How Reading Order Influences

So, last weekend, I was talking to a random person about scifi and fantasy authors, comparing things we’d read and suggesting new people and the like, and we had the following exchange.

Guy> Oh, {author} is like Philip K. Dick.

Kit> Ah! I like Philip K. Dick.

Guy> I find him highly derivative.

Kit> Really?

And he went on to say that he’d started with a lot of science fiction from the 1910s and 20s, which were a major influence on Philip K. Dick. Whereas Philip K. Dick was some of the first short scifi I read, so it read more original to me.

And that got me to thinking–each of us are directly influenced by the order we consume media in. The fact of the matter is that a lot of books (TV shows, movies, comics, etc.) are similar to other books (…etc.). And our perception of what came first or what is derived from something else is often directly based on the order we consume things in.

Let’s look at Power Rangers and Voltron, for example. Both involve a team of people who wear color-coded jumpsuits. Both involve aliens and robots and swords. Voltron technically came first, being an anime released in the mid-80s, but if you were a kid who watched Power Rangers and then found Voltron later, you’d say to yourself, “Oh, this is just like Power Rangers.” Never mind that it’s the other way around. You found Power Rangers first, and so Voltron seems derivative, even if intellectually you know it came first.

Another example of this is when some novel gets big and attracts readers that don’t normally read that genre. You get a ton of people who heap praises on that novel without knowing that it’s standard (or, in some cases, substandard) for that genre of novel. I’m going to use the Hunger Games as an example here. (Now, to clarify, I liked the first two books–and I think we talked about why the third was bad here, but if not, I will,  but it’s a good example of people reading genres they don’t normally.) I think we can all agree that the Hunger Games as a series brings nothing new to the dystopia genre. Yet, for people who were new to the genre and its tropes, it was amazing.

So, sure, you can sit there and say “Well, Battle Royale did the kids killing other kids thing first” but for people who started with the Hunger Games, that doesn’t matter. They didn’t experience things in that order.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you agree with me? Do you find that you compare things to what you experienced first, or are you able to separate things out intellectually?

Spring Cleaning

Yes, I know it’s almost fall. Shhhhh.

My husband and I were going through our guest bedroom earlier today. Said bedroom is one of our stuff-gathering places in the house–you know, one of the places things just get shoved to be out of the way and forgotten about. And we try to not let these places go for too long, because then the stuff becomes overwhelming, and no one wants to touch them, and it just gets worse and worse and worse, and next thing you know you’re on one of those hoarding shows crying because you hadn’t realized things had gotten so bad.

Anyway. Found some interesting things. Costume pieces I haven’t seen in years. Boxes for electronics we got rid of a long time ago. Old computers that we are hoarding for some unknown reason, including one where the motherboard fried before we even moved back to this state. Almost four years ago.

Also, I have a lot of excess fabric from various sewing projects that I should, I don’t know, make a quilt or applique or something with.

But my point for the day is that writers tend to do this hoarding things with their stories too. You know what I mean. Novels and shorts that never got finished, because life or ennui or whatever happened. Old drafts that have since gotten newer drafts. Character sketches or drabbles that you wrote on a whim.

These tend to get strewn through our computers (or notebooks)–a few here, a few there. Some on this computer. New versions on the flashdrive.

And, sometimes, it’s a good idea to gather everything up, to look over everything, and to organize it. To make sure all the most recent versions are in one place. To have a folder with ALL your short stories in it. To archive older stories that never got finished, to be returned to one day, or to be occasionally read to see how far you’ve come, or to remember different times.

It will take some time. But when you’re done, you’ll feel like you really accomplished something, and everything will be in its place, for when you need it in the future.

Nano Pondering (and a ROW80 Check-in)

My husband said I couldn’t have any more tea until I wrote my blog post. Can you imagine? Noooo I’m dying

Let’s do the ROW80 check-in first. For those who have missed previous ROW80 posts, ROW80 is a writing challenge that happens four times a year for 80 days at a time, and you get to pick your goals. And then, in theory, you check in periodically but I have done a terrible job of that thus far this round (which is round 3).

My primary goal for this round (which ends Sept 26, I believe) was to finish the edit on my YA paranormal novel. I initially estimated that there would be 34 scenes–that has since increased to 36. 17 of them are done, which is a little less than half, so you can see that I’m not really getting anywhere terribly fast. Still having focusing issues, not sure why. Current word count is just over 36K, so we’re looking at approximately 75K for the final length of the draft, which should work just great for the genre and so forth.

