Chapter Structure

When I am writing a chapter I always have an idea of what that particular piece of the big book puzzle should contain. Even when I think I know what’s going to happen in the chapter I still won’t know until it’s finished because things start to unravel as I actually start writing. I may, for example, expect my characters to be interrogating a person but then suddenly that person has a Labrador puppy that runs around the scene, licking the police and making a ruckus.

Theses kinds of things are often called padding, meant to pad the story, but they are very important because they make the story more vivid and give the reader a better sense of the story line. In my case I don’t know what sort of padding each chapter might have, I generally only have an idea of what’s going to happen, but as I start writing I soon realize that I need to add an element to that chapter and that it should be of this particular sort, whatever sort that might be.

Another thing I find very important is to not allow my paragraphs or my sentences to become too long. I write in Icelandic so we are not prone to sentences as long as are common in the English language, something to look out for as this might be different when it comes to other languages. Paragraph length is of great importance and also knowing how to organize similar sentences into the same paragraphs and not cutting them in the wrong places. If my characters are at the scene of a murder I would describe the surroundings, the body, the work of the police and I’d try to organize those three either in three different paragraphs or join the ones that fit well together in one.

When I write conversations I always split up the speech of each character into separate paragraphs. An example of this would be:

“I think I’ll remove this one,” Johnny said as he carefully removed a Jenga piece from the bottom of the stack. He watched as the tower trembled a little and didn’t dare exhale in case a small breath would be enough to knock it over.

“You’re so lucky when it comes to this game,” Simone exclaimed astonished over how easy it seemed to be for her brother to win all sorts of balancing games. She then chose a piece, removed it and watched as the tower started leaning and then fell. “Oh no,” she cried out, grabbed her dolly and walked away, whimpering.

As you can see in this small story I choose to give each character their own paragraph. If a character continues speaking after I write a description of some event then I continue said speech in the same paragraph. It took me a while to get to this setup but I am happy with it. I find it easy to read and follow but this can vary between writers, some even choose to mix together different people speaking into a single paragraph as long as the conversation is about the same thing.

I also have to have my bottom line. If I don’t have a BAMM effect at the end of my chapter then I’m not amused. There has to be something that makes the reader think, something that feels like a punctuation and it can be pretty much anything. In my opinion the reader should KNOW that the chapter is finished, not because there aren’t any more words, but because it feels finished. It feels like a whole story.

If you take my chapters out of context you can actually look at them as their own short stories. They might not all make a lot of sense as a story, especially chapters that are based on something that happened previously in the book, but their setup is as such. If you even look at the small purple story piece I wrote above you can see my BAMM effect in the end and you can see that it wraps up to be a tiny little story. I would like to add a small beginning to it to make it even better but it could still work as it is.

Then finally, as my publisher said to me, the most important thing is that I am happy with my text and my chapters. If I don’t like it, then it needs more work and this is in my opinion a good reference point. Write and fix until you’re happy, then send it away to fly into the big world of literature.

The Fifth Season by Mons Kallentoft – The Good, The Bad and The Pretty

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I was visiting my family in Iceland before the Holidays and it just so happens that I forgot the book I was reading on the nightstand in Oslo, Norway. My mom therefore lent me one of the books she had rented at the library and it happened to be The Fifth Season by Mons Kallentoft. I hadn’t read any of his books before but didn’t feel it was a problem when reading this one, there was no feeling that some information was missing or that I lacked a piece of some puzzle which would prevent me from enjoying the book.

There is quite the conundrum when reviewing books and being an author at the same time. Firstly, you genuinely want every author to do well and are always hoping you’ll love each book you read. Secondly, you don’t want people to read too much into your review since it is just like any other opinion and you especially don’t want them to take it to heart if it’s not a rave review. Thirdly, when you’ve done your own work you become a bit of a perfectionist and are therefore less forgiving than the general public when it comes to the works of others. I still want to tell you what I think but I encourage you to read the book yourselves and develop your own sense of the author.

The Good

I want to start by praising the person that did the translation to Icelandic. It is beautifully done and Jón Þ. Þór really did a marvelous job with the language. I generally try to read books in the original language edition when I am able, and this would have been one of those instances, but since mom only had it in Icelandic I read the translation and I am happy I did since it was wonderful.

