Fairy Gardens

Recently I discovered that one of my neighbors has been bringing his passion for art, magic, and eclectic fun to his yard. Every day when I go on a walk, his yard is a little bit different: a new fairy statue, a new little toy hidden in the crook of a tree branch, a toy castle or a yellow brick that finds a new spot in the yard each day.

My friend and fellow writer Bonnie Watson was visiting the other day, and I wanted to show her my neighbor’s yard. She blogged about it, and included far more lovely photos than I’ve managed to put in my post. It’s interesting to note that up until this point, I had never met my neighbor. I knew that he (or she) had to be a kindred spirit. Well, the owner happened to arrive home just as Bonnie and I were taking photos of his yard, so he came out to greet us.

This sign is a recent addition, and lets you know to expect the unexpected if you follow the path into the woods

This sign is a recent addition, and lets you know to expect the unexpected if you follow the path into the woods

He took us through his entire yard, showing us all the treasures that he’s collected over the years of life, and other items that he’s dug up in his own yard. Apparently his property was used as a trash dump before the house was built, and so for an amateur treasure-hunter like he is, it’s a gold mine.

So many beautiful rocks – all dug up from his yard – arranged to transport you to a time of prehistoric magic and mystery

So many beautiful rocks – all dug up from his yard – arranged to transport you to a time of prehistoric magic and mystery

His entire lot is heavily wooded and left semi-wild, with treasures both natural and man-made scattered about. One day I want to have a yard like this – a life-sized fairy garden with new surprises to discover every day.

the path at the edge of the yard, with a thoughtful little bridge to span the ditch at the edge of the road

The path at the edge of the yard, with a thoughtful little bridge to span the ditch at the edge of the road

I’m working on the beginnings of such in my own yard. I’ve cleared a little spot at the edge of the woods, and I’ve got the beginnings of a fairy garden going (it’s fairy-sized, but I do have a human-sized bench in the clearing). It’s not much, but it’s my own little spot of magic.

Fairies like pine trees and moss

Fairies like pine trees and moss

 

Questions for Readers

This post is a poll of sorts, and I really would love your feedback! (It’s only three questions, and you don’t have to answer them all, so don’t panic). These are few things that I’ve been mulling over lately as I’ve been working on my fantasy stories, and I’d really like to know what other people think about these things. My questions are directed mainly at readers of fantasy and related genres. I welcome feedback from readers (and writers!) of any genre, but fans of fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal would probably understand these questions best.

So, here we go:

Do you prefer one-shots, duology/trilogy, or series?

I’m not trying to find the “best” or even the most currently “marketable” length – I’m just genuinely curious what other people are reading. And I’m honestly not sure which one is my favorite. So what’s your preference?

Do you like to have foreign languages translated in the text, or just have it left up to the reader to figure out words from the context?

This isn’t really about conlangs (constructed languages, like Elvish or Klingon), although that could be a subject for a blog post all on its own. When a character is speaking in another language (one different from the point of view character’s primary language) I’ve seen several different methods used:

The writer puts the character’s dialogue in brackets instead of quotes – [I bring you my sword], said Vlen – to indicate the language change. Or—

The writer simply states the language switch: “I bring you my sword,” said Vlen in Elvish. Or—

The writer has constructed at least the basics of the language, and uses it, with or without a translation as part of the narrative: “Mdash nii hwena,” said Vlen. I bring you my sword.

Have you read books – or written books – using one of these methods? Or a different method? Do you have a favorite? What method of inserting other languages seems the most awkward or interrupts the flow of the story?

Do you love or hate a book with a glossary or appendix?

Many fantasy books have landscape maps or genealogical maps, often at the beginning of a book. But what about other stuff that might come at the end of a book, like a glossary of conlang terms, a pronunciation guide, or an appendix explaining a cultural history or technological specs? Do glossaries and appendices get you excited about learning “behind the scenes” stuff about the world of the book, or do you get bogged down because it feels like a textbook?

 

Thanks! I truly want to know what others think about these storytelling elements. I look forward to reading everyone’s answers!

Naming Your Characters

I’ve read a lot of blog posts about how to name your characters. I even wrote a post about it a while back, which you can read here on the Mythic Scribes website. I don’t know that there’s one right or wrong way to come up with names for characters, and there are different tips and tricks that vary depending on genre. (My post on Mythic Scribes is about inventing names for fantasy. That article probably won’t help you much if you’re writing contemporary women’s lit.)

So how do you come up with good character names? Well, here are a few suggestions that are not so much tips and tricks, but are ideas to consider when you sit down to populate your story with characters.

Consider your genre. If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, then you might be able to get some ideas from that post I wrote for Mythic Scribes. (If you do read that post, then scroll down and read the comments – lots of good ideas there.) If you’re writing historical fiction, then do your research and choose names that fit with the time period and location. It wouldn’t do to have a character named Jessica in a story set in ancient Rome (unless, of course, you’re doing a sci-fi time-travel story).

Consider symbolism or meaning of names. This is a common thought process behind the naming of characters – at least from what I’ve read on blogs and heard from other authors. Depending on your genre and the story itself, you can go heavy-handed with the symbolism and meaning – for example, like J.K. Rowling and her name for Remus Lupin. If you know anything about mythology and/or the Latin and Greek roots of words, his name is a dead giveaway that he’s somehow related to dogs or werewolves. Symbolism in names can also be more subtle, such as naming a strong male character after your beloved grandfather, even if the character is not based on him. Some authors want a name that has a particular meaning, which may or may not figure directly in the story. Baby name books are a great resource if you’re looking for meaning or symbolism in your names.

Use humor or in-jokes with your names, if appropriate. This one really depends on the genre and the type of story you’re trying to tell. A comedy might benefit from pun-like names or names with a certain humorous meaning behind them. This may not be the best example, but in the fantasy series I’m writing, I have a character whose last name is Abernathy. This in itself is not funny (nor are the stories supposed to be funny), but I use his last name for (very occasional) humor within the tale. The books are set in Finland, and all of the main characters (with the exception of Mr. Abernathy) are Finnish. I deliberately picked a name that would be challenging for native Finnish speakers to pronounce. This is an incredibly minor point in the books, but I thought it would be fun to toss in elements of other characters occasionally mangling his name.

Scroll through the phone book or pick a Scrabble tile from the box. Did I just say phone book? I feel old now. Well, hopefully you get the idea. This is the “random selection” idea of generating names, and could work if you are totally stuck for ideas, or if you just need a quick name for a minor character and don’t need to put a lot of thought into it.

Now over to you – do you have any ideas or special techniques for naming characters in your stories?

Happy Valentine’s Day from a Few Fictional Couples

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here is a brief post about romance. I’m not a reader or writer of the romance genre, but I like a good love story as much as the next gal. So here are four of my favorite couples from sci-fi and fantasy.

Éowyn and Faramir – Lord of the Rings

I could have picked Arwen and Aragorn from this series, but I actually like the story of Éowyn and Faramir’s relationship better. There’s less romance, since they don’t actually get together till the very end, but I like how these two tragic characters who have faced death and lost loved ones find healing and joy with one another. And their union helps to re-forge the ties between the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor, so that’s always a plus, too.

Helen Rossi and Paul – The Historian

This couple is from a book that I recently read called The Historian. (I discussed this book briefly in another post here). These two people wind up together on an unexpected quest to find a common loved one who’s gone missing (Paul’s professor, who is also Helen’s father). Since the story is told in the first person by Paul, we get only his feelings for Helen, but the author did a beautiful job of showing Helen’s growing affection for Paul even without getting the reader into her head. Although the actual “love scenes” in this book are minimal, the characters’ passion for each other is evident on every page.

Gomez and Morticia Addams – The Addams Family

I mentioned the Addams family and love in another recent post. Gomez and Morticia are well known for their propensity to drop whatever they’re doing at any random moment and engage in a passionate encounter. But in addition to their chemistry and sweet murmurings in French, they have a solid, deep love that is never shaken by external or internal conflicts. They are a together-together couple who raises their family with strong (albeit bizarre) values, and they show unconditional love to everyone in their family.

John Sheridan and Delenn – Babylon 5

This pair is probably my favorite fictional couple ever. There’s a lot to say about these characters and the way that their relationship is written into the story. Their romance grows slowly and naturally – it takes a year and a half before they begin to realize their feelings for each other. They’re from different races (which used to be at war) and so the cultural tensions are always subtly present, even after they’ve been married for years. I also like how these two stay happily married, even through the rough spots, and they always make decisions together as a couple. (Short-term romances seem to be very popular in TV shows, and almost expected in sci-fi TV shows, after the precedent set by Captain Kirk in classic Star Trek.) Also, all of the other characters (well, most of them) love Sheridan and Delenn as a couple, and are constantly supportive of their relationship. Their goodbye to one another at the end of the series is one of the most poignant partings ever (can anyone watch the finale “Sleeping in Light” without crying?)

Delenn and Sheridan, from "Babylon 5"

Delenn and Sheridan, from “Babylon 5”

So who’s your favorite fictional couple? Please share!

10 Wonderful Quotes from Oz

If you know me, then you know that I’ve always been a big fan of the Oz stories. I’ve seen the 1939 movie more times than I’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy (if such a thing is possible). I love the two (different but equally awesome) prequel stories Oz the Great and Powerful and Wicked (the musical. I haven’t read the book yet. Yes, I know they’re rather different).

I’ve also been working my way through L. Frank Baum’s original books. You can see a recent post I wrote about that here. As I’ve been exploring the Land of Oz, I’ve started collecting some great quotes. So here are ten of my favorite quotes (so far, since I’m only on book 6 of Baum’s original 14) from books, movies, and shows.

 

“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?” The Scarecrow, from The Wizard of Oz

This is one of the most famous quotes of the Scarecrow, and possibly one of the most well-known quotes from the entire movie (with the exception of “Fly, my pretties!” and “There’s no place like home.”) Apparently the Land of Oz has its share of morons who won’t be quiet, too, just like earth.

 

Oz: “You want me to lead an army that can’t kill?”

Glinda: “If this was easy, we wouldn’t need a wizard.”

from Oz the Great and Powerful

Poor Oz. There’s really nothing he can say to this. At this point he’s really wishing his balloon had never left Kansas.

 

“When music is not very good, and is indulged in all the time, it is better that the performer should be alone.” Princess Ozma, from The Road to Oz

I love Ozma’s polite, stinging slap to obnoxious people everywhere. I need her in the car with me at traffic lights, so she can roll down the window and say this to the guy next to me who has the bass cranked so loud that it can be heard all the way to Oz.

 

Fiyero: “You think I’m really stupid, don’t you?”

Elphaba: “No, not really stupid.”

from Wicked the Musical

Elphaba, the master of the back-handed compliment. Love it.

 

Elmira Gulch: “I’m here to see Dorothy about the bite on my leg.”

Uncle Henry: “You mean she bit ya?”

Elmira Gulch: “No, her dog.”

Uncle Henry: “Oh, she bit her dog, eh?”

from The Wizard of Oz

God bless acerbic, long-suffering Uncle Henry. This is one of my favorite dialogue exchanges in the whole movie.

 

“I’ve been lost before, and always got found again.” Dorothy, from The Road to Oz

The beautiful logic of a child. Baum did a good job in his books of portraying Dorothy with the emotional maturity of an adult so she could remain clear-headed during her various adventures, while still maintaining the imagination and purity of a child.

 

“Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.” Elphaba, from Wicked the Musical

Elphaba is never afraid of trying or pushing the envelope, and we never should be, either.

 

“I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” The Scarecrow, from The Marvelous Land of Oz

More wisdom from the Scarecrow.

 

“You’re capable of more than you know.” Glinda, from Oz the Great and Powerful

Glinda’s encouragement to the Wizard is really an encouragement to all of us.

 

“In this world in which we live simplicity and kindness are the only magic wands that work wonders…” from The Emerald City of Oz

Baum may have been a writer of fairy tales, but he understood the truth.

Fantasy Characters as Role Models

Finding role models in fiction is not a new concept (or even a new idea for a blog post, probably). But I’ve been thinking and reading lately about characters, how to write them, and what they can mean to readers. So here’s a short list of some of my favorite characters from fantasy and science fiction, and what they can teach us about how to live and how to behave.

Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings Loyalty

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Hobbit sidekick. Except he’s more than just a sidekick. He’s more than a gardener, a bodyguard, or even a good friend. He’s a man so loyal to his friend and to his own word that he faces off against orcs, a giant spider, and a raging volcano just because he told Gandalf that he’d protect Frodo. His word is his bond, no matter what.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series – Courage 

Hermione can be described in many ways: smart, clever, nerdy, loyal. But really, none of these traits would enable her to accomplish half of what she does if she weren’t exceptionally courageous. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s feeling the fear and doing what you need to do anyway. From the first book on, Hermione bravely steps out to help save the day, never letting fear of Voldemort – or worse, expulsion from Hogwarts – stop her from doing what she knows is right.

John Sheridan from Babylon 5 – Justice

Captain Sheridan is the perfect leader for the Babylon 5 space station – he’s brave, smart, and a true warrior. All of this stems from his fierce sense of justice. When faced with the tough decisions of life, the ones with no clear-cut right or wrong, he uses his sense of justice and fairness to temper his decisions. He lives by the understanding that every decision – good or bad – comes with consequences. Whether others label him as a hero or a villain, he stays true to his principles of justice and personal responsibility.

Fezzik from The Princess Bride – Honesty

Fezzik the gentle giant is kind, patient, and maybe a little slow, but he’s the most honest character in the story. While he never directly rebels against Vizzini, his honesty prevents him from carrying out his malicious orders to kill Westley. He’s intensely loyal to his friend Inigo, and once he determines that Buttercup and Westley are the good guys, he never stops supporting them because he believes in rightness and honesty.

Princess Anna from Frozen – Compassion

Anna is brave, eternally optimistic, and loves her sister dearly. But really, her greatest role model-worthy trait is compassion. Her love for Elsa is more than just a sister bond. Despite her shock and confusion when Elsa reveals her powers, Anna immediately understands how Elsa must be feeling. Her ability to empathize with Elsa’s fear and loneliness is what drives her to literally freeze to death for her sister’s sake.

The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz – Wisdom

The Scarecrow is the smart one without any brains, but he’s also very wise, which is a different sort of intelligence. Wisdom such as knowing when to take charge – which he does for most of the story – and when to let someone else lead (by telling the Lion that he’s the one to lead them into the Wicked Witch’s castle, or by submitting to Glinda’s authority at the end of the movie). Wisdom tells him to trust this strange girl and her little dog. The intelligence of knowing the Pythagorean theorem is less important in life than making wise decisions.

The Addams Family – Love

From the movies to the classic TV show to the original cartoons by Charles Addams, Gomez and Morticia Addams have represented the ultimate in passion and romance. But there’s more to love than romance. Love means sticking together no matter what storm is raging, or standing up for a loved one who might be acting very unlovable. This family may have dead flowers as the centerpiece and a loose hand that runs around the house, but they have love. No outside force or inner turmoil pits Gomez and Morticia against each other, or draws their children away. Even Uncle Fester’s poor decisions can’t make the others turn their backs on him. Any family that wants to stay strong should put as much of an emphasis on love as the Addams do.

Yes, I know that this is a really short list. I could have listed several hundred characters, and made this post longer than the epic fantasy trilogy I’m working on, so I had to pare it down somehow. If you have a favorite fantasy character that has positive role model traits, feel free to share in the comments!