Making magic: Things to think about when building a magic system

Hi, guys!

Now, if you’ve been following along, you know I like fantasy books. Give me a book with very little tech and a shit ton of magic, and I’ll eat it up.

But writing them can be tough. Magic systems can be taxing to put together.

So, to help you build a complex, SOLID magic system, I have a few things for you to consider.

First and foremost, does it have limits? What can magic be used for…and what can it not be used for?

Can it heal? Can it kill? Do people use it to manipulate time or elements? Can they summon things or people? Can they teleport or raise the dead?

Can they do some other thing I haven’t listed? The world is vast, and magic pushes the boundaries even further. So, feel free to be as creative as you wish.

But there will be limits. You need to decide what your magic is able to do and where to draw the line.

Second, are there different types?

Maybe different types do different things. Maybe there’s elemental magic and healing magic.

Third, you need to decide what those results cost.

Blood sacrifices? Does it make them tired? Or…maybe it doesn’t cost them anything, at all, though that’s less likely. (That’s crossing into the realm of supernatural/paranormal stuff with innate abilities. Vampires, demi-demons, werewolves, etc.)

You need to figure out what they have to give up in order to get what they want.

Fourth, how do they use it?

A series of hand gestures or waves of a wand? A complicated ritual? Maybe it comes down to a specific string of words, chanted in just the right way. Do they simply have to ask their god for power or is the magic stored in plant and animal matter, and they just have to mix the right things together in a potion?

There has to be a method of harnessing the power you’ve given them access to.

Fifth, is it widely available?

If your magic system is based on asking a god for power, obviously someone who’s never heard of that god won’t have access. Maybe it’s widely available and anyone can practice magic, they just have to learn how to do it. Perhaps, it’s hoarded by the rich and powerful or handed down through bloodlines.

All of these things define your world. Magic is linked to the very fiber of the fantasy world you’re building.

You cannot just say, “Well, it’s fine. It works because it’s magic,” and expect your reader to accept that.

Because it’s bullshit.

I’ve said it so many times, and I’ll say it again. You’re already taking the time to write a book…You may as well do it well.

Don’t half-ass it. Think this shit through.

In the end, you’ll end up with a better book. (Just don’t info-dump your world building on your readers all at once.)

Now, as for my own projects, I’ve jumped up to 53,483 words on my current WIP (whose magic system is heavily dependent upon their god).

Where Darkness Leads features many types of magic, distributed amongst the populace through blood lines and the amount of elements used for their creation. And I got a decent amount of editing done on it this week.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

So you want to write a fight scene: Five quick tips for writing violence

Hi, guys!

Last week, we talked about sex scenes. This week, we’re talking about fight scenes.

So, literally the opposite type of tension resolution.

I love a good fight scene. Whether I’m reading or writing, I need action in my books. But if the fights are all cheesy or forced or physiologically impossible, then it just ruins it.

And no one wants that.

(Side note: magic and supernatural abilities will alter some of these things. Exhaustion, pain, strength, endurance, etc. That’s a topic for another day, though.)

So, here’s a few tips to make sure your fight scenes are up to scratch.

First, do you even need a fight scene? Much like sex scenes, people tend to want to include a fight more often than they actually need to.

Does it fit with your character’s personalities? Is there enough on the line for them to come to blows over it?

If not, write in a shouting match, a heartfelt conversation, or some passive aggressive, bullshit move.

Whatever your character would actually do.

Because no matter how much you want to ramp up the tension in your story, sticking to what your characters would really do (according to their personality, their background, their opinions, and what’s at stake for them) is more important than forcing a fist fight onto the page.

Second, do some research.

Take a self defense class, watch a bunch of videos online, maybe even learn martial arts if you’re feeling particularly plucky. You need to know something about the fighting style your character is supposedly using. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need to know something.

At the very least, spend some time on the internet for research.

Second, exhaustion and pain are very real. They will take a toll.

Training helps people deal with them more effectively.

Adrenaline helps to keep both of them at bay, to an extent. But it wears off. And the human body can only take so much.

Study the limits.

You’re a writer. I’m sure your search history is already on a few watch lists. What’s one more eyebrow-raising search?

Google whatever you need to in order to attain a relatively realistic fight scene.

Don’t expect your readers to believe that a 105 pound, 5’1″ woman is going to take three punches to the stomach and a slap to the face from a mountain of a man, then run three miles and climb the side of a building to escape.

That bitch is probably going to puke. A lot. And she’ll have to stop to breathe. A lot. Likely puking even more. She will not look pretty doing any of this. Her sweat will not be a graceful glitter upon her skin. Bitch is gonna drip sweat. Like…too much of it.

The world will tip and sway beneath her feet, and her face is going to scream in pain from being slapped.

Bloody nose? Sure. Temporarily seeing a bright light? Sure.

Getting slapped is no laughing matter.

A three mile run and then free climbing? Not gonna happen after that level of assault from a big ass dude.

Honestly, it could result in internal bleeding or broken ribs (if he didn’t quite hit the fleshy part below the ribs, which might poke something vital), and she could die before she gets to that building she’s supposedly going to scale.

Now, when the adrenaline wears off, your character will feel it. They will crash. They might shake or cry. They might do both, or some other thing. Research is your friend, here.

Third, don’t focus too much on their surroundings. During a fight, the person is obviously going to be paying attention to the fight. They probably aren’t going to notice a lot of their surroundings unless they have a lot of military/police training or perhaps specialized in a field related to that particular aspect of their surroundings.

So don’t tell me what period the art on the wall is from unless they teach art history at the college level and happen to throw someone up against that painting.

In that case, they might lament the destruction of such a thing…as their opponent tears the canvas.

You need the scene to be fast and gripping, not bogged down by excess details. Don’t worry about the pattern of the lace on the tablecloth by the window across the room, painstakingly stitched by the character’s great aunt on their father’s side of the family before she died of natural causes, disappearing from their lives quietly in the middle of the night.

