Tuesday, December 3, 2013
The prologue is fantastic. It delivers exposition and plot points without bogging down the plot, it has quick and effective characterization, and it is exciting and engaging. However, this made me worried. Whenever I see an excellent prologue, the rest of the book is poor. I don't know why this is this but it generally happens and that is the case here.
After the prologue with Fair Folk and demons and End of the World stuff there is a long stretch of mundane life with the Ambrose family. It works for characerization (I'll get to that in the next section) but it feels so out of place that it could be a separate story. This lasts until chapter nine. Getting there was difficult and the plot did not pick up at that point.
This is because the plot consists of the children running back and forth between their country home and their neighbor's (about 5 miles away) and always chased by endless numbers of nameless demons that they ultimately kill anyways because another ally shows up or another Ambrose kid develops superpowers. The finale differs only in that it takes place somewhere else. I felt like I was reading the same scene over and over again, complete with someone saying "I'm More Hero Than Thou."
I'd say my biggest problem with the plot is paranoia, mistrust, and a general refusal for all the good guys to get on the same page and cooperate. You'd think that if all you need to do to create a superpowered savior was to create some half-elves, then there would be a dating service or something a thousand years back. On the other hand, this process is implied to be a crapshot and also that there's a long history genocidal-level bad blood between the two species. On a third hand, you'd think the Fair Folk would get over it after two thousand years.
However, there are some aspects of this plot that I liked.
I like how the Adults Are Not Useless which is normally not the case in stories like these. Indeed, one could argue that Harper, the children's uncle, is The Hero of this story because of his greater importance to the plot, protector status, and greatest character development. Jerry and Larry, two mundane police officers, take down just as many demons as the superpowered kids.
I also like how Arianna, the children's mother, dealt with the problem of 'which one is the Chosen One'. It is a delightful twist on this kind of plot line and to talk further of it would be spoilers.
As said in the Plot section, chapters 1-8 do not advance the plot. This is because they are devoted to character development. There are a dozen characters to introduce and most of them are plot significant so the story takes a time out to develop them. It is successful there. By the time the demons show up, all the characters are sufficiently individualized: Billie is the cutie, Louis the class clown, and Jerry is the father trying to balance work and parenting and tolerating his brother-in-law etc.
The problem is two fold: 1.) it's boring and 2.) it feels out of place.
After the mage vs demons thing in the prologue it felt like a let down. There's a plot line about a school dance, school bullies, parent-child relationship problems, and other things. It was a struggle to get through this stuff because it was boring. I don't pick up a fantasy book to read about this sort of thing.
I like to see character driven plots and that is the case here. Every event is driven by character decision (except for one Contrived Coincidence via Exact Eavesdropping) and we can see that thought process taking place. The problem here is that seeing many people's thought processes about many events bogs down the plot. Another problem is the all the ambrose kids and many of the adults have the same reactions to things, so it all muddles together when they fight demons, which is constant.
This book does not require proof reading; there are no spelling or grammar errors. It does, however, require editing.
As elsewhere in this review, a lot of stuff bogs down the plot. The PDF I read was 404 pages total very little happened in that time period. Instead of rapid page turning (which I assume is the intention) I feel like I'm sloughing through it. Thinking of it as a Tv show, I'd say there's four episodes worth of plot material here; five tops. When you have a 400 page book, I'd expect something closer to 12.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Ambrose Beacon" a C
Click here to read the previous review request "Blade Song"
This was a free review request. I received nothing for this review other than a free copy of the book.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Back in the days of the Roman Empire, there was little in the way of literary innovation or experimentation. This was because everyone though it was pointless. No one believed they could do epics better than Homer so no on tried. The idea was to reach that level through imitation.
Personally, I think this idea is absurd. I understand it but I believe it is defeatist and ultimately self-fulfilling. While I don't think I will surpass the talents of my favorite authors (not any time soon at any rate) it is a goal that drives me to improve. Nevertheless, I find writing is more fun when I add myself onto the chain they created rather than trying to make myself different for the sake of being different.
When I was in college, there was a random encounter with another student and for some reason I talked about my desire to write a fantasy novel. This student asked me what made mine 'different from all the others' and I gave my response but I don't feel he believed me. Looking back, I wonder why he thought originality was the most important question to ask. Trying too hard to be different is a novice mistake. (To read about this idea in more detail, click here)
Tvtropes will illustrate my point.
TvTropes lists the conventions of storytelling and all the many works that have used them, from today all the way back to the oldest works we know of: The Iliad, Epic of Gilgamesh, etc. As a result of this, the troper hive mind has produced 'just for fun' pages that deal with originality; The Tropeless Tale link and The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples.
