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It’s the nature of the writing beast that no matter what kind of writing you specialise in, someone will tell you that you’re doing it wrong. In the m/m genre they will also find numerous ways of telling you that you are doing it immorally. Either you’re being homophobic by exploiting gay men’s lives for the sake of straight women, or you’re being misogynistic by writing women out of your fictional worlds entirely. Or both at once.

Now I’m not sure how a genre can be simultaneously wrong by catering to women’s needs while also being wrong by being bad for women, but as is so often the way, there may be some truth in both things. So what can be done to minimise the problem? Well, we do what we can to make sure gay people enjoy our writing as much as straight women, and we make sure we have more interesting female characters, so women are well represented in our fiction.

Clearly the main problem in getting female characters into your m/m fiction comes from the fact that both of your main characters are men. Your viewpoints will be overwhelmingly male because your romantic couple are both male. And there’s nothing you can do about that without completely changing the genre to m/f, which rather defeats the object.

So if the nature of m/m means that both your main characters are male, what can you do to increase the presence of interesting female characters?

We could start off with the evil ex. Does main character A have a wife or girlfriend? She doesn’t have to be an evil bitch – after all, it’s no more fun for a woman to be married to a gay man than it is for a gay man to be married to a woman. So any breakup is likely to be both their responsibility. Maybe they separated amicably and are now working at being friends while raising their children together (or apart)? Or maybe she is an antagonist, but for perfectly good reasons, which can be addressed during the plot without blaming her for being some kind of monster.

Maybe the main characters both have evil exes, and they are genuinely moustache-twirling (what’s the female equivalent? Dog-fur-wearing?) villainess exes with plans to rule the world. Everyone loves a magnificent villain. As long as you have a woman or two on the side of the angels too, a genuinely, gloatingly, over the top villainess can be great fun.

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We could also mention mothers. It’s a fair guarantee that every character will have a mother, and she doesn’t need to be dead or out of the picture. She could just as easily be funny and capable, or doing a glamourous or interesting job. She could be interfering, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Many people have sisters, and your main characters may be among them. Perhaps they have gone into business with their sister, or their sister has a problem they can help with, or their sister has a brilliant idea about what they can do to solve whatever their big plot problem is.

Maybe one or both of your main characters have female bosses? Maybe their bosses are rivals, and that’s how they get together – snooping around each others’ businesses in a series of acts of industrial espionage, and they can’t get together without talking the bosses into a merger instead of a hostile takeover. As long as neither boss is represented as an evil bitch, this could be a great chance to develop two strong female characters with a large degree of power and influence on the plot, who are still neither of them involved in the main relationship.

Along the ‘bosses’ line, your characters might also have female servants, whose below-stairs goings on affect their plotline. No reason why these shouldn’t be fully rounded characters too.

Your characters may work in a team and have female team-mates, whether this is one of a group of paranormal werewolves or werewolf slayers, or floor layers or architects or whatever.

If we’re talking a fantasy setting, ask yourself if your king really needs to be a king? Could she perhaps be a queen instead? If your lead characters are always having to deal with the queen and her (ninja magician) handmaidens, it will make it a great deal harder to end up with a book in which it looks as if you’ve killed off anyone in possession of a cunt.

If you find that, without realising it, you have written a novel in which there are no female characters at all, why not go the Ellen Ripley route, pick one or two of your most important support characters and make them women instead? Generally this makes no real difference to their characteristics or role in the story, and can be easily done. It may even bring some interesting freshness to your novel when the hard drinking, fist fighting, womanising best friend of the hero is a woman herself.

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When I finished my first draft of Foxglove Copse, for example, I thought “this is a bit sparse on female characters! What can I do?” So I changed Jory’s tough farmer uncle John who lives out of town with his ‘close friend’ Phil to a tough farmer auntie Jillian and her ‘close friend’ Phillis. Which was a win all around.

Obviously, all of this is slightly more difficult when you are writing in an all male environment, such as in a historical – aboard a warship, inside a gentleman’s club etc. But usually even in those situations there were women invisibly doing their stuff, whom you can choose to make visible. Servants at the club, wives travelling alongside their menfolk in the warship, a doctor’s daughter serving as loblolly boy rather than being left destitute at home. Look closer at almost any situation and there will be women there, any one of whom might get involved with the plot. And yes, perhaps all she can do is be the washerwoman who scorched the MC’s breeches because he was rude to her, but even that shows there are women in this universe who have their own personalities and are not to be trifled with.

Even the small things can make a difference; the barmaid who offers the hero directions to the castle and grins behind her hand as he goes, the landlady who gets the bloodstains out of the cuffs with a suspicious look, the interior decorator who gets mistaken for a stalker when she tries to break in to replace that lamp…

In short, just because your main characters are both men doesn’t mean you can’t fill your world with interesting women. If you put effort into making your men believable, complex and non stereotypical so as to avoid the danger of offending your gay readers, why not also put effort into including believable, complex, non stereotypical female characters too, so as to avoid the danger of offending your female readers? You might even find you start liking them yourself.

~

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Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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Hwaet! I was on Twitter the other day when I intercepted a tweet from Dvorah saying “My next book is going to feature an asexual character, so if anyone has suggestions for what to do/not to do, I’d love to talk about it!”

My first thought was “I am an asexual and I have written a novel featuring an asexual character, which several people have told me represented the ace experience recognizably well. I could probably help!” So I said as much. Dvorah said “I’m mainly trying to get a sense of any big Nonos for writing ace, and the commonalities among differing experiences,” which struck me as something I could do, so I started typing out my first thoughts on the subject.

But then my second thoughts were “but I already know that I can’t speak for all aces any more than one person could speak for all straight people.” I’ve been in enough inter-ace disputes by now to know that we’re really diverse as a grouping.

So then I thought “Well, perhaps what I should do is type up my own thoughts, and then put the whole thing on my blog so that other aces could join in and speak up for themselves.” And that’s where I find myself now.

Below is my response to the initial query, unfiltered through my second thoughts, but I invite any other aces who might be reading to weigh in with their own takes, and either correct me, back me up, or add things I’ve overlooked, as necessary.

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Off the top of my head I would say the things to avoid were any assumption that an ace character must be inhuman in some way – where we are depicted at all it’s often as robots or aliens or childlike innocent beings whose understanding of the complexities of life are poor. We’re not cold and unemotional. We’re not incapable of having crushes and starry eyed romantic feelings (unless we’re also aromantic, which presumably isn’t the case for your character.)

On the other side of things we are missing that orientation towards sex with other people that other orientations have. So we’re unlikely to ever be checking anyone out, sexually. We’re usually going to be completely unaware of how others react to us sexually. We’ll put on nice clothes to look smart and well dressed, and be surprised when that equates to other people as ‘trying to look sexy’ – because sexiness is just not on our minds as a thing to be aware of.

If someone else is wearing a ‘sexy’ outfit, I would probably be like ‘are you sure you’re comfortable in that? Doesn’t all that leather kind of chafe?’ And they’ll be ‘but look at my butt!’ and I’ll be ‘Yeah, it’s a butt. It holds up your legs. So?’ Because to me there’s nothing sexy about sexy clothes or sexy body parts. They’re neutral, like pieces of furnature. They might be pretty, like a particularly nice carpet or lawn chair, but they’re not something to get sexually worked up about.

I personally don’t like dirty jokes or innuendo. It jolts me, because every time it happens it reminds me that human life is driven by this big dumb stupid factor that isn’t even all that important. Every time, it smacks me in the face with the fact that I’m abnormal because I’m missing something that everyone else has. (But I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I don’t want it for myself, I just wish people would stop rubbing my face in it all the time.)

On the other hand, I know there are aces out there who are fascinated by dirty jokes. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s in a spirit of research or something. You’d have to ask them.

When I wrote Aidan from Blue Steel Chain, I wrote him without a sexual fantasy life, because I didn’t want readers who were unaware of things like autochorissexualism to get confused about how someone who was asexual could have fantasies that involved other people boning. But surveys of slash writers and queer romance writers seem to indicate there’s a large number of aces for whom sharing the sexuality of imaginary characters is – I can’t think of a better way to put this – is the closest thing they come to having a sexuality of their own. (I’m only allowing myself to say this, because I’m in this group, so I’m talking about myself.)

It still doesn’t mean we find actual people sexually attractive, mind you. If offered the chance to somehow become part of that fictional world and join in, I would go “ew, no!” Because I’m not actually attracted to either of those people. I’m just imaginatively sharing an experience that I personally don’t have and can’t have in any other way.

So what I’m saying here is that there are aces who have a sexual fantasy life, and there are aces who don’t. It’s just their sexual fantasy life almost certainly doesn’t feature themself having sex with anyone.

