Fantasy Giveaways and Competitions – July 2012

Happy Wednesday! Hopefully everyone’s week is going well. Today’s post will be bringing your attention to a couple of fantasy competitions and giveaways that are going on across the web at the moment. These are so easy to enter and you might win something!

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Win a copy of Steven Erikson’s FORGE OF DARKNESS

This generous blogger has three copies of Steven Erikson’s Forge of Darkness up for grabs and all you need to do is send him an email!

Visit this link for more details. Good luck!

Goodreads Fantasy Giveaway

Goodreads regularly give away advance copies of books of all genres. All you have to do is enter and see if you get selected!

The link is here.

Beth Bernobich Double Giveaway

US/Canada Only

Author Beth Bernobich is giving away signed copies of her books, Passion Play and Queen’s Hunt. Here’s a little about the series:

Ilse Zhalina is the daughter of one of Melnek’s more prominent merchants. She has lived most of her life surrounded by the trappings of wealth and privilege.  Many would consider hers a happy lot. But there are dark secrets, especially in the best of families. Ilse has learned that for a young woman of her beauty and social station, to be passive and silent is the best way to survive. 

When Ilse finally meets the older man she is to marry, she realizes he is far crueler and more deadly than her father could ever be. Ilse chooses to run. This choice will change her life forever.

And it will lead her to Raul Kosenmark,  master of one of the land’s most notorious pleasure houses…and who is, as Ilse discovers, a puppetmaster of a different sort altogether.  Ilse discovers a world where every pleasure has a price and there are levels of magic and intrigue she once thought unimaginable. She also finds the other half of her heart.

Visit this link to enter on her blog.

What I’m Reading – July 2012

I thought I’d talk a little about what I’m reading at the moment. Usually, I’m known for not reading much at all and taking ages to get through a book. Recently, however, I’ve decided to make amends for that and I am now reading four books!

A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin)

This one I keep in the living room downstairs and read whenever television is uninteresting enough to allow me. I’m currently about a third of the way through and am just finding out more about the former Hand (Jon Arryn) and his mysterious death. It’s really fantastically written and it’s going to be really hard not to go and pick up the second in the series straight away. As a writer, I try to read a variety of authors so that I experience as many styles and stories as possible. As a reader, however, I just plain love the story!

Empire of the Saviours (A. J. Dalton)

This one was given to me as a birthday gift by my lovely wife. It’s a typical epic fantasy with a young boy who must leave his parents and go out into the world to make it alone. However, there are two other viewpoint characters who really change up the formula and offer something fresh. I’m only 48 pages in at the moment, so have only read the chapters for Jillan and Freda so far. Let me tell you, Freda is really something original and different. Go and read a snippet on Amazon and see what you think.Elric of Melnibone

Elric (Michael Moorcock)

Of course, a classic tale that needs no other introduction. I loved reading the Conan stories, have yet to pick up Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and have read a lot of sword & sorcery in the form of fan fic, Warhammer novels and game-based fiction. Simply put, Elric is fantastic. Go check it out.

Pregnancy For Men (Mark Woods)

This one’s my non-fiction bedtime reading at the moment. The title says it all – it’s about pregnancy. It’s actually pretty funny and interesting. I’ll be a father in November, so I need to get this one tackled quickly!

What are you all reading at the moment? You can share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Best Laid Plans of a Writer

Writer's Stop

Right, let’s get back on track with some posts about writing. After all, that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? 🙂

Now, today I want to talk about planning. First, let me start out with a little story:

One day, there was a writer who didn’t like to plan. He had loads of ideas swirling around in his head and he wanted to write everything! But each time he would think of a story to write, when he sat down and started typing out the first chapter, he realisedhe didn’t know what would happen next.

‘Oh, bugger!’ he cried. ‘Oh well, never mind. I’ll just write something else.’

And so he was stuck in an eternal loop of unfinished stories and unfulfilled dreams of being a published author.

Yeah, that’s right, that was me. Until a few months ago, that is…

‘What happened a few months ago?’ I hear you ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

I learned to plan.

It’s not a particularly easy thing for a writer to acknowledge, but I knew deep down that my writing was suffering from a lack of planning and I am by no means a naturally gifted and “special” writer who can just rush through a story without anything to show them the way. You know what those sorts of people are called? Pantsers. That’s what us writery types call them, anyway.

Here’s the official definition of the word. *cough* taken from urban dictionary *cough*:

Pantser

A NaNoWriMo term that means that you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ when you are writing your novel. You have nothing but the absolute basics planned out for your novel.
This outlook towards writing is often opposed by the ‘planner’, who knows exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, and where it will happen. There is often enmity between the two types of writers.
Another pantser?! Seriously, GTFO.

Take note of the second paragraph. Planner. That is what you should aspire to, more or less.

I hate planning, I will admit that, but it does have HUGE benefits. Take a look at this example:

Chapter One

  • Swordfight / conflict
  • Rain
  • Slippery footing
  • Main char – discussion about amulet
  • Discovers amulet’s power / destiny
  • Attacked by assassins
  • Almost poisoned – fear
  • Escapes with amulet into city
  • Who do the assassins belong to? Who wants him dead?

That’s it. That is as much as I write about any one chapter. I tried out this method after browsing the web on the search for planning advice. Before, I had stuck to strict play-by-play summaries of each chapter and I’d always burned out and got bored. I like it when there’s still a lot of freedom to move in my writing. Think of each bullet point as an island and imagine there’s just blank space in between each one. That blank space is where you can really use your imagination and play around as much as you like. So long as you stick to the bullet points and hit each one of them at some point, you can’t go wrong. I guarantee it. Just make sure you have a few points that conjure up an image and set the scene, a few points that deal with the plot and character’s progression and then a couple that are just action/movement and finally one that asks a question for the chapter to end on and draw the reader deeper into your story.

As for the overall structure of the plot, I approach it like so. This is advice I adapted from Michael Moorcock’s brilliant How to Write a Book in Three Days, by the way:

Part 1 – Hit the hero with a heap of trouble. Give them a problem to overcome. Give them a reason to try to overcome it.

Part 2 – Increase the trouble that the hero is facing. Give him more crap to deal with. Keep giving him a personal reason to keep trying to overcome it.

Part 3 – Put your hero in so much trouble that the reader isn’t sure he’ll survive it. Break him, bash him about, make him beg for mercy.

Part 4 – Find a way for your hero to triumph. Tie up any loose ends. Provide a satisfying conclusion.

All you need do is fit your chapter plans in and around those four parts and you’re already halfway to the finish line.

My Top Ten Planning Tips

  1. Whenever you feel lost or don’t know what to write, just look at your chapter plan and make sure you’re sticking to each bullet point.
  2. Cover everything and don’t try to rush.
  3. If your characters insist on going in a different direction, stop and plan ahead a few more chapters to see if it works.
  4. Make sure that you have the ending already planned out.
  5. Plan out at least one chapter from the middle of your story. Make it an event/scene you really want to write.
  6. Make sure all your characters and their motivations/goals are clear in your mind before you plan.
  7. Think of a few objects and images that will form the visual theme of your story. Incorporate these elements into your plot.
  8. Don’t plan out every single chapter before you start writing (unless you enjoy planning). Most likely a lot will change as you delve into the first chapters of your story and you’ll only demoralise yourself. Plan ahead by two or three chapters at all times.
  9. Equally, make sure you have the entire journey/arc of your story clear in your mind. Just in very basic forms (e.g. amulet discovered, hero goes on journey to east, takes part in huge battle against demons, confronts antagonist in ruined temple).
  10. Enjoy your writing! The best advice I can give you is to write what you find interesting and fun. If you’re bored writing it, people will be bored reading it. That’s the secret to writing well.

What do you reckon? Got any of your own planning tips or stories to share? Are you a pantser or a planner?

Author Interview: Zacharias O’Bryan

Right, I’m back in business, although I don’t get internet at my new place for a while yet 😦 So, we have a brand new interview for you today. I really hope everyone’s enjoying this series and getting as much enjoyment from it as I am. Next week, I’m going to leave another short break and I’ll put up a special article instead. Following that, however, we’ll have two more authors on the blog which you will not want to miss! Please enjoy.

Zacharias O'BryanZacharias O’Bryan is the author of Spirit Thorn, a scifi/fantasy story which brings together some interesting and original elements. Keep reading for more from Zacharias and to find out more about his writing! Continue reading

It’s Moving Time!

Over the next few days, I’m going to be dropping activity as I’m currently moving house back in the real world! In case you get bored while I’m gone, here’s a list of fun stuff you should do:

  1. Go check out Cyanide and Happiness (just Google it). It’s a brilliant webcomic that inspired me to create my own. Beware, if you’re easily offended, steer well clear.
  2. Check out the new Our Picks feature via the sidebar on the right side of the blog. There’s some nice articles and advice for all you aspiring authors out there!
  3. Visit SFF World – it’s a great site with author interviews, book reviews and a lively forum – perfect for every scifi/fantasy enthusiast.
  4. Try saying the following words/phrases ten times in a row, as fast as you can. Tell me which one ends up sounding the rudest: Lipstick / Kentucky Fried Chicken / Muffle Trucker
  5. Write a nice little story under 300 words and post it up here in the comments!
  6. Got any tips/advice for newcomers to the blog? Why not drop them in the comments section for them to read through?

