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How Not To Write a Book: Marked Part 3– On The Writing Itself, Love Interests, and Other Odds and Ends

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Well, we’re nearly done, and I’m running out of facepalm memes. Previously, we’ve discussed writing protagonists and minority characters, so lets just jump right in and discuss my second least favorite character, Grandma Redbird. I completely understand why Grandma is Zoey’s token favorite relative, they’re both terrible people that hate her mother for marrying a fundamentalist *insert name of generic religion that resembles Christianity.* Zoey’s grandmother is the one who saves the life of our obnoxious heroine by taking her to the House of Night, making her easily the worst character by not putting Zoey out of our misery. Oh, and did I mention that she took Zoey there without her parents’ consent? I just love Zoey’s reaction to seeing that her grandmother went back to get her things from her house.

“She’s more than nice. She’s brave as Hell to have faced my mom and her stupid husband to get this stuff for me. I can only imagine the overly dramatic scene my mom caused.”*

(owned by Viacom)

(owned by Viacom)

Of course her mother would cause a scene! Zoey was taken without her consent or knowledge, which is not only a jerk move but also kidnapping! Is this ever pointed out to Zoey or Grandma Redbird? Nope. It’s treated as perfectly okay that Grandma Redbird kidnapped her granddaughter and failed to let her die. It was a completely wasted opportunity and I cannot forgive her for saving Zoey. And, no, I don’t care that students of the school are legally emancipated, because, from what I have read, the school has little to no grounds for emancipation anyway. My suggestion would be for you to think of the legal ramifications of the characters’ behaviors, and have them suffer those consequences or find a legal way to go about the problem. That way, you won’t stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief. You can take artistic license with the law, but this is a bit too far.

On a different note, let’s talk love interests, because Zoey has two, and both of them are terrible. Heath, aka  the boy Kayla had dated and displeased her high and mighty Mary Sue, is a completely unlikable idiot, and coming from this series, that says a lot. So much so that Zoey, pretty much says that the only thing he is good at is “following simple directions”. Then again, this is Zoey we’re talking about, and she looks down on everyone. Her head is so big it has moons orbiting around it. But I digress. The real issue is that Heath is annoying and useless. All he does is fall madly in love with Zoey, stalk her, and have to be rescued at the world’s most boring climax. And let’s talk about the stalking for a second, because both her love interests wander into this territory. Her second love interest, Erik Night, does this a lot. He always sneaks up on her and knows a creepy amount of information about her life. He even says the same thing about how creepy baby corns are, which means he can probably read her mind too. Even Zoey starts to catch on to his tendency to find her when she’s all alone. She doesn’t care though, because he’s handsome and quotes Shakespeare. I hate this cliche because quoting Shakespeare is not that hard. I can do it right now. Lord, what fools these mortals be! See?  I get it, Shakespeare is fun, the language is pretty, and he’s considered very romantic, but anyone who has read Romeo and Juliet in the ninth grade can tell you, it’s not all that impressive anymore. It’s pretty cliche to have the love interests quote Shakespeare to the heroine, swearing  themselves by the moon, though they should swear not by the moon, the inconsistent moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb, lest thy love prove likewise variable. Really, it’s not that hard.

It is a bit of a stretch.

Oh, shut up. My advice would be that quoting Shakespeare is a bit cliche, so don’t. Most people don’t knowingly quote Shakespearean plays in their everyday life, even when trying to woo a pretty lady. Just have the characters be themselves, and don’t have them be stalkers. If they meet, have it be on purpose, don’t let the love interest know a creepy amount of information about the protagonist, and have the protagonist initiate some of the romance by themselves. And please stop it with the Shakespeare, there are better ways to show that your character is intelligent and cultured.

Speaking of intelligent, this writing is not.

Most awkward segway ever.

Textbox, I’m going to miss our soap opera today, so can you please give me a play-by-play? And I want all the dialogue memorized.

Will do boss!

Thanks. Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, the writing is awful. It’s mostly telling, but very little showing, which I have discussed  before, but there are a few things I want to focus on. First, the parenthetical asides. My advice on parenthetical asides is to never write them during a full blown novel. They break up the flow of the narrative and are either unnecessary or can be reworded to fit in with the sentences. For example:

Like a moron, I forgot (okay temporarily) about my new Mark.

This could easily be reworded as “Like a moron, I temporarily forgot about my new Mark” and it would flow so much better. It still is dumb and badly written, but it would be an improvement. The funny ones though, are the ones that are completely unnecessary to the narrative such as…

My cute Bug was sitting there where she always sat—right in front of the third door to our three car garage. The step-loser wouldn’t let me park her inside because he said the lawnmower was more important. (More important than a vintage VW? How? That didn’t even make sense. Jeesh, I sounded just like a guy. Since when did I care about the vintageness of my Bug? I really must be Changing.)

(owned by Cartoon Network)

(owned by Cartoon Network)

When I was reading and annotating, I literally wrote in the margins “OMG what is this nonsense?” This parenthetical aside starts out stupid and wanders into pointless territory (kinda like listening to Textbox. And doesn’t this completely distract from what I’m saying? It’s actually kinda fun, just chillin’ here in the parentheses, trying to have a point and–ooh look something shiny!)

I guess it was time I took things into my own hands (after all, they are well manicured).

When I first read this line, I cringed so much it hurt.

And she had great boobs. (I wish I had great boobs.) … Speaking of boobs—I was totally sounding like one. (Boob…hee hee).

Is she seriously amused by the word boob? What is she, five? What other word will make her laugh in parentheses? Entranced perhaps?

(Entranced— hee-hee–he said entranced.)

Triple-facepalm-picard-812

(owned by Viacom)

Yes, she seriously giggled over someone saying entranced. According to her, it’s complex vocabulary, and I’ll get to that in a minute. I would tell you to see for yourself, but I don’t want you to suffer what I have suffered.

…Kayla used to whine about how unfair it was that I had enough lashes for three girls and she only had short little blond ones. (Speaking of… I did miss Kayla, especially this morning as I was getting ready to go to a new school without her. Maybe I’d call her later. Or email her. Or… I remembered the comment Heath had made about the party and decided maybe not.)

