In a previous post I mentioned Alt Hist before in a previous post. My plan was to start a Facebook page (and associated Twitter feed) to provide a news and discussion forum for anyone interested in historical fiction, whether it be “realistic” or alternate history. At the time I saw this as possibly growing into a regular magazine for publishing historical fiction and alternate history as well.
Well guess what! I went and started up the magazine! Hooray! Quite scary, but amazing fun as well. Alt Hist got listed on Duotrope a few days ago and already we’ve had a few submissions come in. I really hope that if you’re interested in historical fiction at all you will find Alt Hist write up your via (bad puns intended).
I’m currently in the early stages of actually writing my novel Hell has its Demons at the moment. Because of the complexity of writing within a historical background I have been taking a carefully planned approach to writing and employing the techniques of the snowflake method, where you build up the plot structure of the novel gradually, while alternating between planning aspects such as character background. The last two stages of the snowflake process are to go through the whole plot of the book and write a synopsis of each chapter. I have started doing this and also used this as an opportunity to work out at each stage how much actual background material I need. For instance which part of a castle or Abbey do I actually need to describe and plan, which minor characters will be featured, what’s their role and what do I need to know about them. This method has worked fairly well so far.
But I also thought that while I was doing that I would start on the first couple of chapters of the book as well, just to get myself in the mood for working with my characters. And this is when I had a revelation about how I wrote. I found that I started to find out new things about the characters and the situations I was putting them in as actually put the words, sentences and paragraphs on screen that described their thoughts and actions. Mapping a list of what occurred in a chapter or even detailing the character arc in a chapter just wasn’t the same. Only when I came to writing what the characters did and how they talked and felt did I really start to know them.
So where does that leave the process of writing Hell has its Demons?
I think the principles are still the same. I find it useful to work out beforehand what will happen in each chapter and also do some work on researching and creating the settings and minor characters that my characters will interact with, before I actually write the narrative. But I think what I will do from now on is to plan each chapter just before I write it or perhaps be planning few chapters ahead, so that I don’t lose touch with the development of my characters.
I have noticed while reading A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin, that there are lot of viewpoint characters in this book. This owes something to the complexity of the plot and the diaspora of the Stark family perhaps, but I think it’s also a conscious technique by Martin to keep the reader in touch with as much of the action as possible wherever it is happening. However, as a reader I do feel a bit dazed at times trying to keep up with all the different characters. In many books with multiple viewpoint characters, you might perhaps see the story form the perspective of 3 or maybe 4 characters. The books of Iain Banks or Leo Tolstoy are good examples of this. But I don’t think I have ever read a book with so many as Marting’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
I did some counting to work out whose story it was and here’s a graph showing the numbers of chapters told from the viewpoint of each character.
Tyrion Lannister, whose on the other side from the Starks, but not a villain as such gets the most, followed by Arya. The other members of the Stark family, including the bastard son of Eddard, Jon Snow, then get quite a few chapters each as well. It’s quite interesting to do this sort of analysis actually. In particular you can see how the pace of the book picks up with shorter chapter lengths and toing and froing between certain key characters. My plan is to take another look at the stats once I have finished to see how they reflect the whole story.
Telescopes weren’t invented until 1608, although lenses for eyeglasses were available from the thirteenth century onwards.
This was news to me. For some reason I just sort of assumed that astronomers maybe going back to ancient times would have had some sort of telescopes available. Quite naive of me I think, but it just goes to show that when researching a historical novel, or alternative history etc, you really need to check out your assumptions.
One of the main characters of my Hell has its Demons novel is an astronomer/astrologer by the name of Roger. Currently I am working on the plan for an early chapter of the book in which we meet Roger for the first time. As this is partly and introduction to the character I wanted the reader seeing him do what he does best – looking at the stars. Initially I thought he would be able to do this using a telescope and perhaps he would have some reference material like a book (Ptolemy‘s Almagest for instance). I even found another use he could make of the telescope later in the chapter that allowed to spy on events in a nearby village.
But… I realised that actually telescopes weren’t around then and in fact wouldn’t be until 1608. So what did astronomers use? Basically their eyes. They tended to look for good observational platforms and they also had gadgets to assist them with working out where stars should be in the sky, but that was pretty much it.
The main gadget of the astronomer was actually the astrolabe. There’s a wealth of information available about this on the internet including simulation of how it worked. This TED talk video is a particularly good introduction:
I came across a science fiction book recently in WH Smith that I thought sounded interesting. I didn’t want to buy it, but I thought I might record the title and author and read it sometime in the future. I happened to find it in my public library a week ago, so I borrowed and took it home to read.
