Divergent

A little warning before you proceed…SPOILER ALERT!!!!  :.)

That said…

I’ve finally completed Veronica Roth’s series, Divergent. The premise itself isn’t terribly original, particularly with the influx of young adult dystopian/futuristic novels coming into the spotlight, and Roth’s writing style is nowhere near unique, but the story was engaging enough for me to see the series through to the end (I’m one of those readers who will stop halfway through a book if I find myself even hesitating to pick it up).

In the final book (Allegiant) of the series, Roth uses a dual-first-person perspective to narrate. Although the characters’ names are listed in the beginning of each chapter, I found the quick transitions to be extremely confusing, especially since the two characters had similar viewpoints, opinions (bar one), diction, thought processes, etc. Another example of the split-viewpoint gone wrong is Christopher Paolini’s Eldest, although there I found it much better done than in Roth’s novel.

SPOILERS START HERE…though I’ll try to keep them mild.

Granted, dual-person narration is very difficult to get right. Roth does it to kill off one of her protagonists while keeping the story in first-person, allowing us to see the consequences and aftermath of the death. However, there are other ways to kill the protagonist in first-person narratives (The Sixth Sense, anyone?) which do not rely on the confusing dual-person narrative.

SPOILERS END.

Roth’s conclusion takes a little while to digest, but, in retrospect, I find it wasn’t badly done. The plot terminates in the rebuilt rubble of Chicago, but the characters find the scars on their hearts aren’t mending the way they would have wished. There is unrest, grief, and chaos amid the hope and rebuilding. The story ends on a bitter-not-so-sweet note, captured by the tone, the dialogue, and the emotions the characters portray. You, as the reader, find yourself caught inside this whirlwind, and, when the acknowledgements arrive, you, too, feel the desperate chaos eating away at any hope you might have still harboured.

Just some thoughts on the series. I haven’t seen the film as yet, but I hope it’s good.

— Beatrice

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Writing Through Pain

All of us feel pain. Some more than others, perhaps, but feeling pain is a simple part of growing up. Not just physical pain, but emotional pain. I sometimes think that a milestone in the journey from childhood to adulthood is finding the ability to cry for a purely emotional reason…or even finding the reason itself.

 

It sometimes helps us to write through our pain. Our writing might be strictly biographical or autobiographical, or we might choose to distance ourselves from our pain by writing in the third person, perhaps adopting a slightly fantastic or fictional plot. I often prefer the latter, although the former as its uses. Allow me to comment on both.

 

Writing a diary-style reflection can be useful for understanding and placing situations into perspective. The more detailed reflections can force the writer to search his or her memory in order to more fully comprehend the turn of events in question. Diary-style writing can help mollify feelings of guilt or blame, especially when there was nothing the writer could have done. Recording a sequential, factual series of events can also help the writer see where mistakes were made and which future directions might help prevent the same mistakes.

 

Writing a fictional account based on real-life is an excellent coping mechanism. Writing as a different character or even in a different world allows the writer to place his or her feelings in a different situation and examine potential causes and, more importantly, solutions and forward direction. Writing in this capacity can also give the writer a sense of normality, as it boosts understanding and helps the writer realise he is not the only person in this type of situation.

 

Writing through pain can be difficult. Very difficult. It forces us to relive moments and examine emotions we want nothing more than to forget. But writing through pain also prevents us from bottling up dangerous emotions while releasing them in a productive, safe manner.

 

When you write through your pain, it will rarely sound good, logical, fluent, or even make sense. That’s okay. This is your writing. You’re writing for yourself, no one else.

 

So don’t be afraid. Pick up that pen. Your paper awaits.

The Thirteenth Scroll

I’ve just finished reading The Thirteenth Scroll by Rebecca Neason. The book as a whole is rather lacklustre and lacking in substance, but it does contain numerous “fantasy clichés” which any aspiring writer should take great pains to avoid. For this reason, I shall discuss the few points of interest here.

The first thing of note is that Tolkein-esque ideas are completely trite in modern literature. If your idea came from any way from Lord of the Rings (or sounds like anything that could possibly be a rip-off of Lord of the Rings), then it’s a VERY bad idea. Such ideas include hard-to-pronounce names (Lord Edrythrewakkyn of M’hrraiynam); a made-up language (with glossary included in the back!); an epic adventure in which most of the action revolves around walking, horseback-riding, getting lost, and finding the way back; and a forbidden romance between two individuals from drastically different walks of life (different species is even better).

Another point of note is the role of women, particularly in medieval, magical novels. Women are often portrayed as victims, seductresses, or temptresses…and none of these roles are often shown in a positive light. In The Thirteenth Scroll, the Lady Aurya, the chief villain, is a seductress, bending men to her will with a simple glance or smile. Lysandra, the protagonist, serves as both a victim of circumstances and a temptress for the struggling Father Renan (yes, a priest, and here we have our forbidden romance brewing). Selia, a young supporting character, is also a victim, this time of innocence — Neason goes as far as to have Selia represent innocence and its accompanying wisdom.

