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Crafting High Fantasy: Setting the Stage

That First Chapter

Writing the first chapter is something I struggle with because I want those first sentences, that first paragraph, that first page to be absolutely fabulous. So, sometimes I’m afraid to write anything at first. I don’t have a lot of time on my hands lately. My three sons, my husband, and my full-time job as a reading teacher keeps me extremely busy!

Since I want that first chapter to draw readers in and never let them go until they’ve completed reading the book, place it down, satisfied or at best, hungry for the next book.

I dare not say that I want the first chapter to be perfect because such a place doesn’t exist.perfection and writing

 

 

 

 

The first chapter is extremely important. Especially when it comes to high fantasy. High fantasy (or epic fantasy) is a subgenre of fantasy defined by its setting in a fictional universe or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot. Whatever that means, right? Thanks Mr. Wikipedia.

Basically, high fantasy, is one of the hardest fiction subgenres to write. I mean, think about it! You’re creating your own world! The continents, the oceans, the seas, the cities, the roads, the people, their cultures, who they trade with, who they fight with, who they may or may not worship. Everything. Single. Blasted. Thing!

It’s overwhelmingly . . . FRACKING-FUNTASTIC!

And the first chapter has the potential to introduce so many things:

  • the mood
  • the tone
  • the main characters
  • the conflict
  • the antagonist(s)
  • what’s at stake
  • the setting

When I originally wrote Prelude to Morning, I didn’t know that it would be a trilogy. I had some ideas that it could possibly be a series. Well, that was only if it didn’t remain a stand-alone novel. After my oldest brother, Serge Desir, fellow author and video game bad-ass and author E. Rose Sabin gave me some brutal and honest feedback on the book’s weaknesses, I realized I had a lot of work to do to make the book as wonderful as it should be. And for a  time, an agent was interested. Until, the world-building fell apart. 😦

So, I searched for help and re-rendered the map (thanks E. Paige Burks) :

Before:

Reath Before Map

This one I doodled over two days in a composition notebooks years ago. In 2013.

After:

Reath After Map

This one I began drawing on poster board. Still not done!

Next, I created a timeline, which I’ll share in a future post.

The timeline helped me to layout the history of the world of Reath (rhymes with death — an anagram for Earth). The timeline included:

  1. The prehistoric era
  2. Past wars
  3. Catastrophic events

All of these events shaped the world as it is now for the main characters.

So much depth. So much culture. So many languages. So many places. So overwhelming like our world, Earth. And how does one condense so much beauty into a single book.

Which put me at an impasse or is it a fork in the road?

One path would lead me to writing a book that would be heavy enough to murder someone with:BIG BOOK

And a third path appeared to me.  . . I’d have to break the story into more than one book.

And Then there were Three . . .

Bloodcraft Trilogy — (why the term bloodcraft ?–which I’m proud of coining — more on that in a future post).

However, I loved the idea of music being interwoven into this world and used different types of movement names in each of the three books that echoed and underscored the story’s themes.

*Book 1: Rhapsody of the Gods

A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.

Book 2: Prelude to Morning

Preludes are characterized by being short and sweet (relatively), with a melodic and/or rhythmic motif that is featured throughout the piece.   This motif will recur throughout the piece, sometimes differing slightly as the music progresses.  A prelude may be played on its own, or as a preface to another piece, usually more complex.

Book 3: Nocturne of Twilight

Nocturnes are generally lyrical and tranquil pieces. The nocturne is known for being expressive above all else. It follows no specific form, but evolves as the music progresses.

To Prologue or Not To Prologue

In the first several drafts of Prelude to Morning, I originally included a prologue in the beginning. After researching prologues and learning that they’re only necessary if the opening is out of time sequence with the remainder of the story. So, I decided to rename the prologue as chapter one.

However, in my paranormal urban fantasy, Forbidden, Book One of Gabriel Lennox Series, a prologue was necessary because it fit that description and helped to create a creepy ending, which I wrote as a near mirror image epilogue. Thus, coming full circle. New Approved Cover 2015_Forbidden

 

How do you go about setting the stage for your high fantasy novel?

*Cited source

10,000 March Writing Challenge

fantasybutterfly

My writing life has been busier than ever. My youngest son finally turned one a couple months ago and as a result, and soon I hope to return to my “night owl” lifestyle of staying up late, burning the midnight oil and writing, reading, and writing.

I miss those days, but the time I spend with my children is so enjoyable . . . and makes good writing material! My oldest is learning to play the violin and my middle child has the funniest sense of humor! The one-year-old’s personality is developing even more. He’s charming and strong-willed: just like his handsome daddy.

So, thankfully, while scrolling through my blog reader, I noticed this writing challenge for the month of March to channel all of these wonderfully incredible moments and more!

It’s kind of like NaNoWriMo — in miniature — because you only have to write a minimum of 10,000 words.

I’ll be a little nervous about feedback since I’ll be writing “like mad” and with pure abandon! Raw and unedited stories are scary! Sometimes, they’re not even recognizable as your own.

writing-meme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join me, readers and writers — if you so choose! 🙂 Create an account, as a reader or a writer. it’s an easy process. All you need is an email. Happy writing and happy reading.

may-the-words

 

The Query’s the Thing!

In William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the main character of the eponymous title states “the play’s the thing” in order to bring to light the truth about his father’s murder. Well, the query’s the thing for writers to grab the attention of an editor or agent! When querying, the first few pages are key!

Writers often struggle with preparing a manuscript for an agent or publisher. Nowadays, email is the way of submitting a literary piece and the shorter and sweeter the query – the better! For starters, I needed a better beginning for my dark fantasy middle grade novel, Shoes, with hints of horror and the supernatural. The beginning was as stale and dry as four-days-past-the-sale-by-date opened bag of bread. Oh, not just stale, but stale and boring. It didn’t even have the problem of mold in its staleness to make it even a little interesting. I was in trouble and would have been rejected in record time by any prospective agent or editor.

But I hadn’t realized this error until I revisited the manuscript almost a year later.

So, after several days of thinking, reflecting, and brainstorming I all but smacked myself in the face when I realized the perfect beginning resided in my own childhood fears. Not fear from reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series or watching Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street, but guttural, soul-shivering terror of the stories my Jamaican mother and Haitian father would sometimes share after dinner.

Perhaps because of the writer in me, my curiosity outweighed my fear and allowed me to listen, taking note of the interesting real-life characters and supernatural experiences of my parents in their birth countries.

Now that I’m an adult, I vividly see the frightening potential these tales of terror can offer. Here’s the revised beginning:

“Nothing to be afraid of,” Alexander promised himself. He pressed against the hallway wall, his gaze frozen on the wooden statue. Tongue glued to the roof of his cotton-dry mouth, he couldn’t speak anymore. Like Medusa turned onlookers to stone, the creepy statue that his Grandpa Jean gave to his family possessed the power to silence those who dared to stare and wonder about its purpose.

He swallowed hard and his throat burned. Fear always made him thirsty.

He hated the wooden statue, carved with beautiful African features, a wide brim hat, and almond shaped eyes, so detailed if you stared long enough he – the statue – seemed to blink and stare back.

Alexander wished the statue would topple over and break from the living room’s coffee table.

He remembered knocking it over once, hope burning inside him like a star that its gangly limbs would break off piece by piece from the assault. But to his shock and sadness, the statue remained intact. That day sealed his opinion of the thing. It was evil. Yup, no doubt about it.

He breathed in deeply, fidgeting with the buttons of his pajamas, closed his eyes and hurried pass the despised and prized piece of furniture to the quiet of his bedroom.

He slipped under the covers and buried his face beneath the sheets. For several meetings, he shivered as his body adjusted to the coldness of his bedroom, which was always at least ten degrees colder than any room in the house. His room most likely had some story of its own to tell, like that statue in the hallway. Someone had probably died here, he thought. Or worse, there’s a monster under the bed, like the scaly monster that rested its hand on your Aunt Nadine when Mom and her were kids.

Alexander clenched his teeth to stop the chattering of his teeth, which had nothing to do with the cold.

He shut his mind off from the terrible images playing in his mind and instead began counting sheep wearing polka dotted ties.

And slept . . .
***
Here’s the original beginning I had written:

Time and time again, Alexander Brennan’s mom told him he had an overactive imagination and right now it was his only source of comfort keeping him whole. Ever since his mother became ill, the real world slowly crumpled around him, threatening to crush him. His mother also told him that he fixated on useless things like quotes. Quotes like, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

When he first heard those words he wondered and wondered and wondered where they had come from. He wondered what they meant, rolling the idea around in his mind like a piece of candy. And then he wondered the opposite. What happens when an angel loses its wings? Does lightning strike? Does the earth shake?

And this particular afternoon, while walking home from school with his best friend, Dylan Perez, his overactive imagination caused him to obsess over yet another mundane and ordinary thing.

“Shoes,” Alexander said, pointing above. Dangling from the electrical wires hung a pair of black and white sneakers with silver stars.

Dylan looked uninterested, but he stopped to gaze up at the shoes. “Yeah, so. Some bully probably slung ‘em up there, man.” He gave an awkward shrug of his shoulders, weighed down by his backpack laden with books and school supplies. “Or, like my dad told me, people just toss ‘em up there because they can. Like a game to see if you can get the shoes to lock and hold. What’s the big deal?”

“Yeah, but that’s too simple an explanation. And you know better than anybody else that the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. So wouldn’t it be weird and yet make more sense if the shoes were left as like a sign or something by an alien. You know, like maybe aliens abducted the kid who owned those shoes and left them there as proof of his conquest?”

Alexander burst into laughter at his idea. He laughed because it was funny. He laughed because a part of him wished that it was true. He stopped laughing when he noticed he was laughing alone.

Dylan shook his head slowly. “Lex, you seriously watch way too many sci-fi movies.” He shook his head again, trying to look stern and serious, but Alexander could tell he wanted to laugh. Dylan could be just as imaginative as he was. That was one of the reasons they had become quick friends in first grade and had remained friends almost 5 years ago. It was the first day of kindergarten and during free time, Alexander and Dylan played a game of The Teacher is an Alien. Sure, they got sent to time out (since they continued pretending even after free time was long over), but it was well worth it.

Alexander wasn’t looking forward to the first day of middle school and even though it was a couple of days away, the thought of possibly being separated from Dylan made his stomach hurt.

***

Which one is better? Which one do you prefer and why? Sound off in the comments. 3-2-1 – GO!

Polish Your Manuscript!

Molli Nickell, The Query Wizard, invites writers to celebrate spring as they polish their manuscripts and submission documents (query, synopsis, first pages) until they glow in the dark.

The quest to become published took some major left and right turns this past year with the advent of email delivered query submission letters that include synopsis and sample pages.

In the old days~
Prior to 2014, your query was sent via snail mail and accompanied by a SASE (self-addressed-stamped-envelope). If the agent wanted to read more of your work, they’d send a letter back requesting synopsis and/or sample pages. So, there would be a time gap between when you completed your query and needed to submit your synopsis and first pages.

Fast forward to now: good news/not so good news~
The good news is that it’s easie-peasie to pack your submission materials in one email. Except (and here’s the not-so-good news), first, you must format your entire email to make it device-and-agent friendly, and then, prepare your query, synopsis, and first pages so they are ready to go at the same time.

The current all-in-one submission process makes life easier for agents. Once they click on your enticing email subject line and open your email, they can read your query, make the “yes” or “no” decision to read your synopsis, and perhaps your sample pages.

Keep ’em reading~
Even if you’ve crafted a dynamic manuscript, with fascinating characters and a plot that twists and turns, but is filled with writing mechanic errors, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Ouch! You can prevent this disaster by using the following exercise. It will help you discover issues in your work that you’ll want to revise before you begin the submission process.

Color Me Grammatically Correct~
If you meet with a critique/writing group, enlist your pals to participate in a simple, fun, and educational exercise. What? You aren’t part of a critique group? Why the heck not?

The following exercise will help you discover if your work contains the major 35 “red-flag” words that can identify you as a writing rookie.

Here’s how it works:
Ask your writing pals to bring their first three manuscript pages (double-spaced), along with yellow, pink, and blue highlighter pens. They’ll use these pens to mark three types of writing mechanic errors that probably lurk in their work.

First, swap manuscripts. Why? Because it’s difficult to be objective looking at words you’ve written/re-written over and over and over and . . . .

Search and Mark Step One involves adjectives.Spend 15 minutes and yellow-highlight all adjectives.
Search and Mark Step Two is for adverbs. Search hint: most adverbs end with “ly.” Spend another 15/20 minutes and pink-highlight all adverbs.
Search and Mark Step Three is for the granddaddy of all “red-flag” words, verbs that begin with “was.” Locate and blue-highlight  “was” and the word that follows it.

This exercise helps everyone “up the ante,” and elevate their writing skills without stress. I’m a big proponent of incorporating fun and learning, especially when it comes to group exercises. All writers (myself included) tend to become overly self-critical and uptight as we revise, tighten, and polish our work. Laughter helps us lighten up during the rite-of-passage from rookie to pro . . . from writer to author.

Bring revised pages to your next meeting. Repeat the exercise and compare versions. Your revised pages will be less rainbow-kissed than before. Celebrate your progress with ice cream, pizza, or brownies, or all three!

Just to be clear: “Color Me Grammatically Correct” is a group exercise, not a suggestion for you to print out your manuscript and highlight away. That would be crazy making! Instead, use my Search-Mark-Revise technique (below) to help you mature your work and maintain your sanity at the same time. 

My 7-page tutorial identifies the 35 worst “red-flag” words and the weakest verbs that may infect your query, synopsis, and manuscript and helps you learn a process to make finding and revising them as stress-free as possible. 7 pages for $7 bucks. Such a deal!
More information at MolliMart

Lovingly copied from Molli’s website http://www.getpublishednow.biz/