2nd Draft Prologue Down

Today I cleaned up a few more things on the website. Primarily, I added links at the bottom of the page. Aside from that, I took back the War of Exiles Prologue I’d been so proud to show off a few months ago. I know–no backsies–but I had to; the new draft is so different in tone that leaving the old intro there felt like me posting my high school yearbook photo for everyone to see. And no, I’m not that brave.

At any rate, I’ll make up for the pull with a bunch more posts on the Photography, Inkwork, and Character Art pages. Stay tuned.

“Hey! Look at you!”

Finally a new look for the site and a few pieces up for your viewing pleasure. Nothing too major–mostly old, old inkwork. But there are two character sketches up as well–one of mine and one by Peter John. Check them out and expect more soon.

Also coming up in the near future–a look at my new writing methodology–lovingly called THE OUTLINE: for friends and family, a solid excuse for why the new draft is taking so, so long.

A Split in the Road

I remember finishing the second draft of my book. I made the last corrections and was content. My friends and I had a barbeque over it and I was pretty certain I was about to achieve total victory; there was just one edit left–the one where I would spruce up all of the writing and tie up any holes.

Only, the agent I had an eye on wanted books that were about one hundred pages shorter than mine, so major cuts had to happen. But facing that challenge, I didn’t shrink away; I knew immediately what would go. At the time, it just felt like I was being prudent. I looked at parts I’d earmarked for deletion and thought, “These chapters aren’t really important to the story.” “This scene kind of annoyed me.” “I didn’t really think this should have happened anyway.”

And then a friend linked me to a post on Patrick Rothfuss’ blog where he explained his editing process. And from there, things kind of snowballed. I found myself wondering why I was ready to send out something that had multiple nonessential chapters. I realized, really, that a few parts of my own book made me cringe because they were so campy. Most important though, I realized why these things happened: I started writing the book in 2005. Such a long, long time ago. I was 22, I was conceited, and I was a completely different writer with a whole different set of priorities. I remembered wanting things to look good and be fun, never giving enough thought to how original and different everything was. I had the ground work set for something interesting, but then dropped in old cliches because I didn’t know better back then. The result was something I enjoyed, sure-probably something that a lot of people would enjoy-but not something I wanted to submit.

So I told a coworker of mine one morning that I’d completely rewrite War of Exiles only if I could imagine a better, more original version of it’s prologue. I began plotting it out at 6:30 AM. By about 7:20, I knew there was nothing to be done. It was too much better. And there were too many other possibilities-chances to make changes that were too complicated for simple edits.

So, here I am-back to square one. My goal: to finish my “first draft” before 2012.

Lizardmen: They’re Out There, Losing, Right Now

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re experiencing slight delays because a Lizardman is on the tracks directly in front of us. The MTA would like to apologize for the delay. As soon as the Lizardman is shooed along, we will proceed.”

“Will the owner of the red Volvo please report to Lot A; a Lizardman appears to be sleeping on your vehicle. Again, will the owner of the red Volvo please report to Lot A? Thank you.”

“Sir, we’re sorry to inform you that your parcel was lost. It appears it was handled at one point by a Lizardman who failed to deliver the package to the processing center.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to talk to you about Lizardmen.

Let’s begin with a story.

A friend of a friend once started a D&D campaign. The setting was a city in famine. Very dog-eat-dog or cat-eat… Well, you’ll see.

One of the players decided he’d play a lizardman. When he entered the city, he saw a cat in an alley. Roleplaying the stupid lizardman, and perhaps drunk on his ability to eat furry things like cats, the player decided to chase the cat. In the alley a battle was initiated, which, in D&D, breaks time into 6 second intervals where you act based on chance (embodied by dice rolls for different actions). The lizardman rolled for initiative, but the cat won because it was small and quick. So it struck first, and because it had a large target and it was tiny, it easily succeeded in scratching the lizardman for a laughable 1 HP (Health Point). But no sweat off the lizardman’s back; he only needed to hit the cat once to take all its HP. Only, it was tiny. And fast. And, as a lizardman, he’d forgotten his one fundamental weakness–that he was a lizardman. He attempted an attack but missed. And then, more likely than not, he failed the dice roll that would’ve allowed him to see the group of 20 cats that came out of the rubbish piles around him. 20 feral, hungry cats.

