Dragons, Starships and the Sense of Wonder

First of all, a quick update on Starfighter. If anything, it's going better than I had expected, and despite a few plot potholes I've had to dance over, I'm well past the half-way stage now. Writing a single chapter a day has, I think, helped, and certainly it's served to lengthen them considerably; I'm averaging four-thousand-word chapters with this one, which for me is certainly unusual. The characters are fitting into place nicely, the arcs developing well, and I'm very much enjoying working on it, certainly! It's looking like it's going to end up about where I expected, a 60,000-word-novel. That's going to be the standard for this series, I think, and I'm just about standing by the original plan that there are going to be five of them, though I wouldn't be astonished if it pushed to six. We'll see. Target date for release is the 28th of this month, though I might do a little better than that.

Once this is completed, I move onto my next project, and this one has surprised even me, because I'm going to be writing the first in my projected fantasy trilogy ahead of schedule. Though with a publication date later than I had planned, but I'll get to that later. In concept, I have the notion of a 'trilogy of trilogies' telling a multi-generational saga, a classic heroic fantasy epic. The first three books will be at the same 60,000 word length as the Starfighter series, but I think the next six that are planned to follow might end up somewhat longer, maybe twice as long each. We're not talking Game of Thrones here, but for me, anything over a hundred thousand words is long!

The idea for this has come from a range of sources, and I'll focus on two of them to begin with. I've long been interested in the structuralist work of the Russian mythologist, Vladimir Propp. If you want an interesting alternative to the Campbellian model, I can strongly recommend picking up his 'Morphology of the Folktale'. Among other things, it presents a thirty-one-point plot guideline for a 'typical folktale', and although I'm not following it completely, certainly it's given me a lot of ideas to do something a little out of the ordinary with the story arcs.

The second is something that surprised the hell out of me. I've been planning on doing some work in the fantasy field for a while – well, to be fair, I've ebbed and flowed on it. I didn't want to do something just for the sake of doing it, and I was searching for a story for a very long time, which I finally think I have found. (I still say that trying to break into the fantasy market at this point is crazy. That should tell you all you need to know about me.) As a result, I've been attempting to keep up with the 'state of the art', certainly where it comes to television. I've got a bit of a love/hate relationship with Game of Thrones, but that's a place for another, probably very long post at some point in the future. What I'm talking about today is MTV's Shannara Chronicles.

Yes, MTV is doing live-action fantasy series now. I was as surprised as anyone else at that. Still more surprised was I to find that it was actually really rather good, and that I'm looking forward to watching the next season. Key to this was an area that Game of Thrones totally fails at – containing the story. One of the biggest problems in the field of epic fantasy is keeping the narrative tight. A Song of Ice and Fire is a great example – meant to be a trilogy, now heading towards seven books in total – and some of those split in two. The classic example probably remains the Wheel of Time, which turned from six books to fifteen.

There's always a temptation to expand everything, to build more and more layers, but at some point, the question has to be asked whether it actually serves the story. Especially in a field where you have a budget to worry about, and television certainly counts as that. If you have to choose where to spend the money, it needs to advance the core story, and the question of whether something can be ditched without hurting the on-going plot has to be asked. The Shannara Chronicles were mostly rather good at that. I won't give any spoilers – though anyone who has read the Elfstones of Shannara will already be thoroughly spoiled anyway – but the core plot of the season is resolved in the season. Yes, there are hooks leading onto the next run of episodes, but you have a satisfying resolution to the plot you have been watching, and my God, that's a rare thing.

I'm going to confess something. I'm tired of Grimdark. If I want to see desperate men doing desperate things, I can turn on the news and watch it for real. For me, fantasy and science-fiction represent both escapes from the world in which we live, and perhaps an example of how things might be better. Different. Wiser. I might not share Gene Roddenberry's utopian idea of the future, but I do hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and write with that in mind. Someone described the Shannara series – and this was the key revelation – as 'black versus light-grey', and that seems a reasonable balance. Yes, have character conflict. Yes, have sacrifices. Yes, accept that you can't always win them all, but at least win something, on some level.

Ultimately, I got into this to write stories, and to entertain. That's my primary motivation, and I think I'm safe to say that anyone doing this successfully would probably say the same thing. When I write a book, I'm not hoping to shake the world to its foundations, I'm trying to tell a good story with interesting characters. I think that's really what readers are looking for. I've been kicking around an epic fantasy idea for a few years now, but I haven't been able to bring myself to put it on paper, and at this point, I suspect I never will – though a few bits and pieces of the plot have been salvaged for this new concept.

Heroic fantasy, I think, is the best way of describing what I actually want to write. Something that perhaps harkens back more to Tolkien than to the gritty realism of Martin, or Abercrombie. I certainly realize their worth and enjoy their work, but I'd rather do something a little more magical, with some of that sense of wonder that perhaps is the main thing that science-fiction and fantasy have in common. A tight, contained series, focused on the plot and the characters rather than the world, though naturally, I'll be exploring the world somewhat as I go.

I'm not going to give any spoilers here, largely because there are still a lot of blanks to be drawn in. No Elves or Dwarves, though, I can tell you that much. They've been used a little too often. Dragons, however, are another story, and iconic as they are, I don't see how I can avoid them. I want to play with the traditional tropes a little, subverting them where I can; I have some interesting things in mind. As for a release date, I'm a little torn on this one, though I'm leaning towards having the trilogy completed before I release it – which would mean publishing in November, December and January. (Yes, taking advantage of the Christmas surge – I've got to use my businessman hat for something, after all.) Knowing me, though, I might say to hell with that and launch when ready. We'll have the wait and see.

I've just about got my new schedule working now, which gives me a little more time for the blog. I'm going to try and do some more frequent posts for a while, assuming I can think of something to say. As a start – to accompany something I would be doing anyway – I'm going to be doing some fantasy movie reviews, starting with the available films in the Mythica series. Hopefully, I'll see you tomorrow...

No comments:

Post a Comment