jump to navigation

What kind of fantasy novel are you writing? August 26, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

Source: readingbookinfo.com

It’s been an exciting few weeks around here for an assortment of reasons I won’t go into, which means my catatonic fantasy novel is being pushed even further back in my list of ‘things I must work on soon’.

I started this novel about 10 years ago as a bored student who had read little fantasy and had zero idea what made a good fantasy novel and even less of an idea on how to write one.  And yet I wrote slabs here and there, developed character biographies, planned, planned and planned some more.  Most of the writing took place over the space of two years, but it’s been one of those projects that can get neglected for years at a time — and it has been.  I guess I am one of those millions of people out there who would love to reach their goal but haven’t yet been willing to (or developed the discipline to) put in the hard work necessary to get there.

My dreams of becoming a fantasy novelist are still very much alive, but the expectations are no longer the same.  Having now read more fantasy and with a better understanding of what makes a good book and how to produce one, it has actually gotten much harder to write.  I also know now what a difficult industry it is, how poorly the industry is performing right now, and how bleak the future is looking for the majority of aspiring novelists.   Not to say it can’t be done, but hard work alone won’t be enough.

Simply being a good writer and writing a great book isn’t going to cut it.  These days, it’s all about the market — and the marketing.  You really have to identify your target market and write specifically for that market.  Sometimes you get lucky and the book has cross-market potential (say Harry Potter), but if you don’t have a clear target market you’ll find it difficult to find a publisher willing to take you on (especially if you are not an established writer).

I find it’s a catch-22 situation: you want to write something that is different to what is already out there at the moment to distinguish yourself from the pack, but publishers are seldom willing to take on books that they can’t comfortably squeeze into a particular genre.

And that’s just to get published.  What about sales?  Of course, paranormal romance has been big since Twilight, and I suppose that’s not really fantasy any more because it kind of become a standalone genre.  It seems every second book on the shelf involves vampires, werewolves or other mythological creatures these days.

More recently, thanks to the HBO series Game of Thrones, epic fantasy is starting to really pick up again, especially those with dark plots that feature demented themes and characters.

When I was in writing workshops, the general consensus was that if you want to sell these days, you ought to target the ‘young adult’ market.  According to Wikipedia, that’s roughly the ages of 14 to 21.  But apart from the Harry Potter clones (ie teenagers playing around with magic and magical worlds) and Twilight clones (ie teenagers falling in love with magical creatures), I can’t really think of any young adult fantasy sub-genres that have been hugely successful in recent years.

Every week I am coming across more and more people who are writing fantasy novels, and the majority of them either doing something generic or one of the above.  And that got me wondering — where the heck does my fantasy novel fit into all of this, and should I be doing anything to change it?

Back before I knew anything about anything, my intention was just to write a good fantasy yarn.  I thought I had a good story, a few interesting characters, and didn’t think about much else.  I suppose if I had a particular slant, it was to make the novel less like the sprawling fantasy epics that give me headaches just trying to decipher the blurb on the back cover.  I wanted to write something lighter, more straightforward and action-packed, like a thriller with a fantasy setting.  I wanted to appeal to the RPG geeks who like the idea the these fantasy worlds but are either too lazy or find it too tedious to read 1000+ pages for a good story.

I still want to keep that idea in tact, but I’m wondering whether I need to rewrite the damn thing so that it fits more into a particular category.  Because right now, it’s not really anything.  On the one hand, I could go ‘George RR Martin’ and make it a more ‘adult’ fantasy with more violence, gore, treachery and sex (and let’s face it, the geeks love that kind of stuff).  On the other hand, I could go the ‘young adult’ path and make my protagonists younger, make the story slightly more sanitised, and maybe even throw in a little more romance.

They would make completely different books, but I can’t figure out which one would be more appealing to the wider market.

Anyway, that’s my aimless rant for the day.  If you too are writing a fantasy novel, what kind of fantasy is it?  Does it follow the trodden path of those before you, or is it something drastically different?  Are you writing with a specific target market in mind or do you not care?  And what makes you think your novel is special enough to be published or potentially become a bestseller?

The Magic of Fantasy Book Covers August 17, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

By Alan Rabinowitz

8 Seconds

I recently read an article which said that the average person spends 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 seconds on the back.  If the book doesn’t grab their attention then they move on to the next book.

For me, 8 seconds is a long time.  When I browse a book store I literally just glance across the shelves to see if anything grabs my eye.  And to be honest, not a whole lot of books grab me enough for me to pick it up and read the back, and even fewer make me open up the book to read a few pages.  There are just too many to look at, and let’s face it, the majority are either too similar or generic.

These days, I tend to go on personal recommendations, best-seller charts and online reviews more than anything else, but occasionally there are books that I’ve never heard of before that have covers that jump out at me.  Occasionally it may be because of the book title or the author’s name, but sometimes it’s because of the uniqueness of the design art.

Fantasy Book Covers

The genre with book covers that interest me the most is fantasy (and sci-fi to a lesser extent).  To me, fantasy covers are the most fascinating because they have the potential to be the best — and the worst.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

(more…)

Is it ever too early to start re-writing? July 26, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

I’m trying to put my focus back into writing starting this week, and one aspect of that is to revisit my dormant fantasy novel which I have been thinking about a lot these past couple of months.  I still think the book as potential and I like the story it has to tell, but having written significant chunks of it around 2 years ago, I know it will require plenty of work.

