Russell Kirkpatrick's Journal
A few weeks ago, Linda the dangerous shop assistant from Pennys Book Store, my local book store, was talking with me about promoting my latest Australian and New Zealand release, Path of Revenge.
One of us - I think it was me, but it might not have been - jokingly suggested that I sit in the shop window for a day and write, so people could see a live author. I was disconcerted to see how enthusiastic Linda was about the idea.
They've already done up the window with a promotion ...
... all it needs now is for me to be sitting in there, writing on my computer.
Yesterday I agreed. Linda has already spoken to the media, who will be in attendance on the day. The day - and I'm already having second thoughts - is the Wednesday after next. March 7th. I'll be in the window all day.
Now, all you have to do is think of a good title for this live display. Hop to it!
How big is your world?
Most of us operate in a small 'action space' - the space of our everyday lives. Yours probably stretches no more than a few tens of kilometers, from home to work to school to the sports club to your mates' places. Your 'action-space' is the area of the world you leave less than, say, once a month.
Only a few people have action spaces larger than 50 square kilometers. Business people who travel frequently can have enormous action spaces, stretching across the world, as can those who own multiple or holiday homes.
So think about it a moment. Even take a moment to draw a rough sketch map. What is your action space?
Now, if you are creating a world, you need to think about scale first of all. What amount of space does your action require? What is your plot and characters' action space?
Remember that if your fantasy is pre-technology, action spaces are very small, and journeys beyond them very slow. Jesus of Nazareth, for example, never went more than about 200 miles from his home in his life. So - does your fantasy require a whole planet's worth of world building, or can it take place in a city? A town? Or in a handbag? (I've heard of such a fantasy world.)
If you want to test your characters in unfamiliar surroundings, if your plot revolves around political conflict between regions or nations, indeed if it is epic fantasy, you may require your own world. More and more, however, I'm seeing the trend of action spaces move away from such things and become limited to regions or even cities.
Few people have the luxury of making the world first, then writing a story to suit (a la Tolkien). But if you want to do that, go right ahead - but it will cause you problems when you come to write, as you will always struggle against your plot being written by the geography.
Next time I'll talk about the kind of world you will build, and what rules your world needs to follow.
I'm watching the much vaunted, mighty Australian cricket team fall apart against New Zealand. This is the team whose coach, barely a month ago, complained to the press that he wished there was a side around to give them a good game.
What's gone wrong? Yeah, they've lost a couple of players, but they've always boasted about their depth. The simple fact is they've been reading the papers and they have begun believing what has been written about them.
It's like when the reviews - and especially the fan mail - come rolling in. Publishers say nice things, fans say nice things, and before you know it you begin to believe them. This writing lark is easy. I don't even have to try and the rich prose will just come rolling out.
And, before I know it, I'm being thrashed in the bookstores by some unheralded part-timer.
When I read an enthusiastic letter from a fan, I congratulate them. They're the ones who have worked to get something out of what I've written. It's up to me to continue to write well enough to allow readers to extract enjoyment from my books. And it won't happen if I behave like the Australian cricketers.
An Australian adventurer trying to kayak from Tasmania to New Zealand is lost. His upturned, empty kayak was found yesterday about 80km off the NZ coast.
This is sad. I hope they find him, but it doesn't seem likely. I feel very sorry for his family. His parents, his wife. But I do have a couple of questions about this sort of thing, and here they are.
• Shouldn't this risky behaviour only be undertaken by people without partners and children?
• Why should the NZ taxpayer pay for the search and (hopefully) rescue mission?
The solution: I'm all for risky behaviour, within limits. I think it should be undertaken only by people without family responsibilities, who have - before they begin - arranged sufficient capital in the form of a bond to cover any possible rescue attempt. It is selfish behaviour, after all - how many operations would the search and rescue have paid for? And think of all the lives devastated by the man's death.
You’ve probably noticed by now that many fantasy novels come with a map, or maps, in the front.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to blog about why this is so. I’ll talk about good and bad maps, and suggest how to make and map your own world. I’ll blog about other things too, but every now and then I’ll slip in my thoughts about maps.
At the most fundamental level, writers ought to know how their universe (their world/land/whatever) works. What its boundaries and limits are, how it ‘feels’ to be in this universe. So every author ought to think carefully about their setting. Thinking about setting just as important as plotting and characterisation and writing style.
So, here’s a statement you might not expect from me. Not every fantasy novel needs a map. My favourite reminder of this is my signed copy of K.J. Bishop’s The Etched City, which she personalised for me by putting an ‘insert map here’ note on the title page. This novel is rich with baroque detail, but it’s not necessary to see a map to enjoy it. The one significant geographical feature in the novel is a sudden transition from a desert to a lush setting. That’s all one really needs to know.
However, other novels require a clearly mapped setting to enjoy them fully. OK, not everyone is map-minded. But for those (usually epic) fantasy novels involving journeys, or political machinations between warring kingdoms, those who are map-minded can more easily shake all the facts into some sort of relationship in their head. A map can really help.
Here are some other ways a map can enhance a novel:
• a good map gives a prospective reader an idea of the scope of the story. I always check the first few pages of a new fantasy: if it has a continent-sized map or larger, I usually buy it. I like large-scale stories.
• the names on a map can give the reader a feel for the culture and history of a region. But only if they’re done well.
• the reader can follow the characters across the map.
• a great map makes the reader feel that there is much more going on in this world than the author is telling them about. This fires up the reader’s imagination, and they claim the world as their own. I love hearing from readers about their experiences of Faltha.
Enough for now. I’ll talk about maps some more another time.
Oh yes, my latest novel, Path of Revenge, is now out in New Zealand. It’s always a thrill to see your own book on the shelves. With my surname, my books often end up next to Mr. King’s. Esteemed company indeed.