Monthly Archives: June 2013

Interview with Celia Breslin, Author of Haven

This week’s guest post is with Celia Breslin, debut author of Haven, which will be released by Champagne Books July 2.

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Hello everyone!

I’m delighted to be here today to share some fun info about my upcoming release, Haven, Book 1 in the Tranquilli Bloodline Series. Thanks to L. T. Getty for the great questions. And so we begin…

1) So – Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, or Contemporary Horror – how would you classify Haven?

Haven is 100% urban fantasy romance.

Urban fantasy, by definition, takes place in an urban setting, often occurs in present day, contains supernatural (fantasy) elements, of course, and is often written from the first person perspective.

Haven meets these criteria. The story is set in San Francisco in a world rife with preternatural creatures and the reader experiences the adventure from the heroine, Carina Tranquilli’s point of view.

But let’s not forget about the love. Haven is also a romance — she meets her destined soul mate and, thanks to Team Evil in hot pursuit, the two of them must fight hard for their relationship.

2) Why the title Haven?

Haven is literally the name of the dance club Carina owns in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. (sidebar: it’s a fictional bar — in our reality, there’s a bank on that corner).

But it’s more than that. Haven, defined, means “a place of safety or refuge.” This is one of the core themes of the book. How do you make a haven for yourself in the world, and, how far will you go to protect it?

Estranged from her three brothers, Carina creates a home for herself with her best friends. And with her bisexual friend and business partner Adrian, she builds a dance club in the Castro, a safe space where *everyone* – regardless of race, religion, sexual preference – is welcome.

Her sense of home and safety is threatened by the emergence of vampires in her life on both Teams Good and Evil.
3) Tell us a little bit about why you decided to write about vampires.

I didn’t so much decide to write about vampires as my Muse *demanded* I do so. LOL. Seriously, I’ve loved vampires since I was a kid watching Dark Shadows reruns on the telly. I think my muse would’ve mutinied if I didn’t write about them!
4) How are your vampires different from others – or are they? Are there any other mythological creatures running around, or is that hush hush until the book is out?

My vampires are undead, sensitive to sun and silver, possess a basic set of vamp-y skills including heightened senses and super strength. Some of the older vamps possess unique powers, too. As one of them puts it, “Gifted in life. Gifted in death.” For more info, you’ll have to read the story. *grins*

We also have witches on both Team Good and Team Evil, and one psychic. The latter happens to be Carina’s BFF, Faith. The two women met and bonded at boarding school when they were teens.
6) From your earlier interview with me in January, you said you wrote a prequel to Haven – how’s that going?

I did indeed write a prequel to Haven, starring Carina’s mentor and my favorite vampire, Jonas. It’s called The Vampire Code, and it will release this October from Champagne Books.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

When a naughty newbie vampire injures Carina, it’s left to her mentor and protector Jonas The Executioner to punish the offender and his maker. Code Breakers beware.

A big *Thank You* to L.T. and the entire Worlds of the Imagination posse for having me over for a visit.

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Dear Commenters:

I’m on vacation in the mountains right now, where the trees are plentiful but the wi-fi and phone service scarce. If the tech gods smile upon me, I’ll check in on Friday and chat with you. If they reject my prayers, I’ll see you all on Saturday. 🙂

Cheers!

Celia

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San Francisco nightclub owner Carina Tranquilli works hard, plays hard, and never allows the death of her parents and her twelve-year memory gap to get her down. But her life takes a left turn when a witch attacks her on her twenty-fifth birthday.

Three hauntingly familiar vampires emerge to reveal she possesses a latent power. To protect her from their enemies, they admit to wiping her memories clean and abandoning her as a child, but now they need her help. As she struggles to evade her new protectors and even newer enemies, she meets Alexander, an enigmatic, undead musician. Insta-lust flares, leaving her wanting more.

With evil’s minions hounding her every move, and everything she thought she knew turned on its head, Carina must harness her burgeoning power, unravel her vampire family’s web of deceit, and fight to have a love life…without getting killed in the process.

Excerpt:

Turn around.

I froze, my moment of weakness chased away by a jolt of adrenaline. I resisted Adrian’s pull. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

Silence.

“Nothing, I guess.” A wave of energy rolled into me, curled itself possessively around my body, and gave me one hell of a head rush. “Oh, wow.” I bit my lip, bracing against reaction.

Adrian tightened his grip on my waist. “Rina?”

Mark and Ren stalked over, faces grim.

“Did—? Do you—?” My mouth was so dry I could barely speak. “Do you guys feel that?”

Adrian squeezed, capturing my wandering attention, concern etched in the stern set of his jaw. “Feel what? What’s wrong?”

I started to tell them the Invisible Man hugged me against an electrified fence, but a second wave of energy bowled into me, making me tingle from head to toe. The sensation walked the line between pleasure and pain. A moan escaped me.

Mark took me from Adrian. “That’s it. We’re out of here.” He tried to pick me up, but I shook my head. Bad idea. Dizziness took the hall, and me, for a little spin.

Turn around. Turn. Around.

Was it a voice or instinct urging me on? Either way, the desire proved irresistible. I pulled away from Mark, pivoted, and forgot how to breathe.

The electric energy pulled back. The dizziness abated. All extraneous noise and people drained out of my perception until there was only Him.

Tall, fit, and bad-boy handsome with skin like pale honey, his thick, walnut brown hair hung tousled in a sexy, I-just-got-out-of-bed way. A hip, black, button-down shirt accentuated a sculpted upper body before it tucked into slacks painted on long, lean legs. The whole package made my mouth water.

Hot. Yummy. Totally my type.

“Who are you?” I whispered.

His mouth twitched in a hint of a smile as if he heard me—impossible given the distance between us. Heat spread, loosening my muscles, and my pulse sped up. Nerves. What’s wrong with me? Guys never made me nervous, not even gorgeous ones.

I nibbled my lower lip, mind racing to make sense of my reaction. His gaze tracked the movement and then slid back up. The heat from his stare hit me full force, driving a shaft of need through me. Energy rocked me again, a warm, electric breeze bathing my skin. My eyes widened in comprehension. The energy came from him.

To learn more, check out:

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Elements of Style: Lexis

What is Lexis, you might ask?

Taken from Dictionary.com, Lexis:

Noun, Linguistics:

1.       The vocabulary of a language, as distinct from its grammar, the total stock of words and idiomatic combination of then in a language; lexicon.

For the sake of this article, I will be using words without their context to create an idea – in other words, not how it’s said, but the fact that certain words are utilized within a segment of text, and the ideas it can generate. Context is incredibly important in your writing – I am not trying to downplay it whatsoever. However, if the words are broken down and categorized, they form certain ideas depending on what the reader is familiar with. Some words are filler (usually ‘said’, ‘the’, ‘an’, many more) but if I give you a word, you form an impression of it in your mind. “Boy” – without any descriptors, you have already assigned an age, and what a little boy would be wearing. If I tell you “not to think about a Boy” it has the opposite effect – you still imagine a boy; whether it be a child you know or a fictional character. Boy is a loaded word because it really depends on who is saying what – a little baby boy is different then a gruff soldier calling a barely-man recruit a boy, but the word boy is applicable in both examples.

How we break this up for stylistics is to take a segment of text for analysis and take each and every individual word and categorize them.  For the sake of analysis, here’s a short segment from Tower of Obsidian:

You know how the tale is supposed to go. The maiden is seized, captured by some foul villain. The hero gives chase, defeats the villain, and rescues her. The maid and hero wed and live happily ever after. 

But suppose it doesn’t go like that. No doubt there have been countless stories of maidens taken by villains. Some are rescued, others are killed, and however tragic their stories, they are ended.

What if one of these maidens lingered in darkness, with puzzles unsolved, her dragons unslain? 

She was stolen, like so many before her and many who came after. Was she a goddess, a nymph, or a common girl of great beauty? It matters little. He seized her and forced her into a dark tower, which even the gods could not destroy. Oh how they tried, sending their sons to battle him. All failed. 

The wicked sorcerer enticed her, tried to trick and confuse her, but she would never submit. In rage, or perhaps when it seemed the tide was turning, and perhaps her true love finally came, the sorcerer, rather than lose her, cursed her. He locked her in a prison, and she and the tower became one.

