There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

How to Write Real Villains March 30, 2013

One of the biggest challenges in writing fantasy is creating a real villain. More often than villainsnot, they’re one dimensional, power hungry cartoons who don’t actually seem to have a good motive for their evil ambitions. Just like the protagonist, the antagonist requires a level of depth that constructs and develops them like a real person. But since so many genre writers fall into this trap, it’s easier to create a villainous character when following these four simple rules:

Rule 1- Give Your Villain A Life: Don’t plop the villain into the story for convenience. Give them a back-story, a life with ups and downs that led them to the point where the reader meets them.

Rule 2- Give Your Villain a Motive: As I said before, many stories contain rambling villains who chase the ball but don’t know why. Give them something to work for. A goal they want to obtain.

Rule 3- Let Your Villain Grow: Just as the protagonist develops, grows and changes with the conflict, so should the villain. Even if it’s for the worst.

Rule 4- Treat Your Villain With Respect: If you’ve ever seen a Bond film, the villain will reveal their evil plot, or ramble on about how they will beat the hero. Don’t do this. Ever. If you’ve built your villain with the aforementioned rules, they will act first and ramble later.

Now, Rule 5 is more of a writer specific rule. Something you as the author are required to understand but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know. Rule 5 is See Your Villain as They see Themselves: People with ill will towards others do not see themselves as evil, vile or villainous. Try to understand and comprehend your villain as the hero in their own right. Believe it or not, good and evil is not all black and white. There’s quite a grey area in the mix.

With these rules in mind, you’ll be able to create a dastardly villain that is not only believable enough to jump off the page, but so multidimensional that the reader may at one point sympathize with them or perhaps even root for your villain to succeed.

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Don’t Be A Lazy Pants (or is it breeches?). Research Your Fantasy Novel. March 27, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 12:00 pm
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Hello Readers! I’m a new member of There And Draft Again and this is my first post. Woot! Thank you, ladies, for inviting me to join.

Inspiration for my subject came in the form of a tweet some months back. A reader mentioned being pulled from a story because the character wore in an item of clothing clearly not part of the era in which the story took place. While this was probably his-fic, the same can happen in fantasy.

This is NOT a good thing. We don’t want our readers pulled from our story for ANY reason, save that of an alien invasion. This is why fact gathering and research is so important, even when creating our magical realms.

Clothing’s not the only thing you need to get right. Weapons, food (your characters don’t need to eat fish if they live on a desert world like DUNE), livestock, building materials, etc. Aside from this, you’ve got religion, language, symbolism, and even science. Here’s an example:

In my YA fantasy novel, A SONG IN WINTER, air is the element of winter. Now, I’ve studied the classical elements of Greek philosophy, so my brain rebelled at this, saying, “Wait just a second. Winter’s element is water. You know this, so fix it. NOW.”

But I couldn’t change it because my story needed air. Happily, my muse intervened and reassured me I could keep things as they were. What made this possible was further research regarding the ancient classifications, then using that knowledge to create my own classification. And I had to do it convincingly. If I didn’t, if my readers didn’t wholly believe this new invented logic, then those aware of such things would be pulled from my story, never to return again.

Other research included reading myths from many cultures (so I could change them) and studying weapons and battle tactics–THE ART OF WAR by Sun Tzu is excellent. Then there were phrases in Italian, ancient burial mounds, alchemy, flowers that grow in the mountains…

All this research for fantasy might seem crazy, but if you take the time to do it, it’ll transform your make-believe story into something real. And your readers will thank you for it.

Happy researching! Kate

 

Hidden Lineage – Don’t Discount the Tropes March 23, 2013

You can’t be a reader of fantasy and not be aware of the fantasy tropes; dark lords, artifacts of power, ancient prophecies and the forthcoming end of the world / life as we know it. As writers, we navigate these tropes at our peril – not wanting to slide into the slush-pile of ‘seen it all before’. However having just read Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, due for release on the big screen later this year, I’m reminded that certain tropes are enduring because they resonate with us at a personal level.

200px-City_of_Bones

In the case of City of Bones, the trope in question is the character with the hidden lineage.

Okay, so there have been a slew of peasant boys who’ve turned out to be the misplaced heir to the kingdom, son of the evil overlord and sometimes both at the same time. But what is it about this trope that keeps coming back, and in the case of Cassandra Clare, back with great impact.

Choice of Protagonist: Clary, the protagonist in City of Bones, is an every girl. She’s neither popular nor unpopular, dealing with fairly typical family dramas and generally getting on with life, when all of a sudden things change. Beneath the façade of life as we know it, she discovers a completely unforeseen world – one she must navigate and understand, in order to resolve her own unique circumstances.

