And the winner is…

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Only one more week. Promise. Oh, that’s Miller from The 100. S’s edit.

…sadly, not you our faithful readers. What? We didn’t post Superbowl Sunday and you expected something on Oscar Sunday? J has been busy plotting his April NaNo novel, and I’m planning out a new fanfic series that I just started writing. In other words, we’re having fun, and will stop in again soon.



Brooks Bothers


Pictured, L-R: Amberle, Will, Djibouti, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eretria. 
Not pictured: Chemistry.

Over the past few weeks, we have been group-watching MTV’s fantasy series, The Shannara Chronicles, with some online friends of ours.  The show is apparently based on Terry Brooks’s The Elfstones of Shannara.  I say “apparently,” because, the title of this post notwithstanding, neither of us have actually read any Terry Brooks.  Consequently, we have nothing to compare it to, and we have no idea whether the problems we have with the show are inherited from the source material or not.

In any case, as writers, we try to learn something about storytelling from pretty much everything we watch or read.  And here’s what we’ve learned from Shannara so far.

1. There’s no substitute for chemistry
I don’t want to say anything unkind about the actors in the show; I’m sure they’re doing the best they can.  But I think it’s apparent to anyone watching the show that there is a serious lack of chemistry between the leads.  We’re now at episode 8 (of 10), and the show has been trying to set up a love triangle between Will Ohmsford, Princess Amberle, and Eretria.  But I honestly don’t buy that any one of those three people actually wants to get together with either of the other two.  When you compare them to Richard and Kahlan on the much-missed Legend of the Seeker TV show from a few years ago, it’s not even a contest.  That show was a real testament to how good chemistry can elevate cheesy material.  Without chemistry, all you’ve got is the cheese.  And I love me some cheese, but cheese gets stale after a while, and too much of it gives you indigestion.

2. Don’t forget your character introduction
Another thing that has been bothering us, as well as the friends we’ve been watching the show with, is the devolution of Amberle into a damsel in distress.  Now, I have no idea what’s coming up in the last two episodes of the season.  Perhaps the princess will shock us all and prove to be strong, independent, and resilient.  But so far, she’s just gotten into one scrape or another, and has to be dragged out of them by Will or Eretria.  What makes this particularly galling is that the writers seem to have forgotten the character introduction that they gave her.  We first meet her, in episode 1, qualifying as one of the Chosen who protect the Ellcrys tree.  We’re given to understand that this is something like making it into the elven special forces.  She’s not just a badass; she’s a super-duper badass.  And yet Will, who is frankly something of a doofus, consistently seems to know more about how to negotiate the world around them than she does.  It’s very odd.

3. “Fantasy is actually post-apocalyptic” does nothing for me
This is just a matter of personal preference, but the notion that the Shannara world is actually earth after some nuclear war just seems silly.  Not that this is the only series that uses that conceit, of course, but frankly, neither of us has ever liked the idea in any form.  Is this supposed to trick sci-fi fans into wanting to read fantasy, or vice versa?  Is it supposed to make fantasy seem more “realistic,” somehow?  Because it doesn’t, really.  As fantasy authors, we’d rather authors just be bold about it: here’s a fantasy world; take it or leave it.  If you’re going to write fantasy, it seems to me that you should just own the fantasy elements.  There’s magic and wizards and dragons, and once you go down the dark path of trying to explain how dragons are physically possible, it’s just one short step to midi-chlorians.

4. And yet, it’s still fun to watch TV with friends
And in spite of all that, we’re still having fun watching the show.  Manu Bennett is fantastic as Allanon the druid, and John Rhys-Davies is as awesome as he always is.  And there is some interesting visual design stuff going on that makes it pretty to watch a lot of the time.  But we’d probably have stopped watching if we weren’t watching it with our friends.  There’s a lot to be said for a group watch, assuming you can work out schedules so that everyone can watch together.  And assuming your internet connection permits you to stream video reliably (I’m looking sternly at you, Time Warner Cable).  There’s nothing quite like watching a cheesy, middling TV show with friends and amusing each other with your commentary on it.  I’m honestly looking forward to seeing the last two episodes of the season.


You Want Me to Do What with This?


My silly edit of Tom Burke as Athos on the BBC’s The Musketeers.

So, a couple weeks ago J mentioned that I might pop in here and say something about revision. Of course, at the moment I’m drafting, not revising, so it’s not where my head is at all. Still, I’ve been practicing changing gears, and this will just be another chance to work on that skill. (Aside: My current writing schedule is an attempt to juggle my Oleg Omdahl novel I started during November NaNoWriMo and my fanfic. The worst part of putting down a project is always the time wasted to get back in the flow when you take it up again, so I’m trying to keep both my novel and my fanfic fresh in my head. To that end, I write two chapters of Oleg one week, then a fanfic story the next week, then back to Oleg the following week, then fanfic, etc. So far so good.)

But you signed on for a revision talk today, so let’s do that.

Revision is the part of my writing process that probably has the least, well, process. I outline my novels to within an inch of their lives (and I’ve even started doing a little more planning on my fanfic, too). And then I have my actual drafting habits—follow the outline, get out of the house when I get stuck, make a couple inspiring playlists, maybe make a folder of apt pictures, etc. But then it comes time to revise and I…? What exactly am I supposed to do with this thing?

My biggest solo revision project has been my first two Oleg novels, so I suppose I can talk about them a bit. There are several important steps I’ve done revising these novels, and I think it’s worked well enough that I will likely to continue to use it and refine it, at least until J sells me on another method.

Print it out
Anyone who can revise on a computer, more power to them. But if I like to handwrite my novels, I absolutely insist on revising with a hard copy. I need my lines and arrows and asterisks pointing to another page. All done in red pencil, preferably.

What did I forget to include the first time? What did I add half way through that needs set up at the beginning? Especially when you’re writing a crime novel with a mystery, there are bound to be structural issues on revision, and it’s best to tackle them as soon as possible, because you could spend a whole lot of time fixing problems that will become irrelevant when you’ve whipped the plot into shape and drop a certain chapter to replace it with another thing and added characters, etc.

Big issues
What are the fundamental problems that need fixed? With the first Oleg novel, I really focused on Oleg’s voice on the first revision. The novel still needs more work, but it took writing the second book and planning the third for me to really hear Oleg, so that’s where most of my revision efforts went. When revising The Queen’s Tower (which still hasn’t been completely revised. Sigh), I needed to focus on the title character’s slow decent into madness, something that’s much easier to see on revision than first draft. If there’s Something Big that needs fixed, I find it’s best to focus on it, and save the other problems for a future pass through the manuscript.

Read it out loud
No revision is complete until you’ve literally heard it. It’s not only great for finding sentence level problems (if you can’t say it elegantly, it’s not an elegantly written sentence, so go fix it), but you pick up writing ticks you don’t notice sitting quietly in your recliner. And I don’t mean that pejoratively. Yes, some of the ticks I pick up when reading aloud are my overuse of words and phrases, but also ticks I’ve given my characters that I didn’t notice before, and now that I do see that a certain character says things in a specific and interesting way, I can exploit it to make the character more distinctive.

Once more from the top
Repeat above steps as necessary.

And that’s my not terribly refined revision process.


Athletic Traditions

Super Bowl Shuffle

The halftime show you know you want.

We’ve done it two years in a row, so it’s a tradition now: we take Superbowl Sunday off.  I mean, we’re not personally going to be watching the game.  But we assume a lot of people will be.  We’re planning on it, in fact–we’ve scheduled our weekly trip to the grocery store for later, during the game, when all the people buying hot wings and chips and cases of beer will have gone home.

We also might be doing some writing.  S is hoping to finish up a chapter of the latest Oleg novel today.  After that, it’s back to fanfic for her.

Oh, and if you’re all good boys and girls, S may post a blog with her ideas on revision later this week.

Until then, shuffle on.