Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why I Write by Author Kevin Gerard

by Guest Author Kevin Gerard (comment for a chance to win a copy of one of his books in the Conor and the Crossworlds series)

I write because I want to make a contribution.

I always wanted to write but never found the courage. I took one creative writing course in college and wrote the first twenty pages of Conor’s story. The class loved it. The teacher encouraged me to write more of it.

Fifteen years after leaving that class I met a martial arts instructor who had written a conditioning book for Tae Kwon Do. I asked him how he found the discipline to write an entire book. I took home what he told me and failed miserably, but something about what he said sparked another idea. I decided I would write one double-spaced page every day. For the next five years I wrote every day. It started out as one page; eventually it became five pages a day. I’ve never moved beyond that amount, but I’ve written every single day. Two things happen when you do that; you get into a habit and your writing gets better very quickly.

Margaret Weis caused me to become an author more than anyone else. She wrote a trilogy called the Star of the Guardians. Without exception it is the greatest story I’ve ever read. She’s written a number of fantasy stories with Tracy Hickman, and I enjoyed them, but her solo effort just blew me away. I cry like a baby at movies, but this was the first time I ever cried while reading a fantasy story, or any story for that matter. There was a female character in the trilogy, Maigrey Morianna, who I’m sure influenced the creation of the Lady of the Light, a central character in Conor’s story. I’d love to meet that author some day so I can thank her for writing that phenomenal story.

I write with abandon. When I edit, I’m in a structured mode, but I’m strictly organic while writing. I feel this is especially important when writing a fantasy story – you really need to have total spontaneity or the story will suffer. I mentioned the Lady of the Light before; she has a relative that appears at the end of Book Three. I had no idea the relative even existed until that moment. Sometimes you have to let the story tell itself.

I don’t know whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate, but there is no typical writing day for me. If I had my druthers, I’d do all my writing in the morning. I’m up early always, I love that time of day, and I seem to be very productive then. I am a college professor, though, and I also spend huge amounts of time promoting Conor and the Crossworlds. I write whenever I have a spare thirty minutes. I keep a flash disk in my pocket with the latest ten pages of any story I’m working on, and when I see an opening in my schedule, I stick it in the computer and write!

As far as the future, I think there are five more books in the Conor and the Crossworlds series, but I have to make the first five a success before I sit down and write the others. I also fell into a great idea for another story. At a book talk I did in California I gave away a very cool dragon statue I kept on my desk the entire time I wrote the Conor and the Crossworlds story. I have a funny feeling about that dragon, maybe he will inspire that student to write his own books, and that might make a cool story in itself.

I wrote the Conor and the Crossworlds story for a variety of reasons. First and foremost concerns Purugama the magical cougar. This particular creature has lived in my mind for more than forty years. When I was a young boy I used to lie in bed at night and imagine a great beast exactly like Purugama floating down and landing by my bedroom window. After crawling out of bed and dressing, I would step through the window and climb aboard the mighty cougar. I would instantly be transformed into a powerful warrior, and off we’d fly toward our thrilling adventures. Amazingly, I kept that vision in my mind for decades until I finally wrote the first novel.

I never intended for Conor’s story to go beyond one book. A tragic event caused me to continue the story and create the characters for Book Two. The Lord of the Champions, Maya, was a real cat. He belonged to a close friend of my wife’s. An extraordinary cat, Maya befriended me when I married my wife and moved to San Diego. He was extremely proud, he had a right to be; he was a magnificent creature and an amazing individual. One day his mistress called our home with terrible news, Maya had been attacked by a rampaging pack of pit bulls. They ripped him to pieces in his own front yard. I cried openly on the telephone, and then I told our friend that I was going to make him immortal. I knew right then he would become the Lord of the Champions. It fit perfectly anyway, an alley cat in charge of the great wild cats the creators had chosen to be protectors of the Crossworlds.

This is how Therion, Eha, Ajur and Surmitang sprang into existence. If there was to be a force of Champions, they would have to be like no other group of saviors anywhere. Oversized with the gifts of speech and magic, all of the Champions have distinct personalities. From the second book forward their personalities continue to grow and become more interesting. For the longest time I cherished Surmitang over all the others. He is so proud, so in love with himself, and so sure of his abilities, and yet he is such a fragile child. As time went on and the story reached four and then five books, I began to admire Eha more and more. He is such a happy fellow. He loves being a Champion, he loves the Lady of the Light, he loves Conor, and he loves to laugh. One of the great moments in the story occurs during the initial stages of the battle for the Crossworlds in Book Four. Maya directs Eha to lead the horde of slayers and keepers out onto the plains. Using his magnificent speed, Eha keeps ahead of five hundred thousand angry enemies, laughing hilariously the entire time. Even though I favor one or another of the cats from time to time, all of the Champions have intriguing characteristics; they are quite a magnetic group.

The amazing aspect of this series, from an author’s viewpoint, is the trust I gave to the story and to the characters. When I began writing the third and fourth books, I honestly had no idea what would happen, where the story would go, and what would be the final outcome of each novel. I didn’t know until the second she appeared that the Lady of the Light had a twin sister, the Lady of the Shadows. I didn’t know that one of the destroyers would rise from the rubble of his castle to torment Conor again, nor did I understand the importance of the sacrifice at the end of Book Four. Some of the best passages from the Conor and the Crossworlds series occurred when I allowed myself to “go where the characters wanted to go.” I followed and found amazing plot twists around every corner.

