Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Analyzing Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

Ever is a young adult fantasy, love story and quest. I liked it even better than Levine's more famous Ella Enchanted.

Elana Johnson posted a link to a great writing resource, Seven Points of Story Structure (Dan Wells), and showed how you can write a seven-sentence synopsis using this technique. So I thought I'd give a stab at it for Ever, just for fun.

1. Hook - A young god, Olus, falls in love with a mortal girl, Kezi.

2. Plot Turn 1 - introduces the main conflict. Kezi accepts a sentence of death to prevent another family member from receiving that sentence.

3. Pinch 1 - introduces the villain/pressure to force action. Olus wants to save Kezi, but the only way to get around her honor-bound commitment is to turn her into a god, too, an immortal who can't be killed.

4. Midpoint - Olus and Kezi must each must undergo a test: her to become a heroine worthy of becoming a god; he to become a champion worthy of taking her before the gods.

5. Pinch 2 - more pressure/problems, so many that the situation appears hopeless. Both Kezi and Olus fail their respective tests

6. Plot Turn 2 - the MC has what they need to overcome the main conflict. After both reaching a point of despair, Olus and Kezi determine to keep trying even though they think they've failed. Their enduring love conquers all.

7. Resolution - sorry, you'll have to read the book to hear what happens.

Amazing! This book perfectly fit the seven point story structure. I'm going to have to try this some more (with my own three books too, of course)

A few other notes about this book:

Olus is god of the winds, and this was what make this book so much fun. He can command wind to do all sorts of things for him. He has a strong wind, a clever wind, a comforting wind, even a herding wind - and of course he can use his winds to fly. I love the scene where Olus whisks Kezi off on one of his winds, before she's aware that he's a god.

Kezi is a fun character, too. She's a dancer and a weaver, and if these don't sound like very exciting character traits, what is exciting is seeing how her talents and her passion aid her in her quest to become a heroine, and again during her final test to become immortal. She is asked what she would like to become a goddess of. There's already a goddess of dance and of weaving, so she has to think of something else that's important to humans that there isn't already a god of. She comes up with something clever and beautiful, but of course I won't say what it is.

The quest part of the book reminded me of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, particularly the Silver Chair. It has the same effortless story-telling in a magical world, and I can never resist a quest. The only thing I didn't like was that Olus and Kezi were tested separately. I wanted more scenes with them together.

Levine's writing style is spare and lyrical. The point of view is first person and shifts between Olus and Kezi with each chapter. The first two chapters were a little hard for me to get into, but this book is definitely worth the effort it takes to get into.

This excerpt is from Kezi's last day before her final test to become a god. If she fails, she'll die.

The twelfth day we spend riding a single-masted boat down one of Akka's rivers. The banks glide by, while I clasp Olus's hand and try to hold back the minutes. I want the river to stop flowing. The sail can continue to billow, but we must not move. Olus's winds must blow time itself away and stretch this moment into eternity.
Haven't we all felt that way, about certain precious moments in time?

I never could figure out where the title, Ever, came from. If anyone else has a clue, let me know! Have you ever finished a book and scratched your head, wondering what hat the author pulled the title out of?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lucid dreaming

Dreams have a part in shaping my stories. It's a mysterious process that I have no control over, and I was curious if other writers out there ever experience this. I have two sorts of dreams - random and strange dreams I have no control over, and lucid dreams, a sort of half-conscious state where I'm dreaming about my stories.

My first semester in college was a huge transition - as it is for most people. Being away from home for the first time. Adjusting to new friends, a new lifestyle, many demands including developing study habits (I had an opportunity to transfer to Cornell, an Ivy League school, but I had to pull straight A's that first semester in order to qualify). I remember many nights after I finished studying I would fall asleep thinking about my first story, as a sort of escape from the rote work of calculus and chemistry. This wasn't really dreaming, just a pleasant way to send myself off to sleep. One morning though I woke (or sort of woke) in the middle of a powerful dream about my characters in Refuge (a story about a hidden refuge for unicorns). I remember looking at the clock and thinking, I should get up and go to class. And then, never mind, skipping one class won't hurt anything, and I stayed in bed and kept on dreaming. ALL DAY. I didn't get out of bed until nearly dinner time. I think that was my first lucid dreaming experience. And shortly after that, I started writing again because I had so many ideas (I hadn't worked on my book at all since starting college).

