anyone know any good steampunk fantasy?

It’s been established that I’m going to be working on a magical-steampunk sort of setting for NaNo. And I’m really excited– I love the style, the ideas, the flavor I’ve got in mind…

… But it occurs to me now that I don’t read much steampunk.

In fact, the only steampunk that I’m really familiar with are in webcomics. Namely, Girl Genius (great, fun comic, though its creators use the term ‘Gaslamp Fantasy’), and the more serious, violent Freak Angels, which is post-apocalyptic steampunk. The Phoenix Requiem is Victorian-style fantasy, but not at all ‘punk’, so though it’s a great story, I don’t think that it counts (obviously we need more mad science). Some of the Final Fantasy games also fall into this category, though loosely.

So. In an effort to delve a little more into the genre, does anyone know any really good steampunk novels that they’d like to recommend? Plot and humor-wise, Girl Genius is very suited to my tastes. I know my plans bastardize the genre a little as I also have a magic system.

fantasy, epics, and genre blends

Macro world-building is to epic storylines what micro world-building is to…?

It’s occurred to me more than once that epic fantasy quests tend to be the standard cliche. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’, Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’. I might even accuse Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ of being an epic urban fantasy. There’s no shortage of untried boys off to save the land from the evil overlord in this genre or hard-hearted antiheroes stumbling into wicked schemes that demand their reluctant action. Our writers have a tenancy and a reputation to dream BIG. … Myself included. The siren call of royalty and massive catastrophes is hard to resist.

But what happens if we shy away from epic? What if the story is told on a smaller scale?

This isn’t a new idea, really. If contemporary novels used the same scale that fantasy novels used, the world would be overrun by Tom Clancy wannabes. We have mysteries of all different flavors, low-key romances, social dramas. An abundance of ideas and subjects to choose from. A multitude of things to work with, corporations, cultures, attitudes, ideas…

Maybe the real world just has more to work with. Maybe, when we go to draw out our world maps, we’re doing ourselves a disservice and cutting out ideas that don’t need maps to sketch out. Fantasy is a setting, not a genre. Perhaps an expectation of flavor… the same way science fiction, westerns, and historical fiction are all ‘setting genres’, where a content genre can be (and maybe should) be added.

Are there any really good fantasy stories that ‘write small’? Have they escaped notice? Or are they just not that interesting?

a book recommendation

I can’t really review my latest read, as I’m only just a third of the way through it. So I thought that I’d heap some glowing praise for what I have finished. It’s just that good.

The Blade Itself The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

This is one of those novels that I can’t actually read through in a day. Not for its length (though it is a good five hundred page long book), but because I have to put the book down at least once a chapter to digest it.

Wonderful characters. Amazing violence. Fantastic intrigue. And sortof funny, in a way that makes my perverse heart squee with joy. If anything can take the edge of of my Martin kick, it’s this guy.

Here’s hoping it ends well.

… Or not.

(No spoilers in the comments, please!)

link for writers / gamers – medieval demographics

This is perhaps one of the most useful fantasy tools I’ve run across in a long time. I’m just sorry that I didn’t have it for last year’s ‘World Building Month’ event.

Medieval Demographics Made Easy, by S. John Ross.
“Numbers for Fantasy Worlds.”

Basically, this page discusses how many people can fit onto so much land– medieval population density, how big a town must be to support certain occupations, and how this all pertains to world building and specifically, gaming or writing in a fantasy setting. For anyone who ever wanted to add realism in an economical set-up, this is for you.

three steps forward…

… Then a shepherd’s crook about the neck from off-stage, Bugs Bunny style. Yoink!

I’ve been working on my revisions (and not posting so much, admittedly… but the deeper I go into the actual writing/editing of the book, I find I have less and less to say here). Chapters one through three have been revised, fixed up, polished (and chapter one and two sent off to my test readers).

Chapter one was unavoidably awkward in spots, a lot of world building and introductions very quickly, and chapter two extended that, but with plot. Chapter three was a dream: varied, interesting, fast paced.

And then I reached chapter four.

I don’t see any way around it. I’m going to have to rewrite most of this from scratch. Fifteen pages or so, 8-9k. Flat characters, dallying plot, and… well, let’s call it ‘plodding’. Trudging through to the interesting parts. This might take a bit longer than I thought.

the end

After months of sweat, tears, and very probably blood, I bring you the most beautiful image I’ve created in some time:

For those of you who may not understand what this is, allow me to explain. This is the last page of the last chapter of the last draft of my novel.

Three drafts, from 52k to 96k to finally 105k, bringing us up to over 250,000 words written on this novel over the last year and a half– my first version was written because of a spur-of-the-moment decision to join NaNoWriMo 2007.

It needs to be revised, proofread, ect..

I also think I’ll need an agent, or at least an agent-hunt list, by the end of the year. And a new project for this November.

when the pov character can’t make it

Finishing this last chapter, I ran into a bit of a surprise. My villain is smarter than I’d planned. He has given my hero some false information to keep his attention focused elsewhere, and is trying to solve the problem of the rogue heroine on his own. … Without my pov character being present.

The hero doesn’t get to hear what’s going on, not yet, at least. Important things are going on, and they can’t be ‘filmed’. As pretty much the last obstacle in this book (and I still very much like my plot, even if it’s not to-code, as formulas go), this has been giving me some trouble. Worse, since it’s near the end, there’s no time for another subplot.

So, what do you do?

I came up with a few ideas to work around this, and I thought that I’d share.

