Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stay on target

I've been trying to keep this rant by a perceptive reviewer of A Storm of Swords in mind as I begin writing Book Two in ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT:
My third and final gripe remains roughly the same as it was with the first two books and is, in a nutshell, this: too damned long. Forget the page count; Martin's writing is good enough to read for ten thousand pages, I mean that he's taking too long to get to the point. This third installment of the series ends in a quick succession of highpoints. It's meant to build interest and steam going into the fourth, which it does (frustratingly so, given the time between releases). But most of the third book, like most of the second and the first before it, are build up. Three thousand pages of build up are simply not welcome, and certainly not in the face of a projected three thousand to come. There was even a point, somewhere near page 600 of this book, where I started to question my investment. After all, do I have any assurance that the next book, or the book after, will offer any satisfaction? How long will I have to wait, exactly, for any sort of a sense of closure on anything? How good is Martin's heart? His cholesterol count? Blood sugar? I suppose, on the bright side, that this series helps a person develop their patience and endurance. But, I'll tell you, couple this with my doubts of Martin's having a master plan, and you have a potential nightmare in the making. Is it still possible that he does have a direction in mind, and that book six will end up with all of the strings neatly tied in a satisfactory bow? Yes-that's still possible. But the hope dwindles with every passing page.

In the end, I will continue. Onwards to book four, I say, and quick about it. Frankly, I may have invested too much to turn back, now, no matter what happens. But I'm punishing Martin with one star less on this novel than I'd awarded the previous two. The book has the same quality as the others in the series, and the last fifty pages or so are rather exhilarating (and the scene with Sansa building the castle in the snow is just awesome-the kind of thing Martin must have had planned for a long time), but the slight problems become large over time, sort of like Malcolm's explanation of fractals and chaos theory in Jurassic Park, or something. Unabated, these problems will choke him all the way down to a single star by series end. I only pray it doesn't come to that.

The guy's subsequent review of A Feast for Crows makes for reading that is more than a little amusing, as everything he feared and worse came to pass. It made me curious enough to see if he'd bothered to read A Dance with Dragons; apparently he hasn't because despite reviewing everything from a Rob Zombie movie to Charles Dickens novels, he didn't review that.  But I thought it was remarkable that he anticipated the problems Martin subsequently exhibited as far back as the second book.  In his review of A Clash of Kings, he presciently wrote:
[E]ven after two gargantuan novels, it is hard to see where the series is going. It's hard to know, not what will be the final climax, but what even could be the final climax. As a for instance, somewhere near the beginning of Star Wars, we understand that eventually it will come down to a confrontation between Skywalker and Vader. In Rocky, we know that the crux will be Rocky's confrontation with Creed. In Thelma and Louise, we know that the final climax will be a resolution of their flight-either they'll find a way to get back into society, or they won't in a profound way (incarceration, death, disappearing into another country). In A Clash of Kings, there are so many major characters and so many major events all awaiting a resolution, that I can't even precisely piece out what forms the core conflict requiring resolution. Or what event short of global annihilation could bring about such a resolution. Is there a main protagonist or antagonist? Perhaps the Houses of Stark and Lannister provide those. Or, perhaps not (what of Daenerys, for instance, or the oncoming Winter)?
The problems he perceived so early are readily grasped by comparing the number of perspectives in the various novels.  The count grew from 9 different perspectives in the first book to a combined 25 in the last two, which you may recall were originally supposed to be a single book.  What of Daenerys indeed... what of Tyrion!

Anyhow, these are excellent object lessons to keep in mind as I'm starting to roll on the second book.  I'm determined that Book Two will be better than its predecessor.  It's not too hard to see how things can spin out of control in books of this size, especially if you don't have a tight grasp on who should be a perspective character and who should not be.  I've already written scenes with one secondary character who has been newly promoted to the perspective level; I have to be careful to not to get too carried away with that.

I originally intended to go with two fewer characters than Martin, because the geographic separations meant that I'd probably need to go into more detail and devote more words to each since I didn't have the benefit of the overlapping physical proximity that Martin did in A Game of Thrones.  However, after writing A Magic Broken, it became apparent that the dwarf required his own storyline.

A few items of business.  First, I noticed that one of the Amazon reviews mentioned the 225 errata.  Those, and a fair number more, have all been fixed now and the cleaned-up version is already up on Amazon and BN.  Marcher Lord will be sending out the new files to all of those who bought from them next week, both preorders and ebooks.  I'm told that Amazon sends out an email confirmation when you buy an ebook from them, so if you were one of the early buyers and have the original version with the errata, please send me a copy of that email confirmation and I will send you the new .mobi file.

It's easy to tell which version you have.  If the title page on Location 2 of 13826 features a skull, that's the original one with the errata.  If it looks like a carved Roman wall and there is an appendix at the end of the book, that is the new one.

And if anyone knows how to get in contact with Don Athos, the Amazon reviewer, let me know.  I definitely want to send him an ebook for review.



Blogger Giraffe December 11, 2012 12:20 PM  

I quit after the fourth book too. That series is like a huge practical joke on the readers. There is no coherant plot, all the characters that you like die, and there is no end.

It does get difficult to keep track of too many characters. I tend to not remember the ones that i don't think are important. They end up being the only ones left in Martin's books.

Anonymous Faust December 11, 2012 12:26 PM  

Vox -

You know what would help book 2 a lot? A glossary. For those of us who didn't grow up on a diet of roman historical fiction it's kind of a mess. What's the difference between a Quaestor and a Tribune? Is there one Consul or many Consuls, and how much power does a Consul have, anyway? I'm sure you could write a whole book on those subjects alone, but even 2-3 sentences for some of the major terms would go a long way towards making it easier to follow.

Anonymous VD December 11, 2012 12:29 PM  

I quit after the fourth book too.

There were times while slogging through Dragons that I really wished I had, but in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't. I don't know that I would have attempted to write something the size and scope of ATOB if I hadn't been so disgusted with it.

You know what would help book 2 a lot? A glossary.

Not a bad idea. The hard thing there is that I have no idea what people know and what they don't. Besides, the next book will likely go into similar depth concerning another culture....

Anonymous Daniel December 11, 2012 12:36 PM  

I'll try to keep a running glossary with the published stuff. I'm not reading Throne for another few weeks, but I'll start then.

I also had quite a few notes on SE as I was going through that and reading Augustine and Sex in Education: or, a Fair Chance for the Girls, an old book that predicted the downfall of women should they enter higher education.

I doubt I have the notes, but a lot of the glossary words are still marked in the pages of SE. It might help to have a spreadsheet of the unique terms, but it also might be unwieldy, so unless you have that at the ready, I wouldn't go out of the way to start from there.

Anonymous Kickass December 11, 2012 12:51 PM  

I would say, as a voracious reader, one of my biggest problems with some authors is they take forever to get to the point. They think they are building to a climax but they are simply stalling in an unimaginative fashion.

Life isn't like that. I also hate when women writers, for the most part, write men. Or conversations between men. Pathetic.

I hate when I can guess what is going to happen, I hate when things make no sense whatsoever (except for fantasy) and I hate PC bullshit.

Which is why I avoid it all cost in my own writing and have my biggest critics tear it apart before any of it sees the light of day. I also take advantage of friends and family who embody characters or subjects I am writing about.

Big ups for finishing a book, let alone one so darn long. Which I like, I hate when good stuff ends too early. I just trashed a book I worked on for a long time because I changed my religion and realized I had a lot of witchcraft in there.

Here's to writing in 2013...if the mayans were wrong.

Anonymous Stilicho December 11, 2012 12:52 PM  

The hard thing there is that I have no idea what people know and what they don't. Besides, the next book will likely go into similar depth concerning another culture....

Happy to help with a suggested list and suggested definitions/explanations should you want to go that route. You will, of course, have to compensate me with a proofreading copy of the next book (or, as McRapey would say, fuck you, pay me).

Don't be afraid of the occasional POV that isn't a continuing POV if it advances the story or gives a different perspective on events. For example: a battle scene from the POV of a centurion or the Primus Pilus instead of from Marcus (although Marcus' subsequent POV could reflect on the events of the battle as needed) . I would avoid having multiple POV's on the same events unless it serves a specific purpose. Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous Kickass December 11, 2012 12:55 PM  

Vox, just assume anything over four letters needs an explaination. Or, you could give the Ilk quizzes. Write a few chapters and just pop on here and say "Can anyone define these ten words?".

Last, one thing I do enjoy with historical or fantasy fiction is that little paragraph at the beinning of each chapter that is either a quote or fact of dialogue that gives you a bit of a taste of what is coming up. If you are switching between geographic areas or characters with some terms no one understands, this might be a good way to give bites of background.