Many years later, after college and then grad school and then moving to Wyoming and starting a my first real job, I finished that first book (well, at the time I thought it was finished - hadn't yet realized that a first complete draft is far from finished!) and started really brainstorming on another book idea. My parents came out to visit me and I took them on a driving tour of all my favorite beautiful places in the Rocky Mountains. We were staying the small, beautiful town of Lake City in southern Colorado, and for some reason I couldn't sleep that night in our hotel suite. There was a couch in the suite and decided to try sleeping on the couch instead of in bed. And I fell into another powerful lucid dream about my new story (the one that eventually turned into Handful of Scars). I dreamed the whole night - I know because I was lucid enough to check the clock several times - and also because I was lucid enough to feel giddy about being immersed in the story and all the terrible and wonderful things that were happening. It was such a powerful dream that it stayed with me, because we were traveling I didn't have time to write anything down until almost a whole week later.

Each of my story ideas (I have four well developed ones at this point) has been accompanied by at least one and sometimes several lucid dreams. I have no idea when they will come, or what triggers them. They never come until I have some initial ideas about the story and the characters, and then when the dream comes it always shows me the way the book should go - sometimes drastically changing the plot, and always giving me ideas that fire me with passion.

I've looked at some articles on the Internet about lucid dreaming and how to induce it or prolong it, but they seem kind of hokey or forced to me. Mostly I am curious to see if any other writers out there have experienced lucid dreaming in relation to their writing. If you have, please share!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Analyzing "Catching Fire"

The author starts Catching Fire with all of info to fill us in on the events and relationships from the first novel, but she does a good job of moving it along. I especially admire the little, but clever, details about the characters and setting. I suspect these are the key to drawing us into this novel. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

Haymitch is still dead to the world. Since nothing else has worked, I fill a basin with icy cold water, dump it on his head, and spring out the way. A guttural animal sound comes from his throat. He jumps up, kicking his chair ten feet behind him and wielding a knife. I forgot he always sleeps with one clutched in his hand. I should have pried it from his fingers, but I've had a lot on my mind. Spewing profanity, he slashes the air a few moment before coming to his senses. He wipes his face on his shirtsleeve and turns to the windowsill where I perch, just in case I need to make a quick exit.

See the clever details? It's not just Haymitch waking up wielding a knife (we've all encountered characters like this before)- he also kicks his chair ten feet behind him. It's not just Katniss dumping cold water (hey, I do that all the time to my kids, he he), it's how she perches on the windowsill. Later in the scene, even though Haymitch is no longer a threat, she decides to exit via the window - much more interesting than retreating out a door.

Here's another excerpt from the first chapter with little details that pack a big punch. Here Katniss is encountering a powerful and threatening character, President Snow. It's not so much what he says that threatens her, as these details about him:

I nod because, by the way he says it, it's clear that Seneca Crane has been executed. The smell of roses and blood has grown stronger now that only a desk separates us. There's a rose in President Snow's lapel, which at least suggests the source of the flower perfume, but it must be genetically enhanced because no real rose reeks like that. As for the blood... I don't know.

The scene ends with:

I don't watch him as he heads for the door, so I flinch when he whispers in my ear. "By the way, I know about the kiss." Then the door clicks shut behind him.

End of chapter. The beginning of the next chapter:

The smell of blood.... it was on his breath.

Whoa. Heady writing, there.

Here's another little detail that makes a simple kiss turn into something really powerful:
How his hands, which could set the most intricate of snares, could as easily entrap me.

Not only does the author hook us with these details, she keeps supplying a steady stream of them throughout the book, just as she did with the Hunger Games. That, combined with a constant stream of action and surprises, propels this story along like a predator relentlessly stalking its prey.

And as a girl (well, I'm still a girl at heart), how could I not love a writer who can have so much fun, and impact, with fashion? Are we not all dreading to find out what happened to Katniss' stylist, Cinna, in the next book? Who else could continue to stun us with amazing clothes that pretend to be on fire, or throb like coals, or a wedding dress that disintegrates into an entirely different sort of "fashion statement" ?

In this book, the reaping for the Hunger Games results in a set of competitors even more colorful than in the first book.

You've got Enobaria, who had her teeth cosmetically altered so each one ends in a sharp point like a fang and is inlaid with gold; playboy Finnick who at first impression seems shallow, but then we discover his deep attachment and protective attitude to eighty year old Mags, who also adds a powerful dimension to the games with her cane and her sacrifice. Wiress is described as "probably around my mother's age and speaks in a quiet, intelligent voice. But right away I notice she has a habit of dropping off her words in mid sentence, as if she's forgotten you're there." Her partner wears glasses but spends a lot of time looking under them. They invent things so the other competitors nickcname them Nuts and Volts. Then you've got the Morphlings, drug addicts who like to paint themselves, and Johanna who strips down in the elevator to make Katniss uncomfortable and goes naked for wrestling practice.

