Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

I know I said I’d try for three updates a month, but April was a freight train in terms of speed and power.  April was already a fairly busy month work-wise for me, including traveling about every week, and several other projects for work came up as well, so it involved a lot of long days and ‘I just want to turn my brain off’ nights.  Also, with the nicer weather, my husband and I have a list of nagging house projects that need tending to.  Nothing major, but a lot of small things that we hope to finish before summer.  A stressful personal events happened as well, but things seem to have calmed down for now, hence why I’m able to write a decent post that’s more than a ‘well, nothing here!’

I’m putting my first book on a short hold, until the end of June.  My first book is pretty much editor-ready, but I want to be able to have time to interact with the editor and really digest their feedback, rather than my book become entangled in a mess of other things going on.  Both the second half of May and all of June are full of travel and work projects, but I do not have anything major schedules again until September, so the summer would be best time to dedicate to this.

Until then, I will still be trying to finish my NanoWrimo book, but since I like to put some brainpower into my writing and need a few hours at a time to set aside for this, that’s also been a bit on the back burner until about now.

Last, I did finish reading not just one book, but three, for this month’s book review.  Unfortunately, what I thought was a trilogy is not, and the series is continuing.  However, I will still be writing a review, just based on those three books.

Well, off to do….something.

 

Character Descriptions: Necessary Visual or Waste of Words?

This blog was prompted by my last two book reviews.  Both Sapphire & Lotus: Dragon Kin and Valley of Embers lacked something I find to be one of the most useful visuals in reading: character descriptions.  In response, I’ll be blogging on my own preference in character descriptions, in both writing and reading.

Passive Descriptions:

As a writer, I like to describe at least one attribute as soon as I introduce a character, and most of the time I chose to write it from the perspective of another character.  Sometimes it’s as simple as hair/eye/skin color, but just describing this can be a bit generic – She had green eyes, brown hair, and tanned skin.  Green/brown/tanned are vague terms and can convey a plethora of different visuals.  Something even a bit more specific – Her green eyes remind me of moss in the woods – can not only describe one character, but lead into how another character feels/relates to the character being described.

A description does not necessarily have to be of the character either – hair color, skin color, and eye color are a start, but not always applicable (especially for that hooded figure in the corner of the tavern).  Height and build are secondary, and can be referenced from a ‘comparative’ standpoint, in which one character ‘sizes up’ another, but again may not always be applicable.  Instead, I sometimes focus on what the character is wearing first, particularly if the character wears the accessory or clothing throughout the story.  The key here is to make sure the item is important to the character – perhaps a girl wears a necklace her father gave her before he died in a war, or a basketball fan is obsessed with his local team and always wears their colors, or a character needs to have a certain tool on hand to complete her job, or even survive (such as a medical device).  Scars and tattoos are another option, and tend to have stories in of themselves.

Active Descriptions:

The above examples are more ‘passive’ character descriptions, but descriptions can also be active.  A firm handshake can portray strength or confidence, or a person’s quick reaction to the situation they’re in will demonstrate attentiveness or possibly wariness/anxiety.  An alcoholic will not only have a bottle in hand but alcohol on his breath when he talks, a character suffering OCD will start her morning differently than her spouse, and a high school star athlete may (or may not!) beat the new student in a race.  I prefer writing active descriptions when characters have a certain, specific profession, and are particularly important for main characters whose active descriptions develop over the course of the novel.

How detailed?

There’s also the question of how much description, or the level of detail, is necessary to get the proper visual across.  One thing I learned when I started writing was, no matter how much detail you put into your character description, each one of your readers is going to visualize the character differently (source here).  While I love reading character descriptions, I do think this is true.  Which then begs the questions – why even describe characters, and how much detail do you really need?

When you meet a person for the first time, or even notice a stranger on the street, the first things that register are pretty much the equivalent to basic character descriptions.  They form the base of identification, and within milliseconds prepare us for interaction (even if we just pass the person by).  While we certainly don’t know everything about someone based on the most basic descriptions, we do begin to form an identity, a connection, we can interact with.  The character in the novel suddenly has traits we can visualize, which makes interaction much easier.  It’s ‘putting a face to the name’, if you will, and even if the face is different for each person reading, it makes ‘interacting’ with the character (reading the story) much easier.

As for the level of detail, it’s up to the writer, but I will advise:  Focus on the character traits that individualize the character from others.  You could have a group of teenage girls who attend the same private school with a strict dress code, and they could all be the same race/family and thus have similar physical features.  But each one is going to be different somehow – glasses or contacts, intelligence, sociability, food allergies, music preference, etc. Focus your descriptions on these more ‘detailed’ attributes, and less on the basic descriptions that make them all the same, and it’s also best if the details are relevant to the story in a way.

Description Frequency:

My last point, the frequency of character descriptions, is something I learned when reading the feedback form my beta readers.  My first beta reader suggested more frequent descriptions of my characters, which I included in my subsequent submissions to other beta readers.  My second, third, and fourth beta reader mentioned nothing about character descriptions, but my fifth one also made the comment of wanting more descriptions throughout the novel!  Character descriptions are kind of easy for a writer to lose sight of (after all, we know exactly what they look like), but can be necessary in longer stories where characters are driving the plot.

My advice is, only add enough ‘frequency’ of description as you, the writer, want to allow.  While it shouldn’t be necessary to describe your characters every single chapter, nor should the flow be interrupted with descriptions, a ‘gentle reminder’ that your main character has black hair and a snake tattoo doesn’t hurt either, preferably in a scene where the hair or tattoo is relevant (such as a haircut, or a surgeon having to cut across the tattoo).  Stories can get long and complicated, and the reader can lose track of even the basic descriptions (particularly when they put the book down for a week or so), so the longer the story, the more frequent you may want character descriptions.

Descriptions – even necessary, or waste of space?

Of course, all of this is moot when you don’t even write descriptions of your characters.  Which, as I’ve come across twice now, isn’t unheard of in novels.  When this happens, I usually I just substitute the best visual I can for the character based on what I am given (male or female, young or old, strong or meek personality, etc.).

For me, when reading, the character’s description (or lack of) is often the first thing I latch on to.  It’s that first step towards relating the reader and the character, and while it doesn’t have to be pages of details, something is always better than nothing.  Even the basic, most passive descriptions (hair/skin/eyes) are enough to portray enough to visualize the character, to ‘get to know them’ if even at a superficial level.  In my opinion, it shouldn’t be up to the reader to fill in these blanks.

I’m on Minds.

I joined Minds.  You can see my posts here.  I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it, aside from reblogging some nice pictures and joining a couple writing groups.  I would like to be a bit more active, but frankly I’ve been swamped at work and have had to work through my lunch hour all week just to stay on top of the workload.  By the time I get home, I just want to zone out – which means less time for personal stuff (like Minds).

I’m also trying to finish up the NanoWrimo story I started, and it’s going to be about 90k words or so at the pace I’m going.  I’m at 74k right now, so getting there…I’m really in a ‘writing mood’ now so I’m pretty focused on this, another reason I haven’t been active on Minds.

As for my main novel, I’m taking a little break before I go through it one last time and then send it off to an editor – which means I’m going to have to screen for editors soon.  I’ve looked at them in the past, but I know I’ll have to pick one sooner rather than later.  Editors can be busy people with schedules that fill up quickly, so I’ll probably narrow it down by the middle of next month, even if I don’t have the story scheduled to read until summer.

I’ll hopefully be posting an actual ‘writing tip’ blog next time, so wish me luck on having time/energy for that…

Valley of Embers (The Landkist Saga Book 1) Review

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Stats:

Book Title:  Valley of Embers (The Landkist Saga Book 1)

Author: Steven Kelliher

Pages: 439

Release Date: August 2016

Author Website:  Steven Kelliher

Purchase Link: Amazon

 

Spoilers.  Duh.

 

Plot:  The plot.  Oh.  My.  God.  The.  Plot.  I’m going to try my best to sum this up, but…bear with me.  It’s a bit of a long-winded doozy.  It is not neat and tidy.  It is not simple.  The main plot is more of a tapestry that is weaved throughout the entire story in piecemeal, and here is what I put together:

Once upon a time, there lived a community in the desert.  Some of these people had powers to control fire.  These people were denoted as Embers, which is a type of Landkist (land-kissed, get it?).  Then one day an evil called the Eastern Dark threatened them, so the King of Embers lead his people out of the desert to safety.   They settled in a place called the Valley, who they shared with commoners as well as other Landkist – Rockbled (warriors of impeccable strength that can carry stone shields and weapons) and Faey (mystical healers/seers).  After the people settled, the King of Embers sought the aid of a Sage named White Crest (god/protector to the Embers) to help him defeat the Eastern Dark (who is also a Sage, and White Crest’s brother).  During the battle, they collapsed part of the land, trapping the people in the Valley and preventing the desert folk from returning home.  What became of the King of Embers, the White Crest, and the Eastern Dark remained a mystery.

However, darkness still threatens the Valley.  There are periods of time during the year called the Dark Months when the sun barely shines, allowing shadowy creatures (Dark Kind) to come out from a place called The World Apart and attack the homesteads.  The Landkist, particularly Embers, fight to protect their communities against them.  Once the Dark Months are over and the sun shines again (the Bright Days), the people spend time preparing for the next year’s attack – there is no time of peace.

Fast forward thirty years, and the main characters have settled into a community called Last Lake.  It is supposed to be the end of the Dark Months, but the attacks from the Dark Kind are stronger and more numerous than ever, pointing to the return of the Eastern Dark.  The main character, an Ember named Kole, fights what he believes is a Night Lord (one of the more powerful Dark Kind), but when they exchange gazes he feels himself ‘being watched’ by something else.

This unsettles him, and the others in Last Lake.  But Kole, unlike most people, doesn’t believe the White Crest was ever a protector (he holds him accountable for his mother’s death among other things), and has little faith in the other Sages (there are six total, and are supposedly at war with one another).   His beliefs put him at odds with most of the residents, but everyone agrees that, whether Kole is right or not, the White Crest must be found in hopes to aid them again (if he’s alive).

Kole leaves to find the White Crest.  However, he is attacked by a Sentinel (another powerful Dark Kind), which forces him to return to Last Lake in a bad state.  In his absence, his friend Linn gathers a half-dozen warriors – three Embers, the hunter Nathen, and the Rockbled Baas – to seek out the White Crest.  Along the way, they are attacked by the Dark Kind, and another Sentinel manages to ‘turn’ one of their Embers, Larren, against them.  Larren kills one of the other Embers, isolates Baas, and forces the others (Linn, Nathen, and Jenk the last Ember) into the caverns beneath the raging River F’rust.

Kole recovers and decides to leave again.  He is attacked along the road, but manages to make it to a stronghold called Hearth, which has been repeatedly assaulted by the unending Dark Kind.  However, his previous battle with the Sentinel awakened a sort of ‘super strength’ (‘chosen one’) in Kole, making him one of the most powerful and effective Embers ever to live.  Despite Hearth’s need of Embers, he decides to continue his quest to find the White Crest, aided by another Ember named Misha.

