Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pitch Party 2014 updtate: MO' PRIZE


Guys, it's time for a prize reveal. If you weren't aware, we're planning the dual events of PitchParty2014 for Jan 4th and 5th. On the 4th, we reveal our tweet-length pitches for the work we're looking to sell. On the 5th, a 100 word pitch (pasted and/or linked on here). After each, we talk and judge and people vote and ultimately I and my secretive panel of judges (yes they aren't all stuffed animals) and on the 6th, I will announce a winner!

Now, for a prize. There will be postcards sent out to all the runner-ups (or everyone, depending on how many of us there are) but the winner will get a special prize made all the more valuable by the fact that I will be embarrassing myself for your pleasure.

If you are crowned the ultimate PitchParty Winner, you will get to choose two things that will become one thing. First, you will choose any song (the more crazy singing, the worse this will be) and then you will choose one of these voices:
  • Smeagle/Gollum
  • Zap Brannigan
  • Meatwad
  • Darth Vader
  • Some sort of horrid monster
  • Dr. Zoidberg
  • Sean Connery
  • Krusty the Klown
  • A variety of accents -- pretty much just choose.
  • Or just make up/tell me to make one up. If I can't do it we'll work it out. :D
Then, as you may have been able to guess, I will sing your song in that voice. In video format, so you'll get a little extra absurdity in your package. There's a few more voices that I couldn't remember what characters they're from that I do but just ask, given enough practise, I can get almost anyone. 

You still have two weeks to get those pitches together! How can you describe your novel in 140 characters? 100 words? You'll be surprised which one is harder :D Feel free to send your early versions to me for tips and early reads! See you soon!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pitch Party 2014!

It's that time of the year again! Pitches upon pitches! #Nanowrimo is over, and many of us have manuscripts worthy of attention. But we don't always know how best to sell those stories. I don't mean in the store, I mean to an agent, an editor, someone on the street. I'm not talking 1920's newpaper hawker, but there is something to shouting out your own work. And as with anything, practise is useful and important. Nobody does everything right the first time, unless the thing they're trying to do is nothing. We can all do that pretty well. 

Pitching takes practise, and why not pratise in an atmosphere of even criticism and support? The first #PitchParty (found here) was a blast, and we had a ton of fun. The winner got a postcard, a tirdition that I will be continuing since artists are all broke. There will be two rounds to the #PitchParty -- a Tweet round and a longer, 100 word blog pitch. Both of those things will be posted on this blog, and a totally impartial team of judges (hey psst I need two judges, email me evrardau @ gmail dot com!). These should be manuscripts you have either finished or have in editing, or at least real close to finished! :D

The Twitter #PitchParty will take place Saturday, Jan 4th, at a time to be determined soon, probably something like 8PM EST. During that hour, everyone who wants to will pitch one tweet-length pitch for their novel, including the hashtag. We'll discuss and laugh and have a good time and the next day (Jan 5th) everyone will post their 100 word pitch in the comments on the #nanopals blog. 


Er, hem. You will not be denied this! This is a great opportunity to have some fun and get some solid feedback on your pitch before you go ahead and make a hundred Gs selling it super well. BECAUSE YOU CAME TO THE PITCH PARTY. 

So, brief recap -- You've got a MONTH to prepare a tweet-length pitch AND a 100 word pitch. Tweets on Jan 4th, 100 word on Jan 5th, right here. We'll do a few prep sessions and spread the word beforehand, so use that #PitchParty hashtag! One real entry in each per person -- but feel free to send me your extras just to see if they're cool too :)

I'll see you soon!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Yeah hey look I'm not supposed to be here, okay. My MS is right there on the other side of the screen, and she's lookin' at me right ugly. The editing, the editing! The words control my life. But you know, sometimes you gotta be free, you gotta find a little YOU time. Which I'm going to spend on you. With a handy-dandy list of the editing I should be doing right now!

What am I doing right now? AHM EXORCISING MAH DEMONZ.
No, I'm not getting my vodka blessed then playing quarters with my old college roommate (a monster), nor am I going on a spirit journey. That's later. Instead, I am engaging in the incredible act of hunting down the demons in my MS, the dark spirits that cloud my text and obscure the beauty and power of the prose beneath! What the hell am I talking about?


  • SAW
  • FELT
  • KNEW
  • AND
  • THAT
I see you, spawn of Ghidora! Begone from my texts, begone from this earthly realm and never return! Well, not all of you. Sometimes I need you. But like, only on holidays. If we could just have a few little demon meetups once or twice a novel, that would be swell. 

In not-crazy person words: This selection of lexical items is a good tracker for words that can and should be ridden from your novel! All of these add clunk to sentences and break up pace. Stop seeing things! Stop hearing things, stop feeling things, just, you know, things. Imagine you are watching a movie and instead of the camera you had the cameraman, and you were just looking at his viewfinder the whole time, shaking and wobbling as he tries to keep up with the action until you realize you're on a goddamn set and Tom Cruise is just on a friggen treadmill. You've got some guy who is seeing everything for you. He maybe sends a telegram and lets you know what's going on in the action scene every few weeks -- who cares, you've stopped reading them.

Okay, so the crazy came back. All this has been said before by smarter people (read: here) but I'm giving you what I'm personally looking for right now. Ctrl-F->DELETE. Every sentence looks better, my Godzilla. Even if you don't have too many of these instances, and you already know this stuff, go through, because they are sneaky little buggers, and they get in all over the place.

Okay, I'm running back to my MS to murder these beasts. Too many run-on sentences given life by the necromantic powers of AND! Go back to your prison, you moster!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 4: Mind over Body (we all wish we could do it)

Mind over body. That's what I'm telling myself today, after having terrible bowel issues that I have been successfully avoiding for some months due to controlled diet. Somewhere in the past couple of days, I failed that diet, and I have been punished by the bacterial culture living in my gut. They decreed that those bacteria that process lactose were evil and sacreligious and exiled them from my stomach some years ago, after previously locking them in a fart-gulag.
The body is a horrible place, and everything about being made of meat is awful. That is why I like to write about things that aren't human! Robots and other superiour beings that don't have to look at the delicious melting cheeses that they once loved so very dearly and now can only gaze wistfully upon lest they eat even one tempting morsel and send themselves into a shit spiral that will last for days.
It's important to find the passion for your work, wherever it may come from. Most days, it's love of crazy wonderful things, or a desire for childhood fantasies to be real, or just wanting to be heard. Today, it's the rage and anguish I feel as a Frenchman towards lactose intolerance.
C'est la vie, c'est vrai, mais j'suis un ecrivant de science-fiction. Cette vie n'est pas la seule vie disponsible.
Nous faisons nos mondes propres.

Let's write some novels.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 3: It's like it never even ended

By this third day of #nanowrimo you've all either begun to remember what the last nano was like and are freaking out that you'll lose steam two weeks from now and nothing will ever be finished and oh god why or you're freaking out that you're behind on your count and oh god it'll never be finished why me...

Yeah, we've all been there before. But this is only day 3! The official count for today is only about 4000 words! YOU CAN GET THAT DONE TODAY IN TWO HOURS I BELIEVE IN YOU. Okay, probably not. In a perfect world, that's how I'd get it done. 1000 words every 30 minutes. The golden pace. But no, I'm never there. And you never are either! But that's okay. Because every moment we spend freaking out about our wordcount is time we should be using to fill our books with words.

Here is your mantra for the month, in fact, forever:

NO WORRIES ONLY WORDS. No worries only words. No worries only words! NO WORRIES ONLY WORDS!!! CHILDREN OF THE CORN AHHH

We've got 27 more days of nanowrimo, but you've got an eternity to worry about whether anything you do is good. For these next 27 days, just forget about that crap. Everything you do is good. And it'll be better when you edit it in December.

I'm trying to keep my face around the Forums for those in need, but if you see a thread that could use some Caps Lock Crusader action or see someone crying out for a #betabuddy, let me know!

Keep writing everyone, and I'll see you online :D Join me for a #wordsprint sometime!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Day 2: The envengening of fwords

Are you making up words? Chances are if you're writing fantasy or science fiction, you're making up far more than one. But almost any book can involve new language. Teen slang is an ever-changing miasma of made-up words. If your book has teenagers, you should probably have some kind of slang. Otherwise, they aren't really talking like teenagers.

