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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kiwi Writers, open for business

It's great to see that Kiwi Writers is now up and running. A spin off from the highly successful 2006 NaNoWriMo Kiwi participation, it aims to foster the NaNoWriMo spirit all year round. Pay them a visit, fordy may well be lurking there.

Look out for the kiwi or the worm on other writing sites.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wizard's Bane - Book review

Today I finished reading Wizard's Bane, Book One of the Sojourn Chronicles, by crystalwizard.

Crystalwizard is a storyteller of considerable ability. Some people aspire to be good writers; my own belief is that the art of weaving a good story is a prerequisite to the craft of putting that story onto paper (or computer screen). Others will doubtless disagree. But, if I aspire to anything as a writer, it is to become a good story teller. Crystalwizard is a good story teller.

Though I have only read the first book of the Sojourn Chronicles, it is clearly an epic tale of Tolkien proportions. The characters are believable, in a fantastic sort of way, and there is both a noble goal (that spans books) and immediate challenges and dangers for the hero, Dale, to overcome. Dale has a mission to accomplish, though he only slowly becomes aware of its scope while struggling to survive on the world into which he has been thrust. His survival is accompanied by his gathering a strange assortment of misfits on his journey to the "city of wizards".

There were some nice touches in the story. I was tickled by the idea of programming as 'magic' (a spell got stuck in a 'for ... next loop')which reminded me of Arthur C Clarke's quotation "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

In one sense, I was disappointed in the way that book one ended; there was less of a climax than I would have liked. But in another sense, this is part of the epic genre; how do you end a story that is a part of a much larger story? If you read Wizard's Bane, then be prepared to read book two (and book three, and ...)

Also be prepared to encounter the odd misplaced word on the way through. These things didn't bother me, but I did notice them. If you are pedantically inclined, then don't let this spoil an otherwise great read.

All in all, I consider this to be a read that shouldn't be missed, and I will be reading the second book very soon.

Crystalwizard's books can be found at: http://sojourn.omnitech.net where you can order a print version or download the ebook (pdf format)


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Saturday, February 10, 2007

I've decided; I don't want to be a writer any more.

So, that got your attention. Now let me explain; I've realised that the writing isn't the most important thing. I'll still write, of course, but my first ambition isn't to become a good writer; my first ambition is to become a good story teller.

Yes, I'm thinking fiction stories specifically. But its not just fiction; I've realised that people like the reports and the manuals I write, because they too tell a story. I'm a member of an organisation called TCANZ - the Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand. The members write all sorts of technical documents and they would probably be horrified to be told that they are story tellers. But they are. They tell the story of how this piece of equipment works, how this software works, how this procedure should be performed. Its a story which has to be told a special way, but it is still a story.

The point is, that before we can write, we need to be able to tell a story. There is an art in story telling; it's the art of engaging the reader in the story; it's the art of carrying them along with you, the teller; it's the art of painting a picture of what is in your mind in such a way that the reader can 'get' what you are trying to say.

A good story can be written in mediocre prose and still make a good read. A badly told story is never redeemed by well structured and grammatically correct writing. Now, don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that bad writing is OK as long as the story is good. I'm saying that a well told story will carry the reader through most minor writing indiscretions. What we should aim for is great story and great writing. But if the story telling is crook, then the whole thing is crook.

So, I wannabe a good story teller; how about you?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Station

This was a fun thing suggested by another writer. What, she asked, happens to all those characters that we put in stories that never got finished? Do they all end up in some "Grand Central Station" somewhere, waiting to be written into a story? I knew who I had to write about straight away ....

I first saw Jeff hunched over the bar in The Station. I couldn't see his face, but the woollen jumper he was wearing looked so 1950's with its multi-coloured zig-zag patterns. Intrigued, I sidled up to the bar and sat on a stool beside him.

The barman, a dwarf who's name I can never remember, hopped up onto his box and stuck his chin on the bar.

"Waya want?" he said.

I ordered and he disappeared below the bar, reduced to a disembodied series of shuffling, clinking, and gurgling sounds. My drink appeared on the bar as if by magic.

I looked sideways at Jeff. He was staring into his drink, motionless, as though he were in a totally different world.

"New here?" I asked.

There was no reply.

"Look, were all here for one bum reason or another", I said. "Best to get it off your chest. Folks here are pretty understanding."

