Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When to Hit the Backspace Key: Controversy in Your Writing

You’re relaxing on Twitter or Facebook, or surfing some blogs, when you see a post that catches your eye. Smiling, you type out the witty comment that popped into your head…

                And then the doubts take hold. This isn’t as funny as I thought. This reply is dumb. This person probably doesn’t want me commenting on their status anyway. What if it actually offends them?

                You hit the backspace key, and flitter over to another site.

                I’ve been doing this a lot lately. And for the most part, I think it’s probably smart that I’ve been doing this. In real life, I often blurt things out long before those doubts pop up, and usually get an odd stare or two because of it (because people at my school  don’t understand things like Nerdfighteria, or the wonders of writing-talk… Or because I simply said something dumb). On the internet, I can usually check myself before saying something too stupid.

                But there are those statuses on Facebook, and those comments on blog posts where I spend more than a few minutes writing my comment, altering word choices, trying different variations in the hopes that one will sound better… And then I just give up, and go to some other site, and feel a little hollow for a while. The double-doubts set in. Well, there was two minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Maybe I should’ve posted it after all. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. And it wouldn’t have really mattered even if it was dumb; I’ve said plenty of dumb stuff before.

                That’s for the little things. A mere two wasted minutes. Then there are the bigger things. Rough blog posts that never make it online. Short stories that fizzle out after a few mediocre pages. Most recently, my Choir teacher put out a call for people involved with the musical to try their hand at making a shirt design for our production of Alice in Wonderland.

                Lots of heads turned my way. The girl next to me elbowed me a little. And I blushed, and thought “Nah, I’m not gonna do that.” Then I started doodling later on. And I started to think, “Well… Maybe I will try it.” Approached my Choir teacher, promised to whip something up over the weekend.

                Got home and realized it was going to be much harder than I’d imagined.

                I’m still not entirely happy with how it’s turned out, but I showed it to my choir teacher on Monday anyway, despite those doubts that converged on me ever since I began. If my design turns into the shirt design, my classmates in drama will be wearing it. On their bodies. And if they do not like the shirt, they will kill me and devour everything I love. O.O

                Can you tell I’m a little stressed about this possibility?

                Putting a design on a shirt feels infinitely more solid, and tangible, and permanent than a dumb little one-liner on Twitter.

                So what about novels? How much more stressful is it to be spending so much time on this thing, with no guarantee that it will be accepted by readers, publishers, agents, friends, or family members. How can we write dark dystopian stories that we might have to explain to our grandma someday? Should I write characters contrary to what I believe, just to relate to another demographic? How can we make a character like this without offending all the living, breathing people who go through the same things every day? Maybe I should just forget about this story, and go onto something else.

                Something less controversial. Something ‘safe.’

                So. When do we stick with something, regardless of who’s going to see it, and when is it best to hit the backspace key?

                Like I said, this is a topic I’ve been thinking about more and more lately. I’m still trying to find my balance. On the one hand, I think we should write for ourselves first and foremost. Get our thoughts on paper, and don’t worry about what other people will think just yet. Wait for that until revision.

                But on the other hand, I don’t think we should just plunge into a topic completely disregarding our potential audience. Certain things are taboo, and if you write about them you’re just asking to be challenged.

                For example, addressing serious, controversial topics in graphic detail – in a children’s book, or writing about how Hitler is the greatest hero the world’s ever known. Books like this might show up, but they will no doubt offend people. If you plan on publishing your book, think about how much controversy you’re willing to handle. If your book addresses something very controversial, think about whether you’ve handled the subject appropriately. A book that places Hitler as a hero or a victim might be interesting, if handled the right way, in that it would shove your mind into another point of view. But a book that celebrates the acts Hitler committed and implies that the author truly thinks he was in the right…

                Sometimes, it’s necessary to make a judgment call.

                So, some questions to ask yourself during revision, when you’re thinking more about your audience:

1)      Am I going to offend a majority of people (or, quite literally, everyone) with this?

2)      Am I addressing sensitive topics as tactfully as I can?

