April 25

Preparations for School

Life is growing increasingly hectic as I prepare for my second semester of school.  Outside of  normal responsibilities, I have things I need to read, critique and watch.  I’m also trying to decide what to pack.

When I made this trip last year, I had the luxury of driving down. I say luxury, not because the cross-country trip was easy, though I’ve made the trip so often it’s probably far easier on me than on someone who has never managed it before. I say luxury because cars have the advantage in some areas when it comes to travel. By taking a car, I don’t have to limit my luggage.  As long as it fits in my car it can go, whether it’s edible, leaky, necessary or dangerous. With airlines you either pay a small fortune or are severely limited to what you can take on the plane, and how heavy/large your bag can be. So it’s a tossup on which is better the plane or the airline.  Both are uncomfortable, but you’ll, usually arrive faster on a plane than by car.

So, I’m making and re-making packing lists, trying to prioritize what needs to go and what can stay.  The school stuff has top priority. I need to take the screenplays, books and the schedule with me, along with a handful of other things. Clothes are an obvious necessity, but how much do I take with me? With me staying at my mothers I can do laundry at her house without it costing me anything.  However, I don’t want to be doing laundry every night. Do I take my manuscript, even though my focus is screenplays? Make up, which I rarely wear, but wore every day at residency? Then I need to consider my sister, who will be coming with me on the trip.  She’s seven. This will be her first time on a plane. What do I need to make sure she has in her carry-on? Then I’m trying to get other things done.  Newsletter for the Coeur du Bois Romance Writer’s Group, paying bills, working…looking up ideas on what Young Adult screenplays I should read for the semester…

As stressful as preparing for Residency is, I’ll be glad when I finally get there.  Last year I learned a ton.  The information I received from lectures, workshops and critiques transformed my writing, making me stronger in some areas. My story has made a dramatic change because of what I learned last year.  This year, I expect, will be no different, especially when I look at lectures they’ve announced will be at residency. For me, the semester was fun, a retreat, a vacation of sorts despite the long hours and sometimes stressful, last minute assignments. Plus, things will be less stressful for me once I get into the swing of things and add homework to my regular schedule again.

Until then…well, I’m wondering if the queen of hearts is trying to chop off my head.  I hope not.  The way I’m going right now, I’d never find my head again.

October 10

Tenderness Critical Review

Almost any writer can tell you that the three act structure consists of Set up, Confrontation and Resolution.  However there are more ways to write a story then the three act structure.  A book could be written with three, four, five or even six acts. Robert Cormier provides a strong example of the four act structure in his novel Tenderness.

According to Larry Brooks the first act of the four act structure “introduces the hero in his everyday life, sets a hook to keep readers reading, establishes the hero’s stakes (what he cares about that will be endangered later), and foreshadows later events. It also introduces the changes in the hero’s life that propel him toward the First Plot Point.”

Readers see the first act in first 100 pages of Tenderness. Readers are in the first Act of the story. In this act we meet Lori, learn about her fixations and see how she gets rid of them with Thrash. Afterwards, while watching the news, readers see her develop another fixation on admitted killer, Eric Poole.  Unwilling to leave town before she gets rid of her fixation on him, Lori finds a temporary refuge at Harmony House.

Eric’s past is revealed through an interrogation by a police officer. He then foils the officer’s plans to keep him in prison. On one of his last days in prison, Eric develops his own fixation on a girl, Maria, who fits his victim profile.

In The Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote the following about act two, “Everything the hero cares about (and readers came to care about in Part 1) is in danger. The hero is usually just reacting to what happened at the First Plot Point—not being proactive. She might try to save the day, but if she does, it doesn’t work yet.”

From pages 100 to 140, readers are in act two. Eric stays at his Aunt Phoebe’s house. While waiting for the media to lose interest in him, Eric thinks about Maria and slowly grows tired of biding his time. He wants to kill Maria. Meanwhile, because Eric avoids the media watching his aunt’s house for him, Lori is unable to see Eric, much less remove her fixation.  She is stalled, non-active beyond keeping a vigil on Eric’s house in the hopes of him coming out.

