Thursday, December 27, 2012

Editing; Professional Help or Not

When I set to revise my first novel, A Mage's Power, I resolved that I would do my own editing. I didn't want to pay hundreds of dollars for someone to do something that I could do myself. It made me feel lazy. Also, I didn't want to wait for them to get to and then finish my manuscript. Finally, I notice story elements that can be improved when I edit myself which is something an editor would not notice because they lack my background on the story. (See my post on "Useful Problems" for more information). As I do a third "Absolutely the Last Revision" I'm considering changing my policy for the sequel.

Time and again I am amazed by the errors I can miss. Double Double words; words in places the wrong; words that (are) missing, and words that the are unnecessary. It truly blows my mind when I find such errors in my manuscript and confirm that such errors exist in earlier copies of the same chapters. I don't know if it's my familiarity with the material that is the problem, my tendency to skip along so I can continue writing or both. It makes me want to pull my hair out.

After I publish A Mage's Power (it will published no latter than New Year's, by the way) I will begin revision work on the sequel, "Looming Shadow". Once I get the story where I want it I will likely find an editor to correct the errors listed above.

One thing is for sure: I will be aware of sticky keys, especially the 't'.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Iron Ring" of Adventure and Deconstruction

I finished "The Iron Ring" by Lloyd Alexander the other day. It's about this Indian King who has a dream where he bets his life to a stranger and losses it. Thus begins his adventure to this stranger's kingdom to make good on his debt. On the way his ideas about karma and honor are deconstructed and he has to adjust what he's believed all his life.

The book has a great opening; the stranger arriving in extravagant style. The clashing of egos as the game begins and escalates is page turning. I was hooked by the time it ended. This is crucial for any book; if the reader doesn't like the first pages or (if they're generous) the first chapter, they're not going to finish the book.

 The rest of the book is equally engaging. Tamar is an honorable and straight-forward king; his companions couldn't be more different and their dialogue is a wonder.  One is a wise old scholar and another is an eccentric scholar of a vague age because of his mysticism. A third is a cowherd with a sharp tongue and a fourth is a mischievous monkey. Then there are others like a fellow king whose tragedy makes him a foil for Tamar.

The main action of the plot is Tamar's group aiding this prince against the villainous Nanusha who stole his throne. Despite being of the warrior's caste he follows none of its rules and this is the reason for the deconstruction mentioned above. Tamar follows all the rules as if they were physical laws; his repeated humiliation at Nanusha's hands shows how this is foolishness. Eventually his pragmatic love interest shows him reason; the only way to win is to beat him at his own game. Tamar emerges victorious by distinguishing the difference between honor and naivety.

I can only find one thing wrong with this book; the red gem that Garuda looks for and the reason he joins Tamar's group. At the end it's revealed to be a magic item that can kill anyone or raise the dead, and that the stranger cast it away because he felt himself tempted by it's power. There are two issues I have with this.

1. Unnecessary
For the bulk of the story it is simply a beautiful rock. Also, aside from talking animals there are few fantasy elements up to his point.  Adding such power to the gem at such a late point is like sticking a plane's wing on a car; it looks weird.
2. Dangerous
Why throw it away if it was so dangerous? A demon almost gets their hands on it. The internal logic would run smoother if the stranger had simply asked Garuda to find a gem that was already out there.

Other than that it's an outstanding book.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Iron Ring" an A.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Answering Review Request "Tainted Dawn"

Barbara Peacock asked me to read her novel "Tainted Dawn" which takes place in Europe during the yeas 1792-1815. It stars Edward, an English bastard of a ship captain, Jemmy, the only son of a poor English family, and Louis, a french revolutionary and son of a tailor.

It starts out well enough but sours quickly. Since I became a volunteer book reviewer there has only been one book that I had to force myself to finish. This is the second one.

A better name would be "Tainted Daddy Issues". All the protagonists are dominated by bad relationships with their fathers and since there is no plot these issues dominate the story.

