Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction

Action! Adventure! Romance! Inner turmoil!

Wait, what?

Yeah, you heard me. These are things I personally like in stories. And I don’t think I’m alone. Otherwise, explain why one of the biggest tenets in prose fiction screenwriting is create conflict!

This seems self-evident. After all, what good is a story where everyone gets along and everything is perfectly fine? That’s the realm of children’s books, which serve their purpose.

And let me say, as the parent of a young child, the above description actually fits baby books more. You’d be amazed at how soon some form of conflict enters into kids books. Look at Dr. Seuss books, for example. The Sneetches were basically at war! The bitter butter battle was a battle! That dastardly Grinch was out to ruin Christmas!

Even kids need to see conflict be overcome.

Which brings me to an interesting conversation held with several writing friends on Twitter. It started out with Gitabishi’s excellent post about “hard” versus “soft” sci-fi and veered into both the introspective and the ridiculous before Jill Domschot said something that struck me:

I’m inclined to agree with her, hence the use of quotation marks around the word “versus” in the title of this post.

The upshot of the conversation was that everything is a writer’s tool, and the writer uses the appropriate tool for the task at hand. But that’s a bit wishy washy, so I’m going to do something a little against the grain when it comes to action-packed fiction writing, and stick up for a much maligned genre of novel: literary fiction.

Yup. I’m a fan. Take a guy like John Irving, for example. Sure, he has a creepy fixation with characters engaging incest, as well as characters losing limbs (including a certain male member), but it’s not just his prose I enjoy. His situations are crafted to come to a head at the critical point, and his set-ups are expertly foreshadowed and deftly executed in ways that only seem obvious in retrospect–including the unfortunate inadvertent amputation of a man’s body part (I’m looking at you, The World According to Garp).

Or a writer like Michael Chabon. There’s a bit too much affectation in his characters–Telegraph Avenue was particularly painful at times–but their inner dramas are exquisite, and I like how he makes them intersect with the plot’s external conflicts, in explosive and often hilarious ways. .

My goal when I write is to take this approach, and just have more sword fights and explosions. Continue reading “Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction”

Book Review: The Ophian Rising (Soul Cycle Book IV) by Brian Niemeier

The Ophian Rising, Soul Cycle Book IV by Brian Niemeier

With a heavy heart, I finished reading The Ophian Rising, the fourth and final book in Brian Niemeier‘s Soul Cycle. And thus closes one of the most interesting, unique, satisfying, and fun book series I have read in a long time.

In my review of the first book, Nethereal, I described it as such:

Take the good parts of Dune and Star Wars, mix them together with a heaping dollop of Dante, a dash of high fantasy, and a whole lot of horror, and you’re beginning to almost approach Brian Niemeier‘s self-published Nethereal, book one of his three-part Soul Cycle series.

Is it sci-fi? Is it science-fantasy?

Who cares? It’s fun.

This description works across the entire series.

I refuse to get into spoiler territory here, as interested readers need to experience the Soul Cycle for themselves. What I’d like to do instead is explain why this series works so well, and encourage you to read it for yourself.

All I’ll say about The Ophian Rising is that:

  1. Brian’s writing, good to start with, gets better and better with each book.
  2. The Soul Cycle needs to be read from front-to-back in order to pick up on everything Brian has subtly wove into it. I plan on doing a re-read of the whole series soon.
  3. Brian knows how to tell a lean story that’s still satisfying (more on this later).

And here is my only complaint about The Ophian Rising: I wish that it, and the series itself, was longer. That’s right: Brian has left me wanting more. Thankfully, I know he has no plan to stop writing anything anytime soon.

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Why You Should Read The Soul Cycle

Regular readers know that I’ve written about Brian before. He edited the manuscript for my own novel, The Rust Man, and writes about many topics on his own blog that I’ve used as springboards for further discussion here.

I’m going to distill a few of Brian’s biggest points for you, and then explain why, if these sound good to you, you should read his work.

