Tag Archives: Books

The Most Awesome Thing, Today

This is probably the most awesome thing I have ever seen, today.

A fan made a screenshot of a “Game of Thrones” fighting game. It breaks my heart that it isn’t real.

Oh intertrons, why do you hurt me?

Most awesome thing, today.

Source

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Must & Cannot

I’ve been reading Writing to Sell and I have learned a few things. The lesson that I found to be the most telling is a simple plot skeleton that revolves around two basic elements; must and cannot. The lack of one or both of these can really hinder your story.

Scott Meredith says one of the most basic mistakes every new writer makes when trying to write a salable manuscript is forgetting the basic driving force behind every story. This would be the problem that the lead character MUST deal with, something extremely urgent and pressing. This would be something in the ballpark of a bad guy taking a character’s family and holding them for ransom or internal like an alcoholic overcoming his addiction before his wife leaves with the kids. Scott says this necessary for making the reader worry about your character’s outcome, helping them invest into your book. If the MUST is mundane or easily solvable, it won’t really capture an audience and a publisher won’t buy it.

The other element is CANNOT. This is the part of the problem where it seems as if the character CANNOT solve the problem. Going along with the earlier examples; the character can’t pay the ransom because he just lost his house and all his possessions to a tornado, and the alcoholic is having problems pushing through his addiction because he just lost his job and found out his son has a terminal illness. This is where the assault on the character prevents them from accomplishing their goals, starting from minor complications and cranking it up to where it just seems like we are in a moment of darkness.

Don’t go over board though, if you create an unsolvable problem just to make some ridiculous solution, you lose the reader. If you don’t have a logical solution or don’t explore and exhaust possible alternatives to your problem, you will lose the reader. Like the man lost his house and possessions but still owns a BMW, of which he won’t sell to get his family back. You will lose the reader, so be logical about your problems and solutions.

I posted about this because after I read the five chapters on plot skeletons, I went through some of my stories and wasn’t totally surprised at what I found. The early stories I wrote definitely lack a solid must and cannot, which Mr. Meredith simply calls incidents. What I mean by early are the stories that I haven’t edited very much. The stories I have edited heavily (including my manuscript) have these elements in them which sort of amazed me. I wonder if the countless editing and revising until I felt it was rounded is what did it, or I just stumbled into it.

I’ve been writing for a while now, more or less just taking the chaos from my head and putting it words, learning empirically as I go about what works and what doesn’t. I have some stories that I am damn proud of and others that smell really, really bad. I have posted some of both, which I suppose I should be embarrassed about the stinkers but I want to learn and sometimes the best avenue is through the blog.

Now that I am making submissions to agencies and magazines I really want to see growth in my writing and do what I need to do to make my work salable. I know to write, is to write is to write, but while I’m writing I am examining the work through the eyes of a professional. There are tons of information and books out there and it is hard knowing what is valuable and what isn’t, but you don’t know unless you try.

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Andrzej Sapkowski

I’ve been reading the second installment of Mr. Sapkowski’s english translated Witcher universe, and I must say that it is quite awesome. It is interesting to read on several fronts, but before I go into why let me explain a little about Andrzej Sapkowski.

Mr. Sapkowski is a Polish fantasy writer of some note in Europe. His books are the foundation for The Witcher games, which are very popular in their own right. His books are slowly being translated and shipped over to the new world, where I (not so)patiently wait. So far just The Last Wish and Blood of Elves are available in English. The third installment, Times of Contempt, is due out sometime in 2012.

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories revolving around a man( the main character in the universe) named Geralt of Rivia. He is in the business of killing nazis monsters, and business is booming. He is a mutant with white wavy, feathered hair rolling from town to town assassinating monsters and breaking curses. He is the local bad ass; women love him and men want to be him – kind of not really, he is fairly ostracized. At an early age Witchers undergo some upgrades that mutate them into being the million dollar man and because Geralt and by extension his brethren are so good at their jobs, monsters are disappearing at an alarming rate.

