Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Divergent the movie - lessons for writers

So I took my daughter to see Divergent at the movies.
You may have already read why I think dystopia is a much better genre for teenage girls to be reading than vampire fluff and I can say, having read the book and watched the movie, nothing has changed my mind there!
This is not a movie review by the way, although it will contain some spoilers ... rather it's a case of how I felt the movie-makers fell into a couple of classic writing traps.
Discussing the movie versus the book with my daughter, it got me thinking about how easy it would have been to take the movie to the next level.
The movie was pretty good and in fact I think handled some aspects of the story better than the book.
For instance, the battle to capture the flag was a great deal more intense and exciting than the book. Likewise the sequences where Tris has to get through her fear simulations in front of the Dauntless leadership made much more sense in the movie. In the book, she does display Divergent tendencies in her simulations - which would surely see her dragged off and killed, about 2 books too early. The way the movie handles it makes much more sense.
But where the movie falls down is its emphasis on external action over internal action. It may be that a Director's Cut of Divergent comes out, which will fix those issues. But the cinematic edition was flawed.
Take, for instance, Al's suicide. In the book, Tris is rightly devastated because, when Al was at his lowest, when he was struggling to come to terms with fighting and hurting other people, she rejected his advances. She blames herself.
None of that made it into the film, so you don't feel the same towards Al's death. After all, he tried to kill her - why does he deserve our sympathy?
Likewise when she is forced to kill a mind-controlled Will. In the book, Will's friendship has helped her survive training and protected her when Peter and his cronies were after her. Plus he is in love with her best friend Christina. Little of that makes it into the film, so you find yourself saying to her - shoot him! He's going to shoot you otherwise! Yet in the book you feel her anguish at being forced into this situation.
The emotional angle, which gives so much more meaning to the action, has been stripped out of the movie.
And that is a classic trap for writers - particularly writers of spec fiction. Never discount the emotional angle and remember that action should have an effect on characters' relationships, as well as everything else. It just makes the effect on the reader all the more powerful.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Daily Telegraph reviews Wall of Spears

The Daily Telegraph fantasy reviewer Janet Hughes gave me 4.5 stars out of 5 this week for Wall Of Spears - here's her review, for those who didn't get Tuesday's Daily Telegraph!

WALL  of Spears is the third and final book in Duncan Lay’s epic Empire Of Bones series. It provides an engaging, action-packed conclusion to this excellent trilogy, deftly combining intrigue and magic with brilliantly realistic battle scenes. The characters are enmeshed in a complex tapestry of honour and love, scheming and betrayal, against the backdrop of an entire culture’s fight for the right to freedom. At the same time, the plot never loses sight of the personal motivations, strengths and weaknesses of each character. Lay has gone from strength to strength in this series, vividly imagining a world of great complexity, where gritty historical reality meets fantasy. -The battle between the two human tribes is complicated not only by the war between human and elf, but by the conflicting desires and romantic entanglements of the major characters. Lovers of fantasy will surely enjoy this final book in the series.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Martil vs Sendatsu in a battle to the death

