Category Archives: Review

Book Report: Kingmaker’s Daughter

Book four in the Plantagenet and Tudor series is The Kingmaker’s Daughter. This book follows Anne Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, nicknamed the Kingmaker due to his influence on the throne of England. The Kingmaker’s Daughter covers about twenty years of her life (May of 1465 – March of 1485), and is the first book in this series that does not end at a later date than the previous books: everything we see Anne experience is something we’ve seen from another viewpoint.

The Kingmakers Daughter

The story

Anne Neville is introduced as a young girl, scared of the ‘Bad Queen’ (Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI) and enamored of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV. The story begins as her father’s influence over Edward is waning, and he begins looking for other, more complaint claimants to the throne, including Edward’s brother, George, and Henry VI. Anne, with no influence of events, watches her sister be married to George and herself married to Henry’s son, Edward of Westminster.

When the rebellion leads to the death of her father and husband, Anne is received back in court as a pariah, tainted by her association with both names, yet because of the wealth of her inheritance, she cannot simply be cast away. She is eventually rescued by Richard, Edward’s brother and marries him to secure her safety. This puts her in position to influence Richard and eventually become the queen.

The character

I found Anne’s growth in the novel to be primarily guided by fear.  As a young woman, she is afraid first of the  Bad Queen, then as an adult she becomes fearful of of Elizabeth Woodville. The Kingmaker’s scheming cost the queen several family members, and married Anne to a rival king, giving the Woodvilles several reasons to hate her. She has no control but suffers so much for the actions of her family.

Her first true decision in her life is to marry Richard. That gives her some agency and control. But her decisions are still guided by fear. She is afraid of the Woodville family and their supposed magic, fears poison and strange influences. This fear influences how she interacts with Richard, though its left unclear if Richard shares her worried or uses them for political gain.

The Princes in the Tower (potential spoilers)

We saw Richard reacting to the disappearance of the princes before, that he would be saddled with the responsibility even if it wasn’t his fault. His sentiment here is similar. What this book adds is Anne’s own contribution to the confusion.

Once Richard has seized power, Anne is fretting about the shifting loyalties of the major players of the kingdom. Lords who supported Richard turn against him, while others who defied him become allies. Anne mentioned to a Richard’s choice for Constable of the Tower that things would be easier if the Princes were to disappear.

When the Princes disappear, Anne becomes worried that she had accidentally ordered their death; that the Constable had heard her musing and taken it for an order. It’s not until much later that she finally gathers the courage to ask. The Constable says he did not – and would not have – killed the boys. He does not know where they are, or if they are alive.

Is that true? Who knows? Like all the other queens who’ve added to the confusion, Anne’s will is being acted by other agents, which adds a layer of potentially unreliable narrators to the story. I continue to doubt we will ever get a solid resolution, though there may be some subtle hints I’m missing.

Conclusion

Kingmaker’s Daughter is not a step above the previous books; I’d rate it the lowest of the ones I’ve read so far. That doesn’t make it bad. Anne is letting us see the whole story from another perspective, from the view of the king who was an antagonist in the previous two queens. It finished off the three queens of the end of the Lancaster and York families, and sets up the Tudors dynasty. But the way the fear drives her character development is frustrating, especially as we’ve seen these events through the other women’s eyes and we have good reason to believe she’s overreacting. Still, a good book to read.

Game Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Who doesn’t like robotic dinosaurs.

Many months ago I picked up the video game Horizon Zero Dawn while it was available for free on the Playstation Store. I knew nothing about the game, but the cover image had a giant metal t-rex, so I thought it would be worth looking into. What I did not expect was one of the better video game stories I’ve experienced in some time.

Horizon Zero Dawn is an adventure game set in the far future, amongst the ruins of our world. The tribal peoples of the area live amongst numerous giant robots that take the place of large wild animals such as deer, bulls, wolves and tyrannosaurs. Each of these robots has their own strengths and weaknesses, that the player must exploit to defeat. The tech level of the humans is bow and arrow level of technology.

The main character, Aloy, obtains a device early on that allows her to interact with surviving ancient computers and eventually the machines. Her effort to become an adult member of her tribe initiates the storyline of the game, and her exploration of the region (the Denver, Colorado, area) advances the story and explores the background.

