A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Author Interveiw at However Improbable

  Hey, guess what? I got to do an interview on another writer’s blog. Many thanks to Jack at However Improbable for hosting me! Here’s the link. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interveiw With Valhalse Coharnah, antagonist of The Stardrift Trilogy

Sorry for the pause. That was for suspense, of course. Very calculated. Now, here's what you've been waiting for: an interview with the villain.


What is your goal as the ruler of Divizah?


My aspirations change with the wind. I’ve told some people I would resurrect theocracy—only partially in jest. I used to be such a romantic. I would do anything if I would be worshipped for it. But after a while I realized that gods are all too often manipulated by those who take a more underhanded approach. I don’t know what I want right now, besides possibly to shake off certain political shackles—alliances, that’s what they call them—that keep Divizah so pitifully domesticated.  


How do you see yourself?


I…I’m not sure. It depends very much on perspective. Much of what I’ve been through has stayed with me. I see myself through the eyes of those around me sometimes. I used to try to see that way more often, but I grew to hate it. I hate what other people see, but I could care less if they continue to see it. People’s opinions don’t matter at all.



What is your take on humanity in general?


Humanity is ultimately tragic. So many people die chasing after something unattainable, impermanent, or altogether imaginary. A waste of lives. A waste of passion. I’ve tried reasoning with them. They don’t listen. Masses only trust their emotions—particularly their fear.




What is your greatest fear?


Fear? What would I be afraid of? I couldn’t say I have any fears…it wouldn’t be good for public relations. Everything’s alright most of the time. I used to think more about…things when I was younger, when I had just taken my position as sovereign. I’ve been trying not to brood so much lately. There isn’t any sense in worrying about it anymore…but I didn’t use to wake up in the night, like I do now.


Have you ever done anything you were ashamed of?


Shame very often comes from acting without weighing the consequences. I struggle with an internal discord between very passionate emotions and a need for a very strong strategy. You have to be extremely cautious as a Divizin sovereign. You live a public life and are constrained to meet rigorous expectations. Tiny mistakes still pile up in time, though. I’m both ashamed of everything and of nothing I’ve ever done.


From what do you derive satisfaction?


Nothing! No, I guess there must be something…some small thing. I like it when I walk into a room and I can feel a surge of awe run through everyone there. I enjoy paralyzing someone who attempts to oppose me. I have it down to an art. All of my human interaction has become very nuanced and adapted to create the desired effect. A Divizin sovereign is no mere mortal and never truly satisfied until they cease to be treated as such. I also like breaking glass. It has a guaranteed shock effect every time.


Is the Universe chaos or a plotted design?


Oh, a beautiful design—plotted no doubt, for self-destruct from the beginning of time, but nonetheless beautiful. The streamlined perfection of the design has always intrigued and, in light of everything that’s happened, almost amused me somehow. I think I’m beginning to understand now. With all the stardust, and heroism, and DNA and tears, it was all meant as a joke, after all--a bitter, morbid joke for those of us who get it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interveiw with Dahskay Onlore, Main Character of The Stardrift Trilogy

Now things get fun. Today, I’m staging an interview with The Stardrift Trilogy’s main character, Dahskay Onlore. Dahskay Onlore is an apprenticed radio astronomer working as an intern at her father’s Observatory in the mountains on the planet of Finzar. In Earth-years, she would be about sixteen when the story starts.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job at the observatory?

For one thing, I love the setting. The Ematosk Mountains are beautiful, and the emotional climate at the observatory is so peaceful and contemplative most of the time. It’s kind of a vacation setting. Then there’s the whole astronomy aspect. I love our subject-matter. It’s all so huge and fantastical, and the fact that our sole purpose is to listen to what the heavenly bodies are saying…that’s cool. (Laughs.) If you can’t see how cool that is, I can’t help you.

  Things that aren’t as cool would be the boring technical things and the computer work. I don’t like technology very much. And then there’s the fact that you’re kind of isolated up there and stuck with the same bunch of people all the time. That sometimes gets old.


How do you choose who to hang out with?

