Tag Archives: #amwriting

Conferring Power: logic and limitations #amwriting

We are now in the final six days of NaNoWriMo. My region is small, only 174 active writers, but we’re moving along well. As a whole, we just crested the four million word mark. That’s not as much as some regions, but wow!

In our forums on Discord and Facebook, the conversation sometimes turns to the use of magic or science in a narrative. Many of these authors are new at this and need a place to safely discuss their work, so I make it my business to not impose my opinions in either forum.

Besides, I have this platform for ranting about writing. So, how do I feel about science and magic?

In the words of Egon in Ghostbusters, “Don’t cross the streams.”

I have said this before, but I feel the need to repeat it. Science is not magic, and it should not feel to a reader as if it were.

Science is logical, rooted in the realm of real and theoretical physics. The scientific method objectively explains nature and the world around us in a reproducible way. Skepticism and peer review are fundamental parts of the process.

Those who read and write hard science fiction are often employed in the field of science in some capacity. They know the difference between reality and fantasy. The same goes for those who read fantasy—they are often employed in fields that require critical thinking.

Often, readers of both genres are avid gamers. Gamers learn to develop skillsets within strict parameters to advance in the game. Thus, logic and limitations define how much enjoyment they get from a gaming or reading experience.

I read a great many books in all genres. If I have one complaint, it is that many authors indulge in mushy science or magic. They make it up as they go, which is what we all do.

But when they get to the editing stage, they don’t go back and look for the contradictions in their magic or science, the places where a reader can no longer suspend their disbelief.

Having magic conveys power in the same way that having superior technology does. It should be held to the same standards.

If magic is a tool that your characters rely on, it should be believable. The science of magic is an underlying, invisible layer that is part of my world-building process.

The following is my list of places where magic and technology converge in genre fiction:

  1. The number of people who can use either magic or technology should be limited.
  2. The ways that magic or technology can be used should be limited.
  3. The majority of people are limited to one or two kinds of magic/technology. Only specific mages/technicians have the ability to make use of all forms of magic/technology.
  4. There must be strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind of magic/technology can do.
  5. The conditions under which this magic/technology will work must be clearly defined.
  6. There must be some conditions under which the magic/technology will not work.
  7. There must be limits to the damage magic/technology can do as a weapon or the healing it can perform.
  8. Does the wielder of this magic/technology pay a physical/emotional price for the use?
  9. Does the wielder of this magic/technology pay a physical/emotional price for abusing it?
  10. Is the learning curve steep and sometimes lethal?

Personal power and how we confer it is the layer of world-building where writers of science and writers of magic come together.

  • Magic and the ability to wield it confers power.
  • Science and superior technology do the same.

For the narrative to have any real conflict, the enemy must have access to equal or better Science/Magic.

Often in the case of magic, the protagonist and their enemy are not from the same “school.” This means that the author has two systems and sets of rules to design for that story.

The same goes for technology. One group may have found a way to exploit physics that places the other group at a disadvantage. This is where the tension comes into the story.

WE authors must create the rules of magic or the limits of science for both the protagonist and antagonist. We must do it in the first stages of the writing process.

It will only require a small bit of time and maybe fifteen minutes of writing to create a system that satisfies the above ten requirements. This way, you will be sure the logic of your magic/technology has no hidden flaws.

When you take the time to research science technologies or create magic systems, you create a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Limits force us to be creative, to find alternative ways to resolve problems.

Within either science or magic, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

There must be an obvious, rational explanation for that exception.

This is an underpinning of the plot and is a foundational component of the backstory. The only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is at the moment it affects the characters and their actions.

The best background information comes out at the moment that knowledge affects the story. It emerges naturally in conversations or in other subtle ways.

By not baldly dropping it on the reader in paragraph form, the knowledge becomes a normal part of the environment rather than an info dump.

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Mid #NaNoWriMo Update: Best Laid Plans Gone Awry #amwriting

Well, I’m not sure how it happened, but I am now halfway through the first draft of a novel I didn’t intend to write. This book didn’t exist last month even as a possibility, so I began writing it with absolutely no outline.

I may have a working title.

Or not.

It is set in the world of Neveyah, so I do have an Excel workbook containing basic maps and a style sheet for word-usage. I know the ecology and the kind of society the protagonists live in well. Thankfully, the world is solidly built. I keep the Neveyah Excel workbook/style guide open while I am writing and regularly add new usages and made-up words.

I am also updating the general map as I go along.

The way this came about was this: On Nov 1, day one of NaNoWriMo 2020, I sat down and began pounding out the ending for  Bleakbourne on Heath. I had outlined it well, so writing the final chapters took far less time than I planned for, only two days.

On day four, I immediately plunged into my other work-in-progress, writing my antagonist’s story, just as I had planned. That went amazingly well for a day, and I made serious headway on his character arc.

On day five, it occurred to me that I knew nothing about the tainted artifacts. Yet, these relics are significant traps for the protagonists.

That raised a question. Where did the mage-traps originally come from, and who had the dark magic and skills to make them? On the day of the Sundering of the Worlds, the universe intervened. Tauron, the Bull God, was barred from physically entering the World of Neveyah.

So, they must have been created before the Sundering. At the time of Daryk’s story, a thousand years have passed since the Sundering. What dark properties allowed this artifact to conceal itself for a millennium? Where did Kegan get the relic, this mage-trap, that he used to ensnare Daryk?

I always start my backstory in a separate document, so I began telling myself the story.

The next thing I knew, I was writing a novel detailing the path of the tainted artifact.

Now, I am so focused on this that I can hardly think of anything else. I was like this for Huw the Bard and Tower of Bones.

I know I’m nuts, but I have now written over 50,000 words on that story alone, and (fingers crossed) this first draft should be concluded by the end of the month. Whether or not I ever take it beyond first draft to publication is another question. Still, I’m having fun with it, and the exercise is serving its purpose.

Writing this backstory has several functions. First, I am writing the outline as I go, and keeping the ultimate goal in mind gives me a finite point to write to. When I pause to plan my next steps, I can look at this book’s page in my workbook and see the story arc to that point. I will then decide what has to happen to get the protagonists to their next obstacle.

This has been a productive world-building exercise. In this time, the world is beginning to recover from the catastrophic war of the gods. The ecosystem is rebounding, and as life becomes easier, values are changing. The original fifty tribes are starting to go apart, to form distinct cultures.

Society is splintering—a small number of tribes are leaving their roots behind, becoming tribeless. During this time of transition, these tribeless citadels have shifted to a more commerce-driven economy. There are positives on both sides of this, and for both emerging cultures, resistance to change is pointless.

As I write, I am discovering how the artifact manipulates its owners. In writing this historical piece, I find things popping up that need to be noted on my other work-in-progress outline. Because of that, I am making good headway on fleshing out the outline of Daryk’s side of the story.

Writing this backstory helps me understand the negative changes to his personality and makes them logical. Regardless of whether I ever choose to publish this little fun-run, I’m having a great time writing it.

To me, that is what NaNoWriMo is all about—writing something that has been simmering in the back of your mind and having the best time of your life doing it.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Landscape MET DP800938.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Landscape_MET_DP800938.jpg&oldid=451365649 (accessed November 15, 2020).

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Semicolon; comma splice; comma (revisited) #amwriting

Here we are, entering the second week of National Novel Writing Month. It’s a good time to review the rules for the punctuation that we use (and abuse) so regularly. This essay first posted on March 14, 2018, so if you’re already up on these rules, thank you for stopping by and happy writing!


First up, the semicolon.

This joining punctuation is not complicated, once you know the one rule about when to use semicolons:

If you join two clauses with a semicolon, each clause must be a complete sentence, and they must relate to each other. In other words, they must be two short sentences expanding on ONE idea.

If your two short sentences don’t relate to each other, use a period at the end of each clause and make them separate sentences. You’re an author, for the love of Tolstoy. Use your creativity and reword those little sentences, so they aren’t choppy.

Two separate ideas done wrong: We should go to the Dairy Queen; it’s nearly half past five.

The first sentence is one whole idea: they want to go somewhere. The second sentence is a completely different idea: it’s telling you the time.

Two separate ideas done right, assuming the mention of time is important: We should go to the Dairy Queen soon. They close at eight, and it’s nearly half past five.

If time is the issue in both clauses and you want it to be once sentence, use a semicolon, reword it to say, “The Dairy Queen is about to close; it’s nearly half past five.”

On the other hand, you can join them with the em dash. My personal inclination is to find alternatives to both semicolons and em dashes, as they can easily create run-on sentences.

I don’t dislike them, as some editors do, but I think they are too easily abused and misused. My rule for you is this: Semicolons should not be used if you are in doubt.

Some authors will do anything to avoid using a semicolon, which is ridiculous. However, they see their work is a little choppy, so they join the independent clauses with commas.

That is a grammar no-no. You do not join independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences) with commas as that creates a rift in the space/time continuumthe Dreaded Comma Splice.

If you join independent clauses with commas and we all die, you’ll only have yourself to blame because I did warn you.

Comma Splice: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu and I like it, the dog likes to ride shotgun.

Same two thoughts, written correctly: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu, and I like it. The dog likes to ride shotgun.

But what do we join with commas? Commas are the universally acknowledged pausing and joining symbol. Readers expect to find commas separating certain clauses. Some simple rules to remember:

  1. Never insert commas “where you take a breath” because everyone breathes differently.
  2. Do not insert commas where you think it should pause because every reader sees the narrative differently.

