Quiet Time

The lack of recent postings is as much due to lack of inspiration for topics as it is lack of time, and I don’t see it changing in the immediate future. Hopefully I’ll get struck by inspiration (or something) soon.

On Saturday I’ll be publishing the novella, Grey Enigmas. It’s a follow-up to Grey Engines, but occurring over a century after that doesn’t really count as a sequel. It should work as a stand-alone story. While it can’t yet be bought on Smashwords, you can download the beginning to try it out.

Am I writing Large Enough?

I’m worried that I don’t write stuff as wild as I could. Some broad ideas from the initial conception can get lost by the time the story’s finished, becoming more… I don’t necessarily want to say realistic, since I mainly write fantasy. Maybe restrained would be more precise.

I lose much of the sense of whimsy I intend to include, and the wilder ideas can get rationalised down to seem almost reasonable (relatively speaking).

It may be partly due to the fact I tend to write in outline – so some ideas may get rationalised down through the iterations – which would be okay. But some instances I worry that it’s because of fear of making the story too broad, which I’m less okay with. That’s pandering to an imaginary audience, which never works out (especially since I have a very small audience). I should be my first audience, because if I don’t enjoy it then why do it (if I was a bestseller then money might be a motivator, but I’m not, so it isn’t).

In some cases the restraint may work. My first novel, the unpublished Paragon Protocols, is an espionage thriller. The initial idea had a fair bit of super-science, so headed towards some of the excesses of Bond films – and beyond in some cases. The end product was more grounded, with intentions to bring in the super-science as the series went on – the second would have been heavily into this. Given to groundedness of the first I’m now debating whether to risk going broader in later books, which’ll mean a serious rethink for the second one. The overall story for the series would still be the same, and I’m hoping to get to them some day. (Allegiances is set in the same world).

In other cases I seem to be fighting myself to include the whimsy. In the Tales of the Thief-City series I make a point to try and include at least one element of dark whimsy per story, which is relatively easy to incorporate given the disparate sources making up the city of Nexi. In the Shadows of the Heavens series I didn’t really get the whimsy I’d initially intended, and in one way it doesn’t sit right. I’m happy enough with the end product, and the nature of the empire’s controlled society means all the true magic of nature would have been pushed to the edges, which I suppose works.

Maybe it is realism rather than restraint. Finding the way the fantastical would work, and how it’d then become mundane to those who live among it. Or maybe I’m just a boring writer. You know, the kind who’ll ask questions and not offer any real answer.

…Continued

[Warning: this meanders quite a bit, towards no real destination]

It occurred to me that last week’s post may have read as though I’m totally against continuing stories, which isn’t the case. I read a lot of comics, where continuing series are the standard, and many have been around longer than me. (Series with a continuing creative team, or at least writer, tend to be different beasts, and not what I’m wittering on about below)

Long running series have both good and bad points. And shared universes tend to exacerbate the bad points, making them things that need to be accepted, ignored, or retconned (retroactive continuity is the rewriting of history to say that something never happened. If you’re lucky they’ll give a reasonable explanation of why people thought it did).

I recently reread Daredevil stuff from the last decade, from Bendis’ run through to the Shadowland stuff (which is a few years old now, so not really spoilers). The main idea behind Bendis’ run is what does it look like when a superhero has a nervous breakdown. It uses the character’s history under previous writers, building on your emotional investment with the characters.

The serial nature of corporate IPs opens it up to interesting interpretations by successive creators. Some are good, some are simply servicing the IP, a situation not helped by the monthly schedule: they have to have a story out even if it’s not a good one.

This was played with during this period, with each writer leaving the character in a worse place than they found him, for the next writer to carry on. Bendis left him in jail, his identity public but unproven; Brubaker destroyed his life even further, and left him taking command of the Hand, a cult of assassins he’d fought for years; Diggle left him shattered after the events of Shadowland, which kind of marked as far as he could fall. When the series relaunched under Waid, Daredevil’s trying to get back to what he used to be, but his recent history continues to overshadow his actions.

While I felt the Shadowland stuff didn’t quite work, mainly by being turned into an event, overall the sequence held together even with multiple writers. Using the character’s history to build the story on adds to it in a way a standalone story which introduces you to that history can’t. That’s what ongoing series do at their best.

 

[Rant Interlude: Franchises]

One of the less good parts of corporate owned IPs is the danger of over-franchising of successful properties. I’m looking at you, X-Men. There was a time, probably longer ago than I now care to remember, when I could have named every X-Man. There have been so many associated titles out over the last couple of decades, introducing so many mutants, most of whom are now considered X-Men, that it’d be difficult without a good degree of study.

Franchising tends, from my experience, to run greater risk of substandard work than much servicing the IP. And then new stories build on stories that you haven’t read. At least the advent of digital comics and increased collecting of stories solves the problems even a decade ago of not being able to get hold of the stories referred to. Whether you’d be grateful to get hold of them is another matter.

Franchises run the risk of diluting your investment.

And I’ve ranted about Events previously, so don’t get me started on that again.

[End Interlude]

 

Series with ongoing characters can build up an investment that keeps the reader with the story, obviating some of the set up required (although you still need to consider new readers). Pragmatically, it can also keep readers with a series, which is why publishers seem to prefer series to stand alones. As a writer you also get invested in characters and see further places their stories could go.

But I find I’m often more interested in new stuff than revisiting old stories. Sometimes they do call me back fairly strongly, and the stories still have things to say. But pragmatically speaking none have yet sold well enough to really draw any number of readers back, so my time’s better spent on new stuff that might draw new readers. I would like to make a living from this, then I can write the further adventures.

Read an eBook Week 2014

Today begins Read an eBook Week, running through to the 8th, and I’ve again enrolled my books in the Smashwords promotion.

All my novels are half price (using the voucher code REW50), apart from Glyphpunk which is free (using the voucher code RW100) [since the sequel is now out].

I’ve also made the first six parts of the Shadows of the Heavens series (apart from the first one, which is already) free.

I’ve taken advantage of the promotion to raise the prices of the Tales of the Thief-City series to 99c, but made them free for the week using the voucher code. I was going to leave it another week or so, but this should let them show up in the most heavily trafficked category.