Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Blog / The Craft of Writing

Shifting the reader’s view of secondary characters

So, Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan is a new standalone, or perhaps the first book of a series related to the Memoirs of Lady Trent series. It definitely reads like the first book of a series, though it concludes the main plotline perfectly well.

If I’d realized there were two covers, I’d have gotten the white one. Oh well. Moving on to the actual story:

This is an epistolary novel, which is in keeping with the Lady Trent series. In this case, it’s mostly diary entries written by Audrey, granddaughter of Isabella Camherst, Lady Trent. Audrey has been given the task of translating an extensive set of Draconean tablets, which turn out to contain an important creation myth of the Draconean people. (To offset the unlikely nature of this amazing discovery, we are told that the vast majority of Draconean tablets found are just tax records, which does seem a lot more likely than stumbling across a central myth.)

The myth is interesting and engaging in its own right. Brennan plainly put a lot of thought into writing a creation myth in a style that seems (a) archaic; (b) plausible; (c) different from, if reminiscent of, any actual creation myth in the real world; and (d) consistent with what we already know about Draconeans from the previous series. Interspersing the myth with current action as bits of it get translated is a good way to handle it. If it were handed to the reader all at once it wouldn’t be as interesting or (it turns out) as suited to the overall plot.

Anyway, translating this myth in time for a specific political event constitutes the basic setup of the story. There’s a certain amount of chicanery going on, as plenty of people have strong motivations to interfere one way or another. But that’s not quite the aspect of the story I want to focus on here. Audrey is an engaging-enough protagonist, though actually I found Cora Fitzarthur the most interesting character in the story by a wide margin, but I don’t actually want to focus on either of them right now either.

No, what I’m most interested in is the development of a secondary antagonist, Aaron Mornett, and the reason I’m interested in him is because he presents such an interesting contrast with another antagonist, James Drake from Kate Elliot’s Spiritwalker trilogy.

Now, if you’ve read the Spiritwalker trilogy, then you definitely remember Drake. He’s the one who seems like a good guy when we first meet him, and then every single time he reappears, he seems worse. And worse, and worse, until he arguably becomes the primary antagonist and definitely becomes the most despicable villain in the story. Elliot takes her time developing Drake, so for some time the reader may be unsure. This one thing he did was bad, but maybe not that bad? Maybe we can understand it. It’s offset by actions that are good. Or arguably good, if possibly a bit ambiguous. Then Drake does something else, and something else, and before long the reader is repulsed and then strongly repulsed. By the end, James Drake is one of the most awful bad guys I can think of. But when the reader first encounters him, that won’t be the impression at all. This is something Elliot develops slowly over the course of the whole story.

Aaron Mornett in Turning Darkness into Light seems poised to develop in precisely the opposite direction. Here in this book, we are given ample reason to distrust and dislike Mornett, but – and I think this is important – not because he is a really awful person. His great fault is intellectual fraud and plagiarism, and while I absolutely agree with Audrey Camherst that this is very bad, it’s not remotely on the same level of, say, torturing puppies.

James Drake is the kind of bad guy who isn’t going to be redeemable because the arc of justice in the story demands his destruction; nothing less can possibly satisfy the reader. That isn’t likely at all in Mornett’s case. Several times during the course of the story, Aaron Mornett does something kind or virtuous or both; it’s clear he really does have feelings for Audrey, though she is totally justified in not forgiving him for the things he’s done. It seems to me that Marie Brennan is deliberately setting Mornett up to be a returning character who shifts from an antagonist to an ally, and then most likely to a love interest.

That’s interesting and fun. It’s probably tough to do this kind of shift, where the reader’s perception of an important secondary character shifts completely over the course of the story, in less than a trilogy. The author has to do it gradually or it’s not as believable or at least not as effective. Plus Aaron really did engage in dreadful intellectual fraud and that is not something that can be brushed lightly aside. Not just a shift in the reader’s perception is going to be required (if Brennan does go in that direction) — it will take a change in the character himself.

Not quite the same, but related: some authors have a knack for handling an abrupt shift of perception from presumed-enemy-to-actual-ally. In this case, the abruptness can be part of the reason it’s effective, as the protagonist’s, and thus the reader’s, opinion is jerked sharply sideways. Barbara Hambly is especially good at that, or at least especially likely to do that. If you’ve been keeping up with the Benjamin January series, you may recall Chloe, Henri’s wife. Henri is the “protector” of Benjamin’s sister’s Minou, as you may know, and when this marriage first looms on the horizon, it is presented as a serious threat to Minou because Chloe is cold as ice and possibly truly vicious. Then we actually meet her and wham! our perception is radically altered within a sentence or two.