We do use commas to set off introductory clauses:

  1. In the first sentence, “because he was afraid” isn’t necessary.

I italicized the introductory clause in the above sentence to show that it is not a stand-alone sentence. This clause introduces the clause that follows it, and its meaning is dependent on that following clause.

A comma should be used before these conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, yet, or, and so to separate two independent clauses. They are called coordinating conjunctions.

However, we don’t always automatically use a comma before the word “and.” This is where it gets confusing.

Compound sentences combine two separate ideas (clauses) into one compact package. A comma should be placed before a conjunction only if it is at the beginning of an independent clause. So, use the comma before the conjunction (and, but, or) if the clauses are standalone sentences. If one of them is not a standalone sentence, it is a dependent clause, and you do not add the comma.

Take these two sentences: She is a great basketball player. She prefers swimming.

  1. If we combine them this way, we add a comma: She is a great basketball player, but she prefers swimming.
  2. If we combine them this way, we don’t: She is a great basketball player but prefers swimming.

I hear you saying, “Now wait a minute! My English teacher very clearly taught us to use commas to join clauses.”

I’m sorry, but she probably did explain that exception. It just didn’t stick in your memory.

Two complete ideas can be joined with ‘and’ and you don’t need a comma.

Think of it as a list: if there are only two things (or ideas) in a list, they do not need to be separated by a comma.  I am buying apples and then going to the car wash.

If there are more than two ideas, the comma should be used to separate them, with a comma preceding the word ‘and’ before the final item/idea. This is called the Oxford comma, or the serial comma.

I must buy apples, go to the car wash, and then go to the library.

Oh yes, my friend. We do use serial commas to prevent confusion. In March of 2017, the New York Times reported that the omission of a comma between words in a list in a lawsuit cost a Maine company millions of dollars.

One habit I had to unlearn the first time I sent my work to a professional line editor:

  1. Do not place a comma before the word ‘because’ unless the information that follows is necessary to the sentence.

Grammar doesn’t have to be a mystery. If we want to write narratives that all speakers of English from Seattle, to London, to Mumbai, and to Brisbane can read, we must learn the simple common rules of the road. To this end, I recommend investing in The Chicago Guide to Grammar and Punctuation. It is based on The Chicago Manual of Style but it’s smaller and the contents are easier to navigate.

If a sentence feels muddled but you think a reader won’t notice, you are wrong. Be a little daring… crack open the grammar book or go online and look up the rules. You will become more confident in your writing, and your work will go faster.

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Choosing a Writing Group, revisited #amwriting

NaNoWriMo is roaring along, and once again, authors are asking me about local writing groups.  This post first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on June 28, 2017. What I said then still stands today: connecting with a good writing group has been an invaluable asset to my writing path. Their insights have helped form the foundations of my work.


Writing groups come in all sorts and sizes, some specializing in general fiction and some in genres like mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or romance.

Some focus on critiquing, others on beta reading, still others on supporting each other’s career.

Most communities have clusters of authors. In your community, you will find groups for beginning writers and some that cater to more advanced crowds. I guarantee there will be one to fit your needs.

Making a poor choice can be devastating—it can undermine an author’s self-confidence and destroy their joy in the craft. We’ve all heard the horror stories regarding critique groups, and perhaps even experienced one. You are not required to return to their next meeting. Continue seeking out a more welcoming group.

However, most writing groups are good, supportive gatherings of authors who stay for years and welcome new authors into their group with open arms.

There is a difference in types of writing groups. Some are traditional critique groups, people who usually read a few pages aloud at their sessions and the others discuss it in detail in a round-table fashion, while the author listens. Often, these groups are large and because they are pressed for time, they don’t allow the author to ask questions or clarify points of confusion. Despite that flaw, this sort of focus on your work can be just right for some authors.

A group like that can tell you if you have made editing errors and point out areas that need work within the few pages they have sampled. For authors strapped for cash and unable to afford to hire an editor, this sort of group is an invaluable resource.

What you learn about your writing habits in those pages will carry over into the larger manuscript, improving your writing skills.

However, because traditional critique groups focus only on 3 or 4 pages at a time, they lack the context to be able to discern inconsistencies and flaws in the overall story arc. They don’t see enough of the work to tell if your protagonist is developed sufficiently by the first 1/4 of the tale, or if you have flattened your arc by placing your inciting incident too far from the beginning.

Unless you have submitted your entire novel over a period of time, formal critique groups usually can’t see subtle problems with

  • pacing
  • the overall story arc
  • worldbuilding
  • character development

They can’t see these things because these larger elements can only be judged by sampling more than three or four pages of a novel. One way around that is to seek input privately from one of the members if you have found someone who reads the genre in which you write and feel comfortable enough to share that much with them.

If you are looking for input on large issues, my advice is to find a beta reading group.