Everyone loves the Conor and the Crossworlds story, but I wrote these books for teens because I wanted to give them something I believe they are sorely lacking. I won’t explain exactly what that is, you’ll have to read the books to get the full impact, but I will say that the world is becoming increasingly complicated. Teens have so much thrown at them in just a few short years. I think the important ideas are being pushed into the background, and young folks are dying for direction. I also wanted to give teens a good hero and heroine. Conor and Janine are somewhat complex, but they are also what I think teens would want to emulate.

The last thing I’ll say is that I wanted to write a fun story. I watched a biography about George Lucas once. He created the Star Wars series, and the commentator said, “George Lucas made it fun to go to the movies again.” I hope someday people say, “Kevin Gerard made it fun to read again.”

* * *

More about Kevin Gerard and His Conor and the Crossworlds Books

Visit Kevin's website where you can download a free Conor and the Crossworlds ebook and keep tabs on the upcoming release of Surviving an Altered World which is due out in December. In it Conor and Janine watch in horror as a powerful warrior sent by the Circle of Evil destroys their world and imprisons everyone they know, including the Crossworlds Champions and the creators. The Lady of the Light appears, explaining that she and her kind deposited the five keys of the creators on different worlds just before the chaos began. If Conor and Janine can recover the keys, the Crossworlds will be restored. You can join in the hunt for the keys by clicking on the contest video on his website to learn the exciting details regarding The Hunt for the Five Keys of the Creators. The contest begins in January.

On November 3, whet your appetite with an inside look at Kevin Gerard's life as a writer at Teens Read Too with a bonus of an excerpt from his book.

And don't miss Great New Books Reviewed as they host Kevin on November 5 and read more about what Kevin has to say about being a science fiction/fantasy writer.

For more information about Kevin Gerard and his virtual tour, check the schedule at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Role of Research in Fantasy Writing - Part 2

Part 2: The Role of Research in Fantasy Writing

Correct Spellings

This may seem like a no-brainer, but research includes checking the dictionary. Don’t rely on the spellcheck feature of your word processing software to catch every spelling mistake.

Search for Another Word

Redundancy is one pitfall writers strive to avoid. It requires research. Keep an updated Thesaurus handy, and don’t hesitate to use it.

Grammar and Style

Grammar and style are as important as correct spelling. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr is a valuable resource available online at no cost.


Why research experts? To add authenticity to your writing. An expert can sift through your scenario and tell you what works and what doesn’t and why. Talking with an expert provides minute details that pull the reader into the scene.


A writer’s research carries over from unearthing details that enrich writing projects to the search for markets where the submission process begins. What do publishers want, what do they pay? Once the manuscript is finished—where do you send it? Researching markets includes sifting through writer's guidelines to find a match for your genre and word count.


When writing fantasy with historical ties or even speculative fiction, researching genealogies can open the door for a plot connected to reality through family ties.


Building a world sometimes calls for supplies outside the realm of current knowledge and experience. Research encourages the collection of specific new information necessary to build upon the writer’s foundation of knowledge and experience. For instance, if you want to create a world connected by waterways rather than roads, a cursory study of Venice could spark the creation of a lagoon near the train station.

Here’s a tip taken from Pumping Your Musemap your world as it develops. Mapping provides logistical smoothness and continuity. It also offers a visual as the story takes shape. When your character heads down the road, you know where they’re going.


Government organization puts an authority structure in place even in a fictional world. It provides a sense of history to help understand how the world operates. Understanding how the government works aids to determine the character’s actions, consequences to those actons and the direction of the plot. Research real world governments to inspire your writing.

Historical Research

Even in a pre-modern fantasy world, writers research to learn historical details to weave unique threads into the story line.

For example, writing about a character’s wedding in a historical fantasy or even an alien union on another planet such as the case in the sequel I'm writing—researching medieval weddings provides rich customs and details far enough from today’s reality to inject foreign and yet familiar customs and cultures. Researching triggers new ideas as you alter history to fit your story. Historical or alternate history scenarios also develop from finding an obscure moment in history and developing it into a novel. Writing historical fiction takes plenty of research to keep the details genuine.

Religion and Myths

People once believed the world was flat. Creating a belief system that affects the actions of the general population, takes research. For example, if characters believe the world is flat-most of them will not venture out to sea in fear of falling over the edge into oblivion.

Historical superstition blended with a fantasy realm feeds the writer’s imagination. Why do characters believe the superstition? Is it because government uses it to control with fear or because of a faulty premise? Something like travelers who experienced a great water fall and perceived it to be the end of the world when they lost traveling companions in the roaring, fog-enshrouded mist? Fictional superstitions and traditions can be based on history but transformed. Use them as a springboard.

Science and Technology

In Sci-fi, science makes the magic work. Researching cutting edge technology inspires gadgets like the communicators in the original Star Trek series. Have you ever thought about how much those now archaic devices resemble today’s cell phones? Writers must grasp the science enough to not only make it work in their minds, but to make it believable in the minds of their readers. Understanding the science behind wormholes in space, the dangers presented when a star goes super nova, or any such space travel science provides the details necessary to express the urgency to flee and the knowledge of how to do it.

Science and technology mold the culture. If your fictional world is pre-modern, research will include primitive beliefs and lifestyles. In a futuristic world, research will lead to cutting edge technology to be blended with the what if factor.

Research: The Springboard

Research feeds the imagination. Writing fiction generates questions. Searching for answers opens avenues of thought that reflect new ideas within the plot and construction of the fictional world. Use this list as a roadmap to discovery. It is not all-inclusive, but works as a springboard in the writer’s research process. No matter the genre, real facts and details create rich dimension and a believable story.
* * *

Donna Sundblad resides in Georgia. Her published works include: Pumping Your Muse, a creative writing book, and two YA fantasy novels: Windwalker and Beyond the Fifth Gate. Visit her website, and if you want to buy her books in ebook form they are available at Fictionwise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Role of Research in Fantasy Writing - Part 1

By Donna Sundblad

Recently in an interview, I was asked what role research plays in my writing. No matter what genre you write, research is a necessary tool. I'm currently working on the sequel to Beyond the Fifth Gate, and it involves the mating practices of the bio-genetically created incectoid race known as the eofs who are part human. Research led me down the path of various insects to find the blend of details that works. That's the fun of writing fantasy. Details can blend to become something unique to the world you create.

The research doesn't end there. I can't say too much because I don't want to be a story spoiler for those who haven't finished reading Beyond the Fifth Gate. But here's the question I must ask. What makes the purple planet purple? You see, even though you want to throw out great ideas, there has to be a logical reason to support what you've created. Even if it is magic.

When to Research

When creating a new story or scene, if a question arises, make note of it and research the topic. Why? Because the same question may cross the reader’s mind, and secondly it puts the writer’s creative thoughts in order as the story continues to develop. Research can mold your story depending on what you find. In my novel Windwalker, researching how to make gunpowder influenced the plot of the story.

It doesn’t matter what genre you create; research is part of the process. The following categories include (but are not limited to) facts and information often researched by writers:

Period or Ethnic Names

Character names should fit the story’s time and place. is my favorite site to search for names and meanings. It’s easy to navigate and offers not only a selection of names but also information on origin and meaning. Other fun features include categories such as celebrity baby names, celebrity real names, Lord of the Ring Names, Shakespeare names, soap opera names, and even pet names.


Characters take on life. Part of that life includes a career. In Windwalker, Jalil’s father worked as a metal smith. Since I knew very little about blacksmith tools or skills, research added enough detail to make the reader’s time in the smith shop valid.

In Beyond the Fifth Gate my female protagonist had to learn to fight. More research. I found a great resource in Them's Fightin' Words by Teel James Glenn, and Elita learned to make moves I would never have dreamed of—at least not in any logical sequence.

Crime and Forensics

At the writing of this article, forensics plays a part in several popular TV shows. Some of the technology seems far-fetched but yet believable. Research forensic science and the equipment available to detectives. Small, obscure facts can present the clue that breaks the case even in fantasy. Research combined with imaginative characters and plot provides an unpredictable and entertaining read. For mystery and crime writers research makes and breaks the crime while weaving realistic threads throughout the plot leading to whodunit. Sites like link the police with the community and provide a wealth of information.

* * *

Donna Sundblad resides in Georgia. Her published works include: Pumping Your Muse, a creative writing book, and two YA fantasy novels: Windwalker and Beyond the Fifth Gate. Visit her website, and if you want to buy her books in ebook form they are available at Fictionwise.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beyond the Fifth Gate - Review

Those of you who own my creative writing book Pumping Your Muse may remember the flip side exercise that generated a new female character. That character grew to become the protagonist in my novel Beyond the Fifth Gate. Look what the latest review says about her:

Beyond the Fifth Gate has a strong female main character who reminded me of Xena without the long hair or possibly Seven-of-Nine without the spandex. Elita starts off a little weak in her fighting skills (but realistically, how hard would it be to practice when you live in a hive and are guarded day and night by big bugs?) but her first mystical gate provides two teachers who not only give her a crash course, but join her on her quest to freedom. There are plenty of plot twists along the way and the ending is a real shocker which truly caught me off guard just when I thought I had it all figured out.

You can read the entire review at Queen of Convolution.

Review written by:
Caprice Hokstad
Author of the fantasy novel, The Duke's Handmaid, and its sequel, Nor Iron Bars a Cage.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Five Senses in Your Writing - Part 2

The Five Senses

Incorporating all the senses provides familiarity and understanding for the reader. It helps the connect. This sensory information can be used to:

· Transition between the present and important back story

Example: The fresh scent of rain combined with a moist earthy aroma. I stared out at the wilted fields. A curtain of humidity wrapped around me. The rain had come too late.

In this case the sense of smell opens the door to the scene and allows a transition that could take the reader back to the struggle to keep the crops alive and the introduction to the lives of those who depended on those crops. On the other hand, these particular details could also propel the story forward. What will the character do now?

· Tie the beginning of the story to the end

Since you’ll want to weave this sensory information throughout your story, it is an effective way to tie the beginning of the story to the end.

Example: I couldn’t bear the sorrowful faces filling grandmother’s house. I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and headed to the garden where we had talked so many years before. The light floral scent of lilacs drifted lazily on the summer breeze. I breathed deep and closed my eyes. Grandma stood with me just as she promised. I could feel her.

In this case, we could follow the character through life as an adolescent to adulthood and tie it back to the beginning when they had a life-changing conversation in that same garden. Who knows, maybe even another niece or nephew could walk out to join the character—the thing is that the scent is the trigger to tie the past to the present.

· Evoke emotional responses to create suspense, happiness, fear and more.

Humans are emotional creatures by our very nature. The world around us offers stimuli and we react to it.

Example: The lights blinked and darkness swallowed the room. A surreal coldness fell upon her like a shroud. A slight scent of garlic reminded her of something. A faint memory that tickled her mind like wind brushing leaves of a tree on a summer’s day. She rubbed her arms and stepped blindly forward, her foot tapping in front of her like a blind man’s cane.

