Book Review – Caraval by Stephanie Garber – 5 stars

Warning: May contain spoilers, but opening comments are spoiler-free. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow. This book swept me far, far away just like Legend’s game. It has a circus feel to it with quirky characters and strange goings-on that remind me a little of Sorcery of Thorns and The Discworld series. 

Following Scarlett’s journey from her simple and planned-out life to being thrown into the most challenging game of her life was so much fun. Every chapter has something exciting and surprising to keep me on my toes, and the romance was nicely done. 

What I liked…

Everything.

The writing was fabulous, so creative and captivating. I couldn’t put this book down.

I loved the quirky magic in the game and fancy clothes that changed colours with Scarlett’s mood.

All the characters were suspicious in their own way, and knowing who to trust was super hard.

Julian had me constantly second-guessing his role in the game as well in Scarlett’s life.

 I didn’t even care how young the characters were because it’s hardly mentioned, and Scarlett begins the story engaged, so I genuinely thought the characters were older.

What I didn’t like…

Nothing worth mentioning. 

Final thoughts…

If you like games with cryptic clues, mysterious characters, and unique magic, then this book is for you.

Death Is Only the Beginning!

It’s an old Egyptian saying, which makes sense if you believe in an afterlife. Life is fleeting, but an afterlife is infinite.

Okay, ideology aside, I’m referring to fantasy or Sci-Fi stories where death is either an evolved state or temporary. It happens with people dying and getting turned into cyborgs, fighting their way back to the real world, or long dead voices who can speak to the living. 

It’s not only fun from a magic perspective, but also helpful in the plot. Voices from beyond can guide the MC to do something they can’t do themselves. Death can be reversed with magical spells or some life transferring power. Either way, death is not always the end. 

This is both good and bad for your fantasy or Sci-Fi story. You have to set limits on the revivals or contact with the living otherwise it just comes across as a deus ex machina. They can work in rare cases, but it’s best to set up the possibilities during the story.

Without spoiling too much, I have distinct differences between my versions of heaven, hell and purgatory across my WIPs. And some characters have the capability of returning to the land of the living, while others can only whisper to it or barely touch it. Of course, there are limits to when, where and how to all of it.

So how many ways can death be undone? Here are just a few ways death is only the beginning.

Faking a Death

This works in many genres and doesn’t require any kind of resurrection or special science or magic to bring the person back to life. The reader doesn’t have to know the MC’s boyfriend faked his death to protect her from the mob men who were going to kill her too. In fact, it works best when the MC has no idea until they really need to know. Keeping it a secret is the whole point of faking a death. Sure, you could have the MC fake their death which would make for an interesting story, but the point of this post is the ways the reader will think someone is dead but they’re not gone. 

Unfinished Business

Ghosts, spectres, voices of loved ones. These are people trying to complete something important to them or those they left behind. It could be something personal that they convince someone to do for them. Or they could have been waiting for a “chosen one” to put things right in a bigger sense. Either way, these are nothing more than guides who can’t physically interact, or if they can, they can only manipulate natural elements or signals in the air.

Reincarnation

A character is reborn from centuries ago and has the chance to complete a quest their past self didn’t. They may know they are reincarnated from a young age or they may find out when they’re older and have to figure out where their past self failed so they can avoid making the same mistake. Obviously, their past self died, but why?

Resurrection

Bringing people back to life has to have serious consequences or a very unique or lost spell otherwise everyone would be doing it. My favourite way to do this is some form of special energy like a rare planetary alignment or a hidden relic that is just as dangerous to find as it is to use. That’s the idea of resurrection that it may or will require a sacrifice. You have to balance the energy of your world. Whatever your parameters for this, make them hard as hell to put off even the bravest of souls from trying to bring back a loved one.

Suspended Animation

This mostly works in Sci-Fi like someone in a cryogenic chamber who gets surgery in the future to fix previously fatal wounds.So they were more on the verge of death rather than dead. This also works in fantasy where someone’s magical energy is still alive, but their body has been destroyed. This would leave their character requiring a physical form to be fully alive, which might be magically possible. So again, they’re not completely dead.

