Welcome to Knight's Knoir

Francis Knight's author blog. Where I shall be talking about all sorts, but mostly writing, snark and fantasy

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Seven reasons why the SFX Weekender was All Kinds of Awesome.

So I just got back, and despite dire weather warnings, it was an easy few hundred miles from Wales to Sussex, from what may have been the most awesome weekend of my life. Why so awesome? I shall tell you.

1 - Brian Blessed. 'nuff said.

2 - I got goosed by a dalek and bear hugged by a wookie.

3 - Despite me not liking funk particularly, Craig Charles's set was su-bloody-perb.

4 - A member of my writers' group, Gaie Sebold did a signing of her new book (Babylon Steel which you should all buy, cos it's awesome, and Gaie is all kinds of wonderful) and it sold out.

5 - I met several people I've only met before online - Stacia Kane, and Overlord from Fantasy Faction, for starters. Really nice to put names to faces.

6 - Other Half got Dan Abnett's autograph, including a small note to our son, making us (very briefly) cool.

7 - And here is where the awesomeness really starts. We were invited to a party. We went, and a very nice party it was too. We played some pool and then, because we'd had no dinner, started to lurk in the kitchen where three men were supervising the production of pizza. I recognised one of the men - Adrian Tchaikovsky. Which was a bit of an 'oooh cool!' moment. But he's chatting with the other guys and being generally friendly and nice so I didn't feel too star-struck.

Until, during the course of the conversation I say to the other two gents, 'I don't think I caught your names'. To which the charming guy on the left says 'Well, I'm Joe Abercrombie', then points to the equally charming guy on the right 'And he's Peter Hamilton. Do you think the cheese is ready on the pizza?'




Just as well I wasn't holding my glass at that point. But it has to be said, it really topped off the level of awesome on the weekend. And possibly my life.

*I probably swore in my head slightly more than that.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Please Miss, can I say a naughty word?

*Note: this post will contain rude words.

It seems this question pops up on writing fora over and over and over....Can I swear in my books?

The short answer is yes, yes you fucking can.

The long answer is, well, it depends. You can, of course, but should you and when is it appropriate?

First of course you need to consider your audience. If you're writing an early reader picture book, rude words are probably not going to help your quest for publication. However, if you're an adult writing for adults then you can.

Is it usual/common in the genre you write in? Dark, gritty fantasy? Yup. High, Tolkienesque fantasy? Not as much, though it's still there. Cosy, Miss Marple type whodunnits, no, not really.

Do you need/want to? Well, not every book is going to need swears. Because personally I think it's all going to boil down to: Would this character swear in this situation? If you're writing a brutal battle scene with lots of roughty toughty soldiers, or a riot where firebombs are going off all over the place, then if someone gets their arm blown off, then writing 'Oh my golly gosh, that really hurt' as dialogue...well it's going to look fairly silly. Unless you've set them up to be the sort of character that never, ever, ever uses naughty words.

Because what swears someone uses (or chooses not to use) is a part of characterisation. Think about it - I bet not everyone you know swears (or doesn't) in quite the same way.

You'd be hard pushed to get more than a 'damn' out of my mother, mainly because she was taught as a kid that ladies don't swear.

I'd be very surprised if my local vicar used anything blasphemous (though non-religious words are, it seems, fair game for him. Mostly)

I know a chap who seemingly can't finish a sentence without at least one swear - it's a kind of punctuation.

I have a tendency to string lots of swears together, then end on one that always makes me laugh. Either that, or I make some up. I would not, however, dream of saying anything worse than 'damn' in front of my mother, or the vicar. Because I'm polite like that. And my Mum would give me a clip round the ear.

One of my characters never swears - he's too buttoned up to let go in such a way.

Another of my characters swears because it pisses off the people around him, and he likes doing that.

So, if it's reasonable in your genre/for the audience you're going for, and your character is the kind that might swear in this situation, then probably they should fucking well swear. Get inventive. How does your character react to swear-inducing situations? Or, indeed, when confronted with someone they won't swear in front of, or is somewhere where swearing is going to drop them in a world of shit? Do they use euphemisms? Do they clamp their mouth shut and let steam come out of their ears rather than offend? Or do they just swear anyway?

You may have to deal with those who say that swearing is a sign of a limited vocabulary or a poor education etc etc *yawn* To those people, I give you Stephen Fry on the joys of swearing.