The Tropeless Tale is a thought experiment concerning a hypothetical author that tried to write a story without using tropes. He couldn't write a character on any point of the hero-villain spectrum and his plot couldn't be anywhere on the scale of Comedy-Tragedy; in fact, he couldn't write about characters or plot at all. He couldn't even write about formless nothing because there are tropes for that. In the end he decided the challenge was impossible because even if he succeeded and wrote a story without tropes, the story would only create new tropes which means he would retroactively fail.
The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples is also known as "Shakespeare Did It First". The Bard wrote many plays and sonnets and other literary works and within them one can find any number of tropes. There's Lampshade Hanging, Villain Protagonist, and even a 'Your Mom' joke. To further drive the point home, Shakespeare himself was not wholly original because he adapted much older stories or historical events.
Originality is a myth and this is a good thing. There's no need to excessively worry about originality; write the story you want to write. Of course, you shouldn't plagiarize or infringe on someone's copyright but there's nothing wrong with seeking inspiration or doing a homage. The bottom line is that 100 percent originality, while something to strive for, is an Impossible Task.
For other posts about originality see Inspirational Monday-TvTropes, Originality and Tradition and "Literary Innovation Is Not Always Good",
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Whether it's a hard copy or an e-book, a good description can make or break a sale. If it's for an agent/publisher query or a review request then the premise is what they see. Obvious stuff, yes, but the English Major has to start his argument with a thesis. Anyway, this post will focus on the Don'ts and Dos of writing a book description.
Theses are things to avoid when writing your premise book description: self-praise, long winded descriptions, clichés, and summaries. (By the way, some of this stuff is from my review request policy).
Personally, I can't stand it when writers tell me how 'original' they are. One person even told me their work was going to 'redefine the fantasy genre' or something like that. No one is 100 percent original, myself included. Also, don't write about 'exciting' or 'passionate' or any other adjective. The book description should speak for itself. The last person whose opinion on the book you want is the author because they're biased. Just stick to the book itself.
Briefly talk about the protagonist(s) and their problem. I once read somewhere that the premise should be short enough for an elevator pitch; no one can clearly communicate three paragraphs in the time in takes for an elevator to travel three floors. Instead, go for three sentences. If you can manage one sentence, that's all the better. It's like a haiku; tremendous meaning contained in the fewest number of syllables. If you can concentrate your book's greatness into a small space than you're more likely to attract attention and interest.
By the same token, don't sacrifice your book's uniqueness for brevity. If your premise boils down to 'average guy fights evil thing to save the world', 'find the macguffin' or 'boy meets girl and they kiss' then it's likely to be passed over. Find a golden mean between laconic and descriptive.
Between these two you shouldn't have to worry about the third; summarizing. Don't a write a description that summarizes the work. If you do that then the prospective reader/publisher feels like they've already read the book. I found one book that said (paraphrased) 'Protagoist does this and that and when they arrive at their destination they uncover a secret'. It was so forgettable that I can't remember the book's title. All you should do is set the stage.
These are the things you should do when writing a premise: set the stage, be concise, and add factual details.
For setting the stage, you can start with the conflict: who the protagonist is, what their problem is, and a few things about the setting. By the time you convey all this, you should have a paragraph. If the prospective reader is into your genre then these three things should be enough to hook them. It gives them what they need without revealing anything that would spoil the story. If they don't like these three things then they're not likely to enjoy your book.
By the same token, be concise. Readers/publishers/reviewers etc are busy people and don't want to spend five minutes reading an extended premise to find out what the heck the book is about. If you can stun them with three sentences then they're likely to pick up/stamp/download etc.
Aside from that you can add factual details. Editions, for instance, are a good to add if you've made substantial changes. Say you published before you hired a professional editor and now you've got reviews stating "Horrible grammar!" or "needs an editor". If you mention how you've done this in the book description for the current edition then the reader can dismiss these red flags. Awards are another good thing because they are objective praise. An award says 'I wrote a great book' but because it came from someone else it avoids the problems of self-praise. It's about creditability.
An example of a great premise is this book I reviewed the other day "Never Trust a Dead Man". It sets the stage, it's about a paragraph in length and there is no self-praise to be found. It was such a fantastic premise that I bought the thing immediately.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I lost my keys today when I was running errands. After retracing my steps and failing to find them I thought about my options: call family for a ride, call a car assistance hotline, or continue looking for the keys. Ultimately I found them and it got me thinking about plot. Specifically, it got me thinking about how character decisions guide the plot.
