Five Questions to Help You Create a Fictional Culture

If you’re a fantasy or sci-fi writer, then you’ve probably tried your hand at creating fantastic creatures and aliens of all sorts. But inventing convincing aliens or fairy-tale creatures involves more than just coming up with cool looks or inhuman superpowers. If all you need for your story is just a scary monster or creepy creature, that’s fine – but if you want an actual alien race or people-group for a fantasy world, then you need more than just the basics of creature traits.

Here are five questions that you can ask yourself as you’re inventing people, cultures, races, and creatures for your fantasy/sci-fi stories. Continue reading

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Historical Fiction versus Fantasy – Which is Harder to Write?

Me trying to write fantasy. Or historical fiction. Or a blog post.

Me trying to write fantasy. Or historical fiction. Or a blog post.

 

I’m primarily a fantasy writer, but last year I started a project of historical fiction. At first I thought it would be a breeze, because all I had to do was a little bit of research, and presto! all my story elements are there. No complex world-building and inventing alien alphabets or rules for magic. As it turns out, historical fiction isn’t quite the effortless cake walk I thought it might be.

So now that I have a little experience with two vastly different genres, I thought I’d do a comparison. Continue reading

My Name in Books

I wrote a post a while back using my name as an acrostic for some of my favorite bands. As much as I love music, I’m actually a writer, so here is my name with each letter representing one of my favorite books.

 

G – Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak by Lela Rogers. An amazingly cheesy WWII detective adventure. Fun read, though!

R – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. One of my favorite books, and a great study for writers wanting to experiment with the nuances of foreshadowing, point of view, and other storytelling twists. Continue reading

5 Types of Books to Make You a Better Writer

Some time ago I wrote a guest post about five books that have helped me as a writer. In this post, I want to discuss five types of books (as opposed to specific titles) that I believe can help you become a better writer.

A craft of writing book

This is one category that I need to work on more. I’ve read a few books on the craft of writing, but it’s something that even the best authors can always get better at. If you want to get better at writing, then constantly writing is important – but a how-to writing book can help you strengthen your writing strengths, adjust your weaknesses, and point out mistakes you didn’t even realize you were making.

A people skills book

You know those self-help books about different personality types or how to get along with other people? Those are actually really useful. Even though most of us writers are introverts who would rather just not deal with people at all thank you very much, the truth is that we do have to deal with people. Family, co-workers, and your readers – all are made up of people. Learning how not to alienate your fans or get stressed during a conversation can really make for a nice life.

And secondly, if you write any type of fiction, then – you guessed it – you’re writing about people. Even in more plot-driven genre fiction like sci-fi or epic fantasy, there are characters. Understanding how people work – especially those people who are not like you – can really help you add depth and realism to your characters.

A follow-your-dreams book

Go back to the self-help or inspirational section of the book store and get one of those upbeat books about never giving up on your dreams. Having the determination and the know-how to press through the doubts and rejections and keep going is ultimately more valuable than knowing how to properly punctuate. Writing can be a lonely and difficult thing. Hopefully you have a support network of other writers (whether a local writer’s group or an online forum), but you need to be able to encourage yourself, too.

A well-written book in your favorite genre

If you want to write good science fiction, then you should be reading good science fiction. If you want to write a cozy mystery, then read some good cozy mysteries so you know how to structure the story. This is probably not a difficult task for most writers, because you’re already reading books in your favorite genre, because it’s your favorite.

An important key here is the “well written” part. Don’t just grab the latest free ebook by a first-time author. This doesn’t mean that the book is bad or poorly written, but if your goal is to craft a well-written book, then you need a good example of one. You don’t necessarily have to go for a New York Times bestseller, but take the time to check the reviews, view a sample page, and maybe check the author’s track record or publishing history.

A well-written book in a genre you don’t usually read or write

Even if you’re a fantasy writer, and all you ever intend to write is high fantasy, you should still read the occasional mystery or sci-fi book or contemporary literature. Why? Because you can learn from everything. Character development, foreshadowing, proper sentence structure, proper dialogue tags, pacing – all of these elements that go into making a good story are important no matter the genre. Reading outside of your favorite genre can make you notice elements of storytelling or writing style that you might not have otherwise picked up on because your mind is stretching in a different way. There are excellent writers in every genre, and you might be missing out on some valuable writing tips (or even missing out on discovering your new favorite author) if you never branch out.

And see the previous point about the importance of using a well-written book, not just any old freebie or your teen cousin’s fan fiction. If your goal is to learn, then check your sources.

Do you have any favorite books that fall into one of these categories? Do you have another type of book that has helped you to grow as a writer?

What Scares Me About Writing

Even though I love to write, there are some things I dread doing as a writer. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with blog posts. Writing stuff for my job isn’t always the same thrill-a-minute adventure as writing my own stories. But sometimes, I even dread writing my stories.

The biggest thing I dread writing are battle scenes. For some reason, I find it equally hard to write a big epic battle with armies as I do to write a sword fight or sparring match between two people. My stories are never bloodbaths or fight-fests, but since I write mostly high fantasy, there’s got to be at least a good battle scene or two.

In the fantasy trilogy that I’ve been working on for some time now, I’m currently almost finished with a major rewrite of book one. I’m almost done with the book (yay!) but that means that I’ve come to the point of the big climactic battle (sigh). Revising the battle scenes isn’t much easier than it was writing them the first time.

Epic fantasy battle look great on a screen, and they look pretty good in my head; but getting that into words on the page? That scares me. I write the scenes with much grumbling and trepidation, asking myself why I do this to myself. Because I love high fantasy, that’s why, and I always wind up telling stories that need a big battle.

So, enter a new genre. While I’m slogging through this fantasy rewrite (and fussing over the stalled book two, which I’ve paused because I’m at the battle scenes in that book, too), I decided to start another project. Because I’m a glutton for punishment I thought it would be fun. This project is something totally new for me – historical fiction.

This new story is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, so I was delighted as I was doing my outline and realized that I have no battle scenes to write. What a freeing feeling! I thought I’d have no challenges with this story because the climax does not involve sword fights or goblin armies hurling magic spells. But there is something about this story that does intimidate me – I’m writing about something real.

Fantasy, for me, is easy (except for the battles). I can basically do whatever I want, and I’m the expert because I made it up. But historical fiction? Now I’m writing about something that other people know way more about than I do. And there are some people still alive today who lived through this time period. I’m writing about a real place, real events, and one of my point of view characters was a real person. I’d (almost) rather write a sword fight.

So why do I keep on writing all this stuff that I dread to write? Because I’m a storyteller. Maybe this is part of the “work” part of writing, the part that makes it not fun. But I know that if I push through my fear of writing a battle scene or my fear of portraying a real person in a work of fiction, I’ll come out a stronger writer for it.

Please share with me – is there any part of writing or storytelling that scares you?

My Top 10 Favorite Authors

I realized that since this is supposed to be a writing blog, I ought to make mention of other authors occasionally besides myself. In the various “top favorite” posts of this and that, I have never covered my favorite writers. So, I am now remedying that. Here they are, in a sort-of one to ten listing:

C.S. Lewis – Once I graduated from Little Golden Book versions of fairy tales, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is what I cut my fantasy teeth on. I’ve reread those books probably more than any other book or series ever.

J.R.R. Tolkien – Middle-Earth was the next logical step after I mastered the Narnia stories. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not easy reads, but I loved the stories and Tolkien’s words enough to read the books several times.

Beatrix Potter – My mom read me stories about Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten along with those Little Golden Books, but I never actually outgrew Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is one of my writing heroes in general, and not just because she wrote about bunnies.

L. Frank Baum – He is a recent addition to my favorite author list, because I only recently started reading his Oz books. Baum’s vivid imagination and love of the fairy tale style is evident in The Wizard of Oz and all the subsequent books.

Chris Claremont – He wrote all of the greatest X-Men stories of the 80s and 90s, in my opinion. I’ve always loved comics, and Claremont had some of the most vivid characters and elaborate storylines during his time on the various X-Men series.

J. Michael Straczynski – JMS, as he’s often known, is primarily a writer and producer for TV (though he has written a few comics, as well). I love him best for his show Babylon 5, which featured epic sci-fi storytelling on a Tolkien-esque scale. JMS not only drafted the overall concept for the series, but he wrote the script for almost every single episode himself.

John Maxwell – Here is my token non-fiction writer for the list. John Maxwell is known as a leadership expert, and I’ve read quite a few of his books. While I don’t have a desire to be a leader in a corporate or political sense, I do want to be able to positively influence people with my writing. And as John Maxwell says, “leadership is influence.”

Jeff Smith – Another comic writer. He’s actually an artist, too, and he wrote and drew his famous Bone saga. Bone is equal parts epic fantasy and slapstick humor, and a very unique cast of characters.

Lois Gladys Leppard – She wrote the Mandie books – an inspirational children’s mystery series. Unlike most of the books on this list, the Mandie books aren’t fantasy. They’re historical fiction, set in North Carolina around the year 1900. Believe it or not, I do enjoy the occasional non-fantasy tale.

Dr. Seuss – Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? His books have that fun, timeless quality that makes them enjoyable at any age.

Who is your favorite author?