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Showing posts by: Megan Crewe click to see Megan Crewe's profile
Thu
Nov 19 2009 3:22pm

Young Adult Science Fiction: A Reading Guide

In my last post I offered my recommendations of young adult fantasy novels; now I’d like to share some YA science fiction recs. I think you’ll find there’s something that’ll appeal to just about everyone!

If you like psychological SF, like Passage and Flowers for Algernon, try:

House of Stairs and Singularity by William Sleator - The first perfectly demonstrates the power of behavioral conditioning, while the second bends space and time and the relationship between two brothers.

A Crack in the Line by Michael Lawrence - Alaric and Naia live in the same house, with (mostly) the same family, but they’ve never met—until a crack between their parallel worlds brings them together.

Candor by Pam Bachorz - A “perfect” community where everyone is kept in line with subliminal messages, except for the founder’s son, who finds himself having to decide just how much he’ll sacrifice for the new girl in town.

[Read on for more suggestions...]

Wed
Nov 18 2009 9:22am

Young Adult Fantasy: A Reading Guide

My time as a guest blogger here at Tor.com is almost up. Before I go, I’d like to talk a little about young adult speculative fiction, since that’s my genre of choice.

Some of you already read YA. Some maybe have only checked out the really big titles, like The Hunger Games and Graceling, but aren’t sure where to go from there. Some have probably considered picking up something from the teen section but don’t know where to start. And if you haven’t thought about giving YA fiction a shot yet, I suggest you do now! There are great things happening in YA speculative fiction, and I think any of you could find new books to love.

So, let me offer you my YA fantasy reading guide. (In my next and final post, I’ll cover science fiction.)

[Read my suggestions for different sorts of fantasy readers...]

Fri
Nov 13 2009 3:55pm

Story Psych: The Draw of the Bad Boy

Despite criticism of the trope, the “bad boy” character remains immensely popular among readers and audiences. Whether he’s got a supernatural side that makes him potentially lethal, like True Bloods Eric and Twilights Edward, or a callous side that could turn him into a heartbreaker, like Losts Sawyer and Gossip Girls Chuck, they catch other characters’ eyes and make fans swoon. (“Femmes fatales” likely serve the same function, for similar reasons, though they seem to be less common in stories these days.) The theory most often suggested is that we like the idea of a love interest we can change for the better. But wouldn’t it be easier to go for someone who doesn't need changing in the first place, and who isn’t so likely to rip out our hearts (figuratively or literally)? Why is dangerous so much more appealing than safe? I think psychology may provide an answer.

[Keep reading...]

Mon
Nov 9 2009 3:05pm

An Argument for Friendship

My novel, Give Up the Ghost, has a set-up that might feel familiar to fans of paranormal fiction. There’s a main character with supernatural ties. There’s a character of the opposite sex who enters her life and shakes it up. You know where this is going, right?

If you guessed that they end up in a heated romance, you would actually be wrong. But I wouldn’t blame you for assuming that. Before I even started writing the book, I knew a romance would be the expected outcome. It was very deliberate that I chose not to meet that expectation.

I had reasons, of course. Both of the characters were pretty messed up, and even though they’d come a long way by the end, I didn’t think either was ready for more than friendship. Just as importantly, though, I wanted to rebel against the idea that two people would need to be in love to have a meaningful connection and make a difference in each other’s lives.

[Read on...]

Thu
Nov 5 2009 3:38pm

Story Psych: A Question of Character

Since I’ve talked a bit about how psychology and appreciation of stories might interact, I thought it’d be interesting to consider something many people mention first when talking about a story: characters. Sometimes a great protagonist or villain can raise up an otherwise mediocre story. Sometimes a plot that sounded fascinating gets bogged down by cardboard characters. And, of course, readers don’t all agree: a character one finds impressive another may find repulsive, and vice versa.

Why is that, and what factors might make a character more or less appealing? Psychologists have suggested that for readers to care about characters, they need to react to them as if they were friends or enemies.  So let's start by examining what makes us like other people in our lives.

[Keep reading...]

Wed
Nov 4 2009 9:30am

The Sequel Question

Since Give Up the Ghost was released, I’ve been getting a question I suspect every writer hears after publishing a book not clearly part of a series: “Is there going to be a sequel?”

When I wrote Ghost, it never occurred to me to think of it as anything other than a stand-alone novel. The plot and character arcs I envisioned fit well within the scope of one book. I saw Cass’ story as being—well, maybe not finished—but finished enough that the rest could live in readers’ imaginations. But if people want to read more about her, why wouldn’t I pursue that?

It’s not as easy a decision as you might think. Many times I’ve read sequels to books I loved only to be disappointed: finding the book is only a repetition of the original’s events and themes, or an attempt to go in a new direction that falls flat. And the worst part is, reading an unsatisfying sequel often tarnishes my love for the first book. Once I’ve read an unfulfilling ‘what comes next,’ it forever alters my perceptions of the original work. As a reader, I would almost always rather have a new, unrelated stand-alone than a sequel.  And as a writer, I don’t want to disappoint my readers.

[Read on...]

Mon
Nov 2 2009 2:02pm

Story Psych: What Makes a Good Story (Part 3)

Last week I talked about how memory and behaviorism might affect readers’ enjoyment of a story. The final area of psychology I’m going to discuss is persuasion.

