1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

A statistical analysis of common fantasy writing mistakes

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by NOTACOP, Aug 27, 2014.

  1. deilaitha

    deilaitha Sage

    249
    72
    28
    Yet, one of the best-selling traditionally published trilogies of the current market employs present tense narration: The Hunger Games. I actually really like the way that Collins uses it. I certainly imagine that it can be done poorly, but it isn't a given immersion-breaker for me. I think a lot of this article comes down to the author's personal tastes.

    That being said, he also makes some very good points. Many of the things he mentions are problems, such as the dreaded 'expository clump.' On the other hand, he makes it seem as though these are problems which exist primarily in the indie book world--there are many books which are professionally published and/or hailed as classics that break these rules of immersion. No book by Charles Dickens would stand up to this scrutiny. I think that good storytelling is less dependent on the rules and more dependent on choosing how or when to break them. Conventions are a good thing, don't get me wrong, and when writers thoroughly ignore them, it's problematic. But we have to remember that conventions change and shift, just like clothing fashions.

    Overall, this is a good article with sound advice, and I really appreciate how he points out these common issues. But, as is the case with present tense storytelling, how much of this can be attributed to personal taste?
     
  2. deilaitha

    deilaitha Sage

    249
    72
    28
    I absolutely love Stephen R. Donaldson. But in his Gap books, he does tend to use the phrase, "the klaxons wailed like the damned" multiple times, to the point where it's really noticeable. I actually kind of like it, and it only broke the immersion slightly. Sort of a "Oh, here's that phrase again. He really likes that expression. Okay, what happens next?"
     
  3. deilaitha

    deilaitha Sage

    249
    72
    28
    I wondered that too...perhaps it was just because he didn't have any other time in his day besides during his workout. I can't read while exercising on stationary bikes or treadmills--and I've tried, because exercising in this fashion is boring (unless I have music). Maybe he can, but it's hard to get immersed while you're dripping sweat and your heart is pounding.
     
  4. I think ultimately the only really useful statistical advice is "I enjoyed it and would pay money for it." You can look for patterns in people's responses (Hmm, 80% of my beta readers hate chapter 4 because of what Joe does) if you want to try to figure out what to change, but ultimately no writing is ever objectively "good" or "bad." Every person's opinion of it is subjective, and assuming that you have the standard paired goals of "sell a lot of copies" and "feel good about my writing," all you can really do is write what you think is good, and count how many people agree with you.

    Articles like this one can give you ideas about things to watch out for, in the sense of "Here's some things that a lot of readers will probably dislike, so keep an eye out." But none of it's gospel. For almost any writing "mistake," you can find hundreds or thousands of readers who don't mind it at all.
     
    Mythopoet likes this.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    3,609
    1,499
    163
    When I read the article, it resonated with me. Perhaps it's the sheer number of critiques I've done for loads of people, but I typically have certain things that ruin the story for me. I find myself commenting repeatedly on the same types of issues and I've done all I can to strike those issues from my own work. BUT...who has ever developed a winning formula? no one. Books are successful despite glaring problems on virtually every page, and as we all know, many beautiful gems get passed by every day for what's "in" right now or what has marketable potential.

    I think I agree with what he's doing. I would come up with very similar results if I were to go back and look at all the crits I have saved on my computer. I think his compiling the data is a service to those who want a little more insight into why books fail to pass the gatekeeper agents and publishers.

    But I'm sure it isn't foolproof. Even the books this one study found flawless, may suffer rejections because of lacking plot elements, weak antagonists, overall pacing issues, I mean the list can go on and on. Forty minutes is a short amount of time to read, maybe a couple chapters. BUT, that's the point of the study, isn't it? I got rejected one time on the first page because an agent mistook the nature of my opening character. Forget the awesome foreshadowing that scene held, forget the slew of MCs waiting on future pages, each with their own intricate development and surprises. I didn't get the agent to read that far because she felt put off enough by the premise of the opening scene to reject the whole story.

    I think a study like this is more than a little valuable.

    Not too long ago, a person asked, "What's wrong with the opening of my book? I love the detail and some of my betas feel it's too long/ not interesting enough, but I think the events may just appeal to a more serious reader." I read the opening and immediately located the problems. Not only was the writing style tedious to read, in that it repeated itself over and over, hammering home every concept it mentioned, but it took itself so darn seriously, I had to wonder whether a story would ever unfold or whether it was merely a study of fantasy world scenery. Fourteen paragraphs opened the work, detailing every bit of scrub and manifestation of weather or nature around the character. I can honestly say that for me, it wasn't good. But when you comment to the writer, trying to help and offer advice, it's helpful to have some data to back it up. A study like this would be helpful in maybe showing that there's nothing wrong with the writer who likes repetition or belabored story-telling, but that when the work is in the hands of an agent or beta, who read a lot, it's actually a detracting style.

