Wells, Martha: Witch King (2023)

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=Tamar

Lieutenant
May 20, 2012
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#1
Wells, Martha: Witch King (2023)

Four stars? There is gore. One character is warned that if you swear in
the enemy's language, you are infected by their worldview.
It's close to 400 pages and I binged it.
Admittedly, I didn't try to work out the more subtle nuances. There was
a lot going on. The action is occasionally interrupted by the need to explain
a complex social system. There are witches, demons, sorcerers, and other
types of magic users, and an accidental empire. The main character is a
demon, who is occasionally dead.
There is parallel action, and I think one of the threads is in memory but
it's written as current action, because in memory there is no time - you are there.
It may be easier to understand the action if you read every other chapter,
and then go back and read the intervening ones.
I intend to try that for the reread.
(I contend that if you haven't read the book twice, you haven't really read the book.)
(This one might take three times.)
 

RathDarkblade

Moderator
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Mar 24, 2015
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#2
Um, what...? The action is sometimes interrupted by the need to explain a complex social system? :-\

Sorry, what action are we talking about: the heroes walking somewhere, or running, or fighting etc.? A running-away scene, or a battle scene, is not the time to start talking about social issues! ;)

If the action is (say) a dinner scene, then it's also the wrong time. People don't suddenly stop in the middle of dinner to discuss social issues. This sounds to me like an "As You Know, George" moment - it's on the nose.

Granted, I'm not sure what you mean. Maybe I'm completely wrong. Can you please give an example of this?
 

=Tamar

Lieutenant
May 20, 2012
11,840
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#3
i apologize for being unclear.

There are standard action scenes - battles, sneaking past guards, etc.

Then there are descriptive action scenes, such as sneaking past guards but having to be alert to possibly-enchanted tapestries sending reports of where you are, but the topic of the tapestry includes information about background that may be significant in the plot... so you get bits of exposition and history, ramping up the tension while you wonder when the next attack will come.

Then there are people waking up from a four-month coma/enchantment and having to find out what happened while people weren't sure whether they would wake or remember anything if they did wake.

It's a complicated book. I tend to treat such books as I do most complex things - go through rapidly to find out what happens, then re-read to understand what happens.
 

RathDarkblade

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Mar 24, 2015
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#4
Hmm. I hope the author knows how to deliver such information, then? *hopeful* Here's what I mean:

1. Wrong. You're sneaking past the guards but alert to possibly-enchanted tapestries. Cue the White-Bearded Wizard (or the Wily Ranger, or whoever) to give a long-winded explanation that lasts for several sentences.

I've seen it taken into several paragraphs, even. Nope. It's getting to be an infodump. :(

2. Right. This needs to be done carefully. Maybe one sentence at a time. The main focus should be getting past the guards. Once you're in a safe spot, a fuller (but still brief) explanation can follow.

Yes, Tolkien got away with a lot more than this. But you're not Tolkien, and fantasy literature has changed since his day. :) So, I hope Martha picked option #2.
=========
As for people waking from a coma/enchantment etc. and having to find things out ... again, I hope the explanation doesn't hold up the action too much. The people explaining can react to the person waking up, calm them, set the stage (e.g. if it's bad news, say "Many things have happened, and they may not be easy for you to hear"). But the reader doesn't want to read a summary of the last 50/100/whatever pages, obviously. :) So, I hope that doesn't happen! :)
 

=Tamar

Lieutenant
May 20, 2012
11,840
2,900
#5
It depends on the reader. Wells does what I consider to be an acceptable job of giving information, but it might not suit your requirements.
{The four months wasn't a repetition. Since we are experiencing the book from this one point of view, we didn't see that action and needed to be told.)

Also, sometimes the way a particular character summarizes information can tell you a lot, and more if the listener is suspicious enough to catch the blank spaces. It can be part of the character development.

I think I have a fairly high tolerance for info dumps, but I am also both a fast reader and an experienced reader of fantasy, so when I see an infodump coming, I can scan it quickly, mentally label it, and move on. Note that I consider most fight scenes to be infodumps if they get too detailed - my idea of "find out what happened" does not include visualizing every sword slash and backflip. I appreciate the work the author put into the fight scenes when I reread them, but it's not my primary interest, which (I just realized) is character interaction--a good fight scene will involve the characters learning something about each other or the magic system or something.

So I might label sequences "politics", "obligatory fight scene", "hardships of travel" etc, much as some have labeled parts of Tolkien "lots more walking", while others acclaim how JRRT showed the reality of travel in a fantasy world, or discuss the fine points of world-building and whether we needed to be told who farmed and transported the food that fed the armies.
 

RathDarkblade

Moderator
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Mar 24, 2015
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#6
Fair enough. It also depends on the genre (I should've said that; sorry).

I was basing my comments on the genre I'm writing in, which is historical fiction. My critique partner often told me to leave out the infodumps, or limit them, or parcel them out in bits. (The concern is either losing the reader's interest, or me getting away from the point of the scene, which is what the protagonist wants to do). ;) In fantasy, infodumps are (perhaps?) more acceptable.

I also agree about fight scenes. They are complicated things, especially if they include more than a one-on-one fight. Not every stab, slash and block needs to be written down. Far more important is what your hero/heroine/whatever thinks and feels (if you're writing from his/her POV), or what the battle means in a broader sense (if you're writing a "camera" POV).

JRRT achieved an extraordinary level of detail for Middle-Earth, but then he'd been honing it for decades. He also had the luxury of time and expertise on his side. I'm especially impressed with his creation of separate languages (e.g. Quenya, Khuzdul, Dark Speech etc.)
 

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