I Didn’t Make The Cut

I’m bummed. This week 50 writers saw their manuscripts advance to the Semi-Final stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – YA category. My humble offering – Wycaan Master – was not one of them. It reached the Quarter-Final, ahead of a few thousand others, but…

In an odd sense of timing, I will finish reading the 95,000 word epic fantasy story to my writer’s group. They stuck with me over the past 18 months though none (until the last couple of months) read or are interested in fantasy. Thank you – Berkeley Writers Group.

Either you think epic fantasy is alive and thriving (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore etc.,) or you think the only fantasy that sells is high concept – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games…

It is hard writing in two genres – social justice-themed novels reflect my lifestyle and values. Young-adult fantasy was inspired by a writing project with my preteen son and has been a lot of fun. But they serve two separate target audiences and I maintain a separate blog and twitter account.

I have to admit, I’ve arrived at a junction. I have not only sweated over a first YA fantasy manuscript, but completed a second, and am 30,000 words into a third. It is  a series and I must admit: I’m kind of hooked on it.

I want to see how my young heroes (and villains – who I am also quite attached to) grow. Will the races of Odessiya unite? What is the Emperor’s secret power that enables him to keep winning? Will shy Seanchai and his guide, Ilana, ever hook up?

As a reader becomes hooked on a series and feels compelled to read through to the end, I have discovered that so can an author become ensnared. It might well be an issue of not writing an outline and having faith in the story evolving, but I need to discover what happens in the world I’ve created.

Even if I didn’t make the cut.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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Writing A Fantasy Series Pt. 1

Christopher Paolini, the young author of the Inheritance Series (Eragon), was featured in The Writer. I was excited as the title was ‘Writing A Hit Series’, and Paolini has created a magnificent world in the 3,000 or so pages of his four novels.

I was disappointed with the interview. The reporter assumed that most of us didn’t know who Paolini is and what he has written. The story focused on a lot of the well-recorded autobiography (that I am sure most of us love) and the decision of the Paolini family to self-publish Eragon and travel around the country selling copies face-to-face.

But there were precious few tidbits regarding writing a series. Paolini structures his stories before he writes them. Fair enough. There are no surprises, we are told, except I wish to point out that Book Three became two books (how do you misplan an additional 700+ pages? – not that I am complaining, Mr. Paolini – you can write several more and I will faithfully buy and read them together with my sons).

My son holding his autographed copy at the midnight release... a priceless moment!

Paolini also stresses the need for a map. He warns that if there is a small mistake in detail between Book One and Four, true fans will notice.

As I continue to put Book Three of the Wycaan Master onto (virtual) parchment, (just passed the 25,000 word mark), I am continually realizing how much I must refer back to keep consistent, whether in language, appearance, or plot.

I love the spontaneity of allowing the plot to unfold. It works for me and it is part of the magic of writing. But I totally understand the value of a structured plan as Paolini suggests.

I keep three lists going: characters, chapter contents, and odds-and-ends. I do not provide much in terms of character appearance and history. I regret this now, as I need to sift through over 200,000 words. Chapter contents are kept brief – 1-2 sentences, but serves to help me refer back relatively quickly. Odd-and-ends is, well, a lot of unresolved issues, detail needed, clan structure and more.

A Great Place to Write Fantasy.

I have no doubt that there is so much more to remember and involved when writing a series. I think when I begin another, I might take more careful notes and listen more to authors like Paolini, Salvatore, and Brooks.

But I also think it is worth it. The depth and richness of a series is an incredible honor to write. More on that aspect next week.

Until then, good writing.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

Welcome Back Old Friends

It takes about four months for me to write a first draft of a novel. The rest of the year is spent editing the manuscript and promoting the books that I have already published.

I actually enjoy editing and marketing, but there is no rush here to compare to writing a novel. It is extra special, I think, when writing a series. In my political fiction, I have just begun the third in a series, and I have put it aside while I write the third book in the Wycaan Master series.

It is strange to finish a novel in a series and walk away from the characters that I have created. They seem to think they can still follow me around, hang out with me at the gym, intrude when I am trying to write something else, and sit in my car while I am driving.

 Most often, they appear in real people. It might be a comment, a mannerism, or an accent. Sometimes a person will say something and I will stare at them. These poor victims then feel a need to explain themselves because they fear they have just offended me. But really I am thinking that the Wycaan teacher Mhari might have said that, or Ilana would have arched her hip in exactly that way.

The worst part is when I suddenly think of a better way that one of my characters might have said something or dealt with a situation. I am consumed with concern or guilt and chastise myself, like a parent who missed an educational opportunity with a child.

 

But beginning a book is like welcoming old friends back after a long time apart. It is the family gathering once or twice a year. There is so much to catch up with, new stories and challenges, people growing up, flourishing or struggling. It is a fusion of the familiar and the potential.

 It is an amazing journey, and I could not walk it without the characters of my books by my side.

Welcome back, old friends.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

At The Next Dwarf Mine Turn Left.

I came across this great article by Roberta Osborn called How to Create A Map For Your Novel. It is very cool and I strongly recommend to those of you who are fantasy or sci-fi writers and may be considering drawing a map, that you follow the link.

Two other articles that I found are from Fantasy Faction and a low-tech video.

When writing Wycaan Master, I never thought to draw a map. Only when I began to write a sequel and realized that I had to keep my characters following a certain geographical framework did I consider making one.

Given that I have no artistic talent, and that my son who helped me write and edit, better understands which end of a pencil is which, I charged him with the task. Being of prime pre-teen material, he refused. In the ensuing negotiation, we agreed to tackle it together.

We went through the manuscript and highlighted every change in direction, every named mountain range and forest. He then took a piece of paper and began to draw. We were soon off the page and took another piece of paper and, utilizing cutting-edge technology, taped the two pages together. They soon blossomed into several pages at unruly angles one to the other, with absolutely no way the map could be folded.

it was clearly destined to be crumpled, torn, and otherwise abused. Today, it sits somewhere in our humble abode under a pile of mutually discarded papers that are not yet quite trash-worthy. It is a tragic tale.

As I look through the articles above, I am struck with a series of questions for those who read epic fantasy. Remember, that I am new, if enthusiastic, to the genre. If you have the energy please answer any or all of the following questions.

1) Do you look at a map at the beginning of a fantasy novel? If so, how much do you study it?

2) Do you refer back to the map as you read the book?

3) Is there any room in epic fantasy for a GPS?

Answers to the first two questions will be greatly appreciated.

Have a great weekend,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).