Tag Archives: fantasy

Book Beginnings: What Should I Begin?

Good morning and welcome to the blog. Writing so far is going well, and my characters finally decided to stop being coy and tell me the rest of their story. Or at least, they’re telling me the next part of their story, which is good enough for right now, though I might have to start asking leading questions and nagging them here in a chapter or three.

As I do on a lot of Fridays, I’m taking part in Book Beginnings over at the excellent Rose City Reader blog. Also, as I do on a lot of days, I’m doing something a little different. I’m about to finish The Dragonbone Chair, and I’m still working through War and Peace. I need another book to begin, and, well, also as I do on a lot of days, I’m not sure which book to begin. So, I’m going to post three opening paragraphs and see what you think I should pick up next.

King’s Shield, Sherwood Smith (Book Three of Inda)

inda_3This isn’t so much a “Should I read this?” as it is “Should I read this now?” I absolutely loved the first two books of this series… the characters were fresh, the politics was interesting and intriguing without being at any point boring, and, well, as a sailor, I loved reading a fantasy novel that took place out to sea. Here’s the first sentence

After nine years of exile, Inda was going home.

I was going to include more, but some of my readers are also reading this series, and while the first line isn’t too much of a spoiler, the next paragraph most certainly is. As someone who spent seven years away from his country, though, I have to say that those nine words carry a lot of emotion and import. I do want to charge on ahead with this book, but I’m just about to finish up an epic fantasy (and I’ll want to read the sequel to that, a book I should have read twenty-five years ago) and, well… here are the other two I’m considering.

Interference, Amélie Antoine

interferenceI picked this up on Kindle’s summer sale, and it’s been hovering around my library page for six months. I’m a fan of thrillers (especially after reading long works of classic literature or non-fiction) but I know very little about this one. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Gabriel will worry, of course. He’s always worrying about me, wondering if I’m okay, hoping nothing has happened to me. He’s not an anxious kind of person, though. It’s just that I’m his whole world and he’s terrified of losing me. He puts up an aloof exterior to hide his vulnerability, a bottomless pit of anxiety that probably wasn’t there before he met me and came to are about me. I love Gabriel, and I love that he loves me. I love how he makes me feel about myself, and I love knowing that he’s nothing without me.

And… on to the third.

The Strangled Queen, Maurice Druon (Book #2 of The Accursed Kings)

17624063I’d heard of this series in college when I was studying history, but I never got around to reading it until years later, when HarperCollins billed it as “The Original Game of Thrones.” Having recognized a lot of the machinations behind the Hundred Years’ War in the pages of those books, I was intrigued, and flew through the first book in two or three bus commutes. It was straightforward, dramatic, and fun, though I wished it had been a little longer. Just after finishing it I bought the second book, but it’s been sitting in my library for 26 months or so. Here’s the beginning:

On the 29th November 1314, two hours after vespers, twenty-four couriers, all dressed in black and wearing the emblems of France, passed out of the gate of the Château de Fontainebleu at full gallop and disappeared into the forest. The roads were covered with snow; the sky was more sombre than the earth; darkness had fallen, or rather it had remained constant since the evening before.

Of course, the downside to peeking at the first pages of all three of these books is that NOW I WANT TO READ ALL THREE OF THEM! I will pick just one, though, and I’m welcoming any and all comments.

This weekend, I’ll have my review of the best books I read this year, the ones I wished I’d read, and possibly a bit about all the book-related news we had over the last twelve months. Until then, have an awesome day, and read on.

 

 

Story 1/52

And here we have my first of fifty-two stories that will appear here over the next year. This story is as yet untitled, but since I only had two days, really, to work on it, I’m putting it out now, anyway. Please comment, criticize, share, reblog, and enjoy.

The doors slid open on the atrium of the Psych Ward. He didn’t necessarily mind the other floors of the hospital, but this one did smell a little less like a sterile mix of a medicine cabinet and a janitor’s closet than the other floors did. The guard here wasn’t half as loquacious or a third as friendly as Walt, but today he did nothing more to Tommy than make him sign in. He expected Mr Christopher to say something brutal about how late he was, since on any other day he liked to remind him that they used to do the same job, and still should be, as far as he was concerned. But he did nothing more than slap the log shut. By this time, Nurse MacKaye was waiting at the head of the hallway, though she didn’t stop looking at her watch until he was right in front of her.

Story 1/52

The 72 Hour Novel: Day One

Well, by 14 or 15.00 today I had given up, freaked out, gone to take a nap with a horrible headache, and convinced myself that all was lost. Then I got up from the nap, made black-bean chilli since I realised I hadn’t eaten in well over a day (probably the source of my headache), and went from feeling like a failure at 5000 agonizing words to hitting 7K and saying “That’s enough.” Then I pushed ahead to hit 8K/ 30 pages in less than 24 hours. So even if I don’t hit my goal of writing a short novel (23-25K/ 80-100 pages) in three days, I think I figured out how I’ll be able to do it the next time I try. (And honestly, I’m worried that even if I do hit my word/ page goal by Monday Midnight, I’ll not be done with the story. One of my slippery good/ villain characters is more deep than I thought, and my main character is really having a lot of fun telling me her story. So, I’ll check in tomorrow night, and I’ll still be posting on Twitter with the #72hournovel hashtag.