And now, some more questions:

How do you handle controversial topics in your books? Do you handle controversial topics in your books? How do you find balance? Do you worry about it while you’re writing, or think about it more during revision, or do you not think about it at all?

PS. Apologies for the bleh-ness of this, and for the fact that it's been a while since my last post. School musical, college applications, etc. I'm lucky if I have time to work on my novels, let alone write a blog post. I'll try to continue updating regularly, but at times once a week might be about as much as I can handle. XD Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conversing with Characters

“I don't know who my characters are anymore. They used to be so alive for me…I would speak to them all the time, and I would swear I hear their answers…Now… My characters don't speak to me anymore. I don't know who they are. Don't know what they want, and I don't know how to get that spark back.”

                So said my friend Tanya in this blogpost a few days ago. I posted a brief comment there, but since it was something I’d been thinking about a lot myself recently, I decided to share a more thorough explanation with all you fine people.

                You’re writing a story, and it’s coming along steadily. Not good, but not bad either.

                Then it happens. A flash of inspiration. Words that are not your own. And your character blurts out something so uniquely them that your fingers stall on the keys; you’re astounded by your own genius.

                It’s a good feeling. Bad news is, these moments can be few and far in-between. And once you get a taste of it, you’ll never stop yearning for those words that surface all on their own.

                So how do we reclaim some of this feeling when we’re struggling to understand our characters? Well… Girls, any ideas?

                Viss: The answer’s simple enough. Talk to us.

                Ambria: Indeed. How would you expect us to cooperate with your plans if you don’t even take the time to understand our position?

                Shaysha: Yeah. I mean, I keep telling ya’. I’m not stupid enough to risk my life for Brihn, even if I do lo-- … o///o

                Corliss: Oooooh… XD *insane little chuckle* Someone’s got a secret. I’m good with those. Just ask Tristan. Or her little rebel friend in the stables. Kept his secret for a long time. ^^

                Starting to see what I mean? Viss is very straight-forward, and a bit superior. Ambria is very proper. Shaysha uses a more casual tone, and Corliss… Well, Corliss is just plain crazy. :) (And I love her for it. Her backstory is going to be my NaNoWriMo novel this year). Four characters from four very different novels. Each with their own way of responding to a situation.

                Start a conversation with your characters. It doesn’t have to be a scene from your book. It can be a conversation about anything. Talk about your day. Don’t just listen. Talk back.

                I’ve been trying this method myself, recently, so here’s some bits and pieces of my conversation with a character from one of the short stories I’ve been polishing. I set it up like a chat, just like you’d have with anyone online. Comments in green.

                Silent_pages: Hi

                StickyFingers79: Greetings, internet person. What’s up with you? [Just coming up with a username for your characters can be interesting. Even if they live in a world without internet access, try to think about what they would choose for their name if they did.]

                SP: Nothing much. Got a novel I’m working on and some other stuff. You?

                SF: You a writer? That’s cool. As for me… I guess the same thing that’s ‘up’ with everybody else.

                SP: The star thing? Yeah, lol, I guess. I write scifi, so it’s weird to be… You know. Living it.

                SF: LOL

                SP: You can laugh about it? Not many people can. [Lead the conversation. You can put in things about yourself, to keep the atmosphere normal, but also ask a lot of questions, like you’re trying to get them to think about stuff. Because that will make you think about stuff.]

                SF: Ah… Yeah. Well. What else can I do?

[The conversation went on, just like any other chat, and I found out more about this character’s sense of humor, her mom, her tendencies to skip school.  But the real fun began when I added a character from a fantasy short story.]

                SwimmerseyesOO: Hey, what’s up?

                SP: NM. U?

                SF: World Ending. U?

                SE8: Creature taking over my village. Idiots.

                SP: What kind of creature?

                SE8: The kind that’ll be dead soon if it don’t knock it off.

                SF: Lol. Go after the star-killer next.

                SE8: Sure, if I can find it, lol. I have bad eyes.

                SF: No prob, no prob. Our scientists can’t find it either. *facepalm*

                [LATER, the conversation turned deeper.]

