Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tusk by Wolfgang Pie

Two Ice Age kids are orphaned and left to survive alone in the wild after their parents are killed in a bear attack. Tusk and his sister, Flint, discover ancient cave paintings with a horrific warning and instructions on how to survive a deadly meteor headed their way. Tusk is a natural born leader and believes only he can warn others and lead the clans to the land bridge and the New World. Flint has secrets of her own and a plan with a woolly mammoth to unite the animal kingdom before their world is blown away.

My review:
This book doesn't get very many stars from me, three at the most, though I liked the concept. I love reading other people's ideas about what life might have been like before there was such a thing as recorded history. This book was written for kids maybe six years old to maybe nine years old, but even giving allowances for the age group, I found many things about this story rather annoying. There are some overall concepts I'm willing to overlook, and some I may even agree with. One is the concept that civilization on this world has come and gone more than once, and maybe more than a few times. Another is that clairvoyants or seers, call them what you wish, do exist and always have. 

I have no issues with the world Wolfgang has created, but there are so many inappropriate occurrences that made the story rather frustrating for me, even making allowances for the much younger mind. A family was abandoned, it sounds like in the early winter, by the tribe, because the mother had a broken leg and the shaman said they had to move on in order to avoid the big storm coming. Hmmmm well okay, so that sets the stage, but really? Maybe, maybe not, but it leads me to really dislike this shaman for giving such an order without trying to find some sort of alternative. I mean - a family alone - one hunter - it's a death sentence, if you ask me. And it was, for the parents. But again, it serves to set the stage.

So here are these two kids, the boy is like sixteen and the girl ten, and they're all alone. Now, in this kind of society, kids aren't really kids anymore as soon as they can rub two sticks together or pick up a spear, so these kids should have been pretty much grown up. Okay, so the loss of their parents would have been devastating, so tears are fine by me, even from the boy, but the girl acted pretty much like a whiny brat throughout most of the book. Yeah well it takes all kinds - maybe she was. It makes little difference.

But then comes the rest of the inconsistencies. I do not believe in this era, the concept of a pet was even thought of, probably not even a word for it back then. But okay, so they decide to adopt a baby mammoth - yeah, I might have - they are SO very cute. But did you notice what time of year it is, or at least I think it is. Who knows, maybe it's early spring and this big storm is a spring storm. Anyway, babies are born in the spring. This baby was dumped in snow that was around two or three feet deep judging by how high it was on Tusk's legs when he went out to investigate the sounds of crying. So, in the interest of not starving to death, he brought it home to butcher - only they didn't. Notice, food was a concern. Hunting was a concern. Survival was a concern, and rightly so. And yet Tusk never goes hunting. Instead they, seemingly for the first time, go exploring the big cave they've been living in. Really? For the first time? Hmmmm

They not only find paintings left by their father that foretold all that did happened would happen, they also found paintings with vivid colors impossible to make. Well, okay so their father is something of a seer, fine, but tell me no one but him knew of this other paintings, No one ever explored where they led, and they led way off into the dark, into where 'daddy said not to go there' territory. They went anyway and found a pit with what looked like a mammoth tusk down in the bottom. Further exploration needed. Newborn mammoth to take care of.

Remember the snow? And yet they took the baby out to graze every day. Babies don't graze at a day or so old, and though they had milk from an auroch, which is something like an ox, left behind by the tribe, but not nearly enough to keep a baby mammoth alive long enough to switch to grass. According to the paintings, they would be riding her when she was big enough. Speaking of which, where is this family's portion of that herd? 

Remember the exploration project? Well, it seems they found a memorial or museum full of all sorts of stuffed animals kept in an underground amphitheater-type cavern under their home cave - sorta - or maybe not quite under. Around this big floor there's a bunch of tablets carved in stone and Turk can't read, but his little sister can - how convenient. Absolutely no mention of reading or writing materials before this, just painting to tell the story. Hmmmm

So Flint, the ten-year-old little girl, has forgotten some of the letters, but still she manages to read the whole story in only a few minutes, or that's what it sounds like, and the story is the ancient people who did all this, knew enough to warn the next round of civilization that disaster was going to come again, and that whoever read this needs to get across the land bridge right away. Imagine the clairvoyance of these people.

Four months later and Fur Baby was big enough to ride and they hare off across the country. They've got like a couple weeks to cross the mountains and make it across the land bridge and to high ground before this asteroid hits and destroys everything they know, and it's Tusk's greatest wish to be able to rescue someone along the way, to get at least someone else to safety. Admirable - truly. 

Along in here the timeline gets kinda messed up and I can't get an accurate feel for the passage of time, but kids wouldn't notice, so - whatever. Anyway, Fur Baby takes off after their first night out so the kids are on foot. Things happen and Flint gets nabbed by some hyenas without a peep. I'm sorry Tusk might have been in a huff, but he'd have heard something, hyenas are not that quiet dragging a body, even if she was killed instantly. And no calls after to join the feast. 

So Tusk is all devastated because he trips over her shoe and it's all bloody and that's all he can find of her. I can understand that - now he's all alone - completely. Only she comes back miraculously rescued by Fur Baby (and without a sound).

Next thing she does is she calls all the animals in the area by whirling a bullroarer while standing on top of Fur Baby. Okay, but I simply can't see that working. But somehow she casts a spell over all these animals so they don't kill each other. Notice also that they never get hungry and they still have like maybe a week of travel left. So they get to camp every night and roast their never ending supply of meat, and the grazers all get to graze to their heart's content, but the hunters get to go hungry, happily.

A few days later they come upon some people, and ten-year-old Flint and the shaman hit it off all peachy and these people join their odd procession. I'm sorry - what spell is that? We could probably use something like that today.

A day or so later, they run across their original clan and of course the shaman who abandoned them knew everything was supposed to happen the way it did, and it was all for the best, and now this sixteen-year-old boy is the driving force and motivational speaker for everyone, including the animals, all because everyone knew that was the way it was supposed to be. 

Yeah, so this story has all the necessary elements but they were handled so very poorly. At less than 100 pages, it reads rushed, and if it was edited, I hope that editor doesn't get another job. There were missing words, misspelled words, and utterly wrong words, and I'm not talking about those annoying words that sound right but aren't. And then we come to the formatting. For a kindle, generally a three-space indent is enough, but five is good too, however paragraph indents were all over the place to include some starting very nearly in the center of the page.

Sorry this turned into something of a rant, but if you're going to publish, take some pride in it. I was looking forward to reading this book even if it was written for a child. I was disappointed. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I am Me

I am me and this is who I am, and what I see, what I hear, what I feel, taste, or want, among many other things of that nature.

Have you ever read a book written in first person? It doesn't seem to be one of the more popular POVs out there. Most everyone prefers to write in any of the third person POVs - it's easier to fill in all the different layers of a story when several points of view can look at the issue at hand. With first person, all you can know is what your main character knows, what he or she feels, thinks, sees and hears. Handled well, this can be just as fulfilling as any other POV.

In my short experience with other writers here around the www, first person seems to be the choice for the young or new writer. It wasn't for me, but I did experiment with it once, and actually enjoyed the exercise. I was...oh...maybe a couple hundred pages into The Fortunes of Magic when I decided to change it to first person - it just wasn't developing the way I wanted. How can you tell a story about one person when secondary people keep coming and then going from his life? The things they said and did helped Liam develop and make the decisions he needed to make, but their own private stories and thoughts weren't so important.

Switching to first person after already starting was interesting and tedious, but really rather rewarding. It took some time to go back through and weed out all the other perspectives, and rewrite the important ones as seen or heard, or understood by Liam. I still prefer third person, generally rather close perspective as it still allows me to follow usually only one person but not from inside their head.

I think it's the choice of new writers because they are not used to putting themselves in several different pairs of shoes in order to fill in all the different perspectives to flesh out their tale. If you're writing first person, you only have to deal with one character; all the rest are just players on a stage in front of your eyes.

The use of first person is not the only tell of a new writer. It's also the thinness of the details. A new writer isn't used to making use of all the senses as well as all the other things that go on inside one's head. Consider the most mundane task imaginable. Let's pick a twenty minute drive to work on the freeway. Now, we all know we wouldn't put such a drive in our writing without something happening along the way, but just bear with me for a moment.

Every thing we do; every decision we make, is based on outside feed, no matter how subliminal. Someone's rear-view mirror flashes the morning sun in our eyes so we reach for sunglasses. The car in front of you, or maybe the car in front of him, flashes his break lights and we let up on the gas or change lanes. A sign comes up and is past - you long since have stopped reading it, but you know it's time to get ready to leave the freeway. There is a million little bits of information, each one triggering a thought or decision without us being aware of it, not really anyway. The only time such a drive would be remotely interesting is the first time.

So, sit back for a moment and think about all the input that is going on around your character. That is something I tried to do with The Fortunes of Magic. Maybe I succeeded, maybe not. One reviewer said there was no goal to the book, and in a way, I suppose there wasn't. Plans for Liam's future all went awry when things happened, and then all he could do was try his best to be the best person he could be. There was no bucking the tidal wave of input that decided his life from that point forward. And then there came a time when there was no place for him at all.

At the moment, I'm reading Host, by Stephenie Meyer. This book is first person, though kinda not, as there are two people in one body. Still, being only one body, there's still only one stage and only one pair of eyes. Very interesting perspective. There will be a book review here at some point soon. So, next time you decide to take on a first person story, turn your head into a movie camera. Consider all the input that triggers all the decisions your character might make, and find a way to answer any of those hanging questions that sometimes seem to leak through.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mannerism make Personality

What is it about people that makes them individuals? Clothes? Hairstyle? Sure. I always find it amazing knowing that there had to be thousands, if not more, of some common article of clothing, and yet you almost never see two people wearing the same thing, not even matching shoes or jeans. But it takes more than trappings to make an individual. Mannerisms can be just as varied as a person's choice of clothing.

If by some chance you could dress all your friends in identical clothing and fix their hair the same, how would you tell them apart? Look closely. Sure their face is recognizable, but you're not looking at their face. What are the clues?

Joe always has his hands in his pockets. Bill never stands with his weight evenly distributed on his feet - always leaning, say, to the left. George can't seem to keep his heels on the ground. John is always running his fingers through his hair, or pulling on his beard if he has one.

Do you get where I'm going?

Marie is always tucking her hair behind her ears, whether it needs it or not. Linda really needs pockets - she can't figure out what to do with her hands so they are always fluttering around. Jennifer walks like a cowhand, swinging her shoulders instead of her hips. Karen is always seeking the perfect adjustment to her clothing and never seems to be able to find it.

There's the person who can never look another person in the eyes. People who walk in quick short steps, or long easy strides, or silent animalistic steps. People who stand with their chin high, seeming to look down their nose at everyone, intentionally or otherwise.

The choices are nearly infinite and extend far beyond body movements. The way a person expresses themselves apply too. There's the person who can't seem to say a complete sentence without sighing. The person who struggles very hard to be indifferent about everything with a shrug at every turn. The person who seems to smile all the time, making light though taking whatever seriously enough. The person who is habitually serious, and possibly very literal, and maybe can't take even a simple joke, either being offended or completely missing the point.

Do you know people like these?

You've heard the expression, I'm sure, 'cookie cutter character'. Cookie cutter characters happen when all your characters express themselves in the same way. It doesn't matter how different they act, dress, or what they say. If all of your characters walk (using the same word) or they can't make eye contact or they are always giggling - always - they become cookie cutter characters. It becomes difficult to tell the difference between one and the other, regardless of dialogue tags and the story thread.

Don't be afraid to give your characters their very own personality by allowing them to express themselves in their very own way.

Friday, April 5, 2013

What is a Paragraph

As defined by Wikipedia, a paragraph (from the Greek paragraphos, "to write beside" or "written beside") is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea. A paragraph consists of one or more sentences. The start of a paragraph is indicated by beginning on a new line. In fiction, each paragraph serves to advance the plot, develop a character, describe a scene, or narrate an action—all to entertain the reader. All paragraphs support each other, leading the reader from the first idea to the final resolution of the written piece of work.

So now that we have the official definition, what does this mean?

A paragraph is a self-contained unit of writing dealing with a particular point or idea. Most of the time, I use this definition to mean one person, be it action or dialogue = one paragraph. I say 'most of the time' because that's the way it is most of the time, but not always. Ever once in a while, you'll get a character who takes off on a very different subject or action without having been interrupted by any other character's paragraph. In dialog, this usually occurs when one person is trying to explain some rather wide subject. This is shown by starting the new paragraph (same speaker) with quotation marks without having closed the last paragraph with quotations. If you ask me, this is a situation that should be avoided, and it can be easily enough. You can break up such a long discourse with action, either by the speaker or by those who are listening, or even by external interruptions if appropriate.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, paragraphs can be as short as a single word of dialogue. In a page full of dialogue, it's not uncommon for one person to contribute a single word as their part of the conversation. A long string of this sort of dialogue is also something to be avoided. No one want's to read pages filled with too simple dialogue, so don't be afraid to cut to the chase as quickly as possible.

Dialogue, no matter how long or short, begs a mention about tags, something I've posted about before. I like to keep actual tags to a minimum, and the wide variety of tags should be avoided. Your story would be much better if all the flowery tags were instead bits of action.

In fiction, each paragraph serves to advance the plot, develop a character, describe a scene, or narrate an action. This means that each paragraph should follow the last one in a clear logical progression of action. A paragraph is also a single entity. One person, be it action or dialogue should be contained in one paragraph, though there are a few exceptions.

In the interaction of say two characters, each person's action and dialogue should be included in a single paragraph, and when the next person adds their part, start a new paragraph. Avoid attaching the reaction of one character onto the end of another character's paragraph. Consider each paragraph as a character's personal space. You know how bad it is to invade personal space?

Clues to indicate a change of scene or the passage of time without really changing the action much can be a single vacant line. However when a scene as well as action change takes place, it's best to add a chapter heading here.

Example of the passage of time:
Despite his recent terror and pain, Derrick sighed and closed his eyes. He didn’t see the gentle glow that passed between the man’s hand and his own body as he fussed over him. The glow was so faint that it wouldn’t have been visible at all, if it hadn’t been a moonless night.

Derrick did feel better the next morning though far from great; his head was still splitting and his right eye was swollen shut.
Nothing happened during the night so the jump in time was shown by a blank line. Not to have this blank line would end up feeling like a run-on sentence, all shoved together, no moment for a channel change (yes, sometimes our brains need a moment to change channels).

Example of a change of location without really changing the subject of the chapter at this point:

The outside perimeter of the circle was obscure among the forest, but not all that difficult to find, now that he knew what to look for, so he walked that circuit too. Strangely enough, his trail appeared to have found the only entrance to the grove. Any others must have been closed off by being heavily trapped or perhaps it was merely the turning of the ground that had discouraged any trails accidentally penetrating into the core of the grove. Any magical traps were nonexistent; Derrick wasn’t too sure if any spells would have survived the death of the caretaker anyway.

Back at the house, Aramil was still sitting on the one stool leaning against the cabin’s wall; he hadn’t moved a muscle. Derrick filled the table with fruit, steaming vegetables and hot bread; it was the creation of a steaming ham that roused Aramil from his pseudo-slumber. He chuckled. “I didn’t pay much attention back at the gathering, but I’m thinking you’re not a vegetarian.”
At this point, both Derrick and Aramil are living in the same house but they are in very different locations at this point. Derrick is exploring the grove not far from his house while Aramil dozed elvish style. Not to have this break makes the reader want to put these two locations too close together. Kinda like someone slammed one door in your face and rammed another one open onto your toes. Rather painful.

A chapter break can and should accomplish nearly all of the kinds of breaks, change of scene, passage of time, and change of location, in one leap.

One day, nearly six and a half weeks after their return from moot, Derrick once again suspended their normal routine, declaring that it was time to give thanks to the Lady for bringing spring. Following an old trail, they hiked above the treeline where they lit a fire in an already established, though neglected fire pit. “Gifford must have come here too,” said Derrick as he brushed the leaves out of the stone-lined bowl.
The above is the beginning of one of my chapters. As you can see, A span of time has passed, and a change, even though temporary, was planned in both scene and location.

So a paragraph, to a certain degree, is a character's personal space. Mind your manners and maintain your space.