Well, when you’re working, you don’t often get to choose, but during breaks and the off-time we get every four days, I prefer to be with my brothers. Otherwise there are several girls that live in my dorm who I like. I like good communicators, quiet people, people with interesting stories. Some of the other interns aren’t really going into astronomy, so there are some that I have to search around for common ground with. But for the most part, a lot of the people at the observatory share that interest. It’s nice to be with people who have a passion for what you love.


Do you find it easy to trust people, and get along?

Yeah, usually, I’d say I do. I like to see people in reference to their experiences and know them for who they are. A lot of people dismiss other people too easily as this or that, and walk away, or run away, accordingly. I try to be patient and learn about people, and try to assume the best of them. I found it really pays off.


Do you consider yourself a heroic person?

I don’t know…I guess it depends on how you define a hero. Standing up for what’s right under pressure and standing by the people you love are important, I guess. Those are things I try to do. I would be willing to do whatever I had to do to help people who needed me. Self-sacrifice and hope are probably the virtues that I would say define a hero. I want to be that strong, but I don’t know for sure if I am, right now.


Do you think individuals are important in the grand scheme of things?

Wow…big question. As an astronomer, you spend so much time in light of the giant realm we call the universe. Really, you would think that people and their individual struggles and achievements would shrink by comparison. Sometimes I wish they would. But yes, I think people are infinitely important--as important as the universe is huge. It’s a mistake to separate individuals from the grand design. Everyone’s an essential part of it.


Do you believe in a higher power?

Yes. I’ve always believed in God, but there’s something about astronomy, and space travel as well, that just keeps emphasizing it. You can’t feel alone out there. I don’t really like space travel, but, with all the comfort and familiarity stripped away, that’s when you really know that it isn’t just your personal culture, your hometown, your planet. You get out there tens of millions of miles from all that, and your head clears, and you know it’s not your imagination.


If you could send a message to everyone in the universe, what would you say?

I’d tell them to listen. Listening is so underrated. People don’t seem to have the curiosity or the imagination to search for what might be calling them. You never can know what your destiny is really meant to be. Mostly just because it’s so celestial, and so huge, you can’t take it in. But if you listen, you might get some hints of what’s coming for you. And it’s not something bound to your home planet. Your life was never meant to be that small.    

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Publishing Story

And what a long story it is. I started writing The Stardrift Trilogy way back in 2008. Back then, I wasn’t actually planning to publish. I didn’t expect anyone outside my family to read my story. I was fourteen then, so that seemed a little bit grandiose to me.

But here’s how I started my publishing adventures. For anybody who doesn’t know, there are three ways you can get a book published these days. You can try to sell it to a traditional publisher (traditional publishing), you can do the entire thing yourself (self-publishing), or you can buy the services of a publisher and keep the rights (subsidy-publishing.)

  I chose to subsidy publish a bit rashly, I suppose. I found a subsidy-publisher called Westbow Press that would produce my books and distribute them in four months—that was about two years ago. There were really two reasons I chose to subsidy-publish: it was faster than traditional, and I doubted that I could market my books successfully to a traditional press.

So what happened to the four months? A number of things. When I decided to publish, I had already written the whole trilogy. To cut expenses, I intended to have all three books produced as a single volume. So, when I submitted them to Westbow, the three were one document.

The books passed content evaluation, meaning they found no copyrighted material, nothing that was against their publishing standards, and that the manuscript was legible. But there was a problem: they didn’t have the equipment to bind a novel that thick. So, I had to divide the document into two volumes, and re-submit it.

  At this point, I think there was some kind of miscommunication, because they thought they had to run the whole evaluation over again, even though they had already seen everything the first time through. This set the time back again, and to make matters worse (and very confusing) it didn’t pass the second time.

Turns out Westbow, in the middle of my project, decided to tighten up their standards of violence in the books they produced—cutting it down to about a PG, or possibly even G level. There is some blood and violence in the trilogy, and after struggling with attempts at down-playing it in revision, I realized I couldn’t reduce it any further without disfiguring the story.

