Congratulations Erik and Melissa Marsh!!

Greetings all,

Today is a special and important day.  As this post goes up, two of our own will become one:  Erik Marsh  and Melissa Rogers will simplify things for us and become Erik and Melissa Marsh!

The pair of them are, individually, two of the most engaging, intelligent, and caring people I know.  Together, they not only fit better than just about any other couple I know, but I’m sure they will somehow transcend even their previous standard of awesomeness.  I’m sure they will only continue to grow in their love for each other and the Lord Himself.  I pray the future holds on the best for them!

Congratulations, Erik and Melissa Marsh!

Tough Guide to Fantasy Clichés: The Fuzzies

Here is one of my posts from my Tough Guide to Clichés series!  Because we can never have enough fuzzies…

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I’ve really been enjoying my month in Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland and all of the marvelous clichés that she has brought to my attention.  What I think I have learned while writing these (and perhaps, you have, by reading them) is that while there are always cliché ways to present your world and characters, there also just as many ways to avoid or even to utilize those clichés to make our fantasylands better.  An awareness of the stereotypes gives us greater power over our worlds.

And what megalomaniacal, world-building author does not want greater power?

So we’ve covered names, colour-coding, and villains thus far.  I want to touch on something a little smaller, a detail that might not even come into consideration when we are writing.  But when you think about it, it is a little strange.

pangur ban cat rabbit friends
Pangur Ban is a magic cat and Bella is a soulless, power-hungry, would-be villain. I think they both merit a story or two.

The question that Jones presents in one of her entries is this: Where are all the fuzzies?

Specifically, how do animals figure into your storytelling?

First, let’s see what Diana Wynne Jones has to say:

Animals. See Enemy Spies, Food, and Transport.  Apart from creatures expressly designed for one of these three purpose, there appear to be almost no animals in Fantasyland.  Any other animals you meet will be the result either of Wizard’s Breeding Programme or of Shapeshifting.  You may on the other hand hear things, such as roaring, trampling, and frequently the hooting of owls, but these are strongly suspected to be sound effects only, laid on by the Management when it feels the need for a little local colour.

Domestic Animals are as rare as wild Animals.  In most cases their existence can be proved only by deduction.  Thus, sheep must exist, because people wear wool, and so must cattle, as there is usually cheese to eat.  Cats are seen in company with Witches and Crones, often in large numbers, but seldom elsewhere, and there have been sightings also of solitary pigs; possibly in Fantasyland cats are herd animals whereas pigs are not.  Goats are seen oftener (and may even provide the cheese) and dogs are frequent but often rather feral – the arrival of a Tour party at a Village is usually greeted by barking dogs.  Dogs are also kept in numbers by Kings and nobles, where their job is to be scavengers: you throw bones on the floor and the dogs fight for them.  These hounds cannot be kept for hunting (except perhaps for hunting men and Mutant Nasties), as there are no Animals to hunt.

The thoughtful Tourist might like to pause here and consider, since Animals are so rare, what exactly the meat is that the Management puts in its Stew.

Another use for animals: as desks.
My brother demonstrates another use for animals: as desks.

Now, then, let’s talk about the animals.  When I read this, I remember feeling a very twingy sense of concern because my fantasy serial The Holder Wars has fallen prey to exactly this description of animals.  There are horses for “Transportation” and then there are plenty of shapeshifters.  But my land has been peculiarly lacking in pretty much anything else.

Oops.

But here’s the conundrum: We want to create a world that is realistic and immersive and natural.  On the other hand, we want to tell a story and relate action and dialogue and characterization.  This means we do have to make some choices about what is important to describe and what isn’t.  If I were to write a chase scene through the woods, I wouldn’t stop the narrative for a moment to point out some bluebirds nesting in one of the trees my characters is frantically riding past.  I don’t need to tell the reader everything on Old MacDonald’s farm when my character passes by or stops in, do I?  We do need to have boundaries, and in many ways, it does make sense to only bring up things like animals when they are actually integral in some way to the plot.  Otherwise, the book becomes a ponderous tome of details.

chicken food
Dogs are desks… and chickens are cuddly snacks. This child lives in an interesting world.

And fuzzies just aren’t worth it.