                SF: I don’t need help. I feel fine the way I am. I like stealing. I’m good at it. But people don’t get that. My mom thinks I need to be ‘fixed’.

                SE8: At least there are people who would actually try to fix you. Peeps in my village were clueless even before the creature’s spell took hold. I mean, I’ve always kind of been on the edge. Like, I’m blind. What are they supposed to do with me? What am I going to do for a job someday? That’s why I like to swim. You don’t really need to see for that.

                [END OF SELECTION]

                See how little I had to prompt the conversation toward the end? All of a sudden, these characters from very different scenarios were turning into best friends. They continued to talk, getting to know each other, discussing school, their communities, the way they feel about everything under the sun.

                Will everything be incorporated into your story? Probably not. But all that information will be in your head, shaping their every action.

                Will it always be easy, figuring out how your character will respond to a certain situation? Probably not. But this exercise might help you to pin down parts of a certain character that you never noticed before.

                Will you always be able to make them sound the way they would in-story? Probably not. Even in the above bits, you can see that I slipped into more modern speech for SwimmerseyesOO. But it’ll get you thinking. How would this character say this? Why doesn’t this figure of speech work for them? What can I use in place of this word?

                Maybe it’s hard to understand from reading all the little pieces of my conversation. But that’s the beauty of it. Start a conversation that only you will understand in its entirety. Let the characters talk, and see what comes to the surface.

                Do you talk with your characters? On a regular basis? On paper, so you can remember the conversation later? Have characters from different stories begun to converse out of the blue? And how did it help you get to know your characters?

EDIT: Also, feel free to introduce your characters in the comments. Also, if you'd like to hear more from my characters, I share a tumblr with them at http://thesilentpages.tumblr.com/

Friday, September 16, 2011

Our Story is Not About Us

Apologies. A bit scattered today. Application for writers is a bit down the post, so bear with me.

Yesterday, the wonderful Nate Caldwell – creator of the wonderful young writers’ site I love – announced he would no longer be managing Young Writers Society. He’ll still pay the bills, the site will still be there, and he’s trained the mods to run the site smoothly in his absence.

                Young Writers Society will stay active. Nate will not.

                And while I understand his reasons, it was still like a thud to the chest. He’s leaving? So suddenly? Was it something I did? Has my presence somehow made the site unpleasant to be around? Maybe if I’d bought more YWS Literary Journals, or called in on the radio shows, or… or… or…

                As I said, I understand his reasons. I’m not going to chain him to the site for the rest of eternity, and if he feels that it’s time for him to move on… I understand. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his next project, Writer Feed, and I’m not going to stop going to YWS. Neither will many others who won’t let the site slip away without a fight. Neither will many new members who haven’t even joined yet.

                I think the whole site is a bit stunned at the moment, trying to figure out what will happen next… But hopefully, the answer is “Something.” Or, “Everything.”

                I’ll keep logging on. So will hundreds of other young writers who’ve found a supportive community on YWS where things aren’t just, “READ MY STORY NAO AND I’LL FAVE YOURS SO IT LOOKS LIKE I RETURNED THE READ, OKAY? LOLOLOL.”

                Young Writers Society is probably the best young writers’ site I’ve ever been on, and that’s thanks to all the work Nate has put into it. We. Will. Miss him. But we’ll keep logging on.


                So, in relation to writing:
 Nate’s announcement made me think of our stories. The ones that never get off the ground, and the ones that just keep circling above a busy airfield, waiting for us to help them make a landing.

                We writers hit a block. We move on to the next Shiny New Idea, telling ourselves we’ll return eventually. And sometimes, we just get distracted, or busy, or tired of this story that takes so much out of us and doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to give anything back.

                How often do those stories get the courtesy of an explanation why?

                They sit at the bottom of a fictional landfill, lost in the depths of a drawer or a computer hard drive, waiting. Our writer left us? Was it something we did? Should I have started more grippingly? Were my characters that unsalvageable? Should I have skipped the giant squid attack and gone straight to the swirling whirlwinds of death?