When psychologists study persuasive techniques, they are usually focusing on topics like advertising and politics. How do people persuade other people to trust them and believe the message they're conveying (whether it's “Buy this product now!” or “Vote for me!”)? But persuasion plays a role in many other areas, including stories.

After all, a lot of story-telling is about trust and belief: the trust that the author will fulfill the promises his/her story makes as it’s told and that the author’s choices are meaningful (even if they’re confusing to the reader), and the belief that the story’s events are in some way “true” despite being fiction—the suspension one’s disbelief. If readers start to doubt an author or a story, they’re more likely to give up on it, and less likely to recommend it to others. And there are a number of factors that can influence readers’ trust and belief.

[Believe me, you want to keep reading...]

Fri
Oct 30 2009 9:13am

Story Psych: What Makes a Good Story (Part 2)

Earlier I talked about how the psychological study of memory can give us clues about what qualities cause a story to be considered “good.” Today I’d like to examine the role behavioral psychology might play.

When people talk about behavioral psychology, the name that most often comes up is B.F. Skinner. Anyone who’s taken an introductory psychology course will have heard of him: he’s best known for his experiments with pigeons and rats in which he investigated how environmental stimuli affected their behavior. The principles he wrote about—particularly, that giving a reward (reinforcement) increases a behavior, while introducing a punishment decreases it—are widely used in many parts of our lives. Kids in school get stickers for good work and detention for bad behavior. An employee may get a raise for excellent performance and a reprimand for carelessness. Stop for a moment and think, and you can probably come up with a dozen ways you are reinforced (directly or subtly) for behaving “correctly,” and punished for a misstep.

But what does all that have to do with stories? I’d say rather a lot.

[Will you keep reading if I give you a sticker?]

Tue
Oct 27 2009 2:36pm

Story Psych: A Semi-Scientific Look at What Makes a Good Story

As a psychology major and someone whose day job regularly draws on psychological principles (I’m a behavioral therapist for children with special needs), I thought it’d be interesting to do a series of posts examining how the science of the mind might be applied to the world of literature.

To start things off, I’ll be tackling one of the biggest questions there is: just what is it that makes a story “good”? From a psychological perspective, that is.

One of the biggest factors, I’d guess, is memory.

Memorable does not necessarily equal good, but it would make sense that a story with scenes and characters that stick in readers’ minds would be far more likely to become a success than one without that sticking power. While you’re reading, you’ll enjoy a story more if you have a clear memory of what came before and how the events are building to the climax. And afterward, if you continue to remember and think about the story, there’s a sense that you’ve read something powerful. You’re certainly more likely to recommend that story to others than one you’ve already forgotten.

[Read on...]

Mon
Oct 26 2009 9:22am

That Ghostly Appeal

Delve into the folk tales of any culture in the world, and before long you’ll come across ghost stories. The woman who lingers on the bridge where she jumped to her death. The lord of the manor who haunts his former home. Whatever other supernatural creatures catch readers’ attention and become the next hot thing in fiction, ghosts have always been, and are always, here. Whether they’re taking revenge on innocent victims or trying to atone for past wrongs, audiences never seem to tire of them.

As someone who’s written about ghosts more than once, I’ve found myself wondering why. The best answer I can come up with is, it’s because ghosts can mean so many things.

Comfort

Ghosts can be an antidote to grief. Knowing that a loved one is still around, in whatever form, makes death seem less final. As in the movie Truly Madly Deeply, it can replace—for a time—the companionship that was lost. Or the return from the dead may grant a chance to relive the past as it should have been. Harada of Taichi Yamada’s Strangers is filled with such joy when with the spirits of his long-deceased parents, who let him experience the unconditional childhood love he missed out on, that he finds it hard to care that those meetings are draining his own life away. Spending even a few more days in the presence of the dead may allow people to come to terms with what they’ve lost and or where they are in life, and ultimately find ways to move on.

[Not to mention...]

Fri
Oct 23 2009 9:25am

The Education of a Speculative Fiction Fan (and Writer)

Looking back at my childhood, it’s no surprise I ended up a fan (and writer) of speculative fiction in all its many forms.

My parents were both avid readers and huge SF enthusiasts. As soon I was reading novels, they passed on their collection of favorites to me, and so I grew up on the great books of the decades before I was born: The Hobbit and The Martian Chronicles, Dune and A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Left Hand of Darkness. My dad wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on any movies, either. I have fond memories of watching Slaughterhouse-Five and Logan's Run with him (on laserdisc, of course. He tended to champion the new and innovative technology that was destined to fail. We also had a Beta VCR). Our “family” television shows included Star Trek: TNG, The X Files and the new Twilight Zone.

So when I ventured into the bookstores and libraries on my own, I gravitated toward anything weird or fantastical or out of this world. The children and teens shelves introduced me to Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, Diana Wynne Jones, and too many others to name. Then one day, when I was eleven, I came across a book called Dragonsdawn in the young adult section. After finishing it, and realizing it had been mis-shelved, I ventured into the adult Fantasy and Science Fiction section for the first time. You could say that Anne McCaffrey was my gateway drug. After inhaling all the Pern books I could get my hands on, I moved on to Stephen King, Douglas Adams, and Terry Brooks.

[Then I started writing...]