A starting character in D&D has a max HP of 12 at best, with no exception for lizardmen that I remember. So do the math. On the second turn, 20 tiny, fast cats all get an opportunity to hit the lizardman, and all of them will definitely hit. All for a laughable 1 HP each.

The 6 seconds weren’t even up when the Lizardman died.

Ladies and gentlemen…

T H E  L I Z A R D M A N

Since time immemorial, Lizardmen have been the failures of the fantasy genre. Servants, useless foot soldiers, cannon fodder. I’m aware there may be a place where Lizardmen are winning, but that place is not here, nor is it anywhere that I’ve seen.

But They Look Cool

Yeah, I’ll give you that. If there’s one thing Lizardmen do right, it’s look cool.

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? They’re like very shiny used cars; they look like a great idea, but they’ll probably get eaten by cats.

My D&D story aside, I’ve only ever found Lizardmen in the low threat tier of enemies in RPG’s, just above (or sometimes below) those sentient balls of jelly that find their way into EVERY RPG. My brother tells me that the Lizardmen in Demon’s Souls pose a threat, but he hasn’t been playing the game for long at all. And besides, from what I understand, everything is a threat in Demon’s Souls. Especially the jelly.

In visual media, they’ve never faired any better. Just recently I saw an episode of Conan: The Adventurer where the cruel wizard Rathamon killed a Lizardman who was standing next to his throne. Why? Because he was angry. But also, I’m betting because he knew he could. I imagine Rathamon goes through a full bushel of Lizardmen on his bad days.

Otherwise, we have Reptile’s performance in the Mortal Kombat movie, who, aside from being an absolute mess of CGI, completely dropped the ball in his battle with Liu Kang.

Social _________

Outside of appearances as enemies, Lizardmen seem to enjoy the most absent of social classes. For the Final Fantasy series, it began with Tactics Advance for the Nintendo DS, where Lizardfolk (?) found their way into society under the social tag “Bangaa.”

This is a Bangaa.

I believe I’ve said enough about Bangaa.

No. Wait. I should try. They… … they’re stronger than humans. And also, unlike Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the subsequent Final Fantasy XII did not feature a Bangaa playable character. Oh, and they’re astutely never called “lizardmen”.

You may remember a similar situation in the Elder Scrolls series. If you do, then you already know of “Argonians” and the two things that they add to the Lizardman mythos.

1) Lizardpeople are latently good at hiding. And also, stealing things.

And 2) Lizardpeople don’t always look cool.

“Popular” Lizardmen

But surely, there are Lizardmen out there who do count for… something, right? And the answer is, “Of course… Kinda.” Always only kinda.

Reptile, for example, would totally count if at the height of his popularity he wasn’t just a dude called Reptile who showed his lizard face ONLY when you did one of his fatalities.

Where does that leave us then? By my count, with two. First…

… with Lizard.

A Spider-Man villain who the larger part of society doesn’t know. When scientist Curt Connors tries to grow back his arm with reptile DNA, he transforms himself into the monster known as (sigh) LIZARD!

The funny thing here is Dr. Connors appeared in all three Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. Why didn’t they ever use him, you ask? They knew better. At his best, Lizard was a throw away villain who’s easily forgotten if not easily beaten.

Aside from him, it’s…

… Lizardman… Damn these names are great.

Riding the tails of Soul Calibur fame is possibly our generation’s most “popular” Lizardperson (?). “Popular” because no one cares about his virtually nonexistent character; in the Soul Calibur series, it is canon that Lizardman is one of a race just like him. The simple implication is this: Lizardman has probably been killed by a character you prefer (any other one, really) and replaced hundreds of times. Combine that with the way he (she/it?) doesn’t speak and this…

… and you’ve get a lame character who’s damn lucky to be in a very popular series.

Poor Bastards

I know. Where does that leave Lizardbeings (whatever)? Are they forever damned to fall to the wooden swords of Level 1 characters and feral cats? Will there ever be a day when a race of awesome Lizardbeings appear in a video game or work of fiction? Will a writer somewhere, someday, deliver them some majesty? I, for one, hope so.