Calling for help had a greater chance of success because there was a possibility that my keys were somewhere in a big and dark parking lot, but on the other hand, it would only be a temporary solution because my car would still be locked in a parking lot. It would also mean waiting for help to arrive which meant I could continue looking after placing the call. Finding the keys was the quickest permanent solution but it had a lower chance of success. Depending on the option I chose my evening would branch out in different directions and affect future events.
It's like those 'Chose Your Own Adventure' stories or video games with multiple endings. Depending on the reader/player's choice of actions, different events unfold. Thus, I feel the need to reiterate something from a previous post.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
There's good and bad in this one. I'll do the former and then latter.
For the good there's the reconstruction of the Macguffin trope, same quality of research and the depth of scheming. A 'macguffin' is an object that starts conflict because people fight each other to get it and is meaningless in and of itself. This is not the case here. The fact that Dragonetz is carrying a Jewish holy book that is fought over by a Muslim and a Christian is symbolic of multicultural 'Otra mar' (Middle East) and of the Grey and Grey Morality of the setting. As for the research and scheming, they are on the level with the first book. There's Islamic poetry written in two languages (I assume one is Arabic), tensions between groups (and there are many groups) and varying levels of medical knowledge depending on the character. I very much enjoyed these parts.
For the bad there's Dragonetz's improbable fame in a wide setting and Estela's hangnail plot. For the first, there are five people that want to recruit Dragonetz as their general/military trainer and they are: the ruler of the Saracen Muslims, both rulers of Christian Jerusalem (de-jury and de-facto) and the grandmasters of the Knights Templar and Hospitaler Knights. The backbone of the plot is an elaborate scheme by two of these people to recruit him or kill him so no one else can have him. It stretches my Willing Suspension of Disbelief because I don't see Dragonetz as that valuable and he doesn't either. For the second, Estela has a side plot completely unrelated to Dragonetz and when she is connected, she becomes an extra; it feels like a hangnail.
This book feels more loose and unorganized because it is on a grand scale. The first book is confined to a single city in France and so it is a smaller game board with fewer players. The second book is spread from France to the Holy Land and many more people are involved. When I realized that, I also realized that this book is written the same way as its predecessor: It has the same multi player scheming, it has the same research into historical figures and trappings, it has the same commitment to character motivation. It's the Macguffin plot that can be blamed for the bulk of the problems and it made so much sense at the end of the first that I am willing to forgive it.
There's good and bad here too. The good is the web of alliances and information that connect characters. The bad is the downgraded villains.
The thing I liked about the story is the web of alliances and motives and knowledge. "Sticky threads" as it's called in the story. One has to be aware of a lot of information and who is aware of what information and from what perspective each character views this information from. The climax is dizzying because of this but that's what makes it so impressive; Miss. Gill kept it all straight. It lends to the atmosphere of the setting because keeping track of this web is what rulers and generals and merchants, etc do everyday. It's the 'everyday scheming', as contrasted with 'epic scheming' that I liked so much about the first book.
The villains seem less competent and more petty. Nur ad-Din and Melisende treat Dragonetz' book like a bauble and so they seem like children with nothing to better to do. De Raccon and Miguel likewise are like children plucking the wings off flies because their main motivation is sadism for imagined slights. This is easy to overlook because Bar Philipos, the main and plot moving villain (The Heavy), is exempted from this. Bar Philipos is a good villain. He's dangerous and evil but he's not pure evil and not without an understandable motive. He's much more competent and acts more like his age.
Dragnetz' angst is good. In the first book it was implied that he was disillusioned by the second crusade but it wasn't until now that the source of it all was revealed. That part was interesting. I like seeing the change in character from flashback to present day and on through the story; a flawed knight but a knight nonetheless.
No spelling or grammar errors. I feel some parts could be edited out but they are interesting on their own terms; characterization and such.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Blade Song" a B+
Click here to read the next review Request: "Ambrose Beacon"
Click here for the previous review (which wasn't a review request): Never Trust a Dead Man
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The story begins in-media res with a mob coming to arrest Selwyn. I like this as a starting place because, for all the reader knows, Selwyn might have done it. As the evidence mounts, I found myself siding with the mob against him because it is s convincing case. This makes them seem less like assholes despite their behavior. On the other hand, it is still a scary thought if he is innocent because there's nothing he can do about his kangaroo trial and sentencing.
Another thing I like about the start is that is takes its time. 70 pages before the premise is fulfilled 'investigating a murder with a bat'. The whole book is 194 pages. I like it because there is no rushing and everything is fully set up for the main event.
