Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Character Creation 101: Tags aka Dancing Shoes

     Tall or short? What about somewhere in between?

     Redhead, brunette, blonde…oh wait, I know. BALD!

     Two hands, two feet, two arms, two heads. There’s something not right here.

     We’re going to continue picking apart the characters in your novel(s) this week. Today class, we’re going to have a catwalk, of a-sorts. From last week’s roll-call of names, we’re going to move on to the full body mug shots.

     First impressions count, no truer than this in a story, book or series. When your character(s) take stage, that initial introduce will stay with the reader throughout. How you describe them is key, as it’ll make or break them. A character needs to be memorable, discernible, distinctive, and bloody well interesting to boot. This is where a lot of novels fall short, particularly in the fantasy genre. My girlfriend loathes fantasy, and I can see her understanding after we duked it out over a Starbucks coffee. To her, fantasy is a far too complex world, with far too complex factions, with far too complex variables of characters, complete with far too complex names to read aloud. Needless to say, I have to agree…particularly on the character front. Sometimes characters feel all too much like place holders, forgotten in the turn of the pages.

     This was a terminal I’d have to remedy if I ever hoped to have my girlfriend read my stories. That, or lure her along with promises of Dinner and Dancing (I’m not too bad a groover, I have you know!). She enjoys chick-lit (no surprise! But, then again so do I), but her reasoning is that they are easy books just to pick up and read, the characters memorable. Of course they’re going to be memorable, particularly the male lead. Tall, dark and handsome. Or, unkempt blonde locks, ocean-blue eyes and a dazzling smile. Well-built, rough around the edges, but gentle in all the rights places…enough about me, back to the 101.

     However, what I’ve said is true. These characters stand out for their ‘tags’. A ‘tag’ is an identifier for a single character, and sets them apart from the rest of the cast. ‘Tags’ can be a physical aspect, a trait, a habit, a saying, anything! Used effectively, a character can be recognised without even their name being said (written, in this case).

     Take for example:
     Waylander from David Gemmell’s Drenai Series – double winged crossbow, a trademark piece in itself.

     Logen ‘The Bloody Nine’ Ninefingers from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Series – having nine fingers is obvious enough, but ‘the heavily scarred Northman’ with a penchant for knives (you can never have too many knives) head-butts his way into readers’ memory.

     Harry Potter from….obvious – a lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

     The Painted Man from The Demon Cycle by Peter V Brett - *SPOILERS* He’s a man…and he’s painted *SPOILERS OVER*.

     Draven Reinhardt from From Man to Man and It Began with Ashes by D E M Emrys – when stressed, bunches his bandana in his fists (selfless self-promotion).

     Kalekht Reinhardt from It Began With Ashes by D E M Emrys – grins, no smiling or beaming, just grinning. And it’s always mischievous, neither roguish nor feral, a mischievous grin…for mischief!

     Hopefully, I haven’t lost you here. The idea is that when a reader picks up on a single tag, the character comes to mind. It’s the appetiser in a way. A character shouldn’t have too many tags, or they’ll never become recognisable, but not having any at all is like having a blank canvas walk around your story. But then again, even a blank canvas has a tag, because it’s a BLANK canvas, not a painted or a ripped one. Right, before I confuse myself any more, I’ll leave it there.

     Anyway, I have to get find my dancing shoes, as I’m about to ask my girlfriend to read ‘From Man to Man’ before I finish it off.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Review: Hero in the Shadows

Hero in the Shadows
Hero in the Shadows by David Gemmell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The gate was locked under spell and sacrifice. Those gone were never to return.

The demons of Kuan Hador were banished from the world thousands of years ago. The mystic warriors the defeated the evil are lost to history and the grave. When Man is gone from life, Man does not return.

Now, mists of ice, and beasts of mist lurk in Kuan Hador. The ancient spells are fading.

