Book Review: The Island by Olivia Levez

I’m in shock. A book hangover. The Island by Olivia Levez is, at its heart, a castaway character development that has you longing for a happy ending. Frances did not deserve all the heartache that came along with being a lower class citizen.

Beginning the novel was tough, it dove straight in, with such a distinct writing style that I must admit I was at a loss for a couple of pages until it really began to suck me in.

What can I say about this novel? Other than, not only was it a brilliantly unique writing style of snapshot chapters but the novel offers a social commentary on children that are too old for the system but too young to face the heartache alone and therefore stuck somewhere in between.

The Island is about young adult Frances who has had to grow up quickly in an unfair world in order to look after her younger brother Johnny. We, as the reader, watch as Frances is escorted with fellow young offenders to an island in the Indian Ocean to learn team building skills after an undisclosed event that caused Frances to become unhinged. We observe the crash that leaves her stranded and take in her surroundings as our own.

Olivia Levez has an incredible way with words. Not only is her character believable but we understand her misguided motives, her frustrations as she develops as a character and we fall into admiration for Frances attempts at survival.

This novel has its way with you. Like the threatening waves of the ocean, the pages wash in and out, gripping you tighter and pushing you further and further out to sea. I was astounded by this novel and I hope you will be too.

 

Writing Masterclass: Todorov’s Narrative Theory

Last week we looked at plotting our novel and I mentioned Todorov’s narrative theory. This week I would like to explore that a little further and hopefully help to develop your story.

Tzvetan Todorov was a Bulgarian- French literary theorist who suggested that stories, at their heart, followed the same narrative structure. The three stages of this structure being: the equilibrium, disequilibrium, and the new equilibrium.

He further broke these categories down:

1. A state of equilibrium: where the story is plodding along and everything is well.
2. A disruption: the equilibrium has been disrupted by an event which turns the protagonist’s world upside down.
3. Damage assessment & repair: the protagonist will recognize the disorder has occurred and will try to repair the damage or disorder.
4. The new equilibrium: the narrative is returned to a state of balance.

An example of this narrative structure in action can be found below.

Danielle is a college student who is about to embark on her new adventure, going to university.

On her first day, she meets Kieran who attacks her.

Fighting back she accidentally kills her kidnapper and escapes.

She is no longer in danger but she now has this terrible secret hanging over her.

Hopefully, you can see that by knowing the basics we can build our story around this, further developing our narrative to become something much more complex but having a solid foundation to work up from. Let’s start with the simple idea above and develop it further.

Danielle, an eighteen-year-old sheltered country girl, is about to embark on a new coming of age adventure as she is about to attend university.

Her first day, scared and alone, she meets overly friendly, older student Kieran who helps her to find her classes.

Innocent and naive, Danielle lets Kieran lead her away from the main campus and to a secluded area where he tries to have his way with her. Not wanting this on her first day, Danielle lashes out pushing him away, causing him to only attack her further, consumed by lust. Finally, Danielle manages to push him away harder this time, causing him to topple over and crack his head on a rock, knocking him unconscious. 

Thinking that she has killed him she runs away, torn between finding help and hiding it from everyone. She doesn’t want a black mark against her name on the first day of term.

In this example, I have attempted to not only develop my story into something with a little more substance but have also offered an additional insight into Danielle’s character. From this my grey matter is whirring: will Kieran really be dead? What will this mean for Danielle’s character? It’s this exercise that helps to get my brain working, thinking about all the possibilities and enticing my creativity.

As an exercise, I would like you to pick your favourite story and pick it apart. At its core summarize the equilibrium, disequilibrium, and new equilibrium and let me know in the comments below. Bonus points if, in your chosen story, you can determine the 4 key plot points above!

Next week we will look at character development and how we can create interesting protagonists.

 

Writing Prompt #8

Authors Note: This is part 2 of my previous writing prompt which you can find here.

I carefully caressed my bruises under the strange fluorescent lighting. They were tender to the touch and I could now clearly see the track marks on my arm from where he had injected me with that strange serum. How had I not noticed these before? He had made me a junkie, some sort of undead junkie with a severe craving for an ice cold cola to soothe my sandpaper throat from my unearthly roar during his experiment.

Time had no meaning here, I could have been here for minutes or hours, I had no idea. When was he coming back? When could I rip his throat out for tricking me like this?

Funny thing was, no one was going to come looking for me, that much I knew. I didn’t have a family or friends and the only place I regularly visited recently was the bar he had found me in. I remembered the stories of missing children in the news, their parents distraught with worry, faces plastered all over the place, hopeful, desperately searching for their babies. I don’t think I would even make the news, not many 20-somethings stick around this neighbourhood, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if they just upped and left town.

I paced the room, four steps from the bed to the mirrored glass that I had a sneaking suspicion was a one-way observation window, six steps from the back wall to the door. The metal door frame was cold, so cold it caused goosebumps along my forearms as I pressed my palms down firm.

