Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "Half-Blood"

Although this is labeled as book 1.5, those who have not read anything in this series can easily enjoy this book. 

The Short:

Ilyon Chronicles, 1.5

By: Jaye L. Knight

4.5/5 Stars

What: A young slave forced to become a gladiator struggles with his humanity.

Recommended to those who like: Christian, internal conflict, fantasy, sword fights, and quick reads.

The Long:

Although this book is labeled as 1.5, it’s really a prequel to Resistance. This would actually be a good way to try out a new author/series. Those who have read Resistance will also enjoy learning some of Jace’s backstory.

Jace has been a slave his whole life. Yet he can’t even associate with his fellows in bonds—he’s half ryrik, which gives him pointed ears, an odd appearance, and a violent reputation--though he hasn’t done anything to deserve it. He struggles with understanding how humans who could violently enslave him are considered better, even though he hasn’t done anything deserving of his treatment.

Taken to be trained as a gladiator, will he succumb to the violence in his blood to please his masters, or will he be able to become something better?

This book is a great read and it deals with some serious issues, including violence and slavery. 
However, it’s definitely a prequel-style story with less of a fleshed-out story line than a "normal" novel would have. (Hence the half star; I keep telling myself I’m not going to use those). 

I love Jace’s internal conflict throughout the story. It makes me question how I would react in a similar situation.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy fantasy and gladiators, with some moral dilemmas thrown in. Again, it would be suitable for someone who is new to the story or someone who has read previous books in the series.

What are your thoughts on prequel novels? 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Writer's Mind: Snowflake Method

This is a plotting/brainstorming method I tried out for Fractures, my fantasy NaNo novel this year. I'll talk about what I liked about it and what I didn't like quite as much.  I definitely learned a few things from it. If you're interested, I've also written another, more general post on plotting a novel.

What is the Snowflake Method? 

The snowflake method is a way to brainstorm a novel by starting small and making it bigger and more complex. It's based off of a concept called the Koch Snowflake, a type of fractal. Without getting into math stuff (yuck), here's a good little illustration: 
From here.
Essentially, it's a way of arranging triangles in a mathematical pattern that results in a snowflake picture that can be infinitely complex. If you like the mathematical jargon, click on the link in the caption.

Math and fun shapes aside, the Koch snowflake uses the same ideas as the Snowflake method. You use a big idea (like a triangle) and then keep expanding upon it to get a more complex story. 

Snowflake Method Steps

(Information was taken from here. I don't claim to have come up with this, because I'm a recovering pantser and still experimenting with plotting. The link has more detailed info if you're interested). 
  1. Write one sentence that sums up your novel. 
  2. Expand that sentence to one paragraph.
  3. Write a skeleton outline of each of your big characters--motivation, description, one sentence character arc etc.
  4. Elaborate on your paragraph of plot and turn it into a page or so outline. 
  5. Flesh out your skeleton character outlines. 
  6. Continue to flesh out your plot using info from your characters so that you have a several page long plot summary. 
  7. Write a super detailed outline of your characters. 
  8. Make a list/spreadsheet of every scene in your novel. 
  9. Take that spreadsheet and write a paragraph of description for that scene. You'll have a skeleton book now (one paragraph for a scene).
  10. Write the real rough draft, using your notes. 

Pros and Cons

I didn't quite follow the above instructions, due to the fact that I started too close to NaNo to complete all the steps. I basically did steps 1-5 and then wrote my rough draft. I'm considering trying to do an entire book this way at some point (perhaps for one of my novel re-writes). Maybe I'll meander less from my intended plot. I basically re-designed my story halfway through NaNo (my perpetual problem with plotting; I never seem to follow my plot). 