Random observances:

Writing is physically draining enough when you don’t dash around the dining room, your patio, and your kitchen re-enacting an epic fight from your Sword and Sorcery novel. Today, I also learned that it’s a good thing I don’t write erotica.

When you try to force a character into a box she doesn’t want to fit into, she will rebel. Much like fitting a person into a category she doesn’t want to fit into. The difference is:  I can erase the character. I think that actually makes it harder to deal with.

Magic in most fantasy novels is glowing, mystical, and beneficent, or dark, chilling, and malignant. It has crisp edges and direct lines of attack. When a man is hit with a spell, he dies or is turned into a toad or whatever curse is laid upon him. But I’m a veteran. I’ve seen Fireballs, and Magic Missiles, and Called Lightning. I’ve seen especially what they leave behind. There are no crisp lines and magical effects in combat.

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Writing is physicall

The Detective with a Funny Hat

There’s a trope, a meme almost, found among editors and publishers. A writer has a story featuring a brand-new detective, in a mystery that he claims is unlike anything ever written. He sits down in front of his fellow writers and relates the plot of what is otherwise a standard, cliché-ridden mystery story. Finally, the editor cuts him off.

“What’s different about this story?”

Everything,” he says, breathlessly.

“Are you sure? You have a family locked in a mansion for the weekend. They can’t go anywhere. The crime is a murder by poison a third of the way through, and everyone hates the victim. The red herring claims he didn’t do it but wished he had, and he becomes a red herring halfway through, right on schedule. And the real killer was actually ‘helping’ the detective solve the crime. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad story, mind you, but what’s different about it?”

“What, are you blind? The detective is wearing a funny hat.”

This has become shorthand in some writing circles for character traits that are just pasted on like they were cut out of construction paper and glued to the guy at the last moment. These traits don’t actually affect anything in the story, but the author, and some readers, are convinced that everything is all that much more different because of the funny hat. Or suspenders. Or whatever is added in an attempt to make the protagonist stand out from the crowd.

This shows up in fantasy fiction as well. You can almost see the gears turning in the author’s mind…

I’m tired of reading about farmboy protagonists who save the world. My character is a farmgirl.

There are too many stories about magic swords. Mine is about a magic morningstar.

Elves are always magical. I’m going to make the Dwarfs magical instead.

All of these could of course make an entertaining story, but only if the story is driven by these traits. If your character is an ambidextrous transexual Finnish stamp collector with a propensity for eating Fluffernutter sandwiches whilst riding a neon-plaid Vespa, that’s fine… but only if the ambidextrousness or transexualness or stamp collecting or other traits somehow affect his character and/ or the story. Otherwise, you’ve done nothing but take a stock character, make a beard out of cotton balls and construction paper, strung it on his face, and called him a brand-new creation. This is great for a grade-school play, but not so much for professional writing. Rather than make your story stand out, it showcases lazy character development and plotting.

Why am I bringing this up? Besides having it brought to my attention in a post by Lisa Richardson at Way Too Fantasy, this idea of using superficial changes to substitute for characterization has been on my mind ever since I first started fleshing out my stories and reading books as a writer and not only a reader. In today’s world of inclusiveness and diversity, it is easy to decide you need to flip a coin and randomly make one of your characters white, or Chinese-American, or gay, or black, or on the Autism Spectrum, or anything else that you feel will make your story appeal to a wide audience. This is even worse than giving your protagonist a weird hat. This is nothing more than pandering to a perceived notion that, say, readers of a certain group will more readily read something featuring a protagonist like them, without bothering to see if your character truly conforms to that particular group. It’s easy to take a sheet of stereotypes, cut out a mask in such a way that it doesn’t look stereotypical at first, and paste it on a character that is exactly like you or your friends.

As brought up in an excellent post on the Karavansara blog, there is a lot of diversity in the world already, if you look past the surface. The idea of a lily-white medieval Europe is either the product of a racist and/ or social Darwinist mind, or is something written by a politically correct diversity crusader who is convinced that Europe = White = Evil. But from the Caliphate in Spain to the Greek and Eastern Mediterranean colonies in southern Italy to the Asiatic and Turkic tribes in Hungary and Ukraine and the Baltic countries, Europe was anything but homogenous. Hell, Germany alone was made up of about seventeen thousand different kingdoms, each with its own culture and legends and folklore.

There are many ways to make your world diverse. Start by having at least the setting conform to the real world, and not just a surface impression of it. At some level, every character is a minority of one. Find out what drives that minority and you’ll have the seeds of a great story.