Monthly Archives: December 2013

Creative Insults

Recently, I found this list floating on the internet. I think if you write fantasy and you wish your heroes to curse creatively, it could be very useful to you.  It’s called Shakespeare Insult Kit but it could be used for any quasi-medieval society cursing.
Combine one word from each column to create a colorful insult
===================================
artless            base-court         apple-john
bawdy             bat-fowling         baggage
beslubbering  beef-witted         barnacle
bootless         beetle-headed    bladder
churlish          boil-brained         boar-pig
cockered       clapper-clawed    bugbear
clouted         clay-brained         bum-bailey
craven         common-kissing    canker-blossom
currish         crook-pated          clack-dish
dunkish        dismal-dreaming   clotpole
dissembling   dizzy-eyed           coxcomb
droning         dog-hearted         codpiece
errant           dread-bolted         death-token
fawning         earth-vexing         dewberry
fobbing         elf-skinned           flap-dragon
forward         fat-kidneyed         flax-wench
frothy            fen-sucked           flirt-gill
gleeking       flap-mouthed         foot-licker
goatish         fly-bitten                fustilarian
gorbellied     folly-fallen             giglet
impertinent    fool-born             gudgeon
infectious      full-gorged           haggard
jarring           guts-griping         harpy
loggerheaded     half-faced      hedge-pig
lumpish         hasty-witted         horn-beast
mammering   hedge-born         hugger-mugger
mangled        hell-hated            joithead
mewling         idle-headed         lewdster
paunchy        ill-breeding           lout
pribbling        ill-nurtured           maggot-pie
puking           knotty-pated        malt-worm
puny              milk-livered          mammet
qualling          motley-minded    measle
rank               onion-eyed          minnow
reeky             plume-plucked    miscreant
roguish          pottle-deep         moldwarp
ruttish            pox-marked         mumble-news
saucy             reeling-ripe         nut-hook
spleeny          rough-hewn        pigeon-egg
spongy          rude-growing       pignut
surly              rump-fed              puttock
tottering        shard-borne         pumpion
unmuzzled     sheep-biting         ratsbane
vain                spur-galled         scut
venomed       swag-bellied         skainsmate
villainous        tardy-gaited        strumpet
warped          tickle-brained       varlot
wayward         toad-spotted        vassal
weedy            unchin-snouted    whey-face
yeasty            weather-bitten      wagtail

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Filed under Olga's World, Olga's writing tips, Style, World-building

A time to celebrate

Happy Holidays to all!

Storybuilder Inc. will resume in the New Year. Meanwhile, I’m days away from submitting my debut novel, which I have labored on a few hours every day for the last 15 months. Between that, many Christmas feasts, and squirreling away by the fireplace with coffee as often as possible, it should be quite an enjoyable week.

Happy writing!

 

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The Fox0 Immortality Gene

I’m always fascinated by where writers find their ideas. I was recently reading an article in a Science magazine when up popped a story that would look more at home in a science fiction journal than in a hard science tome. It was fascinating stuff. All about hydra, a genus of small, simple, fresh-water animals that possess radial symmetry. Hydra are predatory animals belonging to the phylum Cnidaria and the class Hydrozoa. They can be found in most unpolluted fresh-water ponds, lakes, and streams in the temperate and tropical regions and can be found by gently sweeping a collecting net through weedy areas. They are multicellular organisms which are usually a few millimeters long and are best studied with a microscope. Biologists are especially interested in Hydra due to their regenerative ability; and that they appear not to age or to die of old age.

Now that’s the part that fascinated me: appear not to age or die of old age. Is that amazing or what! And it does this feat by having a FoxO gene. We do have that in common with the hydra, but we got short-changed somewhere along the way. This all has to do with stem cells, so in the news of late, and us not having the good kind as we age. And so our bodies decline. Ugh.

But there is hope on the horizon. Research groups are hard at work on this and I wish them the very best!

So my feverish mind got busy. How to turn this into a devious plot! To heck with the vampires for a while, I’m going to use a hydra breakthrough as my plot device. And I’m thinking a book that dwells into all the ramifications of such an ability to exist on Earth, for humans to have immortality: over-population being the obvious. And what if the treatment is outrageously expensive? How will that effect humanity?

And so you have it, finding ideas in the most refreshing of places.

Happy writing, everyone. And the very best of the season to you, from all the way up here in central Canada. And loving it!

Best wishes,
January Bain
Storyteller/the Forever Series
Champagne Books

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 301

In the last step, I talked more about revision, covering 5 basic principles to help as you use your revision outline from step 11 to adjust your manuscript so it matches the kernel of your story. Now, I will talk about 5 more principles that build on the 5 from last week.  In the New Year, I will spend another two weeks doing this, covering revision at two deeper levels of complexity, before moving on to polishing, the final phase of storybuilding.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

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Tip 1: Look for inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts

In last week’s tips (Revision 201), I talked about making adjustments. Of course, we were not concerned with big adjustments at that point. We were only trying to detect where the story fell out of sync. The goal of going through and filling in your outline is to appreciate this, but the actual work of making corrections in each individual sub-frame is difficult and something that requires many layers of development. To help with navigation, you will want to get to know each sub-frame well, and a crucial way to do this is to look for inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts.

