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).

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).

Happy New Year – Request For Help

Dear Friends,
 
With the beautiful lights, the presents, the family gatherings and the never-ending food behind us, I want to take a moment and wish you all a happy new year.
 
I am feeling particularly celebratory because I just wrote those magical words at the end of Wycaan Master Book 6 – THE END. It feels great, an end of an era for me, even as I now have two manuscripts to edit myself before sending each to my illustrious editor – probably just spoilt her new year!
 
As I turn my attention to my marketing strategy for 2015, I have a request. It will cost you $2.99 and 5 minutes of your valuable time. I wish to submit Sacrificial Flame, which I think is my strongest novel in the series to a number of high-profile book review and promotion websites. What is holding me back is that I have not focused on getting reviews. I need 20 reviews for the novel to be accepted for certain programs and I have only accrued eight.
 
Could you find time to craft a short review and put on Amazon? Sacrificial Flame can be found here and can be read before Books 1-3 if you have not read them. It transitions into the next generation and anything dependent upon the previous series will be explained.
Thank you for being such great colleagues and supporters. I look forward to another great year ahead as a thriving writer’s community.
 
Happy New Year,
Alon
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ALON SHALEV
At The Walls Of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1

2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award Winner – YA Category.
 

 

Part 2 – Top Elfwriter Blog Posts 2014 – The Writing Process

I realize I have a few posts written in 2014 more relevant to the writing process that I would like to share. Hope you enjoy. Happy Hols’.

  1. To The Long Suffering Writer’s Spouse – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nG
  1. Walking Away From A Fantasy Series – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nT

 Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

  1. They Grow Up So Fast – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-kc
  1. Will My Stories Be My Legacy? http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-n4
  1. I Met My Protagonist At Starbucks – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nl

 Shayth 05:15:13

  1. The Addiction of Novel Writing – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nz
  1. Last Week I Disappeared – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-lE
  1. The Pressure To Produce – An Author’s Perspective – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-kT

 The First Decree-hi resolution

  1. When Authors Reach For Immortality – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-kq
  1. Finally, as previously mentioned, in honor of Tourmaline Books’ announcement that all Wycaan Master novels are $0.99 for the holiday period –a post from last year:

It Was 99 Cents…Again – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-lM

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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. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series.

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+

I Met My Protagonist At Starbucks

Okay, he wasn’t exactly Seanchai (his ears were predictably round, and he wielded a briefcase and pen, rather than elegant Win Dow swords and a blood-wood bow and magical arrows), and in truth, it wasn’t Starbucks, but a locally-owned independent coffee shop with a lot of attitude.

But in my humble defense, I met a young man who totally encapsulated everything I imagined in Seanchai, my Wycaan Master and protagonist of the same-named series. He had a distinct look about him that suggested you could trust him with your innermost secrets while knowing he possessed the ability to take you down without breaking a sweat.

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When he spoke, his voice was soft but carried authority. He operated as the calm in the storm while others flurried around him, achieving much less and having nowhere near as much responsibility as him.

As others joined us, they tensed their assertiveness, told funny jokes, and claimed great victories. He listened magnanimously, happy to back up any exaggerated story. And though, over exquisitely crafted lattes and frappes, each took center stage, still he remained the fulcrum for all.

I was fascinated. Surely this young man could effortlessly vanquish evil Emperors, emancipate a race, and inspire a society to join together with his unique magic. Failing that, I would settle for eradicating hunger, declaring world peace, and inspiring my soccer team to win the English Premier League.

And this got me thinking. Am I yet to meet Sellia, Ilana, Mhari, Rhoddan or Shayth in the Financial District of San Francisco? The truth is, I realized, I have taken traits from many of my friends and acquaintances. There is one with naturally spiky hair who runs his hand through it like Shayth, especially when agitated, causing it to stand even more erect. I have a friend who is constantly trying to placate others and encourage them to do the right moral thing, often teaching (or preaching – depends who you ask), just as Ilana does, drawing all the time strength from her life-partner. But I don’t think I ever met Seanchai … until Starbucks.

