In Defense Of Fantasy

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As a fantasy writer I have come across my fair share of people who think my chosen genre is nothing but silly reused nonsense composed of the same old places, people and adventures. And in a way it is. The same archetypal characters and situations are employed, but for good reason and to great effect if done properly. But still I encounter people who sneer or scoff when I mention what genre I write, as if Fantasy is somehow a lesser art. It seems to me that for the most part, unless people write fantasy novels (in one sub-genre or another) or are natural fans, they tend to look down their noses at the people whose minds dwell in the past or atop some misty hill where the fey are dancing before their very eyes.

For example:

I have often heard that as a historical fantasy writer, my job must be very easy considering my characters/environments don’t have to conform to “real” world rules that tug and weigh down people in the “real” world. If I want the grass to be ruby-red well then my grass is ruby-red, if I want my characters to fly…then POOF they can fly without anymore explanation than my typing that they can do so. Yeah…here’s what I have to say about that: Say you have a character in both a modern-day  ordinary novel as well as one in a historical fantasy one, and say that character lives in a very desert-like dry place and you are having him/her get dressed for the day. Naturally they must put something on that will be cool enough that they will not suffer a heat stroke the moment they open the front door.  It takes all of two seconds for the modern character and writer to decide to throw on a cool cotton t-shirt because hey, t-shirts are real, they’re relatively cool and no one would question that.

But…

That same character in a h/f novel cannot just grab an old cotton shirt from the bottom of his wardrobe, that is before the author has considered and researched the following:

1) Did they have cotton clothing in the time period you are writing in?

2) If so, how did they make it and where? Is it something that can be grown and produced in the land you are writing about? Or must is be shipped from elsewhere, or is that even an option for your novel?

3) Which leads you to research the necessities of growing cotton: how much water is needed, does your dry-hot land provide that much water, what soil is best? ect. ect.

Because if your character is living in a cotton-inhospitable environment without access to trade, then they cannot possibly throw on a cotton garment. And for those who don’t think readers will notice, you might be surprised at the amount of things a fantasy reader will pick up on. They notice almost everything! If there is an inconsistency, THEY WILL SEE IT AND IT WILL BUG THE CRAP OUT OF THEM. Which may impact your future sales.

But I hear you, I hear you, what about silk, leather, muslin, wool…something else! Why don’t you just chose something else and skip all this drama? Well…it all involves the same process. Where do you get the silkworms, leather might work but it will be hot as heck, muslin is a form of cotton clothing  and puts you right back in the old problem, and wool garments –other than being hot and itchy–  of course comes from a live animal (sheep/goat/camel ect.) and that leads you to the keeping of animals in the dry-hot place.

Basically, if you build a world instead of using the provided one with all its well-known and deeply ingrained rules and limitations, you must literally build one. From the ground up. The world must make sense or it will fail. That requires time and effort to be spent outside the actual story, so that the author truly understands the place he or she is describing. Fantasy novels aren’t all wizards and fairies and such, they’re a study in plant life, science and zoology. It takes two seconds to grab a cotton t-shirt, but hours and days to study how that shirt came into existence.

Think about it the next time you scoff at a fantasy novel, or tell the author what they do is easy. Think about it the next time you go to grab a shirt; take a moment to feel the texture of the material between your fingers and thank the lucky stars that you don’t HAVE to know anything other than it fits. And even that’s optional nowadays.

Originally published in September 2012.

Captive In The Beast’s Forest

“You’ve been kidnapped and given a choice: would you rather be stranded on an island, dropped into an unknown forest, or locked in a strange building?” — The Daily Prompt, Captive’s Choice.

As soon as I read the Daily Prompt this morning my lovelies, I was irresistibly drawn to the idea of being left to fend for myself in the wilds of a beautiful — yet frightening — forest, completely alone, with only the bounty of nature, the tingle of uncertainty, the prickle of fear, and the exquisite sexy allure of the unknown to accompany me.

