Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Answering Review Request: Exile's Violin

R.S. Hunter asked me to review his story "Exile's Violin." It's a steampunk detective novel with a smidgen of fantasy. It stars Jacquie, a girl who losses everything when thieves blow up her home. The backbone of the story is her quest to retrieve two items that were stolen from her at that time and take revenge on those that did it. The following review will evaluate the characters, plot, polish, and finally assign a grade.

There are three genres in this story: detective, military, and heroic fantasy and all in a steampunk setting. It works better than you might think.
The plot begins as a detective novel; Jacquie is hired by a big wig to investigate a warmonger conspiracy. Then the plot transitions to a military story when the conspiracy is revealed and battles take place.  Finally it shifts to heroic fantasy at the climax; a warrior armed with mystic weapons fights a power mad villain with magic. When I stopped to think about it, I was amazed by how well Mr.Hunter makes this work.
Jacquie has an internal monologue lampshading how out of place she, as a detective, is on a military vessel, and the second transition is adequately developed before hand so it doesn't feel too jarring. Indeed, Jacquie is more shocked by the Big Bad killing people with his magic powers than by the fact that he has magic powers at all.

The sequence of events from scene to scene is well done; no shocking swerves and the reasons for doing X or Y make sense. The characters are driving the plot for 99 percent of the story and that makes for an engaging adventure. However, the problem lies in that last 1 percent.
It may be due to my troper experience but the big plot twists were easy to see coming. I count four of them and the last one is the only one that surprised me and only because of the setting. This is due to the nature of the setup; I'm surprised Jacquie herself didn't see them coming. At points such as this I could feel Mr.Hunter hands on her shoulders; preventing her from taking action. This also happens with the Big Bad, who would have gotten along famously with one from a James Bond film.
1. Why Don't You Just Shoot Her?
-The Big Bad had ample opportunity to kill the heroes throughout the novel but doesn't act on it. Even at the end he doesn't seriously try to kill them. He uses a magical, undodgeable, one-hit kill on the soldiers but uses something else to attack Jacquie. It lead me to consider Alternate Character Interpretation to explain it because otherwise the plot would collapse like a house without support beams.
2. You Can't Thwart Stage One
- Jacquie has two opportunities to shoot the Big Bad before the final stage. The first time she lets him give a motive rant despite saying she doesn't care why he's doing it. This allows him to get away. The second time she has Clay and six soldiers with her and she doesn't shoot. She takes a long time to aim which is enough for the Big Bad to get the upper hand again. This time it is so ridiculous it would be funny if it were not painful. One man with an auto-rifle makes eight fully armed people (six of them soldiers) surrender. On both of these occassions the Big Bad could have killed Jacquie with ease but doesn't and provides no reason why he doesn't.

Neither of those problems affect the conclusion of the climax. That was foreshadowed well in advance and drawn attention to in the calm before the climax. Not everything is tied up pretty with a bow but the main conflict and Jacquie's character arc are resolved. It's a great place to push from because the baggage of this book is shed and leaves great potential for future adventures.

Whatever problems the plot has in its foundations, they are easy to overlook thanks to the characters. My favorite part of this book is not the conspiracy plot or anything involving the Big Bad but the snark to snark combat between Jacquie and her sidekick, Clay. The contrast between their lives (working class detective and upper class socialite) and their mutual wit are much more fun to read than their investigations.

Jacquie is a deconstruction of badass and this is one of the reasons why I like her.  She's is a tough woman; she can win gun fights when outnumbered and escape a city that's quarantined by a military looking for her specifically, but she's not unstoppable or invincible. She gets tired like real people and gets splinters and scrapes like real people that need to be attended to. Secondly, when the story shifts from investigating to airship battles, she fades into the background and becomes a view point character. She is not a soldier or a sailor so she's useless in such a situation and acknowledges it.

Secondly, she is what I'd call a positive use of Static Character; there is a long time skip between the robbery and the main narrative because the former is a prologue. In this period she goes from traumatized schoolgirl to veteran detective. Seeing these two mesh in the main story is the appeal of her character arc.

By contrast, Clay has a significant amount of character development. He goes from a bored rich guy  to a devoted knight in shining armor; taking his hobby seriously, caring about Jacquie personally instead of as a source of excitement, and becoming her conscience. He regularly snarks at her anti-hero actions and calls her out on the more extreme ones.  Watching him grow is like watching a gaudy foam sword transform into a elegant steel one.

I don't see any word cruft which is always a plus. The sentences are crisp and precise and clear. There may have been one or two spelling errors but overall the book has a polished feel to it.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Exile's Violin" an A-

Click here for the next review request:  Immortality Blues

Click here for the previous review request: Exile Autumn's Peril

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Importance of an Editor

When I began writing I wanted to be my own editor. Now I am not so naive. A Mage's Power has received many reviews that said the spelling and/or grammar was horrible. They came to both the amazon listing and this very blog.  Even the people that liked the book and left positive reviews still said the book needed substantial editing. For context, I made three passes through the manuscript after I thought I found all the errors from the previous seven or so passes.

