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Devil in the Details

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Writing about a culture other than your own can provide more than a few complications. I a pure fantasy setting, the author has more control and, so long as he is consistent, can tweak things a bit and make it work. However, when we use a real culture to base our story on, and where a member of that culture may pick up and read your story, we had better get the details right. Unless…

My protagonist is half-Apache, a native american tribe that lives in the southwestern United States and into Mexico. His father was a tribal holy man and taught my protagonist the ways of spiritual medicine. During this instruction a ritual takes place to help my protagonist find a spiritual guide. The spirit guide helps an individual travel along life’s ever changing path. The spirit guide turns out to be “Snake”. This is where things get dicey.

I had written about three-quarters of the story before I found out how Snake is viewed in the Apache culture. The Apache see Snake as a very negative spirit. Often seen as evil, the Apache people will distance themselves from anything related to Snake. Whether it is the real creature, an image, a vision, or a story, Snake is Very bad medicine.

When I first made this discovery, I began to panic. Thinking I would need to rewrite whole sections to either change the spirit guide to something else, or change his tribe to something that looked favorably on the Snake. Instead of jumping off a cliff, I decided to go ahead and finish the first draft without making huge changes. I tried very hard to not let this knowledge guide the story in any way.

After the required cooling off period once the first draft was finished, I did a quick read through and a second read through where I jotted down the more glaring issues and holes. During the second time through, it hit me that the main character was still a little flat.Along with this I was leaning toward changing his tribal lineage.

Then while I was discussing a similar topic with my brother, it dawned on me that the answer to my flat character was right there. The fact that an Apache shaman has Snake as a spirit guide would add several layers of conflict for the character.

So not counting the major conflicts he faces throughout the plot line, he has to deal with being a half-breed, an Apache with Snake as a guide, and his job makes him walk the line between the normal world and those who use magic.

Now I have a character with more than a little color. Yes, I have to add a few sections to exacerbate and the situation, but it will definitely make for a more memorable character.

This turned out to be one of those details that worked out in the end. However, I am more careful about performing research on areas that I am not 100% sure of.

 
 

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Story Plot Grist Mill

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As writers, we should see ideas everywhere. They can come out of the most surprising places or something mundane can trigger that creative spark.

Over the last 60 days, I have quit my job of 20 years, accepted the job of a lifetime, sold my house, bought a new house, started the new job and survived the first week of orientation. All without losing my mind or my temper. But, more important, there has been no fewer then eight ideas for story scenes pop into my head based on the situations I’ve been dealing with.

For example: I was sitting at a bar having a going away lunch with a dear friend. I ordered a glass of Macallan 12 year scotch with one cube. Except that instead of “cube” it came out of my mouth as “stone”. The young female bartender with the face of an angel smiled and asked, “Would ice be okay?” Realizing my poor choice of words, I apologized for confusing her.

Her eyes twinkled as she replied, “You’re going to make me cry.”

My friend quickly recommended, “You should go into the freezer to cry so that your tears make him some special ice cubes.”

At this point my overactive imagination took over and the next five minutes, I “think wrote” a scene for an upcoming short story involving a beautiful barkeep, a character ordering a drink with one stone and some ice made from the tear of a goddess. The scene will be the catalyst some unusual story lines.

My friend, who is also my alpha reader, laughed until she cried at the way the scene came together. She had never seen me do that before and has been wondering how I worked.

Every personal interaction can be tweaked a bit and used as the groundwork for your story. Maybe the arrogant moving company agent turns into the guild master who doesn’t realize he’s dealing with a master assassin. Perhaps the talkative real estate agent makes the perfect noble fop to obtain intelligence from on the royal court.

The bottom line is this: keep your eyes and other senses open because you never know where the next interesting idea will come from.

 

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More Ideas than time!

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Lately, it seems that new ideas for stories crash into my head on a daily basis. Each one new and different. Some with characters I know and some completely new. I scribble down the idea and sometimes fragments of scenes or dialog. Then, just when I start to feel comfortable with a new idea. a different one pops into my head. The process begins again. Never do I have time to complete the story. They just keep coming like waves in the ocean. It frightens me that I do not have time to write them all. Even if I was a fast typist, I doubt I could get them all finished. I keep the notes safe for some future date because, what frightens me more is when the ideas stop coming.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Write what you know?

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“Write what you know!”

Almost every ‘How To’ book on writing preaches this advice. For most non-fiction writers, this is sound advice usually is taken straight forward. Whether it is memoir, historical, How-to or any number of other topics, you should write about things that you know something about, are interested in or even want to know more about. It gives the reader a feeling of comfort knowing that the author isn’t just pulling information out of a hat.The author’s ‘expertise’ adds weight to the written words.

However, this advice can be very interesting advice when given to a fantasy fiction writer. Few of us routinely wield a sword or cast a magic spell. Fewer still have actually passed through a portal to find themselves in another realm where dragons, elves, wizards, and goblins walk the land. Most of the individuals that I have met who have taken the aforementioned journey are either sitting quietly in a catatonic state because they have left their material bodies behind. Or, they are unable to write about their journey because the medication they are given makes writing anything except their name difficult. So, how does a modern author use this advice and write about what they know?

Fantasy is created in one’s imagination. So, having a vivid imagination is a standard prerequisite. Those of us whose teachers wrote on our report cards that we spent too much time staring out the windows daydreaming were pretty good candidates. However, to draw a reader into your fantasy story, there has to be some measure of reality. Something familiar. Maybe it’s making a campfire, baking a loaf of bread, riding a horse, dressing a wound, or bartering with a merchant at the local farmer’s market. These types of skills obtained in modern society, can be easily converted to a fantasy story and in doing so, bring a sense of realism to the reader, drawing them into your world. If you are lucky enough to have hobbies like, archery, martial arts, herbalist, camping, astronomy, Chemistry, or being some form of entertainer, you have real expertise in areas that can easily be incorporated into a fantasy setting.  Your knowledge will, if used moderately and with skill, add authenticity to your world,

Another excellent source of knowledge for the fantasy writer is to have been immersed in a culture foreign to their own. Dealing with language, customs, food, clothing, and belief differences gives the writer unique insights and tolls to use when describing their world to the reader. Not only the differences themselves, but the feelings of having to deal with a foreign culture is a form of expertise that can be invaluable to the author.

If you still are not sure that you ‘know’ anything, here is an exercise to help you. Get a pad of paper and a pen, Give yourself 30 minutes to and hour of uninterrupted time. Write down things that you know about. Leave nothing out whether you think they can be related to your story or not. Start with your education. What did your like or do well at in school? What sports or social activities did you participate in? What did you do after school for fun? How did you fill your time during summer vacation? What did you do on the weekends? What do you do to relax, What do you do for fun? List places you have traveled to. What did you do there? What experiences did you have? What was the food like? Music? Dress? How did you feel being the outsider? What do you do for employment? Be specific and list tasks you perform. What are your hobbies? What are your chores around the house? By now you should be getting a very long list of things where you have some level of knowledge. Maybe even expertise. Keep this list handy and refer to it often to remind yourself that you do know something!

A very short list of my interests and knowledge base, that I use regularly when writing, includes: Cats, Native American Spirituality, Archery, knife-making, emergency medicine, herbal remedies, gardening, contingency planning, woodsmanship and fishing. My actual list filled two pages of a legal pad.

Now that you have determined that you do know something, look at the list and think about how you knowledge can be used to help strengthen your story. Maybe you need to add skills to one or more of your characters. Maybe you should add detail to your descriptions of scene.

NOTE: A word of caution! Adding too much detail about mundane tasks is a sure way to lose your reader. Remember that not everyone cares how many coals are required to bake peach cobbler in a cast iron dutch oven. (I seem to recall it was eleven on the bottom and seven on top. it has been a long time.)

Add just enough detail to add realism. If the details are important to your story then you have a little more leeway. Your beta readers or writing group can help you with how much is the right amount.

So, don’t be shy. Write about what you know. You know a great deal!

Let me know what you know. I’d love to hear it.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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November Update

004Okay, as promised. An update.

