Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Discussing The Hunger Games by Barbara Bockman

In THE WRIGHT THREE by Blue Balliett, Scholastic Press, 2006, the teacher is trying to get her students to express their feelings and assessment about art. The kids come up with a list of criteria with which to judge art. The art object in question is a piece of architecture.

I thought it might be a good exercise to use these criteria to discuss THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. Now these will just be a few thoughts off the top of my head, and you are welcome to agree or disagree. Then, come up with your own examples.

ART SHOULD HAVE SURPRISES. THE HUNGER GAMES is full of surprises. It seems like “games” should be fun. But SURPRISE! These games are not fun. They are dangerous and deadly. I like the way we gradually find out how Katniss and Peeta, the baker’s son, originally got to know each other. I like the way the gift of the Mockingjay pin becomes a symbol of Kat and her mission. I like the way the old (previous) games winner gives her just a touch of advice which proves to be golden.

ART SHOULD MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER. I know; there’s a lot in the book that makes you feel bad. But ultimately, don’t you think there are things that make you feel good? How about the way Kat is so determined to take care of her little sister? Kat may be tough, but she has strong family feeling. Maybe you can’t relate to that. If not, then determine now that when you create your own home, you will make sure that the glue that holds it together is family feeling.

ART SHOULD MAKE YOU THINK. After finishing the book, I’ll bet you thought about how this fictional world resembles the one you live in. After experiencing the stirring emotions of fear and friendship, hunger and hatred, determination and confusion—along with the characters, you saw the irony in the fact that everywhere you look in our world, someone is engaged in some form of electronic communication. It seems we’re voyeurs watching voyeurs. George Orwell had already warned us in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR about being watched over by Big Brother. (I kept wondering where the cameras were in THE HUNGER GAMES). Suffice it to say, they were there. Now, are you going to think about the deeper messages of the book? Or do you think it isn’t worthy of your time?

ART SHOULDN'T BE SPOOKY. I’m afraid THE HUNGER GAMES fails this criteria. And that’s okay; mature readers can handle the spookiness. Being surprised by unexpected attacks is a pretty spooky thing. But let’s look at this a little closer. Going back to the Greek philosopher and literary critic, Aristotle, we find that spookiness is a good thing in art. Aristotle thought that art (he was speaking directly to dramatic tragedy) should create enough fear in the audience to purge or purify one’s emotions of that very fear. But there are incidents in other stories for little kids that create anxiety, -----you fill in something here. After all, this standard was suggested by a child, and spookiness is something parents should oversee in the lives of little kids.

ART SHOULDN'T BE DANGEROUS. In my novel-in-progress, I have a statue falling on someone. Just the other day, a painting fell off the wall in my doctor’s office. (No one was hurt). But THE HUNGER GAMES. Now—there’s danger, there. There’s danger in starving to death, there’s danger in the games, and there’s danger of a totalitarian government sucking the life out of an entire society. So the book is ultimately political. It takes a lot of motivation to stand up to those with power.

ART SHOULD BE A THING YOU WANT TO LIVE WITH. If you bought the book (or plan to buy the video when it comes out), then you want to live with this piece of art. You will be able to look on your book shelf and see this piece of art and watch the video anytime you want. You probably have posters on your wall, and figurines sitting on your shelves. Most of the time, you get to choose what art you want to live with. But project into the future for a moment. Do you think books will die out with the advent of electronic readers? Are books going to be something to see in a museum behind glass? Is the book a kind of art that is disappearing? What are your feelings about that?

ART SHOULD HAVE SECRETS. THE HUNGER GAMES passes this criterion with flying colors. There are enough secrets in this world to fill three books; and that’s just what Ms. Collins did—she wrote two more books. In Greek Drama the artistic secrets came as a surprise near the end of the play. Only then does the viewer understand the real motivation behind the characters’ actions. There are secrets throughout THE HUNGER GAMES, such as when Katniss and Peeta come out in flaming costumes, and the secret love affair planned by Hamish to keep the two alive. In my novel, WOUNDS, Craig's secret motive for attempting to cut down the tree is explained near the end.

Do you think the people living lavishly in the Capital were interested in art? Did they read books?

I copied this from Nancy Stewart’s blog:
“Books are really part of what makes us human.” So says Rosemary Agoglia, curator of education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a New York Times article about efforts to teach children the merits and pleasures of the “pre-web page,” of books.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Handling Critique

You said what? Boring? You want me to re-write? Do you have any idea how long I spent on this scene?

Yes, admit it. Some of us have reacted in a similar lackluster way toward someone who has critiqued our work in progress. Whether it is your parents, your significant other, a classmate, workmate, your editor. Let me try and simplify things: if you cannot handle critiquing, input, advice, suggestions, or constructive criticism of any sort—don’t write. In fact, your inability to be taught will follow you in life and you will complain, fuss, and &@!$ at any type of support given to you.

Rule: If you want to be a good writer, darn good writer, or an excellent writer…listen to others, especially those more seasoned than you.

If dealing in a specific genre, editors and publishers have tons of experience in your field and only want you to get better. That’s their job, to help you. I hired a freelance editor, Susanne Lakin, to help me in my early start. By printing out her editing, I created a notebook with her suggestions and corrections. Before you know it, tada!—a study guide. I thank God for her. She is awesome. After contracting with MuseItUp Publishing, I was blessed again with a fantastic staff that critiqued me from the owner, Lea Schizas to the cover artist, Delilah K. Stephens. My God, you are being worked over around every corner! And I am better for it.

Be willing to take instruction. Gather several views of input and compare all of them as you move through your story. You may find similarities in what they saw, or insight to things you were totally blind to.

Now, there is another side to this. Don’t give your story to someone who has no idea of what you are writing about. If they don’t read, if they are jealous, if they have no concept of writing anything, avoid them. I would not ask advice from a vacuum salesperson on how to fix my roof. Duh. At times, these people may have some good advice, but make sure it is not a ton of notes pertaining to their preference instead of an honest, constructive critique. If they want a story to go their way, have them write it!

The bottom line is this: be open and humble to listen to others. I’ve had one word said to me by someone unexpected who dropped by my office, and it set the tone for a positive day. Despite your humbleness, also remember it is your story. You may be adamant in having a scene go a certain way, but with another set of eyes, perhaps you can still have the same destiny taken on another route. Take care.

Nick G. Giannaras



Monday, March 5, 2012

What’s in a Fantasy Name?

Today I ask you to share some of your creative ideas. All authors have to give their character’s names, whether they write romance, mystery or fantasy. 

Fantasy authors have more fun than most authors, because we create unique worlds.

One major part of world building is to create names for characters, creatures, landmarks, towns and places of interest. 

How you name your world is important to how your readers perceive that world.
The temptation is to develop names that are imaginative and unique to the created landscape. That’s a great idea but remember to keep the names pronounceable. 

Imagine someone reading your work aloud. 
Will the names detract from the flow of the story?

A short common name can often allow for a character’s formal title to be a little more imaginative.
So, when choosing names where do you go for ideas?    

Of course there are name generators but they don’t give the imaginative author a chance to create a name of their own choosing. 

One suggestion is scanning the credits of World Movies for ideas. 
Compiling lists of similar names for reference when creating different cultures and races. Adopting this idea can keep consistency in the spelling and style of titles. Even if not used, the lists are handy for reference.
Foreign language dictionaries can help an author find names that relate to people or places in their novels.

Names can reflect a trait of character or distinguishing landmark for a place. Something a little more imaginative than Smith for the blacksmith perhaps, but this method of naming allows scope and imagination and subtly reminds the reader of the character’s purpose. 

Too many names starting with the same letter can cause confusion. Remember some readers use visual patterns when identifying names. Others read them aloud inside their head. Having names easily read and remembered will keep the story flowing. 

Too many names beginning with the same letter is one of my weaknesses. Despite being aware of this problem, going to lengths to change names, somehow I revert to the original names. Against my best intentions! 

So apart from the names that refuse to leave, what do we look for? Ease off the tongue? Good symmetry when written? Or do we employ an aspect of the character to describe them or their background in their name? 

I apply all of the above, at different times.
Just a few examples of names from the Chronicles of Caleath.

Penwryt’ for a mage, reflecting the scholarly attributes of the study involved in reaching his status.  We meet him in Exiled: Autumn’s Peril. 

Tallowbrand’ again a mage, the reference to candle flame seemed relevant with his power to influence fire. We meet him in Exiled: Winter’s Curse.

The Vergöttern are a god like race we meet in Exiled: Winter’s Curse… Vergöttern comes from the German verb to deify.

The Sorathii are a race of space pirates who maintain an artificial sun in the hollow earth world... Sorath - angel who is the spirit of the sun. We meet this race in Underground: The Day of the Sun.

Gwilt, comes straight from the credits of a favourite TV show. Have no idea of meaning. 

Caleath and Nasith, my main characters from book one, came from a friend with whom I began writing many years ago. The names have remained, though their story has changed many times.

Enough about my writing... This is your chance to share. There are no wrong answers.
All ideas are welcome and could help another author.
How do you choose the names for your characters, creatures and landmarks?
What do you avoid? Have you ever put down a Fantasy novel because the names confused you?

Find out more about the Chronicles at Rosalieskinner.com.