If I’m thinking about writing am I still writing

If I’m thinking about writing am I still writing

About a week ago I posted the photo on the left on twitter and said something like “If I’m thinking about writing, am I still writing?” And the responses were quite funny. It was either a definite yes-thinking is all part of the process. Or a definite and quite patronizing No-unless you are actually writing then you are not writing. I did consider replying to some of them with a remark along the lines of “yes I do understand what the verb actually means'” but it’s hot and I couldn’t be bothered.

For anyone who doesn’t know the UK has been gripped by a heat wave for a little over a month now. The sky is an unbroken cerulean  umbrella under which we’ve all smiled, basked, bbq’ed and talked about the summer of sport – the football world cup (it’s not coming home), and something to do with tennis.

And something no one will know, is that for most of the heat wave I’ve been winding down a work project, and by winding down I mean working a stupid amount, evenings, weekends, working a lot. The idea was to get to the end of the phase of work and then take a break and get the 3rd book written, from scratch, because what I had done up to that point just wasn’t right, so I deleted it.

But it seems there is something to the old cliché of ‘best laid plans…’ because the writing hasn’t happened, for entirely legitimate reasons.

Let’s talk about the weather, it is utterly glorious and coming from South Africa, a heat wave makes me feel really good. so as much as I can I’ve been out on my bike, out running, and out walking. I am a terrible runner, utterly horrible. I have no form, my legs are always heavy, I feel like I am shambling at a quick pace instead of actually running, and I never have a route I just take a lot of random turns so I never really know how far I’ve gone and generally try to avoid hills. I’m running a 10k charity even in October so I get my distance covered in training, and I love running, but I’m not good at it, so I keep doing it.

Turns out I run how I write maybe

Blatant charity donation request https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/c-m-kerley

A bit like writing. I have all the prep done and the framework in place, just like I have all the technical running gear. And when I do run, I do cover the distance, like when I do make myself sit down, I do get chapters written. And it’s only when I’ve covered the event that I look back and think actually, I was pretty good at it and I am pleased with the result, much like book 1 and book 2. Painful process, but the process got better each time, and I was wonderfully happy with the results.

Alongside the wonderful weather that forces me to be outside, construction on my house has just started. And it’s major construction. I had no idea how noisy it would be which tells you something about my naivety. It doesn’t matter how loud I put the spotify volume, nothing blocks out electric hammers, screw drivers, saw, and the sound of a crane lifting steels into what used to be a roof. The clatter and smash of roof tiles is something that is going to stay with me and will somehow feature in a chapter in book 3.

Through all of this, the only important thing I’ve managed to do in terms of writing the new book, is keep thinking about what I want to say. Writing is all about describing what you see in your head, throwing together nouns adjectives and adverbs and seeing if they convey the image you are trying to stitch together. So at the moment I’m not writing because I’m out riding my bike,  I’m running. There is rubble everywhere and for about 7 hours a day there is the continuous cacophony of construction. But the story is still evolving.

So, If I think about writing, am I still writing? Yes, this summer, it’s a definite yes.

Advertisements

The Tricky 3rd book

Air is everything beyond just what we breath

I’m currently developing the ideas for how to open the 3rd book using the prologue to advance the mythology I’ve created for my world.

The first book was relatively easy to introduce the mythology as the jumping off point for the Four Gods of All. I drew on the Goddess Evram who “… was small, no taller than a daisy, and instead of walking she hovered and flew through the air on hummingbird wings.” The Goddess who cried tears and flooded the dry barren world. I named the Hummingbird’s Tear for my Goddess.

The second book developed An’dona, the giantess who “…brought her great hands together and clapped slowly. With every slap of her palms, the ground beneath her quivered and the water on the land rippled. “ The second book was infused with the concepts of stone representing the hand of An’dorna in palpable ways; a paladin, the monastery hewn into rock, the clay men attacking Orren and the others. The Giant’s Echo is a nod to An’dorna, my Giantess.

The 3rd book is tricky. Evolving the mythology by developing the character of Shaa, of working air into the story.

I have to ask myself, what is air, how do you represent it? So I’m starting with images of air in various ways to remind myself how people experience it; ways I could wind it into the narrative to enhance the reader’s experience as they read the story. Air is a scent of our favourite flower when we open the back door. It makes us blink and our eyes water when we’re standing too close to the firepit. A perfume that takes us back to a memory from 20 years ago, a cool breeze that raises the airs on our arms (cliché, not sorry), and a gust that tells us a storm is coming.

There’s a lot to do before I can start actually writing this book.

Fantasy Book Builder – Part 6 – Finally, writing the novel

Finally, we’re writing writing writing

When I started the Fantasy Book Builders blog series I had a lot of reasons not to, not least of which was the thoughts along the lines of ‘who am I to say what works when it comes to books’. I’ve only written two books and I’m hardly on anyone’s list of authors. But I wrote the blog series anyway, and so here we are with the final part of it, which is the bit where the actual book gets written.

We’ve taken a lot of steps, you know exactly what you want to write and all the prep has gone into it, so this is the part where we lay the prep out and stitch it together.

I do mine like this. Step one, use excel.

I start an excel spreadsheet – is that groaning I hear? I’m serious, a lot of my book is written in excel. I’ve got a column for each chapter and the following side-headings where I record what I need to write the story. They’re set out like this…

Is it a plot(P)  or character (C) chapter, or both (PC) – this is important because of the rhythm of the story. Too many plot chapters one after the other can feel like an overdose of information, and too many character chapters slow the pace and you can weaken the thread of the actions and events that drive the story forward. In addition, that balance of plot-to-character is important. The Hummingbird’s Tear and The Giant’s Echo roughly follow, with a few exceptions – PC, P, C, P, P, C, PC. It’s a bit like poetry, the order of the chapters sets the tune of the book.

