Tag Archives: reader

The Twisted, Messed Up Reader Inside Me

Recently, I purchased a few books from an awesome bookstore in Pittsburgh. I was excited to start reading because I had found two books from the genius science fiction writer Issac Asimov. Since I hadn’t read many classic science fiction writers, I saw the books as an opportunity to learn more about the genre. Noticing the word “Foundation” as one of his best pieces, I picked up two books.

One problem. The ignorance of my purchase was validated when I picked up the book, Foundation and Empire to find that it is the second installment in the trilogy. In addition, I had purchased the third installment, Second Foundation, which was sitting at home waiting to be read.

I have the two books on the right: The ones with the orange and blue cover art.

How could I begin the series without the first installment?

Well, folks here is the kicker. I have a secret habit of reading most new series out of order. You’re probably thinking: Just go and buy the other book you need and then read it. My response: Why should I wait to read the story when I have two perfectly good books right here? I can go back and read the beginning of the series later. This mantra has consumed my life for as long as I remember. I pick up a book, read the entire thing, then find out there are three other books that come before and after it.

This accidental out of order reading has happened so often, I have accepted it as a normal habit when reading books. It is rather comical going back, and thinking about what book series I have read in the most interesting order.

Let me take you back to the first time I read a book in a series out of order. It’s 1999, I’m 10 and walked through Kmart or some department store. I’m with my dad when I notice the following cover of a book. It’s a thick book, but up until then I hadn’t seen a good fantasy novel that caught my attention.

I asked my dad to buy the book for me, and by the end of the trip I was at home reading it. Now I might have known about the series if I paid attention to the news, but the internet wasn’t as instantaneous or important to me at 10 years old. No, I read the book cover to cover, never knowing it was the third book in a series of seven.

How can a 10 year old say no to that?!

What book series, you ask? Harry Potter. The book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I was hooked on the story, but didn’t have any more of the books to fuel my addiction. Slowly I began collecting the other books (in the right order from that point) so that I could read the entire story of this boy wizard.

The funny thing about reading a series out of order is how your perception of the story changes. As you acquire more information, the story shapes itself like clay being molded rather than a flower unfolding. For most of the novel, I thought Harry Potter was actually Neville Longbottom because he gave a fake name while getting on the Knight Bus. Try thinking that the main character is pretending to be someone else, then going back to read the first book to find out he’s someone entirely different. Even at a young age, I loved piecing together the story line rather than just read it in order.

Let’s jump ahead to high school. I spent as much time as my schedule would allow in the library. Like any good bookworm, I sought after compelling books to take up my waking hours. As I searched though the stacks I came upon the final book in Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series.

You see that one down there on the bottom right? That's the book I chose to read first!

Anthony is one of many fantasy/science fiction writers that inspired my career today, but our relationship started out a little hazy. Like I said, I picked up the book And Eternity, thinking it was a standalone novel. I was impressed to find that it was the final part (well, now I know it’s the second to last book because he added another one on and I just found out) of the series. I wouldn’t figure this out until I picked up the 5th book in the series of 7. To save time, I will name in numerical order how I read the series: 7,5,1, 3,2,4,6. I know, I know, it seems like the weirdest way to read a series, but it worked. The shock when I discovered the connections between book 5 and 6 were much more drastic than if I had read them in order. The discovery of connections was confusing at first, but eventually became a satisfying result.

It may seem as backwards as reading the series in reverse, but the adrenaline rush I received from putting the story together is incomparable to reading it in chronological order. Also, the fact that I have found an additional book in the series I thought was finished makes me incredibly excited.

Check out the middle book in the bottom row. Doesn't it look appealing?

Moving on to a more recent trip down out of order lane, I was perusing through the fantasy section of a book store when I came upon this series. It was clearly stated that it was part of a series, but I had no clue in what order. Like most chain bookstores, they might have two or three selections from a series or from the author. In this case, I picked up what looked like the most appealing cover matched with the back cover blurb. Again, I had chosen the second to last book in the series, Cape Storm. 

