Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: NOT IN THE SCRIPT by Amy Finnegan

I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve picked up in Bloomsbury’s If Only series, so I’m not surprised to add NOT IN THE SCRIPT by Amy Finnegan to that list. It doesn’t hurt that I have a soft spot for anything to do with movies. (Yes, like many authors, I not-so-secretly hope that one day I’ll write a book that gets optioned for film. Any kind of movie will do. I’d even take neighborhood kids acting it out :).) But back to that review …

Not in the Script by Amy FinneganMillions of people witnessed Emma Taylor’s first kiss—a kiss that needed twelve takes and four camera angles to get right. After spending nearly all of her teen years performing on cue, Emma wonders if any part of her life is real anymore . . . particularly her relationships.

Jake Elliott’s face is on magazine ads around the world, but his lucrative modeling deals were a poor substitute for what he had to leave behind. Now acting is offering Jake everything he wants: close proximity to home; an opportunity to finally start school; and plenty of time with the smart and irresistible Emma Taylor . . . if she would just give him a chance.

When Jake takes Emma behind the scenes of his real life, she begins to see how genuine he is, but on-set relationships always end badly. Don’t they? Toss in Hollywood’s most notorious heartthrob and a resident diva who may or may not be as evil as she seems, and the production of Coyote Hills heats up in unexpected—and romantic—ways.

Here are the five things I liked most.

1. The dialogue – The interchanges between Jake and Emma are so snappy and fun. Here’s a great example from early on in Emma’s POV. Emma has just explained that she took a picture of his bio to send to her best friend, who collects pictures of his modeling adds.

“Where does she keep the ads?” Jake asks. “In some kind of scrapbook?”

“No, nothing that formal.” I can’t tell if Jake truly wants to know, or if he’s a little creeped out. But I hadn’t meant to make Rachel look stupid. “They’re just taped to her wall. Like, you know, posters.”

Jake stays quiet, his eyes locked on me. “Darn,” he finally says. “If a full collection of my work could be found in a single book, I’d love to get my hands on it. And burn it.”

[narrative]

“Didn’t we just discuss your character, Justin, wanting to burn stuff?” I ask.

He nods. “Especially the cowboy ads. I’d torch every one of them.”

“No, not those!” I beg. “Your boots were so cool!”

Jake is laughing now too. “The boots weren’t the problem.”

“Was it the hat?” He knows where I’m going with this–low-rider leather chaps, hello!–and he’s shaking his head, looking a little desperate.

“That’s a great place to stop,” he says. “Right there.”

I guess it is :). You’ll have to read the book for more.

2. The romance – Oh, how I loved the tension of this romance. The author really made the reader wait for it, and it was great to read it from both characters’ POVs, to get their interpretations of the same situations and shake your head but completely understand why they would see it that way. So well done!

3. The supporting characters – Brett and Kimmi and Rachel and Jake’s friends back home–every single character had depth and relevance to the story. And in a couple of cases, I wasn’t quite sure whether I should be rooting for the character or not. Maybe that was the point :).

4. The fame/real life balance – I enjoyed reading this subplot and seeing Emma navigate how fame had affected both her closest friendship and her relationship with her mom. It was an important part of her growth in the story.

5. The parents – Jake’s mom was fantastic, particularly as she was dealing with a challenge I’ll let you read about yourself, and I also really loved Emma’s dad. Her mom was a character who grew along with Emma in the story, although she wasn’t a POV character so the reader sees that through Emma. All in all, strong parents.

Have you read NOT IN THE SCRIPT? If so, what did you like about it?

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: SEABORNE: THE LOST PRINCE by Matt Myklusch

Several years ago I won a contest for a signed copy of Matt Myklusch’s first book, THE ACCIDENTAL HERO, and I became an instant fan. I loved all three of the Jack Blank books and passed that enjoyment on to my husband. I look forward to sharing them with my kids soon. (You can read my review of the final book in the series here, but be warned of spoilers.) My seven-year-old was already eyeing the cover of Mr. Myklusch’s latest, SEABORNE: THE LOST PRINCE, with interest. Check it out.