  So, we pulled out and went over to the secular Abbott Press. But time was set back again. We picked slowly through the process with multiple strange little setbacks. But, at long last, the project was finished.

  That was my rather awkward break into the publishing world. I’m eyeing out both self-publishing options and a small Christian traditional press called Enclave Press for my up-coming novels. My hope is to start to establish myself with the Stardrift Trilogy. If you have any interest, check out “books” page on this blog, or simply search for The Stardrift Trilogy by A. L. Buehrer on Amazon, Barns and Nobel, or the Abbott Press Bookstore.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Well, The Stardrift Trilogy is now available to the public. Spread the news. You can buy the books on Amazon Barnes &Noble, and on Abbott Press Bookstore. Read it, review it, enjoy it if you can! Seven years in the making, and it's finally here!!!

Saturday, August 8, 2015


There was a worrisome fluttering and clanging and then silence. Presently, the seabird’s head appeared at the other end of the shelves. Without a thought, Dahskay sneaked up on it and caught it before it could fully emerge. She pulled it out gently despite its clawed feet clinging to unseen anchors behind the shelves. She tucked in the enormous wings and held it firmly against her side.

  “You got it!” whispered Cahathel in amazement, rushing to open the door.

  She glanced nervously down at the bird’s long, ponderously hooked bill as she carried it to the exit.  It didn’t threaten her with it. It just blinked and gazed steadily ahead.

  Just outside the door, she crouched down and let go of it. It fussily rearranged its wings and turned walking into the wind a couple of steps. Before it took off, it looked back at Dahskay through clear gray eyes.

  As the enormous spread of wings climbed away into the stormy sky, Zaarrveck muttered, “Strange, most of them have dark eyes.”

Learning from Novels: Agatha Christie's "The Seven Dials Mystery"

There’s a reason Christie is such a big name in murder mysteries. I wouldn’t describe myself as a huge whodunit junkie, but her work stands out brilliantly from all that I’ve read. The Seven Dials Mystery follows the mysterious deaths of two young men on the grounds of Chimneys, a huge estate being rented out be the protagonist’s father. The clues are a missing alarm clock, an unfinished letter, and the last words of one of the victims as he dies.
  Christie’s red-herrings are particularly good. She knows all about playing on a reader’s assumptions. The main character is engaging, and well-developed. I would never name a character “Bundle”, but, to each their own.
  There are an awful lot of characters introduced in the first couple of chapters of the book. It’s a good thing when a mystery has a lot of suspects, but I would complain that they were dealt a little fast, and there are a few that blend together. Most of her characters, though not described extensively, were given one or two distinguishing marks that made it possible to file them, mentally. The story starts with a prank involving eight young people, and I found myself juggling their names and faces for a while, worried that I would be expected to remember every one. Actually, only one or two of them were important to the story.
  Another thing that I found confusing was the fact that the main character wasn’t introduced until after all that. She wasn’t even one of the people present at the beginning. For a while, I didn’t know who I was supposed to follow around.
  I would rant on about the plot developments being flat out unfair to the reader, but, looking back, it was all quite clever. The worst of it was Bundle was barking up the wrong tree the whole time. You naturally assume that the main character is pretty close to getting it write near the end of the novel—but how it all turned out was nothing like what she thought.
  I really enjoyed reading the book. I’ll be reading more Agatha Christie as soon as I get my hands on it.

Friday, August 7, 2015


On the other side of the door, she stopped short and stared. The chamber’s ceiling was as high as that of the exterior hallways and it was punctuated by skylights shaped like elongated teardrops streaming from the highest point in the vaulting. Stormy blue-ish light flowed down from these windows and lit the soaring labyrinth of shelves and cabinets that kept the temple’s some twelve-million documents. The air was cool and felt like it somehow came from outside. There wasn’t a sound to be heard.

