for the Bookworms, for the Writers

DNA of a writer: how my reading affects my writing

Last week I shared my top 10 books and their commonalities. Now you get to see the top 3 elements that are in more than half of my favorite books.

*Props to Maggie Schoepke guessing there’s a supernatural element in my fav books.
I don’t specify it that way here, but that’s definitely related to these.*

Are you ready? 🙂

The halfway point: Huge cast of characters forced together towards a common goal

  • 6 instances in 5 books

A slew of characters stories intersecting towards one common goal. Often by force, involuntarily, or unwittingly. Often that means multiple protagonists, multiple storylines (see above), etc. If you like stories that span many different characters and their own stories being intertwined, half of my reading list is for you 🙂

 

Very prevalent: Two different worlds

  • 8 instances in 6 books

This element ties in well with the above one, so it’s no surprise that it pops up again and again. Two different worlds doesn’t necessarily mean fantasy (although there is that in my list.) I have so many different genres in my list of favorites, but this theme came into play in different ways: fantastical world, parallel universe of the real world, psychological world versus real world, dual timelines, two perspectives of the same story, etc. If you want to see things from more than one lens, you might like some of my favorite books 🙂

 

The most common element {brace yourself…}: Blurred line between what is real & what is not

  • 11 instances in 7 books

If you choose to read one of the books from my list, you will statistically speaking likely see this element in play in some way 🙂

 

Though I have so many different genres represented in my favorites, there is a blurred line between real-world and not-real-world in many of these. Sometimes it’s a magical universe or an alternate reality. Sometimes the reader is unsure if it’s all in the character’s head: dream, imagination, or madness. Sometimes the story leaves the reader questioning if something magical is going on or if there’s a logical explanation that’s hidden. Sometimes there’s 2 different realities and no idea as to which one is real. Many of my favorite stories leave the reader unsure – sometimes until the end of the story, and sometimes the question is never even answered. If you want to question reality, my favorite books list might be for you 🙂

 

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This reminds me:

636028406905523050-1310144539_supernatural pic

 

Did any of the above sound familiar?

Three of my favorite TV shows share the above elements to some degree:

  • LOST
  • Heroes
  • Vampire Diaries

 

 So I think I’m onto something here 🙂 

 

Now that I have my list of all the things that I really love in books (and also apparently TV shows) and how that may affect my writing style…

What I tend to write – #MyWriteDNA if you will:

I write quirks, obsession, madness, misfits, strangers, and unbelonging. I write bigger than life stories….where small nuances change everything. I write community. I write to connect: characters to each other, disparaging ideas, and narrator to reader. I write awe and surprise and emotion and detachment. I write stories of questioning realities. I write lies and truth. I write the horror between the lines. I write unease and tension. I walk the line between reality and enchantment. Magical realism. Hope, crushed and fulfilled.

 

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for the Bookworms, for the Writers

DNA of a writer: My top 10 books

Ahh, the dreaded question: “What’s your favorite book?”

Rachel Giesel was kind enough to expand it to “What’s your top 5 favorite books?”

I’m taking part in a free online course to figure out my writerly DNA – analyzing who I am, what I read, and what I write to come up with who I am as a writer. #MyWriteDNA if you will. And because I have a website for such a time as this, I thought I’d share with you my favorite books and their themes that contribute to my writing style.

Top 5 favorite books:

  1. The Map of Time (sci-fi series by Felix J Palma)
  2. Arena (speculative fiction by Karen Hancock)
  3. Night Garden (magical realism by Lisa Van Allen)
  4. Then and Always (romantic suspense by Dani Atkins)
  5. Inkheart Trilogy (fantasy YA series by Cornelia Funke)

Because I had a top 10 and somewhat-arbitrarily decided on a top 5 from that list, I give you….

