What Are My Favorite Fantasy Tropes?

In fantasy, you have a plethora of tropes that are reused; most of them never lose their charm. Everything from elves, dwarves, dragons, and halflings! In science fantasy, the scope expands to robots, cyborgs, aliens—the sky’s the limit.

These formulas represent time-tested values that readers adore. Personally, I have my own set of fantasy tropes that excite me. Below, I’ll discuss some of my favorite ones, not in any specific order. I’ll focus strictly on the fantasy elements, but they can be applied to sci-fi too.

Who doesn’t like elves? An elf—by general definition—is beautiful, slender, graceful, and powerful. Elves have played a large role in fantasy since the Tolkien days—and continue to do so. Usually as a force for good, elves help maintain the order of the world they live in, often living in cities that are in harmony with nature. There are also dark elves, or drow, which are an evil-aligned race.

Another favorite of mine, dragons are the epitome of power, feral beauty, and arcane mystery. While elves are usually good, dragons have played a multitude of roles ranging from villains, to advisors, and even heroes. Dragons are a wild card in how they have been used throughout all fiction, let alone cultures across the globe.

Magic is a whimsical topic—and a detailed analysis of such a trope is clearly beyond the scope of this humble article—that symbolizes the human imagination. Anything from fireballs, to teleportation, flight, or telepathy falls under this category. The price of using magic can be just as fascinating as what it produces. An author can conjure whatever he or she wishes via magic; that’s what makes it such an unpredictable and exciting trope. Brandon Sanderson does a wonderful job explaining it in his lectures.

Alchemy is the transmutation of an object into something else. Lead to gold is a classic example, but you can make other things like herbal elixirs too. In fantasy settings, authors often use alchemy as a profession characters use to make a living, a means to heal others via healing salves, or—even better—a plot device like in Mistborn. In other ways, alchemy can be a religion or way of life that shapes a character’s decisions.

I enjoy reading about the different types of civilizations in a fantasy story. An elven society may differ from one book to another, for example. How do the people function in said society? What roles does said society play in the plot? From culture and economy, you can derive things like currency, prejudice, personal values, and even a magic system.

Food heavily influences culture, reflecting how the world is assimilated by the protagonist and his/her society. Bonus points to authors with unique fruits or herbs with special nutritive properties. Like alchemy, food can play a big role in the plot. Those feast scenes make any reader salivate, and healing potions can change the course of a battle.

Who says a writer should stop at elves and dragons? How about a mix of the two with its own racial name, abilities, and cultural values? Creativity can work its own magic and weave beautiful fiction. Magical beasts can be ally or foe for the protagonist—and such creatures help shape the conflict of the plot, giving depth to the reader’s immersion.

In Blade of Dragons, I turned my protagonist into a mythical creature: a half-dragon with draconic abilities shunned by society. It gives my heroine depth and adds conflict, intrigue, and creative depth.

A fictional world is only limited by the author’s imagination. Each new story is a dive into untold depths. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading and writing fiction so much.

What are your preferred fantasy tropes? What are your thoughts on elves, dragons, and magic? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

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Describing Sounds in Writing

brown and black gramophone

When we think of the word sound, the last thing we may associate it with are words and phrases. However, sound and writing go hand-in-hand. Recently, I learned from a writing class how important sounds can be for strengthening prose—what a shocker!

In this article, I’ll discuss the various definitions and techniques that are often used. Many thanks to Mark Nichol for the awesome advice!

1. Alliteration

Alliteration is the pattern of multiple words in the same phrase with the same consonant sound. Here’s an example:

“Squaring our performances with our promises, we will proceed to the fulfillment of the party’s mission.”

Notice how performances and promises ring together? It provokes the reader subconsciously, so to associate those two concepts together and highlighting a theme of success. Process and party could also be associated.

“They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places.”

In this passage, distant, different, and difficult highlights the arduous adventure being described.

2. Assonance

Similar to alliteration, assonance involves the repetition of certain vowels, especially in stressed syllables, but with different consonant sounds.

 “Men sell the wedding bells.”
Go and mow the lawn.”

In the above examples, sell and bells followed by go and mow are what highlight the assonance.

3. Consonance

Can you guess what this term implies? That’s right, the repetition of consonants, particularly at the end of a word.

“Their maid has spread the word of their deed.”
Cheer and beer go with sorrow and tomorrow.”

