Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Are you optimistic about the future of books?


Something strange has been happening lately: not many of my friends are reading books.

It has happened gradually, almost imperceptibly, but the number of my friends who are reading is on the decline.

Some of this may be my age. Now that I'm approaching my mid thirties, a lot of my friends are in baby zone and are using their rare spare time to sleep.

But a lot of people I know have switched to reading more articles, they binge watch Netflix in their free time, and even smart thinking people don't feel the need to be catching up with the latest hot novel.

I have been optimistic about books for a long time. And I don't see reason to change my tune.

But sometimes... I wonder. With tablets and electronics everywhere, with the Internet evermore at our fingertips... will people still read books like they used to? Will our attention spans survive?

I hope they will. I love movies, I love video games, I love television, but nothing can compare to the emotional depth of reading a book.

No movie can give us the last page of The Great Gatsby. No actual video game is as fun as
reading Ready Player One. The TV version of Game of Thrones is a lot of fun, but the longer it goes on the larger the books loom.

You know this. I know this. But are people going to keep reading?

What say you?

Art: A Favourite Author by Poul Friis Nybo






Monday, June 23, 2014

Page critique: Don't overdo it


Page critiques are back!

If you would like to nominate your page for a future page critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. I also am offering private critiques and consultations.

First I present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to sherifredricks, whose page is below:
Screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away as the pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando. 
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscence like the deadfall they were. He and his team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, his back straightened with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage.  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
This author can clearly write. But sometimes, even when we sense that we can write well, that can feel like it's not enough. It feels like you should push yourself toward originality with your prose. And that's great. But it's so important not to push yourself too far.

One of the biggest writerly pitfalls is to try to say something simple in a convoluted way. It's one thing to stretch your prose when you're trying to grasp at elucidating a complicated concept. But when you're taking something relatively simple and trying to say it in an unordinary way it can confuse the reader and take them out of the story.

In this case, when the verbiage is pared back you can really see how the story takes shape:
Terrified screams of the terrified echoed through the corridors of Rhycious's mind. Shouts from warriors and cries of agony ebbed away. The pounding of his heart crescendoed in ritardando
He gripped the rough hewn table in front of him with both hands, forcing himself to concentrate on the picturesque view [describe what this view literally looks like] of the Boronda Forest beyond the kitchen window. Bloody fallen soldiers lay scattered in his reminiscenc memories like the deadfall they were. He and His team of medics couldn't keep up with the gruesome carnage. Body parts flung high in the trees, left to hang, picked clean by scavengers.  
Rhy shook his head and blew a hard breath. Night had fallen hours ago and no Wood Nymphs attacked his fellow herdsmen. No war existed between the races any longer.  
He was safe from the horrific scenes of his memory served.  
Sweat dampened his forehead and Rhycious fought the flashback's tidal wave with even, regulated breaths. Gritted teeth unclenched, one facial muscle at a time, he his back straightened his back with determination, vertebrae by vertebrae. He hadn't started the battle that lasted nearly two centuries, but the clashing races damn well made it his emotional baggage ["emotional baggage" feels out of place in this world].  
He relaxed the anchored grasp of one his hand and raised his wrist to see the time. The tremor in his arm caused the digital numbers to dance before his eyes. Pan, help me. The god who reigned over terror and panic must be having a good laugh on his account.
There is a good moment happening here. The writing doesn't have to work too hard to bring it out.

 Art: Dempsey and Firpo by George Bellows






Monday, June 16, 2014

How do you know when to give up on a project?


We've all been there.

Whether it's a heady ten page burst that we realize is terrible the next day or an agonizing decision to put a novel in the draw after years of work, every writer has to give up on some projects. The reasons vary, the amount of pain differs, but we all have to decide that enough is enough.

But how do you know when you've reached that point?

Or, as longtime reader Collin Myers puts it:
I just wonder, at what point do you have to kind of sit back and say, "This isn't going to work. It's not going to turn out the way you envisioned it."
Have you reached this point with a project? How did you know? Did you ever end up regretting turning back?

Art: Jeune homme à la fenêtre by Gustave Caillebotte






Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Do you talk about your characters as if they're real people?


I'm probably in the minority on this one. 

Sometimes writers talk about their characters as if they're real people. And I don't mean as in, "So and so did such and such," I mean, they talk about their characters as if they are people with their own agency that the author has little control over.

You'll hear things like, "I had big plans for what was going to happen, but then my character Suzy had other ideas!" or "Every time I sat down to write my novel, Suzy just made me take her to the craziest places."

On the one hand, I get it. It can be sort of strange to write a character whose internal logic you learn to obey. You might plan your novel ahead, but when you actually get down to writing it, you know your character's motivations so well you realize your previous plans don't make sense. It can feel like a character is gradually gaining control over your novel.

On the other hand, who is writing this novel?? Who are these characters that are outside of these writers' head and outside of their control? 

Confession: it kiiiiiiiiiiiind of weirds me out. 

Am I alone on this one or are there others out there like me? 

Art: An Eunuch's Dream by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ






Monday, June 2, 2014

It's better to be a good storyteller than overly realistic


One of the things I struggled with the most as a young writer was trying to balance creating realistic characters with being a good storyteller.

Here's what I mean. Let's say I was writing a novel where there's a strange but everyday fact of life for the characters in that world, like, instead of air everyone breathes tomato soup. (Bizarre, but yum.)

Since breathing tomato soup is so ordinary to the people in the novel and they can't imagine a world in which they don't breathe tomato soup, it would seem really unrealistic for them to sit around talking about breathing tomato soup. We don't sit around talking about air and explain to each other how it came to be. So why would the characters explain it?

And it may seem awkward and contrary to the flow of the novel to just come out with the explanation explicitly.

Then you go and end up writing a novel where breathing tomato soup is totally unexplained and the reader is completely frustrated and distracted, thinking, "Why in the WORLD are they breathing tomato soup and why is no one explaining it to me???"

This is what I realized earlier in my writing days:

You are not writing for the people in the world of your novel. 

You are writing for the people in OUR world, as in planet Earth, as in a place where we breathe air and need anything different than that explained to us. Always. Always. Always.

No matter where your novel is set, pretend that the narrator has been magically transplanted to Earth and is telling it to us in 2014. They might use their own language to tell it, but they still are giving an Earthling reader in 2014 enough to go on to understand all the eccentricities of their world.

Now, as you are doing that explaining to Earthlings in 2014, this does not mean that two characters should sit around talking about things that would otherwise be ordinary to them. A better approach is to weave exposition in naturally within the context of the narrative and only when the reader needs to know the information because it relates to the plot (I talk a lot more about how to weave in exposition in my guide to writing a novel).

At the end of the day, it's much more important to tell a good story than to stick too closely to what's real. I mean, if a reader were solely interested in reality they wouldn't be reading a novel.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Art: Camille au Métier by Claude Monet






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