I like Mons Kallentoft’s style. He has a peculiar and interesting way of writing. His sentences are generally short, he doesn’t put a lot of effort into pointing out who’s saying what but leaves that to the reader and he tends to be quite poetic and obscure at times. I really enjoy it when people explore the vast wastelands of literary styles and play around with their work and their words.

I was pleased with the first part of the book. I felt his buildup was strong, his usage of perspective and personas very good, immediately making the story very interesting, genuinely making me want to continue reading. I like that he writes in italics when he’s speaking on behalf of somebody who’s either passed away or is unable to speak and how he draws the reader in with poetic yet vivid descriptions of what they’ve been through.

His main character has many interesting aspects to her. Her name is Malin and she’s a very strong and independent woman. Some might think she’s too strong and independent but that is for each to evaluate for themselves. I mostly enjoyed reading about her and the way she thinks. I liked how enthusiastically she wanted to solve the riddle of what happened to the speechless girls and prevent it from happening to other women. I like the depth of her character; she has a fleshed-out background, she has opinions and she follows her gut. She was my favorite character in the book and her new boyfriend sounded wonderful, definitely fitting the description of every girl’s prince charming – strong, handsome, a doctor, can tolerate Malin’s difficult personality, stands by her, tries to understand her and so on.

I like how Mons creates a mood which draws his reader into his world. I often felt I was standing next to the detective in the gloomy atmosphere, looking at the mutilated body of a young woman. I also felt the main characters’ sadness and internal battles, I could understand her, feel her, be her. I think Mons really did a good job there.

When I started reading the book I was very pleased. I felt I had found a wonderful book and I genuinely liked what was happening and how it was painted before my eyes. My opinion unfortunately changed over the course of the book, but I want to stress that I think Mons really is a good writer and there are a lot of things he is doing absolutely correctly. But now for the Bad parts.

The Bad

The book is too long in my opinion. It is every authors’ Achilles’ heal how painful it is to cut from their own work. You’ve put so much effort into writing those lines, to thinking through and contemplating exactly what they should say and how it should be portrayed, that when it comes to cutting away the fat and removing something you put your heart into, it often becomes extremely hard. I feel Mons should have cut more, he becomes very repetitive at times and it is a shame because the value of the words is good if he didn’t repeat them so often.

Another thing which bothered me was that the names of his characters are too similar. I had a real problem remembering who’s who. Malin was one. Maria Murvall was another, then there was Peter and Peder. Sören Lind and Sven Sjöman. Karin and Karim. There were a lot of characters and for some reason their names were too similar for my brain to distinguish between them without some effort and I think that is something that can easily be prevented. My recommendation is to try to use different letters for the main characters, that makes it easier for the reader to distinguish.

He overdid the supernatural. The supernatural flair is great and it really suited this book but he truly overdid it. I feel the book would have benefited greatly from getting a haircut. There was a point where I thought to myself that I just couldn’t take another description of a multi-headed snake or monster, something your reader should never experience, which gets me to another point, some of his descriptions were all too similar. I often felt I had already read exactly the same thing earlier on.

I feel I understand the thought process fairly well. He has this distinct idea of what he’s writing about and he truly wants the reader to understand it, but what I feel his mistake was that he didn’t trust his readers enough to fill in the gaps as he should. Readers are marvelous creatures; they are so smart, so insightful and they have such vivid imaginations. Us authors often only have to hint at something and they’ll finish the idea themselves, I feel Mons should have done more of that.

Although I feel the idea of plot was very good I am not too happy with it’s execution. He gave too much away too early and there was never really a Wow or a Oh, Really? factor for me. I would have wanted there to be a more of a twist but instead he seems to have spent most of his energy on creating excitement and obscurity. I would love to see him work on adding more of the unexpected to his plot and creating a bigger element of surprise for the reader.

The Summary 

In summary I want to say that l feel that Mons has great potential. I truly believe he could become one of the best crime writers in the world. His work is good, his ideas are interesting and he has the ability to write amazing text and that is truly the hardest part of being a writer. He also captures his reader with his descriptions and atmosphere and there are really very few things which need fixing for him to become amazing, things that are easily mended.

