Catching Fire: Book Review

Since I wrote a book review for The Hunger Games, I decided to add the next installment. Now that the movie is out, I’ve been thinking about the story.

catching fire coverCatching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2), by Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, September 1, 2009. 391 pages

Katniss and Peeta are sent to each District to show solidarity with President Snow. Their rule breaking at the end of The Hunger Games caused others around the Districts to rebel as well. Trouble happens when they appear at District 11. The home of Rue, the little girl Katniss teamed up with during the Games. There an act of rebellion happens and the results shock and disturb Katniss.

Later on their journey around the Districts and the Capitol they give an interview with a surprise announcement. They hoped it would curb the rebellion, but have little success.

After her return home, Katniss encounters runaways who explain a theory about the elusive District 13. They believe it is occupied by people unhappy with the Capitol and the Districts. Katniss wonders about their revelation, but mostly dismisses it as fanciful.

The efforts of President Snow resulted in little influence so he announces another Hunger Games. The 75th Hunger Games, or the Quarter Quell. For the anniversary special instructions are given that pertain to the contestants. It’s revealed that 24 previous winners would have to enter the games. They hold the same type of lottery with previous contestant who have their names drawn. Katniss and Peeta are chosen along with 22 other previous winners.

The Games are in a new setting and have new challenges. The unexpected ending opens the way to the third installment and the conclusion.

My thoughts on the book:

We delve more into the relationship of Katniss and Peeta and wonder about Gale and if he might ever get his chance with her.

This book stayed as action packed as the first book and I read it with a quick pace. The game winner participation is a twist that I enjoyed. It gave a new perspective for strategy and ability. Everyone understood the rules, so the entire experience of reading this story seemed new and exciting.

The ending comes out of nowhere, but is still relevant and serves a purpose for the plot.

I had a few issues with this story. The 75th annual game seemed odd. For such an important anniversary we received little notice of its approach. I also wanted more in terms of Katniss’ relationships. She came off as distant to everyone and though she is close with Peeta, it still seemed underdeveloped.

catching fire movie coverSince the story intrigued me I overlooked those small issues. I delighted in reading the characters I cared about. An overall good read.

I look forward to seeing the movie and seeing how close it stays to the book.

I would love to discuss with you about this and I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

 

NaNoWriMo Results

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My final word count: 50,030! I’m excited about my win and the accomplishment of finishing the challenge. Next up a few days off before diving into editing.

I appreciate all the encouragement and excitement from my family, the people around me, and the NaNoWriMo staff.

Congratulations to all the participants and to the winners! Thanks to everyone who supported us.

I would love to discuss your experiences with NaNo or your wins! I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

 

Fiction Writing: Create Flow through Outline and Initiate Helpful Editing

I finished my daily NaNoWriMo word count today and wanted to veer off that topic for my next blog post. I’m sure after the first few weeks those who chose not to participate are ready to hear about something other than reaching a word count.

This is the third installment of my Fiction Writing Series here and here.

The first one spoke to plot and how to gain enough content for a full novel. The second one provided content on character development and good ways to know and understand them before you start.

For this one I have given two final preparations before you start the novel. These will help your story fly and soar to the finish.

Step Three:

flamingos Outline and Edit

Yeah, these two are a strange grouping. Outline comes at the beginning and editing at the end. So why place them together? Well, I consider them both a necessary preparation of a novel.

The Outline

Unless you are a discovery writer (writing until you “discover” an idea and then build your story from there,) you will write an outline.

Answer this question:

How much information do I need to write a complete story?

The beginning, middle, and end are easy place cards to initiate an outline, or main plot, arc, and climax are another option. The outlines most important section is the ending. If you can identify the end then the body and the beginning lead there. Successful books wrap up the plot and sub-plots, especially successful first novels. Established authors can change that up.

After the ending is decided, then look to the conflict. Each scene needs conflict, which is why an antagonist is important to a story. Without conflict readers begin to drift from the book. Something needs to happen and not the same thing over and over. I once read a book where the protagonist went for a run every single day as the important scene and the small amount of conflict came off as repetitive instead of intriguing.

