Developing Conflict and Resolution in your stories

Developing conflict is essential to a good story. Often this takes place between protagonist and antagonist. Remember to keep your readers at the edge of their seats, and they’ll keep flipping pages. Here’s an article from a fellow blogger that explains what I mean. Cheers.

Lorraine Ambers

Characters are the heart of a story, the plot is its skeleton, but the blood running through its veins is conflict. Without it, your characters have nothing to fight for, no arc will develop, and your plot will wither and die. In this post, we’ll explore the internal and external conflict to resolution elements that could be evoked to create a truly dynamic novel .

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The protagonists traits need to be carefully selected for each story. Their backstory will colour their personality, and mould their goals. It’s important to understand where their character journey starts, so that you can plan for their reactions by understand their limiting beliefs. You should know what they want, and what needs are hidden beneath.  

Within the protagonist is the delicate balance of their life’s story, and before the plots even started, there might be an internal conflict brewing beneath the surface…

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Book Length, Word Count, and Readability in Writing

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The length of a book can be a vital factor in its success. It may not appear to be at first, but there is a formula followed by countless writers and publishers. Depending on the target audience, genre, readability, and book type, the word count in a book can vary substantially.

That said, there are always outliers—books that have done well outside of word count brackets. If you’re a writer with questions about how long your writing should be, this article is for you.

—Book Length Guidelines—

Although there is no fixed word count, there are generally recognized guidelines depending on genre and audience.

Audience

Younger audiences have smaller attention spans and therefore cater to short, fast-paced book length. Adults are more tolerable with longer manuscripts. For example, YA (young adult) will—usually—be less than the book-length for a more mature audience.

Age group word count examples:

  • Poetry: 5 to 3k
  • Picture Book: 400 to 800
  • Play: 1k to 32k
  • Middle Grade: 25k to 40k
  • Young Adult: 50k to 80k

Genre

Book genres, of course, play an essential role in the word count of a novel.  Science fiction and fantasy works tend toward a high word count since the writer develops a fictional world from the ground up. This takes time to describe all the new rules and phenomena associated with such a fictional universe.

Historical fiction, Young Adult, Westerners, and Mysteries prefer a lower word count—of course, there are always exceptions.

Genre group examples:

  • Romance & Erotica: 40,000 to 100,000 words
  • Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 70,000 to 90,000
  • Horror: 80,000 to 100,000
  • Historical: 90,000 to 100,000
  • Sci-fi/Fanasty: 90,000 to 140,000

General Book Types

Depending on the type of book you intend to write, word count plays another significant factor. Flash fiction and short stories are, of course, brief, but powerful tales. A novella—for those who don’t know—is a compact novel, longer than flash fiction and short stories, with a fleshed out story and characters; ideal for a quick read.

Book type examples:

  • Flash Fiction: 300 to 1,500 words
  • Short Story: 1,500 to 30,000
  • Novellas: 30,000 to 50,000
  • Novels: 50,000 to 100,000

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—The Endgame—

You can have your long epic fantasy and do well with it. However, for new writers, it is best to start small and work your way up. A book-length that is simple and sweet reads best.

Legacies

Once authors have a handful of books under their belt—and a fanbase—they can gamble a little more. Agents and publishers can reference this track record, and this increases the chance the book gets published regardless of word count or even prose finesse. If you have enough avid fans who will buy the book, publishers will overlook certain shortcomings, since they know the books will rake in profits regardless.

For this reason, some authors have started small in self-publishing like Michael J. Sullivan before they hit the goldmine.

Quantity Versus Quality

Quantity alone does not a good book make.  You have to earn your manuscript, one word at a time. If a document is 150,000 words long but fills its pages with redundant vocabulary, it probably won’t read well to the eye of an agent or a casual reader.

Adverbs and excessive prose often slog writing; an attempt by the writer to look professional. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the word/phrase is, the better. The simpler a manuscript is, the more people can read it, and the more can enjoy it.

Reading Level

The average reading level for America is around the 8th-grade mark. If the author wants a book to read smoothly among a wider audience, then a book should read close to this level. By using simpler and shorter phrases, the readability of the prose goes up.

Higher reading associates with scholarly articles and doctoral theses; that’s the point of them, to demonstrate a graduate’s intelligence. Informational articles like this one can calibrate higher; their purpose is to inform and advise. Fictional novels, especially YA and children books, are for people to enjoy and immerse themselves in an easy-to-read environment.

Word Impact

Each word in a manuscript should contribute to the book in at least one of the following ways:

  • Character progression
  • Plot development
  • Environmental immersion
  • Reader enjoyment

There are exceptions, but if you find a word that doesn’t fit one of these criteria, it can usually be removed. You don’t want to be overly descriptive either as that slogs the pacing and reduces readability.

Chapter Impact

Chapter length can also have an impact on readability and word count. Short chapters organize a book better, improve readability, and leave readers with a sense of satisfaction when they count how many sections of the book they have finished. Shorter chapters also make for good stopping points when a reader needs to put the novel down.

Longer chapters are tedious, but sometimes necessary when a section of a book demands enough information or plot progress to benefit the story and characters. In this case, scene breaks are good for breaking down long chapters.

Reader & Writer Relationship

Half of telling a story comes from the reader’s imagination; give half and let the reader form the rest. This stimulates the reader’s mind, bringing with it a sense of fulfillment.

A book is as much of a journey for the writer as it is for the reader. If you can provide that opportunity—for a reader to have fun and explore—they will flip pages nonstop and won’t care about book length.

—Conclusion—

The length of a book is up to the writer, depending on his or her goals and ambitions. Identifying core variables like the audience, genre, book type, readability, and the author’s legacy are essential to the process. Authors who have built up an impressive resume of stories can skirt the rules.

A writer must first do the research, just as a builder must first draw out blueprints for a house—and research the terrain. Each brick of a manuscript’s foundation should be carefully placed with meaning. If you do this, your house of stories will last against the elements of agents, publishers, and critics alike.

Here’s a free online program called WordCounter that not only checks the word count in a written document but also checks the reading level, reading or speaking time, and word frequency. Just paste your work into the program, and it will analyze everything for you automatically.

Thank you for reading and good luck in your writing endeavors.


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Why Do Writers Write?

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“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success…Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

—Nikola Tesla

Each author has his or her own means to spur the imagination, the motivation to sit down and write. The source of an author’s motivation is vital to the writing process—and understanding it will enhance the quality of any written piece.

In this blog post, I’ll explore some of the reasons why writers write and then I will discuss my own experiences.  If you’re an aspiring author seeking direction, then this article will provide some useful guidance. Maybe you can relate to your own experiences—I’d love to hear them in the comments below. 🙂

—Why Do Writers Write—

To Express Creativity

“The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.”

Sir Ken Robinson

There’s nothing like an adrenaline rush at the onset of a brilliant story. Writing brings us into a world of creativity, full of whimsy imagination that expresses our intellect in profound ways.

One of the main reasons why writers write is because they need to release this beautiful energy. Bottling it up is like putting a stopper on a volcano.

To Gain Recognition

The ego is a strong motivator, especially for writers; many authors want to be inspired by their success and the praise they get from the world. Not everyone wants to be the next Stephen King or George Orwell, but many do.

 

To Influence the World

You may have heard the classic phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”. Well, it’s true; a written piece can alter history and modify how the world sees itself—especially with religious prose.

Others, like news companies, can control how the public is informed on local, national, and world issues. When you think about it from that perspective, that pen is sounding quite powerful.

To Explore Life Itself

Since time immemorial, storytellers and philosophers have addressed the meaning of life and what gives humanity purpose. Writing is a therapeutic exercise that allows the mind to explore reality around us.

Writers attempt to tackle many of life’s questions, hoping to inspire others in the process. In this way, writing is more of an altruistic ritual for empowering humanity. See this recent article on the Hero’s Journey for more information.

To Make Money

There’s nothing wrong with writing to put food on the table. Many people use writing as a second job to supplement their main income. Writing can be a fun and immersive hobby, and making some money while doing it is certainly appealing.

That said, writing isn’t very rewarding. Most writers get paid little each month for their publications. There are those that defy the odds and become rich, but that isn’t the typical scenario.

—Why I Write—

How did I start as a writer? What interests me and motivates my writing sessions? In this section, I’ll elaborate on these questions. The answers should give you a different perspective to reflect on—and some of them might surprise you!

How I started as a Writer

I never planned on being a writer, the art gradually crept up on me in my adult years. During my childhood, I was into roleplays, which were short stories co-authored with friends.

My dad owned a small library of science fantasy books, which I consumed voraciously. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorite genres, but I also enjoyed romance, horror, and spirituality.

From the roleplaying forums that I had joined, I gradually developed a cast of original characters, plot themes, and mythical creatures. It went further and  I designed a magical system, technology, names for races, continents, and planets.

The project snowballed when I was unemployed, bored, and depressed. I chose something that I could actively do myself, rather than relying on an email response from an IT company for a job while I sat at home.

My old roleplaying friends had also moved away from the forums, and I was left to my creative devices. Little did I know what the result would be…

Startling Revelations

Several months later after starting on my little project, I sat up from my computer chair, staring at a 300,000-word rough manuscript.

I couldn’t believe it, and I remember pounding the computer desk in disbelief.

I’d written something so extensive to be worthy of a trilogy, and I didn’t have any English college credentials! Talk about a wild trip into my imagination!

Since finishing the rough draft, I’ve reviewed my manuscript and discovered the horrors of rereading, rewriting, and editing out the myriad mistakes we humans continuously make in our work. Thankfully, the manuscript for book 1 has progressed significantly over the many grueling—yet fun—hours I’ve put into it.

My motivation

I write to fulfill myself-—to release the creative demons that lurk within my heart. Every day they beg release. There is a warm satisfaction in finishing an article or writing/editing an original chapter of my novel. I cherish my characters and readers, considering them good friends.

Looking Back

I understand that writing is difficult, but so are many things in life worth doing. Writing, especially with my original series, fills me with a warm fulfillment that other pastimes do not. When I look back at my life, I’ll have no regrets working on Ethereal Seals, my blog, or any of my future projects.

Despite the struggles—as shared by many authors—, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it as an amateur writer and blogger, pioneering into my own creative world.


What is your spark? Are you also seduced by the rewards that creativity brings? Leave it in the comment below if you feel inclined. Thanks for reading everyone!

 

 

 

 

The Hero’s Journey in Fiction: A Revisit

 

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Years ago, I read a fantastic book named The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. In it, the author details the Hero’s Journey. This is a powerful story element that every writer, artist, or screenwriter should understand. It illustrates a protagonist’s adventures, from safe haven to the darkest dungeon—be they literal or figurative.

—What is the Hero Journey?—

The Hero’s Journey is a story mechanic that centers around the protagonist’s progression through the various acts of the story. Typically, there are four acts for each journey, from which the audience witnesses the evolution of the hero.

The first act of the Hero’s Journey introduces the hero, while the second and third act elaborates on their ordeals, and the fourth finishes round circle. You may notice certain tropes or definitions used in each act; these are minor plot elements that form the Hero’s Journey—and some are necessary to flesh out the story.

—Act I—

The Ordinary World

The story begins in the Ordinary World, a mundane realm that may be a safe haven or even a prison for the hero. Here, the audience learns about the hero’s life situation, his/her abilities, fears, and personality.

The Call to Adventure

From the Ordinary World, conflict arises that stirs the hero from complacency. This may be something serious like an assassination or a minor incidence like a strange phone call. The hero now has a choice to pursue the source of the conflict and resolve the issue, or remain in his or her realm.

Refusal

Initially, the hero may be hesitant to leave the safe boundary of the Ordinary World. The hero sees the risks involved and what’s to gain if s/he succeeds. Some stories skip this step with a willing or reckless hero who jumps onto the quest immediately.

—Act II—

The Mentor

The hero encounters the mentor, a wise or experienced individual. The mentor trains and/or guides the hero, providing new knowledge about the nature of the quest. This character is more often an elderly person but can manifest as a younger individual or inanimate object such as a legendary sword.

Crossing the Threshold

The mentor guides the hero away from the Ordinary World to the first Threshold—or the point of no return. The hero’s commitment is tested, determining if the hero is truly ready for the quest. The Threshold is the gateway to a new dimension, far away from the Ordinary World.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Now in a world of mystery and danger, the hero learns more about his/her new adventure. This strange world brings a host of challenges, allies, and enemies. Every obstacle is a stepping stone to unearthing the hero’s personality and capabilities. Abilities are sharpened, and pain is endured. Temptations are met, and the hero struggles with his/her inner shadow self.

—Act III—

Approach to the Dungeon/Inmost Cave

The hero prepares to enter the Inmost Cave. Setbacks occur, but the hero endures, priming for the Supreme Ordeal—an inner crisis that demands change from the protagonist. The hero must analyze personal flaws and push forward to complete the quest. This brief respite offers another connection between the hero and the audience as both understand the danger and gravity of the quest.

Supreme Ordeal

The protagonist faces a dangerous challenge, often against the antagonist, risking life and limb to complete the ordeal. The antagonist can also be a dark reflection of a father figure, such as with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, with exaggerated flaws of the protagonist. The Supreme Ordeal is a highlight of the hero’s quest, and everything is at stake. S/he must draw upon all the experience from the journey to survive against the antagonist.

Reward, Seizing of the Sword

If the hero succeeds, s/he emerges as a changed person. The hero also receives an award as proof of victory; this might be a mythic sword or artifact, signifying the change in the hero’s life. The hero now prepares for the last part of the quest.

—Act IV—

The Road Back

With the quest completed, the hero begins to travel back to the ordinary world, which is the opposite of the call of adventure. Instead of worry or pain, fulfillment and satisfaction arise. The quest is not done, as the last challenge awaits the hero.

Resurrection

The hero faces a test or battle against the antagonist at the final Threshold—likened to the supreme ordeal on steroids. This ultimate tribulation challenges the hero immensely, evoking his/her greatest fears and requiring all the experience they’ve gained from their quest. Failure may result, leading to the hero’s death, a dearth of all hope, or even a severe injury that mars the hero.

The protagonist is reborn from the flames of demise, returning as a new person–transmuted into the true hero, and no longer the false facade from before. Following the brush of death, the adventurer conquers the final ordeal, or the Dragon at the Final Threshold, seizing the Elixir. Reconciliation with the Father is obtained and the hero is purged, fully equipped to end the adventure.

Return with the Elixir

The adventurer returns to the ordinary world as a changed person—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Using the reward from the final ordeal, s/he improves upon the ordinary world and a new era of peace and reflection results. The prize is multifaceted, manifesting either as a damsel in distress, a powerful relic, or a shift in the climate of the realms.  At this point, the hero finishes the journey back to the ordinary world, but things will never be as they were.

—Conclusion—

Others Variables in the Hero’s Journey

While the hero’s cycle is a general formula for a fictional plot, there is a multitude of additional elements, such as sub-cycles that stretch throughout a trilogy. Sometimes, the hero cannot return to society as they are, instead choosing a form of exile to live a new life more suiting to his or her needs.

How The Hero’s Journey Relates to Readers

The Hero’s Journey repeats in every good fiction; it’s a retelling of human life, the growth of a person into a mature and wise individual. It is a blueprint from which anyone, as a soul, can appreciate the heroic archetypes and make changes for a more prosperous, happier life.

Thank you for reading, and happy Memorial Day! 🙂

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Making Maps for Fantasy Settings: A Tutorial

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Crafting a map for your fictional universe can be a handy resource for readers. Not every fiction has a cartographic reference, nor is it a requirement for good work. However, it dramatically compliments the space where the story takes place. When done correctly, a map benefits to both author and reader.

In this article, I’ll give an example of how I create my maps. You can take what you find appropriate and apply it to your projects. Hopefully, this tutorial will get you started. It may be a bit complicated and technical but bear with me.

—Some Startup Info—

You can use whatever media you want to design your map. I use a free program called GIMP, which is like an advanced version of Microsoft Paint, last I checked.

—Creating a Digital Map—

Layer 1: The Background

When you have your blank canvas set up, first address the background. My personal preference is a basic fill tool. Your mileage may vary, depending on what kind of background your story needs. Most maps are continents, so they require an ocean or blue background.

Something like this.

AtlasMapTutorial1

I did a fill command in GIMP for the ocean backdrop here, then added some darker shades to indicate ocean depth.

Layer 2: Landmass

The next layer I work on is the outline and general fill of the land. Choose a yellow, peach, or brown color that resembles dirt or clay—or do whatever you want of course—for the land color.

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You can use a pathing or pencil tool to create the black outline of the land, as shown, then use the fill tool. Most land isn’t perfect or smooth—go for jagged edges along coasts or coves to simulate water erosion. You can also get creative and design fragment islands.

Layer 3: Land Color/Features

With the general land layer in place, you can focus on the more detailed facets of your map. This step can be done in several ways, but in my example, I use pure color to indicate trees and mountains.

AtlasMapTutorial3

That may be a doozy of a step forward, but allow me to explain. I used a light green to represent grasslands, dark green for forests, blue for lakes and rivers, brown for mountains areas, and white-brown for snow. One suggestion I have is—if you’re doing this method, select all of layer 2 with a wand tool, so you don’t create color outside the landmass.

For the water masses, I went back to layer 2 and erased parts of it. Doing this allowed layer 1 to fill in where lakes and rivers lie.

Layer 4: Additional Land Details

This is another optional and flexible step, depending on what you want for your map. I added redundant mountain figures and then floating islands here. This gave the map more depth.

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Here’s a tip: create one mountain figure and then use the clone stamp tool to easily replicate it. This makes it a lot easier! 🙂

Layer 5: Landmarks

Now that you have your land finished, it’s time to add landmarks! What do I mean? Cities, castles, special areas, and so forth. No, you don’t have to draw an entire castle—use symbols to represent them.

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In this example, I used simple dots with minor details. You can certainly be creative with this and draw one small castle—then, using the clone stamp tool, replicate it wherever you need to.