Equally, there are aces who masturbate and aces who don’t. Masturbation doesn’t involve finding another person sexually attractive, so your character wouldn’t have to turn in his ace card at the door if it’s something that he did. He just probably wouldn’t be thinking about any real life people – not even his lover – while he was doing it.

However, I’d also say that a level of sex-revulsion is quite common. It’s normal for a person to have a cycle of responsiveness from “we could do sex if you wanted” to “don’t even talk about that gross stuff in the same room as me,” in the same way that presumably allosexual people are not equally up for it all the time.

This is one reason why we insist that it’s an orientation rather than a behaviour, btw, because it’s not about what you do, it’s about the way you think and the things you notice and value in the world. Some aces can actually enjoy the act of sex – because an orgasm will happen if sex is done well and all your bits are in working order, and an orgasm is… nice. It’s enjoyable. But the drive to have sex is not there. It’s entirely possible for an ace to have great sex with someone they love the night before, and still wake up in the morning with no feeling that sex is important or valuable or that they particularly want to have it again. There are many more important things to be concentrating on.

We’re also no more a group-think than any other orientation, so you’ll have aces who are outgoing and bubbly and cuddly and fascinated with everyone’s relationships and great at giving advice, through to aces who are introverted and touch-averse and really love Star Wars. The second sort are the stereotype at present, so if your character is like that, you may get accused of writing a stereotype. However, I am the second sort, so you wouldn’t actually be wrong.

In a similar way, you’re going to get stick whether or not you show the ace character having sex with the non-ace character. A lot of aces will be “oh, fuck it, why are we always the ones who have to compromise? Why can’t the allo-sexual character give up sex for the ace instead?!” And a lot of other ones will be “I’ve had a happy 20 year relationship with my partner. Sex is not that important so why wouldn’t I occasionally do it to please the one I love?”

I am also the second sort in this hypothesis, but I can see the first people’s point. It is vanishingly rare to see a love story where the ace doesn’t have to consent to sex. I think ace readers would find it immensely liberating to read a story where it was the allosexual partner who had to conform their expectations to what the ace character wanted rather than the other way around. OTOH, your allosexual readers are going to find that very challenging!

I think it’s interesting to write a romance where sex is the main conflict rather than a force pulling the characters together. You can’t just have the characters gravitating together by sexual chemistry – there have to be other reasons for why they would fall in love. Shared goals and perils, genuine admiration for each other’s characters, that kind of thing. And that kind of thing has to be compelling enough to counteract the fact that they have mismatched sexual needs. Also the mismatched sexual needs will need to be negotiated and renegotiated every time with continuing respect and love. That problem will never go away. It will always have to be managed and lived with, but it can be done successfully if the love is enough.

Heh. I don’t know if that helps. Now I read it back it sounds angrier than I expected. I thought I was very chill about it, but it turns out it can be quite alienating, living in a world where you just don’t get, at all, that one big thing that everyone else claims is a basic human drive.

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And with that I throw open the comments for anyone else who wants to weigh in or ask more questions 🙂


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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I’m not sure what to say about this. In something of a bombshell, Samhain Publishing announced yesterday that they were in the process of winding down in order to eventually go out of business.

This came as a surprise to me, as I was half way through my first pass of edits on Labyrinth, the Minoan novella I wrote for a historical anthology featuring stories by RJ Scott, Alexis Hall and me.

Rights on books which they’ve already published are not immediately being reverted to authors. I won’t be getting the rights back for Captain’s Surrender, Shining in the Sun, the two Under the Hill books, Too Many Fairy Princes or The Reluctant Berserker for an unspecified amount of time. During that time, I believe the books will still be on sale and I will continue to get royalties for them. Samhain is using this grace period to make sure that all its debts are paid, so that it can go gracefully out of business without leaving creditors unpaid or a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. I salute them for that – they’ve always been a classy act and a good publisher.

So from a reader’s pov, everything goes on as normal until such time as Samhain actually close down. This is just an early warning.

The rights for Labyrinth should come back to me sooner, because that anthology will no longer be coming out from Samhain. I’m already thinking about what to do with that one, so watch this space.

I’m sorry to have no firmer news. But on the positive side I did get a very nice review for Blue Steel Chain from Rainbow Book Reviews recently, and my personal life situation has now returned to relative peace. I should be able to start putting more energy into my writing life from now on (I sincerely hope.) I am at least half way through the first of the Porthkennack books (Did I even tell you about the Porthkennack books? I really must!) and forging steadily onwards.

I’m sad to see Samhain go. They were my main publisher for a long time and I owe them a great deal, but that’s publishing, sadly, and in the mean time I continue to write.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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I was about to say that other than cleaning up my own mental act, I hadn’t done very much this year. But then the aforesaid mental cleaning kicked in and said ‘hold on there. Yes you have. Don’t put yourself down like that.’ So in obedience to my new determination to be slightly less horrible to myself I’m going to strike that off and say that 2015 has been an important and pivotal year for me for several reasons.

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Achievements of 2015

In October this year I completed a year long course of therapy that started in 2014 when family problems came to such a head that I felt I stood a good chance of either killing myself or of dying from stress-related health problems without some help. When I started on the course, the therapist made me fill in a ‘well, just how bad is it?’ questionaire and scored me on the answers. I got (somewhere around) an 85, which nudged me into the ‘severe’ category. This year, just before we finished the course, I did the same questionaire again, and scored 18. And as the therapist said ‘you did that all without drugs.’

(Not that I’m knocking drugs! If she’d said I needed drugs I’d have gone on them with thanks. This was an ‘I will take this because the only thing I can change in this impossible situation is myself’ event, and as such I was grateful for anything and everything that helped me cope.)

I think that qualifies as doing something difficult and important this year.

What is the new, less depressed, less self-hating Alex Beecroft like? I am interested to find out, but from initial impressions, actually almost identical to the old one, only less depressed and self-hating. And maybe a little more likely to say no to things without feeling persistently guilty and unworthy about it.

I think new!Alex may possibly be a little more productive too, though it’s easy to say that from a standpoint of the holidays, when the house and the routine is upside down and no writing is being done anyway.

While I was reshaping the inside of my mind, I didn’t also feel up to writing original fiction, so I spent the early part of 2015 on fanfiction. But once the family situation let up a bit and I started feeling a bit better about myself, I did start writing my own stuff again.

Since July(ish) I’ve written two Sci-fi novels – two of the three novels planned for the Lioness of Cygnus 5 series I’ve mentioned before. I may end up self-publishing them in 2016 once I’ve finished the third book. That will at least mean that 2016 isn’t completely barren of new releases!

Though having said that, I have also written the Cretan novella Labyrinth for a historical anthology being released by Samhain in October 2016. Two novels and a novella in half a year is not exactly nothing either.

I go into 2016 having written two chapters of a contemporary novel for Riptide. At the moment it’s called Foxglove Copse, but I can’t guarantee the title will stick. It’s a Cornish contemporary with a gothic feel. To give it a clickbait summary:

Down on his luck businessman Sam was forced to park for the night in a Cornish copse. What he saw next shocked him to the core!

I’m looking forward to getting back to that one when the holidays are over.

Books released in 2015

I published this and only then did I realize that in the ‘achievements of the year’ section, I probably should have listed the books I had published this year. I still routinely underestimate things. That’s a bias that needs continual fighting :)

2015 was actually an excellent year for new books, with the Trowchester Series coming out over the year:

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I should probably mention that they are currently available at a reduced price in the Riptide New Year sale

I also re-released The Wages of Sin with a snazzy new cover

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Which, for a year of turmoil was not a bad showing, I feel :)

Plans for 2016?

Finish Foxglove Copse. Write the third Lioness book – Pride of Cygnus 5 – and possibly self publish the series. Finish the pseudo-Etruscan fantasy also known as VoidBeast. (My temporary titles need work.) Write at least one more Trowchester book.

That should be enough to be going on with. Particularly as The Glass Floor may be occupying me again in March. Watch this space – I’m hoping to have exciting news on The Glass Floor to be announced soon :)

(I have the feeling that The Glass Floor may need a different title too. The titular floor never actually made it into the book except as a metaphor.)

Held in reserve

I’m also hoping to do two more Charles and Jasper novellas to follow on from The Wages of Sin, if only because I feel uneasy about their ghost daughter and what exactly is going on there. Also there’s a very nebulous fantasy idea that involves storm eggs which never seems to quite fade away. I think I’m more likely to run out of time than ideas.