Aloy, Huntress, Seeker of the Nora.

What I like (Spoiler Free)

There are two aspects of the game’s story that I want to bring up, and if I can do so without spoilers I will.

First, exploring the background and history of the world. I believe that the producers and directors of the game spent a lot of effort to ask themselves ‘what questions is the player asking right now? What can we answer, and what can we allude to?’ Each major point of the main storyline builds on the previous ones, and sets up the next, superbly. By the time you get to the big reveals, you know enough to be prepared for what you’re about to learn, but not enough that it spoils anything.

Second, setting up and executing the final battle. Final battles can be tricky; they need to be challenging, but no so hard that they break the continuity of the game, while also providing an end to the story. HZD did this very well. Not only did they draw together several different threads, but the final battle felt like a final battle. It was a series of tough fights, and none of them were boring. So, kudos for a final fight that felt like everything was on the line.

From here on, there be spoilers.

My favorite scene (Spoilers)

HZD is not just a game that takes place in a Sci-Fi world; I would say it is a full sci-fi story. In the mid-21st Century, a line of bio-powered self-replicating warbots breaks its programmed shackles and begins eating everything, threatening not only humanity but the entire biosphere of the world. They cannot be defeated, and the program to hack them will take too long to finish. The solution is Zero Dawn: to save humanity by repopulating the planet with clones after the machines have destroyed everything. This plan includes re-educating the population with thousands of years of human history and culture.

Yet the world Aloy explores lacks any knowledge of the previous world. What happened?

Horizon Dawn was controlled by an AI called Gaia, aided by several subordinate intelligences who focus on one specific aspect of the plan: Demeter, to replace and rebuild the plants, and Poseidon to detoxify the water. The intelligence dedicated to educating the new humanity, Apollo, is deleted by the madman genius who started the machine plague in the first place, to keep the new humanity from making the same mistake.

Ever come to loathe a character in a very short time? Boy, did I come to hate Ted Faro. Good job, game writers.

Conclusion

Obtaining and playing the game was a whim, but I am very glad to have done it. The story was fantastic, the world was immersive, and the game play was fun. It was a great game to experience, and I’m looking forward to the second one, coming out sometime next year.

Book Report: Red Queen

The Red Queen (2010) by Philippa Gregory is the third book in her Plantagenet and Tudor series. It follows the life of Margaret Beaufort, a staunch Lancaster supporter and mother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, from the Spring of 1453 to the summer of 1485.

I liked this book, much as I did the rest of the series so far. But what I found fascinating about this story is how the character stays the same, yet somehow goes from sympathetic young woman to Machiavellian plotter.

Pious Margaret

The Margaret Beaufort we meet is a young child who believes she has been destined for greatness as the English counterpart to Joan of Arc. But as a descendant of King Edward III, her children would have political value. Thus, her belief in her divine destiny was ignored, in favor of marrying her young (only 12) to bear her only child at 13 in a painful labor, made more horrific by her mother’s assertion that the child was worth more than she was, particularly if it was a boy.

Between the world ignoring her views and the horrible experience with childbirth, the first portion of the book left me with great sorrow and compassion for this young woman. Alone, with no real support, and no real say in her future, I found myself rooting for her to grasp and claw any ounce of authority or control over her life. And after some time, she’s able to do so, and I think, ‘great, now she has control of her life. Now she can have one.’

Zealous Margaret

Alas, denied the life she believed ordained to her by God, she comes to believe her destiny is to be mother to a king of England. In the war of Lancaster versus York, Margaret begins plotting for the safety and eventual ascendancy of her son, Henry Tudor.

Know the saying ‘the road to hell is paved in good intentions’? This is where, at least for me, Margaret Beaufort became a villain.

As she was divinely chosen, Margaret shows little care for law or morality when it comes to advancing her son. Her second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, initially supports the Lacastrian cause but is forced to make his peace with the Yorkist King Edward IV; Margaret, however, continues to plot and scheme, sometimes to the detriment of her husband’s affairs. She even chooses her third husband specifically for his shared interest in accumulating power. Together they plot to survive the wars successfully.

Favorite Scene

My favorite scene in the books comes during her third marriage, to Thomas Stanley. In it, her husband calls her out for her divine belief and how divine it may actually be.

‘I am guided by God!’ I protest.

