Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Browsing Category The Craft of Writing

Blog / The Craft of Writing

Page critique, illustrating a common failing

I see that Nathan Bransford has a page critique up at his blog today.

Here are the first few paragraphs, with Nathan’s deletions and additions shown:

The taller man stood near the third floor window, scanning the crowd of parade-goers lining the streets. He turned to the shorter his colleague Igor and smiled.

“Bigger crowd than last year, yes? Than last year?Igor said, twirling his uneven mustache.

“Last year wasn’t as big a deal. Oop… here we go.”

Igor crossed the dark room to peer out the window as well, standing carefully back from it. Outside, the number 150 was blazoned on just about everything banners, on signs, on balloons, and capes [be specific to create a better mental picture for the reader]. One hundred fifty years since the Great Tomes revealing the Builders had been discovered.

Nathan then goes on to discuss vagueness, and how important specific details are in allowing the reader to “see” the scene.

I would not think about this in terms of vagueness versus specificity, though that’s a perfectly legitimate way of viewing it.

I would think of this as a reluctance to write description. I’m not sure why, but a good proportion of all the workshop entries and so on that I’ve seen have this precise failing. The writer does not describe the scenery, and thus does not draw the reader into the opening scene.

There is, I suppose, a fine-ish line between setting the scene and stalling the action with so much description that the reader wonders if anything is ever going to happen. Remember, however, that the point-of-view protagonist is IN the scene and that all description is from his or her point of view. Thus, the initial description of the world is also part of characterization. Besides that, we can establish tension AND add in plenty of description at the same time. Here is one of my favorite third-person openings:

Bandits often lay in wait in the ruins of the old town at the fourways — Jenny Waynest thought there were three of them this morning.

She was not sure any more whether it was magic which told her this, or simply the woodcraftiness and instinct for the presence of danger that anyone developed who had survived to adulthood in the Winterlands. But as she drew rein short of the first broken walls, where she knew she would still be concealed by the combination of autumn fog and early morning gloom beneath the thicker trees of the forest, she noted automatically that the horse droppings in the sunken clay of the roadbed were fresh, untouched by the frost that edged the leaves around them. She noted, too, the silence in the ruins ahead; no coney’s foot rustled the yellow spill of broomsedge cloaking the hill slope where the old church had been, the church sacred to the Twelve Gods beloved of the old Kings. She thought she smelled the smoke of a concealed fire near the remains of what had been a crossroads inn, but honest men would have gone there straight and left a track in the nets of dew that covered the weeds all around. Jenny’s white mare Moon Horse pricked her long ears at the scent of other beasts, and Jenny mind-whispered to her for silence, smoothing the raggedy mane against the long neck. But she had been looking for all those signs before she saw them.

This is DRAGONSBANE by Barbara Hambly. We get the initial problem presented to us immediately, but we also learn a LOT about Jenny. We see that she is not terrified at the thought of bandits lying in wait, even though she is a woman and appears to be alone. We learn that she has some ability to work magic. But we are allowed to step into the scene because of the huge number of details Hambly works into these brief paragraphs. Not just about frost and broomsedge; we already have an idea what the world is like, because of the ruins, the need for people to learn caution and woodcraftiness, the reference to the old Kings, all of that.

If you are working with a first-person narrative or a very close third-person narrative, you may not put in so much description up front — if your pov protagonist isn’t looking at something, noticing it, thinking about it, then it doesn’t come up in the narrative. In that case, you depend more or the protagonist’s voice to draw in the reader. But you also add setting details, which also play a role in hooking the reader, like so:

Her name is Melanie. It means “the black girl”, from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair so she thinks maybe it’s not such a good name for her. She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don’t get to choose. Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys’ list or the top name on the girls’ list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.

There haven’t been any new children for a long time now. Melanie doesn’t know why that is. There used to be lots; every week, or every couple of weeks, voices in the night. Muttered orders, complaints, the occasional curse. A cell door slamming. Then after a while, a month or two, a new face in the classroom — a new boy or girl who hadn’t even learned to talk yet. But they got it fast.

That’s from THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M. R. Carey, a story which depends almost entirely on the charm of Melanie’s voice to carry the reader through the story, and very successfully, too. This is one of the closest third-person points of view I’ve ever read, acting a great deal like a first-person narrative.

We get a lot of weird details in just these few words, even though there is no camera panning across the scene. This sets up a tremendous urge to keep reading in order to find out what kind of world this is, with its children brought in at night — children who haven’t learned to talk yet — and locked into cells and given names off a list. Melanie’s voice is so bright and chipper and entirely undisturbed by the extremely weird life she is living; the contrast between her attitude and the situation creates tension and acts as another hook.

Here is a real first-person opening:

It was a dumb thing to do, but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

Monday evening is our movie evening because we are celebrating have lived through another week. Sunday night we lock up at eleven or midnight and crawl home to die, and Monday (barring a few national holidays) is our day off. Ruby comes in on Mondays with her warrior cohort and attacks the coffeehouse with an assortment of high-tech blasting gear that would whack Godzilla into submission: those single-track military minds never think to ask their cleaning staff for help in giant lethal marauding creature matters. Thanks to Ruby, Charlie’s Coffeehouse is probably the only place in Old Town where you are safe from the local cockroaches, which are approximately the size of chipmunks. You can hear them clicking when they cantor across the cobblestones outside.

This is SUNSHINE by Robin McKinley, who I must say pulls off in this book one of the very best openings I’ve ever seen. This story that looks so much like it’s set in contemporary normal life until, on page ten or so, we suddenly take a left turn toward weird. Of course McKinley doesn’t wait till then to establish the tension; she sets up the tension in the first very short paragraph — what happened at the lake? — but mostly in these opening paragraphs we are setting the scene and establishing the protagonist. Once again we get a very clear picture of the protagonist right away — from her use of casual language: dumb, crawl home to die, whack Godzilla into submission, etc.

In my opinion, it’s harder — substantially harder — to establish a catchy first-person (or unusually close third-person) narrative voice than a more distant third-person protagonist as in DRAGON’SBANE. By harder, I mean of course harder for me, but my impression is that it’s also harder for most people.

But even if you are using first-person narration, you have to draw the setting right up front in order to allow the reader to step into your world. Coffeehouse, cockroaches, movie night, silly B-movies like Godzilla, massive cleaning equipment. We’re right there with Sunshine, we’re IN the story.

That’s what the writer should aim for.