Overall I like how the mystery developed and information was revealed. Selwyn keeps a running tally of suspects and their motivations. There's one Contrived Coincidence that stretches my Suspension of Disbelief but other than I don't see holes in the story.
This is why I like the book so much; characters and their interaction. I did not read this book to find out the killer's identity but to watch the leads interact on their way to their conclusion. Their bickering cooperation is funny and I enjoyed seeing them develop as the town itself was developed through retrospective information.
From the back cover I was afraid Selwyn would be a This Loser Is You sort of guy but he's not like that at all; the book spends zero pages making relatable or 'average' or anything like that.
Twists of character were also a delight. This is the kind of story that opens up a can of worms and makes other things come to light as Selwyn digs deeper for the one truth he's interested in.
This story is written from Selwyn's prospective and in limited third person. This is a good tone for this book because the reader sees the world as Selwyn perceives it but without the self-conscious 'I' getting in the way. It works because it is consistent.
I didn't see anything in the way of grammar or spelling errors.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Never Trust a Dead Man" a B+
Click here for the next review (which was a review request) Blade Song
Click here for the previous review (which wasn't a review request) Eragon
Friday, October 25, 2013
A lecturer in college one said "Plot is nothing more than a character in trouble". If your character never have troubles or encounter problems, then it will likely be a boring story. It's not impossible to write a story that has no serious or minor trouble but it is harder and it narrows the field of possibilities for the writer to explore. .
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I'm not going to discuss its orginality or lack thereof in this post. I already addressed that in another post (Originality and Tradition). This review post will be exclusively about the book itself, standing alone.
I find no fault with the plot. There's a cause and effect from point A at the farm to point B on the road and point C traveling to the Varden's HQ. Even the reason for Arya to send the dragon egg to Eragon's general location is given a reason.
The book gets extra points here for the development from Farm Boy to Rebel Fighter. Instead of jumping straight into fighting The Empire, he's more into revenge. Considering his uncle has been killed by agents of The Empire he's more interested in killing them then heroics. For a boy of his age and upbringing, I can imagine he would more interested in that. A good deal of the book is spent in this regard. In addition to character action I also like this because it provides time for training. A few months while traveling isn't as a good as traditional knight training but it's more realistic than sending him straight into combat fresh off the farm. He learns about the empire outside of his remote northern village and comes to the conclusion that fighting the empire is a just course of action but this takes time.
Some parts are dry and some are boring. Training and traveling are interesting but after a while I'd like something to happen to move the plot along. There is not enough to sustain my interest with world building and at the same time enough to bog down the plot.
Other parts I'd like to cut out entirely. The one about the three mountains and their cult was interesting from a world building perspective but it was made to be more important than it was and the plot point connected to it wasn't significant enough to qualify as red herring. The search for the uncle killers dragged too long for so little plot movement. I'd shrink that by a third or more.
The final battle is pretty cool but the book ends on a mysterious not-quite-cliffhanger moment. The battle is won but there's little sense of resolution. It's a prod into the next book which I always find distasteful.
Characters are good too. I don't understand why Eragon is called a Gary Stu. Yes he has magic and a dragon and is a fast learner but he still needs help from allies and can't resolve anything by himself. At the end of the first book his list of solo acomplishments is zero. Brom does a fine job as the Mentor Archetype. Murtagh makes a great foil; world weary, iron willed but non-magical, etc. Arya distinguishes herself beyond the role of Herald or Damsel in Distress and takes part in the final battle.
The problems are the villains. They're missing for some 90 percent of the book and that's why a lot of it is boring. Villains provide conflict and without conflict there is less of a plot.
Eragon is not present at his uncle's death and only catches glimpses of his murderers before the plot moves on.
The Shade is not formally introduced until way into the plot (some 200 or so pages) and only makes two appearances.
The Big Bad, Emperor Galbatroix, doesn't appear at all. I once read about a fanfic that uses this to support the notion that Galbatroix isn't involved in any of these events, that everything was done at the Shade's orders and Galbatroxi isn't evil at all. In my experience, that is an easy argument to make.
I was wary while reading this book because I've heard of clumsy scene changes and purple prose. I found little of either. Spelling and grammar looked good too.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Eragon" a C
Click here for the next review (which wasn't a review request): Never Trust a Dead Man
Click here for the previous review (which was a review request): "The Amber Treasure"
Monday, October 7, 2013
When I thought about this it reminded me that I control every aspect of my writing. I have been an independent author for almost two years now. It has been time consuming but I love the degree of freedom that comes with it. This Indie Freedom is my inspiration post for October.