To me, nothing is sexier than the unknown, the unexplored, the infinite what may be’s that lie ahead, filling us with hope and the desire to keep going, to keep living and dreaming no matter what.

Who knows…perhaps there is someone waiting for me in the forest. A prince under a beastly curse. A castle waiting to awaken. A future I’ve always dreamt about. Destiny. Fate. Love.

What if…

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Writing Mr. Right: Pt. One…Recon

What it is about fictional men that causes our hearts to go all a pitter-patter and leaves us twitter-pated, with loopy grins on our faces and a perpetual squeal lodged in our throats for days after we’ve finished a book? Why do they capture our hearts and minds so easily and so thoroughly that we can’t stop thinking about them and fantasizing about how we would handle such a guy? Sigh…I don’t know, but I love them (not in the over-the-top fan-girl way, but they definitely steal a piece of my heart)! When I’m reading a book with a well-written male love interest, I’m completely one hundred percent captivated for the length of time it takes to complete that book. And if I’m being honest, there’s little chance of me getting through a book that doesn’t at least have a romantic sub-plot for crying out loud. There are a few I’ve gotten through and actually enjoyed – and I mean a miniscule amount – but romance is a crucial element in my reading happiness. With that being said, the leading men are therefore vital to holding my attention; I want a swoon-worthy man – that’s why I’m buying the book (be it fantasy, sci-fi, modern, or whatever, I’m not just talking about ‘romance’ novels here)! But how does one write a swoon-worthy man? Hmm…let’s ponder a bit on this most delicious of subjects why don’t we… *loopy grin emerging*

Ladies and gentleman don your protective goggles and camouflage face paint; it’s time for a little recon!

To write a good man, you have to be familiar with good men. That means do your research, head to the classics or your own favorite novels for inspiration and being the analysis. Why do you like the men in these books, what aspects of their personalities appeal to you? How does the author get that personality across? Does this character remind you of the character you’re working with in your head? Study study study. The more familiar you are with the type of man you want to write, the easier it will be to write him. That does NOT mean copy that author’s work/character; that is a no-no of the highest degree. These books and characters are not there for you to copy, they’re there to inspire you. Think of these novels as your textbooks, break them down, analyze them and try putting some of the pieces together yourself (most of us do this unconsciously anyway when we read, or most writers that I know anyway).

You also need to know the genre you will be writing in, and who you’re target audience is. Men are presented different ways in different genres and readers know it and have blatant expectations when they pick up a novel in their favorite section of the bookstore. This goes without saying, but if you’re writing for mature women then you need a mature man, if your writing for teens then keep that in mind because a teenage boy and a mature man are completely different (at least in the realm of books, we’re going to forget reality here for the moment). You need to know how to present your guy to the readers, make sure he fits into the parameters of the ‘type’ of writing you’re doing. Most genres already have archetypal men: gentlemen, rogues, leaders, warriors, bad boys, wounded souls etc. and they all come with prerequisite but slightly malleable, well-known rules. Gentleman tend to be cordial and understanding, rogues are deliciously impossible, bad boys have that sense of dangerous uncertainty, leaders contain a sense of hope and overpowering duty, while the wounded…well they’re wounded aren’t they. There’s no saying that you can’t bend these rules slightly to suit your own character, but you need to at least be aware of them. Readers reading a historical romance are not going to want an emo-esque whiny leading man, and fantasy lovers don’t usually break their hearts over a sharp dressed businessman. Know who you are dealing with because readers are just as picky as vicious as writers are.

But perhaps most important in the recon portion of writing a great Mr. Right, is knowing your character inside and out; this goes with any character in any story. Writers need to know the people they are writing, all the shallow edges and dark chasms, the good the bad and the ugly…everything, because if the writer doesn’t know and understand the character, how can the readers? Take the time to discover the ins and outs of this human being, the whys and how come’s, the things he doesn’t want anyone to know and habits and mannerisms that makes him who he is. What is his back story, what has led him to this moment in his life with this woman and how will his past dictate his present, and how will he handle being placed in this situation and why? Who is he? Go beyond his looks and get to know the man you want people to fall in love with, because if he doesn’t seem real to you in your head then he won’t be real for anyone else either.

So here we are, back to the beginning of our stories, a little tired and grumpy but perhaps a bit inspired. All in all troops, I believe the recon portion of writing Mr. Right has been successful, I hope you all enjoyed the ride and part two of our journey into writing the men of our dreams (the actual writing part) will be posted by the end of the week!

Evening Poetry

This is a haiku in four parts, inspired by the epic Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, a young man destined to die at the hands of the Fae on All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween/Samhain) unless he is rescued by the mortal woman who loves him. If you haven’t heard the story before, look it up! It is gorgeous and so very romantic (depending on what version you’re reading…make sure you find a good version!). I would say more but I can’t bear to give the story away!

 

Leaves darken to red

the night draws ever closer

soon Tam Lin will ride.

 

Pluck a rose Janet

draw your lover to your side

a kiss before death.

 

Hell awaits Tam Lin

chosen of the Fairie Queen —

stand ready to fight.

 

Pull him from his horse

hold tight—never let him go

he is yours to lose.

 

I’m unsure of the necessity of the third stanza/haiku — it can be read with or without it — but I left it in for now.

Delving into the Character of a Great Character

Two blogs in two days, what is the world coming to?!!!!! HA! We can only hope it includes unicorns and dragons and free books and somehow becomes a place where authors get paid an exuberant amount and have all kinds of sparklies lavished upon them daily! I don’t know how the free books and wealthy authors work out together but it’s my dream world so just go with it…just focus on the sparklies…oh the sparklies!

Must…stop thinking about…the sparklies…

So (clears throat) back to writing, (somewhat reluctantly)…characters and their development are essential to almost every novel/short-story of all genres. Settings and plot are not to be downplayed or have their importance lessened of course, but the characters of a story are invaluable. Readers have to love, hate, desire, fear, sympathize with and relate to the people they encounter within the pages of a book. Characters need to be realistic, human (not to be confused with humane), even those who aren’t necessarily  human have to have some sort of relatability to garner some sort of emotion from readers. Heroes. heroines, villans, villainess, best friends and the wacky neighbor down the street all need to be developed to some degree with flaws and imperfections depending on their relevance to the story. A real person is beautiful and ugly at the same time, contains both light and dark aspects and is, in fact, a walking contradiction to some degree. So should a character be.  A good character is three-dimensional, fully functioning and always motivated, always.

Think about it…

There is a reason for everything you do, from going to the fridge out of hunger to grimacing at someone because they once said your hair looked ugly (the jealous fiends!). It’s the same with a person in a story, they will be petty and hungry and those characteristics will drive them forward. A real character will have real motivations, real desires and real flaws. To write convincing characters think about yourself, about the people you know, what makes them seems real? What moves them? (Not that you should be writing the people you know into your stories, this is more of a practice thing). But above all listen to the characters themselves.  Take the time to listen to the stories they have to tell, suspend judgment (which is harder done than said) and their desires and motivations will reveal themselves. Don’t be afraid to write a protagonist with serious flaws, as long as those flaws fit the character; he or she should be relatable. No one is perfect and those who are perceived to be are usually annoying and instantly turn people off. On the other side, a villain will always have a motivation as well and it very well could be based off of a desire to do a perceived good as opposed to raw malicious intent. Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on one side of the story, the villain does not have to be completely sympathetic to the point where the reader will be confused about who to root for, nor does a protagonist have to be devoid of negative attributes; a touch of humanity goes a long way.

Take the time to fully develop a character and a character’s voice, don’t rush into a story without knowing who you are really writing about. Be patient, think about who this person/character is, what does he/she want and why, how do they feel about all this, how would they react to this obstruction being placed in front of them, would they balk, fight, run? And remember: be consistent, if a character’s character changes (and it should over the course of a novel) then it should be gradual and displayed over time. No one changes (fully) in one day. I’ve never understood writers who say they force their characters to do something or think a certain way or give them a name they want them to have, it seems unnatural and a character must be natural. If you have a naturally shy and timid character and you force them to suddenly — and without provocation — engage in a sword fight or a catty battle of words with someone they fear, it comes across as unnatural and leaves the reader feeling cheated and confused. Why did this character suddenly engage instead of withdraw, or inexplicably develop a taste for adventure when the previous fifty or so pages described them as a contented homebody? If a character naturally does something odd or naturally changes then there should be an understandable motivation behind it — it should not be because the writer wanted this random change — and it should take time to occur.

Understanding the intricacies of a character is not difficult, merely time-consuming, but taking the time to understand the “whys” makes translating a believable character to the page that much easier for both the writer and the reader. Don’t be afraid to question a character, the most important thing a writer can do is ask “Why?”.

Fooled you didn’t I?! It’s Called World-Building

Well I certainly did not plan on being away for that long (sheepish grin). I imagine you all were beginning to lose hope, but hold fast dear friends, for I have returned! For some reason — that I am oh so thankful for —  I got into a writing zone and was having a deliriously happy time writing my novel, though I did feel somewhat neglectful of my blog (I just miss you all so much when I’m gone).

So…hmm today’s topic, let’s think…what should I rant/give advice on today. I think it would be both wise and practical to build on the last blog ( the intricacies of fantasy writing, research etc), and discuss that oh-so-important thing called WORLD-BUILDING. We touched on that before but now lets delve a little deeper shall we.

First of all, consistency is an essential element of world-building in a novel, so early on it is important to take notes, pages and pages of notes if need be. This sounds very basic I know, but it’s surprising how often people think they will remember tiny important details because “their brain knows this is important and must be remembered”. Yeah, that doesn’t tend to work well in the long run. If you think of something like the name of a character or a town or the reason why your character has wings growing out of his feet or something WRITE IT DOWN IMMEDIATELY. Notes are invaluable in the long run, you may mention something or someone once and then  not mention them again for a hundred pages or two and by that time all the information you had may just be lost inside your mind. Notes allow writers a quick and easy way to access forgotten information which allows them to stay consistent with their previous statements. If a character has brown hair and green eyes at the beginning of the story it’s annoying to a reader to suddenly read about black hair and blue eyes (unless something drastic has happened of course and it has been properly explained). If a character is seventeen at the start of a novel and has yet to have another birthday in the course of it, they should not be twenty at the end. Consistency seems so simple, so effortless but it is one of the easiest ways to destroy your work and your reader’s patience with you.

I am guilty of not writing things down at once too, and trust me, it’s nothing but aggravation when you can’t remember something brilliant you had just thought of the day before, or an hour ago, for five minutes ago before some random song got stuck in your head or your brain just randomly switched to…and there it is, it’s that easy to lose your sentence (or whatever it was).

Also, world-building in fantasy/sci-fi/ ect novels is nothing if not details. A world and its existing societies have to be believable as well as relatable however different they are from our own. Get the reader’s attention with the “whys” and “hows”, get their sympathy but don’t bore them to tears with twenty pages on what trees grow where or why the ruling class thinks poorly of the peasants. There is a fine line between not enough information and too much. The details you give a reader need to have a purpose in the plot, they need to make you feel something for a character or a place or give you that nagging suspicion that something might be upsetting the order later on. Explain why your characters are so beat down and ragged, or why the ground is inhospitable to life-giving crops; give something for readers to cheer for, to hate, to understand. The smallest detail can impact the entirety of a novel. (And besides the more details you have about the running of your world or character, the easier it is to write them!) Give your readers something to grasp onto. Readers need to be involved in the reading process, they need just enough information that they feel as though they are contributing to the story in someway, or are at least a part of it. Engage them, dazzle them , leave them guessing but also leave them hope. Details are the only hope readers have, they are the only thing to base possible idea’s  and conclusions off of.

