Tag: Arts

Epic Fantasy

As a writer of fantasy, I read different fantasy novels. In doing so, I can experience the methods published writers use to build a world, breathe life into characters and weave a mesmerizing plot.

Or I can read the books and criticize the lack of plot, weakness of character arc and believability of the fantastical setting. Sometimes, it’s a little of both.

Perhaps it is my experience with disengaged and unmotivated readers, but I don’t believe epic fantasy, written in the frame and scope of George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire, draws young adult readers.

My Reasoning

Several things about these novels discourage me:

  • The multiple point of view characters
  • The dispassionate discarding of major characters
  • The woven webs that take too long to entrap their victims

However, I’m not sure these same things would bother young adult readers (the audience I write for). I do believe they will be hindered by:

  • The sheer number of characters – even adults who read this series admit they have to flip to the back and check the listing of characters. Most young adult readers don’t want to invest this time. They want to enter the fantasy world and stay there until the story ends. If they have to wonder “who is this person” then the writer fails to maintain their suspended disbelief.
  • The scope of time from the foreshadowing until the culminating event – most young readers will forget about the earlier hint and then wonder “where is this coming from?”
  • Too many story lines – if it is 200 pages between the initial storyline of a character and the second appearance, many youthful readers will have forgotten where they left this person. Again, they won’t want to go back. In fact, many might choose to skip the entire story from some character’s viewpoint.

My Review

I recently completed the third book in Martin’s series. As with the other two, I felt compelled to scan some character’s chapters. I find myself withholding my attachment to any character because I’m sure Martin will decapitate them once I love them.

What author hopes to hear the readers admit to scanning? Don’t authors desire readers to empathize with and embrace their characters?

A Storm of Swords held my interest better than the second book. I also scanned fewer pages. Still, I find myself withholding affection from the remaining Starks because their family seems condemned by the author.

I also am fostering more affection for people I despised earlier in the series. Is this because I’m sure they will survive? I don’t know. I believe Martin’s skill for creating sympathetic characters plays a huge role.

I used to like Tyrion Stark, but by the end of this third installment, I see his personality turning to the dark side. Meanwhile, his king-slaying older brother found a conscience somewhere and I’m irritated by my admiration of him. I still hope their sister meets a horrifying and painful end, so all is not lost.

At the end of this book, a small incident from the second book that I knew was foreshadowing came into play. Martin did a great job of keeping this information in the forefront for the reader by having Arya repeat the “magical” phrase with her nightly prayers. Still, the fulfillment is long in coming. How many readers wrote it off as unimportant?

I will read the rest of this series. Of course, I doubt I will read every word on every page. I’m invested in the outcome. After reading nearly 3,000 pages, I’m expecting an incredible payoff.

Don’t disappoint me, Mr. Martin.

My Recommendation

Okay, since I’m an unpublished newbie, I am less than an authority on what sells than the best-selling author who I’m ranting about in this post. However, as a reader and an experienced reading teacher of middle-school-aged students, I believe I do know somewhat of what I speak of from a reader’s point of view.

If you want to write epic fantasy for young adults, I don’t think you can use Martin’s format. In fact, a book containing Jon Snow’s story and another containing Bran Stark’s story and another for Arya and Sansa would be more embraceable for younger readers. Perhaps in the final book, all the characters would be reunited to face the ultimate bad guy.

I would have preferred to read the books in this way, as well. I know Martin is trying to show us the timeline and what’s happening everywhere in the world simultaneously, which is difficult for many adults to follow. It’s impossible for younger readers. They will become frustrated and lay the book aside.

Books for younger readers need to have simpler plot lines. The story (as far as I’ve read it) in Martin’s books is a convoluted mess of betrayal, duplicity and speculation.

Killing off too many major characters can be disheartening. Okay, I know J.K. Rowling did it and her series stole the Hollywood box office along with best-selling book charts. I almost refused to continue after Sirius Black died, and several young adult readers I know felt the same. We continued because she had left the mirror they used to communicate behind in Harry’s possession and what lay behind the gate shrouded in mystery. We hoped Harry might find a way to bring Sirius back.

So much for our misguided hopes.

What recommendations do you have for epic fantasy for young adult readers? Is this even something writers should pursue or are young readers dispossessed of the attention span required?

Perspectives on Rejection

Image credit to mrsec.com

After trying to unsuccessfully integrate with an online writing group five years ago, I gave up on the idea that I could get unbiased feedback on my writing. When I took the writing workshops required for my creative writing minor at SNHU, I had high hopes that insightful critiques would be included in these classes.Overall, I have met four other people who view the critiquing process in a light similar to my own. Check out what Kristen Lamb said about this topic. You might notice I commented (along with 100 other people – if I get two comments I’m in Heaven – maybe someday I’ll have as many interested readers) about the lack of useful feedback from supposed “reviewers.”In my first creative writing class at SNHU, everyone said “I like this” or “you have such a way with words” and that was the sum of the feedback. I’m pretty sure that some of them didn’t like what I wrote, and I know there were things that could have been improved upon.

The only worthwhile feedback I got in my nonfiction workshop was from the instructor and that petered out. When I submitted my final story, he said it had “arrived” at the place he had been guiding me toward, but very little else. Again, disappointing remarks since they didn’t help me determine what worked and what needed work.

I didn’t get much in the way of helpful input in my fiction workshop. This is clearly evidenced by the rejection my “approved” story got from The Manatee, SNHU’s literary journal. One thing the instructor told me to change, one reviewer for the journal agreed upon (I still disagree, but I will do it without italics in the future).