                Except maybe, they don’t think like that. Maybe the crinkled, ink-stained papers or the endless pages of a Word Document ask themselves those questions, but I think our characters just… go on living. They pick up their palaces and spaceships, their heroes and their villains, their plot twists and climaxes and their clunky dialogue, and they make the migration to the back of our skulls.

                They settle down, and they go on with their story. To be honest, they’re grateful for the time they can spend practicing without the evil red pen of the author bearing down on them. They get more comfortable with each other. They spend their sudden abundance of free time exploring the twists and turns that resulted from the chaos of their hurried move. They take a turn that we never would’ve picked out. They polish up their personalities. They watch from afar as we torture our latest stories and laugh about how easy they really had it, back in the old days.

                Then, maybe at some point, Moving Day arrives. They pack up their things and move back into their old station at the forefront of our thoughts, except this time they’ve got some ideas of their own to run past us.

                Their stories aren’t about us. They don’t care about making it easy for us, or about making it hard. They have their story. And even though we talk about target audiences and things like that, maybe deep down we’re really just figuring out the story they lived through when they were killing time in the back of our minds.

                Even when we don’t think of a story for months at a time, that doesn’t necessarily mean their story is dead. Even if some things get lost in the moves, certain things – characters, scraps of dialogue, pieces of description – will keep living. Just like young writers at YWS will keep logging on.

                At YWS, we’ll miss Nate. Just like our characters might miss us (or at least miss their extended time on the computer screen).

                But we’ll keep going, and we’ll figure things out for ourselves, just like our characters will figure things out for themselves whenever we need a break.

                How many of your stories have ‘died’? Have any resurrected themselves, bigger and better than before? Are you on any amazing websites for writers, or is there a single person/organization/etc. that's had a huge impact on your writing?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ending the 'Eternal' Despair -- Happy Endings

I’ve talked about Lowest of Low scenes a couple times before. I even talked about keeping hints of hope alive in a sea of eternal despair.

                But today’s post is about bringing an end to that despair, which wasn’t so eternal after all.

                At some point, your characters will have nowhere to go but up (unless you’re one of those authors who enjoys killing everyone and everything, but I’ll come back to that in a moment).

                Your characters are at rock bottom. Torture them any more, and they’ll be dead. All of them. Needlessly. And depressingly. At this point, unless you’re planning a resurrection or want to depress your reader, it’s best to turn around. Start to move back toward a happy ending. Not too fast, or you might border on the edge of unbelievable (for instance, if the main character’s trio of best friends he’s known since forever perishes dramatically in a gruesome, nightmare-inducing way within the last chapter, it will be unbelievable if three pages later your MC is chuckling along with the rest of the Heroic Party, partying without a care in the world after somehow scraping out a victory at the very last second).

                Baby steps. Back towards sunny days and sweet memories. Towards an ending that can leave a reader with a smile on their face. What kind of smile? Well, that depends on what kind of ending it is.

·         Wide, Uncontrollable, People-are-staring Grin: These are the truly happy endings. All the frayed strands of plot and characters have been tied together in a big, pretty bow. Sad times are a distant memory. All the couples are happy together, and all the villains have been ground into the dust. There is literally nothing left to be sad about. When done well, this can be a good ending, but done badly it can be just as unsatisfying as an awful, depressing ending, so tread carefully when attempting to write one of these.

·         Big Smile, But Creased Eyebrows = “What Comes Next?”: Things ended mostly in a happy way, but there are still some questions left unanswered. There are places where the author expects you to fill in the gaps. Will so-and-so get together? What will happen to the imprisoned villain, or the one who got away? Will the lady with the tragic past ever truly open her heart up to love? You’re happy… And yet you can’t help but mourn that it’s all over.

·         Crooked Smirk/Lips Pressed Thin: Say you are an author who kills everyone off. Sometimes, one last happy note a few pages from the end wouldn’t hurt.  Maybe there’s a little victory. Maybe there’s at least a few moments of happiness between your MC and the girl he loves. And hey, even if the meteoroid really does hit the earth and wipe out every living thing on the planet, at least your main character got to spit in the villain’s face one time before their extinction. Don’t feel like you have to break the mood you’ve been building, by any means… But like I said in another post, sometimes you just gotta interrupt the suck, and keep your reader from ending with the thought, “Nothing good happened in that book at all!”

·         Smile’s Still There, but Small. And Bittersweet: The author ended on a light note, but not without remembering that last, perishing trio. The characters remember every dark moment, every cloud that covered the sun, but in the end, there’s still hope. The ending is a memorial to every struggle the MC faced, and everyone he had to leave behind. Times were dark. They might still be dark. But somewhere up ahead, there is light.

                What happens when you don’t give the reader those (hints of) happy endings?

                You’ll never guess. You ready? This is probably the deepest thing I’ve ever written in a blog post.

                The reader stays unhappy.

                I’m serious, folks. In the post on interrupting the suck with happy moments, I briefly mentioned books where nothing good happens. Ever. I’m sure you can think of one, where things ended depressingly and you started to wonder, “Why did I read this? I just spent how many hours reading to feel nothing but sad and frustrated?”

                There are plenty of things in the real world that could do the same thing, much faster.

                Deep down, everyone loves a happy ending. It may not be obviously happy. The author may leave some threads dangling, or they may slip in a few ominous omens of evil lurking things, just in case the chance for a sequel rolls along. Or they may have made sacrifices that you wished with all your heart were just very long typos that nobody noticed during the editing process.

                But when all things are said and done, we want to end a book with hope. That things will get better. That the sacrifices weren’t in vain. That even the depressing stories were just setting the framework for a brighter, happier story that takes place long after you turn the last page.

                In fiction. In real life. I think no matter who you’re talking about, they want to have hope. It’s part of being a reader… It’s part of being a writer…

                And it’s part of being human.

What happy endings have you read that ended eternal despair, or made you smile in some way I didn't describe above? Do you agree with me, that deep down everyone wants to hope? Has there ever been a completely depressing, nothing-good-happens book that you enjoyed? Any whole-heartedly happy endings that you didn't enjoy? And as always, feedback on how I'm doing is welcome. ;)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Anguish of Being Unflinching: Hard Scenes

As writers, it’s pretty much a given that we sometimes enjoy torturing our characters. We laugh about it, brag about it, revel in every angsty scene, and search topics online that would make any non-writer raise their eyebrows at the sight of our browser history.
                We love to torture our characters.
                But at the same time, we often run into the Hard Scenes. The ones that creep into your head, slinking back even though you rejected them immediately. The ones that make you dread putting your fingers to the keys. The ones that make your your characters look up at you with tear-rimmed puppy-dog eyes as they scream desperately, “There must be another way!”
                And sometimes there is. Sometimes you find an alternative, and backpedal away from the Hard Scene, relieved. Sure your climax might not be as… Well. Climactic. But there was no way you could’ve written that other scene. It would’ve killed your Main Character. It would’ve killed you to write it!
                But other times, there are no alternatives. It’s like I said in my post about character reactions. Sometimes, you have Action and the Unthinkable.
                And sometimes, very little separates the two.
                For some it’s the dark, violent battles, for others it’s the crushing emotional turmoil. But all stories have their Hard Scenes, and as writers we can’t afford to shy away from them just because they might be ‘hard’ for us to write. I’ll be highlighting a few different kinds of Hard Scenes today, and perhaps not all of them apply to you, but… Every writer is different.
·         Physically Hard Scenes: The other day, I was reading some manga (Japanese comic books. XD I’m a fan) and it was an action scene. And someone’s arm got sliced off. And I just kind of stared at the page for a couple minutes (making this face: O.O) because it was very sudden. It was very unexpected. Not particularly gory, yet it was completely and totally unflinching.

Characters get hurt. Whether it’s a slap in the face, or the amputation of a limb, or an incident that brings them close to death, your character is going to get hurt. If they don’t, they should. Especially if they’re involved in some kind of inherently risky business (taking part in a rebellion/war, ruling a criminal underworld, or guarding the most desirable object on the planet from vicious mercenaries… If your character is one of these things and doesn’t get more than a paper cut throughout the course of your book, you will have some very bored/unsatisfied readers).

