Friday, June 1, 2012

Not All Who Wander Are Writers...

Not sure why I pick Friday nights to update my bloggy blog... I mean, that's probably the least likely time for people to actually read the thing, especially transitioning into a late spring/early summer weekend. Yeah, I'm probably the only person indoors and at home tonight. Go on, people! Get out there and live it up, for me!

Ah, the melodious (or is it "malodorous"?) sound of the Wagner Women arguing in the other room! Ahh, such a happy home! Well, I suppose it beats the sound of them all sitting on the couch blasting Real Housewives of Topeka or some such...

So I've been contemplating the idea of inspiration vs outright copying lately. What started it was an article I read on Cracked about famous musicians and the obscure songs/bands they plagiarized when writing some of their big hits (there is a second similar article, equally interesting). They play the offending sections of both the original and the stolen songs, and let you decide. Some of the cases actually went to court. Madonna seems to be a big offender.

Anyways, it made me think, since some of the examples seem to be a bit of a stretch, as far as the plagiarism accusation. When I was in my song-writing phase back when I learned to play the guitar, I wrote about 30 or so songs. I would normally find a chord combination I liked, then hum where the lyrics would go, and finally find lyrics (usually just straight scripture) and presto! A song! Anyway, one of the songs I wrote I realized well after it was "in the can", that it reminded me strongly of a popular song I heard in my childhood. Completely unintentional. I just liked the chords, and there seemed to be a pleasant path for lyrics, and I fit scripture to it and moved on. I didn't consciously copy the other song. But if you played them both, it was fairly obvious.

My point being, perhaps in a lot of these cases, it truly was unintentional. I recall watching a documentary on The Beatles, where Paul McCartney talked about the writing of the song Yesterday. He said he dreamed the song, and woke up, straight-way going to the piano and playing it and humming along. He was taken by it, but apparently thought he must have known the song from somewhere. So he played it for several people (no words, just humming along where the lyrics would go), and asking "Where is this song from? Do you recognize it from anywhere?" Well, no one knew the song, so he wrote words for it, and it became one of their classics.

There's no punchline - as far as I know, it truly is a McCartney original. But what if it turned out that it had actually been the music for an old Broadway tune or some such, that he heard in his youth and buried away in the dusty reaches of his mental attic? Would that count as plagiarism?

Turning this a bit more personal, I have a character in the fantasy novel that I'm writing, and she has a very special ability, which is sort of key to her character. I have plans for how I want to use her and her gift to affect the story. I'm hardly the most well-read person, but I can honestly say I'd never seen or read about this particular gift anywhere, so I felt comfortable pursuing it. Well, last night I was reading a free sample of a novel by Orson Scott Card called Pathfinder, and the main character has this same gift. So, how can I now write this character without being accused of "stealing" the idea from Card? Again, it is a rather unique trait, not some widespread trope that you see everywhere. I've never seen it before, and sort of enjoyed the idea of exploring it.

So, I'll likely just move forward as planned and write the character... but comparisons would be obvious to those in the know, and obviously, OS Card's book is already out there. Granted, from what I saw of the book sample, he seems to be moving in a different direction with the gift than I want to go in my story. Still, it bugs me. Any fellow writers out there with any advice for a newbie novelist like me?

Speaking of reading, I've hit a string of really good stuff lately. The first book I read (as mentioned in the previous post), was called Jaunten, by an authoress named Honor Raconteur. The "really good stuff" in this case were concepts. The writing itself is sophomoric, as befits a YA title (I suppose). It was tedious and shallow, bordering on insipid, but there were some cool ideas in play, that were basically undeveloped by the time I gave up on the book. I almost summoned the resolve to finish it, getting about 90% through it before jumping ship. That's why I don't feel comfortable doing a full review (though I did write some thoughts over on Amazon).

The idea of the Jaunten was cool, which is this idea that these people (the Jaunten) inherit all the accumulated knowledge of their ancestry. It is passed through the bloodline, so a child is born with it. Not the memories, just the knowledge. Anyway, it was a cool concept, almost completely ignored, except for the times when a random person would ask the main character (all bug-eyed in awe) if he really was a Jaunten. Wow, amazing! Well, we never saw it employed for anything other than him being able to navigate an unknown city by drawing on the inherited knowledge. Also, the MC is an Earth Mage, and while this is explored far more, it is done so in a very sappy, simplistic manner. Anyway, too basic and trope-filled for my tastes. Still, I gave it a thorough shot to grab me. It failed.