Acknowledging defeat I contacted an editing service and was struck a further blow to my editing ego. They said the book needed more than a 'light proofing' and that they had fixed 'thousands' of errors in the first hundred pages. They were not exaggerating; there really were thousands of errors because the same sort of errors were repeated over and over again.

You see I was still trying to deny that I needed an editor. I told myself that it was just a few errors here and there that, over 400 kindle pages, added up, and that all I needed was a different set of eyes. When I looked over the marked up manuscript that came back, I realized that was far from true. I'm happy to say to say it was worth it. Ever since then the reviews that complained of grammar and/or spelling have disappeared.

In case you're interested, that service is Hercules Editing and Consulting and I'm about to use their services again for other things (Table of Contents, advertising, etc) and found a package that included editing. For all you readers out there, this means there will be another free period in the near future.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Creating Names in Fiction

The other day I received a review concerning the naming conventions in A Mage's Power.  They thought my name reversals were both punny and distracting which made me think about how often I relied on them. That got me thinking about naming conventions in general which lead to how many entries TvTropes has for them.

I don't like using conventional baby-book style names. For some reason they feel weird so I make up names for characters and places. One of the ways I do this is by taking a word relevant to the thing in question and reversing it. For instance, there is a character called 'Nosiop' that is a poison master. This way I  can quickly create a name but I can also see how it can be distracting. Once one realizes that a name is a word backwards it can be hard to avoid seeing both at once. In the future I'll look for other ways to add meaning to names and this is where TvTropes comes in.

On Tvtropes we have an index full of tropes devoted to naming conventions. I'll illustrate a few of them with Noisop.
Meaningful Name: Noisop is a maker of poison.
Ironic Name: If Noisop were a maker of medicine instead of poison.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: A name resembling 'poison' is suspicous; it could mean he was an assassin or a Poisonous Friend, etc.
Some Call Me Tim: If his true first name was  Cyanogenic-Glycoside, he might opt for the simpler 'Noisop'. This could lead to him being Only Known By His Nickname.
Unfortunate Name: If a customer found out his name meant 'poison' then Noisop would have a hard time being a chef.

There are many, many more but I'll stop there. If I do too many I'll look up the ones I don't know and get sucked into the Troper Hive Mind again.

Most of the characters in A Mage's Power have names that carry some form of meaning but there are two exceptions. One is a guy named 'Sam'. He is so minor that I couldn't be bothered to think of a concept meaningful enough to reverse. The second, by contrast, is the protagonist himself, Eric. I have no idea where that name come from or why I settled on it. It's just there.

What about all you other authors out there; what do you think about naming conventions?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Zap! Word Cruft

"Don't forget, actually, as a matter of fact, what really happened is that there's far too much Word Cruft in this example."

-TvTropes's Editing Tips Worksheet

I can't stand word cruft. I see 'pretty much' and 'actually' and 'quite a bit' and I want to ZAP them. I'll see it in a newspaper and I'll mentally edit it out. I feel compelled to do this; part of the reason came from editing A Mage's Power ten times over but most of the blame goes to Tvtropes. That's why it's quoted at the top of this article.

Sometimes I think my fellow tropers believe that adding more words means adding more power. It is the opposite; the more words a sentence has the less meaningful it is. Which sounds stronger to you?

1. "The hero jumped into the mob's path and shouted, 'STOP!'"


2. "Basically the hero pretty much jumped into the mob's path and actually shouted, 'STOP!'"

I had trouble writing the second one because I couldn't decide where to place the word cruft. That's because they're interchangeable! They do nothing more than make the sentence longer; literary padding. When I read a book for review, word cruft is one of the things I look for.

Sentences are stronger when the reader does not have to climb over superfluous words to arrive at the meaning of a sentence. Adding a 'though' at the end feels like a car hitting a pot hole; it breaks the momentum and brings the action to a screeching halt. The presence or absence of word cruft can mean the difference between an A and an A+. As an author myself, I would rather brag about the latter than the former. (for other red flags, click here.)

The only situation where word cruft is acceptable is when it is used for characterization. If a character says "Basically" at the start of every sentence, that becomes a verbal tic and distinguishes them from other characters. An author can use this to avoid putting 'Character X said' at the end of their sentence or as a hint to a mystery character's secret identity. In all other cases, ZAP!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Answering Review Request: Exiled Autumn's Peril (Chronicles of Caleath)

Rosaline Skinner asked me to read Exiled: Autumn's Peril-Book One (The Chronicles of Caleath. It's about a virtual reality champion turned gladiator turned fugitive.


The story begins with Caleath crash landing on a pre-industrial planet and dodging assassins sent by the villain on his way to a beacon that will teleport him off the planet so he can kill the villain. Around him there are two plots that hedge his movements.

1.) On the galactic scale, Caleath is the unwilling star of a new reality show called Real Time. It's set up by the villain to make money off his suffering. His flight from ranger/wardens forms the plot of this show and they are all magically compelled to kill him to prevent a peaceful resolution.

 2.) On a local scale (i.e. everyone else) there is a problem with giant ants. These creatures will make the planet uninhabitable within years and conventional methods have minimal affect on them. This makes Caleath, an alien with different methods, a subject of interest to the Council of Mages.

