Just My Opinion : Words of Radiance & Oathbringer

So I’ve binged my way through both of The Way of Kings‘s sequels.

…and I kind of stand by my assessment. Don’t take the binging as an indication that the books are amazing: they’re good, but probably could have been a hundred pages shorter on average. I’ve been looking for a decent fantasy fix for a while, and it scratches that itch – but it’s not as good as any of several fantasy series.

The excessively detailed worldbuilding has a certain payoff, I’ll freely admit that. The problem isn’t that it exists, it’s that it’s too much (and IMO, in books 2 and 3 it gets downright fillery. Sure, the fauna and flora is superweird. Don’t need to explain it sixty-eight times.

I also stand by my initial thoughts on the flashback conceit – in fact, it’s probably even more of a weak point in book two and three. The backstory we get in book two weakens the character, burying an interesting concept in overwrought drama. As to book three, it probably has the most appropriate flashbacks, but again it’s probably a chapter or five too exhaustive.

So, my verdict so far: worth a read, but it’s not Sanderson’s best.

Weekly Report: Poor Showing

Well, it’s not as bad as during my early-year hiatus, but I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked in the last few days.

Editing Book the First is on target. Reading is progressing faster than expected.

But I’ve missed several writing goals, and that’s what bothers me. I did all the easy stuff, but whiffed on the tougher objectives.

I have good excuses but it’s really just a case of not finding the serenity I need to write. I really need an hour completely of interruption-free fucking around (and the guarantee that I’m not going to be bothered afterward) to get into the writing zone. Lately that has been a bit harder.

But hopefully that’s temporary. We’ll see. And I’ve still hammered out a significant amount of words this week, just not as much as I’d like. Onwards!

Just My Opinion: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is the first book in a “gigantic pile of doorstoppers” fantasy series. Which is kind of strange because Sanderson tends to be a more concise, efficient writer.

Then again, I want to try new things as a writer, so I shouldn’t complain when somebody else does.

First, let’s be clear: I enjoyed the book overall, enough to get started on the sequel right away.

But it’s way too long for its content. At first, I thought it was an editing problem, but it’s actually something more insidious: it’s an overload of characterization and worldbuilding.

Let’s tackle worldbuilding first: Sanderson sets his novel in a fantasy world that is significantly alien. The flora is weird. Animals are mostly crustaceans. Massive, regularly scheduled superstorms rip across the countryside. And so on and so forth. All of that needs to be described, but Sanderson deliberately avoids infodumps and so he constantly injects small bits of data in the text.

It reads well, but it adds up (to much more than the equivalent infodump would be.) And so far, the relevancy of a lot of the alienness isn’t really relevant. It’s extremely consistent (how would life survive the constant superstorms if it hadn’t evolved specifically for that?) but it does have a disproportionate effect on the length of the novel.

In itself, it’s not too bad. If it was the only issue, I’d be willing to dismiss the criticism. But combined by the overcharacterization… it really does push the novel beyond the wordcount the plot justifies.

Sanderson’s significant character count is relatively low for a novel of this page count. We’re looking at four main point-of-view characters, a few secondary-but-important characters, and maybe ten or so supporting characters. We get more than enough characterization for each of them… and then there’s the flashbacks.

We get the excruciatingly detailed backstory of one of the main characters (judging from book 2, each of the main characters will get their flashbacks throughout the series.) That’s chapter after chapter of background info on one character… which ends up justifying a basic character trait (and a few relationships.)

It’s all relevant information… that would have justified maybe a quarter of the words used to convey it.

The worldbuilding was a bit too much, but it’s within the bounds of discutability. The characterization is just excessive.

The book is still good, and worth reading (particularly if you have a hankering for fantasy.) But it’s also a good example of overwriting stuff. Thankfully, that’s not one of my weaknesses as a writer.

 

Just My Opinion: The Prince

Machiavelli’s The Prince is one of the seminal works of political theory. I’m eminently unqualified to discuss its importance, apart to mention that it’s honestly worth a read, because it’s ultimately not full of the malevolence and manipulative behaviour the term “Machiavellian” implies nowadays.

In addition, since it’s non-fiction, there aren’t that many lessons I can personnally glean from it for my own writing. But still… writing is writing.

First, some caveats: I don’t read Italian, so I had to read a translation. Which means a lot of the literary flair, for lack of a better word, of the work was lost on me.

I’m also not a history scholar, and the version I read was a bit sparse on annotations and explanations (I’m currently reading a much more detailed analysis of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and it helps a lot.)

That said…

I think that as a literary work, The Prince is a bit too flowery for the content. In other word, there’s a bit too much noise for the signal. In this case, it’s taking relatively simple concepts and discussing them in long-winded passages, with a couple of (often unnecessary) examples to illustrate them.

Now, I’m not saying scholarly works should be short. I’m saying that they should be right length (and one of the strength of The Prince is that it breaks down the art of governance into small, easily digestible chunks… so why bury the small chunks into long diatribes?)

That’s a good lesson to keep in mind for fiction… and one I think I should try to heed. It’s easy to run up a word count with chaff and flowery, adjective-laden language. And, unfortunately, some padding can be unavoidable because of the realities of publishing – if you need an 80,000 word text to be published in your genre, there’s no shame in padding your 78,465 manuscript with an otherwise useless description of a sunset.

But if you have a 24,000 words manuscript…. Maybe pitch it for short story collection instead of as a novel?

Actual Progress

The last week and a half has been something quite rare: it’s been productive.

In part, I think that’s because I switched task management systems, going from ToDoist to Habitica. I won’t pretend the gamification features don’t help (I HATE losing HP) but the real winner for me is the organization (and the fact that missed deadlines don’t necessarily stick around in a Late Queue of Despair.)

Regardless of the reason, I’m actually progressing quite switfly on editing Book the First, I’m slowly adding words to Book the Second, and I’m keeping on top of my other obligations and goals for the year.

It’s not always easy (and in part, I’m succeeding because I’ve set the bar quite low in terms of wordcount-per-day and pages-revised-per-day) but the I’d rather hit easy milestones every day than repeatedly fail at harder ones.

I still have quite a few non-routine challenges on the menu right now, which makes further progress difficult, but I think I’ve finally managed to get some forward momentum going.

So what’s up next? Well, I have a Just my Opinion post ready to be written. I’m probably going to torch all my EU4 saves in order to attempt an easier challenge. And maybe some cool news soon, too. We’ll see.

Reading Progress

I at least made some progress on the reading list for this year.

In no particular order, I’ve gone through:

Monster Hunter International: Urban (except not really) fantasy that’s almost on the military end of things. Not badly written, but didn’t hook me. Worth a look if you’re into high-gunfire stories.

In my case, it’s going onto the reference shelf for decently written firefights and action scenes.

The Crown Conspiracy: Straight fantasy. The characters felt interchangeable, the quest felt underwhelming, the world felt small. One of those “I’ll pull myself through it” books, but definitely not something I’d recommend.

Altered Carbon: well of course given the current hype I’d take a look. I’ve read the criticism that it was obviously written to be turned into a movie/series, and I can’t say I disagree. Still worth the read. From a writer’s perspective, there’s not much to learn from it: it’s a well-written (but not amazingly so) novel, built around very good ideas that I don’t see myself stealing.

As to right now: I’m going through The Prince, by Machiavelli. That’s worth a Just My Opinion post. I’ll also go through Sun Tzu’s The Art of War later this year. Beyond that, we’ll see.

Just my Opinion: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is another classic, albeit of a different style than Ulysses or Du côté de chez Swann.

Let’s start with the obvious: I’m not a romance fan, and Pride and Prejudice wasn’t going to change that.

It’s also lacking a certain something, and part of me can’t help but think it’s considered a classic by virtue of having been the fashionable novel at some point in time.

I mean, it’s well-written and I can absolutely see why it’s going to hook anyone wishing to fantasize about the Regency period. I also understand why it’s such great adaptation fodder.

But it’s just not on the level of Proust. It’s nowhere near. If I had to fit Pride and Prejudice in modern book categories, it’d fall squarely in the “commercial fiction” bracket. Maybe, on a good day, it’d be considered upmarket commercial.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It’s just not something I’d necessarily recommend as part of a “become a good writer” reading list, except for someone wanting to write Regency romance.

(As a pure entertainment vehicle, however, I imagine that it’s a great read for anyone who likes romance. )

But that’s enough Austen for me for the next few years, I think.