Linn, Nathen, and Jenk make it out of the caverns and into a sort of hilltop paradise, and awaiting them is Larren, who supposedly kills Nathen and Jenk and captures Linn.  Nathen turns out to be alive and rescues Linn.  During their escape, they discover that other creatures (Dark Hearts) are ‘feeding’ the Dark Kind, causing their increase in power/assaults.  Nathan and Linn quickly defeat them, which marks the end of the Dark Kind’s continued besiege against the Valley and allowing the Bright Days to resume.  They run outside, are confronted by Larren, and just when all hope is lost Jenk comes to their rescue.

Kole and Misha eventually find a cavern that is home to the Rockbled.  A dozen Rockbled accompany them to the hilltop paradise in time to see Jenk battle Larren.  There is a big battle and Kole and his group kill the Sentinel/Larren, and he reunites with Linn.

Then the White Crest shows up and battles Kole, and has other creatures battle Kole’s companions. During all of this, the White Crest reveals his scheme:

See, the White Crest, fearing the Eastern Dark would turn the Embers against him, decided to use the Dark Kind to get rid of the Embers before this could happen (or use the Dark Kind to battle-harden the Embers – it goes back and forth).  And the Eastern Dark turned the King of Embers against the White Crest during the battle mentioned in the beginning, forcing the White Crest to flee.  The Eastern Dark then sent the Night Lords against the White Crest, but the White Crest destroyed them, but in doing so the White Crest fell into a slumber, and when he woke he had control of the Night Lords, the Dark Kind, the Corrupted – and then decided to destroy (or strengthen) the Embers.  Meanwhile, the Eastern Dark and the King of Embers were trying to recruit another army in The World Apart and as the same time destroy the other Sages who might rise against him.  The White Crest wants Kole’s help in defeating the Eastern Dark, but Kole, seeing the White Crest as corrupted, refuses.

The battle continues and Kole wins, but then the King of Embers shows up and disrupts the battle, targeting the White Crest.  Before the King of Embers (fueled by the Eastern Dark, I think) can finish the White Crest, another conversation about schemes takes place:

It turns out the Eastern Dark wanted the White Crest to overcome the Night Lords and become corrupted, hoping he’d then corrupt/destroy the Embers – one less obstacle to overcome along The Eastern Dark’s way to defeating the other Sages.  It gets a bit convoluted here, mainly about who/what the Dark Kind and the World Apart are, but it’s also very easy to lose track as to who is talking and what the deeper plot is.  (To be honest, I read this over several times and I still don’t know what’s going on.)

After the King of Embers kills the White Crest, he attacks Kole.  Linn is then somehow blessed with acute vision and helps Kole force the King of Embers into a retreat.  There is another character introduced here who retreats with the King of Embers, who is hinted to be the Eastern Dark’s sister.  Then after more talk/warning/threats are made, everyone goes home with the resolve to find the other Sages before the King of Ember kills them.

That doesn’t seem so bad, does it?  Well, if you think the plot above is straightforward and clear…it’s because I only summarized about 50% of the book.

In between all of this, the are other characters in Last Lake who spend every other chapter in between what I summarized going back and forth on whether the White Crest can be trusted or not, or if he ever was trustworthy, or on their side, really, their protector, whether he’s being used, etc.  They also speak of Kole’s mother and other things that end up not having any substance to them.  And it turns out that this whole mess is Ninyeva’s (a Faey Landkist) fault because she somehow her vision ‘woke up’ the White Crest, and he eventually kills her in retaliation.  She is also the one who sent Kole’s mother to her doom.

And then, every other chapter between these are more chapters regarding the battles at Hearth.  That’s it – they’re just battles against the Dark Kind, and Hearth always win.

While these chapters mainly serve to provide bits and pieces of plot or character development, overall they come off as ‘dead talk’ because they don’t tend to resolve anything or provide new information.  A couple of these chapters were okay, but there were simply too many in between the forward-moving chapters revolving around Kole and Linn, resulting in an already confusing plot being jumbled and interrupted further.

Reading the plot is a patchwork, and unfortunately it is up to the reader to make sense of it in between a lot of chapters that serve little, if any, purpose.

Characters:  Let’s break it up this way:

Characters that matter:  Kole, Linn, Baas, Iyana, Ninyeva, Talmir, Larren, White Crest, King of Embers.

Characters that should matter, but don’t:  Sarise (Kole’s mother), Misha, Shifa (Kole’s dog).

Characters that don’t matter:  Everyone else, meaning about two dozen other characters.  Two.  Dozen.  Literally.

I’m not even going to touch upon the characters that don’t matter, save for this:  Stories with a lot of characters are going to have less character development overall.  All the characters are going to matter less, if at all.  While having a lot of characters is possible, their role in the story must be considered before they become actual characters.  In a nutshell, there were way too many characters who didn’t matter at all in this story, which took development opportunity away from the characters who did matter.

And as for those characters…

Um…

Really, there’s nothing special about any of them.

What I mean is…this is a very plot-centered story, and the characters seem to be caught beneath the wave.  There are no relationships, sense of community, or kinship between the characters.  No one falls in love (or even has a crush), no one cares about one another, makes a sacrifice for another, betrays one another, flees in cowardice, fights about the best strategy, rallies the troops, or even so much as spares a coin for a beggar on the street.  Hell, there’s barely anything that qualifies as a basic character description for anyone.  We don’t even have the pleasure of reading the character’s thoughts or feelings about anything going on.  The characters just sort of act out the story, blindly going wherever the plot takes them without care for what it might cost them in the end.

