Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Love Affair with Fantasy – Part 1

by Carlie Cullen

As I write in the fantasy genre, I thought it would be interesting to look at the history and origins of Modern Fantasy, and how the genre developed. So let’s look back to those early days when the roots of fantasy were mere tendrils in the publishing world; next time we’ll look at how fantasy grew into the powerhouse genre it is today.

Fantasy is one of the most popular genres of books today, yet it wasn’t until the 1950’s, when J. R. R. Tolkein published The Lord of the Rings series, that fantasy truly entered mainstream publishing.

The modern fantasy genre first took root in the eighteenth century, fuelled by fantastical travellers’ tales, finally unfurling and gaining recognition as a distinct genre in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Notable authors such as Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol) and William Makepeace Thackeray (The Rose and the Ring) included elements of the fantastic in their novels, but they were still classed as fairy tales. However, it was around this time, Hans Christian Andersen initiated a new style of fairy tale.

It wasn’t until the publication of Phantastes, by Scottish author, George MacDonald, that fantasy was accepted as a genre for anyone other than children; Phantastes is widely acknowledged to be the first fantasy novel ever written for adults. Interestingly, MacDonald was a major influence on J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis.

1st edition cover of Phantastes

Another major fantasy author of this era was William Morris. In many respects, Morris’s writing was an important milestone in the history of fantasy; while other authors wrote of dream worlds or foreign lands, Morris’s stories were the first to be set in an entirely fantasy world of his own invention. This began a new trend of writing in the genre.

Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde were really the forefathers of dark fantasy. Using fantastical elements in horror tales, they greatly influenced the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, and as such, created a separate branch or sub-genre of fantasy.

However, it wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that fantasy fiction started to reach larger audiences. Also published around this time were several classic children’s fantasies, like J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. At this time, fantasy was still more accepted in juvenile literature; the terminology for the genre still wasn’t settled and as such, fantasies of this era were still termed fairy tales. Even as late as 1937 when The Hobbit was published, fairy tale was still being used to classify these types of novels.


J R R Tolkein’s hand-drawn                First ‘printed’ cover in 1937

cover for The Hobbit

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Second Novelitus

by Gary Tinnams

In July 2012 I finished my first novel ‘Threshold Shift’ with a mixture of pride and relief. I had done it, I had written a book when just a year earlier the whole notion of writing a book had seemed insurmountable. What seemed even more unlikely, I believed I had written a good book, one that told the story I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it. A book I had written with no market in mind, no shoehorning, just doing what I wanted to do and doing it well.

Foolishly I half expected this to make my book stand out, become a bestseller, you know, all the pipe dreams of the first time novelist that we all have. That didn’t happen. I’ve had some good reviews, I’ve had no bad reviews, but none of this has been reflected in sales. What was wrong? The cover? The story? The marketing? Actually I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s really down to time and dumb luck. To become an overnight success takes years. I need to read a lot more, write a lot more, in essence I need to not give up. But there’s something else as well, something very basic. I have to keep enjoying it.

I started a second novel in October 2012 with the belief I could finish it by the end of the year. I finished something, but when I looked at it, it wasn’t any good, not good at all. I was convinced that my fist novel was fantastic and this new novel was just plain awful. For those three months, I had slogged, I had written, but there had been no joy, no fulfilment, the process had become an empty one. I was just putting words down and hoping something would stick and it hadn’t. I put away that novel and said to myself I would have another go in the 2013 and I would enjoy it.

So in January I started again, the story roughly the same but less rough, the characters more fully formed. I had more fun, but by the end of April all I had was a mess. It still didn’t work, it was still rubbish. Was I being overly self critical? Had my writing really deteriorated so much since the first book? It was then that I determined the cause, I had second novelitus. When you write your first novel, you realise you can write. When you come to the second novel, you realise you can write anything, anything at all. Too many choices, too much indecision, too much internal questioning, too much benchmarking what you are writing now against what you have already written. My second attempt at a second novel was a bust.

