Blog Hop – My Writing Process

Hi Folks,

We’re having a brief interlude in Scarlet’s Web today because I was asked by the lovely Jonathon Fletcher to participate in a writing process blog hop.

Below are four questions and my answers about my writing process. Beneath them is a link to Jon’s blog where you can read his answers to the same questions. I’ve tagged another great writer, Kela Lewis-Morin and will add a link to his blog when I have it later. Please check them out once you’ve read this.

Without more ado…

reflected birds

1. What am I working on?

I’ve been working on the next story for the blog. The Life Without Tumblr series has lasted six months and come to almost a hundred episodes, so it’s time for something new. It’s tentatively titled The 13th Rose.

Every morning, the Flower Seller leaves his chambers in the Flights and travels to earth. He sets up his stall on Embankment and waits. Every day he meets his one customer, to whom he sells a bunch of twelve red roses and gifts one extra. His subject has already been chosen for him. His task is to pull that person away from the edge and save their soul, regardless of what state it’s in. For some the choice means life and death, for others, lies and deceit.

But this week isn’t going well. If he doesn’t hit his quota, he’ll get banished and what’s worse, the Father is coming to visit on Sunday.

One by one our characters are introduced and one by one, they make their choice. Come the end of the week, everything changes and the world as we know it will cease to exist. Who will still be standing to take their place in the wreckage?

It’s part character study, part zombie apocalypse, part fantasy. The usual mash up and so far, great fun to write.

In terms of editing, I’m mid-re-edit on The Spirit Room while the third book in The Assembly trilogy is with my editor. I’m tidying up the language and refining it more than anything. I’m also formatting the ebook and print editions of A Game of War seasons One and Two in time for late May release.

2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Hopefully the answer above gives you some clues to this one. My favourite reading genre has always been fantasy first and foremost, with science fiction and horror close behind. My favourite TV and movie genres have always been Urban Fantasy and Zombies/Horror. I’m a huge comic fan and have been all my life.

These genres all fit together so well, I couldn’t figure out why they shouldn’t be combined. So my Epic Fantasy assassin trilogy, ‘The Assassin Cycle’, features zombies, and my epic fantasy ‘1000 Hours’ features characters with super powers. My modern-day-magician series, ‘The Broken Circle’ has goblins running around London and The Assembly Series features superheroes, alien invasion and the world’s greatest magicians.

Aside from the genre-splicing, I’m hooked on characters and always have been. My aim is to create characters within fantasy that affect the reader as much as those in any other genre, something I feel has been missing in many of the books I’ve read growing up. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’m working hard on it.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write because I love to write and love to tell stories. I write what I write because I love the freedom and the escapism. Growing up, fantasy gave me new worlds in which to exist; an escape from real life and all it entailed. I get that in most books I read, but fantasy was always an especially exciting prospect because you didn’t know where you were escaping to. Plus, of course, dragons. And swords. And zombies.

Why content yourself with writing ‘person A travels to place 1, meets person B on the way and they fall in love’, when you can write ‘person A travel to place 1, finds the sword of Danelar, meets person B who turns out to have magic powers. Together they defeat the Witch King of Shail and fall in love’?  Maybe it’s just me, but I know which I’d rather read and write.

being creative is not a hobby

4. How does my writing process work?

I’ve been working on this a lot in the last year or so. I’ve read countless blogs that tell me to plan and outline and so forth, so I’ve tried, in various ways. However, my basic process has stayed the same. I sit at my computer, open a new Scrivener project and start typing. I will have nothing in my brain. In fact, the emptier it is the better.

By the end of the first page I’ll have a character, maybe a place and some questions.

By the end of the first chapter, I’ll have the answers to those questions in my head and lots more I can’t answer.

By about five thousand words, I’ll have a world. My protagonist will have an aim, some baggage and if they’re really lucky, some friends. They’ll also have an antagonist.

By, hopefully, twenty to thirty thousand words, I’ll have an ending in my head. I’ll also know whether the book is standalone or part of a series/trilogy.

there's nothing to writing

That’s the process. From there till the end I put my head down and write. I try to write my first draft as quick as possible in order to stay in the flow, so I’ll average 25-30,000 words a week and bash it out in three to four weeks.

