Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Why did I pick it up?

Because it continues from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and I'll be damned if I ever start a series and don't finish it. I started this one on January 26th and finished it on January 28th using mainly breaks at the new job and an hour or so after work. It took about three or four hours all together.

The Review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling:

 Again, this is a continuation. When we left Harry in Philosopher's Stone he was heading back home for the summer with his foster muggle parents who hate him. We pick up while he's still there and we've found out the muggles are afraid of him and rightfully so. Harry now knows how to do magic, something they don't believe in and fear.

The fear does cause Dudley, Harry's biggest bully, to go a little easier on him since Dudley's afraid Harry will do something. A house elf (Dobby) appears to tell Harry not to go back to Hogwarts which of course Harry refuses to do. Dobby accidently reveals Harry's not allowed to do magic in the muggle world so the Dudley's lock him in a room, start starving him and his owl, and make life miserable again for him. Fortunately Ron and his twin brothers Fred and George break him out of his house with their father's illegal flying car and take him back home with them.

Ten points for saving Harry from being starved and treated miserably. Minus 100 a piece for stealing a car that's illegal in the first place. This is made especially worse since the Weasley's were about to go see what was wrong with Harry and not responding to Ron's letters the NEXT DAY.

Harry enjoys living with the Weasley's, goes to buy his second year gear and ends up in the wrong place at the right time. The common tread in this book is that Harry (and Ron or Hermione) always seem to end up in the wrong place at the right time. They stumble (literally) upon things they shouldn't know like with Harry seeing Draco's father selling off some important items. There's also the time they overhear of Dumbledore's forced sabbatical and Hagrid being taken away under suspicion of opening the Chamber of Secrets.

And when they go to spy on Draco thinking he's the one who opened the chamber they find out about Draco's dads secret stash of stuff as well as Ron's dad being under inquiry for the whole magic-ing a car thing. Yes, the car the twins flew to save Harry. The same car Harry and Ron use to get to Hogwarts because Dobby prevents Harry from getting through Gate 9 and 3/4s. That incident is what causes Ron's dad to be put under inquiry by the way.

The worst part is, they had an owl and could have easily sent along a message that they couldn't get through the gate instead of you know, stealing an illegal car and using magic in front of muggles thus leaving Ron's parents stranded at the train station with no knowledge of how to get home by muggle ways.

Then there's the whole part about Harry not telling Dumbledore all that's going on (the hissing sounds he's hearing, the suspicions he has about the events going on in Hogwarts, etc.) and just continuing on his merry way in keeping secrets from the person who could help him and would totally understand what's going on.

This is what's annoying me the most about these books. Harry's keeping secrets and breaking HUGE rules but keeps coming out unpunished and relatively unscathed. It's kind of sending a message to kids in "hey, you can lie or break rules so long as you're saving the world." Yes, but to a point. I get the "it's for the greater good "concept and super heroes do it all the time but the amount of times Harry is doing it starts to get a little suspicious.

And then the car saves them from being eaten by spiders, Harry figures out how all this connects, and kills a Basilisk with a sword that appeared out of the Sorting Hat Dumbledore sent to him with Dumbledore's pet phoenix. Really? I mean, yeah send the one bird that can heal Harry from a Basilisk and the one object that can give Harry a magical sword only Gryffindor's can hold...urg.

There's coincidence and then there's...arg. I'm starting to see why these books are meant for people under the age of 12. Don't get me wrong: I still ENJOYED reading the book overall but if I wasn't an over 20-year-old who hadn't read hundreds of fantasy and sci-fi books I would be enjoying it a lot more.

