Tag: writing

Winterset Hollow: A Review

As an author, every article on how to catch an agent’s interest says the number one, most important thing I can do is grab their attention and hold it from the first ten pages.  The first page, if that’s possible.  Until I read Winterset Hollow, I don’t think I’d seen an author do that more than a handful of times, yet Jonathan Durham succeeds within the first paragraph.  To be perfectly honest, he manages this trick before the story even begins with his deft use of verse from the fictional children’s book of the same name.

Without giving away too much, this is a complex tale with many layers of meaning.  Its veneer is a thin layer of “be careful what you wish for” but beneath that, it’s got a darker heart beating to the rhythm of vengeance by any means necessary.  Other themes abound, but, for me, the central was one man’s quest for who he was as a person, and how much was a gift from his ancestors.

Winterset Hollow, the children’s book written by Edward Addington, is a story in verse of a diverse group of animals living together in harmony within the titular hollow.  When Runnington Rabbit hops the hedge to satisfy his curiosity, he sets in motion a series of events that must end in death.  While the depth of story in the fictional book reminds me of Watership Down, the verse makes the somber tale palatable in a way only good verse can. I’d love to see Durham complete that work and publish it separately; his poetry is really that good.

Eamon, Mark, and Caroline in the “real” world, each resemble one of the four bloodthirsty fictional characters that leapt from the pages of their favorite book bent on bloody murder, and it is only the bond of the three that offers them any chance of surviving Barley Day. But more than that, Eamon must lean on the teachings of an unbalanced father who abandoned him in the forest, coming to terms with what the man did to prepare him for such a day as this.

Not every character gets their moment in the sun the way Eamon does, yet we learn so much of the antagonists—Runny, Finn, Bing, and Flack—and their motivations, it’s difficult to hate them as they hunt and kill those who came to honor them.  It’s this depth of character that makes Winterset Hollow so wonderful a read; every motivation for good or evil is plausible and understandable.

There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming until I was over three quarters of the way through the novel, and that revelation is one final push for Eamon and his last act.  The only issue I have with the writing are the number of miraculous escapes Eamon has from what even he sees as certain death, each time musing on its meaning in relation to his life.  Once is enough.  More than that is overkill.  Aside from this one niggle, though, the novel is brilliant and deeply affective.  This is one that will stay with you for days or weeks after you turn the last page.

When pantsing isn’t enough…

In the universe of authors, there are really only two forms of intelligent life: “plotters” and “pantsers”.  I admit it—I’m a “pantser”.  I open my Surface, fire up Scrivner, and let the words fly without a single thought about the plot.  Sure, I have an overarching whisper of a hint of a possible idea, but I rarely know the complete picture going in.  In fact, a novel I have been working on for years is mired in writer’s block hell because the entire story is already in my head, and I can’t put it on paper well enough to do it justice.

I usually start in the middle of the action, pulling a character out of thin air, place him/her on the page, and start throwing crap at them until they react.  No matter how detailed I make my character sketch, though, the damn buggers always seem to have a mind of their own.  Sometimes a new character will just barge into a scene without even asking, mucking up the grand schemes of my protagonist.  I rarely know what will come out of their mouths until I type the words.  A few have even refused to exit the story when their fifteen minutes is up.

What happens, though, when pantsing isn’t enough?

I once wrote a serialized novel for the website Channillo and reached the painful conclusion that I have to at least plan better.  I like to write a chapter in a single shot, then go back and revise, sometimes not reconciling plot holes with earlier and later chapters until the first full revision.  Sometimes I move scenes around or add new characters.

That simply can’t happen when you’re posting individual chapters online as soon as they’re finished.

Sure, I can make cosmetic corrections such as spelling, grammar, or some minor word choices.  What I can’t do is change the plot after the fact, since doing so makes everything your audience has read wasted effort.  That’s a great recipe for losing readers.

I remember a certain television show based on a bestseller setting up a major character, with a major storyline that should have had an arc that lasted at least to the final season, only to see it all wiped out in a single scene.  Worse, it made every scene leading up to that completely pointless.

I nearly threw a book at the screen.

Don’t be that guy.  Those writers make me see red.


Mining for books…

So… I had a discussion a while back with a friend who happens to be a genius and a physicist. I made the simple supposition that since Pi is a non-repeating infinite series, we could assign each character necessary for printing a book to a simple three-digit code. My theory is that somewhere in Pi is a long string of digits corresponding to all the recorded knowledge of, well, the whole universe, past, present, and future.

This would, consequently, mean that every book I have ever written, or ever will write, is in there somewhere.

Now here’s my question: if this is true, what does this say about free will? In fact, if I even consider writing a book or story, it’s in there whether I write it or not. What does this say about destiny, or even time’s arrow? Of course, we can’t actually find these strings of numbers, but what if we could? Would knowing what I write ten years from now affect my decision to write it? It might not matter, because there’s room for every story in every style of every author ever born or will be born. That’s the nature of infinity.

We could do this for music, too, finally hearing Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony, or the full catalog of works Mozart would have written had he not died young. Future history books are in there, too, making a mockery of the idea that information can’t travel backward in time.

Also, hidden within Pi are the blueprints for a faster than light engine, or a working matter transporter. Perhaps plans for a super-efficient table-top fusion reactor. Anything you can think of, really.

Yep. These are the kinds of things I think about all day long. The cool part was my friend agreed with all this. I kept hoping he would point out the flaw in my logic, but he couldn’t.

Such is the nature of infinity…

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