Posts Tagged ‘writing’

First off, I’m so excited that io9 has posted the first glimpse of Rachel Caine’s wonderful trailer for her even more amazing book PRINCE OF SHADOWS, coming in February 2014, but available now for preorder.

princeofshadows_lores

A thrilling retelling of the star-crossed tale of Romeo and Juliet, from the New York Times bestselling author of the Morganville Vampires series.

In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and—if they survive—marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.

Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona—and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona…

…And will rewrite all their fates, forever.

 

In other news, as kind of a part II to our NaNoWriMo tips of last week, Amy Christine Parker and I did our video for YA Rebels this week on the revision process.  I might brandish a sword.  (Not well, mind you, but still.)

goldencity_100dpi J. Kathleen Cheney’s debut fantasy novel THE GOLDEN CITY debuted yesterday to wonderful reviews (see below) and much fanfare.  She’s here today with a little insight into what it took to get there!

Quotes:

“Cheney’s The Golden City pulls readers in right off the bat, as the story kicks off with our heroine in a desperate situation that will leave you rooting for her almost instantly. Oriana’s “extra” abilities are thoroughly intriguing and readers will love the crackling banter and working relationship between Oriana and Duilio.” —Romantic Times

“An ambitious debut from Cheney: part fantasy, part romance, part police procedural and part love letter to Lisbon in the early 1900s.” —Kirkus Reviews

“I honestly cannot wait to read what Cheney writes next.” —Bookworm Blues

 

Kill Your Darlings (Not Starring Daniel Radcliffe) by J. Kathleen Cheney

Yes, we’ve all heard that saying–that a writer must be willing to give up that one sentence, idea, or plot point that they loved…for the greater good of their work.

When I was in second grade, my teacher, Miss Baeza, wanted to send one of my stories to Highlights to see if they would publish it.  Even then, I knew this was a Big Deal.  But there was a catch; she wanted me to change the ending.

In my story, a group of animals escape the zoo, only to end up being magically trapped as the animals in a carousel.  My teacher wanted a happy ending.  But in my second-grade wisdom, I felt that mine was the correct ending.  I hid the story in my father’s file cabinet and told her I couldn’t find it.  This, by the way, became the truth because I never did see that story again.

Now fast forward lots of years and I’m a professional writer.  (I have paperwork from both RWA and SFWA that say I am, so I know it’s true.)  At a workshop a few years ago, I learned a very important phrase from author Steven Savile: I can do that.

If you’re seeking traditional publication, that’s a useful sentence.  If your agent makes a suggestion, if your editor makes a suggestion, if your publisher makes a suggestion, they have a reason for doing so.  So when my agent or editor suggests I change something, I listen.  Then I usually say: I can do that.

Admittedly, I still go and hide my manuscript in the metaphorical file cabinet and sulk for a few hours.  How could they not appreciate my untrammeled genius???

But because I’m not in second grade any longer, the next morning I get that manuscript back out and start analyzing their suggestions.  No, I don’t slavishly obey those suggestions. The book I just turned back in to my editor?  I had some changes I considered but, for one reason or another, they didn’t work for me.  My editor will look at my edits and decide whether to press me on those things again or let it drop.  It is a give and take relationship.

Editors have given me some pretty awesome ideas.  My editor for “Iron Shoes” asked for me to add another scene with interaction between my heroine and the villain.  Once I’d wrapped my mind around it, not only did I get to add another historical character, I also found a chance to slip in some very pertinent plot information.  My editor for “The Golden City” suggested a huge change at one point, making one character not as villainous as I’d previously thought him.  Figuring out the logic behind that alteration opened up new avenues for me to explore in this setting, and it made that world more realistic.

So I’ve learned to be open to changes.  The truth is that a traditionally published book isn’t just mine.  There’s a team involved in producing the book.  There’s an agent who sold it, editors who’ve picked over every word, an art department that has produced a beautiful cover, a sales department, a publicity department…well, I could probably list more.

But if you’re hunting traditional publication, cooperation is a good thing.  If I’d known that in second grade, I might have been published decades ago!

First, three crazy-exciting new releases today: DAYLIGHTERS by Rachel Caine, the culmination of her Morganville Vampires series (15 books and all awesome – how does she do it?), a fabulous fantasy debut, THE GOLDEN CITY by J. Kathleen Cheney and TO DANCE WITH THE DEVIL, the latest Blood Singer novel from Cat Adams Here’s a little bit about each:

daylighters DAYLIGHTERS by Rachel Caine (hardcover and digital from Penguin)

(Amazon, B&N, Books-a-Million, Indiebound)

While Morganville, Texas, is often a troubled town, Claire Danvers and her friends are looking forward to coming home. But the Morganville they return to isn’t the one they know; it’s become a different place—a deadly one…

Something drastic has happened in Morganville while Claire and her friends were away. The town looks cleaner and happier than they’ve ever seen it before, but when their incoming group is arrested and separated—vampires from humans—they realize that the changes definitely aren’t for the better.

It seems that an organization called the Daylight Foundation has offered the population of Morganville something they’ve never had: hope of a vampire-free future. And while it sounds like salvation—even for the vampires themselves—the truth is far more sinister and deadly.

Now, Claire, Shane and Eve need to find a way to break their friends out of Daylighter custody, before the vampires of Morganville meet their untimely end…

goldencity_100dpi THE GOLDEN CITY by J. Kathleen Cheney (trade paperback and digital from Roc Books)

(Amazon, B&N, Books-a-Million, Indiebound)

For two years, Oriana Paredes has been a spy among the social elite of the Golden City, reporting back to her people, the sereia, sea folk banned from the city’s shores….

When her employer and only confidante decides to elope, Oriana agrees to accompany her to Paris. But before they can depart, the two women are abducted and left to drown. Trapped beneath the waves, Oriana’s heritage allows her to survive while she is forced to watch her only friend die.

Vowing vengeance, Oriana crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira—a police consultant who has been investigating the disappearance of a string of servants from the city’s wealthiest homes. Duilio also has a secret: He is a seer and his gifts have led him to Oriana.

Bound by their secrets, not trusting each other completely yet having no choice but to work together, Oriana and Duilio must expose a twisted plot of magic so dark that it could cause the very fabric of history to come undone….

to dance with the devil TO DANCE WITH THE DEVIL by Cat Adams (Tor Books)

(Amazon, B&N, Books-a-Million, Indiebound)

In To Dance with the Devil, the latest entry in Cat Adams’s Blood Singer series, Celia Graves’s newest client is one of the last surviving members of a magical family that is trapped in a generations-old feud with other magic-workers. She’s supposed to die at the next full moon unless Celia can broker peace between the clans or break the curse before it can take effect.

For the first time in a long while, Celia’s personal life is looking up. Her vampire abilities seem to be under control, her Siren abilities have gotten more reliable, and even though her office was blown up, her services are more in demand than ever now that she’s fought off terrorists and been part of the royal wedding of the year. Her friends all seem to be finding love and her grandmother has—finally—agreed to go to family therapy.

The only trouble spot is Celia’s love life. Not long ago, she had two boyfriends. Now she barely has one and she isn’t sure she wants him. But Bruno DeLuca is a powerful mage and Celia needs his help…especially after she’s attacked and her client is kidnapped.

In other news, Amy Christine Parker and I have our latest YA Rebels video up today with NaNoWriMo Tips.  Check it out!

In case anyone’s wondering – yes, the disembodied voice on tip #10 is that of my husband!

Just back from rounds of meetings in New York and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s annual reception (which was amazing) and so late posting up my new links.  This week I can be found at Magical Words talking about the Role of Agents in the Modern Publishing Landscape and over on the YA Rebels vlog talking about my writing process. Wait, I can embed the vlog right here (she says, fearfully, knowing that the world may not actually be ready for her morning face).  Anyway, if you’d like an overly honest look into my writing process, you can find it right here.

 

I seriously need Joan Jetson’s stylist for just such occasions.

Finally, since this is my blog and I’ll party if I want to, I want to celebrate this fantastic new review of BAD BLOOD from A Simple Love of Reading.  How can you not adore a review that starts out with, “I loved this book”?  So thrilled!

Open mic cover I’m pleased to have Girlfriends’ Cyber Sister Debbie Rigaud here today with a quick interview to promote a book that sounds wonderful: OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES.  I think we can all use a bit more understanding and inclusion, don’t you?

OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick Press)  edited by Mitali Perkins.

  • Featuring the short story “Voila” by Debbie Rigaud

About OPEN MIC
Listen in as ten YA authors use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction embraces a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poignant, in prose, poetry and comic form.

Rave Reviews for OPEN MIC:
“[Open Mic] will leave readers thinking about the ways that humor can be a survival tool in a world that tends to put people in boxes.” –Publishers Weekly

“Naomi Shihab Nye offers an eloquent poem about her Arab American dad, whose friendliness made him ‘Facebook before it existed.’ David Yoo, Debbie Rigaud, Varian Johnson and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich also contribute stories to this noteworthy anthology, which robustly proves Perkins’ assertion that ‘funny is powerful.’”
Horn Book Magazine

“Teachers will find some powerful material here about how the young can become discomfited and find solace in their multifaceted cultural communities.
School Library Journal

Interview with Debbie Rigaud

What is your writing process like?
I find it increasingly helpful to have a complete (and somewhat detailed) story summary written up before I begin writing. This helps me set the pace for the plot. But admittedly, I’m more of a pantser by nature. My writing more often comes in spurts rather than during scheduled times.

 

What is the hardest part about the publishing process for you ad how do you get through it?
Editing can sometimes be a challenge for me. Recently, I had to go back and weave a subplot into my manuscript, and it took me forever to do. Every time I tried to buckle down and figure out how to run a new thread through the story, I hopped on that train to procrastination station instead. When I was running out of time, I dragged myself to a coffee shop, set up shop with my laptop, and tuned into jazzy, lyric-free music. That usually snaps me back into productive mode.

 

What are three things your hero can’t live without?
Of course Simon’s cell phone would be one. No matter how overprotective and suffocating her family can be, she’d still want to chat with them every day. The second thing is coffee. Simone was introduced to coffee at a very young age, so now it’s part of her diet. And the #3 item is her sense of humor, which she desperately needs in order to put her problems in perspective.

 

Any upcoming appearances/interviews, etc. you’d like to plug?
Yes on the “etc.” part of your question! TURFQUAKE, my first YA e-book, will be released later this year. The story follows one city girl’s reluctant (and awkward) switch to a suburban school at the same time her cousin from earthquake-ravaged Haiti moves in and faces greater challenges adjusting to life in the US.
 

Debbie Rigaud
Debbie Rigaud began her writing career covering news and entertainment for popular magazines. Her YA fiction debut, HALLWAY DIARIES/Kimani Tru was followed by the fish-out-of-water romantic comedy PERFECT SHOT/Simon Pulse. Since then, Debbie’s non-fiction essays have been published in anthologies IT’S ALL LOVE/Broadway Books and DEAR BULLY/HarperTeen. Her short story “Voila!” is featured in OPEN MIC/Candlewick Press, and TURFQUAKE, her first YA e-book will be released late 2013.

First, Ramez Naam’s CRUX, the even more amazing (if that’s possible) sequel to NEXUS releases today in the US (Sept. 5th in the UK)

Crux-144dpi CRUX by Ramez Naam

Six months have passed since the release of Nexus 5. The world is a different, more dangerous place.

In the USA, the freedom fighters of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies.

The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck.

Praise and Reviews:

“Potent like Naam’s vividly imagined nano-drug Nexus, Crux is a heady cocktail of ideas and page-turning prose. It left my brain buzzing for days afterwards.” – Hannu Rajaniemi, author of The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince

“A blisteringly paced technothriller that dives deeper and even better into the chunky questions raised by Nexus. This is a fabulous book, and it ends in a way that promises at least one more. Count me in.” – Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother

“Smart, thoughtful, and hard to drop, this richly nuanced sequel outshines its predecessor with a wide cast of characters and some complicated, uneasy questions about power, responsibility, and the future of humanity.” – Publishers Weekly

“Crux is an outstanding speculative fiction adventure … in the same league as Michael Crichton and Daniel Suarez. Put it at the top of your summer reading list!” – Scientific American