Or… maybe I don’t.

Bannerman’s Castle: History on the Hudson

Whenever I say that I love New York, whenever I tell someone where I’m from, I never think of what I’ve grown up calling “upstate”. To me, the city has always been all there was. It’s not my fault–I grew up in the city; I used to spend my free Wednesdays at the Bronx Zoo, the Saturdays of my summer youth down in the village and drinking at St. Mark’s. Beyond that, I’d say I’ve spent a cumulative 5 days upstate over the course of my entire life, so there’s never been anything endearing for me to remember about it.

That was until I heard about Bannerman’s Island. Allow me to explain with a list:

  • Originally Pollepel Island, it has its own history before it became Bannerman’s Island. Including a legend of the wind goblin that lived on the island and attacked whoever set foot on it. I am not kidding.
  • It was purchased by an arms dealer named Frank Bannerman in 1900. An arms dealer. Allow me to provide another list right here explaining why Frank Bannerman was awesome:

-While he was still in school, he made his own business by collecting scraps from a navy yard and recycling them. And no, we’re not talking college. Or high school. Yeah.

-He designed  all of the residences on his island. Including the castle. Bannerman’s Castle. The one that has cannons and cannonballs sticking out everywhere.

This one.

-He loved castles.

-Also, he was a religious man, so he didn’t drink.

-Oh, and he was considered an American hero by his countrymen.

  • Arms and gunpowder were stored on the island by Frank Bannerman. At least until an accident involving said gunpowder nearly killed his wife with a large piece of storage shed.
  • Also Bannerman’s Castle, the Bannerman’s residence, and the island itself are really pretty:

I was intentionally vague about the island and its history because I wouldn’t tell it half as well as any of the Bannerman Castle Trust tour guides. What I will say however is that last winter, a large part of Bannerman’s Castle collapsed. As sad as it is, there’s a chance this incredible piece of New York history may not see next year. Tours are only running until October, so don’t miss your opportunity to see the Castle before it’s gone, and don’t pass up the chance to learn more about Frank Bannerman himself.

Click here for more information.

Games for Writers: Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater

For the third entry in the “Games for Writers” series, I thought it would be best to go the same route I went with Metroid Prime; I wanted to show writers a game that did something specific. A game that writers could learn from as much as enjoy. With that in mind, it wasn’t hard to choose…

First Thing’s FirstG4W-MetalGearSolid3-SnakeEater

As far as the Metal Gear Solid series goes, I feel Snake Eater was honestly the best. At least when it came out. Outside of delivering the most exciting sneaking gameplay (what with the loss of an extremely convenient radar), Snake Eater also had very versatile gameplay; you could sneak or run-and-gun, starve your enemies or put them to sleep, even face a boss or take a sniper shot at him after a cut scene and avoid the confrontation altogether.

To boot, Snake Eater had a surprisingly moving story and gripping characters who developed naturally – a feat of which both Sons of Liberty and Guns of the Patriots fell short.

But What Makes It a Game for Writers?

It’s simple; I can sum it up in two words: Time Paradox.

Part of the reason why the gameplay is so awesome is you don’t have the advanced tech from previous installments. That’s because Snake Eater is a prequel that takes place in the 60’s; you play the villian of the first two games, Big Boss, back when he was Jack. And that’s the point really; I knew that Jack had to survive because he had to be in Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2. Regardless of knowing that though, I was still not only engaged by the plot, but genuinely worried for Jack’s safety.

This isn’t a small achievement for writers. George Lucas did an awesome job of making sure we couldn’t possibly care less about Darth Vader’s life before he became Darth Vader (in actuality, he made most of us start pretending Vader was just born with that suit on). Snake Eater never disappoints in this respect though and manages to never, ever drop the tension. Even when Jack is put in complete jeopardy, you don’t just shrug – you wind up being worried that he’s going to die. And perhaps even more of a success, you remain engaged in Jack’s struggles with other characters even when you know they won’t die either.

How’s It Done and What’s to Learn?

