Employing new characters

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To my fellow writers I do apologize for what I’m about to say. But for the sake of the non writers among you it needs to be said, if only to confirm your thoughts (if you had any that is) on the subject of fictional characters.

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If there is one thing all writers love to do, it’s to come up with characters specific to their book’s needs, as and when required. In my latest work in progress, the historical adventure Autumn 1066, I have a mix of characters from the historical events that actually occurred, together with fictional ones.

While once again working my way through what I’ve written so far, the one type of fictional character I didn’t have need of until now was a villain, or in this case a pair of them. So its time to add a scheming priest and a wolf-coat to the mix. If you want to know what a wolf-coat is, I’m not about to explain it to you here. Instead I suggest you look it up. Whether or not you the readers think they are the type of individuals I’m suggesting here, is entirely up to you to decide.

I have yet to decide whether or not either of them will survive. Because they’re fictional, only the storyline will determine their ultimate fate…

What you have to remember is that when writing any story, the author has the ultimate power of life and death over his or her characters. We determine our character’s fate, who they are and their purpose for being. Regarding the two new characters, like all of my other fictional characters in the book, their part will gradually unfold as the story progresses. And before you ask – no I’m not going to reveal what I have in store for either of them, nor for that matter will I divulge anything about any of the other fictional characters. In other words – THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS.

On a more serious note, the one thing I must not change in the book, no matter how tempting it might be, is to alter what actually happened to the historical characters. To do so would be foolish in the extreme.

The time for all of you to find out what happens will be when you purchase a copy and read it for yourselves.

I’ve decided that this book will initially be published as a paperback. Why? Read Derek Haines’ blog post for an explanation of the subject here.

To give any new work of fiction a fighting chance, means that those who normally harshly criticize any book that appears solely in ebook form, must initially be denied the chance. As Derek says, a paperback version of any new book always stands a far better chance of gaining favourable reviews. When the time comes to publish the ebook version, they can always be included as a promotional tool. After that, what the trolls say about the ebook version will be seen as nothing more than sour grapes on their part by the general public.

Well, If you will excuse me, the story won’t write itself you know…

More later

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A thought has just occurred…

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…no, wait a minute. That’s not strictly true.

I’ve been thinking for several years now about why today’s generation don’t read as much as my own did, and still do come to that?

For instance, why do so many of the one, two or three star book reviews on Amazon and other internet book sites, often written by ordinary members of the public, focus on how any given writer approaches dialogue between characters in particular? Why is it that they they feel obliged to go on the offensive?

I believe I know why. Today’s generation relies heavily on visual images such as in films, on television, and even via the Internet, particularly channels like YouTube, for any story to have a chance of gaining their attention.Think about those annoying video clips some writers are forced to put out by their publisher in the vain hope of attracting prospective readers?

If you want a for instance, I’ll give you one! Think about how today’s generation believe that a book’s cover is all important, and not the text! They want to see pretty pictures not words! Think about why so many writers offer up their latest work’s cover for scrutinization across all social media platforms these days? Once again in a vain attempt to attract today’s generation, that’s why!

Quite frankly I can see a time in the not too distant future when illiteracy becomes the norm unless today’s generation buck up their ideas, starting with losing themselves in the pages of a book!

My friend and fellow author Bob Van Laerhoven reminded me of how vital the cover is these days, when he asked me the other day if I had thought about the cover for my work in progress Autumn 1066 yet? Even though we were both joking about it, we know that for it to sell, it will either need a scantily clad buxom young Saxon or Viking female, or a muscular Saxon or Viking warrior in his prime on the cover for it to even be considered by today’s generation! Whether we like it or not, PULCHRITUDE IS WHAT GAINS ATTENTION AND HOPEFULLY SELLS BOOKS TODAY!!!

It’s my contention that because of the highly visual age we live in that today’s generation have completely lost the means to emerse themselves in anything written down, such as a book, unlike my own generation who were brought up on the written word. In other words quite literally they must have everything spelt out for them visually.

Then there are those individuals who when they come across written dialogue, apparently consider it a foreign language. The following example is the rough draft of one particular short piece of dialogue from the story I am in the process of writing, in this instance involving two eleventh century Saxon thegns:-

What do you think Beadurof?” Colby wondered.

About what?”

The shapely hips on the comely wench yonder. Hey Aldred, we’re glad you brought your beautiful niece with you. Oh and just look at the way her hips swing? Not to mention how her shapely rear quivers as she walks. Very desirable, don’t you think?”

Aldred bit his tongue as he fought hard not to smile. Because of Cynric’s tender age and slender build, his nephew could so easily be mistaken for a young female from behind at a distance. Smirking, he briefly glanced in his direction. Cynric’s face flushed bright red with anger at the good natured jibe by one of Aldred’s oldest friends.

