Tag Archives: Writing Tips

The Colors of Fantasy

For the longest time, the Fantasy genre has been dominated by protagonist that do not represent most of the world’s demographics. Often male, and almost always white. The roots of this are easy to see. The modern Fantasy genre was birthed out of the Epics and Romances of Europe. Fantasy settings were often just Medieval Europe with magic. And when you needed your villains, why, you just looked to the east where the swarthy and exotic races of Fantasy Asia lived.

All writing is influenced by the era it is produced. Once It was perfectly acceptable to have your protagonist be white and your antagonist not-white. Luckily, we do not live in one of those close-minded eras. I grew up believing the color of your skin doesn’t matter. The capacity for heroism dwells in the hearts of all of us, and the siren’s call of evil sings in the depth of all our souls.

So why do you still see Fantasy dominated by White protagonist? Is it because the majority of authors in the field are White? Perhaps it’s because the largest market for English literature is (in no order) USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK? Is it a subconscious act. Do these authors look at the Fantasy stories they were raised on and propagate what they read? Or is it a limitation of imagination that locks them into a Eurpoean-centric fantasy world?

Fantasy is an amazing genre. It doesn’t have to be limited to knights, castles, and wizards. You can set your world in a Victorian era, a bronze-age, a tribal landscape. You can conjure worlds that could never exist in reality, the work on principals of physics or theorems of magic that are impossible in our more mundane universe.

And the races you populate your world in can be just as creative. You don’t have to limit yourself to the constrains of the old. Why couldn’t the courtly intrigue of a seventeenth-century France be populated with Black-skinned aristocrats as they scheme and plot for power? The center of culture and learning could be a society inspired by the Indian subcontinent. And the fierce barbarians pressing at the edges of a might civilization could be White.

Or you can get really creative. Why limit yourself to the races that we have on Earth? Create your own. Take elements from different cultures. Let your imagination populate your world with a diverse mix of fleshed out societies. There are a rainbow of skin-tones, eyes, and hair colors to paint the canvas of your Fantasy world with. So create a world that wholly unlike our own, and share the amazing depths of your imagination with us.

And the most important thing to remember is that any human is clever. Regardless of how technological their society is, how learned their scholars are, how civilized their nation appears, even the most primitive of humans had the intelligence to grasp new concepts, to adapt to new circumstances, to innovate. That’s who we are as a species. So let’s celebrate our diversity in our writing.

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Self-Editing

Self-Editing

I find self-editing to be very difficult for a number of reasons and it’s taken me a while to develop the discipline to read through my work carefully. But no matter how hard I tried, mistakes kept slipping through, so I decided to do some research on the matter, trying to learn tricks to help me self-edit and produce more professional writing.

The main hurdle to self-editing is the psychological phenomena known as pareidolia. Even if you’ve never heard of pareidolia you are more than aware of it. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns and this causes us to see patterns in meaningless data from seeing shapes in the clouds to seeing the image of the Virgin Mary in a potato chip. Our brains are powerful processors capable of feats of pattern recognition that even the most powerful computers are not capable of, and we do with any effort. This comes with a downside, we see things that aren’t there.

So what does pareidolia have to do with self-editing and why is it the biggest obstacle? It’s simple, our brains are great at finding patterns and filling in the missing data to form the expected shape or most likely shape. Since your brain knows what you wrote and knows what you intended to say, your brain will often see what you think you wrote. This is why homophone mix-ups are hard to catch. You meant to write ‘there’ but instead you wrote ‘their’. Because your brain knows what you intended, you could read it a dozen times and fail to realize you used the wrong word because of pareidolia.

