Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

No Danger in a Double-Swoopy-Overhand-Neckchop Unless I Care

Friday, August 19th, 2011

I get to read a lot of fight scenes.  I often see stories that open with a fight scene. But for me, I routinely see two things in fight scenes that kill my readerly interest as utterly as a head-severing blow from Conan’s greatsword.

The first: I don’t think readers can ever picture the physical moves of the fight as clearly as the author does.  It’s very difficult to describe physical action that’s happening in specific spatial places in a way that the reader can get such 3D spatialness from the prose.  Sometimes you can use fighting jargon to describe a stance or move, but if the reader doesn’t know that term, that doesn’t work either. All that ineffective description just ends up bogging down the pace.

What’s more, I don’t think it’s necessary that the reader be able to picture the moves in a fight. The general feel of the fight is far more important to me.  Is it elegant, with quick moves, like Wesley and Inigo in The Princess Bride?  Is it short and brutish, like Robin and the Sheriff at the end of Robin and Marion?  It is epic and terrifying, like Eowyn and the Nazgûl? Bestselling D&D author R.A. Salvatore considers the surroundings: is it taking place in a ring, on a rocky hillside, or in a tight cave?  Capture the vibe, and that will hook me far deeper.

The second: I don’t think most writers realize that in a fight scene the danger, and therefore the narrative tension, doesn’t come from the adversary, or the weapons, or the moves.  It comes from the character.  A character who I already care about (that’s why opening with a fight scene rarely hooks me).  Then showing me how this fight threatens that character’s internals.

No, not their internal organs, Conan; their emotions.  Their hopes and dreams; what they want and what they care about.  I think all real fights have that–people get into fights because something emotionally important to them is at stake.

If a fight scene captures the vibe and makes me feel the character’s emotional stakes, then I get the danger.  En guarde!

Think She Would Trade with Me?

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Former mid-list New Weird/epic fantasy novelist Steph Swainston last month famously announced that she is quitting writing, canceling her current two-book contract, in order to train to become a college chemistry teacher.

Beyond the irony of her wanting the job I’ve already got (and me coveting hers!), her comments touch on several interesting points about the writerly life.  Yes, it is extremely solitudinous.  It can feel distancing from reality.

But that’s all within the writer’s control.  Have a family; have a life.  Have other pursuits and hobbies.  Go to conventions with your writer pals and drink into the wee hours of the morning (one of my favs!).  In addition to keeping you grounded, interactions with real people of course provide the insight into human nature that makes good fiction.

She’s absolutely right about many fans not realizing the pressure they put on authors.  It seems that in our modern TMZ paparazzi society, some fans have the misguided and selfish idea that superstars owe them something.  I’m reminded of “George Martin is not your bitch.” The self-centered obliviousness that a good many of Martin’s fans have displayed over the long delay for A Dance with Dragons is disgusting.

But I think Swainston is overreacting in things like saying that vocal fans can change an author’s next book.  Only if the writer lets them.  That too is all within the writer’s control.

I have no illusions that the life of a working novelist is tough.  Maybe “be careful what you wish for”?  It sounds like in this case it’s not the objective hardship but that such a life is not working out for Swainston.

Two Epic Road-Maps

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Two interesting “road maps” for novel writing were online recently, from two different fantasy authors.

J.K. Rowling’s spreadsheet outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix shows not only the arcs and plotlines of the characters, but also the arcs of the legends or mysteries–the plot threads that are purely news or information–and how they are growing or spreading during each chapter, even if none of that is happening on-screen (the on-screen characters aren’t hearing or spreading that information).

Fascinating.  In such an epic society-wide situation at that point in the saga, with Voldemort in the open, how much info is known about his plans and whereabouts is an important plot thread, even if it’s not in the scenes that the on-screen characters are having.  It makes perfect sense in a story of that scope that Rowling would want to track it in her outline almost like tracking a character.

Several recent blogs have discussed swords & sorcery master Michael Moorcock’s speed-writing method used to write some of the early Elric novels in only three days (!).  He mentions being very prepared, including having a list of cool fantastical images or things to use as he goes along.  (I assume his preparations also included knowing the characters well).  He used a prearranged plot format or structure–the fantasy quest–and knew general narrative problems he would need to solve. He broke goals or aims into immediate ones (must find the first magic item, in this chapter) and overriding ones (must save the world).

Likewise fascinating.  Moorcock of course was great at S&S, so the events and dialog he could come up with on the fly are far better than what most writers could.  But his strategies for planing, including having the plot structure in advance, seem astute moves no matter how long you have to write the whole novel.

yes I will Yes

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Stylist Magazine in Britain recently posted a list of the best 100 closing lines from books.

They mentioned a lot of literary greats–The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Old Man and the Sea.  And several classic literary spec-fic ones, like 1984, The Wonderful Wizard of OzSlaughterhouse Five, Brave New World.

But I didn’t see them mention my fav:  Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Joyce’s Ulysses, which forms the whole last chapter.  She wrestles with weighty emotional issues in her life, and her monologue becomes a heartwarming reaffirmation of her love for Leopold, ending with the famous words “and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

The droll literati joke is that Molly’s soliloquy also contains no punctuation. So the entire chapter is actually the last line! How could you have a better closing line than one that is an entire chapter? :)