So what do we do with animals?  Of course, we continue to use them in our stories in various ways, whether it is the usual horse transportation or as game to be shot or as magical changelings.  Otherwise, I think we would do well to be aware of any significant gap in our description, such as of a forest or farmland, and where we might add some animals.

It might do us some good to read what Jones has to say about horses as well:

Horses are a breed unique to Fantasyland.  They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest.  Sometimes they do not require food or water.  They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  They never otherwise stumble … But for some reason you cannot hold a conversation while riding them.  If you want to say anything to another Tourist (or vice versa), both of you will have to rein to a stop and stand staring out over a Valley while you talk.  Apart from this inexplicable quirk, Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.  Much research into how these exemplary animals come to exist has resulted in the following: no mare ever comes into season on the Tour and no Stallion ever shows an interest in a mare; and few Horses are described as geldings.  It therefore seems probably that they breed by pollination.  This theory seems to account for everything, since it is clear that the creatures do behave more like vegetables than mammals.

The same issues apply with horses,  I think, when it comes to description in stories.  If we were to be completely and utterly realistic, we would also be completely and utterly boring.  However, I do like Jones’ point about horses needing rest and the issue of stallions, mares, and geldings.  These are small practicalities that might be worth bringing into consideration.

Unless, of course, your horses do in fact breed by means of pollination, which is another matter entirely.  And I would like to read that story.

belted gallowy
Cow is sad because she is not in a story.

So, what are your thoughts on fuzzies in fantasyland?  Do you think that novels tend to dismiss them too easily or do you think that it is generally a matter of space and practicality?  Do fuzzies matter to you?

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Destiny, Werewolves, and How I Might Have Helped Save the World”

Some people are meant to live happy, but ordinary lives, while some are dragged irresistibly into danger, glory, and the pressures of heroism.  It’s Fate or Destiny or Something-Even-Bigger-Than-Both. And there’s nothing that person can do to stop it. Well, in this story, that person whose Fate was sealed on the first day of her junior year of high school was not me.  My life is set on a track of the happy, ordinary, and completely free from glory or heroism.  The most dangerous thing that I am facing is college applications and I am perfectly happy for it to stay that way.

The girl dragged into adventure and glory and heroism and all that other stuff, the girl with Fate written on her forehead in shining letters, was the new girl at school with the locker next to mine.  So I guess you could say I had a brush with Fate, but mostly Fate just glanced dismissively at me before shouldering me aside so that it could get a better look at Katrina Starr.  Pretty much like every jock in school would try to do that year.

With a name like Kat Starr, you knew she had to be something special.  With platinum blonde hair, blue eyes that blazed defiantly at the world in general, and a tall, slim, athletic build that simply screamed I-take-some-special-form-of-martial-arts-after- school-and-could-kick-your-butt, it was surprising that no one else seemed to notice that she was marked for Greatness. But I guess that’s how it is with these heroes-to-be.  They don’t notice Fate until it punches them in the gut. Or kisses them passionately.  Fate can be awkward like that.

On the first day of school, when it all began, Kat and I were fiddling with our locker combinations and I was chatting with my good friend Colin. Colin is a girl, by the way, but her parents are that kind of people who think that mixing up names will make their children feel unique and special instead of giving them anger management issues.  Colin has an older brother named Ashley.

Colin and I were comparing notes on our summers holidays – she spent half of hers in Europe and I spent most of mine in my room reading (but I still maintained I visited more places) –  when a mysterious Entity was suddenly looming behind me. Colin didn’t really pay attention, but I found myself listening in on a conversation between Kat and The Stranger.

 

“Hello, Katrina Starr,” he began in a deep, sultry voice.  I had never described a voice as sultry before, not being a huge fan of soap operas, but his was definitely what I think a sultry voice would sound like. Kind of… throaty.

“Do I know you?” Kat responded, flicking her silvery blonde hair over her shoulder.  I wasn’t facing them, but it’s impossible not to catch the shimmer of that hair out of the corner of your eye.  “How do you know my name?”

We know a lot about you, Kat,” The Sultry Stranger continued, sounding pleased with himself.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Well, get lost, whoever you are,” Kat challenged.  I admired the new girl’s spunk.  “Whatever your game is, I’m not interested.”  And she brushed past him and walked away.

The Sultry Stranger waited a moment to contemplate her disappearing form, and then stalked off in the opposite direction.  I spared him a glance.  Oh, it was only Jake, quarterback of the football team and senior stud of Gracetree High School.  He didn’t normally sound like that, I thought.  What had made him talk so weird to Kat?  Probably just an attempt to hit on her.  Typical.

“Ugh, this year is going to be awful,” Colin groaned.  “I think I can predict the future: homework, homework, and then more homework!”

“I like homework,” I said complacently.  I meant it, too.  Homework, college, grad school, successful career, book about my successful career, retirement on a beach somewhere.  I had dreams of being normal that I was eager to fulfill.

If Kat Starr had any dreams of being normal, though, she was being forced to give them up.

After first period, I ran back to my locker to grab my calculator for my next class and there was Kat, this time with three guys and a girl standing around of her, talking very intently to her.

I sidled closer, unwilling to eavesdrop if I didn’t have to.  I’m polite like that.  But her locker was right next to mine and Jake was leaning against the door of my locker so I had to request that he scoot over so I could get in.  He did, without looking at me.

“It’s impossible,” Kat whispered, sounding upset.  I thought about humming, to block out their voices and so they’d know I was there, since Jake already seemed to have forgotten.

“You can’t deny it any more than we can,” said the girl.  That was Paige from the cheer squad.  Jake’s ex-girlfriend as of last fall. Now she was dating Jake’s teammate Andre, one of the other guys who was looming over Kat. I wondered how they could all still be friends after that much drama, but who was I to judge?

“I’m a clairvoyant,” Paige continued, perfectly serious, “and you’re a hunter.”

“I don’t want to be a hunter!” Kat exclaimed.  “I don’t believe in werewolves!”

Want to know what happens next? Find out July 15 if you order a copy of Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

StoryBuilding 1.0 – And A Title, Too!

It’s been a busy month, and I’m sure that you are all so relieved to have all the hard parts of story writing so easily taken care of by yours truly.  Really, I am just the nicest person.

But before I let all of these newly fledged stories fly free, I realized that I still have left off one very important part: the title.

choose book titleBecause stories need titles, apparently.  Otherwise, things would get kind of confusing.

So for my last post, here are some helpful suggestions to get you the attention-grabbing, inspirational, unique title that you’ve always dreamed of.

Or something like that.

The usual rules apply.  Pick one from each of the following and watch your title magically appear before your eyes!

 

1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character
B. Plot
C. Unexpected


2. Structure

A. And
B. Of
C. One Word

3. Add Some Adjectives:

A. Serious
B. Fluffy
C. Mysterious
D. Unexpected

You never knew so much went into titles, did you?  Well, let’s see what happens.

1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character: Place the main character’s name right there in the title.  Just make sure you give your character a name that is fairly easy to pronounce and spell or else no one will be able to remember the book.  Your character’s name might be the only word in the title, which is a bit self-centered but workable, or your character is defined by something else in the story.
B. Plot: Use one of the following relevant words as the key to your epic title: War, Book, Magic, Quest, or Power.  Whichever one is most central to your story, or whichever sounds most important even if it’s not quite central, that’s what you want to go with.  Many people like to include the character and major plot point just to keep things exciting.
C. Unexpected: If you picked “Unexpected” for what is probably the eleventeenth time, it means you want something random, daring, or inexplicable.  So go ahead and include a “Frumious Hedgehog” or a “Cantankerous Sea Turtle” in your title.  I dare you.

2. Structure

A. And: Using “and” is a great way to sneak a whole lot more information into the title.  Follow one of these formats for a sure-fire win:

[Character’s name] and [mysterious object].

[Character] and [Character] [do something interesting].

[Mysterious object] and [another mysterious object].

B. Of: Including an “of” prepositional phrase is a great way to make your story sound really, really important.  Here are some useful guidelines:

The Quest of the [important thing].

[Character’s name] of [important place].

The [-ing words like: running, seeking, reading] of [important place/thing/person].

[Awesome noun] of [Awesome noun].

C. One Word: One word titles are all the rage, these days.  Just make sure the word is so powerful, so impressive, so though-provoking, so unique, so catchy, and so vaguely relevant to what your story is about that your readers can’t help saying to their friends, “Hey, have you read [Insert One Word Here]?”   Adjectives often work for this.  For example: “Frumious”.  (Now that I’ve given you that example, you can’t cheat and use it, so move on).

3. Add Some Adjectives:adjectives list

A. Serious: Dark, deep, long, final, lost, eternal, scarlet
B. Fluffy: Great, cerulean, shining, magical, new
C. Mysterious: silent, hidden, shadowed
D. Unexpected: grumpy, spasmodic, punctual, crapulous

 

With this handy guide, you will come up with titles, such as the following gems of my own making (no stealing these brilliant ideas!):

“Archibald and the Cerulean Spoon”
“The Quest of the Cantankerous Turtle”
“The Spasmodic Spies of Spinne”
“Barry and Klive Destroy The World”
“The Silent Telling of the Hidden Tale”

So many perfect titles.  Now all they need are stories.  What titles have you come up with?  Please share!  And happy writing, one and all.

StoryBuilder 1.0: Outline the Perfect Plot!

Now that you have your fabulous main character (and whatever secondary characters you may have scrounged up to accompany the hero in his/her path to glory), and you have a fabulous and fantastical world in which to drop your character, you need a story to tell.  Obviously.

fantasy landscape quest storyYes, plots are necessary, as little as some of us may enjoy writing them.  So in the interest of helping you all in your path to storybuilding glory, here is a plot creator in the method of the previous two posts.  Pick your story-telling options and then find out what adventure your character gets to have!

(Word of Warning: I don’t do plots.)

 

1. How It Begins

A. With Drama
B. With Danger
C. With Plotting
D. With Something Else Entirely

2. How it Goes

A. An Epic Quest
B. A Political Intrigue
C. War is Brewing
D. Interesting…

3. A Twist Along The Way

A. Betrayal
B. Death
C. Love
D. An Interesting Development

4. How it Ends

A. Triumph
B. Tragedy
C. Romance
D. Well, That Was Odd

 

Alright, now for the fun part.  Your story is all but plotted and planned!  Wasn’t that easy?  Let’s see what you’ve got:

1. How It Begins

A. With Drama: Your character is minding his/her own business when, in from the darkness, comes a tall figure of notable looks carrying some object of mysterious origin and meaning.  This figure informs your character that s/he is meant for Great Things.  This sounds all well and good until the Great Things turn into a very long and uncomfortable enterprise.  But it will be a growing experience.

B. With Danger: Your character is minding his/her own business when, in from the darkness, comes an assassin who tries to kill your character for reasons unexplained.  Obviously, your character really needs to figure out why his/her life is worth threatening.  As luck would have it, someone else will come along very soon who has at least some of the answers and will join your character on this mission.  Is this new character friend or foe?  Hmmm….

C. With Plotting: Your character is minding his/her own business, taking a nice walk on a late evening. S/he stops in at the local drinking establishment for refreshment and overhears a plot of some sort to overthrow or otherwise upset the local or national government.  Naturally, your character will end up involved.  False accusations of treason are fast coming his/her way, and naturally those will have to be responded to with an outright rebellion.  And it had started as such a lovely walk…

D. With Something Else Entirely: Other children received dolls or toy soldiers on their birthdays.  Your character has, for whatever reason, been gifted by a magical gift-giving fairy with the gift of Importance.  Now everyone and his mother wants you on their side of the latest uprising or intrigue and it is up to your character to find a cause and stick with it or else end up on a quest to retrieve the local chicken farmer’s Magical Missing Egg.  Actually, that doesn’t sound like a half bad quest to start with…

2. How it Goes

A. An Epic Quest: However the story began, it inevitably resulted in a quest.  You, a cranky warrior, a mysterious scholar, someone who may or may not be able to use magic, someone’s whose musical skills are barely tolerable, and someone whose skills and worth are yet undetermined have all found each other through one incident or another and are now slogging through marshes and climbing unconscionably tall mountains in order to achieve the object of your quest.  Not that it is necessarily a literal object.  Maybe your quest is to escape the other members of your questing party because they are very annoying and don’t get along at all.

B. A Political Intrigue: There are about ten different sides to this political debacle, and your character is wading through the morass trying to find out whose side is the right side, or at least the side who is killing the fewest peasants and kicking the fewest puppies.  Your characters makes several friends and allies, only to discover that they are all on opposing sides, but all have their own virtues.  One of them is probably going to end up betraying your character while another will be a love interest.  The question is – which is which?

C. War is Brewing: Rather similar to the Political Intrigue, but with a lot more people on each side and a lot more upfront hacking and slashing.  Your character is, as usual, trying to figure out which is the Side of Right and Truth and Justice, but his/her chosen side will often do morally troubling things which will cause moments of existential crisis.  Everything is leading toward an epic battle, which will decide the Fates of Many.  Your character will hold the key to success… for whichever side s/he chooses.

D. Interesting…: Your character’s singular goal in this story is to become the greatest chef this world has ever seen.  Through war and intrigue and famine and plot, your character strives to hunt down the masters of culinary arts and ply them for their tricks of the trade.  Alas, your character’s nemesis, a pastry chef of no small skill, is lurking in the shadows, sabotaging your character at every turn.  Will your character ever achieve true mastery of the art of the kitchen?  Will s/he ever cook for kings?  And is that charming baker who s/he met along the way trustworthy?  And will your character ever be worthy of attaining the Magic Ladle?

3. A Twist Along The Way

A. Betrayal: In a totally unexpected turn of events, somewhere along the way, that really attractive character who seemed so very trustworthy turns out to not be trustworthy.  Your character spends one, possibly two, chapters reeling from this betrayal and several things go horribly wrong as a result.

B. Death: So, there was this cliff.  And there was rain.  And this one person saw a pretty bird and, well…  Your character and any other companions mourn the loss.  Unless it was someone highly suspected of being a traitor.  Then they stand a ponder the mysterious Ways of Justice before carrying on.

C. Love: Your character was so sure that s/he loved the very attractive, rich, cultured, capable person that s/he met along the course of the story, but now it seems that s/he has fallen hopelessly in love with the annoying, less attractive but not horrible to look at, sarcastic, most often unpleasant other person s/he met along the course of the story.  But who can explain the workings of the heart, anyway?  Odds are, Love Interest #2 will turn out to be long-lost royalty, anyway.  

D. An Interesting Development: Your character randomly gains the ability to see the future, but backwards, whenever s/he sneezes.  It’s all very confusing and mostly useless.

4. How it Ends

A. Triumph: Your character overcomes every single obstacle placed in his/her path, even the ones that are statistically and rationally impossible to overcome (because s/he is that amazing) and the story closes in a sweepingly grand picture of resolution.  Everything is in its proper place.  A golden age is most definitely unfolding before the eyes of your character and his/her comrades, and everything will most definitely be fine.  Unless there’s a sequel.  Then everything will be rubbish again in no time at all.

B. Tragedy: Unfortunately, everyone your character ever loved along the way has perished.  Most of them have perished nobly.  A few seemed to perish for no reason at all except to make your character question all of his/her preconceived notions about heroism.  Now, here at the end, your character stands alone, figuratively or literally gazing upon the graves of so many who have been lost… but it was worth it for the Greater Good.  It was…. Really…. Please let there be a sequel with a happier ending.

C. Romance: On a high, grassy hill overlooking a significant city wherein most of the significant story events took place, your character and your character’s One True Love are locked in a tender embrace as they reminisce on all of the unlikely events which brought them to this place.  Every outlook is rosy now.  All previous misunderstandings and hostility erased by mutual life-saving acts which have sealed their bond forever.  If there is an epilogue, it will probably involve two and a half children, just so the readers are sure that these characters meant it.  If there’s a sequel, well, your character would really appreciate it if there wasn’t one.  Things are great.  Let it be!

D. Well, That Was Odd: Your character is sitting in a small, dark room in the predawn light, blinking fuzzily and rubbing sleep from his/her eyes.  It was all a dream?  That whole story that took up four hundred pages was all a dream?  Your character lies back down and decides that maybe s/he isn’t getting up today.  It’s just not worth it.

 

And there you have it, the perfect outline just waiting to be filled in with your creativity.  Let me know what sort of story you ended up with!  I’m quite curious what sort of havoc I have wrought.