Researching the Daydream, by Amy Beatty

Probably one of the most frustrating thing I hear about fantasy authors is the belief that we make everything up. We come up with a world, stick people in it, add a touch of magic, and voila! Fantasy story. The end.

The truth is, we actually do a fair amount of research. Precise details can bring a sense of realism to our fantastical worlds and often we take vital cues from already existing cultures and beliefs.

Today, Amy Beatty wants to discuss just that – the importance of research in all writing, including fantasy.

Amy and I are friends and fellow authors at Immortal Works press.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Researching the Daydream

by Amy Beatty

All fiction is a shared daydream. Whether a story’s setting is modern day Chicago, Paris during the Second World War, Edo period Japan, or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the writer invites readers to enter a world that is different in some ways from their own—a mentally constructed virtual reality.

And the number one rule for the fiction writer is:

Don’t break the daydream.

Imagine signing up for a much-needed vacation to an exotic retreat, where you’re sure to meet fascinating new people and participate in thrilling adventures. You buy the ticket, board the plane, and make friends with the person in the seat next to you. With a roar of engines and a stomach-clenching lurch, the plane takes off, climbing into the sky. A flight attendant wheels her cart of goodies down the aisle in your direction. Delicious smells fill the cabin—it’s not just peanuts this time! Your mouth waters in anticipation.

Abruptly, everything erupts in a flash of static and disappears.

“Sorry,” says some broom-wielding dude in the corner. “I tripped over the cord. Also, your mother-in-law is coming over, and your kid is wearing your underwear on his head again.”

Boom. There you are, dumped straight back into your own reality without so much as a by-your-leave.

How rude!


That’s what it’s like when the author breaks the daydream for a reader.

And that’s why good research is so important for writers—the daydream is only fun when it’s convincing and immersive. Details make all the difference. But a writer can only write about what the writer knows about.

So, a mystery writer might study police procedure, a romance writer might study relationship psychology, a writer of realistic historical fiction might scour old almanacs for historic farming practices, and a fantasy writer . . .

Wait. Fantasy writers don’t have to do research, do they? They can just make everything up. It’s fantasy, after all; anything could happen.

But when something happens in a fantasy story that breaks the established rules of its fantasy reality, it jolts the reader in the same way as when a realistic story breaks the established rules of the real world.

As a result, researching for fantasy is, in some ways, actually more complicated than researching for realistic fiction.

For realistic fiction, an author only needs to do enough research to determine whether a specific technology (for example) really does (or did historically) indeed exist in the time and place in which the story is set. For fantasy, however, the writer must determine whether it’s plausible that the technology in question could exist in the time and place of the story, given the context of everything else that has already been established about the world of the story.

For example, some technologies can only be developed after the technologies used to make their component parts have been invented. Are all the necessary component technologies present in the world? Also, if a technology is being utilized in one aspect of a society, it will almost certainly show up in others. A civilization that uses steam-powered tanks to achieve world domination will be more convincing if it also employs steam powered water pumps and agricultural equipment.

One fantasy book I read used specific ethnic groups and place-names to indicate that the setting was an alternate version of early medieval Europe. Then, in the middle of the story, the characters casually sat down to a dinner that included turkey and potatoes. For me, this broke the daydream because both of these items originate in the New World, which would not yet have been discovered at the time in which the story was set.

This could have been fixed in one of two ways. First, the author could have mentioned in passing at some point before the meal that a new land had been discovered across the sea (placing it earlier in the fictional history than it occurred in real history). Alternately, and probably more appropriately for this story, the author could have simply substituted similar foods that would have been available in the time and place the author had chosen, such as goose and turnips. But as it was, the discrepancy between the established milieu and the items that didn’t fit that milieu was jarring, and it took me a while to get back into the story.

