A Bit of My Writing History (with two morals)

I wrote my first novel starting at the age of fifteen, finishing the first draft at the age of eighteen. I showed it to a few friends. The ones who hung out with me more said it was pretty good, but the most knowledgeable one said it was terrible. He was right (the way he said it could’ve gone better, but that’s a different story). He proceeded to give me a lot of good advice about how to get better. He clearly had good intentions, but what I took from the way he gave me that advice was something like “If I want to be writer, I need to do this and this and this and this. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, and I’m probably not up to the task.” To be clear, that isn’t really what he said. That’s just what I heard.

Because of this, I thought maybe I’d write a little as a hobby, but didn’t take it seriously for a while because I didn’t think I had what it took to be a real writer. Several years later, when I started taking my writing more seriously, I started doing what he said I needed to do to get better. The primary parts of this were finding a critique group and reading the two books he told me to read: The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and Tricks and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. (Both are very good books, but Swain’s attitude and style was a bit annoying.)

At this point, I’ve written several novels (as first drafts) and I’ve rewritten and revised a couple of them. I have nothing published yet, but I have one novel that I consider to be ready to show publishers and another I think could be there with another layer of revising. The story I’ve been writing now is set in (almost) the same world as my very first novel. Both involve the main character going from a somewhat mundane modern setting to a fantasy world, although otherwise my new story has very little to do with my original story.

The 2 morals of this post: 1) The first draft of your first story is going to be very bad, but don’t throw it away. You may be able to either rewrite it or at least use something from it later. If nothing else, you can look at it in a few years and see how much you’ve improved since then. 2) People need both encouragement and good advice. One without the other isn’t going to be enough and could end up doing harm instead of good.

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The Four Carpet People of the Pop Eclipse

The following is an excerpt from a very silly story I wrote for July NaNoWriMo over ten years ago which I felt like posting because it has something vaguely to do with the eclipse. (This is from the same story as the dreaded “Nate Cookingham.”)

Bart ate his barbeque sandwich as they stood around the twins’ car in the parking lot of Butch Cookingham’s Pork and Beef Barbeque. The sun went behind a cloud. The traffic thinned and suddenly the streets seems deserted, even the parking lot they were in was emptying out. “Something’s happening,” said Kadee.

They noticed a masked man in dark clothes prying up loose floorboard in the sidewalk. A cat chased a dog down the street. A mouse howled at the moon which had come out early and passed in front of the sun. A flock of red herrings flew over their heads. They watched as a portal from another world opened up and out of it came three four spectacular beasts. First came a black pregnant hog, second was a gorilla with hair the same color as Tim’s, and the third was a midget minotaur which was no more than five feet tall. The fourth beast was a depressed zebra.

The sun re-emerged from the clouds. Cars started coming to this part of the road again. The masked man and the loose floorboard had disappeared. Everything was back to normal except for the four beasts which were walking up to them.

They watched in awe and apprehension until the four beasts were standing in front of them. The gorilla smiled and handed them a flower. The minotaur was wearing a chef’s hat. The hog had a lit fuse for a tail, and with its solid black color it looked like a bomb. The zebra spoke in a language none of them knew.

Kadee didn’t know what the zebra said, but she recognized the language, “How did you learn the language of unicorns?”

The minotaur answered the question. He was the only one who spoke English, “He is a unicorn who’s lost his horn.”

“Looks like a zebra to me,” said Carl.

“Yup, he’s got two ears,” said Tim, “so he surely can’t be a unicorn.”

“What happened to his horn?” asked Kadee. Bart was dumbfounded by the things had just happened and couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He just stood there
holding the last few bites of his barbeque sandwich in his hand.

“Well,” said the minotaur, “Accually he never had one, but he insists that he’s a unicorn (he does know the language) and we’ve been looking for a horn to give him.”

“Hey Tim,” said Carl, “The things that Kadee called unicorns were those horseys with seashells on their heads.”

“Yeah,” Tim put two and two together, “The zebra must think it’s one of them, and I have a seashell that looks like one of those horns.” Tim got the seashell out of his backpack and gave it to the zebra. They never noticed before, but there was still a sea animal inside the shell. It bit the zebra’s nose, attaching itself to the zebra’s head. The zebra winced at first but then whinnied happily and did a little dance.