Speaking of cool ideas, check out this brief excerpt from Osric's Wand by JD Albrecht & A. Delay...

The scene brought back memories of his parents, who had both been killed when he was fifteen by a lion hunting to feed his family. They had been traveling to Lothaine, the small town just a day's walk from Stanton where Osric's parents were raised. Once a year they had traveled back to Lothaine Temple to give thanks to Archana for their blessings, and confer an offering of gold to the Temple Attendants. 
That year, they had left Osric behind in Stanton, and prey had been scarce on the grasslands. Osric had been in the training arena, sparring with Kenneth. They were practicing DuJok, a form of unarmed combat that all Vigiles had to be proficient in, when the lion had come to thank him for the sacrifice that fed his hungry family. He had brought Osric his father's short sword and returned the gold that they had planned to leave in tribute at the temple. It had been a considerate gesture, maybe, but a devastating moment for a young Vigile recruit. Osric acknowledged the lion's gratitude stoically, while inside he wailed with the agony of being left alone to face the world. His parents would never see him achieve his goal of becoming a Vigile, or be there to guide him when he had children of his own. Osric was glad he had been training in DuJok, for if he had been armed he may have given into the temptation to avenge his parents, rather than afford the lion the respect of a grateful hunter.

Interesting, eh? In this world, many of the animals are personified (I picture this lion walking up to Osric like Aslan). In one scene, a squirrel is staggering along, drinking a thimble of ale, and complaining to Osric when he accidentally stepped on its tail, lol. Just getting into the book now, I'll let you know if it's any good.

Although I've run into examples of eye-rolling character description, in this book especially. Check this out...

He swept his sandy hair back from his jade green eyes...

Lol, O brother. Also described are his "broad shoulders" and his "lean muscular build". Sorry, I find that type of character description almost offensive in its ham-fisted corniness. It's probably the main reason I have such a hard time describing my characters, when I'm writing. I remember a year or two ago, when I was going to weekly writer's group meetings, after several months, one of the other writers said, "I really enjoy your story, but I still have no idea what any of your characters look like!" I'd never described them, and I guess I never realized it. I don't want to describe someone's "lithe form", their "smoky eyes" or "jet-black hair".... or strawberry-blonde curls, or piercing blue eyes, or chiseled cheekbones... even when I try to be subtle in the description, it still always sounds like that to me. Any fellow writers out there with any advice for a newbie novelist like me?

And now, Nicolas Cage gives an acting clinic, without saying a word!!!!1!

Man, that's almost as hard to watch as the Horatio compilation from a few posts ago.

In related Cage News, I found an awesome blog whose sole purpose is to make little animated GIFs of Nicolas Cage.

The site is called Gifolas Cage, and I warn you before you go there... you just might spend a loooong time browsing page after page of these things...

I have one more book excerpt for you, while I'm on this tack. It's from a book called Triumff, by Dan Abnett, and reading the sample chapters was a real joy. It's an alternate-reality tale set in Old England. Very funny. I'll be adding this title to my library, for certain. But here's a fun little taste...

The Duke of Salisbury hawked in a rasping noseful of air, coughed, and spat out what appeared to be an entire bed of shucked oysters into the nearby scrub. "Let's be off!" he bellowed to all present, and flourished his cry with a fanfare of expelled wind that trained men with bugles would have been sore pressed to mimic. The bowhounds set to yapping excitedly.

LOL, sorry, maybe out of context, it lacks the full potency. But when I read it today, I thought of you all! "I need to share this!" See? See how much I love you?

Speaking of expelled wind + dogs, here's the latest video from the Great Ed Bassmaster...

I'm quite surprised that Ed's never got his butt kicked...

OK, I think I broke the record for rambling posts tonight. I think I'll pull the plug and wander off into the sunset.

Have a great weekend.

Dave the Odd


Rory L. Aronsky said...

Any fellow writers out there with any advice for a newbie novelist like me?

Don't worry about Orson Scott Card. Just write it and see how it turns out. If every novelist worried about such things, there wouldn't be novels.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Incidentally, I bought Ender's Game from Target last night. Haven't started it yet, but it'll be my first time reading it.

Anonymous said...

From the standpoint of a reader and not a writer, if you include something "real" or "human" in the descriptive, including the "jade green" eyes, it's much more palatable to read. If the hero had "jade green eyes canopied by only one eyebrow, the other burned off during a house fire as a child." I know, hilarious, but the idea is he's human.