Magic

No, not the magic of writing. Well, maybe a little of that. Mostly it’s the magic of your fantasy world. Come on – you know you’ve written that next Lord of the Rings fantasy epic. You’ve done away with Orcs (Orks) and Elves and come up with something completely new and fresh. You’ve got an epic hero, who while still being “the chosen one,” manages to break all the stereotypes of fantasy literature and maintain the mythic cycle. You’re sure that Joseph Campbell would be bouncing with delight at your clever five act novel. You know that Ed Greenwood has nothing on the intricate fantasy realm you’ve created.   But there’s a problem. Your magic isn’t internally consistent. You might not even know it’s a problem. You might think it’s just some awkward scenes. Maybe you let your D&D group read the piece and they’re scratching their heads about the difference between Sorcerers and Wizards. Or maybe it’s something deeper, more subtle yet intrinsic to the plot.   Magic is a very slippery slope for a writer. Once the die is cast (or spell, in this case) there is not going back. If you’ve introduced magic to your world, your novel cannot ignore it. No one would. A magic-rich setting changes all the dynamics as well. Suddenly there’s no need to plow the fields – magic can do it. Suddenly, everyone carries a magic sword; your flaming scimitar of ass-kicking isn’t so special anymore. In fact, if everyone is walking around with a magic sword, mighty swords like Excalibur and Stormbringer suddenly become less wondrous. Even the Sword of Omens (Thundercats ho!) becomes more of a trinket or gimmick if every character has a magic sword. By the way, who is making these magic swords? If every man in the Evil Count’s Army has one, there’s no time for the Wizards to be casting their magic spells to plow the fields. Which puts us right back to where we started from.   You begin to see the problems with magic as a storyteller.   Finally, there’s the worst mistake a writer can make with magic – the dreaded Deus Ex Machina! Yes, one must never rely on magic to wrap up your plot. We see it all too often. For example, when the Prophets from Star Trek Deep Space Nine intervene (for unknown, undisclosed and unrealistic reasons) by destroying a force of thousands of Jem Hadar starships – we can call this a writer’s cop out, or a Deus Ex Machina Moment. Don’t do that.   Be the master of the magic in your world, not vice versa. Here’s how:   Be internally consistent: establish and understand the limitations...

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The Zombie Thing

Since it’s the season for horror writing (though I think true Zombie aficionados are always alert and wary for the possibility of an undead uprising, regardless of the time of year) I thought it’d be a good time to talk about a tidal wave of a trend in fiction. I’m guessing if you’re any sort of Zombie fan, you’ve read The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z by Max Brooks. These two books, so well researched and cleverly assembled helped to make the concept of a species-ending epidemic or plague, very real, bringing them close to home at the same time, viewing such terrific events from a cool and clinical perspective. This perspective added a level of plausibility that the genre had lacked before. Max Brooks two books are clear, concise, informative and not the blood-spattered, hysterical screaming gore fests many of us have come to associate with the genre.   But if we jump back a little further, I want to say 2002, there’s a film written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle that I think not only revitalized the genre, but sent it spiraling off into new directions in both literature and cinema. 28 Days Later is the tale of a virus outbreak that spreads rapidly from person to person, causing not cannibalistic hunger as we’ve come to expect from zombies, but simple, unchecked rage. This infection forces a loss of reason and freewill upon its victims, essentially turning them into mindless killers (zombies.)So far, we’re not seeing major differences in the plot; same disease vector, same results, panicked civilization, trains are no longer on time, et cetera. Then it hits you right in the face: these zombies can run. Now only can they run, but they’re fast! This simple change in an otherwise clichéd monster’s behavior not only made them actually frightening again, but increased the plausibility of the whole event, not to mention revitalizing a dead (heh) sub-genre of horror. Zombies create the perfect union of post-apocalyptic settings.   Opportunities for characters are limitless. For example, how would survivors behave knowing there were no consequences for their actions? Without law and order, who decides right and wrong? Perhaps more to the point, who is stop those who choose to do wrong? This setting provides for limitless exploration of ethics and morality plays. As long as your internal cosmology is consistent, your plausibility remains high and the fictional elements are not even doubted.   AMC’s The Walking Dead is a good example of this. The situation is internally consistent – the laws of physics and the cause-effect pattern of the zombie infection is consistent. In situations where there is doubt, the writers take special care to place just enough exposition dialogue to allow the audience to...

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Online Resources

Litopia You all know about Litopia.com, right? The Writer’s Colony? If not, check it out. NanoWriMo Topping the charts of Awesome this week is the buzz and twitter about National Write A Novel Month. Every november, people from all over the world swear to write  complete novel in one month. Many do… many do not. Which one are you? Preditors & Editors Sort what it sounds like. We can’t decide if that’s good or bad, but fortunately, we don’t have to. Check it out, learn stuff.   101 Tweeps Robert Brewer posted 101 of the best people for writer’s to follow on Twitter. He hasn’t answered our calls about why we’re not listed… Anyway, get your tweet on.   Query Shark One of the biggest problems in our industry is writing a solid query letter. Honestly, most folks don’t know how. No shame, no worries! It’s hard! As well, each editor likes them a little different, so it pays to do some research before you submit your boilerplate query. Query Shark will shape up your queries, if in a rather bloody way. But what do you expect from sharks? Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Like this:Like...

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Terror Tips: Writing to frighten

It’s that time of year again… the leaves turn the color of blood and gold; they crisp on the branch, wither and fall to the ground. The nights get longer and the moon takes on a sinister aspect, partly mocking, almost sympathetic to the plight of those bathed in its pale light. It’s the time of year when you start writing horror stories! Spectacle Publishing has put together a short list of articles to get your (heh) blood pumping. The Horror of It All This is a great article by Tim Waggoner. He’s distilled his horror writing tips into three easily digestible chunks, supported by real-world examples you’re very likely to have read or watched. But, I guess, what you can expect from the Horror Writer’s Association. This is the link from which few return! Tips from [Stephen] King Deep in the musty bowels of the NPR archive, there rest the remnants of an interview with Stephen King himself. Included in these interview highlight from Fresh Air, are excerpt from King’s book, On Writing. This is a good stuff, pure distilled King, and straight from the dark place he calls a brain. If you’ve got the guts, click here! Horror: Fiction Factor This online community features weekly articles about writing horror. There’s a wealth of knowledge, experience and opinion here. Plus, the black and red design makes it super-scary! You know what to do! Need some inspiration? Writing Sense has compiled a list of the Top-Ten Horror stories of all time. It’s an impressive list with some heavy hitters listed. Interestingly enough, King, Barker and Koontz do not make the list. Don’t let that stop you. In fact it might be refreshing to skip back a few generations to find out where our current masters of horror fiction found their inspiration. Click here to check it out! Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Like this:Like...

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Inspiration

Inspiration comes in many forms to the Writer. The mind of a writer is a cramped place, a barely contained cacophony of images, sights and sounds, ideas and things. But, what happens when the whirlwind stops and the dreams fade to the background and the words… don’t… flow?   A professional writer doesn’t have the luxury of writer’s block. That’s something you throw up when you’re a student and would rather go have a beer or six with friends. If you want to be paid to write, you become an adept in self-entertainment and finding inspiration. Every hour you sit and stare at a screen waiting for inspiration to strike you like lightning is an hour you’re not being paid. You might have better luck waiting for the lightning strike. So go make your own inspiration.   Literary history is littered with a cast of nefarious writer-types of dubious moral standing, plagued by psychological trauma or just plain weird. Learn about them – that maybe inspiration enough right there. A writer like Hunter S. Thompson might wander off after munching some mescaline and try to find a fountain of whiskey, upon discovery declaring it a fountain of youth. That works for him. I don’t recommend it for everyone. In fact, I don’t recommend it at all. Charles Bukowski (a personal favorite) might suggest a trip to the racetrack and a six-pack of watery American beer. Though it’s somewhat safer than the mighty Hunter S. Thompson’s idea of a good time, it’s still probably not for everyone.   I personally like Toy Stores. They’re packed with colors and shapes and sounds, all of it vying for your attention. It’s stuff designed to grab the attention of children with short attention spans. The flood of imagery and marketing and icons and logos will make you wildly agitated and confused. It’s good for you. You can’t help but subconsciously internalize some of the concepts. If a toy store visit doesn’t get your creative juices flowing, you’re not paying attention.   There’s always the bookstore… well, one less bookstore option these days, but there are still some out there. The shelves are backed with words and colors, images – all designed to hook you. Wander through your favorite genre section. See what’s being displayed in the end caps.   Something I think most fiction/creative writing professors would balk at (or at least deny most vehemently) is that you can get a powerful education in writing by listening to music. Perhaps not Lady Gaga, but tick-tock back a few decades and we see some lyrical brilliance, stuff that’s still sloshing around in the cultural consciousness. Though not a huge fan myself, Bob Dylan can...

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