Geek Book Chat Club 3: The Chat Strikes Back

It’s back, because you demanded it! Well, not really, but I did get at least one tweet asking me what had happened to this, and, well, any excuse really. As usual I pop up a list of possible discussion topics and you, lovely readers, have a good old chinwag in the comments.

(I’m doing a mixture of questions today for both writers and readers; the first question was suggested by top chap and Buffy obsessive, @roybutlin

Geek book chat GO GO GO!

How much do you visualise when you’re writing? Do you always know what the people and the places look like?

How important is world-building? Do you need to know how the local currency works, or whether open toed sandals are in fashion? Or are you happy to make-up/ignore the details at will?

Which fictional character would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? (for whatever reason)

Your favourite obscure author – which of their books would you recommend to get people reading them?

How much of a chance do you give a book if it doesn’t grab you right away?


19 thoughts on “Geek Book Chat Club 3: The Chat Strikes Back

  1. 1. Writing? Yes. But I never write, so irrelevant. But when I’m reading, certainly. But in my head I always have ideas of what people and places look like, and it can throw me a bit if I miss a detail that’s mentioned later on.

    2. I think some degree of world-building is always necessary. I don’t think we need to know every tiny detail (how often do we consciously recognise such things in our own societies?), but enough to give a flavour of that world.

    3. Uh. Um. Uhhhhhh. *Sticks her tongue out and thinks* Uhhhhhhhh. Um…. Uh… Lan from Mark C. Newton’s Legends of the Red Sun series. If you’ve read the books, you’ll know a certain detail about her which is really why I’d want to meet her.

    4. Oooh. How are we defining obscure? I’m gonna cheat and go for two:
    4a. Major – L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Overlooked a bit, despite having been published as a fantasy author for over 20 years (longer for sci-fi). I don’t think a lot of people who discuss fantasy tend to talk about him for whatever reason. But I love the way he creates women in his books, and there’s definitely intelligence to his works. Whilst The Magic of Recluce is his first fantasy (and Recluce) novel, I’d say Imager is a good place to start.
    4b. Minor/Lesser-Known – Alison Croggon. Yes, yes, YA. Her Pellinor books are really good, and as such I’m going to say start with the first, The Gift (aka The Naming in ‘Merica)

    5. Depends. Sometimes a page, sometimes 100. But 100 tends to roughly be it, though with longer books (600+ pages) I may give a little bit more time.

    • I guess if you really, *really* hate the first page, then it’s not worth dragging yourself through it. I suspect I used to have a lot more patience actually, back in the day when buying a book meant actually going to the book shop and browsing for hours – if I wasn’t deadly keen on the opening of a book I might still persevere because I’d already shelled out money on the thing. These days, with the nifty ability to read a sample before you buy on the kindle, a book really has to grab me by the eyeballs.

    • L.E. Modesitt, Jr – read some of the Spellsong series and sort of enjoyed them, but I think I didn’t get a lot of the American cultural references which didn’t help. I don’t know anyone else who reads him, though. I didn’t like the switch from reported to present progressive and back again in different chapters. PP writing annoys me anyway. For someone not so talked about/well-known, he must be doing alright for himself or he wouldn’t have got so many books published, surely?

      I was up to date with the Robert Newcomb Blood and Stone EPIC and they stopped publishing halfway through the series. That one somehow slipped through my silly-name-check filter, possibly because I was bought the second book and had to go buy the first and then I was pretty much committed so I read them. I can’t recc them though, because who wants to be recc’ed half a series?! Bloomin’ Del Rey…

      How does L.E. Modesitt, Jr get more than fifty books of reasonable quality, middle of the road, fantasy published, and Newcomb gets his decent, middle of the road but kind of dark, fantasy pulled after four books?

      • Modesitt’s been with Tor for many years. Since the start, I think. Could be wrong on that.

        Modesitt is frequently hitting NYT Bestsellers lists, I think. But yeah, he sells pretty well but no-one talks about him.

  2. Going to have a crack at this one:

    How much do you visualise when you’re writing? Do you always know what the people and the places look like?

    I *always* know what people and places look like. I have to, or often I just can’t move forward with a scene. I find this is particularly the case with fantasy; the genre often involves taking you to new, strange places to look at weird things, and you need to be able to describe these places and things so the reader experiences the journey with you.

    It can be a pain sometimes. A couple of days ago I was completely stuck on the end of a chapter because I just couldn’t figure out how a particular city looked, or even how it would work. I can be the same with names sometimes; if a character name doesn’t jump into my head at the moment of creation, it can drive me loopy.

    At the same time though this need to visualise can be incredibly important. I knew exactly what Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith looked like instantly – I didn’t have to think about it at all – and consequently they felt very firmly fixed in my head.

