Here’s What’s Up: Outlander & More!

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Here’s what’s up, another Saturday is here, can you believe it? I hope so otherwise there might be trouble in paradise. What else is up is that I’m catching up, or at least I’m trying, it’s only May right? Ha, I wish. Okay today I’d like to confess one of my latest binges, the TV adaptation of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I can’t tell you what channel to watch it on because I streamed it on Netflix although they only have seasons 1 & 2 I’ve learned she’s writing another book and they’re filming season five. What! For real.

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The TV series first aired in 2014 while the first book was published in 1991.

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From Goodreads:

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another…

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach an ‘outlander’ in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire’s destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life …and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

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This isn’t the first I’ve heard of this series, it was at least two years ago probably longer. I listened and watched many an author interview in which there was a panel of authors that included Diana Gabaldon, at least one also had George R.R. Martin. I listened along interested enough, though I didn’t know anything about her story or characters. Then one day several weeks ago I needed some background noise and so I went to Netflix and there it was. I thought, meh, what the heck, I’ve heard of this story so I’ll give it a shot. This became my go to show while riding my spin bike and winding down the evening.

While romance is not my go to genre this story is also fantasy, which is my genre. It has not disappointed. I indulged in the first two seasons with interest, intrigue, and plenty of shock. However upon learning there’s going to be a fifth season I can’t wrap my mind around this story seemingly going on forever. Sorry to all you die hard fans but it could have ended with the second season if you ask me. I like Jamie and Claire (the main protagonists) although I like Claire less because she annoys me sometimes.

It’s a heck of a story full of emotion and shocking twists. There’s also A LOT of graphic violence, sexual violence and of course sex. So if you’re sensitive or triggered don’t watch this show, it’s love and warfare across the board. Diana Gabaldon knows her craft to say the least, and it’s fair to say she did some impressive research. Nevertheless, I still think this is a good example of a story that shouldn’t go on and on just because it can.

DISCLAIMER: I know almost nothing about season three so if you feel like you want to slap me for my presumption I’m sorry. It’s just that I don’t believe that’s it’s going to be as interesting to follow the next generation around time and space. I’m sorry but until I gain access to the third season I’m going to hold my position.

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The main reason I want to talk about this today is because even as I haven’t (and won’t) read the books (because I’ve seen the show) there’s a lot a writer can learn from this series. For one this story shows us why it’s super important to have tension and to build on that tension in your story. Claire Randall is married in 1946 but falls in love in 1743 at the same time she’s dying to return to the present. Tension? Yup, loads. At the beginning of the show we see how Claire & Frank (her present day husband) truly love each other. So when she travels back in time we can feel her desperation to return to her husband. Of course she’s desperate to get back for a lot of reasons but we all worry for Frank and what he must be thinking after his wife mysteriously disappears. And then she has to marry Jamie in order to survive? Claire’s struggle with this marriage and the fact that she didn’t ever want to leave her husband is palpable. We the audience ride the emotional roller coaster alongside these characters.

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When I think about this story and The All Souls trilogy I’m taking notes for my own writing. It’s clear to me that a good story is like a tree. There’s a main theme – a witch finds a highly prized missing manuscript, a mysterious vampire is stalking her, and her powers are growing; a married woman accidentally travels 200 years into the past, while trying to get home she falls in love and must choose between her two lives – like the main trunk, it is the base of the story, the foundation. The trunk then branches out to large branches that divide further into small branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruits. When constructed the reader/audience is not left wanting. We don’t simply hope for the ending. We want to explore and discover all these nuanced divisions from the trunk. When written like this I think you’re always giving the reader something. Of course you have to hold out for the big reveals but let’s face it we don’t want to wait until the end of the book to learn new things and to get answers. Reveal other things to the reader. Teach us. Show us your world so we can explore because we can’t do it on our own. These other stories all build on the main trunk/theme ramping up my interest in the larger story. The added complexity raises the stakes and the tension.

As I may have mentioned before in The All Souls trilogy I was impressed that every chapter seemed to reveal something new to me. For instance in book two, Shadow of Night, I recall a chapter that ends with Matthew and Diana on a date. I really could care less about their date but whatever. As the chapter, and their date, came to a close I expected nothing more but a steamy end to their night. I got that but I also got a last minute reveal, like really last minute and it was a good one. Not only was that awesome for me as a reader but as a writer I was really impressed. That piece of information also brought me an answer to a couple of questions then brought up a host more. A lot of writers would have ended with that date, not every chapter can be thrilling right? And a lot of people would have been fine with that. But Deborah Harkness wasn’t. She let you relax into their date then BAM guess what!?

