Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

Desires and Objectives #amwriting

Several conversations in an online writer’s group has inspired me to drag out a  post on the importance of identifying desires and objectives, which was first published in June of 2016. This post contrasts the works of two authors with unique and distinct literary styles: James Joyce and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Although they were contemporaries, born ten years apart, the two authors couldn’t be more dissimilar. And yet their works have one thing in common: the protagonists want something and are willing to to some lengths to gain it.

This is the core of any great novel.


When we sit down to write a story of any length, a novel or flash fiction, we often begin with an idea, and great characters, and little more. To make those things into a story, we must first ask what the protagonist wants, and we must know what she/he is willing to risk in their efforts to achieve it.

Objectives + Risk = Story

In The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo is just an ordinary young hobbit, with no particular ambitions. On the same day as his older cousin Bilbo’s “eleventy-eleventh” (111th) birthday, Frodo (Bilbo’s heir) celebrates his thirty-third birthday.

At the lavish double-birthday party, Bilbo departs from the Shire for what he calls “a permanent holiday.” He does so by using the magic ring (that he had found on the journey detailed in The Hobbit) to disappear. He is aided in that by Gandalf with a flash and puff of smoke, leading many in the Shire to believe Bilbo has gone mad.

He leaves Frodo his remaining belongings, including his home, Bag End, and after some heavy-handed persuasion by the wizard Gandalf, he also leaves the Ring. Gandalf departs on his own business, warning Frodo to keep the Ring secret. Seventeen years or so pass, and then Gandalf returns to inform Frodo of the truth about Bilbo’s ring. It is the One Ring of Sauron the Dark Lord, and is evil. It forges a connection between the wearer and Sauron, and whoever bears it will be slowly corrupted, eventually becoming a Ringwraith.

From the moment of learning the truth about the Ring, Frodo’s goal is clear to the reader: he must get rid of the ring. In Rivendell, he learns the only way to do so is to carry it into the depths of Mordor and cast the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom.

Frodo wants to achieve this goal badly enough to walk into an active volcano and certain death to accomplish this.

At no point in the narrative is the objective unclear. The path is blocked many times, and each of the characters is tested by the evil ring, some beyond their ability to resist it.

The objective creates the tension, which drives the plot forward.

But what about a book where the goal is not so clear? Let’s talk about Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Ulysses chronicles the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, taking place over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinized name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce established a series of parallels between the epic poem and his novel. This book has one of the best opening lines of all time:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Structurally, there are strong correlations between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom with Odysseus, Molly Bloom with Odysseus’ long-suffering wife, Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus with Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. It is set in early twentieth century Dublin with the events and political tempests of the time. Themes of antisemitism and the impact of Ireland’s rocky relationship with Britain as it was felt in those days are the underlying pins of this novel. It is highly allusive and filled with allegories.

There is no obvious quest, although many minor quests are completed in the course of living through the day. The book opens with Stephen Dedalus, the first protagonist, having breakfast with Buck Mulligan, who is perhaps a friend, or maybe a rival. Stephen is not Leopold’s biological son as Telemachus is Odysseus’, but he fulfills that role. Unconsciously Stephen wants a father.

But what do they want? It’s James Joyce, so it’s complicated.

Stephen shares his opinions about religion with Buck Mulligan, speaking of how they relate to the recent death of his mother, and Buck manages to offend him. They make plans to go drinking later that evening.

What does Leopold desire? He wants a son. In Episode 4, the narrative shifts abruptly. The time is again 8 am, but the action has moved across the city and to the second protagonist of the book, Leopold Bloom, a part-Jewish advertising canvasser. He and his wife have a daughter, Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography.  As the day unfolds, Bloom’s thoughts turn to the affair between his wife, Molly, and her manager.

He also thinks about the death of their infant son, Rudy Bloom, who died at the age of 11 days. The absence of a son is what leads him to form an attachment to Stephen, for whom he goes out of his way in the book’s latter episodes. He rescues him from a brothel, walks him back to his own home, and even offers him a place there to study and work.

Finally, we come to Molly. Within the city of Dublin, Molly is an opera singer of some renown. She is the mother of Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography. She is also the mother of Rudy, the son who died at the age of eleven days. A significant difference between Molly and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is that while Penelope is eternally faithful, Molly is not. She is having an affair with Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan after ten years of her celibacy within her marriage.

The final chapter of Ulysses, often called “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy,” is a long and unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness passage. During the monologue, Molly accepts Leopold into her bed, frets about his health, and then reminisces about their first meeting and about when she knew she was in love with him. It is comprised of some 20,0000 words of her thoughts as she lies in bed next to Bloom. What does Molly want? She wants to be loved.

In The Lord of the Rings, we have a clear and obvious quest, straightforward and seemingly impossible: Destroy the One Ring and save the world.

In Ulysses, we have a group of people who all want something, but just as in real life, what that may exactly be is not as clear as we would like it. But there is an objective: they just want to get through the day and in the process they find they are a family, thus achieving their individual goals.

