Friday, July 22, 2011

Nitpick for any sort of writing

Nothing words.

We clog out writing with a lot of nothing words.

Yes, I mean adverbs:  "He said dashingly" says a whole lot less about the dude than, "he said as he arced his eyebrow in a quick twist."

But also the "seems" category.  "The car seemed to move."  Well did it?  Didn't it?  We are in the character's point of view--in the writer's point of view if you aren't writing fiction.  In that point of view, it happened or it didn't.  Maybe the car didn't really move.  The character would still believe it did, erroneously.  Which could be pointed out later if necessary.  Right now, that sentence "seemed to move"?  You wasted two words and the chance to put your sentence in the active tense.

"Began to" or "started to" and "tried to" are also pet peeves.  If he "began to shout." well obviously he began at some point because he is now shouting, and isn't that what matters?  If his shout is cut off abruptly before he gets a chance, there are much more effective ways to do that.  "He shouted but claws closed around his throat and turned to sound to a weak peep."

All of those words glut a sentence, rob you of active voice, and are all together silly.  If the idea is to express that it doesn't work out, don't tell us in advance.  Let it unfold so that we see for ourselves this woman's rock climbing failed miserably and she fell.  Don't put "tried" at the front.

I try to be understanding, but it seems these phrases start to rankle after a while.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

World Building

Some authors skate passed world building by throwing us into a set of elements we all already know--the Tolkien or Dungeons & Dragons world.  To my mind, this is lazy.  It is stealing a world and plugging it in.

I already spoke a bit about world building when I spoke of integrity, though integrity also includes character and plot.

In order to become involved in a world in a book either as a reader or a writer, you need to think like an anthropologist.  Anthropology is a social science that studies human cultures.  An archeologist is an anthropologist that studies dead worlds, as an example.  An anthropologist would study a world, and see how the pieces sensibly put together to create a whole.  Do sexual mores fit with the religion of the culture, for instance.

A thorough world building site would be:, though there are many others.  Basically type:  "World building" into Google and you will have a wealth of options.

I've already given you a couple of great examples of world building.  Hopkinson creates a combo sci fi/fantasy fusion of an abandoned, cordoned off Toronto and the world built within along with vodun/Yoruba culture and religion.  Beagle works within what is basically his modern day world in an urban fantasy long before anyone coined that term.  Most of the world is the same.  He just adds in a talking raven and ghosts.

The big key for a world to work seamlessly to me is when you ask the question, how much world is enough?  As much as you have lazy worlds that don't put much thought into it, some authors put way too much thought into their worlds, or rather into their stories.  These authors spend so much time on their world, it can engulf or glut their stories.  If the story doesn't involve it, I see no reason to write about all of the political machinations of a government that plays little role in the world of a shepherdess climbing a haunted mountain in the middle of nowhere.  She doesn't care and probably doesn't know.

And that's the heart of it.  As I beat this horse way past dead and into rotting, character is key.  Maybe the writer makes up the whole world, but a clean, streamlined world building all surrounds one thing:  The characters and what they encounter.  So yes, I'm back to that.  Character, character, character.  Anything that touches the character should be well fleshed out, even if in the book it comes down to one, single line that enriches our ideas of the story.  However if the characters don't need it, never come in contact with it, we don't need it either.

Look at some of your favorite books and their world building.  Usually, unless you are a world aficionado, with good books, the world building sneaks in so elegantly that you didn't really notice it until I asked you to.

Tell me about your own favorite cases of world building.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

So about me. . . .

I feel the need to ramble about me.  Hopefully you'll get to know my sunshine self better and feel more confident commenting on it (no really.  I did an MFA in creative nonfiction.  We love it when people talk about us).

So let's start very directed.  I got into a fight with a friend I've known ten years this week.  It was one of those grand situations where we'd gotten into a fight a month ago and this was supposed to clear the air.  I don't get it.  We used to talk about virtually anything.  Now she is a row of closed wood boxes.  Locked.  I cried.  I apologized for my behavior she didn't like.  Then I woke up the next day.  So I near begged--okay, I begged shamelessly--for more communication.  She had never promised me anything other than to try to be less offended by me.  What the fuck?

So I haven't ever written about me before, so you don't know, my girls are my girls.  Dump a boyfriend, fine.  Never let go of a girlfriend.  Feeling like I lost her, and that she disapproved of me, makes me feel split open at the chest.  I can't get it.  My brain rejects it.  I feel as if some way I have failed not to be able to get her to let those Pandora Boxes she has closed.

I have decided after long hard thought and still a lot of gut wrenches, that I need to let the friendship go for a while.  I have to respect myself.  I am no longer sure she respects me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fantasy Cliché

"You are in a tavern."
"You are walking down a heavily wooded road."

No, wait.  Those are Dungeons & Dragons clichés.

The elf is ethereal.  For some reason, elves hate dwarves, who are good warriors and like stone.

Shit.  Now we're in Tolkien.

He bared his mouth to show off sexy fans--

And, hell.  We're everywhere now.