This is so characteristic of Hambly’s storytelling that when I was reading Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton, when the same kind of sharp perceptual shift happened with Lieutenant Coldstone, I immediately said, “I bet this is really Barbara Hambly,” and looked for confirmation online. Sure enough, “Barbara Hamilton” is Barbara Hambly. No doubt the sentence-level writing contains all kinds of tells, and I might have picked up on those subconsciously, but it was this abrupt shift from presumed-enemy-to-actual-ally that made me sit up and say, “This is Hambly’s writing.”

None of this is the same as the sometimes rather artificial dislike-to-love arc that’s so very common in romance. That kind of arc can work, of course, though it’s so cliched it’s hard to make it seem sufficiently real and natural to satisfy an experienced reader. I can think of several examples that worked for me, or at least didn’t really irritate me. But the relationship between Audrey Camherst and Aaron Mornett is very different. Here, Audrey’s opinion is not remotely based on a misunderstanding, and sorting out that relationship would take, not a change in perception nor a decision by Audrey to tolerate a slight flaw in Aaron’s character, but a real change in Aaron’s ideas about right and wrong.

I hope I’m right that this book is the first in a series, because I’d enjoy watching that happen.

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What is a story?

From Janet Reid’s blog: What is “not a story”

Perhaps it’s too obvious to write about it and I just need to do more homework, but I think it would be helpful if you explained what makes one entry a story and another not, even though they’re both compelling. … in such short entries, there usually isn’t an ending necessarily, and yet this one counts as a story and that one doesn’t. Why? 

This question refers to the many flash fiction contests Janet offers, with a prompt and a very strict word limit. Lots of her regular commenters participate. I’m terrible at flash fiction, so I don’t. Many of the entries are evocative, effective, funny, or successful in some other way.

Here’s Janet’s response to this question:

This is actually a very good question. 
Let’s use last week’s contest for the examples. 

There were three entries that got “not quite a story”. 

For this particular contest, the requirements were: not over 100 words, and you must include the words space, between, fair, bank, and holt. No, I have no idea how Janet picks words to include. I know of exactly one example of “holt” in fiction: in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. I believe in Silver on the Tree. The word “holt” is used in one of the riddles or clues that Will and Bran use during their adventures. “I am the womb of every holt.” — remember that? Let me see, the whole riddle went like this:

I am the womb of every holt, I am the blaze on every hill, I am the queen of every hive, I am the shield for every head, I am the tomb of every hope.

I loved poetry and riddles in fantasy novels as a kid. In fact, I still do. All these poems and riddles from The Dark is Rising stuck in my head, or I’d have forgotten this word, probably.

Anyway, I’ll provide just one not-a-story example. Click through to check out the whole post and here are the results for the “holt” contest.

Not a story:

Colin Smith 

She was an Algerian/Syrian borderline psychopath. At least that’s how she introduced herself at the speed dating table. The space between us felt uncomfortably small. 

She picked up a pencil and asked what I did. 

“I’m a banker,” I said shuffling my chair, making the space bigger. “What about you?” 

“I hunt,” she said, fixing me with thirsty eyes, testing the pencil point on her thumb. “In the holts.” 

“Fair enou—” The pencil flashed by my face. I turned. An impaled roach fell to the floor. 

“Call me,” she said, sliding her card. 

I did. 

Twenty years ago today.

Hah! I like that a lot.

Janet says: This isn’t a story because the fact that she’s an Algerian/Syrian borderline psychopath (one of the great uses of prompt words) has no further reveal. There’s no twist of expectations or events. There is no gold standard on what makes a story good, but what makes something a story is a change, or a twist or a reveal.

Interesting!

What makes a story is a change or a reveal. That’s interesting right there. How about it? If you pick up a slice-of-life literary novel in which nothing much happens, nothing changes, the protagonist just drifts through the world, is that not a story? There was something of a fad for that kind of ennui story for a while, wasn’t there? Hermann Hesse’ Steppenwolf and so on? That was a book I absolutely hated, I can’t imagine why I read the whole thing, but at least the experience now allows me to say that perhaps some novels aren’t really stories, according to this criterion.

Okay, sure, I’ll agree with this definition, at least tentatively. If nothing changes, it’s not a story. In fact, if the protagonist doesn’t change, it’s probably not a story, even if the world changes around the protagonist.

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The map of literature

Via tor.com, this:

Isn’t that neat?

Martin Vargic describes his work as one that shows “how the multitudes of diverse literary genres sprouted, branched, and eventually evolved to their modern state.” The map contains over 7000 points — authors, writers, poets, and more.

Every literary movement and a genre is its own continental realm. Every single dot on the map on the map represents a single author, and every tiny rhombus a single literary work. It takes just a few seconds to spot dozens of the best selling and most talented authors and their works.

The above is, obviously, just a detail of the map. Click through and scroll down to see the full map, which is circular, in a square frame containing a great deal of commentary.

Interesting details: Ancient literature appear to be central, at the pole of the round map. As we get more modern, we move toward the periphery — Manga is right by the edge. Romance is a separate continent from Romanticism. Horror is farther removed from Fantasy than I think it should be. Lots and lots of islands whose names I can’t quite read.

Definitely click through and take a look!

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Hawks that use fire, wow

Did you all know about this?

Australian ‘firehawks’ use fire to catch prey

“Certain birds are fire followers in that they will take advantage of fires,” Bonta said. They perceive smoke and snatch the flushed-out animals. But a few raptors actively disperse flames on the landscape to obtain food. …

Their observations indicated black kites (Milvus migrans), whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcons (Falco berigora) congregate around savanna fires, descend to seize burning sticks and transport them in their beaks or talons, either individually or in small cooperative groups. After dropping the sticks in other areas and setting the ground ablaze, these fire specialists swoop closer and grab grasshoppers and other invertebrates in midair as the prey flee the smoldering vegetation.

How about that? Other tool use by birds: Egyptian vultures use rocks to hammer ostrich eggs till they break. Gulls drop bread into water to bait fish into rising to the surface. Crows not only use sticks to get to insects, they carve the end of a stick into a hook first. Parrots can use pebbles to grind shells into grit so they can eat the shells — they need the calcium.

But use of fire! That’s a new one on me.

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Vulgarity in book titles

I don’t generally have many chances to browse through a book store, as there aren’t any in the nearest town — other than a used book store, which I do value, but used book stores are not going to give you much of an impression about current trends. Like this one:

What the Heck Is Happening to Book Titles?!

For those of us who enjoy reading publications with book review sections and bestseller lists, the pleasure of discovering a few lyrical works comes to a screeching halt in the presence of titles filled with vulgarities. Similarly, a happily anticipated visit to a local bookstore quickly takes a wrong turn when centrally placed and unavoidable tables prominently showcase stacks of books shouting obscenities with angry venom.

The author does not produce specific examples. She delineates three categories: Books that use asterisk-ized Bada** and F*** in their titles, books that use Bitch or Slut in their titles, and prostitution-themed titles.

The article, which I spotted via the Passive Voice blog, would be quite a bit more persuasive with specific examples and — better — numbers. What proportion of books on a front table had titles of this kind, and what were those titles?

So, out of curiosity, I googled book titles that use “fuck,” thus locating this useful post from 2017: All Those F*cking Titles

Six titles are listed. I can add another: The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy, which proposes the possibly unpersuasive idea that if you just let yourself eat all the junk food you want, you’ll start craving broccoli. That’s boiling it down a good bit, but yeah, I have my doubts that this would work for the majority of people. I mean, look at all the people who do in fact eat all the junk food they want: do they generally start craving a healthily abstemious diet after a while? Not so far as I can tell. I can’t imagine it myself, so I’m sticking to a modified keto diet … but I digress.

Anyway, sure, titles like this certainly would not have appeared fifty years ago and now it’s not too hard to find them. Edgy, or repellent? That’s in the eye of the beholder, but I can say flatly that my mother would never in a million years pick up any book with a title like this, except possibly to drop it in the trash. If you want to appeal to the broadest possible audience, this wouldn’t do it, so obviously that is not the intention. The idea must be to appeal to younger people who fancy themselves hip and edgy. Maybe it works, or maybe publishers are just copying each other when they pick titles and have no idea whether it works or not. (That would be my guess.)

