Guest Posts

Guest Post: Margaret L. Carter – Making Monsters (#writing post)

Unleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host horror, fantasy, and paranormal romance novelist Margaret L. Carter as our Guest Blogger for Saturday, March 26, 2016. She has written for you a fantastic, post about making monsters and the careful thought and detail necessary to make them fully realized characters. Something that can be a little harder than it looks, especially if you are just starting out.

Monsters need to be as carefully considered as your heroes (even more if they ARE the heroes), otherwise, they aren’t really characters just 1-dimensional one-note “dolls”, mindless bloodthirsty “critters” or mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplashes, chewing scenery and monologing about the evil they will do.  BUT, with Margaret’s notes, we have a little help in thinking about how to make our monsters just a little more “real.”

You can find information about her published works, filled with the monsters the adores – vampires, werewolves, ghosts, dragons, and more! dragons, and the discontinued fanzine THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT (all issues still available in PDF format) on her website: Carter’s Crypt.

Making Monsters

Suppose you want to write a story or novel featuring vampires (my specialty)? How do you decide on their traits—powers, weaknesses, nutritional requirements, method of acquiring blood (or energy, if they’re psychic vampires), attitudes toward ordinary mortals? One of the strongest attractions of vampires as a literary motif, in my opinion, is that there are so many different varieties of them in folklore and fiction. No matter what kind of vampire you want to create, you can probably find a precedent for it somewhere.

view-of-a-church-in-the-countryside-victorian-woodcut-engraving-dated-emj53hHow much blood do they need and how often? Do they habitually kill when they feed? Are they completely nocturnal? Do they involuntarily fall into an undead coma at daybreak or simply prefer to rest by day? How do they react to sunlight? Does it destroy them (a trope invented by the silent movie NOSFERATU, not found in classic fiction of the nineteenth century or in folklore—legends that prescribe a return to the grave by sunrise imply that daybreak simply immobilizes the vampire), cause them some degree of pain or discomfort, or not bother them at all? Do they sleep in coffins or require native earth? If sunlight harms them, do they become tougher or more vulnerable to it with age? Do they belong to a secret subculture with an elaborate hierarchy, or are they mainly solitary predators (as I prefer)? What attitude do most of them take toward ordinary mortals? Do crosses and other religious objects repel them? If so, does the effect depend on belief (the vampire’s or the attacker’s?) or is it an objectively real power? If the latter, how do you deal with the metaphysical implications of an objective spiritual force? (The BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER universe appears to be completely secular, yet crosses work on vampires, a fact that is never explained.) Do your vampires radiate a charismatic glamour to seduce their victims? In one novel I’ve read—which presents the undead as terrifying rather than romantic figures—the newly turned protagonist discovers to his horror that the magnetic allure of vampires is just that, glamour. A vampire’s true appearance is that of a decomposing corpse, disguised by a constantly maintained illusion.

In creating her “good guy” vampire, Count Saint-Germain, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro said she compiled a list of folkloric vampire traits and gave her Count the most common ones. (A few, however, she definitely borrowed from Bram Stoker, such as the lack of a reflection and the need to rest on native earth, which he seems to have invented.) If you don’t already have a fixed idea of what your vampires are like, you can survey folklore and fiction to pick out the characteristics that work best for your story. Did you know that some folkloric undead, rather than being the nearly godlike immortals of many novels, have a strictly limited lifespan after which they “die” on their own? There’s one legend of a type of vampire that goes through several transformations in the course of its postmortem existence, at the end of which he or she can pass for human and travel to a different area to start a new life. While some folkloric vampires conform to the older assumption (as exemplified by Saint-Germain) that the undead can’t engage in normal
sexual relations, others have a lusty reputation of visiting their widows and fathering dhampirs. You might decide to use a folkloric element that hasn’t often appeared in fiction, such as the belief that you can entrap a vampire by scattering small objects such as seeds on the ground, because the monster has a compulsion to count them one by one. (An X-FILES episode included that detail.) In one of my stories, I referenced the superstition (I forget which European ethnic group it comes from) that you can defeat a vampire by stealing his left sock (raising the question of how you can tell which sock is the left). My vampires, who belong to a naturally evolved species, not supernatural, drink milk as well as blood. I got the idea from Guy de Maupassant’s classic tale “The Horla,” in which the invisible vampiric monster drains a glass of milk in the night, and also from folk beliefs in some regions that vampires dry up cows’ milk. Terry Pratchett’s vampire clan in CARPE JUGULUM struggles hilariously with all the best-known traditional superstitions as well as some lesser-known ones such as the sock thing.

The same principle applies to other monsters such as werewolves and zombies. It seems to me that, if you don’t already have your monster’s traits mapped out in advance, it’s always a good idea to revisit the folklore and observe how movies, TV, and fiction have developed or altered the original source material. You might come across a little-known legendary characteristic that could give your work a fresh slant. Do your werewolves get infected with lycanthropy by being bitten (another trope invented by the movies)? Or do they follow the folkloric pattern of becoming werewolves through a curse, a voluntary transformation by way of dark magic, or inheritance from a cursed ancestor? Do they change only at the full moon? Can they control their transformation and suppress or perform it at will? Are they aware of what they do in beast form, or do they suffer a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde change where a different personality takes over, as in the classic horror movies of the 1930s? Do they live in packs? Are they literally people who sometimes change into wolves, or are they more like wolves with the power to become human?

Ghosts raise their own set of questions. Are ghosts in your universe conscious entities or mere psychic traces left on the atmosphere? If a ghost really is the spirit of a dead person, is it bound to a certain spot (or object) or free to travel? Is it tied to the place of its death, the location of its body, or a site with some emotional meaning for it? Can it affect the physical world at all and under what conditions? Can it change its appearance? How much memory of its mortal life does it retain? Does your ghost yearn to “go into the light,” or do you assume its spectral existence on this plane is permanent? Is there any way for it to regain a corporeal body?

MomentoMoriDCShakespeareIn creating a “monster” such as a vampire, especially if the monster is your hero, you might consider why vampires attract readers. In particular, what is the vampire’s main allure for you? The eroticism of blood? The intimacy of sharing the essence of life? Immortality and the perspective gained by living centuries or millennia beyond a normal human span? The image of the rogue or fallen angel whom only your heroine can redeem? The plight of a character whose survival compels him to live among ordinary people while hiding his true nature? Whatever constitutes the core appeal of a vampire, werewolf, demon, or other “monster” for you, you can endow your characters with traits that embody that appeal. In creating my naturally evolved vampires, I wanted to keep the erotic overtones of blood-sharing. I justify this detail by postulating that an intelligent predator would rather not draw attention by violence and killing. So my vampires don’t have to kill when they feed, and their powers of hypnotic seduction make their donors eager to be fed on. Vampiric mesmerism also enables them to make victims forget being bitten. Another major attraction of the vampire for me is the concept of a creature who looks like us but isn’t quite one of us and therefore has a skewed angle on human existence. (It’s the same reason I find Mr. Spock fascinating.) So I enjoyed creating vampires who have never been human and never can be. Yet because they grow up among us and have to pass for human to survive, they can’t help picking up human behaviors and attitudes no matter how they resist that process. In fact, they’re so adaptable in childhood and adolescence that if care isn’t taken, a young vampire can develop a phobia of items that can’t objectively do them any harm, such as crosses—to the extent that they might suffer psychosomatic wounds from contact with such items. As another consequence of their non-supernatural origin, they can’t transform human beings into vampires, so a vampire in a cross-species romance faces the risk of falling in love with someone he or she will almost certainly outlive.

Whether your monster is a villain or a hero, a detailed conception of its origin, nature, and characteristics will help to make your portrayal of the creature fresh and vivid. You can deviate widely from the audience’s stereotypical expectations (e.g., sunlight kills vampires, silver kills werewolves) as long as your concept is consistent, coherent, believably rationalized, and clearly presented early in the story.

 

mcarterpaintingMargaret L. Carter received a B.A. from the College of William and Mary, M.A. from the University of Hawaii, and Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine, all in English. She has taught literature and composition courses at various colleges and presently works as a part-time proofreader for the Maryland General Assembly.

Her first two books were paperback anthologies, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD andDEMON LOVERS AND STRANGE SEDUCTIONS. She has published several works on vampirism in literature, including SHADOW OF A SHADE: A SURVEY OF VAMPIRISM IN LITERATURE, the anthology DRACULA: THE VAMPIRE AND THE CRITICS, and THE VAMPIRE IN LITERATURE: A CRITICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY. Her stories have appeared in several of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkoveranthologies, and her “Voice from the Void” appears in THE TIME OF THE VAMPIRES, edited by P. N. Elrod and Martin Greenberg. The Design Image Group published her werewolf novel, SHADOW OF THE BEAST, in 1998. Her vampire novel, DARK CHANGELING, appeared in electronic form in June, 1999, from the Hard Shell Word Factory and won the 2000 Eppie Award in Horror.

Two vampire romances in the same universe, SEALED IN BLOOD and CRIMSON DREAMS, and WILD SORCERESS, a fantasy novel in collaboration with her husband, Leslie Roy Carter, have been published by Amber Quill Press. Other fiction is in progress from Ellora’s Cave andAmber Quill.

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Guest Post: Loren Rhoads – Is Your Character a Mary Sue?

Unleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Loren Rhoads as our Guest Blogger for Friday, October 30th, 2015. Loren’s first book in a space opera trilogy, The Dangerous Type, was published by Night Shade Books in July. The series will be completed by Kill By Numbers (September 1) and No More Heroes (November 3) before the end of 2015. Loren’s blog post for us is about the eponymous “Mary Sue.” Authors are accused of using “Mary Sue” protagonists as proxies for a form of “wish-fulfillment” – beautiful, smart, skilled. In short, too perfect to be “real” for the purposes of the reality of the book. Loren gives us her view. Take a read and then let us know what you think.

Is Your Character a Mary Sue?

One of the sharpest criticisms leveled against female characters written by women is that the heroines are Mary Sues: unbelievably perfect women who are beautiful, smart, competent, and can do no wrong. Because men apparently never write about genius billionaire playboy philanthropists (Tony Stark) or Star Fleet captains who woo all the girls (James T. Kirk) or ageless madmen traveling the universe in Police Boxes who are too cool to use an actual name (the Doctor).

The term Mary Sue dates back to Paula Smith’s parody “A Trekkie’s Tale,” published in 1973 in her fanzine Menagerie #2. Only 15 and a half, Lt. Mary Sue is one of the youngest officers ever to serve aboard the Enterprise. In fact, she wins the Nobel Peace Prize and the Vulcan Order of Gallantry, among other awards, for taking command of the ship when the chief officers are stricken after an away mission. They all gather at her deathbed to cry over her passing.

Now, there is a “helpful” online quiz to check if your character is a Mary Sue. Some of the issues it attacks are double-edged swords. In real life, everyone has noticed that when they enter a relationship with someone, the object of affection is perceived as more attractive than he or she may actually be. If a POV character describes the protagonist of your story as beautiful – or pretty or striking or anything other than plain or average – is that a case of the author inflating the appearance of her self-identified character or is it actually good characterization of the POV personality?

Mary-Sue-buttonIf the author gives the main character a name that shares a starting letter with her own name, is that because names tend to have a limited number of starting letters? If a character has an exotic name, is that wish fulfillment on the part of the author or simply admiration of the Chrysanthemums, Jadas, and Saorises of the world?

If the character seems to have exotic skills or to be extremely competent, does that mean that the author is projecting – or that, as in the case of Raena Zacari and her lethal killing skills, it’s all the character knows? One of the criticisms aimed at my space opera trilogy is that the crew of the Veracity are skilled at their jobs: which they obviously would be, since they were chosen for that exact reason. It seems weird to me that competence would be viewed as a negative feature in an action story.

Then again, almost every female character has been charged with being a Mary Sue, from Bella Swan to Rose Tyler to Buffy Summers to Katniss Everdeen. It almost seems as if critics would prefer to only read about masculine heroes who are strong, competent, romantically irresistible…say, someone like James Bond?

To be honest, all the characters in my novel Kill By Numbers have a little piece of me in them: Gavin reflects my struggles with addiction; Coni depicts my fascination with legal personhood; Raena shares my insomnia.

The Mary Sue is not the skinny, muscular assassin depicted on the cover of the first book with silver hair like mine. (Because, of course, I didn’t have any say over the cover image and Raena’s hair, throughout the series, remains black.) The Mary Sue of the series is Mykah Chen, the African Chinese pirate journalist. I don’t imagine any of the trilogy’s reviewers will ever guess that.

Of all the people in my trilogy, the one closest to me in reality is Mykah, who got elected captain of the Veracity because no one else wanted the job. He’s a journalism graduate whose ideals were too high to accept an entry-level job in his field of study (like your humble narrator). He worked in food service (ditto) before he ran away to become a pirate. (Well, I haven’t become a pirate yet, but I am trying to raise my daughter to be one.) Mykah aspires to use storytelling to change the galaxy. That’s me in a nutshell.

I think it’s important – probably even obligatory – that your characters embody parts of your personality. It falls under the command to “write what you know.” I think it’s equally important for you to stretch what you know about people, borrowing both from people you know and those you’d like to, as you create your characters.

Don’t let anyone tell you they are Mary Sues.

 

Loren Rhoads photoLoren Rhoads is the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes — the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy — all published by Night Shade Books in 2015. You can find out more at www.lorenrhoads.com.


Guest Post: Gail Z. Martin – The Changing Business of #Publishing (#writing post)

Iron & Blood Martin CoverUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Gail Z. Martin as our Guest Blogger for Friday, July 24th, 2015. Gail wrote for us last year and you can check out her post on Writing an Epic Fantasy Series.  This time she’s talking about the nitty-gritty of publishing.  How it is, how it was, and how it may become.

Also as a quick note, her new book Iron & Blood just came out this month! It is a steampunk novel set in an alternative history Pittsburgh chock full of airships, supernatural creatures, amazing inventions, and lots of explosions.  What more could one ask for? Here’s the scoop (yes, I’m making you read an advertisement before getting to the article…but it sounds so cool!):

New Pittsburgh, 1898 – a crucible of invention and intrigue. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, the city is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the swarming streets, people of a hundred nations drudge to feed the engines of progress, while in the abandoned tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging only to feed.

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique LeClerque. But when their latest commission leads to Jake’s father’s murder, the three friends are drawn into a conspiracy where dark magic, industrial sabotage and the nightmares come to life will ultimately threaten not just New Pittsburgh, but the whole world.

 

The Changing Business of Publishing

ebooksTechnological change has destabilized the publishing industry, creating a structural upheaval that extends from top to bottom, from the way authors get paid to the means to produce and distribute their work. Not only does this mean that publishers must re-evaluate their role and value in the process of creating books and bringing them to market, but it also means that authors must begin to see themselves as part of the production process beyond the writing itself, to embrace an unprecedented level of entrepreneurship, and to navigate the changing relationship with publishers and the public.

Not too long ago, book publishers had a clear role. They selected books for publication, bankrolled the book production process, maintained relationships with the distribution channels of stores and libraries, and did a bit of promotion. Self-publishing before ebooks was difficult and expensive and without access to bookstores, was difficult for authors to do successfully, even ignoring the stigma attached to the process.

Four big things changed the status quo: the rise of ebooks and the decline of traditional bookstores, as well as the increased accessibility of professional-quality graphic design and publishing software plus the shift to print-on-demand technology.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe combination of good design software and the advent of ebooks meant that it was less expensive and much easier to produce a good-looking book without going through traditional publishing channels. The decline of physical bookstores and the rise of online booksellers gave ebooks a whole new audience, and print-on-demand meant that authors no longer had the financial barrier of purchasing an entire print-run of their book. Individual authors and small presses now had the ability to compete with traditional publishers in a way that hadn’t been possible since the Gutenberg Press.

So here we are, about a decade into this publishing revolution, and no one really knows how to maximize the new system. Big publishers were slow to adopt ebooks and print on demand, and ended up scrambling as profits fell. Small publishers and individuals scrambled to seize first-mover advantage with the technology, but didn’t find the golden egg. Big national chain bookstores have made poor decisions–many of which had nothing to do with books–and gone out of business or cut the number of stores. Independent bookstores, which had largely been driven out of business by the big chains, are starting a comeback. Library spending is struggling as local budgets are cut, in part as an aftereffect of the 2008 recession, and in part because of our current cultural shortsightedness about spending any money that benefits the average person.