Non-writing goals for 2016

This year I will be mainly focussing on keeping my mental health together and not backsliding now I’m no longer in therapy. So, I will be attempting to meditate every day, walk as often as I can fit it in, play more session tunes and dance more morris. Because (so the experts tell me) spending time doing things you actually enjoy gives you the energy to do the other things you only need to do.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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It occurs to me that I have nothing pressing I need to blog about at the very same time as I am about to embark on writing a new thingy. Why not blog about a project while it is in progress? Well, if there is a reason, I imagine we’ll soon find out!

I’m in the acquisitive phase of writing at the moment. You can imagine me wandering around with a scoop on my head, shovelling the universe into me in hopes of sifting out inspiration. (Where ‘the universe’ = any book or post on the internet that takes my fancy, plus anything else.) A few weeks ago I started random Google searches on the Minoans and have ended up with a Pinterest full of appropriate pictures.

On a related note, let me complain at you over the lack of pictures of potential face-cast people with interesting faces. I don’t want my every character to look like a model. I want to be able to find pictures of people who make me go ‘ooh, look, I wonder what he’s thinking?’ or ‘ha! There’s a bloke who’s seen some interesting things in his time.’ Pretty is all very well, handsome is absolutely fine. I’m not knocking beauty, but I wish there was a bit more variety out there.

Which reminds me to find face casts for Maja and Jadikira before I start writing. At the moment I have no idea what they look like, and that doesn’t seem right.

Back to my main point, which is the acquisitive stage. At this point, I am taking in everything, finding ideas with puzzling edges and trying to fit them together in such a way as to make a picture, though there is no guiding box-lid to follow. I’m avoiding reading J.A Rock’s Minotaur because I am probably going to have a minotaur and I want it to be my own, but I’m thinking about werewolves and how a society deals with male violence – and how one deals with ones own rage – and that’s all getting knotted up together in a way I’m finding quite exciting.

At any rate, not a lot is talked about the acquisitive stage of writing. I don’t know – maybe not everyone has this stage? I always do, though. The first stage of writing anything, for me, is the insatiable need to find out more.

So if you have any obcure bits of minoan lore or books to recommend please toss them my way now, while I can’t get enough of the stuff! Thank you :)


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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5things2

In honour of the launch of Blue Eyed Stranger, a novel that will teach you the secrets about the mysterious world of morris dancing you never thought you needed to know, I present – Morris, the life guide :)

  1. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.

Just as nobody dons their baldrics and bellpads and capers in the street for strangers to sneer at because they think they’ll gain great glory or wealth from it, so you probably won’t gain great glory or riches from writing. You dance because it’s fun, you write because it’s fun, and any other health, social or financial benefits are secondary. Do it anyway, because you love to, and when it gets hard and you’re tempted to grumble, remember that nobody is making you do this, you’re doing it because it’s what you want.

  1. If you’re not having fun, people can tell.

I won’t name any names, but there are some morris dancing sides I’ve seen where the moves are perfect, the dances are done with enormous attention to detail, getting all the tricky footwork right. Excellent hankywork, good looking uniforms, perfect teamwork etc. And yet it’s so damn dull to watch. You stand there and you watch these people take it all terribly seriously, with frowns of concentration and a font of judgement for anyone who does it a smidgen less traditionally, and you can’t help but think how ridiculous it all is.

You can get away with a bit more poe-facedness as a writer, but it will eventually come through – the fact that you think very highly of yourself, and nobody is allowed to simply enjoy your books. And then, well, I guess you’ll get the poe-faced followers you deserve. If that’s your goal, go for it, but it sounds like an awful grind.

  1. If you are having fun, people can tell.

One of the first things we tell the new dancers is “If you forget what you’re supposed to do next, just lift your head, put on a big smile, and get back to place when you can. As long as you look like you’re having a great time, most people won’t notice the mistakes, and if they do, they’ll share a laugh with you and enjoy those too.” I think that applies to writing too. If you’re having so much fun with the exploding zombies and the big misunderstandings and the triple adultery and the cavalry charges, people aren’t going to notice the occasional plot hole or clunky sentence. If they’re being breathlessly swept away by your enthusiasm and big smile, they’ll forgive all sorts of technical faults.

  1. If your audience aren’t having fun, don’t even bother.

Like morris dancing, writing is a spectator sport. You may dance out because it entertains you, but if it doesn’t entertain your audience too you come away feeling dispirited, let down, and despondent, because what’s the point? Plus, you’ll soon find that even the semi-interested, curious onlookers you had at the start begin to drift away. However much you have a message to get across, or a mission to pursue in your writing, if it doesn’t entertain the reader they won’t stick around for anything else. Bear your readers in mind, and if you’re fairly sure they won’t enjoy that hundred page digression detailing the history of tin mining beginning in the stone age, maybe take it out of the story and put it in an appendix.

  1. You are your own master.

Morris and its accompanying music are folk arts. That means that anyone can do them. With a half hour’s practice every day, I learned to play the pennywhistle well enough for people to dance to, well enough to attend sessions with other musicians, well enough for a new art to have entered and enriched my life. Just the same way, if you put in an hour’s writing practice every day, you will soon get good enough at that to entertain yourself. Then you’ll progress to being able to entertain others, and before long you’ll find yourself making art.

At that point, you can get yourself a publisher, or you can choose to publish yourself, learning all the skills an indie publisher needs to know. But the truth is that you are the producer of the content, you are the provider, the artist, the entertainer, and if you don’t like the way you’re being treated, you get to take that content elsewhere. Unwelcome morris dancers go to drink at another pub. Unwelcome writers get to make their own cover art and market their own ebooks, but neither of us need approval or permission, we will do what is in our hearts to do, and if everyone is having fun in the process, everyone benefits.

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Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I know, you want to write the next Lord of the Rings, or possibly the next Game of Thrones. So do I, to be honest. But I also want to read as many more epic fantasies as can be brought to the bookshop table, and sometimes I go looking for them in the Kindle shop. Frequently, you can download the first episode of an epic fantasy series for no cost at all, and decide from what you read whether you want to buy the rest of it for real money.

So far, I have to say, I’ve not yet found one I felt moved to spend money on. I’ve seen lots of books where the hero(ine) discovers they’re special, finds a magic weapon and goes off to rid the world of the evil overlord, and in lots of them I’ve felt completely unable to suspend my disbelief. Not because the magic was too outre, or the hero(ine)’s superpowers were too odd, or the secondary non-human race was too strange – sadly. I would have been delighted if they were, tbh. But because the author displayed a complete ignorance about the mundane things of their pseudo-medieval world that I actually know something about.

When you’re trying to sell your readers on the possibility of a world with fantastical elements, the reader needs to know that you are a reliable source of information and have thought about how this works. That is instantly undercut if you get your real-world details wrong. So, here are three very vital things you need to do to prevent your reader from throwing the book at the wall before you’ve even got the story going.

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  1. Understand how your technology works.

And I don’t just mean your gravity defying steam dirigibles. If you’re writing a pseudo-medieval fantasy and your characters are lighting a camp fire, Google “how to light a fire without matches.” Never just make it up, because it is a thing that somebody out there knows how to do, and they will know if you get it wrong. And they will go “Oh, bloody hell, Author! Those are ashes. Ashes don’t burn! If I can’t trust you to get that right, what can I trust you with?”

In the same way, decide on the technical underpinnings of your habitations. Things like plumbing. (Is water brought in to your houses by wooden pipes? Are there fountains or wells in the centre of the village? Does everyone have to walk to the stream every morning? Engineering – how were the heavy blocks that form the temple of doom transported onto site/raised onto the sacrificial platform? (By treadwheel crane? By teams of oxen? By teams of neutered trolls?) Exactly how far is the range of that arbalest? Can I really gallop from Dover to Sherwood Forest in a day? Etc etc.

The more you get right, the more convinced your reader will be that you know what you’re talking about, and the more solid, the more reliably real your world will seem.

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  1. Understand how your economy works.

Doesn’t that sound dull?! This is something you can paint in broad brush strokes, so it doesn’t have to be as tedious as it sounds. However, I have thrown a book at the wall because it was set in a small community where every single person went to their shop at the beginning of the day, sold unspecified goods, and then went home. The community was surrounded by a wall and isolated from the rest of the world. This made me wonder several things, specifically – if no one is making things, and no one is bringing things in from outside, what on earth have they got to sell in their shops? If no one is farming and growing food, why don’t they starve? Does the author even know the basic facts of existence, such as ‘food has to come from somewhere’, and ‘clothes don’t weave themselves’?

This economy did not work, because nobody was producing anything. You need to ask yourself “What do they eat?” “Where do they get the food from?” “Who produces it?” “Where do they get clothes?” “Who produces those?” “How long does it take them, and who feeds them while they’re doing it?” “Where do they live?” “Who builds those places?” Etc.