But how make false words are too many? If I write out "The Glorxian sacrophods invexed the Halati metalikuds" you have some idea that <proper noun> <things> verbed some other <proper noun> <things>. But even if you have a degree in linguistics and figure out that the author was trying to suggest with the cross-linguistic "metalikud" that the Halati have a group that is above consolodation that doesn't really help you understand anything at all. But that's not because the words are made up, it's because you have no context for them. This is the first time you've seen these words, and they don't come with any context whatsoever, so you have no idea what they mean. If you provide the proper context, and make the language rich enough, (cough cough Elvish) everyone will want to learn that shizz. You know they made a whole language for the Avatar people? Cool, but no one actually cared about the language, because the world of that movie wasn't really compelling enough to make me want to pretend to be one.

Ooh, but what if someone's trying to take my unobtanium? Godzilla. If all your made up words are like unobtanium, then please, take all the made up words out. But for the rest of you, who have imaginations and intelligence, don't throw your made up words away. Sometimes they are beautiful, sometimes they enter the real language. I don't believe for a second that Shakespeare made up all the words English profs say "he" did -- I think that about 99% of them were common street language, which was never written down. And if you include a slang word that you and your friends use but nobody else, and it catches on? Think about grok, or frak. I at least hear those words pretty much daily. Frak is fun to say, and we all know what it means because it shows up exactly where fuck is supposed to be. But frak sounds funnier and doesn't come with any connotations other than BSG.

The key to getting your fwords into people's brains is to not make your book a language textbook, with long descriptions and definitions, but to leave those words like little crumbs of cake, a tantalising tidbit that you nab quickly and easily. Set a new word up with proper context, put in the proper grammatical slot and bam your readers will slurp up that word. Hell, if you make the language beautiful or compelling enough, people will learn the whole damn thing! Klingon appeals to those of us who love to yell consonants, Elvish to those who like to whistle and sing. My advice to making up words if you don't have any sort of academic linguistic knowledge is to just go with what sounds natural, and give us enough context to understand what it means. Don't give me a quiz on whether a lanitar has a long shaft or short shaft or whether the mechanism to create the spinning blade motion uses chains or gears or both. Just let me know that the mechanism whirrs as it slices through a thousand orks. (or orcs, whichever you want!!! Start a controversy over the spelling of your made up thing!!)

If you put in fwords sparsely towards the start, keep their usage consistent and supported, by the end of your book we'll be able to read "The Glorxian sacrophods invexed the Halati metalikuds" and go "OH SHIT!" instead of "Uh, what?" And that's what you're really going for.

2 days in, 28 more to go! Get those words, get those novels written!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Need Words? No Credit? NO PROBLEM!

Hello, and I am here to sell you the deal of a lifetime. That's right, fame and fortune can be yours, all yours. No strings attached, nothing scammy, nothing under the table. Except the dog, but that's where he's supposed to be. Can't have dogs sitting at the table, can we? Then there's no difference between them and us. Anyways -- I've got a deal for your. I know you've got a dream. You wanna write a novel.

OH I've heard that one before. Who doesn't say that? Everyone wants to write a novel. of course they do! But how many do? How many set up and say that and then finish? Not enough, i'll tell you that! Same as the gym, a few weeks after New Years and they're all empty. But what if I told you that I could guarantee you'd finish those fifty-thousand words?

Well, I can't. But you can. That's why I'm here. I'm here to make a deal with you, for that promise to fame and glory. I promise to badger you, to cheer you, to rabble-rouse and even jeer you, whatever it takes to help you make it down that line. I promise to sprint with you every day I am able, and to be unfailingly positive and faithful. Because it's hard to do that for yourself. But I know you can write these words. I know you have the power within yourselves to reveal the stories that live inside your minds. I believe you have the will and the fortitude to write just over a thousand words a day. For some of us, that's an hour's work, even less. For others, it's a whole day. We don't all have time to write slow. We don't all have time to write the best lines that there are. But that's not what #nanowrimo is about, and it's not what first drafts are about. They're about uncovering the bones, about laying the foundation. It's about transferring that story from your brain to a stable and permanent medium, before you refine it into art.

None of the words you write have to be perfect. None of the words you write have to be good. But you want them to be, and I believe you can do it. You just have to believe tha you know when something is wrong, and when you need to continue on. If your brain gives you another scene to write, write it. Maybe it will fit, maybe it wont, but you will learn something, and you will have those bloody words.

It's November first, and we've just begun. The road ahead is long, but also tragically short. Don't make every minute count. Don't make every word count. Just make words. I'll be here whenever you need aid, whenever you need to know that someone believes in you. And when we're all done, when that novel's written and ready to be edited into beautiful, magical art, then you'll find that the road to all that fame and glory just got a lot shorter.

Let's write a novel.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Review Returns!

Too many books started and unfinished recently, as I apparently have become a gigantic snob. Or, I always was, but I just wasn't buying as many books. Sufficed to say, it's been a little bit since I've finished reading anything that wasn't a beta novel. But I did finish something just this morning, so I present to you the #FridayReview of Peter V. Brett's debut (now past) novel:


The Warded Man falls into an interesting genre I rarely see well done; fantasy post-apocalypse, with a scientific world like ours preceding the world of magic. The book started out strong, but I found myself growing less enthralled as it bore on. The Warded Man is an origin story. Multiple origin stories, technically, but it's really only one. Arlen, our titular hero, is a young boy who lives in a world where demons rise out of the ground each night in near endless numbers, hungry for living flesh, only to be repulsed by magic wards rediscovered from ages past. There are two other characters, Leesha and Rojer, but they are obviously secondary to Arlen, being given some twenty percent of the book altogether. 

This is a world where demons are mostly considered invincible. The demons come in delightful elemental varieties: fire, wood, wind, rock, sand, but all share a sort of classic semi-reptilian devil theme. For good or ill, the flame demons often reminded of the Night on Bald Mountain scene from Fantasia, albeit these are far more dangerous. Rural populations hide inside warded homes, while a few Free Cities stand encased in great warded walls, but even within those, people still hide inside at night. Only one Free City, Krasia, home to Arab-themed warriors, fights at all, and I believe the number in the book lists their male population (the only important one, apparently, since the men do all the fighting) as only eight thousand. This is a world where humanity has very much lost the war against demonkind, and very much forgotten who they were. Since the world of my current WIP is somewhat similar in its genre, including magic tattoos, I was obviously interested to see how well this lost knowledge and rediscovery was handled. Apocalypses are popular settings, even LOTR can be considered to be post-apocalyptic, but the apocalypse is so long gone that the world is quite stable, with only ruins to remind them of the dangers of the past (until, of course, that apocalypse comes again.) The Warded Man's world is something like this, the time being some 300 years after the demons returned, ending millenia of peaceful scientific progress. At least in this book, it's not clear how far that science got. The only mention of any sort of electrical work is a description of an ancient building with "wires for hanging pictures" which may just mean that, but my imagination went there. There's no guns or anything else like that; the only weapons seem to be spears, and rarely tipped with metal. The only wards known are defensive, and weapon and armor warding appear to be mostly forgotten.

I wouldn't spend so much time on this, but it's Arlen's whole story. He is the only brave one, besides, to a lesser extent, Rojer, and to an even lesser extent, Leesha. He is born with a natural talent for Warding, and a natural bravery. His life is simple in the small farming town where he lives as an inexplicable only child -- considering how much making babies is spoken of in the rest of the book, it's astonishing he doesn't have siblings. Arlen fantasizes about fighting back against the demons, but takes the advice from his elders, especially his father, that fighting is something left to a last resort. Inevitably, situations resolve that result in demons attacking his family, and Arlens mother is mauled, in part because Arlen's father refused to leave the warded house to help them. She dies from her wounds after we are treated to a scene of hillbilly incest (not explicit) and Arlen runs away, surviving a few nights by scratching ward circles in the dirt -- dangerous because wind or a footprint or a falling twig or rain could easily obscure the wards and allow the demons inside. Arlen ends up maiming a demon and making an enemy, and proving that they can be hurt, and that individuals do stay, and die. He ends up finding a Messenger, who are exactly what you think they are, glorified magic mailmen/tax collectors. They carry portable circles and have warded shields and are basically the only people who travel between the Free Cities, besides a few heavily guarded caravans trading essential goods. Arlen pretty much consistently proves himself the bravest, smartest and most talented Warder anyone's seen, and quickly makes a name for himself. The book's chapters often take place years apart, and this, along with a few other issues, are what began to wear on my experience.

All three characters begin the book as children. Arlen 10, Leesha 13, and Rojer 4. But because they start at different times, the story ends with Arlen being the oldest, and Rojer some eleven years younger than Leesha, rather than nine. Impressively, each manages to have their own consistent story before they're all inevitably connected together, with various levels of chronological skipping. Rojer goes from four to fourteen almost immediately, and it goes pretty normally from then, until he jumps to sixteen, while Leesha has a few chapters at thirteen, a couple at twenty, and then a final handful at twenty seven. Arlen jumps too many times for me to recall, before SPOILER he discovers an ancient warded spear, and an ancient city with lots of mystical power runes, and makes the incredibly obvious realization that if you can literally paint wards on anything, you can paint, and thus tattoo, wards on yourself. He does this after some betrayal at the hands of the ultrareligious warlike Krasians (can Arabs -- I'm sorry "desert people" in the Warded Man, AND A thousand Names -- be anything BUT religious zealot barbarians who abuse their women and hate foreigners in fantasy novels? This is fantasy, you know.)

Individually, I liked each of the characters, though Arlen started to wear on my nerves the more "tortured hero" he got. And he gets a lot. By the end of the book he's dripping tortured hero so hard I can read the Pantone color #. Rojer begins, continues, and obviously ends up as the Jongleur sidekick -- read bard. Leesha becomes a strong confident woman, trained as a master Herb Gatherer -- read, chemist/doctor, but then... Godzilla.

Let me go off for a second here. This book is a book with a lot of sex. Talking about sex, talking about babies, about how people in small towns constantly cheat, about how everyone is always sleeping with everybody else, about how you pretty much can't trust any man to not force his way into your pants. Leesha is almost raped numerous times, until SPOIILER she actually is. Off-screen. Her and Rojer are attacked by bandits and her virgin flower is stolen. It happens so suddenly, so randomly, that I actually stopped reading, earmarked my page, and put the book down on the table. The scene seems to hold no purpose other than to accentuate the point that men are rapists, and to give the characters a reason to need to be rescued by Arlen, discover he's the now-mystical Warded Man and murders demons with his bare hands, 

Let me put this out loud. The way the characters meet, and the "love chapter" I mean, love story develops is:
  • Leesha gets raped.
  • Leesha is rescued by Arlen.
  • Arlen, assisted by Rojer, essentially murder the bandits who raped her by leaving them to demons.
  • Leesha discovers this and is upset since she as an Herb Gatherer has sworn off killing anyone for anything.
  • Arlen is guilttripped by her logic and basically tries to kill himself by going nutso Rambo in the rain, which is dangerous because mud obscures wards and thus makes him vulnerable.
  • Rojer rescues Arlen, who comes back and acts a big sullen baby.
  • Leesha decides that this is the man she is destined to love and has sex with him.
Time between "lost virginity to rape" and "have sex with man I just met": one day.

Authors. Please, please, please. If you are going to include a rape scene in your book, please talk to a rape victim. Yes, people are different. People respond in all sorts of different ways. But one of the things rape victims almost universally do not do is immediately go have sex with near strangers. We all know Arlen is a hero who would never hurt anyone. We all know that Leesha is a woman who can make her own decisions, even if that decision is to revert to her childhood ignorant dream of just having babies and being a mom, literally throwing aside all of the character growth she's had through the whole book. The point is, they are still strangers basically at this point, and if that's her response, it's because she's gone crazy, and if Arlen is a really good person who does good things, he would realize that she just got raped and she is probably emotionally unstable, and maybe not making the best decisions.

Maybe I'm overly sensitive to this based on personal history, but I don't think that changing this story to have a longer build time from got raped to fucking a crazy tattooed magic dude would necessarily be a bad thing. Additionally, if you're going to have a rape scene, give the goddamn woman some agency. Having her entire struggle occur off-screen so that all we see is the resulting disempowerment makes that character seem weak, even though we know she's not. Leesha fights off rapists multiple other times in the book, yet she is denied a voice when it comes to the struggle that she loses. Poetically just, perhaps, but wrong for the character. Leesha becomes about as flat of a character as a pancake after she meets Arlen, lusting for his babies and promising she'll find out what the horrible truth is behind why fighting demons and absorbing their magic with his magic tattoos is turning him into an ubermensch. What a horrible flaw. It's really something I would worry about when I'm trying to rid the world of every last demon. 

Okay, I guess that's all the spoilers. The book ends with Arlen teaching people they can fight back, and a menacing chapter that leads directly to the sequel, with the Krasians on the march. Wheee. It's a classic hero's journey, through a fairly interesting world, but I felt like either too much of the iceberg was being hidden from me, or that the world is built on flimsy structures. For instance, if all you have to do to basically be invincible and able to kill demons with your hands is paint wards on your body, don't you think that's something like... no one would have forgotten? Or someone would have tried again? Because you can use pretty much any paint substance? 

It makes me worry that I'm projecting too much self-awareness into books, but this seems like... incredibly simple. Then again, I am some sort of super-educated magic man, and the people in this book are pretty much all medieval hicks.

Okay, all this said though, I do find myself thinking about the characters and the world when I'm not reading the book. The world gets into your head, and the characters are very likeable, and the prose is good. Brett writes with confidence, and he has a clear view of his world. While perhaps the destinations of each character's journey were never in question, I enjoyed the paths they walked -- truncated though they were. This book has all the essential parts of a story, without the fluff. But that in itself is something of a negative. Some fluff is good. Living with our characters can be enjoyable. You're not always wasting your reader's time if you're allowing your characters to live a little. This book could have been quite a bit longer and I would have been happy. Depending on the price of the Desert Spear, I might pick it up, and see if the sequel is worth a read. But if it's more man-happy tortured hero worldsaving... I might be too tired for it. It's too cool.

ONE WORD REVIEW:                                                                                         B/W/D
ASPIRING                                                                                                             LIBRARY.

Friday, June 14, 2013

#FridayReview #12 "Abbadon's Gate"

I love science fiction, and space operas are generally my favourite kind. I'm not entirely sure how operatic the so-called James S. A. Corey Expanse novels are, but they certainly are space. I enjoyed the first book in the series, and the second, and so I was really excited to read the third. So without further ado, I present the review for:


This is the third book in the series, starting with Leviathan Wakes and continuing with Caliban's War. The first one was an action packed/mystery filled broventure through space that I thouroughly enjoyed, but found almost completely lacking of female points of view. Somewhere between Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War, someone talked to the two guys that make up Corey and they apparently learned what women are and how they exist. The results are impressive, though if you were looking for the fixes, they're really noticeable. I don't know if they planned the novels to become progressively more "feminist" (read: egalitarian) and sort of flip flop some tried-and-true patriarchal sci-fi tropes, but they end up doing that, and it works pretty well in Caliban's War.

Let's drop some background: In The Expanse series, the solar system is pretty well populated, almost like the setting of the dreadful 2312, but a little grittier and significantly more real. There are three major factions: The UN, Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance. You can guess who they represent. There is one main character who the story ostensibly rotates around, the man James Holden who has been the centre of a lot of political turmoil all because of the crazy billions-year old alien protomolecule superdevice discovered living inside of Phoebe. I don't want to reveal too much, but the results of the other two book are that Earth and Mars are no longer allied, the OPA is independent, and there is a giant Ring floating just outside Neptune's orbit. This book is about the Ring.

I'll be frank. Corey knows that it's obvious that the Ring is a hyperspace gate or whatever, and doesn't play with us at all: the prologue tells you that's whats up. These guys do great prologues. Leviathan Wakes was a good book, and the best part of it was the prologue. The characters are brought together quickly -- the new are introduced, and Holden is honestly the least interesting, which is a good and a bad thing. There's Bull, the grizzled Earther vet who's joined up with the OPA, Anna, a priest originally from Russia, then Europa, who just happens to be gay. (which is pretty normal by the Earth family standards of the Expanse. They tackle the overpopulation issue in an interesting way that I like!) Last, there's Clarissa, who wants to destroy everything that Holden is, for what happened in Caliban's War.

Mixing all these guys up is real fun. It doesn't take long for everyone to get through the Ring, in very dramatic fashion, and then things


the fuck


If you've ever read Rama II or Rama III. You'll know there's something as too slow. The action in the book literally slows down -- you'll know what I'm talking about when you read it. The humans discover there's an alien superstructure, but most of them can't get to it. Mostly because most of them are killed pretty quickly after arriving. Shit hits the fan really hard, really fast, and the pace somehow stays alive, but at the same time, I felt like nothing was being accomplished. Characters died, action happened, but once again the aliens are kept on the outer edge, a whisper or a vision, a brief interaction. Technically, the alien structure is attacking them the whole time, I guess, but it definitely doesn't feel that way.