  • The era of the doorstop novel is over.
  • Readers want something they can pick up that will grip them from the start and keep them reading–the key word here is immediacy.
  • Favor clear writing over clever writing.
  • People crave heroes that are actually heroic–good and evil matter!
  • Books are competing with TV, social media, movies, video games, and streaming video.
  • Keep your politics out of your writing–shoehorning contemporary issues into your fiction is a recipe for disaster, or at least for severely limiting your audience.
  • The era of big publishing is over. Indies are where it’s at.
  • Indie does not equal low quality. Not anymore.
  • And finally: If it has nothing to do with your story, get rid of it.

I can safely say that The Soul Cycle series embodies all of these principles. Continue reading “Book Review: The Ophian Rising (Soul Cycle Book IV) by Brian Niemeier”

Learn Or Die: Criticism, Setbacks, and Process

If you’re not learning, you’re dying. If you’re not willing to seek out and take criticism, you’re not learning.

And if you take criticism personally, you’ll never learn.

It’s a lesson I wish I learned fifteen years ago. Who knows where I would be? Instead I let my ego get in the way, imagining that I already knew everything, and thereby stagnating. Hey, at least I felt good about myself!

This lesson hit home when I got edits back from Brian Niemeier on one of my many works in progress, The Rust Man.

Brian, an author I greatly admire, was brutally honest, frank, and helpful. You can tell he wants to help.

Anyway, after reading his edits and his notes, I’m going back to the drawing board on the book. The funny thing is that I stared writing The Rust Man (name subject to change) before I started getting into the PulpRev and it’s ethos.

What ethos? How about clarity over cleverness and short and punchy beats “epic” and bloated. A lot of his suggestions, I’d say 85% or so, are things I was planning on doing anyway as I thought about the book in the months since I wrote it, edited it myself, and sent it to him. My goal is getting it down to 450 or so pages from its current 850.

This also ties into process, which we’ll get to later.

See, I was weaned on epic fantasy, brick-sized tomes by authors like Robert Jordan, Tad Williams (a highly underrated author) and George R. R. Martin. Sure I loved Tolkien and Lewis and even enjoyed Lloyd Alexander, but Big was where it was at. More = better.

But you know something? People generally aren’t buying doorstop-sized books, especially on Kindles and other devices, and especially not in fantasy and sci-fi. And if you want to sell books and build an audience, you do have to give them what they want. There is no shame in this. Continue reading “Learn Or Die: Criticism, Setbacks, and Process”

More Thoughts About Playing to Your Audience

Video number 2 is live on my YouTube channel. I expand on my thoughts from my “Your Audience Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings” post, as well as discussing how this related to my music playing days. You’ve got to change, people! That’s why I’m even doing these videos in the first place!

Generally speaking, you don’t have to sell your creative soul, but there is a thing called “reality,” which can roughly be translated as “What your audience wants.”

In other words, if you want to make your art a business, treat it like any other business: find a need and fill it.

And when you’ve made a name for yourself, then you’re free to be a bit more of an auteur. Until then, play to your audience because they’re the ones who pay your bills.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

My YouTube channel is here.

And check out my Instagram here.

Your Audience Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings

In addition to being a great, fun author, Brian Niemeier offers some of the best analysis of the state of the publishing industry on his blog Kairos.

A recent discussion all started with this tweet of his:

I jokingly told him to stop sub-tweeting me, because (a) he’s editing one of my books, The Rust Man, right now, and (b) The Rust Man clocks in at around 850 pages.

The interesting thing is, I have the book split into two roughly equal parts, and had been wrestling for months while writing with the idea of releasing two separate books, even though they tell one complete story.

And yes, the story continues after The Rust Man.

Generally, I’m not a fan of long, epic series. Three books is a sweet spot for me when it comes to a series . . . three 100K-plus books.

