Tag Archives: Story preferences

Writing likes and dislikes

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a local band of fellow writing enthusiasts. I meet with them every couple of months, to discuss writing preferences. This time, we spoke about what kinds of tales we like to write, and emphatically not like to write, what we feel we’re good at and what we find difficult.

I love reflecting on what I like and dislike with regards to writing. It helps me gain insight in what I want to do, and where my weak points are.

Personally, I am quite diverse in what I like to write, although I have a penchant in writing stories about a character looking for his/her place in the world. It’s a theme I have a lot of affinity with. I love to give the theme a twist, though. Like for instance taking a pretty nasty main character or someone set adrift later in life. I’m good at world building. Almost every one of my short stories is set into a universe of its own. I don’t like writing horror pur sang, with gore for the gore. And I need to work on intimacy within my stories, I am terrible at that.

Identifying those things helps me work on exercises to become a better writer. I allows me to think along lines like ‘what makes it that I feel like I am good at world building? And how can I help others get there as well?’ and work on what I am less good at. In light of that, for our next meet, we agreed to each write something we find difficult to write. We’re then going to look at each other’s writing. So we’ll both practice, and receive feedback to improve future attempts.

What do you like to write? What do you dislike to create yourself?

Playing with tradition lore

A lot of writers in the (urban) fantasy genre use forms of traditional supernatural elements, like the vampire and the fae, people or beings from folk tales, myths and sagas, and sometimes even from influential writers of the past. Generally, they give it a bit of a twist. Sometimes that twist is minimal, sometimes it is so drastic that it’s barely a reference.

One of the things I find myself very enthusiastic about, and one of the things I thoroughly enjoy, is seeing the different incarnations of lore-twisting. How an author re-invents vampires, werewolves and other were-beasts, witches and fae. How they make the lore their own, pick, choose and reimagine to suit their story-world. Especially when they manage to do it in such a way that it reinforces the story they’re trying to tell.

One of the books I have recently read that did this right was the All Saints trilogy by Deborah Harkness, of which the first book is A Discovery of witches.

Press more to read on, but be warned, it contains potential spoilers
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The Relativity of Time in Narratives

Something I find tremendously interesting is how time is treated in different types of narratives. I’m currently reading a book where they’re playing with the flow of time. Time does not progress at the same rate in different areas of the story’s world. But this is by far not the only way an author can play with time.

The way we experience the flow of time, varies from day to day, year to year, activity to activity. Everyone knows the hours that feel like forever, while sometimes years go by in what feels like an instant. By slowing part of the story down, interestingly enough generally achieved by using more words to describe a certain scope of time, authors can change and/or increase the feel of the experience their readers or viewers have.

An author can also change the flow of time for only one of the characters, like for instance the reversal of aging in Benjamin Button. Another example of this is the brief flashes of forward moving time that were out of the ‘normal’ sequence for one of the characters in The Time Travelers Wife.

Another possibility of manipulating time is not in the manipulation of the flow of time, but in the sequence of which the story is told. A particularly memorable example of this to me was the movie Memento. How there was just enough information provided for the story to move on, while keeping it exciting until the very end, is something that still deeply impresses me.

A recent example I encountered of how time can be manipulated was how extreme speed and the time continuum can affect each other. It proposed the question: if you go fast enough, would you travel to the future or the past?

I try to play with these effects when I am writing myself, although I do not do this in every of my stories. This is mostly because I find most manipulations of time work best if the manipulation of time is the central element of the story. Also, balancing your time-continuum can be… tricky. I totally love to read books and watch movies that play with the concept of time, though.

What was the most memorable way an author manipulated time that you have encountered?

Action Versus Details

The stories I’m passionately about tend to be very diverse. Sweeping sagas with tragic heroes, romantic and light, tales that provide serious food for thought… I enjoy them all. What does stand out, though, is that a relatively large amount of those stories tend to have action rich, fast paced story-lines, and a vivid, vibrant, interesting and original setting. I also greatly value my opinionated female main characters, but I guess that’s because as an opinionated female myself I tend to identify fairly easy with those.
Fast paced story-lines and world building, unfortunately, is not something that always goes together well. That which is needed for world building, namely words devoted to the world and the characters, often directly slows down the pace of the story. It’s a difficult balancing act in which authors have to make many hard choices.

Which brings me to what I’m reading at the moment. I usually only read one novel at a time, but currently I’m reading two. One lies firmly in the Urban Fantasy genre, the other one is situated in the gray area between historical romance and classical fantasy. Both are well written, their strong points however differ slightly. One has more details and more character building. The world, the characters, the events are so vivid and believable they almost appear real. Very high praise for a novel as far as I’m concerned. And yet, I catch myself preferring the other. It’s a shorter story, but not short. The pace of the story, however, is much, much higher. What the first novel takes pages and pages to describe, this one lets fly by in less than a single one. And that combined with the accessible writing and well placed jokes is such that it pulls me in, and won’t let go.

So in the end, I guess I prefer novels in which the scales slightly tip towards a faster pace over a higher degree of depth to the novel. What do you prefer?