The whole battle against the aliens is actually a battle between humanity, to try to get everyone to agree. Much like Crossroads of Eternity was about the characters choosing where to go, Abbadon's Gate is about deciding what to do once you get there, and find out it's crazy and friggen weird.

If you've ever read Mistborn, and gotten past the first book, you'll know what I'm about to talk about. Transitioning an action-based, adventure style mystery solving whip of a book into a introspective political drama is difficult. Rewarding if done well, but difficult. This book is an introspective political drama in space, with gunfights. There is plenty of action, and the writing is as always, great, but I felt like Cory had written himself(ves?) into a corner with this book, because while I get that the whole point is that its humanity that's the real enemy, the world they've put their characters in is one where they have no option but to turn on themselves, because the alien artifact is essentially unnaproachable, unreachable, and completely unresponsive except through some little side-interaction through Holden, who doesn't really do much of anything with the alien structure, except learn what he needs to do to turn it off, which is to make everyone agree. The actual puzzle-solving is done by the alien-ressurrected ghost of the second POV character from Leviathan Wakes, one sad, lonely, drunkenly stereotypical hard-but-tired Detective Miller.

I don't know why they chose to keep the interaction with the aliens to the minimum that they did -- the story is good, and I enjoyed the book, but the ending felt weak without some real climax with the alien power. Maybe that's waiting for another book, but this book needed one.

The book leaves off promising that there will be more of Holden&friends to come. Honestly, they've got quite the setting for an expanded universe -- I can't deny that I've thought of writing my own little fictions in their world -- it's a good one! While this book has its flaws, it also has incredible strength in the power of its character's messages. There's a real philosophical heart to this book, and it's one we should all get along with. If you're looking for a solid sci-fi book that respects women, this is your ticket. Though I suggest reading all the other ones first :D

ONE WORD REVIEW: ENGAGING                                                   B/W/D: BUY


Friday, May 31, 2013

#FridayReview #11: The Throne of the Crescent Moon

As always, my turbulent existence has lead to another break, but I'm here again with another edition of the #FridayReview! This time its a book I picked up after hearing the author talk at Immortal ConFusion. Saladin Ahmed is a pretty cool guy, with a really cool name that I am totally jealous of. Just like the names of all his characters in his Hugo-nominated novel

This book is a delightful Sword and Sworcery in full Arab theme, my personal favourite theme. It has always perplexed me why Middle Ages Europe, largely the most stylistically dreadful period/place in human culture, has been the basis for so many fantasy novels. The obvious reason for this is influence of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, with their decidedly British flair for tiny hovels in hills surrounded by decaying ancient ruins. No doubt, ancient ruins are awesome, especially if they are as majestic as those in LOTR. However, in a day and age where we can see and study the influences of almost every culture in existence, I feel it behooves us to write outside our cultural sphere. Which is why I was so happy to read the fantastic Middle Eastern/North African styled world of the Crescent Moon -- an obvious reference if there ever has been one. And awesome one.

During one of the panels of the Con, Religion in Storytelling, I think, Mr. Ahmed and others talked about how in traditional Arab tales, and Arabic speech, praises to god are common, and not only common, but many are flavorful and long. In this book, as well as that one, God has many titles: "God is the Mercy that Kills Cruelty," and spells are prayers shouted in his name: "Beneficent God is the Last Breath in our Lungs!" It's pretty wicked. As a total heretic, I found all of the religion in this book really easy to get along with. It was also good to get a story where the Arab traditions and culture is viewed from the inside rather than a European-style adventurer showing up in an Arab themed locale.

But enough of the politicks and whatnot! You want to know how the book actually was. The answer is pretty radical. The magic has appropriate flair and majesty, and seems appropriately difficult to come by and use. There are restrictions and expenses for most powers, such as, well, all the main characters, and one of the sides. Adoulla Makhslood's magically pure-white kaftan will only remain so if he remains unmarried. Raseed bas Raseed's superhuman strength and speed and skill with his forked blade are only as great as his piety -- which is pretty great. Zamia Banu Laith Badawi is blessed with the ability to turn into a magical lion, but she pays for this gift by losing everyone she loves. And Dawoud, a side character who gives us a few POV chapters loses time off his life for every use of his life-saving magics. Really powerful magic seems to require really dark things -- which is what the entire plot revolves around.

Adoulla is a ghul hunter, which is like being an undead hunter, except ghuls come in a far greater variety than zombies and vampires. While he is reaching the end of his career, he's the only one around, and so he just keeps on working, with his heavenly charged assistant, Raseed bas Raseed. Another day on the ghul-hunting racket brings him into a far larger plot to stop an evil sorcerer from corrupting the throne of the Crescent Moon with dark magics from the Traitorous Angel (the Devil) and eating all the souls of everyone around, or turning their intestines into cobras (real from-book examples).

The story takes place almost entirely in the confines of the majestic city of Dhamsawaat, which is rich enough to host a book twice this one's length. (I will admit, it was a little short for me - at 260 something pages, it doesn't last long enough for me) Dhamsawaat may as well be a main character all its own, and indeed the whole story is almost just an excuse to go sight-seeing. If the city wasn't so interesting, it would be a problem, as it is, it's still a small flaw. The pacing is pretty good, and it doesn't really slow down, though by my usual taste in longer books, to me it barely got started up. Much of the book is devoted to the Falcon Prince, a princely thief who sort of steals the show whenever he shows up -- another small flaw -- and his rebellion against the obviously corrupt Kalif. Really, the only time we get to see any action on the side of the antagonist, the sorcerer Orshado, before the climax is through POV shots from a guard he's torturing, and occasional attacks by his minions, including the ghost-manjackal Mouw Awwa, whose dialogues are always great. That's the book's biggest flaw, by far. I really wanted more active adventure/invetigation against the evil superboss Orshado, and less passively collecting and deciphering clues. But that may be a personal preference for action. I will say that preference aside, I would have liked more interaction with Orshado, even though his final appearance is pretty epic.

Overall, the Throne of the Crescent Moon is a pretty grand adventure, with some flaws. It definitely deserves the Hugo and Nebula nominations it received, though I might not have voted for it to win. Although given the competition, I definitely might have.

ONE WORD REVIEW: MAJESTIC                                      B/W/D: BUY

Friday, May 10, 2013

Guest post: Storytelling in Stories

We have a surprise, this friday, for today I present a guest post by a fellow member of the #nanopals, Madison Dusome (@_vajk on twitter, blog) There'll be another one of these next week, hopefully with some posts of my own XD I just bought the Hugo-nominated Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladhin Ahmed, so look forward to that review next week! For now, enjoy Madison's excellent advice on storytelling.

Storytelling in Stories

Recently, a lot of writers I’ve met online are in the process of editing their novels – no easy task!
I’m in that boat, too, and I frequently find that my scenes fall flat. Maybe it’s a matter of opinion
(I’ve heard we are our own harshest critics), but I prefer to believe I’ve got things to work on. I
diagnose these scenes by reading them aloud; I rewrite them and I analyse them using complex
mathematics* and imaginary numbers – but something’s still not right. Most writing guides
would have us check each scene for our protagonist’s goal, for conflict and for action of some
kind – but those checklist items are easy to find when you’re looking for them, and it’s hard to
determine if what you’ve found is actually effective.

Enter the Storytelling Check, in which you will use storytelling techniques to find any
weaknesses in your ho-hum scenes. For those of you who are worried: fear not, I am far from
technically educated in writing, and this check won’t involve fancy literary words or meaningless
writerly fluff (I hope). For those of you who are skeptical: hear me out (even if I am essentially
advising you that to tell your story well, you need to tell your story well).

Step 1: What was the last interesting thing that happened in your life? Think about the last story
you told your family at dinner, or the latest gossip you shared with friends. It doesn’t have to be
bookworthy – if you told it, it was at least worth your time and breath.

Step 2: Imagine the same listener and choose a scene that’s been giving you trouble (better yet,
if your listener is available, have them listen for real). Imagine yourself in your protagonist’s
shoes and tell your listener all about the scene – as sensationally as you can – as though it
happened to you. Try to convince them; try to share with them your terror, bravery, doubt or
passion. Try to do this from memory rather than by reading.

