Saturday, April 30, 2011

Uncovering Larry Brooks

How many how-to writing books line your shelf? I’ll admit I have a few good ones, some that are so-so, and others a waste of good money. Recently I read one that is exceptional. Of course, until I read this last one I didn’t know the others were simply adequate, just that something was missing from them. The book I’m doing jumping jacks over is “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks.

I heard from some of my other writer friends who said the book was great, but there were a lot of sports analogies. Initially, I was put off by that. Then on a Savvy Authors Chat, I heard him talk about his ideas on writing and I was captivated. I ran out and bought the book the same day.

Let me tell you that my experience reading Brook’s book was a moment of illumination complete with sound effects. Something along the lines of firecrackers going off in my head. It was a big aha moment. Yes! Really! Perhaps it was his passion that kept me reading. Even in a non-fiction book, I look for a writer’s enthusiasm for his subject. If the writer isn’t off the wall with excitement about his work how can I be. Brooks has that covered. He also kept my interest by taking all the puzzling pieces of writing a great story and putting them together to fit in a cohesive frame. No more pieces that don’t fit. It’s a guide to help you out of the maze of story building.

His approach is combining what he calls the six core competencies: the four elemental competencies of concept, character, theme, and story structure (plot), and two executional competencies of scene construction and writing voice. These are the elements to build a great story. I know you’ve heard about these essentials before but I’m betting never as clear as in Brook’s book. He explains why these pieces are important to your story and where and when to place them for optimum effect. What that means is now we have a method, a GPS for our stories that pinpoints where and when something needs to take place in the story to make it sing. Am I excited? Oh, yes! Knowing this is much better than doing a zillion drafts of a story and not knowing why it’s not working.

Brooks uses a four-part structure for story building in his book. I was working in a three-act structure and was confused how to restructure the story I am presently working on. So, I asked him.

His response was, “The 2nd act is broken in two halves, which become Part 2 and Part 3. I’ve broken the “confrontation” (act 2) down into two separate parts, because they have different missions. Part 2 is the hero’s “response” to the game changing twist of Plot Point One… then comes a context-shifting mid-point (new information that parts the curtain of awareness for the hero, the reader, or both)… followed by Part 3, in which the hero shifts into attack (proactive) mode. Everything in story architecture is best served when viewed as “mission-driven”, which is the case for each of the four different sequential parts of a story.” Can you see the benefits of having two parts to Act two. I believe this will eliminate the problem of writers losing their way in the middle of the story resulting in the dreaded sagging middle.

This process is not a confining net that will hold you back or cramp your creativity; in fact, it will do just the opposite. It’s a means, I believe, that will release undiscovered potential in your story writing. I’m not saying, nor is Brooks for that matter, that this is a slam dunk, but knowing the six core competencies will make a difference between a great read or a humdrum read.

If your dream is to be the best storyteller you can be and to have your work published, which is mine, then this is the book to read, study and master.

Has some aspect of story building been eluding you? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Till next time,

Here is Larry Brook’s site to learn more:

Friday, April 29, 2011

When All Else Fails

Writer's block is hell. Every writer enters that hell at some point or another during their life. At times I come across a block in world building. Nothing I write down is a good idea. I always return back to the beginning and work my way down the options. Again, it isn't what I want so I research more. The cycle continues, I give up and work on a new idea. One time I decided to use the white board I wrote on during my early days as a writer and suddenly the block was no longer there.

The freedom of writing on the board helps to break through. The board is a bigger space for my ideas. In some ways, it expands my mind to fit the space available for me to write on. No matter how much I erase and start over again, the wall is broken down sooner rather than later. I draw out diagrams and when I'm satisfied I copy it down on paper. Creating names and places are easy on the board. I even brought easel pads to write on because they have lines to keep my notes neat.

I resist the urge to write on the walls in my room because getting rid of my rambling may not be so easy. Plus I may be kicked out of the house if I ever did that. My dream is to have my wall covered with a white board so I can write on it as I world build. It would be a beautiful sight, and I can leave information on the wall until I'm ready to write it down and erase it.

My question to you, is there a method you use to break through a block of any kind?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

World Building Questions

Steampunk Worldbuilding Questions
The steampunk book I'm writing is set in 1800’s America. I need to narrow down just how my version of this America is smooshed together to make it my own creation, but still believable. These are some of the questions I’m asking myself to really understand where this story is going and where it’s coming from:

1. What is the overall mood of the book: It is dystopian, utopian, politically charged or little pieces of each? We are at the tail end of a federal election right now in Canada, so I can’t help but think about politics no matter how hard I try not to. Do we, as a country, stick with the guy who is all about photo-ops, is a control freak and whose government was just found to be in contempt of Parliament; or do we switch to someone who is unknown but talks a good game? Do voters even make a difference? I would like to pursue a book in which the government is decided by one winning ticket in which the winner can decide who should be in charge of the country, sort of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his golden ticket. Hmm, that does sound like a good story.

2. The extent of alternate history. Is my world going to closely match the real world or will there be a lot of changes? Maybe there is only one change, but that change affected everything from then until now. The President of the day could have been assassinated and the vice had to take over, scrapping all the progress he made abolishing slavery. What would the United States be like if slavery still legally existed? Does the world even look the same? Maybe Canada overtook all of the Great Lakes in a war and the USA has poisoned most of their fresh water with industrialization. The USA is now dependant on their large, more dominant cousin to the North for fresh water. (Hey it could have happened)

3. What is the status of women and minorities? In a lot of historical books women are portrayed as the lesser sex, because at that time, women were not given the same liberties, they did not have the same opportunities in patriarchal societies. Minorities throughout history have had it bad. I am half Ojibway Indian so my ancestors were persecuted. In fiction, does this same oppression exist or is it more idealistic? In some ways I think making everything politically correct and ideal is an injustice to what minorities suffered. I am on the fence whether I want minorities to be in a position of equal status in my books or represent the injustices as they existed at that point in time so we don’t candy coat over what actually happened.

4. What are the social norms? I have found a fantastic book called Manners and morals of Victorian America. It’s fascinating! I love the social proprieties, not necessarily to follow them, but to be able to break those rules. If you are writing about Victorian America, the book is worth a look.

5. Technology. I every steampunk book, the extent of technology use must be determined. It might be magic, advanced technology for its time or some other unknown. Whatever the level of technology present in the book, the boundaries should be clearly defined. What is possible, what is impossible? I love the idea of strange inventions that actually work. The Victorians were famous for inventing crazy contraptions.

What questions do you ask yourself when world building?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where Am I?

One of the worlds I'm building is based on what I like, the culture and economy built around the fiber trade. Think Silk Road. Caravans, bolts and bolts of fabric, glass making into beads, wedding dress as dowry, the culture of dressing for funerals, courtship based on purses... I've got to stop!

I've just finished an exercise focusing on the emotional quality of place, and realized that the landscape of the world is based on places that I know and love, places that (I think) I'd love to live in.

It started with being fascinated by the ecology of the prairie and how it's getting chewed into farmland. Then I added the challenge of the desert wondering how people could make deserts the culture of abundance, marveling at the architecture and the ecology. Oh, and tents are fabric, too. Right? Mountains mean lakes and lodges and spas and valleys to find missing cultures in.

When I write characters into the landscape, I write myself into it also. Right now, I'm feeling the sun on a sea of grass, the smell of the grass in the heat, the buzzing of insects, the movement of the grass as the wind blows over it, the movement of clouds over the dome of sky. It's the equivalent of a mini vacation some days, or a deep meditation.

While I please my senses, my intellect gets a workout also. It goes on an adventure as exploring the ecology and making up new uses for it. There is the prairie of course, which in my world is respected, of course. I've got a Navy in charge of the aquifer, the underground water supply. They travel through the aquifer in small boats and manage the water supply. It's my world and I can do that if I want!

Fantasy worldbuilding can all about reality, about taking the familiar and using it to explore ideas, using it to be smarter, to be investigative. It can also be a way to give our hearts their say, a way of getting what we have always wanted in the way we have wanted it. So, does it matter if it gets torn down or burned up? Yes. And that's also part of deep feeling, being emotionally connected to the world. Writing about loss from a truthful place brings readers into the truth, also.

My world is torn apart by a massive earthquake and the destruction of major parts of the aquifer. Seven years have gone into building the world that I knew would fall apart in a few hours. After I write the final versions of all seven stories, I 'll be considering the state of my love affair, the kind of love my world will need in order to recover. I'm sure that the world rebuilt from the rubble will have places in it that open my heart even more.

What landscapes open your heart? Where would you love to live? What kind of environment? Architecture? Ecology? Castle or cottage? What is the worst thing that could happen to your world?


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Visual Aids, Steampunk Round-up, and Nerdscapes

I'm a visual kind of person. It's probably why I love comics and graphic novels so much. I've been known to doodle and collage as part of my story/worldbuilding process. The combination of storytelling and artwork is so appealing to people of all ages and it is unfortunately still one of the most under-rated forms of literary and artistic expression around. So it pleases me to no end when popular novels get the illustrated treatment and further blur the lines between words and images.

Laurell K. Hamilton, Diana Gabaldon, Stephen King and Richelle Mead among others have dipped into the comic medium. Kim Harrison's all new Hollows story Blood Work is scheduled to release in July. But I'm really excited about the manga adaptation of Gail Carriger's Alexia Tarabotti novels by Yen Press, and I keep thinking about how amazing it would be for any author to be able to actually see a visual representation of their fictional world. Not just a single image, as on a book cover, but an entire story with characters and locations and action. It would be brilliant. The insert is the Japanese cover of the first book in the series, Soulless, but a few sketches from the graphic novel have been revealed on Miss Carriger's blog.

Which brings me to my very first Steampunk Round-up, in which I talk about the things I'm swooning over in the tea room. Carriger announced the development of a new YA project called The Finishing School Series on her site about a month ago. The tentative title of the first installment is Etiquette & Espionage and it takes place in the same wonderfully fun world as the Parasol Protectorate books. With the forth Alexia novel releasing in July and the manga series coming out around the same time, Carriger is on a roll and I'm looking forward to a parasol-filled summer.

Other steampunk titles I'm all about that are new or releasing soon:

Phoenix Rising by Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris (who will be visiting the Salon next month)
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and S.J. Chambers
Corsets & Clockwork by Trisha Telep and Contributors - and the title does make me smile for all of you who remember the short-lived Clockwork Corsets (there's an ebook with practically the exact name as well)

And to leave the Round-up on a very happy note:

It's totally awesome and can be purchased here.

Finally, I'm sure you're all wondering what a nerdscape is and how you can make one yourself. Well, it's a new artform that incorporates toys, books, and snack food - three of my favorite things. I learned the secret art of creating nerdscapes from author Kevin Hearne whose spanking new UF book, Hounded, releases on May 3rd. Kevin is giving away copies of his book, the first in a series about a modern day super-druid, to a few lucky winners with the talent to pull off one of these masterpieces. Here's my entry: 

Go to Kevin's website to enter the contest. All who do and leave me a post here with the link will get a leg up in next month's Hounded giveaway (details will be revealed in next week's post).

I'm not an artist, I just play one online. I've come up with the short list for who I'd want to pencil the graphic novel of my story world and have narrowed it down to David Mack, Chynna Clugston, or Paul Pope - yes, they're all very different from each other, but I could make it work with any of them if my completely wishful fantasies ever came true.

Who would you choose to illustrate your world? Have any drawings you'd like to share of your characters or realms?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Keeping it Real

No matter how weird and wild paranormals get, it’s always important, but sometimes tricky to remember that you’re always writing about humans.  Even when writing about vampires, shape shifters, elves, witches or any creature, that you’re still writing about humans.  It is also especially important when writing a paranormal romance to remember that both characters must be at least partially human.  Can a human fall in love with something that isn’t even a little human?  Not likely.

Vampires originally started out as mean, nasty, ugly creatures with no shred of humanity.  These desires and needs of this old-fashioned brand of vamps aren’t something that can be understood or felt by readers, especially those paranormal romance readers that need to feel that internal struggle against ones nature for their own happily-ever-after.   

The vampires of the past were the scary one-dimensional monsters that distanced readers and played the stereotypical antagonist role without little to no conflict.  In the last decade, authors gifted vamps with their humanity.  These creatures began to feel attraction, fall in love, feel guilt for their sins, dwell on their past, fight with their internal beasts and so the love affair with the vampire started.  As vampires became more and more human they drifted away from the antagonistic role and now step forward to full-blown protagonists or heroes.  Nowadays its difficult to find a vampire book where the bloodsucker is completely evil.  They become likable once they show human qualities.  Once likable, the reader roots for them and worry if they will achieve their goal.

I read what I write so I am a paranormal romance novel junkie.  My office is filled with bookshelves of paranormal romance novels - mostly vampires.  What specifically attracts me to this genre to read and write is the struggle with the Inner Beast.  All humans fight the Inner Beast - including me.  It’s that voice inside of our heads that sometimes tells us to do bad things, such as cheat, steal, kill, eat that chocolate bar because it would be easier and more enjoyable.

Many supernatural creatures fight the Inner Beast too, but with a more amplified desire or need.  These creatures such as vampires continually deal with hunger that are far more powerful than the ones that humans live with.  I can sympathize with the vampire that craves blood because on a daily basis I struggle with not devouring a bag of Mini Eggs.  Not the same, but I can rationalize and feel the desire and the temptation to devour something that is forbidden.  

One of the strongest links between the reader and the character is the emotions felt.  Not even the darkest, deadliest creature lives without emotions and if they do, I personally wouldn’t want to read about it.  Even our new age villains have emotions, internal struggles and some piece of humanity.  Supernatural creatures need to emote because human readers do.  This forges a connection between your characters and your reader.  In the majority of the books that I read, I notice that at the beginning the hero is dark and distant with very subtle hints of humanity, some show no humanity at all, but as I turn the pages, you see the humanity and their internal struggles.  

My favorite character is J.R Ward’s vampire Zsadist in “Lover Awakened” as he is a true definition of a tortured protagonist that has his human side revealed layer by gut wrenching layer.  While at the beginning of Ward’s book Zsadist displays brutality and savageness, the reader can connect as he searches for Bella.  There is that shred of humanity that you can sense that draws you in to his internal torment.  Then throughout the book you are rooting for him to slay his demons because you feel his pain and by the end, well, I was a sobbing mess. 

Who’s your favourite character and what draws you to them?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Talking Hands In Worldbuilding

Can a gesture make or break my story? Hardly. In fact, it’s probably at the bottom of the list of things I need to think about to make my story a best seller. But, it is an out of the ordinary way of putting a face to my worldbuilding, especially the culture in the story. An image of Mr. Spock and his hand greeting pops into my head and standing right behind him is a whole culture of what it means to be Vulcan. “Live Long and Prosper.” A great gesture that lives on beyond the series.

In the mountains where I live, the old-timers will drive down the road in their old trucks and gesture to the oncoming cars or trucks checking out the reply. A greeting, yes. But it’s more of a non-verbal question and answer dialogue with fingers. As the oncoming vehicle approaches, the old-timer will lift one solitary finger of the left hand, the pointer. The gesture is saying, “Howdy. I’m from here. Who are you?” The response could be a “howdy back,” using again the one finger signal, indicating, “I am not a stranger.” As the vehicles pass, the drivers will eye each other and bob their heads. Confirmation made. Other responses could be lifting four fingers of the left hand with the thumb hugging the wheel, a two finger wave, or no reply at all. These responses say to the old-timer,“flatlanders, or downlanders, or folks from off the mountain.” These are only the surface meanings of the gestures. I would think that what's underneath is the only reasons for having a specific gesture that can give bulk to a character or a society.

Of course, any worldbuilding I can think up needs to be more than window dressing. Going back to my mountain gesture, what if in my story the main character is traveling through a secluded mountain region where there are two warring factions. What if not knowing the right greeting could get him killed.
I would love to know what gestures, if any, in books or movies have stood out in your mind. Do you think a gesture can help describe your character or the society in which you’re building?

If gestures interest you, here’s a site that describes a fistful. Chuckle.

Till Next time,

Friday, April 22, 2011

Levels of World Building

TLC’s Extreme Couponing is fascinating show to watch. To think it’s possible to spend next to nothing with coupons has converted me to start to shop with them. The show highlights the extreme end of couponing, but there are people who use coupons on lower scales. They create a plan based on their need and the money they can afford to spend. Then I thought about the amount of couponing and world building.

Writers are no different from couponers. We create a world based on our desire and the story we want to write. Just like couponing, there are three levels writers can be placed in. For example: J.R.R. Tolkien is an extreme world builder, J.K. Rowling ranged in the middle and Stephanie Meyer is a low level builder. The sub-genre we are writing plays a big part in how much we are creating. A high fantasy novel will have more world building than a paranormal novel set in our world.

Even our reactions are the same. We may questioned the sanity of some writers who pour their entire life into a creating a world. But praise another writer who finds the right balance. Look down on writers who barely work on creating a world. Personally, I cannot take anything from Tolkien. A part of him is in the world he created; just like Rowling and Meyer. It pains me to write about Meyer in this post as my strong dislike for her novel. Ok, it's more like borderline hatred but she did create an interesting world. Rowling created the right balance for a magical world and only shared what the readers needed to know.

I'm building a world from the ground up. The map outline for my world is done and I just need to fill in the details. I will be somewhere in the middle to extreme area of world building. My question to you is: what level of world building are you on?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Weekend Contest!

The long weekend has arrived! For me this means four days off from my day job. I will be able to get some work done around the house- spring cleaning. I also am itching to work on my writing workshop, which is actually just a big shed out behind the garage that has been under construction for about two years. My hubby has promised me this is the year it will be finished, so I’m going to hold him to it. But most of all, I will have some time to write.

I write everyday, even if just a little bit, but I have been seriously lacking the large blocks of time that I can dedicate to getting the words on the page. I have been exploring my steampunk novel and inventing some pretty cool contraptions along with so much research that I think if I was transported to 1875 Philadelphia, I wouldn’t bat an eye. I'm discovering such amazing things about speculative fiction from both my research and my co-bloggers. This is coming from someone who cut her teeth on contemporary romance. I still read contemporary for a bit of the familiar, but what if I want the extraordinary, the fantastic, flying contraptions, vamps, werewolves, space travel… ah, the possibilities.

What is it that you like about speculative fiction? It is the possibilities, the break from reality, or something more specific like vamps, cyborgs or something else strange and wonderful?

Contest Alert: As this is a holiday weekend, I feel like holding a contest. Sometime over the weekend (before Monday) post a comment on this (Thursday’s) blog post including a link to your blog, facebook or twitter account showing where you have linked to this blog post and I will enter you in the contest.

The prizes: I have a selection of new books that I am giving to 2 lucky winners. 1st prize will be 2 books of your choice and 2nd prize will be the other 2 books. The books are: Silent Night, Haunted Night by Terri Garey – Gabriel’s Ghost by Linnea Sinclair – Vampire Sunrise by Carole Nelson Douglas – Hope in Love by J. Hall Steele. (Heat levels are very steamy for some of these books so I am going to keep it to adults only) I will contact the winners on Monday. Good luck everyone, and Happy Easter!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Setting the Scenes

Since all writing is worldbuilding in one form or another, I thought I'd pull back and talk about ordinary worldbuilding. Ordinary people call worldbuilding "setting."

I'll be taking a workshop at Savvy Authors on setting as character later this month, so I've started to consider how I think about where my characters sit, sleep, walk and talk. I've also used setting as a way to plan my novel.

After I went through the early stages of getting an idea, finding some kind of structure for it, getting a feel for the characters and doing some research for the history and location, I started writing. And stopped. And wrote, and stopped. Then, in frustration or desperation, I started listing my story by scenes focusing on where each scene took place. I made a list of settings for my novel and with the setting made a note about what I wanted to happen there, what I could see so far. If you've written plays for stage or screen you know what I mean. Here's what my list kinda looks like.

  • Sacramento street, night--Coby finds Zulie
  • Queenie's doorstep, night--Coby drops Zulie off, gets dismissed
  • Ross alley, night--Tory lets Coby in the back door.

I've already planned the movement of the story, the three-act structure, the plot points. So what do I get out of planning by setting?

Sometimes the statement of what happens grows into a paragraph sketch of the scene, or if I'm on a roll, a whole scene. The benefit of this has been that once I have a list I also have a timeline, a series of scenes that, once they are written, I can manipulate to break up long passages. I've also been able to skip scenes and write ahead. I've done this when the intermediate scenes, the ones that don't seem quite as important, turn out not to be.

It's not that I don't know what comes next. Because I have the scene list, I do know. What's missing is that I need to thread something into the scene. This has been a tremendous breakthrough for me.

For example, I'm pretty clear about the general events of Zulie meeting the major for the first time. It's not a huge plot point, but it is something that has to happen for th story to move forward. I also know that Zulie runs and errand and meets someone that she relies on later, at the end of the next scene in fact. However, I needed to write the scene where she gets lost first. Then I wrote the scene where Coby sees her just before she gets lost. And the scene between the major and Pritchard. And the scene where she and Sascha meet for the first time.

I didn't write these because they made me happy, or because I was avoiding the other ones in their favor. All of these need to be threaded back into the unwritten ones. They need the unwritten scenes as set-ups. What in the scenes I've written is important enough to be hinted at? Have I begun an idea that I can develop, something that I hadn't thought of or noticed so far?

I also have a manageable writing plan. A couple of people have suggested a version of this, writing by scene, one scene every day. Let's see. Ninety thousand words. Thirty chapters. Three thousand words per chapter. If each scene was a thousand words that would be three months for a book, writing it scene by scene. At my slowest, that's about an hour's work. I've taken longer but I was multitasking, or half-asleep. The feeling of accomplishment is amazing. Freeing. I have time first thing in the morning, after my first work shift, to get it done. If I want to double up, I have time at work, and after work. In between, I have time to think, to let the scenes integrate, to feel into the characters in their new state.

Next month I'll be putting the pedal to the metal and getting the rest of the novel finished, testing the scene-setting model. I'll also be cleaning up earlier scenes for presentation. I'll be letting you know how it all works out as I go. Meanwhile, how do you work with scenes? Do you know where your characters are? Where they have been or where they are going? How is your timeline? How do you manage your day-to-day writing?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Devil Is In The Details, If You Like That Sort Of Thing

A funny thing happens when I sit down to write a blog post. One minute I'm in my study at home, then without even a nudge of conscious effort I'm transported into the hazy ambience of the Salon. In some ways it's not so different: I'm still surrounded by tall shelves packed with books and there's an old, beat-up wreck of a desk piled high with papers and writing tools. But the bright sunlight from my desk-side window turns to flickering candlelight, my laptop and speakers disappear, and the room expands in order to accommodate a plethora of comfy chairs and couches. I pretty much imagine a loose version of what our banner implies.

But if I look closer I start to see the smaller details. The sketches scattered over the tables and walls depicting hot-air balloons and aerostats in various stages of development. The scent of my favorite incense, Nag Champa, mingling with the aroma of strong, dark-roast coffee. My Salon has a slight breeze coming through the wide open windows which reveal a stunning panoramic cloud view from the lofty tower. I’m pretty sure my own balloon is tethered just outside, toys and games gather in every nook and corner, and there are two very familiar cats curled up on the cushions. I can’t help thinking how an invented place such as ours acquires a life of its own with a slew of unique personas.

Does Melanie's Salon buzz with the sound of shuffling automatons circling the room to refresh our drinks? Are there massive medieval tapestries falling from the vaulted ceiling in Elizabeth's? Would I hear the faint tinkling of a classical piano accompanied by chirping birds in colorful hanging cages within Stacie's? Is RJ's close enough to a rocky shoreline that I can smell the salt air? Can I visit Marilyn's Salon and use the fine china dishes while walking barefoot over oriental rugs? I’m probably way off on these (sorry ladies), but I think you get the idea.

Bottom line, specific details can be a wonderfully personal glimpse into a character’s world, but focusing too much on the minutia in every scene and location is unnecessary and sometimes a bit boring. What really matters is getting across the general vibe you want to portray and letting everyone else fill in the blanks to their liking. The important stuff will set the tone: it's cozy and congenial and serene in the Salon. I kick back with my friends, tell a story, crack a joke, have some tea and all is right in the world. Whichever one we happen to be in.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When I Was A Kid...

Have you ever wondered if you were an alien from another planet or an heir to a lost kingdom? Well, I didn’t think I was a princess, perhaps a ballerina, but certainly I thought I had lived in another time. Growing up, I imagined I lived on a distant planet and somehow was transported through space and time by a portal to earth. No doubt, the movies I watched as a child fueled my imagination and my thinking.

Recently, I’ve wondered which movies have influenced me as a writer. Rummaging through the cobwebs in my brain, I remembered how certain old films stirred up my emotions. Four wonderful films come to mind that still haunt me. Casablanca, The Red Shoes, Wuthering Heights and King Kong. They were stories filled with passionate characters that lived beyond the flat screen. I hear the music and I’m there. I can hear Rick from the film "Casablanca" saying "If you can play it for her, you can play it for me." That's what I want to achieve in my stories, the same kind of magic that will transport my readers off to another world and leave this one far behind.

Although different genres all of these films have a common theme of love with a twist. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are, love pushes and pulls you beyond your comfort zone.

As writers, I think the possiblities of what we can get from films are enormous, besides what a cool way to learn. What films stimulate your imagination and influence your world of writing?

Till next time,

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sticky Notes are My Friends

Most of my ideas happen when I’m working on something else. I may be reading sales ads and the light bulb turns on. Heck, I can be staring at the wall and an idea pops in my head. But sometimes I don’t have the time to write it all down and need to research before committing the idea to my file. If I write down key parts of my idea, I will remember it for later on. So I write my ideas down on sticky notes.

My monitor is my holding place for those beloved notes. There is a note to research a subject, information on my characters, dialogue I’m going to use, and much more. They are my mind on paper like Twitter is your thoughts online. I placed them in one location because sometimes those little notes fall off. (It has nothing to do with the fact I take them off, write more on them, and place them back on the monitor. *whistles*) They all gather at the bottom of my monitor, and I can pick them up to replace the sticky back or start a section in my file for it. Otherwise, an idea will be lost somewhere in the house and I’ll find them when I no longer need them.

The real beauty behind sticky notes is the different colors they are available in. Currently, I’m using three colors to decorate my monitor. Pink is for things I’m for sure going to include in my WIP. Blue is for information I need to research. Lime green is for anything related to characters, setting, scenes, and plot. I place the notes on the monitor based on type: on the top research items, on the bottom items you are going to include and either side for everything else.

When there is no more room on my monitor, then I’m behind on updating the file for my WIP. It is time to sit down and work my way through each sticky note. File the ones I just completed, or I put back any I still need to work on. All notes are taped onto paper once I finished with them. That way I can reread them at a later date.

My system may be a little off the wall but it works wonders for me. Do you use something similar or something else to write your ideas down?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I just got back from the Romantic Times Convention held this year in Los Angeles. My purpose was to meet some online friends, network and get a better understanding of where the publishing industry is going.

A huge component of this convention for me was steampunk. At the convention last year, I had barely heard of steampunk, just enough to be dangerous. This year there was a focussed effort by the convention organizers and publishers to develop an understanding and following for this genre. There were several steampunk workshops, a steampunk social and lots of costumes, including my own steampunk fairy outfit.

During a discussion with an editor, she indicated that readership for steampunk is still in the early stages. The genre is not yet well understood and even when people read the book and enjoy it, they are not necessarily aware that it’s part of a specific subgenre. Even though the readership may not be equivalent to paranormal or historical fiction, the potential is still huge. Every editor at the very well attended editor’s panel indicated that they were interested in steampunk, or at least it seemed that way. They know that it is on the brink of breaking through and we are seeing more and more fiction with steampunk undertones. It also doesn’t hurt that steampunk fashion is appearing around every corner.

So how does one even get started?

Steampunk for me is taking the ordinary and making alterations that are consistent to how we think objects would be used by the Victorians (or people in another point in time) if they had the right technology. “The path not taken” is an excellent phrase that is just one way to describe steampunk. What if?

The picture above is author Mary Wine at the RT convention. She is a first class costume maker, which is obvious from her gorgeous Victorian outfit, complete with a fabulous bustle, lace gloves, corset and mini top hat. Although this outfit isn’t steampunk, it’s a place to start. This might be a typical Victorian outfit, but how can we change it to make it steampunk?

It’s not just a matter of making the outfit edgy or adding goggles, but making changes that are relevant to your world. There is no point adding goggles unless there is a reason for them. Maybe the atmosphere is thick with pollution and the goggles help clear the air, or the goggles are used to detect demonic auras.

Perhaps the bustle is not just fashionable, but serves another purpose. Maybe that skirt just needs to be shorter, so she can ride her steam powered penny farthing bicycle and a long skirt would surely get in the way.

Starting with something familiar will help you get to where you are going. Based on this picture, what changes would you make and why?


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Your Character's World

I was originally going to put up a picture of a paper doll. You know the kind with the metal brads through the shoulders and hips. As I was gathering my ideas about building the character's world I realized that I was only thinking about humanoid characters, characters based on the physical world we as humans live in. I was seeing only superficial world building.

Superficial worldbuilding is not a bad thing. Here's my original idea for this post. Take that paper doll image and fill it in. What do its ears look like, its eyes? How many limbs? What kind of skin? Does it have any? As you can see, building a character like this is already interesting. Now, add things the character carries or wears. Where do they come from? How did the character come by them? See? We have another level of building a world from the character out, taking us to a different aspect of the world: its economy.

That's not my original idea, by the way. It came from a now-defunct podcast called "Shakespeare and Dragons" (you can still find the podcasts online here. Not all of the files work so if you can't download one version, try the next!). Focusing on the world this way is another means of managing the complexity of the worlds characters live in.

So, what is the idea I ended up with? It's this: What kind of world created your character? Take our friend Sarah. What kind of world created a woman who buys sex like coffee? We assumed it was a world a little like ours, similar cultural system (since there are places where sex is nearly as easily come by. Amsterdam, anyone?). However, this is SARAH, a female. How is her world different from ours? We assumed that her purchase was taller than she was, had a particular set of sexual organs that fit hers in a particular way. We also assumed that her purchase of sex was casual. What if she is making a necessary purchase, that the function of the process was reproduction and the use of non-bonded partners created a drone workforce? Oh, and she is not the womb! What kind of story will you write, now?

You got werewolves? What kind of world made them? Even if it is our more familiar world, what about it is so different that werewolves emerged? Or vampires? Think alternatives. We have alternative histories in Steampunk so, how about alternative evolution? Alternative cultural development?

After extending my image of Sarah, I started thinking of her society as being based on the life of bees or ants. It's not an original world, I'm sure, but it gives me another idea. What if instead of werewolves we were wolves? What would the world look like if it was based on wolf society? Wolf culture? What if Sarah's world were based on the wolf?

Just asking...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Go Eclectic or Go Home

RJ made a really good point yesterday when she said that it’s important to put a new spin on common trends in order to present something fresh to readers. It’s easy to say we should just avoid tropes that we’ve seen over and over again, but I prefer to keep an open mind and leave all options on the table. After all, every story has been done a million times anyway, so to discount any component solely because the market is crawling with similar ones is not exactly productive.

This is why I love all the genre merging going on right now. You can sit down with the spark of a new story and take it just about anywhere. Want to write a paranormal ghost story? Make it a fast-paced political thriller. Dying to take on a werewolf novel? Maybe it takes place in outer space. Like Dragons? Combine them into a weird west tale. Sure, some of these are a little off the wall and may never work as a novel, but a new twist is worth exploring.

And now I can't control it; my mind starts reeling with literary flights of fancy. A coming-of-age horror story. A dystopian romantic comedy. Time-traveling celebrity gossip reporters sucked into a historical murder-mystery. The possibilities are practically endless and the results are so much more fun than formulaic genre fiction. Some of these have been done before, but at least they don't feel clichéd or uninteresting. Combined with solid writing, even quirky ideas can appeal to a broad audience. How many people probably thought Brian Jacques was crazy when he said he was penning an epic fantasy about rodents?

Despite what the title of this post indicates, I don't necessarily believe every story has to be wildly innovative. All I'm saying is that we may not need to ignore the standards, but we should do what we can to improve on them. That's part of the fun of being a writer. When we build our worlds, we get to ask the big 'What if?' It can't hurt to follow that original notion with an enthusiastic 'Why not?'

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who still likes vampires?

Who still likes vampires?  Okay, I see a few people with their hands half raised; a few timid faces and dropped glances.  I know.  I’ve been there and yes, I’ve heard it all before, but I’m here to say, my name is R.J. Garside and yes, I still like vampires. 

I write paranormal romance, specifically I am currently writing a series on a clan of vampires, I feel and hear the pressures of an already saturated vampire market.  I frequently encounter the question: “what’s different about yours?”

Now the world of vampires differ from the world of any other paranormal creatures because they are considered the perennial favorite.  They have been done over and over again.  Readers that are still buying vampire books are in search of something new.  A world featuring vampires requires a twist, a quality or characteristic that sets your vamps apart from all the others on the market, something fresh and exciting.  Yet, if you stray too far from the original blueprint you run the risk of not being believable or the reader questioning every new characteristic that sets them apart.  

When I first started developing “Dark Healing”, I had no idea what type of knowledge I would need for my vampire world.  I had devoured dozens of vampire romance books and just assumed writing the traditional sexy bloodsucker.  Then came those questions... 

Frustrated and discouraged, I turned to the internet for research on something - anything that would make my vampires “mine”.  After countless hours I came up empty handed.  Everything had been done.  My husband (who has never read a vampire book in his life) incessantly projected the concept of a “toothless” vampire, but I couldn’t imagine my super sexy stud without fangs.

Just when I thought that I was one of those people sick of vampires, I met Quinn.  As I uncovered his characteristics and qualities, I learned all I needed to know about my vampire world.  He revealed his strengths and confessed his weaknesses.  Apparently all I had to do was ask.       

My vampires don’t sparkle, but hopefully one day they will shine.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Everybody's Got To Eat

What do you mean you haven't fed them? Beasties and story people need to eat. Beasties eat story people and they usually like them raw without any dressing. Story people on the other hand prefer their food, as a rule, cooked. It doesn't matter where home is to your characters. Whether it's on this planet, or two stars over, or in a completely different time-period they're going to get hungry. So, before those beasties munch away at your starving hero you need to feed him or her.

Where shall we start? Fast food? Why not? Fast food has been around long before the Golden Arches took over our eating habits. In the future, you can be sure after we have colonized other planets there will be little space ships pulling up to a fast food chain along the Milky Way.

For now, let me take you to London in 1890 where my work in progress, "The Doll Maker" takes place. In this cold, grey world fast food and street vendors were an essential part of the day-to-day living. One particular young character in my story has told me he thinks about food all the time. Don't you Sebastian?

Sebastian: Aye. Though, since I've been working at the theatre, not the Penny Gaffs mind you, I eat more regular. I work the ghost-making machine for the plays that needs'em. Ghosts. It's a good living, better than I had before.

EWG: What's your favorite food to eat?

Sebastian: Hard to say, Miss. When you haven't eaten in a day, what you like is different than when you've had a morsel a few hours before. Ain't it? When the gnawing in my stomach is so bad and that's all I notice. It's a cup of hot soup, I wants. I could see a piece of beef or mutton in the cook shop and it does nothing for me. For a penny, I can have two cups of pea soup. Soup makes me feel safe and toasty like a warm bed.

But, if I hear the Tatoes man calling, "Tatoes. Hot! Hot! Hot! my mouth waters something bad. As soon as I catch sight of the steam coming out the the guv'nor's red tin can, I've got to have one. Hot tatoe with butter and pepper. Makes you feel right good.

EWG: Potatoes with butter, yumm. What about something sweet?

Sebastian: Ah, sweets are for them that have had their stomach filled. Besides, it's gone before you've even had time to enjoy it. When you only have a penny to spend, a sweet dream is not going to fill your stomach. Listen Miss, I need to get back to me job. Best not to stand here too long, if you get my meaning. I can walk you to where you need to go.

EWG: Thank you. I'll be all right.

So, what do your characters want to eat? Yes, I know feeding your story people seems so small when you have a whole world to build. But remember, whether or not you choose to use the information gathered for your worldbuilding will depend on if it enhances or contributes something to move your story forward. Certainly if you don't use the research it will still enrich the image in your mind of the world and characters you are creating. Ultimately, it will be a world your readers will want to call home or at least stay for awhile. By the way, what's for dinner? I'm hungry.

PS: Here's a great site for Victorian England research:

Friday, April 8, 2011

A New World Awaits

Creating a new world for your high fantasy novel series is exciting and a major undertaking. To start, here are some questions you may have asked yourself and the answers to them.

Where do you begin?

The easiest way to answer this question is to start at the beginning of the storyline. What happens around your characters will give you a place to start building. Describe the place they live in, customs, and the relationship between everyone. You can fill the other parts of your world later on. First worry about the immediate surrounding and the rest will fall into place.

How much information should I write in?

There is no need to write down every detail you can think of during the first draft. You are leaving yourself the room to make changes later on in the draft. I avoided a major rewrite for my current WIP because of this. Make sure you note down the changes you need to make. When you make the changes, mark them off.

How am I going to remember all my ideas?

Write down any ideas either in a notebook or on the computer. Be sure you can find the information with ease at a later time. When you spread out the information, it becomes harder to find later on. Create a filing system to avoid the confusion and always keep it up to date.

Any pitfalls when it comes to world building?

World building will trap you. When it does happen, you will not focus on writing the novel. I trapped myself on many WIPs before I realize the key is to balance writing the first draft and creating the world. It may be hard at first especially when the inspiration to research your ideas takes over. Divide your time between the two equally. One hour of writing for every one hour you research.

Remember, your mind will change as you write the first book of your series. You'll learn what will or will not work for your new world by writing down the book. No matter how much world building is done, the novel must be written down for readers to live in the world you created.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Ordinary World

When we hear about the Hero's Journey or three act structure or the main character's back story, we sometimes hear the phrase, "ordinary world", or the state the character is in just before the story starts. Lately, I've been thinking about how we can use the character's ordinary world as a way to manage our world building.

Think of one thing you do in the course of a typical day.

I had coffee this morning and I don't know where it came from. I just went to the coffee shop and ordered it, expecting it to be there. I remember, a long time ago, that I decided that if I ever ended up in a strange world the first thing I would do is find coffee, get myself grounded over a cup of coffee. Then I wondered what would happen if I ended up in a world where ordering coffee was illegal (Kristine Kathryn Rusch does something similar in one of her Retrieval Artist novels). So, to continue the pursuit of coffee. I expected the coffee to be there. Why? Because that it my ordinary world. In my ordinary world I don't have to think too hard about getting a cup of coffee. Or a banana. Or a rare steak. Or sex. Okay, maybe I'd have to do a little work for that last bit, but that could be the beginning of a new world. What kind of world would it be where it is easier to get sex than it is coffee? Or as easy to get sex as it is to get coffee in my ordinary world?

One advantage of thinking of worldbuilding from the ordinary world of your characters? You get your reader oriented more easily to the novelties. You are starting in their ordinary world also.

Sarah stopped by the local discount market to pick up her two-buck chuck, deciding she wanted a skinny redhead this time. She was tired of the hunky blonds. They spent more time in front of the mirror than she did.

Running her thumb over her scanner she added the SKU to the barcode and headed for the transport tube. She didn't care that her more upscale neighbors saw her chuck half-naked. She knew for a fact that theirs were no better. Just dressed for the service. They all had the same equipment, did the same job. She could afford more but why waste the credits? It was a job. Kept people off the streets. Provided revenue for the state. Kept down violence and disease.

Sarah shrugged. Not bad for a couple of credits.

So, in less than 150 words we have met Sarah in her world. I have no idea what kind of world it is except for the details I've put here, but I'm now curious. Maybe not as a reader, but as a writer I am. It's an idea I didn't have half an hour ago.

So, here's a challenge. Think of something in your ordinary world, something that is so ordinary you don't have to think about it. Now, make it complex. This is the opposite of what I did. I took something that was for complex for me (getting sex) and made it as easy as buying a cup of coffee (easy peasy). How about getting out of bed? Or getting the mail? In what kind of world would those things be difficult? Can you, in a sentence or two, create an ordinary world that is far from ordinary?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Irresponsible Worldbuilding

I am incredibly excited to get the ball rolling here in the Salon. This is our first official month of blogging and I want to thank my fellow Scouts and all our friends on and off the web for being such wonderfully supportive people.

Jumping right in. I have a confession to make about this month's topic: I don't really do a lot of worldbuilding. You’re thinking: ‘How can that be? Steampunk is all about creating an alternative Earth, or even a whole new world altogether’. I’m not saying it doesn't get done. Sure, I make a few notes in the brainstorming phase (mostly back-story), but once the writing begins I do the only thing an effective captain can do to keep the ship running smoothly. I delegate.

I let my meeps (yes, I have a silly nickname for my characters) do the worldbuilding. It's not because I'm lazy, really. It's just that I think that the heart of worldbuilding is in the details; the little things that meeps know and observe on a daily basis; the stories and opinions that express their particular worldviews. I let them tell me those things as I go, and that's how I discover what's important to them and the story.

For example: I wrote a scene last week in which my headstrong biologist, Atalanta, is traveling on a steamboat operated by the Corps. They are a group of influential scientists that are basically like a Victorian-era Big Brother and a very important aspect of my alternate world. I could spend hours writing out the history of that organization and every move they've made leading up to the current state of affairs, but just the thought of doing that makes my head go all pear-shaped. Instead, I let Atalanta point out the good stuff.

She notices a large mural depicting an epic battle between a legendary airship and a drakon, an event that according to the plaque on the wall occurred decades ago. It turns out that Atalanta’s grandfather was on board that ship during the attack and she’s heard the story many times since childhood. In a fairly short part of this scene I learned a lot about her world, including tips about drakons, her family’s history, and Corps policies. It’s a lot of info that comes across in just a few paragraphs and I didn’t do any planning ahead of time.

Obviously, I’m simplifying things a little. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with deep worldbuilding. Some novels are the type that need detailed planning, lists, maps, etc.; it just doesn’t work for me. Doing it my way requires some note-taking while I’m writing the first draft, but it still seems easier to let the meeps do all the heavy lifting so I can focus on the story.

Cheers all!
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