Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy fiction’

I’ve not mentioned my WIP in a while – for multiple reasons progress has been somewhere between slow and non-existent for several months, but the past couple of weeks I’ve been slowly getting back on the horse.  Momentum is the most important thing for me in terms of getting those words on the page, so I’ve been working to write a little bit every day.

My method, uber-geeky as it is, is to give myself a minimum number of words to do that day (the other important thing for me is having a sense of avhievement, you see!) … that’s not the geeky bit, oh no, the geeky bit is the table I draw up – it looks something like this (remember my love of lists?):

Date    Words Due   Words Done   Projected Total   Actual Total

Mon     200                452                 47,000                 47,252

Tues    etc…

And it covers two sheets of A4 paper front and back, running up until roughly 120,000/end of October.

Yep.  That geeky.  I did warn you.

As I’m just starting up again, I’ve set myself a low target for the first couple of weeks, just 200 words per day. I know that’s a very low target, but my writing confidence is terribly tenuous at the moment and I think of it this way: if I write 400 words when my target was 200, I’ll feel great; if I write 400 words when my target was 600, I’ll have failed and will feel rubbish.  Does that make sense?  I hope so, because then, once I’ve got that boost from reaching my target every day, I’ll be upping my target to 400 (in about a week), and up again a week or two later.  When I was writing T&Gw for my Masters, I was writing a minimum of 750 words per day (some days this ended up being as much as 1,500, and that’s on work-days with cleaning, cooking, etc), so I want to get back up to that level.

Anyway, the reason for all this explanation is that I’m really pleased – today I really didn’t feel like sitting down and writing, but I dutifully made myself (reminding myself that the word-count fairies would come after me otherwise – they’re scary little blighters!) and ended up writing the most I’ve managed to write in one day for a very long time: over 650 words.  It might not seem like much (especially for you super-human people who can sit and write 3,000+ words in a day – how do you manage that?!), but for the girl getting back on that writing horse, who was only looking to write 200 words, it’s kind of a break-through moment.  And hopefully it’s a good sign that I can get my first draft finished and begin on the editing by the end of this year … Something tells me I’m going to need those lucky symbols!


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These three things are inextricably interlinked for me.  When I am reading a story I love, I feel most inspired to write.  And, I like to think I’m aware enough that I don’t fall into that trap of writing like what I’m currently reading, which I hear/read so often from writers – ‘I don’t read anything while I’m writing a novel in case it subconsciously influences me’.  Which is fair enough, but I do think that reading is the best way to learn about writing, closely followed by writing (see below for my justification of this!).  And if you want to get published, then it’s even more vital that you know what is already out there, what is selling and what the conventions are, whether you intend to follow them or not.

Now, to qualify that off-hand comment about the best way to learn to write … This is, of course, just one woman’s opinion, but I think that reading extensively provides you with the basis for any learning you might do through writing itself.  Before I ever attempted to write myself and before I ever had any formal teaching on writing, I read.  As a child I lived in imagined worlds more than I lived in the ‘real world’ (and if I had my own way, I probably would now, too).  This meant that when I came to write and to learn about story I had an instinctive understanding of structure, character, dialogue and so on.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a basis.  It meant that I could think of examples of the kind of scene or plot I was trying to write or that someone else was trying to teach me about.  It meant that somewhere in the back of my mind a voice said that you needed tension and climaxes and resolutions long, long before I ever read about those things in ‘how to write’ books.

Reading was the underpinning for the rest of my learning about writing.  I cannot stress the importance of it enough.  (Plus, if you want to write and be published, then buying and borrowing books from the library is a great way to support your industry.)

If you want some more writing tips, here’s an interesting article from The Guardian – Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.  (And yes, I need for work on number 5 – me and my addiction to exclamation marks!)  I got the link via the often funny, ever enlightening Nathan Bransford.  He does a fantastic post on the week’s happenings in publishing – if you want to be published or work in the industry, you’d be well-advised to read it!  In fact, just subcribe to his blog and read it all – you’ll find something useful, I promise!

And if you were wondering where the start of this post was going – it was further praise for Robin Hobb.  I am loving Ship of Magic like a great big obsessive weirdo.  I know I am loving it that much, because I find myself thinking about it when I’m doing other things and I am constantly looking forward to the next time I get a chance to read it.  And as it’s lunchtime, that’s now. 

What I bought at the weekend!

(Though, before I go to eat and read – if you have any recommendations along the lines of ‘if you like Robin Hobb, you’ll love …’ I’d love to hear them.  Indeed, any fantasy recommendations with good female protagonists always go down well with me!)

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In the course of my writing I have stumbled across a newspaper article from the Arianople Argus and thought it might be of interest:

Madam G―’s Gossip Guide*

All of Society is aflutter after Sunneday’s Gallows Gathering which saw the Fashion Set out in force.  In attendance were Mrs Med―, Th― Pasha, Mr Pel―, Ma― Pasha and divers others all in splendid attire.

I am reliably informed that nothing untoward occurred at the event, however perhaps that is because the whole assembly was most diverted by the presence of Fe― Pasha in his annual return to the city.  Still this eligible gentleman is without attachment and I know of several women of distinction who wish to put their own daughters forward for the role!  The young lady will have to be prepared for a life lived in partial exile, however, as the latest intelligence has it that the palace is showing no signs of easing up on the Pasha’s punishment.  Of course, that would be an easy price to pay for the quality of the prize on offer!

Such gentlewomen will be disappointed (or perhaps relieved), then, to note that Fe― Pasha has expressed interest in no particular lady.  Perhaps he is still pining for the ‘one that got away’…

My spies do inform me, however, that he made the acquaintance of the young Miss M―.  This gentlewoman from foreign climes came to the City of Cities but one month ago and has quite set the town afire with her unusual beauty and charming modesty – she insists on being called ‘Miss’, when I hear that she is entitled to a far grander title owing to her status in the West, from whence she came.

At the Gathering she looked quite well indeed in a gown of periwinkle blue taffeta with, so I am told, three whole yards of Felham lace!  Clearly this lady was out to impress and yet she managed to do so with her characteristic art – avoiding the excesses that mar true distinction in a Lady of Fashion.

I do hear, however, that her dignity was somewhat ruffled during a conversation with Fe― Pasha and others, about what I cannot say, but it did seem to pique the Pasha’s interest, even if for only a short while.  Perhaps he is not pining so much as we might think…

Of course, I cannot speculate on such things, but if ever a gentlewoman were to capture the heart of a certain gentleman, then one could do worse than place bets on the latest toast of the town.

*The title is indeed a nod to Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century and The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century – I love their pages!

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So last time, I mentioned this other addition that I made.  It was a brief explanation of my magic system.  BRIEF being the operative!

The currently direction of commercial fantasy fiction is away from the excesses of worldbuilding so beloved of Tolkein and his acolytes.  Check out what Joe Abercrombie has to say on the subject of Tolkeinesque worldbuilding.  It’s not about not doing the worldbuilding – inventing nations, peoples, cultures and attitudes is a vital part of fantasy fiction – it’s about not making the story and the characters subservient to the world.  I’m going to straight-out quote Joe Abercrombie here, as he puts it so well:

“It’s the equivalent of a film producer blowing his entire budget on sets and costume he’s not even going to use in the picture, and fondly imagining that no-one will therefore notice the abysmal script, acting, camerawork, editing and direction. Of course, there are writers who come up with weird, and wonderful, and magical settings which fascinate and enthral the reader. But, for me, those are only of real interest as long as the characters, and the dialogue, and the plots are on the money as well.” (See the above-linked interview in SFX Magazine.)

I know all the ins and outs of my magic system, but is it relevant to the story or of much interest to any reader that magic was first used back in the year blah blah blah by so-and-so?  No.  So it’s not going in the novel.

The important part of a novel is who does what to whom, or, what happens and to whom does it happen.  Character is vital, irrelevant history is not.

Having said that, a fantasy world is, by definition, different to ours, and the reader needs to feel that they have a grasp of what’s going on and where it’s going on.  Even in contemporary urban fantasy, such as The Southern Vampire Mysteries (AKA, the True Blood TV series), there are differences to our world that the reader (or viewer) needs to understand… like vampires…

True Blood

… and the reader needs a certain amount of explanation.  But the reader doesn’t need all the explanation, and they certainly don’t need a massive infodump.

I suppose the point I am trying to make is that fantasy writers need to walk a thin line by giving a sense of their world by showing the important and relevant elements of that world rather than over-explaining that world in mind-numbing detail.  There are shades of grey that tend towards more worldbuilding or less, but the recent trends are towards novels that concentrate on telling a damn good story with some great characters.

