Friday, December 31, 2021

GoodReads Review: Between The Lines - Master The Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing by Jessica Page Morrell

Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction WritingBetween the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing by Jessica Page Morrell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has a lot of insight to offer for editing fiction and filling in the blanks that we sometimes take for granted. It's great in particular about pacing, tension, and how to handle that on a micro and plot-based level. However, overall, the quality of the advice is uneven. Some of it is sharp and clear; some bits were (to me!) too basic or too generic / unexplained to be very helpful. The author also clearly doesn't have much experience with SF/F; some of the recommendations she makes to genre writers are actually don'ts for those of who know the field. I also found that a lot of the example excerpts don't necessarily do a good job illustrating what they're intended to.

Overall, I think this book is excellent as food for thought, a starting point, but it won't give you a blueprint for editing.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever NeedSave the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So ... I feel as if I should preface this by stating I'm not really the audience for this book. I am a novelist, not a screenwriter, but I've heard novelists sing the praises of this book's ability to translate into written fiction, so I thought I would give it a try. (I'm also not really an outliner - I do heavy planning, but in other arenas.)

All that said ... I was kind of let down by this book. The first section, the discussion of how to distill the logline, was excellent, and then ... all I could think was following this method would be a) frustrating; and b) consistently produce formulaic, same-ish works ... good, but never great, and always predictable. Then when it comes to the final chapter and how to sell what you've written, Snyder doesn't seem to have much concrete or helpful to say.

That said, there are interesting tricks and trips I could cherry-pick, and it's an easy, entertaining read. It's also instructional to see him pick apart films and the devices used in particular spots. Not enough to convince me I want to do it, but it's good craft critique.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

GoodReads Review: The Spirit Ring -- Lois McMaster Bujold

The Spirit RingThe Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in a small Italian town in the Renaissance era (there are references to Lorenzo de Medici, so let's call it late 1400s), but a version where magic and metallurgy run together, The Spirit Ring follows Fiametta, the rebellious daughter of a mage, and Thur, the good-hearted miner who would be the mage's apprentice ... before their small world falls apart.

This novel is intimate - it's a story intricately bound to its place and people, where the acceleration of events grows naturally from those before, and where the two main characters get drawn up into the affairs of politics and war ... but always with a tight focus on the place where Fiametta grew up. The first forty or fifty pages are fairly low on conflict but still interesting enough to hold the attention, and the pay-off is more than worth it: the unraveling is all the more horrifying for how deeply I experienced Fiametta's world, and a lot of the little elements that seemed simply like worldbuilding or character introduction prove unexpectedly relevant later.

The stakes are visceral and personal here, and the two narrators both intensely likeable and very different. If I have any critique, I'm not really satisfied by the way the love story plays out. I'm glad that they don't waste time mooning or being distracted at inappropriate moments (ohhh, I hate that in SFF/romance crosses), but this goes a bit far in the other direction to make it feel a bit pragmatic and not wholly convincing. There's also a few confusing turns in the denouement that felt a bit like, "one more thing, really?"

All that said, this is a wonderful book. The details are absorbing and the cross between history and magic perfect.

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Anatomy Of An Idea: Hunting Fire

 Grimbold anthology "Lost Gods" comes out tomorrow - order it here! - and contains one of my rare reprints, Hunting Fire.  This began as a writing prompt / freewrite on the theme of unseasonable weather.  As is my usual habit, I decided to tackle it a bit backwards:  I wrote about a warm spell in cold terrain, but from the perspective that this was a bad thing, even catastrophic.  I love to write about hospitable wintry environments, places where the cold is a refuge, not an enemy.

Of course, such environments can still be challenging for humanity, so I created a nonhuman race - the Glaciads - to live there.  With that decision came a few nonhuman mores and social structure, not enough to render them truly alien, but to separate them from humanity.  The choice to give the main character a daughter was a bit of a whim, but it turned out to be integral to the resolution.

As to the lost god ... you'll have to read the story and find out.