Creating believable magic

Magic use to be prevalent only in fantasy novels but more and more, magic shows up in other genres, including romance and suspense.  Magic can certainly enhance a story, but you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story. Magic cannot be the answer to everything. Or as Rumpelstiltskin in ABC’s Once Upon a Time said, “All magic comes with a price.”

You as the writer get to decide what that price is. If the magic is an innate talent, the amount of magic one can perform can be based on the physical or mental strength of the user. It could be restricted by the person’s knowledge or imagination. Or perhaps energy is taken from the spell-caster to power the spell itself so performing magic drains the user. Or maybe the person draws on magical fields, and once those fields are depleted no more magic can be performed in that area. Along the same lines, maybe there are magical lines running through the ground and magic is strongest when you are standing on or near one of the magical focal points.

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If the magic is acquired through studying incantations and spells, then the magic might be limited to what spells that person has learned or the wizard’s access to those rare and exotic books. Perhaps each magic user has a certain allotment of spells that they are allowed to use and when they have used them up, no more magic.

Another way to restrain how often your characters use their magic might be to have the act of performing magic create a “sound” that other sorcerers can hear. As Dumbledore notes in J.K. Rowlings’s The Half-Blood Prince, “Magic always leaves traces.”  In that case, your character now has to be selective of when and where they perform their magic and it becomes part of the conflict.

The possibilities of how you limit the magic in your novel are endless. But you do need to establish your rules of magic BEFORE you begin writing so that your story builds off of the character interaction and not the easy use of magic to solve the problems. Be as detailed as you want and work with the idea that your reader may never know all these “rules” but know that by establishing your magical system you are creating a more believable magic and a more believable plot.

The importance of getting book reviews

One of the best and most inexpensive marketing tools for your novel is a book review. Before shelling out money for a book, many readers like to know ahead of time if it is good. Reviews give those readers an ideal of what others liked or didn’t like about the book. Reviews add a level of credibility to your book.

So now that you have written your book, how do you go about getting book reviews?

1.) Friends and Family – I hesitate to suggest you start by asking family and friends to review your book because readers can usually tell when there are a lot of five-star  reviews gushing about how great the author is that those reviewers know the author. However, if you have a family member or friend who will write an honest critique of your work – listing both the good and the bad – then go ahead and have them write a review.

2.) Book Blogs and Online Reviewers – The best bet is to submit your book to as many online book reviewers who review your genre as you possibly can. Finding these reviewers will take a bit of work, but it is well worth the effort.

You can find reviewers by searching Google or Yahoo for “Book Reviewers” or “Book Review Blogs.”  Make sure you read their submission guidelines before submitting your book. I have found that many book bloggers do not take e-books, and some will not review independent authors.

You can also check out forums relating to your book topic to find someone to review your book or even e-mail other reviewers who have reviewed similar books on Amazon or Goodreads.

Reviewers are also often bombarded by review requests daily. They may not be accepting new requests or have a long back list of to-be-read selections. Even if they do agree to review your book, it may be several months before the review appears online.

Some reviewers will list their review on Amazon and Goodreads while others will only post it on their website. If they don’t put it on Amazon, you can still pull a quote from their review to include in your book description.

3.) Paying for a Review – I don’t suggest this method at all but there are sites where you can pay to have reviews written. There are more than enough readers out there willing to write a review for just a free copy of your book that you shouldn’t have to pay for a review Plus paying for a review is not an objective opinion of your book and readers will not give it the same credibility as other reviews.

When it comes to book reviews, the more the better. So devote some time into recruiting people to review your book. Once you have some reviews, make sure you are using those reviews or quotes from those reviews in your marketing campaign.

If anyone loves dragons, cats and sword fighting and would like to review my book on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble, I would be willing to provide a free copy. Contact me through my “About Me” page.

Giving the Gift of Time…delaying the start of kindergarten

School starts next week and my seven-year old will be starting the first grade. Yes, you read that correct. He is already seven and no, he did not have to repeat kindergarten. Jase is typically older than most of his classmates because we chose to hold him back a year.

When Jase was born, I just assumed that when your child turns five, they start kindergarten. The first time I heard about holding a child back was when he was two. We had a school counselor speak at the Mom’s Club I belonged to, and she mentioned the possibility of holding back those kids who had summer birthdays. But I didn’t think it applied to Jase as his birthday is in mid-May and I don’t consider that a summer birthday.

Jase has always been a smart boy but reserved. Even around my parents it took him a while to warm up each time we visited them, which was often since they only live twenty minutes away. When he started preschool, he rarely spoke to the teacher or director. It was his preschool teacher who suggested that we hold him back. They offered a class called “A Gift of Time” which was designed for “younger” five-year olds that might need an extra year to mature before going to kindergarten.

I did what I normally do when presented with something I know nothing about – I began full research mode. I scoured the internet looking at the pros and cons of holding your child back. I spoke to friends and neighbors about it and found out that it was quite common here in San Antonio. No one I spoke to that had held their child back had regretted it. There were a few who wished they HAD done that with their child.

But still I hesitated to do it. Sign up for kindergarten is in March, and he could change a lot in the five months before school started. I didn’t want to regret our decision. It was also hard because many people I seemed to believe that at five he should be in kindergarten no matter what. By holding him back, he would be the oldest kid in his class. When I was in kindergarten, I was the youngest. I started when I was 4. My September birthday was past the cut-off date to attend that year but my mom had me tested, and I was able to start early. Yes, academically I was probably ready. But I am not sure that I was socially mature enough. I was a shy child. Most of the time, I didn’t feel like I fit in. Now I am not saying that starting kindergarten early was the sole cause, but I am sure it contributed to it.

Finally, I just decided to do what was right for Jase. There really was nothing to lose by holding him back a year. We would be giving him a year to grow and mature.  And you know what? It has been totally worth it. In that extra year, he blossomed into a confident student. When he entered kindergarten, he was ready for any of the challenges his new school offered. He was a top student in his class. Would this have happened anyway? I don’t think so. If he had started when he was five, I think he would have been very shy and very overwhelmed by his surroundings. He grew a lot in that extra year. And I don’t regret our decision at all.

QUIETUS – Destruction to the Land excerpt

The following is an except from my fantasy novel, Quietus: Book Two of The Elemental. I hope you enjoy it. And if you are an author and would like to post an excerpt or guest blog on my site, please contact me through the “About Me” section.

It took them three more days to reach eastern Zena. The tall, lush green grass blew in the breeze. Small, agile birds darted out of the Grasslands, flying high and then diving at the insects that lived on the wild flowers. The birds scattered at the sight of the dragons, chattering angrily. Lina looked at the pink, yellow, blue and purple flowers that stood out among the green grass. She could make out creatures native to the Land from the Lope, a creature the size of a horse but with horns, to the small grass hare. The Land seemed so peaceful. Everything was as it should be. This was how she remembered her homeland. Lina smiled, her eyes trying to take in all the sights in the fading daylight. How she had missed living here these past few months.

As the sun sunk lower in the sky, Lina began looking for this barren area, knowing that they must be getting closer. Her eyes swept over the Land. Finally, in the distance, she saw a darker area. It grew larger as they approached. Her eyes widened as she took in the large stretch of brown dirt which was growing even larger with every second as they advanced toward it.

“There it is!” she said silently to Tosh and Zoot. She glanced behind her, but Taylor and the others had already seen the area.

The stretch of land had to be at least a league wide. The dry brown dirt stood out in stark contrast to the thriving green grassland around it. Lina felt tears threatening to spill down her face as she looked at her beloved homeland. How could this happen, she thought.

Calm down, Lina, Tosh said. You need to be thinking clearly.

“But Tosh! Look at the Land! What has happened here?”

I do not know. We will find out soon enough.

Zoot began to circle closer, and Lina guessed that he planned to land on the dirt field. She could barely stand to look at the carcasses of the Grassland animals that lay in this barren area. Zoot had scarcely landed before she slid to the ground, her feet thudding on the dry dirt. She was unprepared for the void feeling. She had grown accustomed to the constant power the elements provide her and feeling them all around her. Now in this desolate, sterile place, she felt nothing, no welcoming energy from her surroundings. There was nothing to connect her with the Land. It was like suddenly going blind. Lina shuddered.

She barely noticed as Taylor, Tosh, Tell and Cash dismounted Zoot and moved next to her. Lina, still reeling from the absence of energy, looked around, her eyes full of tears. The ground was hard as if all moisture had been drained from it. Taylor kneeled down and picked up a handful of the dry dirt. Even the worms and insects were missing from the dusty soil. Lina involuntarily shook.

“There isn’t even part of the roots left,” Taylor said. He threw the dirt down in disgust.

“What could have caused this?” Lina asked her voice breaking as she felt overwhelming despair. She turned toward Mac, Kiana, Kline and Kemp. A mix of fear and panic showed in their faces. Lina didn’t know if they too felt the missing connection with the Land as she did. The Land felt so empty, so desolate. She did not think she would be able to handle this lack of connection.

“What…?”  Kiana began and then broke down crying.

“How?” Mac said a strange expression on his face. “How could this have happened?”

I think that is what we need to find out, Tosh commented from behind Lina.

She nodded. Tosh was right, she thought as she attempted to ignore the powerless void. But Lina didn’t know where to begin. She looked at Taylor for help, but his gaze remained on the dry soil.

It’s getting late, Tell said. Maybe we should wait until the morning when we are all fresh and ready to face this.

“I don’t think I will ever be ready to face this,” Lina said, shuddering at the thought of staying near this desolate place. “Tell, is right. Let’s find a place away from here to set up camp. We will start searching tomorrow for the cause of this.”

The other Elementals nodded in agreement and then climbed back on the black dragon. Zoot launched himself into the air. Lina stared at the ground, still shocked to see the change to the Grasslands. They settled down in the green grass half a league north of the affected area to set up their camp. But even as the sun finished setting, Lina couldn’t help but stare in the direction of the devastated Land and wonder what they would discover tomorrow.

Creating the Mystic Dragon

Last week, I wrote briefly about creating your own fantasy world. Since I love dragons, my fantasy world wouldn’t be complete without a dragon. Since we are working with an imaginary beast, you have the creativity to do whatever you want. They can be small, large, friendly, menacing, have magical powers – the possibilities are endless. You can portray them as a snake-like creature like a Chinese dragon or a lizard-like beast with huge bat-like wings. I prefer the latter.  

When visualizing my dragons, I mainly imagine them to be like the Windstone Edition dragon statues designed by Melody Pena (photo on right is my Emperor Dragon) or the dragons of Peter Pracownik. Though in the end, I don’t know that my dragons look like either of these but these are just some great images to pull ideas from.

Though dragons often are portrayed as evil, in my novel, Summoned, I opted to create dragons as cooperative. I made them large enough to allow the other characters to ride on their backs.  And while many books or movies have dragons that don’t communicate, there are instances where they speak like we do (think BBC’s Merlin TV series or the movie Dragonheart) or even telepathically (such as Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series). I happened to want my dragons to communicate and figured it would be more realistic to have them be telepathic.

In many stories, dragons breathe fire but here again I decided to go a different route. Here is an excerpt of when my main character, Lina, first meets the black dragon Zoot. The dragons have been exiled for almost a thousand years so Lina knows very little about them.

Lina turned back to the dragon. His huge yellow eyes stared at her. She broke the gaze and turned back to the trap. “Couldn’t you break these or breathe fire and burn them?” she asked and hesitantly touched one of the ropes and then glanced at the dragon.

Still telling that old story, huh? Nope. We never could breathe fire. I believe that story started when one of us knocked over an oil lamp. Some poor servant saw it and started exaggerating. You know how it goes.

Lina smiled. She had never heard of that story. She had just always believed they could breathe fire, especially since the phrase “dragon’s fire” was so commonly used.

Zoot is introduced near the end of Summoned and plays a more active role for the remainder of the trilogy. Of course as the trilogy has progressed, I have added more dragon characters but Zoot with this gruff, sarcastic attitude will always be my favorite.

So as you create your own dragon, feel free to go against the norm. Create a unique creature to enhance your story. And remember, you are really only limited by your own imagination.