Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

How to Write a Novel
Using the Snowflake Method
Someone recommended this book to me after I said that I can't plot and have never been able to. I wish I could remember who it was that made the recommendation because I owe her big time. I opened it one night just to glance at it and stayed up past my bedtime reading most of it in one sitting. I rushed to finish it the next day and immediately bought the sequel, How to Write Dynamic Scene using the Snowflake Method. It's a how-to book in the form of a fairy tale and it shouldn't work, but it totally does. I found the techniques simple and easy to understand and, by telling it as a story, I had no trouble seeing how each step worked. I have been using this method for about a week now, and the plan for my novel is coming together. I am a little slow because I only have so many ideas at any one time, but the ideas are coming and I am beginning to see how to put them together.

I have always wanted to write fiction but never could find a way to wrap my head around the how of it all. I can put words together okay. My dialog and descriptions are fine and I even write decent, if not brilliant, scenes. What I don't ever know is what happens next. By separating the who (the characters) from the what/why/how (the plot) and moving you back and forth from one to the other, the plot grows organically and you can focus on what is inspiring you most at any one time. Everything is done in small steps and you can go back to something and redo it or develop it further if an idea is sparked in a later step.

I don't care about being the next big thing. I would love to have people read and enjoy my writing, but I'm not holding my breath. Right now, all I want to do is write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end that work together and entertain me and my few readers. If the first one is bad but I learn something then it's a success, as long as it inspires me to keep going. This book, more than most, makes me think that I can actually do that.

Six enthusiastic stars.

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Review: The Forever War

The Forever War
This is the weirdest sci fi book I've read since Ringworld, and just as unlikable. The idea is fascinating - time travel via space travel, but the execution is deeply flawed. The military stuff bored me to tears but at least I don't know enough about tactics, strategy, and physics to know if it makes any sense.

You know what doesn't make any sense, though? The social sciences. We know that the more things change, the more they stay the same, but this author thinks that the more they change, the gayer everyone will get. That's right, people don't get more diverse as time marches on, it's an inevitable march to homosexuality and homogeneity. While the main character is running around in space, fighting completely pointless battles, the people back home are being encouraged and/or forced into homosexuality and sameness of thought, action, and so on. This is the anti-Star Trek view of the future. Embrace diversity nothing, we're all going to be the same, gosh darn it.

Added to that weird concept (which isn't a passing fancy by the way, it's continued for over 1,000 years into the future) there is the extremely problematic issue of sex within the ranks. Women and men are assigned random bed partners and no one gets to say no. If the women don't want to give it up, that's just too bad, they shouldn't have joined the army. Oh, wait, they were drafted.

So, let's get this straight - the army drafts men and women, force them to have sex with each other, and that's okay? This isn't happening 1,000 years in the future, either, this is the near future stuff. This is what this author thought would happen in a co-ed army. All I can say is that I am really glad I don't live in this guy's brain. Even one trip via this novel was one trip too many.

I gave this three stars when I finished it, but can't remember why. It's barely a two star book.

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Review: The Dog Who Danced

The Dog Who Danced
Let me preface this by saying that I'm a fanatic about dogs in general, and blue merle Shelties in particular, so if you're going to write about this breed, I'm going to notice when you're full of it. Let's start with the fact that the author constantly talks about this dog as a blue merle, but everyone describes it as white, silver, and black. No mention is ever made of brown. In fact, at one point she describes the dog as having black eyebrows. There are two blue varieties of Shelties - blue merle, which are predominately gray with black splotches on the back and head and then they have a line of brown between the gray and the white; and bi-blues, which have the same gray and black coat with white ruff, belly, and feet, but no brown anywhere. Blue merles have brown eyebrows, bi-blues have no eyebrow marks at all. The dog that is described throughout this book is a bi-blue, not a blue merle, and it wouldn't have black eyebrows either way. Why does this matter? Well, why does it matter when an author describes a gun needing a magazine when it uses a clip? Or when she has a person driving to Hawaii? If you can't do the most basic Google search about your topic, people will notice. Some dog geek like me, who has loved and studied the breed for almost fifty years, will notice and be annoyed by it.

I could get over the blue merle nonsense, but a bigger problem really took me out of the book. The people who find the lost dog lie about where they got him and do everything they can to steal him! In many, if not most, states and counties, it is illegal to keep a stray. You are legally, not to mention ethically and morally, bound to get that stray to the authorities so that the legal owner can find and reclaim their property. The fact that they were using this dog to heal their heartache was nice and all, but there are millions of dogs being put to sleep every year in the U.S., go help one of them. I kept thinking about how horrible I would feel if Harley were lost and some a-holes thought they were within their rights to keep him just because he was a stray. You do your best to find out where that dog came from before you keep him.

Beyond these two issues, the book was alright. On a human level it was fine, but the dog stuff kept tripping me up. When I forced myself to let go of the problems I had with the dog elements, I enjoyed the book. The characters were well-drawn and I liked seeing things from the dog's point of view.

Four reluctant stars.

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Review: The Secret, Book and Scone Society

The Secret, Book and Scone Society
Nora has a secret and so do her new friends. It's too bad that it was death that brought them together, but now they are getting to know each other's secrets even as they try to find the killer stalking their small town.

This was a cut above the average cozy mystery. The topics are more serious and less frivolous and the author takes things to a deeper place, psychologically. The concept really spoke to me since books have been my therapy for my entire life and I liked the focus on the healing power of literature. The mystery wasn't all that engaging, but I liked the women and their relationships with each other. I liked that their pasts and their scars (emotional and/or physical) inform their characters, they don't define them. They are more than the sum of their parts and they make an interesting group. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to read more in the series, but I wouldn't run away, either.

Four solid stars

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