The hog, the ape, and the rather short minotaur watched the zebra receiving its unicorn horn. Then they looked at the twins and Bart and Kadee with renewed respect. The zebra spoke again in the Xafeni language. “You have done us a great service,” said the minotaur, “How can we repay you?”

“Who or what are you?” were the first words out of Bart’s mouth.

“We’re the four unofficial carpet people of the pop eclipse,” said the minotaur.

“Cool,” said Tim.

“What?” Bart wished he hadn’t asked. Kadee laughed.

“Is there any official carpet people of the pop eclipse?” asked Carl.

“Um, no,” said the minotaur chef, “We just got together about a year ago with some help of a powerful raymet named Quick Nickle, but we’re not official.”

“That’s our grampa!” said Tim.

“Quick Nickle is your grandfather?”

“yeah,” said Tim and Carl together.

“Wow, you finished the work that your grandfather started.” The gorrila made some apelike noises and waved a flower around, the hog stomped its foot, and the zebra said something more in the unicorn language. “Ah yes,” said the midget minotaur, “We have to introduce ourselves. This is Miracle Cure,” the minotaur gestured at the zebra, “The hog is called Baby Boomer.” The black hog with the fuse for a tail showed them six little piglets hanging on to her underside. “This is the Peace Ape,” the gorrila handed them another flower, “And I am the Short Chef.” The hog made a noise, and the minotaur continued, “No, not the Short Order Chef, the Short Chef.” The hog made the noise again, arguing. “I’ve been having trouble coming up with an appropriate name for myself,” the minotaur explained, “We have a counter for Pestilence, Death, and War, and I’m supposed to be the counter for Famine, but my name should also have something to do with what I look like. I started out as the Puzzled Chef because a maze is a kind of puzzle and minotaurs live in giant mazes, but they didn’t like that. But I’m even shorter than most adult humans, not to mention being short for a minotaur, so I thought of being the Short Chef, but I’m still trying to think of something better.”

“How about the Amazing Chef,” Tim suggested, “It has the word ‘maze’ in it.”

“That’s what I wanted to use first,” said the minotaur, “But there’s a show on the cooking channel called ‘The Amazing Chef,’ and I didn’t want to copy it.”

“You should be The Amazing Feast Beast,” said Carl.

“The Amazing Feast Beast,” the Minotaur thought it over, ”I like it. Again our thanks, how can we repay you?”

“Help us find the man who killed our Grampa Quick and stole his second place trophy,” said Tim.

“Someone killed Quick Nickle?” asked the Minotaur. The hog made an angry noise. The zebra unicorn snorted and reared up, pointing its seashell horn. The gorilla wasn’t paying attention, it was busy tying a flower into Kadee’s hair. “We must find him and teach him not to steal and kill people,” said the minotaur, “..and make dinner for him too.”

Bart braced himself for another bizzare answer, but he was too curious not to ask, “Why do you call yourselves carpet people?”

“If you ride horses you’re called horsemen,” said the Minotaur, “So since we ride flying carpets, we must be carpet people.” Each of the four beasts got out a persian-looking flying carpet.

Bart hid his head in his hands and started to cry because he felt that his brain had finally turned into marmalade jam. They weren’t in a fairyland anymore. These things couldn’t possibly happen in his country. He closed his eyes and convinced himself that when he opened his eyes there would be no four carpet people of the pop eclipse. He took a deep breath and opened up his eyes, and there were the black hog, the flower-waving gorilla, the zebra with a seashell horn, and the vertically challenged minotaur. Bart hid his face again.

“What’s wrong?” asked Kadee.

Bart upper body shook with his sobbing. The gorilla tapped him on the shoulder. When Bart looked up, it smiled and gave him a flower. It didn’t help. Bart sobbed into his hands again.

“I think he needs a nap,” said Carl.

“We can’t take him home,” said Tim, “We have work to do.”

“Let’s take a short break,” said Kadee. She started singing in the mysterious magical language fairies use for healing songs. Simply translated, the words meant, ‘Don’t panic, you’re not going crazy, ..really you aren’t.’

