Archive | October, 2010

Saturday Grab Bag: Mashup and Poll

23 Oct

Mashup:

Here are some great links on writing, the industry, and all things book related. Some are serious, and some are just downright hilarious. We highly recommend you read them!

  • Writing By Hand Helps the Brain
  • – VERY interesting article on how writing by hand is good for your brain! (So start breaking out those notebooks!)

  • Stereomood
  • – Here’s a site that organizes its songs by tags like “Summer,” “melancholy,” “calm,” and “just woke up.” Great way for writers to find the perfect songs for their writing!

  • Behind the Scenes… “The Call”
  • – A transcript of “the call”.

  • Thinking Literally
  • – An interesting post concerning metaphors.

  • Superb Literary Hair
  • – Yes, that’s right. A post about the wonderful hairstyles of some notable writers! This made me chuckle.

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Poll:

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Quotes:

“No tears and the writer, no tears and the reader.”

— Robert Frost

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“Writers aren’t exactly people, they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Advice to young writers who want to get ahead without any annoying delays: don’t write about Man, write about a man.”

— E.B. White

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Happy Saturday everyone! Be sure to share any interesting links/quotes you’ve come across in the comments!

QOTW: Action-Packed Scenes

21 Oct


This week, the question comes from Kelly, who asks:

How do you guys ensure that your action-packed scenes are realistic
and don’t make it seem so flat? How do you build up the tension and
panicked atmosphere – because some authors are so successful they have their readers holding their breaths waiting for the next scene to
unfold!

~~~

I haven’t written straight up ‘action’ before, not as in terms of hand-to-hand combat. But, the end of the ANTEBELLUM series was a little action-packed, and I always tried to end each book with some sort of dramatic scene. The key to action, I believe, is long sentences.

Short sentences usually consist of one verb, and our brains automatically interpret short sentences as only one thing occurring at a time. That’s why they should be saved for when actions are VERY significant, like at the end of chapters. Long sentences, on the other hand, make it easier for our brains to recognize that many things are happening at once, contributing to the sense of great movement.

So, for large, sweeping, dramatic scenes (epic battles), I use long sentences, and for really close, tight scenes (two people fist-fighting to the death in a warehouse) I use shorter sentences, to contain the action.

Also, don’t forget that when you’re writing action, you’re going to be describing lots of character movement, and there won’t be as much dialogue, so it’s important to mix up the types of sentences you use so that people don’t become bored reading the same type of description over and over (He picked up the rock. He bashed it over her head. He repeated the action. Her blood gurgled).

-The Writer Condensing Three Books Into One

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I think Sav covered a lot of good ground, but I’d like to add that making sure you have the emotional component is KEY. Don’t say: “I was scared when the zombie lunged for my throat.” Rather, SHOW that stuff–maybe your protagonist screams or ducks or covers their face or craps their pants. Action falls flat without the human element. Sometimes, if my action scenes are super-intense, I’ll write the literal action, then go through and find places to demonstrate/show the feelings of my characters. It can be overwhelming to juggle both!

I think action requires a good amount of imagination, not just in WHAT happens, but in terms of how our characters react to it. I’d take your time, think it through, and really try to get into the shoes of your character. Seeing the action through THEIR eyes (not from our desk chairs/computer screens) makes a big difference.

-The Writer With Her First Book Deal

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Sav and Sarah pretty much said everything I wanted to, but there is one thing I will add. Now that you’re paying attention to the emotions, pay attention to the other little things around them as well. Things in their surroundings. How do their surroundings react to the battle?

Say two people are fighting in a castle bedroom and one pushes the other into a desk. You can say “Albert shoved John into the desk.” Or you can get a bit detailed and say, “Albert shoved John into the desk. The edge dug painfully into his side.” And finally, you can say, “Albert shoved John into the desk. The edge dug painfully into his side, and the impact sent quills and bottles of ink clattering onto the ground.”

In that last sentences, there’s a better idea of the general chaos going on. It highlights the consequences of shoving someone into the desk. There’s the pain the person will feel, but there’s also the damage to things and property.

