Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Consistency and Logic in Novel Writing - Part 1

Much like mapping, tracking follows characters and objects throughout various plot threads during the novel writing process to ensure consistency and logic. Tracking includes:

Where Characters Travel

Characters possess various bits of information or even lack of knowledge about places found within the fictional worlds where they live. If a character has never graced the shores of the village on the lake, all they would know is what they’ve been told. Hearsay. If characters base their actions on hearsay, they may find themselves caught in unforeseen trouble when plans don’t work. That’s fine, but actions and consequences need to match experience and knowledge.

What characters know needs to be consistent with their experience. Fantasy writers can be tempted to throw in a previously unknown morsel of knowledge to make a plot work. However, when this is done, the thread of knowledge must weave back through the plot to keep the logic consistent. If they didn’t know it earlier, they won’t know it later. Track where characters travel and what they know.

Who Characters Meet

Who characters meet is a little easier to track unless your novel is filled with a large number of primary characters. It’s the primary characters’ relationships that need to be followed. Their actions and reactions move the plot along. Also track window characters (those that provide insight to various scenes and happenings in the primary characters’ lives).

Just like in real life, not everyone knows everyone else. When writing a novel, include characters that work to move the story along by adding tension or conflict to the plot. This hooks the reader’s attention and makes them hungry for more.

If your protagonist has never met Guard 3 within information provided to the reader, and yet at a checkpoint later in the story the two mysteriously remember each other so that the guard let’s the protagonist pass—the reader will take pause to sift through what they know and question how this could happen.

Your goal as a novelist is to keep the reader reading. If you find it necessary that two characters know each other at the climax of your story, it has to be done in a way that makes logical sense to the reader. Even if it’s a chance meeting earlier in the story in which the reader is unaware of a conversation, that’s fine. But somewhere within the story, the reader needs to be able to logically trace back how the plot twist works based on character relationships.

(Photo supplied by Patti Gray Kewanee, IL, United States)

Monday, July 28, 2008

How to Devlop Your Plot

Creative Writing demands a level of organization dictated by the complexity of your plot line. I have heard that there are only seven different plot lines, with thirty-six variations. Yours could be unique but it will still need to follow the fundamental rules if you are going to keep your readers for the whole journey.

How To Devlop Your Plot

You must have all the information about: Who, Why, Where, When and How, before you start.

Who. Know your characters. Decide what personality traits they bring to the story. Know their history. Know what motivates them, their favorite foods their deepest secret, their first kiss, their worst nightmare.

Why are they in the situation of the story you are writing? History and back story are vital. Even if you don't use any of your ideas in the story, you must know why events are unfolding and the reasons must be convincing. Fantasy plots might not be in the realm of believability, but if they don't convince the reader, you're wasting your time. So, the 'why' everything happens is vital.

Where is your story set. Close your eyes, if you can't see where the scene is happening, do more research. Find a photo, film or dream until the dust is gritty and the wind chills your blood. IF you can't imagine where your story is taking place . . . don't expect your readers to follow you.

When, is pretty much covered by where. Set the time line . . . then don't add modern slang to a period piece or localized knowledge to a fantasy world. Keep your artifacts accurate as far as possible. Don't have knight's nuking their prey or off world wizard's chewing gum.

bulletHow, is the most important ingredient in your plot. Take notes and keep track of all the hows as your create your world. Show how your characters react to every situation.
bulletYour hero must resolve the dilemma (conflict) they face.
They must grow, through conflict, adversity or discovery and gathered knowledge.
bulletYour plot must include the how the protagonist and the antagonist resolve their tales.
bulletPlot how does the adventure leads into the climax
Decide if and how the climax will resolve all the problems presented.
bulletMake certain all the loose ends of the plot and sub plots are resolved.

Before you complete your plot, make sure your plot resolves all of these points. Then you are ready to write, and your characters have a field in which to come to life.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Inspiration to Overcome Writer's Block - Part 2

The one sentence rule challenged me to consider how to verbally paint a picture without bogging my writing down with descriptive long windedness. Regular practice hones the ability to succinctly paint with the pen. Pumping Your Muse takes you down the road I traveled to make world-building part of what I know. The design of these exercises develops skills beyond your current norm and focuses creative energies in new directions. Following the chapter-by-chapter steps presented in this book makes the task of building a world easier and natural. It migrates from performing an exercise to becoming what you 'know'.

I suggest you buy a paper journal, digital recorder or portable electronic device such as a PDA for this journey. Why? It's not only convenient but also efficient. Consider it a transportable link to your world under construction. Carry it with you; be prepared to capture details when you see them. I transfer information from a paper journal to my computer to keep an electronic record as a resource to be used when I pull the story together.

Use the journal to 'map' development. Mapping doesn't have to be a work of art but a sketch. Gather rough ideas, tentatively plat their placement on your map; charting details from the genesis of your world makes logistical errors less likely.

I started with a pencil sketch using ovals in a flow chart format to mark places as they emerged. It didn't take me long to seek an electronic way to create maps. A good friend of mind and fellow fantasy writer, Joan McNulty-Pulver, recommended PowerPoint while my son-in-law explained that the Adobe Photoshop I currently owned could also be used. These products and others like them offer tools to create maps in layers so changes can be added or removed as needed. I experimented and vacillated between paper and pencil and the electronic format. I liked the old-fashioned approach and easy-to-use eraser at the end of my pencil. I scratched a rough sketch and eventually transferred the details into an Adobe Photoshop file because it's easy to find and make changes. I'm not telling you that this is the best way to keep your maps updated, but rather it's what worked for me.

I have a tendency to be traditionalist. The idea of a paper journal to represent the first efforts of writing my next novel tickled my fancy. I thought of Indiana Jones holding his father's journal and the secrets it held. If you decide to use pencil and paper, organize your journal to make things easy to find. Pencil works best because it is erasable. Placing my world-building map on the inside front cover of this journal saved time in the long run. Instead of flipping through page after page of handwritten notes searching for the right page, I opened the book and added the newest detail. A Flip Side map on the inside of the back cover follows the evolution of an alternate world (you'll learn more about this in chapter 1).

Early chapters in this book break exercises into easy-to-use sections designed to build foundational information regarding a specific world. Exercising these creative muscles pumps the realism you desire into your budding world. Each chapter presents a series of exercises that build on one another. This provides opportunities to improve your skill while creating a bond of logic that connects scenes as you weave details with a thread of continuity.

Writing takes time. Make a plan. The commitment is up to you, but I suggest you build your world no less than four days a week. This schedule allots writing time as well as thinking time. Write your goal at the top of the first page of your journal. Three days a week, five days a week, or seven days a week--make that commitment now.

Discover the World Inside You

World building exercises contained in this book fall into five categories:

Research: Building a world sometimes calls for supplies outside the realm of current knowledge and experience. Research exercises encourage the collection of specific new information necessary to build upon the foundation of current knowledge and experience.

Attention to Detail: Real world details flood our senses on a subconscious level. Good writers furnish these details with three-dimensional realism while moving characters within an imaginary world with an active voice. Attention to Detail exercises hone the writer's skill to furnish detailed information without falling prey to overly descriptive terms, which tend to bog down the flow and lose the reader's attention.

On the other hand, they train the writer to be more observant. Routine sometimes makes us so familiar with our surroundings that we no longer take in the details. We drive to work and wonder how we got there. The Attention to Detail activity teaches the eye to observe and helps the writer see how to use details that mold the reader's impressions without 'telling' them what to think.

On the Flip Side: No matter how bizarre or mundane the story, the writer's thoughts follow a sequence--a thread of logic. On the Flip Side exercises force the writer from that path of logic and make them wander in another direction long enough to explore new concepts.