I then put it in the drawer with the rest and let it sit. When I come to edit, I read it cover to cover. If it still excites me, I begin to pull it apart and make it work. If it doesn’t, it goes in the virtual bin of ‘useful things I might use one day but probably won’t but can’t bear to throw away’. :)

I don’t ever take a break from writing, so in the last fifteen months, since I started writing seriously, I’ve clocked up around twelve books and a bunch of novellas and short stories. The real positive about this is that it stops me being too precious about my work. I don’t feel I have to use everything and it has to really stand out to make it to the editing stage. Now if I only had a bit more time…

we rarely know where we are going

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little dip into my writing life, do pop over now and check out Jon’s blog on GoodReads for more writing related goodies. It’s interesting how different our processes are to achieve the same end goal.

I’ve tagged @KelaLewisMorin…link to his post on Deviant Art coming later.

Thanks so much for reading. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts on my process or would like to share your own. Scarlet’s Web will return on Wednesday, when she’ll finally meet the Council…

Fantasy writing prompts – creating unique characters

For this week’s fantasy writing prompt, we’re heading to the fundamental feature of every story, the characters. Each and every great story is based around one or more equally great protagonists.

characters

What is it that makes them great? Some are funny, others flawed and human. Some villains are dark, unpleasant people, but just as compelling as the hero. Others can be easy to relate to, whilst some embody the ideal that we ourselves aspire to. Any manner of things can make a character attractive. Whatever the particular traits, these people are often the reason we continue to read.
In this post, I mentioned my overwhelming dislike of fantasy stereotypes, particularly when attached to race.

So the challenge for today is twofold:
1.Create a character with the following things:

  • A physical appearance (well, duh).
  • A flaw, some failing that will influence how they think and act.
  • A past (not so much where they went to school, more where the scar on their neck came from).
  • At least 3 core values. These drive the fundamental beliefs that guide the way they approach every situation.
  • The basics of how they survive and live in a potentially hostile fantasy or sci-fi environment.

2. Create said character using a race/sex/religion/ethnic background not normally associated with the character archetype, thus breaking away from the usual stereotype.

Below are some classic fantasy character archetypes to either avoid entirely or use as a jumping-off point. I’ve put a couple of my own examples at the end.

  • The dark and mysterious warrior with a hidden past and apparently endless stamina.
  • The magician.
  • The fanatical priest.
  • The whore with a heart of gold.
  • The grumpy, world-weary adventurer.
  • The grizzled man-at-arms.
  • The deadly assassin.
  • The newbie. They can be new at anything, be it fighting, spell-casting, etc.
  • The ship’s captain.
  • The lithe and athletic archer.

e.g. My magician weighs in at 98kg, stands about 6’4″ and plays rugby in his spare time. e.g. The deadly assassin struggles with a dodgy heart that can drive her to her knees at the most inopportune time.
e.g. The whore with a heart of gold is a dude whose past lives include snake charmer and politician.

 

You can create your character using a character sheet, using my points above as headers, or maybe write a scene of two in which you introduce the characters, or even both.

Making the case for scraping sub genres of fantasy…yep, including Sci-Fi

Urban Fantasy, Hard Sci-Fi, Epic Fantasy, Space Opera, Steampunk, Soft Sci-Fi, Dark Fantasy…alas, the list goes on in yet more attempts to fit a many-sided shape into a dragon-shaped hole.

The label of fantasy means the imagining of something impossible or improbable. This definition would seem to me to encapsulate all of the genres above and many others, which begs the question, is there really any need for a separate categorisation at all, let alone the hundred or so sub-sub-sub categories?

In particular I am debating the need to separate out Science Fiction from the wider genre of Fantasy.

Before you Sci-Fi fans aim your M41A Pulse Rifles in my direction, please let me expand.

