Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Keeping it real in fantasy

I recently saw a blog post about keeping archaeological facts straight in fantasy fiction. I had a few issues with the concept. First and foremost, they were talking about FANTASY, not historical, fiction.

FANTASY: noun, plural fantasies.
imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
a mental image, especially when unreal or fantastic; vision:
a nightmare fantasy.
Psychology. an imagined or conjured up sequence fulfilling a psychological need; daydream.
a hallucination.
a supposition based on no solid foundation; visionary idea; illusion:
dreams of Utopias and similar fantasies.
caprice; whim.

Aka- made up shit.

One of the things mentioned in the aforementioned article, was that some people complained about potatoes in Lord of the Rings because they weren’t a food staple yet.

Think about that for a moment.

LOTR is a PURELY invented world. Yes, it borrows heavily from the British Isles, but it is a FICTIONAL world. How do these naysayers know when that world discovered potatoes? Just because the background was similar to ours, last time I checked there weren’t wizards, golems, trolls, ents, or any number of beings found in LOTR, in our world.

Yet, they were upset about potatoes being around.

Now, to be fair, the post wasn’t focused on the LOTR issue, that was simply a side comment, but it did deal with keeping anachronisms out of your fantasy fiction.

Again we are back to that logic diagram in our heads (we all carry those around, right?).

An anachronism is something out of time. If a world is INVENTED, then unless you are the creator of said world, no one can say you have created an anachronistic event. Unless you contradict something already established by YOU in that world.

An example was given of an author who had prisoners taking a donkey cart to their work site. The author of the article was stating how they should have put that they walked, since that would be how it would have been. Ummm, says who? If you are writing historical fiction, damn skippy you’d better get it right, down to the exact type of buttons they used. But for fantasy? As soon as you’ve introduced wizards, witches, vampires, centaurs, dragons, faeries, etc you are NO longer in this world. Therefore, the rules aren’t the same.

The author of a world of fantasy is creating that entire world. Yes, we steal (borrow ;)) from various times in history, and some are very close to historical truth with just a slight variation added. But they have still deviated from the historical truth.

If you, as the author, are telling me that your hero in 1833 used a snargleblaster to blow away a swamp monster that climbed out of the Thames, I can’t really argue that the boat the hero used wasn’t around then. The author has already hijacked the timeline with a snargleblaster, and the fact that a sentient two-story being has crawled out of the Thames and is snacking on passer-by. Reality has changed. A type of boat that wouldn’t have been around in OUR 1833, might have been designed in 1830 in a world with snargleblasters (not to mention swamp monsters who are not living in swamps at all).

Now, if in the above example, the author states that a snargleblaster can never be used near large bodies of water because a safety (to be built and added to the weapon in 1840) was missing which would cause the hero to explode—and the hero fails to explode—we have another issue completely. The author has betrayed their own established reality. 

So to all my other fantasy writers out there, I say let your wild ideas fly! There will still be troublesome naysayers, but just ask them where in YOUR world it was stated or implied that your culture advanced in the precise manner that “reality” did. (Just make sure you don’t contradict yourself ;)).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A few paragraphs about paragraphs

Paragraphs seem to be an issue in my world lately, at least I’ve run into a number of issues with friends and paragraphs, so that made me start thinking about them…hence….a blog ;).

First thing to keep in mind is that paragraphs are your friend.  They provide pleasing white space which allows the reader to take a breath and process your wonderful words of wisdom.

Second thing, they are not always constructed the same way for fiction, as they would be for an academic endeavor.

Third, like commas, many of the rules are optional. With the primary goals being ease of readability and maximum impact to move the story forward.

Even though many are open to interpretation, there are a few guidelines:

  • ·         You DO need them. Sorry, no way around this. Learn how to use them to enhance the reader’s experience.

  • ·         Don’t mix what one character says with what another character says in the same paragraph. This goes for action as well. 

  • One character=one paragraph, nuff said.

Bad Example: “Why didn’t you tell me you were flying the turnip to Mars today?” Stachia asked as she stormed around the mansion. “Because I knew you’d be mad,” said Kumquat. He peered around the corner at Turtledove. “I told him not to.” Turtledove said with a flip of her bright green hair.

Good Example: (Okay, good being relative ;))
“Why didn’t you tell me you were flying the turnip to Mars today?” Stachia asked as she stormed around the mansion.
“Because I knew you’d be mad,” said Kumquat. He peered around the corner at Turtledove.
“I told him not to.” Turtledove said with a flip of her bright green hair.
                        Which is easier to read and understand?

  • ·         Make sure the actions for one character stay with that character!  You never want to make the reader stop and try and guess who said what and who did what. If there is a bunch of back and forth- then yes, you will have a BUNCH of paragraph breaks. Don’t try to squish them together. Edit them down if need be. (Talking heads bad ;))

o   Bad Example:
§          Jane turned and walked away from the glowing ember of Troy. Benjamin followed along behind her, wiping down the cabinets of Troy as he did so. Turtledove wandered aimless behind them wondering what happened.

Hopefully, you wouldn’t be doing this type of writing, even broken up correctly. But yes, each action would need a separate paragraph (and you’d need an editor ;)).
  • If you start describing on thing (item, location, situation) and switch to another thing, you must start a new paragraph.

  • ·         If there is a gap in time-start a new paragraph (I usually have a space or break).

