Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pirates! Arg!

Hi everyone!  In honor of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, I am going to do an extensive post on writing pirate historical, fantastical, and fantasy fiction!  Ready?  Here we go!

Pirates have always been an exciting and romantic genre to write.  Even during the 18th and 19th century, otherwise known as the Golden Age of Piracy, pirates thrilled and excited people...though I doubt they would have admitted it in public.  Historians have found pirate puppets and toys from the time period, clearly showing the fascination people tend to have for pirates.  Even long before that, towards the beginning of the Medieval era, every Norseman's dream was to become a Viking and sail and pillage to win glory.  There has always been something fascinating about piracy.

So what is so fascinating?  What about these scoundrels of the seas do people find so thrilling?  It's hard to have an answer for this, but here is the best I can give.

I am NOT a romantic gal.  I've never enjoyed reading anything from that genre, and I rarely like it in other genres.  But the romances I DO enjoy tend to have a bad-boy character involved.  Not really sure why, I've just always liked that type.  Guy of Gisborne, Tony Stark, Han Solo, Rumpelstiltskin, Jack Sparrow (but COME ON!  Who doesn't like Jack Sparrow???)  I think pirates have been fantasized into this "bad-boy" type of thinking.  It's the thrill of being free and doing whatever you want, whenever you want.  Not exactly Biblical, but this is why I think people love it so much.

So before I mentioned three types of piracy stories: historical, fantastical, and fantasy.  Lets start with defining each of these...

Historical Pirate Fiction

This is pirate stories that strives to be historically accurate and do not deviate from the realm of possible.  "Treasure Island" by Robert Lewis Stevenson is a prime example of this.  Young Jim never fights any sea serpents or skeletal pirate crew.  Everything is extremely realistic.  Another less known example would be "The Blood Ship" by Norman Springer.  This story is about Jack Shreve who joins the crew of a wicked captain and has to try to save his friend Newman from death.  This is my favorite pirate novel and it is a MUST READ!  The only books I suggest more than this one are "Lord of the Rings", "The Hobbit", and "Count of Monte Cristo."

Fantastical Pirate Fiction

Some of these stories care about historical accuracy, and others don't.  But the main thing about this genre is that they have supernatural or fantastical elements.  "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies are fantastical pirate stories that don't really bother with historical accuracy.  (Blackbeard alive at the same time as King George II)  They are fantastical because they have the aforementioned skeletal crew, cursed treasure, fish people, sea goddess, mermaids, and Krakens.  A fantastical pirate story that does have historical accuracy would be Wayne Thomas Batson's "Isle of Swords" and "Isle of Fire" books.  (Excellent books!   Highly suggest reading them!)

Pirate Fantasy

A more accurate title would be "pirates in fantasy."  This genre is when pirates make an appearance in speculative fiction.  Han Solo is a type of pirate, "smuggler," used in the Star Wars saga.  Podo from Andrew Peterson's "Wingfeather Saga" is an ex-pirate.  He is completely stereotyped and HILARIOUS!  (Highly suggest those books too.  Gee, pirates just make stories awesome, don't they?)

Now I am going to list just some little tips I've learned about each one.  The first novel I wrote was "Shadow's Fire."  I wrote it with the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum which required me to pick a historical time period for my story, and to be historically accurate.  I was a tad upset when I learned this because I enjoy fantasy WAY more than historical fiction.  The only historical fiction I usually enjoy is Arthurian legend and pirate fiction.  Arthurian legend was out because that almost seems more like fantasy than history.  So I picked pirates and boy, I am so glad I did.

When people pick up a pirate novel, they have a few expectations about it.  Most pirate stories are treasure stories.  It is extremely rare to run across a pirate story that does not have some element of seeking wealth in it.  They also expect the villain to either be a pirate, and the hero be a British dude who fights pirates, or the hero to be the pirate and the villain to be the British dude.  It is hard to break out of these molds and keep an audience interested, but it is also hard to stay in these molds and not be cliche.

The best way to avoid these problems are to add instead of subtract elements.  In "Shadow's Fire" my heroine is an English girl and the principal villain is her English uncle.  But wait!  I thought this was a pirate story!  I knew people would probably be thinking that, so I have the sub-villain be a pirate, and I have a kinda sorta anti-hero pirate dude in it too.  I chose to do both instead of one and I think it worked well.  (I seriously need to finish editing it so I can see if others agree!)   

I also did keep the treasure in it...a little.  Julia does not find the treasure in the book, just clues.  I am using the treasure as a plot that spans over the would-be trilogy.  Each other story has a different principal plot that is unique.  In "Shadow's Fire" the principal plot is to stop an army of pirates from invading England.  The pirates in my story have strategically put England at war with France and Spain.  Julia's uncle, a member of parliament, is helping them by manipulating King George into signing yet another tax on the angry colonies in America...on their tea!  Julia has to try and stop this from happening, but, since my story is historically accurate, she fails...sort of.  She does manage to keep the pirates at bay which gives her time to try and stop them another day.  Meaning another novel.

Historically accurate novels are tricky but very rewarding.  They give the story a realistic feel to them and, if done correctly, can try to make the audience think that is what really happened.  A good way to accomplish this feeling is by taking a historical question that does not have a good answer and making up your own answer.  Why did King George feel the need to continuously tax the colonies and refuse to listen to them?  According to historical records, he was actually a very nice guy, though rather stupid.  So why did he?  Well, apparently, he was being manipulated by pirates!  :P

Fantastical novels are fairly easy.  they follow the basic pattern of historical fiction, but they add monsters and curses to the mix.  The hardest part about writing these is not going overboard with the fantasy, but doing enough too.  If you do too much, the reader will roll his eyes and think, "That's ridiculous!  I can't believe that!" and he will stop reading.  You don't do it enough, the reader will go, "WHAT?  Giant zombie sea serpent that is the guardian of the treasure that came from an alien planet???  I thought this was a historical novel!"  That's not good either.  The trick is doing just enough to keep reader's interested, but not too much.

Fantasy pirates are straight forward.  There is a little bit too them though.  You can't have them act too "piratey" or people will wonder when the 18th century pirate found a time traveling machine and blasted his way to the iron planet of Sobbeedo.  Han Solo is a good example of how to do this correctly.  (I've used Star Wars so many times as an example on this blog.  Seriously, when in doubt about ANYTHING in writing, look at Star Wars. Seriously.)  Han is obsessed with money...and freedom.  He loves his ship.  He's cocky, fearless, and has an awesome smirk.  BUT you never hear Han let out an "avast ye Luke!  Grab that there blaster and stop actin' like a planetlubber!"  That would be taking it a bit too far.

Well, if you've made it through this post, I tip my hat to ye, matey.  Have a great National Talk like a Pirate Day!

1 comment:

  1. Have you read any of the Star Wars books? If not, I highly recommend the Han Solo trilogy by A.C. Crispin. (the story about Han before he meets up with Luke and Obi-Wan). They're fantastic!