Tag Archives: writing

World-building, part 1: Place #amwriting

My novel, Mountains of the Moon, was born in 2008. It began life as a storyline for an anime-based RPG that never went past planning into production. The original title was Neveyah, named after the world in which it was set.

MOTM is set in an alternate universe and takes place in an environment that was ground zero for a war between gods. As a result of that battle, the gods were prohibited from acting directly against each other and must now act through their people.

When the story opens, the World of Neveyah has been recovering for a thousand years.

I had created the maps for the role-play game, so before I began writing Wynn’s story as a novel, I knew the topography of his world.

Of course, I got distracted and wrote Tower of Bones, a story set two generations later before I finished MOTM, but that’s how writing works for me.

I went to science to see how long it takes for an environment to recover from cataclysmic events. I took my information from a place I live a two-hour drive away from, the Channeled Scablands of Washington State. This vast desert area is  comprised of the scars of a natural disaster that occurred around 18,000 years ago.

From Wikipedia: The Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed up Glacial Lake Missoula at the Purcell Trench Lobe.[10] A series of floods occurring over the period of 18,000 to 13,000 years ago swept over the landscape when the ice dam broke. The eroded channels also show an anastomosing, or braided, appearance.

I had to first build and then destroy the ecology for the game. All RPG players will tell you that a hazardous environment and correspondingly dangerous creatures are a core part of a game’s story. Hazards present threats the protagonist must learn to coexist with. Overcoming and surviving danger raises a player’s skills and strength.

That concept of personal growth through action is a feature of all adventure stories.

Thanks to that year of prep-work on the game, when I began writing the book, all the hard work was done. Many hours of work and years of writing is why the world seems so solid from the opening paragraphs.

When we first brainstormed the idea of writing a fun, yet deep and meaningful story and making a computer game out of it, my partner had two requests. He wanted the central character to be under a curse. Also, he wanted Wynn’s arc to take him from the most naïve, sheltered twenty-year-old ever to walk the planet, to a strong adult capable of making a difference in a world that could sometimes be a terrible place.

So, with those requests in mind, I sat down and wrote a 3500-word outline of events, and answered as many questions about the world as I could think of at the time:

  • What is the name (and the meaning of that name) of the worlds involved in the character’s journey?
  • Who are Gods involved, and what is the core of their conflict?
  • This is a portal story, so where was my protagonist, Wynn Farmer, when the story opened? Why was he unaware of the portal before he fell through, and why wouldn’t it take him back to his world?
  • Where was he at the end of the opening chapter? How did the air feel? What scents and odors were common to that place?

Blue camas and wild mustard on the Violet Prairie, Tenino Washington, in May 2014

The world of Neveyah is an alien environment, yet it’s extremely familiar to me. I based the plants and topography on the world I live in, the Pacific Northwest. The plants and geography are directly pulled from the forested hills and farmlands of Southern Puget Sound and Western Washington State.

Who did he meet (Jules Brendsson)? What did he see, and how did that meeting go?

When he realized he couldn’t go home, how did Wynn react to his new environment?

It was written as a game, so the environment plays a part in the characters’ learning curve. Coping with it is how the characters “level up” or grow in strength. While Wynn didn’t expect to fall into Neveyah, Jules had been sent specifically to meet and instruct him in the use of magic. Wynn and Jules must walk from the meeting place to a town.

As they are walking, Jules must get to know Wynn and teach him how to use a form of magic. What does Jules think about his student? Looking through Wynn’s eyes, what does he see in each scene?

This is where atmosphere comes into world-building, something we’ll go into detail about on Wednesday.

On this original world-building document, I wrote every detail I could think of, from the largest and most dangerous creatures down to the insects. Over the next four years, as I wrote the novel, I added to it whenever I thought of something new.

In the process of building the world that Wynn Farmer fell into, his storyline began to write itself.

The act of designing the immediate scenery builds the entire world in your mind. I go with the familiar, with some strange twists thrown in for fun.

You might tell me that you can’t picture a place you haven’t been to. But what does that really mean?

Sunset on Cannon Beach, August 2019

Open your eyes and look around. At this moment you have all the elements you need to create an alien or alternate world. These elements could exist before your eyes, or they exist in your memory.

Use what you know, reshape it, reuse it, and make it yours.

Everyone has a place they want to be more than anywhere else. For me, one place on earth represents my serenity, my creative happy place, and it exists in the real world but is a four-hour drive from my home.

Yet, when I need to, I can pull that place up in my mind. By visualizing my summer retreat, I recharge my serenity-batteries.

Open a new document, one that will be your world-building work sheet. What kind of place seems to build itself in your mind? This is an environment you are mentally connected to. In writing that that place, it will flow from you and convey itself to the reader. Write down the sights, smells, and the emotions you experience when thinking about it.

Perhaps it is a real place, and maybe you experience a sense of longing when remembering that place. If so, write how it makes your physical self feel.

This the point where cosmology and human nature intersect to create atmosphere, and we will continue this discussion on Wednesday.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Channeled Scablands,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Channeled_Scablands&oldid=963105167 (accessed August 1, 2020).

All images and maps used in this post are the creation and intellectual property of Connie J. Jasperson.

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Four rules for writing conversations #amwriting

In my last post, we talked about internal dialogues, or thoughts our characters may have. But what about that which is spoken aloud?

How to punctuate dialogue can be confusing for those who are just starting out. I will warn you—from the reader’s perspective, punctuation is to writing what gravity is to the universe. It holds everything together.

We obey traffic signals when driving, so we don’t cause wrecks. In the same way, our written work must abide by specific fundamental rules, or it will be unreadable—a wreck.

What is spoken must be easily distinguished from the ordinary narrative. Therefore, punctuation is for the reader’s benefit. While we can take some liberties with grammar and dialect when writing conversations, following the established rules of punctuation is essential.

Many people are confused about how to punctuate conversations. It’s not that complicated. Here are four rules to remember:

Rule 1: Surround everything that is spoken with quotation marks. “I’m here,” she said.

Begin and end the dialogue with “double quotes.” These are called closed quotes. All punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. This is a universal, cast-iron rule that we must follow.

Rule 2: When quoting someone else as part of a conversation, you should set the quoted speech apart with single quotes (apostrophes, inverted commas) and keep it inside the closed quotes.

