January 23, 2020, 07:25:09 PM

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I'm irritated. Prologues, adverbs and other literary black sheep Maybe I'm having male PMS, but I read the latest SPFBO update and it sort of made me angry. I put it in spoiler tags because it's a little agro, and I'm not usually like that.  So open the tags at your own peril.

Spoiler for Hiden:
I was pretty agnostic about the books on the list, and the judges listed some perfectly good reasons for not liking the books, but the whole picking on prologues thing really irked me. Some story structures require a prologue.  Others don't.  They're not en vogue in publishing in general right now, but they are an especially common device in fantasy, especially epic fantasy.  And this is frigging *fantasy faction* so having prologue hate here seems akin to wearing a KKK outfit to a Black Panther rally.

LOTR: Prologues
WoT: Prologues
Harry Potter-- She called it Ch 1 but it was a frigging prologue.
Gentleman Bastards: Prologue
Almost every fantasy book I've ever liked: Prologue

If someone doesn't write well, they write a bad prologue.  That's not the prologue's fault. Maybe they're bad at exposition.  Maybe they're bad at plotting.  That's not going to go away if they take out the prologue.  So saying that prologues are "ambitious" or "tricky" really rubs me the wrong way.  If you just don't like prologues why are you reading fantasy in the first place???

It's like when people tell new writers not to use adverbs.  You can't outlaw an entire frigging part of speech. That's just officious. Why don't we write all our novels in 140 characters to satisfy modern attention spans.  Maybe we should just draw stick figures instead of using words. I'm going to go be a rebel and read tons of adverbs by Henry James while snickering angrily at modernity.

Ok, now I'm getting all worked up. Sorry for ranting but that was really bothering me. 

November 08, 2018, 11:30:03 AM
Re: Depression, Struggles and Light at the End of Every Tunnel "Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment - because they'll never come again." - Picard, STNG
November 15, 2018, 05:48:47 PM
Re: Sublime words in writing 1. What do you think about the use of sublime wording in writing. And by sublime I mean something like "desolation", "exalted", "courteous", "transcendent" and so on.

- Use them bruv.

2. Do you often find them in stories you read? Do you sometimes have problems with understanding them so you have to use dictionary to find out their meaning?

- Yes and since I've been finding them in stories I've been reading since I was 8, no dramas about understanding them. The last time I had to look up a word when reading was Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, and that is waaaaaaay over the top with its use of obscure words. But also really good for it.

3. What do you think when those extraordinary words are used by:
a) Author - as names of characters, items, techniques
b) Characters - as something that makes them stand out from the others
c) Narrator - to describe something

- All of them sound good, depending on the context.

I will now look at the spoiler and... yeah, its good bruv. Use them.

November 23, 2018, 09:05:48 PM
Re: Sublime words in writing I'm really not sure what you mean by "sublime" or "extraordinary" words. The examples you gave are fairly ordinary English words.

But generally speaking, you should match your vocabulary to your voice in that particular work. If your viewpoint character is an orphaned street urchin, then I'd use much simpler language as compared to having a viewpoint character who's a literary professor. The language you use as a writer strongly influences the voice of the work, and if the voice and the characters are at odds, it may discombobulate your reader.

Even if you're writing in third person and are not actually quoting your character, the words you use an an author shape and influence the perception of your characters. And the narrator is always a character in your work. What sort of person speaks with the cadence and style you use to tell the story? An erudite, sophisticated narrator gives a very different effect than does a simple, plain-spoken one.

You also need to be aware of truly rare words - words like "discombobulate" or "pulchritude" or "sesquipedalian" - words that most of your readers will not know without looking them up or gleaning their meaning from context. I think very few readers of this site needed to lookup  "desolation", "exalted", "courteous" or "transcendent." They may or may not be part of their speaking vocabulary, but they're very likely part of their reading vocabulary.  On the other hand, I suspect most readers would need to lookup at least one of the example words I used. Used too frequently, they can make it difficult or impossible to ascertain your meaning. Used sparingly, however, particularly in ways where the meaning can be ascertained without having to pause and actually look up the word, they can elevate your writing.  Gene Wolfe uses this to great effect.

That being said, there are pitfalls and negatives with using an expanded vocabulary, particularly if it is not done well or correctly. You should rarely use a thesaurus as a writer. (There are some who will undoubtedly disagree with that, and that's fine. You're entitled to your own opinion. This response is mine.) If a word is not part of your writing vocabulary, it is very easy to use it slightly incorrectly. Mark Twain said "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” You do not want "almost right" words in your writing. They will destroy your credibility with your reader.

Even if you use a word correctly, large words can come across as wordy and pompous. They can make you sound like you're trying to impress the reader, and the effect of that is precisely the opposite. There's a study from Princeton entitled "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly."  If your writing sounds like the first half of that sentence, you have issues.  (If you're interested, the paper is freely available online and goes into this subject much deeper than I can here.)

In summary, use language you're comfortable with and understand. Don't use big words for the sake of using big words, but don't hesitate to use a larger word if it more precisely fits your meaning. Use a vocabulary that is appropriate for the voice of the piece, and be aware of how that voice will affect your reader's perceptions of the story.

The final bit of advice I'd give is do not necessarily rely on your own ear, at least not until you have enough writing under your belt to be confident of your voice. Use writing groups or beta readers and specifically ask for feedback on your voice and your vocabulary. It may also help to read your works aloud to yourself. (Speaking from personal experience, it may be advisable to find an isolated location to put that plan into effect.)

Keep writing.

November 26, 2018, 05:35:08 PM
Re: Sublime words in writing I'm sure many would disagree, and they're welcome to. But when you write, I do not think you should use "your" voice; you use your writing voice, which should vary (perhaps a great deal) from your speaking voice. That variance should, even when writing narration, be centered in your Narrator's voice, which should match the genre, mood, audience, and like a zillion other things. That voice is not just vocab but usage, and you should build it deliberately. This is exponentially more important, or rather, more visible and complex, in your characters' voices.

So whether the sun shines, pokes, smiles, giggles, or guffaws its way through the trees, you should make that choice not so much on the first word that occurs to you, but the first word that would occur to your narrator.
 Consider the voices and word choices here - hear the characters (who are also the narrators) not only have distinct voices, but their word choices vary as they get to the critical parts.
Jump to the 1:00 mark:
Then compare to this clip:
Notice where the narrator gets to the lofty ideas and ironies at 3:29 and the big words come out "magnanimous" - and hear how it's juxtaposed against the others' "gave up drinkin'".  Art.

My point in all this is that the question should not be "should I use big words?" - the questions (plural) are "Why am I using them?", "when should I and shouldn't I use them?", and most importantly - "Which ones, where / when, and by whom?"

The words themselves are never better or worse than others - only more or less appropriate for the task. The inability to speak in simple terms when one needs to is just as much of a limitation as the inability to make one's language loftier, airier, and effervescent when one needs to. My two cents.

November 27, 2018, 02:36:43 AM
Re: Sublime words in writing People don't always need to look up a big word. Take "discombobulate" as an example. The root is "bobulate" which is obviously an admonishment to Bob that he is late.

Combobulate means much the same, but with "com[e]" as an intensifier. Come, Bob, you late.

"Dis" can have a variety of meaning. Opposite of "dat" is one. A slang version of "disrespect." But here we have the older meaning, where as a prefix it flips the meaning of the word. So, Bob isn't late at all, or won't be if he would only go. Bob naturally represents all of humanity, so "to discombobulate" means to urge someone to go. It may be rather an ornate word, but it's really quite compact.

See? Easy!

November 27, 2018, 05:00:38 AM
Re: Favorite Subgenres?
I chose 2 but afterwards struggled with definitions - could you add a short summary of each?

There are several I will automatically discard (although again, like Gariath, sometimes it's about the writer and I may try new stuff...)

How I miss Gariath he was consumed by Nighteyes,Time for a new poll. 

December 28, 2018, 06:41:19 PM
Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad? I don't think bad tropes exist per se, there are just some where a bad execution is more likely or more common.
January 20, 2019, 08:34:07 PM
Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad? To be honest, sometimes I wonder if we say that "Western/European civilisations [are] so misogynist/racists/homophobic/whatever" just because that's what the written histories that we can read now say that.
When books/paper is such an absolute luxury item, only the very rich can afford to use it, and they tell one version of reality - which I'm not saying it's a lie, just that it's only one side of the story.

A bit like people in 500 years only learning about life now by reading old copies of the Daily Mail...

January 23, 2019, 08:24:06 AM
Re: Fantasy tropes - What do we love and hate, and are they really that bad? I think a problem with tropes is that a lot of writers will use them without really having thought of why they are doing so. In fact, I might argue that's what a trope is: something so firmly established in the collective mind that we tend not to stop and question it.

A trope can be useful to speed up the narrative, but it can also have a negative effect when something like inequality or injustice becomes just another plot hook. When we put inequality or injustice into our setting as part of a trope (sometimes it IS the trope), and we haven't stopped to think why, we likely end up revelling in the dark side of humanity instead of exploring it with a purpose in mind.

Basically, we become edgelords. ;D

January 23, 2019, 09:56:09 PM