Sunday 23 September 2012

Of Gods and Machines

Deus Ex Machina - "God from the machine". As wikipedia says, when a plot device comes out of nowhere to solve the mystery/rescue the heroine/save the day. The classic example, for those of you old enough to remember, is the long-running tv soap Dallas in the late 1970s where the entire ninth season was revealed to be all a dream!

In the best novels, the resolution is a gradual build up of what has come before. The actions of the characters determine the path they follow, and everything builds towards a logical climax where all the loose ends come together and the reader thinks Oh, yes, of course. Things that maybe didn't make sense earlier on are explained and the twist, if there is one, makes complete sense in the re-interpretation of the story.

So you can't have the murderer being the identical twin brother of the suspect - unless you've set up the premise early on and sibling rivalry, or whatever, is an integral part of the story. You can't have your character waking up and finding that the whole story was a dream - and you've got to be pretty clever to get away with the viewpoint character being dead.

But for me - as a reader - the resolution of a story also has to evolve from the actions of the main characters. Nothing annoys me more than reading a book where the main character sits around passively while things happen to him or her, and then the story ends after somebody else has made everything right again. Passive characters in themselves are fine - not everyone is an action hero - but they shouldn't be your main characters. Elizabeth Bennet doesn't sit around waiting to be married off - she works out what she wants and goes for it. So does Harry Potter.

Whether there's a happy ending or not doesn't really matter. It's the journey that counts. And a journey where the main character is driving is the best journey to take.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Indie v Trad – The Battle Rages On

I don’t get this indie/trad warfare. Traditional books are better because they are edited. Er – no. Indies have editors too. Indie books are better because they are cheaper. Amazon is often selling best-sellers at 20p these days. Trad writers can write better books because they don’t have a day job to distract them. Nope – a lot of trad authors have day jobs – advances are less, and sometimes non-existent for debut and even mid-list authors in some smaller houses. All the myths on both sides can be debunked with little or no effort.

But why do we have to compare?  Why differentiate at all? From the reader’s perspective, he or she doesn’t care how the book came to market. The reader looks at the cover and the blurb; maybe a sample or a few reviews if they exist. Then it might be the price. Indie authors have less overheads so can price ebooks lower – true. But amazon can fight back with their 20p promotional sales of the big names, so that argument goes out of the window too.

I guess the only time a reader might care how the book got to market is if they have been burned by poorly-edited indie books in the past and have now decided to boycott anything that smacks of self-publishing.  That’s down to the author. Trad writers have editors, yes, but indie writers can too – you might have to buy in editing services (and cover design and anything else you don’t have the skills for), but if you want to be a professional writer, that’s the price you have to pay. And that’s what all writers should be aiming for, surely? However you publish a book, there is no excuse at all for spelling errors, grammatical mistakes or just bad editing.

I would prefer to bring all writers together, not talk about their differences and make allowances. I want to be treated by a reader the same way he or she would treat any other writer - with the same expectations of professionalism and a quality product. Is that too much to ask?

Friday 7 September 2012

Pond Life

There were big fish and little fish, but Amanda couldn’t make Lenny out at all. He acted like he was in charge of the pond and yet he was way too young to be anything like as high up the food chain as he liked to think he was. Was that good or bad? Amanda didn’t know. But he did seem to have something of a code of ethics which made him a considerably better prospect than psycho Mal.

“Now, if you want to leave, that’s fine. I’m not going to stop you. But I could really use your help to find Michael first. You seem to know what you’re doing with that computer. And you might be a good influence on Caro here. The silly cow’s clearly not going to listen to me.”

“I said I’d go and talk to Mal,” said Caro sulkily, “but I’m not going to let you torture him, Lenny.”

“Why not? It’d do the little shit some good.”

“I love him!” Caro wailed, but Lenny wasn’t falling for that one.

“You don’t love him; you didn’t love me. You just like sex. Have some self-respect, Caroline. If you want to bang someone’s brains out, at least make sure he’s got some first. Either brains or money, anyway.” Lenny stood up. “Go and talk to lover-boy, then. Tell him from me that unless I have Michael back in one piece in the next 12 hours, I’ll give the local drug squad the names and addresses of all the people he supplies, and I’ll make sure everyone knows where the information came from. And if you’re not back here within a couple of hours you can go make your own deals, as you won’t be getting any more from me.”