Monthly Archives: December 2010

Mid-Kraken Musings

In another fit of finding me exactly the book I wanted without being asked, my father procured a copy of China Miéville’s newest novel, Kraken, as a Christmas present for me.  I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s gotten me thinking quite a lot, both about my writing and about urban fantasy as a whole.  I have written about what I see as the finer points of urban fantasy several times before, specifically what differentiates it from paranormal romance.  I have also mentioned Miéville here before, praising his previous long-form effort.

In an age where the majority of urban fantasy novels either feature leather-clad, gun-toting chicks on their covers or star a certain Chicago-based wizard, Kraken is a beast of a different order entirely.  It is certainly an urban fantasy, but it’s much more Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere than Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series.  If you’re familiar with Miéville’s oeuvre, you’ll have noticed how his prose has evolved, and that evolution has continued with this novel while still being very Miéville, but that’s not what I’m concerned with right now.

What is striking about Kraken is that, in some ways, it is a story about normal people, sort of.  None of the characters are hot werewolves or lusty vampires, and none of the main female characters wear leather.  Since it’s set in London, there aren’t many guns in evidence, either.  Nevertheless, its is a magical world, though that doesn’t become fully apparent for several chapters, and, thanks in part to Miéville’s prose and sensibilities, it has its share of badassitude, just in a different way.  It does have its share of characters whose stock should be evident, but none of that strikes you as you’re reading.

What I’m trying to say is, one, that if you want to see how to write an urban fantasy without lusty vampires etc, you should read Kraken, and, two, that you should read Kraken, whatever.


Some Thoughts on Characterization

A confluence of media has had me thinking about characters lately.  First, on my drive back to Philly from WNC, I listened to the episode of Writing Excuses about character quirks, which focused a lot on making characters distinguishable and memorable, even if they are based off of a trope.  I think about this a lot because one of my characters gets compared to a certain wizard from Chicago, a wizard I hadn’t heard of until quite a few years after this character came into being.

The second thing came just today when I was reading a post on Aaron Diaz’s art blog, Indistinguishable From Magic. You may or may not be familiar with Diaz’s work from Dresden Codak.  Anyhow, in his post, he talks about making characters recognizable, albeit in a visual medium.  In talking about the shape of a character, he says, in part,

Character designs follow a hierarchy: you grab the reader’s attention with the most essential information and then invite them to investigate the details.  If important elements of your design are only evident in the details, then it needs to be reworked.  If your character is not completely distinguishable in silhouette, it needs to be reworked.  Detail should always radiate from the core theme.

While I can’t draw worth a damn, I still find this to be a good metaphor for the most part.  The silhouette of your character should be distinct, but this can be stretched a little bit more when writing, for the silhouette comes first and foremost from what tropes your character is built off of.  One hard-boiled detective will, at first glance, look a lot like all the others, but you have to throw your readers something else immediately, something that tells them that this is a different hard-boiled detective than all the other one’s they’ve met.  Everything else is spot-on, whether you’re writing or drawing, though.  You can’t expect to keep a reader if you don’t give them something different in the first couple hundred words, if you’re writing a short story, or the first chapter, if you’re writing something longer.

This can be extended, in some ways, to the rest of a story, too.  The things that readers need early on are action, something happening that will get them to keep reading, and differentiation, something to tell them what makes your story different than everything else in the slush heap.


Senior Reading: the Video

As promised, the video of my senior reading is now online.  A big thank you goes to Lockie Hunter, who introduced me and has made me a much better writer.  The piece about Obama and Kanye West is titled “808s and Healthcare Reform,” and can be found in the writing section of my website.

The piece from which I read excerpts is titled “The Sea of Matchsticks.”


Senior Reading

For those of you who were there, thank you so much for your support. For those who weren’t, video should be up shortly.

I feel tremendously relieved to have that finished and quite marvelous, too.


A Culmination

My semester is drawing to a close, and so is my Senior Writing Portfolio.  That means that the fall senior reading is coming up.  The head of the writing department here at Warren Wilson stresses the importance of self-promotion as a writer, so, even though many people are elsewhere and won’t be able to attend, I give you self-promotion:

(Also, I give you an obscure hip-hop reference because it amuses me.)


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