Here, you have maid, spread, word, and deed. Cheer and beer with sorrow and tomorrow make another pair. The word pairs doesn’t have to rhyme, only share the final sound—rhyming comes later. 🙂

4. Onomatopoeia

When you have words that translate as sound effects, this is onomatopoeia.

“A splash disturbed the hush of the droning afternoon.”
“Her heels clacked on the hardwood floor.”

5. Repetition

Repetition is, well, repeating a word or phrase to emphasize the message of a passage.

“When we arrive at the store, we will buy something. When we buy something, we will pay for it. When we pay for it, we will take it home.”
“When I find you, I will catch you. When I catch you, I will cook you. When I cook you, I will eat you.”

These examples creates a percussive effect on the reader’s mind to push the meaning of the passage.

6. Rhyme

This one should be a given, or else the writer may be forgiven (hahaha ehem…). Poetry often makes use of rhymes, but normal prose can too!  In fact, here’s a nifty tool I discovered that helps with rhyme words. Enjoy.

7. Rhythm

With rhythm, the prose is altered to create tempo.

“The eager coursing of the strident hounds
And the sudden pursuit of the mounted men
Drove the bounding prey ever on.”

Here’s an example taken from Dr. Seuss:

“I’m Yertle the Turtle!
Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler
of all that I see!”

Shorter tempo creates a faster rhythm, and vice versa. With the proper rhythm, sentence length, and prose structure, a writer can add depth and even emotion to prose.

When we describe sounds, we lean on the other four senses (touch, taste, smell, and sight) to paint a picture. Here’s a list of ways to describe sound in writing. Credit goes to Amanda Patterson.

Words Describing General Sounds

  1. audible – a sound that is loud enough to hear
  2. broken – a sound that has spaces in it
  3. emit – to make a sound
  4. grinding – a sound of one hard thing moving against another
  5. hushed – a sound that is quiet
  6. inaudible – a sound that is difficult to hear
  7. monotonous – a sound that is always the same and never gets louder or quieter, or higher or lower
  8. muffled – a sound that is not easy to hear because it is blocked by something
  9. plaintive – a sound that has a sad quality
  10. rhythmic – a sound that has a clear, regular pattern
  11. staccato – a sound where each word or sound is clearly separate

Describing Pleasing Sounds

  1. dulcet – soft and pleasant
  2. lilting – a sound that has a rising and falling pattern
  3. listenable – easy to listen to
  4. mellow – a soft, smooth, pleasant sound
  5. melodic – beautiful sound
  6. musical – sounds like music
  7. pure – a clear, beautiful sound
  8. rich – a sound that is strong in a pleasant way
  9. soft – quiet and peaceful
  10. sonorous – a sound that is deep and strong in a pleasant way
  11. sweet – a pleasant sound

Describing Noisy Sounds

  1. at full blast – as loudly as possible
  2. almighty – used for emphasising how loud something is
  3. brassy – a sound that is loud and unpleasant
  4. deafening – a sound so loud you cannot hear anything else
  5. ear-splitting – extremely loud
  6. explosive – a sound that is loud and unexpected
  7. howling – a continuous, low, loud noise
  8. insistent – a continuous, loud, strong noise
  9. loud – a sound that is strong and very easy to hear
  10. noisy – a sound that is full of noise
  11. percussive – a sound that is short, like someone hitting a drum
  12. piercing – a sound that is very  loud, high, and unpleasant
  13. pulsating – strong, regular pattern
  14. raucous – rude, violent, noisy
  15. resounding – a sound that is loud and that continues for a while
  16. riotous – lively and noisy
  17. roaring – a deep, loud noise
  18. rowdy – noisy and causing trouble
  19. sharp – a sound that is sudden and loud
  20. shrill – a sound that is loud, high, and unpleasant
  21. thundering – extremely loud
  22. thunderous – loud
  23. tumultuous –  a sound that includes noise, excitement, activity, or violence
  24. uproarious – extremely noisy

