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Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington

Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington. via Wikimedia

[Note: This post originally appeared as my Goodreads review of “Aspects of the Novel.”]

I recently read E.M. Forster’s 1924 classic, “A Passage to India,” so I was interested to learn that he had written a book about fiction writing. “Aspects of the Novel” is based on a series of lectures Forster gave in 1927 at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Copy on the back cover describes “Aspects of the Novel” as “Forster’s renowned guide to writing.” However, to me it reads more like literary criticism than guidance. I found it interesting and enlightening but not highly practical for me as a novelist. Forster organizes his treatment around seven themes, or aspects:

  1. Story
  2. People
  3. The Plot
  4. Fantasy
  5. Prophecy
  6. Pattern
  7. Rhythm

Out of these aspects, I found his chapter on people, or characters, most useful, particularly his comments on page 75 about the distinction between “round” and “flat” characters, using Jane Austen as an example of round characterization:

Why do the characters in Jane Austen give us a slightly new pleasure each time they come in, as opposed to the merely repetitive pleasure that is caused by a character in Dickens? … [T]he best reply is that her characters though smaller than his are more highly organized. They function all round, and even if her plot made greater demands on them than it does, they would still be adequate. … All the Jane Austen characters are ready for an extended life, for a life which the scheme of her books seldom requires them to lead, and that is why they lead their lives so satisfactorily.

In reader reviews, I often see critical comments to the effect that a novel’s characters are “flat,” and I usually scratch my head over that criticism, especially when it appears in a review of a book that I have read and enjoyed. Maybe some reviewers are just looking for something to gripe about, and “the characters are flat” is a useful trope to fall back on. Or maybe my standards just aren’t that high.

But in any case, here in Forster is an explanation of flat-versus-round that makes sense to me as a writer and that provides some real guidance for developing good characters.

ARK — 4 September 2015

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I’m proud to let readers know that the first two books in my historical series The Cursed Ground have been approved by Awesome Indies and listed on their site. Awesome Indies is a volunteer organization dedicated to reviewing and evaluating the works of independent authors. Awesome Indies Approved (AIA) books are “independently published books that meet, or improve on, the standard of books published by major mainstream publishers and their imprints,” according to the organization.

Cover for The Child-Stealers

Book cover for Children of the KeepterThe first two books of The Cursed Ground, The Child-Stealers and Children of the Keeper are now both available on Kindle eBooks. I’m currently working on Book 3 of the series, The Safeguard, which I expect to release in September 2015.

ARK — 12 May 2015

 

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My story The Child-Stealers has gone live on Amazon, so readers can now purchase it in ebook form for Kindle for only $.99 US. The Child-Stealers is the novella-length first episode of a longer novel, The Cursed Ground, an historical-fiction story set in the ancient world.

Cover for The Child-Stealers, by A. Roy KingTo purchase the novel for your Kindle or Kindle reading app on your tablet or mobile phone, please head over to the book’s Amazon order page at:

http://www.amazon.com/Cursed-Ground-Child-Stealers-Edhai-ebook/dp/B00PXIKE4G

In about another week, I will be releasing The Child Stealers in other formats (such as EPUB and PDF) through the Smashwords site.

The Child-Stealers has already garnered some great reviews from early readers. Here are a few excerpts:

“Give yourself enough time to read it in one sitting — as a novella, it’s do-able, and once you start it, you won’t want to put it down. And by the time you’re finished, you’ll have some questions you’ll want King to answer in book two.” — Stephen B. White

“[W]e get to the first key moment of crisis and its aftermath before we can catch our breath. A mark of a good page turner…. Will I read the remaining sections of the book as King publishes them? You bet, because he has me truly wanting to know what has become of characters I came to care for.” — Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr.

“Overall a better than average effort from a new author …, who is writing to entertain you with a thoughtful, interesting story, not to listen to himself describing scenery or yammer on about the ideal societies. I’d buy the next installment after reading this one. A worthwhile read for the price.” — David Sims

My long game here is to produce a series of historical novels based on Biblical settings, but with the focus on storytelling rather than religious themes. This A. Roy King blog serves as a way to connect with readers and to share some of the research and thinking that goes into the writing. I also publish an email newsletter, “News and Updates From A. Roy King.” The newsletter is the best way to keep informed of new episodes of The Cursed Ground as they are released. I also use it to let readers know about new articles I’ve written and news about historical and archaeological discoveries that relate to the ancient times I’m writing about. To sign up for the newsletter, please follow this link to the subscription form:

http://eepurl.com/2U3Uf

ARK — 20 January 2015

 

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One of the tasks of a fiction writer is to decide what to name his or her characters. I’ve had to think carefully about how to handle that in the Edhai historical-fiction series I’m working on.