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The Craft of Writing

I’ve got your dialogue tags riiiight here

I picked up this five-page handout last semester. Some student gave me a copy; their teacher had passed these out when talking about how to write a narrative essay, which incidentally is not a term I’m just in love with. A narrative essay: do you mean a narrative or an essay? I know, I know, the term is meant to describe an essay that uses narrative to make its point, but this seems a bit subtle for English Comp I in a community college where — I am not trying to be snarky, this is just a statement of fact — a large minority of the students are reading and writing at about the fifth-grade level or below.

So, in general, when assigning a narrative essay, the instructor requires dialogue. And of all the handouts that a student can perhaps do without when learning to write dialogue, a five-page handout listing about a million possible alternates to “said” strikes me as the one to drop. It is almost entertaining, also a bit frightening, to imagine how the instructor (I don’t know who it was) might have introduced this handout. “Said is so boring! Be sure and use alternates whenever possible!”

Now, I do not agree that “said” is uniquely invisible , because I have found it far too visible when overused. Nevertheless, consider the following list of “a” alternatives to “said”:

acknowledged
added
admitted
advised
affirmed
agreed
alleged
alluded
announced
answered
apologized
appealed
argued
articulated
asserted
assured
avowed

Now, some of those could perfectly well be used as dialogue tags, and in fact if properly used they would vanish gently into the text. “Appealed” could not, in my opinion. Listen to this:

“You have to reconsider,” she appealed.

“No, listen, this is terribly important,” she appealed.

“Please, please, please,” she appealed.

You see? Perfectly dreadful. There’s nothing wrong with the word, but as a dialogue tag, no. Just no.

“Articulated” is even worse, especially since I can’t help but think about the articulation of bones when I see the word. “Avowed”? I don’t think so, not even in the highest of high fantasy. “Alluded”? Are you kidding me?

Acknowledged, added, admitted, agreed, announced, argued — I would say that set could be used as tags. The rest are iffy or impossible. (Okay, close to impossible, I’m sure you could use even “alluded” as a tag if you were sufficiently determined.)

This list has about 230 words — I didn’t count, that’s a rough estimate. Two hundred and thirty! I don’t know whether to laugh or weep at the idea of English Comp I students being told that all these words are suitable dialogue tags and they should avoid “said.” Not, I repeat, that I know how the instructor presented this handout; maybe it was with a “use with caution” label. But still, if you provide it, you are implicitly endorsing it.

Incidentally, the handout *I* most often offer students is the one that shows comma usage in dialogue. Of course you could just look in any novel to see how dialogue is handled — I remember doing exactly that when I started working on my very first book ever (I looked at Bujold) — but a handout that clearly shows how to integrate dialogue into text is still a handy thing.

Also, I would like to see the narrative essay dropped from the class. One semester is too short even to focus on normal expository essays. Why complicate the issue with narrative? Offer a different class in fiction and narrative nonfiction writing instead. But that’s just me.

Dictated, foretold, voiced — voiced, seriously? It’s enough to make me throw up my hands and declare, “For heaven’s sake, stick to ‘said!'”

Seriously?

Seriously?

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

The Writing Process —

So, you know, how much writing work you get done varies so much day by day. For me, this is true to a much lesser extent if I am currently producing pages for a new manuscript under a fairly tight deadline, because then I set a minimum number of pages or words per day and more or less stick to it. The feeling that you are making progress is itself a motivator. But lately! With this revision! (of MOUNTAIN.) It is just hard to tell on a day to day basis whether an adequate amount of progress is being made.

I mean, like this: last Sunday I wrote 15 pages (about 5000 words). This is a lot for me unless I’m in the endgame of a book and it’s flowing and I’m really into it, and then I can write quite a bit every day for a while. But just picking up this revision from nearly a cold start, that was a ton.

Then Monday, nothing. Not a word. Granted, that’s the day I went up to St Louis and went to Global Foods and picked up Ish, but still, I was home all afternoon. Didn’t even turn on the computer.

Tuesday I finished the chapter I’d been working on, leapfrogged over a chapter that didn’t need much work, deleted a whole chapter that had to go, gazed at the blank screen for a while, made a couple notes about the new chapter that might go there, and quit for the day. Amount of actual progress: net loss of 5000 words, iffy in terms of ideas about what to do.

Wednesday, nothing. I opened the file once and looked at the blank spot.

Yesterday, I veeery slowly and painfully wrote 2000 words of the new chapter. I’m also proud to say that I got my percentage of games won up to 74% in Spider Solitaire. This should tell you how little I wanted to work on the manuscript, because solitaire is the game I switch to when I’m really annoyed with or bored with writing. (This is why I don’t want interesting games on my laptop; solitaire is as distracting as I need, which is to say, not very.)

Finally, having gotten that annoying chapter started, I whooshed through 2000 words this morning and should easily do that much again tonight, possibly finishing the chapter or getting it set up to finish tomorrow. Then I get to leap ahead about fifty pages, which will be extremely satisfying and get me into the endgame of the book, part of which will again have to be rewritten extensively.

How worried was I, yesterday? This is actually the point I wanted to make: not at all worried. Annoyed, yes, mildly, because it’s not fun beating words out of the aether when they’re not flowing and you really are not in the mood. But even if the deadline for this manuscript was Feb 1 (it’s actually March sometime, I forget exactly), I wouldn’t have been worried. Days like that are just part of the deal. Once you plow through an annoying section, the next bit is liable to be a downhill run. Relatively, anyway.

Back to work Monday! Unless we get freezing rain and ice on Sunday and thus start the new school year with a snowday. I see a “winter mix” is predicted for Sunday, so that could happen. Even if we are off Monday, I won’t quite tie this manuscript up before school starts. But I will probably juuuust about hit the next tedious, annoying section I will need to deal with (hopefully the last).

Which is fine. No matter how tedious bits of this revision are, I expect I’ll wrap it up by the end of the month, which is soon enough.

Meanwhile! Time to open up the manuscript file.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

“May” vs “Might”

You know the kind of thing where you know what’s grammatically right but you don’t know the rule? And people do it wrong and you flinch but you can’t explain WHY they’re wrong, you just know they are? For me that feeds into occasionally telling a student, “I can’t explain it, but I’m right, do it my way.” But then you’re all like, WHAT IS THE DAMN RULE ANYWAY?

Well, I finally looked up the difference between “may” and “might”, and, let me tell you, there are a lot of different opinions about this, way more than about any other grammatical thing I’ve ever looked up. I mean, the difference between “who” and “whom” is simple — subject vs object — and even the difference between “which” and “that” is relatively simple — nonrestrictive vs restrictive clauses — and at least everybody agrees. But people are all over the place when it comes to “may” vs “might.”

