Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Breaking Rules

It has often seemed to me that no matter how firm a rule I make about something there will always come a time when I feel I just have to break it.

One of my firmest rules is not to respond to reviews at all no matter what. BUT... when someone says something like this "I'm not sure that Mr Northern has the life or writing experience necessary to handle relationships between genders..." I think that crosses a line.

Took me a good long while to gather a moderate response. My instinctive reaction had far too many profanities in it. But something like a month later it was still niggling in the back of my mind and the only way to lay something like that to rest is respond. You know, freedom of speech and all that.

To be fair here, I'm going to reproduce the review in full. No problem with most of it; I know that in order to go where I want the story to go there have to be some areas that even in the writing I knew would turn off some readers.

2.0 out of 5 stars Enough with the politico-economic babble, February 22, 2012
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This review is from: The Key To The Grave (#2 The Price Of Freedom) (Kindle Edition)
I think Mr Northern has done a good job of creating some wonderful characters - Sumto (the main protagonist), Jocasta (a great female character), Sapphire (a superbly trained spy/assassin). The world they are placed in is also interesting. However Mr Northern way over does the description of the political and economic beliefs that underpin the main geographic power in his world. I will not be continuing the journey to be preached at in that way. While I have much sympathy for the views expressed I'd much prefer to read Hayek or if I want libertarian preachy with great character and plot I'll go for Rand.

Apart from the preachiness the other thing that niggled at me was the waste of the characters particularly the lead female. I'm not sure that Mr Northern has the life or writing experience necessary to handle relationships between genders and perhaps this is why a really spunky female who has taught herself sorcery and the puts at risk all her status in society to races off to try and help Sumto. Sumto is supposed to be smart but all we get is this caveman like need to protect - reacting like a typical male of his society when in fact he is a rebel! The second book seems like Jocasta as a victim, Sumto as the damned but with good company on the road to hell.

Book One engaged me. By the end of Book Two I'd got sick of the Mr Northern's narration - although I am still interested in the characters. I'm just not prepared to wade through his writing to see what happens to them. I think I will make it up myself. Sumto will grow, create an empire in the tribe lands, partner with Jocasta and have Sapphire and Meran to help raise the kids.

End of Review

Breaking Rules

Now, I know and knew when writing that books II and III could be taken to be a bit preachy and that can be taken as a valid criticism. When you take a culture and the impact of the culture on the thinking of an individual and use that culture as though it were almost a Character in it's own right to impact the story.... well, there are going to be consequences. One of them is an appearance of preachiness as the Character of the city intrudes itself into... well, pretty much everything one way or another. No one can engage the Character of the culture of the city in conversation to resolve this, so it intrudes to a greater or lesser degree as the series progresses. Good idea? Bad idea? Only time will tell. I know I will lose some readers along the way. It happens to everyone.

I love to break rules. For example, also in book II, I have Sumto standing in front of a mirror looking at himself - a clear cheat used as an excuse to describe a first person character; the rule is "don't do it" and I break the rule because I can. Sumto doesn't describe himself as such, just what a mess he looks. In the same book, starting round about there, I have Sumto talk and think about the same sequence of events no less than three times (possibly four, I forget). That sequence was already known to everyone. Talk about breaking rules.... but I thought I could get away with being repetitive in that specific instance.

One or two things Gwydion says strike to the heart of the story. Here is just one of them.

"The second book seems like Jocasta as a victim, Sumto as the damned but with good company on the road to hell." Who is the victim? Of what exactly?

And Also to be fair; here is how I eventually responded to Gwydion's review.

You say: "I'm not sure that Mr Northern has the life or writing experience necessary to handle relationships between genders..." and honestly I think that crosses a line and I feel justified in responding (though I had to think about it for a while).

To address the point, which is only fair; It would have been very easy (and was tempting) to keep Jocasta front and centre... if I were writing a completely different story. And I really can't say more than that about it without giving the game away.

I like your ending.... but don't you see that it is impossible and thus would be no more than a lie?


 Well, sometimes these things resolve themselves in a friendly fashion.

The reviewer just left this response to mine. It really was bugging me - and now it isn't. Breaking rules can sometimes be a good thing (which is good for me as I break them all the time when writing) and I have always thought that there is no substitute for doing what you think is right.

Dear Chris Northern, thank you for your response to my review.

I felt that the relationship between Sumto and Jocasta was like a stereotype from our society that did not fit the way your writing had painted Sumto in my mind. In no way was I attempting to suggest anything about your sexual preference. I was implying something about the breadth of life experience you bring to representing relationships. And on reflection given that we have never met that may well have crossed the line and I have removed the specific reference.

I've tried to think of a way to explain myself better but can not. Simply put I very much liked the way you developed the character of Sumto. I did not believe that such a character would treat Jocasta the way Sumto did. What would Sumto's sister say! I am not able to suspend disbelief in Sumto. Therefore i will not be continuing with this story.

I actually think there may be some validity to that point - but at the same time I think, and have to trust, I know what I'm doing. I could be wrong, of course, and sometimes am. I also wonder what Sumto's sister will say; depends rather on how much Jocasta says to her before... well, never mind, too early for me to be thinking about that.

And there, I think, we will leave it lie, quite happily on my part.

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