The first book rolls across seven short stories that involve the death and/or maiming of some very intriguing and unique monsters. Wrap your head around a  half spider – half crocodile, yea that just happened. There is also a Djinn, which is what Genie from Aladdin is loosely based off of, that is essentially a giant floating head. For those who don’t know, Djinn’s are evil and fiery and do horribly evil things.

The second book, Blood of Elves, picks up a little time after the events of the last book. There is a prophecy and a child, fairly standard stuff, but what separates this book above most others for me is the structure and style of the book. I don’t know if it is Sapkowski’s particular style, the translation, or the language that it was written in but the book has a unique flow to it. Some grammatical tenets that are generally avoided are used quite effectively throughout the book. I guess it goes to show that there isn’t really a hard set of rules in writing, the biggest rule is to just be effective. Which this book does in handfuls.

I won’t talk too much about the second book because it would ruin the first book for some people, but I suggest picking it up if only to dissect the differences and structure from how English story telling is done. If that doesn’t interest you then just pick one up and take it for a spin, both are damn good books to start with anyway.

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6 Things That Ruin Books For Me

6. Too much exposition. Nothing makes my eyes glaze over and my mind wonder about they get fortunes inside fortune cookies like a downpour of exposition. I’m all about drawing the outline of the plot, giving hints and cliff edges of the world as we venture further into the story. I can forgive some exposition, but like everybody else, there is a point in which I need to be shown and not told. When a two page summary of the buttons on the Duke of Wellington’s coat is a little numbing, especially during a big battle and a nearby officer gets shot. I’m at my wit’s end wanting to hear the conversation. Which goes a little like this:

“I dare say sir, I’ve been shot.”

“By god man, so you have.”

“How about a quick tea before you see the doctor.”

“Absolutely sir. I’m feeling a bit peckish.”

There is just something that tickles my funny bone when stereotypical British dialog is afoot.

5. Endless Introspection. Another quick way to lose me as a reader is to have seemingly endless character introspection. I prefer story driven plots in the first place, so throwing in that extra character introspection for the plot is going to make me go cross-eyed. When a simple question sparks a fifteen page soul gaze, I’ll remember which book to use when I need kindling for a fire.

“What flavor of ice cream?”

I could tell by the way he asked what flavor of ice cream I wanted that he was tortured as a child like me. I wonder if it was the same way it happened to me. That one time in Jr. High when I was asked the fated question. That one simple question about ice cream made me realize people were selfish and self-absorbed. That loss of innocence standing at the counter of Baskin Robbins and their 31 flavors of heaven when everything I believed was ripped out of my heart to make way for somebody else’s preferences.

The day when….…….BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. IT HAS NO GOD DAMN RELEVANCE TO THE STORY!

4. Dishonest Enthusiasm. What I mean by this is a lack of care and love behind a writer’s work. If you don’t care and love the story you are writing, I’ll pick up on it as a reader and I’ll become uninterested. I’m sure everybody has read a story before and a little way through it realized it was flat. I have found, typically, this is caused by a lack of ‘giving a fuck’ in the writing.

Sherry went to the marketplace. She bumped into her ex-lover. The both looked at each other in surprise.

“Hi,” Sherry said.

“Hi,” Ron said.

Then they pushed their carts away and out of their lives again.

Stories like this become toilet paper in dire situations.

3. Shitty Pacing/foreshadowing. This has two edges that both equally piss me off. The first one is something akin to the entire book being explained in the first few chapters due to bad pacing, the rest of the book being completely superfluous, and then in the end we find out things could have been prevented early on and saved us moments off our life.

Chapter 1: Something bad is starting.

Chapter 2: Stop the bad thing from continuing.

Chapter 3: Fred down the street has the power to stop the bad thing, he just hasn’t done it yet. It is very obvious that he is going to.

