Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Child's Brain

Do you write children's fiction or young adult? How do you gauge the reading level of your books. Word has a readability statistics option under your spelling and grammar settings. It gauges your document by length of sentence. So if you write in short simple sentences, you probably write for kids. Last time I had the patience to check one of my books, my readability was eighth grade, which puts my work firmly in the middle of Young Adult. However, I don't market it that way. Frankly, this is what I like to read. The writing isn't too long and flowery, nor is it too short and choppy.

Lately I've run across a couple books obviously written for younger people. I don't mind these books either, if they are well written. The readability statistics will only gauge by length of sentence, it does not judge by any kind of content. It merely counts words per sentence and calculates an average length. If you ask me, it's the content that matters, and in my opinion, it matters a lot. Kids are smart. They are smarter than people like to give them credit for, and we as writers, while not teachers per se, talking down to children is in really bad form.

A while back, I read a children's book and even posted a scathing review here. Assuming children cannot follow logic or spot holes in stories is only a reflection on the writer. There doesn't need to be loads of detail in a children's book, but inconsistent logic will only confuse them, and a confused young reader may not pick up the next book.

I bought a trilogy a while back and recently finished the first book. The gist of this story was 'rescue the orphans at an orphanage from a very wicked witch'. To accomplish this, there needed to be a reason to go there. To solve this issue, the writer put an old man there. He had a disagreement with the witch (who wasn't a known witch yet) so he left, or was thrown out. He flew away high overhead many miles, wishing he could save those children, and yet he did nothing of the sort until he crossed paths with another kid with a dog. This kid had found a robot built by the old man, but apparently thanks to the witch, they had become separated.

So, now that these four characters were united or reunited, they were now equipped to go rescue those kids. So off they go across danger-riddled countryside on foot, and by raft, choosing a path seen by the old man on his previous flight over. So if he could fly before, why can't he fly now? Where is his flying machine if it wasn't this robot, which in the very beginning, was small enough for him to carry in his arms, but later can't be moved unless it's moving under it's own power.  hmmmmm

Along the way they run across another character, an escapee from the orphanage. Winter is coming and she is cold, and yet her only possession is a jar with a firefly. Only now are we being introduced to the idea that they might have packed for this journey, because the boy produces a blanket to help the girl. If these guys were equipped for a days long journey, they would both have had packs they could barely carry, and now that another member joined them, they would be short on blankets at the very least. And no, the robot wasn't carrying anything; he was their look-out.

Frequently along the way, it was difficult to tell which person was the old man and which was the boy. Their behavior was inconsistent. You would expect the boy to be impetuous and maybe rude while the old man was the caution in the mix; this happened but it happened the other way around too.

Now the end. Not too bad really, they succeeded in sorting out the witch and rescuing the kids, but then the old man sends the girl with the rest of the kids while he takes the boy by another route. There was fairly good reason for this, but since no one is really all that familiar with the witch's magic, I thought it was illogical for them to split up. Who sends a bunch of kids off through dangerous country, for a days or maybe weeks long hike with nothing and no protection. I would see the old man, the dog, and the robot as the only protection they had. They didn't even have the blankets from the orphanage. Oh but apparently the old man had stashed enough food for them in the barn last time he was there.

I didn't bother to read the next two books. There are better books out there.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm getting old and impatient. Maybe I try too hard to weave a tight and logical tapestry. Maybe I just do too much editing. I think this whole book would have been much better if it was linear rather than circular. They are traveling along and find out that kids at the orphanage need to be rescued. They reach the house and have to figure out how to defeat the witch. But no, the old man knew it all but he couldn't do anything until he joined forces with a kids. I won't even mention the dog.

Please do me and young readers everywhere a favor. Assume kids of all ages are smart. It makes a difference.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

I Give Up

It's not often I say those words. For the most part, once I pick up a book, I vow to wade through it so I can post some kind of review. I just couldn't do it anymore with this one. I've come close to it with The Last of the Mohicans. The flowery, verbose content makes following the thread of the story a little tedious but at least there's a easily discernible thread. This book I gave up on, I'm already a quarter of the way through the book and I still have no inkling where the story is going.

The first chapter is a great hook. This guy is running for his life chased by some people he's certain are going to kill him. He is outrunning them, but no one can run forever, so he's considering options. The second chapter moves to the guys doing the chasing. I don't have a problem with multiple POVs, but this story would have been better if it had backed up two or three chapters worth, because the back story starts getting kind of heavy here.

