Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

Line Editing: What Is It? By Jami Gold

Screenshot of line editing example

What Is Line Editing and What Should Line Editors Do? by Jami Gold https://jamigold.com/2018/03/what-is-line-editing-and-what-should-line-editors-do/

Last month, when I put together the Master Lists of writing craft skills to provide insights for self-editing and/or finding editors, I created a list for each phase of editing:

As I mentioned in the Line Editing post, in my experience, line editing is the hardest type of editing to nail down. We can say that line editing is about how we write scenes and paragraphs, but what does that mean?

Let’s take a closer look at what line editing encompasses

Why Is Line Editing Hard to Define?

While developmental editing is about the story and characters and copy editing is about grammar rules and sentence-level issues, line editing skills are all about our writing—as a whole:

  • our voice
  • our style
  • our techniques
  • our choices

Despite how line editing skills overlap those of developmental editing and copy editing, the skills also go far beyond looking at character arcs or knowing grammar and into becoming deeply in tune with an author’s voice. Talented line editing can make our writing sing, and the step shouldn’t be skipped.

Do We Need a Professional Line Editor?

Unfortunately, many writers have probably never been exposed to good line editing to recognize it (or its lack). It’s rare for a beta reader or critique partner—or even an English teacher—to have the necessary skills to be a good line editor. Due to the difficulty in finding non-professionals with the necessary line editing skills, my “default” recommendation as far as editing is:

For most writers, if we can afford to pay only one professional editor, we should get a professional line edit.

However, many editors who call themselves line editors actually perform more of a copyedit. It’s essential to get a sample edit from a potential editor to see what kind of changes they’re suggesting—and whether or not their changes are good for our voice, etc.

What should a professional line edit include? Check this list of examples…CLICK TO TWEET But that brings up the issue: If it’s so hard to define or recognize good line editing, how can we find a good line editor?

The first step is to learn more about what line editors do (or should do). The better we understand this stage of editing, the more we’re able to self-edit for these issues or judge whether a sample edit from someone calling themselves a line editor reveals if they’re actually looking at the right things.

Once we know whether a potential editor measures up, skill-wise, we can then focus on whether they’re a good match for our voice. I hesitate to ever recommend specific editors because we all have different strengths and weaknesses, but our individual needs are never more important than finding a line editor who’s a good match for our voice.

No matter how skilled the line editor, we should stay far away from any who don’t “get” our voice. *smile*

What Should Line Editors Do? The Basics…

Line editing focuses on clarity and strength in our writing, such as:

  • Are any sentences clunky or confusing?
  • Do any motivations need to be made clearer?
  • Are any phrases too cliché?
  • Do any sentences or paragraphs need to be tightened?
  • Are any sentences or paragraphs too repetitive?
  • Would different words make a stronger emotional impact?
  • Would showing or telling make a point more effective?
  • Would rearranging any sentences or paragraphs help the storytelling flow or have emotional focus?

In my post a few years ago about how we can evaluate potential editors, I gave a few examples of line-editing comments:

  • “I feel like her words should directly follow this. See what you think of the new arrangement.”
  • “This wording is a little awkward, and I would add a sentence or two showing her decision.”
  • “You can cut this. We know it already.”
  • “This almost goes without saying. Could you use a more descriptive adverb, or better yet, phrase?”

Note how these comments get into reading flow, clarity, tightening, and stronger writing. These are what we’re looking for with line edits. (Also note how these comments get into the nitty-gritty of how we word things. That’s why we need our line editor to be in tune with our voice.)

What Should Line Editors Do? More Examples…

I love how line editing makes my voice and writing stronger, so I want to give more insights into what a good line edit can do for us. I hope these examples give us more ideas about the types of self-editing we can do as well as what we should look for when evaluating potential line editors.

In my Line Editing Master List post, I organized line-editing skills into several categories. Using many of those same categories, here are some of the comments I received from my line editor on my latest release, Stone-Cold Heart:

Structure Scenes

Scene structure is usually a developmental editing step, but this is one of those areas that can overlap with line editing—especially when it comes to narrow story issuesrepetition of ideas, and story/emotional flow.

  • “What’s the deal with this? Where did it come from?”
  • “That’s DEFINITELY something I’d expect her to ask about.”
  • “Would this not cause problems in the world?”
  • “I think it’s fine to have this new POV scene this way. It’s not like there’s any other way to reveal this info. The only other thing you could do to make it slightly less jarring would be to put a prologue in her POV.”
  • “I would cut this and move it down to AFTER her explanation so you don’t cut the tension of us waiting to see what happens, with all the backstory.”
  • “I pictured them still on the couch and assumed she was either talking to them from the kitchen or had come back into the living room, so I’m confused about when they decided to join her.”
  • “Insert scene break.”