Seaborne: The Lost Prince by Matt MykluschWhen 13-year old Dean Seaborne runs afoul of the Pirate King, he is given one last chance to redeem himself before he gets thrown to the sharks. His orders are to find and steal the treasure of Zenhala, a mysterious island where gold grows on trees. Dean infiltrates the island posing as its legendary lost prince, but the longer he stays in Zenhala, the more he questions his mission—and himself.

Forced to undergo intense and fantastical trials to prove his royal lineage, Dean can’t help but wonder if he really is the lost prince he’s pretending to be. With sea serpents, assassins, and danger on all sides, he might not live long enough to find out.

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The humor – I tried to find a good passage to demonstrate the humor, but it’s not really one-liners or even paragraphs at a time that make the humor in this book. Sure, those happen, but it’s more about the situations Dean finds himself in.

2. The adventure – Sea serpents! Kites that skim across the ocean! Kayaking and soaring over waterfalls! Pirates! I mean, this story is all about adventure.

3. The dialogue – The dialogue is clever throughout, but I especially liked the interchange between Dean and one of his seconds in the trials because of how it could be interpreted multiple ways.

Dean nodded. “Fair enough. I hope you’ll make it easier than your brother did.”

“The regent told my father you had only good things to say about Junter’s service.”

“I was being polite.”

Jin grimaced. “No need for that. Junter’s performance yesterday was an embarrassment. He disappointed my father and brought shame to my family. Rest assured, I will not fail as he did.”

“Good man,” Dean said. He studied Jin, trying to get a read on him. He was more talkative than his brother and said all the right things, but what he left unsaid rattled Dean. He wouldn’t fail in what?

Exactly! This conversation is one of many where the choice of words is key.

4. The twists – Is Dean the lost prince? Who wants him to be? Who doesn’t? There are so many rabbit trails in this book, but I’m not surprised. That’s one of the things I loved about the Jack Blank series as well–always a twist on the horizon! I’m sure there will be more in the rest of the series.

5. The stakes – Just when you think you understand what’s at stake for Dean, things step up a notch–but not necessarily in a life-or-death way. Yes, he has to face life-threatening trials, but the stakes end up hitting him even harder than his life as he has to decide who he wants to be as a person. Very well-done.

Have you read this book yet? Or the Jack Blank series? Let me know if you’re a Matt Myklusch fan in the comments!

Revising, Writing

The Benefits of Reading Your Work Aloud Revisited

Yes, I have already posted on this topic–but it’s been two years. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging long enough to decide to write on something only to find I already did. And in this case, when I looked back at my original post, I was actually pretty satisfied with what I had to say on the topic (aside from cringing at the fact that I’d thought reading out loud would be a waste of time. Bad Michelle!). However, due to the amount of time that’s passed and since I have new readers since then, I’m going to update the post with some examples–because there has to be some added value :).

So here are specific areas where reading your work aloud will benefit your manuscript.

Point of view. My work-in-progress is written in alternating points of view, so reading it aloud was extremely helpful in keeping those voices distinct. I noticed turns of phrase or words that sounded out of place for a particular character. When I heard the words in addition to seeing them, it was much clearer that they didn’t fit the character.

For example, imagine a teenage boy thinking about the girl he loves with her current boyfriend. In my draft, it said:

“Brant hadn’t made it past first base (although I wished he hadn’t even gotten that far).”

When I read this out loud, it sounded off. Not that a boy doesn’t wish for things, but I knew it could be stronger. So I revised it to this:

“Brant hadn’t made it past first base (although it burned me he’d even gotten that far).”

It looked all right on the page, but until I heard it, I didn’t realize it was off for the character.

Something else that stood out to me was the tone of each character toward the supporting characters. Word choice is particularly important in conveying the tone, and it’s jarring when you hear the wrong word. For this particular MS, my two MCs are coming from two very different places at the beginning of the story. The female MC is in the dark about the world around her, so she has a mostly favorable attitude toward characters the male MC disdains because of what he knows. It became very clear as I read out loud if a description of a particular character was being attributed to the wrong MC.

Dialogue. As with point of view, dialogue needs to be unique to each character. Often I would read something and think, “Character A wouldn’t say that, but Character B would,” or vice versa. And within a scene, I could tell if the characters sounded too similar.

For this particular manuscript, I had a couple of characters with accents, so it stood out if my foreign character used too many contractions or my Southern character needed to say something with a different cadence.

