Tag Archives: Pacing

Book Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (4/5)

12 Feb

One of my coworkers recommended two books to me last year; Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I was hugely disappointed by Outlander so I was a bit nervous to pick up Willis’ book. But when something’s available in eBook, I don’t fight it. My library’s collection is limited. And I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Summary from Goodreads:

In the year 2054, students research the past by living in it. So when Kivrin Engle, a history student at Oxford, enters Brasenose College’s time machine for transport back to 1320s England, no one anticipates any problems.

But her two-week project takes a frightening turn. A mutant virus has been spreading through Oxford, and Kivrin arrives in the past delirious with fever. She is found and taken to a manor house, and when she recovers, she can no longer locate the time machine rendezvous point.

As Kivrin struggles to adjust to a past that’s not quite what she expected, a past where the Black Death is beginning to ravage a mystified, terrified population. With the only people who know where she’s gone seriously ill themselves, will Kivrin ever find her way back to the future? Or has she become a permanent exile in a deadly time?

I’m not normally one for time travel, but I loved the academic approach this book took to the process. It was research! That’s so cool. I also loved the parallel story lines between Kivrin and Mr. Dunworthy and how they discovered the sources of the problems they were living through. The side characters were great, too, especially Agnes, Collin, and Badri. For someone who’s skeptical when it comes to science fiction, this was a great way to get me interested in the subject. I love history and exploring the Middle Ages with Kivrin was wonderful. I looked up the second book in the series and it seems to have a very different focus so I’m not sure I’ll continue with the series, but I’m really glad I read this.

I thought the way the 2054 town reacted to a quarantine was highly accurate. There are those who are scared, who think it’s a joke, who will go with religious implication, and who are more worried about lavatory paper than anything else. Willis had a great collection of characters in both settings who showed a depth to the time periods. It was very well done.

Collin was my favorite. I adored his determination to help through the quarantine and his resilience toward the end. It was good to have a young character in the modern century to compare with the girls in the Middle Ages and I think Collin was a great choice. I liked how it first appeared like he was indifferent about the situation and didn’t really care about his aunt or mother and how they treated him but as Dunworthy got to know him, he was able to read the boy’s emotions. I think Collin will grow up to be a great historian.

He’s an odd person to relate to, but I think I would have reacted much like Mr. Finch in the situation. He was very logical in how he approached the problem of how to feed, house, and care for everyone. He didn’t say ‘no’ to helping people, just to giving them lavatory paper and feeding them vegetables. When I’m faced with a problem, I’ll take stock of the supplies and then see how I should proceed. I like to think he was a useful character.

I loved the process of discovering the source of the modern illness. It was a sort of mystery that I thought unraveled at a great pace. I liked that it kept the modern story line moving while the Middle Ages one was a bit slow and then the two switched places. Willis did a great job crafting this.

"ConnieWillisCW98 wb". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“ConnieWillisCW98 wb”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There’s not a part of the novel that sticks out to me as slow or uninteresting. There are not many books I can say this about and it’s a huge tribute to Willis’ pacing.

The book explored all the different ways humans deal with crisis. Mary used science and Mrs. Gaddson used God. We can also look at Lady Imeyne and Father Roche who both turned to God but in very different ways to deal with the crisis. Collin wanted to help in any way possible and Mr. Dunworthy was focused on helping one person beyond his reach. I don’t think I’m particularly good at dealing with a sudden and huge crisis like the characters in this book faced and it was really interesting to me to see how it was dealt with in the book.

Writer’s Takeaway: Pacing, pacing, pacing! What a great example of how plots and subplots can slow if only the other plots are racing ahead. It keeps the book moving in one way or another. I want to make sure my book is keeping such great pacing and I have a wonderful example in Willis’ book.

