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).

 

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Crumbs of the Great Craft Masters

I want to give credit to Toby Hewson who gave me this idea: What I learned from the Gods of Fantasy? I have learned from many authors, not just the craft masters, but this post will focus on the select few. 

Terry Pratchett taught me about invention of an old theme. He created a world that was fantastical and yet so familiar. His satirical approach to Discworld was always engrossing and we welcomed familiar themes as they surfaced among the new ideas in each new novel.

George RR Martin taught me about depth of character in supporting roles. There is no excuse for making every single character special or unpredictable. It does not have to happen immediately, but when a character steps from the limelight to center stage, we are enthralled, but not totally surprised. This is a huge task for anyone and Martin does it with a thousand characters. I have mentioned before how much I have learned from him. Okay, I have also taken his name in vain, but I am full of respect for him.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

Stephen King taught me about simplicity of language and being accessible to readers. I am too much of a wimp to appreciate his stories, but On Writing is my writing Bible, and required reading…annually.
J.R.R. Tolkien taught me the opposite. It is possible to write elaboration, flowery, delightful fantasy prose. Can you describe a forest in three pages? Y’betcha and they will even make it into a movie or six. Tolkien also taught me the importance of giving my fantasy world a sense of history and leveraging that throughout the saga.

Terry Brooks taught me about having a well-worked story that had no loose ends or unnecessary scenes so the story flows. Brooks also has built a rich history of his world – Shannara – and a genealogy that excites his many followers. Again, his writing is very balanced between plot (action) and character development. He has the ability to give a strong and distinctive voice to each of his main characters.

Terry Goodkind is edgy without going over-the-top. His stories are simpler, but he adds little traits to make his characters familiar to us and a great job bonding us to them.

R.A. Salvatore taught me to create a rich world and non-stereotypical characters. His first Drizzt book takes place underground and is so impressive. I remember being blown away by it. I have not been disappointed going forward.

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There is much we can learn from these masters of our craft, but the most important one is READ, READ, READ.

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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).

My Secret

Friday night, a Creative Writing Major asked me what was my ‘secret’. I like this question because I can respond that if I tell them, then it is no longer a secret. The truth is, it is not secret, and neither do I have any claim to originality. You will find these ideas in a dozen books and blogs.

What is important here is that they work for me. We are all different and live in different life circumstances. But I have three recommendations that I believe could resonate with others:

1) Write every day – writing is like working out. Go to the gym or wherever you work out every day and teach your body to expect it. Likewise, when you write every day, your brain settles into a groove and the process (like those bench presses) become more natural.

It helps me to set goals. I do this monthly and they are typed up and next to my desk. Keep them real and attainable.

What do you do when you finish your first novel? Begin to write your second. Have a glass of wine first to celebrate, by all means, but then get back into it.

 

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

2) Put yourself out there as a writer – if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Go to a writer’s group, a lecture circuit, conference, workshops, wherever there are writers. Become a member of the community. Start to think, act and behave like a writer (I’ll leave the details to you). Last night, at my non-profit’s annual fundraiser, I put my trilogy in the silent auction. Though I never hide my ‘other’ life, it was surprising how many students and donors came up to me and said: “I never knew…”

3) Learn the Craft – I know I have mentioned these books before, but I read annually. One is Stephen King’s On Writing, and the other is Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. I believe that anyone who wants to write should read the former, and anyone who wants to be a fantasy writer (or a mensch) should read the second.

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There is more to this point than just reading a How-To. Take an author who you admire and learn their work. Read their books first to enjoy a good story, but then read them again to understand their plot arc, character development, world-building, etc. Analyze what they do well and emulate. I do not mean copy. Take their techniques and blend with your imagination.

You might do well to apply this to how they sell their books. But here I would suggest a word of caution. Do not try to learn marketing from an A-list author. Choose someone who is five years ahead of you and follow them. Don’t come to me if you get a restraining order, I mean follow their online platform and certainly, if they are in town for a book reading or writer’s conference, then go.

A man I have my eye on (and I am referring to his success as an up-and-coming fantasy author) is Daniel Arenson, He has just released a new book – Requiem’s Song – congratulations sir. My youngest has just begun the first Requiem having heard my eldest and myself enthuse about it. He has hardly lifted his head from the book all weekend. 

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If my ‘secret’ doesn’t work for you, find someone else’s. I won’t be offended, I promise. While we are on the topic: Authors – What is your secret” Please share in the responses or consider a guest post here.

Have a great week everyone.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Stand Up Fantasy Readers

I came out of the literature closet when I made the decision to find a way to have my Wycaan Master series published. My ego prevented me from using a pseudonym and I knew it was time to let the world know.

At first I kind of tagged a mumbled line into my elevator pitch: I write social justice-themed novels and also dabble in some fantasmmmm (imagine a hand rising in front of my mouth).

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I was mortified when my boss’s wife turned to me one day and said her husband had told her I’m really into epic fantasy. I focused all my superhero strength on the ground opening up and swallowing me. Thankfully such talents are woefully non-existent because boss’s wife revealed with pride how she totally loves the genre and began reeling off her favorite authors and series. Then boss’s super-cool wife promptly sat on the stairs with my then 12-year-old son and talked for a half hour of their shared genre. He was beaming when I asked him how their conversation went.

I discovered that, as I assumed more confidence in sharing that I write in two genres, people began to share their love for epic fantasy. I found that there were plenty of fantasy nerds (Big Bang Theory, anyone?) but there are also many very cool people.

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As I begin to frequent the forums, I discover people who are deep-thinkers, who follow and critically analyze plots, world building, and character development. In fact, having participated in a fair share of workshops, read how-to writing books, and listened to countless authors, I have found these threads to be as profound and educational as any.

Fantasy readers are connoisseurs in the true sense of the word – a person who is especially competent to pass critical judgments in an art, particularly one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste (dictionary.com).

Last week I quoted from a comment on a long You Tube thread (I was listening to the Hobbit soundtrack) full of comments, disagreements, and debate. The author is RobbieBjork17: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

He (or she) knew something I didn’t. But then what can you expect from a genre led by two British Oxford professors!

Now I wear my genre on the side of my car and when I pick up commuters every morning at the casual car pool and they ask me about the car magnet, I reply: “I am an author. I write in two genres: social justice themed novels and YA epic fantasy.”

Image Car Magnet

And I say the last part without mumbling.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.