It isn’t all keyboard

Key events for that chapter – if you have them on paper notes, put them onto excel for easy reference; be it character or plot, what happened in that chapter that develops the theme, the plot, the characters or sets up something happening next. It’s also where I decide whether or not to use direct exposition and keep a count on how many times I’ve used it in previous chapters. It can be incredibly useful for jumping the plot or character forward, and done right can be very beautiful, but it can also upset the feel of the narrative for the reader so it’s something to be careful with.

Key Characters – who is in each chapter, and what specifically did you ascribe to them (habits, appearance, speech pattern etc). I also keep notes about any specific interactions with other characters that are advancing a sub-plot between them. For example The Hummingbird’s Tear has a lot of Brennan and Calem, obviously, because they are brothers. But the point of their interactions was laying the groundwork for how easily they abandoned each other and both in different ways bonded with Orren. I kept track of those relationships on the spreadsheet specifically because I wanted all the character interactions to be true to the character and the personality I was creating.

I have a place where I record which towns and places are mentioned in each chapter for continuity and I cross check these on the map. Someone will notice if west is suddenly north. Mistakes do happen, I’d rather they didn’t.

But they do. But they shouldn’t.

Portents. Really, the name says it all. I record every old tapestry with a scene on it, frayed carpet, stained glass window, throw away comment, dream, gust of wind blowing sand in a sea storm or clap of thunder on a cloudless day. It’s fantasy after all, and this is a three book story (although right now it’s shaping into more like four but that’s neither here nor there right now).

Next I get a grid going and I fill it with my main characters and their physical attributes so I remember if Orren has a quint or a green eye and a small brown one or yellow hair or no hair. I get confused by my characters sometimes and I’m lazy, have a reference point, it just makes it easier than scrolling back through pages of narrative. I also pick four key personality traits and write those in the character square. Then I give them each a nervous habit and decide in what circumstances they display it.

After that, character growth. Each character where do they start on the spectrum of classical fantasy Good versus Evil, and where do I want them to end up. This is handy of you want your characters to feel real as experience changes people and nothing is worse than a character that is the same start to finish, the reader deserves a good character journey.

That’s really it to be honest. I follow those steps, I get myself ready, I drink an obscene amount of tea and have a constant supply of snacks, and I sit and write. And usually I end up writing something better than I intended after all the planning.

Watch out for cliches, no corner of the eye or eagle-eyed anything, no heart hammering in her chest or hairs on the back of the neck standing up. You’re better than that.

Read your book out loud to yourself. You’ll hear if you’re using the right words.

Don’t write with a thesaurus next to you. Dictionary yes, but it’s not a competition to use an uncommon word. A house is fine, it doesn’t need to be an abode used for non-work related respite and calorie consumption.

Keep reading while you’re writing, honestly, it helps.

Don’t be afraid to love what you’ve written.

And above all else, enjoy it. It’s only a book after all.

Fantasy Book Builder – Part 5 – Making Human Characters – a few to love a few to hate

Brennan at the dinner table, Calem’s scorch marks there to see

My stories deal strongly with relationships—those we are born with and those we develop as family grows and those relationships we choose to invest in and choose to leave behind. In The Hummingbird’s Tear, my 1st novel, the brothers Brennan and Calem are the focal point in my books but I don’t waste any time in using the plot device of brothers growing apart to draw attention to how other more fulfilling, or damaging relationships in my characters lives and how they own their interactions and feelings and how those in turn dictate and shape their actions.

I believe very strongly that you should write a book that the reader will enjoy and since your target audience is ‘people’ you should try write people well. I invest a substantial amount of time in my characters. What do they look like, what are their habits, what happened that caused those habits. I spend hours imagining talking to them, I create elaborate fantasies where they’re interacting on banal tasks outside of the story so I can decide what type of person they actually are. Each one has complete origin and back stories and I come up with the types of jokes they’d tell if they were drunk or what would make them laugh, or cry, or run away or draw a sword. And after all that, which can sometimes take months, after all that I sit down and practically plan how I’m going to use these people.

1—if it works, build in a little expectation before the scene where characters meet. I have druids and sorcerers in my story, but I won’t write about them pacing practicing spells to pass the time or filling an hour before an important personal event using magic to make flowers bloom – not because that isn’t vivid, but because the reader can’t related.  You can add a huge amount of depth to a character without stating anything directly about that person. For example if you want to show some anxiety, one of your characters could be doing their hair before the meeting. Describe how they do their hair, look over it, see a slight imperfection, then do it again, and maybe drop the brush because their hands are a bit sweaty. Your character wants to look as good as they can, and they’re fussy and stalling, as the reader you get a sense that they’re nervous, and the actions are ones we’ve all done ourselves so we can relate to it.

2—make dialogue natural. We’ve all met someone for the first time, we’ve all wondered for a micro-second is our handshake to limp or firm, is it one kiss on the cheek or two.  That is exactly what I’ve done in my books, but more subtly. If one of the characters is a little unsure, instead of the usual limp handshake, you can be a bit creative by making them try to pull their hand away too soon and accidentally tug at the other person who wasn’t ready to let go. Add an awkward silence after that, and as a reader, you can practically taste the sweat that would be on the nervous characters brow.