Anyway, Harry saves the day and as in the first book: heads back home with the Dursley's to a horrible summer. Except wait, didn't Tom Riddle show Harry that Harry could have stayed at Hogwarts over the summer? And don't you think the Weasley's would have invited Harry to stay? *headdesk*

OH! The Sorting Hat putting Harry in Gryffindor is mentioned again. This time Dumbledore gives an epic quote that feels kind of wasted considering again, all Harry did was say "Please not Slytherin" and the Sorting Hat was all "Oh, okay." I mean I get Harry convinced the hat because it's the hat's job to put people in the proper house. I just don't see Harry thinking "please not Slytherin" as a convincing argument. And what was up with Lockheart as a character? He was just a device to distract Harry and allow the group to get the book out of the library to make an illegal potion.

Oh and a whole bunch of Hermione being all rule-breaky which isn't a part of her character at all. It's the Harry Effect I guess...

Would I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets again?

Yeah probably. It's a nice, light read that's still entertaining when you're not thinking about the strings tying too neatly. I'm also waiting for someone to die with baited breath. KILL YOUR DARLINGS, ROWLING! KILL THEM ALL! *insert evil laughter* Sorry. I've obviously read too much Song of Ice and Fire.

The Negatives

Besides the aforementioned over-coincidence, lying, breaking rules, etc: not much. So again, to the 1-star reviews.

One person compared Harry Potter to Song of Ice and Fire. Why? Because "read Game of Thrones if you want a real series" Um. First: It's Song of Ice and Fire, not Game of Thrones. GoT is the TELEVISION SHOW. Second: COMPLETELY different intended audience. Like MILES different. So no, a 12 or under should not read SoIF if they want a real series. And the adults don't have to either if they don't want to. It's called personal preference and opinion and *le gasp* some adults out there aren't big readers so couldn't tackle something like SoIF if they buy the CDS to listen to Harry Potter.

Speaking of, apparently the audio books still suck, Pottermore is still crap, and the books are being delivered in horrible condition. I bought my Harry Potter series used so I expect them looking worn. When you're buying new: you expect new. I don't see why this issue hasn't been resolved.

As many reviewers point out: Good guys can lie, break rules, etc and not get punished but when a bad guy lies, breaks rules, etc then he is punished. So hey, as long as the ends justify the means it's all good. Not a good lesson for kids. Rules are rules and anyone who breaks them should be punished in some sense of the word.

The "WITCHCRAFT IS EVIL!" 1-stars were amusing as all Hell. I don't see how it puts down family values since the Weasley Family is all about being a family: standing up for each other, caring about each other, teasing your older/younger siblings, looking after each other, etc. This is one thing Rowling does exceptionally well: the Weasley Family.

Then there's the people saying it's too long. Again, it's a little over 300 pages which is average when it comes to pre-teen fantasy. Yes, I am aware of how wrong that might sound. Mind out of the gutters folks. Anyway, for the reviewer who told people to go read SoIF for a real series: these poor people thinking Harry Potter is long would die.

There are a lot of comparisons to Lord of the Rings and C.S Lewis. I say again: DIFFERENT AUDIENCES. Jeez. Then there's the people who say they don't read fantasy so don't like the book. *headdesk* There are a lot of "recycled the plot from book 1" which is true but again: book meant for people under 10 who are just starting to get heavy into reading so they don't notice these things. I think the adults (including me) reading this series and who have read a lot over the years have to remember this is a book for children, not well-read, avid reading adults.

Final review: 2/5 for a voracious adult, 4.5/5 for a child. Best features: THIS QUOTE "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities" from Dumbledore and the interactions of the Weasley family with each other.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Writing Tip #10: Characters

Welcome to the final installment of a three-part blog series (within a blog series - blogception) dedicated to the basics of any novel. Part One was Setting, Part Two was Plot and in Part Three we have characters.

If you've been following along, let's continue the analogy. You've got your stage set up (Setting) and even if you don't or your set designers are on strike, it's okay. You know what direction you're going to go in (Plot) and again, if you don't then that's okay to. Now you just need to find some actors (characters). What's that? You don't know any actors? That's okay. This is going to help you send out advertisements.