No.  Here's the real trick for avoiding clichéd fantasy when looking at your local (I stress, local) bookstore shelves:  It's all been done before.  Despite the fact the "what if?" format giving fantasy almost limitless possibilities, there are standard ploys, quests, questions, and worlds.  Often, a single concept, say. . . .vampires. . . .will glut the market for a while.  Somethings, like Tolkien traditions, have been handed down for generations.  So flipping over that book and reading the back cover, how do you know that book is any good.

First of all, stop looking at the cover (the poor author probably didn't even have any say unless you are looking indie), quit reading that back cover and open the book.  Because that cliché is true:  Don't read a book by the cover.

We are all moving around the same little chess pieces of fantasy.  Some of us stray farther from the pack (fusion fantasy involves blending more than one genre, so it tends to have more options).  But for you, the reader, the question is, how well do we put those elements together?  Does the writer rearrange pieces so that the world has a new quirk?  Do they go off the reservation on who they want as their protagonist?  The most important thing:  Can they write?

Sure, we all have things we have pet peeves about having to read again, but often what the writer brings that is new and special is their voice.  They can write.  They can describe and you see it.  Their characters jump off the page and put you in a stranglehold and you can't set them down.  The writer can take something old, and make something new and beautiful by sheer force of having their own unique voice.

Voice is a bit like tone.  Voice is the way an author chooses to turn a phrase.  Voice lights up a novel with it's own, unique accent lights.  Listen to the reader.  Say a sentence out loud and relish the way the author put it together.  Good authors sweat blood to put themselves, their voices between each line.  If an author hasn't, you will feel the cliché.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Kills Fantasy

What kills faster than anything else?  Yes, despite my prejudices, even fast than not being character driven?

Breaking internal integrity.

Fantasy by nature is a "What if?" question.  That "What if?" is what deviates the book from reality.  "What if?" may be "What if there are dragons?"  "What if the world was flat and you fell off?"  Anything, really.  The kicker is that the author must set up limits to their worlds.  They set the rules at the beginning of the book.  Now, these rules may be "seemingly broken" by the author if they wish the book to evolve past the rules, but they must give a proper set of build ups and cues.

However, sometimes an author will break their own internal integrity.  This means they break their own rules.  A book thrives on us believing in the alternate reality.  If our trust is broken, the story dies.  When one part of the rules are made up or broken partway through the book--"Wait.  Despite the fact I set up that the waterfalls at the edges of the world lead to alternate realities, really they just form a circle that brings you back to earth."  Say wha'?

The reader feels betrayed, tricked, angry.

What books have broken their internal integrity and turned you off them?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Winner of the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest, her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, is still my favorite, and a fun example of fantasy fusion.  Set in near future Toronto, after a series of riots Canada enclosed the city and left it to rot.  No one goes out, and few go in--mainly doctors.  However, though pig parts now can be used human organ transplant, the Premier demands a human heart.  What better place to find one than in a human in Toronto?

So far we're all science fiction, right?  It's all, Escape from New York sounding, right?

But we have yet to enter Toronto.  There the people have returned to herbalism, farming, and bartering.  Plus, for Ti -Jeanne, she must deal with her own son, the mystery of her disappeared mother, who had gone insane, and her grandmother's touches for her to learn the family tradition:  not just medicine, but Yoruba tradition.  Her visions of Gods frighten her--that she will go mad as her mother did, despite her grandmother's insistence that not learning from her visions is what will drive her away.

Whoops.  Gods and magic.  Now we enter the realm of fantasy.

Which means we are now in the realm of fusion fantasy.  Hopkinson has bred together a fairly standard science fiction concept in a fresh new way with a culture we rarely see in fantasy--that of Haiti mixed with Canadian.  Hell, she's put Black people as main characters in fusion fantasy, and how often do we see that in any kind of fantasy?  The traditions and Gods that she uses are treated with a touching respect even when they have turned to use something horrible.

Which, as long as I'm talk about it, we could add horror to her mix with ghosts of slit throated children.

Rudy, the man who controls Toronto through fear and addicting people to Buff--a drug made from toads--also controls a duppie, and his own version of perverted magic.  He definitely falls into the realm of horror, but I won't give you too many hints about his activities.

Hopkinson creates the best kind of fusion:  The natural kind.  I never once feel as if she mashed together these elements in an attempt to create something original.  Rather, from her heart, she wrote a book with the elements that burned in her blood to talk about--as if the whole world set itself down before her at once (thought I doubt it did).  She is all original--from her characters to her world to her style.  Her following books follow the same eccentric, compelling creation, but to me this book has the most soul.

Look her up--we could all learn from her.

Ti-Jeanne must navigate her history and her future and learn her own power.

Yay Indie Authors!

On Independence Day I have to give a send up to the Indie Author!  The days of sending in queries and praying to the writing Gods are over!  The days of fitting your writing, especially genre, into cookie cutter forms are over.  Fusion Fantasy can exist.  Instead of fitting a book into fantasy, then fitting it into epic, or urban or. . . . It's gone.  We can mash and mix genres as much as we want.

The web has made it possible for writers to sell straight off a simple blog, as Amanda Hocking showed us so well.  Does writing still have to be good and timely?  Well, yeah.  But we can take control of the publishing for once.  We can find hidden authors with something to say that the publishers didn't want to hear.  Our reading and writing is in our control.

So on this day of celebrating independence, let me give a hell yeah to all those brave authors.