Sex, violence, and stílbrot

(This is the fifth Stumbling into Publishing post.)

One flaw (out of many) that’s endemic in my writing is that I tend to introduce detail that’s either irrelevant, too early, or too late. Like describing the cut and pattern of somebody’s clothes before the cultural origin of said design becomes important or adding superfluous technical detail to a post when you only need the general idea. A lot of the time adding detail detracted and obfuscated the effect I was driving for.

This tendency of mine was exacerbated in the stories by my decision to have an objective third person narrator and not quite doing it properly.

The perspective I used in the stories was modelled after the Icelandic Sagas. All of the sagas have in common a narrator who can see almost everything that happens but cannot read minds. Or, more specifically, what is described is whatever could plausibly have been relayed by a third party witness because the sagas were pretending to be historical documents of actual events—stories about real people relayed down a couple of generations. E.g. if a murder happens in the story where there aren’t any witnesses likely to blab about it (like in Gíslasaga Súrssonar) you can’t describe the murder, nor can you say for sure who did it. When somebody dies alone you can’t describe their final moments. And clearly, you shouldn’t be able to have any scenes at all featuring a character alone unless you can be sure they told somebody about it afterwards. So, anything that can be witnessed is fair game but you can’t dip into character’s minds or be sure of their motivations.

So, it’s a saga-specific twist on the common objective third person narrator pattern.

I bent and broke this rule several times in the stories in minor ways, but in each case I figured that the character’s motives or actions would be so obvious that stylistic consistency would take care of itself. Of course, that meant the end result was closer to a quirky style of my own than intended, which was probably for the best.

A corollary of this stylistic approach is that you don’t shy away from describing what happens. If, as happens in Gíslasaga (my favourite saga), a character has to tighten his belt to keep his innards from flopping out of a belly wound, you describe that. If another character gets his head and torso split in two down to the navel, you describe that.

And that’s where my self-censorship kicked in again.

Which is a statement I know surprises a lot of those who provided feedback on the stories while I was writing them. It’s plain that if I hadn’t dialled back the violence in places some of the stories would have been intolerable to read to those who were kind enough to be beta readers.

But to assume that the problem lay in the detail of the descriptions is to mistake a symptom for the actual problem. The real issue with these stories is simply that they were much too oriented on, well, fights, which was a consequence of too faithfully following the tropes of the sword and sorcery genre. Fighting people, monsters, undead, whatever, it was all too much. Violence should be disquieting and discomfiting. Reading about violence should make you feel bad—at the very least unnerve you. And if violence takes over the story that’s because there’s too little story, not because the action is described in too much detail.

(At least, in this specific case. Different things apply to different stories and styles, I’m sure.)

I can forgive myself for that. I chose to fall into the generic sword and sorcery crap trap. Beating things into oblivion is part and parcel of that particular snake pit. It wasn’t what we call in Icelandic Stílbrot or a break in style. (Breaking style is one of bigger writing sins a writer can commit according to Icelandic literary tradition.)

Shying away from depicting sex, however, definitely was a break in style. Which embarrasses me as an Icelander because, as I said above, not committing stílbrot is one of the Icelandic literary commandments.

Thou shalt not break style.

Instead of plainly and pragmatically describing what was going on, almost every time something sex-related happened I chose to, in filmic terms, fade to black or pan away as if I were a 1950s prude trying to adhere to the Hays Code. Or, which is worse, when the story would have benefited from it, I often avoided it completely.

The stories definitely suffered because of this omission. A sex scene between Cadence and her husband in the first story would have told the reader so much about how they managed to navigate their admittedly now loveless relationship with at least some care and emotional investment. It would have given their relationship an added dimension, made them less like caricatures, and transformed their fate into a proper tragedy. They had been in love once.

A sex scene between Cutter and Parell in the fourth story would have provided a much needed contrast to the violence and highlighted how unfair Cera’s situation was.

The sex doesn’t have to be pornographic for it to work. The love life is an important dimension to a love affair or a relationship and omitting it completely flattens the relationship’s depiction.

Say you have two characters whose marriage is one of convenience. You present them as almost strangers, a certain distance in their every conversation—their coexistence nothing more than a necessary formality. But if you manage to add a sex scene between them where they engage with each other as peers—a scene that is full of compassion, tenderness, and negotiation—that changes how people see their relationship. They are clearly not in love. They may not even be friends. That still doesn’t mean they don’t share something flavoured with arousal and tender feelings.

Or, to be even more crass, you can have a couple who are loving and affectionate in all other scenes but where the sex scene is one-sided and almost brutal where one partner dominates the other, that changes how readers see their relationship in ways that you can’t with any other kind of scene.

A sex scene lets you add a series of sensations and an emotional dimension to the relationship that you couldn’t have otherwise depicted.