For this Chapter: Some chapter topics offer more challenges and opportunities to grow world-building skills than others. For this Chapter exercises incorporate these challenges within specific chapters to prod the writer to experience a new level of exploration in their world-building skills.

Reconstitute Your World: Reconstitute Your World takes aspects of 'real world' places and happenings, blends them with fictional ingredients, and transforms them into believable realms and scenarios, complete with flora and fauna. This stage strengthens the writer's ability to apply what they've learned to notice in the everyday world in which they live, learn and grow adding small doses of realism to elements already established in your fictional world.

Mapping and Tracking: Applying these principles teaches plotting and organizational skills from the genesis to the completion of your world, complete with characters and their belongings. Mapping and Tracking develops competence to provide logistical smoothness and a way to track objects for continuity.

Activities in each chapter interact and feed off each other. In some cases you will complete an exercise before moving on to the next, while others may be ongoing as you collect detailed information to add to existing scenes.

* * *

For more on Pumping Your Muse, visit epress-online to read the first chapter for free.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Inspiration to Overcome Writer's Block - Part 1

People often ask me how I overcome writer's block. Working on several projects at one time helps, but when I'm looking for inspiration one of the best places to find it is to step away from the computer and go outdoors. In fact, that's where I found the idea for my creative writing book, Pumping Your Muse. (By the way, don't rush out at by it just yet. The revised edition should be out by the end of July).

Here's just a peek at the introduction from my book. It would never have come about if I didn't step outside to see that beautiful sunrise that inspired the one sentence rule. From that one idea, my imagination gave birth to Pumping Your Muse and the two novels that the exercise drew out. So if you're looking for a way to overcome writer's block, try stepping outdoors and practicing the one sentence rule.


Write what you know. You'll find this recommendation echoed throughout literature on writing, but when it comes to fiction I wondered how 'what I know' pertains when creating a world that doesn't exist. Where do you find the inventive genius to build a world atom by atom and breathe life into it in such a way that the reader finds it entertaining and yet believable? How do writers use what they 'know' during this creative process?

Some writers naturally introduce minute particulars, offering tangible glimpses of the world in which their fictional characters live and breathe. The goal of Pumping Your Muse is to stretch your creativity beyond your norm by taking a daub of what you know and pushing your muse to carry it to new limits in a concise but descriptive manner. Challenging exercises reach deep into the recesses of your imagination forcing ideas in resourceful new directions of development. We'll take these creative bits and pieces gradually connecting them in sequence while painting verbal details with subtle brush strokes crafting a picture that engages the reader's senses.

I designed these exercises for myself because this process did not come quite so naturally. My character driven plots offered plenty of interaction between characters, but 'showed' little of the character's interaction with the world in which they lived. I'd walk them down the road to get from point A to point B while offering a detail or two, such as the position of the sun to provide a time of day or dust stirring around their feet. Yes, these details feed the reader information, but they paint an incomplete picture and generate questions. Are there clouds in the sky? What season of year is it? Is there a breeze or does the protagonist work up a sweat on a tranquil day? And dust ... why is there dust? Is the road paved? Narrow? Wide? Is drought a factor? Does the scene take place in the city or a rural area? The sad thing is I didn't know the answers to these questions. I only had a plot and a main character in mind. Creating the world to make the scene work with the plot, after the fact, produces work and increases the chance for 'bloopers' by fabricating a lack of continuity and believability.

I searched for a way to bring together world building and character development in a natural, organic manner. Much like God created Adam from the dust of the earth, I wanted characters forged within the world in which they existed instead of crafting a world to fit my characters. I desired to 'know' how to build a believable world no matter how unusual and searched for a way to give my muse a creative shove. The exercises introduced in this book started one day when I pushed away from the computer and went for a walk. Dawn brightened the sky. I marveled at the colors graduating from the horizon and considered how I would describe the scene in one sentence.

Why one sentence? Practice writing short condensed clips and it prepares you for the future. It trains you to see details once overlooked and to write what you want to say without excess verbiage. Much like adding colors to a painter's pallet, this mental gathering of descriptions builds a foundation of experience from which to draw. It becomes routine and part of what you know.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More About Author Donna Sundblad

For those of you who don't know it, my name is Donna Sundblad. I'm the author of a creative writing book and two fantasy novels...well that's what's published at this point. In fact, the second novel will be released in September.

For more about me, visit The Fearless Blog: Seeking Courage and Inspiration where I'm featured today. Take a moment and stop by. I'll be checking in over there. If you have a question you can ask it. :)

I'll be posting tomorrow about how to overcome writer's block See you here then.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fantasy World Schools Part 2

In Fantasy World Schools and Education Part 1, we learned how to define culture in a developing fantasy world by looking at the educational system. We looked at the importance of determining how schools function, their purpose, and such cultural issues as who can attend. Now we'll move to what they learn, what it costs and how they get there.

What Do Fantasy Pupils Learn

Writing fantasy opens the opportunity to include elements of magic within the learning process. Pupils who learn magical chants, reading and writing of a mythical or ancient language, and rituals relevant to how the magic of the world works are provided with the knowledge and special training necessary to survive the emerging quest breaking forth in the plot of your story.

Other than subjects like grammar, history and numbers, students can study subjects like philosophy, magic, oratory and logic. In the fantasy story Sky High students learned to control their super powers and in the process they were tested and sectioned into two groups-Superhero or Sidekick. In fantasy, students enrolled in magical classes may be broken into categories for ability rather than age.

  • Apprentice Class - Those new to learning magic but ready to learn.
  • Novice Class - Students have some training magic but have never competed with others in the use of their powers.
  • Magician, Wizard, Sorcery (or whatever you title your magical people) Class - These pupils have proven their magical abilities through competition but are still learning magical abilities.
  • Order (Provide appropriate name for your fantasy culture) Class - Just like religions separate their clerics into different orders, magic does the same. Once characters join an order they have competed and proven they have a higher understanding and command of magic. If you don't want to use terms such as apprentice and novice, numbered levels also make distinctions readers understand without lengthy description. Just make it clear if level 1 is the expert level or a group for beginners.

    What Does It Cost?

    To keep the plot interesting, education in the fantasy world must have a cost. In your fantasy realm is tuition charged to attend school? Is running the school a profitable business? If so, who profits? Is it a corrupt business? If your fantasy world has poor villages, do the parents in these smaller towns have to scrimp and save to see their children receive an education? Is it even an option? Do farmers or craftsmen work extra hours so a son might attend school? Or do they have to give up their first born to allow the rest of their children to receive an education? If a son or daughter receives an education will they be able to rise in the world and have an easier life than their parents?

    Do the females in your fantasy world have the same opportunity for education? Long ago, girls received schooling at nunneries, but the teaching received was useful for religious life. For the most part, non-church schools didn't admit girls. Instead, girls' learned to manage the household, to sing, play an instrument, dance, and also learned crafts like needlework. Care of the sick was also included in household duties. In medieval times, a girl knew more than her brothers about healing and the medicinal powers of certain herbs. In Jo Hall's fantasy novel Hierath, even though she came from a lowly family Lydia learned to be a healer, a talent that came in handy as war tore the kingdom apart.

    How Do Fantasy Characters Get to School

    For fantasy writers, transportation to and from a magical school can be as mundane as a school bus ride, or as exciting as flying by some magical means to a secret location free from mortal intrusion. If magical methods transport fantasy students to school, be sure to keep abilities consistent with what has been established. Even when it's magic, it must make sense to the reader.
    In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when Harry Potter heads straight for the brick wall at King's Cross Station to board the Hogwarts Express from platform 9 ¾, readers know he can pass through the wall. When the bus in Sky High picks students up, it's no surprise when it leaves the ground. Whatever mode of transportation you choose, make it relevant to the rest of the story.