Here’s a post by Nicole Lapin: Why I Used “Bitch” in the Title of My Book

As a woman, if you speak your mind, you’re called a bitch. If you don’t take shit from anyone, you’re called a bitch. If you aren’t afraid to go for what you want, you’re called a bitch. If you are empowered about your money and the life you want, you’re called a bitch. If you demand respect, you’re called a bitch.

And for men, if they do these things? Well…they’re just a “man.” THE man, in fact.

Sure, maybe, I guess? No one calls me a bitch, at least not as far as I know. Possibly I hang out with a different group of people, because I don’t hear the term used among my co-workers to refer to anyone, ever. Possibly the hip urban crowd would be different in this regard from a rural/small town community.

A lot of people I know say things like, “I’m showing her in Junior Puppy Bitch,” or “All three of my intact bitches came into season in one week! What a pain!”, so my attitude about the word may be a little different from Lapin’s.

Anyway … I don’t know that I’d pick out this particular trend in titles, such as it is, as the nadir of publishing. Trends that actually annoy me more: Using “Daughter of the ___” or “____’s Daughter” as the title; using “_________’s Wife” as the title; using “Girl” in the title when the character in question is a grown woman.

On the other hand, I’m generally against coarsening of public discourse, so I’ll join the author of the original post in turning both thumbs down at the use of vulgarity in book titles, though perhaps not as forcefully as she does.

How about you all? Would you be intrigued by a book with a title like that, say “Oh, edgy!” and pick it up? Or would you just roll your eyes and pass by?

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Sharp rock, soft pillow

Fun post by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds: Sharp Rock, Soft Pillow: The Balance Of Self-Care And Tough Love

 BUCKLE UP, PUCKERBUTT, they will cry, IF YOU WANNA BE A REAL WRITER, YOU GOTTA WRITE EVERY DAY, 2000 WORDS, ASS IN CHAIR, KILL YOUR DARLINGS, PUNCH YOUR CHARACTERS, FUCK SLEEP, DRINK WHISKEY, EAT BEES AND SHIT HONEY. Raaar. Thrash. Pound the lectern.

And then there’s the other side. Where we express in ASMR tones the need for kindness and care, for self-reward and gentleness, for being good to yourself and don’t forget to moisturize and it’s okay if you didn’t write today and here’s a puppy.

Awwww. Have a puppy! That can be my theme, such as it is, for today’s posts:

That’s Conner with his little tiny daughter Naamah, btw. She is now several months older and almost nine pounds, so not quite such a little one! But still.

But Chuck basically hits the truth at least a glancing blow most of the time, I think. In this post, he says:

The difficulty of the thing … is finding the balance between the sharp rock in your back urging you to move, and the pillow under your head urging you to rest. Move, move, move, versus rest, rest, rest. …The balance is in knowing when to be urgent, when to burn some fuel and bust your ass — but then knowing too when to relent, when to ease off the throttle for the safety of the machine, to know when you’ve burned too much fuel and you might set the whole thing aflame… and then burn out.

How do you find that balance?

It’s a real question. One to which I honestly don’t have an answer. I expect it has something to do with knowing yourself, and just writing a lot over a long period of time to give yourself a sense of emotional data. 

I’ve gotten a lot done this year — early in the year — but nothing finished and nothing lately. I don’t have a personal answer to this one at the moment. I just kind of gave myself carte blanche to take September and October off … and this morning, for the first time in what seems ages, I finally had an actual impulse to open the laptop and start a new book.

Not that I really want to start a new one. I want to finish Copper Mountain or else finish the new SF thing I have 80,000 words for. But at this point, I’m relatively pleased to have an urge to start something new. We’ll see where that urge has led by the end of November, because for the past ten years I have never gone through Christmas break without putting a significant number of words in a row and I don’t plan to let this year be any different.

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Pictures of dogs with books

At Book Riot, an inspired post that is nothing but pictures of dogs with books. An excellent combination, to be sure.

My favorite is little Bailey. Somewhat amazingly, I have no real guess about what kind of breeds might have gone into the mix that is Bailey, but he is completely adorable. Part Chihuahua and part … I don’t know.

If you like dogs … and books … then by all means click through and choose your own favorite.

I remember when WINTER came out, I took this one to show all my Fall 2017 babies in one shot.

Leda is the one tucked out of sight in the back. Wow, I can’t believe Leda — and Winter, for that matter — is two years old already.