A physical scene doesn’t have to be gory to be difficult to write, but in the long run these scenes will pay off. They’ll make your story more exciting. If you do your research first, they’ll make your story feel more realistic. While it’s tempting to leave your main character (or the oh-so-beautiful object of his affection) without a scratch, don’t make things too easy for him, or it’ll be hard to make your readers feel the urgency that keeps them turning pages.

·         Emotionally Hard Scenes: Physical pain is not the only kind of pain. Your characters are going to hurt emotionally, too. If they don’t, they should. Happy-Optimistic-Fun-Time-in-Spite-of-All-Odds can only last so long before it will start to bore/frustrate/annoy your reader (Angsty Despair throughout a whole novel can do the same thing. The key is to find balance). A character that’s never discouraged is not only unbelievable, it’s unrelatable. Everyone feels down at times, and in a melancholy way…? We like to feel down with a character. As they despair (briefly) we commiserate with them, and urge him on, and wait to see how they’ll recover.

A beloved side character dies. The love of our main character’s life rejects him. He finds out that he was the cause of his family’s death, or that one careless mistake may have ruined everything. These are the dimly-lit, rainy day scenes in movies where slow music plays in the background and the main character cries herself to sleep at night.

But hey, we should look on the bright side. It could always get worse!

Oh. Wait. That brings us to category number three…

·         The Lowest of Low Scenes (AKA, Scenes of Eternal Despair): Already talked about these some. These scenes are often a mixture of the above varieties. It is where literally everything goes wrong. The rebels’ attack on the palace fails, their escape route turns into a bloodbath, best friends die, enemies rule, and there is no hope. None at all.

We need these scenes. The scenes where everything goes wrong and all hope is lost.  Why?

“How could things possibly get any better after this? There’s still a huge hunk of pages left, so something must happen. Unless… Things get even worse.” Cue ‘O.O’ face and rapid flipping of pages.

I’m sure you could call some examples to mind on your own, and most likely they involve season finales of TV shows and cliff-hanger-ey middle books in a series (Mine do. Fall of the Earth Kingdom in Avatar: Last Airbender, and Catching Fire of the Hunger Games trilogy). Why? Because situations like this keep people interested. Even if they have to wait a while for the next installment, they’ll do it because they’ll want to see how things get turned around.
                As writers, we can’t afford to shy away from the Hard Scenes. They’re too important, to our characters, our stories, and our readers. If you write slowly, that’s fine. If you have to rewrite later, that’s fine. Do it during revision. If you have to go through boxes of tissues for every sentence you scrape out, that’s fine, too.
                But don’t run away from the Hard Scenes. Figure out how much emotion the scene needs. Write the scene. Chances are, they’ll be the scenes your readers remember most clearly long after they’ve finished reading.
We need to step forward, side by side with our main character, and say to them, “Hey. If I have the courage to face this, then so do you.”
We need to step forward, and write the Hard Scenes.
And then, we need to make things get better.
But I’ll save that for my next post. ;)
What are some Hard Scenes that you’ve struggled to write? What are some Lowest of Low Scenes that you remember from books or movies? How do you work through a scene that you find difficult to write?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: Mistwood, by Leah Cypess

Tryin' something new here, folks. :) As I've mentioned before, I'm still kind of finding my blogging groove, and kind of experimenting to figure out what works for me, and for you (speaking of which, what did you think of the Character's Class Schedule series? Would you be interested in more sequential posts like that? Let me know in the comments).

That said, there are also times when I read a book and something really stands out to me. Something I liked, or something I didn't like, or something I'm working to fix in my own writing. I already did a post or two kind of like this, but it's something I'd like to do more of: writing book review-ish posts, along with what I think we could learn from that book in relation to our own writing. Sound good? :]

So, here is the (official) first book review post, on Mistwood, by Leah Cypess.

