There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

How to Make or Break Fantasy Clichés January 30, 2013

Filed under: Inspiration,Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 6:33 pm
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Fantasy is a genre that is as old as the human race. Ever since we’ve been able to share stories, they’ve featured mythical beasts and people who can wield magic, among other such fantastical elements that capture the imagination. It’s no wonder that today, in the 21st century, finding a unique fantasy concept can be challenging. So many of these tales fall back on the clichés of old that can be predictable and tired. However, because there are literally centuries of fantasy stories and several major blockbusters in there as well, creating something brand new can be daunting. I encourage every and all fantasy writers to seek out that unique concept, but in the meantime, focus on how you can make clichés your own, or break them entirely. I’ve including some examples:

Magic:

Make- This can be one of the simplest fantasy elements to make unique. Change the name of the individual from witch to something new. Have them use magic in a different way than just spells or curses.

Break- Simple. Don’t have magic. I know that might frighten some people, but you can still have a fantasy story without overt magic.

Princess:

Make- Typically the princess doesn’t want to wed, or be in the royal family at all, so you can embrace these features and transform the cliché. Perhaps instead your character is a prince? Or doesn’t know they’re part of the royal line?

Break- Instead of giving a character a royal title, make them important to your world and your plot in a different manner.

Swords:

Make- Let’s face it, almost every fantasy story has some sort of medieval setting, so perhaps the way to make the swordplay unique is to use an unusual setting. Asian or Middle Eastern locales get far less page time than western style worlds.

Break- In your story, you could eliminate swords by giving the people another mode of weaponry. Bows, axes, perhaps something conjured from your head.

Ultra Heroes / Villains:

Make – You can write a great story using ultra-pro/antagonists. The major fantasy franchises have all done it. What makes them work is the character’s depth and motivations. Make them real.

Break- Gray area characters are typically more exciting and interesting to read than those working solely for one side. By having your characters toe the line, you can break the good vs evil convention.

Destiny:

Make- I’ll admit, this is one of the toughest categories. If your story hinges around a prophecy or destiny plot, you’ll have to really sort out a way to make it unique. Making the character conflicted is a start, but there needs to be more.

Break- To subvert this fantasy staple, maybe the prophecy is wrong, or stolen or falsified. That could throw a wrench into people’s perceptions for sure.

Wise Mentor:

Make- Typically there will be an older character who helps the younger character(s) understand the world and by extension, the reader. By embracing it, your sage figure will need some defining feature, a flaw or trait that really makes them stand out.

Break- You can break this simply by not making them magical as that is a typical attribute. Perhaps the character is female, or young, or not human at all.

This list is by no means comprehensive. There’s a whole book’s worth of fantasy clichés out there: weirdly spelled names, limited female characters, the evil twin, people fighting with sword and never getting hurt, the list go on. What fantasy writers must learn to do is locate and understand these clichés while brainstorming how to either make them their own or break them completely. In a world filled with fantasy novels, this is a surefire way to have yours stand out.

~Rachel H

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Fantasy Writing and the Epic Too Many Characters/POVs Issue January 27, 2013

Obviously, since I am a contributor to this blog, I tend to lean toward writing Epic Fantasy. The manuscript I am currently working on is the first in what might turn out to be a six book series (or more if the plots don’t stop rolling out of my head). One trend for epic fantasy tends to be that we have a lot of characters, especially when it comes to series. My story is centered around five main characters, but there are plenty of other characters that play important roles as well. Writing with this many characters hasn’t really been an issue for me. No, what I am talking about when I say the Epic Issue of Too Many Characters or POVs is more on the marketing side of writing.

When I ventured into the serious side of writing last year after having completed the first drafts of books one and two of my series, I was startled by the amount of advice people give you without first reading your book. People guffawed when they found that my main characters totaled to five and that there were plenty of other POVs from which my story is told (eleven to be exact). I was told to narrow it down to three MCs and definitely tell the story solely from their POVs instead of the other characters. My query letter mentioned the five girls by name and I was advised to cut it down to one or two, even though they all have vital roles in the introductory book. When I did this, I found that people who read the query and the first five chapters were confused that the MC mentioned in the query didn’t show back up again until chapter five.

So what did I do? I started cutting characters’ POVs. That eliminated entire story lines that were being set up for the books to come. What does that mean? It compromised my story, which to me is a big no-no. You should never NEVER compromise your story to the point that you can hardly recognize it anymore just for the sake of selling a book (in my humble opinion).

So this leads me to the big dilemma that a lot of epic fantasy writers face: How many characters are too many? At what point should we draw the line while trying to follow the unspoken rules of the literary marketing world?

My answer: If done right, there is no such thing as too many characters or too many characters’ POVs in a book, especially epic fantasy.

Obviously, when dealing with POV, you should keep to third person limited. First person when dealing with a lot of characters can be really confusing for a reader. I’m not opposed to two POVs with first person, but anymore and I feel a bit discombobulated as a reader. Why go third person limited instead of third person omniscient? Because omniscient, from what I have learned firsthand, usually involves what agents and editors refer to as “head jumping”, which means you are skipping around from different characters heads in different paragraphs. So learn from my mistake since I wrote both books in omniscient and have had to do A LOT of editing to correct this: Stick to limited.

I’d like to leave you with some examples of epic fantasy books that have more than one characters’ POV and do just fine. You might recognize these from the best sellers’ list, which to me is proof that if you do it right, having multiple characters and multiple story arcs can still make for compelling and not confusing stories.

~~Mara Valderran

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Going the Indie Route January 23, 2013

Filed under: Publishing — thereanddraftagain @ 5:30 am
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Your writing will never chase you — you need to chase your writing. If it’s what you want, then pursue it.
~ Chuck Wendig

 I’ve been asked several times since making the announcement, why I decided to go Indie with First of Her Kind (formerly known as BD&L). The simplest answer, and probably the most basic, is that I believe in the story.

That’s it.

No matter how many times I read it, I enjoy it. The second book in the series is well underway, and I even have several scenes written for the third. Each one just gets better and better. I’m excited by where it’s going and I want to share that excitement.

Yes, I could (hopefully) do that following the traditional route as well. Originally, I was headed down that path. I slaved over a query and synopsis, made my list of dream agents and started at the top. I entered pitch contests. I did everything I could to get my manuscript in front of The Agent. The one who would connect with it. The one who would believe in it like I do.

But something happened on the way to the forum . . .

I stumbled upon some articles and research touting self-publishing and the Indie movement. I’d never really paid it a lot of mind, even knowing several authors whom I respect who had gone that route. To me, dare I say it, it was almost like giving up. If I couldn’t make it the traditional route, then maybe I wasn’t meant to make it.

The problem with that line of thought was that I just couldn’t make myself believe it. So I started doing some more research. Here are some of the things that helped shape my decision:

TIME: Finding an agent can be a long process taking anywhere from months to, yes, years. And for fantasy, the unfortunate reality is the list is not as long as some, meaning competition is much higher, and those agents that do handle the genre are bombarded with tens of thousands of queries a year. Once an agent takes you on, it’s more months (possibly years) until a publishing contract comes your way. Even after a contract is signed, it generally takes another year until your book sees the light of day. So, realistically, if I snag an agent now, and they get a publishing contract within six months, the likely scenario is that my book still wouldn’t see a release date until sometime next year.

Call me impatient, but I want it out there now. I’m ready to share it with the world.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Even though it’s not all about the money:  These days, even the major publishing houses are asking for more from their authors in terms of marketing their own books. Some, I’ve heard, are even cutting back on the editorial services they used to offer. Yet the royalties remain the same. Those royalties are about 15%. Compare that to the 70% or more available as a self-publisher and, well, seems to me, if I’m doing the work, I ought to get paid for it.

CONTROL: Okay, maybe I’m a control freak. Self-publishing puts me in charge of every aspect of my book’s success or failure. A daunting task, and not for everyone. But I enjoy it.

VALIDATION: This was a biggie — passing on the sense of validation that comes with being accepted into the traditional publishing echelon. But, really, won’t my readers provide that same sense of validation? If my book is good, the reading public will let me know. If it’s bad, I’ll find that out as well. What better way to grow as a writer?

I’ve written a few posts on my blog that outline some of these points in a little more depth. You can find them here, here, and here.

Does this mean I’ll never try the traditional route again? Heck no! In fact I’m working on an urban fantasy that may just get shopped to agents when it’s done. There’s nothing that says you have to choose one way or the other.

Who knows where the road will lead me. All I can say for sure is, “I’m going on an adventure!”

 

Tackling Fight Scenes January 19, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 7:00 am
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If you’re writing epic fantasy, odds are at some point your protagonist is going to have to fight. Whether they’re a sword wielding battle-scarred pro, or an inexperienced newcomer terrified of conflict – there are a few universal rules that can help.

