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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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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?

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2D) (2011) July 20, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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4 comments

At last, 10 years after the first film and 4 years after the book series ended, the Harry Potter film franchise is no more.  As expected, there was a ridiculous amount of anticipation for the eighth and final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (let’s call it DH2), and though I consider myself only a moderate fan of the series (both book and film), even I was very excited at the prospect of watching the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort on the big screen.

It’s not often that a franchise lasts for this many number of films and manages to maintain a certain level of excellence all the way through.  So is this final film the best of the lot?  Kind of.  Not really.  Yes and no.

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to review this film is because it’s impossible to view DH2 as a standalone film.  You can’t even really lump it with DH1, which I thought was nothing more than a pretty set-up for the grand finale.

In terms of excitement, DH2 is undoubtedly the best of the series.  After a small but slow build up at the beginning, the remainder of the film races at you at full blast.  It’s everything you could have expected from a finale that has been gradually building up for 10 years.  The extended siege on Hogwarts rivals some of the biggest fantasy epics in cinematic history (some may disagree but I think that includes Lord of the Rings).  It’s thrilling, visually stunning and wonderfully executed (thanks to director David Yates) and acted (especially Alan Rickman as Snape, who really held this franchise together for all these years).  Heck, even the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson put on quality performances (a far cry from their debuts).

Accordingly, in a way, I guess you could say that splitting the final book into two films was justified (apart from financially), because despite the 130 minute running time, DH2 was never boring (unlike DH1).

On the other hand, DH2 wasn’t a complete story, and as such, must be viewed in light of everything that came before it.  If you haven’t read the books, seen DH1 or even the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you can forget about it.  I’ve read all the books and seen all the previous films but even I struggled at times to remember/piece together what was going on.  Characters came and went without introduction and the majority of the secondary characters were reduced to fleeting cameos.

Of course, this is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone because of the marvellous action and special effects — despite some frightening scenes for the kiddies — but I believe to appreciate everything and feel the full emotional impact of the finale you have to be a ‘true’ fan (ie, one of those hardcore nutters that dressed up and camped outside the cinema).  Hence for me, a mid-tier fan, DH2 couldn’t have been more than just a ‘very good time’ that was fun to experience but lacked a deeper connection.

This is why I still think the franchise would have been better served had DH1 and DH2 been combined into one kick-ass 3-hour+ epic that got rid of all the fluffy ‘time fillers’ so we could enjoy the full story of the Deathly Hallows in one sitting (I know some places screened the two films back-to-back, but the combined running time of 4 hours and 36 minutes is waaaay too long).

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed DH2.  Despite its shortcomings — some unavoidable and others not — this was a fitting conclusion to a magical, consistently high standard film franchise.

4 stars out of 5

PS: My favourite book and film of the series is still the third one, The Prizoner of Azkaban.

PPS: I intentionally watched this one in 2D, and I’m glad I did.  I’m at the point where I am starting to wonder whether I should even consider watching a 3D movie ever again.  Dark, uncomfortable, and most of the time 3D adds nothing positive to my film experience.  I don’t get the fuss.  And judging from this article, looks like I’m not the only one.  That said, I am surprised by the number of people supporting 3D in the comments section.

PPPS: A bit of a spoiler, so read on only if you’ve seen the film or read the book.  Remember how the book had this controversial ‘epilogue’?  Well the film includes it, and as expected, it also sucked.  One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.

Pardon the delay July 17, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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3 comments

A quick one.  I just got back from our nation’s capital (Canberra) as part of a surprisingly good short vacation.  Contrary to popular belief, there is actually a lot to do there!  So some exciting posts will be coming shortly.  But I’ve still got a few China posts left, which I might try and finish off first.

I also watched the final Harry Potter movie today, so I have to give my two cents on that too.  In short, a fitting finale for a wonderful franchise, and a pretty good film in the grand scheme of things.

Lastly, some great news.  Got a great grade for my masters project (the best possible grade), which gives me a load of confidence moving forward.  I still have to finish the darn thing though, amongst other things.  A lot of big changes coming up in my life.  Not sure if I am ready to tackle them all head on just yet but I don’t really have much of a choice!  I do perform my best under extreme pressure, so maybe it will do me some good.

Stay tuned.

Movie Review: I Am Number Four (2011) February 23, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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2 comments

No, I Am Number Four is not a sequel, nor is it the fourth film of a franchise.  It’s a semi-children/adolescent sci-fi film based on the first (and currently only) book of the new hot novel series by Pittacus Lore (pen name of Jobie Hughes and James Frey — yes, that James Frey of A Million Little Pieces infamy) that attempts to cross-appeal to the general population (in the vein of Harry Potter, Twilight, etc).

I can’t speak for the book because I’ve only had a cursory glance of it in a bookstore, but if the movie is any reflection then it can’t possibly be very good. The story feels strangely familiar: aliens destroyed by other evil aliens send 9 gifted children to Earth; the evil aliens chase and start killing the kids off, one by one. Guess which one they are up to?