Anonymous Kickass December 11, 2012 12:56 PM  

"or dialogue" sorry

Anonymous VD December 11, 2012 12:57 PM  

Don't be afraid of the occasional POV that isn't a continuing POV if it advances the story or gives a different perspective on events.

You know, I wasn't actually planning on writing a novella called Eyepopper's Story....

Anonymous Daniel December 11, 2012 1:05 PM  

That's funny right there. Zoe's Tale was a terribly shameless cash-grab. What was ridiculous was that he was disappointed with the sales. I've read bad books, but I've never felt suckered like I did on that one.

Until Dance with Dragons.

That made Zoe's Tale seem like At the Mountains of Madness in comparison...

Anonymous Stilicho December 11, 2012 1:08 PM  

I should have said "valuable perspective."

Anonymous Josh December 11, 2012 1:21 PM  

Vox, you might be able to contact the reviewer through Amazon's Vine program.

Blogger Joe A. December 11, 2012 1:46 PM  

A dwarf's perspective? I'm sold!

Anonymous jack December 11, 2012 1:47 PM  

Re: Kickass: Here's to writing in 2013...if the mayans were wrong.

No kidding! If Vox thinks he can top TToB then I want to be reading it and not as a ghost over someone's shoulder that survived.
Come to think of it; should any of that Mayan stuff happen the last thing on my mind would probably be a book of fiction.

So, Kickass, you write. Any links to what you've published so far?

Anonymous Ten41 December 11, 2012 1:49 PM  

For those interested, I was able to get a new copy of the ebook simply by contacting Kindle tech support. They pushed a new copy to my Kindle.

Anonymous RedJack December 11, 2012 1:55 PM  

I am glad I stopped reading Martin in book 2. I got sucked in to the Wheel of Time, and have yet to forgive myself (at least Sanderson got to a point to finish the story).

Vox, I know that Amazon has updated books I bought in the past, would that be an option here? I have the original version, and would love to have the improved one.

Anonymous Boogeyman December 11, 2012 2:14 PM  

Never read a series until the writer dies or officially declare the series over.

Anonymous stevev December 11, 2012 2:23 PM  

I'm enjoying the use of martial terminology. I figure wikipedia can't inject too much bias into things such as quaestor, praetor, etc. I enjoy looking those things up for myself.
What stymies me, tho perhaps google searches would discover meaning, is the use of extended latin phrases. Just a nit to pick.
I wanted to respond to commenters(tors?) on WND about Monday's offering, but will do that here.
The pace and wordplay is anything but stilted. I've only read up to the brother/sister dealings with that witch in Lutece (at least, I'm assuming she'll turn out to be a sorceress), and I have no inkling Throne of Bones is heading into Martin-slog territory. I have no inkling that the story rises to the level of Tolkien or McDonald, either, but I am enjoyingly engaged with the characters, and the play of POV into the overall story development. Cheers, VD. I think it's a solid offering.

Anonymous zen0 December 11, 2012 2:38 PM  

Here's to writing in 2013...if the mayans were wrong.
@ Kickass

No worries. When someone asked the Mayans that were still around about it, they said it was all B.S. made up by non-Mayans. Plus, other calendars that go further have been known for years.

Blogger vandelay December 11, 2012 2:47 PM  

Never read a series until the writer dies or officially declare the series over.

Such good advice. I finished Dance (which I actually thought was much better than A Feast For Crows) a few months ago and I've only just realized that it's the first such fantasy series that I'll have to wait years to see out. And now, with each new release, I'll have to waste months rereading the series just so I'll know what the hell he's talking about. Friggin' Martin.

Anonymous antonym December 11, 2012 3:34 PM  

I read the first book and it sucked. The dialogue was corny, the characters were flat, and Martin's world was poorly designed. The pacing was good, though.

Anonymous Daniel December 11, 2012 3:46 PM  

If you want a solid military sci-fi series that hasn't ended (but is not cliffhangery, gotta have the next one right now) yet, E.E. Knight is pretty terrific. His "Vampire Earth" series is loosely confederated states of America armies vs. obscenely violent aliens vs. good but mysterious aliens vs. liberal traitors.

Fun stuff, good combat, sort of eerily realistic now, but still good, gritty and hopeful.