By contrast, in another book, set in an alternate version of modern-day London, a wizard and his apprentice toss a hand grenade into the basement of a suburban home in order to eliminate vampires who have taken up residence. The author’s careful description of the label on the grenade is a potent detail that not only raises the tension and augments the sense of immersion, but also helps convince the reader that if the author got the details right on the hand grenades, he’s probably also right about the vampires.

An author who is striving for a realistic setting for a story needs to make sure that what happens in the story conforms to the reality with which the reader is familiar.

Likewise, an author who works toward a plausible fantasy setting needs first to convey to the reader the parameters of the story’s virtual reality, and then the author is under the same obligation to make the story conform with that established reality.

In either case, a lot of research can be necessary. Because the number one rule for the fiction writer is:

Don’t break the daydream.

The Marvelous Amy Beatty

About Amy Beatty

Amy Beatty grew up in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park as part of an experiment in crossing the genes of a respected research biologist with those of a grammar aficionado. She spent her summers making forts under the sagebrush with her friends and catching garter snakes by the creek to populate elaborate sandbox villages—or holed up in her bunk bed exploring the exotic worlds hidden between the covers of books. 

She currently lives in Utah with her husband and their two delightfully unconventional children. For fun, she likes to cut big pieces of cloth into small pieces of cloth and then sew them together again. Several of her quilt projects have been exhibited in juried shows at a local art museum.

Links:

Website: www.amybeatty.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AmyBeattyAuthor
Twitter: www.twitter.com/AmyBeattyAuthor
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/amybeatty
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/13556988.Amy_Beatty

Amy’s Book, Dragon Ascending

Edrik, son of the murdered Drake regent, never gained his dragon magic and cannot shapeshift into his dragon form. Unfit to marry his love, the Princess Lissara, Edrik embarks on a dangerous mission to prove himself worthy. He seeks Lissara’s missing father, the dragon king, before an enemy usurps the throne.

Unfortunately, the search for the king brings Edrik to a dungeon located in human territory. Inside the prison, Edrik discovers the missing king, whose captors are unaware of his true identity. Edrik must rely on a grubby young dungeon keeper to help them escape without disclosing that his companion is the dragon king. But the dungeon keeper has a secret identity as well, one that will change Edrik’s destiny forever.

You can find Dragon Ascending on Amazon and all major online book retailers.

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Like Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-Fi?

Be sure to check out the Fantasy and Sci-fi Reader’s Lounge Feb 6-9th where dozens of YA authors will be sharing about their work and giving away books and prizes. Yours truly will be featured on Feb 7th from 11-12am EST (9-10am MST)

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The Courage to Write, with Elesha Teskey

Fear of the unknown haunts our steps at the start of any adventure . A skydiver’s parachute might not open. A rock climber might fall. The horse might bite and kick.

Writing is no different.

Today, Elesha Teskey is here to share her personal experience about what it means to have courage as a writer. It’s the perfect message for all of you endeavoring to start new projects here in the new year.


Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

Courage to Write

Writing is hard. If you’re a writer, you know that. It’s hard enough to come up with a story, string it together into something entertaining, then sit down and craft those ideas into something that other people will enjoy, but add the fear we all feel into the equation and it’s enough to make you quit some days.

When I first started writing, I just wrote. I knew enough about telling stories that it wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t great, but we all have to start somewhere. As I progressed on the journey, I learned more (as one hopefully does). One would think that more knowledge would lead to it being easier to craft a story. It hasn’t. I found myself worrying about everything. What if my character is too unlikable? What if there’s no market for this story? What if I put a comma in the wrong spot? What if my word count is too high or too low? Sometimes the self-doubt is paralyzing.

This issue has been on my mind a lot lately. I miss the days when I put words on the page and wrote in blissful ignorance. What I’ve learned on my journey has helped me grow, I can’t unlearn it. What I want to do this year, is use what I know and write without fear. There are certain things that are important to keep in mind, like pacing and word count, but it’s okay to let some of the other stuff fall away while I write. I was listening to the audiobook for View From The Cheap Seatsby Neil Gaiman. He mentions that he writes stories for himself, stories he wants to hear, and people happen to like them. Now, writing that way won’t lead us all to Neil Gaiman status (if only), but it will make us a lot happier.

If you have a story burning inside you, write it. Don’t hold back. Allow your imagination to go where it will. I’m not saying you’ll end up with a masterpiece, but your end product will be more authentic, which makes your story unique.

The Fabulous Elesha Teskey

About Elesha

Elesha lives her life surrounded by books. She managed to land a job as a librarian a few years ago, which allows her to discuss books all day. In the evening, she writes dark stories that often involve magic and monsters. She also helps put other people’s books into the world in her role as publicist for Pen & Kink Publishing (www.penandkinkpub.com). When not doing bookish things, she tries to find time to read Tarot cards and watch Supernatural between her parental duties.

You can find her at her blog and on Twitter

Pen & Kink Publishing (www.penandkinkpub.com) is a micro publisher run by editor-in-chief Cori Vidae. I was lucky enough to have been brought on board as publicist when Cori launched the press. I’m so lucky to get to help people launch their books. We have released some great titles over the last three years, everything from hot and steamy romance to sweet stories, from creepy to cowboys. Check out our books, I’m sure you’ll see something interesting.

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Hi, Jodi here. I’m so glad you stopped by. The message Elesha shared is so important, not only for writers, but for everyone who needs a little boost of encouragement. I’d love to hear about your projects and what helps you be brave down in the comments – I will always comment back.

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Influences of Podcasting with Daniel Swenson

Today, friend and fellow ginger Daniel Swenson comes on the blog to talk about his most influencial podcast guest in the ten years he has run the Dungeon Crawler Radio podcast. Daniel and I met through our connections in the Utah writing community and have plenty in common, including a passion for fantasy fiction, a love of meeting inspiring people, and a shared publisher, Immortal Works Press. 

Dungeon Crawler Radio Logo

My question to Daniel – Which podcast guest has influenced you the most over the years, and why? 

Daniel’s answer:

The question of who has been the most influential person in my podcasting and writing career was one that was a bit difficult for me to narrow down as I have met many amazing people over the last ten years that I have been doing my podcast Dungeon Crawler Radio. When I first started, I had these grand dreams that I would meet all the authors that I had come to love in my formative years. And amazingly enough I was able to fulfill most of those dreams. So, to narrow it down to one individual was quite a challenge, but in the end when I finally decided on who that individual was, it was quite obvious and apparent.

As I’ve said, I have met many amazing and talented people over the years and this is in no way to discount them because many of them have helped shape my life in one way or another. However, the one person who really stands out in my mind that made the most impact in my life as a person, a podcaster, an interviewer and a writer has to be author R.A. Salvatore. It was during those Awkward High School years that I discovered Bob’s first Drizzt novel, The Crystal Shard. The book was set in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting and at the time was published by TSR. The cover was fascinating, on it was a burly dwarf with a massive battleaxe, a huge human barbarian easily hefting a warhammer in both hands, and a dark elf was crouched on the ground examining a blood trail. I knew right then and there I wanted to know what happened within the pages of this book. 

I devoured every book R.A. Salvatore put out and they always found a way to effect me emotionally on some level with the events going on in my life at the time. It was amazing. Fast forward fourteen years later and I was two years into running my podcast and we’d had some success with interviewing author like Larry Corriea, Dan Wells, and Brandon Sanderson before their careers took off. It was around this time I gained the courage to email Bob and see if he would be willing to come on the show to talk about his latest book. To my amazement, he said yes and we planned when he’d come on. The show was beyond amazing, there I was talking to the author equivalent of my hero and it was like we had been friends for years, he joked with us, he spoke to us about writing, he gave us and the listeners some really great advice. He was also very interested in what we had to say regarding our insight with his novels, the characters and our questions about writing and he was very gracious and responded in kind. 

Bob continued to come back on the show year after year sometimes as much as twice a year depending on book release and each time he continued to leave great advice on writing and being a decent human being.

R.A. Salvatore

With each visit I wrote down the amazing advice given and tried to incorporate those things into my daily life, my writing for my gaming campaign and the podcast. The advice given was so impactful that I am sure it is part of the reason the podcast has been so successful and authors like R.A. Salvatore and so many others have wanted to return over and over again. But more importantly, it was the advice given about writing and the need to write that really changed my life as it had given me the foundation I needed when I began to write my first novel. All those lessons over the years had been the greatest writing class anyone could ever hope for. 

I am grateful for the friendships I have made over the years with individuals in the writing and gaming communities due to my podcast and writing. I still continue to meet amazing individuals everyday and I hope that through my podcast, my writing and when I speak at events that maybe I too can spark the joy of being creative in someone else like Bob helped ignite in me.


About Daniel Swenson

Daniel Swenson is a fantasy writer that enjoys writing about dragons, guns, swords, magic and more. Daniel’s debut novel The Shadow Above the Flames came out in 2017 and was an Amazon Best Seller. The sequel, A Dragon’s fate will be release in June of 2019. Daniel is also the creator and host of the Hugo-nominated podcast Dungeon Crawlers Radio.

Connect with Daniel:

About his book, The Shadow Above the Flames:

How do you save the world from two monstrous entities? A power-hungry corporation and a newly awakened dragon…

In a world left reeling at the loss of fossil fuels, and after giving years of service to the military, Henry Morgan just wants a normal life. But between nagging feelings from his past and a strained relationship with his brother Rick, “normality” always feels just out of reach. 

The Union Forest Corporation puts profits ahead of safety and with a dragon on the loose threatening to kill innocent people, something incredible happens… 

Henry learns that Rick is among the force of elite commandos sent by Union Forest to battle against the dragon at the drilling site, he’s forced back into the roles of soldier and protective older sibling. He’ll do anything he can to save his brother . . . including risking his own life at the hands of a ruthless corporation. Henry may be the only person who can keep the world safe from total annihilation…

If you like fast-paced thrillers, brutal dragons, witty heroes, and evil villains, then you’ll love Daniel Swenson’s first novel – The Shadow Above The Flames. It’s a high octane thrill ride! 

Buy The Shadow Above The Flames today to watch an ordinary man become a hero!

“An awesome premise combining old and new. Tons of fun.”

– Dan Wells, New York Times bestselling author of “I Am Not A Serial Killer”

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A huge thanks to Daniel for joining us today! Be sure to check out both his podcast and his book, they are awesome.

Speaking of podcasts, did you know that Dan and I did an interview a few weeks ago? Come check it out.

Why I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year

NaNo-2017-Participant-Facebook-CoverIt’s the end of October. For many writers it’s the time to sharpen our brains and finish up prep for this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. I’ve done the challenge for several years in different ways ranging from full manuscripts and partial manuscripts, down to editing and revision goals. While I’d love to be in a good place to dig into the third and final book of my Stonebearer series this year, I only barely finished the very rough draft of the completed second novel last week.

My real reason for not doing NaNoWriMo this year is simple – experience. I know my working habits and how much I can do before developing a serious case of writer burnout. It’s taken a few decades to learn I’m a hugely competitive person with myself. If I set a goal I kill myself to go get it.

For my first NaNoWriMo in 2010, I crossed the finish line an exhausted wreck. At that point in my life I had one fewer child and more free time and energy than I have now.  Immediately after finishing, I continued to blog and did an editing pass of my first manuscript that I had finished a few weeks before NaNoWriMo started. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.

I learned I am not invincible when baby #3 came around in the Fall of 2011. All my time disappeared and with it, most of my energy. I stopped writing for over a year. When NaNoWriMo rolled around I watched wistfully as other writer friends whipped themselves into an excited frenzy to work on a new project. I would still set a goal, goals are good, usually to finish the revisions on my first book baby and for years not much happened.

It wasn’t until 2015 when I felt ready to attempt writing the sequel. I had both older kids in elementary school and the youngest in preschool. It was literally the first year since 2010 where I had a handful of hours free during the week.

It wasn’t enough time. I stressed myself out. Four free hours a week isn’t enough to do NaNoWriMo. My writing crept into family time and evenings and occupied every moment it could like an overfed goldfish in a bowl. But, apparently I’m very competitive. I had to finish the 50,000 words. And I did. And then I shelved the uncompleted project for nearly a year.

This year, I’m okay with working at my current pace. I have projects underway that I like and am moving at a pace that I can keep up with while maintaining a good work/life balance. If by next year I haven’t started the third book of the trilogy, which I doubt, then perhaps I’ll make it my 2018 project.

And that’s totally okay.

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Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? I’d love to talk about it in the comments!

A Querying I will Go!

IMG_5208It’s been a wild spring with unpredictable weather and plenty of changes to adapt into my life. As a family with young kids, the only thing I can depend on from day to day is unpredictability.  My youngest has developed a fascination with Minecraft and loves to play on the worlds he is creating with someone else. I’ll admit, I think it’s really fun to play with him as well, but every hour spent playing video games is an hour not spent doing anything that will help me reach my goals.

That said, perhaps the biggest news is that I’m starting to query out my epic fantasy novel. I didn’t image there would be this much stress associated with waiting for publishers and agents to give me their approval, or rejection, or no response at all. I’ve been at it since December but have only started sending out multiple queries at a time this last month.

The plan for the next few months is to always have five queries out at a time and to participate in whatever Twitter pitch contests drift my way. While this isn’t super aggressive, it doesn’t take over my life either.

[For those scratching their heads – a query is simply a formal letter sent to publishers and literary agents that tells about the book and about the author. A pitch is a short sentence that sums up the book. Both are mind-numbingly hard to create.]

On the short story front, I have two pieces that have been accepted and are awaiting scheduling with the publisher. I will most definitely be posting as soon as I have more info. One is a retelling of classic Vietnamese folklore, the  Starfruit Tree and is slated for an anthology. The other, The Skull Collector, is best described as a cross between Moana and the Hunger Games and will be in a magazine.

Other news, I was asked to judge a short story contest for the University of Utah Valley’s Warp and Weave speculative fiction literary magazine. While I’ve judged stories before, it’s never been for anything more than my writing group. All the stories were amazing so it was a true challenge to pick those that rose above the rest.

There’s always a ton of fun/agonizing work to do. While waiting for query responses from agents and editors I have a bundle of great ideas I’d like to work up into publishable short stories and a draft of the sequel novel to create. I also have a handful of presentations to prepare for upcoming conferences, for more info click here.

Here’s to a great Spring!

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Writing Exercise: Three Nouns

800px-Sharpened_Pencil

One of the toughest parts of the writing process is getting started on a new project. While the easiest way to overcome white page paralysis is to embrace the “crappy first draft” idea there are other options. Today’s writing exercise comes from WritingExercises.co.uk where you can find hundreds of prompt generators, randomizers, and all other sorts of golden nuggets.

The exercise:

Take three nouns and freewrite

The beauty of this exercise is that it allows the brain to make abstract connections between three unrelated objects which often generates fresh characters, places, and stories. 

Freewriting is best with a timer and an atmosphere free of distractions. I prefer 15 minute chunks. It’s long enough to form a few concrete ideas and begin running with them. Often it feels like nothing but drivel comes from the exercise until I go back and read what’s there and find a few gems that I can use.

Check it out – here’s a handy three noun generator, just for you!

Fantasy in Real Life: Bike in Tree Micro Fiction Contest

Bike in TreeThe story behind this surreal image is that in 1914 a boy left his bike chained to a tree, then went to war and then never returned. As it is writer Wednesday, let’s use this as a writing prompt and create something even more awesome.

Your challenge:

Write a micro fiction (100 words or less) about what really happened to the bike.

Best entry wins a mini-featurette to be posted next week!

Rules:

  1. Entry must be posted in the comments no later than Friday, July 10, 2015.
  2. Entry must be 100 words or less, not including the title.
  3. Winner will be notified on Monday, July 14th (when I get around to it…)
  4. There is no inherent cash value to this prize and therefore it may not be exchanged for cash. (However, publicity is worth it’s weight in gold so… go for it!)
  5. Have fun and keep it PG13 or less.

Using Rites and Rituals in Fiction

StarWarsIV_327PyxurzWe’ve come around back to writer Wednesday once more and today we are talking about using rites and rituals in fiction.  When I say rites and rituals, I’m referring to any choreographed set of actions performed by several people that is meant to add importance to an event. For the sake of this post we will use the term “ceremony” to include all rites and rituals and related events. These events include formal religious rites and public occasions such as awards, weddings, anniversaries, coronations, and funerals.

Some ceremonies are simple. For example the Japanese Tea Ceremony is performed by one host and is meant to show respect for the honored guests through a demonstration of grace and good etiquette. This isn’t to say that is is easy, the ceremony takes years to learn and a lifetime to master.

Large ceremonies can require hundreds of well-trained individuals to do their part. The success of the ceremony depends on how well each person can perform their part. A coronation, especially when it is also meant to be a display of power, is a perfect example of ceremony on a massive scale. There is a military presence in dress uniform, a religious order also in ceremonial dress, the members of government, and the people of the country. They all have specific roles to play, symbolic gestures or actions to perform, and often a prescribed set of words to say.

Including ceremony in your fiction, when and if the story calls for it, will do several awesome things for the story itself.  First, it deepens and broadens the world where the story takes place. If there is a ceremony, then it must mean that the world has a deep rich history. It makes everything that much more real.

Second, a ceremony transforms a scene into a formal event and brings with it deeper and more poignant emotional notes. It forces the reader to read closely and think about symbolism and ideas in a more abstract way, which draws them deeply into the story.

Lastly, a great ceremony will bring a sense of awe and wonder. Everything from the costuming to the venue itself is eye candy. The characters will have plenty to react to and their reactions become the readers experience. There should be beauty and mystery paired with decorum and a sense of importance.

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The Southern Oracles of Neverending Story

A fictional ceremony should contain some, if not all of these elements:

  1. Central focus – this might be a person, object, or goal. All participants in the ceremony are either physically or mentally centered on this item. Everything that happens returns to this item.
  2. Ceremonial dress – clothing, or lack there of, is hugely important to most ceremonies. Be sure to describe it! Think graduations and weddings, there are the robes, the white dress, the robes of the clergy, the stoles and caps of the doctorates.
  3. Unique venue – Special events call for special places and this place will reflect the needs of the ceremony. Weddings take place in churches or specially prepared outdoor locations. Award ceremonies use special halls and public meeting areas.
  4. Prescribed Actions – Perhaps one the key elements of a ceremony is the repetition of the same actions each time. These actions depend of the needs of the ceremony and may include dance, song, chants, specific routes to walk, repeated words and phrases.
  5. Sound – Much of this is part of the prescribed actions, but it bears repeating. Will your ceremony use music, drums, clapping, or stomping? Take time to consider the ambiance. If it is a solemn ceremony it will be quieter, if it is a celebration it will be louder. Sometimes the most noted feature of a ceremony is the silence that is maintained.

How will you use ceremonial rites and rituals in your writing? What are your favorite fictional ceremonies? Share in the comments!

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For more inspiration, check out some of these unique ceremonies:

Genre Talk: Dark Fantasy

the+dark+tower

Surreal, bizarre, and ringing with that horror that only Stephan King can produce, the Dark Tower series is most definitely a dark fantasy.

From heroic to epic and everything in between, the fantasy genre has something for everyone who loves a touch of magic in their fiction.  Fantasy is defined as any story, artwork, or film with elements that are scientifically impossible and are often set in imaginary worlds. That which is impossible is explained as magic and includes people or things that can do the extraordinary.

Dark fantasy takes those elements and adds horror.

These works, which include literary works, art, and film, are dark and gloomy and often give the viewer a sense of horror and dread.

There is still a bit of debate between the finer points of what elements make up a dark fantasy. The point where people are divided comes down to the setting. Some argue that supernatural horror set on earth should be considered “contemporary fantasy” and “dark fantasy” should be reserved for supernatural horror that occurs on secondary worlds.

The term gets confused further when writers use the term “dark fantasy” and sometimes “gothic fantasy” it as a less lurid way to refer to horror.

Because the definition is fairly vague, works classified as “dark fantasy” come in every shape and size. There are no elements or tropes that must be present beyond the presence of supernatural elements and a dark, brooding, tone. So yes, there be vampires and werewolves here.

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And everyone knows that these Edwardian vampires wouldn’t dare sparkle.

Popular works that fit in the Dark Fantasy category include: Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series.

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Read more Genre Talk articles:

Keeping the Story Real

If Ace Rimmer can ride a random alligator then it must be ok, right?

If Ace Rimmer can ride a random alligator then it must be ok, right?

It’s writing Wednesday and yet another chance to inundate the webverse with more unsolicited writing advice. Woo Hoo!

Today’s topic is about keeping it real when it comes to plotting a story. I’m sure we’ve all seen or read at least one story where something happens that’s hopefully exciting or at least vaguely interesting, but has nothing to do with the story. Jack M. Bickham refers to this as “dropping alligators through the transom.”

Unless your story is about mutant alligators taking over an office building, there is probably no good reason for it to happen.

I can hear the argument already.”This scene was kinda dull so I thought adding killer bees would add a bit more interest.”

Ahem… If your scene was dull, and you knew it was dull, why is it even in your story? Just sayin’

The point that I’m trying to make is that all story elements need to make sense. Being super cool isn’t a good enough reason to add something new. It has to feel like it belongs. David Farland also talks about this in different terms.  He says that the story needs to be honest to itself. This doesn’t mean it has to be true, a good piece of fiction weaves together a multitude of realistic elements in new and intriguing ways.

Not sure if you are guilty or not? This is where having another critical set of eyes check over your story can be a life saver. As writers we can get blind to our own work. The story is so alive in our head that it’s hard to see when we might have added something that doesn’t make sense.

So, what happens if we have dropped the proverbial alligator? Relax. It’s not the end of the world. One of two things might have happened. The first is when you have added something that totally works in your world, but you’ve neglected to build your world enough to make it feel natural to the reader. The fix is to add a few more passages during the early chapters of the book, or scenes of the story, that make your alligator fit.

The other thing that might have happened is a bit tougher to fix without removing the offending element entirely. This is when something has been added to spice things up, but it feels like it doesn’t belong with the story.

Say you have a space captain that needs to land his failing craft before it explodes. It’s taken a hit from a Xabulon warship and is being pulled into the planet’s gravity. While wresting the controls, the second-in-command has an allergic reaction that swells his throat shut.

We have two big problems. Saving the second-in-command and landing the ship safely. If the allergic reaction has something to do with the enemy that they are facing then by all means use it and slam your readers with a super dramatic scene. However, if it doesn’t, it feel like it’s coming from nowhere and might just serve to confuse or worse take focus away from the real problem.

There is one place where random elements work well, and that’s with humor. This is where introducing the delightfully unexpected can pay off. That said, there are limits. Too much and it comes across as goofy or silly. Ace Rimmer, seen in the picture above, is a character in the BBC space comedy Red Dwarf. His entire character revolves around the absurd and unlikely, like riding an alligator to escape an exploding airplane. It’s silly and not at all logical and that’s what makes it fun.

Whatever you end up doing, Mind your alligators and Happy Writing!