Read This: Author Patricia C. Wrede

This post will probably be the first in a series maybe.

When talking about a beloved author, it’s not uncommon to chastise others for not having read that author’s whole bibliography. I won’t do that. I know there are too many books out there for you to have read all of them.

But really missing out if you haven’t.

Patricia C. Wrede is, by grand margins, one of my favorite authors of all time. It began with my mother reading me Dealing with Dragons. It took classic castles and dragon and enchanted forest books and made them wonderful and hilarious.

I LOVE her characters. The Raven Ring is a study in making you fall in love with characters within a short span of time.

Wrede does something else with her stories that seems so lacking sometimes. Her books are so damn fun. I could pin down the whys and hows right here… but that’s actually what this blog is often about. So, just know that her stories created the joy in me.

Exactly the way aspiring writers like us want to.

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The Mary Sue

A Mary Sue character, for those unfamiliar, is an idealized character in a story. It’s often a stand-in for who the author wishes himself/herself to to be. And importantly, real consequences don’t really apply to them.

CONSEQUENCES

Writers and critics alike tend to look down upon the Mary Sue, and for good reasons. The MS is all about wish fulfillment. Who doesn’t want to imagine themselves as The One, that person that’s special? The unique fella who discovers he’s actually a lost prince, or has a secret superpower?

Sue. Mary Sue.

Sue. Mary Sue.

Hell, I’m no different.

Any day now I expect an attractive young person to approach me and say, “This Starbucks was actually built as a test to see who could idle their time in the most ineffective manner possible. You’ve passed that test, and are therefore the Last Starfighter And Supreme Makeout Artist.”

So is wish fulfillment inherently bad? Well, no, not when it’s done right. For example, Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived. “The Boy Who Lived”… they practically nickname him “The Mary Sue.” But they’re wonderful, beloved books.

Contrarily, why does the ancient, beautiful vampire desire the bland Mary Sue? Just ’cause. It’s inexplicable and there’s no ‘cost,’ for lack of a better word.

Why is Harry Potter different? Because his parents died. And magic. And it’s as much a curse as a blessing. And REASONS. Hell, Harry even asks “Why me?” and gets unpleasant answers all the time.

Picture: Neo

Picture: Neo

Harry’s still a Mary Sue, but a darned good one in a darned good series.

RELATABILITY

The other complaint is that the character isn’t relatable. I have less of a problem with this, mostly for reasons you can find here and here. Often, people who say they want “relatable” really mean they want to read reflections of their own flaws and the conflicts they face. Pain, more often than not.

Personally, I’d rather read about the Mary Sue. But moving on…

OUT OF CONTROL CHALLENGES

There’s another problem with the Mary Sue. One for the author, rather than the audience. The problem of out-of-control ramping goals.

With each successive… success, the writer has to find a new challenge for our walking deus ex machina. “Well, he saved the city by discovering he could fly at the end of the last book. What power does he need to suddenly have at the end of this book to make it fun?” And the challenge has to be bigger and bigger with every story.

Example: I LOVE the Mass Effect games. The story is about the very first human to join an elite space police-force.

Next up: Balancing the checkbook!

Next up: Balancing the checkbook!

In the first game you have to save the citadel, the galatic hub of civilations. By the last game, you’re tasked with saving the entire galaxy.

Now there’s talk of a sequel.

About what, exactly? Saving the galaxy again? The universe? You blew your load a little early, Bioware.

Personally, I love me a good Mary Sue story. But unless you’ve considered the consequences, your story is going to be considered fluff by some people.

Give your protagonist consequences, some relatable characteristics, and if you’re planning on continuing the adventure, don’t write yourself in a corner.

 

Review: The Martian

I’d really, REALLY love to tell you about a book that I read recently that I spent much time eviscerating in my mind. I’d like to work with that author’s agent and publisher, though. I don’t have the star power to speak my mind.

Yet.

So, instead, I’ll review a book I loved and pick apart the reasons why I loved it.

 

And this cover art is gorgeous. I’ll make a whole post about covers

The Martian by Andy Weir. I really, really liked this book. It’s about a modern-day astronaut stranded on Mars and how he survives day-to-day. Think Robinson Crusoe but with a much redder landscape.

Let me get a couple quick things out of the way: I like the engineering, the layman’s math, and thinking about space-travel in general. Mileage may vary, reader to reader.

I posted about how you can have conflict without assholes. This book proves it. There is constant tension as the main character meets and overcomes obstacles. The astronaut battles the elements, the folks on Earth battle physics, weather, and budget crises.

I LIKE EVERYONE IN THIS BOOK.

I’ve read plenty of books where I’ve thought, “These people could die on another planet alone and I’d be fine with it.” This book is not one of them.

Here’s how any OTHER author would add conflict for the sake of conflict: the astronaut would have a wife back on Earth.

We’d spend pages – even chapters – listening to the protagonist opining his lost love or constantly wondering “Will I ever again get to see my little girl/dog/stamp collection!?”

The writer would say, “What could possibly be more gripping than a romance ripped apart by the planets themselves?”

The answer: NOT having a whiny character.

Author Weir’s  characters face conflict on every page. But while making people one can like. If something bad happens, it never feels like it’s because the writer said, “Well, I better insert some conflict.”

Read this book. It’s FUN, dammit.

 

Good vs Fun (Stories I Care About Pt. 2)

I love things that I enjoy.

Some things that are good are not always enjoyable.

Lemme give examples from movies. I’ll pick on Spielberg. Schindler’s List is a good movie. So is Saving Private Ryan. ‘Good’ may be understating it a bit.

However, I can’t really ENJOY these movies. They’re a beat-down, emotionally. God, that moment where Mr. List is talking about he could have saved a few more… I cry like a little non-gender-specific girl.

I can’t watch these movies more than once. I know they’re GOOD, I just can’t ENJOY them. I know quality when I see it, usually. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Probably a great book. I refuse to find out.

 

 

But Jurassic Parque and the Indiana Jones trilogy? Those are good AND fun. I can watch those, love those, base romantic relationships around those, et cetera.

So the ideal stories are good and fun. But the latter is more important to me than the former.

Some examples of good stories I dislike:

  • The Dark Knight
  • Anything by Neil Gaiman
  • The Name of the Wind (But I enjoyed Wise Man’s Fears)
  • Most scif/fantasy by Stephen King (Most recently 11/22/1963 – The poor man does not know how to end a book)
  • Minority Report

Some examples of flawed stories I like alot:

  • Pacific Rim
  • The Harry Potter books (I’m probably not going to hurt her readership by calling her stories flawed)
  • Most movies starring Will Smith
  • Books by Dean Koontz where the villain is a monster and not a human/pedophile
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (it has a zombie pirate monkey! This might require a new category)
  • The stuff that I write.

Coming soon: Write conflict on every page. But for the love of god, stop doing it by adding unnecessary asshole characters (I’m looking at you, The Walking Dead)

Stories I care about

Everyone’s opinion is subjective. Except mine. My opinions are the right ones. I wanted to write a primer for what I like. That way I can immediately drive away as much web-traffic as I can by alienating the majority of readers. Because most of you read and watch terrible stuff.

A few of my favorite things: Puppies, whiskey, books by Lois McMaster Bujold

First of all, I love Fiction. I’ve never understood folks that see me reading and say “Why are you interested in that? It never happened.”

Yeah, that’s the point. My life is nonfiction. I don’t want to spend my free time in the same exact world. For me, reading nonfiction iss like when you get up, brush your teeth, dress, and go to work. Then you wake up and have to do it all over again because it was all a really boring dream. Ugh.

My favorite stories spark my imagination or are just so fantastic my brain can’t stop thinking about them. Overwritten as they may be, I’d rather read Nosferatu’s memoir than a former presidents.

This post is getting long, so I’ll write more in the future.

-2ndChrKzooist