Friday, February 20, 2015

False Tension in Books, Shows, and Films

I've been thinking a lot about dialogue recently, since I feel I am decent at it but not great. Looking at writers who seem to always have fantastic dialogue, like John Scalzi, I wonder how they manage it. Is it just a natural gift? Do they write dialogue in their first drafts that is just as pedestrian as ours but then go back and edit it into a masterpiece? I wish I knew. I've left comments on Scalzi's blog a couple of times asking if he would do a post about how he so consistently manages brilliant dialogue, but he has ignored my requests. Who knows, perhaps he doesn't consciously know how he does it because it comes so naturally to him?

I have noticed one thing with dialogue lately while watching shows and movies or reading books, and it as starting to upset me. Writers are constantly creating false tension in their stories by purposely making their characters either not say enough when they can or by simply having them not say anything at all when they should. All the time there will be scenes when someone asks a question, and the other person could very easily just give a straight answer, but instead they don't, and that causes the tension to rise in the story. I know, I know, the writer wants the tension to rise, but to me this is a false way to do it, and it's maddening. Rather than have an actual plot point be the cause of the tension, the writer builds the tension by having one character simply not bother to provide key info to others. The more I have this in mind, the more often I see it happening in all the stories I'm watching and reading (but far more often when watching!).

As much as this pisses me off, it makes me wonder if this is a weakness of mine as a writer. Am I simply too forthcoming with my dialogue? Do I always just tell what seems common sense to tell and thus allow the potential tension to melt away in my stories?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Help With Book Blurb

I feel pretty confident as a writer of novels, but I have always felt I am terrible at writing query letters and blurbs. I'd love to get some opinions from you all as I go about writing the blurb to my forthcoming epic fantasy novel The Shard. (tentative publishing date is May 1)

Here is my first attempt:

A dying king. A mysterious invader. The seer's vision was clear—find the lost shard from the Spire of Peace or the realm would drown in blood. The problem—eight hundred years ago the elven hero Kathkalan took the shard with him into the lair of the most vicious dragon ever known to mankind...and he never returned.

Fate draws together a most unlikely group of heroes:  a minor noble who, after losing his heir in a tragic accident, is desperate to protect his two remaining sons; a pair of elderly rangers who are the first to learn of the deadly invaders sweeping toward the Known Lands; a tinker's son heading to East Gate to serve his two years of duty protecting the realm; an ancient elf warrior out to learn what happened to her lover Kathkalan; and three dwarves on a secret mission to reclaim their lost homeland. Each must overcome impossible odds if they are to find the lost shard and save the realm.

Honestly I can't judge it. The more I read it the more fault I find in it, yet each time I try to rewrite it I feel that I'm only making it worse! If you are a reader of epic fantasy and are not part of the group that thinks elves and dwarves and such are overdone, would such a blurb interest you? Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Can the second paragraph work better like this?

Fate draws together a most unlikely group of heroes:

- a minor noble who, after losing his heir in a tragic accident, is desperate to protect his two remaining sons;
- a pair of elderly rangers who are the first to learn of the deadly invaders sweeping toward the Known Lands;
- a tinker's son heading to East Gate to serve his two years of duty protecting the realm;
- an ancient elf warrior out to learn what happened to her lover Kathkalan;
- three dwarves on a secret mission to reclaim their lost homeland.

Each must overcome impossible odds if they are to find the lost shard and save the realm.

Monday, February 9, 2015

My Problem With the Young Adult (YA) Category

When I was growing up there was no Young Adult category for books. There were certainly books aimed at what we now call a YA audience, but they were simply categorized under their primary section, such as Fantasy or Mystery and so forth. I have to admit I kind of preferred it that way.

However, the only true issue I have with the new YA category is that everyone seems to insist that the protagonist in the book must be a young adult. I think this is wrong. To me if you want to have a YA category, the only real rule for inclusion should be that the story is intended for a YA audience. I've read plenty of books that were clearly aimed at a younger audience but didn't have teen protagonists.
Shane Tyree's artwork for The Shard
The reason this is hitting me right now is that I intend to publish my epic fantasy novel The Shard later this year, and to me it should fall in the YA category, yet only one of the three main protagonists is a teen (and he is the last one to be introduced, so you might say he isn't the primary protagonist).