Words That Help You Show And Not Tell

  1. babble – a gentle, pleasant sound of water as it moves along in a river
  2. bang – to move, making loud noises
  3. beep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
  4. blare – to make a loud and unpleasant noise
  5. blast – to make a loud sound with a car horn
  6. bleep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
  7. boom – to make a deep loud sound that continues for some time
  8. caterwaul – an unpleasant loud high noise
  9. chime – a high ringing sound like a bell or set of bells
  10. chink – a high ringing sound when knocked together, or to make something do this
  11. clack -to make a short loud sound like one hard object hitting against another
  12. clang – a loud, metallic sound
  13. clank – a short, loud sound
  14. clash – a loud, metallic sound
  15. clatter – a series of short, sharp noises
  16. click – a short sound like the sound when you press a switch
  17. clink – to make the short high sound of glass or metal objects hitting each other, or to cause objects to make this sound
  18. cluck – to make a short, low sound with your tongue
  19. crash – a sudden loud noise, as if something is being hit
  20. creak – if something creaks, especially something wooden, it makes a high noise when it moves or when you put weight on it
  21. drone – to make a low continuous noise
  22. fizz – a soft sound that small gas bubbles make when they burst
  23. groan – a long, low, sound
  24. growl – a low, unpleasant noise
  25. grunt – to make a short low sound in your throat and nose at the same time
  26. gurgle – the low sound water makes when it is poured quickly from a bottle
  27. honk – to make a loud noise using a horn, especially the horn of a car
  28. hoot – to make a short loud sound as a warning
  29. mewl – crying with a soft, high sound
  30. moan – a long, low sound
  31. neigh – to make a high loud sound like a horse’s neigh
  32. peal – if a bell peals, or if someone peals it, it makes a loud sound
  33. peep – if a car’s horn peeps, it makes a sound
  34. ping – to make a short high sound like the sound of a small bell
  35. pipe – to make a very high sound, or to speak in a very high voice
  36. pop – a sudden noise like a small explosion
  37. putter – a short, quiet, low sound at a slow speed
  38. ring – to make a bell produce a sound
  39. roar – to make a continuous, very loud noise
  40. rumble – a continuous deep sound
  41. scream – to make a very loud high noise
  42. scream – to make a very loud high noise
  43. screech – to make a loud, high, and unpleasant noise
  44. scrunch – to make a loud noise like something being crushed
  45. sigh – a long, soft, low sound
  46. squeak – to make a short, high noise
  47. squeal – to make a long high sound
  48. squee – to make a loud high noise because you are excited or happy
  49. thrum- to make a low regular noise like one object gently hitting another many times
  50. thud – a dull sound when falling or hitting something
  51. thump – to hit against something with a low loud sound
  52. tinkle – to make a high, ringing sound
  53. wail – to make a long, high sound
  54. wheeze – a high sound, as though a lot of air is being pushed through it
  55. whine – a high, loud sound
  56. whirr – a fast, repeated, quiet sound
  57. whisper – to make a quiet, gentle sound
  58. whistle – to make a high sound by forcing air through your mouth in order to get someone’s attention
  59. yelp – a short, loud, high sound, usually caused by excitement, anger, or pain
  60. yowl – a long, loud, unhappy sound or complaint

Writing sound is a fun process that adds depth and life to prose. Becareful not to overdo it, though. We should make sure sounds make sense, have a purpose, and relate to our writing. In more serious genres, less is better. Poetry and inane novels (like Dr. Seuss) can get away with it more.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Years!


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The Blank Page and Writers’ Block

white book page on yellow surface

Hello, my readers. How are you doing during the lockdown? Okay, I hope?Today, I’ll discuss the dreaded Blank Page that haunts every writer at one point in his or her career. I’ll also mention the tricks and tips I’ve used in overcoming writer’s block.

A new story always begins with a blank page or screen. This is the beginning of the writing process and it can seem daunting to any writer. What do we do? What do we write? Failure to move forward is often called the Writers’ Block.

Writers’ Block: The Daunting Prospect of Beginning

“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” —Picasso

Just like with a blank canvas, a white page can be overwhelming. It’s a door into infinity, where God gives us the keys and allows us to create our own universe. Yet we hesitate out of doubt and uncertainty. Why is this?

The Social Facet of Writing

To quote another writer:

“You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.” —Jennifer Egan

As humans, we are social creatures. Any creative works we share with our family and peers. We hope for the approval and validation of what we are, our talents, and our direction in life. Rejection is like a knife to the gut and we become a failure—or so our ego wants us to believe.

Questions and Self-reflection

Because of these social mechanisms that wire the brain, we may hesitate in front of a blank page. Emotions of confusion, wonderment, procrastination, or anxiety also arise.

  • What will I write? I can’t think of anything.
  • Will the final product be good enough?
  • Am I wasting my time doing this?
  • How do I start this blasted process?

These are some questions we, as writers and artists, may ask.  Five minutes pass, and then an hour. The page is still blank and the creative process is stuck at a deadlock.

aerial photo of vehicles in the city

Anyone can break through this block, and I’ll provide the tools to do it. When a writer enters a realm without blockage, the clouds clear and the creative subconscious regenerates.

Here are some techniques I use when dealing with writers’ block.

1. Time and Space

Establishing a quiet area where I won’t be disturbed for writing is crucial. I make sure it’s comfortable and quiet. I ask my living mates not to enter for a designated interval. This is my time to center—and I consider it a part of the writing routine.

2. Relax

Before I tackle a blank page, I learn to relax and let go. I fight against the urge to think about anything, even my story. It can be difficult sometimes, but regulating my breathing using a technique called pranayama certainly helps.

Dedicate a part of your day to meditate or even stretch your body, even if it’s only 5 minutes. Some people do better at night, other people in the morning. Meditating or stretching before you begin writing may be ideal. Find a time that works best for you.

3. Creative Tools

I’ve used things like music, essential oil fragrance, and colors to enhance my creative focus. Some authors produce amazing work listening to music—others with no sound at all. Everyone is different; experiment, and find what works for you. It certainly took me a while to develop my creative toolkit. Don’t rush it—remember to relax.

4. Have Fun—Stay Positive

Any sense of competition or raging ambition within my mind creates anxiety. There is an urge in my ego to write perfectly and I compare myself to professionals. Believe me, it can get discouraging.

When I look at writing from a positive perspective, things get easier. I now write because it’s fun and I want to share my stories, no matter how good or bad they are.

5. Creative Exercises

Sometimes I try a short exercise to get my creative juices flowing. A small poem or haiku, as I mentioned in my previous article, has worked wonders for me. Here are some additional ideas from Vicky Fraser.

6. Simplify

A messy workplace or disorganized writing portfolio is the worst. I keep all my writing projects organized in a portfolio for routine review. This shows me how far I’ve come and encourages me to keep writing.

Having an organized portfolio also gives ideas from previous projects to use in newer ones. Simon Lund mentions some similar methods Hemingway used for his writing projects.

7. Acceptance

Improvement comes naturally with time and I accept that I will never be the best or the worst. When I surrender to this idea, my creative juices run wild.

Acceptance and surrender don’t mean that I make myself a doormat for life, nor should I lack healthy ambition. I accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to create the things I can, and develop the wisdom to distinguish the two.

Once I realized this, I started happening to life, rather than life happening to me. I need to remind myself of it, of course. For more information on centering yourself, see my article on the Creative Intelligence inside all of us.

The solutions for writers’ block and the Blank Page are numerous, and I encourage you to seek out your own methods. I hope this article has given you some good ideas to start with. Thank you very much for reading and I’ll leave you with this quote:

“He doth entreat your grace, my noble lord,
To visit him to-morrow or next day:
He is within, with two right reverend fathers,
Divinely bent to
meditation,
And in no worldly suits would he be moved
To draw him from his holy exercise.”

William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third

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Writing a Good Query Letter

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Hello and greetings! With the month of November, us writers are quite busy with NaNo. In the meanwhile, I’d like to discuss the querying process for writers.

When it comes to querying, some writers dread the process. Unlike a manuscript, query letters are business. Similar to writing a cover letter for a job interview, this is your first impression to an agent or editor, so you need to make it count.

Contact Information

Include any contact information before your first paragraph near the top of the page, right justified. This helps the recipient contact you if they need further information. It also breaks the ice—so to speak—and shows that you offer a professional medium of trust.

Personal websites are a big plus; these give the recipient an idea of what you’re capable of. Below your personal info include the agent’s information, left justified.

Salutations

Give a proper business greeting to the recipient. Use his or her last name with the suffix Mr. or Ms. respectively.  If you don’t know the name, use sir or madam instead—not recommended as it creates a less formal feel.

First Paragraph

Your beginning, like any book, should catch the reader’s interest. Show the recipient why they should continue reading when they have a hundred others letters to peruse. Use a hook to grab their attention. Stand out from the crowd. Mention the recipient’s credentials, information posted on their websites, or anything that shows you’ve done your homework and are serious about working with them.

