Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Avoiding Tunnel Vision

When I was in the planning stages of "A Mage's Power" there were a number of goals I wanted to accomplish. One was of them was avoiding Tunnel Vision. By this I mean the perception that nothing happens outside of what the main characters experience. This is part of creating the "Full Picture". There are more people living on Tariatla than my protagonist and his immediate friends, and there are more locations then he personally sets foot on

I didn't want characters to disappear into a void when they walk off-screen. Radiata Stories, a video game by Square Enix, is the reason why. If you look around my blog or pay attention when reading my book you'll see this game's influence because it is a great game. There are no 'generic NPCs'. Every single character has their own sprite and their own schedule. After years of games where the NPCs all looked the same and stood around like statues this here was a living and vibrant world. I wanted to replicate that in my story. I created personalities and histories for characters that I knew would have small roles so they would be stronger characters despite their little screen time. When they weren't talking or working with Eric I wanted a reader to believe they could be doing something instead of vanishing into oblivion.

Part of this involves a shifting of main characters.  In A Mage's Power, only Eric is in every scene. In the second chapter he gains school friends and spends a lot of time with them when he is in school. Once he joins the Dragon's Lair he is busy with guild missions and training and so he has less time for them and so they appear less often. This is intentional. They are important to Eric but they are their own characters and do not derive their substance from their relationship with him. On TV tropes we call those kinds of characters a Satellite Character because they have no purpose other than orbiting another character, usually the protagonist.

In the fifth chapter Eric is assigned two teammates and a mentor to make a four person team. His time spent with them comprises the bulk of the book. However, they are not in every scene either. After missions and training Eric's teammates would wander off to other friends and other activities because their lives do not revolve around Eric. This is why he does not think to invite them on a volunteer mission; he can't think of a reason why they would join him. Instead he seeks out someone who is motivated to complete the mission.  

The downside to this is that I have a lot of characters and a shifting main cast. Some people find that confusing but I think it's realistic and a sense of 'concrete real world' is another goal I wanted to accomplish with this book. To read more about that click here.


For similar posts about the setting instead of characters,  see "A World of Monsters" and "To Build a World Think about Ants"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Answering Review Request: Forever Gate 1

I read Isaac Hooke's "Forever Gate" as part of a review exchange. He's reading my "A Mage's Power" right now. That's "Social Media Reciprocity" in action.

"Forever Gate" takes place in a fantasy setting that is NOT the medieval ages. It's actually 3740 A.D. but one could be forgiven for thinking it was somewhere in the 1000s. Hoodwink, the protagonist, thinks it's semantics. He's only interested in keeping someone important to him safe and this leads him from one dangerous situation to another.

The plot is fast paced. From execution to run from the law to secret society Revelations to climbing the Forever Gate. There's no time to catch your breath because this book has relentless energy. Hoodwink is always moving and getting in and out of close calls. Each chapter is a cliffhanger and it is a meaningful cliff hanger. It's not an instant tacked on thing meant to invoke cliffhanger. Even the final chapter ends in a cliffhanger and it includes a wham line. There's a preview for the second book and that also ends in a cliffhanger.With all the cliffhangers you may be wondering: does story ever resolve anything? The answer is complicated.

Courtesy SPOILER warning

Hoodwink's goal is to keep his daughter out of harm's way. He does this by taking her place for things like climbing the sky-high Forever Gate. At the end of the book he succeeds and is at peace with himself but the root cause that got him into trouble in the first place has not been touched. This is the first book so I don't mind because the initial 'save my daughter' conflict has been resolved. On the other hand, the final chapter's cliffhanger would have infuriated me if not for the second book's preview. It's a great place to stop, don't get me wrong, but it opens up a new can of worms. In my opinion, the second book preview works better as an epilogue and sequel hook than a genuine preview because it lets the reader know the results of Hoodwink's harrowing quest (providing closure) while at the same time setting up the next book.

Hoodwink is a great protagonist. He's an anti-hero without being dark and edgy. Instead he's a loving father that doesn't care about heroics. It's a rare breed; not original but rare. Another point in his favor is that he is not a teenager. You see those a lot in fantasy and they all say 'averarge kid' who is not at all average. This is an older married guy and there really is nothing special about him but then again he's not a bland audience surrogate.

Unfortunately, other characters have much less development but this can be attributed to their little screen time. In the first scene Hoodwink is running from the law and then he climbs a wall and then he crosses a desert. In other words, he spends much of the book alone with his thoughts. It's great for him but less so for the others. Ari, for instance, receives more character development in the preview for the second book then she does in the entirety of the first book. In the later her role is summed up in Hero's Muse, but interestingly, she is aware of this and exploits it. The only reason Hoodwink climbs the Forever Gate is because if he didn't she would and both of them know this would likely kill her.

The closest thing this series has to 'bad guys' are a similar case. They're called gols and they're artificial humans that run the city. Hoodwink thinks they're 'oppressors' but Leader points out that they are closer to 'despised but necessary public servants'. The latter is the one leading a resistance group against them, which begs the question: If they are not evil then why is he fighting them? Also, if he knows they are necessary and wants them to stay in power then why do the Gol think he is a terrorist? Current events have some answers but not all of them and without these questions the premise of the novel falls apart. Hoodwink's relationship troubles with his daughter have greater depth and are therefore more interesting.

 

Spelling and such are great but the grammar is distracting. As many as three sentences in a row will go something like 'Hoodwink x. And then y. But z." when they could all be one sentence. This is forgivable because they are most prevalent in Hoodwink's stream of consciousness and nobody thinks in perfect grammar. That would be weird. It's still distracting.

 

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Forever Gate 1" an A

Click here for the next review request: Ballad of the Nameless Traveler.

Click here for the previous review request: Adventure Hunters

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Answering Review Request: Adventure Hunters by Cody Martin

"Adventure Hunters" is a low fantasy with a trio of heroes doing their own thing but get caught up in a big plot. It's not original by any means so I like it all the more. After reading the first arc I thought of it as mashed potatoes; warm and filling and tasty.

The plot follows a king finding an Artifact of Doom and is driven to acquire the means to activate it and gain the power to defeat his opponent in a war. Like I said, not original but it's well written and there are a few unusual points. The first of which is that the king in question is not a megalomaniac with global conquest in mind; instead he's a good king in a desperate situation. His methods and actions brand him as nothing more than a mild anti-villain. Second, the reason for his actions is a border dispute over a trading post that escalated into a full blown war. Something like this has happened before in real life and compared to larger-than-life threats in fantasy (and other genres) it is low key. I like this because I can take the plot more seriously when the villain is a genuine character instead of a personified threat. The small scope also keeps the story focused and streamlined. Finally, the conflict is resolved by the end. There are no loose ends but plenty of room for follow up adventures. It left me satisfied and yet also wanting a sequel; like eating a delicious something makes you want to eat more of that something.

The main cast is a classic fighter/mage/thief trio. They're introduced searching for treasure in an old ruin and it read like something out of a D&D novel. It was fun, exciting, and a great method of character development because it showed their characteristics in action instead of telling about them. The next scene deconstructs the adventurer lifestyle by showing how they go about making a living and continues the development by showing what they do in their downtime. They gained additional facets by being mild anti heroes. Regina, for instance, is the black sheep of Info Mages because she looks for artifacts in old ruins (i.e. 'tomb robbing') instead of teaching or preserving documents like the rest.

I like the setting. I really do. On one hand it's a magical fantasy world with mages and gargoyles but on the other hand it operates like a mundane world: kings squabble, common people work for a living, and at the end of the day you go to a tavern to drink with your friends. I find the world building fascinating; there's a self-governing body of mages called the 'dieta of mages' that polices magic users and provides advisers to kings that are autonomous from that king. There's also fictional history which fills in details and reminds the reader that more is going on in this fictional world than what happens to the main characters.

The only flaw I can see in this novel is the prose. It can be awkward at times and require rereading which breaks the reader's immersion in the world. I would say three or so patches are bad and the rest are isolated. They are the only thing holding this book back from a perfect score.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Adventure Hunters" an A

Click here for the next review request: Forever Gate 1

Click here for the previous review request: Legacy of the Dragokin

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Answering Review Request: Legacy of the Dragokin

First of all I should say this is not an ordinary review request: this is the sequel to Trapped on Draconica which I previously rated highly. I was looking forward to this and so I was glad to accept an advance copy from Dan Wright. It did not dissapoint. Legacy of the Dragokin is a fantasy in the same vein as its prequel; largely traditional but a unique flavor.

The premise of the story is a group of evil dudes are released from their magical prison and it's up to the heroes to stop their rampage. It doesn't sound original (and it isn't) but it develops differently from standard fare. There is no central hero, there are villain groups independent of the released evil dudes with drastically different motives, and it is more about personal conflict than 'large-than-life epic' battles and adventure. However, there are a number of problems that I will address at the end of this review.

The previous story's hero, Daniar, now has a son named Benji and he is the new protagonist. However, instead of being a kick-ass hero he is instead a Tagalong Kid. This is because he is ten years old and his mother is overprotective. Said mother is no longer the hero herself because her focus is split in three directions: past trouble, current trouble, and keeping Benji out of trouble. Lydia, a little girl in the original, is now a young woman and steps up to the plate as a soldier but she shares the spotlight with her role model, her grandfather, her step-grandmother and other characters. Taken together, there is more a 'hero team' than a single hero. This splits the screen time more or less evenly and prevents one person from appearing like 'the problem solver' and the rest like 'superflous backup'. This is often a problem for stories of this genre and so it's nice to see Dan avoiding it.

Another problem this genre often has is the set of evil dudes are a single organization with a clear hierarchy and power structure. This often leads to a monolithic group distinguished primarily by their threat level. That is not the case here. There are as many as five independent villains in this story and none of them are allies. In fact, they're just as likely to fight each other as the heroes. Because of this, they're not adverse to allying with the heroes against other villains. On TvTropes we call this a Gambit Pile Up and it adds great depth to the story.

Everyone has their motive and they crash into each other. Just as the villains attack other villains, the heroes attack other heroes because of personal drama. There is one scene in particular where Finn and Kalak get into a serious (as in, swords drawn and swinging) fight because one such powder keg exploded at the wrong moment. One can watch the flaming fuse burn all the way to the scene and then it goes off and they're fighting.

Now for the problems. There are two big ones: plot and prose.
1. There is a scene where a Red Shirt does something stupid that leads to a lot of trouble for everyone. The soldier's superior officer immediately points out just HOW stupid so the stupidity on the author's part is diminished and the soldier's choice IS understandable but still it bothers me.
2. The prose is imprecise.  There is 'actually' and 'quite a bit' and 'almost' and other word cruft that could be removed to strengthen the sentence. As is, the prose feels immature. Like I said above, I received an advanced copy so it's possible Dan will remove these before the launch on the 24th.

The prose is annoying but it's 'hang nail annoying' so its affect on the rank is minor. The plot's idiot ball would have a greater effect if not for the lampshade hanging and the understandable nature of it both in-universe and out.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Legacy of the Dragokin" an A

Click here for the next review request: Adventure Hunters

Click here for the previous review request: Song at Dawn

Monday, February 4, 2013

Inspirational Monday! Reviews part 1 (Negative)

The first Monday of every month is Inspirational Monday. We share something that inspires us and this month I'm going to share my thoughts on reviews, specifically negative reviews.

Reviews are the lifeblood of any author; self-published or traditionally published. They often lead to more sales but the emotional capital is just as important. When I started out with fanfiction it was the reviews that inspired me to continue writing. Fanfiction.net is a poor place for constructive criticism but a great place for validation of your skills; most reviews will be something like 'great story' or 'update soon'. These tell the budding author that they are doing something right and so they continue to write and as they write they get better.

Later I started original fiction and it was like starting over because I had to start from scratch. It was very hard to build the confidence to let anyone read it but when I did I was glad for it. The people I showed it to liked it; they laughed when I wanted to be funny and cheered the characters I hoped they would cheer for. It was still hard to push that 'publish' button on Amazon but I'm glad I did because twelve of my fourteen reviews are positive and they make me feel wonderful.

The other two make me feel bad but that makes them important too. 'Remember Caesar, thou art mortal.' If an author is showered with nothing but praise their head will get big and they will make mistakes that could ruin a book. On TvTropes we call this Protection From Editors and it never goes anywhere pleasant.

For myself I have a review for A Mage's Power titled 'Nope' with which I have a love-hate relationship; on one hand they write a paragraph about why they don't like setting but on the other hand they write a paragraph about why they don't like my setting. It is a detailed criticism. I love that; I appreciate it, and even though it says bad things about my book I like the review because it is four paragraphs long. I keep their criticism in mind when revising the sequel (Looming Shadow) because I want to address their concerns. Finally, their review generates discussion about my book. As of this blog post thirty six people have voted whether or not they found the review helpful which is far more than any other review I have on Amazon.

Speaking of bad reviewers I just read a post from Jean Gill about the importance of not stalking them. Click here if you want to read it.