The amount of information in your outline depends on the type of novel you write. A story with many characters, sub-plots, and dramatic conclusions need more detail, yet books with wiggle room for creative development during the writing can have a lot less in the outline.

For me, I write about 12 bullet points and fill in the basic pieces I want to include in the story. As I write I pull from it and expand it as I go. It has worked for me so far.

Editing

Arm yourself with the editing knowledge. My list mostly gives things to avoid.

Editing list:

  • Avoid “to be verbs”: they are linking verbs that can be replaced with action verbs
    • Be, am, is, are, was, were, been, has, have, had, do, did, does, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must
  • Avoid adverbs: they are usually telling words instead of showing words
  • Avoid too many adjectives: one before every word it becomes too much
  • Avoid common words:
    • Beautiful, pretty, really, seriously, literally
  • Avoid too many metaphors and similes
  • Avoid redundancies: especially common phrases like sit down, stand up, turn around, etc.
  • Replace wordy sentences with action or stronger words
  • Avoid too many propositions
  • Avoid present participles
  • Avoid dangling present participles
  • Make sure your paragraphs and sentences have first word variance
  • Switch up paragraph and sentence lengths
  • Have every scene contain a beginning, middle and end
  • Avoid too much back-story and flashbacks
  • Avoid large amounts of description of your characters: you should show it instead of telling it
  • Avoid clichés

First drafts are much cleaner when you apply editing techniques as you write. Some writers like to type their thoughts down without any restrictions for their first draft, and if you don’t mind re-writing almost every sentence of an 80K – 120K word novel, then go for it.

For me, I want to focus on consistency of plot, characters, and structure instead of a ton of re-writing. For my NaNo novel, I’ve attempted to write cleaner. It takes a little longer, but I know the editing will take less time. I’m happy with the trade-off.

With all the prep in place it’s easier to get started and keep on your way to the end.

How do you like to prepare for a novel? A lot of outlines? No outline? Something in-between?

I would love to discuss with you about this and I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

Fiction Writing: Top Character Creation

This is the second installment in my Fiction Writing Series and it’s all about characters.

“He’s such a character.” A phrase people say to endear a quirky action by someone they like, and a wonderful way to understand what to include in our fictional characters. Readers need those attributes to inspire a fondness for the overall story, like the ugly duckling who turns into a swan. Many times when a reader anticipates the next scene he or she will skip the description and move to the dialog. The setting can wait while we find out what happens to the character.

Step Two:

SwanCharacter Development

A book reviewer, who references the fictional character as if he or she is a real person, gives the biggest complement to an author. The author made the writing decisions, but the reader attributes those decisions to the character, and it shows how well-developed they are.

As writers we should look to other authors as motivation for those times the writing gets hard. We need to remember they are normal people just like us who struggled with their writing as well. I like to read or watch author interviews as a reminder and it seems to help me move forward with more confidence.

Reading is another great way to see what works in a character and why people love or hate them enough to recommend the book to other people.

Answer this question first:

What are your characters?

In most cases the answer is human, but there are other choices in fiction writing.

  • Human
  • Witch/Wizard
  • Mythological character
  • Werewolf
  • Space alien
  • Vampire
  • New unique creature

Once you decide it becomes easier to decide their characteristics. For the non-human characters develop a list of characteristics that differ from humans. Their speech patterns, the way they walk, their interactions, and anything else you can think of to make them real.

Next, answer this question:

Who are they?

Each character will be identified by their everyday lives. An interesting plot puts some disruption into their normal routine and takes them forward into the story. Decide what each character does. Are they in school, or police officers, thieves, painters, ranchers, businessmen, fire fighters, serial killers, or any other profession you can image?

Once you know what they do every day it’s easier to keep track of their interactions with others, their speech patterns, and for world building.

Then, answer this question:

Where do they come from?

A wealthy character will react differently than an orphan. Someone who just went through a loss acts different from someone with no major losses. Every unique culture has differentiating opinions, taboos, norms, and motivations. The knowledge of a character’s background gives a writer what they need to make big decisions in a story.

