Sobre el arte del plumífero 2

That last word there is read as "dos", of course. Thoughts upon the plying of my ignominious trade.
  • I found it odd that one of those litmus-tests for writers (blind savage taboo-thinking, bah!), designed to detect if your character is a Chosen One or not, had, as one of its questions, "Is he a member of a royal or otherwise powerful family."

    But, shouldn't that say "unbeknownst to him"? Because no Chosen One is ever born in the purple, not and he gets raised there, anyway—they're always raised by dirt-farmers, often un-avuncular uncles. If a Chosen One is royal, he finds this fact out through some contrived, well, contrivance.

    Personally, given the Stalinist bent of our literature vis-à-vis the portrayal of hereditary rank, if you portray anyone with an aristocratic upbringing as being a responsible adult, I will forgive you one bungle somewhere else. Unless your story involves time travel, in which case you're going to have an uphill battle persuading me that you have human rights.
  • Christopher Paolini is, well, "what not to do", in writing. In large part because, as some dude said, "I couldn't take it anymore after Harry returned from his first run-in with the Dementors to find the Ring Wraiths had burned the Lars Homestead."

    Derivation and influence are unavoidable; don't even try. But a good writer—and this is what separates real writing from glorified fanfic, pace Superversive—looks at the things that influence him, and actually consciously analyzes what makes them work. The fanfic-writer (or the Paolini-type hack) simply unreflectively ganks ideas and shoves them in any which way, without so much as disguising them.

    My example would be, Eragon's sword. Leaving to one side "Dude, five feet? Eragon doesn't have the hairdo to pull that off," Eragon only has a sword because other heroes do. But...Eragon's a dragon-rider. Why is his main weapon something stuck to his hand? How about, I dunno, a bow? Or, as I suggested once in the now-defunct Anti-Shurtugal forum, why not some kind of primitive gun, only instead of flint or a match, you fire it by saying "fire" in the Ancient Language™?
  • I do, however, feel really old, what with the number of people who criticize Eragon's ripoff-ness and never mention Anne McCaffrey and Ursula LeGuin. (By the bye, the number of people who recommend McCaffrey to middle-schoolers, and even younger, is very, very terrifying. Not age-appropriate, dude—I read those things when I was twelve, and no, I don't mean the YA "Harper Hall" series (Minolly, I think's her name, has sex with that boy she likes in the third one of those, anyway).)

    I don't think I've mentioned this before, but dragons that behave like ducklings and imprint on the first person they see, was pretty much played out by the end of the scene where Lessa "Impresses" Ramoth, i.e. the first time anyone ever did it. (I'll concede it makes more sense for dragons than for werewolves, pace Meyer, since that is not how wolves-mating-for-life works out—Kôga in InuYasha was how that actually works, i.e. and as a character in my own werewolf story puts it, "Instant ball-and-chain.")

    And as I have said before, LeGuin (et al) and their 'special magic language' thing, is crap. Real magical traditions just use words, albeit often in some classical language; if you can't figure out how your characters would cope with words having power, you're not only not creative enough to be a writer, you know no anthropology whatsoever. One thing I could stand to see is two related schools with a written-spoken distinction, where one can only use spoken spells and another can also write them. In real life, a major difference between South Asian and East Asian Buddhism is the South, thanks to the Brahminical tradition of singing prayers and not writing things down (a tradition they share with the druids, btw), only thinks of mantras as sound, while the East, thanks to the Chinese (Taoist, LeGuin!) tradition of powerful writing, the written form of mantras is considered just as effective. E.g., how Buddha seals the Monkey King with a talisman reading 唵嘛呢叭咪吽, in Journey to the West.
  • Many people, talking about Eragon being so derivative that shortening the title to "" is putting it mildly, will allow that "most fantasy just uses the same few plots". Which, I'm sorry, got a point. Fantasy and (to a lesser extent) science fiction may use roughly the same basic plots over and over, but mainstream lit-fic always uses one plot.

    Namely, "some dude has lousy relationships with his family, discovers himself artistically, there's some smut, unintelligent things are said about human life and its aspects, deliberately unsatisfying conclusion involving partial reconciliation that nevertheless reveals that all relationships (not founded on solipsistically self-interested monkey-lust) are a sham". That's it.

    Oh wait, two basic plots. The other is summed up by Bohemian Rhapsody. You really wanna get into a pissing contest over who's more formulaic? Yeah, that's what I thought.
  • There are two ways to complain about technobabble as deployed in, e.g., Roland Emmerich movies. One is the stupid way—to note that "the neutrinos are causing a physical reaction" is a silly line, by dint of its vagueness. I mean, what reaction?

