This is an area where I'll post thoughts on writing, tropes analyses, books I've read recently, etc. It's mostly just my writing toolbox!
Magic, science & the mundane
I’ve realised that the SFF I enjoy best intricately links magic (or their futuristic science) to being human. I’ve recently finished the short story collection Tender, by Sofia Samatar. You can read Selkie Stories Are for Losers on Strange Horizons, to get a feel for her writing.
What’s interesting in this piece is that the magic is a metaphor: we have the human element first, the difficult relationship between a daughter and her mother. The way her mother removed herself from her life then becomes a selkie story. Because what is a selkie story, but one about a mother leaving her family, and how that affects the people around her? Read the full post here.
Writing romance, I realised that the main stakes/tension come from knowing that the two main characters will get together, but not knowing how. The harder it is for the characters to get together, the stronger the dramatic tension.
Unfortunately, romance often has the obstacle between two characters getting together being poor communication. But if the two love interests are terrible at communicating, so much so that a minor hiccup completely derails their whole relationship, then how on earth will the couple deal with real issues that are bound to happen further down the line? Read the full post here.
Who doesn’t want to rewrite the Norse myths from Loki’s POV? (I definitely do. And if I get a chance to give Sigyn her rightful place in the story, all the better. But we’ll get back to Sigyn later.) I’ve recently finished Loki by Melvin Burgess, and I’ve been comparing it mentally to The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris, and wondering what makes a mythical retelling work, what doesn’t, and what are the common pitfalls.
The first thing to decide, when delving into a mythology and making it into a novel, is what order to tell the story in. Myths are often eclectic, without a strong timeline: making them into a coherent plotline, with a feeling of continuity between each story, is a big part of the challenge. Read the full post here.
I don't read SFF, but...
Recently, I went to my local book club to read Sea of Tranquillity by Emily St John Mandel. Now, as a disclaimer, there is a lot to love about this book, and I’m grateful to be able to be part of an anglophone book club in the middle of France, so I don’t want to sound like I’m disparaging the people who set up the event. But one of my frustrations with the text was a comment that a lot of attendees kept repeating, which was along the lines of: “I don’t normally read SFF, but I did like this book.”
It’s a comment I’ve heard before, and that never fails to annoy me. Read the full post here.
Why Bother Reading the Classics?
The notion of canon has been debated in literary circles, mostly as being a canon of privilege, rather than literary merit. I don’t disagree with this. However, although I don’t believe there is such a thing as one, unique ‘canon’, I’d argue there are a multitude of smaller canons. I was always dimly aware that the notion that ‘canon’ is a fluid definition: the French canon, say, Balzac and Flaubert, is distinct from the English canon, Jane Austin and Charles Dickens, or the Iranian canon, Daneshvar and Hafez. It was never one list of titles I could read in its entirety.
I was always aware that the canon, or the classics, was a limited notion culturally. So why bother reading the classics? Read the full post here.
Lately I’ve noticed a not-uncommon trope, notably in literary novels: the dead narrator. A few examples that spring to mind are How to be both by Ali Smith and The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. I’ve spotted it in a couple of other books, enough so to make me wonder why it was a recurring literary device. What are the advantages of a dead narrator?
Firstly, the dead narrator is no longer at risk of dying. This may seem obvious, but it means they can take risks, and so show us things that no living person could without putting their lives on the line: the eponymous Maali Almeida shows us the sordid underside of Sri Lanka’s regime, for example. Read the full post here.
Utopias & Realism
I’ve been asking myself recently why we consider violence realistic and kindness unrealistic. It started with me reading Humankind by Rutger Bregman. Bregman’s main thesis in the book is that we have a tendency to believe humans are cruel, selfish, tribal. That, should civilisation collapse, we’d all revert back to monsters. But he challenges that myth with the assumption that humans are, deep down, pretty decent. This is more radical than it sounds. Most of our myths around human nature are negative.
I started wondering about how we could change those stories about human nature, and how to write stories about people who are kind. Read the full post here.
Writing a Series
I have recently been sucked into the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I can only warmly recommend. I haven’t binge-read an author, or been so immersed in a series, in a long time. I even used a reading guide to be sure I was picking up the books in the right order. As a writer, I immediately started wondering why I loved this series so much. Why do some books speak to your soul? And, especially, why do some series – which are harder to pull off than a standalone – work so well?
Firstly, Bujold’s world feels full. Her secondary characters make the world feel lived-in. Read the full post here.
I’ve talked about why I write, but I haven’t yet mentioned how I write. So, for those of you who might be interested, here’s an insight into my writing routine, and specifically how I came to write Tales of the Edge.
I am always a bit embarrassed when people ask me about my writing routine, because I have none. I wish I could tell you I get up at 6am every morning to write before going to work, but I actually get up around 9ish and tend to walk the dog before getting anything done.
Recently, I found a term I liked: my writing routine is opportunistic. Read the full post here.
Genders & Magic Systems
As part of TBR Con, I had an interesting chat about magic systems on a panel entitled Hard VS Soft Magic Systems. The question briefly came up as to whether magic systems are gendered – I’d like to argue that historically they have been (although they needn’t always be) and that sometimes a gender-divide in a magic system can be done successfully.
Let’s define some terms. Hard magic systems are traditionally magic systems with set rules which the reader understands beforehand and soft magic systems rely on skills which are less easily measured. Read the full post here.
One element of writing a compelling character is ensuring they are liked enough by the readers that they enjoy seeing them on the page. Balancing reader sympathy can be hard, especially for ambiguous characters. But it’s often the most complex and challenging characters who are the most well-loved. Today I’ll be exploring what earns a character reader sympathy, and why it’s interesting to have readers love complex, sometimes completely evil, characters.
A good example is Askeladd in Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura. Read the full post here.