Q is for Questions #AtoZChallenge

For the A to Z Challenge, I have chosen the theme of antagonists.

On my normal blogging days, Monday – parenting and Thursday – writing/publishing, I will tie that day’s topic to antagonists but on the other days (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday), I will write about antagonists from movies, TVs or books. On Wednesdays, my Quote of the Week will be from an antagonist that matches the letter of the day. Enjoy.

Today is the letter Q, which is for Questions. A good way to get to know your antagonist is to conduct a character interview. This fun exercise can give you a lot of insight into your antagonist, and the better you know him/her, the easier it will be to bring them to life.

You can either get someone to ask you a list of questions or play both the interviewer and interviewee. But all responses should be done as if you are the antagonist. This means that their word choice, manner and attitude should be reflected in their answers.

The key is to ask open-ended questions so your character has to elaborate beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”  So instead of asking, “Were you scared when you were kidnapped?” ask “What was going through your head at the moment you were grabbed?”

Try to stick with questions that will benefit your story. You want to uncover the goals and motivation of your antagonist. And you might just uncover some of their soft spots too.

Need help coming up with questions? Here is a website that lists 50 Questions you can ask your antagonist.

And in case you want to check out my other antagonists from the challenge…

A is for Apocalypse

B is for Bad Boys (parenting)

C is for Cruella de Vil

D is for Darth Vader (Quote)

D is for To Die for Cake (Recipe)

E is for Evil (Writing)

F is for Freddy Kruger

G is for Gollum

H is for High School (parenting)

I is for Iron Monger

J is for Jafar (Quote)

K is for Killers (Writing)

L is for Loki

M is for Maleficent

N is for No (parenting)

O is for Oggie Boogie

P is for Professor Moriarty (Quote)

9 Questions to Consider When Choosing your Novel’s Setting

Last week, I gave a recap of some of my posts about writing various scenes in your novel. But before you can write a scene, you need to know where your story is set.

The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be Las Angeles, a farm in Iowa, the White House, on a space ship, on another world or any of a thousand different places.

Selecting the right setting can have a significant impact on your story. Choosing where a story or even a scene takes place can add suspense or excitement to a theme. Changing the location of a scene can have it going from flat to intense.

Here are some questions you might want to consider as you determine the setting of your story.

Do you want a real or fictional setting?

eiffel_tower_postcard-01verChoosing a real setting can be easier because if it is a place others already know, they will bring their own knowledge and visuals of that place with them. You mention Las Vegas or Paris and even those who have not been there can imagine the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas strip or picture the Eiffel Tower.

But a fictional setting can give you the freedom to do whatever you want. You are not restricted to established governments, customs or landmarks. You don’t have to worry about accuracy as you are the one designing your city, country, or world.

Where are your favorite places?

If you love a certain place, you probably know it well. Your passion for it will certainly spill over into your writing and help create a feeling of familiarity and realism.

What mood do you want (or need) the story to have?

If you are writing a romance novel, you might pick a bright sunny beach but that same location won’t work for your vampire novel. The setting can enhance the mood or it can give all the wrong signals.

What location would enhance your story’s theme or conflict?

If you are writing a romance, picking one of the most romantic cities in the world may work well. And if you are writing about a war, your setting most likely will be in a war zone. But if you find our love story lacking conflict, try setting it somewhere else – like in the middle of a war.

Will your story span over more than one location?

If you are writing about life in a small town, your story likely will take place just there. But other works take place in multiple locations, which means more research (or more time creating those places).

What elements must your setting have?

Certain genres might require certain things. If you are writing about a war-torn country, then your novel most likely will be set in that country. If you are writing about vampires and werewolves, you will need dark alleys and possibly a forest.

What settings are common in your genre?

If most novels in your genre are set in a common place, it is a pretty good indication that readers will expect and look forward to this setting. This doesn’t mean you can’t go against the norm and try something new but doing so may alienate some readers.

How will your setting influence the story or your characters?

Knowing your location, being on familiar ground can be good for your character, but it can also be interesting to throw them into the unknown. Also, a hostile environment can add more conflict and tension to your novel. Where things happen changes everything. Don’t always go for the usual. Consider changing up where events occur. It might make all the difference in your story.