This time the parentheses is actually on topic, but still poorly worded. She also does an action in the parentheses, making them even more unnecessary. It, again, would be much better if they had written something along the lines of “I felt a pang of sadness as I thought about how much I missed Kayla, especially this morning as I was getting ready to go to a new school without her.”

It was actually a trap door. Like the kind you see in those old murder movies, only instead of a door in a library wall or inside a fireplace (as one of the Indiana Jones movies—yes, I’m a dork), this trap door was a small section of the thick, otherwise solid-looking school wall.

I like how she has to acknowledge that her liking Indiana Jones is out of character. The lesson here is just not to use parenthetical asides at all when writing fiction. That information is either unnecessary or can be reworded. Oh, and never use this:

Oh, and I forgot to mention…

This phrase should never be uttered when describing a character in an internal monologue. It is just terrible writing. Either find a way to fit it in or leave it out, and in the case of this book, there is so much unnecessary information it is ridiculous. For example:

I seriously adore cereal, and have an I<3 Cereal shirt somewhere to prove it. I especially love Count Chocula—yet another vampire irony.

(Owned by MGM)

(Owned by MGM)

It continues though and gets even funnier.

I tried to return some of the hellos I was getting as Stevie Rae introduced me to what seemed like an impossibly confusing stream of girls and keep my concentration on finding a box of Count Chocula. Just when I was starting to worry, I found it, hidden behind several massive boxes of Frosted Flakes (not a bad second choice, but, well, they’re not chocolate and they don’t have any yummy marshmallows).

“Does Zoey find her cereal? I just have to know!”said no one ever. In all seriousness, if the description or action has nothing to do with the plot, don’t use it. It’s just extra padding, and this book is so padded that if it was a person, I could drop it out of a plane at two thousand feet and it would bounce onto the ground unharmed. Without all of Zoey’s hunts for cereal, going to every single one of her classes, and all the recaps, this book would be about fifty pages long. Did I mention the recaps, because there are a ton. The worst example would be the incident where she imprints on Heath. First she tells Erik exactly what happened, then Stevie Rae, then her mentor Neferet, and finally her grandmother. That means we get the same redundant repetition of events five times. We understood what happened the first time, and we didn’t like it then, why would we like it repeated to us five more times afterward? It’s such an easy fix too, all you have to do is say “I explained the situation to him or her” and be done with it. Have a little faith in your readers. We don’t need our hands held through every plot point, action, and symbol. What’s next? They start defining words for us?

“Hubris,” Stevie Rae explained, “Having godlike arrogance.”

You know you're a geek when you can name the season, the episode, and the context for this image** (Owned by Fox)

You know you’re a geek when you can name the season, the episode, and the context for this image** (Owned by Fox)

I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Again, your readers are not stupid, they understand context clues. Think back to the higher vocabulary I’ve used in HNTWaB alone. If I have enough faith that my readers can understand what I’m talking about when I say words like “imbue” or “wayward” then you can trust that your reader can understand words like “hubris” or “sycophants”. I can’t believe that I just had to say that.

Also, when writing, use similes and metaphors that make sense, and don’t meander. Stay on topic. Don’t do anything like this:

Hey! White Face, blue lips, and red blood! Am I patriotic or what?

Really? (from pinterest)

Really? (from pinterest)

Wow, that was pointless and painful. They could have just stopped at describing the way she looked, but they lost focus and started to ramble. They do that pretty often, ususally using strange and pointless similes.

Being dressed differently made me feel like I’d shown up to a party dressed like a duck but no one had told me it wasn’t a costume party so everyone else was wearing jeans.

Being dressed differently at a party made me feel like I had dressed differently at a party. That repetitious simile was very redundant. And then there’s this:

I swear I could see my laughter floating around me like the puffy things you blow off a dandelion, only instead of being white, it was birthday frosting blue.

If you don’t know what dandelion seeds are, don’t use the comparison. Whatever you do, when describing something, don’t ever use the word “thing,” especially if the object has a name. Because, when I read this–

My face was a question mark.

And finally, when writing, keep your tenses straight. With the character’s voice, the story would have read a lot better if it was told in present tense. That way, it wouldn’t sound as awkward as this:

Oh crap crap crap! It was Heath.

Why does she act so surprised by things happening in the past? Zoey does this strange thing where she acts like she is talking directly to us, the reader, one moment, and then living in the moment the next. Don’t do that, it’s just very awkward.

Overall, would I recommend this book to people? Heck no. It’s horrible. There are a few very quotable lines worth a good laugh, and if you see it as a book that you can learn from, I’m not going to stop you from reading it. But don’t come crying to me when your brain starts leaking out of your ears from all the stupidity. It’s three hundred and six pages of nothing but hatred and annoyance. I will admit though, writing this segment was a lot of fun. If you’re morbidly curious about what happens next in the series, check out Blogging House of Night. It is hilarious and awesome. You’re Killing Us is another great book review blog and how I was introduced to this book. So what are you waiting for? Check those blogs out now!

*Thankfully, none of these block quotations belong to me. They belong to PC and Kristen Cast as well as St Martin’s Griffin.

**It was season one, the episode was Notes From the Underground part three. They aren’t actually facepalming, they’re covering their eyes because their friend that was forcibly mutated into a monster is returned to her human form, and she is naked. Wow, I need a life.

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How Not To Write a Book: Marked Part Two–On Bigotry, Sexism, and Writing Diverse Characters

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Previously on HNTWaB, I discussed how not to make your protagonist a horrible human being and alluded to all of the sexism in this book. I went on and on about how terrible Zoey is, but wait, there’s more, because Zoey isn’t the only horrible character in this mess. Everyone, and I do mean everyone is awful. There are about three not annoying characters, and out of them, two die, and one turns out to be a villain later on. Then again, the villain does try to kill Zoey, so she’s probably the most likable. Everyone else are just terrible little balls of hate, especially her friends, Erin and Shaunee. What makes her group of friends hilarious, though, is that they are the authors’ attempts to write characters of different races and sexual orientations. How well did it go? Let’s put it this way:

epic facepalm

She was the color of cappuccino (the kind you get from real coffee shops and not the nasty, too-sweet stuff you get from the Quick Trip) and all curvy with pouty lips that made her look like an African princess.