Worry about the look in their opponent’s eyes or the feeling of a drop of blood dripping from a busted lip. Focus on quick breaths and all-consuming rage burning them from the inside out. Show us clenched fists slamming into a nose and the ensuing crunch of cartilage.

Keep the scene moving forward. It’s a fight.

It needs to be active.

Fourth, people get distracted.

Emotions tend to seep in around the edges. Unless they’re a trained fighter, maybe even then, they’re going to think about the reason they’re in that fight. Maybe they’re worried about the person they’re trying to save. Maybe they’re worried about their own impending death.

If they duck behind cover or get tossed like a ragdoll, they might think strategy. Or they might dwell on the mistake that landed them in that position.

If chaos and fear sink gnarly teeth into their bones, they might spiral a bit, focusing on their tendency to make mistakes.

Just don’t spend too much time on stuff like that. Again, you want it to be fast and punchy. Always bring it back around to what’s actually happening in the conflict.

Fifth, use the appropriate amount of gore.

Certain genres and age groups tolerate/crave different levels of gore. YA contemporary calls for far less gore (probably almost none, maybe a bloody nose) than adult splatter punk (all the gore).

Unless you’re writing splatter punk or something akin to Dexter, you probably don’t need as much detail of the blood and body parts as you think.

Additionally, consider the effect it will have on the scene. Does the extra description add to the emotional value of the scene or slow it down?

If your character finds a loved one dead and cradles them to their chest, describing the blood that comes away on their hands or clothes could add to the weight of the scene. But it isn’t necessary to count each drop or describe the way it runs through every crease of their palm.

They won’t be focusing on that.

They’ll be focusing on the fact that…that blood should be inside their loved one. Not on their hands.

As for my own projects, I’m finally approaching the “landscaping their enemies to death” portion of my current WIP. So I’m heading for violence in that one. (Currently sitting at 48,817 words)

I’m nearing a lot of fighting in my edits of Where Darkness Leads.

And all the promo stuff for the April 21st release of World for the Broken (dark post-apocalyptic romance) is ironed out. And that one is chock full of fights.

Now, go forth and fill your books with as much violence as they call for.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

So you want to write a sex scene…Five quick tips for writing sex

Hi, guys!

We all know sex sells. So, the temptation to include it in a book is easy to understand.

But writing a sex scene is an art form.

Do it well, and it will improve the reading experience.

Do it poorly, and your readers might roll their eyes, skimming through it with a chuckle, or even put the book down entirely.

So today, I thought I’d share a few tips to help you write the best sex scene you can.

First and foremost, don’t psych yourself out. It’s easy to get embarrassed about this subject or to feel ashamed of including sex in your book. Plus, there’s always the ever-present fear that a family member will read it and be shocked.

But let’s face it.

Sex is part of life. It’s part of the human experience. And what’s more, it’s absolutely everywhere in modern society. Everyone knows what sex is. Almost everyone has done it, at some point in their life.

So chill the fuck out and write your book. If it needs a sex scene to show the bond between two (or more) characters, if it’s an integral part of the society you’ve created for your fictional world, write it.

Don’t cheapen your book by leaving out a crucial scene, just because your family might read it.

Your family members (unless they’re children, in which case, keep the sex book away from them) also know what sex is. They’ve probably done it.

So write the book however it needs to be written.

Second, integrate it into the plot. If your story doesn’t need a sex scene, don’t throw one in just for the sake of having one. If it doesn’t make sense in the story, don’t do it.

Don’t toss one into an otherwise chaste book.

Additionally, throwing a sex scene into a poorly written/edited book will not save it. If your book needs work, work on it. Don’t just make it sexy and hope no one will notice obvious flaws.

People will still see the flaws. And they’ll know what you’ve done to cover them. Give your readers some credit.

Third, don’t be too specific. Unless you’re writing hardcore erotica. Then, be detailed and descriptive. Show as much as you fucking want.

But if your book isn’t hardcore erotica, don’t fill your scene with overly detailed close-up shots. Anyone old enough to be reading a book with a sex scene knows what vaginas, breasts, and penises look like.

Hell, they’ve probably even seen a few in their day.

*gasp*

Vivid description of vein placement and a count of how many hairs…completely unnecessary. The shape of their manscaping…completely unnecessary. It won’t make the scene better to know that stuff.

By the same token, don’t prattle on about his right hand or her left breast. Leave the sides out of it. Some things should be left to the reader’s imagination. Perhaps the reader favors one side over the other. If you specify one side and they happen to be more sensitive on the opposite side, I guarantee they reword it in their head and imagine it the way they want.

All you’re doing is wasting words and bogging down a scene that’s supposed to be intense and riveting.

So, instead of over-describing everything, focus on general gestures, sensations, and emotions. The sensation of a hand sliding over bare skin, the prickle of goosebumps as fingernails slide up the spine, heat building in the air around them, hands twining in hair to pull questing mouths closer, the deep need to join together.

Things like that.

Because unless you’re writing really hardcore stuff, that’s more than sufficient. It gets the point across and evokes emotion. It reads quickly and intensely.

Which is what you want.

Fourth, don’t head hop. Pick a character for the scene, whichever one has more of a driving emotional need, whichever one the stakes are higher for, and write it from their perspective.

Don’t stray.

You’ll just throw off your reader.

You don’t want them rereading paragraphs to figure out whose thoughts they’re combing through. You want them rereading paragraphs (or the whole scene) because the emotions were high and the scene was captivating.

Last, but certainly not least, don’t say quivering member.

Please.

I beseech you.

That phrase is the height of ridiculousness. There are much better ways to refer to a penis. And if you don’t want to actually name it, if it feels too callous or unromantic, just say he slides into him/her. You don’t have to specify what part of him is going in, because unless you name some other part (finger, for example), people will assume that you mean his penis.

Again, give your readers some credit.

Now, go forth and write the smuttiest smut your book can handle.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

“My characters aren’t talking to me, today.” A Blog on Character Autonomy.