Once we know what our protagonist wants and what he/she is willing to risk to achieve it, we have our plot.

How we dress it up is up to us—I admit James Joyce’s rambling is too daunting for me to read for pleasure. I had to read it in the environment of a college class to make it all the way through the novel with some understanding of it.

I am a huge fan of Joyce’s magnificent one-liners, though.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Ulysses, Episode 2


Credits and Attributions:

Desires and Objectives © 2016 – 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on June 13, 2016.

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#amwriting: Tolkien, one-star reviews, and our shifting language

the hobbit movie poster 3Tolkien did NOT use too many words in The Hobbit, and the movie was NOT better.

The book is one thing, and the movies are something else completely. The movies, while they are awesome, exciting, and great fun, do bear some relation to the actual book. The basic plot, some of the high points, and various characters are all taken from the book. However, the movie most certainly does not chronicle the tale as Tolkien originally wrote it.

In the book (for starters) while elves are long lived and it is accepted that he must have been alive at the time, Legolas was not a character. Therefore, he did not have a love interest featured in the book. So, no– Tauriel did not exist in the book, The Hobbit. But she did in the movie, The Desolation of Smaug, and she was a great character there. In reality, no female elves are featured in the original book, The Hobbit, in more than passing, so that pretty much scotched any chance of romance for Kili in the novel.

If you read the credits at the end of the movies, you will see it clearly says “BASED ON” the book, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Now, let me address the concept of “too many words,” a direct quote from one of the many one-star reviews of the book,  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and posted on Amazon several years ago:

J.R.R. Tolkien was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford. That tells us he was educated, but he was writing stories for his children when he wrote The Hobbit and developed the world of Middle Earth. Because of that connection to his children, we know he was writing at a level they could understand. A master of languages, he invented the elfin language. We should assume he had a moderately good grasp of the English language as well.

What modern readers may not realize is this: Tolkien was writing in the early part of the twentieth century. He served in the British army during the First World War, the notorious War To End All Wars. That war was fought one hundred years ago.  Things were different then, he wrote in the literary style of his time.

The problem with the book is not in Tolkien’s writing. It is in the eye of the modern beholder who has no appreciation for the literary style of that era. That is a fair consideration, as reading the literature of this era takes time and persistence, and many readers don’t have the patience. No reader should feel guilty for not enjoying a book their friends loved. It happens to me all the time.

the hobbit movie posterThe Hobbit remains a classic of modern literature because it details that intrinsic thing all great novels consider, the search for self. That quest to discover who we are and what we are capable of is what drives Bilbo to keep going, even in the face of terrible events. Underneath the trappings of fantasy, the elves and goblins represent humanity in all its many imperfections, as does the hobbit himself.

Writers of modern fantasy might try to read what the early masters of the genre wrote, and discover what made their work classics. It will be difficult because the gap between the style and usages of today’s English versus the English of even one hundred years ago is widening with each passing year.

Readers must be patient and set aside their knowledge of what works in today’s literature. In other words, stop looking AT the words as disparate parts that you could write better, and read them in context. You might be surprised at what you will find.

Writers are always readers, and Tolkien often discussed his fondness for the work of William Morris (b.1834 – d.1896). Morris was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and English Arts and Crafts Movement. Tolkien and many of his contemporaries loved Morris’s prose- and poetry-romances.

Tolkien himself said his own work followed the general style and approach of Morris’s work. The Desolation of Smaug portrays dragons as detrimental to landscape, a motif borrowed directly from Morris. Tolkien had what he considered an accepted canon for how dragons should behave to work from.

But exactly what does “canon” mean in the context of a literary genre?

Wikipedia says, “In fictioncanon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction. The alternative terms mythologytimeline, and continuity are often used, with the former being especially to refer to a richly detailed fictional canon requiring a large degree of suspension of disbelief (e.g. an entire imaginary world and history), while the latter two typically refer to a single arc where all events are directly connected chronologically. Other times, the word can mean “to be acknowledged by the creator(s).”

The modern image and mythology of the elf as he is written into most of today’s fantasy has been directly modeled on the elves of Tolkien’s Rivendell, whether the author knows it or not. Even the elves we find in the onslaught of modern urban-fantasy-romances are created in Tolkien’s image—close to the earth, immortal, and somehow nobler and more clever than we mere humans.

The love of a beautifully crafted tale will always endure. While future generations may have to learn to read and understand English as we speak it today, a true appreciation of Tolkien’s influence on modern epic fantasy literature will live on.

hobbit-battle-five-armies-bilbo-posterWhen I decided to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in their original form, I had to take a college class. In that class we learned to read and understand Middle English, and then wrote our own modern translations. It was a lot of fun, but many great modern translations are out there if you don’t have the patience to read the original.

In the future, modern translations of Tolkien’s work will be published, and new fans of his work will emerge, just as in the case of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a novel fully titled The history of the valorous and wittie Knight-Errant Don-Quixote of the Mancha. It was written in early modern Spanish (the equivalent of Shakespearean English) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered one of the greatest novels of all time. New translations are published every few decades.

So, Tolkien didn’t use too many words, and the movies were not better than his books. They were good, but they were different stories, one based on the other, but not following it.


Wikipedia contributors, “Canon (fiction),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Canon_(fiction)&oldid=760595154  (accessed January 17, 2017).

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#amwriting: Desires and Objectives

LOTR advance poster 2When we sit down to write a story of any length, whether a novel or flash fiction, we often begin with an idea for a plot, the possibilities of great characters, and little more. To make those two things into a compelling story, we must discover what the protagonist desires most, and find out what she/he is willing to risk to achieve it.

Objectives+Risk=Story

In The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo is just an ordinary young hobbit, with no particular ambitions. On the same day as his older cousin Bilbo’s “eleventy-eleventh” (111th) birthday, Frodo (Bilbo’s heir) celebrates his thirty-third birthday.

At the lavish double-birthday party, Bilbo departs from the Shire for what he calls “a permanent holiday.” He does so by using the magic ring (that he had found on the journey detailed in The Hobbit) to disappear. He is aided in that by Gandalf with a flash and puff of smoke, leading many in the Shire to believe Bilbo has gone mad.

He leaves Frodo his remaining belongings, including his home, Bag End, and after some heavy-handed persuasion by the wizard Gandalf, he also leaves the Ring. Gandalf departs on his own business, warning Frodo to keep the Ring secret. Seventeen years or so pass, and then Gandalf returns to inform Frodo of the truth about Bilbo’s ring. It is the One Ring of Sauron the Dark Lord, and is evil. It forges a connection between the wearer and Sauron, and whoever bears it will be slowly corrupted, eventually becoming a Ringwraith.

LOTR advance posterFrom the moment of learning the truth about the Ring, Frodo’s goal is clear to the reader: he must get rid of the ring. In Rivendell, he learns the only way to do so is to carry it into the depths of Mordor and cast the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom.

Frodo wants to achieve this goal badly enough to walk into an active volcano and certain death to accomplish this.

At no point in the narrative is the objective unclear. The path is blocked many times, and each of the characters is tested by the evil ring, some beyond their ability to resist it.

The objective creates the tension, which drives the plot forward.

But what about a book where the goal is not so clear? Let’s talk about Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Ulysses chronicles the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, taking place over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinized name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce established a series of parallels between the epic poem and his novel. This book has one of the best opening lines of all time:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Ulysses cover 3Structurally, there are strong correlations between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom with Odysseus, Molly Bloom with Odysseus’ long-suffering wife, Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus with Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. It is set in early twentieth century Dublin with the events and political tempests of of the time. Themes of antisemitism and the impact of Ireland’s rocky relationship with Britain as a it was felt in those days are the underlying pins of this novel. It is highly allusive and filled with allegories.

There is no obvious quest, although many minor quests are completed in the course of living through the day. The book opens with Stephen Dedalus, the first protagonist, having breakfast with Buck Mulligan, who is perhaps a friend, or maybe a rival. It’s James Joyce, so it’s complicated. Stephen shares his opinions about religion, especially as they relate to the recent death of his mother, with Buck Mulligan, who manages to offend him. They make plans to go drinking later that evening.  Stephen is not Leopold’s biological son as Telemachus is Odysseus’, but he fulfils that role.

What does Leopold desire? In Episode 4, the narrative shifts abruptly. The time is again 8 am, but the action has moved across the city and to the second protagonist of the book, Leopold Bloom, a part-Jewish advertising canvasser. He and his wife have a daughter, Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography.  As the day unfolds, Bloom’s thoughts turn to the affair between his wife, Molly, and her manager.

He also thinks about the death of their infant son, Rudy Bloom, who died at the age of 11 days. The absence of a son is what leads him to form an attachment to Stephen, for whom he goes out of his way in the book’s latter episodes. He rescues him from a brothel, walks him back to his own home, and even offers him a place there to study and work.

Finally, we come to Molly. The significant difference between Molly and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is that while Penelope is eternally faithful, Molly is not. Molly is having an affair with Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan after ten years of her celibacy within the marriage.  In Dublin, Molly is an opera singer of some renown. Molly wants to be loved.

Ulysses_(1967_film_dvd_cover)The final chapter of Ulysses, often called “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy,” is a long, un-punctuated stream-of-consciousness passage, which is arguably the most difficult passage to read and/or follow in the Western canon. (The body of books, music and art that scholars generally accept as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture.)

At the end of the day Molly allows Leopold into her bed, and worries about his health. She reminisces about their first meeting, and about when she knew she was in love with him. This long-winded monologue is comprised of some 20,000 words of her thoughts as she lies in bed next to Bloom, who is unaware of her internal rambling.

In The Lord of the Rings, we have a clear and obvious quest, straightforward and seemingly impossible. In Ulysses, we have a group of people who all want something, but just as in real life, what that may be is not as clear as we would like it. But there is an objective: they just want to get through the day and in the end, they each want to love and be loved, and perhaps be part of a family.

