Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 26
  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    11

    The importance of descriptions

    I've recently tried to read for the third time Gardens of the Moon, since I keep earing how good the series is. But I failed again. People say the first book is confusing. But I think the problem is not so much confusion, it's lack of skill. It is poorly written. A good author will tell me a story, and will give me the details needed to understand the story. Some say Erikson is a genius because he keeps you in the dark, he makes you work for the reward. I don't want to work, I don't want to analyse the text to get the basic details on a complete imaginary world. You say you built this great world in your head. Then please share some details with me, I am not a telepath!

    Good descriptions are important to hook you into a story. Not only will they give you a physical description of a character , but they will also give you a glimpse of his personnality, his place in the world, and something to pique your interest. A conflict that affects the character, an uneresolved issue.

    Ganoes Paran:
    The man and his horse were covered from head to toe in blood and bits of flesh. Flies and wasps buzzed hungrily around them. Lorn saw in Lieutenant Paran's face none of the youth that rightly belonged there. For all that, it was an easy face to rest eyes upon.
    Tattersail:
    The burgundy cloak with its silver emblem betokening her command of the 2nd Army's wizard cadre now hung from her round shoulders stained and scorched. Her oval, fleshy face, usually parading an expression of cherubic humor, was etched with deep-shadowed lines, leaving her cheeks flaccid and pale.

    Both descriptions don't tell us much about the characters and it's all rather vague. I only quoted 1 paragraph each because that's all the info we get on the characters. After this single paragraph, the story goes on.

    Let's look a other author, which skillfully gives us a lot of info in a few words and manages to make us want to know more.

    Moorcock's Elric:
    IT IS THE colour of a bleached skull, his flesh; and the long hair which flows below his shoulders is milk-white. From the tapering, beautiful head stare two slanting eyes, crimson and moody, and from the loose sleeves of his yellow gown emerge two slender hands, also the colour of bone, resting on each arm of a seat which has been carved from a single, massive ruby.

    The crimson eyes are troubled and sometimes one hand will rise to finger the light helm which sits upon the white locks: a helm made from some dark, greenish alloy and exquisitely moulded into the likeness of a dragon about to take wing. And on the hand which absently caresses the crown there is a ring in which is set a single rare Actorios stone whose core sometimes shifts sluggishly and reshapes itself, as if it were sentient smoke and as restless in its jewelled prison as the young albino on his Ruby Throne.

    He looks down the long flight of quartz steps to where his court disports itself, dancing with such delicacy and whispering grace that it might be a court of ghosts. Mentally he debates moral issues and in itself this activity divides him from the great majority of his subjects, for these people are not human.

    These are the people of Melnibone, the Dragon Isle, which ruled the world for ten thousand years and has ceased to rule it for less than five hundred years. And they are cruel and clever and to them 'morality' means little more than a proper respect for the traditions of a hundred centuries.

    To the young man, four hundred and twenty-eighth in direct line of descent from the first Sorcerer Emperor of Melnibone, their assumptions seem not only arrogant but foolish; it is plain that the Dragon Isle has lost most of her power and will soon be threatened, in another century or two, by a direct conflict with the emerging human nations whom they call, somewhat patronisingly, the Young Kingdoms.

    Fritz Leiber's Fafrhd
    Then he slowed in amaze as he was passed almost as if he were at a standstill by a tall, white, slender figure glide-ruinning so swiftly the it seemed for a moment it went on skis. Then for another instant, the turbaned man thought it was another Snow Woman, but then he noted that it wore a short fur jerkin rather than a long fur robe - and so was presumably a Snow Man or Snow Youth, though the black-turbaned man had never seen a Snow Clan male dressed in white.

    The strange, swift figure glide-ran, with chin tucked down and eyes bent away from the Snow Women, as if fearing to meet their wrathful blue gaze. Then, as he swiftly knelt by the felled actress, long reddish-blond hair spilled from his hood. From that and the figure's slenderness, the black-turbaned man knew an instant of fear that the intercomer was a very tall Snow Girl, eager to strike the first blow at close quarters.

    But then he saw a jut of downy male chin in the reddish-blond hair and also a pair of a massive silver bracelets of the sort one gained only by pirating.

