Sunday, 28 July 2013

Reading habits

The last couple of weeks I have been reading a lot more than I usually do. This probably has something to do with the fact that I don't game as often any more and that I have no school right now (though I should be studying for resits). While reading I have discovered some reading habits of mine and I decided to share them.

  1.  Whenever I am in a book store, on-line or not, I always end up at the fantasy section because it is my favourite genre. While I keep an open mind for other genres as well, it never has been very effective until now. Thanks to the booktube (vloggers who talk about books) community on youtube, I have discovered a whole bunch of books of other genres I really want to read.

  2.  When I am reading a series and I do not have the next book in it, I just start to read a new series. Which inevitable leads to a lot of unfinished series. I currently have 15 unfinished series on my bookshelves. I am not going to finish all of them because the first book from two of them are not good enough to want me to finish the series. Some series are not wholly published yet so I cannot continue them just yet. I have, however, decided not to start any new series until I have finished the once I have started with exception of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I ordered the boxed set a couple of days ago since I want to see the next film and want to have read the book before I do that.

  3. I always tell myself to remember certain passages or quotes from books, but I never do. So I decided to use sticky-notes to mark those passages. I do not get why I never thought of this before since it is so simple but efficient. I ought to do it with books I read for school as well! I heard of some people writing and marking stuff in their books, but I would feel bet for doing that. I only do that in my school textbooks.

  4.  I cannot read on public transport except for the train (I have no clue about planes, but I will find that out in September when I will fly for the very first time). I spend quite some time on the bus and I would be able to read so much more if I was able to read on it, but I get sick when I do. Sometimes I even get sick without reading.

  5. I can read in almost any situation. When I wait for the bus, I read often while standing up. I can read in a cafĂ©, at home or even during lectures at school. I almost always carry a book around with me, but as soon as I get distracted, I have a hard time focusing on my book again. That's the reason why I prefer to read somewhere were there are not a lot of people since I like to listen to their conversations or just watch them. I suppose that it is caused by the part of me that is always looking for interesting stories. 

Have you any interesting reading or book habits? Feel free to share them in the comments because I would love to know them! I plan to do a similar blog like this one on writing habits in the future! 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Here you can find more information about the story itself. Now on with the review!

Northern Lights, or also known as The Golden Compass because of the film, is the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I picked it up because I really enjoyed watching the film. When I started it a couple of months back, I found that I didn't like Lyra as much as I wanted to. She actually annoyed me so after about 60 pages I put the book down and started reading something else. A couple of days ago I decided to try and read it again and I managed to finish it despite the fact that I'm still not a big fan of Lyra. In the beginning of the book she is just an annoying brat but when the plot takes shape, the emphasis on her rebellious character lessens a bit and made it easier for me to accept her.

The book pulls you straight in. Together with Lyra we hear about something call Dust but it is not entirely clear what exactly it is. We just get enough information to peak our interested and to realise that it might play a very important part in the book. While it is immediately clear that the story takes place in an alternate version of our world, I wasn't quite sure how advanced their technology was. Cars were mentioned, but also Zeppelins and some other advanced sounding technology. Not exactly knowing this, leaves a lot of room for imagination which I enjoyed.

The book is beautifully written and Pullman does a great job with descriptions and setting the mood of scenes. The author knows how much he can can describe without making the passage utterly. The way he describes the northern lights is hereof a good example. He makes it seems as if it the most beautiful thing we can witness on earth without exaggerating. What I disliked about the book was the presence of the omniscient narrator. While he mostly stayed in the background, he dared to come forward and showed us a small glimpse of what was still to come to add suspense. It really annoyed me because I feel that the added suspense is otiose. Luckily it does not happen often.

The best thing about the books are the daemons, an animal that never leaves your side. Every human has them and they represent the human soul. I absolutely love that concept and I would like to have a deamon myself. I think mine might be some kind of bird. What I do wonder is if a daemon can be a large animal as well like a rhino or an elephant. It does not seem every practical to me. If someone has an idea about this, please let me know!

