There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

The Music of Writing: I See Fire March 26, 2014

Music has always played an integral part in the world of fantasy. Whether in the form of the siren song, cast out over a still ocean, or in the bardic tradition of weaving myths and legends into musical form; it brings a richness and sets a cultural timbre to the fantasy world.

When it’s done well that is. One of my favourite passages of ‘written music’ is when Aslan sings Narnia into existence in The Magician’s Nephew:

In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide what direction it was coming from. Sometimes it seemed to be coming from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…

It’s a long passage that builds a crescendo in the reader:

The lion was pacing to and fro about the empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave…

Conveying the essence of music with words is hard work. A mere record of the lyrics often can’t convey the emotional response, atmosphere or tone of the music itself. And music often tells its own story. Just watch a deleted scene from a movie without the background music. It’s never as powerful.

Fortunately you don’t have to be a gifted musician to write music in a novel, but it helps to look those with a musical gift for inspiration. Whether the music of your book leans towards the soft background music of unassuming string instruments, often in the background and unnoticed by those discussing things of import (because it never hurts to have one eye on your plot); or the type of percussion that gets into the blood and rouses passions – find yourself something similar to listen to and to quote Eminem;

Lose yourself in the music…

And then find the words to express what you feel.

Many of us create playlists that evoke emotions when we’re writing. On my epic fantasy playlist is U2, Bryan Adams, John Mayer, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and Shooting Stars. It only takes a few bars from With or Without You, and I’m with one of my characters, riding across the plains of Gaelladorn with the wind whipping my hair and my mind focussed on just one thing…

And if you get really lucky you might come across a musician who has been inspired by someone else’s words, and who will inspire you. Like this masterpiece from Ed Sheeran:

I’d love to know how you incorporate music into your writing, or writing process?

by Raewyn Hewitt

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Getting Down & Dirty June 22, 2013

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

Every writer out there is familiar with the concept of Show, Don’t Tell. You all know how it works.

Tell: Frederick was wet and miserable.

Show: The rain plastered Frederick’s hair to his head and soaked through his heavy cloak making it hang across his shoulders like a giant’s arm. Cold rivulets of water trickled under his tunic, slithering down his back and sending a shiver through him. With every step his feet squished in his sodden boots. If he were meant to be this wet, he’d have been born a duck.

That may not be the most masterful writing, but you get the idea. Showing raises the level of intensity by putting the reader in our character’s skin, making them feel, smell, hear, see everything our character is.

But where do you draw the line? When does it become too overwhelming?

There’s no right answer to that question, by the way. It becomes a matter of personal preference. But it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while. Personally, I like gritty — or what I’ve recently seen referred to as “grimdark”. I want to read stuff that makes me squirm if it’s making the characters squirm. Not everyone does. Some fantasy authors take that to the extreme and then get dinged for it in reviews. I got dinged for it in First of Her Kind and I didn’t think I was even being all that gritty.

Art must be fearless. That’s the tagline of friend and fellow author Devin O’Branagan and it’s something I tell myself anytime I feel like skimping on the details. If my character is a prisoner in a damp, dark cell, telling my readers the straw strewn on the floor smells bad is . . . well . . . weak. Bad like what? If, as a reader, I wrinkle my nose at the author’s description of what that straw smells like, I’m going to really empathize with that character a whole lot more. As a writer, I want my readers empathizing because that leads to caring.

Fantasy is definitely a genre with several camps. On one side we have the light-hearted, sometimes humorous, epic romp that has the Happy Ever After ending and doesn’t make us squirm in our seats. On the other is the brutally honest, face in the dirt, bugs in your teeth, hard-hitting, pulls no punches type. In between, a mix of the two. As a reader, I definitely lean toward the hard-hitting side. As a writer, I try to find a balance. I don’t want the violence, sex, or realism to ever be termed gratuitous but I realize that is also in the eye of the beholder reader. As long as it is essential to the plot and the character, and happens naturally, then I don’t consider it to be gratuitous

So how far do you go to sink the reader into your character’s skin? As a reader, how uncomfortable are you willing to get? Are there any particular authors you think handle this well, or not so well?

 

 

How To Plot Your Fantasy Novel May 11, 2013

Hi everyone !

Today I’d like to share with you a few tips to plot your Fantasy novel effectively. Whether you use this template for your first draft or your tenth one, I believe it is always useful to keep in mind the novel’s important milestones. It helps with the pace of the story and it enables you to keep the reader engaged.

one-does-not-simply-write-a-book

There are dozens of templates out there (the most famous being the Save The Cat Beat Sheet by Blake Snyder). I’ve come up with the one below by taking bits and pieces from here and there. I have found it works well for a Fantasy novel. Feel free to reuse and adapt it to your needs…

Plot Point 1 Opening/Protagonist intro (1% in)

Plot Point 2 Inciting Incident (5%)

Plot Point 3 First Turning Point (10%)

Plot Point 4 First Big Twist (40%)

Plot Point 5 Middle Turning Point (50%)

Plot Point 6 Second Big Twist (70%)

Plot Point 7 Climax (85%)

Plot Point 8 Resolution (95%)

Plot Point 9 Finale (100%)

So what do you think? Do you use a plot spreadsheet to outline or revise your novel? Feel free to leave us a comment below!