Gone are the days of the demons, and gone are the Men that stood against them. Few stand against the gate. Kysumu the swordsman, of the line that defended the world in a distant era. Yu Yu Liang, a ditch digger. Ustarte, the priestess. And the Grey Man, a man thought gone who did not stay that way.

Things never truly stay gone, and such is the way with a man that cannot die. But, the Grey Man will kill him.

He has to. For the Grey Man is the traitor who killed the king, the Prince of Assassins.

Waylander is back.

David Gemmell’s ‘Hero In The Shadows’ is the final tale featuring Waylander, in the Drenai saga. Sequel to ‘Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf’, the novel gives a change of place and name to Waylander’s story, furthering his motivations and the development of the legendary Prince of Assassins.

After ‘Waylander II: In The Realm of the Wolf’, Waylander has turned his back on the lands of the Drenai, travelling to new shores in an effort to start again. Now, known to the locals as the Grey Man, he is seen as the rich foreigner, an elusive outsider that the other nobles and merchants can benefit from. But, when a group of Mercenaries attack a village on the Grey Man’s land, Waylander takes to the hunt. Waylander is not the only killer on the prowl, as an icy mist lurks from Kuan Hador, a city forgotten to time. Heroes, be they from the shadow or the light, are drawn to Kuan Hador to face the return of an old enemy.

Waylander returns with an old friend, and the scars both mental and physical of a life hard lived as an assassin. New additions to the cast Kysumu and Yu Yu Liang come from the pre-established land of the Chiatze, a richly envisioned realm with a heavy oriental influence. And, in regards to enemies, Waylander has fought demons and beasts before, but facing Demon Lords is a hardier foe than anything that the Prince of Assassins has ever matched.

Gemmell writes with a cinematic grandeur in ‘Hero In The Shadows’. As ever, the dynamic fight scenes are simple but deadly, painting a picture in blood rather than over-the-top descriptions. Waylander’s an old veteran of his craft, and Gemmell is the master of his own, and the familiar motions are as well-oiled and greased as the mechanisms of a crossbow.

Gemmell’s stray towards the fight against a ‘Greater Evil’ rather than the struggle of Man Vs Man is an escalation from the other Waylander novels, but it’s a fitting evolution for the Prince of Assassins. After all, Waylander has proved himself time and time again against mortals, so it’s only right that he pit his skills against a worthy opponent. As a fan of Gemmell’s work, and having read all of the Drenai books, it’s awe inspiring to see the author ‘tip his hat’ to tales set in the same universe, though a different time. Without saying too much, several characters appear in his other stories including ‘Winter Warriors’ (see my review here: http://written-with-a-sword.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/review-winter-warriors.html), and the books of The Damned ‘White Wolf’ and ‘The Swords of Night and Day’.

‘Hero In The Shadows’ closes the book on Waylander’s story, but can an Assassin ever have a happy ending?

View all my reviews

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Author Interview & Feature: MARK LAWRENCE!

     It’s one thing to make your readers smile, laugh or even cry. But, to inspire revulsion, abhorrence, outrage…that’s a whole other story. It’s a morbid fascination that keeps the pages turning, word a blur as you descend into the depths of depravity. Good and evil, black and white. But, when there’s little good and a hell of a lot of black, that sick obsession needs its fix.

     Mark Lawrence is a dealer to this addiction. He writes with a dark intellect; witty to the macabre, each line laced with a bittersweet poison. What makes his stories so delightfully compulsive is that he dares to tread the thin line between what can be said, and what should never, ever, ever, even be thought. At the reins of a first person Point-of-View, the reader is not just invited to the blood written tales of his creation, but dragged along, kicking and screaming. Combine a poetic psychopath with a power-hungry philosopher, and you have Mark Lawrence’s leading man.

     Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath…The Prince of Thorns.

