Hard to believe we’re into the last 1/4 of 2022, its been a something of a past couple of years and while not without their positives I feel like the past few years many will be glad to be past.
Things of interest this month:
Along with having to work hard to interpret good advice, sometimes the advice we receive isn’t actually that good. The strangest piece of advice I ever saw attempted was someone said to put exposition at the very start of a story because that’s when the audience’s disbelief was most suspended. Not only was that contrary to almost all common writing advice out there I’m not sure the basis for the advice was correct either. I suppose it’s correct that at the beginning of a story a reader’s ‘blank slate’ is the most blank but I’m not sure that equates to suspension of disbelief.
Hard to believe we’re into the last 1/4 of 2022, its been a something of a past couple of years and while not without their positives I feel like the past few years many will be glad to be past.
Things of interest this month:
This is a really interesting one. Its a common misconception that the key to a good story is unpredictability and “not knowing what will happen” which is a key of whodunnit mysteries but funnily enough people enjoy stories well enough even if they have read/seen them before and even if they’ve been spoiled .
Though it does raise the question: what is the point to a prequel? The obvious shallow answer is cashing in on a popular franchise – however from a story point of view there are many possible answers. In my opinion the biggest mistake of prequel writing is trying to capture all the possibilities rather than having a single strong theme. (this sounds like a whole blog post to itself – I’ll keep you posted)
I find these threads really interesting to read – although for some reason I never feel much able to contribute I suspect I don’t tend to compare characters across different works only within…
That will do for this week – hope everyone is well and taking care.
Witches #3 is a very interesting instalment on reread. I didn’t actually remember a whole tonne from when I first read it but I remember not being that enthralled because there was so much focus on OLD Granny Weatherwax, instead of the YOUNG relatable Magrat (I must have been pretty young oh dear).
What I’ve noticed rereading is I think this the real beginning of more bad-ass Discworld stories. Reaper Man had a little bit of this style but Witches Abroad is much more of a coherent fantasy action story, with a proper quest, villain and even somewhat serious twists.
There is still a rambling element of random adventures which is sort of relegated to the 1st act while the Witches make their way ‘abroad’ where Pratchett riffs on some cultural oddities before subverting fairy tales – the main theme being what if witches were the good guys in fairy tales?
Most of Pratchett’s characters are the best, but I feel like Granny Weatherwax is by far the most complex and dynamic. Even by book 3 I feel like she is still somewhat developing (and there are only 3 more books to go!) I can’t quite decide whether Vimes or Weatherwax are the most author insert of Sir Pratchett (or is it Rincewind LOL)
Continuing my Discworld journey – Reaper man is an interesting one. As #2 of the Death series its of course going to rate highly – but there is something odd about this edition which probably detracts from it a little.
The basic premise is that Death finds himself given a ‘life’ and told his replacement will arrive soon. With little to no explanation Death decides to settle down on a local farm and adopt the life of one ‘Bill Door’.
Every single scene with Death in it is brilliant and perfect and everything you want from Sir Terry, from Death’s struggle to relate to life both humorously and philosophically to the strange connection between Death and a small child who can tell he’s a skeleton, and the final confrontation and struggle with the New Death.
So what’s the problem?
The weird thing with Reaper Man is the majority of the book is a wizard subplot. Death barely takes up any pages, and most of the book focusses on Windle Poons a recently undead and ancient wizard as him and his colleagues join with a small gaggle of typical undeads and fight against the effects of the build-up of excess ‘life’. The subplot is funny enough but is mostly silly narration – aside from a few really good gags (conversations with a medium) it mostly felt like distraction from the really good stuff.
Of course Reaper Man is all important in the series for introducing the seminal and significant ‘Death-of-[spoiler]’ so will always hold a special place for me!
In my defence there’s been a few things on lately, NZ has recently scrapped almost all of our covid response plan, which is a good thing (it’s because of dropping case numbers) but its a big change in our wee nation and kinda weird to not have to whip on a mask every few moments.
I’ve also had to do some on-call stuff for work which I’ve been lucky enough to get away from this year, but it tend to put a dampener on the writing hobbies!
But enough about me – what about the world?
