The Hidden Benefits of Being a Writer

by Autumn M. Birt

Ask any author the reason they write, and you’ll likely hear about overflowing ideas, addiction to that ‘aha’ moment of discovery as a plot unfurls, or a desire to create for someone else the love of discovering new worlds and people that they found hidden between pages.

But have you ever heard anyone mention they understand people better because they are a writer?

death of fictional characterOr a reader – of fiction specifically. I’m not making this up. There have been scientific studies, as outlined in this great article Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction, that show readers are more aware of others’ emotions. Though it was only readers in the study, I bet that writers would show even stronger connections to heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex. Whether we’d show more empathy is difficult to predict. We can do some very cruel things to our characters… but we feel their pain!

And I really agree with this. Writing emotions and working on ‘showing’ and not ‘telling’ really taught me to analyze body language and facial expressions (how to make movie watching ‘research’). Which resulted in learning to read emotions better in friends and family.

And that led to the realization that not everyone reacts the same way to an event. In fact, no two people – or characters – should exhibit exactly the same emotional impact. Responses are really a part of who a character or person is: some cry, some throw punches. That lesson helped improve the depth of my writing.

Discovering greater emotional variation and understanding is definitely one of the hidden reasons I enjoy being a writer. But it isn’t why I write. Nor any of the reasons I listed above, though all are accurate to some degree. I realized a while ago that I write because I like who I am better when I’m writing.

How does your emotional state play into your writing?

emotioncapture-300x201I know I’ve had some really sucky days where I end up thinking, “boy, this is going into my next novel.” Bad and tense days make great fodder for dark writing. And I leave the page at the end of it feeling purged of a lot of ick.

More than that, my mind is sharper when I’m working on a novel and developing a plot compared to when I’m surfing through life, just trying to juggle the day to day crap. I’ve joked that when I’m not writing my mind is like a little 4 cylinder engine where the valves are out of tune compared to when I am writing and I’ve got at least a well-tuned V8 humming away. Yeah, I like writing.

Can you get that out of reading? I think so, especially if you are reading a thriller or mystery and trying to unravel clues. Reading engages different areas of our brain compared to watching television. Do you ever think about what an actor is smelling on screen? Do you think about the crispness of a cold morning on exposed skin just because you see two people camping in the fall on a TV show or movie? Probably not. Not to mention when you read, you need to make up the scenery based on small details in the writing. And you can’t judge emotions based on the musical score… unless a newly emerging trend to incorporate music into ebooks takes hold (to which I’ll be muting my speakers…).

670px-Get-Over-the-Death-of-a-Fictional-Character-Step-1I’m very happy that people are still reading despite the multitude of other ways to immerse themselves. Not just because it means someone might buy my book, but because it means the world is potentially filled with slightly happier, emotionally more responsive people, who may even be more clever than average! I wonder if I can include questions on most recently read book the next time I have to hire someone? Hmmm…

So writers and readers make better friends. Even if they ignore you occasionally for the imaginary people in their heads or their favorite book. But hey, they’ll notice when you are upset!

Autumn tries not to take too much delight in the perils she throws at the characters in her novels, knowing if the situation were reversed she wouldn’t do half as well as they manage! Learn more about her epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order and check out her newest release, the beginning of a military dark fantasy series Friends of my Enemy, at AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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.

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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.

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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/

Readers? Writers? Both?

by Bruce Blake

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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.

How To: See Into the Mind of Your Reader (What? I Can See That?)

I was meandering through some links in my writing folder and decided to check out what was on the Amazon.com page for Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors. What I found near the bottom of the page was cool.

Fascinating.

Neat.

Pretty sweet.

Anyway, after all the descriptions, reviews, and bio stuff, there MAY BE a heading called “Shared Notes & Highlights.” (I said “may be” because if there are no shared notes or highlights from the work, the heading won’t be there. There’s a easier way to see what people have highlighted, and I’ll explain how to that below.)

So what is this heading?

Amazon says: “Shared Notes & Highlights are the thoughts and passages that Kindle readers have shared while reading this book. These are made available to other Kindle readers and optionally to Facebook and Twitter. You can comment on existing Notes & Highlights shared by other readers, share your own thoughts and passages, or save your favorite quotes.”

So what was there?

I was suprised to see some of the passages readers have highlighted in Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors that stood out for them.

