Saturday, 28 January 2017

Different Viewpoints

There is never just one point of view. Every story has as many viewpoints as there are people involved. Of course, a simple side character (an NPC in RPG lingo) can’t tell the whole story, but that is not the point. You can tell the same story from different points of view and you will tell different stories.

I’ve chosen Sherlock Holmes as an example here, because there are a lot of modern authors using the characters and the world.
There are stories which are told by Sherlock himself - several stories Doyle wrote about adventures happening after Holmes’ retirement are told from Holmes’ perspective, because Watson isn’t around. There are stories which are told by Mrs. Hudson. There are stories which are told by Sherlock Holmes’ wife (Laurie R. King has written a whole series about that). There are also stories focusing on the Napoleon of Crime. Michael Kurland has written several novels in which Professor Moriarty is the protagonist - an anti-hero much more than a hero, of course. A short story published in ‘Victorian Villainy’ explains the one-sided vendetta between Holmes and Moriarty.
One of the most interesting books centring around Moriarty, however, is “The Hound of the D’Urbervilles” by Kim Newman. Not only do the stories told in it skirt stories written by Doyle himself, the first story, “A Volume in Vermillion” sets up “A Study in Scarlet,” the first Sherlock Holmes novel, for example. Newman gives a voice not to Moriarty directly, but to his second in command, Colonel Moran. Sebastian Moran is less ‘smitten’ with his boss than Watson is with Holmes. He recognizes Moriarty for what he is: dangerous, deadly, and utterly without morals. Neither of them is hero material and Moran makes no excuses for it. Moran’s prose is rougher than Watson’s (and he’s basically obsessed with women and sex), but it’s fitting for the stories he tells. My personal favourites are “The Red Planet League” (which tells a story of Moriarty taking personal revenge on his ‘true’ nemesis - which isn’t Sherlock Holmes), “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions” (which features a lot of penny dreadful characters and trinkets), and “The Greek Invertebrate” (which gives a glimpse into Moriarty’s family by introducing his two brothers, both also named ‘James’). Sherlock Holmes features in the last story, but he’s only referred to as ‘the thin man of Baker Street’ (to tell him apart from Mycroft, ‘the fat man of Whitehall’). Moriarty hardly takes him seriously, he is after different prey when travelling to the continent.
The stories are full of action (after all, fights and assassinations are Moran’s job in the Firm) and usually also amusing to read. Moran’s voice might be less polished and sometimes plain outrageous for the time (like when he muses about his sexual adventures), but it’s an honest voice nevertheless. It’s a fitting voice for a man who spent 20 years as a soldier and is a little rough around the edges in all ways. Moran’s descriptions of Moriarty aren’t all that positive, but they feel honest. They are sharing rooms, so Moran has quite a bit of insight, but at the same time admits that he barely understands what goes on in Moriarty’s brain. That’s not his provenance, after all.

So, to go back to the topic of writing a story from another perspective, what can we learn from the many stories about Sherlock Holmes and his world not told by the ‘regular’ voice of Watson?
First of all, chose a suitable character, one who can tell a lot about the story. Holmes himself knows what is happening, of course. More often than not, he knows more than Watson, but that can also take the thrill out of the story. Mrs. Hudson should have a good idea about what happens under her roof, too. Holmes’ wife isn’t your traditional late-Victorian woman who doesn’t even pretend to be interested in her husband’s work, either. She works side by side with him and thus has a very good idea of what’s happening, too. The same is true for telling stories from the other side of the law. Whether Moriarty is an anti-hero like in Kurland’s stories or an outright villain like in Newman’s, it is interesting to see what he does, too. Someone in his vicinity, like Moran, can thus tell an interesting story as well.
The second thing is that every person has their own voice. Holmes tells a story differently from Watson. Moran has a different voice, too, as has Mrs. Hudson, as has Mrs. Holmes. The voice has to fit with the personality of the person whose viewpoint you are using. Mrs. Holmes is much younger than her husband, essentially a person from another era. She sees and understands things differently not only than Holmes, but also than Watson did. Moran is a former soldier and big game hunter. He sees things differently than Watson, even though they both share the military background. Moran also is unashamedly a bad person. He enjoys killing, stealing, and cheating at cards and he is not ashamed to admit that. He likes to brag about the women he slept with or the people or animals he killed (to him, prey is prey, not matter what it is).
As a third thing, you also need to keep in mind what a viewpoint character can see and know. It’s not a coincidence Watson and Holmes share rooms (and in Newman’s book, so do Moran and Moriarty). Watson’s narrative usually seems a little less informed once he has moved out of Baker Street again after marriage. The more time the viewpoint character spends with the main character (if both are not identical), the more they usually know. They are more likely to be there when things happen that way, too.