  • I actually knew a bit about my characters. This is abnormal for me. It was wonderful to have  an idea of how they should behave.
  • My plot wasn't a complete mystery. I had a beginning, climax, and ending planned out. Again, this is abnormal for me. 
  • I spent less time brainstorming while writing. I mainly had to figure out the little details between point A and point B, rather than trying figure out what point B was. This made NaNo less stressful. 
  • I still managed to deviate from my plot line. I realized that, if I followed my outline, I'd get to the climax far too quickly. So I added in a bit of pre-climax action...and it took over the story. For like 30,000 words. Maybe this would change if I got to steps 8 and 9 next time. This is why I'm interested in trying it again. 
  • I didn't feel like I really got to know my characters. Characters are one of my perennial struggles. They tend to sound the same, act the same, and behave irrationally. While doing the character outlines helped me a bit, I felt like they were just paper cut-outs. I think character development is something that I'll perennially have to edit into my story. 
  • It takes a lot of time. I got all excited about my story...but I wanted to write it before I was really done with plotting it. I got that wish, due to NaNo. In the future, I don't think I'm going to do this with NaNo coming up too soon, though it certainly helped me to exceed my NaNo goals. 

Plotting in the Future

I think I'm going to try the snowflake method all the way through at some point. I'm really intrigued  by the idea of writing one paragraph for each scene. I'm just always hesitant to plot too much, since I have a tendency to throw it all out the window in the middle of the story. I hate to put that much work into plotting if I'm not going to use it. 

If you're interested in trying this method out, you might be interested in ywriter, a free writing program. It allows you to put paragraph descriptions of your scenes together, as well as character notes. I didn't use it this NaNo, but I've used it in the past. My main complaint is that it formats things differently than Word, which can lead to some real editing nightmares. I also dislike having to edit in it. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser? How do you plan out your stories?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Outcasts"

The Short:

The Outcasts
Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1

By: John Flanagan

5/5 Stars

What: In a harsh society, a group of misfit boys find themselves tossed together as a group to be trained as warriors.

Recommended to those who like: Clean, sailing, fantasy, middle grade fiction. (Companion series to The Ranger’s Apprentice).

The Long:

I’m a huge Ranger’s Apprentice fan, so I was pretty excited when this series came out a while ago. I’ve been a little behind in getting around to reading it, but I really enjoyed this first book.

Hal is a fatherless young man who finds himself on the fringe of Skandian society, which resembles the Vikings. When the time comes for Brotherband training, he knows his chances are slim to be picked in the winning group. Can he pull together a group of misfits so that they’re no longer the outcasts?

This is definitely a book for a younger audience, but I still enjoyed it. There’s some good, snappy dialogue and the action kept me hanging on throughout the whole story. The characters are memorable and colorful.

The book takes a rather serious turn at the end and the second one is calling to me from my bookshelf. I think that, with the higher stakes set up at the end of this book, the next books will be really good. I'm looking forward to how the will characters develop in the coming books. 

Thoughts? Has anyone read these or The Ranger's Apprentice?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Writer's Mind: When Goals Faceplant

When my goals and my post on goal setting went up last week, I have to admit I felt a bit like a hypocrite. (I write my posts several days to a couple weeks in advance of when they go up).

Because I had done very little toward my 5k a week goal. In fact, I had written about 1,000 words since the start of the new year.

Ouch. Serious ouch.

Now, part of that deficit was due to the fact that I was away the first few days of the new year visiting family. And then I got sick a couple days later.

But I was still more than capable of writing more than 1,000 words on my manuscript.
Me, trying to reach my goals. From here.
So, what happens when you fail to meet a goal? (Because that's totally what happened). 

Evaluate what went wrong, without making excuses. 

What defines making an excuse? Could you still have (reasonably) made your goal in spite of whatever happened? If so, it's an excuse. It can also be something that happens repeatedly that you could reasonably prevent, but you still lean on it as a crutch. (For example, saying you're too tired to write most nights, but you spend 3 hours on Facebook in the can write instead of using Facebook time, and then transfer Facebook to your old writing time.

I couldn't avoid travelling and being sick, and I legitimately couldn't write very well with a head that felt swelled up to the size of Montana. However, I didn't make an effort to write on other days, even though I was healthy and had time. 

Evaluate the goal. Was it a good goal? 

Yes, but now that I'm back at school, I'm realizing that 5k might be a little bit of a stretch to start out with. 

Adjust the goal and implement a plan to avoid your typical excuses. 

I've dropped my goal to 3,000 words a week. That amounts to 500 words a day, with a grace day. It's more reasonable to start the semester. Once I get used to this goal, I'll work on increasing it. 

Basically, I just need to sit myself down and force myself to write, in spite of paying attention to other (often valid, but over-indulged) distractions, such as reading.

Thoughts? Do you ever struggle with carrying through on your goals? 

Next Tuesday we'll get back to more "writerly" things with an article on brainstorming.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "Black: The Birth of Evil"

The Short:

Black: The Birth of Evil
The Circle, Book One

By: Ted Dekker

5/5 Stars

What: A man finds himself torn between two realities—a utopian future and the present, which is about to be hit by a deadly pandemic.

Recommended to those who like: Allegory, Christian, fantasy, multiple worlds

The Long:

This wasn’t my first time reading this book, but I always seem to manage to finish it within one day (a rarity for me, anymore). That alone should give you an idea of how engaging it is. Ted Dekker writes both thrillers and fantasy stories. This book is a fantasy that brings a nice taste of modern day thriller to it.

Thomas Hunter’s world gets turned upside down the night the mob comes for him. When he wakes up in a world where good and evil are visible entities, the hundred grand he owes the mob seems like a dream. And once he learns that the world is on the brink of being destroyed by the deadliest pandemic to ever hit the earth, he feels that he alone may hold the key to preventing something that’s supposedly already happened.

This book kept me turning the pages from the first chapter. Well-paced action, breathtaking descriptions, beautiful allegory, and unique world-building resulted in a quick read. The novel combines both modern action sequences and fantasy-allegorical themes for a unique plot line. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a Christian allegory and speculative fiction. (I would also recommend having Red, the second book, handy after you finish it). 


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Blog Tag: One Lovely Blog Award

Thanks  to Victoria over at The Endless Oceans of My Mind for the nomination. 

~Thank the person who nominated you. ~Post the picture. ~List the rules. ~List seven facts. ~Nominate 15 other bloggers. Let people steal the tag since Victoria nominated most of the people I know, and I don't "know" 15 other bloggers anyway. (Look at me, being a rule breaker!)

1). I'm a science major.
2). I have three dogs.
3). I hate flying, but I love taking the train.
4). I've been interested in archery for several years and have taken it up as a serious hobby in the last year and a half.
5). My bow is (tentatively) named Luthien, after a character from J.R.R. Tolkien's Silmarillion. (Bonus points if anyone can name who her husband was or the name of the talking hound who helped her escape from Morgoth).
6). Cooking/baking is one of my favorite hobbies.
7). I sneeze multiple times in a row and my record is 15.

Feel free to nominate yourself in the comments below!

Do you like blog tags/should I keep doing them? Did any of my facts surprise you?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Writer's Mind: Setting Goals

This is a new series on the writing life and my own writing process. Take it as food for thought; what works for me might not work for you. As always, I'd love to hear your suggestions for new articles, your questions, and your thoughts!

Over the summer, I wrote a short series on writing a novel. This series will be a little bit different and will focus more on the how parts of writing, as well as aspects of the "writing life".

Why Set Goals?

I have a confession: I was one of those obnoxious people in high school who could do well in most subjects without trying very hard. (Math was the bane of my existence, and I seemed unable to go a semester in Honor's Chemistry without failing a test and/or a lab, but I skated by, otherwise). 

As a result, I didn't have to plan very much. Five page research paper? Give me one or two weeks to think it over and write. Literature test tomorrow? Let me skim through the notes the night (or class period) before. 

Goals and planning go hand-in-hand. I never really planned much, so I never set goals. Most projects had checkpoint deadlines set by teachers. If we had a paper, we would have a date our research note cards were due, a date our outline was due, a date for the rough draft, and a date for the final paper.