His Age of Fire dragon books are good, too. Even though they are Dragon-centered, those books are not postmodern in the least.

Anonymous Stephen J. December 11, 2012 3:51 PM  

"It's easy to tell which version you have. If the title page on Location 2 of 13826 features a skull, that's the original one with the errata. If it looks like a carved Roman wall and there is an appendix at the end of the book, that is the new one."

If I order the hardcover, will I get one with corrected errata, or do I have to wait for another print run?

Anonymous Seriously... December 11, 2012 4:21 PM  

Well now, the dwarf's perspective will be short indeed.

Anonymous cheddarman December 11, 2012 4:31 PM  

I would like to see rivers of blood spilled in the next installment.



Anonymous Jack Amok December 11, 2012 4:39 PM  

The Amorr Gazatteer could be a Kindle ebook, $0.99.

Of course, then there's the d20 Campaign Sourcebook, the 101 Amorran Adventurers NPC GM's Aid, the Bestiary...

Anonymous VD December 11, 2012 4:40 PM  

If I order the hardcover, will I get one with corrected errata, or do I have to wait for another print run?

You'll get about 238 of the 258 known errata corrected. Markku and I caught about 30 in the Markku special, but they're pretty minor. Avlus/Alvus, three brief editorial comments, a missed linespace in the appendix. I would not recommend waiting for another print run because I don't know when it will be.

Anonymous David December 11, 2012 4:55 PM  

I still have Dance of Dragons sitting on my table unread. I have an intention of reading it some day but I will wait until Martin finishes the series or gives up on it. In the meantime for the short term, I will enjoy Throne of Bones and some Glen Cook novels.

Anonymous ENthePeasant December 11, 2012 5:02 PM  

By the fourth book all I cared about was The Wall and the Night's Watch (an old friend believes this explains my real life loyalties to organizations faced with useless tasks). The rest of it I just found vicious without virtue and just about every character disgusted me. After Jon Snow is betrayed by his brothers I was done. I started thinking about how nice it would be if the Wights and Others would sweep down from the north and destroy everyone... but then I realized it would take five more books to make that happen so my only hope was Martin would join a Buddhist Temple and renounce writing forever.

Anonymous Matthew December 11, 2012 5:16 PM  

The most hilarious thing to me about books 4 and 5 is that they were not part of GRRM's original plan. This is based on my recollection of his not-a-blog updates after book 3 was published, but before book 4. He stated that the book 4 was supposed to open a few years after the end of A Storm of Swords, but that he'd realized too much would need to happen offstage, and that explaining all the character dispositions would be impossible. He decided to write one book that would set up his pieces in the right places.

Then that book turned too long, even though he thought he was almost finished, so he split it in half in the way that is now notorious. And even then, it took years to get book 5 out.

So: all the ponderously boring nothing that happened in 4 and 5 wasn't originally suppose to be narrated anyway.

Anonymous Stephen J. December 11, 2012 5:17 PM  

My own reaction after finishing A Dance with Dragons was the same reaction I had after finishing Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear: "So much happens and yet so little happens."

I wonder if perhaps Martin's history of working in TV is biting him in the butt without him realizing it. Soap-opera shows encourage a lot of plotline extension sans resolution, and it would explain why the series has adapted as well to TV as it has.

Anonymous Daniel December 11, 2012 5:31 PM  

So: all the ponderously boring nothing that happened in 4 and 5 wasn't originally suppose to be narrated anyway.

That explains so much if true. This is why there used to be a cutting room floor in movie production (now considered "bonus features")

A book 4 that started up in medias res with the current 4 & 5 simply serving as 20 pages of background and outline for the author could have been a spectacular, potentially standalone conclusion.

The real problem is that Martin's way off his peak in skill, for whatever reasons. Dunce with Dragons is more like it.

Anonymous Kyle In Japan December 11, 2012 5:50 PM  

I didn't mind ASOS being so long because a whole lot of stuff happened, and by the end you could tell that Martin had finished his projected first half or so of the series. A ton of pages are fine if stuff is actually happening.

Since I'm writing a big-ass (probably four books) fantasy series, I found it most helpful to make a chronology that says, in broad strokes, what was supposed to happen in each book. I already have a good idea of what the conclusion is going to look like, so it's all working toward a coherent end, and I succeeded in fitting in everything I needed in the first book, and actually taking about 150 less pages to do it than I anticipated.

The problem a lot of fantasy writers have, I suspect, is that they don't plan in advance and blueprint their series. Either they start with no particular end in mind, or they figure that they'll worry about it when they get there. Neither of these seem like good approaches.

Having viewpoint characters needn't be so wooden. Use 'em as the story demands, and stick to only a small recurring cast of POV folks.

Anonymous Matthew December 11, 2012 5:58 PM  

Wikipedia confirms:

The fourth book, tentatively titled A Dance with Dragons, was to focus on Daenerys Targaryen's return to Westeros and the associated conflicts. Martin wanted to set this story five years after A Storm of Swords so that the younger characters could grow older and the dragons grow larger. Agreeing with his publishers early on that the new book should be shorter than A Storm of Swords, Martin set out to write the novel closer in length to A Clash of Kings.

Anonymous Feh December 11, 2012 6:07 PM  

Good thing he didn't read Dance - it is an even better example of failing to get to the point than ASOS. 800 pages of going somewhere and never frigging getting there, geez.

Anonymous Kickass December 11, 2012 6:55 PM  

@ Jack
It is all non-fiction that I have published. Lots of business articles, science and medical and even security and law enforcement stuff. That is where my background lies. I did time as an Editor but it was trade stuff. Lots of freelance. Lots of ghost writing technical/computer magazines that are considered books. Also contributed to a college text book (I know ;)Nothing sexy.

I also did an online series on authors who were doing ebooks and print on demand but that was a long time ago.

Now the fiction, spent years on a book (I wrote a lot for work so it was between that and family stuff) to come within ten pages of finishing and to delete it now because I had put stuff in there that was bad without realizing it. It was targeted at children/teens so it had to go.

So, starting over. Thanks for asking. When I get something readable I will post a link if the mods allow.

@ Zeno, saw a bunch of mayans coming out of sams club with tons of food today. I hope you know something they don't.

I don't care either way. My life is hid with Christ. It is just interesting times afoot.

Frankly, after Sandy it is just good fun.

Anonymous Paige December 11, 2012 7:02 PM  

Four years after "A Storm of Swords" I ran into a picture of George R. R. Martin. I posted it on a blog entry saying "Oh my God he will be dead before he gets this thing done" I have not changes my mind on that. I so loved that first book

Anonymous asdf December 11, 2012 7:48 PM  


They are getting long just for the sake of getting long. Nobody practices brevity anymore.

Anonymous zen0 December 11, 2012 9:28 PM  

@ Zeno, saw a bunch of mayans coming out of sams club with tons of food today. I hope you know something they don't. @ Kickass

Check this out.

End of the World? Hear the 2012 Prophecy … Direct from the Mouths of the Mayan Priests

Y2k didn't happen either, and yet 2000 marked a watershed in the geopolitical and economic parameters of the world.

Prophesy is always best understood in hindsight, which means, of course, someone has to still be around to look at it.

Anonymous FUBAR Nation (Ben) December 12, 2012 12:45 AM  

"Stay on target!"

"I can't shake em! Pull up!"

"Stay on target!"

Anonymous ENthePeasant December 12, 2012 1:59 AM  

"I ran into a picture of George R. R. Martin. I posted it on a blog entry saying 'Oh my God he will be dead before he gets this thing done'"

Excellent point and a reason for hope. Didn't VD lay down a post about authors doing all their best work before a certain age?

Anonymous Kickass December 12, 2012 6:57 AM  

@ Zeno

Thanks, I will check it out.

Anonymous Stilicho December 12, 2012 9:18 AM  

You know, I wasn't actually planning on writing a novella called Eyepopper's Story....

I had not thought of using "throwaway" POV's for your planned novellas. You could have a lot of fun with that. Perhaps too much fun.

Blogger Taqiyyotomist December 12, 2012 10:06 AM  


This looks promising:

The Cee-Lo Green video at the end of the article is most amazing.

Blogger Duke of Earl December 12, 2012 7:58 PM  

The technical term for it is "murdering your darlings." If you're writing something that doesn't advance the story, get rid of it, no matter how much you may like what you've written.

Anonymous Koanic December 13, 2012 9:54 PM  

Vox Day is to RR Martin as a box of pastries is to a pot roast dinner. One may taste better at the beginning, but the other you wouldn't mind eating for the rest of your life.

Blogger Duke of Earl December 14, 2012 12:40 AM  

I think you got that the wrong way around.

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