Structure Paragraphs and Sentences

Paragraph and sentence structure is the “meat” of line editing, ensuring ideas are expressed with strength and clarity.

  • “Three prepositional phrases in a row is the absolute max. I prefer no more than two because it gets overwhelming, but I’ll let you decide if there’s an easy way to rework this.”
  • “Feels redundant. I don’t think you need both of these.”
  • “Cut. This goes without saying, as we see this already.”
  • “I don’t see any need for the paragraph break.”
  • Closer implies comparison, but what are you comparing here?”
  • “Wrenched what?”
  • “Unclear who’s speaking here.”
  • “This sentence has too much going on. Can you split it into two?”
  • “Maybe change to “it doesn’t matter” or something similar. “No” is a confusing answer here.”
  • “This is a little hard to picture.”
  • “This is a little clunky. Reword if you can.”
  • “Even going back to review the last page, it’s not immediately clear what excuse you’re referring to.”
  • “Odd word choice. I feel like this word implies the opposite.”

Tightening sentences is also a major aspect of line editing, as in these screenshots:

Example of a sentence tightened and strengthened.

Line editing example of sentence tightened and made clearer

(Newsletter readers need to click through to the post to see the images. Click on the images to see full size.)

Develop Voice

As I mentioned above, voice is the trickiest aspect of line editing. A line editor who’s not a good match for us will try to “fix” our voice choices into something dull, but a good match will help us make our voice stronger and sharper.

  • “You know me and repetition, but using the different form of the word in the first sentence throws it off. Do you think changing it to match the other two makes it too much? What if you combine the last two sentences?”
  • “I think you may be over-using this word. The idea is well established at this point, and I don’t think the particular word needs to be repeated quite so many times.”
  • “I feel like a pause before this is necessary to emphasize it. Comma, em dash, ellipsis, your choice.”
  • “Try adding this understatement to make it funnier.”
  • “Sounds too formal.”
  • “I would maybe draw out these words with ellipses.”
  • “Some writers would use hyphens to make this into one idea. I was just reading something in an editor forum that said that’s considered lazy writing. Meh. Who knows?
    But the italics are a little odd as well. You could rephrase.”
  • “Technically these are comma splices. Which I’m sure you know. I would probably use periods here, but I can see wanting to tie it all together, so I’ll look the other way if that’s what you choose. 😉 “

Note: That last bullet is a great example of how a good editor match will “get” what we’re trying to do with our voice. *smile*

Evoke Intended Reader Reactions

Another aspect of feedback is for an editor to let us know whether our words are having the intended effect. Good editors will mention when something feels “off.”

  • “I’m assuming the gun isn’t loaded, but I can’t be sure, so maybe make that a little more clear here.”
  • “This actually minimizes the explosion in my head. I think of a bang as something sharp, caused by a gunshot, two things being struck together, etc. But an explosion is more of a boom. Or you could just describe its effect or compare it to something.”
  • “This sounds far more emotional. I would probably cut this part unless you mean to imply that he’s actually falling for her.”
  • “This seems out of left field. At least off topic.”
  • “I would switch these. This just sounds awkward, so it kills the moment you’re trying to create here.”
  • “The ellipsis makes me think that he’s drawing a blank for what to call her. But this word alone is a perfect end to that sentence.”
  • “Both of their statements here feel a little contrived.”
  • “I think this line could be stronger.”

Develop Characterization

A good line editor will help us develop our characters through word choice and keep our character’s presentation consistent.

  • “I want an adjective here to tell me what kind she likes.”
  • “This makes me immediately distrustful of him. Is that your intent?”
  • “Italicized because these words are always extra meaningful for him.”
  • “Seems like a really modern turn of phrase for his voice.”
  • “Would he know what this is?”
  • “I feel surprised that he would use this word. It seems a little feminine or something.”

Use Showing vs. Telling and POV Appropriately

Line editing can also highlight out-of-POV (point of view) phrases or let us know when we need more showing or telling.

  • “These highlighted phrases feel like she’s too self-aware. If she recognizes the signs, why can’t she exert some sort of control over it?”
  • “Are his arms still around her?”
  • “This feels very info-dumpy for her to say aloud. Doesn’t sound natural.”
  • “Not sure if she’d know her expression is pathetic.”
  • “This seems too self aware. Almost outside her POV. Maybe an analogy like…”
  • “This feels kind of “as you know, Bob-ish.””
  • “Can you unpack this a little? What does that look like?”
  • “Above, she merely “stepped back” from his arms, so I assumed he was still right there within touching distance.”
  • “This is a little tell-y.”
  • “More description please. A warehouse, a mansion, a brownstone, an estate?”

