krystalynn03

Reading Like Writers

79 posts in this topic

Just finished Kissing the Witch, by Emma Donoghue

This is a fairytale retelling book, giving the classics a slightly more queer angle with a dash of modern feminism. They were well written and I found them easy to read and, amusingly, still very much in the prose style as some of the classic Grimm fairytales I read growing up. The one story that did irk me from a writing standpoint was the one done from a mentally challenged perspective. I understand what the author was going for, but it was very, very hard to read. I've never attempted this myself, so I'm likely being overly critical, but if it is so hard for me to read that even after three passes I can't figure out what is going on, it's probably not well written. Now I want to try writing something like this, just to see if I could manage it.

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On 5 October 2016 at 2:43 AM, kaisa said:

after three passes I can't figure out what is going on, it's probably not well written. Now I want to try writing something like this, just to see if I could manage it.

Sounds as if maybe that story is ill-conceived. Not all ideas have to be followed up.

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The last thing I listened to was Thomas Olde Heuvelt's Hex. I was mostly reading it for enjoyment, but I did take note on how the author used subtle foreshadows to instill a steadily mounting sense of dread, especially as the timebomb plot kicked in. On the other hand, I also noticed the limitations of in medias res storytelling because it can really kill the suspense except in certain situations (i.e. you know what's coming but you read anyway),

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I've just read (or rather skipped through) Riordan's "The Hammer of Thor", and I'm hugely disappointed. I guess a part of this is me having high expectations after "The Sword of Summer" (or well, higher than what I've got), and also being Norse mythology nerd. Still...

The promises set at the beginning of the books are interesting, but then the plot is stalling. The author had clearly stated what the end game of the book would be, and then he's just throwing obstacles in the way for the heros to overcome. And it's boring. Boring and filler-y. Also, he actually managed to turn Loki into another typical Big Bad who's showing his cards from the very beginning, because... reasons. I know it's middle-grade, but heck, "The Sword of Summer" had more obscure plot, so it is possible. I'm not asking for much, we all know how the book have to end (since it's trilogy), but just don't make the god of deceit casually come in and spill out all his secrets, all right? Make us guessing about "how", if not about "what".

This book is also a good example of how not to fight for your political agenda (by putting into the book the most stereotypical versions of various minorities, and then making them perfect. Like, really, no a single important mistake do they make, and everybody that speaks ill of them is just a hateful bastard).

I'm sorry if it turned into a rant, but I needed it :( 

Edited by Ernei
typoooos
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@Ernei we all need to rant sometimes!

12 hours ago, rdpulfer said:

I also noticed the limitations of in medias res storytelling because it can really kill the suspense except in certain situations (i.e. you know what's coming but you read anyway)

This sounds really interesting - I'd be curious to hear more of your (or anyone's) thoughts about it.

I just finished listening to The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, and I loved it.  It was a full cast audio, and I really enjoyed having the voices done by different actors.  I rarely felt like the book was sacrificing narrative quality to be accessible to a younger audience.  Even though I could see most twists coming a mile off, they were all very satisfying, and the author still managed to surprise me in places.  The world was also well developed and interesting, especially for a middle grade novel set in a traditional setting - she added her own flavor to a pseudo-medieval society in a plot-significant way.  It was a great reminder that classic stories can be just as wonderful as surprising ones.

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7 hours ago, Hobbit said:

@Ernei we all need to rant sometimes!

This sounds really interesting - I'd be curious to hear more of your (or anyone's) thoughts about it.

I just finished listening to The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, and I loved it.  It was a full cast audio, and I really enjoyed having the voices done by different actors.  I rarely felt like the book was sacrificing narrative quality to be accessible to a younger audience.  Even though I could see most twists coming a mile off, they were all very satisfying, and the author still managed to surprise me in places.  The world was also well developed and interesting, especially for a middle grade novel set in a traditional setting - she added her own flavor to a pseudo-medieval society in a plot-significant way.  It was a great reminder that classic stories can be just as wonderful as surprising ones.

Without giving too much of HEX's plot away, a character dies . . . and the author flat-out tells us about it. We don't really get to see it happen, and I have mixed feelings about the execution. We then have to wait for the plot to flashback a couple hours later and watch the other characters discover the death. This is the part that frustrated me the most, because I felt like the air was let out of the plot a bit, and the intensity was gone for just a chapter or so.

