And like any good magician, a writer must practice their craft. This profession is not for the faint of heart. Do you think you can do it? (I think so.)

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Writing Characters: Give Them Dimension

I wrote last week about giving your characters purpose. Today it’s all about dimension, of the third kind.

Okay, bad joke. But the whole point today is to discuss how to make your characters seem more life-like, even the B-story ones.

The best thing you can do as the author is to know your character inside and out. That means more than just the physical characteristics. You need to understand what makes them tick. What do they love/hate more than anything? What happened in their life to make them love/hate that thing or person or action? How do they feel about their parents? Are they frivolous with their money or stingy?

There are so many questions you could ask yourself when it comes to your characters. Google “character questionnaire” and you’re bound to find hundreds of hits. I personally enjoy the Proust questionnaire, but honestly, just pick one and answer the questions. They’ll get your brain juices flowing.

But of all the things I’ve learned about characterization in grad school and just from my own good ol’ fashioned research, here’s what I found to be the most important tips when creating a multi-dimensional character:

  • Give them flaws. No person is without them, so that should include your characters. Their flaws can be external, internal, or both, but it can’t be neither. These flaws can contradict: maybe your character is wealthy but they still stress about money, or maybe they act sarcastic to others but can’t take it from others. Whatever the flaw, make sure it’s evident to your readers.
  • Give them motivation. This goes back to my give them purpose blog last week. A character needs motivation for their actions. There should always be a reason for everything your character does, even if it’s something subconscious that your reader doesn’t know yet.
  • Give them a past. You don’t necessarily tell your reader every character’s backstory, but you should be well-acquainted with it. What happened to them in 8th grade that made them forever distrustful of “squads?” Who is their best friend and why? Do they get along with their family? Do they have an addiction?
  • Give them distinct features. Maybe your character is average looking, but that’s not how you should describe them to your reader. Who even decides what is average, anyway? Decide their eye color, hair color, nose size, mouth curvature, height, body type, etc. Knowing this will help you decide their body language. Are they confident or self-conscious? Do they blush a lot or is their forehead constantly wrinkled in annoyance?

Think about these tips while you write your character’s backstory. I suggest maybe a page per main character and a few paragraphs for the minor ones. I tend to find that as I write the backstory I uncover things about the character that I never planned, but it fits their personality and enhances why they are the way they are.

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Sometimes all this work never sees a published page, but it does not go to waste. Every word helps to create a character that will bring your story to life.

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This Friday begins my weekly book review post. Woohoo! Wild Friday night, right?

Who am I kidding? We’re all book nerds here. Heck yea that’s a wild Friday night.

Anywho, I’ve decided that for my debut review I would tackle The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’ve come up with five criteria to rate the book on and will give it an ultimate pass or fail grade, because really, what are stars and numbers to just a simple “read it” or “don’t bother.” Plus, I couldn’t come to a consensus on a system, so this seemed like the best way for now.

So without further ado, my review:

  1. Characterization:
    This is a HUGE one for me, because if I don’t care about the characters, I won’t care about the book. Lev creates some really real characters. I mean really real. Like, crap that was me in high school and I kind of hate myself real. Now, I’ll be honest, I hated almost every character at first. They were all punks or too cool or overly sexual. But then I realized, who wasn’t like that in high school going into college. We were all a little out there. Plus they get better. And then worse. And then better again. So major score on this part for Grossman, even though a small part of me was dying inside.
  2. Plot/Narrative Arc:
    I mean, a book without a plot is just some words on a page, amiright? Okay, now that’s out of the way, I found the plot to be kind of confusing. Grossman has a way of writing where he looks at a normal timeline of events and then throws it out the window. One minute you’re here, another you’re there, and he doesn’t forewarn you before it happens. It takes some getting used to, but you do get used to it. It was one of those novels where I was trying to figure out how everything connected until the very end when it did. Made for a slightly frustrating read, but now that I’m done, I get it.
  3. Believability:
    It’s all about magic, so either a) the magical people are all having a good laugh at us mundanes reading their biographies or b) suspension of disbelief. What I had a hard time with in this novel was how unpredictable the magic was. It seemed like it had no rules, or it had so many rules that you could explain anything away by just making one up and saying, oh, that’s why that happened. The characters really helped with this aspect, because they even called b.s. on some of what was happening, which made me feel better about my sanity as a reader.
  4. Creativity/Originality:
    Here’s where I had my biggest issue. The land of Fillory (and this isn’t really a spoiler…I think) seems like Narnia. You get there a similar way, it’s a series of children’s books, magical land, kings and queens, etc. Even though there are obvious differences, part of me couldn’t quite get past that. But, Grossman is not C.S. Lewis, so the similarities pretty much end there. Some people call this the adult Harry Potter, but Harry Potter is for all ages unless you hate life, so I don’t quite agree with that statement. The Magicians is like a new adult fantasy story about magic and growing up. The characters and situations are unique, even if the setting seems a little familiar.
  5. Cohesiveness:
    This category is for how I feel the book blended the above attributes (and the ones not listed) as a whole. I would say that Grossman excels at this, especially since he loves hopping around the timeline and twining people’s stories together. There are a lot of satisfying aha! moments that I rarely caught and found very readerishly (yes, that’s a word) satisfying.

