This Book Ain’t No Sandwich! (On the Subject of Filler)

This blog post is coming off a comment a friend made to me at a book signing, Specifically that second book in this particular series was a bit of ‘filler’ and it really picked up again in the third and latest book.

And that got me thinking.

I’ve heard tell of people having that opinion of Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, and I’m warning you now, that this isn’t  really spoiler-y but if you want absolutely everything in that book to be a surprise then look away now….

Okay you were warned!

Well my friend said that by the end of the book Kvothe ‘is still at the University’. Now, he said this to me when I was just getting into the book (damnable actual work getting in the way!) so I was surprised by this, especially as I regarded the weight of the volume. But, I trust Patrick Rothfuss, not only does his writing excel but he’s a very funny man and does a tremendous amount for charity. And I’ve often thought that the Kingkiller trilogy won’t necessarily wrap up Kvothe’s entire storyline but will rather wrap up the story he’s telling the Chronicler and possibly end with him running off to do more adventuring and truly becoming Kvothe the Bloodless once more rather than Kote the Innkeeper. But that’s my opinion.

Anyway! What surprised me once I’d finished the tome (that seems appropriate for the gargantuan hardback) and checked back with my friend is just the sheer amount of stuff that he seemed to gloss over in his statement that he’s ‘still at the University’. Kvothe effectively goes on a gap year across the Four Corners! I won’t say any more than that but still. I thought he was doing a great injustice only thinking about the start and end position of the protagonist. He was missing out all of the character development, all that he’d done! Argh (I thought, vehemently, at the time)!

But it’s not for me to judge (aloud) how people interpret and enjoy books, their experiences will be very different from mine and it’s all the more personal and unique for that. So fair enough.

And I was reminded of my friend’s comment at the book signing last week. Commenting that Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch and the second book in the Gentleman Bastard sequence felt a bit like filler for him.

I have to say here that what filler is can differ for different people but it seems to me that the stories that focus on character development rather than plot development will get hoisted and people will call them out for being ‘filler’ and not really moving forward.

That’s just not true though. If at the end of the story your characters are better off, and they’ve learned something (even if they haven’t defeated the bad guy!) and aren’t exactly where they started then the story has moved forward.

It can be difficult to try and introduce new elements without halting the story for a time, especially in fantasy as you need to give the audience time to adjust and get used to your world. And I think that this is in a way what’s happened with both of those books. The readers become disparaged when you can clearly see the obstacle and it hasn’t been overcome, they’re almost spoiled by episodic programmes and works and so expect it all to be wrapped up in a neat little bow.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want all my stories to never end, and I think that it also reflects as bad storytelling if you have a book and absolutely nothing gets resolved at the end. You need to have resolution at the end of your book, it doesn’t have to be the be all and end all resolution but there has to be something the audience can hold on to.

So what am I getting at? A good question.

That you need to be careful when accusing/using writing that might be filler. Before you consider how much the plot has progressed take a look at the characters, there might be a huge emotional pitfall that they’ve overcome. If the setting is still the same as it was on page one, what have they done since then? Have their efforts moved them towards the ultimate goal, no matter how small? And if they were small steps have the characters developed? Keep all those things in mind before you start talking about filler. It can be harder to identify if the series doesn’t have a clear indication of where it’s going and the books could be largely stand-alone (Yes I’m looking at you Gentleman Bastards), but do keep it in mind.

That’s my thoughts on the matter anyway. I know that turned out into a bit of a rant so thank you for sticking around!

I’ll be back soon with something less rambley. Until then, be well, be kind and have fun!

Where to Begin!? A Quick Starters Guide to Fantasy

Last blog post I talked about planning your novel and a couple of methods that should make your planning more effective. So this time after we’ve done some planning we’re going to do some research (kind of).

This post is all about a beginner’s guide to fantasy. Maybe you’ve started watching Game of Thrones and want to read some similar works, or maybe the fantasy genre is something that you’ve always wanted to get into but just didn’t know where to start. Whatever the reason this post should help you decide where to begin!

So in no particular order, let’s dive into it!

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series

I don’t think an entry talking about getting into fantasy should miss out this absolute gem of a series. Written by a genuine Knight of the Realm and Officer of the British Empire, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series spans (currently) almost 40 novels as well as short stories, maps and books on the science of Discworld.

In short, Discworld is a number of stories where the earth is a flat disc balanced on the back of four elephants who are standing on the back a turtle flying through space. And in a way that pretty much sums it all up. Pratchett’s writing is as wonderful as it is amusing, scattered with witticisms and puns as much as a dragon’s horde is scattered with gemstones.

The Discworld series spans across many different characters across the whole Discworld, from a cowardly wizard, the leader of the City Watch and even to Death himself. So there’s something for everyone, and each of the books is easily understood if you don’t have any other experience with the series. I would recommend starting with the first book The Colour of Magic and working your way out from there, but here’s a helpful infographic to help you find which books have which characters in them.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld provides an excellent entryway into the fantasy genre as well as a most pleasant and entertaining read for veteran.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

This series is the perfect opportunity to acquaint yourself with contemporary fantasy. The series follows the character Harry Dresden, a private detective in modern day Chicago and he just happens to also be a wizard. Harry’s character is vibrant and funny and each story, whilst contributing to an overarching storyline, wraps itself up nicely if you want to just pick one up every now and again.

The stories are full of suspense, mystery and excitement (what else would you expect from a wizard P.I.?) and in every story you feel like Harry is being pushed to his limits. It’s a great series with warm characters and an excellent magic system, the story works its way up from Harry solving supernatural crimes in Chicago to fighting powerful magical beings AND solving crimes in Chicago.

A very fun series that’s easy to get into and easy to get hooked on, an excellent first adventure for those looking for contemporary fantasy.

The Mistborn Trilogy (ish) by Brandon Sanderson

You may have heard of the author Brandon Sanderson who does everything he can to disprove rumours that he is an automaton programmed to write excellent fantasy, and Mistborn does nothing to dispel that rumour.

The tagline for the first book in the series is ‘What if the Dark Lord won?’ and that’s exactly where you are at the start of the series. The evil overlord has reigned supreme for one thousand years and the world is covered in the ash from constantly erupting volcanoes. There is magic in the world in the form of Allomancy; the magic of metals. Certain people can ingest and ‘burn’ metals to release the magical energy within them, and different metals have different properties. The story opens onto Vin, a young girl who must master her Allmonatic powers and gets dragged into the plot for revolution.

The Mistborn is currently a trilogy that follows Vin, and then another book The Alloy of Law set about 300 years after the events of the original trilogy. Sanderson’s writing is thoroughly enjoyable and his ability to weave a story full of suspense, excitement and plot twists is second to none. Sanderson’s worlds are extremely well crafted and his stories work hard and fast to do them justice, and they succeed. I highly recommend this series; once you’ve dipped your toe in the proverbial waters of the Mistborn you’ll find it hard to put the book down. Definitely a must read for new and experienced readers alike.

Conan the Barbarian by Robert E Howard

The classic barbarian, Conan is thick sinewy muscle, moving with leonine grace as he dashes from adventure to adventure. Conan first appeared in 1932 and has been at the forefront of fantasy ever since, appearing in countless adventures ranging across the written word to film and games.

Given the nature of the Conan stories a lot of them are relatively short so it’s nice and easy to dip in and out of. Although the chronology might jump around a bit, but it’s probably just a good idea to go along with it and think “Oh it’s just Conan on another one of his crazy adventures!” and apart from that there’s nothing to stop you picking a story at random and thoroughly enjoying the read through.

The prose that Robert E Howard uses in his stories is vibrant and elegant, his language easily conveys the lithe power and grace of Conan and the world springs to life from the page. It’s good old fashioned sword and sorcery adventure with something for everyone, if you don’t want to see Conan on one adventure there’s sure to be another adventure to your tastes! An excellent window into classic fantasy and a good refresher for anyone who wants a bit of a change from dark, gritty fantasy.

Magician By Raymond E Feist

The first book in the Riftwar Saga and the Riftwar Cycle, an epic story spanning across worlds, planets and time. Initially part of the Riftwar Saga trilogy, Raymond E Feist has recently finished the final book in the epic Riftwar Cycle, spanning 29 novels and more.

The orphan boy Pug is apprenticed to a master magician and as the kingdom is suddenly attacked by alien invaders, Pug and his friend Tomas are swept into the conflict and Pug’s destiny leads him through a rift to a new world.

I still remember my first reading of Magician and I remember pausing in my reading to think how wonderfully written it was and how much great fun it was to read. The writing is easy to get to grips with and the characters are vibrant and the world just as colourful, with magical races and creatures to keep you entertained. The story has some interesting twists and turns and the characters rise to their challenges but not without being tested both emotionally and physically.

A thoroughly enjoyable read and one that is sure to enthrall you from cover to cover, an excellent window into an epic cycle but is also neatly wrapped up in an initial trilogy should you wish to leave it at that.

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

I would not be able to permit myself to talk good fantasy books if I did not mention The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. The novels follow a young man named Kvothe, a mysterious individual running a tavern in an out of the way village when he is happened upon by a man looking for him to tell his story, after some convincing he does just that. And so each book is a day of Kvothe telling his tale, with breaks in the first person narrative as Kvothe rests from his storytelling.

The first book is The Name of the Wind, the second is The Wise Man’s Fear and Patrick Rothfuss is currently working on the final instalment. Rothfuss’ elegant and elaborate prose will draw you into this book and the compelling story of Kvothe will keep you there. The magic within Rothfuss’ world is based on energy manipulation rather than outright magery, called ‘Sympathy’ it connects objects together and then uses energy manipulation to effect changes on the object.

The Name of the Wind is most certainly my favourite book of all time, the prose are phenomenal and you know that every word in the book has been placed there with extreme forethought and expert precision by Rothfuss.

So there you have it! My few suggestions for anyone wanting to begin reading in the fantastical world of fantasy if they’re not sure where to start! Most of these choices give you the option to read as little or as much as you like, in particular The Dresden Files and the Discworld series is perfect for jumping in and out of as you like.

If you have any other suggestions please let me know! 

Until next time, be well, be kind, and have fun!