See you guys shortly!

~ James

New Blog Feature – “Our Picks”

If you have sharp eyes, you will have noticed a new feature that I’ve worked on bringing to the blog today. It’s called “Our Picks” and you can find it on the sidebar just underneath the spiel about me. Basically, it’s a series of “post collections”, designed to cover topics such as How to Write Great Characters or Learning From Other Authors. I really hope you’ll all check them out and find them to be of use and interest.

A smaller modification I’ve made today is in the navbar (above). I’ve made it a little easier to navigate by making all of the pages you can visit visible on the drop-down list. A few people told me they weren’t aware that the button itself lead to a page and were only looking at the drop-down options.

If you have any comments/concerns about the blog’s layout or content, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Cheers!

 

Author Interview: Orson T. Badger

Hi everyone! Today, we’ve got another author interview for you.

Orson T. Badger is a scifi/fantasy author whose work includes elements of the space opera, thriller and horror genres. I really hope you’ll enjoy reading the interview he gave and please leave your comments below!

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Hi Orson, thanks very much for joining us.

My pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.

When would you say you first considered writing fiction? Was it a conscious decision or something you had always done? Continue reading

Cementing a Character Through Description

I was thinking about character description this morning. You may have noticed I’m heavily into characters at the moment, as I’m developing my entire cast for my novel in detail at the moment. Anyway, I was thinking that in order to “cement” a character in the reader’s head and make them come alive, you need to build three layers of description.

  1. The Physical Description
  2. The Shining Personality
  3. The Memorable Action

You can achieve any of these three steps via dialogue or narrative. The idea is to create an image in the reader’s head, then build on that by attaching a personality to it and then cement it in place by making the character do something memorable and fitting.

Here’s an example from Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. I’ve highlighted the three layers in corresponding colours:

Professor Quirrell, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.

It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes — and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.

–LATER–

“Potter!” said Snape suddenly. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Powdered root of what to an infusion of what? Harry glanced at Ron, who looked as stumped as he was; Hermione’s hand had shot into the air.

“I don’t know, sir,” said Harry.

Snape’s lips curled into a sneer.

“Tut, tut — fame clearly isn’t everything.”

As you can see, the three layers don’t necessarily have to be in any set framework or order, but it does help. Here’s an example of my own:

Jemima Wattlefrock was a plump old lady with rosy cheeks, kind eyes and a way about her that reminded Nicholas of a hen, fussing about her chicks.

‘Good day, Master Fisher!’ Jemima cried. ‘Oh, it’s so won’erful to see you at last. Me an’ the animals ‘ave been so lonely ‘ere by ourselves.’

Lifting her skirts off the ground, she bustled around Nicholas, as if herding him inside the old farmhouse, and clucked madly as one of her flocks of chickens pecked excitedly around their feet, searching for nonexistent seed.

In the first part, we get a nice description of Jemima from Nicholas’ viewpoint and he compares her to a hen, making the description stick in our minds. It’s the same as when an author describes a character as “lithe, powerful and keen as a wolf stalking its prey“. Because the physical description relates to something we know from our lives (or at least have heard about/seen on TV) we can better picture that character.

In the second section, we get a glimpse of the character’s personality through dialogue. She’s obviously very friendly and excited to have a guest. From her manner of speech and what she says, we guess she lives in the countryside and might not be that intelligent. So, now we have a bit of personality attached to that original description.

Lastly, the memorable action. This is perhaps the most important step, because as we all know: “actions speak louder than words”. From one simple but memorable action, we can get a sense of a character’s attitude towards others, their motives, whether they’re trustworthy or not, etc. etc. If you’re clever as a writer, you can even foreshadow a character’s future within the story by carefully lacing their memorable action with clues.

So, you see, characters come alive better when they have layers of description, not just one flat and dull paragraph detailing their eye colour, hair length and what type of boots they’re wearing. If you haven’t already, give this technique a go when you next introduce a character and see how it works for you. If it makes it easier, highlight the three layers in different colours and you’ll soon start to notice them in most author’s work, too.

Have you got any techniques of your own for describing characters? What do you think makes a character stick in our memory?

Author Interview: Morgan L. Busse

This Friday, we have a great interview with author Morgan L. Busse.

