Friday, March 8, 2013

Pet Peeves in Urban Fantasy

'Fat Nasty Cat being fat and nasty' photo (c) 2009, Steve Hardy - license:

Have you ever imagined what super power you would like to have? I can never decide but generally settle on invisibility. Or used to any more - these days I think I’d swap it for the ability to send a psychic alert to authors “Stop! Don’t do it!” or to teleport behind them mid typing and just yell “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Now some are for obvious reasons - we’ve written post after post on the various isms, prejudices and stereotypes that are rife through the genre - but sometimes it’s for more mundane reasons, some writing habits we see time and again that make us roll our eyes so much we get friction burns

It’s book 6 in the series and a lot has happened in the last 5 books. And the author wishes to tell us, at length.

No! Stop!

Ok, I know some reminders are helpful - after all it could have been 6 months or more since the reader read the last books. It could even have been years for SOME authors (naming no names, you know who you are, don’t make us fanpoodle you), so some reminders are helpful. But trying to cram the entire last book into a convoluted summary or info-dump - let alone the last 4 or 5 books - doesn’t work. It slows the book down, breaks suspension of disbelief and looks like padding. The later we get into the series, the more horrendous this can be and when your series gets into the double digits and you’re trying to cram 10 books of plot and character development into one convoluted internal monologue and it really really doesn’t work.

At some point, you’ve got to trust the reader to have read the many many previous books and if they haven’t, tough, they should have.

Let the Story End!
Publishing is a business and so today you will rarely find authors who write stand alone books in this genre. Most try to release at a minimum one book year. As long as they have something to say and are still interested in their own story this is fine. There comes a time however no matter how great the writer, when it’s time to let the series end. What’s in the best interest of the series and what’s in the best interest of the authors pocketbook are two different things. This leads us to the series that never ends. It just goes on making less and less sense with each book, as readers pray for some sort of relief.

Then there are the authors who start out with one really good idea and then beat it death by telling the same story for six or seven books. They change one or two details but really, it’s the same shite.  Another trick is the author who has two series, but uses the same characters and simply changes the names.  

I would write the eulogies myself if they would just give it up already.

The Big Reveal... in the Prologue
The book begins, and characters move together to talk about the Special Protagonist who is Destined to do Special Things with their Specialness, all described in special detail. Perhaps they’re describing a constantly repeating cycle and what is needed to break it. Perhaps they’re describing a prophecy. Perhaps they’re villains describing their enemy and how they intend to get her despite her Special Powers (that she does not know about).

Whatever the vehicle, they have one thing in common - they’ve just spoilt the entire book. We then move beyond the prologue and start a story with a Special Protagonist and their journey to find out why they are so special and who these odd people around them are... but we already know. The book already told us WHY she’s special, the book already told us who these people around her are. While the protagonist is flailing around in confusion trying to figure out why all these odd things are happening, we, the reader, already know and are dragged along waiting for them to finally get it. It’s like reading a murder mystery with the murderer starting the book with a long monologue about who he’s killed, who he intends to kill, why he did it and why his alibi is a lie; then spending the rest of the book watching Hercule Poirot slowly figure out the answers you already have.

Related, if your story requires a great big mystery or a massive, terrible secret to hold then it would help if said mystery were not blatantly obvious to everyone with sufficient brain power to actually breathe.

Shoddy World Building
Google exists, wikipedia exists, please use them. Please please. In fact, let me help:
Now, I’m not for a second saying that these sources are the be all and end all of research, but they’re at least a start - not doing so gives us lots of moments of unintentional comedy, but can break a story.

If you’re going to use deities from mythology, at least have an idea what was in their remit. Or get their names right - if you’re going to dig up the relatively more obscure Roman names for the Fates and use “Roman gods” throughout, why then cut to Greek?

If you’re going to set your story in a city you know little about, consult a road map. Or don’t be detailed in your description of the location and traveling - don’t have your characters driving into lakes or turning right into the town hall. And while resisting using street names, please refrain from using accents if you clearly don’t know what they actually sound like. Especially if you’re going to use “authentic” local slang that makes your characters 20 years out of date.

If even this is too taxing, there are some basics where, if you can’t get them right, you really should avoid the location. Paris is not on the coast. London does not have wolf and bear haunted forests in the city center. There are mistakes and there is pure comedy

Plot Holes
Even more than your research, your world really needs to be internally consistent. There is nothing more frustrating than an author playing fast and loose with their own canon. If a portal is only large enough to fit an envelope through, Sookie really shouldn’t be using it for body disposal afterwards. You can’t establish a threat as super dangerous and powerful, then next book have it dismissed and easily overcome. You can’t give a character super powers that you later take off them (or they forget all about) when it becomes convenient to do so.

The Name Catherine/Kat/Kate
Your mileage may vary here, but I’m so very sick of Catherine. Or Kate. Or Kat. Or Caitlin. Or any other variation of the name.

Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress Series, the Vampire Diaries, Beauty and the Beast, Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels, E.S. Moore’s Kat Richardson, Morgan Rice’s Vampire Journal, Lynsay Sand’s Single White Vampire, DB Reynold’s Vampires in America, Justin Gustainis’s Black Magic Woman. And so many many more. Catherines are everywhere, a vampire can’t throw a rock in these books without hitting 2 Catherines (and probably bouncing off an Elena, Claire, Cassandra or Joanne/a on the way)

Really daft names
Vexing though the Catherine herds are, at least they’re vaguely sensible. Alas, some authors can’t resist getting a high score in scrabble - or possibly grabbing a handfull of fridge magnets and throwing them at the fridge

We have a Sarafina in Anya Bast’s series. But I think even that is eclipsed by calling our character Chalice. Chalice. Her sisters Mug and Teacup say hi, but she hasn’t seen her brother Tankard for a while (dear authors, please don’t. Please). And who can for get the ridiculous Jayn√© and her urge to instruct everyone on it’s pronunciation? Arionna looks like it came close to being a sensible name but then had a vowel exchanged and there’s just no excuse at all for Chrysabelle.

Then there are names that practically scream “oh so special Mary Sue!” Tempest, Eden. You know when your protagonist is called Eden, there really is no hope.