Saturday, January 15, 2011

An "a ha!" moment from Nightshade

This post is mostly a book review, but there are a few notes about writing craft in it too, in particular a really good technique for balancing a scene that might otherwise be too overloaded with the main character's POV.

The first chapter of Nightshade is packed full of action, blood-spilling and breaking rules. Right away you know you're dealing with a werewolf falling in love with a human that she shouldn't - ah, forbidden love! It hooks me everytime.

The beginning lays the foundation for what you realize much later in the book, is a supernatural society of....well, I can't give it away, but you can tell all is not right in this society. There's something really creepy and wrong about it. The main character, Calla, a high-school senior and werewolf, can feel that something is wrong but she is so much a part of what she's been raised in and all her friends and family (pack) are a part of, that she can't see it/admit it. Though the werewolf packs interact with normal human society (the story is based in Vail, Colorado) they are still worlds apart from it.

A lust-triangle is huge part of the book. Calla has the hots for two different guys - a werewolf Alpha male, Ren, that she's "promised" to and Shay, a human intruder in pack dynamics with a mysterious background. There are LOTS of scenes with LOTS of breathy sentences like this one: "I could feel the heat of his body and it was making my own temperature rise." (this is with Ren). Then almost in the very next paragraph, she's with Shay and his "light touch speared my body and exploded deep within me." I'm not making fun; I'm just explaining what this book is like. I enjoy the tension of a triangle, and this one is very bold.

A couple of the werewolves have musical talent, and the scenes describing their music are powerful. The dancing was well-done, too. I haven't been to a dance club in a long time, but now I can almost say I have, after reading this book - the author did a great job of transporting me into the light and the throb. In fact, I think my favorite scene from the book was this one:
A smile ghosted across Neville's lips; his fingers hovered over the guitar strings, and he began to sing.

Mason flashed a grin at me and I nodded. Yeah, I get it now.

Sabine took up the harmony. Her voice was sweet and dark like the first shadows of twilight. The music poured into my veins, a mixture of grit and silk.
I noticed something about the writing craft, here. Imagine if it had been written this way, without the middle sentence:

A smile ghosted across Neville's lips; his fingers hovered over the guitar strings, and he began to sing.
 Sabine took up the harmony. Her voice was sweet and dark like the first shadows of twilight. The music poured into my veins, a mixture of grit and silk.

It's still good, but it's even better with the insertion of Mason's reaction to the music, and Calla's response to him. I recently received a first chapter to critique with a great opening and very clean writing, but there was something missing from it and I couldn't figure out what it was. Then it finally clicked. It was TOO much the main character's POV. The MC was recounting what was happening to her so intensely that the scene lost its balance, so to speak. There were other active characters in the scene, but it was like they were only half there, in comparison to the example above, where Mason's input adds more weight to how the MC is taking in the music.  Sorry I probably haven't described this very well, but it was a big "a ha!" moment to me as writer.

Okay, back to the review. The book does a really good job of keeping you guessing about who Calla is going to end up with, Ren or Shay. It also has just enough action and scary supernatural surprises (what they find in the cave! yikes! - and the statues and pictures in the old house, whoa!) to keep you flipping pages fast. The ending is a cliffhanger.

I'll definitely come back for the sequel. Its style reminded me a little of Vampire Academy (no vampires, though) - a society with strict castes and unbending rules; but in this book the stakes are a little higher for breaking the rules, for everyone.

If you are a writer, have you had any "a ha!" moments lately with your writing? Do tell! Or if you're a reader, tell me the name of a book that you didn't like at first, but you finished feeling mighty impressed.

Oh, and don't forget to enter my contest to win your choice of two books! Open until 1/31.


  1. I avoided reading this book for a while because I thought it would be "the same" as many others. But I read a number of positive reviews so I gave it a go - and enjoyed it! What I really liked was that A LOT happened in one book. I'm starting to get annoyed with book series where hardly anything happens in the first book because the author wants you to come back for more. If so many things happened in Nightshade, then we can expect even MORE excitement from the sequels!

