Great News

May 5, 2010 at 9:00 am (Death's Daughter, fantasy, Feature, New Release, Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I’ve had a really strange year.  First moving and then floods and then life (and everything that entails) and things just keep rolling right on over me.  Mostly good things.  Meeting new people, making new friends, learning new things.  It’s just been really busy and hectic and at times very draining (particularly the floods).  That’s why I’m really, really happy right now.

I am now published (happy dance).

Though, this also means I can’t give myself excuses any more, I need to get my act together and get blogging again.

So, if you would like to check out “Death’s Daughter” I would greatly appreciate it.

cover art

Thanks so much to all the people who have continued to offer support over the last couple of months and hopefully I won’t be doing anymore disappearing acts.

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The Slow Read

February 13, 2010 at 5:44 am (From the Book Shelf) (, , , , , , , , , , )

If I am reading something slowly it means I do not like it.

If I am reading it really slowly, it means I am dissecting it in my head and ready to rewrite it from the beginning because I really, really, dislike it.

See, when I like something, I race through it. I eagerly read, my eyes keep jumping further down the page, ploughing further into the story and I don’t want to pause or wait, I just want to know how the story ends. I need to know. I’m caught up and captivated.

Then there are the books like the one I am currently reading.

It is a Shadowrun book – this one by Mel Odom called Headhunters and the premise is interesting enough. Group A is hired to steal a body from the morgue as is Group B. Group A succeeds in getting the body but then are worried about getting killed by Group B and so have to find out who Group A is and why they wanted the body. Enter intrigue and the usual Shadowrun politics with corrupt police and corps and mercenaries and the meta-human race relations and all the things that can make Shadowrun books extremely interesting reads.

Yet this book does not grab my attention. I know this because I started reading it nearly 11 days ago and I’m barely half way through. Yes, I have been busy, but I still would have finished it by now if I had wanted to find out how the story ended. I’d have woken up in the morning and checked my watch and sat for fifteen, twenty minutes frantically devouring pages if I had an interest in finishing this book.

Why don’t I like it? I have read so many other books in this series and really enjoyed them. I’ve read them out of order so I can’t honestly say where this book falls as far as the timeline.

I think it comes down to the protagonist. Skater. The mercenary who in the midst of this body snatching crisis is facing a personal dilemma of how to care for his infant daughter and worrying he may not be a good father. I must admit, the moments when he is blathering on about his fatherly concerns are the bits where I keep putting the book down and then dragging my feet picking it up again. It isn’t that this sub-plot is not interesting. It is more that I don’t believe it. Everything else Skater does is rational and deliberate and I know that they are trying to open up this emotive can of worms but it just seems far-fetched and so out of character for him.

It could also be that they keep telling me things. Skater was angry. Skater felt betrayed. Skater this. Skater that. I don’t like Skater as a character to begin with and he emotes so little on the outside that without being told he is experiencing emotion we, as the reader, would probably never know and it bothers me.

I am going to finish reading this book. I want to know why the body is so important. Unfortunately I fear I probably missed some key clues and I know I’m not going to go back to read them. Hopefully it all comes together.

By the way, if you are interested in a Shadowrun book I would suggest 2XS. It is a fascinating read and the protagonist in that (also bogged down by a family sub-plot) is really quite interesting. I actually cared whether he was getting shot at or not.

How about you? Do you read slower or faster when you are not enjoying something?

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Reflections on the Week that was 13

January 31, 2010 at 5:27 am (Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , , )

Another fun week down. Not a lot done on the writing front this week but enough. I spent some time getting to know my new protagonist again. I already relocated her story from a complete fantasy world to a slight variation of reality and have since given her multiple character adjustments. The most recent is going to require a complete renovation of everything I’ve already written. I gave her a sister. Too much internal dialogue was just dragging the story and I decided she needed someone who knew her well to converse with and to help move things along at times. Also, just someone who would tell her outright when she was being a pain in the neck. Oh well. The story itself is still working really well and I’m more or less pleased with the supporting cast although I may have to tweak the villain a little more. I think they are playing it far too safe at the moment.

Anyway, I actually did read quite a few blogs this week and I am pleased to share some of my favourites with you though just reminding everyone that the Novel Elements Series is going to begin on February 15 and if you would like to participate I really need your response by February 10.

Recommended Read For The Week

Laura Renegar – Confessions of an Exclamation Mark Abuser – Too funny and it makes an excellent point.

My Posts for the Week

The Hero’s Journey and Other Things – Some fantasy books don’t involve a journey.

Thinking Outside the Box – Finding ways to write about things you may not know, experience or think.

Sleep Deprived Characters – Using sleep deprivation as a plot device and just being aware that characters occasionally need to sleep.

Writing Lessons From Reading Traci Harding – One of my all-time favourite authors and the lessons I have learnt from reading her work.

Sunrise or Sunset – When do you hang someone?

5 Ways to Gain Inspiration While Shopping – Plus a few suggestions from other writers who have also taken advantage of shopping times to brain storm.

Other Posts on Writing

Dee Scribe – Turn your writing upside down – create the unexpected.

Conan the Grammarian – Affect vs effect.

Kathryn Apel – Creating Believable Fantasy Worlds

Elizabeth Spann Craig – Where do your ideas come from?

Michelle Locke – 10 Ways to be a better writer.

Jody Hedlund – Does blogging really help sell books?

Plus – Just for fun and nothing really to do with writing.

Twitter Twouble

In a dire situation?

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The Hero’s Journey and Other Things

January 30, 2010 at 5:50 am (Structure, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been thinking about a comment I received to my post on thinking outside the box about the number of fantasy books that do deal with the hero’s journey, either directly or indirectly. Largely these books are epic tales and involve a quest of some sort and our hero goes from naive and weak to brave and wise and strong, usually aided by companions and some form of mentor. And these books are great reads – though the farm boy thing has been done to death at this stage and not every wise mentor has to talk in riddles.

Anyway, I took a look through my collection of fantasy fiction and looked for examples of other stories that I’ve read. Automatically my David Eddings, Traci Harding, Ian Irvine, Terry Brooks collections were put out of mind. Ian Irvine may not deal specifically with the hero’s journey (it is kind of hard to tell at times who the hero of the story is supposed to be) but there are enough similarities that I’m putting it in this category for now. David Eddings earlier works deal with a farm boy who gets lead on a journey to save the world guided by companions and while his later works have some slight variations to the protagonist the basic quest and development remains more or less the same. So, who does that leave me with?

1. Barbara Hambly – Sorcerer’s Ward. I own a few of Hambly’s novels but Sorcerer’s Ward is my favourite. It is kind of a romance/mystery that just happens to involve a Mage as the one trying to solve the murder of her sister (before it happens) who is being thwarted by the witch finders of her world. There is some character development (as there really needs to be for a character to be really good) but Kyra starts out in this book a fairly competent and determined person and the guidance she receives from others is minimal.

2. Camille Bacon-Smith (I hope I got that right I can’t find the book again right now) – Eye of the Daemon. Another more mystery oriented book, mostly because the main characters (one half daemon and two daemons) run a detective agency. Throw in crosses and double crosses, multiple dimensions and the possible end of the world and you have a very interesting story.

3. Terry Pratchett – The Discworld books. For everyone one of these that sends a character on a quest there are at least three that don’t and deal with the every day drama of living in a very strange world.

I found many more examples but the pattern was quite apparent. The big names in epic fantasy do seem to focus on the hero’s journey and I think that is because it is what most of us expect from a fantasy. However there are a lot of sub-genres of fantasy and there are a lot of different stories that can be told. The same is probably true of any genre.

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Writing Lessons From Reading Traci Harding

January 27, 2010 at 5:39 am (writing lessons) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve finally come to Traci Harding.  I would have done her first but unfortunately whenever I talk to people who read very few of them have read Traci Harding and that is a shame. She became my absolute favourite author of all time when I was in high school and even though I have not particularly liked her later work, I still think her Ancient Future Trilogy is the best fantasy trilogy I have ever read.

What did I love about the Ancient Future Trilogy?