    I don't believe there's a right and wrong way to craft a story, but there are ways that appeal to certain people and there are ways that don't. I'm the same person, I crit the same most every time. I think a lot of my comments are on the same things, over and over. Moreover, i see the same sorts of comments coming back from other critiquers I respect, and the professionals always seem to pick on the same items, if a little more harshly. That alone tells me there's merit to this sort of study.

    I think it's less of a checklist than a compilation of common mistakes. For me, as I sit down to crit, I don't go, "Oh, he used the same word twice in two sentences, time to pull out my red marker." Instead, I do tend to say things like, "You mentioned he was an orphan in the opening paragraph, if it isn't immediately important to the reader why his parents died and how and how he felt about it, let us get into the story before we sit through the history of how and why."

    I believe when a reader reads, they are more forgiving than I am, and that's okay. But a lot of readers are discerning and too often, writers hammer points home that the reader simply doesn't need, or they force awkward openings across because they believe they are NECESSARY for the reader to know the situation. Most books will be rejected based on the opening pages, maybe one, maybe five, but it's a good thing to remind people. The opening two chapters will make or break you to a publisher, agent, or a person shopping and reading the "look inside".
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,171
    3,498
    413
    A lot of YA/Teen uses present tense. I think it works just fine. And if you don't think present tense can ever work well, you can take it up with Faulkner, Joyce, and John Updike :)
     
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    3,609
    1,499
    163
    Present tense is a difficult situation. While i'm not adverse to any particular narrative style, I can say I don't appreciate present tense as I've seen it for the most part. Now, having said that, let me explain.

    Present tense offers a feeling of immediacy that it's harder to achieve with past tense, but it isn't by any means necessary to tell a gripping tale. The problem comes in with execution. When done poorly, present tense comes off as pretentious, taking itself too seriously, and limiting in scope. However, to me, that just says you have to work harder at it to get it right, and once you're comfortable in that particular skill, add it to your repertoire.

    I've critted some present tense and hated it immediately. I think first person present tense can very easily turn off the reader because it can feel like a choose your own adventure book, where you don't have control but are taken for a ride, sometimes one you want to get off before it really begins rolling. That being said, I also disliked a fair amount of first person I read in critting, but then I looked back at my favorite novel of all time and was ASTOUNDED to find it was first person. Now, I write more than half my short stories in first person and feel rather confident doing so.

    Present tense is a skill, like any other writing skill, and it takes time to get comfortable, decide what works and what doesn't, and get GOOD at it. Unfortunately, for those who love to use the style, practice is a lonely business because most publications I check for short story submissions, say up front, "Present tense, need not apply."

    I was never drawn to it enough to really give it a try, but I think for those who enjoy the style and in certain genres where immediacy and close narrative is key, it offers what past tense does not.

    You may have a kill to climb, but just work harder to climb it, right? I mean, I'm trying to sell a fantasy/ romance hybrid that is written in a gritty world and lacks all the elements of fantasy people enjoy most (dragons, magic, elves, etc.). We each have obstacles to overcome, so do what you need to, to stand out.
     
  8. I think the issue here is that present tense is harder to pull off than past tense, so it's one of those things that we see new authors overuse, and so then it shows up on lists like this. There's nothing wrong with present tense if you know how to do it right.

    It's sort of like saying that using Dutch angles is bad, or voiceover narration in a movie. It's not inherently bad, it's just hard to use well, and maybe something that inexperienced authors should be wary of diving into.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,171
    3,498
    413
    One of my current stories, I wrote in both present and past tense just to see which I liked better. Honestly, the only difference between them was that for the present tense version I went in and switched all the tenses. I think they both worked just fine.
     
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    6,008
    1,663
    213
    I wrote a story in present tense a while back and it was one of my most well-regarded stories I've written in a while. To be honest, I don't think present tense bothers me at all if the core elements are clicking (plot, characters, setting, etc.)
     
  11. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    1,474
    397
    83
    I put this under the same label as I give anyone other writing advice, especially about specifics: I think of it as a sample from a poll. It's not that any one person is "right" or "wrong" since there will always been other voters/readers who might disagree, but it's a starting point on places to improve it.

    And if reading on a treadmill makes him more likely to break immersion... true, but the measurements are less of how much it breaks than of which things might cause it. If his methods (or his background as a writer himself, and someone researching rather than just reading) change anything it's to give him more of a hair-trigger for smaller problems, so the list might make minor points seem too much like the equal of major ones. His analysis at the end still shows that that isn't what he found.
     
    NOTACOP likes this.
  12. *LiLi*

    *LiLi* Acolyte

    8
    1
    3
    Fascinating! I'm not all too surprised with the results/findings.
     
Loading...

Share This Page