Parts, Chapters, Breaks: How Structure Affects the Reading Experience

Ever notice how some books are divided into Chapters, and some aren’t?  How some books break things up into “Parts”, “Books”, or even “Acts”?  How sometimes there are Prologues, Epilogues, Asides, and Interludes, but sometimes there are none?  Sometimes the Chapters have titles, sometimes they’re just numbered, and sometimes they’re time-stamped?

What’s up with that?  Further, how does the structure of a book affect the reading experience?  And, most important, why the hell am I blogging about this?

Well, I’ll answer the last question first: I love looking at book structure.  I’m a bit of a weirdo in that respect, I know, but I really enjoy breaking a novel down and examining its form, its layout, even its chapter length, because whether an author intends it or not (and I honestly think they rarely do) the layout of a novel affects the reading experience just as much as the content, even if that impact is more subtle.  So let’s break it down.

Chapters

Breaking a book up into chapters is not only the standard for modern novels — it’s pretty much expected.  Chapters allow the reader to pause during reading, often (though not always) having reached a temporary halt to the narrative.  A Chapter is usually a miniature story in and of itself, a brief snippet of the larger narrative: if the novel is about a journey to a distant land, a single Chapter can chronicle a day of travel, an encounter, or reaching some landmark along the way.

Depending on author preference, Chapters are sometimes titled, and sometimes just numbered.  I, personally, have done both, depending on the tone and flow of the story.  Chapters with names often highlight a smaller event that begins or is resolved in the course of that Chapter, while Chapters without titles are sometimes indicative of a more flowing narrative.  Ultimately, it all depends on the author.

In novels with complex structures, Chapter titles can help call out setting, time or character POV (Point of View) to help indicate to the reader what’s going on.  George R.R. Martin, who uses a large number of character POVs, uses this approach to identify which character the reader is with for that chapter; Gillian Flynn used a similar approach in Gone Girl.

AGoT_UK_Current_2668

Sometimes books don’t have Chapters at all, and this stands out because we as readers are so used to having breaks in the narrative (if for no other reason than to tell our brains to check our watch and remind us that we shouldn’t stay up all night reading…).  Books without Chapters sometimes do so for a purpose: in The Road, Cormac McCarthy is describing a post-apocalyptic world where time has essentially lost meaning, and life has become a fugue of repetitive travel from one dreary locale to the next.  Reading the book without Chapters (just breaks in the text) puts us into the mindset of the characters, and by the end of the book we’re just as exhausted as they are because we’ve been trudging though a (metaphoric) landscape, just as they have.  In Molloy, Samuel Beckett takes a similar approach to highlight the monotonous and stream-of-consciousness nature of an investigation by telling an 80+ story in only 2 paragraphs (the first of which is just 2 pages long).

the-road-cormac-mccarthy

Parts/Books/Acts

Just as Chapters are ways of organizing the narrative components of a novel, Parts (or Acts, or some other title the author may decide to impart based on their personal preference) are often a means used to organize the Chapters themselves.  If a novel is extremely episodic or divided into large story arcs, Parts 1, 2, etc. might be used to divide those sections of the story; similarly, a Part of a novel can sometimes be used to mark major story shifts when the narrative switches geographic locations, periods of time, etc.

John Marco’s excellent “The Jackal of Nar” is a fine example of this structure, breaking down the story into several Parts: Richius’ days in the war, his journey to meet his emperor, his eventual return to the land where he lost someone important to him, etc.  Just as each chapter tells its own small story, each “Part” tells a single arc of the novel’s plot, so that in the end it almost feels as if we’ve read several tightly connected novellas in a series.

n12850

The number of “Parts” or larger sections in a novel depends entirely on the overall plot.  Highly sectioned and episodic tales can benefit from this structure, while novels that are more stream of consciousness or whose stories aren’t divided into a tidy plot don’t normally make use of “Parts”.

Sometimes, a Part – which generally contains several Chapters – becomes a Chapter in and of itself.  Russel Brand’s The Sweet Hereafter tells the story of a school bus accident from the points of views of five different characters, but rather than switch back and forth between those characters over the course of the novel (as is the norm for a book with multiple POVs), Brand’s book has one long chapter devoted to each character’s POV, and each section of the novel tells the same tale from an entirely different perspective.