And in the middle of the chaos is the individual author, trying to make valid career decisions. It’s no secret or surprise that even many well-known authors keep a day job, and that other established authors have been developing their own publishing capabilities and side businesses as publishers cut advances and shrink book deals. Just like the merger mania and downsizing in Corporate America taught every employee to think of himself as a temporarily hired freelancer or contractor, the shakeup in publishing has led to authors wondering how they can plan a future where they continue to publish and yet also can make a living doing so.

CrowdfundingPic2Increasingly, authors are adopting a hybrid career where they take contracts with traditional publishers, develop other projects through small presses and self-publish additional work. The rise of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding mechanisms to offset the risk of funding a publishing project and the advent of platforms like Patreon to pay authors to produce work have attempted to fill in some of the gaps left by big publishers, though imperfectly.

Authors today need to possess not only the skills to produce a good book, but also be savvy marketers, fearless entrepreneurs, and intrepid self-promoters. The days are long gone when an author’s job is done once the manuscript is turned in to the editor. Self-publishing can generate higher per-book pay, but it takes relentless effort for an individual author to achieve the kind of unit sales common in traditional publishing. Authors who have been in the game long enough to get rights reverted from out of print books now have the task of reformatting those books for ebook release. No one has found the magic formula.

Writing has always been considered to be an uncertain way to make a living, much like the arts and theater. I’d argue that in the long run, the net gain of ebooks, online bookselling and print on demand will work out for the best, although there’s a lot to be mourned in the lack of the stability that landing a contract with a big publisher used to provide. And until a more proven, stable business model emerges from the chaos writers and publishers are going to continue to muddle on, doing the best they can to make a living while creating the books they can’t live without.

kickstarterorderofthestick

Gail Z MartinGail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Check out more of her work (and blog) at AscendantKingdoms.com.

 

larry-n-martinLarry N. Martin fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.

 

 

 

Find them at www.JakeDesmet.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin or @LNMartinauthor, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin free excerpts, Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

 

 

 

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Guest (Re)Post: Anthony Dobranski – Posture for #writers

For a decade now, I have worked at a standing desk: first on boxes and books piled on a seated desk, then on hasty constructs made from scrap lumber. Now I stand at a custom-built desk, my bare feet on a thick gel mat. There is an obvious and immediate ergonomic benefit for any computer user* — straighter back, continuously engaged body, deeper and easier breathing. I also believe it helps my prose.

Most writing advice goes to helping your plot or consolidating characters, to making things more identifiable. No one ever suggests posture as a tool for writers, the way it is for musicians and actors, so, let me.

Writers play a lot of roles in their heads, and it helps to stand while acting them out. If I want to write a sexy dance, or the discomfort of injury, or a shallow-breathed panic, the freedom of movement gives me more freedom to imagine, to act and to feel.

Writers tend to like cafes, as a balance against the solitude of writing. I wonder if the ability to study other people casually, their looks and movement and ways of being, without the distraction of, say, a film narrative, doesn’t play a role. But cafes are often distracting too.

If you’re looking to liven up your prose in the productive quiet of your garret, why not pile up some boxes and get on your feet? It takes a few minutes to measure your own ideal heights, and possibly some configuring – the distance between hands and eyes is greater standing than seated, so laptop users may need an external keyboard and mouse.

It also opens up some possibilities you might not have considered. I use my monitor portrait now – in fact, I use two!

Of course, you can still sit down from time to time. I don’t stand to pay bills.

*You can write longhand at a standing desk too, but I find it’s better to use a sloped surface so you are not staring straight down. These are less easy to find than they used to be. Search “writing slant” or “writing slope,” or try back sites, calligraphy sites, and of course auction sites.

Reposted from: http://anthonydobranski.com/2015/03/06/posture-for-writers/

 

Anthony DobranskiTony – I was born in 1966, 900 years after the Battle of Hastings. Libra and horse. My Polish immigrant parents settled in the Washington DC suburbs. After graduating from Yale and some youthful adventures I worked internationally for America Online in the 1990s.

I live in the city of Washington now, with my family. When not writing I ski, skate, and walk in parks. I want to learn tennis and I want to get a 3-d printer. I read novels but also magazines: news, politics and science. I love movies.

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Guest (Re)Post: Anthony Dobranski – Using your Dreams in Life and Art

Dreamjournal on NightstandAt a recent party with fellow writers, I mentioned my last story had come to me in a dream. People seemed surprised, which I found surprising. Dreams have been essential to me, both in art and in life, and to hear other writers don’t use them is like hearing they don’t use their legs.

Dreams are not messages from beyond or from some benevolence inside oneself. They are a cognitive filing act to help store and retrieve information. This is why dreams are hard to remember. They are not meant to be saved.

My personal belief is that they lay the groundwork of intuition and creativity — the mind connects what you just learned against what you already know and experience, creating associations that allow you cognitive leaps. An unprovable opinion, but it works well for me.

But, just as analyzing urine tells doctors what your organs cannot, dreams contain information you can use. For a writer of the fantastic especially, dream images and scenarios are a rich inspiration. Dreams help with living too. In dreams, you see things you wouldn’t let yourself see in waking life, without a fully functioning you to object to them, to deny them. For one example of many, a dream of a three-way with an ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend fully cured me of any resentment about the breakup. Not that it revealed repressed attractions — only that I had lost sight of the difference between loving, and winning. (And perhaps that there was no love on offer, for me or my successor. At least, that’s how it turned out.)

To get your dreams, you have to do a little work. Spend a couple of weeks trying to remember them on waking, and put down what you do remember. You may have better luck with pen and paper or a voice recording – I think the backlighting of a smartphone or a computer screen scares them away, as does the greater dexterity required to use the device – but, whatever works.

Ponder them. They are your dreams and no one else’s. The reductive vocabulary that says water means money or flying means sex is what charlatans or fools have sold since at least the beginning of writing. Yes I know I’m gathering up Freud and Jung in that — but, seriously, how could it be otherwise? Our individual lives change our mental associations over decades — how could we collectively share them over millennia?

BoschThe story of the dream is the easiest to remember, but there is great value in the setting, the rendering of the dream world itself. Our dream-mind is not just an actor. It directs, it designs sets, it chooses viewpoints. It makes a you in the dream, and another you watching it. It is cast and crew and audience, reader and writer and unwitting subtext. There is knowledge in all of it. I have seen complex visual and verbal meanings in dream settings, even jokes and puns, wholly separate from what seemed to be the story, and as densely encoded as the art of Hieronymous Bosch or Geoff Darrow.

I hope this serves you well. For all my attention to my dreams, I never got to the point of “lucid dreaming,” of taking control of my dreams and acting in them consciously. I don’t know why but it never felt right. I didn’t want my dreams to be a new world; I wanted them to expand my powers in this one.

Reposted from: http://anthonydobranski.com/2015/01/12/use-your-dreams-in-life-and-art/#more-579

Image from Martha Harper Dream Journals.

 

Anthony DobranskiTony – I was born in 1966, 900 years after the Battle of Hastings. Libra and horse. My Polish immigrant parents settled in the Washington DC suburbs. After graduating from Yale and some youthful adventures I worked internationally for America Online in the 1990s.

I live in the city of Washington now, with my family. When not writing I ski, skate, and walk in parks. I want to learn tennis and I want to get a 3-d printer. I read novels but also magazines: news, politics and science. I love movies.

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Guest Post: Gail Z. Martin – Writing an Epic #Fantasy Series

Gail Z MartinUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Gail Z. Martin as our Guest Blogger for Friday, October 31st, 2014, as part of her Day of the Dead Series.  And my apologies for being late in getting this up on the website!.  Gail was kind enough to give us a truly “epic” post on writing epic fantasy (pun intended). Obviously, from the tone of the piece you can tell Gail really enjoys writing epic fantasy.  There are some great tidbits of in here about what it takes to make fantastic epic world-spanning story and a little reminder of why so many of us love this specific genre.

Writing an Epic Fantasy Series

Big fat fantasy. Chihuahua killers. Bricks. Whatever you call them, epic fantasies are sprawling, complicated, richly detailed and, well, thick.

What does it take to create an epic fantasy world? How is the world building different from other types of fantasy. And how the heck do you keep a huge cast of characters and a plot that might span continents or generations straight?

Welcome to the world of epic fantasy. I fell in love with epic fantasy when I read Lord of the Rings, and then the Mary Stuart books about Merlin and Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series. The size of the books were one of the drawing points. I liked the fact that the world in the books felt big enough to move around in, filled with surprises, with plenty to explore. Or, as I often explain on panels at conventions, urban fantasy lets you move in with a rollerbag suitcase. Epic fantasy lets you move in with a steamer trunk and stay a while.

Creating an epic fantasy world means that you, the author, get to move in before anyone else and find your way around. You decide the time period, the level of technology, the type of trade and commerce, the system of government—plenty of details that will ultimately affect your plot and characters. The world building in epic fantasy is more demanding because you’re usually creating the world from scratch. Sure, you may loosely base your story on a real-world war or dynasty, but by virtue of being epic fantasy and not alternative history, you get to make up how your world works.

World building for epic fantasy usually also involves magic. You get to set the rules for how your magical system works, who has magic and who doesn’t, and what the cost is for using magic. You might get to invent religions, gods and goddesses as well, and figure out what role these play for your characters and in how your world is set up. If there are supernatural creatures like elves, ghosts, vampires, shapeshifters, witches, or mages, it’s up to you to figure out where they live, what relationship they have with your characters, and what connection they have to your plot.

Epic books are “epic” because of their scope. These aren’t drawing room dramas. To be a true epic fantasy, the story usually involves a threat to one or more kingdoms, requires big magic and big battles, and has larger-than-life characters as its heroes and villains. Not only is this a challenge with the amount and detail of world building, but it also requires a lot of people to fill up that world. Epic fantasy tends to focus on an ensemble cast, where there is a main character and an inner circle of prominent secondary characters (think about The Fellowship of the Ring), and then there are the servants, inn keepers, soldiers, guards, and others who fill out the world and make it feel real and inhabited.

Most epic fantasy authors have some kind of system that works for them to keep it all straight. Some people compile huge binders full of history, character sheets and descriptions. Others develop lists to make sure names get spelled right and physical characteristics like hair and eye color don’t switch back and forth. There’s no wrong way to develop your system, so long as it works for you.

As for the plot, if you’re planning from the start for the story to span multiple books, start out by creating an outline for the major story arc, the one that will require several books to resolve. For example, in Lord of the Rings, destroying the One Ring was the major story arc. But each of the books had their own arc as well. The Fellowship of the Ring was about identifying the threat and deciding to destroy the ring, and then creating the small group charged with that task. The Two Towers focused on the dangers along the way, the breaking of the Fellowship and Frodo’s choice to head for Mordor with Sam, and the gathering of allies and enemies. The Return of the King was the story of the multiple fronts of the war against Sauron as well as Frodo’s journey into Mount Doom and the aftermath.

You have to know where your grand tale ultimately needs to end up in order to properly plan out the journey. Having a clear idea of the end result will help you find the natural segments to split the big story into several smaller portions, each with their own arc yet part of the whole. Unlike in urban fantasy, where a main character may have a series of stand-alone adventures that are often loosely linked together, multi-book epic fantasy series tend to tell a single main story that carries over from book to book. That’s why it’s so important to have the end of your story in mind before you start, so that you can lay the foundation, create foreshadowing and build toward a big denouement.

For me, writing epic fantasy is fun because it gives you the chance to mentally settle into a story and live there for a while. A big thick book will provide company for several night’s reading, while a shorter book might be finished in an evening. In a sense, epic fantasy is the reading equivalent of binge-watching a favorite series, because once you get into the story, you don’t have to leave for a long time!

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for stories and books by author friends of mine. And, a special 50% off discount from Double-Dragon ebooks! You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www. AscendantKingdoms.com

Trick or Treat: Enjoy an excerpt from The Summoner, Book One in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/books/chronicles-of-the-necromancer/the-summoner/the-summoner-chapter-one-2/

And a bonus excerpt from Bounty Hunter, one of my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short stories here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/the-jonmarc-vahanian-adventures/bounty-hunter/excerpt-from-bounty-hunter/

And a second bonus excerpt from The Cauldron by my friend Jean Rabe here: http://www.wattpad.com/story/21546241-the-cauldron-by-jean-rabe

 


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