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Needless to say that stuck with me. As I develop my own story I remind myself to give my reader new information often, even if it’s little bits and pieces. Add buds, leaves, and flowers to your story tree, don’t just build a bare tree like a stick figure. As a reader I don’t think I want to read a story that just starts and finishes unless it’s a short story. Reflecting on these stories and more, stories that I really enjoyed reading, I recognize that I’m apt to get lost in them if they’re more than just a main theme/trunk. It seems that it’s easier to forget you’re reading a story if it weaves around and doesn’t just travel from A to Z to answer the main question.

Think about it in terms of the clip below, in terms of boxing matches. Do you want to watch a fight where one guy just knocks out the other guy and we have a clear winner? Or do you want to watch a fight in which it’s a battle, they exchange blows, and you’re not quite sure just who will win but ultimately it’s a clear win (maybe someone does get knocked out)?

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Of course there’s a caveat. Don’t just add separate story lines and characters in an attempt to make your story more dynamic and nuanced. They have to grow naturally from the trunk, not be grafted on in a lab. Your reader will only be more upset to be sent on a fruitless tangent or one that feels forced. Brainstorm. Ask yourself a lot of questions about your character’s motivations and your own. Question if what you just wrote makes sense in regard to your characters. Make sure you can come back seamlessly from one of these other branches. Don’t just write it just to write it, we the reader will know and we’ll frown at you. Plus IMHO such moves add the wrong kind of weight to a story.

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Thanks so much for reading and visiting. I hope you found this post insightful both in terms of how you use reading and how you write. Please let me know if you did and how perhaps this helped you progress.

Have you seen or read Outlander? What are your thoughts?

Don’t forget to follow me if you enjoyed this and would like to hear more about what I’m reading, writing and watching. If you want to read more of Here’s What’s Up with Writing CLICK HERE.

Here you’ll find my reviews.

And my 2019 TBR.

Until next time,

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My Review of The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3) by Deborah Harkness

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Info from Goodreads:

The #1 New York Times bestselling series finale and sequel to A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night

Fans of the All Souls Trilogy sent this highly anticipated finale straight to #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. Bringing the series’ magic and suspense to a deeply satisfying conclusion, The Book of Life is poised to become an even bigger phenomenon in paperback.

Diana and Matthew time-travel back from Elizabethan London to make a dramatic return to the present—facing new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home, Sept-Tours, they reunite with the beloved cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency.

Paperback, 561 pages – Published May 26th 2015 by Penguin Books (first published July 1st 2014)

My Review

4-4.5/5 stars (depending on the day)

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Trigger warnings: violence, mention and talk of rape(s)

Sorry it has taken me SO LONG to get this posted but I did it. Lol. Hopefully before the month is up I can get you a post regarding my thoughts on the TV adaptation of this series. Let me just say I’m not happy, although it was still interesting…mostly…sort of…*sigh*

I was all set to give this book 5 stars but I’ve been re-thinking it. The Goodreads’ rating system is what I refer to when I’m thinking simply about how I feel.

  • One star – did not like it
  • Two stars – it was okay
  • Three stars – liked it
  • Four stars – really liked it
  • Five stars – it was amazing

Four stars for sure as I really liked it but I got stuck thinking how I loved this book but I don’t know if it necessarily is amazing. Ugh… and yet I think the series as a whole is pretty amazing.

While I disagree with a lot of other reviewers I do agree that this book has a lot of flaws. I’ll be more transparent here. Okay, I was set on five stars right and then I read several other reviews with two stars that made some pretty valid points in terms of unanswered questions. Then I felt kind of embarrassed that I still liked this book so much when Deborah Harkness and her editor(s) really missed some key points, or didn’t care to include them. That said I think it says a lot about the book that even without those answers – some of them key plot points – I was wholly satisfied with the ending. And yet, even as I think about these complaints I recall that I’m very sad to see this trilogy come to an end as I will miss the characters.

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Unlike the bad reviews I didn’t mind the large amount of characters, especially those brought back from the other books. Sure there was a lot to keep up with but I think Harkness did it well. For the most part I found the majority of the characters, especially all the “important” ones, to be distinct. There are some very satisfying character reveals. As far as characters are concerned, five stars all day!