The runners-up:

  1. The 13th Tale (gothic suspense by Diane Setterfield)
  2. Sinner (spiritual thriller by Ted Dekker)
  3. Godmother: the Secret Cinderella Story (modern fairytale retelling by Carolyn Turgeon)
  4. The Shadow Children series (dystopian YA series by Margaret Peterson Haddix)
  5. The Book of Lost Things (fantasy quest by John Connolly)

 

After I picked my favorite books, I analyzed them. I wrote down any elements of the story that immediately popped to mind, be it themes, style, characterization, plot points, etc. These are elements so prevalent that I remembered them off the top of my head, so there may be even more commonalities I’ve forgotten 🙂

 (Note in regard to spoilers: To avoid blatant spoilers, this section will not call out specifically which books have which elements. Of course if you read this section, you will know that any of the above books have some of these elements, but you won’t know which ones. None of these elements are along the lines of “The main character dies at the end” or something hugely spoiler-y. If a main character dies at the end of one of these books, well, I won’t be the one to tell you, muahaha.)

 

The small stuff:

Okay, so this isn’t very small. That more than one of my favoritest of favorite books has these elements probably makes it noteworthy, but it’s still less noteable than what you’ll see in my next blogpost. Anyway, here’s a snapshot of some commonalities:

  • 1 book has an investigative reporter. This is just one book, but that’s a key part of my work-in-progress, so I thought I’d include it in this list 🙂
  • 2 books involve a quest
  • 2 books have the theme of the power of words or story
  • 2 books have a small political change that greatly alters everything
  • 2 books are allegorical, but not preachy
  • 3 books have a noteable narrator – unreliable and/or chats directly with the reader
  • 3 books have romance as a prevalent sideplot – not the main deal, but still a deal
  • 4 books break the 4th wall (haha, 4 & 4)
  • 5 books are of epic proportions, involving an entire world
  • 5 books have changing alliances and deal with the question of who to trust

 

So there’s a snapshot of what I like in my reading and my writing. My next blogpost shows the top 3 elements that were in over half of the books on my favorites list, and then I also include what that actually looks like in my writing.

Any guesses as to the top 3 common elements? First to guess correctly in the comments gets major kudos from me and a shout-out in next week’s post 🙂

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Musings

Strangers: A Secret Society

Who hasn’t wanted to be part of a secret society?
I’m a writer and educator, specifically for high schoolers. I can’t do that alone. I need teenagers on the inside. I’ve created a facebook group to talk about weird writerly, readerly, teacherly, or weirderly things. I ask questions, my secret society of teenagers answer. Also includes exclusive material on my story and writing tips.

 

Are you a teenager who’d want to participate? Know a teenager that’s into stories (whether reading, writing, telling, or watching)? Join my secret society….message me! Vacancies currently open.

 

for the Bookworms, for the Writers, Showcasing other Creatives

Book Review: The World Split Open

Great Authors on How and Why We Write

This is a collection of speeches (in written form) on how and why we write. I have to admit some of the transcript seemed odd to have been spoken – it made me wonder if it was altered for text or if the person who spoke it planned in out on paper without thinking of how it’d come across orally. Then there were other parts that seemed more spoken than written. It was an interesting balance.

World Split Open

The speeches were given anywhere between 1988 to 2012. Some seemed outdated, but not in a way that made it less interesting, just in a way that made me wish there was a continuation of what this means now. For instance, “No, but I saw the Movie.” First given in 1999, much has changed, progressed in the book-to-movie world, and I wonder what new revelations there are.

Some speeches I loved, some I found more boring, and each was unexpected. So many great stories to be told in these pages. All of them made me think – of writing, of reading, and of humanity. Here’s some of my favorite quotes:

From “On Beauty” – My theory of narrative as a fundamental act of consciousness implies to me that paranoia might be entrapment in a bad narrative, and depression may be the inability to sustain narrative.

From “Childhood of a Writer”….(and you must read the story that led up to this quote!) – I believe nothing of any beauty or truth comes of a piece of writing without the author’s thinking he has sinned against something – propriety, custom, faith, privacy, tradition, political orthodoxy, historical fact, literary convention, or indeed, all the prevailing community standards together.

From “305 Marguerite Cartright Avenue” – And so my best friend, in her complaining, said to me, “Well, just kill the character already so we can hang out!” And I said, “What are you talking about?” And she said, “Well, in your writing somebody always has to die.” And I wasn’t quite sure how to take that – I was quite taken aback, actually – and then I thought about it for awhile, and I realized, you know, she is right.

for the Bookworms, Stories

A Poem: Analyze This

One of the first moments where I felt I could actually be a successful writer (read: read writer) was when I was published in my college’s student publication Impressions. As if publication was not enough, I tied for second place in that issue with my best college friend. While it was a small accomplishment, I’m still quite proud of my poem. I feel like it sums up my college career, as well as conveys my view on the importance and tension of Author/Reader/Text interpretation. Enjoy!