Layer 6: Map Legend

Every map needs a legend—a reference to tell readers what your landmarks mean. A north arrow or distance bar is also handy.

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Position your legend so that it doesn’t overlap over map details. Choose a location where there is a lot of “empty space”; this will add visual balance to your map.

Layer 7: Captions

You need captions that specify major or minor points on the map. Include text for your legend, a title, and any additional information a reader should know. A small bit about who authored the map is also essential.

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In this example, broader or more critical areas have a larger font size, while minor or smaller areas have a lower font size. If I were to do this over again, I’d probably make the font size for cities a bit larger, but at the same time, I don’t want to crowd the other map details with text. On an ebook or actual copy, the text would scale larger, but in the thumbnail here, it’s smaller.

Other Things to Consider

You could also add in fantasy details like sea dragons swimming in the ocean, or maybe other mythic creatures that add an “ancient” feeling to your map. Go wild! Remember, this is your map and fictional world.

—Conclusion—

Creating maps is a fun activity that adds important detail to your story. A map can be a wide variety of things—and the example above is just one of them. I hope this article has helped get you started with the map making process. Thanks for reading and click that “follow” button below if you like what you see. Cheers. 😎

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Eragon book 1, Inheritance

 

 

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Greetings and welcome back to yet another book review that I’d love to share with you all! 😀 I recently returned to the Eragon series to enjoy Christopher Paolini’s writing. Eragon is a fantasy epic series spanning several books.  This review will focus on the first book, and I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum.

Eragon, book 1: Inheritance

Premise

Inheritance is a big book at around 600 to 700 pages. The plot focuses heavily on worldbuilding and adventure. There are some great fight scenes and a subtle flair of romance—although this is more apparent in book two: Eldest.

Describing Inheritance in a few words, I would say—adventure, travel, and whimsical. The plot feels very unique, although it builds off traditional fantasy tropes such as elves, dragons, and dwarves (nothing wrong there).

Characters

Sadly, there aren’t many main characters in Paolini’s first book. Eragon is the young hero who finds his mentor, Brom, and a dragon hatchling named Saphira. They travel together, meeting a few characters along the way, but the overall cast feels small and lacking.

On a brighter note, the dialog and pacing within the story are excellent and some of the best I’ve ever seen. Paolini’s books are easy to read and have a fantastic immersion factor.

The main villain, a mad king named Galbatorix, you only hear about remotely, and he comes off as your traditional psychopathic villain. That may seem cliché, but Paolini presents the mad king in a charming and workable manner. Galbatorix also has lore that helps explain his past.

Magic System

The magic in the Eragon series is whimsical and fantastic, producing everything from fireballs to flight and object manifestation. It’s a soft magic system as has few rules others than the practitioner being gifted and trained in the arts.

I was surprised how quickly Eragon acquired magical techniques from Brom; then again, Eragon is the main character, so I let it slide.

Romance

Inheritance has very little romance, but it sets the stage for Eragon’s love interest in book two. Paolini did a better job at it with his second book, and it shows progression in his writing ability. Keep in mind he wrote book one when he was seventeen.

Conflict

The tension in Inheritance is predictable yet entertaining. It illustrates the timely fantasy battles you’d expect with orcs, elves, dwarves, and other creatures. At times the conflict felt drawn out or lacking, but overall it’s enough to keep the reader at the edge of the seat.

Overall Summary

The Good

Inheritance has incredible pacing and detailed dialog in a convincing fantasy world. You’re guaranteed to immerse yourself in this unique, whimsical land filled with dragons, magical swords, and evil kings.

The main characters are well written and suit their roles well, establishing a fantasy epic that ages well into later books. The reading is fluid and dynamic while challenging readers on occasion.

The Bad

Although the characters are excellent, there are only a few of them, and the cast feels small and compact. At times the premise and tension slogged or felt linear, reduced to nothing but traveling with little plot.

The Ugly

Inheritance feels linear and could have used more characters and subplots to enrich its premise. Fortunately, the second book does it all, and more—once I get to a review of that novel.

My rating for Inheritance: 4/5 stars—good

Inheritance isn’t a perfect book and suffers from a dearth of main characters and plot depth. Yet it has a beautiful, simplistic design that just works. In particular, the magic system is enjoyable to read about, and the ancient language shows immense worldbuilding that Paolini emphasizes in his later novels.

If anything, Inheritance is the stepping stone that introduces readers to the world of Alagaësia. If you’re a fan of fantasy, I would certainly recommend this book—but then continue on into the second novel to get a better idea of the series. Eldest fleshes Paolini’s world out in ways that Inheritance never did.

Thank you for reading. Have you any thoughts on Inheritance or the Eragon series? Leave it in the comments below. Love and gratitude to all my readers. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing, Book Reviews, and Reflections of the Self—a Spring Time Revelation

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Hello to all my lovely readers. 🙂

It’s been a steady month, working on my blog, doing book reviews, and revising my manuscript for Dragonsblade. I would like to thank all my alpha and beta readers—for all the feedback you’ve given me so far.

My WIP: Dragonsblade

Dragonsblade has progressed much in this past month alone. As I improve the story, I’m growing closer to my characters, particularly Pepper Slyhart and Tarie Beyworth. I’ve learned so much about POV depth alone—very exciting!

I’m always looking for more readers. If you’re interested, contact me via this site or check me out at www.betareader.io. My beta book cover has a big green gem on it. Thanks.

An Interesting Perspective on Writing

The other day, I ran across an article by a fellow blogger. She talks about the craft of writing and how we can use it in unique ways. I’d highly recommend checking it out here. Her blog is equally fantastic and has plenty to offer on the fundamentals for writers.

Book Review: The Faded Sun

A few weeks ago, I finished a sci-fi trilogy called The Faded Sun. I did a book review on it here if you’re curious. The books do a great job describing alien cultures, and I found the relationship between the main characters to be cute; the prose was a bit dry though, and the characterization was subpar.

I have more fantasy and sci-fi book reviews in the works. Stay tuned for more. 😛

Introductions of a Novel: Essential Tips, Tricks, and More

My article on false starts, introductions, and more contains vital information on writing the beginning of a novel. I suggest you check it out if you’re a writer. It has some nifty tips and amusing allegories.


That’s all for now, my dear readers—thanks for stopping by. I hope you’re having a lovely spring and be sure to enjoy the weather before it gets too hot. Cheers. 😀

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Book Review: The Faded Sun Trilogy

 

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Hello again, my lovely readers. Spring is in full swing, and I have another book review to share. A writing colleague recommended the series The Faded Sun by C. J. Cherryh. It’s a science fantasy three-book series. I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum for any interested readers. 🙂

The Faded Sun Trilogy

Premise

The Faded Sun series is a sci-fi story with subtle elements of fantasy in the background. Each book is average length—around 250 pages.

If I could explain The Faded Sun in a few words, it would be—sci-fi, desert, and culture. The premise reminded me of Dune by Frank Herbert, with the desert setting, science fiction elements, and how one of the characters becomes indoctrinated into a desert tribe.

While the idea beyond the book didn’t feel completely original, Cherryh put her unique spin on it with the sheer depth and description of alien races and their ethics.

Characters

There are two main characters: Niun, a young mri (one of the alien races in the desert worlds) and arrogant desert tribesman, who struggles to find his place among his people; and Duncan, another youthful human soldier, who becomes attached to the mri, eventually joining the desert tribes.

The dialog exchanges between the main characters felt dry at times and difficult to follow. There were a few excellently written spots, of course, which invested me, emotionally in Niun and Duncan.

One of the best facets of The Faded Sun is the relationship between Niun and Duncan, how it evolves over the course of three books. They begin as enemies in book one, distrustful of each other. By book three, they are bonded through kinship as brothers.

The villains were a lawful alien species called regul, who viewed the mri as a threat and wanted to wipe them out. That said, there was no fixed antagonist, rather, it was a faction of regul that changed from book to book. Because of this, I had trouble bonding (as a reader does to a villain) to the antagonist group.

Magic System

There wasn’t any magical system in The Faded Sun. I honestly felt a little disappointed, as this was listed as a science fantasy book. I suppose you have to expect that in a purer breed of sci-fi. I wrote a guest post on science fantasy and magical systems, if you’d like to check them out.

Romance

Again, being a strict sci-fi book, The Faded Sun did not include any romantic elements. Although there was a strong brother-to-brother relationship between Niun and Duncan, which I found to be adorable and well-written.

Conflict

This is where The Faded Sun shines. Chapters are filled with tension-inducing paragraphs, and Cherryh finds clever ways to challenge her characters; in particular, Duncan’s ordeals when he goes from human to mri are rife with conflict—and an interesting illustration of how adaptive and resilient humans can be.

Overall Summary

The Good

The relationship between the main characters, the conflict, and the sheer depth of alien culture presented in this book are the best aspects of The Faded Sun. This set the proper tone for a sci-fi trilogy—and it was, in some ways, philosophical.

The Bad

The dialog exchanges were usually dry, too long, or lacked sufficient emotion from the characters. Other segments of the trilogy felt like filler without much going on—parts that could have been removed or rewritten for better effect. The prose was okay, but I caught a handful of typos—and the pacing was mediocre. The antagonists also felt ambiguous and were hard to “love to hate”.