Once we know what our protagonist wants and what he/she is willing to risk to achieve it, we have our plot. Personally, I like a certain amount of literary prose, but I prefer reading books that are a little more straight-forward than Ulysses. That’s why Tolkien’s work spoke to me when I was still in grade school.

How we dress it up is up to us—and, while I admit James Joyce’s rambling is too daunting for me to read for pleasure, I am a confirmed fan of his magnificent one-liners.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Ulysses, Episode 2

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Elements of the Story: the story arc

Elements of the Story 1st Quarter of the MSWhen I first began writing, I wasn’t concerned with the nuts-and-bolts aspects of a tale–I wrote stories to read to my children, and I wrote stories I wanted to read. The stories lived in my mind, and I got a great deal of pleasure from writing them. It never occurred to me to submit them to a publisher, and I wouldn’t have known how to do that anyway.

It wasn’t until my youngest child was in high-school that I began thinking about writing as a vocation, and began looking for places to submit my work. So my evolution as a writer was: I began by writing songs in high-school and also writing poetry, graduated to writing fairytales for my kids and short stories for myself, and finally began my serious attempt at a novel in 1996.

2nd quarter of the manuscriptI began writing for my own pleasure, and had no idea of how to plot a novel. Since that first attempt at a novel, I have completed six novels, and am working on 3 more at this time. Each book has been an improvement over the previous one. Through working with good editors and educating myself,  I feel like I finally understand how  a good novel is constructed.

In my early books, I didn’t understand the way a good story worked. I knew one when I read one, but I didn’t really understand what made that story immersive and memorable.

I had a grasp of how to create characters, and I had a good idea for the basic plot,  but I was weak in the area of structuring the novel. Once I realized that weakness, I set out to resolve it.

For the last two years, that has been the area I’ve worked hardest on putting into practice, and for those who have beta-read my yet to be published work, that change in my understanding of how to write a novel is clear.

Now, I have an instinctive understanding that the evolution of the story can be graphed out in an arc–the Story Arc. I had heard of this concept, and in writing groups some authors will talk about it as if they understand it, but when you read their work it’s clear they don’t.

It wasn’t until Scott Driscoll, author of Better You Go Home gave a seminar on it last year that the pieces fell into place for me.

The Story Arc copy

Some books are character-driven, others are event-driven. ALL of them follow an arc.  For my personal reading pleasure, I prefer Literary Fantasy, which has a character-driven plot. Events happen, often in a fantasy setting, but the growth of the characters is the central theme, and the events are just the means to enable that growth.

3rd qtr of manuscriptI write literary fantasy, with some emphasis on the fantasy. My own books, as in Huw the Bard, tend to be more character-driven than action oriented, as the Hero’s Journey is what intrigues me, but large events occur that cause personal growth. Whether your books are character- or event-driven, there must be an arc to the story.

We have talked about the way the manuscript can be divided into quarters.  Let’s consider the midpoint. The midpoint of the story arc begins the second half of the book. The first calamities have occurred and up to this point, the characters have been reacting to the antagonist’s moves.

The midpoint of the story arc is the Turning-Point, the place where there is no turning back. Consider J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit: At the midpoint, Bilbo is committed to seeing the Dwarves regain their home, and Smaug is routed, but at great cost. Now, he can see only disaster ahead of them, if Thorin continues down the moral path he has chosen.  Bilbo has been changing, but now he shows his true courage, by hiding the Arkenstone. Then he takes matters into his own hands in order to head off the impending war.  Bilbo tries to ransom the Arkenstone , but Thorin refuses to see reason. He banishes Bilbo, and battle is inevitable.

This arc is the same in every good, well-plotted novel: in the first half of the book everything had gone to hell, emotions were high, and the situation was sometimes chaotic, but the protagonist thought he had a grip on it. The Midpoint is the place where the already-high emotions really intensify, and the action does too. From this point on, the forces driving the plot are a train on a downhill run, picking up speed, and there is no stopping it or turning back now. The characters continue to be put to the test, and the subplots kick into gear.

4th qtr of MSThe second half is where the villain shines–the evil one is on a roll and it’s his ballgame. The truth underlying the conflict now emerges, and it culminates in the third calamity, the third plot point. This is also where the villain’s weaknesses begin to emerge, and the hero must somehow exploit them.

The third quarter of the book, from the midpoint to the third plot point is critical. These events tear the hero down, break him emotionally and physically so that in the final fourth of the book he can be rebuilt, stronger, and ready to face the villain on equal terms.

The third quarter of the book frequently sets the hero on the path to enlightenment, but first he must undergo a symbolic death and rebirth.

If you want to read classic fantasy where this type of story arc is really clear and yet the stories are strongly character driven, you should read:

magii of cyador

 

 

Magi’i of Cyador and Scion of Cyador by L. E. Modessit Jr. (2 books)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pawn_of_Prophecy_cover

 

 

 

The Belgariad by David Eddings (5 book series)

 

 

 

 

Green_Angel_Tower_P1

 

 

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams (4 paperbacks, 3 hard bound or ebooks)

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Elements of the story: Circumstances and Objectives

the hobbitAt the outset of any good story, we find our protagonist, and see him/her in their normal surroundings. An event occurs, and Hero is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the Situation, which is the core idea of your plot. This is the circumstance in which your protagonist finds himself in the beginning of the story. 

In the opening pages of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, a respectable hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is living a comfortable life in a prosperous, sheltered village, and has no desire to change that in any way. However, a casual, polite greeting made to a passing wizard sets a string of events into motion that will eventually change the course of history of Middle Earth.

the hobbit movie poster 3The wizard, Gandalf, tricks Bilbo into hosting a party for Thorin Oakenshield and his band of dwarves, who sing of reclaiming the Lonely Mountain and its vast treasure from the dragon Smaug. When the music ends, Gandalf unveils a map showing a secret door into the Mountain and proposes that the dumbfounded Bilbo serve as the expedition’s “burglar”. The dwarves ridicule the idea, but Bilbo becomes a little indignant, and joins despite himself. The next morning he has second thoughts, but the last minute Bilbo literally runs out the door, with nothing but the clothes on his back.

  • How will the story start?
  • What is the hero’s personal condition (strength, health) at the beginning?
  • How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force?
  • What could possibly entice him out of his comfort zone?

Now we come to the next part of the core of your plot: Objective

the hobbit movie posterA protagonist has no business showing up on the page unless he/she has a compelling objective. If he doesn’t want something badly enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages, then he doesn’t deserve to have a story told about him.

Bilbo does have an objective. Once he gets past his feeling of having made a terrible mistake, he desires nothing more than to help his friends achieve their goal: that of regaining their lost kingdom. Gandalf exerts a parental influence over Bilbo at the outset, guiding him and pushing him out of his comfortable existence.  But it is Bilbo who has common sense and compassion, who gradually takes over leadership of the party, guiding and rescuing them from their own greedy mistakes. This is a fact the dwarves can’t bear to acknowledge, and also a fact he doesn’t realize himself.

Those turning points where with each adventure Bilbo gains confidence and a tool or weapon he will later need are what make up the best parts of the adventure. That is what you must inject into your adventure, be it urban fantasy or science fiction.

  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly does he want it and why?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is he going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?

Perhaps your tale is set on a space station. What does your protagonist need that is in short supply? What does he have to do to get it?

Perhaps you are writing an urban fantasy. Perhaps your main character is a vampire. He/she requires sustenance–what will he/she do to get it? Or conversely, if a human, what will he/she do to avoid becoming vampire-food?

Protagonists begin their tale in their current surroundings. They are thrown out of their comfortable existence by circumstances, and forced to identify objectives they must achieve or acquire in order to resolve their situation.

hobbit-battle-five-armies-bilbo-posterCircumstances and Objectives combine to form the plot. Character A desires Objective B–and will do anything to acquire it.  Along the way, Character A has a series of adventures that force him to grow and change, but which in the end give him the strength, the moral courage to enable the final resolution.

Thus, whichever you conceive first, characters or objective, you need to know why your character is willing to leave his circumstances and embark on his adventure. That objective must be compelling enough for him to risk everything he values to achieve it.

But what if a side character has such a compelling story that the book becomes about him, and not our hobbit? If you notice that is the case, rewrite your book so that the character with the  most compelling story is the protagonist from page one.

Potential for gain must outweigh the potential for loss–so if he is risking his life, there had better be a damned big payoff at the end, whether monetary or in moral coin. Without that risk and potential for gain, there is no story.

 

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Creating Conversations

Socks and Sandals MemeConversations are easy to write…badly.

Unless the author thinks about it carefully, they can be stilted, stiff, and an unnatural wall of blah-blah-blah. Good writing involves learning the craft, and nowhere is that more apparent than in a conversation.

So how does the intrepid author write this phenomenon in such a way that it sounds natural? I always think of a conversation as having an arc: It begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, an integral part of the scene, propelling the story forward to the next scene.

We might jabber about nothing, but in writing,  a good conversation is about something and builds toward something. J.R.R. Tolkien said that good dialogue must have a premise and moves toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the dialogue is a waste of the reader’s time.

First, when we write about conversations between our characters, we want to ensure they don’t all sound like the same person. Imagine you are at a party. If you look around you, observing the conversations going on in small clusters, you will notice that every person has different mannerisms. The same is true of your characters when you see them in your head. With that image in mind,  you want to include those differences in their gestures, and their manner of speech.

When people talk, they rarely follow grammatical rules. Any English class you’ve taken will have stressed the importance of using proper grammar and punctuation in your writing, and believe me, those rules are important. However, when we attempt to write dialogue, those same rules should be thrown out of the window. People speak in broken sentences, with pauses, and even use incorrect words.

Now we get to the part where my editor and I have our own little conversation—the one where I stick random bits of punctuation in at odd places and she puts them where they belong or removes them entirely:

She: “I agree with the grammar part. I take exception to the punctuation. Punctuation rules MUST be followed especially in dialogue so that the reader reads the dialogue in the same manner the writer intended it to be read.”

Me: “Yes, ma’am.” (Muttering as I find ways to insert action where I want the pauses to go.)

Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Spock's_Brain_Star_Trek_1968We all take breaths at different places. Some people speak quickly and off the cuff, with short bursts. Others consider their words before they say them and speak more slowly. Every person in a given room speaks with their own unique style and pattern.

What are the roots of these patterns?  Speech habits are born in the environment the speaker grows up in, but they become identifiable mannerisms acquired throughout our lives.

Consider how the conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: first we must identify what must be conveyed in our conversation.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. And how many paragraphs do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot. Walls of meaningless conversation don’t keep the action moving and will lose readers, so  the conversations you include in your narrative must be important—and intriguing.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

SHotel California Memeome people will have the characters discuss the back-story, and this can be good if done the right way, in small snippets at critical points, and only when that information is needed. But this can be bad, especially when used as away to dump history in long, bloated paragraphs of dialogue.

Don’t give your characters long paragraphs with lines and lines and lines of uninterrupted dialogue. Those are sometimes seen as a wall of words by the reader. When asked how to write a good book, Elmore Leonard said, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

That goes double for dialogue. When I think of the novels I’ve enjoyed the most, the important information in their conversations is dealt with up front, and the minor details emerge later as they become important.

We don’t want our characters to be just a bunch of talking heads, sitting around, yammering on. It’s unnatural and doesn’t happen in real life except on the nightly news.

I’ve mentioned this before, but your characters should pause in their conversations, and sometimes miss a few beats. Beats are what screenwriters call the little bits of physical action that are inserted into dialogue and which in a novel can serve to indicate who said what without a dialogue tag interfering with it. Actions serve to punctuate the dialogue, to give the scene movement, and to maintain a strong mental picture, especially when an author is trying to balance the use of dialogue tags.

e3-2013-trailer-final-fantasy-x-x-2-hd-remasterRemember, actions are best placed where there’s a natural break in the dialogue. They show the mood and personality of your characters and allow the reader to experience the same pause in the dialogue as the characters do, and increase the sense of immediacy, making the scene real in the reader’s mind. It’s through the small habits we give our characters that we convey a little bit of their back-story, without having to resort to an info dump.

 

 

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Cover Reveal Darkness Rising 5–Broken, by Ross M. Kitson

Darkness Rising 5 - BrokenOne the best aspects of my life is to be involved in the process as some of the finest fantasy authors out there make their work ready for publication. A longtime friend of mine is Ross M. Kitson, author of the Prism Series. Several years ago I had the privilege of working with him on Darkness Rising 3–Secrets, and I recently had the absolute joy of working with him on the soon-to-be-released Darkness Rising 5–Broken, the new cover of which has just been unveiled.

This new cover completely speaks to what is inside this book. And let me just say I LOVE that series of books–Kitson’s world is dark and dirty, and yet it teems with vibrant, colorful life. His characters leap off the page, and for those like me who love a really deep fantasy read, he creates an epic-fantasy that is truly original.

The Blurb:

‘Beneath the veneer, beneath the beauty, there is always the coldness of stone.’

Tragedy has torn apart Emelia and her companions, a terrible betrayal instigated by the Darkmaster, Vildor. A devastated Jem struggles to control the fearful power of the crystals, becoming distant from his closest friends. Hunor and Orla are tested by a secret from the past, a revelation that will change everything between them. In the Dead City, Emelia begins a search for her past, a journey that will plunge her deeper into the darkness of Vildor and his twisted schemes.

Desperate to seek aid in their battle against Vildor, the companions travel north to Belgo, capital of North Artoria. But everything is not what it seems in the palace, and danger lurks in every shadow, whether cast by friend or foe.
Separated and alone, can Emelia, Jem and Hunor hope to prevail? Or will the evils of the present and the past overcome them at last?

Darkness Rising 5 – Broken is the fifth in the epic fantasy series that reviewers are calling  ‘epic and spellbinding.’ It is a must read for fantasy fans the world over.

That’s pretty intriguing. But let me just say that Ross Kitson doesn’t rely on the great bastions of fantasy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Tad William’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn for his inspiration, although he is a great fan of theirs. Kitson’s world is nothing like anything I’ve ever read, yet it is familiar enough that the reader becomes immersed. His characters are  uniquely individual, with great strengths and each with weaknesses that can and do create tension within the group.

If you are looking for a new, truly epic fantasy series, book one of the Prism Series is currently on sale for .99 for the ebook

Darkness Rising (Book One: Chained)

 

Ross M. KitsonAuthor Bio

Ross M Kitson is a published author in the fantasy genre, with an ongoing series (The Prism Series), a number of short stories on Quantum Muse web-zine and several stories in Steampunk and fantasy anthologies.