I’m not an expert on trans-racial writing, being extremely WASPy myself, so I’ll refer to people much smarter than me.I highly suggest reading the link, it’s very informative. I know I learned a lot from it. Basically, the advice is to do a lot of research in the culture that you are writing, use primary resources, and do not exotify the person or compare their skin tone to food or beverages. You can still highlight the differences in culture, but be subtle about it. There’s also the issue that a part of her identity is how similar she is to a white girl named Erin, to a point where they awkwardly refer to each other as “twin”. Let’s hear it from their token gay character, who I’ll get to in a minute.

“First, Shaunee and Erin call each other twin because even though they are clearly not related—Erin being an extremely blond white girl from Tulsa, and Shaunee being of Jamaican descent and a lovely mocha color from Connecticut— [but] they are freakishly alike.”*

*Gasp!* You mean to tell me that black people and white people can share a lot in common? Who’da thunk it? Also, is she mocha or cappuccino? Pick one awful comparison and stick with it, or better yet, don’t use that comparison at all. And who describes people like that? That has to be the most awkward and hit-you-over-the-head description of two characters I’ve ever heard. We get it, people of different races have things in common. Do they have any characterization beyond that? No? Well, okay then.

And let’s talk about the gay character, Damien, for a second, because he’s gay. Did I mention that? Because he totally is, and the writer’s won’t let you forget it. This is even how he’s introduced to us by the “bumpkin” Stevie Rae.

“And this is the token guy in our group, Damien Maslin. But he’s gay, so I don’t really think he counts as a guy.”

WHYYYYY? (owned by nickelodeon)

WHYYYYY? (owned by nickelodeon)

But wait, it gets better…

Instead of getting pissed at Stevie Rae, Damien looked serene and unruffled. “Actually, since I’m gay, I think I should count for two guys instead of just one. I mean, in me, you get the male point of view and you don’t have to worry about me touching your boobies.”

He’s the perfect gay BFF you guys! And the lesbians you may ask?

“There’s a few girls who are lesbians and totally out, but even though a couple of them are cool and hang with the rest of us they mostly stick together. They’re way into the religious aspect of Goddess worship and spend most of their time in Nyx’s temple. And, of course, there are the moronic party girls who think it’s cool to make out with each other, but usually only if some cute guys are watching.”

Apparently all lesbians either are a super religious hive minded cult or a bunch of idiots who make out only when guys are around. No middle ground, either a an exclusive club or a bunch of promiscuous girls who do it to get guys? Batwoman, if you would please…

batwoman-det854

owned by DC

Thank you. They aren’t the only ones stereotyped though. Here’s Zoey’s opinion of why she likes Damien so much.

Actually, he was cute. Not in the overly girly way so many teenage guys are…Damien wasn’t a swishy girly guy;

He’s gay, but don’t worry, he’s not too gay. He’s just right. Ugh. And they never–

“I may be gay but there’s so only much [menstruation talk] even I can handle.”

Let you–

Everyone looked at the gay scholar of our group

Forget it!

…and Shaunee sighed and said “Give it up Damien. Wrong team, remember?”

batfacepalm

owned by DC

Literally, every scene he’s in, someone has to mention his sexuality. There are points where mentioning it makes no sense. For example, let’s replace the word “gay” with the word “pumpkin” in one of the above sentences.

Everyone looked at the [pumpkin] scholar of our group.

Sounds ridiculous right? When writing LGBT characters, write them as actual characters. You don’t have to mention their sexual orientation every ten seconds. Wouldn’t it sound strange if, in every scene you’re in, your character refers to his or her straightness. If you do what these authors did and jump up and down yelling “Look, we have a gay character? Aren’t we inclusive and progressive?” your audience will give a resounding “So what?” and resume reading their Batwoman comics. You have to give these characters more to offer than just their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is just a facet on a many sided diamond. It can add dimension, but if you make the facet the whole thing, your character would just be flat.

On the flip side, we have the poorly written bigot, John Heffer aka Zoey’s step dad. He had potential to be interesting in the hands of better writers, but all of that is flushed down the toilet with the first thing he says.

“Get thee behind me, Satan!” he quoted in what I like to think of as his sermon voice.

Hey, he sees right through Zoey! In all honesty, this was the first line in the book to make me laugh, but probably not in the way the writers intended. It’s funny because one, it’s totally true, Zoey is Satan, and two, no one talks like that. It just comes completely out of nowhere and is so over the top. This is not how it feels to be a bigot, nor is it how one writes a bigot. To write a bigot, you have to understand their mindset, which it why you should follow that link. It’s very insightful. I mentioned the relationship between Zoey and her parents had potential to be a powerful character arc . If they had given this character a lot more depth, perhaps shown him try to relate to his wayward adopted daughter, things might have been interesting. The same goes for Zoey and her mother. If they had developed their relationship and shown the family reconciling, the story could have been much better. Even Dudley Dursley and Harry managed to reconcile by the Deathly Hallows, but, from what I understand, Zoey and her parents never do. Maybe that’s for the best though, because the vampires are really prejudiced against humans. They even teach the prejudice in schools.

“…Although [Walter] Lord was not a vampire—and it’s really a shame that he wasn’t,” [the lit. class teacher] added under her breath…

So, let me get this straight, it’s wrong for the Totally Not Christians to dislike vampires for taking all their higher end jobs, being super powerful, and their need to feed off the blood of humans to survive, but perfectly alright for the vampires to be prejudiced against humans. Makes perfect sense. There is potential here, but the writer and the characters need to become aware of the hypocrisy, and have it pointed out to the audience. The characters have to notice the double standard, but Zoey doesn’t. In fact…

Yeah, okay, talk about ridiculous. More evidence of the stupidity of humans…the thought popped into my mind, shocking me by how easily I’d already started thinking of “normal” people as “humans” and therefore something different than me.

Our hero ladies and gentlemen, a speciesist, misogynistic jerk. I’ve alluded to the misogyny before, but you have no idea how far the rabbit hole in this matriarchal society goes. Pretty much every other sentence is woman on woman hate, even when it doesn’t make sense and comes completely out of nowhere.