Then there is Peeta, Katniss' partner in the Games. I wish I still had the book in my possession so I could go back through and pick out my favorite parts with Peeta to share. Looking forward to see how the whole Katniss/Gale/Peeta love triangle falls out.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A dragon at "Share your darlings" blogfest

Michelle at Beautiful Chaos is hosting a "share your darlings" blogfest today. You know how you've had to kill a few of your darlings along the way? Here's a chance to share them, one more time!

Like probably 95% of fantasy readers and writers, I love dragons. This is a snippet from my partial, A Handful of Scars, which I plan to re-write from a traditional high fantasy into a YA historical fantasy set in the days of Atilla the Hun (I think... I'm still brainstorming this). I don't know if I'll save the scene below and try to re-work it into the new novel. I guess, you guys let me know if you think it's worth saving. It was written about 10 years ago, so it was fun to revisit it for today's blogfest.

The main character is sixteen year old Sidain, traveling with her mother after they have been outcast from their town for meddling with forbidden charms (the mother, Meladen has a familiar, a female sprite called Shaiss). While hiding from a band of thieves traveling the same deserted stretch of road, they see the rogues attack another hapless traveler, when.... read the 680 word snippet here:

Meladen grabbed Sidain's arm, almost dragging her off her feet. "Hurry! Follow me."

A thunderous noise crashed through the forest, with a burst of yellow light in the trees that sent sparks showering all over the ground.

The men screamed, and Sidain would have too if her mother hadn't put a spell of silence on her.

"Don't be frightened," Meladen said. "It's Shaiss."

They stumbled out onto the open road, and before her mother pulled her across to the shelter of the trees on the other side, Sidain saw an enormous creature towering over the four rogues and their captive. In the gloom of dusk, the creature glowed bright as fire. Huge wings spread over its back, and a long tail, as thick as a tree trunk, swung out behind it. When its jaws opened, sparks spewed out into the air, reflecting off reptilian eyes. The roar of the beast shuddered through Sidain like a physical blow.

They were in the trees again, and the fiery light of the creature cast shadows all around them. Low tree limbs smacked Sidain in the face as her mother pulled her along after her. The roaring ceased long enough for Sidain to hear the braying of mules. Then they were in the clearing where the thieves had left their wagon. "Quick, climb up into it," her mother told her.

Sidain got into the back and Meladen jumped up to the driver's seat. Before she even picked up the reins she was muttering command spells to the mules. The wagon jolted forward as the mules bolted. Meladen hauled on the reins, turning them onto the road. "I guess we are heading south!" she cried out. The dragon blocked any other direction they might have taken at the crossroads.

Sidain saw the beast turn toward them as the wagon swung out on to the road. She wondered what had happened to the men. A large object hurtled into the wagon, nearly knocking her down. To her relief she saw that it was only a bundle of packs tied together with ropes. A man with no hair and long robes ran behind the wagon. He heaved another object up and into the wagon before the mules outpaced him. The dragon roared and leapt toward the man, claws outstretched.
"Shaiss! No!" Meladen screamed. "Not him!"

The dragon reared up, howling in protest. Somehow the bald old man managed to keep his wits about him. His mule bolted past him, and he grabbed on and hauled himself aboard, practically wrapping himself around the animal to stay on.

The dragon vaulted after the fleeing man, venting sparks and steam.

"Stop!" Meladen commanded in a hoarse voice. "Hunt down the other men! The thieves."

The beast let loose with another hideous bellow. But it stopped and turned, lashing its tail as a final protest. Its leathery wings stretched out to their full width, brushing the trees tops on either side of the road. The dragon took off down the road in the opposite direction, leaving a trail of fire behind it.

Meladen slumped, letting the reins falling slack over the mules' backs. With the open road ahead of them and the dragon behind them, the mules didn't need guidance any more. "Sidain, are you all right?" She released the spell binding Sidain's voice.

"Yes. But that man is still following us."
"I don't think we need to worry about him. He’s just glad to escape the rogues, as we are." Her voice sounded exhausted.
The mules threw themselves into their harness and labored hard as they climbed up out of the valley. Sidain hung on to the edge of the wagon and peered over the edge, back the way they had come. The entire valley forest looked like it was on fire now.

"Will Shaiss come back?" she wondered, out loud.

"Eventually. When she has completed her task."

"What is she really? A woman, or that terrible creature?"

"I don't really know," Meladen muttered, and slapped the reins across the mules' backs again to keep them running.

Okay, seriously now - I'd prefer genuine feedback rather than just kindness. Worth saving? Any suggestions?
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