Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Glen Cook’s style of writing

I love Glen Cook’s style of writing. It is exceptional, but I am aware that some people can’t stand it. I will point out main characteristics and write why I like them. It will also explain why people who think opposite to me will hate it. I admit that I see one characteristic that is a little negative for me and I believe for any other reader. I will describe it at the end.

1) Descriptions are very modest.

That's good, because I am able to imagine places and people the way I like. I don’t feel like I am wasting my time reading about some unimportant details. If there are some more precise descriptions they are significant (for example to build a certain feeling about a character or place), but they are very rare.

2) The sentence are short.

I hate long sentences because they are often not clear. Short sentences are easier and faster to read.

3) All the characters are flawed.

The characters are flawed in many different ways. The main flaws are: greed, scheming, treachery, overgrown ambition, immorality, cruelty, ruthlessness or madness. The “good” characters are sometimes tolerating unacceptable behaviours of their companions (they are not participating but they are also not trying to stop it). The “bad” characters on the other hand show some positive feelings. Some of them are even likeable.

Sometimes the “good” characters are just trying to survive and they are doing some things together with the “bad” side. They are aware that some people consider them also as “bad”, but they are just caught in the middle and have no choice. They are not suicidal and are not fighting “evil” just for the sake of it.

Thanks to the flawed characters I am able to identify easier with some of them. I feel that they are normal humans. Normal humans meaning humans with weaknesses and with problems that are sometimes impossible to solve. Every character has his lighter and his darker side, just as in real life, which makes me feel that I am not reading some fairy tale.

4) Unexplained issues.

Some things are left unexplained, especially at the beginning. That’s very good because I like mysteries and I like to wonder what is going on. I don’t like books that are giving everything right away. Glen Cook’s books are full of surprises and plot twists.

Sometimes there are many subplots and without clear explanation the reader can feel a little lost at the start. Reading such a book is very rewarding when everything suddenly start to fall in place. It takes careful reading and a little patience though, but I am not a lazy reader. Besides I think that too much action is far better that too little action. Such complicated plots are not often found in Glen Cook’s books, but I think that such books are in fact His best books.

5) Humour and irony.

Usually the narration contains elements of humour and irony. His best (in my opinion) series is pure fun with lots of humour and irony. The narrator’s irony is often self-depreciating, which is very good. I don’t like people who take themselves too seriously. I think that a sense of humour means in most cases the ability to laugh at oneself. A sense of humour also speaks about intelligence and the ability to see paradoxes in different configurations of things that normally are not funny.

6) Strong and realistic military elements.

In fact that’s the most valuable characteristic for me. I read fantasy books for action. The most interesting action is fighting and the most fighting takes place during wars. Glen Cook’s books are always in some way connected with war. Glen Cook himself was a soldier and this is very clearly seen in his books. The military aspects are always believable and complex. For example he takes into consideration such things as supplies for the moving army, morale and experience of the soldiers or the factor of surprise or bluff. He is able to create a unique atmosphere in some situations, especially during sieges.

7) Not clear magic system.

The magic systems in his books are not clear. There are almost no names or descriptions of the spells and the information about magic system are general. At first I thought this is a flaw, but then I realised I was wrong. Magic will always seem silly if it will be analysed in detail. I read somewhere an opinion, with which I fully agree: The magic is something mysterious and it should stay that way.

8) The characters don’t speak perfect English.

Glen Cook himself spoke about that in an interview. He said that the editors of his books often want to correct the dialogues and he has to explain them that his characters speak their colloquial language, like normal people. It means that they will do some mistakes. Some of them more often than the other. He said: “These are ordinary people working on the street. They didn't go to college.” That’s very realistic approach in my opinion. I think fantasy books should not be the place to look for perfect English.

9) The narration is sometimes not smooth.

Unfortunately Glen Cook’s narration sometimes is not smooth, but for me it is not a big issue. I think that the ideas and plots are far more important than the narration itself. So what that a writer is really smooth, when his plots and ideas are plain silly.

The reason why Glen Cook’s narration is sometimes not smooth is very interesting. His only full-time employer was General Motors. He began to write while working at an auto assembly plant. He was fast enough to have some time to write down a sentence or two before the next car came. While doing his job he thought about next sentences and then he was writing them down. And so on.

Interesting, isn’t it? When I found about that, I started to think that Glen Cook as an author is an unpolished diamond. His talent is pure, but rough. He was not writing books as a full-time job. Maybe that’s why his books are so exceptional? He was writing them the way he liked, not the way most of the readers would like him to do it. I am thankful for that, because I LOVE his style.

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