Because if Stephen's got a limited vocabulary, I'm a fucking tosspot.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Making Time To Write

Very often, when people find out I write, the conversation goes along these lines.

'Oh, so you write? What sort of thing?'

'Fantasy, mostly.'

'Like Harry Potter?'

'Nooo, not quite....'

'I'd write a book, but I don't have the time.'

Which is just silly. I have the same amount of time as anyone else. 24 hours in the day. Two jobs. One Esteemed Other Half who likes to talk to me occasionally rather than be met with a grunted 'I'm writing!' Two kids who I like to spend time with, so they at least recognise me. Friends, other family, obligations. Yet I still write books.

If you want to write, you can (almost always)find the time.

So, how do you make time to write? If you really, really want to write, you MAKE time. I work weird shifts, so I have to work around that. When the kids were smaller, it was done after they went to bed. Now it's more when they're at school. I don't watch much telly any more. Don't miss it either! If there is something I really want to watch, I record it and watch it AFTER I've finished my words for the day. I've carved a bit of time here, a bit there, and it all adds up. I know writers who get up an hour early to get writing in before work, when it's quiet, who write on their daily commute, who hire babysitters for a long Saturday afternoon.

Writing doesn't have to take acres of time. Yes, when you start there'll be a steep learning curve, but if you can write 1000 words a day, you've got an average sized novel (well, the first draft at least) in 100 days. You don't have to write every day (on days I've worked a 13 hour shift, all that's going to come out is gibberish, so I take that day off!). You do, I think, have to write regularly. A bit at a time, and those bits really add up.

1000 words a day. Not much. Takes me about an hour. Maybe you can only squeeze in 500. You can find half an hour most days, can't you? If you want to write, you will.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Websites: getting going

These days, it seems you need a web presence for everything. Everything. But, what to do if, like me, you are a technoidiot?


I've been pretty lucky. I just happen to know this guy and when I needed my last website doing, he was just starting up in web design. We did a deal--He would do my site, I would pay him in occasional boozy lunches and letting him add the site to his portfolio. As he's progressed, each update of the site just looks better and better. Even if a lot of it was done while he was in tent in Germany. But, as today we've been (yes, at the pub) discussing my new Francis Knight website, I thought I might take a look at things to think about when setting up a website.

Firstly we talked about what sort of info etc will be on the site. I'll have my books etc on the front page. Vital--people need to see the books! And on the landing page is best. After all, if anyone looks me up, it's going to be about the books. Okay. Then we'll have this blog linked in on another page. An 'about me' (I hesitated on this, but people like to know about the authors they are reading so, it's in), a contact page, and maybe a page where I/you review books, or have some other content. In the interests of keeping a website near the top of Google etc, it appears that 'bounce rate' helps you climb. If, like me, you didn't know what bounce rate is, it's when people don't just look at the page they land on, they click through to other pages. So, have the books on the front page, but make sure that people will want to click through for other stuff. Way too technical for me, but there you are. If you really want to know all that stuff (and someone involved in your website should!) then look up SEO optimisation. I wish you luck, because that kind of things flies over my head faster than Superman.

Second to content is appearance. Website guy (Hi Pete!) had an image that he's put on the holding page while we build the site, but we were both 'Well it's got bits I like, but...meh'. It's fairly vital that the look of the page reflects the content of both your website AND your books. If your tagline (you have one, don't you? If not, you need one. A short sentence that gives a flavour of what people can expect from your books.) Anyway, if your tagline for instance reads 'Dark and nasty horror to make you pee your pants' then a fluffy pink and gold website with cute bunnies on it won't fit. People will be disappointed when they don't get what they expect, from your books or from the site. Given that I'm writing fantasy noir, and that my tagline is 'Dark, nuanced and complicated stories' well, my website needs to reflect both of those. So what we're hoping to get is something in black, grey and red - colours associated with the noir genre - and something dark and nuanced. Hopefully something stylish too, a la Sin City.

It's worth taking your time over this part. You want something that a) reflects you and your work b) ties the site together and c) isn't either too busy or too plain.

And that's it - for now anyway. It all got a bit technical after that....

So, sometime over the next few weeks, my website will go live - currently it has a little Morph in a builder's hat saying 'Under Construction' - and then you can tell me where I got it all wrong.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Obligatory How to Get Published post.

So this sort of post seems almost de rigeur for an author blog, but it's in self defence. After 'Where do you get your ideas?' (Usual answer: I find them down the back of the sofa with all the pens and change)is a variant of this:

I've written a book. I suppose I just send it off and they publish it, right?

Answer: It's a bit more complicated than that. Though it can happen, I'm sure. Probably not with a publishing company you actually want though.

So, you've written a book, and your Mum and all your friends say it's better than Hemmingway and Rowling and King all rolled together. Bestseller material. So what do you need to do?

Firstly, stop listening to your Mum. She loves you and so do your friends. You could write a shopping list, and they'd love that too.

Initial checklist:

Have you actually finished the book? Rowling and King could probably sell a fiction proposal from a couple of jottings on the back of a beer mat. You are not them, and you need to have finished your novel.

Having typed The End, have you let it sit for a while, and then have you edited it till your eyes bled?

Have you found some writing peers (NOT your Mum! Well, maybe if your Mum is an editor at Tor) and had them beta read it? Beta reading is where someone reads your work critically (and often you read theirs in return) and points out potential problems: Plot holes, inconsistencies, that your hero just sits there waiting for events to happen to him, the fact that you always misspell whether as weather....Different betas will pick up on different things. You don't have to follow all their advice. But it is worth considering, because no work is perfect.

Have you then polished that sucker till it can be seen from space?

Now you're perhaps ready to send it out. And no, sending it off with a letter saying 'Please publish my masterpiece and send cheque by return of post' is probably not going to work.

Now self-pubbing is taking off just lately but that's a post in itself, so we'll concentrate on subbing to agents and publishers. There are some big pubs that still take unagented, unsolicited material (slush) but not many, and they are so inundated with submissions it can take years to get a no. I am not kidding. Some smaller pubs will take a look without an agent and you might hear back the same year. An agent worth their salt will get your MS in front of people that you just plain can't.

Whichever route you decide to take, the most important thing you need to do, before you send anything out, anywhere, is RESEARCH. I will say it again, it's that important, RESEARCH.

And also remember the number one rule: Yog's Law. Money flows to the writer.

If you want that big book deal, what you need to research is agents. First, you need to find agents that represent your sort of book. It's no good sending your steamy and scorching exploration of the underground BDSM movement to an agent who only represents children's picture books. For starters, try Querytracker. It lists lots of agents (not all - it doesn't have mine for instance)with links to websites, submission guidelines etc etc, and you can filter by genre. Also check out Absolute Write's Bewares and Background checks forum which lists a huge number of agents and publishers, with information on how legit they are.

Because there are scammers out there (They charge a fee to read your book, charge you a fee to represent you...) A good agent takes a commission from the money he has already earned you.

So, you checked out Absolute Write's Bewares and Background Checks forum, Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware. If your book has strong similarities to something else out there, check about and see who repped that, or similar works.

So you've finished your MS, polished it so it gleams and have checked out all the legit people you're going to sub to. Do you know how to write a query? A synopsis? One that makes people want to read the book?

These two, query and synopsis, are for many people even harder than writing the book. There are lots of resources out there for synopsis and query letter writing (Try Queryshark, where an agent rips apart queries and shows why they do or don't work or Absolute Write's Query Letter Hell subforum. Mind the squirrels)

In brief:

A synopsis is a run down of the main plot points of the novel. You don't need to include sub plots, or necessary detail. You do have to show what happens in the book and why, try to get the feel of the story.

A query is, in essence this:

Dear Awesome Agent

I am subbing to you because you are awesome

This is why my book is awesome

This is why I am awesome



Only, you know, a bit more specific.

It's slightly different in the UK and the US (mainly because UK agents will often ask you to send a writing sample, so the query is less vital and more of a cover letter) but we'll concentrate on the US one, which is less a cover letter than an advert for how well you can write.

Part one: I am writing to this agent because: because they rep a book similar to yours, because they repped your all time favourite book, or you follow their blog. Insert something here that shows you have done your research and this isn't just a form letter.

Part two - this is the really hard bit. Summarise your novel in approx 200 words,and make it sound like something the agent has to read NOW! Remember an agent maybe reading dozens of these a day, so you need to show what is great about your book. Show (not tell remember) a particular person, what they want, what's stopping them get it, what they have to do to get it and what happens if they fail (the stakes. Oh and it helps to write it in the tone/voice of your book. Think like the back cover copy on a book, the bit that gets you wanting to read it. For me this is easily teh hardest bit about writing, and when you're sending to an agent that wants a query and only a query, it's pretty important to get it right.