  • The protagonist.  Tori Alexander is an amazing female protagonist. She is confident, strong (she’s a black belt), smart (multiple university degrees), funny, romantic and yet flawed in that she is overly emotional, stubborn and extremely proud. As a high school student she really appealed because her flaws were kind of endearing and she was just an incredible person to read about. Here is a girl who can get zapped through time (multiple times) and always lands on her feet and wins the heart of the really, really hunky guy who just happens to be a King. She’s also an Australian who just happens to be travelling around England when she goes time travelling,
  • The setting – A time travel fantasy where they go back to the days of knights and kings but they don’t end up in Camelot. There are a lot of references to the kingdom, there are parallels, but this is not an Arthurian legend and it was nice to read something a little bit different because at the time it seemed like every second fantasy book I read was about Arthur and friends.
  • The supporting cast – All the characters in this story are kind of interesting. The fact that you meet several incarnations of the same soul in several different time zones means you see how the soul has developed and grown overtime and you get a real insight into each of the characters by the time we reach the end of the trilogy. There are only a couple of characters who seem to get sidelined and really leave you wanting to know more about them.
  • The time travel – I usually really dislike time travel stories because they tie themselves in knots and you are always left wondering how it works its way out. Traci Harding create a time travel story that for once kind of makes sense though by the third book she’s kind of skating over the details very quickly and her explanations may not hold up under scientific analysis but there aren’t any glaring inconsistencies just jumping out and hitting you in the face and disrupting the storyline.
  • The ending – and I will not ruin the end of the trilogy for anyone but if you want to experience an end of the world scenario that is truly incredible, this is the trilogy for you.

Now, even though it is my favourite trilogy of all time and I fully recommend reading it to anyone who likes fantasy, adventure, romance, spirituality, strong female characters, etc, etc, I do have to acknowledge some of the issues with the trilogy.

  • The language – I do not care what Tori Alexander studied at university you are never going to convince me that anyone living in modern Australia can speak ancient Welsh proficiently enough to communicate with people when travelling back in time. Admittedly, the story would kind of be awful if Tori couldn’t speak to anyone (mostly because she would have been killed within minutes of arriving back in time) but with so much magic and spells flying around later in the story, I would have bought translation spell as an explanation before linguistic genius.
  • Repetition – The reader understands fairly quickly that underpinning this relatively simple story about a girl travelling in time there is this deep spiritual story about mastering your soul and acceptance of others view points and natural energy flows and all of these other ideas which are working well together to create a rich and interesting story. However the same concepts are explained multiple ways throughout the trilogy and at times you want to cut the character off and tell them “I already got that in the last book”. Actually, you don’t notice the repetition so much the first time you read the trilogy but the sixth or seventh time it starts to become a bit more obvious.
  • The second book – It is always the second book of a trilogy that feels like it is marking time and filling in details and the second book of this trilogy is no different. Tori gets to visit Atlantis, which is kind of cool, except that the people in Atlantis are so spiritual and sweet and dull you are kind of happy when everything starts falling apart.

So, writing lessons learned from reading Traci Harding:

  1. Have an incredible protagonist – one that really draws people into the story. They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t always have to make the right decision but they need to be interesting and appealing.
  2. Put the extra work into the supporting characters. The reader will appreciate it.
  3. If writing a trilogy, spend the extra time on the second book and figure out how to avoid the curse of the middle book. It may not be possible but try anyway.

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Ghosts are my Least Favourite Plot Device

January 21, 2010 at 5:39 am (Character, fantasy) (, , , , , , , )

Ghost stories are fantastic.  Who doesn’t love a good ghost story?  The key word being good.  The traditional ghost story that sends tingles down your spine and makes you laugh that strange, high pitched relieved giggle at the end.  I have always enjoyed ghost stories.

However, I don’t enjoy ghosts that are used as a plot device because the author just wrote themselves into a corner and now they need the ghost to explain something to the protagonist or the entire story will collapse in on itself.  The final book of the Harry Potter series was one of the more recent books to seriously annoy me by doing this.

Yes there will be spoilers for people who have not yet read the Harry Potter books.

Book six sees Dumbledore (mentor and guide) finally removed from the story.  Great.  We can finally see Harry take some initiative and take control.  He has been the protagonist for six books and he still hasn’t actually made any decision other than, I’m going to walk into danger and see what happens.  Book seven.  The final year of school (assuming any of the main characters were still in school), the final show down with evil, this is Harry’s chance.

Oh wait a second.  He doesn’t know about this and that.  He doesn’t understand this.  Nobody told him that yet.  In point of fact, nobody told the reader either so they don’t have a clue what is going on.  Great.  Bring on the ghost of Dumbledore past and in an extremely long winded flash back he can explain an entire back story that didn’t exist until this point but will conveniently tell Harry exactly what he needs to do next.

Ghosts can be great characters.  They can also fill in the a few of the blanks.  However if you entire plot relies on the summoning of a ghost to do a massive info dump at the last minute I’m pretty sure some of your readers will be upset.

So what is your opinion?  Is the ghost a useful plot device or a crux used to explain things away?