3—use what is around the characters to build the scene – you can say a huge amount about a character without mentioning them. In Hummingbird there’s a scene where a woman goes into labour on the streets. No one rushes up to help, in fact, people look away on purpose and pretend not to notice. The woman in labour doesn’t expect anything less. She’s dressed differently, and doesn’t speak their language, and the people of the town are afraid more for themselves if they help than for this poor woman crying out in pain on a cobble street. That tells the reader about attitudes, a hint at cultures, and a lot about the dynamics of the people in the city that the scene is set in. It then makes the efforts of Brennan and Calem, who do help her, that much more heroic and important to the story.

Everything you do, everything you think, will make your characters and your stories richer, it’s about letting the reader come to know your characters without describing them though. Much like meeting new people, they don’t come up to you and tell them about yourselves, they laugh at jokes, or they join in at certain points or go quiet at others. It’s fascinating how people behave, and the best character in a book is one we want to know. Reading about them feels like we’re getting to know a person who’s come into our lives, shaken our hand, and asked us to go on an adventure with them.

I’m not saying write a book for every character before you use them in ‘the book’, but maybe do this so each character comes alive and is distinct from the others: here’s an idea to show you what I mean. Make two columns, one for Mulder and one for Scully, and fill it in according to these points below, and you’ll have a great template and example for character building

  • what do they look like, what are their habits
  • relationship to other characters
  • peculiarities (something distinctly out of the ordinary, like, talks to animals or is immortal)
  • where they’re from and what are the cultural specifics to people from that place
  • what are the main personality points they have
  • what do they believe or not believe
  • what key event shapes their attitudes
  • are they an optimist or pessimist
  • surviving family? Why is this important – it gives depth and enables character growth outside of the main plot – trust me it’s useful
  • good/evil/benevolent/malicious

And last but not least, are they going to make it to the end of the story!

Fantasy Book Builder – Part 4 – Creation mythology, making your own pantheon

An’dorna the screaming goddess

Before we take the required leap of faith into talking about creating Gods and Goddesses, a quick recap.

You’re an avid reader, and now you have your own story to tell. You’re idea for your book is rock solid and you are comfortable in the sub-genre you’ve chosen. You’ve created your world, your kingdoms or countries, your mountains, deserts, swamps lakes and fields. All the towns and villages you need are dots on a map and you know which of the neighbours are friend or foe.

I should take a moment here to say that I do not believe in any religion, but rather am intrigued by all religions, faiths and mythology and have a very wide in-depth knowledge of many creation myths/facts/histories as I have been studying them for over a decade. My favourites are Norse myths. I study them because they are fascinating insights into human psychology and the evolution of our beliefs, our motivations, thinking and ability to make sense of our world. But I don’t believe any of it, it’s purely an interest driven out of curiosity and a love of stories. If that lack of devotion or religious belief offends you, then the rest of this blog, a practical how-to to make your own religion for you book, might not be for you.

create your own creation type

Secondly, as I am writing this I am not sure how much of my own detailed development process to go into for the four gods I created for Barclan when writing The Hummingbird’s Tear and Giant’s Echo. I suppose more is more in this case, and since it isn’t a secret I should probably give as much as I can as I write this blog; I want to help as much as possible. You can read on about the ‘why’ I think it’s worthwhile investing what could be weeks in developing your mythology for your story or skip to the bottom of the blog for the practical steps I followed to create my own pantheon.

Back to it. Time to develop your own unique creation mythology

But why? Why do you need one? The simplest answer is that it adds depth to your story telling and wraps culture around your characters which the reader will enjoy. And remember, you’re writing for your reader.

Let’s start with what it is.

Creation mythology are allegorical stories about how a world comes to be, how its people and creatures are brought into existence, and sometimes how the laws of nature are governed and controlled. I would always say first, you need to decide what sort of mythology you own in your story.

In general create myths are split into these concepts (Wikipedia has a lot of detail on this so for more in-depth info, head there):

  1. There’s a god or gods that create the world from scratch.
  2. There’s a vast expanse of nothing, or a swirling mass of nothing that coalesces into substance that then forms worlds, order out of chaos stuff that doesn’t need a particular controlling deity, it implies laws of nature that exist regardless of observation or involvement from a higher being.
  3. The day and night, sky and earth schism myths called world parent mythology. Think old Norse myths, some Egyptian myths and south and central American cultures.
  4. There are those where the dominant human or human like creatures are brought from another world or realm, a bit like exo-genesis employed in Sci-Fi.

These are the concepts that most people will be familiar with as they would have read or been exposed to these in some form throughout their lives either directly accessed in education or through the media as part of story-telling. In other worlds these creation ideas will feel comfortable for a reader if you use them as a base.

The second element of creation mythology that I’ll point out is that there is conflict almost immediately which makes sense since so many allegories are lessons ultimately about conflict resolution. So, if you are going to prologue your story with some of your mythology, is it all nice or do you start with strife and a knife? If so, you need to plan out who or what is fighting who. Why? What is the resolution? What does that mean for your ‘mankind’ and how is that going to affect the outcomes or motivations of your characters going forward?

The third point about having a creation mythology is the direct benefit it can have on your richness of your story narrative. Religion, or faith or however you describe it, gives us options in writing for:

  • Magic, first and foremost it provides you with a platform for building your own magic for your narrative, where it comes from, how it works, how it’s directed and the effects of using it.
  • Plot devices – prophecy, omens, divine intervention etc
  • Scene settings – churches, cathedrals, shrines etc
  • Character motivations
  • Cultural explanations for actions, decisions, or how you’ve assembled a society around central beliefs that make sense in the overall context of your story. It’s fantasy remember, some elements don’t need to make sense outside of the pages of your book.
  • Creatures and beasts that are more than just animals
  • Language and phrasing, dialects to help differentiate races or cultures
  • Influences, things that make people bad, or good, outside of their control that they can either succumb to or battle with throughout your story which created an interesting character based sub-plot

an empty world until you fill it

Fourth point on interaction. Are the deities in your mythology just that, or are they directly part of your story and interact with your characters? In which case, is it really  creation mythology or a situation with humans and heroes?  I don’t like gods that interact . I prefer mine to be representative of particular traits and characteristics and a plot device for magic.

Last but not least, some practical steps if you decide to create your own mythology.

  1. How many gods and goddesses? Makes sure it makes sense in your overall story. I went with four, because the goddesses and god are directly linked to the type of magic that I use in my books.
  2. Beneficent, maleficent, or neutral?
  3. Do they have contact with your creatures and peoples?
  4. What do they look like? Do they have sacred colours, animals, peoples, etc who worship them?
  5. How are they worshiped?
  6. And, can they be destroyed?

Now to the bit about my own gods. The Barclan stories I am writing are fantasy, so there is magic and adventure but the actual theme is about people and how, as people, we justify the decisions we make when they go against our own personal belief system. It was never a question for me, I always knew I had to have a mythology because I wanted cultural influences on my characters that tested their beliefs, their resolve, and forced them to do bad things – because I like a bit of angst, retribution, remorse and revenge in my adventure.

This is what I did when I was creating my mythology.

  1. There are four gods, because there are four types of magic in my world. Creation is represented by the four gems they created when they finished crafting their portion of the world through song. I choose song as the crafting mechanism because it is ephemeral and, quite frankly, I liked it.
  2. The gods created the world and the creatures in it, the magic comes directly from those gods.
  3. The gods are real, they are somewhere present in the world although they cannot be directly accessed. They have a physical appearance.
  4. Each goddess and god has specific characteristics and a polar opposite in the group.
  5. Each of them represents an emotional trait of mankind that I have prescribed to a particular character indirectly referenced through their decision-making processes.
  6. Each of them has a distinct way they are worshipped at specific places I set out when I built the geography and the map of the kingdoms.
  7. Each book is as much about a specific god as it is about the events of that story unfolding in that book. This is represented by the way the main characters interact with the gems.
  8. During the writing of Hummingbird and of Giant’s Echo I kept a spreadsheet which had the chapter number and any specific references to anything to do with the god or goddesses. If it was a faded tapestry, or an omen, or a song or a place, I wrote it down as all of these are linked across the four books and it is important not to leave loose threads and create an end to end narrative.
  9. I keep that spreadsheet and my ‘god chart’ next to me when I write so I keep my characters in character, my god powers and effects in the right order, and so I remember to keep it all magical and fantastical and don’t stray into recognised religion.

all the backstory effort makes a better story

At the end of all this, what I have stored on my computer that no one will probably ever see are backstories of the goddesses and gods, details about how other races and creatures have interreacted with them, and little snippers of narrative of how the four of them interreacted with each other. Even though each book is prefaced with a short section about my creation mythology, I hope it helps underpin the world of Barclan that I’ve created for anyone who read and either likes or hates the books.

So there it is. If you want to read The Hummingbird’s Tear, or the Giant’s Echo, click the links and see what you think.

 

Fantasy Book Builder – Part 3 – Galloping on Water aka geography in your novel

The Where is the best place to start

Let’s recap.

1 – you’ve got your story, and you’re still reading in and out of your genre because a love of writing walks quietly holding hands with a love of reading as apple blossoms bloom and bees buzz around bushes.

2 – you know where your story belongs.

You’re ready to start writing your book. You get into a chapter, and something or someone is somewhere. Stop right there. Where are they? More importantly, where is your reader?

That’s the old map and all the prep notes, and the finished product.

Before I sat down and started writing Hummingbird’s Tear, I already had the map of Barclan drawn and key places marked off with rough ideas of the terrain, climate and length of time it would take to travel between places. (I use this map as part of my planning so it has details of book 3 written on it, hence why I don’t have a picture of it on this blog, that yellow one in the picture is an old version). Regardless of all the prep work on characters, plot, themes, back stories and creation mythology (covered in the next blog), I did the map and the world first because everything has to happen somewhere and it is either going to happen in the ‘real world’, the past or future, or in a place that does not exist. Mine happens in a place that does not exist in the reader’s mind unless I place it there. That is what this blog intends to do, give you a few tips on creating the physical geography so when you are writing and someone is reading it becomes a destination.

Your universe: in other words, is your story taking place in ‘our’ world with recognisable features like lakes, forests, day and night (yes really) and time. Will your story happen in a place where, essentially, our laws of physics prevail? If so, you don’t have to be specific about it as the reader will assume the nature order of things. However, if you are creating an entire alternate reality, you have to give strong clues or be specific.

For example, in our universe you can assume time moves forward, beings are born, they live, they die. You can assume gravity. You can assume colour. You can assume weather etc. Each of those assumptions branches of very quickly into other assumptions the reader is going to make and it will quickly feel familiar, but you need to remember to follow, loosely, the rules of that universe so the reader feels comfortable in it, the more comfortable you make them, the more likely they are to accept and buy into your story. Because I crafted Barclan in Hummingbird, by the time the reader gets to The Giant’s Echo I can create more magical events and less on the ‘where’ because that is embedded.

The world: you don’t need to create continents or decide if it’s a flat earth or not. (For the record, the earth is NOT flat, so we won’t use that example). You do need to have an idea of how the land masses are set up. I always say, draw a map. Something to consider…If you have a world with a lot of individual islands then it follows your story is going to be hyper focused on specific locations, or involve sea travel. If it is sea travel you have to have a society described with suitable advancement to make travel possible and believable. If you have a lot happening spread across a lot of isolated locations, your story will involve a lot of travel, and that can be a bit dull if it is the same type of event happening over and over. It also creates issues with timelines in the story and those unravel quickly. I’m not saying don’t use this geography, I’m just saying, plan it well. Just as ships sink at sea, so the reader can be blown off course by too many prevailing winds that fill sails and banks of oars pulled by strong arms.