Step 3: Analyse. Did that work, or was your story a dud? Was your friend on tenterhooks, or

Okay, so there aren’t a lot of steps – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Chances are, you’ll realise
before even beginning that the scene isn’t tell-worthy; sometimes it may seem that there’s no
story to tell, or no point to build to at all! Fear not! If your scene falls flat...

First, remember that every story needs background and/or setup. For example, a recent event
in my life was a battle of wits versus a thief who was trying to make off with my cellphone. I
told the story to my mom over the (same) phone, but I first had to tell her that I’d recently bought
a new cell; otherwise the story would have made no sense (not even a desperate thief would have
wanted my old phone). If you think your scene is setup, you’ve got some options:

1. Shorten it: get the necessary data out of the way as succinctly as possible. Depending
on how short you go, you might even be able to piggyback this data onto another (more
exciting) scene instead of giving it the stage all on its own.

2. Lengthen it: make it into a scene worth telling by adding some story. A conversation, for
example, could happen over a cup of tea or between breaths in a daring swordfight. One
of those is going to be a lot more interesting to read! Make it unique and fascinating.

If the scene isn’t setup but still feels awkward upon telling it to a friend, try again. Can you
raise the stakes? Can you make it scarier, funnier, more heroic? Your friends might also be
able to help with this: upon the third retelling of my near-thief story, my listener asked, “How
big was this guy?” It was a detail I hadn’t considered important, but I added it to later versions.
Tell your fish story again and again until that fish is soooo big you can’t even get it into the boat.

If you’ve checked for setup and you’ve scoured for story in vain, it may be time to consider
elimination. If you’ve told your scene a hundred times and it still feels pointless (this may be
obvious by your desire to add, “And then I found five dollars..?”), maybe you don’t need the
scene at all? Collect any tidbits you want to use elsewhere and scrap the rest. Your listeners
(and readers!) will thank you.

Want to practise? Retell one of your favourite (or least favourite) scenes in the comments!

*Okay, okay, I used the wordcount feature of my word processor.

Friday, May 3, 2013

#FridayReview #10

I have to admit, I was thrown pretty low by my read through of 2312. So rather than reading fiction, I turned my attention to some self-help books. But not the weightloss or feel-good kinds, but editing! So this week, I present:

This book opens with a somewhat pessimistic critique of the current publishing world, but it's not one that's unfounded. In truth, many books do seem to be rushed through with little editing; I often spot many errors and frankly, (and hopefully not to belabor a point) books by some authors seem to just get allowed through will little editing at all. (see 2312) As someone starting out in the publishing biz, I can't wait to have a professional editor look over my book and advise me on how best to achieve what I want. But in the current atmosphere, it's unlikely that a professional editor will ever get to my novel unless it's already in near-perfect shape. Unless, of course, you pay for it yourself.

But the introduction is whatever; lets get to the meat. This book has 12 chapters of varying length; in total the book is 262 pages long. The authors have a fairly lighthearted style that I appreciated, and they tell it fairly straight. Each chapter is filled with examples from workshops or previous clients' work, the majority of which is published. It's mostly just "fiction" rather than genre fiction, but they offer a sci-fi story up in there, and the advice is good for everyone. It covers all the basics of editing, starting with that most basic of basic but most important of all: Show and Tell. 

Unless you're really just starting out, this chapter doesn't tell you anything you don't already know, but it does provide some good examples and explains exactly how showing is better than telling, and in what ways.  There's times for showing and there's times for telling, and finding that balance is difficult. I found the book's advice to be refreshing and useful. At the end of each chapter, there are exercises (the "answers" are in the back -- the authors themselves admit that there is no real right or wrong, and some people may edit the selections better than they did.) where you occasionally edit the classics like Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby. These were actually pretty fun, and I found their answers insightful when compared to my own.

Of the chapters, I found "Dialogue Mechanics" and "Once is Usually Enough" to be the most pertinent to myself. They were all good, but these two showed a number of examples that instantly brought to mind sentences from my own books. In dialogue especially, I hate writing "said" over and over again, but as the authors point out, we don't actually even really read it. It's more punctuation than anything; you're just ascribing the identity of the speaker, nothing more. The words usually speak for themselves. But I just hate writing it all the goddamn time, so I often use beats to cover it instead, having the character do something rather than just say something. And while I don't think that my writing is quite to the level of their examples, it did make me go through and think about how I was pacing my dialogue.

Pace is something stressed over and over again, and really it's the heart of a novel, and for good reason. It's important as all get-out! Too fast and you tired your readers out; too slow and you bore them into dropping it. Balance is important, something else stressed throughout the book.

Of all the things this book taught, I think being aware is the most important one. Self-awareness is important throughout life in general, but it's hard to learn. You have to be able to watch what you're doing with an analytical eye, and that can be tough when we're so emotionally attached to our work. You don't want to stop feeling those feelings, either; you just want to be able to read what elements are evoking them, and work with those parts of your novel best.

I'd like this book to be a thousand pages long; the 262 aren't really enough to cover everything that needs to be discussed about editing, and really you could go on forever. But for a good primer to editing, this book really works. 

ONE WORD REVIEW: ENLIGHTENING                                              B/W?D: BUY

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rewards and NPCs

Hi gang! A proper post today, a rarity in these dark and troubling times. Why are they dark and troubling? Well, to be honest, it seems our awards systems are broken, and while a full post on the state of SF when it comes to shortlists like Clarke and Hugo will have to wait for another time, reading Strange Horizons' review of the Clarke shortlist brought out a very disappointing fact to me.

Many writers still don't seem to realize how important side characters are. The NPCs of the story: the shopkeeper, the army general, the kid from down the street. The love interest! The mentor! The "Non-Protagonist Characters."

I'm especially going to talk about the love interest today, because it's still sadly clear that many male authors don't know how or why women fall in love with men. I certainly don't understand how anyone could love me but that doesn't stop me from understanding the concept. The Clarke list, of which I have only read Dark Eden seems to be full of them. The relationship in Dark Eden is at least somewhat plausible, but it doesn't really fit here because the love interest is also a protagonist, though a clearly secondary one. But many of the other relationships in the Clarke books, and in many other SF (especially the sort of "adventure" SF or post-apoc) novels seem to be based on the idea that the protagonist has "won" the love of that character.

Video games are not books, and you do not write a video game like a book. But at the same time, you do. A video game, for our sakes in this conversation specifically an RPG (though that is a loose, loose label now)  is written for an audience of one, and is written so that the player feels engaged and that their actions have a driving affect in the world of the game. You want to reward them when they do good things so that they will want to do more good things or cool things. The player should feel so invested in the story and in completing all the things you have offered as rewards that they will go through tremendous hurdles to accomplish their goals. After all, that's the game. (The gameplay has to be fun, too, but a bad story can ruin even a fun game.)

When you're writing a book, you are writing to an audience of one, but there's no interactivity. The protagonist of the story is no longer directly controlled by the audience; their actions are set regardless of whether the reader turns the pages or not. But whether or not you have gameplay and interactivity, you still have rewards. The reader is supposed to feel invested in the character and begin to empathize with them as you follow them along their journey. In this way, they aren't playing, but they are expending effort, and you need to reward them.

Here's where we come back to NPCs. They're almost always the reward. Sure, the hero finds the sword or their parent's lost amulet or that old letter or whatever, but the most satisfying rewards are those that involve human relationships. What better than true love and happiness as a reward?

Many books like to provide a love interest as either a goal ("Your princess is in another castle"), a sidekick or (I believe more rarely) as antagonists. Any way you have them, their eventual true love, the culmination of their relationship, is often as or more important than the resolution of the plot.

(I think Neil Gaiman likes to end romances in his books because it's like killing the protagonist, but without the killing the protagonist part. You get the same emotional punch, but you can write a sequel. *cough cough* Graveyard Book *cough cough*)

It's all well and good to have love be a reward for the protagonist for his/her trials and tribulations, but that love interest needs to be actually interested and interesting. What I see far too often is an attractive but tough woman "who wants it her way" who ends up submitting herself to the male protagonist because he's just so heroically great. It's a clear indication of a boy trying to write a woman, but still not actually self-aware of what misogyny really is, and how much of it is in their own perspectives. Worse are the women who are just there to be a sex reward, who don't save themselves or make their own decisions or actually really exist. They are cardboard cutouts of women with (if the author is at least descriptive) plush breasts and fleshlights installed.

Other NPCs are often cartoon cutouts that follow the PC around that the writer thinks the story needs: the comic relief, the hard-ass boss, even the antagonist is often just a cartoon. It's so critical to remember that every character is their own person. If you are writing a book and trying to make it real, fill it with real people. Real people can smell fake people a mile away. That's why it's actually difficult to pass a Turing test. People are filled with emotional complexities and contradictions, and those can all work to your advantage, but only if you know the people you are writing. When you focus solely on your PC and surround them with foil-thin foils that turn into presents once the PC gets far enough into the story, you lose out.

A good relationship can make or ruin a story. Take the movie Lockout, which I like to call "Escape from Space." It is an old story, so much so that they made this movie previously, with Escape from New York, and Escape from LA and Save the President's daughter, Studly "America" McMan. You  knew pretty much every single plot point that was going to occur in this movie right from the beginning. The science was risible, and the action only decent. But what saved this movie was character acting and the relationship between the manly hero and the president's daughter. The characters all had their own motivations and were allowed to act on them, even the deranged psychopath. The romance between the hero and the Pres' daughter doesn't climax onscreen, but it is implied afterwords in an actual, healthy manner. If this movie had had good science and an original plot, it would have been incredible. As it was, it was enjoyable.

It takes more than a plot and a protagonist to make a story. It takes a world. It takes people.

Friday, April 19, 2013

#FridayReview #8: 2312

Well guys, it's arrived. The review of the Hugo-nominated 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson. I have to say, I was really excited to write this one, but now, to be honest, I haven't even finished the book. And at this point, it doesn't matter what the ending is. I'm honestly not even going to give it the big text this time.

Okay fine, I will.

by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312 takes place around the year 2312, and starts strongly hinting that some shit goes down in that year, but has not yet in the character's lives. He never specifies what date it is in the book, mostly for good reason, since a day and date mean little between Earth, Mars and Saturn. The setting of the book is quite excellent: a climate ravaged and poverty stricken Earth held down by ancient traditions and primitive beliefs and greed still remains the dominant power in a fully-populated solar system. Mars is terraformed and independent, Venus is being terraformed by a mostly Chinese population, Saturn and Jupiter and their moons are independent as planetary leagues, and all the major iron-nickel asteroids have been hollowed out as giant terrariums to hold the lost biospheres of destroyed Earth.

Oh and there's some jazz about quantum computers called qubes that all spacers have but few have implanted; they're "totally not sentient" i.e. totally are, and are super intelligent and powerful but supposedly harmless and slaved to humans.

There are two major plots and two major POV (there's a third semi-major POV that reminds me of the comic relief POV I had to throw away in the first draft of Leylined because he didn't fit and was just there to add fluff) and to tell you the truth, I don't even care about them anymore. KSR certainly doesn't seem to. His characters certainly don't. I don't ever see them caring. They just do things and go places and see stuff for KSR to describe, which, don't get me wrong, is cool. He is a descriptive master, and the solar system he has created is really beautiful and interesting, and real. The future he describes is one that seems totally plausible!

For a little background, KSR wrote a trilogy of novels about terraforming mars called Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars, and they ruled. They were great political dramas about planetary independence, the old world, and climate change, while having sweet hard sci fi about terraforming a planet.

And he used a lot of big words. He uses a lot of big words in 2312, too. A lot of them my Kindle dictionary doesn't even know. Fortunately, I know many of them, but there are still quite a few that I don't. 

This is a political book, too. Very political, and very derogatory of our planet's current administrations and cultures, and how we treat the planet and are just setting future generations of Earthlings up for a big ass shitshow. And you know what? I agree with it, all of it. This book jives with my personal political beliefs almost to a tee (except about qubes). It illustrates a universe I think is totally awesome and interesting. I should love this book. This should be my favourite book of last year, hands down. But you know what?

I haven't even finished it. It's too boring. It is too boring. I can't read it quickly enough! It's like molasses in my brain. There were about 20 straight pages of WALKING THROUGH A TUNNEL while that POV pondered the iterative versus the pseudoiterative life. And then they just get out through a happy coincidence, and nothing else bad happens to them.

Honestly, I got fed up at 70% and just put it down because the moment that should have been dramatic as fuck was like "okay whatever now this junk happens." Somehow, the dramatic situations he creates are transformed into piles of grey sludge by the narrative and his POVs.

Remember the two main plots I talked about? One is fixing Earth, and the other is "dealing with the qube problem." There was a single chapter devoted to the qube plot in this 70%, and I have the feeling it's going to blow up soon, but I can't bring myself to go any further. It's boring. It's stale. This book isn't telling a story, it's making a point. A point I agree with, but one that's made so staidly and obtusely that I can't even bring myself to support it.

Even if the last 30% of this book is a dramatic pulse pounding adventure, it's not worth it. It's bad writing. There are full chapters that are just X went here, X did this X saw that X did this X saw that X saw this thing which I will now describe in detail with full history for 2000 words. X goes somewhere else. Many people offering advice to writers say to cut down on the dialogue; people don't talk that much. This book cuts down on it to a point where these people may as well be mute. One of the POVs fell in love with the other POV and I couldn't even tell, his emotional state is so bland. The other POV is crazy, but when she really has a psychological break, you're never in her head. When you are, she's just a whiny girl, even though she's supposed to be something like 130 years old, and a super famous professional.

This book makes some good points about how we treat our world, and illustrates the potential for human expansion and the power we have to change our world and others. It is an "important" book. It is a "good hard sci-fi" book. That's why it got nominated for a Hugo. But I wouldn't tell a first-time scifi reader to read this book. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read KSR before, or isn't a heavy Stephen Baxter fanatic. And even then, that recommendation would come with caveats. Number one of which is: it's boring as hell, and farily badly written from a directorial standpoint. His actual mastery of the English language is not under question. But dramatic vision for this book is sorely lacking. The exciting things that do happen are like battles in LOTR -- briefly mentioned and often little more than a paragraph long.

I'm going to for real finish this book sometime, and I'll let you know if the ending changed anything for me, but right now, I'm going to read something else.

ONE WORD REVIEW: YAWN                                                                                      B/W/D: WAIT

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Emotional Points of View

I'm reading 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (my full review will be this Friday) but something in it is bugging me, and it drove me to write this post. That is the subject of using multi-POV with extreme emotional states. I have noticed that KSR seems to switch POVs when his characters enter their most extreme emotional states. Whenever you are in their head, they are calm. But if they freak out, you are likely to see it from a companion character. Most of the chapters so far (halfway through) are in fact duo POV chapters, which is an interesting device, but in this case I feel it's being underused.

When you're writing in third person past, you're a little more disconnected than say, first person present. But that disconnectedness offers benefits, and there are really few limitations on what kind of emotional depth you can reach with third person. This is especially true for books where the characters spend a lot of time thinking and you spend a lot of time in their stream-of-consciousness, like 2312. There's no reason why you should feel disconnected from the characters just because you use their name instead of "I."

In particular, I feel strongly that we should experience a range of emotions from our characters within their points of view, especially the extremes. One character in the 2312 in particular feels, if not completely sane then at least functioning when I'm in her head, and rarely does crazy things, but almost as soon as you switch POV she starts acting like a wild animal and doing insane things or constantly moaning. I'm not sure if this is purposeful; if it is, I haven't figured out the reason.

You don't want to have every character in your book wildly swinging back and forth between the full range of emotions like they're auditioning for some satirical director, nobody wants that. Your characters don't have to express every emotion, either; if nobody in the book experiences suicidal tendencies I'm not going to throw it away, but if they do I should be in their head for it. If they're a main POV, of course. And of course I can already think of reasons why you would break this rule, but I think setting this as the default is a good line to take. If you want to have one character rescuing another and have that help them change something about themselves, great. That puts a new focus and direction for the scene, and it's on the POV. That's different from having a POV observe another POV going nuts, and learn nothing from it nor do nothing about it. That other POV is still the focus of that scene, and you're just providing meaningless distance.

I don't think this is a widespread problem, but it's a specific one, and I think it matters. We're reading books to be transported in all our senses, and that includes emotion. Unless it's important to the plot, we shouldn't just see extremes, we should experience them.