Sir Terry Pratchett’s biography is coming out shortly I don’t know whether I want to continue my read through of the Discworld series first and then read it, or read the biography as soon as possible :D. Normally I’d prefer to read the works then the biography but given how many Discworld novels there are (I’m up to 12/45) reading all of those is probably going to be another couple of years away!
Jenna Moreci is about to publish a ‘On Writing’ book and I’m pretty excited I haven’t read a book on the craft for a while and Jenna is really funny and smart so should be a good time!
Finally this month a twitter friend of mine published their YA book:
I’m proud to be ‘Moots’ with Dylan but unfortunately can’t claim much more prestige than that! Hopefully when Dylan hits the best-seller lists they don’t unfollow me 😀
I’ve been saving a few reddit type posts but plan on saving those for next weeks Weekly Writing Review, the last few hours of this weekend are ear-marked for cups of Earl Gray and chocolate (separately)
One day I’m going to spell writing wrong and its going to be the worst.
Been busy at work this week so have been leaning more into Youtube than written resources but there area few good ones:
Personally I don’t usually plan plot twists in novels, my preference is to realize “O wow if I tweak this and that this could actually be a twist“. Like Jenna I kinda think when too much effort is on the surprise element of a twist it often comes across melodramatic.
Turns out Jenna is releasing a ‘how to’ book on writing soon which is really good news, I’ll certainly be picking it up ASAP and providing a review 😀 Haven’t read a craft book for a while so it will be good.
This video is particularly focused on flawed and traumatized characters which appear to be ‘in’ right now (which paradoxically means they’re ‘out’ publishing are usually looking ahead for the next thing, not more of what’s popular on Tiktok AFAIK).
It was good timing for me though, the current draft I’m trying to make good leeway in is about a woman fleeing to a repopulated ghost town with her children. I wanted it to have a Silent Hill type feel which is basing the supernatural elements around personal and psychological trauma of the characters, so the above video was vital in avoiding cliche.
Maybe a slight diversion on Reddit, I do like posts like this although I have to confess (am I a bad writer?) that often MCs don’t necessarily live that rent free in my head, by which I mean I’m not as in tune to their goodness vs badness as many readers seem to be. Don’t get me wrong I’m not oblivious its just I don’t reflect enough to realize stuff like ‘Oh Luke Skywalker is actually a jerk”
If this isn’t something to aspire to I don’t know what is.
And finally for this week: An Article in Nature about the importance of ‘saying no’ to projects big and small.
Hope every had a good week 😀
Don’t forget to comment or link me interesting stuff to include in roundups
Hmmm, I haven’t actually been absorbing too much writing related content this week, as I have actually been trying to do some of my own writing (WHAT) but lets see what has been going on about the place.
This is possibly one of the more terrifying and sad events in recent times. For anyone not sure about why Rushdie is a target, his fourth novel written in the Eighties, The Satanic Verses depicted Islam in a way that offended many, which is putting it mildly. Pure speculation on my part but the title likely irks many in other religions too.
Rushdie not only went into hiding after the novel was published, translators and others associated have been murdered, and obviously the violence continues.
I personally haven’t read that book, but I’ve read Midnight’s Children which is quite a trippy spiritual read. One day I’ll pick up Satanic Verses to see for myself.
Looks like someone else tortured themselves through Atlas Shrugged, bonus points I learn about a satirical sequel Sisyphus Shrugged, a story apparently in the same style but displaying the opposite political viewpoint. Not sure if I grin and bear it though.
Onto a more specific issue – power creep is an interesting challenge in action focussed stories of all kinds. I think the key issue is never losing sight of literary tension. Don’t pit your unkillable MC against the same sorts of challenges as the weakling did change the key tensions.
LOL to the sorry state of literary discourse online. I think the weird thing about this is that online discourse is much stranger dynamic than IRL. For example even though the review the OP refers to is a highly liked and popular review, I don’t get ANY sense whatsoever that this is a common or mainstream opinion of The Road. Almost any online discourse is highly dependent on users engagement, ‘likes’ could be agreement or just kudos for a funny review. Amazon for example you can sort reviews by star ratings suggesting your not going to let your opinion get swayed by reviews, instead your reading of reviews is swayed by your opinion.
That’s not to say online reviews are meaningless, its more that they live in a weird blurry ether that is the online community. It’s funny because I’ve felt frustrated that online discourse can be shallow and pithy, whereas this review was gatekeepery and pretentious.
It’s kinda of a pro and a con of the internet.
That’s all for this week – take care team and if ever you have any good links or such to include in these posts do let me know!
Wow its actually been 3 months since my last Discworld read (At this rate I’ll be done in about 10 years!).
Moving Pictures is one the standalone Discworld novels, although has a fair few familiar Ankh Morpork characters, I and I think, unless I’ve got this wrong introduces a couple of recurring wizards who remain in place for the rest of the series (Ridickully or however you spell it and Ponder Stibbons).
MP is possibly one of Pratchett’s more pointed satires where he more squarely takes aim at Hollywood – God only knows what this book would be like in modern times but I suspect there would be a lot more skewering going on, although something to always keep in mind is that Pratchett was masterful at satire without actually targeting anyone hurtfully so he would have found a way to make us laugh.
Sorry onto the actual book, not my weird daydreams. MP is also a little different from other Discworlds its a bit more traditional in plot structure with a straight MC, inciting incidents and epic battles towards the end. It also introduces the best character ever: Gaspode! I can’t believe I forgot about him until rereading!
Overall MP feels like the beginning of the more familiar Discworld novels, packed with crazy subplots, multiple characters and unexpected turns of Discworldly magic. While its not my favourite story its a fun romp.
Reaper Man is next, another one that I can’t remember much of which is actually a bonus on this journey!
Feeling pretty average this weekend (probably not the Vid-19) so going to be of a lazy weekly post, just a few random explorations.
This post really hit home for me – up until recently long running Epic Fantasy has probably been my favourite genre. I think its the added sense of ‘Epic’ that that series gives. But its hard to deny the risk, it’s not just unfinished series but its hard to keep a series readable over long periods. Stakes risk rising to ridiculous levels OR stagnate and become boring. Something I’ve noticed as a common pattern is that Epic Fantasy almost always has multiple characters and starts to follow a pattern of one major development for each character per book, rather than having a character arc per se. I don’t think its a matter of quantity but quality, and perhaps as stories get very big you naturally end up with less eventful individual arcs.
But in terms of long running fantasy series a couple stand out:
A Song of Fire and Ice
It would be hard to discuss this topic without a mention of this series. Funny to think in just a few more years this series may become old news and kids will be talking about that ‘old show’ that nerds are still upset about.
For anyone who somehow does know the situation GRR Martin published Game of Thrones way back in the dark ages of 1996 (yes almost 30 years ago not 10-20) and created a much beloved series which skyrocketed into mainstream popularity when a TV series was produced in 2011 ( a much more tasteful 10 years ago). If my memory serves that was about the same time that the latest book in the series was published #5 Dance of Dragons. The series was expected to have two more books within its series.
So the first controversy was realized that at a yearly schedule with approx. 1 season per book the TV show was quickly going to overtake the books. I think more many this was more of an awkward but not unwelcome scenario, where basically the book readers would abruptly lose their superiority, but ultimately the show was very awesome so no-one worried too much.
The real issue began when, well things did not go well within the last few seasons of the show. I don’t really want to rehash the details here – its actually somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, and while I usually try not to join in on hate-trains the reality is Game of Thrones the show went from being a show so popular that workplace lunchrooms became unbearable for non-fans during seasons showing, to being so bad that people basically don’t talk about it, no anniversaries, no memes, only endless youtube essays on why the series failed.
Anyway apologies for the longish waffle, the point is this all comes back to the awkward and unique position of GRR Martin finishing the book versions of the series. I don’t think there is a single other creative series in the same position and to be honest I feel for Martin a bit as he is not oblivious to the show (he worked closely on it as well), he is apparently still working hard on book 6 however rumours abound of him perhaps losing a bit of passion for it due to the reactions. And to be honest surely there won’t be a less scrutinized book ever when it finally gets published.
But if we put aside the wider context, A Song… is also a very challenging series to write and highlights something to be considered in Epic Fantasy series – typically long series expand and contract in scope, what I’ve noticed in 1st books usually have 1-2 main characters and a tight story, whereas the next couple of books introduce more characters and settings. What good series typically do is resolve some plotlines and contract the story a bit before the final book, as it become impossible to wrap the whole thing up neatly. That’s where GRR Martin has a challenge, his series famously is incredibly expansive, despite the fact Martin is well known for not shying away from slaughtering his characters, he still manages to keep expanding the cast and their respective tensions.
So I for one do hope Winds of Winter gets published soonish, but I honestly have no idea how in the contact of a complex story and a backdrop of the TV series its going to go.
The King Killer Chronicle
This is a pretty popular series within Fantasy circles but I’m not sure if its as widely known as GoT. What’s interesting about this series is a very devoted by also divided fanbase. To try and quickly summarize the books are largely narrated by the MC Kvothe (pronounced like Quoth the Raven) detailing his young life and quest for revenge against the creatures that killed his family. The first book was published in 2007, and the second 2011 which seems respectable, however the third is still unannounced, and the rumours of never finishing are starting to swirl.
I’m not sure if there is as much controversy to discuss with this one but I suspect a similar expanding story problem (light spoilers head) while the King Killer Chronicle only focusses on one character, the two time frames and multiple plot threads, I think lead to a challenge to tie up. The tricky thing in this tale is that not enough has happened in the first two books. Don’t get me wrong, lots happens in each book, but not enough to really even make sense of how the story might resolve.
That problem sounds a bit vague, so to explain – in the present we have our MC hiding out in secret but telling his ‘story’ which takes up the most of the page-time of the book. Probably the most major tension of the story is as I mentioned Kvothe’s family being murdered and Kvothe desiring revenge. However we also get hints of other important threads e.g. the very name of the series. It’s heavily implied that Kvothe has done his King Killing by the time of the ‘present’ hence the hiding out. But its not 100% clear, and its also seems like maybe the conclusion on the whole story will be in the ‘present’ but that Kvothe’s backstory is nowhere near the ‘present’ after two books.
Finally something I haven’t mentioned is that real life often hits authors too. One series by JV Jones that I would like to read the finale of, has been delayed more due to various hardships of the author over the past few years which unfortunately is part of the risk of embarking over multi-year journeys.
Enough of that topic!
In all honesty I haven’t read the full article because my eyes start to hurt if I screen too long (which is a pain because screening is all I’m up for while sniffly) But I love this!
Closer look is a pretty interesting content creator on writing – usually focussed more on TV and Movies, however in this heartfelt video he explains how having a rigid view of writing got a bit broken when he commented on Dune.
It’s a really tricky topic, because as a content creator he is probably going to be much more popular dealing in absolutes. Even though its correct, Youtube videos that say things like “well writing rules are more like guidelines” aren’t actually that interesting to watch, whereas people that say “Last of Us 2 is Bad and Wrong and Here’s Why” are more interesting.
Hopefully Closer Look moves on to more intriguing videos (rather than despairing) on the topic I find Vonnegut’s theory useful: (especially Which Way is Up?)
Those that know me know I love moral conundrums – including the seminal ‘trolley problem’ since I’ home from work sick and moping I thought I’d riff on some the limitation of the scenario and present my thesis on why I’m the perfect moral person (ok just the first topic.)
Very quickly just on the odd chance that anyone is unaware: the Trolley Problem is a simply moral question of whether or not you would switch a runaway trolley FROM a track hitting 5 people TO a track with 1 person or leave it on its original course.
Just who are you anyway?
My first flaw with the TP is that we don’t really have any backstory to our presence next to the line switch. I don’t mean like I need a good Act One to get emotionally involved in the story! Rather than in real life we usually exist in spaces with some sort of mandate, purpose, or role to play. We don’t usually find ourselves in otherwise neutral choice conditions where we have to make a decision like this.
For example perhaps the character on the trolleys is a safety observer whose job it is to adjust the train tracks to minimize harm to others… Now just to be clear I’m not saying that we should make moral choices if its in our job descriptions. It’s a bit clearer if we consider the scenario of a random boy drowning in a body of water – if we’re a lifeguard on duty then I think the answer is YES.
