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Thoughts on Lev Grossman's technique

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Trick, Jul 20, 2015.

  1. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I, for one, love it.

    I'm wondering if what he has done with his Magician's trilogy can be imitated/emulated with non-modern-day fantasy.

    I've got lots of opinions but I'm coming down off of enjoying the books and thought outside insight (ha!) might help me parse his work a little more thoroughly. (And for those who noticed, using parse was a little tribute to the number of times that word is used in his books without making them dull).
     
  2. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I haven't read them yet. Can you expand a bit on what technique he uses that you enjoyed so much?
     
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  3. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Well, he writes a very tight third-person limited. It feels like first person a lot of the time, which is splendid because it's not as restrictive. I don't know if it's just the modern setting or his style (I suspect both, as anyone does in an openly ambiguous study) but he has a very casual flow to his narrative. It's usually so smooth it feels like natural dialogue should... but it's narrative. It feels like his POV characters are talking directly to you, and not only know you but like you too. This is part of what creates that FP illusion but, unlike many FP books, there is no framework to allow the book itself, e.g. its existence, to make sense, which is part of what identifies 3rd for me in many cases. His characters are not even really anything special, I even get annoyed with some of the angst extremes they reach from time to time, but it somehow doesn't make me put the book down. Usually that sort of thing does.

    I've read others, the first one that comes to mind is a FP oddly enough, that try to make friends with the reader in a casual way. I don't think I've experienced it done this well before. I don't want to rag on the other book, because I liked it and it had great qualities, but the friendliness always felt affected. It worked, but it wasn't real. Grossman's feels real. I can't exactly put my finger on one thing that accomplished it, which means it was probably a host of things but part of me wonders how much of a part the modern setting played in how well it works...

    EDIT:

    Another way I would describe it is that about half of the book is internal monologue without being boring or pedantic. I don't think the books are literally half internal monologue but, thinking back, it feels that way.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
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  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Crap. Now I absolutely have to read this book. This sounds like a lot like what I tried to accomplish - tight third person limited that strives to be as much like first person as possible where the narrative is the character is talking to the reader, check. Lots of character angst, check.

    Not sure if I'm trying to have the character's make friends with the reader, though. Still, it sounds like something I need to read.
     
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  5. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Obviously, I'd recommend it :) Even if it wasn't written as well, I'd still say the premise would make it worth reading for all fantasy writers, specifically.
     
  6. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Agreed. And look! The kindle version is available for only 2.99! Sold! I'll get back to you once I've read a good enough chunk to form an opinion.
     
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  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Mythopoet,

    Thanks for the sale info. Just bought my copy, too!
     
  8. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Rushing to buy it on my say-so... I think you'll love it :) But, if you don't. I would love a detailed list of the "whys". Some reviews online disliked it for some of the very reasons I loved it. It's a best seller so it obviously gained a goodly audience but no book is universally loved.

    I tend to notice very different sorts of reviews from writers than from just-readers. They tend to stand out in a nose-on-your-butt kind of way. Readers say things like "sub-par" or "flat" writing a lot, with no more detail than that. And it's not in the spirit of brevity because these reviews tend to be the longest. I'd love detailed accolades & criticisms. I think all of us would benefit from more of those. No more existential critique of the spirit of books. I want the cold hard facts from knowledgeable people. You both fit that bill.
     
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, The Magicians was on my to read list anyway. Though I wouldn't normally have gotten to it so soon.
     
  10. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I have a copy of your list :) Just being tongue-in-cheek ;) but not about the review part. I'm genuinely interested in getting a review board started here where the comments might be more useful for fellow writers. Might be hard per site guidelines but maybe there's a way to make it work.
     
  11. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I'll report back.

    Don't worry; I hold you blameless if I don't like it. Even if I hate it, it'll be good to see an example of a style, presumably, similar to mine that was used in a best seller.
     
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  12. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    I'm surprised more people here havn't read his books. It's like Narnia and Harry Potter for adults. However I agree with Trick his writing has a way of creating an intimate relationship between the reader and the characters, I too would like to emulate this style. In a way if feels like your right there with them like the friend who doesn't talk much, never. I'll need to think more on why it's like that. The only other book where I had the same experience is Onehundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

    For those of you who are going to read them I think you will enjoy them very much.
     
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  13. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    Well, maybe I should give this another try. I gave up because the protagonist's attitude at the beginning annoyed me but maybe it's worth reading after all.
     
  14. fantastic

    fantastic Minstrel

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    To be honest, I greatly enjoy the Magicians. Though I haven't read the sequels yet.

    But when I started reading, I was very annoyed by the voice. It was constantly as if some very sarcastic, cynical and annoyed person was telling the story and decided to explain magic and everything else by comparing it to something modern or technological. And he was sounding arrogant. I am not sure how to explain it.

    It is like protagonist is describing everything by comparing it to some other object.

    Perhaps the reason why I was annoyed was, that it reminded me of the way I wrote when I was 15 and now it seems childish to me.

    But as I said, I greatly enjoyed reading. After a while, he stops using it as often and adopts more eloquent ways to tell a story. And the story and the atmosphere is excellent.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
  15. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    Well, the protagonist is an arrogant 17 year old at the beginning. He may have social and confidence issues but he knows how smart he is and he's immature. So, the tone he used fit perfectly. You understood the MC's POV so well and it went by unnoticed that the author did it on purpose. And you finished reading it. That, to me, is amazing skill on the author's part.
     
  16. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I've read the first chapter so far. I quite like it. But I haven't noticed anything special about the style. It seems like fairly normal tight 3rd.
     
  17. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I've been thinking about it more. One aspect that might be adding to the effect: his creative similes and metaphors. They seem like things real people world say, albeit intellectual people. They work wonderfully, don't grow stagnant and yet remain relatable. I've still got parsing to do but this is something that's made me immerse and relate more than usual.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2015
  18. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Trick,

    (NOTE: Some minor spoilers ahead.)

    So last night I look at the Kindle screen, and it says 61% complete. I thought, "Oh man, only 61% through. This is never going to end."

    This morning I decided that having such a thought is a good reason to give up reading the book.

    Let me be clear: I am not trying to say the book "sucked." Simply that it did not align well with my tastes. I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower the other day. When the movie ended, I was like, "Alrighty then." I was able to finish it, but it's not my kind of thing. I'm much more of a Age of Ultron kinda guy. The Magicians was not Age of Ultron.

    Here are my thoughts:

    Writing: To me, the measure of goodness for writing is "does it clearly convey story without drawing attention to itself?" Overall, I think the writing is fine. There were a couple of things that drew me out of the story, but those issues were minor and probably something only I would care about. I had, I think, only one "Wait, what?" moment.

    I have three measures of goodness for a story:

    Engagement: Did the story draw my interest? Was I unable to put it down, and when I was forced to put it down, could I not wait to put it down again? For me, The Magicians was an Epic Fail in this category. The pace is glacial. I read on the largest phone I could fine and still most of his narrative paragraphs seem to take up the full screen. So much of the story space is consumed with absolutely nothing happening. I found myself skim reading. A lot. When stuff was actually happening, I was interested. But those scenes were enough to make up for the overall slowness.

    Emotional Connection: Did I connect emotionally with the characters? Yes and no. I think that he overwhelming emotion conveyed by the character was apathy. I, for the most part, felt very apathetic about the character. So that's a success? I did not like the character. He wasn't exceptional among his peers. There didn't seem to be an innate goodness about him. He seemed to wander through life without agency. I need at least one of the previous character traits, and I didn't get any of them.

    Story: Did I like the story? In parts. When he visited Julia on the first break, I like how the author was able to make me wonder what was up with her. But when that question was answered the next time they met, I felt let down. Similarly, I hoped he and Alice would fall in love. Them actually falling in love, however, didn't live up to my expectations. So the author did a great job of building my expectations but a horrible job, in my mind, of fulfilling them.

    As far as the style goes, I didn't feel that he executed it as well as you seem to think that he did. I've read first person that drew me in based solely on the character's voice, even in situations where there wasn't much going on. In The Magicians, I wasn't drawn in during similar narrative spaces.
     
  19. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    It is definitely not Age of Ultron. This does appear to be a major taste gap. I will probably enjoy that movie when I finally see it (I've seen all the Marvel movies out except that one) but I've always felt that it was a surface enjoyment. This gulf between our tastes makes a lot of sense. If at the end of a movie or book I feel like "that was really cool" then great, I'm okay with that. If, however, I reach the end and miss my friends that I've spent so much time with, then I feel that the author/director has done something amazing. I'm willing to bet that if you and I made a list of books and movies we like and then made a Venn diagram, the stories in the middle would be some of the best in history. Maybe that's a little prideful but I stand by it.

    Do you think this is a reader identity thing? I identify with many of Quentin's personality traits. I'm assuming that you do not?
     
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I tend to want to like the protagonist more than identify with him. Take Mark Lawrence's books. Well written. Definitely stuff going on and tension. Didn't care for them much. Stopped after the first two. I simply did not like the protagonist.

    On the other hand, my favorite character in Game of Thrones (books, have only watched a couple of episodes of the series) is Tyrion, who isn't all that likeable ...

    Again, it's more of a tendency than a hard rule.

    But back to your statement: it could be. I thought the narrative was, on the whole, boring. I think if I had liked him more, I would have been more interested. Perhaps if I identified with him more, maybe? I identified with the whole unrequited love thing (I draw heavily on the whole of my teenage years for a lot of my writing :) ). Not so much with the apathy and the lack of any real sense of kindness toward others.
     
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