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Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – 4/5 Stars

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir - Front Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Initial impressions*

Some of the initial impressions from EITA were that it was a young-adult dystopian story set in a fantasy world that resembles Roman times, but with the focus on the Martial training academy called Blackcliff, where young promising cadets are trained to one day replace the Emperor, whose dynasty is foreseen to perish. As you can imagine, things can get brutal at such a place and the Commandant is the worst; a sadist who inflicts pain on even the main characters. The Commandant’s own son, Elias, despises her.

*Characters*

I found Elias to be a complex and interesting character, running away from the misdeeds of his past, and his blood, to find freedom from a tyranny he’s part of, in his capacity as a Martial ‘Mask’. He sees his female friend Helene as a companion always forcing him to fit in and obey, but he sees more sides to her as the story goes on and they are tested. It could be that time spent with tribal elders has made Elias sympathetic to the plight of people.

The poverty and slavery class are the Scholars, ruled by the Martials. Daughter of Scholars, Laia, seeks to save her brother Darin from Martial prison and along the way fights doubts about her inadequacy, fear of Martial punishment, and how she feels about the reputation of her courageous parents in order to get information. She doesn’t know that she’ll have to deal with male attention, torture, and a more daring side of her nature. Her point of view was a unique contrast to Elias’, seeing Martial rule from a slave’s perspective. Though consequences could be dire, she was watched less than Elias and had the opportunity to learn more.

*The Story*

Just as the characters are complex and with depth, so the story is. There are events occurring outside the perspective of the characters, such as foretelling Augurs, supernatural demons, an Emperor riding south, and Laia’s older brother’s attempts at defying the Martials. I liked when more of the background to these was given, in conversational exchanges, and the reader develops a connected picture of the world. For me, it meant I got more from the story than what could have been, in another story, a narrow viewpoint.

The emotions among the main characters came off a bit strong about three-quarters through, until the end, and I found the story a touch too tragic for my taste. Perhaps it was inevitable after the suppressed emotional feelings. Elias came across as a rebel and so I would have liked him to have fought more against the Augurs and Trials than succumb amid everything else that happens. Elias didn’t entertain any further thoughts of escape after the beginning and I found the nature and conclusion of the Fourth Trial, about three-quarters through, to be disappointing. I think I understand that author Sabaa Tahir’s intention was to show him to be just as powerless as Laia.

*Conclusion*

EITA was immersive, capturing my attention every chapter, and it was what I felt to be an accomplishment in storytelling. I’d go as far to say that it’s the best young adult dystopian story I’ve read in years. This review was long, and there was much to think about.

An Ember in the Ashes on Goodreads

An Ember in the Ashes on Amazon

Human Dystopia Editing Examples – Ch3

Editing examples are now up for Chapter 3 of the story Human Dystopia.

Screenshots of examples

Original – Example 3-1 – Screenshot

Original – Example 3-2 – Screenshot

Original – Example 3-3 – Screenshot

Original – Example 3-4 – Screenshot

Original – Example 3-5 – Screenshot

Changes and Comments – Example 3-1 – Screenshot

Changes and Comments – Example 3-2 – Screenshot

Changes and Comments – Example 3-3 – Screenshot

Changes and Comments – Example 3-4 – Screenshot

Changes and Comments – Example 3-5 – Screenshot

Final Version – Example 3-1 – Screenshot

Final Version – Example 3-2 – Screenshot

Final Version – Example 3-3 – Screenshot

Final Version – Example 3-4 – Screenshot

Final Version – Example 3-5 – Screenshot

For more information see Human Dystopia – Chapter 3 Examples

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine – 5/5 Stars

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is a really ‘enchanting’ and absorbing story. There is religious mysticism, and it challenges stereotypical views of it. I’ve not read a book like this, having few references to compare with the themes and world, but some parts of TEOFAS really reached out to me.

There is a lot of anticipation and tension leading up to the ceremony and initiation into the beyond-human Wraeththu cult. It’s written from the point of view of the main character Pellaz reflecting on his journey getting acquainted with the Wraeththu and his ascent through the magical caste system. Pellaz feels like the perfect character to familiarise us with the Wraeththu with his inquisitive nature and his penchant for being spoilt with luxury, which allows the reader a sense of cultural discovery.