Some grammar websites insist the two words are nearly interchangeable except that “might” suggests a somewhat lower probability than “may,” but that can’t be right because way too often when I’m reading, I stumble over “may” when I know, I KNOW, that it should be “might.” It wouldn’t feel so wrong if the only difference was a perception of lower probability.

Other websites say that “might” is the past tense of “may”, so that you say “He might have been eaten by the dragon” rather than “He may have been eaten by the dragon,” but that can’t be right either, because I can easily put either of those sentences in a context where it would sound right, like so:

“Gavin hasn’t come in this morning; I’m afraid he might have been eaten by a dragon.”

“Well, yeah, Gavin may have been eaten by a dragon, but you know that won’t stop him — he’ll come back as a ghost in a day or two, so we have to be prepared to face him again!”

Do those sentences sound right to you? I actually think that I could read both of them with either the “may” or “might” and all the versions sound okay to me — definitely not wrong enough to make me stumble if I were reading a story got one of these stentences.

Finally I visited my favorite grammar website, which neatly encapsulated another difference:

Avoid confusing the sense of possibility in may with the implication of might that a hypothetical situation has not in fact occurred.

And I think this is the one that writers often get wrong. In the first dragon sentence above, Gavin might have or may have been eaten by the dragon. Either would work because you are expressing a possibility, and I suppose “might” could express your opinion that the possibility is not very likely, but I don’t think even very sensitive readers would stumble over either version.

But try this sentence:

“Gavin might have been eaten by the dragon, but it turns out he dodged past and successfully made it into the wizard’s castle.”

In this case, you couldn’t use “may” because you are talking about a hypothetical possibility that didn’t happen. If you used “may,” sensitive writers would stumble.

I *think* this is the most common situation where I feel the wrongness of “may.” I am certain that it’s always “may” that is the problem, never “might.”

So I guess if you try to boil it down, it’s more or less like this:

“Might” sometimes is used to express a low probability — lower than “may” — but this is subtle and doesn’t matter much.

“Might” is usually the past tense of “may” and in general you want “might have,” not “may have.”

“Might” is used to indicate that something that might have happened, didn’t.

Or something like that.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Clunky prose vs predictable/uninteresting prose

A week or two ago, when I first posted about Lindsay Buroker’s EMPEROR’S EDGE series, a commenter named Kim said that she tried the first book but found the prose unreadably “clunky.”

Huh, I said, and started to pay attention to whichever of Buroker’s books I was on at the time, to see what was “clunky” about the prose. And I found out something really interesting about myself as a reader! Which only goes to show, because I wouldn’t have thought there were many surprises left in that direction.

Here is what I realized: clunky writing does not bother me all that much in a story which is fast paced and has snappy dialogue. If those elements are in place, I can and do read right over writing that is unquestionably clunky.

I am defining “clunky,” btw, as prose that sometimes shows wrong word choices, wrong verb tense choices, awkward phrasing, etc — the sorts of things that prevent the reading experience from being smooth. For me, the opposite of clunky prose is not necessarily beautiful prose, but invisible prose. Also, I’m defining “snappy dialogue” as involving unpredictability and humor. The opposite of snappy is boring, trite, or predictable.

I was surprised to find that under the right circumstances, I can read past some clunky writing in an otherwise good book. Probably there are limits — I’m sure there are limits — but I would have thought that clunky prose would bother me all the time no matter what, whereas it turns out this is not the case.

So I went back to a book which a lot of other people have liked but which I found impossible to finish, STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle Jensen. Even after a real try at getting into it, I found it unreadable. Part of this was a protagonist who to me seemed annoyingly incompetent and histrionic, but a lot of the problem was the actual writing. And I realized that what actually bothers me more than clunky writing is predictable, uninteresting writing, especially dialogue. I had not realized this. To illustrate what I mean, let me contrast these two books. But let me start by emphasizing that:

a) I really like Buroker’s EMPEROR’S EDGE series! Enough to read eight books and a scattering of novellas and short stories.

b) Many reviewers I respect, and with whose taste I often agree, loved Jensen’s STOLEN SONGBIRD. Kristen at Fantasy Book Cafe gave it an 8 out of 10. Ria at Bibliotropic refers to the writing as “engaging and fluid.”

Thus indicating once more that, as we are all aware, readers’ mileage will vary when it comes to all kinds of writing.

Okay, so having said that, here is a tidbit from BENEATH THE SURFACE, The Emperor’s Edge 5.5:

Tactfully, Evrial decided not to mention that Amaranthe and her team had committed numerous crimes, crimes that might have one day been justified if it’d come out that they’d been working to protect the rightful emperor from assassins and usurpers, but that now that Sespian was just one of more than a half-dozen people with enough royal blood to make a claim on the throne . . .

I think this sentence could justifiably be called “clunky.” In case you are curious, here is how I would suggest rewording the sentence:

Tactfully, Evrial decided not to mention that Amaranthe and her team had committed numerous crimes, crimes that might one day prove to have been justified if it came out that they’d been working to protect the rightful emperor from assassins and usurpers. Although now that Sespian had been shown to be just one of more than half a dozen people with a possible claim on the throne . . .

So I think mainly this is a verb tense thing, and also I would cut that one long sentence in half. Not that I am unalterably opposed to long sentences, but in this case I don’t think the length is this sentence’s friend.

Now, here is a section that shows what I mean by fun, unexpected dialogue:

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Amaranthe said. “I certainly appreciate his solicitude, but I’m concerned he’s seeing me as some frail, broken being not capable of taking care of herself anymore.”
“Solicitude?” Evrial asked, her mind snagging on that word. “From . . . Sicarius?”
Amaranthe hesitated, as if she held some secret she wasn’t sure she should be sharing. “Not so as most people would notice it, but yes.”
That was hard to believe. “Was that [just now] an example of it?” . . .
“No, that was protective looming.”
“All right . . . ”
Amaranthe cleared her throat. “Enough girl talk. There are enemy cabins full of dastardly old ladies that we must infiltrate.”
“Unbelievable,” Evrial murmured.
“What is?”
“That you can say things like that and still get those men to rally behind you.”