She does change POV from chapter to chapter and it is a little strange at times. I can’t say I loved it, this being one of the complaints from the bad reviews. For me these changes were like that little bump in the sidewalk that you don’t catch when you’re strolling along having a lovely time and then OPE, you trip but catch yourself and turn around like WHAT THE HECK! Huh, what a nice little rush of adrenaline. And you walk on, BUT you DON’T fall and wreck your day. These POV changes tripped me up a second but the bulk of the story kept me moving along swiftly.

Maybe half way through the book I felt like I did after a couple seasons of the TV show True Blood. (I did not read the books by the way.) It got weird and not in a cool way. It was like they were trying too hard to make things extra different. I started to worry about this happening in The Book of Life. If you’ve gotten this far in the series you already know Diana is an incredible witch with all the powers a witch can have. Sure that’s a trope that bothers some from the get go, not me, and it might bother even more people as her power grows and grows. But let’s be honest, that’s what this story is about. This story is about that extraordinary moment in time when everything changes. A time when two powerful people discover each other and more about themselves. In my humble opinion, tropes are a problem when the story and characters are lacking, perhaps that’s why the bad reviews exist, because for those people it was lacking. I disagree; I think the story itself carried its weight. The content woven in and out, the character arcs and the constant discoveries, however great or small, worked for me.

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All in all I can’t make a decision, some days it’s 4 stars, others it’s 4.5. Either way I was satisfied. My great aunt has finished book two at this point and she’s on to book three so we’ll see what she thinks about this finale.

As I mentioned there is a TV adaptation of this series on AMC (pretty sure). It’s over now but of course you can find it on demand on Sundance or AMC (depends on your subscriptions of course). They are planning a second season, and I will watch it no matter how frustrated the first one made me.

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In other news Deborah Harkness published her latest book (and I do believe the first since The Book of Life) Time’s Convert (All Souls Universe, #1) in September 2018. I think it’s fair to say it’s a paranormal fantasy romance that follows the history of Marcus – Matthew’s vampire son – up to the present. I’m not sure yet how I feel about reading this but I’ve signed up for a giveaway so if I win then of course I’ll be reading it. We’ll see.

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Thanks for reading everyone. Please let me know what you think about this series if you’ve read it or maybe you want to? If I’ve introduced you to the series please do give me a shout out. See you next time!

While the Writer Reads… Writer’s Block Is NOT A Thing

Hey guys, how was your holiday weekend? Hopefully it’s going good. I’d like to thank all the veterans and their families. Thank you for your bravery and your sacrifice. Thank you for facing the dangerous and protecting us all. You evoke admiration and inspiration. Thank you as well to all first responders for your bravery and sacrifice. We are all better because of the work that all of these people do. I hope your weekend was blessed and safe. Should you also need help I hope it is forthcoming.

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This post and others titled like it are going to document me sharing writerly thoughts with you. They’ll be inspired by or responses to reading and how it pertains to my writing life and vice versa. I plan to share things with you like how the writing in a particular story really works for me as a reader and how I use it as pointers for my own writing. Or why I think a certain character really stands out or doesn’t reach me at all. I’ll probably also tell you weird random things that cross my mind as a writer, whether it’s got to do with reading or not. I’ll also share writing exercises I make up and think are helpful (like today’s) or I discover and give credit to the person who shared.

NOTE: This is a long post aimed at other writers. After some ranting about writer’s block I get to my point, which is a writing exercise I’ve created. I’m certain it will show you there’s no such thing as writer’s block, we just gotta get to work.

For starters, I do not believe that writer’s block is really a thing. Yup, that’s right. But this wasn’t always so. Long ago I believed in writer’s block because well, that’s what I knew and heard. Writer’s block has just always been a thing because people tell you it’s a thing. But then a writer (sorry can’t remember who) and my partner independently said, I don’t believe in writer’s block, there’s no such thing. That’s a crap lie! My little brain said, ugh

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But let’s be honest, my little brain then said, what ever made this true? Why were these people denouncing this wretched curse? And have I ever actually experienced writer’s block? What makes writer’s block a thing versus just being a point at which you’re stuck?

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When I wrote mostly poetry I always said I didn’t force my hand, I let ideas come to me. So does that mean that when ideas weren’t coming I was blocked? Nope. I didn’t force my writing but I also didn’t sit idly. I’m always thinking about things through my writer’s brain. While running if I was hit with a strong emotion I would turn the experience of that emotion into a story. What was I thinking, how did it feel, what was happening around me and how did I respond to it or not, through the lens of this emotion? Hear something that moved me on the news? What’s the news, how did it effect me, how did that change my internal chemistry, where might it be leading me? What are the words that will add depth to this story or song and rhythm?

If I wasn’t outright inspired by something but I was craving a creative experience I would go outside, or think about the important, current and/or most dynamic things in my life. I might read. Almost always something would come to mind, whether or not I liked what came out isn’t relevant, I wrote. If I tried and nothing much was coming out I wasn’t blocked, I was hindered by my internal environment, namely focus-defeating-anxiety.

While I tell you about the past I’m also telling you about the present and the future. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. No really, that’s all a myth. Writer’s block is defined as a condition. According to dictionary.com, writer’s block is:

a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

But do you really have a condition? Or do you just not know how to move forward? Is believing in writer’s block hindering you because you believe it’s impossible to move forward? Yes. Is it really impossible that you can’t work? And is it writer’s block if you can’t move forward in that moment with a particular project but you CAN write something else? NO! NO! Write. Write! WRRIITTTEEE! Look you’re cured! You wrote.

This weekend my partner once again got all worked up about this subject. He said “You’re always writing. I’ve never seen you not be able to write. I’ve never heard you say you just can’t write.” I thought with pride about what he was saying.

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While I took that as a compliment it’s really just fact. I might not be able to write a poem on call but I can write something whenever, and so can you. This isn’t bragging, this is the nature of writing. If you’re struggling with a certain page or project, switch to something else. Why isn’t their photographer’s block? Because they can just go out and take a photo. That’s the point, not whether or not it’s the same project or the results are any good. You’re not blocked, your brain just needs a jump-start and that might start with a break.

Think about it like exercise. When you’re working some kind of a fitness or weight loss plan don’t they talk about reaching a plateau some weeks after you begin? Yes they do Elpy. Correct. Your body, your muscles get used to the work you’re doing and your progress often slows. So what should you do? Mix it up. Increase the weight you’re using (not too much, be careful) or do different exercises. In other words, don’t keep doing the same thing over and over and not expect some level of fatigue. Okay but how do you apply this to writing? How do you abolish that myth of writer’s block?

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Writing Tip!

Try a change of pace and ask questions. Let’s say you’re working on your plot. Stop and work specifically on one of your characters. What’s their background? What were they like at specific ages? Who do they idolize? What drives them crazy?

What’s that, you’ve done that already? And you still believe writer’s block is real because you’re experiencing it? Okay, don’t worry, I got you. Check this exercise out:

Writing exercise:

This weekend I finished The Book of Life, the third and final book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness (my review is forthcoming). I really liked this series, despite its many flaws, it was creative, original, and so full of great characters and lots of information. I went for a walk after I finished the book and dictated my thoughts, mostly for a post such as this. It got me thinking about all the things that worked and why I thought it was so successful. But what I’m most excited to share is the writing exercise I came up with. It’s not a walk in the park (no pun intended) but I believe it’s guaranteed to break your “block”. AND it’s an ongoing exercise. At present, I’m working on mine.

Start writing the name(s) of your main character(s) at the top of a page or document. Think about this as a chart so work horizontally or better yet use different pages for different characters but keep them handy so you can cross reference. Focus on your MAIN character or characters if you have more than one, main main not sort of main, they’ll be included don’t worry. You’re going to need a lot of space for this but for now just get it started.

Next, list every person (or thing) your main character interacts with. Now this doesn’t HAVE to be the girl in the restaurant who seats your MC and his father, but you can because you never know where your brain will take you. If you know each being’s name go ahead and write it, but you can just say mom, dad, sister, brother, neighbor, bus driver, Lyft driver, etc. If you already know their relationship to your MC then add that in parentheses. You can also put a star next to each person/thing you know to be an important piece of the story. This could be a simple act that ushers the story forward, it’s not the complexity that counts here, just the importance.

Writing Tip!

Let your creative brain lead you, not your inner critic. They’re not allowed here, at least not yet. If you’re making this list and something pops into your head, write it down. You might be trying to focus on important people, like family, friends, colleagues, and then your brain says the hostess at that new restaurant a town over. What? Yes go for it. I’ve learned it’s super important to allow yourself to follow ideas like clues and fresh leads.