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit - back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unusual circumstances are exactly what pull you into Pellaz’s thoughts and the Wraeththu. The Wraeththu and the difference they embody, physically and psychologically, are very much the main focus of the story compared to the more violent groups of humans who are retreating from the new countries and lack the unity. Human desires appear base and almost immature next to the advanced system of the Wraeththu and I suspect this is exactly how author Storm Constantine wanted these desires to appear. The momentum is very much with the Wraeththu, who are both secretive and mysterious, and possess differentiation.

Yet despite this, there is the ever-present concern they have that they’re not much better than humans and are susceptible to the same hurtful feelings of love and vengeance that we are … it’s worth reading to see what I mean. There is a lot of thought and background put into TEOFAS and it made reading feel like a rich three-dimensional exotic adventure. There is so much depth to the world that it would be worth reading more by Storm Constantine.

*Oh, and the interior of the book layout was beautiful, with illustrations, so I recommend you at least purchase the paperback.

Storm Constantine’s Immanion Press

Point of View – First Person Present

Tense

In contrast, the first person tense (I, we,) is commonly told in the simple present tense in fiction.

Use

Of course, the reader, as with third person point of view, can only know what the viewpoint character knows – no extraneous background information should be added if the character wouldn’t already be thinking or experiencing it. It can help a writer think in terms of ‘showing’ the reader the story rather than ‘telling’. ‘Showing’ often makes it easier for the reader to invest themselves in the characters and events, while too much ‘telling’ can instead render readers as idle observers or magnets for excess information.

Advantages

It can grant a situation direct immediacy, and can be quite engaging and exciting to read. If the reader can develop a connection with the character or with intriguing events, it can prove to be effortless to absorb. If there are a lot of exciting events that are closely related to a single character or between one or two characters, then first person can deliver the message of the story concisely and directly, focusing only on the perspective of the character/s who matter, where lives come into contact. It’s good for putting the reader into the character’s shoes, and makes them feel as if they are there, watching events unfold.

Disadvantages

One of its disadvantages, in my opinion, is that it can be quite simple and one-dimensional. Readers can’t penetrate to the depths of a character’s thoughts or to past events with ease without breaking from the main narrative. When the author does break from the main narrative, it can often at first seem as if they are interrupting a perfectly absorbing scene with unnecessary information, which can be distracting. It can express a limited range of meanings, and only in the context of what is happening or what a character is thinking at any given time. It’s my belief that the restrictions of first person make stories linear A–B plots, but I’m sure there are many writers and readers who disagree.

 

Human Dystopia Editing Examples – Ch1 and 2

Editing examples are now up for Chapter 1 and 2 of the story Human Dystopia.

Chapter 1

Original – Example 1-1 Screenshot
Final With Comments Only – Example 1-1 Screenshot
Final Version – Example 1-1 Screenshot

Original – Example 1-2 Screenshot
Final With Comments Only – Example 1-2 Screenshot
Final Version – Example 1-2 Screenshot

Original – Example 1-3 Screenshot
Final With Comments Only – Example 1-3 Screenshot
Final Version – Example 1-3 Screenshot

Chapter 2

Original – Example 2-1 – Screenshot
Changes and Comments – Example 2-1 – Screenshot
Final Version – Example 2-1 – Screenshot

Original – Example 2-2 – Screenshot
Changes and Comments – Example 2-2 – Screenshot
Final Version – Example 2-2 – Screenshot

The pages where you will find the examples, along with more information:

Human Dystopia

Human Dystopia – Chapter 1 Examples

Chapter 1 – Sample Assessment

Human Dystopia – Chapter 2 Examples

Writing and Work Balance

It can be a problem working out how much time to spend on writing, what comes before writing with planning, and what comes after with the tasks related to improving writing for publishing such as reading, self-editing, and rewriting. A lot of thinking may be involved even when you haven’t made any concrete progress. Fitting writing into a busy schedule can feel impossible at times, or undesirable when your work tires you and you want to relax, not think about something that will tax your brain further, even if you do enjoy it.

How do you view your writing?