Otherwise, reviewers said things like “show, don’t tell” and “too much description; I lost track of what was happening” and “needs more description.” All of this advice is incredibly helpful, don’t you agree?

What I got out of that is that they didn’t like the story. Other raters said “so much action, it was like I was in the river too” and “this was so realistic, I’m never going whitewater rafting.” How can an author reconcile these statements with the negative ones listed above? Not a single specific reference to lines that needed work or passages that nailed the intensity.

I must say that the thing that really steamed me was the response to my two poems. Both of the poems I submitted had survived several rounds of improvements and constructive criticism in my poetry workshop. They weren’t perfect (none of my writing is ever finished), but they had passed the critical inspection of several respected poets.

Should a poem get a poor review because it is about nature “and that’s been done to death”? What about being considered “preachy” when it’s advice about blogging? (Yes, you’ve seen this poem right here – an early
version and the one I submitted to the literary journal.)

I awoke at 3 a.m. the day after being summarily rejected by this student journal. I had read half of the competition and only found a few pieces that surpassed mine. I’m really trying to be objective here. Most of that stuff needed more polish. Anyone who can’t even spell check before submitting something for publishing doesn’t deserve a spot.

I woke up, questioning my writing ability. My heart and soul petitioned God for guidance. Have I been wrong about my calling? Am I kidding myself? Do I really have any hope of becoming a published author?

I wanted to quit. I started thinking about what sort of “real” jobs I could get when I finished my degree.

Words swelled. Now I’m pouring them on the page. I might only have 60 followers (I love ALL of you, by the way) and I might not have a single publishing credit, but ideas keep growing in my mind. As long as that continues, my fingers will pour them onto the page.

What is your experience with rejection letters? Do you have any critiquing nightmares or successes to share? Maybe you’re looking for some honest feedback and would like to join an online writing group. I’m interested if you can objectively review my writing and not just the subject matter.

Blood Red Road

Apparently, the sequel is out (and the teacher I work with has it), so I felt this might be the perfect time to review Moira Young’s debut young adult novel, Blood Red Road. Since it’s a dystopian novel, I volunteered to add it to my reading list – even though I didn’t really have extra time on hand for reading.

The librarian who recommended this book to our book group compared it to The Hunger Games. I see very few similarities. In fact, except for the use of dialect writing, Young’s book surpasses Collins’ best-seller in every way.

First of all, Saba, the 18-year-old protagonist, trumps Katniss. Saba might not have the ability to shoot arrows like Katniss, but she has something Katniss lacks – a determined purpose. Saba’s strong character compelled me to connect with her and read on to learn how she would solve her problems.

Wouldn’t you agree that Katniss seemed driven by her circumstances? Even at the end of the series, she was unsure what would truly make her content. She’d decided to willingly settle for whatever came her way.

Not so, Saba. When her twin brother is kidnapped, she sets out to rescue him. Her only plan is to rid herself of the burden of her 9-year-old sister and follow the tracks of the horsemen who stole him away.

Unfortunately, Saba has no experience with the “real world.” Her father kept them in an isolated area far from the remnants of so-called “civilization.” If this isn’t enough to hamper her quest, the fact that her little sister is just as stubborn as Saba adds conflict and complications.

Even though this is the first book in a series, it satisfies. The main problem in this story is solved at the end. Sure, there are enough loose ends to keep people reading the next book, but it offered its own catharsis. This is something I’ve learned more about during my play writing workshop (perhaps more on this later).

I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of my students who struggle with reading. The fact that Young uses phonetic spellings to add distinctiveness to her prose would hinder their ability to read and enjoy the story. I was able to adapt to the style (though I’m still debating if it served a purpose) and read the book quickly.

I highly recommend it to fans of dystopian novels. Young’s world resembles what “could be” enough that it doesn’t need tons of extra description. When she introduces new places, though, she does so with verve and keeps the action going at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel almost as much as I’m looking forward to the conclusive novel in Michael Grant’s Gone series.

Hamlet – Not much of a Hero

While critics everywhere agree that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most popular play, those same scholars find little to admire in the title character. He seems plagued by a “lack of will to act,” they say.

While watching the 1996 Branagh version of Hamlet, I followed the text in my weighty textbook. A few additions (from another version of the text apparently) were the only variations from what Shakespeare penned hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed the film. While lengthy soliloquies covered a page in the book, the filmmaker gave visual flashbacks or cutaway scenes to explain what was being rambled on about in the tiresome speeches. It helped me understand the depths of plot that Shakespeare layered in this play.

Hamlet, in a deep state of grief over the sudden death of his father, resents the marriage of his mother and uncle less than a month after the funeral. A visit by the ghost of his father directs him to wreak vengeance on his murderous uncle. Hamlet voices his own moral quandary for carrying out this revenge.

It is this constant questioning and his need for verification of his uncle’s guilt that immobilizes him. What right does he have to be the executioner of this sentence? Won’t his vengeful retribution make him as much a murderer as his uncle?

In the film, it was easy to see that Ophelia and Hamlet had a preexisting love relationship, but it’s nonexistent in Shakespeare’s manuscript. What motivated the only suicide in this play?

Is it strange that I find the multiple murders at the end of the play preferable to the suicidal body count in the other three plays I’ve read this term? In fact, the true tragedy of this play is that a country is left without a monarch. An invader walks in at the end to claim the throne, the conquest for it accomplished by the royal family he deposes.

Even though I enjoyed reading (and watching) this play enormously, I have to admit that Hamlet’s character isn’t the compelling ingredient. So many famous sayings and familiar quotes are in this play, it’s obvious The Bard outdid himself with the turns of phrase in this story.

What do you think of Hamlet? Is he a hero? Who do you think was the hero in this play?