And this puts me in a strange place. I just mentioned a few days ago that I don’t like giving reviews that are less than positive because any book that I dislike, others will love, and I kind of hate to dissuade anyone from reading a book that they might have been interested in otherwise. And yet I’m in this challenge which involves at the very least, writing a few words about the books I read.
And in this case, I can’t rave about it.
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist has received its share of raves, mind you. A lot of people LOVE this book. I listened to it as an audiobook and I never wanted to bail on it, it was intriguing, interesting, the world-building was strong, and I can see why it was well-received.
Dahlquist needed a bit of assistance in plotting. He’s a playwright and this was his first novel. I got a bit tired of the lather/rinse/repeat nature of the story with his three main characters constantly getting captured, witnessing horrifying things, and then escaping. Again. And again. And again. His three main characters are an odd and intriguing trio–a heroine who wants to find out why her fiance has written her a strange and unexpected “Dear Jane” letter and thus begins an investigation into dark, dangerous places. An assassin who dwells in such places. And a very proper gentleman whose sense of duty draws him into dark, dangerous places. Sounds like a good start, doesn’t it?
So please don’t listen to me. Go read it for yourself. This immense chunk of Victorian steampunk has a lot to sink your teeth into and the odds are great that you’ll be one of the ones who love it.
Sidebar: This is the second book I’ve read that was inspired by a dream where I thought the author could have done a much better job finding a way to incorporate that dream into fiction. And a gazillion people didn’t agree with me on the first one, either.
I’m on my third in October. I could space them out and list/review one a month, but that makes me itch. I am just going to mention them as I read them, and don’t expect any real reviews from me because that’s too much like work.
Also, the first three have all been audiobooks that I downloaded from audible (if you sign up, tell them dallaspooks sent ya) and so what I will actually be discussing is a different experience than reading.
First, Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, and its sequel, Behemoth. These are YA (Young Adult) novels that have been getting fabulous word of mouth and I finally broke down and decided to read them listen to them. And I’m so glad I did. Set on the brink of World War I, Leviathan begins the night that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated in Sarajevo, with their 15-year-old son being rousted out of bed and hustled away from the palace by a sinister pair of men–and straight into action-packed adventure which continues into its sequel. I don’t know how long the series is projected to be, but there are clearly more coming.
In the meantime in England a 15-year-old Scottish girl is pretending to be a boy so she can be an airman with the British Air Service, as her brother is and her father was before her. Again–straight into action-packed adventure.
In this revisioning of World War I the nations are the same and on the same teams, but many of the details are different. The world building is superb. The German side are “Clankers” whose war machines are fantastical and mechanical. The English side are “Darwinists” who have created strange new creatures (or “beasties,” as Deryn calls them) to go to war.
Scott Westerfeld’s world is amazing. The action is almost nonstop but always inventive and fresh. The characterizations are rich. At the end of each book are author notes that describe what aspects of the books are true history and where Westerfeld got creative, and I was as fascinated by the real history as I was the books themselves. It was gratifying to see that some of the more interesting twists were historic facts that he’d woven sp deftly into his stories it was impossible for me to know what was real and what was new.
Alan Cumming as narrator is phenomenal. He reads with breathless energy, gives the characters appropriate and wonderful accents that enhance their personalities and backgrounds, and made me want to listen nonstop. At a time when I was highly distracted by a lot of real life issues, these books were always compelling and easy to fall into.
This is what my storyboard for book two looked like two days ago. (The part with the green background.)
It had three cards on it when I started writing book one. While writing book one, I occasionally slapped new cards up on books two and three when I had ideas, in the general area of the books where I thought something would happen or be important. [Book three is on top, but most of its cards are in the first part of the book so not in this pic.] Post-its tend to fall off eventually but I did have some, and some scribbled notes and some printed. Now I’m looking at what I have, figuring out what else I need, eliminating those ideas that probably won’t fit.
I am very disorganized. Any kind of analysis requires this kind of thought process is a real shift in gears for me. So having these physical elements to work with–so fluid and easy to move around, remove, put back–has made all the difference in the world in my ability to visualize and control my story.
I’ve never done this detailed kind of outlining and plotting before, but for this trilogy it’s absolutely necessary.
The storyboard technique is from the aforementioned screenwriting book, Save The Cat, and I wish I’d learned it earlier. I’d used scene cards before, but never in this way.
I have used color to represent things like “not sure about this” or “R’s pov” but when I have a plot that is getting close to solid, I will make all of this neat and print it out in proper scene cards and then use it to write from.
Also, I had a major spoiler on the board. Not that anybody ever actually reads it but me but… I have removed that spoiler and rewritten so that it is no longer spoilery. (wink)
And I have probably mentioned Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told, as well, since I believe you need both these books to approach plot and structure the Snyder way, and frankly, this is the best approach I have ever found. [YMMV, etc.] (I don’t know how I missed Save the Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get into … and Out of, and why it’s already out of print, or at least not available from Amazon, but at least it’s shipped by Amazon so I can use my Amazon Prime, erm, I digress. Ahem. But if you have that book, let me know what it’s about and what you think, though I’m probably about to order it. And isn’t it amazing how the last book you’ll ever need on screenwriting still was followed by more books? Is anybody surprised? But, if the third is anything like the first, it’s well worth the money and I am wondering if there will be any more, since Blake Snyder is no longer with us, may he R.I.P.)
I’m curious about those of you who also have used STC. I’m really curious how many of you were beginning writers and how many brought a certain amount of knowledge of story with you as you began reading the book. I’m curious about your experiences with STC, successful and unsuccessful.
I’m considering using it more heavily in my writing classes, and want to get a bigger picture of how people respond to it.
For my own part, even though I already understood 3-act structure and had published five novels and won a couple of screenwriting competitions before I picked up STC, the scene cards, sceneboard and genre breakdowns from STC gave me a set of tools that opened up plotting to me in a way that for the first time truly helped me do it. Not understand it on a broad, general level. But actually take my own ideas and arrange them, and understand how they should fit together to achieve what I wanted.
Perhaps I also bring a lot of confidence to the process and I know when to ignore something and when to use something, when words in a book are helping me get closer to my vision and when they aren’t.
Think that’s it?
Tell me. Let’s talk about saving that darned cat.
BTW, if you’re doing nanowrimo this November? This might be a good time to whip out STC and start plotting that novel. It would be an excellent way to map it out in detail so you can dive in and start writing.
Well, book two, Changeless , has arrived (on my Kindle, on April 8, like magic–because I’d pre-ordered so saw it appear before my very eyes when turned on the “library” and went squee!).
But they are already promoting book three, Blameless (September 1, 2010),and whether or not you intend to read the books, you will probably find this fascinating.
This is a fun romp of a steampunk series. Everything is so veddy, veddy Victorian, with vampires who would never, ever suck your blood without a proper introduction and permission. No, really! And werewolves who tend to be a little rougher around the edges, but are charming, for all that.
I’m enjoying the proper heck out if it.
I haven’t finished Changeless. But the first chapter reassured me that yes, there is still some hunt in this dog, with a new character introduced (and what an introduction) who promises many more hours of story fun, continued banter and politely expressed sexual innuendo (you read these books for the wit, not the sex), still the same strong characters.
It was worth the wait (which really wasn’t all that long).