Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Seeing patterns —

Kate Elliott has an interesting post up today, on readers spotting patterns in a writer’s work — often patterns that are really there, but that the writer herself hasn’t recognized.

Kate says: “Reader A may pick up on a clever allusion that I intended while Reader B may draw a comparison or see thematic content that never once occurred to me as I was writing.”

This is so true! Except I don’t know how often I intend clever allusions. Sometimes, yes. But a lot of the time, clever things just appear, and I don’t notice them until a reader points them out to me. Then I’m like, “Oh, yes, I did that on purpose, knew it all the time,” but really, if I knew it, it was only with the back part of my brain.

Like in LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS, after Kes first goes off with Kairaithin? She never goes home again. That first decision point carried consequences that were too big and overwhelming for anything to ever let her take it back. But did I notice that when I was writing the book? Nope, not until my brother, who read the rough draft, commented about it. And after he pointed it out, I may very sure not to mess it up with any later revision, too.

Anyway, later, Kate adds, “If a reader reads along the career of a writer then certain patterns, certain ways of approaching the creative vision, certain familiar themes or narrative quirks or a particular way of using voice may emerge as characteristic of that writer’s work. Certain subjects or questions or concerns or fixations or narrative structures or prose styles may come up in more than one project.” And then she comments about the idea that writers may put the same protagonist in more than one story.

And thinking about it, I can certainly think of very obvious examples of that kind of thing. Like, I quit reading Piers Anthony because all his protogonists were exactly the samer person, and once I noticed that it really bothered me. Or did anybody else ever read a lot of Jack Chalker and notice his fixation on mind control and magical brainwashing? And on forcibly changing people’s bodies, too, not just their minds. It actually gets pretty disturbing if you read, say, the Nathan Brazil series and then the Flux and Anchor series in succession.

I’m curious about the same question that Kate poses, too: Any patterns jump out at you when you think of any writer’s whole body of work?

Anyway, I haven’t read anything by Kate Elliott since the Jaran series, where frankly I thought the earlier books were great and then to me it seemed like the plot kind of got too baroque and spun off too many subplots and I either quit reading before the series really concluded, or else it never did actually conclude as such, I don’t remember. But I’ve heard lots of great things about the COLD MAGIC series, which I’m looking forward to reading once the third book is out.

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5 Comments Seeing patterns —

  1. Cheryl L

    James Blaylock had a squid fixation in the earlier part of his career, though he seems to have overcome it in his later books.

    Tim Powers definitely has recurring themes in his work – the Fisher King myth and maimed protagonists turn up again and again in his novels.

  2. Elaine T

    I stopped reading Card because it all started to sound the same, and he definitely seemed (at the time) to have an obsession with abused people.

    DeLint also, as far as the books all running together as one writer working out his obsessions, but I gave up on him long enough ago I couldn’t specify what the repetitive elements were.

    CJC likes to dump a human into an alien culture and watch them try to swim or drown. It was good in the Atevi series to see Bren thriving and still staying somewhat in touch with humanity. That was a first, I think. She doesn’t always do it, although even FINITY’s END could be read that way. I can’t make CYTEEN read as being about that, though.

    Dunnett (changing genres) really liked to use the incest as an element in her books – most often hinted at, at best a sort of legal incest, as opposed to blood relative incest, but also, usually from bad guys, the real thing – also the incredibly bright/genius level, not really understood by anyone protaganist. She also had a thing about kids, in danger, or missing.
    While she reused the physical type of her first hero, I don’t think she had a thing for it, I think in those later books, she was playing with reader expectations.

    Never read Chalker, but I’ve heard other people make the same observation.

    So far I haven’t noticed any in your work. … (thinks) Well, maybe the use and abuse of power. But character types? Not yet, except a tendency to decency.

  3. Rachel

    Tim Powers is an author who I know I don’t like as much as I should. I mean, I know he’s very good. And I usually really like one of his books while I’m actually reading it. But somehow I never seem to feel like re-reading any of his. So I have never noticed recurring themes, because I haven’t read enough of his quickly enough for things like that to pop out at me. But offhand, I think if I have to pick one or the other, I prefer squid rather than have the author maim his characters . . .

  4. Rachel

    I think Card is an excellent, excellent writer — but that doesn’t mean I always love his books. I think his plots can get weird, and I think he can lose control of the weird elements and basically spoil a book that way — I think that happened in the later books of the Ender series. And I could never get into the Alvin Maker series at all.

    But if you happen to see a copy of his Sleeping Beauty story, ENCHANTMENT, I thought that one was really good and a bit of a departure for him.

    Yes, CJC definitely likes to explore alien cultures by dropping a lone human into a tough situation and going from there — though interestingly, not always from the human’s pov. I really like that whole branch of sociological SF, I wish we saw more of it — well, maybe eventually the pendulum will swing back that way.

  5. Elaine T

    That’s the second Sleeping Beauty story someone’s recommended to me today. The other was THORNSPELL, which I suspect is an MG book, and is focused on the prince.

    I guess I’ll have to hit the library.

    The puppy is definitely adorable!

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