 

A Poem: Analyze This

 
You pick up a poem and start reading.

          Perhaps you take pleasure in the written word,

          perhaps you wish to appear intelligent,

          or perhaps you were unaware of the content

          until you’d begun.

Regardless, you’re reading now.

Refusing to be bested by mere words on a page,

you begin your subconscious mission

          to conquer the text,

          crack the code,

          find the pirate’s elusive X.

Perhaps you start with the author – me.

          You find that I recently ended

          a serious relationship with a devoted fan,

          which suggests the poem is written

          in first and second person to design

          a connection between reader and writer,

          compensating for the woeful solitude I now face.

          (Funny, if I had my biography contain different

          facts – I was in the middle of Calvino’s

          If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller

          while writing the poem,

          or I receive brilliant writing ideas at 2:30am,

          only to wake up later and realize

          “Why Wrestling a Hippo is an Artistic Prey”

          doesn’t even make sense as a sentence,

          let alone as a writing topic –

          you would come up with an entirely

          different reading of my poem.)

I’m sure how much I’ve published

before will affect your reading as well.

          Since I’ve never been published,

          your reaction may be

          “no wonder it’s a simple failure”

          or perhaps “why isn’t more of her literary genius

          published?…the brilliant complexities!”

But enough about me.

You’ve finally decided

to look at the poem itself.

What do you think of its length?

          You decide the poem’s concepts

          are exquisitely drawn out and explored.

          Or you think the author – I –

          didn’t edit enough to cut out

          the useless nonsense from the gems.

Of course you look at imagery, too.

          A fighting hippo, fortune teller,

          and treasure-hunting pirate come to your mind.

          Perhaps the poem conveys the problem

          with stereotyping and making assumptions

          from one aspect of a person’s life.

          (And I am sure one day, critics will debate

          if “fighting hippo” refers to an African version

          of Steve Irwin or to sumo wrestlers.

          But that’s beside the point.)

By now you may have a mental image

of me as a crazed gypsy, gazing

into a crystal ball, what with my mix

of predicting and guiding your thoughts

the entire time. Or maybe the “you” I refer to

is no longer you, the reader you, but another “you”

than you, “you” merely being “you” the reader, “you,”

of my imagination, while you are flesh-and-blood

you. But let me assure you, actual reader, in case

you are troubled – I am not in your head.

Now on you go with your reading; after all,

it would be a shame for your analysis

to end so soon. So you move on,

tackling my use of rhyme scheme.

          You discover that rhyme is rarely used,

          but alliteration needs no X to be noticed.

          P’s in “pick up a poem,”

          B’s in “be bested by,”

          X’s in “exquisitely explored,”

          or B’s in “bunch of bull,” among many others.

          You pick up the notion that a struggle is being

          explored in these phrases, perhaps a tension

          between the deepness of text

          and the exquisite ideas actually conveyed.

          Or maybe that’s a bunch of bull utilized

          to convince you that this one poem

          of mine has some literary value.

But wouldn’t it irk you, dear reader,

to get to the last page of my lengthy biography,

after multiple readings and careful critical analysis

of my only poem, only to discover that I

had written the entire thing in just one brief sitting?

 

 

 

What do you think?

Where do we find out interpretation of writings? Through authorial intent, through text alone, through reader engagement? Share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear.

for the Bookworms, for the Writers

Hateable Characters

I just finished reading A Map of the World. I have very mixed feelings about it. The plot didn’t seem to go anywhere. The ending was anti-climactic. Yet the theme was excellently portrayed without being in-your-face. And I was interested enough to finish the book.

www.goodreads.com
www.goodreads.com

The most confusing part for me though was the characterization. The protagonist Alice was so off-putting, along with just about all of the other characters.

Describing her husband as reeking of manure from farming, tromping into the house with manure-covered shoes, later even entering the hospital for a visit with manure-covered shoes. Just shower already! Take the boots off at the door.

Or her daughter Emma who is a total brat, and she realizes it but just gives up. I wanted to whack her upside the head and tell her how to raise her child. Don’t give her breakfast after she throws it! Or better yet, tell her to eat off the floor what she threw down there….oh wait, no there’s probably manure all over it now.

