Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!!

It's that time again. Say it loud and extra proud...Whatcha Reading Tuesday!! Come and share what you're reading with us. Anything at all from books to warrants to comics to blogs!! Just share what you got your eyeballs glued to this week. Oh and take a moment to answer our question: Do you think classics hold up over time or are they now what academics use to make themselves feel smarter? Uh oh. Feeling like I already ruffled some feathers =P

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plotter or Pantser

Plotter- those who plot things out.
Pantser- those who fly by the seat of their pants.

Not the legal definition I’m sure, but ever wonder which method produces more successful authors? Do the methodical win out over the spontaneous? I have to say, I’ve been curious about the breakdown. Do more writers get published who rely on careful planning or do the ones who wing it triumph?
Don’t mistake me. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer for this. Everyone has their own style whether it involves outlines and pages of notes or a shot in the dark. Both ways can produce amazing results.

Being too lazy to try and discover what method famous authors’ favor, I can only tell you about unpublished me. As you might guess from the comment above, I’m a pantser. My current work in progress began with only the opening scene in my head and not much more. But is that the whole story?

I think there is more to being a pantser than meets the eye. Although I don’t write anything down, that doesn’t mean I don’t plan. I usually spend days just thinking before I type a word. Generally, I have the whole chapter in my mind and even a direction for what happens down the road. It’s the details with dialogue or setting that usually spring out of nowhere, not the plot itself.
And I have been known to digress, to delve into the world of a plotter. On my opening chapter, I jotted down everything I wanted the chapter to achieve. Opening chapters have to be such workhorses that I didn’t want to leave anything out. And when I got to the ending chapters, I was petrified. How could I wrap up all the details and bring everything together without forgetting a major part? I couldn’t decide in what direction I wanted to take the ending. Who should live and who should die? When to reveal what? I started noting down key items to remember. And that spread to include more and more elements until I had—gasp—a crazy mixed up mess in no order at all.
I began to color code the mess. Items in red were open threads that I hadn’t decided how to resolve. Items in orange were already written and finished. Items in green were resolved in my head, but not written in the ms. Blue items were things I might include, but maybe not. As I got through chapter after chapter, the red parts turned green and finally orange. The blue words disappeared. My notes ended up being amazingly helpful. Who knew!
Would I ever work out an outline for an entire novel ahead of time? I’m way too lazy. Will I use a crazy mess of a system to aid my memory? That’s for sure.
All in all, it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how you get the job done. What matters is maintaining the pace and making sure the plot stays firmly at center stage. No outline in the world will keep you from letting the characters yack about unimportant matters or descriptions from going on forever. Writers have to be able to judge that from experience.
And where do you get experience when you aren’t published? Reading. Reading. Reading. Reading other published novels can teach you about pacing. It’s the example to follow to make sure every chapter advances the plot and isn’t a limp, useless biscuit of rambling.
What say we have our own informal poll? Don’t deny it, we’re all curious. We want to know what floats the other one’s boat. Plotter or pantser? How far do you take preparedness? Or avoid it?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Creating Cultures In Fantasy: Beliefs

So you’re thinking of creating a fantasy race for your novel? As discussed in part one of this series, you choose the physical aspects of your race—you know what the creature looks like 24/7 or what it turns into on certain nights. Besides knowing the breeds of your fantasy race, one important aspect you should consider when creating a fantasy culture is the beliefs of the people. Who or what do they believe in? When creating a fantasy religion, there are a few things to consider.  
1.  Society    
What’s the core societal structure of your fantasy race? Before you begin to think about how the beliefs are structured, you should know the ins and outs of your culture.
First of all, how is the society organized? Are they a race that’s primarily patriarchal or matriarchal? Look within your fantasy culture’s myths and legends; see how the hierarchal structure is. Do the males inherit or do the females? Is there a reason—such as a god or a mythological prophecy—deeming which gender is meant to rule?
Or perhaps, there’s something physical that only males or females can do—such as, in Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey’s If I Pay Thee Not In Gold, only females can use the powers of conjuration—and thus allows them to have great power and influence in the culture. Find out if your own fantasy race has a gender-specific power and see if you can use that within the beliefs to enrich the culture, make it seem unique.
As with any real world religion, each culture has different views on sin and what is considered a sin. In your fantasy race’s culture, what is considered improper or vulgar? Depending on how your fantasy race is set up (hierarchy, the sources of power or income, and the line dividing the different class systems) take a look at the laws and limitations that you put on your race, and try to find something that would mock their systems or be different/odd to them. For example, in a fantasy race that prides itself on honesty and modesty; they may find telling lies, or showing too much skin in public, to be offensive.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, what are your race’s opinions on virtue? Again, depending on how your fantasy race is set up, take a look at the laws and limitations that you put on your race, and try to find something that they would find acceptable or good. Things such as kindness or honesty or a physical feature/attribute, for example.  

2.      Purpose
Greek mythology had many gods for many different purposes—Artemis was the virgin goddess of the hunt and of women, Aphrodite was goddess of love, and Hades, the god of death. Likewise, in your fantasy race’s beliefs, a god or gods must serve a purpose.
A few things to find out regarding the purpose of the god or gods in your pantheon are:
Myths. Who are your mythological creatures or people? Did they cause an event to happen— such as when Persephone was bound to the Underworld for six months creating winter, or where they the basis of a creature—like Arachne, a weaver who boasted her skill, was turned into a spider.  
What are you fantasy race’s views on creation and destruction? Which force or god is connected with each? Within a pantheon, there always seems to be that dividing line between good and evil, heroes and villains. In your pantheon is there a clear distinction between the heroic gods and the villainous ones or is there a gray area? It’s always good to have a mixture, to add depth and potential tension to the culture.
Speaking about creation and destruction, the powers of the gods should fulfill some key role in explaining how the world works, and how world incidents came to be. Which god or gods control life and death? Love or magic? How do the gods affect each other or connect in your pantheon to explain world events—such as the change of seasons, natural disasters, or the lunar cycle? Give each god a power (or multiple powers) and a reason for controlling that force. Consult your fantasy culture’s myths and legends and try to interweave the culture of the race deeply within this created pantheon.

