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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?

Fantasy Writing: Creating an Ensemble Cast May 11, 2011

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

Great Place for Free Writing Tips September 5, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing.
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I was scouring the ‘Internets’ for some fresh writing tips to help me move along in my fantasy novel, which seems to be stuck in the mud a little lately.  I’d write for a couple of hours or churn out a few thousand words, but somehow I’d still be writing the same scene, or even the same bloody conversation!  Arrrgh!  What gives?

Anyway, I came across the website of English-born, Australia-living cult fantasy/sci-fi author Richard Harland, who was benevolent enough to give out all 145 pages of his writing tips, absolutely free!  The best part is that you can download them all in a PDF rather than click on link after link.  It covers a broad spectrum of topics, from establishing good writing habits all the way to getting published.  I didn’t find all of it to be helpful, but a lot of it was.

Mr Harland is giving out free writing tips!

Mr Harland is giving out free writing tips!

For those wondering who he is and what he’s done, they can read it up themselves at his Bio Page here.  It seems he was always a gifted writer that just lacked motivation to finish what he started – but once he did start finishing things, his writing career took off.  Of course, there was a sizable chunk of luck involved, as there usually is.  I can only say I am envious and long for the day where I can write for a living without having to worry about paying the bills.

Oh, and here is his page of links to the websites of other writers of fantasy and speculative fiction in Australia, such as Trudi Canavan and Traci Harding.  Some of them (such as Paul Collins), also provide writing tips.

So thank you, Mr Harland!

Getting back to writing September 2, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing.
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george

As George Costanza would say: I’m back, baby!

It’s been a while, but for the first time in months, I worked on my novel today.  My beautiful, glorious, neglected fantasy novel.  Sure, it was rough and it was tough, and the production was patchy and pathetic, but it’s the most I’ve managed to do since I stopped writing to concentrate on my exams in late May.  Yay!

So why the long break?  Well, I could say I had to study for my exams, then did a whole of of travelling, then had to get my life back in order (and visit my new little niece).  I could also blame it on the books I had been reading, the movies I had been watching, or this blog even.  But I’ll admit – all excuses!  I was just lazy and lacked motivation.

Anyway, now I’m back and I’ll be working on it every day.  Every day until this first draft is complete.  It may take weeks.  It’ll probably take months.  Either way, no more excuses.

By the way, reading back on what you wrote months ago is a cringeworthy experience.  Shudder.

Full UK Review, Part V: Writing and Blogging August 1, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, On Writing.
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Almost there.  Just a couple of posts left in my full UK round up.

Writing has kept me sane in a year of studying

Writing has kept me sane in a year of studying

Wrote 100,000+ words on novel

I’ve known my fantasy novel for as long as my wife (7 years) but this was the first year where I actually took some action and began writing it seriously – thanks to the abundance of ‘spare’ time I had on my hands in Cambridge.

After purchasing the writing program NewNovelist 2 (review here) a week before arriving in the UK, I spent the first couple of months really fleshing out the plot and the characters, doing all my research and making sure the pieces fit together.  It was fun.

Then the hard stuff began – the first draft.  I really raced through the word count about the second month I got into it, after I finally put aside the urge to commit the cardinal sin of editing while writing.  I still do it sometimes, but the damage is minimal these days.

It was also difficult at times to juggle writing and studying, especially when the workload got heavy.  The last thing you feel like after a long day of reading textbooks and making notes is to try and be creative.  Nevertheless, I worked my way around it, either writing early in the morning as a boost to kick start my day or in the evening, as a reward for completing my readings.

Anyway, I had built up some considerable momentum until about a month before my exams, when I had to put the writing on hold completely.  However, even though the exams have long finished and I have since graduated I still haven’t managed to get back into the swing of things.  Too much travelling, moving, relaxing and blogging.

The word count is still stuck around 100,000 words, long enough for a first novel but I’m probably only about 2/5 of the way through the plot.  Whatever.  I’m just going to finish the draft first and then worry about the rest later.  I know now that writers rarely ever get anything right on the first try.

Wrote 170 blog posts

blogging1

Can't believe I'm a blogger!

I started this blog in January of 2009 (after my Xmas Vacation) after suggestions from a friend and the desire to develop an outlet and keep the creative juices flowing so I won’t be solely focused on the novel (which can be exhausting).  It was also a good place to keep an online record of my European adventures.

What started off as an innocent hobby soon snowballed and I’ve become a blogger, something I couldn’t even envisage 9 months ago.  I get what the fuss is all about now.  Sometimes you just need to write about something, anything, just to keep the pen moving (or fingers typing).

Blogging has been incredibly rewarding, but it’s also become one of the main obstacles to finishing my novel!  It’s always easier to churn out a blog post than wrack my brain over the novel for a couple of hours.  This blog has really helped me with my writing but it’s also prevented me from it.  Talk about a double-edged sword.

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