While you put this together if a scene pops into your head, go after it. Of course put that on a separate piece of paper or document. Don’t fill up this list with scenes but don’t ignore them and say oh I’ll come back to that after I do this. No the point of this exercise is to lay the pieces of your puzzle out and run with what presents itself. Keep an extra notebook, pad of paper, notes app open and ready while you do this. Scene comes to mind? Write it down. New character? Add them to the list but more detailed information should go elsewhere. Trust these little clues that come your way. They might amount to nothing but I know without a shadow of a doubt that at least some of them will lead to something. You don’t know which will be which so record them all.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re thinking oh my gosh I don’t know anybody else in this story but my MC and her group of girlfriends. Awesome! That’s the point of this exercise, to explore, to follow, to build, to compile… Start with who you know your MC interacts with. Then think outward. Ask yourself questions. Do they have family? By default when you ask this question 10 more will sprout. Every question you answer should bring up more questions, if they don’t then you’re not asking the right questions. Either that or you’re resisting the process. And I dare say writer’s block might not be real, but a writer blocking themselves is real all day.

Example:

Do they have family?

Yes —> Mom? Dad? Siblings? Extended family? In-laws? What’s their relationship with these people? Do they have one? No? Why not? How’s that affect them?

No —> Are they an orphan? What’s that backstory? What about the people at the orphanage? Are they a foster child? What’s that backstory? Now you have foster families to account for. Who is like family to them?

As I said, some of the answers to these questions will go in your other notebooks or documents but you can see how they’ll branch out and out and out until they bear some kind of fruit. For the sake of the lists, you’ll use the basic answers, like if they were a foster child and you plan to include scenes from their childhood in the story you’d list their foster parents, foster “siblings”, case worker, maybe the judge.

If you have people who don’t interact with your character(s) in the story but they’re important to the story then put them off to the side or at the bottom with an asterisk/star. You might have a whole list of people or things like this, and they might only be there for your use or knowledge. That’s fine, do your thing, but this list is for interactive characters even if it was once a upon a time, short, a montage, whatever.

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If you feel overwhelmed at this point, don’t trip out. This is part of the job of a writer. Don’t let this scare you, at least not long enough to stop you. Move forward with the task at hand and know that all writer’s get overwhelmed from time to time, it’s the nature of the work. And like I said this is an ongoing exercise so you don’t have to complete it in one sitting. You don’t have to know squat but your main characters to start this. Heck you could use this exercise to START a brand new project! If you don’t like outlines but need some structure, here you go. This is also a great opportunity to iron out some more details about your MC(s) because you’ll want to know some basics like their gender, age, race, location, profession, etc. You might not need to know all of those now but they will help you build your list. For instance, age is a super important one because if they’re young they’re probably still in school, in which case you’ve got a healthy list to build of teachers, counselors, friends, bullies, principle, bus driver, janitor, etc. For an adult you know they need a job or maybe not, maybe they’re homeless. If the latter than you’ve got the local shelter, other homeless people, people they pass on the street, police and first responders, etc.

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Then, move down the list. Go to the next person under your main character, start a list for them that includes any of the other characters from the MC list that they interact with. Did I word that so it makes sense?

Example:

Main Character: Thomas

  • father
  • mother
  • sister
  • aunt
  • uncle
  • neighbor to the south
  • neighbor to the north
  • neighbor to the east
  • manager at work
  • girlfriend
  • ex-girlfriend

This list will go on as long as you need, and add to it or subtract as you work through your story. Oh I left out neighbor to the west because no one lives there. See, go with whatever. The second step is you’ll take “father” then list who below or above him he interacts with. If you have another main character you will also cross-reference Thomas’ father with that list. You could letter or number these characters if that would help you. Then list the letters after each person.

  • A. Father – B, C, E, H, I, K
  • B. Mother
  • C. Sister
  • D. Aunt
  • E. Uncle
  • F. Nbr to S
  • G. Nbr to N
  • H. Nbr to E
  • I. Mngr at work
  • J. Girlfriend
  • K. Ex

Father doesn’t interact with his wife’s sister, Thomas’ aunt, because of a falling out 12 years ago. While the neighbors are Thomas’, because he’s a grown man, his father has developed a friendly relationship with the neighbor to the east while visiting his son to help with tasks around the house, starting with the time he mowed his yard while he was out of town. He also meets his manager at work from visiting his son, calling his work, and picking him up from time to time. And last but not least, Father doesn’t know the new girlfriend but oh he remembers that crabby ex-girlfriend. He could really do without running into her around town.

Again, by default you’re building your story and your characters by building this list and asking yourself how and why, when and where with each instance. You don’t have to know all the answers now, but record them if you get them. I can’t stress this enough; do NOT WORRY if you don’t know, make stuff up, try characters out. Write some of these experiences on a side sheet. Having trouble? Ask more questions.

Let’s say you don’t know where your adult character works yet you know they work. Okay, write boss, manager, colleague, ex-colleague, customer/client on the list as place savers and something to look at and think about as you work.