3.      Worship/Ritual
In your world, your races beliefs can also be shown by the rituals they preform, the holidays and rites of passage they celebrate or things that are shown in your world such as signs and statues. A few things to consider when creating rituals in your fantasy religion are:
Color: The symbolism of color can play a key role in the culture and thus also in the rituals they perform. Different colors also have cultural significance to the reader, such as red for blood and death or purple for royalty. This chart lists different colors and the common associations with each.
Fruit/Vegetables: Fruits eaten or shown during rituals also have cultural/religious significance. Depending on your myths and legends, certain fruits and veggies might symbolize certain gods or invoke certain things such as pomegranates (in Greek myths) symbolizing long life and rebirth.
Symbols: Think of certain symbols such as a sword or a crown and apply them to your culture. Depending on the ritual and the god(s) being called upon, there may be many different symbols attributed to them, such as a loom or a hammer for a god of trade or a shield or arrow attributed to a god of war. If there are many symbols, be specific in the way they are used, and choose one universal symbol for each god to avoid confusion for the reader.
The next topic in our 4-part Fantasy Culture Creation series is “Powers”. Besides creating the physical appearance and beliefs of your fantasy race, it’s important to look over the powers of your race—the magical and physical abilities that can make your race stand out from all the standard races of fantasy and make the creatures your own.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Creating Cultures in Fantasy: Part 1: Breed

Anyone who reads even a little bit of fantasy knows that fantastic or mystical races are a common element to the genre, easily as common as magic. If you’ve read books like Lord of the Rings, or Dritzz Duordan, you know how easily a well constructed, original culture can elevate a story to a whole other level of greatness. Where would LOTR be without the furry footed Hobbits of Hobbiton, or the creepy creature Golom? What would the Elvin race, rather white as they were before him, be without the last black elf called Dritzz? But have you noticed that when it comes to fantasy, but for a few exceptions, most books feature the same beings? Vampires, werewolves, faeries, Elves, Dwarves. And few new authors bother to develop a culture behind their race, a deep and complex system of habits, taboos, and beliefs. At least if authors added a few cultural quirks to their vampires or faeries, they would feel a little more original. I think that’s because for most, the concept of building an entire race from the ground up is such a daunting task that it’s too overwhelming for most. But could you imagine developing your own culture and having it become so much a part of the world’s consciousness that everyone, everywhere knows it by name? A writer’s dream come true, that. But in this day and age, when there are so many other stories to compete with, how can one hope to stand out from the crowd and get noticed? And with the endless possibilities that could go into the creation of whole race, how can you be sure you have a winning combination?

The task of building an entire culture from the ground up is a massive undertaking and a huge topic, enough that I’ve decided to collaborate with fellow FTLOW author and veteran creator Madelaine Bauman, to bring you a 5 part blog on the subject.

After talking with Maddie, we saw that there are literally dozens of elements that can go into a single race. Consider the real cultures of our world. Every race on this planet has a way of dressing, thinking, acting, that is as different from the others as light is to day. All over the world, everything our many cultures do differs, from the music we listen to, to the language we speak, from our faith to what we eat, to the way we view other races. In many cultures, there are various sub-cultures, sometimes with a different dialect of the same tongue, sometimes with slightly altered belief systems, ones that to us, seem like a different shade of the same hue, but to them, seems a vastly different as light and dark. What one culture considers the norm another might consider an enormous taboo. With so many possibilities, how does one even know where to start? Not to mention, races in fantasy have other layers that those of this world do not. The race in your story may have other features besides human, and may also have magic or other abilities that make it even more complex than the races of our world. After much discussion, Maddie and I decided that creating an effective fantasy culture can be broken down into five basic components: Breed, Beliefs, Powers, Language, and Purpose. I don’t think development has to go in that order, but I personally find it easiest to start by giving my new race a face, or, more definitively, a physical framework to build from. So for this first installment, we’ll discuss Breed - that is, what physical traits your beings should have.

For those of you who’ve been reading me for a while, you know I’m fond of breaking things into smaller steps. It makes it easier to organize a larger topic. Where we've cut the construction of a race into four sections, the subject of breed is also broken into parts. For me, it breaks down into three. Relatability, appeal, and plausibility. 

To my mind, the physical aspects of creation is perhaps the most difficult. This is partially because of the sheer scope of possibilities. Are your beings bi-peddle or four legged? Do they have smooth skin, scales, fur or something else? Do they have claws? Wings? Two eyes or eight? The other reason this aspect is so difficult is that there’s a fine line between coming up with something unique and interesting, and something that is still relatable to readers.

Consider what’s been done. The most common ancestry seems to be birds, bats, wolves, and winged insects (faeries). When creating a race, a first step toward making it unique can be to use a creature or traits that haven’t been used much, or combine several. Winged beings are all too common, but why not give your beings the wings of a bird, and the pointed ears of an elf? And throw in blue skin just for fun? Many novice writers who try to create a new race will use a more unlikely creature thinking that it will score them points on the originality meter. They’ll give their beings a half spider form, or make them look like a hybrid of a worm and a human. Nine times out of ten, that won’t work. So many of us are unsettled by creepy crawlies that beings who possess too many such traits will be an instant repellent and not at all easy to relate to. I’m not saying certain traits from any creature can’t work. Who doesn’t love Spiderman? I’m a firm believer that anything can work if it’s used right. In the case of Spiderman, the idea of a man with the abilities of a spider worked because, other than his ability to sling webs and scale walls, he was a normal everyday guy. That and there was nothing horrifically gross about him. He didn’t spit acid out of his mouth, or molt his skin like a snake. Yuck. Your beings have to be relatable, and like it or not, that means giving them some human traits that make us see them the way we see ourselves.

I think there’s a second reason certain creatures are overused – it’s because they’re safe. We already know people will accept Vampires and Werewolves. Creating a new race with as yet unused traits is risky. Readers might not be able to suspend their disbelief enough to accept them. They might be seen as b-movie material. But if you combine features the right way, and you put it right on the page, readers will accept anything. It’s all about the appeal of the race and the writer’s ability to make a reader believe in what they say. Which brings me to the second part of the segment.

When I say appeal, I’m not referring to whether or not readers find your new race of people attractive. I’m talking about whether or not they have a mass market appeal. So, whether or not your beings will be accepted by a wide range of readers. The trick to creating a race of beings that appeals to many is to give them traits that appeal to most humans. I know it sounds shallow, but that’s why creatures with eight legs or a head full of eyes is so hard to pull off, and if they are used, they’re usually villains or henchmen, temporary challenges for the heroes to overcome, without big roles or heavy interaction. We as humans have a hard time relating to that. You can still avoid your people being overly attractive or generic without making them so unusual that people can’t take it seriously.

Consider the concept of a Werewolf. A huge, hairy creature that mauls and kills people. How is that attractive? But why does it work? Because Werewolves are only like that part of the time. In most stories that feature a werewolf, the character is human for the bulk of the time, perhaps with certain traits of the wolf left over while in man form, like heightened senses or super speed, the kind of traits that makes people look badass. Not to mention, predatory animal traits in a sexy package generate a massive hottie appeal. :D. *Wipes drool from mouth* (Actually, I don’t like werewolves or vamps, but I love creating races with badass animal traits, and if used right, they are sexy).  

Getting back on track, if you combine human traits with those of another creature without losing the being’s humanity, you make it easier to believe in. Which brings us to the third and final element. Plausibility.

If you think about it, any being with human and animal traits combined seems a little far fetched. Take a mermaid. A being with the head and torso of a woman, (a man if it’s a Merman) and the tail of a fish? How weird is that? And yet, stories the world over tell of these half fish beings who live in the sea, and people love them. Why? Partially it’s because we have the other two elements, relatablity and appeal, at work here. Mermaids are just human enough to see as being like us, but just “fish” enough to seem exotic. Plus they come from a place that is universally mysterious and still relatively unexplored. This adds to the mass market appeal and the exotic allure of a race. But Mermaids are also effective because, from the perspective of readers who like to escape into a fantasy world, they seem plausible. The sea’s largely unknown depths leave open the plausibility necessary for readers to suspend disbelief enough to accept the concept. Plausibility in creating a new and original race lies in cultivating the ever tantalizing question all humans have in the back of their minds - What if. It lies in starting with the seed of an idea and then building off it by answering other questions. Other questions that spark our curiosity and make us want to learn more. Questions like, if you create a race, how do they act? What do they believe in? What might their religion be like? How different might they’re every day lives be from ours? When we begin to explore these concepts, that’s when a whole culture starts to come to life in our minds. 

This Monday, Madelaine Bauman continues our blog with Part 2: Beliefs, through which she’ll delve into perhaps the most interesting aspect of building a race, developing a belief system that will keep your readers wanting to learn more, and offer your story a real world feel that makes your readers forget the world they’re in is just a fantasy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Featured Author: D.F. Matthews

FTLOW: So tell us about yourself.

D.F. Matthews: Hmmm...Not a subject I am very fond of. Where shall I start? Well, as you can tell from my author picture there I am an enigma wrapped in mystery dressed in a riddle with the socks of a puzzle and a bow tie of blatant deception and a top hat of wonderment. I'm not at liberty to speak to much as I don't want to place those I care for at risk. You see those who lack imagination desire to capture me and use my brain as a buffet...much like the ones in Vegas where you can get king crab legs for four dollars and a subsequent case of food poisoning later on.

FTLOW: What rituals do you have before you write?

D.F. Matthews: Music has been a great catalyst for me personally...although I guess it can't be impersonally for me, can it? Anyhoo, I suppose my music selections are as diverse as my writing is. From Jay-Z to Kings of Leon to Dream Theater to Bjork to Danny Elfman and many more that I choose not to mention at the moment. I switch stories the same way from evil, not female hamsters bent on world domination to being trapped in my own mind with your emotions as actual people and monsters to one eyed rabbits who takes on the role of protector for a girl who embodies the soul of a distant world's deceased princess. But then again I may have said too much already. *shiftily looks over non-descript male or female shoulder*

FTLOW: What inspired you to write?

D.F. Matthews: A lifetime of reading I guess. I read anything I could get my hands on and it proceeded to warp my spongy mind. My library growing up wasn't well stocked, but reading material was thrust upon me all the time. I read entire set of encyclopedias, and every Sunday I read the funny pages. I loved Calvin and Hobbes!! Something about a boy living out his life in pure imagination that...appeals to me. Wonder why? Hmmm...mysteries. From there it went to R.L. Stine, then Stephen King and Dean Koontz, with comics mixed in-between. I was also influenced by a lot of movies. I grow up on The Godfather, Aliens, Terminator and Star Wars all at the tender age of seven. Yes...demented...but then I suppose I've said too much.

FTLOW: When did you begin to write?

