Musings on Writing (Another series). One Other Benefit of Being Inside Those Characters.

There is a collection of viewpoints around the idea that a writer of fiction involving action (in its broadest sense) should not spend too long narrating the internal workings of a character particularly when they are engaged in being ‘active’ as it detracts from the flow of that particular interlude.

This is a worthy point. I have read a war fiction where one member of a gun team recounts in two long paragraphs the entire experience of an injustice done to his father while said team member is loading ammunition into the gun, as a very large tank bears down on said team. He was either a very quick talker or it was a very slow tank; the reactions of the the other team members were not recorded. I leave it up to you how you would feel about being partnered with this voluble and probably slowest loader in the army. And yet the book was commercially published and part of a successful series, in which similar diversions took place. We have entered editorial ‘Go Figure’  territory. 

That said internal dialogue or observation from a third party standpoint do play their part in building up tension, in the right context. Such as the journey to an ‘active’ scene; be it physical, verbal or emotional. Or the interlude where the writer and reader are sharing a ‘How does the character get out of this one?’ / ‘What will they do next?’ 

Overall this is a topic which could cover several posts and numerous discussions; leading off to whether ‘that action’ is necessary as it detracts from the character who has become more interesting than the original plot and other compelling  sideroads.     

To go back to the original point though. This can be a challenge when there is more than one major character and a couple of minor characters of some importance. Although angst heavy inner monologues at every turn should be avoided, when scenes involve interactions or individuals taking decisions some internal ‘splaining’ is necessary. (Which is why some books are longer than others).

At the end of the day; chapter or book there is that Other Benefit.

After all of the effort of going into motivations, clarifications, and justifications, after digging deep into presenting the character(s) and all the rest of the sweat….

You can develop a reasonably good sense of self-analysis for those times when things are just not going your way and learn to ride / surf / glide through them. (Although if you have been writing fantasy, a sense proportion about carrying large axes or double handed swords is advisable).

Learn from your characters, some of them are pretty shrewd and thoughtful folk.


Violence in Fiction

The intention of this post is not actually  about raising the profile of  my trilogy nor the last part of it; the project and its characters are merely the anchors for some thoughts on the use of Violence. Bear in mind this is written from a Fantasy perspective so if you are a reader/writer of other genres you may feel some of the points need tweaking. Feel free.

Fantasy, particularly ‘Heroic/Epic rely on large swathes of violence as there will be Wars and there will be Battles, which considering Human History has to be a given. War is part of us whether we like it or not. Somewhere along the line in response to the Opposition or Villains of the narrative the central character(s) will take up arms, several times in fact maybe leading up to one climatic battle, when all may be resolved or some part left unsettled for future tales in a series. Once upon a time in much popular fiction there was a simple sort of tale when Good vs Evil had Evil defeated and that was that, which was about as Fantasy as you can get! Folklore and Legends actually produce a more realistic overview with morally ambiguous central characters and tragic endings. These days there are many Fantasy series rather than stand alones, either one theme such as Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn


Or very complex interactions in which very few nice folk ever appear (and if they do, they don’t live long)

Game of Thrones

All are replete with unavoidable violence, the authors’ mirroring Human history and maybe their views on society in general. Joe Abercrombie being particularly adept at tales dealing with the very gritty, dirty end of violence in which sometimes ‘Fantasy’ hardly rears its head. Take for instance.

Best served cold

Being intentionally set in a land similar to 16th century Italy and nary  a rune or magic staff in sight- nor anyone you would wish to invite over for an evening. The central character (on the cover there) is not a nice person at all, but there again she does not have an idyllic back story.

As with many forms of fiction Fantasy is replete with its own set of genres and sub-genres and in the overwhelming number of works there will be violence of some sort, which since we are dealing with in some form either ambition and/or malignant forces, to repeat is bound to happen. How is this dealt with has many options and variations, from Good eventually triumphing to the very nihilistic someone walking off into the sunset in a devastated landscape, in which evil lurks under a rock (beloved of the writers of comic books/graphic novels and horror movies)- why people think the latter is entertainment is beyond me there are plenty of ‘live’ examples in the world we live in.

Anyway since the post has gradually, as it must, drift into my opinions of the subject this is where I use my own characters to ‘sound off’ (Actually I am fairly certain they do exist from in another part of the Universe and probably in another segment of Time, thus  they have a great influence on my own views)

Heroic Fantasy loves kingdoms and empires which since the setting is usually based in semi-classical or Middle Ages to Renaissance  settings is only natural. History indicates both could be quite robust in carrying on but were prone to their own shares of less than dynamic rulers who were propped up by systems or cliques of self-interest. Thus The Oakhostian. As an empire it is composed of princedoms, city-states and other set-ups. The current dynasty started off with one  fellow who seized power by being physically ruthless against other nobles and the the emperor, albeit in a surgical way, so no rampaging. His son was more inclined to secret police and espionage. Neither bothered the mass of the population as the mass of the population didn’t bother them and both sides saw that as fine. The third in line was more easy-going, affable, with a gift of selling himself and his ideas, and knowing which side to play and when, he also appreciated women a lot and died when as gamboling about with his latest squeeze he fell into a fish pond, knocked his head on an ornamental statue  and drowned. The fourth in line is too young for the job, nervous and doesn’t make decisions. There are of course vested interests big and small. What I did want to create was something far from perfect. An environment  in which an great deal of compromise, morally elastic actions and pragmatic activity went on, most folk just wanting to keep the whole thing going and get by as best they could, because there was always the danger of the Unknown breaking out (Either as demonic forces or the catastrophic ill-use of a nascent power known by various names, commonly Ethereal of Stommigheid)  Thus in some respects mirroring post WWII Europe in the latter half of the 20th Century.  In this empire Violence being contained in the local law and order problems, the spats between princes, princes and their own nobility and the occasional uprising by one group or another. These can be ugly, but since they occur ‘somewhere else’ most folk don’t worry about it. Which I feel is sadly ‘business as usual’ and fairly realistic.

Like most Fantasy series these days, you’ve got to be ready to produce something of maybe 200,000+ words per volume and have a whole world peopled by an entire cast. In fact this is half the fun of it. Since this is not my own web-site for dedicated readers in their thousands (ahhh, per chance to dream). I will only concentrate on how the three central characters individual approaches the question of violence.

In alphabetical order:

Arketre Beritt: From somewhere which might be similar to parts of the Southern USA. Brought up traditionally rural, in an attempt to find a direction joined The Devoteds (like Nuns) however with a tendency to be disruptive and a girl-chaser, by a long standing   agreement was sent to the LifeGuard. This was originally supposed to be the Imperial Guard but is now a state within a state. Initially she was trained as a medician (think medic).  To begin with she appears the nice, little fair headed, eager helper in a file (unit) but as the saga continues and she is exposed to persistent violence she reveals a more deadly side to her nature, killing without compunction, partly as she sees her duty but also in her own urge to deliver retribution. This is of concern to folk she is close to, lest they lose her to a pathway into nothing but violence. Her close friend Trelli is most adept at warning her and under her influence Arketre will display her healing skills and a rough diplomacy. She is something of one type of ever present soldier, conflicted between duty, rage and a softer side. Being in a steady relationship with Karlyn supplies another anchor. She is at her most stable with Karlyn and Trelli otherwise she is a person of War, although looking for a way out at any cost as long as Karlyn and Trelli are not harmed.

Karlyn: Originally with no memory of her past, only her recent life of being washed ashore from a ship. She lived in a city before venturing out on her own mission to strike down evil by burning down places at random. She, has an affinity with the inflammable, talks to and clambers above trees empathises with most creatures, has a very esoteric sense of smell and adept at finding and navigating pathways out of the conventional world into different realms. As the saga progresses it is found she is of another species of Humans, The Shadow Lords, was sent on a scouting task to the world of Humans but it transpires was ambushed by malevolent forces. Initially very scatty  and askew I was somewhat alarmed at how parallel she could be with Harley Quinn and together we had to work quite hard to ensure folk knew she was her own girl…Or actually two as at times her previous noble identity (Lady Maighdean Ardea )takes hold. She has no problems with killing, although being far swifter and precise than Arketre and only as a response to a direct threat, once the threat is dispatched, that is that. Fallen sweetly in love with Arketre and a friend verging on bossy big sister to Trelli. Her principal concern is staying with Arketre and not being drawn back to her family, quite at ease with punching her brother or cousins from trying to make her.

Trelli (aka Trelyvana Waywanderer): In Fantasy terms Trelli is not unusual, there she was an ordinary housemaid (later self-promoted to Housekeeper, if anyone asks her) when due to the son of the household’s research into ‘The Ethereal’ forces, she was inadvertently inculcated with its energies. Thus she can knock folk over, tackle those using Ethereal for evil purposes, learnt how to fly (in an eclectic way), travel between realms and sometimes influence minds. She was initially very suspicious of this, particularly as it manifested itself in red and blue aura about her fingers, causing her to wear thick gloves or tuck her hands under her armpits in an attempt to avoid folk noticing. Whereas she has come to terms with this circumstance, she is constantly aware of the potential corrosive effect on her character and thus to possibility of loosing destructive forces; she is therefore ever wary of any external or internal influence to lead her down such a path. Of the three she is therefore the least willing to launch into battle and even then is restrained, unless in direct conflict with the demonic forces (The Zerstorung), in which case as it is a fight to the finish she has no qualms. Due to the encouragement of her two friends she always has a tendency to resort lesser forms of physical violence when provoked. Through her friendship with Arketre and Karlyn and the mutual reliance which is fostered within the trio she is able to navigate a pathway through conventional experiences with little trouble.

It is my usual inclination when writing to give the malignant forces a very hard time, since if there is one thing I find irritating is the self-satisfied, monologuing, god-complex villain whose perfect plan is only foiled at the last chapter either by supreme sacrifice or some sudden burst of amazing whatever. My own narratives tend to be influenced by my reading of military histories and the fact there never is a perfect plan, that things go wrong and its the folk who make the least mistakes who usually come out on top. Thus no one in my books ever does things adroitly, it’s all about that catching of the other out and either then pummeling them, or skipping out of the way to come back for another shot. This normal lack of over-arching competence in situations allows the trio of central characters to escape some of the more excessive fates and experiences seen in other books (Note: As these books are self-published for their own sake the characters and I reckon we can between us get away with this as much as we please- look upon it as a sub-sub-genre Fantasy-Heroic-Feel Good )

Violence or the threat of it is ever prevalent and sometimes the central characters in particularly Arketre are the instigators. As stated earlier, the backdrop of the narrative is an empire under threat external or internal  so this is to be expected. Whether the use of violence is as necessary as the characters (or I) see it remains very much up to the perspective of the reader. Whether the central characters come across as likeable people is also left up to the reader to decide for themselves. Personally over the years (since about 2014) I have grown quite fond of them, seeing them as people of their time and circumstance, dealing with matters as they see fit and in general authority or those they work with or for having to catch up with the trio as individuals or in various combinations.

Therefore Violence exists. When using this in fiction the responsibility lies with the writer and to an extent the reader as to whether the levels, perceptions and morals of the usage are acceptable. Personally I use it a great deal, and dear reader don’t expect the villains ever to walk away from it.

Plots and Things That Might Be Plots…or Not

I suppose the basic idea of a plot is broadly linear. A narrative starts at A with an intention to end up at at, shall we say D with diversions at B & C and there it does end at D. Fine, because so much can happen in between those four points of juncture. If however I were to continue along this thread and assert this is basically what all writers should strive for if they want to be succesful in their art then I might as well suggest we have a National Let’s Be Mean To Children day for the amount of rage and controversery resulting.

Basically ‘What is a Plot?’ is a question no one is ever going to answer successfully. If someone not a writer were to ask that question in a room of say six writers, the said person would end up (A) Having to break up at least one fist fight (B) Pick up the chair when one writer stormed out asserting everyone else was a twit before slamming an innocent door (C) Make a cup of tea or coffee to soothe the one who was having existential crisis because they couldn’t answer the question (D) having listened to the remaining two come away with the idea there were at least ten different answers (E) Wished they’d never asked the stupid question in the first place and (F) Wondering if they will ever be able to read fiction again without twitching.

And that’s before we reached that most volatile and dangerous of statements

‘It is the melding of words which matters. Who needs a plot?‘ (NB. An Innocent to the world of writers should never ask this question. It’s like starting a discussion on Religion, Politics or Sport; it never ends well., Even if the said Innocent does try keep the assemblage supplied with tea, coffee, biscuits and cookies)

Basically I would suggest one answer (out of an infinite number of answers and permutations of answers with or without qualifiers; ipso facto, quid pro quo-one should always try and throw some Latin into a debate it looks good) is:

The plot is what the reader discerns it is.

Any quick sift through books, articles, reviews, criticisms etc about other books, articles, reviews, criticism etc will reveal that there are inventive folk out there having tremendous fun (and making a living) out of telling you what the author of aforementioned books, articles, reviews, criticism etc was actually saying in the first place AND are not they (ie the inventive folk) very clever was discerning this. Such a statement will be followed by other inventive folk saying in books, articles, reviews, criticisms etc  how wrong the first inventive folk was/were and actually the message/theme etc of the orginally cited books, articles, reviews, criticisms etc was….

This unsettles some folk who just wanted to sit down and read a book, etc and not have their worlds upset by strident assertions. This is why you should never read any review on any books, articles, reviews, criticisms etc, without your ‘Oh Yeah. Says You,’ monitors and response metres tuned to full strength. I proclaim this in advance of the next part of this post which I, (only me, that is) look at some works from the perspective of plots, or not as it were….

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 

mrs-dalloway-virginia-woolf-9781781398197 Now it could be excusable on a first brief glance to think ‘A day in the life British upper class woman organising a party for that night. So? Is it going to be a comedy like P G Wodehouse with things going wrong. It’s not? Huh! That’s going to be dull’ Where in actual fact the party is but a backdrop to varied interactions between people, none of whom do run off with each, even if there is a subtext some want to. At this stage it can be argued there is no particular linear plot. However it is what it is; which as I see it is a view of the complexity of people’s lives, the appeal lying in the use of language and juxtapositions of past and present. You will have another view. We could discuss…hopefully not argue on the subject. Anyway just bear with me, I’m not done yet.

Moby Dick (or The Whale) by Herman Melville

Moby Dick Entire literary or academic careers have probably been built around this novel. ‘Ahab a sea-captain has had his leg bitten off by a whale, Moby Dick and wants to seek revenge on the said whale. But consumed by this obsession ends up being bested by said whale’. Is that the plot then?’ Well not really because, Melville fills up the book with all sorts of information about whales and the history of whaling, it’s told from the point of view of Ishmael the only survivor, Ahab the captain doesn’t turn up for quite a while and Moby Dick in terms of wordage nearly at the end. So who or what is the book about? And does it have a plot or is it a commentary about things deeper? Personally I don’t know, it overwhelms me, like a huge whale rising out of the deep. One thing is certain the whole work has and will continue to intrigue and captivate. No doubt there are legion of opinions are to what the actual plot is (or not as the case may be)

Having thus skirted around the dangerous area of whether one may or may not need a plot, or part of a plot I will comment on safer ground for me anyway….. Fantasy novels. Most of the best selling having plots. In these following examples Plots are strong factors, but the telling of how they work out are the most important features.

The_Lord_of_the_Rings  Now this one needs no introduction or detailed explanation does it? Very simple outline- throw the evil ring down the volcano, good defeats evil. Tolkien doesn’t just go from A to D via B & C though, he goes through the entire alphabet upper and lower case for good measure. Small wonder many folk say ‘This year I shall I read Lord of the Rings, properly and in depth’, because it will need that length of time to appreciate all the histories, nuances and colours. Simple premise while allowing whole swathes of detail, proving you don’t need a complex plot.

Best Served Cold by Joe Ambercrombie

Best served cold Joe Ambercrombie does not write subtle, nor simple, nor good over coming evil. But he does write plots. This book set in a world familiar to his readers is one of basic revenge. Monza Murcatto a ruthless mercenary is betrayed and left for dead, she gets up and seeks revenge; there is a conclusion. On the way though there are many characters some of whom people other books in the series. Monza is not nice at all, in fact you might think considering her background she had this coming and you might also feel sorry for some of the folk tagging along with her. In fact it is very hard not to get engaged, if bloody, unsentimental, colourful alternate worlds (approx. 15/16th Century Italy) are to your taste. One with twists to the plot which are not of Monza’s plan or even foresight. Plot figures strongly, fleshed out though with strong characters. No particular moral other than in this one Survival is Everything.

The preceding four books were taken as random examples of just a few of the facets encountered when talking about The Plot (or not). You will have your own examples and permutations. I tried to steer clear of the issue of Complex, Tangled or Obscure plots as these tend to be a matter of perception and some folk get quite upset, nay even insulted if you suggest one is, or isn’t when they have an opposite view and we are back in the world of heated arguments.

Basically to underline the issue it would seem we must always consider this.

It is how the piece is written which counts.