Then I entered my senior year and did an independent study in AP Biology. That was really my first experience having to set goals for myself. How many chapters would I read a week? How would I quiz myself? How would I ever do well enough on the test to earn the college credit I needed?

So, I started to set goals for myself. One chapter a week. Quiz yourself with the end of chapter quizzes. Get a four on the test. 

It worked out in the end, I went to college, and found...

Goals were really useful. I was less stressed, more organized, and could measure my progress. 

The goals changed: complete your online homework the day before it's due. Study one day a week with friends. Take one afternoon off for sanity's sake. 

Of course, some goals were better/more achievable/more practical than others. 

What Makes a Good Goal?

In my opinion, a goal is good if:
  • It's (realistically) achievable. If you keep setting goals for yourself that you'll never reach, you probably won't be setting goals for too long. If you're unsure if you can achieve a goal, ask a friend, parent, or mentor if they think you can do it and ask them why or why not. If you want to save 5,000 dollars for a trip to Hawaii in six months, but you don't have a job, they'll probably tell you "no" because you don't have a job. That's sound logic. If you tell them you want to run a mile a week over the summer and they tell you "no" because you've never run before, that doesn't make sense. 
  • It has multiple levels. Good goals answer two questions: "What?" and "How?". The best ones also answer "Why?". For one of my writing resolutions, I said I wanted to edit Fractures, my NaNo novel. The "why" is because I'd like to publish it one day. The "what" is to edit it. The "how" is by writing 5,000 words a week, then letting it rest a month, then going through my editing process (more on that at a later date). I can further break down the "how" of writing 5,000 words a week by setting up a daily writing time, not allowing myself to browse my Facebook feed until I've written, and setting up a small reward for myself if I meet my weekly goal. 
  • It takes into account the rest of your life. This goes back to it being realistically achievable. If you work a 40 hour a week job, a family, and your goal is to write five hours a day, you might need to re-think your goal. Could you realistically write 5 hours a day? Yes, but not without sacrificing your job or family time. You'll have to prioritize your goals. 
  • It's something you want to accomplish. This might go without saying, but I find myself frequently making goals that I don't care about all that much. Make sure you're committed to accomplishing a goal before you make it "official". 
For more on goal setting, click here. 

Any goals you'd like to share for the upcoming year? Does anyone else struggle to set goals? 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "Darkness Reigns"

The Short:

Darkness Reigns
Part One of the Kinsman Chronicles
By: Jill Williamson

4/5 Stars

What: A land of many cultures hopes to stave off judgment by making any sacrifices necessary—even if those sacrifices are human.

Recommended to those who like: Darker stories, Fantasy, loose allegory

The Long:

My expectations for this book and the reality didn’t quite line up. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that I am a big fan of Ms. Williamson’s other fantasy series, The Blood of Kings Trilogy, which has some very strong Christian and allegorical elements to it. It’s a clean, tween/teen book series that doesn’t deal with too many dark themes.

I went into this series expecting the same thing (after all, it’s set in the same world).

This series is quite a few shades darker and more closely parallels the nation of Israel straying from God. It’s better suited to the mature young adult crowd and deals with human sacrifices, polygamy, an equivalent of demon worship, and judgment day issues.

That being said, I think it’s a good introduction to a new series. The characters are deep, conflicted, and real. Sometimes I think writers in the Christian publishing world (my own, unpublished, newbie self included) struggle to write characters who really struggle.

The plot takes a while to "boot up", for lack of a better phrase. There are multiple plot lines that take quite some time to conjoin. It’s only toward the end of the story that we see how all the separate plot lines come together, but I think it’ll be epic when we finally get to see how all the different characters will interact with one another. 

My other big issue with this book was how it ended. It’s really part one of book one (all of book one, King’s Folly, isn’t released yet).

Think of the series as having nine parts, which make up three books. The nine parts will be released individually on e-book at four month intervals. Then, the three print books will be released on a yearly basis. It’s a bit confusing, but I think it’s a great concept (anything to have less down-time between books, right?).

