January 19, 2018, 09:31:57 AM

Author Topic: Writers' progress  (Read 339 times)

Offline ScarletBea

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Writers' progress
« on: January 14, 2018, 11:36:03 AM »
Something I thought about today after finishing a book, and I wonder what you all think.

As you read more and more books by the same author, you get a sense of their progress, or 'development' - but at the same time it's not a measure of quality, and depends on the reader. And I only notice it in authors I really like (maybe because from the others I only read one or two books).
Two examples to make this clear:

A. I'm reading N.K. Jemisin's second series, after reading the 1st and then the 3rd. The writing order is aligned with my preference, not only in plot and characters, but also in my limited perception of 'writing quality'

B. I've read all of Mark Lawrence's books, in the published order, yet my absolute favourite remains the first - again "not only in plot and characters, but also in my limited perception of 'writing quality' ". Not that he reduced quality, but the level of that first one was so high for me, that it'd be hard for anyone to constantly do the same.

Is thinking like this normal? Or am I just generalising?
Do you have examples of either case in your books?
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2018, 11:47:11 AM »
Something I thought about today after finishing a book, and I wonder what you all think.

As you read more and more books by the same author, you get a sense of their progress, or 'development' - but at the same time it's not a measure of quality, and depends on the reader. And I only notice it in authors I really like (maybe because from the others I only read one or two books).

Is thinking like this normal? Or am I just generalising?
Do you have examples of either case in your books?

A. Yes, not only normal but objectively well-known. B. You are generalizing in that 1) not all writers show much improvement (and some show the opposite) and 2) there are different aspects of development/change, experience, etc., and they impact things differently.

The key issue is separating story from execution. Generally, most writers gain in skill and experience and their execution improves. What often shows a gap is the story - stories get better the more time allotted to the thinking part, imho. So a new writer is writing (for them) an old, well-known story with TONS of nuance and details and connections. No way to replicate that in a 12-18 month novel cycle. So by way of analogy, Leonardo was surely a better painter after the Mona Lisa - but perhaps never had such a good idea again.

Improvement of any kind is not the only change impacting things: they also get busy and that adds distractors and sucks energy - so their improvement is sometimes obscured by these issues and their work can suffer despite their improvements. Also, they don't always apply themselves 100%, for a variety of reasons: laziness, assumptions (they learning to tell story X, in Y way, for Z audience will work for story A, in B way, for C audience)

I can point to Stephen King as an example, although I am unable to point to specific works. Over time, his execution improved, somewhat, but his idea quality has not, imho. His ideas have always been decent, but his best works were in his younger years. At least, so far :)
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Offline Jmack

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Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2018, 12:31:18 PM »
Stephen King is my perfect example. I read “Salem’s Lot”, was scared out of my knickers and completely swept away. Read a ton of King since, though nothing like his full catalog, and nothing of his has grabbed me again like that.

I find something similar with music. The first thing I hear from a new artist is revelatory. The next is a development from that, and (almost) never mind-blowing. Getting mind-blowing from a work further down in time is a wonderful thing. (Time relative to me, that is, I knew “Tommy” for years before I ever listened to “Quadrophenia.” Tommy precedes Q by a few years in time but by decades for me. Q = mindblown. T = ?meh?)
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Offline Rostum

Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2018, 01:55:49 PM »
I started reading Mark Lawrence with Prince of Fools and then Thorns. I felt Mark was technically a better author by fools and it was possible to see how he had progressed his craft. That said Thorns has a power of it's own and a very different perspective.

I read Court of broken Knives and struggle with the idea it's a debut. The writing is very accomplished and assured. I see no room for Anna to improve her style but hope to be proven wrong.
I haven't reviewed this book to date as I am still unsure how I feel about the story, some of which is pure nightmare fuel.

Offline DrNefario

Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2018, 02:23:12 PM »
In the case of Jemisin, I have feeling I read/heard somewhere that the Dreamblood books were written before the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms books, so I'm not sure how that holds up. I assume, if I'm not imagining it, that they were revised when they were rescued from the trunk, so I'm not sure how that fits in, either.

And with Lawrence, Prince of Thorns benefits from being shorter, fresher and more focused than its sequels. When something has an impact like that, and such a strong voice, it can be difficult to top it.

You would hope that writers continue to get better at the craft throughout their careers, but I guess there are factors working in the opposite direction. A writer might have ten years to get the first book book right, and then a year to write the sequel. They might get too powerful for their editors. They might get complacent. The ideas might not be as good.

Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2018, 08:34:36 PM »
I've noticed a lot of progress in Brandon Sanderson's works. As his career has gone on, he's matured as a writer and improved his prose immensely.

A more interesting case is Terry Brooks. He had a really rough start with The Sword of Shannara. His writing then improved quite a bit and was probably at its best in his Word/Void trilogy and his Genesis of Shannara trilogy.

But then more recently there's been a decrease in quality. A lot of the more recent stories feel very formulaic.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2018, 09:30:10 PM »
In the case of Jemisin, I have feeling I read/heard somewhere that the Dreamblood books were written before the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms books, so I'm not sure how that holds up. I assume, if I'm not imagining it, that they were revised when they were rescued from the trunk, so I'm not sure how that fits in, either.