Eric however has seen Lori through the back window of the house.  She looks familiar to him at first, but he eventually remembers that she was a potential witness to one of the murders he committed years ago and wonders if she might be a lose end he has to kill to maintain his freedom.

Concurrently, one of the girls at Harmony House is trying to get Lori in trouble and Lori recognizes she can’t stay there any longer. Giving up on removing her fixation on Eric, she leaves Harmony House to return home. Before she leaves, however, she swings by his house one final time to say a silent goodbye.

Act three, according to Larry Brooks, is when “the hero becomes proactive, and begins to seriously fight back against the antagonist. He also starts to fight against the inner demons that are holding him back.”

From pages 140 to 214, readers are in the third act structure.  In this act, Lori and Eric finally meet or are reunited as the case may be.  However Eric is suspicious of her and wonders if he needs to kill her. They spend some time together, during which Eric decides Lori isn’t a threat to him and Lori manages to get rid of fixation of him. By then she has grown to care for Eric though and realizing he has not been freed of his fixation on Maria, Lori encourages Eric to go after her. Maria is a trap however. Lori realizes this and stops Eric from hurting Maria, before he has done anything the police can arrest him on. The police threaten to arrest Lori for interfering and she runs into the woods to escape them.

In the Four-Part Structure, Larry Brooks wrote that in Act four “Everything in the previous three parts comes together in a final climax, in which the hero shows that she’s overcome her inner demons. After that, there’s a bit of time for tying up loose ends.”

From page 217 to 229 readers are in the fourth act. Once Lori and Eric find each other again, they decide to celebrate their near escape and rent a canoe in the park. They trust each other, are fond of each other and feel they may be together for a while.  However Lori falls out of the canoe and into the river.  Eric tries to save her. However Lori dies and Eric is sent to prison for her accidental death. In prison, Eric mourns for the loss of a living creature for the first time in his life, which ends the four act structure.

Cormier is a master storyteller, who uses the lesser known four act-structure to tell the story of a serial killer and his would-be accomplice.

Works Cited

Brooks, Larry. “The Four-Part Structure.” Squidoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. .Cormier, Robert. Tenderness: A Novel. New York: Delacorte, 1997. Print.
September 23

End of Semester is Coming

So some of you may already be aware that I am working on my last packet for this semester.  I won’t be able to attend school for the fall semester, which starts in November.  However, I plan to attend the next spring semester–late May.  By all appearances, second semester students are strongly encouraged to try a different focus for a full semester.  So, instead of taking in YA next semester, try memoir, poetry, screenplay, playwright, adult….  I’m leaning toward Screenplay.  I’ve just heard a lot of great things about that program and it would be different from what I currently write.  I think Adult writing would be too much like YA for it to show me a different way of writing in a significant way.  So I thought I’d ask readers to recommend books or screenplays to me.  Partially so I can keep posting reviews on this blog.

Any genre will do, though I would prefer YA novels for books.  And I have no idea what I’d want Screenplay-wise so I leave that to readers to suggest.

Also, I know, I owe a book review on City of Bones still and two more critical reviews.  Those will be coming shortly!

September 15

Tenderness by Robert Cormier

Eighteen-year-old Eric has just been released from juvenile detention for murdering his mother and stepfather. Now he’s looking for some tenderness—tenderness he finds in caressing and killing beautiful girls. Fifteen-year-old Lori has run away from home again. Emotionally naive but sexually precocious, she is also looking for tenderness—tenderness she finds in Eric. Will Lori and Eric be each other’s salvation or destruction?

This was an interesting book. I was expecting this story to go down a different route, to have a different focus than it proved to have but it was still an enjoyable read.

