Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Marching from the Grimdark into the Cold Light : A WAR PIGS post

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.

The Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence (which you must go read NOW).

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.

A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard K. Morgan.

These pivotal series and the luminaries who wrote them are those that I have deemed to myself to be The Four Fathers of Grimdark, a set of Fantasy fiction works and authors that swept the world over the last two decades with roots in Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, David Gemmell, and the dark fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s, though their ancestors can easily be traced to Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard as well. To express what Grimdark is to those who are not great readers of it can best be found in the words of Richard K. Morgan himself:
"Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an elite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a willful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses." - Richard K. Morgan
With the recent ascendance to Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States of America, the vote to leave the European Union via "Brexit" in the United Kingdom (where grimdark and fantasy both find native soil), and the uprising of many nationalist/hate groups throughout the world, it is hard to disagree with Morgan's view on both the worlds he creates for his fantasy and the world readers like me now experience. We live in a time where the majority of our fellow human beings and alike are oppressed by religious, political, and financial elites, of whom staff and maintain a force of thugs, and through use of their media engender a willful cognitive dissonance that the majority themselves accept because of a fear, greed, or hatred that allows them to sustain their lifestyles, even bitterly, in a society that was made comfortable by its own lack of personal and social responsibility.

WAR PIGS is my first rebuttal to Grimdark Fantasy. A second one is coming in Hold Back The Day, but that will come when it comes. A third one comes in the collected Saga of The Panther. And then there will be more, and more, and more, until my dying day.

I worship the works of Martin and Lawrence, read deeply into Morgan, and truly appreciate Abercrombie on a basis of what they have done in terms of what was needed to be done for the health of Fantasy fiction--they infused it with things that were happening now, inhabited it with characters that could live and breath in our real world, and drove a real sense of consequence that many Fantasy and genre authors today still fail to embrace to their detriment. Personally speaking, Grimdark caused me to take on a meaningful view of world-building, a constant reminder that there had to be real risk for my characters, and in general made me realize that it is more important to write about what is going on, not about "the story only you can write", which is often horribly simplistic advice.

Fantasy, to me, is the journalism of the soul, the exploration of the what our world is like now, and a rebellion against the powers that would tell us not to imagine something otherwise.

While I'll never be done being in love with Grimdark, I've wanted to be done writing it for a long time. The successful nomination and victory of Donald Trump drove it home for me--there was once a time to examine all the dark corners of the earth, to explore characters who are analogous to the worst we allow to rule today. That time is over because now we have actually let one of them into the halls of power in all his unbridled awfulness with the expectation this awfulness will flourish.

I refuse.

I choose to write of heroes, of people that stand up against their own society and its unworthy rulers for the sake of others instead of themselves--and not in a self-serving manner like Daenerys Targaryen. I choose to write of places and times that are broken but can be healed with when humanity raises the cause of goodness as we have before.

I refuse Morgan's authorial view of the world.

And so does Lut. Lut is a Wag (see "orc") who starts evil, that kills for the powers-that-be and revels in his oppression of others. But he also changes, learns the value of his people and the others he once oppressed, the wonders of his land, and the importance of his time. He is simply not Lawful Evil and "that is that."

He chooses to walk out of the grim darkness of the soul and into the Cold Light of better days. It is bright out in this new wilderness, and the world will always be harsh, but there is a way forward for you, me, and everyone else. We must simply go and find it.

I hope you'll choose to walk out there with me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Battle of Words: a WAR PIGS post

One of the main challenges that I put before me when I wrote WAR PIGS was the knowledge that I would have to write multiple combat scenes in little less than 120 pages while at the same time allowing for the narrative to develop, allow characterizations to be made, and keep the story moving.

This post is a short exploration of how tools I brought in to create those intense combat scenes, whether they ranged from one-on-one conflicts between Lut and his foes or sprawling battles where thousands upon thousands spilled their blood, as each variation has its own sets of difficulties and opportunities, which I will try to explore in the most digestible way possible. There will be a lot of things to cover so I'll do my best to keep it simple.

In general, there are three tried-and-true rules that I developed and follow in keeping my fight scenes exciting and manageable, two things I find many writers struggle with at varying levels of experience. I often find that these authors, whether they are new or more experienced, tend to focus themselves in doing one or the other, which results in fights that can be fun but a mess, to clear and concise yet are prosaic because while they put the scenes together well they lack the kind of pop needed to wow the reader. That said, following these rules can help land you somewhere closer to the sweet spot of being both clear and exciting.

1. Keep fights between individuals to ONE PAGE OR LESS (in Word)

Unless you have a really good reason for lengthening the pace of your fight (be it through the device of Cat-And-Mouse, Character Resets due to injury/interference, Comedy, etc.), it is often better to keep your combat scenes quick and to the point. It reduces the pressure writers often put on themselves to be too graphic in detail or too descriptive in execution. Generally speaking, a balanced approach fits better than not. Authors who are great at this (though they sometimes break the rules) are R.A. Salvatore, Brent Weeks, John Marco, and David Gemmell, they of whom are considered masters of writing action-packed combat. Ursula Le Guin knocks it out of the park in her Earthsea novels The Farthest Shore and Tehanu. And there are some great authors out there that go even shorter than that!

Also take note: when I say a "page or less", I mean the equivalent of a page in Word or whatever word processor you use to write. Word allows up to 500 words per page, single spaced, and you lose anywhere to 25% to 32% if you double-space. Keep that in mind when it comes to this rule.

2. Smaller Paragraphs = Faster (and better) Movement

To write a good fight scene you need to know something about film making AND paragraph formatting, the latter being an art that I see is getting lost the longer I edit works for others. In fact, most of what I find myself doing while editing combat scenes for others is re-working the paragraph formatting to clarify what is actually happening. To resolve this I encourage writers to take advantage of the film making technique of blocking out their action sequences into digestible sections, as this will allow focus on what we as writers want to convey in terms of the imagery we use.

Here's another idea to keep in your "toolbox" as Stephen King calls it:

One paragraph equals one sequence of action/movement in the shot.

If you have a sequence of movement in your mind that you wish readers to pay particular attention to, then giving the sequence its own paragraph allows the scene to breath, the writer to refine, and the reader to follow in a way that is more active. Speaking as a dedicated reader of Fantasy as well as a publisher author of the genre, I have seen this play out in the opposite fashion too many times--writers will write an entire fight scene contained in a one-page paragraph (just a paragraph!) and it ends up cluttering the page. Formatting large paragraphs into small ones not only allows you to focus on the action, but it quickens the pace for the reader, ultimately drawing them in to what is going on.


Now a writer is of course free to write whatever sort of combat scenes they want, whether it is dirty, realistic bloodshed that I try to incorporate into my fiction, or high-flying, magical, wuxia-like action that you might find in RA Salvatore's later work or the work of Steven Erikson. A writer can be as simple or as intricate as they want to be, but I always offer a cautious reminder to all of this--your combat scenes are not what makes the story progress. That is what characters, plot, setting, and the other literary devices are for. That said, what can make your combat scenes unique to you is the process of what you incorporate in the write writing them.

I wrote about this previously while providing an extensive reading list, but expanding your knowledge base, taking part or observing the martial arts, and asking questions on all aspects of combat will invariably enrich your combat scenes into intense, powerful movements that will add literary impact to your storytelling. I draw on a lot of my knowledge from my experiences studying Muay Thai, Judo, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kendo, Iaido, German Longsword, Medieval Ringen, Scottish Highland Broadsword, and Dirk Fighting, and I added to it further by researching Sanatan Shastar Vidiya (the war arts of the Sikhs), Pehlwani (Indian Wrestling), and English Quarterstaff. You can find a lot stuff to watch on Youtube, thousands of great books, and many wonderful martial arts schools that will be happy to let you observe and ask questions to help you better form your combat scenes.

Want to see these rules in action? I hope you'll consider picking up WAR PIGS! It is on preorder for right now at $0.99 until it's release date on 11/15/2016.

Have anymore questions about writing great combat scenes? Hit me up @JayRequard on Twitter or leave a comment below!