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Epigraphs? How to Increase the Depth and Tension of Your Fantasy World

An epigraph is a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme. Epigraphs usually come from other artists, such as poets, authors, painters, or musicians.

For example, here’s the famous epigraph, written by D’Invilliers from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, then you’re familiar with how the quote kisses upon (but doesn’t tell) what is to come (foreshadowing) and the tragic theme of gaining the superficial love of a woman — no matter what the price.

the great gatsby epigraph

I noticed that some of my favorite fantasy novels contain quotes in the beginning or at the ending of each chapter, which are both entertaining to read and build onto the story. I also noticed that one of my favorite role-playing games — Dragon Age: Origins — includes epigraphs, which though not immediately relevant to the story, entertain me with something to read while I wait for the game to load.

dragon age origins

What both of these mediums have in common is that these quotes come from fictitious works within the story’s or game’s universe. These quotes, or what TV Tropes brilliantly calls Encyclopedia Exposita, are excerpts from other fictional books “being used as an epigraph or part of the frame of the story”.

As I mentioned before, epigraphs usually come from other artists. However, since I’m writing fantasy, I want my own quotes from my own fictitious text. It took me a couple of days to create six texts for the first book in this trilogy and draft five decent quotes with imaginary authors, which makes a nice round number of 30 total quotes. I enjoyed writing the quotes and focusing each one on specific themes of music, immortality, religion, fairy tales, and so much more. Stuff I actually love, love, love to discuss! Seriously, if I’m going to be stuck with these pseudo-encyclopedias, I need to like it. Even a little, yes?

Oh, yes. In order to write epigraphs for your novel or short story, think about the underlying themes. Reflect on the conflict. Once you’re able to write one solid sentence that encapsulates what the main character wants, you’ll be able to start drafting your own mini-poems, quotes, religions tenants, or whatever it is your literary heart desires.

I had specific goals for the epigraphs that I noticed in books I’ve read and what my personal desired outcome was.

In a nutshell, an epigraph can and should relate back to the story by:

  • foreshadowing what’s to come
  • highlighting a point the author made
  • introduce a new theme or turning point (which will hopefully increase tension and suspense)
  • set reader’s expectations

All of these points should keep readers engaged, deepen the complex “reality” of your fantasy world, and perhaps even answer some questions you didn’t realize you needed answering as author and literary god.

Another great outcome of this kind of writing is that I realized how more three-dimensional I could make this world with its own encyclopedia of musicians, historians, and artists. These artistic individuals wouldn’t only need names, but backgrounds of their own. And even though these mini-biographies will most likely not appear in the story, this necessary information is essential for me while I write.

So, if you’ve fallen into a rut with your fantasy story, consider using epigraphs — your own or someone else’s — to spice up your novel.

Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

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Enter the Dragon: The Art of Beating the Sh*t Out of Your Characters

My toddlers and I love using our imaginations when playing with Little People action figures and Beanie Babies. However, I think my five-year-old has more fun messing with the carefully created plots that I craft for our playtime.

For example, I enjoy the mundane story with generic problems while playing with my kiddos. It’s typically G-rated, predictable, and relaxing. Or what my five-year-old describes as . . .

boring

Me: Let’s have the kids get on the bus for school. Next, they’ll learn about the zoo. After that, they’ll board a second bus for the zoo and visit the animals. The zoo guide will teach them amazing facts about the elephant, ostrich, the lion, the gorilla, and even the hippo. Finally, they’ll ride the bus home. Their parents will meet them there and take them to the park to swing in the tree house. The End. 🙂

My Five-Year-Old: But on the way home from the park, a giant dragon comes and attacks them! *Ka-BLAM!* ::He knocks over the school bus, sending miniature plastic children flying everywhere:: Then, Spider-Man comes and saves them, followed by Link (the plush kind) fights the Dragon. *Pow! Pow!* *Boom, Ka-CHUNG!*

Me: Why don’t the dragon and Link become friends? Hmmm? Wouldn’t that be nice?

(Understand that his preschool teacher has lamented to me how he sometimes enjoys play-fighting too much). 😦

My Five-Year-Old: Mom! This is a dragon and this is Link. Link’s a hero and doesn’t make friends with the enemy. Geeze. ::Link smacks the dragon with his sword::

Me: Okay. So, they fight and then Iron Man shows up and tells some jokes, right?

My Five-Year-Old: ::sighs, like a weary old man:: Okay. Fine. Let’s build some mega-block towers and have the dragon and Darth Vader knock them down while Spider-man and Link try to stop them.

Me: Okay. Cool.

At times, when creating conflict my toddler is clearly a better writer than I am. He shows no mercy on the adorable Little People action figures (characters) and enjoys making life very difficult for them without batting an eyelash. In fact, I think he sometimes enjoys it. Especially when Link, Iron Man, or Spider-Man arrive to save the day.

Now, not every story calls for a literal dragon. The dragon (or the wolf) often symbolizes The Problem that your Main Character faces.

The Problem could be one of the four types of conflict:

Different Types of Conflict

I have two main characters in the story I’m currently drafting. The main conflict is Man vs. Society and Man vs. Man. These two characters despise one another and in general the society they live in. But I needed something more to heighten tension and suspense and it worked perfectly in this world of magic, science, and mystery.

I decided to give one of them a debilitating disease that threatens her life and compromises a goal that both characters share.

And if she dies? All is lost.

Whelp. Get the casket ready.

dark link grinning

Sorry, not sorry.

Now, I’ve considered killing this character off, which would totally eff things up for the other main character. And he’ll have to work his butt off  trying to pick up the pieces and carry the torch to resolution. I hesitated going that route because I wasn’t sure if that was a Rule Breaker. Do I dare allow what the main character has been dodging, fighting, and hiding from to come to pass?

Do I dare?

After attending a writer’s workshop on heightening suspense, I asked the host writer, “Is it okay if the main character’s main fear actually happens?”

She smiled. A smile similar to Dark Link’s (above) and said, “Oh, yes. So glad you asked.”

Whoa. I was taken aback. I was blown away.  In most stories I’ve read the protagonist is trying to avoid the Big Bad or their Worst Nightmare from coming true and is successful in just the nick of time.

This devious route seems like some new-level gangster sh!t.

But it’s not. I think I was just a coward and didn’t feel like I could do it. I was afraid to do something so totally twisted. Isn’t the world already filled with enough suffering? Do I really need to add another layer of terrible sadness and heartbreak?

heartbreaks

Like Kyoko Mogami (from one of my most favorite mangas, Skip Beat!) I’ll take heartbreaks and unhappily ever afters (for now) differently. For example, in the Dresden Files series (spoiler alert coming) Harry Dresden’s love and mother of his only child, Susan Rodriguez, dies. I wasn’t expecting that. I was angry. Sad. And in need of counseling. I mean, I knew that Butcher often beats the crap out of Harry, but I didn’t think he’d go there. 

So did, Tsugumi Ohba, in the renowned manga, Death Note. About halfway through the series, she/he/they  (it’s a mystery) kills off (spoiler alert) L, Light Yagami’s rival and my favorite character!

L_Death Note Notes

Little did we know, that you’d die. 😦 

I hope this post helps any writer who struggles with being hard on their characters.

In one of my future post, I’ll discuss the importance of a sympathetic character. Otherwise, if and when the character dies the loss is genuine and doesn’t garner a “meh” response.

 

 

 

Anyone For a Game of . . . Rejection Bingo?

Well. The time has come, folks.

::rubs hands::

Here’s my score sheet for a short story that I can’t get through The Gates (published). No one wants to give this story a home. It’s loveless. It’s homeless. And I just want to weep. So, I forced myself to see the “bright side”: what prize can I give myself once I’ve completed an entire board? Or even an entire column?

Hmm. I don’t know. Leave me some ideas in the comments.

The only perk about this Short Story Rejection Dance is that I didn’t receive form letters. Maybe if I can swallow my YouTube shyness, I’ll read some of them.

woot

Rejection Bingo

My husband’s foot. It’s almost like a rabbit’s foot for good luck except it’s not severed. 🙂

Also, in a previous post, I had mentioned The Book. This book, Guide to Literary Agents 2018 will help me to accumulate more and more rejections? Unfortunately, yes. And hopefully some acceptances, too!