Hi, guys!

Today, it’s all about character autonomy. We’ve all heard about writers whose characters talk to them, or decide not to talk to them.

I must admit, I technically include myself in this group. My characters become fully fledged people in my mind. Their personalities develop in ways I don’t expect as the story progresses, which sometimes means I have to adjust things throughout the story to stay true to their personality. (Can’t have any continuity errors, after all.)

I don’t know how much that happens for dedicated plotters, but I’m a pantser. I figure the whole thing out as I go (flying by the seat of my pants), and it helps to see the characters as “real” rather than just words that I have complete control over.

It’s freeing, really.

It allows the story to develop naturally, moving it beyond my conscious control and the restraints I might otherwise put on it. My subconscious visits much darker places than my conscious mind typically does.

Plus, as I’ve said before, people mess up their own lives all the time. If you treat your characters like real people, they’ll create all sorts of problems for themselves.

Now, whether you’re on the side of, “They’re just words, words that YOU write,” or “My characters are like people to me,” character autonomy is not an excuse not to write.

Don’t get me wrong.

It is wonderful when things just click. There are days where the characters are just there, and their voices are clear and pristine. But there are also days where things just…don’t flow. At all. The well runs dry, sometimes. (aka…”My characters aren’t talking to me, today.”)

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write.

This is where the conscious mind comes in. This is when you need to think through the story you’ve drummed up, look at the personalities your characters have blossomed into, and figure out what they would do next.

Just because it isn’t flowing naturally at 1,000 words a second doesn’t mean you should go to the cafe and sit there with a latte scrolling through random cat pictures online, telling people, “My characters aren’t talking to me, today.”

That’s not how you finish a novel.

That’s how you end up with an unfinished manuscript, the details of which you forget by the time you ever go back to it.

If your characters aren’t “talking” to you, it’s time to write the scene that would logically come next, considering the world and the people and the plot.

Maybe it’ll wake them up.

Maybe it’ll be perfect.

If not, if inspiration strikes later, you can always adjust or scrap what you’ve written. But it’s better to write something than it is to just sit there procrastinating and blaming it on your characters.

At the very least, you’re getting practice writing. And lets face it, we all need to practice writing.

Now, for a progress report.

I resized my paperback cover and revealed it to all you lovely people. I have to say, thank you all. This cover got such a warm response from all of you, and I truly appreciate it.

I think I finished all the tweaks all the files will need before being uploaded to Ingram. It won’t be long before I can set it all up for preorder!

I also got some writing done, making it up to 24,405 words. It’s nowhere near the amount I wanted to write last week, but that’s okay.

Mainly because my husband and I finally got some goddamn storage. Our stupid house has one fucking closet. Four bedrooms, one closet. How the fuck that makes any sense is beyond me.

And then the bar on one side of the only closet broke.

:/


So we’ve had an absolute fucking mountain of clothes piled atop a few baskets in our bedroom for a while, now. But we finally found some cube shelves we like and some little cube baskets we like. And we got a new set of bars for the one fucking closet.

Then we spent like 7 hours just putting all the cubby shelves together and folding clothes.

It sucked ass.

But our bedroom is tolerable, now, even though there’s still some more shit to hang up.

So, life kinda got in the way of a huge chunk of writing time on my day off. But I still made progress.

For now, time to get a bit more writing in.

Keep reading. Keep writing. (Even if your characters aren’t talking to you.)

Later.

Beta Readers: Why you need them and what to expect

Hi, guys!

Last week was all about self-editing, and one of the steps I mentioned was beta readers.

For those who don’t know, beta readers read a manuscript after some editing has been done. Where people bring them into the process at differs. I send my work to beta readers roughly halfway through the editing process.

No, I don’t mean edit half the manuscript one time, then send it to them. That’s more like an alpha reader, someone who reads after a first draft. The only person who ever reads my first drafts, aside from me, is my husband.

I just mean after roughly half the rounds of edits have been done, I send it to my beta readers.

When you choose to send yours to beta readers is up to you.

After reading, they give the author feedback. You can ask them questions afterward to get more detail. If there are things that you know you struggle with, you can even ask them to go into it with those things in mind.

At its core, this phase is meant to get more eyes on your work. After going through your novel time and time again, your brain is going to fill in gaps. You know what’s supposed to be on the page, so of course it makes sense to you. But it might not be as clear as you think.

That’s where beta readers come in.

They tell you what works and what doesn’t, what needs explained more and what’s over explained. They can tell you where the book drags and which scenes kept them on the edge of their seat.

Pay attention to what they say.

If all your beta readers (yes, you need multiple) say that a specific scene was so slow they didn’t want to keep reading, you need to fix that scene.

If they all agree that a certain scene was riveting and had them gripping the book with their noses pressed to the page, maybe leave that scene alone.

If they find a typo or say something doesn’t make sense, fix it.

Because these are the opinions of readers.

AKA the type of people you want to buy your book later.

If one beta reader says something that’s completely subjective and the others gave the opposite feedback, consider it thoughtfully and make a judgement call.

Books are, after all, very subjective. Each person has a different experience with each book. That’s part of the magic of reading.

And beta readers clue you in to how readers perceive your book.

You need that, especially if you plan to self-publish, because you won’t have an entire publishing company full of experts and professionals guiding you in the right direction.

Now, you can find beta readers in a lot of places.

You can ask trusted friends or family members (if you can count on them for honest feedback), or you can ask writer friends in various writing groups.

Btw, if you’re not in writing groups, mingling with other writers…you need to be. You’ll learn a lot more than you think and form some amazing friendships with people who understand the trials of writing and publishing.

There are also countless groups across social media specifically tailored for connecting authors with beta readers. Literally, just type into the search bar on your preferred platform “beta readers.”

I know it can feel awkward asking, but think of it as practice for all the marketing you’re going to be doing later. Because whether you’re doing traditional- or self-publishing, you’re going to be marketing.