1. Stakes

If your character is going to risk life and liberty there had better be a good reason for it. The greater the stakes, the more the character is going to risk. So although Bilbo may lament the loss of his handkerchief at the beginning of The Hobbit he is hardly going to face down a trio of trolls to save it. However if the lives of 13 others are at stake, and his survival outside the Shire depends on their release, he’s more likely to risk his life to save them.

Your character’s goal is never the fight itself. The fight is always a vehicle to achieving something else. (Freedom, recovering something, obtaining information, saving someone).

2. Tension

There should be moments when it looks like your protagonist has failed. There’s nothing worse in a fight scene than your hero walking it. The guards are dispatched without much effort, the key to the cell door is easy to find, and a fast horse waiting by the door whips them safely off into the night.

It’s always easy to up the ante – just think of what could go wrong and let that play out.

The guards are able to raise an alarm. The stronghold is holding a tournament so it’s not just everyday guards, but champion fighters now swarming the halls. The person being rescued isn’t there.  When they are located the only key to their cell was attached to the belt of the guard the hero just pushed out the window. A portcullis is lowered trapping them inside. And when they manage to fight their way to the wall – they see the horse and companions waiting outside have been grabbed too.

But because you’re clever, your hero finds an ingenious way to escape and free the companions at the same time.

When your protagonist escapes by the narrowest of margins, your reader will hopefully feel relief rather than disbelief.

3. Plausibility

It doesn’t matter how physically amazing your hero is, there is no way one person can defeat a whole army in hand-to-hand conflict. Know your characters skills and design a fight sequence that will work for them. In The Lord of the Rings the hobbits manage to avoid many fight scenes because they are small enough to crawl off unnoticed. However when Sam defeats Shelob he uses his small stature and her greater size to his advantage.

4. Focus on the Action

I love the dictionary definition of action:

The state or process of doing something.

Not planning, thinking, or talking about what’s going to happen. The actual doing.

Fight scenes are cause and effect. Someone throws a punch, you either get hit or you dodge it. If you get hit, you rally as fast as you can (even if you are wobbly or winded). If you dodge, you need to counter in some form. Your characters don’t have time to over think, so don’t do it when you’re writing either.

That’s not to say a fight scene is just a blow-by-blow account either, just that the character’s main focus is in the moment. They can feel despair as their face hits the dirt, because in that moment all they can see is the holy grail (the goal) slipping away from them. Just remember the opponent wants to end this fight fast too, so keep it moving.

5. Pace

Write fast. Use short sentences. Employ explosively active verbs; thrust, tackle, smash, mash, pummel, hammer, crush…

6. Recovery

Make sure the character feels the impact afterwards. Fighting always takes its toll – whether it’s in the form of injuries sustained, or counting the emotional cost of achieving the goal.

Fights are as unique as the opponents, and ultimately as the writer you are in control of the circumstances and the environment. The key is to get inside the head of your character and play to their strengths.

 By Raewyn Hewitt

 

Writerly Tools: Storyboard Edition January 17, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 2:43 am
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Annnnnddd we’re back with another special edition of Writerly Tools! On today’s agenda, we’ll be talking about how to organize all of those crazy thoughts and plots in your head.

Now, before you scoff and say “I’m a pantser! I write as it comes to me!”…well, for starters, don’t say that. And then take a step back and think about the complexities and intricacies of the story you are developing. For me, it is near impossible to keep it all straight in my head without some sort of reminder. I tend to pants it and then plot to make sure everything makes sense. Which is how these tools come in handy.

The first one I am going to talk about is one I, admittedly, know very little about as a non-Mac user. But I did see a friend use it and it looked awesome! I am referring to the Storyboard program for the Mac. I saw my friend use it as essentially a plot map with lines drawn to subplots and repercussions of scenes, etc. I was insanely jealous and for the first time in my life wanted to get a Mac just for the purpose of this program. So if you are a Mac user, I suggest checking it out.

If you are not a Mac user (or if you are since this program is now available for the Mac), I would suggest a program I do know a little something about called Scrivener. It is AMAZEBALLS. I have no real words as to why, so first I am going to show you as I gather my thoughts.

win-screens-cork

That’s right folks. Your very own virtual corkboard. The best part? You can layer. These pins can be folders which contain scenes. For me, my folders are always chapters and then I have individual scenes within those chapters. You can keep notes on each item, which can say as little as “Chapter Three” to as much as describing your scene briefly. This is the perfect outlining tool AND it is pretty cheap too. Right now it is $40 (US) but if you win NaNoWriMo or CampNaNo, then you can get a discount. They offer a free 30 day trial where the days are not consecutive but instead are days of usage. So if you only use it twice a week, the free trial will last you 15 weeks. Awesomesauce, right?