“Sublime. This book is speculative fiction at its finest.. Mr. Naam masterfully mobilizes the zeitgeist of contemporary political and tech culture.. Tempts readers with equal parts dread and optimism. This is not a book to be missed.” – Page of Reviews

“Readers of Ramez Naam‘s techno-thriller NEXUS will not want to miss the awesome sequel, CRUX.” – Kurzweil AI

“Crux does the work of great science fiction. It makes the reader look closely and critically at what kind of world we’re building here and now.” – Kent Peterson

“Naam’s writing is always strong, fluid and sure. With gripping, heart-pounding action scenes and muscle-binding tension normally reserved for horror stories, Crux is a book you don’t want to miss.” – Allways Unmended

thor official A quick review of the Tampa Bay ComicCon.  GET YOUR GAME ON!  I enjoyed myself, don’t get me wrong, but this didn’t qualify for the name ComicCon, which implies a lot more than a few celebrity guests, great hall costumes and a dealer’s room.  Where were the movie trailers or anime rooms?  Where the gaming?  Where the other programming tracks?  You have so much talent to draw from in Tampa Bay or an hour away in Orlando or many, many other locales here.  And I know the attendees surprised the heck out of you by our numbers, but you called it “ComicCon”!  That alone says huge and as difficult to wield as Thor’s hammer.  We got in early, so we missed the three hour lines circling blocks.  We didn’t miss the broken escalators et al.  I would love to have a really amazing ComicCon so close, but I think the organizers might want to tap into the runners of other local cons, like Necronomicon, which is coming in October, for ideas and inspiration.

In other news, The Knight Agency newsletter is out, including an interview with Amanda Sun, an author tip of the month, agency news and advice, etc.  Unfortunately, my piece of advice about adult authors wanting to write for the YA market got left out.  You know how it is when you give a piece of your mind and it’s just left hanging.  Then you start looking and feeling like someone from the Walking Dead (sorry, ComicCon brain).  So, here are my two cents:

I’d say that if you’ve got an idea that calls to you and insists on being written, then you should absolutely go for it, but I’d never suggest jumping on a bandwagon just for the sake of riding along a trend.  You want something that leads the pack.  When writing for young adults, remember that you can’t keep them safe, and that pulling punches won’t work any better for YA than adult fiction.  You’ve got to throw your characters into their challenges and give them the wherewithal or the growth to face them.  Sometimes triumph, sometimes simply survive, but under their own steam.

While I’m at it, here’s some of the best and quickest writing advice you will ever read:  Authors write their advice on their hands.

Enjoy, all!  The blog may be a bit quiet for the rest of the week.  I’m away Thursday through Monday at DragonCon, but I will be back with lots of amazing pics, so stay tuned next week.

For those who’ve asked me whether I was going to post my Worldbuilding Workshop on-line somewhere, here it is at long last!  (The beginning anyway.)  Special thanks to Gerald Blackwell, who redrew the diagram because I couldn’t figure out how to get it to transfer from Word!  Welcome to Part I.  I hope you enjoy.  There is more to come.

worldbuilding_diagram

Worldbuilding Workshop

Whether you start with characters or conflict, no one and nothing is created in a vacuum. A character will very much be a product of the way he/she was raised, but also what ecology, nutrition, religion, etc. helped form his or her development.

Conflict often comes when an individual or group is at odds with or fighting against what are considered the norms of a society or when cultures clash against each other over ideology (religion), control of resources (ecology) or whatever. And, of course, rarely does it boil down to just one element in opposition, since all are so tied in together.

I’m going to start with that word—conflict. You don’t have a novel without conflict. You don’t have a story or tension or suspense or any of the multitude of things needed to keep the pages turning. If you begin your novel with a character perfectly in tune with her society and the status quo, well, then you don’t really have a story. If, however, you throw a huge monkey wrench into the works—for example, if that same character sees something he or she shouldn’t, maybe a murder or a kidnapping or—maybe he or she starts to question or delve. Or maybe you have a character already on the outs with society—a criminal or a street person or a rebel…. No matter what you’ve got, you need to build a world that stands in the way of the heroes, let’s say, achieving their goals, but also you need a society that’s internally consistent.

So, the first thought you give to worldbuilding will be based on the needs of the story. Is your setting plucked out of history or even the modern world? Is it a space station? An ice planet? A seaport? An alternate New York.

Whatever you choose, your world will have certain challenges, limitations, resources, etc. which will inform the culture.

I’m going to start talking about the Environment, which is to me one of the most pivotal issues in the early development of a culture and hence at the top of my chart. Clearly, people can’t use resources they don’t have and will not develop technologies for which they have no use. At its core, a culture builds on what it has available, creates innovations to ease the burdens of work and do what must be done more efficiently. (As far as other systems, it also develops origin myths and legends to explain the world around it and reinforce the mores of the society. It evolves political systems and laws to govern and settle disputes, separates into family units for protection, affection and shared resources and develops ways of allocating those resources. It also develops common modes of expression so that all of these things can be communicated.)

But back to the Environment: you will not have the same culture develop in a spaceport or seaport as in a desert or island culture. We know based on common sense and experience that a desert or tundra culture will of necessity be nomadic, traveling from one place to another to take advantage of scant resources. Island cultures will probably be caught up with fishing and possibly trade, depending on their placement as regard to trade routes. Here are some things to think about when creating your physical world:

The ecology: consider the climate, the topography, the flora and fauna, soil make-up and water sources.

The demographic features: how big an area does your culture span? What’s the total population? How dense?

Contact: is your culture isolated or does it have contact with other societies? In what capacity – trade, invasion, marriages? What has bled from one society to another? How has this affected the other systems? (Religion and language, particularly, are two things that tend to spread like wildfire.)

On to Technology: what level is your society? Is it Agrarian? Hunting and Gathering? Industrial? This will define not only the actual gadgetry needed and used, but the economy as well, since the concept of wages is absent in many nonindustrial systems. If you’re using our contemporary world for a basis, you may not have to do much development regarding technology, but what if this is a future or post-apocalyptic society? For example, Faith Hunter, in her Rogue Mage series, had to do a lot of research on what would or wouldn’t still function in her alternate version of our world, in which Armageddon has come and gone, complete with plagues, nuclear explosions, and ideologic wars over the meaning of it all. At the end of the devastation (and the opening of the series), only a quarter of the Earth’s population is left behind, along with various powers of Darkness and Light which have fought each other to a stalemate. The only technology that remains is what can be scavenged and repaired, run on limited fuel reserves or powered by the new race of magical beings. It’s fascinating reading and illustrates many of the points I make here regarding worldbuilding, character creation and the development of magical systems.

Religion is often used to explain origins and propagate cultural mores. What’s important? What do people swear by? What do they fear? What are the values your society wants to uphold and how codified are the religious strictures and rituals? There are various kinds of religious beliefs:

Animism – belief that all natural objects are embued with souls

Animatism – belief in mana, a power that permeates the universe and all things and which can be drawn on
Shamanism – belief that special individuals have the power to commune with the supernatural
Ancestor worship –reverence for dead ancestors and belief that the deceased kin have interest in and power over human affairs
Monotheism – the belief in one god
Polytheism – the belief in many gods, which are generally associated with natural phenomena (like the winds or rain) or aspects of life (fertility, childbirth, death)

Rituals are very important to a society. They reinforce the society’s values and mark status changes (rites of passage) and as such can be social as well as religious. A graduation ceremony would be an example of a non-religious ritual. A christening, communion, bar or bat mitzvah and often funerary rights are religious rituals.

While we’re on the subject of religion…does the belief system here play any part in the magic? In other words, is your magic based on the belief in mana, the power in all things? Do your gods actually manifest? Are they really gods? What are their powers? Are they the sources of the powers of the faithful?

How tied in is the religion to your politics? In some cultures, they’re pretty well indistinguishable and in others, religion has been outlawed. In ancient Egypt, for example, Pharaoh wasn’t just a ruler, he was looked on as a divinity on earth. Clearly, politics and religion were intertwined. In others, say in Henry the VIII’s England, they were at odds and fighting each other for power.

Politics:
• Anarchy – Rule by all/no one.
• Democracy – Majority rule.
• Monarchy – Rule by hereditary leader. Monarchies are one of the oldest political systems, developing from tribal structure with one person the absolute ruler.
• Communism – Rule by all citizens. In theory, classless with common ownership and decision making
• Technocracy – Rule by scientist/intellectuals.
• Republic – Rule by officials elected by a voting public.
• Theocracy – Rule by a representative of a state sponsored religion
• Westminster system – Rule by republic and representative democracy through parliament
• Feudalism -Rule by lord/king with a hierarchy of nobility, vassals and serfs.

Now, in smaller societies, where the cultural unit is band or tribe, there will, of course, be less complex government, like a chief, headman or council.
Remember that societies may also govern through other, more cultural or psychological means, such as shunning, to punish unacceptable behaviors.

Family unit–

There are a lot of things to think about here from whether people may marry as they choose or whether marriages are arranged, whether it’s acceptable to marry within group (endogamy) or without (exogamy) and whether multiple or serial marriages are allowed or encouraged.

What exactly does family mean in your society? Do people tend to group together in nuclear or extended families? Who or what is at the core of your family unit? Often, the more vulnerable a culture is to the vicissitudes of fate, ecological or otherwise, the more people will cluster together in larger family groups for shared security and resources, and for continuity should death or illness strike down one of the contributing members.

Also, while not usual outside of societies in which there’s an unequal proportion of one sex to another, there are historical precedents for polygany, the marriage of one male to two or more women and polyandry, the marriage of one woman to two or more men.

For a truly unique world involving a very different sort of family unit, I recommend David Brin’s Glory Season. In this, he’s created a world founded by women in which they seek to create a new blueprint of humanity. Interestingly, he looked to lizards and aphids as a model. According to his afterward, “During periods of plenty and stability, they self-clone, churning out multiple duplicates like little Xerox machines. But when the good times end, they quickly swing back to old-fashioned sexual mating, creating daughters and sons whose imperfect variety is nature’s mortar of survival.” From this, he posited a society where woman who have established a niche in their society are allowed to establish a clan, which they continue through cloning. However, recognizing the dangers of stagnation, during the summer season children are begat the old fashion way to allow for a wildcard element. Any wildcard (or var, as they’re called) who’s able to create her own niche is subsequently allowed to establish her own clan.

In other words, there’s no reason to stick particularly to any of these pre-established conceptions of familial units and plenty of ideas to draw from outside of humanity.

Social grouping – caste system – I can refer you here to Glory Season here as well, because the clans are like castes, ranked according to the perceived importance of the niche they occupy, and members of one clan cannot decide that they want to join another or do something outside of what they’ve been born into.

Economics:
This is partially determined by the technological level of the society, of course, but also by resources, ecology and the like. In other words, what’s of value to a culture. The less technological the culture, the less likely it is that there will be any monetary sort of exchange for goods and services. If the group believes in ownership, it’s more likely to be communal, with resources like food divided up by merit, status or need. If there is a bit more specialization in labor – in other words the society is beyond the hunter-gatherer phase – there may be trade or barter. And, of course, we all understand about monetary systems like capitalism and communism.

But, of course, economics goes deeper than the system used. We all know that sometimes the system fails, so part of the world may also be whether the economy is healthy or not. I admit that this may not be a sexy part of worldbuilding, and it’s not one that I tend to take a lot of note of, except when I feel it doesn’t work. When Jonathan Lethem’s first novel, Gun with Occasional Music came out, it had quite the buzz going, but I have to admit that the place where it all fell down for me were the “baby-heads,” parents artificially growing up their kids, mentally anyway. My problem here was that he was creating too much workforce, and it wasn’t as if the society could artificially create jobs for them as well. I grant you, he was purposely creating a dysfunctional society. However, when it came to the economy, I still had a lot of difficulty suspending my disbelief.

Language:
Although, of course, your novel will be written in the language your readers will understand, it’s important to have an idea of how the language of your civilization will sound, not only for naming of characters, but because you may introduce new concepts and creatures that will need new designations. Think about language: it’s full of idioms, slang and other things that may not translate from one language to another and may also end up written as your character would actually speak it (whether in that language or a necessarily garbled translation of it).

Steven Harper has some very good advice in Writing the Paranormal novel when it comes to language, and naming in particular. He suggests avoiding the “Apostrophe of Doom” and adds that odd letter combinations which are unpronounceable for your readers will stop them as they try to work it out. I know that many readers mentally skip names that are too complicated, thinking of them by the first letter or syllable of the name. You take a lot of care with your work, you want to make every word count, particularly names, which hold a lot of power, both in folklore and reality to conjure up certain images or expectations based on the cultural zeitgeist.

Cursing, as I mentioned with religion, is also very telling. The example I offer up here is from Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, where the equivalent of Shakespeare’s Zounds, which is a running together of God’s wounds, would be Billary’s Balls (Billary being one of the main gods of the world).

How is knowledge recorded and passed down from generation to generation? Does your society share language with the lands surrounding them or is there a barrier? Have they come up with a common trade language in order to communicate?

Perhaps your society is so alien that it doesn’t communicate verbally? Or even telepathically. The most alien of all alien societies that I can think of comes from Peter Watts’ Blindsight, which I can highly recommend for those who like their science fiction hard.

Often a shortcut to all this is to use a known culture as a basis. However, make sure if it’s a fantasy world that any changes you make don’t seem inconsistent. It’s always jarring to me to have a Polynesian-based culture with, say, Nordic-sounding names.

If you’re writing in our world, make certain that reactions to the changes (the introduction of magic, for example) make sense. Is it new enough that the law is struggling to keep up? Old and established? If so, how has the culture changed because of it?

To Quote David B. Coe from a post on Magical Words: “Writers often speak of different aspects of our work in a way that makes them sound compartmentalized. We develop characters, we establish setting, we advance our narrative, we sprinkle in healthy doses of action, we write descriptive passages. The truth is, though, that if we handle these things correctly, there is nothing compartmentalized about the result. Character and narrative development feed on one another, propelled forward by those action scenes, and meshing seamlessly with the worldbuilding or research we have done to make our settings come to life.”

In other words, writing is an awful lot like cultural anthropology…you can’t separate out the elements or you lose out. It all needs to work together.

Click here for Part II.

thieftakerthieves' quarry

Anyone who’s taken my Writers Digest webinar on writing science fiction, fantasy and the paranormal or who’s taken one of my worldbuilding workshops will have heard me quote David B. Coe, who is a wonderful writer, blogger and teacher of all things writing.  He’s a regular contributor to Magical Words, which has a lot of amazing advice for writers and, as you’ll see from the post below, the author of the “tricorn punk” Thieftaker series, beginning with THIEFTAKER and moving on to THIEVES’ QUARRY under the name D.B. Jackson.  THIEVES’ QUARRY is just out today, so let’s wish him a happy book birthday!

History and POV by D.B. Jackson

Out on Boston Harbor, in the distance and to the south of where Ethan walked, lights bobbed on the gentle swells: lanterns burning on a dozen or more British naval ships. Several of the vessels had been anchored within sight of the city for a week or more; eight others had sailed into view earlier this day. They were arrayed in a loose, broad arc, their reflections dancing and swirling like fireflies. They might have been beautiful had it not been for what they signified: more strife and fear for a city already beleaguered by its conflicts with the Crown. — THIEVES’ QUARRY, Book II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, by D. B. Jackson

I have been writing historical urban fantasy for several years now, after beginning my career as an author of alternate world fantasies (under the name David B. Coe). As I have settled in to this new phase in my career, I have found, to my surprise, that establishing a historical setting for my Thieftaker books is not very different at all from worldbuilding for my older series. In both cases, I need to establish for my readers a sense of place and time, so that they feel the setting has substance and meaning; I have to write to all of their senses, using my descriptive passages to make the setting come alive; and I need to weave the backdrop into my storytelling, so that the world in and of itself becomes a player in my narrative.

The key to meeting these challenges lies in my use of point of view. A brief primer on point of view: Point of view is the unique perspective through which a story is told. In today’s literary marketplace, point of view is tied inextricably to character. Novels and stories are expected to have, at any given time, but a single point of view character. So, for instance, in the Harry Potter books, Harry is almost always the point of view character. We experience the story line, the other characters, and the world J.K. Rowling has created through Harry’s eyes. His emotions, sensations, and intellect color everything that we read.

Once upon a time — not that long ago, really — many writers wrote in what was known as omniscient voice, meaning that there was a detached narrator who told the story, giving us insights into the thoughts and emotions of every character in a scene. We would hop from one perspective to another, never really settling on a single perspective. That was considered the norm. Not anymore. Today, that approach is known as “head-hopping,” and it is frowned upon. An author can use more than one point of view character, as George R.R. Martin does in his Song of Ice and Fire series, but the transitions to new point of view characters need to be clearly delineated.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled post . . .

In my Thieftaker series, Ethan Kaille is my point of view character throughout every story and novel. My readers rely on Ethan’s descriptions, emotional reactions, and thoughts for clues as to how they should respond to all that happens. In my epic fantasies, I had many point of view characters. But what’s important is that in all these cases, my point of view narrators are the ones I depend upon to make my readers feel they are a part of the world I have established for the stories. I want to make my narrating characters tour guides in a sense. Which is not to say that they need to spend all their time walking backwards and telling my readers about the history of every building, monument, and alleyway. Rather, I want my characters to be immersed fully in their society and culture, so that when they interact with something that is unique to their time and place, my readers will not need to have that interaction explained to them. Its significance and its implications for my story should be clear from the context and from my point of view character’s responses.

This post begins with a passage from Thieves’ Quarry, the second installment in my Thieftaker Chronicles, which is to be released by Tor Books on July 2. It is a short passage — exactly one hundred words long, as it happens — and it actually offers very little by way of historical information. That’s all right. It comes in the first few pages of the novel, at a time when I am not yet ready to burden my readers with too much data. But it does establish the mood that hung over the city of Boston at the time this story takes place. Those ships out on the harbor carry an occupying force of over a thousand British soldiers. For the first time in its history, after a summer of conflict and rioting, Boston is about to become a garrisoned town.

Ethan’s thoughts don’t go into that level of detail, of course. They don’t have to. For the purposes of beginning to establish the tone and mood for my book, the small bit of information I give is sufficient. My readers can picture the ships, with their lanterns reflected on the harbor waters. And because of Ethan’s reaction to what he sees, they can guess that all is not well between the Colonists and the Crown.

Aspiring writers are often told, “Show, don’t tell,” although just as often the exact meaning of this advice is left obscure. When we “tell,” we inject ourselves into our books, bypassing our point of view characters and instructing our readers in how they should respond to our writing. “Showing,” as opposed to telling, means allowing our point of view characters to respond to and interpret the places, other characters, and events that our readers encounter in the course of our narratives. It means describing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures as our characters experience them.

We can do tons of worldbuilding or research, but if we don’t convey to readers why all that knowledge matters to our point of view characters, our settings will remain flat. On the other hand, when we show readers our worlds from the perspective of our characters, we make these settings — be they real world or imagined — something more than just a backdrop to our stories. They become our character’s home, or the alien land into which our heroine has just fallen, or the hellscape from which our hero is trying to win his freedom. Point of view gives dimension to our worlds by infusing our descriptions with emotion. It gives them context, weight, importance. And ultimately it makes them places to which our readers want to return again and again.

*****

D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasy, Thieftaker, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, came out in 2012 and is now available in paperback. The second volume, Thieves’ Quarry, has just been released by Tor Books. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

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fallofnight  I’m so excited that Rachel Caine’s latest release, FALL OF NIGHT, has once again propelled her Morganville Vampires to the New York Times Children’s Series bestseller list, now at #7!  If you haven’t yet been introduced, well then, you’ve got a whole incredible series to look forward to that just keeps getting better and better!  Need more than my word? Last year, the series was voted the most popular in the UK by over 300,000 school children, beating out the Twilight and Harry Potter series!

Hidden-Paradise200  I also want to congratulate Janet Mullany for finaling in the Booksellers’ Best contest in the erotic category for HIDDEN PARADISE!

In case you missed it, I waxed psychological over at Magical Words earlier this week with a post on “How Not to Write Like a Psychopath”. 

I’m sure I’ll think of a million and one bits of news to post the moment I upload this blog, but since I have at least a million squared things that need my attention at the moment, I’ll sign off for now!

Giving up on Perfect

Posted: November 27, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I’m over at Magical Words today talking about “Giving up on Perfect.”  Love to hear your thoughts!