Archive | June 2012

Drasmyr Promotion: Free Novel

The dark fantasy novel, “Drasmyr” is now available for free at Smashwords until Friday, June 22nd with the coupon code: DR66V.

The Defining Characteristic of Fantasy Literature

When you are discussing literature, what do you think of when you hear the word “fantasy”? One of the first things that pops into my mind is magic. Indeed, for me, magic is almost an essential element of a fantasy novel. But upon reflection, I find reason to question that first impulse. Years ago, I read the novel “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. It is generally considered a fantasy novel. It doesn’t really have magic, but it does have talking (to each other) rabbits. One of the rabbits, though, is kind of psychic, so perhaps that could be classified as magic, but that would be a stretch, I think. And regardless, the real reason “Watership Down” is classified as fantasy is not Fiver’s sixth sense; it is the anthropomorphic treatment of the rabbits and their society. Rabbits are elevated to a human level of consciousness with complex relationships and intricate interactions. There is a “bad guy” rabbit in the name of General Woundwart (if I recall correctly) and a number of heroic protagonists: Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver to name a few. When I was a kid, my favorite was Fiver.

Anyway, my point is that magic alone does not have a wide enough scope to be considered the crucial element in a piece of fantasy literature. There are plenty of fantasy novels that do not rely on magic, and are still considered fantasy. What, then, is the defining characteristic? Is it the classic pairing of the “good guy” versus the “bad guy,” or in literary terms, the protagonist and the antagonist? Unfortunately, that has too grand a scope of application. Where the net cast by the term “magic” permits too many books to escape, the net cast by the simple existence of antagonists and protagonists is far too inclusive. Most literature would be included by such a definition.

Looking on Wikepedia we get the following definition of fantasy: “Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting.” That seems like a reasonable definition, but is it complete? I’m not sure the previously mentioned “Watership Down” passes the test. Would you classify talking rabbits as “supernatural.” I guess, in a sort of technical way it is, but I tend to think of supernatural as something grander: ghosts, spectres, or the actions of deities. Making rabbits talk seems somehow less “above and beyond nature” and more of a variant on the way nature is. And besides, do we really know that rabbits don’t have some primitive language that allows them some minimal communication? It may be unlikely, but it is not impossible. Regardless, we still need a primary characteristic. The key is to focus on the two terms “magic” and “supernatural” in the above definition. They share the characteristic of generally being considered impossible (at least as far as current human science is concerned). From that, I would argue that the defining characteristic of fantasy is that it incorporates an element of the impossible, whatever that may be. In “Watership Down,” this is the ability of the rabbits to talk (yeah, I know I just said talking rabbits might be possible, but generally speaking most people would regard it as impossible) and have complex relationships. In other stories, it is the ability of humans to cast powerful spells. It will be interesting to see how this would change if science were to prove something like, say, the existence of ghosts or telepathy. The line between fantasy and normal literary fiction would be blurred to ever greater degrees.

Anyway, those are my somewhat disordered thoughts on the subject; care to share yours?

Drasmyr Promotion: Free Novel

The dark fantasy novel, “Drasmyr” is now available for free at Smashwords until Friday, June 22nd with the coupon code: DR66V.

How to Deal with Writer’s Block and Writer’s Burnout

I rarely get writer’s block. If I sit down to a computer to write, I usually am able to write something—it may be total gunk with shoddy dialogue and lame descriptions, but it’s something to begin working on. What happens more often to me is writer’s burnout, which is subtly different than writer’s block. In burnout, I can’t even sit down in front of the computer. The thought of sitting there and writing just fills me with revulsion. I have nothing left to give, and no thoughts to record. I have to do something else, no matter what it is, just something different.

 

Still, some of the techniques to deal with one are similar to the techniques to deal with the other. One effective approach is stream of consciousness writing. Basically, you sit down at your computer, open up a word processor and just start typing. Anything and everything that comes to mind goes to the computer. You might just start with garbage like “asd;faldkrj.” As long as your fingers keep moving, it doesn’t matter. Eventually you’ll start putting words together, then sentences, then before you know it, you’ll be typing something not unlike a diary entry, ranting at the universe and raving at God.

 

On the whole, the techniques of dealing with writer’s block involve putting something on the screen. Whether it makes sense or not, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t like typing gibberish, take a piece of dialogue from someone else’s novel, or a section of narrative, type it into your computer and start tinkering with it, seeing if you can improve it. Or find a book on writing and just pull out an exercise and do it. Before you know it, you’ll be back on track.

 

Burnout is a little tougher as it usually involves a psychological revulsion towards all things writing. Even the stream of consciousness technique may be insufficient. In such a case, the best technique, and one that I am very poor at executing, is: do something else. Spend an hour exercising. Get your mind off writing for a while. Exercise is particularly good for burnout. I know this, and yet I still rarely employ it. That’s because my burnout is usually concurrent with depression in which I don’t feel like doing anything, least of all exercising. Sometimes, you might be forced to take a whole day or two (in my case, with depression it sometimes involves a whole week) and do something else. In such instances, it helps to have a back-up hobby. For me I use puzzles and chess to break the monotany.

 

I hope that helps.

Experimental Promotion: Drasmyr Now Available for Free

The dark fantasy novel, “Drasmyr” is now available for free at Smashwords until Friday, June 22nd with the coupon code: DR66V.

 

When I first started my blog several months ago, I was dead set against giving my e-book away for free. It seemed so counterproductive. Indeed, I am still somewhat hesitant to do so; the book represents several years of labor on my part. I would prefer to earn some kind of financial reward for my book, but let’s face it: I have very little name recognition. Matthew D. Ryan… who’s that? Between twitter and my blog, I have about one hundred followers to date. Which is good—it’s certainly better than ten, or say, zero—but I have to grow a little faster. Sales are sluggish, partially because of the lame economy, I’m sure. Anyway, now that I’ve been at this a few months, I can more clearly see the “reward” inherent in giving the book away for free. Basically, it helps build name recognition, something a beginning writer desperately needs.

 

So, given that, I’m going to run a little experiment. For the next few days (until Friday, June 22nd), I’m going to give the book away for free at Smashwords. The coupon code is: DR66V.  I will see if the increased number of sales is significant enough to make this a more permanent retail price. If not, then I guess it’s back to the drawing board. But, well, we’ll see…

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