What I read this week (Three of Swords and Scrap Metal)

I’m going old school with this blog thing. I think It’s the only way I can do it. I can’t pretend I have a whole slew of ‘followers’ (because I totally don’t), or that I have anything particularly useful to say (not to anyone but me, anyway) so I’m going back to the original blog model: The Web-Log. As in, a ‘diary’ that I will write as if for only myself, then hope people find interesting enough to read. Here goes…

I read two books this week, whilst finishing up writing my latest novella, and I loved them both. I really want to become a better writer, and I know that a good step towards that is reading more critically. Therefore, I am trying to pinpoint exactly what it was about these books that I liked, and why. I also think they are two good books to compare, because they are very different in tone, subject and length, yet I enjoyed both. My main goal in doing this is to consider how I, without changing my “voice” as a writer, can adapt some of these qualities to my own writing.

Okay, first book, which made me pretty happy and satisfied, was Three of Swords (precog in Peril) by Theo Fenraven. I will most likely buy and read the other two in this series within the next few days, because that’s how I roll with series books. That in and of itself is a point I should probably remember: I like series books. It’s always sad to say goodbye to a great character, or to an interesting world. Next time I build one I like, I will try to make it a series. 

Another thing I liked about this: Simple, straightforward voice. I love reading wordy books sometimes, but in a story where there is a lot of action, or a mystery, it’s annoying to have to read through loads of description. This book was clear, concise, and the plot moved along nicely. I will try to remember to match my writing to the subject, because as a reader I appreciate it.

The next point is one I already try to do, but I think I could do better: Imperfect characters. I do read a few series in which the characters are idealized to the point of absurdity, but in general I prefer to read about people struggling with some personal, emotional or physical limitations, like actual human beings. In this book, Gray and Cooper both have some quirks and flaws which make them relateable and more likeable. I will try to remember to build in flaws that make my characters more fun to read and write about.

And lastly on this one: Romance. In this story, the romance gets underway fairly quickly, with little angst. There is a slower build to the emotional intimacy, though, and I liked watching that develop. What is it about the interactions between these two that make me care if they get together? Honestly, in this story I think it was just because I liked Gray and wanted him to be happy. It was first person, so his personality and his thoughts about Cooper are clearly laid out. I will try to make romantic development more entertaining and engaging.

I used to think I hated first person, or at least that I didn’t like it as much as third… and I still can’t stand reading first person present tense, but both of these books were first person, and I’ve written a few first person as well, so maybe I’m changing my mind. For the right characters, anyway.

So the second book was Scrap Metal by Harper Fox. This book blew me away. It was way more wordy, and totally different from Three of Swords. There was some action, some angst, some mystery, but very different. It was slower. The real joy here is in the romance and the setting: the sensual experiences are satisfying. Much time and energy is spent on building the scenery, and it reminded me of reading Anne Rice or Amy Tan or even Ernest Hemingway – where you almost can smell and taste a place from the descriptions. This isn’t really my style of writing, but I love reading it. I will try to be a little more descriptive of sensual elements (and not just about sex), to make my settings more real and satisfying.

Also in this book: the main character’s voice was unique. There was an accent, and a lot of colloquialisms, so that was part of it, but also there were a lot of little aside-thoughts that were funny and brought out the personality of the narrator. I will try to make my characters more unique, and try to give them their own voices (not just male versions of my voice), to make them more interesting.

These books were just so different from each other, but they did share a lot of these qualities. Both had great romance, engaging characters, and interesting stories. In Three of Swords, the story was the thing- I kept reading to find out what would happen next. In Scrap Metal, I really didn’t care too much about the plot, I was so absorbed in the characters and their lovely world.

So, I have a new book to conjure up, and if I can make it even half as good as either of these, I think I will have done all right… for now.

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