You can do this in two ways:

  • John said, “When I asked her, Grace replied, ‘I can’t go.’ But I’m sure she was lying.”
  • John said, “When I asked, Grace replied ‘I can’t go.’”

Note that in the second sentence, 3 apostrophes are placed after the period (full stop): 1 apostrophe and 1 double (closed) quote mark. This is in keeping with the rule that all punctuation in dialogue goes inside the quotation marks.

Indirect dialogue is a recapping of a conversation.

  • When asked, John said Grace couldn’t go.

We don’t use quotes in indirect dialogue. Also, in the above sentence, the word that is implied between said and Grace.

Rule 3: Commas—Do not place a period between the closed quotes and the dialogue tag. Use a comma because when the speech tag follows the spoken words, they are one sentence consisting of clauses separated by a comma:  “I’m here,” she said.

  • When leading with a speech tag, the comma is separating two clauses, so it is placed after the tag and is not inside the quotation marks: She said, “I’m here.”
  • Dialogue that is split with the speech tag is all one sentence: “The flowers are lovely,” she said, “but they make my eyes water.” Note that the first word in the second half of the sentence is not capitalized.

Rule 4: When a speaker’s monologue must be broken into two paragraphs, lead off each with quotation marks but only put the closed quote at the end of the final paragraph. A wall of dialogue can be daunting in a story but happens sometimes in essays and when quoting speeches.

In the following example, I tried to include all four of the rules:

    “We’ve forgotten one important thing,” Jan said, “barbarian or southerner, we’re all descended from the Remnant. We are all Aeos’s people, barbarian, southerner, or midlands farmer.

    “During my vision quest,  she told me two important things I didn’t understand until now. ‘Build my clergy’ and ‘lead my people back to the path of righteousness.’ I thought she only meant that I should guide the tribes, but now I know her true plan.”

The things readers won’t forgive are what I think of as the seven deadly sins of dialogue, often committed when writing the first draft:

  1. The info dump: “Ralph, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  2. Repetitively naming the characters being spoken to: “Ralph, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  3. Bizarre speech tags such as ejaculated or spewed.
  4. Long, drawn out thoughts and ruminations that are a wall of italics.
  5. Spelling out accents to the point they are visually incomprehensible. “Oive got a luverly bunch uv coconuts…”
  6. Leading off with verbal tics. “Aahhh…ummm…”
  7. Erratic and amateurish punctuation.

Something else I’ve mentioned before: Never resort to writing foreign languages by using Google Translate (or any other translation app). A single word used consistently here and there to convey the sense of foreignness is one thing, but in general, if you don’t speak the language, don’t write it.

These are the fundamental rules of the road that readers expect authors to be educated in. When authors don’t obey these rules, readers leave comments on Amazon like, “one star, could not finish.” Those are reviews of the worst kind.

If you have more questions about punctuation, good answers can be found in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan A. Garner. This is a handy book I regularly refer back to whenever I have questions about grammar.

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Thoughts on Interior Dialogues #amwriting

It’s a fact that in the early stages of craft development, beginning authors can rely too heavily on thoughts as a way to insert information into a narrative. Most of the time, conversations can convey all the information the protagonist and the reader need.

A fact that may surprise you–most people do not speak words in their minds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our random thought processes are often comprised of complex images of what we plan to do or create, arguments and interpersonal problems we’re occupied with, and flashes of memory.

And cognitive studies (verified by Descriptive Experience Sampling) have shown that 1/3 of people experience abbreviated inner speech, where an  entire complex thought is represented by a single word.

For most people, inner monologues are composed of short bursts of sentences that we “hear” as if spoken aloud.

Researchers say that most of the time, our inner monologue concerns how we see ourselves. These thoughts are often in whole sentences and phrased in a negative way. And most telling of all, we aren’t usually aware of our inner thoughts when we are having them.

However, this shouldn’t negate the usefulness of a properly deployed interior monologue.

In my opinion, there are times when revealing a critical bit of backstory can only be accomplished through the thought processes of the protagonist or a companion.

For me as a reader, the problem arises mostly when private thoughts are italicized. This is an accepted practice in the genres of Sci-fi, Fantasy, and YA novels. Many readers expect to see them presented in italics. However, we need to be aware of how daunting it is for a reader to be faced with a wall of words written in a leaning font.

And, the fact is, if the author makes it clear that the character is having the conversation with themselves, italics aren’t needed.

It was, he thought, one of those rare days, where the sun shone benevolently upon mankind. Aloud he said, “Enjoy the sun while you can, my friend. The rain is eternal here.”

A rather vocal contingent at any gathering of authors will say thoughts should not be italicized. While I disagree with that stance, I do see their point.

These authors feel that changing the font to italics creates a greater narrative distance. They think it halts the eye and sets readers apart from the character and the events of the scene.

As an avid reader, I disagree with that statement if it is applied broadly, and will argue the point, although more than a sentence or two of italicized mental dialogue does precisely that. This is a literary style choice that you, as an author, must make for yourself based on your personal preferences.

So why italicize thoughts?

  • If we choose to omit dialogue tags for these internal conversations and don’t set them off with italics or a “thought tag,” the reader can become confused.

I will add here that having the bulk of the narrative in one font, such as Garamond, and the thoughts in another, such as Times New Roman, does not eliminate the confusion. In fact, that visual contradiction makes focusing on the narrative more difficult.

If you are going to go to that much trouble, just use italics. At least the reader won’t be confused.

What is the best way to indicate that a sentence or two of interior monologue in the middle of a scene is the viewpoint character’s thoughts (and not the narrator narrating)? We have three options.

We could write the thought in first person, present tense (which is the way we actually think them) vs. writing it in the third person, past tense (so that they blend in with the rest of the text) and add a speech tag.

We can italicize vs. using standard text. I overused that in my early work, but it’s too late to go back and change that now. We all evolve as we go along in the craft, and our work reflects that growth.

As a reader, I would suggest you never use quotation marks around a character’s thoughts. Why?

The reader will assume the words are being said out loud. Then they see a “she thought” tag, rather than a “she said” dialogue tag. This throws the reader out of the narrative, and they may put the book down out of frustration, or worse, leave a “one-star, did not finish” review.

The third option is the external observation.

The following excerpt is from Benny’s Gambit, a short story. It illustrates how I write interior monologues now, ten years on in my quest to learn something about writing. My intention is that the protagonist’s thoughts are natural and organic to the flow of the narrative. I hope to write them in such a way that they fit as smoothly into the story as conversations.

