Thursday, 23 August 2012

What killed all the vampires?

The most difficult part of both Echo and Clarke to write is not the characterisation, the plot, the dialogue, the background description. It's the sex.

Sex is big in novels at the moment. I'm sure you've noticed. Every time I go into WHSmith there's somebody brazenly standing in front of the huge 50 Shades section. And it's going to get worse as the massive band wagon rolls into town and bookshops have to clear away all the vampire books to make room.

If you've not read Echo (and why not?), you'll know there's sex. Twice. E winces and skips over those parts, the crowd at work read it aloud in the office, fortunately whilst I'm not there although they tell me about it.

There's an unspoken presumption that sex scenes in books are autobiographical. Hand on heart there are no polka dot pants in the house. I've no idea whether EL James did theoretical or practical research. Thnk what you like but remember it's a novel of fiction :-)

As I've said before, Echo was written with the intention that nobody would ever read it, but it was still very hard to write. And it will be even harder with Clarke because I know that it will have an audience, and a fairly merciless one at that. 

Because everybody is too busy taking the piss, it's almost impossible to get any constructive feedback  about those scenes. I read the first too chapters of 50 Shades and they're terrible, so I can only presume that the sex (page 115 onwards, apparently) is truly badly written as well. Is it possible to write a "good" sex scene, or do writers leave their critical facilities at the door as well?

I've never actually questioned why I left those parts in or what they add to the book, I just wrote them. I suppose that I could leave the scene with the closing of the door.

But where would be the fun in that?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

I've been expecting you, Mr Bond

What makes a good villain?

I've been beta reading something recently and one of my constructive criticisms was that the characters I perceived to be the bad guys just didn't cut it for me. Their motivation was around climbing the corporate ladder and getting their own back on people who had spited them previously.

Should a villain be evil? Evil isn't that interesting. True evil is sad little men finding themselves in positions of power and murdering millions of people through the application of bureaucracy. Who was the most evil character in Star Wars. It wasn't Darth Vader, it was Grand Moff Tarkin who blew up an entire world. Nor is evil attractive (to those of us that consider ourselves to be sane).  The moors murderers have been in the news a lot this week and nobody can consider them anything other than abhorrent. 

Do we need a villain? Writing courses talk about the antagonist. The person whose sole purpose in the story is to place barriers in the hero's path and potentially be the source of threat. Does the antagonist need to be a villain. In Echo the main antagonist is trying to kill York and those around him, but their motivation is as much about preservation of the Empire rather than personal gain, spite, underlying character flaw or psychopathic tendencies. If you want to judge, then remember that York is responsible for something in the reason of 50,000 deaths on the nineteen ships destroyed by the Nemesis during the war and Echo cheerfully murders her way through the entire book. In Echo 2 I'm starting to work up a couple of antagonist characters but both are honourable, honest, professional people with great integrity. If the book was written from the point of view of the Realm, they would be the heroes and Echo and York would come across as monsters.

In most books an antagonist of some kind is necessary. Until they're dead/ imprisoned / exiled/ rehabilitated then there's no closure. But I've concluded that they don't need to be evil. They do, however, need to have a clear reason for being the bad guy and, if possible, they need to be interesting.

Cats are optional

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The joys of the West Yorkshire Road Car Company

Blogs are like buses. You don't blog for ages and then several ideas come at once. Blogging is different to authoring in that, as I've discovered and many other writers will tell you, just putting words on the page will eventually kick the muse into action and then you can delete all the dross. With a blog, it's different. I try to find something to say reasonably frequently so that I can then tweet about it and, at the moment, each blog/ tweet appears to generate one sale.

I should probably post more stuff from E2. Lots has happened in the last few chapters and it was quite exciting to write. The difficulty is that I need to select a bit that will work out of context. And without giving too much of the story away, after all, I'm looking to you lot to buy the next one. The tax man will eventually be looking for me to make a profit, rather than the UK subsidising Cathy Helms and the US revenue.

An unforeseen consequence of the iPad is that the blogger site doesn't seem to handle it particularly well. Hard returns (does anybody remember typewriters?) and  speech marks just seem to be ignored, so the final product is all bunched up without the dramatic spacing I wanted. Never mind, still think the iPad is the best thing since sliced bread for writers on the move.

Next blog will look at giving your book a title. Hopefully see you then. Single to Aireworth Road, please.

Doing the Tango with Brucie

I'm getting ahead of myself. Although I've just finished chapter 8, I'm starting to think about the end of the process. Book 1 only became "Echo" quite some time after it was finished. Echo herself only become Echo a day or two before hand. Prior to that she'd been called Chorus, after the narrator in some of Shakespeare's plays. At some point over tea one night,  I was persuaded that it wasn't a great name and I changed the names of the three constructs around. Surprisingly I've thought of her as Echo rather than sticking with the name she'd had for the previous twelve months in my head. A day or two later I decided to name the book after my main protagonist.

Throughout the writing the working title of book 1 was Scenario Five.

'Five basic scenarios.’ She ticked them off on her fingers and I noticed that the tip of one was missing. ‘Guard, Hot insertion, Cold insertion, Pursuit and, number Five, everybody’s favourite, Lost contact. Whenever we find whatever it is we’re looking for there are inevitably dark corridors full of traps, xenomorphs, madmen. Danger and destruction.’

At that point the story was basically about the investigation into the loss of contact with a research station. However, as is their want, York's crew get themselves mixed up into a conspiracy that coulddisrobe stability of the Empire itself.

So, whilst book 2 is meant to be about the search for the lost Visionary Ship, the Arthur C Clarke, one of the five ships that carried humans from Old Erth to their new homes, who knows where the story is actually going to go, and I'd be a fool to try and predict it.

It's a bit too soon to start thinking about a title then, isn't it? The working title is "Clarke", but I've taken a fancy to "Outcast". I'm definitely going for a one word title as a theme through the series and currently Outcast is the word for book 2.

I have some concerns. First, that I'll end up tailoring the story around the title rather than the other way round. The other is that I came up with the title after hearing Hey Ya on the radio several times over the course of a couple of days. Not a good reason.

I'm also itching to start work on the cover. I love the work Cathy Helms did for Echo and I've no idea whether she's got any more pictures of Trout Pout and Slap Head or whether we'll have to go with something else as the part that we take through the series. I like themes and it would be good to have something that appears in all, in one form or another.

Of course, I could just write faster so that I can do the title and cover sooner rather than later. But, as a writer, it's as much about the journey as it is the end product. Oh no, I sound like I'm on Strictly (Dancing with the stars for you Yanks). I better stop there before I commit to giving 110%.