Gradually, Bart’s crying stopped. Now, when he looked up, it wasn’t so bad to see the four presumptuous beasts there, as long as he knew that he didn’t have meatballs in his noodle.

“Come on, Bart,” said Tim, “We’re going to ride over the town on their flying carpets and look for Mr Cookingham.”

“He can’t be too far,” said Carl, “If it was him that gave us the bag with the chickens and it probably was.”

So each of them shared a flying carpet with one of the four carpet people of the pop eclipse. Kadee was with the unicorn zebra, Tim with the minotaur cook, Carl with the Peace Ape, and Bart ended up with the big black pregnant hog.

They flew around the area of Johnny Appleseed’s Fruit Shop, which was Mr Cookingham’s last known location, looking for their villian. As the flew, they saw two high school boys fighting. The Peace Ape flew down on his magic carpet, stopped their fighting and gave them each a flower. Soon afterwords, they saw a homeless man with a sign saying he was hungry, so the Amazing Feast Beast flew down and gave the man a twenty dollar gift certificate to each of five different nearby resturants. When the minotaur had took to the air again, Bart asked, “Aren’t you supposed to cook him some food?”

The minotaur snorted, “Sure when I can, but I can’t take my kitchen with me everywhere.”

They saw a sick woman who had been having to blow her nose about every two minutes. The Miracle Cure zebra flew down and somehow cured her, touching the seashell on its head to the woman’s face. Bart thought Quick Nickle must have given that power to the zebra, but he didn’t know how the seashell could have had anything to do with it.

Bart looked down at the hog he was sharing the carpet with and wondered what it could do. “The gorilla can try to stop fights, the zebra-“

“Striped unicorn,” corrected the minotaur.

“..the striped unicorn then,” Bart continued, “can heal sickness, and you can give people food (or a means to buy food), but what can this hog do? I mean, if you’re trying to counter the four horsemen, shouldn’t the counter to Death be able to bring people back to life or something?”

“Well,” said the Amazing Feast Beast, “The counter to Death itself is a tough one. We can’t bring people back to life, not even a raymet can do that, so obviously Quick Nickle couldn’t give us that power. And feeding people, stopping fights, and curing sicknesses is already saving lives. So we had to think of an alternative for the counter to Death to do, and, you see, some things have more than one opposite. When you think of the opposite to death, the first thing you think of is life, but birth can also be an opposite of death. So the specialty of our counter to death is giving birth.”

The hog suddenly made a booming sound like a bomb had gone off. The carpet shook and Bart had to grab hold of the Baby Booming hog to keep from falling off. It started making excited noises and it momentarily turned on its side to show that it now had seven little piglets when before there were six.

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The Feeling of a Story

Recently, I filled out a little questionnaire for authors. The one question I remember was “What do you consider to be the most important part of a story?” It was a multiple choice questionnaire, and the choices were “plot”, “characters”, “setting”, and “theme” (if I remember correctly), with an option for “other _____”. I had to choose “other”. Without doubt I consider the most important thing about a story to be the feelings it gives to the reader.

The last two books I read left me wanting something more. The two books were about as different as two novels can be, but both of them seemed lacking in the area of making me feel like I’m in the story. One was called Chronicles of Krystonia. It’s a light children’s book about a fantasy world, but it hardly had any plot. It’s seemed like the author just wanted to do an exercise in world building using a series of anecdotes about his fantasy setting, but without much of a story at all. I didn’t actually finish it and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother finishing it. It had an utter lack of making me care, which is pretty much the worst thing you can say about a book.
The other book I read recently was Dickens’ Great Expectations, and as classic literature, my expectations were a bit higher for this one. I thought it was good, but not great. I cared about the characters, but it didn’t give me what I like in a book. The feeling of it, as with most of Dickens’ work, was rather dreary. It had interesting characters and a decent plot, and the ending was good and satisfying enough, but it never really drew me in to the story.

So I started a new book today. Maybe it has something to do with the last two books leaving me hungry for something better, but I’m loving this one so far. I love the kind of the writing that makes me feel like I’m there with the characters and gives me a feeling of haunting and wonder, making it hard to put down or sleep until at least an hour after it’s finished. And that’s what this book does. (Well, I can’t be sure about the latter part because I’m only on chapter six, but judging from what I’ve read so far I wouldn’t expect anything less.) It’s called The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler. I had never heard of it until I picked it up while browsing at my local library the other day, thinking it looked interesting. (I love libraries.) I’m glad I found it.

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The Key of Dirt (part 2)

don’t listen to it
all my fear, fury, and pain made audible
yes, you’ll want to cover your ears
You don’t want to hear this
it’ll be reddish brown soundvenom
that enters through your eardrums
and oozes inside your head
and if you let it, you may get a taste of what I feel
listen closely enough to all that drives me
you might just recognise something deeper
it’s something I’ve denied
something I think you share
it’s hope that the impossible might yet happen
That the dead might yet live.

(This poem is written by Alisha Kamil’s subconcious. Alisha is the main character of The Sacred Key. She has a violin and she knows how to use it.)

Soundtrack to this post:

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Zooming Out / A Path to Many Worlds (another dream)

Every once in awhile I have a flying dream. I had on this morning, but this was not like other flying dreams.
In this dream, I flew through the roof and I flew higher up. As I flew higher, it was like zooming out on my view of the world, and I began to see structures that were too large to have possibly been build by any human. As I flew higher still I noticed that these structures were objects and buildings and highways for a race of giants. Finally, I saw one of the giants. In our measurements, he must have been something like ten miles tall, but in the scale of the building I saw around me now, he appeared to be the average size of a man. I was the one who was the size of a gnat to him.

I flew around the giant town and saw the signs of businesses I recognised, including a McDonalds, and I saw some which had closed down in our world over ten years ago (I don’t remember the names of them now).

I went back and told people what I saw. Of course, no one believed me, but some were willing to come and see for themselves. So somehow I put some people a clear plastic box and carried them up when I flew. This time, when I flew to a certain height, I seemed to hit a roof, but then I saw a line of daylight getting bigger so I flew toward it. Once outside, I realized that my town was inside of a giant’s garage. And I flew around and showed the people the giants and how we were the size of tiny bugs here.

Then in the evening, I decided to fly still further out. Like zooming out on the view again, the giant town seemed to grow smaller and I noticed another line of brighter light on the horizon. I flew toward it and higher again, coming out of another giant garage. And I saw another level of giant buildings, so that the other giants would seem like gnats in this place. Soon, I saw yet another line of brighter light on the horizon, and found a place which they called Avalon, a path to many worlds and each world opened up into the next.

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What Were They Laughing At? (The Dream I Had This Morning 7/30)

My family was on a road trip and stopped at a travel center for lunch. There, we got sub sandwiches, and, while we were eating, we heard several people, including my dad, comment about a certain special map. Some local artist had done an artistic map of the area, which the public could look at using a public computer at the travel center. So, I went to the computer to look for this artistic map, but while I was on the computer, I got distracted by other things to do on it, and never got around to looking at the map.

In the next part of the dream, we were still eating our sandwiches in another part of that travel center, when the people around us started loudly acting out some kind of weird story which seemed to be in the genre of comedy-horror. We went to yet another part of the travel center to escape this, but it seemed that everyone there was taking part in this act. There were definitely some amusing and funny parts to the things the people were doing and saying, but my parents were getting very annoyed because the act was loud and going on all around us, so my dad got on his phone to complain to someone about it. In a few minutes a lady arrived to speak with my parents about the complaint. The lady said something to the effect of, “I’ll regester your complaint with the authorities, but first let me show you this short informational film…” The film was shown as from a projector on a wall next to us, and told about the reason for the act. This day was apparently the anniversary of certain events in that town which people remember by putting on this loud and hilarious act. The film showed a picture of a older man, then showed a picture of three children, saying the man was convicted X number of years ago for _____ -at that point the audio on the film stopped, and I only assumed that the man had killed these three children, but judging from comments from the people around us, the criminal soon came to his just end in some very humorous way. So from that point on, people put on this act to basically make fun of this horrible criminal. I remember some people had doubled over laughing from the act that other people were putting on, but my parents were not amused, so we finally left that travel center.

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The Adventures of the Duracell Bunny and the Easter Island Man

Disclaimer: This is an unedited short story I wrote when I was a teenager. There’s some inncorrect stuff, but it is intentionally left unfixed.

One day the Duracell Bunny went walking through the clouds. After a while he saw a little black dot in the white clouds, and when he reached and picked it up he found it was an appleseed. In fact, it was one of the very appleseeds that Johhny Appleseed dropped when he went tossing seeds around the continent. It had evaporated with the rain one day and went up to the clouds. The Duracell Bunny decided to eat it, so soon apple branches started growing out of his sides. The Duracell Bunny didn’t mind at all because now he could have fresh apples whenever he wanted. After doing what the Duracell Bunny does (go on and on when accually he was walking in circles while the cloud was moving), he suddenly fell into a hole in the cloud and kept falling, for it was a long way down. As he fell there was a rainbow, and he fell right through it. The Duracell Bunny-apple tree thought this would probably have some strange effects, and he soon found that it made all his apples grow to be every color of the rainbow. When he finally did land on Easter Island, he broke in half from the fall and became somewhat helpless.

Now before I go further, I must tell you something about this Easter Island. The easter island people were a happy but short lived people. Rumor has it that when news of Jesus’ ressurection went out to all creation, a certain group of rocks on a certain island were so overjoyed that they came to life. Then they carved themselves to human shape so they could dance and party. Their downfall was that, because they didn’t have brains, they never thought to do anything else, so when they ran out of energy they just stopped and stood where they were. This was how the island and it’s stone people got their names.

There was one Easter Island Man who once saw the water and wondered how it tasted so he stopped dancing and took a drink. So because he had a rest and a drink, he didn’t run out of energy when all the others did. A while after the other people ran out of energy, he forgot why he was dancing so he stopped and took a nap. A long time later he woke up and when he looked around and saw all his friends stopped where they were standing and suddenly remembered why they were dancing. He didn’t start dancing again because, while he was sleeping, a group of fleas had started a circus in a hollow place in his head, so now he had a brain.

This last Easter Island man was just thinking how he could get other people to continue the celebration, when he saw something fall from the sky. When he rushed to the place, there was a half a bunny with apple branches with colored apples growing out of him still clutching on to a drum that had also broken from the fall. The other half had fallen into the sea. When the Easter Island Man saw that it was still alive, he franticly looked around for something to keep it from dying. The first thing he found was a hen, so it cut the hen in half and stuck half of the hen with the half of the bunny-apple tree with rainbow apples. He was thinking that two halves always make a whole. (a whole what?, you may ask) Luckily, the hen half was the inside half and the bunny half was the outside and, naturally, the apple branches stopped growing, for now they had no roots in his body. When the Duracell bunny-chicken came to, he had a strange feeling and soon he had produced a rainbow-colored egg.

“Are you okay?” asked the Easter Island Man.

“I’m great, let’s go explore that cave,” the Duracell bunny-chicken loved to do anything he saw to do, as soon as he saw it. So they went into the cave and found a huge mountain of candy. This had been the accumulation of Christmas presents that Santa Claus left for the Easter Island people before they ran out of energy. It had never been touched because, as I said before, the Easter Island people never stopped dancing. Just as a clown flea was juggling tiny torches, the Easter Island Man had an idea. He proposed that the Duracell bunny-chicken should go around the world every Easter and give people candy and rainbow colored eggs to continue the celebration about Jesus’ Ressurrection that the Easter Island people had stopped long ago. Since the Duracell bunny-chicken thought his job with Duracell extremely boring, he gladly agreed. This is how the Duracell bunny-chicken became the Easter Bunny.

If you ask how the Easter bunny gets around the world every year, the Easter Island Man is very fast and he doesn’t get tired so he carries the bunny around. He would do it himself but he isn’t cute enough to be appealing to all the kids and he can’t lay rainbow-colored eggs.

This story is also why there is no Duracell Bunny today, much to the relief of the Energizer Bunny.

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Day Shall Come Again!

So there’s this game called Angband which I went into the code and made my own variant of.  This game is (extremely loosely) based on monsters, characters, & other aspects from Tolkien’s Silmarillion.  And I noticed one of the artifacts in this game had a pretty cool description:

“Wielded by Hurin Thalion, last lord of Dor-Lomin at the Battle of Tears Unnumbered. He stood alone, his friends and kinsmen dead about him, his axe smoking in the black blood of Gothmog’s troll-guard. No less than seventy times, as he slew his foes, did he utter his mighty war-cry: ‘Aure entuluva!’ – ‘Day shall come again!'”

I can’t think of what else to add here, I think the quote from the artifact description speaks for itself.

And here’s the soundtrack for this post (heavy metal warning for those who aren’t into metal.)

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Horror Update

Back in december, I said I was planning to read a horror story aimed for a middle grade audience. The book is The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney. Part of the reason it was high priority on my list of things to read is that I wanted to see if he actually pulled it off, that is, if the story was both scary and appropriate for its intended audience.

As I read this book, I was very impressed. I just finished the book a few minutes ago and I think he pulled it off very well. Here’s some of the reasons why:

1) It really was scary without being overly disturbing or gory. In order to be scary in a ghost-story sense, it would be hard to go without some level of disturbing and/or gory. But (my friends can testify) I’m pretty sensitive about disturbing events or scenes in stories and movies. I walked out on at least three popular movies because they bothered me in ways they apparently don’t bother other people. Revenge of the Witch was not like that at all. There was definitely some scary scenes and descriptions, but nothing that came near making me want to put the book down and gag. I wasn’t sure about this when I was hearing about the book before reading it, but now that I’ve read it, I would recommend it to its 9-12 target audience. (note: some of the reviewers on Amazon don’t agree with me here, so I can’t say there’s nothing that anyone would find objectionable. Obviously, different people have different standards.)

2) The ‘good guys’ realy are good. Another thing that bothers me in some other recent movies and books, especially in ‘dark’ stories, is that the good guys aren’t really good. I like to have a heroic main character. I’m not saying they shouldn’t make mistakes. If he didn’t make any mistakes, he wouldn’t be much of a main character. Tom, the main character of this story makes several mistakes, but he was still clearly a good guy. He didn’t just look out for himself or justify means with ends.

3) Alice is a great character. I said I like having a main character who is really good, but it also tends to be good to have another major character who is kind of on the line between good and evil. Alice’s aunt and great-grandmother were the (very evil) witches who were the main villains of the story. Alice herself was sometimes their victim and sometimes their accomplice. Other characters pointed out that she was likely to grow up to be like them, but she also helped the main character against the witches.
A comparable character is Professor Snape. He also kept both the reader and the main characters guessing about whether he would turn out to be more good than bad or vice versa. A big difference here is that Snape knew what side he was on, but Alice hasn’t made her final decision yet, and may never make a final decision. That makes her an even more intriging character in my opinion. As readers, we cheer for Alice to make the right decision.

Overall, I think Joseph Delaney did a great job of writing a horror story for kids -something I think would be difficult to do well. To be honest, the ending didn’t impress me as much as the rest. It was still good, and I can’t put my finger on anything that was actually wrong with it (it still fit the good things I talked about above). I guess it just wasn’t as exciting and climactic as I had hoped. It’s still very impressive, especially considering this is Delaney’s first novel.

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Ghosts and character smack-worthiness

The book I’m reading right now is a ghost story. (It isn’t the MG horror I mentioned before. That’ll probably be next.) It’s not a kids’ book.

It’s a ghost story where the main character is a doctor who doesn’t believe in ghosts, which is fine. It’s probably best to have an MC for a ghost story who starts out not believing in ghosts. But it frustrates me as I’m reading the book (I’m about 4/5 of the way through), how he still won’t even consider the possibility of a ghost even with a lot of evidence and other explanations ruled out. It’s good that he needs to be convinced, but if he insults the victims by questioning their sanity (in the face of other witnesses and evidence) before admitting there might be something supernatural going on makes me want to reach inside the book and whack him upside the head.

In most cases, I don’t think it’s a good idea to make your reader want to smack your main character. I don’t like it here, but it’s excusable partly because it’s late in the book. I don’t think many people will stop reading when they’ve already read this far, though they might not recommend the book to others. And partly because it’s consistent with what the main character is like throughout the book. That much is good.

Have you ever wanted to smack the character in a book you’re reading? Do you think it can be a good thing sometimes?

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