Anyone who ever traversed those figuring-yourself-out teen years can relate to Clary’s dilemma, which in many ways is no different to those faced by Luke Skywalker, or Harry Potter. Clary has an family lineage of note – her family has been influential in shaping the world behind the world. And like Luke and Harry, Clary doesn’t just rise up and and assume the mantle of her parents (a very good thing too); she needs to understand how this new world works and where she fits in to it.

Context: An interesting fantasy realm really comes into its own when it forces a character to evaluate their beliefs. What I enjoyed about this novel was Clare painted a fully realised world, where the fantastical elements are well drawn and interesting, but ultimately they are merely a backdrop for the character’s main concern – family. The magical setting is something to be understood and navigated to gain a very personal end. It’s not just magic for magic’s sake.

Growth: Any peasant can find out they have a great lineage, but the real story is in how they respond to it. Despite discovering a new layer of reality, the thing I liked about Clary was she kept hold of the things that were important to her. She didn’t try and hide her ‘impossible’ experiences from her best friend, trusted her instincts and held on to her values. At the end of this book she was starting to look beyond her immediate circumstances to consider the greater good. It’s an interesting transition, and one I’m looking forward to following through with her.

A New Twist: If I’m honest, I almost put this book down before it really got going because I have read widely in this genre and I wasn’t sure if it was going to offer anything different. But a friend told me to give it time because there was a really good twist at the end. I’m so glad she did, because although there are tropes at play in this book – including werewolf, vampire and the fey, Clare put a great spin on it. The interplay between the main characters is interesting, and the twist was well worth it. Book 2 here I come!

While any form of trope or cliché should be handled with care, I’d encourage you to scratch the surface. You might just find a new way to tell a really good, old story.

– by Raewyn Hewitt

 

Dori and the Legendary First Draft March 20, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 5:30 am
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~ by K. L. Schwengel

It’s an ugly beast.

Disjointed, and awkward, it has too many of some things and not enough of others. Parts of it seem half-formed, as though the power that created it left off too early or couldn’t figure out how to finish that particular appendage. Other parts of it shimmer with perfection, nearly flawless in their beauty. When it moves, it does so hesitantly in great lumbering strides. Then suddenly it surges ahead with all the speed and care of a juggernaut only to flop onto the ground, panting, uncertain of what to do next.

This is no mythical creature. No being drug from the depths of murky legend. This, my friends, is the dreaded First Draft.

Ah, yes, I can see by your expressions that some of you are quite familiar with this being. Perhaps you have your very own you are struggling with? Or have you recently bid one Finis! and tucked it in to sleep while you prepare the shredding tools?

In all the long process of writing, the First Draft, for this writer at least, is the most difficult part. Getting from, “It was a dark and stormy night,” to “The End” is a long, torturous journey for me. Mostly because I suffer from incurable rewriteritess. I want every word on the page to be perfect. To glisten like a polished sword slicing through the low mist of early morning. I can’t tolerate plot holes. Little details make me squirm as though someone has put tacks on my chair. Fighting with my characters makes me cranky.

But if I gave in to all that (which I have) I would never get anything done. I would work on the same handful of chapters over and over (which I have). So, how do I get over my rewriteritess and forge ahead?

So glad you asked! Here are my tricks:

  •  I repeat to myself: You can’t edit a blank page. I can’t take credit for that quote, but don’t remember who can. Regardless, I intend to put that above my monitor. And if you just keep editing the same pages over and over you’ll never get to Finis!
  • If I get really and truly stuck I do this: [Just keep writing and fill this in later] Seriously. There are such bracketed notes all throughout my first drafts of late. Just keep writing, just keep writing . . . who else is hearing Dori?
  • I mention it to my writer pals, and they kick me in the arse.
  • My husband asks, “How’s the book coming?” I reply, “I’m stuck.” He says, “Just keep going.”
  • I remind myself that the First Draft is allowed to suck. That’s truly its purpose. It can’t rise above and become a polished gem until it gets rough cut first. Even when I paint, my pictures invariably go through what I term The Ugly Stage. I don’t show them to anyone during that phase. They’re horrid. I’m working things out — colors, details, placement — and only after The Ugly Stage can I begin to fine tune them.
  • I tell myself no one is ever going to read the First Draft. It is for my eyes only. It doesn’t matter if I’m passive, use too many adverbs, or left a participle dangling somewhere, because once the beast is whole, I can fix those issues. I can smooth and massage and tweak to my heart’s content. But you cannot tweak an unfinished beast.

So, what tricks do you have to forge ahead in your First Draft?

 

Drawing Inspiration From Other Genres March 13, 2013

Hello fellow fantasy writers!