I was genuinely sad I didn’t like his book more because when I started reading it I was so certain I would love it. My advice to him would be to read his first 100 pages and learn from their brilliance and then read the rest and try cutting out pieces to create a better and more condensed piece of work that says it all without becoming too tedious, repetitive and too voluminous to read. With a bit of editing and the removal of some early giveaways of plot details, I am sure his whole book could become just as amazing as his first pages made it out to be.

Characters

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Building characters is one of the most challenging aspects of writing a novel. There are many good advice out there; create characters that are different from one another, create characters with opposites within themselves, that have dark secrets or something extremely special about them, have interesting interactions with friends, coworkers or family members and so on.

All of these are important and very good advice but there is one thing I feel is even more important, you have to like your characters. You’re the person that will spend the most time with them. You will be writing about their lives, conversations, creating their whole universe and controlling their fate. You have the power to bring them to life and you have the power to sweep that life away.

When I was creating my individual characters the first thing I kept in mind was surrounding my writing with people I would like to get to know. I generally like different kind of people so it wasn’t hard to create various characters with their own little quirks and personalities. My main character, Alexander the psychiatrist, has a carelessness about him that I find very appealing but he is still extremely smart and insightful and with those qualities he makes up for sometimes being a bit of a goof.

Julia on the other hand has a much deeper aspect to her. In the first book I introduce a hidden secret in her past that will be revealed in later books. That secret is a big part of her and it influences some of her decisions and behavior, such as her despise for psychiatrists. Many people may view Julia to be a bit cold and even call her a hard ass but I am very fond of her as a person in my book, she is smart and extremely careful in her work and she likes to obey to rules in the field and she therefore balances beautifully against Alexanders more flamboyant traits.

Hercules and Eric are the other part of the police team and they are also quite interesting, in my opinion. Hercules is homosexual and I deliberately created him in that way. As a writer I find it important to address all aspects of society and I therefore found it extremely important to have a person with different sexual preferences from what we are perhaps used to reading about. He is traditional but yet very nontraditional in his ways. He likes fashion but doesn’t mind getting dirty in the field or putting his hand into a half dissected body. He’s romantic, he’s fun loving and he’s very likable.

Eric is the ex-military brute that loves his giant meals. He has a psychic grandmother that he loves dearly and in my next book I will be introducing his fluffy little Pomeranian dog that he takes such good care of. He is a sweet heart but still so muscular and so vulgar in his movements and behavior. He’s a walking contrast but gives the story such an interesting flair that it wouldn’t work as well without him.

All of my characters are important to my story. Once I have created them I get to know them more and more and I start really liking them. They become the writers friends and often I can’t wait to sit down to see what my friends will be up to in the next chapter. I am experiencing as I go because even though I created these people I still can’t control everything they do or they would become inconsistent in their behavior. It is therefore extremely important to have a good relationship with your characters or eventually you might end up killing them off for no good reason.

 

Iceland Noir

Going to Iceland Noir was nothing like what I had expected. When I first arrived there I felt very small among the literary giants and was sure they would look down on me as a beginner and my comments would be considered ill-advised and naive. Boy, was I wrong.

The crime writing community is lovely. It is full of wonderful people that support each other and every voice is heard no matter where it’s coming from. I was among family and I was among friends, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and it will forever linger in my memory.

At the convention I spoke at two panels. The first panel was the New Blood panel where I was one of the Icelandic debut novelists this year, the others were: Ingvi Thór Kormáksson, Kistján Atli Ragnarsson and Óskar Guðmundsson. Quentin Bates was our moderator and he asked us questions about the books. I was lucky to be among such wonderful newcomers and I am sure we will all meet again someday.

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My next panel was about Crime Fiction as Social Commentary where David Swatling was the moderator. There I was speaking with Barbara Nadel, Helen Cadbury and Valentina Giambanco. The panel was very interesting and touched upon many different but equally important social stigmas that we as authors are writing about or around. I was truly honored to be a part of this discussion and it opened my mind to how important the author’s voice is in driving the changes we want to see in society.

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I didn’t only speak at panels but I also made great friends. Crime novelists are surprisingly friendly, in spite of their chosen profession, and there is more support within the group for each member than in any other group I’ve been a part of in my life. We all want each other to succeed, which is a refreshing point-of-view in comparison to the cutthroat academic environment I have been forced to grow accustomed to, as even a great author such as Sara Blædel took the time to praise me. This is the way it should be and I look forward to keeping in touch with the wonderful people I met.

A picture with two of the amazing authors I met, on the left I’m in the company of  Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and on the right I’m doing a selfie with Helen Cadbury!

 

 

 

Your First Book

For those of you contemplating writing a novel, I have some advice for you!

1. Get Started Writing!

Before I finished my novel I often thought about all the things I longed to write about. Sometimes I would even start writing. I’d write a few chapters, but then decide that my work wasn’t good enough or that no publisher under the sun would even consider it – so I stopped and found myself not finishing the book.

I have a few of these book beginnings lying in the dark realms of my computer where nobody but the bravest of men dares to travel. The good thing about them is that they were an exercise in writing and all exercise is good exercise. Practice makes perfect, they say and guess what – They are right!

So start writing, even if you don’t finish the book it will still be beneficial. Write about all the things you’re pondering while waiting for the bus or daydreaming at school. Write your heart out, write short stories, write longer stories, write half-stories, before you know it… you’ll have your first book!

2. Don’t Give Up!

Every writer gets to the point when they have no idea where their story is going or how they are going to collect all the loose ends and braid them into the perfect finale. In these situations I advise taking a long luxurious bath or even going out for a walk. The solution will come to you when you least expect it and forcing it is never a good idea, you’ll just end up with something you won’t be satisfied with. The important part is that if you’ve gotten about half of the way, you really should finish your story.

At some point during my writing I ended up grabbing a bunch of post-its and plastering them on a large mirror in my living room. I moved them to and fro, I added, I removed and in the end I had the perfect arrangement for my story. What I learned from this is not to stop until I was pleased with my work and that ended up being the right approach. This post-it madness wasn’t done overnight, it took about a week for me to arrange everything and I therefore say – take the time you need – you can’t force art!

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3. Rewriting Is Your Friend!

I don’t know how many times I rewrote some of my chapters and today I’m glad I did, they turned out so much better because I took the time to think them over and write them again. There were of course a few that I only adjusted or tweaked but when you feel that your flow isn’t working well enough, your structure isn’t panning out or there’s just something you can’t put your finger on that you don’t like – begin from the beginning and write the whole thing again. In the end, she’ll be a beauty!

4. Cut Out the Middle Man!

Many of us struggle with letting go of some of our ideas or cutting out parts of our wonderfully thought out texts. I know how it feels, it’s almost like giving away your first born or pledging allegiance to the enemy. It, however, has to be done because when it comes to the written word – less is more.

My advice therefore is; copy your document, remove those extra pieces that don’t really belong in your beautifully flowing ideology and then read over both copies – preferably after some time has passed and you’ve distanced yourself from your work. You can also ask somebody else to read both copies and tell you which one is better. When working on a book this is easy since you can always continue working on different chapters while you’re letting the one you edited wait.

After making the painful sacrifice we often come to see that we were actually repeating ourselves or describing something in too much detail that doesn’t need to be so thoroughly described. In the end we’re all striving to create a beautiful piece of art and with a little bit of work and polishing – we will succeed!

5. Don’t Only Read It On Your Computer!

Over the years of reading through my texts I have learned that different reading methods will help me catch different kinds of errors. On my computer I will easily see structural problems; extra tabs, extra spaces and such. My computer also has a spell checker so it’s the best way to get rid of those pesky misspellings or extra letters.

Reading on paper will give you a different perspective. For some reason it will open your eyes to other types of errors, so grab that red pen and crispy warm paper from your printer and start going at it. Show no mercy, try to correct and fix everything you see. Mark things you aren’t fully happy about and don’t skip something because it “sort of works”, set the bar higher and show what you’re made of!

Reading out loud for somebody else makes you read slower. I have learned that this is a great way to catch the extra little flaws that are still hiding in your text. I recommend using it for the final run. Read from printed-out paper and read it for somebody that will enjoy your story and point out if they feel they aren’t following something. Besides being very useful it will also be a lot of fun for the both of you so I highly recommend it.

In Conclusion

Becoming a writer is a lot of work. It’s not something that happens overnight. Rewriting will take much more time than actually writing and your ideas will evolve and even completely alter themselves. But what I can promise you is that it will all be worth it. When you’re holding a copy of your book in your hands, knowing that this is all because of you, you will feel the great pride and enjoyment that comes from contributing to the amazing world of the written word.