This short example can evoke an uneasiness when the lights go out. The coldness kicks up the tension. A hint of garlic would add a bit of curiosity—how does it fit in—what is it? She seems to know, but for some reason has blocked it out. Now she moves forward and we are in her skin. How do you feel?

Nerve Network

Our bodies are designed with a network of nerves. This network sends information to our brains with no effort on our part. As a writer, you create that network from the story to the reader. If panic makes the hairs on the back of your protagonist's neck prickle, the reader should feel it. If they experience a touch of numbness in their index finger, it needs to be part of the information collected by the reader's brain—but the information must serve a purpose. If the reader knows of the numbness, they’ll know later on that the character can withstand an abnormal amount of pain using that finger. Sensory information needs to matter to the plot. The trick is to find the balance.

As writers, we need enough sensatory detail to make our fictional world real, but not so much that it bogs down the action. Think of it more like a trail of breadcrumbs; leading your reader down the path you want them to take. At times, it may even be a misleading trail. Such techniques can be used to create an unforeseen twist in the plot or action.

* * *

If you enjoyed the information in this article, check out Pumping Your Muse. The prompts and insightful information included in this creative writing book challenge the imagination to take new direction and if followed to the conclusion of the book, provide a detailed outline along with completed scenes and developed characters for one novel, as well as a solid start for a second novel.

Five Senses in Your Writing - Part 1

By Donna Sundblad

In my book Pumping Your Muse, I challenge writers with exercises that reach deep into the imagination’s recesses where creative exercises carry the muse on a journey designed to force ideas in resourceful new directions of development. The goal is to pull together bits and pieces or reality and learn to blend them within the fiction-creating process. Adding subtle sensory details works like sensual brush strokes that craft multi-levels of dimension by engaging the reader’s senses.

In real life, details flood our senses on a subconscious level. A hint of smoke presented within the context of your story may warn the character of an electrical fire, or allow them to reminisce about a romantic interlude basking in the firelight, or could even remind them of the invigorating smell of burning of leaves on a crisp fall day.

Good writers furnish this minutia with three-dimensional realism. The trick is to learn to include this information without overpowering the story with overly descriptive passages which bog the story’s pace and sometimes lose the reader. Your goal as a writer is to make the world you portray a real experience. As your reader walks through the pages of your story, engaging the senses allows them to experience the veracity of the world you create.

Moving the Story Along

Sensory information plays an important part in moving your story along. A sound, a scent—such detail provides subtle clues for the reader to follow. Engaging the senses makes a fictional world more real by adding dimension and realism. Stop and take note of your current setting. What do you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? Our brains take in this information subconsciously most times and that’s how you need to present it in your writing. A natural but delicate flow of information.

Pay attention to sounds around you, but not just that—ask yourself what they make you think or feel. Reactions are based on input—sensory input. One goal as a writer is to engage readers so they feel the character’s reaction as if they live in the character’s skin. In my most recent novel, Beyond the Fifth Gate, when my protagonist, Elita, crosses through the portal into a new world to find herself on a narrow ledge overlooking lagoon, a waterfall crashes over head. Crashes is not a gentle sound and raises the tension (no way up). She hears large earth movers...but I don't say she hears...instead large large armored earthmovers rumble as they pile dirt like golden mounds of grain. It's a long way down, and the enemy awaits her there. Subtle details let the reader determine whether or not the character is making the wisest choice.

Here's another example: If your character hides in the woods and hears the crackling of twigs, the reader should feel fear or at least apprehension. A musky scent draws the character’s attention to a wild pig rooting in the moist earth. The character lets out a breath, and the reader relaxes—until gruff snorts and bristling hair on the back of the animal’s neck, and a flash of tusks sends the character rushing blindly through dense foliage. Readers see through the characters eyes when writers provide the right sensory information. It not only makes the story come alive, but it eliminates the need to tell the reader what’s going on or how a character is feeling. Instead, sensory input pulls them into the story to experience it first hand.

In real life, our thoughts wander, but even as they seem to meander from topic to topic, they do follow logic. Writers can create natural segues with the use of sensory details. If your character hears someone laugh and it reminds them of someone they once knew, it provides a natural transition to include backstory without dumping the information in an awkward or obtrusive way. In the same way, if your character smells a hint of electrical smoke it makes sense that they will look for the source. If they come to the laundry room door and it feels hot, many readers will know the character should not open the door—if they do, the reader will brace for the explosion of flame.

In my part two, we'll take a closer look at the five senses in writing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Balance the Missing Ingredient - Part 2

Part 2 - Balance the Missing Ingredient

by Donna Sundblad

Don’t Digress

Study your manuscript. Have you skipped important details readers want to know while expounding on minor details? Don’t paint the picture of characters loitering at the diner at the truck stop if the characters inside don’t play an important part in the story. Although the interaction between the waitress wearing the bright lipstick and the scrawny truck driver puffing on a cigarette at the bar may be well-written, if it doesn’t matter to the story, it needs to be eliminated. What the reader needs to know about is what is happening in the parking lot? If your protagonist wasn’t able to change the tire and walks to the truck stop nearby does she find trouble or help in the parking lot? Don’t get sidetracked by unimportant details. It waters down the tension. Take out the unnecessary diner details and spend the time outside in the parking lot. I’m not saying every diner detail, just the unnecessary. Draw attention from the diner to outside through the window. Show apprehension on the face of the man looking out the window. Is he the one waiting for the woman in red or a hero waiting to rescue her? Expand pertinent details to keep the pace moving.


Pacing or the timing used to move your story forward is accomplished through the use of dialog, incidents, and anecdotes. Using the above example, imagine tires of a black pickup truck squealing into the parking lot of the diner. Headlights spotlighting the middle-aged woman struggling up the ramp into the parking lot offers detail to move the story along. The reader knows the main character hoped to meet a potential love interest here. What happens next? That’s what you want to know and it’s what you want your readers to ask.

“Hey, pretty lady, you look like you need some help.” The burly man stroked his full, tobacco-stained beard like a pet.

“No, no thank you.” She smoothed her hand across her greasy midsection. “My friend is meeting me here.”

Dialog moves the story along. Could this guy be her suitor, or is he a treat? The tension mounts. Dialog should accomplish something. Use it to show the characters’ personality or shine light on information previously unknown. To ensure balance be sure not to force information into dialog in an unnatural way, or allow characters to uncharacteristically perform actions just to make your plot work.


Transitioning from one subject or setting to another requires a connecting link. If the story thrusts the reader into a new setting without warning, and confuses them. It leaves them asking, “How did they get there?” and distracts them from the real story. A transition connects scenes. Even if it is one sentence long, a transition adds continuity and logic to the flow of the story.


Another type of balance is the balance of sentences. Have you ever read a story aloud and tripped over words, or went back to reread because something didn’t flow? Vary the length of sentences. Mix up the length of words used. Read your work out loud and listen. Does the story flow?

Imagine the details of your story to be sand in an hourglass. Each detail is a grain of sand. The top end of the glass contains conflict and tension, which transitions and leaks into the second half of the story. A consistent flow of particulars trickles into the bottom of the hourglass, where each grain of conflict mingles with pertinent details forming an interesting pattern that presents a satisfying resolution. That’s the missing ingredient. The balance of details as they flow and mingle without stopping.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Balance the Missing Ingredient - Part 1

By Donna Sundblad author of Windwalker and Beyond the Fifth Gate

“What’s missing?” Details move your story along. It’s complete with a beginning, middle and end, but your muse clucks its tongue quietly and tells you that it can be better. You agree; something is lacking. But what?

What do you do when inspiration strikes, but when pen meets paper the story doesn’t engage on an emotional level? What good is a story if it doesn’t grab us and demand our attention? Sometimes it’s a matter of walking away from the project for a couple of days so you can look at it with fresh eyes and a clear mind. When you come back to it, it’s easier to see what’s missing.

Look for balance.

Conflict, Tension and Resolution

How many times have you been disappointed with a book or movie and you say, “That’s the end?” Conflict is an essential element when writing fiction, however resolution to that conflict is equally important and necessary. If you introduce conflict without resolution, it leaves the reader unfulfilled.

Pull out a story you want to improve. First, dissect the text. Look for elements of conflict, tension and resolution. With a blue highlighter, mark sections presenting conflict. In the same way, highlight tension in yellow and resolution in green. Conflict should be introduced throughout, with tension ebbing and flowing around it as characters strive toward a goal of some sort. Ultimate resolution will be nestled near the end of the story where it brings all the loose threads together and ties them in a tidy knot, but minor aspects of resolution should be sprinkled throughout the story to lessen tension.

Real life issues, different circumstances everyday even amid a life of routine can be used to create conflict or tension. Stress is a real part of life. After the fact, it makes interesting telling. It’s no different when writing. Without tension the story reads flat and less interesting, but constant tension is no better. The reader needs a break. Yellow highlighted text should be situated within some un-highlighted text. It’s like riding a wave carrying the reader to the top and gently dropping them on the other side ready to start a new wave. One scene should flow into the next as you travel to meet the big wave—the climax.

Inner and Outer Problems

Circumstances intruding on life induce conflict. Character reaction to these circumstances builds tension. For example: If your protagonist meets a potential date on line and he asks her to consider meeting him face-to-face, the internal conflict can deal with the issue of honesty or lack of self-confidence. Should she send her suitor an up-to-date photo of herself? Will she be rejected? What kind of guy wants to meet for a diner at a truck stop? Outer problems include things like getting a flat tire on the way to meet the date, making her late or even greasy with dirty smudges all over her red dress and a big hole in her nylons.

Mingling inner and outer conflict builds tension until it culminates at the climax of the story. The trick is to bring the reader toward the conclusion of the story in the same way—a wave at a time. Even as you head toward the end of the story, tension is a necessary ingredient. It’s the bait that keeps the reader wanting to know what happens next. On the way to the conclusion, check to see that you have resolved each conflict woven into the story line. Dangling details or unanswered questions leave the reader wondering if they missed something.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bruise and Consequence

Guest Post by Author Teel James Glenn

Bruise and Consequence

based on the book “Them’s Fightin’ Words!” by Teel James Glenn (published by

Since the first storyteller sat around a campfire spinning tales of gods and heroes it has been a given that a little action makes a mildly interesting story into a real grabber. Put your hero or heroine in physical jeopardy and you can have a winner. Conflict is the key and physical conflict, i.e., a fight, is often the answer.

It is not the only answer, to be sure, and emotional conflict is the essence of real drama, but the line where drama ends and adventure or melodrama begins is an iffy one. Since the fight has to serve the purpose of the story you have to use the same criteria as any journalistic or dramatic story. Ask yourself, ‘is this fight necessary?’ If it is then you can use the old six questions: Why, Who, How, Where, What and When?


Why is this fight the solution to this moment of the story, instead of a dialogue scene? Being clear about the purpose the fight in the story is paramount. After all, Shakespeare put the fight at the end of Hamlet for two very strong reasons. It was the dramatic climax that brought together several plot threads, and it was used as a device to reveal the true personalities of the major participants.


Who is involved in the action; the principal? A secondary character? If so, what is their stake in the confrontation (their personal why)?


How did the fight come about? How does it end? And in what state are the participants when it is all over? Will there be lingering effects? And will the effects be physical or mental or both? There is also the mechanical how of a fight; that is, how to plan it out. You can’t build a house without a plan and you must do the same thing with the ‘story’ of a fight.

One thing to do in building the fight is to put in a ‘kick the dog moment’, by which I mean, give your bad guys an action that makes it clear they are not just misunderstood and don't mean well. Let them ‘kick’ the metaphorical dog in the room, hurt an innocent with no remorse.


Where does the action take place? Is it an interesting enough place, i.e. a kitchen, a garage, a spaceship port? What makes that place of particular interest? Does it add color to the story, or is it just a drab background, a diorama in front of which the action takes place?


What is involved, physically in the fight? A sword fight; if so, what style? Or styles. Do they use the objects at hand or did they bring the ‘death dealers’ with them. (Jackie Chan movies are especially good at finding clever things to do with found objects in action scenes—you don’t have to be ‘clever’ funny but you should clever smart.).


When is it appropriate to have a fight instead of a non-physical solution? I know I keep stressing this, but that cuts to the heart of the situation of many literature snobs who will not deal with any ‘action’ because they feel it cheapens the purpose of a story


About Author Teel James Glenn

Teel James Glenn is a native of Brooklyn though he has traveled the world for thirty years as a Stuntman/Coordinator/Swordmaster, Jouster, Book Illustrator, Storyteller, Bodyguard and Actor. You can keep up on Teel James Glenn’s adventures at

His books in the Altiva fantasy series are: Tales of a Warrior Priest, Death at Dragonthroat, The Daemonhold Curse, and Sister Warrior all from ePress-Online as are Knight Errant :Death and Life at the Faire , Them’s Fightin Words :A Writers Guide to Writing Fight Scenes and the forthcoming: The Vision Quest Factor and A Hex of Shadows.

The Exceptionals: #1 Measure of a Man and #2 Across the Wasteland are out from Whiskey Creek Press with #3 due next year.

He has stories published in AfterburnSF, Blazing Adventures, AnotherRealm, Event Horizon, Fantasy Tales, Mad, Black Belt, Alternative Cinema, Classic Pulp Fiction Stories, Weird Stories, Double Danger Tales, Startling Science Stories, Shots Writer’s Village and others.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Magic Rules: Part 3 -: The Art of Creating A Magical System

© 2006 by P. June Diehl (used with permission)

Instead of another article about writing the rules of magic, let’s look at how to create rules for our magical system, what things you need to consider.

General areas to think about:

  • How might the source of the magic affect the rules you’re looking to create?
  • How will you work limitations into rules that work?
  • What are the side effects (the consequences) to the user of magic and to others?
  • How will the magic of different users work with or against each other? Can the magics cancel each other out? What, if any, side effect(s) might this cause?
  • Is magic achieved through training or natural ability?
  • How does the culture respond to the use of magic and how does this affect the user of magic? What is the place of magic in your world?
  • What are the magic users understanding of the mechanics of magical powers? Are these views different from the reality of the situation? From the view of the antagonist?
  • Consider the peoples that will make up your world. The more nonhuman characters involved, the more magical interplay might be acceptable.


Any rule of magic that you create must exist for a purpose. Don’t throw something in because it’s cute, or something you thought about doing. All of your magic rules must exist for a reason.

Assumptions about magic that can be found in normal (mundane) or in fantasy worlds:

· Magic might be difficult to use, achieve, or sustain.

· Magic may be dangerous, not only to those it acts upon, but upon the wielder.

· Magic is evil. On the other hand, magic is good. Maybe it is neither, but depends on the outcome achieved.

· Magic might be rare, or magic might be commonplace.

· Magic is unpredictable. How can this be in terms of trying to create a “logical magical system?” Think chaos theory. Think in terms that we don’t fully understand the physics of the forces as work in our own world. Could it be that magic is not fully understood in your fantasy world?

Which of these above assumptions might you use in your world to help you create your rule base?

Suggestions on creating rules that seem logical and work in your fantasy world:

  • Be consistent. The rules can’t contradict each other. They don’t change in the middle of your story or novel.
  • Consider the rules that magicians from our mundane world use. How are they different than the magical system in your fantasy world:
    • Never perform a trick without first perfecting it.
    • Never let your audience see you sweat
    • Don’t give away your secrets.
  • Keep the list of rules short and simple. You might start out with many rules, but try to combine and condense these until you have five or less rules.
  • Consider writing your rules based on the five Ws: who, what, when, where, why.


Treat your rules with respect. They should be taken as seriously as earthlings take the force of gravity and or Newton’s Law.

Other considerations:

· Develop a magical concept – What does you magic “look like?”

· What are the mechanics of your magical system?

· Write guidelines for the magic in your fantasy world.

· Think of magic in terms of skills – What magical “skills” will your characters have?

The magical rules must make sense in the context of your fantasy world and culture. Magic cannot exist in isolation. All things are connected.

* * *

P. June Diehl is the author of The Magic & the Mundane: A Guide for the Writer’s Journey and working on a second book for writers. Her short stories, articles, and poetry have been published in print and online. June works as a writing teacher/mentor at Pearls of Writing and Writers Village University. She is the Editorial Director and a Senior Editor at Virtual Tales, and a Lead Editor with ePress-Online.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Magic Rules Part 2: Limitations of Magic – At What Cost?

by guest author P. June Diehl (used with permission)

Fiction is about conflict, and fantasy is no different. Magic cannot be an all-powerful force, or there would be no conflict: If anything and everything is a possibility, then nothing would be interesting in your fantasy world.

I’m not talking about rules, at least not yet. That’s the subject of the third article in this series. Setting limitations allows the author to focus on story elements: tension, conflict, plot, etc., whereas, rules are part of a worldbuilding system.

Magic vs. Intelligence and Strength

While magic can be used to get the heroine or hero out of a sticky situation, it’s not the only or always appropriate way out. The protagonist has intelligence, strength, and other non-magical abilities to be called into use. Use those first. Only use magic as an out when there’s no other way.

On the other side of the mirror, we have the antagonist, who might appear to have no limits to his or her magical power, but if that were true, our heroine or hero would lose in the end. The editor or agent reading your manuscript would be disappointed, and the author would not be offered a publishing contract.

Limitations of the Magical System

Any character who uses magic in a fantasy world has to deal with natural limitations of that magical system. Magic is a wonderful force in a fantasy story, but it’s also a dangerous force. This adds inherent conflict to the plot: not only is the antagonist trying to stop the heroine or hero, but those who love and support the protagonist might also not want her or him to use this dangerous power.

Magic can have limitations in other ways. Maybe it only works as desired 60% of the time. Perhaps the outcome is predictable half of the time. Possibly the side effects change over time.

Another aspect a fantasy author must remember is that if you take away the magic, the protagonist and antagonist are people, with their own limitations and flaws, their own strengths and salvations. Accent these and let magic play a secondary part in your plot.

A character’s current situation might also limit the use or outcome of his or her magical power. What happens when the hero has a cold or the antagonist didn’t get a good night’s sleep? How might this affect the ability to use magic effectively?

Fantasy characters make mistakes including mistakes with magic. This adds additional conflict and tension and shows the character dealing with an outcome not intended or expected. Maybe the character has to deal with guilt as a result of a mistake in using his or her magical power.

Develop Real Fantasy Characters

Fantasy characters are more than their magic. They feel, they think. They have dreams and fears. Your characters need to be well rounded people, with aspects of goodness and a pinch of the dark side. Focus on them as characters first, as magic users second.

Anyone who uses magic in a fantasy world must keep in mind the limitations, which make the story believable, and allow the author to develop tension and to create conflict. Remember: no conflict – no story.

* * *

P. June Diehl is the author of The Magic & the Mundane: A Guide for the Writer’s Journey and working on a second book for writers. Her short stories, articles, and poetry have been published in print and online. June works as a writing teacher/mentor at Pearls of Writing and Writers Village University. She is the Editorial Director and a Senior Editor at Virtual Tales, and a Lead Editor with ePress-Online.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Magic Rules - Part 1: Types of Magic--The Source Be With You

© 2006 by guest author P. June Diehl (used with permission)

The illusive art of magic governs, unites and even conquers fantastic fictional worlds with enchanted powers. Fantasy authors must decide the types of magic allowed to work within the created fantasy lands. What choices of magic do fantasy writers have to choose from? And a second important question to ask when writing fantasy: What is the source of your magical system?

Why is it important to understand the type of magic in the fantasy you create? Once you identify the type of magic you wish to use, defining limitations and rules comes easier. Knowing the source of the magical system helps focus on the mundane rules you’ll need to understand how to create a believable fantasy world.

The following are examples of magical systems. Some overlap so one fantasy series might include several of these types. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of the different types of magic, but a starter to help focus on your magical system.


The aura is the life force of all living things. The energy generated by this life force is used to generate magic. One use of this life force created magic is any fantasy where the source of the magic is from the charkas. The children’s classic, The Children of Green Knowe, is an example of aura magic, or Jennifer Lynn Barnes, juvenile fiction, Golden.


This mysterious, mystical force binds all that exists in the universe, it works as the thread that connects all things, living and otherwise. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan makes use of this concept.


This is a modern form of ritual magic. The source of the magic is some mind alternating technique: music, dance, chanting, drugs, etc. An example might be Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series.


The source of magic in this system is an advance being, whom mortals see as a god or goddess. Remember: what is so readily given, can equally be taken away (and usually at the worst possible moment in the plot). Harry Turtledove’s The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump has elements of magic, or power, given to humans by a deity.


The source of this type of magic might be the same, but the outcome is juxtaposed, based on the intent of the manipulator. The source of this magic is both outside and internal to humans, or whatever type of character the magical user might be. Robert Goodkind make use of this concept in his Sword of Truth series.


This is inclusive of any ingredient-based magic, like the fairy dust used in Peter Pan. This type of magic is also found in Sharon Shinn’s Summers at Castle Auburn, and Scent Of Magic by Andre Norton.


Either meditation or concentration is used to create magic – the “mind over matter” concept. This can also manifest as an altered state of consciousness. A classic example is Philip K. Dick’s fantasy, The Cosmic Puppets.


Usually, this revolves around the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Elemental magic can be found in the fantasy world of The Oran Trilogy by Midori Snyder or Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon series.


Magic exists in all things but some objects hold more magic than others. These magic rich objects are considered magical artifacts. An example is the Winter of the World series by Michael Scott Rohan.