I've mentioned it before, the 'as you know' lead-in to some dialog is a sure give-away to too much back story. So these guys are chasing along a deserted beach in the middle of the night, and when they stop for a breather. THIS is when their leader decides to brief the rest of them on who they are chasing. It's hinted at that they all worked together, but that's no guarantee that they knew each other very well, and maybe it was only the leader their quarry worked with, but such a briefing should have happened before the chase. Now you have some high-end office dudes and ex-CIA chasing after an ex-fire-jumper with a black belt who loves to run.

Next we are introduced to the wife. She has to pack up the kids and go on vacation and then meet up with her husband in Mexico. Understandable, she is in the know, but here is where we get even loads more back story. We learn about her husband, a fellow fire-jumper who recently died, and the friend who will be house sitting while they're gone.

I'm sorry, is there a point to telling me all about this firefighter who died and the house-sitter who is about as footloose as an autumn leaf in a high wind? On the flight south, the wife makes the mistake of assessing her wonderful boys. Here we are supposed to see two brothers acting like typical boys on a plane. One got the window seat and one is bummed because he didn't, it wouldn't be so bad if that was the extent of it, but there's lots more where that came from.

And our runner? He's going through the want-adds looking for a car he can buy free and clear with cash, one discussion at a time.

I just can't see where this story is going. I am drowning in back-story and struggling to follow the thread of the plot. So, I gave up. There are more interesting books out there.

I hope your books don't lose your readers like this.

I switched to a book that could do with a visit to an editor, but it's not bad. The chapters are hopping around some, but I think there's a point to that. It's got my curiosity going anyway. Watch for a review from me.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Step in Front of the Next

Several things fell together today that gave me this idea. I was walking down my trail, thinking how I was watching where I put my feet, carefully picking my next step. This was necessary because my trail is rather icy at the moment. Let me elaborate. A few days ago, on a relatively warm afternoon (for us this time of year), my husband and I went out for some firewood. It was warm enough that the surface of the trail was mushy. Marks from the snowmachine's track and the inch wide runners on the sled, and in some locations, the smooth bottom of the sled, were cleanly left in the snow. Now that the days have gotten colder again, these marks in the trail are quite hard; if it was any harder, I would need ice skates to navigate the surface regardless of the tread-marks left by the snowmachine, and marks left by the sled sometimes made the trail a potential slippery ankle-twister. My boots have a horizontal tread and between the two, slippage is at a minimum, but hazards were frequent, and there are a couple places where the slant in the trail is enough to warrant quite a bit of care.

My thoughts went to when I was in the army and they were requiring me to break the habit of watching where I put my feet. And then there's my work in progress where my character was forced to shed his hunter aspect and replace it with a prey aspect in order to become a suitable target to catch a crew of Knock Out thugs. There is also the current editing project I'm working on where the writer used 'walk' more than once. All this together made me realize that there is so much more to the word 'walk' than just putting one foot in front of the other.

So much can be learned about a character just by watching how they cover the distance between point A to point B. The army teaching me how to walk is them teaching me how to be a predator. Of course, if you were to ask any of those guys that, they wouldn't see it that way. I mean, I had been walking for eighteen years by then; I knew how to walk. My growing up on a ranch was another reason for me to watch where I walk; I didn't want to step on some cowpie, and since I managed to escape my mother barefoot more often than not, knowing what was underfoot was kind of important. Cowpies wasn't the only hazard underfoot. Those were out in the corrals, I had to navigate sand-burrs before I got that far. At any rate, I grew up with a strong inclination to watch where I set my feet, and then I joined the army and they wanted me to hold my head up, to keep an eye on the sergeants and officers and other such important things. They never mentioned keeping an eye on the horizon where an enemy might be coming from. Like I said, they didn't really understand what they were teaching us. They wanted us to look like proud soldiers, not shambling civilians. See my distinction? The soldier is the predator - the civilian is the prey.

Keeping the head up is more than pride, watching for potential attack can be paranoid but it can also be a strength and confidence. Keeping the head up also keeps the shoulders square, it changes the entire body posture, and the walk itself alters dramatically. Confidence in the surface under your feet leaves time for your eyes to search the horizon for whatever might be of interest out there. Noticing the pretty girl perhaps, or the nice tight ass in a pair of bluejeans, or the werewolf lurking in the shadows. If your chin is keeping track of the top button on your shirt, you're not going to notice anything out there - you become the hunted, the prey, the target. You can run being less likely to trip. Of course if you're standing to fight, you're not worried about tripping.

There are lots of words describing how a person crosses from point A to point B. Make use of your thesaurus and explore a few. To merely walk is too generic, too boring; it says nothing other than that distance was covered, and there are certainly other ways to convey that small detail. How you say your character crossed the distance paints a picture about the person. Always have a picture of your character in mind when you move him or her across the page. It's important.

How does your character move?


Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Making of a Mage King

How do the choices in out lives come about? Some children are subtly guided along the way until they start making their own decisions. Some of that guidance is not so subtle, as many choices are blatantly made, setting the child on a course firmly predetermined. In the most drastic cases, there is no subtly, only cold hard law. And sometimes a child is merely housed and clothed until such time as they take up the task on their own and move out.

Sean Moselle was gently guided through childhood in a certain direction by parents who half hoped the guidance would never be necessary, but they could not risk him not developing certain skills. He was encouraged to learn the art of fencing by stories of valiant knights, both read as well as simply recited as he sat on his father's knee. His desire to be just like King Arthur was more than indulged, but he didn't know the difference. His father was also in a position to instil in him the love and care of horses, as well as the skill to ride them.

In the first book, Prince in Hiding, Sean's happy childhood falls completely apart with the deaths of his parents under unusual circumstances. First, his mother seems to simply drop dead; no cause could ever be found. Roughly a year later, his father, a mounted police officer, was killed in the line of duty, Or was he?

Any other kid growing up in New York who lost their parents by the time they turned seventeen, would have been able to carve a place for themselves. It wouldn't be easy, but it would have been possible. 

In Sean's case, things were not so simple. You see, Sean really wasn't a native born New Yorker. Well, he was, but his parents weren't, and his parents also weren't the two people he had always called mom and dad. His real parents were the crown prince Deain Ruhin and his lady wife was Kassandra Barleduc. This left him with the unwieldy name of Seanad √Čireann Barleduc-Ruhin, named by the custom of his people. His people, who were not here on this earth, nor were they even in this time. Where they were, no one has ever determined; they were just elsewhere.

There was no choice. With the deaths of both of his closest guardians, his other protectors had to take him back and teach him how to be the king he was born and bred to be.

You'd think that defeating his evil uncle and claiming the throne would be the end of the story, but in truth it was only the beginning.

Holding the throne does no good if no one knows. Sean's goal then was to go around and tell everyone. He also needed to set people in place who would be loyal to him and in general clean up his uncle's mess, but there was a deeper reason he needed to make this trek and time was wasting, and he had no idea why. For some reason he felt that he had only six months at best to complete his task. He told himself that it had to be finished by the time the snows came and locked down the mountain districts, but though that was the reason he gave, it wasn't quite right.

Once in motion, even the fastest pace his men could travel wasn't fast enough; he felt positively driven, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't cover the distance fast enough.

He took to expending vast amounts of magic, and striving to keep up the pressure on himself, but even powerful mages aren't indestructible. This is where friends proved to be invaluable. They kept him grounded and sane, and they made sure he didn't kill himself. They couldn't, however, protect him from his own dreams. As sleep turned difficult, dreams filled his nights with puzzles and premonitions, visions of possible futures, and possible pasts. Dreams that were just plain strange, and dreams of his first ancestor leading him to the fate he needed to meet, and yet still not telling him what that fate was.

Now we get to the interesting part. Pieces have been in motion since the first book. Cities have fallen and enemy forces have been helping themselves to the magical populous of Ruhin, seeking to use them for their own ends. Sean, needs to act. He needs to find the stolen and hold accountable those who took them. But that didn't relieve him of his original mission, so he had to act quickly, and brutally. He had no time to be nice, to be diplomatic, to hold court and judge war crimes.

With haste, he rounded up his armies and pointed them at their marks, and then he gathered up the closest of his uncle's nastiest warriors and led them against yet another target. War is never pretty, and Sean made no effort to try. And then he had to protect his borders, and more magic was the only answer.

The magic to protect his borders was a balm to his tortured soul after using so much magic to kill his enemies. But now that the war was over, his original task still loomed. Even though he was nearly finished, snows threatened, time was running out. He pushed on as hard as ever while still trying very hard to remain human, to stay that boy who grew up in New York, raised by a man named Moselle. It was a connection he never wanted to jeopardize, it was a memory that kept the overwhelming power of magic that coursed through his veins from turning him into something akin to his uncle.

Then at one point shortly before being able to make it to all of his districts, time ran out. Snow blanketed the landscape and Sean had to use all of the magic his land had to offer to save the world.

Yeah, I'm going to be mean and make you read the book to find out how he did that, and of course there's the bit after that - something to do with the birth of his son and dealing out a little overdue justice.

Book 3 will be available in June.