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Invented Slang – Six Sentence Sunday

Invented Slang
Here is the continuation from last week’s excerpt, demonstrating the use of invented slang. You can read the first part here.
The girl’s mouth dropped open. ‘Ya know, smeared.’ When his blank look persisted, she rolled her eyes. ‘Smeared, wiped, ghasted…’
He shook his head, not getting it.
Killed.
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Author’s Note: ‘Ghasted’ is not a typographical error. However, as we use ‘ghosted’ to mean killed, I reasoned it was entirely possible a fantasy culture, in which undead ghasts exist, would use ‘ghasted’ in the same fashion we use ‘ghosted’. 

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Worldbuilding 101 as Taught by Robert Jordan

Worldbuilding

A month or so ago I attended the Speculative Fiction Festival in Sydney. One of the key things the publishers said they were looking for was a ‘fully-realised world’. What does this mean? Worldbuilding! It’s imperative we get it right. I touched on the issue of world-building again this week in my Six Sentence Sunday post, particularly in relation to slang. 

And the week before last I did a tribute to Robert Jordan, discussing the genius that was Robert Jordan and what a loss the fantasy writing community suffered when he passed away. 

What is the connection between worldbuilding and Robert Jordan?

He got it right

Whatever quibbles you might have with Robert Jordan’s technical writing, his creative genius cannot be denied. His world is rich and varied. It is, in my opinion, a fully realised world. 

Wheel of Time Map
It comes with a map. A pretty coloured map in later volumes. A map, in my opinion, is a vital tool. I can’t work out where the characters are going without a map. That’s your characters and my characters. When I write, I need a map (drawn by yours truly in pencil and Artline with squiggly trees) so I can work out in which direction my characters are travelling and how long it will take them to get there by chosen mode of transport. Yes I can read a map. This kind, anyway. But I amdirectionally challenged. I can’t imagine where things are in relation to others without a map. I can Google how to get to New York. I cannot Google how to get to Saldaea (top left in the map).

More importantly, though, Robert Jordan’s countries are easily distinguishable. They have different political structures, different appearances, different accents, different clothing, different attitudes to magic… Funny, just like the real world. OK, except the magic part. Moving right along….

There is no good reason why all your countries should be feudal kingdoms who oppress women, who wear the same clothes and speak the same language, and are all white. Different religions are nice, too, but in fantasy there can be good reasons why everyone worships the same gods – for example, their gods regularly visit them. Yeah even I might convert for that trick. 

Robert Jordan was clearly paying attention for the worldbuilding lesson. His people range from fair to dark and everything in between. Light eyes to dark eyes. Blond to black hair. Religion is more or less universal, but yes we have different people putting different spins and interpretations on it (see the Whitecloaks for an extreme interpretation!) We have different political structures – kings, and queens, and councils, and both together. Different attitudes to magic – hate it, outlaw it, secretly embrace it, openly support it. Different trade items, different currency. Different fashions. Facial hair or none. Women’s hair braided or worn loose. The details are endless. Here’s a few examples to drive the point home:
Saldaean woman
  • Hair – Shienaran warriors wear their hair in topknots. Cairhien ladies wear theirs in elaborate piles. Arafellin men have braids with bells. Taraboner men have moustaches. Illianer men have beards but no moustaches;
  • Clothes – Tairen men wear coats and turned down boots. Cairhien dress in dark colours. Taraboners wear veils (both sexes). Domani women are known for dresses so thin they are barely opaque and leave nothing to the imagination. Ebou Dari wear dresses with deep, narrow necklines.
  • Skin colour – Tairens are dark, the Sea Folk are darker. Cairhien are very pale. Domani have coppery skin.
  • Hair – Andorans have dark hair, Taraboners are blond, Aiel are red or fair-haired;
  • Eyes – Saldaeans have dark tilted eyes, Aiel have light eyes, Taraboners are brown-eyed, Cairhien are dark-eyed;
  • Political structure – Andor is ruled by a queen, Illian by a king and a council, Tear by the High Lords, Tar Valon by the Amyrlin Seat, the Sea Folk by the Mistress of the Ships. Some roles are hereditary and some are not;
  • Political attitude – Cairhien are always playing politics, Borderlanders have no time for it because they are fighting off the Blight;
  • Attitude to magic – Andor openly has an Aes Sedai adviser, Mayene has one secretly, Aes Sedai are not permitted in Tear and in Amadicia they are burned as witches;
  •  Trade goods – Andor is known for tabac and steel, Saldaea for furs and ice peppers, Arad Doman for having the best merchants.
  •  Coinage – Andoran coins are the heaviest, Tairen the lightest;
  • Words and language – Myrdraal are also known as Halfmen, the Eyeless, Shadowmen, Lurks (in Tear), Fetches (in Illian) and Fades (in Andor). 
Myrdraal – also know as the Eyeless, Fades, Fetches, Halfmen among others.
A couple of other points:
  • Robert Jordan’s bad guy ‘The Dark One’ is a Sauron-type evil for the sake of evil bad guy. He is essentially the devil (his name is even an obscure name for Satan – you can think that’s lame or clever. I kind of liked it). Often this type of bad guy is not recommended because we can’t understand his motivations. In this case, however, I think it works because the Dark One has a horde of human minions, of varying degrees of power, who are really the key players on the board. And their motivations are very understandable.
  • Magic – Robert Jordan has created an entirely new system of magic. It’s not even called magic, although of course we recognise it is. He calls it ‘channelling’. Both men and women can do it, but in the present time men go mad because the Dark One has tainted the male half of the Power that men channel. I am so jealous. So far, despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to be so creative. Brent Weeks does something similar in his Prism series.
  • Don’t forget slang and profanity! Robert Jordan has created his own profanity (think about what your characters hold sacred, and that’s usually the basis for your profanity) though I don’t believe he has slang (unless you count some of the names for Myrdraal e.g. ‘Fade’ might be slang). A bit of invented slang can add to depth and colour to your world. See my example here.
As you can see, the variety of details you can use are endless. 

You may have come across the concept of ‘character sheets’ where you record key details about each main character. I do something very similar for each of my countries. 

First, I draw a map. I name each of the countries and identify key landmarks. Then I identify key features such as those outlined above. I might never use some of that information, but deciding it in advance means if I need those details I can just refer to my notes and slot in the appropriate specifics to avoid needing to make something up on the spot – or worse, just glossing over it because it’s ‘too hard’. It also helps to keep the details consistent. 

If you have trouble thinking up these details for every country you can use ancient cultures as inspiration. I discovered one ancient culture used square coins! Coins have always been round in my life and it never occurred to me to make them square. Another currency had a hole in the middle. So, by all means, use ancient cultures for inspiration. Why reinvent the wheel?

Details like this will truly bring your world alive.  

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Fantasy Slang – Six Sentence Sunday

This is a little something I wrote for a workshop on world-building. It doesn’t come from a story or a book, but I find the snippet intriguing enough to that I probably will write a story around it. It’s eighteen sentences, so I think I’ll post the whole of it over the next few Sundays.

You can also take this an example of the importance, in world-building, of the use of some well-developed slang that fits your world. I was told this was a good example of how to introduce slang.
The girl, maybe twelve, if that, waved a hand at Berhk’s clothing. ‘You’ll get smeared walking ‘round here like that.’
 ‘Smeared?’ Berhk looked down at his clothes, plain and unornamented, a little ragged around the edges, mended in places. They were none-too-clean, though not so dirty he couldn’t stand it, but nothing like the silks he was accustomed to. Why should he care if they got a little dirtier than they already were?
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If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, or sign up through RSS or email! 
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The Writer’s Long Road

I made a comment this week that newbie writers are not ready to publish.
So we’re clear, when I said ‘newbie’, I meant they have literally just picked up a pen for the first time to write a novel. This may not have been clear on Twitter, where 140 characters doesn’t allow room for such caveats and disclaimers, but I was surprised when someone tweeted me about the comment.

This person found my statement so disheartening they felt they should stop writing altogether. I must confess, I was taken aback by this sweeping statement. Why should someone be disheartened by such a comment? Don’t people already know this?
Apparently, people don’t know this. Which is perhaps a reason for me to say it more often.
But we should know it. We none of us expect to ride a bicycle perfectly the first time – that’s why we have training wheels. My first day at law school, I was not ready to be a lawyer. Hell, my first day in my current job, I was not ready to be a lawyer, and yet, eight years later, I am a senior lawyer. These things take time. Is there anything that anyone can expect to do well the very first time they do it?

If a writer expects to succeed immediately, I would suggest they need to think again. The very act of writing is a lengthy process, even if you can devote your full attention to it, and most of us need to have day jobs as well. I have been working on my current WIP since January 2008. Granted, there was a long time in there when I did nothing, but if we break it down into actual active time it looks something like this:

• Four months to write a first draft and revise;
• Three to six months receiving feedback from critique group;
• Six months revising and editing (three times).
Now that’s very nearly eighteen months, and I haven’t even finished the last set of revisions, nevermind written a synopsis or query letter. Even if I was to land an agent, it would take time to find a publisher, and then it’s something like two years for the book to land on the shelf. We’re talking four years minimum from go to whoa. It can easily be more.
Granted, it’s much quicker if you self-publish. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. But you can see my earlier post on indie publishing for that particular rant.
The reality is a writer’s first ever manuscript is unlikely to be publishable without significant revisions. I won’t even try to rewrite my first manuscript. Or my second. Maybe – maybe – my third. The fourth I will.
Even well-known and best-selling authors were rejected multiple times before being published. Here are a few of the ones I know:
  • John Grisham’s ‘A Time To Kill’ – rejected 45 times;
  • Dr. Seuss – rejected 46 times;
  • Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt For Red October’ – rejected 12 times;
  • Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Postmortem’ – rejected 7 times;
  • Mary Higgins Clark’s ‘First Story’ – rejected 40 times;
  • William Stevenson’s 80’s bestselling thriller, ‘A Man Called Intrepid’ – rejected 109 times; and
  • James Lee Burke’s ‘The Lost Get-Back Bookie’ – rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and upon publication was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the Edgar.
If it took these authors this long and this many rejections to be published, then why should anyone expect to pick up a pen and immediately be worthy?
  
I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I suggest writers be positive, which I distinguish from optimistic. Optimism is believing the best will always happen. I’m sorry, it won’t. Being positive is believing you can make the best happen, with hard work if necessary. Optimism allows no room for realism, being positive does.
Realism is important, because if you aren’t realistic, you will only be disappointed when the things you expect don’t happen.
Writers, the hard, real facts are, if you want to be a writer, you must be in it for the long haul.
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Indie Publishing: Traditional Publishing’s Competitor – or Slush Pile?

This is probably not a post which is likely to make me very popular but, you got it, I’m going to say it anyway. To avoid pointless arguments about what I’m not saying, I’d like to be clear upfront. I am not saying that writers should never indie publish.
But… What is indie publishing?
I expect there are as many different definitions or concepts of what indie publishing is as there are for each genre and subgenre of fiction. We could probably argue about it until the cows come home. So I’ll tell you what I think it is. Then you can argue about it, and I’ll just watch.
I consider indie publishing to be an alternative to traditional publishing for writers who have submitted to traditional publishers and/or agents and received responses along the lines of ‘It’s great but it’s not for us’ or ‘You’ve got a fabulous story but it’s not commercial’.
In other words, indie publishing is an alternative for writers who are skilled in their craft but can’t get an editor or an agent to take a risk on them for reasons that do not relate to the quality of their work.
How about what indie publishing is not?
·         It’s not an excuse to cut corners on your WIP. A lot of them exist for a reason. If the response you are getting is that your WIP is not interesting enough, engaging enough, well-written enough, or suffers from other technical problems, indie publishing will not magically solve them;

·         It’s not the ‘easy option’ for the ‘lazy’ writer. Good writers are not born, they are made. They are forged in the crucible of reviews, critiques and, yes, rejection. Only when we are told what is wrong can we make it better. If you have just penned your very first novel or story and indie published it (particularly without an editor, or review or critique by someone who knows what they are talking about) I am sorry, but it’s probably more useful as toilet paper.

And yes, I say that as a writer. I have one of those ‘first novels’ lying around. Like most writers who have been around the traps a bit (and after nearly 20 years at this, sorry to say I am old enough to be one of them), I pray to god or anyone else who might be listening that no one ever sees it. How embarrassing. As a matter of fact, I can’t even tell you where it is right now. Probably on a floppy disk for which there will shortly be no means to read it. I can hope, anyway. Maybe I am lucky enough for it to have been the broken one I found the other day.  

·         It’s not publishing for ‘vanity’. In the old days (which I remember, crivens), writers had to pay other people to have their book vanity published. Now a writer can epublish their book, even if it’s absolute drivel, and expect other people to pay them. If you are providing a product to consumers, it should be a good one, and not just to stroke your own ego.  People pay for a good product or service. Money spent by a consumer just to make you feel good is not money well-spent. Unless maybe it was spent by your mother.

·         It is not an excuse to drop standards. If you are indie publishing, I expect you to know how to spell, and have good grammar, as the most basic tools of your craft. You don’t need to know the names (I can never remember what a preposition is) but I expect you to know how to use them. I also expect you to know good dialogue, to not infodump, to weave backstory carefully, to have interesting plots, believable characters with depth… The list goes on. In short, everything I would expect from a traditionally published novel. I’m sorry, but the method of publishing does not change the ingredients in a good book. Yes, I have high standards, but in my defence I will say I never held someone to a standard to which I did not hold myself;

·         It’s not an excuse to break the rules – without good reason. In traditional publishing, as an unknown author, we are told all the time that breaking the rules will land you in the slush pile. Not so in indie publishing. What slush pile? Well, that may be true, but rules exist for a reason. If you break a rule, and it doesn’t somehow add to your story or advance the plot or somehow make it better than if you had abided by the rule – then breaking it is probably detrimental;

·         It’s not an excuse to not know the rules. If you want to break rules meaningfully and intelligently, you need to know what they are. Learn them, please. Study your craft.
I recently heard the question asked ‘are you regarded as having achieved less because you indie publish?’ I don’t hesitate in saying ‘you betcha!’. We all know the odds against traditional publishing. Ergo, if you are traditionally published, you have achieved something of heroic proportions. You beat the odds. Even if your writing is not great literature, you still beat the odds.
That, however, does not automatically mean that an indie book is bad, because we all know plenty of good work doesn’t get traditionally published. Unfortunately, a lot more of what doesn’t get published isn’t good work, which brings me to my next point.
I recently heard suggested that we should do away with one star reviews because they are ‘not fair’ to the writer. Really? Why not? If the quality of your work is that poor, why shouldn’t you get 1 star? Because your fragile ego can’t bear it? I’m sorry, but if you can’t take negative criticism, you are in the wrong line of work.
Granted, there are bound to be a number of undeserved 1 star reviews. But then, as discussed in my last post ‘What Price Your Honour?’, there are also large numbers of undeserved 5 star reviews floating around. Maybe we should also do away with 5 star reviews?
But then, now 2 star reviews are undeservedly harsh, and 4 star reviews are coveted. I know! We shall have 3 star reviews only. Now you are all the same. Is everyone happy?
I expect not. That was a very exaggerated example, but most of you probably got the point. A review system is, by its very nature, designed to distinguish between good and bad. Any scale, no matter where it starts and finishes, will have a lowest point and a highest point.
As a reader, I can say that I have seen enough false reviews that I don’t bother looking at the star rating of a book anymore. It is meaningless data. Worse, I have started discriminating on the basis of price point. Two bad experiences with (traditionally published) 99c books, and I am ready to swear off them. If I won’t buy traditionally published 99c ebooks, what hope do indie books have? Not much, I’m afraid.
I have in fact never bought an indie book. I have read free excerpts of various indie ebooks, designed to entice and lure the reader into purchasing the complete work. Sad to say, none has yet been of sufficient calibre, or sufficiently intriguing, to induce me to do so (though some clearly had promise). What a sad state of affairs.
I like the theory of indie publishing, but as you can see, so far the practical reality is disappointing me. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all indie authors are bad, I am saying that inconsistent standards and unreliable reviews are demotivating me to look for the diamonds in the rough. I am sure they exist, but where to start looking? It is the proverbial needle in the haystack. I am time poor, so I must choose the books I read carefully.
If indie publishing wants to be taken seriously, and to provide a viable, commercial and, ultimately, profitable alternative to traditional publishing, writers need to hold themselves to some kind of quality standard in the work they choose to self-publish. Otherwise, indie publishing will be doomed to be nothing more than a very public slush pile for traditional publishing. I would think that a tragic waste of something that could have been so much more.
Fellow writer, I implore you – always strive to improve yourself. Take workshops. Join a review group. Use beta readers. Pay an editor. Listen to the feedback you get. But please, don’t publish anything less than your absolute spit-polished best.
Hold yourself to a standard and be proud.