And that is no bad thing.  For too long, fantasy has stood in Tolkein’s shadow and grown stale there, with too many cliched characters wandering from A to B and infodumping all the way.

It’s quite handy, then, that this new kind of fantasy is very much to my taste.  I’m attempting to give brief hints of the world and its magic, revealing relevant pieces of information with little touches here and there, but, as I’m finding, it’s a delicate balancing act.

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I have been quite bad this week with my editing.  On some days there have been geniune reasons for not editing, but on others it has simply been me ‘not feeling like it’.  I get like that with writing sometimes.  I get like that with a lot of things, sometimes.

But today I sat down and edited three chapters and yesterday I did the same, and just like all those other things I don’t feel like doing, it’s much better once I’m doing it.

The moral of this story – just get on with it.  Even if you tell yourself you’re going to just do a few pages, once you get started, it’s so much easier to keep going.

Of course, I’m going to go back and tighten it some more, but I find it best with my own work to do a few reads because I know I’ll spot (and look for) different things each time.  This time I did the main thing I’d been putting off – adding some explanation and changing certain passages.

As I’d written on, I’d decided to change a couple of things – Quin’s obsession with jewellery became a more specific obssession with rings (to be explained in a later flashback) and Derry’s hair colour (obviously, that’s a much smaller change).  So I’ve just gone back to the chapters where the jewellery comes up and sorted that out.  I’m a lot happier with it and it’s actually added some fun to the scene.  The change came from discussions with the Dandy-man – initially it wasn’t clear that Quin’s thievery comes from a Robin Hood type desire to ‘rob from the rich to give to the poor’.  We chatted about how he read her character and I could see what he meant, and we worked out how a subtle change could make it work.

I’d definitely recommend having a sympathetic reader or two when you’re in the writing process and/or initial edits.  Now, by a ‘sympathetic reader’, I don’t mean one who will just tell you that you’re great.  I’m talking about someone who knows what they’re talking about, whose judgement you trust and who knows how to give constructive criticism.  I’m really lucky as I have quite a few of these to draw upon – the aforementioned Dandy and some friends from my MA.

Of course, everyone’s work needs hard pruning, but it has to come at the right time – ie, once you’ve written it.  While you’re still in that precarious place of writing the first draft, it’s too easy for your house of cards to get knocked down by a careless critique.  The danger being that you might give up on a work-in-progress that has a lot of potential because, based on criticism of a first draft, you think it’s crap.  Different people have differing levels of sensitivity, only you can say what yours is – be honest with yourself and choose your readers accordingly.

Next time – discussion of the other addition I made in today’s editing session, AKA Brevity in Fantasy (not a contradiction in terms!).

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Welcome to my little corner of the interweb!

I will be mostly rambling on about writing, research, the 18th Century, bits and pieces I make and anything else that catches my little magpie eye.  So, without further ado, may the rambling commence!

I’m in the last few weeks of an MA in Creative Writing (scary!) and just editing my final project – A Thief & A Gentlewoman (it’s going to be mentioned a lot, I’m afraid!  Will be calling it ‘T&Gw’ or whatever else my fingers decide to type at some silly hour of the morning).

It’s an historical fantasy about Quin, a young woman from the Gutter Streets who steals her way out of poverty.  When she meets her latest mark, Fehrim, she finds herself liking him rather more than she should… And the situation for our heroine only becomes more complicated when he is framed for the assassination of his cousin, the Sultana.  Quin must choose whether to help Fehr or continue her safe masquerade.  Meanwhile, a serial killer stalks the slums where she is from and she cannot help but be drawn into the murders.  She must discover the connection between the assassination and the killer before they strike again… Dah dah daaaah!

The series is all about swashbuckling fights, romance, intrigue and adventure in Arianople, City of Cities.  There’s a more posh blurb on the Blurb tab of this very blog, if you fancy a look.

So far, I’ve written part 1 of the first book – just over 40,000 words – and plotted out all scenes and chapters of the first book and outlined the second and third books.  The whole process took a while and has undergone some changes, but I’m pretty happy with it at the moment.  Actually, that might be an understatement – I spent a stressful couple of weeks re-working the existing plot to add some extra depth and a better resolution… Sleepless nights!  Fingers crossed, it’s all OK now… Famous last words.

Anyway, as much of a pain writing can be when there are big fat problems, I love the characters who have graced me with their presence and I just can’t not do it.  (Ah, such graceful prose from a writer!)

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