There is much much more involved in the world-building process of writing but I do believe I will save that up for another blog and another time (just to keep you on your toes)! So don’t be afraid to experiment with new and different writing idea’s, but always remember to stay consistent in your own world and the more details you have the easier it is to write because you’ll understand the all important “whys” and “hows”! I would add something witty or sarcastic here to mark the end of this rant/blog, but to be quite honest, I can’t think of anything!

Fantastical Fantasy and the Utterly Clueless…

As a fantasy writer I have come across my fair share of people who think my chosen genre is nothing but silly reused nonsense comprised of the same old places, people and adventures. And in a way it is. The same archetypal characters and situations are employed, but for good reason and to great effect if done properly, but more on that in another blog I think. Overall, unless people write fantasy novels (in one sub-genre or another) or are natural fans, they tend to look down their noses at the people whose minds dwell in the past atop some misty hill where the fey are dancing before their very eyes.

For example:

I have often heard that as a historical fantasy writer, my job must be very easy considering my characters/environments don’t have to conform to “real” world rules that tug and weigh down people in the “real” world. If I want the grass to be ruby-red well then my grass is ruby-red, if I want my characters to fly…then POOF they can fly without anymore explanation than my typing that they can do so. Yeah…here’s what I have to say about that: Say you have a character in both a modern-day  ordinary novel as well as one in a historical fantasy one, and say that character lives in a very desert-like dry place and you are having him/her get dressed for the day. Naturally he/she must put something on that will be cool enough that she/he will not suffer a heat stroke the moment she/he opens the front door.  It takes all of two seconds for the modern character and writer to decide to throw on a cool cotton t-shirt because hey, t-shirts are real, they’re relatively cool and no one would question that.

But…

That same character in a h/f novel cannot just grab an old cotton shirt from the bottom of his wardrobe, that is before the author has considered and researched the following:

1) Did they have cotton clothing in the time period you are writing in?

2) If so, how did they make it and where? Is it something that can be grown and produced in the land you are writing about? Or must is be shipped from elsewhere, or is that even an option for your novel?

3) Which leads you to research the necessities of growing cotton: how much water is needed, does your dry-hot land provide that much water, what soil is best? ect. ect.

Because if your character is living in a cotton-inhospitable environment without access to trade, then they cannot possibly throw on a cotton garment. And for those who don’t think readers will notice, you might be surprised at the amount of things a fantasy reader will pick up on. They notice almost everything! If there is an inconsistency, THEY WILL SEE IT AND IT WILL BUG THE CRAP OUT OF THEM. Which may impact your future sales.

But I hear you, I hear you, what about silk, leather, muslin, wool…something else! Why don’t you just chose something else and skip all this drama? Well…it all involves the same process. Where do you get the silkworms, leather might work but it will be hot as heck, muslin is a form of cotton clothing  and puts you right back in the old problem, and wool garments –other than being hot and itchy–  of course comes from a live animal (sheep/goat/camel ect.) and that leads you to the keeping of animals in the dry-hot place.

Basically, if you build a world instead of using the provided one with all its well-known and deeply ingrained rules and limitations, you must literally build one. From the ground up. The world must make sense or it will fail. That requires time and effort to be spent outside the actual story, so that the author truly understands the place he or she is describing. Fantasy novels aren’t all wizards and fairies and such, they’re a study in plant life, science and zoology. It takes two seconds to grab a cotton t-shirt, but hours and days to study how that shirt came into existence.

Think about it the next time you scoff at a fantasy novel, or tell the author what they do is easy. Think about it the next time you go to grab a shirt; take a moment to feel the texture of the material between your fingers and thank the lucky stars that you don’t HAVE to know anything other than it fits. And even that’s optional nowadays.