Actually, instead of being afraid it was more like I was an observer, as if none of this could really touch me. (Kinda like those girls who have sex with everyone and think that they’re not going to get pregnant or a really nasty STD that eats your brain and stuff. Well, we’ll see in ten years, won’t we?)

Batman+facepalm.+NANANANANANANANA+BAT+FAN+you+thought+i+was+gonna+say_7616d7_3431079

Fun fact, this passage fit five out of the eight categories that I was annotating for. (owned by DC)

It comes completely out of nowhere and makes absolutely no sense in context. One second, she was talking about a near death experience, the next, we get a drive by PSA  on abstinence. There are actually quite a few moments where the plot completely stops so that we can listen to a random diatribe on whatever the author doesn’t like. Such as…

Marijuana

“Heath” I tried to sound patient. “They are not safer than cigarettes, and even if they are, that’s not saying much. Cigarettes are disgusting and they kill you. And seriously, all the biggest losers at school smoke pot. Besides the fact that you really can not afford to kill anymore brain cells.”

And Sexual Promiscuity

Yes, I was aware of the whole oral sex thing. I doubt if there’s a teenager alive in America who isn’t aware that most of the adult public think we’re giving guys gum (or maybe more appropriately suckers). Okay, that’s just bull****, and it’s always made me mad. Of course there are girls who think it’s “cool” to give guys head. Uh, they’re wrong. Those of us with functioning brains know that it is not cool to be used like that.

Charming, and great job insulting yet another group of people. It gets worse though, because the twins are evil. They can be discussing an ordinary thing, like class sigils, and when it comes to Aphrodite, as these hate filled conversations are wont to do, Erin will blurt out…

“You mean besides that cob stuck straight up her skinny little anus?” Erin muttered.

It’s, again, completely uncalled for and out of nowhere. I guess Erin hadn’t filled her hate quota of the day. Then, during a ritual, Aphrodite starts dancing and Zoey has this to say…

“Yes, I suppose you could say she was hot. I mean, she has a good body and she moved like Catherine Zeta Jones in Chicago. But somehow, it didn’t work for me. And I don’t mean because I’m not gay, (even though I’m not gay). It didn’t work because it seemed like a crude imitation of Neferet’s dance to “She Walks in Beauty.” If this music was a poem, it would be more like “Some Ho Grinds Her Bootie.”

That diatribe was misogynistic, redundant, slightly homophobic, and redundant. But then, the hate gets to a point where it’s just plain silly.

During Aphrodite’s crotch-flailing display everyone was, naturally, staring at her, so I looked around the circle…

How exactly does one flail their crotch around? If they lose control, would they run around yelling “Help! I’ve lost control of my crotch! Gangway!”

Aphrodite’s laugh was way too sexual to be appropriate, and I swear she touched herself. Right there in front of everyone. Jeesh, she was nasty.

And, for that matter, how would one have a sexual laugh? Zoey also puts herself down, but still doesn’t point out her own hypocrisy.

Was I becoming a vampire slut? What was next? Would no male of any species (which included Damien) be safe around me?

This is supposed to be a matriarchal society, but instead of women and men being in equal positions, they still  are in the same gender roles.

“Eliot, you are, of course, failing Lit. But what’s more important, you’re failing life. Vampires males are strong, honorable, and unique. They have been our warriors and protectors for countless generations.”

This is a teacher talking to a student. Did I mention that these are terrible people? When writing matriarchal societies, take a leaf out of Themyscira’s books, and don’t create a world that vilifies female sexuality, and instead have women pursuing many different outlets and careers. Don’t have them just be mages and healers, have them be warriors and chemists and fulfill as many roles as the men. Have the females show a little feminine solidarity. If there was one thing I didn’t like about the Ranger’s Apprentice series, it was that the two female leads spent most of their time together fighting over the main character. Don’t make the same mistake these authors did, and please, for the love of Hera, don’t slut shame or vilify any non-virginal female character. It’s just bad taste. I guess, considering all of the misogyny, it would make sense that Zoey’s favorite Shakespeare play is Taming of the Shrew, aka the play about a fiery and independent woman being forced into marriage and psychologically tortured into becoming the perfect housewife because comedy. Why couldn’t Zoey be like a normal YA fiction character and moon over the romance between a thirteen and  seventeen year old pair of star crossed idiots?

Tune in next post, where we talk about Zoey’s awful grandmother, parenthetical asides, mood killing similes, and other signs of terrible diction and syntax.

*Again, all of the block quotes are thankfully not my own. They belong to PC Cast, Kristen Cast, and St. Martin’s Griffin.

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How Not To Write a Book: Marked Part One–On Writing Protagonists

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Rage! Rage bubbling forth, tugging at the strings of my sanity, dragging me further and further into the depths with every word. Looming and rising, this book is a special kind of evil. The kind devised by Eldrich abominations themselves. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, lest you be struck with the anger yourself, for this book is all knowing, all consuming. It is evil incarnate. It is everything wrong with YA literature in one neat package, and how not to write a book. This is the House of Night series. A book series so bad, it has already driven at least three book critics to an unstoppable rage, and is about to drive a fourth. It is–

Whoah, whoah, whoah. Take a deep breath Kirin.

*gasp*

Feel better?

A little. Look, this book is bad. It’s really bad. It’s so bad that I take back anything I’ve ever said that makes fun of Twilight, because this book makes Twilight look like Dracula when it comes to vampires. This book is so bad that I never want to see anything like it again. So, without further adieu, here is a little segment I like to call How Not To Write a Book. For part one, we’ll talk about writing protagonists, featuring the worst female lead since Bella Swan, Zoey Redbird.

Zoey is the epitome of a Mary Sue. Is she exotic? Yes. Is she beautiful? Yes. Is she virginal? Yes. Does she have an unhappy home life? Yes, and I’ll get to that one in a minute. Is she super special among her peers? Yes. Do all the people who meet her automatically love her? Yes. Do boys fall over her? Yes. Are those who don’t love her vilified? Yes. Is her Goddess given specialness earned? No, absolutely not, because Zoey is a terrible person with almost no redeemable qualities.