In May 2013, I decided that my second novel was never going to be a patch on my first, but if I never finished it, if I just gave up, then that would be it. No second novel meant no third novel, no fourth novel etc etc. I sat down again and decided that this time I would finish, this time no matter how bad it was, there would be an end to it. So in May I started again, looking at the first two drafts I took from them what I liked and left what I hated. I changed characters, removed characters, gave some more development, gave others less and worked out the story elements in detail.

Even with all this enthusiasm and determination it was still rubbish and yet by chapter six there was a glimmer of the old first novel writer. By chapter ten it was happening, properly happening. I finished in August, re-edited until a week ago, and came to the conclusion that while this was an altogether different beast to my first novel, it was also a novel in its own right. There was action, tragedy, pace, self-discovery in as good, if not a better, mix than the first novel. I have now sent it off to be edited and I’m hoping my editor will agree with me. But even if she doesn’t, I finished the second novel, finished it! I know the first one wasn’t a fluke, and in the end I actually enjoyed doing it again. I’m confident I can write a third one, and that even if I do occasionally spout rubbish, none of that effort was ever truly wasted.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The words behind the words

By James Batchelor

A hero guns down a villain.
In a film, this moment would take seconds (depending on the director’s love of dramatic slow motion effects). Point, bang, ouch, it’s over.
But behind the scenes, movie buffs know that a lot of planning went into that single moment: script writing, storyboarding, sound design and perhaps some music, lighting, experimenting with different camera angles, and even costume choices.
No doubt some of these things are explained in the director’s commentary or DVD extras – the home release of Star Wars: Episode III has a particularly interesting documentary about how many man hours go into one minute of footage. But for the most part, viewers will never know how much work goes into that single gunshot.
It’s the same with writing.
The finished manuscript may be what you hand to the editor, but many writers know that there is far more behind it: character sheets, maps, plot outlines, previous drafts and alternate versions of the same scene, paragraphs that never made it and, yes, that silly version you wrote after too much coffee where the hero suddenly develops heat vision and melts the bad guy instead.
A 50,000-word novel can have thousands more words scribbled into other documents or on spare pages. They are the words behind the words.
Every writer has a different system, and might even use other methods depending on the project. None of them are right or wrong; it’s whatever works best for you. Haven’t ever made such notes before? You might not need them, but if you think you do, ask another writer how they do it.
I can only draw from my own experience. For most novel attempts, I tend to have a chapter-by-chapter outline. This may or may not go into great detail. It might be a case of “Ch14: hero chases villain to rooftop, reveals reasons for revenge, shoots him, makes cocky comment”. Or it might be as simple as “Ch5: hero buys coffee”. If I want to elaborate on who he meets there, what he says, what he does, whether or not Starbucks gets his order wrong, I can. If not, I’ll just wing it – sometimes that’s how you stumble on your best stuff.
For my time-travelling sci-fi story, I’ve had to do two chapter plans: one for the order in which events occur in the novel, and one in chronological order that explains all the jumping back and forth in time. Even then, it’s hard to work out what character is where and when – time travel is really confusing stuff, but a lot of fun too.
I even have notes under the chapter plans on all the possible endings I might have, because sometimes you just don’t know which one is right until you get there.
For my fantasy series, I’ve gone even further: I’ve set up a Wiki. Like Wikipedia, but entirely centred around my novels. Not only does this include character profiles and general lore, but even details like what tavern is on what street, and which districts of my city are next to each other.
While Tolkien bundled many of these ‘words behind his words’ into The Lord of the Rings’ appendices, I think it’s safer for my readers’ sanity that mine remain locked away in my laptop. Maybe that’s not the case for you.
The point is don’t be afraid to write words that are relevant to your novel but don’t actually add to your word count. (Don’t go too nuts – you do want to finish your story, after all)
The purpose of such notes is to make everything clear to you, so you understand your story inside and out or back to front. When you do, your writing will be inherently better and your world or story more compelling.
Rowling’s magical world feels complete because she has a complete version built in her head. It’s like a day trip to France: there’s more countryside and villages beyond the outskirts of Paris. You never see it, but you know it’s there. Just as when a hero guns down a villain, your readers will know there’s a hell of a lot more work behind it.