The Handmaid’s Tale Review and the Importance of Reaction Scenes

The Handmaid's Tale Review and the Importance of Reaction Scenes

In today’s episode, I’m reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book is not only one of Atwood’s most acclaimed novels, but the basis for the American television show by the same name. If you know anything about Margaret Atwood, you know she has a flair for dark, gritty, and utterly captivating dystopian and speculative fiction with a political or feminist slant. Sound intriguing? It is. But in order to get her ideas across effectively, it’s important to have good characters and story structure as well – and that’s exactly what I wanted to explore when I picked up this book.

Additionally, I’m taking a few minutes to talk about the importance of action and reaction scenes in novels. If you’ve ever read a book or watched a show and came away thinking “Wow, I don’t care about those people at all,” it’s possible the story failed to find its action/reaction stride. This not only applies to the individual scenes in your book (how they flow and push the story forward), but it also relates to the relationship between your book’s first and second half.

Books mentioned in this episode:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

PS – I also mention “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” but I’m talking about the movie, not the French comic book “Empire of a Thousand Planets.”

Dueling Book Reviews: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero and Artemis by Andy Weir

Book Review of Artemis and Meddling Kids

Today, I’ve got a special treat for you: dueling book reviews! Okay, the books aren’t actually dueling. I’ve just been reading a lot and have a backlog of reviews to share. Today we’re talking about Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero and Artemis by Andy Weir.

How do I describe Meddling Kids? It’s basically a punchy, mystery throwback for people who grew up watching Scooby Doo. If that doesn’t sound awesome, I don’t know what does. On the other hand, delivering something that witty can be a challenge. Let’s see if Mr. Cantero is up for it!

Next up is Artemis by Andy Weir. In the wake of his wildly successful book, The Martian, Weir has a lot of expectations to meet – and critics have been pretty mixed in their reception. All that to say, a noir-style heist on the Moon is a pretty cool idea. One that’s at least worth exploring.

While I typically finish up PlotBoilers podcast episodes with a few thoughts on life as a writer, this one is all book-talk. Don’t worry: the writing life tips and tricks will be back next time!

Books Mentioned in this Episode

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Artemis by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Retrograde by Peter Cawdron

Into the Water Book Review & Plotting vs. Pantsing

Into the Water Book Review & Plotting vs. Pantsing

In today’s episode, I’m reviewing Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. You probably know Hawkins from her breakout novel, The Girl on the Train. But what you might not know is TGOTT isn’t actually her first book. It’s hard to not compare TGOTT with Into the Water, but I’ve done my best. On the other hand, there are some interesting comparisons and similarities between the books I found worth discussing.

For today’s “Writing Life” bit, I’m going over plotting and pantsing. If you don’t know what those are, the difference is pretty simple: Plotters outline their novels before they write; pantsers start with an idea and discover the story as they put it on the page. In reality, most people fall somewhere between these two extremes. (If you plotted every detail before you wrote, you’d technically already have a first draft – you know?) However, understanding which process is best for your next WIP is super important.

P.S. – This episode probably should have been titled “The Miracle” because, after recording it, my computer decided to completely stop workingCringe. I’m pretty sure it’s on its way out, but I was able to recover the episode audio file (and 20,000+ words of a work in progress – Whew). Just in case any of you are even remotely part of the IT industry, I’m not going to say how I got it working again – for the sake of my pride and your sanity. All that to say, if I’m a little late getting my next episode up, it means Black Friday didn’t go my way and I still don’t have a new computer. Life is full of adventures, isn’t it?

Books mentioned in this episode:

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Structuring Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel Workbook – K.M. Weiland

Story – Robert McKee

 

Halloween Book Recommendations and How to Be a Better Beta Reader

Halloween Book Recommendations and How to Be a Better Beta Reader

In today’s episode, I have five spooky and binge-worthy books for you to read this week, along with a few pointers on how to be a better beta reader.

First up: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. This was the first book I read by King, and it’s one of my favorites to this day. It’s pretty terrifying, but the final act will have you turning pages so fast you’ll get paper cuts.

My second recommendation is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. If you like paranormal anything, this one is for you. And since it’s on the shorter side, it doesn’t waste any time with scenes that aren’t going to have you jumping at your own shadow for a few days.

If you’re easily spooked, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James might be a better option. Originally published in 1898, this book is beautifully atmospheric. It also had me talking about it for weeks – so find a reading buddy to help you figure out what was actually going on in the story.