Did that stop me from reading it? Hell, no. This time, though, it took me a bit longer to read the rest of the series. In this instance, I didn’t have the time or cash to supply my addiction. The time separating the first read from the rest of the series spanned two years at least. When it came to finding the other books, it took little research. Half.com provided me with perfect prices to own the series, IN ORDER. After choosing a book at the very end, I decided to try reading it in order. Only that didn’t work either. While attempting to find the right price for the books, I bought a few that were not in numerical order. One from the beginning, two from the middle, and a few missing in between. I read whatever arrived in the mail. I don’t remember exactly what order I read them, but the reaction was the same. Joy from piecing together a story I first read years before. The details of the first book were a little hazy, but eventually everything fell into place. At the moment, I am a few pages into the final book.

It’s sad to think most people never give this a shot. It’s somewhat like the idea Japanese manga has by placing the order of their books right to left rather than the normal setup. It’s a secondary challenge added on to the act of reading. You are the reader first and foremost, but you have the opportunity to approach the series from whatever angle you chose. You aren’t limited to reading it in the linear fashion we are taught. The book police aren’t going to burst into your room because you haven’t read the first book first.

Take a few minutes and think of what your favorite series would be like if you read it out of order. Try taking your favorite book of the series. Start from there and see how the story would change. It might surprise you how much you take for granted reading in order.

Share your story if you have ever read a series out of order! Maybe I’m not the only crazy one!

 

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What the Protagonist Does For You!

Thanks to the wonderful blog of Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds has given me inspiration for my post.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/02/14/25-things-you-should-know-about-protagonists/

For high school students learning English/literary terms is the bane of their existence. Two of the most common terms are protagonist and antagonist. What do most kids think this means? Protagonist-good guy. Antagonist-bad guy.Sadly, some of these kids grow up to adults thinking that these are the real definitions. I would love to go smack whatever idiot who started spreading this definition around because it gives readers the wrong idea when they reference a book’s characters. It’s also important for writers to understand an intimate definition of both these terms.

Protagonist is the chief character that is altered by the people/action in the story. The stereotypical definition might include the fact that the protagonist is the primary character in the story, but that is the closest thing it has to accuracy. The antagonist is more misunderstood than the protagonist. They get the reputation of being the bad guy or the one that opposes the protagonist. Again, the definition is dead wrong. Antagonist actually represents a character that changes the people/action in the story. They are typically the secondary character, but don’t have to be.

While most people will disagree with these intricate definitions, they represent a detailed understanding of the characters. Either in literature or contemporary writing, the characters need to be carefully designed to flow in the plot. Feel free if you want to write a hero that only does good, and a bad guy directly opposite him that tries to thwart him. However, writing anything other than a medieval fantasy/comic book doesn’t fall into this format. For everything else the definition above applies. It’s simple and helps alleviate any limitations when creating your characters.

The link above will take you to a post titled, “25 Things You Should Know About Protagonists,” which happens to agree pretty well with my definition. The blogger goes on to describe other aspects of the protagonists you should keep in mind while writing.

Your protagonist doesn’t have to be loved all of the time. That’s what makes them realistic. It’s good to have your protagonist do something unconventional or mean. You don’t want to make the reader hate them, but sometimes it might happen.

This is what happens when your protagonist isn't karate chopping zombie ninjas

There is something about a boring protagonist that ruins the entire book. If you can’t get the reader caring about the protagonist, you don’t have an audience. To me, a protagonist just needs to be a person you would want to know or have known. Whether it be a person on television or a personality trait from a neighbor, take ideas from real people. It’s profitable. There are insanely entertaining people right outside your door. If they have a cool story to go with them, better for you!

If you look back at my definition of the protagonist one thing is clear. There MUST BE CHANGE! Whether it be from the antagonist or self-reflection of the protagonist, change moves the story along. People like to see change because that’s life. Just like Hamlet finding the courage to stand up to his father (albeit after most of the play and sending his girlfriend to suicide); he changed himself for the better of the story.

