fantasy world

I am a member (paid, even) of an on-line critique group.  It’s actually more of a mob than a group – there are thousands of members.  You post a short story or a snippet from a larger work for critique and it goes into a queue.  About 50 stories each week are pulled from the queue and posted to the main page where members can read and offer suggestions for improvement (aka: rip your story a new one). 

I haven’t posted anything there in a while.  I got frustrated that I would get only one really helpful critique for every ten that was some version of “You had a dog in your story.  I like dogs.”  I do tune in every once in a while to critique other’s stories, however.  Looking for comma splices, passive voice, showing-not-telling, split infinitives and the like helps me to avoid the same errors in my own writing.  Plus, I just like helping people.  I’m a giver.

I will not critique a story if I can’t 1) offer at least three suggestions for improvement or 2) say at least one nice thing about the writing.  Some stories are so rife with errors that I could edit every sentence, but if I can’t honestly tell the writer something positive about the story then I won’t critique it (I won’t ever tell anyone they should just give up).  Then, I’ll read a piece that blows me a way in its creativity and execution, but I won’t post a critique if it’s just to gush. 

However, there is one genre of writing that I can not - nay, will not - ever critique:  FANTASY.  I just can’t slog through it.  It’s all so dense and convoluted that I can’t even tell if the writing is good or not.  I barely finished The Hobbit, so there is no way I’m ever translating what spews from the pens of amateur Tolkien’s.  I’d need a spreadsheet to keep up with all the story lines and the characters.  Then there are the names.  Good lord, people!  Even Middle Earth had a character named Sam, so why can’t your realm have a couple of Steves or Marys.     

Alaicorn, prophisied King of the Rylorean Clans of Higher Persulania had three sons, Eiorlyc, Ruionan, and Clive.  All three grew to be lean and strong, each rulers of their own clans in time.  However, one son, Ruionan, had a higher destiny, for at birth the seer, Briothiaae, had a vision of the mystical Griffin of Tiolwool clutching a flowering Nuuowir branch in it’s talons.  Alas, this destiny will forever remain a mystery as our story takes place in Lower Aiierolania, not Higher Persulania.

Yeah, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much.  There are numerous different people all posting similar long-winded, dragon studded, elf eared, sword slashed tales of yore.  Week after week.  Is someone actually reading this stuff?  And, more importantly, are they liking it?  Have I just missed the boat?  

I don’t want to make fun of amateur writers (well, I kinda do) because I am one.  I’ve sold one story for money (a whopping five bucks) and had two others published for exposure in lieu of payment.  I am as green as they come when it comes to every aspect of writing.  However, I hope I can tell the difference between talented wordsmithing and formulaic drivel. 

Ah, but that’s just it, isn’t it?  The masses want formulaic drivel, don’t they?  It’s what sells.  Every romance novel ever printed follows a formula and those paperbacks fly off the shelves faster than you can say “quivering loins.”  I suppose the fantasy genre is no different.  Someone found a formula that worked and now everyone else is plugging their characters and locations into it.  Who can blame them?  Give the people what they want, don’t make them think too hard, and they will repay you with their cold, hard cash. 

You might be thinking that I’m just bitter and jealous that others have managed to get a publishing deal while all I got is a framed five dollar check on the wall.  Well . . . yes.  That’s part of it.  But, there is truth to what I say.  In the forums of the critique website are actual published writers telling their publishing world tales of woe.  Many of them say that no matter how much a publisher touts that they want fresh, original stories that challenge the reader, what they really want is a story that will sell.  What stories sell?  Obviously, stories that have already sold before.  Just look at the recent vampire hysteria.  I wonder how many brilliant first novels were ignored and tossed in the trash because publishers were scrambling to jump on the blood-sucking bandwagon.   

This is the old dilemma of writing for money or writing for critical acclaim (even if the critics are just your friends and family).  Do you want to be McDonald’s or the quirky little italian joint down town that is packed every weekend and serves the best damn bolognese this side of, well, Bologna?  If you’re really, really, multiple-lottery winning lucky, you can get both.   

I’m really proud of the story that I sold and it has nothing to do with the money.  I was proud of it the moment I finished writing it.  I guess that’s the only formula I need.

19 thoughts on “fantasy world

  1. SUGGESTED “Nice Things to Say” COMPLIMENTS FOR JUNK: 1. You should have your beautiful story translated and go international. Suggest Latin or Sumerian. 2. I could hardly wait for the story to end. 3. Very descriptive adjectives. 4. Authoritative use of the word “the.” 5. Artful use of a first sentence to begin the novel. 6. I bet your mother is so proud. 7. Impressive numbering of the pages in chronological order. 8. The reader is able to determine where the the story begins and ends. 9. Have you considered photography? Telling a story with pictures instead of words seems to be an area in which you may excel. 10.Clever use of verbs helps the reader follow the action. 11. I can see you must be a good check writer and master of the grocery list.

  2. Reading other’s writing to critique is a great idea. I do it when I need something to get me po’d. Which is not often cause I have lots to keep me po’d all the time. Your writing has always been a joy and inspiration.

    Speaking of vampires…you did some bang up long stories back in the day. Perhaps you should revisit.

    I recognize Graffiti’s which is coincidentally next to McDonald’s in Destin. There is a place in Mexico that serves bolognese. There interpretation, per the Captain, is bologna in red sauce.

    • That you read what I write is a joy and an inspiration (and it keeps me honest).
      I think I’m over vampires (writing about them, that is). Got it all out of my system in high school.

      Bologna in red sauce? Ew! Did he eat that?!

  3. I had no idea such online critique communities existed. I would love to join one to hone my editing skills. Any suggestions or one to avoid?

