Friday, September 14, 2018

The Last Storyteller—A Short Story That Wanted to Be a Novel

Title: The Last Storyteller
Author: Michelle Dutton (Michelle Knowlden)
Genre: Sweet Romance, Paranormal Romance


In the small town of Ravenscar, men and women turn into birds, and storytellers keep their people’s secret history alive. Miri was born to be a storyteller, but she abandoned the role and left Ravenscar after her sister’s betrayal and a painful break-up with her boyfriend, Trey. Fourteen years later, Miri returns to Ravenscar for her sister’s funeral. Trey is waiting. As Miri confronts the truth of the past, she struggles to understand who she is and what her future holds.


There is a very dreamy, almost poetic quality to “The Last Story-Teller.” The town of Ravenscar seems like a place forgotten to the world: a little sad, a little run down, but full of its own charm, with characters you can root for. I liked Miri and I found I could relate to her journey. Coming home with a new perspective allows her to understand her past better; at the same time, being home reaffirms who she is. I could also relate to Miri as a storyteller and her struggles as an artist:

“In carefully collecting every word, I lost the sense of weaving only certain threads and in sharing the right story. In collecting every emotion, I lost the skill of only keeping the feelings needed for my listeners. In being so analytical about every detail, I lost the reason and art of telling.”

But the problem I had was that the story felt too contracted, too rushed. I had to re-read the opening chapter a couple times, because I felt like I was missing key information, such as whether shapeshifting was genetic and which bloodlines could shift into which birds and what the key characteristics of each family was. (This plays an important part in the plot.) Different conflicts were teased, but they were never really developed.

For example, Miri and Trey’s relationship. The two still clearly have feelings for each other, but something happened in the past that tore them apart. I wanted to see the drama of this play out, with Miri slowly uncovering the truth, with both Miri and Trey facing their hurt feelings, with both weighing the risk of heartbreak over the potential for true love. But there’s no time for that. They talk about their break-up early on, and the story moves on to the next problem. One problem is solved, then another, then another, until everyone is happy again.

Ultimately, this story isn’t really about Miri and Trey re-kindling their lost love, or about the mysterious death of Miri’s sister, or about the struggles of family, or about small town life, or even about what it’s like to turn into a bird. It’s about Miri and who she is as a storyteller. On that level, it works. But there were so many other themes that could have been explored, that could have made “The Last Storyteller” a fuller, richer, and more satisfying story. It had the potential to be a wonderful novel, but it gets hampered by its short story size.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Five Tropes in Books and Movie that Get Me Every Single Time

I refuse to call them guilty pleasures, because I don’t feel guilty about liking these tropes. Some might view these things, but I don’t care, because I like what I like. These are the top five things that, even when done badly, will still hook me into a book or a movie every single time.

Counting down, from the least to most addictive:

5. Pretty Costumes

I’m a girl. So sue me. I like seeing pretty dresses, especially ones from older time. Be it rich medieval gowns or buttoned-up Victorian trench coats or any random mish-mash in between, I just like to look at them.

One of the first movies I remember seeing in theatres without adults was Ever After, and while I liked the movie just fine, what made me wear out my DVD watching it over and over again was the lush Renaissance-era dresses. Rich colors, flowing fabrics, hints of jewels—what’s not to love?

I’m not a fashionista. I hate going clothes shopping. I haven’t a clue what’s in style, and frankly, I don’t care. So it’s weird that this one gets to me. All I can say is that I like beauty and romance, and I think when you wear these kinds of costumes, you feel beautiful and romantic, like you’re from a different world, a world of new and interesting possibilities.

4. Games

I began to notice that, when I visited my local Barnes and Noble and scanned the titles on the shelf, the one word caught my eye, time again and again, was: “game.” Now it helps that some books I really love have the word “game” in it: Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones. But it’s more than that.
To me, games are all about rules and strategy. The rules represent the boundaries, but within those boundaries the player is free to act however they want—pressing the limits, maybe even breaking rules. In a game, two or more rivals butt heads, each matching wits with one another. What’s at stake is usually so much more than pride or money, with people’s lives or even the fate of the world resting on the outcome of the match.