I have no deadlines but those that I set for myself. If I don't think the book is ready then I don't publish it. This way I can make it the best it can be. Naturally I'm not always correct on when that time comes (see the posts on beta reading and editing etc) but I choose who and how many opinions I seel and what I take away from them.
I control how much the book costs. A publisher would not necessarily have my book's best interests in mind because they want to make a profit. If I want I can schedule days where the book is free and there's also a way to make it free every day in order to move more books at the expense of profit. It depends on my priorities. Since I'm more interested in getting my book into the hands of as many readers as possible, I chose a low cost; 99 cents.
If I want to schedule a free day for this coming Friday, I can do that on my own initiative. If I want to buy a span of advertisements, then I can because it's my budget. Just the other day I decided to enter a contest (Reader's Favorite) and I'm considering a second (Wise Bear). I don't need anyone's approval because I am the Editor-in-Chief.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
There are two plot threads here, personal and impersonal, and they are skillfully woven together. On one hand, the protagonist is looking to rescue his sister and retrieve a family heirloom, but on the other hand, the guy responsible is part of a plot to conquer Saxon land and drive the Saxons themselves back into the sea.
One might think that this is going to be a solo journey, or at most, a ragtag bunch of misfits but it's neither. It's more realistic than that. It's a formal militia marching to the guy's lair. It doesn't end there either. This story is a military campaign conducted by kings with Cedric, a greenhorn soldier, as it's emotional core. It's engaging and exciting but it is not hotblooded.
I call Amber Treasure the Blue Oni to 300's Red Oni. Instead of Large Hams and bullet time and badass boasts etc there is planning and rhetoric and reflection. This is because it is a first person account written by Cedric as an old man. Naturally he has had time to think about what happened and present everything the way a historian would.
Another thing I like to say about this book is "Your Sister Is In Another Castle". There is a repeated sense of 'not quite there yet' as Cedric continues his personal quest to retrieve what he lost when his village was attacked.
There's an Idiot Ball or two but it is understandable. I've read too many real life historical accounts about people dooming themselves because of idiotic actions to hold them against fictional characters.
There is a terrific resolution. This is a story that resolves it's current conflict but leaves open the path to future conflict. It's hard to strike that balance but Mr.Denning does a fantastic job.
I like Cedric, the protagonist. He's a heroic guy and a humble guy. He's aware of his faults. He fights bravely but is not a Conan the Barbarian expy. One of his friends is bigger and stronger while his other friend is faster and a better archer. This guy is the leader. Cedric the Narrator will comment on the qualities of a leader and how he possessed them in sufficient qualities to lead men as a teenager.
What I like about this is that Cedric states at the beginning that he writes this story to preserve what happened but he doesn't paint himself in a flattering light. Indeed, more often then not it's a self-deprecating light.
Cedric's friends, Edward and Cuthbert are minor characters and receive characterization appropriate to minor characters. I could say the same for the rest of the supporting case but what I want to focus on is the nameless background characters.
There is no such thing as Always Chaotic Evil in this story. Cedric often writes how their enemies are no different then himself and his community. Indeed, he points out several boys his age on the other side that are just as scared as him. Then he goes further and says that the Britons have more basis for calling the Saxons Always Chaotic Evil then the Saxons do the Britons because the Saxons migrated to the British Isles and took over and enslaved the natives.
No typos, no grammar errors. It has a thoughtful and reflective air about it. It wouldn't be hard for Mr.Denning to pose this as a real life historical diary.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Amber Treasure" an A+ (The third such for a novel)
Click here for the next review (not a request): "Eragon"
Click here for the previous review request "Welcome to Harmony"
Thursday, September 19, 2013
I read a lot of criticism about how the book supposedly rips off Star Wars or Tolkien or whatever. It's intense. The mods at Tvtropes had to lock the main page for The Inheritance Cycle due to flame wars about its originality or lack thereof. I saw only superficial things that could have come from elsewhere.
1. Farm Boy that becomes a warrior
2. Raised by Uncle due to secret heritage.
3. Old mentor figures from the old order
4. Fallen order
5. Evil overlord traitor
6. Rescue a damsel in distress.
For each point I'll briefly explain the trope's appeal in the fantasy genre and widespread nature.
1. Farm Boy is a trope. 302 wicks
The first line on the page is "A staple of fantasy adventures" and indeed there is over three dozen entries on the page. Star Wars and Inheritance Cycle are only two of those. There's a reason for this.
Most fantasy settings takes place in a pre-industrial society and in a pre-industrial society some ninety percent of the population is rural and involved in some form of agriculture or animal husbandry. Thus, the vast majority of boys in this setting are going to be farm boys. There are other reasons besides:
1. Farm boys are in good physical condition
2. Farm boys likely know how to hunt
3. Farm Boys can serve as an Audience Surrogate
For these reasons they are a good place for an author to start; talk about the world from their ground level view and drop a few chekhov's skills along the way.
Finally for this trope, it's just a starting point. Anything can happen to this farm boy after he gets the Call to Adventure. (Itself a trope with so many subtropes it's an index)
2. Secret Legacy is a trope with 225 wicks.
Again Star Wars and Inheritance Cycle are only two of those and they have a different legacy. Ancestry and heritage are big deals and so a character learning that everything they have believed about themselves their whole lives is false turns their world upside down. Regardless of whether or not it's obvious to the reader it can be devastating for the character themselves. How they respond to it can vary from character to character and what the legacy itself is can vary.
3. Old Mentor is a trope with 245 wicks.
There are many mentor tropes and these two stories belong to the Mentor Archetype "A more experienced advisor or confidante to a young, inexperienced character". This did not begin with Star Wars and nor will it end with The Inheritance Cycle. In fact, it goes all the way back to one of the oldest stories we know: Odysseus entrusted his son to an old friend named "Mentor" which is where we get the word.
This has a basis in real life in the Master-Apprentice relationship. Back in the day it was the primary method to transmit trade skills across the generatioins. Naturally this is reflected in literature and why not? It's a good way to train and provide character development for younger characters.
4. The Order and Order Reborn have 112 and 34 wicks respectively.
There are many such organizations of warriors in fiction and real life. One could say that both Star Wars and Inheritance Cycle are ripping off Arthurian Romance with its Knights of The Round Table. Both of them are different but they have the same general purpose and core. That's what makes them a trope. You even have one of them betraying the others and leading to the downfall of the whole Order.
An author can have both Doylist and Watsonian reasons for including an order of warriors. There's idea of safety in numbers, world building, character development, and the fact that Orders often have trappings like armor, creeds, and uniforms that make them look cool.
5. Evil Overlord has 2,816 wicks
This high number is why TvTropes calls it "The archetypal High Fantasy and Science Fantasy (and sometimes Heroic Fantasy) villain. " People in Modern Age stories and Real Life are called this so comparing two stories based on this is grasping at straws. Going into all the ways that Galbatorix and Darth Vadar differ could be it's own blog post.
All stories need conflict and the villain is the primary means of creating conflict. For the fantasy genre, an evil overlord provides a target for the hero to bring down and a reason to venture into the Unknown World.
6. Damsel in Distress has over 6,000 wicks
The most unreasonable of them all and especially when compared to the two stories in question. Their jobs are different, their means of sending The Call are different, and the method of their rescue and its details are different. There is enough similarity and contrast that I could write a blog post about them.
I could go on but I believe I've made by point. TvTropes created The Tropeless Tale because no matter what you do, your story will contain tropes. Inevitably, someone will string enough together to call the story a rip off some other story. In fact, I once read that Star Wars itself was criticized of ripping off Kirby's "New Gods" comics and Akira Kurosawa's film "The Hidden Fortress". There's no shame in seeking inspiration from older stories. This is why genres exist; new storytellers continue the tradition of the old storytellers while adding their own imprint.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Disclaimer: This my personal opinion. I mean no offense to anyone else's opinion.
On the one hand, it offends my sensibilities as a novelist. I don't like the idea that my novels (or the novels of others) are used as a disposable hiding place. It gives me a feeling of 'tissue paper', or worse, 'toliet paper'; covered with crunge to provide temporary relief. This practice equates the novel to a feel-good drug that ultimately does nothing but harm to the user.
On the other hand, I DO like the idea that my novels (or the novels of others) could provide such relief to someone in need of it. Life can be very hard and a disposable hiding place could make it tolerable. This practice equates the novel to cough syrup which dampens pain while the user works to overcome the source of the pain.
Originally, only the first paragraph described my feelings about escapism. When I was younger my preception of the world was much narrower and so my feelings on most subjects in real life were informed by what I saw in real life (other people like me) and online (varied). When I thought of escapism I thought of people whose only problem was boredom and laziness. I figured they played games, read stories, etc in which they could insert themselves to relieve this boredom. I thought of Audience Surrogates who were fawned over by many beautiful girls (because the audience was too shy to talk to any in real life) or defeated demons (because they couldn't handle 'demons' in real life) and other wish fullfilment that shadowed what they wanted in real life.
This idea stayed with me when I decided to become a novelist and the thought of pandering to this sort of audience to make a living made me ill. Then I found the following quote on Tvtropes. Believe it or not, it was on the trope page for In-universe escapism, that is, esscapism for the characters in the story.
Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
I didn't bother arguing with this point becaue I couldn't think of a valid point to argue. If I was imprisoned without hope of release or escape then I would certainly want to immerse myself in a more pleasant environment, even if it was imaginary. My problem with escapism comes from those that are not imprisoned or facing similarly harsh circumstances. The reason for my problem is summed up in this line from "The Oatmeal" website. I found on the Tvtropes page for 'Escapist Character'.
"By creating this "empty shell," the character becomes less of a person and more of something a female reader can put on and wear."
-The Oatmeal, 'How Twilight Works'
I don't want to write stuff like that and so Eric is not a pair of pants for the reader to wear. I think I offended a few people who started reading with this idea in mind. Instead they're introduced first to Tasio the Trickster and then to Eric; the former laughs at the latter. My goal for the book was for Eric to better himself and become a stronger person without leaning on magic or a flock of beautiful admirers. It was a self-imposed challenge at first, but if someone were to follow his journey and benefit in the same way then I would thrilled.
If the world that the reader escapes to is one that empowers them when they leave, then I see nothing wrong with escapism. If the world that the reader escapes to is devoid of the tramua that otherwise plagues them, I see nothing wrong with escapism. If the world that the reader escapes to contains a pair of 'perfection pants' or some other wish fullfilment, then I do see something wrong with escapism.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
This leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it cheapens the story. It is like saying the protagonist is not a character in their own right but a new skin for the reader. It frustrates me that there is a sense that an author can only create one of these kinds of protagonists: lower or higher than the reader for different grades of escapism. Under this paradigm the only third option is a featureless Everyman who is even more suitable as a 'new skin' for the reader because there are no characteristics to get in the way.
The Tvtropes page for Action Survivor states it better than I can so I'll quote it here:
"The Action Survivor is the opposite of the Action Hero; he's pretty normal in just about every way, so much so that if the Action Hero is ostensibly a fantasy idealized-self, the Action Survivor is more of a self insertion for the viewer, giving us someone easily related to because we're wimps. "
The page goes on to say that the Action Survivor will eventually become a full fledged Action Hero, thus creating the off-spring of the two; a loser that becomes a champion. While this is great if a reader uses the story as inspiration to becom a champion in real life, it has a Bread and Circuses vibe to me.
I did not write the protagonist of A Mage's Power to be reader-relatable. I wrote him as a self-imposed challenge. I'll write more about that later on because it's irrelevant to this post. The point is that I would rather my readers join Tasio in laughing at the protagonist then feel that Tasio is laughing at them personally. Now that I think about it, maybe that's why this one person quit reading after four or so pages.....
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
-->TvTropes Defines the Term
This week's post is about the trope known as the "Big Lipped Alligator Moment" (BLAM). While normally I would say Tropes Are Tools this one is hard to use for a positive effect. It is confusing, messes up the story's pacing, bogs down the plot, and otherwise lowers the story's quality. The one successful occasion I can list is the manga "BoboboboBobobo" because it is a string of these and the appeal of the story is absurdist humor and even then it turns many people off.
These can result from a disconnect between the writer's knowledge (who knows everything about the story) and the reader's knowledge (who learns page by page). This is called the "Curse of Knowledge", a situation where an expert is so deep into their field that what they believe are the basics are more like '3.0' to a layman. I took a class in college that compared comics to illuminated poetry and it we talked about how Jack Kirby would draw things that looked outlandish or out of place and I argued that he might have backstory for these things but doesn't have the space to talk about it in the story. "What the author knows about the story is a fraction of what he can tell about the story." Thus, what makes sense to the writer doesn't make sense to the reader.
This is why Beta Readers are important. To illustrate I will share an experience I had with A Mage's Power.
In the first chapter I had a several page scene that has been compared to "Alice in Wonderland" sandwiched between two scenes from a typical day in Eric's mundane life. Being the author, I knew all about Tasio's motives and how this fit into the rules governing the Verse but both positive and negative reviewers disliked it. I was loathed to cut it out because I viewed it as important. Then I received a review that went into detail about why it was bad and I removed it. In the entire book, this scene was referenced only once more. It's then that I realized it was dead weight. I wish I had somoene to point that out earlier and thus the need for a beta reader.