Both protagonists in this book are anti-heroes, and anti-heroes, especially female anti-heroes are extremely rare no matter the genre. For that alone this book is worth a quick read.. But structurally, there are several reasons to do so. I had twenty pages left to read of  Tenderness when I realized that the book switched between third and first person throughout the entire novel, which is something I normally notice immediately. But it never jarred me making the switch between the different personages.

This book however did not sit well with me in several ways.  Both Lori and Eric felt older than they were in the book. I would have believed Lori closer to 17. Eric felt more in his 20s. However, the plot wouldn’t have worked with the characters those ages.  Once you read the book you’ll know why. I don’t want to spoil anything.  But…I don’t know, it rubbed me wrong.

Other than that, I really didn’t have any issues with the book.  It was a bit on the dry side for me.  And it will probably never be a book that I have on my must keep shelf.  But it kept my interest the entire way through, which is always a good sign.  I would recommend this book more for the structure and the story than the entertainment value.  But that’s my taste.  I know some of my friends will completely and utterly love this book.

 

September 14

Holes: A Critical Review

No Holes in Emotional Arc
Louis Sachar’s Holes is about fifteen-year-old Stanley Yelnats, who is falsely accused and charged with theft. He is sent to Camp Green Lake instead of a Juvenile detention center where he endures and survives inhumane conditions. Sachar gives Stanley a strong, and believable emotional arc through the entire story.

When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake he is overweight, he has no friends and no self-confidence. He’s miserable at this term of his life and at the circumstances that brought him to Camp Green Lake.  Despite his emotional dislike of himself, Stanley does still feel sympathy for the guard and bus driver that took him to Camp Green Lake, which is conveyed after the guard grumbles about the return drive: “Stanley thought about the long, miserable bus ride and felt a little sorry for the guard and the bus driver (13).”

However Camp Green Lake is hard on Stanley.  Digging Holes in desert heat, Stanley begins to grow physically stronger, and loses weight. His body, like his personality,  begins to harden due to the harsh conditions of Camp Green Lake.  This is perhaps best demonstrated when Zero, another camper, admits he can’t read or write and would like Stanley to teach him.  Stanley’s reaction is unsympathetic and unkind:

After digging all day, he didn’t have the strength to try to teach Zero to read and write. He needed to save his energy for the people who counted.

“You don’t have to teach me to write,” said Zero.  “Just to read.  I don’t have anybody to write to.”
“Sorry,” Stanley said again. (82)

Later, Stanley gets in trouble when one of his fellow campers steals a burlap sack of sunflower seeds.  Stanley takes the blame for it and is sent to the Warden’s for the theft.  When he returns to finish digging his hole, he finds that someone has nearly finished digging his hole for him. He realizes that Zero, who hadn’t been involved in the theft, had done the work for him. Zero’s act soften’s Stanley toward him. He agrees to teach Zero how to read. From this point on Zero and Stanley begin to grow as friends.

The hardness Stanley developed earlier does not completely disappear though.  It’s just changed into a different kind of hardness–he becomes less sensitive, more confident in himself and as a result, willing to stand up for himself and others. On page 138, the Warden tells Stanley that he can no longer teach Zero how to read. Instead of accepting this as he would have at the beginning of the book.  He stands up to the Warden.  “‘Why can’t I dig my own hole, but still teach Zero to read?'” he asked.  “What’s wrong with that?” (139)

Thus completes the emotional arc of the story. Stanley starts at an emotional low at the beginning and concludes the arc as a strong, confident and emotionally empathetic guy.

September 13

How I Live Now: Critical Review

Same Person, Two Narratives
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is about a girl who is sent to live with her cousins in England. While there England goes into war against an unnamed enemy, sending Daisy on a journey of survival. To tell the story, Meg Rosoff forgoes the traditional English standards of writing to distinguish the story’s present from the narrator’s present.

Though the character who narrates the story is the same person throughout the book, there are two distinct narrators in the story: fifteen-year-old Daisy and Daisy as an adult.  To distinguish between the two I’ll refer to adult Daisy as Elizabeth–which is her birth name but she is only called that once in the beginning of the book.

