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Inspirational Reads

But I Won't Do That

May 20, 2008

In the near future, I'm going to take a whole bunch of unanswered questions from the comments section and answer them. Since I have the email alert on to tell me when I get a new comment, I usually feel kind of putzy when I comment on my own blogs. I don't know why.

Tonight, let's focus on the books I am preparing for down the line, after The Boar War gets published. As I'm reading through King of Shadows (admittedly, slowly), I keep thinking about how the story will play out and what I don't want to do with the books (and any future books after The Hundred Kings Saga is played out). I broke them down into four major areas, which I've labeled as "syndromes" and then there's some smaller, more bullet point things I don't want to do.

Without further ado...

One--The Herbert Syndrome: This is actually the name of a trend that sometimes crops up in this genre (and by "genre", I am using a very broad paintbrush and labeling Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror/Supernatural Lit as one genre...and after that, let's put in a big ole tree right there). Symptoms of the Herbert Syndrome usually are exhibited by series that tend to go on far too long, in order to make a little more money. The Syndrome is named for Frank Herbert, the writer of Dune, who cranked out a few more books well after the interesting stories had already been told, such as God Emperor of Dune, which, as near as I can tell, simply recounts the mad ravings of Leto, who turns into a worm, and is most likely the mouthpiece for Herbert's own philosophies in life. Other examples can be seen with Robert Jordan's Eye of the World series (more on him later), Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth, the Star Wars Pre-quels and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, with all apologies to Kevin Smith.

Two--The Jordan Syndrome: Named for Robert Jordan, this syndrome could be an off-shoot of the Herbert Syndrome, except where the Herbert Syndrome might see several years between stories, the Jordan Syndrome is a more consistent, every-two-years sort of affliction. The Jordan Syndrome's chief symptoms are long stories in which nothing happens. Entire chapters are sometimes dedicated to simply going from one place to another, or worse, sitting in one place making plans to travel to another place. Another symptom is that the beginning of the series and the ending don't really match up, and things that once were important in the beginning are forgotten about in the middle and then suddenly (and often awkwardly) are thrust back into the story at the end. Lack of continuity kills stories, in my opinion *cough*mitichlorians*cough*

Three--The Epic High Fantasy Syndrome: This is far too pervasive to credit to one single author, so I'm giving it a generic name...just like the characters often found in these stories. The symptoms of this are often multifaceted and, sadly, some of them can be traced back to Tolkien. Often the characters will each have their "specialty" weapon, such as swordsmen, archers, mages, axemen and thieves--sometimes I like to think of stories that feature groups of warriors like this as Final Fantasy Literature. With every turn of the page, I'm expecting a character to open a treasure chest and discover silver armor within. Blech. Also, the protagonists fight for the side of good and right and justice and the antagonists do things because they are evil. No one is ever self-serving in these types of stories. There is no quest for power, or money, or women, or know, real reasons to start wars. The antagonists are often the willing pawns of demons and always have an army of orcs goblins at their back provided by the demon, and the antagonist does everything just to be evil, and often declares to his associate (sometimes actually named Igor, or some other variant) his "evil plan." Also, these stories are typically littered with protagonists who are egregiously noble, with excellent posture, long hair that never dirties, and speak in archaic forms of English, peppering their sentences with "thees" and "thous" and "haths" at every turn of a comma. Female characters are always beautiful sexpots who wear very little clothing and tend to fall down a lot. Also, the landscape is typically overrun with elves and dwarves and halflings that run around barefoot...but aren't Hobbits. Seriously. They aren't. Dennis L. McKiernan is a very notable purveyor of this very bland type of literature.Four: The Eddings Syndrome: This is perhaps the worst one, in my opinion (though writing out three did leave a sour taste in my mouth). The Eddings Syndrome is named for David Eddings, and it is simply the constant recycling of characters and story lines under the guise of a new series. Yes, the characters in The Malloreon were mostly the same as in The Belgariad, but those stories were supposed to go together (this doesn't excuse the characters from being very one-dimensional, but, given the plot, this worked...sort of). However, it was vastly inexcusable when in a different series (the one with Sparhawk that I've all but completely forgotten) the author even admits that the two blue stones brimming with mystical power from the two different series are the same fucking stone! Oh, what do you know, they were also both used to kill the enemy gods! If it worked once, right? Ugh. I do have a series planned for after The Hundred Kings Saga that takes place in the same land, but they are vastly different stories filled with different characters (which, given the bloodbath that occurs at the end of the book...there needs to be new characters...). And, just so you know, there are no blue stones.

A few of the other things I want to try and avoid:

-Clever Invention: This is where the author inserts something into the story--a character, a mystical power--that wasn't there in previous chapters or previous books. Sometimes, the explanations are a touch soap opera-y. What? You had a sister? Oh, yeah, she was locked in a convent. But she's back! Alright, then. No further questions asked.

-Uh, Whoopsy!: This is where an author says or does something and then is negated later in the story arc. The most notable instance of this that I can think of is with Robin Hobb, when Fitz said he never lived at Buckkeep ever again...only to move back there three books later. It was a minor thing, but still annoying for someone who writes as well as she does.