If you have a large land-mass with split into individual kingdoms how are you going to make them distinct from each other? Why do they need to be distinct? Because you are going to want to have unique characters from unique places that individualise them, and characters need a cultural reference, and often cultures are borne from the landscape in which the civilisations evolve.

Your countries: Set natural boundaries between kingdoms – rivers, mountains, deserts, all a little cliché I’ll admit, but all realistic and easily acceptable by your reader.

You need a north and south and unless you are outside of our universe it is generally expected and acceptable that north is colder than the middle. I follow this rule, but with an exception. I imply but don’t explicitly state that the landmass Barclan is on ends in the south with a desert, not a south pole. My land goes from the kingdom of Vaden which is cold in the north, to Barclan which is a large central kingdom, to the Nahaas desert in the south which is hot. My world doesn’t go further south than that and get into cooler climes again. The reader can assume it does, but it doesn’t matter and I’ve given them no reason to think of it.

Work out your waterways because people need to live and to live you need water. Don’t have a huge sprawling city next to a small stream, it will nag at your reader. Kraner is a large city on the coast. It isn’t near a major river, but it is over a deep underground lake where water is drawn from. I set that up in Hummingbird’s Tear and haven’t needed to mention it since.

Your world needs a climate. A proper one. It doesn’t matter if you have an equatorial or temperate or arctic type climate, as long as it is set right and the world you describe matches the climate and the people in your story react in the correct way, weather is an incredibly powerful way of drawing the reader into a scene.

It’s good to plan your towns and buildings

Your cities and towns: If your story happens in different kingdoms what are you adding to your descriptions to give them a signature feel? All the towns and cities in Barclan for example have taverns, guild offices and houses built of stone and brick and all are more than single storey buildings. It’s a subtle description, but used enough times it helps to build an image of the types of buildings without needing to write the detail myself. Having an upstairs implies stairs obviously, but it also implies strong solidly built houses, it implies windows, you see where this lead? I have made Barclan a very commercial kingdom, there are always reference to taverns, markets, places for people to buy and sell. Most of the background townspeople are involved in buying and selling or manufacture, again I’m underpinning that Barclan is a large stable kingdom protected by strong natural borders that give them protection and have allowed them to prosper. That is important because the prosperity has led to complacency which is part of the reason that A’taz was allowed to creep back into the kingdom.

New places are easier to differentiate if your main location is embedded with your reader

You can then easily differentiate your main kingdom and culture form others with really very little effort. Barclan is not a very devout or religious place, this is made obvious by the lack of mentioned cathedrals to the very real Gods, and in contrast Orania is set up as the religious fanatical kingdom by casual reference to their love of cathedrals and a singular reference to a priestess in The Giant’s Echo. Vaden is a cruel and war-like kingdom, implied through a conversation between Cotta and Brennan.

Features as plot devices: in Barclan I’ve placed Kraner and Penrose as coastal locations opposite each other forcing the north of Barclan to move goods to the south by boat, because the interior is divided in part by a large swamp. It’s a plot device for staging action and evolving the sub-plot. It works well, use your landscape.

The more you build your central world the easier it is to lay foundations for other places and people with minimum effort. I have three kingdoms, Barclan is the main focus, with Orania alongside it with mountains between them, for now, not threatening. Vaden on the other hand I have not mentioned any natural border beyond a river easily crossed in summer. I’ve mentioned they are watching Barclan waiting for it fail, at which point they’ll invade. In about 5 sentences, Vaden is a threatening menacing presence and it sets up tension and stress in the story.

The when: decide the time frame for your people/person/civilisation. Are you building a world where glass has been invented? Do they have matches, or another way of putting it, do they have basic chemistry? Is there a blacksmith? If so, learn about metals and alloys so you aren’t mixing led and a metal that bends easily and shines in the sun like liquid yellow. Steel is steel, you don’t need to make it fancy. Just have a spell cast on it if you want to, that’s okay, it’s fantasy.

Lastly, the particulars which you sometimes need to mention and remember:

Be consistent with the naming. Don’t call one place Peacehaven and the town down the road Kh’lo’Bah.  The same with people’s names, and the names of things.

How do people travel? Travel by magic is fine if that level of magical advancement has been prepared and crafted into your story. Otherwise, walking, sailing, horses, carts. Reliable.

How is food distributed?

If there is a war in your story, how do you feed large numbers of troops, and what do you do when people are sick or hurt.

That’s about it from me, draw a map. Maps help.

My world right now is Barclan

Fantasy Book Builder – Part 2 – Magic, are you sure it’s magic?

My own Heroic Fantasy offering

fantasy
ˈfantəsi,ˈfantəzi
noun – 
the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.

 

Let’s start with the basics. You are writing a fantasy novel. Are you? What type? What do you mean, what type, it’s a fantasy novel?

In most conventional book shops, online book shops and library or catalogue referencing there exists a classification term that has bothered me my whole life…Sci Fi/Fantasy. Why does this bother me? Because when I read that I see a lazy stiff necked old man with delusions of aristocracy reducing two vast and richly complex genres of story-telling down to a simplified term for ‘make believe’.  And because for an author and the readers we strive to entertain it makes it harder to align our work in our genre. Why does that matter you ask? We’ll get there. But for now, let’s start with that first question again, because it matters.

Writing is a difficult and time-consuming task and if you are going to write a book, to my mind, you should be clear about what you are writing and where your work will fit into the literary landscape.

What type of novel are you writing? Better yet, what sort of novels have you read? It seems obvious but there are many levels and sub-levels of literature before you get to the fantasy types.

Fiction vs Non-Fiction – this is the basic you all know and Fantasy belongs in Fiction – literature that describes imaginary events and people, something invented or untrue.

Fiction, next stage? Here we’re into familiar territory again. We go to Mystery, Thrillers, Romance, and Speculative Fiction. Spec Fic? What’s that? That my friends, is where the insulting catch-all of Sci Fi/Fantasy was hastily written down and that’s where it sits.

Split out Spec Fic, and finally we’re at Fantasy. Finally! You’re writing a Fantasy novel yes? Not yes?

It works like this. You’re writing a fantasy story with magical elements? Yes? Those magical elements are the sort of things you see after too many mushrooms in a room with a strobe light? Congratulations, you’re writing Surrealism. No flashing ‘shrooms? The magic is spells and waving a wand. Ah, okay, go sit with the Magical Realism crowd (it’s okay, they’re a fun bunch). Wait, you meant to say the magic isn’t that normal, and there’s some horror and people die? Team Dark Fantasy, room for one more.

It could go the other way. There’s magic and it’s funny but you’ve worked hard not to rewrite Red Riding Hood, Comic Fantasy take a chair. In fact, it’s happening in a kingdom that feels a little like old England, Sword and Sorcery there you go. Throw in a prophecy or a doomsday event, and if you are the hero type you are now writing Heroic Fantasy, of if villainy is more your cup of tea, High Fantasy.

Was that fun? I enjoyed that. There are a few other sub-types and depending on what you research or where you look there will be different variations but they’re all variations on the theme. Fundamentally, you’re fantasy story is going to fit into one of those.

Surrealism                       Magical Realism                Dark Fantasy      Comic Fantasy
Sword & Sorcery         Heroic Fantasy                   High Fantasy

Why is this important? Simple. Certain elements work well together and certain types of stories fit well together. The sub-genres are guidelines if you will for how to build the world in which your story takes place, and how you are going to treat your reader as you guide them through your story. The other reason it is important is when you are presenting a story to a reader where they are asked to accept events that are not real-magic, spells, dragons, monsters, Gods-you want to make as much of it as familiar and believable as you can so that the reader can buy into what you are offering them. Give them the right world in the right place that meets some of their basic expectations so that you can focus the story telling on the elements you want to bring out that are uniquely you as the story teller and that make your world stand out from the well represented crowd that it’s sitting with.

The best example I can give is my own. My Barlcan series, the Hummingbird’s Tear and The Giant’s Echo fits into Heroic Fantasy. It fits comfortably into a historical European setting with castles and knights and that really assists me because I can create a familiar view in the minds eye, the reader will fill in a lot of detail for me, so I can concentrate on developing the magic in my story and that characters. I don’t want to create something quirky that doesn’t fit in my genre because I don’t want my story to stand out for wrong reasons. No one wants to remember a book they enjoyed right up until it went completely out of genre and a someone brought a flamethrower to a 16th century campfire.

 

Fantasy Book Builder – Part 1 – Build on stone not quicksand

Those two books up there, love them or hate them, this is how I made them, part 1.

You’ve got your idea. It’s exciting. You keep coming back to it and you know 100% it’s more than just a daydream you indulge on the daily drag to the job. Your idea went from a short scene you’ve imagined to a vivid exchange between characters (you named them) and a place. In your mind you’re filling in details; colours are starting to come through, is there a strong breeze, what can you smell, are you hearing accents in your imagination, have you moved beyond classical handsome or ugly to nuances of appearance? And nowit’s not a scene because you know what happens next, and what happened before. It’s a story and you are going to write a novel.

A few things you probably already know…

Old Manual Typewriter

The first thing I want to say is your idea for a novel/book/story, whatever you want to call it, is not unique. I’m sorry, but it isn’t. I firmly believe we are all the sum of our parts, and in this case the sum of parts of every book, comic, magazine, movie, TV show and maybe also radio show we’ve ever watched, read or listened to a lifetime ago. And that’s just fine. You may not recognise where all your ideas come from and you don’t have to. Little bits of everything have come together in your imagination, cooked into your own retelling, and that’s what you intend to write. That’s perfect. That’s what you want, to tell YOUR story YOUR way.

For me, I grew up worshiping at the fantasy realms of Pratchett, Feist, Eddings, Tepper and Rawn. My second love is science-fiction, I drop to my knee in respect of Herbert, Clarke, and Le Guin. I started readings comics when I was a kid, I still do, they have perfected the damaged hero trope. I love watching films about monsters, villains and spaceships. My own books and the world I’ve set them are in some way a little bit of everything else; ultimately, I’m writing a classical sword and sorcery fantasy series but sometimes it’s a comedy, other times high fantasy, once or twice dark fantasy. Where does the sci-fi fit? Well, my sorcerer walks without rhythm.

Secondly, while you are writing your novel, or preparing for it, you should still be reading novels in your genre, and outside of it. Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” If he said it, it’s true.

I was asked once (by someone who had only a few minutes earlier discovered I’d written a fantasy novel) ‘how I do it’?  The exchange went something like this…

Person: I don’t know how you do it.
Me: You just find the time in-between family, work, going out, reading, you just plug away at it.
Person: Reading? Aren’t you worried you’ll accidentally copy something you’ve read when you’re trying to write?

http://smarturl.it/HUMtg

I wrote that

It was an insulting exchange not only because, excuse me, I’m not ‘trying to write’, I’m writing. Condescending overtones are my least favourite in any conversation about writing, especially from people who start any discussion with phrases like, I’ve always thought I’d write a book, I’ve got a good imagination (hint, it takes more than imagination). Reading while writing is perhaps the most important and ongoing preparation you can make while developing your own manuscript. You won’t accidentally copy anything you’re reading, and it won’t infect your ideas or lessen what you have imagined in your mind.

Carry on reading, it’s like revising for an exam or running while training for a marathon. A good book in your genre keeps your mind on good story telling, compelling use of words, crafting plot devised, and when you use character quirks and how to evolve characters. Plus, writing can be extremely frustrating and stressful. Reading is relaxing and calming. If you’ve ever wanted to delete the whole work in progress because you can’t get a section right, then a good book is just what you need to remind you to write again later.

Back to your story (by talking about mine). When I started writing The Hummingbird’s Tear I was actually writing another story altogether and it was organic. No planning, technique or craft. I sat down and wrote whatever came into my mind which is why it took so many years to finish and finesse. Looking back on the iterations of the manuscript I can see clearly now that I had this idea, a core scene and an ending, but no beginning and no filler. I was trying to build a sorcerer’s eternal citadel on quicksand without any foundations or supports. It was difficult to write, difficult to finish, and difficult to stitch the main events of the story together in a meaningful way for the reader. What happened in the many redrafts; scenes were added, some taken away. The two core events that started it all stayed the same but everything else changed until the story was nothing like what I first wrote. I even changed the name of the book.

Book 2 of the Barclan Series

The Giant’s Echo was different not just because I already had a completed manuscript of the whole second book I’d drafted before the first found its way to being edited and released by Calumet. I started writing it in the same was as I had with Hummingbird; an idea of what would happen, a few definitive scenes and a lot of late-night typing. As soon as I was done with Hummingbird, I was done with how I wrote Hummingbird. I rewrote Giant’s Echo by creating a lot of other material first.

I made a storyboard. I used excel and put a column for each chapter. Under each chapter I wrote a few sentences of the key events that took place in that chapter. I had a cell for main characters. I had a cell for any omens or portents I’d added-classic tool in fantasy- any rivers, place names; things like that. I tracked the whole book in this way. I did this for Hummingbird retrospectively so that I could make sure there was continuity, and also because I could immediately see the story arc developing, the themes, and the key points and events. I then did the same for Giant’s Echo. And then I had the framework of the whole book I needed to write and it was clear what needed to happen in each chapter to drive my story to the conclusion. Once you’ve got that, you can start really writing. Yes, it took a long time, yes, it was worth it.

My favourite backstory is about Cotta

I wrote backstories. By the time you’re looking at a second novel in a series you will have cemented characters, their relationships and what they look like. But if you want to give your characters identity they need believable reactions, motivations and they need to have distinct personalities. For me, I indulge my daydreams by dwelling on my favourite characters and giving them personal history. When I have a block on the main story, I write backstories and this eventually has an impact on what they do in the novel. Here’s an earlier blog about character development.

 

I know the general rule is something relevant to the main plot has to happen in each chapter, but I think if you have great characters you always have fantastic chapters. 

I’m not saying do what I did but I can say in my experience the idea is 5% of the process, the prep is 20%, and the rest is effort. As you sit and write a chapter you’ll know what definitively needs to happen and you’ll instinctively fill in the space around that event if you have an idea of how those smaller things knit together.

Above all else, enjoy your creation, it is after all is said and done, uniquely you. I love my drawings, my storyboards, character sketches and backstory shortsas much as I love the world I’ve invented and the people I go to sleep thinking about. A book is more than words on a page, it’s everything you wrote for the pleasure of the reader that they will never know about, and it’s the reason why they (hopefully) enjoy your story.

Fantasy Book Builder – a brief welcome

Welcome to Fantasy Book Builder; a series of blogs aimed at anyone who is interested in my approach to writing fantasy novels. The blogs will be released week by week, this week is week 1.

So. What do I mean by approach? Surely, it’s just sitting down with the idea and writing the novel?

Fantasy is easy isn’t it, after all, it’s make believe. No, it really isn’t.

I’ve written two novels in my fantasy series. The first, The Hummingbird’s Tear was published in 2016 and the second in the series, The Giant’s Echo was published in January of 2018. I’ve blogged before about the organic growth of , and the again about the more structured evolution of . In some of my blogs I’ve also hinted at the volume of material and peripheral work I did to create the framework for my story. It’s highly doubtful anyone will ever get to see or read the work that I put into creating the world in which my stories take place. I don’t want you to see it, I just want you to enjoy the story and for that to happen, you have to believe the story. Getting people to accept fantasy, to believe in magic, sorcerers, druids and dragons, that’s where the real effort starts. Not in the story you’re writing, in the world you’re building.

The series of blogs are going to be structured along these lines…

Part 1 – Build on stone not quicksand – you’ve got the idea, probably know how it will end, have you got the start?

Part 2 – Magic, are you sure – do you know your fantasy genre and where your story belongs?

Part 3 – Galloping on water – back to geography class or your story unravels at the gates.

Part 4 – Creation mythology – don’t worry, turns out people like it when you play Gods.

Part 5 – Making Human Characters – and also a few to love hating. Enter, the characters.

Part 6 – Dip that quill – you’ve been working on your novel for months, time to start writing it.

 

 

Sleeping with the Goddess I created

I went to Iceland in October and I came back a changed writer.  Before I write about the single most magical place on the planet I’ve visited and what happened, we need some backstory.

Colours that you can’t believe until you see them

I’m not a particularly well travelled person. I’m also not someone with an enormous wunderlust who is always destination dreaming. I do have a list, a short list, dominated by places I want to go in order to do certain things rather than just seeing places. Iceland was top of that list. And anyway, my travel dreams are usually about places that don’t exist, where sorcery is real and you can find goblins and flying reptiles in deserts protected by shape shifters. In other words, BA doesn’t fly there. But Iceland is different. Iceland I have dreamed about for years in both waking and sleeping dreams. It’s my go to place for landscape images and of elements of nature when I’m thinking about where to set a scene or build the countryside of Barclan and the other kingdoms. It’s one of the few places where, when I read about it, see images, or watch programmes about it on television, I get that little flutter of longing deep in my chest. It also has nordic and germanic mythology wrapped around its coastline which I personally love.

So why hadn’t I gone before? I can’t answer that. Honestly I don’t know. The point is, I did go. And it wasn’t just any old trip. I went to Iceland on a yoga retreat organised by Reclaim Yourself with a bunch of about 17 strangers from all over the world and my aunt who is best described as a feminist pagan extrovert, essential if you are an extrovert IT nerd who happens to write books but isn’t great in big groups.  The trip was more than I could have hoped for. By noon on day one I realised that I was seeing and experiencing the places I had written into Hummingbird, and Giant’s Echo which is being edited at the moment, and book 3 which is 27 pages so far.

From now on, I will always imagine the sound of weeping as the roar of a waterfall.

Hummingbird opens with the cosmology of the Gods creating the world and I think Iceland is where all four of them stood as they sang their songs of creation and brought the world to be. The Godafoss waterfall is, I’m sure, where Evram beat her tiny hummingbird wings, bent her head, and began her song of weeping. It’s where her teardrops formed a puddle, then a trickle, then a mighty river that crashes and roars and pours across the faceless world giving it emotion and sound and a feeling that you can only describe as alive.

Total isolation and tranquillity.

There is so much I could write about in this blog post, a lot of specific experiences, but I want to keep it general because for each thing that I did or saw, I keep coming back to my Goddess. An’dorna the giantess who clapped her great hands and cracked the world. She who stamped her feet and raised mountains and whose voice made the earth quake and the land fall away to be filled by the sea. The Goddess who went to sleep after the songs had ended, and became a mountain herself.

An’dorna of course.

Each night I kept my curtains open, my eyes open and my mind open and rested my weary head on a soft pillow, staring at my giant stone Goddess asleep in the mountains that kept guard over the valley. At night I stayed awake and felt a deep sense of belonging; to the dark, to the quiet, to the stillness. I felt vulnerable and small when the sun rose and I watched the way the light, moving faster than anything in our universe, could only manage a sluggish crawl up the mountain face illuminating peaks where the snow never melts. An’dorna, asleep so close to me, this Goddess I’ve created in my mind was never my creation. She is just a name I’ve given to let my mind wrap around how humbling it is to look at something truly timeless.

The boiling noxious birth of the world.

Can you see the face of the troll?

Smells like a corpse in the sun.

When I wrote about Xynel and Shaa I was thinking about how in nature unity, chaos and destruction are all words we’ve created to describe what happens around us because we fear what we see. We have created entire civilisations, buildings, financial institutions, weapons of war, religions, rules and science to make us feel in control and safe. We’ll do anything to take away that yoke of vulnerability that we feel because deep down we know we really are nothing in the grand scale of time. Whether we are or are not alone in the universe, we are frightened. I made Shaa a grotesque hunchback who’s reflection is that of absolute beauty because I wanted a very simple way of having an actual being that is the extreme of how we as people see the world. Things, ideas, concepts, even other people are either something we like or something we don’t. I gave Shaa both those elements and then I made him the unifying God because he had to step back and see himself before he could influence the others. Xynel was the beautiful corruption, the phantom.  She is the mean, nasty, horrible comments we sometimes say to ourselves but never say out loud. And she’s what we do say aloud when we cause pain and upset.  She’s the feelings that we pretend we don’t have and the guilt that we trap ourselves in because we feel like with everything we’ve built we’ve elevated ourselves above mere animal. But we are what we are. She is what she is. A force of nature who blows away and destroys that which is so carefully created, crafted and planned. And that was everywhere in Iceland. I stood on pseudo-craters blown out by water and molten rock. Lava fields with conglomerations that look like troll heads from the right angle. A world that is beautiful because it is sharp and can cut you. Land that is black hard rock which sparkles and shines if it catches the sun because nothing is what it seems if you just bend down and take a closer look. I stood next to a chimney spewing gas that smelled like eggs and corpses, and was choked on the scent of the world forming literally at my feet. I pictured Shaa breathing his unifying breath as Xynel stood in the smoke, her phantom form shimmering in and out of view.  The sound coming from the natural vents is as loud as a jet engine, you have to shout to be heard. I imagined that in-between the deafening rumble of the world forming, I could hear the faint echo’s of An’dorna’s claps that shook and shattered and shaped the world.

How am I a changed writer? I care more because I met the Gods I created.

I care about my Gods. I care about my kings and queens and sorcerers and soldiers. I care about the world I’ve created. I want to give them richer experiences because I’ve stood at the spot where the world was made. And I’ve sat with An’dorna and watched time pass under her gaze. I’ve seen the hazy figure of Xynel challenging Shaa on the planes where the world is still being born from their song of chaos. I felt the spray from the water Evram cried onto the world.

I came back with a sense or calm about writing book 3. Normally my writing habit is organic and haphazard and a little bit frantic.  I keep notes and track details but I don’t sit and plan the story through, it evolves. That approach isn’t going to work for book 3. I changed in Iceland when I saw my fantasy world in-front of my eyes.  Now, the trick is to write my world so you can see it as clearly as I can.