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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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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2012 – Let the End begin!

We all know it’s not going to happen. We’ve lived through one Rapture, this next supposed Apocalypse might be worthy of opening a bottle of champagne, but not much else. But that doesn’t mean people don’t want to read about it! “End of The World” stories are making their mark as one of the most popular sub-genres of Science Fiction, Horror and even some other less obvious styles. That’s why Spectacle Publishing Media Group LLC is assembling top-notch fiction stories for our upcoming anthology Omega. You got it my friend; this is a flat-out call for submissions! You want to be published! You have a story to tell! We want to publish you! We want to tell your story! Here are the details on what we’re looking for: End of The World, Civilization or Species  stories 2,500 – 10,000 words Strong CHARACTERS Unique Plots (or common plots told in face-melting style) Error FREE, proof read and spell checked submissions For inclusion in this Anthology email submissions@spectaclepmg.com with the subject line “2012 anthology” Short story submissions DO NOT need queries. DO NOT put your story in the body of an email. Attach as a Word doc or RTF file. Deadline for submissions: December 31st, 2011 (however, this date may be changed at our discretion due to scheduling and content needs) By submitting your fiction to SPMG, you are agreeing to allow us to publish in print and eBook format. As always, if you have a longer piece that fits this genre, prepare a query and send it to queries@spectaclepmg.com. Got it? Let’s review: Short Story about the end of the world go to: submissions@spectaclepmg.com (subject line: 2012 Anthology) Do not put your story in the body of an email Longer stories (novels) need a query and they go to: queries@spectaclepmg.com Hurry up! 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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Scary S@*#

Halloween is just around the corner. Or maybe it’s hiding in the closet or under the bed. It might be sliding from shadow to shadow as you wander wearily to the bathroom in the middle of the night. My bet is that it was watching you from the window, probably ever since you got home this evening. Did you lock the doors up? Do you dare go check? Whatever your relationship with Halloween, no one dislikes a good horror story. Everyone likes to be scared. It’s fun when you’re a kid, it’s fun when you’re an adult. The question becomes “what is scary?” There’s no shortage of Stephen Kings and Dean R. Koontzs and Clive Barkers, but is this stuff scary anymore? How many times can King tell a story about a haunted car? Three to my best estimation (Maximum Overdrive, Christine and I’m sure there’s one more…) The trend in “scary” has changed from that tingling uneasiness you get when walking in the woods alone at sunset, to scenes of gruesome torture and mutilation. Mutilation is not horror. Mutilation is a car accident or an artillery shell. Torture is not horror; it is a debased form of intelligence gathering. So what is scary? Well, it’s not vampires anymore. They’re too clever and charming, their fashion sense is overwhelming and with such perfect smiles, how could they instill fear in anything? Werewolves too, have fallen to the wayside on the highway of terror. Ghosts, while unsettling for most are recycled and trite. Zombies and some of the more gruesome undead seem to be holding out cultural attention. I personally have read a dozen books that treat the topic with excellent insight as well as innovation. Ever since the 2003 release of 28 Days Later, we’ve seen the Zombie sub-genre blossom like a yellow-musk creeper in corpse pile (old school D&D reference anyone?). Now that zombies are fast, can run and chase you, and want nothing more than to devour you, to eat you alive while you struggle vainly to protect your exposed flesh from their rotting, chipped teeth, they are a bit more frightening. The denizens of the underworld, demons and devils, always occupy a special place, a shadowy corner in the recesses of the minds of the pious. But is it the threat of eternal damnation or the threat of a being whose very existence is anathema to your continued survival that is scary? I guess we should check in with William Peter Blatty for that one. When I talk with writers about horror, about mustering up strange fears that often the audience didn’t even know it had, I always start with a conversation about what the writer...

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The Broken Hearts Club?

The romance genre is only for those in the Broken Hearts Club…right? Wrong! Romance is one of the largest and best-selling genres in North America. The stereotype of the typical romance reader has been extremely distorted. You will not find us curled up on the couch, hair stuck in five different directions still in a week old gray sweatpants that used to be white, crying into a book because our own love life is in the pits. We are young adults still in high school trying to understand our own emotions. We are adults who are educated, sometimes with multiple post-educational degrees, just looking for a creative escape from our stressful daily lives. We are women and men (yes we know you are out there, your secret is safe with us). We are full-time workers, stay-at-home parents or just your everyday average Jane or Joe. So where does the stereotype come from? It comes from those who don’t understand the genre. The romance genre is not all about sex, sex and sex. It can be said that it just as hard to make someone fall in love as it is to scare or shock someone. Think about it. We all know what the average person is scared of, right? But what can make someone fall in love? That is a hard question. Writing a best-selling romance novel is more than just writing about: boy meets girl, boy loses girl then gets her back and they live happily ever after. If it were just that easy then every romance novel would be a best-seller. Those who criticize romance believe that every novel has two perfect people who fall in love—end of story. A good romance novel is more than that. A good romance has imperfect characters that are perfect for each other. A writer has to make their characters identifiable with the readers. Who can identify with someone who has everything going for them, never has any problems and has everything handed to them on a silver platter? Readers identify with the characters that have a struggle but work hard at whatever they do. The writer has to focus on who will be reading the novels and what is the perfect romance to them. It could be about two best friends, neighbors or just someone met at the rest stop on the Pennsylvania turnpike. The best thing about the romance genre is that there are numerous sub-genres. As a writer, you can hand pick which sub-genre you would like to write in. Do you like writing about drama—you have suspense romance. Do you like writing about fantasy—you have paranormal romance. The possibilities are endless. My challenge to you is this,...

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