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Old Oct 25 2011, 01:37 AM   #1
Kath
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Default The Writer's Toolbox

Inspired by another poster elsewhere on the forum, here's a thread for us all to ponder.

What aspects of a writer's skill set are most important to you as a reader? What do you think Anne does best? Worst?
What style of novel do you prefer - plot or character driven?
How important are realistic characters to you? Can they throw off your enjoyment of a story if the author writes one too out of date with modern sensibilities?
What about plot? How well do you think Anne's plots have stood the test of time?
How do you think Todd compares to Anne as a writer? Is the overlap in their skills (or lack of overlap) seamless or not? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of their respective books?

Add some questions of your own! I'll be back with my own answers after dropping Matthew off at nursery.

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Old Oct 25 2011, 03:31 AM   #2
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

So... when I first started reading Anne's books, you know what attracted me to them most? The dragons. I'd spent the best part of the last few years dreaming up stories starring Mary Sue the Magical Flying Unicorn Girl (and I even return to them in my head every once in a while, though they've come a long way since then), and suddenly what do I see? Telepathic magic flying horses *cough* I mean dragons, who would love and respect you and see right into your soul. Perfect fodder for the pre-teen girl outsider!

Dragons are just one aspect of Anne's worldbuilding, but I really think that worldbuilding is where she excels. While the dragons are the initial compelling premise, the depth of the world has held me since. Interestingly, there are other authors with equally compelling worlds for me. Tolkien is famous for his attention to detail and the years spent lovingly crafting each individual language, and the back story of practically every single character. Mieville is just fresh and weird, and with a few simple words (what the heck is a 'cacotopic stain' anyway?) it's easy to be drawn in to the richness of his worlds and his prose. Erikson's world began as a tabletop campaign, but the richness and layers of the magic system, character power-ups (if I can use that term for the various gods and ascendants) and different races are so vast that you can't fail to respect his creation, nor see his expertise behind it.

And yet, while it's Anne's worldbuilding that I love most, it's the flaws in it that I find most exciting. To create something so rich and fun and so full of holes - and yet it still all hangs together perfectly believably - how did she manage it? The woman's a genius in her own right.

As I've grown up, plot has become less important to me than character. I love Moreta because we know the plot already, and it's the character that drives the action. Even though we rationally know she's doomed, much like Jack on the Titanic, I can't help as a reader wanting and hoping that she'll sidestep her fate, right until she's gone.

Dragonsdawn, too, is one of my favourites. I guess it has elements of the cosy catastrophe about it. Modern life is doomed, but don't worry, because all the nice people will get telepathic flying ponies to keep them safe and love them to bits! Sean's character is really the only one that grows and changes appreciably though, but he's strong enough to hang a plot off. Sallah was always my favourite though - a strong competent woman who thwarts the wicked temptress. And then the man of her dreams finally realises how much he loves her, but unfortunately she's now too dead to enjoy a proper decent sex life with him. The usual essay-rant is brewing in my head again now - female characters in McCaffrey, and their sex lives. As much as I and others decry the almost romance-novel stereotypes, maybe that's part of the appeal. Anne writes romance-novel women hiding snugly in the guise of SF... and we can get our romance-novel bodice-ripper kicks at the same time as shaking our heads at it. I don't like what she does with her female characters... but I certainly don't skip past the Brekke/F'nor scenes, do I? It's a guilty pleasure, like too much chocolate. Yet again, I can't avoid the conclusion that Anne's a genius. Even when I think her characterisation is downright wrong to my mind, I still love reading those characters.

What books don't I go back to? Restoree, really. And mostly because it loses the cachet of its SF setting by a single word: Telstar. She didn't have to name it, but by doing so, she dated the novel irreperably for me. On the flip side, look at the short stories Daughter and Dull Drums. The casual sexism of the parents throws me out of Daughter now, but Dull Drums is almost prophetic in what the main character sees in the personal data-records, and the meaningfulness of them. That's a story that has become more relevant with time, not less.