One of the most exciting things on this list is number 12. Are you an innie or an outie? The blogger describes inner and outer stories. It represents the action going on inside the head of the protagonist compared to the one happening outside of the character’s head. What the post did not discuss is the way p.o.v factors into the story development. Whether it be internal monologue in one chapter or the entire novel from first person p.o.v., there is a difference of inner/outer story because of the p.o.v. A writer that choses p.o.v. doesn’t have as much inner story untold. According to the post, the inner story isn’t detailed as much as the outer story, but with first person you see the story from the character’s inner thoughts. There are so many options you have the chance to pick what p.o.v. is perfect for your story.

The post goes on to describe the other options you have writing your protagonist. You can create multiple protagonists (see Stephen King’s Under the Dome where he writers upwards of 8 protagonists in one book) where the writer isn’t limited to just one protagonist. It may seem like overkill or suicide to write more than one, but sometimes the story requires more than one. On the other hand, you can create a protagonist that ends up being the fake one, throwing off the reader the entire time! These ideas allow the writer to have some fun with the story and the reader.

Sadly, the toughest part of writing the protagonist is that you have to hurt them. Psychologically, physically, or any other -cally the protagonist has to hurt to truly make the story worthwhile. Once the readers begin to sympathize (or hate) the protagonist, you have the opportunity to fortify their idea of the protagonist or drastically change it. You get to control how the reader feels about the protagonist by the end of the story based on how they are hurt.

The end of the post gives the most important tips when writing the protagonist. It starts with the reality that you can’t have a perfect, ideal protagonist. It doesn’t make a good story to have someone who never fails or has flaws. It’s boring and predictable. I realize that people may want to write those kind of characters, but you shouldn’t. It’s not fair to those characters, you, or the story.  What’s even more important is putting YOU in the protagonist. The best possible resource we have to make a realistic protagonist is yourself. Hopefully you know you well enough to pick pieces of you to give to that protagonist. You can improve a flat character greatly by putting the best/worst parts of you into it.

Ultimately, the goal of the protagonist is to relate to the reader, even if the protagonist is vastly different than most of the readers. As long as the readers see a little of themselves in the protagonist, there is a basic connection that is made. This can take you through the entire book if you make a good enough character. You don’t have to make one for every person out there because we will always find something in common with other human beings. The important part is that you remember these tips and try to put some of you in the story, too.

Happy writing!

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How to Make Realistic Characters

For all the writers out there, here is a helpful blog post dedicated to helping you to write the best quality stories. The post “Why Your Novel Characters Need Real Flaws” describes a way to enhance your novel characters and make them more realistic.

http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/02/why-your-novel-characters-need-real-flaws/

The post begins by addressing the definition of real flaws in characters. You’re attempting to make real people out of your imagination and addressing the personality of the characters.

“It’s a flaw that affects those around your character in a significant way, a weakness with serious consequences, not just angst or temporary hurt feelings.”

When you realize a character is forming in your mind, usually it takes a life of its own rather quickly. Filling out a character sheet helps you to figure out the finer points of who a character is, but it takes a lot of time to develop flaws in characters. Unless it’s a villain, we don’t want our characters to have things wrong with them. We want them to be good and overcome their flaws without too many obstacles. We don’t want them to have negative personality traits that make them unlikable.  When you allow your character to do bad things, the reader doesn’t necessarily agree and want to continue reading. You’re faced  with the task to either be true to the story (what the character wants to do) and making the reader happy. Ideally, you want to achieve both, which creates a good story from good writing.

Sometimes it helps to have someone show you what makes a good character. By reading other writers, it helps you understand how they develop good characters or bad ones. If you can believe and relate to a character, it usually means that the flaws in the character are realistically written. The post goes on to explain the difference between cosmetic flaws (that writers tend to write) and real flaws that make characters like real people.