  • Monday, July 7, 2008

    Fantasy World Schools Part 1

    When writing fantasy, educational institutions in the fantasy realm (just like the real world) will reflect social structure and what is important within the culture. If the culture reveres females over males, it will show in the schools, academies, institutes, universities or whatever the fantasy writer label institutes of higher learning. In fantasy novels like my novel, Windwalker, female characters are not allowed to attend school and are not taught to read.

    Establishing a school when writing fantasy takes consideration. It's part of world building. Along with other elements of society, the fantasy author will want to sketch how the school functions, what its purpose is, who can attend, what they learn, what it costs and even how the students get there.

    Fantasy School Function

    Different cultures promote different methods for learning. Here are a few ideas to get you started when developing a school system when writing fantasy:

    · Does learning revolve around a competitive system of standardized tests and exams in a public institutional setting?

    · Are both male and female students allowed?

    · Does teaching challenge and foster ingenuity or are new ideas squelched?

    · Do students learn by memorization based on a historical perspective like sayings of wisdom that are handed down orally from one generation to the next?

    · Is the educational system tied to a belief system like religion or magic?

    · Do sacred texts exist? For more ideas look to history: History of Education

    Determine the Purpose

    To help better develop a school system that works within the fantasy world, consider the purpose of the school. Why do your fantasy characters need to attend? Writing fantasy, like any genre, requires the author to consider the relevance of characters and places within the story. Is the school necessary? If not, delete it. If it is necessary to the plot what is the purpose? How does the school influence your characters? What does the interaction at the school reveal to the reader?

    Learning from History

    Long before the twelfth century, education was a privilege for wealthy young men. Other than that, parish priests organized classes for young men desiring to enter the priesthood. These young men, in turn, gave lessons to small neighborhood children eager for knowledge. That summed up the educational system at that time.

    What was the priest's purpose for teaching? To keep the priesthood stocked with able young men. In turn, these men who understood the education need of the neighborhood. They passed on what they learned.

    The priest had a purpose for teaching, and their students had a purpose for teaching. It wasn't so much a formal education, but still a form of tutoring. Consider such historical elements when designing an educational system to fit your fantasy world. Make sure your school system fits the world. A fantasy world designed from a medieval perspective will be different from a contemporary fantasy world, and a futuristic fantasy world may be a combination of past and future depending on the storyline.

    Who Can Attend

    Each fantasy world gives birth to a unique culture. Fantasy writers have the power to create worlds where characters mature and grow in an understanding of who they are meant to be. Limiting who can and cannot attend school presents opportunity to develop conflict and tension within the plot. For example, if a character does not know how to read it may require them to ask for help. Who do they ask? Asking makes them vulnerable, thus introducing tension and the opportunity for conflict.

    More questions to consider:

    · Is education public or private?

    · Do fantasy characters have to pay to attend or are schools free?

    · Creating free education for your fantasy characters may be a good thing, but is it something that would make every citizen happy?

    · Is everyone allowed to practice religion or magic? Historically, Pope Eugenius II ordered all bishops to establish schools in A.D. 826. This attempt at public education was to be free for the children of poor families. By the end of twelfth century boys who did not desire to become monks or priests could also attend school. The school system grew from a strictly religious training for the priesthood to educating all children, although religion was still the foundation. Creating a free school system for all classes of people is another avenue for a plot thread to follow. Would such freedom cause conflict in your fantasy world? Social distinctions, government controls and other cultural specifics will reflect in the educational system.

    Friday, July 4, 2008

    Happy 4th of July

    Happy 4th of July to all my readers. I've been on vacation this week, but be sure to check in on Monday. For those of you in the states, enjoy the day. For those who have served our country or are currently serving our country, thank you!

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008

    Creative Writing - The Art of Dialog

    When a person speaks, those listening hear tone, and assimilate peripheral information like body language and context to gain a total understanding of the meaning of the words. Identical words spoken within a disparate set of circumstances using different inflection and tone convey varied messages.

    For example: "Pick that up."

    Consider an organized housewife speaking with her husband by phone. She asks him to pick an item up from the grocery store on his way home from work. Her tone will differ from that of a teacher scolding a student for tossing a paper airplane in class. Dialog alone doesn't paint a complete image.

    In creative writing, the goal is to engage the reader's imagination and pull them into the story with an active voice that sets the tone and mood. "Show don't tell" is a familiar mantra within creative writing classes, and a lesson learned over time with the experience of writing.

    How to Convey Tone

    Tone conveys emotion. How something is said changes the meaning. It sets the mood. Don't rely on explanatory speaker attributions imbedded in speech tags to convey meaning. For example: "Pick that up?" he asked disgustedly. The adverb disgustedly tells rather than shows that the character is disgusted. Avoid describing emotion that the dialog should carry. Let readers experience the underlying emotion naturally without telling them what to feel with the use of descriptive modifiers.

    Descriptive modifiers amend the meaning of what they modify with further information. When used in speech tags, they modify the dialog by telling the reader how it is said. Most editors consider the use of excessive speaker attributions as amateurish. Don't tell the reader how something is said. Instead, build enough detail around the dialog with action that conveys the tone through body language. Consider the difference: Muscles in his jaw tightened. "Pick it up?" His face twisted in disgust.

    Words like hissed, seethed, etc. draw attention from the dialog to focus on the speech tag's telling information. Using speaker attributions marks writers as inexperienced. Stay away from describing emotion the dialog should carry. Verbs other than "said" tell readers what to think, instead of allowing dialog to speak for itself. If emotion connected with the scene is clear, the modifier offers redundant information. Redundancy ruptures the flow of the passage. It's distracting.

    While avoiding descriptive modifiers, don't compensate by imbedding information dumps within dialog. Unnatural dialog leads readers to wonder why the author artificially added content-another distraction.

    Mood and Emotion when Crafting Dialog

    Body language infuses emotion into dialog. Sometimes what is not said is more powerful that what is said. People move and make facial expressions when they talk. Known as a beat, actions surrounding dialog limit redundant tags. If you show the character pound their fist against the table, it eliminates the temptation to use a speech tag telling the reader he is angry.

    Creative writing reveals not just an exchange of dialog between characters but unveils thought processes that expose motives, emotions and internal conflict. This is one area where writing a book has advantages over producing a film. Knowing a character's thoughts lets readers experience life within the story from the character's point of view and to connect on an emotional level.

    In creative writing, thoughts are italicized differentiating them from spoken dialog.

    Who Is Speaking?

    When two characters engage in a verbal interchange, it's easy to make it clear which character is speaking. A rule of thumb to follow is to use speech tags for only one of the two characters. Speech tags are not necessary every time the character speaks, but should be used as needed for clarity.

    When a new character joins the other two, it becomes a little trickier to elucidate which character is speaking. Tools such as speech tags and beats help move the story along with clarity. However, a word of caution regarding using the basic modifier said. In an effort to avoid redundancy, beginning writers search for synonyms like replied, remarked, exclaimed and other similar words. Unfortunately, these draw attention away from the dialog. Don't use them or at best, use them sparingly. In most cases the word said is the preferred modifier.


    Colorful characters developed within the creative process have gender, physical characteristics, and a limited past including where they come from and the education they have received. These factors reflect in the character's speech. When writing dialog, don't get carried away with phonetic spellings to show dialect. If readers stumble through strange spellings, focus is no longer on a natural give and take between characters, but more like working a "What's this word supposed to be" puzzle.

    In the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, authors Renni Browne and Dave King say it best. "Explanations, -ly adverbs, oddball verbs of speech, trick spellings-these can't really help your dialogue because they don't really change the dialogue. They take the place of good dialogue rather than help create it."

    Instead, make appropriate word and grammar choices to convey dialect flavor. Read dialog aloud. With the right setting and proper word choices, dialect comes through without tricky spellings that send your spell checker into overload and readers scratching their head.