Not every character needs a ton of details, but the main characters need that extra development. Also, when you have uncertainty about the actions or dialog you can go back to the background to make those choices.

Finally, answer this question:

What are the specifics?

This is where you decide the gender and names of your characters. With gender you have two options. However, the name choices are extensive. The internet and resource books make it a lot easier. You can go to baby name websites and search for definitions, first letters, nationality, or other criteria that will help you decide.character meme

The one rule to remember in choosing a name: unique names are more difficult for readers to keep track of and remember. The more common or short the name the more likely the reader can relate to them and recall it when they review the book or tell friends about it.

In order to decide how your character will react in many situations you could fill out personality quizzes and answer the questions as your characters. Tons of websites offer quizzes from Facebook to teen magazines. Other avenues for questions are media interviews, Reddit’s AMA (ask me anything) with celebrities, or twitter ask hash tags. Just take the questions and answer from your character’s perspective.

Of course, the best way to develop a character is to incorporate personality traits from people you know. The exact replica isn’t necessary, but if you know how someone will react in life then you can decide how your character will respond in your story.

What are the best ways to develop interesting characters? Is it important to know about the character before you begin writing? How do you tackle this process?

I would love to discuss with you about this and I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

NaNoWriMo—Training Lean, Mean, Writing Machines

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Yesterday Jami posted about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I really hope you guys take her class because she is truly a gifted teacher. Today, I want to talk a little bit about what writers (especially new writers) can gain from NaNo.

NaNo Teaches Endurance 

I remember years ago thinking, “Wow, if I could just write a thousand words a day, that would be AMAZING.” When I looked at professional authors, it was like watching a marathon runner—all the while knowing I couldn’t run a flight of stairs without requiring oxygen and possibly a defibrillator to restart my heart. I so struggled to get words on a page, and Lord help me if I saw something shiny.

Of course, after years of practiced discipline, I generally have a thousand words written by breakfast. When I fast-draft (which I do for all my books), my average is abnormally…

View original post 1,084 more words

20 Books to Love

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I often wonder about those who don’t like to read. I carry reading material with me at all times. Every second to spare is a perfect time to read. So what do they do besides reading? It’s a mystery to me.

Many times non-readers will ask me why I read so much and the question seems as absurd as a person not liking to read. I’m not sure how to answer. Books add to my life. They give me intriguing stories, events, and knowledge. They can’t relate, but to me they are missing out.

So I wanted to share twenty of my favorite books:

What are some of your favor books? Do non-readers question your reading habits?

I would love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.

A.G. Zalens

Witch of Blackbird Pond: Review

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Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, HMH Books for Young Reader, December 1, 1958. 256 pages

This is one of my all-time favorites, simple, innocent, yet deep, meaningful, and thought-provoking.

Witch of Blackbird Pond the story of Katherine (Kit) a seventeen year old orphan moving from Barbados to Connecticut to live with her Aunt and Uncle’s family. Her journey takes place during a time when Puritans cities were popular in New England states, where unbelievers were witches, and outsiders were chased from towns.

Kit’s story begins with her travels across the ocean, her interactions with the Captain and his son Nat, and her abnormal behavior, pointing out her foreign attributes.

Once she arrives at her Aunt’s house she experiences a culture shock, the ocean water is cold, their family doesn’t have much, and she’s expected to contribute with the work load and attend their church functions.

Eventually, Kit meets an elderly woman named Hannah − a Quaker living on undesirable swamp land. Hannah has a frequent visitor in Nate, showing up when his ship docked in the area, completing difficult tasks for her.

By the end, the action builds, the romance blooms, and the friendships blossom: resulting in a compelling story worthy of a read…or two.

What I love about this story is the easy connection to Kit and how relatable her experiences are to everyone. Just living the teenage years can be like a culture shock! Always feeling as though no one understands you and finding comfort in the group of people who try.

The romance between Kit and Nate is provoking and sweet. I like the initial hesitation but eventual time taken to get to know each other. Even more attractive is Nate’s willingness to support her when she is practically alone.

I recommend this book to anyone wanting a quick read with intriguing characters and a compelling plot.

Thanks for reading my blog!

A.G. Zalens