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Re: What Fantasy Novel has made you Think? Almost every book I've ever read has made me think.  That's in part because if a book doesn't make me think, I usually put it down.

I don't believe that a book has to be a polemic to make me think.  It need not proselytize in order to have an underlying theme or to raise questions.  (And some of the books which have made me think the most don't provide any answers.  They only ask questions.)

Even if a book has neither overt nor subtle social commentary, a book with strong characters and a well done character arc will inspire me to think about the human condition.  Obviously, some books are much stronger at this than others.  Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever sets up a deeply flawed protagonist who is transported to an alternate reality.  One of the fundamental themes of the book is the question of whether the Land is real.  That's the source of the Unbeliever reference in the title.  All of the events in the series - the evil of Lord Foul, the struggles of the heroes to oppose and defeat him - can be seen as an allegory of the struggle that's going on in Covenant's own mind.  Are those events real, or is it Covenant's subconscious wrestling with the issues while he lays unconscious?  He's is a leper, and the problem of defeating evil in the land parallels his own struggle to deal with the implications and requirements of his disease.  Take another step back and the problem of dealing with leprosy becomes a metaphor for dealing with the everyday problems that afflict us all.  How could reading such a book not make you think?

A book does not have to cause me to sit it down and stare off into space for an hour while pondering deep, philosophical thoughts for it to make me think. The suffering of Frodo as he attempts to return the One Ring to Mordor for destruction, the struggles of Garion to put his childhood behind him and assume the responsibility of leadership, Ged's eventual recognition and acceptance of the shadow as part himself - all of these say something about what it means to be human.  Certainly, Eddings doesn't say anything particularly profound or original about the process of coming of age, but part of the reason that the story resonates is because it is built upon simple truths that we can recognize and see within ourselves.   

February 11, 2011, 08:16:59 PM
Re: Vividness in Description
It bothers me more so though when the food described means nothing (Roast flubburt steak with wibblesplat sauce and a sprinkling of hurdfar). I have no idea what this tastes like, no idea what it is other than food, it doesn't add to the setting (IMO) because it doesn't mean anything to me....*

If you're going to use words describing something, make sure they aren't just empty words. Make what you're describing relevant and something that will have some sort of meaning to the reader.

*As always, this can also be done well, but I've seen it done too poorly, too damn often (done it myself too when I were a newb lol), and then it just feels like the author is saying 'Look at me, I can worldbuild!'

Agreed.  So, from a writing perspective, what's the difference between when such descriptions are done well and when they're not?  How does an aspiring author ensure that he/she does it correctly?  Here's my thoughts:

Description in a story should serve multiple purposes.  Regardless of whether you're describing a character, a meal, a setting or any other aspect of a scene, that description should work to advance the story and not just be flowery filler.

Descriptions of food, for example, can be an effective technique if used correctly.  If your protagonist is a noble's son who's horse throws a shoe during a violent storm and he's forced to take refuge in a peasant's hut, his reaction to being served peas and onions with unleavened flat bread can be illustrative of his character.  Is he exasperated at being forced to consume this common fare or is he grateful to have something warm to fill his belly?  If the miller's daughter saves the life of the prince and is the guest of honor at a palace feast, you'd expect her to stare in wide-eyed wonder at a roasted goose stuffed with a chicken which is in turn stuffed with quail. A dour priest would surely turn a scornful eye on a tray of puff pastries, honeyed sweet-cakes and decadent chocolates, particularly if the cost of such frivolities would feed a poor family in his parish for a week.

Anything described in detail should be in keeping with your viewpoint character.  Would that character actually notice this detail or would he/she merely file it as normal and think nothing of it?  What is the character's reaction to whatever's being described and how does that reaction inform the reader of character or motive?  Is the detail important later in the story - i.e. is it a Chekhov's Gun1?  If you can't provide justification for a detailed description, then cut it or, better yet, don't write it in the first place.


October 27, 2011, 02:53:53 PM
Re: Length of debut novel?
I think I'll shoot with buck shots and try to keep the first book below 110000 words. I feel that I just got started, and already I've passed 30000 words. It's gonna be hellish boiling it down.

Hint:  Think trilogy.

March 13, 2012, 06:55:42 PM
Re: Plot Choice
Don't write a novel. Writing a novel is a massive investment of time which can be utterly futile if you've made some horrendous error right at the start.

I don't necessarily disagree with this, but it really depends on the writer.  I think writing what you find inspiring is most important; even if writing short stories is technically a better route, if you find it boring it won't help.  And the skill-sets are pretty different once you get into it -- you don't really do a lot of world development for short stories, for example.

