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Review: THE ROSIE PROJECT an exercise in Point Of View

I don’t review books on here very often, and then only when I have nice things to say about them. There’s a reason for this: authors get mad and bad blood can be problematic in an industry where everyone knows everyone. But invariably as a writer, you tend to get critical of books and craft. You can’t just read for fun anymore. You get a glimpse at the inner works.

The Rosie Project by Australian author Graeme Simsion is an excellent example of a well drawn point of view, because you actually feel like you are seeing the world through the eyes of a character on the Autism or Asbergers spectrum (we’re never quite sure). Now the irony is the lead doesn’t know he’s on the spectrum, although he is quite capable of seeing these features in others. His name is Don Tillman and he’s a genetic researcher at a university, who in undertaking a research study he designed to help him find the perfect match for a wife (The Wife Project, he calls it) ends up meeting the imperfect match Rosie, a PhD student in psychology.

The two leads are exceptionally well drawn characters, but most of the supporting characters are not. In particularly, the supporting advisor characters of Don’s best friend and his wife never really full get realized. The story is aimed at the romantic comedy market and thus has a small cast of characters and only one point of view, primarily focusing on Don and Rosie. I found the plot grew more engaging as the book went along. What I did not find is a laugh out loud funny romp as some seem to describe it. There were certainly funny moments that I laughed, but mostly it was amusing. Autism and Asbergers are, after all, considered deviant states from normal (I hate the term disability), and as someone who had my own similar struggles living with ADHD, I don’t find that suitable for laughing at all. But it was fascinating. And unique. And surprisingly relatable, and it did make for a good story. Yet I write humor for a living and the best humor comes from situations and characters, not laughing at someone’s awkwardness, ignorance, or disability. So to me, the out of comfortable settings pieces worked best here as well as a few laugh out loud observations about the world around him, but overall, the struggle felt very real and that was no laughing matter.

Still, if you want to study how someone creates a unique point of view and brings it life in a very real, manifest way in a book, The Rosie Project would be a great place to start. The book’s faults aside, Don is very similar to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, and he is very well realized as we really come to understand how he sees the world and thinks with his own set of logic and understandings and how that shapes who he is and how he behaves. This is not always easy to do but Simsion pulls it off exceptionally well. And there are some poignant lessons here about love, compatibility, and the assumptions we make about both, too, that are good reminders of what really matters—not just are the perfect for me, but do I have fun with them, for example?

In the end, I would recommend this book even to those who don’t typically read romance as an example of fascinating craft and interesting characters, plus it’s short and light on its feet—a quick read and an amusing diversion with good insights into human nature.

 

WriteTip: Don’t Forget To Read

This week’s WriteTip is a bit of a departure from usual form. No craft tips or lists. Just a passionate statement about something many writers often fail to do: keep up with reading.

It happens to all of us as we become writers—we get so involved in writing and craft and everything surrounding it (promotion, social media, etc.) that we slowly see our reading time disappearing or eroding to almost nil. And soon, there just isn’t time to read. Or so we tell ourselves. But it’s a lie, a big lie, and it is a dire one.

I once fell into this trap, and I can tell ya, my happiness suffered, but more importantly, my writing suffered. When I started reading again, my writing productivity and satisfaction with the results climbed. I now regularly read two novels a week, and still write an average of 1800 words a day when on project (there are breaks for edits, polishing, and so forth from time to time). And I am so glad I rediscovered the joy of reading.

For me, the challenge came from reading too many books in the same genres or sub genres. When I started writing science fiction  and fantasy in 2009, for example, I had not been regularly reading in those genres as I had during childhood, so I found myself out of touch and behind and wanted to catch up and get a sense of the field. Because I enjoy such things, soon I was devouring everything I could find in those sub genres, and because when I write, reading in the genre I am writing is helpful, it was fine. I am not one of those writers who is prone to copying plot and characters from what I am reading, so my stories were not negatively effected by reading in the same genre I write. Instead, I was inspired and reading helped me create the feel I wanted. When I wrote my Saga of Davi Rhii books, I wanted them to feel like Star Wars: A New Hope, so I rewatched the original trilogy and reread the Zahn tie-ins and mission accomplished. I realize not every writer can do this, but I can, absorbing a feel and elements that I incorporate into my own voice and style to enhance my book. If you can’t do that, I am sorry. I really am, so you may have to try a different approach, but this works great for me.