EM Castellan

 

Avoiding Fantasy Pitfalls April 6, 2013

One of the advantages of writing fantasy is the big backdrop to the story – spanning time, space and the furthermost reaches of the imagination. Yet sometimes a story can get lost on a big canvas. So before creating a bold new world, it’s worth bearing in mind some of the pitfalls of writing in the fantasy genre.

1. Description Overload. Beware of overwhelming the reader with too much detail. Although it takes a lot of time to create a new world, remember you’re telling a story – not putting together a documentary. World building is about providing a framework and highlighting the unique qualities of your setting. As the author it’s important you know the intricacies of your creation; but ask yourself, does the reader really need to know?

2. Too Many Characters. Great epic fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, is able to weave together multiple storylines that both draw the reader in and convey a sense of scope. For lovers of this kind of fantasy, the advantage of seeing so many points of view provides depth and perspective. However, as good as Tolkien and Martin undoubtedly are, many people won’t read their stories because they are complicated and it’s hard to invest in so many characters.

3. The Never-ending Story? Does your book have an ending? Or are you stringing it out over 10 instalments?  Sure it’s great to have a captive audience. I’ll usually follow a good author through a series, a saga or a decent set of chronicles (there is something comforting about a familiar world and characters). But there comes a time when as a reader you want a resolution. Padding the plot, creating impossible obstacles, or manufacturing new and even more evil enemies, can end up frustrating a reader. Keep the end in sight. Give your reader a bit of a breather at the end of each book. And know when enough is enough.

4. Point of Difference? With all the scope in the world at our disposal, there are still common fantasy elements that tend to be revisited time and time again: Vampires, elves, faeries, dragons, objects of power and prophecy are well recognised within the genre. But as Alec Austin so aptly noted;

A dragon must learn to make a good first impression if it is to do well in this life.

In essence if a reader has encountered hundreds of dragon stories, your dragon will be subject to comparison. So you’d better make it good. Agents are always asking what makes a story unique. If you’re working with fantasy tropes, at least make sure your story has a point of difference.

5. Poor Craftsmanship. I’ve been at ‘literary’ writing courses, where fantasy writing has been considered the poor relative to literature. Don’t believe it. Storytelling is an art form that sells. But it doesn’t matter how imaginative your story is if you can’t tell it well. So ignore the detractors, hone your writing skills and bring the reader along for the ride.

The great thing about a pitfall is – once you’re aware of it, it’s much easier to avoid.

– by Raewyn Hewitt

 

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

 

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

 

World Building: In the Beginning… December 19, 2012

One of the most satisfying things about reading and writing fantasy is exploring new worlds. Whether it’s our own world transformed in a magical retelling, or a completely new creation; the joy comes because it feels real. As writers of fantasy, the question then is – how do we go about building a brand new world and making it feel as tangible as this one?

1. Start with the story.

Your world is always the backdrop to the story. It doesn’t matter how magical your unicorns, how grand the soaring spires of your cloud city, or whether the healing properties of the bobo berry have eliminated sickness forever; they won’t dazzle anyone if they aren’t relevant to the story.

So get a good feel for your story first, and then build the world up from there.

Who are your main characters? Where do they live? Who do they interact with? What political / cultural / geographical influences impact upon their lives? Unless you have a particular love of creating complete worlds from scratch (and some do), your world building need only extend to those elements that will directly or indirectly impact on your character.

2. Details, Details, Details.

Only in the planning stage – and always with your eye on the world your characters experience. This is the time to get creative and do some research. You probably need to have some idea about history, geography, geology, flora and fauna, culture, language (patterns, or idiosyncrasies if you aren’t keen on creating a whole new language), and mythology.

Create a reference document / folder or visual diary and note down things that make the world unique. Draw a map. The more you know about your world the more substance your story will have.

Keeping good records can help with consistency. This is even more important if you’re writing epic fantasy, when it can be quite difficult to keep the entire world straight in your head.

How much time you devote to this is entirely a matter of personal preference – some people like to set a time limit on their research (for fear of never being quite ready), others adopt a more organic approach. The key to remember is that each element should add something to the story.

3. Less is More.

There is a big difference between knowing all the properties of the bobo berry, and listing them all out as encyclopedic rote. It’s unlikely your reader has bought your book for a lesson on biology. So when you’re writing the story your aim is to weave the detail in seamlessly so it feels organic.

As Juliet Mariller so eloquently phrased it:

Ask dedicated readers of fantasy, and epic fantasy in particular, what makes a book special for them, and I’d guess a majority would place good world-building high on the list. I’m talking about novels in which the secondary world is so well realised and so expertly woven into the story that the reader becomes immersed in it within the first few pages: a world that’s convincing, consistent and fascinating. Its parameters and its quirks won’t be set out for us in long passages of descriptive exposition, but will be integral to the plot and will emerge as the story unfolds.

How much detail you provide is largely a matter of taste. But if it sounds like you’re narrating a nature documentary, or reciting a history lesson you might want to rethink your approach.  Remember the old advice is always good: Show don’t tell. And show in a way that would feel real to your characters and their situation.

4. Gaze Upon the World with Wonder.

I love Patrick Rothfuss’s attitude to building fantasy worlds:

We get to build castles in the sky, then show them off to people.

So if you’re going to dream, dream big. Pay attention to the world around your characters. Find the little details that tell more than their face value and truly enhance your story. The way you will build your fantasy world, will no doubt be as unique as that world itself.

– Raewyn Hewitt