Then you’ll move to mom:

Mother: A, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K

Of course mom talks to everybody in Thomas’ neighborhood, drives him crazy. And I wasn’t going to add I. because mom doesn’t like him but I have to because there are at least a few instances she has to talk to him. Or maybe no, maybe mom really never interacts with the manager or you don’t add them to her list because she’s not a main character and their interaction took place in the past but won’t in the story. With these secondary characters you don’t have to be as detailed but by all means if you’re driven to then do it. And mom hasn’t met the new girlfriend either. Remember this list is for interactions that happen in the story, create a list for other types of characters. Later you might not include some of these interactions after all but each detail you work through or delete will help you shape this thing.

But wait Elpy! You said add everyone who these people interact with, so just because mom and dad haven’t met the new girlfriend doesn’t mean they won’t before the story’s over. Gotcha Elpy! Well sure that’s what I was just saying to myself and then I thought, nope, Thomas dies and his parents never meet the new girlfriend because she leaves town. The story backtracks his life. BAM!

So you will keep working down this list and across to the list of your other main character(s). This exercise is a big one that could go on and on. You might find it’s easier than you thought or it’s more difficult. For my novel I wouldn’t say this is difficult per se but it’s not as easy because I need to go back over what I’ve written so far to list characters my two main characters interact with. But this is great for me, and will be for you, because it means I have to look at my story as a big picture, then hone in and work out the details. It’s also showing me where there are some holes in my story and cast of characters. One of my main characters is an angel, another is a woman who is an artist of sorts (I’m still working out just what her art is). As I build my lists I recognize that I don’t have much going on with her work and who she interacts with. Also how much if any time do we spend with the angel before he dies? So do we ever see him with friends? If so I better add them.

Exercise Accessories

If you have more than one main character circle the people in their lists that also interact with the other main characters.

Create other lists for elements, things, creatures, the environment and environmental factors like the weather. If such interactions aren’t relevant to your story, fine, but at least give it a thought because such a list will help you fill in character and plot details. For example, maybe your 46 year old male MC played football in his youth and injured his knee. Now when it’s cold and/or rainy his knee hurts, which means any such scenes might find him less physically able or at least distracted by the pain. Or maybe your story involves a lot of animals. Maybe your story is like I Am Legend and all these other movies that follow one MC and basically no one else. In that case your list of interactions will be composed entirely of environmental factors and creatures among whatever else you can think of. Suit your list to suit your story and characters. Add things like ship’s bathroom, ship’s kitchen, volley ball, robot, trees, the sun, the engine, dog, office orchid… NEVER be afraid to edit the list. NEVER be afraid to add some random thing or person or being that popped into your head.

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That’s it for now but I have plenty more ideas I’m trying myself. If you give this a shot or share it with others please give me proper credit and link back here. I really want to know how this works out for you. Tell me your tale of breaking the writer’s block myth.

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My Review of Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness

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Info from Goodreads

Picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew on a trip through time to Elizabethan London, where they are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana seeks out a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.

Hardcover, 584 pages – Published July 10th 2012 by Viking Adult

4/5 stars

This book deserves a Wow as well. Forgive me as I stumble over reviewing this because I’m not so sure how to do so without spoiling some of the first book. It’s like seeing a preview to a movie sequel before you’ve seen the first one, now you definitely know that one lady lives because she’s in the second trailer. So then I say to you dear reader, if you haven’t read the first book, A Discovery of Witches, and you think you will, don’t read this yet. I recommend you just go right to reading it or you can read My Review of A Discovery of Witches. I have no doubt if you enjoy the first one at all you’ll have to read the second. By all means if you’ve read the first and are still unsure, then read on! Or please if you’ve read them both or the whole trilogy and want to discuss your thoughts and feelings read on and let’s chat. I’d love to hear how you thought it worked or what didn’t. However, PLEASE do not spoil book three for me!

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Okay, some basic spoilers to follow…

This book got saucy with the romance, which we knew it had to but not being a regular romance reader it made me blush. While the author went there with the intimacy I don’t think she overdid it. The scenes weren’t long and drawn out and many times they concluded or started with other bits of useful information. I really appreciate that about a writer, when they don’t box a scene up to serve one purpose. If you don’t like romance or reading about intimacy AT ALL, you’ll probably get more than a little annoyed. That being said, Diana and Matthew’s relationship is central to this story so, pick your battles. Oh and for those of you that might be triggered, there are a couple aggressively passionate love scenes between Matthew & Diana. They’re not abusive or unwanted, they’re just…intense to say the least. If you ask me, regardless how you feel about love scenes, the overall story is worth it. The scenes are at least PG-13 – R-rated, but don’t quote me on that.

Traveling back in time as we did was really interesting. I wondered how it would work out and if it would. Harkness did not disappoint with her research and ability to make it work in a natural way even though time travel is so unfortunately unnatural. Spoiler: she did not force the concept of hiding it from everyone. Lesser or less experienced (pardon me) authors might try and make you believe no one noticed Diana was out of place. You don’t just slip back into the 16th century unnoticed. Nope, not Harkness, she works with and through that. The other characters’ responses to such details are great.

Now, do I think this book had to be 584 pages? No. It would not have suffered from leaving some more pages on the cutting room floor. At least halfway through the book you might be feeling like you’re more than ready to move on from time traveling. There were at least a few places where they mentioned going back to the…future/present and I got excited for a change of pace. Alas it did not yet come. But that’s not to say the time spent in the past was full of the same monotonous routine. Not at all. A lot happens in 1590-1, interesting twists and turns full of creepy people. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot we could have skipped.

That’s probably my biggest critique besides Deborah Harkness’ love for lots of setting and time period details, not my favorite. If I liked this amount of detail than she deserves a high five. 😉

This book is full of emotion. There’s so much going on what with Matthew returning to a past he once knew, people he once knew and loved. We get to dive into his vulnerability and watch him fight to unfold, unfold and then come back together again. The relationship with his father Phillipe is very special, never mind that Phillipe himself is a well-written, nuanced character. I do hope they personify him well in the TV series because he’s so iconic. It would be an enormous shame should they miss the mark. We meet a lot of other great characters, including Matthew’s nephew Gallowglass. The characters alone are a great reason to read this book.

This book really gives us a chance to get to know Matthew better. Plus I really enjoyed getting a better look at the history of witches, vampires, and daemons. The traditions and ceremonies were fun, sometimes drawn out, but still interesting.

Lastly…

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I want to address something I saw people complaining about in the first book: Matthew’s dominant, aggressive personality and behaviors. It seemed his character got the feminists all riled up. Don’t forget that Diana is more than attracted to Matthew, she’s wildly in love with him, all of him. She’s more than capable of handling herself and is in no way an unwilling participant or victim here. I am not implying that whatever he does is made okay because she loves him. Nor am I saying that love somehow makes abuse okay. I’m also not saying that a woman who can handle herself can’t be abused. All I’m saying is keep it in the context of the story. Diana is not abused or taken advantage of by Matthew. But there are OTHER people who abuse and physically harm Diana, as we saw in the first book.

It’s not okay to hurt or (try to) control another person, whether you’re a man, woman or child. It’s also important to be able to distinguish an abusive person from a personality you just don’t care for. Masculinity is not toxic, but not unlike femininity, it can be.

Deborah Harkness didn’t create a chauvinistic prick in Matthew. No, she created a 1,500+ year old alpha male vampire with heavy emphasis on the fact that he is a predator, and I mean predator as in the animal kingdom, not a sexual predator. Matthew is very cognizant of his domineering behavior and worries about the parts of him that make him dangerous. In the first book you discover that he is avoiding being intimate with her. He’s worried about the possessive nature of a vampire once they take a mate. I get it if the aggression triggers you and any trauma you may have experienced, and for that I’m sorry if you have those experiences. I’m very sorry if you or anyone you care for has been affected by abuse and/or violence of any kind. It’s never acceptable for anyone to be taken or used in any way against their will. I do not condone violent masculinity and I’m not supporting it here. But there’s a difference between highly masculine men and abusive masculinity. However that is NOT what is happening in this story with Diana and Matthew. His over-protectiveness is not the abusive kind; he has EVERY right to be worried about and for her. His behavior cannot be taken out of context. And lest you forget, Diana more than handles herself when she thinks people MIGHT being pushing her around.

Diana and Matthew’s relationship is not an abusive one. While there are elements that might trigger you, kept in the context of the story, you will see that there is a real relationship of love and compassion. And let me tell you, Diana does more than what she wants. There are more than plenty of instances where Diana will annoy you because she doesn’t listen and just goes and does what she wants. Trust that Diana very much her own woman no matter.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments, but not your book three spoilers. 😉 If you read this based on my referral please give me a shout out on your blog and link back to me here. I will start reading Book 3, The Book of Life, immediately following so stay tuned for my review of that in the next couple weeks. Then I’ll give watching the AMC TV series a try, although I’ll tell you right now, I don’t like their pick for Matthew.

Thank you! If you want to read more of my reviews, CLICK HERE.

You can also see what I’m reading at 2019 TBR

Or what I plan to read soon Spring 2019 TBR

My Review of A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness

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Info from Goodreads:

(My review from Oct 2018 follows)

Book one of the New York Times–bestselling All Souls trilogy—”a wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight” (People)

Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar’s depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense. The story continues in book two, Shadow of Night, and concludes with The Book of Life, coming from Viking in July 2014.

Paperback, 579 pages – Published December 27th 2011 by Penguin Books (first published February 8th 2011)

My Review (Oct 2018)

4.5/5 stars

I’ll start off by saying Wow and then I’ll say my biggest issue with this book was it’s very long, which isn’t wholly bad but I don’t love lots of description of place and setting and there’s a lot of science and history (I don’t necessarily dislike but…) that doesn’t drive the story forward. For a lot of people the science and history is doing to be a distracting, dragging deal breaker. If you can push past it, do. That said I’m also often an impatient reader; I think I just want to hurry up and get to the active parts! 

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This really is an amazing story, whether you’re a romance fan or not (I’m not). There are typical tropes of course, which may also be deal breakers for you (I for one tend to roll my eyes at them to say the least, however…) The romance is just one element that happens to be central to the plot. There’s so much going on beyond their relationship it doesn’t overwhelm the story. It’s thrilling, mysterious, and very well written. Deborah Harkness does an excellent job throwing curve balls. She also excels at character development. Even thinking about the characters now (there are many) they all stand out and carry their roles in the story well. I love when an author fleshes out their characters and they really do become their own thing, person, being. She does all of that. I will add that if you can’t stand extra masculine characters who happen to be VERY OLD (think immortal vampire) thus they’ve got some traditional “I’m the man” behaviors then you might not be able to stand this. But if you can get over that and see passed that for what it is, Matthew’s overall character as an alpha vampire, you might come to respect it especially given his sensitivities.

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The plot is compelling, especially the main characters Diana and Matthew. Their attraction to each other and resultant behaviors is exciting to say the least. Through their relationship (emotional and physical) we learn a lot about vampires. It’s a really neat way to present that information. I find this presentation to be unique (disclaimer: I do not read a lot of vampire/witch etc stories). I like her consistent reference to them being predators and their behaviors as such, instead of them just being these magical scary beings. The underlying system of magic is great, there are clear definitions of beings and yet we’re reaching for this mystery that connects us all throughout the story. Of course we’re learning about witches all along as well.

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Sure there were times when the story was slow, but all in all it was worth it. There’s some more cliches near the end that are kind of corny and hard to swallow but I ran with it; I think the story is strong enough to survive them. And there may have been some minor discrepancies here and there (little bits that read like huh?) but when the STORY CHARACTERS are this good things like that roll off the duck’s back and you forget all about them. I didn’t know what to expect when I discovered this book but I was impressed early on, declaring I would no doubt be reading the whole trilogy (waiting to receive the other two now). For me this was a story that had I had to review (check-in) throughout the book I wouldn’t have given it 4.5 stars but when viewed as a whole I’m happy giving it 4.5 stars. If you like Fantasy, especially witches and vampires, I recommend this book. It’s not all mushy love – though there’s plenty of desire & I appreciate that it never goes overboard – rather it takes us through the complexities of life as witches, vampires and daemons (not as much of the latter, which is fine). We see their behaviors, their needs, their history, it’s fascinating. Humans aren’t the only ones with prejudices and the life of these others creatures is rife with them. So what happens if a vampire and a witch fall in love? Why doesn’t Diana use her magic and what does it mean if she does? Why is Matthew so powerful? Can he reconcile his primal behaviors and needs? We get these answers in this book, even if not all of them and there’s clearly more to learn in the next two, the answers here are fully satisfying. The power these characters exude is fantastic. Let me say it’s palpable. So check it out. Happy reading!

I’ll amend this with what might be a little bit of a spoiler and say

I read someone else describe this as a kind of mash up of Da Vinci Code & Twilight. I like the Da Vinci Code; I’m not a Twilight fan. In an effort to remain honest, I agree for the most part. So if you hate both of those proceed to this book with caution. 😀

Have you read this and/or the trilogy? What did you think? As I post this (after the fact) I’m reading book #3, The Book of Life so don’t spoil it for me! 😉 But I’d love to know what you all think. Will you read it now? Let’s chat, I love to chat!

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