Morgan’s fantasy book is called Daughter of Light, and is the first in a series from Marcher Lord Press. As always, we really appreciate Morgan taking the time to take part in an interview for the blog and hope that all of you guys out there will find her thoughts both interesting and helpful.Morgan L. Busse

So, with no further ado, here’s the interview!

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Hi Morgan, thanks for joining us.

Hi James. First, thank you for taking some time to interview me. I appreciate that. Continue reading

What To Do When You Lose Interest

It’s happened to all of us. You get a story all planned out, you create the world, the characters, the set-pieces and you storm through the first few chapters. ‘Excellent,’ you say, ‘this is really going somewhere.’ But then it happens. You lose interest.

Then what do you do? You start writing something else. Whoa, hold on! That’s the last thing you want to be doing. I should know, I’ve done it more times than I can count on an octopus’ fingers (if they had fingers).

I want you all to be honest. If you’ve ever done this before, leave a comment on this post with a simple “Yes”. The first step to breaking this nasty cycle is admitting that you do it.

The second thing you need to do once you’ve acknowledged your habit is to go back to that story that you now supposedly “hate” and find out where it went wrong. You may think you don’t need to do this, but you really do. What you need to do is run through this checklist and make sure that your story has all of these things:

  1. A clear theme (e.g. betrayal, the human spirit, love)
  2. A plan for a beginning, middle and end
  3. At least one central character who is interesting to read about
  4. A conflict that makes people care about the outcome
  5. A change/progression in your main characters

If you feel that your story was missing any of the above elements, go back and fix it.

If none of those things were missing, then there might be an even simpler solution: swap something around. This can often make all the difference. Here’s an example:

Hero A is honest, charming and kind. Villain B is selfish, impulsive and brooding.

Now, if we change things around a little, things become a touch more interesting:

Hero A is brooding and impulsive but also kind. Villain B is honest and charming but also selfish.

Immediately, we’ve blurred the lines between what’s “good” and what’s not and made the characters much deeper.

So, next time your story starts to flounder and you feel yourself switching off, try the techniques above and play around with what you have. Remember, just have fun with it!

Stimulating Your Setting to Life

Writing is a difficult pursuit. Just this week I found myself struggling with characterisation. When I tweaked the characters, the plot went with it and I felt like I was patching up a leaking ship. You may think that there are big problems if you’re needing to “repair” your story, but in my case I improved upon the way the plot was working and ended up with something far stronger than I had to begin with. Not every leaking boat sinks.

After I’d sorted out the annoyances with my story, I looked to the setting. I always spend a very long time worldbuilding and getting the various locations clear in my head. I try to treat it like a movie. There are various “sets” and each one is designed for a specific purpose, whether its to evoke a certain emotion in the reader, to act as the backdrop for a major event or simply to help make the world feel more real and add flavour. If you’ve seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, surely you remember Amon Hen, the place where Boromir is killed defending the hobbits? How about Helm’s Deep or Minas Tirith? Surely you felt disgust when Isengard’s gardens were destroyed and transformed into evil pits? These scenes invoke very specific emotions and the sets are designed to heighten the drama that is taking place within them and cement the story very firmly in a living, breathing world.

Just read this short scene and see if you can visualise where it’s taking place:

‘I’m not sure,’ Jeremy said. He set his flask of tea down. ‘It’s a sticky situation.’

Thomas hauled himself from the sofa and went over to his desk. He opened a drawer and produced a book. ‘This here is all we need to bring them down, Jeremy. One pathetic man and woman at a time.’

Jeremy stared out of the window. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Do it.’

Can you picture where that conversation is taking place? Do you know how big the room is, where in the room the desk is or what the book looks like? Do you remember what Jeremy is drinking tea from? When you come across writing like this, it’s being made unnecessarily difficult to picture everything.

Have a read of the same scene below but with some description of the setting included:

‘I’m not sure,’ Jeremy said. He set his flask of tea down, its weight suddenly dragging at his frail muscles. ‘It’s a sticky situation.’

Thomas hauled himself from the leather sofa that looked better suited to an executive office and crossed over to his mahogany desk in the corner. He opened the top drawer, remembering it was quite stiff and produced a dusty, leather bound-book. ‘This here is all we need to bring them down, Jeremy. One pathetic man and woman at a time.’

Jeremy stared out of the misted window beside him. The wet London streets outside seemed like an alien world compared to the warm comforts of Thomas’ apartment suite. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Do it.’