Recap: Tips for Writing Different Scenes in your Novel

Recently, I spent a few hours making a spreadsheet of all the writing/publishing topics I have written about on my blog. Well, I have a long running list since I started in 2012 but this time I grouped each by category in an attempt to see what areas are in need of some additional advice. But while I analyze my list, I thought I would fall back on doing a recap of some of my other blog posts.

So here are some of the posts discussing various scenes in your novel…

Deciding how to begin a scene in your novel 

The goal of the beginning of a scene is to draw the reader in. It must make the reader want to read more. A few months ago, I wrote about writing the opening scene of your novel. That crucial scene is often where readers decide if they like your book or not. (Read more here)

Writing the opening scene of your novel

(Excerpt from my short story The Search) And thus begins my short story, The Search. I started with an action scene to draw the reader in. And that is the point of the beginning of your story. You want the reader to be hooked and want to keep reading. (Read more here)

Finding the perfect ending to your scene 

cliff hangerEvery scene has a beginning, middle and end. The ending moments complete the scene and should leave the reader wanting more. It should make them eager to begin the next scene. (Read more here)

Romance and sex in your non-romance novel

As a writer of fantasy novels, romance is not in the forefront of my plots. So when it comes to writing a bit of romance into the story, I begin to wonder how much to include and what exactly to do with the sex scenes if any come about. (Read more here)

Creating Fight Scenes

Since I write fantasy, I guess it is expected that at some point there will be a sword fight or other battle taking place. With each additional book in my trilogy, there seem to be more battles.  One of my reviews for Summoned said that I wrote, “awesome fight scenes.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do have a few tricks that I use when developing a fight scene. These hold true whether it is someone using a knife, a sword or their fists. (Read more here)

Writing a night or low lighting scene

So I was recently writing a scene that took place in a darkened street. A battle ensues and a chase. There is a lot of hiding out and sneaking down alleys. The fact that this takes place in a world without street lamps only makes the writing more difficult as I focus on what my characters would be able to see. (Read more here)

The importance of tension in your novel

Tension is the element of a novel that evokes worry, anxiety, fear or stress for both the reader and the characters.

One way to think about it is you are raising the stakes for your character, so he or she has to work to get what he or she wants. And this shouldn’t be easy. Basically, you want to keep saying no to your characters so that the conflict appears unsolvable. The more at stake for your character, the more emotions he feels about situations and events. (Read more here)

Not too fast…not too slow – it is all about the pace

Pace is the speed in which events happen in your novel. You need to balance the pace of your writing. If your scenes drag on and on (slow pace) then you lose or bore readers. If it is too fast, you will leave your readers unsettled and it won’t be a comfortable read.

The trick is to get the balance just right. And there is no one out there that can tell you what that balance should be. (Read more here)

Using internal dialogue

One of the biggest advantages of writing a novel versus writing a movie or TV show script is that authors can use internal dialogue as a tool to tell the story.

Internal dialogue is what your character is thinking. It is not the same thing as narration, which is when the person telling the story (the narrator) talks directly to the reader.

Now there are a few rules about using internal dialogue.

  • Only use internal dialogue for the point-of-view (POV) character.

If you show the thoughts of non-POV characters, it is called head-hopping, and it is a big no-no in writing (though I do see many romance authors committing this writing sin.)

  • Only share thoughts that advance the story.

We don’t need to hear every thought in your character’s head. We just need to hear the important ones that are relevant to the plot.

Including internal dialogue is a good way to replicate real life. In our own lives, we are always thinking to ourselves – noticing things, trying to solve problems, giving ourselves pep talks or berating ourselves.

There are two ways you can include internal dialogue – indirectly or directly.

Indirect Internal Dialogue gives the reader an idea of the character’s thoughts without the exact words they are thinking. You do not need to include the tags “wondered” or “thought.”

Here is an example taken from Internal Dialogue by Marcy Kennedy:

The suffocating stench of lilies clung to his clothes. She slowly pulled away from his hug. Shivers traced over her arms. She knew that smell. Not perfume. It was too natural for that, but it also wasn’t an everyday odor. She wouldn’t expect to run into it at the grocery store. Or the bank, either. It was rare. Heavy, warm, and sad.