    Also, re: Fantasy. That cracked me up. I’m a long time fantasy reader and that’s always been my one beef about the genre. Even the really good fantasy novels seem to fall prey to this.

    Really enjoyed your writing style. Will certainly be back for more.

    • Oh, yeah, there are tons of websites that you can submit stories for critique by your peers. The one I belong to is CritiqueCircle.com. It’s actually pretty good. A basic membership is free, but you can pay to get more perks. When you critique you get credits, and after a certain amount of credits you can post your own story. This keeps people from posting without critiqueing, that’s what I really like about it cause other sites don’t have this kind of control set up. Check it out!

      Glad even a fantasy reader has the same issues with it that I do.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Eff writing a fantasy book – let’s make it into a video game! That’s where the big bucks are! And then we can offer upgrades so that the story – I mean “game” – is never ending!
    Game one could be called “Ruionan”, game two can evolve to “Ruionan and The Lower Aiierolania”, and the coveted game three “Ruionan Begins: Higher Persulania”. With this, we can make it rain. (Yes we – I need to cash in on this love boat.) Hell, I’ve got game four all planned too: “Ruionan & Frodo: The Quest of the Friendship Bracelet.”

    • You are cracking me up! Bless you for typing all those redonkulous names!
      Video games are awesome at raking in the bucks, aren’t they? Sounds like you got it all figured out. All we need to do is go spelunking in some basements to find a nerd who can code this all up for us and wait for the checks to come streamin’ in!
      I just hope no one asks me how to pronounce all those names.

  5. I think part of it is writing a story that someone wants to publish. So if it’s a confusing fantasy with fancy schmancy ornate descriptions then so be it…if you can find someone to back you. If a story is too confusing or it takes too much effort to understand I cannot read it. I’ve been reading a LOT this year in an attempt to see what’s out there and what is interesting to read. The genre depends on the audience I guess and some pave the way while others follow in the wake of the first success. The prime example being the vampire trend. Twilight spread like wildfire so the end result was numerous knockoffs of vampire stories trying to make money from the idea.

    I’ve been reading the Ranger’s Apprentice series and it’s a simple story line without too many detailed descriptions. The story is detailed enough to keep two sides of a plot going without getting confusing. John Flanagan is a gifted writer in my opinion. I am on book 6 and I have the next two on order and the nineth on pre-order. Something simple and easy to understand without overwhelming the reader is my favorite, in any genre. Conveying the feelings of the characters in a way that helps me relate how they are feeling works too even if I’ve never experienced facing angry army of savages I know the feeling of fear and the rush of adrenaline that forces an action so I can kind of relate to the feelings just not the situation. For some reason, that is one of the many reasons I like reading those books; the fact that I can relate to the emotions of the characters.

    I don’t think you sound bitter, but maybe you’re wondering what writers have that get them published novels while you are not yet a widely known author? Did I get it right or maybe close?

    I can say that I enjoy reading your blog and while I’ve never read any of your creative work, I am sure you are a very gifted writer that knows how to convey feelings and situations.

    I used to belong to a writing group and as one of the moderators it was my duty to critique other works. I felt very small in comparison to my peers because they could delve into these elaborate critiques while I could offer grammar, punctuation and if-I-enjoyed-it-or-not with some details. It was difficult for me to give a detailed rip it apart critique! But I learned a lot about writing and then I wondered why my writing was not as good. I kinda gave it up for awhile, but I shouldn’t have because it’s my perfect creative outlet.

    I couldn’t tell someone to throw in the towel either, because anyone can actually make it as a writer and I am not the one to say whether they have talent or not. Something positive is always encouraging to hear.

    By the way I like Carl’s #5. Artful use of a first sentence to begin the novel. HAHAHA! I like Brooke’s ideas too!

    • I don’t think you sound bitter, but maybe you’re wondering what writers have that get them published novels while you are not yet a widely known author?

      Oh, no. I know exactly why I am an unknown author. I’m a chicken! I rarely submit my stuff anywhere.
      It’s just that when I do decide that I am “ready” to start submitting, I just hope that it gets rejected based on the writing not because the topic isn’t trendy at the moment.

      On the critique website, there will always be a story posted with a note from the author, “I’m not really interested in receiving critiques on my grammar, please just let me know how you think the story flows.” Or something along those lines. Well, if your grammar sucks, then the story doesn’t flow well at all, does it?
      I definitely believe in encouragement over “tough love” and think that if you enjoy doing it then, just do it. It can be a dangerous game comparing your writing to that of others. Everyone has a different style and everyone enjoys different things.
      Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. Write what you know about and take pride in what you write. Don’t ever second guess yourself or convince yourself that others are better than you because they are making money and getting deals. It’s honestly about who you know in this ever-so corrupted world. I cannot advise you in the writing department because I haven’t written much worth reading in a long time, as far as stories go at least. But I can advise you in the aspects of confidence and determination.

    • Yeah, I know that who you know can play a huge role in everything.

      Everyone’s awesome comments on my silly blog definitely help me in the confidence arena. Thanks!

  7. Loved the post. Fantasy stuff is just not up my alley. Never has been. The thought of watching a fantasy film or reading an entire book about it makes my head hurt. I remember taking a class years ago for writing and we had to email the entire class our story and then sit while they critiqued it in front of us. It was just super having someone tear me apart while pretending that I wasn’t sitting in the room. “She seems lost. Her characters aren’t really developed. I think she should scrap the entire thing and start fresh.” “Hey buddy, she is me and I am sitting immediately to your left. I’m cool if you don’t dig my stuff but have the guts to interact with me like a person.” Ok, anyway, there were a few fantasy writers and it was always painful. I got so lost within the first few paragraphs that it was like reading another language. I’ll stick to real life or sarcasm or a nice made up romantic comedy. Once there is a sword or a warlord, I’m peacing out.

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