I am a brand new addition to There and Draft Again, and I’m super excited to be here. *waves*

The first time I ventured into fantasy was a total flop. I was thirteen years old and I decided I was going to finish an entire novel. (I had started about four of them, but couldn’t get past the first five chapters or so before I got excited about another story. This was pretty much the theme of my teen years. Too. Many. Ideas.) It was supposed to be a dystopian fantasy murder mystery with a disappearence/kidnapping subplot and family issues driving the overall current, along with a spy saga going on the side. The resolution would include a wrap-up of who committed the murder, why the random brother had gone missing, some mended relationships within the family, and the spy saga would carry over to the next in the [seven book?] series.

Turns out I didn’t have any space in my brain left for worldbuilding. Literally, it was just too much story, which of course presented too many possibilities. So how did I turn that into an 80k complete draft? I took out the fantasy elements and the kidnapping, and it went down on paper pretty nice as a simple murder mystery. (I still need to go back and take out the spies.) I felt as if I’d had a near brush with disaster and swore I would never attempt fantasy again. I’d stick to historical and sci-fi where it was safe.

But then something funny happened four years later. The first time I tried National Novel Writing Month, I put my fingers down on the keys, and guess what came out? Fantasy. The story was character driven and the world building was effortless. I was so proud of myself when I finished. It was whole and complete. But it still felt a little empty. I stuck so closely to what I imagined high fantasy had to be that I hadn’t allowed for mystery, suspense, comedy, horror, romance, you name it — nothing that wasn’t strictly classic fantasy. It took me awhile to realize what was bugging me was that I didn’t incorporate other elements.

I’m sure there are some of us who heart our fantasy so much that we just don’t read anything else. And that’s fine! But I think there is a lot to be learned from other genres. Each one augments a part of the human experience that is important even if our characters aren’t human, because honestly, our readers are human. Of course, a lot of us will include essences and influences from life without even thinking, or maybe even go overboard like I did on my first novel, but the next time you feel stuck, or like something might be coming off a bit stale, don’t be shy about picking up a book from a genre you don’t typically read. You just might see a whole new dimension inside of your fantasy.

Here are a few of the questions I’ve asked myself that have helped me broaden the spectrum of my stories:

— What is the commonly known history of the places and families in my world? How does everyone remember it, and do they disagree on how it happened? Do the characters who don’t know the history need to learn more about it?

— Can I up the action anywhere? Take the adventure to the next level?

— Has anything horrific happened in the lives of my characters? Have I thoroughly explored these experiences and how they would affect those who had them?

— Are there any characters that ought to be attracted to each other that I’ve missed? Any backstory romance that is relevant?

— Is there anything funny or ironic that I can make more real? (Children, especially, can’t help but add some comedy.)

— Are there any strands of mystery in my story? Something that the reader will be wondering about already… can I make it more pivotal to increase the suspense?

Are there any other genres you’ve drawn inspriation from? Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors, and are there any you could name who’ve incorporated some elements of other genres? Did you feel it enriched the story? I’d love to hear more thoughts on this!

— Rachel

 

Fantasy Book Review: Magic’s Pawn March 9, 2013

Hello Readers!

Today, I wanted to give you a review of one of my all time favorite fantasy books, Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey.

magics-pawn-mercedes-lackey

Summary: The story follow the main character Vanyel as he is transposed from his unhappy life on a country holding to the wild world of the capitol in Lackey’s rich world of Valdemar. While Vanyel dreams of becoming a world famous Bard, he discovers he lacks the necessary Gift to make it. As he spirals into a deep depression, new feelings grow for his roommate Tylendal, a romance that is strictly forbidden by his father. After Tylendal’s twin is murdered, Vanyel helps his lover do whatever he has to for revenge against those who murder his brother.

While I will be the first to admit that there are some issues with the story, mostly the fact the main character might be hard to like due to the fact he is angst-ridden, I still loved it. Typically, I am not one for romance, but I really liked the bond between Tylendal and Vanyel in this story. While the bond between them causes Vanyel to commit some fairly stupid things in the name of love, it is believable he would do anything to support his lover. However, I will note if you are not comfortable with gay romances, this is probably not the book for you as a lot of the themes in the novel have to do with acceptance of homosexual couples.

The novel does commit the crime of head-hopping. There are several points of view in the book and the narration often hops from one perspective to another. This can become sort of confusing at times since there are not many clues as to who’s head we are actually in. This is a trait I’ve noticed a lot in fantasy from the 80’s and 90’s, but I think that this novel as well as others set in the world of Valdemar definitely do it the worse.