But after about 8 years of nonstop science fiction  and fantasy with rare breaks to read anything else, I started to burn out. Not only did my ideas dry up, but my enthusiasm waned greatly, and so I found myself slugging through books and reading half the usual number if that. Deciding that perhaps it was time for a break, I started reading other genres, with particular focus on procedural thrillers—which I have always loved on TV but had not read much—and boom, I was off and running again. The best part of reading outside my genre was I didn’t find myself interrupting my reading constantly with subconscious literary analysis or craft breakdowns. Instead, I could just enjoy the reads. Now that I write thrillers, I let myself entertain such thoughts a bit more but I have disciplined my mind so it usually occurs when I am not reading so as to avoid spoiling the experience.

An additional benefit is that I have learned new vocabulary and turns of phrase I can then incorporate into my own arsenal to enhance and expand my voice. We sometimes forget our limits. And it is good to see how other writers use words in masterful and interesting ways to remind us, even show us, how we might use them better and more interestingly moving forward. In the process, we can gain not only useful insights but words and phrases that expand our palate and reinforce our craft.

To me, reading is one of life’s joys, and by losing it, I lost something important. After all, reading is what made me want to write and helped me decide what stories I wanted to tell. Now, I read a variety of genres and some nonfiction (not always research related though often it is with a few writing books thrown in), and I really find I write better, I feel better, and I am more creative as a result.

So this week’s write tip is a bit of a departure from the usual craft how tos, but I just wanted to encourage and remind my readers that reading is still important and probably an activity that was a large part of why you write, so please don’t let yourself lose touch with that experience. Finding time for it will be one of the best gifts you give yourself all year.

For what it’s worth…

My 5 Favorite Non-U.S. Mystery Novel Series

As you may expect, I do a lot of reading, about two books a week on average, and lately, as I write my own John Simon Thrillers noir detective seriesJohn Simon Thrillers noir detective series, I have been reading a ton of mysteries, not all of them set in the U.S. My preference is toward darker, noir tales, though I do venture into cozies and lighter comedic tales from time to time. The following are five of my favorite Non-U.S. mystery series, all but one ongoing (i.e. new releases coming regularly):

Charlie Parker by John Connolly—Written by an Irish author, this series tells the story of a private detective in Maine, after the death of his beloved wife and daughter, as he not only hunts those responsible but takes on other cases of evil actors plaguing his community. Noir, with incredible prose, well drawn characters and settings, and a touch of supernatural, this is simply one of the best written detective series being written today. And a major influence on my own writing.

Rebus by Ian Rankin—The story of a Scottish police inspector, John Rebus, this story has rich settings and characters as Rebus probes criminal cases in the Scottish underworld around Edinburgh. Dark, noir, and intense with great procedural accuracy and depth, this series is one of the top selling detective series in Europe for a reason, going on 26 books strong to date with more to come. Michael Connelly of Bosch cites this series as one of his inspirations for creating Bosch and it’s certainly one of mine.

Ann Lindell by KJell Eriksson—this Swedish set series follows the adventures of a female detective as she investigates the dark underbelly of Sweden’s cities and countryside. To me, this one has a similar feel to Wallenberg and the TV series Shetland in many ways, though its richly drawn characters and setting are uniquely told and the female protagonist offers a different perspective than many of the male leads on this list.

Darko Dawson by Kwei Quartey—A Ghanaian American author, Quartey’s Darko is a Ghanaian police inspector working in Accra, Kumasi, and other locations throughout the small African country as he investigates murders, rapes, fraud, and much more, revealing a rich, nuanced world and culture filled with colorful characters. One of the few noir series set in contemporary Africa, this one stands out for the uniqueness of its voice and approach, and as one who has spent significant time in Ghana, I can say it truly brings the place to life in a powerful, relevant way.

Wallender by Henning Mankell—Kurt Wallender, now a TV show starring Kenneth Branagh (Wallender), is a classic Swedish detective working the coast of Sweden south of Stockholm where he investigates a variety of dark cases. He also struggles with relationships—from his adult aged daughter, who is also an aspiring detective, to his ex-wife, lovers, and co-workers. Mankell, now deceased, has written an incredible series of novels and short stories exploring a rich world and fascinatingly real but flawed character.

Now before you ask why there’s no female authors on this list, it’s because I haven’t discovered any I have fallen in love with who fit this category, but I know they are out there and I continue to look. I do have several female mystery authors I regularly read including Karin Slaughter, Hank Philippi Ryan, and Sara Peretsky, and I am always looking for more. But I am a new reader of foreign procedural thrillers so I am just speaking based on what I have read at the moment, which is about two books a week.

