Monday, December 20, 2010

Nitpicking Great Authors

I've been doing a lot more reading lately, which is great since I just love reading, but I've been doing so with a writer's eye so that I can try to pick up small hints at bettering my own writing.

The book I am reading right now is Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. I am enjoying it very much so far (I am about a third of the way through this very hefty tome). Lynch has a way with witty dialogue, interesting world building, and good description.

He breaks some rules (such as using lots of parenthetical remarks, like this) but makes it a part of his voice, so it works.

I don't really wish to sound like I am being nitpicky on a very successful author, but I do so from the point of view of trying to always learn and better myself as a writer. I think that even the best authors make small mistakes and can get better. I've seen only two things that I would do differently if I were writing this book, and they are relatively minor, which means that Lynch is really very good (and definitely worth reading!).

One is that he has every character that I have met so far have the same witty dialogue. Even in a world where citizens all pride themselves on witty repartee not everyone would be good at it.

The second one is certainly very nitpicky, but no less true. The city where this story takes place is a lot like Venice, with lots of islands. Lynch put a bunch of ancient bridges and buildings from some vanished race all over the islands. This is a cool idea, but the problem is that islands are not set in stone. Tides change along with ocean levels (and with three moons this would be even more true than on Earth), so all these bridges and catwalks would not necessarily still be in the correct places after so many centuries. See, I told you it was nitpicky, but it was something that I noticed as a reader. I try to avoid such inaccuracies in my own writing, though I imagine someone will point out something to me eventually!


  1. Good post. See I wouldn't neccersarily consider the bridges as inaccuracies. Perhaps you're over thinking it? For example perhaps the islands and tides do shift and some bridges are affected, but is that pertinent to the story? Does the author have to explain everything or can we just assume some bridges are affected, repaired, etc. over the years and the citizens deal with it.

    My nitpick is with Robin Hobbs. I love her work, but she sometimes uses -ly dialogue attributions that I personally find ugly and bring me out of the story. Very minor nitpick in otherwise brilliant work and one that prolly doesn't bother many others.

    By the way, Hello. I found your blog after reading your defense of epic fantasy in thye Absolute Write post on cliches in fantasy

  2. Sorry, posted the above from the wrong blog, my writing blog is . . .

    which I see you've already joined

  3. Hi, and it is great to see a new face here! You are right that Lynch doesn't need to get as nitpicky as me, but it is what I do with my own world. I try to be as perfectly accurate as I can.

    BTW, I have all of Hobbs' books on my shelf but haven't read them yet.

  4. I think you'll like them. Very well written epic fantasy. The first and third trilogies are written in first person, which is a bit different for epic fantasy, but it works very well.

  5. I probably will, though I tend not to like first person much. Her blurbs didn't appeal to me, which is why they have sat on my shelves for so long.

  6. ha! :) you remind me of my sister! when we used to watch a movie together, she'd always be catching things like this. and i would never notice those kinds of things!
    but sometimes i'll come across things in great books by great authors that will give me pause. and then i just try to tell myself that they are human and mistakes will be made, but it's really hard to just move on- especially when they are really big names. like right now, i'm reading skipping christmas, on and off. i have to quit every so often, because i'll come across a bunch of passive voice- then a whole lotta telling not showing- etc. and it'll make my blood boil and i'll whine to the hubs and say "he shouldn't be doing those things! he's john freaking grisham! how can he be doing those things!"
    and then i think- he probably gets away with whatever he wants because he's hugely successful and full of intriguing stories that capture the minds of millions, and who am i to pass judgement on him? i haven't even finished one silly little YA story to a point that it would be publication worthy! :)
    but still! john. freaking. grisham.

  7. I think that's part of being a big and successful author - you get to bend the rules a lot more often.

  8. Alex and Victoria, you are so right. Even my favorite living author, George Martin, does a few things that make me cringe when I see them!

  9. I think that critical eye is so much a part of improving as a writer. I hate feeling critical when I actually really like a book, but I think we can't help but notice.

  10. I've found myself critting famous authors too - to learn from them. While reading Terry Goodkind's last couple novels in the Sword Of Truth series I found myself crossing out pages of text that was repeated philosophy over and over. Phantom certainly could have used more plot and less lecture.

    I'm with you on the hopes some newbie author will one day look at my "latest" publication as make style comments. :)

    I read you last post also (about breaking into epic fantasy). Creating a world takes a lot of time and effort, and it does seem a waste for only one novel. Some stories aren't meant to go on though. I like the idea of using one world, and a new set of characters for succeeding novels. Sometimes I get lost in a world.

    Anne McCafferty did this with her PERN series. Each novel stood alone, even when re-using specific characters. The world itself was so appealing to read, but many of the stories didn't need to continue on.

    I was heartbroken when she finally ended the threat of Thread, and the created purpose of the Dragons.

    It will be fascinating to see where you take your world, and characters Ted. A lot of the draw of epic fantasy for me as a reader is to fall into another realm for a while. Good luck writing these books. I hope to see one out soon. (I'll keep my fingers crossed for you for an Agent.)


  11. I don't think you're being nitpicky. Even though the whole bridge thing you mentioned might pass unnoticed by most readers (I wouldn't have given it a second thought even though I realize you're entirely correct. Of course the bridges would shift over time! Doesn't everything?), it is an error. Too bad it wasn't caught before the book got published.

  12. Thanks for coming by and commenting, mshatch! I love seeing new people here.