However you use death in your story, there are always possibilities.

Featured image by Dieterich01 at Pixabay.

New Logo!

I know I’m a long way off publishing and branding. But it doesn’t hurt to ponder these things as I work up to the whole marketing stuff.

I keep dipping into my lapsed graphic design skills and thinking about the general look I want to go for. I’m still deciding, but I have a possible logo to share.

It’s purely experimental and just for my own purposes. But here… enjoy…

And…

I have more ideas that might lead to something completely different. But the whole point of this site is to log my progress. This is my latest progress.

It’s never too early to start thinking about these things. But don’t forget to put your writing first. Logos and websites mean very little without the writing to showcase.

Writing on a Budget!

Before I start, let me be clear that I’m talking about WIPs on their way to being published, not for polishing that final manuscript. Jenna Moreci has a video on Easy Budgeting for Writers for when you reach that stage. Here’s an older video on How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book?

I’ve recently read a few forums with experienced/published writers giving new/budding writers great advice on creative writing courses, getting an editor to go over their work, and paying for beta readers. But that’s not financially possible for those of us with day jobs that just about cover our existing bills. 

I’d love to take a really good creative writing course and share with fellow writers in person. I’d love to get all the wonderful software that helps me create polished work. I’d love to send some sample chapters to a professional editor for some real feedback and the main things I need to work on. But money doesn’t grow on trees.

I’ve already shared some writing tools and useful software in Let’s Get Technical. But here are some things I use within my budget.

Expanding Your Writing Skills

Joining a critiquing website has been an amazing learning process (see below from more), but it’s good to find other ways to learn that don’t involve expensive courses.

Invest in a good grammar for writers book. I have a few books from “The Busy Writer” series by book editor Marcy Kennedy.

There are some decent online course, according to the forums I follow, but again, they cost money. Masterclass and Skillshare are ones I hear about a lot. However, there are a ton of YouTube videos giving advice. Advice is subjective as I mention in this post, but for writers getting started, they are some great videos for you to think about. 

I typed “writing advice” in YouTube and recognised several of my favourites on the first page. They’re more idea and concept related, but they’re great to get you started with plot ideas, characters, avoiding common mistakes. 

Jenna, obviously.

Meg LaTorre is another one I follow.

A freebee from Margaret Atwood, also on Masterclass.

Organising ideas

Scrivener is pretty cheap and a one-off payment. But I find OneNotes a great free alternative for organising ideas. I created a new notebook for each WIP with tabs for notes and ideas, outlines, feedback, characters, word building etc. Each tab has multiple pages with the different versions of my outlines, different characters with full descriptions and inspiration images, and feedback by chapter or beta version depending on how I have received it.

OneNotes is also available on Windows (obviously), Android, and Apple devices. I haven’t checked if it’s on Linux, but you can access it through most browsers, including Firefox, so you can basically access it anywhere.

Organising Documents

I decided to keep my Office 365, but if I had to, I could use Google Docs. I save my writing to my Gdrive so I can access, share, and edit in Chrome. There are extensions worth flipping to Chrome when editing. You don’t even need to pay for a word processor. Also, you can save offline versions of your work in the Gdrive app and Chrome or get the free Google backup folder for automatic synchronisation on your computer. You can open, save, and edit as a Word .docx or Google document. 

The best thing about using Google Docs is the extensions. Which leads me to…

Editing

Pro Writing Aid and Grammarly have free extensions for Chrome and are super useful to pick up silly writing mistakes. That’s not to say they pick up everything, so you need to do a good run through yourself.

This is where Natural Reader comes in handy. Again, it’s a free TTS extension on Chrome. It uses either Microsoft voices built into Windows or Google voices via Chrome. I personally prefer Google’s voice because it feels more natural. They even offer twenty minutes per day of the premium voices, so if you want to go through a poem, flash fiction, or a short scene, then you get this included.

Sharing Your Writing

I use Critique Circle, which is convenient because it’s all online, and it’s free to join and share in the public queues. This is where any member can submit a story for review and any member can review it. You earn the same credits as everyone else when you critique a story, and you pay the same in credits when you submit a story. 