[email protected] Panel: The Four Quadrants of Publishing

Comic Con asked me to moderate a publishing panel for the online version of the Con this year. So I got on Zoom with 5 bestselling authors to talk about THE FOUR QUADRANTS OF PUBLISHING: The Big Fix/Six, Traditional Small Press, Print on Demand/Ebook Press, and Self-Publishing and the Pros and Cons of each. The ensuing discussion should be useful as you consider the career you want to pursue. Enjoy free below!

SURVIVING TOMORROW AND ME IN THE NEWS!!

So, the local Kansas City ABC affiliate did a nice piece on Surviving Tomorrow that ran on three prime time newscasts yesterday. It’s my first time on local news (bucket list, check!) and I thought it’s be fun to share it with you. So here it is.

To read the text, click here. KMBC Reports on Surviving Tomorrow

To order your copy of Surviving Tomorrow please visit https://survivingtomorrowanthology.com.

Apology For My Blog Absence

When I decided to take a brief blogging break in May, I started posting reruns of classic WriteTips every Wednesday, my most popular feature. The intent was to give me time to write some new WriteTips and get ahead of my posting schedule, but unfortunately, instead, I wound up in oral surgery while dealing with a major car repair, release details of an anthology and novel, and many other deadlines converging to a point of great stress and exhaustion and then I wound up in quarantine with a COVID-19 scare. Needless to say, I never got posts written and I have yet to fully resume blogging. On top of that my host tech has had some health issues and the site has been spotty due to server issues. I want to apologize for my signal silence and promise that I am well and will resume my website duties soon.

In the meantime, I will be posting a news interview I did about Surviving Tomorrow, my COVID-19 fundraising anthology created with a bunch of awesome friends and colleagues. It’s my first time on the local news, so I hope you enjoy! You can find that here.

You can also check out the sneak peak of my forthcoming novel Milk Run here, which will be book 4 in my John Simon Thrillers.

Milk Run Preview (John Simon 4)

Coming in Fall 2020, a brand new adventure for John Simon and Lucas George! Here’s a sneak peek. [Update: Unfortunately, due to some illness in Boralis Books’ staff, we are behind on getting this book ready. We are trying to get it out by December, but it may be January before it appears. With apologies.] 

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Taking a Week Off

Due to the terrible events of the tragic, senseless murder of George Floyd on top of the COVID-19 crisis, I am just not in a mood for writing a write tip post this week, so I am taking a week off. Instead, here’s a statement I made on Facebook about George Floyd that I think is important.

I have seen more than one FB “friend” posting about race not being the real issue in the George Floyd situation. Here is my reply.

The problem is very much race. Recent statistics show that 42% of deaths in arrest were white and 35% black. When you consider the population numbers, that makes it considerably more likely to die in custody if you are black. Just because you don’t understand the racial aspect, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Please educate yourself. It is not okay to dismiss the problem of race in this. The reality is that this kind of thing has been happening in this country for several hundred years and people are sick of it and want to see it stop, they fear it happening to them, and they fear it will never stop. Please do not minimize their pain, anger, frustration, and fear. Recognize and acknowledge it and work to make it better. Support those fighting to change the system, sign petitions, write letters, vote for policyholders who will work for change, hold accountable those who feed the problem, and be loving and supportive of those around you who are afraid, angry, and worried about being next, most especially People of Color.

May we all do better…

WriteTip Classic: 9 Tools For Character Development

Character Development is core to good storytelling. After all, characters are whom readers connect to and if they are stagnant and unchanging, the story can fail to hold reader’s interest. Growth of characters creates drama and propels the story. So what tools can you use to develop characters well? Here’s ten suggestions:

1) Treat Your Characters As Individuals–People are unique, no two the same, and so should it be with your characters. So each character should respond differently to a situation as any other character. In particular, fight scenes, for example, can often be a place where characters blend into one, as they all react the same. Instead try treating such common scenes as opportunities to reveal character through uniqueness. How would one character fight differently than another? Work this in and your story will be richer, your characters stronger. There are many other common scene types where you can similarly emphasize the uniqueness. Look for them.

2) Vary The Vocabulary–People use words differently, so your characters should as well. One of the best ways to distinguish and develop characters is through dialogue. Educated people use more sophisticated words, while less educated structure sentences  differently. Think of this as you develop each character’s voice and use it to set them apart, create conflict and develop them throughout your story. Vocabulary, in fact, is far more effective than attempting to create accents. Phonetically, accents already pose problems and can even devolve into silly or, far worse, confusing dialogue styles which detract from the story.