    Tolkien's Aragorn:
    Suddenly Frodo noticed that strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall, was also listening intently to the hobbit-talk. He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe curiously carved. His legs were stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close and about him, and in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.
    Peake's RottCodd:
    Entering at seven o’clock, winter and summer, year in and year out, Rottcodd would disengage himself of his jacket and draw over his head a long grey overall which descended shapelessly to his ankles. With his feather duster tucked beneath his arm, it was his habit to peer sagaciously over his glasses down the length of the hall. His skull was dark and small like a corroded musket bullet and his eyes behind the gleaming of his glasses were the twin miniatures of his head. All three were constantly on the move, as though to make up for the time they spent asleep, the head wobbling in a mechanical way from side to side when Mr Rottcodd walked, and the eyes, as though taking their cue from the parent sphere to which they were attached, peering here, there, and everywhere at nothing in particular. Having peered quickly over his glasses on entering and having repeated the performance along the length of the north wing after enveloping himself in his overall, it was the custom of Rottcodd to relieve his left armpit of the feather duster, and with that weapon raised, to advance towards the first of the carvings on his right hand side, without more ado.
    Martin's Eddard Stark:
    Bran’s father sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair stirring in the wind. His closely trimmed beard was shot with white, making him look older than his thirty-five years. He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest. He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought, and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell.
    Miéville's Lin:
    Lin was hairless. Her muscles were tight under her red skin, each distinct. She was like an anatomical atlas. Isaac studied her in cheerful lust.
    ...
    It was when she ate that Lin was most alien, and their shared meals were a challenge and an affirmation. As he watched her, Isaac felt the familiar trill of emotion: disgust immediately stamped out, pride at the stamping out, guilty desire.

    Light glinted in Lin’s compound eyes. Her headlegs quivered. She picked up half a tomato and gripped it with her mandibles. She lowered her hands while her inner mouthparts picked at the food her outer jaw held steady.

    Isaac watched the huge iridescent scarab that was his lover’s head devour her breakfast.

    He watched her swallow, saw her throat bob where the pale insectile underbelly segued smoothly into her human neck…not that she would have accepted that description. Humans have khepri bodies, legs, hands; and the heads of shaved gibbons, she had once told him.

    Bakker's Geshrunni:
    Dark even in the lamplight, Geshrunni lowered his arms, which had been folded across his white silk vest, and leaned forward in his seat. He was an imposing figure, possessing a hawkish soldier’s face, a beard pleated into what looked like black leather straps, and thick arms so deeply tanned that one could see, but never quite decipher, the line of Ainoni pictograms tattooed from shoulder to wrist.

    Achamian tried to grin affably. “You and my wives,” he said, tossing back yet another bowl of wine. He gasped and smacked his lips. Geshrunni had always been, or so Achamian had assumed, a narrow man, one for whom the grooves of thought and word were few and deep. Most warriors were such, particularly when they were slaves.
    But there had been nothing narrow about his claim.

    Geshrunni watched him carefully, the suspicion in his eyes rounded by a faint wonder. He shook his head in disgust. “I should’ve said, ‘I know who you are.’”

    The man leaned back in a contemplative way so foreign to a soldier’s manner that Achamian’s skin pimpled with dread. The rumbling tavern receded, became a frame of shadowy figures and points of golden lantern-light.
    Rowling's Harry Potter:
    Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley’s, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning. He had had it as long as he could remember, and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had gotten it.
    So, it's possible to give some quick info on the characters without making an "infodump". And I think it helps the story in the end.
    Last edited by Green Gogol; September 16th, 2014 at 08:20 AM.

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Location
    St. Louis, Missouri
    Posts
    142
    I have to agree on some points. I tried to read the Malazan books just a few weeks ago and I got bogged down in the first book. It is an interesting world, but presented in such a way that I had to really gnaw and process and theorize just to establish basic information. Hell, halfway through the book I attempted to catalog things that I knew and came up with a bare handful of facts and a great deal of my own speculation. Perhaps that was the author's intent, but confusion in the first book is a dangerous game for any author. There should be a balance of mystery with fact. A fascinating grabber and a solid foundation that the reader can start from.

    Descriptions are a key part of any book, not just of people, but of the world itself, and how you work such details and information into a text. Where, how, and how much information the author gives the reader play a vital role in introducing characters, and first impressions are crucial to emotional investment. That being said it is hard to speak briefly to specifics, as there are a plethora of strategies and methods used for descriptions, as well as even more theories as to when and how they should be used. The exact way an author handles such matters comes down to personal style, the exact flavor of an authors writing is unique, and springs in large part from how they deal with these matters.

  3. #3
    Registered User StephenPorter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    California
    Posts
    413
    I'm afraid there's no "right" or "wrong" on this one. How much is too much? How much is not enough? That's always going to be down to personal preference. One person's info dump is another person's vague description.

    I myself hate long descriptions, and I much prefer those Erikson quotes, which don't waste my time with needless fluff. I think many of those other descriptions you quoted, especially that Moorcock one, were info dumps. Those are the kinds of passages that make my eyes glaze over after the first sentence, and a minute later I realize my eyes were passing over the text without even reading it. I barely made it through Lord of the Rings, and even then I had to skim literally half of the text just to stay conscious while reading it. A simple list of details is very boring, and it's the quickest way to make me put a book down. Honestly, I don't even like those descriptions of Erikson's; they are too drab and info dumpy for my tastes.

    I much prefer description through action. I understand a character as I see them doing things. I don't want a list of traits; I want to watch the character decide what to do and see why they make their decisions. The best parts of those passages you quote are the parts that have nothing to do with physical description. It is the moments that tie the characters to their actions. Paran's lack of youth despite his young age, and the normally cherubic humor of Tattersail tells me just as much as, if not more than, anything from that Moorcock passage. All I learned about Elric is that he is "moody," whatever that amounts to. Moody is something that has no meaning until I see it take effect and can actually see how his moods change. That Fafrhd description told me nothing, literally nothing, about who the guy is or what he is like. If I skipped that description I would have lost no understanding of the story at all.

    The details beyond personality aren't that much different either. We know immediately that Paran is a pretty vicious fighter in the military, and that Tattersail is a commander of armies, and a wizard on top of that. Elrick we know is an albino king who rather disdains his court. Fafrhd is out skiing. Maybe. He might just be running through the snow; the passage is fairly vague. And he is or was a pirate.

    It seems from your choice of quotes that you prefer physical descriptions that paint a physical image for you. That's great, but it's exactly the kind of detail that I don't care about. A story isn't a landscape painting, and in my opinion WHO a character is and WHAT a character is are far more important that what that character looks like. What a character looks like tells me absolutely nothing. That description you quote of Lin tells me very little about her. It does, however, tell me an awful lot about Isaac.

    Detail, and how much of it to use, is certainly a vital part of the story. But I think it is how that information is implemented and what you say with that information, not how much of it you have, that is the really important factor of a story. Your preference for elaborate description is perfectly valid, but it's not going to work for everyone. Some people, like myself, will just get bored with it. That's why we have minimalist writers out there, because some people like that approach and prefer it to description heavy writing. And likewise, there will always be that description heavy writing, because there will always be people who prefer that.

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    11
    In fact, I like Eddard's description. Short, but you can glean a lot of info on the character from it.

    As for Paran, where did you get that he was a vicious fighter? I missed that.

    Mieville description is perfect because, as you say, it describes Lin, but we get lots of info on Isaac.

    I just feel something is missing from the description of Tattersail. We learn she is military officer, that she wears a uniform, that it got damaged in a battle, and that she is unhappy instead of her usual smiling self. Which is kind of normal after a batlle in my opinion.

    It is short and sweet, by it's missing that little hook.

    But you are right that it's all a question of preference.

    Oh and i chose those quotes because that is what I had on hand. Not out of preference. Physical description is not that important to me. Just a sketch is sufficient most of the time.
    Last edited by Green Gogol; September 16th, 2014 at 07:48 PM.

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Location
    St. Louis, Missouri
    Posts
    142
    Oh and just to throw another wrench into tings, info blurbs are not the only way to really introduce a character. I find that having a scene with a character in action before we know anything about them and releasing little bits of description as the scene progresses is a intriguing way to introduce a character. Furthermore, that is just one of a myriad of pathways to introduce a character to the reader. Another way is what I just now dubbed an 'info tease' where you hear about a character long before you meet them, so that when you do meet the character much of the description is already done.

    Just food for thought.

  6. #6
    Registered User StephenPorter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    California
    Posts
    413
    Quote Originally Posted by Green Gogol View Post
    As for Paran, where did you get that he was a vicious fighter? I missed that.
    "The man and his horse were covered from head to toe in blood and bits of flesh."

    There's not many ways you can get soaked in blood and guts. Combine that with his military rank and it narrows the list down to fierce frontline combat. It had to have been a very big fight, and he had to have been right in the thick of it. The fact that he also came out of it without injury means he had to be a pretty good fighter.

    Yeah, that's technically conjecture, but I would bet a hefty sum that Erickson had intended exactly that. Implication can be a very valuable tool in the writer's arsenal.

  7. #7
    sf-icionado / horr-orator Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Madrid, Spain
    Posts
    1,199
    Quote Originally Posted by Green Gogol View Post
    Both descriptions don't tell us much about the characters and it's all rather vague. I only quoted 1 paragraph each because that's all the info we get on the characters. After this single paragraph, the story goes on.

    Let's look a other author, which skillfully gives us a lot of info in a few words and manages to make us want to know more.
    I found the first two concise, I'm not sure how you justify saying some of the others use "a few words" by comparison to these! As StephenP says, there's no right answer here, just different approaches to presenting characters. One author will stop the story, draw an image in detail, then continue. Another will sketch in a thumbnail in passing and add to it over time - but there's more to "character" than visual impression either way, and all of them will (should) be deepened by what they do and experience.

    Quote Originally Posted by StephenPorter View Post
    "The man and his horse were covered from head to toe in blood and bits of flesh."

    There's not many ways you can get soaked in blood and guts. Combine that with his military rank and it narrows the list down to fierce frontline combat. It had to have been a very big fight, and he had to have been right in the thick of it. The fact that he also came out of it without injury means he had to be a pretty good fighter.

    Yeah, that's technically conjecture, but I would bet a hefty sum that Erickson had intended exactly that. Implication can be a very valuable tool in the writer's arsenal.
    Conjecture, maybe, but to me this represents good writing - the reader gets to flesh out a simply-described image with weight and context that didn't need to be given in its every detail by the author. You make it your own, you feel engagement... all good stuff.
    Last edited by Andrew Leon Hudson; September 17th, 2014 at 03:44 AM.

  8. #8
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    11
    Quote Originally Posted by StephenPorter View Post
    "The man and his horse were covered from head to toe in blood and bits of flesh."

    There's not many ways you can get soaked in blood and guts. Combine that with his military rank and it narrows the list down to fierce frontline combat. It had to have been a very big fight, and he had to have been right in the thick of it. The fact that he also came out of it without injury means he had to be a pretty good fighter.

    Yeah, that's technically conjecture, but I would bet a hefty sum that Erickson had intended exactly that. Implication can be a very valuable tool in the writer's arsenal.
    Ah, I understand. No in fact, if you read the book, you would know that he is covered in blood from head to toe because he spent the day crawling through corpses. A complete squad or something has been massacred by hellhounds and they are investigating that. So the description state this fact after we learned that he was investigating the scene. I also took the face seeming older than he his being a result of him seeing the scene. Since every character present is equally affected, we don't learn much from that. The only thing that we learn that is unique to Paran is the he is good looking.

  9. #9
    Registered User StephenPorter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    California
    Posts
    413
    Well, I guess I would have lost that bet, though I do claim extenuating circumstances for not having context. Which does bring up the matter of gradual description. The sparse form of description that I prefer relies on connecting bits of information that are scattered through the text, which would make it nigh impossible to to make a quote that brings in all the description. Drawing lines and making connections between these different things is one of the most satisfying parts of reading a good book to me. We may not get much detail in one lump sum, but over the course of the book we should get a better idea what the characters are like.

    Whether Erickson manages this or not, I can't really say. I read the first Malazan book some years ago and found that I liked the writing, but the story was too long and belabored. It was basically too much work for too little payoff to justify the effort. I don't remember much of anything about it now.

    I would still say that I know as much about Paran from those two lines of text that I learned about Elric or Fafrhd, which I think are the worst of those quotes. (Rottcodd's is pretty bad, too. Very redundant, but at least it conveys a certain amount of information.) I know that Paran is in the military. I know that he is willing to do dirty work. I know that he has lost his innocence. Perhaps as you say that is only a temporary thing, but one of the benefits of minimal description is that every bit of information counts. When I see anything at all, that means it's an important detail worth remembering. Most of the detail about Elric and Fafrhd feels meaningless, and because of that I forget it all immediately. I have no reason to keep it in my head.