The key here is also simple: good writing. A staple of any good story is the author’s ability to put his characters into believable jeopardy. Honestly, unless a story is aiming to be different, there’s just about a 100% chance a protagonist is going to survive whatever is thrown at him or her. Trying to write around extremely solid (heh… sorry) evidence that your protagonist’s going to be fine can be even tougher.

So pick up a copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and see how it’s done. Learn just how far character interactions, depth, and diversity of plot can go to intrigue an audience and keep them guessing no matter how certain they are that everything’s going to be just fine.

Louis Santiago @ RAA

My mother said, “Look at that lamppost! I gotta get a picture!”

I thought it was adorable because my mother is probably the most adorable person in the world. But also because I’d thought the same thing the last time I’d taken that bike path to Fort Tilden from Riis Park.

I stopped thinking it was adorable when she said, “Okay! Now you get in there!” I think I just managed not to sigh.

I juuuust managed.

I felt like a kid again, told something like “Just lean on the lamppost!” largely because that’s exactly what she told me to do.

But I’m sure you may think this picture is cute or funny and I don’t blame you; that would be because you’re seeing my mother in it and you’re seeing a bit of our dynamic.

At the reception to the A Salute to Rockaway show, I thought that ability to put a viewer into a photographer’s shoes made me stand out. Not because I had the most amazing shots ever of all time, but because no one else there had shots of the ruins of Fort Tilden; I was the only one who placed a viewer somewhere that wasn’t sand, sky, water, and beauty. Or public. Sure, I had a majestic shot of Rockaway Beach, but it was juxtaposed by a similar shot with a rusted pole sticking out of the sand and crossing half the picture. The dunes shown in one piece were beside another showing a rusted gate, shot from the inside of a disused Army bunker. It was something to be proud of.

That and the Power Cosmic, my delicious mixture of chicken and black beans (and a secret ingredient), that barely any of the attendees touched (their loss – more Power Cosmic for me).

Well… that and just having some of my photos on exhibit; I can’t miss being proud of that. When an attendee complimented Far Shore, it was incredibly easy to chat with her about it and explain how I got it, what I was doing in Rockaway that day, and eventually, when my cover was blown, that no, I lived in the Bronx and had no idea what was near the pole in Lagan. And it was incredibly easy to smile the entire time.

A Salute to Rockaway will be up until August 1st. Drop in on the weekend and have a look (click here for more info). And don’t worry–even if you do miss the exhibit, there’s a chance there will still be enough leftover Power Cosmic for everybody!

A Salute to Rockaway

Hey, everyone. By way of a quick update, I’ve been busy hauling artwork to Far Rockaway for the Rockaway Artists Alliance’s A Salute to Rockaway exhibit. I’ve submitted six photos I was pretty proud of from my trips to Rockaway Beach and Fort Tilden. Pieces like Far Shore, Lagan, and POOPDICK. Again, that’s POOPDICK.

The reception will be on the 18th, from 12PM – 4PM. For anyone who would like to attend, here’s more information.

For anyone who would like to drop in for a more casual time while I’m there, I’ll be gallery sitting on the 25th from 2PM – 4PM.

Click here for directions, but keep the following details in mind if you’re using public transportation:

  • The Q35 doesn’t stop at Fort Tilden until it goes back to Brooklyn College / Flatbush Ave. So you’ll either have to take the Rockaway Park bound Q35, get out at the second stop after riding over the Gil Hodges Bridge, and walk West through Riis Park until you find the group of fenced in houses and fields that is Fort Tilden, or ride the 35 until the end of the line, wait for a 35 going back to Brooklyn College, and get off when it stops at Fort Tilden.
  • The last stop on the westbound Q22 is Fort Tilden. You can connect pretty easily to the Q22 from the Shuttle at Broad Channel (via the A train).
  • If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the MTA’s Queens Bus Map.
  • Once in Fort Tilden, there will be a directory pointing to “RAA Galleries” or something similar enough.
The Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA) is a non-profit arts organization "comprised of individuals who view the arts as vital to the health of our community."

