You can find a guest post I did on Sheila Deeth’s blog. I discuss the use of dialect and accents in writing.
This can be the hardest part of editing your manuscript. As an author we so love everything we’ve poured into our story, and to erase a piece of it is disheartening, but usually MUCH needed. Especially, at the request of an agent or editor!
The question’s simple, maybe not simple to answer, but most easy open-ended questions aren’t.
Of course, I can only answer for myself, but I know people roll their eyes at any trope, but let’s be honest. They’re tropes, because they work! Eragon by Christopher Paolini is basically one giant trope = farm boy is destined to be hero, family dies, runs away, finds dragon, become best friends with said dragon and defeat A. villain who killed aforementioned family or B. stop great evil from doing evil stuff. Though, Christopher Paolini self-published Eragon (which isn’t really fair to say since his parents owned a small press), it ended up earning him a lot of cheddar and what seems like a train of book deals.
There’s nothing original about Christopher’s writing (and don’t ask me what I think of it), but it sells well because it takes those oh-so-common tropes and changes them. That’s the key, write something old into something new.
However, all good books need their subplots, relationships, emotion conflict, etc. For me, this is what can make or break a fantasy story—the realism. In order to enjoy the genre there is that natural need to suspend disbelief, but without any reality the story faces the ever-ensuing scoff. What is reality? We all know, and yes, people see the world differently, but there are fundamental principles to life.
The emotions of pain, agony, violence, weakness, strength, love, beauty, and happiness are what make us human…or dwarf. People get sick, people are ugly, people are cowardly and some people aren’t. Most people describe their characters as these perfect heroes, and if not then they are just so gorgeous! As though a fat man has never saved the day?
I’m not mentioning movies because number one this is about books and number two, that wouldn’t even be fair.
Plain and simple, I don’t like heroes. They’re pointless and boring, not to mention they don’t exist. I’m talking about the classic hero out to save the day! Why should we ever fear anything if there’s some humble, rock hard abed man out there who fears nothing and can defeat anyone by sheer force of will? Once I realize I’m reading a book like this I just put it down for good.
This isn’t to say the protagonist needs to be ugly or even not gorgeous, but it shouldn’t be an attribute referenced more than a few times at most. This isn’t 19th century England where only the beautiful are good.
A hero is someone who does something heroic, not some superhero who has superpowers, so he can do super things.
I like my heroes dark, gritty, confused, weak, and strong. Just like I need a villain who’s not some demented monster who eats people because he has nothing else to do. Those villains have their place, but I need a real monster. Someone who you’re not sure about. Is he evil? He murdered that person, but why? In a world filled with werewolves, vampires, and sugar cookie monsters is it fair to assume murder equals evil? If that’s the case you might as well lock up every hero from here to Timbuktu.
No. A real villain is Lord Loren Soth. Oh, we know he’s evil—killed both his wives and a whole laundry list of nefarious deeds. Yet this undead knight still remains true to the code of honor he swore to in life. He was tricked into his damnation, and due to his pride he can’t and won’t accept that. In the end, this MAJOR villain redeems himself in his death/undeath. THAT’s a great villain!
In case you’re wondering, you should check out The War of the Souls trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. To say that was the pinnacle of my time in the Dragonlance world is an understatement. I’ve loved Lord Soth since I was eight, if not younger, and to finally see what I knew was coming…21 years later…was awesome!
Being Human is almost on, so blog end.
It’s the characters that affect you. They take control and lead your story on a different path, sometimes ignoring what you’re trying to make them do. Also, they can hate you. My first book is set in Reconstruction-era Louisiana. The Klan was rampant down there, and I think my favorite character was the one I hated most. I loved him, because I hated everything he stood for, said, and thought (even I had a little hand in his villainy!).
But why did I hate him? He was a horrible, murderous thug in the Klan and went against everything I personally believe. I had such fun writing him for that very reason!
Back to short stories. If I had to write this guy for ten to twenty pages, he’d be over my shoulder for at max two to three days. With a novel I had this monstrous bigot in my head for five years (first books always take longer, and hey I wasn’t nearly as focused as I am now!). Five years to have a cast of five main characters, all separate with separate motivations, beliefs and personalities is a lot to maintain. Kinda. Not really since they would do what they wanted.
I wrote another short story, which I’m surprised hasn’t sold, but have realized why it probably won’t. It’s twenty pages, and though I knew the main character, how he thought, felt, his goal, and personality—he was a relative guest in my head. He arrived on a friday afternoon, and was gone by Sunday evening. Took me three days to write his story, compared to the five years with the cast of Book #1.
My second book is finished and out to a couple agents. It took me WAY less time to finish it, as should be expected. I’ll say it took seven to eight months—mind you this was during a class at Harvard (which was INSANE) and a killer commute.
This book was much easier to write since I’m a lot more familiar with medieval fantasy than Civil War history (which now I think I know a fair amount. Not a by expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I know a little something something!).
Again, seven or eight months is a lot shorter than five years, but those characters are still with me. I had such fun writing them, because the characters in the “group” were a common fantasy trope on the flip side (all my tropes need to be twisted—I hate clichés!).
This group involves three characters forced together to do something (the trope), become reluctant “friends (trope) and then conflict with each other while trying to accomplish their own goals….to the point of trying to kill one another at certain times (trope flipped!).
Another funny trope (I think) is that there’s the backwater farm boy “destined for greatness” and….that’s all I’ll say since this will hopefully sell.
And blog spiel over.
Today I had a conversation with my mother, whose an avid reader, about what makes a good book. Everyone’s different—my personal favorite genres are Fantasy (of course!), Philosophy, and Science…astronomy…astrology…space nerd stuff.
My mother prefers World War II novels, but reads a variety of genres. During this conversation I was explaining the premise of my second book, and in order to do so had to explain a little about the Romani/Romany culture (“Gypsies” is a slur, which developed from the false belief the people originated in Egypt…they came from India). She said something that may seem fairly basic, but struck me in a deep way.
She said, “Good books need developed characters, and more than that they need a developed culture.”
“A developed culture”…is what stuck in my head. Think about it…we develop our characters, or try to, in such a way that a random person could say, “i like/hate this character, but I know this character.” Knowing a character is more important than whether we like or dislike him/her. When we are able to chuckle, knowing “Joe” is going to open the door clearly marked “Zombie inside, BEWARE”…the writer’s done a good job. I should note I have a friend I know so well that I could predict what he would do in most situations…and he would open that door and run in with a smile. I know him.
I suppose the same goes for movies…knowing a character on an emotional or intellectually level makes us enjoy the movie that much more.
Back to the “developed culture” (I ramble, I know!)…we create worlds, whether in a movie or a book. The world we create may be exactly the world as it is today, but we make it our own by having control over it, weaving intense situations from meaningless moments, beginning wars over a hot dog, or showing back door politics, etc. A good book needs a developed culture…something that sets it apart from everything else. Harry Potter is a great example, though I hate the story, but it is so vividly real. It has its own distinct feel of existence.
A developed culture is providing the world in your story with a voice of its own.
Anyway, in the process of writing my first book, THE FREEDMAN AND THE PHARAOH’S STAFF, which is currently being shopped in NY might I add I must have bought 20 books about the Civil War and that time period (which is when the book takes place!). Books about the styles of clothes, hair cuts/facial hair, swears, food, slang and all that. Though it’s a speculative fiction/fantasy I always need things to be realistic. Voodoo is involved, so I have books about that written by actual practitioners, and even had numerous conversations with some friends from Haiti. They were the most helpful.
Now, I’m nearly done with my second book. It’s a medieval fantasy (my favorite) and I have a dozen books about castles, siege warfare/machines/defensives, clothing, armor, weapons and those sort of things. You don’t even want to know how many books I have on magic…”real” magic like Aleister Crowley and in the case of evil magic, I a copy of “The Black Arts”. Another great book. I often wonder what my cleaning lady thinks when she sees that book…she must think I’m a nut job Lol.
When creating a fantasy world I suppose it makes sense to detach from reality, but I think this is something agents and publishers disagree with. In no way am I an expert in this area, but I have noticed from my days of querying before finding my agent, a lot of agents and publishers stated that fact. I remember one publisher/agent? I forget which, said they wanted realistic fantasy…not talking dogs!
Even the greats like Margaret Weiss keep realism in their writing. People get sick, people die…if I remember correctly, Flint Fireforge died from a heart attack/heart disease as he was chasing after someone. Sad, but realistic…people do die of heart attacks. As did Caramon Majere, now that I think of it.
Keeping faith to even the most basic facts about castles, medieval life, and weaponry can add pounds of world making. Little things…dwarven proverbs…a stereotype against elfs (I don’t condone racism, but it happens)…and celebrations/holidays all make for wonderful world building.
A couple agents and some beta readers for my first book have commented, “it’s like its own world.” THAT makes me happy, because in its own way it is. Reconstruction Louisiana, a place where voodoo is at its heart…common knowledge that is so uncommon to us…like the spreading of brick dust across doorway or in a circle around yourself keeps those with ill will towards you from crossing over the line. A true belief and practice, but few people outside the culture probably know or believe it.
Anyway, I’ve probably rambled enough.
So farewell, and keep on writing, and make sure your pen has ink!
Question: What research do you do for your writing, if any at all?