As I've said before: there is no set way on how to get your movie, er, novel, started. You can start with characters, figure out a plot then put together a setting. You can also start with a plot, find the setting then make some characters. It's all up to you as an individual.

It completely depends on the story for me. I found about four or five good story concepts while cleaning out my closets in January. All of these ideas had characters and a basic rundown of plot and setting. When I started doing the pre-planning, that is, putting them in my idea list I didn't start with describing the same concept. One idea mentioned the plot. The second idea started with the characters. The third was the setting. The last was a combination of all three.

Again, it depends on YOU as a writer what you want to decide on first. With that being said: don't be afraid to take a plot and setting (or plot and characters, or setting and characters) and run with it. Free writing can sometimes help you figure out one of the missing elements. You can't wait around for inspiration to hit and sometimes have to go with what you have.

Okay. You need actors. Not just any actors, no, these actors are going to have to do what you say and follow along in your story. I wish you good luck. Characters can take a life of their own and it is best to follow along with what they're thinking sometimes. You're asking how we even GET actors, right?

Sometimes they'll come along on their own, introduce themselves with their name, likes, dislikes, personality, backstory, and everything you need to get the novel done. Other times they'll be this blank shadow person who doesn't know how to speak. Sometimes they'll have a backstory but no name or description. Other times they'll be a name with nothing else. It doesn't matter how they appear: you have to figure them out.

The best way to do this is to conduct a character interview. Ask them what their name is, what their goals are, and who they are in general. I know you can't literally sit down with this person but you're a writer. Envision yourself talking to this person, meeting them for the first time, and wanting to get to know them.

That is the key to any novel: making your characters seem like REAL PEOPLE. They might be in the most ridiculously fantastical world, but they still have to come across as REAL. So, how do you make your characters real? You act as if they are real.

They are your best friend (or worst enemy), you know every detail about them, you know what it takes to break them or build them up, and you FEEL when something happens to them. If you don't feel upset when they fail then your reader won't either. If you're not relieved when they've defeated the villain or made it out safely then your reader won't either. Characters aren't just disposable concepts. No, you have to see them as a PERSON or they will always remain two-dimensional and flat.

In summation: if you don't care about them then neither will your reader. It will show through in your writing (eventually) and people will begin to remark on not enjoying your story because of it. You can survive if your setting isn't hugely descriptive and you're on earth. People can fill in the blanks. You can survive if your plot is the same basic concept as hundreds of other books out there and you've tweaked it slightly to be vaguely different. You can't survive if your characters are irrelevant, unrealistic, and unemotional. It won't matter how awesome the plot or setting is because readers will not forgive a flat, unbelievable, and robotic character.

And again, you make them relatable, realistic, and emotional by thinking of them as REAL PEOPLE. Remember people react differently to the same situation and not every character will immediately grab a first aid kit and help the wounded. Some of them might faint. Some of them might throw up. Others might run away screaming. This is especially important when you're dealing with a group of characters and one gets injured.

If you're having trouble figuring out how real people act you can either go people watch for a couple hours on a day off (try not to be the creepily smiling person in the park though, okay? ;) ) or you can read a book with believable characters. Stephen King says it right: "If you don't have the time to read then you don't have the tools to write."

The best way to figure out how to succeed in making real characters (or a good plot behind a great setting) is TO READ. The next best way is to keep writing. Give your writing to friends and family (even online friends) and see what they think. You can't improve if you don't practice and figure out what you might be doing wrong.

Until next time thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Why did I pick it up?

Everyone else in the world has read it and there isn't a website you can go to that won't eventually contain some mention of Harry Potter. Go to iwastesomuchtime.com and you'll find Potter-heads talking about the books and thanking Rowling. Go to fmylife.com and you'll find people complaining about their lovers dragging them to movie premiers or conventions. The cheezburger conglomerate of websites has one fully dedicated to Harry Potter and it's mentioned in RageComics, WebComics and various others. Hell, there's a site associated with "Taste of Awesome" that has "Taste of Harry Potter" with memes and other stuff.

