Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Updated "About Me"

It occurred to me that I should update my "About Me" page, since a lot of the information on there is no longer true. But I get weirdly nostalgic sometimes, so I decided that instead of editing that post, I would just make a new one.

***

Yael Itamar is a fantasy writer, book blogger, and medical student living in Louisville, KY.

***

Maybe it's just the business of orientation week, but that's about all I feel like saying about myself right now. I could write about my novel, but it wouldn't mean much to those who haven't read it. I could write about my hobbies, except that I haven't done much of them lately. I could write about where I'm from or where I went to college, or about my over-sized Israeli family, or even about my two-year exile in New Jersey, but all of that is stuff I've mentioned before. If you're really curious, go through some old posts.

***

Yael Itamar is also, apparently, too lazy to write a proper "About Me" post.

Friday, July 26, 2013

New Release: Indelible, by Dawn Metcalf (recommended)

I came across Dawn Metcalf’s Livejournal a couple of years back and was intrigued by how quirky her books sounded. I read her first book, Luminous, soon after it came out. I felt about it much the same way I feel about Neil Gaiman’s books: stylistically beautiful, with very quirky, unique elements, though I wasn’t completely satisfied with how those elements came together.  Still, I liked the book enough that I was really excited to snag a copy of Dawn Metcalf’s next book, Indelible, at BEA. (No, it’s not a sequel or a companion. Indelible is the beginning of a whole new series.)



Goodreads Summary:

Some things are permanent.

Indelible.

And they cannot be changed back.

Joy Malone learns this the night she sees a stranger with all-black eyes across a crowded room—right before the mystery boy tries to cut out her eye. Instead, the wound accidentally marks her as property of Indelible Ink, and this dangerous mistake thrusts Joy into an incomprehensible world—a world of monsters at the window, glowing girls on the doorstep, and a life that will never be the same.

Now, Joy must pretend to be Ink’s chosen one—his helper, his love, his something for the foreseeable future...and failure to be convincing means a painful death for them both. Swept into a world of monsters, illusion, immortal honor and revenge, Joy discovers that sometimes, there are no mistakes.

Somewhere between reality and myth lies…

THE TWIXT

***

The strongest element of this book: The prose. The descriptions are beautiful and detailed, and Dawn Metcalf has a gift for choosing the perfect metaphors and similes. Take these: “Joy turned his words over like a snow globe in her head, her thoughts scattered and shaken” and “an unspooled ribbon of free fall.”

I was also blown away by the intimacy and the nature of the romance. Do you ever get sick of paranormal romances that leave you wondering why a powerful, supernatural hottie is so interested in an average human girl in the first place? Indelible avoids that trope by creating a sort of wisdom-balance between Joy and Ink. Ink, as the paranormal creature, knows all about the workings of the supernatural world, but he has very little understanding of humanity—that’s Joy’s territory. As a result, Ink has as much to learn from Joy as Joy has to learn from him. And the romantic development—yes, it’s fast, but it’s so well-crafted that there’s actually a sense of intimacy, not just obsession (though, not gonna lie, there is that, too).

Joy is a dynamic character and the story does a good job of incorporating her family situation and social life. (Though she is a bit on the whiny side.) The plot has a strong focus on Joy, Ink, and Inq, and while those elements come through successfully, I felt like I wasn’t seeing enough of everything else—specifically, the worldbuilding. We only saw scattered bits and pieces of the Twixt, and while those were cool, I never got a sense of the world as a whole. It would have been awesome to see the inner workings of Folk society and culture, for example. I also wanted a better understanding of the long-term consequences and significance of signaturae. There are a few occasions where we see people get marked, but beyond a brief explanation of why they are marked, we don’t learn anything else about those characters or how their lives are changed by Folk interference. This is especially important, since the plot centers on signaturae. Also, there’s one scene where an unimportant character is being marked because she lost her virginity (her family has an ancient pact where women are “particularly gifted” but only while they remain pure.) While that scene does a good job of showing the problems with inter-generational vows, the fact that Joy doesn’t seem to take any offense might cause this scene to be construed as slut-shaming.

As I mentioned earlier, this is the first book in a series, so I’m hoping that the next book(s) will give readers a much broader view of the Twixt. I do plan on picking up the next one.

