Saturday, September 26, 2009

Reconciling Story vs. History

When writing any kind of story, publishers and agents expect a tight plot where every word counts and every plot point has a reason. My book doesn't quite do this, and the reason is that in my novel I am writing not just a fantasy story but also a history. Sure, it is fantasy, so I should just be able to change any detail I like, because I created it, right? Not really. This story existed in my head for so long - more than twenty years- that it has essentially become historical fact within my created world.

This is a problem, because history doesn't tie things up nicely the way publishers and agents want stories to be. I have an almost war between the races of elf and man, halted due to the threat of a far more dangerous invasion from out of the East. I imagine many agents would tell me to ditch the whole approach to a war that never takes place. It's boring, because there is only a threat of action, no true action. To me, the threatened war between elf and man is something that actually happened, so I can't just cut it out. I imagine my created world as a real place with a real history, and history muddies up tight stories. I like it that way; it feels more realistic to me. Life doesn't work in neat, logical plot points.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My First Novel

I am torn by wanting to post some examples from my first novel, but not wanting to run into any future issues should I be lucky enough to get an agent and try to publish the book.

I really love my book, though the more I read on the internet, the more I continue to edit it. I keep wondering if I am actually making it worse rather than better! Correcting punctuation mistakes is one thing, but rewriting chapters because I worry they are not exciting enough or have pretty enough prose is another.

My book is fantasy and stands alone as traditional epic fantasy, yet it is planned as part of an arc that is mostly science fiction. That makes me concerned about whether I need more hints within this fantasy novel about the origins of certain characters, or if I should just not worry about it and let the future novels deal with that issue. I worry about this because some readers might question why my fantasy world has earth-like flora and fauna. I actually have an explanation for this, but I don't deal with it at all within the novel, because there is really no way to address it. Only one character in the book knows what has happened previously, and the issues are so complex that he doesn't wish to speak about them to other characters because it would open a Pandora's Box of further questions.

Anyway, I need to make a decision on whether to continue editing on this first novel, or begin writing the next. I am torn between the two so much that I am doing neither. I have a legitimate excuse in some ways, having just moved from Iceland to Azerbaijan, but this excuse goes only so far once I get settled into the new residence.

I've noticed that I don't really have any readers on this blog, and I suppose that is fine for now. I haven't tried to advertise it, and it may be better to build up a body of decent posts before I worry about readership. I'll try to think of a good chapter or snippet to post soon...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fantasy Cover Art

Like most writers, I dream of one day being published by one of the major houses. However, there is one point about publishing that truly bothers me and makes me at least consider the possibility of self-publishing someday. I don't like it one bit that the author is given little or no input regarding the cover art.

I have very strong feelings about what I want on my cover, enough that I could see saying 'no' to a publishing contract if they wouldn't back down over a cover that didn't do what I need it to do. Regardless of whether it is wrong or right, I believe many books are judged by their covers. Covers sell books. I have even bought books solely based upon fantastic cover art.

The part that worries me most is that the majority of art done for fantasy novels is terrible, in my opinion. They are generally far too colorful and splashy. I like realistic and gritty. When I see covers for, say, the Wheel of Time series it makes me want to shove the book back on the shelf immediately. The kind of cover art that really speaks to me is the darker, grittier stuff such as the Frazetta work seen on some of the Conan books, or even better, the Alan Lee work you can see on the Iron Tower trilogy by McKiernan. I loved the covers of the McKiernan books so much I bought them just because of the covers; it was an added bonus that I loved the stories, too.

I am looking into the possibility of finding an artist here in Baku to do some cover art for me in the style of Alan Lee. I don't know if I will find one, but it is worth trying. If I like an artist well enough and he/she will be reasonable about prices, I would ideally like to do a series of paintings to put in the book, covering various scenes. I saw this in The Sword of Shannara and I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cliches in Fantasy Writing

I've read many pieces talking about clichés in writing, but it seems to me they generally focused on clichés within the plot. What has long bothered me about fantasy writing has been what I see as a cliché pertaining to the protagonist. Book after book what I see is the author making the protagonist stand out as something special. Perhaps he/she is royalty (whether they know it or not); perhaps they have hidden magical powers that will soon be unleashed. In many cases the author makes the protagonist be 'one of the best' (if not THE best) in their world at something, whether it be wielding a sword or being a sneak-thief. I don't hate such stories - I love the Gray Mouser or Shadowspawn or Conan as much as the next reader - but I do get tired of how each fantasy book I pick up seems to follow this same trend.

I wrote my novel with many plot clichés, because I don't see any problem with this in traditional epic fantasy. Where I chose to make my story different was that I refused to have my protagonists be too special. I hunger for stories that feel realistic. I want protagonists who are normal people thrown into extraordinary circumstances and forced to sink or swim.

I love my story because of this, but it comes at a steep price. When agents read query letters they focus on plot. My book may be fresh and new story-wise due to the way I incorporate true-to-life characters, but all the agents will think about is that some of my plot elements have been seen before ("Elves and dwarves again...a magical item....ugh."). They'll miss the fact that the story itself will have a completely new feel to it due to the characters themselves. Since query letters have to make the sale in around 300 words, it is almost impossible to sell the story to them based around character rather than plot, especially if one uses multiple protagonists like I do.

How does one make the protagonists seem interesting to an agent within a 300 word limit when my whole idea is that my protagonists are NOT special people (or at least that what makes them special are the ordinary heroics that we average people are all capable of)? I want to push average people to the limits and see if they can prevail. I think my story succeeds in this, but I can't figure out how to sell that in 300 words to an agent.