Miscellaneous Line Editing Elements

In addition, line editing can touch on goals, stakes, conflict, motivation, pacing, tension, etc.

  • “This feels like overkill. We get this point, but it feels like a jump. Almost weird that she’s even thinking about this.”
  • “Why does she assume this?”
  • “I realize the importance of this moment. You need their bond to be threatened, but this doesn’t feel like it fits. It comes out of left field.
    Could you tweak the direction a little and have her lash out? That’s still a lack of trust, without seeming like the thought suddenly made her change her mind.”

Want More Line Editing Information?

Here are a few other posts where we’ve talked about line-editing issues:

Hopefully this information helps show how line editing can take our writing and make it stronger. With a good line editor (or amazing self-editing skills), our stories will grab readers’ attention and emotions, compelling them to read just. One. More. Page. *smile*

How familiar are you with line editing? Have you had a good line editor before? What made them good (or bad)? Does this help clarify what a good line editor should analyze or how to evaluate a line editor’s skills? Do you have any questions about line editing?

Stock and Cloned Characters in Storytelling

 

 

 

 

 

by Melissa Donovan on March 15, 2018 ·

I was recently reading a novel, and a few chapters in, I realized I had mixed up two of the main characters. In fact, I had been reading them as if they were a single character. I’m a pretty sharp reader, and this has never happened before, so I tried to determine why I’d made the mistake. Was I tired? Hungry? Not paying attention?

I went back and reviewed the text and noticed that these two characters were indistinct. They were so alike that without carefully noting which one was acting in any given scene, it was impossible to differentiate them from each other. They were essentially the same character. Even their names sounded alike.

This got me to thinking about the importance of building a cast of characters who are unique and distinct from each other instead of a cast of stock characters who are mere clones of one another.

Stock Characters

We sometimes talk about stock characters in literature. You know them: the mad scientist, the poor little rich kid, the hard-boiled detective. These characters have a place in storytelling. When readers meet a sassy, gum-popping waitress in a story, they immediately know who she is. They’ve seen that character in other books and movies. Maybe they’ve even encountered waitresses like her in real life. These characters are familiar, but they’re also generic.

When we use a stock character as a protagonist or any other primary character, we have to give the character unique qualities so the character doesn’t come off as generic or boring. It’s fine to have a sassy, gum-popping waitress make a single appearance in a story, but if she’s a lead character, she’s going to need deeper, more complex development so the readers no longer feel as if they already know her. She has to become fresh and interesting.

Stieg Larsson did this brilliantly in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels that made up the Millennium trilogy. At first the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, seems like a surly punk, the kind of character we’ve seen a million times before. As the story progresses and Lisbeth moves to center stage, we learn there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s antisocial, and she’s a computer genius. She’s bold, brave, and tough. She’s not just some surly punk. She is a moral person with unique challenges — one of the most intriguing characters in contemporary fiction.

Cloning Characters

Stock characters are often taken from source material, sometimes as an homage and other times as a blatant rip-off. Such characters are problematic when they feature prominently in a story and have no traits that differentiate them from the character upon which they are based. Do you want to read a story about a boy wizard named Hal Porter who wears glasses and has a scar on his forehead? Probably not, unless it’s a parody of Harry Potter, whom we all know and love.

You can certainly write a story about a young wizard who is based on Harry Potter, but you have to differentiate your character from Harry. Make the character a girl, give her a hearing aid instead of glasses, and come up with a memorable name that doesn’t immediately bring Harry Potter to mind. And give your character her own personality and challenges.

As the book I was recently reading demonstrates, we also have to watch out for cloning characters within our own stories. For most writers, this is a bigger problem than cloning characters out of other authors’ stories.

Think about it: you are the creator of all the characters in your story. You might have based them on people or characters you know and love (or loathe). You might have conjured them from your imagination. But they are all coming from you: your thoughts, your experiences, and your voice.

While I’ve never mixed up two characters in a book I was reading before, I have noticed that characters who act, think, and speak similarly are common. And while a cast of characters who are similar to each other in every way imaginable doesn’t necessarily make a story bad, a cast of characters who are noticeably distinct from each other is much better.