The 'I am awesome' part isn't especially necessary. Put in any pro writing credits you have but if you haven't got any, don't worry. Some agents like a little 'This will appeal to readers of Book X and Y' so they have a clue what sort of market you're aiming for.

Once you've got a coherent, compelling query to go with your awesome MS, you're almost ready to go. You're going to send out your submission, but what you are going to do first is this : read each agent's submission guidelines and the follow them. Yes, they apply to you too.

Then send her off and wish her luck!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

How do you take your heroes? Rare or well done?

By which I mean, how dark do you like them? Or do you prefer a noble knight in shining armour?

I have to say I love the two extremes, both the dark and twisted Bad Boy with a heart of gold. Or no heart perhaps. And the Noble Warrior can be good to read, to remind you that actually humans can be quite nice sometimes.

For me it all comes down to sympathy. A bad guy can become sympathetic if handled correctly (see my Magneto Effect post) and a good guy can seem like an insufferable prig if handled badly.

The trend just lately seems to be for darker, more twisted and flawed heroes.But just where is the line between 'flawed but sympathetic' and 'readers hope he dies by the end of the book'. Or for your Goody Two Shoes, at what point does the reader stop rooting for him and start wanting to strangle him?

When he's no longer sympathetic, and when he's no longer struggling. In these two scenarios, that point may be something very different - when the bad boy does something reprehensible, if you've set it up right, it can still be sympathetic (there may be limits in this. Only a genius can get away with making an unrepentant - or even repentant - rapist that still keeps reader sympathy). What is setting it up right? Well, that depends. It could be that what he does is the lesser of two evils. That he struggles to do the right thing and fails. Or maybe there just is no other sane choice. I think that sympathy is lost when a character chooses to do his reprehensible thing when he need not, and/or he doesn't care about the repercussions, how it will affect anyone else. I am probably not the only person who loathed Thomas Covenant for raping a girl - he didn't have to, he chose to and to hell with the consequences. That he thought he might be hallucinating is some mitigation, but even so, he still chose to do it.

For our Good Guy, it can be more complicated. One way that works well is to have him struggle with his nobility--it shouldn't come easy for him. Most people can identify with someone who wants to do the right thing but is tempted by the wrong. If he's Right and Good without effort, then he becomes boring and perhaps pompous.

Just to be contrary, my favourite type of hero is flawed, but will reluctantly do the right thing. Even if not for the right reasons.

But as long as there is conflict about what the right thing is, or whether/why he should do it, I think you're hitting the mark.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Creating a great bad guy - The Magneto Effect

So, as the title suggests, the ideas within this post were crystallised while watching X-Men First Class. Don't judge me, okay?

What struck me while watching - watching all the X-Men films in fact - was that while Eric/Magneto is unquestionably the bad guy...I couldn't help rooting for him, just that little bit. That I actually sympathised with his position, even while I disagreed with how he went about things. Because he believes utterly in his position, as much or more so than Charles even. From his point of view,from his experience, mutants will be experimented on and used as weapons. Charles likes to think that humans are essentially better than that, but Eric knows that they aren't. And what's more, he isn't wrong either.

Another example of a character I think made a fantastic bad guy is the Assassin from Serenity. He knows, without a shadow of doubt, that what he's doing is wrong, evil even. He also knows without a shadow of doubt that he's making the 'verse a better place, even if that better place has no room in it for him. He believes utterly that he is doing the right thing.

It's often been said that a villain, or any character, is the hero of their own story. And how much better does that make the conflict? Two people, with opposing wants/beliefs, who both believe they are the good guy. That they are right and good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that's reflected in all the best bad guys. Magneto wants to save his fellow mutants from being controlled and experimented on. The Assassin wants the people of the 'verse to have a better place to live. Grendel's mother just wanted revenge for Beowulf killing her boy, a very human emotion. In Bladerunner, Roy Batty wanted the chance to live longer, to keep those memories of C-beams glittering by the Tanhauser Gate alive.

While I can appreciate a bad guy being bad cos he just is, okay? I'd much rather have a bad guy with real, relatable reasons for doing what he's doing, a bad guy who believes in what he's doing as much as the good guy. It makes the conflict just that bit more piquant, that little bit more ambiguous, that tad more engaging and thought provoking. It gives the whole story some depth that a moustache twirler so often just lacks.

I love that in a story.