1. Louis participates in the October Days and his father's servant blackmails him for silence. After he losses everything, his dad finds out and disowns him. With nothing left but his ideals he runs to his mentor/father figure and quarrels with him. Then he's pulled by friends to the Indies and projects his father onto the plantation owner he works for, seeing him as another 'little big shot'.  He defies him and is punished by him for the same reason; ramble rousing.  Instead of advocating equality he advocates hatred of Englishmen.

2. Edward thinks of nothing but making his late father (who has never seen, let alone met) proud and later projects this relationship onto the captain of the Blanche.  In between he is mistreated by a third captain.  That section might as well read 'Edward is insulted and hit with a stick' over and over again because that is all that happens. There is no further plot or character development. It didn't need to go on for so many chapters.

3. Jemmy runs away from home to get away from an unappreciative father but runs back to him because he had a dream of him being hung. This means deserting the royal navy and bringing more trouble to an already troubled family which makes his father even more dismissive of him. Everything this boy does relates to his father in some way.  
Miss Peacock confuses character arc for story arc for there is no over-arching plot or plot thread connecting her three protagonists. There is only the three of them and their daddy issues. The chapters are spliced together without rhyme or reason other than 'alternate every time'. This destroys the purpose of cliff hangers because the suspense is gone. It breaks the build up and disperses the development of story. It's like taking a bite from a hamburger only to have it pulled away and given something else which is also pulled away after a bite. It's frustrating. More than that, it leads to confusion about what's going on because three separate stories are intertwined. Some chapters are about different people entirely and only peripherially related to the three.  

1. Edward and Jemmy overlap at first because they're on the same ship but have nothing to do with each other. After Jemmy leaves, they do not reunite nor influence each other.

2. Edward and Louis do not meet again until the last arc of the book. It breaks my suspension of disbelief that they could remember each other after months of separation and difficult times because they had a brief over a petty incident.

3. Jemmy and Louis never met after the first chapter. Their stories are entirely separate. They might have seen each other if Jemmy was indeed part of the pirate group at the end but one would think Peacook would bridge such a jump from 'running from the law in the English countryside' to 'priating ships near Spanish colonies'. Louis could have done his 'all men are equal' spiel to the boy who just got burned by 'the quality' to justify the piracy and in the process learn that not all Englishmen are evil.
I feel as though she wrote three separate stories and then shuffled the chapters together to increase the work's length. She would have been wiser to write an anthology.
There is no resolution. Even though all three of them are fictional characters none of them get a resolution. Louis is shipped back to France with the same ideals and mindset; no change. Edward is still in a precarious 'sent/forced home' situation because his mother doesn't want him at sea.  Jemmy is last seen running through the countryside with Nan; a fugitive from the law. He plans to go to New York but Edward's section says he died in a Spanish colony helping pirates. Does Beacook mean to imply that he was doing pirate work to pay for passage? If so, what about Nan?
One special note. This is a historical novel but Jemmy's 'future seeing dreams' are vital to his third of the story. Without it he never would have gone home and instead stayed on the ship and so he wouldn't serve as the unwitting cause of his father's death.  I cannot tolerate such a plot device, especially when there aren't any other supernatural elements. The sailors don't mention Davvy Jones or mermaids or sailor superstitions!
There is one redeeming aspect; history. If one considers these not characters, presay, but instead character-actors playing for the time period than their personalities and their stories are less important than the events they witness and the ideas they represent. I am a history buff, indeed, that's the reason I decided to read this book in the first place. Seeing the history on the ground level, so to speak, is a different perspective than historical texts and can justify some of the stupider things the characters do.

Unless you are a history buff you will not like this book.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Tainted Dawn" a D

Click here for the next review request: Song at Dawn

Click here for the previous review request: Jake Johnson and the Halfbloods


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Literary Innovation Is Not Always Good

"Innovation for its own sake will run you into a tree"

I have little patience for writers who think they are original.  If you've been following my blog recently you'll know that I don't believe in literary originality (not the 100 percent kind anyway) so I've come to see it as a novice trait to claim originality. If you believe you are original, TV Tropes will prove how wrong you are. Every once in a while I see someone desperate to prove they are original by doing something weird. To illustrate this I will use a book I started last night and stopped after twenty pages.

