Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

After some lackluster reading the last month or so, I am embarking on an epic quest: to reread The Lord of the Rings! I will not be reviewing these stories in a critical sense, because how could I? Instead, I will share some storytelling insights I pick up as I go along.

This will be primarily focused on the books, but I will also reference the films by Peter Jackson to compare the stories as they are told between these two media.

Spoilers ahoy.

Continue reading “Story Lessons from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, part 1”

Book Review: CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT, and middle-book syndrome

I just finished reading Crossroads of Twilight, the tenth book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I’ve already mentioned this book a couple times in recent posts, mostly because it took me longer than I expected to get through it. And not in a good way.

Ten books into this series, I’ve run into more than a couple of stretches where there doesn’t seem to be any real narrative movement, and the characters’ insistence on running in place when there’s a path laid out for them has been frustrating.

This book, however, was the hardest installment of this series for me to get through. Rather than running in place, or even building up to something, the characters in this book just did nothing.

There were a lot of conversations, a lot of plans being made without any details as to what they were, or even what they were aiming to achieve, and a lot of schemes.

Always with the schemes in these books.

Schemes within schemes that are so convoluted, so tepidly hinted at by the POV character of the moment, that the reader can’t possibly have any real clue of what’s really happening. There are so many characters now in this series, and they all have their perfect little plans laid out and ready to spring, except the reader has no idea what any of them are, and there are 200 of them!

Ugh.

So, yeah, this book took me some time to get through. I was simply not interested in most of what was happening. I read the last third of this book in fits and starts just trying to get to the end.

The structure of the chapters was at first intriguing to me. The book is structured in such a way that you follow one particular character or set of characters for several chapters in a row before abruptly pivoting to another character. I think this would have been an effective mechanism to develop specific character arcs if most of the chapters didn’t feel like filler content.

Without getting into details, I was particularly interested in both Elayne’s and Mat’s narratives in this book, but I haven’t heard from Elayne since the first third, and Mat’s story took an unexpected if interesting turn at the end.

All of this is to say that I’m happy to be done with this book, and I’m taking a break before getting into book 11.

Jordan has always toed the line between being just vague enough while building suspense. This story did not build anything. The last few chapters are interesting and definitely set up for book 11, but they do not make up for the 700+ pages of what felt like filler content.

Steve D

Book Review: STARDUST, a perfect fairy tale for adults

Stardust by Neil Gaiman, cover illustration, fantasy, fairy tale story, short stories

Stardust is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman, and hearing the Audible version that he narrates was a real treat. Gaiman is one of those authors who I’ve seen a lot of references to online, but I could not have named one of his stories. Now I’m kicking myself for never looking up his work before.

Stardust is an incredibly enjoyable story in an authentic setting. The typical English village of Wall where the story begins feels completely mundane in the best possible way, from the little farmhouses that sit on its outskirts to the tavern where the locals pass gossip and the general store where they place their orders for the proprietor to pick up in the nearest large town.

Sitting just outside the village, however, is a stone wall with a gap in it, which is always guarded by two of the villagers, and which the residents of Wall are not allowed to pass through. Through this gap every nine years comes a market of bizarre beings from the land of Faerie, the land beyond the wall. Tristan Thorn, a young lad from Wall, one day decides that he must journey into Faerie to find a fallen star.

Thus begins Tristan’s journey with an intriguing cast of characters and intricate plot building. Even though there is not a ton of world-building or exposition, the world around Tristan feels like it’s full of history, both everyday and fantastical. Every character speaks and acts with such quirks that you can’t help but think that there are unique stories behind each of them — an incredible example of the writers’ adage that each character is the hero of their own story.

The plot was compelling and the arc of the characters felt very natural. Tristan was quite a savvy protagonist, especially for a teenager who had never left his village before, but I think this is established well enough early in the story that it doesn’t feel out of place.

Gaiman is a wonderful narrator whose cadence enhanced the listening experience, more so because he narrates it in the style in which he intended it to sound. The voices he creates for each character are distinct enough while keeping the listener immersed in the story.

I already have a couple more Gaiman stories queued up on Audible, including his telling of Norse Mythology, which — come on. How can I not read that?

Steve D

Book Review: THE SAGE, THE SWORDSMAN, AND THE SCHOLARS opens a new fantasy world

The Sage, the Swordsman, and the Scholars, Trials of the Middle Kingdom #1 cover illustration, Pierre Dimaculangan, fantasy, historical fantasy, epic, novelI picked up The Sage, the Swordsman, and the Scholars, Trials of the Middle Kingdom I at Awesome Con 2019, where I met the author. I had seen a banner much like the cover illustration hanging over the tables a couple rows away from my own, and I just had to check out the book.

Pierre Dimaculangan was really friendly, and his passion for his work was immediately apparent.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since then, and I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to. Still, it was well worth it. Continue reading “Book Review: THE SAGE, THE SWORDSMAN, AND THE SCHOLARS opens a new fantasy world”

Back to Basics: World-Building in an Established Universe

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I’m late! I intended to finish this post on Tuesday night, but that obviously didn’t work out. I’ve gotten away with writing entire posts the night before for a while, but it finally caught up to me. Anyway…

As you all may know, I’ve been working on two short stories this year together called “The Herb Witch Tales”. While these take place in the same fantasy universe as my first novel, I’m working with completely new characters, in a different time, and in a different region. I’m in new world-building territory for the first time in years.

This has raised some intriguing questions as I try to develop a story with the same richness of setting as the first. Continue reading “Back to Basics: World-Building in an Established Universe”

Book Review: Diving into H.P. Lovecraft

Back in December I started a 23-hour collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s prose work on Audible. This seemed like a not-crazy idea at the time because I had a forty-minute commute home from work every day.

I’ve been working from home for over two months, which means far less designated audiobook listening time. Anyway, I finally finished this collection last week. This review is not about the work of Lovecraft himself, but more about how this collection was put together and narrated, and what I’ve taken from it as my first true introduction to Lovecraft’s work. Continue reading “Book Review: Diving into H.P. Lovecraft”

April Write Day: Writing in Quarantine

March has been weird for everyone, I’m sure. Maryland, my home-state in the US, has been under a state of emergency with escalating degrees of a shutdown for at least three weeks.

My wife and I are incredibly fortunate to both still be working. I am working from home, and she is considered an essential employee for a healthcare institution. (She works in a lab, so she’s not on the front lines of the pandemic response, like most doctors or nurses are.) My son is out of daycare for the time being, and I haven’t left my house in a week.

I’d be happy to talk about life under quarantine if you’re interested, but not in this post.

This post is about writing! And other goals. Continue reading “April Write Day: Writing in Quarantine”

How Do You Organize Your World-Building Canon?

As I write “Survivor”, my not-officially-titled duology, I keep thinking about how I might be able to organize my world-building canon better.

Most of what I’ve written in my fantasy universe has been in The Warden of Everfeld stories, of which I have one novel published and one in draft. “Survivor” is the first story that does not overlap WoEM, but shares some of its history and geography with those novels. And I want to make sure that what I write in one doesn’t contradict the other.

So, how do you organize your world-building canon? Continue reading “How Do You Organize Your World-Building Canon?”