Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Trad or Indie - All Argued Out

Recently I got involved on The Writers' Workshop in one of those arguments which as Jane Austen has it, is too much like a dispute. It was over whether self-publishing is a viable alternative to traditional publishing. The blog owner, Harry Bingham, asked me to write a post, which you can see here. The definitive article on the subject has already been written by Robert Bidinotto: 10 Reasons Why You Should Skip Traditional Publishers and Self-Publish Ebooks Instead.

Today I came across a new site, Write-Connections, and blow me, what were they discussing on the forum but: Self publishing or traditional publishing?? A topic so hot it demanded two question marks. My mind reeled away at the prospect of the same old points being made, the prejudice and ignorance, the denial and defensiveness. And I realized I'm all argued out. Plus it doesn't matter what anyone says, publishing has changed with the advent of digital, is still changing, and will never be the same again.

If anyone wants to turn a blind eye to what is happening, that is his prerogative. I will in future wander past, smiling. I might even pat him on the head, if it wasn't stuck beneath the sand.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Suspending disbelief

Writers tread a narrow line. The stories we tell are made up, and readers know this; but we need to make them forget that fact while immersed. The appeal of a novel is that it imposes shape and meaning on the chaos that is life. Fiction has a beginning, middle and end, and life does not. But woe betide the writer who strains his reader's credulity to the point where it gives way and he/she says, "That wouldn't happen."

I think there are two kinds of implausibility in fiction; the big stuff, like dragons, magic, sparkly vampires, aliens etc. which readers tend to swallow whole, and the little improbabilities readers or viewers tend to choke on.

An example of the second type: recently I treated myself to the complete series of Firefly, and am enjoying an episode each evening. For those who haven't seen it, it was conceived by Joss Whedon, who went on to make Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fox cancelled the series after only fourteen episodes; insane, as it had the quality, set-up and characters to have been as long running and successful as MASH. In one episode, Out of Gas, the space ship Serenity is stranded in space with only a few hours' air due to the failure of a part of the engine; something about the shape and size of a hair drier. And I thought, if the failure of that part is so catastrophic, you'd carry at least two spares. It wouldn't be bad luck if you got stranded that way, it would be the mechanic's fault, or the captain's. [EDIT: I'm wrong. See Wyndes' comment right at the bottom of the comments on this post.]

I put a lot of effort into making my stories plausible and removing plot holes - some improbable things may happen, but I hope my characters' reactions to them are believable. Readers do not always agree with me. "The best science-fiction should surely hold a smidgeon of credibility but the premise of this tale was utterly absurd," is one comment on Replica. Ah well. I have the same problem with most chick lit, James Bond and Dan Brown.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

You don't have to be right, just convincing

I've just biked from my workshop in Hoxton to the Gherkin, 30 St Mary Axe. A good day to do it, though the weather is cold and blustery. (Call this June? Huh!) Few cars and vans, just red buses careering around in packs with a gleeful freedom non-Bank Holiday traffic does not allow.

I went to get a feel for the building close to, and take some photos, as part of my WIP is set there. In my fictional 2018 London, twenty metres of snow cover the city, and only the taller buildings are visible. One of my characters conceals his snowmobile inside the Gherkin. I've studied the website carefully. Of course, what I'd really like is to wander round the building, camera in hand, but this is not possible. Luckily, it's not necessary either. I can make it up.

Because in fiction, you don't need to be right, just convincing. I don't know any Security Service officers, but no readers have yet complained that Nick Cavanagh in Replica is an unbelievable MI5 spec op. Probably because they don't know any either. Nor has anyone said the scene set in the Dorchester in Remix with information gleaned from their website and Google Street View lacks verisimilitude.

My advice: do all the research you can, go to the places that figure in your books, talk to people doing the jobs your characters do if at all possible - then make the rest up. Do it well, and nobody will know.

N.B. If any Security Service Officers are reading this and wish to put me right, email me - I'm very discreet :o)