The final battle scene is complete. I am rolling forward toward the climax of the main plot line. At this point the words flow as I feel the end is near. I can’t wait for the main character to figure out what has really been going on. I’ve known for sometime where he was heading, but the journey has been a little surprising to me.

I’m still aiming to type ‘The End’ before December 1, 2014. We shall see. My number one test reader calls me every few days to make sure my fingers continue to hit the keys. I type slowly and sometimes I get frustrated that I can’t snap my fingers and see what’s in my head, on the screen. But…it continues to move forward and that’s the key.

For a change I have not been thinking about the revisions that are to come. I’m not thinking about scenes that need more depth. The focus is on getting what’s in my head loaded to the hard drive of my laptop where it will be safe for a time.

So, progress is being made. The ‘Good’ word count grows.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Imaginary Friends

Apprentice meets his mentor

Writer meets his not so imaginary friend!

I saw a quote the other day that I thought was worth passing along.

“Writer’s block is a condition that happens when your imaginary friends stop talking to you.”

Talk about a sad, lonely experience! What would you have to do to your imaginary friends for them to abandon you?

Seriously though, the Muse can be a “fickle bitch”. One minute he can be hammering at your brain keeping you awake until you get up and scribble a few lines to pacify him. The next minute she gives you the cold shoulder, slams the door, and leaves you with a sink full of dirty dishes, a lawn that needs mowing, a stack of bills to pay, and no story ideas.

At times when my current imaginary friends abandon me, I have a trick to get them back.

Wait for it.

Here is comes.

I create new imaginary friends. 🙂 That’s the great thing about imaginary friends, you can create as many as you want.  Sometimes they get me thinking about another project. I have to be careful with this as it can lead me away from my current project so far that I never do finish it.

Other times I consider adding an additional character. The character usually gets scrapped later but it keeps the creative juices flowing. Once in a while the new character gets to stay as it fills a before overlooked need in my story. Whichever method I use, before too long, my imaginary friends get jealous and come back to me. We start working together and the story takes off.

Before you call the men in white coats to come and take me away, listen to the voices in your own head. They are probably telling you to sit down and write something. Listen to them. You’ll be better off if you do.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Lost – Writing partner

Nabu, Where are you?

Nabu, Where are you?

I walked into my writing room and suddenly realized there was a void in the dust on the dust atop the book-case. The space where my writing partner sat was bare. (You remember him from an earlier post. He took over my blog to get a new name. The name he chose was, Nabu, the Babylonian god of wisdom and writing which was suggested by Eagle-eyed Editor.)

What seemed most odd was that there was a trace of dust in the void. My uncanny powers of deduction indicated that my partner had been missing for some time. Now guilt struck me because I had not noticed his absence sooner. The excuse I have settled on is that I was so engrossed in writing that I simply overlooked his absence. I know, weak but passable.

I searched high and low, starting in the obvious places. As the god of wisdom and writing, it would make sense Nabu would go somewhere like my office or the other bookshelves in the house. However, I could not find him. I restrained from calling out to him for fear of what my two cats and the domestic CEO might say. My having a skull as a writing partner is still new to them. For several days I scoured the homestead. I even traveled to the cabin in search of my cohort.

One evening, the domestic CEO entered my office to find me desperately digging through a file cabinet. She calmly closed the file drawer, gently reached up and took a hold of my face, and screamed at me, “What the hell are you doing?”

I explained my plight, that I searched for my writing partner and that I felt guilty for not noticing his departure. The domestic CEO patted my cheek and smiled at me.

“Oh, that,” she said. “I put it in the garage with the other Halloween decorations.”

She turned and walked away leaving me staring aghast after her.

Relief washed over me as I realized Nabu was safe. However, the task of finding him among the myriad of decoration boxes would not be easy. Uh oh! He had been missing for months. My feeble excuse would not fly. Ah, a new idea came to me. The domestic CEO had aged another year, taking her into the realm of geezerhood. She had placed him in the decoration boxes. I would tell Nabu that her mind is going and she had forgotten what she did and where she had placed him. Yes, yes, that just might work.

I will head to the garage this weekend to release my partner. I hope he buys my story.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Other Strangeness

 

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