I was asked many questions while touring around Australia but none got me thinking quite as much as one in Penrith: Who would win in a fight to the death between Martil and Sendatsu?
Martil, of course, is the hero of my first trilogy, the Dragon Sword Histories, while Sendatsu is the hero of the new series, the Empire of Bones.
They are very different but both are the best warriors of their generation.
Now this question actually had me stumped. Apart from living 300 years apart, so they could never meet, I certainly hadn't planned they would ever try to fight to the death!
Then it got me thinking.
Firstly, it depends on which Martil and Sendatsu were to meet.
The Sendatsu from Bridge Of Swords and Valley Of Shields would be defeated by Martil, without a doubt. The Sendatsu from Wall Of Spears, however, would prove a much harder opponent.
Equally, Martil before he met Karia would fight in a different manner. For some time there, he had nothing to live for and truly didn't care if he lived or died. If that Martil was to meet the Sendatsu from the third book of the series, then the outcome really would be in doubt.
If Sendatsu's children, Mai and Cheijun, were at stake, then my money would be on Sendatsu.
Yet if Karia's life was also at stake then the game would change again.
Also, we would have to assume that Martil couldn't use the Dragon Sword, for that would be an impossible advantage.
Equally, Sendatsu wouldn't be able to use even a little magic to help tilt the contest his way.
So, we need to set some ground rules.
Both Mai and Cheijun, and Karia, are at stake. This is the Sendatsu from the end of Wall Of Spears, tempered and hardened by what he has had to do. No armour and no magic to be used.
It is also the Martil from the end of Radiant Child, minus the Dragon Sword and accepting of his dark past.
It is clear to see from the start that Sendatsu's unusual skill gives him the early advantage and Martil has to use all his speed and experience to hold him off. Martil will throw dirt and stones, try to use the sun and the surroundings to put Sendatsu off and get some sort of advantage.
As Martil grows more used to Sendatsu's style of fighting and different sword, the tempo of the fight will change. Martil will try to get closer, to use his shorter swords and cramp up Sendatsu's extravagant strokeplay.
Sendatsu hasn't fought anyone who can improvise the way Martil can and will have to use all his own speed to hold him off.
Sendatsu is used to losing (to his father) and this strengthens him.
Martil has never lost - and this also strengthens him.
It will all come down to one tiny slip or mistake and the other will pounce.
But, remember, their children rest on the other fighter not walking out of the arena.
Neither will let that happen.
I see Martil sacrificing himself to get in the fatal blow. Sendatsu will not be expecting someone to give up their own life like that and won't be able to stop himself from delivering a killer strike - but that has got Martil close enough to use his swords.
Technically neither would win - and neither would lose. Sendatsu will get in the first, fatal blow but Martil will live long enough to say goodbye.
And that's the best answer I can give ...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hunger Games is over for sparkly vampires ...

Here's a piece I wrote for The Sunday Telegraph, Australia's biggest-selling paper, where I explain why I hope dystopia will drive a stake through the heart of those sparkly vampire stories!

MY daughter thinks that society is rotten, governments corrupt, television a way of brainwashing the masses and authority not to be trusted.
I couldn’t be happier.
She’s not talking about Australia, of course, rather she’s hooked on dystopian novels. The good news is, dystopia is the hot subject for teenagers these days, having replaced the stupid sparkly vampires and the impossibly buff werewolves.
Dystopia is the opposite of utopia — a vision of an unpleasant future. But that’s fantastic. Because, instead of heroines who swoon about helplessly, waiting for their Undead saviour, dystopia features heroines who get out there and take charge themselves, who save not just themselves and their families but their whole world.
It’s big now but it’s about to get even bigger.
This year we have four huge dystopian films hitting the big screen, kicking off with Divergent this Thursday, based on the bestseller by Veronica Roth. Behind that will come The Maze Runner (book by James Dashner), The Giver (book by Lois Lowry, film to star Meryl Streep and Katie Holmes) and then part one of Mockingjay, the finish to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
They feature heroines like Katniss and Tris, who are everything you want a teenage girl’s role model to be: courageous, idealistic, resourceful and above all a little flawed.
After seeing teenage girls devouring vampire and werewolf stories, with heroines who just wanted to find a man who treated them badly, it is fantastic that the swing is on to dystopian novels. My daughter never read Twilight — I made her watch the spoof movie Vampires Suck instead, so she never took the genre seriously, instead devouring dystopia.
It’s great to see the movies but, of course, the books are far better.
And there are stacks more dysto-pian novels out there that haven’t been turned into movies yet.
Perhaps there could be an ­amnesty. For every ridiculous vampire story handed in, you get half-price off a dystopian novel.
Then we could ceremonially drive a stake through the bloody things. Forget about being turned into vampires or werewolves with a bite — those books are more likely to infect teenagers with the idea that women are helpless and need to be rescued.
Much better to have them think they can change things if they stand up and fight for them. That they can make a better world with their courage and insight.
So come on, fight the vampires. Not with garlic and holy water but books about gutsy heroines willing to stand up and fight for a better society. You never know, one day we might need them …
Duncan Lay is a fantasy author with HarperCollins. His latest book, Wall Of Spears, is out now.