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Sanderson's First Law

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kelise, Apr 22, 2012.

  1. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    According to many people, the Harry Potter series is packed with these deplorable DEMs that are the mark of a bad writer, but anyway the series has been unbelievably successful... and it is far more famous and loved than many other Fantasy series with science-like Magic systems and realistic explanations.

    As Fantasy writers we should worry more about plunging our readers deep into our worlds, creating something unique that captures the imagination of the readers- In my opinion, that is the true formula of success in what we do: Create a world that people will love, and as long as you do not include really crazy stuff, you will be okay =)

    @ThinkerX: Your Magic sounds interesting!! I love stories about demons, ghosts, mysterious spirits and things like that.

    As an additional note, I am sure that DEMs made extreme and crazy on purpose could be excellent in Comic Fantasy stories!!
     
  2. Phin Scardaw

    Phin Scardaw Troubadour

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    The success of the series is in no way a measure Rowling's talent but merely a demonstrative phenomenon of pop marketing.
     
  3. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

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    That, and children are more easily able to suspend disbelief when it comes to something like magic. As long as it looks cool, they don't care.
     
  4. Is there another way to measure talent besides success? Or really, is there any way to measure talent? You might think writer A is the most talented writer out there, and I might despise everything they write. So are they talented, or not?
     
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  5. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    Oh well, and so I do post here again even though I didn’t want to.

    Quickly stating my opinion on the Harry Potter issue: I’ve been very fond of Rowling’s use of magic in her first five books but I wasn’t happy about the resolution.
    The Hallows actually did come out of nowhere and Voldemort’s end wasn’t too convincing. In my opinion this is not because of inherent problems with the magic system but because Rowling didn’t want to have her teenage protagonist actually killing someone. It can be blamed on the magic system of course, but I believe that they usually lie in other parts oft he story. If an author knows what he or she is doing they don’t need deus ex machina no matter what they’re magic is like.

    In Harry Potter, I really liked the idea of an entire nation of magical people among whom magic is seen as the norm and not as something special. It’s pretty unique I believe, at least I can’t think of another work doing something similar. Under these circumstances it makes sense in my opinion that HP wizarding youth don’t know too much about the finer workings of magic. When learning to read and write most of us aren’t interested in the brainfunctions necessary for this either. I actually dislike some explanations involving things like ”žmana“ or leylines for unknown reason, that’s why I’m glad if I don’t see it.

    I’ve actually considered doing something similar myself but in my case, the all-magical society didn’t really work out, derivative work usually doesnt. ;) That’s how my own magic system came about which I think actually matches what’s been asked here.

    We all agree that random help for the hero is a sign of bad story-telling. This is true no matter if the randon help comes from people (the king suddenly supporting the heros for no reason), gods or magic.
    Still, I disagree with the notion that to avoid this, detailed information on the nature of the magic in question is necessary. The readers should have an idea as to what is possible and what isn’t but it’s not necessary to give a detailed background. It can be nice and interesting in certain stories, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

    Even flawed or ”žcliched“ magic systems can work very well if the plot, the characters and the conflicts they’re facing are good and interesting enough.
    Imagine a casserole. The pasta or potatoes are the plot, the vegetables and/or meat are the characters and the cheese is the magic. Choosing a tasty kind of cheese makes the whole thing much more delicious but if the rest isn’t good, it’s no use.
     
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  6. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    I reply with a quote only in rare occasions... I agree with this very much!! Like Amanita, I was not really convinced about the Hallows story and how Voldemort was defeated (I would have given the story a completely different way to end) but the Hallows were not a flaw in the Magic system, and also I noticed how the author always kept her protagonists from killing their enemies by sheer force. If a writer knows well what he or she is doing, there is no need for authentic crazy DEMs no matter what the Magic is like =)

    Everyone, please check my new thread: Sheilawisz's First Law!!
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I feel that way a lot, too. Serious efforts to explain magic can sometimes just point out how little sense it makes. Unless you're going to tie the explanation for the magic into the plot line, it's not necessary to explain it. Readers just need to know the role that the magic plays in the story. Sometimes it's enough for the reader to think, "Okay, this guy's a fire mage. He does fire. Gotcha." Talking about leylines and internal energies and mana pools encourages readers to analyze your system, which can tear down their immersion into the story, especially if it brings to mind parallels found in other stories.

    That said, I've a clear magic system developed for my work in progress, so I don't mean to take a hard line. I find a clear system to be a great plot tool - but only because I want to go there. I don't think it's necessary for every story.


    Looking at the series as a whole, the Hallows did come out of nowhere. Taking book 7 individually, they didn't, it was even the name of the book. Most authors want each book to have their own story arches like that.

    And the question of why Dumbledore had James's invisible cloak is a real question that didn't have any other answer. He could turn invisible on his own, and James needed to hide from Voldemort, so there had to be something special about the cloak to warrant Dumbledore taking it. So I don't even know that the Hallows weren't planned from the start.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2012
  8. Phin Scardaw

    Phin Scardaw Troubadour

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    Commercial success denotes merely good marketing in most cases. I'd hesitate to call a lot of pop stars "artists" just because they're in the spotlight - and while such creatures might have a good deal of artistic potential, it is often never developed.

    There are plainly evident differences between good writing and bad writing, just as one can hear it when a musician sings off key or is tone deaf (of which I am unfortunately one, which is perhaps why I write); but I'm not aware of any system in place for measuring talent. I don't believe it's subjective, although there is surely no accounting for taste.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    You're probably not aware, but most definitions of "Marketing" are actually inclusive of the product and its quality. The 4 Ps and all.
     
  10. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Are you saying she isn't talented? I haven't read her work, so I can't judge. But if her success really is due wholly to a "demonstrative phenomenon of pop marketing" all I can say is... I WANT ME SOME OF THAT POP MARKETING! WHERE CAN I GET IT? :biggrin:
     
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    IMHO Marketing gets you attention. You still have to bring something to the table that appeals and that people enjoy. I've done my fair share of kicking Stephanie Meyers, Dan Brown, etc., but at the end of the day, even though they have flaws in their stories, they're doing something very right. Something so right that a lot of people are willing to give them passes on the flaws. For me, I want to figure out what they do so right, take that, and hopefully writing something without the flaws.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think that's right, Penpilot.

    Potter was already doing quite well before the marketing blitz set in. With respect to Meyer, no one shells out $3/4 million on the hope they might be able to market it into a success. I do think the controversial subject matter helped Brown - that kept the book in the news and made a lot of people curious.
     
  13. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    In case of Harry Potter, I believe the fact that the story was very easy to relate to, played an important role. Despite of having magic, the characters' lives had much in common with the lives of ordinary, modern, western teenagers. This mixture of things the readers have actually experienced and something new and magical makes it more fascinating than very distant stories set in times hundreds of years past.
    For Twilight, the same probably applies even though I've never read it. The fact, that the perfect boy was a vampire didn't make the story about a teenage girl falling in love with a perfect boy anymore interesting to me. ;) Plenty of others obviously feel differently.
    Especially among younger people, the desire to escape into a world before our own time only seems to be strong among a minority in love with the Middle Ages, many others prefer something closer to their own reality. For Tolkien and others of his time, the memory of (in hindisght) better times was much closer than it is for us. World War I was the first industrialised war in history, the idea that war is noble and a place for heros and "real men" to prove themselves was commonplace before, afterwards not so much anymore. If someone thinks of war today bombs probably are the first thing that comes to their minds and not knights or swords.
    Most of us don't believe that war is great in itself anymore either, though maybe we do believe that it's unavoidable sometimes. That's probably one of the reasons for the "grim and gritty" stories emerging. Those stories however fail to offer hope and therefore only appeal to a smaller group of people interested in "realistic" depictions of past times.
    Harry Potter's threads, terrorists attacking the country, randomly killing people and trying to turn the republic into a dicatorship are much closer to our current reality, no matter how flawed the depictions are in parts. Many of the events in Harry Potter have close equivalents in the real world such as terrorist attacks, school shootings, abusive teacher/caretakers etc. And who didn't have to struggle with nasty teachers, homework, exams, teaching schedule leaving the really important stuff out and unpleasant classmates at school? ;)
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2012
  14. This is the crux of it. I don't think this statement makes any sense. How can something be objective, and yet have personal opinion be relevant? Either it's objective or it isn't. If it's objective, then there must be clear, objective criteria for judging. If personal taste is allowed, then how is it meaningful to say that "There are plainly evident differences between good writing and bad writing"? I don't think it's comparable to singing off-key; key is related to a specific frequency, which is an objective, measurable number. Either you're singing that frequency or you're not. But for a given piece of writing, one person might enjoy it and another might not. How can either one of them be right or wrong?
     
  15. Phin Scardaw

    Phin Scardaw Troubadour

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    I'm not saying that there's nothing of value in the series, nor am I making a claim against Rowling's talent. I'm just saying that the reason why there is this HUGE WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON isn't because the story is in any way amazing or original. It's filling a niche just like the Twilight series fills another niche - and the people who recognize how to exploit such things apply a formula to engineer success for themselves.