Do you view your writing as a hobby that you spend a few hours on occasionally, only for the sake of happiness?

Do you have grand writing goals that will require a consistent effort per week?

Is writing a serious vocation that will require a schedule with both writing and author tasks?

Not enough time to write

Many of us can’t get enough time to write and explore parts of our imaginations, but it doesn’t mean we have to forget about writing completely.

Setting a short amount of time, such as ten or twenty minutes, can be enough to get a pen and paper and write down some of your ideas. If you persevere with this, you could end up with a two-hundred page planning fact-file after six months. I did this!

Spending just one hour on your computer or paper can be enough to get at least 500 or 1,000 words jotted down. In another hour you may even reach 2,000 or 3,000 if you’re a fast typer or the ideas are strong. This is tremendous progress. Keep slotting in a period of two hours over two months and you’re looking at the first draft of a novel.

Too much writing

After having experience writing full time, concentrating on writing many hours during the day to the exclusion of many other activities or engaging with people is not healthy because it doesn’t give you that break from yourself, and your creativity and inspiration may dry up, only having your own mind as a resource.

This is more the case if you’re writing for yourself and not anybody else such as an agent, publisher, or client: where you’re expected to produce a story within a deadline because you know you’re obliged to do so, even if you enjoy it at the same time. When you’re writing for yourself, left to your own devices and detached from any external concept of obligation or accountability, you can overdo it.

  • If you have days where you’re writing 6,000-8,000 words a day then that is a lot of writing.
  • If you’re spending your break days worrying about writing then it may start to become unhealthy.
  • If you’re getting tired of concentrating on your writing, you’re overthinking it, or it’s affecting other important tasks, including daily life, then this is a clear sign for you to stop and do something else for a few hours, few days, or few weeks.
  • If your writing is exhausting you and distracting you then you’re spending too much time on it.
  • If you don’t have any other hobbies or vocations, except writing, then this is a sign your life is not balanced.

Writing shouldn’t be a priority if it’s a hobby; it should be done for enjoyment. When you obsess over your writing, or put it before everything else that you could be doing, it’s when it’s on a path to taking over your life. It’ll damage you and it’ll damage your writing when that happens; you’ll notice when you reread it. I’ve had experience of this myself, and I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to produce writing that you will be happy with. Something to look out for is if you’re tense when you’re writing! You should not be tense when you’re writing and you should not convince yourself that being tense is normal because you’re letting out so many ideas …

How I balance writing and work

I enjoy writing best as a hobby, but I do have goals that require a consistent effort, which means I try to set it off from work-related tasks and make time for it. It has to be different to work, in my mind.
Many writers are comfortable scheduling writing in, and indeed have to in order to get it done among many other commitments. I don’t schedule in writing in my break, though I often do write. If I scheduled writing in it wouldn’t feel pleasurable to me, and I wouldn’t get the full satisfaction. I like writing to be my escape and not something I feel I must do and keeping this in mind keeps the process enjoyable for me. That’s my personal preference.

Motivation is a key barrier against making progress when you spend a lot of time working. When you’re tired you just want to lay back and watch a film or zone out, check messages or become engrossed in something mind-numbing. If you have the time to write, you tell yourself you don’t have the energy.

When I’m determined to complete a project I have to make a conscious effort to get in the right frame of mind before attempting to dive in to the intellectually-demanding yet pleasurable writing process, and to stop myself from resorting to the easier option of doing something else. Writing has to come first if I’m serious about it.

Writing Muse – Therapy

Problems that can affect writing muse

There are a lot of different opinions on the value of writing muse. It’s my view that although relying exclusively on writing muse and when it decides to pop up is a bad thing because it means your writing commitment is sporadic, equally problematic is the reverse: pressuring yourself with targets or sticking to models of writing that are what works best for other authors.

