Depth of Character

THERE ARE NO SPOILERS HERE:

A while ago I read the first two books in The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. I remember planning to write a blog post then on the author’s use of character, but somehow other topics rose to my attention. I am now three-quarters through the third, and just as enthralled.

Joe Abercrombie

Sometimes when I’m really enjoying a book, I’ll read a sentence or paragraph and just wonder: how can someone’s head be wired in such a way that they’d come up with that? Joe Abercrombie epitomizes this ability to keep it unique.

But it is his characters that amaze me. It is impossible to identify one protagonist – there are several. The danger in doing this is that each must be compelling or else the reader will flip through a section to return to the more favored characters. This does not happen with Abercrombie – each protagonist is capable of holding his or her own space. Their voices are completely different, backed by their own personal flaws and challenges. If you are looking for character tropes, this is simply not the place. If you want the perfect hero, look elsewhere. But perhaps because of their flaws, we can connect with them. For a medieval fantasy novel, or any similar sub genre, this is a brave move, but Abercrombie does it perfectly.

Characters Acerombie

Even minor characters manage to claim their unique places. All the Named Ones are memorable, one of Glokta’s muscle men has an incredible vocabulary, and there are so many more. It is to Abercrombie’s credit, that there are simply no throwaway characters. That is a testament of hard work. 

Another brave move is to break the rules. A member of the Berkeley Writers Group wrote a piece in which she includes considerable internal monologue, italicized to make it clear who is speaking. Her editor suggested cutting it as this is not conventional, But when she read this second version to the group, we lamented the intimacy we had with the character and the author feared the protagonist had lost her voice. 

Joe Abercrombie Quote

Abercrombie does this brilliantly with Glokta and his internal dialogue. If he just used it to show the character’s emotions, one could say there are other ways to achieve this – body language for example, but Abercrombie offers much more.

The best example is when he is trying to share the rumors of an imminent invasion and compares brilliantly his bosses’ leadership to a ship that sinks in a storm, interlacing the internal monologue to match the self-interested, derisive comments of his superior.

In addition, Abercrombie has the ability to offer such succinct lines that convey so much. There are a few examples here. 

Abercrombie Quote 2

What compelled me to write this blog post – I don’t usually review other authors – is the thrill I feel when I read someone who is expanding the craft. We often refer to the way we write as the craft (I think Stephen King was the man who introduced this to me) and we all look to improve the nuts and bolts of our work. When you take your own craft seriously, you look at the masters with awe and try to learn from them. 

In pass blogs I have mentioned such authors as Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, Terry Pratchett, as the masters of our genre. From my perspective, Joe Abercrombie can unapologetically take his place at the table.

Finally, thank you to those who are helping my new medieval fantasy manuscript, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor find a publisher by downloading a free copy. The publisher is interested, but I need you now to read  it (they are measuring how many pages you turn and whether you leave a review. It is very exciting and I thank you for your support.

Kingfisher Cover

Warmly,

Alon
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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls Of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions – all ebooks are 99c each for August. For all other eReaders, please click here.

Download a #FREE copy of Alon’s latest novel, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor, as publisher gauges interest – http://bit.ly/2sq72DG

More about the author at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien.

Today is the old professor’s birthday. He wrote novels that inspired a generation and more to pick up a book and get lost in its tale. He encouraged young people to read in general and learn to love fantasy.

But his work went beyond the pages of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. One of his greatest achievements was to create an entire language, and I have it on good authority, that the elves in particular, really appreciate this. We have seen over the years that people have learned it to a level of writing poetry and …

I’ve never been a big weather fan but Tamati Coffey receives my Weather Forecaster of the Week. I think you’ll understand why.

Mr. Coffey – I believe Professor Tolkien would be proud.

And how can we end this blog without wishing the professor a happy birthday … in elvish. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition. After checking who is in hearing range, please feel free to sing along.

 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

 

The Paolini Empire Reawakens

It was confirmed over the summer: Christopher Paolini is writing a new Inheritance novel. I somehow missed the news while a depressing Presidential election held my limited attention. I’m not sure why: there is more depth in 50 pages of one of his novels than this issue-lite election. Let’s be honest – which of the three would you prefer?

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The four-book trilogy (every fan remembers the thrill at some point in the middle of the third book when they realized it wasn’t going to end and another 800 pages of Eragon would have to be written) provided a magically bonding experience for my family, along the lines of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and others.

My sons and I devoured every book: pouring over every word, listening to the audio versions on vacation, and watching the (only!!!!) movie. And yes, as loyal fans, we loved the movie even if it was not the greatest.

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When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old son stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I will never forget the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed. Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

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My son holding his autographed edition at the midnight release… a priceless moment!

I wrote a while back that Paolini must be one of the most underrated authors and shared that he disproved a number of important assumptions:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

I have to admit to selfish disappointment when Paolini decided to stop writing after Book 4 and go to college. He had every right to want that rite-of-passage experience and, as a loyal follower, I had no right to resent him that.

I owe Christopher Paolini a lot.

As my sons and I bonded over the Inheritance series, a seed was sown. We sat together to write our own epic fantasy novel. At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA and was a Grand Prize Finalist. Every summer for the next five years, I read the new manuscript to my sons while we camped under redwood trees that could have graced Alagaesia.

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Writing the 1st novel – a family effort!

The uncompromising standards that these fierce young editors applied to our work was harvested from the lessons learned from reading the Inheritance Series.

Now, just a few weeks before the launch of Calhei No More, the sixth and final book in the Wycaan Master series, it feels fitting to acknowledge the seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father. Welcome back! We missed you. Roll on Book 5! ——————————————————————————————————
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

Final Day of Tolkien Week

Day 7 of Tolkien Week – it has been quiet a celebration. Hope you enjoyed getting close to the Old Professor. I did, but now it’s time for a shower. 

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This post remains one of my personal favorites and most popular. The Gods of Fantasy is a tribute to a very special writers group. I facilitate one such group at a local cafe. We have met over 500 times and I love the support of my fellow writers. Who knows? Maybe one day someone will write about the legendary authors of the Berkeley Writers Group. Maybe one day. But for now, enjoy this post

Happy Tolkien Week!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

Tolkien the Rapper

Day 6 of Tolkien Week – and I’m worried about Tolkien Fatigue – and I am not referring to five pages describing a forest (weird forest that it was).

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So this is a short one, because I really want to share my grand finale tomorrow. This is quite simply a hilarious and amazing rap. Who would have thought that either Gollum or Smeagol would have had it in him! 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

Tolkien The Poet

Day 4 of Tolkien Week – and we are still going strong!  The day before yesterday, I wrote about philology and no, it is not contagious.

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Did you know that Tolkien wrote poetry? So what, you say, anyone can. But, I counter, can they make up a language and then write a poem in said language?

No! You declare and promptly click here to hear the poem read by the Master himself!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.