Prologues & Epilogues

There are some pretty serious feelings about whether or not Prologues or Epilogues should even be used in novels anymore, with a great number of people saying “Hell no, I never bother reading them”, but with most authors I know stating “I use them if necessary”.  Most “How to Write” books tell you NEVER to use Prologues, yet writers like Robert Jordan generally had Prologues numbering 50 or more pages in every book in his series.  (The argument that always follows is “When you get as popular as Robert Jordan, you can use Prologues…until then, don’t do it.”)

I still know many readers (my wife among them) who simply skip Prologues altogether.  I tend not to be a huge fan of them unless I feel they serve a purpose, like setting up interesting (but not necessarily vital) background info on the setting, or if the Prologue happens to be the only chapter not told from the main character’s point of view.

Epilogues are seen even less seldom.  Most of the important stuff is wrapped up in a novel’s last few chapters; an Epilogue, to me, is more like an afterthought, the fate of an interesting secondary character or the solution to the last piece of unresolved plot, not so important that the reader is on edge waiting for it but interesting enough that the author feels its inclusion is warranted.

For the most part, readers I’ve met either skip the Prologue/Epilogue or else don’t really care about them.  They both seem somewhat old fashioned to me, but I’ll still use them if they seem necessary.

What sorts of novel structure do you find enticing/off-putting?  Authors, what’s your tendency?

About the Author

Steven Montano is the author of Red Tide at Morning, The Last Acolyte, the Blood Skies series and The Skullborn Trilogy.  He and his family live in Michigan.

Learn more at http://steven-montano.com/

Advertisements

Do They Write What You Read?

I had a question the other day while working out the details of a character in my head: how often do writers develop characters who write and how often to readers get to read what they write?

I have no statistical answer to this question, but it has now been nagging me for a few days. Honestly, I’m not talking about the Mort Raineys or Paul Sheldons or Jack Torrances, who are all author-characters (or is that character authors?). These protagonists were designed to be mirrors of the actual author and likely a catharsis for the real; writing about writers is often therapy.

What I’m really referring to are the characters who dabble in poetry or song, who may be hunters or lawyers or mathematicians or magicians in sum, but have tangential creative bits that really, really, really flesh them out.

When an author drops in a bit of poetry that the character has “written” or they drop in the lyrics of a song (without the obvious and impossible to pen melody), readers are treated to something: an opening of a vein, a glimpse into the tender side of a hard ass, a glimmer of hope.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are ties which bind a story like an iron thread running through the pages to keep disparate thoughts together.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are just glimpses of whimsy.Writing-Poetry

Whatever the case, how often do readers really get to see that side of a protagonist/antagonist they have either grown to love or grown to hate?

Think of Bilbo Baggins and his whimsical songs.

So in my head, I envisioned doing a little research on this topic as a reader. It may take a while, but I’m going to look for the creative side of characters to see what they have done. Believe it or not, I would–as a reader–pick up the “Collected Poetry of Hobbiton” if such a think existed or maybe the “Whimsical Writings of Susan Pevensie.”

But I’m a geek.

Anyway, one of the characters I have been working on of late has a creative side. He’s asked to write something by a therapist as a way of getting in touch with the boy he had been.

With all that said, here is a part of a piece by Mark Allen Haines, protagonist of a work in progress:

On a street called Intention the spirits sigh;
Horse-drawn carriages bang over cobbled stones
As dirt covered urchins toss a ball
In front of shops and carts.
There is a ragged man,
There is a Bobbie,
There is a newsboy with tidings of joy
On a rag that costs two pence.
A bell chimes as a door opens
On the corner of Intention and Meaning.
A child steps out on the stoop,
Dirty face,
Adjusts his apple cap,
Looks at the beggar in the gutter and whispers a prayer:
“Let one live.”
In the boy’s grimy hands, a note:
“Take care to watch for toolers and nobblers,
As you cross to Intention and Sense.
Two tokes from the baker.
Skip home in haste.”

In the stillness of questioning there are wandering eyes,
Dirty faces, fake smiles,
And piercing gazes that probe
The soul of a boy who may be a man.
The child, afraid,
Hands in pocket,
Jangling coins,
Walks head down, feeling judged by all,
Trapped in a box of his own making.
“That’s a good job, but…”
Words that float like steel razors
Slicing the edge of esteem like teeth in meat.
“That’s good work, but…”
A voice, harsh, unkind,
Yet full of wisdom, age, what to be,
What he’s not.
What he is, the beggar in the street
Holding hands out for a halfpence,
A praise without condition,
Something never given, only wished.

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He is the author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows).

Why Hallowe’en? Because we love to see fear in the mirror

By Scott Bury

Image courtesy Things Gunjan Draws http://thingsgunjandraws.blogspot.com

Ebola. Communism. Totalitarianism. Pandemic. Climate change. Terrorism. Jihad.

Judging from hyperbole in social media, we are out-and-out terrified of these things. As evidence of the level of fear, one person seriously advocated carpet-bombing ebola-stricken areas in Africa as a response to contain the epidemic, because he saw it in a movie.

The job we have chosen as writers of fantasy and speculative fiction is to reflect our audience’s fears back to them in symbolic way. Perhaps this is a way to help deal with them, but mostly, it’s because through fantasy, we can take some joy from our fears as well as, well, fear. It’s like riding a roller-coaster: it’s fun because it scares us, but we’re really safe.

A long, grisly, nasty yet honourable tradition

This is what fantasy writers have always done: writing stories about mythical, legendary and magical symbols and themes, stories that give us another way to look at what’s really bothering us. It has a long history in a technological era:

  • Godzilla, the monster awakened by atomic radiation and that could breathe out “atomic fire,” reflected our fears of nuclear war and radiation.
  • Zombies, like those in World War Z, Night of the Living Dead or The Walking Dead reflect our fear of incurable, virulent and especially contagious pandemics, made even more horrifying and destructive by their ability to instantly render their victims as vessels of further transmission.
  • The Hills Have Eyes, Drag Me to Hell, Saw and other recent horror films and books play on our fears of surveillance, mortgage foreclosure, and of course, the old standby, the Other—people not of our tribe, and therefore a threat.
  • Dracula, the Un-Dead, the progenitor of nearly all the vampire books since, plays on several fears. First is the fear of contagion—Bram Stoker’s heroes thought Lucy’s affliction was a blood disease, after all – but also the fear of being infected with something that will change your nature (becoming a vampire). There is also the fear of the Other, the foreigner, the intruder who by his very nature is dangerous. But mostly, Dracula was a sublimation of the greatest fear of the Victorian era: sex.

Yes, I am saying that sucking up blood was the only way that a Victorian era writer would portray sexual lust without getting banned or arrested. Don’t believe me? The vampire was ultimately defeated by a woman’s sexual attractiveness. Oh, sure, Dracula said he was only interested in her blood. But he was lured to his doom by a beautiful young woman, who invited the vampire into her bedroom and made him stay all night long. Now tell me Stoker was not writing about sex.

Still holding onto that argument? Watch Francis Ford Coppola’s film based on the book and try to sustain it.

Today, writing about fear of pandemic is just too easy. Vampires or zombies with ebola-like symptoms is just too obvious—which means there is already a really bad book or movie, or both, based on exactly that idea in development right now.

But what about Jihad? Terrorism? What sorts of fantasy tropes symbolize those without being overly literal? Now there’s a challenge for this capable gang to take on.

The biggest fear, though, that I can see is the fear of change. Any new idea still evokes howls from predictable corners. How would fantasy writers deal with that? What about fantasy readers? What suggestions or challenges do you have for your favourite writers?

Leave your suggestions in the Comments.

 

Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa. His books include the historical fantasy The Bones of the Earth, the erotic romance One Shade of Red and the historical memoir, Army of Worn Soles.

He has I written articles for newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia, including Macworld, the Ottawa Citizen, the Financial Post, Marketing, Canadian Printer, Applied Arts, PEM, Workplace, Advanced Manufacturing and others.

Visit his

Fantasy needs some science

By Scott Bury

Good fantasy writing has to maintain a strange tension, a balance that makes fantastic elements that are patently impossible believable.

The weekend before last, Chantal Boudreau wrote about basing her fantasy worlds and mythologies on the mythologies of Sami, Thracian, Serbian and Native American people.

I think this is a great idea for any writer of fantasy, because it adds many layers of meaning and symbolism to your writing. And it inspires a lot of ideas, too.

I did the same with my first published novel, The Bones of the Earth. While I made up the cosmology, all the mythology expressed by the characters, and many of the characters themselves, come from the mythologies and religions of ancient eastern European peoples, including the Greeks, Slavs, Germans, Celts and Scythians. Doing this also helped me choose names that didn’t sound like I coughed them out.

This helps maintain that balance and sustain the believability of fantasy because it adds some consistency. Any believable world-view has to have internal consistency. The readers have to be able to observe (through reading) causes and effects, and from those make predictions about further effects. As in, “Vampires don’t show up in mirrors, so this victim won’t see Dracula behind her as she applies makeup.”

In other words, a believable fantasy world needs some science.

Way back in the late 1970s, Larry Niven’s The Magic Goes Away applied the most basic law of the universe in creating a fantasy world: conservation of energy. The reasoning was this: magic required energy, so if there are witches and wizards who can, say, fly or animate a statue, where does that energy come from? Sure, the idea was sparked by the energy crisis of the time, and the story was pretty basic (a quest and a beautiful princess), but it was a refreshing take on the fantasy theme.

While I would never recommend that anyone do something similar to an existing work—I’m all about original ideas—I really like the idea of some kind of consistent underpinning, a single idea or a set of immutable laws governing the fantastical world. Sure, you can have monsters and wizards, magic spells and reanimated corpses, but there have to be limits, boundaries—rules.

Because if literally anything can happen, readers feel cheated. Even Superman has kryptonite.

Readers? Writers? Both?

by Bruce Blake

—–

More than once, the collection of writers who make up this little Guild have engaged in conversation (the typed on Facebook kind, not the face-to-face variety; to the best of my knowledge, none of us have ever met any of the others) regarding appropriate topics for posts. If you’ve been following us for a bit, you’ll have noticed that the majority of our posts tend to lean toward the ‘for writers’ style.

I guess we all believe in the old adage that tells us to write what we know. When you’re a writer, it follows that you might know a little something about writing.

So what’s the trouble? Simply put, every writer writes about writing. The interwebs are positively cluttered with authors pontificating on the correct usage of adverbs, where to place your participles, best character traits for both characters and traitors, and how to create realistic dialogue, amongst a plethora of other subjects. All interesting, to be sure, but the subject we invariably come to during our social media fueled keyboard tap-fests is:

What sort of people do we want to draw to our blog?

Readers? Writers? Or both?

I’ll concede, there is certainly a great deal of spillover between the two. There is nary a writer who isn’t a reader (and if there is, perhaps they should rethink their vocation), but there can still be a division between the two. Me, for example, I’d consider myself a writer. I read, of course, but if you took a look at my life over the past few years, you’d find that I’ve spent a great deal more time spewing words out than I have gobbling them up. Truth be told, I’ve never been a voracious reader. I read too slowly to get through books quickly (you may have read about that some time ago on my blog), and I don’t have enough patience to stick with things that don’t interest me (I might have said something about that before, too).

My mother falls firmly in the ‘reader’ category. She has an unquenchable thirst for words that has led to a dwelling so packed with books, I worry the fire marshal might swing by and declare it a danger to the neighbourhood. As far as I know, she has never wanted to be one of the people who creates those paper thingys full of mystical runes that tell stories, teach lessons, and impart opinions. She has always been content to devour, not to be the chef.

So my questions to the readers of this blog are these:

Where do you fall? Reader, writer, or the mythical hybrid who squeezes enough time into a day to do both equally?

and

005What do you want to read about in our virtual pages? More on writing? Details about the writers? Perhaps you’d like to know what I had for dinner or that my small, white dog has a fetish about licking his paws or how my cat likes to sleep in a pose reminiscent of Superman flying through the great blue yonder?

You tell me.

—–

Bruce Blake is a writer. Sometimes he reads, too. Very rarely does he do both at once. If you want to find out more about his writing, you can check him out here. If you want to see how much he reads, drop by his house about 11  pm as he climbs into bed and struggles through a page or two before nodding off.

 

Giving it the Old Horror Try

by Bruce Blake

—–

It’s no big news that a writer needs to read.

As a fantasy author, I spend most of my time reading within my genre. It’s important to be familiar with what’s going on, what’s popular, so I’ve 9780765303813pretty much limited myself to the various sub-genres of fantasy for a number of years. I’ve read epic fantasy from the likes of George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, and more, as well as urban fantasy by Neil Gaiman, Richard Cadrey, Jim Butcher, and Karen Marie Moning. Add into that a few bits of magical realism with authors like Charles DeLint and Erin Morgenstern, and a few novels that walk the line between fantasy and sci-fi like a tightrope walker, and I feel like I’ve got a pretty good overview.

Recently, however, I decided it was time to branch out. Sure, there have been a few out-of -genre readings mixed (like Hugh Howey’s Wool and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife…or is that fantasy?), but this time, I’m serious. I’ve decided it’s time to get back into horror.

Those of you who have read my other posts may remember that I started getting into ‘adult’ fiction with horror…I believe Stephen King’s Cujo was my first. Clive Barker followed, and Dean Koontz, Peter Straub and Robert R. McCammon.

So back to horror I go.

To determine my latest reading list, I Googled (don’t you love that it’s a verb now?) ‘best horror novels’. To be honest, I discounted the classics…no Poe, King, Lovecraft and the like. It’s not that I don’t value their contribution t the genre (and literature in general), I was simply looking for something either a little more modern or authors I simply haven’t tried before.

a0251abb3ba084a9aaaa5e3eca683048The first novel I located came off a list of the best modern horror…a slender volume entitled Piercing by Ryu Murakami. I have to admit, the description sucked me in–specifically this line from the list writer: Piercing is set in Tokyo and follows Kawashima Masayuki trying to come to terms with his overwhelming desire to stab his infant child with an Ice Pick. 

Sounds good, right?

Okay, maybe not for everyone, but I thought it might be interesting. Unfortunately, it turned out it wasn’t what I was looking for. Too much internal dialogue, not enough out and out scares. Sure, it’s screwed up and takes some good in depth looks at how what happens to us in our childhood effects how screwed up we turn out. It’s not a bad theme…I’ve written a short story on a similar subject, but it seemed a little heavy handed in this one. Could be there was something lost in translation.

Next up on the horror reading list is The Wasp Factory by the recently departed Iain Banks–described houseofleavesas violent and gory–then Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend. After that, I’m hoping to get my hands on Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you updated on how things go.

And what about all of you? What do you read outside of the fantasy genre? And any suggestions of a good, scare-the-pants-off-you horror?

—-

Bruce Blake is the author of a bunch of books. you should buy them.

Steve Reviews Three (Relatively Recent) Fantasy/Sci Novels

So let’s get to it.

 

king of thorns

King of Thorns

by Mark Lawrence

To be fair, you should probably read Prince of Thorns before you read its sequel, and if you’re going to go that far you might as well finish out the trilogy with Emperor of Thorns, but, as is often the case, the middle book is my favorite. Mark Lawrence’s terrific epic fantasy series takes lots of things I’m frankly a little sick of – anti-heroes, a first person narrative, spirited child characters – and takes them down a dark and twisted past that is at times hauntingly familiar and yet all comes across as new and fresh.

Lawrence writes with wry wit and an amazing sense of pacing and plot, and even his minor characters are well fleshed out. This epic story (told in two time-lines) of a prince brought up by outlaws and his bloody rise to power is rife with new versions of familiar fantasy elements, and the world isn’t so much full of moral ambiguity as it is utterly defined by it. The deeper into the story you get the more you realize that the good guys are really pretty bad, the bad guys are probably even worse, and somehow this obnoxious and murderous boy king is actually a halfway decent guy. Jorg isn’t the sort of boy you girls would want to bring home to Mom…in fact, you probably wouldn’t take him anywhere, but when it comes down to it you’d be a fool not to want him on your side in a fight.

