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Monday, 16 December 2013

Choice of POV's (points of view)

As I was sat at the computer today, hard at work on book 3 of the Benjamin Knight series, I was reminded of a comment from a review some moths ago about the number of points of view in my novels.  The reviewer felt that I had too many, and it made if difficult for them to follow the story.  I was reminded of this because I was writing the 4th scene in chapter six, which relates to a different character from scenes 1-3.

For those who haven't read my books (please do, they're quite good apparently and very cheap on the kindle), my chapters don't follow the most common format in fiction.  I blame this on the fact that I watch a lot of TV.
What my nan would have called an 'idiot box'.

Bear with me here, and let me explain.

If I take the first book, it is split into 10 chapters, and then each chapter is split into a number of scenes, separated by roman numerals.  The first scene may be about Ben's story arc, the second perhaps Matthew's or Catrina's, and the third about the villain of the story.  Then back to Ben, then the villain again, and so on.  These aren't the same scene from a different persons point of view, but distinct parts of the story that all connect together.

Now, back to TV.

When I watch a television programme (and I really do watch a lot), I don't expect the 'main character' to be in every scene, and so many shows these days have a large cast of 'main characters' who all have interconnected stories (think Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead).  I don't have a problem following them, as they all tie together in some way.

Take Haven.  Last night, I watched the season finale (very good, with a cliff hanger as you would expect.  I hope they make a series 5).  Thinking about it, there were scenes from at least 4 different points of view.  There were the two 'main' characters scenes, scenes with the villain and his henchmen, scenes with the two newspaper men, scenes with the new girl and her magic book etc.  They all told different parts of the story that came together as a whole.

That's kind of what I am trying to do with my novels.  I'm trying to tell a big story that effects a lot of people, and I want the reader to really get a feel for how big the whole thing is.  If I wanted to describe it from the points of view of one or two characters, I could, but I worry something would be lost in the detail.  Good guy goes from A to B, some conflict on the way, gets there anyway and beats the bad guy, the end.  In my story, I have a lot going on, and I want the reader to appreciate that it has huge consequences for a lot of people in a lot of different ways.

As an added bonus, it also allows me to give a lot of 'screen time' (page time?) to the villain.  I really enjoy writing the villains scenes, not just because he is so fun to write, but because it gives me a chance to show that he wasn't just born bad.

A lot of fantasy stories have a villain who is bad just because.  He might just be 'The Dark One', or he lives in the part of the world where the sun never rises, or maybe he's the subject of an ancient prophecy, etc.  All fairly standard fantasy villain types.

I'm evil because I'm evil....

Writing scenes from the villain in my book has allowed me to explore where he comes from and why he does the things he does.  He was born, like everyone else.  He had a tough childhood, but eventually he overcame it.  He made choices, lots of choices, and often for what he thought were the right reasons, but still he ended up where he did.

Isn't that just life?

One of the things that you learn as you get older is that there is less and less right and wrong, and a lot more shades of grey (certainly more than fifty....).  It's a bit like the question we might put to our children - Is it right to steal a loaf of bread if you're starving?

Simple, right?

"No," my daughter would say, "stealing is wrong."  There you go.  Easy.  Next step, world peace.

"But you're starving," I say.  "You don't have any money, and if you don't eat, you'll die."

"Then yes, it is okay to take the bread," she might reply.

So I follow up with, "But if you steal the bread, the baker doesn't get any money to buy more flour, so he starves instead."  (I can be a complete and total b*****d at times)

"Oh," she says, "so you don't steal, but you have to steal, but stealing is wrong, but then you'll die, but the baker will die, so......what if you just take half the loaf?"

And that's about the time that I send her to bed for answering back.

You don't get to be smarter than me until you no longer poo in your pants!
Then there's the 'heroes', the ones the reader is rooting for and wants to win and all that.  If I take time to think about the heroes of my story, I have an unscrupulous trader who would sell his mother if it would turn him a profit, a man who killed his brother in a fit of rage and who fled before he could be tried and convicted, a grieving mother who is mentally unhinged, and a complete fish out of water who is always making a mess of things.  These are my 'good guys'.

This is part of what I have been calling 'The Batman Effect'.  Sounds cool, right?

It has Batman in the name, so it has to be cool.

This is referring to the rise of the anti-hero in modern books/films/comics.  The kind of guy who just gets the job done, because the ends justify the means.  The man you think, 'yeah, that'd be me, kicking ass and taking names'.  If only life were that easy.

This brings me back to the question of choices.  Again, a lot of fantasy novels have a 'hero', all flowing blonde locks and a noble steed, born of royal blood and bestowed with a magic sword blah blah blah.  He's good because he is, and that's what the reader expects of him.  He might be off to slay the evil dragon, but he can stop and rescue the fair maiden because there's no consequence to his being late, because he always wins, no matter what.

Perhaps if you're my daughter's age, that's great and that's what we want our children to believe the world is really like.  At some point, however, they do learn the truth.

In the really real world, some of the time, it's the bad guys who win.

If you're reading to escape the real world, perhaps you want a nice, clean, black and white world where everything works out perfectly in the end.  I've read many stories like that, and they make you feel good, but they also leave me feeling a little empty at the same time.  A huge war ravages the land, but it's ok because the prince and princess get married and the evil dragon is slain.  So what about the tens of thousands of people dead or left homeless and starving????  They don't get to live happily ever after.

Now, I'm not saying that the good guys fail in my story.  They totally rock and defeat the bad guy and everything.  It's just that, throughout the story, as in life, they make choices.  And those choices have consequences.  There might be a victory, but at the same time, I want them to think about the cost, and I want the reader to think about it too.

I really wanted the characters in my novels to feel alive, to do things because that's what that character would do.  I want them to make good decisions and bad decisions, and usually for all the right reasons.  And I want them to deal with the consequences of those decisions and come through the other end, changed, both for good and for ill.

Will I succeed?  I hope so.  At the end of the day, it's the reader who makes that final judgement.  I do have a bit of a cop out, writing a series of books as opposed to a single story.  I can always just tell you that I am going to resolve that in a later book.  Chances are, I was, but I might  also have forgotten and I'm actually really grateful that you reminded me.

Anyway, that sort on rambled on for a bit.  I did have a point somewhere, but I seem to have misplaced it.  If you got this far, good for you!  Give yourself a cookie or something.  And leave a comment, please.  I really like the feedback, especially if you've read either of my books.  Go on, be honest. 

How am I doing?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Help with New Light

This post is part thank you and part research for me for some of the closing scenes of New Light (SPOILERS ahead - beware!).  First, the thank you!

As readers of this blog will know, I have been struggling to tie New Light together with the previous novels and make sure the timeline is consistent and that everyone gets satisfactory closure of their story arcs.  As you may or may not know, New Light is the 3rd book in The Chronicle of Benjamin Knight, and ends the story of Alexander's war, but it isn't the final book in the series.  Books 4, 5 and 6 are already sketched out in my head, and I will get to them at some point in the future (hopefully near future!).

Yesterday, my good friend Thomas Manning agreed to let me send him the detail of what happens to each of the characters in New Light, and hash out the details and story arcs to make sure everyone gets the ending that they deserve.  Let me just say, he was excellent!  As any writer knows, it's important to have someone to bounce ideas off, someone who won't hold back and tell you that a story or plot point is wrong or needs work.  Tom was that person for me yesterday, and I can't thank him enough.  Hopefully, now, all of the kinks have been worked out and what you will read in a few months time will be all the better for the conversation that we had.

Also, if it isn't, you now have someone else to blame!  (Only joking....)

Tom is a writer of sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, and now apparently a romance novel I discovered yesterday!  His first book, Energize - From the logs of Daniel Quinn, is available here, and I have previously reviewed this great read and awarded it 4 stars.  The second story is well on the way and should be with us early in the new year!

Now, the research bit (and the SPOILERS).

As part of the conversation yesterday, I came to realise that Ben needs to use some more of the technology in the laboratory, and we decided that one of the things he would use is the ATV mentioned at the beginning of book 1.  I won't go into specifics, but after comparing images of military vehicles on google to the picture of the ATV in my head, I have worked out that the ATV in question is the German-Dutch made Boxer Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle (MRAV).

This vehicle can carry 3 crew as well as 8 passengers into very hostile environments.  It is shielded to withstand ballistics fire, IED's and even a tactical nuclear explosion at medium distances!  Here's hoping Alexander hasn't gotten his hands on any nukes.  (He hasn't, don't worry).

As well as the cool survivability options, it also has a top speed of 105km/h and a maximum road range of 1000km on one tank of fuel, so with some extra fuel in the back, it could get all the way to....SPOILER!!!!

The version in the laboratory isn't fitted with the 44mm grenade launcher or 12.7mm machine gun, but that doesn't mean it can't do plenty of damage on its own.  I wonder who'll get to drive it?