Learn about four of the biggest pitfalls in story beginnings: false suspense, prologues, dream sequences, and too much backstory.
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Yesterday I finished reading a novella, I promised to leave a review for the author – but I have a dilemma.
I apologise in advance for the wanton use of exclamation marks in this article, but …needs must!
The book was pretty awful. I’m being diplomatic here, it was shockingly poor. I looked on Amazon to see what other reviewers had said, and both had given a 4 star rating!
So, now I’m wondering if it is just me – did I misunderstand something? Both reviews, however, were very brief, less than three sentences apiece and had very little content. Why would someone rate a book so highly and then scarcely comment on it? What’s the point of a review which merely reiterates the blurb of a book?
Let me explain my reasons for not appreciating this book. The story is intended to be inspirational, it aims to show people a way out of the debt crisis, that is so prevalent in today’s economic climate. However, the plot is so unrealistic – keeping in mind that this is supposed to reflect real life – most people in this situation would probably laugh at the over-simplification of the problem. The main protagonists are caught up in a never-ending circle of debt, only to get a monthly water bill for 80,000 dollars. Apparently there is a problem with the billing system – and the FBI are called in to investigate as fraudulent activity is suspected. After paying the bill (!!!!) the main characters look to find other ways to earn money, just in case they get another extortionate bill the following month.
Now, in spite of the fanciful premise of the story, the writing is also not strong. The dialogue is stilted, repetitive and unnatural. Occasionally there is evidence of the author trying to raise his game. but the descriptions are lacklustre and fake, each scene feels staged and artificial. But, it gets better (or should I say worse?) In order to get out of debt, one of the main characters looks online for money-making opportunities and comes across Createspace – the self publishing site. She pens a quick poem, uploads it and sees that within moments people are paying for her work. Inspired by her own success, she writes a novella in two days and publishes it soon after (following a spell-check, of course, because that is all you need!) She prints off some flyers and begins the marketing process, attending an open mic event, to read her story to the masses. (Did I mention that the plot was unrealistic?????) At one such event, she meets a fellow author (!!) who tells her that he used Createspace too, and – the best quote from the book – “it took a few months, but I am now a renowned author.”
WHAT!!!! I’m sorry, but the chance of this happening is so remote, that you couldn’t even make it up! (If you have detected a hint of sarcasm, then you are quite correct). I know many authors who work so very hard on their books, they write, re-write, edit and re-write again. They seek opinions from others before they dare to press the ‘publish now’ button. This book is – in my opinion, I know – mindless drivel, it denigrates the work involved in writing a book (OK, maybe I’m bitter, twisted and sarcastic now).
I could copy all of my blog posts into such a site and publish them – it won’t make them any more interesting (you’re nodding now, aren’t you?). Anyone can publish a book these days, but not everyone can write and publish a good book.
So, it is just me? (I know I’m repeating myself, but this time it’s for emphasis!)
Well, I still have to write a review for Amazon – and I will keep it honest and constructive – but I think I’m going to choose my words very carefully first. Geez – I could probably write a complete trilogy in the same time – but I won’t!
This is a story of a band of mercenaries, all very distinct from one another, who are paid to reclaim lost territories for an evil warlord. Their diverse talents and backgrounds all offer a huge variety of skills to the ensuing battle; from precision archers, skilled swordsmen and gifted magicians, not forgetting brave and courageous fighters. In spite of their talents, they find they are no match for their elven counterparts, soon being overwhelmed by elven magic and then imprisoned awaiting punishment or death. They are granted their lives but are forced to work for the elven community and, eventually, begin to forge relationships with their former enemy and build a greater respect for their fellow warriors.
Set in a fantasy world, occupied by humans, elves, dwarves, orcs and many other species, the story depicts a time of warring communities, whose rulers have very different agendas. Some are constantly trying to usurp the others, their leadership dependant on ruling vast territories, whilst others are more peaceful, seeking only to defend their homelands and their livelihoods. The mercenaries are misled about the reasons for the battle, but having been paid for their efforts, they are obliged to do their job. The elves are fiercely proud and skilled in their defence and are able to easily defeat the mercenaries, but they are also strangely hospitable to their prisoners, showing a great deal of empathy and understanding.
The level of detail in the descriptions bring the story to life, it’s not hard to imagine all of the characters – and the illustrations at the end just add to the depth of imagery.
At the beginning, there was a lot of fighting, it’s clear that the author knows what he is writing about, however I did feel that, at times, there was simply too much descriptive text, albeit well crafted and very visual; as a reader I tended to flip through the story, looking for some different action. I understand the author is setting the scene, building the conflict and developing his characters, and the story seems to take off in the second half. The magical elements were well-defined and definitely not run-of-the-mill, the distinctive characters were realistic, humorous, animated and creative.
There were a few typos, duplications and tense issues, which occasionally caused me to stumble as I raced through the pages. However, this is a well-written tale, incredibly strong and visual, very believable and hugely enjoyable.
For me, this story took a while to get into, however, I’m glad I persisted, as it is beautifully told. I raced through the last few chapters, thoroughly engrossed in the happenings and eager to see what fate beheld the main protagonists. The attention to detail is impressive, I could easily see this as a TV series or film.
Whilst I admit to a vivid imagination, I have never been what you would call artistic. I cannot draw for toffee, indeed games of pictionary are just a chance for everyone else to laugh at my feeble attempts to draw even the simplest thing. I cannot hold a tune or play an instrument; a short spell in the school choir saw me demoted to playing the triangle – which speaks for itself!
Obviously my talents lie elsewhere – yes, someone, somewhere decided that I didn’t need to draw, paint, sing or play instruments – instead, my skills would nurture a different need, a more practical and functional one. I know, it sounds boring already doesn’t it? But, remember the old saying – all that glitters is not gold!
So, what exactly is my area of expertise?
Yay, delightful rows and columns of dazzling formulae – surely an art form in itself! – with snazzy controls and tools, super cool graphics and functions – the wonders of glorious geekdom at it’s very best.
OK, well, that’s all very interesting – but how does that help me as a writer?
Ooo, am I glad you asked that question ….
I am a list person, so, when it comes to writing, I have a few special lists, or rather – templates! For characters, timelines, locations, plots, names etc. Therefore, whenever I get stumped by a story, I revert to type and delve back into my spreadsheets, looking for features I have listed to jump out and say “use me, use me!”. All too often I find something to kick-start my writing and away I go. It’s a bit like having a comfort blanket, always there, safe and soothing, but with an inevitable dig in the ribs to get back to writing. (I may spend a few hours tweaking my lists, cross referencing , creating links and generally geeking out, but hey, I get easily distracted!)
I realise that this kind of preparation doesn’t work for everyone, in fact when I write my first draft, it’s always just pure writing, I start off as a “pantser” and then become more organised when it comes to rewrites, editing and fine tuning. As I said at the outset, “each to his own”, well you can take a girl out of geeksville, but you can never take the geek out of the girl!!
How do you get back on track?
Author: Pam Funke
Much like the story of Jesus, a child is born to a young girl, he is expected to be the answer to all of the world’s problems. However, immediately after the birth, the mother is brutally killed and instantly we discover that this newborn child – Nicolaitanes Balac – has a much darker side. A prompt rise to power, becoming President of Italy and then the formation of a United World Religion sees the power-hungry Nicolaitanes at the helm of a mighty organisation, able to bring death and disease to millions at the push of a button.
Set in a time when the world is beset with problems, terrorist activity is at the forefront of the world leaders’ discussions, famine is rife in other parts of the world, this story magnifies the bleak outlook of the modern world. People everywhere begin to question their faith and some turn to Christianity in the hope of salvation, whilst others them for the multiple missile attacks across the globe. Countries are turned against their allies as the omnipotent Nicolaitanes controls people’s actions, voices in their heads force them to obey his will, defy him at their peril.
The story is fast-moving, however at the outset there are a huge number of characters and the POV switches too quickly at times, becoming confusing. The general feeling is one of suspense and high tension as you fly through the pages, the characters are well-drawn and complex, and after a while you can cope with the large cast and the constant switching from one perspective to another. This is a tale based in Christian fiction, with a mood of impending doom unless you accept the ways of God. There are many biblical references and direct quotations, the overall tone was at times a little too preach-like, but the story is very good, well worth the time to read it, especially as it is quite a long story.
I would not have picked this book up had I been left to my own devices, the genre itself would have deterred me. However, once I got past the preach-like tone, I was able to really enjoy the story. The character of Nicolaitanes is so inherently evil that you cannot foresee his next moves and I was constantly surprised at the depths to which he sank in order to have ‘his time’ in power. I am so glad that there is a sequel to this as there is so much more to unravel.
The book was better. Period
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