Amaranthe frequently seems to really be enjoying herself with melodramatic lines that no one is expected to take seriously. This really appeals to me. I enjoy her melodrama right along with her. There are so many examples it’s hard to choose, but here’s another:

“I do not believe [Sespian] would accept a peace offering from me.”
Yes, although Sespian hadn’t pulled any more weapons on Sicarius, their new relationship wasn’t off to a brilliant start. . . . “You have to keep trying,” Amaranthe said. “Be friendly in the face of his dark glares, and he’ll eventually grow weary of rejecting you. Why, just look at us. In a short ten months of sparkling smiles and effervescent one-sided conversations, I thawed your icy exterior and got you to profess your undying love for me.”
Sicarius blinked slowly.
“It’s possible we remember the events a little differently,” Amaranthe said. “The female mind has an interesting way of filtering reality.”
“Yours certainly does,” Sicarius said, a hint of dry humor finally infusing his tone.

But it’s not just Amaranthe. Everyone gets to have fun dialogue. Even Sicarius, who barely says anything, but certainly everyone else. This, I’m almost sure, is what carries me through the story.

In contrast, check out this bit from near the beginning of STOLEN SONGBIRD:

A cloaked rider blocked the road.
My heart leapt. Fleur wheeled around and I laid the ends of my reins to her haunches. “Hah!” I shouted as she surged forward.
“Cécile! Cécile, wait! It’s me!”
A familiar voice. Gentler this time, I reined in and looked over my shoulder. “Luc?”
“Yes, it’s me, Cécile.” He trotted over to me, pulling back his hood to reveal his face.
“What are you doing sneaking about like that?” I asked. “You scared the wits out of me.”
He shrugged. “I wasn’t certain it was you at first. Sorry about the eggs [you dropped].”
An apology that didn’t explain at all why he’d been lurking in the bushes in the first place.
“I haven’t seen you in quite some time. Where have you been?” I asked the question even though I knew the answer. His father was gameskeeper on an estate not far from our farm, but several months ago, Luc had taken off for Trianon. My brother and other townsfolk had caught wind that Luc had had a bit of luck betting on the horses and playing at cards, and was now living the high life spending his winnings.
“Here and there,” he said, riding around me in a circle. “The gossips say you’re moving to Trianon to live with your mother.”
“Her carriage is coming for me tomorrow.”
“You’ll be singing then. On stage?”
“Yes.”
He smiled. “You always did have the voice of an angel.”
“I need to get home,” I said. “My gran’s expecting me – my father, too.” I hesitated and looked down the road. “You may ride with me, if you like.” I rather hoped he wouldn’t accept, but riding was better than standing here alone with him.
“Today is your birthday, isn’t it?” His horse sidled tight against mine
I frowned. “Yes.”
“Seventeen. You’re a woman now.” He looked me up and down as though inspecting something that could be bought and sold. A horse at market. Or something worse. He chuckled softly to himself and I cringed.
“What’s so funny?” My heart raced, my instincts telling me that something was terribly wrong. Please, someone come down the road.

Too many phrases in this are cliched for my taste. My heart leapt, you scared the wits out of me, living the high life, the voice of an angel. Besides the cliches, every line seems predictable and boring.

The heroine also seems like kind of an idiot, though I’m not sure that comes through in this snippet. She’s scared, but she nevertheless pauses and chats. When Luc assaults her, as he does a moment later, she is ineffectual in her response. Ineffectual and emotional are two qualities she has in spades, and I just don’t like her. But that’s not the biggest problem I had when I tried to get into the story; the uninteresting writing was the bigger problem. I read about 100 pages of this book before giving up. Then I gave it to a friend for his teenage daughter. I hope she loves it, and I do think she will, but it’s not for me.

So, anyway. Thoughts on clunky and awkward vs boring and predictable? Have you ever noticed that one type of writing bothers you more than the other? If you’d declare that both bother you equally, are you sure? If you haven’t tried THE EMPEROR’S EDGE, let me remind you that it’s free on Kindle. If you do try it, let me know what you think: do you find it catchy, or is it not for you?

Now that I try, I can think of other authors whose stories I enjoy even though their writing isn’t necessarily that good. How about you?

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The Craft of Writing

Weasel words

It seems hard on the poor little weasel, which is quite cute, you will agree.

I suppose it is just barely possible that a writer will suddenly discover that every single “very” should be removed from his or her writing, but most of them, or at least some, might actually be playing a useful role in the text.

Okay, did I get every single “weasel word” in the above sentence? Here they are:

Just
That
Suddenly
Very
Every
Some
Most
But

Did any of them bother any of you in the above sentence? I am actually not very bothered by any of these words, though that might suddenly change if I find myself just really overusing one or another of them, I suppose.

I would include “really” and “actually” and “quite” in this list, btw. But I would exclude “but.”

My favorite post about this topic was Gary Corbey’s explanation of how he got autocorrect to change “just” to “NO! NO! NO!” Now that is hilarious. Also, it would sure train you to quit using the word “just” in your writing.

Does “sure” count as another little weasel?

I will admit that I do sometimes find it necessary to go through and remove about half my “very’s”. But one thing I appreciate about the “weasel word” post linked above is this:

“Sometimes if a weasel word is used within dialogue, it should stay. Ask yourself if the sentence would sound weird or out of character if you took it out. Weasel words are usually acceptable if a specific character is using them. Usually.”

Because, yes. In the sequel to BLACK DOG, one character says “just” fairly often — I hope not often enough to annoy readers — but I tried to make sure it was him and not everyone.

And yes, this is something to think about after completing and even polishing a draft. I would not suggest derailing your writing efforts by worrying about it during the actual writing process.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing / The Psychology of Writing

One baby step forward, three giant steps sideways

So, yeah, I’ve suddenly realized certain obvious things about the later plot of the current WIP, which is good. I will call this one KERI after the main character just to help us all keep straight which WIP is which. KERI is a work under contract, though I haven’t actually signed the contract yet, but I am assured that someday the contract will appear and then I will sign it (I presume), after which I will be able to tell you all about this particular WIP in more detail.

I have about 75 pp of KERI written, plus a loose outline that might be sort of accurate, plus a good idea of the next couple of things that might happen — drawing a blank on the thing after next, though — plus a nice scene that recently occurred to me but that would require an important secondary character to step up and take the pov. Which I think makes sense, but I had planned to have only one pov character (for a change). But I sure can’t see how to get the original protagonist into this particular scene, where the secondary character is crucial. If he does become a pov character, then I’m going to need a Chapter Two where he gets to be the protagonist and I’m going to need it to happen before we get 75 pages in.

So whatever, I’ll figure it out.

All the above constitutes the baby step.

What unexpectedly took me off sideways was, I suddenly figured out how to handle basically everything about revising this very early work of mine that I wanted to eventually self-publish. By revise, I mean:

1. Remove two of the three protagonists completely, along with at least two important secondary characters (including one I really, really like).

2. Take a different secondary character and make him an actual protagonist, adding material about his earlier life.

3. Remove one major plot thread and one major worldbuilding element.

4. Smooth out the remaining plot, in the process cutting 350 pages.

5. Yes, really. This was a trilogy to begin with, if you can’t tell, and even after selecting the characters and plot threads to keep, it is almost exactly twice as long as it should be.

6. In combination with cutting, revise every single paragraph on a sentence-by-sentence level.

And at this point, you may well be asking yourself, But wouldn’t it be less work just to ditch this and write a new book from scratch?

And the answer is: Why, no. Writing a book from scratch is, in fact, a lot of work. Having a basic plot that goes straight through from front to back, and the important characters with their personal character arcs, and the essential worldbuilding all in place means that even a truly huge revision is actually a lot less work than writing a new book. The main thing is suddenly deciding you want to bother, which I guess I have.

So that’s been my weekend so far. It’s a shame to kill writerly enthusiasm when it turns on, so unless I lose interest or get stuck — and it’s hard to see what I could get stuck ON, since the whole thing has come pretty well into focus at this point — maybe I’ll just finish this right now, in one straight shot. I estimate that it will take . . . about three weeks to a month, given the ordinary interruptions of life during April — work, gardening, the need to take dogs hiking, all the standard things.

This puts me in the odd position, as we finish up the first quarter of 2014, of having three WIP that I plan to finish this year:

A. The HOUSE OF SHADOWS sequel, which is about, oh, 80% done. I stalled out on that in January and set it aside, but it should not take more than a month to finish, if that. Right now it’s taking a back seat to both the others.

B. KERI, which is more like 20% done, but is under contract (I’m assured) and therefore technically ought to have priority. I expect its deadline to be about September of this year. I’ve written books from scratch in two months before (though I prefer not to have to), and summer is a good time for me to get work done, so I don’t anticipate any problems.

C. This big revision, which I’ll call KEHERA for now (yes, again, main character’s name), which honestly even given everything . . . I have to say, I would count it as at least 85% done. Maybe 90%. I swear, I think the rest of this one will be all downhill.

I would actually like to see both the HoS sequel and KEHERA come out this year, say in September and November. (No promises, stuff could happen). KERI of course, being under contract, will come out according to the publisher’s schedule, which is to say, 2016 if I remember correctly. Speeding up the timing is one big reason to shift some of my titles to self-publication. So, September and November. Cover art, copy editing, formatting, it will all be a new universe to explore.

So, yeah, that’s why I don’t know how long it may take to get to most of the books piling up on my TBR shelves. A while. The rest of you, enjoy spring’s new releases!

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Laura Florand: Chocolate Romances and the Craft of Writing

Okay, so we have in this series:

The Chocolate Thief – light, fun, beautifully written, with a poor-little-rich girl protagonist who is neither clichéd nor annoying, but instead a character you can really root for. Plus an arrogant chocolatier, her perfect foil, who is not really all that arrogant – well, he is, but he is also a wonderfully believable and sympathetic protagonist.

The Chocolate Kiss – not quite as light, because Magalie is vulnerable in a way that is actually kind of heartbreaking. Where Thief is basically a comedy, this one is more serious and genuinely touching – though certainly not without humor. I honestly don’t know which book of this series is my favorite, but Magalie is my favorite of the female protagonists.

The Chocolate Rose – am I slow or what? Because I didn’t catch that this story was going to draw on the Beauty-and-the-Beast fairy tale until about the third time Gabriel Delange thinks of himself as a “beast.” After that the shoe finally dropped: A beast, a beautiful girl, her father who steals the rose from the beast, hello. I don’t want to make too much of this, because the fairy tale just echoes gently through The Chocolate Rose, so don’t pick this story up thinking it’s actually a retelling. It’s not. But the fairy tale does add an extra layer – I’m trying not to say it’s the icing on the cake, but I can’t help it; all the beautiful desserts in the story are getting to me.

Let me just add that The Chocolate Rose also has one of my favorite lines ever, because after Jolie has just peeled and sectioned a zillion grapefruit, we get this: “She was not without kitchen skills, not by any means. But the speed, the intensity, the amount of competing motion she had to dodge, and the sheer repetition of task surpassed anything she had ever done before. Jo hated grapefruit. She hadn’t known that before, but not she hated it with a profound and utter passion. Maybe she should give up cookbook writing, become a microbiologist, and create a fungus that would wipe grapefruit trees of the planet.”

People, I laughed out loud. I honestly did.

I also really enjoyed Jolie – because she’s a writer, see, and also because I personally own like a hundred cookbooks and usually read them straight through, like novels, so I can easily imagine the effort that goes into writing a cookbook with a top chef. I enjoyed watching Gabriel struggle with the concept of “recipes a talented amateur could pull off”. I also definitely appreciated how a chef’s crazy hours would be absolutely perfect for a writer who needs a lot of time to herself. As always with Florand, I loved both Jo and Gabriel.

So each of these three books is a little different from the others, and this is true even though you can very definitely tell they’re all by the same author. They all have beautiful characterization and lovely writing and great description and nice, tight plotting, but to me they also seem to be gaining depth as you move through the series, especially if you add Turning Up The Heat, which incidentally is a perfect little gem of a novella.

So, how about Florand’s most recent story, The Chocolate Touch?

I just finished it. And, seriously, it blew me away. If Magalie is my favorite of Florand’s female protagonists, Dom is definitely my favorite of her male protagonists. And I say that as a reader who really enjoys all of Florand’s protagonists in all her books. I think I love best the most damaged protagonists? And Dom definitely carries the most extreme baggage. He carries it very, very well. He knew the value of strength, that was one thing he knew very well. It was to make himself unassailable. And now he would make her unassailable, too. At last somebody needed his strength.

Wow. I fell so hard for Dom, I can’t even tell you.

Anyway, I bookmarked dozens of pages of The Chocolate Touch because I also thought it would be a good book to take apart a little, if you’re in an analytical mood.

Here’s the beginning:

—–

“She’s back.”

Dom straightened from the enormous block of chocolate he was creating, gave his maitresse de salle, Guillemette, a disgruntled look for having realized he would want to know that, and slipped around to the spot in the glass walls where he could get the best view of the salle below.

