Tag Archives: characters

What to Read: Before the Devil Breaks You

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Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray


Summary

In the aftermath of the sleeping sickness that nearly overtook New York, the Diviners are forced further into the open amidst increasing rumors of ghosts in the city. United, the Diviners pursue the secrets behind the origin of their powers. Their search takes them deep into the folds of demonic deals, government conspiracies, and the brutal truths of America’s past. But the tide of popularity is beginning to turn against them, and in a time of growing modernism and socio-economic turmoil, they may be under threat from both the living and the dead.

Overall Impressions

Compared to its sisters, the third installment of The Diviners is much, much darker. Its plot and characters are as winsome as ever. That said, don’t expect the same comedic breaks as the first two installments. With its engaging ghost-story narrative and poignant take on the bloody history of the “American Dream,” Before the Devil Breaks You is another poetic nail-biter, if a bit emotionally exhausting. I loved seeing the now fully-assembled Diviners came into their own as equals, friends, and rivals. The shifts in alliances and romantic interests were delightfully shocking, and the plot kept perfect pace. Bray has once again delivered with this energetic, suspenseful, and beautifully haunting novel. I recommend it for fans of YA supernatural stories and related genres.

Happy reading!

(A note of warning: Although this book is YA, it includes some instances of domestic abuse and other graphic scenes that may not be suitable for younger readers or those who are triggered by related violence.)

 

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What to Read: Lair of Dreams

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Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray


Summary

In this electric second installment of The DivinersEvie 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.

Overall Impressions

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.

Happy reading!

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Weekend Writing Prompt: Raven Boy

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Happy writing!

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Act Natural

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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.

Read

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.

Experiment

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.

Be Yourself

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.

Happy writing!

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Everything is Fine…and Why It Shouldn’t Be

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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.

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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:

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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.

Happy Writing!

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Don’t Tell Mom: On Writing Siblings

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Having recently read S.E. Hinton’s classic novel The Outsiders, I decided to dedicate a post to writing about sibling love. The sibling bond is something strange, and I’m not sure there’s any other relationship like it. (Shout-out to my brother for permitting me use the banner images. Just so you know, bro, I probably would have done it anyway. Love you!)

Sometimes We Get Along…

There are many stories that feature siblings as a joint force to be reckoned with. We see it in classics like the Curtis brothers in The Outsiders or the March sisters in Little Women, but also in more recent pop culture such as The Avenger’s: Age of Ultron superhuman duo, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, or the Elric brothers of Full Metal Alchemist. 

The key to these relationships is they aren’t perfect. Even in their most loving moments, siblings may be looking for ways to make their family the butt of a joke. In other words, don’t over-romanticize the closeness of siblings, not even the ones who generally get along. I’d recommend avoiding grandiose speeches of brotherly love sometimes found in emotional or climatic moments of stories unless you’ve built a relationship with your readers so that they expect and respect dramatic effect. If not, keep it short, to the point, and in character. That is where the more powerful impact of sibling love lies–in subtle and sometimes imperfect gestures of support.

…Sometimes We Don’t

Of course, rivalry and personal differences can sometimes break the family bond and leave an emotional fissure. As readers, we often hope or expect these wounds will be mended, but we don’t always get our happy resolution. Siblings know each other’s weaknesses, even if they’re as small as pet peeves. Ill-willed siblings will often use these to their advantage. Hateful siblings definitely will. When reading about a protagonist and antagonist that are siblings, I usually find the villainous activity turned up to eleven. I live for that fictional drama. But again, don’t undersell the importance of the subtler emotional jabs that only someone with the insider knowledge of a brother or sister possesses.

I’d also like to mention that not all siblings fall in the “I love you” or “I hate you” camps. Sometimes siblings simply co-exist in independent neutrality. No two sibling relationships are alike, but I hope these tips will help to get you thinking.

Storytime!

For those of you wondering why my brother and I look like prom dates in the lefthand banner photo, it’s because we kind of were. My junior year of high school we became friends with another brother-sister set, and our moms thought it’d be fun for us to all go to prom together. Thus I came to understand the age old sentiment that no one knows awkward family situations like siblings.

Happy writing!

Question of the week: Who are your favorite fictional siblings?

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What to Read: The Outsiders

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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton


 

Summary

Revisit the classic, or experience it for the first time. The Outsiders is the story of Ponyboy and his gang of Greasers, and the consequences of a social rivalry taken too far. On the run, Ponyboy must face the wider world outside of his familiar streets. Then when further tragedy strikes, he must decide what type of man he wants to be — the kind who takes to the fight, or the kind who would have the heart to stop it.

Overall Impressions

This was my first time reading The Outsiders, and I can’t believe it took me this long to get to it. It’s easy to see why it’s such a long-withstanding title. Easy to read but incredibly thoughtful, I loved the themes of brotherhood and sympathy that permeated the book. It captures the frustrations and hope of every young adult as they begin to realize that not everyone sees the world as they see it. That everybody’s hurting and loving in some way, and all it can take to mend the gap is a small change in perspective. I recommend this for readers middle school and older.

Happy Reading, and stay gold!

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Child Care-acters (It’s a Pun!)

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Kids are funnier, more creative, and more astute than they are sometimes given credit for. As an adult it can be hard to remember how to think like a kid, making it harder to get inside the mind of a child character. So how do we improve the way we represent children in fiction?

Spend Time with Them

The best way to get to know someone is to spend time with them, right? Even if you’re not “a kid person”, spending some time with them can do wonders for getting those writer wheels turning. Take notes on the conversations you have. Who are more creative and honest than people too young for a verbal filter? I’ve heard some of the funniest, saddest, and purest one-liners while babysitting, and have been able to spin them into great dialogue, in some cases dialogue that isn’t even between children. Those little buggers can be wise.

Know the Vernacular 

With child characters, this means being able to distinguish the dialogue of a five year old from a ten year old, etc. I have read stories that underestimate the difference in children’s vernacular as they develop, and the result is unrealistic dialogue or inconsistent/flat characters. Again, exposure can be a huge help. And while we often want to believe in the innocence of children’s language, the truth is that by upper elementary a kid probably has a more colorful vocabulary than some parents might want or expect. In writing this is often used for humor, but if it fits someone’s environment or personality it can also be reflective of realistic characterization (think Stranger Things or the “Bleep” episode of the TV show Arthur).

Recognize Their Impact

Child characters are often used to empathetic ends. We see this when they are used as foils for jaded or angry adults. Their innocence and black-and-white view can diffuse tense situations, likes Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, or increase tension by obliviously wandering in on an already taut scene. However, child characters can also reveal the darker parts of human nature, like in Lord of the Flies. Either way, they can provide a lot of insight into what it means to be human. But they should also be understood as more than just a literary symbol. They need to be well-rounded characters and relevant to the story. I think Laura from the movie Logan is a great (if slightly intense) example. If kids shouldn’t be talked down to then as characters they shouldn’t be “written” down to either. Let’s give credit where credit it due.

Happy Writing!

Question of the week: What was your favorite children’s book/series growing up?

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What to Read: Comic Books

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Let’s talk comics! I don’t usually cover entire mediums/genres in What to Read posts, but since I’m a fairly new comic book reader, I thought it might be nice to have a bit of a shoutout to the medium as a whole. Superheroes aren’t the only topics covered in comics, but they’re certainly the most memorable, and in recent years have been given a huge cinematic boost by the release of some of DC and Marvel’s biggest hitters (*cough* shameless plug for Wonder Woman, coming June 2 *cough*).

So, comics. If you’re not already a fan of comic books then it might be hard to see an immediate appeal. I’ve been there. But I’ve always been curious, and after taking a college course focusing on Batman, Superman, and the reconfigurations of mythology, I am hooked. Whether you like superheroes or not, we can’t deny the enormous role they play in history and culture. I mean, our superheroes were essentially born as a creative response to the political and cultural atmosphere surrounding World War II. Our most beloved heroes encapsulate our history and continue the myths and legends so deeply ingrained in our society that we may not notice at first glance.

At the same time, comics can be confusing because they don’t always follow a linear, concrete plot. That’s also part of the beauty of them. Admittedly, it’s something I’m still getting used to, but in the hands of each new writer and artist characters like Iron Man and Supergirl evolve, their stories shift, and they come to reflect the hopes of each new generation. (And to kick some serious ass.) Of course, what comics teach us most is that it is not just power that saves the day. It is the heart behind the fist, the hope beneath the despair. These are the stories that show us that people can be horrible, but more importantly that they can be incredible.

Happy Reading!

(A few recommendations from a newbie…)

  • Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar
  • Superman: For Tomorrow by Brian Azzarello
  • Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb
  • Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne by Grant Morrison
  • Nightwing by Tim Seeley
  • Batman: The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker
  • Batman & Robin Eternal by Scott Snyder

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A Little Encouragement

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Happy Friday, friends! The weekend is here and with it, here’s a little extra encouragement as you work on that best-seller. Nothing is quite as demotivating as pitching an idea to someone who replies, “Hey that’s cool! Your story sounds kind of like…reminds me of….etc.” Sometimes it can feel like everything’s already been said, that your story isn’t worth putting out there, but fight that little brain demon and keep at it!

Want to know a secret? Some of the most mind-blowing characters we see and think, “Wow, I could never create someone as devastatingly amazing at that,” aren’t quite as stand-alone as we think. For example, Batman was not the world’s first mysterious and shadowy crime detective to make a hobby of stalking police commissioners. Much of his character draws from the 1930’s radio drama, The Shadow. (Which is actually super fun to listen to if you like podcast-type stories. You can find episodes free online.) So yes, sometimes we do need to stand on the shoulders of the storyteller who have come before us. But by incorporating our own voices we are owning our traditions and remaking the myths that have been the foundation of narrative for centuries. You’ve got this!

Happy Writing!

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