I'll have to listen to Goose Girl - I like listening to audio books with full casts. That's how the audio book of "Hyperion" was.  

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I'm rewatching the first episode of one of my favorite anime (and manga) series: "Akatsuki no Yona", and I still can't believe how well it's made. All these little clues about what's going to happen, just enough to let the watcher (or reader) know that the happy-go-lucky atmosphere won't continue for too long. Plus, I honestly appreciate Su-won. The rest of the cast and the plot are fine, but not outstanding. Su-won though... Heck, he made the series for me. Without going spoilery - if you're looking for a series with a great emphasis on characters and not so black-and-white, this is it.

And since it's not recommendation but analysis thread, I will go spoilery:

 

Long story short, Yona is a spoiled princess with a cursh on her childhood friend, Su-won. But on her 16th birthday Su-won murders her father - the king - and she is forced to run with another childhood friend, Hak.

The story follows Yona on her journey to become a stronger person. It's trope-y, but still decent, and has some moments where it really shines. However, there is another storyline, with Su-won as the lead. He becomes the king and works to reform the country (which became very weak under the previous king's reign - Yona's father was a very kind man, but an incompetent ruler). Which is the first thing that made me so fond of the series - instead of another generic tyrant to kill we are given a complex antagonist with whose motivation we may actually agree - he killed Yona's father to help the country. He is a great ruler and quickly improves the kingdom's condition, but whatever good he does, it's at the cost of betraying his friends and a murder, so it's very hard to decide if what he's done was right or wrong.

Another masterful move of the author is that she very rarely reveals Su-won's thoughts - and when she does, it's usually about obvious things. Instead we can only observe his actions and words, sometimes as if we were there as a witness, and sometimes through another character's POV. Which keeps people guessing (and arguing, if you ever check on forums) about Su-won's true motives/feelings/endgame.

So yeah... "Akatsuki no Yona" is the first series I would recommend if you want an excellent-done antagonist. First watch anime, then pick up the manga (anime doesn't cover much, and the part it does cover is more focused on Yona than Su-won).

Edited by Ernei
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Just finished Goldenhand, by Garth Nix.

This is the latest installment in the Old Kingdom series of books, which started with Sabriel. The original trilogy I adored. Some of the shorts that have come out since have been alright, and Clariel was amusing. This one was... hrm. It felt like Nix was falling into YA conventions more than writing his own story a lot of the time. The romance between Lirael and Nick seemed very rushed. The romance between Sam and Ferin even more so. I realize that romance is sort of a hallmark of YA, I guess I just... I don't know. I enjoyed previous stories with Lirael because it was more about her personal growth and crippling anxiety. Goldenhand had great moments, where she came back to the Clayr and they had to adapt to her being a stronger willed person, but in other places, Lirael just sort of became another nondescript YA female lead.

I enjoyed the third person omniscient writing style, even with info dumps. I think Nix handles these well and I never find them jarring or out of place (although I do identify them more now that I've started writing). Again, I didn't care for the second POV in Ferin, but not because she was poorly written. Rather, I have so much emotional investment in Lirael that I really just want to read about her. That makes me wonder if thats how people feel about my series sometimes. Heh. Erin's POV definitely made the story richer, and as a stand alone character she was great. I really just wanted to read about Lirael and awkward times with the Clayr.

It was well written, like all of Nix's books I have read, just not as rich. I don't regret buying it by any means, but it does make me, once again, realize the peril of the multiple POV book.

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Another one down - Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

I didn't buy this. It was sent to me by a friend, one of some ten people who insisted I just had to read this book because it is so me. 

The writing was fine. It was a familiar clean, to the point, little embellishment style that I use. In that respect I found it easy to read. Mostly though I just found it confusing. The field is too similar to mine, but without the focus. This particular writing style does not tend to lend sympathy to characters or contribute to author voice (and let me tell you, that is something I struggle with every day), and so I was bored. Why should I cheer for a character I have no connection to, other than our eerily similar lives?

So, yeah. If I ever write a memoir, may it not be this. Or at least if it is this, let me have figured out author voice well before the writing of it, so I don't bore the pants off of another scientist who gets told to read it. 

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This does not sound like a recommendation, but then why would you want to read about your 'own life', as it were?

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Has anyone else read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch?  I just finished listening to it.  It's definitely grittier than the things I usually gravitate towards.  Overall I liked it.  The world was fascinating and super creative, if dark, and the characters are great - lovable rogues, indeed.  I thought his writing was smooth and well-done, and his long descriptive passages usually rewarded attention by being relevant later, as well as just being really interesting.  I'm not sure I'll read the rest of the series, though.  There were some pretty disturbing bits.  Actually, many disturbing bits.  Plus, revenge turned out to be such an important character motivation in this book, and I just never buy into revenge plots.  Sure, be angry, be upset, but what has revenge ever done for anyone?  Book one wrapped up well, so I might just leave the series alone.  Lies barely passed the Bechdel test, though... I'm wondering if anyone else has opinions about the gender dynamics in the book.  There were certainly strong women, but there weren't so many of them, and I have a specific question about fridging in the spoiler box below.

Spoiler

Does Nazca's death count as a fridging?  It was a major part in the plot, and it certainly was used to fuel her father's emotional shift and subsequent actions.  The thing is, everyone is being used in this book, left and right - and it wasn't just the author killing her for an emotional purpose, it was a character killing her for an emotional purpose.  A slimy character at that.  But then was the author using her death to show us what a slimy character the Gray King is?  Hmmm...

Overall, I still recommend it, but with quite the content warning.  Violence, sex, language, drugs, and yes, there is also a brief description of sexual assault.  

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16 hours ago, Hobbit said:

Has anyone else read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch?

I read this not long ago, and read the next two books soon after.  I really enjoyed the story, but it certainly has all the content warnings you list.  It's  a lot grittier than I usually read, but was also very heartfelt and light(?) at the same time, not like Game of Thrones, say.

I also listened to this on audio book, so I may have had a different perception if I had read it.

On your spoiler box question, I don't think that is fridging, based on what @kaisa outlined, because the character was well developed and had a reason for being killed (whether the killer's reasons were good or not).  

At any rate, I'll add my recommendation to read the books, if only for Lynch's skill in weaving two timelines together in his stories.

 

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I'm reading it now, and enjoying it so far. Still trying to decide if the interludes are annoying or not. On balance, I think better now that they are shorter. I'm at Page 224. I read like the sloth in Zootopia / Zootropolis stamps a driver's licence.

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18 hours ago, Hobbit said:

Has anyone else read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch?  

See page one of this thread.

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About the spoiler, I'm going to waggle my hand and go 'actually yeah probably a fridging'. That character doesn't exactly have their own plotline; they're an adjunct to several others' stories. They're not the only character the story treats in this manner though, and it's got a lot of well-realized female characters so I'm not as bothered as I am under a lot of circumstances. Especially after the third book I'm pretty well satisfied the author's doing his best with women and he's doing better than most, I think.

As far as Bechdel goes, this is a series that's always going to struggle with that because it's very tight third person POV of a male character; I'm not going to sweat it if the rest lines up. And I very much appreciate the way some stuff is handled in the third book; I'm not going to say more than that because it doesn't sound like others are there yet? 

I would not call the flashback bits interludes per se; they're as much the story as the present-day stuff, and I think it's an interesting way of going about it.

It's a series I actually very much enjoy, on the whole.

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On 25/10/2016 at 10:04 PM, neongrey said:

I'm not going to say more than that because it doesn't sound like others are there yet?

I'm on Page 286 of Book 1 - and I'm enjoying it. I've become comfortable with the interludes, which are now more sparse, after the initial jumble. At this stage, there is something of a dearth of female characters, basically just Lady Salvara and the boss's daughter, but they are reasonably well drawn, I thought.

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Yeah, the first book is short but the women he does have I think are done well; it's definitely something gets better at and does more of as he goes. I don't think the next two books are quite as good as the first, but I like them pretty well. And I appreciate some of the stuff in 3, quite a lot.

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On the subject of Lies of Lockes Lamora: Final Fantasy! Well, Locke's name actually comes from the character Locke from FFVI (apparently), in which Locke is the game's thief, and has some of the most character development of the massive roster.

What I mean to say is that I learned a lot of character building skills from playing RPGs. It's a bit tricky to find a good one, but if you go back you can find some incredibly well-developed protagonists with little dialogue. Take the golden olden Chrono Trigger. The entire cast (I feel) is developed, with only a few lines of dialogue (the protagonist doesn't even speak!) and one sidequest per character. If you ever want to find an object lesson on how to cram in character development with only a few dialogue lines and one or two scenes, dust of a few old titles and see how they did it.