With Daisy’s narration, bad grammar is the norm, which is demonstrated when Daisy meets Edmond for the first time:

I’ll take your bag, he said, and even though he’s about half a mile shorter than me and has arms about as thick as a dog leg, he grabs my bag, and I grab it back and say Where’s your mom, is she in the car? (3)

Daisy doesn’t use quotation marks, she doesn’t always create a new paragraph when someone new speaks, nor does she always separate the dialogue from the would normally be the previous or following sentence.  Readers biggest clue that someone is talking are the dialogue tags and the capitalization of the first letter of the first spoken word, which some readers may find disconcerting the first few times they encounter it. There is a comma where a question mark should be and it is all a run-on sentence.

Using traditional grammar, the paragraph above would be at least three sentences long and broken into multiple paragraphs. However, applying the traditional rules to the text would have disrupted the ebb and flow that Rosoff has set up for the novel. Daisy’s grammar also suggests numerous things to readers and any number or combination of those implications could be the reason for it.  The run-on sentences give readers the impression of a long-winded teenager or someone emotionally distraught.  The bad grammar could be because the narrator is uneducated or someone who is stream-of-conscious writing and not worrying about grammar rules.

However, in Elizabeth’s narration proper grammar is used as is demonstrated with the first paragraph of chapter one:

My name is Elizabeth but no one’s ever called me that. My father took one look at me when I was born and must have thought I had the face of someone dignified and sad like an old-fashioned queen or a dead person, but what I turned out like is plain, not much there to notice. Even my life so far has been plain.  More Daisy than Elizabeth from the word go.

In contrast to Daisy’s writing, Elizabeth’s good grammar appears older, more sophisticated and more emotionally distant from the events described, which is probably true as Rosoff states that Daisy wrote her entire experience down shortly after being rescued.  And then implies that years later Daisy read over the experience, added her comments and published the book as written.

This combination allows leaders to get a sense of how Daisy saw the events shortly after living them and how she viewed they a few years later when she looked over her account of the events.  And allows readers to see how, years after the major story took place, things went for her when she saw her cousins again after the war.

By combining bad grammar with good grammar readers get a unique story that allows the story’s present and the narrator’s present to be viewed within the same scene from two different periods of time.

Works Cited

Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2006. Print.

September 12

Girl Meets Boy: Critical Review

Please note: This is a critical review.  A overall review will not be provided for this book.

No Clue, Aka Sean by Rita Williams-Garcia is the companion piece of Sean + Raffina by Terry Trueman and vice versa.  Through these two short stories, readers can see the point of view of the boy and girl as they try to start a romantic relationship. In a few short pages each, Williams-Garcia and Trueman reveal a lot of information through voice.

According to Julie Wildhaber, “Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work.” Voice is often conveyed from a mixture of things, namely word choice and sentence structure. Williams-Garcia and Trueman have developed very different voices. Even though the narrators are talking mainly about the other person, reveal a lot of information about the narrators.

In two paragraphs we know that Raffina is a confident, black teenage girl who is perhaps a bit aggravated with her love interest:

What a bug-out. Here I am watching you pretending not to watch me.  I’m not turned off by shy, but shy will get you sitting by your lonesome. Shy will get you watching from the sidelines while I’m stepping out with some other guy.  Come on, Sean.  Let’s get in the game.  Say those two words as only you can say them: Hey, Raffina.