D.F. Matthews: I started writing at the age of nine. Nothing terribly eloquent, just a fake newscast set in the land of Looney Toons. You know, like police being on the manhunt for the roadrunner because he dropped yet another boulder onto the poor creature’s head. Don’t judge me I was nine. However I’ve always felt compelled to write. Too much Seuss and television I say. Not that that’s a bad thing.

FTLOW: What genre do you write? Why that one?

D.F. Matthew: Is whatever a genre?...No? Oh well, then. I write for everyone who enjoys a good story. But I suppose if had to narrow it down, for the moment I write for children, middle grade, and young adult. Still I want to create something everyone can enjoy from the parent reading the bedtime story to their children and the whole family who wants to dive into a new adventure.

FTLOW: Is there anywhere people can find your work?

D.F. Matthews: Again I really shouldn't give too much information away, but a deal is a deal and a weasel is a weasel except when it masquerades as a duck....but that's a different story. You can find my work on this blog with Plan 100. Also on WeBook. Not mention I’m about to start a new project on Figment Fiction. But the closest thing to the actual me is this handsome little doppelganger who makes a habit of posting my whereabouts and writings on Twitter and Facebook.

FTLOW: Thanks so much for your time! It's always great to meet fellow aspiring authors and thanks to everyone for reading. Be sure to check out the links above and get to know D.F. Matthews a little more.
D.F. Matthews: Well I’ve had a delightful time. So much so that I’ll entrust you with one of my favorite chapters from Beyond Here. Please, whatever you do, do not post this on the internet…unless it is for For The Love Of Writing. I have a fondness for it.
Now who is going to unstrap me from this chair? Hello? Anyone? Oh boy.


Beyond Here: Chapter Eight

The woods to the land of Dread were as sparse and sickly as their exiled lord. Skeletal blood red trees stretched to the sky like hands reaching beyond the grave. A jaundiced moon watched over the land, casting ghastly shadows over the land. Subtle fog rolled in, mingling with the cool air.

Anger thought the crumbling ruins of the Nevagains had more charm. The sound of their pursuers nipping at their heels only added to the dreary mystique. It was more than the howling and barking; now it was the sound of their padded feet thundering along the ground. Anger was sure he heard the globs of spittle hitting the darkened soil as well.

Fear took the point on this one, this being his land it only made sense. It was hard to make out his inky figure amongst the shadows. Anger's brother strode along with a childlike glee in his step. This wouldn't be a problem if his moves weren't so noisy.

"Fear, you are a fool," he snarled. "Are you trying to bring every beast in Mother here?"

"I'm trying to hurry. Being overtaken by those things is not on my list of things to do."

Fear continued on his noisy path. For someone so frail he sure he sure made enough noise for someone ten times his bulk. With each crunch of dead leaves or a fallen branch Anger cringed. Why oh why must he be made to suffer this ignorance.

Highlighted by the yellowed moon's glare the outline of Fear's castle came to fruition through the trees. A grin played at the edges of Anger's canine mouth. Through the dark one could just make out Fear's grin as well.

"See? No problems." Fear said as he turned toward his brother.

That smile crept off his face only to be replaced with a look of his namesake. Anger halted, curved horns tingling at the sudden silence. No leaves crunched or mad howls or pounding of feet. The land was still as death.

Anger looked at the outline of the castle once more. It was still far enough away that making a mad dash in its direction would mean his demise. He sneered at the unseen lurking around him. His fists balled up and his teeth gritted together as he peered through the dark.

To his left the trees waved, and to his right the moon bleached shadows cried out a warning. He tensed his muscles, readying for an-

"Brother!" Fear called.

Steam billowed from Anger's nostrils. How could his brother be this dimwitted and still be alive? No one with any common sense would-

"Brother! We have to go while there is still time."

"Hush your mouth you ignorant whelp!" He didn't mean to shout but his rage was getting the better of him. His vision was turning red.

"My castle is right here."

"Nytemares are upon us half-wit."

"But Anger I think-"

That was all Fear managed to get out before a blur of motion swept him away. His pained screams filled the vacant darkness. Anger unleashed a beastly howl, more out of his own frustration than from the loss of his brother.

He turned quickly and saw a faint glimpse of a Nytemare darting through the trees. The shadow the beast cast was enormous. It had been sometime since the Nytemares and Demoni were loose. Their containment was one of the best things Mother ever did in Anger's opinion. He knew he was savage, but the Nytemares were on another realm.

A growl came from behind and Anger turned to see. Off in the distance his narrowed yellow eyes saw the monsters, three in all, stalking him. From their perch the Nytemares licked their chops. They stood eight feet tall on their four paws. Their flesh was exposed like newly hatched chicks, a muddled pink with protruding purple veins peeking under the meat. A spider like cluster of dark eyes studied Anger. Their feet were like human hands but with dark talons that gleamed in the light. Green globs of saliva gushed from a maw of devilish razor sharp teeth.

Much to his delight their masters, the Demoni, were nowhere to be seen. Still three rouge Nytemares were keeping him from the safety of the castle.

Nothing but trees were around him, not even a rock to beat them back. His fists and his horns were his only means of defense, and they had to do. Almost instinctively he faded into the shadows around him.

The Nytemares rushed in moving with the speed and power of jungle beasts. A wild hunger was in their eyes as they screeched and howled. One lunged at Anger. With speed that even surprised him Anger launched a hefty fist at the monster. His fist caught the Nytemare square in the jaw, and sent it sprawling yards away. Another Nytemare lunged and he was able to sidestep it. The final one however struck gold raking him across the chest.

It felt like fire coursing through his veins. The pain sent him to one knee, clutching at the wound. He had no time to dwell on the gaping scratches as the Nytemares were circling back. Quickly he rose to his feet letting his wounds soak in the yellow moonlight.