—–

What I like about this beginning is the disgruntled look for having realized he would want to know that. That’s a really nice phrase. Just right there, it establishes so much about Dom’s character, plus it instantly sketches the minor secondary character, Guillemette.

Now, Dom. He is pretty fabulous. He tries so hard. His background is so awful, and he is so determined to overcome it. I love, love, love his relationship with his employees. You know, they call him “Dom” and address him as “tu”? His interactions with his employees not only drive the plot but serve perfectly to develop Dom’s character: Someone catcalled. Amand gave a long wolf-whistle. “Oh, shut the hell up,” Dom said. He couldn’t entirely suppress a grin, even though he was flushing.

One disappointment for me in this story – I found Dom’s employees so engaging, and their relationship with Dom so charming, that I would have really enjoyed seeing them actually get the news about Jaime asking Dom to marry her. They must have gone nuts and I didn’t get to watch. Well, the author can’t put in everything, I know. But if I wrote fan fiction, I would totally write that scene. And I want to point out that this means that even very minor secondary characters like Guillemette and Célie and Amand felt like real people to me even though we barely glimpse them on stage, which is quite an accomplishment.

Now, Jaime. Jaime is also a great protagonist, and I say this even though I have a low low low tolerance for the sort of person who devotes herself to Saving The World. That’s because it’s pretty plain that actually that sort of thing is often all about First World posturing: Look at me, I’m a Good Person, I Care, never mind that my Cause is poorly thought out and not actually helping anybody – maybe even hurting people. Yeah, excuse me while I roll my eyes, but I’m the sort of person who cares strictly about results and not about how bright and shiny anybody’s intentions might be.

But! In this book, Florand has given Jaime a backstory that involves truly helping real people deal with real abusive practices. She shows the problem, and (extremely important for me) she also shows the results that Jaime was achieving. And Florand does this without preaching and without spending a lot of time developing the issue. And then Jaime’s backstory makes her perfectly suited for Dom. Really nice, and we’re back to a study of characterization and the importance of backstory for motivation.

You can also reach for The Chocolate Touch to look at description and detail and drawing the scene. Like Dom’s rosebud wall, and La Victoire. And like the Eiffel Tower: “He liked the impossible, fantastical strength of [the Eiffel Tower], the way the metal seemed so massive up close. He liked the fact that it had risen above all the complaints and criticism that surrounded its birth and stamped its power not only over the city but the world. He pulled out the little moleskin journal he always carried with him and stood for a long time sketching the curves and angles of the bolts and metal plates, thinking of designs for the surfaces of his chocolates.”

And I want to point out how description also deepens characterization, because nothing is described in isolation – everything is described in terms of the protagonist’s reaction to it – this Eiffel Tower scene is a perfect example. It’s so important to embed your character in the scene that way. Problems with setting the scene have been so noticeable in the workshop entries I’ve seen at conventions.

Florand also has some stylistic tricks that are worth noticing. Like her use of italics to emphasize a particular phrase when we’re seeing a character’s thoughts. I read something somewhere (sorry, no idea where) where an author said something like: emphasis is so personal to the reader, he had all but quit using italics. Well, Florand wouldn’t agree, and I’m glad, because I get a real kick out of her use of italics. Like here:

“How are you?” Dom asked the brunette crisply, trying to make himself seem unavailable without making anyone watching think he was a rude, crude, and socially unacceptable human being who had sex with women whose names he couldn’t remember later and then treated them badly. Everything else might be true, but he did not treat them badly. . . . brushing her off wasn’t going to be that easy to do. Certainly not without giving the definite impression to people who happened to watching that he used women and was heartless to them afterward.

We see both the standard use of italics for emphasis here (not) and the really clever use of italics to add humor to Dom’s self-derisive commentary on the situation. It seems to me Florand mostly uses this technique with her male leads, and I think this might be because they are all extremely arrogant and this self-derisive tone is a way of showing their vulnerability. (I could be totally wrong. It’s not like I’m taking notes every minute, right? I get lost in the story, too, you know. But it does seem to me this is mostly something Florand uses for her male protagonists.) Oh, and let me draw your attention to that crisply and just reiterate that adverbs are not bad, not even in dialogue tags, if you use them well. I know I have said that before.

This scene also shows a really close third-person voice, which is worth noticing because Florand uses this kind of voice to great effect and it is by no means the only choice when using third person. If you use phrases like “It would be difficult, he thought, to get rid of this brunette without appearing rude,” then you are using a much more distant third-person voice. In other words, you can either report on your character’s thoughts and feelings: he thought, he felt, he imagined. Or you can bring the reader directly into your character’s head, in which case you would not use that kind of report, right? You will find that a skilled author moves back and forth in distance as she moves through the narrative, because a really close third-person stance is too exhausting for the reader to keep up for a whole book. Florand uses a lot of close third-person, but even she doesn’t stick to it all the time. I don’t expect she analyzes this (I don’t imagine anybody actually writes so analytically.) It’s something you do by feel. But if you wanted to really study close third person and see how it’s done, these books would be excellent.

So, characterization, scene, style. Dialogue, too. My favorite scene in the whole book may be the one where Dom meets Jaime’s family. I love Dom’s aggression, wow. And I love how he forces himself to acknowledge Sylvain’s kindness to Jaime before he met her, and honestly I just love the way the whole family interacts. Writing a scene with that many characters in it is not easy – in this one, we have Dom, Jaime, Sylvain, Cade, James, and Mack, and they all have to be there through essentially the whole scene. If you have anybody fall silent for three or four paragraphs, the reader can lose track of him and that’s a problem. This is a nice crowd scene, if you would like to take it apart and see how it works. My favorite line in it may be: “I’m begging you, James, stop with the spinach.”

Is this book totally perfect? Well, just about, yes. On the other hand, I’m not going to buy a copy for my mother. She wouldn’t be able to tolerate the occasional English cusswords – I am going to have to look up putain some time – and she, like me, really prefers a discreet veil to be drawn across the bedroom door. For anybody where those aspects aren’t dealbreakers, though – yes, it comes pretty close to perfect.

Laura Florand is definitely on my autobuy list after this year – not just for the Chocolate romances, but for whatever she writes. I’m only sorry I’ve now run out of her entire list, but at least it’s not too long a wait till her next title comes out — she has a novella, “Snow-Kissed” due out in September, and two more Chocolate titles are scheduled for this coming November and January release dates.

