character tagged posts

Fatigue, A Stalled Book, and Art in the House

Oy veh. What a week the last few weeks have been. Stress levels haven’t been just through the roof, they’ve been somewhere out beyond the orbit of the Moon, so my body’s said, “OK, I’ve had enough of this fun.” Welcome to knock-you-flat-on-your-back fatigue. To quote the lyrics from the ’70’s rock band Spirit, “It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong.” Boy, howdy.

That Stalled Book

I’d like to blame it all on the draft of book #3. Progress has come to a screeching, grinding halt. I shouldn’t be surprised: I knew, even as I was writing the second draft, that there were significant problems. Then my writers’ group found what they found, and my own read-through and analysis found even more.

OK, fine. I’ll interview my characters. That’s a technique that’s helped before...

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Critique Technique Table of Contents

Here’s a Table of Contents of all of the Critique Technique posts to make it easier to go directly to the post you want to read.

Introductory Posts

Part 1 of Many

Part 4: Series Preview

Reader Response

Part 2: How Do You Feel?

Part 3: Authorial Intentions and Tracking Your Own Responses

Beginnings and Endings

Part 5: Weak or Missing Hook

Part 6: The Wrong Beginning

Part 7: Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 7b: More on Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 8: Story Endings

Characterization

Part 9: Characters and Conflict

Part 10: Poor Characterization

Part 11: Lack of Character Development

Part 12: Showing and Telling in Character Development

Part 13: Timing the Reveal

Part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Part 15: Unclear Character Goals

Part 16: Unclear or Insufficient Obstacles

Part 17: Dialect...

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Wool Review

By Ross B. Lampert

4.5-star rating dark blue background

Wool is the title of both the first novella and the first five stories in the Silo series, and the book which rocketed Hugh Howey to science fiction stardom. Deservedly so.

WARNING: There are spoilers in this review. I’ll put them in a different font so you can spot and skip them if you wish.

Wool is the story of a large, thoroughly developed community of people (hundreds if not a few thousand) who have lived for a long time in a 144 story deep underground silo. One of many, as it turns out, but the residents of Silo 18 don’t know that there are other silos until late in the story. Until then, only a select few even know that they’re “Silo 18.”

The silo culture is divided into dozens of functional groups: the Mechanicals live in the “down deep,” the lowe...

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House Made of Dawn Review

Small 3-star rating on dark blue background

If you’re looking for a book with a linear narrative, a clear and present protagonist, and a consistent point of view, N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn is not the book you’re looking for. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for occasionally beautiful writing, and an unusual style of story-telling, this 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner may be just the thing.

House Made of Dawn is the story of Abel (an obviously symbolic name), a young Native American from somewhere in southern California...

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The Art of War for Writers

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

Put James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers next to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on your bookshelf—or better, within easy reach! It’s that good.

Using famous and long-ago Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as his model, Bell presents vital and valuable information for writers in bite-size chunks. These nourishing and digestible non-chicken nuggets add up to a lot of chapters, yet only two are longer than five pages.

That’s what makes them so useful: you can read a few, set the book aside to ponder them, and then come back without being overwhelmed with information. These chapter titles will give you a sense of what I mean:

  • From Part I, “Reconnaissance”: 21. Put heart into everything you write.
  • From Part II, “Tactics”: 36...
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The Sweet Trade, by Debrah Strait

Small 5-star rating on dark blue background

Debrah Strait’s The Sweet Trade is no Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean romp. And that’s a very good thing.

Life in the Caribbean in the second half of the 17th Century was anything but easy: “nasty, brutish, and short” might be a better description. Not just for pirates and other sailors but for the citizens in the many coastal and island villages, cities, and towns and the soldiers assigned to protect them. Death came often, and was often violent, brutal, and painful, whether at the hands of raiders or defenders or in the jaws of thousands of ants or a single caiman.

This is the world eleven-year-old Dirk van Cortlandt is thrust into when Spanish raiders attack the island he and his family live on and kill everyone except Dirk and four of his young friends...

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Critique Technique, Part 58 — Magic Middles

Woman reading a book

Image courtesy of Marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Ross B. Lampert

Once a writer has convinced their reader with a great, or at least good, beginning that this is a story she wants to read, his next task is to keep her reading. That means the middle of each scene or chapter has to keep holding the reader’s interest. She has to want to keep reading.

There are lots of writing books that discuss the techniques for creating rising tension: plot twists, character revelations, obstacles revealed and overcome or worked around (or not), turning points, and so on. The purpose of this article isn’t to repeat them—there isn’t space!—but to remind you, the reviewer, that when a writer does this well, especially when they’d been struggling with this, it’s your job to point it out.

As I no...

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Critique Technique, Part 51 — Point of View Shifts

By Ross B. Lampert

Two angry people sitting on a benchWhoops! Last time, when I wrote about head-hopping, I thought I had already written about point of view (POV) shifts. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Time to correct that error.

Let’s make sure right now that we’re clear on what POV is. The written-out term gives us a good start. Point of view, or viewpoint: whose eyes and other senses, in other words, the reader is seeing and experiencing the story through. Said another way, if you think of the reader as being the proverbial fly on the wall, where is that fly? That sounds simple enough, but there are at least four different POV options.

  • Omniscient. The word means all-knowing, and in this case, the fly is really on the wall...
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Critique Technique, Part 50—Head-Hopping

By Ross B. Lampert

Funny frog

Image by Zela, from RGBstock.com

Today’s topic doesn’t have anything to do with drug-addled frogs (or any kind of frogs, for that matter), actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, or some strange horror movie. Or some even stranger Addams Family-meets-Mitch Miller sing-along show: “Follow the bouncing head and sing along to….” (Man, that’s really weird.)

No, fortunately, head-hopping in the context of writing is a form of point of view (POV) shifting. What happens is the writer jumps from the viewpoint of one character to another within a scene or even a paragraph. This is an easy trap for new writers to fall into (although more experienced ones can do it too)...

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Critique Technique, Part 48—Danglers

By Ross B. Lampert

Shoes hanging from a wire

Photo by dhannte, via morgueFile.com

When we think about dangling things—in writing, anyway—we usually think of dangling modifiers, the grammatical fumbles that lead to sentences like, “After spending weeks in the forest, the town was inviting.” So, the town had spent weeks in the forest, eh?

For this post, though, I’m thinking about a different kind of dangler, a story line or character the author lavishes some attention on, then forgets. It’s never developed, it’s never finished, it’s just left—you guessed it—dangling.

This is a continuity problem and it can be hard to catch, for both the author and the reviewer. Why? The author had some reason for putting that character, subplot, or story line in or she wouldn’t have done it...

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