For a related topic, see The Proper Application Of Mind Screws
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
There isn't much of a plot. While there is a single plot thread that connects the events together and forms a satisfying climax, it does not inform the meat of the book. Therefore, Slice-Of-Life is more appropriate to describe this story. One chapter is about werewolf training, another is about a school dance and a third is about hanging out with a ghost from the sixties. I like this for two reasons; 1.) It makes for a intriguing mundane fantastic setting and 2.) It's anti-epic.
The world building for Harmony is fascinating. Mr. Trumpis creates societies for the supernatural elements in his story. For instance, vampires are organized by elders and their territories ('regions') and they are policed by the Red League. I'd like to see more of that in future books. Second, there's backstory. For instance, Harmony has so many supernaturals because a family of mages founded it as a gathering point for their coven. If Mr. Trumpis ever writes a prequel for their immigration from the old world to Harmony, I'd read it. Both of these are under a masquerade but there never seems to be a fine line between the supernatural and the mundane; it's just one more culture among many. There's lots of other stuff mentioned or started in one of the chapters but it was never developed enough for me. Indeed, the only problem with the world building is that there was never enough of it. I wanted to see more.
The book has an 'anti-epic' air in that the story events are low-key. Vampires do not stalk the night and eat people (usually). Instead they obtain blood from willing donors like someone ordering a speciality drink. Werewolves fight monsters on the town's borders but consider this a routine chore to defend their territory. The climax is the most emotionally charged and high stakes affair in the story and it's SPOILERS!
There are also things that I do not like about this plot. They are obsession with reader identification and that the Slice of Life events are a flash in the pan.
Significant time is spent making Dillon 'relatable'. Aside from page number 1, the first twenty or so pages are about the mundane everyman aspects of Dillon. There is talk about how Dillon's parents don't understand him, and how they are obsessed wotj being a normal sociable etc family and Dillon indulging in things like World of Warcraft and dealing with boring classes and bullies etc.This veneer broken by accident which leads me to assume rule of drama. On one hand this helps to establish the 'anti epic' tone stated above but all too often this is used in some lame plot device to get the reader to identify with the protagonist and pretend to be them. It's easy to get the wrong idea and become bored in the first two dozen pages or so.
The story events come and go quickly. Many of the chapters are short and so they do not feel fully formed. The Valentine Dance is one such example; it happens without mention or preamble, introduces a conflict, and then ends. One could argue this is more realistic but it still comes out of nowhere and feels like an Aborted Arc because it drifts into an unrelated plot point. Other examples are not like this; the ghost house for instance has a formal beginning middle and end complete with the introduction and resolution of conflict.
There is a curious split in characterization between the mundane characters and the supernatural characters. The former are bland and the latter are better rounded.
Because of the mundane opening and first person narration, Dillon feels like a bland everyman for a good chunk of the book. The first arc is about him as a featureless narrator with parent problems. Then the next several story events are his introduction to the various supernatural elements of Harmony which make him an Audience Surrogate. By the end of the book this is no longer the case and I came to like his personality but the start remains bland. Miles is little better; scrawny, socially awkward, spents a lot of time with video games and in short a stereotypical nerd. Like Dillon his personality is better developed and rounded by the end of the book but at first he feels like a complimentary everyman to Dillon.
The same is true with their parents; I can't tell Dillon's parents apart because they act and think in the same way. Miles' Dad sounds like a red neck and and his mother doesn't have any personality at all.
The Sullivan family, on the other hand, are great. The twins have their sibling bickering but are not defined by it. They have werewolf traits but they are not defined by those either. Their father has more personality then Dillon and Miles' dads put together (Reasonable Authority Figure, Good Dad, fan of the Rolling Stones). Their mom is similarly developed. I could say the same for Kessler (the vampire Elder) and his two vampire wards or for Gabby and her sorcerer family.
It makes sense to avoid wasting time on unimportant characters but because the mundanes are the first ones introduced it was a turn off for me and the split bothered me.
I didn't notice anything in the way of spelling errors but the rest is more complicated. First of all, this is a first person narration so the punctuation will be different; no one thinks in perfect grammar but personally, I don't like it.
Another issue is the teenager voice. Another reviewer stated that Mr.Trumpis speaks the 'tween' language and I am suspicious of any adult that says another adult can talk teenager. I left Dillon's age group a decade ago and even I think it's dated. However, Shawn is proof that Mr.Trumpis is aware that teenage slang changes over time. Shawn was a teenager in the sixties and hasn't aged since then because he's a ghost so he speaks differently then Dillon and Dillon notices the difference.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Welcome to Harmony" a B.
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