As it was in the beginning: how does an author hook a reader?

 

Wherein I promise the advice every writer wants and fail to deliver…

Especially because I don’t give advice. I don’t have the credibility, but I can read, and I am constantly working to become a better writer. I have started my latest project three or four times (I honestly can’t remember), and every time there was a problem. The most recent problem was “too much, too soon.”  I had a great beginning to introduce the character and some special qualities of his–he’s a musician and poet, and he has the ability to speak to goddesses, something that is rare to say the least–and an interesting situation.  But once I started writing, I realized that a lot of stuff was happening and that we actually hadn’t gotten to know the main character.  I wrote about twenty thousand words before I realized that readers actually hadn’t connected with the main character, despite an interesting first chapter.

And I realized that a lot of my favorite books, books where I am totally hooked from beginning to end, actually don’t do a lot in the beginning.  The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, for instance, begins with a bizarre and exciting prologue with a guy blowing himself up, but after that, Chapter 1 is people walking into town, getting ready for a party.  Plenty of books do start with a bang, but those that do usually settle into the fairly regular rhythm of daily life for the main character.  But at the same time they don’t seem mundane. Continue reading “As it was in the beginning: how does an author hook a reader?”

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Do sociopaths make good villains? In defense of villains, Part II

72536Dr. Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door (2005) answers a lot of questions writers ask about villains. Again and again, the question comes up of what villains want, why they bother, and what motivates them. A related question is whether a writer should portray villains as doing the right thing from their own perspective. We need villains to make heroes act heroic, but villains themselves are often interesting, sometimes even more, and it’s their perspective that’s so interesting. Most readers and writers are not villains: they care more about cats and puppies than seeing people suffer, and writers and readers tend to be people who like to delve deep into the psyche and experiences of people who are not like them. In this vein, I decided to do some research on sociopathy, antisocial personality disorder, and criminality to get at these questions in a more thoroughly psychological way (i.e. not just through great works of fiction). Continue reading “Do sociopaths make good villains? In defense of villains, Part II”

Have some taste

In which I try to define serious art and alienate Firely and Megadeth fans

My quest as a writer, and to a larger extent as a reviewer, reader, and participant in aesthetic culture, is mostly consumed with figuring out what distinguishes one work from another in terms of a very hard-to-define quality. Whether I am socializing around music, science, or science fiction, there are certain qualities that distinguish one fan from another and the reflection of those qualities in the works that we socialize around. There is some criterion by which I look at music, movies, television shows, short stories, and novels, that reflects its quality better than anything else, yet this criterion is not specifically related to execution of the story or music.  It’s often not a matter of skill, but of choices made by the artist of what to talk about, or what to take seriously.  It’s very hard to place, but I think I have arrived at calling it “taste.” Continue reading “Have some taste”

Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman (Goodreads Review)

Black Sun Rising (The Coldfire Trilogy, #1)Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short version: richly-imagined world, historically important in modern fantasy, and mostly skilled prose, though mixed and sometimes hard to follow.

 

Black Sun Rising is a book I have looked forward to reading for years, as it’s often found on library shelves and lists of influential or favorite books. The tipping point came when I found the third book of a different trilogy at a local thrift store. C.S. Friedman’s skill was evident from the first word and I found myself stuck, ignoring my kids. Black Sun Rising, likewise, is engaging and drew me in with its inventive and original world. The author is not tentative about revealing the nature of the world: this is a future world colonized by spacefaring humans, and the relationship to earth is clear from the very beginning, in the prologue. You’re clearly dealing with earth cultures and remnants from Earth on a world that works differently, right on page 1. Continue reading “Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman (Goodreads Review)”

How not to piss off your readers, or “Have you driven a Ford lately, Terry Goodkind?”

The rise of social media has given many readers new ways to cross authors off the list.

andre-norton
Recognize this author?  Me, neither.

The internet is great, but it’s a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to authors.  When I was a kid, authors lived in far off worlds whose locations were rarely hinted at by About The Author passages.  If I passed Dan Simmons or C.J. Cherryh on the street when I was growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I never would have known it.  Everyone knows Stephen King lived in Maine (and for a while he lived in Boulder, and set one of his books there), but King is not only a superstar, he’s a down-to-earth guy who most readers find accessible (even if his books aren’t; although sales suggest they are).  One can believe he not only lives in a house, but he coaches Little League.  The details of Arthur C. Clarke’s personal life came out pretty well in his later books, but for most authors, they might have been dead and I wouldn’t have known it.