5kph and Literay Agents

5,000 Words Per Hour just helps with me writing more. 🙂

To Glossary or Not to Glossary: that is the question.

I’ve been writing the first draft of what I call The Novel. Some days paragraphs come in torrents. Most days? A trickle of sentences or phrases here or a sparse description of a character there. I count it a good writing day when I’m able to twist a cliched phrase into something wonderful and new.

While drafting, I noticed that having a glossary of need-to-know terms would help both readers and mostly myself along the way.

When I taught elementary school, there was a writing unit that focused on nonfiction text features, such as the glossary and index. I wanted my students to be successful and professional when creating their books (yes, yes, I know they were only second graders, but come on we’re talking about books here).

I made my own book ahead of time to use as a guide and teaching tool. Behold, the cover:

Japan at a glance

I had returned from Japan a few years before filled with memories and some knowledge about the country and customs. So, I decided to use it as my teaching model. 🙂 

I enjoy drawing and am pretty good at it. My intention for having a pre-made model was so that students had a goal to live up to. I didn’t want crappy work turned in. They needed to do it to the best of their ability and they knew I wouldn’t settle for less.

The appendix, index, and glossary are parts of a book called the “back matter” because they appear in . . . the back of the book. Lol. The word glossary comes from the Greek “glossarion,” with its root being “glossa,” meaning “obsolete or foreign word.” In fantasy stories, even though the world is steeped in strange, imaginary worlds and alien languages doesn’t mean that these creations aren’t anchored into reality (as we know it) or at least something we mere mortals can relate to while navigating the pages of these worlds. I think the glossary serves as a compass, for lack of a better word, by reminding the reader or redirecting them in the right direction. For example, in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, the glossary defines almost 40 words. One of these terms caught my eye — the Knitting Circle. Most fantasy readers could draw the conclusion that this must be an innocuous name for something else entirely.

Please, forgive me (especially you older brother) for not having read this series. Yet. I’ve been extremely busy writing my own books and as it perches on my bookcase flashing its gorgeous hardback cover and flirtatiously winking at me, my eyes prickle with tears as I look away. It’s book eight that I have, after all. (Gasp)! #ShameOnMe

That aside, the glossary helps new readers who have the audacity (or is it insanity?) to jump in the middle of a series and return to the “real world” unscathed all thanks to the aid of the trusty glossary. Heh, heh. Maybe the glossary could be compared to a shield because it shields us from ignorance? I dunno. All I know is that I lo lo lo love glossaries!

I’ve read several fantasy books that don’t have a glossary because these books clearly didn’t need one. The reader was able to understand what was happening without this tool. Most of those books were stand-alones and that makes sense. On the other hand, books that I’ve read with glossaries often were a series or a trilogy and possessed a magic system that was exciting, new, and so amazing that the glossary contributed and complimented the story rather than subtracted from it.

Now, since The Novel I’m working on relies on some scientific aspects and complicated world-building I think a glossary will come in handy. However, I’ve got to be careful while walking that tightrope because I don’t want the story to be so inundated with “foreign” jargon that readers will lose sight of the story’s heart and fling it across the room.

As I continue drafting, I think I’ll have a better idea of what not to include in the glossary. And at this point, I can safely say that the glossary is here to stay. 🙂

Lyrics from the Soul: FIYAH’S Issue #5 Ahistorical Blackness Spotify Playlist

Music is an art form that I hold close to my heart. When I was a child, I loved singing and modulating my voice to match the tone and pitch of various artists. Whether it was Prince (Joy in Repetition), Annie Lennox (Love Song For A Vampire), Mariah Carey (Someday), or Stevie Wonder (Signed, Sealed, Delivered) I’d listen to their unique style, intonations, pitch, and then to the delighted horror of my siblings imitate singers (especially Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid). I’ve grown up and though I don’t sing as much as I used to, I still enjoy it. I especially love listening to music while I write.

When Fiyah Literary Magazine asked what favorite songs I’d like to contribute for Issue #5 Ahistorical Blackness, I knew exactly what songs matched the mood of Bondye Bon (in this link I received some wonderful accolades along with other authors — thank you, Maria Haskins!) Do click and read.