-The Writer Editing Her Massive Rewrite of a First Novel

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I love writing action-packed scenes! In fact, I think just about every single longer work I’ve written has included at least one chase scene… Many of them include physical fights of some kind, too.

The most important part of making it “exciting,” I think, is really getting in the head of your character, even if you’re not in first person. Fighting, fleeing, attacking–unless your character is some kind of hitman (and maybe even then), none of these are actions undertaken clinically. The first step is to figure out what emotion is driving your character’s actions. A person fighting out of fear is going to act and react very differently than one fighting because of anger, and this should bleed into your writing.

Simply describing how a punch lands isn’t very exciting. Neither is saying “John ran through the street, trying to stay ahead of the three men chasing him. They were gaining, and he knew that if he didn’t run faster, they’d soon catch him.” We’re not really in John’s head. He’s panicked. These men are out to kill him. The road narrows. His vision narrows. He sees nothing but the sharp bend up ahead, hears nothing but the men behind him. His gasps rip from his chest–he doesn’t have enough air to call for help–they’re close. They’re close and they’re getting closer and he doesn’t know what lies around the bend.

…I obviously have too much I want to say about this, haha. Maybe a post?

-The Writer Who Just Signed With A Literary Agent

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To be really annoying, and vague: Voice.
Personally, I find action really boring to read (especially since generally I already know what happens. X hits/shoots/hammers/kicks Y. Y falls, gets up attacks X. Someone eventually dies/loses) and I’ll only stick with it if an author has a stellar voice. Otherwise, I skim.
Other than having a great voice, I think you need to establish some emotion. A lot of flat battle scenes are basically a laundry list of things people are doing. Sav’s advice to vary sentence length, construction etc to make things seem more dynamic is really great to get rid of that cardboard feel action scenes can often have. But, I also think if you keep character goals clear, and have people react within the scene — ie how is the POV character or protag reacts to X kicking them — that goes a long way to giving the scene both direction, and meaning, and deepens the emotional layers, because a character’s obviously more invested in a scene if there’s a goal.
Last piece of advice — a lot of action scenes are purely visual. They’re cinematic in that they show you what the characters are doing to each other, but fiction doesn’t work like film. Only engaging with one sense often leaves things feeling flat, so try to engage with the different senses — sound, touch, taste.

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Do you have trouble writing action-packed scenes?

Livechat: Querying

21 Oct

Hey guys! Quick heads up. We’re going to be having another livechat on Tuesday, October 26 at 9 pm EST, and the topic is going to be querying. Come ask us questions, listen to our querying stories, or just hang out. We always have so much fun chatting with you all!

On the morning of the chat, we’ll put up another reminder and a link that will open at 9 pm EST.

Hope to see you there! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

Also, the deadline for applications to LTWF closes tomorrow. We’ve received many wonderful applications and have been hard at work looking over them. A big thank you to everyone who shot us an email! It may be a few more days, but we’ll get a response back to you either way.

-LTWF

Not Starting with the Action

20 Oct

by Kat Zhang

How many times have you heard someone tell you to “start the story with action”? I know it’s something I’ve heard a lot. In fact, I’ve read that the average new writer really ought to be starting their story with their current chapter three in order to get rid of all the unnecessary waffling and backstory.

Sometimes, this is absolutely true. One of the most important things a good beginning must accomplish is hooking the reader, and what easier way to do this than with some intense action? But sometimes, the “big moment” isn’t the place to start the story.

Think about it. Does Harry Potter start with Hagrid arriving to tell Harry he’s going to Hogwarts? Does The Hunger Games start at the Reaping? Yes, some stories can get away with plonking the reader right down in the midst of things, but others, especially those set in a world very different from our own, need a few pages to orientate the reader, first.

Also, the trouble with a high stakes beginning is that we don’t know the characters well enough to care. The Reaping would have been sad even if we didn’t know Prim and Katniss, but think about how much more it hurt after having read the scenes of Katniss hunting and striving so hard to care for her family. Collins had already given us enough backstory for us to really understand the depth of the bond between the sisters and the true impact of Katniss’s offer to take her sister’s place.

Likewise, if Harry’s suffering at the hands of the Dursleys had been summed up in a sentence or two instead of shown us, then the relief and magic of Hagrid showing up wouldn’t have hit us as strongly. Starting with the most exciting part of the story is all good and well, but sometimes, you need just the right amount of backstory to put that excitement in context and ramp it up even more. A little while ago, Julie talked about the Hero’s Journey. One of the important parts of this journey is the beginning, when the hero is still at home. We can also call this the World Before, since not every hero actually physically moves. The World Before is…well, the world before. Before the Reaping that changed everything. Before Hagrid. How can the reader fully appreciate the effects of the Inciting Event unless he gets a glimpse of how things were before?

Of course, I’m not saying you should have a chapter of info dump before getting to the “good part.” There should still be action. But it should be a smaller blip in the radar, something exciting, but not so exciting that there isn’t time or space to slip in some backstory. The most exciting parts of a story are all about moving forward. You don’t want to slow down a gunfight with background information. Collins didn’t waste time during the Reaping scenes explaining how close Katniss and Prim were, or how horrible the Hunger Games were—all that had already been accomplished.

Weaving in backstory and keeping the story moving forward can be a tough balance to keep. But lately, I’ve been hearing so much about “starting the story right in the midst of things,” that I just wanted to put a little reminder out there: sometimes less isn’t more. Sometimes a little breath before the storm can be a good thing.

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Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

 

Bad Boys vs. “Bad Boys”

19 Oct

By Sammy Bina

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If there’s one thing I love, it’s a bad boy. I’m a sucker for stories where Lonely Girl befriends him and fills his horrible life with puppies and sunshine. I adore the push-and-pull dynamic of “good vs. evil” and their otherwise messed up relationship. I live for those scenes where Bad Boy reverts back to his badness and Lonely Girl is left feeling devastated until Bad Boy realizes his mistake and transforms into a knight in shining armor.

But you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cliché. And as much as we love the stereotype, it isn’t very realistic.

Up for discussion today is #24 on my Intern Tips list: Black clothes, tattoos, and an earring do not a bad boy make.

Like you all, I’m a pretty avid reader. My book shelf is full of beloved YA novels that contain the stereotypical bad boy. And until recently, I thought nothing of it. I didn’t actually pay attention to the unrealistic portrayal of my favorite male characters. Instead, I was sucked in by my favorite cliché and never bother to look beyond it. It’s fiction, I told myself. It’s not meant to be realistic.

And while it’s true that fiction doesn’t have to be realistic, lately I’ve come to find that these stereotypes and generalizations just don’t cut it for me anymore. After all the submissions I’ve read, after all the books I’ve bought, and after all the blog entries and articles I’ve read, I’ve decided I want a realistic story I can get behind. I want a bad boy who’s actually bad.

But where do we draw the line between bad boys and “bad boys”?

Based on the reading I’ve done in the last few months (both published and unpublished), most “bad boys” seem to be labeled as such simply because of their physical appearance. They wear all black, or have a leather jacket. They have ripped up jeans and dark, brooding eyes. Their black, grungy hair tends to fall in their face, and an earring hangs from one or both ears. They might have a tattoo or six as well. But beyond that, they aren’t much of a bad boy at all. They’re just quiet or misunderstood. Maybe their home life isn’t so great. But, overall, they’re generally not bad people. You’d feel safe spending time with them, and to be honest, your grandma probably would too. Basically, the guy’s harmless.

But if your character really is an honest-to-god bad boy, you have to dig beneath the surface. Maybe they wear black, but it isn’t a requirement. So what if they don’t have tattoos? A true bad boy is all personality. They’re rude, they cheat on their girlfriends, and they get in fights. They’re uncomfortable to be around and bring your insecurities to the forefront. Maybe they drink excessively, smoke, or do drugs. Maybe all three. But, generally, they aren’t the guy you’d want to bring home to Daddy.

Need some examples?

I thought Patch from Becca Fitzpatrick’s HUSH, HUSH was a pretty believable bad boy. He was snide at first, rude, hung out in sketchy pool halls, got into fights, and was an overall mystery. There were times when I didn’t like him, or wanted to slap him just as much as Nora did. Sometimes I questioned his morals or his actions. And in the end, he may have redeemed himself somewhat, but the reader’s left questioning who he really is. Is he still the guy from the beginning of the book, or has he actually changed? Therein lies the mystery, and the reason he can still pull off his bad boy image. I have yet to read CRESCENDO, but I’m assuming the bad boy image carries over; it certainly looks like it, based on the synopsis.

Or how about Draco Malfoy? If you want a perfect example of a bad boy, look no further. He’s a hard-to-read asshole with unclear motivations. Frankly, most of the time you’re just wondering what the heck he’s up to. He’s generally a pretty awful fellow, and yet you somehow feel bad for him. He’s a sympathetic bad boy, and the very best kind. You want to believe he’s good at heart, but is he really?

But there are bad boys in published literature that I think fall short. In another take on the fallen angel story, I didn’t buy into Daniel’s character from Lauren Kate’s FALLEN as much as I’d have liked. Though the overall story is good, and I really enjoyed Luce’s narration, I just couldn’t get behind Daniel. The mystery that Patch presents is absent; Daniel’s motivations seem pretty surface-level. In other words, he wasn’t complex enough. The bad boy image was only skin deep.

And that, dear readers, is where I feel some authors slip up. They forget that some guys really do just wear black but are perfectly harmless. And that there are others, who might also wear black, that have killed someone, or sell drugs for a living. It’s all in the presentation. Your bad boy doesn’t necessarily have to look the part, but he does have to act it.

Also, you have to consider the redemption factor. As you may well know from real life, bad boys can be difficult to change. Girls like to think they can conquer his bad attitude and poor manners, but how often does that actually happen? You’re allowed to bend the rules in fiction – there’s no doubt about that – but make sure you aren’t bending things beyond a reasonable level of belief.

I still read books containing “bad boys,” but these days I pay close attention to the way the author has portrayed him. Maybe the unreliable portrayal of my beloved male character will ruin the story for me, but maybe it won’t. There are still plenty of authors out there who know how to create bad boys that behave exactly how you’d expect. And the closer we can get to that, I think the better off we’ll be.

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Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior with a BA in Creative Writing. She is currently querying THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, an adult dystopian romance, and simultaneously working on two YA projects. She is an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, and can be found on twitter, or at her blog.

Research, Research, Research!

18 Oct

By

Sarah J. Maas

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So, most of you know that I write fantasy. And while I have the luxury of inventing my own worlds and histories, it also involves a ton of research. But if I can make up my own rules, why bother to research anything?

The short answer: because it makes it believable.

The little details really make or break world-building. Learning how our world operates—how people in the past went about their daily lives, how clothes were made before the Industrial Revolution, how battles were won prior to the invention of gunpowder….all of that is immensely useful when world-building for a fantasy novel.

Don’t believe me? Let me show you. Writing QUEEN OF GLASS involved a crap-ton of research over the years. And in the average day of my heroine, Celaena, most of that research comes into play. I’m going to demonstrate just how much research goes on behind the scenes (lol), by providing you guys with a “Day In the Life” look at her schedule.

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6:30 AM: Go for a 4-mile jog. Research: How far can someone who is very out of shape (thanks to a year of malnutrition) run? How fast can they run? How long does it TAKE to run 4 miles?

6:45 AM: Pause jog to vomit all over the place. Research: Why do people vomit when they run? Do people vomit if they eat before running? Do people vomit if they DON’T eat before running? How long will it take for someone to get back into shape?

8:00 AM: Bath. Research: History of indoor plumbing. How can I bend the rules so that my semi-medieval castle has running, heated water? When were faucets invented? How did Roman baths work? When were shampoo and conditioner invented? When were towels invented/called ‘towels?’

8:30 AM: Breakfast. Research: What kind of fruits/juices would be available in their climate? Would imported fruits be a rarity? When was porridge invented?

9:00 AM: Get dressed. Research: History of corsets. How does it feel to wear a corset? How quickly can you walk/talk/eat with a corset on? How long did it take for dresses to be made? How costly would such a dress be? History of dresses; browse fashion websites for color/fabric/design ideas. How long does it TAKE to put on undergarments, corset, and then the dress?

