Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays / Thank You

English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! E...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Español: Feliz Navida y prospero año nuevo! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With good cause, you may have thought I have abandoned you faithful readers. However, I have not…I simply have done what many of you have experienced: bit off more than I can chew. Right now my focus has been on my blog PUPPY DOG TALES, largely because it has been so compelling to me. My dogs and I have been learning at a rapid pace the things we need to do and the things we must not do.

In the new year, I am determined to write a post for this blog at least once a month.  I will be focusing on writing tips and exercises from me and other writers.  I will also be providing some excerpts from my own writing and will invite you to do the same.  Watch for that feature.  I am toying with the idea of providing brief news clips on fantastical things happening both in the real world and the fantasy world.  We’ll see about the appeal that has for you and the time needed by me.  (Right now, it’s all about time.)

So that leaves us with my heartfelt wishes to you for a happy and peaceful Christmas and an abundant and healthful 2015…from me, my husband Ernest, and our two remaining dogs Ling Ling and Tilly Tot.

(c) 2015 Sandra Bell Kirchman

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Raw Emotion – Good or Bad for Your Story?

By Hans D. (originally posted to Flickr as Hooded sorrow) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons" )

By Hans D. (originally posted to Flickr as Hooded sorrow) [CC-BY-2.0(http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons”)

I won the challenge of NaNoWriMo again this year and ended up with around 52,000 words of unfinished novel.   The thing is, I fell in love with it.  It is a departure from my usual fantasy writing (either urban fantasy or epic fantasy).  It’s one of those hybrids that they’re calling cross-overs between fantasy and science fiction.  I call it science fantasy.

Because of the Mayan prophecy, it sparked my imagination to wonder what would happen to my husband and me and our three little Shih Tzu dogs if there really were going to be some kind of apocalyptic phenomenon.  I took a look at my husband’s characteristics (practical, efficient, no-nonsense, American, get the job done) and mine (emotional, caring, passionate, impulsive, Canadian) and imagined a trek made necessary by the apocalyptic event.  This event is very much secondary to the story, except that it is the motivator for the fear and the drive to go north, where people initially imagine they will be safer.

I found myself delving deeper into character and relationships because the main characters were based on my husband, myself, and some other people I know.  Most of the rest of the characters are fictitious, made up, like in nearly all my stories.  So there is a big departure here.

It also seemed that I was diving deeper into some of the emotions that I would feel in certain of the events that happen in the story.  At least one of them made me cry enough that I had real trouble getting through that part of the story.  This led to my thinking about using raw emotion in a story.  Is it a good idea?  Can it be too raw, too much of a revelation of the author’s personality to the point of author intrusion?  Or can it be an enrichment of the story, allowing the reader to gain insights into the narrative that they wouldn’t otherwise?  Or can it even offer insights into the reader him/herself?

Cristian Mihai, self-published author and brilliant blogger, wrote a post entitled Write What You Know.  In it, he touches on writing about what you are passionate about, what engages your attention and draws you into its circle of charm.  He also states that many writers draw back from writing their raw emotions down, for fear of being judged.

JohnTate, a member of Linkedin’s TWO BITS group (writing advice to writers from writers), entitled his thoughts on the subject “Highly emotive story topics – Do you steer clear?”:

Many hacks parade poorly written stories of horrific events in front of the readers to capture their attention. Sure, we all glance at the accident as we pass by, but good writing has little to do with subject matter. If fact, the better writers can take experiencing a snowflake to stellar levels.

We often forget we use words to paint our “art”. If the words are not well executed, the art is crap, despite an important or horrific subject matter.

Of course, one can and should write whatever he chooses and let the market determine whether it’s worthwhile.

My favorite author as a child was AlbertPaysonTerhune, who wrote books on animals, domesticated or in the wild, mostly dogs.  The travails of these creatures brought me to tears and I succumbed to real sorrow at their unfortunate plights.  Yet Terhune wrote in a narrative way, not so much involving his own emotions as describing emotions of the animals, or even simply telling the story of what happened.  It was tremendously effective nevertheless.

In the meantime, here is an excerpt of the passage from my NaNoWriMo novel of 2012, entitled The Rocky Road to the End of the World.  This passage is the one that made me cry.  Let me set the scene.  Mark and Alex (the characters based on my husband and me) are fleeing northward to what they hope will be safety, along with a couple of people they have picked up along the way for various reasons.  They are also accompanied by their three little beloved Shih Tzu dogs (Oreo, Ling Ling and Tilly Tot).  It is important to note that one of Mark’s biggest concerns is looters.  Alex is not as aware of this danger.  Read the excerpt…decide if the emotion is too raw for you.

What woke me up was Oreo whimpering in his sleep.  I should have left him in his carrier then, but the sound was so pitiful that I just couldn’t.  In retrospect, it was a hard way to learn a lesson I’ll never forget.

I reached past Justin, who apparently slept like the dead, as we had already seen the previous day.  By twisting quietly and kneeling I could reach back and slip open the door of the carrier stacked sideways behind Justin’s seat; Oreo cautiously pushed it open with his nose.

Usually he bounded and/or wiggled his way to me, his tail waving with delight.  This time he crept…past the gap between Justin’s seat and the rear door.  I picked him up, just about breaking my puckering string in the process.  Oreo was a husky little bundle.  Tilly greeted him quietly and, trembling, Oreo pressed against me.  How terribly hard this was on him.  He hated the car, and twenty hours in one was almost too much for him.  I felt I should have let him out when we stopped for a little exercise and a potty break.  I have to admit I didn’t want to face Mark with such a request.

Tilly, Oreo, Ling Ling - picture (c) Sandra Bell Kirchman

Tilly, Oreo, Ling Ling – picture (c) Sandra Bell Kirchman

Oreo shivered and whimpered again, and I knew what the main problem was.  He had to go out, and not just pee this time.  I didn’t know what to do.  I looked over at Mark, who was sleeping as if he too were dead.  He must have been exhausted with the stress of it all.  He wasn’t a youngster anymore and dealing with people stressed him out.  I began to realize what I had done to him by inviting Justin and Patty to ride with us.

The little dog whimpered again, more urgently, and I made up my mind.  I quietly opened the door and let Oreo down on the ground.  Tilly thought that was a great idea and jumped down as well.  Her silvery coat glowed in the moonlight.  I look up and thought, Damn, it’s almost as bright as day.  This is not a good idea.  Oreo had run ahead to find the “perfect” spot for a poo.  I picked up Tilly and trotted after him.  I could see well enough to spot him in the underbrush and I let Tilly down to do her own little duty.  Just as I was picking her up, the sound of someone crunching through the brush made me spin around.

“All right, lady,” a man said, emerging into the full moonlight, “you’re gonna help me get that vehicle.”  He waved his gun at me.  “I will use this if I have to.  I want that Jeep.”

I gasped.  “You’re the man from our last rest stop.  How-how did you catch up to us on foot?  It’s not possible!”

He gave a low chuckle.  “You never saw me in my beat-up old Chevy.  I came to just as your tail lights winked around the bend and followed you.  I’m not stupid enough to attack a vehicle full of possibly armed individuals, so I was just waiting for my chance.  And you’re it.”

The man grabbed me roughly by the arm and thrust me ahead of him.  “You’re going to go back to the car and wake up the driver and tell him he has to come out.  Tell him anything…like, you twisted your ankle and can’t get back in the car by yourself with the dog.  That’s it.  Give him the dog.  That’ll distract him.

“Get moving, and limp like you mean it.”

I had almost blurted out about Oreo still in the brush, then thought better of it.  It would serve no useful purpose letting him know about the dog, and maybe Oreo might startle him at a good time.

He gave me a push to get me started.  I stumbled and started limping.  At the same time, a whirlwind of vicious growling flew at us…at the man, actually.  I had never seen Oreo in a killing rage, but he had only one thing in mind: to get this horrible human away from his beloved Mommy.

The man pivoted with a started exclamation just as Oreo grabbed his shin above his ankle.  From the sound of it, he had taken a chunk out of the shin.  The man was yelling, I was screaming…then there was a shot.

I stood still for a moment, staring at Oreo crumpled on the ground, a dark stain on his side oozing heavily and smearing his delicate, fawn-coloured fur.  I dropped to my knees, still holding Tilly, and set her carefully against me.  She was trembling and didn’t want to go anywhere.  She nuzzled Oreo.

I felt the pulse at his carotid artery, but there was nothing.  I held my hand to his little nose but felt not even a whisper of air.  The pain of his passing crushed my heart, and filled my eyes with tears that would not fall.  I thought I was having a heart attack, but I didn’t care.  My little baby was dead, and it was my fault.

The man jabbed cold steel against my neck.

“Get up, lady.  You are just lucky I don’t put bullets in you and the other little mutt here.”

I got to my feet and trembled, feeling sick to my stomach, and stood there.

“Now turn very—“

Another shot rang out and the man’s body slumped against me.  I convulsively pushed him away, and Tilly yipped as his hand swiped her on the way down.  He lay still at my feet, right beside Oreo.  I felt as though I was living in a nightmare, as though my life was running right out of me, as though I had to scream my sorrow until I had no voice.  I knelt on the ground and started to sob.

A hand gently closed on my shoulder.  “Are you hurt?” Mark asked.

I just shook my head, unable to speak, the sobs building up into something I didn’t think I could control.  Mark walked over to the man and pushed him over onto his back with his boot.  He knelt and felt for a pulse.  He stood up and shoved him again with his boot, showing disgust in his motions.

“Oreo?” Mark asked, kneeling to touch the still dog.

That’s when the dam burst.  I cried as I hadn’t since my mother died twenty years earlier.  My heart felt like it was burning up and was about three sizes too large for my chest; I had trouble catching my breath.  All I could think of was my beautiful little Oreo, such a gentle, sweet soul, and he was gone…and it was my fault.

Mark touched me on the shoulder again.  I looked up and saw the sorrow on his face.  I made a huge effort to get myself under control.  Oreo had been Mark’s little buddy.  He was always telling Oreo, “It’s hard looking after da wimmins all day.  Us men’s gotta stick together, right, Buddy?”  A shudder went through me, but I clamped down on it.

“Babe, we better get going.  We don’t know if that guy had any friends around, or if all this noise is bringing someone to investigate…or loot.”

I nodded my head vaguely.  “Sure, Mark, soon as we bury Oreo.”

Mark was silent, and I looked up at him again.  His stunned expression faded quickly to a look of hopelessness.

That look shocked me into a state of realization.  I was putting him into another corner.  Here I had not only gotten Oreo killed, but I was jeopardizing Mark, the other two people in the Jeep and the other two dogs with my sentimental notion that a burial was necessary.  I just couldn’t stand the thought of wild animals tearing apart Oreo’s little body.

Mark jumped up.  “Wait here, I have an idea.”  He ran back to the Jeep while I felt Oreo again to make sure he was dead.  From the placement of the entry wound, it looked like the man had got Oreo right in the heart.  He was definitely dead.  I tried to steel myself to the idea that nothing that happened to his body now was going to hurt him.

Mark returned, carrying Oreo’s carrier, still with the pee pad and the quilt and blanket.

“You’re worried about animals eating Oreo, right?  We don’t have time to bury him, but we can put him in here, bundle him up, and put the carrier, tightly closed and locked, up in a tree.  That will keep him safe.”

Tears streamed down my face.  “Thank you, Mark,” I said softly.

It didn’t take us long to wrap him lovingly in his blanket and for Mark to put the carrier up in the limbs of a burr oak that overlooked the little clearing.  It was silly, I know, but I liked the idea of the pretty place we’d found for him.  He had loved barking at strange noises and he loved sitting in the sunshine in our beautiful backyard.  He would feel somewhat at home here.  Oh, damn!  I shook my head and hurried back to the Jeep.

So, how about it?  How would you have written this?  Maybe you wouldn’t have written it at all.  Share your thoughts on the writing of raw emotion.

The Story of the Awesome Kally

A yellow ?

Image via Wikipedia

Who is Kally?  Aka Kally, aka Kallysti, author Stephanie Ciofalo is one of the FantasyFic writers.  I should say she is one of the very talented FantasyFic writers and also one of the administrators at the FantasyFic.com site.  I am also proud to call her a colleague.

Kally is really an amazing person.   She has more energy than a pack of chimpanzees and a most delightful sense of humor.  Add those to her writing talent, and you have a woman driven to write (which means she will be successful) and yet is still able to laugh at herself.

This lady, a fantasy fiction writer, has invented a world that is unique.  I have never seen anything closely resembling it in any literature I have read.  Mind you, I haven’t read even all the classic fantasies, never mind contemporary ones, but I still think I would have heard of a world like this during shop talk.  She has peopled it quite naturally with the most interesting men and women (and children) you would ever hope to meet.  They are natural and true to their own culture in a way that is masterfully overseen.  No, I don’t mean author intrusion; I mean making sure that the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief is never broken.

I don’t want to tell you about this world, because that is Kally’s province, but believe me when I tell you this lady just might hit the bestseller list with at least one of her books in the series she is writing.  Just my opinion, but I’m keeping an eye on her.

Stephanie Ciofalo

Author Stephanie Ciofalo - aka Kallysti

The unusual thing about Kally is that she didn’t start out to be a writer.  She didn’t think she had that much skill at it in the beginning and went to college to get a geology degree.  Then when she started playing EverQuest, then EverQuest II, she started writing fan fiction about her character in the game and the characters of her friends.  This is how she met her husband, and they had an interesting courtship online by writing these stories together.  People liked them (the stories, I mean – although they liked Kally and her hubby-to-be as well).

Encouraged about her writing, Kally joined FantasyFic in 2007 and proceeded to blossom (writerly-wise) like a magic rose under the summer light of two suns (her world has two suns, I believe).  She wrote material that just blew me away.  Of course, I encouraged and helped her.  She was one of those delightful writers that is polite about critiques and suggestions.  (When I was editor at Warcry and Silky Venom, I would only critique if people asked me to – for safety reasons :P).  For Kally, however, there was no looking back.

If you’d like to see some examples of her writings, visit her at her site, Stephanie’s Stories, where she is currently talking about the things she has written.

The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It – Part 2 – Hands-on Rewriting

We are going to try something that might be very painful for me: we are going to revise the first few paragraphs of my WIP, Battle Cleric.  With your help, we might make it shine.  If we do, then I might continue the revising on parts of the rest of the manuscript.  None of this has been seriously revised—it is raw material.  So…below is the beginning of Battle Cleric’s first chapter, entitled “Whispers of the Lost Scroll.”  Before you start, I heartily recommend that you read The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It here.  Then you will know what I am talking about.

 The sun shifted shadows of dancing leaves across the walls of my tower office.  I had flung the window wide open to let in the early summer breeze, knowing full well that I was tempting myself to play truant when I should be reading urgent reports from my network of data-gathering agents and answering politely worded demands from the Shemaran Council.

 I sighed and went to the window, regarding the sweetly homey scene.  Molly, our young Halfling cook, sat outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti housewoman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.

 I had just returned to my desk and picked up the first report, an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  It boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect reports.

 It was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside with a sigh.

Okay, I am going to rewrite the above passage.  Everything I change will be bolded – at the end of the change, will be the item number of the mistake I am correcting (Nos. 1-6 from Part 1, and Nos. 7-13 below).

Sighing, I pushed away the stack of urgent reports from my data-gathering agents.  Just once, I’d really like a day off.  Getting up out of the carved and padded chair at my desk, I slipped over to the window and watched (1, 2, 6) Molly, our young Halfling cook, sitting outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti house woman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.  Yet I found my mind wandering to the latest demand from the Shemaran Council and trying to formulate a politely worded refusal. (2 and smooth transition)

 When my mind commanded and my desk beckoned like that, I usually answered the call. (10, 11)  I returned to my chair, deciding the agent reports were the priority and picked up the first one, (smooth flow) an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  They boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect missives.

 The report was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside. (deleted “and sighed” to avoid repetition of a word)

From the pain of having experienced every single misstep I listed in Part 1, here are my additional suggestions to help in revising:

Overheated manuscript cooling off.

 7. Make sure you give your manuscript some cooling off time before you read it with a view to revising.

 When you write, give it everything you have – don’t stop to research or do any revising.  Write and write hard!  Try to make sure you are not interrupted during this process.  Then when you are finished the manuscript, put it away in a drawer and do not look at it for at least a day.  If you have pressing deadlines, refrain from looking for an hour or more.  If it is a book length manuscript, put it away for a week or longer.

 The reason this is necessary, and the reason it works, is because you use a different part of the brain for revising than for creating and writing.  The cooling off period allows you to disengage the creative part completely from the project and tune in to the critical editorial part.  If you try to revise while you are in the creative mode, you will still be too in love with your words to do any effective revising.  I wish I had known about this earlier in my career.

8. Show, don’t tell.  Well, this is partly true.  Many emerging writers tell far too much and show not enough.  However, there is a happy medium.  Stephanie will probably correct me but I believe that the ratio of show vs. tell is 66%.  However, you have to be happy with the result.  Still, if there is too much tell, at some point you will lose your reader, because honestly the prose gets boring.

9. A good way to test dialogue is to read it aloud.  Play all parts yourself and differentiate between each voice.  Then you will be able to hear the mistakes or the stepping out of character that you might have given one or more of the players in your story.  Many writers, including Alison Croggon, the brilliant fantasy writer of The Naming series, advocate reading your entire manuscript out loud, perhaps chapter by chapter if it’s a novel.  They say you can really hear the mistakes and do it much better than trying to catch them visually.

10. Along with number 9, be true to the voices in your story, including your own as the creator of the storyline.  You have to admit that an Oxford graduate in literature will talk much differently than a cowboy on a Montana ranch.  Or a construction worker than a nurse.  Or a suicidal homeless woman than a religious fanatic.  So be true to your characters.

And be true to the voice you use in your writing.  My style is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  I often write in the first person, so my main character is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  These characters can be wise or shallow; old or young; queen or peasant, but that cheerful narration and dialogue must remain consistent.

11. Have due regard for supporting the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.  This happy state is required for all fiction, but especially so for fantasy and science fiction.  The reader is willing to put aside certain of his own beliefs and thoughts if the story is logical.  You can’t just plunk magic into a story…you have to think of why magic works in this particular story, what are the steps to create this magic, and what are the consequences.  Then you have to stick to these “rules,” or once again you will lose your reader.

 12. Once you have finished revising to the best of your ability, have another person with a good grasp of English grammar and spelling read it.  If you have a writer friend, one who is familiar with your style, so much the better.  I am absolutely convinced that two heads are better than one.

13. Avoid repetition in proximity of words or phrases.  I once was editing a story for a friend and found the word “battle” nine times in the first two paragraphs.  Not acceptable.  In the same vein, be wary of favorite words that you use that stand out.  I once revised my own manuscript by deleting about ten “however”s.

 Try practicing these revisions, along with the ones in Part 1.  I guarantee you will see a difference in your work.

Also, if you see more areas in the above selection of Battle Cleric that could use revising, by all means let me know!

All text and writing excerpts are copyright © 2008, 2010 by Sandra Bell Kirchman.  All rights are reserved.

Fantasy Fiction Factor – Fantasy Sub-Genres

The wedding of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere

What is fantasy fiction? Is it just wizards and ogres and elves? How do I determine what kind of fantasy I want?  What happens if there’s a crossover and I write two genres at the same time?   These are all questions that fantasy writers ask themselves at one time or another.  They deserve an answer. We’ll be looking at some of them in-depth in the future.  In the meantime,  I took a trip on the web and found that Lee Masters of Fantasy Fiction Factor has some of the answers in his well-written article.  Here’s an excerpt.

Fantasy Sub-Genres

by Lee Masterson

Speculative fiction is a difficult genre to categorize neatly. For example, some authors might argue that most speculative fiction is pure fantasy – and yet a fantastical tale set in a far distant future would be more likely classified as ‘science fiction’.

A knight in shining armor

In recent times, the term ‘fantasy’, when regarded as part of an individual genre, generally brings to mind tales of dragons and castles and knights in shining armor – but in truth, the genre as a whole encompasses so much more.

Below, I have tried to separate some purely ‘fantasy’ sub-genre listings.  (Read the rest of this article
 via Fantasy Fiction Factor – Fantasy Sub-Genres.)