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First, the kitty, because I know that Kelly likes them (and is owned by one).

Second, the reasons why I bought Three Days to Dead:

  1. I heard about it on Kelly’s Blog and decided to support a fellow writer,
  2. Wanted to expand my U/F scope beyond The Dresden Files.
  3. It had an interesting premise

Third, the review.

First and foremost, it is an fast and furious ride which is over before you can even blink. From the moment you say GO! it doesn’t stop, it even barely slows down. The characters are engaging, in fact, the author manages to create a well balanced female lead that is tough yet vulnerable without being either bitchy or whiny.  You feel for Evangeline Stone from the get go and those feelings are enhanced by what she has gone through. Not only that, the romantic subplot meshes seamlessly with the main story instead of hobbling it.

And special mention goes to the tact and skill in handling a particular scene. In the hands of another author it would have either a) averted all together, or b) given way to much information. Instead we get just enough to imagine the horrors alluded too without needing to vomit afterward.

The downside(s)?

The end was a bit too quick for me, I almost missed it and it was too neatly wrapped up, which smelled of deux machina and so did the coincidences (which are lamp shaded in the books several times). Also, the background seems a bit generic, the variations on archetypes were interesting (specially the goblins) but not enough to make them stand out from the norm. But no worries, no major info dumping occurs either, so the action flows without any major interruptions.

One last thing, which is a critique of the book, but not of its content.

The cover.

You can read my full argument against cliche covers (with bullet points) if you fallow the link above, but suffice it to say that had I know specifically looked for it, I would probably would never had bought this book just by looking at the cover. It’s interesting on its own, but fails to stand out among the rests of the offerings in the shelf. I know that as a first time author, Ms, Meding doesn’t have a lot of control over such things, but this book deserves better.

Overall, it is a good solid piece of Urban Fantasy, well crafted and above all else, entertaining. Well worth the money. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

I just finished Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, one of the contributors to Writing Excuses podcast (an excellent resources for writers).  The story centers around the actions of three characters: Raoden, Crown Prince of Arelon, Sarene, Princess of Teod and future wife to Raoden and Hrathen, gyorn (high priest) of the Empire of Fjordell in the city of Kae, the capital of Arelon. The city in turn exists in the shadow of the ruins of Elantris, an ancient city of the godlike Elantrians who fell from grace a decade before. What happened to Elantris then and how that affects the future of Arelon are at the key to the stopping a religious empire bent on word domination.

By faith or by fire.

I won’t do a formal review as I don’t know what that is exactly. I’ll simply lists relevant points about the story and how they apply to writing (specially speculative fiction).

Strong Points:

  • Excellent characterizations: Strong characters you care about. No one is completely good or completely evil, but credible in their actions, word view and emotional states. You care what happens to the characters and the outcome of the actions.
  • Character Driven Story: Although it seems at first to be plot driven due to situations out of the characters control (mainly the Reod and the Dateline), what really propels the characters is their actions and interactions.  Each one of the three principal characters works with what they have at hand, many times at cross purposes. It is the mingling and colliding of these purposes that drives the story forward.
  • World building crafted into the plot: Instead of large blocks of obfuscating text the world bulding is subtly worked into the plot, in fact figuring out how the magic of the world works is key to the plot. You catch on quickly to the political, social and magical aspects of the Elantris universe and yearn to learn more about them. For someone who is known for his extensive magic rules and world building, Sanderson managed to write it in with a deft and light touch.
  • Not your standard fantasy setting: Yet it feels both real and fantastic at the same time. Flawless internal consistency and logic through out. The world feels unique in its modernity yet still has enough of the fantasy/medieval tropes to keep it within the genre it explores.
  • Great use of the Multiple 3rd Person Close POV:  Creates a nice back and forth between the view, expectations and actions of each faction from their perspective character. Enough is revealed to maintain logical consistency without ruining the future twists and turns in the story, even if some of them are predictable.

Weak Points:

  • Hook but no Line: The story starts with an intriguing hook, but the line behind it doesn’t seem to tug hard enough or with enough pressure to pull the reader along. The reason is that their is not enough tension in the narrative line because the stakes while described at extremely high remain distant. It is not until the stakes became immediate that the pace of the story picks up  tremendous speed and excitement.
  • Fantastic Name Confusion: The story has very little in the way of fantastic animals or objects, but the characters names can become confusing (except for principal characters). With some many minor yet important characters, losing track of who’s who happens from time to time. Much frustration ensues.

Well that is all I have to say about Elantris. Overall a good first novel, a strong entry in the fantasy genre and if you can go past the somewhat slow beginning, a rewarding narrative overall.

You heard about “raising the stakes” in your work.

But what are “the stakes” or should I say, what is AT “stake”?

Usually in speculative fiction it’s stuff like a life, a kingdom, a nation, a planet, the galaxy, the Universe, the whole of Existence. It’s what on the table and the reason why the characters do what they are doing. But the object itself is meaningless, it is the value that the author/character/reader give it that matter.

Stakes are like money in that money only has value relevant to what it gets you (what you can acquire with it) and the work you put in to get the money in the first place.

So what do the “stakes” need to acquire this “value”?

1)The stakes are real. Something that it’s quantifiable and observable. It’s hard to care when you don’t understand what your fighting for.

2)The stakes always rise. If you think the stakes are high on page 1 wait until you get to page 321. I mean it’s defeats the purpose of raising the stakes if they already reached their limit. Otherwise the character(s) (and the reader) will call it quits have way through. Thinks are always worse than you can imagine.

3)The stakes are personal. It’s always personal. Ties in with the stakes being real. There is got to be a reason why the character is willing to sit on the table and drop a wager. He may need the money to buy old grandpa’s farm from the bank before they foreclose or his waiting for the fellow who is drinking at the bar to let his guard down so he can drill him one on the head. What that bastard did to his sister won’t go unpunished.

4)The stakes are always constant. Seems to contradict #2 but if the stakes diminish, so does the overall tension that pushes the story forward. Not that the characters should not catch a break once in awhile, but it’s only a break before the story goes on overdrive.

5) The stakes demand sacrifice. Blood, money, life, it’s what your betting and there is always a chance that you are going to lose. You might think it’s a chew in, but it ain’t and before the day (and the story) is through you will lose some to win all. It’s the way the game is played.  Without the possibility of loss, the stakes are meaningless.

So that’s all I got to say about it. Now ladies and gents, the game is on.

By way of a visual explanation here is a short game trailer that will illustrate the above. Enjoy!

(Note: See if you can identify two of the voices in it.)

Were in:

The first villain (MC) meet(s) is the weakest, and the last is the strongest. In theory, as the heroes get strong enough to defeat their current enemy, a new enemy will emerge that forces them to reach another skill level.

A very common trope found at the heart of most comic books, action based TV series, RPGs and games (with a level system).  Serves as a plot extender of sorts. If you met the final Boss in the first chapter then it would be a short story not a novel.

From the villain point of you sending his strongest henchman to finish off the hero (if he even knows that he exists) might not be the logical first choice. First off if a disposable minion can do the job, why not send them, especially if they have a good track record. Also it would be easy to follow the trail back from the henchman back to the Big Boss, especially if the henchman is captured and made to talk.

For the writer the Algorithm of Evil helps in several ways:

  • Keeps the Big Boss hidden until it is time to reveal him
  • Allows the hero to grow through experience without the villain suffering from villain decay
  • Keeps the fights interesting. After all if the hero gets to strong compared to his rivals then they offer no challenge to him and the tension slacks to nothing.
  • Allows for a bit of detective work on the part of the heroes/MC(s). They have to go through the low(er) level mooks just to figure out who the Big Boss is.

When done right it proves the old adage that there is “always someone stronger”. Of course you may end up with something like Bleach or Dragon Ball type anime were an endless parade of more insanely powerful enemies come along to fight the already insanely godlike heroes (also common in certain high powered superhero comics like Superman).

I found myself doing the exact same thing in SuD but hopefully I avoided the pitfalls by:

  • Teaming up the MC with other heroes. Thus while the hero does get stronger, he certainly can’t fight all the bad guys by himself.
  • Brain over brawn: Both heroes and villains use more than raw muscle to survive. In fact the villains prefer not to get their hands dirty unless they can help it and the hero will certainly use other means to achieve his goals if they are at hand. Even within a fight sequence, the hero tends to use tactics and strength in equal measure.
  • Even mooks can hurt you. Just because you can dispatch a horde of X type of opponents doesn’t mean that they are still not a risk. If they score a hit or two, the hero will get hurt.

Well, I hope that I can navigate the waters of this trope safely and end up with a fun story at the end.

H/T to Marian for introducing me to the TV Tropes Wiki which served as an inspiration for this post.

Writer’s block comes in many forms, none more weird that finding yourself with the strange combination of too many ideas and too little focus. That was my problem going forward with the current WIP. The characters seemed to go places that had nothing to do with the main plot. This situation was made possible by the fact that I chose to write the story using a multiple-person third point of view.

The main benefit of use of this method is that I can paint a wide canvass, loaded with characters that gives the narrative a global scope plus an insight into the villains mind. In fact the story starts with a close third person POV of one of the villains. The main character doesn’t appear on stage until the second chapter.

But after awhile my mind filled with interesting scenes such as a trip to the Himalayas, a fight a top a aerial tramway/gondola lift, and an attack at a guerrilla jungle base. All of them very exiting sequences (except for the last one, it involved fighting a demon that had Mr. Fantastic like powers). All of these scenarios are exciting and fun to write but they do not, did not contribute to story in anyway since they were no segue logical from one scene to the next.

So how do you corral these disparate point of views so that they move the story forward?

  1. You may have multiple characters, but keep in mind who the main and/or principal characters are. He/She or they are the ones tasks with carrying the weight of the narrative. Therefore the bulk of the scenes should be from their POV.
  2. Keep in mind the specific reason for the shift. You may use the shift to show what the villain is thinking or the aftermath of the heroes actions. But remember that those scenes must dovetail into the main narrative and tie in with principal plotline(s).
  3. The transitions should be natural and logical. Don’t leave your reader hanging, finish the scene at an appropriate moment. Again, these scenes must segue into the main body of the narrative. Think in terms of action-reaction or exposition through “showing”.
  4. Any scene where the MC is not present should always push the action forward in one way or another. I had one large chapter with several characters narrating their experiences in recent wars. But at the end these flashbacks served to explain (hopefully by “showing” and not “telling”) the events at the very end of the chapter and push the plot toward a new location.

Apply these rules ruthlessly and you will see your kitty cats fall in line. Sure they will hiss and scratch, but in the end they will behave. Mine did!

P.S. Of  course if that doesn’t work, a pack of puppies will get the job done!

The NaNo Winner is ME!

The NaNo Winner is ME!

That’s right! I just crossed the finished line with 50,019 words. I have to confess that I did cheat a bit (just a bit!). I did the old “pad the manuscript with song lyrics” trick. Underhanded I know. But these where not random lyrics. Mine fit the story. Of course this is my first time and the story is heavy on action, shallow on character development. Its also supposed to be the first of a trilogy (of novellas, why not). Maybe I’ll go back and hack the hell out of it and hope it reaches a decent agent/publisher. Will see. But for now, allow me to savor the moment!

Oh and see you all next year!