Let’s talk about that terrible home life for a second. Is she living in poverty? Are her parents abusive? No and no. The worst part about her life, aside from her “tragic inability to fit in” is that she doesn’t like her step dad because he is a fundamentalist People of The Faith *cough* Christian *cough*. What else did he do wrong? Practically nothing, from what I saw. He allowed for her mom to quit a dead end job, got them out of money troubles, and allowed her to have a car. Her mother also really seems to care about him. To me, it looks like he’s just going about acclimating to her family the wrong way and that his beliefs conflict with who his adopted daughter is. I understand that it’s hard to have one absentee father and one father who you don’t like, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that she whines nonstop about it, and has nothing nice to say about anyone in her family except for her jerk of a grandmother. She even slut shames her own unnamed sister, which, believe me, I’ll get to soon. This is what she says in an argument with her mother:

“Did you know that your oldest daughter has turned into a sneaky, spoiled slut who’s screwed half the football team?”*

Go back and read it again. Feeling angered yet? Believe me, there’s plenty more where that’s come from. Speaking as the middle sister of three, this angers me. We don’t even know her name, just that she has committed the crime of being Barbie-like, promiscuous, and trying to convince her younger sister to participate in something the older loves. That is all. Practically all of her family  are reduced to these caricatures. This doesn’t make Zoey look like a martyr, it makes her look like a spoiled brat. When writing a character with a bad home life, actually give him or her a bad home life. Or, if it’s a home life like Zoey’s, give the characters more depth so that we see that the narrator is unreliable. That would be realistic. There are teenagers who deal with this sort of thing, and they usually learn later on that things are not how they are perceived. For the latter, do not, under any circumstance, vindicate him or her in their hatred of their parents. It will just annoy the reader, because they keep telling themselves that there is more depth than what we were just shown, but none appears. You’d also be wasting a perfectly good character arc. In Harry Potter, would the Dursleys have seemed as horrible if we had simply been told that Harry hates them and not seen for ourselves their cruel treatment of Harry. Instead, we’re shown, over the course of several chapters, that the Dursleys make Harry’s life miserable.

That’s not all though, because Zoey is also a bully who  has the ability to insult everyone. This is her treatment of an outcast named Elliot.

Oh (great) that annoying redheaded Elliot kid was slouching against the wall kicking sawdust at the floor. He raised enough dust to make the girl standing close to him sneeze. She threw him a dirty look and moved a few steps away. God, did he irritate everyone? And why couldn’t he use some product (or perhaps a comb) on that nappy hair?

I drank blood—that horrid Elliot kid’s blood—and I liked it!

What did Elliot ever do to her? Nothing. He doesn’t even speak to her. All he does is make one homophobic comment, and that’s it. This kid is ostracized not just by her, but by literally everyone, including teachers. As for added bonus, here’s her reaction to him dying.

“No one liked Elliot, and somehow I think that makes it worse” Stevie Rae said. “It was weirdly easier with Elizabeth. At least we could feel honestly sorry that she was gone.”

“I know what you mean. I feel upset, but I know I’m really upset because I saw what can happen to us and now I can’t get it out of my mind, and not upset about the kid being dead.”

 

Okay, I admit that I hadn’t liked Elliot—no one had. The kid was annoying and unattractive (and his ghost or whatever seemed to be carrying on those traits) but I wasn’t glad he’d died.

I like how she just calls him annoying and ugly, and not a homophobic jerk. Great to see she has her priorities straight. Do I really need to say what’s wrong here? Don’t have your characters be bullies, or if you do, have them be called out for it. Do not make the object of your character’s dislike be cannon. You read right, all of these horrible opinions on a character who doesn’t even share a line of dialogue with Zoey turn out to be true.

This character’s cattiness knows no bounds. No one is safe, not even her best friends. For example, Kayla has been her best friend since third grade, but as soon as Zoey finds out that she is dating a boy named Heath, who Zoey said on multiple occasions is not her boyfriend, she gets angry.

Her mean look turned startled and then flattened out to mean again, and I suddenly couldn’t help but compare her to Stevie Rae, who, even though I’d only known for a couple days, I was absolutely, totally sure she would not ever go after my boyfriend, whether he was an almost-ex or not.

And threatens:

“Kayla, if you don’t shut up, I’ll fly down there and suck every last bit of blood from your cow body!” I spit the words at her.

I like Stevie Rae, Zoey’s room mate’s, reaction even better though:

“Oh, and then Kayla, my ex-best friend, made it obvious that she’s after Heath.”

Stevie Rae gasped. “Slut!”

Again, Kayla is her best friend since the third grade, and Zoey turns on her at the drop of a hat for stupid reasons. What’s even better though, is that Stevie Rae, who doesn’t even know Kayla, automatically agrees with Zoey. But even Stevie Rae, the friend who does nothing but worship the ground Zoey stands on, is not safe. Behold:

“The girl twanged so bad she sounded like an ad for a trailer park.”

“…but Stevie Rae (bless her little bumpkin heart)…”

This is her “best” friend. Funny, I thought that friends weren’t condescending towards one another, but, once again, the writers are so busy making Zoey look superior that she just looks like a jerk. Her behavior towards the mean girl at school is even worse though. Aphrodite, the resident Queen Bee, has visions telling of future tragedies. These visions are implied to be extremely painful. This is our charming heroine’s reaction to seeing a person in obvious pain.

Aphrodite was having a vision. She probably felt it coming on and hidden in an alcove so no one would find her and she could keep her info about the death and destruction she could prevent to her hateful self. Cow. Hag.

When it comes to characters like this, a little empathy goes a long way. She shows absolutely no empathy for a person who’s gift forces her to watch people die and causes her a lot of suffering in the process. This could have easily been a moment to humanize our protagonist. If she had, at any point, said that she felt a little sorry for Aphrodite, then the audience might hate her a little less. Otherwise, she is no better than her enemy.

The thing is, she lets the hate for Aphrodite become all consuming. For example, in Spanish class, they had to write about their likes and dislikes, and

I tried not to scribble things like me gusta Erik…and no me gusta el hag-o Aphrodite. Okay, I’m sure  el hag-o is not how you say “hag” in Spanish, but still.