Some of the problems that can affect writing muse:

  • Feeling pressured to write all the time, for the sake of it.
  • Feeling pressured to meet word count targets, deadlines, and publishing schedules.
  • Applying other professional authors’ writing approaches because you believe they will work for you instead of relying on your own instincts and how you write well.
  • Over-planning and overthinking writing instead of getting down to it.
  • Relying on ‘good excuses’ for why you can’t get down to writing instead of doing it.
Writing therapy

There is no compelling reason to write all the time

Beyond enjoyment, if you’re not a career author who earns a living then there is less pressure on you to deliver a number of words by a specific time. It’s probably at this time you need to ask yourself why it is you’re writing: for the deadline, for the income, or for the enjoyment. Perhaps it’s all three, but if it’s only for enjoyment and time is on your side, why pressure yourself to write all the time, no matter what?

Regular breaks from writing can put things in perspective more and you can be more in tune with the feeling rather than the pressure you may be imposing on yourself.

Not every writer is on a publishing schedule

Not all writers are at the stage where they must publish a book. If they believe they should feel forced to churn out maybe 1,000–5,000 words at least three or four days a week, then it’s a big commitment to writing: a toe dip in the deep end of the pool for the writer who is struggling with muse and whose writing is negatively affected by pressure and demands on time. That example was a bit ambitious, yet I’m of the mind that many writers are ambitious in wanting to make regular substantial progress and be published authors, and this system may not be conducive to their growth as writers.

Writers who advise you to write all the time have to write all the time

A lot of writers who are career authors and are on publishing schedules and deadlines will advise you to ditch your writing muse and to stick to a schedule for the completion of your story. It works for them; they can complete stories using this method. They ‘have’ to complete stories using this method to meet deadlines, and many are sick of listening to new authors speaking about how special their writing muse is when they have a job to do.

If it works for you or you want to complete your stories to a deadline, using a schedule like this can help. Its advantage is in making regular progress on the word count, in a first draft, and not relying on any perceived excuses that prevent you from getting down to the business of writing.

The disadvantage of this method is that sometimes you find yourself automating the writing process, as you would a job, to meet a schedule or deadline, and this can detract from the enjoyment if you feel ‘compelled’ to write rather than you ‘wanting’ to write.

Does Writing Muse Work?

Writing with muse – the story

The squashed writing muse theory

This is how many professional writers say it works with writing muse: after a specific length of time you’ll run out of ideas and be left lost, and you’ll ‘never complete that story’. The word count stops, there is no writing routine to get the writing done, and you end up convincing all your friends you will eventually get round to some writing or to completing that story. When the muse comes you spend a full two weeks writing a twenty-thousand-word story, but it’s not complete, and the process in the above paragraph repeats itself. I have experience of this cycle!

Your writing muse is blamed – the very thing that got you writing in the first place. The writing muse is squashed; it’s not working or expanding in the way it did at first and you’re confused and frustrated why. There is all this pressure to be the writer you were or know you are, and naturally you blame the muse for not delivering results.

‘Muse writer’ changes into a ‘proper writer’

If you just pulled yourself together and wrote like a proper writer, then it would be fine. In fact, you realise you need to re-learn how to write, away from instinct, feeling, and art into the realms of craft, template, strategy, demand, results, word count, and deadlines. You now know how to be a ‘proper writer’, measured by results you achieve and the demands expected of writers in the publishing industry, be this traditional or indie.

Writing with muse completes stories?

It’s time for a change of perspective. What if the muse was developed instead?

It’s the word count that may be the problem, and the reason why you blame yourself and your muse for not completing your story: that pressure you put on yourself to complete a 60,000 or 70,000-word novel or more.

If you think about it, a novel is a huge beast to tackle, and this is why all writers tackle it in smaller pieces. When you stick to a schedule, you’re getting the words down, and it all adds up. You may be aware you’re only working on a first draft, and getting those words down is acceptable, but you can lose motivation with a schedule as much as with relying on writing muse. You can argue that this is why you have made a schedule, but it may not make a difference to you when you want to write what you enjoy, instead of expecting yourself to write what you ‘should’ be writing.

I favour a step-by-step approach to writing, based on enjoyment and inspiration, and being in tune with my development as a writer. When we lose all three of those things, it’s the path to writer’s block or seeing writing purely as ‘work’; something that has to be done for a specific purpose. After having lost the foundation that got me started writing in the first place, I didn’t want to lose it again.

Writing with muse completes stories too. I wrote my first four self-published novels with my muse, and I’ve five unpublished drafts that I continued with my muse, at the time of writing this book. When I stop going where my instincts take me, or I tell myself I have to complete a specific number of words in a specific timeframe, then this is when I have problems and my writing grinds to a halt. It has happened every time, now I think about it.

I think the pressure is a problem, which is sometimes perpetuated by writers and industry professionals who are under pressure themselves. It creates generations of insecure writers who are too afraid to share their writing, be published, or to go with their gut feeling.

Point of View – Third Person Past

Tense

Third person is written in the simple past and past perfect tense.

Use

Modern fiction recommends one character’s point of view per scene, and usually in the third person (he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, theirs).

The third person is used to convey the main characters’ experiences, as if they are the narrators of the story and are reporting what has already just happened in the form of thoughts and relevant experiences.

Something to keep in mind when writing in third person is not to write anything else except the viewpoint character’s thoughts and experiences, so that the reader can only perceive events from the character’s perspective. Unless you’re using third person omniscient, it could be a mistake to add other information about your story in between the character’s perspective to satisfy the reader’s curiosity, for doing so may take the mystery away from the scene and will interrupt the flow of the viewpoint character. And most of all, the inconsistency will be noticeable.

Exceptions

Third person is written in anticipation of building up towards present events, which are usually written in first person in the form of dialogue or internal dialogue (protagonist thoughts). First person is also used for italicised text in fiction, such as in the case of internal dialogue.

Advantages

One of the advantages of the third person point of view is the flexibility to switch between tenses: simple past, past perfect, and simple present. The writer has the freedom to express a wide range of closely related circumstances that had occurred, have just occurred, or are occurring; and yet are written in the same scene or chapter. It takes skill for even experienced writers to master the tenses in such a way that is both correct and can relate a story’s events in an interesting way.

The disadvantages of the past perfect tense in third person

The past perfect tense can sometimes, when used excessively, become a platform for exposition and reader bombardment, which all writers should strive to avoid where they can. This tense can be rigid to read: ‘I had done’, ‘but when he had gone to the store’, ‘before he had thought about heading out he forgot to spend his money’. If you have to digress into background events, try to keep them at a minimum or at least directly relevant to what is happening in any given scene.

In this sense, try to limit the number of passages you write in the past perfect tense, or don’t use too many ‘hads’, which may hinder the reader’s enjoyment of the story. Instead, once you have introduced the tense with ‘had’, in a given paragraph, you are free to continue writing in the simple past and the reader should still understand what is meant. The same goes for background events that occur while the writer is already relating background events. As long as you introduce the tense with a single or a few ‘had’s’ to relate the most important immediate events in the first few sentences, then the reader has been informed of the tense and knows that what they are reading occurred in a time earlier than the time currently being discussed. It requires a bit of skill, judgment, and practice to use effectively, but that’s what writing is!

Legend by David Gemmell – 5/5 Stars

Legend by David Gemmell - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First I’ve read of David Gemmell, having spoken to a big fan. I bought the paperback and expected something only warlike and medieval. I was right, but I didn’t foresee how much I’d enjoy reading the characters and their outcome. Druss the Legend comes out of his solitude to step back into the boots of his younger self when the Drenai Empire is at risk of being conquered by a MASSIVE barbarian horde. I couldn’t help enjoying every moment Druss stepped into the story, to offer sage advice or prove that he wasn’t a broken old man as he appeared, having reflexes with his double-edged axe Snaga that made the best fighters envious.

Legend by David Gemmell - back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the plot is concerned with the endangered fortress of Drenai Empire’s Dros Delnoch – six walls and a keep – that is threatened and then under siege by an overwhelming number of Nadir tribesmen led by Ulric who styles himself as a-legend-to-be. Much of import happens, around Druss, unlikely hero Rek, Robin-Hood-like character Bowman, and many others, before the siege. The best part is when the siege arrives, and battle is met. Though the defenders of the fortress are doomed you can’t help but want to discover how they will meet their end, and at what cost. It’s not just blood and fighting either – there are shamans, spiritual monks, and timeless supernatural forces shaping events.

Legend was one of the best heroic fantasy experiences I’ve had, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to continue with.