Wednesday, 25 March 2015

BOOM! CRASH! Pitter-Patter Click-Clack.


Ah, it dooms us all. A first chapter, a first scene, a first sentence focused around weather is the bane of critique groups around the world. It's a classic no-no.

And yet so many books - recently published - begin with a scene describing the weather. 

What's the deal? 

Well, in my humble (entirely uninformed) opinion, I think it's more about being interesting than being unique. Weather, in conversation and in writing, is dull. Why is that? 

In my daily life, weather is fascinating. It determines what I wear, what I think, my mood, my diet, hell, it even determines what memories will pop up in my mind that day. Weather is scents I haven't smelled since childhood (a certain perfume paired with a warm wind), weather is dark or light, comfortable or dangerous. Weather is part of my daily experience. 

So why shouldn't I start my novel with the weather? 

Too often, weather is used as a metaphor for mood. That's fine and dandy, but how often do you really think 'the weather matches my mood today' without mentally slapping yourself for being cliche? (If you don't, you really should).

If your protagonist is walking through weather, don't describe it unless your protagonist notices - or if they should notice (like in a hailstorm) and don't. Weather is a tool, not a set piece. Use it to characterize, to antagonize, to obstruct, to distract. Not just... to be there. 

That's my opinion, anyway. I think weather is unjustly maligned. What about you? Any basic writing no-no that you think should be taken off the naughty list? 


Monday, 23 March 2015

Rumblings from the Deep

"Then something came into the chamber - I felt it through the door, and the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent. It laid hold of the iron ring, and then it perceived me and my spell."
- Lord of the Rings, Bridge of Khazad-dum

The flight through Moria has always been one of my favorite passages in fantasy literature. There's just something I love about ancient evil rising from the depths, monsters waking from a thousand lifetimes of slumber.

Maybe it's because I can relate -- especially after a late night and a blaring alarm clock.

Don't tell me you've never felt like this on a Monday morning.

Maybe it's a cliché plot devise, maybe not, but it never fails to capture my imagination. And the proof is in the pudding; my current WIP is largely about ancient powers coming back to life.

What's your favorite example of the awakening ancient evil? Or your least favorite? There are a lot of potential pitfalls for the plot device, and I know we've all seen it done poorly.


P.S. Do you like how I made my first blog post in over a year about an awakening ancient evil? Rising from the black depths of university, maybe?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

In Which Mineralogy Gives Me A Writing Lesson

Mineralogy is far-and-away the most difficult class I've ever had to take. We need to learn the properties of minerals, how to identify them, and how they interact with different geological processes. Somewhere along the way, we're learning the principles of writing scientific papers. Want to know a secret? 

They're boring. 

That's write, scientific papers are purposely written dry and dull, full of facts and observations but little else. And you know what? That's good. It serves the purpose. Flowery prose isn't what a reader needs in a scientific paper. 

But that makes it difficult for me, because I want to write things prettily

My mineralogy professor is aware of this, and gave us all a bit of advice that not only applies to scientific papers, but every kind of writing. 

"Listen to Bob Dylan songs," he said. "If there's anyone who knows how to write succinctly and get his point across, it's him. His songs are simple, concise, and convey a lot of information." 

Sure enough, when I got home I looked up a couple of his songs. This one stood out to me - Ballad of Hollis Brown. I won't post all the lyrics here, but here's the beginning: 

Hollis Brown
He lived on the outside of town
With his wife and five children
And his cabin brokin' down.

You looked for work and money
And you walked a rugged mile
You looked for work and money
And you walked a rugged mile
Your children are so hungry
That they don't know how to smile.

And the song continues on like that, and conveys an extremely compelling and tragic tale. He uses repetition to great effect, and creates an atmosphere that instantly transports the reader into the story. And foreshadowing? He's got it down: 

Your grass is turning black
There's no water in your well
Your spent your last lone dollar
On seven shotgun shels.

So what do you think? Is there a particular trick he uses? Is there something his writing conveys that you wish you could mimic? I wish I could create an atmosphere like this song does!