What kind of fantasy novel are you writing? August 26, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
Tags: Fantasy, Fantasy literature, Fantasy Novel, game of thrones, George R. R. Martin, George RR Martin, harry potter, Twilight, writer, Writing
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?
A Writer’s Life — is it worth it? August 8, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, On Writing.
Tags: Asia, editing, English language, freelance writing, Freelancer, Freelancing, life of writing, publishing, writer, writer's life, Writing
It’s been a while since my last post (by my standards). And no, it’s not because I’ve been sitting around thinking about just how awesome Rise of the Planet of the Apes was (and it was).
Apart from the usual and the unusual errands and chores and busted tyres and rodent extermination, I’ve been busy planning a few things. With my masters degree in writing almost in hand and another country move in the works (to Asia this time), it’s time to start thinking about the next phase of my working life. CVs, scans of published works, contacting contacts to make more contacts — I’m doing it all.
Naturally, if I wanted a life of material comfort (though it wouldn’t be much of a ‘life’), I could easily return to the law, but doing so would be against everything I’ve promised myself over the last few years, and to be frank, it makes my bladder shudder just thinking about it. I had a nightmare the other night where I was back at the old firm and if I hadn’t woken up from the fright I might have embarrassed myself in bed. Living in a constant state of stress and terror doing something that I can barely tolerate can’t be the answer for the next 30+ years of my life.
No, any career from here must be a career in writing. I don’t know if it will last or how it will turn out, but if I don’t at least give it a shot I’m going to regret it forever.
The first thing most people say when they hear about someone (such as myself) wanting to write, is that it’s really really hard. Really hard. Don’t quit your say job. Hardships are ahead — financially, socially, emotionally. Success stories are one in a million (well, I guess it depends on your definition of ‘success’ — is it JK Rowling or a relatively comfortable living?).
But surely it can’t be that bad, or else there won’t be that many writers out there. My advantage (or at least what I consider to be an advantage) is that I’m not fussy about the kind of work I do, as long as it involves writing (for the smart-arses out there, that excludes contracts and legal advices) and, as the great George W Bush once said, puts food on the family.
I’m quite flexible with the field or the area or the type of writing. I can write formal, technical, colloquial, serious, comical, satirical or just plain old conversational. Just looking around online in Sydney, there appear to be quite a few relatively well-paid jobs for someone in my position. Legal publishing is a pretty decent route to go, or at least as a stepping stone. Traditional publishing and media jobs are available — not quite as well paid but not as bad as I had expected.
But this time I’m heading to Asia and from what I’ve heard, writers get paid peanuts (sometimes literally). There are plenty of jobs that require English writing, so the concern is not to find a job, it’s finding the right job.
There are options. I can try educational publishing and write books which help local children learn English. I can go into media and work at a newspaper or magazine that publishes in English. I can try academic writing/editing, helping out local professors polish up their works in English. I can try technical writing for a company. I can even try something in government. None of these pay well by Western standards but at least I have absolutely no problem seeing myself in one of these roles. And all of them will provide me with much needed experience.
Perhaps supplementing a day job with freelance writing or editing might be feasible (I’m reading up on that), but it’s not easy for newbies without the experience or portfolio to back them up. I was just looking around online randomly for freelancing opportunities and saw that quite a few people offer $1 for every 500 words! Can you believe that? A dollar!
That said, a lot of freelancers I’ve come across love what they do and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I’d like to be able to say that one day.
I think I am prepared mentally for what lies ahead. I’m confident in my abilities but I know hard work and luck are imperative — though I believe former swimmer Grant Hackett said it best when he said that the harder he worked, the luckier he got.
If any writers out there are reading, please share your story and how you got to where you are today. Was it worth it? And any tips, pointers or pearls of wisdom you might be able to bequeath?
Is it ever too early to start re-writing? July 26, 2011Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
Tags: Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Philip Pullman, rewriting, stephen king, writer resources, Writing
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.