If you filled your sub-frame sheets in according to the instructions from step 11, then you will have a place for these three things on each one. Looking at your sub-frame and identifying these three things is a good way to sweep over your manuscript and connect to the story underneath.

An outer turning point is a change in circumstances that gives your narrative a tailwind. It can be subtle (in fact, it is most effective when it is subtle). An inner turning point is a change within your character, and often it is linked to an outer turning point. It can be direct or indirect. Maybe you are writing a mystery novel and all the evidence gained up to this point serves as a backdrop for your detective to have a sudden epiphany while lying in bed—the realization that everything they have been doing is wrong and they have to go about the case another way. An outer turning point could be anything from an unexpected home invasion to a betraying friend’s smirk, to a sudden gust of wind, while an inner turning point can be anything from an epiphany to a brief moment of recollection to a sudden shift in story voice (conveying a subconscious inner shift).

Emotional contrasts go hand-in-hand with outer and inner turning points, and a strong story is one where a character’s conflict arc progresses under the pull of strong conflicting emotions. While outer turning points are related to plot, these outer events, however subtle, bring about or contrast changes in your character that present an emotional shift and often an opposition to the previous emotions. This, in turn, leads to an inner turning point. All together, these three things are the coal that keeps your narrative engine chugging.

An example might be:

[example summary of a sub-frame]

Abe awakens to serene sunrise, reflecting on what might lie ahead in the day, wondering if his fiance, Eve, will come visit. He smiles, appreciating how beautiful the sunrise is on the water. A leaf drops on the pond, sending out dark ripples and the air is suddenly chill, rekindling the memory of how he nearly lost her two years ago. Never again, he vows. He goes back indoors, realizing how cold his coffee is.

In this example, we might write:

  • Outer turning point: the leaf sending ripples along the water
  • Inner turning point: Abe realizes how uncertain his life is and decides he can’t fool himself no matter how hard he tries
  • Emotion contrasts: nostalgic, hopeful, and pleasant vs. insecure, uncertain, and uneasy

In the next sub-frame, Abe would cart the new emotions along and those, along with any external turning points there, would lead to further development of his arc within this frame.

Since inner and outer turning points can be subtle, you can look for them in every sub-frame. These shifts are what compels your readers to keep turning pages. The goal of a storybuilder is to infuse every sub-frame with them effectively.

However, one note of caution: beware creating these for the sake of creating them. They must belong, otherwise your story’s events might read like a cartoon. Again, this is where art comes into it. You, the writer, must know what your overall goal is with each sub-frame and how it contributes to the larger scope of your story. When you look for these three components, you want to ask what is truly happening, and what is true to the story—not what ought to happen so you can make the scene dramatic.

Think about what is happening in the frame as you think about the inner and outer turning points and emotional contrasts of a particular sub-frame. Think also about what is happening in the part of the 9-part outline, even the 3-part. For example, in the scene with Abe, maybe this is the middle of the novel and Abe is about to discover that he has a devastating mental illness. Maybe our goal is to have him end up in a mental hospital where an old woman teaches him to trust the world again through their hour-long sessions of coloring with crayons. If that’s the purpose of the novel, then this scene’s meaning can be put in context. In this scene, for example, let’s say Eve never calls Abe, and he hangs around until supper and watches the sun set. This frame is about the onset of his madness (as it turns out, Eve went on holiday and he doesn’t remember, because he is starting to hallucinate). He goes to bed with the light on, and hears whispers on the wind. He picks up the phone and suddenly the operator’s voice recording actually speaks to him and tells him Eve is dead. Panicked, he runs outside, half-naked, until one of his neighbors finds him on the street. (That’s the final sub-frame of this frame.)

Get the idea? Now see what you can do with your story, and next week we will dig deeper into how we can use the sections of the sub-frame notes to appreciate the story behind each meaningful segment of your manuscript.

Tip 2: Implement alpha and cold read notes

During the last part of Step 8, Drafting 4, I talked about alpha readers. We also did a cold read, in step 9, where you made notes as you went over your draft like a reader. You can look at the storybuilding process as a bit of an architecture project. You spent a lot of time in the pre-building phase, doing renderings, then developing a careful blueprint. You can only plan so far—so at last you went and built, very carefully. Afterward, though, there are tests and fixes that need to be done. Your role now is to use all those inspector’s notes (both your own as cold reader and the alpha readers’).

Last week I shared basic tips to help you get your bearings with the process. Now you can think about where to put these notes. I recommend you avoid putting them in until you have filled in all your inner / outer turning points and emotional contrasts for each sub-frame. The reason for this is you need to gain some perspective as you break your story apart so you can better appreciate where a given issue might rear its head. One of your notes might be, “Your character doesn’t seem to have much confidence. Is she always like this?” Your goal is to check, but in order to do that, you have to know where to look.

