Inside the Character’s Head

The narrative is a very important part of a novel for obvious reasons.  If there were no narrative, it would be like a script for a play or movie.  But what happens in the narrative is mostly a description of the action, the setting, the people, and also their thoughts.  It’s the thoughts that I find difficult to create a good balance.

As I’ve been reading novels, I’ve noticed different writing styles when it comes to the narrative, word choice, and so on.  I finished a book by Peter F. Hamilton and started one by Terry Brooks.  The style difference is so vast that it’s easy to see what they do differently.  I find that Hamilton is very wordy when it comes to technical descriptions.  He uses a lot of complex language that could go over the heads of some readers.  He does a good job with characters’ thoughts, as well.  I find he meshes the thoughts with the narrative very well.

Terry Brooks, on the other hand, uses the narrative to talk about the characters’ thoughts and feelings the majority of the time.  It feels like he tells a lot more than other authors.  I’ve always been told to show, not tell.  He tells a lot about what happened in the previous book, if it’s a trilogy, and he tells about the character’s background and what they’d done in the past.  It’s not that it’s bad, he seems to make it easy to read and understand.  However, he’s been criticised in the past for his writing style.  But I cannot deny that his characters are likable and sympathetic.  I actually really like his characters and have been a fan of his for quite some time.  While reading his books, I’ve noticed that he shares the thoughts of the characters a lot.  You know what they’re thinking all the time.

While Hamilton jumps from character to character in a single scene, betraying their thoughts and feelings to the reader, Brooks tends to focus on on only a handful of characters’ thoughts.  I know what everyone’s thinking in Hamilton’s books.  There’s no mystery in that.  But Brooks’ books are more selective, and I don’t always know what others are thinking.

When it comes to my own writing, I prefer to stick with one character in each scene.  I don’t want to use the third person omniscient point of view.  I want to get into one character’s head, not everyone’s.  But that’s just my style.

What do you think?  Which do you prefer?

Book Review – The Flute Keeper

theflutekeeperThe Flute Keeper by Ashley Setzer is the first book in the ongoing The Flute Keeper Saga.  It’s a fantasy novel set in the Fay Kingdom on a parallel world to our Earth.

Uh-oh.  Parallel world.  It seems I read a lot of these recently when it comes to new authors and fantasy books.  It seems to be a very common theme, especially with young adult books where the main character is a teenager from our world who magically gets transported to another world that’s filled with magic and monsters.  Well, this is no different in that aspect.  However, as much as I worry when I start reading these books, I was pleasantly surprised.

Emma Wren is a teenage girl with a smart mouth and an attitude who goes searching for her father who was kidnapped by some magic-using evil man from another world.  She gets transported to the world of the Fay and soon realises that she’s entering a dangerous situation involving the Fay and the Slaugh (just how do you pronounce that?).  While she’s gone there to search for her dad, she discovers her connection with this world.  Emma is a refreshing character that shows a good amount of development, although she does lack some self-control and gets herself into trouble.  She meets a couple antagonistic characters that would be important to her quest to find her father, including Lev Hartwig, the young Slaugh who turns out to be not so bad, and the Fay princess Chloe, who is a stuck-up, spoiled princess (kind of stereotypical) who proves to be a likable character.  I found that the majority of the good characters are very likable.  While there are some pretty dark themes that involve the deaths of some important people, the main characters keep it lighter and they provide a good deal of humour.  Setzer used a good balance of humour and seriousness.

The story is pretty straightforward without many surprises, but I feel that this is just a set up for the rest of the story.  This is a good introduction to the world and some of the peoples.  Emma just wants to find her father and it seems that everyone is trying to judge whether she’s telling the truth or should just be locked away.  She has to learn who to trust and finds some good friends.  While it’s not complex, the story is easy to read, and I always felt like I wanted to know what was going to happen next.  That’s a good thing.

The world of Faylinn is interesting.  The main races are not human at all.  The Fay and Slaugh are human-like, but have their differences.  The Fay seem elf-like, which is unsurprising, because Fay can be another word for elf.  I could clearly imagine how the world looked.  Setzer did a good job with describing the world, and I’m interested in seeing more of it.  I like exploring.

With that said, I do want to read more.  I want to see what the future has in store for Emma, Lev, and Chloe.  I want to find out if there are more races and lands.  I really enjoyed reading this book.  I would recommend it to fantasy fans who like a light read, as well as young adult readers.  I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Eric

ericEric is Terry Pratchett’s 9th Discworld book, and it’s a pretty short one.  It also features the return of the popular character Rincewind.  I like Rincewind, but does he make this book good?

As with Pratchett’s other Discworld novels, this is a parody of several themes, including Faust (the title of this book is alternately Faust Eric), Dante’s Inferno, and Homer’s Iliad.  It involves Rincewind (and his Luggage) getting pulled out of the Dungeon Dimensions by a young demonologist, Eric.  Eric, thinking Rincewind is a demon, commands him to do three things for him.  It’s through these commands that we’re treated to the humourous journey that Eric and Rincewind take through various places and times.  That’s all I can really say without spoiling the story.

The main characters are, of course, Rincewind and Eric.  Rincewind is his usual inept self, unable to conjure up a spell, and just plain making a mess of things.  Eric is a teenager who thinks of himself as a demonologist, although he isn’t very good, either.  He is also quite naive, doesn’t listen well, and doesn’t seem to learn well, either.  Death makes an appearance at the beginning, but that’s all.  Then there’s the demon king Astfgl who seems to love paperwork and bureaucracy.  Doesn’t seem very much like Hell, does it?  There’s a lot of other more minor characters that show up, as well.  I like Rincewind, of course.  He’s probably my favourite character of Discworld at the moment.  Eric, I didn’t really care about.  If he lived or died, it didn’t matter to me.

Usually, a Discworld book is a winner with me.  However, this is probably the first time I have to say that is not so.  While it was mildly humourous, it featured Rincewind, and the situations were ridiculous, the story felt quite muddled and unfocused.  It jumped around a lot, and I just couldn’t get into it like Pratchett’s other books.  Sure, I liked it.  I enjoyed it.  But it wasn’t that funny.

I’d still recommend it to fans of Pratchett.  But I wouldn’t use it to introduce Discworld to anyone.  It is a very quick read, though.  It won’t take much time at all.  Overall, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist

himynameislocoHi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist is  part memoir, part social commentary written by fellow Japan resident Baye McNeil.  He talks about his experiences ranging from his childhood in New York, his time in the Army, and teaching English in Japan.  But throughout this book, there is one common theme: racism.

He starts the book off with something most foreigners in Japan experience, the empty seat on a train.  It’s quite obvious that the reason is that he’s a black man in the homogeneous Japanese culture.  He returns to the empty seat several times throughout the book, sometimes as an enemy, sometimes as a friend.  He talks about his experience with racism not only in Japan, but also growing up and living in pre-911 New York.  But it’s not all about racism against him, it’s more about how he and everyone else in the world has some degree of racism within them.  Everyone judges others in some way based on their race.  I understand what he’s talking about, although his experiences are far more difficult than I’ve experienced.

It all sounds very serious, but Baye uses a lot of humour in his writing.  There are several conversations with a Japanese person throughout the book, many times humourous, but also perplexing. It shows how many people in Japan have such little experience with cultures outside Japan, they don’t understand a foreigner’s point of view.

I found his childhood experience growing up in New York to be fascinating.  It’s totally outside of my own experiences that I found it engrossing.  I learned a lot about life in 1980s New York City, at least his life.  His writing made it vivid.  I could picture everything he described, I felt like I was with him.  I could sense his feelings during his childhood, his time in the Army, his experiences dating with someone of a different race, and most of all, Aiko.  It was an emotional roller coaster.

The writing style is pretty conversational, and he sometimes rambled on quite a bit.  But it was natural sounding and very candid.  I felt like he was opening himself up to anyone who reads this.  You not only learn about him, but I think you also learn a bit about yourself while reading.  It forces you to think about whether you are racist, even a tiny little bit.

I would recommend this to a variety of people, those who live in Japan, those who are interested in racial relations, and those who enjoy autobiographies.  It’s a great read, and a great debut book.  Highly recommended.  I’d give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Deliverer

thedelivererThe Deliverer is the first book in The Marenon Chronicles by Jason D. Morrow.  It’s a fantasy novel that follows the popular theme of a modern day teenager being transported to another world.  Is that theme overdone?  I’ve been reading a lot of those it seems.

Well, this book starts out with Silas Ainsley and his grandfather Garland running from some bad guys, who turn out to be some of the main antagonists of the story.  It all starts out with our hero being killed.  It’s not often that a story starts with that, but it’s important in this case.  He’s transported to a world called Marenon, where he searches for his grandfather, and in the process, gets involved with a group of mercenaries searching for something that turns out to be part of Silas’ destiny.  This is a story about a kid who is the chosen one from a prophecy, and he must fulfill it.  It sounds pretty stereotypical, but the world is pretty imaginative.

I found the characters to be a varied group.  Silas, the main character, is a fairly naive teenager with some great sword skills.  He’d been trained by his grandfather without any explanation.  I thought that not only was Silas naive, but he also made a lot of bad choices.  He is far from being a perfect hero.  He is flawed, which is good.  However, I found his judgment to be a bit dimwitted.  In my mind, I was screaming, “Why are you doing that?” Garland is actually a very important figure in Marenon, and seems to show some good intelligence and wisdom.  Julian is a man who has deep pain related to his family history, which also proves to be very important in Marenon.  The mercenaries are a good bunch with some decent development.  There are other characters, but these are the ones that really matter, in my opinion.  The development is good, though some of the characterisations I’m not too fond of, especially Silas.

The story is fairly straightforward, and there aren’t so many surprises.  Not everything is answered in this book, which is a good thing.  It makes me want to read the next.  I have questions I want answered.  The biggest mystery to me is what happened to that other guy who went through the gauntlet with Silas.  Maybe he appears in later parts?  I have no idea, but I’d like to find out.  The pacing of the story was slow to begin with, but picked up later on.  It wasn’t completely consistent.

The world of Marenon is pretty interesting, though I feel underdeveloped at this point.  I’m interested in seeing more of the world.  I like to see what created worlds are like in my mind, and this one felt pretty dark.  I just didn’t really imagine there were bright sunny days, considering a lot of the action took place at night, or so it seemed.  But this is the afterlife, so does it have its own sun?  I just didn’t get the best sense of the environment, though it did feel moody.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes, I found it interesting.  I liked the characters, but didn’t feel much attachment to them.  I thought the idea was imaginative.  The story is good, though not as strong as I’d hoped.  The world needs more development, but I feel I’ll see more in future parts.  Do I recommend it?  Sure!  I think anyone who likes young adult fantasy novels will enjoy this.  Finally, I would give this a solid 3 out of 5 stars.  Good read.  Not amazing, but decent.

A Post a Day?

I’ve tried this before, and succeeded.  I’ve done a post a day for a month.  Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m going to try it again.

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.  I’m not taking part in it, because I’m already involved in writing something, and it’s not a novel.  However, I am substituting that with a post a day.  It could be about my book progress, it could be a book review, it could be an interview.  Mostly likely, it’ll be something completely different, but I hope to tie it in with the overall theme of this blog, which is books and knowledge.  With the posts I have planned for the rest of this month, it should push my post count to 200!

For my followers of Jay Dee in Japan, I haven’t done much there recently.  I’ll be resuming posts there soon, though.  I’ve just been a bit busy with some writing.

Keep coming back before November 1st, though.  I have several posts to come, including several reviews and an interview.

Book Review – 2010: Odyssey Two

20102010: Odyssey Two

Author: Arthur C. Clarke

Series: Space Odyssey #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Published 1982

Review Copy: Paperback bought new

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Goodreads Description

Nine years after the disastrous Discovery mission to Jupiter in 2001, a joint U.S.-Soviet expedition sets out to rendezvous with the derelict spacecraft–to search the memory banks of the mutinous computer HAL 9000 for clues to what went wrong…and what became of Commander Dave Bowman.

