IWSG: 7 Worldbuilding Tips For Fantasy Authors

My favorite fantasy books are the ones with the best worldbuilding. Give me a rich world with complex cultures, lots of terrain to explore, ecology that makes sense, and a magic system that’s more well thought out than “I used my feelings/willpower/the goodness of my heart” and I will buy your books like crack. IF (and here’s the big if) your worldbuilding is presented effectively as an integral part of your story. That’s where I see a lot of fantasy writers get hung up. I’ve been writing fantasy for about 30 years now, and while I’m not a household name, I’ve learned a thing or two about effective worldbuilding.

Here are my Top 7 Worldbuilding Tips

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Aeon Timeline Software Review

aeon

Aeon Timeline is a flexible timeline creation tool meant for writers and other creative thinkers.  I’ve tried a lot of programs for data management and timeline creation over the last 10 years, and Aeon is my favorite. It’s the first tool for writers that I’ve ever found with enough options and flexibility to suit my needs without being overwhelming.  This is a repost of my earlier review.  It will be here temporarily while I reorganize the site, then will move to the writing archive.

When I plan a story, I usually think in terms of overlapping events and character development arcs, or I think in terms of plot arcs where events aren’t always linear. Sometimes my plot arcs span long periods of time, especially if I have characters who lived for hundreds of years. It’s important for me to be able to keep track of what time of year things are happening, how much time is passing, etc. The weather, local holidays, and other factors related to the passage of time will affect how my scenes play out, and if I don’t have those details in place I will get confused and not realize that my characters are wearing shorts but it should be the middle of winter in their scene. Even in stories where the weather and things like that are relevant, it’s usually important to keep track of characters’ ages in relation to one another as time passes and which people are in each scene.toolbox-306888

In the past, I’ve had to use several different tools and do a lot of tedious calculating in order to make sure my details were organized properly and made sense. With Aeon, all I need to do is toggle a few settings and zoom in or out to see what I need. The program gives users the option of creating multiple “arcs” that function as timeline tracks. If you turn on the arc view, you can see the data split up and layered in each track. If you turn it off, you can view the same data as a standard linear timeline, and in both cases, there are content-specific filters you can apply if you want to narrow your focus.

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Think Ink: Brain Dump Example–Synn Revamp

This is the full text of a brain dump–free writing exercise that I used to develop a new arc in my serial.  I’ll be using it as an example in tomorrow’s writing post.  It hasn’t been edited except for a few instances where the text literally did not make sense.

So, in the middle of the night last night, I got an idea for Diana. I was on my way to bed when I got the idea, and I just have to say that is really annoying to be like on the way to bed and actually tired for once when you randomly get this whole idea, because then you have to sit there and like figure out if you really want to go to bed and take the chance of losing the idea or stay up and write the whole idea down and probably end up wide awake by the time you’re done.

 

Also, I’m really tired of Synn producing random ideas out of order. I mean, I wrote Fox. Hunting two years ago. Two years. Two years! At the time, I only had

some vague ideas of what to do to resolve this question of who the stranger woman was that Diana met at the beginning. That is a horrible sentence.

Anyway. There was this stranger at the beginning of the story. Diana was in the marketplace, and she was shopping for Micah’s present when she ran into this bitchy woman who was yelling at a bunch of kids. She decides to steal from this woman, because that’s what Diana does when she decides she doesn’t like someone and they need to learn a lesson, and stealing from her launches off into this whole chain reaction.

 

When I was writing it, I sort of had an idea who the woman was, but I didn’t have the added details. Over the next few months, I got a bunch of follow-up details, but I was already busy writing Cleo’s story, and my plan at the time was to have Diana leave because she was supposed to go away with Marigold and meet Helena.

The Helena the thing didn’t work out anyway. Helena and Diana are still friends, but Diana lost interest and Helena was uncomfortable with all of the casual sex and whatnot. I think Diana lost interest because it was too much work, but Diana feels like it was something that happens to her all the time, and she does sort of have that issue where she gets bored and loses interest easily, and she doesn’t really want to, which I think is a Fox thing. So I don’t know if I’ll do anything with Helena in the series. She’s a Ranger, and relevant to that, but I don’t have actual plot stuff for the Rangers really get the weight. At least not separate from Cleo.

 

So, since the Helena thing didn’t work out, I think it makes more sense to have Diana be the person who follows up on that lady. My first idea was that she goes with Syas to Spiritverse, then to add more conflict I thought maybe he goes ahead and gets into some trouble and doesn’t check in, so Diana wants to go after him, but there’s a magic storm making the portals and mirrors all wonky.  So Thad won’t let her go, but she does it anyway and gets lost.

The problem is, I can get her lost, but I can’t get her connected with Syas again once she’s in Spiritverse.  Unless he’s carrying a phone.  That might work better.  He could be carrying a phone since he knows where he’s going and it’s a modern world.

 

The other problem is Syas himself. Well, not Syas himself, because I love Syas, but Syas’s origins. He started out as the gardener’s kid. She was pregnant when she came to the Castle, and we established the whole back story for that, and she ended up marrying the groundskeeper. They were living in the groundskeepers cottage, and then the whole thing with Eitme and Somei started because Reynard wanted to get to know them. So than they were hanging around and they were interested in the gardener and the groundskeeper. So the whole group is like this square of interrelated romantic attachment now.

Then, when I redid the timeline, I needed Syas to stay the same age as the girls, and I needed all of that stuff with the groundskeeper and the gardener and the twins to move up earlier, so I ended up with another kid who Ashe was pregnant with when she came to the castle and then Syas came later, around the same age as the girls.  So the way it works out, he’s got four parents and Eitme is his biological father.  Well, the relationship between the girls and Syas was important and I couldn’t just take it out. So I kept skirting around his actual family connection because Thad is his grandfather, and it would normally not be an ethical problem in Synn and everything would be fine because Thad was a seed-parent to the twins (sperm donor) not like…their emotional/legal parent. Seed parenting is a common practice for same-sex or infertile couples, where a close friend or someone they trust acts as a surrogate, and then the standing custom is that that person has no ethical or moral obligation to parent the child or even have the relationship be open. In Thad’s case it wasn’t, but then Reynard wanted to get to know them and everything so I went along with it and the twins ended up knowing anyway, and now Thad’s in a parental role with them (even though they’re adults and not like dependents or whatever. )

The Fox Sistters Anthology Cover

The Fox Sistters Anthology Cover

Synn still does have some incest taboos, and I think in the real world it would be questionable for the girls to have a relationship with Syas.  The girls are like…his aunts or something, even though the girls are younger and they grew up as playmates. I know his family and origins and everything don’t have to be relevant plot point, but I’ve established that Somei is one of his mother’s, and I’ve also established that Eitme is his faher AND the twins are in the stories AND the fact that the twins are the girls’ half-siblings is an actual plot point mover, so it’s discussed. Which means, if I don’t deal with Syas’s origins directly and mention or have the characters discuss it or SOMETHING then I’ll have readers going “Wait, what? Huh? Diana’s dating Syas…but Syas’s parents are Diana’s brother and sister…OMG, wait AGAIN!” Because readers assume “parents” means a heterosexual couple, not “four people of varied gender who may or may not be having sex with each other.”

 

I had this problem with Doubling Back.  There were passages I re-wrote several times because I’d drop mentions of “Aldra’s fathers…” and still have beta readers going “Wait, which guy is her father? Why is she calling all of them Dad? SO CONFUSED…”

Coming Soon

Coming Soon

That’s partly a POV issue.  I’m writing 3rd person limited.  Strictly from the characters’ POV.  The characters don’t explain their relationships to their parents or how many parents they have.  I don’t think Diana would have an internal monologue about Syas’s parents, either.  So…meh.

 

I also have this thing that I’ve wanted to do for a while with Diana and Jimmy that’s actually ancillary to Fox. Hunting, so I’m probably looking at a expansion of the short story again. The last time I looked that an expansion of Fox. Hunting, I ended up with Doubling Back, Foxes and Thieves, and that bit about the train station and turning Diana pink. Doubling back obviously works as a standalone. Foxes And Thieves kind of does, but the timeline of that one is weird and stretches for several months, so I’m not sure how to handle it with publication. I feel like I’ve got Fox. Hunting and then all of these little offshoots from it that should be able to fit in one book, but I can’t figure out how to organize them appropriately, and every time I start one it ends up different from what I thought it was going to be and then I get nervous about starting anything.  It’s annoying.

think ink

Presuming I can sort all of that out. This is what I have so far:

 

Diana wants a present for Micah, so she’s going to sneak out the window because everyone keeps asking her if she has a present yet, but as she’s climbing up the window, a branch breaks, so she has to turn into a Fox and lands, but (something happens) and she runs off foxed and runs into Jimmy. She explains the whole thing to Jimmy, and he tells her about (something that Micah would like) but (there’s a problem, possibly having to do with Drake owning whatever the thing is) so she makes a deal with Jimmy to have him and his gang lift it, but Jimmy doesn’t tell Diana that he’s already under contract to Drake and could get himself in big trouble.  (Drake’s holding one of Jimmy’s gang hostage.)

 

So, while Jimmy’s working on that, Diana’s down at the market getting into the Fox. Hunting mess. (Why, if she made a deal with Jimmy? Does she think he won’t follow through? Want to cover her bases? Why doesn’t she worry when Jimmy doesn’t turn up again.  Maybe this isn’t going to work.

 

and…….

bluejay, blue jay, free, bird

Jimmy The Snitch

 

I can already see a problem, because the action starts off from Diana’s POV, but the immediate danger is to Jimmy.  (I had this happen in Diana: Lady of Synn as well where I spent FOREVER trying to raise the stakes for Diana because all of the actual danger and investment was on Kerrileen’s side.)

 

So, after the Fox. Hunting mess Drake is in prison, but Jimmy’s gang have already departed for the Southern Islands.

 

Diana wants to know who the stranger is that she stole the stuff from the first place, that tells her that the Rangers are interrogating the woman and Syas went to Kaolin to Investigate. Syas doesn’t check in when he’s supposed to, Diana want to go after him, but there’s a magic storm, and Thad makes her weight. So she lies and gets Aldra to give her some book about magic mirrors and gets into Mirrorveld but gets lost on the other side due to the storm.  SO, she texts Syas but………..

 

……….and somehow she hooks up with Syas and Dianny and they save the daaaaay.

My Cousin Wants A House With A Horse

I’m participating in several blog challenges and activities this month.

Today’s Zero to Hero assignment is to Write A Post Inspired By A Comment on Another Blog

It would take me too long to formulate a cogent post on the kind of topics I read, so here’s a funny.

Every morning, I do an exercise where I write down as many random ideas to write about as possible.  These are today’s.  The date is wrong because I opened the file yesterday so it was waiting when I woke up.

Ideias

This post is  for  Blogher’s Writing Lab, #Postaday and Zero to Hero on WordPress, and BloggingFreedom.org’s 30 Day Challenge.

 

 

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#1000speak–Trust, Forgiveness, and Regen: A Gamer’s Guide to Life

sonic anniversaryI’m a terrible person to play video games with. I’m that gamer. The one who needs to find every bit of loot, every piece of armor, every hidden gem. The one who will spend hours and hours on the same level farming a boss or running through caverns killing the same monsters because they have cool drops and I’m looking for that one item I don’t have.

I always start off with the best of intentions. I want to complete the quest and win the game. I like to win. Once I’ve learned the ropes and have seen all the shiny loot I can play with, I’m not so interested in winning. I’m a hoarder. I’ll build a dozen characters just to collect special armor pieces. Somewhere on my computer, there’s a folder full of screenshots of all my Torchlight characters decked out in my favorite gear.(The ones in this post aren’t mine.  They must be on an external drive.)

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Advice For New Writers: Control Your Plot, not Your Story.

 

Advice For New Writers

Disclaimer: This came out more of a rant than an advice article.  However, feel free to quote me if you find yourself in a similar situation.

If you’re new to online writing communities, you may soon find yourself embroiled in a debate about “plotters” and “pantsers.”
A Plotter is someone who does a lot of planning before she sits down to write. This person may outline, create charts, do character and setting profiles, and even do maps and blueprints for a story before she starts.

A Pantser can also be called a “discovery writer” and prefers to start writing as soon as possible. She figures out her characters, plot, and storyline as she goes and will generally be bored she knows if too much of the story.

Everybody insists you must be one or the other.

There’s also a common myth that experienced writers learn to “control” their stories and characters by planning more and using self-discipline to stick to their outlines. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have regurgitated this phrase at me:

“You need to control your story instead of letting it control you.”

I think the plotter vs. pantser debate is really about the same thing: How much control can or should you exert over your story.  My answer is, control the plot.  Not the story.  

 

Let me back up a bit and I’ll explain.  The control debate has cost me more wasted years, anguish, guilt, and frustration than anything else I can think of. In the first place, I spent upwards of 20 years bouncing back and forth between plotter and pantser methods, thinking the only way to work was to be in one camp or the other. Then, if I talked about pantsing or said anything to indicate that I wasn’t planning every aspect of my story, I would be lectured and talked down to by teachers who were, at that time, the only people I knew that might be able to help me work through some of the problems that I encountered.

Over the last couple of years, I finally realized that neither method works for me and what I needed was a hybrid method of my own.

 

 

I’ve written five books and am building a serial publication schedule. I still have people who feel compelled to give me the “You need to control your story” speech on a regular basis because I’m not a linear writer and I don’t write in chronological order. I am also pretty open about the fact that my characters have their own desires and will act however the fuck they want.

So, whenever I run into trouble, instead of trying to help me find ways to work within my own method, people deliver speeches about how if I “just tried” I could learn to control the story and do it the “regular” way and it would be a lot easier.

alien-303318

My uncensored mental response is: Fuck off.

 

My verbal response is usually to sputter and try to explain that “lack of control” is not the issue. I rarely succeed, because non-writers, especially teachers (unless they are also authors), don’t have a clue how the creative process ACTUALLY WORKS.

Now I’m going to attempt a written response.

Writing is my job, not my playpen. I know how to do my job. Would you try to tell someone with 20 +years of experience as a chef that you knew better than she did how her specialty meal is supposed to be made? No? I didn’t think so.  That’s what you’re doing when you imply that changing to a method I’ve ALREADY tried and found ineffective will fix all my problems as an author.

 

(Note to new writers: Try it.  It may work. There’s nothing wrong with trying it.  Just don’t let anyone convince you it’s the only way to work.)

 

 When I am designing or moving the plot, I keep control of the events, because the plot is the action that my characters need to react to. The plot, essentially, is me screwing up my characters’ comfortable existences. The plot is different from the story. The story is my characters’ emotions and responses. I don’t control those, and I don’t want to. I can usually predict them–but I value the times when I’m surprised. If I lose that element of surprise, my characters become puppets. If I try to dictate how they feel and react, the story will rarely work. Most often, it will dry up and die.

 

When I loose the reigns and let my characters take the story where it needs to go, I am doing it on purpose. I’m making a choice. It is fully within my power to change EVENTS or exert my influence to nudge things back on track. I do that by tweaking or altering the plot events. I rarely need to, because my characters exist as part of my subconscious, and my subconscious knows what the fuck it’s doing. If I DO need to change something, I still find that the detour I took gave me important insights and information that I couldn’t have planned for or gotten another way.  That’s what happens when you practice accessing and using your creative abilities through your subconscious for a long time.

Sometimes it takes longer than I expect, and I usually end up with more stuff happening then I realized was going to. Here’s the thing. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know to plan for that. There’s absolutely no difference in the amount of time I spend that way than a plotter might spend pre-writing.

Writers and other creators need to be encouraged to work with their subconscious minds and use that part of themselves intentionally. The deepest part of our work comes from that place, and Western culture treats it like superstitious nonsense. I’ve learned ways to train and work with my subconscious, just like I’ve learned ways to improve my intellectual writing skills.

Now I’m learning ways for discovery writers to get better at figuring out what comes next, improve their structuring skills and create on a schedule without sacrificing that element of spontaneity they value.

If you’re interested, or if this article helped you, check out the followup, 2 Ways to Write AROUND Writer’s Block.  And, naturally, feel free to follow the blog for more.

 

 

I’m participating in several blog challenges and activities this month.

This post is part of Blogher’s Writing Lab, #Postaday and Zero to Hero on WordPress, and BloggingFreedom.org’s 30 Day Challenge.

Advice For New Writers (1)

 

The Foxes of Synn: Are You My Reader?

The Foxes of Synn

  • Do your heroes walk in the shadow as easily as they stand in the light?
  • Do you cheer for the woman who can solve her problems with her mind as well as her fists?
  • Do you root for the man with the odds stacked against him, whose first weapon is a book?
  • Do you believe that there are things worth fighting and living for? Do you want to read stories about people who choose to live for what they believe?
  • Do you believe that one person can make a difference–but a team working together just might change the world?
  • Would you rather read about the trickster, the mentor, or the mastermind than the big guy with the sword?
  • Do you still dream of finding Narnia or walking through your Looking Glass into another world?
  • Do you wonder if science and magic just might be siblings torn apart?
  • Do you believe that love takes many forms and want to read stories that shatter convention and sterotypes?

 

If this is you, welcome to Synn. We have been waiting.

Buy the Foxes of Synn here.

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Zero to Hero Day 2: Why Am I Here?

 

 

Why do you need an author blog? What do authors blog about? Isn’t it better to spend your time writing stories? How do you have time to blog? Do you make a lot of money with your blog?

I hear these questions a lot, and I realized that the one thing I didn’t talk about yesterday was why I blog when I could spend that time writing fiction.

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Weekend Coffeeshare: Living Computers and Maze-Brains.

weekendcoffeeshare

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I’m thinking about about spending next year drafting the rest of my fox series. I would do first drafts of all the arcs (about 20-30k each) and then revise once it’s finished. This conversation with Hannah is an example of why I think this is a better strategy for the way my brain works. And an example of how I need to stop saying “actually” every other word.

Rose: I’ve been up since four. So far, Noah’s explained ominverse theories, dog food formulae, given me the history of the main villain race for the space foxes, done his chores and shopped for Christmas presents. I mistyped something as “hackpack” and I can’t figure out what I was talking about. Noah doesn’t have a backpack that I know of. Is he taking up hacking…?

Hannah: LOL
Rose: He could be a good little hacker with organic tech.
Hannah: Oooh…
Rose: There’s a theory about using plant matter to store volumes of data encoded in genetic memories.
Hannah: The fairies in Artemis Fowl yesterday were talking about that too. Although they were actually talking about whether or not they could store data in piles of poo and/or cigars.
Rose: I think it would be a lot safer stored in trees.
Hannah: LOL Yeah.
Rose: …it would actually make a lot of sense. The space foxes have organic tech, not electronics (I don’t know what Redi’s phone is actually made of…) Pete and Priam both have this Druid-wisdom thing that would make more sense if stuff was actually getting encoded in the forest since neither of them have much green energy, and Micah could’ve gotten involved in book smuggling by storing data that way too. (He’s probably got half of Synn’s knowledge base in his head if that’s the case.)
Hannah: Yeah.
Rose: Redi’s phone should be like…a wand with a big jewel on the end.
Hannah: LOL He’d like that.
Rose: OOooh, I know! He can have a whole set! (Note, they wouldn’t actually be magic or look like the sailor scouts’ wands, it was just a visual example.)

Hannah: Yeah
Rose: I am totally giving the navy sparkly wand communicators now.
Hannah: LOL
Rose: Tree-computers would explain why so many dumbasses keep trying to steal/harvest little trees. If most of the civilization’s knowledge is in the trees, and the big ones are sleeping, they’re probably trying to use the little ones as ciphers.
Hannah: *facepalm* Yeah
Rose: My subconscious must literally be some kind of a maze. It’s like, I spend years trying to figure out why everything we do ends up with child trafficking and bad guys using plant-children for unsavory activities. Then I’m like, “okay, nevermind the plants, just work on Diana’s orphanage thing… Wait, now I’ve got a villain who acts like they’ve been around since the dawn of time but the motivations don’t make any sense and I don’t have a background. There has to be something else going on. What is it? Okay, forget it, do a draft of a story about space foxes…OH, so it’s the same villain lost in time…okay, let’s randomly decide to write a blog for Noah since we can’t start anything else right now…*typos “hackpack”*…OH WELL THAT EXPLAINS EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD. I think I’m just going to need to write first drafts of the entire freaking series. “I can’t figure this out…must be time to write somebody else.”

And for your viewing pleasure.

sexy sailor neptune-sailor uranus sexy sailor neptune and sailor uranus sexy sailor neptune uranus