Monthly Archives: December 2015

Welcome…Dan Stride!

Hi to the Inspired Quill readership!

My name is Daniel Stride, and I’m the newest member of this little publishing family (newest and probably most distant – as a New Zealander, I’m literally on the other side of the world). Literature in general, and speculative fiction in particular, has always been an interest of mine – my favourite authors include J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, Clark Ashton Smith, and Stephen Donaldson – so I am both honoured and excited that Inspired Quill has decided to take me up on my first novel, Wise Phuul, which I had been working on since 2007.

In the mundane world, I am in the process of getting admitted to the bar (before you ask, that’s bar in the legal sense, not the alcohol sense), which may or may not explain the reflexive deference to precedent among the inhabitants of the novel. Or at least partly explain it – the Viiminian Empire is inherently an odd place, what with the entire socio-economic-political structure being built around the art (or science) of Necromancy.

Falling (broadly) within the steampunk-flavoured section of the fantasy genre, Wise Phuul started with a premise, namely a world where raising the dead is a universal ability – and I then ran with that premise, in the tradition of science-fiction. What I aimed for was an exploration of both the society itself and the character of its inhabitants. My protagonist, a lowly librarian named Teltö Phuul, regards the undead as no more unusual a sight than a bicycle (I imagine he’d probably be downright confused by Game of Thrones). But, don’t worry, he well and truly gets taken out of his comfort zone; the book is about his literal and metaphorical journey, and Teltö on the last page is a very different creature from Teltö on the first page.

I think some of my other interests worm their way into the story too. One of my hobbies is medieval re-enactment – I am a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. More specifically, I’m interested in Old Norse poetic forms, so while the setting of Wise Phuul is emphatically not medieval (I may be a Tolkien nut, but faux medieval Europe has been done to death in the genre), you see at least one example of skaldic verse, in English. I’m also a bit of a Finnophile, which manifests itself in some of the naming conventions. Kuolla is the Finnish verb ‘to die’, and one of its forms is kuoli, so calling the capital of a Necromantic Empire Kuolinako seemed appropriate.

I hadn’t previously read an Inspired Quill book – I pretty sure there aren’t any currently stocked in the Dunedin Public Library – but having done a bit of background research, and possessing a functioning social conscience, I am very enthusiastic about being part of a social enterprise. In the cut-throat world of publishing, I think it is genuinely awesome that a firm is dedicated to giving back to the wider community.

Roll on 2016!

Plot Vs Character

 “Which is more important, plot or character?”

It’s an odd thing to ask, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But which should be the focus of a compelling story? Does a complex plot negate the need to concentrate on character? Do intense characters provide enough motivation to complete a book regardless of meandering plot threads?

It’s not a binary answer.

At Inspired Quill, the focus is on character-driven stories. Personalities drive plot events via their decisions, actions and individual motivations. It makes for more natural path transitions, especially in fantasy quests or dramas; whether or not the characters are going to take a certain direction, or succeed, becomes part of the thrill of following their path. It’s not only about what happens next, it becomes just as intriguing to wonder how they’re going to deal with whatever situations arise.

Shoehorning Scenarios.

If you focus ostensibly on the plot, (that is, the events that you want to occur instead of how they come about or are resolved), you run the risk of creating bland characters, or having them make arbitrary decisions that don’t fit their demeanour simply to reach a specific conclusion. A common mistake in plot-driven stories is to have characters come to conclusions or uncover knowledge that they may not realistically have access to, or make unnaturally lucky guesses that move them forward. Story should always feel like the character (or narrator) is the driving force, but not to the point where they become omniscient themselves.

On the right path…I think.

Having said that, plot lines become more important where specific events do have to occur. Stories set in historically-accurate timelines have to adhere to specific dates, for example. But even then, the character is the one we’re following. If all you’re writing is plot, you’re essentially writing a biography, or a textbook. The difference in tone between a plot-led story and a character-driven one is like comparing a Bond movie to Game of Thrones. Bond is running an investigation and his journey is led by going from place to place as he discovers each piece of the puzzle, whereas Game of Thrones is run by the motivations and actions of the characters. Bond doesn’t choose his path, he follows it. Any person in game of Thrones can completely change the direction of the story.

To conclude:

Characterisation sparks our attention, makes a story feel alive. You can describe a brilliantly-intricate murder mystery, but the most important element is the motive of the killer, and that will reflect in the actions taken by the character whodunnit.

Characters should make a plot exciting to follow, but a plot won’t make characters interesting by itself.