‘Yes, because you think God wants your son to be King of England. I don’t think your God has ever advised you otherwise. You hear only what you want. He only ever commands your preferences.’

I sway as if he has hit me. ‘How dare you! I have lived my life in His service!’

‘He always tells you to strive for power and wealth. Are you quite sure it is not your own voice that you hear, spearing through the earthquake, wind and fire?’

What I love about this scene is how he is so perfectly encapsulates Margaret’s villainous motivation, or that of anyone who believes they’re special. She’s God’s chosen, so she can do no wrong. She is so firm in her belief that even when she does pray for guidance, she still gets the answer she wants.

This isn’t a moment of eye-opening for the character; her husband continues to say that this was their agreement; she helps to promote and protect his family, he helps to promote and protect her son. He doesn’t particularly care about her scheming. But it does put in strict contrast the different between pious and zealous Margaret.         

The Princes in the Tower

This book’s tilt at the Princes in the Tower takes on a decidedly serious tone. Margaret conspires with Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV (from Book 2) to raid the Tower of London and save King Edward V and his brother. But her motive is not rescue; she conspires to get her men close enough to kill the boys.

The raid fails; neither the rescuers nor assassins can get to the children. And once again, the mystery of the Princes comes in. They disappear and rumors abound. Margaret seizes on the rumors to her own ends, but the fact that she doesn’t know

At this point, I’m of the mind that Gregory isn’t going to answer the question in her stories of the War of the Roses. It’s going to be a mystery that will be interpreted by the current character independently. Which I think is a pretty cool way to do it.

Conclusion

The Red Queen is an apt title for this book, given the main character. When I finished the book I figured she would be returning as an antagonist in future books, and sure enough she has (but more on that later). Margaret Beaufort may start as a sympathetic young woman, but by the end of the book she’s spent her sympathy. I can understand why she turned out the way she did, but I can’t appreciate the lengths she’s willing to go to, in order to secure the future she wants.  

Book Report: White Queen

The second book in Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction series, The White Queen follows Elizabeth Woodville, from her first introduction to Edward of York (Spring of 1464), their marriage and coronation, through the War of the Roses, to the elevation of Henry VII and the nominal end of the war (April 1485).

First off, I want to say that this is a new experience for me. Other historical fiction series I’ve read fallow the same character or characters through their run. In this series, however, each book is from a different point of view. Elizabeth Woodville is the daughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg of the first book. They are characters in each other’s stories, but otherwise there’s little overlap. Indeed, Jacquetta as a character in this book seems a much more political animal than she did as the POV character in the first book. I expect this to continue through the series, as we see the same actions through the lenses of different POV characters, particularly when we see through the eyes of their enemies.

The Book

Much like the first book, the character has some minor supernatural gifts; she knows when people she’s related to have died, and possibly summons storms and spells comes into play with the Princes in the Tower (see below). And as the first one, these are used as plot devices without unending the story.

Also, in similarity to the last story, there was a bit of ‘What did you think would happen?’ going on, though it had a different flavor. When Elizabeth weds King Edward IV, it changes the political landscape of the kingdom. Edward can no longer be wed to a foreign princess, or to an influential noble. Elizabeth then has to use her influence to put her family (a relatively minor family of nobility) into positions of power for their own security. But doing so invites the danger from other nobility. It’s a real ‘what came first, the threat or the act?’ Did the Rivers family invite danger by securing their position? Maybe. Yet if they hadn’t, they’d have been susceptible to much lower threats that what they eventually ran into.

There are several characters in the story I very much like: Elizabeth’s older brother, Anthony, a bibliophile after my own heart, whose dreams of poetry and pilgrimage are constantly disrupted by real life. Edward IV is a fantastic character in the story, even as he commits the Machiavellian acts a king of the time must do to secure power. Both of them were fun characters to read about.

The Princes In the Tower (Spoilers)

This is one of the few things from the War of the Roses I was aware of, so it’s one of the things I paid most attention to. What surprised me was what the author did with it.

The History

The history of the mystery is simple. Edward IV died; his sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York (12 and 9, respectively) were kept in the Tower of London by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  Before the coronation of Edward, they were declared illegitimate, and Richard took the crown as Richard III. The children eventually disappeared. The fact is, no one knows what happened to them, and explaining all the theories would be a whole blog post in and of itself. For more info, check the Wikipedia page.

The Story

In this book, Elizabeth Woodville loses her son Edward to the Tower, ostensibly awaiting his coronation as king; she’s then put under pressure to send her other son, Richard, to follow. But Elizabeth does not trust Uncle Richard, and spirits her son off to hiding in Flanders, sending a lookalike in his place. When rumors of the disappearance begin to swirl, it is unclear who is responsible. Elizabeth is especially concerned because she has not heard the music she usually hears when someone has died. So she believe Edward is alive, but cannot prove it.

In my favorite scene of the book, Richard III covertly visits Elizabeth in Westminster Abby and inquires about the whereabouts of the princes, hoping that Elizabeth has spirited them away. He is upset because all of this will be laid at his feet, regardless of the actual culprit.

‘They will call me a monster.’ [Richard] pauses. ‘Whatever else I do in my life, this will cast a crooked shadow. All that everyone will ever remember of me is this crime.’ He shakes his head. ‘And I didn’t do it, and I don’t know who did it, and I don’t even know if it was done.’

-Richard III, The White Queen

Elizabeth does not come to any conclusion on the matter of responsibility. There is some indication it was Richard, but it’s never resolved if he’s responsible.

I’m curious to see how this all plays out in the future. Does Gregory assign blame to one party or another or does she leave the mystery alone? How does Elizabeth sending her son into hiding come into play in the future, or will that plotline disappear? I’ve got several books to read and find out more.

Conclusion

I liked the book. It was a good second story in the series, and continued the intrigues of the War of the Roses and the ridiculousness of monarch politics of the era. I’m remember to take the stories with a grain of salt; I have no idea if the characters involved were as Gregory writes them, or how much liberty she’s taking with their lives.

Book Report: 2034

2034: A novel of the Next World War (by Elliot Ackerman and ADM James Stavridis) was recommended to me by a friend who thought I’d enjoy it. For the most part he was right, though not in the way I originally expected. See, when I first reserved it at the library, I thought it was a book on the order of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising or Debt of Honor, where a world war starts with America at a disadvantage, but then the country turns it around and wins the day.

That’s not what this is.

2034 is more of a cautionary tale about the reliance on technology, particularly how it opens up the US to new forms of warfare. The surprises that China and her allies (Iran and Russia) pull on the US have to do with cyberwarfare, the invasion and disruption of communications networks and computers. US Technology doesn’t amount for much when it is neutralized or outright repurposed by enemy combatants. And when your technology fails, what options does a nation have when persecuting a war?

Part of what makes this a cautionary tale is that the book doesn’t include a lot of combat, and what combat there is finished very quickly. There’s a carrier battle in the South China Sea, and an invasion of Taiwan, but you don’t see those. You see the consequences, the shifts in the political board and the decisions that politicians chose, or feel they must, make.

In some ways, this reminded me of Guns of August, in that there’s the sense of inertia. You as the reader (and some of the characters) see a way out of the war without escalating, but the political inertia compels the nations to step down that path. Indeed, much of the first part of the book is the US reacting exactly as expected. Admiral Stavridis is experienced at high level military decisions, so I have to assume he’s bringing that experience to the book. In which case, oh dear.

Some people might think this is an anti-American book, which it really isn’t. It’s not saying America deserves to lose. It’s saying no one inherently deserves to be at the top, and there is danger in ignoring threats simply because you can’t imagine yourself losing. The patriotism of the book is to the American ideal, not to the political establishment. As one character thinks to himself, ‘… America was an idea. And ideas very seldom vanish.’

2034 is a book that makes you think. That’s what it was written to do. Not to entertain with cool battle scenes, but show you why those scenes would matter in a modern conflict and how much work has to be done before any conflict can start. Maybe you as a reader aren’t in a position to do much about that, but it’s still nice to stretch the mind to new ideas and perspectives. And this book certainly does that.

Book Report: Lady of the Rivers

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory is a historical fiction novel, spanning about thirty years from the death of Joan of Arc to the beginning battles of the Wars of the Roses. The book follows Jacquetta of Luxembourg as she becomes a duchess of England and confident of the royal family. It is the first book in a series of 15 called the Plantagenet and Tudor novels.

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend of mine from my writing group, after mentioning my fondness for Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories. I got it from the library and gave it a read, and I really got into it.

The book is, mostly, historical fiction. I say mostly because Jacquetta has some very minor supernatural abilities. She can heard music when someone she knows has died, and can divine impressions of what the future will hold, enough to prepare herself but without being able to influence events. The author is very careful to use these abilities to augment the story without unending it.

The main character is not a major actor in the world; she commands no forces and wields no power. But as a duchess she has the ear of the queen, and much of the book is spent either trying to advise the queen on how to fix problems, or cataloguing the events of her era as they impact her family and her life. Her main focus in keeping her family safe.

What I really got into was the court of King Henry VI and how utterly ridiculous it came across. The king and queen (Margaret of Anjou) are shameless about rewarding their friends (the Lancasters) and insulting their enemies (the Yorks). As a reader I kept looking at their decisions thinking, ‘How do you think this will end well? You’re so blatantly playing favorites and then having a tantrum when things go sideways.’ I presume this has at least some basis in historical reality.

Also, I found the book was amusing because I spent most of it annoyed with the characters. First the English lords who burn Joan of Arc, then the Lancasters for being corrupt, then the Yorks for not respecting the Lancaster king. Not a lot of good guys in the leadership.

Anyway, I had fun reading the start to this series. I’ve already got the second one from the library, though I can’t start it until I finish the interim book.

Book Report: Red Phoenix Burning

‘Red Phoenix Burning’ (2016) is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for a while now. Written by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson, it is a sequel to one of Bond’s books, ‘Red Phoenix’ (1990), which is a book I’ve read a dozen times over the years. 

Both books deal with a war on the Korean peninsula. In Red Phoenix, it was a North Korean invasion of South Korea. In Red Phoenix Burning, it’s the opposite. Early in the book, a coup attempt in North Korea sparks a civil war. That’s bad enough, but the question on everyone’s mind is about North Korea’s WMDs: the biological, chemical and nuclear weapons North Korea has developed and hidden about the country. As the political and military situation develops, both characters within North Korea trying to survive, and characters outside of Korea trying to contain the situation, have to contend with the ramifications of the choices before them, but how other actors will respond and possible escalate. 

What’s nice about revisiting this story after 25 years is running into several characters from the first book and seeing how they have matured. The young officer getting confident in his commission is now a decision maker for a general; others are now generals. The children of several characters return to influence the story in their own way. It’s a connection that I can appreciate in sequels. 

The book does two other things well. First – and this is something the first book did well – it captures the essence of international politics of a Korean civil war. The US and South Korea are very much worried about WMDs, but they also must worry about the Chinese and their military forces; China has its own interests and policies and will not just sit by as China is unified under an American-allied government, nor can it ignore WMDs any more than the US can. The interplay of the two, and how they influence the decision-making processes of the characters on the ground in Korea, makes up a huge chunk of the story. 

Second, the book hits a lot of points of how modern technology is used in warfare. From the prevalence of drones for intelligence gathering to the use of tablets by officers to view and disseminate information, the differences between a 1980’s war and a 2010’s war is striking. And that doesn’t take into account the differences in tanks, artillery and aircraft from book to book. It’s a completely different feel of warfare. 

That being said, the book does have a few let downs. Where Book 1 had a lot of combat, particularly infantry combat, but also submarine, airplane and commando actions, Book 2 has much less. With the story focusing on the politics and the interplay, Book 2 glosses over the fighting. Most of the combat that we get to read is the important things that influence the decision making; a bloody nose to get attention, an air strike to cut off an axis of advance, etc. I would go so far as to say the difference between books is due to the difference of emphasis; Book 1 needed to emphasize the grind-nature of that war, while this one is more about the higher politics and WMD hunting, so it doesn’t need combat scenes to tell its story. But it’s still a noticeable difference. 

Still, it was overall a very enjoyable book. There was nothing that made me shake my head and think ‘Oh, come on!’ I found the decisions and their consequences to be believable. I’m glad I read it and look forward to reading it again someday. 

Recommended: For a nice techno-thriller with a heavy strategic/political emphasis. 

Not Recommended: If you’re looking for non-stop action or combat heavy storytelling.  

Book Report: With the Old Breed

I recently read through With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge. Published in 1981, Sledge takes us through his experiences as a Marine in World War 2. Sledge enlisted in the Marines in 1943 and trained as a mortarman, assigned to K/3/5 (K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment), in the 1st Marine Division. He landed on the island of Peleliu, a controversial and probably unnecessary battle in late 1944, and then on Okinawa in 1945.

Sledge’s writing is not to provide details of tactics, but to convey the experience of warfare as he recorded it. And he saw a lot of combat. Peleliu and Okinawa were both horrendous fights: the Japanese used defense in depth tactics to prolong each battle into months long campaigns. Terrain and weather (coral reef and extreme heat on Peleliu, mud and torrential rain on Okinawa) were as much as factor as enemy actions. Even friendly units and superior officers had to be dealt with.

As a young Marine, Sledge looked to the ‘Old Breed’, the veterans of Guadalcanal (and in some cases, World War 1) who made up the sergeants of the company. To those just fresh out of training camps in the US, their seniors seemed like men from a different era; their confidence and experience helped prepare the newcomers who were afraid of getting killed or, worse, showing cowardice.

Sledge braves his first combat on Peleliu, experiencing friendly fire, loss of friends, and extreme thirst. Across the coral rocks and into the heights of the island, K/3/5 sees a lot of combat, and Sledge takes the reader with them.

Sledge doesn’t try to elevate the Marines to mythical status; he writes to show the conditions the Marines fought in, down to the terrible details that soldiers often gloss over in their narratives.  He describes the first time he sees a dead soldier, and what it’s like to suffer from an artillery barrage the goes on for what feels like ever. For Sledge, it’s about showing the reader what the Marines went through and discussing why they survived.

By the time Sledge lands on Okinawa, he is a veteran. The landing feels different for him: he’s seen combat, so he knows he won’t run; there’s just the fear of death and letting his comrades down. Even so, he still experiences and describes the depths that battle on Okinawa went to. The harsh rain and difficulty not only supplying troops but removing the dead turns the battlefield into one reminiscent of trench warfare of World War 1.

Sledge is sparing in his judgment; he does not condemn men who break under bombardment or fall victim to sickness. When he speaks of army soldiers, he does so with respect (they all march into the same combat). Those he does judge are those who act foolishly, such as rear echelon soldiers who come up to grab souvenirs, or orders from on high that feel like a waste of time but must be followed.

Finally finishing the Okinawa operations, Sledge describes pulling back and beginning the process of refitting and preparing for the next assault when word comes of the end of the war. The anticipated (and feared) invasion of Japan would not happen. Instead, Sledge and the marines will face some time as occupiers in China, helping maintain order as the Japanese pull out of that country (described in Sledge’s second book, China Marine). But they will be returning home alive.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is a simple retelling of a man’s experiences of battles most often viewed from much higher up the chain of command. It made no effort to idealize either friend or foe, but told the story of what was. And that’s all it really needed to be.

Recommended: To learn about the conditions and the mindset of a World War 2 combat Marine.

Not Recommended: If you get squeamish about injuries, death and decay.

Non-sequential writing

This last weekend I finished a rough, rough draft of Book 2, my sequel to Renaissance Calling. It took a lot longer to finish than I expected, in part because I had to learn how to write a book in a  non-sequential fashion. Between the length of time Book 2 covers (a year as opposed to two and a half months) and the need to fit fourteen backer-created characters into the story, writing the story from start to finish wouldn’t work, unless I was willing to write out a 300,000 word monster of a rough draft. So I started jumping around, writing scenes as I had them and working from both ends towards the middle.

Like a pyramid being built without finishing the foundation.

It was interesting and frustrating, with a lot of false starts and dead ends, but ultimately it got me to the end of the rough draft and into revisions. As I move on with both this book and other projects, I want to take a moment and share with you some lessons about non-sequential writing I’ve taken from the experience.

Start at both ends and work to the middle

Starting at both ends and working towards the middle was the first thing I started doing. It made sense, since I knew how the story began and ended. Working from both directions, I can approach any problem I came across from either the front or the back. Sometimes I had to solve problems by writing the solution first, and building up to it.

Keep an eye out for lessons the protagonist needs to learn

By writing the end I gained a huge advantage; I figured out what the character needs to experience to have the impact I need her to have at the climax of the story. That helped me figure out what I needed to show the reader, versus what I could tell the reader. It’s a huge benefit to non-sequential writing to know what you don’t have to write.

Write scenes independently; don’t worry about flow

By flow, I mean the attention of the reader as they go from one chapter to another. I quickly stopped paying attention to flow for my rough draft. Scenes begin and end rather abruptly. Annoying, yes, but finishing the overall story was the main goal. Working on the flow is for the revision phase.

Don’t describe a secondary character when you first write him/her:

Jumping back and forth, I had no idea when this character or that character was going to be introduced. The first few times I wrote a character I included a description, but several times I later wrote them in an earlier scene. So I stopped writing descriptions. Instead, I’m saving the description until afterwards, then I’ll add them when I know where their first appearance is.

Keep a list of ‘Bits to Add’

Instead of jumping around to fix things every time they come up, I’ve been keeping a separate document where I write down the ideas I want to return to. The point is to get the side-thoughts out of the way without interrupting the work on whichever scene I’m focusing on at the time. There will be enough time to fix everything later.

 

I’ve already started applying these lessons to other projects. It’s really helpful to get things moving when something is getting stuck, or simply to just get words down and counted. One project in particular covers almost a decade of time, and already I’m making huge strides in it because of these lessons.

Have any thoughts or tips of you own? Feel free to let me know.

And as always, keep on writing.

yWriter

yWriter5

http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html

When I write, I create a rich backstory for the world I’m writing in. And while I can remember many details of that world, I can’t remember them all. Trying to keep track of all those details has been a constant pain for me, especially as I replace computers, send documents from work to home, or even just forget where I put the file with all the information.

One day I ventured onto the Internet to look for a database program. I was hoping to find something that would allow me to create a Wikipedia type database, with links between files so I could move from one page to another. I did eventually find one, but first I found yWriter.

yWriter showed up as a writing program designed for writers. In the words of the website:

yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. yWriter was designed by an author, not a salesman!

I downloaded it and gave it a try…and I am very glad I did.

Organization

yWriter most appeals to me because of the organization it applies to the writing project.  Before, I would write with either a single file for the whole project or each one file per chapter.  I wasn’t really happy with either one.  yWriter allows me to add chapters to a project, and add scenes to chapters.  The program keeps an automatic word count, and even tracks how many words I add in a given day.

For any scene and chapter I can add notes separate of the words in the actual document.  A writer can also keep track of a number of Details for the scene, including Type, Tags, Importance, and various Ratings (I don’t use these, personally, but they’re there to be used).

yWrite One
yWriter

What I really enjoy is the ability to turn scenes off, so that the program keeps them but they don’t apply to the book as a whole.  For example, I recently read a scene that started strong but petered out into a boring exchange.  I copied the scene and turned the first one off, so I can access it, but it doesn’t appear in my word count.  I deleted most of the copied scene and I can continue writing without losing the first attempt.

Databases

yWriter has three different databases: Characters, Locations and Items.

Adding an item is as easy as highlighting a word and right clicking.  Once it is added, I can add notes and pictures to the database without changing anything of the scenes.  I can get as detailed or as simple as I want.

This is a nice program to keep track of the little things when I add a new character, but it does have a problem.  The database will find every instance of the word and track it, even if it isn’t an instance that you want it to track.  For example, if I have a character named Mars, the program will highlight the first half of the word Marshall.

Spell Checking and Printing

No program is perfect, and yWriter’s flaws come towards the end of the process.

yWriter has a Spell Checker option, but it is not very good.  This would normally be a deal breaker, but the programmer managed to add a way to side step this.  You can export chapters to Microsoft Word and spell check your work there, then import back into yWriter (just be careful not to delete the coding that allows yWriter to import to the correct chapters and scenes).

The printing function is okay, but I’ve found it much more useful to import to Microsoft Word and fix the formatting before printing or changing to a PDF.  Part of this may stem from so much of my first project in yWriter being imported from Google Docs, Microsoft Word and Open Office.  I’m hoping this will improve over subsequent projects.

Conclusion

I have found yWriter to be a very useful program, both as a writing system and as a simple database for notes.  And that is fully admitting I don’t use everything this program has to offer.  I hope some of you go and try it out.

-Michael