But how do you select a group? Before you join a critique or beta reading group, you have the right to know what that group focuses on. Attend one of their meetings as an observer.

What do I want from this group? How do they treat each other’s work? When you get home, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did they address places where the submitted chapter bogged down?
  • What did the group think about the characters?
  • Did they address places where they became confused?
  • Did the group point out spots they had to read twice?
  • How did the group address places where the story become unbelievable or too convenient?
  • Did the readers care enough to wonder what would happen to the characters next?
  • How did the group phrase their comments? Was it supportive as well as instructional?
  • Did they encourage conversation about the chosen work?
  • Is discussion discouraged? If the author was not allowed to discuss their work or ask questions, it is a red flag that should be noted.

Ask yourself, “What vibes did I get from this group of people? Will I benefit from sharing my work with this group? Did the comments they made to each other sound helpful?” Hopefully, the answer to those questions will be a resounding “yes.”

If you are considering joining the group, ask the leader/chairperson these questions:

  • If the group is a beta reading group focused on first drafts, what do they consider a first draft? Do you have it thoroughly edited before you submit it to this group? Because that is not a first draft, and that group would be a waste of your time.
  • Will you receive insights into your manuscript on points you hadn’t considered, or will the focus of the discussion center on minor editing issues that you are already aware of?

Ask the leader to define for you the specific areas that readers will be looking at:

  • Character development,
  • Pacing and the arc of the scene,
  • The arc of the conversation,
  • Worldbuilding.

When you think have found a group you feel comfortable sharing your work with, and you trust them enough to submit your first piece to them, take notes on the experience. When you are home, ask yourself:

  • Do I still feel positive about my work or do I feel like my work was treated as being less than important?
  • Did I gain anything from the experience that would advance the plot, or did I just hear a rehash of armchair editing from a wannabe guru?
  • Did I feel as if they were sincerely interested in helping me with my work?

If the answers are anything other than a resounding “yes” you have the right to leave the group.

The answers to these questions have to be that you feel good about your work, that you saw the weaknesses through their eyes, and you now know what you need to do to make your story great. You must be filled with the conviction that you know what needs to be done, and you must still have passion for the story.

Authors attend their first meeting with a new writing group hoping to find likeminded people. We are filled with uncertainty and fear the first time we meet these people. At the end of the day, you have to feel as if you have gained something from the experience.

Hopefully, you will be as fortunate as I have been, and find a group of authors who will support and nurture you in the craft of writing. The way to repay them for their help is to support them and their efforts wholeheartedly.


Credits and Attributions:

Choosing a Writing Group  ©2017 by Connie J. Jasperson first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on Jun 28, 2017

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Making the most of your writing time #writetip #nanowrimo2020

No matter where you are in the process, the act of writing daily is an important thing. Many people participate in NaNoWriMo because having a visible goal forces them to find the time to write.

I have been a Municipal Liaison for my region since 2011, and my co-ML is author Lee French. Between us, we keep the writers in our area stoked about their projects and help them get through the rough spots. In the past, we have hosted write-ins, both virtual and at libraries and coffee shops.

This year, due to the pandemic, we are going completely virtual, hosting meetups through Discord and Zoom.

As established authors, we have learned a few tricks that we’re always happy to share with those planning to “do” NaNoWriMo for the first time.

If you are just embarking on this literary joyride for the first time, here are a few quick tips and resources to help you stay organized:

Things you want to have at your fingertips, so you don’t have to stop and look it up:

MAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world and your characters will be traveling, walking a particular city, or visiting landmarks, bookmark google maps for that area and refer back to it regularly to make sure you are writing it correctly.

If you are writing about a fantasy world and your characters will be traveling, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer back to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

TECH: Many people are writing sci-fi novels. In hard sci-fi, technology and science are the central core of the stories, so it’s a good idea to know what tech is available to your characters well in advance of writing their scenes. A little planning now will aid you greatly in the writing process.

If you are writing fantasy involving magic or supernatural skills, briefly draw up a list of rules identifying who can do what with each ability. Remember:

  • Magic without rules is both impossible and creates a story with no tension. No one wants to read a story where the characters have nothing to struggle against. Working within the rules develops opportunities for growth.
  • Each character should have limits to their abilities. Because they are not individually all-powerful, they will need to interact and work with each other and the protagonist. Establishing boundaries can drive your story in some creative and unusual directions.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources well in advance, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to kickstart stalled creativity:

Resources to bookmark in general:

  • www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)
  • Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)
  • Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers about grammar, written in plain English:

Never delete, do not self-edit as you go. Don’t waste time re-reading your work. You can do all that in December when you go back to look at what you have written. If you don’t like it, change the font color or use strike-out. Those words will all count when you go to upload the manuscript, even those using the strike out. You wrote them, so count them!

Make a style sheet: If you love your sanity, make a list of all the names and words you invent as you go and update it each time you create a new one, so the spellings don’t evolve as the story does. Save this to your desktop, so all you have to do is click on the icon to open it for updating.

My co-ML Lee French and I have found that setting a goal of 1667 words a day really is the best way to meet the goal of 50,000 words by November 30th.

However, if the stress of writing that many words a day is too much, step back and write at a speed you are comfortable with.

Sure, there’s a contest full of personal goals involved. Still, NaNoWriMo is really about encouraging the act of writing and developing the discipline to set aside time to write daily.

Every word you write is essential because it gets you closer to having a book you can hold in your hand and say, “I wrote this.” By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you will get your first draft finished.

Here is a list of earned badges we who participate hope to acquire from the national website:

  1. (this one is the easiest) Update your progress! If you want some of the later badges, do it on day 1, and then do it every day after that.
  2. Update more than once in one day!
  3. Start a streak – update two days in a row (do you see a pattern here?)
  4. Update 3 days in a row!
  5. Update 7 days in a row.
  6. Update 14 days in a row.
  7. Update 21 days in a row.
  8. Update 30 days in a row (our personal favorite!)
  9. Achieve par every day (1667 words) (difficult, but doable).
  10. Update at precisely 1667 words (fun!)
  11. Reach 5 k words.
  12. Reach 10 k words.
  13. Reach 25 k words.
  14. Reach 40 k words.
  15. Reach 50 k words by November 30th!
  16. Download that winner’s certificate!

Some years I write words like a fountain spews water and write two novels worth of words.

In other years, every word is torn from my keyboard, accompanied by the howling of banshees. During those years, I can barely make my word count.

For me, the most important thing is having my project that much closer to completion.

If you choose to embark on this project, make that your goal. Write because you have a story burning to be told, and have fun doing it.

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Thoughts on Narrative Perspective #amwriting

I regularly say this, but I’ll repeat myself: every author should be an avid reader. Years ago, I began writing out of desperation. I read exceedingly fast, and in those days, the library couldn’t stock new books in my favorite genres fast enough to keep up with my habit.

Even though I haunted the secondhand bookstores, I couldn’t afford to buy even used books in that quantity. Besides going to the library, I was limited to one new paperback book and two used ones a payday in those days. Every book I bought was money taken from the food budget to spend on something we couldn’t eat.

Nowadays, I am incredibly fortunate to be in a position to be able to read as much as I want, whenever I want.

It is the deep yearning for a good tale that fires my imagination and drives me write novels.

Every now and then, I can’t find the right book to read. When that happens, I consider what kind of story I’m craving. Books are food for the mind, and we all have different tastes. Sometimes we want a specific type of flavor, like when we crave chocolate or something spicy.

Usually, I feel that desire because a seed is growing, an idea for either a short story or a novel.

Because I gravitate to character-driven stories for my reading, I want to write about people striving to overcome forces greater than themselves. It might be fantasy, or it might not be. Several stories I’ve had accepted into anthologies recently were fantasy only in that they take place in the 1950s. I was a very young child then, so I have little memory of those days.

I love reading about characters who aren’t always the most well-behaved people. This means they are approachable, possessed of a flaw that resonates with me. It wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t a hero lurking deep within, waiting for some catastrophe to bring out that courageous side of them.

When I open the book, I want the first paragraphs to hook me. Those opening sentences establish three vital things:

  1. They set the tone of what is to follow, so if you want to snare the reader, don’t waste those precious sentences on “throat clearing” and backstory.
  2. They tell us who the story is about and how they see themselves.
  3. They establish the general narrative perspective.

I say ‘general’ because the authors whose work I like best tend to vary the narrative perspective/distance as the story progresses. I enjoy work where the pacing of a scene is shaped by the perspective of the characters and the narrative distance.

Imagine a scene where a woman empties the wastebaskets in the house, tidying up before she leaves for work. A crumpled note falls from the one beside her husband’s computer. She picks it up and automatically looks at it, not intending to pry, but just as a matter of habit.

They might bring us into the protagonist’s head, with free indirect discourse, taking us inside the character’s thoughts. What does Jake need a lawyer for?

Then we see what the author wants you to know about the character’s circumstances. His odd behavior suddenly made sense. Anger blinded her as Jake’s plan revealed itself.

And then they might move out to the external view. Sarah held the note, thinking, then pulled out her cell phone.

Good stories told from the protagonist’s point of view bring you in close, letting you feel the emotional intensity. Then the narrative perspective steps back a bit so you can process it at the same time as the protagonist does before you are brought in close again.

Perspective and pacing are the two areas I am looking closely at in my own work as I make revisions. I keep hoping that reading critically will improve the way I write prose.

So, all those books I plowed through last week weren’t just me avoiding housework. They were for research.

Honest.

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Virtual Conferences #amwriting

We are now entering the virtual convention season. PNWA (the Pacific Northwest Writers’  Association Conference) kicks off on Thursday the 24th. This will be the first year they’ve been virtual.

I will miss the people I usually see there and hope that next year we can meet in person.

However, while the in-person conference was a lot of fun, this is much gentler on the budget. I don’t have to rent a room for three nights, and I can prepare my own food as I normally do, which is not an easy thing for a vegan on the road.

I’m really looking forward to the awards night, as my good friend, author Johanna Flynn is up for the prestigious Nancy Pearl Award for her book, Hidden Pictures—and that is a big deal.

I was a reader in the short story category, and one of the stories I read is up for an award—this makes me happy. I love it when I come across a brilliant piece of writing, and some of the entries I read this year just shone.

The Nebulas were a virtual conference this last May, and I enjoyed how easy it was to navigate the whole thing. I wouldn’t have attended the Nebulas had it not been virtual, as the total cost for air-fare and rooms and dining would have been prohibitive. It was a real joy to be involved, even if only on a virtual level.

The reason I love conferences is simple. You meet people and make connections, and sometimes you forge friendships. If anything is missing from a virtual conference, it is that little touch of humanity.

However, much can be gained, even in these challenging times. This year, Brit Bennett, New York Times best-selling author of The Vanishing Half and The Mothers,  will be giving the keynote speech. I’m looking forward to an inspiring evening.

The master’s classes are included in the basic fee this year since it is a virtual conference. I’ve always enjoyed these classes when I had the extra money, but there were years when I couldn’t afford them. Many people have wanted to attend master’s classes but couldn’t find the extra money, so this year they will have that chance.

I am interested in writing craft seminars (of course). Still, I will be attending workshops on negotiating the rough waters of the business side of writing. Sunday will focus on screenwriting.

PNWA is offering both 20 minute and 1-hour seminars, which allows folks the chance to walk around and stretch their legs. I think a shorter meeting will encourage people to remain at their computers and engaged.

I hope to have a lot of new ideas for posts on craft and the business of writing in general. Some years I come home fired up about specific topics that were covered, in both craft and business. I hope to end this conference with new viewpoints on what sometimes feels like old dogmas.

I love learning. Discovering fresh ideas, seeing new ways of looking at things we take for granted—these are the reasons I attend writers’ conferences.

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Julian Lackland #new #amwriting

Tomorrow, September 22, 2020, would be my father’s 96th birthday. In honor of the man whose library of speculative fiction and classics inspired me to write, I chose that day for my new novel, Julian Lackland, to leave the nest.

Lackland began life in November of 2010, as my NaNoWriMo novel. Since then, he has been through many changes.

This is the original novel from which both Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers grew, and it was both my greatest joy and my worst mistake.

In 2010 I made my word count and became a firm believer in the principals behind NaNoWriMo—that if you sit down and write at least 1667 words every day, you will complete your novel.

What I didn’t know was that while that novel might be complete, it isn’t finished. The year that followed was filled with mistakes and struggles. There were some low points, a devastating falling out with my first publisher, and the grim realization that the book should be left in a drawer to rot.

When we formed Myrddin Publishing Group, our lead editor, Alison DeLuca, gave me great advice. Rather than abandon it, I should completely dismantle it and start over. It was a low point and seemed like a mountain. Alison’s courage in the face of disaster gave me the strength to put the publishing nightmare behind me and rebuild the novel from the ground up, writing it the way it should have been done in the first place.

I’ve been fortunate to have a village of brilliant editors along the way. My dear friend, sci-fi author Dave Cantrell, gave so much of himself to this project. Dave was the structural editor for Billy Ninefingers and The Wayward Son, and his eye for flow and logic influenced the first two drafts of this new manuscript.

Unfortunately, Dave was ill for most of 2019 and died this last summer. But a part of him lives on in the shape of this novel.

Once the new manuscript was in the final stages, Johanna Flynn was a kind but firm beta reader. I was fortunate to have Irene Roth Luvaul’s eye on the final draft, as the Texas Tornado is a brilliant line editor.

The support and advice from my writing posse has been and always will be invaluable. The international group of authors and editors at Myrddin Publishing are a well of knowledge, support, and advice.

Here in my local community, I am a member of a professional writer’s group, The Tuesday Morning Rebel Writers. The group is comprised of about nine novelists. Several are successful and award-winning authors, like Lee French, Ellen King Rice, and Johanna Flynn. The rest of us are in various stages of our writing careers.

I can’t thank these authors enough. Between them, Myrddin Publishing and the Rebel Writers dragged me gently to the finish line.

Julian’s story was born on November 1st, 2010. Two days before the start of the month, I had accepted a challenge to “do” something called “NaNoWriMo,” a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month. I’d never heard of it, but a challenge is a challenge.