And also every time Alice goes into a long monologue (which is often, she doesn’t listen well), I can’t help but think of Mrs. Marcus in the movie It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, jabbering away about absolutely nothing – only Alice isn’t funny.

Then there’s the kid Robbie who is a terror later to a preposterous extent, but I can’t see how he was specifically a terror back when Alice smacks him. A kid just standing there refusing to answer a question is frustrating, but really, slapping him over that? But Alice goes on and on the first few chapters about what a horrendous kid he always is.

Yet I read the entire book.

And it gets me thinking. These characters aren’t heroic. They’re not your likeable character with a couple flaws to make it realistic. No, they’re actually realistic.

Sure there’s people in the world that are like likeable characters in stories. But most? Most people have something that will drive you crazy if you stay with them for 200 pages of their life story. Many people in the world will jabber on and on to where you just want to make them shut up (me included, sorry.) Many parents will have days where they give up on their kid behaving and just try to placate them to get through the day. Many people have moments where they want to slap someone over something small, just because it was the last straw – all the little daily nuisances piling up to an unbearable height.

I’m not sure I liked the story. I’m certain I didn’t like the characters, except maybe Lizzie or Claire, the 2-yr-olds. I was frustrated and angry at the characters, wanting to strangle them or yell or run away, for the entire book. But maybe this story had some worth, something that held me, because I had to admit that I probably encounter more people like this, and am more a person like this, than any of my favorite characters from other stories. I don’t know if that makes this story alright or not. Maybe that means the story is crap. I don’t know.

 

Your Turn:

Have you read any books with unlikeable characters you’re pretty sure you were supposed to root for? What do you think – is this more real-world portrayal, and do we want that in books? is this type of chracterization crap writing or genius writing?

for the Bookworms, for the Writers

Unique Book Promotion

 
 

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This is the facebook status I found recently on my newsfeed from Ted Dekker. This might make a little more sense if you knew he has a new book coming out called Hacker. (Big hint: It also might make more sense if you looked up the binary code.) Needless to say, I would certainly go as far as google, plus a couple clicks.

www.goodreads.com
www.goodreads.com

 

I love seeing great promotional ideas for books. This one made me all giddy.

 – A “secret” code (okay, a google search away – but you still have to want it!)

 – A story hook

 – A pseudo-pun within the code (“How far would you go?”)

All the makings of a great promotion in my book (haha. ha. ha. ahem…) 

 

I can’t bring up this discussion without thinking of the “Carrie” movie promotion last year. A telekinetic prank at a coffee shop – unique, entertaining, and unforgettable. While this was a promotional idea for the film, it seems to resonate with me as another great idea for promoting a book.

Here’s what I wanna know: What’s a unique book or movie promotion idea that really grabbed you?

for the Creatives, for the Writers

Why I Do What I Do

I thought it fitting that I start this blog with an explanation. The book A Year of Writing Dangerously is full of inspiration for writers and ends with a list of 52 writer’s prompts – one for each week of the year. Number 12 asks to write about why we want to write.

My Response:

I want to write because I want to create. I want control. I want to be okay with losing control.

I want to write because I want to escape. I want to explore. I want to imagine.

I want to write because I want to have deep relationship without risk. I want to know and be known, even if I have to fake it through characters.

I want to write because I want to be heard. I want to write because I want you to see me. I want to write because I don’t want to be me.

I want to write because I want to read. I want to understand Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, and Neil Gaiman. I want to write because I want to learn. I want to be a lifelong student, no really.

I want to write because I want to teach. I want to write because I want to think. I want to write because I want to feel.

I want to write because I want to be a part of something bigger. I want to be someone of lasting significance, if only to one person.

I want to write because I have a story. I want to write because I have many stories no one else will have, and all must be told. I want to write because I want to work with words and talking doesn’t work so well.

I want to write because I want an explanation for my quirks. I want to write because I want to have a reason for the pain. I want to write because I want to say, “I told you so.”

I want to write because I hate routine. I want to write because I want to live.

Your Response:

If you’re a writer, why do you write? If you’re a reader, why do you read? If you’re neither, why do you do what you do? Comment below to join the conversation.