I listened to Craig English, a teacher and author at the PNWA conference about how he creates urban fantasy. He said urban fantasy is something freakish or a personal moment of otherness that happens to a character. The character might not embrace the strangeness at first, depending on their background, turmoil, and religious preference. Then up the stakes after the odd episode and see how the character deals with it. It could be a flexibility of reality. Establish the mundane world, then the fantasy, and balance the two. Decide on a theme and the rules of the weird. The character realizes the world is not quite what it seems.
I attended a writing class discussing magical symptoms in SF, fantasy, and paranormal. So here are some things to bring your writing up to par dealing with magic elements. Ask yourself, how do you plan a rational symptom? These are some guidelines:
- where does the source of the magic come from?
- if it’s from an energy source, are there constraints using more or less energy?
- how can it go wrong?
- can anyone access the energy source?
- if the person is tired or drunk, are there consequences to the magic?
- how did the person get the magic?
- who else can cast the magic?
- what are the set of rules using magic?
- how could the power get abused?
- how important is the magic to the plot?
- what are the trials & tribulation to do the magic?
- what are the physical & mental costs using magic?
- what kind of magic are you using? There are 4 different choices: arcane, divine, elemental, and demonic
Arcane is the inner ability to do spells & incantations. Divine is god-like beings. Elemental is the use of fire, earth, wind, and water. Demonic is obvious powerful being.
Capturing that vision in mind, the story unfolds from the tips of the writer’s fingers into printed word. It dances in front of the reader and dazzles him until the story ends. This thought came to mind after listening to various speakers at a writers conference.
For those of you that like to write mysteries or are thinking of writing one, you might like this information. A panel of agents and editors broached the subject, what is the difference between a mystery, thriller, and a horror novel.
Mystery has a puzzle and clues to follow. It’s usually not terrifying, has a broad crime or a murder.
A thriller or suspense: existence of hope, heightening of suspense, the unknowing, doesn’t need to be a murder to justify action, revelations through the story. specific pacing involved. Serial killers in a story are expected to be a thriller.
Horror: something awful happened, worst feeling, exploits fear, darkness within.
Thrillers are plot driven. They kick start with conflict and the stakes are raised frequently. In a horror, something about the story sticks with you.
Editor, Jenny Chen recommends mysteries should be written in third person, instead of first person, so the story doesn’t drag. It gives a window for the reader to understand the mystery.
I hope this helped some of you. Happy writing.
I attended the PNWA conference and one of the speakers was Cherry Adair. She talked about plot. For a good plot it must have these elements: story goal, scene goal, and black moment. A story also needs these 7 things:
- a succession of significant events with consequences
- things characters do, feel, think, and say
- a way of looking and doing things
- deciding what’s important and showing it to be important
- showing what matters to your main character
- one or more characters have something vital at stake
- something happens
Cherry also suggested not to bog down the opening with details and descriptions, but open with a bang. In other words, start novel with first crisis. There must be some kind of struggle for your main character for the reader to care. The first quarter of the book is the buildup. The middle is the emotional journey and always in trouble. The last act ties up everything. Give characters choices. The main character must grow in some way by the end of the novel. Each scene must have a motivation, goal, and conflict. The higher the stakes the longer the scene.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the point of the scene?
- What does the reader need to know?
- What does your main character have to find out?
- What backstory do you want inserted?
- What is the time and place?
Emotion, thought, decision, action moves the plot. Define the character’s needs and create obstacles.
Their heads bobbing up and down,
Doves peck the ground,
Resembling sewing machine needles,
Eager for fallen seeds.
Squirrels climb the pole
And hang upside down,
Stretching to reach the sunflower seeds.
Little birds flutter round,
Red-headed finches, wrens, and dark-headed chick-a-dees,
Inching their way to feed,
on the variety of seeds.
But woe to the keeper
That plucks the empty shells from the ground
of the scattered seeds.
Are you trying to make your writing stronger, but don’t know how? Here are some tips. Get rid of all those filtered words and make your character’s POV come alive for the reader. These words include:
- started to
I know I’ve used these words myself. Every writer knows the rule, don’t tell but show, but for novice writers it may be hard to figure out. Use your five senses and the reader can visualize your story. Drop all the adverbs and use stronger verbs. For example instead of Mary looked up at the stars, try The blue glow of the stars illuminated the moon. Instead of impatiently waited, try I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Get the picture?
Here is my recent poem that was published by Art Ascent Magazine. The theme was youth.
Bloom of youth had receded,
Leaving the purpose of her face.
Eyes once spontaneous, observing at random,
Now narrowed and lined.
Lips once plump, sensuous, and inviting,
Are now firm and pinched.
Cheeks once soft and full of life,
Are hollowed and sagging.
Hair once vibrant and shiny,
Now thinned and a dull gray.
If a child is the bud,
And the teen a blossomed flower,
What then is the senior?
A has-been, spent,
Decayed, and forgotten?
I know you are there somewhere,
Hidden in the folds of her past,
Brought out in the light,
At the simplicity of life.
Let not the senior be consumed in the fire and forgotten,
But give her treasures of wisdom and experience to the fawns,
So that they may learn from it, yet enjoy their youth while it is still here,
And not fear the coming of age.
A solid mass shoulders the world,
Broad and endearing,
A wide expanse of open arms, yet a blanket of comfort
That enfolds the toughest of mongrels under her charm.
Her children, stacked from shortest to tallest,
Pillars of glistening treasures,
Claw the sky and push away her skirts,
In their eagerness to stand on their own.
Remember your roots she pleads,
Releasing them an inch at a time,
Drawing them back for one last hug,
Before they’ve gone into the world and muddied their path.
Are you wanting to join a critique group or start one of your own? Here are some guidelines established by the PNWA. The goal of the author is to improve your story. The author must be open to change their characters, story, changing the direction of their plot, and even the emotional arc. A critique group is not a means to hear praise. Although every writer longs to be loved and appreciated for their writing, we must be open to hear how to improve and make our stories better.
Before you begin, establish the size of your critique group. Three to six is an ideal amount. It gives everyone a chance to read their piece and time for the others to critique.
Establish a time to meet. Once a week is best, but at least once a month. Also determine which day of the week and the time.
An ideal critique group is a mixture of gender and a variety of genres. Diversity is the key. You want many view points.
Bring only one copy of the scene or chapter you want to share. The author reads it out loud to the others. This stops the others from reading ahead and correcting grammar issues. You want them to pay attention to your story and give genuine criticism. Don’t defend yourself or characters. Listen to what the group has to say about improvement. You don’t have to agree, but write down their suggestions.
As the listener, you should take notes. Always start with something positive to say about the reader’s work. Otherwise, all the author will remember is negativity.
The moon shone down upon the campsite like a giant eye. A gust of wind rustled the dry, summer leaves of the maples. The fire crackled and popped. The counselor gazed at each boy’s face. His eyes gleamed in the fire light.
“Some of you heard these tales before. Please don’t spoil it for the new recruits. Tonight’s story is about the green man of the woods. It’s said that he snatched young boys that wandered off and lost their way. I was skeptical once, same as you, but as I live and breathe, this story is true.” He looked at the younger boys and rubbed his hands together.
Now Bobby looked up to his best bud. Eddie was older by a couple of years. He had long legs and fast on his feet. He climbed a rope with ease, excelled in sports, and beat most of the others in a race. Bobby was short for his age, chubby, and picked on at school. He didn’t have any brothers and was left alone more times than any ten year old. His mother worked long hours as a nurse. She felt guilty and decided Bobby needed companionship. She sent him off to Camp Crockett. At first, Bobby felt all alone, until Eddie stepped in to show him around. With Eddie as his friend and on the same team, Bobby felt proud and knew they’d win most of the games.
Some of the older boys told of a camp across the lake that had a swimming pool and a bowling alley. Eddie talked Bobby into stealing one of the rowboats. Bobby had never stolen anything and was nervous, but he’d do anything for Eddie. He scanned the area, before he shoved the boat out. Bobby ran and jumped in. Eddie waded out and climbed inside. They paddled, with all their might, to the other side of the lake. Their arms ached, by the time they reached Camp Boone. It had been further away than they had anticipated. They set the oars inside and hauled the boat to shore.
A thin girl, around twelve, with white-blond hair and dressed in a white tennis dress, emerged from the bushes. “What are you doing here?”
Eddie licked his fingers and smoothed his cowlick down. “Hi, we’re curious. Is it true your camp has a swimming pool and a bowling alley?”
“Yes, and other things. My name is Diana and you are?”
“I’m Eddie and this is Bobby.” Eddie pulled Bobby over.
“Do you want to peek inside?” she asked.
“Yes!” the boys chorused.
Diana unlocked the padlock on the gate. She pushed it open and the hinges squealed. The boys entered the campsite. As they wandered the grounds, they noticed garbage littered the area. Cabin porches looked damaged and the windows broken. The swimming pool smelled foul and green slime floated on top of the water. The boys gazed at each other. Eddie walked over to a cabin. He waved Bobby over. He lifted Bobby up to look inside. Bobby paled.
“What do you see?” Eddie asked.
“Put me down!” Bobby cried. He raced to the gate with Eddie behind him.
The gate slammed shut before them. They looked behind them and couldn’t believe it. Diana’s arms and legs changed into vines that rolled and entwined over each other in their effort to claim the boys. They scaled the gate, but Diana caught Bobby by his leg and dragged him back.
“Don’t leave me, Eddie!” Bobby yelled.
Eddie’s eyes widened as the vines slithered up the fence. His jacket sleeve snagged on a wire and he couldn’t budge. He yanked his arm free and jumped over the fence. The ground rumbled under his feet. He leapt for the boat. The vines tunneled under the rowboat and lifted Eddie and the boat as one. Eddie grabbed an oar and smacked it across the vines. A shrill rent the air. Eddie covered his ears. The vine shrunk back. Eddie took the opportunity rowed to the middle of the lake.
Eddie drifted on the water for hours. He started to row back to their camp when Bobby called his name. Eddie rowed back to Camp Boone and saw Bobby standing by the gate.
“Diana’s sleeping. Please take me back with you,” Bobby said. “Can you carry me? My legs hurt.”
Eddie climbed out of the boat and strode over to Bobby. He carried his friend to the rowboat and sat him down on the seat. Eddie pushed the boat out and jumped inside. “You look a little green. Did Diana poison you?”
Bobby’s arms and legs turned into vines. Eddie screamed and the vines entered his mouth. Only hollows were left of Eddie’s eyes and slime covered his skin. The camp leaders found the rowboat circling the lake. Bobby wasn’t anywhere in sight. And so the tale of the watcher in the woods continues to this day.
“What a bunch of hogwash!” one of the new boys exclaimed.
“My name is Bobby. Now do you believe?” The counselor changed into an alien of mossy vines and snatched the boy’s tongue.