Archive by Author

Beasts, Monsters and Eldritch Abominations

25 Jul

A lot of fantasy worlds tend to be populated by the same sorts of creatures: dwarfs, trolls, giants, elves, things that look like elves but are called something else to show you that they’re not your typical elves and are possibly speshul, etc. It can be fun to play around with these standards, like giving your own twist to vampires or mermaids, but it can be even more interesting to find an obscure creature or to create your own. If you want to make your own fantasy world, you’re going to need more than a few old standbys as well to give it enough complexity to make it believable.

One source to look at for inspiration is folklore. Folklore is the origin in one way or another of most of our traditional monsters, like vampires and werewolves, but there is far more variation on these creatures in the original stories. Can your vampires cross running water? Or do they have to be beheaded and buried at a crossroads to stay dead? It depends on which area your vampire tales come from. In particular I like creatures from American folklore. Books of folklore are a handy source too, along with folklore journals. If you’re still in college or have access to academic journals, there are whole journals devoted to folklore studies. There’s also an encyclopedia of American folklore and a dictionary of English folklore.

Extinct animals are great for adding flavor to a new world. Mammoths, cave bears, and saber-toothed lions are recognizable enough that they don’t need explanation but extinct so they immediately let your reader know they’re dealing with a slightly different world. Moa, flightless birds bigger than ostriches, and giant sloths are odder. While something like a Paraceratherium, a long-necked hornless rhino bigger than any mammoth, or a tasmanian tiger would need some explaining but add depth and detail to a new world.

And for the terrifying and bizarre I’d suggest looking at the world’s oceans, especially those animals that lived with or before the dinosaurs, or at bugs. For example, the sea creatures from the Cambrian look particularly alien: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomalocarid. Of course you don’t have to go for species that have been extinct for millions of years to get inspiration. Tube worms, jellyfish, and deep sea crabs are strange creatures that could give rise to plenty of nightmare fuel if used properly.

However, you want to be sure you have the right sort of creatures for your setting. Horror can get away with almost anything because monsters in horror don’t need a reason to exist. They are just there to be scary. On the other hand, for sci-fi and fantasy the point is usually to create a congruous world where the various elements fit together to make a setting that feels complete and real (according to its own rules). Essentially, don’t have a swamp monster living in a desert, unless you put it in an oasis. Similarly, don’t have a dark forest filled with only predators, they’ll end up going hungry. But it’s fine to make the things they eat dangerous too.

And finally, it’s always good to over prepare. Just look at J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She has tons of magical creatures that don’t appear in the Harry Potter series. But should she want to write about Ron and Hermione taking the kids on a vacation to any part of the world, she already has the creatures that they’d encounter there. The more you have worked out beforehand, the less chance you have of things seeming slapped together or incongruous. So go ahead and start working on a bestiary.

What’s the strangest creature you’ve come up with, or your favorite published monster?

QOTW: Fictionpress

10 Jun

This week’s question is from Alex, who asks:

I know most if not all of you got your start with Fictionpress, but have since left. Would you advise the same to other writers just starting out, or just skip that and use the feedback of our peers on the road to getting published?

~~~

I wish I had an easy answer to that. Back when I was writing on Fanfiction.net and on Fictionpress, I knew nothing about the techniques and rules of writing – I just wrote because I enjoyed it. And when I saw people telling me they couldn’t wait for the next chapter, I would hastily write something up to appease the few readers I had. It was definitely an incredibly strong source of motivation.

I didn’t know any other writers prior to joining those sites. I didn’t know about critique partners or beta readers or that first drafts were just that – drafts. But without that experience and without readers just as inexperienced and yet as passionate as me when it came to writing, I’m not sure I would be where I am today. Writing on those sites made me the writer I now am.

Here’s the thing, though. Most of those comments were not constructive – most of those comments were from people telling me they couldn’t wait for the next chapter – people as inexperienced as I was and said nice things about my work no matter how terrible it actually was. Those comments didn’t help me grow as a writer – but the fact that I WROTE as much as I did made me a better writer. So in that way, Fictionpress worked  – because of those comments, I wrote.

Just by being out there, looking for ways to improve – just by reading blogs like this puts you at a HUGE advantage. You have the ability to network with so many other writers at a similar stage as yourself in the writing process – and can network with these writers who are looking for beta readers and critique partners. You have contests and competitions that offer critiques on so many writing blogs – all you have to do is look. And by asking this question, you’re already well on your way to finding people who WILL help you grow as a writer. You don’t need sites like that anymore when you have communities of writers cropping up all over the internet.

If you’re writing to get published, I would suggest finding critique partners instead of writing on Fictionpress. If you’re writing for the joy of it, then Fictionpress might be more suited to you. I’m not saying there is a right or wrong answer – I mean, look at Sarah. She had her entire Queen of Glass trilogy online for all to see, and it’s getting published. Sure, it’s changed a lot over the years of revisions, but it hasn’t stopped her. It hasn’t stopped any of us. And though I can’t speak for her or anyone else, I know I was of a different mindset back then. Yes, I wanted to get published, but I wasn’t serious about it – not in the way I am now. But again, it made me who I am as a writer – it sparked the fire in me. So keep that in mind when you consider sites like Fictionpress. Either way, you’re writing – and that’s always a good thing!

-Vanessa Di Gregorio

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I totally agree with V. Fictionpress (and its sister site, FanFiction.net) are excellent places to start for beginning writers. I wouldn’t trade my experience on either site for anything. Seriously, a lot of my best times as a teen were spent reading, writing, and responding to fan fiction. It motivated me to write. It taught me to keep my eyes open for the next angle for my oneshot. And it eventually led to the creation of my own, original work.

Now we come to FictionPress. V is totally right in that an audience is a powerful motivator. That’s pretty much why I finished my first book; I was dying to get the plot written so I could share it with my readers. Was any of my stuff ready to be published? No (But I thought it was, lol). I’ve seen a few articles lately discussing how powering through and actually FINISHING a project is a skill all young writers have to learn. FP and FF taught me that.
But, I was young. Aged 14-17. I was inexperienced. I was, as V said, wanting to be published but not SERIOUS about it now. For anyone in their late teens or older, or anyone who is SERIOUS, I would recommend not using FP or FF. I would recommend finding yourself some good CPs and getting involved in the community. CPs give feedback that can help you grow, while an audience only gives adoration. There are some things you can learn in a vacuum of constant approval, but there’s a lot more you can learn with the help of people who are just as serious about writing as you are.
So, if you feel like you’re not ready to be SERIOUS, then yes, go and have fun! Because it really is fun. 🙂 But if you want to work and focus, I wouldn’t recommend using FP or FF for feedback on your writing.
-Savannah Foley
~~~
I’m glad that, as a thirteen/fourteen-year-old I posted my work on fp, because it was fun. There was instant feedback and gratification, and I learned to be slightly more confident as a writer. And for me, confidence has been crucial. Learning to throw words onto the page in my voice, without having that voice stumble, stutter, or pause because I lack confidence, has been crucial to my development as a writer.
But. Nobody really offered me critiques on fp, and I’ve learned more about how to write from critiques than I have from anything else (except, perhaps, reading). I learned, first, from my beta readers and critique partners. And then I had a steep learning curve when I queried agents with my first novel, and got some very pointed feedback. I learned more doing revision requests for agents, and then pre-offer revisions with my agent. I’m learning now, from my editorial letters (and I’m still learning a ton from my CPs critiques, and my agent’s critiques etc). Every critique teaches me about my writing, what my strengths and weaknesses are, what I can do better next time.I don’t for a second regret using fp, but I wasn’t serious about publication when I did (although it was a distant dream).
For those who are serious about publication, I would recommend getting CPs, and truly seeking out feedback (constructive, harsh, shred-it-to-pieces, whichever level you can take) on your work.
-Vahini Naidoo

~~~

I know I would not be the writer I am today without fictionpress. The wonderful encouragement I received there motivated me to keep going and I started actually finishing the stories I started. I also used the forums to find my first critique partners, and get feedback from a range of people. The critiques I get now are far more detailed and intense, but when you’re learning how to take criticism starting small can be good! It also gave me a chance to write a bunch of short stories with different characters and different voices and have people read them and respond. Sometimes people respond really well to a new style of writing and that can be the push you need to run with it. Practice, practice, practice as they say.

If you need the encouragement of someone saying ‘yay new chapter!’ then fictionpress can be good for getting into the habit of writing regularly. If you’re still finding your feet with novels, it can be good practice. But I stopped posting there, not because I meant to or it was intentional in any way, but because the way I write changed. The purpose shifted. Now I don’t write a chapter, half-ass edit it and throw it online for the world to see. I write a whole first draft, then I get people to read the whole thing (bless them) and tear it to shreds. Re-write and repeat. That doesn’t really fit on fictionpress. So really, as the others have already said, it depends on what you’re doing.

-Jenn Fitzgerald