What use can it be, though, to try and tell a story from a different perspective? You will get a different story out of it every time. Try to tell the same story from the perspective of both the protagonist and the antagonist and you will be looking at two different stories, at different things happening, at different outcomes. Especially if it feels like your story is going nowhere, try to tell it from a different perspective and see if it works better that way.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Another look at the Knight Agency

In August, I did the last update for my writing here in this blog. I have posted a few things on Facebook, but mostly I just wrote and worked. Therefore, here is an update.

First of all, I broke my promise of four novels a year, for personal reasons. I was otherwise occupied during November and December and thus couldn’t manage to edit and proofread “A Plague of Rogues.” The novel will either be out in January or in February. Given I haven’t sold that many novels so far, I’m sure nobody will mind it too much.

“From Past to Future” followed as novel number five and with “Death Dealer,” a sixth novel has been finished on Christmas eve.
I already mentioned that “From Past to Future” deals with some happenings during Steven’s and Frederic’s active time and will change things for the female agents (minus Jane who already was doing more than just one kind of job).
The Syndicate is also present in “Death Dealer.” In this one, I have expanded Jane’s second skill set. Instead of adding heists for her, I gave her a lot of people to kill professionally. I had her do that once before in “From Past to Future” already, but I really focused on it in the sixth novel. “Death Dealer” has Jane develop another persona, after Jane Doe and the niece. Alex Stone comes to life as a male hitman at the beginning of his career, in order to get closer to some representatives of the Syndicate. There’s quite a body count in this story (which brings Jane a tad closer to Steven’s thousand enemies) and I had to figure out different things this time. I also bring in an agent from the US office (mentioned in “From Past to Future”) and give William, who also was introduced in the fifth novel, a bit more to do. You don’t live back to back with Steven and just enjoy your early retirement… “Death Dealer” also is the first novel in which I (closely) topped 100,000 words. I wrote thirty-five chapters for this one and it was exhausting in parts.

I’m currently at the beginning of the second Black Knight Agency novel and contemplating a way to get a few more pieces for my “Dirty Thirty” done. I also plan to publish “Damsel in no Distress” (my only finished erotica) soon, perhaps this month or next.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Action and Reaction

No matter what kind of story you write, there will always be some kind of action. And any kind of action sequence in which something happens is made up of actions and reactions, no matter whether it’s a dialogue, a fight, a heist, or a love scene. If you understand how that sequence of actions and reactions works, you can basically write everything, from a car chase to a steamy bed scene.

Let’s start off with two examples.

First, a dialogue:
A: Don’t always try to take control of everything.
B: Someone has to, so if you can’t, I have to.
C: A absolutely can take control of a situation.
B: This is none of your business, so shut up.
A: That is exactly what I mean. C is not under your authority, so don’t try to order him around.
C: Yes, you have no right to order me around.
D: And you have no reason to chime in. Just keep out of it.
A (to D): None of your business, just keep silent.
B: Now you’re doing the same. D is not under your authority.
This dialogue could be spoken in any number of ways, depending on the characteristics of A, B, C, and D. As you can see, the words spoken by A set the whole thing in motion. B answers, C chimes in, assisting A, later on D come in, too, helping B. Dialogue is often used to bring in information which can’t be brought in well through other means. This dialogue is, of course, not a real scene. In a real scene, there would be more than just what is spoken, especially as there are several people speaking at the same time, not just two. But the dialogue itself is a sequence of actions and reactions, with the latter becoming actions which warrant reactions as well.

Second, a sword fight.
A draws his sword and slashes at B.
B staggers back and draws his sword, too.
B attacks A, but A counters the attack and manages to land a hit.
B takes a step back and takes up a defensive stance.
A attacks, B counters, but A breaks the counter and disarms B.
A lifts his sword for a last attack when B’s friends turn up and A has to retreat.
This is a very basic sword fight. Usually, you would have some dialogue at the beginning to set the fight up and a few words at the end, as A retreats. The fight also would be longer and the sword luck might shift several times between the enemies. Depending on how you bring both into the fight, either of them could be protagonist and antagonist. A could be a hot-headed hero who is goaded into the fight by cold-blooded villain B and has to beat a hasty retreat as B’s minions arrive to capture A. A could also be an arrogant villain who wants to make use of B’s missing experience as a fighter to kill him and is driven off by B’s friends who have come to protect their friend. During a written fight scene, you will also have instinctive reactions and thoughts going through the opponents’ heads. You will have other things happening in addition to the mere fight.

If you compare the first and the second example, you will see that they are rather similar. Usually, the people involved in the action take turns. What one person does or says has a direct influence on what the other person does next (of course it does, it’s a reaction, after all). This basic principle is behind all action scenes, because it’s the way action works. Every action creates a reaction. A reaction is an action of its own and does, therefore, create the next reaction. Like this, you have a string of actions you just need to work your way along. It’s always the same. In a fight, the string contains the moves the fighters make. In a dialogue, the string is made up of what the characters say. In a sex scene, the string contains the sexual actions from kissing and groping over several different positions to the climax. In a heist scene, the string of actions starts with the character sneaking into the place where the object they desire is being kept, continues with locating the object and stealing it (or failing spectacularly), and ends with escaping from the scene of the crime.
Your job as the writer is to create that string, to put all the actions and reactions together and create a sequence which is believable, interesting, and successful. If you’re not sure what kind of pieces a string should contain, then you should watch or read similar action sequences, pull them apart, and analyze them to find out how they work. Then create your own string, adding the actions and reactions you need and want in that scene.

When it comes to the side effects of action and reaction, keep the following in mind: the first thing is instinctive reaction, because instincts work without thinking. Then comes any kind of physical reaction. Finally, there is everything which is connected to thoughts. A trained fighter will not really think about the movements. He or she will counter instinctively, move out of the way, make an attack, block or parry. Once you are trained in something, it becomes automatic and your subconscious will handle it.

Add unexpected things to your string of actions. In our example above, B might have drawn a main gauche after being disarmed and might have used the close proximity to stab A in the arm, rendering him unable to fight. That would have changed the fight and, if the main gauche had not played a large role before, been unexpected not only for A, but also for the audience. Or you might have handled one fight like above and then have them clash again, only to bring in aforementioned main gauche when the outcome seems clear. (For those of you not familiar with that weapon, a main gauche is a dagger wielded by a swordsman with their left hand in a fight. The name comes from French, where ‘main gauche’ means ‘left hand.’)

Research the character’s actions. If you’re not familiar with gun, with fencing, with chemistry, with something else, go online, read books, talk to specialists. The actions will only work out, if they’re realistic. Learn to see them, if you can. Learn to play out a scene in your head. Then you will know whether or not it ‘feels right’ the way you’ve described it, the way it’s written.

Action and reaction are a basic tool for every writer. Once you’ve mastered it, there are no limits to what you can do with it.