    I would call Harry Potter cute and clever but I wouldn't venture further than that - and reviewing the comments others have made in this thread about the DEMs employed by the author, I can only say that it doesn't surprise me that they're there, and now I find that I am even less inclined to read the books now than ever before.
     
  16. Phin Scardaw

    Phin Scardaw Troubadour

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    Okay let me try to elucidate...

    There are strokes that are made. With a painter, it's strokes of a brush on a canvas; with a writer, there are keystrokes. Both the words and the paints build a foundation upon which the final image or story will be upheld and revealed. In both cases, there are plainly evident techniques that are totally measurable. One can teach these things. Some don't need to be taught.

    I believe the people who have "talent" which is kind of a nebulous term to begin with (which is where I think I got muddled earlier) are those who can sense these techniques naturally and can put them to use masterfully to create a symphony or colours or words. They can do this without studying because it comes from within; and most likely they can even invent new methods and techniques, as only true innovators can do.

    Genius is probably just being able to deal with a high number of factors at any given moment and processing them intelligently; but an artistic genius has to dance with his or her chosen art. It has to make an impression on them, just as they use it to impress the world with their creations. They have to sense the Truth and channel it, by allowing themselves to be the medium.

    So, that is what I mean by it's not subjective: one can measure and recognize genius in literature just as in any other field or art or science.

    But how many people have read A Brief History of Time versus how many people have read Twilight? What people enjoy isn't always what's most amazing or enchanting or bewildering or created with the most talent. For the most part, people enjoy bland, easy to digest stories, pop music, and hamburgers. Most people aren't as devoted to literature as we on this site are; most people aren't even big readers.

    That's why things that are simple and have simple appeal do well. Harry Potter and Twilight both fill this niche perfectly. It's just enough flair and pizazz to make it entertaining, but ultimately they contain very little substance.

    So yeah: there's good lit and bad lit, but most of the people like stuff that sits somewhere in between because it keeps them from having to actually think about things or look up words in the dictionary that they don't know.

    The truest kind of writer will always be a Poet. If there's no poetry in your work, I think there's still a lot of work for you to do as a writer.
     
  17. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    It's interesting how you seem to know all this without actually having read the books. ;) Not that I'd claim everything you wrote is wrong, but still...
    Actually, there are plenty of people who actually did think about issues raised in Harry Potter very much, wrote very detailed articles about them and still liked the books without being above pointing out the flaws. (And many of them were quite disappointed with the ending.) Therefore claiming, that everyone who enjoyed those books is too lazy to think about something they read. I did join in this myself a bit, but mainly used the magical world of the books as my playing field before I had made my own.
    Personally, I fail to see a higher amount of "substance" or deeper philosophical issues raised in works like Lord of the Rings than I can see in Harry Potter, even though Tolkien might have done it in more elaborate words.

    For me, writing and reading fantasy isn't about "mental exercise", I have plenty of that in other areas of my life, but about imagination, about going through situations that will never arise in my own life with the characters, often situations I'm glad never to experience.
    I'm a bit sad about the fact that we've come so far that even fantasy writers look down upon these kinds of feelings.

    Returning to Harry Potter: It has inspired the imagination of thousands of people to discuss it endlessly or make up their own stories in this world, many of which are bad, but some are really good.
    That's my (probably unreachable) goal as well, not becoming the next Goethe and having generations of students trying to dissect what I actually meant to tell them with my writing. ;)
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2012
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Hmmm...yes. I haven't read it but let me give you my thoughts on the work itself, including how much depth it has, why it is appealing to some, etc. This isn't convincing. If you haven't read the work you are discussing you are no more capable of providing an informed opinion than anyone else commenting on a subject he is not familiar with. This reinforces my notion of why people on writing sites bash these books.
     
  19. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

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    I've read the books when I was younger and enjoyed them then. Looking back at them now, especially with what I've learnt about structures, tropes and the like, I doubt I would like any of it. People who don't read or like fantasy much will enjoy them into their adult years, but I think anyone who's actually interested in the genre will be able to find something much, much better.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think it is true that there is a lot better out there in the genre, but I know a lot of people who are avid Fantasy fans, and who didn't even start reading Potter until their adulthood, who love the series.

    I liked the Potter series well enough as an adult, even though I'd seen a lot of what was there before. It was a fun series. It isn't going on my top ten list of Fantasy works, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
     
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