What Writer is Your Greatest Influence?

I have several authors whom I list as my favorites, or as my greatest influences. I believe a lot of writers probably do the same.

A writer (or artist of any discipline, really) takes a little bit from every piece of work they read or experience. And that’s really the best way to learn. We learn to tell great stories by imitating other great storytellers.

Learning by Imitation

When we’re first learning, the imitation is often just that: a thinly-disguised copy of a favorite story or an obvious mimicry of another author’s style. And that’s okay, because we’re still in the early stages of learning and developing our own style. Our influences are more apparent. Continue reading

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Blogging Topics for 2018: What Do You Want?

Well, here it is – my first blog post of 2018! Whee!

I’ve been a disciplined blogger for years – I’ve posted at least one blog post a week for several years now, missing only a few weeks here and there in all that time. However, I’ve never been a particularly organized blogger; that is, I’ve never had blog topics and outlines planned out for weeks or months in advance. I count myself productive if I have even one post written ahead of time.

And in all my new year’s resolutions and goals, becoming an organized blogger is not one of them. Sorry, but there it is. Perhaps that makes me less of a professional writer; but I have enough trouble outlining and keeping up with the books I’m writing. Continue reading

Why I’m Writing Short Stories Instead of Novels

I’ve always considered myself a novelist. I love long involved stories, the more epic the better. As a kid I loved The Chronicles of Narnia, then I read The Lord of the Rings and others (The Silmarillion, etc.) I love a thick novel with a thick plot (like The Historian), and my favorite TV show is the sprawling sci-fi epic Babylon 5.

And so, I began writing what I loved reading. In middle school I had an epic fantasy series that I wrote on for several years (I’d planned to make it a seven book series, and wrote first drafts of about two and a half books). When I first started this blog a few years ago, I was working on an epic fantasy trilogy inspired by the folktales of Finland.

While I have not given up on either fantasy series, both have been temporarily shelved and I’ve started writing short fiction. Because of my love of long epic stories, I never thought of myself as a short story writer. Continue reading

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

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

Sequels: Realism vs Entertainment

So I recently read that a sequel to Frozen is in the works. No surprise there. The movie has made gazillions of dollars, the already-famous Idina Menzel is now popular among six-year-olds, and it’s cool to like warm hugs. I don’t think a title or plot summary has been released yet, so here is my take on what Frozen 2 should be:

Frozen 2: Do You Want to go to Therapy?

High up on the North Mountain, Queen Elsa’s ice palace, now left untended, melts in the summertime sun. Avalanches and floods ensue, ruining crops and endangering Arendell. Elsa, however, is unable to stop it because she’s too busy wrestling with inner demons and the long-repressed anger at her parents for teaching her to fear and hide. Princess Anna is left in charge, but in addition to saving the kingdom and trying to help Elsa help herself, she has to deal with her husband Kristoff’s sudden depression. Sven, the oversized reindeer who acts like a dog, finally dies at the unrealistically old age of 217 in human years, sending Kristoff into despair at losing his only life-long friend. In desperation, Anna is about ready to call in the scumbags Hans and the Duke of Wesleton for help when Olaf – who has miraculously not melted yet like Elsa’s ice palace – has a daring idea.

Dun-dun-duuuuh….

Not much of a kids’ movie, if you want a (sort of) realistic plot like this. Mind you, I’m not bashing Frozen. I loved the movie and would love to see a sequel. But Disney has a so-so track record with sequels. There are the mediocre follow-ups to all of their animated classics of the 1990s. And then there are the more recent and more successful story continuations like the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

So this got me thinking – what makes a good sequel? Is it more important to focus on being “realistic” – like Elsa and Anna having nervous breakdowns due to repressed childhoods and living with dangerous super-powers? Or is it more important to focus on sheer entertainment (that is, box office numbers) by having a funny, song-filled sequel about Norwegian royalty and magical snowmen?

I’m sure Disney will go with something closer to that second option – and rightly so. Because Disney knows their audience. (And their track record with sequels has improved a bit since The Return of Jafar.) That’s actually my point for this post, and the conclusion I came to when I pondered the question of what makes a good sequel.

Know your audience. It’s the same question to consider with any movie, novel, script, or short story that you’re writing. Who are you writing it for? And why are you writing it?

I’m all for writing a sequel – or turning a story into a series – because the audience loved the original story. Or because there’s more story to tell. This is both entertaining and realistic, and I think quite appropriate.

Side note: by “realistic,” I mean realistic within the rules of the world of the story. What is “realistic” or “logical” within the world of Frozen would not be at all appropriate in a Batman story, for example.

So when I think about a “realistic” sequel to a story, what I’m looking for is “what is the next logical occurrence for this plot that fits within the established rules of this world and is expected of these particular characters, based on their beliefs and actions thus far.”

What I don’t like is a sequel that has characters who have undergone a strange personality overhaul somewhere between story 1 and story 2 (like if a different writer and director do the second movie). Contrived plot devices also bug me – like, say, a character who returns from the dead without any sort of precedent for that in the previous story.

As an example, in the X-Men comic series, one expects the character of Jean Grey to die every so often, and then return again after a while, only to later die again (hence her title of Phoenix). This element of world building was established long ago, and so a plot thread featuring the death or resurrection of Jean Grey is “realistic.” This same idea would not work in the world of Middle-Earth, for example, because in Tolkien’s world building, his dead characters usually stay dead (with a few minor exceptions). A Middle-Earth story featuring the unexplained return of (insert dead character here) just because he/she is a cool character would, in my opinion, make for an “unrealistic” sequel.

Of course this is all my personal opinion, and of course there are exceptions to every point that I just laid out. But I do believe that consistency in world building is one of the most important elements, and I feel that the details of a richly-developed fantasy world should not be sacrificed just to capitalize on popularity or make big bucks.

Tell me your opinion? What sort of sequels do you like? Are there some stories that beg to have continual sequels made, or stories that should remain solo tales? What do you think Frozen 2 should be about? Please share!