Magic is created through the act of performing a ritual. This may or may not be based on a religion. In her Deryni series, Katherine Kurtz makes use of ritual magic.


The source is based in science, but must have a magical twist. For example: For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Give this law a twist: Every time magic is used by an individual, the good produced as a result, also produces an evil side effect. L. E. Modesitt’s The Magic of Recluce and The Towers of the Sunset exhibit science-based magic.


The premise here is that advanced technology is used by advanced beings, but appears to be magic by others. Science fiction author Arthur C Clarke’s “Third Law” states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Out of This World, the first of the Three Worlds Trilogy by Lawrence Watt-Evans, is an excellent example of Clarke’s Third Law.


The results are the ability to read minds, telekinesis, being able to see across time or space, etc. The source of this magic is the supernatural, that which is beyond what is normally thought of as “natural.” In Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books, the magic is inborn and presented as psychic in nature. Another example is the psionics in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series.


In this magical system, symbols are used to represent more that they seem on the surface. When used by a magic weaver, these symbols take on a physical quality. Any fantasy that uses a system like Runes is an example of symbolic magic, such as the Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman.


Voodoo is an example of sympathetic magic. The focus here is that what is done to an object can be equally transferred to the person who once possessed that object, or by knowing the magical name of an object, as in Ursula K. LeGuin's Wizards of Earthsea.


This is based on the concept that we are aware of our unity with all the universe, we are able to create magic by tapping into that unity. Robert Jordan’s magic system in his Wheel of Time series is one example of this type of magic.

In some fantasy worlds, magic might be limited to either men or to women. Some examples are the works of Melanie Rawn and Robert Jordan.

These types of magic can be combined to create your magical system. Human myth and legends are full of magic. Beg, borrow, and steal – make the magic your own to suit your fantasy world. Pick and choose the elements that work for your fantasy world. Or, create an altogether new magical type. The limit is your own imagination.

* * *
P. June Diehl is the author of The Magic & the Mundane: A Guide for the Writer’s Journey and working on a second book for writers. Her short stories, articles, and poetry have been published in print and online. June works as a writing teacher/mentor at Pearls of Writing and Writers Village University. She is the Editorial Director and a Senior Editor at Virtual Tales, and a Lead Editor with ePress-Online.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cloak and Sword Woman:

© 2006 by Guest Author P. June Diehl (reprint with permission)

Strong character development is a must, and beyond that, fantasy readers want (and need) multi-level female fantasy heroines. Want to write a fantasy book that sells? Then you need a strong female lead character, as she can make or break your story.

She’s beautiful, intelligent, and not afraid to get her hands dirty. She’s the cloak and sword woman, even if she doesn’t own a cloak or know how to swing a sword.

Creating the Fantasy Heroine

Your heroine must be a balanced character to make her believable. Determine her strengths and weaknesses. What does she love? What are her fears? What are her hopes and dreams? Her secrets? What does she dread?

So, what other characteristics belong to your cloak and sword woman? Here’s a list to help you get started.

  • She knows how to get things done; she’s resourceful. She has fears, but strong will, circumstances, or something else propels for onward. In moving forward, she sometimes creates problems.
  • Your cloak and sword woman doesn’t wait for things to happen to her; she goes forth and actively seeks her destiny. She is proactive. This can be good or bad, as she might misjudge the consequences of her actions.
  • The fantasy heroine is strong of will and soul. She uses her inner resources to the best of her abilities, fighting through her fears. On the other side, she needs to recognize when and how to ask for help.
  • She loves, but tends to fear giving or receiving love. Maybe she holds back because of a fear of being hurt or betrayed, but the love is there, and in the course of the story, the love matures.
  • She’s passionate. Bottom line: She grows into a woman who knows what she wants and gets what she goes after, whether she’s facing an evil monster or dealing with a loved one. This aspect of your heroine can also lead her down paths where she will either dig herself out or need to ask or find help in doing so.
  • Your heroine is fallible. Who isn’t? If your cloak and sword woman didn’t make an occasional mistake, who would want to read her story? She makes errors and misjudgments, and learns to admit when she is wrong. Many times her errors result from her passions, but she never blames others, learning that she’s the one who creates her destiny.
  • She can be physically or emotionally wounded, but limit this as too much makes her appear weak. When she is wounded, the heroine will push or fight through her pain, seeing options and taking a course of action. She doesn’t sit by and wait for others to act. In the bleakest moments, there is opportunity for her to learn and grow.

Self-Actualized Fantasy Heroine

The cloak and sword woman takes charge of her destiny. From the beginning, the reader is aware that she is headed in this direction on a subconscious level. By the end of the novel the fantasy heroine is self-actualized.

The fantasy heroine has immediate and long range needs and goals, driven by her passions. The conflicts come at her from within and without. She battles demons on all levels, and in the process, she grows.

Allow your readers to experience her feelings and thoughts, her dreams and fears. Re-read fantasy novels in which you admire the heroine. What has the author done in the story to make you care about the heroine? Strive to develop the same qualities in your own character.

Give life to your cloak and sword female fantasy character. Bestow upon her a life that suits her destiny and dreams. In doing this, you will give your readers exactly what they want. A character they care about, relate to and grow with.

* * *
P. June Diehl is the author of The Magic & the Mundane: A Guide for the Writer’s Journey and working on a second book for writers. Her short stories, articles, and poetry have been published in print and online. June works as a writing teacher/mentor at Pearls of Writing and Writers Village University. She is the Editorial Director and a Senior Editor at Virtual Tales, and a Lead Editor with ePress-Online.