More particularly with dialogue, I had to address how different characters referred to each other and authority figures. Would the MC’s boyfriend refer to her parents as Mr. and Mrs. or by their first names? Do they call each other by their names or do they use nicknames? My female MC had a nickname for the antagonist, and it was only as I read out loud that I realized I hadn’t consistently used it.

A few other questions that popped up as I was reading the dialogue:

  • Would this particular character use that metaphor?
  • Is this adult talking too much like a teenager?
  • How do these two characters react to each other differently than these other two during dialogue? Do they fall into familiar patterns?

Repeated words. Although I have a pretty good eye for noticing repeated words or phrases, reading aloud helps in that I notice if I use the same words too often. Maybe the phrases aren’t on the same page or even in the same chapter, but they’re more noticeable out loud. It also stands out when one character thinks or says something and then a different one thinks or say something similar, making the repetition a voice issue.

(My crutch words/phrases for this manuscript: stride, glance, going to. I’ll find more when I go back through with the express purpose of weeding them out!)

Flow. Often things that look fine on the page don’t sound as strong when you say them out loud. Sometimes I’d read something that looked perfectly fine but sounded awkward. I also added many contractions and deleted a lot of unnecessary phrases. Even if the book is never read aloud or put into audiobook form, I’d still like for it to flow.

Specifics. It’s common advice: always use specifics instead of generalities when you can. It speaks to voice in addition to giving the reader a stronger sense of place and character. A number of these generalities stood out as I read. I’d think: this character would be more specific. It might seem minor to replace “coffee” with “cafe au lait” or “TV” with “a family drama” but there’s a reason for it, and it impacts the overall tone of the story.

Qualifying statements. I thought I was pretty good about catching these while drafting, but I guess not good enough :). In any case, there were exponentially fewer qualifiers in this manuscript than, say, CAVEBOY. Anyway, those I thought, I knew, it seemed’s really stood out when I heard them loud and clear. Sure, they have a place, but most of the time they’re unnecessary.

Hmmm. I had a lot more to add to this topic than I originally thought. And I will be reading this manuscript aloud multiple times–maybe not with every draft, but enough to catch all those POV slips and clunky sentences and repeated words. What about you? Anything to add to my comments on the benefits of reading your manuscript out loud?

Character, Writing

It’s Just a First Draft, Part 3

I finished my first draft! It ended up at approximately 68,000 words. I always let a first draft sit for a few weeks before I look at it again, although I already have a number of ideas about what I need to do with it when I start revising. In any case, here are my It’s Just a First Draft reminders upon finishing.

It’s ok if the ending fizzles out. It would be lovely if I could finish my draft and think, “Yes, that’s the perfect ending.” I went back and looked at my other manuscripts to see if this has ever been the case. In CAVEBOY, my original last line became the end of the second to last paragraph, so I did keep the line. For DEXELON, I originally wrote a cliffhanger ending. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it, and I didn’t. The last line of DUET actually stayed the same through all drafts, with a very slight tweak. I know that won’t be the case with this first draft, but that’s ok.

It’s ok if the stakes aren’t high enough. I am always too easy on my main character in the first draft. I understand the stakes in my head, but I have trouble making them play out high enough in the actual draft. It’s one of those things I need to really think about, and if I spent time on it during the draft, I’d never finish. On the plus side, now that I’m finished, I have a clear idea of what I need to do with the stakes when I go back and revise.

It’s ok if the character arc isn’t complete. The character arc goes hand in hand with the stakes, so it makes sense that if one is weak, the other will be, too. The emotional punch just isn’t there yet, and for me that’s related to the show and tell rule. I have to think about how to show the emotions, so I can’t spend time on that while I’m drafting. As with the stakes, I know what I need to do there, so it will come through when I have the time to really dig in.

It’s ok if the dialogue isn’t authentic. I have several different dynamics happening in this particular story. My character is going back and forth between being a high school girl and pretending to be a middle school boy (that’s as much as I’m going to share about the premise at this point). Right now the conversations she has with these two different groups of people sound about the same. I know I’ll have to go back and inject more boy into the younger dialogue. But once again, it’s something that requires thought.