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Unexamined beliefs

I found this post interesting. It’s by Anne R Allen, link via Passive Voice blog: What Keeps You From Writing Success? Are you a Prisoner of Unexamined Beliefs?

that 4th Grade teacher who told you if you kept reading comic books, you’d never amount to anything. Shamers like the anti-comic book teacher are dangerous because you usually don’t remember them. You may have forgotten your 4th Grade teacher’s name. All you know is you feel guilty when you read things you enjoy—plus you have a secret, persistent fear that you’re never going to amount to anything.You’ve never questioned this “information” because it was the first information you got on a subject. Plus it was probably delivered in a emotionally memorable way.

It’s interesting to think of possibly remembering nothing at all about an incident, but nevertheless taking away from that incident some persistent belief. Also, probably true. I like this bit —

So maybe there was a schoolmarmish know-it-all in your first critique group who told you in a withering tone that only terrible writers use the word “was.” She may have trapped you into the mindset that “was” is a taboo word.

— because wow are there a lot of this kind of pseudo-rules that get propagated as though spawning on their own, independent of any kind of reason for existence.

Just for fun, how many pseudo-rules can be packed into one piece of advice? At least three: “Only terrible writers use “was” because “was” means the sentence is in the passive voice and passive voice is always bad.” How about that for cramming a lot of awful advice into one declarative statement?

I’ve always disregarded bad writing advice and proscriptive writing rules. I had a lot of encouraging teachers as a tot, I guess. But this tidbit strikes me as true:

This is why NaNoWriMo works for a lot of new writers. It forces them to put the stuff on paper in a playful way, joining in a national game. So those perfectionist pre-programmed beliefs are overridden.

I think this is true. I would say “encourages” rather than “forces,” but it seems to me that NaNoWriMo is presented in a playful way, generally, and that may well help people take it less seriously and thus get more words on paper. I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo because I’m usually winding down from a project in November. But this year I kinda took September and October off, so who knows, maybe in 2019, I will actually pick up a project November 1st and see how it goes.

Anne R Allen’s post is also relevant to the idea of what you’re “meant” to write, a concept I mentioned in a recent post. I had trouble with that “meant to write” idea, and I know some commenters here did as well, but Allen says,

My parents were both literature professors, so I had unexamined beliefs about literary fiction being superior to genre fiction. This kept me writing and rewriting the same unpublishable literary novel for years. Finally a friend I trusted pointed out that I was always reading mystery novels and funny women’s fiction. Why didn’t I write books like that? Bam. I had to examine why I believed I had to write literary fiction. And realized I didn’t. When I finally let myself write a funny mystery, my writing flowed easily.

I can’t imagine deliberately setting out to write The Great American Novel, but of course a lot of people do seem to have that ambition. I imagine it would be quite a relief to stop trying to Achieve The Great Novel and just relax and write — though funny mysteries would probably be as hard for me personally as literary fiction!

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The supernatural in detective fiction

So, I happened across this post at CrimeReads: IN DEFENSE OF THE SUPERNATURAL IN DETECTIVE FICTION, by John Connolly.

Connolly says: My second error, [my friend] believed, was to have mixed the mystery genre with the supernatural. Whatever its benefits or disadvantages to me, either commercially or creatively, he believed that this simply should not have been done. For him, the supernatural had no place in the mystery novel

Connolly then refers to the “Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction,” promulgated by Ronald Knox in 1929. I’m not sure I’d heard of them, so I looked them up. Here they are, with commentary at the link that I’m removing for the sake of brevity, but those comments are worth reading if you have time to click through.

1.   The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

2.     All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3.     Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4.   No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

.5.     No Chinaman must figure in the story.

6.     No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7.     The detective must not himself commit the crime.

8.    The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9.   The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10.  Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

My basic responses:

Although the murderer is always mentioned at some point, I’m sure I’ve read many mysteries where he or she was not mentioned “early” by any definition of the term that seems reasonable. Only one secret passage? That’s kind of chintzy. After reading The Moonstone, I agree about the Chinaman; I’d forgotten what a go-to stereotype the “Chinaman” was in literature of the period. Hidden clues are not rare, but are indeed annoying and authors should perhaps follow Rule 8 more closely. I hate stupid sidekicks and prefer Watson-type characters to be more intelligent, not less, than the average reader. Yes, the author had better foreshadow evil twins.

But let’s talk about the supposed exclusion of supernatural elements.

