My friend Troy asked the other day about my ” ideas on usage of language – how you change it per the setting and world you are writing in, how you find not only the narrator’s voice, but the voice of your characters.”
When it comes to altering language for the setting and world, most of the time I turn the dial only a little. The big exception would be the historical fantasies I’ve written in the voice of an 8th century Arabian swordsman. In preparation for writing those I read a lot of translations of work written from around the same time I set the stories in, and that prose was a lot more formal. Many of the writers were also highly religious, sprinkling in praise to God every few sentences or so. I knew that if I wrote in exactly the same style I’d put off modern readers and erect a barrier between them and the work, so I wrote in sort of a faux version of that. It’s a little more formal and flowery, so that it sounds different without (hopefully) being too distant. I mention praise to God every now and then but far, far less often, and the sentence structure is more varied. Read More
When I stepped up to be the Managing Editor of Black Gate, I started running a live journal. It seems hard to believe that was already so long ago, but when I got to looking up a post I’d written that might be of interest I saw that it dated from 2007, which kind of floored me. The years have sped past.
Anyway, prior to this post I had just finished reading through a big batch of Black Gate submissions, and the percentages of rejections I discuss seemed to hold in the years going forward. I expect they’ll be true when I start reading magazine submissions again, so I thought I’d give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to pull manuscripts from the envelopes, or e-mail. Have a look at what kind of things I found there, and perhaps most importantly, what submitters have done wrong. Better than learning from your own mistakes is learning from those that other people have made, right? That’s less painful.
Believe me, when we finally get around to asking for subs for Tales From the Magician’s Skull, these are the things writers really need to be aware of.
Before I ever got to the first published novel I had at least five others that didn’t make the cut. I write “at least” because three of those five were rewritten numerous times, sometimes nearly from scratch, so maybe the total is more like ten or twelve. Yeah, that many.
I am reminded of what I heard as a creative writing minor in college when a published author dropped by to talk to us. He said that it might take us multiple novels before we got published, and he cited a figure close to ten, because that’s how long it had taken him. I remember thinking to myself that I would certainly figure things out faster. Hah! The arrogance and optimism of youth. I sure thought I was special (even as I was brimming with insecurities that I really wasn’t). Would I have stuck with it so long if I’d known success wasn’t waiting around the corner? What if I’d known the advice I later heard, about having to put in about 10,000 hours before you were good enough to be professional with a skill? I think that little gem is probably pretty accurate for most of us, as it turns out.
Probably I’d still have kept at it. I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller, even if I thought I had more of a natural knack that wouldn’t require quite so much time to get right. Of course, some people get it right the first time out of the gate, like Lynch and Rothfuss. That wasn’t me, alas. Maybe to write your first one it helps if you’re a more seasoned human being, because some of my challenge was that I hadn’t experienced enough life to write a convincing novel when I was in my teens or early 20s.
One of the things I liked best was that the backstory wasn’t front loaded into the plot. I think a lot of modern writers would have spun it out twice as long and shown us a bunch of scenes of the youthful years of the character as he experienced the things that shaped him. Instead, the story starts with Jake Wade’s new identity already established, then the threat to that identity is introduced. The story is in motion from the very start and anything we don’t know acts as an enticement to find out the secrets behind it all. Boy do I love that style more.
I wonder if it says something about the era in which I grew up, where as a boy I admired and emulated men who had still waters that run deep, and didn’t talk about problems. Not that I was successful, because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, but I aspired to be more like that. Those were the models I saw around me and those are the models I saw on television and in the movies. Of course those models had some things wrong with them, too — the inability to communicate, for instance — but I still admire the habit of not spewing your problems and backstory over everybody you meet. Maybe the tendency to do that in some modern fiction is a backlash against being too closed in.
Anyway, two thumbs up for The Law and Jake Wade, and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie now, which is supposed to be a pretty strong old western.
It’s not until page 134 (of those 142) where we finally get a little window into how a man who’s good now ended up running with a bad bunch in the past, because it’s necessary for Jake to try and explain himself to the woman he loves over breakfast before he makes his final goodbye. Here, I’ll excerpt this text from Marvin Albert’s book: Read More
I wanted to point everyone to the new sword-and-sorcery anthology, The Mighty Warriors. My old friend Paul McNamee has a story within — along with David C. Smith and the mighty Charles Saunders and other talented folks– and it is graced with a Bruce Timm cover. Visit Paul’s web site for a lowdown on the table of contents and a good look at the artwork.
It’s gotten me thinking about sword-and-sorcery anthologies and mulling which old ones are my favorites. What about you?
As I’m away from home right now I can’t step over to look at my bookshelf to search through individual volumes. I know I was always a little disappointed in the Flashing Swords anthologies, and fond of the Swords Against Darkness collections. As to single volumes, though, it gets tougher. How to judge? Some are strong collections but hold stuff I have in other collections. Doesn’t mean that they’re not a strong sample of the good stuff…
My friend Troy asked the other day about my ” ideas on usage of language – how you change it per the setting and world you are writing in,…
When I stepped up to be the Managing Editor of Black Gate, I started running a live journal. It seems hard to believe that was already so long…
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I’ve written of the power of Robert E. Howard’s prose any number of times, and I’m sure that there’s more that could be said, and that will be…