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When a book just doesn’t work for me, sometimes I can actually figure out why

Yeah, still at the show, but though I don’t feel up to REAL writing, I do feel up to writing blog posts. So . . .

So, Greg Stolze’s SWITCHFLIPPED, which did work for me as you may recall from a recent post, got me thinking about why some books don’t.

I occasionally find myself reading along and thinking: Why is this so boring? Why am I not engaged with these characters? We have all this conflict, all this drama, one crisis piled on top of another, and I just don’t care. Why does this happen? I’m sure that sometimes happens to you, too.

Problems with tension or with emotional disengagement from the characters are often, it seems to me, actually problems with plotting.

Does the story’s primary conflict somehow seem to involve everyone but the putative main character? Is there a series of problems, but they don’t arise from or connect to a single main conflict? Is there no identifiable main character at all, just a large cast of secondary characters, each with his or her own problems?

These are problems with plotting. I say this as a reader who prefers character-driven stories to plot-driven stories: Big problems with the plot produce big problems with reader engagement, even if the reader is primarily reading for character. A tight plot is going to produce a more satisfying experience for almost any reader, even if the reader isn’t able to put a finger on why one book succeeds and another fails.

Let’s take the problem where there is a whole series of main characters – or characters, anyway, none of whom are really main characters – who are all going along with their own separate plotlines in a story whose overall plot barely links them together. Wow, look at that, I’ve just described modern epic fantasy!

But I’ve also described SWITCHFLIPPED. Of course the plotlines are in fact connected, but the connections are not clear for a long time and one important plotline does not get resolved during the course of this story (which is why the book needs a sequel!). Nevertheless, SWITCHFLIPPED is fun to read. This is because:

a) Stolze is good at getting the reader to invest emotionally in multiple characters, and

b) All the plot threads do tie together eventually and most (if not all) important plot elements do resolve as the story progresses.

But I can think of other stories where scattered plotlines pretty much kill the book, because you (or at least, I) just don’t care about some or most of the main characters and/or because the separate threads of the plot are too separate.

I have an example in mind.

Elizabeth Moon’s recent return to the Paksenarrion series (the Paladin’s Legacy series) doesn’t work very well for me, even though I loved her first trilogy set in this world, and the reason is that:

a) I don’t care about Arcolin. Why didn’t Moon choose a more interesting character to carry that part of the plot, if she had to show it at all? Like Stammel, maybe? Or hey, that new guy, the half-blind captain, Arneson? He’s got this great backstory and tons of potential, though we hardly see him. Yes, Arcolin’s in charge, but the guy in charge doesn’t have to be the point-of-view character and sometimes shouldn’t be, particularly because people lower down the hierarchy may have more opportunities for conflict and tension.

b) I don’t care about Kieri. Wow, how tough for him, figuring out how to be king. And I despise the elf queen. What a total idiot she is. I’m sick of her, and of people like Kieri making excuses for her.

c) I don’t care about Prince Mikeli. He barely has a personality.

d) I like Dorrin, though.

e) And the thief, Arvid! He’s a great character! About the only time I was really engaged by the second book was his chapter. Alas, he only had one section, because Moon spent tons of time with everybody else.

f) Plus, plausibility? I totally don’t believe you can have two countries separated only by a river, not even an ocean for God’s sake, that know absolutely nothing about each other’s societies. Yeah, right, tell me another, okay? A serious failure of plausibility is a different kind of failure of plotting, and this is unfortunately a stellar example.

Interestingly, if you look at Moon’s other books, HUNTING PARTY is fabulous and has just one main pov character and, if I remember correctly, one important secondary character gets some pov time late in the book. The first few books of that series are very good, and then as the pov characters multiply and the plot(s) scatter all across creation, the books become (for me, at least) notably dull. I recall reading one or another of them (it was one of the Esmay Suiza ones) and thinking halfway through that the book simply didn’t have any main character at all, just a lot of secondary characters. It was the first book I ever read where I really noticed this happening and actually understood why I had lost interest. In that sense, it was an important book for me.

And I will just add that Elizabeth Moon’s TRADING IN DANGER series is also fine. It’s another series where the books mostly stick to one pov character – and when, later in the series, the pov scatters, it doesn’t scatter too widely. I can think of three important pov characters in the entire five-book series, and they all work for me. Plus the overall thrust of the plot is consistent: some unknown enemy is trying to wipe out your family! That’s a big, clear, understandable problem. A big, clear, understandable problem is important, and often seems lacking in modern epic fantasy.

If modern epic fantasy stands out for scattered pov and diffuse plotting, what genre in modern fiction stands out for consistently tight plotting? Go on, think about it. I’ll wait. [Twiddles thumbs.] [Whistles.]

Why, yes, that’s right, Young Adult! Which is not actually a genre, so I sort of cheated in how I phrased the above question, I know. But whether you’re talking YA contemporary, or YA fantasy, or YA historical – it’s all characterized by tight plotting. I’m sure there are some YA stories that fail. But if you want to look at tight plotting, YA is the place to go to find it. In my opinion – and I’m not trying to claim that I’ve read even a representative cross-section of the genre fiction published in the last five years – but the average YA fantasy being published today is just better than the average modern adult fantasy. And the most important reason it is better is that YA editors make their authors tighten up their plots and adult fantasy editors don’t think it matters that much, or (if they’re editing epic fantasy) don’t seem to think it matters at all.

And I say this as a reader who often enjoys a slower, more leisurely pace. Because I’m not conflating tight plotting with pace at all. I’m declaring that a tight plot is one where:

a) There is only one main conflict in the story, and it revolves around one or a small number of clearly identifiable protagonists, who drive the action,

b) The smaller conflicts in the story all echo, support, or arise from the main conflict,

c) The tension steps upward through the story, reaches a clearly identifiable climax, and resolves.

Now, you can stretch a point. In a book with two protagonists, they may both have their very own main conflict. But if they do,

d) Though it doesn’t have to be this way, you will often find that the individual dilemmas driving each of two main characters are actually in opposition with one another, thus creating a huge overall conflict – I’m thinking here of THE SCORPIO RACES by Stiefvater, but there are many good examples.

e) And, to the extent you’re going to have multiple pov characters and/or a diffuse plot, you have just got to have exceptional skill with characterization, voice, and dialogue — which are all really aspects of the same thing — in order to make that work. Which Stolze does, and Moon — in the Paladin’s Legacy series at least — just doesn’t. (I know, right? I really do love a lot of Moon’s work, and THE SPEED OF DARK is absolutely incredible, yet for this new series of hers, sorry, but characterization, voice and dialogue are all flat. Sorry! It’s true!)

