Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Answering Review Request: Trapped on Draconica

Dan Wright asked me to review "Trapped on Draconica" perhaps two months ago. I was reading another book at the time so I couldn't get to it until one month ago. Having finished it I have this to say: If the 'normal' fantasy novel were a hamburger, than "Trapped on Draconica" would be a turkey burger; the basic idea is the same but it's a different animal and so it has a different flavor.

In terms of plot it sounds standard: 'normal guy is whisked away to a fantasy world and faces off against an evil empire' but a reader will quickly see deviations. The first of which is that while Ben is The Protagonist, he is not The Hero. That role belongs to Daniar, a warrior princess of the kingdom that he appears in. The second is that Ben stays normal through this adventure. It's Dainar and Kalak who do all the fighting; Ben just stays out of the way and tries to keep up. The role of Supporting Protagonist shifts the story's center of gravity in a way that you won't see in many fantasy novels.

Further allaying my fear of cliches is the twists and turns of the plot. Mr.Wright is well aware of the conventions in fantasy and enjoys playing with them. In one scene he'll do what you expect and then in the next he won't and in a third it will seem like he won't but he will, and so on. One event will be described by one character and then later details will be revealed by another which pivots the event into a new light and meaning.

The internal consistency of the plot and its events should also be lauded. At no point did I think 'this is happening because the author wants it to happen' or ' he's holding the heroes back/pushing the villain up'.  Idiot Balls and Contrived Coincidences are no where to be found. The events develop naturally through cause-effect.

Mr.Wright brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. So many authors want to leave a sequel hook, or make the ending ambiguous or some other pretentious act. A true author lays out the conflict at the start and then resolves it by the end. Even in a series, where a sequel (or many) is expected, each individual plot in the series should be resolved within itself.

As good as the plot is, it's the characters that sell the show. Ben is a refreshing change from the norm: 'a normal guy who gains superpowers and becomes a hero in another world'. He's just tagging along and trying not to get killed. Though he does develop into an admirable young man by the end, he's never a paragon of wish fulfilment, which I appreciate.

All the characters have depth to them: Team Good is made of contrasting characters who put each other into sharp relief. For instance, Dainar is a Thou Shall Not Kill type of hero while Kalak is a Blood Knight who only joined her team for a better shot at revenge. Team Evil gets entire chapters to themselves so Wright can give them the same depth. Only one of them is truly evil. The mooks themselves get development. Wright never lets his readers forget that the endless soldiers of the Evil Emperor are people with their own lives and do not exist just so the hero can look cool beating them up or killing them.  There is one scene where a pair of prison guards small talk about this and that.

The artwork gets a paragraph to itself. Few novels have their own artwork aside from cover art or a snapshot at the beginning of chapters. This one has full page illustrations randomly (yet meaningfully) inserted in the middle of chapters, making them both an additional facet to the text and a treat.

The only major flaw I see in this novel is the prose. It can be clumsy and awkward.  There's overstating of some actions, telling the reader what the already know in others and so forth. Generally (perhaps eight times out of ten) it's not a problem because complaining would be nitpicking and/or me being a minimalist, but there is one scene that isn't as powerful as it should be because the prose isn't as good as it should be.

 I created a work page for it on TvTropes.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Trapped On Draconica" an A+.

Click here for the next review request: Light and Dark: The Awakening of the Mage Knight

Click here for the previous review request: Nimpentoad

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Full Picture

Revising "A Mage's Power"  reminds of the importance of creating the Full Picture. What the characters are saying and doing and the place they're doing it all in. The details that give life to words. My most common additions during the revision process is just this; painting the picture. Whether one writes fantasy, science fiction or realistic fiction, one should not pass up a chance for world building. This is the tapestry that the story is written on. A reader deserves no less than the full picture.

The setting where the events take place in shapes the events. The same battle would play out differently in a swamp, a farmer's field, or a building. Using the unique properties of these areas builds the world and shape the battle. In doing so you will create a fuller picture for the reader.

If the enviorment can develop the world then so can the weather. Adding clouds or rain or regular winds or a bright sun can make the world seem more alive. It can also develop your characters. If a girl is humming as she walks and is caught in a downpour but continues humming nonetheless, then the author has shown she is endlessly upbeat. Continuing this, if she's meeting a guyfriend the author can show a chivalric streak by having him give her his jacket or demonstrate a penchant for being prepared by offering her a second umbrella.

On a more personal level, add an iconic item or a character tic to your characters. For instance, the girl in the above example could carry a book everywhere or the guy could snap his fingers when bored.

Nobody likes floating heads and these sorts of things can break up dialogue. Items found in one place or another can add atmosphere or advance the plot. Gestures can underscore or alter the meaning of spoken words.

To illustrate I'll provide an example from "A Mage's Power". This right here is an early draft of Eric going to a shaman's tent.

"The mage in charge of healing lived in a spacious tent decorated with paintings of the sun and the moon. An old human woman greeted them warmly as they entered."

This tells the reader what happened and provides a few details but doesn't paint the 'full picture'. The shaman herself is merely 'old' and 'human' which can describe any number of characters. This next bit is the most recent revision.