Nature vs. Nurture: How to Avoid Cloned Characters

Cloning is the practice of making a copy of something, an exact replica. You can clone a human being (or a character), but once the clone comes into existence, it will immediately start changing and becoming different from the original. Its personal experiences will be unique. By nature, the original and the clone are exactly the same, but nurture (or life experience) will cause the clone to deviate from the original.

Here are some tips to make sure your characters are unique and not clones of each other or any character or person they are based on:Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.

1.Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters  name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.

2.Unless you’re writing a family saga, make sure your characters don’t all look alike.   Try developing a diverse cast of characters.

3.Characters’ speech patterns will depend on where they’re from, but individuals also have their own quirky expressions and sayings. Use dialogue to differentiate the characters from each other. Maybe one character swears a lot while another calls everyone by nicknames.

4.Create character sketches complete with backstories. If you know your characters intimately, you’ll be less likely to portray them as a bunch of clones.

5.To help you visualize your characters, look for photos of actors, models, and other public figures that you can use to help your imagination fill in the blanks.

6.Once you’ve created your cast, ask whether any of them are stock characters. If any of your primary characters feel like stock characters, make them more unique.

Are You Using Stock Characters? Are Your Characters a Bunch of Clones?

The main problem with the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post was that there were two characters who were essentially functioning as a single entity, at least for the first four or five chapters, which is as far as I got in the book. Together, they shared the same purpose or function within the story. The best fix for that problem would have been to combine the two characters into a single character, something I have had to do in one of my fiction projects that had a few too many names and faces.

I can’t help but wonder if the author ever bothered to run the manuscript by beta readers, and since the book was traditionally published, I wondered how the cloned characters made it past the editor.

How much attention do you pay to your characters when you’re writing a story? What strategies do you use to get to know your characters and make sure they are all unique? Have you ever noticed stock characters or cloned characters in a story you’ve read? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

 

 

Why We Celebrate March 14th – Happy Pi (TT) Day !

 Pi Day spotlights one of math’s most seductive numbers! by Dan Rockmore.

Why do we celebrate the number pi (π) on March 14? Because it’s the fourteenth day of the third month of the year, and 3 and 14 are the first three digits of pi’s decimal expansion. If you really want to show you’re a pi aficionado, you can start your celebration at 1:59 p.m. and 26 seconds, because with those five additional digits you have pi’s first eight digits: 3.1415926.

Those eight numbers are just the beginning of pi’s true value. Unlike most numbers we encounter in everyday life, pi has digits to the right of the decimal point that go on not just for a long time but forever — and in an unpredictable way. The Swiss mathematician Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that in 1761.

The short way to say this is that pi is an irrational number, one that cannot be represented as a fraction and thus has an infinite and never-repeating decimal expansion. And since the 19th Century, pi has been known to be transcendental, meaning that no combination of its powers can add up to a whole number. This distinguishes it again from more familiar irrational numbers like the square root of two (whose second power is equal to two).

REAL-WORLD REFLECTIONS

You don’t have to be a mathematician or even a “math person” to find pi fascinating. We all learned as students that pi represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, or, as we might put that mathematically, π = c/d. But not every student fully appreciates the fact that the ratio stays constant no matter how big or how small the circle.

Pi is an ideal. It characterizes the relationship between measurements of a perfect circle in a Platonic world. But we see its real-world reflection all around us. It’s present in coins, plates, those circular irrigation ponds you see from airplanes, and other familiar objects — pi is embedded within them all. The same is true for three-dimensional objects like spheres and cylinders. As long as something is round, pi applies.

And pi isn’t just about round things. Famously, it’s a piece of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which quantifies the level of precision one can obtain when making measurements at the subatomic level. Closer to home, pi is part of a formula used to price investment risk. Pi both leaves nothing to chance and helps measures chance.

ANCIENT ORIGINS

Pi is as timeless as it is unchanging. Our ancestors knew about pi at least as far back as 4,000 years ago, even if a Greek letter wasn’t used to denote it until 1647. The Bible contains an implicit reference to pi: A cylindrical vat used by Hiram in the “Book of Kings” is said to measure 10 cubits across and 30 cubits around. (30/10 = 3, which at least gives the first digit of pi.) The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians made their own estimates of pi’s value, and Archimedes famously used a clever geometric argument to place the value of pi between 22/7 and 223/71.

While both of those fractions come close to representing the actual value of pi, we’re always coming up with better ways to express pi’s value. Recent attempts tend to rely not on geometry but on mysterious formulas like the one often taught in first-year calculus:

 Mathematical formula

And this is just one of many “infinite series” representations for pi.

The Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan — you may know him from the 1991 book and 2015 movie “The Man Who Knew Infinity” — owes his fame, in part, to his pursuit of elaborate formulas for the reciprocal of pi, or “one over pi” in the common parlance. Ramanujan’s formulas reveal mysterious connections between pi and patterns in prime numbers — whole numbers like 2, 3, 5, and 7 that are divisible only by themselves and one.

GOING TO EXTREMES

Fascinating as they are in their own right, formulas like Ramanujan’s provide the starting point for the “extreme computing” efforts to calculate pi we’ve all read about in recent years. In 2016, computer whiz Peter Trueb made headlines when he used an ingenious computational configuration to calculate pi to mind-blowing 22,459,157,718,361 decimal points.

Related

While some people use computers to calculate ever-more-accurate values for pi, others memorize pi to thousands of digits and then recite them aloud in a public setting — as if reciting a sonnet for robots. The current Guiness Book world record holder here is Rajveer Meena from India, who in 2015 recited 70,000 digits of pi before stopping.

So while we differ in the ways we think about pi and work with pi, we can all come together today to celebrate the seductive powers it has over our minds. So on this March 14, take a moment to contemplate this remarkable constant — maybe over a slice of pie. Here in Dartmouth’s math department, we’ll have a nice selection — and we’ll start at precisely at 1:59 and 26 seconds.

Just for good measure.

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Interview with Writer and Author, Charles F. French, Part 2

 

 

 

 

Good day to you Professor Charles F. French!  Thank you  for taking time, in your busy schedule, between teaching literature at two universities in eastern Pennsylvania and writing great horror novels! I just read your latest horror novel,  Gallows Hill, and it is a blockbuster of a horror novel!  I am very interested in discovering more about why reading, writing, and teaching is the love of your life.  Thank you for answering the following questions.  I know your readers are as anxious to know all about you as I am.

1.  How do you get your ideas for writing books, such as Maledicus, your first published book, but not the only novel you have written?

This may sound odd, and I do not know what it says about either me or the creative process, but I see characters and wonder what their stories are. I begin to think about them, and I jot down my ideas. And I never seem to run out of ideas.

2.  Do you feel that novels should have a moral dilemma that must be addressed?

I do not think that all novels should have a moral dilemma in them—that must be up to the author to decide, but I can say that in my novels, I always have at least one, if not more, moral dilemmas that the characters face in the course of the action.

3.  Do you research your story before you begin to write a novel?

I do not have a set pattern when it comes to research for my novels. I usually do the research as I come across something I do not know for the books. Then I attack the research to learn as much as I can about it. Because I never outline a book, I cannot be sure what it is I will need to learn until I reach that point. I am not suggesting that anyone else should follow my way of research, only that it is what I do. Each writer must find his/her own paths.

4.  In your latest novel, Gallows Hill what single idea inspired you to write this story?

Its origin is found in the first book in this series: Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, book 1. The three men who create the ghost-investigation group all have lost someone very close to them to death. The first book focused on Roosevelt, and this one focuses on Sam, who lost his teenaged son, Josh to suicide. Sam carries deep grief with him, and the book is about his search to find answers about his son’s death. So, the theme of the past intruding on the present also informs the creation of the supernatural villain of the book, a former executioner/fundamentalist preacher who just cannot seem to let go of his need to punish those he considers to be sinners.

5.  Are you presently writing another novel and can you give us an idea of what it is about and why did you chose this subject matter?

Yes, I have written the first of a Young Adult series that I am currently pitching to agents, and I hope that I can break through into traditional publishing with it. It is an environmental post-apocalyptic novel, informed by the middle ages. I am also working on the first draft of the first book in a fantasy series that I thought would be midgrade but now I realize is adult fantasy. The themes of the evils of the world and how they intrude through fantastic events into the lives of several youngsters is too powerful, vivid, and horrific to be anything but adult fantasy.

6.  I have been told you that have also written another novel that has not yet been published. What is the name of this novel and when will it be published?

The name of the next book in the paranormal investigation series is Evil Lives After: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 3, and it will come out around Halloween in 2019.

7. Is there anything else that you would like to add to this discussion?

First, thank you to K. D. Dowdall for conducting this interview with me. Second, I want to say to all writers out there: continue to do what you do, and never lose hope or dedication to your craft and your art.

 

 

Quotes: Be The Change We Seek!

Our young people have more common sense & courage then 40% of adults in America. 

 

 

Politicians that are bought and paid for, are Puppets of the Greedy!

 

 

We can’t pray away gun massacres, but we can change our laws to stop them.  

 

The Writing Craft: Novel Openings to Avoid by Jami Gold

Jami Gold has the most complete Writing Tips, Writing Resources, Editing Resources and they are all unbelievably wonderful! I am posting one of dozens of great writing tips, plus so much more. http://www.jamigold.com  I discovered Jami Gold on Anne Allen’s blog and she also presents wonderful writing tips!http://www.annerallen.com 

I found the following writing tip to be exactly what I needed to know and so interesting – who knew?  Jami did!

 

 

 

Novel Openings to Avoid:

1)     Weather reports: the famous opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night” may keep contemporary audiences aware of Lord Bulwer-Lytton’s otherwise forgettable 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, but not in a good way.  Opening with meteorological events isn’t only a problem with people who’ve read too much Victorian literature. Our television-saturated brains tend to think in terms of the “establishing shot” of a screenplay. But, a novel needs more than pictures to connect with the reader. It needs human emotion.

2)     Morning wake-ups: showing your character waking up or getting ready for work/school hits the snooze button for readers. In a movie or TV show, you can show one character getting ready for work and it’s interesting. In the cable TV series, Dexter, the serial killer/protagonist’s morning ablutions open every episode. But in a book, where you couldn’t have the creepy-comic music and double-entendre blood orange shots, the same scene would bore us silly.

3)     Dreams: some people call this the “Dallas” opening, because of the TV soap that got written into such a corner the writers had to pretend a whole season was “just a dream.” Writers sometimes try to hook readers by opening with a scene of surreal horror—but if it all turns out to be a dream or a video game on page three, the reader feels tricked.

4)     The death of the protagonist: This is apparently very, very big with the paranormal/horror crowd. If your MC is a zombie, vampire, or other member of the undead community, think of something else. This has been done, um, to death.

5)     Trains, planes and automobiles: if your character is en route and musing about where he’s been and where he’s going, you’re not into your story yet. Jump ahead to where the story really starts.

6)     Funerals: Slush readers say a huge number of manuscripts—especially memoirs—start with the protagonist in a state of bereavement. But most readers aren’t eager to embark on a literary journey with a miserable MC.

7)     “If I’d known then what I know now…” starting with the conditional perfect may seem clever to you, but unfortunately it does to a lot of other writers, too. This is cliché territory—don’t go there.

8)     Personal introductions: starting with “my name is…” has been way overdone, especially in YA. Again, not a bad idea, but too many people thought of it first.

9)     Minor characters speaking or thinking. The story-telling old man, the child—any detached observer telling the tale will only distance the reader. Whoever/whatever we meet first becomes foremost in our minds, and readers will want to go back to that character. Make the first person you meet an important member of the cast, not a spear-carrier.

10) Reader-Feeder dialogue, also known as “As you Know, Bob.”

“I must retrieve the elusive magical jewelry item,” says Bob. “Without it, I cannot access my rightful powers—and my evil Uncle Murray will usurp my domain.”“But as you know, Bob,” says Sidekick. “The magical jewelry item is in the hands of the four skanky queens of the Bingo Borogroves and guarded by the Dire Dragoons of Doom. We will be risking our very lives.”  Sidekick is not saying this for Bob’s benefit. He’s saying it for ours. Conversational info-dumps are never a good idea.

11) Group activities: don’t overwhelm your reader with too many characters right off the bat. It’s like meeting a bunch of people at a cocktail party: you don’t remember anybody’s name if you hear too many at once.

12) Internal monologue: Musing is boring. Especially reader-feeder musing. “Back when I was younger, I would have slain the dragoons with my magic sword, but when my parents were killed in that chariot crash on the way to get Borogrovian take-out, and my Uncle Murray had me locked up in the Dark Tower of Doom, the skanky queens stole my magic sword and melted it down to make a necklace and a pair of matching earrings…” We don’t need to know this all on the first page. Bring in backstory later.

13) Too much action: Writing gurus keep telling us to start with action, action, action, but this isn’t actually such good advice. We need to be emotionally engaged with a character before we care how many dragoons of doom he slays.

 

***

DANGER WALKS HERE!

It happened in a small farming community in the northwestern part of Connecticut that also included a large forest preserve, a once glacial river, now a bubbling brook, a lake, and a spring-fed pond. The community’s roots began in 1680, as The Salmon Brook Settlement that was also home to Native Americans like the Tunix, the Massaco, and the Mohegan.

It was a perfect summer day. The morning was cool and the sky was a brilliant Periwinkle blue. The deep, dense forest was a monolith of wonder for elementary school age kids.  The ancient woods that the Salmon Brook flowed through provided the Native Americans with all kinds of fish, fowl, and river animals, like beavers.