If you are a newbie to Fantasy then you may not yet fully appreciate the extent to which readers and geeks across the world will defend their particular genre, flaming sword of Darkthor held up against the darkness of the Blaster rifle of Death-Tech.

Before getting swallowed by the Sarlacc of styles, the catacombs of category, imagine, if you will, a world where goblins and aliens rub shoulders without us having to assign some random, barely relevant, yet highly specific label to it.

I recently contributed to a fascinating forum discussion on Goodreads on the nature of Fantasy and Science Fiction as genres. The question posed was whether they should join forces and become one, giant uber-genre, or remain separate, forever destined to confuse and confound the afore-mentioned fantasy newbie. Being a fan of both fantasy and science fiction, my reading habits leaning towards more traditional Fantasy while my writing has a more Sci-Fi / contemporary bent, I thought this a highly relevant topic for debate.

What’s the point of having genres in the first place?

Readers shopping on-line or browsing a bookstore require genres in order to make an informed choice about what they are going to read. I too find it useful to have certain labels to guide me in the right direction. One such label is the author name. I know the authors I love and will get their books without reading the back blurb, confident that I’m going to enjoy it.

When I am looking for a new book to read, it almost invariably comes about from a recommendation. I don’t ask what the genre is in advance, and it isn’t really important at that stage. If it’s from my mum, I stock up on happy pills and prepare myself for some serious ‘literature’. If it’s from my brother, it’s more than likely to be fantasy in one guise or another. If it’s from my other brother, it’s probably Edge magazine, or…nah, just Edge (he’s not a big reader). Regardless of genre, the first question is ‘Is it any good?’ So genre is useful, but it doesn’t define what I read. In fact staying within the virtual bricks and mortar of our one or two pre-defined genres of choice would mean I would miss out on the treasures that might be found beyond the walls.

From a writer’s perspective this excess of categorization does little to enhance the elegance of the publishing process.  My publisher, aka my wife, had the joyful experience recently of researching the Amazon genre list for the release of my new novella.

She had to check with me whether some of the sub genres were actually real or perhaps an in-joke with the Amazon Fantasy crowd designed to drive her crazy.

Having become convinced that they were genuine, she then had to figure out exactly what the key features of each genre were. Having reached the ‘New adult with a car but no girlfriend and only average prospects fantasy’ tag, she actually ate the Mac before running gibbering down the garden. After hours of coaxing with a mug of tea and copies of Shakespeare, she finally came out, but still gets the shakes when I mention the ‘G’ word.

My wife is often the first to remind me that it is essential that we are very specific when it comes to marketing and promotion and she’s entirely right. Knowing our readership and understanding what makes them tick is, particularly in this era of self-publishing, a must. I am, however, not convinced that the degree of specificity emerging in our labeling of art adds more than it jeopardises.

The more specific the genre, surely the greater the chance is that the reader may feel let down or betrayed should the author stray from the blueprint and this is a real concern. Keeping our promise to the reader is essential if we are to maintain a trusted brand. Some of my own books, for example, exist in space, with aliens and spaceships. However, there’s also magic and some hippy-shit thrown in as well. Why? Because I think it’s what the story needs and I’m not sure sacrificing good story to fit with marketing conventions is ever a good move.

The idea that by putting just the fantasy tag (and nothing more) on my book I may inadvertently drive away, or not attract in the first place, lovers of space ships is a bit saddening. That it will also drive away lovers of romance and soul-searching coming-of-age stories is also a shame, because there’s some of that in there too.

So, whilst I can recognize and appreciate the value of genre, it also strikes me as maddeningly limiting.

In an ideal world, if I went to buy a fantasy book, I could expect one or more of the list below:

  • Dragons
  • Magic
  • Space ships
  • Werewolves
  • Rings (always with the bloody rings)
  • Swords
  • Snakes
  • Elves
  • Planets
  • Very tough men
  • Very tough women
  • Priests
  • Pickpockets
  • Castles
  • Horses
  • Crazy-ass guns
  • Vampires
  • Succubus (every book should have succubus really. Where’s the bad?)
  • Giants
  • Trees talking/walking/doing the boogie
  • Evil empires
  • Tyranny on an intergalactic scale
  • Shnoos.