Todd - now, he brings me back to the worldbuilding and plotting again. I think he's much stronger at plot than he is at character, but there are details in the worldbuilding that don't gel for me. (Whers, for one.) But then, he's got Anne's input on the details, so it's more likely a matter of presentation. Bizarre that a reader's reality can feel stronger to that reader than another author... but that's the way it goes. We allo read and see books differently, Todd no less than anyone else, and that's the danger of writing in another author's world. The old and new authors may agree on what's written, but the subtleties in the presentation may easily throw off a sizable fraction of the readers, who didn't read the books the same way. A book is a book is a book. It's fixed and constant and doesn't change. But every reader will experience it differently. I'm glad he chose to write in a different Pass. Knowing that Kindan began as Piemur, I think that the use of a whole new character saved him a heck of a lot of trouble with readers and writers seeing a particular established character in very different ways. I still say that there's a lot of Mary Sue in his characters, but at least they're clearly his. Perhaps that's why his Wind Blossom and other 1st Pass characters don't work as well for me.
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Old Oct 25 2011, 06:40 AM   #3
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

This topic might need moving to the writing forum. But I'll answer! (Of course!)

What aspects of a writer's skill set are most important to you as a reader?

As a reader? Compelling characters in a compelling world with a plot that doesn't require someone's stupidity to work (either the characters' or the readers').

What do you think Anne does best? Worst?

Strengths:

AMC is awesome at "the idea". There are writers that would kill to have just one of her worlds, but she has Pern, Crystal Singers, Brainships, AND Talents to play with, each based on its own unique and interesting idea. She also has a very distinct and enjoyable "voice" that other writers can't duplicate. I believe with the latter, her voice/stage training has a large influence. Her prose has that witty, melodic classical influence that most writers do not have, and she relies on stage tricks to paint characters quickly and vividly in the mind's eye that I think work because they're not seen in literature all that often.

Weaknesses:

She seems to get fatigued on details easily. Her long-running series have many inconsistencies. She almost never really gets into a character's head...I think Afra's the closest she gets to a really psychological main character that holds beliefs that might not entirely gel with her own, and he mainly "errs" on the side of being overly restrained and formal. The stage flourishes she uses to intro characters don't hold up when you examine a character more closely, villain or hero. She has difficulties harming her lovlies once the initial story on a world is done, which makes for books that get more and more boring as a series goes on.

What style of novel do you prefer - plot or character driven?

If I had a choice between a book that was entirely plot, or entirely character, I'd choose character. That said, I would respect a book that did both well more than I'd respect a book that only did one or the other well.

How important are realistic characters to you? Can they throw off your enjoyment of a story if the author writes one too out of date with modern sensibilities?

I make allowances for the decade a book was written in, if I'm going back to re-read. If we're referencing AMC's female characters in this instance, for example, she really was a breath of fresh air in the era her books came out. You could even say her books helped make the modern era. I won't shake a finger at a book that was progressive for its time, but which doesn't magically stay progressive for ever-and-ever-until-the-end-of-time when compared to "modern" sensibilities. Context is important.

However, it's stupid to stop learning, and if newer books still hold those ideas...well. That's the sign the author is no longer changing with the world. I'm less forgiving about that.

What about plot? How well do you think Anne's plots have stood the test of time?

I don't think plot was ever her forte. It always seemed to me she A) used a common trope to drive the story, such as romance, or coming of age, and in combination with her other talents things just worked, or B) drove around taking random turns that, after some editing, could make "the story" unpredictable enough that it covered a lack of plot.

But then again, I haven't done full-rereads recently, so my memory of plot may be blurry since I'm not a huge plot person myself.

How do you think Todd compares to Anne as a writer? Is the overlap in their skills (or lack of overlap) seamless or not? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of their respective books?

I can't speak in depth on Todd's writing, since I've not read his writing in depth. But I get the sense from the comments here that he inherited his mother's weaknesses in writing without bringing his own (or at least his approximation of her) strengths to the table.

Looking through the openings of both types of Pern books--those by her, and those by him--AMC uses her vocabulary to set mood far more effectively than Todd does in any of his openings. His vocabulary is boring.

::shrug::
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Old Oct 25 2011, 07:34 PM   #4
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

Todd is more popular with young adults than adults. I think it is because most of his main characters are young adults.

I like characters that are excitng, has flaws. World that are believable, but different from Earth if they take place some where else.

I also like a book that stands on its own even tho it is one of a series. The only Pern book I did not like was Renegades of Pern. Unless you read the rest of the books it was hard to follow. It jumped around a lot.
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Old Oct 25 2011, 11:31 PM   #5
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

The most important skill-set a writer can have in my opinion is the ability to capture a reader's emotions and Anne has that in spades. A lot can be forgiven in terms of technical skill if the emotions are captured and I think this holds true for writing as well as public speaking, artwork, etc. Correspondingly, I think Anne's worst on the technical skills particularly time-line consistency. As you may have guessed, I prefer character driven novels because that's the best way to capture a reader's emotions. It's hard to get too excited about an obscure sociopolitical movement but it is easy to get excited about character maturation and development. I think you have to make the characters and the plot timeless with their lessons while at the same time understanding that time-specific stuff is going to get worked in--but as long as the themes hold up, the stuff that goes against modern sensibilities can be forgiven. I think Todd's got the same talent for capturing the emotions of the reader's as his mother, but it's harder to forgive him the technical weaknesses because his technical weaknesses flat out contradict a lot of his mother's previous work. As I mentioned above, Anne's main weakness is internal chronology--Todd not only goes against internal chronology, he goes against internal physics and it's difficult to square his Pern with the Pern Anne wrote about. That said, what Todd is writing is still enjoyable for about one read through because he's created a story that's being dragged out long enough that I want to know the resolution even if I'll not have that much inclination to re-read his books.
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Old Oct 27 2011, 02:25 PM   #6
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

What aspects of a writer's skill set are most important to you as a reader?

As a reader? Readability. Please, for the love of God, write cleanly, write clearly, and think more on what you're writing ABOUT than trying to sound interesting. (Yes, I am not the audience for James Joyce or William Faulkner. So sue me.) If I wanted to have to sit there parsing as I read, I would read German or Latin where I have to think about it.

Please think about your plot. Even if you don't know how you're going to get there, know where you're going. Don't just have a scene you know would be cool and write around it, with the resolution of the book/story coming as a complete ass pull.

If many different readers do not like your character, it may not be the reader's fault. Do not fall into the 'flawed hero' dynamic so much that you end up with characters who are just unpleasant.

What do you think Anne does best? Worst?

Anne does a very good job worldbuilding. Not necessarily in the down-to-the-scientific-structure-of-ever-rock-on-Pern sense, but I don't care about that. While at times she does drift way too far into black and white morality and an absolutist good guy/bad guy dynamic, she creates believable situations. I can buy Pern society. I can see how Brain/Brawn pairs work. It makes sense in its context. Yes, some things she does (like attempts to overexplain dragons, for example) fall appart on close examination, but that's not an inherent flaw.

What style of novel do you prefer - plot or character driven?

I want a good plot (that does not have to mean complex or deeply philosophical, and since of late that usually turns into crapsack world pretty fast that's not a complaint) that makes sense in context (that's a big thing for me, can you tell?) and characters that I do not despise. They don't have to be nice people per se, but they have to be interesting people who behave in ways that (say it with me) make sense in context and are internally consistent.

How important are realistic characters to you? Can they throw off your enjoyment of a story if the author writes one too out of date with modern sensibilities?

I have a VASTLY bigger problem with people writing characters with modern sensibilities in stories where that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I do not read fantasy, historical fiction, etc. expecting to find someone who talks and more critically thinks and feels about things the way someone from 2011 might. That to me is much more jarring than reading a story set in 1911 and having a character find, say, a homsexual PDA shocking and horrifying without learning some sort of Mr. Rogers Let's All Get Along lesson from it. I don't care if characters behave like someone in Now thinks they should behave, I care if they behave like the society their story is set in expects them to.

What about plot? How well do you think Anne's plots have stood the test of time?

