Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling: A Review

I first read the Harry Potter series several years ago. However, when I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was surprised to find I couldn’t remember reading it at all. That’s probably because I have watched the movie several times since I last read this book, and while very well done, the details in the movie just aren’t the same as they are in the book.

Initially, I chose this book off my shelves to read this year as part of my “rainbow list” having recently watched the movies (again!) and deciding it was high time I reread the books. It then joined my 2017 Reading Challenge as #11, a previously banned, or controversial book. All of the Harry Potter books have been banned, or challenged at one time or another by schools around the world. Parents and teachers concerned that the stories glorify witchcraft and promote satanism. I’m not here to debate any of that. Odds are good, that no matter what I say about the Harry Potter books, I won’t be changing anyone’s mind on how they feel about them.

Let me just tell you then how this book made me feel reading it again for the first time.

I loved this book! It is tremendously fun, and makes me happy. I think that J. K. Rowling did a wonderful job telling a great story. I’ve also developed a whole new appreciation for the actors who portrayed the characters in the movies. They did an amazing job of capturing the essence of what Rowling created.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story (not sure how that’s possible!), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the opening book in a series of seven. It introduces the character of Harry Potter and the rather bizarre circumstances of his early childhood. We get to see Harry’s dreary life as an unwanted burden on his horrifyingly ordinary uncle and aunt who took him in after the death of his parents. Harry’s life is then transformed by a letter inviting him to join Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

What follows is a terrific romp through Harry’s first year at wizard school. Through friends, enemies, adventures, mishaps and no small amount of foolishness, Harry begins to learn who he really is and what his destiny might be.

What are your feelings on the Harry Potter books? Love them? Hate them? Let’s stir up a little controversy and have ourselves a good (and civil!) debate.

NaNo Prep for Non-Planners, Part Three: Plot & Structure

November is nearly here, and soon it will be time to begin writing this novel you’ve been prepping for this month. So far, you have a story idea you’re ready to run with and you’ve created some fantastic characters who are ready to tell your tale. Now, let’s put all this into a form, or structure. Here are some ideas about how to do that.

Two classic story structures
Two classic story structures are the Three Act Structure and The Hero’s Journey. While these aren’t the only ways to structure a novel, they are time tested methods, and work well for most any story you want to tell.

Others have already explained how to use these structures, and done a far better job than I could. See these posts for:

Your final NaNo prep assignment
We’re down to the final week before NaNoWriMo begins. You’re assignment this week is to begin putting together an outline if you haven’t already done so. Use one of the plot structures above, or simply write up a timeline of key moments in your novel.

As you work, consider the backstory of each of your most important characters. What elements of your characters’ past are relevant to the story you want to tell? Do the hero and the villain share a history? What sins in your hero’s past life might create greater conflict in the current situation?

Take a look back at the premise you wrote in week one. Now that you know your characters better and have a better idea where your story is going, does this premise still apply? Or has it changed? Rewrite this sentence if you need to. Now, post your sentence in your favorite writing place, brew yourself a pot of coffee, or tea, or whatever and get ready to write!

One last thought on NaNo Prep: Research
Originally, I had planned a fourth NaNo prep post on research, but I’ve run out of time. So I’ll include a bit of it here.

Are there things you need to know about your world before you begin writing? Are you writing historical fiction? Or a science fiction novel set on an alien planet or space ship? Learn what you need to know about your time period, or the technology critical to your plot. Spend some time this week finding answers to questions that have come up in your planning process so far. This will save you from losing precious writing time later.

Here are a couple of articles about research for fiction writers:

It is really easy to get lost in research, so take care to spend your time wisely on the most critical elements of your story. Once November arrives, avoid research unless it’s absolutely essential in order to continue. Make notes for yourself instead, and go back later to answer the questions that arise while drafting.

 

Ready or not, NaNoWriMo will be here before we know it. I hope this little series of posts has been helpful, or at least useful in kick-starting some ideas about the novel you want to write. Best of luck on your noveling adventure!

Happy writing!

Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge – October 25, 2017

Welcome to the Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge! Join me in finding inspiration in unexpected places. Each week I post a new prompt intended to spark ideas for whatever writing project you’re working on—a journal entry, a poem, a short story. The possibilities are endless!

If you wish, consider sharing a link to your response in the comments below. There are a few simple rules, so please check them out below before posting.

Write a short story where the three main characters are a June bug, a firefly and a katydid.

Thanks for playing along! Happy writing!

Rules for posting to Wednesday Writing Challenge:

  1. Must be family friendly.
  2. Hate and intolerance will not be accepted.
  3. No pornography, erotica, graphic violence or excessive profanity.

Have fun. Be creative. And let’s write more words!

Shadowmarch, by Tad Williams: A Review

Book #9 on my 2017 Reading Challenge is Shadowmarch by Tad Williams, a book with over 500 pages. This book isn’t the only book on my list over 500 pages, and at 762, it isn’t even the longest.

I fell in love with Tad Williams’s writing many years ago when I first read one of his other series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn which is still one of my favorite epic fantasy series of all time. The Shadowmarch series promises to be just as breathtaking.

Shadowmarch is book one of four and sets the stage for another epic fantasy adventure. The opening of this story introduces us to the Eddons of Southmarch. The Eddons are the ruling family of the most northern of the human kingdoms, a once larger domain, now centered around the last remaining stronghold. However, the king has been captured and is being held for ransom by another kingdom, leaving his eldest son and heir, Kendrick to rule as regent in his absence.

But when Kendrick is murdered, it falls to fifteen year old twins Barrick and Briony Eddon to take up the mantle of rulership. They are faced with enemies on every side. There is an ancient fairy-like race known as the Qar who have lived behind what’s known as the shadowline for centuries. Now they seek to reclaim what was once theirs. Then there is a powerful and ambitious god-king in the south as well as a rising internal threat.

Williams has set up a world here that is stunningly intricate and beautiful, filled with dozens of fascinating characters. Besides the humans and the Qar, there are Funderlings, Skimmers and Rooftoppers. He is a master world-builder. I was drawn into this story and compelled forward with every word.

The book may read at a slower pace than others, but Williams has tied things together in such a way, that suspense is not lost. And though there are characters that seem to have no connection to what I saw as the main plot, I still did not feel these passages pulled me away at all from the growing tale. By the end of the book, many of these connections are still tenuous. Many questions are left unanswered.

I’m pretty sure I would buy anything written by Tad Williams. And I will be reading the rest of the series just as soon as I can find the time.

Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge – October 18, 2017

Welcome to the Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge! Join me in finding inspiration in unexpected places. Each week I post a new prompt intended to spark ideas for whatever writing project you’re working on—a journal entry, a poem, a short story. The possibilities are endless!

If you wish, consider sharing a link to your response in the comments below. There are a few simple rules, so please check them out below before posting.

Change your point of view. Maybe you’re bored with a story because you’re seeing it through the wrong character’s eyes. Try writing a few pages of the story from another person’s view. If it works better you may need to switch protagonists.

Thanks for playing along! Happy writing!

Rules for posting to Wednesday Writing Challenge:

  1. Must be family friendly.
  2. Hate and intolerance will not be accepted.
  3. No pornography, erotica, graphic violence or excessive profanity.

Have fun. Be creative. And let’s write more words!

NaNo Prep for Non-Planners, Part Two: Characters

It’s week three of NaNo Prep month, and hopefully by now you have an idea you’re eager to run with. In part one, I wrote about generating ideas, and how to use various brainstorming exercises to help build your story. Were any of the exercises helpful to you? Did you come up with a premise for your novel?

This week, the focus is on characters. Characters are the heart of any novel. Without them to move the plot along there simply is no story. And in any story, there are typically at least two characters – the protagonist and the antagonist.

The protagonist is at the center of the story. They make the key decisions that propels the story forward. And they experience the consequences of those decisions. The antagonist then represents the opposing force against which the protagonist must contend.

There are many ways in a story to write the protagonist/antagonist relationship. There may be more than one protagonist, or multiple antagonists. The antagonist might not even be actual character, but a force of nature or corporate machine. Regardless of how your story will go, your characters are an integral part.

Interview your character
Since story is plot, and characters drive the plot, it’s important to spend some time getting to know the characters that will populate your story. The best way to get to know a character is to complete some sort of profile or interview with your characters. There are as many ways to do this as there are writers. If you don’t already have a character profile template, here are a few I found that range from a simple worksheet to a very elaborate profile.

Character Profile Worksheets
Questionnaires for Writing Character Profiles
Character Chart for Fiction Writers
Fiction Writer’s Character Chart 

Depending on your chosen genre, you may need to modify the profile template for age or even for non-human races such as elves, orcs or dragons. If you write fantasy, you might add questions about magical abilities or other related ideas.

How many characters does one novel need?
The answer to this question, of course, is going to depend on the story. Certainly, most novels need to contain at least two characters – the protagonist and the antagonist. Spend the most time on these two characters (or groups of characters, depending on the story), as they will drive the action. Don’t neglect the villain as this character is just as important to the story as the hero.

Your supporting cast could range from a few, to entire cities and worlds full of people. Again, the type and scope of your novel will determine this. More than likely you will need at least some characters outside the main two. How much time you spend on them before writing will depend on their importance to the story. Some you may want to do full profiles on, where others need little more than a name or title, and a cursory description.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, it can be a good idea to do minimal profiles on as many of your side characters as you can. At the very least, make a list of characters that may show up in your novel. Spend a little time now giving names to those surrounding your main characters and keep that list handy! If you need a great place to find names, here’s a great website: behindthename.com.

Your NaNo prep assignment for week three:
Use one of the character profile sheets linked above, or one of your own devising. Sit down with your characters one at a time, spending the most time on your protagonist and antagonist. Dig out as much detail on these characters as you can. What you learn here will help determine where your story will go.

Three questions to focus on this week:

  1. Who is your hero?
  2. Who is your villain?
  3. What (if any) supporting characters are necessary?

NaNo Prep month is already half over. We’ve established a workable idea, and we now have characters we love. Spend some time getting to know them better as you prepare to introduce them to the world. Next week we’ll start putting all the pieces together into a plot outline.

Happy writing!

Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge – October 11, 2017

Welcome to the Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge! Join me in finding inspiration in unexpected places. Each week I post a new prompt intended to spark ideas for whatever writing project you’re working on—a journal entry, a poem, a short story. The possibilities are endless!

If you wish, consider sharing a link to your response in the comments below. There are a few simple rules, so please check them out below before posting.

Recall your high school years. Write about one of the hardest experiences you had to deal with during that time.

Thanks for playing along! Happy writing!

Rules for posting to Wednesday Writing Challenge:

  1. Must be family friendly.
  2. Hate and intolerance will not be accepted.
  3. No pornography, erotica, graphic violence or excessive profanity.

Have fun. Be creative. And let’s write more words!

The Year of the Woman – Book Recommendations Wanted!

For my 2017 Reading Challenge, I chose to focus on book series. My core list included books from seventeen different series. It’s been an incredibly fun year so far, reading books by favorite authors, as well as discovering new authors. My favorite new discovery this year is probably Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.

Though the year isn’t over yet, and I have a few books on my list still to read, I’ve begun looking ahead to 2018. In looking at the books I’ve read over the last few years, and the books currently waiting my my TBR list, I can’t help but notice a preponderance of male authors.

Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Most of my favorite authors are men – Tad Williams, Brandon Sanderson, J. R. R. Tolkien, and many others. But my reading list feels a little one sided, and I’d like it to be more balanced.

Therefore, I’ve decided that my focus for 2018 will be on women authors. There are women writers I’ve never read, but feel like I should have – such as classic fantasy writers like Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. Leguin. And there are books that have been on my list for way too long like The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

My hope is that I can broaden my reading experience and discover some amazing writers along the way. So along with focusing on women writers, I want to include books from various genres, writers from all walks of life, and as much diversity as I can pack into the year.

Here’s where I need your help. I have a huge stack of books on my shelf already to choose from, but most of these fall into one of two of my favorite genres – fantasy or suspense. There’s also a good representation of young adult fiction. What’s missing more than anything else are the non-fiction categories such as poetry, biography and essays. I’d also like to find more independent/self-published writers.

So I’m looking for recommendations. Particularly in non-fiction genres as well as translations into English. Who are your favorite women writers? Who should I consider adding to my reading list next year? Please, let me know!

NaNo Prep For Non-Planners, Part One: Ideas

November is National Novel Writing Month. If you don’t know what that is, check out their website. This will be my eighth year to participate in this writing challenge. It’s tons of fun, if you’re into this sort of thing.

So far, each year I’ve jumped into this event with little to no plan at all. But this year, I’m doing things different. I’m going to spend a little time planning my novel before I start writing it. I thought it would be fun to invite you along with me.

Whether you’re a planner, or not, now’s the time to get started. And the place to start is generating ideas.

Where do ideas come from?
If you’re a writer, or any other sort of creative person, you know that ideas are out there, sort of floating about in the universe. No one really knows where they come from. You probably also know that those ideas can be a bit elusive, slippery, hard to hold on to sometimes.

Whether you are a NaNo participant or just trying to start a new writing project, here are a few plot generator websites that promise to get your creativity flowing:

  • This story starter site offers a sentence with a character and a scenario as a jumping off place for a new story. Writing for young people? There’s also a story starter version for kids.
  • Or try this Story Idea Generator which is similar to the first story starter site. 
  • This plot generator offers ideas for a variety of creative writing – short stories, films and more. It even breaks things down by genre – fantasy, paranormal romance and more. There’s even a category called Bronte Sisters.
  • Finally, this Random Plot Generator gives you the opportunity to mix and match various story elements – characters, setting, situation, etc – to find a combination that inspires you. 

These options are by no means perfect, but they can be a place to start.

Is my idea big enough for NaNo?
So you have an idea for a novel. Great! Then you sit down to write it only to run out of steam half way through. Ever happened to you?

I have a tiny little idea for a story that came to me a couple of years ago while I was in the middle of writing about three other novels. I wrote the idea down and set it aside. I didn’t have the time to pursue it right then. Now I’ve decided to pull it out for NaNo 2017. But it’s barely an idea. Little more than a character and a beginning.

How then, do you know if an idea is big enough to support an entire novel? Brainstorm. Play with the idea and build on it. Here are some brainstorming techniques that might help you build your idea into a full-size novel idea:

5 Brainstorming Strategies for Writers

Your assignment for NaNo Prep week one
If you’re just taking the first steps to writing your first novel, or if you’re like me, and don’t usually plan ahead for one, I hope you’ve found here some strategies to get started. This week, use the resources and ideas here and find and/or build on your novel idea.

Here are three questions to focus on:

  1. What is your story about?
  2. Where does your story take place?
  3. Who is telling your story?

Use the brainstorming exercises and see if you can come up with the premise, or theme, of your novel. Do the exercises suggest a location or time? Will you write in first person point of view or third person?

Best wishes to you on your noveling adventure! I hope these ideas and resources have been useful to you in some way. Next week, the focus will be on characters. Happy writing!

Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge – October 4, 2017

Welcome to the Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge! Join me in finding inspiration in unexpected places. Each week I post a new prompt intended to spark ideas for whatever writing project you’re working on—a journal entry, a poem, a short story. The possibilities are endless!

If you wish, consider sharing a link to your response in the comments below. There are a few simple rules, so please check them out below before posting.

What was your first bicycle like? Was it a gift, or did you earn money to buy it? Where did you ride?

Thanks for playing along! Happy writing!

Rules for posting to Wednesday Writing Challenge:

  1. Must be family friendly.
  2. Hate and intolerance will not be accepted.
  3. No pornography, erotica, graphic violence or excessive profanity.

Have fun. Be creative. And let’s write more words!