Also I’m not saying that we should pass our moral choices onto higher order mandates or rules. More that as we navigate the world we usually have a variety of roles and rules and assumptions about what we do. These may not actually specify your moral actions but they certain flavour your choices especially in scenarios where you have made a commitment towards a certain action.
Through a Scanner Foggily
One of my favourite weird variations of the TP is ‘you’ve not worn your glasses so you can’t make out what is going on.’ In its own weird way the variation actually presents a more realistic presentation of moral conundrums. Rarely in life are we presented with choices where we can see the exact numerical outcome, especially when you factor time into the equation.
It’s bit of a blow against consequentialism and utilitarianism (man that’s hard to spell) because for the vast majority of our choices we don’t see the outcome immediately, sometime not at all, and sometimes are unable to trace which choices lead to which outcomes (e.g. parenting choices spring to mind.)
The Binary Banana
As a final point the TP is decidedly unrealistic in its on/off switch. In reality we don’t actually get ‘choices’ that much, instead every day is filled with immeasurable actions with immeasurable options. In some respects our cognitive biases exist to stop us going mad from free-will – by which I mean we tend to limit our decisions to familiar routines and socially acceptable behaviours, I’m sure there is a chance I could make it big on Tik-Tok inventing conspiracy theories presented with 1920s dance moves but I’m just concentrated on myself right now.
Anyway the point is we make our choices across infinite options in real time. It’s unusual to ever actually have binary conditions, so rare to discuss the morality based of it is kinda like observing social media to try and understand normal human beings…
In Conclusion The Best Result to the Search ‘the silliest trolley problem variation’
“THE BOWLING PINS Instead of lying across the tracks, the five bound people are standing, arranged like bowling pins. While still horrific, you have to admit that this is a little funny—you can’t help but hear that “bowling-ball-knocks-pins-over” sound effect in your head. “
Anyone following my blog will know that I’ve been anticipating this for some time – for me Sandman sits in the perfect mix of nostalgia, genuinely great storytelling, and weirdness.
I’m not sure if anyone felt the same but whenever adaptions for favourite works happen I get pretty nervous its going to be wrecked (next up Lord of the Rings) but probably the most important thing to begin with is that the new Series, is an AMAZING ADAPTATION.
My two main concerns for a Sandman screenplay is the either is would faithfully adapted but either look like crap or not successfully pull off the esoteric style OR be so heavily tweaked that it wouldn’t be very similar.
Shouldn’t have worried, somehow the creators have remained incredibly faithful to the original story, to the point where I struggled to notice differences, whether omissions or additions. There where a few aesthetic tweaks (such as having Dr Destiny in pyjamas rather then being a kind of deformed naked zombie/thing). There were also a few rearrangements of individual stories which worked really well, and a few adjustments to modernize which worked well.
SPOILER TERRITORY FOR BOTH SCREEN AND PAPER SERIES
It was interesting to me that the creators decided to put both Vol 1. and 2. into the first series. I assumed that each volume would map with a season, with possibly some of the more random stories (such as Tales at the End of the World) merged into other seasons. It worked pretty well for the series to be honest, Vol 1. is a good story on its own, but is more of a traditional hero journey/fetch quest which just touches on the themes of the whole story, whereas Vol 2. introduces the more eccentric tales and longer term themes.
It will be very interesting to see how later seasons go. One possible challenge is that many tales within Sandman comics don’t actually feature much Sandman, but rather interlinked characters – while its a fun concept, and Gaiman pulls it off well, I don’t know if a TV series would survive that way (although based from seasons 1 they did well speeding up the pace of random characters and making the interlinking a bit more obvious)
What I think secretly I liked most is that Sandman himself’s character development is a bit more overt and obvious, the reason I like this is that after reading the intricate graphic novel its cathartic to have a more on the nose show!
I’m really looking forward to future seasons of this show – in particularly further involvement of the rest of the Endless. My favourite part of the graphic novels was any part involving the Family and I’m extremely keen to see what they do with Destiny.
On a final note I might mention the casting of Sandman – I think they did great! I honestly think of Sandman as ever changing, sometimes being older, sometimes more childlike. But something about Tom Sturridge works really well, he seems simultaneously capture the authority and childishness of the character.