    It becomes impossible to tell which of those bits is actually important, so I dismiss important facts along with irrelevant ones and come away with less knowledge about the characters than I should. I routinely find out later in a work that I have been picturing a character all wrong because I zoned out while reading their lengthy descriptive passages. And when a piece of writing fails to do its job, then you have a problem.

  10. #10
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    11
    Quote Originally Posted by StephenPorter View Post
    Well, I guess I would have lost that bet, though I do claim extenuating circumstances for not having context. Which does bring up the matter of gradual description. The sparse form of description that I prefer relies on connecting bits of information that are scattered through the text, which would make it nigh impossible to to make a quote that brings in all the description. Drawing lines and making connections between these different things is one of the most satisfying parts of reading a good book to me. We may not get much detail in one lump sum, but over the course of the book we should get a better idea what the characters are like.

    Whether Erickson manages this or not, I can't really say. I read the first Malazan book some years ago and found that I liked the writing, but the story was too long and belabored. It was basically too much work for too little payoff to justify the effort. I don't remember much of anything about it now.

    I would still say that I know as much about Paran from those two lines of text that I learned about Elric or Fafrhd, which I think are the worst of those quotes. (Rottcodd's is pretty bad, too. Very redundant, but at least it conveys a certain amount of information.) I know that Paran is in the military. I know that he is willing to do dirty work. I know that he has lost his innocence. Perhaps as you say that is only a temporary thing, but one of the benefits of minimal description is that every bit of information counts. When I see anything at all, that means it's an important detail worth remembering. Most of the detail about Elric and Fafrhd feels meaningless, and because of that I forget it all immediately. I have no reason to keep it in my head.

    It becomes impossible to tell which of those bits is actually important, so I dismiss important facts along with irrelevant ones and come away with less knowledge about the characters than I should. I routinely find out later in a work that I have been picturing a character all wrong because I zoned out while reading their lengthy descriptive passages. And when a piece of writing fails to do its job, then you have a problem.

    Interesting point of view. You are much better than me to explain your opinion.

    Maybe it's because a minimalist description is too subtle for me. I agree that Elric is the complete opposite and is not really that good. But I enjoy Fritz Leiber very much. Of course taken out of context it is a strange description, but there was no single quote that stopped the action and described him. It's all done without stopping the story.

    I thought that Erikson's descriptions were the main reason I couldn't finish the story. But then they are not that different from others that I enjoy. Maybe it's something else.
    Last edited by Green Gogol; September 17th, 2014 at 10:39 PM.

  11. #11
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    In a Cloud
    Posts
    12,354
    These are all different stories using different styles to do different things.

    In Malazan, the characters are not the center of the piece. Instead it is the massive structure of the world and the seizmic shifts that the world goes through as the result of wars, the games of the gods and changes in magic. The characters are mainly different kinds of soldiers, caught up in these various shifts. No one character holds the center of the series, though there are temporary protagonists in individual books that take place in different places in the world. Erikson doesn't therefore build a spiral structure for individual books or the series -- he builds a maze structure. Multiple adventures/storylines occur at the same time and the process of the narratives isn't linear.

    In the scene with the mages, they are not the main characters of Gardens of the Moon (the Bridgeburners are,) and will be popping in and out. The main effect of the scene is Lorn's pov. He knows these people and he knows them as powerful imperial mages, impervious, imposing and valuable. And yet, they are worn, covered in gore, wearily aged, emotionally stunned by the battles they've been dealing with and what they've now seen. It is Lorn's shock at their condition, the sign that something seismic has changed, that magic has changed, that is the main goal of the scene, not an in depth introduction of the characters through Lorn. Mage characters get more pages later, as they disappear and reappear on various missions, trying to find out information before and after this point in time about the troubling changes they've discovered and who is betraying who.

    It's a gaming structure, not a fairy tale one.