Here they are:

“Because there is nothing bad, just stuff that needs to be looked at differently.” (5 Highlighters)

“A woman is made by the environment she’s in, by the friends she keeps, and by the lessons she allows the world to teach her.” (5 Highlighters)

“Sometimes you get what you wish for without ever really knowing what the wish was.” (4 Highlighters)

“you miss something grand when you don’t step back and examine everything” (4 Highlighters)

“There is a reason for everything that happens, and even if something is tragic, painful or full of rage, it is part of a larger whole.” (3 Highlighters)

“storms are God’s way of sweeping up the messes people leave.” (1 Highlighter)

If you have a book published with Kindle, you can check out what people have found important in your own work.

How? Go to https://kindle.amazon.com/ and type in the ASIN of your book in the search box (upper right hand side of the page). Even if no one has highlighted stuff (as is the case for Sketches from the Spanish Mustang), you can still get a result.

I think. It worked for me and it was quite eye-opening. This is the stuff that makes writers happy.

The Modern Writer: Pace

Continuing with the theme of the Modern Writer, today I wanted to touch on Pace.

With the advent of all of the modern technology that I’ve talked about in previous posts, and the explosion of self-publishing websites and services, the pace of writing has increased by a massive factor. But how fast is too fast, and how slow is too slow?

I know that every writer is different and that stories will come out when they come out, but at some point there’s the risk of losing readers if you’re too slow, or risking a non-quality product if you rush them out too fast.

For some authors, there isn’t really a pace that needs to be maintained. Whenever a new Honor Harrington novel comes out from David Weber, I’ll go buy it; millions are waiting for the next George RR Martin A Song of Ice and Fire novel (though we may be waiting a while yet on that one if history is any indicator). These authors have gathered such a reputation for their work that it doesn’t matter how long it takes for the next book: people will buy it in droves.

But on the flip side there are authors whose books I enjoyed and would have gladly continued reading, but they took too long to release the next one. I got distracted and never returned to the series.

Personally, I’ve been shooting for 1 book per year and I feel that if you aren’t a pop sensation or an author with a rock solid fan base, this might be a good pace to maintain. I’ve been a bit behind because of a variety of factors over the last 12 months, but I’m getting back on track. But what do you think? Is there a pace that you think that there is a pace that the average reader will accept? If you’re an author, what is your writing goal?

Tropes!

Tropes are fun. I know some of the bloggers have decided to talk about why they’re okay to use, so I’ll leave that up to more eloquent people. Let me tell you about the tropes I’ve used in my writing and why.

A Curse!

Lisbeth and Adrian exchanged glances. “We are Avialies,” Lisbeth said, “and all that have our blood have the power to change shape. Those with purer blood have stronger powers, but that’s beside the point. There is a group of men and women who regard us as dangerous. Although our family has always had enemies, this group formally came to be known as the Protectors forty years ago. Ten years ago, they used the magic of the Thieran family to curse the Avialies. We cannot have children.”

She paused for just a moment, and Grace asked, “You’re infertile?”

“That would be too kind,” Lisbeth said. “Woman can get pregnant, but no pregnancy passes three months. The fight occasionally takes the life of the mother as well.” She half-glanced at Adrian, who had his gaze on Grace intently. “The Avialies haven’t had children for ten years.”

Why?
The series is essentially about the struggle between the Avialies and the Protectors, and I wanted there to be a very real result of such hatred. I wanted there to be something that the Protectors had taken from the Avialies. By searching for a way to break the curse, they’re rebelling against the people who had the political power.

A “Chosen One” Prophecy!

“Three years ago, I had a vision,” Lisbeth said. “The gift of prophecy occasionally comes to Avialies late in life. I saw a woman, one who wasn’t an Avialie, breaking the curse.” She stood and put her hands on Grace’s shoulders. “You’re that woman.”

Why?
Well, I needed a way to break the curse! This may be a very common trope, but I think it works because it makes your main character special. It gives her a purpose in life and a goal for the book. It also gives the author a chance to deal with destiny versus free will.

A Love Triangle!

Here, Grace is eavesdropping on Dar (her past lover) and William (the prince, who she just said yes to a courtship to)
Grace closed her eyes as the night breeze whispered past her hair. She gripped the flower in her hand, imagining their faces as they spoke. Their guarded expressions, Dar’s dark hair, and Will’s fair features.
When Dar said nothing, the prince continued, “I’ve asked her for courtship, and she seemed eager.”

