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Available Now - The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis

It's here at last. Currently available on Amazon through its Kindle and CreateSpate platforms, The Leviathan Chronicle: Genesis is a ...

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas Greetings

This year has been a tumultuous one for me in several ways. And in this post, I want to sum up my feelings since I started this "Thought Blog" blog in May of this year.

When I first started, I was a complete novice to the realm of blogging, and despite online writing experience on Wikipedia and fan Wikias, this was something new. I stumbled, I strayed, I didn't know what exactly to write about. Local advice told me to write about anything and everything that came to mind and share it with the readers, but that didn't seem right to me. How could I maintain this blog by just writing about curry or flowers or whatnot? I needed something that would help keep me established in some way, give me a presence.

That's when I decided to start my multipart blog posts about aspects of writing within the genres I have chosen to work on so far. I also did standalone posts on similar themes. It's not only helped me find a suitable outlet onto my blog, but helped me solidify some of my own views on these subjects, such as my ambivalent feelings towards Tolkien, the mutual and contradictory merits of description vs dialogue, and even my views on world issues being put through the lens of fantastical fiction. I've even managed to scatter in things about my own way of working.

Bear in mind that I was doing all this alongside my writing, publishing the various parts of Crystal and Sin, all the while learning more and more about the market I was pushing into, and the industry I needed to deal with to make myself noticed and eventually maintain a workable income. Heck, it took me until this month (December) before I created this page for the Independant Author Network.

My posting ability may become sporadic over the next couple of months. They'll be the Holiday season, and then I've got jury service in January which has the potential of taking up a large part of my time. But know that every view is valued, and every like is a little boost that helps me along the way towards my chosen career. Basically, I value everyone reading this post. And that includes you, and you, and most definitely you.

Have a Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday, and a wonderful 2017.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Description vs. Dialogue - Part 2

This is it, the grudge match, the one in a million, the never-before-seen..... Let's face it, it's a debate that's been raging in an author's head ever since both description and dialogue became the common means of telling stories. It's an inevitable quandary that can halt the progress of a story by quite a bit: do you rely on dialogue segments to communicate information to the reader, or do you use prose descriptive. Or do you just not explain at all? In this two-part blog, I'll be looking at these two contrasting styles. The first part looked at books, now this second part is dedicated to the visual arts - films, television and video games.

Now with books, the scenes and actions are described through prose. With the visual arts, it's all done... visually. No need for words, it's all action. But even then action must be balanced with explanation. But where should one end and the other begin? Anime and other similar Asian genres such as Wuxia is notorious for explanations scattered here and there between eclectic action scenes, while many Western genres rely far more on action over explanation. This makes the two interesting to both contrast and parallel; on the one hand you don't want to listen to twenty minutes of dialogue, but on the other you don't want to be left in the dark as (in an unfortunate majority) burly men beef it out against each other. This is why I'm very choosy about what I add to my DVD shelf.

Now, not explaining is a thorny issue in the visual arts, such as film and video games, where most viewers (in the opinion of executives and possibly some programme makers) need everything explaining to them in some way. That's why there's a lot of what may feel like needless exposition in things like television series or during scenes in films. It becomes the duty of dialogue to fill in the reader, which can lead to unlikely scenarios such as a villainous monologue or a pre-fight exchange or even some kind of internal contemplation on the part of the protagonist. There's also the technique of the information dump at the beginning of something, which was sent up with vicious regularity in 'Allo 'Allo. But then, considering how convoluted 'Allo 'Allo became even before David Croft left and the writing skewed away from previous events, the info dump was perhaps the only way anyone could keep up with the story in any conceivable way.

Comics and their like have far more leeway to do this as the only way they can properly convey the action is through dialogue, as all images included are static. Descriptions and explanations are two a penny, ranging from the perfectly natural to the utterly ridiculous. This is where classic anime gets a lot of its fluff, as it draws from manga which use this explanation-heavy approach. Sometimes this explanation is justified (try understanding Steins;Gate without all that description from the characters) and other times it just comes off as goofy in the wrong way (many non-comedy focused comic series internationally post 1980s when the taste for grit came in). You can get a taste of that kind of explanation in its original amusing form with the 1960s Batman television series, whose style was lifted directly from the titular comics of the time.

Video games is where this disconnect between explanation and action is most apparent. Games were once not methods for communicating stories, and have been included as a narrative medium over forty-plus years of advancing hardware and changing tastes. There are too many contrasting examples to name, so I'll just select two: Metal Gear and the Souls franchise. From its inception, Kojima's seminal Metal Gear series has had a penchant for lots of exposition, even if quite a bit of that prior to Metal Gear Solid was optional; battle sequences are punctuated by cutscenes that can sometimes last upwards of forty-five minutes, and dialogue can even creep into live gameplay. In direct contrast, the Souls franchise has its story tucked away in a very few cryptic dialogue segments and multiple notes in item descriptions and notes left about the world - its chosen style is one of atmosphere and player immersion over a complex storyline.

Of course, all of this very much depends on the style and genre you're wanting to use, whatever medium you're writing in. If your work is a slow-burning thriller or something like it, then dialogue trumps description. If it's action-based, then there's more of an emphasis on visual information. In gaming, this is best seen in the difference between visual novel derivatives and the majority of other games; while many games put story elements between segments of gameplay of varying kinds within an action-oriented or exploration-focused story, the visual novel family relies primarily on text and tells stories that revolve around subjects like crime or puzzles or deeper themes.

In conclusion, it's safe to say that the conflict between dialogue and description, or dialogue and action depending on which medium you're using, will always exist and will have champions on both sides. Don't drag out an argument. They'll be no winners.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Description vs. Dialogue - Part 1

This is it, the grudge match, the one in a million, the never-before-seen..... Let's face it, it's a debate that's been raging in an author's head ever since both description and dialogue became the common means of telling stories. It's an inevitable quandary that can halt the progress of a story by quite a bit: do you rely on dialogue segments to communicate information to the reader, or do you use prose descriptive. Or do you just not explain at all? In this two-part blog, I'll be looking at these two contrasting styles. This first part is dedicated to books.

Frankly, it depends on what kind of story you want to tell, what kind of narration you're using, and how you want the reader to be carried along. You can only carry either style so far before the reader begins to go glassy-eyed and wonder how much longer this is going on. It's a perpetual sin committed by Christopher Paolini in his works: while there's nothing wrong with being loquacious, but there must be a line drawn somewhere, lest mere loquacity give way to verbal diarrhea. It's part of the reason I stopped reading his work after finishing Eldest. His huge blocks of text, which sometimes resulted in one page sporting just three paragraphs, meant that anything in the story was quickly lost in the sluggish pace of the prose. It's more than likely that some key little plot point may be mired in twelve other lines of prose. He doesn't use dialogue as freely as some, which is a legitimate style of writing, but there's such as thing as being too descriptive.

Description used in a good way us exemplified in the work of Ursula le Guin, particularly her Earthsea novels, where she prefers to tell the story of her characters through actions and impressions rather than long reams of explanation. This approach helps communicate that it's a tale being told long after the fact, based on the famous exploits of Ged. Likewise, a good example of exemplifying dialogue is J. K Rowling's Harry Potter books use characters talking to each other to unfold crucial parts of lore. A use of dialogue that might drag slightly on some is His Dark Materials, in particular The Amber Spyglass, which has dialogue that spills over several pages. Still, I'm saying this from a distanced perspective - he is one of my own role models, and his books have sold in their millions. To be honest, I haven't come across many other examples of what might be called poor use of dialogue in books, but then I'm very choosy about that books I have in my shelf.

In contrast, the first-person narrative is a medium where excessive description can be used to further the development of a character, or it can just be an ingrained habit of the author. The former is seen in the first-person segments of Jonathan Stroud's Bartemaeus series, where the Djinn Bartemaeus' personality is portrayed to us through his self-confident and loquacious discussion of events, annotated by various amusing footnotes: his is a style where you joy in the detail because you see just how amusing and absorbing this cocky Djinn's view of the world has become after uncounted millennia. The latter, where description hampers the experience, is most clearly seen in the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft. From his longer works such as The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Shadows Out Of Time, to his short stories such as "Dagon" and "The Call of Cthulhu", use a style that revels in long words and extensive description like some thesis or scholarly dissertation. This likely stems from his own background and education, but it also means that going through his work is more than a chore to even the most patient of modern readers. A book I'd recommend as a good balance between description and dialogue in first person that I've experienced is Flashman by George MacDoland Fraser. While it's the first in a long series, it's still a good standalone item. And it's completely hilarious reading about Flashman's quest for a sinecure.

On the whole, the balance of description vs. dialogue is both a matter of personal choice and a matter of style and quality. Dialogue can help, and description can be key, but the real art is balancing the two out to tell a story that is both meaty and speedy.

Next week, we explore the pros and cons of description vs. dialogue as they've manifested in the visual arts, from film all the way to the modern interactive medium of video games.