Now that you know about the issue, you’re probably wondering how to combat this phenomena. If you’re an indie author (like me), a student writing a paper, or a professional writing a report or presentation then you know the importance of self-editing and you don’t want to put out an unprofessional product. You need to divorce your words from your writing, putting barriers in place to keep you from seeing your work as a whole and seeing the trees that make up the forest. So here are a few tricks I use that I find are quite helpful:

      1. Word Search: Every word processor software has a find/replace function that you usually can find under the edit menu or using ctrl+f. I have a list of words that I know I mess up on, such as there/their/they’re, were/where/we’re, your/you’re, fill/feel, now/know, new/knew, form/from, who/how, etc. So I search the document and read every instance I wrote the word, making sure I’m using it correctly. This forces me to see what word I wrote in the context I wrote it and catch mistakes. Whenever I’m editing and I find I’ve made the same homophone mistake before, I add it to the list. I usually find one mistake per 1000 words with this method.
      2. Read Backwards: Another way to help combat pareidolia is to read your document backwards. You start at the end of the document and you read it paragraph by paragraph from the end to the beginning. This helps to divorce you from the story’s flow and concentrate on what you actually wrote instead of what your brain thinks you wrote.
      3. Text-to-voice Software: Hearing your work spoken aloud is helpful to spot missing words. Did you forget a the or an? Did you misspell a word that you don’t search for? Did you use the right verb tense? All of these mistakes become very apparent when you hear the text spoken. You can read it aloud, but I prefer to use a text-to-voice software. I use NaturalReader. You can purchase it, but you can also use it for free, though it pops up an annoying ad for the full version every 1500 words or so.

There is another technique that I’ve read but never tried. If you change the font of your text, it changes what your mind expects and helps to spot mistakes. If you wrote your document in Times New Romans, use Courier New on editing.

So I hope this helps with your writing because these techniques made a big difference with my own self-editing and while I still can’t achieve perfection, at least I have achieved professionalism.

Note: I edited this document using my techniques. Find/Replace method discovered an ‘are’ that should have been an ‘our’. Reading backwards found a few grammar errors. Text-to-voice discovered that I forgot to write ‘be’ in the very first sentence as well as five other mistakes (verb tense, wrong word, and missing word).

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Lesson From Writers – Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

51d5p9sav7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_No one who has read my blog should be surprised that I was big into D&D. So I read a lot of the D&D novels and none were better than the writing duo of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance universe. They were a league above the rest of the writing in the D&D universe with rich characters, great villains, and the willingness to take risks. I ate them up in my teenage years.

And soon I moved onto their non-D&D books. I loved them from the Darksword Trilogy (later Tetralogy) to the Rose and the Prophet series. But their writing that really blew me away was the Death Gate Cycle. It was fantasy like I had never read before. Everything else I was reading was quasi-medieval Europe with magic, but Weis and Hickman showed me that fantasy could be so much more. At first blush, the Darksword Trilogy is just another in a long-line of Europe with magic, set in a small world surrounded by a magical 29118barrier. And then you find out what’s beyond the barrier—our future. Humans have colonized the stars and driven everyone with magic to this one, remote planet where they buried their heads in the sand and forgotten all about the evils of Technology. Their Rose and the Prophet series was set in an Arabic setting which was lots of fun, but neither series compared to the Death Gate Cycle.

In our future, a war happened between two sects of spellcasters known as the Sartans and the Patryns. The Sartans, losing the war, did the most horrendous thing possible—they destroyed it. Then they rebuilt it as four separate worlds based around the four elements. Weis and Hickman lead you on an exploration of these four separate worlds. The world of Air, composed of islands floating in the sky and Elvish flying ships battle humans riding dragons. The 260230world of fire, is a Dyson sphere with its suns at the center and a jungle growing around the inside of the planet. A world of perpetual daylight where entire civilizations live on the treetops never seeing the ground. The World of Earth is a labyrinth of caves worming through a planet’s crust, where seas of magma provide islands of life for the inhabitants. And the World of Water where the seas can be breathed and the races live on small, living planets that float through the water.

They taught me that fantasy can be anything you can imagine. You don’t need to be limited by any of the constraints of our physics, or logic, or universe. As long as your rules are internally consistent, you can have a world of floating islands hanging above an eternal Storm. elven-starFantasy doesn’t have to be Medieval Europe or any other representative of Earth. You are the only person that can limit your universe.

This is why I write fantasy. To create places and universes and sights that are not possible to experience. To transport my readers to new worlds and unfurl them across the pages I write. To let my imagination free to create what it wants. That’s what I learned from reading Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

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What Should You Write?

If you’re one of us, a writer, someone that has that itch to put pencil to paper, ink to parchment, text to screens, you probably wondering what you should write. You see what’s sitting on the bestseller list and go, “Hey, I should write ______. It seems really popular.”

Not so fast!

You can fill in the blank, whether its zombies, vampire romances, YA female protagonist in some dystopian future, or avenging serial killers; right now your local bookstore shelves are full of the same type of books based on whatever was hot the last few years.

Do not write a vampire romance or a zombie story because it’s popular and will sell. Look to your bookshelf. See what you love to read. That’s where you should start. Tell the stories that you care about, and it will show in your writing. Take what you love to read and put your mark on it. Take, absorb it, and write your take on it, put your voice to it. So if your shelf is full of vampire romances or an avenging serial killer thrillers, than go ahead and write about it, because that’s what you are passionate about.

Writing, like all the arts, is grueling. You are in the for the long slog to become even modestly successful, so you might as well enjoy what your writing, because that passion will not only show through the words you write on paper or type on screen, but will also keep you going through the difficult times as you read your newest rejection letter or, for those indie authors, stare at your Amazon sales graph hoping that this time when you hit refresh there will be a magical sale.

That’s why I’m writing an Fantasy novel. I want to tell stories in an exciting world that can only be visited through the power of the human imagination. Maybe it will sell and join the plethora of Fantasy books at the bookstore, and maybe I’ll be carving out my territory in the indie world. Either way, I’ll be selling a product that I care deeply about and I hope it will show.

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Lessons From Writers – Robert Jordan

the-eye-of-the-worldEvery book you read can teach you something to help improve your writing from pitfalls to avoid to examples to follow, and in this series of blog posts I’m going to talk about the authors that have had the most impact on me and my writing, and what I took away from them. This week is Robert Jordan

It was a sad day when I found out Robert Jordan had passed away after fighting cardiac amyloidosis in September of 2007. I, like many fans of Fantasy, had become immersed in the Wheel of Time. From Christmas of 1993 when I received the first two books, ‘The Eye of the World’ and ‘The Great Hunt’, as gifts from my mom, I had been hooked on the world. I spent the two year gaps between books going on the now defunct Wotmania reading theories and obsessing over cryptic prophecies and vague fortellings, all to try and figure out just how Robert Jordan planned on finishing the series. I had my grand theory, some were right, and others were very wrong.

1CF0D5F7-4C1A-4772-95AE-7F172B722301Img400Robert Jordan knew how to foretell and plant Chekhov’s guns like no man. Now that the entire series has been released, finished by Brandon Sanderson and Jordan’s widow, you can see plot threads set up in the early books that only pay off in the final chapters. It’s astonishing. There are thirteen books, big books, door-stopping books, that are meshed together brilliantly. From this carefully and meticulously constructed books, I learned about the amazing power of foreshadowing.

No one likes deus ex machina. It’s never satisfying when the solution for a problem comes out of left field. Now when you can plant all the seeds that blossom into your climax, tens or hundreds of pages earlier (and in Jordan’s cases, thousands of pages), you’ve rewarded the careful reader who caught all the little breadcrumbs, and while they didn’t understand the trail they are following, when they get to see it in all come together, they feel rewarded. They tell their friends about his amazing ending, urging them to read it.

50e74d47d36fa.preview-620Foreshadowing was the first lesson I learned from Robert Jordan, but the second lesson has had the most impact on my writing—limited POVs. The unreliable narrator. Robert Jordan’s limited, third-person narrative seems to have a lot of impact on the Fantasy genre. Whether Jordan’s responsible, or just one of the earliest to adopt this, it seems to have taken over the genre. Why? Because it works. Limited third person lets you delve deep into a characters thoughts, almost as deep as first person, allowing the reader to experience the world through the character’s senses, coloring them with their thoughts and prejudiced. And misunderstandings.

So why not write in first person? For a very focused and intimate story examining a single character, first person excels, but if your trying to tell a story with multiple characters sharing the limelight, first person is not quite as good. It can be confusing to the reader whose thoughts there. Third person limited can maintain that feel of first person, while still giving readers enough outside references, such as blatantly stating the character’s name, to clue the reader in. Of course, if you are extremely confident in your first person skills, feel free to write a story with multiple, first person POV’s interwoven together.

lordofchaos1Jordan’s limited, third person, unreliable narrator has the biggest impact on my writing. I find myself drawn to the style, writing my POV’s firmly locked into one character’s head and not skipping about every few paragraphs or staying wholly remote from the entire mess. I prefer the way it lets you intimately know a character while allowing plenty of opportunities for obfuscation and misdirection to keep your readers guessing at the secrets you’re hiding in your plot.

Foreshadow and strong characterization is what I learned from Robert Jordan. Don’t cheat your readers with a deus ex machina ending and let them come to know and love your characters as much as you do, and you’ll find yourself with a loyal fan base that cares about your work as much as you do.

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Lessons From Writers – David Eddings

Every book you read can teach you something to help improve your writing from pitfalls to avoid to examples to follow, and in this series of blog posts I’m going to talk about the authors that have had the most impact on me and my writing, and what I took away from them. Today is David Eddings.

PawnIf you don’t know, David Eddings wrote several popular fantasy series first by himself and later with his wife, Leigh, sharing a co-author credit. He also says his wife deserves the co-author credit for all his writings. Like me, David Eddings grew up near the Puget Sound and it definitively showed in his writing. It rains a lot in his books, and his characters are always worrying about the weather. If you didn’t know it, the Seattle region from October through May is almost always gray skies and drizzling rain.

I was introduced to David Eddings by my mother. I was in the sixth grade and we had just moved back to South Hill, Washington. My dad was in the Air Force and we had just spend the last two-and-a-half years in Alamagordo, New Mexico. Previously we had lived in Washington and my parents had rented out the house they owned in 1South Hill while we were exiled (as I thought of it) to New Mexico. When we moved back, I thought my life was back on track and I was finally free of that hot, dry, and very dust state. Only I had friends in New Mexico, and when I moved back I learned my best friend had in Washington had moved away, and the only kid in the neighborhood I didn’t get along with before moving. I was getting picked on at school and was miserable, so my mom, knowing I had just gotten into the Lord of the Rings, went to the local Waldonbooks and asked the clerk what a good fantasy book would be. And he recommended ‘Pawn of Prophecy’.

‘Pawn of Prophecy’ would probably be counted as Young Adult these days, and it and its sequels were the perfect books for a lonely, preteen boy. You follow Garion as he goes from anonymous scullion to saving the world in the five book ‘Belgariad’ series. It’s a fun series with great characters, and is one of the best quest-driven fantasy series I have ever read as you follow Garion and his companions on a journey around their world.

Castle of WizardryI learned two lessons in writing from David Eddings and the first was dialogue. David Eddings was a master at witty, bantering dialogue. His characters have great personality and they display them in their words, often to humorous effect. My poor DM (Dungeon Master or the guy who runs a Roleplaying Game session, such as D&D) can attest to my love of banter and mocking my enemies as I fight them, mocking his enemies as they try and reveal their evil plans, and it’s all because of David Eddings. His heroes always make light in the face of their enemies with a fun bravado worthy of a hero of an epic story.

Great dialogue makes your characters come alive and feel like real, fleshed out people. And if you can make people believe your characters are real, guess what, they come to care about them. They want your characters to succeed, to be happy, their rooting for them. An emotional connection is formed, an investment that will keep your readers coming back for more. You can have the idea for the most amazing, thought-provoking, never-been-done story, but if your character dialogue is flat and boring, people might never make it far enough into your book to discover this fact.

imagesThe second lesson I learned is the love of the journey. David Eddings is most known for two universes the Belgariad/Mallorean (consisting of two pentalogies, two stand-alone novels, and a book on the world building) and the Elenium/Tamuli (consisting of two trilogies). The four series are all quests stories with our heroes traveling across the known world in the hunt of their goals. They travel, they see the world, and experience diverse cultures. When you open a David Eddings novel there’s a map, and by the time the series is over, the heroes will have traveled through every land depicted, sharing you the world he’s created, and doing so in a very logical manner. It doesn’t feel forced as his characters somehow travel through ever local for the sake of it, his story plotting was very well done.

So a lot of his novels are about the journey. What the characters experience and learn as they travel in the pursuit of their goals. They make you want to go out and wander through the world and just experience life. His books had a sense of adventure and life to them that made you want to keep reading and find out what happens next. With a book, it’s not the destination that really matters, it’s how you get your characters to that point. If you don’t write them a great journey, your readers will not stay on the road with them. So give them the best journey you can, full of interesting obstacles, clever enemies, and dangers for them to overcome.

6025089321_ea41a3f02d_zYour journey doesn’t have to be crossing the known world, it could be as simple as going to the local store, navigating through politics, exploring an excavated ruin, traversing the minutiae of the legal system, or even a trip through the shattered psyche of your character. Make it interesting and keep your readers engaged!

Great dialogue and a great journey are what I took away from David Eddings work. Make your characters seem real and give them an interesting journey and your readers will stick with you to the end, then will look forward to the next book you write. And that’s what all of us struggling writers are looking for, fans who will love the worlds we share with them.

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Lessons from Writers – J.R.R. Tolkien

Every book you read can teach you something to help improve your writing from pitfalls to avoid to examples to follow, and in this series of blog posts I’m going to talk about the authors that have had the most impact on me and my writing, and what I took away from them. First up: J.R.R. Tolkien.

lotr-coverJRR Tolkien is the reason I love fantasy. From the time my uncle gave me a copy of The Hobbit in the fourth grade to when I read the Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales looking for more Middle Earth to consume after I read the Lord of the Rings, I was hooked on fantasy. It was the stepping stone that gave me this wonderful, fantastical world that is Fantasy. Everywhere in Tolkien’s world there is some new magic to find, whether your traipsing through the Old Forest hoping Old Man Willow doesn’t take a dislike to you, or crossing the Dead Marshes and trying to avoid the lure of the candles. I learned the joy of awe and wonder.

photo_14601_0-5But it wasn’t just my love of Fantasy that I learned from Tolkien, he taught me one of the greatest truths: nothing is free, everything truly great from saving the world to saving the shire is paid in pain. Your character’s journey shouldn’t be easy. Things shouldn’t just fall into their laps. They have to reach and struggle to overcome the obstacles placed before them. And those obstacles should have a lasting effect on the character. Everyone is changed in Lord of the Rings, but none more so than our erstwhile hero, Frodo.

silmarillionTolkien served in the trenches in WW1, and it shows as Frodo marches into his own literal hell and walks out carrying not only physical wounds, but emotional wounds. And not just Frodo, all the Hobbits were marked, changed, suffering their own PTSD. They return home and find they cannot talk about their experiences to anyone, because only when you’ve gone through suffering can you understand it. Tolkien learned the lesson that nothing is free, and he taught it to his characters.

Do not be afraid to let your characters suffer. Do not be afraid to let your characters be scarred by their obstacles. If it comes too easy then where is the tension? Where are the stakes? How can your readers care if they know your character is going to succeed easily.

And that’s the last lesson Tolkien taught me. If your readers care about the characters you’ve written, the world you’ve created, than you works will be remembered long after you’re dead.

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