The Ugly

Parts of The Faded Sun read vaguely similar to Dune, and the side characters lacked sufficient background or emotion for the reader to sympathize. I would have also liked a more unique and fully explained technological system, rather than “generic” or “taken for granted” sci-fi technology.

My rating for the trilogy: 3/5 stars—average

The Faded Sun isn’t anything special, but if you’re a writer or sci-fi geek, you will enjoy the explanation behind the mri and regul culture. It personally gave me some ideas for my own alien races, and how to convey them to the reader. I would recommend this book for that facet alone; just don’t expect amazing dialog or characterization.

Thank you all for reading. Have you read The Faded Sun? I would love to hear your opinion on it in the comments below. Love and gratitude to my readers. 😀


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False Starts and Introductions to Novels: Too Cliché or A Forgotten Skill?

 

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“At dawn, the sun either shines itself or hides behind clouds, promising what the day will bring. So it is with introductions in stories.” —Ed White

Most agents and editors would balk at the suggestion of a false start intro to a novel. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting beginning, so long as it’s done well. Then again, the last time I read a false start in a novel was years ago. Is it now a forgotten technique, shunned by writers?

The problem is that false introductions are usually poorly done and give off a flat feeling for the rest of the book. If you’re a writer developing the draft of your novel, then this article is a must for you.

—Introductions—

Those First Introduction Paragraphs

The first few paragraphs of a book introduce an author’s style—his or her prose rhythm, subtle insecurities, and other narrative patterns and issues. A book is like an onion; it has layers of emotional and mental components embedded into the prose.

This is especially the case in early drafts, where the author is still figuring out what he or she wants to do with the story. Analyzing one’s writing patterns in drafts can lead to improvement and growth of a writer.

A Handy Exercise on Introductions in Prose

There’s an exercise in this article that I recommend. You examine the first 250 words of your story. Heavily. Dissect it, break it apart, and ask yourself:

  1. What is the purpose of this introduction?
  2. Why is it set up like this?
  3. Is there a hook for the reader?
  4. Is the introduction short enough for the sake of clarity and pacing, but long enough to express its purpose?
  5. What patterns does this intro reveal about the book as a whole?

These questions are by no means exhaustive. Invent your own questions and discover how many perspectives and shades of grey your introduction can produce.

The first 250 words are crucial to the rest of your story and should let the reader what they’re in for. Most readers picking up a book at the store—or skimming over it on Amazon—will do this to see if the story interests them.

—In the Reader’s Best Interests of Introductions—

Keeping Introductions to Novels Interesting

I once heard a fellow writer say:

“Stories are like skirts. They have to be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.” —Anonymous

Now, while that might not be the cleverest of examples, he did have a point. Stories, and particularly introductions—since introductions are a significant part of your prose—should be short and sweet, including everything that should be there.

Hooking Readers in the Introduction of a Novel

Here’s a helpful article on hooking readers in the introduction. The author mentions driving the prose with curiosity and conflict—elements that provoke the reader, tempting them to read further.

You can also use internal dialog or exposition to hint at a character’s insecurities, flaws, or other issues. I’m not big on exposition myself—too many writers turn internal narration into a dry monologue that is boring to read through, but that’s a topic for another time.

Stress is…Good for Readers?

Readers love stress and anxiety in a story; they hate it in real life—so, give them what they want, am I right? And do it early on, promising them the reward they will receive if they delve deeper into your story. Dangle that carrot!

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Don’t be Afraid to Use False Introductions

Approach your introduction with a sense of clarity and enjoyability for your reader. Have a plan for your intro, and reflect throughout the rest of your book. The promises you make in those first 250 words should come full circle. Otherwise, your introduction is nothing more than a prop that can not—and should not—stand on its own.

—Concluding an Introduction—

Striking a Balance

In summary, an introduction to a novel is a significant part of the writing process. Take your time with it, and review it on a routine basis. Even after your twentieth read through, you may yet discover new insights about yourself as a writer.

Ask yourself:

Is it long enough to cover everything? Is it short enough to keep it interesting? Does it dangle the carrot appropriately, leaving the reader begging for more?

If you can bond your reader with your main protagonist and the story within the first few paragraphs, then congratulate yourself; you’ve accomplished a feat that most writers struggle with.

Final Words

Beginnings are always the funniest part of a new story, but they can also be the hardest. I hope this article has provided you with some semblance of wisdom in your writing journey—I’m by no means a professional myself.

Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude to my readers! 😀

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Dreams of the Scarlet Swordswoman #8

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Here’ some more creative writing from a dream segment in my upcoming book, Ethereal Seals: Dragonsblade. I had fun writing this part of Pepper’s dreams. It’s more philosophical and spiritual if anything. In the meanwhile, I’ve been super busy writing, rewriting, and revising the book segments from the feedback I get. Any feedback in the comments here is also appreciative. Thanks.

Alternatively, you can check me out at betareader.io. Also stop by my creative Twitch channel for gaming, writing, and artwork.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little tidbit and thanks for reading! 🙂

 


Pepper woke with a start, beholding an ocean of stars. The blackness of space drew her in, stealing her breath. Each star twinkled like facets of a white gemstone out of her reach. A chill ran up her spine at the view of the vast cosmos. Comets, nebulae, and multiverses spiraled around her.

“What is this?” she said with her brows arched.

A tusked bear materialized before her, its body muscular yet aged, golden fur tingled with gray. Licking its paws, the beast marked her cheek with its mitt before walking away. She shouted the bear’s name, her hand outstretched, but he did not heed it. With a howl, the animal vanished into stardust.

Confused, she paced forward on an invisible floor, each step echoing around her. A comet crashed into a small star with a massive explosion, scattering the remains like children’s toy blocks. Pepper gasped and shielded her face, but the shockwaves passed through her harmlessly.

Pepper opened her eyes. Instead of a destroyed moon, crystalline dust scattered around her vicinity. Then the cosmic sand shimmered, coming together at a point. A small flame developed, growing larger.

She stared at the sight, her jaw slack, as the flame grew beyond her line of sight. It was now a star, too massive for her to gauge. Then smaller particles of dirt came, rotating around the star like a solar system.

“Are those planets? What’s going on? Where am I?”

She tried to turn away from the awesome sight, but couldn’t. Countless universes flashed before her eyes: death and birth; an endless cycle of life and transmutation—of alchemy. She saw the future and the past, meshed together. Images of herself flashed before her eyes. She saw herself as a different, but a familiar person—a female soldier. Another vision came, as an old man; others like animals, insects, plants, and even stars. She became it all, merging with the universe.

“Please stop, whatever you are,” Pepper cried, vaguely aware of her body. She grunted and flailed her arms against the cosmic seduction.

The frequency of visions increased, hundreds flashing before her eyes each second.

“No more, please!” she begged, falling to what she assumed were her knees.

The visions ceased as abruptly as they began, leaving Pepper in the bleakness of space. The sensation choked her, robbing what residue of Creation still lingered within her entity. She hugged herself and sobbed, now empty and alone—a nothingness.

Then, she saw it.

A cluster of multiverses, each shaped like gemstones, condensed into a sphere of white plasma. Around the anomaly, arms of multihued light rotated like rings. She couldn’t count how many limbs the thing had, nor how large it was—size was meaningless—only marveled at the magnificence of what she witnessed.

“The Ethereal Seals?” she said, confused about how she knew it was Gate. She glanced down at a jade sword she held. “It must be my connection to the Gate through my sword.”

She looked up. The Gate flashed and released shockwaves of warm electricity that sent pleasure through Pepper’s body, a sensation she could only describe as divine—not fit for mortal comprehension. The smell of lavender wafted in the air, on her taste buds. Her fingers stroked the tips of the Gate. It was soft and tender.

“What do you want from me?”

The Gate flashed again and vanished, leaving her in the void of space. She then noticed a blond youth—alone in the darkness as she—not more than a few yards away. The young man shivered violently, unable to obtain the heat he sought.

A small girl appeared next to Pepper. The newcomer bore jade twintails down her shoulders and clothed in a silver dress. Her earrings were the shape of swords, and her silver eyes equally as sharp. Her hands curved to a single point, the flesh like metal.

“Master, please go to him,” the little girl pleaded, clasping her bladed hands. She took a knee, gesturing to the youth.

“Dwyrm?” said Pepper, examining the girl, who remained bowed.

Pepper approached the youth on the horizon. Her hand caressed his face, felt the cold sweat on his body, and smelled the herbal aroma of his hair. The touch was like a jolt of electricity through her arm. A warmth grew in his body, and he smiled, his eyes closed, as he cuddled with her. She dug her fingers into his robes, savoring his embrace, a smile on her lips. For a few precious moments, nothing else mattered to the girl.

She was complete and one with Creation once more.

The red girl paused as an ominous shadow formed behind the youth. The image of a black dragon roared and seized the man, drawing him away from Pepper’s grasp. She cried in vain, watching the towering dragon devour him amidst his screams of agony. Fire flared in her spine. She bent double and moaned in pain as darkness engulfed her.