I’ve also included Unreal City by A. R. Meyering on my list. This book isn’t exactly a horror novel, but it is pretty creepy. What surprised me the most about it is the author’s ability to create startlingly intense dream sequences (they aren’t exactly dream sequences, per se, but you’ll understand what I mean when you read the book). If you’re into discovering lesser-known authors who pack a pretty good punch with their storytelling, check this one out.

Finally, I’m putting Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero on the list. I’m actually in the middle of reading it, but it shows promise so far, especially if you grew up loving mysteries as a kid. It’s not a kids book by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a playful, sarcastic tone that gives it youthful energy.

Introducing Plotboilers Podcast: Retrograde Book Review and Balancing Your Day Job with Writing

Retrograde Book Review And Balancing Your Day Job With Writing

I’ve started a podcast to complement the content I post on my blog. Yay! The goal of Plotboilers is to share tips and tricks on writing, but also share cool books and ideas I come across in the writing community. On the podcast, you’ll find book reviews, book recommendations and tidbits on what it’s like to be a writer with a day job.

In my first episode, I’m reviewing Retrograde by Peter Cawdron. This book is sci-fi novel set in the first colony on Mars. I started reading it because Audible kindly recommended it to me the day it was published – but after a little digging, it looks like it was independently published in September 2016 under the title “Mars Endeavour.” I’m guessing it got picked up by a publisher after that and was reintroduced when I found it last month. Either way, the cover for the new version is way cooler so you should read that one.

In addition to the book review, I’m going over some of the ways I like to balance my “writing life” with the rest of my life (work, family, etc).

I’m planning to introduce episodes on a monthly basis, with the exception of October, which will have two episodes. I hope you all enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed making them!

P.S. – Forgive the sound quality on Episode One. Would you be impressed if I said I recorded it on my phone? I couldn’t wait for my sweet new recording gear to get here – but rest assured, future posts will be spick and span!

Updates, Kitchen Timer Method, and #BraggingWrites

I’m not going to do the math to see how long it’s been since I’ve posted, but it’s been a while. Like, more than a year. Anyway, I’ve got a couple updates and some exciting news. Moving forward, Plot Boilers is going to take a slightly different direction – and I’m really excited about it. Basically, it’s about to get personal. Not TMI personal, just less stuffy and (hopefully) a little more exciting.

It’s a blog, after all – not the next great American novel. (And I’m the only person editing this so no one can stop me.)

That said, the information you see here will probably be the same-ish: Tips and ideas on writing, story structure, etc. An occasional book review, maybe some book suggestions – you get the idea.

Continue reading “Updates, Kitchen Timer Method, and #BraggingWrites”

Book Review: Infinity Lost

InfinityLostReview

Premise: The teenage daughter of a mysterious technology tycoon experiences dreams that suggest her past is not what she remembers.

For fans of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Star Dwellers  

As a reader, I follow YA lit from a distance, occasionally picking up a suggestion from Amazon or a Goodreads “best of” list for the sake of unadulterated entertainment and relaxation. Infinity Lost is a promising twist on the roaring YA sci-fi/ dystopian genre. The premise had me hooked: dissident teenage heroines, Big-Brother-like mega corporations, abstruse dream sequences – who wouldn’t be curious?

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Newton’s Third Law and Your Novel

Reactive Scene

Stories are a chain of events, and each event, or scene, evokes the next. It’s easy to imagine a sequential yarn of happenings: This occurs, followed by this, and this, and so on. But what about the space in between the toppling dominos? In reality, an event can happen in the course of one or two sentences. The space between these events is equally important. Consider the following:

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Why Your Protagonist Isn’t Special (And Shouldn’t Be)

Writing Protagonists

Characters drive stories. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a romance novel or an action-packed thriller; the key to drawing readers into your narrative is developing interesting characters that grow with your story. What some writers fail to realize is interesting doesn’t always mean unique.

I know what you’re thinking – Blasphemy! Common is boring! True, but there’s a fine line between unique and not relatable. The important thing is finding the right balance between the two and constructing a character your readers want to know more about but also relate to.   Continue reading “Why Your Protagonist Isn’t Special (And Shouldn’t Be)”

Try This Sentence Structure for Clean, Inspiring Prose

SentenceStructure

Good writing starts with well-crafted sentences. In the book The Art of Styling Sentences, Ann Longknife, Ph.D. and K.D. Sullivan provide 20 basic sentence structures to help writers improve their prose. The overall construction of your story is paramount, but at some point you have to get into the nuts and bolts of each scene, paragraph, sentence, and word, then sew them together into a cohesive thought.

Here’s a simple yet potent sentence structure to try out:

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