Now, what to expect from beta readers. Because let’s face it, not all beta readers are created equally.

I finally have a good group, but it took some time to get here.

There will be some that agree to read, then never speak to you again after you send them a manuscript.

There will be some that agree to read, then life shits on them, rendering them unable to read in the time frame you need.

Some give mean, unhelpful feedback laced with pettiness. You’ll have to sort them out and determine what feedback is actually helpful. Discard any rude, belittling comments for what they are: useless.

So if a beta reader tells you that your novel is garbage and that you’ll never make it because you’re a talentless hack, “thank” them for their feedback and never send another manuscript to them.

Crap comments like that won’t help you grow or learn or better yourself or your writing. It’ll only hold you back. You need constructive criticism and positive reinforcement. Not bullying.

So, grit your teeth and keep going. There are good beta readers out there. (I promise. I’ve found several.)

Some are wonderfully helpful and thorough. Some go above and beyond the call of duty, sussing out typos, continuity errors, inconsistent character behavior, etc., in addition to giving general feedback.

Obviously, those are the ones you want.

Now, prepare yourself. The feedback you get won’t always be positive. Sometimes, your beta readers will find flaws.

*gasp*

But that’s literally the entire point.

So keep your chin up, remember that every manuscript has flaws, and fix the fucking problems.

Your book will be much better for it, I promise.

If you’re worried about someone stealing your work, Microsoft Word has a watermark feature. Do that, then send it out. You hold the copyright as soon as you write the manuscript. In the US, of course, you can’t sue for financial compensation without registering it, but I’m fairly sure you can pursue a cease and desist.

Now, for my weekly progress report. I wish I had more to report, but some stupid cold/flu bug has done everything in its power to knock me on my ass this past week. (It did knock my legs out from under me once, actually. Coughing until you gag/dry heave so badly that you fall to your knees…not pleasant.)

Anyway, I finished my final edits of World for the Broken. I’ll be announcing the official release date this week! The cover reveal will follow, probably next week or the week after, depending on how long the formatting takes.

I typed a little (roughly 2,500 words) on my new WIP and planned (*gasp*) several scenes for later in the book. I even made a timeline.

I really was sick. Lol. I was plotting.

I never fuckin’ do that.

Anyway, hopefully this stupid sickness doesn’t come back for round three so I can actually get shit done.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Info Dumps and Why Not to Write Them

Hi, guys!

This week, we’re talking about info dumps.

What are they? Why do they suck ass? How can you avoid them?

Basically, an info dump happens when an author takes a break from the story to describe everything in the known universe.

From the color of the curtains (blue maybe?) to the person the MC bought them from and why they still have them up even though they don’t match the new carpet. From the rotational period of the world (high fantasy or science fiction) to the shape of the leaves.

Or maybe it’s important for the reader to know every single scar and pimple the MC has to make them relatable.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You can write a lot of detail and do it well.

It isn’t my personal style, at all. I prefer to cut my stories to the bone and see how the blood wicks across the page. I give relevant details for character development, plot development, and world building, but little else. I like my stories punchy.

But you can be detailed and write well.

The problem comes in when you decide to give all the detail…all at once.

That bogs down the story. Even the best plot can only carry so much weight. After so much detail, it gets too heavy and the story just kinda…drags the dead weight of the details behind it until all of its energy is depleted and it just slows to a crawl and eventually falls over dead.

Most readers can only tolerate a certain amount of description lobbed at their face in a single paragraph. Too much, and they get tired of it.

Is your character going to walk into a room in the middle of a gunfight and pause to survey the crown molding, the stain of the table, and the fabric of the couch in the next room (just barely visible through a doorway framed by elaborate, hand-carved original trim)?

No.

Are they going to space out during their true love’s heartfelt confession…to admire the blades of grass beneath their lover’s feet and how it bends in the breeze, the bark on the trees around them mottling sunlight and shadow, and every cloud in the sky (which happen to be shaped like their mother and their first grade teacher?

Fuck no.

They’re going to pay attention to the important things going on around them. If you’re in an action scene or a love scene (two of my favorite types of scenes), get the necessary description out of the way relative to the action.

Otherwise, it’ll just slow the scene down. These are scenes that are supposed to have people on the edge of their seat, gripping the book white-knuckle tight.

Not rubbing the bridge of their nose as their eyes cross while rereading the same paragraph for a millionth time because the detail is so convoluted they can’t focus. Or worse, skipping whole paragraphs because it’s useless to the plot.

Obviously, that’s not what you want.

But how can you avoid it?

First of all, give your readers some credit. People are intuitive. They pick up on things.

If your character settles in to watch some tv, you don’t have to tell us that they pick up the remote and press the red power button and watch the screen blink to life. You don’t have to describe what’s on every channel they flip through or the layout of the menu.

If you say that your character turns on the tv and flips through channels searching for something to watch…that’s good enough.

If your MC is sitting down, people will assume they used a remote. Almost all power buttons on remotes are red. If this one isn’t, it probably doesn’t matter, as far as the plot is concerned.

If they’re flipping through channels, clearly what’s on screen isn’t interesting to your MC.

Why would it be interesting to your reader?

Unnecessary details slow the story down for absolutely no reason. Cut a few out, and your story will benefit from it.

Basically, get to the fucking point.

Now, I mentioned describing things relative to the action. This is what separates a good detailed story from a bad detailed story, if you were wondering.

Describe things in relation to the character. Instead of pretending that you can step back from the story to describe the room while your characters just stand there…

Describe things relative to the character.

Why use one paragraph (or, god forbid, an entire page) to describe the decadently framed windows, the early morning sky beyond, and marble floors with rich mineral veins, then another paragraph to say that your character is pacing across the floor (the material of which was all important a moment ago, but now apparently doesn’t matter)?

Instead, maybe show them pacing across marble floors, backlit by the grey dawn streaming in through an extravagantly framed window.

That tells us that they’re restless, but in a fancy place.

Perhaps you’re writing a thriller. Instead of spending page after page describing the way the shadows bend in the night, blending into the evening itself (redundancy), then spending more pages telling us that the person is terrified of getting caught…

Tell us about the floorboards that creak beneath their feet, raising hairs on the back of their neck and churning their stomach. Maybe show us a nervous glance over their shoulder, rendered useless by the cloak of night which has fallen around them.

So, not quite so fancy because creaky wood floors rather than marble, and they’re trying not to get caught.

Still all the detail. Packed with all the feels.

But you’re not slowing your story (or your reader) down.

Maybe you just introduced a character and you’re struggling to avoid stopping to describe every detail about them. Do it in terms of their actions. Are they frustrated? Maybe they ball their hands into fists in their long silky hair, staring at the inky strands that sweep forward over hunched shoulders.

That tells your reader that the character has long black hair, and it’s soft as fuck. It also tells the reader that the MC is fast approaching a breaking point.

My point is, you can throw in a bunch of details and still have a good story. The key is to multitask. Don’t throw all the description in at the same time. You want to punctuate it with actions or speech.

I briefly mentioned another aspect of the multitasking thing in another blog, so I’ll recap it quickly here.

In Salt and Silver (new title coming soon), one of the MCs, Ness, is a demi-demon. That tells the reader a lot of things. It means that there are demons, and they can interact with (i.e. breed with) humans. Since people in that world know demons exist, because they can do it with them, that will affect how they look at the world.

Calling them demons and demi-demons sets up a contrast, implying that there are also gods in that universe and the people probably know they exist. Otherwise, why would the demons be called demons? If the humans didn’t know the gods existed, they would call the demons gods.

Had I made up a name for her race, I would have needed to explain that Ness’ race opposes another race of super powerful immortals and that both races have the ability to interact with the mortal realm.

I then would have needed to explain that the people saw Ness’ race as being bad and the other race as good.

But demi-demon explains all of that in a single word. No need for paragraph after paragraph of exposition. No need to stop the scene to describe the workings of their world.

Something so simple as a single word choice can be used to tell the reader a lot (coming back to that whole giving your readers credit and allowing their intuition to fill in some of the details). That allows you to keep moving forward without slowing the reader down.

Which makes it more likely for them to be sucked into it.

So please, be as descriptive as you do or don’t want to be, but don’t write a bunch of info dumps. You can do better than that, I promise.

Now, to fill you in on what I’ve been up to. I hammered through a lot of editing on Where Darkness Leads this past week. It’s going to take a lot more work, but it’ll get there.

I also put together a book trailer for Soul Bearer (which gave me practice for making one for The Gem of Meruna). I’ll be sharing the Soul Bearer one with you guys on Tuesday. Excited? I freaking am.

And I got a new scene written for The Last Settlers (prequel in the Regonia Chronicles) and brainstormed new story ideas.

But for now, I’ll let you all get back to your own writing journeys, hopefully with a little bit more knowledge to help you along your way.

Come back next week, same time, same place, for more writing advice and adventures. Subscribe if you want notified first when I post blogs, run sales, or hold giveaways. (Hint hint. I do have another book release coming up, maybe there will be a giveaway with extra stuff for email subscribers…)

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

The Importance of Being Self Aware as an Author

Hi, guys!

As writers, we have to do a lot of analyzing. Our characters, the worlds they live in, our plots…All these things are thrown under the microscope.

But we should probably analyze ourselves, too.

See, there’s this thing that happens sometimes in writing called wish fulfillment. It happens when writers don’t analyze themselves or their plots or characters, and end up blatantly writing themselves into the story.

A lot of the these types of stories end up being corny and either predictable or statistically unbelievable.

And usually…not that fun to read.

So look at yourself. And look at your characters.

Now, look at you.

And now your character.

Are you just looking at yourself repeatedly?

If you are, you might have more problems in your story than you currently think.

I’ll be honest, my first full length novel likely held a lot of this, but was mercifully swept away by electricity. Back before cloud storage was so prevalent (circa 2008), the laptop and the external hard drive the story was backed up on…both fried.

So I’ve been spared the horrors of my first novel. Lol.

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t give your characters experiences from your life and still have a good story. Often times, it helps, lending the story and characters a bit more realism.

But if your character is a carbon copy of you, you’re probably going to write a story that just bends to your whims, whether it makes sense or not.

That breeds plot holes.

A lot of them.

Because fiction has to make sense, and our little whims rarely consider logic.

If your character just happens to be the chosen one, okay. That’s a fantastic trope.

If everyone they know magically accepts them after hating their guts for literally their entire lives…eh…maybe okay. Depends on how much they need your chosen one. The stakes better be damn high.

But even then, there will probably still be some people who don’t like them.

The bad guy who’s been a bad guy for their whole life and completely outmatches your protagonist in every way isn’t going to change everything about themselves and bend to the whims of your protagonist just because it’s the end of the book and the romance tidied itself up so now you just want to resolve the other issues super quick.

Nah. Shit don’t work like that.

If they meet someone on their adventure and fall in love? Okay. I love a good story that also has romance.

If that person magically fixes literally all of your protagonist’s problems? Nah.

Life doesn’t work that way.

And unless you’re writing for Disney, that’s not gonna fly in your book.

People will pick that shit apart.

A good partner, a good love interest for a story will help them deal with things, help them see the good in themselves. But if they just magically fix all the problems in the protagonist’s life, that’s not realistic, and…is your protagonist even in love with them? Or are they in love with how easy that person makes their life?

A.K.A….How easy you wish someone would make your life?

So look at yourself and look at your story in reference to yourself.

If your book has a lot of things that are just too convenient but you like them…maybe you need to adjust it a bit.

Because the characters aren’t you. What you like and what you want in your real life has no bearing over the story.

So…maybe take a personality test? There are tons online. See if the results also describe your character to a t. If they do…maybe look a little deeper at the rest of your story.

Analyzing yourself will give you some practice for when you turn your critical eye on your characters.

Now, as for being critical…

I’ve been editing a lot. I finally finished the 3rd person to 1st person conversion of my post-apocalyptic novel. I’ll be telling you guys the official new title soon, perhaps with a little teaser of what the cover will look like.

Because the cover is designed, just not sized properly. I’ll have to make adjustments to it when I format the manuscript. (I won’t know how many pages it’ll have for each trim size until after that, and that affects the spine width. Just FYI, in case anyone was curious about how that little portion of publishing works.)

Anyway, to cleanse my palate a bit before making final tweaks to this one and doing formatting, I jumped into edits of Where Darkness Leads.

Anyway, I’ve kept you all away from your NaNoWriMo projects long enough. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Bad Guys, Advice, and…Salads?

Hi, guys!

In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d talk about book villains and what makes them good.

Well, good villains, at any rate. Obviously they’re not good, or they’d be the hero.

Now, villains don’t have to be super maniacal. Hell, they don’t even have to be a person.

They just have to do two things.

1. They have to oppose your hero, providing obstacles and difficulties for them. They’re the antagonist, so obviously they have to antagonize. (See what I did there? Lol)

2. They have to do it for a reason.

Being the bad guy…just because bad guy

Doesn’t work.

Your antagonist needs to be fully realized, every bit as much as your protagonist.

They have to have motives and a purpose. Even inanimate objects have a purpose, so why the fuck wouldn’t a fully fledged person?

Btw, chances are, the antagonist will fully believe in their purpose. If they don’t…you have to tell us why. Are they in denial? Are they being pressured by someone worse? If so…what are the motives behind THAT person’s actions?

Antagonists have feelings (unless they’re a sociopath or an actual inanimate object).

All of this needs to be taken into account, and they need to act accordingly. Even if you don’t devote page after page after page to their backstory, there still needs to be a clear set of patterns and emotions governing your antagonist’s actions.

If that isn’t the case, if you just write a bad guy because you need a bad guy…your story will fall flat.

If we were talking about some random side character that has a single line of inconsequential dialogue…you could write a less-than-half-assed backstory, and literally no one would know the difference.

But this is the main antagonist we’re talking about, here.

They play a huge role in the story, setting up a DIRECT contrast to your hero. Stopping them and their evil plot is the whole freaking point.

If they’re flat, there’s no real challenge for the hero.

So today I thought I’d discuss what makes a good bad guy. There are so many types to choose from.

Of course, there’s the spoiled brat. Inflated self worth leads to tantrums and breaking others’ toys until they get what they want. It just so happens that toys as adults can mean a car…or a kneecap.

These can be pretty fun to write, but I fucking hate reading that type. Lol. Its so much more frustrating than other types.

Now, the sociopath is close to “bad guy because bad guy,” but there’s still a motive involved. They aren’t necessarily hurting others because they like it…empathy just doesn’t quite factor in for a sociopath, you know with the whole…lacking emotion thing. Maybe other people are tools to them, a means to an end.

A way to make their plans work whether it goes badly for other people or not.

Anti-heroes are fun as antagonists or protagonists, honestly. Deadpool, anyone? Or perhaps…my novella, Annabelle? These villains genuinely believe in their cause. Who knows, maybe it’s a good cause? They just cross the line when they go for it.

Maybe you’re writing a story about two people competing for the same lover, or someone trying to seduce someone’s partner? Why are they doing it? Even something so simple as this (compared to conquering kingdoms and such) needs a motive.

Why are they after that one particular partner? Is going after married people a habit for them? Did they have an ambivalent or absent parent? Were they cheated on? Maybe they feel that your protagonist wronged them, and this is simplest form of revenge they can come up with (that won’t land them in jail.

Whatever the reason, you need to know it.

Maybe they do terrible, terrible things to others because they want to feel powerful. Were their parents control freaks? Did they have no autonomy growing up, and now need so much power that they take other people’s rights away to feel better?

Your main antagonist could honestly be your protagonist. To a degree, every protagonist should also be their own antagonist. Not always the main one, not unless it’s strictly a story about dealing with yourself and getting out of your own way. But every person in history has stepped on their own toes, in some way, shape, or form, at some point in their life.

We all do stupid shit. We all make bad decisions. We all cause problems for ourselves.

Inanimate objects and mythical beasts are the only time its really acceptable to have a bad guy be bad by its very nature.

Even your villain’s fatal flaw, the thing the hero uses to finally win, needs to have a reason.

Do acts of kindness make them feel weak because they were never shown kindness and had to be “strong enough” to make it on their own? You decide.

But it can’t be something ridiculous like…they convulse uncontrollably at the sight of a salad.

I mean, you can do that, but you have to commit. Every other aspect of that story better be just as ridiculous as a mega-villain who seizes-out every time they see a salad. And even that needs to have a reason, goofy as the backstory for that may be.

If you’re stuck, if your story feels a bit flat…maybe the problem isn’t your fully imagined hero, with every second of their life mapped out in beautiful detail, who you’ve had rendered by three different artists just because.

Maybe the problem is the villain you gave five minutes of thought.

Making them more realistic and giving them clear motives and plans will probably make it easier to spice up the story.

Hell, even if your story is phenomenal despite a two dimensional villain (which…how?), think how much better it could be if your antagonist had a real goal besides…making your hero’s life hell just because they can…

And if you don’t like thinking about the bad guy?

Literally no one cares. Lol.

It’s part of writing, my dudes.

So get to it. There’s no better time than Halloween.

Now, as far as what I’ve been up to in the past week, well…I released a book. Lol. Soul Bearer is officially available, which is freaking exciting. The reading and the live were super nerve wracking.

But it was worth it. Thank you to everyone that tuned in, and an even bigger thanks to those of you who’ve bought a copy. I truly appreciate it.

This past week was another…tremendously chaotic and terrible week. But the book release and the response from all of you was a wonderful bright spot.

I’ve also been editing and formatting. I also did some resizing of cover designs, now that I know the page length (aka the spine width) of The Gem of Meruna. I’ll be announcing the official rerelease date later this week! I’ll be contacting ARC readers in the next week or so.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Playing God

Hi, guys!

Today’s topic is a heavy one…Religion.

No, my beliefs are not being discussed or mentioned, at all. I’m not trying to make you believe or not believe something.

I’m simply talking about writing religion into your books, whether they’re set in the real world or a world you made up specifically for the book.

Religion is a huge part of society. Its one of those things that has the potential to completely shape how an entire civilization evolves. Its presence or absence has a huge impact on the world it’s set in, and as such, it should be treated with the levity it deserves, regardless of your own religious beliefs.

At the heart of religion, people want to feel cared for. They want to feel like someone more powerful has a plan for their life. They need an explanation for things they don’t understand, whether they’ve had a strange experience or are simply wondering what happens after death.

Religion provides these things. It holds answers and safety and structure.

It often demands certain practices in exchange for these answers and safety and structure, though, shaping day to day life for any who follow devoutly.

As such, you can’t just…glaze over it and expect no one to notice that not a single person in your story believes in any type of religion whatsoever.

Especially if you’re building your own world.

Whatever religion you believe in the real world may or may not influence what you write. You’re making up a religion and a world. It might have similarities with real world religions, but it won’t be exactly the same.

So go crazy.

It doesn’t have to be logical or easily proved. If it were easy to prove, it wouldn’t be religion. It would be scientific fact. Religion, by its very nature, involves some sort of faith in the unknown and unknowable.

If you want your characters to worship a dragon that lives in the stars and cries when they misbehave (maybe they live near an intersection of rivers and heavy rain makes it flood a lot, idk), go for it.

You just want to make sure it’s consistent within itself unless the story is about figuring out why the religion goes against itself. Tons of unintentional contradictions make for plot holes, things you definitely don’t want in your story. So be thorough.

One of the first things to consider if you’re building a world is whether your characters are surrounded by pagan or monotheistic religions.

Maybe they all believe in the same gods, but one tribe worships one god and a neighboring tribe worships a different one. Does that cause tension? Strife?

War?

Maybe one faction interprets the same religion differently than another faction. That certainly causes problems in the real world. Does it cause trouble in your story?

These are things you need to consider.

Now, unlike the real world where no single person can know for sure whether any one religion is correct, as an author, you know that about your world. You know if one is correct and another is wrong. You know if they all contain little grains of truth.

You know if maybe…they’re all wrong. Do any of your characters know the truth about their world and the gods that govern it?

Or maybe they think they know.

That one person would see the world very differently than the people around them.

You should probably also consider how the god views the world, or at least, how the people think the god views the world. People who think their god is forgiving are likely to conduct themselves differently than people who think their god is easily angered and vindictive.

And if they think their god just…doesn’t care? That the world was created, and then that was it? What then?

Easily angered gods might demand human sacrifices. Forgiving gods may wish only for repentance. Or perhaps, they’ll demand sacrifice to show sorrow over one’s actions.

It all plays a role in the world you’re building and the lives of the characters in it, and it’s your job as the author to figure that out.

Now, if you’re writing a story set in the real world, good news! The religions already exist. There are still some things to consider.

Again, not everyone believes the same thing. The people in your story need to reflect that.

Unless your story is set in an Amish community, and never leaves that community, the odds of everyone in the story being of the same religion…are pretty slim.

The world has become a hell of a melting pot. Diversity is everywhere. What people believe in regards to religion or sexual orientation or race or gender or whatever…differs.

Wildly.

The odds of two people believing exactly the same on every topic is pretty much impossible. Unless one of them has cult leader charisma, and brainwashes the other one. Which, to be fair, has been the basis of many stories.

But it’s typically set against the backdrop of other people who believe differently, so…you still have to consider multiple viewpoints.

Now, if your main character has the same religious beliefs as you…be careful. Yes, that means you have more insight into the inner workings of that religion and common dilemmas faced by those who practice it.

But you also run the risk of coming off a little…preachy…if you’re not careful.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe you’re trying to bring people over to your religion through your writing.

But that’s something that you need to commit to. Way ahead of time. And something that should be handled with tact.

A lot of tact.

Now, for the sake of realism, you probably need to show your character having doubts, at some point. It adds tons of extra drama and gives the character more depth.

For example, I set my post-apocalyptic novel, After (new title to be announced later), right here in southern Illinois.

A.K.A. The Bible Belt.

Christianity is huge here.

And the apocalypse is fucking fantastic at testing faith.

But different people react differently. Some people cling to their faith for comfort in the face of adversity. Others relinquish it completely. Some believe but get angry, while other people fall into spirals of doubt.

Some people do all those things in the course of a single particularly trying afternoon.

What happens to each individual character’s beliefs after trauma depends on their personalities, their life experiences to that point, the strength of their beliefs, their upbringing, their surroundings.

All these things play a role.

As do about a million other things.

All of which, you need to think about.

So, whether you’re religious or not, there’s a good chance that some sort of religion will influence whatever world you write your story in.

Somehow.

Some way.

Don’t be lazy and pretend no one ever heard of religion.

Anyway, this past week, I spent a decent amount of time editing my post-apocalyptic novel. I also did more work on book covers (a few options took a ton of time in photoshop) and well…played a lot of minecraft. Lol.

I know, it’s not writing related, but that game is so addictive. And it was nice to play a video game again. I’ve been so caught up in trying to get everything done that I haven’t played any game in…weeks? Months? I’m honestly not sure.

I’ll be announcing giveaway rules next week, so come back next Monday to learn how you can win a signed copy of Soul Bearer, along with a shit ton of swag and possibly a signed copy of Annabelle.

For now…

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Keep It Punchy

Hi, guys!

So, the hardback proof of Soul Bearer came in this week (the paperback should be in today/tomorrow, and I’ll put up pictures after that. Idk why they shipped separately). It’s so exciting to see it, to finally hold it in my hands after staring at it on a computer screen for so long.

It still doesn’t quite feel real. Lol.

Of course, there are a couple things that need adjusted, some things that didn’t translate to print how they should have (hence the need for a proof copy), and I’ll have to adjust those. But it’s in my library, now.

It’s on my shelf, and I freaking love it!

I’ll stop gushing now though, and get to the point. Lol. The physical copy sparked a conversation between my husband and I. He expected the hard back copy to be thicker than it is.

It’s not a super long novel, by any means, coming in at just over 70,000 words. High fantasy, nowadays has a tendency to run pretty long though, sometimes topping out above 100,000 words.

There’s this trend lately for books to be huge, lengthy tomes that, if used as a weapon, could knock someone senseless. (Ironically.)

Now, my husband is a huge fan of Andre Norton. He has about one sixth of her books (which is saying something, since she wrote several hundred). She wrote high fantasy and scifi. But her average word count was, I think, between 40,000 and 50,000 per book.

Nowadays, that’s considered a novella, not a novel.

So many people want big books, now.

Anyway, my husband asked how I get so much stuff into my books, without the books being far longer. And my answer kinda surprised me. Lol.

I hadn’t thought about it until the words came out of my mouth.

I told him that I use my world building to build my characters, and my characters to build my world. I multitask.

Doing the two things separately just fills the pages…for no reason.
I mean, the main characters are going to play a pivotal role in shaping the world they live in, especially in fantasy, otherwise they wouldn’t be the main character.

So showing their experiences relative to the world…makes sense.

For them to have motive to change things, they have to have been affected by the negative sides of their world at some point. So showing their world relative to them…makes sense.

Okay, I feel like I’m talking in circles, so I’ll give examples.

In Soul Bearer, Aurisye is looked down on and treated horribly for being half-Orc. That tells the reader that the two races don’t get along (they’re actually at war), and builds up who she is…an outcast.

Rafnor joined the military for equal treatment. He grew up poor, and was bullied over it (so money is important in their realm, another problem for Aurisye). But the military runs on skill and the ability to improve, rather than on basis of connections or finances.

Now, in Salt and Silver, Ness is a demi-demon. That alone tells you a few things about her world. It tells you that, in the world of Theran, demons are real, whether you believe in them in our world or not. It also tells you that they can, at times, walk the earth, and procreate with humans.

The existence of demons implies the existence of gods, otherwise a different word would’ve been chosen in place of demon. It sets up the juxtaposition to imply that yes, the gods are real and can be interacted with.

In the opening scene, she’s called a witch, telling you that magic exists in their realm.

Which brings us to the word choice topic again. I wanted to have one term for magic users, regardless of gender, and I wanted it to be one that would be instantly recognizable.

Choices?

Wizard, witch, mage, or caster.

Caster might not be recognized outside the gamer community, so it was out.

Mage works for Soul Bearer because it implies the use of spells, runes, and potions alike. Mage also has a connotation of prestige, of exclusivity. Since not everyone in Visun (the world of Soul Bearer) can use magic, that holds true. The term also lends itself nicely to high councils (which is a thing in Soul Bearer).

Wizard instantly conjures the wizarding world of Harry Potter, where only certain people can access magic, primarily through the use of wands. Sure, magical items, potions, and divination exist, but mostly, it’s commanded with wands.

And in Salt and Silver, that isn’t the case.

Anyone can access magical energy, but most don’t care to. It relies heavily on potion making, devotions to multiple gods or demons, and occasional sacrifices. Basically, it’s useful, but tedious and time consuming for mortals. It’s a skill that has to be developed, much like leather working.

For most, it’s easier to pay someone else to do it.

The term witch makes me think of potion making and lonely little cottages in the woods. It calls to mind paganism and a deeper understanding of nature.

And that’s what I wanted for Salt and Silver.

One word can have such a huge impact on the atmosphere of the world.

Making sure you have those pivotal words down can make a world of difference in the length of a book.

Another Salt and Silver example. I didn’t have to explain that their country is divided up into city states led by their own militaries, because when shit hits the fan, they consult the leader of the local chapter of Knights. That alone spared me several pages of exposition on the way their country is set up.

Basically, it all boils down to that old adage, show vs. tell.

If you show me your character sitting in a classroom, zoning out during a calculus lesson amidst kids who are just a bit older, I’m going to assume they’re in high school, taking advanced classes.

You don’t have to tell me what grade they’re in or what grade the other students are in. You don’t have to tell me they’re attending high school. You can let the character’s mind wander over the problems they’re facing (i.e. the point of the story), thus building the world and the character in the same scene.

If you need me to know that your character is having relationship problems, add in a flashback to a fight or have their partner’s voice echo through their head. That way you can show me the tone of voice, you can show why they’re fighting…how they’re fighting.

And all those things build the world that the characters are living in. It paints a picture of the life they lead, in addition to showing the personalities and desires of the characters.

Of course, there are times where you just need to tell something, and get it over with. A quick thought or comment could do that without devoting page after page to an explanation of the country’s history.

At any rate, there needs to be balance between showing and telling, and that balance lands in different places along the spectrum for every author.

I tend to lean more toward showing. Obviously. Lol. I like my stories…punchy.

The point is, it’s possible to write high fantasy in less than 100,000 words. Lol.

So, if you find yourself falling short of that mark when writing fantasy, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad about your writing. There’s the chance that maybe you missed something, but it could just be that you eliminate most exposition.

Anyway, I’ll stop rambling, now.

Over the past week, I did some editing on The Gem of Meruna, and did some work toward the Soul Bearer release. I also added a chapter to Salt and Silver to fill in a plot issue pointed out by beta readers, and filled out the playlist for my sci-fi series.

Basically, I’m jumping from one story to another like a damn maniac.

And this coming week promises to be just as chaotic.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.