The production values seemed OK and it looked professional. But I didn’t know the name of the publisher. (I won’t name the book, author or publisher). I started reading. The prologue and introductory material was a bit tedious, and then I started the first chapter. The subject matter was OK and probably quite fascinating, but the style was what I would consider poor. Lots of passive sentences, cliched expressions, and long winded sentences with inappropriate subordinate clauses. All things that a good critique group would have helped the author pick up on and resolve.
I could see that this would be a real struggle to read so I decided to give up on it. I am fairly strict in not persevering with books that don’t at least hold my interest or have some sort of quality about them.
Then I wondered a bit about who the publisher was so I looked them up.
They didn’t say they were a vanity publisher or that they helped authors who wanted to self-publish, but they did go on about how they could provide design and production services, so I do wonder if they were really a vanity publisher in disguise. I suspect that the book had been given a nice production treatment, but had not been vetted editorially and probably only proof-read and not edited for style.
I’m not sure how it got into WH Smith though. A good effort on the part of the author I suspect. But I wonder if he would have benefited as well from some honest feedback at a writers’ circle or online critique group?
I am currently working on my character dossiers for Hell has its Demons. These documents are really everything I need to know as a writer about the major character of my novel. I use a template from Nancy Kress‘s Creating Dynamic Characters, and find it very useful for considering all angles of my most important characters.
In Hell has its Demons I have seven major characters, and I have 2 and a bit left to do. Jake, Isabel, Bifrons and John of Gaunt are complete, while I have nearly finished the dossier for the main baddie, Edmund Hope. Then I need to move onto Jake’s father John Haukwake.
I wasn’t initially sure whether to do a whole dossier for him as he isn’t in the story all the way through. But he is quite significant, as Jake has major issues with him and he is also the husband of my main female character Isabel.
Lastly there is Roger, my Oxford academic and astrologer. Roger is one of the main viewpoint characters along with Jake, so he’ll need quite a bit of work.
Once I have finished these off I am planning to work on my scene summaries, which will detail what happens in each scene, how the characters’ arcs are developed, and also make note of any settings and minor characters that I need to flesh out. By way of variation I did one of these today. It was harder than I thought it would be. Partly I think because I had already started writing the first part of it – so perhaps too many preconceived ideas!
I am really enjoying using Feedbooks over the last couple of days. My first story, The Human Factor, has now had over 80 downloads, which I think is fairly awesome really. It does seem that Science Fiction seems to do quite well. My other stories, The Honor of Rome and Tale of Tiel, which are historical and fantasy respectively, haven’t done as well, but still have quite a few downloads.
I am really hoping that some of the readers provide some comments as well. I would really love to see what people think.
I also started reading another writer’s work on there, a chap called Ian Sales. I found his work to be of really high quality, which is reassuring as it seems that decent writers are posting their work on the site. I would encourage you to go and read his Amber Room if you have the chance.
I thought it would be interesting to give some more background on my recently published short story The Easy River to Success. The story was published recently by Planet Magazine and is available there for free viewing. Please go over and take a look. I would be interested to know what you think of the story.
The world of the story is one that I have been working on for a while and is also the setting of two other short stories and a couple of novel ideas as well. My initial vision for the world was taken from a part of Gulliver’s Travels where Gulliver encounters people who live on islands that float in the air. I thought it would be amazing to have a fantasy world where one of the key cities was a flying island that orbited the world at a fairly low altitude of say a couple of thousand feet and that could be reached by flying carpets or unicorns. That’s the basis of one of the novel ideas.
This world-building developed further when I started thinking about religious and mythical background. I decided that I wanted the characters from my fiction to be able to interact with their gods in a meaningful way, and perhaps even to find that their idols were often just as fallible as they were – and in fact had once been human themselves too. The idea is similar to that used by Roger Zelazny in Lord of Light.
So I started on the process of creating my world and as a result came up with some interesting characters to populate and some story ideas outside the main novels came to the surface. One of these is The Easy River to Success.
This short story is set in a kingdom called Fei Usure, which is in conflict with the neighboroughing theocracy of Belgania. In a more recent iteration of my world these country names have now been changed as I got more into developing the actual languages of the world into a more coherent pattern. The name of the world changed as well, from Neriador (too Tolkien I thought), to Ladmas (there’s a pun in there by the way).
Here’s the old version of the world, without all the cities and countries filled in. The new version has different names, but is the same size and shape.
I’ll write next time about the characters in the story and some of the politics they are involved in.