#bookquotes

#BQ The Yellow Wallpaper by Casey Carlisle

The next of the top 5 quotes from the most memorable novels read has to include the short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper‘ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A narration on mental illness, post-partum depression, and being trapped in a archaic marriage, unable to play the role of a dutiful housewife. It was the first time I’d read anything so heavily steeped in symbolism. It was required reading for my first year of university and seemed to open my eyes in regards to feminism, equality, and gender roles.

Are there any books that opened your eyes to views on society?

Decluttering your manuscript

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

When doing one of the final edits for your novel, it’s hard to get a degree of separation from the words on the page. Because you wrote them all. There is emotional attachment in every syllable. So there are a few tools I use to help me remove superfluous material and keep the flow, pace, and tension up throughout my story.

This is pretty close to a contextual edit.

Firstly I like to clearly identify the basics of my story. The beginning, where the scene is set, the characters are introduced, the goal or challenge is stated, and what is risked or the challenges to be faced will entail. It’s about world building and setting the tone of your novel. Are all the themes introduced – what are they? The middle, where the protagonist faces obstacles, be they personal, emotional, or physical.  Character growth and development from facing these obstacles. Is there one or more turning points, and do they reflect on the theme/s of the story. And the climactic end. A lose-everything-or-die scenario. High emotion, fast pacing, and does it tie up the theme of the novel? Are all your plot points resolved? Does it feel like a natural conclusion? Have you revisited and reflected upon the questions you posed in your introduction? I know all of this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many published novels do not fit this criteria. Identifying a clear start, middle and end will put a spotlight on scenes or chapters that diverge away from your core plot line.

Then I move to taking a closer look at each chapter or scene. It depends on your writing style. Some like to unfold part of the plot over a chapter, some do it through scenes. Some have long chapters, others short.

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe main thing I focus on here is asking myself questions like: Is this relevant to the plot of my novel? Is this essential for the character profile, or their development? Is this part of a character arc? Does this tie into my theme/s or shed light on part of my story? Is it increasing the stakes? Generally, if the answer is a negative, I’ll re-read the part of the novel with the section in question omitted, and if I feel it still makes sense and haven’t lost anything in regards to the main story, I’ll cut it. You can highlight it, save a new version of your manuscript, or put all the cuts into a new document in case you change your mind later. On a side note, these cuts are great tools for marketing later – publishing them on your social media or website as extras to entice readers. Never delete!

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleDon’t be afraid to be brutal with your cuts. Having a focused story keeps the pace and interest of your novel at a premium. Resulting in a reader so excited after reading one scene, they can’t wait to read the next. Making cuts like this and focusing on chapter or scene individually allows you to ensure it’s the best it can be, that it is leading the story forward.

If some characters are not supporting the protagonist or the main plot, cut them. Or just mention them in passing. No need to develop a backstory and motivation if they are not adding to the narrative or plot. A rule of thumb is like they do in television shows and movies – if the character is not important, they generally don’t have a name in the credits. Like ‘lady on bus,’ or ‘guy with glasses.’ Keep non-essential characters with those descriptors, so that they are an interesting observation in the landscape and not dragging your narrative with unnecessary tangents.

So that’s the basic premise I use to declutter my manuscript. Further to this, which is usually for the final draft, is a line edit. When I ask the same questions per sentence… and then focus on sentence structure, tense, perspective, spelling and grammar. And usually by that point it’s as polished as I can get it, my brain is melting and dripping from my ears, and I send it out to another professional editor/s to make it even better.

I find addressing questions that always bring me back to deciding if the material is relevant to my story are the key indicators as to whether cuts should be made.

I hope my method of editing helps you in some way for your creative process. What methods do you use that are effective – let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for great tools to improve my writing and share with fellow authors.

In the meantime, write something every day, and carry on.   🙂

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Giving Your Story Relevance – Creating Subtext and Themes

Giving Your Story Relevance Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgAs an avid reader you get to experience a plethora of stories – get a feel for what is engaging and memorable, and what isn’t so much. Also having a literary degree under your belt also helps provide the tools to identify concepts to critique and improve your writing.

I’m primarily focusing on long-form fiction writing, novels that I like to read for this discussion, though the concepts can be loosely applied to many other forms of writing.

To help add complexity and depth to your narrative does not always mean throwing in a bunch of action scenes and having break-neck pacing. There are many novels that are quietly resounding – and those types of stories usually depict the use of subtext and theme more clearly.

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Is the girl in this photo comforting a friend, about to break up with them or wondering what groceries to buy on the way home… but what she says is “I know.”

Subtext is the goings-on between characters that is not said aloud in dialogue. Emotional energy. Motivations. This can be illustrated in symbolism, description of facial expressions and actions contra to the meaning of the dialogue, narrative tone, inner dialogue, things that are hinted at but not totally explained. It’s up to the reader to draw a line between all the dots to bring about a twist on the meaning. We usually see this in conflicted characters and/or motivations. The best way to convey this type of writing tool is by creating complex characters from the outset and planning out when to reveal certain aspects through interaction throughout the story or scene. Slowly revealing underlying motives of the character. It shows growth and development, hidden depth and complexity, and can lead to a transformative plot point later in the story.

On a lighter side it can add that little something extra to your narrative that is superfluous to the plot by adding some levity, interest, or tension.

Further to this concept, symbolism can be even more powerful. An object, thing, idea, quote, that captures the hero’s quest, transformation or state of being, can help the reader identify a deeper meaning hidden in your narrative. You can also use this kind of tool to substitute for controversial or difficult topics you many not wish to spell out directly in your narrative; or work around to keep your novel in a certain genre and demographic. For instance, dealing with death or child abuse in a middle grade novel: using symbolism to convey meaning without actually writing disturbing scenes is a great tool.

Symbolism is usually strongly connected to the core theme of your story.

Giving Your Story Relevance Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Having a theme for your novel is important to keep your narrative focused and on track. No meandering plots. A reader will lose interest if you are continually shooting off in tangents. Most of the time readers are in for a hero’s journey, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, an inner spiritual journey, or finding strength… there has to be an end goal. And the theme will reflect the tone of the novel, the path from the start to the end. For instance, revenge, growth, love. You will need to tie into this theme at the beginning, at a turning point in your story and again at the conclusion for it to work.

And there’s no rule to say you can’t have more than one theme – but don’t over complicate you novel.

I also find it handy to apply these concepts and tools to each character. Not only does this help to create a fully realised cast, but it also allows you to identify superfluous characters. That way you can cut them from the story to keep up the tension and pace.

The best idea is to start using these tools and concepts at the planning stage, but there is no reason why you can’t introduce them after a first draft to elevate the professional edge of your writing. We all have a different creative process, so it all depends on how you like to write.

But these are just some points to initiate a discussion, or things to think about when you cast a critical eye over your own writing. The more we can help each other produce amazing novels, the more enriched our literary landscape with be.

Happy writing.

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Challenger Deep’ by Neal Shusterman

This book played with my brain…

Challenger Deep Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, magical realism

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.   

Page border by Casey Carlisle

On face value, I thought ‘Challenger Deep’ was about a psychological analogy between exploring the deep and discovering inner strength. And it is that, but you don’t get any real life adventure of the underwater world – it’s all in the protagonist’s head. And from a marine biologist aficionado, I felt a little duped.

From part way in, I found ‘Challenger Deep’ tedious to read, switching from realms and dreams – I wanted to be entertained, but didn’t get that. The narrative went all over the place and I found myself getting bored. In hindsight I understand there is a purpose to this style or narrative. The frequent tangents bulging with symbolism are meant to reflect Caden, (our protagonist) mental state, but for me it bogged down the pace and plot. It almost gave me a headache.

Neal Shusterman has done a marvellous job in describing the working mind of a person suffering mental illness, and can see where ‘Challenger Deep’ had received all of its accolades; but this just wasn’t the read for me.

I just have to mention there is a short paragraph on the topic of suicide (in the last quarter) that Caden inwardly muses upon, which I thought was excellent and poignant. This is by no means a horrible book, though, I would have liked to have seen it at least half as long; or have another aspect of the story introduced that isn’t touched by Caden’s illness. The only way I can describe my feelings over this book is that it was like peering through those glass bricks, where the view on the other side is warped and blurred to the point of bare recognition. Yes, that is the whole point of this novel, but I completed it with a sense of wanting more.

I may have rated it lower if not for such a spot on picture of a mentally ill person; and giving it a positive, uplifting spin. Ground-breaking really. But I guess in tackling such a topic, you fall into the danger zone of unrelatable characters – and that’s what happened to me.

Overall, I loved the message and depiction of a youngster in the grips of a manic episode, but if there was another aspect to this story which broke up all of the craziness and given me something to gain more of an outside perspective (and sub-plot). Sadly, I found myself not enjoying this book at all. It took a great deal of will power to finish it. And as a result would only recommend it to a more high-brow, critical reader.

Overall feeling: You really take a trip down the rabbit hole…

Challenger Deep Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Challenger Deep Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

If you have hope, you have everything.

 Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 228

From Goodreads:

Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen’s senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone’s eating “Lazarus burgers.” But as absurd as the town’s carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax. 

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Admittedly, I picked up this book solely due to buzz on some blogs and the awards it had received with little idea what it was about before turning the first page. It did take me a while to get into, but once I got hooked, I loved it. I guess because I’m not a huge fan of the mystery genre – I do like mystery, but not detective and sleuth novels. If it’s entwined in a larger plot I tend to enjoy it more – and that is what happened with ‘Where Things Come Back.’

Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleThe symbolism in this book is massive – and if you read them right, there is a depth in meaning reflecting society, attitude and the mystical. But the narrative also feels lazy, indicative of the slow paced townsfolk, and I have to believe that was on purpose to bring an ambience around this tale.

There is a certain dry, dark undertone, just as there is a resilience, maturity and sense of fate. All of which make this novel literature, as opposed to a mass market paperback. I enjoyed the elements of sophistication, but appreciated that on the surface it’s a story about a boy hoping to find his kidnapped brother, frustrated at the towns distracted mentality around the celebrity of the Lazarus Woodpecker.

I did enjoy the ending – and it kept me guessing right up until the end. With a contemporary you can never be completely confident of the outcome. But the conclusion wraps everything up succinctly in a way that echoes in your head for a while afterward.

It could be a little busy for a younger audience, not necessarily understanding the nuances of the story. Plus that dryness I mentioned, slowed the pace somewhat, where on occasion I wanted to skip forward. I was also frustrated in some parts – masterfully elicited by the narrative – which diminished my enjoyment level because I like to escape with uplifting stories through my reading.

This is a great book, something I would recommend to read. There is boatloads of meaning hidden beneath its words, a quaint story, but not the most enjoyable read. But I’m glad to have added it to my collection. I can see why it has won the awards it has.

Overall feeling: Unexpected brain expansion in progress….

Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.