Benny watched Charlotte as she left the office. Everyone knew she came from a wealthy family. The gold watch and the sleek sports car she drove could have been owned by any well-employed girl, but something about her screamed confidence and money.

Those thoughts are seen as external observations, Benny’s outside view of another character. I could verbalize all that by giving him a conversation with a co-worker, but why? This way, the reader is shown all they need to know about Charlotte, without resorting to a conversational info dump.

There are times when we want to convey information about the way the protagonists see themselves. I believe some things must be expressed as an interior monologue, if you want the reader in your protagonist’s head, as in the next paragraph.

Benny looked down at his mop. I’m such an idiot.

The first sentence is in the third person, past tense. The thought is italicized because it is in the first person present tense, showing his real-time experience. One could write it with a thought tag.

Benny looked down at his mop. I’m such an idiot, he thought.

However, at this point in my writing life I would probably write it this way:

Benny looked down at his mop and thought what an idiot he was.

In an early draft, I chose italics because it felt smoother to me. Nowadays, I would likely opt for the external view.

Whichever way you would choose to write them, the reader has gained a lot of information about Benny’s situation in two short paragraphs, but weren’t treated to an info dump.

Interior monologues are crucial to the flow of novels in which the author wants the reader firmly in the protagonist’s mind. However, these are tools we must use sparingly.

The majority of thoughts should be shown through actions or external observations by the characters. These ruminations are critical to creating an intimate portrait of your protagonist but shouldn’t take over the narrative.

So, to wind this up, interior monologues are an organic part of some narratives but are not right for all. Some stories don’t need thoughts displayed.

When they are done well and sparingly, interior monologues can create an intimate connection with the protagonist.

If an interior monologue is used in most speculative fiction, it should be short and set off by italics or phrased in the present tense and identified with the speech tag ‘thought.’

Please, if you choose to use italics, do your readers a favor, and avoid indulging in long paragraphs.

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The Character Arc part 4 #amwritng

Today in our focus on writing, we’re talking about circumstances (situations) our characters find themselves in and how they are shaped by them. We’re delving a little deeper into our discussion of the Character Arc, which was begun last week.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

We met Dave, a hapless accountant whose moment of madness in “paying it forward” and purchasing a stranger’s lunch has led to his being taken hostage and forced to become a spy.

What does Dave want more than anything? He wants the Agents who kidnapped him to let him go home.

After the inciting incident, Dave must want nothing more than to achieve that objective.

So how do his circumstances reshape his personality? After all, we have a character arc here, not a flat line.

Let’s look at the plot outline:

On page one, Dave-the-accountant is shown in his ordinary world. He likes who he is and sees nothing wrong with his existence. We see a man who is only sure of himself when numbers are involved and see him in his office where he is working his way up the corporate ladder. The only thing Dave does well is straightening out tangled financial reports, and he is brilliant at that.

People like Dave, as he’s a good listener. However, he rarely volunteers anything conversationally because he has nothing of interest to contribute unless they are discussing accounting. He receives an unexpected bonus for having done well in getting one of their high-profile clients off the hook with the IRS.

Usually, Dave buys a sandwich from the machine in the employee lounge and eats at his desk while he works. But receiving the bonus calls for a little celebration. He tells the receptionist he’s going out for lunch and walks down the street to a café he has passed every day but never entered.

On page three, Dave does a random act of kindness that does not go unpunished. After he’s seated, Dave notices a striking woman. He imagines what it would be like to be a suave man of the world, wishing he were bold enough to introduce himself to her. He pictures her inviting him to dine with her.

Even though he is sure the woman wouldn’t give him the time of day, Dave suddenly chooses to “pay it forward” by purchasing her lunch when he pays for his.

He leaves the café before she finds out what he’s done, mentally berating himself for being such a coward.

5,000 words into the story, Dave-the-accountant has become Dave-the-kidnap-victim. Unbeknownst to Dave, the woman he was so taken with is a well-known double agent. Because he acted on the wild notion to pay for her lunch, he has drawn the attention of the people who were following her.

Two days later, as he walks to work, a white limousine pulls up alongside him. Four men in dark suits hustle him into the backseat. Here, the story can go in several directions, but in all of them, Dave must make choices that will change his life.

The next event happens 10,000 words into the story. Dave’s kidnappers realize he is not a double agent, but decide he is useful anyway. He’s an unremarkable person, a man who doesn’t stand out in a crowd. His ability to see the patterns in financial numbers is just the skill they need to nail a criminal they’ve been trying to get evidence on for years.

What does Dave fear? At first, he fears he’s going to die, but as time goes on, he fears he will lose his job.

15,000 words into the story, Dave agrees to do what the Secret Service wants, on the promise he will be allowed to go home and won’t lose his job over it.

Getting back to the security of his comfortable middle-class life becomes Dave’s primary goal. Every scene and conversation will push him closer to either attaining that goal or discovering a new purpose.

25,000 words into the story, Dave learns that, despite their glib assurances, the government was not “there to help” him. He has lost his job and barely manages to keep his apartment. The agents have one more task for him, and he’s desperate to not have to dig into his retirement funds, so he agrees to it.

45,000 words into the story, Dave is in a tough situation, trying to get evidence on an extremely dangerous person. He has lost faith in himself and the people he trusted but can’t turn back now, as he is in a situation that will get him killed if he’s discovered.

60,000 words to the end – In completing that last task and going back to his old world, Dave finds he is no longer happy as an unassuming accountant. He’s seen what is out there in the world, and no longer fits in his old corporate life.

Each event pushes Dave a little further out of his comfort zone. He has to become an actor, but in doing so, he realizes he’s been acting all his life. How does this new awareness change him?

No one can go through these sometimes traumatic and terrifying events and not be changed by them.

Many different endings are possible, some of which could lead to another book.

This was the scenario for a mystery/thriller of sorts. Still, the principle of events forcing change on the protagonist’s character arc is universal across all genres.

Dave’s character arc is driven by the desire to go back to the comfort of his old life. Nothing evokes such longing in a person as the memory of home, a place where they were happy and secure.

That longing for a time that no longer exists, and which may never have been as wonderful as we recall, is a good theme that fits well into any genre. Trying to achieve the unobtainable opens the story up to myriad possibilities, all of which should force growth or change upon the characters.