    The other is the correct way. Namely, to note that neutrinos do not cause physical reactions—which is why the characters thought it worth mentioning; if you complained in the first manner, congratulations, you know less science than Roland Emmerich—and no date on a calendar is going to change that.

    Neutrinos are found everywhere (though they aren't, well, detected everywhere, if you see what I mean). They don't give a tinker's damn at a rolling doughnut how many times this planet has circled its particular star; they've been the same since not very long after the Big Bang, and will probably be the same until not very long before the Big Rip. The only things they can effect—and given their 0 rest-mass, they don't effect those very much—are the cores of stars, which are dense enough to bounce neutrinos off.
  • I realize just now, that what I don't like about Firefly is that the people who wrote it obviously didn't care that the stories they wanted cannot happen in the setting their preaching required. No state, let alone a totalitarian one, would let Mal or Kaylee anywhere near a spaceship engine. But the Alliance is totally über-regulated...except when it comes to things like "who can perform Kzinti Lesson attacks against our Navy?", where they transform into anarchist libertarians who make Cory Doctorow look like Kim Il Song.

    The fun of science fiction comes from trying to make the story you want work in as realistic a way as possible. If you want your setting to be in the 26th century, realistically you need to give up terraforming. If you want the terraforming, you're gonna need to set the thing far in the future. If you want a totalitarian state, you can't have a tramp-freighter. If you want the tramp freighter, well, you're misapplying seafaring tropes to space—individual space travel, once we get big-people rockets, is unlikely in the extreme—so, you probably want to write space opera, which is something else entirely.

    Actually, that's only one thing I dislike about Firefly. Much worse is that its halfwit fans insist that its uses of artistic license are, like, totally scientifically possible, because magic, and then accuse you of not letting it use artistic license. ("The defendant has pled the fifth." "No, he's telling us everything he knows! You just think the fifth amendment should be repealed!")
  • A part of why I am self-publishing is, due to being slightly more than half again as smart and four or five times as crazy as a normal person, I not only know all kinds of things, but I cram them into books (fairly well, I feel). It would take a small team to edit my works.

    For example, in my second SF book, I have quotes from 18th century Japanese plays, discussions of the Lucas-Penrose argument, and an extended quotation from the Chinese version of the Ksitigarbha sutra. Who, pray, would a traditional publisher find to check my translations, parse my logic, and proofread my Sanskrit-phonetically-transcribed-in-Chinese?

    (Don't worry, what the Ksitigarbha sutra says isn't directly plot relevant, that it's there and is saying it is the important thing—but I am not the Sakura Wars anime, I don't have shrine maidens counting when they're supposed to be chanting. When I have people reading/writing things, they are real things, if I can possibly find them. Aztec vampires in my werewolf book, when they cast a spell on the hero, are really invoking Tezcatlipoca.)
  • According to Wodehouse's foreword to Summer Lightning, Thackeray ran around the room seven times bellowing when he came up with the title "Vanity Fair". This also apparently happened to Wodehouse when he came up with "Summer Lightning", and then he discovered about a dozen other people had the same title-idea. He hoped that at least his book would be included in the Best 100 Books Called "Summer Lightning".

    But titles are important, aren't they? Yet hard to come up with. I cheat: all my SF titles are Latin quotes—the first two are Faith of the Phoenix and The Dark Gates Stand Open, while the next two (which occur simultaneously) are A Man, I Remind You and And War Down the Proud. Similar dodges are very common; Japanese stuff uses, as I do, classical quotations (about 60-40 their classical and our classical), while Star Trek is big on Shakespeare. I would go ultra geek and reference Navajo myth, but given their big war-god/hero cycle is called "When the Two Went to Their Father" and their most sacred mountain is "The Mountain Around Which Moving Was Done", it's obviously somewhat of a poor fit for book-titles.

    One thing I think we can all agree on: don't be Phil Dick, and title your thing an entire sentence. There is a reason that, when Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and We Can Remember It for You Wholesale were made into movies, they were called Blade Runner and Total Recall, respectively. (The Bladerunner is actually the title of a story about medical-supply smugglers in a society where all medicine is free...so long as you pass the Eugenics screening, and illegal if you don't. If you wondered why the hell guys who hunt down androids were called that, well, the studio had the rights to both books.)

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