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William J. Cook, Advice for New Writers #writetip

This is the second in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

Today’s guest post is by Indie author William Cook. William writes mysteries, set in my part of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I’ve enjoyed his work in the anthologies we have both been featured in and look forward to hearing what he has to say!

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Let me begin by saying I still consider myself a new writer, even though I have several books under my belt. Although I’ve “written” all my life, I only got serious about producing books when I retired in 2011. I hope I’ve continued to improve my craft since then, but only my readers can judge that. What follows are only my opinions, and I’m sure if you polled all our NIWA members, you’d find a hundred more.

Number One: Please don’t quit your day job. Truth be told, most of us are only meagerly supplementing our incomes, not debuting on the world stage of #1 Bestsellers. Although some of us have been quite successful, there are very few, if any, Andy Weirs among us. The fortune and fame that showered The Martian are akin to winning the lottery or being struck by lightning—it happens, but the odds against it can be astronomical.

So why do we write? We write because we have to—it has to come out of us. We write for the sheer joy of seeing our creations on paper and on a digital screen. If we make a few bucks, that’s frosting on the cake. Knowing we have family and friends who read our work and like it is reward enough. No, we never stop trying to be successful—taking courses in marketing, scheduling book signings at local bookstores and conferences, begging reviews from readers and local media outlets, doing whatever we can to improve our craft—but we also accept that we are very likely not the next John Grisham or Dean Koontz.

Number Two: Should you try to get an agent or should you publish independently? This is a complicated question. I have never had an agent, so I can only repeat what I have heard from others who have.

Potentially, getting an agent can give your book wider exposure. Your agent gets you a publishing company, and you have the support of that company behind you, hopefully helping you with advertising, book tours, media outlets, etc. On the down side, you may lose a lot of control over your book—content as well as cover. I spoke with one author who told me her company insisted she change one of her characters or they wouldn’t publish her novel. Another said her company just sat on her book and did no promotion at all. Of course, there are other situations where the agent is perfect for the job, establishes a trusting relationship with the writer, and both go on to be very successful together over the course of several books.

Bottom line: decide at the outset whether you want to try to get a literary agent BEFORE you go ahead and publish independently. Once you’ve published independently, it’s much harder to get an agent for that same book, or for a book that comes later in a series. It’s the proverbial Catch-22: your prospective agent will ask, “If your book is successful published independently, why do you want me? If it’s not successful, why should I take the risk?”

Anyway, an excellent resource is https://querytracker.net/ Two essential books are How Can I Find a Literary Agent and Step by Step Pitches and Proposals, both by Chip MacGregor with Holly Lorincz. Also, a better way to land an agent than sending out proposals cold, is to buy face-to-face time with an agent at a literary conference. The biggest one in Oregon, the Willamette Writers Conference, will be in Portland in August (depending, of course, on the pestilence situation at the time).

So far, I have opted to publish independently. Although there are many independent platforms out there, such as IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, Bookbaby, Smashwords, and Kobo, I’m a bit of a dinosaur and have done all mine through Kindle Direct Publishing. That means I can only sell my books on Amazon, and that most bookstores don’t want my paperbacks because Amazon has no return policy for them. Some stores will do it on consignment, and I am fortunate to have a local store that is very kind to independent writers.

What I like about being an indie author is the freedom it gives me. I control everything—content, cover, timing of release, the works. The only deadlines I have to meet are my own. Self-publishing has introduced me to a thriving community of authors who have been extraordinarily helpful. In short, it’s fun!

Number Three: Should you look to see what’s trending and write to that? My answer? Please don’t pimp your writing. Write your own story, not the one you think other people may want to read because it’s currently fashionable. If you don’t write from your heart, you probably won’t survive the dark periods when you’re afraid the Muse has abandoned you and you’re only a hack who shouldn’t have started writing in the first place. (Yes, those days will come.)

Number Four: Should you write every day on a regular schedule? Writing is not “one-size-fits-all.” If you can write every day, that’s wonderful. I know there are many writers of great discipline (and success!) who write four to six hours every day, like clock-work. Hats off and more power to them. But I have a rich life away from my computer, and I can’t. For some people, writing is like fishing. The old adage, “Any time you can get away is a good time to fish,” can be applied to writing as well. Any time you can squeeze in an hour or two is a good time to write.

But you may ask, “What if I get stuck? What if the dreaded Writer’s Block hits me like COVID-19?” Then make a covenant with yourself: you will write one sentence every day—good, bad, or indifferent, however long it takes. If more comes out of you, fine, but your commitment is for one sentence only.

Number Five: Join writing groups. Like good parenting, good writing takes a village. At the very least, join a critique group. This should be small enough (maximum 5 people?) to afford each writer plenty of time to strut their stuff and get the honest feedback he or she deserves. Some groups email their pages in advance, while others bring printed copies for everyone to the group. By all means, read your work out loud. That’s the quickest way to spot the awkward sentence, the overly stiff dialogue, the plot hole you’ve missed. Other groups are available as well. In Oregon, Willamette Writers has local branches throughout the State. In Salem, Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (WYTT) meets weekly. NIWA is a Facebook group that has been enormously helpful to me.

Number Six: Beware the perils of self-editing! I will write more about this in a future blog, but for now, always be aware that your brain operates like the autocorrect function on your phone. It will fill in the missing word, remove the repeated word, fix the misspelling. Make sure other eyes get to look at your work before you publish it.

Number Seven: The necessity of marketing. Ah, the dreaded M-word. I have found that marketing is an entirely different skill-set from writing. And I’m not very good at it—yet. When your book gets published on Amazon, it will be the proverbial needle in a haystack, lost among the millions of volumes already there. Good advertising makes it stand out. Unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you’re going to have to learn how to advertise on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram. But you can take it a little at a time. Get that book written first!

So there’s my two cents. I hope I haven’t been too negative. The truth is, holding that book in your hands, whether it’s your first or your fifth, is a thrill like no other. Go for it!


Thank you for those excellent words of wisdom, William!