A Nytemare charged at full speed. Anger leaned his head forward at the last moment, his horns smashing against the savage creature's skull. He swore he heard a crack. There was no time to worry about his horns, the job was done. A Nytemare lay dazed at his feet. Two came from his sides, mouths open. He snatched the bloated purple tongue out of the Nytemare on his right. The tongueless Nytemare writhed along the ground, while the other sunk its claws into Anger's back.

Anger howled. He reached behind him and tossed the Nytemare off of him. Light blue liquid seeped from the newly opened wounds. He dropped the still wriggling tongue and went after the yowling monster. The wounded beast clawed at his missing tongue while unleashing savage cries. Anger clamped down on the Nytemare's thrashing hind legs. His back bellowed as he flung the monster into another.

He didn't know how he was still standing. His wounds were deep and raw. But he had to keep moving or end up devoured like his brother. Damn Fear...he could have at least been bait.

The dazed Nytremare staggered to his feet, looking none too happy about being put on his backside. It hurled a furious battle cry as it glared at Anger. The Nytemare clawed at the ground, spittle foaming around curled lips. Anger matched the movement ready to take the fight to the monster. As he did his horns ached as though they remembered what happened before.

Anger charged first and the Nytemare came charging toward him. Every part of Anger felt as if it had been set aflame. He had to keep moving. The castle wasn't far. His wounds could heal later if only he could reach those dank doors.

The Nytemare's jaw unhinged wide enough to swallow him whole. At the very last moment Anger launched himself into the air. His beefy hand slammed on top of the monster its head; slamming it into the ground, mouth first. There was a sickening, yet satisfying, crunch as the cavernous jaw shattered and flesh tore as it taut skin struggled to contain what had been its mouth.

No time to gloat in the minor victory, the beast was merely slowed for a moment. The other two were struggling to get to their feet. He had a clear, if brief, passage to the doors. Survival pushed him forward, making him ignore his pain that told him to quit. Those yellow eyes saw the bone littered steps, and the wrought iron doors. Cawing crows ushered in his presence as he took the steps two and three at a time.

Before he knew it he was at the door. His body crashed against the metal, yet it didn't yield to his power. Horror gripped his black heart. It couldn't be! Why would an abandoned castle be locked? He screamed at the moon, and then pounded his fist into the door. Each blow sounded like a car wreck. 'Open! Open!' he shouted, his voice growing more desperate every time.

From behind him he heard the Nytemares getting organized. They didn't have to rush; their prey was accounted for. They'd savor this meal as they tore at his flesh bit by bit keeping him alive for the entire session. Perhaps they would start at his eyes or maybe his chest, possibly they'd gnaw on his horns until he cried for mercy that would never come.

Anger turned to the stalking Nytemares who converged at the base of the steps. There was no escaping, but he'd make sure they knew they were in a fight. Their claws tapped on the stone steps as they climbed them one at a time. Anger clapped his fist together, egging the monsters forward.


He heard a loud click and suddenly he was flying backward. After the initial shock he slammed the door in the face of the Nytemares. Heart thudding against his wounded chest he saw his savior.

"I told you not to worry," said Fear holding a flickering candle.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bits O'Wisdom: Calling All Writers!

Ok, so lately I've been getting some tweets and messages asking about author branding and websites for both published and non published authors. Questions like, "Should I be establishing an online presence even if I'm not published yet?" or "Should I make a website if I'm not published?" and then "I'm getting published. What should my website say?" Among others.

I was going to write a post in answer to these questions but after five pages of typing I realized this just wouldn't do for a Bits O'Wisdom. Not just one post anyway.

So I thought that I'd reserve this post for y'all to post whatever questions you have on author branding, websites, (for published and non published authors) exposure, etc...in the comment section below. That way I can make sure all the areas y'all have questions on are covered.

So ask away!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!

One more time, say it loud, say it proud...Whatcha Reading Tuesday!! Come on and share what you're reading with us :) From books to comics to the ingredigents in water. Anything at all, just share here on the blog and keep the love of reading alive. And answer our little question: Describe the best reading/ writing enviroment. As always love y'all!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

MS or BS?

You start with an idea. A little seed of an idea that sprouts to life the moment you put pen to paper. As you write, that idea becomes a rough draft...a rough draft that needs to be critiqued, reworked, and polished.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says that when you write your first draft, you should write with the door shut. Once you're finished you can let others in and see what you've got.

Some of you will disagree with this. Some writers like and actually prefer chapter by chapter input as they are writing and if that works for you then great. Just make sure that it really IS working for you. Have you finished that first draft yet? Or are you constantly revising because of that input?

Betas/critique partners are great. I love mine. They've helped me learn and grow so much. But be wary of taking every bit of advice they give you. Even though the advice is good intentioned (and it should be) if you feel like it's draining your voice...take a second to really think about what they're telling you. This is your story, your characters, and you know them better than anybody. If the change they're suggesting doesn't sit right with you then don't do it. It doesn't matter if your Beta is a best seller and has written more than fifty books. It's not their story.

I know what you're thinking..."But there's no such thing as a perfect MS!"

Totally agree with you. There never has been and never will be a perfect book/story/MS. Never. And yeah there is ALWAYS room for improvement.

Edit until you love the story. Not until your Beta reader thinks it's good enough. Not until it follows every writing rule ever created. Not until it's perfect. Until YOU love the story.

I do believe that improvement is a good thing. It helps you grow, makes your story better. However, I also believe that there has to be a peak. A point where your MS is as good as it's gonna get before it starts sounding like washed up, formulaic garbage. If you keep pushing beyond that point, the fire and magic that makes your story stand out. Don't do that to your manuscript. The things we love most often have imperfections. Sometimes those imperfections are the very reason we love them.