I have to admit the whole shy thing is part of the appeal.  Sean’s a complete switch from what I’m used to dealing with.  A girl can’t eat a hoagie in the caf without some playa rolling up, trying to get those digits. Now that’s a turnoff.  Guys assuming too much, too soon.  It’s not just because I’m fine–which I am, but because I’m Gary’s sister.  The Highlander Hero. Holds the state record for the most triple doubles in a season.  Scores thirty-two points on a slow day. So you know what that means.  Everybody’s scouting. Recruiting. Rubbing up on him, trying to get to know him.  Yeah. Even if they have to go through me to be in with Gary. The guys want to part of the entourage.  The chicks want to be the girl in the prom picture when ESPN takes a look back on the life of Gary Frazier. (p. 103)

Outside of what Raffina actually tells us, we learn a lot by how the narrator speaks, thinks and the vocabulary she uses. Words like “bug-out”, “stepping out”, “caf”, and playa” all let us know she’s a teenager.  Lines like Come on, Sean, lets readers know of Raffina’s discontent with Sean. There is also a rhythm to the words that mimic the African-American cadence.

With Sean we get a totally different voice. In two paragraphs we have the same affect, learning more about the characters than they are actually saying through voice:

Her name is Raffina, pronounced “ruff-eena.” I’m not even sure I’m spelling it right.  Maybe it’s spelled Ruffina, but I don’t so.  I glanced at a homework assignment she turned in for Human Relations 2, and I’m pretty sure it was an a not a u.  Whatever, it doesn’t matter what her name is, or how she spells it anyway–what matters is that I wanna hit on her, and I’m not sure if I should or how to even start.

She’ll be the first girl I’ve tried to ask on a date since I got TKO’d in the seventh grade.  That’s if I ask her.  I’m not sure about that yet.  If you’d been coldcocked by a petite blonde when you were thirteen, you might hesitate to think of yourself as God’s great-red-hot-lover-boy gift to girls too.  I owe my nondating history to Debra Quarantino. (p. a111)

The reference to homework and the slang, like “wanna hit on her” and “TKO’d”, let us know that Sean is also a teenager. The minimum rhythm to the sentences makes it read like a caucasian is the speaker in this one.  He isn’t as aggressive as Raffina comes across, nor aggravated with his love interest.  He just seems, as Raffina accuses him of in her story “shy.” 

With the help of word choice and sentence structure, Rita Williams-Garcia and Terry Trueman create voices that convey a lot of information by letting the narrators’ voice speak louder than their words.

Works Cited

Crutcher, Chris, Joseph Bruchac, James Howe, Ellen Wittlinger, Rita Williams-Garcia, Terry Trueman, Terry Davis, Rebecca Fjelland Davis, Sara Ryan, and Randy Powell. Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story. Ed. Kelly Milner Halls. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 2012. Print.

Wildhaber, Julie. “Understanding Voice and Tone in Writing.” Web log post. Grammar Girl :. N.p., 1 July 2010. Web. 09 Sept. 2012. .

August 22

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff Review

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

I’m going to open by saying I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. It’s short and a quick read. Despite the unconventional writing style, I was interested in the story. I think the main thing that bothered me about this book was the consensual incestuous relationship in the book. The sex wasn’t my problem. I just would have preferred the couple to not have been related–and no matter what the authors suggests, both characters were old enough to know their intimate relationship should be avoided.

The book doesn’t focus on the relationship the teens are involved in, that’s just one element in the story. Daisy is, probably what is considered, an anorexic. The kids are forced to survive on their own. The main focus was the war and how it affected the lives of all those involved. It’s told in Daisy’s point of view, so you only find out what happens to some of the characters at the end of the book. Everyone starves, and everyone has to find their own coping mechanisms to survive the war–even after the war ends.

This book could have been more powerful. But it was an interesting mix of what past wars were like, coupled with what those wars would be like in modern times. It was an interesting world that Rosoff created. I read through it all quickly, compelled to learn more to see what happened next, but I wanted it to be more. And I think why it didn’t have the impact it could have was because Rosoff was trying to address too many issues at once–living alone without parents, incest, starvation, anorexia, family relationships, death, war and terrorism. That’s a lot to chew.