That’s an impressive amount of hate for someone she’s literally met about three days ago. Even Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy’s rivalry didn’t get so bad that Harry had to restrain  himself on writing about how much they dislike each other during class assignments. You can have characters be rivals and outright hate each other, but please make it realistic. Most people aren’t so consumed by their hatred that the imbue it in everything they do. And usually the ones that do, end up with their lives destroyed.

Says the girl who’s devoting an entire blog post to her hatred of the protagonist.

My point still stands. Zoey is just a little ball of hate. With every vapid thought, a new group is unecessarily insulted. For example:

Dancers

Her body was tiny, and the way she stood reminded me of those girls who obsessively take dance class so that even when they’re not in ballet, they stand like they have something stuck way up their butts.

She’s talking about the equestrian teacher, by the way. Was it necessary that she mentions this? No.

Pamela Anderson

[Aphrodite’s smile] was as fake and cold as Pamela Anderson’s humongously huge boobs

This sentence is redundant, dumb, misogynistic and redundant.

Christians People of the Faith

Within thirty minutes our house would begin to fill up with fat women and their beady-eyed pedophile husbands.

When I’d read the previous chapter, I began to sympathize with Zoey for a split second. Then I read this, and was back to disliking her.

Girls Who Wear Heavy Makeup

I lined them with smoky black shadow that had little sparkly flecks of silver in it. Not heavily like those loser girls who think that plastering on black eye liner makes them look cool. Yeah right. They look like scary raccoons.

This is yet another example of drive by misogyny. You’ll find a lot of it in the book. It serves no purpose except to make us hate Zoey.

Mini Corn?

…those mini corns that are so confusing, and don’t even taste like corn. (What exactly are they? Baby corn? Midget corn? Mutant corn?)

I’ll just let the stupidity of this line speak for itself. And the coup de grace…

People With Eating Disorders

She wasn’t thin like the freak girls who puked and starved themselves into what they thought was Paris Hilton chic. (“That’s Hott” Yeah, okay, whatever Paris).

I’m not an expert on eating disorders, but I know this: it’s not something to make light of. This is something real people go through and this is just sickening. As You’re Killing Us, the website I linked earlier in the post puts it, these are medical and psychological disorders, not something the “freak girls” do for fun. Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are not jokes. There are probably people reading this book who have suffered from these disorders, or know someone who has, and they sure don’t appreciate the label “freak girls.” This is not okay.

There is just no reason for these awful digs at people. There is no reason to to insult these groups, as well as others, including goths, emos, people with intellectual disabilities, people who are overweight, and women, oh great Krypton, women. I’ll get to that in the next post. When you write people, though, don’t, please, for the love of Hera, don’t have your character insult everyone, or again, have them be disliked or called out for it. This is not how you endear yourself to the audience.

Now, let’s talk ego for a second, because Zoey is nothing if not egotistical.

What she didn’t say is that I’m not just lucky, I’m “special” with my weird colored Mark. Which reminded me…

“Stevie Rae, why haven’t you asked me about my Mark? I mean, I appreciate you not bombarding me with questions, but all the way up here everyone who saw me stared at my Mark. Aphrodite mentioned it almost the second we were alone. You haven’t even really looked at it. Why?”

I like how she whines about how hard it is to be special one moment, and then in the next is asking why her new room mate isn’t acknowledging her specialness. All must bow to Zoey, the perpetual angst machine. She, of course, flaunts the Mark anyway, choosing to, in her own words, “let them gawk”. Ego is a wonderful flaw, but it’s just that, a flaw and there has to be something else there to be liked. Harry Potter has a decent sized ego, being the Chosen One, the youngest person to ever play Quidditch, and the one to defeat Voldemort, but he’s often proven to be wrong about people and called out for his actions. Characters who are egotistical have to be humbled throughout the story in order to create a character arc. Let’s use a non-Harry Potter comparison for a second.

In the Royal Ranger, the last book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, Maddie is a spoiled and rebellious princess. Her parents are at their wits end, so they send her away to be trained as a King’s Ranger. She still makes mistakes, such as being rude to a chef and getting drunk at a party, but over time, she learns humility and selflessness. That is a really good character arc.

In this book, we have no character arc for Zoey. She starts out insufferable, vapid, and egotistical, and her ego only grows with every undeserved gift from her goddess and person who automatically loves her. If anything, she’s even worse by the end. She’s has abilities that are practically unheard of, but she does absolutely nothing to earn them.

I will give them this though, she does sound like a particularly horrible teenager, but the thing about teenagers is that, as a sub species, we are horrible creatures. We’re insufferable, melodramatic know-it-alls who think we have the world figured out when we don’t. But as Plato said “I only know that I know nothing.”

Wasn’t that Socrates?

Exactly. As writing a teenager goes, we’re not very smart, but we aren’t complete buffoons. We know right from wrong, and we eventually come of age. You have to write in a little maturity, and give them an arc that shows that the world is not how they thought. You can have a character like Zoey, but you need to add depth to other characters and make her less horrible over the course of the book. If you do, readers  will want to return to the series and watch her grow from someone who makes a five year old look mature into more of an adult. All I ask is for writers to have the seeds of growth begin to germinate in the first book.

Next post, we’ll be talking about sexism, bigotry, and writing diverse casts coming from the WASPiest of all White Anglo Aaxon Protestants.

How will Kirin deal with this one? Tune in next post to find out. Same unicorn time, same unicorn channel!

*All of the block quotations in the post are thankfully not my own. They, and this book belongs to St Martin’s Griffin’s publishing company, and PC and Kristin Cast.

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Awoken by Serra Elinson

Hello, I’m a unicorn. In (belated) honor of Easter, I’ve hidden a second review in this one. Read the whole thing through once, then go back and read the underlined bits…

Awoken is certainly something. A part of me really hopes it a parody, because if not, I’m really concerned. The basic plot is that Andromeda (Andi) Slate, the most ordinary and whiny girl in the world, accidentally summons Cthulhu, and he falls in love with her. Instead of destroying the world with his call, he now want to save it, all because of love. If this sounds like Twilight ripoff #4097, you would be rIghT. And I wish I was really making up all of what I am about to say.

The funny thing is, though, the relationship between Edward and Bella is actually healthier than the relationship between Andi and Cthulhu. The obligatory romance is so disturbing, it makes my skin crawl. I’d be here all day and all night if I wanted to deconstruct all that’S wrong with this set up. Cthulhu (called Riley) is horrifyingly possessive and constantly belittles our “heroine”. Literally, every other line of dialogue, he refers to her as “young one”, “tiny one”, “pitiful one”, and my favorite: “itty bitty one”. Andi isn’t much better. Cthulhu becomes all she ever thinks about. She ignores her friends, and whines about everything even though she has it pretty good. Her high school starts classes at 8:25 for Pete’s sake! Sorry. I know this is a weird thing to to fixate on, but seriously? 8:25 am? My high school starts at 7:30. My middle school didn’t even start that late. I would kill to go to her school. Not only that, but she also whines even though she lives in an economically and emotionally stable home, has two friends who stay at her side no matter what, and is really attractive. Needless to say, her woe is me act gets really tired really quickly. She, like all May Sues, suffers from crippling self confidence and believes she is is unworthy of Riley’s love. She blames herself for everything. A group of guys try to assault her? Well, she shouldn’t have worn a bikini to a party, gotten drunk, and wandered off. She also doesn’t care when Riley hurts people, except when she knows them. In the fifth chapter, he drives a kid insane just for being an idiot. All the kid did was throw Andi into a pool, and ruined a book, but he didn’t know she was afraid of water. Her reaction to his insanity? meh. Allow me to say that again. Our “heroine” is perfectly alright with her boy toy causing people to suffer a fate worse than death.

Let’s talk about the villain, Miss Espitola. She, of course is promiscuous, and Andi automatically hates her for no good reason. I, on the other hand, really like her. She’s just so over the top. At the end, when we get to her “master plan”, I’m really reminded of Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Are you kidding. Espitola ain't got nothin' on me. http://www.moley75.co.uk

Are you kidding. Espitola ain’t got nothin’ on me.
http://www.moley75.co.uk

I just wish there was more of her, but instead we got the romantic plot tumor. Since this book hits all, and I do mean all of the YA romance cliches, there are a lot of characters more interesting than the protagonists.  The biggest example would be Uncle Neil, who is hilarious. Of course, Andi, being the whiny, self-centered, boy crazy person that she is, always tuned him out just when he was saying something interesting. The whole book should have been about him and Riley’s less creepy sister, Cleo. Cleo and Uncle Neil randomly showing up at the climax was the best part of the book. Even her best friends are more interesting. Vik, of course, was the ethnic third wheel and the non-psychotic love interest, and Bree was just a lot more entertaining than Andi. It did annoy me, though, that Bree’s every other action was eating. Because she was fat. Ha. Ha. Very clever indirect characterization. The nicest thing I could about that is at least she isn’t self conscious or constantly dieting. Also, for whatever reason, she constantly interjects “wicked” into every other sentence, which, I guess is the way the writer is indicating that Bree is “hip” and “with it”. It’s completely unintentionally hilarious.

Speaking of unintentionally hilarious, let’s talk about the obsession with Phantom of the Opera that this book has. It’s Andi’s favorite book and at one point, they even go to see it on Broadway. The way she romanticizes the creepy relationship between Christine and the Phantom is ripe for unintentional hilarity and melodramatic lines. My favorite reference had to be when Riley dumps Andi like the LEGO brick that she is and she replies, “After all we’ve been through? After  Phantom?” It’s easily one of the best lines in the book. This romanticizing of the original is on par with the belief that Rorschach in Watchmen is meant to be likable, because having read the original, I can tell you, it’s not a romance. Christine and the Phantom don’t even have much of a romance in the musical either, but that’s a fish to fry on another day. Also, note to self: review the Joel Schumaker movie, it may be flawed, but it’s still one of my favorites.

On a different note, let’s talk about the most frustrating part of the book. Much like Twilight and other paranormal romance, all the interesting stuff happens off screen. Instead of the epic battle of Eldrich abominations in the climax, we had Andi with her eyes closed. In universe, it makes sense, but I still wish I’d been able to seen the battle of the Old Ones. 

Overall, this is not recommended. Nothing about it is clever and/or subtle. The protagonist is whiny and unlikable, the relationship is creepy, completely misses the point of the original Lovecraftian mythos,  and I wanted to know more about the side characters than the heroine. I had to keep reminding myself that this is not a parody, because everything is so over the top. Plotwise, there were no surprises. Nothing made me take a step back and think “Well played, Mrs. Elinsen, I did not see that coming”. There is plenty of unintentional hilarity to be found, and it certainly is a quick, mindless read. I knocked this one out in about three days, because, even though it is bad, Awoken is still pretty hard to put down. I honestly don’t know why I picked it up at my library, and I honestly can not say I enjoyed reading it. I will enjoy next month, because Ninja Turtles month returns to celebrate the green machine’s 30th birthday!

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Ranger’s Apprentice Book 12: The Royal Ranger

Hello, I’m a unicorn. The Ranger’s Apprentice  is one of my all time favorite book series, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out that there was a twelfth that came out recently. I got even more excited when I found out that there was going to be a girl Ranger, because that was the one thing I wished was introduced in the earlier books. I’ll do my best not to spoil this or the previous eleven books (especially since my sister is still reading them at the time of this post), but here is what I liked and didn’t like about the “last book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series.” I put this in quotes because the author said that the tenth book was going to be the last, then the Lost Stories came out and that was supposed to be the last, so I wouldn’t be shocked by a thirteenth book.

So, here’s the basic, spoiler free-ish plot: After the tragic death of someone very close to a Ranger named Will Treaty, he becomes obsessed with finding the person’s killer, even shirking his other duties as an elite spy for the kingdom of Araluen. In order to bring him out of his funk, his friends have him take on the princess of Araluen, Maddie, as an apprentice.

