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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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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. 🙂

What Do Recurring Themes Say About You as a Writer?

recurring dreams

According to HowStuffWorks.com,

Many people have the same or a similar dream many times, over either a short period of time or their lifetime. Recurring dreams usually mean there is something in your life you’ve not acknowledged that is causing stress of some sort. … In this case, the dreams tend to lessen with time.

I’ve had recurring dreams, but the main point of this post is to discuss recurring themes in writing. I think that the themes we express creatively, like dreams, often reveal a lot about us.

A little while ago, I needed to go back and look at some work I did over a decade ago. I ended up pulling out floppy disks (yup), flash drives, and paper copies of work.

floppy neckchain

Ahhh. Floppy disks — as retro as Flavor Flav.

flavor flav

You see, there’s a grant that I’m really interested in winning (finalists won’t be announced for quite some time) and when I attended the workshop to learn more, the facilitator shared that applying artist were encouraged to reflect upon past work (none could be older than 15 years) and analyze it critically in order to improve the work.

I found short stories, novellas, poems, flash fiction from when I was a teenager. I also noticed a trend in writing themes I’ve maintained over a decade late. Here’s a taste:

Death

Family — blessing or curse

Mother and daughter relationships

Love Conquerors All

Immortality

Oppression of women

Words have power

Evils of racism

All those years ago, I didn’t know that these stories fell into the speculative fiction category. Heck, I didn’t even know that I was genre writing. I just wrote because it made me feel better. I wrote in order to channel my passions and sometimes despair in an artistic manner. The themes I write about often transcend what’s happening in our current world. In other words, the settings I create don’t exist based on the world as we know it now. At times, it’s comforting to speculate. And at times, it’s downright terrifying too.

Speculative Fiction Diagram_Annie Neugebauer

This diagram (thanks to Annie Neugebauer) for this great visual of how far-reaching speculative fiction is. And the possibilities seem endless.

I’m actively looking for an agent that will help me to reach my next goal: a home with a traditional publishing house. Some of my friends and families say, “Hey, just write a memoir. Or write in a hot niche category that will get you published quickly. Once you get your foot in the door, then, you can write whatever you want.”

I considered this route. Sucked on it like candy, before spitting it out. I realized if I write something I don’t love, or something that isn’t a part of me, I’m not being true to who I am.

It’d be like one of those cringe-worthy romance-comedy (less on the comedy part) movies where The Girl (me) changes who she is so the School Hunk (publisher/agent) notices her and takes her to the prom (publishing contract). And heck, maybe a year or so later they’ll get married and have a bunch of kids (royalty check + sequels and New York Times Bestseller List).

Reaching my goal as a successful Indie author has been hard. I’m a face-to-face kind of gal. I sometimes kiss with my eyes wide open, break out into random songs, or dance in the rain, and marketing from behind a keyboard isn’t my idea of a “good time”.

So, back to the recurring themes . . .

My first PAID short story, “Bondye Bon” will be published in Fiyah Lit Magazine’s Ahistorical Blackness (January Edition). I remained who I am. The story includes themes such as death, family, oppression of women, the evils of racism, and so much more.

Writers, what themes often appear in your writing? What do you think they say about you and your craft? Readers, what kind of themes do you especially enjoy appearing in the stories you read? Please share in the comments!

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 25

Last night, I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning. A picture book idea came to me and I simply had to write it! I completed the first draft within four hours at 1275 words. I’ve always loved picture books and adore the time I share with my two youngest sons reading them and reveling in the characters and stories. I’ve never had a picture book published and would love for that to happen.

Picture books aren’t easy to write though. I think they’re much harder than chapter books and novels. Why? Well, the word count can only be so much. Also, you must be able to engage your young audience from the first to the very last page all the while focusing on theme without being too preachy. It’s a tightrope act of balancing just the right use of precise words that keeps readers reading and wanting to re-read the book until the pages are tattered and the book’s spine is worn down from lovable handling.

So, take Shakespeare’s advice because “brevity is the soul of wit”. Use great thought when choosing your words whether or not it’s a picture book and your writing will improve.

