Thursday, 25 June 2015

The greatest challenge

My current biggest challenge as a writer is not finding time for writing - this I somehow manage to squeeze in - but finding time for reading. I wish I could spend hours absorbed in my favorite Jane Austen novels; I wish I could spend hours reading other people's work on Wattpad and Inkitt - so many great stories out there, and all of it free (my favorite part). However, with such a full, busy life taking care of my home and my little children - yes, I know I mention it a lot - it just doesn't happen very often. I always feel pangs of guilt when someone reads and rates my work and I skim theirs and wish I had time to really read it.

On the other hand, having small children gives me the perfect excuse for guiltless immersion in all my favorite classics, such as Winnie the Pooh and Pippi Longstocking

My mother never read out to me as a child. She confessed she did this on purpose, so I "would learn to read on my own sooner". Whenever I think about this, I feel sad. I do just the opposite with my children. I don't care when they learn to read on their own, as long as it's all within the range of normal. They will read... actually my oldest is just starting to. Besides, I believe that the more good stories children hear, the higher their motivation to learn to read will eventually be. 

I still love being read to. My husband and I read out to each other often - interesting excerpts from books, articles, anything. Even the baby is soothed by the rhythmic lull of a voice when poetry is read out. Do read to your children if you have them. It will bring you closer together - especially if you, like me, aren't much for rowdy games and running around - and it's time well spent you'll never regret.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Why I'm not afraid someone will steal my ideas

I know young authors often worry about copyright infringement and ask, “but what if someone steals my book/idea/title/characters?”

At some point I used to worry about this too, but I don’t anymore. With some maturity, some experience and some confidence, I am no longer concerned someone will snatch my brilliant plot and turn it into a bestseller series and a blockbuster movie and I’ll be left bitter and frustrated for not protecting my rights better.

Why?

1 1.   Humility, humility, humility. There are so many great books and talented authors out there. So many fantastic stories are online, just begging for readers. The chances someone will zero in on my specific plot/story and steal them are basically nil. I mean, yes, I hope I have enough talent to pursue writing as a potentially profitable venue, and I am striving to improve, but it’s not like I’m the female version of Stephen King. Many, many writers out there are a lot more talented than I am.

2 2.       I have more ideas for potentially brilliant plots and sketches of engaging characters than I can develop in a lifetime, and the same is generally true for any moderately talented author. Gifted authors will have too many of their own ideas to choose from to care about mine. And if an idea is taken? Why, I'll just go with another one. 

3 3. Yours (and everyone’s) unique voice:  few plots are truly original. It’s a lot more about execution than about the general idea, so unless someone actually steals my whole book and publishes it as their own (which would be pretty easy to prove), I don’t care. Consider books about World War II, an inexhaustible theme. There are so many stories about the Russian village boy gone off to join the guerilla war against the Germans, or the Jewish girl hiding in a Christian home under a false identity. It isn’t an original story but, with a gifted delivery, it will never grow old. People can copy your ideas, but they can never copy your unique voice and the details and sub-plots and characters that make a book truly worth reading.

Imagine J.K. Rowling telling someone about her book idea sometime back in 1991, and this someone (without enough creativity to think of their own plot) says, “hey, I like this. I think I’ll sit down and write a book about a public school for wizards.” Most likely he’d have written something mediocre nobody would read. J.K. Rowling, with her brilliant realistic twists, wealth of detail and unique humor, created the work of a genius.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Why not write as much as you can

I've mentioned before that I like writing at a steady pace of a 1,000 words a day - this includes just pure creative writing, not editing, emailing, blogging, commenting, hanging out on forums, etc. A concentrated effort of about 1K words takes me around one hour to complete (without revisions). It doesn't sound like very much, and indeed there have been times when I churned out 2,000-3,000 words per day.

So why don't I usually write more than 1,000 words a day?

Three reasons:

1. Avoid burnout - a 1,000 words a day, weekends off, is 5,000 words a week, 20,000 words a months, and a complete first draft of a 100,000-word novel in 5 months. Another month for revisions/editing, and theoretically you can have a complete novel in 6 months. That's a very good pace. Much better than writing in 3,000-word spurts that, after a week, leave me so wrung out I need a month-long break from my novel.

2. Leave time for real life - I have a husband, three children, a dog and a bunch of chickens, and no maid, nanny, cook or gardener. Need I say more? I need to prioritize very carefully if I want to incorporate writing into my life without neglecting other things.

3. More and faster isn't always better - I often find that the best ideas and most creative plot twists actually come upon me at times when I'm doing something not remotely connected with writing, such as washing the dishes or making Lego constructions with my kids. These lulls in writing are just as important as sitting down to my computer and plowing on.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The secret to a great fantasy book: a rich background

I remember a very good piece of advice I've read: if you have to research a certain topic for your novel (navigation, local topography of a certain area, a specific historical period, etc), make sure you know more than what you strictly need. It's a lot of work, true, but broader knowledge makes for a stronger, more confident voice that will come out in your writing. 

With fantasy novels, it's not so much about research as about imagination, of course, but the same principle applies: your background has to be broader and richer than what you actually let onto the pages. Consider how you feel when reading Lord of the Rings. You can just feel there's a whole magical world in the background of the story, just waiting to be explored. Tolkien had spent a lifetime creating his world, complete with mythology, history, geography and even a whole new language.

