Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nuggets #4 -- Time Changes

I looked back over some of my early stories and found that they 
were the work of  different writer than the one I had become in 
the years between writing them and  re-discovering them.


Monday, April 14, 2014

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #284 -- World-Building in Short Fiction

How important is world building to a shorter work like a novella or short story?

I know some folks will disagree with me on this one, but I honestly believe that world building is just as important to a short work as it is to a long one. There's no precedent I'm aware of that dictates that a story must be in a less fully realized world just because it's shorter than an epic fantasy.

However, I believe that you have to accomplish that world building in more subtle ways when word count is at a premium.

For example, details need to work their way into your dialog or narrative without getting two preoccupied with wasting lots of words on them. That will mean that you'll have to use each detail as a rifle bullet rather than a shotgun blast.

You know what? I changed my mind. I don't think it's different at all. I think both long and short works should be using world-building details that way rather than drafting long Tolkien- or Donaldson-style descriptions of politics or the geography of a setting. Everything should support and tighten the story itself, rather than pull a reader out of it, even -- no, especially -- key information.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lance Star Takes to the Skies Again in an Exciting New Volume of Stories!


Airship 27 Productions announces the release of its newest pulp anthology.  Rev up those Pratt-Whitney engines, pull back on the stick and prepare for take-off, as LANCE STAR – SKY RANGER gets ready to soar into the clouds in this, his fourth volume of high flying adventures.

Once again its time to join America’s aviation ace, Lance Star and his faithful team; Buck Tellonger, Cy Hawkins, Jim Nolan and Red Davis as they fly into four brand new hair-raising tales.  From discovering a hidden Nazis base on lost South Seas Island inhabited by prehistoric monsters to foiling an assassination attempt on President Roosevelt, the Sky Rangers travel globe tackling danger wherever they go.

The Lance Star – Sky Ranger series follows in the grand tradition of popular pulp favorites and Dusty Ayers, Bill Barnes, G-8 & His Flying Aces and dozens of other winged warriors of the clouds.

“When you’re company name is Airship 27 Productions,” says Managing Editor Ron Fortier, “you’d better believe we have a real love of flying heroes and Lance Star-Sky Ranger is at the top of that list.”

So goose your fuel lines, spin the props of your Skybolts and Skeeter and prepare yourself for classic pulp action.  Writers Bobby Nash, Sean Taylor, Andrew Salmon and Jim Beard have delivered a quartet of fast paced, high soaring stories to keep you buckled up tight.

This volume features a cover by popular graphic artist, Felipe Echavarria with interior illustrations by Warbirds of Mars’ own Scott “Doc” Vaughn.

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!



Friday, April 11, 2014

[Link] Beauology 101: I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar… And Write It Correctly

by Beau Smith

Comic books have been around for more than 75 years, in that time we’ve seen women characters go from girlfriends, mothers, and the ever popular damsel-in-distress to super powered heroines dressed like Las Vegas strippers…AND girlfriends, mothers and the ever popular damsel-in-distress. After nearly seven decades, the comic book business is still run mostly by men, written and drawn mostly by men, and still read…mostly by men.

Yes, there are more female readers now than there have ever been, but still not enough to equal the domination of males in and around comic books. Personally, and with regrets, I don’t think that’s going to change much in the next 75 years. I think that for a few reasons. One, I think comic books will always be seen as a “man thing” much like being a mechanic, hunting, fishing, and bottling up your emotions like it was a fine wine. Two, publishers need to stop stereotyping female creators to only books that feature females as well as having men just write “tough guy” books. Variety is the spice of life, it’s time to change the ingredients.

Continue reading: http://westfieldcomics.com/blog/interviews-and-columns/beauology-101-i-am-woman-hear-me-roar-and-write-it-correctly/

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Violence and Gore -- Write Less or Write More?

For our newest writers roundtable, we're going to look at writing scenes of violence and gore. Getting a violent and/or gory scene right isn't easy, and to find out how to do it, we're going to have some of the best writers of violent action I know teach us how to do it. 



Yep. This roundtable has all of it.
Well, except drugs. Don't do drugs, kids.
Drugs are bad. And stay in school. 
When and why is violence necessary in a good piece of fiction?

L. Andrew Cooper: I am not shy about saying that much (but not all) of my fiction both is about and is violence, so you might as well ask, is the kind of fiction I write necessary? I think so--violent fiction, and violence in fiction, not only safely allows readers to experience, or approach experiencing, one of the greatest (and most unpleasant) extremes of living and dying but also to reflect on how such experiences profoundly shape both individuals (our characters) and history (reflected in our stories). So violence is necessary in a good piece of fiction when violence appears in ways that make people scared of it, laugh at it, criticize it, or otherwise engage.

James Tuck: Violence is often necessary as a way to literally drive your character or plot forward. Characters react to stimulus and violence is a stimulus that makes them have no choice but to change.

Lance Stahlberg: I can't speak to “any” good piece of fiction. But people who pick up an action adventure or crime novel are looking to be immersed in a gritty world where the only way that the hero is only likely to overcome their obstacles is with their fists or a gun. Violence is an inescapable element of the genre.

I.A. Watson: Narrative fiction almost always requires a climax. Climax is almost always as a result of a problem or conflict. Problems and conflicts are often resolved via action, and one for of action is violence. Violence can be catharsis, and including it in a story sometimes has that effect too. It can be shocking, and that's another effect writers may want to have. So many climaxes are violent.

Violence can also establish threat, set a tone, elicit reader emotional reaction, and grab reader attention at any time in a story. Like all the other narrative choices available, it should be used at the right time in the right way for best effect.

J.H.. Glaze: Violence is a necessary plot device in genre based material to drive the plot and introduce conflict that can later be resolved,. Often the resolution to the conflict involves some type of violence.

Bill Craig: Violent action in the opening of a book can set the pace and quickly draw the reader in, and lead to more exciting action sequences.

Lee Houston Jr.: I personally feel, as both a reader and a writer, that violence should only be representative of just how evil the villain(s) of the story are. Without violence and the villains who create it, the heroes of our tales would have less to do each adventure. Yet we must remember that some people read for the escapism fiction gives them from the troubles and stress of the real world, and respond accordingly.

Name your weapon of choice. We'll write them all. 

How do you convey violence in your writing in a way that makes it resonate with readers and truly affect them?

Lance Stahlberg: Too much violence, just for the sake of violence, loses its effectiveness. Like any element of the story, it has to have a purpose. Maybe that point is just to illustrate that the situation is dangerous or the enemy is brutal. Or maybe it gives some insight into the character by how they react to it. I think it's important not to ignore the effect that that violence has an on the characters involved, beyond the obvious. The person who dished out a beating, or killed someone, is just as permanently effected as the victim. So are any witnesses. I think that fantasy novels miss that especially.

Acts of violence should not be casual if the character is supposed to be a normal, healthy, tax paying citizen. Nor should they necessarily be angsty hand-wringing events if your character is a hardened thug. Either scenario should present something interesting for the reader.

J.H.. Glaze: I try to convey the violence in one of two ways, a simmering, brooding violence that is built up over a period of time in the story. This would usually be used in a crime of passion. Or a random act of violence often perpetrated by a creature of some kind and is spontaneous and comes out of nowhere. It is the evil jumping out of the shadows and adds a shock value.

Bill Craig: When I write a violent action sequence, I try to make the reader feel the impact as much as possible. Here's an example from my new spy series Caribe:

"Nick stood, smiling like they were old friends. As soon as they were close enough, he snatched his beer bottle from the table and broke it across the nearest man’s face. As he cried out in both pain and surprise, Nick launched a kick to the second man’s groin that lifted him into the air. As he dropped to the marble floor, Nick snapped a punch into the first man’s broken nose that dropped him to the floor.
"Nick hurried across the courtyard and out the door. Once on the street, Storm pulled a white baseball cap out of his back pocket and pulled it onto his head. The sunglasses came off and went into his shirt pocket. His appearance was changed enough to throw off and description that the two men or Melendez could give of him."

I.A. Watson: I like the reader to have a dog in the fight, by which I mean there has to be a reason for the reader to care about what's happening. So I like to establish the reason for the violence so they know who to root for or against. If the baddie or monster's going to win this violent encounter I want the readers to care that he won, so that they;re rooting against him and taking him seriously next fight along.

Good fights have to be storyboarded like mini-stories in their own right. Violence has to be described as coherently and literately as anything else in the tale. It requires at least as much skill and technique as love scenes or back story exposition.

Violence doesn't have to mean fighting, either. A villain beating up a helpless old man tied to his chair can be pretty violent - and you bet the readers will care about our hero catching up with the bad guy after. Nor does it have to be physical. The bad guy slowly pulling the arms and legs off a captive child's beloved doll in front of her then popping the toy's eyes and stamping on them out can be just as horrifying because it's emotionally violent.

Violence can have various tones. It can be intense and brutal, it can be freewheeling and swashbuckling, it can even be humorous sometimes. It works best when it's pitched to serve the story.

L. Andrew Cooper: As for how I convey violence, I have to ask, what kind? Psychological? Physical? Social? Systemic? Psychological violence tends to appear best in dialogue or descriptions of reactions that tell readers more about characters than characters have figured out about themselves (or vice versa --interactions that begin to hint at larger psychological twists yet to be mapped). Physical violence can appear in all shapes and sizes. More on that in a moment. Social violence manipulates scenarios to play on larger social fears rooted in demographic/political concerns, which can range from standard scenarios involving victimizing people who are already at a disadvantage (Leatherface cuts through the guy in a wheelchair) to more specific, quasi-allegorical violence, like the violence that begins the TV reboot of Battlestar Galactica. As for systemic violence, that tends to involve concerns about large systems designed to destroy us... we're in conspiracy territory... to unfold such violence, you tend to need massive narrative, such as, say, the Cthulhu Mythos or what I'm doing in my own rather conspiratorial novels.

James Tuck: Violence is necessary for its careful use of sensory and physical cues that jar the impact into the reader's mind. It's one thing to have someone get punched. It's another for them to be punched so hard it made their spleen flop against their pancreas.

Lee Houston Jr.: I always go more for portraying the emotional impact of a violent situation than dwelling on the physical damage that might occur.

So does this interview.
Now for the obvious question... To gore or not to gore when writing violent scenes? How much is too much? How much is needed? Or is it just a cop-out used by lazy writers?

James Tuck: Gore is fine as long as it's applied in a logical (for the rules of the story) way... people don't have buckets of blood inside them.. shotguns don't rip people in half... etc. But used artfully, gore can really drive home the actual ramifications of violence being used or received.

Lee Houston Jr.: Unfortunately, there are times when it is painfully obvious that we live within a violent world. The nightly news proves that. However, I never dwell upon the specific details of a violent act, for I do not need to gross out neither the readers or myself. You acknowledge the violent act(s), set the hero(es) upon the villain(s) trail, and go on with the story.

I.A. Watson: Gore is another tool in the kit. It's a specialized tool, like graphic sex and obscene language, but like those things it can have a big impact when its used right. The problem comes when it gets dropped into the middle of an otherwise less explicit story. Nobody expects a full-on three way sex scene in Harry Potter (except on certain very specialized websites) because it would be inappropriate to the tone and effect of the story. On the other hand, James Bond can get genital electrode torture without his readership offering more than a reflex wince of sympathy. So it's about horses for courses.

I tend to reserve graphic descriptions for very special occasions, when I want the reader to be horrified by what has happened. Even then I think less is more. Prose can't compete with movies for splatter effects. It can outdo the best 3D VFX in the world when it gets inside a reader's head and turns their own imagination to supplying the detail. With every respect to H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James is scarier.

Bill Craig: You want to use enough to paint the proper picture but no go overboard. Say you are writing a story dealing with a serial killer, then yeah more gore may be needed than say in a western, unless your character is being tortured by Apaches or Comanches. But in say your average mystery, usually a body laying in a pool of blood is graphic enough.

L. Andrew Cooper: Gore. Lots of lazy writers use it. A few great writers use it. Then again, we only get a few truly great writers per region per generation. I get tired of people who think we're reaching "all-time-lows" or whatever of gore and sexualized violence. I want to tell such people to go read the complete works of the Marquis de Sade, look at the dates when they were first published, look at the dates on their smarmy phones, and then, brutalized as they are by having read thousands of pages of intentionally unreadable prose that I could never get through, they can realize that nothing has changed in hundreds of years and they can go, well, politely walk to the end of a pier and decide for themselves.

Seriously, though, gore is and long has been a serious art. You can use it it to brutalize audiences into forms of thought they could not achieve otherwise. You can use it to create forms of the sublime and forms of the beautiful only available by tapping into all the cultural weight we attach to images of the human insides, the blood, the guts, the things we're never supposed to see. Our job as artists is not only to show what people are not supposed to see, but show it in ways that challenge the way they were looking in the first place.

Lance Stahlberg: There are scads of movies and comics out there that I just call “violence porn”. Again, it's violence just for the sake of violence. If the scene is just an excuse to describe gore, why do I care? Unless you are specifically writing a horror or something aimed at fans who are really into gruesome or macabre subject matter, then well, yeah. Have at it.

In the action adventure world, gore can be effective, so long as it's not thrown around so much that it loses any shock value it's meant to have. Perhaps you need to establish just how brutal a character can be, or you need to drive home the very real threat a character is facing. I have a scene in a novella that's about to be released where we see a sharp contrast between how our hero was introduced, and what she's truly capable of.

J.H.. Glaze: I like gore, but since most of today's readers are women, I try to only use a lot of it when it is needed, and when I think the reader can accept it. A 'nice' person in the story who dies may get eaten by a creature, but at the point of attack, I turn the story camera away and focus on other action. Whereas a BAD person may get the top of their head bitten off and I will describe the curvature of the eyeballs poking above the jagged edge of their separated skull. If I set the character up just right, people will cheer at the gore in that scene. As far as it being a cop out, it depends on the story surrounding it, and really, I believe heavy gore has a very limited audience in the reading community so there is no real reason to be off the charts. Sometimes the best bits are the ones you can hear and not see.

Oh no! It can't be almost over!
What are some tips and tools to help new writers master the art of writing violence in their work?

L. Andrew Cooper: Remember that "violence" is an extremely broad range of experiences and emotions, not all of them necessarily bad. I've read hundreds of descriptions of intestines dangling in various ways. Don't overestimate the power of shock or the ability of violence to galvanize your writing by itself. Violence is the collision of characters, events, descriptions--if you're into that sort of thing (I am), you earn the luscious descriptions of the taboo by embedding them in contexts that actually MAKE them taboo.

Lance Stahlberg: Same advice applies to any tool. In all things, moderation. Don't overdo it. When writing a scene, ask yourself how realistic it is. There can be a fine line between brutal and parody. If the level of violence gets so absurd it feels like a Troma movie, might want to scale back.
Also keep pacing in mind. If you spend too much page space describing the violence, there might not be enough room for the action to move forward. The story always comes first.

Lee Houston Jr.:  First and foremost (in my mind), the hero(es) should NEVER stoop to the villains' level! Otherwise, why are they the hero(es) of your story? Otherwise, how I handle violent situations in my creative works is reflected in my answers to your first three questions, and any other writer is welcome to do with my advice as they see fit.

J.H.. Glaze: A tip for new writers - build a scene that will contain violence, slowly. Take the story in a direction where violence is inevitable, but the character tries to avoid it at all costs. That results in a climax to the scene that can be referred to as pulse pounding and edge of seat. Make sure you have developed the readers relationship with the character so they give a shit before they get killed or injured, I like the thrill of making my reader like a character at first, but by the time they get taken out, the reader is actually cheering for them to die.

James Tuck: Don't flinch. If you are going to write it then sit your ass down and fucking write it. No off page coward moves. Don't be a punk.

I.A. Watson: Set the scene well. If the hero's going to grab up a chair and smash the bad guy with it, establish the chair is in the room before the fight starts, or at least that it;s the kind of room that has chairs in it. If there's a cliff edge let's hear about it beforehand.

Establish the reason for the fight. Give the readers something to care about.

Consider multiple perils. A punch-up's great. A punch-up in a burning barn is better. A punch-up in a burning barn with the baby screaming in his pram near the smoldering haystack is better yet.

Use shorter sentences than normal. It has more punch. Then vary with a lengthier, more descriptive sentence. Then toss in a line of dialogue. Then a "wide-shot" description of some associated event - people racing away from the gunfire say. Then back to short, sharp descriptions.

Avoid cliche. There are a lot of violence cliches. Try not to rely on jackhammer fists, lightning-fast punches, or reeling heads. Find new descriptions. Keep it fresh.

Pitch your level of graphic-ness to the kind of fight scene you want. No point doing Indiana Jones-style fight descriptions if you're going to interrupt the derring-do with detailed information about the splattered vitreous humor from the pencil jabbed in the cop's eye. Likewise, body horror stories can be let down by common cliche like "spurting fountains."

The fight needs to have events in it, with twists and turns just like a full story. You can even get plot revelations and character development moments in there! It's a mini-three act drama in its own right, with set-up, follow-on, and pay-off.

Bill Craig: Watch a lot of movies, see how they handle the gore. Slasher movies go over the top, but study the way the cinema stages the gore, you can learn a lot and can incorporate it into your writing.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

L. Andrew Cooper: The Extreme Side of Horror

Most writers I know I get to know as people first and as writers second. What I mean by that is I meet them personally before I've ever heard them talk about the craft or read their work. Not so with Andrew Cooper. At the most recent Connooga, I sat in on a panel on world building, and as I listened to his responses to the questions from the moderator, I knew he was a writer who "got it." You know, "it" -- that secret, hidden, mysterious thing that only some writers can use to see and hear the world and then convey those things in words. 

You really need to get to know him and read his work. Trust me. Read this interview, then read his stuff. You owe it to yourself.

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

My most recent novel, Descending Lines, is on the extreme side of horror. It begins with what seems like a concept-driven burn: Megan and Carter Anderson’s 6-year-old daughter is dying of cancer, and they know a supernatural ritual to cure her. They have to conceive, bear, and sacrifice a second child. Their relationship and everything around them falls apart during the pregnancy, which readers expect to be the whole novel… but I answer the question of whether Megan and Carter go through with the sacrifice halfway through. Then I shift from escalating thriller to full-throttle horror-action. After the birth, anyone who happens to be in the wrong place… well, I’ve told readers that I’m not sure how many deaths I describe in the second half. Sooner or later, someone will count the bodies for me.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work? 

I try to keep my professor hat hidden when I’m wearing my creative writer hat, but of course my non-fiction books—Gothic Realities and Dario Argento as well as my co-edited textbook Monsters, not to mention various articles I’ve published on movies like Cabin in the Woods—share some of the obsessions in my fiction. Behind both of my published novels, Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines, lies the work of Dr. Allen V. Fincher’s The Alchemy of Will, a comparative study of world religions, published circa 1900, that describes how the universal key to the miraculous or the magical is the human will, unleashed and directed through rituals Fincher condenses and specifies. So more or less I’ve got a book-driven mythos that invites comparison to H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon or Book of Eibon (cf my for love the Lovecraftian in Joss Whedon’s work), but with Dr. Fincher, I’m more interested in the modern than the ancient. What Megan and Carter do with Dr. Fincher’s work in Descending Lines is very different from what Michael Cox and Jake Warren do with it in Burning the Middle Ground (you don’t have to read either to understand the other), but in both novels, having Dr. Fincher in the background allows me to keep some of my obsessions with philosophy, morality, and religion going as well as an obsession—the subject of my very first book, Gothic Realities—with how books and other texts might affect the “real” world. Oh, and Dr. Fincher’s rituals are, of course, invariably nasty, if not in their ingredients then in their outcomes; my obsession with extreme aesthetics plays out in Dario Argento as well.

What would be your dream project? 

I’ve got to admit that I like everything I’m working on right now—an essay about A Serbian Film, a non-fiction book about movie remakes (definitely looking at permutations of The Thing as well as Halloween and Friday the 13th), and the next novel in the series The Last World War, begun by Burning the Middle Ground. If I get to go dreamy, though, I guess I’d say that somehow I’d like the time to keep teaching (I love teaching) and write the rest of The Last World War without worrying about market realities with respect to length (Stephen King gets away with a lot) or cultural sensitivities, all the while knowing I will get top-tier, A-list publicity and a multi-movie deal over which I will have some sort of creative control (the fantasy then extends to assembling a dream team of director, cinematographer, editor, musicians, and actors and maybe a screenplay co-author and then working on the films).

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do? 

There are several easy answers to this question, but since at HorrorHound a couple of weekends ago I found myself mentioning it to people I’d just met, I suppose I’m ready to go on record about the existence of my first horror novel, Curiosity. Nowadays I feel like I have to emphasize that when I wrote it, “torture porn” hadn’t entered the vocabulary, but although operating on a different emotional register, Poppy Z. Brite and Bret Easton Ellis had been to the sorts of places I go in that novel. It wasn’t until I got a rejection from… I forget which major publisher… I had an agent at the time… which compared the book to Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door that I learned about Ketchum, whom I now adore and yes, absolutely, the comparison is apt. Except the rejection was right about another thing, too: Ketchum provides psychological motivation, or at least a sense of relief for readers, by providing a grown-up on whom to shift blame. Curiosity is Lord of the Flies in the suburbs during a bad acid trip with way too many sharp weapons. A friend of mine read it and said I’d murdered my childhood. I’m honestly scared of going back to that book. But if I ever have a readership that wants it, I will revisit the manuscript’s 500+ pages of hell to make it more accessible.

What inspires you to write?

Breathing? I barely remember a time before writing. I remember first trying a novel in the second grade. I didn’t finish one until I was 18. Don’t ask. It’s unreadable.

Maybe a better answer: confusion. I start spinning out fictional scenarios when my analytical brain gets caught up on a difficulty or apparent insolubility. The problem fails to yield to reason, so I turn to horror, the result of reason’s evacuation…

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

Stephen King was my intro to grown-up fiction; he got me reading. Ketchum somehow psychically. The 18th-century triumvirate: Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, William Godwin. The 19th-century: James Hogg, J.S. Le Fanu, Charles Dickens (late), Henry James (late). More 20th-century: Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, etc. 

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why? 

Art involves crafting: knowing how to shape the medium in certain ways to elicit certain responses from the spectator, and increasing correspondence between the shaping and the desirability of the elicited response (i.e., I want to scare the crap out of you, I know tried-and-true methods, I use one, I scare you, I win) is a kind of science. However, what I craft where, and how I choose to craft it, the overall experience I create for you as a reader: that is an art. Someone can be a successful scientist without being a successful artist and vice versa, or someone can be great or crappy at both.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

At the upcoming ConGlomeration convention, April 11 – 13 (http://www.conglomeration.info/) I’ll be helping to launch Imagination Reimagined: Not Your Children’s Fairy Tales, a collection of short stories I co-edited with Georgia L. Jones and Christopher Kokoski. It includes my short “Kindertotenlieder,” a riff on the pied piper, very gruesome. 

Find Him Online :
http://landrewcooper.com
https://www.facebook.com/LAndrewCooper

DESCENDING LINES e-book: http://www.amazon.com/Descending-Lines-L-Andrew-Cooper-ebook/dp/B00HUC6XWA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396287057&sr=8-1&keywords=descending+lines 

BURNING THE MIDDLE GROUND e-book: http://www.amazon.com/Burning-Middle-Ground-Andrew-Cooper-ebook/dp/B00AFHHT7K/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1RG6C13EDY4758T8YZHF 

DARIO ARGENTO e-book: http://www.amazon.com/Dario-Argento-Contemporary-Film-Directors-ebook/dp/B00AG82XAQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1396287204&sr=1-1&keywords=dario+argento 

GOTHIC REALITIES: http://www.amazon.com/Gothic-Realities-Impact-Fiction-Culture/dp/0786448350/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396287255&sr=1-1&keywords=gothic+realities

MONSTERS: http://www.amazon.com/Monsters-L-Andrew-Cooper/dp/159871483X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396287296&sr=1-2&keywords=monsters 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #283 -- Memorable Comics Run

What run (and creative team) of a book that you normally wouldn't have picked up made you appreciate the title or character for the first time? And when the creative team changed, did you drop the book?

For me it was Peter David and Jim Califiore's run on Aquaman in the '90s. After all the joke Aquaman ribbing in the years previous, I really enjoyed the long-haired, hook-handed version of the character. I liked that he really started getting a respect from his peers too, and how he pretty much became the Superman level character of the undersea realms. And Califiore's art was the first to actually look like the story was taking place underwater, right down to the way the characters' hair and clothing flowed, and how it all flowed the same way (treating the current the same way an artist would treat light and shadow above ground).

I stuck around a little bit after the changeover, all the way through part of Erik Larsen's run afterwords, but it just didn't have the same sense of regal butt-kicking-ness that Peter had managed to capture. So I did end up dropping the book shortly after Peter and Jim left.

Okay, I gave you mine. What's yours?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

[Link] How to Create Tension Through Misdirection

by Brian Klems

Plot-hypers create uncertainty that might—but doesn’t have to—complicate things. They raise the tension level. What plot-hypers require is a sense of proportion that tries to keep the cat in the bag while opening the bag enough so the cat can breathe.

We speak of subtlety and misdirection because the story moves with veils and whisps and bare outlines, and there’s no attempt to ring a bell or blow a whistle so the reader’s attention can be lassoed like a runaway calf. What this type of writing requires is a careful assessment of how much or how little to offer the reader, keeping in mind that we don’t want to be unfair, and we don’t want to obfuscate beyond a reasonable point. It means that we must come up with at least one plot-hyper, and we must plant the key somewhere in the text.

Read the rest: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-create-tension-through-misdirection

Saturday, April 5, 2014

[Link] 10 Things Shakespeare Can Teach Us About Writing Thrillers

by Zachary Petit

Conspiracy. Murder. Politics. Love. Sex. Ghosts. Pirates. Thrillers and the works of William Shakespeare may have more in common than you’d think. After all, as author A.J. Hartley pointed out, the legendary playwright that we now regard as “refined” and “literary” was considered rustic and fanciful in his time. “Shakespeare wrote for the mass medium of his day,” Hartley said.

And, as Hartley proved in his session “Cues From Shakespeare, the First Thriller Writer,” there’s a lot the bard can teach scribes about storytelling.

Read the rest: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-things-shakespeare-can-teach-us-about-writing-thrillers

Friday, April 4, 2014

LATEST PRO SE SINGLE SHOT DEBUTS -- ‘THE SAVIOR OF ISTARA’ NOW AVAILABLE

Pro Se Productions, a cutting edge Publisher of Genre Fiction and New Pulp, announces one of two new Pro Se Single Shots debuting today. Jeremy Hicks’ THE SAVIOR OF ISTARA: A TALE FROM THE CYCLE OF AGES SAGA is now available as a digital Single Shot, a single short story, for only 99 cents.

What would you do to save your homeland from foreign invaders? Would you risk your fortune, your family, and even your life to cast them back into the sea? To earn the moniker, The Savior of Istara, Tameri jeopardized all of this and more. This daughter of Breuxias risked her immortal soul.

“THE SAVIOR OF ISTARA,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of and Partner in Pro Se, “is a piece of a larger story that Jeremy, along with co-creator Barry Hayes, is telling in various ways, through novels as well as short stories. This is the sort of fantasy epic that makes Genre Fiction something to be excited about and Pro Se is ecstatic to be a part of The Cycle of Ages with the release of THE SAVIOR OF ISTARA as a Single Shot.”

THE SAVIOR OF ISTARA is a digital only release for 99 cents available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and www.smashwords.com.

For review copies of this Single Shot, interviews with the author, or more information concerning this title, contact Morgan Minor, Director of Corporate Operations, at Directorofcorporateoperations@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com and like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fictional World Building in Action/Adventure Stories

When it comes to thriller and adventure fiction, such as pulps, having a cohesive, and "built" world is just as important as in a classical high fantasy novel, but obviously, the building of that world in the context of the story is going to be different. But how different? Let's go to some of today's most prolific and best pulp writers to find out.

How important is world building to an adventure story? If character is king for serial pulp fiction, then why even bother with a realized world?

Bill Craig: Setting aka world building can be very important.  Sabre and the River of Doom takes place high up the Amazon on the Rio Negro and it's headwaters.   A great deal of this area is still unexplored today.  And when the story was set back in 1935 it was even less explored, so I had to create a jungle and river with dangers that would be believable and still fantastic enough to excite the imagination.  Same thing with Freetrader Orion: Asteroid Raiders.  Space presents it's own special challenges.  I had to create the refinery Delta One where a good deal of the action takes place, and also the the station on Pluto where they escaped to before heading out to the Galactic Rim.

I.A. Watson: A king has to have a kingdom. A character has to have a context. The story needs a stage to play out on.

It's not always necessary to have a detailed fictional world. "30's Chicago" is a well established mythical location now, just as conveniently pre-populated with seedy waterfront bars and swell casinos as "the Wild West" has saloons, abandoned mines, and easy-to-rob bank vaults or "Victorian England" has Chinese laundries, hansom cabs, and pea-souper fogs. Sometimes those broad canvasses suffice.

However, a more unique world background is often required. It's an important element in historical, fantasy, and SF stories, because otherwise readers don't know what the rules are. if the hero doesn't have access to gunpowder then it needs to be established. If a warp-gate takes citizens to Sigma-Beta System in 2.1 nanoseconds and that's relevant to the narrative it needs to be made clear. It's especially important that the limitations of magic are defined, because otherwise the reader is left wondering why the wizard doesn't just defeat the dragon with a snap of his fingers.

The elements come together in writing: protagonist, other major characters, events they experience, setting, and minor players. Sometimes the background can almost be a character itself, offering as distinctive a flavour to a scene as the drunken Scots sidekick, the fussy interfering robot butler, or the blowsy whore with the heart of gold. The eternal storms rattling the haunted castle of Ravensgaard, the claustrophobic green gloom of the crippled submarine, the rioters beyond the gates demanding the head of the king, can permeate a whole story to make it powerful and unforgettable.

Or they can be a distraction. The author might be fascinated in the history of the unicorn riders and their 200 year migration across the Tansy Plains to Everholme, but unless it contributes to the plot or character develoment then its probably best left to an appendix.

One important reason for a well defined "world", especially for a series where different aspects of that world may be relevant in different stories, is to support suspension of disbelief. Readers are quick to spot anomalies and contradictions, or "facts" about back story that don't make sense. Once that's what the reader notices then suspension of disbelief is broken, and its hard to win it back. Conversely, when a reader nods as another aspect of the fictional world clicks into place and it all fits well, that reader becomes more invested in the back story and that much happier to see the characters interact with it. So done right, world-building prevents critical-reader dissociation and builds up serial-reader loyalty.

Mark Halegua: In my case all my characters, so far, exist in the pre-war 1930s in the US. Under those cases I don't have to build a world, it already "exists" or did exist, so I just have to fit my characters to that and try not to let current politics, economics, science, etc., get involved.

Obviously an infodump wouldn't fly in the tight, sparse world of pulp fiction. So just how do you build that world to your readers and still keep the tone of straightforward action writing?


Mark Halegua: I just keep to the world as it existed in the 30s.

I.A. Watson: There are all kinds of tricks.

Dialogue, especially jokey dialogue, is one way. If the characters pause and make fun of how the zoom-tube tunnel slugs always run late we learn something of the cast who are speaking, something about the world they live in, and we even feel a point of resonance with that strange world of theirs. We might not have had problems with zoom-tube slugs but we've all queued for late buses.

A mission briefing can sometimes do it. The Major stands in front of the agents, points his stick to the screen, and taps the image of the villain's island lair. 

 "Now pay attention, men. Here is Isla del Evil, thirty-seven miles southeast of the coast of Haiti. Seven square miles of minefielded hell, ever since Lord Sinistre came to power there seven years ago in the Flower Parade Coup..."

An odd line slipped in amongst the action, or a stray thought from the point of view character, can go a long way:

Slab checked his wristwatch. It was one of the old-fashioned clockwork kind, of course, without any energy source that the Delphotrons could detect with their worldwide scanner satellite grid. 8.57. "Almost time for the Slug-Lords' nightly holocaust," Slab thought.

Even the authorial voice can be used, if sparingly, by way of introduction: 

It was almost five years since the old king had died. In that time Prince Alain had trained daily in the Swordmasters' Hall, alongside nobles from Dy Aquitaine, Sleecross, Ververet, and even Far Elysia. He'd learned much about the politics and personalities across the Grand Continent, from the deep divide to the troubled fire hills. Learned Senden had taught him well the history behind the Faith Wars that had led to Alain's father being assassinated by the Scarlet Sect. Now, nearing his twentieth birthday, the young heir knew it was time for him to raise his banner in rebellion and reclaim what was rightfully his.

But this is best grounded with some intimate moment related to some less lofty concerns, so should be followed straight away by:  

Selani watched the prince mop the sweat from his armpits with his discarded combat tunic. "How goes the mighty revolution today, oh glorious leader?" she mocked, wrinkling her nose at his odour.

Bill Craig: Character observation can prevent the big info dump, and dialog can also pace things as the characters discuss what they observe.

How much do character and world interrelate in pulps? In other words, how important is the world of the Spider (for example) to his character? Would it change him to have him located elsewhere? Or, would Batman be a different person outside of Gotham?

Bill Craig: The Spider is a force to be reckoned with in whatever local he is in, much like The Shadow or Doc Savage.  The Batman has traveled outside Gotham many times as well.  The key as far as setting in pulp fiction is not so much the local, but the character and how they interact with their environment is what makes the action flow.

I.A. Watson: Sometimes its about origin. A character becomes so well suited to his background that without it he seems incomplete. Gotham is a good example of an environment matched with its hero. Superman in Gotham wouldn't have the same synchronicity; both character and setting would be vitiated. The Spider, less tied to one fictive location, requires only some urban setting to work best, and is allowed excursions into spy-filled mansion houses and smuggler-haunted sea caves.

Its not just physical location, though. Its also type of story, style of events that make the character and background mesh. Philip Marlowe solving a genteel cake theft at a  an English vicarage tea party might make an amusing novelty, but it wouldn't command the reader's emotions and attention in the way his regular cases might. A Batman story where real-world physics suddenly applied to his tangled cape and physical feats would be jarring and incongruous.

Some characters are products of their environment and others have their environment tailored to suit the needs of their personality or adventures. All those tough tecs and honest cops pounding the mean streets belong to the former group. Those alien worlds ruled by merciless tyrants and the magical schools tutoring callow but talented apprentices belong to the latter. This is only natural -- backstories are, as the word implies, part of the story, the backing for the events that are going to happen and for the motivation of the characters who will interact with those events.

Mark Halegua: Since all my characters are basically new, I need to build them up story by story. As to the world of other characters, while, for example, the Spider was bases in NC, he had adventures outside ot that, as did Batman outside of Gotham. In Batman's case Gotham was a major factor in his development (the recnt character, not the Golden Age/Silver Age one). The Spider would have developed anywhere.

My characters, so far Red Badge, Santa Claus, and Kirk Kinnison are in a midwestern city (RB) and an as yet unnamed East coast city. RB was definitely shaped by his locale. Kirk has travelled the world but is currently based in NYC.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Nugget #2 -- Listening

Listen to your words aloud and let them do what you can't 
do any other way -- speed up and slow down the reader 
naturally. Soft consonants flow and speed up your words. 
Hard ones stop and slow down your words.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jeremy Hicks: Cycling the Ages But Not Grinding it Out

Jeremy Hicks must be hiding a secret because he's always smiling like the cat that ate the proverbial canary. I mean, seriously, I've never seen the man ever frown. It just kind of makes a fellow nervous, you know...

But beneath that crazy smile is a writer whose work is pure and simple beauty (and also a field archeologist -- eat your heart out, Indiana Jones!). Right to the point would be one way of describing his work. Well, as for other ways, we'll just let him tell you himself.


Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My current project is a short horror submission for the Summer of Lovecraft anthology. This collection will feature Cthulhu Mythos-themed stories set in the 1960’s. Without giving away any spoilers, my particular tale will be a tale told about the Vietnam War but from a unique perspective.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?


In this particular story, I’ll deal with karma, people reaping what they have sewn so to speak. As with most of my work, this tale will deal with darker themes, the more twisted side of humankind. It will also hint at the ancient majesty of the universe, the collective amnesia of the human race, and the fact that we known less than we think and assume so much from so little. Misunderstandings and mishaps that result from the passionate, often misguided beliefs people hold and the actions that they will take because of those beliefs are something else I delve into in a lot of stories.

What would be your dream project?

I started out writing screenplays and actually prefer that format to novels and short stories. So, I’d like to take on my dream assignment. I’d like to do the Star Trek universe justice by reworking the new Pop Trek alternate timeline. Or even write for the next Star Trek television series. I have a storyline that would work perfectly for either format; I’m just waiting for J.J. Abrams or Paramount to call me. Call me. This story will blow your minds.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

Honestly, I’m in the process of doing that now. We’re considering an edited and expanded version of our first novel. One that might feature a new cover by the same artist working on the cover for the sequel, Sands of Sorrow.

What inspires you to write?

Less and less these days. I’ve been in a funk since finishing our second novel. I’m not one of these people who can grind it out every day. At least, I’m not there yet. If I’m not feeling it, my writing turns out to be shit. Or at least I think it is shit. And according to Brief History of Time, imaginary shit might as well be real shit in the brain of the observer. So, it all turns to shit. Am I allowed to say shit? Guess we’ll find out.
What writers have influenced your style and technique?

That’s a good question. For better or worse, H.P. Lovecraft. Great storyteller but not the best writer. Other writers of horror and the macabre have too, such as Poe, Stephen King, and the Roberts Howard & Bloch. But I feel like my actual writing may be influenced too much by nineteenth century authors such as Dickens and Ambrose Bierce. I tend to write in long but lean sentences. And I don’t much give a damn if I have to use a three or even five syllable word. I try to be precise with my word choice and use of language, even if my reader might have to learn something in the process.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

Writing and science both feature formulas and involve processes, but I don’t see writing as a science. Process and formula does not a science make, I guess you could say. Writing is an art form, one that can be structured and dissected but one that is also subjective. It cannot be quantified as it is judged largely on an emotional reaction to the content, often times without regard to the structure and form utilized by the writer.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

My first short story with Pro Se Press was released a couple of weeks ago as a part of their Digital Single Shot series. It’s called “The Savior of Istara” and ties into The Cycle of Ages Saga properties. This story tells the secret origins of Tameri, the daughter of one of the main characters introduced in our novel Finders Keepers. She’ll play a major role in the upcoming sequel, Sands of Sorrow. That novel is currently being edited by the folks over at Dark Oak Press and Media. You can find out more about our saga as well as its authors at www.cycleofagessaga.com.

Monday, March 31, 2014

PRO SE PRODUCTIONS’ LATEST TITLE TAKES READERS TO ‘THE MANY WORLDS OF ULYSSES KING’!

A leading publisher of Genre Fiction, Pro Se Productions proudly announces the debut of its latest title, one that pays homage to classic concepts of science fiction and parallel worlds with a twist that screams New Pulp!  Based on a concept created by Mark Beaulieu, THE MANY WORLDS OF ULYSSES KING takes readers beyond boundaries to worlds unimagined  - until now!

“It’s amazing,” says Editor in Chief of and Partner in Pro Se Productions Tommy Hancock, “what these writers have done with THE MANY WORLDS OF ULYSSES KING.  Although the inspiration for this anthology will definitely be apparent to science fiction fans, the assembled authors have worked their own magic.  Each writer has a distinctive style and voice and they bring their own touches to bear on King and the myriad of adventures and universes he spirals through.  The stories in this collection surpass their influences in their opening paragraphs, making Ulysses and company a crew that we can only hope will find their way into the printed word again!”

In this four story collection, Professor Ulysses King and his companions travel the foldspace between alternate realities to thwart nefarious history-twisting plots from his homeworld Olympus. With Amazonian arena-warrior Pandora, out-of-his-depth reporter Jake Gannon, marked-for-death scientist Crystal Lee, and worlds-spanning travel machine NotTA, King faces those who regard humanity as test subjects, cannon fodder, raw material, or mere entertainment. But there are dangers in foldspace of which neither King nor his enemies are yet aware - those who seek absolute control!

In the tradition of Doctor Who and Sliders, THE MANY WORLDS OF ULYSSES KING collects the talents of Mark Beaulieu, Mark Bousquet, Sean Taylor, and I.A. Watson to forge a new mythology where high adventure, high science, and high strangeness meet. Ulysses King is on his voyages - and each discovery might be his last!

Featuring an out of this world cover by Terry Pavlet, stunning interiors illustrations by Chris Kohler, and stellar cover design and print formatting by Percival Constantine, THE MANY WORLDS OF ULYSSES KING is now available at Amazon and at Pro Se’s own store at  http://tinyurl.com/qbdy97p for $12.00.  The novel will be available in a matter of days as an Ebook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

For digital review copies, interviews with the author, or other information concerning this title, please contact Pro Se’s Director of Corporate Operations, Morgan Minor, at DirectorofCorporateOperations@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #282 -- Opening Sentences

As a reader, how much do story openings mean to your enjoyment of a book? Does a bad one make you put a book down and stop reading, or are you willing to forgive a bad one and hope a book gets better later?

I always warn people when they ask me to read their book that I'm a pretentious hard-ass about it. Authors I've never read before get a sentence. That's it. Typically if the first sentence doesn't  grab me and refuse to let go, then I'm out. Writers I'm familiar with get a paragraph or a page or two. People who pay me to read (i.e., edit) get all my attention, but I don't necessarily have to enjoy it. *grins*

My buddy and fellow writer, James Tuck, put it this way: "Life's too short to read shitty books."

I happen to agree with him. If a writer can't grab my interest from the get-go, then what makes me assume he or she will be able to rectify that a few more pages into the tale?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

MASK OF BEELZEBUB, SECOND IN CADAVER ISLAND TRILOGY DEBUTS!

Pro Se Productions, a leading publisher of cutting edge Genre Fiction, announces the debut of the follow up volume to one of its most popular titles in 2013. Author Kevin Rodgers thrilled and terrified readers with his debut novel CADAVER ISLAND and now Rodgers returns with the second book in the Cadaver Island Trilogy- THE MASK OF BEELZEBUB!

“It’s quite a feat,” says Tommy Hancock, Partner in and Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions, “when a book that could be described in so many ways, could be classified as an apocalyptic thriller, a zombie book, a horror story, catches on with readers of all types. CADAVER ISLAND did just that. Kevin took all these genre tropes and ripped the skin off of them, then stitched them together into a fantastically Frankenstein like epic that fans just can’t get enough of. THE MASK OF BEELZEBUB adds a whole new level of horror to the monstrously tight and fast paced story that is this trilogy. Kevin shows his skill once again to take eccentric, over the top characters and subject them to a world of insanity, impossibility, and fear made real. Fans of CADAVER ISLAND will definitely devour THE MASK OF BEELZEBUB.”

In the year 2212, long after the world was reshaped by seismic cataclysms and polar shifts, Dr. Laurent Stine guides Angelique Bosc and Alexander Blanton into the inner sanctum of a fortress named Thames Keep, which is located on Cadaver Island. Their journey to acquire a battery pack for Angelique’s mechanical heart reaches its final seconds while they are forced to overcome menacing creatures and dangerous obstacles in the fortress’ maze-like interior. Unknown to Dr. Stine, his lover, Persephone, faces her own dilemma: she is abducted from her jail cell, which is located in the village of Kamakura, by a monstrous hellhound named Barghest. Can Dr. Stine defeat his arch-nemesis, Sir Xavier Thames, and obtain a charged battery pack before Angelique’s heart runs out of energy? Will Persephone enter the Stone Throat of the Underworld and succumb to the malevolent will of Beelzebub? New allies, such as King Reginald Bosc and a skilled warrior named Amaya, will escort Dr. Stine into the Underworld to locate Persephone and remove a cursed mask from her face before her soul is lost forever.

THE MASK OF BEELZEBUB is the second installment of a trilogy by author Kevin Rodgers, which expands a post-apocalyptic world where powerful demons, prehistoric beasts, and enormous insects thrive in fiery chasms, subterranean gardens, and giant hives. Dr. Laurent Stine and his allies will explore the depths of the Underworld to defeat the temptations of sin, overcome their inner demons, and resist the will of Corruption.

Now Available on Amazon and at Pro Se’s own store at http://tinyurl.com/n4mruc6 for $12.00, THE MASK OF BEELZEBUB features a mind blowing cover by Jeff Hayes and logo design and formatting by Percival Constantine. This second book in the Cadaver Island Trilogy will be available soon as an Ebook formatted and designed by Russ Anderson on Amazon and other outlets.

The Future is Here. And it wears THE MASK OF BEELZEBUB. From Pro Se Productions.

For digital review copies, interviews with the author, or other information concerning this title, please contact Pro Se’s Director of Corporate Operations, Morgan Minor, at DirectorofCorporateOperations@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

[Link] 6 Ways to Write Better Bad Guys

by Laura DiSilverio

Many authors are guilty of discriminating against their antagonists. Yet, they’re just as important to good stories as the protagonists are. If your antagonist is not fully realized, lacks depth or is a caricature of evil, your story will suffer.

Luckily, transforming your antagonist from a one-dimensional paper doll into a force to be reckoned with—and remembered—is completely possible if you implement a few simple but powerful methods for creating antagonists and expanding their roles. You can build a worthy adversary during the outlining process or beef one up when you revise your already completed draft. It’s never too late.

The antagonist is, quite simply, the person who acts to keep your protagonist from achieving his goals. Note the key words person and acts. I’m using person here as a catchall for a sentient being or creation of any kind that is capable of emotion and has the intellectual ability to plot against your protagonist. Thus, a personified car (as in Stephen King’s Christine) could be an effective antagonist, but an abstraction such as “society” or “Big Pharma” cannot. (More on this later.)

Read the rest: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-ways-to-write-better-bad-guys

Friday, March 28, 2014

[Link] 5 Tough Love Rules for Indie Publishing Success

by James Palmer

I’ve already been working on this for a couple of days, and I have a couple of deadlines, so without further ado here are the rules. Feel free to add to, discuss, or just plain ignore these rules as you see fit. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing or self-publishing, your mileage may vary.

The Rules

Rule #1: There Are No Rules. Except these rules:

1. Write good books
2. Make sure they are professionally edited
3. Make sure they have good covers
4. Write more books

No two writers are alike, and no two paths to success are paved with the same color bricks. Every writer who you’ve heard of went a slightly different way, but they all did the above four things.

Rule #2: Define Your Own Success

You probably won’t get rich doing this thing. But what I’ve learned is you don’t have to in order to make a nice living doing what you love. I’ve heard of authors who, while not making six figures a month like Joe Konrath, have been able to leave their crappy jobs. They’re not rolling in dough, but they’re not starving in the streets either. Author Holly Lisle confessed on a recent podcast that she is now comfortably middle class since self-publishing, something she was never able to claim as a traditionally published author. What does success mean to you? Maybe money never enters the equation. Maybe your version of success is not having to go to a job you hate for people you don’t like.

Now I don’t exactly live within my means, because if I did I’d be living under an overpass, but I think I can make it work. And if I can, so can you.

Rule #3: You Still Have to Be Lucky

But here’s the thing about luck: We make our own.

Read more: http://jamespalmerbooks.com/2014/03/02/5-tough-love-rules-for-indie-publishing-success/

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Building Fantasy Worlds in Fiction

For this week's writers roundtable, let's look at the idea of world building in fiction -- particularly in fantasy fiction this time. We'll explore world building in horror, pulp, and other genres in subsequent weeks, though, so don't worry. Your favorite genre is coming. But since world building is so important to the fantasy genre, let's start there.

How important is world building to a fantasy novel? What about fantasy short stories?

Jen Mulvihill: World building is not only important as a setting for your story but it also helps to shape and mold your character. A character becomes who and what they are by the world around them and their reactions to that world. If you put a character in an empty box that character is still going to react in someway to the empty box. Fantasy is all about world building because you are creating a place in most cases, that does not exist. You have to build the place in order to take the reader their and find out what and how the character(s) react, hence, creating a story.

Scott Sandridge: World building is very important, regardless of the genre. After all, if there's no overall world/setting for your characters to interact in, then there's not much story there because it'll all be happening in a static void.

Stephanie Osborn: Well, I'm just a tad bit out of genre here, in that I don't regularly write fantasy, but rather hard science fiction. A good bit of what has already been said is true across all genres, though. World building is important -- it is one of the things that lends reality to your story, possibly the biggest thing that lends reality to it. And it doesn't matter the story's length. But in a short story you do have to shorthand it a good bit. 

Logan Masterson: If your fantasy's set in a different world, it must be justified. The world must be an integral part of the story, or all the information it takes to set it up is really just wasted. Long or short form, the world and its features should almost be characters in their own right.

If the setting is more realistic, then it should either be set apart with telling details or interpreted with common threads. The best reason to use our own world in fantasy (call it urban if you like) is resonance.

Conversely, the best reason to build a strange new world is wonder, a sense of newness and possibility.

H. David Blalock: Good fantasy depends heavily on world building. The best architecture constructs a world of balance between opposing forces, with perhaps a referee influence in the middle to arbitrate or aggravate as the story requires. Stereotypes in fantasy literature are usually acceptable (sensitive to current real life issues) and archetypes make world-building skeletal structure more acceptable to the readers.

The traditional method in classic fantasy is the info-dump. Does that still work for modern readers or does it turn them away?

H. David Blalock: Modern readers don't seem to be as patient with the infodump as in the past. This is certainly a product of the visual media's current forays into the fantasy genre. On the other hand, much of what was previously needed to be included in an infodump is now very much more familiar due exactly to the visual media's influence.

K.S. Daniels: Infodumps suck. Period and no excuses. Sure you need to work the world building elements in early, say by the first three chapters, but make it relevant. Show it through a character interacting with this world (this also can be used to create tension!) Philip K Dick's Ubik does this perfectly.

Scott Sandridge: Infodump has always turned me away. Not even Tolkien bothered with infodump, just look at how richly detailed his world and history was when compared to how little of it is shown within the context of his stories minus the attached appendices (which was just added "fluff" for the fans).

Jen Mulvihill: I don't think readers like the info dump unless it is done in such a way that they don't feel like it's an info dump. For instance you would not start the story off info dumping the rather gradually introduce the information through clever conversation or scenes created around the character. 

Stephanie Osborn: Infodumps to me are not about world building, and to some extent are virtually impossible to eliminate in a hard SF story using extrapolations of cutting-edge theory. The majority of my readers are NOT going to be intimately familiar with M theory, and are NOT going to take the time to go look it up while still reading. I have to provide them at least an inkling of what it's about. That said, there are ways to introduce the material that somewhat disguises the infodump aspect. If the reference is a throwaway, an offhand comment, I don't even bother; the reader can pick up the necessaries in the context. Both in terms of world building and character establishment, there are certain shorthands that can be used to help establish the scene/character. There are those writers who say that some of these shorthands should never be used, but I disagree. For example, I do write dialect and accent into my characters where appropriate, though many writers consider that anathema. Why? That alone is a huge writer's shorthand to establishing the character. (E.g. you know right away that a guy with a Brooklyn accent did NOT grow up in California.) The same can be done -- within limits -- for an environment.

If you don't just info-dump, then how do you build a world for your readers?

Stephanie Osborn: The characters react to their environment, even if it is only subconsciously. These reactions are a shorthand to establishing it. Any reference to culture that creates, in the reader's mind, a similarity to an existing culture on Earth becomes a kind of shorthand to establishing the fictional culture. Look how readily Tolkien evokes Atlantis, or Norse/Viking culture, or Celtica, for example. No sooner do you as a reader draw the correlation between the Rohirrim and Viking/Norse culture, than you realize the Rohirrim will not be fighters to trifle with. Likewise in my Displaced Detective Series (okay -- shameless plug), if one of the characters refers to another as a "bloke," you know right away that said character is from a country with strong ties to Great Britain, even if not directly FROM the UK. If he says, "Good day to you," instead of "G'day," you've just eliminated Australia; et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseam. Now, that might seem like character building rather than world building, but it depends on the circumstances, because if this character is typical of his environment/culture, then you've just said a slew of things about that environment/culture. It all kind of blends into the whole.

H. David Blalock: Barring an infodump, usually allowing the main character to build his/her own backstory over the course of the first couple of chapters gives the reader enough information to become involved. Then, as needed, further information can be inserted as the character discovers it themselves.

Scott Sandridge: You build it one scene at a time, through dialogue, character interaction, (brief) descriptions of scenery, etc.

Jen Mulvihill: Slowly introduce your information, that way the reader feels like they have discovered something. Example: in The Lost Daughter of Easa, you don't find out all the information at one time about the Spider Witch but rather, learn a little bit about her throughout the book until near the end you finally get her full history and understand why she is doing what she is doing.

What are the pitfalls to avoid for beginning writers when laying out their new worlds for today's readers?

Scott Sandridge: Don't write a big 10-page long history lesson at the start of the story before you get to the actual start of the actual story.

Jen Mulvihill: Write what you know, read a lot, and finish the book. So many people tell me they are writing a novel but some have either never put pen to paper or they have been writing it for centuries. If you are going to do it, then do it, don't talk about it forever because that does not get the book written. Finish the book then ask now what? Don't put the carriage before the horse.

H. David Blalock: Problems to avoid for newer writers: unpronounceable names, unbelievable character interactions, lack of continuity in backstory versus plot... pretty much anything any writer of any genre might want to avoid.