Yep. She's said that she wrote Dreamblood first, couldn't find a publisher, and so wrote 100k Kingdoms, after the success of which her publisher was more interested in Dreamblood. I also assume there was another round of editing/revisions at that point, but I also don't know how much they changed.

It's an interesting element: how much an author works before they publish their "first" book. I think there's a finesse and clarity to Philosopher's Stone that is missing in the later Harry Potter books, and I wonder how much of that comes from the rounds of revision JK Rowling went through between rejections. Certainly the last three books show a far less stringent approach to editing.

I wonder if this sort of thing applies to Lawrence's first book as well: with the best will and improved experience and all the rest of it, you just spend more time polishing that first book. Whatever totally subjective issues I have with the book, Prince of Thorns was dazzlingly tight and elegant in the brutality of its prose. I didn't read the sequels (aforementioned issues) and obviously Prince of Fools was a different sort of story, but it felt much more sprawling.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2018, 09:54:47 PM »
I can say that R. Scott Bakker's books are decidedly different in quality and have two trends in quality - maximized execution of his particular style and the stories themselves. I found execution trended downward, but it was clearly an editing problem to my eyes and this was confirmed by an insider who communicated a change in editors mid-stream to negative impact. As for story, and I am relying solely on intuition, the earlier books seemed to be older, more fully evolved ideas with interesting, interacting details and nuances. The later series were simpler and although not at all bad, nowhere near as sophisticated and interestingly complex, in terms of story.
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2018, 08:42:43 AM »
I've noticed a lot of progress in Brandon Sanderson's works. As his career has gone on, he's matured as a writer and improved his prose immensely.

This. As a person who have read at least 3 series by Sanderson so far, I felt a noticeable improvement coming from Mistborn to the Stormlight Archives series. His worldbuilding, chracterization, intrigue, relationship formulations, and execution have improved up to a whole new level. I would love to see even greater improvement in his later works.  :D

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2018, 03:34:55 PM »
All your answers are really interesting, and common theme seems to be between having lots of time to work on book 1 vs. the 12-18 months for the following ones.
I suppose you need a different mindset, right?
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2018, 05:45:01 PM »
All your answers are really interesting, and common theme seems to be between having lots of time to work on book 1 vs. the 12-18 months for the following ones.
I suppose you need a different mindset, right?

I think that really depends on the author. Heck, I've read some self-published authors with very rapid release schedules who improve with every book.

Offline SevasTra82

Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2018, 04:23:21 PM »
I think a lot of authors also experiment the second time around when writing...like they take what they learned from the first book and not only apply it to the second, but also try something new with their new-found level of writing confidence.  Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it does make the author seem like they have regressed a bit.

I've noticed that an author usually hits his/her stride by the 4th book and typically stay consistent from there on out. 

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2018, 05:28:38 PM »
@AnnaStephens , what's your experience?
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Offline AnnaStephens

Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2018, 11:39:33 AM »
I have been summoned!!

Um, lots of very good points mentioned throughout the thread. I think writers do get better at writing - the craft and graft of putting together elegant prose, engaging action and emotional ... err ... emotion.

Clearly I'm not quite there yet!  ;D

Time constraints is definitely a new thing for many authors. Godblind took me 13 years, Darksoul was 9 months. Is Darksoul a better book? I don't know, we're still editing it, which should tell you a lot. But it was also a hell of a lot of fun to write that next book, to finally get it down on paper after all this time.

Regarding genesis of ideas, I think there's a definite opportunity for authors to take more risks once they've published their first book or series. Editors are more prepared to offer them leeway and see where the story takes them. So you may find authors write more ambitious books - and there's always then a possibility that existing fans may not like the new material as much because it's quite different. That could be one reason for the 'degradation' some people feel occurs. It's the author pushing themselves, rather than giving the fans what they want.

Alternatively, if someone spent 10 years refining the plot of their first series and they're now confronted with selling a new series or they default on their mortgage, they may go the 'tried and tested' route and put out something similar. They may not feel they have as much time to develop a complex plot. If their editor is saying "series 1 was great, let's capitalise on that, keep the momentum going", again, there's a pressure to put out the next book and the next and perhaps not enough time to go for a complex, really well thought out, full of twists and turns, plot.

For me, the best scenario is to be rich enough and famous enough (shut up, it might happen!!) to be able to spend a year crafting a complete plot and then write the books afterwards. That's clearly not the case yet, which is why I'm working on the plot for a new series alongside editing Darksoul!

Offline Hedin

Re: Writers' progress
« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2018, 02:03:11 PM »
On point B I tend to notice this a lot with music.  When I look back at my favorite artists its almost inevitably their first album or two that (or at least the first one that I heard) that I tend to love and aside from a few exceptions most of their newer stuff likely doesn't do much for me.  I think the first time you discover something that you really really like you put it more on a pedestal so high up that its really hard for anything else to match it even if it may be technically better that what came before.