In order for your character to have leisure time to go off and become a warrior/magician/assassin/whatever there needs to be a large social infrastructure in place to create enough surplus so that not everybody is occupied at simply trying to survive. As the author, you need an understanding of how that infrastructure hangs together. Even if you lift it wholesale out of medieval Europe, like 99% of other Fantasy writers, you really need to know how it works, or people will ask themselves why your populations are not too busy starving to worry about the return of the Old Ones.

Plus, once you have a basic idea of how your economy functions, it may turn out to be a surprising source of story ideas. If all your country’s food has to travel up river through that bottle-neck between the Fangs of Fear, that’s a prime site for a bandit queen to capture so she can starve the city into compliance.

kazanlik

  1. Understand how your society works.

This will tie in with how your economy works, because everyone needs to eat. Once you’ve established who’s producing the food and necessities, ask yourself who’s profiting from the surplus, and how.

Is your society a traditional medieval one in which the food producers were barely free, the merchants had a little money and therefore influence, and the top of the food chain were the heavily armoured blokes running a protection racket on top (aka knights and kings)? It’s reliable and so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible, and you can get right on to your story about the Chosen One confident that the readers are thinking ‘oh, it’s another one of those things.’

But perhaps you want to do something different? Maybe the arable land is scarce and everyone relies on a small powerful clique of farmers to provide food to a starving manufacturing class? How would that affect the things that were respected and valued in your world? Would you have people rebelling by raising their own crops in window boxes? Would seed-peddlers be daring heroes of the proletariat? If you developed that, all kinds of weird things could happen. Your heroes would probably not be warriors, they might be gardeners, but I can’t help but feel that we’ve already had too many warrior heroes. Time for something else, maybe.

Perhaps your society is run by nuns who genuinely do collect from all what they can give and give to all what they need? In our world, Communism has slipped rapidly into corruption, but what would it be like living in a society where everyone genuinely was treated as equal to everyone else? Owned no more than anyone else, and had no more power than anyone else? What would that be like, really? I’d be interested to find out.

Or perhaps your civilisation is an actual democracy and there are branches of magic dedicated to getting the votes of every person in a society that doesn’t have the tech level to do long distance communication otherwise? It’s up to you to say, and so it’s also up to you to know.

These three things may not be as glamorous to think about as that spectacular battle scene you have in your head, but they are the foundations on which your world rests. If your readers catch you making elementary mistakes in these things, you’ll be very very lucky if they (a) ever get to your spectacular battle scene at all and (b) ever read something of yours again. So pay at least enough attention to these so that your foundations won’t crumble and let the whole edifice down. You might even find out you’re writing something much more unique and interesting if you do.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

5romforddancing

1. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.

Just as nobody dons their baldrics and bellpads and capers in the street for strangers to sneer at because they think they’ll gain great glory or wealth from it, so you probably won’t gain great glory or riches from writing. You dance because it’s fun, you write because it’s fun, and any other health, social or financial benefits are secondary. Do it anyway, because you love to, and when it gets hard and you’re tempted to grumble remember that nobody is making you do this, you’re doing it because it’s what you want.

2. If you’re not having fun, people can tell.

I won’t name any names, but there are some morris dancing sides I’ve seen where the moves are perfect, the dances are done with enormous attention to detail, getting all the tricky footwork right. Excellent hanky-work, good looking uniforms, perfect teamwork etc. And yet it’s so damn dull to watch. You stand there and you watch these people take it all terribly seriously, with frowns of concentration and a font of judgement for anyone who does it a smidgen less traditionally, and you can’t help but think how ridiculous it all is.

You can get away with a bit more poe-facedness as a writer, but it will eventually come through – the fact that you think very highly of yourself, and nobody is allowed to simply enjoy your books. And then, well, I guess you’ll get the poe-faced followers you deserve. If that’s your goal, go for it, but it sounds like an awful grind.

5things2

 

3. If you are having fun, people can tell.

One of the first things we tell the new dancers is “If you forget what you’re supposed to do next, just lift your head, put on a big smile, and get back to place when you can. As long as you look like you’re having a great time, most people won’t notice the mistakes, and if they do, they’ll share a laugh with you and enjoy those too.” I think that applies to writing too. If you’re having so much fun with the exploding zombies and the big misunderstandings and the triple adultery and the cavalry charges, people aren’t going to notice the occasional plot hole or clunky sentence. If they’re being breathlessly swept away by your enthusiasm and big smile, they’ll forgive all sorts of technical faults.

4. If your audience aren’t having fun, don’t even bother.

Like morris dancing, writing is a spectator sport. You may dance out because it entertains you, but if it doesn’t entertain your audience too you come away feeling dispirited, let down, and despondent, because what’s the point? Plus, you’ll soon find that even the semi-interested, curious onlookers you had at the start begin to drift away. However much you have a message to get across, or a mission to pursue in your writing, if it doesn’t entertain the reader they won’t stick around for anything else. Bear your readers in mind, and if you’re fairly sure they won’t enjoy that hundred page digression detailing the history of tin mining beginning in the stone age, maybe take it out of the story and put it in an appendix.

5. You are your own master.

Morris and its accompanying music are folk arts. That means that anyone can do them. With a half hour’s practice every day, I learned to play the pennywhistle well enough for people to dance to, well enough to attend sessions with other musicians, well enough for a new art to have entered and enriched my life. Just the same way, if you put in an hour’s writing practice every day, you will soon get good enough at that to entertain yourself. Then you’ll progress to being able to entertain others, and before long you’ll find yourself making art.

At that point, you can get yourself a publisher, or you can choose to publish yourself, learning all the skills an indie publisher needs to know. But the truth is that you are the producer of the content, you are the provider, the artist, the entertainer, and if you don’t like the way you’re being treated, you get to take that content elsewhere. Unwelcome morris dancers go to drink at another pub. Mistreated writers find a new publisher, or make their own cover art and publish themselves, but neither of us need approval or permission, we will do what is in our hearts to do, and if everyone is having fun in the process, everyone benefits.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

The summer holidays have thankfully come to an end, edits on the Trowchester books can only last so long, and that leaves me with the rest of the year to write something new. So, what should it be?

I’m currently writing a fantasy about three sets of people from diverse cultures who get stranded together on a floating island due to shipwreck/the death of the gods. That’s slow going as I gradually work out the world building, but very entertaining. But after that, I have a choice of:

1. Another 3 Trowchester books – small British city contemporaries featuring the occasional murder and a bit of morris dancing.

2. A follow up of The Reluctant Berserker where Brid the slave gets a story of his own. (For which I need to do some research on Celtic Britain in the 6th Century.)

3. Kind of tempted to do a sort of action/adventury jewel thief m/f romance with an option of turning it m/m/f later on.

4. A follow up to The Wages of Sin.

5. A follow up to The Crimson Outlaw.

6. Something else of your suggestion?

I’d welcome anyone’s advice, as I really don’t have a preference at all.

~

I keep thinking I ought to leave Tumblr because it’s such a time sink, but I find so many interesting things there. For example, this post about a multi-racial casting for founders of the Hogwarts houses

http://themarysue.tumblr.com/post/97309699977/supernatasha-part-ofthecult-hogwarts

particularly the erudite response of supernatasha to the claim that everyone was white in Europe during the middle-ages. I feel sure this is going to be of particular relevance to me once Blue Eyed Stranger comes out and people discover that one of my main characters is a black Viking reenactor. As a matter of fact, the knowledge that people of colour have probably always been in Britain is a fact that Martin himself is passionate about passing on to his own pupils. It’s nice for me not to have had to assemble the research on that myself. I can just refer anyone who objects to go to the excellent Medieval POC.

~

And since I appear to be doing a bit of a tombola – pick three tickets at random and see what you get – kind of blog post, I’m going to end with something that made me happy this week:

YouTube Preview Image

I just wish I could buy it somewhere!


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I should have put this in last week’s post, since it’s part of the whole plotting thing, but as usual for me, I don’t have a lot to say about it, so it can slip in here with no problem.

plotting

Writers appear to be divided between those who like to make a plan of their plot so that they know what is going to happen next in every scene from the beginning to the end (aka plotters) and those who find that if they know what’s going to happen next at all, they lose all interest in actually writing it. (Aka pantsers from ‘flying by the seat of their pants’.)

My position is that there’s nothing wrong with either method, but that you should experiment with both to find out which one suits you best, and then use that.

I started off as a pantser, which at the time was the only way I knew of to do it. Not knowing what was coming next lead to an awful lot of time spent staring out of the window waiting for inspiration to strike. It also lead to an awful lot of time spent blocked while I had apparently written myself into a corner and simply could not imagine how my characters were going to get out of their perilous situation or tight spot. Eventually the answer would come, but it was disheartening and anxious waiting for it, unable to count on it, thinking that the entire thing might have to end up in the bin.

So, when I heard of the revolutionary idea of figuring out what to write before you actually wrote it, I thought I’d give it a try. The book I heard this from was one of those formidable ‘structure’ books, which lays out how a plot should go as if it was a military exercise, along with charts and graphs of where exactly the pivot points and beats of maximum tension, bullet point lists of character flaws and motivations etc etc. That was way too organised for me.

Interestingly I recently read a book which read as though it had been written in absolute accord with this technical manual. That was Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath. I found it absolutely competent, interesting enough, and completely soulless, which is tragic when the story’s premise is so fantastic.

Anyway, I think that book proves that you can pay too much attention to the dictates of mechanical plotting. I suspect that most people will find that somewhere between the extremes of ‘make it all up as I go along’ and ‘mapped out to the slightest comma’ there is a happy medium that suits them.

For my part, I like to know what I’m going to be writing next. If we define a ‘scene’ as ‘the minimum amount of writing necessary for you to make one interesting thing happen’, then I plot by scene. The first thing you need to do, to be able to do this, is to figure out about how many words it generally takes you to describe one important happening in your story. It’ll have to be an average, obviously, because sometimes you can do it in two words (“he died,” for example) and sometimes it takes ten thousand.

My average tends to be 2000-2500 words per scene. Knowing that allows me to roughly estimate right from the start how many scenes I’m going to need to fill a book of a specific length. If I’m writing a short 20-25K novella, I need to think up 10 interesting things to happen (aka scenes). If I’m writing a 100K novel, I need to make a list of 40-50 scenes.

I still consider myself to be a fairly mild example of the plotter. I don’t make graphs and character sheets and timelines and floorplans etc as some people do. I just make a list of things that need to happen to get from the beginning to the end. I eventually end up with a plot plan which has no more than a short paragraph describing each scene.

Knowing how many things you have to think up to happen actually helps you think them up, in my experience. And not starting to write until you have an appropriate number of interesting things to write about has for me many additional benefits: I am excited about what I have to write that day, as opposed to unsure that anything will come to me at all. I know how far along in the story I am, so when I’m in the long grind of the middle, I can tick off a scene a day and have the reassurance that I’m a measurable distance closer to the end.

I wouldn’t go back to writing without a plan now – I wouldn’t know where to start or how to continue, at least without wasting at least half of my writing time on each occasion on sitting and thinking stuff up time.

I think that people worry that a plan will shut down their creativity and will shut them into a rigid box with no space for those wonderful moments of inspiration which are the delight of making art. But in my experience that’s not how it goes. I’ll be writing along, sticking to the plan, and then I’ll think “OMG! What if he suddenly decided to retrain as a ninja?”

This will indeed throw a big wrench into my drawing room comedy about a bunch of layabout gentlemen who do nothing but behave like PG Wodehouse’s Drones Club. But if I think it’s an awesome enough idea, and will improve everything out of recognition, there’s absolutely nothing stopping me from altering the plan. And given that the plan is just a list of short paragraphs, there’s not all that much work in changing it completely. Then you just write to the new plan instead. Simple.

But as I said above, if even this is enough to stultify your creative juices, there’s no need to do it at all. As long as you’ve tried both plotting and pantsing, and know for sure which one works for you, there’s no law that says you have to do either.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

A lot of people have said a lot of things about plot, and I find it difficult to say anything different. But, as ever, I’m going to attempt it anyway.

500px-Lineweaver-Burke_plot.svg

Many of the how to write books I’ve read define plot as conflict. The character wants something, something is stopping him achieving that, there is conflict between him and the antagonist (be that another character or some more abstract force) and plot is what happens in an attempt to get that conflict resolved.

I tend to think this is all very well for certain sorts of stories but doesn’t apply to all stories. I would say that the essential thing you need to keep in mind in order to generate a plot is that something interesting ought to be happening.

In the old days, I plotted by chapter. I would write a numbered list of however many chapters I thought would make a good book, (usually around 25) and I would try to think of something interesting to happen in each chapter.

The Witch’s Boy, for example opens when Oswy – who has (offscreen) been sold as a slave to the local lord – meets his new master for the first time, thinks he’s about to be cut up for spell-components and tries to escape. I don’t know whether I would call this a conflict or not, because what Oswy doesn’t know is that he’s in no danger from the lord (no conflict there) and the guards can’t really be arsed to keep a watch on him, because he’s got a tracking spell on him which will bring him home anyway. He thinks he’s cunningly outwitting the lord and his guards, but really there’s no contest.

So I don’t know – it’s not conflict, but I hope it is something interesting.

And then of course, the ball is rolling. Once something has happened in the first chapter, it starts to make new things happen as a result. Either he gets away – in which case he’s alone in the wilderness as a runaway slave, and all kinds of bad things might happen – or he gets caught and sent back – in which case we find out what the lord and his henchmen really intend to do with him. (And we, the writer, have to decide what that is.)

Basically, plot is a series of interesting happenings, each one caused by the one before it, and causing the one after it.

Once one character is set on a sequence of interesting events, you can make the book longer and more interesting by adding a couple more characters. Each of these need to have something interesting happen to them. Then, once it starts happening, it needs to continue to be interesting until the character can begin to control the plot thread and wrestle it into a satisfying conclusion.

If you have more than one character in operation at once, each with their own series of events, all the plot threads need to influence each other. Character A’s flight from false accusation brings the police into Character B’s shady antiques business, and as a result, Character B hides his stolen diamond in the ghastly vase Character C has just bought. Then, later in the novel, C drops the vase when B tries to tackle him to the floor. C resists, and B falls in front of a train – and later A finds the diamond on the train tracks when he’s trying to shelter there in his state of penniless ruin.

Conventional wisdom is that your characters should not be passive. They should not be acted on by circumstances, but should be the ones who drive their own story. As always, I think this is mostly true, but I have caveats.

Not all characters will be the kind of people who have a burning desire for something and immediately set out to achieve that desire. I think it’s entirely OK to start off with a character who is acted upon, and turn them active as you go along. They can be catapulted into the story by outside circumstances, but at some point they do need to decide to take charge of their life and start trying to affect the world, rather than allowing it to always affect them.

For example, take two books about boys who go to wizard school. Ged of the Earthsea books is an active character – he always wanted to be the greatest mage who ever lived, and pretty much from infancy he is striving hard to get to that goal. (Only to be humbled later on when he all but destroys himself through his pride and ambition.) But Harry Potter starts off as a passive character, who has no real desires or drive until he gets his Hogwarts letter. Even then, things tend to happen to him for a large part of the book before he decides it’s up to him to do anything about them.

If your character has no pressing desires to start out with, don’t worry too much. It’s OK to start with the world forcing interesting things on them. They’re bought by a sorcerer, who’s decided he needs an apprentice. They accidentally witness a murder and the murderer decides to hunt them down to silence them. They are thrown out of a plane and mysteriously end up in another world. A dinosaur breaks down their front door and they’re too busy trying to survive to (a) sit around being passive or (b) wonder where it came from.

How your character reacts to this first interesting thing depends very much on their personality, so if they are a particularly lumpen and inactive sort of person, they may react to the dinosaur incident by running across the street, phoning the police, making a cup of tea while the authorities deal with the animal and then going back to their life as an insurance salesman with a shrug and a ‘well, none of my business’. This would be a valid reaction in real life, but in a story it runs the risk of (a) being quite dull and (b) bringing the story to an end.

You have a lot of book to fill, so naturally the thing to do is to choose whichever reaction (out of a choice of ‘what would a character like this do’) which will lead to the most fascinating thing possible happening next. If your character is the kind of person who honestly wouldn’t ever do anything interesting, then he may not make a good hero. Consider giving the job of protagonist to someone else and making him a phlegmatic sidekick. He might be quite amusing in that role.

The way your character reacts to this first interesting incident both illustrates what kind of personality he has and creates the next interesting situation. He shoots the dinosaur with the gun for which he doesn’t have a gun licence, and when he gets back from reporting it to the police, the body is gone, replaced by the body of a middle aged woman with a tattoo over her eye. Now the police think he’s a murderer… what does he do next to clear his name?

Or he flings a steak from the fridge into his car, traps the dinosaur, and runs the car off the end of the pier (you’d better go back and make sure he lives at the seaside) only to have the car eaten by an ichthyosaurus. At which point he decides there’s something fishy going on, and because he’s that sort of person he becomes determined to figure out what it is.

