Friday, May 16, 2008

Posters, Bookmarks, and Another Question

Before I get to the next question, I wanted to show you a couple of new goodies Shadow Mountain created for my signings and school visits. This is the poster. The words in white on the left side read, “First find the Water Keep. Take Courage—the magic is already inside you.”

The is the front and back of the bookmark.

Read this doc on Scribd: FarWorld Bookmark

Great timing because I’m actually doing my first school presentation tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now on to the next question.

Growing up, I knew one of my grandfathers a little. He was my father’s father, but died when I was still pretty young. I do remember going out to his house in Carson City, NV and looking for arrow heads with him. Also playing horseshoes. But that’s pretty much it.

I knew my father’s stepfather better. He was a tough old carpenter who could start a hand-crank tractor with one hand, calculate how many board feet of lumber he’d need to build a house in his head, and who used to pour turpentine on open wounds to avoid infection. He also used to scare the crap out of us kids by wielding an axe and popping out his false teeth.

The grandfather I knew the longest and the best was my mother’s father. He was an independent sort who never worked for another person in his life. When my mom was born (back when you used to pay cash for medical care and stay in the hospital for a month after the birth of a baby), he showed up and said, “I sold a bracelet. So you can stay in the hospital for another week.” He also used to travel across the country selling oven cleaner he’d made in the bathtub of a hotel to local restaurants. Some other time I’ll tell you about the time he left his new bride standing on the corner while he ducked out for a burger. That took a while to live down!

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because my maternal grandfather gave me some advice relating to sales that also applies to World Builder Robin’s question about, oddly enough, world building. He said that too many salespeople are afraid to get on the phone or go knock on doors until they have studied all their manuals, prepared all their forms, done plenty of research, sharpened all of their pencils . . . you get the idea. He said that you should be prepared, but sometimes you’re better off to just go out and make sales calls.

Daren and Anna gave some great advice. It’s true that fantasy readers want to understand the rules of a new world. How does magic work? What is the currency? What is the hierarchy of the good guys and the bad guys? The civilization. The history. All that good stuff gives a depth that makes the world more real.

You actually can get away with a lot less background information when writing for a younger audience. There are two reasons for this. One is that a younger audience just doesn’t care that much about what makes things work. Mostly they just want to see them in action. The second reason is that the younger your readers, the less patience they have for back story. They would never endure all the filler information of Tolkien or Robert Jordon.

Even with YA or adult fantasy though, you can do too much research. Honestly, many times you don’t even know what you don’t know until you dive into writing the story. The nice thing is, you can take notes as you go and fill in extra details later. And once you do have the information, be careful about how and when you present it. In my opinion, Tolkien would have a difficult time getting published today, because he spent so much time on language, songs, poetry, side stories, politics, history. If you can, it’s much better to present the information in context. Implied history is also cool. If I mention an archive of old scrolls in passing, I don’t have to show them all right now. And remember, if you are doing a series, it may not be necessary to show your entire hand right away. Sometimes it’s better to leave a few things shrouded in mystery at first.

I like to set up information for future books. I have a character hint at what happened when he was gone for a while. But don’t tell any more in the first book. I explain enough of how magic works to satisfy (hopefully) young and old readers alike. But I leave plenty for the protagonists to discover along with the reader. One example of this is a character who wants a magic wand really bad. The wizard tells him that his wand will find him when his magic is ready for it. Not to be a spoiler, but that doesn’t happen in this book. It’s enough that the reader understands the role of a wand in this world, and that at some future point the wand may appear.

I know quite a bit about my world, but there is plenty more I will discover along the way. One thing I am a stickler for—and this is just me—is not starting a series or a book until you know the end. One of the most fun things for me in a series is having things set up in earlier books for later books. Sometimes the things I set up are obvious enough that an alert reader may catch them and think, “Aha! I’ll bet this will come into play later.” Other times the reader won’t even know I am setting something up. But either way, it gives your series a feeling of continuity or circularity you wouldn’t otherwise have.

So, I guess my answer is: before you publish the book, you need a pretty solid knowledge of your world. But sometimes it’s best to just dive right in and figure things out as you go.


Brian said...

Wow, thanks for the tips. I'll remember those. Also, the poster and bookmark are awesome! Have a great presentation!

DesLily said...

I think it's funny where you say "some things that you set up are obvious and others are not"..

When I'm reading and one of those "obvious" ones occur, for some reason you feel "really smart" that you caught it and can figure it out lol... and those other ones, not so obvious, you find yourself yelling at yourself saying "argh, I should have figured that one out!" lol.. too funny.. it's good to have some of both the way you do.

Tamra Norton said...

LOVE the poster and bookmark! Shadow Mountain does such a great job with marketing! I've seen first hand how their use of the posters, bookmarks, t-shirts, etc., draw HUGE crowds into the bookstores.

Have a great school visit tomorrow. They're gonna love you! :)