9:30 AM: Make-up. Research: What did women use for concealer? Eyeliner? Mascara? Blush? Lipstick? Eye shadow? How costly were these items? What parts of the world did they come from? How did they pluck their eyebrows? History of beauty standards.

10:30 AM: Off to the library. Research: When were libraries invented? When did mankind start writing down its stories? When did mankind start producing bound books? When did the masses start being educated? Where did people usually discuss books? History of the French Salon.

12:00 PM: Lunch. Research: Was it called ‘lunch’ or ‘dinner?’

1:00 PM: Do Cool Assassin Things. Research: How long does it take for someone to die after you slit their throat? How much blood is there? Does it actually spray everywhere? How many inches is it from the chest/skin into the heart? History of weapons. History of ninjas. History of awesome fighting techniques.

7:00 PM: Dinner. Research: Is it ‘dinner’ or ‘supper?’ Research random food items. History of champagne/wine/alcohol.

11:00 PM: Bed. Research: When did people stop wearing ugly nightclothes and start wearing sexy things? Did men sleep in nightgowns? When were fluffy pillows invented? Were fireplaces lit all night?

3:00 AM: Fight some demons lurking in secret passageways. Research: History of demons—for visual ideas, mostly. If you break a bone and/or get a deep scratch/wound, how long does it take to recover? What were traditional herbal substitutes for anesthesia? For fighting against infection? For painkillers?

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So, obviously, there is lots of research involved. Sometimes the research doesn’t make it into the actual scene, but the knowledge of it is there/in the background. Usually, I’ll research, learn a bit about the history of (insert topic here), then examine how it can fit into Erilea (the world in which QOG takes place), and how I can twist it to make it my own. Or completely ignore it.

QOG isn’t a fantasy set in one distinct time period that matches up with our own—which requires me to do some research into history to see HOW I can possibly combine different eras in a believable way. It’s really fun to make up my own world history (especially the fashion component), but it also requires a degree of authenticity—which only comes from research.

That’s not to say that you need to research for months and years before writing—in fact, I’ll usually write a scene, then go back and google things like: “History of mascara” to add into the scene later on. And sometimes I don’t find what I’m looking for, in which case I’ll just invent stuff completely.

But when you’re establishing your world, I’d definitely recommend some research (at a minimum, clicking through Wikipedia, lol)—you’d be surprised by how much you’ll learn! And how much of a difference it makes.

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Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

Winners of the Anniversary Giveaway!

16 Oct

ANNIVERSARY GIVEAWAY

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In honor of LTWF’s 1-year anniversary, last Saturday we announced that we would be giving away gift baskets custom-made by the contributors of LTWF. We received over 125 comments from readers, and have been absolutely blown away by everyone’s support for our blog and our continuing mission: to be a resource and community for new writers on their paths to publication.

The following readers were selected as recipients of the custom gift baskets, using a random name picker:

(We’ve linked names to the comment that was selected as a win, so if you see your name please check the comment to make sure you’re the right person)

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Mac_V

Laura E. Wardle

Rosie G

Nhi

Laila

Susan

Rose

Kelly

Jess

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If the winners could please email us at letthewordsflowblog AT gmail DOT com, we’ll have your gift basket sponsor contact you to coordinate shipping.

(please make sure you email letthewordsflowBLOG).

If we do not receive addresses by next Saturday, we will choose alternate winners, to be fair to the rest of our readers.

Congratulations to our winners, and thank you everyone for reading and participating!

Saturday Grab Bag: Mashup and Poll

16 Oct

Mashup:

Here are some great links on writing, the industry, and all things book related. Some are serious, and some are just downright hilarious. We highly recommend you read them!

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Writer’s Rooms: A neat post about writers and the rooms they write in.

NaNoWriMo Song: With NaNoWriMo next month, this song should get you in the mood to take on the challenge!

Sex in YA: Literary Agent Mary Kole takes on a scandalous topic.

Female Character Stereotypes: Most of our characters got Strong Heroine. Most… >.>

If Hogwarts Had Internet: HP was set in the 80’s/90’s, which is why none of these hijinks ever actually happened.

J.K. Rowling’s Spreadsheet: In a continuing HP theme, here’s a scan of J.K.’s plot notes.