The series begins in the time before the Biblical Deluge and thus in a period when all the world spoke a single language. In more recent times — meaning the past few thousand years — people have been shorter-lived, so languages have been more apt to change. But in the pre-flood period, people lived much longer — Adam for 930 years, Seth for 912 years, Enosh for 905 years, and so on (see Gen 5:3-11). Given such longer lifetimes and the overlap among generations, I surmise that there would have been more stability in language. It would have changed less.

Even after the Flood, humans lived for a relatively long period of time, Noah living to 950 years and his son Shem to 600 years (see Gen 9:29 and 11:10, 11). This would likely also contribute to linguistic stability until the confusion of human languages at Babel sometime between 2269 and 2030 BCE during the lifetime of Peleg (Gen 10:25, 11:1-9).

What I’m getting at here is that for the first couple of thousand years of human existence all humans would likely have spoken the same language — Hebrew or something like it — and might never even have conceived of the idea of a foreign tongue. This would affect all names of humans and places, which would have been based on words and their meanings, rather than just on family traditions or the sound of the name — ‘my grandfather’s name was Robert, let’s name the baby after him’ or ‘I like the way “Chelsea” sounds.’

Tetragrammaton

The Tetragrammaton as it appears on a church window in Decorah, Iowa. via Wikimedia.

So in The Cursed Ground, the initial novel in the series, I’m choosing names with real English meanings. For example, the two main characters are named Boon and Temper. The story doesn’t deal much with historical characters like Noah and Lamech, but even when they are mentioned, I try to employ English equivalents, such as Soothe and Plainspeaker.

This is an interesting problem, but not as easily solved as you might think. Not all English words really sound that great if you try to use them as proper names — calling someone “Smart” or “Friendly” or “Robust” just doesn’t have quite the right ring to it.

What to call the true God presented an especial challenge when I was trying to decide how the characters would refer to him in the story. Ancient people who knew the name of God would have pronounced it in their own language, using something like “Yehewah” or “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” But in the story, I wanted to have the characters speaking of God with consciousness of the meaning of his name.

The name JHVH or YHWH (a.k.a., the Tetragrammaton) in Hebrew expresses the causative form and imperfect state of the verb ha-wah’, or “become.” The divine name, then, basically means “He Causes to Become,” in that Jehovah causes himself to become whatever he wishes in order to fulfill his purposes. Thus I decided that in The Cursed Ground and in the sequels to follow, the characters who know this God would refer to him as “He Who Causes to Become,” or, more often “the Becomer.”

Anyhow, I thought I would share my thought process leading to the way names are devised in the Edhai series, in case this might be of interest to readers.

ARK — 22 October 2014

 

 

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SnowflakeOn his Advanced Fiction Writing web site, physicist and fiction author Randy Ingermanson offers an exciting method for developing a novel, called the ‘Snowflake Method,’ which he describes in detail on his page, “How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method.”

Since encountering the Snowflake Method, I’ve been using it on my current fiction project, and I find that it’s interesting and fun and is helping me to focus in on the story in a marvelous way. It has already helped me to identify some fundamental issues with the structure of the story and should help me to avoid a whole lot of re-writing later on.

In a way, the Snowflake Method reminds me of the concept of idea mapping, or Mind Mapping, in that it is radial in concept rather than linear. Ingermanson has you start small and unfold each little element of the novel simultaneously, in kind of a fractal pattern. He uses a snowflake as a metaphor, because the story starts as a simple set of points, each of which is expanded into its own set of points, each of which is in turn expanded into its own set of points, until eventually the first draft “crystallizes.”

Each step in the process is hard work, but at the same time no step is hard to understand — Ingermanson basically has you walk through a set of processes, almost like the exercises you might find in a Writer’s Digest manual on novel-writing or a university fiction-writing course — only you’re actually working on a real novel, instead of just an academic exercise.

The basic steps are:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of the novel.
  2. Expand that summary into a paragraph.
  3. Write a one-sentence summary of each character’s storyline, then each character’s motivation and other key elements of that character’s role in the story.
  4. Expand each character summary into one paragraph.
  5. Expand the summary of the novel into a full page.
  6. Expand each character summary into a full page.
  7. SnowflakeExpand the one-page summary of the novel into four pages. As you do these various expansions, you are taking single sentences and expanding them to paragraphs at each step.
  8. Take each character description and expand it into a full character chart. At each step, Ingermanson encourages you to go back and revise the previous steps, as you learn new things about your story and its characters.
  9. Take the four-page synopsis and develop a list or spreadsheet of each scene you will need for the story, perhaps 100 scenes.
  10. The next step, which Ingermanson describes as optional, is to create a multi-paragraph summary of each scene — thereby building a narrative description of the whole story.
  11. Start writing the first draft of the novel, working out the “small-scale logic problems” as you go along.
  12. As you go along, continue to go back and fix problems with the earlier design documents.

I can see that this method saves a tremendous amount of work and useless material that will inevitably result from seat-of-the-pants writing.

ARK — 11 Sept. 2010

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