10 things I found hardest about writing this book
by Ian Irvine
1. Right Beginning
Initially, The Desperate Dwarf began with Ike, Mellie and Pook lost in the mountains, running out of time to find the Book of Grimmery. Once I’d completed the first draft I realised how pedestrian this opening was. I started afresh with a blind seer weaving the threads of Ike’s future (under the direction of a hidden watcher), and making everything go wrong. This beginning, though better, was more remote and rather dark.
My editor suggested I reveal the hidden watcher to be Ike’s nemesis, Emajicka, and inject some humour into the beginning, since the succeeding chapters were grim. Now the stern old seer foresees Ike’s most humiliating moment, a failed spell that blows his backside up to the size of an airship. I renamed Chapter 1, ‘Ike’s Bum” and it’s an appropriate and original opening to the story.
2. Appropriate Ending
The Desperate Dwarf is the third book of a quartet, which is awkward for storytelling because the story neither begins at the beginning nor ends at the ending. Furthermore, the ending has to satisfyingly complete the events of this book, while leave the overall series questions unanswered so as to draw readers to the last book.
Since the book begins with drama and humour, for symmetry I wanted to end it with humour and drama. Ike’s friend, Lord Monty the headless highwayman who talks through his bottom, regains his lost head but it goes on backwards and abuses him ceaselessly. Monty and his head have the ultimate inner conflict.
3. Sagging Middle
Sometimes stories lose direction in the middle. One solution is to cram the book full of action, though action, by itself, can become tedious. The middle can also be strengthened by adding subplots though that wasn’t an option; these books are relatively short. Instead, I chose to deepen Ike’s conflicts and make his every choice more difficult.
Ike has three conflicting objectives: to recover the Book of Grimmery, without which Grimmery will be overthrown; to clear his parents’ names, because they’re accused of betraying Grimmery; and to help Pook rescue the children whom Emajicka has stolen for her Collection. To tighten the middle of this book, I make each of these conflicts more difficult and urgent, and force Ike into a situation where he sees how terribly the children are suffering, yet can do nothing to help them.
I’ve written 27 novels with a word count around 3.6 million, in the process using up a lot of characters. My challenge with each new book is to create fresh and original characters. As I’m designing characters for a new book, I analyse them, and where they resemble characters I’ve created before, I rewrite to make the characters new.
5. Freshening the Plot
Similarly, over several decades of writing I’ve used thousands of different plot elements, and it’s an increasing struggle to avoid repetition; one’s writing tends to follow familiar patterns. In the early days I did little planning, making the story up as I went along. These days I develop plots in considerable detail, examine them closely for repetitive elements, and rewrite to make them fresh and original.
Well, no plot can be truly original – the twenty or thirty plots that exist have all been used thousands of times. But it is possible to tell an old story in a new way, or freshen a well-loved plot with striking, empathetic characters. If the reader cares enough about the characters, it doesn’t matter if they’ve seen the plot before.
The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Casablanca and Gone with the Wind are all unique and drawn so vividly that, decades afterwards, their story worlds are still vivid. But the story worlds of most books aren’t memorable, because the author hasn’t spent enough time to create them in living detail.
In Grim and Grimmer, this is one of my greatest challenges. How to tell a familiar story – about an ordinary boy becoming a hero – in a fresh and vivid way. And how to use stock fantasy beings such as trolls, goblins and dwarves without evoking memories of Tolkien’s dwarves or JK Rowling’s goblins. The solution was to dig deep in creating the world of Grimmery – to bore through the clichés of fantasy and uncover the living, breathing details that make these characters and their world unique.
When writing involved action scenes involving a variety of characters, and also when describing exotic fantasy locales, my initial drafts of the scene can be difficult to follow. These days I do several extra drafts of all such scenes, making sure that readers can see clearly what is going on. Examples in The Desperate Dwarf include the various gateways that open from Fluffia Tra-la-lee’s carpeted cave, and Ike’s leg-wrestling match with the dwarf Con Glomryt on the edge of a thousand-foot chasm.
Dialogue is always a struggle for me; I never feel that I’ve got it right. Readers can usually tell who my characters are by their attitude and actions, but sometimes one character’s language does sound like another’s. I’m still working on that.
There are some genuinely funny moments in the Grim and Grimmer books, but I’m also aware how much of a novice I am in writing of humorous stories for children. A lot of the laughs come from schoolboy humour or simple wordplay. If I were writing these books again, I’d be working hard to broaden the sources of humour. But then, has any author ever set down a finished book and not seen flaws in it?
I have a relatively plain writing style. I don’t use a lot of imagery apart from relatively simple similes and metaphors. There’s nothing wrong with this – plenty of writers employ language that doesn’t draw attention to itself – but I would like to broaden and deepen my storytelling by making use of all that the English language offers. Next time.
My thanks to Ian Irvine for making Literary Clutter part of his current blog tour. He is making other appearances on other blogs, so be sure to check out the complete list.
If anyone has any questions for Ian, ask them in the comments section… he’ll be stopping by to answer them.
And tune in next time for a post about reviews.
Catch ya later, George
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