Avoiding Cliches: Don't Do The Prophesy

And don’t take my titles too literally, either. The prophecy is a very standard device in sci-fi and fantasy, particularly. It’s really not a bad thing in itself, and I used it in the Stardrift Trilogy and am using it in The Art of Lightplay, the fantasy I’m currently writing. Like practically all clichés, the prophecy can go from a predictable bore to a satisfying thrill with a little twisting.
  Authors have different ways of handling prophecies. Some write them, without context, in the beginning of their book, before chapter one. Some don’t bring them up until the plot is already moving. Some show the prophesy being told for the first time in the beginning of their story. The placement makes little difference. Do whatever you want.
  People get particularly lazy when it comes to the actual writing of the thing. Here’s where things get really predictable if you’re not careful. Things to watch out for:

·         Make sure you use natural-sounding language that matches the way people speak in your story. Please don’t use, or attempt to use Elizabethan English if you have no reason to.
·         Unless the prophesy was written by a poet—preferably one who had no idea they were writing a prophesy—please don’t rhyme it. Why would it rhyme?
·         Don’t use the term “Chosen One.” Think of something else.
·         Don’t have an old woman say it.

I could go on, but I would rather move on to talking about ingenious ways to twist it. I wouldn’t advocate throwing the whole prophecy device out of literature. People like prophesy, for some reason. And in a time when people are beginning to think history is just a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, I think it’s inspiring to know that the human spirit still wants there to be a greater destiny.
  So, ideas for manipulating the cliché to surprise people. First of all, let me say that the best model for prophesy in literature comes from the bible. The original “Chosen One” prophesy—the oldest in the world, originated there. If I wasn’t a Christian, the accuracy and detail of biblical prophesies would be one of the things that freaked me out.
  Great ideas inspired by biblical prophesy:

·         One of my favorites—the reoccurring fulfillment. The major prophesies in the bible are rarely fulfilled just once, on just one level. Some of the old testament prophets appeared to be referring to their own lifetimes—and later, Jesus Christ would fulfill them again—and in the future, some will occur yet again.
·         The blind prophet. Like I mentioned above, sometimes prophets may even seem to be referring to their own personal circumstances—but later, something cosmic happens that sheds new light on their words.
·         Occasionally, what people believed to be poetic wording turns out to be quite literal. Other times, what people expect to be literal actually implied something else
·         Sometimes, a prophesy is presented as a story. This happens constantly in the bible. The reader isn’t even told that the event—typically a true story—is going to have significance later on—then it does.

Prophesies are good ways to keep a reader guessing. They serve as foreshadows, and riddles. If the wording is more abstract, or symbolic, the reader really doesn’t get it until they look back on events. That won’t keep them from trying. And just like in real prophesy, the trying is half the fun.
  So, enjoy writing prophesies. But remember, they take mental effort. Writing a story about prophesy being fulfilled is almost as strategic as writing a murder mystery. Give it the time and thought it needs to be epic.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Dahskay slipped suddenly from the gentle hand of dreamless sleep. It was funny how every time she had awakened from any amount of sleep on this mission, she always expected to be in her room. What was even stranger was the fact that it wasn’t her room at the OAOF on Clilltar. Not even the girls’ dorm on Finzar, but her childhood home that she imagined she would see when she opened her eyes.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Creating Atmosphere

One of the greatest absences I sense in modern novels, poems, and short-stories is atmosphere. When did we lose it? Where did it go? And…why??? I don’t know that I could answer any of these questions. All I know is it’s gone, and I want it back.

   So, what exactly is this lost element, atmosphere? Atmosphere is the underlying mood or tone of a piece of art. It’s what flavors and colors a scene, or a moment, making it more than the sum of its parts. In film, the soundtrack, lighting, set, and movement of the characters are powerful contributors to atmosphere. In paintings, the composition, palette, and focus play parts. In music, the instruments, dynamics, articulation, and tempo make all the difference.

  Atmosphere really exists independently of subject-matter. A good author can take a scene in which the same characters are present, doing the same things, but make the reader feel any number of ways about it. The magic is in well-chosen details.

  The atmosphere of a scene is a combination of physical and emotional elements. Look at the scene through the eyes of your characters in reference to what their currently going through. If your main character is walking down a beach, whether they are waiting for a boat that they are confident will arrive soon, or one that they’ve heard rumors may have gone down earlier that day.