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I keep forgetting this thread!

On recommendation from a friend I read Sword-Dancer and Sword-Singer by Jennifer Roberson. 

This is one of those instances where I know the books are older, so I am trying to view them fairly for the time. I understand why they are popular. They are well written, with good tension and the blocking is superb. 

With that said, I really disliked the first book. The way rape and male gaze was used would have had me put the book down and blacklist the author if my friend wasn't wide-eyed awaiting how much I loved the books. 

They did get better, as series do and as writers develop, but the problems of the first book leave me with such a coloring of the author and the characters that I don't want to pursue further works. 

I think this is a good thing to note for us newbie writers. Readers may judge you just on one work. You may never get them back. That's a lot of pressure!

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22 minutes ago, kaisa said:

I think this is a good thing to note for us newbie writers. Readers may judge you just on one work. You may never get them back. That's a lot of pressure!

I'm actually baffled by this, because I very rarely remember the authors of books I read. I just grab the book and see if the synopsis on the back fits me. I even read "Warbreaker", was less than impressed, and then read "The Way of Kings" unaware that it was the same author until I checked it long after. For me, the book would have to be very bad - like, "50 Shades of Grey" bad - to remember the author as to avoid their books completely. There are some other authors that I didn't really like, but I generally give them two or three tries, especially if they are popular (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card etc.). I don't read books purely by author other than Brandon Sanderson (and even in his case, I will most likely skip the newest novella, since it's s-f and apparently not tied to Cosmere).

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Ah, the 80s. May you never return.

I'd try Katherine Kerr's stuff, starting with Daggerspell-- there's a series that is just not popular enough, because I think if it was starting in the 90s or today and, sigh, was written by a dude, we'd be watching getting mangled by HBO now. I think Jill's a character you'll appreciate though.

Edited by neongrey
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Just finished reading Scythe by Neal Shusterman. I made a list of, I think, seven good reasons I shouldn't like it, but I do. Neal Shusterman is one of the best dark writers today. Not horror, but his work is very dark (Dark Fusion is worse.) I'm going to reread it to catch all the subtleties, but Scythe is an expertly written novel for learning how to incorporate darker elements without delving into body horror or jump-scares, or the like.

Also, if you want to know how to write from the perspective of an insane person, he's also written Challenger Deep. I read it in a locked room in a single sitting, which wasn't a good idea on my part, and I found it amazing. Challenger Deep is told from the perspective of someone who is insane, crafted in part from Neal Shusterman's own experiences.

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Finally got around to reading Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I don't read much steam punk, so I enjoyed the imagery a lot as it was a steep learning curve for me. With that said, I did feel it moved slowly and yet sometimes, maybe too fast? 

Some elements, like the plot, just plodded. In fact I didn't see much of a plot for the first half. Other areas, like the romance, were so sudden I was a bit dumbstruck (but I do like a long, drawn out romance). 

This is the first time I've been able to stomach a book written in dialect. It was alright, but it did make the book more difficult to read. I don't know if I would ever make this choice as a writer. 

 

Second book just just finished is Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. I was confused at first when I started this, as I thought it was YA and it is actually middle grade. With that in mind, I thought it was snappy and lovely, with the right amount of exploring and world building for this age group. I do wonder how much it gets compared to Harry Potter, as there are some similar thematic elements. Such a neat premise for a book, and I really have nothing to quibble over. Some writing, good tension. 

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I would like to read more of Nnedi Okorafor's stuff, yeah; YA and MG don't really do it for me, but I should at the very least pick up Binti. Who Fears Death was really good, if not the easiest thing to read.

Elizabeth Bear though... man, I don't believe so much in holding people to things that happened years ago if it seems like they're actually doing better, and it was 2009, but I do remember Racefail, so I always feel a bit awkward there. I don't consciously avoid her stuff but I don't know if the fact that I do avoid it is a result of that or not.

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43 minutes ago, neongrey said:

Elizabeth Bear though... man,

o_O ? It's my first time with her. Does she have some troublesome other work? Karen Memory was really diverse and well paced, and I can't say I had any issues with it other than sometimes being a little bored or thinking the romance was rushed. 

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