I also had a secondary goal of–I believe–5K on my scifi serial, which was wishful thinking from the beginning. I think I’ve got 1.7K there thus far, and I don’t tend to go over 1000 words per entry, so it’s unlikely that my September entry will be the 3.3K necessary to meet that goal. I occasionally think I’m going to get ahead on that, and I never do, so I don’t know why I try and bother.

As for Nano–admittedly it’s a little early in the year to be thinking about Nanowrimo, but we’ve talked about Nano Zen before and I will need to have a decent idea of what I’m going to do before October to go through with that. This will be the first year since 2008 that I’m writing a first draft, which is exciting–one can only edit so many books before one goes mad–and, unfortunately, I have a ton of novel ideas I’ve been keeping on the back burner, just waiting to be put into the oven. (I think my analogy is falling apart.)

I haven’t successfully completed Nano since 2011 (2012 I had a newborn, and last year I was too busy with Shards to even bother), but since I managed 35K handily in April, I’m hoping it’s going to work out.

But man, do I have a ton of ideas. This is what comes of not starting anything new in years. Fantasy. Scifi. Books with romance, books without romance. Space! Also steampunk and mystery and dystopia and mythology. Some that are sequels or prequels to other books. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to decide. I may–maybe tomorrow–sit down and write a short description of everything in the running. And maybe something will jump out at me.

Any advice, on any of the above, Squiders? Are you doing ROW80? How’s it going? Doing Nano? What are you planning?

Why You Need to Know Your Focus

Let’s face it, Squiders–everyone writes a little differently. What works for one person does not work for another, and how someone sets up their story may be completely different for the next person.

But I do feel like focus is important.

What’s focus? Focus is the point of your story. Which character is most important. What they want. What the end goal is, what commentary you want to include, what makes this story your story.

Without knowing your focus, you run the risk of your story meandering uselessly all over the place, never quite consolidating into anything useful or compelling.

Or you run into massive writer’s block, because you don’t have a clear feeling for the direction things need to go.

I had a friend, recently (::waves::) who wanted plot help because things weren’t going well, but when we sat down and talked about it, it turns out the majority of the problem was that she didn’t know what her focus was. And once we talked about it and she made some decisions, things started working better.

So, do you know what your focus is?

Who’s driving the plot? Who do you want driving the plot? Are they the same person?

How does your story change if you focus on different characters/aspects? Do you like one better?

Have any tips for finding your focus, Squiders? Personal examples? (Both good and bad?)

Cover Reveal: Fragile Reign by Stacey O’Neale

We’re thrilled to help reveal the cover for FRAGILE REIGN (Mortal Enchantment #2) by Stacey O’Neale! Check out the cover below, and let us know what you think in the comments. Then be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a $100 Amazon or B&N gift card!

Fragile Reign Cover

FRAGILE REIGN (Mortal Enchantment #2)

It’s been a week since all hell broke loose…

Rumors of King Taron’s weakened powers have left the air court vulnerable. Kalin is desperate to awaken her akasha powers, except she doesn’t know how. Tension within the court is at an all-time high. Pressure is mounting for her to ascend to the throne, but a halfling has never ruled over any court. To solidify her position, the council has advised her to marry Sebastian—a high ranking air elemental she’s never met and her betrothed.

Will Kalin sacrifice her relationship with Rowan to strengthen her court?

Rowan and Marcus return to a fire court in turmoil. Liana’s death has fueled the fire elementals’ distrust against the air and woodland courts. The unbalanced elements have set off natural disasters all over the mortal world. Rowan takes the throne to restore balance, promising to unite the fire court. But not all elementals are happy with his leadership. Many are secretly loyal to Valac, which means Rowan needs to find allies for his cause.

Can Rowan unify the court of fire before the elements destroy the world?

Pre-Order on Amazon

 

Add Java Man to your Goodreads TBR!

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Be sure to add FRAGILE REIGN to your TBR on Goodreads, or pre-order on Amazon! The prequel novella, THE SHADOW PRINCE, is currently free on Amazon, and you can also read MORTAL ENCHANTMENT for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

Stacey O'NealeAbout the Author

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

Stacey O’Neale lives in Annapolis, Maryland. When she’s not writing, she spends her time fangirling over books, blogging, watching fantasy television shows, cheering for the Baltimore Ravens, and hanging out with her husband and daughter.

Her career in publishing started as a blogger-turned-publicist for two successful small publishers. Stacey writes young adult paranormal romance and adult science fiction romance. Her books always include swoon-worthy heroes, snarky heroines, and lots of kissing.

Stacey loves hearing from readers. Follow her on Twitter @StaceyONeale, look for her on Facebook, Pinterest, and GoodReads. You can also visit her blog at http://staceyoneale.com/.

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Are Blank First Person Characters on Purpose?

So, our Twitter book club is reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin this month–which is the first of a high fantasy trilogy that came out about four years ago–and we all noticed something pretty quick.

The book is in first person, following Yeine, who, as tends to be a trope sometimes, is an outsider to the society that the story takes place in. But while the world is very interesting, and the other characters are as well, Yeine herself is pretty…blank. We get a physical description of her, but when she expresses opinions, it’s more “in my country we do it this way instead” or “my grandmother always used to say this” instead of what she thinks about it. I’m about halfway through the book and she’s just starting to do and think things as opposed to just observing.

This is a book that’s been highly recommended to me, and is one that I think is generally well-regarded in the SFF community, which makes me think that the blank first person character is on purpose.

As readers, we often rely on the viewpoint characters to be our eyes and ears in the fictional world. And there is a theory that says that, the less detail you give to a character, the more a reader can insert themselves into said character, and the deeper they can get into a story. It’s the reason why video game characters like Link never say anything.

Now, I don’t know that that’s necessarily true, because everybody reads a little differently and experiences things differently. I’m not a huge fan of blank first person characters because I am never going to see myself further in that world, not in that medium, so I prefer to have a strong character that I can care about, that I can sympathize with when bad things happen, and cheer with when badass things happen. But I suspect it does work, to some degree, because these blank first person characters seem to be getting more common lately, especially with female protagonists. (If you can think of a blank first person male protagonist, please let me know!)

What do you think, Squiders? Blank characters you can “become,” yea or nay? Thoughts on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms specifically, if you’ve read it? Other examples you’ve noticed, male or female, especially in speculative genres? If you’re a writer, is this something you use, and why?

How Your Subconscious Affects Your Character Interactions

When I was editing Shards last year, I came to a realization about my own writing, and I’ve since talked to several other authors who have confirmed that this happens to them as well.

As an author, you’re privy to information your readers don’t have. And that means you know a character’s true stripes, even if your other characters, and your readers, don’t figure this out until later.

And it turns out that what you think about a character can subconsciously affect how your other characters view that character. For example, if you know you have a character that turns out to be a bad guy later on, then your other characters may view that character with suspicion for no obvious reason in your early drafts.

With the first draft of the first book (say that five times fast) of my high fantasy trilogy, one of the characters does some bad things by the end of the book, but the other characters were mean to him from the get-go, which was confusing to the readers.

There was no reason for the other characters to not like this character. He’d done nothing bad yet. But knew he’d be bad in the end, and apparently that came out through the other characters without me meaning it to.

Luckily, this is something that is fixable and you can train yourself to stop doing it.

However, I was poking at that same fantasy trilogy earlier this week (see last post) and I discovered that, without meaning to, I’d accidentally done it again, but in the opposite direction. Instead of characters treating a bad character suspiciously with no justifiable reason, I had bad characters treating a character like she was good, and would always be good, and it wasn’t even worth it to try and corrupt her, because she would obviously never be corruptible, never mind that it is in these people’s characters to try and corrupt everything they touch.

And what I find most interesting is that, in the five years since I wrote this particular draft of the first book, I’ve had probably a dozen people read it, and not one person ever realized (or at least pointed out) that fact (some of these same people read the earlier draft with the bad person suspicions and caught that one handily). I mean, not even me, til a few days ago.

Which brings up an interesting question–do we, as readers, more easily accept a character as unilaterally good? Do we look at a “good” character and think much along the lines of the villains–that a hero is incorruptible, that they can’t be made to falter, so they need to be defeated straight out rather than through manipulation? Do we automatically assume a character is good until they do something that makes them otherwise?

I went to a panel at a writing conference about mysteries once, and one of the panelists said that they couldn’t know who the murderer was while they were doing the actual writing because otherwise too many clues snuck in. Interesting how the author knowing something can unknowingly affect the story.

Have you encountered this in a story, or in something you’ve written yourself?

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