  Supposing it’s the exact same beach, the exact same time of day, and under the exact same weather conditions in both scenarios, what makes the difference? The main character’s focus, and the narrator’s descriptions set the atmosphere in this situation. Here’s the narrative for the more positive scenario:  

  He kicked along the shore, bouncing pebbles into the springy, flashing wavelets. For a few minutes he watched the minnows scatter, vaguely aware of the jeering laughter of the gulls as they took off with each other’s fish bones and trash. When the rumble of a boat faded in, he looked up, shading his eyes against the blazing sunshine. That wasn’t them, but that one scudding in off the hazy horizon could be.

And the more worrisome scene:

  A few paces from the docks, he stopped and scanned through the tethered boats. Gulls screamed through the heavy air as one by one, all the boats in the bay docked. The sun glared on the agitated water, but the horizon was dark and the incoming craft seemed to emerge from behind a dark blue curtain. Another boat droned in. His eyes snapped to it. No. That still wasn’t them.

  Some of the details are the same. Some differ. The things that stayed in both scenes were described differently. In the first scene, he idly kicked stones and noticed minnows—in the second, he got right to the point, searching for the boat. The “springy, flashing wavelets” of the first scene became “agitated water” in the second.  First, the horizon was merely hazy. Second, it was a mysterious barrio between him and those he waited for.

  Try writing some scenes like this. Try writing the same scene—possibly even one with the same dialogue—and putting it in a different context. Use the atmosphere to convey the feelings of the scenes differently.

Friday, July 31, 2015


They only saw one planet on their way out of the ecliptic. Silita drifted far to the starboard side. Ahead, the stars stared blankly at them, saying quite clearly, “What are you doing here?”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Learning From Novels: Marie d'Agoult's Nelida

Nelida is a romance novel, published in 1846. So why in the world would I be reading it? Therein lies a story. I’m not just a writer, but also a classical music geek. My official celebrity crush is Franz Liszt, a Hungarian pianist/composer. If you are well-read in music history, you know that Liszt was not just famous for being an unprecedented piano virtuoso, but also one of the most scandalous figures of his time as far as his love-life went.
  This novel was written by his mistress of ten years, the mother of his three children, around the time they finally broke up. It was a bestseller in its day, but probably not because it was a great book.
  So, first, I’ll discuss the novel’s problems. One of the most glaring problems is the main character. Not a good problem to have. Nelida, is impossible for me to connect with. I’ll give you a quick run-down of the plot so you know. Nelida is a ridiculously sweet, ridiculously innocent girl who befriends, in her childhood, a gypsy boy named Geurmann. (And everyone reading the book at the time knew who these two characters represented.) After a little incident with trespassing and cherry-stealing, Nelida is no longer permitted to associate with the low-bred Geurmann.
  Years later, Geurmann re-enters Nelida’s life as a successful artist, who has been preoccupied with Nelida’s portrait for the better part of his career. And, of course, they fall in love, but unfortunately Geurmann, despite his outward appearance of graciousness, is no less an uncultured peasant than he was back in the cherry orchard.
  So, here’s the issue: Nelida has no obligation, or reason to accept any of the catastrophes that proceed to befall her. She simply lacks character to stand against any of the injustice and immorality that she is crushed by. In this sense, she isn’t even as good a character as the author, who was a strong-minded individual, if somewhat nasty at times.
  Here’s the thing—your character has to have a motivation that binds them to their circumstances. For Nelida, it really isn’t love for Geurmann—in fact, until the end, you can’t really be sure that she cares for him at all. I certainly didn’t find him at all likable. Even if your love-interest does turn out to be your villain, your main character must have a reason to like them. Nelida proceeds to be walked over by Geurmann and everybody else, not because she’s trapped in any way, but because d’Agoult wants to be sure we all feel good and sorry for her, and know also, that there’s nothing good in Geurmann (Liszt).
  I was disappointed that neither she, nor Liszt’s personalities were portrayed in the novel. Even with the messy, unrealistic plot, it would have been that much more believable if Nelida had the willpower and fierce pride of Marie, and Geurmann had the magnetism and fiery spirit of Franz.
  Actually, I have to admit, in the last few chapters, she did develop Geurmann more strongly, and he was, at that point, recognizable as Liszt’s more irritating side. Also, he was away from Nelida in those last couple of chapters, which was good, because I really just can’t enjoy reading about her.
  I think separating him from Nelida also did something good for d’Agoult’s portrayal of him. Without her cherubic contrast, the author was able to depict him sympathetically. It shows when an author has some feeling for a character as a person. Even an antagonist is a person. If you have respect for their humanity, they’ll be more real.
  Finally, there were two clichés that d’Agoult impressed me by eluding. First off, Geurmann dies in the end. This is a twist, because, if d’Agoult were going to hold to stereotypes, Nelida would have been the one to go. Killing off Geurmann nicely gets rid of the problem, while not doing what we were all expecting.
  The other thing was, Geurmann didn’t actually die in Nelida’s arms. He went into a coma for a day or two. More realistic, less melodramatic.
  Overall, I wasn’t impressed. But I’ve got to say, it was an interesting read in the historical context.     

Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't Do The Dress-Up Scene

I might find this cliché less cliché, if I had at some point experienced something like it in real life. Maybe this actually happens among some people, but as far as I know, it mainly happens in dumb novels.
  And even in some not-so-dumb novels. In fact, the example I’m thinking of is from none other than C.S. Lewis’s none other than Space Trilogy. In the third book, That Hideous Strength, there is a scene near the end where the ladies of the story are preparing for…a banquet, or something of the sort. (Frankly, That Hideous Plot really confused me.) They all are dressing up for the occasion in some fantastic clothes, which, though they would probably amaze me if I saw them, always fail to impress me when mentioned in this kind of context. There’s a lot of general oohing and ahhing—you know, like ladies do…about clothes.
  Okay. So I’ve revealed that I’m not a girly girl. My point is, whether or not these things actually take place among more typical humans, how hard-hitting and memorable is this scene? Of course, in Lewis’s version of this scene, they are at the same time talking about other things besides just the gorgeous gowns. If they weren’t, the scene would be absolutely superfluous, and I would be pretty disappointed in Lewis. But, seeing as the scene shouldn’t be completely deleted, what would you do to fix the predictability of it all?
  Predictability is deadly. Readers are bored to death with it. As soon as I see the author setting up for this scene I think, “Okay, here we go again.” The combination of the flurry of sumptuous lace and ruffles, girlish twitter, and perhaps some demonstration of how the characters’ relationships have developed, you really don’t have to keep reading to know what is going to happen.
  It’s important to have unique scenes in your story. The more creative your settings and situations are, the more impact they will have. It’s true. Think about times when you were in an odd place, doing something unusual. You remember times like these. When you’re an author, you have the ability to manipulate setting and situation to your advantage. You aren’t restrained to use anything just because you think it’s typical.
  If you’re going to have a scene where your female characters are talking—hopefully in a way that moves the plot—try something new, something that will engage your readers.
  Try interesting things:

·         Hiding from a freak hailstorm in a telephone booth
·         Doing maintenance on an ancient pipe-organ
·         Walking the rails on a railroad bridge
·         Swimming underneath the docks at a public beach

You get the idea I think. These kinds of scenes will force you to be creative, rather than following the molds of a hundred scenes you’ve read just like this. If more novels had more scenes like this, more novels would be unforgettable.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Rising out of Divizah’s murky atmosphere, dim lights mounted on the wings of some eerie unseen vessel could be seen off the Astronomer’s starboard wing. The ship swiftly veered as the Astronomer turned back up toward the ring system for cover. Suddenly, it sprung from the atmospheric haze and charged after them. It was enormous, but very maneuverable, and it swept forward in the Astronomer’s pursuit with the form of a headless bird.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Six Week Countdown!

From this point on, it’s only a six-week countdown until the Stardrift Trilogy will be available from Abbott Press’s website. That would date party time August 25. At last.

  You know, I’ll probably post the whole story of my adventures in subsidy-publishing once they’re over. For now, I’ll just give you a teaser, saying, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

  In the meanwhile, I’ve got one more thing. In these weeks counting down to printing and distribution, I’ll be posting snippets from the Trilogy here on As the Stars Drift interspersed along with my other posts. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Two things: First of all, I have made two new advances into the online world. I recently made an author's website that you should be certain to explore. I've never made a website before, but it was really surprisingly simple and I'm pleased with the results. The other slightly less impressive development is, I've joined Pinterest. I try to avoid these kinds of things because they can be such time-sinks, but I have to say, I enjoy it a little too much. Check it out.
  The other announcement is even more exciting. As of a few minutes ago, I sent of my final manuscript with additional maps, a glossary, and some fourteen illustrations I made to improve it. Now, pretty much all I have to do is wait. As soon as I know an approximate release date, I'll post about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Learning From Novels: Leah Good’s Counted Worthy


For the first of hopefully several novel discussion posts, I’ve chosen a novel I got for Christmas last year. Leah Good is a young, self-published, Christian novelist. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. I was convinced to put Counted Worthy on my Christmas list because there was some excitement over the book on The Rebelution.

  First, before I go on, let me say that I am almost literally impossible to please when it comes to novels. (And I use ‘literally’ in the literal sense.) Modern novels have even less of a chance. I don’t like the typically scanty atmosphere they are barely able to muster. Nonetheless, I decided to try to stay positive, and read Counted Worthy.

  There are a lot of different little things I could say about this book, but I’ve narrowed it down to a major good point, and a major bad point. Bad news first:

  In a word, worldbuilding. The term “worldbuilding” is commonly thrown around in the realms of speculative fiction writers, but really, it applies across the board. You must build your world. Counted Worthy is a futuristic dystopian novel. One of the essentials of the dystopian genre is to give a very strong sense of cultural decay by vivid, imaginative worldbuilding.

  Good slacked a little bit here, in my opinion. No, she did try a bit. You have the typical banned-book list and incinerator combo, the neglected city slums, the hyperactive corrupt police force…but she stopped there.

  Frankly, what she needed was either more imagination or more ability to express it. We have here, the framework of a dystopian culture—the bare essentials. We need some specific details.

  For example, she metions briefly that the clothes people where in the inner city are extravagant. But she never describes a single outfit that would typify these fashions. So, the reader is left wondering if it’s really okay if they’re imagining Hunger Games style mock 17th century garb.

  Likewise, you hear next to nothing about architecture, technology, or transportation. Okay, so we know people have these things called ‘pocket screens’ which are essentially no different than today’s iPhones. For whatever reason, we just call them pocket screens now. (Think about this: do names for technology usually become more bland and literal, or more trendy and brand-based as time goes on? Television is called TV now.) Also, she does avoid the problem of creating futuristic means of transportation by saying that cars are too expensive for non-government people to drive, therefore they stick to old-fashioned bicycles.

  In my opinion, this makes some of the action scenes a little bit humorous to imagine visually, but for some reason I’ve never been able to take cyclists seriously.

  On the other hand, the main thing I observed about the book was a good thing. There are a ton of Christian writers at work today, but barely a handful actually write Christian fiction.

  In saying this, I’m not judging Christian authors as writing immoral or un-Christian novels, what I’m saying is what they’re really doing is pumping out a lot of ‘clean’ romances. If you took the occasional prayer, or church service, or scripture-quoting out of the manuscript, not much would change. Not so with Counted Worthy.

  The subject matter of Good’s novel is what makes it good. It’s not just a mediocre story with some good things in it and, most importantly, some bad things not in it. The essence of the story is Christian. What’s more, it’s a very non-rosy, non-happily-ever-after story about gritting your teeth and hanging on when things look hopeless. For that reason, I hope it starts a trend.

  But keep in mind, if you intend to write a dystopian novel, you will need to invest in your setting. Hone your worldbuilding skills. Have fun with it. Your readers will thank you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Don't Do The Mirror

People really struggle with figuring out when and how to describe their characters’ physical appearances. Some people just throw it in there in the middle of the narrative as a rather long, off-subject aside. Others skip it altogether. But one of the most common and lazy ways to get the information out there is the mirror.

