Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Many Characters in a Fantasy?

You might also ask "how long is a piece of string." It doesn't really matter if the story is well crafted. Harry Potter, for example, has many layers of characters in order of importance to the story. Some epic fantasies have many more than that.

The thing is, for fantasy stories that wind up over three or more volumes, readers have plenty of time to come to grips with a diverse cast of characters, especially minor ones that keep popping up from time to time. The objection to "too many characters" is often that it makes the story too confusing and detracts from main character development. This may be so in shorter novels where time and pacing are limited. In longer fantasies, you have more time (and words) to embed a multitude of characters.

In addition, you can get away with a big cast if you don't give a minor character a crucial scene without first introducing him or her in a previous chapter, preferably more than once. Surprises and plot twists are fine, but doing it with new characters is not the best way.

ANIMAIA has a cast of, well . . . not exactly thousands but certainly a few dozen. Even so, the superstars are two boys and two girls as the prime protagonists. Another six or so are very important secondary characters, with another ten or more in a third layer of prominence. I think it works well (as do other readers), and by the end of the book the main cast is well entrenched, as they will be for the following volumes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Employing an Editor or Proofreader - Indie Publishers

I added some comments to a post on John Konrath's blog about employing a proofreader: Diana Cox in this case, who charges very reasonable rates. The discussion worked around to editing styles and whether it might be wise to confirm the style the copy editor or proofreader will use for your manuscript. If you are from the UK or Australia you may prefer the Cambridge Handbook or Oxford Style Manual rather than the Chicago Manual of Style for example, depending on many things, including your main reader audience. Then again it may not matter to you at all.

The following are thoughts about this process for indie authors writing for a global audience and possibly sourcing editors and readers internationally.

If you are to employ an editor (or proofreader), you don't want to waste her time and yours if she is going to mark up all the serial comma misfits in strict accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style when you don't write to that style convention. Some degree of communication about such things may benefit both parties. This is only one example of course and many other points of style are contentious across international waters and style guides.

You can break the rules and create your own style, and this may work as long as it reads well and you don't get the grammar police giving you bad reviews on Amazon, which is never a good thing. Having said that, there are obvious reasons for following recognised styles.

One thing to note for indies is that when you sold your novel to a traditional agent/publisher, the international rights were looked after for you. That is, you did not have to worry about changing spelling, idiom and style to suit readers across the Atlantic or Pacific: your publisher did it if this was seen to be advantageous. The classic case was changing 'Philosopher' (UK) to 'Sorcerer' (US) in the title of the first Harry Potter book, plus idiomatic text changes as well. This was a poor decision on any number of criteria.

With Amazon recently opening a German Kindle Store, with probably more to come, whether indies decide they need to have more than one version of a book in order to maximise international sales is surely worth considering . . . or at least your editing style is.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Novels with a Message - Do they Sell?

Read any writing or agent blog and the advice not to write fiction about 'causes' is relatively widespread. However, like much proscriptive writing advice, the proof is in the implementation. True, few people want to read didactic, lecturing and unsubtle stories about campaigns and causes in a novel -- from environmental activism to religion or political activism -- unless they choose to be harangued in this way.

However, sub-texts on such themes in fiction can work well as long as the story is well-written and heavy-handed finger shaking is not a primary theme.

ANIMAIA has an environmental and animal rights theme, but it is somewhat subsumed in the grand story of one teen's personal journey and a group of teenagers struggling with life, school, and changes in society and personal and international security . . . not to mention each other!

And the best books of this type, in my view, usually present ambivalent themes and challenges to the obvious paradigm. Working and writing in the 'grey' regions of ethical and moral dilemmas not only provides great scope for authors in developing story, but keeps readers interested -- especially young adults who are struggling with ideas and behaviours in a world that's changing rapidly.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Writing Believable Fantasy in the Modern Era

Fantasy writing has many elements. For many modern fantasy constructs, science fiction nibbles at the edges and creates cross-genre fiction. Traditional fantasy of the Lord of the Rings type with medieval settings populated with fantastic beings on Earth is little different to advanced stellar societies with equally fantastic beings and strange powers, in my view. Only the times and settings are different. Yet one is often labelled 'fantasy' and the other 'sci-fi' -- although hard-core sci-fi fans would probably define a more scientifically defensible genre.

And of course magic has always featured strongly in 'fantasy' stories. If not overt magic, then certainly implied magic with the popular notion of shapeshifting, werewolves, vampires, paranormal beings and similar unscientific, if not popular, notions in the realm of the suspension of disbelief.

The trick is to construct a world view that is 'saleable.' That is, you have to convince your readers that within the context of your story the things you relate are entirely believable and logical. This requires that you construct a world with all the believable elements in place. Some should probably be recognisable from existing culture, and some can be way out there and fantastic. Bridging the two extremes enables readers to grasp some familiarity while they are coping with the fantastic. Then, of course, you have achieved 'suspension of disbelief,' which is the foundation of much, if not most fiction. Ultimately you have to tell a good story with great characters as well -- which is somewhat obvious.

The country of Animaia in my novel ANIMAIA is a fictional world on Earth but across an alternative history. It is also a technologically advanced country. I deliberately avoided the medieval setting. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that was undeniably 'fantastic' but verging on the scientifically defensible, even if at a stretch. This depends to an extent on one's culture and education of course. In Animaia, a small number of people can talk to animals telepathically. These people are called Anima. I've hinted at a genetic mutation over a very long period of time. Yes, fantastic for sure, but perhaps not as fantastic as shapeshifting or the magic of materialising objects out of thin air or teleporting or apparating. (Did Harry ever pass that apparation test?)

Publication is nigh!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rowling Set to Approve Harry Potter Ebooks?

A rumour from the Scottish Daily Record, but still, it's bound to happen eventually. And I agree with the sentiment that it would give a dramatic boost to the ebook revolution.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Formatting Ebooks for Amazon and Smashwords

If you know HTML, getting your book set up for Amazon Kindle publishing and Smashwords is not so tough. In fact with Smashwords, you really only need to take note of how they want your Word document when it gets input to their 'meatgrinder.'

On the other hand, unless you know HTML to at least 'competent' level, then you are better off getting a professional service to do Kindle formatting for you. Too many independent ebooks are poorly formatted.

If you want to do it yourself, then you can do an even better job by following the advice of Guido Henkel, who will walk you through it and provide  fine-tuning tips to get your ebook looking very professional. I'm leading up to that in the next few days. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where in the World is ANIMAIA?

Animaia is a fictional country on this planet. But wait, in the tradition of science fiction and fantasy writing, Animaia is also a product of alternate history (which should be 'alternative history' in my view), a fiction construct in which the logical flow of historical events is different from what we know of the world right now.

Animaia represents a different world view, conceivably derived from a divergent history from the time of the separation of the great supercontinents like Gondwana millions of years ago.

In this world of Animaia, which is a technologically modern country, the environmental, ecological and animal compassionate ethic evolved somewhat differently to that which we experience today in the real world -- and mostly because of a superior animal communication ability that evolved in a small percentage of the population. Yes, in Animaia some people can talk to animals, and they are called the 'Anima.'