I'm wavering over just categorizing it as Fantasy or insisting that it is YA. The YA buying audience these days is much larger than for standard Fantasy. My teenage sons would certainly agree that the book is aimed at them. My youngest keeps re-reading it over and over again, and both of them name all of their characters in both computer and role-playing games after characters from the story, so it clearly resonates with them more so than it does for adults.

What do you think, can a story with adult or even elderly protagonists fall within the YA category?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Colleen McCullough Passes Away

I'm sad to read today that one of my all-time favorite authors has passed away. Her Rome series is hands-down the best historical fiction series ever (though my stand-alone favorite is Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield). Anyone who loves ancient Rome or simply loves good historical fiction owes it to themselves to read these.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing Sci-Fi

I've read a couple of things recently that suggested that science fiction writers can never be truly accurate about the future because our minds simply cannot fathom the changes that will come. While I'm not suggesting this is completely off base, I do think it misses an important point.

I'm currently working on a story set very far in the future. The truth is that when I imagine how the future will be at that point, you wouldn't believe just how bizarre that future would seem to the average person today. So will I write the story the way that I envision it? Of course not!

When we write a story, we are writing it for an audience of today. If I wrote about some of the crazy things I think are likely to be true in the far future, very few people would read my book, because they wouldn't be able to relate on any level. I have to scale back the changes and force the story to be relatable to today's audiences. That doesn't mean there won't be any strange elements in the story--of course there will be--but it is restrained in a way to allow a modern audience to still relate to the characters and to their surroundings.

I see it as being similar to the issue of portraying sci-fi in movies. Directors cannot be accurate in presenting the future, because our audiences wouldn't 'get' it. For example, I see future cyborgs or robots evolving technologically to a point where you couldn't tell the difference between them and a true human, at least not unless we build in something to purposely make them stand out. Yet in movies they always have to depict cyborgs or robots as being very obviously different from humans.

And if they wish to depict futuristic mind-data interfaces (such as I use in my first novel), they do so in films only with obvious mechanical items like goggles or other visible tech melded with the human body, when the reality is that such technology would most likely evolve to not be visible in any way. (That doesn't mean that humans of the future will look just like us. Evolution never stops, so humans will look quite different in the future, and even break into differing species at some point, should we begin to colonize different areas of space)

I'm not complaining about these differences between portrayal and the probable realities of the future. I understand why stories must be tailored for their intended audiences. But I do disagree with the idea that I am unable to comprehend the possible future. Of course no one can actually get all details of the future correct, but some of us have pretty wicked imaginations. If only you could see some of the things I think up!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Rating Systems -- Amazon vs Goodreads

Having now been a published author for two months, I've noticed something for the first time that I hadn't noticed before on two sites that I have used for many years. Amazon and Goodreads both use a five-star system for customers to give ratings to books (or other items in Amazon's case), but the levels are different. And this is really depressing for me!

If someone wants to rate a book as 'it was okay', on Amazon it gets three stars while on Goodreads only two. If you want to rate a book as 'I liked it', it's four stars on Amazon and only three on Goodreads. Thus on average books get a whole star less on Goodreads than on Amazon. This may seem petty, but it honestly gets a tad bit depressing to keep seeing three star reviews on Goodreads when you only get better ratings on Amazon. Considering that Amazon owns Goodreads now, I wish they would align their rating systems to make them consistent!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Suggestions for Hugo Award 2015 Nominations

The famous writer John Scalzi did a nice post to allow writers and artists to submit their work in order for Hugo Award voters to scope them out and potentially nominate the ones they think are best. Oddly enough, for an award that is so prestigious, there is no site that gathers contenders together to allow voters to easily check everything out and pick out what they'd like to read. Seems a no-brainer to me. Anyhow, I thought I'd chime in on the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist category, since I feel Stephan Martiniere had his best year ever. Check out these two pieces of art done as covers in 2014 and tell me they don't deserve a nomination!
The gorgeous piece above is Martiniere's work for the novel Shield and Crocus by Michael Underwood.

And this is his work for my novel The Immortality Game. Hugo voters, you can click to enlarge these to see more detail. They are exquisite and I hope you will feel they are deserving of your nominating vote.