I now officially have ten chapters written for The Lost Tomb of Omo! I printed the whole work in progress and it came to about forty double spaced and double sided pages, it was too thick to staple as one section! I always print hard-copies for review and revision. Call me old fashioned, but there is something about red ink on paper as you flip through your draft in a manuscript format! I also find this method the easiest to read from and follow as I edit text on the computer.
I’m a very fortunate man in that I have two great reviewers-editors in my life; the first is my wife Kim who happens to be a professional proofreader and a well-read bibliophile. The second is my dear friend and fellow writer Jessica (check out her blog!) who shares a lot of the same creative method and interests that I do.
Together they form a dynamic duo where Kim tends to find structural-mechanical issues with the texts (typos, misspellings, homophones, etc.) while Jessica tends to find storytelling and plot related problems or opportunities. Both give me a cheer when they think I’ve done something that is awesome, or speak-up if they think I can write something better. Honesty is a very important commodity in editing, and I always value theirs.
One thing that I have been thinking about recently is genre labels and how those relate to Omo. As I have said before, I started the story as a “sword and sorcery” tale, trying to capture some of the feel of R.E. Howard with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft’s style added to the mix. Undoubtedly what I am writing is imaginative fiction, but is it really “sword and sorcery”? Omo has exciting and dangerous action (including sword fighting against monsters!) and sorcerous, supernatural elements. So I can check-mark “swords” and “sorcery”. It also features heroic characters, a romantic element, and a focus on personal, small-scale challenges rather than countering a world-endangering threat found in “epic fantasy”, like Lord of the Rings.
So yes, on those points Omo could be classed as “sword and sorcery”. But at the same time there are elements of the genre that I am purposefully avoiding. Some is because I see it as negative: I may enjoy R.E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft and have been inspired by them, but these men were both racist and sexist, and often that found its way into their writings within the actions of their protagonists. Those that followed them in the genre were often of the same cut, at least insofar as the fiction that was written.
But I am a different man writing in a different time to a different audience. I will not emulate that in my heroes as it brings me no solace or enjoyment. A good example is my male protagonist Kern: He might be a barbarian and a formidable warrior, but one of the first rules I set with him was that “he is not a violent asshole” as many male sword and sorcery protagonists tend to be in hindsight. Likewise, my heroine Hama isn’t a sex object or perpetual damsel in distress. I’ve worked hard to write her as an equal to Kern, albeit with a very different set of strengths and talents. Even with a mutual attraction between the pair, the style and tone I’m trying to set with their interactions is an attempt for me to break stereotypes and do something fresh.
Then there are other things from sword and sorcery that I have dropped because I think they work against immersion in the world of the story. I’m talking about things like Loincloth clad heroes, chainmail bikinis and swords carried on the back that would cut off your ear when you drew them. I might be writing imaginative fiction, but I also want the world I’m crafting to have some of the grit and heft of reality along with the more fantastic elements.
After dropping these genre conventions, is Omo still a “sword and sorcery” tale? I think it is. I try to take the viewpoint that constraining yourself to the conventions and rules of a genre is only going to stifle your creativity and stunt your work. All these “rules” amount to are gimmicks, tropes and stereotypes that past genre authors used successfully, then subsequent genre authors used them time and again because either they worked in the genre or they wanted to imitate an idea to cash in with a knock off (or out of sheer laziness). The simple truth is this: They people that “created” a genre never, ever, wrote a rulebook on what it is or how to write it! They made it up based on what worked and sounded right to them… And so should you.
It was scholars, critics and publishers that created the definitions of “genre”, not the writers, and it should only be an outer periphery of concern to creators of fiction. As I work on Omo, there are certainly places that could be classed as having an “Epic Fantasy” feel. Well, dang-straight I want it to feel epic! That’s not a flaw, that’s the story I want to tell.
Take care dear reader, and be well!