Use your first paragraph creatively. Begin with some background that connects yourself to the agent. Illustrate your talents, achievements, and ordeals. Even flaws or setbacks can be spun positively. Usually, the first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the query letter. This can make or break your letter’s review.

If you don’t have a tangible connection to the recipient, skip into the action of your book.

Second Paragraph

Early on should be a brief summary of your book. Say a few things that help it stand out from ‘oh another fantasy fiction with swords, elves, and horses.’ Explain general plot ideas and the main characters, their conflicts, and so forth. Mention the premise, genre, audience, and word count.

“The main objective of a query is simple: Make the agent care enough about your protagonist and your plot that she wants to read more.” —source

Third Paragraph

Include any bio or additional credentials that help argue your cause. Keep it short and detailed.

Here’s an earlier article I wrote on novel length to help.

Final Paragraph

Conclude the letter by thanking the recipient for their time. Describe a few more positive features about your book to wrap up. Mention that you can send the first chapter if they’re interested. Sign off short and sweet.

A Good Fit

Before you query, make sure the recipient is appropriate for your querying needs. Explain why you are querying an agent, what makes you and the agent a good fit.

Readability

Use short sentences and paragraphs if able. This helps with readability, allowing the recipient a quick look at what you have to offer out of the hundreds of other query letters. Use simple vocabulary, don’t try to be impressive with complicated wording.

Submission Guidelines

Follow whatever requirements or recommendations the agent has on their webpage. Every agent prefers different criteria for submission.

Length

Some writers can fit everything in three paragraphs, but it’s not recommended to do it in less than three. The bulk of the letter should be about your story. Anything more than a page may be daunting to a recipient. Aim for three to five paragraphs.

Font

This is debatable. I use a standard 12 pt. New Roman. Some recipients may prefer New Courier or some other font. If you can’t find the recipient’s preference online, go with a font that is readable and distinct. Don’t use any color text. Keep it simple.

Grammar

This goes without saying if you’re a writer. However, I’ve seen many writers flub the rules when it comes to a query letter.

Look for mistakes like dangling participles or run on sentences. Even a small typo can turn an agent away. I use Word and Grammarly to double check my work. A proofreader wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Tone

A query letter is a business letter. Don’t get carried away with your personal background or your story’s description. Keep the formality. Avoid contractions for a more formal feel.

Credentials

Mention anything you have published, any degrees or significant achievements. Avoid details that fluff you up or make you seem unrealistic. Compare your story to another more notable example if it will help.

Writing a query letter can be daunting. While there is no set formula for a query letter, the guidelines above should aid in the process. Here’s a brief overview for those who want a synopsis.

Overview

  • Include contact information and the recipient’s info
  • Keep it formal with Mr. or Ms. and avoid contractions
  • Use a hook in the beginning
  • Describe why your story matters and offer to send in the first chapter
  • Keep the length to one page, 12 font is ideal
  • Check grammar and tone suited for business letters
  • Adhere to submission guidelines
  • Connect with the recipient

Perseverance

There’s a good chance the recipient will reject or even fail to reply to your submission. Don’t lose heart! Remember that tens of thousands of others are in the same situation.

Self-publishing

Even if you never query an agent or publisher, understanding the business process is helpful. You may be called to do a contract or business deal in the future as an epublisher. If you do, remember formality and clarity are king. Thanks for reading and stay safe!


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NaNoWriMo 2020: Tips and Preparation

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It’s that time again Today’s topic is—you guessed it—NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, a yearly event celebrated by writers the world over since 1999.

From November 1st to the end of the month, each writer must produce a 50,000-word novella—first draft version of course. Nobody expects a masterpiece as this is more of a rush-rush creative exercise.

What writers decide to do with the novella after NaNoWriMo is up to them. I’ve heard of some amazing stories emerging from the ritual. I might attempt it myself this year, if time and energy allow. The seasons are a busy interval for most people, and scheduling NaNoWriMo time is crucial. I may just use it to polish up Blade of Dragons.

If you’re brave enough to undertake this challenge, then there’s some important steps you should take days before November arrives.

remington standard typewriter in greyscale photography

1. Determine Your Writing Medium

Do you plan to write on a desktop computer? What about a laptop? Maybe pencil, pen, or even a typewriter? Figure out your medium for creative writing beforehand so you can set up your workplace appropriately.

Stock up on fresh pencils, printing paper, coffee, food, or whatever you might need.