I won't say what it's called because this post is going to be negative and I believe one must earn the right to trash a book by finishing it. I could not finish it.  I could not stand it.  I put it away and started a new book that night. The praise on the front page should have sent red flags, "brave, original" when the premise sounded like straight forward fantasy fare. 

The summary in a nutshell: "A supernatural force invades a small town that is a supernaturally special place. A girl with the power to revive the dead is tested morally and logically." Not too terribly original now is it? The book opened with some girls finding a dead body on the beach; good so far. The chapter ended with a girl saying something mystical in 'the language of flowers'; also good. I expected some exposition in the next chapter but that's where it got weird.

The second chapter is a different setting and different characters; a housewife complaining about not having a career like her teacher friend while parts of a journal (which she may or may not be restoring) are spliced in between the paragraphs. The third chapter cuts off again; a police report. It looked like the following
8:38 Crime X
8:50 Event C
9:24 Person A arrives for shift
It was one page and the next chapter began. It was another single page that sounded more like a leaf from a philosopher's journal than a third person narration novel. The next chapter was about a bear and the man who left a jar of honey in his trash can for the bear to eat.

It was incomprehensible. It reminded me of the modernist works I had to read when I was in college. Those were so pretentious and absurd I yanked my hair plowing through them. Yet I was determined to reach page twenty because I wanted to give this author the benefit of the doubt. It was misplaced. The events of the opening pages were forgotten. I can only assume that this author was going for a 'sum is greater than the whole of its parts' thing with all the disjointed events and themes. To me it was a disorganized mess.

In my opinion, the author would have been wiser to follow a conventional route. Action Prologue (finding the guy on the beach) followed by the introduction and development of The Protagonist (who is she is, the origin of her powers, etc) and then some form of conflict (the outsider mentioned on the back cover premise). I would have liked that. After reading I would have used this post to say how much I liked it. Instead I'm using it to illustrate the problem of meaningless innovation.

Whatever you choose to do with your book is fine but at some point it has to match what is on the back cover/inside flap.  Otherwise you will confuse readers. They will become angry at the waste of time and money. I thought twenty pages was plenty generous so I put it back on the shelf.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Inspirational Monday: Tvtropes

The first monday of every month is Inspirational Monday and today I'm going to share TvTropes. It's a wiki that catalogues and analyzes conventions in storytelling. Despite that description it's "boatloads" more informal than Wikipedia. I have something of a love/hate relationship with it. On the love side it provides lots of information in a engaging way and can help a writer build ideas. On the hate side, it sucks up my free time and I feel compelled to revise it because it is a wiki and I can.

TvTropes has an infinity of tropes (even after years of going there I haven't seen them all) and new ones are still being crafted. Along with those tropes are an infinity of works across all mediums. It will dispel any illusion you have to originality. This is why I believe it is a site that every writer should visit at least once; never again will you believe you are original. This is something every writer must learn. You are not original; you are standing on the shoulders of giants. (which, by the way, is not an original phrase but I like it so I used it.) With the limited time one has to write and watch, etc, one may think that 'Oh this idea must be original because I've never seen it before!' Then you go to Tvtropes and see a 200+ works (depending on the trope) that have that same idea. It may not be exactly the same idea but it will be so close that you can't claim to be original.  This is a liberating feeling because you don't have to worry about being original and can instead have fun playing with the tropes and inserting shout outs.

TvTropes is a community of storytelling. It has authors and readers gushing and complaining about works and tropes. This is fun to read but also practical; one can see what readers like and dislike. It's also a great place to proof read without having to write something first. Not that there's major spelling or grammar errors but more about being concise. There is a problem on TvTropes about exaggeration and word cruft etc and therefore practice for being concise in one's own work.

TvTropes is a gateway drug. It will point you towards new shows/books/games etc that you might not know of otherwise. I've found more than a few great series this way that are now on my shelf. A well developed works page is a sign of a large fan base,  or at least, one dedicated fan. I may be that one for I am a Book Reviewing Troper.