There’s also very little, if any, interior motive or stake for any of the characters, save for maybe Kole.  Yet, his interior motive comes across as missed opportunity after missed opportunity.  One could say he’s out for revenge for his mother Sarise, but because his relationship with his mother was never defined, it’s hard for this to come across as convincing.  And he has virtually no backstory with his dog, Shifa, even though she saves his life several times throughout the novel.  Even the father-son relationship between Kole and Karin is practically non-existent – they act more like distant friends than parent-child.  This could be because of Sarise’s death, but they never have a talk about this.  Kole could have had a romantic relationship with any number of the other characters, but nothing came off as even a spark between anyone.

There are no character strengths or weaknesses.  There is nothing for anyone to overcome except the big bad, nothing for them to hold on to when all else seemed lost.  Every battle fought, the good guys won or escaped.  Only characters that didn’t matter died (save for Ninyeva).

I cheered for no one in this story.  I felt for no one in this story.  I don’t even have a favorite or least favorite character.  There is literally relevant nothing to write about for any of them.  The characters are, disappointingly, this story’s biggest weakness.

 

Setting/World Building:   The setting and world building are the story’s strongest points by far, probably because it’s merged tightly with the plot.  In addition, the author has a very poetic way of writing prose (I’m aware of the irony) and descriptions.  The book is bound with passages like:

Cresting the top now, and the sight stole her breath and nearly threatened to send her careening back.  The golden pools and sharp black ridges stood out stark and beautiful, but the lands beyond were indistinct as a brushed painting not yet dry.

And:

The fact that he could not hear them was only a testament to their uncanny woodlore.  Normally, the forest would be teaming with game, with birds and beasts of every persuasion lending their voices to the canopy, but not now.

(Malapropism not mine, by the way.  More on that later.)

As mentioned, the entire plot of the story doubles as world building.  Everywhere they go in the story, there is history, a lore, a scene worth describing and exploring.  There is a background, a culture molded throughout the course of the story, and thanks to this majestic style of writing, a lot of the context comes alive.  You also get a great descriptions of places, magic spells, the Dark Kind, the sunless sky and moonlit glow, the suspicious forests, the rushing cold of water in the River F’rust, and so on.  This type of writing eases setting the stage for what’s to come in scene.  While this is a bit of a long story, it’s never quite a boring story, thanks mostly to the writing style complementing the scenery and story.

But, alas, it is not perfect.  I know I’m bleeding into flow/syntax here, but while this style of writing works for describing scenes and history, it doesn’t work for dialogue or fight scenes.  Yet, the author tries anyway…

The fight scenes seem to all be written in slow motion rather that quick jabs, and there are a lot of fight scenes.  The fights are important (sometimes), but ultimately aren’t always needed to build the world they live in.  It’s obvious the world is at war with the Dark Kind – a battle every other chapter, let only written in this style, isn’t necessary, and seems to be useless filler than subplot.

Also, the dialogue comes across as awkward, distant, or wordy – which could be fine for a character or two, but not everyone.  Written in this style, it always felt like the characters were robots – because most had the same voice, none of them had a voice.

And, of course, the final scene were dialogue and fight are hand-in-hand, just drag.

Overall, it’s easy for the author’s personal style to shine when it comes to world-building and setting, but it needs to differentiate when the scene becomes chaotic or characters are talking.

Grammar/Misspellings & Flow/Syntax:  This book needed an editing, if just a copy-editing, in a bad way.  There were spelling and grammar errors littered throughout (including character names) – sadly, enough for me to admit it’s some of the worst I’ve seen in a finished novel.

I know I just mentioned how great and alive a lot of the description was.  Unfortunately, being able to string words in such a harmonious manner doesn’t make an author immune to technical errors in writing a story.  For as many graceful sentences as he wrote, there were as many sentences that just didn’t make sense and jarred the narrative, such as:

Young as she appeared – child-like, almost – she was only a Valley bloom Kole’s junior.

And:

Grumbles in the crowd around Bali.

And:

There was something else going on, here.

And:

If not for the slight rise and fall of his chest, you might think him a still image. (Using ‘you’ seems to take on a different view point at this sentence).

And:

The sickening thought that the army scraping at the base of their walls could be their own threatened bile.  (I have no idea what this means.)

These were in practically every chapter.  In addition, there were quite a few careless, amateur errors such as:

‘Favorite’ words:  The words ‘spell’ (as in, ‘sit for a spell’), ‘bubbling’, ‘unceremoniously’, ‘ozone’ and ‘sinews’ were used to the point of annoying.

At least one continuity issue:  In the scene where Nathen rescues Linn, she drops the rock she was holding.  In the next scene, she has the rock back in her hand.

There’s also one glaring incident of ‘telling not showing’:  Towards the end of the book, there is the telling sentence: Their mistake cost the Rockbled archer his life.  The next paragraph then proceeds with showing how the Rockbled archer dies.

Coincidental, rather than incidental, world building (also known as ‘making stuff up as we go along’):  For example, when Linn, Jenk, and Nathan are stuck in the cavern, Jenk seems to be getting weaker faster than the others – it is revealed here that Embers such as Jenk need the sun, or at least fire, to be healthy.  This feature could have been brought up much earlier in the novel, but introducing it in this scene only seems to ‘raise the stakes’ and nothing else.  And since Jenk lives, there was no need to worry about this anyway, and it’s never brought up again.  A classic example of ‘pseudo-suspense’.