The Good: This book takes place fifteen years after the last, and it shows. Will, who was an unerring optimist in the other books, has become a lot more like his teacher, Halt. In the other books, Halt was the 2012 Master Splinter. He constantly trolled and teased his adopted son, but Will didn’t quite know what to make of him at first because Halt is the epitome of a deadpan snarker. In the first book, he literally only smiled once, and if it sounds like I’m going on a tangent, it’s because I am. Halt is my favorite character in the series and one of my all time favorite book characters. I could go on all day about how awesome he is, but it’s better just to see for yourself. Back to the matter at hand: Will, being more stoic and brooding, now has the tables turned , and he relishes in it, especially at the expense of his spoiled apprentice. The dialogue and banter between the characters is as funny as in the previous books and the chemistry really makes you feel like these people have known each other forever. For longtime fans, it feels like you’re greeting old friends as well. Even the brand new character feels familiar. I really like Maddie as an apprentice for Will. She’s not some Mary Sue who is perfect at everything Will throws at her. She’s spoiled, she makes mistakes, breaks the rules, gets scared, and talks back like every other teenager on earth, but her flaws don’t make her insufferable. She’s a fun character and I hope this isn’t the last I see of her.

The Parts That I Didn’t Like as Much: I hesitate to say that anything is bad in this, but there are a few parts I feel could have been improved. First of all, not enough Halt! I know this is nit-picky and just a meaningless gripe on my part, but Halt is my favorite character and since authors must obey their readership I DEMAND MORE HALT! Okay, enough joking and on to the more serious grievances. Out of all the books this one left the most loose ends after the climax. In the story, the villain kidnaps children who are from an abusive home to be sold as slaves. After the children are rescued by Will and Maddie, it cuts to a few months after the battle with the villain and the reader never finds out what happened to them. Were they sent back to their abusive parents? Did they become wards of the state? Were they later trained as Rangers? We never find out and that can be really distracting. The story, in general, is a lot smaller in scale than every other book. Usually the threat that the main characters need to thwart is a risk to the entire kingdom, or at least a fief. This is a group of heinous people, sure, and it gets personal later on, but the stakes are a lot less high. Also, while I didn’t mind brooding Will, some people might find the change in him pretty jarring, especially with the happy and satisfying ending of book eleven.

Overall, this is a must read for any Rangers fan and, while this is supposed to be the end, I think this book would make a great beginning to Maddie and Will’s adventures. Was this a satisfying ending to the series? Yes and no. It was satisfying in that it brings the books full circle, but Lost Stories did this even better. Like I said, I think that Royal Ranger makes a better beginning for Maddie’s adventures, and I want to see more of the darker world that was established in this book. I would be disappointed if this was the end, not because the book was bad, but because the book had some interesting ideas that I feel could be taken even further in later stories. For what it is though, this book is great, and I really hope John Flanagan decides to write more in the series. So what are you waiting for? Read it now.

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Catching Fire

Hello, I’m a unicorn. The Hunger Games book series is extremely popular with adults and kids my age. What is my opinion of it? It’s okay. It has been a while since I read the books, but I remember that they were entertaining, even the third one, aka the first book that actually got me angry. I really liked the first book. I almost wish Suzanne Collins had stopped right there because the climax of the second book is essentially a rehash of the first book, albeit done somewhat better. The third book is another beast entirely, and a rant for another day. Now let’s talk about the first movie really quickly. I liked it better than the book, but it had its flaws. For example, they overused the shaky cam, even in scenes where there wasn’t any action. It got to a point where the viewer had trouble telling what was happening. Other than that, it was a really good adaptation with great acting and a scene that actually made me tear up. I don’t usually cry at movies, so I consider it a feat when a movie makes me get choked up. Now, it’s time to get to the point. Catching Fire was wonderful, much better than the first movie and the book. Since there isn’t anything awful in this, I’m going to break it down to the good and the meh. Also, beware of spoilers.

The Good: Oh great Krypton, where to begin? This movie takes the plot, which, like I said, is a rehash of the first with a few new twists, and makes it much more interesting than the first movie. The acting was excellent, especially Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. One of the things that bothered me about the character in the book was that she sometimes came off as annoying. Why I found her annoying can be summed up in four words: I don’t do angst.

Technically, that’s five words.

Not if it’s a contraction. Anyway, the casting of  Lawrence as Katniss was perfect, because she is talented enough to pull off  all of the conflicting emotions our heroine has without coming off as overly angsty. Donald Sutherland was perfect as the creepy President Snow. The scene between the two in her house was chilling. Josh Hutcherson was great as Peeta, and given much more to work with than in the first movie. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket were entertaining as always.  The stakes were much higher in this movie than in the first, with her family and friends threatened by the president and a revolution brewing.

You say you want a revolution, baby, well, you know, we all want to change the world.

Thank you, Textbox. That was necessary.

Always at you service.

As I was saying, I really have to applaud the director, Francis Lawrence. Er… no relation to Jennifer from what I can find. I guess it’s just another one of those weird coincidences between director and the film he’s directing. Kind of like how The Amazing Spider-Man’s director is named Marc Webb.

Was there a point to your rambling?

Right, sorry. He did a brilliant job, and ended the film perfectly with a shot of Katniss going through an insane range of emotions before ending on her determined face. This got me hyped up for the third movie, which is no small feat. I was seriously considering skipping the third installment, but not anymore. I now believe that he can improve upon the book I liked the least. I hope that Mockingjay can be a great movie.

The Meh: Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence had no chemistry. They’ve only shared a few scenes in the movie, and we are expected to believe that they are in love. This could be problematic in the third movie because the focus of the third book is the love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. To be honest, though, in this movie, I don’t mind that the two spend so little time together. I usually can’t stand love triangles, especially when it takes up the majority of the plot. This love triangle, along with Katniss’s constant (but completely justifiable) angsting made me dislike Mockingjay.

Overall, this is definitely worth a watch and much better than the original books and movie. The acting was excellent, the cinematography vastly improved, and the stakes much higher than the first. So what are you waiting for? Watch it now and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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We’re Moving

Hello, I’m a unicorn. I’ve now got an official and much better looking website, so from now on I will reside there. Don’t worry, I’ll still update this one every once in a while, but form now on, my main site will be http://www.theunicorncomic.com. Can’t wait to see you there.

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