If you want to read other posts in this series by this author, go to https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/   “Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies be a Business Expense?)”

Watch for the next post in the series by this author:

https://lecatts.wordpress.com/   “My Approach to the Writing Process”

About William J. Cook:

William Cook moved to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast in 1989, and worked for a total of 37 years as a mental health therapist until his retirement in 2011. He splits his time between writing, babysitting for his 15 grandchildren, and sneaking off to mid-week matinees (when theaters are open!). The Kindle edition of his latest book, Dungeness and Dragons: A Driftwood Mystery, is available now for pre-order and will be published on April 24. Find all his books at:

https://authorwilliamcook.com/

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The view from the Room of Shame #amwriting

Today marks yet another Monday in our extended time of voluntary house arrest. Work continues on various writing projects. I’m still writing in the Room of Shame, that “no man’s land” of boxes, bags, luggage, and household debris that is our third bedroom.

I suppose if we actually did manage to get it tidied up, I would lose the ability to write.

All right, probably not, but that’s my excuse.

As a side note, I am making masks for our family unit. I don’t have a sewing machine, but I’ve rediscovered the serenity of hand-sewing, something my Grandmothers both did, and taught me.

My homemade masks aren’t as fancy as some made by our friends, but if you are looking for a simple pattern to make your own, here is a link: USA TODAY Make your own facemask.

I’m getting pretty tired of my own cooking, but I’m branching out again. Homemade vegan pizza on Wednesday night and fancy dinner salads break up the routine of casseroles and crockpot meals.

My back porch has become my personal escape. Watching the birds and letting my mind wander is restful. The flow of random thoughts is the source of creativity and this porch is my haven.

Having the time to just sit and daydream is important. Letting your mind roam free and allowing the possibilities to enter your stream of consciousness (or not, as they will) is beneficial for you.  Fifteen or twenty minutes a day of merely watching the world go by will rejuvenate you.

I do my best work when I have the chance to sit and let my mind wander. So, even when we aren’t in the middle of a quarantine, I always take the time to watch the town go by from my porch.

According to the internet, we daydream less as we get older. I wonder, is this nature or nurture?

What really happens when we allow ourselves to just sit and think about nothing in particular? What happens on a neurological level when we let our minds off the leash and allow it to run free and unencumbered?

One interesting fact is that apparently if we daydream about the past, we tend to forget what we were doing before the daydream started. This happens to me all the time.

Sometimes I gaze at the scenery with no conscious awareness of thought for long periods. This means my mind is entirely at rest. With this relaxing of conscious thought, I become rested, and my mind is cleared of the white-noise that hinders my creative process.

Some people call it meditation, and others call it a waste of time.

I call it essential.

Letting your mind roam with no particular direction lowers your stress levels, which immediately improves your health and your thought processes.

Sometimes we can visualize a complex emotional theme for our work but can’t find the words to describe it. If we can’t explain it, how do we show it? Often, the answers will come to me if I take the time to sit outside. I watch the clouds or the birds or listen to the trains passing at the other end of town.

I have discovered that when I am not thinking about the problem, the answer will come to me.

I hope that during this time of social distancing and quarantine, you have been able to set aside the stress and worry of our new normal. I am deeply aware of my good fortune in having a back porch and a garden to escape to.

When I was in my twenties, I moved often because of work. I usually lived in apartment complexes, which don’t always offer pleasant views or outdoor spaces.

I hope the views out your windows are worth looking at.

In the days ahead, my wish for you is that you will find the head-space to write and take any opportunity you can to simply let your mind wander.

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NIWA Blog hop Post 1: My Writing Process

This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/ The topic today is my writing process. I had a difficult time formulating how I wanted to write this post. Finally, I asked myself 3 questions, as if it were an interview.


  1. What am I working on?

I am working on three novels and was seriously procrastinating on a fourth, until the plague hit. The one I’m now getting through the formatting stage of the publishing pipeline is an alt-medieval fantasy, Julian Lackland. It is set in Waldeyn, a mishmash of Venice, Wales, and England. While the characters from Billy Ninefingers and Huw the Bard have significant roles in it, each book in the series is a standalone book.

I love Julian and his story, but I had a hard time letting go of him.

The novel I have on hold, Heaven’s Altar, is a two-book subseries set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah. It is a prequel, set 500 years before Mountains of the Moon. It deals with a historical figure, Aelfrid Firesword, who frequently gets mentioned as a kind of superhero in children’s books. All three of my main characters in that world were influenced by these books as children.

Alf is not superhuman. He’s a young mage with a destiny he’s not comfortable with. At the outset, his wife has abandoned him, leaving him with a sick child. Along with that, he faces the disapproval of his people for having married a woman who was not of the tribes. Alf has a long struggle ahead of him to prove he is worthy of taking up his grandfather’s task of War Leader.

My third work-in-progress, Bleakbourne on Heath, began as a serialized novel and ran for two years on a now-defunct website. This tale is an inverted Alternate-Arthurian story. In their history, Arthur was a Caligula-like figure. The Druids conquered Rome, and the Church reflects that.

I have fleshed it out, addressed the inadvertent discrepancies and contradictions that writing and publishing a chapter a week and winging it inevitably generated. That experience of writing by the seat of my pants taught me that I really DO need to have an outline.

Now I am trying to end the story and am working on the final battle. Leryn (with Merlin and Bramblestein) must face the Demon Knight, Mordred.

A fourth novel has been pulled out of storage and dusted off. Surprisingly, this paranormal scifi fantasy doesn’t stink as much as I thought it did. I’m finding a lot of useful material here.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

First of all, I write from the point of view of both a gamer and an addict for fantasy novels. I am a freak for the brilliant early Final Fantasy console games. Final Fantasy VII, VII, X/X2, and XII are among the great classics in gaming. I want to inject the action, the romance, and the drama of a full-throttle action/adventure into my books. I want it set in a sweeping landscape, with my characters beset by nearly insurmountable challenges. I want the philosophies and moral choices, as well as personal relationships, to mean something to the reader.

Gaming teaches us that magic has finite limits, and no character has unlimited power.

In my worlds, those limitations are what drive the action because the characters have to struggle to overcome them. The power of the story is in the struggle. The final redemption must justify the effort and the losses incurred as they struggle toward the conclusion.

  1. How does my writing process work? 

Typically, when I first have the idea to write a book, I visualize it as the walkthrough for an RPG game. I spend days building the outline, the shell of the story. Because the Tower of Bones series began as the storyline for an RPG, I still have the habits developed in that industry.

I figure out the political and religious systems and create the rules for magic. Most importantly, I draw maps to keep my characters going in the right direction.

Each world is unique, and I want to know how my characters fit into their society.

My outlines are formed by the answers to these twelve questions:

  1. What is the inciting incident?
  2. What is the goal/objective?
  3. At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want that pushes them to risk everything to acquire it?
  4. How badly do they want it, and why?
  5. Who is the antagonist?
  6. Why are they the enemy?
  7. What ethical choices will the protagonist have to make in their attempt to gain their objective?
  8. What happens at the first pinch point?
  9. In what circumstances do we find the group at the midpoint?
  10. What is their health like?
  11. Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the midpoint to change everything for the worse?
  12. At the ¾ point, the protagonist should be ready to face the antagonist. Do I have the story set up correctly to this point so I can choreograph that meeting?

All stories must have a logical arc, but each character should too. It’s my job to make sure that the characters evolve and grow throughout the story. For me and my style of writing, the character arcs benefit most from the outline, even more than the overall story arc does.

Once I have that all done, I start at the beginning and write, connecting the dots between the vignettes. When all the dots are connected, I have a book—albeit a raw rough draft of a book. I set it aside and work on something else for several weeks before I begin the rewrite. Setting it aside is important because when I come back to it, I need to see the raw draft through unbiased eyes.

My work in the Tower of Bones series tends to be linear as it began life as the walkthrough for an RPG that was never built. Each protagonist has a specific goal or “quest.” Many obstacles hinder them on the path to achieving those goals. My task is to make it an emotionally gripping journey for the reader, so I have to be careful when choreographing scenes. I can’t go too over the top, but I need to be creative and logical.

The Billy’s revenge series has been anything but linear. The storylines in each could easily have gone awry, if I hadn’t had a basic outline to keep things logical.

I have to negotiate carefully between the two radically different series when I am writing, as I want to stay true to the intent and flavor of each.  This is where having a writing posse really helps.


I hope your writing journey has been as satisfying as mine. Thank you for being a part of my writing life!

The next installment of this series will feature William J. Cook, who will be sharing some excellent advice for new writers. Look for his post on Thursday, April 9th. You can find out more about him at https://authorwilliamcook.com

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Formatting the Final Manuscript #amwriting

I’m in the process of formatting a manuscript for publication, both for the paper version and the book version. While there are significant differences between the layout of the two types of documents, some fundamental things remain the same.

I create three manuscripts. Before I embark on making mobi files for Kindle or designing the interior of my paper book, I create a base manuscript, one which has been thoroughly combed by my writing posse. At this point, it is as well-edited as we can get it.

Name it as the BookTitle_Final_.doc

I strongly suggest you save it as a Word 97 – 2003 compatible document (NOT a template) rather than as a .docx. Saving as a compatible document ensures fewer problems in the upload.

I have made several screenshots with the following steps highlighted for you, so if my instructions aren’t clear, my garbled artwork can confuse you even more.

I open my final base manuscript, and using select all, I highlight the entire thing. I have a list of things to check for.

First up is the Font. Go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. Unless you write with a particular font, the default font, or pre-designed value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body),’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this on the home tab by clicking on the little grey square in the right-hand corner of the font menu and accessing the drop-down menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Garamond and set it to .12. A standard serif font is easiest on the eyes. Clicking on that will change the font for the whole thing (if you used select all to highlight the entire ms).

Next on the list is eliminating the random extra spaces that somehow find their way into my work as I go. Extra spaces interfere with formatting for eBooks and other electronically uploaded applications. Other than at a few specialty printers, ALL books and magazines are uploaded electronically nowadays, even printed books.

Extra spaces are most frequently found at the end of sentences, or where you have cut and pasted a passage. For older authors, there may be two spaces at the end of every sentence. When I was learning to type in school, they taught us to hit the space bar twice (two spaces) between sentences, for the sake of readability.

That was a difficult habit to break, but it must be done.

The simple way to hunt for extra spaces is to use the “find function” in the upper right corner of your toolbar:

  1. Open Find, click on “advanced find.”
  2. In the “Find what” box, hit the space bar twice.
  3. Then click on the replace tab.
  4. In the replace with box, hit the space bar once.
  5. Click “replace all.”
  6. Click that twice, to make sure there were no places where three spaces had been inadvertently inserted.

That will eliminate all the extra spaces.

I use “control-F” to open the Navigation Pane because it highlights the spaces in yellow, making them easy to see. The instructions are the same as when opening Find by using the toolbar. But for people who are new to word processing programs or who don’t use MS Word, using the toolbar on the ribbon is the simplest method.

Next, I make sure my paragraphs all look the way I want them to.

Some authors still use tabs to indent their paragraphs.

Don’t do it.

If you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs, the indents fail when the ms is uploaded. This creates a wall of words with no way to tell where one paragraph ends, and another begins.

Publishers hate it when that happens.

If you have done that, you can fix it by using one of the two following ways. The first set of instructions only work if you have a ten-key pad on your keyboard.

To remove tabs from a manuscript in Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (right side of the ribbon on the home tab). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t) This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard. ^t.

Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. One click on “Replace all” will remove every tab.

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand, which is a daunting task no publisher or editor has time for. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.

This will temporarily make your ms look like a wall of words, but you are going to resolve that the right way.

Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.

There are two ways to do this.

The easiest way is to open the “home” tab, click on “select all,” and with the manuscript highlighted, choose “normal” from the “styles” tab on the ribbon.

If your word processing program doesn’t have that option, you can format the paragraphs by using the simple formatting tool:

Step 1: On the Home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it. A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: Justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text aligns with both the left and right margins. It gives you straight margins on both sides, but remember, this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is being made ready for publication.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the drop-down menu select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (You can specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘single.’This kind of formatting is not for work you are submitting to an agent, editor, or publisher. This is for a finished product that you intend to publish yourself.

You can get fancy with your layout, but remember, when it comes to eBooks, simple is better because it’s less distracting and less likely to fail in the upload.

I take this finished base manuscript to Draft2Digital and create my eBook and Mobi files there. As a member of Myrddin Publishing Group, I have all the ISBNs I need, but you can use theirs at no cost if you choose.

I use an old CreateSpace template to make my paper books, and even with that premade template, it’s a bit of a hassle. But that is part of the fun of publishing your work.

Next up, on Wednesday, I’ll begin a 6 part series that will post on Thursdays, featuring five guest authors and publishers who will discuss various aspects of Indie Publishing and how they negotiate the sometimes rough waters. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to say!

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The creative process #amwriting

A few years ago, I accepted a NaNoWriMo dare to write an Arthurian tale with a steampunk twist.

I rather quickly regretted that.

The first question I asked myself was: Where do Arthurian and steampunk connect well enough to make a story?

The answer was that they don’t. I was faced with the mental blankness we all feel when a story refuses to reveal itself.

For me, a bit of mind-wandering always loosens things up, so I sat on my back porch. I picked a knight at random, Galahad, and pondered the problem. What kind of a person might Galahad have been, had he truly existed?

Those characters were supposed to be men of the 5th or 6th century, ordinary men. But the tales featuring them were written centuries later. Their 11th-century chroniclers presented them in contemporary armor as worn by Crusaders, and so did all subsequent authors.

Despite the heroic legends written about them, they would have been flesh and blood and would have been subject to the same emotions and physical needs as any other person.

What if Galahad and Gawain were lovers? That thought led to these questions:

What really happened after the Grail was found? What if somehow Galahad got separated from Gawain through a door in time when the magic in the world vanished with the Grail? How would Galahad get back to Gawain?

What if Galahad was marooned in Edwardian England, with Merlin. That was how the steampunk aspect of the story came into being.

That story became Galahad Hawke

The main character is Galahad Du Lac, son of Lancelot Du Lac, illegitimate, some chroniclers have said. If he is, we have to accept that the fifth century was a lot less concerned about the proprieties than Victorian Romantics gave them credit for.

Galahad is a knight-errant, a classic character in medieval chivalric romance literature. The adjective errant in this context means wandering. These characters roam the land in search of adventures to prove their chivalric worth.

They engaged in knightly duels or went in pursuit of courtly love. The medieval romance of highly ritualized courtly love was a rigid structure. It defined the behaviors of noble ladies and their lovers. It was tightly intertwined with the principles of the Code of Chivalry.

The Chivalric Code was a system of values combining a warrior culture, knightly piety, and courtly manners. Adherence to the Code of Chivalry ensured a knight epitomized bravery, honor, and nobility.

Thus, since the established canon dictates that Galahad isn’t attracted to women, he goes on quests to find strange and magical objects such as the Holy Grail.

The story is told from Galahad’s point of view and opens just after the Grail is found. As I said above, history and fantasy merge in the Middle Ages, so I took the high fantasy route.

Galahad Hawke was published in a short collection called Tales from the Dreamtime.

I read some medieval literature in college and found his story both varied and fascinating. So, different versions of Galahad appear regularly in my work.

Nowadays, Galahad is considered a minor knight. However, what we regard as canon about him is taken from Sir Thomas Malory’s 1485 work, Le Morte d’Arthur, in which he has a prominent role.

Mallory’s collection was a reworking of traditional tales that were hundreds of years old, even in his day. Also, he wrote it while in prison for a multitude of crimes, so we can be sure it’s not historically accurate.

Traditionally, Galahad is an illegitimate son of Lancelot du Lac. He goes on the quest to find the Holy Grail and immediately goes to heaven, raptured as a virgin.

But was he raptured? If he was not raptured, what could have happened to make medieval chroniclers think he was?

And he never married, but humans tend to be human, so why would bachelorhood make Arthurian chroniclers assume he was a virgin?

You might wonder why the notion of a virgin knight and being taken to heaven before death was so important to the medieval chroniclers. Why would they write it as though it were factual recorded history?

People always rewrite history to suit the times in which they live.

Medieval chroniclers were writing some 300 to 400 years after the supposed event, during the final decades of the Crusades. We have excellent records of 15th and 16th-century political struggles, and yet we make things up about the Tudors and Elizabethans as we go along, because they were interesting people and we love to imagine what they must have been like.

Religion and belief in the Christian truths espoused by the Church were in the very air the people of the time breathed. All the physical and material things of this world were entwined and explained by the religious beliefs of the day.

Literature in those days was filled with religious allegories, the most popular of which were the virginity and holiness of the Saints, especially those Saints deemed holy enough to be raptured.

Death was the common enemy, the one thing kings feared as much as beggars did. Those saints who were raptured did not experience death. Instead, they were raised to heaven, where they live in God’s presence for all eternity.

Thus, Galahad’s state of virginity and grace was written to be an example of what all good noblemen should aspire to.

The High Middle Ages, the period of European history that commenced around 1000 and lasted until 1300 (or so), saw a flowering of historical-fantasy writing in England. The craft of researching history was not an academic subject taught in school.

Reading history and writing their own accounts was a hobby for educated men who had the time, social position, and the talents to pursue it. Also, it was the purview of well-educated members of the clergy. The scientific method did not yet exist, so their “histories” were colored by daydreams, fantasies, and religious beliefs.

This means the assertions these authors claimed were history weren’t authenticated by the kind of intense research that we apply to academic subjects today.

I like to think that if J.R.R. Tolkien had been writing history in a monastery during the 7th and 8th century, The Lord of the Rings would have the same place in our historical narrative that the Arthurian Cycle has now, and Aragorn would have been the king who united all of Britain.

Sure, the histories from this period are highly questionable. However, they’re entertaining fantasy reads, leaving us free to riff on them and create our own mythologies.

So that is what I’m doing—working on my Alt-Arthurian novel, and also an unfinished spec-fic novel I pulled out the archives, looking for something cheerful to write.

What are you writing? I hope you are enjoying good writing time during this period of uncertainty and voluntary house-arrest!

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Society, the hidden underpinning of worldbuilding #amwriting

Authors all know that the physical setting of a story and the immediate environment must be absolutely clear in their mind. But there is a hidden aspect to worldbuilding, one that is nearly invisible to the casual reader.

Whether you are writing real-world environments or sci-fi/fantasy, a significant part of the world your characters inhabit is their society.

This aspect of worldbuilding is a fundamental underpinning of any novel, but it is one that goes virtually unseen. How people live, and their place in society is an invisible component of any story.

All societies are made up of layers. What those layers are is listed below. What makes your story different is how you apply the layers and yet keep them subtle to the reader.

We build the society in our minds, and to us, it is rock solid. It helps to write a page or two of background info, just for yourself. The reader doesn’t need to know the details or the history, only that it is.

My Tower of Bones series was initially invented as the setting for an anime-based platform-style RPG (Role Playing Game) that was never built. We intended to create a Final Fantasy style world and game, but the tech crash happened, and the game didn’t materialize.

However, I had retained the rights to my maps, my characters, and my storyline. This worldbuilding eventually became the basis for the Tower of Bones series. Mountains of the Moon is the original story that the series grew out of, although it was the fourth book to be completed and published.

Companies like Square-Enix have it right. Over the last three decades, they’ve consistently produced anime-based RPG games that are considered classics. These games have a rabid following because they share one commonality: they all have unforgettable characters, memorable worlds, and deep, involving storylines.

When I was asked to write the storyline for the game, I began with my protagonist, a hapless yokel named Wynn Farmer. I created a word-picture of his world and how the dangerous environment shaped his society.

Then I made a list of questions about the society Wynn lived in.  The answers formed the picture of his world and his place in it.

With that done, I set it aside to use as reference material for when I needed to know how a particular character would react in a given situation. We intended to determine what was important enough to be a cutscene later, but never got to that stage. Cutscenes are generally a short transitional animation, marking places where the storyline advances and giving deeper insight into the characters, their motives, and their ultimate quest.

This is the method I still use today when I create a new world.

I have posted the following lists before, so if you have already seen them and are bored now, thank you for stopping by.

Society is always composed of many layers and classes. How is your society divided? Who has wealth? are there

  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the most impoverished class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Do they have a written language? This is really important if you are setting your people in a medieval world or in a really low-tech society because it determines how knowledge is passed on. Low-tech generally equals an oral tradition.

  • How are people educated?
  • Who is allowed to learn to read and write?
  • How are bards, storytellers, and other disseminators of knowledge looked upon?
  • How is monetary wealth calculated?
  • Do they use coins? What is their monetary system? If you are inventing it, keep it simple. (I generally use gold, divided into tens: 10 coppers=a silver/ 10 silvers=a gold)

Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated?
  • How are men treated?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life? How is murder punished?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is the truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?

Religion and the Gods: How important is religion in this tale? If it is central, ask yourself: Is there one god/goddess or many? If the worship of a deity is a vital part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals and understand how their deity holds their hearts. You must know how that deity considers his/her worshipers.

  • What sort of political power does the priestly class wield?
  • What is the internal hierarchy of the priesthood?
  • Who has the power?
  • Is this religion a benevolent entity or all-powerful, demanding, harsh?
  • How does the priesthood interact with the community?
  • Who can join the priesthood?
  • Do people want to join the priesthood, or do they fear it?
  • How is the priesthood trained?

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities does this society have available to them? What about transport?

  • Hunter/Gatherers?
  • Agrarian/farming
  • Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  • Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  • Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  • Modern day?
  • Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  • How do we get around, and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?

Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  • Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  • How does the government fund itself?
  • How are taxes levied?
  • Is it a feudal society?
  • Is it a clan-based society?
  • How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  • How is the government viewed by the citizens?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior, and how are criminals treated?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?

Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what their level of technology is. It is critical for you as the author to understand what sort of weapons your characters will bring to the front, and also what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

These lists are a jumping-off point, something for you to consider. The answers to these questions always lead to my considering other larger concepts, ideas and values that combine to make up a civilization. Please feel free to use this roster to form your own inventory of ideas about society.

Know your world, know the society, and write with authority.

Give your readers just enough detail to show that your world is real and substantial. You don’t need to go into detail about how that world came to be. You, as the author, are the only one who needs to know those details.


Credits and Attributions

Potions of this post were first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy as “Creating Societies,” © 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson. https://conniejjasperson.com/2018/09/24/creating-societies-amwriting,  published September 24, 2018.

Sword image via Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Espadon-Morges.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Espadon-Morges.jpg&oldid=350432233 (accessed March 18, 2020).

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The synopsis #amwriting

On Monday, we covered the query and cover letter. Today we are going over the synopsis, which is a short summary of your story or book. Indies will occasionally have to write a synopsis if they submit their longer work to contests, agents, or publishers.

When a contest or publisher asks for a synopsis, they don’t want a book blurb, which is a “this is why you should buy my book” teaser. They do want a short description filled with all the spoilers so that the work goes to the right editor or (in the case of a contest) reader.

Most submissions are electronic. I’ve mentioned before how important naming your files is. You want your work to be easily found, so don’t label your synopsis file “synopsis.doc.” Be specific and include the book title: Don_Quixote_Synopsis.doc

Try to be brief. For an average 300 – 400 page novel of less than 100,000 words, 500 to 800 words is good and won’t frighten off your intended editor/publisher. Length can vary—some agents and editors will want a longer synopsis, so be sure to check their website for their guidelines.

For a short story, a paragraph or so in the cover letter is usually all that is required for your synopsis.