In a fit of overwhelming rage I slammed my palms on the door, beating the metal repeatedly, the loud infuriating banging sound of getting nowhere eventually caused me to stop as the tears came in floods. Like Alice, I had become trapped in a place I very much wanted to leave and I cried and cried until I was sure I’d drown in my own tears.

Eventually, the lights flickered and dimmed before switching off altogether and I was faced with a new fear, what happened in the dark?

Film Review: Logan

I’m concerned. I’ve heard mixed reviews for this film and yet in true stubborn Kirsty style, I still want to see it myself. So here goes nothing, I’ll see you on the other side…

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Logan is a story about finding your peace in a world where nothing is peaceful. It is a coming of age story for both Laura and Logan as they come to terms with their new found relationship and the ups and downs that come along.

I thought it was a respectful conclusion to the wolverine franchise, it was full of gritty action scenes that will make you wince at times, scenes which really made Logan’s retired superhero character that much more relatable. This was especially prominent probably due to the release of Deadpool which was the highest grossing R-Rated movie of all time, which featured inappropriate humour, gore, and sex. I think because of this, Hollywood have finally realised that superhero movies don’t have to be kid friendly, they have plenty of fans over the age of 18.

My friend said to me that he thought they shouldn’t have included the scenes with Charles in at the beginning, he thought they were a bit too dark for the rest of the movie but I disagree, how else does a film touch on serious subject matter if they don’t take the risk with certain plot lines? It also set the tone, made me ask questions. Why was the world the way it was? What happened up to this point?

I believe that the writers of Logan have successfully ended the Wolverine franchise by hinting at the start of a new story, one reminiscent of the original x-men series and frankly, I’m excited to see where they go in the future. Will they continue with the gritty and dark themes and tackle difficult subjects that have never before really been expressed within our popular media culture?

I would recommend watching Logan. It can be a difficult watch at times but it is also full of action and a well-developed relationship between Logan, Laura, and Charles in this alternative ‘non-nuclear’ family structure.

Let me know what you thought of Logan in the comments below!

Writing Masterclass: Plotting your novel

As a new segment to this blog, I have few tips and tricks learned during my studies that I would like to share with you.

It’s one thing picturing your manuscript in your mind, the other actually writing it down but it is doable. My first tip is to plan.

Why do we plan a novel? Surely it takes all the fun out of writing?

Any piece of writing I have initiated without a plan has begun well, maybe a scene conjured up in my imagination or a piece of dialogue between two characters, but it shortly snowballs downhill until I find myself in a plot hole that I’ve dug myself, unable to climb out. It’s definitely good to practice writing without a plan, flash fiction and short writing pieces especially, but an extended piece of writing with delicate intricate plots and side plots, protagonists and antagonists can get confusing constricting it all to the confines of your grey matter.

So, with that in mind, how do we plan a novel?

  1. Have a pen and paper handy, even if you predominantly work in Word. Sometimes the quickest way to get an idea down is to scribble it as it formulates. I find it best to start with that spark, write down the reason you want to write your book. Who is your story about? What scenes can you visualize in your imagination? Where does it take place? Times, dates, location… write everything down until your page is full.
  2. Continuing on with the development, it’s important to know your characters inside and out. What motivates them? We will explore character development further in a later article but for now, I would like you to give your characters names, personalities and write down their relationships to each other.
  3. Once you have your characters and setting you can start work actually structuring your manuscript. I find the best way to start is to write your blurb, a brief overview of your story in its raw form. For example, the blurb for Outlander by Diana Gabaldon gives us a clear story but allows room for character development, enigma and breathing room if the author decided to change a scene or two. (Note: Your blurb doesn’t have to be perfect, it will not be visible on the finished novel). 

    1946, and Claire Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank. It’s a second honeymoon, a chance to learn how war has changed them and to re-establish their loving marriage.
    But one afternoon, Claire walks through a circle of standing stones and vanishes into 1743, where the first person she meets is a British army officer – her husband’s six-times-great-grandfather.

    Unfortunately, Black Jack Randall is not the man his descendant is, and while trying to escape him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Scottish outlaws, and finds herself a Sassenach – an outlander – in danger from both Jacobites and Redcoats.

    Marooned amid danger, passion and violence, her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.

     

  4. With this overview, you should now have a clear idea in your head of who your characters are and how they will react to the situation you are exposing them to. From this, we can now create a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Again we will discuss this in a later article but for now, I would like you to assess the initial equilibrium that the character is settled in. How can you rip that apart and throw their world completely upside down? What will happen as a result? Once you have this, you have your basic three act structure.

Sit back and rest. You have planned your novel.

Obviously, you could keep narrowing this down further and further into individual chapters but I find there is such a thing as too much planning, if you’re anything like me, you like to leave some of the writing to chance.

Next week we will look at Todorov’s three-act act structure in more detail and how we can install this into our own work.

