Friday, November 27, 2009

Oh no! The plot makes no sense!

To plot, or not to plot, that is the question. Whatever your experience with writing, you fall into one of two categories: Those who outline their stories, or those who say “To Hell with outlines!” There is no middle ground.

Which option is better? Each side has their defenders. Among the authors I respect, Stephen King hates the idea of outlines, while Terry Brooks is a firm believer in sitting down for a few days and sketching out the major points of the story. King says you should just write and let the story tell itself. Brooks responded that not everyone (including him) is Stephen King, therefore it won’t work for everyone.

Brooks is an interesting case because his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, was not plotted. He did the same thing for his next story, but it was so terrible (according to him) that he shelved it and switched to outlines forever. The result was The Elfstones of Shannara, a book many people consider his best. (Personally, I like a lot of his books better than Elfstones, but I digress.)

I think one thing to keep in mind is how much you write. If you write 2000 words a day, every day, then you’ll be finished your first draft within three months, give or take a few weeks. Your story will be fresh in your mind, and you will be so immersed in the work that you’ll have a really good idea of what’s working in the manuscript and what stinks. If—like a certain knavish blogger—you only write in fits and starts, then the feel of your story will escape you because you are not always writing. An outline could be your saving grace.

I’m still trying to fight the good fight for the No Outline team, but I’m starting to wonder if Brooks wasn’t right about King. (Interesting note: Stephen King claims the only days he doesn’t write are Christmas and his birthday. He’s lying. He writes on those days, too.) Both have published amusing and informative memoirs. I wrote about King’s On Writing in my last post. Brooks’s book is called Sometimes the Magic Works.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Writing

On Writing, by Stephen King is the best book I have ever read about the craft of writing.*

I bought it a few years ago because I liked the cover and the smooth feel of the dust jacket. At 3.99, I also liked the price. I’d never read anything by King at that point. I didn’t care for horror novels, and I thought King was a hack. But, I harbored dreams of writing the next great fantasy novel, and here was a book that looked like it had some answers tucked away in the pages. Answers? More like revelations.

The book begins with a little bit about young Stevie King. It seems he had the writing bug all his life, and the author takes you through the ups and downs of his life, right up to the early part of this decade, just after he was crushed by the drunk driver of a van while out on an evening stroll. Almost every personal story relates to writing in some way, setting up the tips and lessons in the second half of the book.

Give this book a try if you want to write. Give it a try even if you just want to read a really good memoir.

All this makes me happy to see such a glowing review for King’s new book, Under the Dome. It just reinforces my opinion of King as one of my favorite authors, and one of the best authors around.

And here is some Toronto representation with an interview, and another review.

Oh, right, the Stephen-King-is-a-hack thing. I revised that opinion a long time ago.

*Although, Strunk-n-White is probably my favorite book on the specifics of writing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Here is the Thursday morning roundup for your reading and writing pleasure:

Because everyone likes a good list, I present Eric Brown's Ten Tips for Aspiring Writers

Also for writers, tips on making the most of a character's first appearance.

Very good, in-depth look at picking someone to criticize your writing.

Here's a review of High Fidelity, a book I've recommended to just about everyone, including Deanna at Mom - Musings.

And, while I'm not a parent, and I don't hear the pitter-pattering feet of little bambinos, this is an interesting list of the best books on parenting. I don't read much non-fiction, but I'll probably crack open a couple of these when the time comes. Eventually. is giving away a book called A Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children. As in cooking children. It's fairy tale based, or so I assume. Enter by November 15th.

I think that's all for now. If you have any links to share, post them in the comments and I'll add them here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Giller wrap-up

Some photos and notes from last night's Giller Light Bash, celebrating the nominees (and the eventual winner) of the Scotiabank Giller prize. For those of you writing in Canada, the Giller is a huge prize with lots of prestige, and a cool $50,000. (Note: The other four nominees still get $5,000 each. Not too shabby.) Here is a breakdown of the nominees, and you can also read excerpts from the books.

The winner was Linden MacIntyre, for The Bishop's man and you can read more from the Star and the Globe. Congratulations, Mr. MacIntyre.

I went to the event at the Berkeley Church at the last minute, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, I had no idea so many people would be dressed with jackets and ties. Being new to publishing meant that I only knew a handful of people there, but these are some of the people I either know or just met. Or in some cases I just photographed them surreptitiously.

Acrobats? Sure. Why not? I think they were from a troupe called Gravityworks.

And who are these two scalawags? Hmm? Well, Rowan is the one in the suit, and I'm the one who needs a shave.

I should also thank someone for letting me in for free. I just wish I knew who. See, I signed up for a ticket from @meghanmac on Twitter, and she told me to meet the Booknet Canada people at the door. There were no Booknet people. Instead, there were people with tickets who wanted to give me one of the tickets set aside for Booknet. I tried to explain my situation (I thought I still had to pay), and they assured me that these ones were set aside and already paid for. If there was a mixup and I took someone's pre-paid ticket, I wholeheartedly apologize. Please let me know. If this was the way things were supposed to go, then thank you very much. I had a great time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Book 12 of The Wheel of Time, which has another awful cover. I should be used to them by now.

I've been going back and forth with myself the last few days, not sure whether I should write this or not. I worry that I cannot be objective, because I am a fan of the authors and the series. In the end, my desire to write about the book won out. You'll have to take anything I say with a pound of salt (although it's not all favorable), and make up your own mind about the review.

Please, please, PLEASE, if you are going to read this book and you do not care to find out what happens, do not continue reading this post. I don't know how I can make it any clearer.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Not extreme spoilers, but there's enough. Alright? Alright. Let us proceed.


“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”

Those words effectively began the series years ago. Now, almost twenty years later, the end is in sight. Robert Jordan passed away in 2007, and Brandon Sanderson was hired to finish the sprawling epic. That required a lot of work, but Sanderson was up to the task and now the rest of us can see what he has made of another man’s work.

The most immediate answer is that he has done well. If fact, he exceeded my already high expectations. TGS provides excitement and laughter, shock and sadness, and it gives the sense that the conclusion is very near. This is a good thing, because it is book twelve, and both Sanderson and TOR Books have promised the series has only two books left, both to be published within the next two years or sooner. The title alludes to the storm that will break on or before the Last Battle, and that storm is coming fast. The biggest complaint most people had against the last few books was that they moved at a glacial pace. That started to change with the last book, Knife of Dreams, but things really get going in TGS. You know when there's a moment of suspense in a film, and the violins are drawing out a really high note, building tension until something pops out of the dark and you jump in your seat? That's what most of TGS is like, but with payoff after payoff. This should appease any fans still harboring ill will from Book 10, Crossroads of Twilight (aka The One Where Nothing Happens).

As of the previous book, the Light Brigade was in no shape to march off and battle the Dark. Our hero, Rand al’Thor, has a lot of work to do. It’s tough to unite the world when everyone thinks you will destroy the world anyway. Those people have a point.

One of Sanderson’s biggest success in this book is Rand. Everyone worries about Rand going crazy, but this is the book where it finally happens. Twice. It’s understandable given the mountain of things he’s had to overcome, but it’s very sad to see him finally succumb to madness. It is also terrifying. Rand is no longer an innocent farmboy, and he’s causing as much chaos and destruction as the Dark One. He breaks rules he once held sacred, and he commits acts that could probably damn his soul. There are so many lows to choose from, but the most disappointing has to be the confrontation with his father, a meeting people have been waiting for since Rand and Tam parted ways in the first book. It’s to Sanderson’s credit that he can make all of the chaos work so well.

Sanderson’s other success is Egwene al’Vere. I don’t think she ever held the dubious title of Most Annoying WOT Character for me, but she used to be close. Instead, she continues the steady rise to maturity that she began in the last couple of books, and here she completes her transformation as the most awesome character at this point. Mat is still my favourite, and Rand is still the one carrying the fate of the world, but Egwene is the one who is in control of her forces—at least until the next book.

If there is one other major highlight, it belongs to Verin, the sneakiest of sneaky Aes Sedai. I’ll say no more, but I highly doubt anyone saw her twist coming. Whether the credit for that revelation goes to Sanderson or Jordan, bravo to him.


The irrelevance of Mat and Perrin: I understand they will feature more in Book 13, just like Rand and Egwene shared top billing in this book. Here’s hoping, because their sections were small and almost pointless in this one.

Tuon: Yes, she’s Seanchan, with a way of looking at things that seems natural to the Seanchan, but it irks me no end that Mat ended up with someone who makes me *headdesk* so much. Wasn’t it enough that Perrin had to settle for Faile? (Note: I think Faile improved in this book. Just a smidgen, but there it is.) When I turned a page to see a chapter called “The Death of Tuon” I figured it was too much to hope for.

Mat’s language: Was it just me, or did he seem a lot more flippant and off-the-cuff than he used to be? He seemed like more of a caricature of Mat at first. By the end of his brief appearance he seemed more like the old Mat, but I hope for better in the next book.

Some of the language in general: I thought Brandon did a fantastic job, but there were a few word choices that seemed to stick out. I suppose the only reason I’m bringing them up is because the rest of the job was so seamless, so it made those few instances stand out even more. Of course, those might have been Jordan’s words I’m quibbling about. What do I know?

The editing: 750 pages or so is a lot to edit. No book is perfect when it comes to line or copy editing. I didn’t really notice anything until almost halfway through the book. Then in the space of about a chapter I found more than a half-dozen mistakes. I’m talking about missed words and typos. Yikes! After that I found a few more so that by the end of the book I had around 15 or so similar errors. I'm sure that’s forgivable, but the first half was clean. What happened to the second half?

Bottom line: It’s my favorite book in a long, long time. Sanderson's done a masterful work. The ending is hopeful for a change, and the goodies are enough to keep me sated until next year’s release of whatever the next book will be called. Two books to go until the end. The Last Battle is right around the corner, and I'm feeling like Rand has a shot for the first time. Yay!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...