The act of writing Drakenfeld (which is nearly completed, by the way) has enabled me to cast a more critical eye on my previous books. Recently I’ve been reflecting on the Red Sun series and – with the benefit of time – I think I can see that I got a few things wrong. Mostly with Nights of Villjamur, but one or two of these apply to the series as a whole. It feels healthy to air it all:
- I tried too hard with the prose in Nights of Villjamur. Tried too hard to show off. It didn’t always work, and pissed off some readers. I streamlined it throughout the series, but have decided to aim for something totally different these days.
- I didn’t try hard enough with female characters in the first novel, though I think I got better in City of Ruin. Previously they were too reliant upon the male characters, or simply weren’t strong enough in their own right. I believe a writer can try to justify why they do things, but ultimately – in a genre where one can do anything – the results speak for themselves. I hold up my hand on this. I’ll try to do better.
- It took me a while to genuinely understand that ‘gritty’ does not equal ‘mature’. This is a big thing for me: when did we become a genre obsessed with violence? Surely (said to myself), I can write an adult book without resorting to writing about so much bloodshed. I think I could also say that a book being macho is not necessarily adult either, even though I’m sure we blokes (apologies for gender binary) sometimes believe that. I’ll hold my hand up again here. There’s a whole other blog post to be made on what makes something adult, but I’ve not quite worked that one out yet.
- Trying to be clever can put readers off. There are more subtle means available to authors and I’ll try to use them in future.
- I didn’t spend enough time with each character. I flitted about from different points of view, not really giving enough consideration to allow the characters to really breathe. Jumping around so much was an easy escape for me, but I confronted this issue in the new series, since it’s a first person narrative.
Don’t get me wrong, I stand by the books and believe wholeheartedly that writing a novel is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But I’m always looking to improve (or at least fail better). Also I should say this is my own interpretation of matters, not necessarily what readers have taken from it.
Coming to the end of the new project and, having allowed the Red Sun series to settle in a little, gave some much-needed perspective. It’s encouraging to know that, no matter how wonderful I might have thought my books were at the time, given the benefit of a few years, I can be more honest about them.
That distance can be humbling and it feels okay to accept that.
Good on you, Mark.
It’s better to look back and see what can be improved, and use those ideas in your next books. 😀
Things can always improve…write the next book or story better. 🙂
I wouldn’t want you to “Lucas” older books.
Exactly. “Lucas”. Sounds a bad verb, that one… 🙂
Bravo Mark, I imagine that most good authors do this sort of thinking, but it’s rare to go public with it.
I see all of these issues in many new authors – especially your first and last points.
Thanks, Neth. From what I’ve gathered from conversations over the years, a lot of good authors do tend to think like this. I just tend to ramble online as a way of coping. 🙂
In order to progress into the future, one must reflect upon the past. The Red Sun series is one sturdy foundation to push off from 🙂
It can take a lot of guts to admit what shortcomings you’ve learned. I deeply appreciate you sharing some of your hindsight, and your candor in talking about things like female characters and what constitutes mature fiction. Thanks!
Thanks for the comment, John; happy to share!
Thanks, Andy. Study, certainly.
I think you’re being a bit hard on yourself Mark. Any writer that doesn’t critique their own work is on the wrong path: you are doing exactly the things that will make you a better writer- and in my opinion you were a pretty good one to start with – by constantly learning your art and trying to make yourself better. Why shouldn’t you show off? When you’re showing off you’re doing things you think are difficult or unique. Trying difficult and new things in writing, stretching yourself as a writer, are things to be encouraged. It is recognising what works and what doesn’t will separate you from the lesser writers.
I agree with you on the gritty/mature matter, and it doesn’t confine itself to the genre, I think it’s society wide. I’ve got the Shield on DVD and it is perhaps the grittiest tv series ever made, but I can only recall two really strong swearwords throughout the entire seven seasons. Violence was used for emotional impact on the characters not for the audience.
Much appreciated, John, but I don’t see it as being harsh – I see it as simple honesty. I’m critical of other books, why not be the same of myself?
I’ve not seen the Shield, but have heard good things about it. I wonder these attitudes of ‘adult nature’ have their roots in film censorship?
Things you got right: In my experience, at least, being open to (and genuinely interested in) criticism of your work from the beginning.