August 15

Packet 4 plans

I’ll be turning in everything for packet three later today. The critical essays are difficult for me to write, mainly because I have problems picking out the elements. I’ll get stuck on one thing, whether it actually qualifies for what my essays need to be or not, and have a hard time looking for something else that would fit the assignment better.  I think I did a fairly good job with this packet’s critical essays and I’m hoping my next essays for packet four will be a little easier.

For packet four I’ll be reading   Holes by Louis Sachar and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I trust the people who recommended them to me and looking forward to reading them, though they probably aren’t books I would have picked up on my own.

Have you read either of these books?  What do you think?  Is there something the authors did particularly well with the books?  Or something in particular you want me or recommend I focus on as I read through it, like dialogue, description, characterization, time, etc.?  I may write about it when I’m done reading.

August 14

Inkheart Critical Review

Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart is about a young girl who, along with her father, has the ability to read characters from books into the real world.  To tell this story, Funke uses dialogue to convey plot-related information and the character’s emotional state to readers in a realistic fashion.

In Inkheart, Meggie has been kept ignorant of several aspects of her past, until a stranger appears one night at her house.  Through dialogue, Funke begins to hint at the secrets that have been kept from Meggie. At the time, Meggie is eavesdropping on her father and the stranger:

“I’ll never let them have it.” That was Mo.
“He’ll still get his hands on it, one way or another! I tell you, they’re on your trail.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve always managed to shake them before.”
“Oh yes? And for how much longer, do you think? What about your daughter?  Are you telling me she actually likes moving around the whole time? Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.” (8-9)

Through this dialogue readers glean a lot of information.  Readers know that someone is after something her father, Mo, has.  That Mo is determined to keep the object away from the mysterious person later identified as Capicorn.  Mo has been preventing Capicorn from getting the object—in this case a book—from him for years, which is why Meggie has moved so often in her young life.  This information is passed along to readers quickly, through dialogue, without it feeling as if the characters are only saying such things to inform the reader of what is going on.

Dialogue can do more than provide information to readers.  When done well, we can also get a sense of the characters emotions are through what they. A great example of this is seen when Mo is about to introduce himself to Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart—the book Dustfinger was written out of. The dialogue Funke wrote is filled with emotion:

“Don’t you dare tell that man about me!” he said.  “I don’t want to see him.  I’ll wait in the car.  I only want to know if he still has a copy of the book, understand?”
Mo shrugged his shoulders.  “As you like.”
Dustfinger inspected his reddened fingers and felt the taut skin. “He might tell me how my story ends,” he murmured. (243)

In this short exchange we know Dustfinger is afraid. We know that although he wants information from Fenoglio, he doesn’t necessarily want to know everything Fenoglio may want to say to him.  Mo comes across as indifferent toward Dustfinger’s request. In three words, Funke reveals that Mo did not necessarily care where Dustfinger was.

Funke also uses dialogue to reveal information and the characters emotions at the same time.  A great example of this is when after Meggie, Mo, and Elinor are captured by Capicorn and they’re locked away.  Dustfinger makes a comment about those who Capicorn plans to kill are put in the crypt:

Meggie looked at the church.  “Do they often condemn people to death?” she asked quietly.
Dustfinger shrugged.  “Not as often as they used to.  But it does happen.”
“Stop telling her such stories!” whispered Mo. (195)

In those three lines of dialogue we sense that Meggie is concerned, if not afraid of the possibility of being put to death and being where she is.  Funke lets readers know through Dustfinger’s dialogue that, although it doesn’t happen as often any more, Capicorn has put people to death in the past. But the way he says it, suggests he’s resigned to the fact and to fate. This also lets readers know that Capicorn is still capable and willing to kill people if he needs or wants to.  “Stop telling her stories!” lets readers know that Mo is either feeling protective of Meggie—trying to keep Dustfinger from frightening her or that he is uncomfortable, afraid of the situation they’re in and does not like where the conversation is going.  It could be a combination of the two as well.

Funke conveys plot-related and emotional depth through dialogue in a way that does not slow the pace.