So, you’re in the first scene of your novel. Your character is getting ready to go somewhere, or just waking up in the morning, or something convenient like that. So, of course, he or she looks in the mirror. How natural is that?

  Well, here comes the unnatural part. For some reason, we readers are forced to look in the mirror too, and are subjected to a detailed report of what is reflected there. And (voila) we have our physical description of the main character.

  Here’s what makes it awkward: when you look in the mirror, what do you see? Of course, you see a rather sickly-looking sandy-haired girl with long bangs, light freckles and denim-blue eyes, if you happen to fit that description. But you’ve seen that for years. You’re not checking to see if your hair-color has changed, or if your eyes are now brown. You look in the mirror to see if you’re presentable. Or to find out of your eye is still swollen, like it was yesterday.

  You could approach a mirror scene in this more realistic way, but it still doesn’t solve your problem of trying to describe your main character. You have to find other ways to do this.

Really, you have to rely on your own imagination and judgement to make this work out right, but here are some tips.

·         You can get away with a brief couple of physical attributes mentioned on your character’s first entrance. Just keep it quick.

·         You can be sneaky and compare you character to somebody else in your story, or outside it

·         People tend to complain about how they look. Take advantage of this.

·         It’s almost always fine to mention any physical attribute that would be relevant to the action.


Along the lines of that last one, as a reader, I’ve always been bored to death by descriptions of clothing. However, if your character just donned a knit-cap, or needed a raincoat on a wet day, this is an exception. Likewise, if they have some reason to be thinking about clothes at the moment, it’s okay to bring attire into the narrative then, as well.

  Really, timing and relevance are important here. Keep in mind that everything you write in a novel has to have a reason to be there. Don’t let awkward description scenes trip you up.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Don't Do The Mentor

To start my off the series on clichés, I’m going to expose one of my favorite hackneyed characters: the mentor.

  Mentors serve important roles in fiction. They play to part of an example, somebody who’s been there. The main character needs guidance. They want things explained to them. They want to ask questions of somebody who knows what it’s about. There’s nothing wrong with having a character like this.

  The problem lies with portrayal. Something to always remember: no character is a role. Every character is a person. The difference between a person and a role is essential. When a character is simply a role, everything falls into place just a little too easily. Here are characteristics of a mentor role:

·         A mentor is older than those they are teaching

·         A mentor knows just what it’s like to be in the main character’s position

·         They’ve been there—and come away wiser. They’ve somehow managed to learn all the important lessons

·         They always know just how to verbalize those lessons in pithy little sayings (clichés.)

·         They are officially done making mistakes themselves (you know, we’ve all got to get over that sometime.)

·         They say “Ah,” a lot more than us normal people do

Yeah. You know these people. It’s quite convenient to throw these characters in, just so somebody can be there to be the source of all those profound one-liners you’ve been thinking up to drive your novel’s message home. The problem is, that’s all they are.

  In my opinion, every character should have something to gain from being in the story. They learn, they change, they develop. Mentors don’t. They’re already all finished and complete at their first entrance. No real character is ever finished.

  You’re mentor character is an individual. Don’t deny them their rights as an individual. Develop a character profile for your mentor character that lends itself to progress—a story of their own. Remember they have a life. In their life, they are the protagonist. Who’s going to answer their questions?

  Here’s a small list of quick twists that you might use to flesh-out your mentor character:

·         They have a troubling secret

·         They don’t actually live by all those pithy little sayings

·         They sometimes lose their temper with the protagonist

·         They sometimes can’t express what they truly mean

·         They’re secretly in love with the antagonist

You need to remember to have fun with every one of your characters. Don’t worry that these little twists will make them less helpful to your protagonist. (Some might actually help. Think about it.) A character is always more likable if they are more real. You want your reader to connect with the mentor. They’ll listen to them better if they do.

  And, one final thing: “Ah.” If you really have to make your character use this interjection…fine. I guess.