While I could go on quite a while about this book, I will end my review here with giving the book a 3 out of 5.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Outliner or Discovery Writer

There are consider to be three types or writers: outlines, discovery writers and those who do a bit of both. What is the best method depends solely on how you prefer to work. Mostly I use a combination of both outlining and discovery writing. I tend to start with a very general idea for the story; I know what the conflict is and I know how I want the story to end more or less. I just start writing and let the story flow out of my fingers onto the document or page. It is not always easy since I tend to get stuck sometimes and when I do, I jump to outlining. What has to happen in order to get my characters where I want them in order to sort out the problem. When I am done with the first draft, I will outline the whole plot so I get a good overview of everything that happens in the story. It is a great way to delve deeper in the structure of the plot to make it more interesting and to get rid of events that are otiose.

For me the biggest downside of discovery writing is that the story can end up being very messy and in need of a lot of revision. Which of course costs a lot of time. You can actually compare it a bit to an unplanned holiday: you get into the car with a vague idea where you want to go to and you just start driving without any plan. You have no idea what you will do and where you will spend the night. This can be a very fun and thrilling experience but it might as well end up being very messy and even unpleasant. Discovery writing is for me an adventure!

Some people prefer to outline their story completely before diving into it. A neatly overview of what is going to happen in each chapter seems a very good way to work with. By doing this, thinking out the whole plot in advance, you always know what you will be writing. I do not like to do this. I like to let my plot grow together with the characters without knowing how it grows in advance. I like the chaos of the unknown. Outlining does, however, reduce the chances of having inconsistencies. I do think you have to be careful not to outline too much so there is still room for spontaneous plot or character development.  

There are people who combined the above to methods into the path between discovering the plot and characters while writing and planning it out. I am sure I am not the only one around who only lines out in second and thirds drafts or when the discovery is not providing to be as efficient as hoped. If you do not know what works the best for you, I suggest you try them all out.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Write What You Know

Writing does not have any rules, except perhaps for grammatical and spelling rules. It only has guidelines like plot structures, how long a book may be, how many flaws a character can have and many many more. A well known guideline among writers is "write what you know". And honestly, I completely agree with it and I actually see it as some kind of rule. You mind think it would limited your writing and perhaps even make it boring, but that is not true.  At least not if you interpret it in the same way as I do.

Write what you know means to me research. If you do not know how a helicopter works, but you need one in your story, look it up or talk to someone who does know. It does not mean if you don't know it today, you cannot know it tomorrow. Research is not always fun. It can even be incredible boring, hard and perhaps even expensive but it is a very important part of the writing progress.

With writing down a story and hopefully getting it published, you want to entertain or move your readers. in order to this, you want the reader to be able to relate to the story or it's characters. In other words, it has to be convincing. Even fantasy and science-fiction. You can make a story convincing by knowing what you are writing about. If you create a fantasy world where magic is feared, there has to be an explanation why it is feared. Perhaps someone used it to tear a kingdom apart or maybe it corrupts the user. If the weather plays an important role in your story, you can write more convincingly about it if you actually know how it works. Know what you want to write.

After you have done the necessary research and you are thus going to write what you know, be careful not to overwhelm the reader with everything you know about it. Only share was is strictly needed for the plot, character development or to create a certain mood. Nothing is more annoying than to read irrelevant information. A writer needs to know everything about his story (and world) in order to built it up and make it believable, but you don't have to feed the reader every detail. An proficient knowledge of how cars and all it's parts work, is not necessary to be able to drive it. The people who designed it do need to know that and those who fix the cars have hopefully a proficient knowledge of it. It the same with a reader: the do not have to know how everything works in order to enjoy a story, they have to know enough to be able to drive through it. Just teach the reader the basics, as someone who drives a car should know the traffic rules.        

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Review: Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I never heard of this book until it was announced that Emma Watson was going to star in the film. After seeing the film, which was really good, I wanted to read it! It still took me about half a year to buy it and actually start reading. I have to say that I was disappointed that I knew what was going to happen. I couldn't stop reading it nonetheless. I felt such a bond with Charlie, the narrator of the story. I could recognise myself in him. I must confess that I really love him. For those who do not know what the book is about, here is the summary: 

Charlie is a freshman.
And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.
Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The story is told by letters Charlie has written. Normally I do not like those kind of stories a lot, but the way the are written is so amazing. It reads so easily! It has a colourful cast of very likeable characters. I didn't dislike a single one of them.  The pacing is very fast which is great but I sometimes have the feeling that certain events deserve a bit more attention. Seeing that these are letters written by Charlie, a plausible explanation would be that he did not think them as important or interesting as I did. Charlie is supposed to be 15/16 years old during the book but I find that quite hard to believe. He might be very smart, but the way he handles things and how he writes, make him seem a couple of years older. That did, however, not ruin the book for me. This is actually a book I would recommend everyone to read, unless you really don't like stories about teenagers. I give this book a well deserved 5/5.

source: google images

Monday, 8 July 2013

Get to Know Your Characters!

Characters are very important in stories and you should spend time on moulding them. There are a lot of different ways to this and no way is right or wrong. Some people work well with a character sheet on which every single detail of the character is written down and some work best with writing down nothing at all. It is, however, important to you get to know your characters. 

You want to know how your character react on certain situation and why. The why is for me more important that the reaction, though the latter can have a major impact on the plot as well. If you want to know why a character reacts a certain way, you need to know what drives him or her. To know what drives him or her, you'll have to take a dive in your character's history. If your character refuses to ride a horse because he or she is afraid of them, you have to find out why the character is afraid. Perhaps he or she fell of a horse once and broke something or maybe a horse kicked the character or even worse, the character lost a loved one because of an unfortunate fall of a horse. These are fairly clear reasons that influence reactions, but it isn't always as easy. I have a character that experienced a traumatic event a couple of years before the story starts and since he never managed to really cope with it, it's something he keeps dragging with him. This event has changed him and influences every move his makes and it has an enormous effect on the story.  I must say he is sometimes very hard to write because I have never been in a similar situation and that makes it hard to place myself in his shoes, but not impossible.

There are, as I said, many ways to get to know your characters and maybe some character require a different method than others. I have done some research about such methods because when I started developing characters, I found that I had a hard time connecting with them and getting them know good enough to understand their actions. I found that letting the characters talk about their life is very helpful for me. They tell about the events that they think were important in their life. I write this down in a monologue. Perhaps an example will be useful to illustrate this:

"Girls… not my strongest point. I could never tell if they liked me because of me of because I was in a well known band. It wasn’t rare that girls would almost fall down before my feet and declare their love for me. I hate it when they do that. They don’t even know me. So I'm always very careful around girls. While I don’t open up easily to anyone, I especially watch out what I say to a date."

 I also tried to write whole scenes from first person, but that didn't work out for me. I had the feeling I was distancing myself from my characters instead of getting closer to them. I will probably write down important scene in third person limited from my characters history just to understand the events better and exactly know how what happened and how the character felt at that very moment. Character sheets can be another useful tool but I find that it limits my characters' potential of growth. I do not want to cling on to some triads I have given them early on. Another way to get to know your character is to hang out with them. When you go somewhere, ask yourself how your character would get there. Wonder what your character would do on a bus: would he or she chat with someone he or she doesn't know or stare outside and listen music? Would your character notice the girl who walks across the street or the birds in the sky?

Some writers let their characters take personality tests and build them further on the outcome of such tests. I do not think I will ever do that since I do not believe you can put labels on people based by some questions they answer. Especially since people evolve and change the whole time. And we do want our characters to be just like real people, don't we? They could perhaps serve as a guideline but than it's important you don't cling too much to the outcome of the test. Dare to colour outside the lines!

Whatever method you choose (I'm sure there are many more than the ones I briefly summoned up here) it's important to remember that if you want a great character, you must remember to give them flaws. Perfection is boring and no one is perfect. Flaw create tension and tension creates a story. Don't worry too much about if the readers will like your characters or not. Even unlike able main characters will still be able to give the reader a good time reading your story. You just have to make sure you develop your character well. Evolution is an important aspect of this. Characters, especially main characters, should learn something while they journey through your story. If your character at the start of the story is a heartless bully and is still the same heartless bully on the last page of the story, then why have you written the story? It's much more interesting to read how the events in the story make the bully realise that he is feeling lonely and that he bullies because his insecure. Maybe he will even learn to love someone and perhaps he will understand at the end how bullying can destroy a person.

To be able to create such an evolution, you need to understand your character. To say it simple, your character has to become one of your best friends. Writers have a great excuse to have imaginary friends, so take advantage of that! Just remember to give your characters the opportunity to grow.