    • I think fantasy lends itself to visual writing. Because it isn’t real I find I have to think about it more beforehand. If I’m writing something set in ‘real life’ my mental image may be more vague (unless the location is particularly striking).

  3. How much do you visualise when you’re writing?

    A…bit? A lot of the movement and staging play out visually in my mind’s eye like a movie. I’ve seen a LOT of movies over the years and it’s an internal language that I am comfortable with. I would say I *hear* things quite clearly when I write. I have a very definite idea in my head of how people speak and often a lot of scenes will spring from snatches of dialogue that I have dreamed up while writing.

    How important is world-building?

    I skip a lot of the details. I like to get a sense of how things are, and for that to be consistent (I read a novel a while back that made me go “huh?” because EVERYTHING was European except for this one guy who was carrying a wakizashi). When it gets down to how the money works or what the local cloth patterns are, I just skim until things start happening again.

    How much of a chance do you give a book if it doesn’t grab you right away?

    Less than I used to. There’s so much to read now, if it doesn’t have me by about 50-60 pages then I put it down. I think the fastest I’ve stopped reading something was after 29 pages, and no, I won’t tell you what it was.

    Maybe for a cake, I will.

      • It depends on the project. I wrote a notebook full of ideas and a good half novel before I started the fantasy novel proper. For the weird western I wrote six or seven pivotal scenes and then spent the next three months ignoring the MS to read up on US history (and other stuff) and make research notes. With the new alt-history project and the other fantasy series (SECRETS) I’m doing even more research before I start writing the draft. I think the more I write the longer my research/worldbuilding time is becoming. Not sure if it’s me being more ambitious or just becoming increasingly paranoid that I’ll fuck up.

        How about you? What was the worldbuilding like for TCP and how did it compare to other projects?
        What I’ve tried to do when I come to write is to try and leave the bulk of it off the page. I

        • I mainly did the world-building for TCP in chunks – the most important thing to begin with for me was to know what sort of places my three main characters came from, because it informed them in a big way; Wydrin is from Crosshaven, which is essentially the Mos Eisley of Ede, full of pirates and danger and dodgy characters (like Wydrin) whereas Sebastian is from Ynnsmouth, which is all mountains and lakes and hardy, decent folk. Of course where Frith is from is even more important, to him… I needed to know all that before I started. Other locations have been made up on the fly.

          For book 2 the city it is partly set in is incredibly important, so I’ve been doing a lot of fiddling about with that.

  4. I try to visualise a fair bit when writing, but that makes my writing quite description heavy as I want readers to see EXACTLY what I’m seeing. I need to have a fair idea what I’m describing though. It sort of links with world-building. I don’t map everything out precisely but I need to know enough for continuity’s sake. I’m festering an idea at the moment that it set mainly in a high fantasy city-state, and I did draw a rough sketch map of how I thought it would be laid out – relative wealth of neighbourhoods, where’s the market, that kind of thing – but things like fashion, currency, religion, I make up as I go along and hope I remember what’s going on. If I ever wrote anything as full-on as ASoIAF or LoTR I think I’d have to be more meticulous. I tend to just muddle through and see how it works out. That’s what editing is for, right? If it was something central to the plot I’d plan it a bit more. Background details can be sketchy.

    Fictional character in a lift… that’s so hard! I’m re-reading ASoIAF at the moment, so maybe Tyrion Lannister because the conversation certainly wouldn’t be dull, and he’s small so he’d use less oxygen :) Locke Lamora would be pretty cool, too.

    I don’t know if I read any obscure authors. The less-well-known on my shelves are probably Greg Keyes and Craig Shaw Gardner. Read the former if you either liked Game of Thrones, or if you found it a bit too intense and couldn’t remember the 7 million different bannermen and who they were allied to. Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone is a completed quadrilogy/tetralogy (whatever! It’s four books), high fantasy, focusing on the royal family and the way a small personal slight brings the whole kingdom down combined with the threat of apocalypse-by-old-magic. It has a Sean Bean character and everything! He even survives beyond the first book! Superb world-building, complete with castes of population, regional dialect/accents, and plausible magic/supernatural elements. Craig Shaw Gardner writes farcical fantasy with a side of wry satire not dissimilar to mid-series Discworld. Not the most high-brow and clumsy in places but some great caricatures and good twists on magic, fantasy stereotypes and fairy tales (I’m thinking the Ebenezum and Wuntvor trilogies).

    Oh, and can I include an obscure novel by a not-obscure author? The Pyrates by George Macdonald Fraser. He wrote the Flashman novels, among other things, so he has to be quite well-known, but The Pyrates is a great romp through an anachronistic Golden-Age-of-Piracy, circa Spanish conquest of South America. Swash-buckling! Natives! Swooning Ladies! Sword-fighting! Marooning! Treasure! Need I say more? It’s funny, too.