Sleek, fast-paced, remarkably written and surprisingly moving, The Broken Empire trilogy is terrific fantasy, a classic story told with a very modern voice, and once you pick it up you’ll find it hard to put it down.

 

embassytown

Embassytown

by China Mieville

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of China Mieville, and this novel reminds me of why I hold him in such high regard.  A dreamy, mind-bending tale of humans living on the strange world of the double-languaged Ariekei, Embassytown fully showcases Mieville’s prize talent for crafting startlingly original settings and milking them for every ounce of their potential.  Told in multiple time frames and filled with vivid, nightmarish details, Embassytown tells the tale of the collapse of human relations with the Ariekei, as seen through the eyes of a girl who was instrumental in helping to craft the alien’s bizarre language.

Mieville can be something of an acquired taste – his fluidly poetic prose, intense details and dense narratives can be somewhat off-putting to casual readers – but for those with the patience and willingness to submit themselves to something different his work can be extraordinarily rewarding.  His characters sometimes disappear within the fantastic surroundings and his works are always slow-boiling affairs, but if you’re looking for a new world to immerse yourself into, look no further than Embassytown.

 

emperor

The Emperor’s Blades

by Brian Staveley

Every few years a fantasy author comes along who manages to create something pretty old fashioned in a seemingly new and different way, and that’s what Brian Staveley does with The Emperor’s Blades. The children of a recently murdered monarch are forced to survive attempts on their lives and come to terms with the roles they’ll play in bringing their father’s murderers to justice, but none of them are in much of a position to do anything – the lone daughter, Adare, is locked into a position with power but little authority, and her siblings have been sent away to the furthest reaches of the Empire to undergo training, eldest brother Valyn as an assassin and heir to the throne Kaden as a monk.

The Emperor’s Blades tells a compelling story which unfortunately outstays its welcome after about the halfway mark.  Staveley’s world is imaginable without being revolutionary, and his plot is fairly by-the-numbers, but the amount of life he infuses into his characters and his excellent sense of detail and storytelling make The Emperor’s Blades an enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, ride.

 

What have you been reading lately?

****

Steven Montano is an author, reader, and all-around wacko.  Learn more at http://steven-montano.com/

Endings: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This is going to be a hard post to write without spoiling people. But I wanted to talk about endings, both from a writer’s point of view and a reader’s point of view. I am past two-thirds point in Promising Power, the final book in the Protectors Series. Plus, this year I’ve finished a lot of series I’ve been reading for years. So, I’ve been thinking about endings a lot.

I’m talking about the ending to book one in a series. Not the “To Be Continued” cliffhangers of book two, but The End at the close of a series (or a standalone novel). The finish line. The closing scene. As a reader, what do I think about various endings I’ve read? And as a writer, how can I make sure my series has a satisfying ending?

The Good

There are some endings that pay off. There is no other way to describe it. You felt like your time invested in that book, every second, every tear, every laugh, was worth it. Even when you doubted the author or the characters during the read, in the end, you’re happy. Sometimes characters have a happy endings, sometimes they don’t — it’s not about the character’s ending, but the book’s ending. It’s a fragile thing. I have read books where the main character dies at the end, and I was livid. But I’ve read others where the same thing happens, but it’s done so well, I still love the book.

This is the ending we all want for the book we’re reading right now. When we reach the end, we want to put down the book and heave out a satisfied sigh, even if you’re kind of traumatized, as well. This is the ending we want to write, if we’re writers. We want our reader to feel this satisfaction. That’s the best word for it: satisfaction.

In my humble opinion, I have read some really good endings. Others disagree. Others are with me. They’re endings that are sometimes even hopeless for the characters, but I still closed the book and said, “That was a killer ending.” If you trust my judgment (and maybe you shouldn’t), try The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, 1984, and Chaos Walking series.

If I’m being honest, it’s usually a great book along with an incredible ending that will get a book onto my favorites list. I have a few on there who had just okay endings, but most of them were phenomenal.

Credit: Barnes & Noble Blog

The Bad

I don’t have to describe this, do I? You know those endings. They’re the ones that make you want to throw the book across the room, if you were uncivilized enough to do such a thing. Or, worse, the ones that make you feel like you just wasted a lot of time. The ending didn’t feel natural. It felt like it came out of nowhere. It was like the author was pulling a random assortment of characters and scenes out of hat and saying, “Maybe this one will work! No? Okay, how about this?”

Of course, authors are not doing that. They’re usually trying really hard to give the book a proper ending. One that they feel fits the character and the story. I think if readers think they failed, it’s because the reader had a certain vision for the story, a certain perspective of it, that the author didn’t. Maybe it makes perfect sense to the author that it should happen, it just felt inevitable, but the reader had been reading it a completely different way. Or, unfortunately, what the author was trying to convey might not have been accomplished. Maybe they wrote a different story than they thought they had.

This is an ending that, as a writer, I want to avoid at all costs. I think paying attention to your readers is important. If you see in reviews that they see something completely different than you do, then maybe your ending should go in a different direction than you thought it would.

Fortunately, I have not read too many terrible endings. Maybe I’m easy to please. The next kind, though, oh boy. . .

The Ugly

These are those in between endings. The messy ones. You’re not sure what to think about them. You put the book down and say, “Huh?” You look online to make sure you weren’t the only one. Or the first time it left a bad taste in your mouth, but for whatever reason, you decide to read it again, and it’s okay the second time around.

One ending I’ve seen a lot, especially in YA: the easy ending. It’s a good ending, in theory, a happy ending, for the characters, but there was no sacrifice. The characters just walked through the fiery pits of despair and defeated the bad guy without a scratch. They overcame all their obstacles and no one died and it was all rainbows and puppies!

Look, I hate seeing characters suffer as much as the next person, but come on! At the core of fiction is conflict. It’s the backbone of the story, and it needs to be there the whole time, even if it’s way more intense in some spots than others.

These endings are way more common, at least in the books that I read, than the bad endings. They’re ones that make me forget the story a few months later. They’re the ones that make me give 3-star reviews or just shrug when someone asks what I thought about the book.

From a writer’s perspective, that might be worse than a furious reader. At least an upset reader cared about what happened. The “meh” reader of the ugly ending will forget about my story and my characters as though she never read them. Yikes.

What do you think? What are some endings you LOVED? If you tell us endings you hated, include a spoiler warning! Don’t be that guy.

Emily Ann Ward is the author of Finding Fiona, Le Garde series, and The Protectors series. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. Aside from writing, she loves traveling and she’s the managing editor of the Rush line for Entranced Publishing. Currently, she lives in Oregon with her husband Chris and their cats. Visit her website at http://emilyannward.com

Discovering Fantasy

by Bruce Blake

—–

thehobbit-bookcoverLike many fantasy lovers of my generation (not to mention a few generations before and a couple after), JRR Tolkien introduced me to fantasy. I don’t remember how old I was when I read The Hobbit, but it was certainly before the more adult-aimed Mr. King’s rabid dog Cujo took a bite out of me.

Like so many others, Bilbo and Gandalf and their companions set me on a path to incredible worlds filled with magic, adventure, and amazing creatures. I’ve spent much of my reading life seeking out these unique places. The adventure continued with Frodo and the ring, and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series soon followed. Later, as an early teen, I discovered Robert E. Howard’s Conan and fell in love (in a manly kind of way, you understand). The list is long and includes hybrid fantasy like King’s The Dark Tower and Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series. I’ve always endeavoured to find something new, fresh, something not as well-known.

I was an early adopter of George RR Martin (that means I read the books before the TV show came out, not because of it), and read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods the second it was published (to traipse down a different branch of the fantasy family tree). More recently, I politely point every urban fantasy fan I bump into toward Mike Carey’s brilliant Felix Castor series (I did it to you, remember?).