Game for Writers: Metroid Prime

I know it’s been a while since my first entry in the Game for Writers series. I can only say that I’ve been busy editing and taken the delay to make sure I presented a good second entry. After much debate, I’m glad to say I finally settled on a second title that I can faithfully call a Game for Writers. And that game is…

G4W-Metroid Prime

If you haven’t played Metroid Prime, you might be saying, “Really?” If you have, you’re probably saying “REALLY!?”

In reply to both, I say, “Oh yeah. Really.”

This is for a few reasons. First off, I have to say that Metroid Prime has a story that’s interesting enough to be a driving force behind gameplay. That said, here are a few details about the game:

Factor the First: There Is No Dialog in Metroid Prime

None. Unless you count the grunts Samus makes when you get hit. PS- You don’t see your protagonist’s face either–at least not until you beat it with the right prerequisites. Otherwise, you’ll only see her when, say, you’re underwater and fire a shot at a wall in front of you; the light will reflect Samus’ face on her visor, and more likely than not, you’ll jump out of your short shorts at the bright, blue eyes suddenly filling your screen. But that’s it.

Factor the Second: The World Building Involved in Metroid Prime Is Deeper than Any World Building in Any Game I’ve Ever Seen

It’s just completely true. One of the biggest complaints about the Metroid Prime series is rooted in the creative depth of the worlds you explore. You can scan a lot (not everything, but definitely enough), and when you’re done, you’ll know pretty much everything about the fauna of Tallon IV (and a lot of the flora).

I may have forgotten to mention that you can also scan a bunch of architecture. Yeah.

I have to digress and add this to forestall argument: from playing any of the games, can you tell me anything about the critters native to Halo? I’m sure you could tell me about the Flood, but what about the animals, lacking sentience. Is there anything like a dog on the rings? What are the birds like? If you actually have an answer, did you get it from reading a Halo novel?… Okay then. Cause, I mean, I can tell you this about the bloodflower on Tallon IV:

The Bloodflower is able to eject toxic spores. Toxins are poisonous even to the Bloodflower itself. Three mouth-nodules protrude from the stalk beneath the flower, each with a rudimentary brain cluster and the ability to spew toxic fumes at anything with a five-meter radius. The spores ejected from the Stigma at the center of the flower are sufficient to kill this creature if they explode in its vicinity.

Aaanyway, moving on…

Factor the Third: All of the This Is Achieved Almost Exclusively with Epistles

That’s right. Letters; well, not exclusively letters, but written accounts. Journals, science experiment logs, memos, other forms I’m forgetting, and, most importantly, your suit’s data logs obtained when you scan just shy of the entire world.

So, how did they do this? How did the team at Retro Studios hold gamers’ interests in a dialog, flashy cinema, and explosion-heavy society without spoken word? The answer is a ton of writing. Not exclusively; the art style, graphics, and especially the environmental effects went a long way towards making everything visceral. But there’s a great deal that’s only transmitted through Retro’s extensive writing and cunning execution.

A Plot in Small Pieces

The mystery of why Space Pirates have landed on Tallon IV starts to be revealed by their field reports and experimental logs, all expertly placed to work with the game’s pacing. Retro gives us a Space Pirate log where they say something along the lines of, “We’re going to start excavating at this location.” And then, perhaps when you’re knee deep in that location, you’ll find another entry saying, “The Hunter has followed us to the site. She must know about Metroid Prime,” to which, of course, you as a gamer say, “Ohhhhhh… So they’re looking for Metroid Prime… Man. Where’s the next log?” As I said before, you wind up being extremely motivated to continue playing because of this approach, and the plot winds up being revealed in such a way that you can’t help being engaged and fascinated.

Although this was actually an easter egg, it was the best example of an in game log that I could find.

A Spoonful of Subtle Detail (aka Awesome) Makes the Mythos of Samus Aran Go Down

Going beyond that, however, the fear and reverence the Space Pirates show in their entries for “the Hunter” gives players an oddly satisfying illustration of how bad ass Samus Aran is. Coupled with details like the science log where Space Pirates document their attempts to mimic her Morph Ball ability (which allows all 7 feet of Samus to roll up into a tiny ball [PS-No, their experiments don’t go well at all]), we’re given a pretty solid idea of Samus’ lore; no one really knows how the hell she does the things she does, and for lots of people, that’s pretty scary. At the very least, the Space Pirates think so.