When I look back at the books that moved me, the catalyst for my emotional attachment was the characters, way more than the events, the setting, or the genre. What drew me to these imaginary people was the way they were affected by the events they lived through.

I remained invested in them to the very end of the book. That, to me, is the mark of good writing.

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The Character Arc, part 3 #amwriting

Today in our focus on writing, we’re continuing our discussion of the Character Arc, which was begun last week.

Part 1 Posted on Monday July 13, 2020

Part 2 Posted on Wednesday July 15, 2020

Today we’re talking about circumstances (situations) our characters find themselves in, and how their view of “self” is shaped by them.

But first, maybe you’re a writer like me, one who needs a few notes and a loose outline help me get the manuscript started.

Many writers work at a day job, and using the note-taking app on the cellphone during work hours is frowned on. If you are in that category and you are not working from home, you can go old-school with a pocket-sized notebook, and write those ideas down.

That way, you can unobtrusively make notes whenever you have an idea that would work well in your story, and you won’t appear distracted or off-task.

Once you have assembled your random ideas, and maybe even written a chapter or two, it’s time to think about who the characters are and how they react to their circumstances.

At the outset of the story, we meet our protagonist and see him/her in their normal surroundings.

Once we have met them and seen them in their comfort zone, an event occurs, which is the inciting incident. This is an occurrence that falls in the first chapters of the story, forcing the protagonist out of their usual circumstances. It hooks the reader and is the first point of no return.

The protagonist, in those opening paragraphs, has been shaped by the situation and lifestyle in which they are accustomed to living.

We’re going to plot a mystery with an eye toward how the protagonist is changed by their circumstances. If it seems familiar, it’s because this is a scenario I’ve used before:

The story opens when Dave, an unmarried accountant, has received an unexpected bonus and splurges on lunch in a restaurant. He sees a woman from across the café and develops a small, instant infatuation. He wishes he were brave enough to walk up and introduce himself.

What is the action he would do that falls within his comfort zone? What would he spontaneously do that is unusually bold for him?

Perhaps he chooses to secretly “pay-it-forward,” buying her lunch when he pays for his own on his way out. You must show him as a shy person not given to speaking to women he doesn’t know, much less buying their lunch.

So, this act is a bold one for Dave, and it must change his life.

Because he acted on the wild notion to pay for her lunch, he draws the attention of the people who were following her. These people operate on a level a mere accountant wouldn’t know exists.

To them, that act of buying her lunch was a secret code. They decide that Dave is a spy posing as an accountant. Unbeknownst to Dave, who goes about his life as he always does, regretting only that he didn’t dare to say hello to the woman, his every move is now on their radar.

His habitual routine is now interpreted according to a very different set of rules, by people who live and breathe conspiracy theories.

Buying a stranger lunch was the inciting incident. Everything that happens from here on occurs because of that innocent act.

This is where Dave is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the situation that is the core idea of our plot. For the rest of the novel, his circumstances will transform his way of thinking.

Two days later, as he walks to work, a white limousine pulls up alongside him. Four men in dark suits hustle him into the backseat. He is forced at gunpoint onto a plane bound for Oslo, Norway, handcuffed to a suitcase. The only other key that can remove the handcuffs is at the American Embassy in the custody of a mysterious woman, Lisa Desmond.

This is the new circumstance in which our protagonist finds himself as a result of the inciting incident.

How does Dave react to his kidnapping and what is his physical condition at the moment he is kidnapped?

How does Dave change his situation for better or worse?

How do the antagonistic forces react when they discover he is not a spy but is just an accountant who is now in danger of losing his job?

This is where we discover who the woman in the café really is and what role she will play in Dave’s new life as an unwilling spy.

Everything you will write from the point of the inciting incident to the last page will detail Dave’s quest and how the circumstances he finds himself in as each scene progresses shape his view of himself.

For a writer, winging it in short bursts can be exhilarating. Still, my years of experience with NaNoWriMo has taught me that writing by the seat of my pants for extended lengths of time only works until I run out of ideas for what to do next.

With a simple outline, I don’t become desperate and start writing random bunny trails to nowhere into the plot.

DISCLAIMER: This does NOT apply to anything written during November and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). By day ten, I will have written an incredible number of events-to-nowhere into the manuscript. These are things that have nothing at all in common with the original story. However, I volunteer as a Municipal Liaison, so during NaNoWriMo, I must get my word-count. I write some crazy things during NaNoWriMo.

But I won’t trash them.

In December, I cut them and paste them into a separate document. I save those outtakes in my ‘idea file.’

Some of the prose will be good, and with a few minor changes (names, places), these outtakes are the seeds from which other stories grow.

I will post the fourth and final installment in The Character Arc series on Wednesday. Through the events that form the arc of the plot, Dave’s character arc becomes more defined. He becomes more decisive and able to act in the open as opposed to remaining hidden.

At first, Dave just wants to get rid of the suitcase and go back to his job. He wants that desperately and believes that somehow it will happen. On Wednesday, we will delve more deeply into Dave’s objectives.

We will explore how setting goals and working to achieve them gives Dave more control over his circumstances and forces him to become a bolder person.


Credits and Attributions

Eye on Flat Panel Monitor,  Image by Royalty-Free/Corbis © 2013

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The Character Arc part 2 #amwriting

I received much of my early education from Ballantine Books’ Adult Fantasy Series. These were readily available through Doubleday’s Science Fiction Book Club (books by mail) or at the drug store in the paperback section.

When I was in the fifth grade, I read The Hobbit for the first time. Bilbo was real to me, and when you ask others who are dedicated fans of Tolkien, they will tell you that it is his characters that make his stories so epic.

While I will read nearly anything you put in front of me, Tolkien got me hooked on high fantasy, and I went out of my way to find it after that.

So, what is high fantasy? Wikipedia says, “High fantasy or epic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy,[1] defined either by the epic nature of its setting or by the epic stature of its charactersthemes, or plot.[2] The term “high fantasy” was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, “High Fantasy and Heroic Romance.”

Other than the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, high fantasy wasn’t easy to find back in the early days, and a lot of what was out there was difficult to read.

But lighter fantasy was beginning to emerge in speculative fiction,

I read Anne McCaffrey’s sci-fi fantasy Dragon Riders of Pern series to the point that I wore out three copies each of her first six books in the series.

What makes a reader purchase and re-read a book to the point that she would wear out several copies of it?

The characters.

Sure, the dragons were great, and the setting was amazing, but the characters became my dearest friends as we moved through the events of their story.

McCaffrey’s characters were strong, brave, romantic—and the protagonists were most often competent women. They had a character arc that took them from a place of weakness to a place of strength.

Another series of books that influenced me as a young adult were Niel Hancock’s Atlanton Earth series. That series opens with “Greyfax Grimwald,” and is an exploration of the Buddhist interpretation of the cycle of life and death. War is the great evil, and the threat of war is a thread that runs throughout the series.

Some critics have trivialized Hancock’s books as “commodified fantasy.” Still, I enjoyed them for the often brilliant prose as much as for the deeper themes. Otter and Bear were endearing characters, people whose thoughts and emotions felt engrossing and real to me.

These were books where the storyline followed the hero’s journey. In each, the protagonists came to a point where they lost their faith or had a crisis of conscience.

This point of personal crisis was where I, as a reader, discovered who they really were as human beings.

In reading these stories, I absorbed one of the basic principles of storytelling: A flawed hero is far more relatable than a perfect hero.

In looking back at my favorite books, a sense of danger, an unavoidable threat, was evident from the opening pages. How the characters reacted to that event felt unpredictable because the authors gave them agency.

As I discussed in my previous post, agency is the ability your character has to surprise you when you are writing them and their reactions. They seem to drive the keyboard, making their own choices.

When our characters are faced with an unavoidable threat that removes the option of going about life as usual, we should give them agency. This leaves them with several consequential choices, many of which will be made in stressful situations.

I have used the word consequential before as relating to the choices your characters must make. I chose that word intentionally. When there are no consequences for bad decisions a character might make, what is the story about?

My roots aren’t only in high fantasy—I love a good cozy mystery as much as anyone. In a cozy mystery, getting to know the main character as a friend is central to the story. The events that ensue are a means to further explore the life of the protagonist.

Why would a random trip to a convenience store interest a reader if something out of the ordinary does not occur? After all—we go out for bread every day, and it’s not too exciting. Frankly, I’m not interested in reading about Amy buying a loaf of bread. But make her the witness to a robbery and things begin to get interesting. Better yet, give her options:

  1. She can hide and wait for the intruders to leave.
  2. She can decide to be a hero.
  3. What other options does Amy have? What does she see when she looks around the store?

Whatever Amy chooses to do, there will be consequences. If things go awry, she could become a hostage. If she goes unnoticed but tells the police what she knows, she and her family could be in danger.

Once she is in the middle of these consequences, Amy will have more crisis points to face, and a lack of bread will only be one of them. She will have many decisions to make, and each choice will drive the plot.

The results of her decisions will change her outlook on life and give her wisdom she wouldn’t have had without those experiences.

At the end of the story, Amy will be more outgoing, surer of herself, and willing to step outside of her usual, rather boring, bubble of security.

The obstacles your characters face and the choices they make in those situations are the story. Giving your characters an active role and allowing them agency is what makes them human.

I recommend that in the first draft, you use all the adverbs and modifiers you need because you must get the idea down before you forget it. The first draft is where we take an idea, a “what if” moment, and give it form on paper.

When it is finished, the first draft is basically made up of sections of brilliance interspersed with a catalog of events: who did what, where they did it, and why. These adverbs and modifiers are your guideposts, prose you will remove and make active later, but getting the raw concept on paper is the crucial thing at this stage.

At the outset, giving my characters agency is challenging. This is because, in the first draft, the protagonist and his motives are still somewhat unformed.

In one of my current works-in-progress, my main character has been put through a personal death of sorts. His world has been shaken to the foundations, and he no longer has faith in himself or the people he once looked up to.

This low point is a crucial part of the hero’s journey.

If you are stuck with a character you can’t figure out, ask yourself what personal revelations come out about the protagonist, or conversely, what does he discover about himself?

How are they emotionally destroyed by the events?

How was their own personal weakness responsible for this turn of events?

How does this cause them to question everything they ever believed in?

What makes them pull themselves together and just keep on going?

How are they different after this personal death and rebirth event?

This is where he is taken down to his component parts emotionally and rebuilds himself to be more than he ever believed he could be.

By the time you finish writing the lowest point of your protagonist’s life, you should have come to know them and how they will react in any given situation.

When your characters are real to you, that feeling will come across in your writing.

I have shown the covers of both halves of the final book in the high fantasy series by Tad Williams that shaped my early style of writing. Tad writes literate fantasy that is both epic and relatable. His characters are brilliantly portrayed–raw, human, and not perfect:

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “High fantasy,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=High_fantasy&oldid=967547546 (accessed July 14, 2020).

Front cover art for the book Imaginary Worlds – the Art of Fantasy written by Lin CarterBallantine Books, 1973 Cover artist, Gervasio Gallardo. Fair Use.

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The Character Arc part 1 #amwriting

We who write fiction spend a lot of time plotting the events a character will go through. We may write to an outline, or we might keep it in our head, but most of the action is usually known before we write it.

Even if you don’t plot in the traditional sense of the word, you should give some advance consideration to character development.

The term character arc is used to describe the personal growth and transformation of a character throughout a story. In narratives with a strong character arc, the protagonist begins as one sort of person. Through the events they experience, they are transformed. Often the change is for the better, but sometimes they change for the worse.

Great writing contrasts the relative security of the characters’ lives as they were in the opening paragraphs against the hazards of their life when they are in the midst of change.

Give me the book that immerses me in the uncertainty, fear, and anger—let me experience the emotional journey as well as the events of the narrative.

The novels that have the most influence on me as a writer are those that allow the reader to experience the characters’ journey.

These authors introduced me to characters who were multi-dimensional. They were people with a past and a present, and who hoped to survive long enough to enjoy a future.

In the opening act, the characters are introduced, and the scene is set. A great story evolves when the antagonist and protagonist are strong but not omnipotent. Both must have character arcs that show either

  1. Personal growth over the length of the story
  2. Stagnation or the inability to grow

Stagnation is a kind of death. This is a creative ploy to use for an antagonist who is unable to see their fatal flaw.

Each scene is an opportunity to advance the events of the story. But every small arc of action is also an opportunity to illuminate the motives of the characters.