But I’m going to be in the business of trying to sell this thing, I’ve got to change my thinking. And that’s where Brian comes in. Continue reading “Your Audience Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings”

The Dangers of Staying “Above It All”

Is there an “artistic temperament”? Do people of only certain political stripes go into the arts more than others?

Both Brian Niemeier and Rawle Nyanzi have discussed these recently, with Brian focusing more on the traditional Right’s refusal to fight as the Left fights, with Rawle concerned more with why conservatives don’t go into the arts despite lamenting that they have no influence in the arts.

Rawle believes that the temperament is informed by politics:

Art is not immediately useful; it neither grows your food nor supplies your energy. Except for a handful of megastars, art is low-paid. Most artists rely on either a job or on other people to support them in their endeavors; “don’t quit your day job” is a cliche for a reason, as is “starving artist.” It requires the mind to break with conventional modes of thinking and spend much time speculating on bizarre possibilities. Art requires one to focus on emotion.

This is as far from the conservative mindset as one can get.

Brian, for his part, is quite harsh in his assessment of conservatives’ unwillingness to fight:

. . .conservatives are cowards. They talk a good game about standing on principle, but the inescapable conclusion is that they don’t really believe what they’re saying. People who truly believe in and are informed by principles act on them.

I’m inclined to agree with Brian, but this refers especially to a certain type of conservative. The kind that’s probably a midwit at best but wants everybody to think they’re smart, so they parrot what the culture at large tells them is the right thing to think–a culture that is against everything they purport to stand for, mind–while offering some nominal opposition.

This is yet another reason why the “conservative/liberal” dichotomy is inaccurate and outdated, and the real distinction is globalist/nationalist. Great men and women of the past who’d be considered on the Right today fully understood the importance of emotion and rhetoric. Modern “conservatism” feels artificial and soulless in a lot of respects.

But let’s stick with the terms that we have.

Does this all mean that conservatives are at, as Rawle puts it, a psychological disadvantage when it comes to the arts?

I say no. Continue reading “The Dangers of Staying “Above It All””

Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier sure knows how to start a story off with a bang.

The third installment of his Soul Cycle trilogy (as of now) brings back one of Book I's best characters: Teg Cross! And he's as badass as ever.

What begins as a mission for survivors of the galaxy-shattering cataclysm turns into a battle against the forces of the Void intent on remaking the world in its image.

If you watched Star Wars and thought, "Not enough magic or monsters"; if you're into horror and ask yourself, "Where are the spaceships?"; and if you're into Dune and keep wondering "Where are all the good books?", then the Soul Cycle series is right in your wheelhouse.

Teg isn't the only returning character from the first book here, and allies and enemies from Book II also feature prominently. And of course, new friends and foes appear and make their impact felt. To say anymore would spoil things, but just let's say that the interaction between these disparate personalities is great.

It also helps that Brian can write, keeping the action fast-paced, keeping the danger right at the protagonists' heels, and giving few respites from the (almost exhausting) breakneck pace.

Oh, and we get to see more cool planets.

As I try to do in my book reviews, let's highlight a few key things that really made The Secret Kings work, and discuss why.

Characters and Conflict:

It's great seeing characters like Teg and Xander, Astlin and Nakvin, and Jaren and Tefler cross paths…and deal with villains like Kelgrun, Fallon, and Vaun Mordechai.

These interactions feel natural, and friendships and friction created when they all meet is completely in-character; nothing seems out of place. Brian gives the sense that, were these characters real and sitting in a room together, this is how they would act.

The newcomers, like Izlaril, Lykaon, Gein, Anris, the Anomians, and Celwen are welcome additions to the cast.

And the conflict! Not always armed hostility, but even the good guys don't always get along.

In screenwriting, there's a principle that also applies to novels, that every scene needs conflict, or at least a goal. You can broadly call this a reason for existing: Does it further the story? Does it reveal something about a character? Could you cut it out and lose nothing of the story? Continue reading “Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier”