Monthly Archives: April 2011
You are probably aware of the three main elements of storytelling: plot, setting, and characterization. While these elements are usually talked about separately in writing blogs, in truly great fiction they are very hard to separate from one another, and each one directly influences the next. This is because characters must fit within their world; the plot must fit within the setting and the characters must be willing to participate. In most fantasy novels the setting is changed too, if not the climate or world itself than at least human society. Today I’m going to talk about setting and how you can either use it to create a story or how you can discover it by looking at the basic elements of your idea.
I am lucky because my stories usually come to me whole. But sometimes a character or a plot appears without giving me any real information about where it comes from. To discover this setting, you must study the mannerisms of your characters or the nature of your plot. You must ask them questions and if they will not answer you directly then think about how they do answer. If your character appears to you in Victorian dress and speaks of the King of England, you know where she came from; if she wears totally unfamiliar clothes and lives on a space station, you know your setting-in both of these cases you also know the genre from this information. If the story that you want to write is going to be about a warrior princess, you must have a kingdom where women are able to fight-or make her the first and a rarity-and your story is probably on an alternate Earth or a different world altogether. By asking questions about the story or the character you can learn about your setting; and if you’re lucky, your character will even be forthcoming with the information.
This principle works in reverse too; by thinking long and hard about your setting, you can create a beautiful story. Most writers don’t work this way and come up with either plot or characters first. but those who do usually build beautiful and fascinating worlds which enrich their stories. If your world is medieval or Victorian and someplace other than Earth, you know that it’s a fantasy. If it’s based on Mars or another planet in another galaxy and they have robots to do all of the menial labor, you know that you’re writing in a science fiction world. When you build a society you can then look for opportunities for conflict. As you create your kingdoms think hard about how they relate to each other if you want to write a war or political fantasy; build a magic system and a schooling system and think about how you can use those things to create a story. Think about what themes you want to use and where it is suitable for your main characters to spend most of their time. I don’t suggest this method for all of your stories because it can take a long time, but if you happen to have a world that you hold dear to your heart but which has no story, don’t give it up entirely; go back to it once in a while and ask questions.
There are several ways to make the setting come to life in your work, and I could write an entire series of posts about that, but for now what’s most important is that you take your time with it, you put detail into it, you work hard on it. If you want to make your world seem really alive you need to have an idea about its poetry and about its music and its traditions. You need to have small things like sayings and maybe new curse words. Science and philosophy are usually the most important aspects of a science fiction world, while politics and religion are particularly important to develop in a fantasy world.
For those of you working in the real world, you still have to do work, even if it’s in your home town. You need to do research and make floor plans for important buildings, use maps to figure out where your characters are going and how they get there. If it’s in the past don’t think you don’t need to do research unless you’re a history major-and even then you might need to do a little research on a specific location. Libraries and the internet will be your best friends for this.
For those of you in the process of planning a project right now, I suggest that you create a simple map of your world and then of the area where most of your story takes place, and then begin thinking about a religious system and a political system. Next week I’ll be talking about plot.
This is the beginning of a series of posts about plotting and outlining. During this series of posts we will look at various aspects of plot and story, and then we’ll talk about different types of outlines. The goal is that this series of posts will help you plan out your next novel-length project.
Since we are at the very beginning, today I would like to talk about that beginning. These are some of the important things you have to consider when you’re going from a basic idea to a planned story.
1. Why do I want to write this story? There are many different reasons why we choose to write the stories that we do. They range from being as simple as the story needs to get out to as complex as supporting a political movement. Why are you writing this story? Is it because it just came to you, in a seeming flash of brilliance, or is there a specific point you are trying to make? Every good story has a point to it, but some stories come out of their point, while some points just grow with the story. You need to know why you want to write the story, not just because the purpose will help you tighten the outline and the story itself, but because then if you ever get lost you can remind yourself what your original purpose was, and why this project is important.
2. Who are the main characters of this story? Right now you have an idea. Let’s say that your idea is that a poor urchin discovers their royal blood (because it’s easy for an example) and needs to reclaim their throne. The main characters include the urchin and the urchin’s best friend/love interest who will help them reclaim their throne, as well as some mysterious royal person who gives the royal urchin the insider information they need to reclaim the throne. This question is about finding out a little more about the royal urchin and their best friend. It’s about deciding their names, their genders, and their backgrounds. You don’t need to know everything at this stage, but you need a basic idea of who your main characters are. This will make it easier to plot your novel, and once you’ve got the basics, the rest of the character usually comes easily.
