Look what just came in the mail.
Hey everyone! It’s been a crazy year.
I used to post on writing craft often, and eventually I stopped because I got to a point in my own work where I wondered if I really did know anything– if I was really in a place to discuss craft authoritatively. Having thought about this for a while (and written several more books in the interim), my answer would have to be yes I did– but learning that you don’t know as much as you once thought is also the labor pains that push you into a greater awareness. And I just totally grossed myself out with that analogy.
Point being, if you’re following this blog still, I’ll be making a lot of changes around here in the next week. Old information will be updated, pages will be shifted and moved, and I’ll start writing about writing craft and technique again. Plot analysis of movies and popular books, composition, fantasy, characterization, book reviews, spotlights, the works. And as always, comments and suggestions are always appreciated.
I’m looking forward to being back!
You know what novels ought to have?
Not just illustrated children’s books. Novels. Adult novels. Preferably excellent old fashioned black and white penmanship in fine crosshatching. Illustrate a lantern, a snowy countryside, a lady’s dress, a tapestry. Something related to the story, but not the scenes itself, which might intrude into a reader’s sense of visualization. Scatter where appropriate.
Why isn’t this done in the publishing industry?
It’s been established that I’m going to be working on a magical-steampunk sort of setting for NaNo. And I’m really excited– I love the style, the ideas, the flavor I’ve got in mind…
… But it occurs to me now that I don’t read much steampunk.
In fact, the only steampunk that I’m really familiar with are in webcomics. Namely, Girl Genius (great, fun comic, though its creators use the term ‘Gaslamp Fantasy’), and the more serious, violent Freak Angels, which is post-apocalyptic steampunk. The Phoenix Requiem is Victorian-style fantasy, but not at all ‘punk’, so though it’s a great story, I don’t think that it counts (obviously we need more mad science). Some of the Final Fantasy games also fall into this category, though loosely.
So. In an effort to delve a little more into the genre, does anyone know any really good steampunk novels that they’d like to recommend? Plot and humor-wise, Girl Genius is very suited to my tastes. I know my plans bastardize the genre a little as I also have a magic system.
Macro world-building is to epic storylines what micro world-building is to…?
It’s occurred to me more than once that epic fantasy quests tend to be the standard cliche. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’, Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’. I might even accuse Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ of being an epic urban fantasy. There’s no shortage of untried boys off to save the land from the evil overlord in this genre or hard-hearted antiheroes stumbling into wicked schemes that demand their reluctant action. Our writers have a tenancy and a reputation to dream BIG. … Myself included. The siren call of royalty and massive catastrophes is hard to resist.
But what happens if we shy away from epic? What if the story is told on a smaller scale?
This isn’t a new idea, really. If contemporary novels used the same scale that fantasy novels used, the world would be overrun by Tom Clancy wannabes. We have mysteries of all different flavors, low-key romances, social dramas. An abundance of ideas and subjects to choose from. A multitude of things to work with, corporations, cultures, attitudes, ideas…
Maybe the real world just has more to work with. Maybe, when we go to draw out our world maps, we’re doing ourselves a disservice and cutting out ideas that don’t need maps to sketch out. Fantasy is a setting, not a genre. Perhaps an expectation of flavor… the same way science fiction, westerns, and historical fiction are all ‘setting genres’, where a content genre can be (and maybe should) be added.
Are there any really good fantasy stories that ‘write small’? Have they escaped notice? Or are they just not that interesting?
I can’t really review my latest read, as I’m only just a third of the way through it. So I thought that I’d heap some glowing praise for what I have finished. It’s just that good.
The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
This is one of those novels that I can’t actually read through in a day. Not for its length (though it is a good five hundred page long book), but because I have to put the book down at least once a chapter to digest it.
Wonderful characters. Amazing violence. Fantastic intrigue. And sortof funny, in a way that makes my perverse heart squee with joy. If anything can take the edge of of my Martin kick, it’s this guy.
Here’s hoping it ends well.
… Or not.
(No spoilers in the comments, please!)
A random subject, I must admit, but this has been on my mind recently.
Part of my book involves… we’ll call it a mystery. Unclear motives, conspiracy, a bigger picture than the protagonist sees. I’m exactly three chapters from ending the book according to my recent chapter plans, and as more and more climax-heightening information comes through, I have to wonder… is the big reveal, aha-moment too obvious? The characters have every scrap of information they’d need now to put things together. A stressful chapter, a distracting goal, and a wrong take on one of the events ought to keep the characters busy… what about the reader?
This is probably the most agonizing part of writing fantasy. Fantasy is a setting-genre. It has a great deal in common with sci-fi, westerns, and even historical fiction for that reason. And yet the genre constantly overlaps with the event-genres… action, adventure, romance, mystery, thriller (suggest that fantasy is an event-genre by the necessity of a ‘quest’, and I will vaporize you with my scary teacher-stare). So in able to be able to fully command the genre, one must be at least adapt at the subtleties of romance and mystery, the chill of a suspense novel and the tension of a well-crafted fight, no matter the era of weapon.
Back to my original question: how do you know when you’ve made the reveal too transparent? Like spotting a scratch on a piece of furniture– when you know where to look, it jumps out at you. I have some ideas– only a survey of test-readers can be accurate, but there are a few tricks that I’ve noted.
One upon a time, I was an admirer of the Harry Potter series. (Hey, at least it’s not ‘Twilight’). One thing that I admired about Rowling’s work was how thoroughly she would foreshadow her endings. By the fourth book, I caught on to her style enough to see them coming ahead of time, but the first three books left me hitting myself, declaring “Stupid! Stupid!” at the end of each one. Rowling also has a lot of characters, each involved with their own activities, and lots of quirky detail, to hide what’s important with what’s not. So what if the pet rat has a missing toe? It’s an old, pathetic rat that’s had one too many encounters with a garden gnome or something, nestled right in a description of how haggard it looks. And there was that vacation it was hauled off to in Egypt over the summer. It might have caught something. Plenty of reasons not to think it has anything to do with plot.
Use of detail, amid lots of other detail. Logical rationalization, yet a point unique enough to stand out. Foreshadowing each element as its own separate island, as if they’re not connected. Mistaken assumptions that the reader is lead to agree with can be startling to overturn.
But then, my next example uses something entirely different. Gosford Park, a murder mystery film… which was more about the people and less about the murder.
I will warn you, I really, really loved this movie. Watch it five times, and you might have picked out all the subtle sub-plots. Everyone is guilty of something… some more than others. There’s bickering behind closed doors, affairs, blackmail… in fact, all the sub-plots can be so interesting that they take away focus of the murder entirely. The reveal isn’t dramatic. On the contrary, it’s quiet, and not exactly a ‘pursuit of justice’.
So… is detail the secret? I haven’t made a habit of reading mystery for some time– I think I need to go back to it. Does anyone have any great references that they’d like to point to?