Conventional writing wisdom suggests that rewriting comes after completion of the first draft.  The primary goal in the first attempt is to just get the words of the story out of your mind, out of your system and onto the page.  Anne Lamott, who wrote the popular writing book Bird by Bird, discussed at length the unavoidable ‘shitty first drafts’ even excellent and seasoned writers churn out on a regular basis.

The idea is that if you worry and procrastinate over every paragraph, sentence or word, you’ll never generate any momentum and it will take you much longer to finish the story.  And often it’s when you are in that ‘zone’ of pumping out a copious amount of words at a frenetic pace that some of your best writing is generated (though it has to be ‘unearthed’ from all the crappy stuff).

However, although I am not even at the halfway line of the first draft of my fantasy epic (around 150,000 words), I’m highly tempted at the moment to go back to the beginning and rewrite a few of the first chapters.  One of the main reasons is that I realised my beginning lacked a serious punch.  After an action-packed prologue, I started with the usual boring ‘fantasy world introduction’ chapter where I introduced the characters and the world in which they lived in a methodical fashion.  It occurred to me that it would have made a lot more sense to start in the middle of the action, beginning with the final of a tournament in which the protagonist is involved in.  In the current version, the tournament was already over by the time the story began.

But would rewriting before I’ve even finished the first draft be a waste of time?  What if I later change my mind and come up with a better intro?  What if later on I decide to change characters or events?

I read in an interview with Philip Pullman (author of the His Dark Materials trilogy) that he doesn’t have a particular method when it comes to writing and rewriting.  Sometimes he waits until the end and sometimes he does it as he goes along.

In Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing (my review and summary here), he says that first drafts should be completed within 3 months, which is pretty much supernatural for most people out there, but even for him, this essentially means no rewriting until the first draft has been completed.  King also recommended putting the draft aside for a while before coming back to it with fresh eyes.  That said, King might be an anomaly because he seems to churn out pretty decent first drafts.  I say this because he suggests that a second draft should tighten a first draft by 10% and that he usually only does two drafts and a polish for a novel.

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, said in an interview that he did literally 150-200 drafts of the first 90 pages just to get it right.  Can you imagine that?  I did about 5 or 6 drafts of the first chapter of my Masters writing project and I found it to be brutal already.

In the end, my gut tells me that I should just do whatever I feel like, whether it’s keep going or go back to the beginning.  It’s been so long that anything is better than nothing.

The end is just the beginning June 15, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

My masters course has finally finished.

With (soon to be) two masters degrees hanging on my walls I have also become a master of avoiding full-time work as well.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be working on no less than three projects — the secret mini-book I’ll be shopping around for publishers or self-publish, continuing my masters novel, and getting my good old fantasy novel back on track.  And yes, looking for that much needed job will be high on the priority list as well.

Strangely, there is no relief after completing this masters degree like my previous degrees.  Perhaps it’s because I actually wanted to study this time instead of doing it out of obligation.  Or perhaps it’s because I now have to put what I have learned over the last 18 months into practice.

It feels a lot more like a beginning than an end.

Fantasy Writing: Creating an Ensemble Cast May 11, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

I think these guys are from Final Fantasy

I’m long overdue for a post about fantasy writing.  Just as well, considering I haven’t touched my fantasy novel for probably a year now, thanks to other ideas and projects that keep getting in the way.

Anyway, the other night we were discussing films and books that had large ensemble casts, and just how difficult it was to manage everyone.  This is a common problem for fantasy novels, which usually have a large cast of characters, sometimes all appearing at the same time.

Indeed, this was a problem that I had encountered with my own fantasy novel, which involves a team that continuously changes in numbers, going up as high as eight or nine.  I had tremendous difficulties when more than three or four people were in a single scene — do I give them something to say, do I describe what they are doing, or do I just leave them out but allude that they are around?  If I put too many characters in, won’t things get too messy, to cluttered?

Through various discussions, I am now slowly getting an idea of how to approach it.  Like it or not, when you have a lot of characters, you must plan in advance.  Films are easier to cater for ensemble casts than books, because in film you can see the character there even though they don’t necessarily have to do anything; in books it can get awkward if you don’t know what to do with them.

The most important thing is to first ensure that each character has a personality and a narrative function.  If you can’t figure it out in your head, lay the names out and actually make a list.  What is this person like?  What is the purpose of this character and how do they drive the narrative?  Are they there to bring tension?  Are they there as a companion?  Or are they there to bring growth to the protagonist?

If you find that the character doesn’t really serve any real purpose, then do you really need them?  Or perhaps you need to give them one?  More often than not, you’ll find maybe one or two characters that serve no narrative purpose, whether just for a particular scene or on an overall level.  It’s then up to you to decide what to do with them.

Next, it would help if you can identify the scenes where a lot of characters appear at the same time and break them down for each character.  What is that character doing and what is the purpose of them being there?

It is important to bring each character to life, to give the unique traits and flaws, and give them character arcs so they can undergo some kind of emotional or personal journey or transformation.

It might seem like a tedious, overkill exercise, but when you put them side by side, the tightly crafted scenes are just so much better than the scenes where everyone is all over the place and you have no idea why they are there.

The key, as with any scene, is to pretend you are a director — create the characters, create the story, and fill in the gaps.

%d bloggers like this: