Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
In this electric second installment of The Diviners, Evie O’Neill has stolen the spotlight in New York City, dazzling audiences with her supernatural ability to read secrets held in personal objects. But Evie is not the only Diviner, and the others aren’t as keen on being made public–others like dream walkers Henry DuBois and Ling Chan. Meanwhile, an inexplicable sleeping sickness ravages the city. Dangerous nightmares are taking hold, and it’s going to take a lot more than a warm glass of milk to chase them away.
It’s not easy for a book to scare me in full daylight, but Lair of Dreams did it. Another beautifully voiced volume by Bray, this sequel kept a fast-paced balance of everything I loved about the first Diviners–ominous monsters, villains that are disconcertingly human, dramatic irony so thick I wanted to smack the characters with their own book, and heartbreakingly witty romance, all set against the backdrop of 1920s New York. The sequel definitely highlights more romantic subplots than its predecessor. Still, it nailed the mark in keeping to its dark, paranormal roots. I kept finding myself sitting in bed at night, knowing that if I read anymore I’d probably have nightmares, but still itching for one more chapter.
Timelines are tricky beasts. They are one of my personal downfalls as a writer when working on a story that spans longer than a year. Weaving in backstory can make tracking time-sensitive plot points even harder. So, what do we do? We get organized! Here are some tips for keeping tabs on time.
Choose the Details
How important is time to the story? Does the book span a day? A week? A lifetime? The longer the time frame the more difficult it can be to make sure plot points don’t overlap, but shorter time frames have their difficulties too. For example, if a major plot point is that a character breaks a femur, that character can’t be expected to be back in action after a few days rest. Likewise, the amount of characters in the book can effect the way the plot unfolds. If the reader has to follow several main characters with intersecting stories, it’s crucial the timelines match up. So it’s important to consider the details and to decide how relevant specific dates and times are to less impactful plot points or characters.
My bad habit for getting around timing issues is to simply not give enough information to the reader, letting the story float somewhere in the unknown reaches of the eternal. Not a suggested solution. An easy way to guide yourself as you go is to include headers at the start of or throughout chapters as time and location shift. Of course, it can’t stop there. You will still need to keep track of what happens when and will need to refer back to previous headers in order to make sure things are always in order. Which means that even with headers, it’s usually best to…
Make A Timeline
There are plenty of online tools you can google to help you along the timeline making process. Templates and programs are out there. However, some people prefer to make their own through Microsoft Word or other programs already on their computer. Other people are more hands-on organizers, meaning they prefer to have a physical paper in front of them (shoutout to my fellow traditional paperback book lovers out there). It can be a bit more tedious to make a timeline by hand, and mistakes are bound to happen, so I recommend writing in pencil. But, having a physical timeline is a handy tool to have if, like me, you’re the type that prefers to see the whole picture rather than bits and pieces as you scroll through your laptop. Either way, take the details you’ve decided are important and map them out on the timeline–character, plot point, day, year, time of day, etc.–and you’ve got yourself a workable way of tracking what happens when.
Finding a voice as a writer can be tough. You want to be clear, original, insightful, hysterical, dramatic! But the simultaneous pursuit of all these things will come off as novice, a try-hard, or just plain boring. That doesn’t mean you are those things, it just means it’s time to rethink how you’re approaching writing. Nobody is confined to a one-shot style box, but it helps to find the base of your voice before branching out.
It seems obvious because it is. Reading helped me a tooooon as I started to get more serious about writing. Read. Re-read favorite authors then find some who are completely different and read them too. The more voices you meet, the better idea you’ll have of where you fit into the grand scheme of writing styles. While I was still getting my footing, I found myself slipping into style patterns of the authors I read the most. You never want to mimic someone else completely, but borrowing some insight by finding words that feel right to you, that communicate exactly what you’re trying to express on paper, is a great way to start figuring out what kind of words are most natural to you.
It’s hard to grow into a voice if you’re limiting yourself to what you already know. So experiment! If you’re more of a prose writer, try to improve your poetry writing, and vice versa. Genres are not mutually exclusive. A lot of my favorite novels are written by authors who “write like poets.” Their sentences flow seamlessly into each other, use a lot of descriptive language, and make me feel like I’m reading in a pool of moonlight. I do not write this way. My default is a short and choppy structure, or complex sentences strung together with commas and semicolons. So for me, style involves experimenting with tone, but also with how I structure sentences to create those tones. Depending on what I’m writing–a poem, a prose piece, a blog post–I have to change the way I’m presenting my voice to best communicate what I want to say.
But that doesn’t mean overhauling my entire persona. On a base level, I still write a little sassy, a little sweet, and fairly straight forward. I write like me. Even when taking on the voice a character in the first person, I maintain those underlying notes that make my writing identifiable through word choice, sentence structure, and tone. So if you aren’t sure where to start, there’s a simple answer: Start with you! Just get something down. Write about an opinion, write a conversation you wish you could have with someone, write a first draft that makes you cringe. The more you write the closer you will come to identifying your own voice. Find that, and you’re on your way.
A common response to when someone makes a mistake is, “Nobody’s perfect!” Which is true. We live in an imperfect world which is why so many of us turn to the nearest escape hatch–books.
Who We Are
We read to go seeking a world that’s a little more magical, that feels a bit more like “the good old days” or a utopian future. But “the good old days” had problems too, and utopia is unlikely. (I know, it hurts my sunshine idealist heart too.) Imperfection is who we are…and it’s who our characters should be too.
What characters are you most drawn to reading? It’s pretty safe to bet it isn’t the cardboard ones that are perfect people that just have bad things happen to them. What we see in fiction are reflections of our world, and that hope for utopia comes from a hope of growth. Much like the plants in my brother’s tiny apartment, if your characters are rooted in a stagnant box then they have nowhere to grow.
What Perfection Does
In case you haven’t seen How I Met Your Mother, which you should, meet Patrice.
She is a happy-go-lucky office worker who has never done a thing wrong in her life (we know this, and we love you). Patrice is peppy, thoughtful, and genuinely wants nothing but to love everyone around her any way that she can, to which the general response is:
Because while we adore these kinds of people in real life, even they are not as perfect as Patrice, and if they were, we would be just as annoyed as Robin Scherbatsky. Imperfection is what makes characters relatable, and makes us root for them. It’s why the protagonists of HIMYM are the heavily flawed band of Robin and friends and not Patrice.
How to Handle Flaws
Make them real. Make them hurt. Make them redeemable. Clumsiness is not a character flaw. I repeat, NOT A CHARACTER FLAW. It’s relatable, but it’s not internal. The flaws I’m talking about come from our fears, our desires, and how we enact them. A glory-seeking hero underestimates the villain and consequently someone dies. The bookish girl wants the world to operate by her moral compass, which it doesn’t, prodding her to have a hellish temper. Two best friends share a pride streak, so neither one knows that the other is in danger because they both refuse to apologize first. These are the kinds of real flaws that readers can relate too, even when inflated by fiction. While flaws may show themselves in external action, it starts at the heart of the character.
The recent release of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has left fans across generations dazed. Taking to social media, anyone can find a range of conflicting opinions, but there seem to be two dominate camps — the “this is groundbreaking” faction and the “they ruined everything” faction. This post goes out to all those fangirls and boys who have ever left their heart bleeding at the feet of their favorite storytellers, disappointed. (Disclaimer: The title of this post does not reflect my personal opinion of The Last Jedi. No spoilers will be listed in this post.)
A Moment of Validation
You’re right, they ruined it. Those evil writers have ruined your favorite book series, TV show, play, or movie franchise. In a culture of reboots and infinite sequels, it was bound to happen eventually. I am truly, deeply sorry. They had no right. No right at all. If your anger is directed toward the death of a particular character, please seek some therapy from my earlier post, the 7 Stages of (Fictional) Grief.
We Have T-Shirts
On the bright side, you’re not alone in your despair. There’s hundreds, maybe thousands of other members of Club Disappointed. I earned my punch card when I reached the end of the Hunger Games trilogy, furious at the sudden and uncharacteristic turn of events dropped at the end of the third book. Each of us has experienced that surreal moment of realization that what was understood to be true about a certain fictional world has been shattered. If you haven’t, prepare yourself. Your day is coming.
Where We Go From Here
We have a few options. There’s my father’s approach, which is to be initially vocal and then go on to quietly stew over the death of a fictional reality until, just when everyone thinks you’ve finally come to terms with it, burst open another floodgate of outrage. If you are this person, I hope you have someone as patient as my mother to listen…over…and over…and over. There’s my approach, which is to pretend large chunks of the story never happened and write over those grey areas with a false memory. Or, you can grieve, accept that nothing gold can stay, and try to rekindle the fiery fan inside of you.
So go forth, fellow fans. Tell the story of your pain, but do so in moderation, and maybe not to a random guy sitting next to you on the bus. He probably doesn’t care.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Fairytales may be old, but they are no less powerful for it. A bookish nobody plucked from the dust of Zosma’s great library, Lazlo Strange joins a party of delegates chosen by the legendary Godslayer of Weep. Weep, a city thats true name was stolen from the minds of the world. A city Lazlo continued to believe in even after it had become a fairytale to everyone else. Going on blind faith, the delegation aims to solve the dark mystery that has haunted Weep since the Godslayer earned his name during the Carnage. A shadow on Weep’s history that must be seen to be believed.
First and maybe most importantly, I would like to give this book the “shiniest cover I have ever experienced” award. The cover art is as lovely as its content. True to form, Taylor writes prose like poetry. The plot is a little slow to start, but Lazlo’s charm and his author’s narrative keeps it moving smoothly. It has the kind of finesse that can only be achieved by an avid lover of fairytales, and it was easy to image Taylor sitting beside me, telling the story as if she’d seen it first hand. My biggest critique of the book is it’s length, which resulted in a little bit of excessive repetition when there were shifts in the narrative point of view. Otherwise, Laini Taylor has once again solidified her place as one of my favorite fantasy writers. I recommend this book for admirers of myths, legends, and all other forms of literary fantasy. Long live the dreamers.
Other recommended series by Laini Taylor: