Don’t Ignore The Small Things
Before I begin, I’d like to thank Marsha for inviting me to the Speculative Salon. Thank you, Marsha! It’s great to be here and to share some thoughts.
I chose ‘Don’t Ignore The Small Things’ as my topic today, aimed specifically at fantasy and speculative fiction writers. Here’s why.
As I make my slightly harassed round of the Internet each day, what catches my eye most often is the wealth of blogs, websites, FB posts and Tweets that offer advice to writers. I doubt it’s ever been easier to find the answer to any question you care to think of regarding the writing profession: from creative writing, to journalism, to essay writing, non-fiction, or how to find and submit to an agent or publisher. The ‘Net’ abounds with advice and information of all kinds and value. Anyone can offer their experiences, from lists of dos and don’ts, to ways of overcoming the dreaded ‘writers’ block’.
My own writing career began right at the start of public access to the Internet and at that time, I didn’t own a pc. I often wonder how different my path to publication might have been had I been able to use the Net as we do now. I certainly wouldn’t have been caught by the scam agent (damn her eyes!) who absconded with £300 of my – and others’ – hard-earned cash. (At least, I hope I wouldn’t!)
It’s also much simpler to find people willing to be alpha and beta readers – invaluable if you are a rookie writer seeking feedback from people other than your friends and family. And if you then decide you’d like to work with an editor or writing coach (such as myself, hint, hint), the instant communication of email makes the process more intimate and accessible.
Amongst this plethora of advice and information on how to create your fantasy world or write your fantasy novel, it’s easy to forget The Small Things.
The Small Things are humdrum, everyday things. Things we take so much for granted, we don’t even think about them. Things like your favourite beverage: coffee, cola, or tea. Credit cards. Light bulbs. Everyday clichés. Cussing. Stuff like that.
We all write in different ways. Some people plan their novel down to the smallest detail before they write a single word. Some make outlines, write chapter précis, or use the Snowflake method. Some, like me, just start writing and allow the Muse to have her way. Whichever method you use, you will eventually end up with a personal world in which your characters live out their lives. These worlds will, by necessity, contain The Small Things. But do you pay attention to them? Do you realise how fundamentally they can affect the credibility of your world, even down to helping your reader feel a part of it? Many times I’ve begun reading a novel, one which sounded good from the cover copy, only to find that the writer has glossed over some small but vital component of their world simply because (I imagine) they felt it was unimportant.
So, whether you have created a totally new and alien world, or have based your tale on our dear old Earth, it will still contain The Small Things. The beings that populate your novel need to take sustenance. They need to clean themselves, exchange goods or money for products, illuminate their dwellings (unless they are sightless, of course!), and cuss. I believe it enhances a novel immeasurably if the writer has used their creativity on The Small Things. For example, my own novels are set in a fictitious medieval world where coffee does not exist. I wanted my main female character, Sullyan, to be as mildly addicted to this stimulant as I am, so I had to invent a new beverage – fellan. I am not a huge fan of clichés in writing, but people use clichés, similes and adages all the time in everyday dialogue, so why not create some that pertain to your own world? In my Artesans series, where the only means of transport is the horse, instead of saying someone has ‘a chip on their shoulder’, I use ‘a burr under their saddle’. My characters use longbows and crossbows, so instead of someone ‘going off half-cocked’ (which is a vintage firearms reference), I have ‘going off like a broken bow’. And rather than ‘flogging a dead horse’ (which would be appropriate but is overused, as clichés are) I have used ‘pissing on a dead tree’. These inventions are, in themselves, small things, but I believe they give colour and flavour and, more importantly, a touch of humour, to a novel.
I could, of course, give many, many more examples along these lines, but I’m sure you get the idea. You don’t have to go overboard with creating new clichés, inventing new foods, modes of transport, etc. in your novels, just add one or two. It makes readers take notice, and it’s fun! My advice for writers, both new and experienced, is: Please don’t ignore The Small Things.
Book Publication and availability details:
Book One, King’s Envoy, was published by Rhemalda Publishing on 15 August 2011, and Book Two, King’s Champion, will be out on 15 August 2012. King’s Artesan will appear in August 2013. For those who are animal lovers, I had a non-fiction book published in 2008, about the life of my wonderful Dalmatian, Daisy. It’s available in print both from my website and on Amazon, and also as an e-book from Smashwords (although without the lovely colour photographs). Personally signed copies of my Artesan books are also available from my website.
King’s Envoy on Amazon.com
King’s Envoy on Barnes&Noble
‘I was riveted from start to finish by this excellent novel. Action, intrigue, dirty tricks and humor combine to make this a great addition to the world of fantasy.’
Barry Tighe, The Spawater Chronicles, Gieves to the Fore, and Flashman and the War between the States.
‘The characters are convincing, the settings realistic and the action scenes gripping. Cas Peace's competent prose makes the reading effortless. This series will be a great hit with lovers of fantasy and adventure.’
Judith Arnopp, Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd.
“Cas Peace weaves her story with the skill of the most accomplished Artesan. If imagination was an element, she’d be a Master-elite.”
Steven D Jackson, Shifter.
Cover copy for King’s Champion:
After surviving brutal torture and escaping from Lord Rykan’s dungeons, Major Sullyan is trapped in Andaryon, too injured to cross the Veils. Slowly dying and determined to find some purpose in the shattered remains of her life, she travels to the Andaryan capitol to offer the Hierarch her sword and Artesan gifts in the fight against Rykan and his vast army. Because women hold no power in Andaryon, Sullyan is met with prejudice, hostility, and suspicion.
Before she can seek vengeance on the field of battle, she must prove herself to the Hierarch’s generals. Finding support from the unlikeliest sources, Sullyan sets a plan into motion to defeat Lord Rykan and end his bid for the throne. The fate of two realms depends on her success, but her strength is fading fast and time is running out.
Excerpt from King’s Champion:
Branches whipped past Rienne’s face as she clung to the horse’s neck. The darkness and the wind of their speed were unremitting. Horse sweat slicked her fingers. Her arms and legs ached fiercely with the effort of staying on the galloping beast, and neither the wiry arms circling her waist nor the unfamiliar chest pressed into her back were helping. She wasn’t used to riding this fast and certainly not riding double.
A quick glance to her left showed Cal, his horse weaving its own hectic path through the trees. Taran should be just behind him, Robin and Bull even further back. At least she hoped they were there. She couldn’t hear them, couldn’t hear anything above the rasping breath of her horse and the rough slap of branches. She felt rather than heard the pounding hoof beats as they jarred up through her thighs and into her protesting back.
Would this ride never end?
Her laboring horse kept trying to slow, but the thin man seated behind her repeatedly dug his heels into its lathered flanks. Rienne heard the poor beast grunt as it plunged on through the trees. She grimaced in sympathy. How much more could it take? Neither she nor the Count were heavy, but even the stoutest horse would struggle to maintain this pace while carrying two riders. Rienne didn’t like to think what might happen if it foundered.
How long had it been since she, Count Marik, and Robin had brought the gravely injured and unconscious Major Sullyan out of those dreadful dungeons? How long since they had fled Rykan’s palace and the patrols sent to hunt them? Rienne shuddered, trying not to think of Sullyan’s unresponsive face as Robin took her onto his horse. Marik had kicked their shared mount ahead of Robin, desperate to lead them far away from Rykan’s palace. As she passed him, Rienne saw tears glistening in Robin’s indigo eyes. Since then, she hadn’t had an opportunity to gauge the Major’s condition. Was she still alive or had she, as Rienne privately feared, already died? Her injuries were severe; this wild, panic-stricken flight through an unfamiliar forest might be one ordeal too many.
The lack of light forced them to use the main forest trails, but Rykan’s patrols had been coming and going over the previous weeks, as had Marik’s men, obeying the Duke’s call to arms. Rienne prayed that the tracks they were making would be lost among all the others. If they could get far enough away by dawn, surely they would be safe?
She shied at shadows, her heart lurching at each unusual shape that loomed through the trees. Marik seemed in mortal fear of his life and rode hunched behind her in silence. She could almost feel him listening for the sound of pursuit and guessed he was thinking about his fate should Rykan’s men catch them. Only once so far had Bull sensed someone close on their tail. He had urged them on to greater speed, and Rienne prayed hard that her horse would find the strength to endure.
Abruptly, she felt Marik’s body tense. She gasped as a dark shape arrowed toward her. She grabbed for the reins, trying to turn the horse’s head, but unaccountably, Marik fought her.
“Let go!” she yelled, driving an elbow into his ribs. He whooshed out a breath and let go the rein, but it was too late. A large hand had already clamped onto her horse’s cheek strap and was hauling on it, slowing the frightened beast.
“It’s me, Rienne! It’s alright, we can stop now.”
Bull’s deep bass voice, harsh with strain, calmed Rienne’s shuddering heart. She managed to turn her head and smile as he brought her lathered horse to a walk.
“Are we safe? Have we lost them?” She cursed the tremor in her voice.
Bull frowned. “For the moment. I haven’t sensed anyone behind us for a while. Taran and I have dropped the shield. We’re too tired to maintain it right now. We still need to be cautious, but I think we can give the horses a rest. Killing them won’t help us.”
He left her and dropped back, presumably to continue scanning the woods. Cal took his place, nudging his horse alongside hers. “Share with me for a bit?”
Rienne nodded and awkwardly made the transition from her own mount to Cal’s. She ached in every bone and moving was both difficult and painful. Once she was sitting behind her lover, however, with her arms wrapped about his waist and her face buried in the back of his neck, she felt much better.
After a few minutes she recovered enough to look behind her. “Cal, slow up a bit more, please.”
Cal complied and they drew level with Robin’s plodding horse. Rienne glanced at the Captain, then at the limp form cradled in his arms. Sullyan lay unmoving, her head bowed against his chest.
Robin raised red-rimmed eyes and she realized he had been weeping.
She nudged Cal’s horse with her foot, edging it closer. “Let me see.” Reaching across, she drew down a corner of the velvet cloak the Major was wrapped in and put her hand to Sullyan’s neck above the silver collar, feeling for a pulse. Her fingers came away bloody. Robin’s eyes never left hers.
“It’s difficult to tell,” she murmured. “The movement of the horse interferes. But I think she’s still with us. She’s terribly cold.”
“I’m doing my best.”
Robin’s voice choked. Rienne was shocked by his anguish. “Oh, Robin, I know you are. If not for you, she’d still be in that cell and almost certainly dead by now. At least she’s among friends, even if ….” She couldn’t continue.
Robin closed his eyes. “That’s no comfort, Rienne.”
For those who don’t know me, I’m Cas Peace, British author of the triple-trilogy fantasy series Artesans of Albia. I was born in the lovely county of Hampshire, in the UK, where I still live with my husband and two rescue dogs, Milly and Milo. Dogs and horses are two passions of mine and when I left school I trained as a horse-riding instructor. I went on to own my own horse and to develop an interest in carriage-driving. I then trained my Welsh Cob, Lively, to pull a carriage, and together we competed in cross-country driving trials and driving-dressage. That was a few years ago and now, I concentrate on my dogs. We attend dog-agility training sessions and sometimes even compete.
In addition to my writing, I work as a writing coach and freelance editor/proof reader. Please see my website for details.
This June, I am attending the Rhemalda Publishing reading and writing conference ‘Got Stories?’, being held in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 16th 2012. See link for more details. Along with my fellow Rhemalda authors, I will be giving a talk, on Epic World Building. The second book in my Artesans trilogy, King’s Champion, will be available for purchase at the conference, although its official release date isn’t until 15th August 2012. Come along and be one of the first to own a copy – I’d love to see you there!