Manga Review: Golden Days

It’s been a little while since I wrote a review. I wanted to review Golden Days, which I read recently and really enjoyed. When I first finished this series, I thought of it as quite good, but I simply could not get it out of my head, so I had to review it.GoldenDaysheader1

The plot of Golden Days seems, on its surface, a bit silly. There are plenty of ludicrous media out there that use time travel as a gag device, to pull a character into amusing or exciting circumstances without dealing with the implications of such a plot device. Golden Days doesn’t do that. When Souma Mitsuya, a Japanese teenager from the mid 1990s is sent back in time to the year his great-grandfather was also sixteen—1921—he reacts realistically. Mitsuya happens to look exactly like his grandfather, Yoshimitsu, and Mitsuya is mistaken for the missing Yoshimitsu and taken to live in his place. Yoshimitsu is actually a nobleman in Japan’s now-abolished aristocracy, and he and his sister Yuriko have been taken care of by the aristocratic Kasuga family since the death of their parents. The Kasuga family also has two children, who have been raised alongside the Soumas—Jin, also sixteen, and Aiko, twelve.

Mitsuya doesn’t know why he is in the past, but has a final message from his grandfather: “If I could turn back time, I would certainly run to save him… Jin!” But save him from what? Continue reading

Post Camp-Nano

Whew, I managed to finish April camp, though I was perpetually running behind all month. Doing a NaNo revision is much more difficult than I’d thought it would be. Doing a first draft is much easier, as there aren’t any expectations, but this was basically a rewrite based on feedback of my second and third drafts. As a fourth draft, it had to be better than all the previous three. And though I was writing whole new chapters from scratch, as my book needs to be seriously restructured. I didn’t get in as far as I’d hoped with 20,000 words, but I made a pretty good dent. I just have to make sure I don’t stop writing like I did this spring.

I am liking it much more, and it’s way closer to my original intention. From hearing feedback, I realized that a lot of things I was hesitating to do because they were “cliche” were still exactly what people wanted to read. My book was trying too hard to be original and ignoring a lot of great tropes I needed to follow to make my readers more comfortable in the world. All good writing is built on what came before. Now that I’m following more tropes, I can see the places my book is truly original and let those shine.

After my victory, I rewarded myself by ordering a pair of shoes from American Duchess this morning. (Historical costume is my other obsession XD). Looking forward to getting them; they’re supposed to be really comfortable. Plus, I can confuse my coworkers at work with my super-retro shoes.

April Camp NaNoWriMo

Ah, it has been a long time since I’ve posted. I got incredibly busy doing critiques as soon as the year began and simply had no time to post. Though that ended after February, I still hesitated to post, feeling just like I was waiting to apologize to a friend for being gone for so long.

Then I wrote practically nothing in March. I’m actually doing Camp NaNo this April, though, so I have finally gotten into my next draft of Center of this Eden. So, I don’t have a new project at all. Writing a revision for camp is quite strange. I can’t just “push through it” like I usually do, since it’s supposed to be better. It’s winding up long, though, so I’ll have to cut it down a lot. I’m changing most of what happens at the beginning thanks to wonderful feedback, and so far it’s going together well, even if I keep getting distracted. I have learned far more about writing so far this year than I have in the years of just writing first drafts and never doing anything with them.

I still have to write more today (I got behind this week), but I am optimistic about getting caught up. Perhaps this week I will return with a manga or book review. I have read several good ones lately.

Revision Tools: Wordle

I picked this up from Scott Westerfeld’s blog, so I can’t claim any credit for it.

I recently (last week, basically) finished my second draft the first third of The Center of this Eden, my last year’s NaNo project. It was originally the first of three novellas, but I’ve gotten it down to just being act 1 of a hopefully 90,000 words or so long novel. Originally, my entire book was 135,000 words, which is way too long to sell. Plus, it was filled with lots of filler because it was a first draft written during NaNoWriMo and subsequent camps.

Wordle is a tool that you can use to make word-graphics, but it’s also an interesting way to present your novel as an image. More importantly, you can use it to find those pesky overused words.

This is the wordIe made for the first part of The Center of this Eden, with the original word count of this section below:

EDENwordle_1stdraft

So, you can see I overused a lot of words, such as ‘like,’ ‘though,’ ‘know,’ ‘thought/think’ and strangely ‘time’.  Character names are large, but that is normal and nothing to worry about.EDENwordle_2nddraft

And here is the wordle after I cut 15,000 words (that surprised even me), and ran searches for passive voice and filter-words. Now, the names are much larger than the overused words, and my only problem words appear to be ‘know,’ ‘never,’ and ‘one.’ I get the sense that no one ever gets ‘like’ down to be tiny. From my filter words search, I learned that my overuse of ‘know’ is often from dialogue, particularly Jess’s habit of saying ‘you know’ at the end of sentences. I’ll have to think about whether I want to cut that or not. ‘Think’ must be mostly from dialogue as well, since my book is in past tense.

I might post another on my third draft, though I highly doubt it will be such a drastic change. Now, I’m off to find beta readers and critique partners for this section–and to start working on act 2.

A Writer’s Books for Writing: Sanshirō by Natsume Sōseki

22310510After finishing NaNoWriMo I have been headlong into revisions, so I won’t have much interesting to say on those for a few weeks.

I’ve decided to start a new blog series, “A Writer’s Books for Writing” to describe the many books I feel I learned a lot about writing from reading. Most of them are novels, but a few aren’t, and many of them are well-known (for a reason, I would say!)

Yesterday, I finished reading Natsume Sōseki’s And Then, which is the middle book in a kind of ‘trilogy’ of novels about a time in someone’s life. Sanshirō is the first in that group, a novel about ‘youth.’ It’s a coming-of-age story about Sanshirō, a young man who leaves the countryside to attend Tokyo University. As he becomes exposed to the intellectuals of the university crowd and the sights, sounds and people of Tokyo, he learns about the world and also, as many of Sōseki’s characters do, about his inability to take action.

I consider Sanshirō to be my favorite of Sōseki’s novels I have read so far (I do need to pick up The Gate, his book about old age, and The Three-Cornered World). Most of his other books are more depressing than Sanshirō. Sōseki is considered to be one of Japan’s foremost men of letters, equivalent in standing to Charles Dickens for England. (His writing is much closer to period contemporaries like James Joyce or Edith Wharton than Dickens, however).

The main thing I learned as a writer from this novel was worldbuilding. Yes, you read that right–worldbuilding. Although written as contemporary fiction in 1908, it now has an historical setting after the passage of so much time. When I read this book, I was transported to early 20th century Tokyo, with its streetcars, theaters, tea-houses and streets filled with kimono-clad Japanese. Sōseki describes the Tokyo later destroyed in the earthquake of 1923. Everything is described in detail, but the descriptions are significant, not boring. It’s amazing how much detail is there, considering that his target audience were the people who lived in the city he described.

Besides the worldbuilding, the book has lots of intriguing conversations between Sōseki’s many intellectual characters.

“That’s a good point,” Professor Hirota said. “But there is one thing we ought to keep in mind in the study of man. Namely, that a human being placed in particular circumstances has the ability and the right to do just the opposite of what the circumstances dictate. The trouble is, we have this odd habit of thinking that men and light both act according to mechanical laws, which leads to some stunning errors. We set things up to make a man angry, and he laughs. We try to make him laugh, and again he does the opposite, he gets angry. Either way, though, he’s still a human being.”
Hirota had enlarged the scope of the problem again.
“Well, then, what you’re saying is, no matter what a human being does in a particular set of circumstances, he is being natural,” said the novelist at the far end of the table.
“That’s it,” Hirota shot back. “It seems to me that you might create any sort of character in a novel and there would be at least one person in the world just like him. We humans are simply incapable of imagining non-human actions or behavior. It’s the writer’s fault if we don’t believe in his characters as human beings.”

Wow, he managed to throw in some interesting advice on writing characters in a discussion on human nature. Parts like this are why I love reading Natsume Sōseki.

Anyway, since I read Sanshirō, it’s been my ambition to write a book with a setting as engrossing. I doubt that will ever happen, but I can aim high, right?

NaNoWriMo: The Penultimate Day

The final day of NaNoWriMo is tomorrow… and I’m not finished just yet. I currently have 48,521 words, so I only have 1,479 words to write tomorrow in order to win. Yes, I’m one of those boring people who writes 1,667 words each day during NaNoWriMo and then takes the rest of the day off.

I’ve found that I am a lot less stressed about NaNo victory than I was in both 2013 and 2014. For one thing, I’m already on a steady rhythm of writing each day, even if for most of this year it’s been small numbers like 350-500 words a day. Since April I wrote each day without taking any months off. It did for me what NaNoWriMo never really did–it got me into the habit of writing every single day, whether or not I felt like it.

When I finished The Center of this Eden in early September, I decided to continue revising each day as well. I was almost done with Act 1’s first draft by the time NaNoWriMo started. Cease and Desist has a little further to go before it will be finished, so now I am still torn between whether I will keep going and finish the final chapter of the first draft, or go back to revising my other book. I suppose it’s the best idea to finish the one I’m almost done with, but I really want to finish my revisions too. Maybe I can do both…

Coming to the end of NaNo is both a relief and a daunting commitment, as I can no longer be in ‘first draft only’ mode. But I guess I don’t mind, since I kind of love revising.

I decided to borrow an idea from Brigid @ Brigid Writes Things, since I’ve enjoyed the excerpts she posted from her NaNo novel in progress. Here is a very short excerpt from Cease and Desist. Time travel!

The clicking of the projector behind him reminded him where he should look. Since Laurent couldn’t walk very well, the job of projectionist would suit him well. He’d be able to watch newsreels all day, keeping an eye to ensure no slips in historical correctness were missed.

Since he’d injured his leg in his last mission here in Second World War era, while working undercover as a French Resistance fighter. Now, he was just pretending to be a French expatriate, living in Britain due to political dissatisfaction. He’d be prepared to become involved with the French Resistance here when the time came.

Laurent smiled and waved when he saw Bas, but didn’t say anything. Bas would have to wait until Laurent was finished working, so he might as well sit and watch the film.

The screen flashed black and white images of diplomats shaking hands and politicians smiling. Bas had grown tired of black and white. He had gone to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when it was released the year before, almost forgetting that he’d seen it countless times in his childhood. He thought the Wizard of Oz would have to come out soon as well. He recalled that it had been released before the war began. He hadn’t had enough foresight to realize he would need to memorize the names and dates of color films before coming to this time.

It was entirely unlike Bas to become excited about watching children’s films he’d seen before in a theater, but there was something about being ‘in time’. He couldn’t avoid absorbing the emotions of those around him and finding himself forgetting he came from a different time entirely. Arthur had only come to see him two times in 1937. Bas was supposed to be apprenticed to Arthur, but Bas wasn’t sure how being dumped with relatives would teach him anything meaningful.

And… I’m already seeing stuff I want to edit so maybe I should stop now.😄

Is “the Twist” overrated?

Everyone loves a good twist ending. We all know that feeling of being totally shocked while reading a book, yet feeling that we could have seen it coming if we had read just a bit more carefully.

When I first started writing, I believed in the all-important twist. But, here’s the important thing–a whole lot of my favorite books didn’t have it. While Harry Potter builds itself on its twist endings in the first few books, Rowling’s later books keep the tension going with what has already happened. (Her latest series uses the twist ending in a different way entirely which I don’t like as much. As it’s genre mystery, I suppose that happens.)

A lot of my favorite books handle twists in a different way. They use “the Twist’s” distant, and somewhat underrated relative, dramatic irony, to keep tension going in the plot. With dramatic irony, the reader knows the twist from the start or quite early in the novel. So, let’s imagine one story, with two different ways of telling it.

In one version, we read a happy story about a mother and her daughter. Shock comes with the twist when one of them is murdered. But would you have bothered reading through 200 pages of boring family drama in order to get to the exciting 100 pages at the end?

In another version, we know from the beginning that one of them will be murdered. Tension builds through the happy family scenes as we wonder Which one will die? How will the other react? Scenes and statements by the characters become more poignant as the story progresses.

A good twist is just as good on a re-read, and with dramatic irony, the reader begins on the re-read. Most of my favorite twist endings are fun to read or watch again. It’s intriguing in Star Wars when you already know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. The kiss scene between Luke and Leia takes on a different meaning when you’ve already seen the end. A bad twist is unforeshadowed and makes rereading the book completely pointless.

Shakespeare knew when to use dramatic irony, and when to use “the Twist.” In his comedies, he utilizes twist endings sometimes in a deus ex machina manner, or like in Romeo and Juliet when he surprises the viewer by killing his main couple off almost unexpectedly.

Most of his plays use dramatic irony, however. Shakespeare used this technique a lot in many of his most famous plays. Macbeth begins with the witches’ prophecy, letting the viewer know what will happen. He builds tension by letting the viewer wonder how it will happen. In Twelfth Night and As You Like It, the viewer already knows Viola and Rosalind are girls. What’s hilarious is how everyone acts when they don’t know, and wondering how they’ll react when they discover the truth. By letting the audience in on the secret, Shakespeare makes them feel trusted.

For many cases, a twist ending will be your best choice for a novel. But it’s worth considering how your book would be different if you utilize dramatic irony instead. I love twist endings too, but when it’s done well, dramatic irony wins hands down.

Unfortunately, my current project uses a twist instead of dramatic irony, as I have a first-person narrator. I think readers would feel cheated if they knew what would happen and if my narrator keeps information from them. I hope to add more foreshadowing hints as I rewrite act two next month.

What are your preferences as a reader? “The Twist” or dramatic irony?

Writing Tools: Panlexicon

My favorite thesaurus when writing is Panlexicon. For a long time, I used the thesaurus at thesaurus.com, which is a much more typical thesaurus, similar to one in print. Panlexicon is quite different, and for a while I was hesitant to use it. It was first recommended to me by a cabin mate during a Camp NaNoWriMo session last year, and I usually keep a window open when I’m writing or even just writing a blog post (like now!).

Panlexicon is an intuitive thesaurus that shows you similar words in a cloud format.

panlexicon

This sounds like it might not be so useful at first, but unlike a regular thesaurus, it shows you words that may be only distantly related. The words that are less similar are shown in smaller font. In addition, you can also click on one of the words and find words that are similar to both words! Or, you can type in two different words in the top bar, separated by a comma, land see where they intersect.

The only flaw I’ve found with it so far is that it doesn’t have as many words as some other thesauruses do. Sometimes, I have to remove an ending from a word or write it in a different form to pull it up. Still, I don’t really use other thesauruses now except on rare occasions.

Manga Review: Kakukaku Shikajika

Kakukaku_Shikajika_volume_1_coverKakukaku Shikajika is an autobiographical manga about Akiko Higashimura, the author, and her journey to become a successful manga artist. Higashimura is better known as the author of Kuragehime, a manga about a group of otaku girls who live in a house together. This story is much more personal than many of her other works, and won the 2015 Manga Taishō.

From an early age, Akiko longed to become a manga artist. She endlessly digests issues of her favorite manga magazine, Bouquet, and draws manga with school friends. She believes that her art is wonderful and doesn’t expose herself to criticism. In high school, Akiko joins the art club and begins to think seriously about entering art school to prepare for her planned career. A friends suggests she attend an unorthodox art class many miles from her home. There, her instructor is the first person to tell her that she needs to work hard to improve her art.

Forcing Akiko to focus on preparing for the art school exams, her new teacher drives her from laziness to success, and she manages to secure a place at a good art school far from home. Unfortunately, once in college, Akiko only draws what is necessary to pass her classes and doesn’t practice the manga she plans to make a living from. Instead, she squanders her parents’ money and has an active social life with her new friends. The only time she can draw is when she goes home and Sensei forces her to with his constant command, “Just draw!”

kakukakupanel

After graduating, Akiko cannot find a job as an art teacher, and is forced to take a position in the call center of the company where her father works. With no manga experience, she feels hopeless, and practices drawing manga late into the night after finishing her tiring job and the weekend work she does at Sensei’s art class.

When she finally gets published, she still doesn’t appreciate the advice given to her by Sensei, or fully combat her laziness. It’s easy to empathize with Akiko’s procrastination and tendency to avoid commitment. Like her, I never began to take my writing seriously until I was unhappy at a job and wrote in the evenings after work, feeling silly for not spending my free time in college improving my craft. Also, her ups and downs with understanding how others view her work and how she handled criticism were well done. The ending is poignant and bittersweet. It is a very Japanese exploration of an artist’s relationship with art, because Akiko really learns not skill so much as humility.

I had a few minor quibbles about the work. For one, her submission to her first choice manga magazine wins a contest, and she only has to draw another submission for them as her first manga is not suitable for publication. I’m not sure if it really played out this well for her, but it seems a bit simplistic, as I know most artists face many rejections before publication. Also, she sort of glosses over certain aspects of her life, which seems odd compared to the frank way she addresses her artistic life.

However, Kakukaku Shikajika is still one of the best works (not just manga) that I have read describing the creative process. I wish I had read it when I was in college (though I might not have appreciated its message fully…) If you’re an artist, author, or just enjoy reading about one, you’ll find something interesting in Kakukaku Shikajika.

NaNoWriMo: At the end of week one

Well, the first week of NaNo has ended, and I’m glad to be able to say I’m still on par.

Of course, I was on par at this time last year as well, but when I got sick and missed a day it took me the entire remainder of the month to catch up. So far, though, my graph is perfect, and for a crazy perfectionist like myself, I love a perfect graph. I still have all green as of today, November 8th. Being on par and all of that are typically what motivates me to finish each day, since when I’m writing I have trouble seeing the big picture and have a tendency to procrastinate and become distracted. (Who doesn’t…) On Friday, I was writing about St. Paul’s Cathedral and spent over an hour reading about it and not writing! I’m finding that most of the research I did before isn’t too helpful, and I still have to look up stuff like whether you can eat acorns (you can).

So far, my characters have argued and fought, purchases large quantities of mangoes, and had heartbreaking flashbacks about being forced to become time travelers. I expected my first draft would be around 74,000 words long, but so far it seems like I’ll barely squeak into the entire things being 50,000 words long, unless I start getting much longer chapters. There’s always time to expand during revision.

I hoped I would have time for a manga review, but that may have to wait until next week or December. I’ll have an obscure manga you have never heard of for you to read about.😄