Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Been a while, let’s check in over at —

The INTERN.

Who is really the debut author Hilary Smith.

Now, I see that Hilary’s first book is called WILD AWAKE, which is a great title! And she has several fun posts about her book’s cover release. For one thing, she seems to have recruited the venerable Lao Tzu to help her out:

“Greetings! It is I, Lao Tzu, ancient poet born from a shooting star, here to analyze the mystical significance of this Cover Reveal. Hilary tells me most modern people no longer bother to consult a sage about the details of their book launches; this is a very big mistake! Most supremely unwise! Most contrary to the Way! Without the wisdom of sages, how will you know the true meaning of anything? Lucky for Hilary, I came back from outer space just in time to drop some wisdom on WILD AWAKE.”

Actually, Hilary’s blog kind of makes me want to read her book regardless, but reading about WILD AWAKE would make me think about picking it up even if I’d never seen her blog. It’s apparently contemporary YA and I can see her doing that really, really well. There’s no description as yet on Amazon, but I gather the back cover copy is this:

“Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.”

I might enjoy that! Having a murder mystery involved is a big plus for me, since it guarantees the book will have, you know, a plot where something happens.

Also! Way down at the bottom of her current posts is a really interesting post on what causes conflict to not work in a book. Well worth reading!

Hilary also does freelance editing, see, and what she says is:

One of the most cited reasons agents and editors give for declining manuscripts is “there wasn’t enough conflict” or “the stakes weren’t high enough.” For this reason, writers have learned to pile on conflict—checking for internal and external tensions in every scene, giving each character a backstory wound, defining clear and compelling story goals, etc.

But while these strategies can and do lead to stronger story telling, they can also backfire in confusing ways. Over the past six months, the freelance editor version of myself has noticed a peculiar phenomenon: manuscripts with loads of conflict that are nevertheless deadly boring.

“What’s going on here?” I found myself thinking again and again. “There’s so much drama, but I don’t give a tinker’s damn.” (No damns at all! Not a one!)

And then she goes on to describe various ways that cause conflict not to work in a story. I will list those ways briefly here, but seriously, the whole post is very interesting and you should go read it!

a) The conflicts involve all the characters except the main character.
b) The conflicts do not relate to the main goal of the main character.
c) The main conflict that arises from the angsty backstory does not relate to the present story.
d) The conflict fails to escalate.
e) New episodic conflicts get piled on, but since they’re not related to one another, there is no sense of building drama.

I’m going to try to keep these problems in mind when I think about why a book doesn’t work for me. The one that springs most forcefully to mind is (e) — I certainly can think of books like that! I think of it as a problem with plotting — scattered versus tight plot. I admire a story where all the problems arise as spillover from one central problem — that’s tight plotting. A good example is MIDSHIPMAN’S HOPE by Feintuch, a great book with sequels that mostly aren’t as good, unfortunately. But one reason the book is fabulous is that all but one of the various problems that get piled on the main character, do in fact arise as a result of one early problem that continues to have repercussions all the way through.

So — The INTERN: still worth checking out from time to time, despite the long hiatus from blogging. Plus — Lao Tzu!

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1 Comment Been a while, let’s check in over at —

  1. Elaine T

    I can think of a couple more: The plot & overt conflicts are all about one thing and the emotional arc of the story is about something completely different.

    SRB’s DEMON’S SURRENDER may have that problem, I’m not sure, I had a migraine during part of the read. But I finished it thinking the emotional arc had to do with Alan and Nick, and the plot arc had to do with Syn and Mai.

    And the writer doesn’t convey escalation properly. I’m thinking of another one where I LOVED the writing and the characters, I’d have them over for a nose-to-nose (in book dialect) any day. Lots of action all related to the same cause, escalation, but somehow it always came across as ‘ho hum, another day, another action piece.” even when the woman was going in to labor during the action. Intellectually that was escalated level of threat etc., but it didn’t come across.

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