Her breath tripped in her throat, and she stepped back. He smelled like death, like a corpse smothered in flower arrangements at a funeral parlor. The last time she’d smelled it was standing next to her mother’s coffin, saying good-bye.

Direct Internal Dialogue gives the reader the exact words the character is thinking. It is written in first person and present tense, regardless of the person and tense of the rest of the story.

Here is above example written as direct internal dialogue (also from Marcy Kennedy’s book):

The suffocating stench of lilies clung to his clothes and hair. She slowly pulled away from his hug. Shivers traced over her arms. I know that smell. I should know that smell.

Not perfume. It was too natural for that, but it also wasn’t an everyday odor. She wouldn’t expect to run into it at the grocery store. Or the bank, either. It was rare. Heavy, warm, and sad.

Her breath tripped in her throat, and she stepped back. He smells like death, like a corpse smothered in flowers at a funeral parlor. The last time she’d smelled that scent was standing next to her mother’s coffin, saying good-bye.

Formatting your internal dialogue

There are many ways to include internal dialogue in your novel. There are two rules you need to follow.

1.) Never use quotation marks for internal dialogue.

2.) Be consistent with whatever format you choose.

For indirect internal dialogue, you are not using speech tags (he thought) or setting off the words in italics since you are not giving the exact words.

For direct internal dialogue, you can use both a speech tag or put the information in italics. (Liar, she thought.) Or you could just decide to use italics. (Where’s the money you owe me?)

Now if you write fantasy, paranormal or have people who can talk telepathically, then formatting your internal dialogue can be even trickier. Now you have people who externally speak dialogue, internal character speaking to themselves as well as two characters speaking privately in their minds.

Here is what I have done in my novels: I use quotation marks around spoken dialogue. I use italics for dialogue spoken telepathically. And I typically don’t use the direct internal dialogue and just stick with indirect.

Again, if you are consistent, your readers will easily understand what is happening.

Once you have mastered using internal dialogue, you can use it to help your readers connect with your characters. It will help the characters feel more real and most importantly the internal dialogue can advance your story.

 

 

 

 

Naming Fantasy Characters

Naming characters can be hard. Naming characters in a fantasy or sci-fi novel can be even harder.

Last week, I spent time picking out the names for the two antagonists in my latest story. (I am almost halfway through writing my first draft but haven’t needed to know their actual names until now.)

alexandria-namesMy typical way to pick a name is to peruse a baby naming book. (For general tips in naming characters, check out my original post.) The baby book I have (picked up at a used-book store) has a lot of unusual names. It worked for one antagonist’s name, but the other name was still elusive. Then I tried making up my own name.

There are several ways to do this. You can take a common word and just play around with it by changing letters until you create something you like. (This example was found on another website.)

Radio -> Tadio -> Tadia -> Tazia -> Yazia

I actually came up with the name of the dragon in my latest story when I took the kids out to lunch at McDonald’s. I was trying to think of names when I saw the Red Box outside. That became Reddex.

Or you can take a name and work on changing it around. Add extra letters, double letters, change vowels…the options are endless in making a name seem different or foreign. (Again, an example from another website.)

Galen can become Ghalen, Galeen, Galenn, Gaelen, Galan, Galeen, Gallen, Galyn and even Dagallen or D’Gallen.

For my second antagonist, I added two extra letters (Sa) before a name I found in the baby book which did create a unique name fitting a sorceress.

Here are some tip for selecting character names.

Tips

  • Avoid having too many names start with the same letter. (Tom, Todd and Tim)
  • Ditto to names that rhyme or sound similar. (Drake and Jake)
  • Make sure you say the name out loud. Anything unpronounceable or with a lot of syllables is not good.
  • If you are making up a new name, do a Google search to make sure it is not the name of a company or has some unforeseen associations or connotations.
  • Actually, run all character names through Google to make sure they do not belong to someone famous – or perhaps another well-known literary character.

However, when making up names, it is easy to get carried away and create names that no one can pronounce – sometimes even the author. If your reader stops and struggles with it every time they see it, then consider other possibilities such as changing the name, including a pronunciation guide or giving the character a nickname.

Now with Fantasy names, each author and reader have their own preferences. For some readers it takes them out of the story if the characters don’t have truly foreign names derived from the cultures of the worlds you built. Some fantasy authors, therefore, reserve the baby books for “Earth” names but develop names for different worlds and more importantly different species. (Examples from my book above show a few made up names and ones found in the baby book. I took more liberties with the last names.)

And while I agree with this to a point (I can’t imagine a dwarf named Sean), I don’t see why you can’t use some more obscure names in the baby book as names on a different planet because after all you created it.

elemental-namesI work more on the belief that I want the characters to be memorable. I do not care if you can tell where a person is born just by their name. I pick names I like and work for that character. Maybe this makes me boring or lazy as an author, but I don’t think the names of my characters are going to jar the reader out of the story.

I stuck with mostly short names for my trilogy The Elemental. (See image) No hyphenated names. Nothing with lots of syllables or consonants. No apostrophes (an overused affection of fantasy writers). Just simple, short names that were easy for readers to remember. (And there were a lot of names…this list is just a sampling.)

And for me as a reader, this would be important because I would rather enjoy the story rather than try to figure out who is who and where they come from based on the exotic spelling of their name that I have yet to figure out how to pronounce.

Novel writing: More on creating your system of magic

Last week, I wrote about the Rules of Magic. These are pretty simple: Limit magic or give it a cost and stick to the rules. Basically, magic can’t be the answer to everything, and once you set up your system of magic you need to stick with it.

But today I want to go into some of the details of things you might want to consider while you are building your magical system.

Where Magic Comes From

Image of opened magic book with magic lights

Image of opened magic book with magic lights

One of the first steps to creating your system of magic is to decide the source of magic. By knowing this, you can easily set limits for the magic based upon the type of magic. Below I listed a couple of possible sources for magic.

Energy – Magic could be similar to heat, magnetism, electricity or movement. It could be from astral radiation, human emotion or energy fields in the ground. Perhaps your wizard pulls their power from the plants or animals/people around them.

Limitations on this type of magic come easily. We know it takes a lot of energy to move a big rock verses a small one. We can easily imagine it requires more magical energy too. The larger the action, the more magic or magical energy required.

Higher Beings – Perhaps the magic comes from gods or other powerful beings. Then the deity can either perform the magic on the mage’s behalf or perform it through the mage. Perhaps the gods do not have to do what the mage wants or there are several gods and you either prayer to a different one or perhaps only to “your” god. Of course with this you need to set limits on what can be done as you won’t want the divine ones answering every prayer and bringing back loved ones who have perished.

Objects – perhaps the magic comes from holding/wearing a certain item such as a scepter or amulet. Or maybe the exposure to particular spices, plants or another item embeds that person with magic.

Shifts in reality – Maybe your character can move outside reality or somehow bend it to their purpose. Or perhaps they are shifting through a parallel world.

Accessing magic

You have to have more than just a source of the magic. Your spell caster/magician/wizard must have some way to control or wield the magic to accomplish their goal.

Thoughts – Characters use their mind or thoughts to direct spells.

Communication – Whether it is saying magic words or writing them down, spells can be verbal or through some other form of communication, including a prayer to a deity, hand movements or drawing magical symbols.

Recipes/rituals – Maybe in addition to speaking some words, your spell caster/magician/wizard needs to mix up a potion or follow a series of moves.

Objects – Magic may only be accessed through a magical item such as a wand that either channels a wizard’s power, or it could be as simple as wearing a magical amulet that controls/directs the magic.

Explaining Magic to your Readers

Now once you have your magical system devised, you should know everything about it. You know how it works and what limitations it has. But nothing says you need to tell your readers everything. Just like when you create a well-rounded character with his/her own back story, you don’t have to let the readers know everything.

You should, however, give them the basics, or they may be wondering “Why can’t he…”

The easiest way to do this is to have someone who doesn’t know about magic asking questions. A dialogue about magic would be far more interesting than a few paragraphs containing an information dump.

But remember that as you let your reader know about magic you cannot withhold a critical rule/ability of your magic system until it conveniently gets your characters out of a plot jam. This will only annoy your readers and reflect poorly on your writing.

Why use Magic

Now I love magic but if the magic in your story doesn’t do anything to further the plot or characters, it is not worth having in your novel. In the end remember that your story is about characters and not the magic.

Here are four questions to consider before adding magic to your story.

1.) Does your magic affect your character?

2.) Does magic cause conflict?

3.) Would your story be the same without magic?

4.) Would the characters be the same without magic?

And when answering these questions, it isn’t just that magic affects your story but how much. If you can do without magic, it is best to take it out. It has to have a purpose before you include it.

The best systems of magic are those tied to your characters or plot. If you want to really see what your characters are made of, briefly take away their magic and see how they manage.

To learn more about writing about magic, check out my other posts on magic: Rules of Magic, Magic & the Gods, Magical Duels, Innate vs Learned Magic and Believable Magic.

World Building: The Rules of Magic

When I was a child, I always thought it would be interesting to have magical powers. You could levitate a snack to you or close the door without even getting up. You could keep someone from grabbing you or perhaps start a fire with just a thought. But not once when I was thinking of these magical powers did I consider that there would be a limit to what could be done.

However, if you are writing a story, whether it is a fantasy, romance or horror, with magic in it, you need to spend some time developing a believable system of magic. Magic needs limits or consequences. Without these, whoever wields magic would win. There would be no conflict to your story or in other words, no story. And without a story, you have no readers.

Since magic is often a big part of a fantasy novel (the genre I write), I have written about it numerous times – Creating Believable Magic, Innate versus Learned Magic, Magical Duels, and Gods & Magic. But looking back over what I have written, I realize there was more to address so I have written a 2-part post about Magic.

Part One – The Rules of Magic

rules-of-magicBefore you begin writing, you should know everything about your magical system. You need to know the ins and outs of what type of magic your characters use or will run into. You need to know what they can’t do and what happens when they use magic. But as you develop that magical system, you need to remember the Rules of Magic.

Rules of Magic

1.) Limit Magic/Give Magic a Cost

2.) Keep to the Rules

Limit Magic/Give Magic a Cost

Magic needs limits. If magic is all-powerful, then a wave of a wand or a simple incantation would solve every problem. Your story would have no conflict. How do you have magic and conflict? It is simple – give a limit to what magic can accomplish or give it a cost so that it isn’t used freely.

Limiting magic is easy. The possibilities are endless – magic could require a specific set of actions/knowledge, magic only works for those with access to certain items, the strength of the magic is based upon the location of the source, or magic can only be used for certain purposes.

Now there is nothing to say that magic can’t be commonplace and everyone in your story can wield some form of magic. But there still needs to be rules to what they can and cannot do or the magic has no real purpose in the story and could be left out.

You also may want your characters to have to pay a price when they use magic. If magic is effortless, it doesn’t feel real. When you run away from a bear, you use energy. When you drive your car, you use fuel. Everything comes at cost and so should magic. Maybe they have to make a deal to give up something (first born) or offer a blood sacrifice. Or perhaps using magic makes them age or takes away days/years of their lives or at the very least drains them temporarily of power. Again, the possibilities are endless.

Keep to the Rules

Once you design the rules of magic in your world, you need to stay true to them. You cannot decide to change the rules just because you want to. You cannot create surprise magic out of the blue to save your characters. Yes, that might mean difficult choices have to be made and consequences accepted. But keeping to the rules will make your story believable and increase your credibility with the reader.

Now nothing says you can’t have a “chosen” one who is extra special or more gifted than others. But even he should not be able to break every rule. If you want them to stand out from the masses, allow them to break only one rule of your magic system. And you should make absolutely certain that the exceptional case is declared early and perhaps repeated several times. (Such as the prophecy of the chosen’s one’s coming.)

And this wraps up my two rules for creating a magical system. Of course, there is so much more to be decided – where magic comes from, how your characters access it, how to explain the magic to your readers and whether you even need magic in your story. I will cover all of that next week.