3) Scene Point Of View–Another way to develop character is by choosing the protagonist whose point of view will tell particular scenes. I tend to consider who has the most at stake in a particular scene and make the scene happen in that POV but there are varied theories. Whatever your method, your characters can be developed well through use of POV. For example, I had a scene where a couple are fighting. At the same time, an old enemy is stalking them, intent to do them harm. I told the scene from the enemy’s POV, even though he never interacts with the couple because it allowed me to further both the romantic storyline and the antagonist’s storyline in one scene through his internal monologue as he witnesses their discussion. Three character arcs and two plotlines were thus furthered in one short scene.

4) Sartorial Style–People’s tastes vary, and so should characters’. What they wear, how they choose it, etc. can be a part of characterization. Everything from color to fabric choices to scale, formality, and even clothing cost can be used to establish character. We use such things daily as we observe others to determine things about them, and readers will use such details as clues to define characters if you include them.

5) Naming–Names say a lot about who we are, and so choosing character names is another way to develop them or establish particular impressions almost immediately in reader’s minds. Someone named ‘Timothy’ and someone named ‘Theodore’ will be considered differently by readers. The first sounds more common and less formal, while the second sounds a bit more haughty and implies a different educational level or even class level. Now that’s stereotyping, of course, so sometimes naming a character contrary to the impression the name gives can also be a tool you use. But whatever the tactic, character naming is a very important tool in their development. In addition to formal names, nicknames can also be employed as well. Whether a character has a nickname, uses it or likes it, can say a lot about who they are.

6) Props–We all have our favorite do-dads, don’t we? Things we take with us everywhere we go. The cliches for women are purses and for men, perhaps, favorite hats, but we all have something. Sometimes it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. Other times, it’s carried around for all to see. Props are a great tool for revealing character. Spend time observing people around you. What props does each person have? Keep a spreadsheet or list of potential props for characters. Yes, when writing fantasy or science fiction you might have to be more inventive than just copying from a list you made at the mall. That’s called writing, dears. In any case, props can add great flavor and speak volumes about characters.

7) Companions–Fellow characters, animal or otherwise, can be great for revealing character. We see how they interact with each other and we learn volumes about who they are. Think about it: what would the Lone Ranger have been without Silver or Tonto? What about Batman without Robin? There’s a reason Michael Keaton quit after two movies: he was lonely (Ok, that might be just a guess). Who a person spends his or her time with says a lot about them and so use it to develop your characters well.

8 ) Backstory–It seems obvious but sometimes it’s easy to forget to dig deeply into a character’s past for material to develop the character. Even things you know about them but don’t include in your narrative can be of value. All the experiences of that character’s past serve to shape who he or she is becoming, from determining responses to various stimuli to emotional hotpoints from happy to fearful. When your character seems to become stagnant, review what you know about his or her past, then ask yourself if maybe there might be more to uncover which would help you as you write. You can only have too little backstory, never too much. It’s core to the internal battles all people face and will enrich your ability to write your characters with depth and broadness that stretches outside the boundaries and limitations of your story itself.

9) Traits–Another that seems obvious but developing your character’s likes and dislikes can take you all kinds of places, especially when you examine how they might clash with those of the characters around them and even the attributes of the world around them. All kinds of instances will soon arise where you can reveal more of the character through actions resulting from these traits. In the process, your story will have built in conflict and drama and perhaps even humor you might not have thought of before. Character traits are a great way to add spicy detail to your story, surprising and entertaining readers at the same time. And don’t just limit yourself to personal preferences either. Character traits can also include physical ticks like clenching hands when angry or a slight stutter or even a limp or other defect.

Okay, there you have them: 9 Tools For Character Development. Have more? Please add them in the comments. I’d love to hear what tools and tricks you employ. Let’s learn from each other.

For what it’s worth…


For more tips, come back next Wednesday. For previous WriteTips, click here.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a national bestselling author/editor and Hugo-nominee who’s edited over a dozen anthologies and hundreds of novels, including the international phenomenon The Martian by Andy Weir and books by Alan Dean Foster, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Angie Fox, and Tracy Hickman as well as official entries in The X-Files, Predator, Joe Ledger, Monster Hunter International, and Decipher’s Wars. His debut novel, The Worker Prince, earned honorable mention on Barnes and Noble’s Year’s Best Science Fiction. His adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction books have been published by publishers such as St. Martins Press, Baen Books, Titan Books, IDW, and more. Find him online at his website bryanthomasschmidt.net or Twitter and Facebook as BryanThomasS.

To download How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction free one book, click here.

To check out Bryan’s latest novels, click here.

WriteTip Classic: 10 Tips For Writing Better Dialogue

Writing dialogue can be a challenge for some writers more than others, but it’s an extremely important part of good fiction. There are many tools and techniques one can use, the most important being to use your powers of observation. By listening to dialogue of the real people around you, you can learn how people talk, especially people of different socioeconomic, educational and age groups. But there are craft elements involved as well. Here’s 10 Tips For Writing Better Dialogue:

1) Use Simple Tags Sparingly. Fancy tags like “he expostulated” or “she espoused” are less clear and more distracting than anything. So keep the tags simple when you absolutely must use them. Instead, convey the manner in which a character speaks instead. Make it obvious from what is said.

2) Instead Of Tags, Use Actions. People talk while actively engaging in activities. So should your characters. Giving them business to do during dialogue allows you to identify who’s speaking without resorting to overused tags. Some can come in the form of characterizing the speaker: “His eyebrows lifted with menace,” for example. “Bob’s fist clenched as he spoke.” “Tears rolled down her cheek with every word.”

3)  Avoid Expositional Dialogue When Possible. We’ve all violated this rule, but especially when two characters should already know the information being imparted, it seems unnatural and distracting. In such cases, internal monologue is a better tool and more natural. Characters may think about stuff they already know but they wouldn’t tell each other stuff each of them knows.

4) Keep It Short. People talk in choppy sentences. Long soliloquies are rare. So in dialogue, use a combination of short sentences to make it flow and feel like real people talking. Let them interrupt each other, too. People do that in real life. It adds to the pace, tension and drama of it.

5) Avoid Phonetic Spellings For Accents. They are difficult to read. Indications of dialect can be used instead to get the reader to do the rest.  Overuse of a dialect becomes distracting to readers and can actually take them out of the story. Keep the words your characters say as unobtrusive as possible so your story flows seamlessly.

6) Dialogue Is Conflict. Conflict keeps the story moving. People talk like they’re playing table tennis–back and forth. This moves the story forward. Lace your dialogue with conflict. It adds dramatic urgency to every line the characters say and keeps the story’s pace.

 7) Use Other Characters. Let a character imply who’s speaking to them by saying something specific to only that person. If you use business well (see number 2 above), having a character refer to something the other character is doing is a great way to do this.

8 ) Give Each Character A Distinctive Voice. Overdo it and its caricature but we all have our own speech tics. Create some for your characters and sprinkle them throughout. Readers will learn them and know who’s speaking. For example, Captain Jack Sparrow loves the term of affection: “love” and uses that a lot. He also says “Savvy?” a great deal as well. He has others you can probably remember, too. Study characterization and see what other writers have done.

9) Speak It Aloud. Talk it out. Get inside the heads of your characters and say the lines. Play out the conversation you’ve written. Does it sound natural? Does it flow? Your ear is often a better judge than your eyes and hearing it will give you an idea how readers will hear it.

10) Remember What Medium You’re Writing For. TV and Film dialogue and novel dialogue are not necessarily the same.  There is no third party to use intonation, facial expressions and/or body language to bring it to life. Your words alone are the conduit between yourself and the reader and your prose skills and the readers’ imaginations make it work.

Well, those are my 10 Tips of the moment for writing better dialogue. Do you have any others? We’d love for you to share them in the comments.


For more tips, come back next Wednesday. For previous WriteTips, click here.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a national bestselling author/editor and Hugo-nominee who’s edited over a dozen anthologies and hundreds of novels, including the international phenomenon The Martian by Andy Weir and books by Alan Dean Foster, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Angie Fox, and Tracy Hickman as well as official entries in The X-Files, Predator, Joe Ledger, Monster Hunter International, and Decipher’s Wars. His debut novel, The Worker Prince, earned honorable mention on Barnes and Noble’s Year’s Best Science Fiction. His adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction books have been published by publishers such as St. Martins Press, Baen Books, Titan Books, IDW, and more. Find him online at his website bryanthomasschmidt.net or Twitter and Facebook as BryanThomasS.

To download How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction free one book, click here.

To check out Bryan’s latest novels, click here.