Great book and wonderful writing though not in a genre that’s right for me. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the Pre 1500 time period in my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis | the Little Red Reviewer
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis | For winter nights
The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis | Pretty Terrible
Review: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis | Alex in Leeds


Novel Girls: Fragments, Pacing, and Running a Critique Group

3 Mar

We had a special Tuesday edition of the Novel Girls this week because our dear Sonia is moving this weekend and she will need Thursday to get ready. (I’m in denial about this move happening, if anyone asks.) We gathered at my apartment and started right in with critique. We’ve implemented a new system where we email our pieces out a day ahead of time so we can focus on critique. I’m a big fan of this change.

Something that came up during my piece was a stylistic concern. I have a part where my narrator is reflecting on all the things that are about to change in his life. It goes something like this;

His memory of Sarah was faded but there were still moments that he remembered in detail. The time he broke her favorite china plate and she laughed and cried while she cleaned it up. There was the first time they’d gone ice skating together and she fell down more often than not.

I recognize that the second sentence is a fragment but the third is a full sentence. What my partners recommended was setting up a parallel phrasing situation where the second and third sentences are fragments. I always cringe at fragments but they felt it would be strong stylistically. I’ve not done this anywhere else in my novel, but this scene is a big turning part in the character arc of my protagonist. How do you feel, Reader? Is breaking grammatical convention for style and emphasis a pardonable sin? Does it work here?

Another thing we talked about was pacing. After we discussed Sonia’s piece, she asked us about the pacing of a story. We all agreed it was well paced, needing maybe one or two minor tweaks. This got me thinking more about pacing in general. There are books I’ve read recently that I thought were well paced (Divergent) and books I thought were terribly paced (Outlander) but I never though what contributed to that pacing problem. My quick Google search did not return any tips I found useful so I’m going to write my own.

  1. Use action to describe a scene instead of a description. There’s not a window on the wall; the sun coming through the window warmed the characters skin (‘warmed’ is stronger than ‘is’).
  2. Build a sense of excitement and anticipation. Your characters will feel this as they work toward achieving their goal. If their goal isn’t worth getting excited about, maybe they need a new one.
  3. Cut down on description as the plot progresses. We should know what the characters and common settings look like. If the reader is engrossed in the book, he will likely be able to go off less description as he becomes more and more absorbed. Focus more on action.
  4. Skip the boring parts. If a scene later in your story seems dull, cut it. Early/middle is okay for a lull scene, but the ending is not.
  5. What else would you add to this list?

Another quick stylistic thing we talked about was using ‘present’ adjectives and adverbs in a piece with a past tense narration. Let me give an example.

Mindy wrote about the dark places her mind went to and how this was the most difficult part of her life thus far.

Notice the word ‘this’ in this sentence. In my opinion, ‘this’ describes something that is very immediate and usually fits best with present tense. It seems to immediate to work with past tense. Am I the only one that feels this way? Reader, do you think words like ‘now’ and ‘this’ seem out-of-place in past tense prose?

The final thing we talked about was how our critique group works. As you may have guessed from the name, we’re all working on novels. Each time we meet we share the next ten pages or so of our work. Our problem is that when we review a section, our advice will often be to change something fundamental about the section or to add something to clarify a question we had as readers. For example, lets say my first chapter starts with a major conflict between a couple and my girlfriends said that the reason for the fight seemed weak and unjustified. As a writer I fix the problem, adding in a more believable dialogue section, changing the motivation for the fight, and creating some back story for my characters. The next time the Novel Girls meet, I bring chapter 2 but my readers don’t know what’s changed in chapter 1. They’ll have the same questions, or even new ones arising from what I’ve added. We don’t want to review the same chapter over and over to perfect it because something might happen in chapter 5 that would recommend a change in chapter 1 and we have to get to chapter 5 to even seen that plot development. Wow, is this getting confusing!

Our question is; What is a good way of communicating the changes made in a piece so that the downstream prose will still make sense and the reader has a very real sense of what minutia and characterization has changed? We haven’t found a good way to do this yet and would welcome to any suggestions, advice, or precedents you might have.

We’re sad that Sonia won’t be able to join us in person for a while, but we still plan to do e-mail critiques and the other two and I still plan to meet. No worries, Novel Girls posts will continue for the foreseeable future.

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: The Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland (4/5)

17 Dec

I’ve decided to put my rating in the title so you can decide if you want to read on and see if the book is worth your time. Thoughts? Also, I’m only one book away from meeting my goal of 70 books for the year! Hopefully I’ll be done by the end of the week and I can dedicate some time to the 900 page Harry Potter in Spanish I’ve been neglecting

I received this book as a part of the Goodreads First Reads program. This has had no influence over my review of the book.

Image from the blog link in the description.

Image from the blog link in the description.

The Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland

I love historical fiction. Even more, I love historical fiction about places and times I know little to nothing about. When I saw a book about Regency period Egypt, I was all over it. Add in a mystery, which is something I’m always excited about, and I was pumped.

Hattie Blackhouse is the daughter of two famous Egyptologists but the fame annoys her more than anything. Hattie’s parents are always gone and once she turns 18, she’s determined to make her how way. Determined to marry her longtime friend, Robbie, she leaves for Paris to find him already engaged. Craving adventure, she sets off for Egypt to try and find her parents, who have gone missing. Hattie realizes her parents were involved in an intricate plot to bring Napoleon back to power and has an even deeper realization that the Blackhouses are not her parents at all, but a couple that was bribed to raise her to conceal her true identity as Napoleon’s bastard child. Along the way to the end, Hattie falls in love, gets married, and parading as the Daughter of the God King, helps cripple Napoleon’s plans.

What I remember most about the book is the character of Berry. He is Hattie’s main love interest and eventual husband. His secret allegiance keeps the reader and Hattie guessing till the end and even beyond. I am still a little bit confused what exactly Berry’s allegiance is to and why so many different characters thought he was aligned with them. My favorite character was Hattie’s escort, Bing. I kept hoping Bing would play a bigger role in the book because I found her so interesting, but she stayed the unwavering support Hattie needed without playing a big role herself.

I’m trying to think what an overlying message of the story would be. I think the best answer is You make your own future. Hattie went from orphan to bastard very quickly and thought her life was over. She’d convinced herself she could be nothing better than a mistress and ended up a countess. She wasn’t held back by who she was by birth and used her personality and position to make herself into who she wanted to be.

Napoleon’s attempt to regain power was a major plot point at the end of the book. One of the questions Hattie asks (which I think is well deserving of an answer) is who would support a despot that was so universally disliked that he was sentenced to a prison sentence on an island? The answer is the right people. I think this says a lot about modern politics as well; if the right people like a person, they can maintain power. This was probably more true when the military was more actively involved in the government, such as Napoleon’s reign over Europe, but can still ring true today.

There were some parts of the book that confused me. I think the small hits the characters were dropping were very obvious to the writer, but didn’t come as strongly across to the reader. I didn’t catch that Hattie was Napoleon’s daughter until I’d read the paragraph three times. I was confused for a long time with concern to the back and forth about Hattie’s parents’ fate. Were they dead or hiding? I wasn’t sure until Hattie went to the graveyard and even then, I still thought they would come out of the woodwork.

Writer’s Takeaways: This book had a very fast moving and engaging plot. There were a lot of layers to it, but each character stood out in his or her own way so that they weren’t confused. I think Cleeland did a good job of pacing her big reveal moments throughout the book. They came toward the end and weren’t too close together. I liked the mixture of mystery, some adventure, and romance (though it felt a little forced at times).

4 out of 5 stars, overall solid read.

NaNoWriMo- Day 9

9 Nov

Daily Word Count: 3,202

Total Word Count: 28,530

How I’m feeling: I’m getting nervous. I thought my plot was going too slowly so I sped it up and I think I may have sped it up too much. I only have two major plot points left after the huge one I’m writing now, and then probably about 5,000 words of resolution and epilogue. I have two scenes I can go back and re-write if I have to, but I don’t want to have to.

What I’ll do with the rest of my day: A good friend from high school is in town this weekend and my husband and I are going to a gathering to see him. I’m kind of really excited.

How’s the pacing going for your story? Do you think you’ll end around 50,000? Let me know, Reader!

Until next time, write on.