Blood, Sweat and Ink: The Pleasure and Pain of Writing a Novel

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This is why you need to be really specific. Push the boundaries. No, really, why DOES your character want to prove themselves? Being specific will also help make your character sympathetic, because readers will understand why they are going after this goal, instead of just going along for the ride to see what happens. Having a really strong motivation will deepen your character and make them real. The other thing having a strong GMC will do for your story is give it a razor sharp focus, so you as the writer will know exactly why everything is there, why everything is happening.

Because readers want more than just embellishment. They want to go on a real journey with your characters that matters. They want real stakes, they want real reasons they can relate to for going on this quest. They want to know WHY. Some will get a crappy first draft out and then try to identify what the point of it all is. Some will start doing this before they get a single word on the page.

It all depends on you and what works the best in your process so YOU can get your book written. Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Melanie R. Meadors writes about goblins, science, magic, superheroes, and other nerdy things in her short stories, novels, comics, and games. Please welcome guest author Lee Murray to the blog today! Lee writes fiction about monsters. Here she discusses how one might use facts from the real world in their monster-y tales!

When it comes to monsters in contemporary fiction, one of the biggest tasks of a writer is to achieve that magical nirvana we call suspending disbelief. We have to breathe life into our monsters and make the reader truly believe that such a being could exist. Happily, for me, I live down under in a country where monsters are part of our everyday dialogue. I can see you thinking how I must be really stretched for monstery inspiration down here in the land of the long white cloud.

We have an entire menu of wonderful monsters to choose from. Take the poua-kai, for instance. Swift and deadly, the man-eating poua-kai is said to have swooped from the air at speeds of eighty kilometres an hour 50mph , smacking into its prey with the force of a small truck, before plucking them up in their razor-like talons.

So, it was exciting when, in , Julius von Haast described an extinct species of eagle, the largest known to have existed, which had been previously been discovered in a South Island marsh. With a shortened wingspan adapted for its forest habitat, the Haast eagle also known as Te Hokioi was a raptor capable of taking down the mighty moa, a now-extinct flightless bird which stood over three metres 10ft and could weigh up to two hundred and fifty kilos pounds. In recent years, Japanese geneticists began extracting DNA from moa remains with a view to resurrecting the species, a notion that one of our local politicians suggests could be achievable within the next fifty years.

Then there are the magnificent taniwha, perhaps the most famous of our local monsters. Typically associated with bodies of water, these legendary creatures take various forms including dragons, whales and sharks. Often touted as guardians, they are also thought to have been fickle and proud creatures, sometimes luring people to their deaths and eating them whole.

Today, in their role as guardians, taniwha still impact on our local affairs and development. Hard scientific evidence that T-Rex-like monsters once roamed these lands. The results of the study are expected to be reported shortly. What if a larger Sphenodon existed in that same forest where other therapods are known to have roamed?

They are integral to our identity as a people, and as such any use of these accounts in story must be treated with sensitivity and tact. For a storyteller, the temptation was simply too great. But where do these stories come from in the first place?

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Is it that people have conjured up fictions that have later been found to be true, or are they empirical truths immortalised in fiction and mythology? Because, when it comes to monster fiction, the fact is, well, the facts help. Besides, there is something else lurking in the sounds, and it has its own agenda. When the waters clear, will anyone be allowed to leave? Lee Murray is a multi award-winning writer and editor of fantasy, science fiction, and horror Australian Shadows, Sir Julius Vogel.


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Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse , the first book in a series of speculative middle grade antics will be published in by IFWG Australia. An acquiring editor for US boutique press Omnium Gatherum, Lee is a regular speaker at workshops, conferences and schools. She lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories for readers of all ages from her office overlooking a cow paddock. I always have a great time seeing author Aaron Rosenberg at the Gen Con Writer's Symposium and other events, and I love seeing the progression of his career via his posts on social media.

He's always got a project going, and is one of the most perseverant and hardworking authors I know. His latest release is Digging Deep: An O. It's something that fans of Hellboy , Supernatural , and the Dresden Files can sink their teeth into! Aaron seems to be unstoppable read his bio at the end of this post , but does he have a personal kryptonite? And how does he conquer it? Read on to find out! I suck at those! The thing is, I can and do write all kinds of things. That may sound like a snarky answer. It feels too much like bragging to me.

Second, I find blogging to be too much like pantsing a story—unless I have a clear idea what I want to say beforehand, I just wind up rambling without ever really saying much at all. I wish I were better at blogging, sure. It took me a long time to come to that realization, though, and even longer to accept it. After all, you never know when the next project will come along, and every project is not just another credit and another paycheck but another connection and another way to prove your worth to editors and publishers and readers.

You learn over time, though, to start saying no. He has ranged from mystery to speculative fiction to drama to comedy, always with the same intent—to tell a good story. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose. If you've read one of Bradley P. Beaulieu 's books or stories, you know his works are full of tension and high stakes, even in scenes that seem to be between action.

How does he do it? I heard a wise writer once say that if nouns are the frame of a car, then verbs are the engine. They make the sentence go. In it, he brings up the notion not only that tension should be present in the story, such as in the high points of chapters and the turning points of the novel, it should be present on every page. At the time, this seemed counterintuitive. These are known as the sequel in scene structure parlance, and Maass contends that taking time to assess and making plans for the next line of attack is an outdated technique.

He uses the example of John Grisham and the thriller technique of moving breathlessly from scene to scene, hardly giving the reader a chance to breathe before moving on to the next high-tension situation. And there are plenty of other examples in fiction that use similar techniques. When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping. Collins opens her novel with Katniss waking, and in five short sentences introduces us to the primary driver of the entire novel: the reaping. First, it makes us wonder what the reaping is, a mini-mystery that makes us want to read on to discover its nature, and second, it creates a sense of foreboding over Prim.

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I prop myself up on one elbow. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. My mother was beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me. And the cocooning of Prim should not go unnoticed. In three short paragraphs, Collins has already laid down subtle clues that give hint to the danger this family is in. Note also that this is not a hectic, helter-skelter sort of scene. Years ago, while I was attending Clarion, this became clearly evident when I read a story that started powerfully and hardly took a breath until it was over, showing scene after jam-packed scene of action and hard dialogue and, yes, tension.

The trouble was not only that it never paused to take a breath, but that it also crammed the scenes with the same kind of tension. When the reader is exposed to the same sort of thing over and over, they become numb to it. The lesson learned was this: a successful novel needs not only to vary the tension level, but it needs to combine a variety , and the most successful novels will combine them in different ways to create a symphony of anxiety within the reader to keep them turning the pages.

Just take a look at mysteries like Sherlock Holmes. There are still action-packed sword fights and times of suspense and dread. Within a few pages we learn more about District Even the name—District 12—implies something deeper. Why not call it Madison or New Denver? Because Collins wants to paint her world in stark terms, and dividing this place into districts implies some form of governmental control. The fence is supposed to keep predators out of District 12, but it certainly implies that the inhabitants are meant to stay in.

In fact, that very fear is confirmed only a few pages later. Trespassing into the woods, we are told, is illegal. This is obviously something very personal to Katniss, but it also deepens our understanding of the conditions in which the coal miners work. But Collins is also creating a crucible of sorts.

In other words, it is through this intimate knowledge of District 12 that we understand the way in which Katniss was forged. Beyond this worthy goal—so much about writing is having the words perform double- or triple-duty—we also have a societal sort of tension. We see not only that Katniss and her family are downtrodden, but that the world in which she lives is every bit as downtrodden. This is another form of tension, because it implies that knowledge is suppressed, that people are not free to move around and exchange information. But this is a crucial skill to build, particularly for speculative fiction writers, who have different worlds to show the reader.

And what better way to get the reader interested in the world than if the world itself is filled with tension? When Katniss crosses the fence and enters the woods, she retrieves the bow her father made and we learn that possession of such weapons—even to hunt and gather food—is illegal. This information paints the world, true, but it also reveals that Katniss is taking a risk by picking up the bow and hunting.

She might not be executed for merely possessing one, but there would be harsh penalties were the wrong people to find out. She has to hunt for food and a bit of money for other necessities. She and her mother are barely scraping by. And then Collins does something very interesting. And then we stumble across Gale…. In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself.

I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods. We can feel the tension shedding from Katniss like rain.

The troubles of the world melt away. And Gale seems more than a little thick not to notice that the smiles are for him and not for the woods. This is the beginning of a romantic interest.