Poll:

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What interesting links have you come across lately?

QOTW: Favorite Magic System?

15 Oct


This week, the question comes from tymcon, who asks:

What was your favourite magic system in a book?

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Oh, I can hardly pick…if pressed, I guess I’d have to say the one in the Bartimaeus Trilogy. I love how “magic” in that world is really done by all sorts of demons, which are invisible to regular people. Only magicians can see them using special lenses, and they control these demons using pentacles and such, making them do their will. Then, to regular people, it seems like the magicians are doing all the work! It was all quite fascinating, and I loved it!

My second favorite would be the bells in the Abhorsen Trilogy. Music and magic always seem to go well together in my mind!

-The Writer Who Just Signed With A Literary Agent

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The one in Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN trilogy, of course!! The necromancer’s use of bells, and how even pipes and barks are used to control magic creates an intricate system of magic that is inventive, original, and wonderful (without being too confusing). The bells all had not only their own distinct sounds or purposes, but their own functions (Ranna, the smallest of bells and therefore the one with the highest ringing and lightest ringing sound is the Sleepbringer – and there’s no way you can say that isn’t the coolest thing ever). And the charter marks add to the wonderful world that Nix created, where not only is sound used as magic, but so are visual symbols. I may or may not have dreamed that I had a charter mark on my very own forehead, or pretended to draw one in front of me.

Also, the opposition of Free Magic and Charter Magic was something that added an extra layer of depth into the magic system of the Old Kingdom. He was able to give “forbidden” Free Magic a heightened sense of evil. And there is just such a great harmony in this magic system; I still find myself daydreaming about walking into Death with bells in hand (I mean, come on – walking INTO Death! Which has 9 precincts! Awesome!). Nix is just so amazing at including all of the senses in his writing. So magic is not just something to be seen, but something one can smell, taste, and hear (and is more than just chanting a few incantations).

-The Writer in the Publishing Industry Working on Her First Novel

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The magic used in Susan Cooper’s THE DARK IS RISING series! I was obsessed (and still am) with these books as a kid. The use of Arthurian legend, and Celtic and Norse mythology was incredible, and really aided in the magical background of the series. I remember reading the second book in the series, THE DARK IS RISING, and loving the idea of the six signs that, when used together, could repel The Dark. The Old Ones had the ability to jump through memories, freeze time, control the elements, and basically do the impossible. To collect certain artifacts, Will had to break through barriers of High Magic. The entire series, really, revolves around the combating magics of The Light and the Dark, and it’s woven into the story so seamlessly that it’s almost believable.

-The Writer Querying

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One of my favorite books is CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, by British writer Penelope Farmer. The story centers around two girls in different times that continuously switch places. Although the means of the time travel is somewhat understood, it is far from predictable! Because the “magic” behind the central conflict is never fully explained, there is an inherent danger in relying on it. It’s impossible to know for certain when – or even if – the magic will happen again. At first read I felt frustrated by the fact that the mechanism wasn’t more fully defined, but then I realized it couldn’t be, since it was the randomness of the magic that created a large part of the conflict. No explanation, of course, is preferable to an explanation that isn’t convincing. Ultimately, I think it fit the story that the characters, and therefore the readers as well, never learned how the magic worked.

-The Writer Rewriting Her Novel

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I agree with Vanessa; Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN trilogy has a pretty unique magic system. However, I’m also a fan of THE GOLDEN COMPASS series… I loved the Golden Compass, which told the truth through different layers of symbols, and the subtle knife which could cut through dimensions. Pretty awesome.

However, my favorite magic systems are the ones where -this is really corny, I know- love makes all things possible. Kind of like in HARRY POTTER. At the last moment, when all hope is lost, the inherent goodness of the characters forces the positive energy of the universe to act and save them. I suppose I enjoy that kind of magic because I wish real life worked that way, that the good triumphed and evil always perished.

-The Writer Condensing Three Books Into One

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Ditto on the ABHORSEN trilogy being the most awesome magic system–and I agree with Savannah that HIS DARK MATERIALS has some pretty awesome magic as well. I also ADORE the magic system in Anne Bishop’s BLACK JEWELS TRILOGY–she has a complete hierarchy of magic that goes hand in hand with politics, and the magic itself is uber-destructive. And then there’s James Clemens’ BANNED AND THE BANISHED series, where the magic is just…beyond cool (and violent).

-The Writer With Her First Book Deal

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That’s a hard one! I love the magic system in HARRY POTTER; it’s just classic and fun, there’s a spell for everything, and it feels really organic and complete. Discworld’s magic is pretty great too. It’s so chaotic you never know what’s going to happen, except that it is probably going to be bad for Rincewind. I also think I’m going to have to read the ABHORSEN trilogy now since everyone keeps raving about it!

-The Writer Revising Between Queries

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Thirding ABHORSEN trilogy. Those books are awesome. I also really like the magic systems in the HARRY POTTER series, THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss (and it’s follow ups, which I’m eagerly awaiting), and in Tamora Pierce’s WILD MAGIC books, which I thought was pretty unique. And because I feel like it’s this strange, fun blend of science-fiction and fantasy concepts, the system ARTEMIS FOWL series by Eoin Colfer.

-The Newest LTWF Contributor

 

Do you have a favorite magic system?

Breaking Down a Scene

14 Oct

The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts’ YoungArts Program (www.youngarts.org) is currently accepting applications from American high school seniors for next year’s program, but the deadline is October 15. Check it out if you’re eligible!

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I’m a visual learner and lately, I’ve been thinking about how that affects how I plan out and write projects. We’ve talked about outlining a couple times on the blog so far: who uses it, how they do it, and what works for each of us. One thing I do, which might seem a bit odd, is think of difficult scenes in terms of comic panels.

I’ve always read comics (I’m currently reading at least ten web comics and have a decent graphic novel collection). That’s super nerdy, I know, but it helps me when it comes to figuring out how to write scenes where I have a lot going on. You might think a webcomic is such a different form of media that there isn’t much a novelist can learn from them, but you can always learn something new from different forms of storytelling. Thinking of your narrative in terms of comic panels can help you visualize the setting and blocking for the characters in a scene. It forces you to think of where everything is in relation to everything else, and what’s important. You can’t include everything so you have to find the major actions to focus on. It’s like mental storyboarding.

This page from The Meek is a great example: http://www.meekcomic.com/2010/10/07/3-09/

It starts with a noise on the other side of the room, focuses in on the source, gives us the character’s reaction, and then throws in a surprise (the other character who’s been out of sight for a while). Thinking of the scene in snippets like this makes you think about how the characters move through space and helps keep track of them. You don’t want them running all over the place, tripping over each other and occasionally pulling some kind of unintentional quantum trick and appearing in two places at once. That would be okay if you were writing about The Flash, not Clumsy Sidekick A.

In order to help me figure out the set up of action scenes (where I do this the most), I ask myself things like: Where’s everyone who is important? What are they doing? Is there any way they might interfere with the main action? Do I want them out of sight and out of mind? Since I’ve been doing this I’ve stopped loosing my secondary characters.

The other major area where this has helped, has been in deciding what parts of the setting to describe. Pictures can accomplish this much faster than descriptions, but most artists don’t want to sit and draw every single minute detail of the background. They choose what to draw, and everything serves a purpose. You don’t want to bog the reader down with pages of dense description so, like the artist, you have to decide what is most salient to the mood and the plot and what can convey the most information about the setting.

I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but give it a shot. Trying breaking a tough scene down into panels, understanding what is most important to get across to the reader, and then putting it all back together with prose. I’d love to know if anyone else writes this way, or if you all just think I’m crazy!

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Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.