Posts Tagged ‘panel notes’

If you’re writing from inside the head of someone who’s just been robbed, they’re not going to think ‘I’ve been delightfully subverted’. – Frances Hardinge

This panel’s description featured the most amusing misprint of the FantasyCon 2014 program, promising us a discussion that would cover ‘sex tricksters’. For better or for worse, the panel swiftly moved away from that dubious-sounding subject, into a fun discussion of the place of roguish characters in fantasy fiction.

One of the many disreputable figures up for discussion

This panel featured:

  • David Tallerman – author of various novels, including a trilogy about a thief
  • Joanne Harris – writer of both literary and fantasy fiction
  • Frances Hardinge – children’s author, wearer of a rather dapper hat
  • Kim Lakin-Smith – author of fantastical fiction, particularly interested in gender issues and mixing up biology
  • Libby McGugan – fantasy writer with a taste for science
  • James Barclay – fantasy author, chairman of the British Fantasy Society, has a certain charmingly roguish air himself – James was chairing the panel

Favourite roguish characters

Favourite examples was a good starting point for the panel, and one that grounded the discussion in familiar stories.

Joanne mentioned the Pied Piper, and how he appealed to her because he was a villain but one who had been wronged, the sort of character who emerges once black and white moral divisions have been used up. For her the appeal of rogues goes back to childhood and fairy tales.

David talked about his own character, Easie Damasco, who he wrote because he wanted to deliberately get away from treating thieves as sympathetic people. After all, in reality they’re criminals preying on the innocent. It was a bit of a cheeky answer to this particular question, but I’m currently reading the first Easie Damasco book and I have to say that Easie’s becoming one of my favourite rogues, so I’ll let him off this once.

Frances discussed the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. She pointed out that, much as we love Wesley, he’s presumably been killing lots of people in his pirate role.

Kim listed Pan, Puck and Robin Hood as among her favourites – mythic characters who intrigued her.

Libby picked Crowley from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, a character whose defining quality is that he is struggling with being bad.

Motivation and complexity

James asked if it was the motivation and complexity of rogues that made them appeal, leading to an interesting discussion about where that appeal comes from.

Reasons for their appeal that the panel mentioned included:

  • The fantasy of freedom, letting us safely imagine doing what these people do (Frances)
  • Respect for people breaking the system (Libby)
  • Catharsis (Joanne)
  • Realistic decision making (David)
  • We all do wrong sometimes, and it’s enjoyable to see this in others (David)
  • Being intrigued by the bad boy/girl (Kim)
  • The character showing a broader social context (Frances)
  • Corrupt systems making law-breaking acceptable (Joanne)
  • They’re more fun to write (Libby – and I suspect that’s how most of the panellists got to this point)
  • Characters determining their own moral code (Joanne)
  • Making bad girls/boys safe (Kim)
  • The distance of time making people more appealing – we love Caribbean pirates not Somali ones (Frances – and with my historian hat on this comparison made me smile – ah history, how you warp our perspective)
  • The fun of dressing up – rogues often have great outfits (Frances)

How to make them appeal

James asked a couple of questions near the end that covered how to make such dubious characters appeal – do they need the capacity for redemption, and is this appeal partly down to sleight of hand?

The general consensus seemed to be that the possibility of redemption was needed. As Libby pointed out, we need something to identify with in a character. David made the point that there’s not even tragedy without the possibility of redemption, and it’s hard to read anything without hope in it.

There was also agreement on there being some authorial trickery involved. As James pointed out, the cleverness of the rogues themselves distracts you. But as Joanne pointed out, there’s a darker side to this, as we rely on taking away the victimhood of their victims so that readers don’t think about those consequences.

Last thoughts

One of the last notes I made was another one about historical context – shock horror, the history grad paid attention to the history bits. According to Frances, it has been argued that the appeal of roguish characters is a particularly English thing, a cult of the criminal having grown up here in the 16th and 17th centuries, celebrating the innovation and courage of such people.

I don’t know enough about other cultures to make a comparison, but certainly the appeal of dangerous rogues to the English rings true. In the middle ages we were renowned across Europe as a violent and disreputable nation, and some people took pride in that. The fame of figures such as Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and even the Krays reflects a long held romanticisation of armed robbers and violent crime.

On that charming note I’ll leave you with one last question – who are your favourite rogues and why? Leave a comment, share your love of bad boys and girls who kick against the system.

One of the most exciting panels at FantasyCon, and one with a very eager audience, was ‘The Pen vs the Sword’, on combat in fantasy fiction. On this panel were…

  • Adrian Tchaikovsky – writes fantasy, fights at the Leeds Armoury for research, also does live roleplay
  • Juliet E. McKenna – writes fantasy, does aikido, used to do live roleplay
  • Fran Terminiello – writes fantasy, does 16th and 17th century martial arts
  • Clifford Beal – writes historical fantasy, used to do full armoured combat, now does rapier fighting
  • David Thomas Moore – fantasy writing, moderating on short notice

I’ll try writing this one up as bullet points, see if I get more in than with my last panel writer-up.

Bad sword fighting in fantasy

  • FT: Fighting that’s artless – real western fighting was and is an art and a science.
  • JM: The idea that you can just pick up a sword and fight. Complete novices often tear their own ears in the attempt to fight, and that bleeds a lot.
  • JM: Long fights. Most sword fights last two or three strokes.
  • CB: Using one weapon’s technique or terminology for another.
  • AT: Not taking account of armour – fighting someone with armour requires a completely different approach.

Best sword fighting in fiction

  • JM: Old samurai movies, like Seven Samurai.
  • JM: Game of Thrones books – less the nuts and bolts than the attitudes of the fighters.
  • AT: K D Parker – technically good stuff.
  • AT: Abercrombie’s The Heroes for the sense of the chaos of battle.

Fighting in its social and historical context

  • FT: Rapiers were very much fashion accessories.
  • JM: Swordplay’s survival in Japan was down to the ban on gunpowder weapons.
  • CB: Many wearing rapiers for fashion didn’t know how to use them.
  • JM: Fighting well requires day in day out training to build muscle memory.
  • AT: Old fighting styles can be invalidated by technological change.
  • JM: Fast technological change means skills get lost in two and a half generations.

Planning a fight scene

  • FT: Context is key – battle or duel? What’s the regional etiquette?
  • JM: Less is more on details.
  • AT: Have the fight’s pace and structure driven by the characters’ personalities.

Other odds and ends

  • JM: Someone can have a non-survivable abdomen wound and still fight for twenty minutes – taking out their ability to fight is what counts.
  • FT: The locked crossed swords thing never really happens for more than a second – there are lots of ways out of it.
  • CB: In full armour heat exhaustion is your enemy.
  • FT: Swords are a last resort weapon – would rather have a spear.
  • Someone recommended reading English Martial Arts by Terry Brown.

The panellists did a demo afterwards, which I missed, but here’s a video someone else took of it:

 

This panel contained a lot of practically useful information on writing fights in fantasy and historical fiction. Anyone have any other guidance on this, or good sources to check out?

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the ‘Building the same old world’ panel at FantasyCon. Based on the panel description it could have gone two different ways – focusing on the mechanics of world building in fantasy fiction, or focusing on diversifying the worlds we build. In the end it was an interesting mix of the two, thanks to the excellent panellists. These were….

One of the results of all this world building

  • Camille Lofters – the panel moderator  and a PhD student who is dealing with world building in her thesis – how cool is that as a subject to study?
  • Foz Meadows – a YA fantasy writer and one of the people who most impressed me over the weekend.
  • Tiffani Angus – a creative writing PhD student who writes in many genres
  • Peter Higgins – writes epic fantasy based on 20th century Europe.
  • Kate Elliott – a guest of honour at the con and writer of all sorts of speculative fiction.

Camille did a great job of moderating a panel for the first time, keeping the conversation flowing without intruding too much with her own views.

The tension of world building

‘Our preconceptions are the hardest thing to push through.’ – Kate Elliott

One theme that came out early on was the tension in world building between presenting the familiar to draw people in and the unfamiliar to interest them and make a fantasy world. As Camille pointed out, deviating from accepted reality risks confusing and alienating readers, and so you have to be careful how you do it. It’s important not to try to change everything, but to give readers things they understand.

All the panellists found exploring imaginary worlds useful in writing, whether to create a lens for exploring contemporary issues as Foz does, or to tell stories Kate couldn’t read when she was young.

Challenging assumptions

‘It’s so sad because speculative fiction is about all this cool shit and there’s this one thing that people can’t get past.’ – Tiffani Angus

Discussion turned onto the concept of presenting more diverse and unusual worlds, combining conversations about world building with ongoing debates about representation in fantasy.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that the majority of fantasy is built from a male Euro-centric perspective. It doesn’t take long for debates about this to get angry, and that was something Camille directly raised. As Foz pointed out, people who are used to seeing themselves constantly represented get confused and angry when this changes, as their expected representation has been taken away – this reminded me of Sue Archer’s guest post here on the lack of women in genre blockbusters.

Kate gave some great insight into how to approach this sensitively. We should like what we like and be courteous about what we read, because other people will like it even if we don’t. What’s comfortable to read varies from one person to another, and it’s useful to think about whose comfort is being defined in any story.

But for all the maturity of Kate’s point, a line from Peter gave me a certain dark satisfaction – ‘One of the things that comforts me all the time is that most people hate most things.’

Fantasy and fantasising

‘If you can get away with it then it works.’ – Kate Elliott

Peter also drew a distinction that we easily forget but that’s important when talking about fantasy – the difference between fantasy and fantasizing.

Fantasy is things like a dragon, an imaginative creation empty of defined reality, that the author can shape and readers will believe in.

Fantasizing is transforming the real into something unreal, like making a hitman pleasant. It upsets readers’ expectations, and so can be harder to believe.

My own thought on this is that what’s fantasy and what’s fantasizing may vary from one person to another, but it’s a very important distinction to make in trying to create your combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Of course there was more

I sadly don’t have time to write up everything that was said in the panel, or even everything that interested me. This particular discussion brought together two different but related subjects and made something interesting out of them. I hope that I’ve given you a taste of that.