Continue reading “How not to piss off your readers, or “Have you driven a Ford lately, Terry Goodkind?””

Serious kids’ movies

In which I alienate fans of Labyrinth by arguing that an excellent codpiece by itself doesn’t create the reverence and dread of a real drama.

First the news: I had another hen eaten by a fox on Saturday, so I replaced her with four new birds that I know are female (backstory: a year-and-a-half ago when I got chicks, we accidentally got a Wyandotte rooster, who the kids named R.L. Stine). I have a sequel to Firesage outlined, tentatively called Watermark, and a rough idea for a third book in a trilogy. After some thorough beta reading I have almost got Firesage ready to send to my agent, and I think this one will sell. Despite his wariness that epic fantasy is a “cold genre” I think editors will relate to the primary question of what the main character will do to make a good life for her unborn child. I went to the bookstore the other day to look for comps (and I found some good books), but I always walk away with the feeling that my books are so unique people won’t know what to do with them. I don’t think I have ever read or even heard of a fantasy book that deals with the unique anxieties faced by pregnant women, so I’m hoping that will do it for me (if you have heard of one, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter).

Continue reading “Serious kids’ movies”

Young Adult Protagonists

In which I alienate fans of lawyer books…

dragon_prince_cover
Young people: horny, stupid and capable enough to get into major trouble.

First the news: I am about a quarter of the way through editing Firesage. I don’t have much inclination to do anything else because editing is so rewarding. I thought about doing a blog post on my editing procedure, but actually editing is so much more fun, I thought I would share some thoughts on the age of protagonists. I got two more short stories rejected this week, and will post them here soon. If you haven’t read “Talons of the Sun” or “The Lapis Dragon-Tamer” yet, head over to my short fiction page, and stay tuned for more.

The subject came up on Facebook about why so many stories are about people of a particular age, and I have some quick thoughts on this.

Continue reading “Young Adult Protagonists”

Long Novels, Short Stories, and The Seat of My Pants

In which I alienate all of you who’ve published short stories

On Wednesday I finished the 1100-page It by Stephen King, the longest thing I’ve read since Cliver Barker’s Imajica almost two years ago.  I read it in about five weeks with a one-week break during my trip to Paris when I started Deborah A. Wolf’s The Dragon’s Legacy.  It was interesting to read mainly because it was at the top of my list of books by King that I’ve wanted to read for a long time.  I saw the ABC mini-series when I was a kid, taped it and watched it over and over, and always wanted to read the book.  Twenty seven years later (no joke) I found a paperback of it for $1 at Boskone, and as is always the case with King, I couldn’t put it down.

Of all the excellent aspects of this book, one thing in particular stood out to me as a writer: every side-note, every piece of background, every seemingly insignificant fact, has a central character.  There are passages throughout this book, told in an omniscient voice, as one would tell a ghost story around a campfire, where characters pop into existence only for telling the reader more about the history of Derry, or for the purpose of advancing the story, and nevertheless we learn a lot about that person even though he only lives for a few seconds.  Which characters are central is very clear, never in doubt, but these characters who are not even side characters all have their own lives and histories and connections to different parts of the story.  They are not functionaries, they are not useless page filler, and they are not the two-dimensional oddities of Gravity’s Rainbow. Continue reading “Long Novels, Short Stories, and The Seat of My Pants”

Crunchy Complexity

WoT01_TheEyeOfTheWorldIn which I alienate Robert Jordan fans and Harry Potter fans in one swell foop.

The other night in our writing group at the Fairlee Public Library I read a passage from my novel-in-progress Firesage. I spent a little time building up the world for my fellows, then read the passage. I explained that the sorcerers who are the main characters live in an academy, and a little bit about the scheming that is tearing it apart. I almost forgot to mention that the main character is pregnant. That wasn’t so important for the passage I read, but it’s most of the basis of the conflict in the novel. I didn’t stop and fill in the background as I went along, because the passage was a flashback to a time before the novel begins, when the main character was “discovered” in a different setting than the one I had just explained. Continue reading “Crunchy Complexity”