For the paid version, you get private queues where you can save credits, invite specific people to review your work, and submit as often as possible. I do recommend this version because it really helps with learning and getting more tailored feedback. If there is anything I suggest you invest in early on, it’s a good critique site. 

I can’t rave about this site enough. They have great forums for sharing thoughts and ideas as well as helping with publishing advice when you get to that point. I admit I roll my eyes at some of the things people say on there at times, but I’ve learned what kind of advice best suits my work. For example, I write fantasy, so if everyone said that I need to dial back on the visuals, then I’d be concerned that I’m overdoing it. But if only one person made a big deal of it when I’m trying to describe something unique to that world, that would concern me as to whether they really understood the genre.

Long story short… Writing isn’t cheap, but whether it’s a hobby or leading to a second career, it’s worth investing a little from the start then saving up for the bigger costs as and when you really need them. 

Featured image by Comfreak at Pixabay.

Revisions and Edits Suck!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Well… they do and they don’t.  But they are necessary for any writer, so suck it up and deal with it.

A few days ago, my revisions felt marvelous with a minor plot addition that really built on my driving plot points. Honestly, it was genius. 

Now, I’m knee deep in edits and consistency revisions, and they’re boring as Hell. But it’s a small sacrifice for a publishable novel. That’s the whole idea of revising, editing, beta reading, and more revising and editing. 

Jenna posted this a couple of weeks after my post and I was so excited to add it here.

My excitement is up and down again today with another batch ready to go, but TTS is slow going on Chrome. What I’m doing is saving the batches of chapters in a separate Word document and editing with Chrome’s free Pro Writing Aid and Natural Reader extension. Between the spell checker and the TTS, I’m picking up all sorts if silly things.that Word missed. 

Then, once each batch is edited, I copy it into my beta document and set the track changes option in case I think of anything else. I’m always thinking of something else. But at least I can keep track of what I added after I sent out the chapter batches.

Also, I track my progress from red, yellow, orange and green text in my outline depending on what stage I’m at with each chapter. It helps me see where I’m up to and some later chapters are fully revised and just pending edits while others need another quick revision before that final edit. 

It all these little things that keep the revisions and edits on track. I haven’t come this far to let some SpaG or silly wording let me down now. It also helps that I have a good work/life balance, so I have time to put into my writing like a 2nd job, which is good because I hope to make it a paid one, eventually. 

So editing is a chore, but if you stay organised with your edits, then you’ll get through them and polish that publishable book.

You’ve Completed Your First Draft, Now What?

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

No matter how many times I do it, completing that first draft brings a sense of euphoria I can’t quite describe. It’s like winning the first race on sports day. Sure you have more to go, but at the end of the day, you have that one winning medal. I’ve drafted my pentalogy, and book one has had a revision. The rest is messy, but at least the main story is there for me to see its evolution.

Now I have my first standalone novel drafted. And it’s in pretty good shape for a first draft. Right now, I’m letting the revision ideas float around, updating my latest outline with more detailed notes. The entire structure is there ready to smooth out and decorate into a beautiful work of art. It WILL be a work of art when I am done with this story.

Here are some things to think about after your first draft.

Make detailed notes.

Whether you’ve had feedback or not, it’s always a good idea to make notes and update your outline. Add your changes and additions and POV swaps if you have multiple POVS. If you don’t do outlines, it’s still a good idea to make a list and tick them off as you go through them. I use the corkboard mode in Scrivener with the “to do” label for each chapter and its new synopsis, then change it to “done”. It’s really handy. 

Foreshadowing

Now you know where your novel is going, you can drop little clues for the reader throughout the story so any surprises don’t come out of nowhere. Explaining or showing possibilities of the characters’ actions early on can really help with this. 

Setup 

This is connected to foreshadowing but goes beyond that. You need your readers to understand the aspects of your story for it to feel like a satisfying conclusion. If you leave things too vague, then when it all comes together, it won’t have the same impact. Set up the pieces in a way that the reader understands what each one does. Show it in actions, have characters say it in dialogue, or have the MC think it. Just don’t bore the readers with long narration telling them about it unless you have to. 

Deus ex machina

If you’ve set everything up and foreshadowed well, this won’t be an issue. You have to avoid that sense of perfectly timed divine intervention just when the MC needs it. Build up to it gradually, show a little before. Keep it in the reader’s mind with casual mentions in between the more active reminders.

Character development 

With any story, real or fictional, the whole idea is that the characters change somewhat throughout. It could be a minor change that leads to the characters being more open-minded to a big life change, or it could be that the book’s major change is the characters themselves. Either way, having seen where your character ends up, you can now go back and let the character change little by little. 

And now…

It’s been ten months since I started writing Out of Ashes. I won’t deny that the inspiration for the storyline came from a place of pain and vengeance. But what prompted me to write it was a dream of fire and rebirth. 

I don’t want to say more than that in case I spoil anything, but this story was incredibly personal to me, so to complete the draft with fantastic feedback was an amazing feeling. Now I can mould is, shape it an sculpt it into a work of art.

I’m open to self publishing, but I feel like I stand a good chance with traditional publishing based on the current market. I didn’t write my novel to fit the market or adhere to it, but circumstances in my story choice have coincided with what seems to be popular these days. How lucky is that? 

I have to revise it, send it for beta readers, revise it again, maybe even again, and then I can think about whether it’s ready for publishing. This is all going to happen in time, and I don’t plan to put a deadline on anything. You can’t rush creativity. Also, nothing bad will happen if I don’t get it published this year. So cheers to the completed draft and its possibilities. 

In life, we often wish we had the ability of hindsight. In writing, your first draft is your hindsight. Use it well, and rewrite that story to perfection.

Cleansing your Creative Palette!

Photo by Victoria_Borodinova at Pixabay.

I have multiple project disorder where I keep having too many ideas and projects on the go. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, and I struggle to focus on one project at a time. I’ll be working on one project, then suddenly get zapped with ideas for another, and I can’t concentrate with all these clashing ideas. 

It’s always good to prioritise one so that you can keep a steady momentum until the project is done. But it’s also a good idea to have something for when you need a break from said project. It’s a way of managing multiple project disorder.

I call it a creative palette cleansing. It refreshes your mind while giving you something to work on for the future. Keep the creative juices flowing. 

Right now, I’m focussing on Out of Ashes, my historical fantasy about witches and warlocks. And one or two mornings a week, I work on my Starlighters pentalogy, which is getting some serious attention in its outline along with some scene tweaks as I prepare for the next full revision. 

This gives me a chance to pour my ideas into two different projects while keeping the focus on one. Gotta have a dessert after really good meal, right? 

Here, have a fun cover track…

Timey Wimey!

silver alarm clock on shelf full of book
Photo by David Sohair

I came across this article about a parallel universe where time goes backwards. There have been articles disproving this, but as a fantasist, it inspired me. 

Backwards in time… WTF? But isn’t that cool? Imagine trying to write a story set in this world. Everyone is basically Benjamin Button. Everyone is what? A son before their dad is born? I mean…think about the ramifications of that in familiar descendancy or ancestry. To actually write something like that would be amazingly impressive.

I actually have some timey wimey stuff myself where two parallel worlds are so different in size that a hundred years on one world is only a few years on the other due to the theory of relativity. So many fantasy novels have realms where time passes differently. One of my childhood favourites “Chronicles of Narnia” has this exact idea with the children spending weeks, years in Narnia each time they visit, but only a few minutes pass in the real world. 

My latest inspiration for this was Interstella, where a few hours on a giant planet was several years outside its orbit. That wasn’t the inspiration for the planets themselves, only how I could account for certain characters existing in both worlds a hundred years apart yet returning to the same people, if that makes sense. 

Then there are various characters who can see through space and time. I call them oracles, but they could be considered prophets since time reaches out to them a little like devine intervention. I called it a web, and they follow the strands to see the past or future. It’s not as easy as it sounds. But you get the idea. 

A Hole in the Web of Time

My point is… which I take far too long in making… use time to your advantage whether it’s pure magic or based on real theories.

It’s just fiction. Your imagination has no limits.