Last, battle scenes and screaming town halls are not the best time for plot development.  These types of scenes are often chaotic and tend to cause more confusion than clarity, and seem an awkward scene for people to be sharing plot points.

Bits and pieces of errors like these are acceptable, even dare I say normal, or at least unavoidable at times.  But for such a variety of them to be so noticeable throughout the entire novel like this removes the reader from the world, and strikes as carelessness.

Since a lot of these are technical errors rather than developmental errors, an editor would have helped fix most.  Instead it’s very clear the author did not use one (or if he did, he should find a different one), and his otherwise majestic writing suffers in its absence.

I also noticed spots of ‘back and forth’ in the flow – something happened in Chapter X to one group of characters, but in Chapter Y a different group of characters came across the activity first, so they need to describe it before it happened in Chapter X, even though Chapter Y came after.  This doesn’t help when the plot is so convoluted to begin with, and interrupts the narrative further.

Overall Recommendation:   This isn’t a bad story.  Yes, it’s a jumbled, hot mess of words lacking any character adhesion and a plot that has no linear direction to it, but it isn’t a bad story – maybe more of a poorly structured, unpolished story.  It seems to suffer more from lack of editing than anything else – things that aren’t important drag on, while things that are significant are glossed over, and the spelling/grammar errors riddled throughout strikes as a rushed job, bringing down what is an otherwise rather creative, unique world and plot.

Imagine a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle of a beautiful, scenic picture.  The author does the courtesy of lining up the straight-end pieces, but everything else is just thrown in the middle.  There’s some semblance of a picture, but it needs more work to line everything up and see the beautiful picture for what it is.  As I tried to piece everything together, I realized that some of the pieces were for an entirely different puzzle, while some pieces were missing, and in the end, was left an incomplete, fractured picture of what could have been nice to look at – not seamless, but nice.

That’s what this story is like.  It is not an easy story to read.  It is not a linear story that flows in one direction.  The world and its history are magnificently rich, but its characters are hollow puppets with no emotion guiding them.  The wording is an elegant song, the syntax a record-scratch every few minutes.

Personally, I’ll be passing on the rest in the series (they’re not published yet).  My favorite stories are character-driven, and with such stale characters being the story’s biggest downfall and no excuse for the disruptive technicalities, I’ll seek something else.

 

Beta Reader Conclusions and Next Steps

I’m feeling a bit under the weather, so I’m going to keep this entry as short as possible.

 

It took nearly a year, but I’ve managed to secure five beta readers for my story and reflect on their feedback.  I’m happy to say that most of the readers enjoyed my story, flaws and all.  Based on their feedback, if I were to sum it all up in one thing I’ve learned, it’s this:

Many things that are apparent to the author, while writing, are not apparent to the reader, causing the reader to lose track of important events and designs.

While there were plenty more criticisms in my story, mostly subjective to the individual beta reader, this is the lesson that stood out on its own throughout the entire process.  I do somewhat wonder if it’s something that all new authors go through, so I’ve decided to expand a little on what I mean by this based on feedback from the beta readers.

When I write, I tend to have everything planned out – in fact, I write best and achieve my best word counts in a day when I have a solid chunk of story to focus on.  I write, I leave it, I edit, I re-write, edit, etc. through the entire process…but because I’m writing from the point of view that knows everything, I forget to consider writing from a reader’s point of view, the point of view that knows nothing until reading that part in the novel.

Also, I can easily visualize my characters, settings, and ubiquitous meaning behind vague conversations.  This leaves me to focus on the more prominent aspects of the story, namely the plot, conflict, and flow.  Because of this, I forget that my readers don’t always remember what a specific race looks like, where a certain event took place, or why I might write only a short conversation about an otherwise important event.  It’s easy for me, the omnipresent author, to see eventually where each facet of the story leads – and because it’s easy for me, it could be difficult for the reader.

This is why I’m so grateful for beta readers – while they are responsible for critiquing and pointing out flaws in the writing and story, they also point out flaws in the way the author writes the story.  The author writes from the perspective of knowing every character, every event, and every place the story will go.  An author does not need to be thinking about how characters look or what monument stands out in a particular city because they already know this.  To re-write these aspects every chapter isn’t a conscious part of story-telling, but is necessary for the reader to visualize what is happening.

This was something I didn’t even really consider when writing.  When reading, I often get annoyed at repetitive key visuals of characters or objects, thus could be a reason I strayed from re-telling what characters looked like or why certain events were critical to the plot or the world outside the plot.  In doing so, I forgot that readers cannot ‘see’ everything as I can see, and need to be reminded of the who/what/where/whys/hows of the story.  It is a critical part of writing, one I overlooked being caught up in the ‘moments’ of writing, and am glad for learning one more thing about writing.

As for next steps, well, the obvious one is to make the final changes to the story and then get it professionally edited.  However, due to financial restrictions, I likely won’t be able to do this until June/July.  My car payment is a necessity, but I hope to finish it off between April and June.  However, I also have several big/expensive trips coming up for work in May and June, and because I have to pay these off before I get reimbursed, I need to set aside money for these as well.

But the good news is I strongly believe that I should achieve a thorough, professional editing job this year.  Until then, I plan on finishing my Nanowrimo novel and starting to use what I learned from my beta readers and apply it to the other two novels I already have in the pipeline to be beta read possibly by the end of the year.

When it’s disappointing…

I wasn’t hoping to wait this long for a new blog post.  In all honesty, I went to a once-in-a-lifetime event last week (a premier screening for a popular show) and I was hoping to write about how exciting it was, how much I enjoyed it.