~~~

I don’t think posting on Fictionpress will teach anything that you can’t learn elsewhere 🙂 There are good points and bad points about Fictionpress. If you “make it big” on the site, it can be very encouraging to know that people are reading and enjoying your work. Reviews are lovely motivation to keep writing and finish a story, something that is often one of the biggest milestones for beginner writers. I know I used to check my email rather obsessively for reviews back then ;P

On the other hand, the vast majority of stories on Fictionpress get few or even no reviews at all, and this is not always a judge on their quality. Fictionpress has a certain demographic of users and readers and stories that cater to their tastes will tend to be reviewed more. Also, stories with a good number of reviews tend to attract more readers and more reviews, which, in turn, attract more readers and so on, while stories with no or few reviews languish. If your story falls into the latter category, posting on Fictionpress can be very disheartening.

Finally, reviewers on Fictionpress are not known for giving good critiques. I haven’t been to the site in a long, long time, but from what I remember, reviews almost always fell into the cheerleading category or the flames category, neither of which is particularly helpful to a writer seeking to improve their craft. I think they have started a new beta-reader program, though that didn’t exist when I used the site, so I can’t say how helpful it is.

I guess I’m sounding pretty harsh about Fictionpress, but I’m not trying to put the site down or anything! Posting on Fictionpress can be a lot of fun and can certainly earn you some fame. I still remember my favorite stories from there from when I was 12 or 13, which certainly says something. Fictionpress also builds community, linking you with other writers and readers, something I think is incredibly important. There are certainly lessons to learn there: writing regularly, crafting a good chapter, hooking a reader quickly…

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: if you want to try posting on Fictionpress, by all means do it! It’s easy and free to sign up, and you can have a lot of fun. Don’t think of it as an essential step, though!

-Kat Zhang

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Are you a member of Fictionpress? How has it helped you grow as a writer? Would you recommend it to others?

Herding WIPs

19 May

by Jenn Fitzgerald

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Rarely do I work on a single WIP at a time. I’m still not sure if this is good writerly behavior or not, but it is something I have to deal with. No matter how much I love a project that I’m working on, no matter how devoted to it, or focused on it I am, I still think about other WIPs. It can kinda feel like I’m cheating on my books with other books, but luckily WIPs can’t have hurt feelings if I neglect one for a while to spend time with another.

However, it can be a problem trying to balance projects. Sometimes, I’ll sit down to write, open up a project and start typing away, only to be distracted a few minutes later by plans for a different WIP. I’ll switch to the other one and start working on that, only to be drawn back to the first one again. And, by the end of the day I haven’t gotten much done on either and I’m frustrated with myself.

I had this problem in a big way when I was starting PRISCILLA THE EVIL. I was writing another WIP and things were going well, but I couldn’t help thinking about this idea I had about a little girl who wanted to be evil. Finally, I decided to get to a stopping point with my main WIP and see where this other idea went. Six weeks later I had a first draft of Priscilla and could go back to working on my main WIP, which I finished before starting major edits.

What I learned from this was that I need to work on new ideas and I need stopping points. Constantly jumping back and forth between projects is not the way to do it.

So, now when I have to deal with multiple projects I try to pick one to work on, and pick a stopping point to work towards before I’m allowed to switch to the next WIP. This helps keep me from switching back and forth spastically. If I set a goal and can get myself to work to that certain point, then I can actually get something done and make progress on both projects. If there is something pressing that I just have to write down or risk forgetting for the project I’m not working on, then I’ll take the shortest possible notes before going back to the WIP I am working on. This way I don’t loose any ideas, but I don’t get distracted and pulled off into another work either. This is still a process I’m working on and trying to get better at. There are sill days when I jump back and forth and can’t settle on one WIP to work on, but it’s getting better.

Do you all have the same problem? What techniques or solutions do you have for dealing with wanting to write multiple projects at the same time?

Troubles with Voice

21 Mar

When I open something I’ve written I expect to know who I’m reading within a few sentences (‘who’ being the narrator or perspective character). If I can’t tell, if I’m struggling to remember, or piece things together, I feel something’s off and get distracted from the story by trying to figure out what’s wrong. Every narrative has a voice, some can be bland and detached, others quirky, but they should try to be unique. ‘Voice’ can be difficult to explain and sometimes hard to pinpoint, but it always makes a difference in what you’re reading.

Voice is one of those things agents always say they’re looking for when describing what they want in manuscripts. In first person narratives it is largely the personality of whoever is narrating the story. In books written in third person, it conveys the author’s attitude towards the work, or what they want the reader to think is their attitude, it could be sarcastic or understanding.

Here are two quotes which illustrate the distinctive voices of their respective works:

“This is a bad land for gods,” said Shadow. As an opening statement it wasn’t Friends, Romans, countrymen, but it would do. “You’ve probably all learned that.” -Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation….He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliott, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion. – Jane Austen, Persuasion

American Gods is often detached and unemotional, and I often found it distancing. The voice was the reason I’m still not sure whether or not I liked the book, even though I liked the story. Jane Austen’s voice is satirical, it invites the reader to laugh along and you can almost imagine her winking.

Recently, I’ve started poking a new project with a stick to see if it might be alive, and it’s given some encouraging twitches. I have the world set up, the plot outlined, and the characters waiting with backstories in hand. I just have one big problem, the voice.

If only my main character didn’t sound like Background Teenager #2 from some unmemorable romcom.

‘Come on, Lily,’ I say to the character in my head, like that’ll do any good. ‘How about some more personality?’ And all I get back is a string of curse words, which is not quite how I want to distinguish my new character’s voice. That just feels lazy and like cheating. I should be able to give her something besides a sailor’s mouth to distinguish her narration and make it her own. I should be able to give her distinctive speech patterns, commonly used words, and phrases which mark her apart from other characters and standard ‘teen speak.’ So far it hasn’t really worked.

Mostly I think this is just something I need to work at. I need to write while keeping in mind what should be characteristics of her perspective and speech. Then, when I edit I need to go through line by line to make sure those characteristics are present throughout (not just when I remembered to include them) and the entire narrative has a coherent voice. Sometimes voice comes easyily and naturally and that is always the best. It’s not something that should be forced or it will probably read as inauthentic. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take work, though! You still have to find the right patterns and make sure to use them correctly.

Have you had trouble getting the voice right for your WIPs? What did you do to get it right? Let me know in the comments!

~~~

Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently revising. 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.

Money, Honey

19 Jan

Understanding how money works is important in everything from historical novels to fantasy and sci-fi. It forms an important part of the internal logic of a world and mentions of money that don’t seem to fit the world can jar the reader. While you might not have to work out the relative prices of everything, it helps to know what’s cheap and what’s expensive and how much money makes a person rich or poor. Then it’s possible to make consistent references to things like the prices of goods and services.

In the pre and early industrial era, labor was cheap while goods were not. Goods had to be hand made and luxuries were shipped around the world in a time consuming and dangerous process, then heavily taxed. This made things like cloth expensive. In the Georgian period a servant’s uniform could cost as much as their annual salary, and a silk handkerchief could buy a week’s worth of food. That’s one of the reasons why you can’t just convert old prices into modern numbers, the value systems are different.

In modern times mechanization has made production quick and cheap. Quicker and safer methods of transportation have made it possible to outsource manufacturing to poorer regions, keeping prices down even as wages rise. In industrialized nations, labor is expensive, especially specialized labor, while in developing nations it is still generally inexpensive. Decreases in population can make labor more valuable as well. After the Black Death spread through Europe, serfs were able to gain increasing freedom because their labor became more valuable.

Land values work in similar ways. In a feudal system where the economy is mainly dependent on agriculture and local produce, land in the main source of income. But in an industrial society it can be a major burden with upkeep and taxes and without peasant labor. So, if you’re writing anything that’s not contemporary, it’s important to keep in mind the fact that money should work differently.

There’s also more to money than the paper and coins we tend to think of first when we hear the word. Various types of money include:

-Valuable Metals: often made into standardized coins, they could include gold, silver, copper, and bronze. People would often cut up coins to get smaller denominations, so a piece of eight was actually one eighth of a Spanish dollar coin. (Two bits was two pieces or a quarter, the phrase “shave and a haircut—two bits” is a reference to this.)

-Other Valuable Objects: Often shells, like cowries, which were used at various times worldwide. Wampum belts were belts of shell beads used as currency and also to seal treaties and commemorate events among Native American tribes on the eastern seaboard.

-Paper: Typically resisted at first as it lacks intrinsic value. Some forms of paper currency include promissory notes from banks promising to pay actual money on request. These evolved into modern banknotes, or paper money.

-Electronic: most money currently exists only in computers and records, not physically, and can be wired from place to place or transferred by use of cards or transfer numbers.

Have you given much thought to what your characters buy and how they buy it?

~~~

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.

Book Recommendation: The Wee Free Men

2 Jan

by Jenn Fitzgerald

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I’m already a big Terry Pratchett fan, so I was excited to read his YA work, though this book is pretty much Middle Grade. It’s got a couple of large vocabulary words that might throw young readers, but they’re usually explained right there in the text. I don’t know many books that can use susurrus effectively, but this is one of them. The writing is engaging, as Pratchett normally is, and because it’s aimed at a younger audience than most of his Discworld books, it doesn’t have the same references to new technology and politics. I found it to be a nice change that helped set more of a fairy-tale feel for the book.

The summary from Goodreads should be enough to convince you to pick up a copy:

“Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.

“Why?” said Tiffany.

“There’s no one to stop them.”

There was silence for a moment.

Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”

Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnaped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle — aka the Wee Free Men — a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds — black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors — before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone….

Tiffany hits monsters in the face with a frying pan. I approve. She’s also a strong character, with flaws and weaknesses that she has to face before she can confront the Queen. Reading this I empathized with Tiffany, I remembered being eleven and how annoying it was having to help with my little sister and loved how dead-on this little know-it-all was written.

I really enjoyed the characters in general. The Feegles are hilarious and inappropriate. It was fun to have cameos of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, to tie the story into the rest of Discworld, and they managed not to steal the show. The monsters were great too and I loved the way the fairyworld was described as a parasite latching onto and bleeding through to the real world.

One thing that might annoy some readers is the way flashbacks are woven into the narrative. I’m generally not a big fan of flashbacks, especially when they appear as big chunks of italicized text, but I thought they worked well in this book.