Evidence of their inhabitation lingers still in the form of arrowheads, pathways, in meadows that were once crop producing fields, where they once grew tobacco, beans, squash, and corn, as well as middens of shells like clams, mussels and turtles were eagerly searched for in the forest.  There were plenty of bones to find too, mostly animal, but sometimes, human bones that would be exposed as they washed up on the rocky river banks.

On this beautiful summer morning, a small band of kids, having traversed deeply into the forest, smelled smoke and considered it to be a fisherman on the river or the nearby lake.  At first, nothing much was thought about it. The smoke seemed to be coming from some distance away.

Taken aback by what she was seeing, one of the older members of the group of five children, yelled out, “FIRE!”  All heads turned to the leader of the group, who stood mesmerized by the yellow-orange fingers of flame surrounding a giant oak tree, that appeared to touch the sky it was so tall. The forest fire was closing in around them, silently sneaking up on them, until it roared like a lion.  The fire then leapt among the tree tops, high into the sky, turning the blue sky into a purple twilight, billowing with fire.

Like deer, caught in the headlights of an on-coming car, they froze in fear.  Suddenly, they ran, following their leader to an old wagon wheel road where giant, thick oaks lined the road, that was little more, now, than a pathway.  They ran and out of the corner of their eyes the watched the fire explode into the giant oaks behind them. As they ran, animals of all kinds joined in their fierce desire to escape the flames that were now, 40, 50, 60, 100 feet high in the air, and animals ran alongside the five children. The leader was shocked to find a black bear keeping pace at her side and deer leaping everywhere. Wild Turkeys, Foxes, Porcupines, Skunks, Woodchucks, all, ran with the humans, side by side on the narrow path, until the path widened as they reached an open field. Ahead of them was Canton road and fire trucks with long hoses and a helicopter overhead. The parents of the children were kept back by officers and firemen.

The children emerged, blackened with smoke, wild-eyed with fear, and the animals took off in different directions, some crossing the road to the other side where safety could be found, unmindful of the crowd gathered on Canton Road. The children, now at the point of exhaustion, collapsed into their parent’s arms as the firefighters dosed them with cool, clear water.

This was a day the five children would never forget. I will always remember the black bear running by my side. I remember how we looked at each other, the black bear and I—with a look that was “will we get out of this alive?”  It was as if we saved each other and we were a team. It was amazing. I will always remember the look he gave me as he turned to run into the safety of the tall bushes and another part of the forest, he turned and stopped for a moment, like he was saying, thank you and nodded his head.

By K. D. Dowdall

***I wrote this sometime ago and I had not proofread it before publishing. I have now made grammatical changes. A mistake, hopefully, I will not make again.

Releasing Writing Fears by Artemis Delmar

Releasing Writing Fears
Sharing fears of self-doubt, apprehension, and feeling that maybe no one will like my book anyway or am I making a fool of myself for thinking I could be a great writer one day. However, through dialogue with other writers, we soon discover that most of us have the same fears, as Delia so clearly writes about on her blog.  https://artemisdelmar.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/releasing-writing-fears/

 

Palabras DelMar

I like writing but I am hesitant about sharing. Self-doubt, apprehension, and fear continuously rear their putrid heads over and over again.  The self-doubt and apprehension lead me to write. In part, I believe that this is an oxymoron because the fear and apprehension should make me run from the craft.

The exploration of my language leaves me at a loss sometimes. I am lost in my thoughts and words— constantly. I am lost in observation and I am lost in the wonderment of exploration. I can explore the darkest thoughts of my mind and create something truly unique or I can create a poem that embraces every romantic idea I have ever come across and yet somehow, I feel it’s never good enough.

It’s not good enough so it’s not worth sharing.

I have so many creations, characters, and plots that are begging for exposure.

They haunt my thoughts…

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The 5 Secrets to Developing Better Characters | BookDaily

The 5 Secrets to Developing Better Characters | BookDaily #AuthorTips

By TA Sullivan

November 8, 2017

The 5 Keys to Character Development

My friend wanted me to attend a writing seminar with her, so I agreed to go. However, the summary said it was geared more for novices, so I didn’t really expect to learn much. Boy, was I surprised.

The instructor, a creative writing instructor from one of the top schools in the south, came in and took her place at the podium. After introducing herself and giving us a brief synopsis of what the presentation was to be about, she asked us to take five minutes to describe her as if she was a character in one of our stories.

The results were pretty much as expected. Most of the attendees gave similar descriptions to this:

Melanie is a 30-ish woman with brown, shoulder-length hair, dressed in a gray suit with a lacy, rose-colored blouse.

