Hey y’all! I’m adding a new type of post to this blog, so expect occasional “Book Discovery” articles in the future!
Here’s the scoop on these posts: they are not book reviews. Instead, the “Book Discovery” articles are meant to make us better writers by learning from the pros of published books, particularly new-and-cool books you may never have heard of. I won’t be discussing any “cons” that the novels may have, mostly because writing books is hard and why be negative when you can learn from an author’s successes? If you want my opinion on the book because you’re interested in reading it, you’re welcome to private message me through my author Facebook page. Or you can just try the book for yourself. 😉
Without further ado, let’s talk about Phoenix Fire by S.D. Grimm!
(Warning: spoilers ahead!)
The concept of the Phoenixes was my favorite part of this novel! Instead of birds, they’re a race of people who are reborn after they die (reborn as the same person, not reincarnated as someone else). They have superpowers such as rapid healing and enhanced speed, and they’re trained in all kinds of combat so they can protect humans from supernatural monsters…sounds great, right?
The monsters felt fresh, too, even though some of them are your standard baddies, such as vampires and werewolves. The author included some interesting hybrids, and I particularly thought that her take on wraiths was intriguing.
Now, let’s take a step back: Super-powered characters have been done before. Characters with multiple lives have been done before. Monster-hunter characters have been done before. But the Phoenixes are original because they present these old concepts in a new way, while also adding some new aspects. Grimm also did a great job of giving the Phoenixes depth and history, but I’ll spare you all those spoilers.
The takeaway for writers is that you don’t have to come up with a completely new idea to be original (in fact, “new” ideas are something of a myth). The way to captivate your audience is to recombine old ideas and “put a new spin” on them. It’s like baking: select your ingredients carefully, then combine them in a way that makes your readers go, “Ooohhh, that’s good.” There’s a difference between chocolate cake and CHOCOLATE CAKE, am I right?
The author did a great job of keeping up the pace in this book without making it jarring or frenetic. Unfortunately, I can’t give you many examples of the pacing because the entire book is the example. That said, the pacing at the beginning really stood out to me because it pulled me in! I literally lost sleep because I needed to find out what happened and important things kept occurring just as something was about to be resolved.
The series of events in the beginning goes something like this: The book begins with an argument, quickly followed by a car accident. Then a scene in the hospital waiting room, which allows the reader to catch his breath a bit. Then the main character returns home and makes a strange/cool/unsettling discovery (I’m being vague so I don’t ruin it!) and THEN the house alarm goes off! And it keeps going from there.
The best thing about all these dramatic events is that they’re related, i.e., they’re important to the progression of the plot. Don’t throw events into your story just for the sake of drama, but DO keep things rolling with new challenges and discoveries. That’s what makes a book hard to put down.
Writing great characters isn’t always the same thing as writing great character relationships. S.D. Grimm does a great job of both.
My big character takeaway from Phoenix Fire is: add something unique to the situation so your characters’ relationships develop with twists and turns, instead of predictably.
Let me clarify that statement with an example: in Phoenix Fire, the Phoenixes remain unaware of their past lives and even their true identities until they hit a certain age. Then, the memories start returning in bits and pieces. This means that the characters start remembering each other from the past, but their feelings toward each other can vary depending on which memories they recall and what is happening in the relationship in the present. This adds a lot of complexity to their interaction and also keeps the reader guessing about which characters can truly be trusted.
You don’t have to give your characters multiple lives to pull this off. You can include surprising revelations from the past (Snape in Harry Potter, anyone?), new actions that redefine a character (Boromir in The Lord of the Rings), and/or make it clear that your main character’s impressions are flawed, so that his opinion of another character may or may not be accurate. And that’s not a complete list by any means. Don’t be afraid to let your characters surprise you!
Thanks for reading this article, fellow bookworms!
If you’ve read Phoenix Fire, did you notice these three elements: originality, pacing, and character relationships? How did they help your own writing?