Tag Archives: writetip

Invented Slang and Profanity – Worldbuilding

Invented Slang and Profanity
Are you building a fantasy world and wondering how to add a little spice? How much flavour is too much flavour, and are there spices you should never combine, or should never add to your fantasy soup ever?

Struggling with inventing a language? Or does your character sound lacklustre and boring when he swears? Do your street kids and smugglers sound just like the nobility? Do all your countries speak the same language?

You should stop by my guest post for Thomas A. Knight here on the use of slang, profanity and invented words in fantasy worldbuilding.

Also thanks to L.B. Gale who has kindly highlighted my mythical creature series here. March’s mythical creatures post is set to visit the marvellous creatures of the seas, so be sure to check back to meet silkies and sirens, mermaids and more!


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Tobias Buckell and Lessons Learned from Failed Stories

Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell is a relatively well-known science fiction author. Although I confess I have not read much of his work, being more fantasy oriented than science fiction, I did recently read his book Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed and Why. It was an interesting look at his growth at a writer, giving us a rare glimpse of a published author’s early stories (the ones we writers are more inclined to hide from view than show the world) together with Buckell’s analysis of why the story didn’t work. 

It is worth a look for any writer who might be struggling with their own work and looking for insights as to why. I have guest posted my own review of the stories on Damyanti Writes. You can read the full post here
 
 
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Dialogue and Endings: A Case Study with Joe Abercrombie

Dialogue and Endings

I recently finished reading Joe Abercrombie’s The First LawTrilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it very much and I think Abercrombie is a great writer. But dialogue and the ending were the two things that stood out for me as flawed. I make my comments on the dialogue as a writer and my comments on the ending as a reader. 

Dialogue

Abercrombie uses alternative dialogue tags instead of ‘said’ a lot. There are literally rivers of growled, grunted, hissed and more. Not only does he use these alternatives copiously, but I felt he was repetitive in his choices. Grunted and hissed were used with disproportionate frequency – obviously, because I noticed, right?

As writers, this is something we are told to do with care and even then in small doses. I don’t think either rule was followed in this case and the story suffered for it. Not significantly, but it did eventually annoy me, and after that, every time was an eye roll moment. A definite distraction from the story, which no writer wants.  

To add insult to injury, some characters hissed words, phrases and sentences that did not contain the letter ‘s’. How can you hiss a word that has no sibilants, I ask you? Go ahead and try it!

The dialogue problems were not a major issue for me, but what annoys me most is it was unnecessary. It could have been so easily fixed. 

 
The End 

No, this isn’t the end of the post! I’m talking about the end of the book. I know what Abercrombie was aiming for when he wrote these books because I read his notes on his website. Dark, dirty, gritty, realistic. It was all those things. But, what’s the problem with realistic?

Real life is sometimes, or even often, unsatisfying. Isn’t that part of why we turn to fiction?

What annoys you about those intriguing news stories? Why did he do that? Did they ever find the person responsible? What was the motive? Did they have a happily ever after? You never find out. 

Happily ever after might not be realistic, and therefore not in keeping with Abercrombie’s raison d’être for The First Law series, but in many cases it’s what the reader wants. This is particularly true in fantasy where we tend to expect the good guy to defeat the bad guy. Even if you don’t have that kind of ending, all the loose ends should be tied up and it should be possible to look at the character arc and say yes, these experiences changed the character, even if he didn’t get the outcome he wanted. 

I didn’t get that feeling when I finished these books. Rather, I was looking for more – the reason I was on Abercrombie’s website, trying to find out when the sequel series (say, The Second Law?) would be released. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be one. 

It is one thing to make your reader want more. It is another thing to make them want more and then not deliver. 

You want to make the reader want more at the end of Book 1 so they will buy Book 2. You do not want to leave them wanting more at the end of Book 3 when there is no Book 4 (or a sequel series). Why? Because if the reader wants more, to the point where they incorrectly expect there is another book, you haven’t done something right. The reader thinks the story isn’t finished. When they realise it is, they feel robbed. 

For me, the end of this series felt like nothing had changed. A group of people came together, they fought in a war, possibly on the wrong side, or at least on a side only several shades lighter than the other side, then separated and went on their merry way unchanged. The character I considered the main protagonist went on much as the series started and that wasn’t a very nice road he was walking. His romantic interest disappeared in the other direction with no satisfactory resolution to their romance of any kind. One character looked like he would probably die but the book ended before he did. One character changed into a much better man but faced a future of being used by a man who isn’t very nice at all. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of happiness going around. 

The only satisfactory conclusion for any of the characters was the one I predicted. Now that’s a good ending. Where you give the reader enough subtle clues they guess at the ending and it makes them happy.

I understand what Abercrombie was trying to create, as a writer, but as a reader, it completely failed to satisfy me. If there had been a sequel series, I would have bought it by now. Instead, I’m hesitant to buy his other, unrelated books for fear of equally unsatisfactory endings. 

The moral of the story? The ending should make sense, tie up the loose ends, make you happy – and make the reader happy. 
 
If you want your readers to come back, anyway. I know I do. How about you?

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Fantasy Language and Slang – Six Sentence Sunday

Fantasy Language
Here is the final installment in the slang example I’ve posted for the last two weeks. If you haven’t already seen them, you might like to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

The girl ground the ball of her foot against the dirt street in a squelching motion. ‘Get it?’
Yeah, he got it now. The foot movement spoke volumes her words didn’t. Not just dead, but dead in a spectacular fashion. What he would have called a messy example.
You can find more Six Sentence Sunday writers here.

