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Author Topic: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature  (Read 3486 times)

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« on: January 13, 2016, 08:16:09 AM »
Maybe I'm just becoming a grump at an early age and my preferences are narrowing down, but what I've really found off-putting about a lot of contemporary fantasy I've been trying to get into is the level of mastery of language and the quality of the prose. When I was younger I wouldn't have paid any mind to this and just enjoyed the entertainment factor, but now it's getting harder to overlook.

Perhaps I'm becoming a literary snob.
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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2016, 08:33:26 AM »
I don't think you're becoming a snob :)
I'm the same, and I think it's exactly because we've read so much: we have a much larger field that allows us to make comparisons.

Then again, if the writing is not *really bad* (like Paul Hoffman), I think I still manage to enjoy the story.
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Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2016, 09:17:43 AM »
I don't think you're becoming a snob :)
I'm the same, and I think it's exactly because we've read so much: we have a much larger field that allows us to make comparisons.

Then again, if the writing is not *really bad* (like Paul Hoffman), I think I still manage to enjoy the story.

I guess when I go back and read one of the non-genre classics I'm as equally enthralled by the mastery of the language and its use to the greatest effect to describe the mundane as I am with less skilled descriptions of fantasy worlds and more interesting subject matter, if not more so.

Stories that wouldn't interest me based on the subject matter become enjoyable reads because the author is truly gifted at their craft.

I just started listening to the first WOT book and though it has the entertaining value found in good fantasy literature, the writing itself is really mediocre so far. GRRM's prose is better IMO and serves the story well, but I certainly wouldn't consider him a master by any stretch.

Great prose isn't a pre-requisite for writing good fantasy, but I think it would add so much more, especially where world-building descriptions are concerned. A lot of descriptions can fall flat when ordinary or recycled similes are used in abundance. I love it when a location, building, object, etc., is compared to what would seem like a completely unrelated subject or thing and the author manages to draw parallels that you wouldn't have ever thought of before.
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Offline YordanZh

Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2016, 09:56:26 AM »
You're not a snob, don't worry. ;)
There's a lot of pleasure to be had in qualitative prose. It's what distinguishes actual literature from simply "telling a story". And yes, a story can be exceptionally interesting even just by itself, I've enjoyed hundreds of fascinating books even without any "good prose" in them. However, if you give me a good story, written by a masterful "wordsmith" and another good story, written by... a "words-apprentice" - I'm choosing option (a). :)

Offline Arry

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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2016, 01:20:31 PM »
Maybe I'm just becoming a grump at an early age and my preferences are narrowing down, but what I've really found off-putting about a lot of contemporary fantasy I've been trying to get into is the level of mastery of language and the quality of the prose. When I was younger I wouldn't have paid any mind to this and just enjoyed the entertainment factor, but now it's getting harder to overlook.

Perhaps I'm becoming a literary snob.

Like all genres there's a wide range within fantasy. Some authors have a strength in the flow and quality of their prose, and some their strength lies elsewhere (characterization, pacing, etc).  I'm curious what you've been reading.

Here are some of the fantasy authors where I feel their prose is wonderful (not everyone will agree, maybe someone can add some more suggestions):

  • Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Richard K. Morgan (I didn't notice it at all in Altered Carbon, but did in  Steel Remains)
  • Miles Cameron
  • Erin Morgenstern
  • Christopher Buehlman
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Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2016, 01:35:45 PM »
Maybe I'm just becoming a grump at an early age and my preferences are narrowing down, but what I've really found off-putting about a lot of contemporary fantasy I've been trying to get into is the level of mastery of language and the quality of the prose. When I was younger I wouldn't have paid any mind to this and just enjoyed the entertainment factor, but now it's getting harder to overlook.

Perhaps I'm becoming a literary snob.

Like all genres there's a wide range within fantasy. Some authors have a strength in the flow and quality of their prose, and some their strength lies elsewhere (characterization, pacing, etc).  I'm curious what you've been reading.

Here are some of the fantasy authors where I feel their prose is wonderful (not everyone will agree, maybe someone can add some more suggestions):

  • Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Richard K. Morgan (I didn't notice it at all in Altered Carbon, but did in  Steel Remains)
  • Miles Cameron
  • Erin Morgenstern
  • Christopher Buehlman

Much appreciated!  ;D
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs

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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2016, 03:00:29 PM »
Mark Lawrence = beautiful writing
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Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2016, 03:09:11 PM »
Mark Lawrence = beautiful writing

Agreed. (To the OP's point as well!)

And if you like Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns, I'd suggest trying out Daniel Polansky's A Drink Before We Die, a much better starting point than his debut.
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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2016, 04:03:44 PM »
That's good to know, Chilly - I might give him a try then!

I also think A.J. Dalton writes very well, but he's not so well known (starting with Empire of the saviours).
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Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2016, 04:46:37 PM »
That's good to know, Chilly - I might give him a try then!

Well, Lawrence has the better prose out of the two by far, but I do know that Lawrence has stated before that Polansky is the kind of author he tries to emulate when writing. Interesting perspective, I've always thought!

But yeah, the short's only about 30 pages, answers a question I had for the entire trilogy (what it means to be a one-man mafia), and is a lot smoother than his debut, which is thick in places and has a pretty predictable plot. But as I tell everyone, if you can get past his debut, the second is one of my favorite books of all time.
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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2016, 04:49:42 PM »
I had no problem with his debut but his last one of his I read was meh,I prefer his low town series
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2016, 05:37:54 PM »
As long as the prose isn't terrible, I don't really care. I can even enjoy some pretty badly written stories.

Most of my favorite writers have prose that would probably be labeled as merely competent. I often feel like writers who focus on the prose forget about telling a great story.

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2016, 01:54:19 AM »
I'm a youngin, so all I care about is the story. I haven't had the misfortune of reading a book that looked like it was written by a 1st grader... Yet. Bad grammar = bad story. As long as I can get the picture in my head and the author's point across, I don't care.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #13 on: January 14, 2016, 04:52:15 AM »
For the OP. Three words: read Cat Valente.

Offline DrNefario

Re: Wanting better prose in fantasy literature
« Reply #14 on: January 14, 2016, 01:27:12 PM »
Most of the time I don't really notice prose quality, and I'm not sure I necessarily want to.

I guess you could make a case that if it is transparent, like that, then it is good. It's doing its job, and doing it well.

Sometimes I do notice some especially poetic turns of phrase, as in the Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin, or a really good, strong voice for a character, as in the Broken Empire series by Mark Lawrence, and that's welcome, too, but I'm not sure I want every book to be like that. I like some variation in style, as in all things.