The Thirteenth Scroll also uses the extremely-trite “prophecy” idea. When Harry Potter first came out, the “prophecy” idea was novel enough that people enjoyed the story. Now, it is sorely over-used. Try to avoid introducing a prophecy involving your main characters, and, if it does, try to avoid the “chosen-one” or “race-for-power” ideas. I LOVE plot twists, so, if you think you can rehash the prophecy plot to make it original and different, go for it! Otherwise…maybe stick to another genre. Or at least story idea.

A Rant on Two Tales

At the urging of my sister, I’ve recently completed Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the first book in her best-selling trilogy. Without any spoilers (hopefully!), I wanted to comment briefly on my opinion of the book and, particularly, Roth’s writing style.

The book is one of many in the rising storm of dystopian, futuristic young adult novels. Indeed, I think of the book as a rewrite of Fahrenheit 451, coupled with elements of The Hunger Games and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Roth certainly spins an imaginative tale, creating a believable image of our world many years in the future. The “faction” idea might be a bit trite, considering the partial parallelism with the Hogwarts system (Erudite = Ravenclaw, Dauntless = Gryffindor, Amity = Hufflepuff), but the idea fits well with the dystopian themes and need for control (now I’m reminded of Orwell’s 1984).

Roth’s writing style is very simplistic — forgivable, since the book is intended for “young adults”. A good rule of thumb I use personally is to subtract two to four years from the age of the protagonist to determine the target audience when dealing with children’s literature (children tend to enjoy reading about characters their age or slightly older). 16-year-old Beatrice Prior gives us a target audience of 12-14. This book seems to me a bit heavy content-wise (two attempted rape scenes, alcohol consumption by major characters, a LOT LOT LOT of violence) for this age group, although the writing style and vocabulary is certainly manageable. Then again, “edgy” teen fiction seems to be the rage these days, so, again, this is forgivable.

I did find Roth’s plot quite one-dimensional. There were no great upsets, twists, or turns (other than the death of a minor character which was glossed over towards the end). The plot is easily predictable early in the story; characters act as a discerning reader would suppose, and there is very little excitement or “real-life” upsets, so to speak. I would have liked to have seen more character development and turmoil in the story; for example, it is clear very early who the antagonist is, what their plans are, etc. The large amount of foreshadowing all but gives the plot away. Perhaps this situation is remedied in the series’ later installations. Divergent is, after all, a debut novel, and, in that regard, it isn’t a bad read at all.

 

Another book I’ve recently finished is Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord. Funke’s work differs greatly from Roth’s (not surprising, since Funke is a master of children’s literature, while Roth is only beginning a promising career). The last children’s crime novel I read was Peter Pan, and it is interesting to see the similarities between that and  The Thief Lord. The novel could almost be seen as a combination of Peter Pan and Little Orphan Annie. I do enjoy Funke’s magical, mystical style of writing; unlike Roth, Funke manages to weave words together in an almost poetic way while keeping a fast-paced, exciting storyline and multi-dimensional characters.

 

Well, that’s it for now. Can’t think of much else to comment on regarding these two books, although I’d certainly recommend them both (and the Divergent film does look quite interesting…why, oh why are cinema tickets so pricy these days?). Right now, I’m reading Rebecca Neason’s The Thirteenth Scroll, a rather lacklustre fantasy epic. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it.

Sometime.

Soon.

 

 

I’m BACK!!!!

After some contemplation, I’ve decided to continue this blog, now that my thesis project is over. I think it’s been a valuable learning experience, and hope to continue that journey of learning…although now I can do it in a much more relaxed atmosphere, kick off my shoes, open a bag of Cheetos.

Except that I don’t like Cheetos, so I might have Fritos instead. Or marshmallows. Mmmm…I do love marshmallows…

A lot of the work on this blog will probably be from experience of interesting tips I pick up online. Yes, I will cite them more often and provide links. I’m very bad at citing, usually because I forget where I originally read the idea. But I will make a more conscious effort to give credit to these authors, writers, and teachers. We certainly owe them that much.

So here we go, on a lovely journey of learning, discovery, and writing! I might write prompts, tips, thoughts, anything relating to writing. Remember to visit These Flowing Words for original stories and poems!  (http://theseflowingwords.wordpress.com/)

Cheers, and happy summer!

Beatrice

 

 

An Open Letter: On Facing Failure

An open letter I recently wrote; you might find it interesting.

On Facing Failure

 

It’s that time of year again. The temperature is rising, tensions are higher, nail-biters are relapsing, and Wikipedia is probably getting more hits than it will for the rest of the year combined. We all work hard. We all want that bright future sitting amid the stars. We all have continuously-growing lists of goals, hopes, and dreams pinned somewhere in our minds.

And we know that all of these can come crashing down without a moment’s notice.

Maybe it’s a test grade. A letter. An email. A phone call. Two words in the street. Sorry, no. Sorry, not this time. Not interested. Not good enough. Not qualified. The sinking feeling in your stomach. The swirling feeling in your head. I’ve heard them called butterflies. That’s a euphemism.

Do you feel this way sometimes, too?

Who made these rules? That a single letter on a sheet of paper can dictate your life? That a man or woman behind a desk with a resume and ten-minute phone interview knows enough about you to decide your future? Now, I could sit here and write about how rejection and failure is a big learning process. After all, we wouldn’t nearly enjoy success as much if we didn’t have the chance to grit our teeth over bitter disappointment. But who wants to hear about that? Knowing that things might improve in the future hardly helps the here-and-now.

I’ll relate two personal anecdotes, if you’d like to hear them. Almost all of my exam papers over the last five or so years have a small column of numbers running down the edge. I’m calculating my estimated mark on the test and how that will affect my mark in the course overall. After the exam is complete, I pull out my pocket calculator to check my math and assess the damage.

Why? Why do I do that? Are grades the be-all, end-all? Will a D – in Nanobiochemical Foundations 205 really affect my future so much that I need to calculate my estimated mark several times before I consider sleeping at nights again?

What do you think? Is it really that important?

In my opinion, it could be. Everything depends, of course, on that list of goals, hopes, and dreams floating around in your head. But I can guarantee that mark means a lot more to me now than it will five years from now, ten years from now, or even next month.

Why?

Because I want to feel in control. I want to feel I am doing something for my future. For my destiny. I know that good grades give me more options. I want more options. I want good grades.

But, regardless of the numbers of doors which line the corridors of possibility, I can only follow one path in life.

If that D- closes off five doors, I still have millions, billions, quadrillions (that’s a word, right?) open for me. It may not be what I was looking for or what I was expecting, but it’s there. The world didn’t end. No zombie apocalypses.

Let’s step away from marks for a moment. They’re really a very small part of the grand scheme of things. You might disagree, so allow me to introduce a new word to our discussion: rejection. No longer “failure”, but the very subjective, all-too-real “rejection”. It might be a supervisor or job offer or crush or school or team or…the list rolls on. This time of year, especially, we feel so much depends on so little. One false step, one loose brick on the path, and you’re finished. Walking into a job interview, you might have five or ten minutes to impress someone on the other side of the desk. What happens if you smell funny? Laugh too loudly? Wore your suit jacket inside out?

I’m thinking of those euphemistic butterflies again.

You might think I’m unqualified to make the sweeping statements this letter contains, and I’d wholeheartedly agree with you. I’m too young to know what life has in store for me. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt failure. Rejection.

Just after my fifteenth birthday, I had a “brilliant” idea: I was going to write a novel! I’d work hard on it, get it published, and live the rest of my life as the next <insert author here>, famous, rich, and happy. All right, maybe it wasn’t that extreme, but I did decide to write a novel. I spent a year and a half working on it (a long time in adolescent years). After jotting down the last words, I wrote a proposal, made a list of 150+ literary agents, and sent my heart’s work out to the world.

You can guess what happened, right?

I made a folder in my email account to store all of the rejection letters. That is, letters from the agents who were kind enough to respond.

But I didn’t stop there. That summer, I decided to write another novel and resend it to the agents.

Same results.

Guess what?

The next summer, I wrote another novel.

I forget how many summers there were, but I do remember that, the last summer I tried this, I actually received a request from an agent hoping to see more of the manuscript. I was ecstatic for days; of course, my reply was quickly followed by another rejection letter, but it was a step in the right direction. There was a pattern forming.

Do you see it?

It’s three words long: Never Give Up.

…now I sound like Winston Churchill.

 

This rather lengthy letter is dedicated to all of the brave people in the Health Sci community who have taught me to handle rejection and failure. There are people who have passed through the programme before me, people who came after me, people who I sit shoulder-to-shoulder with in lecture halls. There are professors and facilitators and staff members whose little actions speak volumes and teach more than any textbook ever could.  There are people whose courage and dedication motivate me to strive to do better, become stronger, and try the hardest I can.

The best place to find the courage to face failure and rejection is from each other. I know, I know life can feel like a competition. Like you’re drowning against the current in the swimming race of life. But look around you. Everyone has goals, hopes, and dreams. We’re in this together. You’re not alone.

In two weeks, I am going to write the last exam of my undergraduate career, closing the door on another chapter in life. People ask me what I plan to do afterwards. The answer is terrifying simple: I don’t know. I have goals. I have a very clear dream. But I have no idea how I’m going to get there. The corridor of possibilities is full of doors, but I haven’t tried enough of them to know which ones open, and which are still locked

How many of your doors have you tried?

 

Writing Crime Fiction

Crime stories are similar to detective and mystery fiction, bar one detail: mysteries are told from the perspective of an investigator, law official, or law-abiding citizen, while crime stories are told from the criminal, villain, or accomplice’s perspective. Crime stories may attempt to make the reader sympathise with or even support the criminal. An example sitting in front of me is Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, whose protagonist, Jean Valjean, is an ex-convict who has broken parole. Anyone familiar with Valjean’s story will know the intricacies and dilemmas he faces daily. Valjean is not a “bad” man; he is, as the song says, “only human”. Another example is the animated film Megamind, which focuses on a cliché villain’s reluctant conversion to heroism. Crime stories often focus on underworld societies and dealings; consider mafia bosses, Western shootouts, pickpockets, gangs, etc.

Here are some tips to consider when writing crime stories:

  •  Often, crime stories focus on the low-life dregs of society: thieves, robbers, runaways, addicts, vagrants, and so on. However, white-collared drug lords, bosses, and dons with Lamborghinis, butlers, and million-dollar mansions are also part of the genre. Make sure you bring your character’s speech, accent, routine, emotions, and dreams to life through the proper environment. Keep everything in character.
  • Do your research. Modern-day police forces have high-tech forensic tools, psychoanalytic techniques, computer simulations, models, and more. Your criminal will need to find a way around these or risk getting caught. And bribing the entire police force with their multibillion dollar fortune inherited from Great-Aunt Hattie won’t always work, either.
  • Don’t rely on CSI or Criminal Minds if you’re looking for facts. These have been (grossly) dramatised for the Hollywood audience. Even realistic shows, such as Caught on Camera or Forensic Files, have been edited to fit neatly into a sixty-minute television segment, and are not completely reliable.
  • Learn correct legal terminology, and use it. “Theft” differs from “burglary”, which differs from “larceny”, which differs from “robbery”.
  • Keep track of victims, suspects, officers, detectives, and criminals. It can be very easy to confuse who accused who of what, where, and when.
  • Maintain a dark, spooky tone for mood and setting.
  • Keep a fast pace for interest.
  • Create a believable villain. Two-sided is best. The criminal is your protagonist, and the deeper you delve into his story, the more interesting your story will be.

Flowing Creativity Has a Face-lift!

My apologies for the delay in updates! As a (very poor) form of compensation, the site has been restructured and redesigned. Take a look at our new sections: “Acknowledgements” and “Recent Reads”, both of which will be expanded in the very near future.

Also, feel free to visit our sister site, if you haven’t already done so! These Flowing Words @ http://theseflowingwords.wordpress.com/

As always, please feel free to post any questions, comments, criticisms, or suggestions!

Cheers,

Beatrice

How to Make Your Writing…More Interesting

Condense bulky paragraphs into single sentences. Routines, descriptions, and in-depth thought processes are boring for the reader. Unless they hold special significance, condense and skip to the dialogue.

 

Don’t overstate the point. Less is more.

 

Vary your delivery. Use body language, tone, eye contact, and posture to deliver unsaid messages. Consider the difference between:

Livy’s face turned red. “I hate you!”

“I hate you!” said Livy, but her eyes fell to the floor.

 

Make your characters so realistic they’re over the top with personality. That arrogant fellow who picks an argument with everyone on the street except the pretty little florist who’s head-over-heels for the English teacher from Devonshire who buys two scones every morning from the shy baker who hardly raises her eyes to greet her customers. Or something along those lines.

 

If your first line isn’t interesting, no one will continue.

 

Powerful words. Enough said.

 

The passive voice is best avoided. The reader may feel as though the words make him or her isolated from the action of the story. Unless, of course, this course is desired.

 

Appeal to human emotion. Take your audience and horrify, taunt, surprise, tease, and grip them in a fast-paced, engaging story which will keep them on the edges of their seats.

 

Avoid making your characters too similar. Not just in name and history, but in personality, speech, manner, and habit.

 

And, of course, the ever-present…if you’re bored writing it, we’ll be bored reading it!

Consequences

A Victorian parlour game which may prove useful for writers. An old-fashioned form of Mad Libs. A word or sentence is written for each of the categories. In a multi-player game, players divide the topics and do not look at what the other participants have written.

The categories:

  1. Adjective for man
  2. Man’s name
  3. Adjective for woman
  4. Woman’s name
  5. Where they met
  6. He wore
  7. She wore
  8. He said to her
  9. She said to him
  10. The consequence was… (a description of what happened after)
  11. What the world said