The art of plotting is the art of making sure something interesting happens next. You need to combine this with the art of structure, which we discussed before, and make sure that things actually get more interesting as they go along, that sometimes (particularly around the mid point of the novel) they get surprising as well as just interesting, and by the end they have passed ‘interesting’ altogether and evolved into ‘nailbiting’, ‘catastrophic’, ‘awesome’ and then (to use Tolkien’s word) Eucatastrophic at the end. (Well, unless you want an unhappy ending.)

As a rule of thumb, if you start the book with dinosaurs trying to eat someone, you’d better end it with dinosaurs trying to eat everyone, or – at the very least – dinosaurs trying to eat everyone the main character ever cared about, and probably the Queen/President too. If you start with a worrying ooze of ectoplasm down the wall, and you finish with the builders putting a damp course in and the problem going away, it will be a short and somewhat non-existent plot. (Unless you then do a Scooby-Doo and discover the builders put the ectoplasm there in the first place so they could frighten the character out of his house and use the basement to tunnel across and rob the local bank.)

Nowadays, instead of plotting by chapter, which tended to mean writing 4000 words on each interesting thing, I plot by scene – which means about 2000 words on each interesting thing, leading to there being two interesting things happening in each chapter. Ideally this means I have doubled the fascination of every chapter. But the principle of the thing is the same.

Make interesting things happen – that’s all you really need to know about plot.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)
Picture from  Isabelle Grosjean ZA

Picture from Isabelle Grosjean ZA

So, you have an idea for a story. You’ve asked yourself lots of questions and you know you have a central situation in which one or two main characters find themselves, which they don’t like and want to change.

The essence of any story is to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

In the beginning you establish who the story is about – you draw your main character and you attempt to make the reader like him/her. You also give your main character a problem. Something is wrong in their life or their world. Something needs to be changed in order to save the character’s self-respect/the company/the princess/the world.

Beginning = establish the character and his problem.

In the middle we follow the character as he tries to solve his problem. In a typical story the character will have about three tries at saving the thing that needs saving, and he will fail each time. Ideally, when he fails, he will make the situation worse, until finally it looks utterly hopeless. The point at which the situation looks utterly hopeless is called the ‘black moment’, and it’s there to rack up the tension and the sense of peril – the sense that an unhappy ending is just around the corner.

Middle = the character tries to solve the problem, only to end up in a situation where everything looks hopeless.

But our character does not succumb to despair. He pulls one final attempt out of the bag and against all the odds he succeeds this time, solving the problem, making the world of his story a better place and learning the virtues of persistence/self-sacrifice/whatever virtue you were writing about in the process.

End = the character pulls out all the stops and succeeds, learning something in the process. The world is left better off (even though you may have introduced a second problem later on to set up a sequel.)

This is a very basic account of how it works.

For example – in a romance [beginning] we meet the characters. Each character’s goal is that they want to end up with the other, but both of them have a problem which is preventing that. Maybe A is already married, and B has a psychotic alien bounty hunter on his trail and doesn’t want A to get messed up in his life.

[middle] Now both of them attempt to solve their problems – A asks for a divorce, B sets a bear trap in his garden. But this only leads to A’s partner deciding they need to go to relationship counselling, and B finds an actual bear in his trap which tries to maul him. Oh noes! It all looks hopeless.

[ending] But then A has the brilliant idea of disguising his partner as B. The bounty hunter kills his spouse and A and B are free to be together (until the intergalactic police come to arrest them for the murder of the bear.)

Every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Short stories are no exception to this. The same structure holds true whether you’re writing something 1000 words long or 100,000 words long.

So how do you know what the right size is before you start writing?

This is largely a matter of complexity. The best short stories consist of one single, brilliant idea developed without any subplots or verbiage. What would happen if someone went into the past and stepped on a single butterfly? Would it unravel the whole future? What would a car accident look like from the perspective of the tree they crashed into?

Short stories tend to be very minimal. One person, one problem, one attempt at solving it, one shocking twist of a conclusion.

This doesn’t make them easy. Far from it, in fact. There is less space in a short story to make mistakes, to waffle around until you find the direction you want to go in, to have some fantastic things make up for the less brilliant stuff. Short stories have to be self contained, disciplined and lucid. I think they are the hardest thing of all to write.

If you have an idea that you really want to explore from the perspective of two or more people, something where you want to add a bit of complexity, a digression or two where your characters meet someone particularly awesome, or explore an awesome setting, or do something to exemplify some philosophical point at tangent to your main story, then you are looking at a longer form.

All stories have a beginning, middle and end, but some stories also have sub-plots. Subplots are like a little extra story woven into the larger one. Maybe during one of your character’s attempts to solve his problem, he goes off to Tibet to learn snow-magic from the yetis. Now you have a little story inside your story where the character has a sub-problem [how to find the yetis and convince them to teach him magic] and this too needs a middle and an end. [He tries bribing them with yaks, but they're not having it. Then he saves the life of their shaman and succeeds, emerging having learned to control snow and ready to go and use this in the pursuit of his larger goal.]

It’s a good rule of thumb that the longer you want your story to be, the more characters you should add. But each of these characters has to be woven into the book’s overarching plot somehow, so unless you want to write something as long as the ASOIAF series, five main characters is probably an upper limit for a novel.

Whether you gravitate more to short or long forms will largely depend on the kind of story ideas that come to you by nature. The minimalist, single brilliant ideas of short stories can’t really be developed into novels, and the sprawling complexity of novel ideas can’t usually be reduced into shorts.

But the modestly complex ideas suitable for novellas can easily grow while you’re writing them and end up as novels. My feeling is that if you find that happening, it’s good to go with it. Never look a gift novel in the mouth.

You can also make short stories into novels if you really want to. I wrote Captain’s Surrender that way. By writing each incident in the characters’ ongoing relationship as a story of its own [Josh kisses Peter and Peter doesn't condemn him], [Peter puts down a mutiny], [Peter decides Josh makes a good alternative to debauching the local women], [Josh appears to die in a naval victory and Peter grieves], etc etc, I was able to finish each part and feel a sense of achievement over each individual story, while slowly building an arc that would stand as one novel.

This is also how I wrote my first ever finished novel – an old man tells a story about Loki, Loki appears and tells a story about his listener’s true love, his listener finds the true love and tells her a story that means she has to come back home with him etc.

I don’t honestly think it’s a good way of writing a novel. In both cases, the joins are visible (at least to me) and the internal structure of the stories fights against the structure of the overarching plot. But if you have problems achieving length in a story – if you can only think of short story ideas, and you desperately want to write a novel – this is the only way I know of to turn one into the other. And the experience of fitting a series of shorts into an overarching structure which tells a novel plot from start to finish is very good experience in what goes into a novel, so that next time you can plot the novel without needing the stepping stones of the shorts.

To sum up. Look at the idea you got last week and ask yourself ‘how many main characters have I got?’ ‘How many problems have they got?’ ‘How many different settings are there?’ ‘How many potential ways are there for an attempt to solve this problem to fail?’

If the answer to most of these things is ‘one’ then you’ve probably got a short story on your hands. If it’s ‘Oh God, where do I start, there’s so many?’ then you have a novel. If it’s somewhere in the region of ‘a few’, then start off aiming for a novella, and see whether it grows as you go. It may, it may not. If this stuff was entirely predictable it would be a science, but it’s not. It’s art, and uncertainty comes with the territory.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Sorry about this. I normally write my ‘Write on’ post on Sundays in readiness for the Monday coming, but was ill over the weekend, and still am, so I wasn’t able to. I will catch up as soon as I can put one word infront of another again and have them make sense.

Tolkien on Fairy-stories

In the mean time I thought I’d share Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories from which I learned a great deal about the importance of using concrete, direct words (such as grass, green, bread etc instead of verdure, verdigris, nourishment) to create a sense of immediacy and solidity in my settings. I hope this link ought to be in the public domain! But I trust an educational establishment to know whether it is or not. I can’t recommend this essay highly enough for anyone who wonders how stories work, and how to get a style that brings their world to life.

http://public.callutheran.edu/~brint/Arts/Tolkien.pdf


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Which struck me as a more interesting way of saying “several small things served up together.”

Evidently I’m not alone in being puzzled and even depressed by the fact that there seems to be no place in this world for m/m romance with sparse sex scenes other than being lumped in with “erotica”. Elin Gregory (she of the awesome On a Lee Shore which I highly recommend to you if you like naval m/m) is sounding out readers and authors alike on the question of whether she should start new Facebook and Goodreads groups focusing on the sweet end of m/m romance. If you think that sounds like a good idea (I do!) hie thee over to her place and tell her so: Elin’s LJ

~

A lovely review for Under the Hill: Dogfighters from RT this month

Dogfighters RT

Though I can’t get used to the way people treat them as separate books. I should expect that – the fact that you can hold one in each hand should be a clue – but to me it’s always going to be one big story packaged in two volumes.

It’s probably worth while saying that I have learned from this experience not to write such huge books. Or – if I’m going to write such huge books – to do it in such a way that the pacing is suitable for two books rather than for one. (Dogfighters is the breathless acceleration to the climax of both books, and is not structured to be read as its own entity.)

I’d like to say I’ve learned that, but then I went off and wrote The Glass Floor, which is equally huge and equally structured as one big story rather than two episodes. We’ll have to see what becomes of that before I decide emphatically what lesson I ought to have learned and actually try to put it into practice.

~

Two days ago, someone awarded this blog a “Most Inspiring Blog” award, and I thought “oh, how lovely, I’ll talk about that tomorrow.” But then I didn’t talk about it yesterday because I was distracted by the need to rant. And today, I can’t find that blog again. I only found it in the first place because somebody came to my blog through a link, and that showed up on my site stats. But my site holds the stats only for yesterday and today. I can’t get back to ‘the day before yesterday’ to re-find that link.

If that was you and your blog, thank you so much! Any chance of a link so I can re-read the rules and keep the meme going?

~

And finally, thanks to everyone who expressed an opinion on what I should write next. It was a landslide vote for Hoist By His Own Petard – a morris dance romance. (With reenactors). Accordingly, I started working on a plot plan for that last night, and am looking forward to starting to write it next week.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

So, today I have finished the first draft of The Crimson Outlaw, which came in at 31,073 words. Huzzah! I feel the need to celebrate and also to tell everyone. But, I only wrote 1773 words of my daily 3000 words before I ran out of story. So to what should I turn next?

I’m thinking I should write one more novella in first draft, and then I can start editing The Glass Floor *and* The Crimson Outlaw. By the time I’ve done those, I can edit the third novella with a fresh eye. And then I can start a new project again. I don’t seem to do well doing more than one thing at once.

Help me, Oh my gentle reader, what do you fancy most out of these choices?

6newgrange

My Evil Valentine – (sort of contemporary but with superheroes. Probably set in London. Almost certain to be crack along the lines of Too Many Faerie Princes.)

The Ice Knight  – (semi-historical set in Romania. A character turned up in The Crimson Outlaw who needs his own story.)

Hoist by his Own Petard – a romance between a morris dancer and a reenactor. (Contemporary, set all over the UK, mostly in fields and ruins.)

There’s a Tea Shop one too, but I suspect that may be novel length and I still can’t decide if it’s a contemporary or a fantasy.

Any thoughts?

~

Speaking of Too Many Faerie Princes, I should have some news to announce on both that and Pilgrim’s Tale (now renamed Leofgar And The Reluctant Berserker) fairly soon. Watch this space :)

 


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Getting Started – the tools of the trade.

Hoards of people want to write a novel. Just as doctors find that everyone they meet tells them about their ailments, authors find that everyone tells them about the novel they intend to write. Authors generally nod politely, say “oh, how interesting!” and go home secure in the knowledge that about 99% of the people who ‘want’ to write a novel will never put pen to paper because they don’t really want it at all.

It’s only when the partygoer/man on the bus etc says “I am writing a novel” that it’s worth while rolling up a trouser leg, exchanging the secret handshake of writerdom and settling down to talk shop. Like winning the pools, owning a dream house, being famous, going on Britain’s Got Talent, meeting [movie star of your choice] and dazzling them with your wit, for most people writing a book is one of those ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ things that will never come to pass.

483px-Jean-Bernard_Restout,_Le_Poète_inspiré_(MBA_Dijon)

The people who enjoy dreaming about being a famous author – of looking seriously out of a window while the sun floods over their manuscript and somewhere in the distance an influential reviewer is overwhelmed by their profundity – are probably better off not considering the reality of the thing. This is advice for the other people, the ones who want it enough to actually do something about it.

So, you’ve never written anything before, and you want to become a published novelist. There is no reason why you shouldn’t succeed in this goal. It’s not like my desire to go and live in Rivendell – a resolution hampered by the fact that the Last Homely House is sadly fictional. Becoming a published author is entirely in the realms of the possible, providing you’re willing to put the work in for as long as it takes.

How to start?

Writers are very fortunate. The tools we need to begin writing professionally are very simple. At their most basic they are even very cheap. You can go from aspiring writer to Writer using nothing more than a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.

Writing in longhand in a notebook has the advantage that a certain degree of slowness is built in. It gives you lots of time to think as you work. If you’re starting to write fiction from a basis of never having done anything of the sort before, a pen and notebook can seem less intimidating than a computer. Plus it’s more private and more portable than all but the smallest net books.

If you’re going from zero to novel, it can be helpful to do a lot of your initial character and plot roughing out in longhand. However, I really wouldn’t recommend writing out your entire novel in longhand if you have another choice. You can, if you honestly can’t afford a computer. But then you’ll have to send it off to be typed by someone who does have one, because no publisher takes longhand manuscripts. In fact, most publishers will only accept emailed manuscripts in electronic file format these days, so there’s no getting out of it. Just the researching, marketing and networking opportunities of the internet make it worthwhile alone.

So, a computer with word processing software ought to be down there as one of your necessities. In the short term it will make the mechanical act of getting the words down easier. In the medium term, the internet connects you to beta readers, advice, publishers and agents, submissions calls and places where you can begin to establish yourself as a voice to be heard. And in the long term your publishers and editors will need to be able to contact you by email and send your edits back and forth with tracked changes attached.

In short, you can learn the craft of writing using pen and paper but once you’ve done that, if you mean to write for publication, you’ll need a computer.

I should probably just assume you have a computer already, shouldn’t I? After all, how else would you be reading this post?

Assuming you have a computer, you also need some kind of word processing software. In the long term, most publishers will require you to have Microsoft Word, because that’s what they use, and it has the nifty Tracked Changes ability which editors use extensively. You may also end up using a dedicated programme for writers, such as Scrivener. I can’t get along with it, but many writers seem to swear by it.

In the short term, I recommend LibreOfficeWriter. I do all my writing on this. It’s completely free, it does almost everything Word does, it even opens Word docx files which my version of Word itself won’t do, and once you’re finished it can save its files in a doc format indistinguishable from that made by Word, so nobody knows the difference.

OK, we have pen, paper, a computer, a word processing programme and the internet. What else?

The final things you need to get hold of before you can write are time and space.

It’s finding these things which proves so difficult many people don’t even start. Anyone can buy a pen and some software, but ordering your life so that you can have time to write is a sure sign of being sufficiently committed to actually succeed.

What you need is a place where you can achieve a deep state of concentration, and enough time to use that state for something productive. Finding this place and time varies from writer to writer according to their individual circumstances. In my case, I began writing when I was at home all day with the baby. The baby would sleep for approximately one and a half hours in the middle of the day. I would put her down, tuck her up, switch the computer on and write until she woke up. This meant sacrificing all of my “Oh, thank God, peace and quiet and space to be an adult” time, but it was worth it.

If you’re lucky enough to be someone who can concentrate in a crowded room, you may find you can write for half an hour every day in the coffee shop on your way home from work. You could take the laptop to the library at lunch time. When I had two children with asynchronous sleep cycles I booked an exercise class at the local gym, put them in the creche and typed for two hours in the cafe instead.

If you’re a person who can’t concentrate without solitude and silence, you may have to go to more extreme measures, such as getting up half an hour early every day and locking yourself in whichever room in the house the rest of the family are unlikely to disturb when they wake. Or even taking a camping heater down to the garden shed and typing until your laptop battery runs out.

Going to the effort of building writing time into your day is a good litmus test of how serious you are about this writing lark. Much of what separates the writer from the wannabe comes down to how much effort you’re willing to put in. So finding the time to actually do it is the most important step of all.

The next most important step is finding something to write about, and that’s what I want to talk about next week, in Getting Started – What’s the Idea?


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

It’s the nature of the writing beast that no matter what kind of writing you specialise in, someone will tell you that you’re doing it wrong. In the m/m genre they will also find numerous ways of telling you that you are doing it immorally. Either you’re being homophobic by exploiting gay men’s lives for the sake of straight women, or you’re being misogynistic by writing women out of your fictional worlds entirely. Or both at once.

Emilia_Plater

Now I’m not sure how a genre can be simultaneously wrong by catering to women’s needs while also being wrong by being bad for women, but as is so often the way, there may be some truth in both things. So what can be done to minimise the problem? Well, we do what we can to make sure gay people enjoy our writing as much as straight women, and we make sure we have more interesting female characters, so women are well represented in our fiction.

