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Want Believable Characters? They Can’t Always Be on Top (or the bottom)

People watching is one of my favorite hobbies.

While I was at the market the other day, I kept sneaking peeks at this 3-generation family unit behind me in line. It appeared to be a grandmother, daughter and granddaughter. The mother would scold the child, the grandmother would scold the mother and the child would play up to the grandmother and get whatever it was she wanted.

There was such a unique exchange of power going on that it made me think about the characters in my stories, and how their interpersonal relationships change over time.

No one is on top all the time. No one is on the bottom all the time. And if they are… there’s something slightly unbelievable about it. The characters fail to be people, and start being caricatures, which is not what any writer should want.

The dumb, tough-guy jock. It’s an archetype as old …
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Smeerps and Other Fantasy Tropes

The cutest smeerp in the world.  >

I was involved with a discussion on Facebook this morning about using Tolkien style elves, dwarves and other creatures in modern fantasy fiction. I was very happy to find that most of the writers in the group but that was fine as long as you put a unique spin on their culture or the story itself. I’ve seen this discussion plenty of times before people seem very caught up in the idea that fantasy fiction is nothing but a cluster of cliches and they need to invent wild new things in order to produce quality stories. (Of course doing that is great, but there is plenty of room for classic tropes as well.)

Orson Scott Card warned us not to call a rabbit a smeerp. If you have a fuzzy little creature with moderately long years, wiggly nose and a penchant for nibbling …
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World, Universe, Multiverse (blurgh!)

I have a thing for world building. Or, more correctly, I have a thing for universe building. Reality building in a totally unreality kinda way.

I think it’s why I am drawn to writing series and serials more than single books or, if I do write standalone books, I always want to write more.

There are tons of resources on the internet about building worlds for fantasy and science fiction, so I’m not going to really get into that here. Basic rules? The worlds have to make sense for the character that live in them in some way. For example, you can’t have aquatic humanoids living on a desert planet… ’cause there’s no aquatic-ness for them to live in. If they ARE living there, you need a reason and a way for them to cope. Super-duty humidifiers, moisturizing cream.

Building a universe – a reality – is fun. Maybe it’s …
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Am I Creative Enough? Has it All Been Done Before?

I struggle a lot in the realm of writing confidence with the idea that I’m simply not creative enough. Up against a speculative genre audience always looking for something new and different, I tend to reject ideas because they’ve been done before. Then that annoying voice in the back of my head reminds me that EVERYTHING has been done before. Is it right? I’m not sure, but I shouldn’t let the idea stop me.


To get this out in the open, I don’t believe in writer’s block except in very rare cases of trauma or such. There are times when people cannot write or really, really, really do not feel like writing. If offered 1 million dollars for a paragraph, I bet they really could get something decent down, though. (If only that happened!)


It’s not writer’s block that makes me stop working on particular stories. It’s fear …
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Fear is a big part of the horror genre. It’s the point, really.

What it shouldn’t be a big part of is writing. Unfortunately, I think it’s a really big part of a lot of writers’ experiences. It’s a part of mine.

Writer’s block, in my opinion, is 99% fear.

What if I never finish? What if it’s not good enough? What if it is good and I have all these new responsibilities and attention? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if I get rich and creepy distant cousins start coming around looking for “loans”?

I get scared a lot about some of these things and even more. It seems silly to be afraid of success, but it’s probably the one I fear the most. The money wouldn’t be a problem. I’m pretty sure I have no creepy cousins hiding anywhere.

It also seems rather egotistical to fear …
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Who is a Real Writer?

I’m a member of far too many Facebook groups that are supposed to be about writing. Early on I removed myself from the promotional ones because they were simply annoying. (Dear self-published writers: marketing to other writers who are also spamming their book covers every day on Facebook is probably not that effective.)

The question in the title of this post comes up from time to time in one or the other writers’ FB groups and it always kinda pisses me off. First of all, it does so because the people asking or the people answering are sometimes contentious boobs whose real purpose is to simply troll or make other people feel bad. (I will never understand how hurting people can be fun.) Secondly, it pisses me off because it’s an unanswerable question and trying to answer it is just going to leave someone hurt or feeling left out.

1 …
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Can You See My Point of View?

Losing the point of view in a novel or short story is very similar to real life. You have to have empathy with your characters if you want them to act like real people. If you want them to be real players in their own story, they have to have an individual and realistic point of view.

I write predominantly in 3rd person limited (also called ‘close’). If you want a visual, think of it as the character walking around with a video camera on his or her forehead. Everything in the story comes from his or her point of view. I think 3rd person limited gets the reader more interested in your character. After all, the reader knows the character better that way.

Choosing the right point of view is vital, and it can totally change the story that is being told. Take a look at these two examples. …
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Writing Prompt – Hidden in the Lake

If local authorities were to drain a pond or lake, what would they find?

Ron stood on the shore, eyes squinted against the glare off the water. The industrial pump the mayor ordered in from Weston sucked water — and probably the fingerling trout they had stocked the pond with a week before — out and onto the grass. The guys that usually spent quiet Saturday afternoons here pulling out dinner clustered in the distance. Ron could practically feel their ire wafting across the pond.

“It was a mistake. I keep saying that. I can’t live without it. You’re a dream for doing this for me, boo!” The mayor’s new wife, fresh from a two-year stint at Community where she learned little more than how to hook a guy with money, stood next to his town car and shrilled out apologies and promises above the sound of the pump.

Ron …
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I’m Late… I’m Late… to a Very Important Series

Guess what? I STILL haven’t really started watching Game of Thrones.

That’s probably something not to admit as a lover of the fantasy genre and horror genre. I know GoT isn’t horror, but there is a lot of grimdark stuff going on, so I’m just trying to prove I’m not squeamish.

I was thinking the other day about one of my currently-shelves trilogies. It’s about a shape-shifting dragon clan and a corporate plan to enslave them. Elfpunk in a kind of dystopian/utopian world (depending on who you are).

The first draft of the first book was completed when I was about 24 and didn’t have the life experience or writing experience that I now have. The book is good, if I do say so myself, but not real enough. It needs more grit, more grimdark. And I don’t say that because it seems to be popular these days, or because …
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Three Things to Avoid When Creating Fantasy Worlds

Lots of writers and readers think that, in the fantasy genre, anything goes.  “Outside the box,” is a phrase that gets tossed around quite a lot, but it only skates the very edge of truth for quality fantasy.  There are still rules when creating fantasy worlds.  Things still have to make sense.

Creating Fantasy Worlds – Funky Physics

Humans read fantasy fiction, and humans are used to gravity, and the basic laws of motion: momentum, friction, and all that.  Messing with physics in a fantasy world might seem like an excellent, creative idea, but it might mess with the reader’s mind just a bit too much.

If you are going to change physics of the world you are writing in, it still has to make sense.  WHY is there fluctuating gravitational pulls?  Why has friction been negated and things pushed just roll on forever?  Change too many of the familiar …
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I sat at my desk, hot to the bone, sweating in the city’s summer heat, and thought about the weight of the world laying across my shoulders. It was ponderous… and it whined.

People on TV with $200 hair-cuts and $600 shoes talked about how to reduce stress. Old men living on pristine mountain tops talked about ‘getting zen,’ finding inner peace. No one from Jersey City told you how to shift that weight aside… not even for a day… an hour.

So I sit, sweating, at my attic-room desk and wait for this ponderous weight to crush my bones into dust. The only way to deal with stress is to die from it as slowly as possible.