A spacious tent decorated with the sun and the moon. Ethereal enforcers circled the sun; glowing tricksters jumped over the moon. A majestic griffin painting guarded the entrance flap. It was pushed aside by an old human woman with three eyes and fly wings poking out the bottom of her embroidered cloak.
Doesn't provide a fuller picture of the shaman's tent and the shaman herself? It also connects the shaman to the broader tapestry of the story itself. Tricksters and enforcers are mentioned elsewhere before and after this scene; tricksters especially often appear in the setting and in-universe culture. Griffin imagery plays a similar role and becomes more important as the story progresses. As for the human's odd features, the fact that they are not particularly odd in this setting is a reoccurring plot point considering my protagonist is from another world.

For more articles on world building see
To Build World Think About Ants and World Of Monsters

I have more thoughts on this subject much later: Full Picture vs Moving Image - writing tip

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).
His fantasy series, Journey to Chaos, is currently available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Answering Review Request: Nimpentoad

"Nimpentoad" is a children's fantasy story written by Henry Henz. The show takes place in a forest and the star of this show is Nimpentoad. He's a 'nibling' who are the smallest race in the forest and so they're always picked on. One day Nimpentoad decides to lead them to the castle of Goofus the Giant where they will be safe, but to get there they have to cross the forest and all the nasty creatures in their way.

There are so many things I like about this story. There's the storytelling atmosphere, the  child-like yet intelligent prose, the pictures that bring the story to life, the well-built setting, and Nimpentoad himself.

The story is written as though someone was telling the story to someone else. This adds character and warmth to the writing that makes the story feel 'fuller'. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Narrator is as much a character as anyone else. Now that I've finished the story and thought about it the story itself could be a nipling scholar telling some far off future generation about why they live in a castle with a giant.

The wording and sentence structure are simple but filled with knowledge and detail. Going off the above paragraph, it's like the scholar is doing this deliberately for his much younger audience. There are sound effects in parenthesis that make me smile with their cute/cheesiness. Some phrases are also repeated with each segment, which gives the story a kind of poetic epic structure; again like a national 'origin story' for the nipling.

The pictures are gorgeous, well, as gorgeous as giant scorpions and forest orcs can be anyway.  Each picture shows off the various races inhabiting the forest but not the actions they take. It's imagination fonder for the reader. They get to paint the actions themselves.

The setting is surprisingly well built for such a short children's story.  The forest is continually developed by the plants that grow inside it (Niplings are very good cooks) and the breakdown of the society is quickly set up and developed further as the Niplings travel.  It's perfect for the background of the story, and even better, an older reader can appreciate nuances that younger ones might not get and debate them on websites like TVTropes.

Finally, Nimpentoad himself. The story says earlier on that he's the smartest of the Niplings and he demonstrates this every day on their journey. His craftiness saves them time and again.  It's like he's their Trickster Figure; creating new ideas, changing their way of life, surviving on his wits instead of brawn.

Bottom Line: If I were five years old again, I'd want my mom and dad to read this to me and they would enjoy it as much as I would.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Nimpentoad" an A+

Click here for the next review request: Trapped On Draconica

Click here for the previous review request: Be Paranoid Be Prepared

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Everybody Wins

I've come to love being a book reviewer.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I signed up at Book Tweeting Service to volunteer, but now I see there was never a downside. I get a book I think I'll like, the author gets a free review (and since I read books I think I'll like, it's most likely to be a good review) and future readers can be assured of the book's quality. Everybody wins.

Right now I'm reading "Trapped on Draconia" by Dan Wright. Its a 'normal guy trapped on another world' sort of story which I've seen many times in anime and such. However, Mr.Wright has quelled my fears completely. I'll go into more detail during the formal review after I finish it; I'm on page 137 out 437.

Sometime this weekend expect a review for Henry Herz's Children's Fantasy, "Nimpentoad". Its not a novel so I'll be able to finish it quickly and turn out the review.

In the next month or so I'll start either "Light/Dark the Awakening of MageKnight' by Daniel Fife or "The Shadow of Black Wings" by James Calbraith. Both of them are fantasy with intriguing (or at least time honored) premises, so I'm looking forward to them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Characters are everything

When I was in college I took a class called "Introduction to Creative Writing" and one of the lectures was called "characters". The short of it is: A plot is nothing more than a character in trouble." This resonated with me and I've kept it in mind ever since.

I let the characters drive the story. Their actions, their choices, their desires; I follow them to their logical (or illogical) conclusion. Sometimes I have to rewrite events and even the plot itself to accommodate the characters and their trouble. The story flows better this way.

Furthermore, I personally hate it when an episode of a show or some story arc in a book derails characters to make itself work. It feels forced and unnatural reminds that these people are not real people but actors with a script. It's hard to care about actors with a script and if I don't care about them (and the characters they represent) then why do I care about what happens to them? If I don't care about what happens to them then why am I reading/watching/playing the story?

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Matter of Taste?

How is it that two people can have opposite opinions on the same book? Myself and a girl named 'Joyce' read a book called 'Talented'. She rated it 5/5 and I rated it 1/5. Be warned: I have bitter feelings about this book and so this post will be rather negative.

She says that the protagonist, Natalia, 'kicks ass'. In the book Natalia goes on three missions that are detailed. In the first her only contribution is a distraction and she has to be carried out by her teammates. She points out that she failed everyone's expectations. In the second mission she doesn't fight anyone and chokes at her opportunity to finish an assassination. In the third she doesn't kick ass, presay, but mind-control a guy (which, I will admit, is kinda cool). There are only two times she 'kicks ass'; the first is a fight with her teammate that is played more for sexual tension than 'the ability to kick ass' and the second is a simulation.

She says the book is 'readable' when it frequently misses words, and that's its a 'non-stop page turner'. That I can only chalk up to a romantic drama addict because that is what's on most of the pages. The very thing that repealed me might attract someone else. Yet I still have my objection: wish fulfilment. Just on the romance side a hot guy (the book will tell you so many times) is head over heels for the protagonist despite being a lady killer (which book also tells you many times) and the protagonist gets to beat up her cheating boyfriend without consequences of any sort.

She says 'It has an equal portion of adventure, romance, drama, & paranormal attribute'. Before the climax there are only two missions that have any depth to them and even those are brief. Other than that there is a simulation that accomplishes nothing; filler to convince the adventure seekers not to throw the book away. The other 200 some pages are about the pitfalls in the protagonist's love life. There is no 'paranormal' but science fiction and even that receives little attention after the first few chapters.

Finally, the 'exuberant' cliff hanger. Personally, it felt more like a commercial break than a cliff hanger. The protagonist is carted away, again disabled by injury, and her ex-boyfriend reads a note from her new boyfriend that endangers the new boyfriend's family. He decides to give it to the leader out of a sense of family loyalty. Then it ends. There's no resolution to anything. Its not 'exuberant' because it lacks enthusiasm. To me it came of as 'depressing'. I feel Joyce was going for the 'extrememly good' definition.

Our reviews could not be more different. Mine was significantly longer and more in depth than Joyce's; it consisted of little more than a paragraph and mine an essay. A simple matter of taste can not explain the inaccuracies in her review, so what happened?

In the end, I suppose all that matters is that there is an audience that enjoys the book and is willing to pay for that enjoyment. I would still like to know why our reviews are opposites so I thought about it for a while. Then it hit me.

Paranormal Romance; instead of a science fiction plot with a romantic subplot this book is a romantic plot with a science fiction subplot. When I thought about 'Talented' in those terms then the number of postive reviews (including Joyce's) suddenly made made sense. They were reading for the romance while the occasional 'ass kicking' was a nice side dish. I was the opposite; reading for the scant science fiction and annoyed by the vast streches of romance.

 This still doesn't explain why Joyce said 'equal portions' or why Miss. Davis described the central conflict as revenge against a political figure but I suppose one can't sell a book on a trite love triangle anymore. It has to be spiced up with other elements, or maybe its a sign of the times. 'Girl gets the guy and  kicks ass'. That's their taste I guess.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

1,000 pageviews

This is incredible. I was tinkering with the blog's layout when I saw the counter: 1,000. I thought 'no way', but it was there. My first thought was to tweet about that. That should tell you how involved I've become with social media.

I made this blog originally because a neighbor of mine recommended it to talk about my book: Journey to Chaos book 1: A Mage's Power. Back then it was still called "Trickster Help Service". I didn't think much of it at the time but I set it up and wrote an introductory post. Then I forgot I had a blog for months. That's why there's a gap between "What I'm About" and "Shame and Pride".

  My negligence of  Facebook and Twitter was just as bad; I signed up on the former at my mom's request (to see the picture she sends the rest of our family) and I didn't even know how twitter worked. I barely gave a thought to them and instead focused on writing my books. Then I finished.

It was one of those 'what do I do now' moments. I had no idea what to do with the book now that it was finished. Well, to be honest, it was more like 2 and two half books but the first had been revised half a dozen times and was getting to that point that further revision could be called 'procrastinating'. So I became more serious with social media, especially twitter. Now I have a better idea of what I'm doing, and hopefully, more people interested in "A Mage's Power".

Monday, July 2, 2012

Inspirational Monday!

The first monday of every month is Inspirational Monday. Share something that inspires you.

"I hated every minute of my training but I told myself 'don't quit'. Suffer now and be a champion the rest of your life." -Muhammad Ali

I found that quote in a small book of quotes I received from my grandmother (I think). It has a lot of similar quotes but this one is my favorite. Originally I'd recite it to myself during Tae Known Do practice to encourage myself to finish my work out or learn a form etc. Now I recite it during revisions. They are tedious (pay attention to every word and think of ways to make them all better), depressing (all of them can be made better) and time consuming (did I really just spend four hours at this!?) but absolutely critical to the writing process. Now I can read them and smile at the improvement.

Don't be discouraged by bad drafts. The first draft is ALWAYS bad. The second draft is less bad, the third might stop making you feel like a loser, and by the fourth draft you might feel comfortable giving it to a beta reader.  Suffer through it and you'll be a champion the rest of your life.