Friday, April 5, 2013

#FridayReview #6: The Emotion Thesaurus

I'm going to do something different with this #FridayReview and that's to review something that isn't entertainment! This is a blog about writing, after all. So if you feel like your book is filled with nodding, grunting, scowling neanderthals, then you'll understand why I went out and bought:

 By Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman

The Emotion Thesaurus is what it says it is. It's a thesaurus filled with emotions. But it's more than your generic thesaurus -- it gives you a breakdown of all the traits associated with certain emotions, be they physical tics or internal cues such has hammering heartbeats. They're all in a modern human context, since that's the most widely applicable cross-genre, but there's a few in here that provide a good basis for imagining alien or animal responses. 

Each emotion links to the aggravated or subdued versions of itself, such as something like Anger-Rage-Annoyance. Not every emotion you can think of is in here -- for example I couldn't find exasperated, but there's enough that you'll find one close to it, and get some inspiration from the cues within. 

The power of emotion can't be understated, and the introduction does a good example of some some show vs. tell texts. There's some good advice to be found in this book, and I actually wished there was more of it before I actually got to the thesaurus part. After reading through the thing (it's about as long as some short novels!) I definitely know there's a lot I need to go back and work on in my WIP. 

There are times, of course, where it is appropriate to say "X felt thusly" or "X was [emotion]." Sometimes that's all there is to it! Sometimes it can be more powerful to just say "I'm pissed" than to describe a whole set of pissed-offedness symptoms. But that's only if you've previously established what happens when that character is pissed. You know how they feel, you know what happens. If you've never written anything else about that character being pissed off, then you shouldn't be using it.

The Emotion Thesaurus is a great tool to help you define your character's unique traits. Everyone reacts differently to different emotions, and so should your characters, unless it matters to the plot. There's nothing worse than reading a story where almost every character is just a copy of the other one. Making unique characters is one of the best things about RPGs, and therefore about writing. I'm not going to call this book "essential" but it is something I keep nearby (just like the rest of my library). After all, not everyone nods to say yes.

ONE WORD REVIEW: USEFUL                                                        B/W/D: BUY IF YOU WANNA

Saturday, March 30, 2013

#CircleSprint co-op story game!

Hello everyone!

I realized earlier that gdocs' sharing makes it really easy to replicate the in person game of co-op stories. I can't think of the established name for this game so we're gonna call it the Circle Sprint! The game is to write as much as you can in one minute before the next person takes over and does the same thing, and then you repeat for as long as you want (I suggest 30 minutes). I suggest having more than two people, and not more than ten in a group -- even ten might be stretching it, but it could be fun once in a while. I think the best number of people for a game like this is five or six.

Anyways, here's how a #CircleSprint works:

1. Make a blank document on gdocs.

2. Share it, making sure everyone can edit the document, using the link function rather than bothering with email. (But you should probably use DM or a chat so random trolls don't join in) Everyone will come as anonymous, but with a colour, and you'll each match your text colour to your chat colour. For those of you who haven't used gdocs before, there's a chat window that will appear on the right side and you can talk to your fellows that way w/o spamming twitter with chat.

3. Have everyone open up This timer is set to go off once every minute, with just a little ding. You all have to set them off independently, or you could assign a timekeeper. There's no preset end limit, so it will just keep going off every minute until you decide to stop.

4. Decide who goes first -- my suggestion is to use or whatever die roller app (or even real dice!) you have and roll to see who goes first, using highest number as first. Choose a die that reflects how many people you have, so there's less chance of rerolls. Just be honest with the results. It's not that big a deal, and if you're really too timid to start you can always lie and say you rolled a 1 ;)

5. Once you've decided the order, decide what kind of genre limits, if any, you want to enact, and how long you want to go. This discussion will give a little time to your first person to think of what they want to start with,  (as if you all won't have been already)

6. Get ready, make sure everyone is at their keyboards. Prepare your mind -- one minute doesn't sound like a lot but it really is if you just let the words come out! Don't worry about how stupid it is, just roll with it. This is for fun and should take you to fun places in ridiculous ways. Or maybe you can write a drama like this, I don't know!

7. OKAY START ALREADY JEEZ! Have everyone start their timers at the same time (approximate is enough, really) and begin! Stop as soon as you hear the alarm go off. Don't even finish the word. Let them. Pay attention, read -- don't go somewhere else if you're number four or five or something -- and know when it's your turn.

When your chosen time is up, stop and behold your creation! Everyone will have the link so they can all make their own copies and such, so you can continue to use them in later sprints, or even make parallel universe stories with different groups! This isn't really about ownership, it's about storytelling :D

You should also feel free to meet up with the video chat service of your choice (google hangouts, skype, something else I'm sure) rather than using gdocs chat, but that's only if you all can. Some of us have desktops with no cameras, or super crummy internet.

I'll try to organize some of these for later this week, but feel free to do them yourselves with friends -- I think it's a good exercise that makes you quicker while lets you have fun.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Review #5: The Way of Kings

Oh yes... yes I knew we would come to this day. I mentioned it during last week's review of Mistborn, and it gave me a hunger. Yes, a deep hunger. So, without further ado, here is the Friday Review of Brandon Sanderson's


This book was actually my first experience with Brandon Sanderson, and he's quickly becoming a favourite for me. I may have spoiled myself, however, because this book is one of the best I've read in a while.

Here's the blurb from the back cover, which I really liked:

I long for the days before the Last Desolation.
The age before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. A time when there was still magic in the world and honor in the hearts of men.
The world became ours, and we lost it. Nothing, it appears, is more challenging to the souls of men than victory itself.
Or was that victory an illusion all along? Did our enemies realize that the harder they fought, the stronger we resisted? Perhaps they saw that the heat and tThe bohe hammer only make for a better grade of sword. But ignore the steel long enough, and it will eventually rust away.
There are four whom we watch. The first is the surgeon, forced to put aside healing to become a soldier in the most brutal war of our time. The second is the assassin, a murderer who weeps as he kills. The third is the liar, a young woman who wears a scholar's mantle over the heart of a thief. The last is the highprince, a warlord whose eyes have opened to the past as his thirst for battle wanes.
The world can change. Surgebinding and Shardwielding can return; the magics of ancient days can become ours again. These four people are key.
One of them may redeem us.
And one of them will destroy us.

The world of Way of Kings (hereafter WoK) is similar to Mistborn in one way -- it's a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Only instead of darkness and ash all the time, it's occasional superstorms that strip the land of its dirt and flay anyone caught outside alive with hail and raging winds. Seasons change based on these storms, so things don't stay the same for long. But rather than just a thousand years of this, the society of WoK has dealt with this reality for tens of thousands. The world is populated with crustaceans and hardy armored pod-plants, the only things that can survive out in the storms. As many have said, Sanderson is a master of worldbuilding, and this world feels very real.

This book has a lot of characters, but only three main POV characters, while about a dozen (including our weeping assassin) show up in interludes between plot arcs. This allows you (the reader) to meet a lot of people, learn a bit about other places in the world and open up some side plots but at the same time letting you know you don't really need to worry about these things right now. It's like a recess from the epic storyline. And it is epic, since the book is 1200 pages in print.

The magic is predictably Sandersonian, with straight rules and a complex system (this is actually relates to my only real complaint with the novel, which was a long and detailed description of just how all three of the prologue character's abilities worked. I appreciate that he wants to tell us and make it simple to understand right off the bat, but I know some people are put off by long explanations of magic systems, and throwing one in at the prologue, even if it is a long prologue, is in poor taste. I got through it because Sanderson is a great writer and makes everything easy to read and because the story was already awesome, but its still something that I recommend against.

But seriously guys, this world. It's so magical and wonderful and real. It was refreshing to get a very original feeling world with a creative and involved religion. As I've said before, this is Mistborn for grownups. You travel so far and so wide, and it's all so detailed. I hadn't felt a world so real since reading Name of the Wind, which I know has detractors but seriously it rules. But where NotW has sappy romance and woeful regret (which are good in their own way) WoK just has more action, action, action. There are slow parts, but the book is structured in such a way that you are almost always being rewarded with action scenes whenever the pace settles down for what would otherwise be too long elsewhere.

If you're writing a book, I can't recommend WoK enough. The dramatic structure is obvious; it's like a play. But that doesn't stop your enjoyment of it, and the world and plot are deep enough that you can't just figure it out even knowing how some things will inevitably go. I was surprised by a few things, but really there was just so much to learn about the world that the book could be afforded a few slow moments or obvious twists. There was one twist at the end that was both not surprising and also really surprising at the same time. (I'll leave it to you to read) When I was reading this book I was really trying to be a good reader, and Sanderson made it easy in a good way.

Plus, magic power armour and giant bugs. What more could you ask for?