Agents/publishers want to FEEL passion in a story. They don't want to read something too smooth and polished to be interesting. Let your voice bleed through your manuscript.

Study the craft, yes. Use grammar correctly, punctuation, and please don't forget to hit the spell check button...but you shouldn't be obsessing over every rule that was created for writers. And when it comes to critique partners--they ARE there to help you, but what they say isn't law. This is your story. Yours, yours, yours.

The literary world is a place built on emotion. Edit. Cut. Revise. But don't take the magic or the heart out of your story.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whatcha Reading Tuesday!!

It's that time again!! Say it with me now...WHATCHA READING TUESDAY!! So share what you're reading with us. Do it,do it, do it! Post anything you are reading from books to comics to your own pieces to those instructions on how to exercise ghosts and trouble tummy areas. Anything! Also we ask what author would make you squeal if they said they were your fan?

Monday, August 8, 2011

You're FIRED!!

Many of us have this three letter word and some of us have this six letter word. Both provide funds to keep a roof over our heads, our families fed, and on some occasions allow us to travel around and splurge on the non-necessities of life. If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m talking about a job or a career. With the American economy the way it is people are happy just to have one or the other. Not necessarily because it’s enjoyed, but because we NEED it. Not having one would mean trying to compete with others for one position or the mortgage company threatening to take your home. And we can’t have that, can we? So we buckle down, bite the bullet, and pretend that our bosses aren’t insufferable idiots. We put in the time asked of us, hope we can get more time, even take our jobs with us when we go home.
We do it to keep our bosses happy.
We do it for our pay.
We do it so we won’t be fired.
However what of your writing? What if writing were your job? Yeah, it gets easy to tell your friends, writing groups, and random strangers that ‘you would die without writing’ or ‘writing is in your veins’ or ‘I eat, breathe and sleep writing!’ (Come on; admit it you’ve said one of these before…probably even today.) But those are just words. No true action is being put behind it. So why do we do it? To make us look better? Maybe. To fill up conversation time? Possibly. Because most of those people won’t judge you and monitor what you do with your time? Most likely. Still, someone is keeping track and watching what you do. Yup, your muse watches you like a hawk and she is not happy. In fact she is ready to fire your sorry butt at the moment.
So imagine if you will, you walk into one of those offices that reeks of superiority. You know, the dark oak desk with pictures wrapped in frames from stores you can’t pronounce. The walls lined with artwork and photos with those ridiculous statements like DEDICATION or COMMITMENT emblazoned under a boat or a storm. Sitting in a leather office chair, that now has the look of a throne, is a stunning red headed goddess with eyes dressed in ivy. Those eyes behind wire rimmed glasses. (Don’t ask why I envision my muse like that…please don’t ask.)
She beckons you closer and to have a seat in a rather uncomfortable chair which best days were in the 80’s when it was still in the dump. She shuffles the papers in front of her and clears her throat. “Let’s talk about your performance review.”
You get sweaty. Your heart is betting faster. You check the exits and plan your escape like your name is Jason Bourne. She shuffles the papers again and you notice how thick your particular pile is.
She smiles. “Okay, first of all we love having you here.” (Never a good start.) “But we have some discrepancies with your work ethic.” A protest courses up to your lips but you silence it. “You complain about want more ideas and wanting the words to flow better, but all this week when you’ve had free time I found you in front of the TV watching reruns of shows you’ve seen a hundred times.”
You bite your lip to hold back another weak excuse wanting to burst from your lips. The red headed muse speaks again. “Then you raised a complaint about not having enough time in your day and I find you on Facebook, Twitter, and struggling to find your way on Google +.”
“It’s all marketing.” The words seep from your lips before you can stop them.
Those captivating eyes peer over the top of the glasses, staring you down. “Marketing what? You barely devote an hour to this company in an entire week. You’re work in progress has been a work in progress for two years. And yet you still want me to give you a raise of gorgeous words, creative thoughts, and doses of inspiration. Heck, you haven’t even been to a conference lately (reading). How do you expect to progress any further without studying and learning from the one who HAVE progressed to where you want to be?”
She pauses like she’s waiting for an answer from you, but she’s not. She want you to linger in the pool of disappoint she’s left you in. “Consider this a warning {insert name here}. A final warning. If you don’t straighten up I’ll have to let you go. Now quit crying and get back to work.”
Ouch. That was the meeting from hell, huh? Trust me; I had to partake of this post too. As I’m typing Pulp Fiction is running on TV and I want to veg out in front of it right now. But I know if I do Breaking Bad will be on right after, and then True Blood, and the next thing you know I’ll be asleep. No blog post. No other writing done. And my muse will have handed me in a pink slip. So tap, tap, tap away at the keyboard I must. How about you? Are you putting in the time needed to grow your writing? Are you tired of making excuses? Do you want to make your way up the writing ladder? Did your muse give you a warning or a pink slip? Well evaluate your day and see where some fat can be trimmed. Otherwise you may find yourself wondering what happened to that beautiful job you once had…when you used to be a writer.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Poetry: Wars

What are they good for?
Why do we want more and more?
We try to free nations.
We end up leaving broken relations.
The bombs that fall,
murder and devastate all.
The children and hurt
Left with nothing
Not even shirts.
The regimes are cruel.
They have strict absolute rule.
They must must quit.
I'm sick of this shit.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Magic: Making Readers Believe

Wow, it’s been forever since I blogged. Had a busy month, so much that I missed my scheduled date to blog a few Mondays ago. Things have finally started to calm down for the first time today.

So today’s topic is on creating believable magical systems in a fantasy novel. For those of you who don’t know, the term “magical system” refers to the way in which magic operates in a particular story. It’s the rules and limitations that govern the magic in that particular story’s universe. In fantasy, it’s the writer’s job to bring the reader into their world and make them believe what they’re reading so completely that they forget they’re reading a story. We as writers must suspend a reader’s disbelief so that, for the time they hold our books open, when we say that magic exists, not for a moment do they think, “But magic’s just make-believe!”

For those of you who read a lot of fantasy, you know that the types of magic that can exist in the worlds writers create are as diverse as the races that grace the pages of such books. There’s magic like that in Harry Potter, which allows practitioners to accomplish a wide range of tasks, everything from producing light or paralyzing someone, usually by using a wand as a casting device, with the spells triggered by a specific word. In many fantasies, magic is based on the elements, allowing users to control elements like fire or water. There’s also ones like that in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy, in which those who have the ability to do magic can burn different metals in order to allow them to do certain things, such as enhance strength or senses, ward off sleep, or heal wounds.  There’s also magic like that in the Wheel of Time, in which channeling a force called the One Power, a force derived from the five elements of Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Spirit allows those who can channel the Power to perform different tasks depending on the particular element from which they draw. For fans of these novels, each magical systems is so well developed and so believable that people the world over talk about them as though they are real, and the laws that govern those differing systems have seeped into the consciousness of the world at large. Every avid Wheel of Time reader knows the five elements or “threads” of the One Power, that only women can channel the Power safely, and that if men do it, they go mad. And because of Harry Potter, every child the world over knows that “lumos” is the spell that produces light at the end of one’s wand, and “Alohamora” unlocks a door. Was it just luck that readers came to believe in these magicks so completely? Well, perhaps it was partially that. But it was also the result of knowing how to create a believable system under which the magic operates on the part of the writer. But what’s the formula for creating such a thing?

From what I’ve read and through experience, creating an effective magical system has five components. Source, Limitations, Credibility, Purpose, and Price.

Let’s start with Source, since it’s the easiest to explain. It’s just what it sounds like, the source from which the magic of your world comes. This can be a person, a place, an object, or other element. Magic should never just come from nowhere, without ever being explained. In every great fantasy, magic comes from a source that is eventually revealed to the reader. When it is revealed later in the story, readers still have a sense, early on, that there is a source for the magic even if they don’t know what the source is. In Wheel of Time, the provider for the One Power is literally called “the Source,” and it’s described in detail in the series. In Harry Potter, magic was carried through a wand, but the sources for the magic itself were various elements that existed at the core of the wand. Dragon heartstring, unicorn hair, phoenix feathers; elements like these embedded in a wand gave the wand it’s magic. Establishing a source for the magic in your world ensures that the magic doesn’t feel random or thrown in without being planned out and thought through.   

Our next component when creating a well thought out magical system is limitation. It’s important to implement limitations on the use of your magic in order to create a “real world” feel. Much like a source, everything we do has a limit. Airplanes only fly so high, humans are only so strong, elastic bands only stretch so far. In terms of magic, limitations run from what tasks a person can perform with which enchanted object or element they use, how much power they can draw on or when, and who can use what power and in what way. Without limitations, things would be too easy for your characters, and it would be impossible to create conflict. Limits are put on us in real life because without them we would not be human and life would be very boring. Along with any other element in a fantasy, magic needs to work the same way. A character who can defeat anyone or overcome anything without struggle or limits has no opposition, and without opposition, there is no conflict. Without conflict, the story has no driving force.

It’s also important to give readers a sense of the limitations that exist within your magical system as early in the story as possible. Rules like, who can use magic and why, how it’s used and when. This helps to establish a real world feel and allows your reader to feel grounded within the story, rather like allowing an alien visitor to quickly see how the world works so that they don’t feel lost. Early establishment of magical rules also lets publishers and readers sense the possibility of a strong conflict in the story, despite the existence of something that, without clear rules, has the potential to wipe out all limitations.

For limitations, I’ll use the Wheel of Time series, since it has the most definitive set of rules of any magical world I’ve read. Set in an alternate-Earth type world, the primary force of magic in the series is the One Power, which I described earlier. Early on, the author, Robert Jordan, established three core rules about the Power.

1)  Based on the five elements of Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Spirit, the One Power comes from the Source, which is divided into two halves, the male half (Sadin) , and the female half (Sadir) Only males draw from Sadin, only females from Sadir.

2)  Only women can Channel the Power safely. If men do it, they go mad.

3)  Women who can channel are born with the ability, and are comparatively rare. Usually they have to be taught to channel or they die, but an extremely small amount are born with the instinctive knowledge of how to do it, and these, called Wielders, can channel without risking death.  

These three facts were laid out early in the first book. With them, Jordan establishes three things. By telling us who in his world can channel the Power, Jordan shows us that the ability to channel is not a common, everyday thing, and there are limits, such as that only women can do it safely. If everyone in a story can use magic, magic is no longer special, and becomes too ordinary. It gets boring. Telling us how it’s used and where it comes from (from the Source, drawn on like water from a skin) he establishes origin, making us feel grounded in the story with the knowledge that the magic doesn’t simply exist because he says so. By telling us that women have to be taught or most often die, he’s offered the possibility of conflict. Early in the story, he also established what each element of the One Power does. Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Sprit. This gives us a sense of cohesion, that the magic has a defined, solid, and consistent formula by which it operates. Later in the story, he allows us to see the complex underpinnings of his system when he reveals that those who channel can perform added tasks if they draw on more than one element at once and weave the magicks together, such as using Water and Spirit to heal. Throughout the series, the magic always works the same way, remaining consistent. Which brings me to my third essential component in developing an effective magical system. Credibility.

Credibility is simply the ability, on the part of the writer, to establish the rules of his/her world and then back them up with action and information that fits those rules. Once rules within a world have been established, you can break them, but there has to be a reason why.

Lets use Harry Potter for this part. Rowling established early in the first Harry Potter book that spells are cast with the use of a wand. She also revealed that Muggles are people who can’t use magic. The moment we saw the spell used, we knew that the word ‘lumos’ lights up the end of one’s wand, a lot like a light bulb. If a character suddenly said lumos to make something float (the word for that is ‘wingardium leviosa’) Rowling would have lost credibility. Similarly, if a Muggle said lumos, with or without a wand, and light suddenly appeared in the darkness, she’d have lost credibility, since we already know that only witches and wizards can use magic.

In the fifth book, Rowling appeared to break the rule at first. A well known Muggle from Harry’s neighborhood suddenly came to rescue Harry and started talking about wands and Muggles and other magical stuff that only a wizard or witch would know about. But then we quickly learned that the woman was in fact secretly a witch, employed to watch over Harry while he wasn’t in the wizarding world. Rowling backed up the credibility of her world and its rules by having the woman use a wand just like any witch, having her know things witches know, and having her familiar with certain people Harry knew to be other witches or wizards. Had the woman failed to use magic the way every other witch does, and didn’t know certain things about that world, readers would have stopped trusting Rowling as their guide through the Harry Potter-verse. They would have been pulled out of the story, no longer able to freely suspend their disbelief enough to take the impossible, that magic exists, as fact, for the time they are reading the stories.

So, onto the forth step. Purpose. When inventing a type of magic for a novel in which fantasy is your primary genre, it’s necessary to create a system as unique as it is interesting. But magic also has to have a purpose within the story. In other wards, you shouldn’t invent magic just because you like the idea, or because it’s fun. The magic has to, if not provide the key conflict within the story, then be elemental to the main conflict in some way. In other wards, if you take the magic out, the plot doesn’t make sense and the story can’t be told. Things must happen in the story that couldn’t occur without the magic present.  

For example, the main villain in Harry Potter was Voldemort, who was an extremely powerful dark wizard. Throughout the series, Harry had to become quite good at magic in order to defeat him. Without magic, there would have been no Voldemort, without Voldemort, there would be no villain, no main villain, no main conflict. Magic was also a part of every facet of the series, in that the main focus of the books was Harry and the other main characters learning how to use magic. Without it, the story would have fallen apart.

In Wheel of Time, the entire series, and every event that occurred in it, brought the main character, Rand Al’Thor, closer to the Final Battle, a confrontation with the Dark One. The Dark One is trapped in a prison in a place called Shayul Guol. The series isn’t finished, and the Final Battle hasn’t happened yet, so we don’t yet know what it is Rand will have to do in order to defeat him. But, it is clear Rand will have to use all his abilities and strength with the One Power in order to destroy the Dark One when he finally escapes his prison, all while avoiding the Madness that worsens every time Rand uses the Power. Though the Dark One can’t actually walk the living world or attack Rand directly, he does find other ways to hurt him, such as through dreams, usually making the use of the Power more and more dangerous. Rand’s only advantage against, not only the Dark One, but also other minions who serve him, is the One Power. So, like with Harry Potter, without magic, the story would make no sense. In both stories, magic is not the main conflict, but it’s the primary weapon with which fights are won and battle is waged. The magic isn’t there to pretty up the story, it has a purpose, one which another form of weaponry could not accomplish without completely changing the plot.

This leaves us with the final component necessary for an effective magical system: a price, or put another way, a drawback. This probably sounds like it falls under the category of limitations, but this is a little more definitive. What I’m speaking of here is the price those who use the magic pay for doing so, the drawback that comes with using it. Why is this important to have in a magical system? Well, in this sense, the price works the same as other limitations. Without a drawback, your characters would be using magic all the time and things would become too easy.

For the example here, we’ll go back to Wheel of Time. When using the One Power, the price men paid was the Madness, which caused not only the implied insanity, but also a wasting decease that eventually caused slow and painful death. In addition, this particular type of insanity caused the man to kill everyone around him. So it was pretty easy to understand why men didn’t want to discover they could channel, which, if they could, happened usually without them even meaning to do it. In the case of both men and women, each time they channeled, they felt an irresistible urge to draw more of the Power. The more one channeled, the more one wanted to channel.  For men, this meant the Madness came faster, death sooner. For women, if they drew too much, they ran the risk of “stilling” themselves, which basically meant they permanently cut themselves off from the Source, never able to channel again. Once that happened, the woman would long to feel the One Power coursing through her all the time, a longing comparable to the grief felt after a loved one’s death. So women had to learn to ignore the temptation to channel without need, and to fight the urge to draw too much. Plenty of conflict there. There were other prices imposed on the use of magic in this series, depending on the situation, but the aforementioned were the constant ones that permeated all facets of channeling. By attaching these prices on the uses of the magic, Jordan accomplished several things. He established magic as something that couldn’t be used as an easy way to solve conflict, he avoided characters becoming too powerful to create problems for, and he established a real world feel to his magical system that made it easy for readers to feel they were a part of the story.

Save God alone, everything in this world comes from something, all things have limits, everything is there for a reason, and nothing that produces easy solutions ever comes without a price in real life, so why should readers expect less of your worlds?

These days it’s becoming increasingly rare to read a fantasy without a form of magic that doesn’t feel overdone, or which doesn’t make things appear too easy. What about you? If you could choose to create any type of magic, what would you like to see? And what do you see writers doing that ruins an otherwise great magical concept in a story? Tell us!

Until next time everyone, write on!


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