I recommend you put all your notes together in one place and move through them like a check-list. Basic fixes and adjustments you can tick off the list right away. Larger fixes can be worked in using square-bracket notes that you’ll address at some point in the layering process. Avoid fixes that seem so large you don’t know where to begin. We will talk about those next week.

This part might be tedious, but if you avoid the instinct to “fix it all now”, it should be straight forward. You will also find there is lots of overlap or issues you may have addressed while you layered in some changes during the time you spent filling in your post-draft outline.

Tip 3: Drop more anchors, use references, and be open to radical change

I mentioned last week that you shouldn’t get too carried away with fixing. In fact, I even said to leave notes inside square brackets (rather than comments, since you can easily find these notes using “find” in the body of your word processor). As you’re doing this, you’re going to realize lots of parts are connected. Maybe there is a big intrigue that shows its face throughout many subframes. In fact, you might notice that it is in sub-frame 2 of frame 21, and so on. You might write:

[look for consistency on this plot. Go into 16.7, 18.5, 21.2, 8.2, and 26.6 and read all references to the Blue Plague and its ties to the Overworld]

Whatever it may be, leaving yourself these detailed referential anchors will help tremendously as you deal with Revision 501, the most advanced stage of revision, and sync together all rough ends such as plot holes or more serious flaws related to a faulty premise or underdeveloped outline.

Unlike the world of architecture, the word “oops” does not necessarily mean rewriting your book. Using the storybuilder principles, you can address the most fundamental of flaws in your manuscript, and these anchors are key ingredients to be pinned in place as you piece together where you have to go back and perform some magic.

Tip 4: Ruminating on higher levels

Tip 4 of Revision 201 can be extended to this level. The goal of moving in stages, with the aid of your post-draft outline, is to create deeper intimacy with your story. You want to move away from seeing it as a long chunk of words that took a long time to write, with some scenes you remember. Instead, you want to reach a point where you can identify which sub-frame a given event happens in, where you can appreciate all the connections of your story and, most importantly, appreciate what your plot elements are and how they evolve.

At this point, you will become aware of flaws in your manuscript and ways your story doesn’t quite fit. Be very critical of these. Don’t second guess yourself. If something is “not quite right,” then there’s a reason for that, and your novel will not be finished until all those not-quite-right’s are dealt with. You don’t need to have the answer right away, but that should serve as an indicator of where your thinking energy needs to go.

I will emphasize that this is not a “stage” of the process (these are just tips, in order of complexity, to help navigate you through revision successfully). This is a principle to show how you want to be looking at your manuscript. In Revision 401 next week, I will extend this tip by visiting some of the more specific ways to deal with these higher levels of problem-solving. For now, see your goal like this:

Imagine your story’s details are the trivia for a game of Jeopardy. Do you want to win grand prize? Then know your facts inside and out. That is the start of realizing where work needs to be done and where some things don’t quite match up.

After all, the devil’s in the details.

Tip 5: Layer in your rewrites – AGAIN!

As you proceed, keep on layering. Think of a snake with its suits of skin. You have a process, but the draft evolves organically. There is no draft 2 or 3. Just the one draft and its evolving states. If you want you can save your draft as a new file to see how it changes, but you will have hundreds of them by the time you’re done. I don’t save my drafts, other than the draft I finished for the cold read, the one that is ready for polishing (the “hot read” version for step 13), and the final.

Layering is the key to doing this effectively, however. Layering allows you the power to seize a sentence and put it where it belongs, right then and there. Layering frees you from keeping you stuck in one place. Layering allows you to move, to make notes, and to come back when you are ready. It allows you to write where writing is ready to happen—where it needs to happen, with the direction of your critical revision process.

Layering in and of itself, without the structural guidance of the post-draft outline or careful storybuilding steps, is no guarantee that a novel will be finished. However, making this your rule of procedure for how you implement revision will give you, the writer, the spontaneity and freedom to swing your hammer down on the manuscript where it needs tempering, rather than beating it in every which direction and always having to unfix what didn’t need fixing.

Next week, you’re a level 4 revisionist

If you’re still following, then you are a determined storyteller and I hope you continue all the way to the end. If you have a desire to tell a story, then do not lose hope or lose sight of your goals. Many writers, sadly, give up at this step, or even before. Worse, many turn their manuscript in for submission and skip revision, applying some polish and saying “good enough”. With the temptation of self-publishing, it’s easy to give in, especially when the going gets tough. But this easy road usually means silent readers or standard rejection letters, and having been there myself I don’t need any convincing which road is more desirable.

It’s going to get tougher next week and the week after. But if you’ve read this far, then I’m going to assume you’re in for the ride. You want a finished novel, something you are proud of. You want a manuscript that’s gone through all the treatments, so that, no matter what, you’ll have finished work in your portfolio.

This is the part where you start feeling like you’re crazy, where your every waking moment belongs to your manuscript and you really wish you could move on to something else. It’s the part where you wonder if you’ve written crap and if you’re wasting your time, if it will ever find a publisher or just be another failure. You might hate it as much as you love it, and wonder if you’re ever going to succeed.