I gained nothing by omitting sex—prudes are never going to be reading sword and sorcery stories nor are they likely to enjoy anything I write, not even the blog posts—but by avoiding sex I diminished the stories’ capacity for emotion and sensation.

Which were two things the stories could have done with a lot more of.

The last two Knights and Necromancers stories

(This is the first Stumbling into Publishing post.)

A while back I started an experiment where I self-published a series of sword and sorcery novellas.

I’m ready to declare the experiment a failure for a variety of reasons.

The biggest reason isn’t that I didn’t get any readers (although they were very few and far between) but that I’m dissatisfied with the product. When I started I had what I thought were six decent novellas. But, the more I’ve looked at them the more obvious their major flaws and deficiencies become.

My plan for 2014 is to spend the year rewriting the novellas as a single story, fix everything about the setting, characterisation, and plot that isn’t working for me (which is a lot), and then figure out what to do with it once that’s done.

But, for those few of you who have been following the series, below are the final two stories in the series as originally planned, in EPUB and in MOBI.

I’ll be taking down the first four ebooks from sale and the web over the next couple of weeks. And I’m also going to write a few blog posts discussing why I consider the experiment a failure, all the things I did wrong, and all that went wrong.

  • Knights and Necromancers 5: EPUB or MOBI
  • Knights and Necromancers 6: EPUB or MOBI

A question only you can answer

Knights and Necromancers three and four are finally out on Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes, Below is a full list of links to where you can find them. But first…

I have a question only you can answer. Which isn’t saying much, since every question I can’t answer is one only you can answer, ‘you’ being the quintessential ‘not me’.

The question is this:

What reviewers do you think might be interested in reviewing the Knights and Necromancers series?

Continue reading

Knights and Necromancers: new books and megapacks!

Knights and Necromancers three and four are ready to be released but you can get them a bit earlier than the rest.

The third and fourth book in the series have both been submitted to Kobo, Apple, and Amazon for their pre-publication vetting process (which, frankly, can take days).

But you can get them sooner, if you really really want. 🙂

Continue reading

Knights and Necromancers 2 has been released

My second ebook, Knights and Necromancers 2: Loot, kill, obey, is available now from Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo.

From the Knights and Necromancers 2 page on the Heartpunk website:

The wreckers have their shipwreck and their loot. Their next step is to get rid of the witnesses.

Grace and Cera’s only hope is to make it to safety in Galti; a small fishing village ignored and forgotten by the outside world. With them are the remaining survivors of the shipwreck: two sisters who have just seen their entire lives sink down into the ocean and the destroyed ship’s first mate.

Unfortunately for Grace, Cera, Hale, Kally, and Derek, the wreckers aren’t the only thing following them to Galti.

Knights and Necromancers 2

Knights and Necromancers 2: Loot, kill, obey

The adventures of Grace and Cera continue and feature, in no particular order:

  • A giant two-headed eagle.
  • A Necromancer.
  • Warrior Sorcerers.
  • Wreckers and mercenaries.
  • Zombies.
  • Dainty aristocratic ladies with crossbows.
  • Sociopathic talking ravens.
  • A buff martial artist who fights with flaming fists.
  • And an occasional moment of deserved and well-earned angst.

While Loot, kill obey is the second story starring Grace and Cera it is my hope that it should work as a standalone read. While there are plenty of details from the first story that add to this one, very few of them are necessary for enjoying the yarn.

It is available from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, iBooks, and Kobo.

I’ve also decided to offer the entire thing up for free on the web, at least for now. It’s an experiment. I haven’t made my mind up about it or whether to leave it up as an ongoing thing, so any and all feedback is appreciated.


If you haven’t read Knights and Necromancers 1: Days of wild obedience then that’s still available for free (or for $0.99 on Amazon.com). Help yourself to a copy on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, iBooks, Kobo, or direct from the Heartpunk website.

Or, you can try the free online web reader.

The first story has only had one review so far (and a pretty good one at that).

Guy Gonzalez said this here kind thing about Knights and Necromancers 1:

Days of Wild Obedience works not only as a compelling gateway into an intriguing new world, it holds its own as a standalone novella, too. That said, I’m ready to jump into the next tale in the series, and I’m already imagining the RPG and movie! Definitely recommended.


Which reminds me:

I would really, really, grateful it if those who have read Knights and Necromancers 1 wrote about what they thought of the story. It doesn’t have to be a review (although that’d be nice) and it doesn’t have to be positive (although that’d be nice as well). It’d make a huge difference if you could because working in a vacuum is worse than even getting negative feedback.

And don’t worry about hurting my feelings. There’s no way that you could come up with a more detailed critique than my mother did. (There’s a reason why me and my sister have a high tolerance for having our work criticised.)

Anyway. Download. Read. Enjoy. And then tell me what you think (if it’s not too much trouble :-))