I ignored the entire explosion for as long as humanly possible. I didn't even buy the books until last year and even so they were from a used bookstore. For some reason it took a while to find the second book. I would have read it sooner but I was in the middle of ploughing through the Song of Ice and Fire series then became series-overloaded and read a bunch of stand-alones.

I finally cracked open the spine of Philosopher's Stone because I didn't want to continue in what I thought was a stand-alone but turned out to be book 1 of 7. Anyway, I started it on National Reading Day (Jan 24) while waiting to meet up with a friend and finished it Sunday Jan 25 in the morning.

Before we continue let it be known I am forming these opinions from (sort of) two points of view: 1) An avid reader who's lost count somewhere around book 2000 of how much she's actually read 2) A first time reader. Big difference of opinion between the two? Yep. Shall we?

The Review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling:

If you don't know what this series is about by now then dig yourself out from under your rock and Google it. I kid. The book opens with the celebration of Voldemort disappearing through the eyes of the Muggle family the Dursley's. We find out the Potters are related to the Dursley's through Petunia Dursley. The Potters die and Harry is left on the doorstep of the Dursley household by Hagrid in thanks to Dumbledore.

Harry grows up as most kids do but he's forced to live in a cupboard, is barely allowed food, and isn't allowed anything his annoyingly spoiled rotten cousin Dudley is allowed. I took a step back here and thought that someone in this poor kid's school should have noticed some form abuse but it was never mentioned.

I mean, Harry was wearing hand-me-downs that obviously didn't fit him, was being beat up, had glasses that were taped together and was half-starved. You would think a teacher might have become suspicious of something. But no, Harry lives in Hell until his 11th birthday.

Then the letters are delivered. And delivered. And delivered which was freaking hilarious. Vernon's attempts to prevent Harry from finding out he's a wizard are comical and the (second) introduction of Hagrid is awesome.

Harry realizing he's a wizard and the entire scene about buying his supplies and getting to Hogwarts was well described. The magic has rules, it has to be taught, their are different veins of it, and it's complex. It's a good magic system and works for the book.

Admittedly I knew kind of how the book ends and who the minor bad guy was. It was still cleverly hidden under the guise of Snape being the one out to get Harry during Harry's first year at Hogwarts. Another thing that bugged me is the simple fact of people saying Harry convinced the Sorting Hat to put him in Gryffindor. All Harry did was think "Anything but Slytherin" and the Hat said "Oh, okay, Gryffindor then." There was no convincing and no arguing between the two.

You can kind of guess someone is leading Harry along in the discovery of who's trying to swipe the philosopher's stone and how he finds out in the first place. We find out it was all Dumbledore in the end which I suspected. It still made for an entertaining read, especially watching these kids figure things out and put the pieces together.

It did strike me as odd to remember these kids are only 11. Hermione seems way too brilliant to be only 11. And magic or not, what school let's kids wander about without guides when there's a random missing stair in the middle of a stairwell? It seemed at times the group was more akin to middle or later teens than pre-teen, especially Harry's reactions when facing the mini-bad.

Harry being as good as a kid who's been on a broom most of his life is unbelievable. Natural or not there should be some stumbling about, some kind of fear, something when Harry gets on the broom the first time to get back Neville's dropped rem...stone thing. Sorry, I suck with names. Harry being able to control a broom because his father was a natural is like saying the kids of Nascar racers can get into a Nascar racing car and have no issues even though they've never driven. Ain't gunna happen no matter how good your parent is.

Harry being given a flute by Hagrid when there's no indication Harry even plays music is too convenient when it so happens the flute is the object that stops Fluffy from attacking them. Also, what 11 year old who's never held a flute knows how to play it well enough to subdue a Cerberus? The fact two 11 year olds can do it is too neatly bowed. I would have rather one of them know a spell for putting the creature to sleep then just happen to know how to play a flute a mentor just happened to give them.