     Mark has so far released two novels from the ‘Broken Empire’ Trilogy, these being ‘Prince of Thorns’ and ‘King of Thorns’. I’ve reviewed them both at earlier points (check back over my blog for the full features) but here’s a snippet of both reviews:

     ‘Is it true that we need to be broken before we can be reborn? No. But bleeding can sure do the trick.
     Thorns can bleed you better than a knife. Briar thorns so deep they hook to the bone. Where a knife goes in and out, you go in and out of a thicket. The knife goes in, blood comes out. You go in…who knows what comes out? But, I did.
     Before the thorns, before the person that I am now, I was a son and a brother. I’m still a Prince, but I gave that up for the road. Being a son and a brother was taken from me. The thorns gave me a new family. Brothers, though not by blood, but they’ve spilled enough of it for me. Yet there’s more blood to run, and though I lost my old family, I still have a claim to the family fortune.
     And that fortune is a throne…’

     ‘In chess, there are pawns, knights, queens, bishops, and more. But, there are no Princes, so in this Game I have become a king. Chess is black and white, which suits me rather well. A black king. But where's the read? There should be red, a lot of it. A lot of red, a lot of blood. Because, I've played all my pawns for check mate.
     I've got one castle, one knight, a queen and a king on my side of the board. But, there's six boards against my one side. Surely that's against the rules? Why am I complaining, I've never been one for rules, or played nicely with others.
     Maybe being the king isn't all it's cracked up to be?
     ...But being a player is.’

     Despite the darker than dried-blood saga, Mark Lawrence is a genuinely nice guy. If I sound surprised, then I guess I am a little. It’s like when you’re a kid and you look up to Superman only to realise he’s just an actor (personally, I never looked up to Superman. Dude couldn’t even dress himself in the right order – I mean, pants…on the outside? Please! Wolverine was my personal favourite). Now, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing that when I spoke to Mark Lawrence he didn’t immediately slaughter me (unless I’m being unwittingly groomed for that eventuality!), but I’d built him up to be a big nasty. Boy was I shocked when I found out that he was an awesome bloke, more than happy to chat with a star-struck fan! Mark is a father of four, one of whom is severely disabled. On his ‘About the Author’ he mentions himself as an allotment tender….scary stuff?!?

     So what makes a nicer than nice do-gooder turned to the dark side, besides for the cookies? Well, I was lucky enough to ask Mark a few questions!

     As a research scientist, your job is very much fact. Why then did you decide to write a fiction book, particularly fantasy?
Not an uncommon question but still one that strikes me as peculiar. Most people’s jobs involve fact. Who gets to sit around making stuff up for a living or not obeying the laws of physics? Absolutely no reason a research scientist shouldn’t write fiction, any more or less than a bus driver or hairdresser. A scientist is called on to be far more creative than most people are in their day job.
Fantasy was an early love of mine – I was read Tolkien at an early age.

     How did you get into writing, and how long have you been writing for?
I started writing scenarios for dungeons and dragons games when I was eleven. I ran a fantasy play-by-mail game for a year between my physics degree and my Ph.D and continued to run it in my spare time for the next ten years.
When I moved to the States and stopped running the PBM game I started writing short stories for fun. Short stories grew into longer stories.

     What(who?) inspires and influences your writing?
Everything and nothing.

     Is fantasy your first love, in regards to writing?
It was my first love as a reader and as a writer but I write sci-fi, horror, literary fiction as the mood takes me.

     Now, tell us a little bit about your debut novel, 'Prince of Thorns'?
A violent sword and sorcery romp with deeper under-currents and a lyrical edge, inspired by Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

     Did it live up to your expectations?
It wholly exceeded them. I just wrote it for fun with no plans to try for publication.

     Why so dark, why all the blood?
Why anything? It’s like me rolling a die and you asking ‘why 5?’. I just started typing and that’s what came up. My writing process is rather like rolling dice. The inspiration for this particular tale always meant there was going to be more than a touch of ultra violence.

     Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath...where he did come from? What spawned him in your mind?
Burgess’ protagonist in A Clockwork Orange is violent and amoral and does terrible things, and yet we find ourselves drawn to him because of his charm. I wanted to try that in a fantasy setting.