If you were to do a full analysis, you might have slightly different categories, and you’ll start to notice that some words would belong in numerous categories. Here’s what I did quickly:

Mythology: Dragons, Goddess, Nymph, Sorcerer (2), Gods       

Character Roles: Maiden, Hero (2), Villain, Dragons, Girl, Sons             

Violence:  Seized, Unslain, Forced, Killed, Rage, Locked, Cused, Captured, Destroy             

Buildings: Tower, Prison            

Darkness: Dark, Darkness

If I had a little larger chunk of text, I might have used other heading categories (Words like Black, Obsidian, shadow, etc., might change the darkness category) and then I might have subcategories for the more specific words when I notice that the categories become too long.

Words, by themselves, start to create their own ideas. There is no context in this method of categorizing – and it’s an incomplete list, but you begin to see how the words form an impression – even though this isn’t a fight sequence, it still portrays action, to the point of violence – I might be encouraged to create another ‘Captured’ heading, have words like Prison, Captured, Locked, ect., but I’ll bore most of you if I were to do a full analysis. Incidentally, I did this years ago when the novel was still in draft form, you can check out this website to make your own:

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Okay – so that’s all well and good, but how does this serve for writing?

By making choices in your language, you can change how your readers read your work. You have millions of words at your disposal – especially if you start to incorporate other languages in your writing. By limiting you characters to predetermined language, you can get across the idea of something without explicitly saying it.

For example, I enjoy historical movies, and up until recently, Roman characters in fiml generally had inexplicable British accents. In the movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe’s character speaks elegantly, but not like how we might expect – saying things like, “Strength and Honor” throughout the movie – because he wanted to sound authentic not only for that time period, but for the intended movie audience. There is no, “Good luck!” or “Good-Bye!”, that expression highlighted not only what characters in that time thought were important, but also the specific character of Maximus, who says it throughout the film. That isn’t to say that the film was wholly accurate (we as a general audience would have a very hard time understanding it as we don’t understand day-to-day Roman lifestyle) but it was able to utilize the language we would understand in the context that the Romans would use it. Thus, we have a more formal, different sounding use of language rather than it sounding like contemporary people stuck in timepiece costume.

This extends to further than dialogue. Let’s look at description – let’s pretend we want to incorporate different ideas on the same character: let’s take a tall woman, with grey eyes and sharp features. I’ll describe her using different words:

She stood tall, to past Tikal’s shoulder, her steel-colored eyes frozen on the book ahead of her. Her pale skin flushed at her cheeks, her sharp nose scrunching in disdain as the men bickered around her. She shook her head, causing her hair to shield her expression.

 Steel. Frozen. Pale. Flushed. Sharp. Shield. These are not exactly friendly words.

The woman stood to above Tikal’s shoulder. She locked her sea-grey eyes on the book before her. As the bickering continued, she shook her head, causing her wavy hair to obscure the rising pink in her pale cheeks. She scrunched her nose in disdain.

I utilized the words ‘sea-grey’ and ‘wavy’ – we’re getting an idea of water – but I also used the words ‘above’ and ‘rising’ – I’m giving the idea that perhaps, this woman is either above her contemporaries or is looking down. I have to be careful not to go nuts; at some point, I’m hitting the reader over the head to reinforce an idea, and odds are, they won’t appreciate that. Still, a tall woman with pale skin and grey eyes, sharp features, and she’s pretty much doing the same thing in each paragraph. I would argue that the woman in the first paragraph sounds more dangerous, whereas the woman in the second one seems to portray more of an air of aloofness and mystery.

There’s more to using words than just picking up a thesaurus. You can use words that have different contexts, but the use of the ideas plants an idea in the reader’s mind. Because we all come with previous associations of a word (however, this might not always be the case in speculative fiction where we are often introduced to new ideas and creatures) it is important to consider individual word choices, both in context and out of context, to see what kind of idea the words generate.  When you’re applying this to your own writing, don’t worry about a single word being taken out of context – however, look and see if there is a pattern for an idea you intended, or didn’t intend. You don’t have to utilize lexis for every aspect of your book, but if you consider your word choice, you might be able to strengthen your ideas.

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Tribute to George R. R. Martin – Don’t Forget the Four Senses

Welcome to a another posts in my summer series devoted to my favorite author, George R. R. Martin. Today’s post is about the power of the senses in fantasy writing. I hope you enjoy these, as I had a lot of fun writing them, and look forward to sharing more over the next few months.

