March 2017 Books

I’m still a little behind in my reading challenge, but I think I did better this month than I did in February. So let’s get right into it!

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The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Lucy is one of the three members of a ghost-hunting company called Lockwood and co. One day, they are asked to resolve a haunting, and Lucy unwittingly takes the Source of the ghost. But the mission turns sour and it leads their company into near ruin. They decide to solve the mystery of the ghost to attract more customers. But when a too-good-to-be-true offer comes their way, is it really the opportunity they’re waiting for or someone who has a different agenda?

Let me tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The premise of ghost-busting isn’t particularly original, and the plot was quite predictable at times. However, the twist of having only children sense ghosts was part of the reason Lockwood and co. was such an entertaining group to read about. The characters were fun, empathetic, and flawed. Lucy’s narration was so smooth. It’s one of those writing styles that just really suck you into the story. The worldbuilding was clever; actually what I really love about it is that it took a common concept and just gave it a little twist, and I was really excited to see what the story will do with it.

For most of the book, one of the things I really enjoyed is the way Lucy was never considered inferior to her peers because she’s a girl. It really seemed as if everyone just had this expectation that when it comes to ghost-hunting, girls and boys were equally skilled, and nobody expected otherwise. But this sadly got subverted near the end of the book, where even Lucy was forced to admit that as a girl, she’s more sensitive. I just didn’t think this was very fair for her.

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

So, we’ve all heard the likes of Delilah Bard, women who dress up in men gear. Sometimes it’s because they require the disguise to be safe, but other times simply because it suits them.

Well let me introduce you to Prince Sebastian, a prince who sometimes like to wear dresses. When I saw Shannon Hale recommend this on her Twitter, I was intrigued.

The last time I encountered a male character who wears dresses was when I watched Fushigi Yuugi. Nuriko was one of the most compelling anime characters I’ve seen to this day. I mean, look at him! His death was one of the most painful character deaths I have ever endured. (Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen Fushigi Yuugi… but I suppose it’s a little late now.)

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I don’t usually read graphic novels (the last time I read manga was in 2014). But I got in this one really easily. The characters were cute and expressive. I really like the way Frances and Sebastian’s friendship evolved, and the eventual romance they cultivated. I also like how the conflict evolved naturally from their personal and interpersonal goals. I’m pretty sure I’m adding this to my list of comfort books.

Currently Reading

Yes, I’m still making my way steadily through The Way of Kings. It’s taking a long time. I feel bummed about it. I usually devour a Sanderson book.

Ahhh, I’ve been waiting for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi for about a year now. I’m so excited to be reading it.

Finally, in keeping with my non-fictional historical interests, I’ve picked up Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents. It’s a bit dense, but I do think it provides a different perspective of the many things we’ve come to associate about colonial period.

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Streamlining My Story By Controlling Character Knowledge

If you’ve been following my blog for some time now, no doubt you’ve come across one of my many Writing Woes posts. Most of the time, these posts deal with my angst about having to refactor my story, because as I write the outlines for the drafts, or the drafts themselves, I keep finding that my story is too complex. When I say complexity, I don’t necessarily mean the substance or message of the story, or even the style and vocabulary I use. Instead, what I mean is the layers and elements interwoven in the story.

It’s not easy to remove an element or a thread from a story, especially if, like me, you love big, epic things and you tend to plan or outline before writing. Removing an element could unravel other foundational threads, and then you find yourself with all kinds of plot holes that cannot be plugged no matter how much you try. After finishing another streamlining last night after weeks of reviewing my story again, I realized that I’ve been using the same revamping technique to tame the wild mess I’ve planned:

When I want to discard a thread from my story, I make the outcome of that thread already well-known to the characters.

See, the threads in my story add some layer of mystery that the protagonists have to grapple with. It’s another stumbling block that stops them from reaching their goals, but once that thread is resolved, the characters would have gained something. At least, if the thread is at all useful, that’s what is supposed to happen. Of course, you could have a thread that doesn’t really add any value to your characters’ arc, but if that’s the case, then there should be no trouble removing it at all. (Or even having it there in the first place.)

I’ll give an example from my story. I suppose it’s a bit of a spoiler, but well… not really anymore. In one of my more recent refactoring, I axed a character named Xiehun who was supposed to be investigating the death of his father. Now, he was relevant to one of the protagonists, Anina, because the person who betrayed his father also betrayed her. And that’s important because once Anina finds out who betrayed her, then the investigation would be resolved.

Anyway, since there’s already so many things going on in my story, I didn’t have time to elaborate on the investigation of his father’s death. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have much time to allot to Xiehun at all, except for moments in the story where he reminds everyone about the mystery of his father’s death. Which… is not a compelling use of character, to be honest. So I needed to remove him.

But then that leaves the mystery of Anina’s betrayal dangling. So when I removed Xiehun, I removed the mystery of his father’s death too. Instead of murder, I made it an accident, and I made it common knowledge in the story. And thus, I’ve disentangled Anina and Xiehun’s threads.

I find that when something becomes common knowledge among the characters, then you save the time you would spend writing how they acquire this knowledge. I used this tactic many times. When everyone was trying to figure out how to neutralize a really dangerous magical McGuffin, it added another layer to the story. But when I made that solution well-known (or at least known to 1 character), the only thing I have to worry about is how to get the characters to that point. When some mysterious thing that happened in the past came cropping up, it blindsided the characters. The characters would have to deal with processing this, so I have to write them connecting the dots. But if it’s already in their repertoire of knowledge, their reaction would be completely different, perhaps tamer and better prepared to confront the situation.

In hindsight, I think the reverse was how I ended up with such a convoluted story in the first place. I wanted a lot of plot twists and big surprises, so I made my characters really clueless. Everything was stacked up against them; every time they turned a corner, there’s something waiting to surprise them. So I suppose if you want to make your story more complex and layered, just make your characters not know about a particular thing.

I don’t know if this is something most writers already know. I definitely didn’t until I started doing so many refactors and streamlining sessions, and I realized I was performing the same technique to slim my story down. So there you go. Did you already know about this? What other things do you do when your try to simplify your story?

February 2018 Art

In my last update about my Schoolism subscription, I mentioned that I switched momentarily from the Pictorial Composition course to take a lighting course. I’ve been watching Sam Nielson’s Fundamentals of Lighting, because I think I lack even the most basic grasp of light and colour. That said, I still proceeded with the 2nd assignment for Pictorial Composition, just so I don’t lag too much behind. Here’s some of my compositions:Read More »

February 2018 Books

Unfortunately I am lagging behind my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. I’ve been on a bit of a slump lately. I got hit by The Queen’s  Thief feels again, which means that nothing I read seems to be interesting enough to pull me out of it. I sit on my hour-long train ride, looking out of the window, entertaining angsty scenes about Attolia. So uhm, yeah. I haven’t been very productive at all in terms of my reading.
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The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

This has been on my TBR list for years! But it’s only recently that my library got an electronic copy. So I was really excited to read it.

It was quite good. I really loved how Caribbean myths came alive in this story. I know next to nothing about Caribbean culture, so I’m always excited to learn something new about other cultures, especially through fantasy books. Also, this is #OwnVoices, which makes it better! The plot was very fast-moving. I remember thinking “Whoa, I must be nearing the end of the book now,” only to find out I was only 40% of the way through. It is packed! That said, I do wish that the plot could have slowed down sometimes so the story could explore more of the inner world of the characters and show a bit of introspection. Corinne was great, but I would have loved to hear more of what went on in her head, because the writing style was like “this happened, then that happened.”

Currently reading…

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Yes, I’m still slogging my way through this ginormous book. I really like Kaladin, but he’s the only one I like. Every time I get to Gavilar’s thread, I just don’t feel like reading much. So every other chapter, I find that I put down the book for long stretches, because I just don’t care enough about anyone other than Kaladin.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

I’m no stranger to Stroud’s books, and I liked some of his older stuff. I wasn’t aware he had a new series out until I saw some fanarts for it on Tumblr. Naturally, my interest was piqued. I’m really liking how this is going so far. Lucy is a great narrator, and I’m really liking her friendship with Lockwood.