Author Interview: Elizabeth Moon

I promised you all a new author interview this week and I’m very pleased to be able to fulfill that promise! I mentioned a while back that we had interviews with Elizabeth Moon and Michael J. Sullivan coming up–here’s the first of them. Let me just start by saying I feel really privileged to be able to pick the brains of novelists and get their thoughts on the genre and writing itself. Everyone I speak to, whether they’ve been in print for years and had great success, or if they are self-published and just starting out, has had some really interesting and useful insight. You should go read our other interviews–if you don’t, you’ll be missing out on some important advice and experience.

So, I had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Moon, a bestselling sci-fi and fantasy author. Just some of her work includes The Speed of Dark (2003 Nebula Award Winner) and the Paksenarrion saga. She has collaborated with Anne McCaffrey, served in the US Marines and is an accomplished fencer.Image

Continue reading

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*:


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: Chris Stevenson

Welcome to the new author interview slot here on a (cloudy) Monday! While I’m sure everyone’s happy to be back at work/school/college whatever, I feel like I need something to ease me into the new week. So, what better way than a brand new interview with author Chris Stevenson?

As well as writing fiction, Chris also runs the brilliant Guerilla Warfare For Writers blog. Check it out, I promise you won’t regret it!

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Hi Chris, thanks for your time today.

It’s a pleasure to be here. Continue reading

Some Fantasy In Motion Updates!

Happy Fence Friday.. Moooo
Happy Fence Friday.. Moooo (Photo credit: Ian Livesey)

Happy Friday, everyone! I’ve got some blog updates for you, so read carefully…

  1. Starting this coming week, author interviews are going to be posted on Mondays! I figured the beginning of a new week is a pretty crappy time for us all, so why not give you something to look forward to? Our next interview is with Chris Stevenson and we have some pretty great people coming up in the near future. Stay tuned!
  2. I’m going to be adding a few new webcomic episodes over the weekend, including a new one for Blatant Fantasy Ripoff. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, visit this link.
  3. The Life As They Know It mug was replaced and it arrived in one piece this time! Again, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, go back in time a few posts and you’ll see.
  4. There’s a large project in the works, designed to appeal to those of you who enjoyed my fantasy mapmaking tutorials. It’s a project that deals with worldbuilding, but I’ll say no more for now. Keep your eyes peeled!
  5. Lastly, here are a few of my favourite things from around the blog recently. Do take a look and drop in a comment if you enjoy it :)

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

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

What’s In a (Fantasy) Name?

So, what’s in a name? That’s the question I’m going to explore today. I’ll give you the answer now: everything, that’s what. How can I write an article about a question I’ve just answered? Answer: I can’t, but it does lead me nicely into an article on fantasy character names.

Let’s get down to the topic at hand. Names. If I’m being honest, names are one of those aspects of writing fantasy that I both love and loathe. You may remember an article I put together on this subject a while back (And Don’t Call Me Shirley) which dealt more with coming up with names. What I want to talk about now is how names affect the characters they are pinned on.

Take the example below:

The great sorcerer, Gob Blackfist, reached into his robes and produced a wand. He beckoned to his servants, a brutish warrior called Amiah LaFontaine and a pretty young she-thief called Alcandameus the Pale.

Please feel free to send in your messages of adoration; it’s a masterpiece, right? But seriously, there’s something really wrong with the names in that snippet. Now, there’s nothing wrong with calling your sorcerer Gob Blackfist, so long as you explain why he’s called that. Why do you have to explain your choice of name? Because it’s non-conventional and the reader will question it.

Here’s another example. The names are now as you might expect:

The great sorcerer, Alcandameus the Pale, reached into his robes and produced a wand. He beckoned to his servants, a brutish warrior called Gob Blackfist and a pretty young she-thief called Amiah LaFontaine.

‘Yes, master?’ Gob asked.

Alcandameus grinned. ‘I think I have finally solved this accursed problem with our names!’

See, that was better, right? No strange names where they shouldn’t be and no orc-type names for our great sorcerer. If you came across an author of bloodthirsty, epic fantasy on the bookshelves and his name was Clarence Pink, you’d be a bit turned off from reading his work. If, however, he used a pen name like Alex Steel… well, bring on the violence!

In the same respect, it’s strange to come across a person whose surname matches their job. A traffic warden called Ian Fines, a firefighter called Rob Burns or how about a jeweler called Mr. Goldsmith? It’s true that surnames originated in this way. Your local medieval blacksmith might earn himself the highly imaginative name “Blacksmith”. If you use names like this in your writing, however, it can come across as a little bit childish and silly.

The best thing to do when assigning names to your characters is to speak it out loud and maybe put the name into a few lines of dialogue. See how it sounds and if it sounds wrong, go back and try something else until it feels right.

Don’t forget that tomorrow I’ll be posting our second ever author interview. Don’t miss it, it’s going to be great!

Fantasy Article Roundup: 13th March 2012

Today I’ve gathered together a selection of WordPress articles that I found interesting today. I apologise for my reduced level of posting recently, but I’ve been preparing for my wedding this Sunday! :) Enjoy!

~ James