Why do agents and editors want a synopsis when they can have the whole manuscript? They will ask for the first two or three chapters but are subject to time constraints. They don’t have time to read and judge an entire novel, so if they are interested at that point, they turn to the synopsis.

The synopsis, with its recounting of the events, will tell them if the rest of the book will keep the reader hooked. If they like the way the plot evolves, they will ask for the entire manuscript.

Your synopsis is not intended to entertain the editor. Your first few chapters should have done that. It is meant to be a brief, dry recounting of the who, what, where, when, and why of your entire novel.

If we are boiling a 350 page novel down to 500 – 800 words (which is only around one page), what do we include in our synopsis?

Harry Bingham of the UK’s largest literary consultancy, Jericho Writers, says:

A synopsis is a 500-800 word summary of your book that forms part of your agent submission pack. It should outline your plot in neutral non-salesy language and demonstrate a clear story arc. Every major plot twist, character, and any big turning point or climactic scene should get a mention. [1]

In other words:

  • Summarize your novel and include all the twists.
  • Don’t give it the hard sell.
  • Start at the beginning and hit the high points of the plot all the way to the end.

In this, as in most things, the internet is your friend. For a great article that includes both an excellent example of a synopsis, a good template, and many more details of how to write a synopsis, go to https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/.

The following synopsis is of a book published in 1605, and which is 1,072 pages long. A book of this length would require a 2,000 word synopsis to cover the high points.

400-word Synopsis of the first 10 chapters of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is a metafictional account of the mid-life crisis and adventures of a nobleman (hidalgo) from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano. The first chapters are taken from “the archives of La Mancha,” and the rest is translated from an Arabic text by the Moorish author Cide Hamete Benengeli.

Nearing 50 years of age and living in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper, Quixano is usually a rational man. He is obsessed with reading tales of chivalry and knights-errant. However, by not sleeping adequately because he was reading, Quixano is easily given to anger. He believes every word of his fictional books of chivalry to be true.

While he is asleep in his bed, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber burn most of his chivalric and other books. The priest must decide which books are bad for morality, so he can know them well enough to describe every naughty scene.

After the books are burned, the niece and priest seal up the room which contained the library, later telling Quixano that it was the action of a wizard.

The loss of his books causes him to lose his mind. Quixano decides to become a knight-errant. He will revive chivalry and serve his nation, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha.

After a short period of feigning health, Don Quixote requests his neighbor, Sancho Panza, to be his squire, promising him a governorship. Sancho is a poor and simple farmer but is far more practical than Don Quixote. He agrees to the offer, sneaking away with Don Quixote in the early dawn.

They begin their quest to revive chivalry, starting with Don Quixote’s attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.

The two next encounter two Benedictine friars traveling on the road ahead of a lady in a carriage. The friars are not traveling with the lady but happen to be on the same road. Don Quixote believes the friars are enchanters who hold the lady captive. He knocks a friar from his horse and is challenged by an armed Basque traveling with the company.

As he has no shield, the Basque uses a pillow from the carriage to protect himself, which saves him when Don Quixote strikes him. The combat ends with the lady leaving her carriage and commanding those traveling with her to “surrender” to Don Quixote. [2]

I do recommend you go to the Jericho Writers site and follow their guidelines if you are asked for a synopsis. The article there is one of the most comprehensive and useful ones I’ve read anywhere. Again, that article can be found at https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] How To Write A Novel Synopsis: Includes Template & Example, © 2019  by Harry Bingham, https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/ (Accessed 03 Mar 2020).

[2] 400 word Synopsis of the first 10 chapters of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, condensed from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia contributors, “Don Quixote,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Don_Quixote&oldid=943081150 (accessed 10 Mar 2020).

Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Don Quixote in the Library, by Adolf Schrödter, 1834 PD|100, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Wilhelm Marstrand, Don Quixote og Sancho Panza ved en skillevej, uden datering (efter 1847), 0119NMK, Nivaagaards Malerisamling.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Wilhelm_Marstrand,_Don_Quixote_og_Sancho_Panza_ved_en_skillevej,_uden_datering_(efter_1847),_0119NMK,_Nivaagaards_Malerisamling.jpg&oldid=376321256 (accessed March 10, 2020).

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The Cover/Query Letter #amwriting

Every author who wants to sell their work will be required to craft either a query or cover letter at some point in their career. This is frequently a requirement for submission to a magazine or contest.

Some authors despise that process so much that they go indie, thinking they won’t have to leap that hurdle, only to find there is no escaping it.

Writing queries and cover letters can be an inconvenience if you don’t know what is expected or what you should include.

I’ve attended several seminars on the subject and have written many of them. The best place I have found with a simple description of what your query letter should look like is at the NY Book Editors website.

Boiled down, what they tell you is this:

  1. If you are mailing it or submitting a cover/query letter as a separate document, be formal:
  • Your address at the top of the page, right-justified.
  • The agent’s address, this time, left-justified.

In an email, you don’t do step one. However, you DO make sure your personal information is in your signature.

  1. Be personal and polite. Greet and acknowledge the agent or editor by name: Dear Ms. Stuart

The body: This is important: the body of your query letter should not exceed three to five paragraphs.

  1. The 1st paragraph is where you introduce yourself. Perhaps you met at a convention or seminar, or you’re a fan of one of the authors they represent. If you have a connection with the agent or editor you are approaching, mention it but be brief.

If you have no previous connection, NY Editors suggest you get down to business right away with your attempt to sell your short story or book. Their point of view on this is that you only have a few paragraphs to sell your work, so make those words count.

The 3 most important things to include in the 1st paragraph are:

  1. Title of the story (or novel)
  2. Genre
  3. Word count

The 2nd  and possibly 3rd paragraph must give a brief description of the work—showcase the plot and tell them why you think it is a good fit for this publication. Do as briefly as possible—do not write a 3,000-word synopsis.

ALL prospective publishers, whether for magazines or larger houses, want the hook and the essence of that short story/novel in these paragraphs. They want to get a feel for who you are as an author.

Do NOT give it the hard sell. The www.NYBookEditors.com website has this to say about query/cover letters: “You must walk a very fine line between selling your manuscript without coming across like the parent who knows his kid is the best player on the bench.”

The final paragraph is where you post a short (as in BRIEF) bio of you. Mention your published works, and whatever awards you have acquired. If samples of your work are available on your website, say so.

When submitting queries to two widely different types of editors, anthologies or magazines, the submission guidelines will be different. However, the basic cover/query letter is the same.

Magazines: Most magazines are available online nowadays and they usually want electronic submissions. Many publishers use Submittable, a service offered by a submissions manager software that makes the process simpler for both authors and editors. If they want their submissions sent via email, the email you attach your submission to is your cover letter.

Large Publishing Houses: Most agents, editors, and publishers want a 1 page, 300-word description of your novel. This is the query letter, as described above. Your ms is not attached to this.

Every magazine, publisher, editor, or agent has a website detailing the way they want things submitted. In general, the larger publishers and agents want to receive letters and/or emails formatted to rules that are readily available on their website.  You must read and follow them carefully.

I have mentioned the word “brief” numerous times in this post—and hopefully you see why. Choose your words carefully so that your brief paragraphs showcase you and your work in the best way possible.

This is most important: don’t forget to double-check your letter for typos and spelling errors. We all make them, and we don’t want them to be our legacy.

A sample email cover letter might read:

Dear Ms. Editor,

My name is Connie Jasperson. I was introduced to you at the 2019 PNWA conference during the book signing event. I hope my story, A Cold and Dangerous Place, might be a good fit for you.

A Cold and Dangerous Place is a quest tale about forgiveness and human frailty, with some elements of high fantasy. It is 3,500 words and has never before been published. I have attached the manuscript as a word document in Vonda McIntyre’s manuscript format, as specified in the submission rules.

I live and write in the Olympia area of Washington State, and am active in several writing groups. I am a founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group have independently published nine novels. My short stories have appeared in several anthologies. One of my short stories was included in the 2019 anthology Swords, Sorcery and Self-Rescuing Damsels, featuring stories by authors such as Jody Lynn Nye and Katie Cross.

Thank you for your consideration,

Connie J. Jasperson

123 Writer Rd. S.E.

Buymybook, WA 01234

c.jasperson@writer.com (email)

123-456-7890 (phone)

The body of any cover letter will be laid out in the same fashion. Title, word count, and genre are important. Agents and editors want to know that you sent them the kind of work they specialize in.

Sometimes my queries get good results, and sometimes not. I’ve said this before, but query letters are like ice cream. Everyone likes certain flavors and have to be pushed to try out new.

You just have to cross your fingers and hope your manuscript and letter arrives on a day when the person in question is in the mood for a story exactly like what you are selling.

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Self-editing: The Point of No Return #amwriting

Misfortune and struggle create opportunities for growth. We place obstacles in our protagonists’ paths that will force change on them. Crises, even small ones on the most personal of levels, are the fertile ground from which adventure springs.

In the editing process, we must ensure these opportunities are clearly defined, logical, and in the right place.

Most disasters are preceded by one or more points of no return.

Consider the engineering that goes into building and maintaining a dam.

Wikipedia says:

Dams are considered “installations containing dangerous forces” under International humanitarian law due to the massive impact of a possible destruction on the civilian population and the environment. Dam failures are comparatively rare, but can cause immense damage and loss of life when they occur. In 1975 the failure of the Banqiao Reservoir Dam and other dams in Henan Province, China caused more casualties than any other dam failure in history. The disaster killed an estimated 171,000 people and 11 million people lost their homes. [1]

When a mistake is made in the planning or construction process of a dam, it sets a chain of events into motion.

There are usually opportunities to notice the problem and resolve it long before the dam breaks, but despite the diligence of the engineers, the construction workers, and the maintenance personnel, the flaw may go unseen, and everyone is at risk.

Once the river begins flooding, the workers and people living downstream are faced with an event from which there is no turning back.

We must identify this plot point and make it subtly clear to the reader. Knowing the flaw is there, and seeing the workers unaware of it ratchets up the tension. The moment cracks appear in the dam, you have placed the protagonist at maximum risk.

Many times, in my real life, I’ve been boxed into a corner, frantically dealing with things I could have avoided, had I noticed the cracks in the metaphoric dam. When you look at history, humanity seems hardwired to ignore the “turn back now” signs.

In every novel, a point of no return, large or small, comes into play. The protagonists are in danger of losing everything because they didn’t recognize the warning signs, and they are pushed to the final confrontation, whether they are ready for it or not.

Arcs of action drive the plot. Sometimes that action is a chain of seemingly unconnected events. The first event is a catalyst, setting in motion the small events that follow. Each incident progressively forces the protagonist and their companions to a meeting with destiny.

In the editing process, we want to make sure the events are in a logical order, and that they serve the purpose of forcing the protagonist down the path we have chosen for them. Also, we want the reader to say, “Now I see the connections.”

Points of no return aren’t always large disasters. Events can force the protagonist to a confrontation with himself.

Perhaps a family is forced to deal with long-simmering problems.

Events from which there is no turning back are the impetus of change, and that change is what the book is about.

Midpoint is often a place where a choice is made from which there is no turning back. From that point, the narrative rises to the Third Plot Point, an event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death.

This major event forces the protagonist to be greater than they believed they could be. Conversely, it can break them down to their component parts.

Either way, the protagonist is profoundly changed by this crisis.

The structure of the story must be closely examined in the process of self-editing to ensure the logic of the plot.

During the build-up to the final point of no return, we want to ensure these events develop our characters’ strengths, so they are ready to face the final crisis.

Structural editors identify both the protagonist’s goals and those of the antagonist early on. They look at the arc of the story to make sure the author shows why these goals are important and why they justify the struggle that will ensue.

  • How does the protagonist react to being thwarted in his efforts?
  • How does the antagonist currently control the situation?
  • How does the protagonist react to pressure from the antagonist?
  • How does the struggle deepen the relationships between the protagonist and their companions or romantic interest?
  • What complications arise from a lack of information regarding the conflict?
  • How will the characters acquire that necessary information?

Obstacles in the protagonist’s path to happiness make for satisfying conclusions, no matter what genre you’re writing in. Whenever the protagonist overcomes an obstruction, the reader is rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction. That reward keeps the reader turning pages.

I love books that allow us to get to know the characters, see them in their environment. An incident happens, thrusting the hero down the road to the Lonely Mountain, or trying to head off a war.

In The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien set the first point of no return early. An acquaintance, Gandalf the Wizard, invited himself and twelve friends to dinner at Bilbo’s house, knowing that politeness would compel the hobbit to feed them.

The next day Bilbo found himself walking to the Misty Mountains with a group of Dwarves he only just met, leaving home with nothing but the clothes on his back.

By serving dinner to the unexpected guests, Bilbo passed the first point of no return. He heard the stories and listened to their songs. After having seen the map, even if he were to turn back and stay home, Bilbo would have been forever changed by regret for what he didn’t have the courage to do.


Credits and attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Dam failure,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dam_failure&oldid=943367090 (accessed March 3, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Alfred Zoff – A River Dam.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Alfred_Zoff_-_A_River_Dam.jpg&oldid=283453136 (accessed March 3, 2020).

The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, Theatrical release poster, Warner Bros. 2012 (Fair Use).

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Self-editing: Action, Events, and Introspection #amwriting

If you are a member of any writers’ forum on Facebook or through a private group, you know that today’s authors are constantly prodded to emphasize the action in their narratives. For new, inexperienced authors, this can lead to an imbalance, a narrative where the characters aren’t allowed time for introspection.

An editor looks at the scenes to see how they fit into the narrative and to ensure they are in the right order and flow into each other well.

Sometimes, I see a manuscript where it seems as if a horrific event has been inserted for the sake of shock value. In the revision process, you should examine these scenes to see if they do their job.

  • Was the event foreshadowed well, or did it come out of nowhere?
  • Is the scene necessary to force change and growth on the protagonist?
  • How are her fundamental ethics and ideals challenged by this event?

A structural editor will tell you that if there is no personal cost or benefit to the protagonist or antagonist, there is no need for that scene.

Writing these blind alleys is not a waste of time. You never know when you will need those ideas, so don’t throw them away—always keep the things you cut in a separate file. The fact that an idea doesn’t work for one book doesn’t mean it won’t work in another.

For my own work, I label that file “outtakes.” Having these unused scenes ready to adapt to other uses comes in handy when I need an idea to jump-start a new story.

In the rush of writing the first draft, it can be easy to focus on setting traps and roadblocks for our protagonist and her nemesis. We forget that readers need a chance to process what we have written.

Events must force the character to grow. Creepy scenes must have a purpose. If your story absolutely must contain that scene, it must deeply affect the characters involved in it. Events must be catalysts for the character’s evolution and growth.

We may think we have written evolving characters, but they remain stagnant if you don’t allow the reader time to see that evolution and process it.

We’re all avid readers. Consider how your favorite authors in these genres connect their underlying themes with the action and growth of their protagonists, and how they allow the reader to process each event.

Political thrillers are set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. They feature political corruption, terrorism, and warfare as common themes. How the protagonist negotiates these situations and is affected by them is the story. Introspection is key to the reader’s understanding of the events and their root cause.

Romance Novels detail the developing relationship between two people and show how they overcome the roadblocks to happiness. Both the conflict and climax of the novel are directly related to the core theme of a romantic relationship with a happy conclusion. Without small chances for introspection, the reader won’t feel connected to the protagonist and their story.

Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative. This genre features introspective, in-depth studies of complex, fully developed characters. Action and setting are not the points here, although they frame the character and provide a visual perspective. In other words, opportunities for introspection are a key feature of literary fiction.

Science Fiction details realistic speculation about possible future events. All technology should be based solidly on knowledge of real world science, both past and present. A thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the Scientific Method is crucial. Events involving science and technology must be based on known and theoretically possible physics. Morality and the wider effects of  the choices we make are a strong theme in all science fiction. Without introspection, moral choices get lost.

Fantasy is my usual genre to write in. It is often set in an alternate, medieval, or ancient world. The common themes are good vs. evil, the hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Some fantasy is set in urban settings with paranormal tropes, but if that is the case, the author has similar constraints to those affecting the science fiction author. In urban fantasy, the reality must be true to life and contrast with the paranormal. This contrast highlights and emphasizes the fantasy elements.

These genres look widely different, but they all have one thing in common—they have protagonists and side characters who experience life-changing events. These moments become important to the reader.

In my mind, genre and setting are a picture-frame, a backdrop against which the themes that drive the action of the story are played out.

What is the underlying theme of your story? While you were laying down the first draft, did you notice a moral concept that was woven into the story? Was it love? Was it destiny? Was it the death of hope?

In the revision and editing process, we must identify the events that strengthen that theme, and frame them with moments of reflection.

Personal growth and the hero’s journey are often the central themes in my work. Those are the stories that hooked me as a young reader, and I still gravitate to them.

The idea of the heroic journey was first introduced by Joseph Campbell, the American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949). In this ground-breaking work, he discusses the monomyth or what is called “the hero’s journey.”

He describes how this motif is historically the common pattern of humanity’s myths and legends. Each of these tales involves an unlikely hero going on an adventure. This hero, in a decisive crisis, wins a victory, then returns home changed or transformed.

I often use Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Hobbit as an example. When Bilbo Baggins faces the giant spiders, he also faces his own cowardice. Bilbo is amazed to find he has the courage to fight them.

That scene was the first step in his realization that his bravery doesn’t depend on the magic ring he found earlier. He is afraid, but he is not afraid to be courageous. This is a core concept of this book, and of the entire Lord of the Rings series.

What is important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?

Those are the themes you should be writing to, what your events must support. You must allow your reader the chance to consider how those events affect the protagonist, to absorb the theme and deeper personal meaning of that character’s journey.

In that way, you will hook the reader and keep them firmly in your world.

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