It gets even better. You know those character journals and story bibles people are always talking about? Well, Scrivener essentially acts as one giant notebook for you. So there are areas for characters and research.

Of course, programs aren’t for everyone, which I completely understand. Why do I understand that?

SAMSUNG

Because sometimes a good ole fashioned piece of posterboard and some sticky notes will do the trick.

Whatever your preference, I would definitely make organizing your plot elements a priority. This will help you avoid inconsistencies with characters and plot and also help you to really map your story to a timeline. What are you favorite plotting tools? Sound off in the comments below and be sure to check back next month for the Editing Edition of Writerly Tools!

-Mara Valderran
 

Opening your Fantasy novel right January 13, 2013

If you’re writing a Fantasy novel with the intent to have it traditionally published or to self-publish it, you need to have a stellar opening. Your first pages are what will grab the agent or the reader and make him want to read more. In order to avoid having agents reject your book or readers put it down, here are a few tips to start your novel right…

–          Start with an epic first line. Hook you reader with your first words. Consider these examples:

“A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind’s foreward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air.” WICKED by Gregory Maguire

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

They are both from best-selling books and they make you want to read more. Your first line needs to be just as good, whether it “hooks” your reader with humor, surprise, beautiful writing or suspense.

–          In your first page(s):

  • show don’t tell
  • ground the atmosphere and setting of your story
  • give a clear picture of your world but don’t overdo it (avoid “info-dump” at all costs)
  • give a sense of who your characters are by showing their motivations and emotions: make them interesting and complex
  • inject voice in your writing
  • don’t mistake action for tension
  • include your inciting event

–          A note on prologues: many Fantasy writers, especially the ones who are trying to get published for the first time, seem to include a prologue in their novel. Yet agents hate prologues and readers skip them. So before you query or self-publish, ask yourself the following questions: could your prologue be deleted from the novel without affecting understanding of the plot? If yes, why keep it at all, then? Is your prologue absolutely necessary to understand the rest of the novel? If yes, shouldn’t you include this information in the actual novel? (Yes, you should). Is your prologue mere info-dump? Is your prologue mere action? If yes, you don’t need it. As a reader and a querying writer, I promise you, your novel doesn’t need that prologue.

If you want more tips on starting your novel right, check out this blog:

Real Life Diagnostics: First Page Critique by Janice Hardy http://blog.janicehardy.com/2008/01/real-life-diagnostics.html

 Do you find this checklist helpful? What are your tips to make your opening pages compelling? Feel free to leave us your comments below!

EM

 

Creating Voice in Fantasy January 9, 2013

Hello Readers!

I am so excited to be talking to all of you today! Voice is a major part of any sort of writing, but especially important for YA because readers in this area are drawn more to character than they are to the plot at the onset of a book. So, the best way for you to get an edge of your YA fantasy? Voice. But what is voice? I asked agent Julia Churchill this question once during an ask agent on Twitter and she gave me an answer I really like. She said it was the DNA of your character.

At first I was like, what does that even mean? But after sitting and thinking about it for a bit I realized it means it is the makeup of your character. If you think about it, everything that has made you who you are today contributes to the way you talk to people and think about yourself. The same can be said for your characters. You are training to create a person, well that person would have a backstory, people they love, things they hate, a favorite song, or a band that as soon as it comes on the radio station they would turn the channel. All of those little nuisances make your character have a voice, make them a real person.

Now you may be thinking, well that’s nice but I write fantasy and they don’t exactly have radio in Narmidlam. That’s okay! That is what makes creating your characters in fantasy so much fun. To create a fantasy character voice, you do the exact same thing, but in their world. If your character is a princess who hasn’t seen a sword or a day of work in her life, she wouldn’t be happy about being forced out of her pretty princess clothes and into a suit of armor, she would complain, probably loudly, and that would be a small facet of her voice. If your main character is a farmhand whose parents hate him, he would probably see the world through bitter eyes, making condescending remarks either in his head or out loud about parental love and support. Heck, he might even have a fear of being in love. These things sound like character development, and in part they are, but they contribute to how your character thinks which then contributes to how they speak.

In short, you are creating a baby-one that is already grown up with a history that makes them who they are. Don’t ignore that history, let it bleed into the world through their eyes.

Good Luck!

Jess