Basically, games are like fights, but rather than being all about violence and physical strength, it’s all about intelligence and creativity. Last week, I established how much I hate stupid characters, but if the writer wants to convince me a character is smart, one of the easiest ways is to have them play a little game.

3. Epics

After watching Avenger: Infinity War for the fourth time, I was trying to figure out why I was so into it. It occurred to me that Infinity War is a true epic: it balances multiple heroes, multiple storylines, multiple settings; it has big battles, grand stakes, and real sacrifice.

I love fantasy and science fiction and all its subgenres, from paranormal romance to dystopias, but the genre I love the most is the epic. I cut my teeth on The Lord of the Rings trilogy—to this date, they’re among my favorite movies. And when I think about what I like about epics, they are ambitious. They are not aiming for light and fluffy and amusing—they are aiming for powerful emotions.

Honestly, I think life is epic. At least, I like to think it is. When I see characters who grapple with good and evil, hope and despair, the lives of friends and the fate of the world, honestly, I feel I can relate. Not because I myself carry such burdens, but I do struggle to do the right thing and I want to make the world a better place and there have been times (like last year) when I have wondered whether all my hard work will mean anything.

So, yeah, epics give me hope that I can matter.

2. “Beauty and the Beast” Love Stories

You know what these “tales as old as time” are: there are two people and one usually starts off as ugly (either outwardly, inwardly, or both), but the process of love transforms the “beast” into a kind and beautiful soul.

These are such beautiful love stories, but I’ve heard so much controversy about them. People seem to think that the moral is either: “lock a girl up until she loves you,” or “see, girls, if you put up with a boy’s abusive behavior long enough, he’ll change” or something like that. But that is not the message. The message is that love has the power to transform people—not that it will transform, but that it can.

Also, please look more closely at these stories. “Beauty” never falls in love with the “beast” because he is mistreating her. She falls for him because he is kind. If he doesn’t start off as kind, she either calls him on it or she treats him with a compassion and human decency he’s not used to receiving. This inspires him to become a better person and to change. That’s when she falls for him.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but for me, this is the only kind of love story worth telling. Love should change people for the better. If love doesn’t change someone—or, heaven forbid—makes them worse—is it really a love? I’m not interested in material wealth or having cute kids. To misquote Elizabeth Bennet, “Only the deepest love will persuade me to read love stories, which is why I so rarely read them.”

1. Bad Guys

You knew this was coming, right? This is the one thing that gets me each and every time, and it sucks because I hate the whole “girls love a bad boy” stereotype, but I love bad guys. They be anything from full on crazy villains to cold and intelligent rivals to angsty anti-heroes with a bad rap, but I swear, 9 times out a 10, you find the bad guy in a book or movie, you’ll find my favorite character.

Gollum. Snape. Seto Kaiba. Saito Hajime. Team Rocket. Iago. Scarecrow. Loki. Kylo Ren.

I am so easy.

The reason I love these characters so much is because in genres that typically play with good and evil, these guys are always a little gray. They are not usually fully evil. They usually have a tragic backstory and exhibit noble qualities; they often dangle the fruits of redemption right in front of my nose. I want to see them become heroes, because I want to believe that anyone can choose to be good. But I’m never entirely sure where they’ll end up. They tend to be freer, more unpredictable, and more playful than the hero.

Honestly, I judge the hero based on how they treat these characters.

I love dissecting these characters, because I want to know if they’re truly evil, and if so, what makes a person evil? Is it possible for an evil person to be redeemed? How? If not, at what point do you actually give up hope? What is evil? What is good? How do you know if you’re really closer to the darkness or the light?

Obviously, this is not something I want to deal with in real life, but in books and movies, I fall for these characters each and every time, no questions asked.

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So, just out of curiosity, do you agree with me or do you find that you can’t stand my tastes? What are your favorite things to see in books, movies, or T.V. shows?