Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Reviews 8 - Laura Resnick-Seanan McGuire - Myke Cole - David S. Goyer - Michael Cassutt

Reviews 8
Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Laura Resnick - Seanan McGuire - Myke Cole - David S. Goyer - Michael Cassutt

After several long advanced technique posts, let's take a look at some good examples of applications of these techniques.

These are not Romance novels, but they are Relationship driven novels worth studying after reading the previous 6 posts on writing techniques.

You may wonder why I direct your attention out of the Romance field for examples of how to write a good Romance.

The answer is simple.  Perspective. 

Gene Roddenberry added Spock - the half-breed non-human - to the Enterprise crew because science fiction's most powerful hallmark is the external perspective on human nature.

He originally had a female First Officer who was unemotional, while the half-breed alien Spock did have emotional responses that he showed without a second thought.  (watch THE CAGE and THE MENAGERIE)

Science Fiction is traditionally an "action" genre.  "Action" started as a men's magazine kind of war-story genre -- or perhaps in the Dime Novel days as the simple Western.  But today we have Action Romance, and in Fantasy/Paranormal we have Kickass Heroine novels. 

"Strong" characters aren't characters with a lot of bulging muscles, but rather characters with an indominable Will.  That doesn't mean "dominant" -- but simply a character who can't be dominated.

Such a strong character either has a goal at the outset of the novel, or acquires that goal through the opening events that establish the conflict.

We explored some of these issues last week in an examination of the 3/4 point in a novel.


The heroic characters we love most are the ones who aren't heroic at the opening of the story.  They rise to the occasion under the press of events.

This is the essence of the story-arc -- the way the character grows, changes, and unfolds to stand tall before a threat.  In all the self-help books about what women want in a man, you seldom see that trait delineated as clearly as you do in Science Fiction or Fantasy.

The best depictions of that kind of character growth seem to appear in the hybrid genre novels such as Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole.

Here, we have an alternate universe being explored by our present day military as if it were an alien world.  There is a portal, but it takes a special Talent to open it.  Magical Talent is being identified and trained in our world, and the Military is leading the way. 

We follow Colonel Alan Bookbinder, an accountant type individual who has to come to grips with discovering his own magical talent, and with how that Talent alters his career path away from the Pentagon and into the field -- on this alien planet.

It is one, long, hard struggle, but with the help of the people he meets, he begins to access that strength of character which he had never needed in his life before. 

This is a novel that almost defines what "strong character" means.  It is well constructed, easy to follow despite being located in our present day Earth and also on the other side of this dimensional gate.  There are a lot of characters, but they are vividly drawn and memorable. 

The focus is on this one man and his fight to exceed his own design-specs.  Romance writers can learn a lot from this novel by examining that tight focus, and noticing how it gives us a complete portrait of a Hunk ripe for Leading Man in a really hot Romance.  Every woman of strong character wants a man like Colonel Alan Bookbinder.

Then take a good, long look at Seanan McGuire's work.  You'll find many novels by Seanan McGuire - fast paced, complex, sometimes difficult to follow but always worth the effort.

The plot structure here is a chase -- with elements of mystery-suspense and revelations about the rules of Magic or ESP in the world of the Hero, October Daye, a woman with as many problems as Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden. 

If you haven't read the Dresden Files series that I've raved about in prior blogs, do take a look:

The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files series novels are more complex but easier to follow when reading despite having a truly huge cast of characters.  Butcher has mastered the use of point of view to create this easy-to-read effect.

Comparing the male Harry Dresden to the female October Daye.  You might even imagine what would happen if they met.  I find that concept irresistible. 

Now we come to something lighter, more playful but focusing on material that is just as serious, just as potentially deadly, yet more optimistic.

This is the Esther Diamond Series by Laura Resnick.

Esther Diamond is an actress struggling to make it in contemporary New York.

Esther Diamond Series

As the titles suggest, these are deliberately written to highlight the comedic aspects of serious situations -- and manage to evoke some of the situation comedy flavor we loved so much in Star Trek: The Original Series.


Are two favorites of mine.

The Series is:

To learn the most from the Esther Diamond novels, do a complete contrast/compare with Seanan McGuire's October Daye novels focusing your attention on dialogue techniques. 

As with Gini Koch's Alien Series the humor technique relies heavily on dialogue, and it works fabulously well.

Study both Gini Koch's dialogue technique and Laura Resnick's.  There is a difference, but both writers use dialogue to greatly humorous effect -- which adds to the realism! 

Here's a clue of what to look for.

We discussed dialogue recently here in The Gigolo And The Lounge Lizard:


And do note that I keep pointing you at Screenwriting books like Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series which focus on structure.  I have not dug up currently available instruction on how to write dialogue for film, which is a very sophisticated application.  Not only do the words have to say what needs saying, but they have to string together in a way that's fairly easy to pronounce, and even easier to understand when heard at a rapid tempo.

Also dialogue for film has to translate well, since the profit margins for film depend on foreign sales.

So stagecraft is the place to learn dialogue.

And guess what?  Esther Diamond is a stage actress who uses dialogue like a stage trained actress in her everyday interactions.

Laura Resnick also writes the other characters in the Esther Diamond series as interacting with Esther via dialogue as if in a film or a play.  They don't know that's what they're doing, but it clearly is.

And Laura Resnick is dealing with a very hot romance between Esther Diamond and the police detective she keeps dragging into mystical situations which he doesn't believe for one moment!  The novels are not specifically Romance -- but they couldn't exist without this Detective-Romance.

You find a similar formula in the Detective series I love Faye Kellerman's Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series but it has only a slight leaven of humor.  The warmth and romance lies within the marriage and raising of children -- and now grandchildren -- and visits to in-laws.  Yep, warmth among in-laws.  Terrific stuff.

For another take on humor/fantasy/strong characters do try Cecelia Jerome's Willow Tate Novels "In The Hamptons" where a graphic novel writer deals with her magically endowed family in the Hamptons -- complete with rescued dogs and mystical animals intruding from another dimension.

So by reading these light, funny, and fairly complicated novels, and comparing the dialogue with similar but not-so-pointedly-humorous works, you can just learn the technique by osmosis.

For a space-adventure set in the very near future with plain dramatic writing in a novelistic style (as opposed to Laura Resnick's stage-style), see

Heaven's Shadow by David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt:

In Heaven's Shadow, a wandering asteroid is coming toward Earth, and the USA and Russia send missions to explore it (it's very large).  They land and discover the thing has an inside -- and have their adventures dealing with alien technology that borders on Fantasy. 

It's a very simple story, with a solid technological background that adds plausibility, but it's a psychological suspense story all about how each character reacts to the impact of the alien.  Very classic tale with a modern execution.  It's well written, easy reading, and memorable for the vividly described, fantastical settings within the asteroid.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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