     Jorg philosophizes, and quotes many of the greats (Plato, Aristotle). Is this a reflection on yourself?
Well clearly I know a little about philosophy or I couldn’t have written about it. And clearly I quote philosophers (I did it in the book). But no, if you find yourself in conversation with me I am highly unlikely to start throwing in philosophical references.

     Can you reveal anything about the third and final book in the Broken Empire series?
Not a lot! It fills in some of the gaps between the two threads in King of Thorns as well as moving forward from the latter thread toward what’s hopefully an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

     Do you plan to revisit the world set out in the Broken Empire, or will the end of trilogy close the door?
I would like to return to the setting – though not to Jorg. There’s a power in knowing when to stop. I don’t plan to revisit Jorg. I want people to put down the last book of the trilogy wanting more, not to put down book 9 of an endless series thoroughly bored of him.

     What's next after the third novel?
What’s next is seeing if anyone will ever publish me again. And if not, then going back to writing for myself on the weekends.

     Any advice to would-be writers out there?
There’s no would-be about it. Start writing and you’re doing it. If you enjoy it then that’s reward enough in itself and everything else is a bonus. If you don’t ... then stop.

     Lastly, do you have anything that you'd like to say, anyone you'd like to thank? Any pearls of wisdom? (Or threats, in Jorg's case!)
Nope, I’m good. I make my thanks along the way. I’ll leave you with a Jorgism.
You’re either part of the solution or small and bloody chunks of the problem.

     And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that! Thank you Mark for taking the time to answer my questions, and thank you readers for stopping by! Both ‘Prince of Thorns’ and ‘King of Thorns’ are available to buy as ebooks and paper/hard backs in all major book stores! If you want a book to get you hooked, then be sure not to miss out!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Writing Update 4: Busy Times

     Time flies. I obviously missed the boarding call as I’m stick stuck in customs, snowed under by duty free sunglasses and Toblerone, trying to recover my ticket from the Haribo-High pre-teen who stole it from the not-so-legal frequent flyer hiding in the flower pot. Time is not a luxury that any of us can afford. First class is a king’s ransom on the clock, business class would be welcomed for the trade of minutes and seconds…if only we could get on the ruddy plane to ‘More Hours in the Day’ in the first place!

     Busy isn’t the half of it.

     But excitement is.

     Before I start, let me just tease you with a tid-bit of titillating trivia. Mark Lawrence, yes THE MARK LAWRENCE, published author of both ‘Prince of Thorns’ and ‘King of Thorns’ was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few of my questions. The interview (via email) will take up the feature slot on my blog, tomorrow. Be sure to check back for it.

     In regards to my own writing, it’s not going too badly. Work on ‘From Man to Man’ is almost complete, and I am um’ing and ah’ing whether to release the complete short story as a ‘free forever’ download across the web e.g. Smashwords, Amazon, Lulu etc. ‘It Began With Ashes’ is now in its final stages, the front cover is all but complete, I’m due to order the ISBN numbers, format the galley to ‘ebook friendly’, somehow plot a map, and complete a final test read. Sounds a lot, but things are looking positive for an October release. Work on ‘It Began With Ashes’s sequel has been stalled in the events of current, but at 35,000/50,000 words (approx. total) it shouldn’t take long to complete the first draft once I sit down with it again.

     All of my future titles, though self published, are due to be released under the publishing house ‘Four Branches’ – a company run solely by myself at this time. Long term, one of my dreams is to establish a publishing house to publish other authors, and if this is the first step towards that goal, then I’m psyched!

     Next week’s book review will close the door on David Gemmell’s ‘trilogy’ featuring the legendary Waylander. ‘Hero In Shadows’ is the final instalment featuring the assassin, and it’s kept me turning pages since I opened the book less than a week ago.

     All in all, it’s busy times, but business is good. You’ll all hear from me tomorrow, and be sure not to miss it as Mark Lawrence’s feature and exclusive interview will be on the headlines!

