Saturday, June 4, 2016

What's a World Without Characters?

Creating Characters in Fantasy

Once the "suspended belief" world is defined, it must be filled with characters.

One of the obvious choices is to "people" the world with fantastical beings such as elves, fairies, ogres, dwarves, or other imaginary creations. All well and good, as long as they suit the tale.
But, how do you make those creations "real" for the reader?

Sad Elf Clip ArtI like to describe the way to do this as establishing "touchstones," in each character. The word suggests, to me, that there is some quality developed in each character that readers and latch on to, or relate to that makes the character become real to them. It's a quality, behavior, emotion, or attitude making the character "human" enough that he/she can be understood.

It's hard to relate to a totally alien creature. I often think of characters from successful science fiction as an example of this. For instance, Mr. Spock, of Star Trek fame, is a Vulcan, an alien being whose life is supposed to be devoid of emotion. His "rule of life" is to be totally logical about everything. If he were that cold and calculating about everything, it would be hard to really sympathize with him.  If he felt nothing at all when confronted with conflict, acting only with precise, logical responses, the audience would soon lose interest in actually caring about him.

But Spock is, himself, in conflict. Born half-human, he is often overwhelmed with human emotions preying on his Vulcan indifference, challenging him to feel and respond.  This internal conflict actually makes him more sympathetic as the audience, themselves often fighting to control their own emotions,  powerfully relates to his struggle. In this way, an alien being is connected to their own lives and becomes a beloved hero.

A successful fantasy character needs to connect to the reader in the same way. He/she must have some traits, feelings, reactions, or behaviors the reader can recognize and relate to.  Does he love, hate, dream, feel pain, suffer, laugh, or struggle in some way a human reader can actually understand, not only in mind, but also in heart?

Even monsters tend to have at least some "touchstone" connection. Do they kill to survive, to protect, or even out of hunger?  Most monsters do.

But there are exceptions, and to me, they become the most frightening ones of all. The unrelenting killing machine with no rhyme or reason is a terrifying foe.

More about that later.          

Saga of Magiskeep for Kindle                                                 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why Magic? Why Fantasy?

What Would the World Be Like?

Why do readers enjoy fantasy? Why do writers write fantasy?

Of all literary genres, fantasy is the most removed from reality. Authors create impossible worlds where impossible things happen. The world of fantasy is the world of the "unbelievable."

Or is it?

Good fantasy inspires the reader to "willingly suspend disbelief." This is an intriguing concept and one of those phrases written in "negative language" to make its point. What it means is that the reader must be willing to believe whatever world and situation the writer creates.

This is tricky, because when writing the unbelievable, it's not always easy to entice the audience to actually believe in the impossible. What the good author does is create a world with laws, rules, manners, characters and everything the real world has, and then add the impossible in the most logical, and consistent way.

Consistency is the key. If, in a world where magic exists, a magic user cannot fly himself, but can make other things fly in the "rules" of the impossible world, the writer must be careful to never let that magic user fly on his own at some point.

In Magiskeep, Magicians cannot directly use Magic on themselves. They can change someone else's appearance for example, but not actually change their own appearance. They can, however, use an illusion to hide their identity, but that only serves as a screen, not an actual change.

Nor, in Magiskeep, can a Magician Heal herself. Early on in Kingdom Beyond the Rim, Sarena, the Mistress of Healing slices her hand as she is demonstrating something for her class. The wound is serious, and bleeding badly. There is nothing, despite all her skill, she can do. In a dramatic moment, Jamus, her young and untrained student, rushes to her side and with an unexpected calling to the Magic, Heals the injury.

Jamus' act sets in motion the primary conflict of the novel as the Masters of Magiskeep discover his hidden talents, all too potentially powerful. And so, the unbelievable element of the story--Magic itself--sets up the all too believable jealousy of Sagari, Magic's master, when he realizes Jamus may well be a threat to his dominance.

Sagari's plot to destroy Jamus, and Jamus' own ingenuity, luck and skill form the primary plot of the novel, creating the "touchstone" of reality each time Magic comes into play. Without solid characters, conflict and a story with high stakes, a fantasy cannot live in the reader's minds, no matter how fascinating the magical elements might be.

Kingdom Beyond the Rim, the first novel in The Saga of Magiskeep strives to keep its audience involved with the story and in that state of suspended disbelief.

Why not find out for yourself. You can find the book on Amazon.

Kingdom Beyond the Rim

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Long Journey: Part 3

The Saga's End?

I had conceived that the final novel in The Saga of Magiskeep would focus on Jamus' confrontation  with the Black Dragon and the need to master the Black River's Magic.

The Black Dragon, Kesel--"Everendings ever be"--had tormented Jamus from the first. Knowing the Magician's potential to be the Rivermaster--master of all Magic--the black tentacles of evil intent had reached for Jamus in the darkness he so feared as a child. As he grew and developed his skills, the Dragon pursued him in nightmares and visits to the Way of Mirrors where Shadows lurked to steal the life of any foolhardy traveler.

The power of his own Will helped Jamus elude the monster's black intent, but Blackwing persisted, commanding Lord Tamor and his army of bloodthirsty Shadows to conquer all of Turan.

Jamus confronts this army in The Wall Between, faces its threat again in White Wind and finally, in the fourth novel of the Saga battles again in Blackwing Rising.  

All was well. With the publication of the fourth novel, I thought I was finished. A project I had begun nearly thirty years ago had reached an end. 

But then, I realized there was more to the story. 

There was one more Dragon--The Fifth Dragon--a creature who had lurked in the background for quite some time. Mentioned and met in the earlier novels, this Dragon was the key to Magic. I knew him well, and also knew he was the final element the Saga needed to truly draw to a close.

And so, I began writing his story.  I hope to finish the novel by Spring of this year. Since I know where the story is going, I've already thought of possible cover designs. David Melanson, a super friend from The Halfwittenberg Door is my cover designer. So far we've collaborated on these two ideas. I'm not yet sure which one I'll choose as they offer decidedly different perspectives on the story. 

There are more stories of Turan, notably a series I began about adventures in Arcula, the land Jamus visits in The Wall Between.  I will eventually publish them in a separate volume, but once the final Dragon flies, The Saga of Magiskeep will be finished. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Long Journey Part 2

The Saga Continues

Writings on The Half-Wittenberg Door eventually included six tales of Magiskeep.  With a short summary of "Kingdom Beyond the Rim," as an introduction to the new tales, these stories formed bridges between the novels of the larger Saga. 

I have since published them as part of the Saga in "Honor's Way" and "Silvren Shards," two story collections.  "Honor's Way" fills in the story of Jamus' and Salene's marriage and introduces a young boy who identity will figure into the final novel of the Saga.  "Silvren Shards" develops backstory and other adventures in Jamus' life as he continues his journey to master the Four Rivers of Magic.

Again, with the writing of the second full novel, "The Wall Between," I thought I was developing the standard trilogy, but again, the story took charge. Characters and the Magic itself tugged at my imagination until I knew there would be one novel for each "color" of the Magic. 

"The Wall Between" uncovers the secrets of the Silver River and introduces the Silver Dragon, Rath, who becomes a pivotal character in each of the later books. Once again, whatever overall plan I started with found itself being challenged by the characters I'd created who's somehow managed to take on lives of their own. Each demanded attention and helped shape the Saga's story line. 
I started the third novel somewhere along the way, managed to write about half of it and suddenly lost my inspiration.  I'd developed a rather complex plot involving riddles and tapestries for Jamus to solve, immersed him in a world controlled by the White Dragon, and sank into a snowdrift of writer's block. 

This is a curious problem for me. What usually happens is that I'm sure I know how the book is going to end, but not quite sure of the best way to get there. At that point, I just wait. My brain seems to work on plotting strategy in the background, tossing about various possible routes to the end, solving and re-solving difficulties I've encountered along the way. It was going on a year or more before I finally sat back down to finish "White Wind."  
That meant, in the general scheme of things, that there was only one more novel to write--the concluding book of the Saga where Jamus confronts the dangerous force of the Black Dragon, the creature of  "Everendings" that has been tormenting him since his childhood. 

It was time to start writing anew. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Long Journey

How One Book Became an Epic Series: Part I

Nearly thirty years ago, I started writing a fantasy novel. My first version was about two hundred typed pages and I was convinced I'd created a good story.  I packed it up in an envelope and sent it off to a few publishers. Back then, that was the only option for getting a book out.

Now, I'd written it originally on steno pads by hand. Then I'd laboriously typed it up on an electric typewriter as computers were still in their infancy. Somewhere along the way, I did get some of it typed an printed on an IBM mainframe computer at school where I worked. The copy was a dot matrix version on rolls of computer paper. (Only you older readers will know what I mean, I fear.)

My queries to publishers didn't get very far and I still have several vanilla rejection letters lying around. They were form letters with nothing in them to encourage me.

I have a friend who is a professionally published writer and I showed him my manuscript. He liked the story and suggested it needed a rewrite. Soon, we were meeting several times a month, fleshing out characters, descriptions, and action to bring the skeleton of a tale I'd written to new life.

Over the next few years, I wrote and re-wrote, developing Kingdom Beyond the Rim into a full fledged epic fantasy of nearly a thousand double spaced typed pages. By then, the personal computer market had exploded and I had a PC and a laser printer at my disposal, so life and editing had taken a much better turn.

Off wen the manuscript in a cardboard box--still no digital submissions at that time--to potential publishers. Caught in the evil circle of:  "You need an agent to submit a book, but you can't get an agent unless you've published,"  the market was limited.  My book would vanish into the abyss of publisher slush piles for months on end, only to return to me without a dog ear or smudge on a single page. At that point, I surrendered. I still felt I had a book worthy of print, but without a way to get it published, things looked bleak.

Over the next few years. I found myself still writing. As a high school English teacher, I was always creating lessons, worksheets, stories, and all kinds of materials for my students. I used my fantasy character and setting to develop a writing site for my classes to use to learn how to write creatively themselves. Always, in some way or another, Jamus, my main character, and the world of Magiskeep just keep on living.

Then, through the pure fun of playing computer adventure games--most notably Sierra's Quest for Glory series, I joined an on-line message board, The Half-Wittenberg Door, and the Saga of Magiskeep was born anew. .

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Fall of Heroes

And So It Goes

I don't have a long list of famous people I really adore. I'm not a big fan of any sports heroes, rock stars, or movie stars--at least not to the point of swooning over them.  But I have been let down more than once by famous people I've admired over the years. Suffice it to say, my list is short, but I must admit, it has taught me a lot about human nature. 

Very few humans can quite stay up on the narrow pedestal worshippers create for them. I'm sure we've all been disappointed by people in our own lives, but when a high profile person disappoints us, it can be even more significant. Often, fans invest themselves in the hero, live their own dreams through him or her, and then feel a personal loss, when that hero falls. 

I think one of the reasons I like to write is so I can control the characters and the worlds I create, allowing me to decide who wins and loses. 

But the writing world is not reality. Over these last few years, I've been let down more than once by famous people I had grown to admire. 

Lance Armstrong, the former Tour de France winner is one. I learned to understand and enjoy the Tour by rooting for him. I read his book, respected his story of a long and hard recovery from cancer. I listened to endless praise of how hard he worked to prepare for the race, how he used strategy to win, and how his amazing endurance won time and time again in the torturous climbs in the mountains. He was accused over and over of using performance enhancing drugs and always tested clean. I believed in his talent and athleticism. He made me a fan of the Tour. 

Then the truth came out. Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour victories because of blood doping. It hurt. I was truly disappointed that someone on my pedestal had fallen so far. 

Tiger Woods was a disappointment of another kind. The world's and my impression of him was taht he was an upstanding gentlemen both on the golf course and off. He was a superstar and I watched gold tournaments just because he was playing. 

Then, he too, fell from grace, proving to be an unfaithful husband. Again, another pedestal had at least partially collapsed. After his personal fall, Woods seemed to have lost the luster on his game as well. I still root for him when he plays and hope he will somehow manage to regain his skill and standing as one of the world's top golfers. But the golfer and man will never be quite the same for me. 

And then, there's Bill Cosby. He was always one of my favorite comedians. I still remember some of his old comedy routines, especially one about a Volkswagen he drove, and cherish the laughter he brought into my life. 

Of all my heroes he has fallen the farthest, mostly because the reason for his fall is so morally reprehensible. He is a villain of the highest degree ruining far more lives than the others. 

Traditions of literature demand the tragic hero must have the tragic flaw which ultimately leads to his/her downfall. Looking at the real world, it's sadly easy to see that tradition holding true as well. 

I think I'll stick to fantasy. At least that way, heroes only fall if I want them to. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Merry Christmas And All That

Long Time, No See

Sorry I've been neglecting the blog of late. I was so wrapped up in the final editing and formatting of "Blackwing Rising" that it seemed to consume all my author energies.

For some reason, MS Word's quirks managed to make the manuscript translate incorrectly into some of the Epub formats. I lost paragraph indents. It took"forever" to get it all fixed. When a book is over 400 pages long, editing takes hours.

Apparently, when I transferred some of the pages from one version of Word to another, the formatting floated off into one of the black holes Microsoft Office likes to offer now and then. I've fallen into them before and learned how to work my way back out, but sometimes it takes a lot of experimenting. At long last, Smashwords accepted the book for its premium distribution channels, so it's finally available in just about all electronic version.s

Then I headed back over to CreateSpace to publish the paperback version. First I had some cover problems--relatively easy to fix this time.  Bless its little heart, the interior was just fine, but it didn't get there easily. This time it was trying to get the page numbering to work the way I wanted it to. Setting the section breaks kept sending my first chapter off into the black hole of even instead of odd page placement, no matter what I seemed to do. I must have "killed" another couple hours getting that right.

Then, of course, there is the filing for ISBN numbers. I have purchased a block of ISBN's to register for my books. Each book requires three ISBN numbers, one for each kind of publication. So each book has a Kindle number, an electronic text number, and a paperback/print number--well, not really. I could use the same ISBN for Kindle and the other electronic text versions, but I haven't. (I do need to check on this.)  At any rate, I do have to enter a lot of data to get the books registers. (There is a "clone" feature I discovered that helps, however.)

While much of this work is a nuisance, I do find having control over publication is empowering. Of course, I would love to have a publisher take me on, but for now, I am happy to do it myself.

I am now immersed in the coming holidays, so I may not post much again for a while. So, with the spirit of peace, joy, love and hope, I wish you all a Merry Christmas!