Ah, the wonder of discovering a new author to devour, fresh turns-of-phrase in which to bask. Joe Abercrombie took my world by storm recently with his grit and eloquence, his evocative characters and world painted gray. And speaking of prose every writer wishes they wrote, we can’t leave out the uber-talented China Mieville, can we? I think not.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself standing in front of the fantasy section at my local Chapters, salivating at the vast smorgasbord arrayed before me. But you know how difficult it is to order when everything on the menu sounds so good…no matter how your stomach rumbles, it’s too difficult to make a choice.  To make my task easier, I pulled out my trusty smartphone, called up my pal Mr. Google, and thumb-typed the words ‘Best Fantasy Novels of 2013’, then began matching names on lists with the spines taunting me from the shelves.

When the dust settled, I held in my hand a novel I’d never heard of written by a man with a name I didn’t know: The Red Knight by Miles Cameron.Unknown

And what was it, you ask, that made me choose this one from all those worthy suitors? It was due to one line I read in a review that applauded how adeptly he handled writing from eight different points of view. Since I’m currently writing a series that encompasses a similar number, I thought perhaps Mr. Cameron and I might become friends.

Turns out it was an excellent choice. With little time on my hands for reading these days, I’ve not gotten far into the book, but what I have read has impressed me. The writing is crisp, the battle scenes exquisitely drawn, and the characters alluring.The author’s knowledge of weapons and armour is so complete, one might guess he’s made the entire thing up, and the magic systems are like nothing I’ve ever read.

But this post is not meant to be a review of what promises to be a great book (I’m happy to find the second book in the series is now available), it’s meant to be an encouragement to try someone new. There’s nothing like taking a chance on something completely unknown and becoming all the richer for it. I bought Mr. Cameron’s book because an iPhone told me to, so how will you decide on your next great find. Will you close your eyes while you’re standing before the shelves at the library and reach out blindly, accepting whatever tome fate thrusts into your grasp? Will you pick a number between 2000 and 3000, then go to Amazon and download the book in that position on the fantasy bestsellers list without even reading the description?

Go on, take a chance. You never know where your new favourite writer might be hiding.

—–

Bruce Blake is the author of 8 novels and recently a watcher of too many television shows on Netflix. You can find him lurking in coffee shops–usually bathed in the glow of a laptop–or occasionally he has been sighted standing in front of a bookshelf with eyes closed and a shaking hand extended…

Photographing Fantasy #3: The Revenge

Twice now I’ve posted about how my love of the outdoors influences the way I read and write fantasy fiction (here and here, for those who are interested).

Speaking for myself, I think I truly started to appreciate epic and heroic fantasy more once I started spending a great deal of time outdoors.  So much of fantasy literature takes place in the wilderness, in imaginary times that precede any sort of industrialization or modern conveniences, that I found myself enjoying it all that much more when I could think back to days I spent in the woods or on hiking trails, smelling that cleaner air, hearing the crinkle of leaves, feeling the icy cold of a mountain stream run through my fingers.

Even if a fantasy is set in a more urban or wastelands setting (like, say, City of Scars and Path of Bones), as both a writer and a reader I still feel that spending time outdoors and learning to savor all of nature’s details really lets me capture and appreciate fantastic settings much more clearly, which is why I still make it a point, regardless of where I am or what time of year it is, to get out and snap some inspirational photos.

The Frozen Sea

The Frozen Sea

View From the Edge of the Known World

View From the Edge of the Known World

What Secrets Lie Buried Beneath the Ice?

What Secrets Lie Buried Beneath the Ice?

Looking Up in the Moments Before the Dragon Came

Looking Up in the Moments Before the Dragon Came

A Tree With Deadly Intent

A Tree With Deadly Intent

Rest Here, Ye Weary Traveler

Rest Here, Ye Weary Traveler

CAUTION: Troll Pond Ahead

CAUTION: Troll Pond Ahead

What the Hero Saw (After An Arrow Took him the Back and Sent Him to the Forest Floor)

What the Hero Saw (After An Arrow Took him the Back and Sent Him to the Forest Floor)

 

Steven Montano writes fantasy, blogs, goes on a ridiculous number of hikes, is a husband and father of two, and works as an accountant.  All he needs to do now is learn to use that damn katana he bought.  Check out his lunacy at http://steven-montano.com/