“If she gets cold sleeping on her own tonight or any other night, I’ll fight you for the honour of protecting her Colby. I’ll keep her warm, providing she lets me have my way with her that is. So what say you my beauty?” Beadurof replied with a grin on his face as he blew a kiss in Cynric’s direction…

So, did you imagine the scene while reading it? No? Then you are a lost cause…

As a member of today’s generation, its incumbent upon you to tell the rest of us why you find it so difficult to do the same damned thing when reading, instead of wanting it spelt out to you on a silver screen? Seemingly it’s something today’s generation are incapable of!

It would appear that for them to be able to understand the above example at its most basic level, requires that they actually hear the characters speaking, and not via the medium of imaginary voices in their heads. Plus they need to be able to see the characters portray their facial expressions and both their physical and emotional reactions.

I have only this to say on the subject – wake up idiots! What you want is utterly impossible to achieve in a book. Reading a book requires your participation as well. All you have to do is use your imagination! For your information the difference between a book and a visual interpretation of a story via a film or television script is that the former asks you to engage your brain, or if you prefer it – your mind’s eye. Whereas the latter does not. In that instance, all you need to do is to sit in a vegetative state in a darkened room eating popcorn while staring at the silver screen!!!!

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Lastly – I’ve been accused of being overly fond of description, in particular by one of my more vocal peers in the past. You know who you are. 😉

In my defence, I only ever do that when creating the back story. I’m about to disappoint the particular individual once again, when I tell them here on my blog in front of witnesses (metaphorically speaking that is) that my historical adventure Autumn 1066 will be no different. Without a descriptive background constantly running throughout the book it just won’t work. So, you can either like it or lump it while eating your Païdakia my friend.

Rant over. Now I’d better get back to it. First things first – I need another cup of coffee and a smoke…

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The hidden problem with research

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There is one thing that will soon become all too apparent to you while conducting research for any fictitious historical story you might care to write. When it comes to the written records of events in days gone by, every historian you come across has an entirely different opinion, based on what they believe actually happened. You will find that they agree on some points while differing on others. This is all too apparent as I continue to research a series of three specific ancient battles, fought back to back during the short time period of barely a month here in England, almost a thousand years ago.

The only thing the historians involved do agree on, is to disagree with one another over their fellow academic’s interpretation of what they think happened. All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you. Particularly as in this instance today’s historians are at an enormous disadvantage. They don’t have access to sworn eyewitness accounts of the particular series of events I am still researching. Therefore anything they come up with can be nothing more than conjecture. I do beg their pardon – I should have said theory, the posh word academics use in preference to the aforementioned. In other words, in this instance they are relying on pure guesswork on their part…

While researching for my latest story, so far I’ve read a dozen different versions, based on what the academics involved, think happened. As I said in a previous post, the initial account about what I’m interested in was not written until fifty years after the three battles happened. In other words, just like today’s crop of historians, its highly doubtful that the chronicler(s) involved back then, were able to lay their hands on any eyewitness accounts, mainly because of the fact that for one thing, at the time in question most people could neither read nor write. Secondly, given the fact that it is highly doubtful that any survivors of the events were still alive a half century later, when the chronicler(s) wrote their account to please the country’s new masters during those troubled times, it could not at the time be accepted as the truth. Which begs the question why today’s historians defer to it???

PS – I’ve come up with a possible title for the story

PPS – as the three events I’m interested in happened in a short time frame, I’ve had to reassess the probable length of the story. It looks likely that it may end up as a long short story (novelette). At best, by adding what my fictitious characters get up to in the narrative may add a couple of thousand words.

High ho, high ho, It’s back to work I go…

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Never make assumptions

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Just to let you know that the new story is progressing as expected. As of yesterday, I’ve written two thousand words. Most of what I’ve collected together so far is from the often dubious historical accounts written fifty years after the event, which I have previously mentioned. It’s thanks to them that the idea for this story planted itself firmly in the forefront of my mind, refusing to budge. I find that certain stories have a tendency to do that. They demand to be written. Who am I to argue when a story chooses me? It’s Kismet…

Once I am satisfied that I have trawled all of the relevant historical accounts for the necessary background information to at least give my historical fiction a certain degree of legitimacy, then and only then will I begin writing from the perspective of my fictional character’s involvement on opposing sides in the story. If I’m honest, that’s when the fun begins for me.

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The day before yesterday I sent a read only copy of the historical background information I’d written so far to my mate in Abu Dhabi, believing he might like to see what I’m up to.

Unfortunately like a lot of writers of my acquaintance, he completely got the wrong end of the stick. Instead of perusing it first to see what it was all about, he immediately began critiquing. He complained about the length of some of the sentences, not to mention his difficulty in coming to terms with the period names I’m using. He was also less than complimentary about a couple of instances I have added into the mix of notes as they occurred to me, concerning some of my character’s interactions with one another.

There is a lesson to be learnt from this. Don’t send a sample of what your writing to another writer without making it plain that it is not being sent for the purposes of criticism. By the same token, as the recipient don’t automatically make assumptions when a fellow writer sends you a sample of what their new story is about. If they want you to cast a critical eye over what has been sent to you, they will make it plain. Before you engage your inner editor/critic/grammar nazi, take a long hard look at what has been sent to you in the first place. Then take a breath and step back from the incorrect assumption you made. You will find it beneficial in the long run.

Making assumptions is to be avoided like the plague. As the recipient may I suggest that you simply read it to get a feel for what is currently occupying the sender’s mind and nothing more. I thought I had made it plain to him. Apparently I hadn’t – lesson learnt on my part.

One last thing – have I got a title in mind? No, not yet. That usually suggests itself once the story is well underway. Certainly not at this extremely early stage of the proceedings…

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It begins

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And we’re off, much earlier than expected. I wrote the first two paragraphs of my new historical fiction story yesterday. I have all my notes, historical figures and research references, plus my characters sorted out.

Thereby hangs a tale. To avoid criticism from anal rententives aka nitpickers, whatever I do I must ensure that anything I say about any actual historical character is accurate. It’s not as easy as it sounds when the historical records are not only thin on the ground, but also often sparsely written. Which is not surprising when you consider that at the time the nearest individual to a war correspondent was a court chronicler. Worse, one tasked with writing down what happened for the first time, a mere fifty years after the event.

I also have to ensure that the same goes for the nationalities involved, the historical locations, and the armour and the weapons used. Even the fictitious character’s names I’m employing must be correct.

As far as is possible I’ll be following the historical event as it happened. In other words I can’t say that group A were in location X when history says they weren’t!

With the written information on the historical event being sketchy at best, there will always be a danger of this story ending early. I’m hopeful it will wind up novella length. For it to become a novel might prove to be stretching things to far. But at the moment I’m putting any thoughts in that direction to the back of my mind while I concentrate on getting the story that is feverishly swirling around inside my head written down.

When I’m relatively happy with it I’ll expand on various elements within the whole, bearing in mind that my often acid tongued detractors will be looking for any excuse to find fault. Unfortunately, in this business putting up with their rants, sorry I meant to say their reviews, is the price you pay for writing a tale they couldn’t, or wouldn’t know how to write in a month of Sundays, bless their often ill educated black hearts.

As always I’ll keep you informed with regular progress reports.

More later…

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Finally…

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… an idea for a fiction based on an actual historic event is making its presence felt

It looks as if a new story is forming in my mind. I have some research to do before I begin writing it. That’s not strictly true. I already began yesterday morning with everything I can find on line and in my reference library. I refer to the apocryphal accounts. By that I mean what historians believe happened, purely based on biased points of view written fifty years after the event. Those often dubious sources from the period still hold a fascination for me to this day.

Several modern day writers have written about it in the past, more or less preaching what historians accept as fact. The problem with that line of thinking is that without being able to interview someone who actually took part in the event how can anyone swear that the original accounts are wholly truthful? In other words can they honestly accept what court appointed scribes at the time wrote? Everyone knows that any written history is usually based on the winning side’s point of view! In this instance a lot of what historians insist must be the truth, at best must be regarded as nothing more than conjecture.

Fortunately not too many have written a fiction about this particular event as I intend to do. At the moment I only know of one badly written and edited book from the nineteen nineties. It wasn’t so much fiction as merely regurgitating the opinions of various historians.

I’m considering writing the story from the viewpoint of two individuals from either side of the debacle. It’s early days as yet. I haven’t decided exactly who they will be. At the moment I only have the location, a river crossing near a village in what was then rural Yorkshire, and the year it happened. Nothing else.

If you suspect you know what I’ll be writing about, I beg you to say nothing for the moment. Whether or not it gets any further than the first draft is a big unknown, let alone whether it will be good enough to publish. That will be decided by others, not myself.

Now if you will excuse me I have an appointment with one of my favourite dubious sources – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

More later…

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I’m sorry but it can’t be helped…

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To be absolutely honest with you, the enthusiasm I initially had to write the sequel to the sequel of Race Against Time has evaporated to nothing. Do I really want to resurrect the characters one more time? Not really. I’m sorry but my heart isn’t in it. If that disappoints the half dozen of you that wanted me to write it, I can only repeat once again that I’m sorry. The truth is that unless I am one hundred percent enthused, which I have to admit, I’m not – I think you get the picture. I’m not prepared to write a ho hum story. Amazon’s virtual shelves are chock full of them.

So what do I want to do? Well I’ll continue to read and research until I find a story that I simply must write. Anyone can crank out a story. But as we all know very few are page turners. Instead the majority fall into the ‘once read instantly forgotten’ category.

My next novel, novella – whatever it may wind up as, must be an absolute page turner just as Race Against Time in its original incarnation as The Seventh Age was. In its time it sold just over a quarter of a million copies back in 2012/13. If as a writer you are being truthful to yourself, let alone your readers, once you have had a modicum of success like that, all you want is to repeat the experience.

Once again I apologise but the sequel to the sequel simply won’t be happening…

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