So I’m not really sure what to say, except that the event was, in a word, disappointing.  While the show itself was great, it started late, was low energy, the Q&A panel with the cast went on for too long, and one of the members of the cast – a man both my husband and I enjoyed watching when he was the star of the show – was incredibly rude to us (and others).

I had some nice moments – another member of the cast was laid back and very personable, and we got a couple good professional pictures – but overall it was a bit lackluster and I really don’t want to blog about something that I had high expectations for, and it fell so short.  This isn’t like a book review, in which I can present examples about the context I’m criticizing.  This is a bit more personal, a bit more subjective, and it seems a waste to put thought and effort into writing about something I didn’t enjoy on an intimate level.

In other news, I will update the front page shortly now that all of the beta reading is complete.  For the next blog, I plan to summarize what I’ve learned through the beta readers (both about writing and personal lessons) and how I organize what to edit.

Book Review: Sapphire & Lotus: Dragon Kin

Book Title:  Sapphire & Lotus: Dragon Kin

Author: Shae Geary and Audrey Faye

Pages: 264 (Kindle Pages)

Release Date: November 2016

Author Website: Amazon Author Page

Purchase Link:  Amazon

Price: $4.99

S&LDK Cover.jpg

Spoilers.  Duh.

 

Plot:  The story begins with a prologue during a ‘dragons vs. elves’ war, in which the dragons have narrowly won a recent battle.  Worried about the future of her kind, the Dragon Queen Lovissa seeks guidance from her predecessors to see into the future – and is ultimately confused when she sees five elves riding a top five dragons along with the message ‘The five will come.  You must be ready’.

Fast forward to present time, and we meet Sapphire Silvermoon, a 14-year old elf running away from home because she doesn’t feel like she belongs in her family, the ‘ruling family’ of the Moon Clan.  What makes her think she doesn’t belong?  Unlike her sisters, she doesn’t have any ‘special talents’ – not that these are explained.  So what is the Moon Clan, exactly?  That isn’t explained either.  In fact, we never hear a peep from anyone in Sapphire’s family, ever, despite her up-and-coming dramatic lifestyle change.

During her escape, Sapphire spots a large egg in a tree and instantly feels drawn towards it.  (Oh, don’t mind how the egg got in the tree, since that isn’t explained either!)  She climbs the tree and snuggles with it.  Eventually, the egg hatches to reveal a peach-pink baby dragon.  The two bond instantly and survive a cold night in a tree together.

The next morning, an older woman and her large dragon happen to come across Sapphire and the baby dragon, and offer their assistance.  Sapphire and Lotus eventually climb down from the tree and join Afran the dragon and the ‘woman who introduces her dragon but not herself until several pages later’, Karis.

Karis and Afran lead Sapphire and newly-named baby dragon Lotus to their settlement (instead of, you know, escorting a 14-year old back home), a community in the woods dedicated to raising dragons.  There is some long-winded conversation about dragons and the settlement/school between Sapphire and new character Kellan, who herself has a special connection with dragons but lacks a bond with one.  After another long conversation, Sapphire is accepted as a student in the settlement and begins to bond (‘kin’) with Lotus.

After introducing a couple more characters (Irin and his bonded dragon Kis) and another long-winded discussion about bonding, the group goes off to meet the dragon queen Elhen in a cave somewhere.  There, Sapphire and Lotus are labeled as ‘chosen ones’ of sort because they are ‘marked’ by the ‘dragon star’ because they will one day save all of dragonkind.  From what?  From who?  When?  How?  Well, turns out it doesn’t matter, because that’s not the plot of this story.

Two years pass, and it turns out Lotus has an extreme fear of heights due to being hatched high up in a tree.  As a result, she flies low to the ground – which doesn’t bode well with the citizens, forcing her and Sapphire to overcome this fear.  (I will make clear now that this is the plot of the latter half of the book.  Yes, never mind that there’s a ‘big bad’ out there that intends to destroy the dragons, because Lotus learning to fly properly is far more important.)

The two begin training with Karis and Afran, but when this proves futile they go solo with some tips from Irin.  This helps somewhat – they fly higher but Lotus is still a bit hesitant jumping from high places and flying over the ocean.

But we’re told again they need to overcome this because they’re marked, so they’re going to be saving all of dragonkind from…something.

65% of the way through the story, Sapphire has a dream that her and Lotus are flying high, but being swallowed by darkness.  Lovissa, despite being dead, somehow senses this and calls out to Sapphire through a star-filled song to encourage her to not give up her training.

This also introduces another baseless character to ‘interpret’ the stars through an overly boring scene, but a scene which should be the focus of the story.  Instead, the underwhelming explanation is that the stars are from a different part of the world, and Lotus and Sapphire need to fly there (over the ocean nonetheless), because they’re marked for reasons of course, and therefore none of the other characters with more experience can do this.

Sapphire and Lotus, however, still need to finish their training, which prompts a visit from Fendellen, the future queen of dragons.  After more conversations about Sapphire and Lotus being ‘marked’ and how they need to learn how to fly, they rendezvous with Fendellen for their final lesson.  After a ‘believe in yourself, you’re special!’ pep talk that lasts for pages, Sapphire and Lotus successfully fly over part of the ocean within one page on their first try, and everybody is happy.

The end…

No, wait – the story reiterates that Sapphire and Lotus are one of the five who will save dragonkind or something.

The end.

Characters:  Let me make this a point before the ranting starts:  The characters have a lot of soul in them – you do feel for them for the most part.

But while they don’t come across as lifeless, most characters come across as baseless.