It’s ok if something went in a completely different direction in the middle of the draft. It always amazes me how I can be writing and feel like I’m not in control of the direction. It’s like my fingers are working independently of my brain. I know that’s not really true. It’s obviously that I’m tapping into a different part of my brain while drafting than planning. There were several times important plot points (the first kiss, the first twist reveal) happened before I intended them to, but I’ll probably keep them there. I think the drafting part of my brain knew better :).

At this point, I’m just thrilled to have the story waiting in Scrivener for me to whip into shape. I’m not as happy with this draft as I was with my last one, but I think that has to do with working in the longer YA format. It was hard to wrap my mind around that much content. I’m excited about what I’ll be able to do with it when it’s time to revise. In any case, I can say I’ve written another novel!

Other posts in this series:
It’s Just a First Draft
It’s Just a First Draft, Part 2
Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: DESTINY, REWRITTEN by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

A few weeks ago Kimberley Griffiths Little reviewed this book, and I was immediately intrigued by the premise. An eleven-year-old who loves romance novels? This was so me, except I’ve never read Danielle Steel. I’m totally with Emily on the happy endings, though. Anyway, here’s the description.

Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn FitzmauriceEleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis has been told for her entire life that her destiny is to become a poet, just like her famous namesake, Emily Dickinson. But Emily doesn’t even really like poetry, and she has a secret career ambition that she suspects her English-professor mother will frown on. Then, just after discovering that it contains an important family secret, she loses the special volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry that was given to her at birth. As Emily and her friends search for the lost book in used bookstores and thrift shops all across town, Emily’s understanding of destiny begins to unravel and then rewrite itself in a marvelous new way.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The dialogue – I loved the conversations Emily has with her best friend, Wavey. For example the teacher asking two boys to carry a box out sparks a discussion of what girls can do. The conversation involves Star Wars and how a similar scene would play out with Han Solo and Princess Leia. I could just see having a conversation like this with one of my friends.

2. The poetry – I’ve always had a hard time getting into poetry. I took the required classes as an English major, but I never really got it. That being said, I enjoyed the way poetry was woven throughout this book. Even though Emily isn’t sure poetry is her destiny, it’s still a big part of her life, and she has a friend who writes some pretty decent poems. My favorite scene, though, is the conversation she has with her crush, all in haiku. I have to include a bit:

“Sure. Do you think a

Haiku makes everything sound

More interesting?”

“Not really. I just

Want to get my assignment

Done so I can stop.”

“Me too; how about:

Sometimes the sunset can look

Like a tie-dyed shirt.”

“I don’t think that first

Line actually counts because

It’s not part of your poem.”

“It figures, and you

Had six syllables in that

Last line. Are we done?”

So creative and fun!

3. Mortie – I loved her cousin, Mortie. He just about steals the scenes he’s in with his army tactics and sneaky ways. What a great character!

4. Emily’s journey – Since the description doesn’t tell you much about the family secret, I won’t spoil it here, either. However, I won’t be spoiling things to say that she has to figure out what she thinks about destiny and how big of a part she plays in her own. I enjoyed her search as she asked different people what they thought about it. And I’ll just say I’m with Father Patrick.

5. The pieces of the puzzle – While this book wasn’t a mystery, there was a puzzle Emily was trying to solve throughout. I liked how often the pieces were right in front of her, and she just didn’t see them. I guess it fit into the bigger theme of things happening when the time is right. I often feel that way–like it would have been so much easier if I’d figured something out sooner. But it usually turns out that I wasn’t ready for it then.

Have you read DESTINY, REWRITTEN? What did you think?

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE HERO’S GUIDE TO STORMING THE CASTLE by Christopher Healy

Happy Memorial Day!

Today I’m featuring THE HERO’S GUIDE TO STORMING THE CASTLE, the sequel to one of my favorite middle grade reads of 2012. If you haven’t read THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM, I highly recommend you do, and definitely before this one. Here’s the description:

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher HealyPrince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember then, don’t you? They’re the Princes Charming, who finally got some credit after they stepped out f the shadows of their princesses–Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose–to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms.

But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover than an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening–even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.

I was afraid the five things I loved most about this book would be the same as the first one, but as I looked back on that post, I discovered they aren’t.

