September 28, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

We're still a little over a month away from November and NaNoWriMo - or what non-NaNoers call "insanity." The basics of National Novel Writing Month aren't difficult to explain, even to the uninitiated; you commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. You may not start writing before 1:00 am November 1, though you may do outlines, character sketches, and such before hand.

50,000 words. It is, surprisingly, not as hard as it sounds, since that number comes out to about 1,667 words per day when divided by 30 days. Still, I failed my first attempt in 2008, mainly due to the fact that I rushed into the fray at the last minute because it seemed like a good idea at the time. They say you can do NaNo without a plot and without a purpose, but I fail to see the logistics of that; I'm sure it works for some, but I have to go in with a storyline to sail through the month on. I believe I ended 2008 with about 17,000 words, which is extremely pitiful when compared to that 50,000 I was striving for.

2009 was much better. I did not, as several of my friends were crazy enough to do, reach 100k in two weeks, but I did manage to finish out the month with 62,000 words of my novel The Soldier's Cross; I completed it in the following months and it is, of course, being published by the Christian publishing house Ambassador-Emerald this October. So this year I'm returning to NaNo with The White Sail's Shaking, a sea-novel set in the United States' First Barbary War. My sister, Jenny, and my sister-in-law, Deb, are both doing NaNo as well this year, so we're spending most of our spare time getting ready for November 1. For Deb that means doing an outline and ironing out plot problems; for Jenny it means putting together a list of chapters and collecting massive amounts of books; for me it's a combination of all of those and completing my work in progress, Wordcrafter. I should be finishing the last chapter of that a few days before November. No rest for the weary.

September 23, 2010

Sneak Peak and Updates

Here is the map I have drawn up (or GIMP'd up) for the front pages of my book The Soldier's Cross, to give readers a feeling of where the locations - historical and fictional - are in the novel.

In other news, the layout for the insides of both my book and Jenny's have been mostly completed and the project is moving along wonderfully. The cover design should be complete soon and there will be an option on the sidebar of Scribbles and Ink Stains to pre-order however many copies you would like, which will be shipped out upon publication of the book (late October to early- or mid-November).

September 4, 2010

Fantasy: Creating Worlds

I received a couple of questions on my last post and on my Inspiration for Wordcrafter about how to create a solid fantasy world and how to do the research for it. I was really at a loss how to respond, at first, seeing as the parallel world in Wordcrafter was one of those things that came into my head and needed little help; but as I thought about it, a few ideas occurred to me.

For starters, you have to be willing to take the time to make your world like one of those that I mentioned in my last post; because if yours isn't one that was fully formed already (most aren't), it will most likely need research and brain-storming. Just like a historical fiction, fantasies take planning. What happens when a person jumps out of a plane without a parachute? He goes splat. And what happens when a writer jumps into a story without any forethought? Chances are, the story goes splat. So you have to be dedicated enough to the story to not skimp on the hard parts.

Now on to the actual suggestions. Chances are, your fantasy realm is tied to something in our world - probably English history and culture. Only God can create ex nihilo; we build off of things we know. And for Americans, what we know is largely our own history: that is, the history of the United States and the history of our mother country, England. It's no wonder, then, that most fantasy worlds in modern novels have some basic themes in common, such as the existence of a ruling king and queen. I mentioned in my last post that Tolkien fashioned Middle-Earth largely on the old legends of Britain and the myths of the Norse, and a few writers have followed his lead (such as Christopher Paolini). Considering how fascinating English history is, it's not a bad or strange thing that writers utilize it in crafting their own worlds; but that leads to my first thought -

Think outside the box. The realm you're making is your own and so is the story itself, so you know best what kind of a world will fit with your plot and the feel of the novel. But if you're going to have a fantasy set in a Medieval sort of world, then do your homework; read books on life in the Middle Ages, because knowing your material will give you what you need to manipulate and bend those facts to spice up your story. You might try delving into cultures more foreign to American readers, such as ancient Asian empires or the Aztecs. Don't limit yourself to the culture of the Western world just because most authors do.

Surface research. This is what I suggested to a friend of mine when she asked me about ideas for world-crafting. It's basically just skimming books on a wide range of subjects to see if anything catches your eye. Children's books are great for this, juvenile as they may seem, because they give the reader a cursory look at different cultures and don't take an age to look over; plus, they usually have pictures, which are great helps to some. So if you're seeking inspiration, you could try getting one small book on each culture that even remotely interests you - Mayans, Japanese, Chinese, Greeks, Phoenicians, etc. - and looking over them. You may either find a variety of things from each that would all work together to inspire a fantasy world, or you may find one culture specifically that interests you. And then...

Read. This is probably where most who call themselves writers lose interest, but it's imperative. If you don't read, you won't know how or what to write. Once you find a culture that catches your attention, look into it more deeply and pick out those features that you think you would like to weave into your fantasy. Read books and look up internet articles on it, and then brainstorm.

Brainstorm. Brainstorming is especially important to the writer, because here is where you make sure that those tidbits from history that you fell in love with will actually work in the story. It's no good to have fascinating points that don't work or that stand out garishly from the context. Brainstorming is one of the parts of writing that polishes ideas, as well as creating them, so don't leave it out of the process.

September 1, 2010

Why Write Fantasy?

Fantasy is very popular in the writing world right now, and has been since Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was published - and especially since it was made into a movie by Peter Jackson. There is a whole slue of fantasy trilogies, sequences, cycles, and sagas out there now, from Paolini's Eragon to Rowling's Harry Potter, crowding the shelves of Barnes & Noble. There are few people who don't love the epic qualities of Frodo Baggins' journey to Mount Doom and the fight to save Middle Earth from the evil of Sauron, and if you're a writer of fantasy, chances are you've been inspired by Tolkien's books in one way or another. But what is the attraction of fantasy? Why write it?

Well, one big reason is that the concept of "another world" holds a great deal of charm to writers and readers alike. We like the feeling of power we get when we create this other world and populate it with fantastical creatures and evil overlords, and many readers like the newness of a Middle-Earth or a Narnia. Sure, Earth is all well and good, but it gets kinda boring after awhile, you know?

That's great, but writers can go overboard. Easily. That feeling of power and freedom that you get in the creation of a new world can lead to mindsets that damage the story in the end, such as the assumption that, because your novel is of the fantasy genre, readers will suspend their disbelief more readily - because it's your world and you can do what you want in it. This is true, but only to a degree. You obviously have to be more careful writing an historical fiction to get all the facts and figures correct than you do with a fantasy; but all the same, readers aren't necessarily going to accept with awe a character's special powers just because it's fantasy. Your writing has to be believable, no matter what genre it's in.

So how come Tolkien got away with it? He had balrogs and orcs and little round people who live in holes, not to mention a Lidless Eye and immortal Elves, but readers willingly accept all his impossible creations. So why not ours? The problem with that question is that we should never take it upon ourselves to say that if a great and famous author could get away with it, so can we. That's the height of arrogance. But the actual answer to the question comes in a look at how Tolkien crafted the world of Middle-Earth. Most people are aware of the amount of research and behind-the-scenes construction Tolkien went through in The Lord of the Rings, and our initial response is to exclaim, "Good heavens, was he MAD?" But all that crazy work was what made his world believable. He drew from the myths of the Norse and the history of Britain and used those as foundations for the world, the peoples, the backstory, and the legends of Middle-Earth, so in the end, he wasn't dumping readers onto something ungrounded and strange. Middle-Earth makes sense, because it has all the facets of the world we live in.

Most writers nowadays aren't going to go into the depth that Tolkien did, but some amount of research and incorporation of ancient (and, if possible, nearly forgotten) history will add to the depth of any fantasy. Sure, there are readers who will obligingly go along with wild tales and impossibilities, but intricate worlds will pack much more of a punch.
meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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