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Messages - Dan D Jones

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Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: What is Weird Fantasy?
« on: November 22, 2019, 12:41:35 AM »
So basically we don't quite know? LOL

But some intelligent replies. 

Don't like how its being used as a catch all term for any fantasy that can't easily be defined, seems very lazy to me, but the Lovecraft definition makes a lot of sense. 

I hate "subgenre-ing" for that reason.  Steampunk is a particularly annoying one because it has no bearing on the kind of book it is.  You can have steampunk in the wild west, in the future, in an alternate reality... does the classification of steampunk indicate whether I'll like it or not?  Not at all!

Is there any system or level of classification that escapes that problem? Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy. If there are some steampunk books you don't like and steampunk is a form of fantasy, then clearly there are some fantasy books you don't like. So labeling a book 'fantasy' doesn't indicate where you'll like it or not.

There is nothing which indicates whether I'll like a book other than me picking up the book and trying it. That includes the books subgenre, genre, author, editor, or how a particular reviewer felt about the book.

This is also why I tend to think of subgenres as attributes rather than distinct categories. A book can be both steampunk and paranormal romance, just as something can be both warm and dry. If you don't care for romance, you might not be attracted to a steampunk paranormal romance but may thoroughly enjoy a steampunk adventure novel.

We both agree on the series below So there must be good!

Dreamblood by N. K. Jemisin

I adore both The Inheritance Cycle and the Broken Earth series but Dreamblood just didn't grab me that hard. Inheritance and Broken grabbed me like a lover reunited in the bombed out shell of a war-torn city. Dreamblood was more like one of those chest-bump bro-hugs where you point at each other, wink and go your separate ways.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: never Heard of this award before
« on: November 05, 2019, 03:56:52 PM »
I see Nora's point of view and I agree with it, but when I read the article it felt a lot more like what Rostum and Dan said: any book that didn't have violence against women, regardless of quality or if the plot made sense, could enter the contest.

As Skip and Cupiscent pointed out, anyone can enter a book award if it is open to the public, so why judge the quality of entries before a shortlist is out, or a winner even? I assume an award is best judged by the quality of what it selects over some years.

I'm sorry if I came across as angry, it certainly flusters me to see people challenging why women should have anything that's free and doesn't take anything away from anyone, and I've been dealing with more sexism than usual IRL recently.

Overall I just don't understand why we're discussing the legitimacy of a new award, as we should all be pleased it means one more type of entry for a potential writer, and some truly silly topics exist out there, with plenty of room and freedom for writers who like their women raped and dismembered.

I understand (and fully support) your passion. There's no need to apologize for that.

I don't think anyone here is suggesting that women should be denied more recognition, nor that there is any issue in having awards that serve to recognize writing that promotes women's interest. Rather, I just don't feel that this is an effective approach to achieving that goal.

Writers' Corner / Re: "I want to write a story in which..."
« on: November 05, 2019, 03:36:15 PM »
There appear to be two different questions being asked here.

The first concerns the nature of fiction. Certainly it's true that boiling a story down to it's essential conflict leaves a bare bone with very little flesh in which to sink your teeth. Plot is the skeleton of a story and skeletons are generally of interest only to paleontologists. Stories aren't about plot. A plot does not make or break a story. What determines the worth of a story is the characters and the details that flesh out the skeleton. Hemingway can write an entire novel about an old man catching a fish and it still resonates over 50 years later. There are plenty of books with wildly inventive plots that sound incredibly interesting but fail miserably when you attempt to read them. Any conflict can be used as the basis of a story if there are interesting characters and sufficient detail that the readers cares about the outcome. Readers can become invested in a character saving the universe from utter annihilation or a character attempting to deal with the impact of having an uncaring parent or anything in between. There is no such thing as a bad story idea. An uninteresting story is the result of a poor implementation of the idea, not the idea itself.

The second question is how an author approaches constructing a story that will interest the reader. I think there are about as many answers to this question as there are (aspiring) authors. For me, almost every story I've ever planned or written starts with a character and their motivation. That's because it's people and their struggles that interests me, that inspires me, that motivates me. I create a character in my head and I want to explore that character and expose them to the world. That doesn't mean that YOU should start with a character. Some writers are inspired by plot. They have an idea for something that happens and they fill in the people and details that are required to bring those events to pass. Others might be inspired by a setting. They envision a world and want to describe that world and the things that happen inside it. Yet another person might have an idea, such as an invention or a magic system, and want to explore how that idea impacts the world. (This is especially common in various types of speculative fiction.)

Orson Scott Card calls this the MICE quotient - Milieu, Idea, Character, Event. Mary Robinette Kowal has also written extensively on this topic. You can google lots of articles on it if you'd like to dig deeper.

My question to you would be: why do you want to write? What makes you want to sit down and pound on a keyboard to put your thoughts in front of other people? What is the goal - not of the story - but of you as a writer? You may not be able to give a simple, succinct answer to that question but thinking about it will inform how you approach idea generation and story creation. Write about what excites you. Get feedback on what you write and improve your technique so you can communicate that excitement to the reader. The rest will take care of itself.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: never Heard of this award before
« on: November 04, 2019, 01:48:31 PM »
But this award doesn't do anything to further that cause. All it does is to be a generic best book award that excludes a (presumably substantial) number of contenders regardless of context. The absence of something is not award-worthy. If you want to praise a work for something, it needs to be for something that it does well, not for something that is not included.

While I fully agree with your sentiment, you're only seeing this because it's presenting itself in the negative.

But an award that says "no male MCs" and "Starring Female MCs" bring the exact same stories to the table. One sounds exclusive, the other sounds like strict guidelines.
They're the same though, they're stories that star a woman and not a man.

Call it a "wholesome female roles award" if it makes you feel better.

The problem I have is that it's NOT a "wholesome females role award." A book featuring a "strong, wholesome female" lead would be disqualified if the killer she's tracking down killed another female. A book featuring a male protagonist tracking down a female killer with lots of weak, stereotypical women characters who rely on men to solve their problems would be eligible if none of the killer's victims are female and none of the weak female characters were the victims of violence.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: Fantastic lines from books
« on: December 12, 2018, 01:28:24 PM »
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” - Neuromancer

That's one of my favorite lines as well but its effectiveness is dying.  To grasp it, you need to know what a CRT television looked like when there was no signal coming in.  Modern flat panels don't have that appearance. To a constantly increasingly portion of the reading audience, that line is meaningless.

**Ninja'd by Skip.  Should have read the whole thread before responding.

Writers' Corner / Re: What do you call a group of dragons?
« on: November 29, 2018, 01:31:56 PM »
Anything they want?

Influential people say that prologues are bad. Yet everyone love prologues. And pretty much everyone and their mothers write them.

Is it not just like an alkohol?

Presonally I like them. For me prologues are... Pretty much a defining piece of fantasy and science fiction. They can create story's climate and atmosphere. Sometimes turning it into atmosFEAR or atmosDISGUST atmosCURIOSITY. And they are needed - especially in our times, when we need to quickly decide what we want to read. A good prologue will make someone buy and read the book. A bad one will send bought book flying through a room and back into the bookshelf.

Not quite everyone. I generally dislike them.

Writers' Corner / Re: Sublime words in writing
« on: November 26, 2018, 05:35:08 PM »
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.

It means to give someone the full benefits and respect of their station.  It's usually used in reference to a high ranking or powerful person. Depending on the context, it can sometimes imply that the person using the phrase doesn't think the person deserves the honor on their individual merits. Here's a real life example:

[JUN 2018] Fire / Re: [Jun 2018] - Fire - Discussion Thread
« on: June 11, 2018, 10:50:22 PM »
I already know what I want to write about.  :)

Um, fire?


@D_Bates There's Anne McCaffery's time travelling Dragons, and Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept, I feel like parts of Zelazny could work, and so could possibly the Shanarra stuff that's got kings and queens and magic and Trolls and Gnomes and Elves but built on the post-apocalyptic ruins of the Earth.

For Zelazny, the whole Amber series could fit the theme, as could Jack of Shadows.  Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter and The Dragons of Babel seem to be the inverse of what's being asked here - it's an industrial setting with elves, dragons and magic.

Writers' Corner / Re: Critiques
« on: June 13, 2017, 08:19:18 PM »
As someone who does a fair bit of critiquing in his spare time, I personally heavily disagree with quite a lot of this. Especially the 'Stick only to Symptoms' advice. Being able to know why a reader feels a certain way towards something in your story is significantly more useful than just knowing they feel that way and having to fill in the gaps yourself.

For example, if I were to get several critiques claiming that a romantic conversation between two characters was boring, then my natural inclination would be to spice up the dialogue/scene itself. However, that's not going to help much if the real reason people found it boring was actually because they found the characters flat and uninteresting. Just like how there are many different elements that come together to make a story great, there are also many different things than can potentially be the problem in a scene/moment. (Also why I rolled my eyes at that 'Decoding Reader Symptoms' bit. There are plenty of reasons for a reader to find something boring other than 'pacing problems').

Be as accurate and detailed as possible in presenting your reactions.  If you find the characters boring, then say that.  If the characters aren't boring but one particular conversation is boring, then say that instead.  And add more detail if possible.  If you found the character's boring, what was it about them that bored you?  You mentioned "... found the characters flat ..." but I have no idea what that means to you.  Did you not understand their goals?  Did you understand what they were trying to accomplish but found that goal ordinary and bland. Or perhaps their goals were contrary to your own thoughts and so you couldn't sympathize with them?  Was their motivation not clear to you?  Did you fail to see how taking this action would further their goal and so their actions made no sense to you?

All of these kinds of questions, and their answers, are symptoms.  They're just telling the author how you reacted to the story, what you liked and understood and what you didn't like or didn't understand.  It's fine to say "I didn't understand Lori's motivations and so her actions puzzled me."  It's another thing entirely to say "You didn't establish Lori's motivations and so her actions didn't make any sense."

I also very heavily disagree with this idea that the writers have 'the perfect story' in their heads already. As someone who does a lot of planning for books and story ideas in his head, that could not be further from the truth. Stories are not perfect because writers are not perfect. Sometimes the problem in a story does come from difficulties in translating the original vision to page, yes, but sometimes the original vision itself can be heavily flawed. There are examples where the problem lies in the roots, not the leaves. And it takes another person's view to show that. Not because 'they want the story they wish they'd written' but because they're an outside perspective on the story, not coloured by the author's own personal biases. It's important for a writer to be able to maintain their original vision, yes, but it's important for a writer to recognise when parts of said vision are holding the story back and need to be discarded.

The story may or may not be objectively perfect, but the author owns the story.  It is subjectively perfect.  It is perfect for them, up until the author decides that it is not.  And, to be blunt, neither you, I, nor anyone else has any right to tell them differently.

It may be important for a writer to recognize when parts of a vision is holding the story back, but who makes that determination?  The author.  They're the only person who CAN make the determination.  It's THEIR story.

Best sellers, Hugo and Nebula winners, genre classics and ordinary stories all have their detractors.  You can find critiques where the reviewer complains about this or that.  In that reviewer's mind, whatever bit of the book they're complaining about held the story back.  Was Tolkien TOO descriptive?  Did his long, picturesque passages make the books boring and slow?  You'll find some people who emphatically say yes.  And you'll find others who insist that just asking the question is an act of sacrilege.  No matter who you are, how well you write, or how much and how often you revise, you will never please all readers.  Some readers will find some parts of your story irksome and claim it is holding your story back.  Only the author can decide what is right for their story.

There's also a lot of other smaller stuff I disagree with there, like not giving diagnosis/prescription without being asked (prose I'm 50/50 on), never explaining as an author to a reviewer, and the idea that if your gut reaction to something in a critique is 'no' then that's because the other person wants you to write a different story. So yeah, I'd advise ignoring most of that.

Rule #1 for Critiquing Other’s Work under the "Work to be Critiqued" child board is:

1. Please read what the poster is asking for before you post your critique.

If you're not being asked for a diagnosis/prescription, why would you want to attempt to force your opinion on the author? 

As an author, what possible good can come of explaining to a reviewer?  There's the possibility of the discussion degenerating into an argument, which is never a good look and is definitely counter productive.  But even if that doesn't happen, what does the author's explanations accomplish?  Are you going to go out to each reader who purchases your book, sit down in their living room, and explain the book to them?  If you have to explain something to the person who critiqued your work, they didn't get whatever you're explaining from your text.  No amount of explaining after the fact is going to change that.  As an author, you need to focus on determining whether to and how to change your text based on the feedback you just received.  Suppose you feel that this was an isolated reaction and your target audience will actually get whatever you were trying to get across from your text.  What are you going to say to the reviewer?  "No, you completely missed this subtle subtext over here but I'm sure the rest of my readers will be smart enough to pick up on it?"

If the person reviewing your work is someone well known to you and someone who's opinion you trust, it might be fine to say "I was trying to get this across.  Hmm, what if I'd done that instead?  Would hit have made it clearer to you?"  But in those cases you generally have a relationship that has moved beyond simple critiquing. 

Mary's advice is intended for a writing group or an online forum, where you probably know little or nothing about the other person.  There are valid and well regarded reasons for all the advice you present.  Nothing she says is particularly new or original.  You'll find very similar advise in countless books and articles on line.  She simply gathers and presents it in a neat package here.  Mary, along with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor and various guests put out the "Writing Excuses" podcast.  Their episode on critiques can be found here:  I think listening to that would go a long way toward clearing up the confusion in this thread.  You're free to ignore it, of course, but I'd advise anyone who wants to give effective critiques to consider it carefully.  Seek out other sources.  You'll find others who expound on the reasoning behind the advice.  Then make your own decision.

Turning the topic back from politically correct sanitization to fantasy world building, it would strike me as distinctly odd to use a historical name in a second world without some sort of justification.  If you're writing alternate history, then certainly you can use historical names.  If there is contact between our world and that world, then you may be able to justify it.  Perhaps a group of Romans crossed over and founded a new empire, naming their capital New Rome.  If the "New" gets dropped over time and the city becomes just "Rome," I'd have no issue with that assuming that was apparent from the text.  But if you referred to a city as Rome and it wasn't some version of our world's Rome and no justification other than a similarity of culture was given, I'd find that distracting at least.

Whether you choose to use terms like elves and dwarves or make up your own appellations, is entirely up to you.  Known terms come with attached contexts that may make your job easier or harder.  If your dwarves are short, stocky and spend their lives in caves mining for precious stones, you can use the term dwarf and not have to bother explaining all of that to the reader.  On the other hand, if they lack any those key features, using the term dwarf may require you to spend more time establishing what they're not than it would take to use a different term and describe what they are.

Elves and dwarves are mythological creatures.  They have some reasonably standard attributes that most readers expect but they're also widely varied in the literature.  An elf can be anything from a six inch tall shoe (or cookie) maker to a tall, willowy archer.  Regardless of what attributes your elves possess, no one can legitimately tell you that you're wrong.  (Yes, some readers may try to tell you that forest elves use bows and your elves are clearly high elves, and so should use swords.  There's little to do in those cases but smile, nod and thank them for their input, then get on with your writing.)  Rome, however, is a real place.  It's used as an archetype but it is in fact a singular city with real attributes and a real history.  Readers can (and will) call you out on mistakes unless you clearly establish the reason for the deviation from reality.  Why set yourself up for that unless your story is actually situated in some version of our Rome?

Writers' Corner / Re: Anyone ever feel conflicted about tone?
« on: June 09, 2017, 05:08:21 PM »
Those here who have read my work can attest that my general writing style is quite fast-paced. But with the elements I have on my hands here I feel pulled to play with more traditional Gothic tropes, ie oppressive atmosphere, dread, hauntings, etc. I don't know how well those can fit with action, and a plot that culminates in preventing a coup during a city-wide riot. I'm also ambivalent about my talent for writing in a truly Gothic tone.

I don't see any real conflict between Gothic and action.  That is, Gothic stores often are slow and brooding but I don't see any reason that that setting requires that pacing.  It's not a book, but look at the movie "Van Helsing" for an example. 

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