Thank you! I believe I learned best from Daniel Abraham, who took the time to thank reviewers for taking the time to read his work, even for bad reviews. Being open seems much easier for one’s mind to cope with it all.
As a big fan of your books, I’ve seen them improve from one to the next as you’ve gone from (nearly) debut writer to seasoned pro. I’m excited to see how Red Sun concludes, but really looking forward to Drakenfeld – a new world done by a more ‘mature’ MCN.
Sorry, that sounds really patronising.
Seasoned pro! I feel so old now… But thanks!
I bet everyone thinks Drakenfeld sucks and wants more blood and violence like the old days. 🙂
thank you for sharing your reflections with us.
At first the whole gritty/brutal/”realistic” aspect of more modern
fantasy novels fascinated me, because I wasn’t used to it in this genre.
But the sensation wore off quickly, and in the end bored me. I still
embrace grittyness, but I think it should be used like a potent spice,
so it doesn’t overlap the other ingredients. And I think that you kept
the balance well throughout the series.
I enjoyed following your progession as a writer during “Legends of the Red Sun”, and I am looking forward for the final volume and also how it’ll will differ maturity/stylewise from the others 🙂
That’s really nice of your to say so. I like the spice metaphor, too. I think Daniel Abraham made a comment/blog post about using rape in a novel is also like adding curry powder into a meal. It dominates the meal and suddenly it is curry you’re cooking; a book with rape in it is suddenly overpowered by that, and the book is now about rape. Something like that – I’m paraphrasing now!
yes, that’s exactly what I meant. The curry-rape analogy is a perfect example for that 🙂
This is one of the reasons I like to read author blogs; their musings give me food for thought about my own attempts at writing.
Female characters are something I struggle with as well which sounds odd coming from a woman. 😉 Part of it may be my personality, and part certainly is the problem of creating (or recreating, in case of historical characters) strong women in a society that didn’t allow for them and yet remain believable within the context. Once you dig deeper into an epoch, you’ll find those tidbits of exception from the norm, though.
Let’s take Agrippina, wife of the Roman general Germanicus. When in the wars post Teutoburg Forest it looked like another Roman army was pursued and close to being annihilated by the Germans, the Roman garrison commander on the left side of the Rhine decided to destroy the bridge in order to prevent the Germans from crossing. But Agrippina didn’t want anything of that and placed herself in the middle of the bridge. ‘Over my dead body.’ ‘She later organised the assistance of the fleeing troops and got them across the bridge safely. (The commander also had a wrong idea about Arminius who knew better than to attack a Roman fort on the ‘wrong’ side of the river.) That little incident casts an interesting light on Agrippina and it also goes with the fact that the conservative Tiberius hated her becasue she didn’t commit herself to the place she was supposed to keep. Her marriage with Germanicus seems to have been a happy one, though, which casts a light onto Germanicus as well.
Another such tidbit to give fodder to a writer is the fact that grave finds point at the existence of female physicians / surgeons in the forts and esp. the Roman towns at the Rhine. It makes you wonder what sort of woman it would take to chose this way in her life.
So overall I hope I can manage to create some interesting female characters nevertheless. At least I’m in good company struggling with that part. 🙂
Another point mentioned below that caused me to reconsider a scene is the blogpost by Daniel Abraham you mentioned. I don’t agree completely with hiim; I think it still depends on how much screen time a rape and its aftermath get, whether the characters invoved are MCs or less important, and it also depends on the reader to some degree – for some even a mention of rape may be a trigger while others won’t reduce a book to being About Rape only because a rape happens somewhere in the narrative sidelines (I never even defined Thomas Covenanter by that act depite it been shown; he was a whiny brat no matter what he did or didn’t). But I’m no longer sure I’ll show the actual rape happening to a secondary character in my NiP. Maybe it will be better to only show the part where she walks up to Varus in company of her brother and demands justice. And I probably should thank Danier Abraham if my book then is not considered to be About Rape. 😉
Hi Mark –
I’ve aways liked your openness in your blogs. Good healthy stuff which must surely make you a better writer. So therefore we can continue to look forward to enjoying your future output.
So keep on the road – and dont forget to enjoy the veiw!
Hi Andrew – good to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. It certainly feels better to admit failures!
I must admit, I do forget to enjoy the view at times. Appreciate the reminder…