Then the school year passing so damned quickly with no real mentions of a lot of the spells they learn or how Harry's adjusting to magic life. There's not even a whole "OMFG WHAT!?" panic scene. I don't care who you are or how young you are: you see magic for the first time and you're gunna freak out for a while.

What also throws me off is some of the names. You have two main males as Harry and Ron. Normal, simple syllables, easy to pronounce. The main female? Hermione. The Hell? I'm not 100% sure I'm saying it right in my head. Why does it have so many more letters than the other two? If this is the case, shouldn't she be the hero, not Harry?

With the simplicity of Harry and Ron, we've got names like Vernon, Petunia, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Neville, and Seamus. There are other simple names like Draco and Snape but if we really wanted a contrast between the trio of heroes and the others Hermione's name should be more like Harry or Ron.

And yes, I do get some of the names not matching up because wizards/witches vs muggles but Hermione comes from a family of non-wizards. Harry's parents were both magical. Ron's whole family is magical. And yet other wizards are Albus, Severus, and Quirinus Quirrell. The HELL? I'm also leaning towards Quirrell being killed because wow, that name would've pissed me off to keep writing it over and over.

Would I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone again?

Yeah, probably. It is enchanting and funny.

The Negatives

Besides the aforementioned naming, the disbelief of Harry master a broom so quick, and the disbelief at times that these kids are 11: I can't think of anything. So, off we go to Amazon to see what those 1-star review said.

There are A LOT of negatives about Pottermore which is a little disturbing. Something so huge and directly connected to the author should not be giving buyers such issues. There are some translation issues which is again, bad research on someone's part. One review said the book was too long. At 309 pages, um, no, it's about average. Any shorter and it'd lose the descriptions entirely and those descriptions are what make the book magical.

One review said the characters were too stereotypical and the plot was ripped off from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Fair enough. I dare said reviewer to find me a book that isn't ripped off from some other book in some way though. I also dare said review to find me a book without stereotypes in any sense of the word. Stereotypes are stereotypes because in some instances they're completely true.

We've all known the preppy, know-it-all nerdy girl in school. I was one. The fat kid being the evil jerk? Yeah, there were some over-weight boys in elementary who were jerks and greedy. It does annoy me that Dudley is pictured as dark haired in the movies when it so obviously says he's blonde in the books.

Other reviews said the books were boring and like most other wizardly stories out there. JK Rowling is an average author with a typical story and that's fine. She wrote the right book at the right time for the right audience and became famous. One in a million chance and it took. I say good for her.

The concept that seems to irk most reviewers is the fact Harry lied, disobeyed rules, and did "bad guy" things to save the world. Yeah, cuz heroes can't do bad. How many times have the Avengers destroyed a city to save it? How many times have good guys kept a secret in order to save the world? We all know how horrible Dr. Greg House was but people LOVED his character and he saved people.

Also, Harry's 11. He's totally allowed to hate the people who hate him or treat him wrong. Saying he can't hate his enemies is ridiculous. Having the entire book in Harry's perspective? Uh, yeah, why not? His name's the one in the title, what did you expect? No we're not going to see Draco, or Ron or Hermione's perspective because THEY are not what the book is about. Though I am sure there was a perspective shift to Hermione when Harry almost fell off his broom in Quiddich. No way would Harry have seen Hermione going after Snape to stop him from jinx-ing Harry's broom.

I do agree with one reviewer in saying the villains all seem completely unredeemable. There's no gray-area when it comes to the villains but apparently Snape is a pretty good guy even though he's evil. Plus this is only book one so nothing is solid yet.

Final review: 2/5 for avid readers out of the age bracket. Some things were too unbelievable (flute and broom handling), the names threw me off, and the story itself was kind of, eh. Entertaining yes. There were some good one-liners and nice comic relief ("But there's no wood!" *snickers*). For intended audience and non-avid readers: 4/5.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Writing Tip #9: Plot

Ladies and gentlemen, new writers and experienced professionals: welcome to Part Two of a three Part blog series dedicated to the basics of every novel. Part One was Setting. This is about the plot.

So, you've figured out what the stage (setting) is going to look like. If you have no idea what the stage is going to look like or your set designers are on strike: it's okay. You can still gather your actors (characters) and direct them on how to tell the story. What's that? You don't have a direction or a story? Oh. Well, that's okay too.

There are three types of writers. Many authors have come up with cool names for all three types and some even say there are five types of writers. Technically speaking there are two types: those who write and those who dream about writing but never do.

There are three types of writers who write: The Plotter or Planner, The Pantser, and the...Hybrid. Yes, like the fancy new cars but unlike the fancy new cars: it doesn't matter what kind of writer you are.

Plotters or Planners know how their story begins, how it ends and how they will get to that ending sometimes in the greatest detail. Pansters have NO CLUE what's going on. They might have a setting, maybe even a single scene, and the thought of a few characters but have no idea what the characters are doing or why.

The Hybrid? A mix of The Plotter and Planner in varying degrees. I'm a Hybrid: energy efficient, good for the environment, er, sorry. As a Hybrid I have to know how my story ends. I have to know kind of where/when the story is taking place and I have to have the main characters in mind. Everything else is up in the air.

What does all this have to do with plot? A lot. If you're a Panster: you can stay for the ride but we're going to get into a lot of planning which you're not used to doing. But, do stick around because you might find something interesting and could begin a transformation into a Hybrid *cue Transformers music*

Plotters/Planners and Hybrids: buckle up and keep all limbs in the vehicle at all times. There is a package of cookies under your seat was well as a carton of milk. If you need spiked milk there will be an attendant coming along shortly.

Every novel needs a plot. Sometimes the plot isn't as simple as "hero is introduced, bad guy is introduced, hero fights bad guy and wins (or loses depending on who you are), and everybody goes home." The plot varies with every genre but it boils down to this: YOU MUST HAVE CONFLICT.

Conflict does not always mean your main character is fighting with someone else or against something in order to save the world. Conflict can mean something as simple as: main character grows up. No magic, no evil demon lord to defeat, no world to save, and no ninjas. Of course, you can have the magic, demon lords, and world-saving in a growing up story but not all novels have a 100 percent crystal clear conflict.

The goal of your main character could be to get through life and its various changes without getting beat up too horribly. Examples? Glee, The Big Bang Theory, Fresh Prince of Bel-air, Full House, Friends, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, and the list goes on. The one concept all these shows (and shows similar) have in common is the fact there is no major conflict. There is no evil villain and the world doesn't have to be saved.

Everyone one of those shows was popular in some sense and most of them went on for many seasons. They were shows about the characters growing up and changing depending what life threw at them. Yes there was something to "defeat" in every episode (someone getting fired, someone moving, a new person at school, failing a test, etc) but the entire show did not revolve around the little conflict. The villain was life.

The plot of these shows is simple: throw believable hurdles in front of the characters and see how they react. Make sure it's funny, heart-warming, sometimes sad but definitely makes you care about the characters, wash, rinse and repeat until the characters can move beyond the show in the readers/viewers mind.

Of course the plot of a novel is easier to figure out when the conflict is clear. If you have a villain who wants to destroy the world because he believes we suck in general and he can fix it then you can give your main character direction on how to defeat said villain. It's also easier if your character has a set profession like doctor, FBI agent, or cop. Shows like House MD, CSI, Criminal Minds, Law and Order, and Flashpoint have characters who not only have to go through the changes life throws at them but also have to deal with saving people's lives every episode.

The point of the plot is to give your characters something interesting to do. No one wants to read about a person getting up and going to work every day unless said person is a superhero by night or they have to solve a murder or life is particulary evil to said person.

The problem with plot is every plot is as different as every novel. Yes all the concepts are the same (boy meets girl, falls in love with girl, tries to get girl, struggles to get girl, finally gets girl) but it changes depending on your characters and your setting.

The only rule when it comes to plot is: make sure you have an interesting conflict that will keep your reader/viewer entertained. Everything else is up to your imagination. My advice? Know where you're going or what your main character wants/needs to do. If you get stuck you can throw ninjas at it.

Next time we'll talk about characters which will finish this three-part series. I'll be expanding on concepts mentioned in this mini-series with posts about world-building, subplots, and minor characters.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Writing Tip #8: Setting

This will be the first-part in 3-part blog series about the basics of any novel. The other two parts will be dedicated to plot and characters. No, you don't have to think of the parts in this order when you start a novel. You are allowed to consider plot or characters first and setting last. And no, sometimes I don't even think of setting first. This is the order I picked because it's the easiest to go in.

Now we're going to get into the bare bones of your novel. You don't have a novel if you don't have a setting. It's great you have multiple people playing different roles strolling on the trail we call a plot but if they've got no stage to stand on, well; they look kind of stupid.

Setting can be: 1945, London, England or it can be: sometime in the future somewhere in America. The difference? 1945, London, England is restricting. It means you have to research what it was like in London, England in 1945. What were people wearing? What were people's rights? How much did things cost? How did people live? For sometime in the future somewhere in America you have much more creative freedom but then you have questions like: are there flying cars? Have people's opinions changed on *insert major controversial issue here*?

Even if your setting is entirely fictional you have to answer the following: what's the layout like? Are there mountains? Streams? Rivers? Lots of people? Roads? How's the weather? What does my main character's living quarters look like? How does MC travel? What does their place of work look like?

A lot of this depends on your plot and your character. For instance if you're writing about the past it's unlikely you're going to be looking up the newest models of cars or have your female MCs wandering around in anything but a gown. If your character has been described as a general slob they're not going to have a pristine home in the best part of town.

Setting can also be a major factor in moving along your plot. A character comes home from work, notices the hammer they always kept on the bench in the garage has been moved and the door to the rest of the house is ajar. Uh-oh. Looks like a break-in or potential murder.

Character watches flying cars zoom by their window from a steel and glass building hovering above the ground. They're thinking about going to the Virtual Reality arcade to play some new game with their friends and wonders if their cyborg-dog will have its new programs downloaded before supper. Oh hey, we're in the future.

Your character is waiting for their date to arrive, wondering if they'll go horseback riding through the meadow and maybe have some crumpets at tea time. She hopes her dress won't get in the way of riding and it'll be clean enough to wear at tea time. Yep, we're in the past, likely England. Sorry, had to. ;)

Setting isn't only about showing your reader where your character lives but it shows how they live. It can also be used to move along the plot and show how your character reacts to the plot. Setting is one of the biggest concepts you need to consider before sitting down and writing your novel.

Setting is a small sample of "world-building" which is a whole other blog post. Sorry. World-building can get pretty complex even if you are on earth. The good news is once you have a established world and setting they can become a character of its own.

Setting can be used for everything and anything in your novel. It can set the tone of the story (cliché rainy day when things are going bad, sun breaking out of the clouds when bad things are over) and give that extra umph of believability to your story. Setting is the je ne se quoi of any novel. If you ignore it then you've got actors (characters), making all the motions (plot) on a green-wall and that's no fun.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: Ghost Girl

Why did I pick it up?

My brain works in strange ways. I was in one of my favorite used book stores, you know the kind where the shelves are double packed and there is literally only enough room for a single person to get through? Anyway, I was walking towards the back where I knew they kept all the fantasy and sci-fi as well as some young adult. I was looking for the Cirque Du Freak novels and sitting there was Ghostgirl.

At first I didn't pay it any attention until my brain provided me with a snippet from a show called Ace of Cakes where the bakers made a cake for a special book signing of the author Tonya Hurley. They made a Charlotte cake. I picked up the book, hardcover, and decided I would check it out. Yes. Based solely on an old show I'd watched with a cake of the main character. I told you my brain works in strange ways.

The Review of Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley:

First I want to say I started the book at 7:30AM and finished by 10:25AM, yes on the same day. No, I didn't mean to hit "PM" on 10:25. It's a short book and a light read but in no way do those points take away from its entertainment.

Charlotte is the unpopular kid at school and has decided to change it. Fate seems to be working for her until she chokes on a gummy bear and dies after becoming the tutor of her crush: Damen.

In a cliché theme: Charlotte doesn't realize she's dead. When it does hit her instead of taking it entirely negatively, she decides her new state will help her win the affections of Damen: handsome, popular football player dating the head cheerleader.

Yes, the book has a clot of clichés in it: cheerleader gets what's coming to her, the cheerleader has two best friends (a la Mean Girls) who make her clique, the cheerleader's younger sister is the Goth girl who wins over the affection of said cheerleader's popular boyfriend. Except in this case the reason Scarlet (cheerleader's younger sister) wins over the boyfriend (Damen) is because of the ghost Charlotte who has been vying for Damen's affections.

Turns out Scarlet is the only one who can see Charlotte and Charlotte uses this to her advantage. Oh, did I mention Charlotte still has to go to Dead School and learn about not interfering with the living?

It's very much a Mean Girls kind of movie where the popular people learn from their mistakes, the outcast becomes welcome, and everyone lives (or moves on) happily ever after. Connecting with Scarlet and Charlotte was easy. They seemed like real teens and had their own insecurities and problems to deal with atop of the whole Charlotte being dead issue.

I loved how at the beginning of each chapter there was a sort of mini-prologue about what Charlotte was going through. They really drove the point home and gave an insight to what had happened so far as well as giving hints to how the chapter was going to go.

In the end everything works out. Charlotte learns what she's supposed to, the school learns the outcasts aren't so different, the popular people realize the error of their ways, and everyone lives with some joy in their lives. It brought a tear to my eye when Charlotte's issues were finally resolved and resolved well and the book itself ends on happy note with everything tied in a nice bow.

Would I read it again?

Yes. It only took me three hours after all, but seriously, yes. I will definitely be reading through the mini-prologues, especially this one:

"I love you, but I'm not in love with you: This is a false distinction. Completely backward if you think about it. Love is love. What's really meant by being "in love," is obsession, addiction, infatuation, but not actual love. Being "in love" is a statement of your own needs and desires rather than an attempt to fulfill another's. True love, on the other hand, is a bridge between two people."

The Negatives:

It was a short book, again, it only took me three hours to read it and clocks in at 328 pages, at least my hardcover version does. The other thing many people tend to comment on is the lame death jokes through out the book and the characters being stereotypical, which is the same trend I noticed in The 100-year-old Man. I think a lot of people fail to realize Ghostgirl is intended as SATIRE.

Satire: a genre of literature and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.

Ghostgirl is meant to be stereotypical and ridicule the very idea of high school clicks, clichés, and romance. It's meant to have death-puns to further push the idea of the book not intending to be the next Stephen King or GRR Martin or JK Rowling novel. It's meant to poke fun at the lengths all of us go to be noticed and that's exactly what the book did, in a quirky, kind of heartfelt way.

So, if you're reading the 1-star reviews on Amazon, please remember Ghostgirl is a satire. Also remember the book is meant for people as young as 12. So yes, it is going to be focused entirely on the main characters without worry as to what their parents are doing/where their parents are because, and let's be honest, most teens don't give a crud about what their parents are thinking. And really, I didn't care where or what the parents of the main characters were doing either. You're not supposed to.

Final review: 4/5 because I wish it was a little longer. Other than there not being enough: the book was great and I enjoyed it.

Until next time: comments, questions, rants, and the like can be directed to the comments.