Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Sky Was Our Savior

I'm swapping the order of my posts this week.  I shall post my literary criticism on Sunday.  (Edit: I shall not post a literary criticism this week, because college applications.)  Today I am providing a link to my entry in this week's Finish That Thought contest.  "The Sky Was Our Savior" is a 467-word sci-fi story with a few humorous elements thrown in.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Character Development and Time Progression as Plot

I saw a production of the play Driving Miss Daisy today that taught me a new lesson in plot.  Typically, specific events are the basis of plot.  In the case of this play, the plot was fueled by character development and time progression instead.

Character development is important.  It is essential to almost every story above a few thousand words.  When a character changes, the flavor of the story changes.  It might not be a change from chocolate to vanilla, if you will bear my analogy, but rather french vanilla to regular vanilla.  If a story stays the same flavor for too long, readers are likely to check out.  Tweak the flavor of the story enough and you can actually create movement of story.  You can achieve plot with character development.  Some short stories have exclusively character development fueled plots, to varying levels of success.  It's very difficult for a story to have what I would consider an excellent plot without any sort of traditional plotting, unless character development is combined with time progression.

I read a lot of stories that take place over very short periods of time.  Many quick, unique events earn the limelight for a few pages, each of which move the story forward just a little bit.  This is a very common form of traditional plotting.  It works.  When you tell a story that takes place over a long period of time, however, the events tend to take the back seat.  There are important plot elements sprinkled here and there, but many scenes don't matter much in the grand scheme of things, from a traditional plot perspective.  If characters develop over the course of a bunch of these unremarkable scenes, what you get is a different sort of plot.  You get the sense of progression that the concept of plot really boils down to without much plot in the traditional way.

Using time progression and character development in tandem does not sound easy to me.  I like stories that take place over months, not decades.  I'm not opposed to the Driving Miss Daisy type of plot though.  If you can make it work as well as it did in the play, then you have nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Review Through a Different Medium

Two weeks ago I did an in-depth review of the story "Trials of Teeth and Fire" by Amanda C. Davis, which will be going up for sale (in an ebook including a bonus story titled "Lure") tomorrow.  I just now got an opportunity to write a much more condensed review, covering the entire ebook, for goodreads.  You can read it over there.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Various Difficulty Levels of Writing Various Genres

I'm a fantasy writer at heart.  It's probably the genre I'm best at writing, at least in my opinion.  However, it's only the second-easiest genre for me to write.  If I knew two years ago what genre would flow with the greatest ease now, I'd have been amazed.

A lot of science fiction writers have some form of science degree.  I don't even have my high school diploma yet.  On top of that, I haven't read nearly as much sci-fi as I'd like to have.  But I really enjoy the genre, and it isn't a huge pain to write.  My range of subjects is limited without a large amount of research, but I can do enough with the genre with my present knowledge to keep me writing.  Zento is my favorite character to write, so when I write sci-fi I typically use him.  If an idea can't involve Zento or the Zento universe, it's back to Worldbuilding 101.  Luckily, I like worldbuilding.

Horror is a really hard genre for me.  Most of my horror stories come from prompts.  I read almost zero horror, so it makes sense that I don't really understand how to do horror well.  Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes I don't.

I have a lot of fun writing military/war from time to time.  It's not very marketable at short length, but the action is fun.  M/w is only slightly more difficult to write than fantasy.  Character is the hardest to get right.  I use more description in my action scenes and I haven't mastered building character while also giving a lot of flesh to my settings simultaneously.

And now, the moment of truth.  The genre I have the least difficulty writing is (clean) teen romance.  I love how much depth you can put into a story without distracting from the plot at all.  You can build characters and setting at high speeds through commenting on visual details and emotions.  If you know what you're doing, you can do a lot in each sentence.  I don't know that my romance stories are any good (and again, they're clean, so "good" means pretty much the same here as it does for spec fic stories, not what some people would consider "good" for the broader genre), yet they entertain me enough that I shall continue to write them no matter their quality.  My first romance story, which I wrote less than two years ago, was really rough, but it had a rawness of emotion to it that really drew me into the genre and coaxed me into continuing to experiment with it.

How about for you?  What genres are the easiest for you to write?  The hardest?  And what genres do you enjoy writing in the most, even if your purpose is not to sell all those stories?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Changing the Past

I'm not exactly sure how to best define "Changing the Past" by Barton Paul Levenson.  It's a flash fic from Daily Science Fiction and it's definitely speculative.  I want to call it alternate history, but it depends upon the true circumstances of a certain event.

There's a great sense of plot progression in "Changing the Past," despite its length.  One event leads into another event and there is a clear silhouette of a deep history before and after the story's timeframe.  The nature of the plot isn't overly original, but the execution of the plot is quite good.  As a flash fic, this plot excels.

I love how one of the least-defined criminals in American history is given character by this story.  At least for me, he was always just a name and an attitude associated with an event before.  Now I wonder what he was really like.  The protagonist has a certain suaveness that I like and that gives him just enough definition to work in a flash fic.

I don't have a lot to say about the setting.  As in many of the stories I review, it's bare-bones for a purpose.  What we do see is solid.

Many spec fic lovers will like "Changing the Past."  It may not change the future of its genre, but I'm willing to bet it will entertain most people who read it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lost Love and Nightprowlers (Part 3)

     Wasp dropped his dagger.  Oaths spewed from his mouth as he spun to bolt.  He barely made it a pace before the nemu struck him across the back, tossing him to the ground.  His footing returned long enough to stare at the massive form of the beast.  Three slits marred Wasp’s leather tunic, the cuts deep enough to show the full thickness of his flesh.  Blood pulsed from the wounds.  He dropped down to one knee and cried out in pain.
     Rowan sidestepped.  He saw the nemu’s jaw open, strings of saliva sparkling in the light of a moonbeam.  Its eyes blazed red like fire above a set of white canines.  He looked away as they crunched down on his companion.  Shrieks droned from the carriage.  They sounded like Sarah’s, just before she joined the eternal darkness.
     “A real monster,” Valter said, moving to get a better view.  “I’ve always wanted to test my hand on a nightprowler.”  He charged, sword to the side of his raised buckler.  The blade plunged into the nemu.
     Black ichor spilled from the beast’s gnarled, bony neck.  It reared and struck out with a jointed limb below Valter’s shield.  He took a step back, groaning.  Covering all he could with his buckler, Valter lashed out again.  The nemu licked the new gash to the thin sinew of his flank.  Valter took the opportunity to slash again, severing its spiny tongue.  Teeth slammed down onto the sword, breaking off its tip.
     “Valter,” Rowan shouted.  His boots refused to lift from where they were planted.  He leered into the pupils of the nemu.
     “Loot the blasted carriage, Rowan.  I’ll handle the nightprowler.”  Valter drove his sword hilt down on the nemu’s pointed nose.  It toppled backward.  A battle cry poured out from Valter’s lips.  He leaped onto the nemu.
     Rowan’s heart pounded in his chest.  He turned his head toward where Wolf had been last he’d noticed.  The wily man was on his knees, hands folded.  Rowan had to force his mouth shut.  He took a step toward the carriage.  “I should aid them, not snatch their silver.  How would my Sarah think of me now?”
     A shrill, goat-like bleat tore through the night behind Rowan.  Darkness shrouded its owner.  Rowan drew his dagger from its scabbard.
     Valter snarled.  “Another one?” he bellowed.  His breathing was heavy.
     “Female,” Rowan said.  He twisted to look at Valter crouching over the still corpse of the nemu.  The armor over his torso hung in tatters.
     “I fear my sword shan’t steal another, not tonight,” Valter said.  Rowan strained to hear the words.  “Not if I am to see the morrow.”
     Rowan nodded.  “Return to the cave.  I’ll see this one to its grave or me to mine.  That I vow.  For Sarah.”  He had to stop himself from tossing his dagger between Valter’s rolling eyes.
     A similar creature trotted into view.  Curved horns rose from her skull.  Skin formed a pouch on her underbelly, stretched as if recently emptied.  Rowan’s eyes lined up with the appendage.
     “God, spare me,” Wolf said aloud, still on his knees.  The nemu shifted to look at him.
     Rowan took a step forward.  He whirled his dagger once in a circle, scattering moonlight.  His whole body shook.
     The nemu sped to a gallop.  She struck Wolf on the head.  The cracking of bone was audible.  Wolf howled, clutching at his skull.  “Rowan,” he cried.
     Rowan ran up to the beast and stabbed into her nearer hind leg.  Ichor poured out over his weapon, onto his hands.  She threw back her wounded leg, striking Rowan in the shin.
     Rowan’s face hit the dirt.  His head spun.  Two blue specks seemed to skim across the black hide of the nemu.  He put his weight on his good leg and widened the wound he had made.  This time, Rowan twisted away from the retaliating blow.
     Wolf scrambled toward the carriage in Rowan’s peripheral vision.  A dagger wobbled in his hand, then soared toward the nemu, hitting it in the eye.  The beast made a sound like a horn and lashed out with both front limbs.  Wolf toppled back in a heap.
     Rowan jumped under the nemu.  Its ribs were sunken, gaunt.  He slit the length of one bone, releasing a torrent of fluid.  The beast shuffled her hooves.  Rowan’s free hand crumbled under one stomp.  He recoiled, biting back a scream.
     The nemu backpedaled.  Her horns glistened.  Drool fell from her lips, falling on Rowan’s boots.  The smell burned his nostrils.  She tossed her head, nipping his stomach.  Wolf’s dagger slipped from her eye, doused in ichor.  It fell with a clatter beside Rowan’s crippled hand.
     Rowan forced his cracked fingers open and gripped the dagger.  With both raised, he propelled himself to one side, forcing them deep into the nemu’s working eye.
     A deep croak emitted from her throat in spite of her usual cry.  She thrashed, sending Rowan sprawling.  He cried out between haggard breaths, “I will protect them, if my life is the cost.”
     Rowan drew back one dagger.  He shot his arm forward, delivering a hard blow to the Nemu’s gaping ribcage.  Breath streamed from his lips in shallow huffs.  Both legs strained to allow him to stand.  He laid a final blow to the nemu’s heart.  The dagger slipped from his grasp.
     Someone wrapped her arms around his shoulder.  A cold tear touched his neck.
     Rowan looked up into the deep brown eyes of a young girl.  Her ebony hair brushed the scrapes on his cheeks.  “Sarah,” he said.  “I saved them.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Most Motivating Two Paragraphs of Any Fantasy Novel Ever

"Groat looked torn between exultation and despair.  'But we've only got a bunch of old men, sir!  They're pretty spry, I'll grant you, but...well, you've got to learn to walk before you try to run, sir!'

'No!'  Moist's fist thumped the table.  'Never say that, Tolliver!  Never!  Run before you walk!  Fly before you crawl!  Keep moving forward!  You think we should try to get a decent mail service in the city.  I think we should try to send letters anywhere in the world!  Because if we fail, I'd rather fail really hugely.  All or nothing, Mr. Groat!'"

- Going Postal by Sir Terry Prachett

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Trials of Teeth and Fire

I offered to review an upcoming ebook titled Trials of Teeth and Fire for the wondrous Amanda C. Davis and just got a chance to read the title story.  The ebook consists of two stories, "Trials of Teeth and Fire," which first appeared as "Rites of Justice in Civilized Societies" in The Beast Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, and "Lure," first published in Wolves and Witches.  This week I shall be reviewing the former, much longer story.

I really wanted to love "Trials of Teeth and Fire."  Davis is an incredible writer with crisp, effortless prose I could read all day.  I think the fact that "Trials of Teeth and Fire" was written before (I believe) all of Davis' stories that I have read should explain the lower degree of mastery I noticed while reading.  It's a great tale, I don't mean to imply otherwise, it's just worth mentioning that if you're knew to Davis' work you will find that she's been getting even better as her writing career has progressed.

My main problem with this story is the voice, both the character's voice and the writer's voice (the distinction is tough to explain).  It's not as flowing as I'm used to in fantasy short stories.  A good many sentences start with the same word, for example.  The fundamentals that take writers the longest to hone are not as honed here as in more recent stories.  I wouldn't say this is a crippling problem.  Some people may not even notice it.  To me it read more like YA than adult, and maybe that's how it was intended, despite the 3rd-limited viewpoint character's age.

Voice aside, this story's characters are solid.  Their "sympathy," "proactivity," and "competency" sliders are all in near-constant motion.  The arcs and learning curve are both steep, but not so steep as to make me question this story's word count.  If you're into strong female characters, you'll find at least one here.  There's still a lot of mystery surrounding the characters even at the end, which may annoy some people, but which I didn't find disappointing.

This story has a fairly basic setting, yet it oozes originality.  There are were-eels, that's all I really have to say.  There's some politics involved and speculative diplomacy.  Those are always nice elements in fantasy stories.  I think a great majority of fantasy fans will be satisfied.

There's a layering to the plot of "Trials of Teeth and Fire" that seems unnatural for a story that's only around 5,000 words long.  Ever scene has conflict and most paragraphs change the conflict in at least a slight manner.  The plot involves the unfolding of information about the characters and setting to the reader, which I always appreciate.  If you get bored at any point in this story, I must say, you have a pretty exciting life.

Bottom line: I recommend the ebook this story is being reprinted in to all lovers of fantasy short stories (available for pre-order here).  It's definitely not the best story by Amanda C. Davis, but even so it holds up compared to the many stories I've read at this length, in this genre.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another Week Off

Hello anyone and everyone!  I've had five school days so far and class is starting to settle in.  I'm reading a lot, playing my mandolin a lot, and right now I'm practicing for a murder mystery at my church this Sunday.  While I regroup, I will be taking this week off.  Hopefully I will be able to get some stuff pre-written so I don't have to do this any longer, but I really have a lot less time than I'd like for this blog right now.  Well, see you in a week!