Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • Writing
  • May1st

    When advising or teaching people about writing, I often emphasise the usefulness of doing preparatory work before starting to write. With Fantasy and Science Fiction that can mean considering details of the world in which the story will take place. Listing aspects of the world can mean thinking about things like climate, topology, political and social arrangements and, monetary systems and that’s just scratching the surface. With contemporary realist fiction, the need for this can be less, but a little time considering the physical aspects of a scene before actually writing it can be time well spent. Who is on your point of view character’s right? How far apart are they? If someone comes into the room, where is the door they enter by?hey presto!

    But having done this groundwork, how do you use it in your story? The temptation is to pack it all in. Since you’ve gone to all the trouble to imagine this setting, you have to use it, right?

    Wrong. Simply going through the effort to imagine your scene in detail will mean that your story is richer and more textured, even if you leave out a substantial amount of what you’ve thought of. If you throw everything into the story, you’ll slow down the narrative and it’s likely to grind to a halt. Your story will start to sound like a textbook guide to your world rather than a gripping and compelling story of twin sisters who share a dark secret. Or similar …

    The trick is to sift in your background detail. It is background detail, after all, not foreground detail. Drop a little bit in here and there so that the reader pieces together a vision of the scene you’ve created. Trust them. Readers are good at doing stuff like that.

    If you want your sifting in to be extra subtle, you can use a technique I call Distraction Through Action.

    This is where you nail your reader’s attention to the narrative, to what’s going on, and while they’re riveted by the knife fight, the break-up, the ultimate betrayal, you drop in details of the surroundings.

    Bob held his hands together to stop them trembling. The chair he was sitting on was hard and uncomfortable, but he hardly noticed. His entire attention was on the man sitting on the sofa opposite, under the long picture window. Gomez. Bob had been waiting a long time to confront Gomez and now here he was and he didn’t know what to say.

    Gomez chuckled and leaned back on the sofa – which was a hideous yellow colour. ‘You’re scared.’

    ‘No I’m not.’ Bob stared at the floor, as he was hated looking at Gomez’s arrogant face. The rug was streaky blue, with a stain on it that might have been blood. Bob swallowed.

    Gomez stood. He was silhouetted against the outside world. The pine trees lining the fence were tall and proud, and the wind hardly worried them at all. ‘You have some guts, coming here,’ Gomez said. ‘I’ll give you that.’

    Bob wanted to grab the lamp on the table next to him and throw it. ‘Guts? I don’t think so. I had to come.’

    In the end, Distraction Through Action is like a magician’s trick. ‘Look over here while I secrete this rabbit in the hat, ready to be revealed later!’

    Captivate your readers with action (physical or emotional) and while they’re focussed, leaven your narrative with details of the setting. Your scene will be all the better for it.

  • April14th

    And here it is, the cover for my next book, a zany fun adventure for younger readers. In a world very much like ours, 10 year old Leo da Vinci is an inventor, artist, dreamer, and dedicated fighter against supervillains …

    And don’t I just love Jules Faber’s illustration? Outrageously good!

    Look for it in August.

    leo front cover

  • February5th

    Leo da Vinci. Artist. Scientist. Inventor. Dreamer. Ten year old fighter against supervillains.

    As promised, it’s time to reveal some details of my new writing project. This is another departure from my writing for Young Adults, and I’m fairly and squarely writing for primary school readers this time with The Adventures of Leo da Vinci.vitruvian man

    To those small-minded people who might be prone to quibble and suggest that Leo da Vinci was actually an Italian Quattrocento polymath, I say ‘Pish’. As any fule no, Leo da Vinci is ten years old and engaged in an eternal struggle against evil, as long as he can fit it in around his school and other commitments. To this end, he has formed Fixit International Inc and gathered a cadre of eccentric and hard-bitten comrades, including a wood-burning robot and a talking pig. Leo invents, draws, sculpts and plans in a constant frenzy of creativity, while battling with the nuances of making friends and navigating the modern world.

    And if can just paint that Mrs Gioconda’s quirky smile right, he’ll be happy.

     

    The first book in this ground-breaking series will be published by the good people at Penguin Random House Australia. The first will be released this August, and the second early next year. Look out for them, buy them, discuss them, adore them, share them with friends, advocate them, nominate them for prestigious awards and, if you own a major Hollywood studio, option them for blockbuster movies, at the very least.

  • November10th

     

    WoH audio book

    At last – The Laws of Magic is now appearing as audiobooks!

    The fine people at Audible are turning the adventures of Aubrey, George, Caroline and Sophie into quality audio texts. The first to be released is Word of Honour and the books will be read by the very talented Rupert Degas.

     

    Here’s his bio:

    Rupert Degas can be heard reading True History of the Kelly Gang, PS I Love You, If You Could See Me Now, Lord Loss, Demon Thief, Slawter, and The Saga of Darren Shan. He is also the voice of Pantalaimon in Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. He has lent his voice to numerous cartoons, including Mr Bean, Robotboy, and Bob the Builder and has performed in over thirty radio productions, including The Gemini Apes, The Glittering Prizes, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He spent eighteen months in the West End performing in the comedy Stones in his Pockets. He has also read A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle for Naxos AudioBooks.

    And he does a splendid job with Word of Honour.

    To help celebrate this audio launch, I have some copies of the audio Word of Honour to give away. Just go to my contact page, scroll down to the contact form, and send me a message with the subject ‘WoH audio’. I’ll run this promotion until the end of November.

  • October23rd

    Here’s a sneak peek at something I’m working on right now.

    Dad put both hands flat on the table in front of him and stared at them. ‘You need to shoot your own dog.’

    ‘What? Where did that come from? Is this non sequitur week?

    ‘I can’t let you do it, Anton. Sometimes, a man needs to shoot his own dog.’

    ‘Aargh! Repeating it doesn’t make it any better! What are you? A character in an old western movie?’

    ‘I –’

    ‘That’s so dumb, “A man’s gotta shoot his own dog.” No he doesn’t! Why not save it? Get it the right treatment, an operation, whatever. I mean, that sort of stoic guy stuff is a cop out. Who are you thinking of, the dog or you? If I don’t take care of my dog I’ll look bad? Sheesh. All over the wild west, I bet dogs lived in constant fear, just in case their masters glanced at them with the ‘That dog’s seemin’ a mite poorly’ look in their eye.’

  • August20th

    Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep isn’t a perfect novel. doctor-sleep-the-long-awaited-sequel-to-the-shiningIt has inconsistencies, a few plot holes, some ‘What the …?’ moments, but they’re forgiven because King does something surpassingly well, something that drags us into the story and keeps us reading right through.

    Character. Stephen King does character like few others can.

    When I run writing workshops, I often bang on about the elements of story. Just as often, I then go on to declare that of all the elements of story, character is the most important. If a writer does character well, the story will work. If all the other story elements are wonderful, but the story’s characters are dull, flat, or unengaging, then the story is likely to fail.

    The key word here is ‘engaging’. If a writer creates engaging characters, readers will keep reading to see what happens to them, it’s as simple as that. King has a knack for creating engaging characters. Strike that, it’s not a knack – it’s something that he works at in a hundred different ways.

    The two main characters in Doctor Sleep are Dan Torrance and Abra Stone. Dan is the main Point of View character. Now, while remembering that King is a Horror Writer and Dr Sleep is a Horror novel, take note of how much time King spends on non-horror stuff. A good half of the novel has nothing to do with horror. We explore Dan’s problems with alcoholism, we see his search for solace, we experience his sense of dislocation, we work through his backstory – family, work history, episodes of violence and self-loathing. To balance this, we learn about Dan through his actions, where he acts selflessly but not without internal struggle. We see him undertake work, physical labour, and he does so with care and dedication. We see his relationships with others – sometimes fraught, sometimes difficult.

    And we come to understand Dan’s tortured feelings about his parents.

    King keeps us riveted in Dan’s personal struggles in a thousand different ways, like turns of phrase that belong to Dan alone, or the careful formality he uses when addressing the older women in the hospice he works at, or his childish enjoyment at driving the model train, or the mannerisms that are sifted in along the way, all contribute to a rounded, breathing character.

    Mannerisms. I’d really like to use an example here, but the most important mannerism in this book is a key plot point, and I don’t’ want to get into spoiler territory. Let it be said that the mannerism is deftly dropped in nice and early then touched on a few times throughout so that when the key moment comes you not only have a fine example of using mannerisms to establish and maintain character, you have a superb example of foreshadowing. King is a craftsman.

    King uses memories, too, and this is particularly important since this book is ‘many years later’ sequel to The Shining. Dan’s flashbacks and musings fill us in on what has happened in the years since the Overlook Hotel burned down, but the time he spends dwelling on these events serves another purpose – they show us that he’s a thoughtful, reflective person.

    All of this works independently from the horror aspects of the book. And, of course, when the horror elements are introduced, they are all the more horrific because they are contrasted with these everyday elements of a realistic life. Thanks to King’s careful characterisation, we keep turning the pages, on the edges of our seats because we care for Dan and Abra, we want to see if they will prevail or if they will succumb to the evil.

    King manages to do all of this subtly, with a lightness of touch that is masterly. We don’t see him at work because we are engrossed in the characters and the narrative. He doesn’t draw attention to his methods – they work away undetected.

    Doctor Sleep is a masterclass in character and characterisation.

  • June5th

    1. Get your tips in the right order. Having your ‘Beginner’ tips coming in at Number 5 is an amateur mistake/ Ease your reader in with some baby tips then graduate to tougher stuff and finish with some tips for Advanced Tip Types. Alternatively, keep your good stuff until last to build up suspense. It can’t hurt.light small
    2. Aim for relevance. Advice on cleaning camera lenses isn’t helpful if you’re offering suggestions for harpoon maintenance.
    3. Avoid smugness. I know it’s hard when you’re the one with all the knowledge and you’re dispensing it, god-like, to the mortals gathering at your feet waiting to become better human beings thanks to you, but do try, all right?
    4. Specificity is good. ‘Five Tips for …’ is good. ‘Five Top Tips for …’ is even better. ‘Lots of Tips …’ or ‘A Few Tips …’ lacks the necessary punchiness that tip browsers have come to expect. Nail your colours to the mast! Five! Eight! Fifteen! Numbers are good! Numbers count!
    5. Have the courage of your convictions. Tips should never start with ‘It might be good to …’. Be definite, be bold, be confident. ‘Always glue a coin underneath your front door mat to repel anteaters’. ‘Never forget to sprinkle talcum powder in your letterbox to avoid ‘stale mail’ smell’. Or similar.

     

  • March16th

     


    I took a break from my latest Work In Progress and started thinking about how I could save the planet. As you do.

    I swivelled away from the computer, hands behind my head, tossing up between instituting a utopian regime and formulating a plan to maximise innate human potential without our developing those really huge craniums when my gaze landed on the bookshelf in my study. That’s when I realised that, in many ways, I’m already doing my part in saving the world.

    You see, with the accepted science pointing out that we have an unfortunate rise in Carbon Dioxide levels and that these increased levels are responsible for an accelerating Greenhouse Effect which is bumping up global temperatures with some decidedly nasty outcomes waiting for us, it behoves us all to do something about reducing the amount of Carbon Dioxide floating around and doing its best to make us all miserable.

    That’s why we have all this talk about Carbon trading and Carbon Offsets and Carbon Sequestration – which is where I see my greatest contribution coming to the fore.

    Carbon sequestration is generally thought of as pumping vast volumes of Carbon Dioxide into underground reservoirs, but it can mean locking up carbon in many ways – just so long as it doesn’t break down and become CO2 in the atmosphere.

    My answer? Gazing at my bookshelf, there it is. Books. Books are made of paper. Paper is made of trees. Trees are made of carbon (mostly). If we burn trees, that’s bad because it releases carbon. If the trees rot, it releases carbon (bad). But making the paper into books which sit on shelves all neat and protected, well, that’s locking up all that carbon for hundreds of years. It sits there, unspoiled, a handy carbon sink for posterity. Every book is helping, every shelf. Every library is a vast world-saving lock-up, doing its best to keep up from the devastating effects of world-wide Climate Change.

    Think about it. Buy books and save the planet. It’s your duty to do so.

  • February11th

    And we now have a back cover for Machine Wars,final back cover due April. In the spirit of all good back cover blurbs, read and be tantalised.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • January16th

    Actually, I didn’t discover it because it’s been there all the time and I’ve just learned about it. And I’m sure that no linguistics professors want to keep this rule a secret; I just wanted to have one of those clickbait teasers suggesting a great conspiracy to keep language matters away from us. alphabetBecause that would be the sort of weird world that would make my day.

    This is a fascinating language quirk and if anything is worth a bit of blogging, this is.

    This rule is a rule we all know, whether we know it or not. It’s something we all understand at a deep and instinctive level rather than an intellectual one. We know it because we do it all the time – and if the rule is broken we shudder with nameless fear.

    It’s called the I A O Rule. Still not ringing any bells? It works like this. Whenever you repeat a word in a phrase, but change the vowel, the order is always I before A before O. Pitter patter. Tip top. Ding dong. Shilly shally. Hip hop. To see how deeply ingrained this understanding is in us, try it the other way around and try to avoid grimacing. Tat for tit. Zag-zig. Raff-riff. Brac-a-bric.

    See, you knew this all along. You understood that language worked like this, even though you didn’t know that there was a hard and fast rule at work. Technically, the rule is referring to ablaut reduplication. The ablaut refers to the vowel change, the reduplication the word doubling, but it really doesn’t matter, does it? You knew it anyway.

    Language. Where would we be without it? I mean, we’d sort of be in a world of endless mime, so language is probably good thing.