Without warning, a Chinese expedition targets the same objective, turning the recovery mission into a frenzied race for the precious information Discovery may hold about the enigmatic monolith that orbits Jupiter.

Meanwhile, the being that was once Dave Bowman–the only human to unlock the mystery of the monolith–streaks toward Earth on a vital mission of its own…


2010: Odyssey Two is the second book of the Space Odyssey series by Arthur C. Clarke.  This science fiction novel is a sequel to the highly successful 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I should make one note about this book.  It’s not actually a direct sequel of the 2001 novel, as that involved Saturn.  However, it’s a sequel of the movie, which went to Jupiter.  This book involves Jupiter. This actually makes a lot of sense, because of the discoveries by the Voyager spacecraft at Jupiter.  It’s a much better fit for what happens in this book.

The cast of characters is quite different this time.  Although it does go in search of HAL and what happened to Dave Bowman, they’re now on a Russian ship with most of the characters being Russian.  The main character is Heywood Floyd, who is from the first book.  He goes on the mission along with HAL’s creator Dr. Chandra and Walter Curnow.  The Russians are dominated by the captain Tanya Orlova, assistant engineer Maxim Brailovsky, Vasili Orlov, and the doctor Katerina Rudenko.  There are a fair number of characters other than them, but these stand out to me.  I quite like Maxim and Walter’s interactions, giving it a bit of a light mood.  Tanya is a strong character, but very likable.  Dr. Chandra is a stereotypical unemotional, withdrawn computer genius who I just can’t connect with.  Dr. Rudenko is a great character, and very likable.  The main character, Dr. Floyd, is a very human character, though I wouldn’t have made the same choice as him to leave his family for this mission.  Overall, the characters are nice, friendly people, but they’re not very deep.  That’s one of my gripes about this book.  I just couldn’t connect with anyone.

The story is pretty straightforward, find Discovery and recover its data.  What they find, though, is a mystery.  And this mystery unfolds as the members of the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov watch what happens, something I won’t spoil for anyone.  But it’s a big change, that’s for sure.  I found the story fairly understandable and easy to read.  There are a lot of technical terms, but not too difficult for the average reader.  It’s pretty scientifically accurate with the knowledge of the time.  The only problem is that I felt distant, like I was watching it all from afar.  I didn’t feel like I was part of the action.  The story was interesting, but not engrossing.

This book suffers from not living up to its predecessor.  It was enjoyable and a quick read, but I felt a bit unsatisfied at the end.  I am curious about what’s going to happen with Europa, although that is hinted at the end of the book.

Would I recommend it?  Mildly, yes.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.  It’s readable, enjoyable, but not very engaging.

Book Review – The Great Hunt

thegreathuntThe Great Hunt is the second novel of The Wheel of Time epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan.  I’ve previous reviewed book 1 of the series, The Eye of the World, and this book is a continuation of the story.

Coming off a rather predictable beginning to the series, I was hoping for something deeper and less predictable.  That’s exactly what I got.  The story continues where the first one left off, with Rand al’Thor struggling to come to terms with who he is, and a beginning of another journey for him and his friends.  This time, they’re to deliver the Horn of Valere, but of course, their plans don’t exactly happen the way they hoped.  While the first book was a fairly straightforward and simple story about a reluctant hero, this one is a much more complex and compelling story about a hero who hates what he is.  He hates it so much, he denies it to himself, his friends, and all others.  His friends Mat and Perrin have their own troubles they have to come to terms with, as well.  In the first book, they were great friends, but now they all have psychological issues to deal with, and things are no longer cheery for them.  Add in Egwene and Nynaeve with their new quest to become Aes Sedai, and more mysterious actions by Moiraine, and we have a story with multiple subplots.  One great thing is that we get to see what goes on in the lives of the Aes Sedai.  My, what a lovely dysfunctional family they seem to be.  Jordan did a great job with the story in this book, and developed the characters very well.