Chapter 4-40: Random shit that isn’t necessary.

Chapter 41: Fred simply stops the bad thing, the end.

We knew in chapter 3 what was going to happen, it should have just happened and ended the story.

2. [INSERT SOMETHING IMPORTANT]. This is when you get through the entire book, just for the end to hit you with something never mentioned or alluded to before. For all intents and purposes, it is new information that up until the end had zero relevance to anything. When it is a series, this is a little different. For stand alone books, it is almost unforgivable. We spend the entire book getting to the volcano, to stop it spewing lava on the peaceful and tranquil land, just for our heroes to be cock-blocked by seemingly randomly inserted bullshit.

“Okay guys, here we are. Finally we made it to Mt. Nazi. It was a long journey and people died, but we made it.”

“What do we do now?”

“No idea, lets blow the top and cover this bitch.”

“Whoa there John, we need the Scepter of Explosion for that.”

“The what?”

“The Scepter of Explosion, it is hidden in the Marsh of Woes.”

“Really? We passed through there and you didn’t feel the need to mention this?”

“We must time travel to reach it.” 

Time travel was never mentioned before, neither was the Scepter of Explosion. We spent the entire length of the book just for something to be randomly inserted to make the story seem more interesting. You can’t polish a turd, no matter how much you rub it, or randomly place corn in it (random plot twists).

1. Unsupported and Thinly Veiled Opinions as Facts. This can come in the form of mouth foaming fervor against politics, religion, class status, etc. When somebody makes an argument or one-sided statement that is unsupported. These are the worse for me. I hate it when people write stories as vehicles for their own biases and prejudices without justifying them or offering any structured argument. They just simply read as rants with some basic story elements as flavor.

“Republicans/Democrats are idiots. They are self-absorbed clowns that are only out for themselves. They would do anything for money, even sell their grandmother’s wheelchair. They wake up in the morning and eat puppy sandwiches and kitten milkshakes. Then they drive a car that runs on panda tears and baby seal blood to get to their work.

If you are going to make a claim, no matter how wild it is, back it up or justify it with something. If your book is a giant metaphor for something current and relevant to our society, at least put the time in to make it sensible. Actually I’m not sure which is more insulting; Thinly veiled opinions or the assumption that because somebody makes a wild accusation in a story setting, people will eat it up.

Note: There are exceptions to everything, these 6 opinions of mine aren’t any different.

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A Dance of Dragons

I finished this child sized book earlier this week. I’ve debated on whether to post my thoughts on it or not, but given how much I love George R.R. Martin’s work I thought I would go ahead. So here goes.

The book was long, really long. With the breadth of his books, If you can say one thing about Mr. Martin, you can say he can develop his characters in such a twisted and interesting fashion few others really achieve. I don’t know if this is a golden jacket club, secretive among writers, but I do notice few others can make me care/hate the characters in their books like Martin can. This reason alone is just half of why I love his work, the other half would be the harmony between the character’s plights and the overall construction of the story. I feel the elements are perfectly harmonized and add a level of  ‘something for everybody’ vibe. The kudzu fever of fan growth between word of mouth and the success of the HBO show A Game of Thrones is a testament to that.

This book is good, I want to start out and make it clear. It is better than most. However compared to his previous works, this book left me feeling empty relative to the gigantic series of ‘WTF OMG THAT IS AWESOME’ moments I had in the first three books. Much and more is happening throughout the world of Westeros and we get a front seat observation bubble through the roller coaster, I do me all of it. Sometimes the level of detail of the snippets into the POV character’s world felt unneeded and filler. Tyrion’s admiration of the dragon’s road was a little outside of character and need of the story, I felt. The addition of the one Jamie and the two Cercei chapters seemed out-of-place as well. The prologue just confused me, I have no understanding of the relevance of it at all.