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Visual description usually gets the most attention in writing.  An author describes what their character sees, describes the events that unfold, describes buildings, the setting sun, the ladder-back chair against the far wall, a character we meet sketched quickly with some well-chosen adjectives.  But there are four other senses too that make our world disparate and real.  There are sounds, smells, touches and tastes.  Sounds are often not forgotten – the world is as noisy as it is colorful, but smells and tastes and touches can be forgotten when we go into the realm of imagination.

John might walk down the street, where shadows stalk the alleyways and a brindle cat watches from a lantern-lit window, and this is intriguing.  But how much more real is it if he walks down that same alley and smells nightsoil in the ditches, mingled with the reek of mold and wet stone, if the cool fog clings to his forehead and a bead of sweat scurries down his cheek, if someone is screaming far away, a distant echo…

Suddenly, I’m not just in a dark alley.  Now, I’m John, and I’m in the dark alley with him.

George R. R. Martin does a brilliant job with the senses. Particularly, in his depiction of Arya as a blind girl. He uses the opportunity to do a fascinating depiction of those four senses we often forget.  These few chapters, the most recent installments in his epic, are full of descriptions of smells and sounds, touch and taste.  “Men had a different smell than women,” we read, “and there was a hint of orange in the air as well.”  Or, as Arya is eating, we find her “savoring the tastes and smells, the rough feel of the crust beneath her fingers, the slickness of the oil, the sting of the hot pepper when it got into the half-healed scrape on the back of her hand.”

Martin is vivid, and therein lies his power.  Fiction that skims over the details that make it real creates a distance between the reader and the characters who they have the opportunity to experience vicariously.  Remembering to give attention to the five sense allows the emotions embedded beneath their experience to be believable.  This is yet another thing Mr. Martin does that should be noted for anyone who wishes to see how writing can be full of realism and thus, fully engaging.

(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Myths & Legends: Cassandra’s Cruel Fate

CassandraIn Homer’s Iliad, one of the themes is the fate of those who cross the gods. Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. She was the sister of Hector, who was a hero of Troy and the subject of last week’s post, and Paris whose elopement/abduction of Helen had started the Trojan War.  She was described as beautiful, elegant, intelligent, charming, insane, and cursed.

The last two—insane and cursed—were linked. Cassandra had attracted the attention of the god Apollo. Because of his love for her and evidently her promise to become his consort, Apollo granted her the gift of prophecy. In his anger when she spurned him, he decreed that no one would believe her prophecies.

Cassandra was hurt and frustrated when no one would believe her and upset when most believed her to be insane. She foresaw the destruction of Troy, the Greeks’ subterfuge with the Trojan Horse, and her own cruel fate. When Troy fell, Cassandra was taken from the Temple of Athena (See Pic of 4th century BC Greek vase) and assaulted by Ajax. She was given to King Agamemnon as a concubine. Both of them were murdered soon after their arrival in Greece by Agamemnon’s queen, Clytemnestra and her lover.

Two Greek quotes describe Cassandra well: “Those whom the gods love die young” and “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”

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World Building for Dragonfire

As a writer I love to discover new worlds to describe and fill with real people that will continue to exist in my mind for months, if not years to come. The sense of all those images flowing from your imagination through your fingers to the page is indescribable. The setting and story begin with a nebulous shape that slowly shifts to become more structured. Perhaps you are envisioning a new land and need to create a map with all the landmarks, towns, and waterways. Or you may need to create the sigil for your clansmen. With all the research you could possibly want at your fingertips in this modern age of the miracle of the internet, you have no fear of not finding something that will set your muse free.

While working on Dragonfire I’m finding keeping a detailed map of the land (island) I’m writing about most helpful. I print a few of them at various stages and add new information as needed. Not till the end of the book will this map be completed, but I need to keep a record along the way. I’m also collecting ideas for sigil for each of my Houses (families) in the novel. Another useful resource is a glossary of medieval words and phrases. I must say it does take some practice to get used to their lexicon!

Watching certain programs on TV can be helpful in mastering the lingo or dialogue. I particularly have found Deadwood and Game of Thrones useful in that regard. A different cadence of words and sentence structure can make your world building so much more believable.

And of course, read, read, read. The write, write, write. It’s said it takes 10,000 words to master a new skill. Writing is no different and deserves the best you have to offer it. Happy writing!

Best,
January Bain

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On Writing – Guest Post with Liz Fountain

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My first novel, “An Alien’s Guide to World Domination,” came out this spring from BURST! Books, an imprint of Champagne Book Group. In 2008, when I started writing the story that became this urban science fiction yarn populated with aliens, dogs, humans, and a company that makes really bad plastic gadgets, I set about crafting a realistic tale of a woman who worked too much.

Did that last description make you yawn, just a little? Me too. The story bored me, and I crept closer and closer to giving up. Then a conversation with a good friend sparked a dream, and the dream showed me the story needed to be set in a different world – one with stupid but brutal aliens, long-lost exiles from other planets, and spunky dogs from Mars. 

Suddenly the story came to life, and I began to explore the ways science fiction and fantasy tell truths about our all-too-human lives, sometimes better than realistic fiction can. 

Unconstrained by realism, an incompetent boss can shed his too-small human skin, and reveal his true nature as an alien the color of lime Jell-O ™ gone horribly wrong. In reality, the skin might stay on, and the lime green might remain in our imaginations, but we all know the feeling of having a boss so out of touch he must be from another planet.

Unconstrained by realism, a shadowy cabal of government bureaucrats can plot to rid itself of unwanted citizens – orphans and old people – by sending them into interplanetary exile. In reality, we might not travel thousands of light years, but we know the feeling of being so far from home, we might as well be aliens ourselves. 

I love all kinds of fiction. Good storytelling compels me to follow it, through realism or fantasy, while I learn more about myself, about what it means to be human, about how to get along on this crazy, wonderful planet we call home. One of the special joys of science fiction and fantasy is finding authors whose creativity gives shape and form to our dreams, nightmares, and deepest truths, unbound by the laws of nature. The people we know who seem to survive by sucking life from others? Vampires. The times when our own anger or primal instincts overwhelm our reason? Werewolves under a full moon. The temptation to slog through life unaware, unfeeling, unconnected? Zombie horde. The experience of walking into a party where everyone else seems to share a different language? The aliens’ bar in Star Wars. 

Although much of science fiction and fantasy explores the dark, it also gives us the glorious opportunity to step back from taking ourselves too seriously. Even if vampires, werewolves, zombies, and aliens create terror, they also offer a new perspective, a bit of distance from reality, and often a way to laugh (at least a little) at our own dark sides, once we close the books and return to our “real worlds.”

Now, I’m writing a book for younger readers. In this tale, a crack team of misfit computer and math geeks is close to completing the mathematical formula for the Law of Immediate Forgiveness. If they succeed, the world will be free from war, violence, and suffering; so it’s no wonder so many people want to stop them. Young Amy June Pilgrim finds herself in the middle of their quest, guided by her grandfather and Licky, the goofy black Lab who lives up to her name. In reality, is there a formula for forgiveness? What would we do if we had one? Would we use it, like this team wants to, or would we be too afraid that forgiveness only opens us up to new hurts? These are some of the questions I get to explore in this story. Oh, and the black Lab gets to foil a kidnapping with a nice, stinky dog fart – the joys of writing for kids!

 What do you think – do you love science fiction and fantasy because these stories tell deep truths, while they delight, frighten, intrigue, and entertain us?

To Learn More about Liz’s Books, Check Out:

Liz’s Website                   Liz’s Facebook

To Purchase An Alien’s Guide to World Domination, you can find it at:

Burst, Amazon, and other online retailers.

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Elements of Style: Utilizing Sound and Pacing

Phonics is a huge topic, in which I can’t possibly address everything – this post is about using sound in your prose to shape a desired effect.

Certain sounds have characteristics of sounding pleasant or rough to our ears. There’s a reason certain languages sound so nice and others sound very rough to an English audience  – often times, in speculative fiction, we’re creating languages or names, so you can utilize sound to help you shape a character or place. A character named Kreb sounds rougher then another named Suth. Utilizing monosyllables also creates that choppy effect – Tukekib still sounds a little softer than Bob, but I’ll discuss rhythm further below.

Generally speaking, these letters make the roughest sounds: B, D, T, G, K, but sometimes it depends on the speaker’s accent and how it’s paired. Sometimes, R’s can sound rough. Softer sounds are more like CH, S, TH, F, QU; but once again, it depends on what it’s in conjunction with. Generally speaking, your vowels are neutral, but if your made-up word sound very similar to a word readers are familiar with, it might deter both how they would sound it out, and the lexical implications.

Now, that’s all well and good while you’re naming characters or locations, but how does this help during regular prose? Let’s consider the same sentence, I’ll rewrite it several times, and we’ll focus on sound.

Bob walked to the store to buy milk.

Now, let’s focus on soft sounds:

Bob slinked silently to the store to purchase milk.

Now, let’s look at hard sounds:

Bob trudged to K-Mart to buy milk.

You may say that there is hardly any difference – or perhaps you don’t want him at the Kmart, he needs to go to the 7/11 for plot purposes, and he’s neither trudging nor slinking. That’s okay – most of the time, you don’t have to utilize sound unless it’s intentional – however, if you’re not getting the feeling you want for a scene, consider the use of sound. Are your sentences short and choppy, or long and flowing? Even though most people won’t be reading your book aloud (unless you write children’s books) we still internalize the sound. Consider this piece of dialogue:

The princess snapped, “I’ll never marry you!”

Very cliché. Let’s compare:

The princess snapped, “I’d sooner bed a dog!” Different then, “I oppose this union with every fiber of my being!” In all these examples, she’s against the idea of marriage – but we incorporate different ideas, and, different sounds associated. Let’s look at the former rewrite – let’s say we’re in a world where we don’t want to imply bestiality, but we still want to make this sound rough, but we’ve already established that the princess likes the sound of her own voice. Let’s have the princess say, “You dare try to force me to wed you? You are not worthy to tie the sandals on my feet. My brothers shall rescue me, and you shall be torn limb from limb.” Without analyzing every sound there, it sounds a lot harsher than, “I’ll never marry you!” And not just from the threat of violence – Consider: “you Dare Try To force me to weD you.” The harsh sounds come out first, the part where she’s promising dismemberment comes after, and is actually the soft sounding part of the dialogue. Of course, it would sound ridiculous if she is only using soft-sounding words or hard-sounding words, but you can consider how key dialogue sounds if there are multiple choices for delivery.

Sentence Length and Pacing

Generally speaking in prose, the more complicated the action scenes, the shorter your sentences become – if Sir Galahad is scaling the dragon to the weak spot to give the death blow, it’s easier to give an account of him doing each action – especially if this dragon is flailing around and trying to squish him.

Example:

Sir Galahad leapt to the tail of the blue dragon. He gripped hard to the scale to keep from being thrown. The dragon roared. It began to run. Galahad pulled himself up towards the dragon’s flank, looking for the light patch. Weakness.

That reads quicker than:

Sir Galahad gracefully bounded on to the flickering tail of the great blue dragon; whereupon he clasped a glistening blue scale with his steel gauntlet, and pulled himself upon the great thundering beast. The dragon let loose a terrific roar, and began to run, hindering Galahad’s sojourn to the light patch of scales on his right buttocks, where Merlin said the weakness would be.

 This shorter, choppier segment allows your reader to increase the pacing of a sequence. Conversely – things such as inactive description and telling things in the passive voice tends to slow your pacing down – this is useful; for while it’s not necessary to always use the active voice, occasionally slipping into the passive allows you to slow down and take a breather in your book. While most advice is ‘don’t bore your reader’ your reader doesn’t need to be riding the dragon the entire novel, either. You can have areas of relative slowness so that you can pick up the pace for the action sequences.

Using polysyllables can also be helpful for name and word creation – as said before, using sounds to make things longer makes them seem more formal, and this is true with character and location names as well.

Unless you’re using poetry or telling a very stylized form of story, you probably won’t be utilizing sound the entire way through your manuscript, but understanding some aspects of sound might help you make decisions in forming your prose.

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Tribute to George R. R. Martin – In Medias Res

Welcome to a new series of posts I will be contributing over the summer. These are from several articles I wrote over the last year, devoted to my favorite author, George R. R. Martin. Today’s post is about effective beginnings. I hope you enjoy these, as I had a lot of fun writing them, and look forward to sharing them over the next few months.

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A good story starts in the middle of the action and let’s you fill in the pieces when the momentum wanes.  This way, as a reader, you are always kept busy, never losing interest in the tale.  Effective tale-telling intrigues; it’s not just action for action’s sake.

Every chapter that George R. R. Martin presents us in his Song of Ice and Fire series, like the beginning of a new story, is introduced in medias res. For example, in Dance with Dragons, a chapter begins with red fires burning while Jon Snow observes the wedding of Alys Karstark, but last we left him we were informed that Stannis was marching to his doom.

Wait a minute…where the heck did this wedding come from?  Ah – that’s just the point.  Martin always makes sure to knit the seams together, eventually tying back to the previous narrative sequence, but only after he’s established a new layer of development.  Lots of things happen between chapters, parts of the tale that aren’t told, so that the parts that are leave lots of room for speculation.

A deeply engaged reader is a happy reader.  Martin chooses to hold back pieces of his tale from us just as carefully as he chooses what to reveal.  This is hard to accomplish, but, as with many other things he is doing, Martin is setting a standard for many writers to come, showing how to define narrative scoping and pacing.

Doing this effectively, Martin can tell a story larger than the word count he delivers, much like the ravens that take wing from one castle to another, telling the tale not just of one hero or two, but of a whole host of people, good villains and wicked protagonists – just like the story of life we all know too well.

(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Myths & Legends: The Doomed Trojan Hector

HectorOur Trojan hero this week is Hector, the first-born son and heir apparent of King Priam. He was the commander of the Trojan army, even though he didn’t approve of the war with the Greeks.  He was known for being thoughtful and peace-loving,  a loving parent and a good husband  to Andromache. When the Trojans were arguing about omens he asserted that “One omen is best: defending the fatherland.”

Although he was a peaceful man, Hector battled the Greeks fiercely. He led an attack on the Greek ships. He engaged with several Greeks in personal combat. Eventually, he was killed by Achilles in revenge for his friend  Patroclus’ death. After his death, Achilles dragged him behind his chariot around the walls of Troy (See Pic) . His body was abused for twelve days until his father retrieved his body for burial.  Hector knew  his end was near during the battle and says this about it.

Alas! The gods have lured me on to my destruction. … death is now indeed exceedingly near at hand and there is no way out of it- for so Zeus and his son Apollo the far-darter have willed it, though heretofore they have been ever ready to protect me. My doom has come upon me; let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.

Next week, A Heroine Lies—or Not   Rita Bay

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Seeing Things Differently

Sci-fi and fantasy writers are a special breed, in my opinion, creating magic and gadgets and possibilities out of pure imagination. But the inspiration does come from somewhere and we’re often asked where this mythical well is located.

Well, for me, it’s like a rainbow. (You’ll see what a brilliant analogy that is in a moment.) Snippets of inspiration arrive unexpectedly like light through clouds at just the right angle so you see something that isn’t actually there. If you’re lucky, you follow it to a conclusion that is writer gold.

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Let me give you an example: the mantis shrimp.

A few weeks ago, my daughter’s boyfriend had us in stitches as he related all he knew about the mantis shrimp. It has two appendages that shoot forward at bullet speed (not an exaggeration). If they miss their prey, the force still causes a shockwave that stuns their prey and the speed boils the water around them. They’re ocean ninjas from the fourth dimension.

But that’s not what got my spidey senses tingling. They also have sixteen colour-receptive cones in their eyes. Humans have three.

Actually, thanks to high school biology my daughter was able to educate me further on this topic. What, you think I took biology? You’re funny. No, I’m a writer. I dropped science for English Lit.

So, according to my daughter, men are more likely to be colour blind than women. It results from their having two ‘good’ receptor cones and one that is mutated and thus limits their ability to differentiate colours. They tend to see only greens and blues or in shades of grey. (Yeah, there’s a joke there, but we’re going to stay on topic.)

Here’s the intriguing part (to me, anyway.) These same men are more likely to have daughters who have four receptor cones. Three normal ones and the mutated one. Sometimes the fourth one works and they are able to see colours the rest of us can’t.

That means where most of use three-receptor people see seven colours in a rainbow, those four-receptors girls see, um, way more. (I also dropped math for poetry, which qualifies me to name those new colours, not count ’em.)

Going back to the mantis shrimp, their world is so psychedelic it’s a wonder they’re moving at all and not just on their backs on the ocean floor listening to Pink Floyd.

And whether it’s two, four, or sixteen, it’s different from my perception of reality and right there becomes something I want to explore. I start looking at existing stories that are composting in the back of my mind and wondering if such a detail could fit into one of them and–the bigger question–how?

So far I haven’t figured out where to use it, but it’s in the primordial soup that is a writer’s imagination. For now, I’m just thinking about supper. Seafood, maybe.

 

 

 

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