Blood, Sweat and Ink: The Pleasure and Pain of Writing a Novel

This is one of the many brilliant things about this opening chapter. Here Collins has been steadily building her world in a particularly dark way. In the hands of the inexpert writer, they might simply bull forth and continue to hammer the message home, but Collins instead sends us into the woods to meet Gale and have what I could only call an idyllic breakfast with a potential love interest. This focus on a friend and the picnic in the woods creates a variation of tension, a landscape of sorts. We know that the reaping is approaching—and by extension we know that something momentous is about to happen—but Collins delays the gratification of the reader by inserting a lovely scene filled with a different sort of tension.

And here is a very important lesson to learn. There are certain types of tension such as action—a fight or an argument—that create interest in the reader, but those are rather straightforward techniques. Not in-your-face tension, mind you. The point is that Collins has invested these opening pages with a ton of tension, and I would contend that it continues throughout the entire novel.

And please, rid yourself of the notion that your novel will become too tense. Back to long-term tension. Collins builds this concept of the reaping through the first half of chapter one, and then we get to the reaping itself. Katniss is considering the odds for her and Gale, praying that neither one is chosen, when something even more shocking happens. My point is that by the end of chapter one we learn much about what the games are, and we learn quickly thereafter that Katniss volunteers to be the girl tribute from District This is the point at which Katniss is raised up in the glass cylinder to the arena, the grounds where the games take place.

That , my friends, is some skilled manipulation. She knows we want to see the games, she teases us with it constantly, and she holds off on gratification as long as she possibly can. This is another key to using tension, delaying gratification. Let me say it another way, though. One only need look at sitcoms like Friends to see how dull a storyline can get once the sex is consummated. Rachel and Ross, anyone?

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Everything leading up to it left the viewer with an itch in the form of various implied questions: When will they actually do it? Will they stay together? Holding off on gratification is no easy thing to do, though. What does Collins do in the space between chapter one and the games? She fills it with the false grandeur of the Capitol. She prepares Katniss while exposing the pomp and circumstance around these horrific gladiatorial games.

She fills in the history behind it. First, we go to the Capitol, which is an interesting journey in and of itself; it is so different from District 12 as to practically be a different world. Another example of long-term tension? The slow-building relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Collins wisely introduces us to Gale early on. She makes it clear that, under different circumstances, he would have been a natural boyfriend and eventual mate for Katniss.

But then come the games, and Katniss is thrown in with Peeta. One of the first scenes with him post-lottery is Peeta crying because of his entry into the games. Add to the fact that Katniss may be forced to kill Peeta to keep herself alive, and it makes for a very inauspicious start to a budding romance. And yet these two children are thrown in together under very trying circumstances. Sure enough, as we enter the games themselves, we see Katniss and Peeta drifting closer to one another.

Katniss wonders whether she should be close to him at all given not just the games but her feelings for Gale. Peeta surely wonders similar things. Katniss begins to distrust him as the games approach, and only then is it revealed that she was fooling herself all along. We know there are hills and valleys in fiction. The danger that Donald Maass laid out in his book is well taken: in those valleys the times of low tension lies danger. We can slack off and write scenes that are, well, just plain boring. Something—dare we hope?

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There are all kinds of tension, and I would challenge you to pick up some of your favorite books and identify the ones in play. We even touched obliquely on the basic necessity of survival. There is tension found in our upbringing and in our relationships. Societal pressures, familial pressures, peer pressures. Religious and political pressures and pressure we put upon ourselves through our own expectations and moral codes.

All of these can be used to create dramatic tension. What it takes from the author is a deep understanding of those things as they relate to the world at large and the characters that inhabit the story. This is why worldbuilding is so important. Even in urban fantasy there will be a system of beliefs and a history underlying it that can be leveraged to create tension between the characters. Worldbuilding and character building set the stage for all that follows, including and especially plot. Just as the novel itself has hills and valleys, so does each subplot. This makes sense, as the novel itself is really just a collection of those individual parts.

Either of these outcomes will create tension. In one case, the plot will advance, and like the slow, clinking sounds and lurching motion of a roller coaster heading up toward that first, big drop, the reader will feel closer to the eventual resolution; their anticipation, in other words, will rise. And in the other, the setback will make the reader feel farther away.

They will feel more internal angst because the characters they care about now have a more difficult path before them. Each scene should do one of these two things: advance a plot or set it back. It seems like such a simple rule, yet so many writers avoid doing just that. Because writing tension-filled scenes is hard.

As authors, we live those scenes with our characters, and the emotionally convenient thing for us to do is to avoid the stuff that causes them pain. The book is pages long. I rolled three random numbers from random. Katniss had lost not just one parent to the explosion that had killed her father, but two. And now Katniss has to step up and provide for her family as best she can. On page , Claudius Templesmith the one who makes pronouncements to the contestants in the arena has just made an announcement that there will be special packages placed at the Cornucopia a golden horn where important things are placed to help some contestants while simultaneously putting others at a disadvantage.

These contain something each contestant desperately needs. Peeta knows this as well, and he implores Katniss not to go. On page , Katniss and Peeta are eating cold rice and stew that to them is like an absolute feast after living in the arena for days on end eating only what they could find and prepare themselves. They joke around, slopping food in their mouths to the imagined dismay of their hometown and Effie Trinket. They step outside, ready to head for the final confrontation with Cato, one of the strong favorites in the contest.

These are just three examples, but I would contend that any page I chose would have produced the same results. Tension on every page. The first key is to recognize this formula. Second, you have to craft a world in which tension can naturally spring. And finally, you have to construct characters with wants and needs that will naturally bring those tensions to a head, either within themselves, with others, or against opposing people or forces. This sort of culling is more properly done in subsequent drafts. Look for places where the story lags, and ask your readers to do the same.

And then either cut them or recast them in such a way that they do contain tension. You will eventually find, as with any skill, that it will come easier. You will start to intuitively weed out some scenes as unnecessary, and then you will start to formulate your world, characters, and plot to maximize these things. I rather suspect that Suzanne Collins spent a lot of time on how this world worked—the rules of the games and what they meant to the society, the background of the games and why they came into existence—before she seriously got into the writing of the tale.

It all starts with recognizing the problem, practicing until it becomes internalized, and then employing it with greater and greater skill. Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but in the way of these things, it was set aside as life intervened. The drive to write came back full force in the early s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing several novels and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, Michael Swanwick, and Kij Johnson.

Brad and his novels have garnered many accolades and most anticipated lists, including Twelve Kings in Sharakhai being named to over twenty Best of the Year lists in Brad continues to work on his next projects, including The Song of the Shattered Sands, an Arabian Nights epic fantasy, and The Days of Dust and Ash, a forthcoming science-fantasy trilogy.

He also helped to run the highly successful science fiction and fantasy podcast, Speculate. For more, please visit www. I could tell you that the reason is I love learning and will always be going to school in some capacity. I could tell you that the reason is I love discourse and rhetoric—and discussions with a new generation of bright minds is a thrilling experience. All of these things are true, to one extent or another—I do like speaking with bright young people, but I want them off my lawn, for example.

But the real reason I returned to a formal graduate program is to see if I could become part of the social, well-thought-out desperately needed in the world today. Sound strange? Hang in there. Two years ago, my life was upended by a series of catastrophic events inclusive of cancer. I had also suffered, during emergency surgery, a series of two dozen strokes that completely changed the functioning of my brain. Especially impacted were cognitive functions critical to do my IT job.

I tried things I never would have previously—cooking and painting are two examples. To continue my cognitive rehabilitation, I read and wrote. At first, I was only able to focus on a paragraph or two in simple texts while composing a sentence or two in a journal. I was comfortable with the media and mechanisms of learning. Until November of I wanted to return intelligence, compassion, and discourse into our daily conversations.

I spoke about my thoughts with Richard Thomas—a contemporary dark fiction writer and teacher, as well as a good friend and advisor. He suggested more education—an MFA perhaps that would hone my writing skills while teaching me how to be an educator. Once trained and formally certified, I could then go teach the next generation about Marx and Foucault, composition and critical thought. And now for something completely different—the corporate career and who I was is behind me—an MFA class of and an opportunity to make a difference is ahead of me. Wood is a technology consultant and a writer of Speculative and Dark Fiction.

Along with his writing passion, R. Wood page. Inspiration for stories comes from all over the place. But what happens when a story is commanded rather than inspired? How do writers find inspiration to do things on command or for a contracted story or a shared world, rather than something the muse just handed them? Here is a guest article from her talking about her experience writing a story for Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II , currently on Kickstarter! It always feels strange when someone asks me to write on command.

But I like writing things that challenge me, things that take me completely out of my comfort zone. You see, I write about people who wear chanclas and eat chicharrones. I write about the love of mothers, the bond of hermanitas, and our past struggles in this country. I write about familia, not giant monsters stomping on things.

I perused the stories in Kaiju Rising and watched Pacific Rim. After that adrenaline rush, I came up with something I could write about. I sat at the computer the first week of Christmas break and started outlining a story about a giant-prehistoric-looking-baby-creature that somehow ends up in the clutches of an evil man insert strange professor with an eye patch here. I was on a roll. Then because I still had another week to write, I went to see a movie with The Man. I just need to believe it could happen.

After the movie, I was standing in the hallway waiting for The Man to refill our drinks when the Anti-muse popped into my head and grinned at me. Are your characters solid? I mean, who wears an eye patch anymore? A one-eyed professor walking around with a deep dark secret? I was in the midst of complete and utter writerly despair when the doors of a nearby theater opened and a crowd of movie-goers walked out. And who should be leading the crowd but an older, professor-ish looking man with an eye patch.

In your face, Anti-muse! The universe said yes, and I went home to write my short story. Although I like it when the Anti-muse packs her bags and my zany, overzealous, dramatic, overachieving Real Muse shows up, the truth is my Real Muse is kind of a tyrant. Four days and forty-five pages into the project, I realized the Real Muse was out of control.

However, as shiny and bright as the whole thing was writing different points of view is new and thrilling for me , I was in deep trouble here. It was Friday of the second week of Christmas break and I only had two more days to write the Kaiju short story for Alana. I messaged my buddy, David Bowles the master of all things Sci-Fi and he gave me some good writerly advice.

That night, I went back to my laptop. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas the setting of both her novels and most of her poems. She is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio. If you love movies like Pacific Rim, Godzilla, and Kong, you won't want to miss it. When I was first learning to write--meaning, writing professionally, versus the hours I spent scribbling madly in one of the hardbound journals my mother got me every year for Christmas--one of the people I would turn to often was Jane Yolen.

Jane is the author of what must be about a million books and poems now. She has written books for every age group and audience. I read Jane's blog religiously because she always seemed to tell it how it was, but also because she seemed to be a real person, like I was, with a family, with other things in her life. At every convention I see her at, she always is honest and upfront with new writers: Writing is hard. Even the best of authors, the most prolific authors, the authors who have been published for sixty years, still get rejections all the time.

Just because something is hard, though, doesn't mean it has to be painful. The most important lesson I've ever learned from Jane Yolen has been to take joy. The past couple years have been extremely hard for me in many ways, professionally, personally, with family, politically, etc. It's been hard for many of us, if not most of us. My autistic son has become a teenager with a vengeance, my writing time vanished for large periods of time, projects I've been involved in have stalled for reasons beyond my control, businesses I've been a part of have died, my house is just permanently under construction, multiple pets have passed away And let's not even start on the state of the world.

I've found myself stuck in an awful feedback loop of wanting to get published so writing for the market even though I know I shouldn't, writing with desperation instead of joy. So, of course, THAT didn't work out well. And I refused to give myself a break. Something made me think of a book that I read over and over again when I was a newbie writer: Take Joy , by Jane Yolen.

The book is about how to find your happy place while you are writing, how to make writing enjoyable again. Jane doesn't believe in the philosophy that writing has to be painful. She advises writers to take joy in their craft, because who wants to spend their days doing something that causes them pain?


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  • For me, writing DID get to the point where it was painful. I felt ridden with guilt about not writing, and when I was writing, I was overly critical and pushed myself more and more, harder and harder to make up for lost time, to be better than I was, to win, to make it, to be successful. But what WAS success? I couldn't answer that. It certainly wasn't what I was doing. I didn't WANT to be miserable. If I needed money, I sure as hell wouldn't be creating art. There are much better and easier ways to make a buck. To get exposure? Why would I want to be known for things I didn't really believe in?

    And that's WHY I wasn't writing, really. I thought back to the days when I was writing a lot, all the time, really. I still had a special needs kid, I still homeschooled, I had all the same obligations. But I always had my traveler's notebook with me, jotting things down, taking notes, and I was always getting lost in my story worlds. Because they were where I wanted to be. The answer to why I wasn't writing as much is kind of obvious, once given some thought. I wasn't writing as much because I wasn't writing about a place or subject I wanted to disappear into. I wasn't writing about the people and places I cared about.

    And why was that? Well, it's multi-fold, but part of it was listening to people I shouldn't have, taking bad advice from people who cared about different things than I cared about, and worrying about goals that weren't really my goals. And comparing myself to others. That one gets me every time. So this year, I'm going to go back to the basics.

    What makes me happy? What makes ME happy, not what makes others happy? It's harder than it seems, especially because getting approval from others IS nice. But in the end, it isn't enough, and always seeking attention and approval from others isn't exactly healthy. And when you are happy with what you are doing, you usually do better work, you get more done, and you are in a healthier place to be able to do even more. A good place to start is to ask yourself why you started writing or doing anything else you enjoy in the first place?

    Hold on to that answer and try to get that feeling back again. You can find used copies on Amazon, though, and it's well worth it. One of my favorite chapters is chapter 6, where she gives some writing advice warning that they are not RULES--they work for her, but not necessarily for anyone else. I see myself referring to this book often in the next year as I try to focus on me and what makes me happy.

    Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She studied astronomy and physics at Northern Arizona University and has published some non-fiction in the field of astronomy and library sciences. Not to start out on a downer, but the act of writing is a lonely business. Much of the process is done in solitude, and slowly, over the course of writing a book, more and more people become involved in the process.

    By the time a reader gets to see the finished product, the author and they make a connection through time and space and there is finally a communion between us. It is in those moments that we learn the greatest lessons and find out just who we really are. Which, I really why I love writing urban fantasy.

    I do loves me some fishies out of water. With the Simon Canderous paranormal detective series, our hero had to come to terms with policing the paranormal world. These were not easy lessons for poor Simon, but I enjoyed the hell out of every twist, turn and lesson to be learned for him on his heroic journeys. With The Spellmason Chronicles, I decided to take that idea of a fish out of water, a student without a master world even further.

    And while it has run in her family, that magic is all but forgotten, which means the road to learning it is difficult at best. I love the beginnings of journeys. I also love cheesy 80s TV like The Greatest American Hero , where an average guy gets a superhero suit from an alien ship, but is left without the instructions on how to use it. Creating a modern world in my own work lets me mash up these kinds of tales, but by writing urban fantasy, I give you the reader modern touch points to further pull you into the tale.

    He continues his tales of mayhem in Manhattan with his second series, the Spellmason Chronicles, as he treats readers to the story of a girl and her gargoyle, and explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and love with his trademark snarky twist. In his scant spare time, his is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds. RT Book Reviews calls her latest, "A wonderful experience.

    Find out why her stories are compared to both Robert E. Howard's and Mercedes Lackey's, you won't regret it. Here, Beth tells us about getting stuck when writing, and more importantly, what to do about it! I live in the wonderful warm glow of being a writer. When I get stuck. Not stuck for a word or an idea. Stuck on a scene. Nothing flows. First trick: I walk away. Get up, walk away from the keyboard and go do something else. Clean litter boxes, try a new recipe, rake leaves, clean out a closet, anything physical that lets your mind wander.

    I take walks, do tai chi, and try not to think about the book. An example of this? Palace guards. The spear-carrier, standing guard in the hall as the prince strides down, boots thumping against the stone floor, his cape flaring dramatically. And then it occurs to me that the Prince should be worried about that, and not what I am trying to have him think about. That the plot requires one thing and I am trying to force another. Our stories tend to focus on the main and secondary characters. But those characters do not operate in a vacuum. They live in a world and the world interacts with them.

    By pulling back, seeing with a different set of eyes, considering other points of view, we make our writing stronger by making our characters stronger and richer in scope. She loves fantasy and romance novels, and has play Dungeons and Dragons since , both table-top and the online game. The Chronicles of the Warlands stretches over eight books, with more to come. The latest in the series was WarDance, Beth also has a number of short stories published in various anthologies.

    Beth is owned by incredibly spoiled cats, and lives in the Northwest Territory, on the outskirts of the Black Swamp, along Mad Anthony's Trail on the banks of the Maumee River. You can learn more about her and her books at her website, writeandrepeat. Django Wexler writes all manner of awesome things. Many of you might know him from his flintlock fantasy Shadow Campaigns series from Roc Books. Younger fans or fans with kids might be familiar with his Forbidden Library series for middle grade kids. Here, Django talks about tension in your novel and how killing off your main character might not be the solution to the problem of a story falling flat.

    A criticism you sometimes hear about a book is that it feels "safe" or characters have "plot armor" -- that is, the readers don't feel like they could be hurt or die. This, the critic alleges, saps the tension from the book, because we know our hero is going to be fine. The thing to do this hypothetical composite critic says is kill a few major characters unexpectedly, so the reader understands that "anyone can die" and thus will be appropriately tense for the rest of the story. This seems like a reasonable argument, but I feel like it's a misattribution of the cause of the problem.

    While it's definitely possible for a story to lack tension, the safety of the main character is generally not the reason. This kind of argument based on meta-story logic is usually an indicator of a weak story to begin with. First, it should be clear that it's possible for a story to have tension even when the readers know that our protagonists will succeed and be fine. Most obviously, you can reread a book, and still feel the tension, even if you know with a hundred percent certainty how it will come out. You can read a book in a continuing series -- James Bond, say -- and be reasonably certain that whatever happens, Bond is not going to die, since there are fifteen more books to come.

    You can read a book in a genre, like most children's fiction, where some kind of happy ending is pretty much guaranteed, but in a well-written work it doesn't remove the tension. That this is possible should be obvious by the fact that books and movies have been very successful in all those situations. I think of this as the "rollercoaster effect" -- like a rollercoaster, where there's no real danger but you get excited or scared anyway -- but it's really just a part of the suspension of disbelief.

    The reader suspends disbelief in the world of the narrative, buying into the premise and the characters, and at the same time at some level agrees to temporarily forget about the meta-story stuff, based on their knowledge of factors outside the story itself -- that this is book one of a trilogy, for example. When readers start giving the critiques I mentioned -- that characters feel like they have "plot armor" -- what has really happened is that suspension of disbelief has been lost. It's not the fact that meta-story logic leads gives information about the outcome that's the problem, but rather that people are thinking in meta-story terms at all.

    If the readers are analyzing your story in the context of its place in a multimedia franchise, you've already lost them; they should be caught up in it, willingly going along with your characters and world. This is why adding more death, essentially another meta-story option, doesn't really help -- you may be able to convince readers that anyone can die, but you haven't fixed the suspension of disbelief problem that got them there in the first place.

    So what causes suspension of disbelief to fail? Any number of things. Excessive coincidence is an obvious culprit -- almost all stories rely on random chance to some extent, but when a character pulls a lucky break too often readers may balk. Another common problem is characters losing track of their own motivations, and acting in ways that serve only to further the plot or make no sense given what's been established about them. Main characters who enjoy the obvious favoritism of the universe are disruptive, too -- protagonists should catch both good luck and bad luck and have to deal with both.

    In all cases, though, the result is that the "authorial hand" becomes too obvious, making it impossible for the reader to stay in the fictional world as presented and forcing them to think about the motivations of the author instead of the characters. But, we might ask, what about the times when an author does unexpectedly kill off a main character? Those moments are often famous, so doesn't that show this technique can contribute to the tension? I would say, examine those moments more closely.

    To take a well-known example, George R. But there is so much more going on here than Martin simply wanting to indicate to readers that anyone can die. Ned is the classic fantasy hero -- honorable, bold, kind-hearted. But in Martin's world, all those characteristics lead to his demise. He's not struck down by a bolt from the blue -- his death is a key part of the theme of the books, the subversion of the traditional mode of heroic fantasy. Thus, it's not that one should never kill off major characters. There are many good reasons to do so, when it fits the plot, theme, and tone of the story.

    But doing so just to establish "grit", the idea that "anyone can die" in order to get the readers nervous, is not a good enough reason. If you get critiques along these lines, rather than dealing out death, probe a little deeper and try to find out where the readers lost faith in your narrative.

    Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.

    Luckily for me, as a genre writer I get to torture people for a semi living. First it was with the four books that make up the Simon Canderous paranormal detective series and now with the alchemy and gargoyle filled Spellmason Chronicles. Conflict is the name of the game when it comes to all writing, but urban fantasy gets a special blend of it.

    But, as the saying goes, you always hurt the ones you love, and having written about, lived in or around New York City for over twenty years now, I do love it so. Naturally, I must destroy it, right? Any good conflict invests readers in the outcome of it. In order to care about the story, the reader has to be invested. That includes not just the characters, but the world around them.

    Manhattan is a character, and it needs to be tortured. When I write in either of my series, I need you to love New York City in the same way my protagonists do. Their losses need to be felt by the reader. They need to empathize with them. In the Spellmason Chronicles, Alexandra Belarus is an artist on top of being the only practicing Spellmason. When a museum gets trashed it cuts her to her core. And I have to be prepared for the fact that sometimes I have to go ahead and destroy those things. It makes my characters richer for it, showing their metal in a world where magic, alchemy and gargoyles are finally starting to reemerge in our modern times.

    So I stomp through Manhattan like Godzilla the good Japan kind, not the Matthew Brodericky kind , causing havoc, and making life interesting for my characters. I will, however, try to keep my mad cackling down. We at The Once and Future Podcast celebrate writing all year long--after all, we ARE authors--but we are spending October and November with a special focus on writing to show our support for those maybe trying their hand at it for the first time, or maybe those trying to get back into things after taking a break.

    Our guest author today, Alexandra Monir , has written young adult novels that have captured the imaginations of readers both teen and adult-aged. Her new upcoming book, The Final Six , marks the beginning of an epic new series set in deep space, and has already been optioned for a movie by Sony Pictures! Here, she talks about how the story ideas that intimidate us are often the best ideas yet! As writers, we all know the thrill of the lightbulb flickering on with a Shiny New Idea—just as we also know the gripping fear that follows when an idea seems too big, too outside our comfort zone, too something, to write.

    When I came up with the concept for my upcoming sci-fi novel, The Final Six, I was exhilarated—having an idea like that pop into my head was like being given the ultimate gift. The only way to find out was to throw off the shackles of self-doubt and give it my all. Along the way, I found a few tools especially helpful in transforming a dream into an actual, publishable book. When writing beyond your comfort zone, the best thing you can do is know your subject, genre, and setting inside out. For Final Six, I read and watched as many books and movies about space as I could get my hands on, I met with NASA scientists, and even attended a weekend of space camp.

    My producer on the movie adaptation, Josh Bratman, suggested that I sketch out every scene in the book before I start writing. It seemed daunting at first—normally I let inspiration and immersion in the story guide the directions the book takes, rather than planning upfront—but it ended up being a lifesaver. Fleshing out the plot ahead of time gave me the freedom to just write when it came time for drafting, instead of having those moments of freezing in front of my computer, wondering what should happen next. Especially when my deadline started looming closer, my outline became like a compass to guide me.

    In my case, I reached out to a NASA scientist and a climate scientist, both of who were kind enough to read the manuscript and let me know what I got right and which areas I could improve. You just might find yourself racing to the computer instead! Alexandra Monir is an Iranian-American young adult novelist and recording artist.

    She often integrates music into her work by writing and recording original songs that are released in tandem with her books. She lives in Los Angeles and frequently speaks at schools, book festivals and fan conventions across the country. Visit her website: www. An inevitable part of the writing life has become learning how to stay focused in a world of a million distractions.

    This goes for all writers, both established and new, and when you are setting off to do a really focused project like NaNoWriMo, keeping your eyes on the prize can be especially important. But how can an author focus on their work in the days of endless apps and social media notifications? Once upon a time, writing was a renowned solitary profession. If anything, the inherent loneliness of the endeavor was relentlessly romanticized. Well, look no further. A word nerd, she loves the technical elements of writing almost as much as the writing itself.

    TAGS: grammar. ProWritingAid reports. What are you waiting for? It's the best tool for making sure your copy is strong, clear, and error-free! Lisa Lepki. Your personal writing coach. Follow us. Popular Articles Grammar Rules. Amazing Alliteration in Tongue Twisters. What are Phonemes, Graphemes, and Digraphs?

    In Defense of Passive Voice. Commonly Misspelled Words. What Are the Different Types of Verbs? How to Write Dialogue in a Narrative Paragraph. Changing Passive Voice to Active Voice. Grammar Guide Learn everything you need to know about grammar. Improve your grammar. Thanks for writing this. I really hate YruwZB Very informative article. Thanks Again. Really thank you! This is a thorough list and I love it—but not for the reasons of others.


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