About Writers, inspiration, Magic and Science, mythology, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Non-Epic Fantasy

 – by Peter Thomson

I have been reading fantasy for over fifty years (and writing it for two), and I still do not know what  defines the genre. After all, there’s the magical realism (it has magic!) pioneered by Miguel Asturias (Nobel Prize winner) and made a best seller by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (also Nobel Prize winner), epic fantasy, Gothic fantasy (Mervyn Peake), urban fantasy, fantasy whodunnits (Glen Cook’s Garret PI series) … I could go on, and on. My own effort currently ranks something like #115,751 in the fantasy category at Amazon, so it’s obviously enormously popular to write as well as read.

Browsing through the on-line slush piles (did I mention I’m a fast reader?), the great bulk of fantasy  seems to fall towards the ‘epic’ end of the spectrum. The fate of the world, or at the very least a substantial kingdom, hinges on our hero’s or heroine’s efforts. The advice to writers is that the creation of dramatic tension is essential and most writers seem to have decided that nothing beats tense like the possibility of an an unending reign of darkness.

But do readers really read the Lord of the Rings to find out if Sauron is defeated? If the derivative art (pictures and music as well as imitations) Tolkien has spawned are an indication, probably not. They read to walk the streets of Minas Tirith, talk with ents, linger in Lothlorien as elvish harps play through the night. Or, as it might be, fight tyrannosaurs and dark magics. In  a word, escape.

One way to give the reader this escape – to show them a world they would like to visit, is to lower the stakes. This has several advantages. It allows for a slower pace if desired, gives more scope to explore the scenery and for whimsy, grace-notes and interesting diversions. After all, a world with dragons surely has a lot of other interesting things. The mission is still there, still central, but not so dominant. It more easily allows sequels that are not just re-hashes (hello Belgariad follow-ons) and generates side-stories and spin-offs. If you save the world in book 1, what’s left to do?

Examples might be Jack Vance’s stories of the Dying Earth and Lawrence Watt-Evans’  Ethshar series. Vance evokes a world of melancholy, caprice, the accumulation at the end of time of all sorts of oddities. The stakes are there, but are not of enormous consequence. Will Cugel the Clever obtain his revenge? Will Liane the Wayfarer evade Chun the Unavoidable? (Spoiler: no in both cases). In Ethshar, will Valder find a way to rid himself of a misenchanted sword? Will Emmis have a better future as native guide to the Vondish ambassador?

This works best if the background is evoked rather than described, and if it fits together. Avoiding a data dump is standard good advice. Fitting together – having a reasonably coherent picture that the reader can build up in her mind over the course of the plot from a series of passing remarks – is harder. Maybe this is why so many writers go for the epic – it’s easier to charge straight over the holes and inconsistencies. If the world is to be truly interesting, the characters shouldn’t think like modern westerners nor like medieval stereotypes. They should reflect the world they live in. Magic (or active gods or dragons or whatever) surely alters a lot of things.

In my case I could draw on a few decades of role-playing with inventive, over-argumentative people and a lifetime of reading history. Historians tend to assume that people had a good (to them) reason for whatever they did and the job is to explain that. Believe me, it helps to have a lot of case studies of the reasonable (to them) but totally weird (to us) to draw on.

In Tales of the Wild magic is a universal force, used for cooking and lighting and keeping the bank secure, drawn on by humans, animals, plants and the land itself. People go about their business, take a gap year, connive, plot, seek to evade taxes. Some themes I want to explore fit naturally: the land rejects – forcefully – exploitation; equality between men and women is easy to envisage and portray, the bad guys can be more nuanced and their motivations more comprehensible. Above all, I can take the time to entertain. Non-epic fantasy is an under-rated sub-genre and writing it a good way to stand out from the crowd of worlds that need saving on a daily basis.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Stayin’ Busy

– by Mimi Speike

I’ve been busy this week. I’ve written two pieces on Medium.com. I’ve just about decided to create a personal publication there that will display my non-Sly work and also present opinion pieces, most (but not all) writing-related. I wrote a guest-piece for The Story Reading Ape. It’s up as of Sunday. I’m doing a final read-though on my entry for Booksie’s First Chapter contest (deadline June 15). You’ll find the notice on Facebook.

I’ve gone through my files, found very old art, scanned it, and am going to take it into Illustrator to add to/manipulate. I see one image as the anchor for a cover illustration.

I’ll do one more edit on Sly, then I will let go of book one. I have finished reading Dear Dark Head, a history of Ireland, Palmerston, a bio of Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of England in the mid-nineteenth century, and I’m well along on The French, Portrait of A People  (the nit-pick information in here, fabulous, and, a riot.) I am so enjoying this. The relationship of the French to food, I can certainly use some of that. My Archbishop has a French chef who he adores.

I’m doing my usual highlighting of great usage, starring the really super bits. A few items will be hilarious inserted into my baptism scene. (Already a screwball delight, if I do say so myself.) My cat is loving it. He never knew a baptism would be so much fun. (Nor did I.) I have haunted certain sites, like Catholic Answers, for a few years now. So much so that I’ve gotten pop-up messages: We notice that you visit us often. Would you care to donate? I’ll blow their minds, credit them in my footnotes.

This week: back to the art. The art is what’s holding me up.The apps have changed so much since my stone-age versions, the simplest tasks, I can’t get them done, not easily. I have to get my ass down to Barnes and Nobel and buy the books.

My firm belief is, we can’t wait for the world to come to us. We have to push, and push, and push for attention. But I’m not shoving my book in people’s faces, I’m writing humorous pieces with bouncy headlines that I hope many will want to investigate.

Where will it get me? I’ll keep you posted.

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Well, my post was displayed on the front page of Story Reading Ape for all of nine hours. There are so many members there, apparently writing their hearts out, that I am already pushed off the front page (into previous posts) by nine other pieces posted today. Lots of participation there, you can get lost in the shuffle.

 

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inspiration, mythology, Uncategorized, Welcome, world-building, writing technique

The Hero’s Journey

As you probably know, many writers use Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey as the route along which to write their own story. Here are some of the more famous examples.

A good yarn often starts with The Ordinary World.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…This particular hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected…”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Unexpectedly, there is the Call To Adventure.
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
– Princess Leia (hologram), “Star Wars: Episode IV”

Followed, of course, by The Refusal Of The Call.
“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t see what anybody sees in them…Good morning!…we don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.”
– Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

No adventurer ventures without The Helper.
“I can guide you but you must do exactly as I say.”
– Morpheus, “The Matrix”

And off they go to The Threshold Of Adventure.
“The Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
– Obi Wan Kenobi “Star Wars: A New Hope”

But wait, they must face down The Threshold Guardian.
“Who would cross the Bridge of Death must first answer me these questions three, ‘ere the other side they see.”
– Bridge-keeper, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”

Now, together our adventurers face Tests.
“We’ll never survive.”
“Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.”
– Wesley and Buttercup (when preparing to enter the Fire Swamp), “The Princess Bride”

At some point, they endure a Supreme Ordeal.
“Only after disaster can you be resurrected. It is only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.”
– Tyler Durden, “Fight Club”

At the climax, our heroes reach the enemy’s lair and prevail. But now comes Flight.
“Come on buddy, we’re not out of this yet.”
– Han Solo, “Star Wars: A New Hope”

Finally, our heroes take The Road Back. They return home.
“We thought you were… dead.”
“I was. Now I’m better.”
– Captain Sheridan in response to the Drazi ambassador, Babylon 5 ep. “The Summoning”

Come to think of it, just reading about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey can get a writer excited.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, editing, Flash Fiction, Google Ads, humor, inspiration, Legal, Literary Agents, Literary critique, Magic and Science, mythology, publishing, reading, Research, Satire, scams, self-publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Welcome, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

An Invitation to Blog

The Writers Co-op is looking for a few good bloggers. Anyone in the writing life is welcome to submit a blog. If you have something to say about writing, editing, publishing, marketing or just want to share news of your latest effort, we’re interested. Submit a new blog, or, a link to your current blog page.

Members should post their blog in the draft section. Others should submit their their blog or link to GD <at> Deckard <dot> com. Blogs are posted every Monday or Thursday morning on a first-come basis.

Remember that readers are likely to be people in the writing life interested in learning from one another. Sharing our successes, failures, insights, knowledge and humor is a big part of the life we lead.

I look forward to hearing from you.

– GD Deckard, Founding Member

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blogging, editing, Literary critique, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

An Interesting Thing about Writing

Show, Don’t Tell?
Show, is writing that allows the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings. This is generally more interesting than telling a story through exposition, summarization, and description. The best explanation I know is from Anton Chekhov who wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Obviously, we must consider Chekhov’s advice. There is a crater on the planet Mercury named after him. But, what does it mean? To me, it means the end of lazy writing. The writer should take that extra step into the story. Don’t just say, Auggie Anderson is blind. Step into Auggie’s world and see him feeling for a bench with a white cane.

That said, I’m currently reading through 71 short stories that have been submitted for the Writer’s Co-op 2019 Anthology, The Rabbit Hole, Vol. 2. And, the best story so far is tell! Not show. Yup. The author is telling a story. But so well written, that the action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings are all there! It held my interest all the way through because the story is interesting.

So, what’s a writer to do? When I think of the stories I really like, they stand out because they are interesting. I may or may not remember that the story is original or well written. But I know a story that is memorable to me and to many others is always an interesting one.

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blogging, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Being There

Seeing something helps a writer to describe it. Actually being in a setting lets the words choose themselves. Take the inside of the International Space Station, for example, one of the most advanced miracles of modern technology to have ever been built by mankind. It’s a mess. The room I’m in now is maybe 20 feet wide by 20 feet high by, maybe, a little longer. The white and grey walls are totally covered with color-coded cables, cases, boxes and storage packs. And there are wall panels that slide out like file cabinet drawers to allow access to the experiments being conducted inside. Not a spec of space is wasted on the four walls. You can’t walk on any of them. No floors needed here. Just float between the walls. I guess that explains the four laptop computers fixed at impossible angles. No up or down. Just float over and use one. The panel sections lining the walls are marked by metal strips to which, as astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency, showed me, she can attach shower safety hand bars (OKAY, she called them something else.) She uses the bars to hold onto when she’s working. She can also slip her stocking feet (no shoes needed here) under the bar to hold herself in place while she completes an appointed task. Or, attach a camera like the one giving me this inside view.

Yes. It’s virtual reality. But how else am I getting aboard the ISS to see what kind of socks astronauts wear? Or watch the sun rise over the rooftops of London, from a rooftop in London, and turn to see the The Shard sticking up a thousand feet into the sky? Or stand among Parisians in a little park and be the only one rubbernecking the Eiffel Tower towering above me? All without leaving my writing desk.

The little tripper lets you describe settings by putting you inside them. It’s cheap. A $20 viewer will let you use your cell phone to watch YouTube 360 videos of just about any place people can get to today. I recommend virtual reality to any writer without a twenty million dollar travel budget for a ticket to the space station.

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

If It Helps a Writer to Focus, It’s a Muse!

I bought a watch. It’s an automatic watch, the kind with no electronics. It’s all wheels, springs, levers, gears, screws, jewels, a dial and three hands working together in a case with a bezel, crown, crystal, two lugs and a wristband. The sum-total-effect of hundreds of parts is to cause the hands to advance 86,400 seconds a day.
That’s a lot for a little machine, isn’t it?

The purely mechanical nature of the watch calms me because it is predictable. Move along, my watch tells time, there is nothing new to be seen here. The watch is from the old world of Isaac Newton – everything is put together by hand. It grounds me for world-building.

When I have an idea for a story, I have to build the world in which it occurs. The idea has a life of its own, but I have to create the background for it. A good background is one that seems natural, meaning, what is not described can be assumed by the reader. The watch itself reminds me of a time before Clerk Maxwell inspired Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The world was logical, not quantum. Just like the intricate mechanical train of the watch’s parts, everything in Newton’s world connected. And this, really, remains the world we actually live in today. Readers are comfortable with logical plots. So, I build a world out of natural assumptions people assume to be true, and I introduce the story idea in a train of connected plot bits.

I call the watch a muse because it reminds me that for a story to work, the plot has to be put together by hand, adjusted to fit perfectly and made to work with everything else in the story-world.
It’s a great muse.

P.S. This thoughtful blog was inspired by my Lady who asked,
“You bought what!?”

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