I chose three songs for Fiyah’s Issue Five Spotify Playlist, which you can find here: Do click and listen:

  1. A Child With the Blues by Erykah Badu
  2. No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley & The Wailers
  3. Just Fine by Mary J. Blige (I love Mary J. and initially I had chosen Jill Scott’s Golden, but it was a favorite for another author. Great minds think alike, y’know! 🙂

TerenceBlanchard

erykah badu

Below is Badu’s emotionally resonating song marvelously paired with Terence Blanchard’s ethereal trumpeting skills, which I  discovered while watching Eve’s Bayou  (over twenty years ago). It’s an awesome movie that EVERY speculative fiction fan should watch at least once! 🙂

My favorite line (well one of them – heh) from the song:

“Baby, check yourself. Brace yourself. Protect yourself. Face yourself.”

5 (Out)+ 5 (Ready) X Patience = SUCCESS!

I teach reading and the title of this post reminds me of a math equation. My oldest son is a Math Wonder and he smirks when I admit to him that the mere mention of mathematical equations makes me break out in hives.

5 (Out)+ 5 (Ready) X Patience = SUCCESS!

So, what’s with that weird equation? In my defense, it looks less intimidating than this:

TeacherEvaluationFormula

*Shudders*

*Whips out bottle of Calamine and applies it generously*

Ah, that’s ever so much better.

I’ve been learning a lot in my local critique group. One of the members shared that writers should have five pieces of work submitted while preparing another five for the submission process. Why? Because some markets despise and will NOT allow simultaneous submissions, which occurs when a writer submits a given work to more than one market (literary agents, editors, magazines, etc) at one time.

Wow. Five pieces of work sent out, huh? Plus, another five waiting in the wings? I thought about this tip and realized that this practical tip requires a lot of patience, a lot of writing. A whole lot of writing.

And selective forgetting. Why? Because there will be times that the rejection you receive as a writer can seem daunting and you may feel like giving up. But, remember:

never give up, never surrender

  1. Consider the feedback
  2. Consider revising based on the feedback
  3. Work on that short story, query letter, or whatever and
  4. Submit it AGAIN!

And lately, I’ve made it a habit to write something every day.

Yes, every day.

My new goal is to add new content to this blog twice a week (setting aside no more than fifteen minutes to write the blog and preparing it for sharing via social media) so that way I can dedicate the remainder of my time to completing stories and submitting them to markets. #NewYear #NewYou #BillsToPay #DreamsToBeMade #GetItGirl

Even if it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or a string of conversation (I happened to overhear #I’mAWriter, #YesIEavesDrop #NoShame) that will help me to complete more of my works for submission. Likewise, writers, the more writing we do and the more we’re sharing, the more likely our work will be noticed and accepted for publication!

yay us

At this time, I’ve sent out two stories and am waiting for either rejection or acceptance so I can move onto the next market . . . or break out the wine and celebrate.

I hope this practice helps all of you, too!

 

Quotes to Write By Revisited

While scrolling through my Quora Digest feed, I noticed this question:

As fiction writers, how do you get past the common feeling of “This is awful” when you start to write?

Marshall Karp provides a great answer with a hilarious story that frames the difference between having a pessimistic outlook on life or an optimistic one. 🙂

Well, I’m in the process of starting one of those first drafts. To help decrease the amount of manure, I created a simple outline using this structure for chapters and/or scenes:

Opposing character:

Disastrous ending of the scene (that answers the scene question):

POV character:

Character’s immediate goal:

Scene Question (can be answered with a yes or no?):

When my husband asked me how many words I was shooting for, I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure. I’d like to finish it within 30,000 words, but that’s just an estimate. For the most part, I think that the word count doesn’t matter (at this time) as long as I tell the story and tell it well.

Using the outline above, I was able to complete the first chapter within an hour. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean I won’t return to it for revisions. Nothing is written in stone. I’m just happy that I jumped that hurdle.

Karp provides a great quote toward the end of his answer, which I had to use here:

Anne Lamott_Quotes to write by

Happy drafting!