  • ·         Paragraphs can be used for humor (think the pause before a punchline) or dramatic impact (the pause before the “Oh shit!” moment). Setting a single line separate from the paragraph can make the reader mentally add an OMMPH to line.

o   Example: (not great, but it makes the point ;))

§        I made one more check of the house. I knew there was no one there. I’d checked every window and every door twice. The noises I was hearing were just the house settling. My husband was right, just because he wasn’t home, there was no reason for me to worry.

So then why was the backdoor wide op-?

Yes, that last line could fit logistically with the paragraph above it--but it makes more impact set apart.

  • ·         Like sentence length, paragraph length can speed up or slow down the pacing. Short paragraphs move fast (think action or a faster paced book) whereas longer paragraphs slow the reader, longer descriptive sections, a deliberate slowdown of action. But make sure, regardless of the type of scene that your paragraphs aren’t all the same length ;). variety is the spice of a good book.

 Paragraphs are far more than just something you were taught to use to separate the sections of your essays in school.  Have any favorite rules? Peeves?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Care and feeding of the inner brat

Writers, like all folks with creative bents to their psyches, have to keep their inner child alive and well. But more than that. We need to keep our inner child stubborn, determined, and willing to do whatever it takes to get what we need. 

In short, our inner child needs to be a brat. 

Now, not a brat as in falling on the floor and throwing a foaming fit, but a brat as in hunkering down and not taking no for an answer. 

Plus, not only does the delightful little inner brat have to be stubborn as heck--
they have to be willing and able to follow flights of fancy wherever they may lead.

As kids, most all of us had amazing imaginations--both good and bad--a great imagination meant that we really COULD think of the monster from the movie we just saw coming to get us. But it also meant the entire world was ours. We could be a high powered princess one day, a horse the next, and the president of the galaxy the day after. Listen to little kids, the vast majority of their play is story telling. Sometimes very active story telling. Most of us don’t act out our tales, but the kids are story telling nonetheless.

Then somewhere we lose that.

The world comes down on us and says the things we make up aren’t real, could never happen, and are extremely silly besides. Most humans retire their story worlds at that point. But a few of us hang on to it. We write because these great, “What If’s” keep popping in our heads. We see a headline and think, “What if it didn’t go like that? What if it went like this?” Eventually, in an effort to quiet the voices, we start writing these ideas down.

Now some folks are fine with that. The story is out of them, they don’t need to go further and can now return to a somewhat normal life.

But for the rest of us, our inner child needs to get her war paint on. Have you ever seen a kid want something so badly they keep crying for it until they fall asleep exhausted? As writers we need to do that. Ok, not the crying part (well it’s ok after a horrible review, but then you have to move on), but the hanging on to something so tight we never let go.

We have to hold this need to hang on close to our hearts. We need to honor our inner brat and not tell it it’s stupid (such as the inner comments of “I suck”, “I can’t write”, “I’ll never be published”.) Like external children, those kind of comments can be very damaging.

And we need to build our resilience. If one story doesn’t work, do another. Re-write it. Re-envision it. Like the kid who keeps building towers in the kitchen until they get that damn cookie jar, we need to keep working until we hit our first goal. Then keep it up for each book afterwards.

We need to keep our inner brat hungry for the prize. Creative, stubborn, and willing to get whatever help it takes to get to our goal.

A friend once gave me a framed print that says it all:

“Never, Never give up”- Winston Churchill
“Never, Never grow up”- Dr. Seuss

Keep that inner brat alive and well ;).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

#IWSG- Dealing with loss

Welcome to September's installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. A monthly gathering of writers shouting our hopes, dreams, and fears at the wind.

Please go here to find out more!

Today's blog is about dealing with loss and our characters. I have recently suffered a loss in my family and to be honest, I wasn't sure about blogging today.  But, blogging is sort of like journaling, and my own loss made me think about our characters and their losses.

Every single person on this planet will face loss differently. We all grieve differently, based on our own backgrounds, character, religious beliefs, and the specific situation. Our characters are "real" in that they need to react uniquely to fit them, not how the writer wants them to react (a formerly meek and dependent person suddenly becoming tough and fighting back for example). Or how society expects someone to react. Grief is unique for each character.

Grief is often used as a launching point for a story. The character's life changes drastically at a significant loss. The death of the character's mentor is a very well used trope and is a simple launching pad to propel the character forward.  It gets used too often, so if someone does want to use it, I'd suggest a twist. But many times death is used as the catalyst, but then forgotten.  The character musters on, forging the changes they need to, but there is no other reaction. Not much more from them, nor the people around them.

That's another issue- the people around them. Some people will identify too closely with the loss, and fade away--it's too close to their own fears, so they avoid the person completely. Others may respond completely inappropriately as they aren't sure what to say or do.

Building in grief and it's outcome can be a huge motivator for change in a story, but make sure it feels real. Now, this comes with the dialogue caveat-with dialogue it needs to feel real, but not BE real because it would bore the reader. Dealing with grief needs to feel real, but not BE real. But make sure it lingers in the character's changes, in reactions (or non-reactions) from those around them.

Grief and loss are also a reflection of a society. Our society, for example, really avoids talking about death. But other cultures see it as part of living. Use your character's loss to also show more about their world, their culture.

And remember, there is no wrong way to grieve.