In the end, all they and the players know is that she has ancient armor that allows her to do amazing things, and that if she doesn’t like you, you’re pretty much screwed. Oh, also, that when she’s blowing you, your tank, or your sentient tank to pieces, she’s going to be completely quiet about it.

The Depth of Tallon IV

The scans of enemies with your visor do the rest. Just as the example above does for the bloodflower, your Scan Visor illustrates a ton of the enemies and environments you go through, layering all of it with as healthy a helping of wonder as logs and data entries do for Samus’ reputation. Yeah, sure, you’re going to be scanning a lot of enemies, but you’re also going to wind up feeling like you really are exploring an alien planet. You can scream lame from the rooftops if you want, but I stopped shooting certain creatures because they were just creatures foraging or protecting their young, not douche bag Space Pirates.

What does all of this mean for writers, however? How would playing this help you expand your repertoire? Simply put, I think it would seriously expand any sci-fi or fantasy writer’s mind. The sheer devotion to the world, the execution of the plot, the approach to a completely silent protagonist-it all makes for an extremely unique experience that gamers shouldn’t pass on and writers definitely shouldn’t miss.

6 Degrees of Bad Fantasy

Most mornings, when pretty much everyone ever is still asleep, I’m shelving in the Sci-Fi / Fantasy section at my job and listening to an audio book on my iPod. It’s a new thing for me, listening to the audio book, but it’s something I enjoy… Well, something I enjoyed until I decided it would be a good idea to finish a series I’d run out of patience with. Out of respect, I won’t name names. But I will say that listening to book six of it resulted in the following list. Directly. Enjoy. Or if you are an amateur Sci-Fi / Fantasy writer, pay attention.

1) Sass and Snarky Characters

Fantasy novels are a lot like real life in the sense that sassy, snarky characters are only fun for so long. You meet one in a tavern, let’s say, and someone says, “Gendalin [just roll with it] is the best sorcerer EVAR!”

Then Gendalin says, “Yes, I am Gendalin. I was trained in the Bog of Eternal Win by the Super Mages of Uberstan. Who are you?” they spit, because, hey, you’re shit.

And you / your character says, “I’M the strongest sorcerer to train at the Bog of Eternal Win since Uberstan himself!”

The next few pages are a battle of “wits” that’s full of snark and supposed to be cool. There’s taunting involved, posing, and always some show of skill, and in the end, both characters look like stupid children and you’re supposed to be impressed. Oh, and one of them agrees to teach the other. Or (very, very often) in the case of mercenaries, the client pays up to the sellsword who’s just threatened or outwitted them. In the end, the scene is something that’s entertaining for minors in the same way as manga. To say it in other words, you just wrote manga. Congratulations.

“I’m the best ninja EVAR!”

“No, I am!”

“Oh yeah? Here comes my new attack!”

“Oh yeah? I’ll counter it and destroy you!”

It’s like third grade all over again.

I hope you’re proud.

2) Exaggerated / Unrealistic Reactions

When someone walks into the dining hall and says that they have news, everyone in the room freezes. Literally. Everyone is that tense. They all completely freeze, the warrior with a chicken leg dangling in front of his open mouth.

Does that sound right to you? No? That’s because it’s not. Because you’re not writing a cartoon. The warrior keeps eating, perhaps becoming more withdrawn. The wizard or sorcerer runs his eyes over everyone and nods for the message to be brought to him. The young protagonist awkwardly lowers his fork and it clatters against a glass. Perhaps someone takes a sip of water. But they all just don’t freeze.

In the same way, characters don’t have what a fellow amateur writer, Robin Solis, dubbed “tea parties”:

Character A: “The giants are destroying our house!! What do we do!?”

Louis: “Well, there’s that ship right there. Ya know, maybe that’d be useful?”

Character B: “The ship! Ah ha! Let us away!”

Narrator: “And so they ran for the ship, leaving the safety of the house to hurry as fast as they could when Character A stopped them for a chat.”

Louis: “Wait-what?”