His debut series for Myrddin is due for release in October 2012, and is a sci-fi series set in modern-day York. It is written for ages 12+, although its combination of killer androids, steam-powered airships, kick-ass heroines and action packed chases will appeal to all ages.

Ross works as a doctor in the UK specializing in critical care and anaesthesia. He is happily married with three awesome children, who nagged him incessantly to write something that they could read. His love of speculative fiction and comics began at a young age and shows no signs of fading.

Follow Ross on Twitter:          @rossmkitson

Find Ross on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/TheNuKnights

http://www.facebook.com/ross.kitson.9

Websites:

For the infinity Bridge:         http://thenuknights.weebly.com/

Blogs:

http://mouseroar.blogspot.co.uk

http://rossmkitson.blogspot.co.uk

http://skulldustcircle.blogspot.co.uk

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Never been there

©connie j jasperson 2014

©connie j jasperson 2014

Maps are awesome additions to books.  I love drawing them, and I love books that have them.  When I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I was constantly paging back and forth to the maps, wishing for smaller, more localized maps. They don’t have to be accurate–but they do have to give some idea of where the action is taking us.

When I formatted Huw the Bard, I included three maps. At the front I left the whole map of Waldeyn. Then I split the the map, north and south,  so curious readers could see how the two halves of Waldeyn differ from each other, and how that difference in terrain affected his journey. The  second map is inserted where the second stage of Huw’s journey begins.

the chaos balance l.e. modesitt jrI did it that way because I am a voracious reader, of anything by L.E. Modesitt Jr.  but I am angry with his publisher, TOR Fantasy, for not updating the maps in his Recluce books. The maps in the front of that series of books detail the world AFTER The Chaos Balance, and bear absolutely NO resemblance to the towns in fully half of the books that are set before that time!

Sigh. All that money spent for beautiful artwork for the cover was a good investment, oh, mighty publishing giant, TOR–but the interior could use NEW MAPS! Give me the coordinates and I’ll draw them for you! (oh dear, I’m hyperventilating again….)

375px-Baynes-Map_of_Middle-earthOne of the best maps of of a fantasy realm that I’ve ever seen was the map of Middle Earth as done by Pauline Baynes in 1970. It is beautiful, a complete work of art on its own, as all maps once were in the golden age of discovery.

I won’t lay claim to being an artist on this level, nor will my maps ever achieve this kind of style and creativity, but I am working on new maps for the world of Neveyah, and the Tower of Bones series. The ones I have right now are all in color, and they don’t translate to black and white for print.

So I am back to square one, but I will have the new maps for TOB complete by February 1st. The new cover is done, and the manuscript has been re-edited. Now we are down to the final stage of proof-reading, to ensure I have not made any strange new errors in the ms. I am not in a hurry for this, as rushing to publish is why that book has been pulled and re-edited. This is where being an indie is both dangerous and awesome–I bear the sole responsibility for the final product.

I leave you with another great map, David Eddings’s original map for the epic fantasy series, The Belgariad:

BelgariadMap

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Fluff and Nonsense

storagecontainersI have parties for the same reason I have editors. Having a party forces me to get rid of the ‘fluff and nonsense’ that we acquire as part of modern living.

Consider the plastic container. I think of them the way I do the word ‘that’ — in other words, they have their place, but too many is just too many! Despite my best efforts they enter the house in insidious ways.

They arrive wrapped around butter (or vegan margarine,) I pick up a few to use to send leftovers home with loved ones, but more always arrive than are used–and the ones in the cupboard are never the size I need.

Then there are the glass jars–I go on binges of saving them because I don’t like plastic. But they are never the right size, and the lids get lost, and my favorite one always is full.

But lets talk about coffee cups.

coffee cupsHow the heck many does a household with two old people need? And where do these things keep coming from? But they’re like adjectives–I have far more in cupboard than are ever really needed. Some of these go with the two sets of dishes we need for when we have the family over, and this one was a gift, and this one fits perfectly in my minivan’s cup-holder….

At least maybe I can get rid of the chipped ones. But this is the one Mama liked….

Sigh.

But at least I can declutter the spare room where my grand-kids can play. Now that is an editing job worthy of a medal–the room has become my overflow room for stuff that won’t fit in the Room of Shame. The Room of Shame is my office, but it is also a warehouse for ‘mathoms’ (bear with me–I am a Tolkien freak)  Mathom is a word invented by Tolkien, constructed from an obsolete Old English word máðm “treasure, precious thing.”

Oh dear. My whole house is a warehouse for mathoms.

VasesVases–who needs twenty vases? And why am I driven to buy vases when I have more than funeral home could ever need? (Again like a favorite word–how many times  can I repeat this word before folks realize I have no imagination?) But they’re so pretty, sitting on this closet shelf where no one ever sees them….

Big family winter party=grandma cleaning house.

Grandma cleaning house is a boon to the recycling community–a van full of fluff and nonsense will go to be recycled back into the community. And on Sunday, the house will look so good, until the party starts. After the family begins to arrive, all bets are off as to how long it will take to clean up afterward.

 

 

 

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Finding demographics is not finding Nemo

My New Year’s resolution this year is to identify who I am writing for, and tailor my marketing strategy to that segment of the population.

I should have picked something simple, like losing weight, or bringing about world peace.

I would be lying if I said I write for one particular type of person–although Huw the Bard falls into the not-for-children category. I like to think my books can be enjoyed by both men and women.

Who are youIt’s just that I write whatever I’m in the mood to read, and I read everything, Fantasy first, sci-fi second, then mystery, historical, paranormal, books of political intrigue, books filled with naughty vampires. Romance, YA, hard sci-fi, epic fantasy–I read it all. This makes it difficult to categorize myself .

Looking in the mirror doesn’t help.

At IHop, I am a 55+, getting discounts and a special old people’s menu. I am a senior, according to AARP, and am entitled certain discounts when I produce that all-important AARP card.

These things tell me I am an older person, as does the mirror.

However, these visible signs don’t show the woman with mad kick-ball-skills, who plays Lego Star Wars until the grandchild says she’s had enough games for one day, and he’d like to play outside now. They don’t shed any light on me. the person who will read and reread a book until it is nothing but shreds–if I fell in love with it. The gray hair, the slightly less-than-svelte physique–these clues don’t offer a hint about my obsession with Final Fantasy XII.

And that is the problem.

I write for me, and I don’t know who I am.

The Creative Penn offers 5 tips to assist me in this process:

1. First we must isolate what types and/or groups of people the content of the book would interest.

Well-that is just the problem, isn’t it…but they do give an idea on how to approach that:

 "Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Example: If your book is about an archaeologist who uses Stone Henge to travel into the future, your book would probably interest history buffs as well as fans of speculative fiction/sci-fi.  If that hero happens to be a former Marine, your book might also interest military personnel and/or the families.” (It’s a direct quote, so I am ignoring the terrible itch to edit out the misspelling of Stonehenge.)

Okay–I think I can do this. My book details the adventures of a bard who is forced to  flee his comfortable existence and who finds himself running from one disaster to another with death-defying regularity.

2. Second, we must: identify other books that are comparable to your book and look at the profiles of those books’ main buyers/readers.

They also explain that concept a little further “The target audience isn’t always who the book was written for, but rather, who it ends up appealing to.  Twilight draws in tween and teenage girls with its premise involving a normal, everyday girl falling into a romance with an young, attractive male (the bread and butter of many young girls’ dreams), but it’s appeal stretched to the cross-section of middle-age female readers who love romance and enjoyed Anne Rice in her heyday.”  

Alrighty then–I was heavily drawn, as a reader, to David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, P.D. James, Carl Sagan, Agatha Christie, Piers Anthony, and Fritz Lieber–so I suppose my books reflects a certain amount of their (rather jumbled) influence.

Oh, and don’t forget Roger Zelazney. And Mercedes Lackey.

Well that has narrowed it down quite a bit! (Sarcasm–I know, it’s a nasty habit.) I could have included Tolstoy, James Joyce, Horace Walpole, and Louisa May Alcott, but I didn’t have time.

330px-Pin-artsy3. You are next encouraged to pinpoint what is special about your book.

Again, the Creative Penn offers us some insights on how to go about this: “If you tell someone you’re writing a book about a witch who uses her power of communing with animals to rescue a lost dog from an evil dog-napper, then A. Wow, you have an interesting imagination!  B. You may or may not have taken in 101 Dalmatians too much as a child and C. With such a premise, chances are, your story is more light-hearted than scary, so your target readers to which the mystery aspect of your story will entice are more cozy-type mystery consumers.” So what are the few key words, the hook I can use to sell Huw the Bard? How do I boil the plot down to a few key words? This could take a while, but I’m sure I can do it.

Honest.

4. Now we need to determine some demographics.

That’s the problem–I am the demographic, and I don’t know who I am. Mature Audiences, definitely. There is some graphic sex, although it doesn’t devolve into a porn-fest, There is violence, a witnessed rape, and murder. These are all there because they are watershed moments in Huw’s life, things that change his view of the world. There are also a haunted village and a bisexual knight who talks to his horse, so there is humor midst the misery.

chekhov's gun5. Finally, the Creative Penn suggests we feed the previous four tips into each other to gain even more insight and narrow down who our target audience/s is/are.

Just give me Chekhov’s gunnow. I need to shoot something.

Several times.

Seriously–the article I’ve drawn these suggestions from is a good article, and it goes on to discuss how to use your target audience, which I did find somewhat illuminating.

At this point, if I can get even ONE concrete idea that works, I am feeling good about it. After all, it’s January! I’ve got a whole year to get this down, before I have to admit that this New Year’s resolution has gone the way of my weight-loss dreams and visions of world peace.

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