3. What kind of place is this story set in? A lot of you will already know this. Many times I know the world before I know too much about the story-and I almost always know the world before I know the main character’s name (they’re not forthcoming about that kind of thing). You don’t need to know exactly where every part of your story takes place and you don’t need to think about it too much-we’ll talk about setting later-but it’s good to know what kind of world you’re starting off in, even if you don’t know much about it. You should at least know whether or not you’re going to be working in our world, and what kind of era you’re working in-are you working in something like the middle ages, or something like Star Trek? This will tell you what kind of setting research you might need to be doing. Setting is also a great place to find new story ideas.
4. What is the underlying conflict of this story? Every good story has multiple layers of conflict. They have external conflict and they have internal conflict. The main characters’ quest to reclaim the throne is interesting, but what really drives us is the conflict going on in his head: conflict about his past, conflict about his future. From our example above, you could say that the underlying conflict is the character wondering about his poor friends: will he have to leave them behind? Is it ethical to leave them behind?
Knowing the underlying conflict of the story helps you to plot it more thoroughly. You can remind yourself to put it in various scenes and to make sure it’s always lying there, just under the surface. It means you don’t have to go back afterwards and put in the introspective scenes, you can plan for them to be there the first time.
5. How long is this project going to be? Now, I think I’ve made it clear that I’m talking about novels here. There is prep work for short stories but it’s a lot less intense. But there’s still a wide variety in novel lengths. What you say now probably isn’t your definitive answer-the story length will change somewhat with each draft, even-but it’s good to have an idea. You can go for a shorter novel of around 50, 000 words or a big book sitting at 150, 000 words. For those of us looking to break into mainstream print someday, publishers like books between 80, 000-100, 000 most of all. But don’t let that discourage you-if your book is twice the size, that means it can be two. Honouring your story and letting it end when it needs to end is the most important thing; you can’t cut it off too soon or let it live for too long. The completion of the story is more important than the word count.
So what now?
Keep thinking about these questions. Over the next week, spend some time getting to know your characters. What they like, what they dislike. What they’re afraid of. Whatever might be useful to your story-or just interesting background information. Next week we’re going to talk about the importance of setting to plot.
What do you ask yourself when starting a new project?
Today I am proud to introduce multi-house author Denyse Bridger. This interview was done on the 19th of February. Denyse is the author of several works, including Beyond the Gateways.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your most recent book?
It’s not easy to pick one specific title – I had four books released last weekend, so it was one of those amazing things that comes at you out of the blue and overwhelms you! The variety of stories in the recent releases is typical of how I work – one is a collection of epic and dark fantasy stories – stuff that is like Lord of the Rings, and a couple of tales that are dark vampire fantasy. I also have a Historical novella with a touch of the vampire, too – it’s set in Pompeii just before Vesuvius blew. My big departure for style is the erotic title Stranded! since it’s a ménage tale, and I don’t usually go in that direction with my romance. I also contributed to a Valentine Anthology in which the first collaborative story written by me and my partner in Rome was showcased, it was called “A Sweet Seduction” and was about chocolate! So, really, between XoXo Publishing™ and New Dawning International Book Fair, it was quite a wild weekend.
2. When and how did you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think it was ever a conscious choice, it was simply something I always did. For as long as I can remember I’ve written in one form or another. I spent 20 years honing my story-telling by writing fan fictions for my favourite television shows. Won awards with that, then I turned to creating my own worlds and I’ve never looked back; that was in 2004, and in the past 7 years I’ve seen several dozen books released, most of which are still available, or soon will be again!
3. Did you specifically choose to work with Canadian publishers, or is that just how it worked out?
With my fantasy novel, As Fate Decrees, I made a conscious choice to select a Canadian publisher. It was a long wait as EDGE underwent some changes, but given the quality of the production, the attention to details, and the wonderful support of all of the EDGE team, I do think I made the right choice.
4. You write both erotic and non-erotic books. Which do you find more interesting to write?
In terms of more interesting, I’d have to say the non-erotic simply because I love to write fantasy, and world-build when I do it–epic fantasy is one of my favourite genres. Erotic romances can give you a different kind of creative stretch because you’re allowing a different kind of fantasy to play out, and often times it’s quite a challenge.
5. What advice would you give a writer trying to write a believable sex scene?
Go with your heart, and in many ways with what feels right for the characters you’re working with. Each “couple” is unique, and there will always be something different in what you write for them. You have to remember that while body parts need to be active and engaged, the sexiest part of any encounter is the mind and emotions of the people involved, so try to keep the moment real on that level.
6. What piece of advice do you think is most important for all aspiring writers to hear?
I say the same thing every time I’m asked a question like this, because I believe it’s simply the truth: write the best book you can write, do not accept the opinions of your friends and families as whole truth–they don’t want to hurt you so their honesty is always tempered with love–give the work to an impartial editor, and then listen to what they say to you–they’re not going to give you false hope or deliberately destroy your dreams. It’s all subjective, so you have to be aware that constructive advice is to help you improve, not kill your dreams. And, always remember–there is no such thing as a perfect book. Once you are done, let it be done–take what you’ve learned and bring it to the next book to make it better. If you continue to rewrite one story until it’s “perfect” you will never get past it.
Perseverance will get you places in this business, and it’s more important than talent in some ways. So, if you believe you have a story that needs telling and people should see, then make it happen. Your personal determination can take you far!!
7. Do you believe that a writer must write every day to achieve anything?
No, not really–there are days when I don’t write a creative word, yet I’m at the computer on average 12 hours. Those are the days when I accomplish a lot of the things that are the business side of being an author. Things like working at interviews, doing promotional posts, blogs, interacting with readers via Facebook, or my newsgroup. It’s not the mystique people imagine when they think “author” but it is the reality, because this is still a job like any other.
8. What do you think of the future of the ebook industry?
I think the e-book industry is expanding by leaps and bounds and will only continue to grow and become more and more successful. In many ways I think people still see e-books as the “poor relation” or the “bastard child” of the legitimate publishing world, and the truth is, nothing could be further from the truth. There are some tremendous new voices emerging from the existence of e-Publishing, and more will come to the attention of readers with each passing day. Yes, there are some truly awful authors published, but that’s also true of the traditional print publishers, too. It’s all subjective at the end of the day, isn’t it?
9. What are you reading right now?
I am reading J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, then I have all of Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld books waiting. Once I’m done with those, I have Jeaniene Frost’s The Night Huntress novels lined up! That should take me through the next few months nicely, because in between I indulge my never-ending passion for Harlequin’s flagship Imprint line–the Presents novels are always in my stacks.
10. What are you working on that readers have to look forward to?
It’s never really one thing I’m working on, but often several things. At this time, I’ve got a wonderful shifter story in the works, my first werewolf tale, set in Venice as a Masquerade Ball. I’m working on a cougar story, again, a new genre for me. I’ve also been outlining and writing on my next major fantasy novel. Those are a few of the projects, there are many more, and they’re listed on my website. If I ever have time to do all these wonderful stories, I’ll be writing until I draw my last breath!!
Thanks so much for having me as your guest, Dianna!
BIO: Denysé Bridger
Canadian born and bred, and a lifelong dreamer, I began writing at an early age and can’t recall a time when I wasn’t creating in some artistic form. My life has had several on-going love affairs that shape much of what I write, the American West, Victorian England, cowboys, a passion for pirates, Greek Gods, and Ancient Egypt. The other endless love affair in my life is Italia and all its magic, beauty, and dazzling culture. That passion spills into all aspects of my life.
My first major fantasy novel is AS FATE DECREES. (Available in bookstores everywhere, and on Amazon’s international sites.) The novel relies heavily on Greek Mythology, and is set in Ancient Greece and modern Athens. If you enjoy a tale of Gods, Destiny, and the battles of an Eternal Champion, this is the book for you! (Less than six months after publication, it was a finalist for the 2008 Aurora Award.) Not surprisingly, there’s a touch of romance throughout, of course! A visit to my website will show the diversity of what is currently available, and the mixing of genres and styles that will be employed in many up-coming projects as well. To stay current with all these projects, or to just say hello, please feel free to email me anytime, there’s a contact link on the mail menu. I promise I will do my best to answer everyone, though it may take a day or two, so please be patient!
Denysé Bridger on the web
Sensual Treats Magazine: http://www.sensualtreats.webs.com
Diary of a Mistress: http://www.facebook.com/Diary.of.a.Mistress
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/Romance.and.Fantasy
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003LUHE96
Thanks for joining us Denysé, it’s been lovely having you.