So if you are reading a book and think: This is dull, this is boring, I just don’t care about any of these characters – well, that may look like a problem with conflict or tension, or like a problem with characterization. But I suspect that whatever immediate problem has caused you to lose interest, the ultimate problem is that there are too many pov characters, that you don’t find most of them engaging, and maybe that the plot is diffuse and fails to create a sense of building tension.

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Recent Reading: a focus on Greg Stolze

You may recall that a little while ago, I read Stolze’s new superhero novel, Sinner, and really enjoyed it. In particular, Stolze showed a real talent for dialogue and character. Sinner left me wanting more, so I picked up Mask of the Other, and then Stolze was kind enough to send me a copy of Switchflipped, and I read both in quick succession — though it took me a while to figure out how to write about them.

These books are so different from each other and from Sinner! It’s very interesting how Stolze chose such different treatments for each of his novels. Each book shows the same gift for dialogue, but character is handled differently in each, and the structure of each novel is quite different, too.

Look, Sinner is nearly a pure first-person narrative with one pov character, right? And of course if it works – which entirely depends on the voice of the pov character – then this is the form that will most closely engage the reader with the protagonist. Because Hector Lear’s voice is so perfect, his story is extremely engaging.

Switchflipped is similar in some ways. It’s told in the first person, for one thing. Also, though it’s not exactly a superhero book, in a way it is, and if you like superhero stories you might want to give this one a try.

In Switchflipped, various people embody specific concepts. There is someone who embodies the concept of The Evil Witch, for example (She gets murdered early on, which is great, because, hey, Evil Witch), and someone who seems to possibly embody, I don’t know, the concept of a Mad Gadgeteer, maybe. And so forth.

The narrative actually starts when the fiancée of the primary main character, Jasper, reappears. She vanished five years ago, and now she reappears for one wild night, after which she leaves again, telling Jasper only that she couldn’t bear it if he got switchflipped because of her.

Pretty catchy, right?

Then the narrative switches among Jasper, his ex-fiancée (Jane), his current girlfriend (Vivian), a guy called Kung-Fu Pete (you can tell what concept he embodies, right?), and to a lesser extent half a dozen other characters. I think there are eleven characters who get at least a little pov time. So this is very different from Sinner obviously. It worked pretty well for me, because I liked Jasper, Jane, Vivian, and Pete. Here Stolze’s gift for characterization is crucial, because I would not ordinarily be very interested in this many different characters, but he made each of them come to life for me. I can think of more than one well-known author who bore me to tears when they break a narrative up like this, and maybe I’ll post about that later, but in this one, as I say, it works.

Jasper’s basically an ordinary guy, Jane is an ordinary woman who got caught up in an extraordinary and rather creepy situation, Vivian is a WONDERFUL psychologist, and Kung-Fu Pete is my favorite character in the book – I like heroes, and I like them to be pragmatic when necessary, and I just loved Pete.

Though one major plot element gets resolved in this book, there is clearly supposed to be a sequel. I will definitely grab it when and if it appears, because I really am just dying to know how Jane’s creepy situation fits into the broader picture, and do she and Jasper manage to get back together, and does it wind up working out between Vivian and Jasper’s friend Dave? And I love the sort-of-superpower Jasper acquired and want to watch that work through a full book.

Let me just reiterate once more that the dialogue is really fun in this story. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges:

A friend to Vivian: “Is David the one you were trying to set me up with?”

Vivian: “I was not trying to set you up, and yes, he was.”

The friend: “You do realize that your last sentence completely hogtied logic and rational thought?”

Okay! So that’s Switchflipped. How about Mask of the Other?

In one way, this one is similar to Switchflipped: it has a lot of pov characters. In general, though, it is VERY different. It’s told in the third person, and though one particular character (Rick Hazard) gets more pov time than the others, even he doesn’t necessarily seem like a main character. Moreover, though Rick is sort of admirable, if anything he gets less admirable over the course of the book, though I never really disliked him. Of the other characters, I really did dislike two and felt pretty neutral about several others. Of the minor characters I liked, all died.

All this bothered me at first. Then I realized: This is not a character-driven novel! (Obvious, right?) This is in fact a horror novel, a Cthulhu-type of horror novel, so it is meant to be driven by its atmosphere, not by its characters. Most of the characters exist to build the atmosphere by getting killed!

I liked it much better after I realized that. I’m not really a horror fan, but this was all right, and in fact I would have liked it a lot less if I’d found the characters really engaging, because after all most of them do die. Stephen King’s habit of introducing one ultra-charming character for the express purpose of jerking tears by killing her drives me insane, and in fact it’s so transparently manipulative that I can’t stand it and quit reading his books. I liked the way Stolze did it much better.

The dialogue is, naturally, excellent. I will just say, though, in case this is a major turn-off for you: we spend a lot of time with characters who start off in the military, so the dialogue is also often pretty, um, coarse. I would not, for example, loan this book to my mother. Even if she liked military SF / horror, she just about had a fit when I included half a dozen cusswords in Black Dog. This one goes well beyond that, eh?

Okay, disclaimers inside, I loved the bit where this rock group went to a ruined city on an island to film a music video. You can really see Stolze’s awareness of cinematography here in this chapter. This is of my favorite passages in the whole book:

“That sea is going to look great if we can catch it before the light goes,” she [the photographer] fretted after their third try, which, while still a failure, had been the least disastrous. Pulling her lower lip, she looked at the clouds, the water, the sullen band, and she came to a decision. It was visible in her posture. She straightened up, squared her shoulders, and said, “Right: Ruins, take twenty, hydrate, catch your breath. You guys are doing great. We are ready. We’re going to set the cameras, we’ve got the lights hung, and we are going to do this in one take. One take and we can be finished! You are going to run hard, play hard, hit your marks like they owe you money and at the end we’re going to have a single-shot video which will win a VMA and get you the recognition your music deserves. When you accept your awards, you can joke about what a bitch I am but you will do it with affection because this thing will be awesome.” She said it as if sheer force of intent could make it true.

That passage is pretty awesome itself. I was sorry when the photographer and the entire band got killed by the . . . well, never mind.

If any of you are Cthulhu fans, please read this and tell me how close to Lovecraft’s canon Stolze stayed? Because I am just curious.

So, the take home message for me is, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for Stolze’s next books. And I would like one of them to pick up where Switchflipped left off.

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