Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books I’ve read this year, looking back, I haven’t read many books this year! So I’ll share the ones most worth talking about.

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1-5 A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin – these beasts took me about 3 months but they were the most amazing things ever! (Except book four but no series is ever perfect).

6. Shopaholic to the Stars – Sophie Kinsella – I was actually a bit disappointed with this one but I’ve been waiting for it for 4 years, so it deserves a mention.

7. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion – One of the best books I have ever read. I’m getting the sequel for Christmas.

8. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova – At 700 pages it’s a long read but it’s fascinating, all about Vlad the Impaler.

9. This is Shyness – Leanne Hall – I’ve just finished reviewing it and it was one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. (You can find my review here)

10. The Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling – Technically not a new book, I re-read it for the one hundredth (and something) time when I was stressed about something. I find re-reading my favourites very therapeutic, don’t you?

That’s my list! I think I need to read more new books next year – that can be my resolution! How about you? What have you read? Link up below!

I’m Dreaming Of …

I don’t know about you, but when I watch or read an overwhelming about of something it infiltrates its way into my dreams.

At the moment I’m watching the Walking Dead continuously to catch up to where it is now. It’s great being able to watch it back to back but I’m dreaming about zombies practically every night. They’re not nightmares, most of the dreams are pretty fun action movies which I’m either starring in or watching from afar (yes I dream in third person occasionally).

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And it doesn’t end with zombies either. I watched an episode of the Newsroom (world’s greatest program) and dreamt I was reporting the Zombie apocalypse. I had a job interview, dreamt my interview was during the apocalypse. There was a shopping centre involved last night but I don’t remember the specifics. The point is, I’m waking up every morning pretty relieved that we haven’t in fact been over run by zombies.

Dreams are a funny thing. They can be amazing, awful, even boring. It’s brilliant when you wake up having no idea what you’ve dreamt about and then it comes back to you at one brilliant moment in the day.

They’re also a great source of inspiration for anything creative. It’s your mind mulling over while it rests (and I love mulling over a plot).

I’m only half way through season 4 Walking Dead so I imagine my zombies will be in my dreams for a while. But what about you? What fiction are you dreaming about? Do you get inspiration from your dreams?

Top Ten Tuesday – Sequels I Can’t Wait for

Top Ten Tuesday a weekly blog meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week they ask us to share lists on:  Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait To Get.  

I’ve really had to think about this one and not all of them are even books, it turns out I read a lot of stand-alones or the author has already finished the series.

1) Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz – It’s the sort of sequel to his Sherlock Novel House of Silk. (It’s on my Christmas list).

2) Oblivion – Anthony Horowitz – I started this series as a teenager and never finished it. I must read the last book!

3) GOT – The Winds of Winter –  Martin, hurry up now.

4) The next Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella – she said soon but its not soon enough!

5) The Rosie Effect Graeme Simsion – It’s been out ages but I just haven’t had a minute!

6) Maise Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear – I read her third book Pardonable Lies for a module at Uni and now I want to start and finish the series.

7) The next star trek film – J.J Abrams –  not a film but I’m excited.

8) Mockingjay part 1 – I’m taking bets (with myself) where they’ll finish the film. Very excited to see it.

I cannot think of anymore! A rushed effort I’m sure! What are your TTTs? Please link up in the comments

What Makes a Story – #4 – Speech

I’ve been utterly useless at posting recently (life has gotten in the way) but I’m determined to see these series of posts out. So this time I’ve been thinking a lot about speech and as a writer and reader poorly executed speech really grinds my gears.

So what is poorly executed speech? I think the best way to explain that it to look over some examples.

1) “I am coming” “I did not go to the park” “I will not succeed”

All of these examples lack contractions. If you’re writing a modern story, set in a modern time, use the contracted versions (i.e. shouldn’t, didn’t doesn’t) unless you’re emphasising a point. The simple reason it annoys me is because no one actually speaks like that and it always feels as though the writer has never tried reading their work out loud. Read your work out loud, it’s crucial for getting the feel right.

Of course if you’re using an antiquated setting then the full words are better. It’s all about context.

But, the more accurate you make your speech, the more accurately you construct your characters. And you know I think it’s all about the characters.

2) “Could you pass me that biscuit, please?” … “Sure, here you go.”…. “Thank you” …. “You’re welcome.”

I love manners, I think they’re really important in society but not so much in books. Speech sequences like this are waffle and some writers can make them go on for pages. If your characters are having a conversation, make sure they’re talking about something: a) important to the plot or b) amusing or interesting. Long manner sequences, and the like, do not fall into either category. Cut it out.

3) “Look at that star.” I said.

“It’s amazing,” he said.

“Isn’t it just?” I replied.

“I wish it was nearer.” he said.

“Me too. It looks so shiny.”  I said.

Please ignore the pointless subject matter of this quickly improvised speech (I know, I’ve just broken my own rule). The point I’m trying to make is that there are a lot of ‘saids’ going on. Getting the said balance right is a tough one. Sometimes, you have to sit back and let the form of your work do it’s job. If it’s clear there are two people having a conversation and their speech is on separate lines, you won’t have to put said all the time. Just chuck it in occasionally to make it extra clear.

I once read something that said ‘said’ is the only word you should use to describe speech, if you have to say ‘said haughtily’ or ‘nastily’ etc then the speech itself hasn’t done its job.

While I don’t fully agree with that, I do take the point that speech needs to be full of quality and not fluff or filler.

I’ve taken such a strong view on speech because I love speech-y novels, I’d take speech over description any day because it helps me visualise a scene better. And if the speech is naff and unrealistic, it spoils the book a little bit.

What about you? What are your pet peeves about speech in novels? Do you like books with a lot of speech in?

I’d love to hear from you!

Some Very PUN-ny Halloween Humor

Happy Halloween!

My Good Time Stories

Photo Credit: Lobo 235 via CC Flickr Photo Credit: Lobo 235 via CC Flickr

We all need some smiles, chuckles and humor each day…and Halloween is no exception! So, without further ado…here we go!

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Do zombies eat popcorn with their fingers? – No, they eat the fingers separately.

What do you call a ghost with a broken leg? – A hoblin goblin.

Why don’t skeletons like parties? – They have no BODY to dance with.

What do witches put on their hair? – SCARE spray.

Why do mummies have such a hard time having friends? – They are too WRAPPED UP in themselves!

TherapyWhy don’t angry witches ride their brooms? They’re afraid of flying off the handle.

How can you tell that vampires like BASEBALL? – Because they turn into BATS every night!

Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road? – It didn’t have the guts.

Why are ghosts so bad at lying? – Because you…

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Beta Love

Hello fellow, bloggers, writers and readers. I don’t know about you, but for me sharing work with friends and family is terrifying. It’s like standing in front of them naked while they sit and judge. (Well it’s not, but it makes you feel just as vulnerable).

av2UntitledAfter my initial beta reading from my best writing buddy, I re-edited my manuscript and doled it out to a wider selection of willing friends and relatives. I was really nervous at first, I was letting my guard down in a real way and then as time passed I stopped being nervous. I stopped being nervous because not a single bloody one of them had read it. Then it was to hell with nerves and on with “where are you?” “how are you doing?” … and other ways of getting their arses in gear.

When I finally started getting some feedback back in from them the nerves started up again. What if they didn’t like it? What if they think I’m weird? What if they think it’s about them? And worst of all, what if they don’t think I should be a writer? … The funny thing about those worries is that they related more to me as a person than they did my book. I’m proud of my book and if I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t have showed it to them to begin with.

I’ll start by saying they’ve given me some fair and useful criticism, tips that are hard to see yourself on your own project. But the overall response has been a big thumbs up. ‘Hilarious’, ‘fantastic’ and ‘I forgot you’d written it’.

The latter is my favourite comment. I think that’s the highest praise you can give an aspiring writer because if the people who know you best have forgotten it’s your voice and are just enjoying reading a story, surely that must bode well for your prospective audience. I hope so anyway.

I’m looking forward to re-editing my manuscript based on their notes and getting it out in the world. Beta reading is about more than reaffirming an author’s confidence. It’s feedback from your market and a chance to see an objective view of something you can only be subjective about. It’s been fab to experience such great beta love and I hope my book will be all the better for it.

Where are you at with your stories? Are you nervous about beta reading? Have you been a beta reader? Do you think beta love is useful?

I always love to hear from you!

What Makes a Story – #3 Storytelling vs Writing

Welcome to part three of my story posts and this time I’m asking a question rather than making a statement. Do you think story telling or writing is more important?

I’m a firm believer that storytelling or plotting and writing are two different kettles of fish.

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Fantastic writing is when the words melt like butter off the page. They paint vivid pictures with words rather than brushstrokes, so you can visualise the entire world perfectly.

Fantastic plotting is when you’re hooked by the story itself regardless of the words (you know what I mean). You engage with the story and the characters, it’s all about the people and the action.

An author can be fantastic at both. But the more common situation seems to be that they gravitate towards writing or plotting. I’ll get my bias out of the way now, I prefer plotting, I would prefer to read a book where a lot happens to one with a lot of description. But I don’t think one is empirically better than the other.

Some examples …

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Oscar Wilde – This guy could write! He was magic with a pen, full of wit and lovely descriptions that weren’t overpowering. But ask Oscar to write an extended piece of prose and the plot completely fell to pieces. The words were just as lovely but you can’t help but notice that nothing happens in Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde was a beautiful writer but could only tell a short story, he didn’t have the plotting ability for a novel.

Cecilia Ahern – I think she’s a lovely writer. She really has a way with words. Her plotting is much better than Oscar Wilde but she is still a much stronger writer than she is a plotter. I’ve read two Ahern books and have a third one I’ve never started, and although I enjoy her, I’ve always felt her plots were lacking .

Plotters

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Dan Brown – I know I’m repeating myself but he’s a great example. His books are packed with action but he’s far from the world’s best writer. He’s not bad at all but not a genius with a pen (or keyboard).

Sophie Kinsella – Kinsella is a good writer but she tells a better story. Kinsella focusses on the story rather than the writing, she isn’t worried about describing the exact shade of a person’s eyes and she has never described her main character in the Shopaholic Books.

It’s safe to say writing and plotting is a balancing act and whether one is better than the other is solely down to preference. I will say this though, if I read a writer’s story, although I may enjoy it, I’ll always note the lack of action but if I read a plotter’s story, I’ll only note the writing if it’s really bad…. And if I read a story with brill writing AND a brill plot, I know I’ve found one of those lucky all-rounders.

Writing and plot are both important elements to a book. I prefer plot but I can’t abide by bad writing … and we’re back to finding the balance.

But what about you? Do you prefer reading a writer’s book or a plotter’s book? And writers, which camp do you fall into? I’d love to hear from you!

What Makes a Story #2 – Plot

Hello fellow bloggers and tweeters. I had this great series of blogs planned and then life got so busy I didn’t have any time to write it down. So sorry for my radio silence but I’m back online now.

I’m always musing about what makes stories great. Last time I talked about characters being the most important bit, and while I stand by that, a decent plot will help you too. For instance as much as I love Chris Hemsworth (because, come on) the latest Thor movie didn’t have much of a story. But at least there was Chris.

Anyway, a great plot is a balancing act between being twisty enough to keep you entertained and so convoluted that by the end you’re stuck on the last page going “what?”. Authors have to be olympic gymnastics (figuratively, not literally) to pull it off seamlessly. And not all do.

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I’m going to go into this one more next week but I think there’s a big difference between great writers and great storytellers. Some fall into both categories (lucky devils), but most of us, I’m including myself tentatively in that, fall into one or the other. I’m a plotter, my bestie’s a writer. But more on that next time.

Back to the plot. Obviously plots vary depending on genre, and the strength of the plot varies genre to genre too. For instance chick lit needs to be funny with a few gentle complications, nothing dramatic, but detective fiction needs twists and turns and red herrings. I’m always so impressed when I can’t guess the ending.

Have you ever read any Dan Brown? (If you haven’t, have you been hiding under a rock?) Well he’s a great example of a bloody entertaining storyteller. I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons so much, the plot twisted and turned, I could barely flick over my pages fast enough. The man can tell a riveting story.

Anthony Horowitz – if you haven’t read any Horowitz stop what you’re doing and pick him up now. Oh the man can write! He published a Sherlock Holmes book The House of Silk in 2011 and what a triumph. Brilliant plot, brilliant characterisation and such a sensitivity to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work. When Sherlock Holmes was originally published in the nineteenth century, they were supposed to be light-hearted fun stories and Horowitz really captured that spirit. Not that I’m plugging him or anything but he’s got a follow up book Moriarty too …

Ever read Dorian Gray? Let me spoil it for you, there’s a pretty boy, there’s a painting and absolutely nothing else happens.

Now in a series, overarching story lines can be dangerous. Harry Potter pulled it out the bag but His Dark Materials was such a let down, the big reveal actually ruined the whole thing for me.  It’s great to be ambitious as a writer but you really have to temper it by looking back and thinking about your readers. Of course it makes sense to you, you wrote it, but I don’t live inside your head. It’s why outspoken beta readers are invaluable. I love clever plots but they can be too clever sometimes.

Is there a secret formula for writing a brill plot? Probably not, but I’ll list my favourite bits.

– Being surprised by an outcome … BUT that outcome still fits in perfectly with the story

– More than one major plot twist (I’ve committed to 300 pages here, thrill me)

– If you’re revealing a secret, make it a juicy one. Most things aren’t that shocking anymore, so if it’s a big deal, go for it and shock me!

Hey, this is all just my opinion but I’d love to hear from you. What have your favourite stories been? What stories have you picked up that had literally lost their plot? Let me know !

Top Ten Character-driven books

This week’s TTT is top ten character driven books and is, as always, hosted by the delightful The Broke and the Bookish.

I love Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m seriously struggling not to repeat myself. This is a really special one for me, because as anyone who reads my blog will know, I LOVE characters. I think they make or break a story.

So here I go:

1) GOT – I talk about this every bloody week so I don’t need to say anymore. Love you George. a-game-of-thrones-the-story-continues-the-complete-box-set-of-all-7-books

2) On Beauty – Zadie Smith. This is writing back to Howard’s End by Forster. You don’t need to read Howard’s End to enjoy it (in fact I would recommend never reading Howard’s End). Smith is a character master. They’re the most vibrant characters and she explores fantastic themes of race, academia, and of course, beauty.

3) Sherlock Holmes – A.C. Doyle. I think with any eponymous novel there is certain necessity that the work is character driven but I think we can all agree Holmes’s is very interesting. Watson too. Irene and Moriarty? In the original they’re not that fascinating. In fact, they’re barely in it.

4) One Day – David Nicholls. Again, I know, I talk about this every week. But it’s one of my faves and you can’t talk about characters without talking about Dexter and Emma, after all, it’s the story of their lives.

51pSErJc3oL5) The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruis Zafon. This story is all about the mystery of the characters, the plot moves slowly at time but the reveal is worth it.

6) World War Z – Max Brooks. There is no real plot to this book, no characters as such either. But I wanted to include it because the book consists of a series of interviews and they just feel so alive. Brooks really captured lots of different voices which I loved.

7) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. I think Atticus Finch may be one of my favourite ever characters. Reading through a growing child’s eyes took some amazing talent on Lee’s behalf. It’s a wonderful story about people.

8) The Hours – Michael Cunningham. This is the story of three women, in three different times. Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. It explores themes of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (except in a readable not modernist way). This is not a happy book but it is a very interesting one.

9) Where Rainbows End – Cecilia Ahern. I have a real soft spot for this book. Ignoring the logic issues of this book, it’s just lovely. CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndThe whole thing is written in letters, emails etc over the lives of two people who love each other but always seem to just miss each other. Heartbreaking. Lovely. Read it in a day.

10) The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric. I go on a lot about this one too … but it’s great. So many different voices tell the story. There’s the mad Minguillo, the madder nun, the lovely doctor, the battered heroine. Ah it’s amazing. Read it immediately.
What about you? What’s your TTT?

What Makes a Story? #1 – Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes any story (novel, film, tv series) good or bad, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on what makes a story. This week I’m going to talk about characters.

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To be completely biased, characters are the make or break of a story for me. I always think you can have the best plot in the world but if the audience don’t feel anything for the characters then you’re sunk.

The book I read most recently was horribly disappointing and the main reason for that was that I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them, I just thought they were pathetic. Now, pathetic characters are fine IF they are meant to be pathetic, if they’re meant to be protagonists then you’ve got a problem.

A good character:

  • Has solid motivation – you always know why they’re doing what they’re doing
  • Demonstrates their characteristics – it’s no good telling readers that the character is brave – you have to show them
  • Has a backstory – you don’t need to know every detail of their lives but a strong character shouldn’t feel like they’ve been plucked from thin air
  • Speaks like a real person – I mean this both in the sense of what they say and how they say it – setting and genre play a big part of this. If they’re in the Victorian times, the speaker is less likely to use contractions but if set in recent history and present day, speech feels awkward if there are not contractions (see what I did there?)
  • Makes the audience care – this is the big one. Even if they’re hit and miss with the other four things, if you care about the character, the author/creator has done their job.

Some examples of great characters:

Jaime Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire  – fantastic motivation, back story and he’s good and bad.

Don Tillman – The Rosie Project – never has a character had so much heart.

Dexter Mayhew – One Day – amazing character development over twenty years.

Becky Bloomwood – Shopaholic Novels – funny, loveable and always in a mess.

Minguillo Fasan – The Book of Human Skin – a sociopath who you’re partly in collusion with.

Poppy Shilling – A Rural Affair – funny and painstakingly honest. Someone you’ll cheer on.

Will Traynor – Me Before You – a quadriplegic patient with a broken spirit that’s brought back to life

And … Josiah Bartlet – the president in ‘The West Wing’, if only he did run the world …

These are only some of my favourite characters – who are yours? What do you think makes a great character?