Overall, the novel may appear to have more bad things about it than good things, so why is it one of my favorite fantasy books? The first fantasy novel I ever read was set in the world of Valdemar, hundreds of years in the future from Vanyel’s story, and often referenced to Vanyel as a hero. The really neat thing Mercedes Lackey has done with her books is connected all the major points in the world of Valdemar together and created a believable and intriguing history. Having the opportunity to explore the past so many people reference in the future is a unique and exciting thing for me. Also, I loved the main character Vanyel. Many reviews claim he is overdramatic and too angsty. This is probably true. However, the first time I read this I was Vanyel’s age and I thought his reactions were completely understandable and justified. It will always be one of my favorite fantasy stories and definitely one of the stories I read that made me want to write fantasy, no matter the criticism.

Goodreads Rating of Magic’s Pawn: 4 stars

Personal Rating of Magic’s Pawn: 4.5 stars

So now I am curious, is there a story you absolutely love that no one else seems to?

Jess

 

Writerly Tools: Critiquing Edition March 7, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 1:18 am
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I fully intended on the Editing Edition to be the last edition of the Writerly Tools feature, but new ideas keep finding me! This week, I had the pleasure of being introduced to a few new tools myself, which means I am passing them along to you!

So, you’ve plotted your novel. You’ve written your novel. You’ve exhausted every thesaurus resource your fingertips could possibly find online. And now you’ve edited your novel. Now what?

Now it is time to share your precious gem with other writers in the hopes of having them rip it to shreds and destroy your writerly self-confidence. The latter will, hopefully, only be a momentary reaction, but it will be a reaction nonetheless. Give yourself a moment. Scream and yell and stamp your feet as you cry to the world about how unfair your evil shiny new critique partner is. Cry it out.

…Maybe not that much.

Okay, in all seriousness and now that I can cross “Use James van der Beek crying meme” off my bucket list, a new set of eyes is just what you need. And I don’t mean your mother or your best friend. While sharing our stories with the people we love is great, the problem is that, well, they love us. Which means their eyes are biased when we need critical. I’m not suggesting you go share your precious story with the bully who stole your lunch money growing up, but you do want someone who is going to be honest with you. Here’s some advice that’s been given to me over time on the subject of critique partners:

  1. Look for someone within your own genre. Someone who loves John Grisham novels might not be the best fit for a book targeting the same readership as Jodi Picoult. Sure, people are capable of reading different genres and enjoying them. But when looking for someone to critique fantasy, I generally like to know they’ve written their fair share as well.
  2. Make sure you are on the same schedule. People have busy lives and would-be authors are no different. Juggling writerly responsibilities and real life can be difficult. So if you want someone who can do a chapter a week, be clear with that.
  3. Have a good idea of what you are looking for. Grammar edits? Plot holes? Character contradictions? All of the above? You might not be able to find just one person to do it all. Which leads me to…
  4. Have more than one. Have a few, if you can. You want your novel to be the best it can be, and one set of eyes might not be able to get it there. Don’t be afraid to have more than one person critiquing it.
  5. The most important part: LISTEN. Like I said before, cry it out and have that visceral first reaction. But then you need to clear your head and get back in the game. Writing the book is not even half the battle. Keep in mind that your critique partners are not out to get you and your little novel too. They are trying to make it better and if they are spending the time critiquing it, chances are they believe in the book and in you. Pay attention to what they say and know when to take their advice and when to put your foot down.

My first critique partner from the net is actually a poster on this blog and she pushed me. Hard. She would tell me “I know you can do better than this” and ya know what? She was right. And my writing is all the better for it.

So now that I am stepping off my soap box, you might be asking “Where can I find a critique partner?” Calling out to the masses on Twitter might be great for finding beta-readers, but with critique partners you need to make sure you are good matches for one another. Which is why I recommend you check out these three sites to find a critique partner (or three) of your own:

  • Figment.com: On the first glance, this might look like a place to post fiction and get reviews. Which is great, but not exactly what we are talking about here. If you dig a little deeper, you can see where it comes in handy. You can create your own profile (for free!), join groups, and post requests for critique partners in the forums. Posting a couple of chapters is also a good way of reeling in someone who might be interested in critiquing.
  • Ladies Who Critique: This site might be a bit gender-biased, but I have to say I’m loving it. I posted my profile, joined the sci-fi/fantasy group, and am now communicating with potential critiquers.
  • Critique Circle: Now, I literally just registered for this site since I’ve been busy with the other two, so I can only tell you the basics. They work on a credit system, which means you have to first critique before you can submit your own story to be critiqued. How many credits that will cost you depends on the length of the story. Now, before you start to grumble (like I did) about the credit system, think about it like this: Their system guarantees each member is actually critiquing instead of just tossing theirs out there. It’s a give and take system, which I really like. It reminds me a lot of the AbsoluteWrite forums (which, coincidentally, might be another good place to find a critique partner if you are an active member).

Overwhelmed? Good. I was too, so that makes me feel a bit better. Now hop to it, fantasy writers! Go put these tools to the test and tell me about your experiences in the comments!

 
-Mara Valderran