The Books that Taught Me the Most About: Plot

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So I started writing a post about the books that have taught me the most as a writer. And I’m not talking about the “How to Write a Novel” books…

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The Best YA (For People Who “Don’t Like YA”)

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I’ve decided Fridays are good days for book posts. So that is where they shall be from now unto eternity (or at least, until I change my mind again.)

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MK’s Book Reviews: Ranking Harry Potter

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I’m on a mission to write reviews of all my favorite books before the year is out. I’ve reviewed some of them sporadically on my blog, but not all.

I’ve always thought I’d never review Harry Potter, because what’s there to say what hasn’t already been said? Great series whose fans span generations, tastes, reading levels, genre-preferences. Harry Potter deserves every bit of praise that’s been heaped on it and more. I don’t get tired of talking about it. So I thought I’d do a ranking of the books. I understand this is a hotly contested topic, so please remember these are only my opinions.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone The first book is awesome, especially upon a reread after finishing the series. It’s where it all started, after all! Yet of the whole series, it’s the one that’s most like a children’s book. What I love about these books is the way they get progressively darker and more adult. The first one is still very much child’s play.

6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets This is also a great one–my favorite part is how Hermione figured it out wayyyy before everyone else. But again, it’s one of the more juvenile in the series, which puts it at the number 6 spot.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Unlike some people, I actually really love the whole drawn-out beginning at Number 12, Grimmauld Place. I enjoy Harry’s angstyness as well. But this book could have done with some editing; it just takes too damn long to get to the climax. And of course … Sirius (sob!)

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince I really love this one. The penultimate, uber-dark tome of the series, where we get to see more of our favorite anti-heroes, Draco and Snape. I loved every minute of it. Except the end. (more sobbing!)

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Some people thought this one was too long as well. I am not one of those people. I loved the Tri-wizard Tournament, I loved the Quidditch World Cup, I loved the arrival of the French and Bulgarians. I love the introduction of the Pensieve, and all that led up to the reveal of the real Barty Crouch. A+ book.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows The ending to the series was everything I could have hoped for. I enjoyed the neverending camping trip. I sobbed several times. I even loved the blatant Jesus Christ-like ending. And the cheesy epilogue. All was well.

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban And we come to my fave. It’s still incredible to me that only three books in, Rowling was able to produce something like this. I’ve read it several times and am amazed each time at how every little thing, no matter how subtle, builds up to that incredible climax and ending that I never saw coming. I wish I could erase my memories of this book and read it again from the beginning. (Actually, I wish that about all of them.)

Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Why not? Let me know!

What Draws You Into A Story?

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I haven’t decided what my next Learning from the Masters lesson will be. So for today, I’m asking a very important question…

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Writing Tip: The Myth of The “Great Idea”

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The other day I was talking to someone about my book. I don’t always love talking about the fact that I’m writing a book, mainly because people who’ve never attempted to get into publishing have no idea how anything works and when you tell them you’re writing a book, they assume they’ll see your name on the bestseller list in a couple months’ time.

But anyway. After I vaguely described to her what the plot was about, she said this:

“That’s a good idea! I feel like all I’d need is that one great idea, like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, and then I’d be rich!”

It took a tremendous amount of self-restraint to not start lecturing her right then and there.

Instead I’ve saved my lecture for this post.

This is something I encounter not only when talking about writing, but in my job in marketing as well. People are always talking about the “next great idea”. As if “ideas” are these elusive, slippery things floating out there in the ether, and all you have to do is grab one and boom! You’re rich.

My boyfriend, who works in video game development, has encountered the exact same thing. “I have this great idea for a game!” is something he hears constantly.

As for me, I have a list of a dozen different ideas for novels, and I’m adding to it all the time. A little spark of something, a flash of a character or a theme–I jot it down, occasionally start fleshing it out a bit–and harbor excitement that this could really be something someday.

Ultimately, when it comes time to write a new novel, I look through that list of ideas and pick one to turn into something.

And that’s when the hard part comes in.

This character isn’t coming together, or I don’t actually like the voice I’ve started writing this story in, or this theme is going to be really difficult to incorporate into this kind of a story (you should never start with theme anyways; more on that later), or this tiny idea isn’t expanding itself out into a full-blown plot.

And that’s when I know:

Coming up with ideas is easy.

It’s executing them well that’s hard.

Ideas are important–don’t get me wrong. Without the initial idea, you don’t have a novel or video game or marketing plan in the first place. But if you look at the successful books/video games/movies around you, you’ll find an interestingly common pattern.

Feel free to argue with me on this, but I’ve found that the most compelling stories are not the ones with the most out-there, original ideas.

JK Rowling–who by the way, I worship–did not come up with the concept of children who can do magic. Harry himself actually pretty closely follows the very typical hero’s journey, the one followed by every hero from Frodo to Luke Skywalker.

Likewise, The Hunger Games is not the first dystopia. It actually very closely resembles the plot of Battle Royale. And the reasons that writers like Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson are bestsellers? It’s not because they’re constantly coming up with revolutionary, amazingly original ideas. Actually, from the works of theirs that I’ve read, both of these writers have a tendency to write the same kind of stories over and over again.

 “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”–Willa Cather

These books didn’t succeed because of their “great ideas”. They succeeded because these writers are good at writing compelling stories.

You don’t need a plethora of good ideas to become a writer. You need the talent, know-how, and most importantly of all the willingness to put in the work to turn your ideas into something great.

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Learning From The Masters: Setting the Scene

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On Monday I discussed the struggles of toeing the line between too much description and not enough. And on Twitter I’ve been tweeting about my frustrations in trying to accurately describe the massive castle my story takes place in without bogging my writing down with too much detail. So today I decided to see how other people have done it…

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The Best Series of All Time (according to me)

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Since getting embroiled in yet another series I love, I’ve been thinking about my favorite series (plural) of all time…

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