Slowly, his head turned and he looked at me; sizing me up. After a few moments his eyes returned to the glass in front of him; he lifted it and took a large swallow.

He put the empty glass down and pushed it to the back of the bar. It disappeared, and he turned to face me.

"Look", he said, "I come here to drink to remember. I don't need any understanding. Just some memories. Ok?"

A drink had reappeared on the bar and he reached for it, without taking his eyes off of mine.

I don't give up too easily. A lot of the characters who come to The Station can be a bit awkward but its my job to see that they all get on while they are here. We don't need trouble - this is the only place some of these guys can call home.

"If its memories you are after, there's a few doctors - well ex-doctors mostly - who might be able to help."

"No one can help", he said, "my memories don't exist. Never had any."

"Everyone has memories. Some got a few more than they're comfortable with. So how come you got no memories?"

"My writer hasn't given me any", he said.

"Oh, that's nothing to worry about", I said trying to cheer him up. "There's plenty of folk here just waiting on their writer to put pen to paper. Just gotta be patient."

At that point he put his drink down, got off his stool and stood facing me, finger poking me in the chest.

"I was going to be an academic", he said. "A computer scientist - brain the size of a planet. But right now I'm thinking Vogon Captain and chucking you into the great void of space!"

I swallowed. He looked like an academic, but I didn't want to take any chances. Anyway, he was still poking words into my chest.

"My writer ain't coming back for me. E-V-E-R."

Now he was poking letters. There would be bruises I was sure.

"My writer killed me before the story started. I arrived on page one dead. Got it; D-E-A-D."

I nearly toppled off the stool.

"Any memories I should have had are all in the book. Me, I got N-O-T-H-I-N-G."

He stopped and climbed back on his stool.

I waited, feeling my heart pounding, as he lifted his glass, emptying it in another big swallow.

"W-would you like another drink?" I asked.

Almost instantly, another glass appeared over the edge of the bar. His hand reached out.

I flinched.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

"On Writing" by Stephen King

I'm no great fan of Stephen King's horror genre books but I do recognise him as a very accomplished and popular writer. In that spirit, I have just finished reading "On Writing" by Stephen King.

"On Writing" is a book about, yes, writing; the hows, whys and wherefores; as Mr King experiences them. From this perspective it is a book mainly for writers and would-be writers. Non-writers might also find the autobiographical first section interesting but would probably become bogged down in the rest of the book.

It's written well - should we expect less? - and I found it personally interesting. Writers approach the task of writing a novel in different ways; some plan meticulously others just start with a basic premise and write the story from there. King tends towards the latter; something that, as a novel virgin, I found quite validating of my own embrionic approach.

King also has some very firm opinions that at times verge on the obsessive. He makes a very strong call for the eradication of the adverb - especially those that end in the dreaded 'ly'. The issue for King is that adverbs modify verbs in a way that can usually be shown by the story. Using the adverb is, in effect, to 'tell' rather than to 'show'. I was left with a sneaking suspicion that at times King overstates his case, simply to push his point home; 'firmly'.

I recommend this book to any writer or aspiring writer; it is both entertaining and informative, whether or not you agree with everything King says. Stars? Let's say 4.5 (out of five).

"On Writing" by Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 0 340 82046 2

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Villenspell: City of Wizards - Book review

Earlier this month I reviewed Book 1 of the Sojourn Chronicles by crystalwizard (yes this is a pen name). I went straight on to book 2 - Villenspel: City of Wizards and am currently half way through book 3 (Wizards and Wanderers). Everything I said about book 1 remains true of the next two books; the story telling remains excellent and there is no sign of the plot flagging. Dale (the hero) continues to gather a company of misfits around him and the scrapes and binds in which they find themselves continue to be fantastically credible.

I recommend these books to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre. Hop on over to http://sojourn.omnitech.net where you can read excerpts from the books and order either an eBook or a hard copy paperback.


Books 4, 5 & 6 have yet to be published but, I understand, are already written. I am waiting.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Resources for writers

I should be writing (well I am writing this!) but instead I've been browsing the "Resources" section on kiwi writers. I am impressed with what they have gathered together so far: some of my favourite sites (like, Holly Lisle, My Writers Circle and NaNoWriMo) and many that were new to me.

There is a lot of Kiwi specific material there (like New Zealand history, publishers, etc.) and a lot of general information, useful for writers everywhere. Pop on over to the Kiwi Writers site and take a gander.

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