Quote #25

brevityshakespeare

 

 

Quotes to Write By – Day 24

Octavia Butler has been called the Queen of Sci-Fi and with the worlds, themes, and characters she has created and written about, the title is well-deserved. She unfortunately died on February 24, 2006. Due to the white male dominated world of science-fiction I had recently learned of her existence a few years ago. A few years too late.

My first taste of Butler was “Wild Seed”, a unique science-fiction novel about two shapeshifters — Doro and Anyanwu — who are drawn to one another in a bizarre dance of love, desire, and fear. I relished in the descriptions, the characters, and the settings (African jungle and United States of America).

I’m grieved with her loss and wonder what she would be creating and writing today at the age of 70.

Now that she is gone, perhaps the gatekeepers sense a giant, yawning vacuum hungry for a replacement. Unfortunately, genius such as Butler’s is irreplaceable. But, the gatekeepers can only try. After all, the science fiction genre is still dominated by white men. Yes, there are authors such as: Le Guin, Doris Lessing, C.L. Moore, Zenna Henderson, Madeleine L’Engle, and C.J. Cherryh. Alas, this list doesn’t deserve a tally mark ( maybe a brownie point) when these authors are also all white regardless of their gender.

Recently, authors like N.K. Jemisin (and I’m certain several others who I haven’t learned of yet) have earned top awards and made it to the nation’s best-seller lists in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

nkjemisin

N.K. Jemisin

Butler’s genius and success in a male dominated genre is inspirational. But, I’ll take her advice below and follow her where it truly counts:

Quote #24

OctaviaButler

Quotes to Write By – Day 21

I’ve been writing for a while and each day I realize that there’s so much more I need to learn. I remember over a decade ago when my most favorite professor, Dr. Byrd told me that I had a unique writing voice. He pointed out to me that I needed to hold onto it, to finesse it, and to be true to it.

I felt conflicted. And a little confused. I also felt a great weight of fear. I didn’t know exactly what my writing voice was. It’s not uncommon to be so close to something and not fully see it. I was too close to the mirror and had to step away in order to reflect on sound and taste of My Voice.

I was also afraid that My Voice wasn’t good enough. I’m glad that he was my teacher because he inspired me to write more and criticize myself less. That period of time in my life was what I needed. My second oldest brother had died; I was a teen mom raising a little boy due to unfortunate circumstances. I needed nurturing soil to bloom. I needed sunshine.

The season of rain and pruning came later and I was able to find glory and beauty those bitter-sweet moments. The following quote encompasses the power of a writer’s voice and why it’s important that we find it, feed it, and cultivate it.

Patricia-Gauch

Gauch

Quote #21

“A writer’s voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer’s voice like the stroke of an artist’s brush — is the thumbprint of her whole person — her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.”

Patricia Lee Gauch

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

Quotes to Write By – Day 20

In an earlier post of the “Quotes to Write By” series I cited Mervin Block’s quote “nouns are the bones that give a sentence body. But verbs are the muscles that make it go.”

Well, let’s have a little discussion about adjectives and adverbs.

marktwain

Twain

 

Believe it or not, these descriptive parts of speech can do a lot of damage to a decent sentence, paragraph, or scene.  Mark Twain advises “if you catch an adjective, kill it.” And Stephen King admonishes that adverbs are not a writer’s friend.

Stephen-King

King

 

 

Why?

Here are some examples from King:

“Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

“Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?”

King also addresses how adverbs can (taboo -ly words) weaken — not strengthen dialogue:

‘Put it down!’ she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.

In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:

‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.

The three latter sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately.

What’s a writer to do?

Kill them! Kill them all!

Kill them? Kill them all? Not necessarily. And not always. 🙂

For starters,

  • Use strong verbs instead.
  • Describe your character’s facial expressions, actions.
  • Utilize literary devises such as metaphor and similes, which I call formidable beasts.
  • Get inside the minds of your characters with Deep POV.

At last, the quote for today:

jackmbickham

Bickham

Quote #20

“Adjectives, like adverbs are lazy words, slowpokes, tranquilizers. Watch out for them.”

Jack M. Bickham

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir