Sunday, September 4, 2011


I have been working on my fantasy novel for over two years now and I have been stuck for the last year, at least. I didn’t know what the issue was; why I couldn’t seem to get anything worthwhile on paper. I got plenty of garbage on paper, but nothing worth keeping. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out. So I was cruising around Facebook the other day and I came across this great blog on mapping. No, not story mapping – world mapping (fantasy world mapping). There was my “AHA!” moment. I couldn’t write anymore because my main character had left her home and was beginning her quest – and I had NO IDEA where she was going!

Sure, I had a mental map in my head, a general idea of where things were; but a general idea just wasn’t going to cut it now that I had to write descriptions for her journey. I needed to know what direction she was traveling, what was in her path, what wasn’t in her path and where she was going to end up. Not only did I need to know where, I needed to know who – who she was going to meet up with along the way. Was she going through towns? What kinds of people live there? What about forests? What kind of animals lived in the forest? What kind of flora and fauna would she encounter and was any of it dangerous – and did I NEED any of it to be dangerous (just another monkey wrench for her to deal with). Was she going to travel on roads or a path or make her own path to her destination? I knew I wanted her to travel by carriage at the beginning and then switch to horseback, but what kind of terrain? There was so much more than I had planned out in my head!

Once I realized I needed a map, my next step was to figure out how to make one. Did I want to draw one? Not really, I’m artistically challenged when it comes to drawing (especially anything to scale). How about an online mapping generator? My biggest problem with that is that I had trouble finding a free one. I’m sure there are some free online map generators somewhere in cyberspace, but now that I knew what the problem was with my writing, I was in a hurry to get started on my map so I could free up my mind to write my story again. I did some cursory searching but quickly realized I was going to have to at least start on paper and hope for the best. I did find some great websites with some really good information on building a fantasy world and writing fantasy, so I’m sharing them here:

storm the castle website

SFWA website

Magical World Builder Website

Where the Map Ends Website

There is so much more that goes into writing a fantasy novel than just a great story and interesting characters. There is the physical world to build, including the terrain, the cities, the oceans, rivers, streams, etc. There is also the population, the main character, who she interacts with, what kinds of people live in which kinds of places; there are also animals – both mythical and otherwise. There is history to write (for our own knowledge of back-story) and also cultures to develop, caste systems to plan, rules of magic to determine, physical rules of the world – it makes my head spin to think of the details that need to go into just planning my novel! Here I thought I had this great story and all I had to do was sit down and write it! Now that my eyes are opened, I know I have a lot of planning to do.

Have you found there is more to writing fantasy than meets the eye?

Saturday, August 27, 2011


A friend of mine pointed out something very interesting to me today. She said I have spent the last two years talking about writing, dreaming about writing, wishing for time to write…but I really haven’t been writing. Writers write, right? By that definition, I can’t really proclaim myself a writer. Well, maybe I can, since I have been writing for other people through my social media job and ghostwriting. I’ve written a few articles as well, but I haven’t worked on my own fiction. My YA fantasy, Dragon’s Jewel, has been sitting untouched for months. Jewel is not very happy with me about that and has taken to invading my dreams and demanding I complete her story (a petulant princess in my dreams, just what I need).

So the question is: why don’t I work on my own stories? Is it lack of time? Lack of concentration? Lack of motivation? Fear of actual success? Laziness? Fear of failure? The list of possible reasons could go on and on. The end result is it doesn’t really matter WHY I’m not writing – what matters is that I start to write right now. I don’t think there has ever been a writer in history that was published but never actually finished a story. The only sure way to fail is to never try. The manuscript in my head will never make it into the slush pile, let alone out of the slush pile if I don’t actually physically write it. I have to sit my butt in my chair (or on my couch) and tap the story out into my computer. It’s the only way. OK, there are other ways, such as voice recognition software where I can dictate the story and it does the typing, but you all know what I mean. The story has to come out of my head and onto my computer; then it has to come out of my computer and onto paper and into the mailbox in order to reach the intended publisher who will hopefully recognize it as brilliant and offer a publishing contract (a girl can dream, right?).

The key here is motivation; I need to write, I want to write – but how do I motivate myself to actually sit down and dedicate my already spread too thin time to writing? I could schedule time with myself, but then I feel guilty not spending that time with my kids or with my friends who I already see too little of (yes, I know I shouldn’t end a sentence like this, but seriously – who cares other than grammar divas?) Between my kids, work, classes and trying to actually have a social life, my time is spread very thin. I would love to make my writing a priority in my life, but is now the right time to do that? My kids are still young and need (and deserve) a lot of my attention; I’m trying to find more work in order to make ends meet more comfortably (to meet at all, actually) and I’m taking classes toward an add-on certification for my teaching license. I’m trying to start up a side-business on top of all of that and also make some time to go out and enjoy myself on the weekends my kids are with their father. Besides, if I sit at home all the time and don’t get out and experience life, what will I have to write about when I actually DO sit down to write?

I can hear my writing guru friends now: prioritize; write when the kids are asleep; make a schedule and stick to it; keep an appointment with yourself; and so on and so on. I’ve actually given that exact same advice to other writers on Twitter, lol. It’s all well and good to spout advice, but when it comes to taking it – does anyone ever really take their own advice? Do doctors really eat an apple a day? If they do, do they have to keep away from themselves? Do dentists really brush three times a day and floss regularly? Do the diet gurus NEVER eat a Twinkie? OK, maybe the last one is true (Twinkies – have you READ the ingredients? ICK!) Clearly dishing out advice is much easier than actually taking it.

The hard fact is – if I don’t write, I have no chance of being published. Somewhere, somehow I have to eke out some time to write. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it has to be done. The funny thing here is I make it sound like a chore, but it’s the furthest thing from that! I LOVE to write; I love the feeling of my fingers flying across the keyboard as the ideas come flowing out at breakneck speed. I love watching my characters come to life as I dictate their actions and their motivations. I love to watch the words scrawl across the screen as I type them. There are times my fingers move faster than I realize my brain is moving and words appear on the screen that I didn’t even realize I thought. There are times my characters come on so strong that even I don’t know what they are going to do next, but they lead me where they want me to go. The passion to write is there, so I guess I have no choice but to sit my ass in my chair and let the jumble of ideas unfold and form into a story I can be proud of.

Passion is the key here, I think. If there is something I am passionate about, is it fair to myself to push it aside for everything else I feel I have to do? Is it fair to stuff my stories down until I feel I have time to let them out? How much will I miss out on if I do that? How many great stories might I never write because I felt I had to do something else instead of write? Am I being true to myself if I push aside my passion and my dreams and concentrate on my responsibilities only? What about my responsibility to myself? What about my responsibility to my kids? What kind of role model am I when I tell them they can do anything and they should follow their dreams no matter what and then I don’t follow mine? Do I want to look back in thirty years and wish I had followed my own advice and just plopped my ass in a chair for an hour to write? Will it really damage my kids to watch TV for an hour while mommy gets something down on paper? The answers to these and other questions will be answered on the next episode of… (just kidding, it brought to mind the ending of the old TV show SOAP). Can there be a balance between what I NEED to do for my family and what I NEED to do for me?

I think I know the answers here, do you?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Leaning Against the Doorjamb - Characters and Body Language

“Characterization is an accident that flows out of action and dialogue.” - Jack Woodford

I saw this quote today and it got me thinking. When I write, I try to have a good idea of who my character is, what she wants and what will get in her way; but the way she speaks, her patterns of behavior and her body language are just as important. I hadn’t really thought about that. It’s what makes a two-dimensional character jump off the page and into our heads as a real entity.

Let’s suppose my character is a servant in a fantasy world; is it believable for her grammar and her speech to be impeccable? No, not really. It’s possible, but not really realistic (yes, I know it’s a fantasy world, but there has to be some realism!). What if she was a princess? Would she be dropping the endings of her words? Most likely – no. The style of speech is just as important as the word choice. Speaking in a more formal manner would be appropriate for a princess, but not really for a servant – the level of education and exposure is different. In order for the dialogue to be believable, the pattern of speech has to be true to who the character is inherently.

This rings true for patterns of behavior as well. Deviations from the character’s expected actions show growth, that’s true; but if the character’s actions aren’t somewhat predictable at the beginning, how will the reader be able to identify her growth? If she is afraid of dragons and always runs and hides when one flies by, then when she stands her ground, it is easier for the reader to see that she has found her spine. If she is consistently spoiled and greedy at the beginning of the story and her actions have established that, when she gives up her meal for a child who is begging in the streets, the reader is more easily able to identify her growth.

Body language is just as strong an indicator as patterns of behavior and speech when it comes to characterization. We can tell people that a character thinks something but showing the thought through action and body language is so much more powerful. If my character is feeling disgusted by someone, instead of saying “She thought he was disgusting”; I can show it through her actions and her body language: “She leaned away from him as he moved closer, the smell from his unwashed body attacking her nose.” It’s not just about the author’s insight into the characters thoughts and feelings; it’s about the character’s body language. True, it may be more concise to just tell the reader she thought he was disgusting, but it’s more visual to describe her reaction to him. It’s the old standby “show, don’t tell”. If I tell the readers she thought he was disgusting, they will know how she feels, but if I illustrate it through her actions, they will identify with it; after all, I’m sure we’ve all had to move away from someone who was “less than fresh” in our lifetimes! It’s body language that we all use and can identify with, even if we aren’t aware that we do it on occasion.

Writing is about storytelling. Stories are about the characters we create in our minds. If the characters are flat, the story falls on its face. So how do we inflate our characters into thinking, breathing, living beings? We show them thinking, living, breathing, reacting and growing.

Do you keep your characters’ patterns of behavior, speech and body language in mind when you are writing?