The background weaving of the different POV chapters is master class. When chapters start to bleed together and actions happen that affect several important characters, we get to see the different sides of the story in such a unique and refreshing light that it never felt recycled. This is a staple in Martin’s work that really makes me a fan boy. Along with the ‘I know something bad is going to happen’ moments as things are being built up. Perhaps that is what the goal of Martin’s vision is. Get all the chess pieces in place for the next two books, where there will be many a face punches for the reader. If that is the case, then sally forth sir.

The hints and allusions are endless. Nuggets of information we want to believe or have theorized are dangled our in front of us to make us believe that Martin is going to zig, when in fact his zags. Then just when we think he is going to zig (because he just zagged), he zags again and throws us for a loop. Perhaps something is going on under the table that I, as the reader, won’t pick up on or notice until the next book. Given Martin’s knack for football tackling the reader when they aren’t looking, I wouldn’t put it past him. This is another reason I love Martin’s work, I never know what is going to happen.

The epic last chapter of Jon left me with my mouth open, and the last two chapters of Dany made me want to fist pump. Then the epilogue made me go, “Dammmn!” as a few things from the other books clicked in place. This book wasn’t without its rewards. Tyrion’s wit and humor is unchanging, but his maturity is showing. Jon’s need to be a leader first and a friend second is ripe with understanding. Evolution of the characters as their situation changes is, I feel, the name of the game with this book.

The only thing about this book that keeps me from placing it with the first three in terms of awesomeness, is the lack of revelations and HARD plot twists. There are some little ones and two big ones, but not what I would expect from having read the first three. Maybe Martin is leading us into a false sense of understanding or maybe the story has just plateaued until the cathartic release  of the last books. Who knows aside from the man himself?

The book is good and the craftsmanship that Martin has achieved is rivaled by few others. If you are a fan of fantasy, realism, visceral fantasy, knights, dragons, sex, gore, and awesomeness then you should really check out this series.

 

 

Now I look forward to the next big book being released next week. Ghost Story by Jim Butcher. I am very excited!

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Neglected Cultures

I recently read an article over at SF Signal, you can find it here.

The gist is that some cultures are seemingly neglected in fantasy and science fiction. Most books tend to revolve around Western European societal structures and some people are simply wondering why? It probably is because when most people thing dragons and the like, they immediately go to King Arthur style settings. Why this is? I have no idea, but the answer isn’t going to be straight forward or easy.

Many different cultures have intriguing lore and settings that offer just as powerful and entertaining settings. But considering the troupe and tradition of our medieval settings, can a story be written in a non-traditional setting and still have a resounding impact? Before you answer yes, I ask you to consider the examples. The best that comes to mind is The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. There are other examples, but I’m going with Paolo’s because I’ve read his book and it was amazing. The book takes place in Thailand, post climate change Earth, and with genetic engineered food stores.

The book was awesome, it made you think or at least question the potential of genetic modifications in the reasonably distant future. But the point, it was nice to read something outside of the normal class and society structures. Had the book not been well written and executed, would there have been a serious disconnect because of this? Are we too saturated in our comfort to really branch out and experience other cultures in our reading diets?

 

What do you think? Are other cultures neglected in published works? Are we to familiar with Westernized ideas to fully dive in another culture when reading?

 

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Loving Your Characters

So I have switched back to my book. I went back over everything I have written and it is still to my satisfaction. I’ve decided to add a few chapters for better character building and started writing POV chapters and one of my characters has taken a death grip over my writing. I have a character named Calve, and he is has two separate personalities. Both are assholes, but in different ways. Two separate people are living in the same body with different tastes, interests, and flaws. I am have more fun writing his chapters and story than I have the main character or any of the others. As far as I can tell, this can yield two things; Calve gets his own book or If I don’t slay the beast he will take over the book.

I have enjoyed writing all the characters in my book, some a little more than others. I feel that each person is distinct from everybody else and their relationships and dynamics are different and interesting that the reader will never feel bored. Granted I am borderline insane, some of the curve-balls I throw are really big.

I have had immense fun thinking about the people in my story and treating them like they exist, because in my head they do. It annoys my other half when I refer to them like they are real people. She hears the name is gets annoyed because they aren’t real. I am probably more out of it then I give myself credit for.

Do your character’s take over your stories? Do you treat them like they are real people?

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Which Writer Would You?

Today while I was listening to an audiobook I got to thinking, which writer of all the books I have read/listened to would I like to sit down and have a conversation with. Not necessarily about writing advice or anything of that nature, I am talking in terms of glimpsing at how their mind works. How do they think about things like plot, characters, interesting themes and the such. Who would I be interested in sitting down and exploring their creative process, their fusion of ideas and stories. I came to two names but couldn’t decide one over the other.

I would like to sit down with China Mieville and Neil Gaiman and just listen to them as they sound out their constructions. As they use the various sources of their inspirations to formulate stories.

Neil could take the most arbitrary concepts ( I’m not saying he does) and turn them into fascinating stories that anybody could fall in love with. He has a power of making anything interesting and fun to read. On top of the Neil is apparently one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.

China comes up with concepts and ideas that are just at the edge of normality, they are on the fringe of where our mind ends and the unknown begins. He pushes the imaginative envelope unlike I have read anywhere else. In half his interviews I can’t follow what he is saying, he just operates on another level far above my own and it fascinates me to no end.

So I wonder if I could have a conversation with these guys and just learn a thing or two about how to use my imagination, how to better sharpen my creative receptiveness. I’m not saying that I want to copy them, but perhaps something could be learned or absorbed that would enlighten me in how I think about things inside my noodle.

So which writer would you like to sit down with?

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Check Out My Friend

Ahh, that is where he has been.

Hay guys, if you like my blog, check out my friend and fellow writer’s blog. He is an aspiring writer like me. We have the same tastes in books, same random musings, and the same sense of humor. We are working on several stories together and are hoping to build a little community of writers to sound board ideas and writery type things with. Click on the link and check him out, I’m sure you will laugh your ass off and have a good time.

You can call him Al.

CLICK HERE.

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World Building

World building is one of those tricky things that I think is based on experience and preference. I was reading Brent Week’s blog earlier, specifically in the writing advice area, where he was talking about world building. Now having read all of his books, I do feel he is fairly legitimate at building up his worlds but apparently some of his critics would disagree. After all what are critics for besides nay-saying what they cannot create, muahaha? He talked about his Night Angel Trilogy’s world building like this; Book One – City, Book Two – Nation, and Book Three – International. If you haven’t read his books, you should go get them right now, seriously go…. now! Every second you waste, Mr. Weeks kills a kitten.

I think that is a very interesting and useful way to go about world building. I am particular to slower world building myself. I don’t really want to have the first 186 pages of a book cramming everything about a world down my throat, I want to explore and discover things as I read and the story unfolds. To me this feels more organic and natural, you wouldn’t describe the entire state of Idaho in the first dozen pages when the story takes place inside a city for the first half of the book, would you? Regardless of the fact that Idaho could be summed up in two pages, perhaps a page and a half.

A close friend and I are creating a very exciting and fresh type of fantasy world. I hesitate to use the word new, because it HAS been done before, but not HOW we are doing it. Anyway, as we create and define the world for the main story arcs we hope to write, we have decided to take a largely slower but still plot-paced view on world building. Revealing as much as is needed, without giving the whole cow away. Why? Well because we don’t think the reader wants a dissertation on the various villages and cultures as the main characters progress through the narrative. Not to say there is anything wrong with that, but we aren’t trying to reproduce The Wheel of Time or Lord of the Rings here.

I like my world building to be like roasted pork, slow cooked and so juicy it falls off the bone. Think about it.

However, some people might not like slow world building, they might want a detailed map and topography from the start. So who is to say what is right? Everybody has their preferences, slower is just mine.

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