The characters begin to be changed by the events they experience. How you show their emotional state is critical at this point because emotions engage readers. If you want a reader to experience the sense of crisis that you believe your story deserves, you must

  1. Foreshadow or hint at knowledge the characters don’t have, information that affects the outcome of the plot.

Very few people are evil for no reason at all. Sometimes they are likable, people who appear innocuous, even loving. If this is the case in your story, you need to insert small clues for the reader early on about the negative aspect of their personality. This is so that their despicable behavior isn’t seen as unexpected and contrived.

Fleshing out the antagonist and making their motives realistic is essential. They are as central to the story as the protagonist because their actions force change.

It’s important to remember that at no point in the narrative can people be sitting around idly chit-chatting about the changes they have been through in their life unless it affects the action at that moment.

Instead, they should be dealing with the consequences of the decisions they have just made and trying to make better plans.

Consequences are central to the forward momentum of the plot.

If consequences are to have meaning, motivations are crucial. What drives the characters to endure the results of their poor planning? What keeps them focused on achieving their goal?

Just as importantly, what will they NOT do? What is out of character for them? If you know that, you won’t muddy the narrative with look-alike and sound-alike characters.

The obstacles your characters face and the choices they make in those situations are the story.

Sometimes, in the first draft of my manuscripts, the motives of my protagonist haven’t quite come into focus for me. I tend to allow a character’s choices to push their personal growth, and then in a later draft, I have to sort out why they have made that decision.

Agency is the power of an individual to act independently. When we give the characters agency, we allow them to make their own free choices.

Giving your characters an active role and allowing them agency can make writing their story a joy. Remember, we write as much for ourselves as we do for a potential reader.

At times, I have a character I just can’t figure out. I make a character study, a personal history. Once I know their past, I understand what drives them and what triggers their emotions.

I then decide what personal revelations must come out about them in foreshadowing and figure out how to make it emerge organically.

In the character study, I ask the most important question of all: what does the character discover about herself?

When I have the answers about why, I look at the final event, the situation that ends the story to see if it passes the logic test. These people’s personal quirks and characteristics, their moral compass influenced the decisions that led them to that place.

Did I keep those clues distinct to each character, or was there a blurring of personalities within the group?

Most importantly, do my characters have recognizable motivations? Sure, we want to be subtle and not drop a ton of backstory on the reader. However, we can’t be too obscure in trying to keep the air of mystery.

If a beta reader can’t follow our protagonist’s reasoning, we haven’t done our job.

Creating intrigue yet making it believable is a balancing act.

Reading is the key. Every novel that leaves a mark on my heart has unique, individual characters that I can relate to.

When I stumble upon a book that engrosses me, I study that author’s work even if I don’t like one of their characters. I want to see how they fit the backstory into the narrative, ensuring their characters’ motivations made sense.

Their good writing habits help me improve in my own work. In my next post, I’m going to discuss the influence of novels that I once loved, and how they shaped my writing for good and for ill.

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Need and Technology #worldbuilding #amwriting  

Need is an aspect of the world our characters inhabit.

The props we place in the setting our characters inhabit, the tools they use, the objects they must acquire – these things form a layer that grows out of need.

First, no matter what genre you are writing in, you must establish the level of technology. Whatever you do, don’t stray from it

The Romans had running water, central heating, and toilets in their homes. So did the Minoans. However modern-seeming their architectural creations were, they were low-tech.

In the environment of any genre, cups will be cups, bowls will be bowls. The materials they are made of might be different, but those items will always be needed. If you took a Minoan and transplanted them into modern-day Seattle, a bowl or cup would be instantly recognizable for what it is.

Furnishings will be similar from society to society—people need somewhere to sit or sleep, whether it is a pile of straw, cushions, or a bunk. They need a place to cook and somewhere to store preserved food:

  • A fire pit and baskets in a hut
  • A fireplace and shelves with baskets and clay jars in a cabin
  • A modern kitchen and pantry in a ranch house
  • A starship’s galley or food replicator

Settings are like Barbie clothes. The clothes of Soldier Barbie fit Corporate Barbie… and Malibu Barbie… and Star Wars Barbie. The outer garments might be changed for each genre but Barbie is still the protagonist.

We change settings to fit the genre, to create a setting with all the right tropes. Genre defines the visuals, but the characters are paper dolls we dress to fit the society we have placed them in.

You can take your protagonist and place them in one of three kinds of settings: fantasy, sci-fi, or contemporary, and they would still be who they are. In any setting, there are certain commonalities with only minor literary differences.

Take a soldier as an example. They need garments, weapons, armor, and sustenance. Those are tailored to fit your genre—sci-fi, fantasy, or contemporary military thriller. But you can also use those things to offer visual clues about your protagonist’s personality.

Whether the weapon is a rifle, a sword, or a phaser is dependent on the level of technology you have established.

Logic and the established level of technology determines how each need is met. In the case of weapons, you’ll find many varieties of each within each category.

Which kind of hand-held weapon your protagonist will use is dependent on their skill level and physical strength as well as what is stocked in the armory.

When it comes to weaponry, if you are writing about them, you need to research them to know what is logically possible. Within each genre, one thread remains the same: strength and skill are determining factors when it comes to weapons.

A cutlass is an efficient blade, but is shorter than a claymore. Also, a one-handed blade allows the wielder to carry a shield. In terms of firearms, a pistol weighs less than a machine-gun but isn’t as effective.

As many of you know, I’m an avid gamer. One of my all-time favorite games is Square-Enix’s 1999 Final Fantasy VIII, made for the PlayStation. It was challenging and fun to play, with entertaining side quests. I loved the music and the deep storyline. The characters were compelling and believable.

The one element that seemed illogical was Squall’s weapon, the Gunblade. Nevertheless, other fans loved it. However, while logic isn’t a thing when it comes to anime RPG weapons (witness Cloud’s Buster Sword in Final Fantasy VII), it must be considered if we want believability in our written work.

When it comes to weapons, it’s important that you research what might be most useful to your characters. Consider their strength and skills. Don’t introduce an illogical element, no matter how much you like it.

Writers of fantasy and historical fiction should do some fact checking:

Nerds on Earth’s Clave Jones says: So what would have kept a woman from wielding a longsword throughout history? Honestly, the only thing that kept more women from using swords is that they rarely got the training. It wasn’t the weight, certainly. And it wasn’t the awkwardness of the swing as swords were designed to be well-balanced and agile. [1]

Sci-fi writers, I suggest that for advanced weaponry, you should do the research into proposed future applications of lasers, sonic, and other theoretically possible weapons. Sci-fi readers know their science, so if you don’t consider the realities of physics, your work won’t appeal to the people who read in that genre.

For soldiers of any technology level, from Roman to medieval, to contemporary, to futuristic—armor will always consist of the same components: breast and backplate, shin guards, vambraces, a helmet of some sort, and maybe a shield.

These elements won’t differ much in their use. However, the materials they’re made of will vary widely from technology to technology.

For the sake of expediency and logic, garments that go under the armor must be close-fitting.

Expediency affects logic, which affects need.

The same is true for any occupation your protagonist might have–bookkeeper, lawyer, home-maker–the visual surroundings changes from genre to genre, but the fundamental requirements for each occupation remain the same.

In every aspect of a world, expediency decides what must be mentioned and how important it is.

Beneath the obvious tropes of a particular literary genre is a human being. No matter what genre you are writing or the level of technology, their actions and reactions will be recognizable and relatable to the reader.

We’ve mentioned the soldier, so let’s look more closely at their requirements.

For instance, in a battle situation, food must be extremely compact, lightweight, and must provide nutrients the soldier needs.

Nutrition bars, jerky, whatever you choose, soldiers must eat, and battles don’t pause for dinner. Think about the battle rations, how much the soldier carries, and how she carries them. Weight and the amount of space rations take up are what limits the soldier’s supply on hand.

How do you fit a soldier’s battle rations into world-building? Casually, with one sentence, a few words. She unwrapped a ration bar and ate, ignoring the sawdust-like texture.

What basic things do you need in the real-world? You need food, water, clothing, and shelter, and a means of providing those things.

Concept art, Cloud Strife with Buster Sword

Characters need these things too, but they only come into existence at the time they are in use. Place the character in a room and call it a kitchen, and the reader will immediately imagine a kitchen. Mention the coffeemaker, and the reader’s mind will furnish the cups.

Need manifests in other, more subtle ways.

Do you require a way to communicate with others quickly? Messengers, letters, telephones, social media, or telepathy? Choose a method for long-distance communication that fits your technology and stick to it.

In world-building, how you fulfill the character’s needs shows the level of technology, the society they inhabit, and their standing within that culture.

This layer is easy to construct in many ways, but if you aren’t careful, it can be a stumbling block to the logic of your plot.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] The History Of Medieval Swords (And The Women Who Wielded Them) by Clave Jones, © 2016 Clave Jones for  Nerds on Earth (https://nerdsonearth.com/2016/02/women-and-swords/ accessed 08 July 2020).

Excalibur, Eduardo Otubo / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:London Film Museum (5094934492).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:London_Film_Museum_(5094934492).jpg&oldid=273444520 (accessed July 7, 2020).

Squall Leonhart, Final Fantasy VIII, Square Enix ©1999 Fair Use

Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII, Square Enix  © 1997 Fair Use

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Plot, Politics, Religion, and the Science of Magic #worldbuilding #amwriting

It takes me about four years to take a novel from concept to completion, which is why I always have several works in progress at varying stages of development.

Much of that time is devoted to world-building, although for the first few drafts of writing, I don’t realize that is what I am doing.

The layers of plot, politics, religion, and magic/science must be interwoven with bits of history, and the images and odors of the physical environment. Together, these layers help create the setting of any world.

I began one of my current projects with an idea for a character. I knew what the ultimate end of this story is because it is a prequel and is already canon in the Tower of Bones series.

This is the plot, the core conflict: Politics and religion shape three cultures. Two of the societies are strong enough to absorb the third, and one of them will do just that.

In that regard, neither the protagonist nor the antagonist is on the high ground morally—both consider it their right to impose their rule on the weaker society.

The first hurdle arose in the area of world-building. Because it is the origin story, I had to devise a post-apocalyptic culture. Religion was the first layer I worked on.

In the time of the Tower of Bones series, the Temple of Aeos is a finely-tuned machine that serves to distribute food and medical care to the poor, provides education to everyone, provides military protection when needed, and maintains the roads that connect the communities.

The Temple’s primary function is to find mage-gifted children before their untrained gift wreaks havoc in their communities. Untrained mages have a high chance of becoming the tool of the Bull God, Tauron.

This is bad because Tauron is the Mad God, the one who demands excessive sacrifices, often human. The word sacrifice means to surrender something of value, and the Mad God’s reign over his people is twisted. His religion is a reflection of his madness.

Thus, the Goddess Aeos’s mages are sworn to serve and protect the people of Neveyah from the depredations of Tauron, no matter the personal cost.

In the current work-in-progress, the Temple, as an institution, doesn’t exist. It is born out of the struggle between the two larger-than-life characters and the events of this book.

Both characters believe their deity has the right to rule Neveyah, and both know the Barbarian Tribes are the key to winning. At times, the line between what is moral and immoral is blurred.

Just as in real life, both men and the societies they lead are fundamentally flawed.

Both the antagonist and protagonist in this novel will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. However, of the two, only my protagonist is burdened with regrets for the choices he makes.

Every society, fantasy, sci-fi, or real-world, must have an overarching political structure—a government of some sort. Humans are tribal. We are comfortable when we have a hierarchy of decision-makers to guide the tribe.

The politics of any society are an invisible aspect of world-building that affects the story, even when not directly addressed. This is because our characters have a place within that structure.

When you know what that place is, you write their story accordingly. In writing fiction, if you know your characters’ social caste, you know if they are rich or poor, hungry or well-fed. This will shape them throughout the story.

We know that hunger drives conflict in our modern world, so a segment of society that lives on the edge of starvation will be swayed to the side of whoever offers food first. This is a key part of the plot for my work-in-progress.

Another aspect of world-building that was crucial at the start of this series was the choice to use magic rather than science as the primary technology.

First of all, let me get this out there: Science is not magic. It is logical, rooted in the realm of real theoretical physics. The writers of true science fiction know the difference between reality and fantasy.

However, magic should be believable. The science of magic is an underlying, invisible layer that is part of my world-building process. In my stories, magic is only possible if certain conditions have been met:

  • if the number of people who can use it is limited.
  • if the ways it can be used are limited.
  • if the majority of mages are limited to one or two kinds of magic and only certain mages can use every type of magic.
  • if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind of magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  • if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work.
  • if the damage it can do as a weapon or the healing it can perform is limited.
  • if the mage or healer pays a physical/emotional price for the use.
  • if the mage or healer pays a hefty price for abusing it.
  • if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal.

This layer of world-building is where writers of science and writers of magic come together.

  • Magic and the ability to wield it confers power.
  • Superior technology does the same.

This means the enemy must have access to equal or better Science/Magic. So, if the protagonist and their enemy are not from the same “school,” you now have two systems to design for that story.

Authors must create the rules of magic or the limits of science for both the protagonist and antagonist.

Take the time to write it out and be sure the logic has no hidden flaws.

In creating science technologies and magic systems, you are creating a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Within either science or magic, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but there must be a good reason for it. It must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

Having said all that, the only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is at the moment it affects the characters and their actions.

The best background information comes out naturally in conversations or in other subtle ways. By not baldly dropping it on the reader in paragraph form, the knowledge becomes a normal part of the environment rather than an info dump.

Limitations are the key to a good character arc. Roadblocks to success force ordinary people to become more than they believe they are.

That is when an ordinary person becomes a hero.

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Plot and Theme #amwriting

The basic premise of any story I want to write can be explained by answering eight questions. Each answer is simply one or two lines, guideposts for when I draft the outline.

A plot idea I’ve used before as an example is an idea I’ve had rolling around for a while. I hope to write it as a novella (about 12,000 words) in November. This little tale features a pair of thieves-for-hire, set in an alternate renaissance reality.

  1. Who are the players? Pip and Scuttle. Two orphaned brothers who grew up on the streets of Venetta, a medieval city, but who have a strong moral code. When the story opens, they are adults. The pair has become what is known as “Discreet Thieves,” professional retrievers-for-hire who reunite their clients with their lost or stolen valuables.
  2. Who is the POV character? Scuttle, the older brother.
  3. Where does the story open? In a pawn shop.
  4. What does the protagonist have to say about their story? Scuttle swears they aren’t thieves. They are believers in God and the laws of the Church. They only retrieve items belonging to noble clients with impeccable reputations and do it with no fuss or drama.
  5. What is the inciting incident? A highly placed Cardinal has hired them to retrieve an item, neglecting to tell them:
  • It is equipped with a curse that affects all who would steal it from the rightful owner. (Haven’t figured out what the curse is yet.)
  • It didn’t belong to the Cardinal in the first place.
  • He intends to use it to depose the true Pope and become the ruler of both the Church and Venetta.
  1. At the midpoint, what do the protagonists want and what are they willing to do to get it? They will do anything to get the curse removed from themselves and prevent the evil Cardinal from using the object against the Good Pope.
  2. What hinders them? The Cardinal has kidnapped Mari, Scuttle’s wife, and holds her in his dungeon, forcing Scuttle to do his bidding.
  3. How does the story end? Not sure. Is there more than one way this could go? Yes. I list each possible ending as they occur to me.

At the beginning of the story, what does our protagonist want that causes them to risk everything to acquire it? How badly do they want it, and why? The answer to that question must be that they want whatever it is desperately.

Question number six is an important question to consider. What ethical dilemma will the protagonist be faced with in their attempt to overcome the odds and achieve their objective?

In this story, one hard moral choice I could write would be to have Scuttle pressured to become a spy for the Cardinal.

Or, he could be pressured to sell out Pip.

How would he respond to either of these situations? I could write both and choose the one that works best. If I do that, I’ll make a note of the divergent path on my outline.

The answer to question number seven is vitally important because the story hinges on how the protagonist overcomes adversity. What hinders them? Is there an antagonist? If so, who are they, and why are they the villain of the piece?

“There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.” The Buddha said it, but it’s a fundamental truth we writers of genre fantasy must consider when devising plots. J.R.R. Tolkien understood this need for a hero quite clearly.

Answering question eight is crucial if I want to have a complete novel with a beginning, middle, and end.

Endings are hard and complicated to write because I can see so many different outcomes. I write as many endings as I need to and save them in separate files.

Sometimes, even if we have plotted in advance, we can’t identify the central theme of the story. Theme is what the story is about on a deeper level than what is seen on the surface. It’s the big meaning, a thread that is woven through the entire story, and sometimes it is an unstated moral for the reader to infer.

Many final objectives don’t concern issues of morality. However, if you are writing genre fiction, achieving all final objectives should have consequences and should involve a struggle.

Regardless of the theme, the struggle must be personal. Why would Frodo and Sam go to the depths of Mordor and suffer the hardships they endured in their effort to destroy the One Ring and negate the power of Sauron?

Frodo and Sam saved the world because it was the only way to save The Shire and the people they loved from Sauron, who was the embodiment of evil.

No matter how careful I am when building my outline, there is always a point where I am writing by the seat of my pants. I am usually a linear plotter, but things come along that change the direction a tale goes in.

This is where making use of scene breaks can be your friend. In the NaNoWriMo manuscript, I simply head that section (in bolded font) with the words Possible Ending 1 or 2, or however many endings I have come up with.

No matter if you are writing a NaNoWriMo novel or not, your finished novel will look vastly different from the block of stone you carved it from. Yet, it will be the core of the stone, the hidden story that was waiting for you to bring it to light.

Many times, I find myself re-evaluating a nearly complete manuscript because the story isn’t working. I go back and ask myself the same eight questions. If the story has gone in a new direction by midpoint, a different roadmap to the final scene can help you keep things logical.

However, a plot is just the frame upon which the themes of a story are supported. Knowing the main theme at the outset makes writing the first draft much easier.

When your writing mind has temporarily lost its momentum, and you are stretching the boundaries of common sense, it’s time to stop and consider the central themes. It helps to remind myself of the elements that really drive a plot.

Subthemes help keep the story interesting. The image at the bottom of this post is a visual tool, a circular list of themes and subthemes that I made a few years ago.

It’s a picture that you can save (right click>save as>png or jpeg) print out and tape to your desk. Whenever you have lost your way, rather than resort to a sudden influx of something far-fetched, feel free to refer back to this picture and see if a better idea presents itself.

Hopefully, you won’t have to resort to killing anyone you might need later.

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