She told us to hang on to those descriptions, and then she went on to give us her presentation. That’s when we all learned how wrong we had been in actually thinking we had described a character. What we had described was a one-dimensional, uninspired, and uninteresting person.

A story character should be as varied as someone in real life. They should have substance, not just a description. They should come alive for the reader and become someone that the reader can actually believe in. The 5 primary attributes that each character needs in order to achieve this kind of depth are:

Mannerisms/Traits: These are the tics or compulsions that a character displays consistently. For example, the character paces when nervous or agitated, chews gum or tobacco, hums to him- or herself, blinks excessively, clicks a pen without realizing it, taps the end of a pencil on desk all the time, bounces his or her foot, plays with his or her hair or runs his or her fingers through his or her hair, chews his or her fingernails, rubs at a scar on chin, cheek, nose, etc., stutters, or laughs inappropriately.

Behaviors/attitudes: These are how the character displays his or her feelings. For instance, the character might be belligerent, argumentative, disagreeable, a yes-man, Polly Anna-like, naïve, happy, bland, or teasing.

Scents (what smells are associated with the character, if any): Most memories are related (and often triggered) by scent. Yet, as authors we tend to forget about the smell-factor. Perhaps, because books (even electronic ones) don’t yet include the ability to smell our characters or their surroundings. Still, even a description of an odor or an aroma can evoke a sense memory and help our readers remember and relate to our characters. So, include references to scents whenever possible. As it is, most people have a particular scent, and those that wear perfumes or aftershaves, or use perfumed dryer sheets, usually have a cloud of odors surrounding them. Or perhaps, your character forgot to bathe, was climbing about in a dumpster, or lives with a herd of cats.

Sounds (what sounds are associated with this character): Sounds are another overlooked, yet memorable way to help your readers remember and relate to your characters. Perhaps your character whistles, imitates bird calls, makes clicking sounds (of fingernails on a desktop or keyboard, of tongue against the roof of the mouth) or tapping sounds (of shoes or cane or fingers while texting), drags his or her foot, is associated with a rustling (of petticoats, silk fabric against skin), snapping (of cape or of gum), clomping (of boots or shoes), or wheezing (due to asthma or being overweight).

Looks: Physical attributes are the easiest to describe and usually what we (as authors) tend to focus on. However, since most readers are inclined to let their own imaginations flesh out the character, this is where the author needs to be more sparing. Include only a few basics and let the reader do the rest. For instance, relate your character’s hair color, hair style, eye shape and color, colors worn (bright colors, dull colors), clothes styles, height, weight, or unusual physical features (scars, nose size, ear shape, piercings, missing limbs, or tattoos), but describing the shoe size, exact height, and a detailed discussion of the character’s wardrobe is rarely useful and is, most times, distracting.

With all this new information at hand, she again asked to describe her as if describing a character in one of our stories, and the results were profoundly different. For example:

Melanie, our instructor for the day, was a professional-looking woman, who paced the stage in her enthusiasm. Our eyes followed her tapping heels, while her down-home voice engaged our ears. She was a southern lady, from her warm smile to the hint of jasmine that surrounded her.

Now, which description makes you feel as if Melanie was, or could be, a living person? Which description helps you connect on all levels with this person?

So, the next time you need to describe a character for your story, remember there is more to people than just how they look. Ask yourself: what does the character sound like, smell like, and act like. Add each layer to that character until you have someone so real you can see them standing in the room with you. That’s a character that your readers will remember. That’s the type of character you need to help you tell your stories.

So, how about you? How did you make your characters come alive?

WANT TO SHARE THIS TIP? TWEET THIS:

🐦CLICK TO TWEET🐦 #Authortip from @BookDailycom: 5 Secrets To Developing Intriguing Characters by @tasinator

About the Author:

TA Sullivan was born in the back of a cab in Chicago, Illinois, and she has continued to be unconventional in all that she does.

For over thirty years, she has made her living as a technical and marketing writer and editor in such diverse industries as manufacturing, cellular technology, and computer software. She has become quite proficient in turning boring into something readable and entertaining.

Her first book, “Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp,” is an autobiographical look into the world of death escorts and near death experiences. It won praise from critics and readers alike.

Her next book, “On Dreams and Dream Symbols,” strove to expand people’s awareness of their dreams and what those dreams might be trying to tell them.

The first book of her fantasy series, “The Starstone,” came out just last year, and she is readying her second book, “The Globe of Souls,” for release this summer.

You can find out more about her on her website and on Twitter