Every cosmetic flaw is a victimless half of the real flaw it replaces. Here are two examples:

Cosmetic character flaw: Insecurity. Its real counterpart: envy and sabotage

Cosmetic character flaw: Fearfulness. Its real counterpart: disloyalty under pressure

The cosmetic flaws are petty things. Things that writers think will give the character a realistic personality, but it actually creates an illusion of real flaws. Being “politically correct” or “sugar-coating” the problem masks what is really underneath. They might seem like a nice way to put a flaw so that it doesn’t hurt the reader, but it doesn’t make the character more realistic. The writer is playing God and sticking a mask on the character that wasn’t supposed to be there.

The question the writer of the blog poses is which flaws create good writing. If you want to write fiction that doesn’t affect its readers, write with cosmetic flaws. If you want your writing to create a reaction from the readers that changes their lives, you use real flaws. To put it simply, real is better than fake. Fiction may be created from the imagination, but it comes from the truth of the world around us. We need to tap into the emotions and basics of truth to build the story on. If we use characters that the reader feels are real, the fictional parts of the story are handled with ease.

I immediately felt a need to assess my characters after reading this post and it ultimately changed my mind on character development. I knew that I needed to work on the flaws of a character so the reader accepts my stories better. I was able to focus on what I thought the flaws were in my main character, and change it to create a person rather than just a flat character.

What struggles do you have with characters? Is it in their flaws or in their actions?

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The Gathering: The Final Review

Well, it’s down to the wire and I’ve finally finished The Gathering for my practicum assignment. There are three days for me to write this 5-8 page paper. Seems silly to wait this close to the deadline when I’ve had over a month to accomplish it. For a writer, you’d think the deadline would be the scary, black cloud looming over my head ready to strike me down with lightening. But I love the thrill of procrastination. There’s something about the deadline that forces my creative juices to work harder. Contrary to the idea that stress creates writer’s block, sometimes the stress inspires your imagination in a way working ahead just can’t provide.

This 261 page book was difficult not in the sense that it was hard to read, but that I was attempting to read like a writer. As I’ve mentioned before, reading can be broken down into three easy categories.

1) Reading as a reader (for pleasure)- It is the most common and easy way to read. You are reading to enjoy the story and not to dissect the writing. Sometimes you just need to crawl away from the world and read to escape the realities.

2) Reading as a student (to analyze)- This is the most familiar for high school and college students. There is an English Comp. or Literature class requiring you to write about a book that you have to read. You read the book knowing what to look for in the words to write a paper.

3) Reading as a writer (to learn)-The action of a writer reading another writer’s work is different than anything else in the reading world. We don’t judge another author’s work, but try to understand how they accomplished such a feat. Especially for a young writer like myself, it is an important skill to learn from experienced authors.

Knowing I had a daunting task ahead to learn how to read like a writer, I took my time. Over the course of three weeks, I labored over this book. You would think it might take a week with how determined I am to get a good grade, but that’s not the case. This book is simply about a woman coming to terms with her closest brother’s suicide. What do you have when you mix an exotic setting (Ireland) with a great tragedy (suicide), and drop in a couple repressed memories from a deranged family? You get one confusing book. Not confusing in the sense that you couldn’t connect the story together from chapter to chapter. It is the viewpoint of the entire books. Going from imaginative memories of Veronica’s grandparents to interactions with her deranged mother, any reader can feel her confusion.

At the risk of sounding cocky, I feel like this could be on purpose by the author. Without the confusion in this woman’s life, we wouldn’t be able to understand where she’s coming from. Death can do crazy things to your life, especially with marriage, secrets, and family gatherings. The ending leaves you wanting more coinciding almost exactly with the feelings of the narrator.

I was stunned, absolutely stunned at the ending. Not because I can’t imagine things that happen when a family gets together, but it is still more shocking to someone outside of the family. Overall, the book was satisfying. It’s relative to everyone in one way or another. Regardless of how crazy your family is, it’s nice to see that other families are worse. My next step is to write this paper. Although it should be a piece of cake, I don’t want it to fall short. There is a need for me to go above and beyond what I did in my undergrad. It’s easier because I’m not analyzing the text to find a certain theme. Instead, I’m asked to find what aspects of the book I like and what has affected my writing so far.