ONE WORD REVIEW: EPIC                                                       B/W/D: BUY SERIOUSLY ITS 2.99 ON KINDLE FOR SOME REASON

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fundamental Differences

How do you write a character with a belief system fundamentally different from your own without tainting your narrative with a personal or cultural bias? This is something that seems impossible. Surely some of your own personality, your own cultural bias must be impressed on your writing, no matter how well researched. I'm only willing to accept this with this caveat:

The only ultimate bias is the one formed by the language in which you are writing.

There are limits to what English can and cannot express with simplicity and ease. The same holds true for any other language. French provides a bias with the very word "the" since nouns are gendered. In English, the biases are simply more oblique, and I'm not going to list them not just because it's too deep a conversation but because I can't possibly know them all -- I'm not sure it's possible to.

All that is moot though -- my point is that writing a character with a different fundamental viewpoint should be no different than writing a character that shares your views. Neither of them are you -- they're both strangers in a way. One may have more in common with you, true, but social values should be treated no more differently than personality traits, or even physical traits. You're can't build all your characters exclusively on yourself, no matter how interesting you think you are, and writing a character who is racist or homophobic or atheist or fundamentalist or whatever shouldn't be any different than writing a chracter who is tall, or short, or fat, or thin or angry or passive or brave or cowardly.

I mean, most of us have already written and played racist characters, we just haven't noticed it -- who played D&D? Who reads Forgotten Realms novels? Fantasy is fantastically racist. Dwarves hate Elves, Elves hate Dwarves, Everybody hates Orcs, White People - er I mean Humans have a diverse culture with all sorts of interesting things, and they hate Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Orcs, whatever. The sort of jocular racism that exists in D&D is still racism, just with a candy coating. That doesn't mean it's bad -- the past was racists as hell, and classical fantasy is the past.

Don't feel bad about any of that, how the hell were you supposed to know? But realize that when you've written a character or played a character who believes in Black and White good and evil, you have probably written someone who has racist views. And I think probably all of us, regardless of any other viewpoint, are not racist, nor do we (for whatever reason) wish to be. But at the same time, everyone is, since no one is telepathic. We can't be fully empathetic with someone because you aren't that person. Why do you think twins always seem so close? They don't share a special link, they just are the same biological person. They react the same (or at least more often than two otherwise related human beings), at a fundamental level.

This means that you're always faking it when you're putting yourself in someone else's shoes. You're imagining it, but you can't imagine what you don't know. That's why it's important to read widely; gain experience and a wider breadth of cultural viewpoints. You'll find that writing those characters who seemed strange or reprehensible will become much easier. Travel, too, don't just read. That's just one person (sometimes more) funneling their experiences through fiction, which is great too, but if you're a writer, you need more than just condensed milk. You need the whole cow.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Review #4: Mistborn

This one was a long time coming. I've had friends bugging me for years about reading these, and it shames me to have taken this long. Today's review is:


By Brandon Sanderson

I picked up Misborn after reading his more recent epic, Way of Kings, which I highly recommend. It was very interesting reading the earlier work of an author after reading the later works. Especially in the case of these two books, since they both share a lot of the "post-apoc fantasy" trappings and multi-pov action. While Way of Kings is obviously more polished and fuller, since Sanderson is a bit more experienced now, Mistborn was well-written and very imaginative.

Sanderson is a card carrying Ruler -- his magic systems are really systems. There's very few tricks when it comes to his magic; once you understand how the basics work, it's very straightforward to follow the action and predict some things. Sometimes the descriptions are a bit slow, but I never had too much trouble with them. There's a lot of very careful worldbuilding in Mistborn, and the characters and their place in society feel real. There's a good sense that you can explain how and why everything works and why everyone sits in their place in society.

I'm going to be honest. Writing this review is difficult because having read Way of Kings already, my view is coloured. WoK is like Mistborn, but better crafted, more interesting, and more dramatic in every way. So if you're going to read Mistborn, don't read WoK first :D

There's not really much to complain about Mistborn; its good. You should pick it up. It's a cool trilogy, but you can just read the one if you want. But in the same vein, I don't have much to say about it either. It's a cool high fantasy tale in a cool world that's just not as cool as his later works.

This is something we all need to understand. Your best right now isn't going to be the same best five years from now. You're not going to craft your finest work immediately, no matter how much you think this story right now will be your masterpiece. Mistborn made Sanderson a name, but it's hardly going to be his best work. We're always improving ourselves. This doesn't mean that the things we created early on are bad -- they're testaments to the effort that you put in to get where you are now.

All this talk is making Mistborn sound bad, but it's seriously a fun time.

Just... Way of Kings... mmh!

ONE WORD REVIEW: A ROMP (shh "a" doesn't count)                         B/W/D: BUY

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Review: Downbelow Station

For this edition of the Friday Revew, I bring you:


By CJ Cherryh

I'm going to get a lot of hate for this one, I think. Downbelow Station is an older book, by the well-renowed CJ Cherryh, that came out in 1981. To hear the wikipedia synopsis of it, it's an epic story of war between corporate imperialists, beleaguered colonists and a scrappy band of merchants. I didn't miss the part of the book that this occurred in, but I honestly felt the war itself was a fairly distant thing, and the book is more of the effects of war.

The main setting is "Downbelow Station," an independent space station orbiting a slightly uninhabitable planet called Pell or, "Downbelow." This planet's atmosphere is almost good enough for humans, but they can't live outside indefinitely. However, the sentient proto-Ewok creatures that live on the planet are capable of surviving just fine in normal human atmosphere. This will be important.

This is a multi-POV story, and honestly it doesn't matter which POV you're reading, because everyone is reprehensible. Maybe that's good, but I don't think it was intended. Most of the characters are people who live on Downbelow station, and follows their story as their mostly self-sufficient station is bombarded by refugees from other stations as the war between the Alliance and the Union grows. The ever-pragmatic citizens of DS put all these refugees into one section of the station, give them minimal food, restrict their movements, and call them "Q" for "Quarantine." There's a strong antagonism between DS and the rest of the human civilization, as though because they have a planet and Ewok slaves they are better than everyone out there.

Oh, right. The Ewok slaves. They're called the Hisa, and I know this book came out before "A New Hope" but they're Negroes. I mean Ewoks.

Have you ever read old Jules Verne stories? There's one called "The Mysterious Island" that you can read for free in French and English at the Gutenberg Project. In it, one of the main characters owns a slave. That slave is described in terms that you or I would likely use to describe a dog. Sort of a friendly dismissiveness, a simplification of motivations. "That Negro just loves his massa" rather than "that black slave fears that if his master is killed and he returns alive that he and his family will be killed."

This book does very little to address the issue of having sentient slaves other than to sort of express (from a Hisa POV) that the Hisa just love their masters, and if only they just weren't so stupid.

There's also a moment where one of the heirs to the DS throne is on the planet itself, the station having been conquered by some Union troops or something, and he's with a lot of refugees who were working on the planet's surface. And while he's looking out onto the refugees, worrying about their families and loved ones back on the station, he realizes that "wow, the people from Q have families too!"

Wow. Incredible. Those people from stations just like yours who look like you talk like you and are like you in almost every way have similar emotions and fears as you? My god, I'm so surprised.

Here's my main beef. If you're going to write about a bunch of slaveowning racists, don't make them so incredibly stupid. This book was screaming white privilege at me the entire time. "Everything would just be fine if we ran on the American ideals of an unregulated free market."

A lot of the characters in this book are well put-together, but the sort of idiot colonialism that is represented by these supposedly "freedom loving anti-establishment" merchant folk was just too much bigotry for me to take. I don't particularly blame CJ Cherryh for writing a novel like this -- it was the 80s and I'm sure no one told her better. Her tech is realistic and a lot of her characters are really well grounded, but so many aren't. This book just hit on a lot of stupid points for me, and also felt like it was promoting slavery, so long as the slave race is stupid and easy to control.

It's impossible to predict how your book will be received, or what people will pay the most attention to in a book, but I felt like the parts of the book I had the most problem with were the parts that were the least essential to the entire plot. The Hisa don't matter to the plot, they're just there, as slaves. The people of DS are special because they have this planet that the don't really use, but there's no real reason that they should have ownership or why someone can't just take the planet from them at a moment's notice.

This book received critical acclaim and won a Hugo award. I don't think it deserved them. You can read to decide, but I wouldn't waste the time.

ONE WORD REVIEW: DISTASTEFUL                                                     B/W/D: DONT