Clearly the main problem in getting female characters into your m/m fiction comes from the fact that both of your main characters are men. Your viewpoints will be overwhelmingly male because your romantic couple are both male. And there’s nothing you can do about that without completely changing the genre to m/f, which rather defeats the object.

So if the nature of m/m means that both your main characters are male, what can you do to increase the presence of interesting female characters?

We could start off with the evil ex. Does main character A have a wife or girlfriend? She doesn’t have to be an evil bitch – after all, it’s no more fun for a woman to be married to a gay man than it is for a gay man to be married to a woman. So any breakup is likely to be both their responsibility. Maybe they separated amicably and are now working at being friends while raising their children together (or apart)? Or maybe she is an antagonist, but for perfectly good reasons, which can be addressed during the plot without blaming her for being some kind of monster.

Maybe the main characters both have evil exes, and they are genuinely moustache-twirling (what’s the female equivalent? Dog-fur-wearing?) villainess exes with plans to rule the world. Everyone loves a magnificent villain. As long as you have a woman or two on the side of the angels too, a genuinely, gloatingly, over the top villainess can be great fun.

We could also mention mothers. It’s a fair guarantee that every character will have a mother, and she doesn’t need to be dead or out of the picture. She could just as easily be funny and capable, or doing a glamourous or interesting job. She could be interfering, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Many people have sisters, and your main characters may be among them. Perhaps they have gone into business with their sister, or their sister has a problem they can help with, or their sister has a brilliant idea about what they can do to solve whatever their big plot problem is.

Maybe one or both of your main characters have female bosses? Maybe their bosses are rivals, and that’s how they get together – snooping around each others’ businesses in a series of acts of industrial espionage, and they can’t get together without talking the bosses into a merger instead of a hostile takeover. As long as neither boss is represented as an evil bitch, this could be a great chance to develop two strong female characters with a large degree of power and influence on the plot, who are still neither of them involved in the main relationship.

Along the ‘bosses’ line, your characters might also have female servants, whose below-stairs goings on affect their plotline. No reason why these shouldn’t be fully rounded characters too. A man’s nannies or cooks could run him ragged if both their personalities worked that way.

Your characters may work in a team and have female team-mates, whether this is one of a group of paranormal werewolves or werewolf slayers, or floor layers or architects or whatever.

If we’re talking a fantasy setting, ask yourself if your king really needs to be a king? Could she perhaps be a queen instead? If your lead characters are always having to deal with the queen and her (ninja magician) handmaidens, it will make it a great deal harder to end up with a book in which it looks as if you’ve killed off anyone in possession of a cunt.

If you find that, without realising it, you have written a novel in which there are no female characters at all, why not go the Ellen Ripley route, pick one or two of your most important support characters and gender swap them? Generally this makes no real difference to their characteristics or role in the story, and can be easily done. It may even bring some interesting freshness to your novel when the hard drinking, fist fighting, womanising best friend of the hero is a woman herself.

Obviously, all of this is slightly more difficult when you are writing in an all male environment, such as in a historical – aboard a warship, inside a gentleman’s club etc. But usually even in those situations there were women invisibly doing their stuff, whom you can choose to make visible. Servants at the club, wives travelling alongside their menfolk in the warship, a doctor’s daughter serving as loblolly boy rather than being left destitute at home. And that’s without the many instances of women who passed as men to run off to sea/join the army/go to university etc.

Look closer at almost any situation and there will be women there, any one of whom might get involved with the plot. And yes, perhaps all she can do is be the washerwoman who scorched the MC’s breeches because he was rude to her, but even that shows there are women in this universe who have their own personalities and are not to be trifled with.

Even the small things can make a difference; the barmaid who offers the hero directions to the castle and grins behind her hand as he goes, the landlady who gets the bloodstains out of the cuffs with a suspicious look, the interior decorator who gets mistaken for a stalker when she tries to break in to replace that lamp…

In short, just because your main characters are both men doesn’t mean you can’t fill your world with interesting women. If you put effort into making your men believable, complex and non stereotypical so as to avoid the danger of offending your gay readers, why not also put effort into including believable, complex, non stereotypical female characters too, so as to avoid the danger of offending your female readers? You might even find you start liking them yourself.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

That feeling you get when you open a mysterious cardboard box, unexpectedly delivered by the postman in the morning, and lift out the glossy-backed print copy of a book you wrote yourself.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503

Actually, there is something like it, and it’s the feeling you get when you hold your new child. Admittedly, the second thing is bigger and scarier and more life changing, but there’s something of the same disbelieving joy about both things. I did that! And behold, it was good.

I think the similarity between books and children is behind a lot of the antics of authors behaving badly on the internet. No parent is going to stand for it if some stranger insults their child. Most authors feel a similar surge of protective outrage on behalf of their books. Both sets of people eventually have to get out of it by accepting that a grown up child/story ought to be capable of defending itself… but now my metaphor is wandering off somewhere without leaving a forwarding address, so I will leave it there.

On a different note, I finally got a good photo of the new lighting effect. It’s not quite as 70s looking as this makes it seem, mind you!

glowonwall

And on a third note, I’ve been having an interesting conversation about Mary Renault’s The Charioteer and other books over on Goodreads. I had said I picked up a misogynistic vibe from The Charioteer which made me reluctant to revisit her other books, even though the historicals had been favourites. I didn’t want to risk finding out that they gave me the same feeling.

One of the comments I got in return said that Renault was just reflecting the authentic misogyny of ancient Greece, and I replied that, since an author could choose whatever they wanted to put in their own book, just because ancient Greece was misogynistic didn’t mean that she had to be. She could write against that grain. Coincidentally, but fortuitously, I came across a post on my friends list which said much the same thing, only better:

http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/historically-authentic-sexism-in-fantasy-lets-unpack-that/

I’m sure it holds equally true for historically authentic sexism in historicals too. I know I’m constantly running into new research that undermined all I was taught about women’s roles in the past. Pilots, hermits, warriors, merchants, scientists, philosophers, poets, craftspeople, midwives, doctors, witches, pirates, queens… all of it rubbed out or defaced by history, where ‘history’ means ‘the stories we tell ourselves about the past.’ And you know what, wives are not bad things to be either. Mothers, sisters, aunts (maiden and otherwise), daughters and wives don’t have to be written as the stultifying forces of emasculating convention either. Lady Mary Wortley-Montague would have something very cutting to say about that, if she could leave off spinning in her grave long enough.


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

I have three things to recommend today. Unlike Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s latest programme, they are not three good things which taste great together – they’re probably better savoured apart.

1.

Rather than a pantomime, we went to see Loserville yesterday in London, on the advice of our drama-student eldest.

http://www.loservillethemusical.com/

Which was a great choice – great sets, great songs and brought a tear to the eye on occasions. It’s a geek versus jocks story, but perhaps not on the cutting edge of the geek social issues which are exercising the internet at the moment – being your typical male geek earns the respect of his peers (via the sacrifice and cunning of his girlfriend) story. Still better than a panto, though!

2.

A fantastic historical murder mystery http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mistress-Art-Death/dp/0857500368 which makes me feel ashamed of my own historicals. Beautifully written, fast paced, humane and set in my part of the world. I didn’t realise it was part of a series! I will have to get the others now.

3.

And finally I can thoroughly recommend Get Your Words Out as a guilt free alternative to the daily word count. Sometimes you just can’t write for a week or so, but this gives you the chance to have good weeks and bad weeks as long as you make your yearly word count – and provides you with a nifty spreadsheet and monthly check ins to help.


GetYourWordsOut: One Last Time (Probably)!
Pledges & Requirements | GYWO.net


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

So, I’ve reached 233,253 words towards my Get Your Words Out challenge of 200,000 words in a year. Having cracked the target, I’m feeling very demotivated towards writing any more, which is something of a drawback. Next year, I can see I will have to aim for 250,000.

That gives me two completed new novels – one of which (Too Many Fairy Princes) is out on submission to publishers, one (The Pilgrims’ Tale) is with my agent and I’m hoping to get back with editing suggestions this month.

I’ve also done 101,000 words on The Glass Floor, and am still enjoying it. Extraordinary. That should come in at roughly 150,000, so I imagine it will be finished early next year.

I’m writing blog posts like a mad thing for a Blessed Isle blog tour from 31st of December to 7th of January. More about that later.

On completely different news, congratulations to JL Merrow for winning two Rainbow Awards! Outstanding! And couldn’t have happened to a more deserving author.

~

And it took me ages to work this out. See if you can do better:

From a tweet by Scott Jordan Harris @ScottFilmCritic

Whoever stacked these books is both evil and hilarious. pic.twitter.com/AjkNEBDc


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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