Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Answering Review Request: The Apprentice

Matthew Hall asked me to read his novel "The Apprentice". It's about a knight-ninja apprentice who has to escort a noble lady to his own country's capital city where her groom, his boss, is waiting for her. I will analyze the story in terms of plot, characters, and polish, and then assign a grade.

Allow me to list the reasons why I like this story:

It's an unorthodox plot because there is no central villain. In another story with this premise there would be a Big Bad sending out organized mooks to abduct the Damsel In Distress in order to prevent the wedding for some nefarious purpose.  Instead, it's a simple escort mission besot by garden variety bandits. The main conflict is internal; Artamos' struggle with self-control, Leona's struggle with her lack of freedom, Falita's desire of a better life etc.  It's more down-to-earth because of this and so the characters feel more real.

There's a role playing game feel to this story for a couple reasons. The first is that the bandit attacks aren't part of an organized gang and so they come off as random encounters; the second is 'escort a noble lady' sounds like a mission for a main plot or a side quest. Being a fan of Final Fantasy, this is another check on my list of positives.  

The cherry on top is the ending. It fully resolves the story's conflict while remaining open to any number of future stories.

The characters are diverse and well rounded. There's Artamos, heroic and dedicated to his order but still struggles with things like hormones and isn't an unbeatable fighting machine. There's his mentor Rizz, who has great wit and a mentor's gravitas. Falita makes a great contrast to them with her desire for creature comforts and her substantially greater blood thirst. Leona contrasts them all because she's a noble lady and they are (essentially) ninjas.  While she's introduced as a traditional Beautiful-Inside-And-Out-Lady she's more devious and rebellious than that.

On another level, there's jurisdiction friction between the Black Knights and the more traditional plate mail knights but the latter are not made into jerkasses for the sake of drama. I appreciate that because it made those knights more like characters in their own right instead of plot props. Like I said earlier, they feel more real because the plot doesn't force them to be something else.

 The Black Knight Organization gets a paragraph to itself.  They're like medieval black ops; they focus on stealth and scouting and hidden bodyguards duties. Because they answer directly to the king, there's a great deal of secrecy about them. In the sequel sample, one character describes them as 'stepping out of shadows'.  

This is the only area where the book losses points. There are a number of spelling errors; 'waste' instead of 'waist' and 'heal' instead of 'heel'. Also, some of the combat scenes have comma splices which occasionally makes them hard to follow. Over all it's minor; nothing an editor couldn't fix and Mr.Hall has informed me that he has proofreaders working on it.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Apprentice" an A
Click here for the next review request: "Tears of Min Brock"
Click here for the previous review request: "Immortality Blues"


Monday, May 27, 2013

Inspirational Monday! Tvtropes and Patience

Technically the first Monday of every month is inspirational Monday but I forgot this month because the first Monday was the sixth. So instead I'm doing it on the last Monday of the month. Surprise!

This is another one about tvtropes. The last one was about Tvtropes curing a writer of delusions of originality. ( You can read it here) This one is about how it can teach patience. As seen in the quote at the top of this blog, it will be framed in the duality of Creation and Destruction.

When writing and especially revising, the writing process can be frustratingly slow. Sentences sound like trash, the scenes come out awkward, and every revision reveals more typos and more areas to improve. Tvtropes is a terrific place for learning the finer points of revision and developing the patience to endure them.

As a volunteer book reviewer I create tvtropes pages for books if I like them enough. I recommend all authors do this because filling up a trope page forces one to think about the nuts and bolts of storytelling. The plot and characters and setting are compartmentalized into aspects such as "The Chessmaster", "The Reveal", and "Medieval Stasis". Individual scenes are sorted into exposition, awesome, and nightmare fuel.  Analyzing a story and researching tvtropes long enough to accomplish this requires a time and continuous effort and so it will help you develop patience. Furthermore your knowledge of storytelling will expand and your understanding of storytelling will increase.

As a volunteer wiki editor I skim tvtropes pages looking for misuse and incorrect formatting. This involves looking for incorrect trope usage, gushing, natter (conversations outside of forums) and other things.  I call it training from hell for an author because it is boring, monotonous, frustrating, and there can be a thousand and one tiny things wrong with a badly misused page.  After a list of five hundred where you have to wade through a sea of stupidity and complaining and gushing where each wick could be misuse for five other tropes, revising one's own story looks easy and relaxing in comparison.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Revising and Rewriting

Right now I'm in the process of revising the sequel to A Mage's Power, Looming Shadow. I've been stuck in chapter 8 for a while now because I'm doing more rewriting than revising. I finished the first draft years ago and I have revised it several times since then; I added 1/3 onto its length to improve the plot and better explain important events. Now I'm going through it line by line and I've found heaps of stuff to expand on, detail, and otherwise, improve.

Victoria Grefer, over on  Creating Writing with the Crimson League,, likes to quote Stephen King and his 'two month rule'. It states that a writer should stay away from a WIP for two months before looking over it for revision so they look at the story with a fresh mind. I believe this to be true. There is no other explanation for why I missed so much in my previous drafts; I usually wait two days.

The second chapter, for instance, looked like a glorified outline. I couldn't believe it when I read it last month because I had read so many times before. I went to work adding sensory detail to this scene, and adding this other scene wholesale so this new town will be consistent in culture and technology with another town in the first book. I discovered new potential for character relationships that worked fantastically as foreshadowing for later events. I wanted to smack myself for missing something that, in retrospect, was obvious.

I feel as if I am rewriting the book instead of revising it which will put me at an earlier stage in the writing process which means more revision to come which means it will take longer to publish which is frustrating. Hopefully the rest of the story won't require the same level of revision but if that's what that's what it takes then that's what I'll do. Making the story the best it can be is the point of this step in the writing process.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Answering Review Request: Immortality Blues

The author requested that I delete my review because he no longer wished to be associated with it. I can understand that given the nature of the book in question.

Click here for the next review request: The Apprentice (Rogue)

Click here for the previous review request: Exile's Violin

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Hero of Another Story

Some weeks ago I wrote a post about Avoiding Tunnel Vision when writing a novel. (You can read it here). This post is related to that and takes its name from TvTropes.  The core of the trope is as follows (taken from the trope's page itself as seen here).
"The writers give the impression that this character is having just as many adventures as the hero, only offscreen. In other words, they're the Hero of Another Story."
The test of this trope is asking if this person could be The Protagonist instead of the one you have chosen and saying 'yes'.
This trope is a useful tool in avoiding Tunnel Vision because it helps break the idea that the hero is the only hero.  There are other heroes and they are having other adventures in other places. Simply alluding to these places and adventures will develop the world of the main characters. Adding one of them will force you to think about what is happening outside the main characters' sight and you will know more about the plot as a whole. All of this will enhance the main narrative because you have created the Full Picture.
From a Watsonian POV, The Hero of Another Story is also great for the helping the reader maintain their Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
1. You don't have to force your reader to accept that the Rag Tag Bunch of Misfits can defeat the Evil Empire all by themselves because there  are OTHER heroes working towards the cause.
2. The team can be modified as needed to suit a story arc by slipping in one member or another. A Six Ranger can drop in to help out on this particular mission and then go do something else that's necessary to advance the cause (and by this, advance the plot). By contrast, one or more members of the group can go help that person while the remaining heroes focus on the events that the reader will see. If this is done well then it will give the story a broader scope and a wider world, but if you're not careful it will become Put On A Bus.
3. They can arrive to save the main heroes and it won't (if handled appropriately) appear like a deus ex machina because the reader knows that they are out there and that they are just as competent as the heroes themselves.
My own experience with this trope is why I recommend it so highly.
Part of the pre-writing for A Mage's Power involved filling the guild Eric would join.  The Dragon's Lair is a mercenary guild so I thought it would be odd if there weren't other mercenaries going on missions and making money so I created a list; their names and abilities and personalities. This provided me with a pool of characters to draw from and allowed me to avoid the idea that no one else was doing anything. They gave the perception that there are mercenaries in this organization that have lives outside of their relation to Eric and roles in the plot that do not connect directly to Eric. Furthermore they gave the organization character and life. Instead of a plot device for building Eric's confidence and magical power, it is its own place and Eric happens to be part of it. I wish I could have done more with them which leads to my final point: Fanfic Fuel.
I got my start in writing fiction from writing fan fiction. I spotted a potential in the canon of the story I watched and used that to develop my own story within that canon.  It was a lot of fun. My point is that readers love fanfic fuel. After finishing a story, my first thought is to look up fanfics to prolong my enjoyment of the story and see what others have come up with. By including a Hero Of Another Story you provide them with a wealth of possible adventures just waiting to be written.

For related topic to the Hero of Another Story, click here for "What is going on off-screen"

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).