The main character, Sapphire, oddly fits her own assessment of an ‘ordinary’ character.  She is constantly narrating about how mundane she is, and she’s right – there really is nothing special about her.  She found Lotus, and has an occasional foreboding nightmare, but for someone who is ‘chosen’, nothing revolves around her.  In other words, for a main character, she doesn’t have a lot, if any, tribulations to overcome.  Unfortunately, she’s the undeterred focus of the story too, insomuch as no one can not be talking about her, which takes away a lot of context from not only other characters, but the world they live in (more on this later).

Lotus is a bit more interesting – she’s fiery (literally and figuratively), haughty, and has an odd fear of heights (odd for a dragon, anyway).  One of the best things I liked about Lotus is she can’t exactly talk, even telepathically, making her communication with Sapphire a bit of a challenge at times.  I actually wish the story was more about Lotus and less about Sapphire, since it’s actually Lotus who bears the story’s main conflict, not Sapphire.  Had the story been told from Lotus’s perspective and not Sapphire’s, it would have had a lot more depth behind overcoming a fear of heights, as well as what’s at stake for dragonkind.

Karis and Afran are also a bit on the forgettable side – they play a small role in Sapphire’s training but since their training doesn’t help, they really aren’t worth remembering.

Kis and Irin are another bonded pair, but unlike Karis and Afran they have a bit of history.  The two are the ‘gruff but lovable’ caretakers of baby dragons.  Despite their warrior-like attitudes, an unfortunate event ‘grounded’ them forever, giving substance to their slight jealousy of, well, all the other dragons and their kin.  They find some solace in caring for the babies, but it’s clear they really want to fly again.  Irin eventually assists Sapphire and Lotus with their flying, and unlike Karis and Afran, his advice actually helps.

Kellan is probably my favorite character, and I wish she had more development.  She’s mischievous, friendly, and a good cook, but has a bit more in terms of personal conflict than Sapphire: Despite having a natural and deep connection to dragons, she does not have one to call her own.  I did feel a bit sorry for her, but since the story isn’t about her it’s difficult to fully connect with her internal struggle – which, sadly, also makes her kind of useless.

Alonia and Lily are entirely forgettable – they serve no purpose except to show Sapphire has friends, a role which Kellan could fill by herself.

Lovissa, Elhen, and Fendellen are rather minor characters.  They play their role sufficiently and stay out of the spotlight.

But the biggest flaw about the characters in this book?  The lack of description.  Aside from the cover art and a few dragon colors, there are no valid descriptions on any characters in the book, even at the most base of hair/skin/eye.  The only aspects that are routinely indicated among characters is age and size.

Setting/World Building:  Typical fantasy setting – school for dragon training in the woods, by the sea and mountains – nothing unusual.

There’s a bit of world building in terms of the dragons vs. elves war but because this event happened eons before the story took place it really has no value to the current time.  Also, because the story is so focused on Sapphire and Lotus there’s a bit of shallowness in terms of what else goes on in the world.  The Moon Clan (or other elf clans, or other races) plays virtually no role, and even other happenings inside the community itself go unrecorded.

It seems as though the focus should be more on Sapphire’s nightmare about being swallowed by darkness, or even how they’re going to ‘save all of dragonkind’, rather than on her and Lotus learning to fly high.  This would give more insight and depth to the nature of the world they live in, what’s at stake, and why it’s so important for them to rise above their fear.  Instead, because we’re stuck with the entire story being about Sapphire and Lotus overcoming their fear of heights, that takes opportunity away from explaining a much more meaningful goal (saving dragonkind) and opening the world they live in.

In short, the ‘who’ is defined, but the ‘why’ and ‘how’ are not, leaving the world, its history, and its future, vapid.

Grammar/Misspellings & Flow/Syntax:  The good news is, there are very few, if any, grammar and misspellings.

Also, I will give credit here – the book has a lot of heart, a lot of passion.  Reading it wasn’t necessarily a bore, but it was a chore.  Because I have so many issues with the flow and syntax, I’m going to break it down in sections:

– The main plot, goal, and narration of the story is misplaced:  One of the ways the writing bothers me most is that the story is narrated through Sapphire, but its Lotus who has the fear of heights, this conflict to overcome.  It feels that the focus of the story is misplaced – either it should be told through Lotus, or it should be Sapphire who has the fear.  It makes little sense for the main character to narrate overcoming a fear that really isn’t hers to conquer.

(Now ‘supposedly’ Sapphire had this fear as well, but it wasn’t exactly brought up many times, and I never got this impression from her.  If she did have this fear, it would be much more prominent in a character who doesn’t naturally fly than one who does.)

Last, the story focuses more on Lotus overcoming her fear of heights/flying than it does Sapphire’s dream – which should actually be the main focus because it means something beyond a personal conflict, giving the impression that more is at risk.  The fear of heights can still be appropriate, but since it’s the main plot, the overall goal comes across as flat.

– There are numerous instances that are superfluous:  A short book like this can easily be read in a few hours, but the narration tends to imply that everything is forgettable.  This actually undermines the writing quite a bit, insinuating that certain events or conversations aren’t worth remembering, because you’ll just be reminded of them later.

For example – how the egg in the tree is ‘not a chicken egg’, how everyone believed Kellan might (or might not) someday bond with a dragon, how Sapphire is ‘bonded’ with Lotus, Sapphire’s self-infliction that she’s ‘ordinary’ and ‘the youngest’ daughter of the Moon Clan, questioning time and again what Sapphire’s dream means, metaphors about courage, Sapphire’s stubborn determination to learn how to fly, etc.