    Depending on the book I will slog on. There are only three books I’ve abandoned: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (though I’m gearing up for another go now I’m a bit older), Sophie’s World (it gave me migraines) and Lord of the Rings. I made it to the Council of Elrond and then bailed when I saw how much back story each character gets. Sheesh!

    I find it easier to read a ‘slow’ book if I already know the author and trust that their other work was good so it should pick up. I love Gregory Maguire (Wicked punches me in the feels) but I found Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror, Mirror hard to get into. It has to be a pretty dire story/style to make me give up. I read the whole of Court of the Air going “What the hell is going on? Hopefully the next chapter will make sense!” and I got right to the end and still had no clue! I don’t mind if a book is hard going, sometimes, it makes me feel like I’ve really Learned something by reading it, or Bettered myself, or something. I must read ALL the words!

    • The idea of writing a series of books as complicated as ASOIAF gives me the fear. All those names, sigils, relationships – who hates who, who went to war with who, who is sleeping with their sister… As it is, I’ve had to create a mini-encyclopedia for The Copper Promise to keep track of character names and origins, but it can’t be anywhere near as extensive.

  5. It’s kind of a mix for me. On the one hand I do come to write a scene knowing where its set, and the general flow of the action but sometimes a little detail or idea just pops up spontaneously too.

    And no I don’t always know exactly what everything looks like. I know the main characters and setting but some of the other parts are more sketchy and I add detail to them as I go.

    I think world building is important so long as it doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling. While I may know the inscription on the fourth quadrant of a silver penny and the story of the man who came up with the process to put it there, I may also be the only person to care about it.

    I’d love to be stuck in a lift with…Wydrin. No actually she’s scare me. I’d love to be stuck in a lift with…Widget (from the Night Circus).

    I can’t remember the last time I gave up on a book but I give up on TV series all the time. The shortest was by the first add break.

  6. I visualize a lot, coming from reading a lot of screenplay, to writing a couple I usually have how the character looks before I know anything else about them (or the story). I also tend to think of the character in terms of actors/other characters (like a detective I created who looks & sounds like Ray Winstone).

    I’m a massive history buff, it was my favorite subject at school. I lone know character/worlds histories & backstories. Back when I read comics I loved it when they did the origin stories. Saying that I’m not so big on doing it when writing my own work, I tend to build as I go, try out ideas and if they don’t work discard them and put something else in place.

    Elim Garak (Deep Space Nine), he has the sort of voice I could listen to for hours. Met Andrew Robinson at a con once, he read an extract from A Stitch In Time in character. It was brilliant.

    Embarrassed to say I don’t know any obscure writers.

    I give a book 3 – 4 chapters usually. Should be enough time to get me interested in the characters and where the story is going.

  7. I visualize a lot when I’m writing, not just characters. I have pages and pages of sketches of maps, airships, buildings, cities, and the like that are from when I wrote my steampunk novel. I have to know what things look like in my head (and sometimes on paper) before I can write them.

    I’m a big world-builder, maybe even to my detriment because I’ll get caught up on it and put working on a draft on hold! I haven’t gone so far as to consider open-toed sandals vs close-toed, but I’ve gotten close! Because I write with really detailed outlines, even the thought of making stuff up as I go makes me nervous.

    I think the Doctor would be a good choice to be stuck in an elevator with. He could always use his Sonic Screwdriver to fix it pretty quickly.

    It depends on the book. I gave the first Wheel of Time book about halfway before I stopped reading. I gave it that much time because of how many people raved about the series. Most of the time if things haven’t grabbed me in the first few chapters I’ll stop reading.

  8. 1. Um, well I’m more of a reader than a writer so I’ll have to skip this one…

    2. I think it depends on the story. Some do benefit from a lot of detail about the world, others not so much. If a lot of world building is necessary, I’d rather it was told gradually and in different ways rather than a history lesson style info dump or I’ll lose interest.

    3. Ooh good question. Maybe Nanny Ogg. She’d probably have some booze and she could teach me the words to The Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End.

    4. Simon R Green. I’m a big fan of his Deathstalker (space opera) series and Nightside series (parallel London where it’s always 3am). He’s not the best writer (he has a tendency to repeat certain phrases which I understand could drive someone people crazy) but the stories are such great pulpy fun I don’t care. Lots of gore and characters with names like Shotgun Suzie and Penny Dreadful and wisecracking heroes. Love it.

    5. I don’t tend to give up on books. If they don’t grab me completely I’ll either put them away to try again another time or just skim my way to the end to see if it gets any better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *