Monthly Archives: May 2013
Worlds of the Imagination will be showcasing a variety of different writers who write speculative fiction. This will normally be done on Thursday, you can check the guest scheduling page in order to see who will be appearing. I am very pleased to bring you our first guest, science-fiction writer, Pippa Jay, who’s first novel with Burst Books will be launching this coming Monday! Pippa’s already got several books out, you can learn more by checking her website .
Writing What You Know When You Don’t Know
They say you should write what you know. I’ve never quite been sure who They are. In my more deranged moments, I imagine a group of monk-like hooded figures scrawling the Rules of Writing in leather-bound tomes at desks lit only by candles. Although I suppose in this day and age,They would more likely be pale, bespectacled scholars tapping at their tablets and sending their rules into the digital ether. But I digress.
Yes, I think you should write what you know. But how can you describe alien planets when you’ve never visited one? How can you describe FTL travel when nobody has invented it? Describe an alien race and culture when you have no experience of them?
Use what you know and expand. Research. So you’ve never been to another planet? What about a new country, perhaps one completely different to your own? I live in the UK, but in 2000 I got the chance to visit and stay in Taiwan. I remember the humidity, the strange smells, the signs all in alien symbols and the people – such a contrast to living in a town where white European is the majority and everyone speaks English. The differences in customs, language, food, surroundings. It’s as close to visiting an alien world as I’m likely to get, and the kind of experience you can build on.
What about an alien species? Well, there are cultures on our planet, both now and in the past, that are very different to the ones we’re familiar with. As for what aliens might look and feel like – in my first novel I had a saurian race (reptiles) and I used my memories of touching snakes at an animal encounter at our local zoo, a childhood spent hunting lizards in the garden, and our recent pet acquisition – a leopard gecko by the name of Yoshi. You don’t have to be an expert in biology and explain every last working detail of their physiognomy and biochemistry to make them real, although a lot of readers appreciate that kind of information. But how their skin feels, how they move, how they look and behave will give them realism.
Research can help too. After reading a couple of blog posts on whether the science in scifi should be accurate (or as accurate as it can be based on current knowledge) I went to YouTube to look up explosions in space. I didn’t want to be accused of using scifi film special effects as a basis for my descriptions – I want as much realism as possible, even though I’m dealing with something as far away from reality as you can get! Twitter is a wonderful place to ask questions. Wikipedia is handy but not to be taken as the be all and end all.
So anything you encounter or experience in real life can be used to describe and create things we may never know in our own lifetime.You’re still writing what you know, but with a twist. All it takes is a little imagination.
Gethyon, a YA scifi novel coming from BURST (Champagne Books) June 3
Abandoned by his mother after his father’s death, Gethyon Rees feels at odds with his world and longs to travel the stars. But discovering he has the power to do so leaves him scarred for life. Worse, it alerts the Siah-dhu—a dark entity that seeks his kind for their special abilities—to his existence, and sets a bounty hunter on his trail.
When those same alien powers lead Gethyon to commit a terrible act, they also aid his escape. Marooned on the sea-world of Ulto Marinos, Gethyon and his twin sister must work off their debt to the Seagrafter captain who rescued them while Gethyon puzzles over their transportation. How has he done this? And what more is he capable of?
Before he can learn any answers, the Wardens arrive to arrest him for his crime. Can his powers save him now? And where will he end up next?
Pre-order from Omnilit – https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-gethyon-1216049-245.html
Blogsite – http://pippajay.blogspot.co.uk/
Website – http://pippajay.co.uk/
This week I am without a computer, so meantime, while I borrow someone else’s, and since I wanted to write about setting today, here is a post on what makes the details of a setting so powerful, lessons from my favorite author, George R. R. Martin:
Powerful writing is concrete and specific. An author who is skilled at telling a believable story demonstrates that he of she is convinced of its reality by the details used. A room isn’t full of “people chatting”, it’s “dimly lit, with trestle tables stacked end to end, and in one corner, a merchant with a silver beard is shouting at a young man with a curled moustache; in another, two women are whispering”.
Martin’s writing is full of concrete and specific imagery that makes it not only vivid, but believable. Here in this chapter with Tyrion, he reunites us with Jorah Mormont, and amidst the surprises that lead the novel toward its midpoint inflection, he makes sure to balance his exciting action with the detail he is so great at capturing.
When Martin describes, he tends to list, and he does so disparately. On the table before the widow, there’s a silver goblet, an ornate fan and an ancient bronze dagger carved with runes. Breakfast is soft flatbread, pink fish roe, honey sausage, fried locusts and bittersweet black ale. From outside comes the cries of gulls, a woman’s laughter and the voices of fishmongers. Always at least three things, and all of them unique.
What is most striking about this is that Martin anchors these detailed constructions with the main narrative. Never do we lose touch with Tyrion’s character or the plot thats folds itself around him. When Tyrion hears drunken song, the yowling of a cat in heat ana the far-off ring of steel, immediately Martin shares his thoughts with us. That is his true strength, and we see it especially with Tyrion, to whom Martim connects so well.
Writing that is detailed, often going on for hundreds of thousands of words, does not feel excessive when it engages you intimately with the characters. Details become a part of their experience. I care about the details because I am interested in the experience of the character, the same way as I like to hear a story told by my friend. Martin introduces us to characters who we care about an in the act of getting to know them, all those extra details become exciting, unveiling a world that is all the more personal.
(Taken from a post at, Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)
Last week, the Judgment of Paris ended with the Trojan Prince Paris choosing Aphrodite as the fairest goddess and winning the apple of Discord. Aphrodite paid off her bribe by assisting with the abduction of Helen of Sparta. Paris fled Greece (Achaea) with Helen and returned to his home in Troy (located in what is now Turkey). Unfortunately, he was pursued by King Menelaus of Sparta and his brother Agamemnon who was the king of Mycenae and the leader of the Greek expedition to retrieve Helen.
The Greeks besieged the Troy for 10 years with great loss of life on both sides before using the ruse of the Trojan horse – a wooden horse which the Trojans eagerly pulled into the city. The Greeks hiding inside opened the gates of Troy for the Greeks to enter. The male Trojans were slaughtered and most of the women and children were sold as slaves. The Greeks desecrated the temples which brought the anger and punishment of the gods down on them. More on the deaths of the heroes and punishments of the gods next week.
The ancient Greeks believed the tale of the Trojan War to be fact. Archeologists for centuries discounted the historical existence of Troy or believed it at best to be an amalgamation of historical events. In 1868 Heinrich Schliemann, a wealthy industrialist turned archaeologist, used the ancient tales, like Homer’s Iliad, to trace determine the location of ancient Troy. One of the layers of the city he discovered and believed to be Troy corresponds to 12th century BC which is a likely candidate. Schliemann photographed his young wife Sophia in what he called “Helen’s jewels” which he discovered. (See pic)
The Healer came about accidentally, and I guess was inspired by character—Vaun, to be precise. I had an image of a primitive Celtic-like warrior leaping off a cliff and I went from there.
Of course he dropped into the fray immediately and of course there was a woman involved because I’m all about the romance. But I quickly stalled, not knowing what kind of book I was writing. Highland historicals were popular, but that sounded like a lot of research for someone with little kids and very little writing time. Plus, my heroine had just started healing the wounds of the men who were fighting so…yeah, I had something else on my hands.
It sounds like a cheat to just make up a fake world, and yes, I was looking for a shortcut, but I quickly realized it’s not as easy as it seems. For starters, you still need rules that govern the world, similar to our irrefutable physical laws like gravity.
So right away, I was forced to decide whether the heroine heals involuntarily, in which case she can’t control who she heals and therefore neither can I. (What a pain.) Or is it voluntary, in which case she could withhold her power—so why is she valued as a slave and why are they using her to heal themselves in the middle of the opening battle scene?
I settled on making the healing a conscious effort, a skill that it takes practice to hone and govern, and because Athadia is very learned and powerful, she takes vows to make herself stronger. Therefore she is compelled to heal anyone who wishes it—and she can’t heal anyone who refuses. Haha, now I had some plot control.
The vows became very convenient since breaking them weakens the Alvians. And Vaun, being a half-blood with no awareness of his talent was a lot of fun to develop.
The ability to heal is actually the only fantasy element in my story—aside from the ore that also acts on the strength of their gift. But there were still a million and one decisions in terms of geography, culture, level of technology (I chose medieval—historicals are still popular, wink!) and politics.
Fortunately, the one thing I didn’t have to invent from scratch was the romantic conflict. Seems no matter what kind of world humanoids populate, they manage to carry emotional baggage that prevents them from falling in love without a few travails along the way.
An important thing I learned when I was learning to write was to consider the various elements of style. For the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about various elements of style. Don’t take any of this as the only way to write – just as some general discussion you might find useful when crafting your stories.
Tone, as far as writing goes, essentially sets the mood of the piece. No doubt, you’re all familiar with remakes and spin-offs that seem to differ greatly than the originals. Even if a project is whole but it has a variety of marketing material, you might see that the mood or image it sets is far different when catering to the various demographics. An example of this would be a YA novel that has an adult following – the tone of the children’s cover might have a softer, or more fun tone than the adult cover of the same material.
So, how does one go about setting the tone of a piece of work? I suppose it depends on your personal writing style – an individual who plans out every detail before sitting down to write might decide to themselves that they want a piece to feel a certain way. Myself, I usually have a vague idea and a scene and I let the creative process figure things out as I go along and craft a story – I used to try plotting things out, things never go according to plan. My personal writing style usually varies a bit for the first few days while I figure out what exactly I’m doing, but usually it focuses very quickly on some determining factors, usually the tone sets the pacing and the voice of the story helps me determine the content. Here’s a list of possible tones, but you are certainly not limited to them:
A story that has a sense of cynical grittiness would feel very different then essentially the same plot told in a more fun, whimsical voice. That isn’t to say that you can’t have humor in your sensual or epic novel – understanding tone allows authors known for being funny, such as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett to still tell great stories with depth. Likewise, I can be reading something very serious where anyone can die and we can have moments of lightness and even humor – but understanding the tone of the novel early on helps me decide how evil I want the villain to act, what kind of language is allowed, and this helps me shape the overall feel of the novel while I’m still drafting it. Even if a reader is not familiar with my genre or the hero’s struggle because they can’t understand exactly what it is to go against supernatural forces, they can still relate to the character on an emotional level through tone.
Some times, novels don’t fit easily into categories – I was at a convention this last weekend and I had to talk about the variety of books on our table very quickly, and in addition to telling them a little about the plot, I was telling them which books were funny or were dark in tone. So even though you might have some novel that defies genre and the plot’s very complicated, you could tell potential readers, “It’s kind of a dark, distant novel.” Obviously some jargon can be used out of context (“A harrowing, anyone-can-die adventure” might explain driving to the mall with certain people I know) and you don’t want to rely on clichés to sell your book, but if I’m doing a retelling of sleeping beauty, telling it from the tragic side of the evil witch is a different story then that of the wacky adventures of Prince Charlie C. Charming and his Magic Singing Sword ©.
Once you pick a tone, you don’t have to commit to it wholly if you find the story going in its own direction, but it might help you rein it in and bring your focus back on track. And if you absolutely aren’t sure what tone you want, just write. Read through your work later, and think about what themes and emotions you get from your piece. You don’t have to write a little sticky for your monitor that says, “Regal tone!” for one of the corners, but it might help you when you’re trying to solidify the novel’s style to make rewriting it easier.
Prince Paris of Troy was a common figure in Greek mythology. He is first seen when a seer predicted that he would bring about the ruin of Troy. Unable to kill the newborn prince, his parents gave him to a herdsman to expose in the country. legend has it that he was suckled by a bear until the herdsman returned and discovered that he was alive. He kept the child and raised him as a herdsman. When he grew up, he was recognized by the god Ares for his honesty in judging a bull fight. Later, when Eris, the goddess of discord, threw a golden apple labeled “for the fairest” into a wedding celebration of the Greek gods, Paris was asked to judge between three goddesses. Since the goddesses were all beautiful, he agreed to accept a bribe for his judgment. Hera offered him ownership of Europe. Athena offered him warrior skills and wisdom. Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman. That happened to be Queen Helen of Sparta who was already married to King Menelaus. After some encouragement from Aphrodite, Helen ran off with Paris to Troy with Menelaus and all of the Greek kings and heroes in pursuit. What happened is a story for next week.
The Attic red figure vase at Antikenmuseen in Berlin, Germany dates from the 5th century BC. Hermes (with the winged cap) leads the three goddesses Aphrodite (the figure in the middle), Athene and Hera to Paris for his judgement. The prize is a golden apple for the fairest. The Trojan prince sits in the doorway holding a royal staff and lyre. Before him stands Hermes, holding a kerykeion (herald’s wand) and wearing a chlamys (traveler’s cloak) and winged cap. Of the three goddesses, Aphrodite is veiled, and holds a winged Eros (god of love) and myrtle wreath in her hands; Athene holds a spear and helm; Hera is crowned and bears a miniature lion and royal lotus-tipped staff. Paris is about to make a judgment that will fulfill the prophecy made at his birth.
There is a difference between creating a Setting, and creating your imaginary world, aka World Building. Both are important.
World building is the big picture. You create the entire background for your story, much of which you may never actually use within your manuscript. You, as the author, need to know the details of your world. You need to know the limits of magic in your lands, where food or trade comes from, have some idea of the forms of government and the religions that your characters may live under. The less familiar your world is to the reader, the more you need to know. You have to be consistent. Once you set the rules, you must abide by them, or explain why not. World building is the universe within which your story unfolds.
Setting is just a fragment of that world. It is the small picture. Unless you are writing a short story, or telling the tale within a very limited scope, you will probably have to describe several settings. One way to illustrate the difference between world building and setting is to look at a story most people are familiar with…the sinking of the Titanic. If you begin your story in England or Ireland, perhaps even with the building of the ship, then travel across the Atlantic, perhaps to be rescued and end up in New York or Halifax, the world you are building is made up of all of those elements. A setting would be just one small piece or scene, such as the ship, or some action in the Grand Ballroom, or a romantic interlude in a drawing room.
While your world may just be a hazy part of the background of the tale as far as the reader is concerned, the setting can sometimes become almost like another character. The Titanic may be described in your story as a living entity, going through death-throes after the collision with the iceberg. Another example you may be familiar with is the old haunted house or the remote cabin in the woods. In a well-told tale, these settings can become as real, with feelings, as any of the characters who inhabit them.
The stronger you build your world, and the more time you take to create your settings, the greater impact your story will have. You, the author, are the stage manager behind the play your characters are putting on. While these elements should not dominate the plot, or turn your characters into cardboard cut-outs, they will enhance the enjoyment of what happens between the pages.
At least that is the way I see things.
The Dark Lady
The Queen’s Pawn
Dial M for Mudder
House on Hollow Hill
Some great advice I’ve always gotten is that it’s good to have a schedule for writing – perhaps you wake up early in the morning to pursue your dream, and before your loved ones are hitting their snooze button, you’ve met your word count for the day. Like the early morning jogger, you wake up and seize the day – only writing is sedentary in nature, but it’s the same spirit, right?
The only problem I ever had with that advice was that my schedule after high school was never consistent. Sure – once I was in university I could write at a given time for one semester, but then I would have a major unexpected change in my school or work schedule – job loss, change in professor, family health issues – that’s to say nothing once I entered a very competitive job market. Even now as a “grown up” I have a schedule that flip-flops – working 4 days on, 4 days off sounds great to a lot of people – but they make for long days and a lot of unknowns for my friends and family members (they have, however, learned not to schedule anything on me on my first twelve hours off).
Writing, even if kept at a hobby level but you’d like to go pro one day, should have some sort of commitment – but for a lot of people who don’t work normal schedules or who are full-time caretakers (moms come to mind, but there are lots of others), we can still produce good quality work. For example, at my job, there is a lot of downtime – but it’s unguaranteed downtime and I can have plans, but if I’m still on call, my plans fall by the way side.
In my mind, balance is key for writing. Don’t get me wrong – when I really don’t want to work on a scene, all my laundry manages to get done and I manage to find random people to phone up and chat with. I tend to make weekly goals and try to exceed them – but I’m a competitive person, so that’s all the motivation I need. When you’re starting out, set yourself a modest but still challenging goal – I like to go by word count or a scene and not by the hour, but everyone’s different, most writers I know prefer to commit to time. Usually, I’m working on two things at once – writing something and editing another thing, so if I feel like I’m burning out on one, I can switch to the other one. It might be as simple as, “Write 2k a day, edit pages 70-150 of Manuscript X”. I set myself other goals as well – go to the gym, get an oil change, have half the laundry done, etc., but I don’t live by the agenda. If things get done, great. If they don’t – it goes on tomorrow’s list.
There’s no way I want to get all my household chores done in one day; the same goes with my writing. I could love what I’m working on, but what was fun when I started will seem like this giant chore looming over my head if I attempt to do at all at once (unless I have a manuscript swap due the next day – then I can magically increase my word count per hour and the dishes don’t get done).
I work on a laptop. I like the freedom of being able to set up anywhere – my normal place is at my kitchen table or office at work, but I can go to a patio or to my favorite café or a library. Of course, laptops can be stolen, dropped, and get damaged – so sometimes, I like to leave the computer at home and take a duotang with paper, and do it freehand – this is beneficial if I’m going to the beach or doing a lot of running around, and I don’t want to worry about my laptop or bring it with me as I’m running around. If you’re flexible to work here and there while with other people who are chatting and having a great old time, that’s great, but I find that if I’m really getting into things, I have to focus. If you are intent to work, make it so you can work – let people know you’re busy. There’s certain coffee shops I won’t go to if I know I need to get work done because I know I might run into a friend or four, but there’s no shame in walking over, saying hi, and telling them what you’re there for – provided you know you won’t spend your hour chatting with them.
Make your work space comfortable. I like to make tea (hot or iced) and surround myself with healthy food, so if I get the munchies I’m reaching for something I won’t regret later. Get yourself the reference material ready if you know you’re going to need it (it doesn’t need to be right out, but I find I just need to have it available in another room or my laptop bag so I won’t go running off and get distracted).
If you go online – make it a point to stay online to work, to do research or check business-related emails. It’s easy to get distracted and I have said, “Okay… I swear, just one more crack at this game and I’ll get done…” too many times. Make a commitment to work, and try your best to accomplish a reasonable goal that’s within your control – someone accepting your work isn’t something in your control, but you working towards completing a novel or short story is.
In short, you don’t have to keep to a rigorous schedule – it definitely helps if you can get into the habit, but keep in mind that life gets in the way some times. Writing is not a race, and even if things are so crazy and you only manage to crawl towards your goals and manage to keep that precious balance in check, you’ll still be ahead of the person who’s waiting for that perfect time to start.