I guess the belief among authors of contemporary detective fiction, or acquiring editors of that subgenre, that “real” detective fiction should not include those elements, is probably one major factor in the rise of Urban Fantasy that is also detective fiction. This is, I’m pretty sure, the majority of all UF. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, say. Mike Carey’s The Devil You Know. Liz William’s Detective Inspector Chen novels. Lots of examples.

So when Ronald Knox ruled out supernatural influences, he was evidently completely wrong about what readers will accept in detective fiction, as obviously lots of readers are happy to read detective fiction that includes the supernatural. And when the post by Connolly at CrimeReads defends the use of supernatural elements, his defense appears unnecessary.

Not only that, but in fact I can think of several other mystery subgenres where supernatural elements are important. There’s an important ghost in the Wisteria Tearoom mysteries by Patrice Greenwood, which is a cozy mystery series, and it’s hard to imagine readers objecting.

Basically I think that it depends on the setting and the mood and the style of the novel, but that if they fit, then supernatural influences are fine in any mystery subgenre. For example, certain elements that smack of deus ex machina don’t ring true in Beverly Connor’s forensic anthropology mysteries, and overt supernatural influences would be way out of tune with the series, but ghosts are really quite common in cozies and fit into those quite well.

And if the author wants to throw in multiple labyrinths of secret passages, that’s fine with me too.

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Is it possible to mechanically construct lyrical prose?

Here’s a recent post at Well Storied: Three Tips for Crafting Lyrical Prose

Tips are all very well, but this gave me pause. Can you teach someone to write serviceable prose? Sure. Can you actually teach someone to write lyrical prose? Um. Can you provide three tips that make an actual difference? Um …

Well, I am skeptical, but let me see.

Tip 1: Use different types of repetition. The author is talking about alliteration, consonance, and assonance.

Hmm. The first thing that sprang to my mind was none of the above. I thought first of repetition of words, and the book that sprang to mind was The Silver Chair by CS Lewis. In that one, Lewis might have gone a little overboard with repetition of certain words, such as “moonlight” and “silver.” He might not agree that he overdid it; I read in Planet Narnia that Lewis specifically liked repetition of words as a way of achieving lyricism in prose.

CS Lewis also used plenty of other techniques, including alliteration, as here in The Screwtape Letters : “Was he not unmistakably a little man? A creature of the petty rake-off, pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stainless platitudes in his public utterances.”

Tip 2: Set your syllabic style. The post appears to mean, stick either to shorter words or longer ones.

That seems weird to me. Though the author of the post does say, “Now, this doesn’t mean you have to use the same syllable count throughout your entire short story; instead, you just have to keep some syllabic consistencies within certain sections of your prose.”

… No, that still seems weird to me. I guess I would think of this as part of the style, but only part, and not necessarily worth focusing on especially. Word choice is surely at least as important as number of syllables.

Two syllable words that anybody would use:

Christmas, special, garden, midnight, happy, future, Monday, water.

Two syllable words that not just anybody would use:

adjure, ersatz, verdant, feckless, ribald, inure, nuance.

Number of syllables actually has little to do with style. I mean, I guess it’s a contributing factor to style, but pulling it out as one of three factors on which to focus seems, yes, weird. It seems to me that it would have been better to say Set your style and discuss that, as opposed to focusing on number of syllables.

Tip 3: Consider sentence structure.

The author of the post says: “A short, punchy sentence conveys abrupt truth, sureness, and practicality. A long, flowing sentence, however, can usher in a lyrical feel and a sense of elasticity.”

Here I agree. However, I’d roll that into “style,” and I’d add that it’s important to note that a short sentence only has maximum punch if it’s surrounded by longer sentences. Let me see . . . no, nothing here about how varying your sentence length could be important.

Pretty sure that three fairly simplistic tips are not going to guide anyone from serviceable prose to lyrical prose. Pretty sure that ten tips won’t do it either. I think what might is reading a bunch of novels written with lyrical prose. After reading ten or so, maybe that would be the right time to ask yourself what the authors are actually doing and begin to dissect sentences.

So, fine —

Ten authors who write lyrical SFF, in no particular order

1.Patricia McKillip

2. Guy Gavriel Kay

3. Ursula K LeGuin

4. Jane Yolen

5. Catherynne Valente

6. Peter S Beagle

7. Gene Wolfe

8. Joy Chant

9. Rachel Neumeier

10. ____________________________

Who else? Pick someone to fill in the blank.

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