However, the ending to part one wasn’t very satisfying. Since Darkness Reigns was free as an e-book, I think I’m going to wait until the entirety of King’s Folly is released and buy it in paperback and continue the series that way. Sure, I’ll have to wait a year, but I think it’ll be more satisfying that way.

So, in summary: I like the idea of the shorter releases, but I’m unsure of how well it will work; the book is good—but dark; and I think the series will be good now that our plot is all tied together and moving forward.

What do you think of the idea of releasing parts of novels, rather than full novels at once? 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Blog Update Mayhem

Well, I was originally hoping to avoid writing a whole post on end-of-the-year meets beginning-of-the-year business, but I had too much to just put in the header or footer of a post. No worries--I'll be getting to fresh posts soon!


It's been an awesome first year for the blog! These seven-odd months have challenged me in new ways, stretched me as a writer, and encouraged me to become a thinking reader. I think I've surprised a person or two with how many Christian sci-fi and fantasy books exist, so the mission is proceeding as planned! (Do I cackle maniacally there? I'm not sure if it's quite villain laugh worthy. Hmph. I digress.)

In all seriousness, you guys have really encouraged me. I never thought that the blog would come so far so fast. Some people might not think that seven followers and a dozen or so views per post is significant, but it's more than I dreamed I'd have at this point, so thank you! (Pat yourselves on the back here. I bet you didn't think you'd be getting a flexibility workout, did you?)

I re-designed the blog toward the end of the year to be a little more inviting while still looking "old". Let me know in the comments if you are still having trouble viewing anything because of colors, or if you think there's some way to make it better!

While the end-of-year craziness was in progress, I posted a little less frequently than normal. However, that gave me some time to think of some new post ideas to kick off the new year. 


So, in addition to Friday Fiction Fix, I'll be starting a series on writing habits/my personal writing process. (Oh dear. That means I actually can't wander about willy-nilly without a writing process any more.) That will start next Tuesday, a week from today. Any extra posts/random thoughts that pop through my head will be posted on Wednesdays or Thursdays on a very irregular basis.

I will be looking for guest posters toward the end of April/beginning of May and again in July, as well as (possibly) at other times. If you're interested, shoot me an email using the contact form in the left column. I'll take anything from discussions of sci-fi movies to fantasy book reviews to articles about writing to opinions on the current publishing industry, so long as articles are clean (no foul language, overt sexual references, or rudeness), well-revised, and written from a Christian worldview. I'll post another reminder about the opportunities once the dates get closer and I have a better idea of how many articles I'll need. 

I also thought I'd share my writing/reading goals of 2016:
  • Read 60 books. You can follow my progress on Good Reads, where you can also give me book suggestions.
  • Write 5,000 words/ week. I wrote nothing in any WIP in December after writing 50k in November. That tells me that setting a goal will light a fire under my rear end to keep me writing. I've even created a graph on my computer so I can see how well I'm doing. 
  • Rewrite Crossfire, the second book in my dystopian series. It needs it. 
  • Finish and then edit or rewrite Fractures, my fantasy book from NaNo this year. I have the gut feeling it's going to need rewritten before anything else can happen.
  • Plan and write the first draft of Crosshairs, the third (and final?) book in my dystopian series. We'll see if that ends up being the actual title or not. 
  • Revisit an old project. I have a couple really old stories floating around in flash drives and battered notebooks. I'd like to revisit one or more of them and see what can be done with them. 
  • Continue to grow the blog. I intend to keep posting twice a week (and maybe even add in a third post over the summer months). I'm also hoping to get involved with more authors, a blog tour or two, and some other fun projects. 
  • Follow/comment on more blogs. I probably have more than 10 blogs in my reading list. I'd like to comment more regularly on some of them. It's amazing how much getting a comment can brighten your day as a blogger! (If you have a blog and I don't currently follow it, leave a link in the comments below and I'll stop by to check it out.)
How was your 2015? What are your writing/reading goals for 2016?