When viewed in context, the ones with which I'm familiar I would say are still just as effective. The style shift from, say, DF to Skies is rather drastic, and obviously the story about the surrogate mother that was groundbreaking when it was written has fallen victim to what TV Tropes calls "Science Marches On", where it only appears dated because science has indeed caught up and passed it. But that's a risk with all SF fiction. But the basic framework of most of her stories clearly still works.

How do you think Todd compares to Anne as a writer? Is the overlap in their skills (or lack of overlap) seamless or not? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of their respective books?

Um...to the first, if you can't say anything nice...to the second, no, it's not seamless at all and you can tell what is Todd's and what isn't (it in fact makes some of the later books like Skies make a GREAT deal more sense.) And yes, it makes a difference, I don't enjoy Todd's books at all. I find his plots trite at best and his characters flat or cliched. Worst, they don't SOUND like Pern to my ear. That pretty much kills it for me. I can go find ten Pern fan fics that feel more 'correct' to my ear even when they veer off wildly from canon (and ten THOUSAND that feature Mary Sues exactly like Lorana without the blessing of canon.)

And speaking of fic, hey, D.M. Domini, when do we get more Benden Went To War?
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Old Oct 27 2011, 07:33 PM   #7
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

Quote:
Originally Posted by mawra View Post
Todd is more popular with young adults than adults. I think it is because most of his main characters are young adults.
I don't necessarily buy that theory. It might hold true for some young adults that they prefer characters their own age, but I know when I was 11, 12 I was not drawn to younger characters specifically. I went from middle grade books to adult and only barely grazed the YA fare of that time...I think Tamora Pierce was the only "YA" author I really got into at an age-appropriate time. Of course, I suppose there's the chance that I am just an oddball. Probably more than a chance. I wasn't treated kindly by my peers!

What I observed with myself as I grew older is this...I was much more willing to forgive shallow writing when I was young. In fact, it didn't even register on me that some books weren't all that well-made. This is because I was still learning so much from them. For me, the plots and worlds of almost ANY book were not predictable yet, because I hadn't encountered enough of it. As I grew older, my knowledge and mind expanded, and I found some books that I liked just fine as a youngster to give little on a second or third re-read, while others continued to be interesting even as an adult.

Truthfully, if Todd's books had come out when I was young, I probably would have devoured them and liked them "ok" at least because they were "Pern". I don't doubt that to a younger me, he still would have been able to teach something new and interesting.

I think a less experienced mind gets more out of them than an adult, and that would be why they're potentially more popular with younger readers. (And that's not ragging on kids; inexperience is not the same as stupid. For one, you can cure inexperience. You can't cure stupid.)

Or perhaps both theories are true; some kids like the younger main characters, and others are just happy it's more Pern.

Edit: Anareth - I'm just about done with the editing I felt compelled to do, but aside from re-written scenes there's no entirely "new" chapters...in that the story has been tightened, but not advanced. I'm in the middle of real life job stuff too so I don't know when I'll get back to it. We'll see.
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Old Oct 29 2011, 06:44 AM   #8
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

What aspects of a writer's skill set are most important to you as a reader?

The ability to create interesting and believable, internally reasonably consistent worlds and characters that go with them.

What do you think Anne does best? Worst?

Anne's great at initial world building and making the reader want to know more about what happens to her characters. She also has the ability to paint with pictures. When I read her books, I usually see a movie of the events in front of my eyes (this could be a problem if a movie ever gets made, it would have a hard time standing up to my expectations).

Many of her characters are engaging in spite of being clichéd. In first books of a series it isn't usually a problem, but Anne's inability to seriously harm favorite characters makes for less interesting books than might otherwise be the case. Another annoyance is her inability to keep track of chronology, people's ages don't match from book to book, and there's even a case of a dead character being resurrected. Names sometimes change inexplicably (most annoyingly Admiral Tohl Mekturian turned into Admiral Mekturian Tohl in the middle of TTatH).

What style of novel do you prefer - plot or character driven?

A compromise of both is best. I don't like seeing characters do things that seem out of character just because the plot requires it, but a book with a great plot and flat characters leaves me cold.

How important are realistic characters to you? Can they throw off your enjoyment of a story if the author writes one too out of date with modern sensibilities?

Not really, if it fits within the context of the story. My least favorite AMC Pern book is MHoP, because it doesn't match the society described in the original trilogies at all.

What about plot? How well do you think Anne's plots have stood the test of time?

Most have stood the test of time fairly well, although I'm always thrown off by the Goosegg in the early Talent books, where it's a mechanical stylus on a roll of paper. Not to mention the huge overcrowding caused by a population explosion which thankfully hasn't materialized as feared in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

How do you think Todd compares to Anne as a writer? Is the overlap in their skills (or lack of overlap) seamless or not? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of their respective books?

Haven't read Todd's books yet so I can't say. Judging by online discussions I'm not sure I'll bother to read them either.
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Old Nov 1 2011, 03:44 PM   #9
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

Quote:
Originally Posted by D. M. Domini View Post
I don't necessarily buy that theory. It might hold true for some young adults that they prefer characters their own age, but I know when I was 11, 12 I was not drawn to younger characters specifically. I went from middle grade books to adult and only barely grazed the YA fare of that time...I think Tamora Pierce was the only "YA" author I really got into at an age-appropriate time. Of course, I suppose there's the chance that I am just an oddball. Probably more than a chance. I wasn't treated kindly by my peers!
.
This is actually something of a rule these days in YA lit--assume that your readers are a few years younger than the characters. Most of the girls (and let's face it, it's mostly girls) who were buying Twilight before it became a trend were in the 11-13 bracket. Kids want to read up a bit. Which would make Todd's books YA in the sense they'd probably appeal to that market.

(Me, I read a lot of Black Stallion, John Bellairs, pretty much anything at any age....)

No pressure, DM, I was disappointed it left off and would hate to see it become deadfic (I am focusing on my GG fic sequel, The Clank With the Golden Gun, because if I don't I know that's exactly what will happen and I have readers who will hunt me down if it goes dead....)
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Old Nov 1 2011, 11:48 PM   #10
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

Another reason I think Kibby likes Todd is because she met him and played Are You A Warewolf with him at Dragoncon.

Kibby and I both love Tamora Pierce. We have most of her books.
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Old Dec 20 2011, 12:16 PM   #11
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Default Re: The Writer's Toolbox

What aspects of a writer's skill set are most important to you as a reader?

To disable my reality-check and cause me to suspend disbelief enough to suck me into the story. To create believable characters, an intriguing world and plots which keep me reading.

What do you think Anne does best? Worst?

Worldbuilding and characters, she wrote tastes and smells, meaning I always felt I was there to actually eat what was cooked and smell what was described. Writing different characters, from likable to hateworthy across the spectrum. The way she incorporated kinks, fetishes and kinky sex in most of her books without many vanilla people realising she did. Writing delicious and readable rape fantasies as well at times, without compromising the plot or story.

Whenever she had to do "technical stuff" she lost her verve. That includes e.g. writing the "techniques" of her "Talent" series. Most of these books were rather boring.

What style of novel do you prefer - plot or character driven?

I need both.

How important are realistic characters to you? Can they throw off your enjoyment of a story if the author writes one too out of date with modern sensibilities?

My modern sensibilities most likely are not yours. Most of the criticism leveled at McCaffrey's women for instance is, hmm, rather incomprehensible to me because it is entirely beside the point. One of my most preferred novels is "Restoree", and the female lead hands down still beats most of what is currently written, with room to spare.

What throws me off are unbelievable characters written to serve an author's political agenda, and that - unfortunately - is the case for the majority of the female characters current young authors write, characters by the way who have extremely little in common with anything the authors live up to. That's one of my modern sensibilities...

What about plot? How well do you think Anne's plots have stood the test of time?

Most quite well. Some facts even came into existence.

How do you think Todd compares to Anne as a writer? Is the overlap in their skills (or lack of overlap) seamless or not? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of their respective books?

I don't read him (only a few pages of blurp once). In general I dislike heirs who aspire to "continue" in the feet of their parents. It rarely works. People should build their own worlds.
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