  2. For some reason, I couldn't get into the book SHIVER (also about werewolves) at first. I knew it was amazing and all the reviews raved about it, but I wasn't in the right frame of mind to read/appreciate the lyricism of the writing. When I went back and tried again, I saw the positives that everyone was talking about.

  3. Well, believe it or not a book I didn't like at first was the Lord of the Rings. I couldn't get pass the first chapter or two because the writing was just so different and disconnected from the characters than what I was used to reading. So I stopped reading for a month or two before starting over from the beginning but, again, I couldn't read much further pass chapter two. And what was strange was that I really wanted to like these books but it just felt so dry and impersonal. So, many more months passed before I remembered that book and picked it up again, reading once more from page one, but this time was different. I could see the beauty in Tolkiens writing style this time around and could appreciate it and enjoy it! I can still see how I was unable to read much of it at first, but in those months of not reading that book, my appreciation for different kinds of writing styles had grown and I became hungry for an older style of writing.

    Oops, think the comment is too long, sorry. But I have a question, that word progress chart at the top of your page? I think you said you got it from writertopia but I couldn't find it, only the little progress bars. Could you tell me where you got it? I'd like to use it for my year long writing goal, if possible.

    Thanks and happy reading (and writing)!

  4. Sounds like a fun read - I'll have to check it out. thanks :)

  5. Rachel - thanks for stopping by! Good point about YA novels. Nightshade was packed full of action and developments.

    Jess - I agree with you about Shiver. I'm glad I stuck with it, it was worth it, just like Nightshade.

    Book Owl -oh I love long comments! I went through the SAME thing with Lord of the Rings. And I will email you what I used to create the chart.

    Jemi - thanks for stopping by! Definitely a book worth adding to your list if you like YA paranormal.

  6. That's a great aha moment. It's important to show what the other character's are thinking and feeling even if we can't delve into their thoughts. Balance. I have a few aha moments over on my blog today. :)

  7. After reading this, I think I have to "revise" how I do my own book reviews a little bit. Yours had a "punch" to it that I liked.
    The most recent book that I didn't "get" through the first chapters right away was "The Latte Rebellion" but the ending was so much worth the read.

  8. Laura, thanks for the tip, I hopped over to your blog and WOW! Seriously WOW! That was one extremely insightful and helpful post for fiction writers. Thank you!

    Akoss - oh I'm glad you like my style of book reviews! This actually wasn the third draft (it's quite a bit different than what I posted on Goodreads). I start out really rambling on about a book, and then I slowly figure out what was the most important thing to me about what I read.

    You're the first person I've heard mention the Latte Rebellion. Going to goodreads to check it out now.

  9. I'm in the need for a new "aha" moment! Last weekend I received one through my critique partners about building tension in the beginning of my novel. I think I get the most clarity when I take a break from my work!

  10. I was sitting on the fence whether to read this book or not. I'm sold! :D

    Yes, I get those "aha" moments a lot now. I love your insight here. Brilliant!

  11. Unfortunately I keep having the opposite problem! I get exciting and am then disappointed. This has happened twice now.

    But wait! I think FALLEN was like that - the first 100 pages or so I found a bit slow, but it really picked up from there.

    I love how you look at a book so carefully when you read it. :D

  12. Hey Margo, great book review. I have this sitting in my TBR pile (was a little dubious about the story, but this is one of my favorite covers in the world - I ADORE purple). Might bump it up now :)

    I loved hearing about your aha moment. What you said "It was TOO much the main character's POV. The MC was recounting what was happening to her so intensely that the scene lost its balance, so to speak" is something I'm very much trying to get my head around. Much of my book involves my MC on her own and going through crisis after crisis, but I've had to balance the intensity somehow. I think I've found the way to do that - must say, my brain still hurts from that one ;)




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