I guess I don’t get why space ships are ok, but vampires aren’t; why elves are fine but giant killing robot things not so much.

So let our improbable imaginings be named Fantasy and let’s be done with it. Let us focus on taking our readers on the journey the story dictates whilst having the freedom to do so.

Your starting point for discovering the wonderful world of fantasy novels

Perhaps you’ve watched A Game of Thrones (ace), or read a lot of comics (also ace), and now fancy delving more into the written world of fantasy. Or maybe you love horror but are branching out. Whatever it may be, this blog is your starting point to discovering the wonderful world of fantasy novels. If you think of any other stories I’ve missed, do comment and let us know.

I should point out that all classifications are mine as being the best way I can think of to describe them. Amazon may disagree!

  1. Magician by Raymond E Feist

This wondrous book begins as a classic tale of one boys’ ascent from average Joe, to magician extraordinaire. His journey underpins the entire novel and gives it resonance and depth. However, where it stands head and shoulders above so many others is in the scope and depth that Feist brings to it. From the humble beginnings the world soon becomes much bigger as a raft of characters are introduced, war begins and aliens invade. The world is beautifully realised, the characters thoroughly likeable and the action thrilling. Feist is also unafraid to take his people to unexpected places. The key relationship between our hero Pug and his best friend Tomas is never simple or comfortable.

I could rave about this for days, but to keep it short, if you want to try some swords and sorcery, epic scale fantasy that won’t tax your brain too much, start here.

Like this? Try: the rest of the series from the same author, known as the Riftwar saga.

  1. The Elenium by David Eddings

David Eddings is one of the great masters of the quest fantasy. What Tolkien started many, many authors have run with, though few as successfully or just generally as satisfyingly as Eddings.

The three book series that is The Elenium focuses on a Knight called Sparhawk and his travels to save his young and very beautiful queen, who is encased in diamond to keep her alive. Of course, Sparhawk is joined on his voyage by a number of others, all possessing severe likeability (my blog, my words, nur) and suitable heroism. They are wonderfully easy to read and contain enough cynicism to keep them from spilling over into cheese.

So, the short version is, if you like quests and swords and magic and knights, read this.

Like this? Try: Any of Eddings’ other series, the Belgariad, the Mallorean and the Tamuli.

  1. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

This series lasted for an eye-watering 14 books. Don’t panic, I know, it sounds daunting, but let me explain.

This was a top notch update of the quest fantasy as described above. Taking the, at the time more current approach of throwing some relatively innocent types into the firing line, Jordan did a cracking job of really humanising the action while keeping it exciting. The first three or four books in the series really deliver and are well worth the read.

As to whether to read the entire series, it’s up to you. I would argue that there are enough great books out there that you may not need to feel compelled to churn through the lot, but it’s your call.

In short, innocents in danger, beasties, fights and so forth.

Like this? Try: Well, there are a few more of them to go. Also, the Shannara books, by Terry Brooks

  1. The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

You may have noticed by now that fantasy authors don’t like to stop at only one. Call them greedy, whatever, I must admit I rather like it.

Coming bang up to date now, I would describe this as being character driven epic fantasy. It follows multiple characters across different settings, some of whom cross paths, often painfully, but always comes back to the characters. Following the exploits of three fairly unsavoury, yet oddly endearing types, plus a heap of others, the books slowly weave a number of interlocking webs. The overall message? Don’t trust anyone, they’re all out to get you. I would describe them as being a little more mature than the previous books and they’re certainly harder hitting. Be prepared for some fairly unpleasant happenings.

In short, nasty things happening to mostly nasty people, whom you can’t help rooting for, all in a fantastically realised world. With swords.

Like this? Try: Abercrombie has released three other standalone novels all within the same world, which are just as good.

  1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Just the one. No trilogy or series here, no sir. This brings Fantasy into our world, so I think you could call it contemporary fantasy. Telling the tale of one mans’ journey through the America one only sees in Gaiman’s imagination, the book explores mythology both old and new as the ancient gods, dying out as belief in them runs out, must fight the new gods of the modern world. Told through the eyes of ex-convict Shadow, the book is a classic example of Gaimans’ magical ability to infuse every word with mystery and wonder.

