Earth Shattering, I know. But bear with me.
Recently, I had to tear my favorite authors from my cold hard grip and take a flying leap off the cliff’s edge into the abyss of a new author.
Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but I did take a deep breath.
1. The Cover: They say that you can’t tell a book by its cover and that’s somewhat true. Recently, I tried a story because it had an awesome cover of a beautiful girl with wires coming out of her head, but the story was about a Jesuit Priest in a jungle. So, the cover brought me to the book, but I felt betrayed by the story. Then, there’s the horrible cover, such as Lois Bujold’s first cover for Mirror Dance, but I already knew that Lois could deliver a good story, so I bought the book anyway. The back part of the cover is important also. Often, I will check the back for a summary of what the story is about. If it sounds good, then I might buy it.
Still, a good cover with a tempting blurb on the back can tantalize readers with the promise of a good story and often is the first step towards them buying it. New author Richard Flores had a gorgeous cover that was spot on about his story.
2. The Interior: Next, I usually flip through the pages to how the book is formatted. This is more important than you might suspect in that poor formatting, ill-placed chapters, wonky fonts, often shout out that the author doesn’t care about his or her reader. At first, Richard had reasonable front matter. Plain, simple, but clean. But the paragraphing indents were off. Annoying.
Now here’s the thing.
I, myself, am struggling with the new flowable text. My paperbacks look beautiful. Everything stays in place and behaves. However, when it goes to e-books and flowable text, everything changes around. What looks professional on my iPad, reconfigures to some weird formatting on my kindle. Or visa-versa. The formatting just won’t stay put.
That is the beauty of the e-book. For us older folks, we can enlarge the print without having to sneak a large print book off a store’s shelf under our coats. And I have over one hundred books on a light weight iPad or kindle for anytime reading with no pending library fine.
Still, having the paragraph indents change bothered me. Set up the book to either have reasonable indents or space between paragraphs. Readers need the eye relief. Long pages of blocky print with a three space indent, or changing indents is exhausting. Easy fix.
3. Technicals: We are talking about grammar, sentence structure, spelling and word choice.
All the stuff your high school English teacher talked about. At least I did when I taught.
You insult your reader if you don’t at least make an attempt. Now, these mistakes are like fleas on a cat. No matter how hard you, as a writer, try to eliminate them, there are always more lurking in your text.
Gads! I know. I have read through my own work a multitude of times, given it to a professional editor, had beta readers look it over, my writing group, a professional workshop critique, and still the odd comma, the shy apostrophe, the computer respelled words crop up. Even in a traditional press book this happens. But if it’s flagrant, then the reader is kicked out of the story. Do that too many times and you lose your reader.
As I began reading Richard Flores’ book, this wasn’t a problem. His sentences flowed smoothly and his grammar and spelling made a sturdy framework for the story. I could delve deeply into the book without the distraction of poor grammar or bad spelling.
4. Action: It used to be that a story began calmly at the beginning with describing the world and the characters and gradually picked up pace. Not so any more. Editors are expecting action on the first page and they want to be hooked by page two or your story’s in the dumpster.
Wham, bam, start the story strong.
I’m ambivalent on this. Where can a writer go from there? I am the personality type that likes to look around and get my feet under me before things go wild.
So, in the Dissolution of Peace, the story begins with one of the protagonists on a shuttle coming toward the warship that she will be serving on.
After trolling through back alleys of Urban Fantasy, I was ready for this military style world and outer space adventure. The description of the ship, the internal dialogue that told me that Janice Kanter hated space, her enigmatic partner who just arrives from a fellow officer’s funeral, all intrigued me, and set me comfortably in her world.
Chapter two introduces Captain Christina Serenity, a recently injured ship captain, who is the youngest captain in the fleet. She has just survived an attempt on her life and is covering up her injury in order to get back into duty so as not to lose her ship. Someone is out to kill her, so she has been assigned two bodyguards to protect her. She has a conversation with her commanding officer, Admiral McCorvick, who appears to want to discredit her and get her away from Earth. The Mars colony is building a fleet and a war is brewing between Earth and Mars. So, there’s lots of conflict, even though no one’s been shot just yet.
Okay, I’m in.
A reader wants a story that gives him an experience… To go “Where no man has ever gone before.” Or possibly, can’t go at the moment because his couch isn’t space worthy and the wife doesn’t want him off fighting Martians around dinnertime.
5. Believable Characters: Along with exciting events, the reader wants a satisfying emotional experience…to feel strong emotions at the right time in the story, to live through another person’s eyes and be more than he can be in his own skin. So, the reader can’t be told how the character feels, but must experience the character’s life. Feel his dreams, hopes, fears, love.
In other words, “Show don’t tell.”
Yes, that’s me screaming in the background. This is a struggle I have, and the hard part of writing but vital.
This was done well in Dissolution of Peace. You had several characters that were all dealing with emotional conflict. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it, but then, I remained reasonably involved. Captain Serenity’s courage and determination to duty against the pull of true love is well done. Janice Kantor’s character arc as she changes from hating space to becoming a competent bodyguard in space is also good. The feelings and emotions of Corporal Mike Carlson, the secret admirer and captain’s bodyguard is also good.
6. Story Arc: This is the stream that carries the reader along and is important to keeping him in the story. There is an arc to every story…a beginning, a middle and an end. In Dissolution of Peace, Richard starts with conflict that is interesting enough to engage the reader. A brewing conflict between Mars and Earth. Okay, fine.
Then, just when there’s a bit of a pause, an unexpected alien race comes on scene, and Serenity has to deal with a first contact situation. Then another alien race shows up. And the two are deadly enemies. One to side with Mars and the other to side with Earth and we’re not sure if either can be trusted. Add in an old friend who turns out to be leading a terrorist group that is trying to start a war.
Amp up the tension and suspense.
Next is another attempt on the brave, young, and beautiful Captain Serenity’s life, and we’re turning pages at one o’clock in the morning.
Throw in unrequited love between captain and her body guard…that no one can know about, or they’ll be thrown out of the military, and she’ll lose her ship…well…you see my point.
There is a rhythm to a good story that keeps the plot line and emotions moving higher and higher, so the reader keeps turning the pages, and then twists the story and makes the reader gasp.
7. Ending: Of course I can’t tell you the ending of the story. SPOILER! But all endings must have a climax where everything is at risk and something awesome happens and then a resolution that makes the reader close the book with a satisfied smile after being on emotional roller coaster. You want to have everything explained and tied up.
Unless you’re writing a series.
Which I am. And apparently, Richard Flores is.
His ending is explosive, but not final. I didn’t go, yes, wow, done…rather, now I want to read the next book.
And that can be okay. Most likely I will. His story is good. Lots of action, good emotional points and I love the landscape…or rather the wide open void of space that he traverses. I left my soft chair and became a love-crossed, beautiful captain of a starship who protects Earth and tries to stop a war. And I sneaked into the world of a strong, competent bodyguard on a military spaceship who saves the life of the woman he loves, but can’t let anyone know how he feels about her.
Okay now…You try something new. Check out my right hand column for a few suggestions.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven LEAP!