Category Archives: Scribe Craft

Binge Reading & Soul Drifting

Thanks largely to enhanced streaming capabilities, the past few years have witnesses an increase in the amount of television binge watching. Not only is this method an addicting way to watch your favorite show, some shows have actually restructured their writing to meet this trend. HBO’s Programming President, Michael Lombardo, defended the second season of True Detective by saying viewers needed to, “watch the entirety of it,” before passing judgment, despite the episodes being released one at a time. Netflix and other distributors eschew the week-to-week delivery of content and release entire seasons of their shows in one go with the expectation that loyal fans will be discussing the final episode by the end of the day.

But binge consumption of genre related entertainment is nothing new. Readers have done the same for decades. Maybe not in one butt-numbing stretch, but in eagerly devouring everything an author can produce, and often as fast as the author can produce it. And the funny thing is, this trend occurs whether the author is a favorite or new to the reader. Readers will find out what the author has written before and grab it, even buying blocks of books on Amazon–hey, they’re discounted that way–before cracking open the first volume.

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In fact, it is sometimes difficult for new authors to sell their first book solely because readers don’t want to invest in something they can’t read more of if they happen to get hooked. I have witnessed this first-hand at conventions. At GenCon’s Author Alley in 2011, I was hard-pressed to get readers to take a gamble on a single, slim-for-fantasy novel, The Roads to Baldairn Motte, but those authors pitching multiple volumes–who were just as unheard of as I was–continuously piqued readers’ interests not by their series tagline but by the sheer amount of content they were offering! Seven massive tomes always looks more enticing on a table than a single book.

autumn_rebublic_coverAuthors like Brian McClellan have adopted a clever strategy to grab the attention of modern readers and keep them sated. He released novellas surrounding the narrative of his main novels. These are short spin-offs cast from different character viewpoints or set at different points in time. (See Battleship Galactica for an example of how television has done the same thing while viewers waited for the next season.) The novellas give existing readers additional content delivered at a pace months (if not years, Mr. Martin) faster than waiting on a longer novel, and they also present new readers with an Author page filled with content. Even better, with ebook novellas offered as cheap as they are, it’s a financially viable solution for both parties. (McClellan’s novellas are roughly one-third the cost of his novels.)

Which brings me to Souldrifter, the second volume of Garrett Calcaterra’s Dreamwielder Chronicles. I’m excited for this book not just because it promises great adventure and an expansion to the vast, rich world first established by Dreamwielder, but because I know new readers will take a chance on the books marketed as a series where they might have passed on each individually. The door is open for a whole new readership to find Makarria, who, as Wendy Wagner, author of the Pathfinder Tales novel, Skinwalkers, points out, “…is a teenage heroine who does more than just kick butt: she’s smart, powerful, and surprisingly believable for a fourteen-year-old queen.”

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Bruce McAllister, author of The Village Sang to the Sea, adds, “Souldrifter meets the promise of its predecessor with royal trumpets. Fine writing, magic, epic intrigue, a great cast, and a central character (Makarria) who mesmerizes—what more does a reader need to be happy?”

As much as they can consume, of course!

Spy v. Spy Had it Right

A great villain is more than someone for your hero to defeat, and
describing your villain as big and bad isn’t enough. They have to
have motivations and attainable goals, just like the hero. So instead
of thinking in terms of a protagonist and an antagonist, imagine
your story as one where two (or more) characters have conflicting
goals. How do the aims of each IMPACT the other? How do each
REACT to the actions of the other? This banter between opposing
sides should drive the cause and effect structure of the narrative.

Often when writers get lost on where their story goes next, it
is because they are only thinking about what one side—normally
the hero—should do. When plotting out a scene, a short story, or
even a novel, imagine yourself playing chess alone. Move your
first piece with a bit of action, then immediately turn the board
around and play from the other side. Ask yourself what move
this side would make in reaction, then flip the board around
again. Keep going in this fashion until there is a victor. Not all of
these moves have to be “visible” to the reader in the final story,
but knowing what they are and why they were made will help
tighten the narrative and add depth to those wicked doers out to
thwart your hero.

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A Slice of the Author – Creating Setting

HWP_000It’s long been argued that all fictional characters contain some facet of the author. To what extent remains a debate, but what about setting? After all, in fantasy and science fiction, the where can be more important than the who or the what. Who is Robb Stark without the cold north of Westeros? Or Katniss Everdeen without Panem and the Hunger Games arena? But does that mean that without living through a Chicago winter, George R.R. Martin couldn’t have envisioned the lands beyond the Wall? Of course not. Yet it’s interesting that he has attributed the creation of his Wall to a trip to Hadrian’s Wall in England. His version is just a bit larger and colder.

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I have also hiked along Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, I have hiked it from start to finish—all 84 miles of it—and believe me, there is no end to the amount of stories to be found there. From the amazing views to the castles and fortresses, every mile is ripe with details fit for a story.

And I think that is where an author creates a setting. It’s by taking details of places they know and adjusting them to create something new. Whether it’s from something they’ve seen, watched, or read about, every scrap becomes a thread that can be rewoven into a new tapestry. Or to extend the common forest and tree metaphor, creating setting is like taking the trees you know and rearranging them into a forest of wonder that no one has ever yet beheld.

Garrett Calcaterra, author of the novel, Dreamwielder, has never lived in a labyrinth of ice caves, but he drew upon his experiences hiking around Lake Chelan, in the Cascades, and around Scotland. As he explains, “I got to experience Edinburgh and do a little spelunking in search of Sawney Beane’s secret lair. These experiences melded together with images I’d seen in documentaries about cliff dwelling indigenous tribes and the earth-shaping powers of glaciers. I came up with this sprawling ice cavern [for Dreamwielder] where an ancient race of humans built a city into the living rocks of the mountain and lived beneath the azure hue of the glacier above them.”

“The Dream Thief of Kuthahaar,” my story in the October 2012 issue of Bards & Sages Quarterly, grew in the telling, as the saying goes. Only in this case, the telling was of another story altogether, my first in the setting of the Immortal City of Kuthahaar, “The Kultar’s Lost Hand.” For that story I created a place with palaces and bazaars, a congested city teeming with guilds and a harsh ruling class, where the dregs of society found solace only below ground, in deep caverns the rich considered fit only for the dead.

But why Sultans and robes and sandals? Why not trousers and frock coats and timber-framed lodges? I didn’t set out to write an “Arabian themed” tale. In fact, I don’t consider the story Arabian at all. The idea for the story spawned from a movie I grew up with, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Yes, that one. Laugh or groan all you like, I was fourteen and it was the coolest thing ever, next to Willow. And it was the scene at the start of the film, where the thief has his hand lopped off that left an impression with me and started the story. I wondered: what did the man do afterward? Did all society shun him? Had he been a villain before? Or had he been respected, maybe even someone of importance? So the man grew a back story and a personality, and all the time the dwellings and clothes and scents and sounds around him stuck in shades of sandstone, with oils and incense covering the stench created by a glaring sun and too many poor toiling in crowded streets.

It wasn’t difficult to fill in the details. A trip to the local farmer’s market may not yield the same foods, but the feeling of congestion is the same. There are any number of candle and incense shops out there, and as for the desert, Southern California is a great stand in for hot and dry! And so each scene was filled in as I needed it, with details summoned from a wide range of memories. I just needed to pick and place them in a context that made sense for this new society.

As the details were drawn in, other stories sprouted from the nooks and crannies. “The Dream Thief of Kuthahaar,” began as I started to wonder who these Seers were who watched the city (a group of sorcerers mentioned briefly in the first story.) They worked for the Sultan, but how did he win their loyalty? If they had such power, why did they not use it for their own aims? As I wondered, not only did new characters spring up, but new parts of the city as well. A temple, parts of the Sultan’s palace, the lands about the city, all became a part of the setting as young Akil, the protagonist, wandered toward his destiny.

Other stories followed full of assassins and heroines, desperate men and cunning scoundrels. Hopefully, many more will come. All will be a fabrication, holding the merest slices of the author, scrambled and contorted, fried and blended, until the place exists only in the imagination.

For those interested, here is a link to the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail site: http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/HadriansWall/index.asp.

This post originally appeared on Tales From the Sith Witch, the blog of Julie Ann Dawson.