I had written the storyline for an RPG and many short stories. A proto novel was rambling along at 250,000 words, so I thought, “How hard can it be to write 1667 words a day?”

I had the vague notion of writing a story about a rollicking band of mercenaries, so I began with no outline and no plot. In the way that NaNoWriMo novels often go, I got caught up in the character of Julian “Lackland” De Portiers, but also in several others.

I soon discovered that writing 1667 words a day is easy.

I also discovered that writing a coherent novel with no plot, no outline, and no maps is not my strong suit.

But there was a good story there, buried beneath the crap. I began by dividing out the stories that didn’t pertain to Julian, and that was how Billy Ninefingers came into existence.

Then I focused on the core of the story, and gradually I came to realize that the true adversary in this tale is Lackland’s naïve belief that good will always triumph.

Julian is the landless second son of a minor baron and relegated to the sidelines at court because he has no land. His own brother, jealous of his knightly skill and charisma, named him “Lackland” as a way to keep him in his place.

Lackland embraced the name, realizing that it meant he had the freedom to do as he wished and owed nothing to anyone but the king. King Henri just happens to be his second cousin on his mother’s side.

Julian leaves the court and joins the mercenary crew known as the Rowdies. He intends to do a little good in the world, and Billy Ninefingers wants more knights like him in his Rowdies. They have an arrangement where Julian will be available whenever his royal cousin needs him.

Highly skilled at arms and cursed with the ability to plan a war better than anyone, the king pulls Julian Lackland out of his toolkit whenever the job is impossible or too dirty for an ordinary knight to accomplish.

Lackland has a remarkable knack for finding trouble, but he meets good people along the way. Love is always a problem, but Julian Lackland just lives as well as he can.

Julian is and always will be my favorite character because he is so complicated, so conflicted, and so ethical. His story is that of perseverance in the face of catastrophe, but it is also the story of human frailty and resilience.

Originally, I wanted to write a epic fantasy novel that my father would read, one that I might have stolen from his nightstand.

I believe I have succeeded.


Julian Lackland by Connie J. Jasperson

Julian “Lackland” De Portiers is the last good knight in Waldeyn. Everyone knows he’s brilliant…

…Everyone knows he’s mad.

How does a Hero gracefully retire from the business of saving the world?

Once upon a time, Julian “Lackland” De Portiers had the strength to save what mattered most. Once he had companions and twice, he fell passionately in love.

One terrible night in the forest, everything changed.

Who will rescue the rescuer when darkness falls, and the voices begin?

Julian Lackland is an enduring tale of confusion, sorrow, and triumph set in an alternate medieval world.

Purchase Julian Lackland in eBook for $4.99 or paper for $12.99 at Amazon

Not a fan of Amazon? Purchase Julian Lackland from these fine eBook sellers for $4.99

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Character Building: Writing Subtly Positive Emotions #amwriting

Most writers find it easy to connect with the flamboyant emotions, such as hate, anger, desire, and adoration. However, emotions have “volume” ranging from soft to loud. Today we are looking at generally positive emotions, but at low volume.

The volume control is a crucial part of the overall pacing of your story. “Loud” deafens us and loses it’s power when it’s the only sound. However, like the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the entire range of volume can be effectively used to create a masterpiece.

These subtle emotions convey the mood of the piece.

As we said in the previous post, Writing Subtly  Negative Emotions, low-key shades of emotion can go almost unnoticed, but they lend solidity to the world. Under the surface, vibes, positive or negative, give us a rounded view of a character, making them less of a cardboard-Barbie and more of a real person.

We’re all aware of one positive emotion that can go bad—love. When love is reciprocated, it’s a positive feeling, and we all enjoy a good love story.

However, when love starts out with promise and then goes terribly wrong, you have the makings of a deep, dark story filled with possibilities.

But none of that—we’re focusing on the less intense, but still good, vibes today.

Another positive emotion with many nuances is Joy. The way we feel joy ranges from mild to overwhelming, from a slight smile to an experience so profound that tears spring to one’s eyes.

Subtle emotions don’t stand out and grab the reader.

They are there under the surface, tinting the reader’s opinions about the story and the characters. Small, quiet emotions linger, and if they are positive, they leave an impression we can’t describe, but we are happier for having experienced them.

These feelings are difficult for a writer to articulate. However, if you want to forge a connection between your reader and the characters in your narrative, you must include small indicators that individuals in the cast sometimes experience a sense of:

  • Competence
  • Confidence in their friends
  • Cooperation
  • Courage
  • Decisiveness
  • Discovery
  • Group ethics
  • Happiness
  • Individual moral courage
  • Purposefulness
  • Revelation
  • Satisfaction
  • Self-confidence
  • Serenity
  • Strength
  • Success
  • Sufficiency
  • Trust

These are good vibes that are rarely articulated, but they suffuse the scene and color the way in which the characters interact with each other.

Some positive emotions can be more intense, yet still not overpowering. Those moments can be shown by an immediate physical reaction, combined with internal dialogue or conversations. We  use the same 1 – 2 – 3  trick of word order when describing a mild experience as we do with louder emotions.

  1. Start with the visceral response. There will be an instant reaction. Good emotions are felt first in the chest, in varying degrees, from a feeling of warmth to the stronger, heart-pounding sensation. But we’re keeping it subdued, here.
  2. Follow up with a thought response. If it is a mild reaction, give it a moderate thought response. “Ah hah!” Whatever your style and word choices are, showing small moments of relatable happiness or pleasure makes our protagonist more sympathetic.
  3. Third, finish up with body language. That is how emotions hit us. We feel the shock then experience the mental reaction as we process the event. Our body language reflects these things.

What if you are writing a story where one of the antagonists will eventually become part of the protagonist’s inner circle? Including small positive thoughts early on in their narrative can foreshadow that this character may turn out to be the ally that turns the tide.

I’ve pointed out many times that conflict is what keeps the protagonist from achieving their goals. Large emotions are easy to write. But frequently, in real life, our smaller joys have a longer-lasting impact, and the memory of these can be the impetus that keeps the soldier fighting during the darkest hours.

Allowing ourselves and our characters to feel joy over small things, to experience a sense of accomplishment is a gift to the reader. The reader will experience those emotions as if they are theirs, and the book will be that much more meaningful to them.

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Character Building: Writing Subtly Negative Emotions #amwriting

Most writers find it easy to connect with the “loud” emotions, such as anger and hate. However, negative emotions have nuances the same way that positive emotions do.

Subtle shades of emotion give us a rounded view of a character, making them less of a cardboard-Barbie and more of a real person.

One negative aspect of our human character is a tendency for us to experience an uncharitable emotion known as schadenfreude. We are all familiar with it, as we experience it on a personal level every now and then. Some people take great joy in this, gaining a sense of superiority.

About schadenfreude, Via Wikipedia:

Schadenfreude is a complex emotion, where rather than feeling sympathy towards someone’s misfortune, schadenfreude evokes joyful feelings that take pleasure from watching someone fail. This emotion is displayed more in children than adults; however, adults also experience schadenfreude, though generally concealed.

In other words, we know it’s an unkind emotion, and we don’t like it in others. Like theft and lying, it is a fundamental aspect of our survival mechanisms that was hardwired into us before we came down from the trees. Primates in the wild have been observed exhibiting our most negative behaviors. 10 Facts About Chimpanzees That Hold A Dark Mirror To Humanity

For most of human history, popular humor has had an aspect of schadenfreude to it. Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, and Jerry Lewis were all popular comedy acts of the 20th century who employed physical comedy that evoked a feeling of schadenfreude in the audience.

We don’t like admitting it, and we try to rise above it. This is one easily relatable emotion you can use to show that your protagonist or others in the cast are real.

Another negative emotion with many nuances is envy. Envy can take the form of wishing one had that lovely thing. Allowed to rage out of control, jealousy becomes the propellant fueling a violent takeover.

Subtle emotions are the kind that prey on you. These feelings are difficult for a writer to articulate. However, if you want to keep raising the tension in your narrative, you must include small indicators of:

  • Anguish
  • Anxiety
  • Defeat
  • Defensiveness
  • Depression
  • Indecision
  • Jealousy
  • Ethical Quandaries
  • Inadequacy
  • Paranoia
  • Powerlessness
  • Regret
  • Resistance
  • Temptation
  • Trust
  • Unease
  • Weakness

These are emotions that can be shown by an immediate physical reaction, combined with internal dialogue or conversations.

As with louder emotions, we want to create a sympathetic response in the reader. So, we use a simple 1 – 2 – 3  trick of word order when describing the character’s experience.

  1. Start with the visceral response. How does a “gut reaction” feel? Nausea, gut-punch, butterflies…how do you respond to internal surprises?
  2. Follow up with a thought response. If it is a mild reaction, it might be on the order of “Heck!” or “Oh dear….” Whatever your style and word choices are, showing their dismay makes them human.
  3. Third, finish up with body language. That is how emotions hit us. We feel the shock then experience the mental reaction as we process the event. Our body language reflects these things.

What if you are writing a story where the antagonist begins as part of the protagonist’s inner circle? Including small negatives like envy and schadenfreude in their narrative can foreshadow that this character may turn out to be the skunk in the laundry hamper.

Conflict is what keeps the protagonist from achieving their goals. Large conflicts and emotions are easy to write. But frequently, in real life, our smaller, more internal conflicts create greater roadblocks to success than any antagonist might present.

These tiny inner voices of self-destruction that hold us back are crucial to creating relatable characters.

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