72% of the fantasy books in my school library follow the same basic plotline. Girl has good guy friend. Girl falls for mysterious guy who turns out to be a supernatural being of some sort, and is forced to choose between the two. Optionally, girl discovers that she is also a supernatural being. While I try to keep an open mind, and occasionally pick up one of those books, most of the ones I’ve read just don’t grip me very much.
                I like to be surprised. I like to see characters behaving in ways I don’t anticipate. I love characters that focus on a plot more complex than just a love triangle with a few vampires thrown in.
                Which is why it always pleases me when I find a fantasy novel that meets my expectations, and renews my love of the genre.
                Mistwood, by Leah Cypess, is one of those books.
                The back cover:
                Isabel remembers nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have. Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, her lethal speed, and her superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty—because without it, she may be his greatest threat. Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can’t help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court… until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them.
                Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart… and everything she thought she knew.
My First Impressions:
                I consider myself a bit of a skeptic, so going in I had some worries that it would turn into one of those books that I talked about earlier.
                The back cover intrigued me, but focused enough on The Guy to keep those first misgivings alive. I mean, “Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can’t help wanting to protect him”? I’ve read enough of those books to be familiar with the handsome, manipulative-but-she-doesn’t-care-cause-she-loves-him-so-very-much Guy who sorta loves her, but treats her like crap half the time anyway…
                And I don’t like those Guys.
                That was the main thing that gave me some hesitation as I began this book, and for a while it looked like I was going to be right to doubt. The opening description (along with all the rest of the description) was beautiful, and yet the main character decided very quickly to trust someone she had no real reason to trust. She was obedient. Too obedient. And I didn’t like it.
                Furthermore, the secrets alluded to on the back cover seemed to come together rather quickly, which left me wondering, “Okay. What is the rest of this book about?”
                It was about a lot, folks. A lot.
                Middle Impressions:
                I quickly warmed up to the main character, and began to see her not as a dumb puppet-on-a-string, willing to let the prince push her around out of some sense of unflagging loyalty (which she is supposed to possess, for reasons that you’ll quickly discover if you read the book).
                Instead, I began to see her for what she was. A calculating, intelligent, powerful person, feeling confusion about what she was supposed to be feeling, and what exactly she was supposed to be. Plus, I loved her wicked tongue, and her analytical way of knowing exactly what to say to get to someone. Yet, she was also flawed, making lots of little mistakes. Those mistakes kept her human – which is ironic, because she’s not supposed to be human. Which made her even better. ;)
                I think fans of Katsa, from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, will be fond of Isabel. ^^ They struck me as similar, even though it’s been a while since I read Katsa’s story.
                The storyline in Mistwood also picked up quickly, and soon escalated to be much more complex than expected. Which in my opinion, is a very, very good thing. :)
                It took some unexpected turns… Some of them heart-breaking. The kind that makes you clutch the book and beg for the author to reverse it, even though the writer deep down inside you knew that it had to happen, and that it was actually an act of genius.
                The story snaps you up and grips you as tightly as Isabel’s duties as a Shifter grip her. And I love that.
                Ending Impressions:
                There was a skillfully surprising twist to the ending, and while hints were laced throughout the beginning of the work, I didn’t put everything together until the Grand Reveal. I was headed in a different direction, which basically describes the situation with all the many twists and turns to this book. There were lots of places where just as I settled into a rhythm of “Okay, now I see where this is going”, the author took me by the shoulders and said, “No, sorry. You’re just a few steps off, dear.”
                And I love that. Even during the heartbreaking twists...
                The characters became very complex, growing into more developed characters than I ever expected to find when they were first introduced (except for maybe Will, the prince’s brother, who barely appeared at all. But, *shrug*, he barely appeared at all. XD). The dialogue was good, with lots of snappy lines and comebacks. While this book involved a character deeply involved with the politics of court, the author never dragged those parts out to the point where they became boring. She has a beautiful style of writing, and there were only two things that caught my attention in a less than positive light. First, her characters do a lot of smiling, and grinning, and crossing their arms/leaning against walls, and the expressions of their eyes seemed to change even more than the actual Shifter’s eyes, but I don’t think it was so bad that it’s going to make me dislike the book.