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Tension through forced in-activity

January 20, 2010 at 5:26 am (Tension) (, , , , , )

We often look at creating tension in stories and you think about all the possible problems a character could face and things that could just go horribly wrong all to create a scene that has escalating tension until finally we resolve something or explode.  Well, I don’t think anyone has exploded from tension yet but you get the idea.  I was wondering the other day what makes me tense in real life and I came to the conclusion that waiting is my killer.

People being rude to me is annoying but I get over it pretty quick.

People getting in the way of something I want to do is also pretty easy to either get around or get over.

catastrophic failure of a plan happens and then you make a new plan and move on.

But waiting.  Sitting and having to wait for a designated time for something to happen and then it not starting and having to wait more, that is what makes me very, very tense.  Forced inactivity.  I can’t move on and do something else because I have to wait and I can’t make what I’m waiting for happen any faster.

Some would see this as a sign that I am an impatient person.  This isn’t actually the case.  I just like my plans to run smoothly and when things are late or delayed it upsets other plans plus it forces me to do nothing.  I don’t get upset in traffic – that often.  There are exceptions, such as when a twenty minute drive becomes a three hour one due to severe traffic issues.  I would like to meet the person who doesn’t get annoyed about that.

Could this sort of tension work in a story?

Yes.  It actually works quite well.  Particularly in horror where the victims are forced to wait for the next attack.  They can’t leave, they can’t get proactive, they can’t call for help.  They are stuck just sitting and waiting and unable to do anything that is useful.  Sure they can read and they can talk and they can shuffle things around and pretend they are looking for weapons, but they know they are just killing time until someone else decides to act.

What makes you tense in real life and could you use it in a story?

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Building Better Worlds

January 19, 2010 at 5:34 am (Setting) (, , , , , , , , )

Yes – the title of the post is a quote from Aliens about the terraforming process used to create a new world to live on.

I mentioned last week that I would be talking about world building in a bit of detail so here goes.

One of the prerequisites when writing high fantasy is that there is a totally different world and usually that world is completely separate from the ‘real’ world (though because we live in the real world and are writing for a real world audience it kind of helps to give enough similarities that people can understand what they are reading).

There are many different approached to world building and everyone does it their own way.  Some people start with a clear vision of what the world looks like and draw it and then break it down into its individual pieces, other people start with a theme (such as medieval) and build the world out from there.  One person I spoke to once mentioned that the world in their story came from a dress she really wanted to wear and she built a world around her ideal fashion.  The point is, you start wherever you are comfortable starting.  If you are like me, you tend to start with a character and then build the world around where that character may have come from.

A couple of points about worlds.  There needs to be logic to them.  If nothing else there should be geographic logic.  Yes, you can sometimes get away with magical landscapes and where things float in midair and the like but you need to consistently apply whatever rules and logic you’ve decided on and you need to make sure you somehow make it acceptable to the reader. Otherwise they aren’t going to believe your world and if you are writing high fantasy your reader has to believe in the world you’ve created – at least for the duration of their reading.  Also, draw a map, even if it is only a rough sketch on a napkin while drinking coffee.  You don’t want to be heading east to the river one minute and then end up in the desert.  It doesn’t matter whether that map ends up in the book or not but you need it so that you can check for continuity errors in your story.

Other than the geography there are three things I like to think about when planning worlds.  Politics, religion and economics.  Whenever you study a society, whether it be a modern day society or an ancient civilisation, these three things are always prominent in your learning.  What political structure existed?  What religion or religions were practiced?  How prolific were they? How influential were they? Did they trade?  Were they self sufficient?  Was there currency or did they barter? How do all of these things affect day to day living?

My theory is that once I have the geography roughly mapped out, the political structure decided, religious beliefs created and a working economic system (or multiple ones if I am dealing with more than one part of the world), I have a more or less workable and believable foundation for a world once I fill in the finer details.  Those finer details would be things like fashion, food, architecture, occupations, modes of transportation, weaponry, etc, etc, etc.  You know, minor details that can cripple the entire story on the spot.

So – what do you think about when building your world?  When reading what can make or break a world?  I would love to know how other people approach this.

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Writing High Fantasy

January 16, 2010 at 5:12 am (fantasy, Genre, Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Recently, Fiona Skye asked me if I had any advice about world creation for high fantasy and I realised I’ve only ever written one post about creating worlds and I’ve never written anything on the blog about high fantasy.  So, one step at a time, I am going to look at what high fantasy is and sometime next week I’m going to look more specifically at world building.

What is High Fantasy?

High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“Secondary”) world, rather than the real (“Primary”) world. The secondary world will normally be internally consistent but its rules are in some way different from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterised by being set in the primary world, or a rational and familiar fictional world, with the inclusion of magical elements.

Wikipedia

I know Wikipedia is flawed as a research source but when it has the correct information it has the benefit of being put into simple and easy to access language which is why I borrowed my definition from the website. It at least makes sense which puts it far above most definitions of what makes something high fantasy.  Though I would object to them classifying Harry Potter as High Fantasy even though Hogwarts is technically a secondary world within the primary world.

Personally, I love reading high fantasy and I love writing it as well. Every aspect of the world and characters is controlled by you and you can change as much or as little as you like as long as you make the world and characters believable to your reader. The danger, or course, is getting so caught up in world building and character creation it takes 100,000 words just to set the scene. We all know that fantasy is prone to becoming serialised and trilogies and quadrilogies are pretty standard in the genre for a reason. Writing a high fantasy stand-alone novel is hard because you have to condense a lot of details and yet still make sure people understand where they are and what is going on.

Debbie Ledesma argues that high fantasy tends to concern itself with two themes.  The battle between good and evil and the quest and for the most part she is right.  There is no rule that says your high fantasy has to deal with either of these themes but for the most part high fantasy books have dealt with them. Debbie also lists the characteristics of the quest. I would think the quest would have to be popular because after creating an entire world most writers want to show it off and the quest is a convenient way to wander everywhere and see everything – see my comments on Eddings and Tolkien from a previous blog post.

The Buried Editor discusses why many fantasy books are written in third person point of view and not first person – again it is all about showing off the world you’ve spent so much time creating.

Thanks to Fiona for giving me a great suggestion for the post and I hope some of this is helpful – I will look at world building in a bit more detail next week.

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Writing Lessons From Reading R.L.Stine

January 13, 2010 at 5:33 am (writing lessons) (, , , , , , , , , )

I know I said that my next writing lessons would have to come from a non-fantasy author but then I moved house and the people who packed the boxes didn’t really get the organisational structure of my collection.  As I unpacked my house in a matter of two days, at the moment the books are on the shelf in whatever order they were put into the boxes and that means there is really no order at all.  Finding a book, or group of books, from any one author is next to impossible and I like to have the books with me when I write these posts to refer to.

Technically R.L. Stine writes children’s horror rather than fantasy so it is a slight change of pace.  He was my first favourite author and I read all through the Goosebumps and then Fear Street series as a kid.  I couldn’t get enough of the books.  I’ve read and reread my entire collection of these books so many times.  The fact that I can read one of these books in under an hour also helps as I tend to use them to de-stress.

What lessons did I learn about writing from reading R. L. Stine?

  1. Just because a book is a part of a series does not mean the story has to continue.  Sometimes I wish all series were like this.  You can pick up any Goosebumps book and get a perfect understanding of the story.  Or you can read them in order and you get a slightly bigger picture of the whole but for the most part it doesn’t matter.  The Fear Street books were a little more connected at times and reading them in order helped you understand some of the references, but the stories made sense regardless.
  2. Simple writing does not have to mean simple story telling.  The Goosebump books are fairly formulaic but the Fear Street ones really open up to a variety plot twists and intrigue even though the writing itself remains fairly basic.
  3. An off-sider is an incredibly useful device.  Reading the Goosebumps and Fear Street stories, every protagonist has someone that they talk to and the few that don’t tend to keep journals and the like.  The reason for this is the stories are written in third person but the author wanted us to know what was going on in the protagonist’s head.  It is very much the same in Doctor Who.  Without someone tagging along for the ride, why would the Doctor ever bother to explain anything.  By having the off-sdier the protagonist can get away with explaining things to the reader.  Though, R. L. Stine did like to vary his off-sider . He had brothers, sisters, best friends, worst enemies, dogs, neighbours and pretty much anyone who would serve the purpose filling this role.
  4. You don’t have to save everyone.  Even as a young reader I really appreciated that R. L. Stine would at times kill his characters.  This was very different from other books that were recommended for young readers and I really liked the fact that tragedy could happen.  In other books for kids you don’t get a real sense of tension because you know that everyone is going to be all right.  When reading R. L. Stine there is a good chance they won’t be and so you tend to care more about the characters and are more intrigued by the situation as a whole.

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