Category Archives: creative writing

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Last week I was tagged by Lorna Suzuki for this blog hop – and according to my recently checked junk mail, also Will Hahn a few weeks ago.

What am I working on?

I am in the first round of revisions on Stalking the Demon, the second book in the Seven Circles of Hell Series, and sequel to Confronting the Demon.

I’m also almost 70% of the way through an epic fantasy novel In the Company of the Dead.

You can check out excerpts from both of them in my Monday Morsels.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure anything is ever completely unique, but things that differentiate my work (I believe) from large parts of the epic fantasy genre are:
  • Protagonists don’t necessarily have fantastic magical powers (although some do) even though magic is a prevalent theme of the books;
  • The use of equal numbers of male and female supporting characters (to buck a general trend of token females in many genres);
  • Detailed and original world-building, rather than creating a Tolkien-esque world;
  • Blending mystery and paranormal themes.
Why do I write what I do?

Write what you know, and write what you love. I know fantasy because I love it, although pinning down why is harder. It has to do with the way fantasy (and the speculative fiction genre in general) deals with real world issues in a safe setting. It is also, in part, because of its aspirational nature.

I don’t write ‘gritty’ fantasy because it runs counter to what I love most about fantasy. It is said gritty fantasy is more reflective of the real world, but I think classic epic fantasy is reflective of humanity’s soul – a deep desire to rise above, for good to triumph, for right to win. When reality depresses me, the yearning of fantasy’s audience for some of the values embodied in the genre reminds me that humanity isn’t totally a lost cause.

How does your writing process work?

How long do you have?

A story usually starts with a core idea. A female assassin with an abiding distrust of men. A wizard whose addiction to satisfying his curiosity gets him into trouble. What happens when a man falls in love with a woman dedicated to a goddess of death?

Usually I develop the main characters at this point, including character profiles and doing extensive goal, motivation and conflict charts. This helps me to then do a full plot outline and chapter breakdown.

If this is a new world, I would then usually pause to draw a map and world build, including establishing for each country a political structure, racial appearance, language, currency, clothing, main trade items, architecture and religion.

Then, I begin to write. I may have new ideas along the way which need to be blended in with the original outline.

When I’ve finished, I revise. If revisions are extensive, I’ll do another read-through and tidy up before sending to betas to assess things like plot consistency, continuity and characterisation. Feedback prompts another revision, and what edits I can do myself.

The story then goes to my content editor, after which I do more revisions, then my line editor, and finally proofreaders.

I’m tagging Safireblade and M. E. Franco – although I admit I’m massively sleep-deprived and have not given either of them advance notice of this fact. By all means check out their blogs, but I can’t guarantee either of them will participate!

Character Movement and Fight Scenes

Last month, Dionne Lister and I attended GenreCon in Sydney, Australia. One of the workshops was run by fantasy author Karen Miller (also writing under the pen name K.E. Mills) on character movement and action scenes. 

She explained we are now a culture steeped in visual imagery and story-telling. If you’re a fan of Dickens, Tolkien, or other classic authors, sorry, this doesn’t cut it for the modern audience. Modern fiction has shifted away from that style of story-telling to meet the more visual expectations of the modern reader. As far as visual imagery goes, it’s also worth knowing that people will believe something if they see it, even without explanation, but that in a novel plot holes will be more readily questioned. This explained to me why I’m not able to be as critical of movies as I am of books!

Despite the fact your audience is visual, you can’t just take a fight scene (for example) and transcribe it into words – this will create a boring description which does not in the least engage the reader. Instead, you have to translate what you see into words that create an impression. The scene must be fast enough to ensure the reader is not bored, clear enough so they understand, and real enough they feel they’ve experienced it. 

Relatively speaking, you should incorporate very little actual physical description because this will bore the reader. It’s also unrealistic. When someone is in the middle of action, they can’t and won’t notice everything. At the same time, they can experience time distortion and time will seem to slow down so that person may notice quite a bit in what actually took only a split second. These are qualities you should be sure to note in your fight scenes. 

Action scenes should be anchored through the viewpoint of a particular character to help place the action (unless you’re using omniscient POV, you should be doing this anyway). You should include emotions, thoughts, and sensory impressions of the viewpoint character as to what’s occurring around them. Short, punchy descriptions and verbs will help you to keep the energy going. Choose words that tell us something about the characters, words that make an impact and are energetic. 

It’s very important to get your characters moving even outside of a fight scene or an action sequence. If you don’t, you’ll create a static scene in which people do nothing but talk to each other i.e. talking heads. To avoid this problem, try including body language to bring a scene to life (what Karen called the equivalent of subtitles for books). Not only does this help to define the action, it also helps you to flesh out the characters.

When doing this, try to work out what actions go properly with the dialogue i.e. there may be automatic actions and responses you associate with the dialogue. Think about them and try to identify what they are. You may find there is more than one correct interpretation, in which case you need to decide which is the impression you actually want to convey. This will depend on the plot, the story you want to tell, and the level of conflict you generate. 

While long speeches are uncommon in genre fiction, sometimes characters need to say a lot. If you let one character just ramble on, this can have the same effect as a ‘talking heads’ scenario, and the reader may get bored and wander away. To avoid this, either have the character interrupted a lot, or find the right moment, a lull in the speech, to interrupt and include a physical action on the part of the character. 

Some other words of wisdom from Karen included:

  • Use said almost all the time – it becomes invisible;
  • Dialogue tags like retorted, objected etc. should be used judiciously and ‘he ejaculated’ is not recommended any more;
  • There is a school of thought that it should be clear from the text how the dialogue is presented, but this is not always the case, and then sometimes you may need a descriptor or an adverb – but this should be used carefully;
  • Exclamation marks can be useful, but don’t overuse. Don’t use multiple exclamation marks or exclamation or question mark combinations;
  • Be vigilant about unintended repetition and sentence construction – don’t use repetitive sentence rhythms, as it will put the reader to sleep;
  • Try to give each character their own rhythm and speech patterns (easier said than done!).
  • Including everything slows the pace too much;
  • All you can do is the best job you are capable of at that time, with all the input available to you. You cannot control how the reader will interpret it;
  • Every reader’s view is correct – subjectively speaking;
  • Remember every character is the star of their own show. Give each character a thumb-nail sketch of realness. Don’t ever treat a character as a cardboard cut-out;
  • Use italics to stress a word of dialogue judiciously – only do this when needed to clarify an ambiguous line where it’s important the reader get the correct message;
  • It’s said that you can get the reader across the galaxy, but you can’t get them across the room.

Karen is a brilliant writer, so I strongly recommend taking her advice into consideration. Not only did she read us a fight scene from her draft WIP, which was good enough to turn me green with envy, but I read the book she gave me in two days flat. It’s not often I have the time to do that these days, and when I make the time, you know that book’s got my attention. 

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