Review (Discworld): Soul Music

So I’m going to do something counter to almost all my other Discworld reviews and write a (slightly) negative review… GASP.

I have read Soul Music before, and guess it didn’t really stick out for me in the past and I sort of see why. Like all Discworlds, Soul Music is pretty darn good overall, but I feel has a few weaknesses among its strengths.

To recap – Soul music is Death’s 3rd book and we finally get introduced to Susan, who I sort of feel like the MC Pratchett was looking for in the Death series, where Mort didn’t quite cut the mustard and Reaper Man lacked. It’s interesting to me that Pratchett doesn’t really ever give Death much page-time, but rather creates a story around the few actions that Death does take.

Susan appears on the scene because Death has decided he needs to forget (it’s never explicitly stated but its implied that Death is struggling with Mort and Ysllabells respective deaths). As Death’s granddaughter Susan is called upon, Harry Potter styles to take up the job. This sequence is by far my favourite part of the story, where we see Susan struggle with but also embrace the situation.

The second plot thread is ‘Imp’ an elf-like fellow who wishing to pursue a career in music, discovers “music with rocks in it” after purchasing a cursed guitar. Imp was ‘supposed’ to die early in his music career, but Susan watches on as Imp’s life is supernaturally preserved by the ‘soul’ of music. Imps plot is largely characterized by a number of musical puns and satirical sequences riffing on rockstar fame as the Soul of Music increasingly takes over his ‘life.’

All the plot threads are really fun as they’re introduced but where I felt this book didn’t quite work is how the two main threads fitted together. Yep on a practical level Susan is involved because she witnessed Imp fail to perish and starts protecting him – a bit akin to Mort saving the princess in his story. But there is no real reason the Death plot really fits with the Music one. Once all the interest in everyone getting introduced is done with the characters just kind of meet every now and again until eventually the ‘Music’ is confronted (and defeated)

Death’s own journey to forget is kinda undermined and reduced to a few gags before zooming to Susan’s aid the end, his issue isn’t exactly resolved (although as said its sort of implied that he copes with his grief).

Again it doesn’t really fit together that well – the ‘Music’ plot feels similar to Moving Pictures and in my opinion could have had a similar ‘solo’ story that didn’t need Susan or Death. Whereas other than the cool introductions the Death story felt like a rehash of Mort (Death wants some time off, a human takes his job and interferes in the natural order of things).

Finally not exactly a critique but a fair warning that Soul Music has SO MANY puns, mostly about late 1900 rock and pop music – its funny, but holy crap there was a lot.

I’m really looking forward to Hogfather which I feel is peak Death series, although I see that Thief-of-Time is consider an entry in the Death series which I never registered it as.

Weekly Writing Roundup: End of Jan 2023

Cue an entire year of saying “wow is it already X-month??”

Jenna Moreci released her On-Writing debut “Shut up and Write that Book” (specific post on the book coming soon) Jenna is a great resource on all things writing and sass about tropes – the book is highly recommended for writers, its a pretty accessible read and a lot of fun.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before (or enough) on this blog but a really interesting chapter of Nabarov’s Favourite Word is Mauve on adverbs explains that eliminating adverbs is a. unlikely, and b. the actual numbers on successful authors shows they use a lot less adverbs but by no means cancel them.

I think this is a really useful perspective on all things writing rules as it supports a more flexible but significant approach – while the above sauce doesn’t cover all the topics available my argument would be that most writing rules fit a similar pattern, e.g. use of clichés, and other techniques.

I lost a post asking about how to make their writing less bland and explanatory. While searching for it I saw any number of posts on the topic. I suspect a lot of the issues with this stem from many many writers (myself included) treat fiction as an attempt to document the amazing story in one’s head, NOT creating material that entertains and sparks other’s imagination. My advice for the person in this (maybe I imagined the post still can’t find it) was to focus on removing ‘perception’ verbs (saw, heard, realized, thought) and also try to vary up sentence structures consistent with the action conveyed in the scene.

Anywho – that’s this month, anyone else feeling ultra tired already (looking forward to Easter break its not even Feb yet)

Weekly Writing Roundup 22/1/2023

2023 – place to be

Image has nothing to do with this week is just a nice picture

Getting back into making sure I pay attention to writing related stuff, not just deranged relationship stories on Reddit.:

K.M. Weiland posted about overcoming a LONG period of writers block:

Its a really interesting and honest post – something I like is making some distinctions between different sorts of ‘block.’ In particular the different between being stumped about something specific to do with your story e.g. a ‘plot-block’ or something personal about writing which is producing a barrier in you.

I’ll leave it to the post to explain further, unfortunately there are no magic solutions to either – although in reading the post I did have a few thoughts about ‘plot-block’ or specifically when people feel they have written themselves into a corner.

Feeling stuck in a plot often happens because a writer has creatively stuck their characters into a serious situation with high stakes and few resources as writing guides are always telling us to do. However after getting into such a deep pit writers get stuck on how to get their characters out of it without some sort of Duex Ex Machina type device.

What I came up with is a process to fix this sort of cornering:

  1. Decide what ‘sort’ of solution you want. By this I mean do you want your MC to do something Clever, Brave, Heroic? Do you want a plot twist? For one thing once you consider this the answer might become a little more clear anyway. Often the corner that we write into is more a practical issue of the plot, but we’ve lost track of what we’re trying to show about our MCs
  2. Once you know your subtext of the conflict and what you want from a solution you can then “backtrack” or create elements earlier in the story to setup and justify a solution for your hero. Often when the plot hits a corner a writer has been writing largely chronologically (I’m always guilty of this) a direction of progress which sooner or later has to change.

A lot of people might think this is ‘cheating’ but remember when writing a book you’re not living the story right then and there. Going back and forth in the story to better setup the plot isn’t bad writing, in fact its what’s required for good writing!

5 Reasons Scenes needs Deleting

Jessica Brodie explains why you might to erase material in editing a.k.a. kill your darlings. I have to be 100% honest this isn’t usually my problem, as a procrastinator I’m usually begging to gather enough material to delete to improve my work! Still I find most writers are quite passionate creators so any resources on good editing is useful.

This Redditor is creating wordcount type software to help writers keep on track. There are such websites already avaliable but I often find they take as much clicking and admin as setting up to write which does not help, so fingers crossed they create something useful – waitlist link in post: Tool

Finally a disturbing new trend is AI writing:

At present is seems to be more of an academic issue, particularly students submitting assignments, but ‘ChatGPT’ has been listed as an author on some published papers, and I have no doubt in some form AI bot type stuff is coming to fiction.

That’s this weeks blog. In the coming week I hope to post a slighter deeper analysis of Discworld characters, and also keep up with a ‘write everyday’ plan (this happens almost every new year so I don’t consider this particularly new, although I feel I do slightly better each year)

Hope 2023 is looking good for you!

Review (Discworld): Men at Arms

Men at Arms is one of my original favourite Discworlds, and I confess a mild worry that perhaps modern me might not experience the same hype. Certainly Men at Arms is a bit more of a traditional novel in some respects and has a reasonable amount of build-up in the introduction and I was starting to worry more…

However as I got into it the pacing really took off and I transported back to the same enjoyment of the first billion times I read this book.

As the second ‘Guards’ book the focus of this one is actually quite strange. Carrot feels more like a main character and Vimes almost just hovers in the background (but is extremely significant). Men at Arms reads a bit more like a typically who-dunnit thriller story which is a bit different up to this point in the Discworld books, and to be honest Pratchett’s ability to create a humorous, exciting, sense making mix of fantasy and police procedural is beyond Godlike.

Men at Arms is also a bit more high stakes than previous novels. In a very interesting introspective twist Vimes considers how facing off against a massive dragon was somehow easier than a human foe. (This book is also where Vimes introduces his ‘Boots’ theory of social equality)

Finally we start to see a longer story in this one, something which I think continues for a bit as Pratchett fleshes out more characters and themes. Compared to earlier books there is definitely a much more solid impression of Ankh-Morpork and the denizens within.

I have a bit more to analyse about the themes of Pratchett’s main characters but I need a bit more time to scintillate – but what I will say is I think I like the Guards series the best of all because they are the most optimistic.

Review (Discworld): Lords and Ladies

Google searching for the book cover image was not as weird as I expected.

I have read Lords and Ladies before, but unlike some other rereads I hadn’t actually remembered too much from this one except that the Elves were scary AF and Granny Weatherwax AIN’T DEAD (spoiler alert).

Rereading this one was quite interesting, in terms of evolution of the Discworld series I thought that Small Gods was actually quite dark and brutal, which while Lords and Ladies continues a fair amount of this – I couldn’t help but notice a lot of humour and silliness throughout. And While I consider Pratchett to be the GOAT at what he did I feel on in comparisons to his other books the balance of humour and action is a bit off in this one. Nothing too extreme just at times some of the jokes don’t land as well – for example there is a moment where one of the characters talks about ‘psyching’ up the others, which in itself is quite anachronistic and funny, and fits with the Witches’ themes (and sort of fits with their ‘headology’) but in order to keep with the times ‘psych’ is spelt pssike. It takes a moment to translate, and the intentional misspell doesn’t exactly add to the joke, its already funny to hear a fantasy character use modern language like that.

However despite this imbalance Lords and Ladies I think shows a big lead forward in character complexity, its the only Discworld other than The Light Fantastic (an immediate sequel to Colour of Magic) which has a ‘previously on’ and follows essentially immediately on from Witches Abroad. I confess as a younger reader I didn’t really like Weatherwax that much, other than respecting her bad-assery but in rereading I actually wonder if Esme W is the closest to an author insert we get from Pratchett. I always assumed he was Vimes (and sometimes wondered if he might actually be Rincewind) although I’m relatively certain that isn’t how Pratchett worked exactly.

As a final comment the plot of Lords and Ladies is slightly leaning into ‘proper’ story telling, while its still a twisted trope on fantasy clichés the actual story is much more mainstream than early Discworld, by which I mean there are clear ‘bad-guys’ and the MCs undergo triumph and character development a little more traditionally. And WHAT a group of bad-guys, the Elves in Lords and Ladies are disturbingly abusively evil – I feel like both Small Gods and Lords and Ladies reveal a darker part of Pratchett’s imagination which I relish but also find a little scary.

Next up is Men at Arms – one of my favourite Guards books which I have read many times over – but like all of these not for some time. Will be interesting.

First Post of 2023

It’s good to be getting into the year – but I have to confess not much writing activity! Instead here are some of my favourite murals/other spotted on my holiday.

Kea – bush below is interfering
I was almost more impressed by the expertly placed shadow
Shared Murder rooms – (not where I stayed!)
My Child couldn’t work out if the bird ate the cage or was the cage
Put your hand on the glass
An early Shocked Pikachu Face
These ghosties were about a lot
Am I spending too much time on my phone?
Statue Pigeon has the right idea
Even visited Dosnay Land and saw Murky Moose

By far my most favourite artwork spotted though…

Here’s wishing everyone a happy (or content) 2023 and looking forward to sharing everyone’s writing/and other pursuits journey.