Similarly, you ought to invest time in your world. Live in your world. Create history and geography, draw maps and illustrate your novel (even if you can't really draw and don't intend your drawings to be published). Draw your characters. Perhaps write a collection of vignettes/short stories before sitting down to the actual epic masterpiece. I've spent years developing my world before I started writing Quest of the Messenger, and there's a lot of material which didn't find its way into the novels. Still, it's anything but worthless. The spirit of depth, richness, of a whole exciting world is there between the lines.

Here's a poem that did make it into Paths of the Shadow. It's called Upon A Stony Shore, and tells of a legendary queen named Thasiella:

One night, when waves were rolling in
And moonlight was no more
She wept, the lovely golden queen
Upon a stony shore.

"My love is gone," she cried in pain,
"My husband and my king,
But I shall walk with him again
Upon the fields of spring."

A cup she filled with bitter brew,
"Leave me," she gave command.
But there was one with her who knew,
And dared to thwart her hand.

"My queen, if you would take your life,
Than mine shall go with yours."
And out she took a silv'ry knife,
This maid of no remorse.

"Your love shall wait, a golden crown
Like sunlight on his hair;
In Lands of Everlasting Dawn
He dwells, he goes nowhere.

Your people need you, my fair queen,
'Twon't do to lose you both.
Unbar the doors, let people in,
Tell them they have your oath."

The poisoned cup fell from her hand,
She thought of death no more –
And thus did Thasiella stand
Above a stony shore.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Map of Tilir

OK, so this is a very simple, schematic hand-drawn map - it looks like a child's scribble compared to some gorgeous maps of fantasy worlds I've seen out there - but I figured it would still be useful to upload this, for those who are following "Paths of the Shadow" and want to keep track on the protagonists' movements across the country. 

Here you can see the relative placement of all the main locations in Tilir, such as Rhasket-Tharsanae, Aldon-Sur, the Emerald Mountains and more. Some new locations will appear on the map in the second book.

Of course, I'd love to figure out how to turn this primitive map into something more detailed and impressive, but this will probably have to wait because I'm not really a technology-oriented person. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A mistake (IMO) historical fiction authors make

Here is what I mean: when writing about famous historical characters, many authors, instead of writing directly about those characters and giving us an insight into their thoughts, motivations, desires and weaknesses – in short, instead of making them human – give us an observer’s POV. That is, they create a fictional (and often weak) character, whose only role is being present there to give us a peek on what Alexander the Great/Caligula/Napoleon were doing.
Example: last week I read a novel based on the events in the Book of Esther. If I were the author, I’d write directly from Queen Esther’s point of view, tell the readers how she felt about having to hide the fact that she’s Jewish, how she feared for the fate of her people, how she missed the home she was forcibly taken from. Instead, what I got is a story written entirely from the POV of some servant who gives us her observations about how “The Queen looked sad when she was taken to the King”. And some rather weak dialogues between the MC and Queen Esther. What a waste.
Or there’s Meadowland, by Thomas Holt. He takes these fantastic characters like Erik the Red, Leif Erikson, Freydis Eriksdottir, and instead of digging straight into their minds, he gives us the POV of some two old geezers nobody cares for.
In part, I can understand why it’s easier to work this way. When you’re writing about someone really famous, almost mythical, it can be intimidating to try and make them fully human. But in my opinion, it is a challenge that, if properly executed, makes for a really, really good read. It can make the difference between a mediocre historical fiction novel, and a really good one. Take for example Merlin’s character in Mary Stewart’s novels. We get Merlin’s direct POV, which I think is fabulous. Having the story told from the POV of Merlin’s servant would weaken and dilute the experience, IMHO.
What do you think?

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Characters we love to hate

Here is something I received in a private message from someone on Wattpad: "I hate Dankar. I would poison him if I could!"

This made me really pleased, because if people feel this way, it means I've accomplished something big: creating a character readers love to hate. This is just as important, and a lot more difficult, than writing about someone who gives you the warm fuzzies.

Dankar is doubtless one of the most controversial characters in Paths of the Shadow. He is gay, and in order to hide this, he looks for a wife that would basically serve as a painted screen. When his first two wives threaten to let things out into the open, he murders them and looks for someone more tractable. That's how he ends up marrying sweet, innocent Kelena, a provincial girl whose parents have high ambitions for their daughters to marry well.

So yes, Dankar does come off as a really rotten person at first. He's a manipulator and a murderer. He treats his wife as a social commodity. He has absolutely no scruples. However, consider the following:

1. Dankar lives in a gay-intolerant, medieval-styled society. All gays are firmly locked in the closet.

2. He isn't just any person. He is a nobleman and quite well-known - pretty much a celebrity. If the truth about his sexual orientation comes out, his whole clan will be put to shame - and Dankar is loyal to his clan.

3. If you've only read up to the point of Dankar's marrying Kelena, please refrain from passing judgment just yet. Give him another chance. This is a spoiler, but I promise he will redeem himself - at least partially - in subsequent chapters.