Now, try and tell me that wasn’t easier and more interesting to read? Just from a few extra descriptions, we learn that Jeremy is either an older man or he is not very well and we remember the flask because it interacted with Jeremy in a meaningful way. We also learned that Thomas doesn’t have a very good eye for décor and the book he retrieves from his desk is old and has seen better days. Finally, we learn that this takes place in London and it is raining outside. Jeremy is a man used to comforts as he views the streets as alien. Now, the reader starts to piece a few more things together that you’ve not even started to hint at or explain. Best of all, they start asking questions and getting involved in the story. Perhaps they are politicians? Perhaps the book is a last resort and has been kept out of sight for years? Why does Jeremy have a flask of tea? Maybe he’s travelling somewhere and doesn’t intend to stay long?

You may think example two improved upon the first greatly, but there is still more we can do with this. The setting is clearer in our heads, but it’s not alive yet. This is where we come to my main point. To truly make a setting come to life you need to treat it like a character.

Let’s play around with that second example:

‘I’m not sure,’ Jeremy said. He set his lukewarm flask of tea down, its weight suddenly dragging at his frail muscles. The side table quivered unsteadily as it took the flask’s bulk and Jeremy knew it too had been worn down and abused over the years. He rested his withered hands in his lap and regarded his friend. ‘It’s a sticky situation.’

Thomas hauled himself from the leather sofa, the material making a sucking noise as his trousers pulled away. The thing would have looked better in some young executive’s office, surrounded by glass, slate tiles and minimalist art. Thomas crossed over to his old mahogany desk in the corner and opened the stiff top drawer to a cacophony of loud scraping noises. He reached inside and produced a dusty, leather-bound book, its cover faded and peeling away.

‘This here is all we need to bring them down, Jeremy,’ he said, holding the book aloft and shaking it excitedly. ‘One pathetic man and woman at a time.’

Jeremy stared out of the misted window beside him. The drenched London streets outside seemed like an alien world compared to the warm, inviting comforts of Thomas’ apartment suite. The aroma of freshly baked bread danced past his nose and his stomach immediately growled in protest. ‘Fine,’ he said, irritably. ‘Do it.’

By trying to really make the scene come alive, not only does the reader feel more involved but the word count has also more than doubled. If you find that your chapters never quite reach the length you want them to, take a look at your scene-setting and make sure you’re pulling out all the stops and inviting your reader in. Another outcome of making the setting more dynamic is that it makes your characters more three-dimensional and human. Notice that I also included more sensory description in that last example. The sound of the drawer opening, the sight of the book cover peeling away, the smell of the fresh bread and the feel of Jeremy’s hunger and impatience. It’s certainly a far cry from the first example.

By the way, this is a perfect exercise for you to try out if you’re struggling with describing a scene. Write a couple of really basic sentences and include a bit of dialogue. Then, expand on it and include basic, superficial descriptions like colour and size. Don’t be too specific or the reader won’t use their imagination for anything and then they’ll feel uninvolved. Once you have your improved scene down, really go for it and hit it with all you’ve got. Imagine you’re dipping a colourful paintbrush into a clear glass of water. See all the colours swirling together and colliding to make the water more interesting. That’s your goal as a writer. What would you choose, water or chocolate milkshake? A pond or the ocean? A goldfish or a lion? Get under the skin of your world and find out what makes it tick.

If you take nothing else away from this article, take this. Remember those old Disney cartoons from the 90’s where the background was like a painting and it never moved? When you saw one object drawn more vividly you knew it was going to move or do something. That’s what you want to avoid. To make a truly living world you need to make everything vivid and make the reader always guess what’s going to move and what isn’t.

Shake things up and make them fizzy!

Author Interview: Kimberli Renee’ Campbell

Today, I’m pleased to bring you our second author interview! The interest in this has been great and it’s a real joy to be able to share these interviews with all of you out there. Please make sure to check back next Friday for another fantastic interview!

We speak to Kimberli Renee’ Campbell in today’s interview. Her debut novel is called The Sword of Light: Shayia’s Adventures and follows the story of a boy and his extraordinary sword as they battle against a dark force.

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Enjoy! Continue reading

Author Interview: Carl Alves

This week I’m very proud to be able to bring you Fantasy In Motion’s first ever author interview! I’m hoping to feature a lot more of these on the blog in the future – any interested writers out there need only go to the About page to learn more. I really hope you all enjoy this post and please do leave your feedback and comments at the end.

Our interview today is with Carl Alves, an author of fantasy and horror fiction. His debut novel is called Two For Eternity and it follows the story of two immortal beings and their battle through history.

Carl Alves

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Hi Carl, thank you for joining us.

When did it first occur to you that writing was something you wanted to pursue? Continue reading