Overall, I give this book a big fat PASS. And each book in the series only gets better, honestly. My husband tells me the TV show is also excellent and gives more backstory.

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~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Book Review: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

As this is my first official book review, I figured I would start off each section with a short description of my criteria for ultimate book judgment. But first, quick background:
The Infinite Sea is the second book in The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey. The 5th Wave may sound familiar to you because, oh yea, they made it into a movie.

Plot
I don’t need an obvious plot outline or anything, but there are certain elements a book needs in order to be successful. I suggest taking a look at the following diagram and then inhaling anything written by Larry Brooks. He’s my story structure hero.

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I don’t want to ruin The Infinite Sea for you or anything, but it follows this structure beautifully and includes a wonderful and heart wrenching twist at the end that had me fist pumping like I’m from the Jersey Shore. You need to set the stage, give us a taste of the bad guy, introduce the stakes, fight back, struggle, and resolve. Do I mean deliver the story as a perfectly wrapped Christmas present? Not at all. The resolve doesn’t have to tie every little detail together, but it does need to hit the major questions.

For this, I give Yancey 4.5/5 stars, because no one can be perfect.

Character Development
If a character doesn’t change throughout the story, then what’s the point of reading it? We don’t want a character that fights through battles to emerge unscathed. That’s not realistic.

In The Infinite Sea you get a taste of several character’s viewpoints, which is rarely successfully done. This allows the writer to give you, the reader, insight into every character without someone having to say it or be overtly obvious in their actions.

I’ll give Yancey 3.5/5 stars here, because some characters development is a little too wishy washy for my taste. There were a few moments that get rated R for reasons that weren’t very clear and seemed rather out of character for those involved. In another case a certain character was never made out to be sacrificial, but suddenly became so after one insight into their mind. I think more hints at this aspect of his personality would have made the impact of the sacrifice more believable.

Diversity
This is such a big issue within every genre and every type of art. Spend 10 minutes on Twitter reading literary agent tweets and you’ll see tons of talk about promoting diversity in books.

While some of the characters aren’t outright described as being white (think JK Rowling and her recent defense of the black Hermione for the stage play), I would say a majority of the cast is. There are only a few major players (at the moment I can only think of one) who is of a minority.

At the same time, I would greatly caution writers who make a character another race or ethnicity just to achieve the “diversity factor.” People will see right through that (especially people of that race/ethnicity) and you don’t want to come across as fake. Think about the message you want to portray and why you want to portray it through that person. That should help you determine whether you are making a wise decision. I would suggest reading Rick Riordan for some help here. He is the king of diversity in my opinion.

Diversity is not just in color or creed. In this aspect Rick kicks it up a notch. He has both guys and gals as main characters, and he doesn’t force each into their respective gender norms. So taking that into consideration, Yancey gets another 3.5/5.

Overall Score
3.833333333/5, so we’ll make it an even 4/5 (also, if I did the math wrong, sorry not sorry). I enjoyed this second book even better than the first in the series, and I’m stoked for the third and final book to come out (5/24/16).

What did you think of this book?