In short, very cool, mesmerising and atmospheric, with a cracking concept.

Like this? Try: Anansi boys, also by Neil Gaiman.

  1. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I’m not sure whether to call this contemporary fantasy or science fiction. It’s very much real worldly, but sometime in the future. I guess I still think that science fiction has to have space somewhere in it, an opinion for which I would probably get laughed at for, but there it is. So, sitting somewhere between the two, Snow crash is a wonderful tale of Avatars with swords, crazy whale hunters and so much more than I can paraphrase here. Based, essentially, around a computer virus, which is a big deal when half of your life is spent in the Metaverse, the successor to the internet, the characters travel around the world in search of the necessary answers.

In short, crazy futuristic fantasy, crammed with ideas and action.

Like this? Try: Maul by Tricia Sullivan

  1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Based in the real world, this is a wonderful example of contemporary fantasy. Mixing up Pratchett’s absurd humour with Gaiman’s love of legend, the books focus around an angel and demon, best friends and rather attached to their lives on earth. As the time of reckoning approaches, they, along with an assortment of others attempt to find the Antichrist, prophesied to bring about the end of days. It’s great fun and a wonderful introduction to both authors.

In short, hilarious, poignant and a little silly.

Like this? Try: Anything by either author (see above and below). Also, Robert Rankin

  1. Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Discworld series is, to my mind, one of the greatest fantasy creations of modern times. Behind the humour and impressively human characters, lies a brilliantly conceived world, complete in every way. Having created this amazing place, Pratchett takes great pleasure in this, the first of many books in the series, in throwing his luckless hero Rincewind from one side of it to the other. Rincewind, the eternal pessimist and (anti)hero of the book spends his time stumbling from one life threatening situation to the next, spurred on by the most positive tourist the Discworld has ever seen.

In short, lots of running, screaming and complaining and about a thousand times more funny than that makes it sound.

Like This? Try: There are 39 Discworld novels out there, what’s keeping you?

  1. Legend by David Gemmell

The late David Gemmell was a master of what I would describe as Heroic Fiction. Although his heroes are often unwilling, they posses the morals that we should demand of our muscley fighty types. In Legend, his hero is an old man, past his fighting prime, apparently. Of course, he still manages to defend a castle single handedly whilst being really cool and really, really hard. Gemmell succeeds so well in this because although the plot isn’t the deepest, the characters are just great, and you cannot help but root for them every time.

In short, heroes with swords and axes fighting and being heroic, but not cheesy. A difficult balance to strike.

Like this? Try: Waylander, the King Beyond the Gate and assorted others, all by Gemmell.

 

Calling all geeks! What 3 things should a newbie to the world of fantasy and sci-fi know in order to get along? (a cry for help from the Missus)

Imagine turning up at a Marvel fancy dress party dressed in a batman costume. Knowing the conventions in the universe of all things Science Fiction and Fantasy are, at this moment in time, more than a little beyond me. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem. I have had a great relationship with Mike for 21 years despite my ineptitude in this field and his total immersion in it, but here’s my dilemma:

I find myself starting a publishing venture in an area which is (dare I say it out loud?) totally outside my realm of expertise and any good business person would tell you, that’s a fairly silly idea…well it is if you want to be successful in it at any rate.

No longer can I shrug off talk of light saber colours and duck out of the debate of why Episode 1 was the worst idea ever because now I actually need to know my stuff.  So I need to learn and learn fast. Mike has tried over the years to induct me into this elite club but I am still only a Padawan at best.

How do I know what’s cool? How do I avoid the inevitable faux par’s at conventions? How do I discern a Rivendale elf from one from Lothlorien, and does it matter?

So I’m calling all geeks (respectfully), would you help a damsel in distress?

What are the top 3 things I absolutely need to know about Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Comic Fans and this alternate reality?  All help gratefully received.