Character A: “So we’re really setting out to sea?”

Character B: “Why, yes, my boy! To sail and salt! To freedom!”

Character A: “But will the ship truly sail?”

Character B: “It may not! We may be trapped on there! But we have to try!”

Character A: “Ah… Freedom!”

Giant: “Could you pass the sugar, please?”

Character A: “Oh, yes, certainly.”

Meanwhile, in reality:

Character A: “The giants are destroying our house!! What do we do!?”

Character B: Is already halfway to the ship. Possibly already there because he’s saved absolutely every breath for panting so that lactic acid doesn’t smother his muscles.

Character A: “Oh, right.”

Narrator: And so it was that Character B saved himself while Character A took a tree trunk to the face.

3) Forced / Stupid Character Quirks

A rogue character always rolls a pair of dice in his hands. Always. The singer always hums an appropriate tune that everyone knows is appropriate, every time, in every situation. Character quirks are fun, sure, but not if they happen constantly. I do voices – it’s one of my quirks. Sometimes I slip into them without realizing it, but most often I do them to be funny. If I did them all the time, everyone would hate me. Everyone, including myself. But I don’t do that and I can’t; I wouldn’t want to and it’d be too much work to keep up. It’s the same way I can’t constantly muss my hair, and the same way the rogue can’t always roll those damn dice.

4) Songs

Some fantasy authors, man, they love their songs. So much so that I totally skip over them every time now, unless it’s an author I haven’t read. But even authors I love tend to annoy me with their songs. That’s because sometimes authors go AWOL, putting in as many five-page long songs as they can. More often, though, I skip songs because they just aren’t worth the read; they usually don’t contribute enough to the story to warrant inclusion. Sure, songs are an easy way to add mysticism and romance to your world, but that would be the easy way. The easy, tired, obvious way. And besides, hey, we’re not song writers. Let’s be honest. We’re fantasy writers, so let’s just do that instead and stop pointing to ourselves and saying, “See? I can write one too, Tolkien. Hooray for me.”

Naturally, there are exceptions. Patrick Rothfuss’ Kvothe from a family of traveling entertainers and musicians, so you’d expect music to accompany his story, and it does. And Rothfuss makes his songs genuinely heartfelt by tying them to the drama of Kvothe’s life.

But when we get to page 80 of a generic fantasy novel and our young hero sees his first monster and remembers that it’s from a song and then all of the elves in a 100 mile radius pluck up out of bushes with lutes and, in unison, say, “This song?” and start into a two page ditty, you’re officially wasting everyone’s time.

5) Living Out Your Weird, Sexual Fantasies in Your Writing

Okay… Still not naming names. Just saying… I’ve read a protagonist getting tortured by a dominatrix with a magical, pain-inducing dildo for over a hundred pages… Just don’t do it.

6) Repetition

Okay. This one just… isn’t specific to sci-fi or fantasy, but it’s so, so important. You could make the other offenses all you want as long as we don’t have to listen to them twice. Easy trade.

Now, I’m not accusing anyone of being an idiot; authors don’t commit this travesty on purpose. They often repeat themselves to keep their readers informed, but it’s a thin line between recapping and belittling or annoying your audience. The author of my current audio book is a big time offender. In one chapter he expressed a character’s thought on some of his followers, saying something roughly like, “He didn’t tell them to stop. He owed them. So many had died for him already, and so many more would before he was through.” Not a half hour later, the narrator spat just about the same phrase, perhaps a few words off but exactly the same thought. My reply was, “Yes. Dude, seriously, I got it. It’s cool.” In short, it drove me crazy, because I was, in fact, talking to an audio book.

Imagine events like that happening more though; imagine being reminded continually that this character is sassy by having her sway her hips (and always sway her hips). Or imagine the pure frustration when someone reminds you for the eighth time in 2 chapters that the dark powers from the north were growing, and hey, you can totally tell from the way this magical stone glimmers. As if you forgot. Already. After a while it’s like walking into a wall, full speed, over and over. The same wall. Also, it’s grey-completely uninteresting. Imagine how all of that makes you feel, and then make sure you don’t do it to anyone else with your writing.