There is no Six Sentence Sunday next week owing to Christmas Day. There is one on New Year’s Day, but at this stage I am not planning to participate as I expect a fair number of you will be sleeping or recovering (or doing both together). Feel free to give me a shoutout if you object to this arrangement.

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Using Prologues: A Case Study With Brandon Sanderson

Prologues

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the advice ‘don’t use a prologue unless you really need one’. If you write fantasy, you have probably broken this rule at least once (most likely before you ever heard it) and may have been tempted to break it since you did learn it. If you’re a reader of fantasy you have almost certainly ploughed your way through many prologues of varying calibre.  

There are many reasons for not using prologues. The key one for me is they are nearly always an infodump of backstory. That’s two sins right there:
  • Infodump – a massive dump of information that makes the reader’s eyes water and their brain desperately desire to be elsewhere; and
  • Backstory – which should always be trickled to the reader in the exact amount they need as they need it. Kind of like Goldilocks – not too much and not too little, not too early and not too late, just right!
First off, why tell your reader all the backstory in a lump at the beginning when you can keep them guessing? Secrets can drive plot, create suspense and keep the reader turning pages. I am guilty of this one in my manuscript The Fires of Madness. Did I mention it needs a complete rewrite? Yep. Total. Bulldoze it flat and build it up from scratch type rewrite. And there won’t be a prologue. Why would I reveal the reason for my character’s self-inflicted emotional torment and borderline insanity when I can get so much mileage out of teasing the reader with it? I mean, really, when you look at it that way, it’s a no-brainer, right?

So we all know that prologues are almost always a big no-no. But what about the other question? The one that you don’t see answered as much?

When should you use a prologue?

I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but I can point you to one person I believe has done it right. 

Brandon Sanderson in The Way of Kings.

I have nothing but respect for Brandon Sanderson. My favourite editor told me I should read some Dickens because my weakness is at the sentence structure level. When this was pointed out to me, I was reading The Way of Kings. Thinking about what she’d said, I noticed that Sanderson’s writing is very economical and effective. In fact, I have done so much writing and critiquing these days, it’s hard for me not to mentally rewrite the book I am reading. 

But I couldn’t rewrite The Way of Kings. Not for love or money. I suppose there is a reason he was hand-picked and personally invited to complete The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s lamentable premature death. 

I asked my favourite editor and she said yes, Sanderson’s writing is technically near perfect. Of course, there is more to writing than technical perfection, but I’m not going to complain about technical perfection in addition to compelling stories – would you?

The Way of Kings is interesting because it breaks the prologue rule. 

Twice.

I kid you not, this book has a prologue, but beforethe prologue, you read a prelude. 

I know what you’re thinking. In this day and age, when prologues are frowned upon, why would you write a prologue and a prelude? And how would you get it published? Well, the answer to the latter could be because publishing houses do have favourite sons and daughters who get to break the rules, and while a certain amount of this is going on here (The Way of Kings is so long it’s been broken into two parts) I don’t believe that is the reason the prelude and prologue slipped through.

No, I believe they are there for good reasons. So what arethose good reasons?

The prologue and the prelude contain information the reader needs to know. This information cannot be dribbled to the reader throughout the book because the viewpoint characters don’t know it.

The prelude is ancient history. So ancient it has been lost in the mists of time. If I didn’t have this information, I believe a decent amount of the rest of the book would be confusing to me in the context of the bigger picture. Some of the foreshadowing I have identified would be meaningless. Also, one of the main characters has visions of the past. I only know they are true visions of the past because I know some of the past. Everyone in the book believes he is mad. I think it’s important the reader believes he isn’t mad, otherwise the visions would have no meaning. And believe me, even with the prelude, my faith did waver at one point and I began to wonder if the poor guy really was mad. Without that prelude, I’d be almost convinced of it.

The prologue deals with more recent events – who was behind the assassination of the Alethi king. The Alethi know a little bit, but they don’t know the full details. The POV character of this prologue also gets his own POV scenes later in the book, but not many. Arguably these details could be dribbled in there, but since he only has two or three scenes, I personally believe those scenes would be getting into the realm of information overload if you tried. The reader just wouldn’t grasp all the important information. 

The full details of the situation are important because it lets the reader know there is more going on than the war with the Parshendi, the Parshendi are not the unrefined brutes the Alethi think they are, and there is some kind of villain out there who is carefully orchestrating events for his own advantage and things are so much worse than the protagonists think it is. 

The villain is revealed at the end of book one – but of course you can’t build suspense and tension for a big reveal unless the reader knows there is something to be revealed. The prologue is the first step in building this tension and suspense, and of course the tension increases afterthe reveal because the identity of the villain is someone the protagonists trust – and they still don’t know he’s working against them. 

So the two key reasons for a prologue?
  • It contains information the reader needs to know; and
  •  There is no other real way to give it to the reader because, for example, the primary viewpoint characters don’t have this information.
The prelude/prologue were written in limited third person, which for me made it more engaging than using omniscient. That said, even though there is a good reason for including both the prologue and the prelude in The Way of Kings, I must warn you, they didstill make it hard for me to get into this book. Inevitably, they will slow the introduction down, and I found myself wondering ‘when am I going to get to the realprotagonist?’. So even if you need a prologue, be cautious in its use. 

And unless you are Brandon Sanderson, I really don’t recommend you opt for the prelude/prologue double whammy. 

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