In the meantime, keep reading anything and everything as it will help develop your stories and will hopefully offer fresh and exciting inspiration for your own work. If you require a 1-1 consultation service to discuss structuring and planning further please contact me for more information.

See you next time!

It’s not just about the Pink T-shirt, it’s about Changing Your Attitude

Guest Writing Prompt: “Write about a recent conflict”  

Inspiration: Pink Shirt Day

By Tish MacWebber

I remember coming home from school, crying when I was five. Someone was mean. Dad talked to me.  He showed me how to make a fist, and to not put my thumb under my fingers.  Then he held up his arm and swung across, it was a right hook he was showing me, so I could punch someone in the nose.  He said, “  If you miss them on the way over, get them on the way back.”  Meaning that if I swung and missed with my fist, my elbow could be used in the opposite direction to land the punch.  My younger sister was there, and she said, “Just point them out to me when I get to school, Tish, and I’ll bop them on the nose for you.” Dad meant well. I never used that lesson, but I remember.  

The bullying in school never stopped.  I did my best to ignore it.  When I see a select few again, now that we’re adults, I hope I can be the person I think I am and be rational.  Unless they try to start something,  at which point I will respond. That would cause the uncorking of a bottle of thirty years of anger, hurt feelings, and frustration.  I would not want to be the person who pops that cork.  Somebody might lose an eye.

When I entered the workforce,  I experienced new bullies.

While working in a doughnut shop, I was slapped on the hand for offering a dog a treat, because the supply was low.  We would hand out timbits to dogs in the drive through.  The customer saw the whole thing, gave me a larger tip than normal, and told me to put it in my pocket.

When I worked at a fast food restaurant,  there was a supervisor that liked to harass employees while they worked. One day I finally had enough.  I was being yelled at about how to properly wash and sanitize the dishes.  I looked at him and told him to fuck off.  He asked me to repeat myself.  So I did, and it was louder the second time, followed with me yelling back that after working there for two years, I knew what I was doing, and he needed to fuck off.  That was the last time he got in my face, and I didn’t work there much longer.

I worked at a hospital for three years. My poor self-esteem allowed me to be bullied by both management and co-workers.  One day, I was waiting in the car for my husband, and he found me crying.  I was so upset by my situation that I was in the car, crying and praying for God to kill me or her, meaning my boss at the time.  My husband told me to quit.  My mental health was more important than money.  I had been offered a layoff from the casual position and took it.  

Since then, some colleagues have said that they felt bad because they knew I was not being treated fairly.  In retrospect, it’s too bad that none of us knew what to do to make things better, back then. Hindsight is 20/20, eh?

I now work in a call center. I’ve had run-ins with my supervisors, and management.  I’ve changed.  I learned how to speak with confidence.  That combined with learning how to negotiate, gave me the tools I needed to stand up for myself.  I don’t avoid confrontation anymore.  I face it, head on.  Sometimes it scares the crap out of me, but I do it; while shaking in my boots.  

How do I face conflict now?  Instead of using words to hurt people, I aim to help and inspire.  I use my brain for good not evil.  Sometimes with an unexpected twist of humour to sway the balance. I stand my ground.   If I can find a way to handle conflict and bullies, anyone can.  It only took me a couple of decades to figure it out. The first step is to learn to believe in yourself.

The last Wednesday in February is pink shirt day in Canada. In a high school in Nova Scotia, a boy was bullied for wearing a pink shirt; two students bought more pink t-shirts, and they distributed them to their friends, to show the boy support. It was newsworthy when it happened. Now Canadians wear pink shirts to raise awareness about anti-bullying.

I bought my pink shirts in support of the local Boys and Girls Club. This year it says, “Kindness begins with me.”  Last year it said, “Positive Actions Make Positive Change.” I don’t believe the saying, “Kids are mean.”  I do believe that bullies can change, just like I as a victim did.  I lead by example, and if we stand together, that’s two against one.  I like those odds.


 

N.B Further to my previous post about community, this is a perfect example of helping your fellow human being. Education and an increased level of empathy will help us all to grow as individuals.

Find more of Tish’s blog posts here.

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A Review of Reviews

A review of reviews.

Are they any good, a review? They offer an insight that present readers the chance to experience the world through the reviewer’s eyes if only for a moment. Is it a clever advertisement meant to lure us in as consumers or are reviews there to help us stop making horrible life decisions. That’s what I aim to do with my new weekly reviews, I hope to offer you, dear readers, an insight into the aspects of my life that may inspire you to follow in my footsteps or avoid altogether. Think of it like an experiment, it could go horribly wrong and I end up burning off my hair like this unlucky lady or, I could find a fantastic gem and want to shout from the rooftops about it.

After all, to be informed is to be insightful and in being insightful we can develop as human beings, learn from each other’s mistakes, take a leap of faith that we may not have done otherwise in fear of failure or rejection.

Dear reader, I hope you will enjoy my new weekly reviews and don’t forget to let me know what you thought of this article in the comment section below.