It’s not food; it’s water (or beer): surviving in fiction

I’m going to answer and comment on a short post I came across a few days ago, “Three Rules for Food in your Fantasy novel.” It’s a short list of common sense points so there’s nothing much to add, but I noticed this:

Can they carry a day’s worth of food or a week’s worth? Even when spread among several riders, you may have to consider a few pack animals to help carry the load but remember that even then they will not be carrying a month’s supply of provisions or probably a very wide-spread fare.

Three things here: (1) You probably can carry a month’s worth of food if you know exactly what you must carry (and you accept that, indeed, it won’t be a very wide-spread fare,) (2) notice that pack animals are mentioned, but not that they also have to eat (and they eat a lot,) and most importantly, (3) water is not mentioned.

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The forgotten elegance of forward dialogue tags

Looking up articles on dialogue tags (the “x said” and attached actions following a piece of dialogue) I have noticed two things. First, most focus on the relatively unimportant issue of he said/she said, and whether to use synomyms or not. The second is that very few even mention that tags can be used before the dialogue, and pretty much nobody mentions how the placement affects the meaning and effect of the sentence. In fact, as far as I know, I may be the only one who has noticed that (probably not, of course.)

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Expert use of -ing participles

I didn’t want to write this post because I feared the wrong conclusions or lessons could be drawn from it. It is a bit like writing a piece about how the common understanding of drugs and addictions is wrong or exagerated, how most people can take large amounts of drugs without becoming addicted, that the withdrawal effects of some drugs (like heroin) are actually pretty mild, that the “addiction” that people suffer is notlike a demon that takes posession of you, and so on. It’s all technically true, sure, but, you know, some people may get the wrong idea.

To fill new readers in, the point of this post (and the previous one it alludes to) are the participial phrases used in writing, usually with verbal forms ending in -ing although occasionally -ed too (i.e. present and past participles, respectively) which have spread like a linguistic plague of locust across the literary landscape (or the drug abuse in the previous analogy.) In that post, I said:

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How fiction starts: an analysis of 1200+ sff books

When I make my writing analysis posts, I usually pick random sentences but beginnings may be an even better choice. They are probably the most edited, if not overthought, parts of a book, and it’s also where writers show off their skill or (if they fail at it) their weaknesses. And if you want to see how writing changes through time, the first sentence may actually be all you need to read. And for those who have huge submission piles to plow through, the first two sentences is all you need to read for the first culling.

If you have followed me for some time, you already know my dislike of contemporary writing fads and techniques and my belief that you can see its decline in quality just in the formal aspect of writing. Strange syntax, (too) deep POVs, -ing participles galore, unnecessary descriptions, showing where telling would be perfectly fine and, finally, no personal style and no distinctive narrator—just piles and piles of descriptions, one after the other, like a transcription of a video recording. And, sure, it’s fine and all to talk about these things in the abstract and using a few examples from time to time, but it’s better to have some solid evidence to back you up. So here it is.

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Door stoppers, or how you can probably cut off half of any sff novel.

Despite this blog’s interest in fantasy, there’s actually a lot of “beginners” books in this genre that I never read when I was a kid. The kind you either read young or you never will because as an adult they seem… kinda bad. I ignored almost all the D&D novels aside from a few Drizzt books, and I never touched a single Dragonlance book (more than a hundred already written as of today.) That changed yesterday when, in a whim, I began reading the first Dragonlance book. And, well… it was somewhat better than I had expected. Better than a lot of the stuff being written today, anyway.

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Your magic-slinging protag may have ruined magic (unless you’re Jack Vance—then you’re cool.)

Get Mythic, by Amatopia, commenting on a Twitter thread about the decline of a “mythical” feeling in fantasy. The gist of the idea, at the risk of simplification, is that contemporary fantasy has a materialistic feeling. It lacks “a richness, a whiff of the unearthly that permeates everything. Magic is the best word to describe it.” Wonder, awe, whatever you want to call it. Essentially the opposite of a setting where magic has been reduced to supernatural engineering or a form of energy manipulation described by a language (both by the narrator and characters) analogous to the one ushered by the scientific revolution.

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Deep POV shallowness Part 2 : no similes, no metaphors, no style.

Latching a narrator onto a single POV has many unintended consequences, and these are unfortunately invisible until they explode in your face, so one can read (or write) texts that should be, in theory, bristling with excitement but, in reality, are dull and shallow. I mentioned a few ways I believe this happens in the linked post above, but one that I think deserves its own post is this: hardly anybody writes similes, analogies, or metaphors anymore, and these are one of the fundamental tools in any writer’s craft.

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