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Character Creation 101: It's All In The Name

     Time for another Creative Writing 101, but this time I’d like to focus on something a little different. I had thought to write an entry dedicated to Character Creation for novels, but that in itself is a hugely diverse topic to explore (and I’m going to need a lot more coffee than I have to do that!). So I’ve decided to take baby steps…or at least keep the training wheels on a little longer.

     Let’s start simple. This might be teaching some of you to suck eggs, and in no means is it meant to. This entry is purely designed to highlight a few points, hopefully share my own experiences, and provide a few laughs (at my own expense, of course!).

     What do you call your characters?

     Potentially, this can be one of the hardest parts of writing. Imagine yourself a parent, a proud mother or father (both? If you’re that way inclined!) to a newborn babe. Your child has its whole life to look forward to, anything is possible! Now, imagine if Cletus was to become President, or Montgomery was destined to like the skin off of KFC…you get my point. Names define your characters, and if you can’t find one that ‘doesn’t quite fit’ you’ll be umm’ing and ahh’ing over the character as you write instead of doing the important thing…the ACTUAL WRITING.

     A name has to fit the character’s personality. This sounds obvious enough when you consider Druss from David Gemmell’s works. The name is short, sharp, simple, but most importantly: blunt. Druss is a ‘what you see is what you get hero’. Axe first, politics later. His name suits him to the bottom of his iron-shod boots. But what if we were to call him…Bob? Need I say more?

     Names need to stick to the theme of the story, and where each character comes from. Take Arlen Bales and Leesha Paper from Peter V Brett’s novels ‘The Painted Man’ and ‘The Desert Spear’. Each from village backgrounds set in a fantasy-medieval world, the names suit their origins. The theme of the story in this case being the setting = fantasy-medieval, where the characters come from being their respective villages.

     The same could be said for the time frame setting. I’ve yet to meet a ‘Sean’ in an Ancient Roman novel, nor an Odysseus in a crime thriller (though that’d be wicked! Time to add that to the ‘to do’ list).

     Names don’t just need to be pronounceable, they need to be memorable. This is a massive oversight particularly in fantasy, where writers squeeze as many vowels into a character’s name as possible. Eieieiouaiue is a damned sight hard to read, let alone say, though it’s memorable (better luck trying to spell it from memory though). Sure, our axe-wielding hero Bob might be pronounceable enough…but truly memorable? I know a ‘Bob the Builder’ and a ‘Bob the Axeman’.

     Think of your favourites. I dare you! Go on – and no peeking, no checking. If you read this, respond with 3 names, yes 3, from 3 of your favourite books. So that’s 9 names in all. Now, ask yourself if it was the character’s actions, the story, or the name itself that helped you remember them.

     Personally, the most memorable name in my mind is one from TV…

     Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. Honest, it’s not something I’ve just made up. It was on ‘Friends’.
Might just call one of my kids that…wonder if they’ll make President? (NOT LIKELY – I LIVE IN THE UK!)

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Review: In the Realm of the Wolf

In the Realm of the Wolf
In the Realm of the Wolf by David Gemmell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You can take the wolf from the hunt, but never the hunt from the wolf.

The hunters are come. Men of blood and blade. The price on their prey’s head is far too rich a sum to ignore. A princely sum for a single death, and only a king’s ransom can pay it. But what is the true cost of trapping such a prey?

The hunted waits. A man of anguish and anger. The price on his head warrants answers. A sum for the Prince of Assassins, and his answers demand payment in kind.

Hunters, Mercenaries, a dark brotherhood, demons – all want for his death. Though he is but a man, the Assassin is caught in a web of destiny, one which will shape the world for years to come. The rise and fall of nations rest on his shoulders, but more importantly, the aim of his crossbow.

All know what is said about cornered beasts…

…The wolf returns.

David Gemmell’s ‘Waylander II: In the Realm of the Wolf’ is a return to the land of the Drenai, a direct sequel to his earlier title ‘Waylander’. The stage has already been set in the titular novel, but this second act breathes fresh life into old favourites and furthers the Drenai universe for the future stories.

Waylander returns in all his violent triumph. Cold-blood, calculated and lethal above all else. Set years after his initial appearance, the assassin has favoured his given name, Dakeyras, and settled down. He wed Danyal, and raised the girls Krylla and Muriel as his daughters. In a cruel twist of fate, Danyal died in a tragic accident. Krylla has wed and moved away. Muriel alone is left, but what sort of child can an assassin raise?

Dakeyras has been lost to grief. But, when he hears of the price on his head, Waylander returns. At first, it seems that he waits for his hunters to find him, ready for the final showdown, to die as he only knows how – fighting. When answers come to light, the hunted becomes the hunter. Death has always been his answer, and this time its personal.

As well as the return of familiar faces (Karnak the war hero, and Dardalion the Priest), we are introduced to an endearing host of fresh personalities. Angel, the weathered and weary gladiator, carrying scars that mark his years of carving out a bitter hardship in life. Senta, the conceited swordsman who hides a heart beneath a roguish smile. And Muriel, the lost little girl raised by a killer, now a grown woman who hides more than just herself in the shadows.

As ever, Gemmell writers with a pace for purpose rather than eloquence. The story drags the reader along at crossbow-point, held by the throat, swept up in an elemental storm. The action is visceral, sharp, and the developments are precise and delivered with the infinite surety of an assassin’s shot between the eyes.

Gemmell is a master of the ‘greater story’. As with ‘Waylander’, in which he tilts the hat to his debut ‘Legend’ by name-dropping, in ‘Waylander II’ Gemmell continues to interweave details, going so far as to highlight ‘Tenaka Khan – The King Beyond the Gate’ the protagonist from, funnily enough, ‘The King Beyond The Gate’. That, and a few tongue-in-cheek references to the questionable purpose of Dros Delnoch standing against the Nadir foe…it’ll never happen…will it?

Where ‘Waylander’ was a story of redemption, ‘Waylander II’ is a story of acceptance. Accept what has happened and what you are. But will or can happen can be changed, that in itself is a truth that must be accepted. Embrace life.

…or as Waylander does, take it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Review: Waylander

Waylander by David Gemmell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can you put a price on redemption?

The King is dead, and thousands are set to follow him. Drenai land is swept into the tides of war. Enemy soldiers sweep across the country, butchering man, woman and babe. It is a dark time, and dark work is at play.

Can salvation be earned?

Dardalion is a man of the light, a dying light in the dark days. But, he must confront the evil, and to face it a man must walk the shadows.

Karnak is a hero, a beacon of hope in the night. He kindles fire in the hearts of men, but his ambition burns brighter than the sun – and there is only room for one sun in the sky.

Waylander is a dark man; a hunter and a killer. Neither light nor torch can burn bright beside him, but no shadow is too dark for him to walk.

War can be won by strength, bravery and the hearts of good men. Yet, there is a path of shadows where neither hero nor torch can stray. But only dark men can walk the shadows. There is only one man for the job. But can he be trusted to save the Drenai?

For he is an assassin – a traitor – the man who killed the king.

He is Waylander.

Waylander is the third novel that David Gemmell wrote in the Drenai series. Set before his debut ‘Legend’, Waylander provides a legacy to Gemmell’s later works. As with other works by the author, the theme of redemption runs strong throughout, and though good and evil are at odds, the shades of grey divide the battlefields.

The main drive, as with all of Gemmell’s novels, is the characterisation. From the Priest Dardalion who battles with his will to do good, to the General and war-hero Karnak, each and every soul in this book is well fleshed. That’s actually a good way of putting it. Soul. That’s what each of Gemmell’s characters embodies. They aren’t just fictional marionettes toyed with for the readers’ pleasure. They live, they breathe, they fight, love and laugh. They have soul. And, that is why I love Gemmell.

...and that’s without even tackling the title character! Waylander is the anti-hero to Gemmell’s Druss the Legend. But, Waylander’s tragedy and choices, in my eyes, make him a richer character in some respects. He doesn’t just earn his place in reader’s hearts, he fights for it.

Gemmell has always written with a sharpened quill, crisp and quick. The story is fast paced and action packed, keeping the reader hooked throughout. There’s little room to catch a breath, and the first time I read Waylander, there was little room for me to sleep seeing as I finished it in a single night.

As stated earlier, Waylander is set years before Legend. But, the novel sets up a legacy for the later book in the series, namely the warrior priest sect The Thirty, and Karnak. These extra touches, weaves and webs to a fully envisioned world, add an epic scale to the Drenai saga, creating a fully realised world that, though fictional, feels lived in.

There are small evils and small goods to all men. But men are still men, they do wrong and they do right. Gemmell was an author that explored the limited strengths of the human being, and showed us what it was like to be a man. He sets the standard for idols, role models, and heroes.

After reading Waylander...you’ll want to be a man.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Creative Writing 101: Dialogue aka Talking to Yourself

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’

‘Words are not worth the paper they are written on.’

‘Read aloud, it’s little but hot air.’

‘A picture paints a thousand words.’

     Interesting stuff, don’t you agree? Each of these carries a certain poetry, a deeper meaning, an understanding. I like these quotes, I do. They make for strong statements, and empowering edicts. They’ve been said before, and they’ve been said again, but they each started somewhere.

    Dialogue in a story follows each of these notions. These notions are dialogues in themselves. Today class, we’re going to explore dialogue, and how best to utilise this in your stories/novels/books/epics/scripts/pleas of innocence.

    (((Small print: Here at Emrys Evidence Evasions Ltd. We do not accept any liability for loss of limbs during a court case after the unseemly incident with the hamster and the spaghetti meatballs...)))

    Now, I’m not a professional when it comes to writing and the laws unto which it is judged, but I count myself as a dab hand at conversational skills. I may not be a world class orator, but I can hold my own over a cup of coffee and any given topic. But, being able to speak is very different to writing the ‘spoken word’, particularly in a story.

    Firstly, when writing dialogue make sure you’re in the character’s mindset. Once inside their head, start wagging the tongue and see what comes out. Dialogue should feel RIGHT for your character. For example, I have a village Blacksmith by the name of McGowan. He’s a simple man, with simple needs and simple complaints. So, when things go awry he doesn’t whine with a “The end of the world is nigh!” he shrugs and says “Fair’s fair.” I know McGowan, he’s one of my creations, so I make sure he sticks to his identity.

     In the same vein, as McGowan belongs to a fantasy realm, he doesn’t slip into slang or real world profanities such as “Heaven’s to betsy!” and “Oh my god!” No, no. McGowan would rather curse to the gods of HIS world e.g. “Fraid and Govannon’s bloodied blades! What was that?” Remember, when writing, your characters may exist in a different world, time, whatever, so they won’t always speak like you do! This can be fun too, as you can make up whatever you want – you’re a writer after all, that’s what you do!

    Avoid blocks of speech. Conversations aren’t once sided. Have characters reason things out between the two of them – you’re not going to get far with A telling B what to do, and B holding no opinion of his own and just nodding and agreeing...unless B is a wall, at which point you have a character and a wall...but now I’m straying from my point. See what I mean? I’ve just rambled. Because I’m talking to myself, and have no-one to respond. I’m dragging it on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on...ok, you get the idea.

     Also, with dialogue be aware that ‘tags’ aren’t always necessary. Not every sentence should finish with ‘he said’. I don’t say everything. Do you? I shout sometimes, I murmur, whisper, grunt, sigh etc. But don’t just limit yourself to speech tags. Throw in actions. For example: a shrug, a nod, a smile. If it important to note, however, that with the write dialogue, you won’t even need a tag, as the line itself should carry and portray the intent and delivery.

     Lastly, when writing dialogue...read it aloud. It’s dialogue! IT’S A CONVERSATION! If it doesn’t won’t when you speak it, how is it going to work when you read it? This is a simple fix that can improve your work a thousand-fold. Dialogue needs to flow naturally, roll off the tongue...or roll like an errant meatball hi-jacked by a hamster.

     Now, off to find that pesky rodent...I might just catch him red-handed (read: pawed) after handling the Italian sauced orb of his affections!


    ((Small print: I neither own a hamster nor a meatball.))

    ((Smaller print: Nor do I know where the hamster nor the meatball came from in reference to this post...it’s been a long day.))

     ((Even Smaller print: No hamsters were harmed in the writing of this blog post.))

     ((Even Smaller Small print: No meatballs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.))

Monday, 3 September 2012

Book Review: 'King of Thorns' - Mark Lawrence

     In chess, there are pawns, knights, queens, bishops, and more. But, there are no Princes, so in this Game I have become a king. Chess is black and white, which suits me rather well. A black king. But where’s the read? There should be red, a lot of it. A lot of red, a lot of blood. Because, I’ve played all my pawns for check mate.

     I’ve got one castle, one knight, a queen and a king on my side of the board. But, there’s six boards against my one side. Surely that’s against the rules? Why am I complaining, I’ve never been one for rules, or played nicely with others.

     Maybe being the king isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

     ...But being a player is.

      ‘King of Thorns’ is the second novel in Mark Lawrence’s ‘Broken Empire’ trilogy, following on from his fantastically dark and macabre debut ‘Prince of Thorns’.

     In ‘King of Thorns’ we return to Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath’s sociopathic outlook, now seated upon a throne and declared a King. King Jorg, has a problem. A very big problem. Namely the knocking on his door...and boy are twenty thousand soldiers loud! The Prince of Arrow has rallied a six nation army to his cause, and seeks to unite or usurp those that stand against him. Jorg has never taken well to being told what to do, so even outnumbered as he is, and surrounded, he’s still going to play his hand.

     ‘King of Thorns’ is a complex addition to an already fleshed story, adding further depth to the fully blooded (literally!) characters and plot. Devices are sewn into the weave early on and are used throughout, making for some interesting developments and twists.

     Now, I mentioned ‘complex’. I won’t hold back, just like the savage bluntness of the book, but the story can be a multi-faced harbinger at times. At points the reader is engaged by current events, the first person PoV diary of another character, and the going’s on of four years previous. However, I think these have been worked wonderfully into the flow, allowing Lawrence to focus on face rather than choking purple world building from the pages. The pieces are already set on the board, so the games can begin!

     The Prince – well, now the King – Honorous Jorg Ancrath, is back and he’s on top form. Four years older, four years bloodier, Jorg has more than filled his boots. His scheming ways are still there, though arguably at a grander scale, but this older Jorg has something of an emotion conscience. Previously, Jorg was something of a logical killer, though his decisions were less a surgeon’s calculated scalpel and more the fall of an executioner’s maul (axes are too clean for the blood splatter than Jorg leaves in his wake). Now, Jorg has a devil on each shoulder, guiding an emotional bloodbath, and when it’s personal, it’s only going to end in tears.

     ‘King of Thorns’ is a real wing stretcher for Lawrence. Not only goes he flex his fingers by dabbling more so with the various weaves (switching from another character’s diary, a ‘past’ recollection, and the current crisis), he builds on his world to escalate the scale of his story...well, it’s not longer a story to me. It’s a saga. An ambitious saga, but it’s written in blood, and you can’t help but get swept up in the madness. In terms of style, Lawrence also let’s rip with some stitching one liners. His tongue in cheek quips had me in fits at points, and if you read this novel, I guarantee you’ll spot my single favourite sentence a mile off!

     And with the third and final installment on the way, with the promise of more bloodshed, and further twists and ties of the noose, things are certainly looking bright on that red horizon.

     Mark Lawrence, if I was hooked last time, this time I’m at knife-point.