    Whereas Moorcock is writing a dark fairy tale, complete with a very strong omniscient narrator. He is building Elric as the main symbol as well as the protagonist. Elric's looks must be given in intense, gothic detail in order to do what Moorcock is trying to do. He deliberately evokes Lovecraft and Poe in his style -- a throwback in a sense from the usual narrative of the sixties -- in order to support the idea of Elric as a force, as the focal point upon which everything will change. (Whereas Malazan's characters react to change rather than make it most of the time.)

    Lieber wrote a crime thriller mixed with dark humor. Tolkien was writing a gigantic bardic poem, again in fairy tale structure even more than Elric. Aragorn is less man than symbol and as such must be described in detail. But more, Tolkien anchors his poem not in the perspective of a prince or knight, but of that of a gentleman farmer, a hobbit county squire, young for his race, who is entering into these events in shock, as a young country gentry who found himself an officer in the world wars would be. So Aragorn is looking imposing to Frodo, for whom nearly everybody is imposing, whereas Lorn in the Malazan entry is looking at people who are usually imposing but currently not, which is a shock of events.

    Peake channels both gothic influences and that of Anthony Trollope and writers of that era. He is also using a throwback style, a different one of stately 19th century writing, and with an undercurrent of social satire, like Lewis Carroll's Wonderland and Swift's Gulliver's Travels. His characters are eccentrics, pantomimes, decaying symbols, sometimes animalistic. Consequently, they need to be described just as you might describe the different animals on a carousel.

    Martin is writing the equivalent of a historical epic. Consequently, the characters of those events are everything to Martin. The pov characters' perspectives shape each bit of the world, and it is their relationships to each other that are critical to the political and military games played between them, unlike Malazan where forces, sometimes unseen shape those interactions more than the characters. Martin is also working from a bardic poem, fairy tale structure.

    Mieville combines the 19th century novel, crime thriller, and Lovecraftian dark fantasy horror in his story. His characters are political symbols for different ideologies and beliefs about morality, politics, the populace and society, etc. Consequently, they are also the main focus as their ideologies come into conflict with one another. Mieville uses lush description, philosophical vocabulary, and other baroque devices to support this framework, plus some more modern suspense. The passage quoted doesn't really tell much about Lin, except her body. It tells more about Isaac and his feelings for her. But Mieville is also doing deep explorations through pov's, mainly Isaac's.

    Bakker, unlike Erikson, has little interest in the actual world he's creating. He borrows from the world of the 1st Crusade, and while he does do good scenic description, it's not his main goal except to note pageantry and desperation. What interests Bakker is how people can be manipulated by their own hopes and sold a bill of goods disastrous for them. Almost his entire cast are anti-heroes or villains of various stripes. More, they serve as again philosophical and political symbols of different ideologies, like Mieville. For Bakker, the characters' reactions and hopes around his villain Kelhaus are the critical focus of the work. Bakker employs a fairly modern style, but uses a certain amount of bombast, especially in the characters' dialogue, which is fairly formal most of the time, and like Mieville, uses philosophical vocabulary and discussion that is less political and more about human brains.

    And Rowling's story is about Harry Potter. She is writing about the people in a school. She is writing about eccentricities and symbolic characters also, and using the whimsical British style similar to Barrie's Peter Pan, Travers' Mary Poppins, etc. She is working in a contemporary setting, which doesn't require a lot of extra description of the setting, except for those magical aspects. And the entire series is about Harry's coming of age and understanding of his parents and past. So again, very different goals, structures, writing styles and use of characters.

    Erikson isn't a poetic writer certainly. He is not using the lush imagery that a writer like Mieville or Tolkien is employing and he isn't going for anything bardic, fairy tale or looking at characters' moral and political journeys as much. He is looking at a world cracking. At the same time, he takes a continually military approach to it, and he applies a modern, stripped, soldier combat speak approach to it, more commando than the romance of battle. That doesn't mean that he doesn't use symbols -- he does continually, and especially the magic system which is a mix of occult, voodoun, Olympic, and Lovecraftian symbolism -- but they are the large, god-hinged symbols of destruction sort.

    But because he jumps around and because he is not setting the story on the characters but on the larger shifts of actions, it is very much like the jump shutter cut style of action scenes in films. It's sort of martial artsy, mixed with bits of snide sarcasm, placed again against epic destruction. That's not a style that will appeal to everybody, especially those readers who are more character centric (and I would probably put myself in there, though I read stories of broader scope,) and the fragmented plot does not encourage concentration or meditation -- it's rapid and blunt and occasionally noir. It's based on games and spectacle. Erikson had seeds that foreshadow the grimdark movement and as such, has been an influence. But very few have concentrated so deeply on the world or played with time the way he did.

  12. #12
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    11
    Wow! Thank you KatG for all the explanations, it is very enlightening. Having no education in literature is sometimes an obstacle in uderstanding why something works for me and something doesn't.

    Knowing that my favorite book was Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, I would say I prefer character driven stories. Which would explain also why I don't care much for Malazan. Combined with the writing style of Erikson, it is no wonder that I wasn't able to finish it. I am now reading Miéville, and while his characters have not gripped me as much as Fitz and the Fool, his style is a delight to read. So full of strong images. But it does require a lot of concentration.

    Thinking a bit more about it, it is true that what I remember from most books I read is the characters. The world is usually secondary to me. And events drive the story forward, but it's is not my main point of interest. Maybe my preference is for well defined characters that lives through interesting events...

    But I still have a question. You say Malazan use a game structure, and I am not sure what you mean by that. Is it in reference to it's origin as an RPG campaign? Or to the game the gods are playing in the series?

    Edit: oh! Can I quote your answer on another forum? I have the same discussion on asoiaf, and the resulting discussion was errr, less intelligent.

    Thanks again!
    Last edited by Green Gogol; September 18th, 2014 at 07:14 AM.

  13. #13
    LaerCarroll.com
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,303
    Quote Originally Posted by Green Gogol View Post
    I am now reading Miéville, and while his characters have not gripped me as much as Fitz and the Fool, his style is a delight to read. So full of strong images. But it does require a lot of concentration.
    Reading for pleasure is not something we're going to be graded upon. We get no gold stars for forcing ourselves to read anything. No being forced to bed without supper if we don't study and work hard!

  14. #14
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    In a Cloud
    Posts
    12,354
    Quote Originally Posted by Green Gogol View Post
    But I still have a question. You say Malazan use a game structure, and I am not sure what you mean by that. Is it in reference to it's origin as an RPG campaign? Or to the game the gods are playing in the series?
    Yes to both. Erikson developed the world with fellow author Esslemont first as a giant game world for D&D style campaigns, then tried to spin off a movie script from that which is the basis for Book of the Fallen. When they didn't get very far with that (s&s fantasy stories not being of big appeal in film because they are seen as unpredictable and expensive,) they started doing novels based on the world, but with an eye to telling large epic stories that would not necessarily be linear. So the world came first and its design, its history, magic systems (which involve cards, alignments, various undergroundish realms,) is RPG and video game based. It's meant to be a setting in which various different campaigns can occur in different world settings, as if you were looking at different play units of a game system.

    As such, the mythology of the world -- the system of gods, magic, the buildings, the cities, the marches across the plains -- is the critical focus of the series. The gods play games with mortal men, leaving people to scramble, ally and turn coat as they try to interpret what gods may be up to, and as gods or their avatars can come down on them full force unexpectedly. The series focuses on chaos and dealing with chaos. That doesn't mean that individual characters don't have personalities and make difficult choices, kill people or attempt to survive, but they are mainly witnesses to the great shifts the world is going through. The novels are whole novels, but they are also in a sense like tie-in novels and they fit together like pieces of a puzzle, or at least that's the idea.

    Erikson also owes a large debt to Glen Cook, who is a more character centric author most of the time but who likes to vary the type of stories he does. His Bridgeburners (who are probably most people's favorite characters of that series,) are very much in the neighborhood of Cook's famous Black Company mercenaries, and the structure of his narrative has a lot in common with Cook's more bardic Dread Empire series and some other works of his. Like Cook, Erikson injects a more modern soldier flavor to his characters with looser speech, which is also very much in the games tradition.

    A lot of the writers who have developed grimdark works and "hard magic" secondary world works came to fantasy writing from games first, and it can show in their novels which set up puzzles (maze structure,) run parallel storylines, and have very detailed systems for the setting and background history, and gods or other forces that act on the basis of particular alignments. It gives you a different type of fantasy tale, which is very grand and a bit less personal.

    Edit: oh! Can I quote your answer on another forum? I have the same discussion on asoiaf, and the resulting discussion was errr, less intelligent.
    LOL, a lot of Martin fans are also Erikson fans and grimdark fans. They like the giant world system, the brutal events, the game approach (which Martin doesn't actually have,) and the big dramatic scenes, plus rogue characters like the Bridgeburners. But it's a mix -- Erikson's approach tends to be one that people really take to or don't. You can certainly quote me, if you like, though they may not agree with my assessment either.

    Mieville's story will get a bit easier to follow once you get about halfway and start getting into the creatures. Remember, it's basically a crime thriller combined with Les Miserables. And monsters. He never does stop with the vocabulary words, though. He likes to play with language.

  15. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Montreal, Canada
    Posts
    11
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Yes to both. Erikson developed the world with fellow author Esslemont first as a giant game world for D&D style campaigns, then tried to spin off a movie script from that which is the basis for Book of the Fallen. When they didn't get very far with that (s&s fantasy stories not being of big appeal in film because they are seen as unpredictable and expensive,) they started doing novels based on the world, but with an eye to telling large epic stories that would not necessarily be linear. So the world came first and its design, its history, magic systems (which involve cards, alignments, various undergroundish realms,) is RPG and video game based. It's meant to be a setting in which various different campaigns can occur in different world settings, as if you were looking at different play units of a game system.

    As such, the mythology of the world -- the system of gods, magic, the buildings, the cities, the marches across the plains -- is the critical focus of the series. The gods play games with mortal men, leaving people to scramble, ally and turn coat as they try to interpret what gods may be up to, and as gods or their avatars can come down on them full force unexpectedly. The series focuses on chaos and dealing with chaos. That doesn't mean that individual characters don't have personalities and make difficult choices, kill people or attempt to survive, but they are mainly witnesses to the great shifts the world is going through. The novels are whole novels, but they are also in a sense like tie-in novels and they fit together like pieces of a puzzle, or at least that's the idea.

    Erikson also owes a large debt to Glen Cook, who is a more character centric author most of the time but who likes to vary the type of stories he does. His Bridgeburners (who are probably most people's favorite characters of that series,) are very much in the neighborhood of Cook's famous Black Company mercenaries, and the structure of his narrative has a lot in common with Cook's more bardic Dread Empire series and some other works of his. Like Cook, Erikson injects a more modern soldier flavor to his characters with looser speech, which is also very much in the games tradition.

    A lot of the writers who have developed grimdark works and "hard magic" secondary world works came to fantasy writing from games first, and it can show in their novels which set up puzzles (maze structure,) run parallel storylines, and have very detailed systems for the setting and background history, and gods or other forces that act on the basis of particular alignments. It gives you a different type of fantasy tale, which is very grand and a bit less personal.



    LOL, a lot of Martin fans are also Erikson fans and grimdark fans. They like the giant world system, the brutal events, the game approach (which Martin doesn't actually have,) and the big dramatic scenes, plus rogue characters like the Bridgeburners. But it's a mix -- Erikson's approach tends to be one that people really take to or don't. You can certainly quote me, if you like, though they may not agree with my assessment either.

    Mieville's story will get a bit easier to follow once you get about halfway and start getting into the creatures. Remember, it's basically a crime thriller combined with Les Miserables. And monsters. He never does stop with the vocabulary words, though. He likes to play with language.
    I am also quite a fan of ambiance, or atmosphere, not sure what the right word is. Miéville writing is quite evocative. That is one of the reason why Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies.

    The best way to describe how it feels to me is to visualise a theater. Contrast how it, looks when all the lights are on before the show begins, and when the lights are dimmed and the special colored lights are used instead. So Miéville is the theater with the lights dimmed, while malazan is all bright floodlight.

    Atmosphere is why The Eye of the World is the only book I really enjoyed in the wheel of time. There is a prevalent horror atmosphere, and danger can be felt through every scene. You can feel the cold, see the fog, hear the wind. It is missing from the following books. He lost this special vibe in the sequels. And it's the same with the Lotr movies. The first one, especially the first part with the black riders chases have a great vibe. Full of atmospheric scenes. But the sequels don't have this vibe.

    So personal story and atmosphere describes my preference quite well.

    So where did you learn all that stuff? You seem quite knowledgable.
    Last edited by Green Gogol; September 18th, 2014 at 10:10 PM.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •