Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • May21st

    Bold statement – writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy (of certain sorts) are almost identical undertakings. A Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall? The same thing, really.

    Think about it. Writers of both have to introduce and explain an unfamiliar world. Writers of Historical Fiction and writers of Fantasy can’t assume the shared knowledge that writers of contemporary fiction can.

    Writers of contemporary fiction can take a great deal for granted. They don’t have to explain the social mores, the political structure, the clothing, the standard layout of buildings, methods of transport, forms of communication, common technologies, and thousands of other details of life that affect and intersect with their characters.

    Not so with the writers of Fantasy and Historical Fiction. We have to help the reader come to terms with a world that could be alien in countless ways.

    The first step for both of us, of course, is that we have to be familiar with the world we’re introducing. Here’s where our jobs may diverge a little. The Fantasy writer has to work from scratch, whereas the Historical Fiction writer doesn’t.

    Let’s face it, most Fantasy secondary worlds are derived from history. Fantasy writers are always scouting around the world and going back and forward through time looking for fertile areas as a springboard into world creation. Take a time period and location that’s in turmoil, tweak the events and the names a little, add some magic and there’s the beginnings of a framework for a solid Fantasy trilogy or two, easily.

    Therefore, both Fantasy and Historical Fiction writers spend a great deal of time researching, in order to be utterly cognisant with the world we’re about to introduce.

    After this comes the delicate task of sifting in all this background detail. The challenge is to do this without boring the reader. After all, we’re writing fiction, not textbooks.

    There is a higher challenge, though. The higher challenge is not just to do this without boring the reader, it’s doing it without the reader even noticing and therein lies the art.

    The key term I use here in trying to define what writers in both genres are trying to do is that we’re trying to make our worlds convincing. Even though the world may be unfamiliar to the reader, we have to convince her/him that the setting is a believable one, one with a coherence and an underpinning that resonates with the human experience. The setting could be archaic, primitive, old-fashioned or exotic in unearthly terms, but writers need to give the reader entry into this world by making it a plausible one.

    Done well, this accounts for some of the allure of both genres. They both take readers somewhere different, somewhere outside the ordinary, somewhere fresh and exotic where characters can play out their dramas in ways that extend the range of human actions, interactions and possibilities.

    All in all, sometimes I think the only difference between writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy is that one has magic and one doesn’t. I’ll leave you to decide which.

     

  • May6th

    And here’s the back cover for Leo da Vinci Vs the Ice-cream Domination League, with lots of teasers.leo back cover

    The fabulous Jules Faber does the illustrations, and the book is due out from Random House Australia in August.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • December20th

    And here it is: the superb, stylish, sensational cover of Machine Wars, my 33rd book, due in April from Random House Australia.

    Machine Wars

    I love it!

  • December13th

    It’s that time of the year again, andwinner 2 small I’m not talking about the festive season. I’m talking about the end of year musing that gives us the parade of ‘Year’s Best Books’ lists or ‘Holiday Reading Guides’ that are starting to feature in the arts pages and corners of the online world.

    I must admit a certain weariness with which I contemplate these lists, for I’ve read them for years forlornly hoping that one of them, one day, would feature a genre title.

    And by genre, I’m talking here about Fantasy and Science Fiction. Occasionally, the compilers of these lists let a Crime title creep in, probably because it lends the compiler a touch of raffishness, hinting that they could sidle out onto those mean streets if they needed to.

    What I look for so vainly is a ‘Year’s Best’ list that understands that quality comes from all aspects of literature. Instead, I see repeated year after year a narrow, blinkered selection that excludes a wide and rewarding range of literature.

    I’ll go out on the limb and guess that the compilers of these lists haven’t read lots of Fantasy and Science Fiction and then said to themselves, ‘Well, really, none of these measure up’. I stick my neck out and claim that they haven’t read any (or much at all) in these fields. It’s like they’ve eliminated these books from contention even before the contest has been announced.

    They’re not even considered.

    Yes, I know that I’m guessing and that I’m possibly traducing thousands of ‘Year’s Best’ list compilers, but my view has been formed after seeing decades where NO genre books have appeared on such lists. Read More | Comments

  • November22nd

    On this fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, I thought I’d bring some of his writing advice to you. This comes from a letter that Lewis sent to a young correspondent in 1956, but the suggestions are eternal.

    1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure y[ou]r. sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
    2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
    3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
    4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”
    5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

     

    Source: C.S. Lewis Letters to Children, ed. Lyle W Dorsett and Marjorie Lampmead, Collins London 1985.