Archive for September, 2013

The Music of Shards

A few years back (oh, 2009 or so) I started making novel playlists. These are songs that, somehow, evoke a character, a scene, or the overall story for me. A lot of times it’s related to lyrics, and I find that different stories tend to work better with different genres of music. For example, for my high fantasy stuff I listen to a lot of symphonic metal. With my urban stuff, I find a lot more dance music sneaks in.

Shards is a urban fantasy novel being released December 1st from Turtleduck Press. I made a YouTube playlist just for you guys, so you can listen to the whole thing, or you can pick and choose which songs you’d like to listen to.

Shards Playlist (whole thing)

  1. Good Girl (Carrie Underwood)
  2. Mi Amore (Velvet)
  3. DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love (Usher)
  4. Chemistry (Velvet)
  5. You Give Love a Bad Name (Bon Jovi)
  6. Like a Prayer (Madonna)
  7. Take Me Away (Globus)
  8. Fix Me (Velvet)
  9. In This Light (Queensryche)
  10. If I Lose Myself (OneRepublic/Alesso)
  11. Fight For You (Jason Derulo)
  12. Higher Love (Steve Winwood)

I’m curious, do you feel like you get an impression of the story just by listening to the music, and if so, what is it? I’d love to know if your mind works the same way as mine or not.

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With Great Technology Comes Great Responsibility

Good day, Squiders. I am out of town this week, and originally I was just going to abandon you to your own devices, but then a friend offered to guest post for me. So aside from this, you will actually get a real post on Thursday as well. You may thank Di for that.

Di is nicely setting up a new WordPress theme for me to use at Kit Campbell Books, which I think we can all agree needs it. Aside from that, she is also an aspiring author.

I be Dianna. I am coding a new theme for Kit’s site thingy. And because apparently ‘guest blogging’ falls under ‘coding new theme’, I am here to provide a blog post.

I stand by what I have said: I don’t write genres, I write ideas. However, of late my ideas have fallen into two genres, fantasy and sci-fi. I can’t explain why this is, but it is. And it’s making me realise how little I actually know about sci-fi, which, believe it or not, makes it a leetle hard to write it. Apparently there is much more than just ‘technology’ to it. Which makes me realise how little attention I pay to things in one sense.

Star Trek, for instance, has a bunch of technology and I could name a lot of it, but beyond obvious things, like transporters, I wouldn’t know what it does. Apart from what is important for the plot, I don’t think I could tell you what technology was used in Star Trek: Into Darkness. However, it’s not only Star Trek. Plenty of sci-fi books have been written, so they have stuff too. And I, regrettably, likely skimmed over it. “Oh, they have gizmo. Whatever.”

This is important. It says a little about me; I quite probably care more about the plot and the characters than I do about whatever technical gizmo the heroine is using. It can also say a little about the writers: they knew when to give details and when not to (although that is speculation because I can’t name a book).

Don’t overload your story with so many gizmos that all semblance of a plot and characters is lost. Please. If your story is becoming “This gizmo brought trouble, this gizmo got them out, but this gizmo interrupted them in the midst of celebratory shagging and of course, brought trouble, which other gizmo…” I would definitely rethink the story.

Use the accoutrements of sci-fi to enhance. Not dominate.

Dianna is a twenty-something girl living in Australia. It may be the future, but there are no robots–yet. She writes, she games, she reads. She blogs at Echoes of Dust, tweets at @moredibell and is okay with not being normal.

Troublesome Characters

Last week I was flailing around, trying to figure out what I should write about, and a friend on Twitter suggested I write about troublesome characters.

Here’s the thing, though. Writing is a highly complex art, with many necessary skill areas, and I firmly believe that everyone has some skill areas they are good at and some that they really have to work at to get to work.

I have never had a troublesome character in my life.

I assume that what she meant by “troublesome character” is the sort that I hear about from other people, where a side character takes over the plot by being ridiculously awesome, or characters decide to do something that goes against the plot, or where a character turns out not to have the personality necessary to get the job done.

I have absolutely no knowledge of any of these issues.

Now, before you stone me (and I know you’re considering it), I do have my issues. I have one character in the high fantasy trilogy I’ve been working on forever that one of my betas absolutely despises. He’s not a troublesome character–he’s not directly counteracting any of my plans–but for at least one reader he’s completely nonredeemable, which is a problem. And I’ve talked previously about my inability to tell how much description is the proper amount. And I think I may have finally figured out how to foreshadow at a proper rate.

But characters themselves? They spring into my head fully formed. They come with names and personalities. I have never had to do a character worksheet. Even when it becomes apparent on subsequent drafts that a character requires massive changes, I haven’t had issues switching over. I did a massive character overhaul on one of the characters–Lily–for my urban fantasy coming out in December, and if anything, the changes felt more right than the original character.

Do you have troublesome characters, Squiders? If you do, how do you teach them to behave? And what are your writing strong points, the parts that never give you issues (or at least, give you less issues than everything else)?

The Differences Between Urban and Contemporary Fantasy

As we touched on just barely during the Subgenre Study, while many people consider urban and contemporary fantasy to be synonymous, they’re not actually.

Examples!

  • Story 1 takes place in modern times in a major city. The story is both urban and contemporary fantasy.
  • Story 2 takes place in London in the 1800s. The story is urban but not contemporary fantasy.
  • Story 3 takes place on an isolated farm in modern times. The story is contemporary but not urban fantasy. (My story, To the Waters and the Wild, featured in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol I, is this.)

The reason the two are synonymous to most people is because, in most cases, stories fall into category 1 above. And you can argue that most modern settings–even small towns–can be interpreted as “urban” because the growing omnipresence of technology, even in more remote areas, changes the feel of the location.

I’ve read a lot of category 1 and a few things in category 3, but I may be reading my first category 2 now. It’s Libby Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty.

It’s not that I haven’t read fantasy before that takes place in a historical setting and a city. But, as we talked about a lot throughout the Subgenre Studies, intent has a lot to do with perceived subgenre. For example, something like the Temeraire series could technically be considered urban fantasy in places, but it reads more like historical fantasy. And books like The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters could probably be considered urban fantasy as well, but it reads more steampunk. (Which, if one wants to get really into it, probably could be a subgenre of the urban fantasy subgenre. But then you get a little too “Yo I heard you like subgenres so I put subgenres in your subgenres” for me.)

This feels exactly like any YA urban fantasy you’d pick up anywhere. It’s first person present tense. It follows all the main urban fantasy tropes. The only difference is that it takes place in the late 1800s and there are occasional mentions of bodices. So, yes, it may be the first true case of an urban, but not contemporary, fantasy I’ve ever read.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you have examples of urban, but not contemporary, stories that you’ve read?

Creating New Worlds

I was out with some of the guys from my speculative fiction writing group the other night (and let me tell you how lovely it is to belong to a group where everyone writes science fiction and fantasy, though the members are mostly male and it skews toward scifi) and I overheard a conversation between two of the members about how much of a pain it is to have to create new worlds.

I was busy editing, so I didn’t say anything at the time, but now I say: So?

Yes, it’s hard to create a new world from scratch. To have to create cultures, species, animals, religions, gods, technology, magic. To create languages and mythology. To strike a balancing act between making your world believable and making it accessible to your readers.

Here’s the thing, though–any story, whether it’s set on a planet around a distant star or just down the street, needs world-building. Even if you’re working with the real world, you still need to choose settings, decide where buildings are  in relation to each other, set up utilities for your characters, choose their cultures and beliefs, etc.

There is the added benefit that you can call a chair a chair because everyone knows what a chair is, but you also run the risk of getting things–that your readers know–wrong, which will distract them from the story.

Besides, it’s fun to create new worlds. I love it. I write pretty evenly in high and urban fantasy, and there’s a special spot in my heart for the world-building necessary for the high fantasy. The landscapes, the layout of the land, new cultures and how they relate to each other. And, of course, the mythology. To be able to create a cultural and mythical background to explain why a culture functions they way it does–I live for that.

Besides, isn’t part of the point of writing or reading speculative fiction exploring strange new worlds and new civilizations?

The Importance of Antagonists

Someone on Twitter the other day was asking the Twitterverse at large whether or not their protagonists had antagonists.

Well, I certainly hope so.

What drives story? Conflict. And what causes conflict? Having obstacles that your main character/protagonist needs to overcome.

(Your main character and protagonist are usually, but not always, the same character. But that’s beside the point.)

An antagonist, from the Greek antagonistēs, is anyone or anything that acts in direct opposition to your protagonist. It doesn’t have to be someone doing something on purpose. It doesn’t even have to be a person. In fact, from scene to scene, the antagonist may change. Sure, the overall story will have a major antagonist, but in a small scene where your character can’t get the barista to understand their order, the barista is the antagonist.

A story without an antagonist has no conflict, and a story with no conflict has no plot.

People will invariably point out their favorite one-man piece of literature as an example of something otherwise, but having a single character doesn’t mean there’s not an antagonist.

It may be a fish, an island, or his own mind.

Remember what they taught us back in high school English? There’s three main types of conflict: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Man vs Himself.

So any story worth anything had better have some sort of antagonist.

Otherwise it’s just someone sitting and twiddling their thumbs, and no one cares about that.

Disagree with me, Squiders? What/Who is your favorite antagonist?

Visualizing Characters

You know how you go to watch the movie-version of a book and you’re like, “This character doesn’t look anything like what I thought they would?”

That rarely ever happens to me. I don’t know why, but when reading, I don’t tend to form specific pictures in my head of the characters. Instead, I have a vague impression and that’s usually enough for me.

(Oddly enough, I do occasionally have moments of “Wow, that character looks exactly like I thought they would,” never mind that I still don’t have a specific picture in my head. Go figure.)

This is also true when I write. For some things, like shorts, I don’t even bother to form an appearance in my head. This may be because my shorts are almost exclusively plot driven, and it doesn’t matter much what the character looks like as long as they’re there and the story is going where it needs to go. For my novels, characters tend to again gain only a vague impression–in most cases, height, eye and hair color, hair length. Some characters have more characteristics, such as scars or glasses, but it’s not the norm for me.

I don’t know; I guess the essence of the character is more important than their appearance, and so I focus on that.

In the last few years, though, I’ve picked up making icons and covers and banners for my stories, both to procrastinate and to motivate. I’ve jumped onto Pinterest over the last few weeks (I know, I am horribly late to the party) and have been making boards for various stories. (You can see the one for Shards here, and I’m also working on one for my long-running serial here.)

And, while it’s never easy to find an image that evokes exactly what you want, I’ve found that it’s near impossible to find appropriate pictures for characters. Despite only having a vague notion in my head, I can be oddly specific with images. The Shards characters have proven particularly difficult over time as well. And your Pinterest searches have to get a bit creative. Sometimes you can be too specific, and find nothing that works. Sometimes everybody you find is too model-y, if you know what I mean.

(Searching for “pretty boys” is surprisingly worthless.)

What about you, Squiders? Do you form specific images in your mind for characters, whether you’re reading or writing? Does it bother you when an actor doesn’t fit your image?