Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: The Kindling by Braden Bell

Last year, I exchanged manuscripts with Braden Bell. He read an early rendition of Time Gangsters while I read a previous version of The Kindling. I found the book to have an original twist on magic involving middle school age kids and it was a blast to read. When he asked for people to review the final version of the book for him, I gladly volunteered. Now, some people can read the same book over and over again and still enjoy it. I don't, normally. But The Kindling was so much fun that I didn't mind reading it again so soon. I usually like to put ten or more years between readings of the same book, which I guess that means I'm about due for another reading of The Lord of the Rings.

Braden mixes humor and adventure well in this novel. He also has developed a new twist on a magic system that makes sense and brings the kids interesting powers. It starts off with one boy, Conner Dell, accidentally accessing his magic powers by setting another boy's shorts on fire. Joining him in this adventure is his twin sister, Lexa, and her friend Melanie Stephens (nice last name, by the way. No relation). Their normal lives are soon disrupted when a creepy guy they call 'the stalker' shows up and causes weird things to happen. Even weirder is the reaction of the teachers at their school, who might be helping or hindering the stalker. The kids eventually learn that there are two powerful forces that have been at odds for centuries: the Magi and the Darkhands (take a guess which side is good and which is evil).

There were some fun characters in the story, too. My favorite was Dr. Timberi, who is the choir teacher and musical director. I could tell that Braden put part of his heart and soul into this person. The kids also all have distinct characters with good strengths and weaknesses.

This novel had all the things I like about books: fun, lighthearted, adventurous, free of language and 'questionable' situations, and it places people in positions where they have to dig in deep to overcome their problems. I can easily recommend this book to any middle grade reader and above without any reservations.

One complaint, though. Why did the adult who turned out to be the biggest pain in the neck have to be Mr. Stephens? Mr. Stephens should be the nice guy; a kind, easy-going, gentle, and rational type of personality. Oh well, he must be an English Stephens. My Stephens ancestors came from Prussia.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Scene It

I feel like I've reached a writing epiphany. I don't know if it's really that earth shaking, but it seems like it to me. Lately, I've read a few books on screenwriting, like McKee's Story. Screenwriters think in scenes, not chapters. So, I started trying to break down my current project, Memoir of a Teenage Sidekick, into smaller units.

I started reading a novel and decided to take notes on what happened in each scene.When I did that, I found I could easily see the 'Three O's". I learned this idea James Scott Bell's book Plot & Structire. The three O's stand for Objective, Obstacle, and Outcome. Objective is the characters goal at the moment. Obstacle is what creates the opposition and conflict to that goal. Outcome is what happens as a result of goal versus opposition.

As I read the novel, it surprised me when I saw these 3 O's multiple times in each scene. When I've applied the principle, I usually just thought of it in terms of one set of O's for the entire chapter. It taught me that the three O's should be happening more often.

As I'm working on my outline now, I'm breaking it down into scenes and figuring out the three O's for each one. I'm finding a few that naturally have the cycle happening three times in a short amount of time. Anyway, that's my exciting discovery. I need to study this some more in other books. It's kind of like doing a measure by measure analysis of music.