Visit Homepage
Skip to content

Category: Characters

Restarting a series

Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

Book Cover - Structures of Earth, from The Affinities of Magic seriesI was about a quarter of the way into Structures of Earth when I put it aside in late 2015 to write a different series: the four books of The Chained Adept, the 4th and final book of which was just released.

Why would I do that, interrupt a series?

Well, there were several issues…

Series longevity

I intend for The Affinities of Magic to be a longish series, the way a detective series is. The characters will grow over time and their role in their world will evolve, but the focus will be almost exclusively on each individual story rather than an overall series arc. There are long-term issues that drive some of the characters, and those will show progress (or setbacks) across the books, but not an integral sort of series arc, the sort you're accustomed to in a trilogy, say, where you must “destroy the ring!” or achieve whatever goal you started with.

Some detective series work this way (the ones that don't just reset the characters with each new entry). Each book has a problem to solve that is important to the characters, but in the background the hero is getting older and having problems with his marriage, and an old flame shows up and then goes away again, and he gets wiser (or not) about how to handle certain situations, and so forth.

In The Chained Adept and The Hounds of Annwn series, there's an overall story arc to the entire series, though each book is a complete story of its own. For the former, that arc is probably completed, but for the latter — who knows? Might get longer. I have ideas…

World building to last

Creating a series like that meant I had to approach world building and character building (especially teams) for the long haul. Longer than four books, anyway.

I put some serious work into the technology of magic underpinning the “rules” by which the guilds (and others) operate, since the fundamental premise of the series is that they follow someone who is the “young Tom Edison” of magic — someone who figures out why the rules work the way they do. The whole series background is set in the resulting industrial revolution caused by these discoveries, with our hero at the center of it. I've always enjoyed technology of magic issues — perhaps that's a reflection of my fondness for hard science fiction.

All that is very interesting, but you can't tell stories about concepts. Stories are about people.

Read More Restarting a series

Grimdark vs noblebright

Posted in Heroes

stgeorgeThe words grimdark and noblebright arose as technical terms in the gaming world. There's a certain amount of dispute about the exact definitions there, with a tendency to paint them in black and white terms (such as the slur that noblebright is all about rainbows and unicorns and flawless heroes).

In fiction, by contrast, especially adventure fiction (in which I class things like Westerns and Fantasy) they have come to be used to reflect two different and opposed styles of story. Since there is some dispute about the definitions, it behooves me to offer my own.

GRIMDARK

The notion that the actions of one person can do little to improve this world in decline, that the forces of evil and inertia and temptation will ensure that all of us are doomed. The best we can hope for is a little struggle with morally ambiguous heroes to oppose danger and maybe rescue for a brief time a few others.

NOBLEBRIGHT

The notion that the actions of one person can make a difference, that even if the person is flawed and opposed by strong forces, he can (and wants to) rise to heroic actions that, even if they may cost him his life, improve the lives of others.

Let me explain why I am firmly in the noblebright camp.

Read More Grimdark vs noblebright

Barreling down to the finish

Posted in Characters, On a Crooked Track, Plot, and The Chained Adept

elephant-race
I'm rolling down the home stretch for On a Crooked Track, just a couple of chapters from the end. Not only is the book almost finished, but it's the fourth and final book of The Chained Adept series, so it's been more of a marathon than a sprint. (Or, at least, it's a bigger dog than the others on the track).

The first book of the series was published in February, 2016, and the fourth and last will be published in early January, 2017. That's four books in one year, and a new “first” for me. (And if I'd been more focused over the summer and early fall, maybe I could have squeezed one more in.)

All four entries were written without outlines. In other words, instead of taking the “plotter” approach (outlining), like my first series The Hounds of Annwn, I went for the “pantser” approach (seat of my pants). Practically speaking, I knew what the major high-points in each book would entail when I started, more or less, but everything along the way was as much of a discovery for me as it is for my readers. I kept track of my structure to keep things moving along, so that the books would be well-formed, and was surprised how easy that was considering I didn't know where the plot was going until I got there.

pantserplotterYou see, I find what happens is that your subconscious knows what it wants. This may be only my eighth novel in the Fantasy genre, but I've read thousands of them, and my subconscious knows what makes a good one work.

The difference in day-to-day writing is subtle. Let's say you have a character to kill. If you were outlining, you might decide how to kill him, and then go back and plant the murder weapon in a room that you described in an earlier chapter so that it will be handy in the chapter where he dies. In other words, you come up with a rational plot element and make sure the story supports it.

But when you're “writing into the dark” (another term for “pantsing”), you end up writing a room description with various objects that make sense in the context of that scene, and then later on, when it's time to kill the character and you don't know how you're going to do it, the little reader in your head says… “but, but, I remember this clue… I bet it was that alien artifact with a curious design that was described a few chapters ago,” and your creative mind says, “hey, that's not a bad idea. I should make that the weapon instead of what I was vaguely thinking of.” Or you might even say, “wait, not the alien artifact — that's too obvious. But what about the seemingly innocuous case that was built to hold it? Wouldn't that be even better? That would let me add all sorts of misdirection.”

Read More Barreling down to the finish

There’s a bit of the author in every character

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and Characters

BearFeederWe're in the middle of a war right now, at my log cabin, and war often brings insight.

Let me explain… You see, Pennsylvania is one of those states where the black bears graciously allow a few humans to live, as long as they're good providers.

Over the last couple of years, the score has been roughly even, between the bears stealing birdfeeders and me trotting out in a nightgown with a flashlight yelling “Git outta here, bear!”

Just a couple nights ago, one of my dogs did his “that ‘possum must be back at the birdfeeders” routine at our family room window, and when I went to check, there was a black bear, wondering why we were shining a flashlight in his face. He'd already claimed those feeders — by god he wasn't going to give them back.

I prevailed upon my husband to fire in the air rather than pepper his rear with birdshot, and he levitated into the nearest bushes and kept on going. We slept the sleep of the righteous, and smiled all the more when we heard of his predations on our neighbor's feeders, on the other side of the ridge.

BearGarbageBut, no, one loud noise in the air was apparently an insufficient deterrent. Early this morning he returned and thoroughly trashed all three of our standing feeders and, to add insult to injury, pried open the lid of one trashcan, leaving the bungie cords that held it closed in place, and demonstrated his dexterity on three garbage bags.

The fang puncture marks in the still-closed plastic container of chocolate ice cream were particularly eloquent.

As I destroyed my back picking up every little bit of foil, there was plenty of time to realize just how much of my diet was bear-friendly. We clearly both enjoyed sweet rolls, chicken, and especially chocolate (hence all the little foil wrapper bits). The manifestations of me (my diet) were what my (food) fan, the bear, wanted.

And that's how it is with a writer's characters. There's something of me in every character, even the murderous villains and the walk-ons. I have to believe that's part of what my readers enjoy. Bears find their banquets, and readers find their authors.
Finding a book

An observation

Posted in Broken Devices, Heroes, Plot, and The Chained Adept

Put your hero in danger and keep them there
Put your heroes in danger and keep them there

So here I am nearing the middle of Broken Devices, and I'm itching to broaden the scope. I mean, we're in Yenit Ping, the biggest city in the world, but it's just not… enough.

Ever notice that if you put your hero in a spot of danger, just a little bit, it has a way of greatly increasing your story options?

We enter the scene with everything all hunky-dory, and we exit… rather differently, as if a wind had blown down all the jackstraws.  Let's see what our heroes (and villains) are going to do about it.

Out of the darkness, into the light

Posted in Characters, Plot, The Chained Adept, and The Chained Adept

Winding Path (Bob Kimball)
Winding Path (Bob Kimball)

Endings are terrific.

I'm just finishing up The Chained Adept now, having extricated myself from the swamp of my misconceived 3rd act. I love doing endings. I know exactly where I'm going, what's left to do, and what I need to wrap up.

Some genres, and some authors, too, like to end their books with a bang. Kill the villain, defeat the army, save the alien princess — done!

I find that I prefer a bit of a cool down at the end, a reflection on what's happened, perhaps the foundation of a new vector for the next book. My characters need it, a way to recover from peril and stress. (As one of my friends would say with a wink and a leer, “it's just not the same if you don't get to smoke a cigarette afterward.”)

It's the light my characters work toward, whatever form that takes, whatever the darkness that impedes them. They need some of that light at the end to sustain them.

Valar Morghulis

Posted in Characters, Heroes, Plot, The Chained Adept, and The Chained Adept

ValarMorghulis
“All Men Must Die” — The motto of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones

We're part way through a multi-day marathon of the entire 5 or 6-season run of Game of Thrones on cable, and it's been on non-stop for the last couple of days, downstairs in this small cabin. Periodically I go and get some lunch or dinner, and make sure my husband is still breathing, in front of the TV.

No doubt about it — this is quality programming, and I've seen all the episodes (and read the books). Upstairs at my writing desk, where I can hear snatches of the dialogue, much of the music, and all of the screaming, I'm having no trouble following along with the episodes as they go by.

This is having two effects on my writing…

I am oh-so-glad that George R R Martin is not the god of my personal universe

When novels first became popular in the 16th/17th century, readers felt that they held up a mirror to life. My opinion is: yes, and no.

Yes, in that the characters must emulate real people, or the story they tell has no foundation, no reality, and is nothing but fable, with puppets moved at whim by the author.

No, in that the author is the god of his created world, and it is only a pretense to abdicate that responsibility. It is not fate that kills his characters, or accident, or evil — it is the author's pen, disclaim it how he may. Even when writing a novelized version of historical events, the author cannot help but take sides, offer explanations, create a reality where the events make some sort of fictional sense. It's his story, and he has shaped it as he wants it.

Read More Valar Morghulis

Re-reading old favorites

Posted in Characters, and Heroes

Leisure Hours, (oil on panel) by Croegaert, Georges (1848-1923); 23.5x33 cm; Private Collection; (add.info.: Leisure Hours. Georges Croegaert (1848-1923). Oil on panel. 23.5 x 33cm.); Photo © Christie's Images; Belgian,  out of copyright
Leisure Hours, (oil on panel) by Croegaert, Georges (1848-1923); Belgian

It's a common bit of advice to write the books you want to read, and I think that makes good sense. Of course, if you're going to do that, it helps to understand why you like the books you like, so that you can put more of that into your own stories.

I enjoy many different sorts of books, and I read hundreds each year (no, really) and like lots of them. However, my re-read list of favorites that reliably engage me over and over is actually quite short. It's thoroughly idiosyncratic and includes a few guilty pleasures (like everyone's list).

My frequently re-read favorites

Now don't laugh…

Read More Re-reading old favorites