1. The humor – This book cracked me up so many times I lost count. Ok, I wasn’t counting to start with, but you get the idea. It’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek humor that appeals to me, but it’s more than the words. It’s the overall situation the characters find themselves in. You can’t help but laugh at/with them.

2. The dialogue – A large part of what makes this book so funny is the dialogue. I especially love Gustav and Duncan, for different reasons. Gustav has a wit he doesn’t recognize himself, while Duncan just says the most outlandish things, and yet I totally get where he’s coming from. Here’s a somewhat long sample, but it will prove points 1 and 2:

“Hey, Mr. Mini-Cape, I see you’ve got yourself a ride this time,” Gustav said, noticing Duncan’s horse.

“Ah, yes,” Duncan said. “Allow me to introduce Papa Scoots Jr. As you surely remember, the original Papa Scoots ran away last year. I thought I’d never have a horse like that again. But as luck would have it, one autumn morning, this fine beast wandered into Papa Scoots’s old stable. To make it even more of a coincidence, he looks exactly like Papa Scoots! So I had to name him Papa Scoots Jr. It’s like fate.”

“Um, Duncan,” Frederic said tentatively. “Did you ever consider that maybe Papa Scoots just found his way back home? That this is Papa Scoots?”

“Impossible,” Duncan said. “Papa Scoots hated me.” And with that, Papa Scoots Jr. kicked Duncan into a bush.

“All right, we’ve got business to attend to,” Gustav said. “Enough horsing around.”

Frederic chuckled. “That was funny, Gustav.”

Gustav frowned. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

3. The illustrations – I’m actually surprised I didn’t mention this in my review of the first book. The illustrations by Todd Harris are so perfect, appearing at just the right time to add a visual to the story. I saw a tweet from Christopher Healy about a possible animated movie. I hope Todd Harris will be involved!

4. The happily ever afters – The first book left the HEAs in definite jeopardy, and it was one of my favorite things about the book. I left this one thinking maybe there would be HEAs by the end of the series, but the characters will have to work for them. They won’t be all tied up with a bow like in a typical fairy tale.

5. The ending – I like the way Christopher Healy  wrapped up this story but left several threads hanging for the next book. As a writer, I’m always interested in how authors handle the second book in a series. There’s a lot more leeway to leave it open for the next one if the first book was already successful. That’s definitely the case here, and yet it wasn’t the type of cliffhanger that left me frustrated I couldn’t read the third book right away. I’ll definitely pick it up as soon as I can, but I’m ok with waiting.

Who else loves these books? And if you haven’t read them, go get them now!

Revising, Writing

The Benefits of Reading Your Work Aloud

Do you ever hear advice and discard it because you don’t understand why you would do that?

For me, one of those pieces of seemingly pointless advice was to read your work aloud. I didn’t understand what I would gain from an exercise that would take much longer than just reading the way I usually do.

Well, last week I decided to try it. I can’t say it caused me to make sweeping changes. But I did figure out why it’s beneficial, and so I’m going to share my experience in case any of you are on the fence about reading aloud.

Point of view. My work-in-progress is written in alternating points of view, so reading it aloud was extremely helpful in keeping those voices distinct. I noticed turns of phrase or words that sounded out of place for a particular character. For example, half of my WIP is set on another planet, so Earth-based metaphors wouldn’t be relevant there. When I heard the words in addition to seeing them, I could see more clearly that they didn’t fit the character.

Dialogue. As with point of view, dialogue needs to be unique to each character. Often I would read something and think, “Character A wouldn’t say that, but Character B would,” or vice versa. And within a scene, I could tell if the characters sounded too similar.

Repeated words. Although I have a pretty good eye for noticing repeated words or phrases, reading aloud helped in that I’d notice if I’d said something a lot. Maybe the phrases weren’t on the same page or even in the same chapter, but they were more noticeable out loud. I also caught a number of things I’d have one character think or say and then a different one would think or say something similar, so that repetition became a voice issue.

Flow. Often things that look fine on the page don’t sound as strong when you say them out loud. Sometimes I’d read something that looked perfectly fine but sounded awkward. Even if the book is never read aloud to kids or put into audiobook form, I’d still like for it to flow.

So, those are the benefits I discovered, and I’ll definitely do this again. Do you read your work aloud? What benefits have you discovered?