Life's hard.

It's even harder when you're stupid.

John Wayne

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writer Series: Characters and Viewpoints by Orson Scott Card

When I found the original copy of, Characters and Viewpoints, I was pretty happy.  Orson Scott Card is an author I am familiar with and one whom I admire.  That along with my endeavor to always improve my character driven stories made it a great find.  Then when I found an updated version I was even more excited (traditionally I prefer updates to the original),  however; I had no idea what I was really in for or how profoundly I would be affected.
Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) 
Like most books of this type I found things I expected: elements of character creation, how to add depth and how to find the point of view that best fits your story.  So basically it covered a lot of the usual ground, but Mr. Card then went beyond that.  He focused on growth both as the storyteller, and the writer to create a well-crafted final product.   He provides tools to improve both sides to get the most out of your characterization.  Characterization is so much more than just about the building of characters.  It is about how and when to use them appropriately, and getting what you need out of the character to fulfill its role in the story.  Mr. Card explains techniques to raise the emotional stakes, control the audience's feelings toward a character and intensify the reader connection to the characters.   He also speaks about the inferred sacred contract between the reader and the story.  He addresses the need for the contracts fulfillment for the characters, but also ways a writer can tweak expectations without breaking the reader's trust.

Characters and Viewpoints is very comprehensive and beautifully constructed, with a nice layout and broken down into section so not to be overwhelming.  The text is superb and fluid, and at times profound.  It isn't meant to entertain, but it still managed to hold my attention and kept me hungry for more.  Within the first couple of pages I had to stop to hunt up my hi-liter and a pad of paper to take my own personal notes.  I quickly caught on that this book is meant to be savored and the ideas mulled over.  Beyond that, I really felt like Mr. Card really got the essence of writing fiction and why it should be valued.  He approached this subject with a very practical sense, but still held onto his sense of awe and the ability to see the magic happen.  The only real down side to my reading experience was the frequent misprints I found in the Writer’s Digest version from their Elements of Fiction Writing Series. 

Mr. Card is a bestselling author and the recipient of many awards including the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in Young Adult literature, from the American Library Association.  He has authored over sixty books including his best known work, Ender’s Game, but his writing resume is not limited to just books.  He has also written plays, comics, essays and newspaper columns.  His talent has been recognized by many cities, universities and libraries by adding his titles to their ‘best of’ lists and reading programs.  Mr. Card holds a long term position at Southern Virginia University teaching writing and literature, and offers the occasional writing workshop.

I tend to not fall into love with books very often, and books about writing even less, but this experience was so different than others that I couldn't help myself.  Quite, frankly Mr. Card just blew me away with this book.  And I'm a bit put out for not having been introduced to it sooner.  Characters and Viewpoints, is really one writing I think all fiction writers should read and I think it wouldn't hurt non-fiction writers to familiarize themselves with it too.  It has the ability to mature your writing no matter where you are in your career and I believe periodic rereads will provide you with new insights and spark ideas.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan ★★★☆☆

Fiction – YA/Juvenile – Medieval
262 pages
Age Level: 10 and up | Grade Level: 5 and up
Publication Date:  2005
Ranger's Apprentice #2
Literary Awards:  Children's Book Council of Australia Award, International Success of the Year Award (2007)

The Burning Bridge (Ranger's Apprentice, #2)Will and Horace are sent on a special mission to their kingdom’s neighboring allies, Celtica, to request help in their fight against Morgarath, but when they arrive the towns are abandoned and frightening new information about Morgarath’s troop movements forces them to rethink their plans.  With the safety of their kingdom hanging in the balance Will and Horace must find a way to thwart Morgarath’s plan.

The orchestration of this novel is leaps and bounds beyond the first.  It has the quality that I had expected in the first and is pretty much an improvement in every way.  The story is more sophisticated and better laid out making the alternating points of view more appropriate. The risk factor is upped and better suited for making this an adventure story.  With a quicker pace and more action it held tightly onto my attention leaving in suspense of what was going to happen next.  The battles were complex and interesting and the ending was exciting and unexpected.  Again I enjoyed the lack of magic and found it unexpectedly refreshing.   Occasionally the writing did trip me up and pushed me out of the story world and I was a little surprised he didn’t draw out the Morgarath storyline, but in comparison to everything else these were minor distractions.