The world in this series continues to reveal itself, and I’m very intrigued about every part of it.  I love fantasy worlds, and this one seems so well done with many different kinds of people and cultures.  Tar Valon, the Aes Sedai city, was very interesting.  I want to see more of it.  Cairhien proved to be a paranoid city that I would not want to live in.  The Aiel made an appearance, which I was waiting for.  I’m wondering if we’ll see much of them in future installments.  But the coming of the Seanchan provides another enemy to focus on, not just for Rand, but also for the Aes Sedai.  We’ve got a rich variety of people and places.

Being a continuation of a series, there’s a big overall story, but each book needs to have a complete story itself.  The Great Hunt does well at having a good self-contained story, but also to be only one piece of the greater picture.  The final battle of this book was a surprise.  I wasn’t expecting that at all.  It’s going to be interesting to see how things go from here.

The Great Hunt was pretty good.  I think it was better than the first book.  Anyone who gave up halfway through The Eye of the World should try again, and then read this book.  I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.  It’s worth it!

I’d give this a full 5 out of 5 stars.  Great read!

New Review List

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I like lists.  Well, I’ve made a new one for the reviews.  If you’re interested in seeing my progress through book series, you can check it out here.  It’s also in the Review menu at the top.

More reviews to come.  I have a bit of a backlog, but I’ve been reading a lot.  I have 6 completed books, which means 6 reviews coming soon.  Make that 7, as I’m about to finish another book. If possible, I’d like to post all 7 this month.  Can I do it? Keep checking back here!

The Advantages of Critique Groups

In my writing, I find critique groups to be invaluable resources.  They are very useful for several reasons, but they are also not a replacement for editors or beta readers. I use Critique Circle usually, but I’m interested in trying out Scribophile, as well.

Critique Circle has been wonderful for me so far.  I recently used it to critique part of Journey to Ariadne, and will be using it for the next part soon.  The critiques vary from short and marginally useful to very detailed and constructive.  I’ve found that it helps me to gauge how readers see my writing, and it’s streamlined my narrative and dialogue.  I’ve learned quite a bit from it.  The way it works is that you can submit a work for 3 points to be critiqued.  Over a week, other users can critique your writing.  But you need to critique other people’s writing to be able to post more.  You can gain 1 or 2 points, depending on if the work is more or less than 3000 words.  There’s an active forum for discussions, as well as several useful tools.

Scribophile seems very promising.  I’ve signed up, but have yet to use it.  It’s similar to Critique Circle in that you post your works for points and critique others’ works to receive points, or karma.  But what I like about Scribophile is the Academy.  It has several useful articles on writing that should help any writer improve how they write. Of course, it also has forums and other useful tools.  They say you are guaranteed at least 3 useful critiques, but most likely far more than that.  I’ll have to try it out with my next part.

Critiques are a great way to check how others perceive your writing.  They’re not for fixing grammatical or spelling errors, but they’re for helping you hone your style, flow, characterization, and more.  Got a problem with too much passive?  It’ll be caught.  Not using semicolons correctly?  That will be caught, too.  There’s so much that they can do to help.  You also become part of a community.  And within that community, you can start to get some followers, people who will stick with your story until the end, if you’re writing a novel.  The objective isn’t to encourage the writer by saying it’s wonderful or engaging, but to point out mistakes, find difficult to understand passages, and help improve delivery.

To make the most out of critique groups, you have to be active.  Not only do you need to post stories, but you need to read.  There’s a give and take in this kind of community.  Returning critiques is encouraged.  The more you critique, the more critiques you will receive.  Not only do you learn new techniques from the critiques, but you also learn better writing by critiquing others.

There’s one concern that some people may have: Is my writing safe?  These two workshop websites I’ve recommended require people to register to be able to view stories.  Copyright is protected, and remains solely the writer’s.  You can even keep your writing private and only viewable by a select few who you trust.  It’s up to you how public it is, though it’ll never be truly public.

I will probably continue to use these sites for all of Journey to Ariadne.  After two rounds of critiques, my third draft will be posted on my official website.
Comments are always welcome!