5 Star Review: Characters

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: characters.

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Characters

There’s so much I could write about characters, so I picked just a few things.  Characters in books I rate 5 stars are likeable, evolving, and complex.  Characters are the “who” of the story.  We typically think of them as people, but animals, and even objects can be personified and become characters.

  1. You could describe an ant as hardworking and persistent.  You could write a story about how an ant overcame seemingly impossible odds to find food and feed its colony.
  2. You could write a story about a train that wants to take a trip off of the tracks – oh, wait…that’s called The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper.

But there needs to be someone or something that is the center of the story.  Someone that we can connect to as a reader.  Someone that is likeable.  This would be your POV (point of view) character.  The reader needs to be able to “feel” and “care” for the people telling the story.  Would you go to a random person’s wedding or high school graduation?  Do you cry when you read the obituary section in the newspaper?  If you have nothing invested in these people, then no…you don’t care.  The closer you become with the people, the more you are affected by what happens in “their” life.

I love You.  I hate You.  Either way, I care enough to notice you.

Now, don’t confuse “likeable” with good.  Sometimes the villain is more likeable than the hero – like Hannibal Lector vs Will Graham in Red Dragon by Thomas Harris or Megamind vs Metroman (yes, I know…a movie!).  Sometimes the hero is horribly flawed like Sherlock Holmes – socially inept.  Humpert Humpert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – pedophile.  And if you can make both the villain and the hero likeable, that’s even more awesome.

And likeable certainly does not mean perfect.  Think about it.  Would you want your best friend to be rich beyond belief, gorgeous, athletic, brilliant, and extremely lucky?  And why don’t we also make this person have a few supernatural powers and be the Chosen One.  No, I don’t think you want to be friends with Mary Sue.  Besides the obvious jealousy, readers have trouble relating to a character like that.  You have flaws, therefore your characters should have flaws.

And CLUMSY is not a big enough game changer of a flaw to be the only flaw.  Unless…you plan on your character tripping, smacking into the villain and the villain’s extended knife, which is perfectly positioned to plunge into the heat, and the character dies.  If that happens, I can say, “Man, I’d rather be ugly than clumsy.  At least no one ever died from being too ugly.”  Then, and only then will you get full points in the character department with an otherwise completely Mary Sue character.

The Story of Evolution

There are two types of characters:  those that change over the course of the novel (dynamic) and those that stay the same (stagnant).  Most novels have both characters.  The key to having dynamic characters is to make their evolution from the starting person to the end a very believable transition.  The change in the characters need to be proportional to the situation for it to be believable.  You can either have a lot of minor events that contribute to the change or you can have one major event that triggers a change.

Character trait:  Character is a loyal wife.  Then she has an affair.

  • Believable:  Scene after scene we have the wife doing things without her husband.  He spends no time with her and she grows increasingly lonely, until she meets someone to fill the void – a neighbor.
  • Not-believable:  Husband forgot take out trash.  Wife screws her neighbor when she sees him at his trash can next door.

Character trait:  Character used to love spending all her time with animals.  Not anymore.

  • Believable:  Character quits veterinarian job after own pet dies and there was nothing she could do to save Fluffy.  Every animal she sees reminds her of her dead dog and she can’t bear it.
  • Not-believable:  Character quits veterinarian job because ants have invaded her kitchen and THIS MEANS WAR!  Every animal is a potential enemy now.

A thousand faces

Do you act the same way in front of your parents or your boss as you do your friends?  Your lover?  If the answer is yes, then please find the nearest exit and “get a life”.  teenagers especially treat different people differently.  They might be more joking around their friends.  Quieter around someone they like.  And more conservative (both in dress and speech) in front of their parents.  There might be conflicting information for the reader.

Example:  Suzy tells John that she can’t stand Bobby, but Suzy then tells Bobby that she likes hanging around him.