And, most prominently, how Sapphire and Lotus are marked to save dragonkind.  I swear, every character in the book mentioned this at least one.

Having so many constant reminders interrupts any sort of flow in the story, preferring to shift back to what the reader does know in favor of exploring what the reader doesn’t know – which almost expresses a lack of story-telling confidence.  It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back throughout the entire book.

– There are sentences that just don’t make any sense, or are oddly worded:  Such as this one when someone named Orion may (or may not?) write about Sapphire:

And while he’d occasionally been kind enough to notice that Sapphire existed, she was pretty sure he’d happily trade in their limited goodwill for unlimited comedic potential.

(Honestly, I have no idea what this even means in context.  Not that it matters – Orion is never mentioned again.)

And:

The grandmother of my grandmother, twenty-five generations past.

(Does it mean there are twenty-five generations between ‘the grandmother of my grandmother’, or twenty-five generations before ‘the grandmother of my grandmother’?)

There are also some odd-worded like:

‘Reverently, she touched her fingers again to the egg…’

(If you touch something, you can pretty much assume you’re using your fingers)

…the parts of her touching the egg were quite comfortable, and even some of her a little farther away had almost managed to stop shivering’.

(What ‘parts’?  Her belly, hand, legs, etc.?)

It took ten eternities, or fifteen, or twenty [to climb down the tree]

(…Does it matter after ten?)

I also noticed a few odd words only used sparingly – ‘Summerworld’, ‘Snowmelt’, ‘younglings’, and also slang such as ‘shiny things’ and ‘lightshow’ and ‘heater’ and ‘totally’ which just sound out of place for a fantasy world.

However, the very worst scene is near the beginning, when Karis gets Sapphire’s attention while she’s still stuck in the tree with Lotus, in the dumbest way possible:

She shoots an arrow at her.  Yes, because the best way to get someone’s attention is to shoot someone with a weapon that can injure, if not kill, them.  Without warning, Karis purposely shoots an arrow at Sapphire to get her attention.  Never mind if Sapphire or Lotus suddenly turns, or if it startles them into falling out of the tree, or heaven forbid Karis misses – apparently getting Sapphire’s attention is more important than getting her attention safely.

Let me tell you this, as a writer who befell the same lesson:  This.  Never.  Makes.  Any.  Sense.  Ever.  It is not realistic.  It is not dramatic.  It is stupid.  You would never do this in real life, and it makes no sense to do it in a fictional one either.

– The buildup to tense scenes is overwhelming, while the execution is underwhelming:

At the books most intense moments (such as jumping off a cliff to fly), the consequence of these actions is underwhelming.   Essentially, the buildup to certain events like Sapphire and Lotus meeting Elhen and the final lesson with Fendellen took pages to cover.  But when Elhen told Sapphire she was ‘marked’, Sapphire (and everyone else) just kind of accepted it.  And excelling at Fendellen’s final flying lesson on the first try with no dramatic tension made the last act in the story feel like it was all for show and no substance.

– Simply put, the story is over-worded.

For such a light-hearted, optimistic story, the book is rather long-winded in general.  In addition to the above flaws, it’s as though the authors go out of their way to overcomplicate even the simplest of scenes.

The story is riddled, beginning to end, with sentences such as:

‘She held very still.  No Moon Clan elf with any brains at all moved when a little one was on its way to dreamland, because her mother also had a rule about waking sleeping babies.

(How about:  She held very still so as not to wake the baby dragon.)

And

Ever so slowly, green eyes made their way closed.’

(How about:  The green eyes slowly closed.)

And:

Lotus, like every other dragon in the village, looked highly askance at the strange desire of humans and elves to immerse themselves in water, but they all willingly took turns heating up the small pool that had been built under Lily’s direction.

(How about:  Dragons balked at the desire to bathe in water, but were eager to heat the community pool for their human and elven companions.)

And:

Sapphire hadn’t been aware they (her eyes) were closed.  She scrunched up her face, trying to find the muscles that would pull her eyelids open.  It was hard – they were still fighting against the last awful things they had seen in the dark (her nightmare).

(How about:  Sapphire struggled against the last remnants of her nightmare to open her tightly-shut eyes.)

I really don’t understand why there’s such a descriptive need for nearly every action in the book.  Don’t write about doing it – just do it.

Overall Recommendation: For a feel-good story with a lot of heart, this book does ‘okay’ despite its many flaws.  For the start of an epic fantasy series, however, it falls way short.

There is a story in there, but its buried beneath this ‘fear of heights’ plotline, which in of itself is a tangled, word-salad story narrated from the wrong perspective.  It isn’t a confusing story by any means, and in fact seems to be geared more towards younger readers.  However, the focus is misplaced, the flow is bogged by redundancy, many of the characters are pointless, the world they live in is ho-hum, and I can’t, with good conscious, say I have confidence in this series.  Like I mentioned, the book has heart, and it isn’t boring or half-assed, but it goes nowhere in a story that clearly has somewhere to go, and it adds insult by all the extra wording along the way.

Another main reason I don’t recommend it is the price – awfully high for a shorter story that doesn’t tell much of anything.  If you still want to read it, it may be worth waiting to see if the price drops when the entire series is finished.

However, one props I will give the book is the cover.  (I know I put it up top, but I’m putting it here too because I love it that much.)

S&LDK Cover.jpg

Gorgeous – just really, really gorgeous and enticing.

However, I doubt I will read any more in this series – only possibly if one of them revolves around Kellan, but then again the author’s writing style is simply too dragging for my personal tastes.