Timeskip. Move to a place where the character can hear what’s going on. It might be a little late, in some cases, but there’s very little wrong with throwing a character into a developed situation that they’re not expecting. Shake them up and watch them stumble about a bit. So what if you couldn’t see things developing? Figure out what’s going on as new bombs explode on the poor guy. The downside? It’s hard to keep the character confused without doing the same to your audience.

Plot Device. This one’s a little hacky. Give the hero a spy for whatever reason. I don’t actually like this idea as much as the last, but it will work, especially if you want to carefully control what the character does and doesn’t know.

Rework It. So your hero is shut off? Change the situation– find a reason that they can get there, whether it’s reorganizing how things lay out or tweaking your other characters (in this case, my villain) so that the option of inviting the POV-guy is worth whatever downside.

Figure It Out. In this case, this isn’t an option for me. But in others, this is a nice alternative. Someone says something that reminds the character of something else. Put their ‘aha’ moment far away from the event. Spur them on that way. This isn’t always an option, but if so, you can motivate the character and get the pace increasing.

Just a few thoughts that I had on the situation. Feel free to add your own!

one chapter to go

Blue Crystal
(Current) Word count: 99,050.

Table of contents:

  1. Chapter One: Vastii in Black
  2. Chapter Two: The Celestite Baron
  3. Chapter Three: Paid in Sand
  4. Chapter Four: A Walk in the Dark
  5. Chapter Five: Bloody Hands
  6. Chapter Six: Mercenaries and Fire
  7. Chapter Seven: Terms of Endearment
  8. Chapter Eight: New Years Day
  9. Chapter Nine: Nature
  10. Chapter Ten: Duty
  11. Chapter Eleven: Vastii in Red
  12. Chapter Twelve: Three Faces in Filigree
  13. Chapter Thirteen: Catch a Star

‘Three Faces in Filigree’ is written. After Catch a Star, this draft will be finished, and I can start editing.

There are days you think, “What am I doing, how can I hope to tie everything up, how can I make the ending unpredictable yet still make sense?”. And then there are days when you read over the previous chapter titles, remember what happened in each, and suddenly feel so satisfied.

happy singles awareness day!

Alright, I’m a day early. It’s probably tomorrow off in Russia, though, so the title stays.

This is just a short update on the novel progress. I’m now sitting at 92,645 words. I’ve just finished chapter eleven last night. I’ve got two more chapters before the book is done, so I’m predicting that this draft will hit about 105k. 1,000 words a day, and I should be done before March.

Also, I’m very pleased with my reveal. I’d been worried about handling it right. Now for the grand finale!

Oh, and happy singles awareness day. 🙂

novel-writing and controlling information

A random subject, I must admit, but this has been on my mind recently.

Part of my book involves… we’ll call it a mystery. Unclear motives, conspiracy, a bigger picture than the protagonist sees. I’m exactly three chapters from ending the book according to my recent chapter plans, and as more and more climax-heightening information comes through, I have to wonder… is the big reveal, aha-moment too obvious? The characters have every scrap of information they’d need now to put things together. A stressful chapter, a distracting goal, and a wrong take on one of the events ought to keep the characters busy… what about the reader?

This is probably the most agonizing part of writing fantasy. Fantasy is a setting-genre. It has a great deal in common with sci-fi, westerns, and even historical fiction for that reason. And yet the genre constantly overlaps with the event-genres… action, adventure, romance, mystery, thriller (suggest that fantasy is an event-genre by the necessity of a ‘quest’, and I will vaporize you with my scary teacher-stare). So in able to be able to fully command the genre, one must be at least adapt at the subtleties of romance and mystery, the chill of a suspense novel and the tension of a well-crafted fight, no matter the era of weapon.

Back to my original question: how do you know when you’ve made the reveal too transparent? Like spotting a scratch on a piece of furniture– when you know where to look, it jumps out at you. I have some ideas– only a survey of test-readers can be accurate, but there are a few tricks that I’ve noted.

One upon a time, I was an admirer of the Harry Potter series. (Hey, at least it’s not ‘Twilight’). One thing that I admired about Rowling’s work was how thoroughly she would foreshadow her endings. By the fourth book, I caught on to her style enough to see them coming ahead of time, but the first three books left me hitting myself, declaring “Stupid! Stupid!” at the end of each one. Rowling also has a lot of characters, each involved with their own activities, and lots of quirky detail, to hide what’s important with what’s not. So what if the pet rat has a missing toe? It’s an old, pathetic rat that’s had one too many encounters with a garden gnome or something, nestled right in a description of how haggard it looks. And there was that vacation it was hauled off to in Egypt over the summer. It might have caught something. Plenty of reasons not to think it has anything to do with plot.

Use of detail, amid lots of other detail. Logical rationalization, yet a point unique enough to stand out. Foreshadowing each element as its own separate island, as if they’re not connected. Mistaken assumptions that the reader is lead to agree with can be startling to overturn.

But then, my next example uses something entirely different. Gosford Park, a murder mystery film… which was more about the people and less about the murder.

I will warn you, I really, really loved this movie. Watch it five times, and you might have picked out all the subtle sub-plots. Everyone is guilty of something… some more than others. There’s bickering behind closed doors, affairs, blackmail… in fact, all the sub-plots can be so interesting that they take away focus of the murder entirely. The reveal isn’t dramatic. On the contrary, it’s quiet, and not exactly a ‘pursuit of justice’.

So… is detail the secret? I haven’t made a habit of reading mystery for some time– I think I need to go back to it. Does anyone have any great references that they’d like to point to?