The short of Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword: I liked it. Though I have to say I'm split.
But, first, a brief summary:
Lady Katherine Talbert goes to live with her Uncle, the Mad Duke, who has it in for Katherine's mother (the Duke's sister) and vows to leave her alone should she commit her daughter to living with him for six months. In that time, the Mad Duke completely changes her perspective on life and her place in it, having her trained as a swords(wo)man. Once she has mastered the sword, she can no longer go back to the life she would have otherwise led. It's as much a coming-of-age story as it is about the sordid politics the Mad Duke has immersed himself in. In the end, it's up to Katherine, with her Uncle's help, to save the day.
Now, on to my analysis...
On one hand, it's written exceptionally well. The writing flows naturally, the prose are very concise, never once does she launch into pages and pages of backstory or what I term 'excessive exposition', which is when a writer goes overboard dealing with a character's internal emotions or conflict. She keeps the story moving along from page-to-page, never really slowing with the exception of a page here and there where she gets a little too much into the intricacies of the lives of the young female aristocrats and their oh-so-harried social lives. The book was a delight to read, especially from the perspective of trying to learn, learn, learn everything I can so I can hopefully someday find success of my own with my own writing. Chalk this one up as a great learning experience.
On the other hand, there's not enough story there for my tastes. Kushner throws in a few smaller plotlines, one of which ties into Katherine's expertise with the sword, but the main plot didn't give me enough to sink my teeth into. I understand there are two other books which came out before The Privilege of the Sword (Swordspoint, The Fall of The Kings), but neither is necessary to understand this one (I haven't read either). So, what we have is Katherine learning the sword, her using her expertise to avenge a friend's honor, and the Duke playing a sort of chess game against one of his main rivals in the city. I'm afraid even that might be pushing it as the third point only comes into play towards the end.
In summary, The Privilege of the Sword is very well written but just didn't give me enough to truly enjoy it.
It's Monday, so time for a writing progress update. As I indicated in my first writing progress update, I'm putting these out each week to hold myself accountable for editing progress on my current novel-in-progress.
Here's the chart of where I've been since I started these updates as well as where I'm at currently:
Current total page count dropped 2 pages from last week to 417 pages. I've edited 297 pages, up from 279 the previous week. That gets me to a completion percentage of 71.22% compared with last week's 66.59%. Can you tell I'm an engineer yet?
Bottom line is I think I'm making good progress. Not as well as I would like, but it's a constant battle against distraction, how much time to spend on blog posts, and actually having a little down-time every once in a while.
I think I see light at the end of the tunnel, at least on this first pass edit. More progress next week.
A multi-part series where I address the question, When to stop reading?
So far in this series I've looked at various rules and quantifiable methods one can use to determine when it's time to give up on a book. I applied the 99 Page Test to my own novel. Finally, and most recently, I looked at when to give up on a short story. This time I'm going to break away from the printed word and take a look at audiobooks.
Audiobooks are not without their controversy. The debate of audio vs print is older than the digital age (think cassette or even 8-track tapes). Yet we often hear about how people are reading less and less and how the digital era spells the doom of the printed book, so maybe audiobooks through their inherent convenience might become a lifeline for some people who might otherwise never experience great literature again. Nevertheless, audiobooks are not so different from their printed counterparts when it comes to the question of sticking with it or stopping.
So, at what point do you quit listening to an audiobook? What are the rules (other than just your gut feeling, of course)? Tests like the Page 99 Test aren't going to work for obvious reasons. Neither is the Rule of 50 or the similar 100 Page Rule going to cut it. The 33% Rule, perhaps. You just need to count the number of discs (or tapes) or look at the total running time and divide by 3. If you hit that threshold and the audiobook ain't doing it for you, time to hit 'eject' or 'stop' or even 'delete' if you're that disgusted with it.
To answer the question, I'm going to do something different. I'm going to turn it around and instead ask what keeps you listening to an audiobook.
First and foremost, it's the narrator. The "right" narrator should satisfy the following criteria (as determined by Darren Barefoot):
- They have distinctive voices.
- They care about pronunciation.
- They understand cadence, and adjust the pacing of their reading to reflect the story’s inertia.