What does this mean?  It means that either Suzy is hiding her true feelings from John about Bobby or Suzy is hiding her true feelings from Bobby about himself.  To one of these guys, Suzy is honest.  To the other guy, Suzy is a liar.  She is still one person, but has conflicting character traits.  She is complex and that’s how I like my characters.

Readers:  What do you think makes a character likeable?

Advertisements

5 Star Review: Pacing

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: pacing

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Pacing

Since we’re talking about good pacing this week, I promise that I won’t ramble on like I have with these topics before.  I’ve read quite a few books that suffer from a lack of good pacing.  I think one of the biggest amateur author mistakes is including too much non-relevant information.  There has to be a point to every scene.  Worse is when the pacing slows on the “boring” parts of the characters’ stories and speeds up when the “exciting” stuff happens.  It’s frustrating to read four or five pages about Mindy drinking her morning coffee and then two sentences about how she ran over a guy last summer.  Why couldn’t there be five pages about the hit and run instead?  Even as a flashback, it is much more entertaining than reading about someone eating or driving a car or sleeping.

So, what is the pace of a story?  It is how fast the plot advances in the story.  The plot advances much faster in action scenes than in narratives and the writing on the page should reflect this change.  Let’s start by focusing on this post.  The top section of the post is wordy and the text takes up the entire page from left to right.  It will take you, as the reader, double the amount of time to read these two paragraphs than to read the next two “sections”.

How to speed up the pace:

  1. – Shorter sentences
  2. – Less descriptions
  3. – More action
  4. – Back and forth dialogue.

How to slow down the pace:

  1. – Long, complex sentences
  2. – More descriptions
  3. – Minimal action
  4. – Monologues/narrative

Of course, there needs to be a balance.  Too much white on a page is just as tiring as too little.  I like a very fast pace “thriller” feel to the books I read.  In my mind, if the characters aren’t talking or the characters aren’t moving, then it’s not important.  Long narratives lose my interest quickly and so do long monologues, which tend to happen when the author is trying to “info-dump” through dialogue.  Other readers might enjoy the slower sections of the novel to relax their mind and “take a breather” so to speak.

Books that I thought had awesome pacing:

Books that I thought had problems with pacing

Reader:  Do you like fast paced books, leisurely paced books, or something in between?  Or does it depend on the genre?

5 Star Review: Content Rating

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: content rating

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Content rating – What is appropriate for each age group?

At the moment, books don’t have content ratings like movies or video games on the cover.  The debate as to whether they should is split evenly according to this poll on Hellum.  So how do readers know whether or not there is offensive material within a book without these ratings?  Are there sex scenes?  Graphic deaths?  Make outs or just kissing?  Lesbian/Gay relationships (which I don’t find offensive, but some people do)?  Animal cruelty?  Drugs?

Books don’t have content ratings. Or do they?  Bookstores separate books by more than genre.  In fact, genres are a subcategory when searching for the book you want.  The primary division in a bookstore is age.

There is a section for children’s books, middle grade, young adult, adult, and erotica.  Although there are some books that bend the “rules” of an age group like Go the F*** to sleep, most adhere to what is and what isn’t appropriate for a particular age.  As a reviewer, I mention in my reviews whether I feel like a book is geared towards a particular age group or if it would fit better somewhere else.  I think practically any topic can be in any age group, but I do think that it needs to be handled very differently for each age group.  Please note that what I think is appropriate might be different that what you think is appropriate.  This topic, however, has impacted what I rate a book in the past.  So, let’s break this down, shall we?

Picture/Children’s Books:

Although I don’t typically review picture books on this blog, I will rate them on Amazon.  Picture books are meant for children under five and usually read out loud.  Sensitive topics like death, abuse, divorce, and sex need to be handled with care.  You shouldn’t have a character “die”.  Children don’t understand the concept of someone never coming back.  If they see someone die, then they think that the person is sleeping and not waking up.  Children want to be reunited someday with this person, so probably the best way to handle death is to say that the person went to Heaven, on vacation, or a special place.

As far as sex goes, I really don’t think that any parent wants to explain the physics of sex and making babies to a child.  Kissing is about as hardcore as you can get with this age group without having your book thrown into a fireplace or on the banned books list.  Abuse is a difficult topic but one that I’ve seen handled very well for this age group.  I don’t think that you should ever have the abuse “on screen”.  This is better told and not shown.  The most important thing when handling this topic is to emphasis that abuse is WRONG and the victim (whether a child or adult) is never to be BLAMED.  Like abuse, the important thing to remember when talking about divorce is BLAME.  It is not the child’s fault and parents shouldn’t badmouth each other “on screen”.

Middle Grade:

There isn’t much difference between what is appropriate for picture books and what is appropriate for middle grade books, except when dealing with death.  By this age, children understand that the deceased won’t be coming back.  Children this age still see the world in black/white, so convincing them that a murderer is the good guy or that a parent is evil is a hard sell.  They understand the simple equation that guy + girl = baby and even the parts required to make babies, but keep everything off screen but the kissing.  No naked people.  No touching the nether regions.  Sometimes there are four letter words in this age bracket, but the person who speaks these obscenities is always casted in a negative light or punished for speaking like that.  Likewise with drugs and alcohol.  Don’t glamorize these vices in middle grade books.

Young Adult:  

I’m a real advocate for anything goes in this age bracket.  Well, except hard porn.  Soft porn is okay.  Nipples.  Crotch.  Naked people.  The major difference between young adult sex scenes and adult/erotica is the focus on the scene.  In young adult the focus is on the emotion.  The characters are in love and awkward.  They worry.  They think.  There is more narrating about what the character is thinking than what the character is doing.  In adult/erotica the focus is about performance and orgasms.  The details are in the positions and not what the characters are thinking.

Violence and gore is something that I don’t have much of a problem reading, but many teens and adult fans of this genre don’t enjoy reading.  So, I would say that it’s okay to have someone get shot in the head.  It probably wouldn’t be okay to have the gray brain matter splatter all over someones else’s face and then start describing what it tastes like.  (I do wonder how authors know what things like this taste like.)  Also, animals and children are off limits.  You can kill them, but no torture at all.

Adult/Erotica:

I’ve downrated books in this age bracket for being too safe. When writing a book for children and teens, you should be concerned about what topics to tread carefully with.  When writing a book for adults, you should be concerned about telling the story and not about offending people.  Fade to black during fight or sex scenes makes me feel like you were too lazy to write it.  Sex is exciting.  It is way more exciting that reading about your character’s morning routine after having sex.  I also expect that the characters advance past first base – please don’t make the climax his tongue is her mouth unless this is chick lit.  Obviously, if I were to read an erotica novel that didn’t have graphic sex scenes, the book would be rated poorly.  A book about soldiers in battle should have detailed battle scenes.  Show.  Show.  Show!

TL;DR?

If the book is for people under 18, be careful how you write certain topics.

If the book is for people 18 and older, always show not tell.

Readers:  What rating would you give a book that had teenage characters but detailed sex scenes?  Would it be YA or Adult?  Would you let your kid read Go the F*** to sleep?

Moving

Lizzy’s Dark Fiction is in the process of moving to a self-hosted site: http://www.lizzylessard.com Please don’t mind the mess! The new site is undergoing a full makeover before we officially move.

Expect the switch November 1st. You should automatically redirect to the new site when visiting this wordpress address. I apologize in advance for any inconvenience.  Email followers should not be affected *cross fingers*.  If you follow through WordPress, please consider signing up through email, twitter, or facebook to stay up to date with the latest posts.

5 Star Review: Genre Expectations

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: genre expectations.

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


What is genre expectation?

This is what the reader expects will occur within the context of your book based solely on the genre.  Title, cover, and blurb have no influence on genre expectation.  Most readers automatically drift towards one genre or another based on past experiences on reading books in these genres.  If they like a book, then they look for more books in its genre.  But if they don’t like a book, then they will avoid books that are in that genre.

As an author, you need to know what genre your book fits in so you can find your target reader.  This is also very important when looking for reviewers – each reviewer has different genre preferences, which may change based on mood.  Reviewers should have a policy that highlights the genres they read and enjoy the most.  If your book’s genre is not on that list – then don’t submit to the reviewer.

  • Best case scenario:  reviewer decides to start reading that genre.
  • Worse case scenario:  reviewer reads the book and rates one star because they are reminded why they DON’T READ that particular genre.

I know what I like in a book.  I like fast paced stories with the romance as a sub-plot and not the driving factor to what happens.  I like to have both minor and major characters go through life-threatening obstacles and I really like it when some of them don’t survive.  I like the ending to be bittersweet and NOT happy.  I like not knowing what to expect when I pick up a novel.

I don’t think it is fair for the author to be penalized because it is the genre I don’t like and not the book itself.

What are my genre expectations?

If you tell me that your book is a genre I read and review (and thus love reading), then be sure that your book meets and exceeds my expectations for the genre.  I have very different expectations for each genre I read.  Also, my expectations and appreciation for a book might be different solely on a genre.  I’m more tolerant of instant love in a paranormal romance than I am in a dark fiction novel.  I can handle a slower pace in a contemporary novel than I can in a thriller or horror novel.

Horror: I expect horror novels to be scary.  I expect there to be a chance in every single scene that the worst is going to happen.  No one needs to die, but I need to believe that it could happen.  I expect the bad guy to be more bite than bark.  I’m extra happy when character and monster stereotypes are broken.

Science Fiction: I expect there to be either aliens as major characters or humans in space.  I predict that the setting will take place in the future, but I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t.  I’m extra happy when I don’t have to use a thesaurus because SAT words litter the chapters.

Paranormal Romance: I expect there to be superhuman qualities in major characters.  Typically there are vampires or werewolves.   The setting is modern and most humans do not accept the existence of the paranormal.  I expect there to be a romance between the two leading characters.  I’m extra happy when the leading characters are not attracted at first sight.

Fantasy:  I expect multiple strange races in a setting that is not modern.  Typically there are elves, dwarfs, or mermaids.  Humans accept that there are other races and sometimes there are no humans at all in the novel.  Typically there is a quest.  I’m extra happy when the quest does not involve finding some tiny object in a troll infested area.

Dark Fiction (Contemporary):  I expect the main character to be going through a traumatic experience that no normal human being would WANT to experience, but some of us can relate.  I expect the main character(s) to make some pretty dumb choices that make his/her situation worse.  I expect a lot of character development and that the character(s) evolve from beginning to end.  I don’t expect there to be anything in the book that cannot be explained by science – no paranormal, aliens, or religious savior.

Thriller:  I expect non-stop action and a very fast pace.  I expect more focus on the plot than on romance.  I expect the main characters to be put in dangerous situations.  I can tolerate less character development in thrillers than other genres.

The genres I turn down consistently:

Romance:  I turn down romance books because I feel that the ending is spoiled the second the main characters are introduced.  By the last chapter, the two character will be together and the story will end on a happy note.  Most romance publishers will turn down your book if the romance is not a HEA (happily ever after) ending.  Check out the requirements to publish a novel in Harlequin Romance Series.  From reading romance books, I’ve learned not to like them.  If I read your romance novel, chances are I won’t like it either.  I’m not your targeted audience.

Erotica:  I don’t review erotica (usually), but I do read it…I like violent and taboo erotica.  Regular sex and foreplay between a man and a woman bores me.  I know one or both will climax and either end book or end sex scene.  There are no surprises in normal erotica.  Now, where there are whips, chains, and a vampire or two…I enjoy.  My reasonings for NOT liking 50 Shades of Grey have nothing to do with the subject matter.  Basically, I review and read erotica when it crosses into one of the other genres I read, such as dark fiction or paranormal.

Contemporary:  I’m extremely picky with contemporary novels.  I like those that deal with death and break-ups.  I prefer the main character to be depressed, insane, or in deep shit for most of the novel.  Think Romeo and Juliet.  I like my contemporary novels to be disturbing on a psychological level.  At no time in the novel do I wish to envy the character’s life – I want them to envy mine.

Christian:  I don’t like to be preached to.  I actually like some of the stories (and music, while we’re on the subject), but I hate it when the story is interrupted so that the reader can receive some moral guidance.  Save the preaching for Church!  I want to read about what happens when we don’t listen to God, not have some author “tell” me I need to.

TL;DR?

It is important to find people who enjoying reading books similar to yours (same genre), particularly when looking for positive reviews.  If they don’t like books like yours, then they probably won’t like your book!


Readers:  What are your genre expectations?

Feature and Follow: Accomplishments

I don’t normally participate in feature and follow, but I HAD to because I love this week’s question.  This week’s featured blogs are Book Liaison and Angela’s Anxious Life.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your blog? Is it to one day become an author yourself, just for fun, maybe get some online attention, or maybe something very different?

I do wish to one day become an author myself, but that isn’t what drives me to post every day and read 4-5 books a week.  I’m a huge fan of dark fiction and horror.  It is severely under-represented in the market and on blogs.  Most of the blogs I see like books that are YA with HEA.  I don’t like guaranteed happily ever after endings.  I don’t like books where romance is the only plot-line.  I’m not one of those bloggers who becomes a super-fan of some book guy because he’s “hot”.  I like books with a fast pace, lots of drama, flawed heroes, a couple gory deaths, and a bittersweet ending.

Maybe I’m being selfish with promoting the genres and books that I do.  I write YA horror.  I know that the only way to get better with my writing is to read YA horror – and it’s probably the most difficult genre to find in the bookstore (read: Anna Dressed in Blood is the only book).  I would love to only cover this genre on my blog, but I simply can’t find the books.  I hope that within the next few years that YA horror becomes more popular.  Until then, if my blog can help find and promote the books that do exist (and I get a chance to read), I’m satisfied.

If you have any recommendations for this genre, I’ll be happy to check them out!  If you have a blog, what do you hope to accomplish?

Book Review: Slammed by Colleen Hoover

Slammed by Colleen Hoover

Publisher:  Atria Books

Genre: YA Contemporary

You can buy it on ebook, audio, or paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  More reviews available on Goodreads.

Review:

Overall:  I completely expected not to like this book.  I delayed buying this book for a month even at the insistence of a few close friends.  It wasn’t until I discovered this title on Netgalley that I gave it a shot.  Let me also say that I don’t typically read contemporary novels – ah, but this is no ordinary contemporary novel.   If you’ve ever wanted the poster-novel for dark fiction, Slammed is it.  Layken has a pretty shitty life who can’t catch a single break as the novel progresses.    Does she give up?  No, she learns to be strong and deal with whatever life throws at her.  Slammed is definitely a novel that will compel you to read in one sitting.  It will tug at every emotion you have in your body – even the tin man would weep during sections of this book.

A key part of this novel is slamming, which is performed poetry.  I rarely read poetry and I have trouble understand poetry that is very metaphorical.  These poems performed by the characters either during poetry class or at Club N9NE are best if read out loud with extra emphasis on the bolded words.  I must say that this is the first book I have ever wished to purchase on audio.  Instead, after reading this book I immediately purchased a paperback and gifted it to my mom so she can enjoy it too.

Characters:  There are no cheerleaders or nerds in this book, even though it’s set primarily in the high school.  Layken isn’t loved at first sight by every male in the vicinity – in fact, she’s largely ignored by her classmates, except for a spunky girl named Eddie and her small group of friends.  Eddie has her own demons (she’s a foster child) but it’s hard to tell by her cheerful demeanor.  It’s refreshing to have the two teenage girls survive an entire novel without fighting – can’t think of another YA that does.  In fact, there are surprisingly few cliches used to define any of the characters.  I wasn’t sure what the characters would do next or what tragedy would strike next, and I think that was a major factor in my liking this book.

Plot:  It’s hard to explain what happens in this book without giving away an early spoiler, which is why Will can’t date Layden.  At the start of the book, Layken has moved with her mother and brother across the country to snowy Michigan.  Layken meets her neighbor, Will, and they hit it off immediately.  She goes on the best date of her life and thinks that life is starting to improve.  Not so.  When Layken starts her new school she (and I) was completely shocked to find out that she and Will have to end their relationship (for reasons I won’t spoil).  Her life complicates further when her brother and Will’s become best friends and she sees Will almost constantly.  Not sure what his true feelings are, Layken can’t help but be depressed.  At the same time, her mother is becoming increasingly distant and has a secret of her own.  One that definitely is not good for Layken or her brother.

Ending:  I liked how this novel ended, and yet after experiencing all the trauma Layken dealt with in Slammed, I’m not quite sold on finding out what life throws at her in the sequel.  I like her so much that I’d rather her not have to do this all over again in the second book.  She deserves better.  This ending is sad, depressing, but you can’t help but smile because Layken is optimistic about her future.

Book Description:

Following the unexpected death of her father, 18-year-old Layken is forced to be the rock for both her mother and younger brother. Outwardly, she appears resilient and tenacious, but inwardly, she’s losing hope.

Enter Will Cooper: The attractive, 21-year-old new neighbor with an intriguing passion for slam poetry and a unique sense of humor. Within days of their introduction, Will and Layken form an intense emotional connection, leaving Layken with a renewed sense of hope.
Not long after an intense, heart-stopping first date, they are slammed to the core when a shocking revelation forces their new relationship to a sudden halt. Daily interactions become impossibly painful as they struggle to find a balance between the feelings that pull them together, and the secret that keeps them apart.

Rating:  A+

This is dark fiction.  I loved it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher (Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

(Picture and information borrowed from Goodreads.)

I’m addicted to and seriously floored by the talent of The Avett Brothers band, which is obvious in both of my books. They are 99% of my playlist. The other 1% being Eminem and Jason Mraz.

I love lindor truffles (the white ones with the chips inside) and have an unhealthy addiction to diet pepsi. A serious addiction.

Website  |  Twitter

Writing Tip #1: This is not a proper sentence.

Exact excerpt from the Kindle short story, I WISH SHE HADN’T COME BACK by Lee Hodkinson.  Current price is FREE.

Rachael would often think ‘I just want to go upstairs and listen to some music,hmm a bit of Two door cinema club would go down well right now or even stick a half decent movie on maybe P.S I love you or a bit of fast and furious anything but this shit’ but Rachael rarely ever did she felt a pang of guilt like she was abandoning her mother in this hour of need watching ‘shit’ she didn’t want to leave her mother on her own and she would eventually find herself commenting with her mother on the ‘crazy’ shit the Z-list celeb was about to partake in.

This is a perfect example of why self-published authors have a bad reputation.  A simple edit would have dramatically improved this story.

My edit (using context from surrounding sentences):

Rachael thought that she should go upstairs and listen to some music, perhaps a bit of Two Door Cinema Club.  No, she was more in the mood for a movie like P.S. I love you or Fast and the Furious.  Anything but this shit she watched now.  Yet the guilt of abandoning her mother caused her to stay on the couch with her mother night after night.  She found herself  commenting to her mother about the crazy shit the Z-list celebrities did on the show.

Be kind to your readers and respect your fellow authors.  Don’t self-publish without revising.  Don’t self-publish without having someone else revise.  Find both beta-readers and editors.  Repeat as many times as it takes to make YOUR book look as polished as one found on any library bookshelf.  If this is your first novel, readers will NOT consider your second.  Neither with publishers or anyone but your mother.