“I hope she’ll be happy with you.”

“You’re not going to be any trouble?”

“No, your Highness, that’s why I left. I know my family is still searching for something to break the curse, but I’ve come to realize the only ways to do so will bring more death.”

Why?
At first, I just wanted William to give Grace a little bit of a distraction from Dar, then I realized he’d probably be interested in something more. In the first book, William is kind of representative of her normal life and Dar represents the unknown, the exotic other world that she’s trying to figure out. It’s another way to show the choice that Grace faces.

A Quest!

Sierra looked around again, then met Grace’s eyes. “Did she tell you about how Evan wants to find the ancient texts?”

Grace nodded. “She mentioned it. I don’t understand, though, what exactly are they?”

“They’re a bunch of storybooks. Some people say spell books, too, but it’s been years since anyone has seen them. Evan’s set on it.” She fidgeted. “We’re leaving tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but he’s not very strong, and I can’t leave him to the Protectors.”

“Do you have any idea where they are?”

“Not really,” Sierra said, her gaze on the path ahead of them, “but he’s not in the mood to listen to reason.”

“And he thinks the ancient texts can break the curse somehow?”

Sierra nodded.

Why?
I thought, ‘Well, the curse needs to be broken, but how?’ And the characters believe the answer can be found in the ancient texts. Conveniently, these have been lost for a couple hundred years. A quest sent my characters on a mission — across unfamiliar lands while the Protectors pursued them. Another common trope, but it’s probably because it’s so fun to write!

So, when you read Promising Light, there are some very familiar fantasy tropes. But I hope that these conventions feel new because of dynamic characters the reader will grow to love (we have a married couple reuniting after two years, a spoiled, determined noble, and a quiet shape changer) and a plot that keeps them turning the pages. I hope to take the reader on an adventure they didn’t expect, even if it has a few road posts people recognize.

Emily Ann Ward is the author of Passages, Beyond Home, Finding Fiona, and The Protectors series. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. When it comes to fiction, she writes mainly young adult, contemporary, and fantasy. She also writes nonfiction, ranging from stories of her travels to thoughts on God and the Bible. Aside from writing, she’s also a content editor for Entranced Publishing. She loves reading, traveling, sociology, religion, and Reese’s sticks. Currently, she lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband Chris and their crazy cats.

With Apologies to Alfie Zappacosta…It’s All Been Done Before

 

A symptom of the dreaded Zappacosta virus: your elbow attaches itself to your knee

Unless you’re Canadian like me, when I utter the word “Zappacosta”, you will probably think I’m referring to some exotic disease one is in danger of contracting on a trip to Sicily. “Be careful, Luigi, that one, he’s-a got the Zappacosta!” However, if you are Canadian and of an age that you were exposed to popular music in the early 80s, you’ll recognize the word as the name of a Italian-Canadian pop singer who had a few modest hits between 1984-1990.

Bruce, what does this have to do with the fantasy genre?

Well, nothing in and of itself, but if you’re patient, you’ll see where I’m going with this.

Before Mr. Zappacosta went solo (he’s still active and, if you want to catch a show, you can check here for his schedule), he fronted a band with even fewer hits and less impact on popular music called Surrender, one of  whose songs has always stuck with me: ‘It’s All Be Done Before’.

Whew, it was a long haul but here we are: the subject for this round of posts on Guild of Dreams is fantasy conventions or

About a farm-boy what done good. Coming Sept. 30!!

tropes, all of which have been done before. The subject comes up because my new epic fantasy, Blood of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 1), will be released on Sept. 30 (shameless plug) and one of epic fantasy’s prevalent tropes is front and center in my book: farm-boy forced into heroism. Someone, who will remain nameless (mostly because I’ve forgotten who it was), once read my book and pointed out that many epic fantasies have the farmer as the central character, and this person went so far as to call it a cliché. While they are right about the farmer being oft-used in this fantasy sub-genre (Eragon in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, Rand in the Wheel of Time series, and many others), I would argue the use of the term cliché. As most epic fantasy is set in medieval-style worlds (another convention, but part of what actually makes it part of the epic fantasy sub-genre. Move your story to our world or a dystopian future and you move yourself into a different sub-genre), the likelihood of a character being involved in farming is great. In such a society, most citizens living outside the cities would have been involved in farming at least for their own sustenance if not for their living. I could have made my character a city dweller, but such a drastic change to his upbringing would have changed his character and, therefore the story.