- If they do voice work, they do it well.
- […] they sound like they care about and are invested in the work.
I couldn't agree more. The very first audiobook I ever listened to was Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, narrated by Lenny Henry. Henry did an excellent job. The best thing about his narration was his use of voices. When reading dialog, there was no question as to which character was speaking. Not only that, but the voice which Henry chose to use for each character is in itself a storytelling device because each illuminated my perception of that character. It's something you just don't get when reading a story yourself.
Yet this can have the opposite effect, too. I recently listened to Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, narrated by Sandra Burr. This one almost lost me when she started in with the raspy voice of the draconians. It sounded forced and I found it borderline annoying. Fortunately it was a small part in the beginning, and since I'd bought the audiobook from Half-Priced Books I only had a few dollars invested. I kept listening and (quite to my surprise b/c I loathe Weis and Hickman's writing style) I enjoyed the story.
There's also the quality of the recording. Though I have yet to listen to an audiobook that did not have "professional" level quality, with more and more amateurs recording their own audiobooks and making them available as quick downloads this may play a bigger role moving forward.
Of course, there are the usual factors, too: the quality of the storytelling (as written by the author), the choice of dialog, the characters, setting. These will always be amongst the best qualities of great storytelling regardless of the medium.
With that, I'm curious what others think. What qualities keep you listening to an audiobook? Or do you not listen at all?
As promised, I'm going to report my writing progress each and every Monday.
Last week, my current novel-in-progress stood at 421 pages or 125,037 words. Also, I was editing page 261.
As of today, I'm at 419 pages and 124,227 words. Currently I'm editing page 279. Here's that in graphical format:
I'm currently mired in a first pass, which means I'm paying attention to flow, grammatical mistakes, and general sentence revisions. Basically anything that's out of place or inconsistent gets whacked or fixed. I'm leaving behind "markers" in places where I know I need to go back and add more or new content. I do that simply so I can focus on getting to the end of this first pass. Subsequent passes are inevitable, but I want to be able to look at the "big picture" and not waste time refining details just yet. Who knows if this or that detail will actually make the final cut; I don't want to spend time working something that's just going to get tossed. So, just like pushing onward with trying to complete the novel is important, so is pushing forward with the completion of each revision.
Now, as far as progress goes, I'm 18 pages closer to the end (279 – 261 = 18 pages). I suspect the total page count will continue to decline; my goal is to get it down under 120,000 words. It's tough determining what stays and what goes, but it has to be done. Total word count is an important factor for new writers. It's a topic I've been meaning to address with a separate blog post.
That's it for this past week's progress. Next report in a week.
A lot of writers blog about their writing progress. I used to do this on my previous blog; going back over those posts I can't but feel a little bored. Yeah, bored. I can only wonder how others felt. Many times I spoke in the abstract, not wanting or really being able to reveal meaningful details about specific characters or certain plot points.
However, with regard to regular writing progress updates, I'm going to (re-)start doing just that each Monday, starting today.
I'll tell you why:
- Because it allows me to gauge my own progress from week-to-week.
- More importantly, it provides me a sort of accountability.
The first I could just as easily do in a spreadsheet that I keep to myself, so it's really #2 which makes this exercise meaningful. If I edit through several chapters or write new material to the tune of a few thousand words, then I'm going to report it and probably feel good about it. On the other hand, if I get lazy, stuck, or otherwise derailed by one of life's curve balls or some other commitment, then I'm also going to report my lack of progress and probably feel a little downtrodden. I'm hoping that, in the latter case, I get motivated to make a good report the following week. I'll report figures in both page and word count, because both are important.
So, without further ado, here's where I'm at right now:
I'm going through a first-pass edit on my fantasy novel, The Five Elements. It's a total of 421 pages or 125,037 words. I'm currently editing page 261. My initial goal with this first pass is to instill consistency and flow. I've left behind a couple of "markers"—places I know I need to flesh out a scene or add something new. Oftentimes as I'm writing new plot points hit me; sometimes I add them immediately, other times I throw in a marker. For now, I've gone with the latter approach so I can complete the first pass without interruption. After that, it's on to completing those markers and a second pass at editing.
I'll report next Monday on how far I've gotten.