However, the premise is not the issue here, because any premise has potential — it’s the characters and the development of the story that lacked punch.  Alex Pettyfer, who plays Number Four, is not a bad actor, but his character is not particularly likable or sympathetic.  As of now, the character is just not very interesting.  He needs more charisma, more heart — he needs to be more than just your typical angst-driven teenager.  Maybe we’ll get to see more of that if this film does well and they decide to continue the series.

The love interest, Sarah Hart, is cringeworthy not just because her character is a horrible cliche, but it’s also because the actress playing her, Dianna Agron, has little more in her repertoire other than a flirty smile.  Aussie Teresa Palmer, who plays Number Six, put on the absolute worst American accent I’ve ever heard for a mainstream movie.  Why can’t she just be Australian?  As for Timothy Olyphant — he’s still rather serviceable, but is it just me or was he Hitman not that long ago?  And now he’s already the greying, ageing babysitter for the protagonist?

Anyway, I Am Number Four is adequate in some respects — the action sequences and the special effects are fairly good — but it’s still a somewhat uninspiring film that is more Percy Jackson than Harry Potter (and at least Percy Jackson had that whole Greek mythology thing going for it).  The characters and the way the story unfolds is all very ‘cookie-cutter’, and I longed to see something I didn’t expect.  It didn’t happen.

I could be wrong, but right now I just can’t see this film franchise coming close to replicating the success of Harry Potter or Twilight, or even Narnia.  The second book (and potentially second film) would have to take it to a whole new level for that to be remotely possible.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I) (2010) November 24, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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6 comments

I am what you might call a bandwagon Harry Potter fan.

I have never been into the series as much as the fanatics, but I have followed the hype and read all the books (I think starting from when Goblet of Fire came out) and watched all of the movies.  I thought they were all pretty good, more enjoyable than your average book or film, but nothing I would put in my ‘all-time’ lists.

Nevertheless, I found myself excited to see the first part of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (let’s just call it HP7), directed by David Yates (who also did HP5 and HP6) and with a screenplay by Steve Kloves (who has adapted all seven books).

So far, reviews have been rather mixed.  For Potter fanatics, the first half of this final film is everything they could have hoped for and more, not only because the film is beautifully shot but also because it is more faithful to the source material due to the extra running time.  For non-fans, HP7 probably comes across as a boring (because of the extra running time), confusing (because it assumes knowledge of all previous films/books) money grab (well, because it is).

For me, a relatively minor fan of the series, HP7 leans more towards the former than the latter, even though all the negatives mentioned above are present.  Much like HP6, the film is incredibly dark and bleak (visually, stylistically and in terms of plot), but probably even moreso because Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is finally back and is out to destroy his nemesis Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and all those who stand in his way, including Harry’s best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson).  With only half of the book and 146 minutes to play with, Yates has created a finely paced film that is more in-depth than the previous efforts.  There is more time for character development (particularly the relationship triangle between Harry, Ron and Hermoine), and thankfully, the once-were-babies actors have developed into fairly decent thespians.  Radcliffe, Grint and Watson all put in their best performances of the series.

The action sequences are also as good as anything we’ve seen before.  Of course, there’s the marvellous special effects, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that, unlike the previous six films, this one takes place almost entirely outside of Hogwarts, giving us a glimpse into the other parts of the Potter universe.

On the downside, truth be told, there really wasn’t a need to break the story into two parts.  HP7 (the book) was not even the longest of the series, and could have easily been squeezed into a single film with a 2.5-3 hour running time.  This would have meant a faster, more exciting film than what we’ll end up with, without the boring bits in the middle.  Speak of which, there were a few slow parts.  When I read the book, I remembered there was a long chunk where the kids were wandering around the countryside not knowing what they should be doing — I found that a bit slow in the book and it wasn’t that much better in the movie.

Moreover, non-fanatics ought to brush up on their knowledge of the series before watching the film.  If you go and watch the seventh film of a series without having watched any of the preceding six, then you deserve to be confused.  However, even as someone who has seen all the movies and read all the books, I had trouble remembering certain characters and their complex histories.  Bear in mind, the last book was released 40 months ago and the last movie 16 months ago.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one!

But perhaps the most disappointing thing about HP7 is the ending, which I suppose was impossible to please fans anyway.  It ends on a relatively tame note that felt somewhat anti-climatic — even though it does promise A LOT for the next one.  For me, it felt kind of empty having gone through 146 minutes and not having even touched any of the really good stuff in the book.

When it’s all said and done, HP7 is another fine addition to what will already go down in history as an excellent, consistently high-quality film series.  It gives the fans what they want, which is lots of Harry and his world, with a bold promise of better things to come.  It is difficult to rate it as a standalone film because it isn’t, but taking all things into account, HP7 is still a enjoyable ride.

3.75 stars out of 5!

PS: Did I mention I’m so glad this movie was only released in 2D?

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