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Re: Fantasy Writers to Follow on Twitter This isn't a verified account either, but I can assure you it's her. Me. Whatever.

@ElspethCooper

::tumbleweed::

August 06, 2011, 04:35:58 PM
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Re: Vividness in Description

Description of food: Is your character cooking the food? A chef, maybe? A gluttonous gourmand or, far more harrowing, suffering under the insidious and crippling grip of an eating disorder? No? Then quit it! Seriously, if I read one more banquet scene that goes on for two pages describing course, after course, after bloody course I'm going to hunt down the unlucky author who described it and drown them in the rich, thick gravy they're so sodding fond of droning on about at length. People mock the fantasy tradition of Hearty Stew, but at least it gets the chuffing food description out of the way quickly and efficiently. It's usually period authentic, into the bargain.



Amen, brother!

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!'

October 27, 2011, 01:40:29 PM
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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.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov%27s_gun


October 27, 2011, 02:53:53 PM
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Re: Vividness in Description I see a lot of agreement on not using a lot of description and a lot of what sound like absolutes too. All your description should serve a purpose, not too much description etc etc. But haven't enough writers proved there aren't any hard and fast rules? Someone brought up Rothfuss. He may stick to what he feels about description but can anyone use more adverbs than him and litter said tags with them more than him? If you haven't noticed, go back and look at Name of the Wind. Not that I hated it, he's a favorite author of mine and NOTW is one of my favorite books. But his story was so good, I didn't care how he wrote. Same thing with me for Robert Jordan. Tons of description in his books. Many have called it pointless description but he sold millions. I could say the same about Brandon Sanderson and his descriptiveness. All authors I love. Doesn't his prove that you should simply write how you feel and what moves you? Don't get me wrong I'm not saying to give me every single nuance of a character's face, but I tend to love seeing the surroundings described, the world itself and what not. In battles, the same thing. I think many authors listen to this whole not too much description thing and gut and gloss over their work to the point where it reads bland and dry and doesn't stand out. That's just my 2 cents.
November 05, 2011, 07:43:16 AM
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Re: Religion in Fantasy I'm not the least bit religious, but as long as a book isn't preaching about why I should have religion in my life, I don't have issues with. Religion is often in the center of conflicts and societies in history, it makes sense that it would feature heavily in epic fantasy. It is a very important component of how people function, what motivates them. As long as the author approaches religion in the same way as they should approach characters it should be fine. Avoid blatant stereo-types (or creating stereotypes within the fictional world), make it realistic, don't preach to the reader. Religion provides so many possibilities for conflict! Both personal and on a larger scale, there is so much room to build your world, your characters and the story.
September 03, 2013, 04:32:05 PM
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Magic treasures Long before I even started to consider serious fiction writing, I've been running roleplaying games for years. And in most games, things like magic swords, magic boots, and flying carpets are a pretty big deal. And when you look at many classic "proto-fantasy" stories and the Lord of the Rings, magic items are everywhere. Every halfway decent god or hero had two or three magic items he acquired over his many adventures by stealing them from villains he defeated.

I am not terribly well read in contemporary fantasy books, but it seems to me that magic items are almost absent these days. And in the Sword & Sorcery of Howard and Leiber they appear to be almost nonexistent. (Moorcock being an exception here, with a prominent magic sword being almost a character in its own right.)

Like monsters, I like magic items, as unfashionable they may be right now. But unlike monsters, I don't really see how I would include magic items in my stories. So this made me thought that it might be an interesting topic to talk about. Just to share some thoughts and preferences and see what other people are thinking about it.

It's not that I can't get magic items to fit into the world, but that with all my characters and villains, I just don't see any actual use for them. A normal sword, a normal armor is good enough; as is a normal rope with a grappling hook and you can sneak around just fine without boots of sneakiness or an obscuring cloak.
The one point where I really do like "magic items" is when it comes to alchemy. Potions, poisons, smoke bombs and the like are wonderful stuff. These are quite different from regular magic items in two ways: They can be made by craftsmen and may only be borderline magical, and they are also used up once you use them. After that, you need to get new ones if you want to use them again. Which, again, isn't that particularly difficult as they are relatively easy to make.
But I think it's not primarily the "mundanity" of potions and bombs that makes them so much more interesting to me, but rather that they actively do something in a noticable way that makes a lot of difference. Take our default example for half of all fantasy discussions: Frodo Baggins. Frodo has a lot of magic items. A magic sword, magic armor, a magic cloak, a magic light, and of course a magic ring. The armors special ability comes into play only once in the entire story, when Frodo gets hit by a troll. But everything Frodo did was "not die". His sword is a magic sword, but its most interesting ability is not that it's super durable, super sharp, and super harmful to monsters or anything like that, but that it glows when orcs are nearby. That this magic item of orc detection is shaped like a sword is really just coincidence that doesn't actually affect its usefulness. The one time Frodo uses his magic stuff actively is his light. And this is not the item that makes him fight harder, survive longer, and hide better, but the one item that he turns on and aims at an enemy. It's a much more interesting weapon than his sword really.
And that's what I like about alchemical items. Any time a character uses one, you really see something dramatic happen. In a story, you probably wouldn't mention a character taking a sip from a magic potion to heal some bruises and small cuts. Healing potions are for when the character would die without it. Smoke bombs, flash powder, liguid fire, and metal eating acid are things that really change the situation a lot. A potion that protects against fire or cold allows a character to survive in otherwise deadly conditions. They don't just improve the odds, they enable the character to do completely new things he couldn't normally do.

Those few ideas I have for genuinely enchanted items go into a similar direction. A magic lantern that shows the way to a magically hidden place for example, or a magic gem that glows in the dark. These are also items that you turn on when you need them to do their thing, but don't keep running the whole time. I think making a magic item being active makes it a lot more interesting than the item just being sligtly better manufactured than mundane gear.

March 17, 2015, 06:33:20 PM
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Re: Wearing costume while writing As sort of a side job, I used to design and make gowns and alter clothes for my brother (a professional photographer). In doing this, and editing his master's thesis, I came to understand that the clothing actually gave meaning and depth to his photographs. A great photograph is one of the most difficult things in the world to pull off. Unlike writing, you have to convey everything in one still, including mood and motivation. What the model wore added to the depth of the photograph and also influenced her reaction to the whole shoot.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not that strange of an idea. If you are wearing a long, black, reptilian looking gown, you are probably more inclined to feel like a villain, or at least out of this world.

And honestly, I cant judge anyone when it comes to dressing up. I used to make new costumes for each renaissance fair. It's relatively cheap when you know how to use a pattern and catch materials on sale. I even dressed up my poor husband and his friend in arm guards and helms. I had larpers following us around the whole faire asking when we wanted to meet for a match and where we got our costumes. I think the crowning moment of one of these trips was the dance I had with Henry VIII's and his courtiers because of how authentic my costume looked. I have to say, even thought I was just dancing with re-en-actors, it was pretty awesome. Being spun and tossed around in period clothing is great for writing.

May 13, 2015, 11:14:40 AM
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Re: Wearing costume while writing
As sort of a side job, I used to design and make gowns and alter clothes for my brother (a professional photographer). In doing this, and editing his master's thesis, I came to understand that the clothing actually gave meaning and depth to his photographs. A great photograph is one of the most difficult things in the world to pull off. Unlike writing, you have to convey everything in one still, including mood and motivation. What the model wore added to the depth of the photograph and also influenced her reaction to the whole shoot.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not that strange of an idea. If you are wearing a long, black, reptilian looking gown, you are probably more inclined to feel like a villain, or at least out of this world.

And honestly, I cant judge anyone when it comes to dressing up. I used to make new costumes for each renaissance fair. It's relatively cheap when you know how to use a pattern and catch materials on sale. I even dressed up my poor husband and his friend in arm guards and helms. I had larpers following us around the whole faire asking when we wanted to meet for a match and where we got our costumes. I think the crowning moment of one of these trips was the dance I had with Henry VIII's and his courtiers because of how authentic my costume looked. I have to say, even thought I was just dancing with re-en-actors, it was pretty awesome. Being spun and tossed around in period clothing is great for writing.
Really neat stuff. I have to say I started out sort "meh" and "really?" about the idea - snooty me. Reading several posts, including this one, makes me re-think. And I haven;t been to a RenFair in some years. Probably time to go back!

May 13, 2015, 01:16:04 PM
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Re: Why I don't generally recommend self-publishing. I actually wrote a whole blog series about this very topic (after I got the rights back to my first book, which was published through a small press, I self-pubbed it and have been pleased with the results) which, ultimately, involved comparing the publishing industry to the videogame industry (my day job).

People self-pub in videogames all the time. We call them "indie" games (one recent example - Minecraft). Even if you make a really good indie game, it is very, very hard to stand out or get noticed, at least relative to a game published by a big publisher (EA, Blizzard, etc). You must do all promotion yourself, you're lumped in with tons of poor quality titles (try getting on Steam and see how that goes), and even then it's often luck (such as a random editor on Kotaku playing your game and writing about it) that determines if you get any traction.

Simply put, while you can self-publish a game, it is ALWAYS better to get a big publisher - despite the huge difficulty in doing so - because you start so much further ahead of the pack. Take all I just said and substitute "book" for "game" and you've got the basics of self-pub vs traditional publishing.

The biggest difference between the videogame industry and publishing industry is that the game industry celebrates indie game publishing, and sees it as a positive, whereas it is still the opposite with the book industry - regardless of the quality of the final product. So that's another caution against self-pubbing a book.

That said, whenever I see someone say "never self-publish" I have the same reaction when people say "never traditionally publish" (which, believe it or not, I have heard from self-pub authors who are doing extremely well). Both options have pluses and minuses. You, as an author, simply need to understand them.

As one final note, at a panel I was on at ConCarolinas this year, one panelist made a very good point. The other thing to remember is that to self-publish "right", you must become a publisher, essentially. This means you must hire an editor, must pay for quality art, and (if you don't know layout) pay for someone to layout your book. Yes, this costs lots of money, but if you don't do this, it's no different from releasing a glitchy, crash-ridden Android game. No one will buy it. So yet another advantage of traditional publishing is they pay these expenses.

August 04, 2015, 10:30:13 PM
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Re: Characteristics of a renaissance-style fantasy setting? To make it "renaissance" you'd have to have the Arts in general be about "rediscovering" ancient culture. The italians rediscovered ancient romans for example, and studied their incredible sculptures and art, and from there made discoveries of their own, like the laws of perspective, and architectural advances that allowed huge domes to exist, like the cathedral of Firenze :



This is a building that could not have happened in the middle ages. It also meant that the roman pillars came back into fashion.

You can see their exaltation for perspective in the paintings :



It also means that from then on, a lot of painters (in all European countries) made paintings about themes outside of religion or battles, and instead covered classic moments of Greco-Roman mythology.



I saw that painting myself in Firenze. It's crazy, actually. The grass in painted green and has blades painted in gold paint, they shine. Same in the ladies hair. It gives the (pretty big) painting an amazing presence.

If you can have similar "rediscoveries" changing the arts, the agriculture and literary world, then you'll have achieved something typically renaissance, not just "whatever development level" was around during the renaissance.

April 01, 2016, 10:15:30 PM
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