***
Indelible comes out July 30th.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Incorporating Mythology

If you read a lot of secondary fantasy, then you're probably familiar with the prevalence of history, legends, and mythology in these types of stories. Mythology can play many roles in fantasy: it can explain the origin of humanity and magic; it can show how (or whether) religion plays a role in society; it can act as a metaphor for cultural values. Etc.

I'm currently reading a novel where it seems like every other chapter, they are telling a new story of some legendary hero or phenomenon. Could I repeat any of it back to you? Nope. Not unless I opened the book to those particular pages. Why? Because a) there's too much of it, and b) none of it involves characters I know or care about. If you're asking me to remember a huge chunk of what seems like irrelevant information, there had better be a good reason for it--and even if there is a good reason, you should try to limit how much of it goes into your story.

Here are some good guidelines for incorporating mythology:

1. The mythology is only there to enrich the worldbuilding: Even if mythology isn't directly related to the plot, it often adds a sense of realism and culture to the world. If this is the case, give it to your readers in brief snatches--names and sentences interspersed among the story.

2. The myth is only relevant to this particular scene: Perhaps your characters are visiting an important historical landmark. Or maybe one character is using this myth in a metaphorical way to advise or warn one of the characters. In this case, I would limit the story to a paragraph. (If it's a particularly entertaining story, you can use two paragraphs.)

3. The myth is crucial to the plot of the story: If the characters are sitting around the campfire, listening to a story, then that story had better be important--no, indispensable--to the plot. Think about A Game of Thrones--most of the mythology is given in bits and pieces, but the history of the Tagaryens and their dragons are given a full page or two of uninterrupted narration. That's because it's important for readers to understand the potential power of dragons--something that could be major foreshadowing for later in the series. Thus, only if a myth is truly important should you dedicate half a page or more of explanation. However, even this should be done sparingly. A good guideline is no more than one info-dump myth for every 300 pages of plot. (The only good exception to this rule is A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but that's only because the gods are active characters in the story.)

Note that these guidelines also (read: especially) apply to songs. I don't care what Tolkien got away with. How many of the songs in The Lord of the Rings do you actually remember?

Most of your readers do not have robot memories. Hell, many of us have a hard enough time remembering to water the garden. It is unfair of you, as a writer, to tear your readers away from the plot and expect them to remember a bunch of information that plays no role in the story. If that unnecessary myth is truly as awesome as you think, save it for a supplementary encyclopedia, or better yet, a different book.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Will "The Name of the Wind" become the next "Game of Thrones"?

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Patrick Rothfuss and The Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. The first book, The Name of the Wind, became an instant best-seller when it came out in 2007. The story involves a legendary hero/antihero/villain (?) telling the story of how he arose to infamy. I liked the first book in the series, but the second (The Wise Man's Fear) was too long-winded and involved the hero jumping around from "Gary Stu" to "fucking stupid." (Also, WAY too many pages of fairy sex.)

When I heard that the show was being optioned for television, my initial reaction was to get really excited. But then I thought about it for a few minutes, and now I'm not so sure there's much to get excited about.

Reasons The Name of the Wind probably won't adapt well to television:

1. Single character focus. Probably the main reason the book was optioned now was the success of Game of Thrones. If one best-selling fantasy series adapts to mainstream audiences, that must mean good things for another one, right? Not necessarily. One of the elements that makes Game of Thrones so popular is it's multi-character focus. Not only does more characters mean more plot, but it also gives the viewer more possibility for emotional investment. For instance, I don't care much for Jon Snow or Bran, but I love Tyrion, Daenerys, and Arya--and I will continue to watch the show because of those characters.

The Kingkiller Chronicles doesn't have that flexibility. The story follows Kvothe, and if you don't like Kvothe, too bad. While the story has some great secondary characters, most of them are there on a come-and-go basis, and very few of them have actual plotlines of their own.

2. Lack of a great villain. As of the second book, there are three major recurring villains--a Snape clone (minus any of Snape's complexity), a Malfoy clone, and a group of evil beings called the Chandrian. The Chandrian are the Big Bad, but very little is known about them, and they rarely makes an appearance. Although there are hints of another villain (and if my theory about his identity is correct, then we do see him in the second book), we have yet to see him in all of his evil, cunning glory.

3. Weak over-arching plotline. The books are mostly a series of events: Kvothe goes to the University. Kvothe defeats a draccus. Kvothe has adventures abroad. While this is great for breaking the show into episodes, you need some sort of over-arching plot(s) to bring all those episodes together, and to give the viewers a reason to keep coming back. People are eventually going to get sick of watching Kvothe be awesome at everything. If you want them to stay invested, you'll need to give them something else. The over-arching plot is important, because it makes viewers want to know what happens next. However, the only over-arching storyline is about Kvothe's hunt for the Chandrian, but so far that plot has yet to lead anywhere significant.

4. Not enough death (of important characters). There is one major massacre in the middle of the first book and the death of a minor character at the end of that book. (And when I say "minor," I really mean "minor." When I re-read the book, I thought I must have skipped over the scene during my first read, because I had absolutely no recollection of it.) No important characters die in the second book. I'm not saying that death is required for a great show, but it ups the stakes and creates a realistic sense of danger for the characters.

5. Kvothe gets older. Kvothe is a child at the beginning of the series, but is well into his teens by the end of the second book. In the frame story, he's an adult. This means they'll have to cast multiple actors for one role.

6. The book's strengths might not translate to film. Despite all of my complaints, I did enjoy the first book. One of the main reason's is Kvothe's voice. It's clever and tight and just the right amount of arrogant. But when you present the story in an audiovisual medium, the narrator takes a backseat. Another big strength is the "story" theme--the importance of stories in society and the contrast between truth and legend. And while this is a great theme, most mainstream audiences aren't going to care about it. They just want action, drama, and sex. Same with the worldbuilding--Patrick Rothfuss puts a lot of thought into his worldbuilding, but will a mainstream audience actually notice or care?


Thinking about this kind of makes you wonder--who will be the audience for this show? Fans of the book, certainly. But will the popularity spread to a less fantasy-oriented, less literary demographic? Hard to say.

That, of course, isn't taking into account any changes the creative team might make. Any story can be good, or at least entertaining, if done correctly. So who knows? As much as I'm doubtful, I am very open to the possibility of liking The Name of the Wind.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

On writing good villains (or, conversely, not writing laughably bad ones)

WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for Shadow and Bone and minor spoilers for The Bone Season.

Writing a good villain isn't something that's easy to accomplish. People are complex, and if your villain is a person, then chances are that your villain is complex, too. Complex is hard (and subjective), so I can't give easy advice for how to accomplish it.

But I can give one simple piece of advice for not writing a bad villain:

Give your readers the option of siding with the antagonist.

I was recently reading a Goodreads review of The Bone Season (a book I will review sometime in August), where the reviewer compared the plot to Shadow and Bone. I didn't disagree with this comparison.

But one place where Shadow and Bone succeeded whereas the other book failed was in its villain. Shadow and Bone is by no means a perfect book, and the Darkling isn't a perfect villain (falling in love with a girl younger than you by at least a century? seriously?) but he is very compelling. Why?

1) Hot*
2) Powerful
3) There is actually a good reason behind his actions. He wants to protect the Grisha from an outside world that's hostile to them. (Personally, I agreed more with the Darkling's actions than I did with Alina's.)

Emphasis on that last point. Not only do you want your readers to understand your villain's actions, but you want to give said readers a chance to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with your characters--not only is that a sign that you respect their intelligence, but by thinking about the book, readers are more likely to remember it.

(Or if you're looking for an even better example than Shadow and Bone, I highly recommend Watchmen--the graphic novel, not the movie.)

Now let's talk about the villains in The Bone Season. I didn't actually finish the book, so maybe the head of the Rephaim (I don't care enough to look up her name) has some sort of underlying depth that I completely missed. But all I saw were extremely heavy-handed ways to show how mua-ha-ha evil she was (ie, enslaving humans and replacing their names with numbers, needlessly killing an innocent human, etc.) This was not only ridiculous, but insulting. I felt like I was being forced to take the protagonist's side because there was no other alternative. (The same can be said for the evil king in the Throne of Glass series.)

So yes, there is your basic primer for not writing a bad villain.

*This is why other people find him compelling. I would probably agree if I were fifteen, but I've already seen so many hot villains over the course of my life that this trope has almost lost effect.

Yes, I know this type of post has been written to death. But if crappy books like The Bone Season are getting mid-six-figure deals, then some people clearly haven't gotten the message.
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