Wednesday, 2 February 2011

I blame Tolkien!

So, yesterday I found myself in a big chain bookshop. I don't normally frequent such places, but – well – it was raining, and seemed more interesting than the greeting card shop next door. Naturally I went to the 'Fantasy and Science Fiction' section (because of course, these genres are the same) to see what was on offer.

Doorstops. Nothing but doorstops. The science-fiction wasn't as bad here, and at least there were a few books that I wouldn't need a back-brace to pick up, but I don't think I saw a fantasy novel weighing in at least than seven hundred pages...and most of them were part of trilogies or longer series! When I look at the old Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber paperbacks on my shelves at home, I am led to wonder how we got to a situation where apparently a fantasy novel must resemble a brick!

The rot started with the 'Lord of the Rings', I think. As with any successful work – and no-one can argue that Tolkien represents a critical aspect of the fantasy genre, though I must admit I personally think that he is a tad over-venerated, there were bound to be imitators. Now this is bad enough when it is taken in terms of style and setting – how many pseudo-Tolkien sagas set in fantasied European settings are there out there – but that was not the only 'lesson' that was taken. Big is Good! The more pages the better! And the result – huge, heavy books that tell no more story than a writer like Clark Ashton Smith (who could do in a short story what took Tolkien a trilogy), but using about a hundred times as many words.

OK, I admit it, I'm biased here. I'm a freakisly fast reader, but darn it all, I don't like large paperbacks! The spines crack in the middle, they are cumbersome to read, and never mind the fact that such rambling plots never seem to go anywhere! Give me one of the old Sphere Conan paperbacks any day of the week.

So that's what I intend to do. No hundred-thousand-word epics for me!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Retreat...

I've decided to bite the bullet and set myself up in a situation when I can get 'The Wizard Slayer' out of my system quickly. Being able to write for me requires total concentration for an extended period, I dare say that is true of almost anybody who writes, so I'm taking myself off on a 'writing retreat' for a week at the end of the month.

I have booked myself into a lovely B&B I know in the Peak District, with a ruined castle on the opposite hill and a series of spectacular caves to wander round, with the goal of writing 8,000 words a day for six days...completing the novel in one quick burst. (Well, at least the first draft, in any case!)

This means a slight change to some of my earlier plans. What is of paramount importance between now and then is that I plan out the book in pretty extensive detail, producing not only a decent outline of the plot and characters, but also a detailed outline of the shape the novel will take. If I have it all planned out before I go, and then follow that plan while I write, everything will go a lot easier that if I try and do it free-form...this could well be the difference between finishing and not.

So this week, my posts will focus on crafting the structure of the book.