These three plots (revenge, TV show, and killer ants) work together because Caleath is at the center and his response to the other two is 'leave me alone'.

I could nitpick some aspects of the plot (like how the villain installed his assassins as authority figures in a backwater planet far from home) but my main beef with the plot involves the ending. I like my plots to have resolution. Regardless of whether or not they are part of a series I don't like plots that just end. This book stands on edge of that cliff.


On the one hand, there is resolution in the initial conflict; the assassins. By removing his implant, Caleath has rendered himself legally dead and so the magical compulsion driving the assassins has deactivated. That part of the plot is closed; they still want to kill him but for other reasons. Also, since the beacon can't teleport him off the planet he is stuck in exile which closes the 'escape' conflict of this book. On the other hand, the rangers still want to kill him, the villain is still tormenting Caleath, the giant ants are still ravaging the planet, and the book ends with Caleath in the same position as he started; running and plagued with guilt.

It makes more sense to consider the events from the prospective of someone watching this story in-universe. They see the end of an episode instead of the end of a book. If this is shown in real time, then there is no end at all. As the end of a book, it annoys me.



Caleath is a complicated anti-hero; rude, paranoid, not necessarily interested in helping others but refuses to let anyone come to harm because of him. If not for his circumstances, he could be a straight up hero. Other characters receive less characterization. The wardens, for instance, are introduced in sequence and the best way to tell them apart is their order because there is only one trait that makes them different from the others. Rybolt's subtitle is 'Caleath's best friend' because he has nothing else.  Penwryt is a guy I like; the old wise wizard archetype and his affable sense of humor. The contrast between this genuinely friendly wizard and Caleath's distrust of all magic users is another point in the plot's favor; conflict is created despite both sides being unambiguously good people. The only truly bad thing I have to say about the characters here concerns Nasith.

She is introduced as a historian, a capable fighter, and a respected enough figure in her community to be their representative at a Summit meeting. Then she's kidnapped by Caleath and suffers the dreaded Chickification. She cares less about the Summit (which is going to discuss the survival of the world) then about clinging to Caleath the further the plot continues. She relies on him to do the fighting and becomes borderline hysterical over having her fortune told. The fact she was under some sort of spell at the time does not make it rankle any less because it continues the trend and the trend does not stop after the spell was supposedly removed.  Stockholm Syndrome sounds too romance-novely for this story and in any case it settles in too quickly and she has a quick opportunity to rejoin the rangers and go to the Summit. 


The most intriguing aspect of this story's setting is the interplay of science and magic. Most stories that have a space age protagonist drop on a pre-industrial world involve a heavy use of Clarke's Third Law. Anything from the protagonist's technologically advanced homeworld will be called 'magic' on the other world but that is not the case here. Caleath's society not only has magic side by side with super tech but it is the same kind of magic as this 'primitive' society. Thus, it can be confusing as to what is is genuine magic and what is technology-that-is-easier-to-call-magic but I find this more interesting than confusing.


The vast majority of the story is written in Beige Prose, which I appreciate. My biggest pet peeve is word cruft/purple prose. I like the short and concise sentences used by Miss. Skinner. 


Trickster Eric Novels gives "Exiled: Autumn's Peril-Book One (The Chronicles of Caleath) a C.

Click here for the next review request: Exile's Violin.

Click here for the previous review request: Flames of Ether

Monday, April 1, 2013

Inspirational Monday! Trickster Archetype

The first Monday of every month is Inspirational Monday. Share something that inspires you so the rest can be inspired too.

This month is the Trickster Archetype. It is a universal figure in mythology that serves to explain why certain things are the way they are and/or to teach lessons by its behavior.  They range from the Norse Loki to the Greek Hermes to the African Anasazi and the American Indian Coyote. I loved reading about these guys when I was a teenager, so, in honor of April Fool's Day, I decided to talk about tricksters.

Tricksters are the ones that shake things up, teach human new things, and always good for a laugh; at their expense or someone else's.  They can be heroes that instigate plots (thereby averting Villains Act Heroes React) villains with the intelligence to drive complex plots, or a wild card that can be both and neither at the same time.

Loki is responsible for many misadventures in Norse Mythology, such as when he cut off Sif's hair as a prank which ultimately makes him responsible for the creation of Thor's hammer. He's also responsible for Ragnarok by getting Baldur killed and preventing his Resurrection. Likewise, Q from Star Trek is a modern incarnation of this archetype. He is either testing Picard's crew, having fun at their expense, or both at the same time.  Neither of these characters are straight up villains and that's why I like using trickster-ish characters in my work; they're so diverse.

I don't have to go for a squeaky clean hero or a dark and gritty anti-hero but the mischievous guile hero. From the darkly humorous and cowardly to trickster mentor and the prankster, tricksters are all over the morality scale.  In A Mage's Power, Tasio existed long before Eric, and looking back, I wish molded Eric's initial personality to be more like Tasio's instead of an archetypal loser. Before I discovered TvTropes, I didn't know how common (and annoying!) those were.

The most recent trickster character I've seen goes by the name of 'Discord', who is played by the same man as Q. I've watched videos of the two of them for inspiration.