The Wee Free Men is a fun read and I’d recommended to anyone, but especially Discworld fans and those who still enjoy kids’ stories.

~~~

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.

 

Writing Around Life

8 Nov

This summer when I was working, I’d get home after work, scrounge up some dinner and sit down to write a thousand words or do some editing. Every night. It was a routine that worked. But then, this fall I moved to Boston and started grad school and that’s meant some pretty major changes in the way I write.

Classes, homework, exploring the city, and a social life have all wreaked havoc on my writing life. Not only don’t I have a regular schedule, I’ve felt like there was no time to sit and write when there were a million and a half other things I could/should be doing. So, I tried taking a bit of a break from the project I was stuck on. I hoped I would develop more of a routine and things would settle down enough for me to have regular writing time again.

The problem then was that I hate not writing. It felt terribly strange not to be actively working on a project, like there was something missing or that there was something else I should be doing. I would get distracted at odd moments by the thought that I hadn’t written anything that week. And then I’d feel bad about it.

As you can probably imagine, this didn’t last very long. After a couple weeks I was putting off homework to fight with outlining. Also not the best plan in the world.

Balance can be difficult to come by, but there’s always a way to find it. It’s taken a while, but I finally think I’ve figured out a way to survive school, friends, and writing, again (somehow this was much easier in college).

Here’s a few things I do to make sure I keep writing:

-I bring a notebook with me and write on the subway on the way to school. This is also good for improving balance, but not so much handwriting.

-In between classes I grab a few minutes to jot down ideas.

-I use the time when I’m standing around waiting to plan out scenes in my head.

-After finishing homework for one class I’ll give myself half an hour to write before starting the next class’ readings.

More generally, I think it’s important to set goals for yourself. But also recognize that you won’t always met them and that’s OK. You can’t let missing one or two goals discourage you enough that you give up. Stay flexible, promise yourself that you’ll make it up later, and then actually try to do that.

Have a journal, a writing notebook, or even just some paper with you so that you can get something done during time that would otherwise be wasted. Carrying around a notebook is also great for writing down ridiculous quotes or the kinds of quirky behaviors we writers feed on.

Don’t get sucked into the wilds of the internet (but do keep reading Let the Words Flow!). It’s too easy just to zone out and then realize an hour has gone by and you don’t even remember most of the things you just read. Set time limits so that facebook doesn’t eat all your free time. All those pictures? Don’t worry, they’ll be there forever, you can look through them later, your WIP wants your attention more.

And don’t shy away from living life. Keep hanging out with friends, reading books and going to movies. As Billy wrote last week, you don’t want to end up brooding with no new sources of inspiration.

How do you all manage to make time for writing in a busy schedule? Do you have any tricks for getting extra time to write?

~~~

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.

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!

~~~

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.

Banning Backfires

29 Sep

Saturday marked the beginning of Banned Book Week. Here at LTWF we’re dedicating the whole week to awareness about banned books. We’ve got a lineup of fantastic articles, culminating in our announcement of our banned books-inspired book of the month for October on Friday. This coming Saturday we will post pictures of ourselves with our favorite banned books, and pictures that our readers send us. One lucky reader will even get a giveaway prize!

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by Jenn Fitzgerald

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There were only ever two books my mom told me I was too young to read (this was in middle school). They were The Hunt for Red October and Dragonsdawn. So, of course I immediately snuck them off the bookshelf and read them when she wasn’t home. Later, when I was admitting that I’d just finished The Hunt for Red October, I asked her why she’d told me not to read it. She said it was because she thought they were too difficult to understand and too violent. I’d thought it was because they dropped f-bombs, and hadn’t registered the violence as being worse than anything else I’d read. Either way, it had backfired.

That’s the thing—making something forbidden only serves to make it more interesting. You tell a kid: “Hey, you should read this Tom Clancy novel,” they’re probably going to ignore you. But, if you tell them: “Hey, you really shouldn’t read this Tom Clancy novel,” you’re probably going to have to pry it away from them.

Kids are not as innocent or stupid as their parents like to pretend and the books they read in school are usually far milder than PG-13 movies and pop music (Seriously, Lady Gaga, disco stick?). I can understand parents not wanting their children to read a book they find inappropriate, but they don’t have the right to make that determination for someone else’s children. In the end, they are probably only ensuring that more people read whatever it is they find objectionable.

The same motivation holds true for adults. Who hasn’t clicked on a link they were warned against? For example, don’t click this, it’s bad for you.

When people are sheltered from controversial ideas and opinions are suppressed, everyone loses. We lose serious, thoughtful debates and discussions of the real issues that affect people’s lives. Books deal with these topics and often force us to talk about them when otherwise we’d ignore them. I found a quote that expresses this idea more eloquently than I can:

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

-John Stewart Mill

We have to allow dissident opinions and controversial works, in libraries, schools and daily life. I’m sure there are plenty of books we can agree it would be ridiculous to ban, like the Harry Potter series. And as long as we continue to fight for these books we will preserve our right to read them. But, we have to extend the right not to be banned even to the things we don’t agree with or find offensive. Otherwise, how will we refute them?

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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.

Book Recommendation: Leviathan

16 Sep

By Jenn Fitzgerald

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I’d seen a couple quotes form Leviathan bouncing around and decided to take a closer look. I picked it up in the bookstore and had to pry my eyes away, twenty pages later, when I realized I had to go home to feed myself (I have this problem where I get sucked into books and don’t eat). Needless to say, the book came home with me.

Steampunk, freaky bioengineering, and an alternative history of World War I. I shouldn’t have to say anything else, you should already be going out to get your own copy. But in case that’s not enough, here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

The pacing was spot-on, the story moved along quickly and the various actions scenes were fast-paced and fun. When it did pause for description, it was a welcome break to take in the oddities of Westerfeld’s Europe. The world building in Leviathan was great; I loved all the different machines and creatures, they were well thought-out and well designed. The descriptions were clear and engaging and occasionally so bizarre that I was as sucked in as the characters—in short, they never felt like info dumps.

The political situation at the beginning of the books is essentially the same as it was in the real 1914, which I liked because it grounded the book enough to make the world recognizable while at the same time fantastic, with technological and biological capabilities far beyond our own. I look forward to seeing how things differ from here on out.

The characters feel younger than they’re supposed to be, and the pictures of Alek don’t help here. They read like eighth graders, not high school sophomores. I can partially explain this away with remembering that they’re Edwardian teenagers and not working class either, so they should be less mature than modern teenagers, more sheltered and all that. I don’t really care that they read young, so that’s just a warning to those of you who might have a problem with it.

As for the characters, Alek is a spoiled little brat at first, in need of a good smack. Which he gets in a couple forms. But he grows. By the end of the book I adored him and wanted to bake him cookies. He can be thoughtless, but he tries to do the right things. Deryn is almost the same way, she tries to balance duty to her friends with duty to her country, occasionally bumbling things a bit. She comes across as posturing a little too much, but I think her attitude is pretty realistic given that she has to consciously act like a boy at all times. The secondary characters are a fun array of quirky people, from the arrogant Count Volger, to the dangerously clever scientist, Nora Barlow, (who might be my favorite).

The one thing that did kind of annoy me sometimes was the slang. Clart worked as a substitution for cursing, but barking spiders and bum-rag not as much. I think that might have contributed to the characters feeling younger than they are. This is YA, surely they could have let them say asswipe now and again. Also, there’s tons of fun early 20th Century slang that I’d have liked to see more of, if they’re going to avoid today’s standard four letter words.

All in all it was a good book, fun, entertaining, a quick read, and it made me want more. When I finished Leviathan, I was seriously peeved to find out that the next book in the series, Behemoth, doesn’t come out until October. When it does, I’ll find a way to get my hands on it and read it, even if it means skipping some homework, and that’s about as good an endorsement as I can imagine.

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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.