-500 Names, 1 Character: I'm ragging Robert Jordan tonight, but I can't stand how every single female character in his stories is a stubborn bitch who thinks she's right about everything. He says he modeled all his female characters off his wife, so I can only assume she's a demon in the sack. Also, a lot of Jordan's male characters are exactly the same, too. But the women are the most notable examples.

-500 Characters, 1 Name: I loved Melanie Rawn's first two trilogies. They were really well-written with good, character-driven plotlines. Unfortunately, everyone had the same name, or very close variations of the same name. I understood why she did that, but it did get a little annoying (especially when you thought someone was dead).

-Føŕęĩģň Ŝþęĺļíŋģş Åŕĕ Ç∞ĺ: Look, I love Tolkien, but if you need a pronunciation guide to go with your story, you're trying too hard. Does it matter if the reader pronounces it /Keleborn/ in his head as opposed to /Seleborn/ or /Her-in/ as opposed to /Hyoor-in/? When you read my books (if you do), feel free to pronounce the names anyway you want. If you want to substitute in "Slappy Jack" for "Luca", be my guest! Also, littering your character and place names with ex'tran'e'ous punc-tu-a:t^ion! gets annoying.

So, there you have it. A couple of lists of things I'm trying really hard not to do. I've got notes of some of the smallest minutiae that take place between characters to avoid any sort of violation of these guidelines that I've placed on myself. This means, of course, that I'll screw up somewhere along the way and someone will point out a glaring error and I'll hate myself for it.


Chemgeek said...

To paraphrase a local talk radio personality...
"I learned more here by accident than elsewhere by design."

Excellent post. I learned a lot about a genre in which I rarely indulge. I am inspired to read a lot more.

Now about this: "...Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back with all apologies to Kevin Smith." You bastard. Let's just disagree to agree. I was supremely entertained by the film.

Pfangirl said...

LOL, I loved this post. So utterly spot on.

I'm very selective what I read in terms of this type of swords and sorcery fantasy (I've been slowly seeking out the acknowledged classics over the last few years).

I will say that I'm instantly turned off reading a series when I learn it already consists of 6-10 books. I just couldn't be bothered to wade through all that from start to finish.

Ψ*Ψ said...

I actually prefer it when people respond to comments on their posts. Makes it easier to get a long thread started. and we all know how much we love comments...

Rider said...

I learned a lot from this post about a genre I've only read a handful of times.

Nice to see you got the hovertext going over your images now.

Jidai said...

This is one of the best posts ever... and thank you for number two. I've been saying that for years and no one listens.

A great list though, I've been trained to stop a lot of these in my writing. Granted they are for screenplays, but they still apply. Mostly one you hit at again in #2, don't spend ages on something that really doesn't matter.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Alright...I'll cave in to psi-star here and respond...

Dr. Chemgeek: I was amused by Jay and Silent Bob, but overall I felt the story itself was weak. I've come to expect higher things after Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy. This one felt a lot more like Mallrats. But, yes, I did laugh (and own it on DVD).

Pfangirl: Jeez, why didn't you tell me you were coming over? I would have cleaned the place up a little. But, thanks for stopping by. And, I'll try to limit the length of my series, just to be safe.

Psi-Star: Yes, see, I'm responding. And I do love comments. I just feel like a whore when I go begging for them.

Rider: All thanks to you. I should work a little bit of homage into one of them at some point.

Jidai: Thanks for the love. Yeah, number 2 seems to be the one that pops up over and over again in media other than fantasy books. I've been hoping for a while that authors like Tad Williams and George R.R. Martin would help to buck the trends of 2 and 3 in the genre, but it seems as though others are going to have to help meet the challenge.

Chemgeek said...

"(and own it on DVD)"

AAAAHAAAA, so you own it on DVD... well, then...umm...OK...OK then!

I agree, it was no Clerks or Chasing Amy (Dogma? mmmmmmmmmm, maybe)but it entertained me for a good long time.

PS. I'm just trying to continue the commenty goodness.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Yes, I admit it: I have quite the man-crush on Kevin Smith, so I bought Jay and Silent Bob to complete the series. I'll be interested to see how long of a life Zach and Miri Make a Porno has in theatres, if any.

Noel said...

I LOVED this post. I mean, it was utterly brilliant. I feel like printing it out and distributing it amongst some of my friends who write genre because we all have been there before.

You Mr. Jenks are teh aw3s0m3 sauce.

Frank said...

Or you could do what I do. It is called Hemingway syndrome. You write like this. Very short sentences. Not a lot of description. I don't know why I do this. But it happens whenever I try to write a story.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Frank: I suffer from the opposite. If I had a nickname to go with my writing, it'd be Matthew "Run-On" Jenks.

Noel: Oh, stop, you're going to make me blush.

For everyone else...sorry, I was soaking up some Indiana Jones goodness. I'll post my thoughts on here shortly.

Ψ*Ψ said...

frank & mjenks: Way back when I used to write non-sciencey things (scary, yes? didn't even footnote it up back then)...there was a clear demarcation when I started reading Kerouac. Sort of like a disease, I guess--my sentence structure has never been the same since.