So what else would be considered a convention or trope in epic fantasy? A quest? Yep, got that in my story. Khirro has to take the king’s blood to the Necromancer to try to save the kingdom. Dragons, that’s another one. I’ve got one of those. Medievalism? Check. How about magic? That’s a big one; it’s barely fantasy without at least a little. I’ve got some of that, too. Even George Martin couldn’t leave that out of his Song of Ice and Fire series. Non-human races are another big one in epic fantasy (and other types, too): orcs, elves, dwarves, etc. I  mostly skipped those.

About another farm-boy what done good and a dragon. Two tropes for the price of one.

There are many others, too. If you want a pretty complete list, read JRR Tolkien; he either invented them all or used them all. Good vs. evil. A dark Lord. A powerful artifact. A MacGuffin such as a sword or staff. Made up languages. Prophecies. The list goes on and on and I defy anyone to come up with a fantasy novel that doesn’t employ at least two or more of them. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not a fantasy.

What turns the farm boy-turned-hero, the dragon, the quest or the dark Lord from convention to cliché is not the fact they were included in the story, but how they were used once they were placed there. It’s all been done before, but it doesn’t have to be the same. It doesn’t have to become a cliché.

What are some of your favourite/least favourite fantasy conventions? Who does them well? When have you seen them done poorly?

 

 

Bruce Blake is the author of On Unfaithful Wings and All Who Wander Are Lost, the first two books of the Icarus Fell urban fantasy series, as well as the upcoming Blood of the King, the first book of the two-part Khirro’s Journey.

Lines from the Dark Side

Favorite lines.  Everybody has them.  And no, I’m not talking about quips or one-liners (but those are great, too).  I’m talking about favorite lines from novels, short stories, etc. — the lines that we love, and the lines that we truly, deeply admire.

And in doing research for this post, I learned something: the question of “which are my favorite lines” is a really tough one for me to answer.  Because I don’t have many favorite lines so much as I have favorite books, or chapters, or plots.  I don’t even have favorite scenes so much as I have favorite themes, characters, or villains.  And I don’t have favorite descriptive passages so much as I have favorite things being described, like China Mieville’s world of Bas-Lag, or the black wastes from C.S. Friedman’s When True Night Falls.

I guess I think in a broad scope.

But, never being one to back down from a challenge, I forced myself to find some truly memorable lines from some of my favorite books, which I shall now foist upon you in the hopes that you, too, can recognize their awesomeness.

“Darkness, light, darkness, light. He interrupted neither with his name.”

— Clive Barker, “In the Hills, the Cities”

Clive always has a way with words, and his multi-volume horror story collection The Books of Blood is chock full of lyrical language.

“I have been dreaming of wolves.”

— John Marco, “The Jackal of Nar”

That’s the first line from the Tyrants & Kings trilogy, and it sucks you right in.  John knows how to paint a vivid scene and draw you into the action.

“It started in mud, as many things do.”

— Tad Williams, “Otherland, Vol 1: City of Golden Shadow”

Another opening line, this time from the Otherland series, describing a soldier in the trenches in WW I.  This line has always stuck with me, as does the passage that follows it.

“The woman in the fog: it pressed round her, walls of yellow breath.”

— Tanith Lee, “Dark Dance”

Tanith writes some of the most vivid and efficient descriptive passages I’ve ever read.  The Blood Opera sequence is full of languid details like this.

“In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

— Cormac McCarthy, “The Road”

The entirety of The Road is one bit of vivid and disturbing prose after the next.  The entire novel is filled with fluid and gut-wrenching passages that seem almost more poetry that novel.

“Almost he could taste the rock the fortress was built on…cold and raw and bitter as the winter itself.”

— J.V. Jones, “A Fortress of Grey Ice”

Jones’ descriptive prose is some of the best I’ve ever read, and trying to come up with a single line that best typifies her versatile and vivid style is next to impossible.  This line is just one of many from her Sword of Shadows series that stuck with me long after I’d put the books down.

“In the realm of black ash

In the citadel of black crystal

Beneath skies that burned crimson at the edges

The Prince waited.”

–C.S. Friedman, “When True Night Falls.”

This glimpse of the antagonist from When True Night Falls was presented as something of a poetic passage from the beginning of a chapter later in the book.  I’ve always loved the way it literally stood apart from the rest of the novel.

For the last passage, I chose scenes from China Mieville’s spectacular The Scar, where a refugee learns about the far-off and legendary necropolis called High Cromlech:

He began to tell her stories about his time in High Cromlech.

He told her the smells of the city, flint dust and rot and ozone, myrrh and embalming spices. He told her about the pervading quiet, and the duels, and the high-caste men with lips sewn shut. He described the descent of the Bonestrasse, great houses looming to either side on ornate catafalques, the Shatterjacks visible at the thoroughfare’s end, spilling out for miles. He talked on for nearly an hour.

“I grew up,” he said, “surrounded by the dead. It’s not true that they are all silent, but many are, and none are loud. Where I grew up, we used to run, the boys and girls of Liveside, pugnacious through the streets past the mindless zombies and a few desperate vampir, and the thanati proper, the gentry, the liches with sewn-shut mouths, with beautiful clothes and skin like preserved leather. More than anything I remember the quiet.”

*****

Steven Montano is the author of Blood Skies, an apocalyptic military fantasy series.  He’s a full-time accountant, and a full-time writer.  It would seem he uses up a lot of time.

Check out his work at http://bloodskies.com/.  You can also follow him on Twitter or check out his author page at Amazon.com.

And Now For A Loving Tribute To The Onion

I have an odd knack for coming up with Onionesque headlines––and so for my own amusement I’ve been writing up a few articles. Here’s a taste:

Best Book Infinite Number of Typing Monkeys Can Write Turns Out To Be ‘Twilight’

Cambridge, Mass––Researchers at Harvard’s Institute for Applied Nonsense announced on Monday that, thanks to significant advances in chaos theory and quantum computing they had succeeded in teaching an infinite number of monkeys to type on an infinite number of computer keyboards. However to date the most distinguished piece of fiction the monkeys have been able to complete is Twilight, Stephanie Meyer’s bestselling 2005 vampire romance novel.
“Of course we didn’t seriously expect to get the complete works of Shakespeare, or even Hamlet on the first run through,” said Institute director Samantha Brooks, “But we thought that we should at least have been able to manage The Winter’s Tale or one of Shakespeare’s early comedies. Unfortunately things haven’t worked out quite as we’d hoped.”
While many within the organization have argued that creating a copy of a phenomenally popular bestselling novel is a triumph Brooks admitted that the institute as a whole had hoped for better results. “I mean we’re not total snobs. If we’d managed to get The Importance of Being Earnest, or Catch-22 or something we’d be delighted. But Twilight? It has vampires. And not Bram Stoker vampires or even Ann Rice vampires. They sparkle for God’s sake. And Bella is incredibly annoying. And… Look an infinite number of monkeys should just be able to do better.”
The infinite number of monkeys project has been controversial since it’s inception in mid 2007 with funding from a Department of Homeland Security grant. “The whole thing is essentially a result of the military industrial complex run amok,” said blogger Andrew Moss who has criticized the program since it’s inception. “And now after five years and a billion dollars the best they’ve been able to do is produce a copy of a book you can buy on Amazon for nine bucks. Not that you’d want to.”
Animal rights activists and some physicists and philosophers have also questioned both the morality and physical possibility of forcing an infinite number of monkeys to type for twelve hours a day.
“Looks, it’s––hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t have doctorate in mathematics,” said Brooks. “We’re mostly just collapsing the work of the doppelgangers of a finite number of monkeys distributed across an infinite number of parallel dimensions down into a single reality. There are only like fifty of them in the lab. And they’re well treated. Only half of them are alcoholics, which is well below average for a group of writers this size.” However Brooks did confirm reports that a large number of monkeys were being treated for crippling depression after coming close to producing a viable copy of Blood Meridian.
The remaining output from the monkeys has been mixed. In June 2010 the monkey’s produced a torrent of gibberish that upon close inspection was revealed to be 89% identical to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake––wether or not this is a meaningful accomplishment continues to divide the literary community. Additionally in late 2011 the monkeys succeeded in producing exact copies of all three books in the Fifty Shades of Grey but destroyed all three manuscripts after issuing a public apology, noting that the world should expect much more from randomly typing simians.