In 5-8 pages, I think I can do this in one day let alone three. It’s easy to find what you like or don’t like about a book. With the sticky notes and scribbles in the margin, I feel like my work will pay off. So, here goes my late night start to the first critical essay!

Make sure you check out The Gathering by Anne Enright!

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The Gathering Week One

Well, the first book I have to read for my residency with acclaimed western writer, Jane Boyer (Candia Coleman) is The Gathering by Anne Enright. Now you must be thinking, what is a western writer doing assigning an Irish writer to a bunch of first years (freshman so to speak)? The answer would be my upcoming trip to Dublin, Ireland in June. Why Anne Enright? Because she could very well be there during the residency and she is a fantastic example of Irish writing.

The copy I'm currently reading looks like this 🙂

I’ve had some experience with Irish writing. Mostly James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, and William Trevor. My experience first came in a Irish Short Fiction class during my junior or senior year of my undergrad. It would have been an amazing class if it had not been at 8 o’clock in the morning three days a week. There is just something about 8 a.m. that makes the brain want to work less. It was interesting nonetheless and I expect my time in Ireland will be much better than sleepy mornings in the basement of the library.

Returning to the purpose of the post, I have spent the last few days starting Anne Enright’s book.  The book is set in Ireland and England, so far. To me, they are exotic enough that just the areas she describes excite me to read more. As much as I enjoy her use of vocabulary and detailed scenes, I force myself to slow down. Too frequently, readers forget how to read slow and simply skim over the words only processing half of them. My friends and family may think I’m a fast reader because I finish books quickly, but that is not the case. In fact, I would describe myself as a slow reader on purpose. I want to savor the moments of a book whether it is for school or for pleasure. Reading shouldn’t be a race to get to the end of the story. A book should be read at the pace that it’s written.

For example, Carrie by Stephen King, I read in one sitting or a few hours. It was relatively small for a Stephen King novel, but the fast paced nature of the story is what led me to read it quickly. The author somewhat dictates how fast or slow you read the book, but the story also does that.  For the books I’m required to read for school, though, I deliberately take my time to savor and analyze the book. As I have  learned from my first residency, there is a difference between reading as a reader and reader as a writer. I struggle automatically to differentiate the two while reading.

However, I’m not alone as it is a skill acquired with time and practice. It is easy to enjoy a story and read for pleasure. It is another to read from an academic point and analyze potential literature for archetypes and common themes. It is another point all together to read as a writer. It is completely different to read thinking about style, voice, and point of view. To understand how a writer wrote such a fantastic story from the inside is a task not easily handled. So, I have only delved 1/5 of the way through the world Enright has created.

I am following an Irish family as they suffer through one of many deaths. The main character, Veronica Hegarty, is suffering most from her brother’s suicide. Although, from the first few pages, their deranged mother seems to be suffering more than all of her remaining children combined. I think the casual nature that Enright brings in the dysfunction of the family appeals most to me. Everyone thinks they have the most dysfunctional family, until they look at the house next door or down the street. It is that familiarity that your family infuriates you (Veronica being the responsible one and having to take care of all the arrangements) and soothes you (hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it will) without you even realizing it. She depicts a playful relationships with the past and present of Veronica’s life in addition to an imaginative past of her grandparents’.

I am struck by how quintessential family can become in just a few chapters. It doesn’t have to relate at all to your own family because people always find similarities in the smallest things. It is simply the struggle of dealing with family and death that makes this book so easy to connect. Two elements that in one way or another shape every human being, every living creature on the planet. I look forward to each page, attempting to understand the bits of Irish culture embedded in the  story as well as the overall feeling of Enright as a writer. If I do have the chance to meet Enright, I will surely faint for the sheer fact that she is an acclaimed Irish writer. More importantly, I will again be in awe of those much more experienced and eloquent doing the most valuable thing in the world, writing.

So, I leave you reader to return to The Gathering and coincidentally my cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Hope you will check out this little piece of Irish life as I prepare to write a paper about it.

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