It begs the question: are there also people wandering out there in the non-fantasy world, muggles some might call them, who are the real version of our fantasy characters? I believe that the magic of J.K Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, for example, was that we all knew a Harry, a Hermione, and Draco.

There is a soccer player in my beloved Arsenal, who looks exactly the opposite from Legalos, short and dark-haired, yet shares the impressive trait that his hair remains perfectly coiffured throughout a physically demanding soccer match.

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Have you ever met someone who reminded you of a character from a famous fantasy book or one you have just read? Have you met a Seanchai, Ilana, or Shayth? How about Bilbo Baggins or Frodo, Gandalf or Legalos?

And no, you cannot compare everyone in the Senate to Gollum or Emperor Palpatine. Behave yourself!

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 But here is a fun exercise. Which famous person reminds you of an epic fantasy character? Answers in the comments, please.

While I have already given you homework, I do have another request: If you have read one, two or four of my epic fantasy novels (and it can’t only have been my mother who bought all those books), please take a few minutes and leave an honest review on Amazon. It is really important to me.

Have a great week.

Alon – Elfwriter.

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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).

Exclusive Interview With An Elven Protagonist

The Odessiyan Times recently caught up with Seanchai, Wycaan Master, shortly after the battle of Cliftean Pass, and he graciously agreed to the following interview, to be published shortly before the release of Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4.

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Reporter: There are some who say that only a few short years ago, you were a lost child running from your village. Now you’ve brought down the army that tried to conscript you. Is that how it feels?

Seanchai: I was never a lost child, but a scared calhei who had fled his parent’s village in search of an uncle he had never met.

Reporter: When did you first understand that you might be special, more than just the average elf?

Seanchai: When strangers seemed to believe in me to the point that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for me.

Reporter: That must have made you feel important.

Seanchai: No! It made me furious and guilty. No one should give their life like that. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of widows and orphans, because their parents chose to believe in me.

 Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

Reporter: But at least they are free. Mhari was your first teacher. Was she the greatest influence on your early life?

Seanchai: No, though she was and remains very important to me. But the greatest influence was Ilana and Rhoddan. They saw my potential but were never blinded by it. Perhaps because they saw my glaring faults as well. But they loved me, each in their own way, and I could never have done what I did without them.

Reporter: Some say your loyalty to your friends was your biggest weakness.

Seanchai: Your friends are never your weakness and neither is your family. I regret no time that I risked my life for one of them and they risked their lives for me. Their support is what makes it all so real. It gives you the determination to carry on.

Reporter: It was your friends who motivated you to take action?

Seanchai: No. It was destiny: Seeing the racism and injustice. No one, man, elf, dwarf, pictorian – no one should be a slave or denied the right to live free of fear or shame.  

Reporter: Was it easy to become a Wycaan?

Seanchai: No. It is a lot of internal practice and discipline. It is allowing yourself to connect with powers purer and stronger than you. But perhaps it is easier to become a Wycaan than to stay one?

Reporter: What do you mean?

Seanchai: Once you are a Wycaan, everyone follows your orders even if you don’t know what you are doing, even though it might go wrong and sentence thousands to an early grave. You are sought to bless babies, cure the sick, and make judicial decisions. The worse part is that they never blame you when you fail.

Reporter: How did it feel to know that your story won a national book award?

Seanchai: I do not put as much emphasis on ego, such as shall we say, authors. But I guess if he hadn’t have written the story, I wouldn’t exist.

Reporter: You don’t like your author?

Seanchai: He killed off many of the people closest to me. Who does he think he is – George R.R. Martin? How could he? I mean: look what he did in Book 4.

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Reporter: What did he do?

Seanchai: Oh, I can’t tell you. The book, Sacrificial Flame, is not out yet.

Reporter: Still if you told me, I could leak it and we would make the front pages.

Seanchai: You would truly make a terrible Wycaan. But you only need to wait for two more weeks or so. And if you want to find out more about the new release, click here LINK, even though we don’t have computers in the land of Odessiya.

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

Reporter: Well that’s all we have time for, unless you wanna turn into a bear for the camera…Hey! I thought Wycaans don’t get angry. Help!!!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The 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+