                The other thing was less a concrete problem than it was something I wondered about. Sometimes the dialogue felt a bit modern for the setting. Not sure if it actually was (I need to study my medieval language some more, myself  -_-) but that’s what it felt like. And while it might be more appealing to some modern teens who aren’t exactly thrilled with deciphering old-fashioned speech, there were a few moments where I paused and thought, “Hey, is this realistic?” But again, I liked the content of the dialogue, and it wasn’t a big enough problem to really frustrate me.
                There was nice resolution between certain characters. Nice development, in relationships as well as within the characters themselves… It left me wanting to know more, but it wasn’t cut off in a place that made me scream for a more concrete ending.
                For those of you who care, the content of the book was relatively clean. A few swear words here and there, and a couple of allusions to sex, but nothing remotely graphic.
                Which was a pleasant surprise, considering the main character started out roaming feral in the woods.
                Feral people generally don’t wear clothing, folks.
                But like I said, nothing graphic. By today’s standards, it was pretty clean, I think. ^^
                I really liked this book. ^^ After a few initial misgivings, the plot really grabbed me. I enjoyed the characters, and the many twists and turns. Especially the big twist. It wasn’t quite as jumping-up-and-down awesome as the twist I described here, but I may have been grinning quite broadly more than a few seconds. ;)
                What I think us writers could learn from this book:
                Positives - There are some excellent examples of characters, dialogue, and description. I think readers will be able to notice the threads of tension running throughout the book that keep you reading after the information on the back of the book seems to have run out. It may help us learn how to cover some complex areas crucial to your character (politics, for example) in a way that won’t bore the reader or pull them out of the story. I also found this book to be a very good example of how to give the reader a satisfying ending that still leaves a few areas for the readers to fill in.
                Less-than-positives – Keep your character’s motions diverse. It kind of worked in this novel, because certain actions were things that the main character continually noticed (specifically, smiles and eyes, and the emotions behind them) but they can still be a bit distracting.
                Keep your setting in mind, and try not to slip into modern speech patterns. Again, I’m not sure if the language in this book could’ve been considered ‘modern’, but… *shrug* In certain places, it made me pause. And anything that distracts your reader can be a hindrance.
                And finally, first impressions. The doubts I had when I picked up the book started to go away when I read the first beautiful, descriptive lines, but not completely. We need to keep in mind that first impressions matter, and not just in your first pages. The summary was mostly what made me hesitate. If I’d decided that the plot sounded too much like one of those books, I might not have checked it out, and I would’ve missed a wonderful, recharging fantasy novel. Now, I’ve actually had a few thoughts about buying it (*cough with gift cards, so I’d essentially be getting it for free, but still. XD *cough*).
                Are you getting a novel ready to start querying? Do you plan to at some point? If so, then you’re eventually going to be writing summaries. Make sure yours matches up with the whole of your novel, and stresses the parts of it that you want stressed.
                Part of this depends on your audience, I suppose… Some people may have been drawn in by the whole ‘loyalty against all sane reason’ thing, but I personally might’ve been more interested if the back of  the book focused more on the doubts that pass between characters, or the outside dangers that face them. This book is about so much more than one main character, and one prince, but the back of the book didn’t address that as much as I would’ve liked, nor did it strongly address the crippling self-doubt that plagues Isabel throughout most of the novel as she tries to figure out who – or what – she’s supposed to be.
                Bottom line:
                I would recommend this book. ^^ To fantasy lovers, to twist lovers, to fellow lovers of politics and bodyguards and assassins… To anyone who’s a little tired of vampires (but won’t mind an MC who can shift into a wolf, among other things) and to anyone who’s a little tired of plots that lose themselves in favor of ‘hot’, ‘steamy’ romances that make you blush when you read them in public.
                I consider this a lovely, original fantasy novel, and I plan to read the companion novel, Nightspell, as soon as I get the chance. :)
Have you read Mistwood? Do you want to? Do you disagree with me, or have something to add? And what do you think about an occasional book review post like this? As always, I love the comments from you guys. ;)