Don’t give into those Gollums! Tell them to go away and never come back, and guess what? Eventually you’ll have peace of mind.

Don’t think about if this is “worth it”, or if it will be “great”. Don’t think about if it will be “crap” or “meaningless”. Throw all that in the fire and let it melt. What you’ll take out, then, will be pure. This is the part where you manuscript moves from being your own to being something else, and that something else will be the story you set out to tell.

See you all in 2014!

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

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Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Fantasy heroes – who are they?

Re-blogged from my site.

My contemplations concern both male and female characters, but for the clarity of writing, I’m using only male nouns and pronouns.

In high fantasy, heroes are habitually princes (long-lost or deposed or otherwise beset by woes) or magicians or soldiers. Almost as often they are poor orphans or criminals: thieves and assassins. I don’t know any respectable shoemakers or tavern keepers who are heroes of high fantasy, unless their shop or farm is no more.

SeamstressConversely, in urban fantasy, which takes place in the alternative version of here and now, heroes most frequently belong to the middle class: bartenders and librarians, computer programmers and dressmakers. There are not many modern fantasy novels where a hero is a ‘prince’, e.g. a movie star or a corporate mogul. Not many poor orphans either, although some pop up occasionally, just like some criminals make their appearance in urban fantasy, but in latter case, they usually work for the government. A CIA assassin – how glamorous!

Why such a disparity in the heroes’ social standings? Fantasy writers have a rationale for their protagonists, just as fantasy tropes are tropes for a reason. Let’s first look at high fantasy, which usually happens in a quasi-medieval society.

Princes – they have education and money, before some villain causes them to flee for their lives, rally their scattered forces, and strike back at their enemy. Princes don’t have ties to the community; nobody depends on them for their livelihood. Pretty useless creatures, princes, at liberty to go anywhere, anytime. Nobody would miss them.

Magicians – they have power of their own, their magic. They can employ it in any city or society; they have no ties to the community or locality either. Quite the opposite, they are often recluses or under vows of chastity or some such. They’re free to roam at will. Magician1

Soldiers – they also have skills they can ply anywhere. They don’t have families or links to the community that depends on them. The same applies to thieves. What is common to all those types – they are independent in their income source and nobody needs them to survive.

Orphans don’t have an independent source of income, but their ties to a place or a community have been severed by irresistible forces. As a result, they’re rootless, blown by the winds of their misfortunes to look for a good life elsewhere.

What about middle class – a shopkeeper or a peasant? Unless his shop or homestead is destroyed and his loved ones killed, he is not free. He has family to support, children to feed, village to appease. Many people rely on him – he has roots and can’t just up and leave for a heroic adventure. It would be considered irresponsible. He must work hard from dawn to dusk, fix the roof after a church service, and pay the guild fee by Friday. He doesn’t have a choice. No food for a fantasy writer there.

Now let’s take a look at urban fantasy – at our society. Here the roles are reversed. Who has the widest choices? Our shop owners and farmers and middle-level employees. Millions of choices. They can switch careers, travel, attend university, go to movies every week, meet new people in bars, gyms, interest clubs, Internet, and so on. The possibilities for fantasy adventures are countless.

How about our soldiers? They’re so boxed in by army regulations that there is almost no room to maneuver for a fantasy writer.

What about our princes and magicians – the super-rich folks and pop icons? If they don’t want to lose their money, they work hard and then drink and do drugs to unwind. At least that is what the gossip pages tell us. Paparazzi follow them, so they’re not free to go anywhere. Can they switch career? Of course, in theory, but it happens so seldom, we never hear of it. Can they become members of a knitting club in a local community center? Yes, but they don’t. Have you heard of even one example? They’re extremely restricted by their names, money, and fame. That’s why they’re almost never heroes of modern fantasy.

Did I simplify in my musing? Yes. Are there exceptions to my conclusions? Definitely. Do you know novels that contradict my findings? Argue with me.

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 201

In the last step, about the basic principle for effective revision I use, but now I will spend another four steps outlining 5 tips, with increasing complexity each week, before moving on to the final steps, 13 and 14, highlighting five key steps, in order of increasing complexity.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Tip 1: Avoid those little fixes

Some writers prefer many drafts and proceed on good faith that the prose will work themselves out as the layers add up and they get more familiar with the story. This means leaving weak sentences and misfit paragraphs in place, trusting on good faith that they will come together as you churn through draft 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on. I will make the assumption that you have been following this workshop and have tried to write your story using the principles outlined during the drafting phase (Step 8).

This means you have worked carefully using your frames and have invested approximately 1-2 hours / 1000 words of draft. This means your overall prose are well-developed, as are your scenes. It means you can delegate your work into two distinct phases: revision, which involves larger changes, and polishing, which deals with all those “little fixes” (I will talk about polishing in Steps 13 and 14).

As I mentioned in last week’s post (Revision 101), the goal of revision is to bring your draft in sync with your story. This means having scope and perspective to make large changes and appreciate them beyond the actual words on the page. Fussing with your prose to perfect them, therefore, will steal the large scope you otherwise need to achieve effective revision.

Tip 2: Use your post-draft outline

In step 11 we invest quite a bit of time in going over our story and writing an outline that divides your manuscript into it’s smallest components. The process of creating this outline and filling it in meant rewriting the former outlines you developed and telling your story in bullet form so you can appreciate angles that the prose otherwise might hide.

Use the post-draft outline sub-frames to direct you. Each of these sub-frames is anchored in a given frame, which will help you appreciate how each sub-frame develops themes relevant to your premise. The sub-frame sheet allows you to write out background information that doesn’t appear in the draft and allows you to look for inner and outer turning points so you can see if your story in this place moves in a way that is compelling to your reader.

Tip 3: Don’t let the draft lie to you

Your draft is what you wrote. Think of it as a discovery. Think of it also as a lot of uncharted territory and false labeling as you attempted to make sense of what you actually encountered.

Your outline was your map from which you planned your trip carefully before starting your draft, but it couldn’t prepare you for every tangle of underbrush, pitfall, and the layout of enemy tents. When you did your drafting, you went out reconnoitering, and wrote out exactly what you saw.

Now you’re back with detailed data and it’s overwhelming. You wrote down everything you encountered, but it was dark, and you didn’t know what you were actually seeing. That underbrush you encountered was actually tripwire, and you’re lucky you get caught in it. And those enemy tents—guess what? They were actually your allies, so the plans for attack you formulated while on your way back would have made the war a lot messier.

Your draft is a best guess, and, if done well—if you write slowly and take the time to truly discover the story—you’ll have all the details right. For the most part.

Your post-draft outline is a chance to go back to the map, consult with intelligence and other reports, and put all the details together so that your detailed account of the terrain is in fact correct.

Then you’ll be ready for attack.

(Aka sending out to a publisher. Yep, it’s a tough market.)

Tip 4: Leave yourself notes and time to think

So your draft lies to you here and there and you have to change your plans. Don’t change them too quickly. Those tents that you are told are allies might be neutral. That matters when you’re planning war.

Similarly, the subplot that makes no sense might work with the fix you come up with as soon as you spot the problem, but there might be a better fix that will come to you as you continue to hop around your sub-frames and consider the various angles. See the whole picture. Don’t just think about the problem in sub-frame 19.2. Think about how that problem pokes its head up in 11.2, 13.4, 16.7, and 23.3, and leave notes in those spots that will be easy for you to get back to using the “find” feature in your word processor. (I like to use text in square brackets between paragraphs, and anchors.)

Mastering revision involves lots of restraint. Like the art of mastering drafting, it, too, requires more thought than writing. While you might spend 1-2 hours / session of revision at the computer, and do this for many months, during this phase your mind will be spinning all throughout the day and these are problems you will no doubt be taking to bed.

Tip 5: Layer in your rewrites

The goal of the revision phase is to get away from linear revision. This means you should not feel like you have to go  through your notes from the beginning to end when you address those parts of your manuscript that need a tune-up.

Think of this as a visit to the chiropractor. (This workshop started with a posture analogy, right?) If you’ve made it this far, you’ve done a lot of work, and I bet you have lots of knots in your back.

Now, a chiropractor doesn’t go over your whole back, bottom to top, again and again. She might go over it once to feel where there are the most subluxations. Crack. Crack. Crack. That’s your middle back, by the way. Maybe there were a few in your lower back, and a few in your neck, but every time she gets to your middle back it’s like you’ve turned into a bag of Orville Redenbacher.

That’s where your chiropractor spends most of her time, and similarly you, as writer, need to spend most of your time where it matters, layering in all your rewrites until there are no more things that are out of alignment with your post-draft outline.

Next week

Revision is important. It’s the time when your story comes out of the cocoon and spreads brilliant butterfly wings of gold and purple and scarlet. You can always do more of it, but at some point you have to stop. It’s not meant to be endless, which is why it’s important to have a method, even if there is madness in it.

My goal with this workshop is to give you all a resource to help you complete your projects, and so I will spend more time on revision. Next week comes revision 301: 5 more tips that will help you deal with all those popping vertebrae.

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

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My favorite lines…

My latest novel, Hitchhiker, a humorous paranormal thriller, is now available at most ebook distributors. Here are a few of my favorite lines …

1. “Oh God, I’m going to end up naked in Pike Place Market again.” – Jack

2. There are two kinds of people in this world: those with power and those who get screwed by those with power. Jack knew he’d never be one with power, so he had always done what he could to enjoy the lay.

3. “I am Fear. I am Doubt. I am Reason. You cannot rid yourself of me, nor should you wish to.” – Clark

4. She looked like a cross between an aging hippie and an over-the-hill hooker.

5. “I’m a folder. I fold under pressure. Harris even said so. Bend me, crease me, stuff me in an envelope. I fold.” – Ainsley

Of course the best line is when Special Agent Claudia James redefines sex, but I’ll make you buy the book to see that one ;).

Buy links:

http://www.amazon.com/Hitchhiker-ebook/dp/B00GFW97HE/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid

http://burstbooks.ca/product.php?id_product=110

out_of_the_darkness_300sigAudra

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So Your Hero is Useless with a Sword – Guest Post by Moira J. Moore

Joining us this week is author of the Heroes’ Saga, author Moira J. Moore. Moira wrapped up her series last year with Heroes’ Reward, and she’s planning on releasing her next novel, entitled Scribe in Shadows, in early 2014. To learn more about Moira and her work, you can check out her livejournal.

So Your Hero Is Useless With a Sword

by Moira J. Moore

Subtitle: A Light Post Turns into a Rant about Alpha v Beta Males

Thank you, Leia, for asking me to write this post. It’s an honour.

Warning: I really, really, really don’t like alpha characters or people.  This is probably because all of the people who have tried to bully or control me were “alphas,” while the people who treated me with respect – the mature, admirable, fun people – weren’t alphas.

Note: We all know the whole world isn’t divided into just two groups, alphas and betas, but for the sake of convenience I’m going to pretend it is.

When Leia gave me a list of possible subjects for this post, I immediately glommed onto So Your Hero Is Useless With a Sword. If you haven’t read my Heroes series, you don’t know that the covers are some of, and I quote, “the worst covers in the world.” Aside from being ugly in general, three of the six covers portray Taro, the main male character, with a sword, despite the fact that he never used one and probably would have cut his own hand off if he tried.

Lots of books have misleading covers, it’s a common lament of many writers, but of all of the misleading stuff on my covers, Taro with a sword bugs me the most. That’s because an important part of his character is that he isn’t a physically imposing man, in any sense of the word.

Taro is five feet eight inches. He’s slight in build. Not only can he not use a sword, he can’t use any weapon, and he’d be creamed in a fist fight.

He doesn’t care. He’s got other abilities. The main character, the female protagonist, doesn’t care. What’s more, I created a society in which no one else cares, either. No one, male or female, thinks less of him because he can’t fight, because he’s of smaller stature, because he can’t frighten anyone. He is brilliant at his job. That’s all that matters.

And now, the alpha/beta dichotomy.

I designed Taro to be what I considered a beta male. His aristocratic title is merely honorary. He’s excellent at his job but is told where to go by his employer. He can’t do his job unless the main female character does hers. What power he has is a matter of charm and his skill. He isn’t in charge of anything and he never tries to control anyone else.

He’s very pretty and he likes to flirt. With everyone. However, he doesn’t sleep with everyone. He’s smart and resilient. He’s willing to consider the advice of others, though he doesn’t always follow that advice. He’s brave. He stands up to people who could break his bones if fists started flying. He has done some stupidly dangerous stuff because it needed doing. He’s had to get his hands dirty.

Before I began writing this post, I looked up alpha and beta online.  I had a quick and dirty definition for “alpha” – a vain jerk who craves to dominate others – but nothing so simple for “beta.”

Well, wasn’t I in for a big surprise? It turns out I was totally wrong about what betas are. Men are either alphas – all powerful, useful, confident, masculine, – or betas – bitter, weak and, worst of all, feminine.

I have to admit that I read only about ten articles before I became so disgusted I had to stop. Also, most of the articles deal with people, not characters. However, while my experience with alphas in real life matches what I see of alphas in fiction, my experience with beta people is … I don’t know … imaginary.

I’m baffled by the traits that are considered positive and negative.

This is a short sample of the many attributes the various articles assigned to alphas and betas.

Alphas are aggressive while betas are passive.

I don’t like aggressive people. They’re trying to force others to do things against their will. How is this positive behaviour?

Passive doesn’t have to mean weak. Sometimes it’s better to roll your eyes and let things slide instead of fighting over every little thing.

There are a whole lot of options between aggressive and passive. One of my favourite tv characters, one I consider a beta, has a wonderful line: “I’ll never strike first, but I’ll always strike back.” Just because you don’t start things doesn’t mean you can’t end them.

On the other hand …

Alphas are always calm while betas frequently lose their tempers.

Apparently this is because alphas’ lives are wonderful while betas resent the fact that their lives suck. Tell that to the very successful, very senior opposing counsel who screamed at me in front of a bunch of other lawyers. My quiet responses, which amounted to “You do what you feel you have to do,” made him nuts. Which is the reason I gave them. And I ain’t no alpha.

And those really successful, well off partners in my firm? The ones who laughed when I called them ‘sir’ that first week? The ones who asked my advice, and took it?  The ones who held meetings with all of the lawyers and the associates got to vote on things even though none of the money was ours? The ones who solicited everyone’s opinions and made decisions as a group? The ones who would find it hilarious if someone told them they were the alphas, the head of the pack? Well, I guess they all lost their tempers at home and survived the ass-kickings their spouses would have delivered upon them for acting like children.

This is my experience; alphas want control, and when they don’t get it, they freak or sulk.

Alphas are secure enough to take responsibility for their mistakes while betas try to hide them.

I can use personal experience to call bullshit on this one, too. I have yet to encounter an alpha who is willing to admit to mistakes and apologise for them. They consider that a sign of weakness.

That lawyer who screamed at me? Unfortunately, I had to deal with him again on another file. Out of the blue, he told me that he was taking heart medication that sometimes made him dizzy. This was not taking responsibility for his actions, this was not an apology, this was him shoving the blame onto something else. He was also letting me know that would be his explanation should I report him to the law society. If he had given me a decent apology, I would have felt some respect for him. He didn’t, so I didn’t.

I’m not saying all betas are mature in this area, but if someone is going to own up to a mistake and do something to fix it, it’s much more likely to be a beta.

When looking for a sexual partner, alphas go straight “for the kill” while betas try to get to know the woman first and build a friendship.

Don’t you love the violence inherent in the phrase “for the kill,” that whole predator/prey metaphor?

Trying to be friends first is bad. So. Don’t know what to do with that.

Last one (on my list, there’s actually a lot more):

Alphas don’t give a damn what others think of them (anyone who doesn’t like them is just jealous, anyway) while betas curry favour.

I haven’t noticed betas being desperate for the approval of others.

I agree that being too tightly controlled by the opinions of others is a problem, but so is not caring about anyone’s. Really? You don’t want the good opinion of people close to you? Isn’t there a name for something like that?

If you look up narcissistic personality disorder, you’ll find a lot of characteristics that sound like they belong to the traditional “alpha” male.

 

After all of this, I’ve decided to create my own definition of a beta. In recognition of all the beta people and characters I’ve loved, here’s my list:

          Will put their lives on the line for things that matter and when there are no healthy alternatives, but only for things that matter (ego doesn’t) and only when there are no healthy alternatives

          Are loyal but not to the point of being mindless lemmings

          Are more likely to do things themselves than delegate

          Are perfectly content to be alone

          Don’t need an audience or a posse

          Aren’t afraid to voice an unpopular opinion but…

          Don’t need to shove their opinions down other people’s throats

          Respect the rights of others

          Recognise the equality of others

          Can take charge when necessary and hand back control when it isn’t

          Can work well alone and …

          Can work well with others

          Can take responsibility for wrongs done and apologise

          Can laugh at themselves

          Can handle others laughing at them

          Can sometimes put the needs of others over their own

          Can let others think they’re right even they’re wrong, because sometimes it really doesn’t matter

          Physical attributes are irrelevant

          Respect respect respect

 

I didn’t give Taro all of those fine qualities. That would make him a perfect character, and we can’t have that. Perfect characters are boring. But he’s a beta and proud of it!

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Gnome – Hey, at least it’s a Fun Word

I picked up a present for Christmas the other day for someone who has a bit of a green thumb– part of it involves a very tiny gnome. Now, I’m one of those artsy people who have painted gnomes for their grandparents (mostly so they can have ostensibly red noses and cheeks so they look like they’ve got reason to be so darn cheerful) but when I was deciding what denizen to pick on this week, I thought I’d go with one of the more recent additions to the fantasy fae menagerie: The Gnome.

 I’ve seen tons of beautiful art for elves, faeries, even hobbits and other denizens, but your gnomes are generally speaking the portly, squat, cheerful looking creatures that remind me of brownies. Even though I’d argue that they’ve been cutesied up for the average garden, the interpretation of gnomes isn’t near as varied as other fantasy species. Wikipedia states that the earliest version of the word gnomes were first introduced in the 16th century during the renaissance brought on by an author named Paracelsus, though his rendition was referring to a sort of earth elemental, with the creatures being brought into more solidifying light in works such as The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, and even Harry Potter. Though gnomes have been used in a variety of ways in the fantasy genre, in addition to being diminutive outdoorsy underground dwellers, they also seem to have the knack (gnack?) for being regarded in literature as inventors and alchemists.

To me, the most logical reason for this is that they’re the ‘good’ (or at least, not so bad) offshoot as goblins. Now, I haven’t gotten into goblins (the possibility with them are virtually endless without making *any* reference to David Bowie…) but consider – small, diminutive creatures that live underground, associated with the earth and are known for creating things? The only difference – besides looks – is that goblins traditionally are the more devious, cruel creatures known for stealing.  In a cartoon I watched growing up, they were always at odds with the trolls (Youtube David the Gnome, if you’re curious). Though it is telling that with the exception of the Oz series, I can’t think of a negative interpretation of the creatures. Neutral, perhaps, whereas goblins – well, I know they’ve been painted in a much more varied light but, let’s do a quick comparison, with me using the first images that show up on google:

 Goblin German_garden_gnome

You tell me which one you find more trustworthy – ‘cause quite frankly, I don’t really trust either of them.

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 101

Like an alchemist

Revision is like metallurgy, and good storytellers must become good alchemists. How do you know what changes to make? How do you know what things to leave alone?

I developed my story-building model based on the principle that any story can be developed to its full exactly as it’s told, and to change that story in any way creates a new story. Hence, one need change nothing! Instead, one need discover what should never have been there in the first place.

Your story is gold, but in the process of telling it, some impurities slipped into your mixture. Your goal when you revise is to eliminate them by working your magic and turning them into gold as well.

That is the alchemy, and if you are scratching your head wondering what the heck I’m talking about, then please read on.

The multiple universes of story

It’s tempting to get carried away with revision. After all, you can change anything you want. You can add a character, or take two away. The story changes then. In fact, it is another story altogether. You’ve discovered something new. You’ve slipped into another universe with its own laws, and if you truly want to discover that one, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board and work everything out once more. Never mind that wonderful universe you outlined then wrote into existence.

It’s so tempting to go into that other universe, even though it seems the same. I assure you, it is not! (If you have been the victim to circular revision due to entertaining these seemingly innocuous changes, then no doubt you can relate.)

The true, unique story you discovered

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying. “I had my protagonist Al’s whiny mother tag along as a side-kick for my whole novel. You’re telling me I shouldn’t cut her?”

Well, actually, I’m telling you neither. What I’m suggesting is that you discover WHAT your true story is and ask how Al’s whiny mother helps to serve that story. You spent time carefully outlining everything up to this step, so I presume you had a good reason to put Al’s whiny mother in the story. If not, then, by all means, Al’s whiny mother might have crept in somewhere while you drafted and now you have to go back and determine just how to set things right. Maybe she has to go (if she was never part of the story to begin with), or maybe (which I think is more likely) you have to discover just what function she serves in the development of your story arc.

This is exactly what it means to unearth the true, unique story you discovered. Not just with Al’s whiny mother, but with every single sub-frame and the elements in it. If you’re ruthlessly cutting elements from your story to avoid hassle and get it to your publisher, then you’re taking the easy way out. Granted, sometimes it’s liberating to let loose with the sledgehammer when you’re doing renovations—at least, until the ceiling falls down on you.

Sledgehammers aside, your goal is to find the “true story” that lies somewhere in between what you’ve written and what you can appreciate to be the true story from the post-draft outline you developed in Step 11. Bring the two in sync, bit by bit.

The art of doing this well is not something I can tell you how to do—the ability to do this is what makes you a writer and is very much a “gut” thing. However, having a method by which to anchor yourself as you do it is very much a calculated move that does not depend on gut and chance, and it can spare you the headache of listening to many “instincts” that take you in wild circles.

You’re going to apply this treatment again and again and again, very much like peeling back the layers of an onion, until you get it just right. For example, maybe the first pass over your manuscript you will try to determine each sub-frame’s inner and outer turning points, contrasting emotions, and contribution to the overall frame. Next time, you might pick out more specific senses, list characters and places involved, note things you need to research, write out background information, and realize a few more things about what function that sub-frame needs to serve for it to “belong” to the story. The time after that, you might layer in more alpha reader and cold-read notes, and tick off things from your to-do list. (Keep in mind, you can visit this sub-frame again any time. You don’t have to go from the beginning to the end before coming back to it, and you don’t have to visit every one the same amount of times – only the particularly troublesome ones.)

The important point here is don’t approach revision as a reader. Your goal with revision is not to read your manuscript and fix the words. You will get bogged down and lose sight of the larger implications of the changes you make. Instead, use your post-draft outline as a tree-hopper to keep you focused on higher levels of story—see your sub-frames as units and look at what the components are doing through the words. Zero in on larger goals, like trying to show various contrasting emotions and how a dialogue can be rehashed to meet this need, or revamp a “dead” scene so it actually has a function that fits with the thematic function of the other scenes it is part of. Layer in various senses so they suit the mood, modify one character’s behavior after you write out her background motives, or give someone boots when you realize the journey through the snowy forest would be quite tedious with shoes.

‘Til every inch glows

You are tempering steel. You swing your hammer in the middle and beat down the bumps you see between blows. You flatten one, then appreciate another better. Back, front, front, back. A little on the edge, several in the middle, one for the tiny bump that stands out against the ruddy light. Your arm is tired, but you can keep refreshed by the improvements you see with every swing. It keeps you going until the whole thing’s glowing and smooth and ready for another bath.

Expect revision to take you an average of 2-3 hours / sub-frame by the time it’s all said and done. That’s about 200-300 hours if you’re writing a 100,000k word manuscript (approximately a 400 page novel). Given the 200 or so hours it should have taken to write the draft (again, assume 100,000 words), this equates to half a year of Monday-Friday 9-5 work.

Does that sound like a lot? It should – after all, full-time writers are not full-time writers because they laze around in their slippers all day. More importantly, though, does this compel you and excite you as you think about the riches you can bring to the surface as you develop this unique story universe you set out to give birth to?

Persevere, and you won’t regret it. When this is all done, your story is ready for beta readers and another cold read of a special sort that involves taking time off work and assuring all your friends that your absence is not a reason for any concern.

But we’ll talk about that next week.

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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