That said, I think the right mentality is to accept that your first novel is not going to be good for much other than laughing over twenty years from now.  If you get to the point where you've recognized some major flaw, stop, and start writing something else.  Remember, nothing says you can't steal characters, world elements, or plot details from your own unfinished pieces, so if you came up with something cool you can reuse it later in a better work.

Fully agree.  Hemingway said something to the effect that the first million words you write are going to be crap.  That can be awfully discouraging if you're just starting and it's probably a bit of an exaggeration but the only way you're going to learn to write a novel is to write a couple of bad ones.  Yes, it's a lot of work but it isn't wasted work, even if not a word of it ever sees the light of day.  It's the price of learning to write.  Writing is a labor of love, but it's definitely labor.

May 10, 2013, 08:59:07 PM
Re: Romance/Relationship in Fantasy
Back at the original question....hmm, at the moment, I'm just all for healthy, perfectly consensual relationships with no abuse or rape-y overtones.


So you really do want your fantasy to be fantasy and to divorce all associations with reality, huh?

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

December 19, 2013, 03:23:46 PM
Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog You can make as many changes as you like.  It's your world.  Decide how you want it to be and write it that way. 

You seem to consider "second world" and "alternate history" to be completely different but really they're a matter of degree.  What would you consider something like Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series?  The countries are given different names but it's quite easy to recognize the parallels between her countries and the real countries in Europe. Some alternate histories play with well known events and characters, and are dependent on the reader's familiarity with those people or events to drive the story.  But many do not and you could take any number of these and convert them to second world stories just by changing some names. 

 Alternate history lets you rely on the reader's familiarity to some extent.  If you say that England is in a war with Germany, the reader knows that England is a large island and can be assumed to have a powerful Navy, etc.   If you're using a second world, you have to explicitly work that information into your story.  But this is true of any fantasy setting - it's not affected by whatever time period you're using as inspiration. 

The issue of making a world feel coherent to the reader is no more or less difficult with a 19th century setting than it is with a medieval setting.  You're free to use as little or as much influence as you want to guide your world.  The only thing you have to worry about is making your world internally consistent.  The only thing you have to provide is the information that the reader needs to understand how and why your world/society functions.  You don't need to explain why it's different from our world. My experience is that there are two primary times when readers complain about world building.  The first is when your world isn't consistent/reasonable.  If you put a city in the middle of a desert, you need to explain why people would choose to live there and how they manage to support themselves.  The second is  when you adhere too close to reality and then put in a change without justifying it or making it plain that it is an intentional change.   Avenue des Champs-Élysées runs east/west in Paris.  If you have your characters walking north, some readers will absolutely crucify you.

January 18, 2017, 01:33:07 AM
Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
The issue of making a world feel coherent to the reader is no more or less difficult with a 19th century setting than it is with a medieval setting.

I beg to disagree, in so far that if she wants the world to be very close to an original period novel, she might deal with people who read those a lot more than if she chose a medieval setting.

That's cool.  If we all thought the same, the world would be boring and forums would be useless pools of naval gazing. 

Middle ages have been so written in, there is this sort of general medieval fantasy world we all know and got used to. We often see facts on forums or in reviews, people pointing out, "you know, actually this is not historically correct, blah blah..", but most of us lack that critical knowledge.

I think most of us lack that critical knowledge about the Victorian period too.  You evidently have significantly more knowledge about that period, so it alters your perception of books with that setting.  I think that's true of most people who have specialized knowledge.  I'm a network engineer and programmer - essentially a professional geek.  And I simply cannot watch shows like Scorpion or the various flavors of CSI because they get so much wrong.  It makes me want to throw stuff through the TV screen.

How many of us have read Austen, Gaskel, Bronte, Dickens, or Trollope? Compared to how many books actually written during the middle ages? Giving first hand insight of the life of the time?

Well, I've read all of those, and I question how much insight it's given me into how people actually thought and acted then.  Austen's characters are completely and utterly different from Dickens', in terms of motivation, actions, philosophy and essentially any other trait you care to name.  I've also read Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour books and Gail Carriger's various series and Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily stories, to name just a few off the top of my head.  Are they accurate?  Probably not.  Does it bother me?  Not in the slightest, even in the case of Alexander where the stories are meant to be real world as opposed to SpecFic. 

Of course ultimately it doesn't matter and you're entirely right, it's her world, and since its secondary, it can go as far away as she wants from reality.
However, to people like me, who read SF/F and a lot of period novels, 19th century settings are a horribly tough sell. As far as I'm concerned, the only one I can remember finishing and enjoying is His Majesty's Dragon. I've DNFed several others, and generally avoid the genre, precisely because people try for it and miss its essence, often being more concerned with the sff part than the era characteristics.
However I don't read medieval writters, so medieval settings don't get my critical thinking in motion. *shrugs*

And that is jake.  Fiction set in the 19th century has to hit certain marks or it's dead to you.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  At all.  But here's the thing.  No matter what you write, you're going to miss the mark for some people.  You might hate all of the books I mentioned above but they've all had commercial success.  There is a market of readers out there who are not bothered that the characters don't toe the Victorian line of proper behavior, just as there is a market for stories where two computer hackers can pound away on the same keyboard.  Because while they may not adhere to the real world Victorian standards, all of those authors have created a society that is self-consistent.  The characters and plots may not follow real-world dictates but they adhere to the internal logic that was created by the author.  They are coherent.

If you are a competent writer, and you create a coherent, consistent world, readers will buy it.  China Mieville writes about women with scarab beetles for heads and ambulatory cacti.  Steven Sherrill has the Minotaur working as a short order cook in modern day America.  The stories are absurd, but they are internally consistent and they work.

I think it is far more important to ensure that your characters motivations are clear and reasonable; that their behavior is consistent or changes in consistent ways as a result of events through the course of the story; that the society and the environment are coherent, than it is for the characters to behave in the way consistent with people from a specific real-world millieu.  You can get away with violating a given societies behavior codes.  You have a much harder time getting away with violating human nature (or, if your character is non-human, whatever nature you've established for that race/species.) 

January 18, 2017, 03:28:45 AM
Re: Book idea? Whether I'd read it would depend on a great many things, but the only time you should be asking that question is if you're trying to tighten up your elevator pitch for something you're already written.  If you're asking if that story you described is worth writing, then you're in the northbound lane headed south.

There are no killer ideas.  You are never going to have some epiphany where you think of the perfect story and that's going to set you on the path to writing success, regardless of how you chose to define what writing success means.

What determines success is execution, not concept.  If you have a plot and a set of characters that excite you, then put their story down into words.  Whether it will be successful is unknown but at the very least you'll learn and improve from the process. 

January 24, 2017, 02:58:49 AM
Re: Culture in worldbuilding
So how much borrowing is too much?  Where does this begin and where does it end?  How do you go about doing this the right way?

If there is such a thing as too much borrowing, I don't think anyone's found it yet.

Well, yes and no.  I completely agree with you, and if you're strictly talking about white, European culture then the rest of the world largely does as well.  But if you're talking about any culture which is or is perceived as minority or oppressed, there is a very real danger of being accused of cultural misappropriation.  I'm onboard with Lionel Shriver.  Google her name and dig in if you're not familiar with the controversy.  I won't presume to advise you on where to draw the line but do be aware that it is a real issue.

April 12, 2017, 09:14:24 PM
Re: So what is a true utopia? Are you asking about a utopia or a paradise?  Most of the answers here seem to be more addressing the question "What would be your personal paradise?" than they do "What is a utopia?"

Definition of utopia
1 :  an imaginary and indefinitely remote place
2 often capitalized :  a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions
3 :  an impractical scheme for social improvement

Definition #2 would seem to be the relevant one here.  A utopia is a place where society/government is perfected.  I think a utopia would, or at least could, still have some instances of unhappiness, unfairness, and/or injustice.  It's just that those things would not flow from imperfections in government or society.  Government and society would strive mightily to eliminate those where possible, of course.  But if my dream is to be a jockey, there's not much either government or society could do.  I'm over six feet tall and weigh over 200 pounds.  Nothing short of magic (either real magic or something like the Matrix where magic is apparently/effectively real) would ever make me a successful jockey.

I can imagine a utopia in terms of government.  Suppose a world where advanced but non-intelligent machines perform all the labor (or perhaps machines who are intelligent but engineered to be happy performing labor - although that could very easily be the initial conditions for a dystopian as much as a utopian novel.)  All human material needs are provided at no cost.  Government, such as it exists, treats everyone fairly and equally.  Every person is his/her own and only master, free to pursue whatever goals and accomplishments they like so long as they do not impinge upon the person or property of another.  I'd think such a world would be deserving of the title of utopia.

But even in such a world, human beings would find cause for conflict and discord.  There would be jealousy and prejudice and antipathy.  The only way to completely eliminate that would be to alter human beings to the point that they're no longer recognizably human.  I think conflict is written into the human soul, and a perfect society without friction is impossible not only in practice but even in theory.  That being said, I'd happily settle for the reasonable utopia I described in the previous paragraph. 

April 14, 2017, 06:17:17 PM