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

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
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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?

Book Review: ‘Homeland’ by R.A. Salvatore December 20, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Fantasy, On Writing.
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They say if you want to write a particular genre, you’ll have to read that particular genre.  A lot.

With so many fantasy novels out there, I didn’t really know where to start (apart from the obvious ‘classics’ I’ve already read).  My wife’s colleague then introduced me to the world of Drizzt Do’Urden — a series of books written by NY Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore with those visually arresting book covers.  There have been something like 20 books written about Drizzt, a ‘drow’ (or ‘dark elf’), and the stories actually form part of a larger universe — Forgotten Realms — which I understand is a Dungeons and Dragons RPG campaign setting.

If you have no idea what any of that means, I’m right with you, because I still don’t have a clue what all that is about.  But I wanted to read a good fantasy novel, one that isn’t a zillion pages long and one that won’t bore me to death.

And so I started at the very begining — the birth of Drizzt Do’Urden in the first book of the series (chronologically speaking), entitled Homeland (first published in 1990).

After a slight struggle initially trying to get a handle on Salvatore’s style and the fancy names, I found myself immersed in the dark and bizarre world of the drow (Menzoberranzan, a city in the ‘Underdark’), where the women rule over the men and the various ‘houses’ try and gain the upper hand over one another through clandestine wars and backstabbing.  Everyone has an agenda, and it’s usually to further their own status or for sick pleasures.

And in the middle of all this evil mayhem is Drizzt, the talented kick-ass drow with a kind heart and two deadly scimitars.

I was amazed at how well Salvatore painted this brand new world using so few pages.  Despite having to set the foundations and explain everything from scratch, the pace never sags, and the exposition rarely feels contrived.  The dialogue does get a little over the top at times, as does Drizzt’s tortured ‘good guy’ routine, but on the whole, Homeland is a very enjoyable read that has me wanting more (luckily there’s plenty more!).

This has probably been said many times before, but Salvatore is a master at describing battle and fight scenes, especially one-on-one duels.  Writers interested in learning how to write action sequences that are fast paced and not overly repetitive should definitely check out Salvatore’s books and study his techniques.  I certainly learned a thing or two.

I’d definitely recommend Homeland for those who want to get into fantasy (reading or writing) but feel a little overwhelemed by all the stuff that’s out there.  At a very manageable 343 page, Homeland is a relatively brisk read compared to the thousands of doorstoppers in the fantasy/sci-fi sections of bookstores.  I’m very eager to read the next book in the series, Exile.

4 out of 5 stars

Epic Fail: My NaNoWriMo Challenge December 4, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Novel, On Writing.
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About a month ago I tried to attempt what many may have done before me – attempt NaNoWriMo without actually entering into NaNoWriMo.  That is, write 50,000 words on my work-in-progress fantasy novel in the month of November.

The verdict: epic fail.

Try 10,000 words (which, to be fair, is not that bad under the circumstances).  I tried, I really did.  But I just couldn’t find the time.  For most of the month, I was working 13-15 hour days, 5 days a week.  Travel time to and from work took up 1.5-2 hours per day.  Factor in 7-8 hours of sleep a night, keeping up with blog posts and needing almost the entire weekend to unwind and recover, that didn’t leave much time for writing.

Where does that leave me?  Two positives came out of this experience.  One, I progressed another 10,000 words on that first draft.  Two, and more importantly, I know for certain that if I ever want to finish this book, I need to find another job.  At this rate, it would probably take another 10 years, so it doesn’t really leave me much choice.

The good thing is that after yet another brutal week, I don’t feel like all hope is lost.  Even though I should be catching up on some much needed sleep, I ended up getting up earlier than usual because all I wanted to do was write.  That’s a good sign, isn’t it?

NaNoWriMo Challenge! November 3, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
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NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month) has arrived.  For those who aren’t sure of what this entails, check out this link here.  Essentially, it involves writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.  Sounds daunting, but when you break it down, that’s just 1,667 words a day.  Actually, that sounds like a lot.  Way more than what I’ve been doing on my debut masterpiece, my WIP fantasy novel!

Despite its name, NaNoWriMo has very much become an international event.  I have never entered NaNoWriMo before, and I chickened out again this year.  Well, not really.  I kind of just forgot. 

Nevertheless, I have given myself a NaNoWriMo challenge this month.  To be in the spirit of the whole thing, I am going to try and write 50,000 words on my novel in the month of November!  Feels like mission impossible at this stage especially with the way work has been lately, and given that it’s taken me about a year to write about 140,000 words…but right now I need any excuse to keep things moving or I’d never finish that dreaded first draft!

I’m already quite behind, having only hand written some crap on the train the last couple of days, so I better start moving.  Word count updates to be posted every now and then (especially if it’s going well)!

Writing Update: Returning to Reality October 5, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Novel, On Writing.
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Heading back to full-time work tomorrow with a sense of fear, dread and anticipation.  What type of hours will I be working?  Will I be able to control my hours even if I wanted to?  How much time will I have to write?

It’s been so long that I can’t even remember what it’s like anymore.  I’ve had enough of a break to know that’s it time to return to the real world and put in some hard work.  The aim is to make some money while I continue to work on my writing and the novel, with the intention of completing the first draft by the end of the year.  I haven’t really done as much as I would have liked during this supposedly ‘free’ period over the last few weeks.  As I said, there’s an astounding amount lot of things to do when there’s nothing to do.

I believe the word count is currently somewhere between 130,000-150,000 words (stupid NewNovelist 2.0 program with no word count!).  Judging by present progress, it’s not looking good.  Even if I do 50,000 words a month (something I’ve never come close to accomplishing) I might still not finish the first draft by 31 December 2009.

Oh well…I’m hoping that with a return to routine, maybe I can write on a more stable basis and with more focus when I do sit down to write.  As for my blogs (this one and Pacers Pulse), I’ll just have to take things as they come.

Fingers crossed.

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