2. Plan and Outline Your Story

Days before, begin thinking about what genre you want to write. Will it be a romance novella or maybe fantasy-adventure? Consider the protagonist and antagonist—the actors that drive the story forward. Your story doesn’t have to be perfect for NaNoWriMo. It doesn’t even have to be good as a first draft, but it should be coherent and have potential.

3. Have a Plan

Create a diary or calendar, something that can set milestones, deadlines, and objectives. Remember, you need to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s around 1,700 words a day. Scheduling your progress will improve your organization and help you stay on track.

4. Write, Don’t Edit

For those seeking 1,500+ words a day, you won’t have time to edit or revise. Focus on the writing process only and don’t backtrack, otherwise you may ruin your momentum.

5. Get Excited and Motivated

Nothing kills a project faster than boredom. Be thrilled about your project, just like a sky diver about to plunge from a plane. Remind yourself the reason you’re writing. Is it to improve your writing ability? Maybe you’re finally finishing that forgotten story. Use that focus to propel your efforts and stay on top of your game.

6. NaNoWriMo Is What You Make of It

Ultimately, this event is determined by your goals and objectives. Some participates use it as a means to get motivated and don’t care about reaching 50,000 words. Others see it as a challenge that must be completed, up until the final letter.

Set goals within your means and remember to enjoy the process. If it becomes too hectic or stressful, that will hinder the creative process. Turn it down a notch, or meditate for a while.

NaNoWriMo is a time to get motivated and to explore one’s creative potential, in whatever way chosen. Some writers use it as an excuse to work on belated manuscripts, others on poetry. Then there are those who take the hardcore challenge of developing a whole novella in a month.

Think about what you, as a writer, want out of NaNoWriMo. That goal will be what shapes your experience and what you get out of it. Thanks for reading and good luck. 🙂


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Disease in Fiction

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Hello, my readers. Today let’s discuss something that’s been on all our minds recently. Yup, that’s right—diseases in fiction. Right now, the world is in flux over the Coronavirus. It has created a bizarre, paranormal society where we’re all confined to our homes, some of us without jobs. The Coronavirus is like this invisible antagonist, challenging all of us right now.

“Plagues are like imponderable dangers that surprise people…” —Gabriel García Márquez

This makes one think: how would such events play into fictional stories? What examples do we see in published works for diseases in fiction?

Below is a list of diseases in fiction. These should give you ideas of how authors design them, both in fantasy and science fiction.

Jorah-Stormbrn

1. Greyscale

If you’ve read Game of Thrones, you’ve run into this ailment. It’s a horrible disease that cause a person’s flesh—and later internal organs—to harden and die. Necrotic flesh coats the victim’s body, offering the appearance of cracked stone.

2. White Blindness

In the book, Blindness, by Jose Saramago, the disease robs its victims of eyesight. The protagonist is a woman who is immune to the ailment. Able to witness the world around her, the heroine must guide her comrades to safety.

3. Inferno

Created by Dan Brown, the Inferno virus renders people infertile. Used by the antagonists as a waterborne agent—and later an airborne one—this disease serves as a potent vector for conflict.

4. Nanoprobe Virus

No so much a biological virus as a form of nanotechnology, the Nanoprobe Virus is used by the Borg in Star Trek to gradually assimilate organic life forms. Victims become drones for the Borg Collective as nanotechnology slowly takes over their bodies.

5. Tyrant Virus

Also known as the “t-virus”, this disease defines the Resident Evil series. Developed by the Umbrella Corporation, the virus was designed as a eugenics project to cull world population and build an army of bioweapons—namely zombies. Umbrella eventually designed variants of the t-virus that affect victims in different ways.

6. Flare Virus

Found in the Maze Runner movies, the Flare Virus eats away at a person’s brain until they become mindless zombies. Like the Tyrant Virus in Resident Evil, the Flare Virus was designed by scientists to reduce world population.

Diseases are—surprisingly—versatile and useful in fictional worlds. An author, if clever, can use this disease as a plot device to strengthen characters and move the story forward. Disease can also be used to create conflict and established a degree of worldbuilding.

1. An Invisible Antagonist

Heroes can defeat a villain they can see and touch—but what about an antagonist that is invisible? Nothing evokes fear in a character like impotence. Finding a cure, or elixir, may be the only hope in defeating this intangible opponent.

2. Atypical Conflict

Diseases in fiction offer an unusual form of conflict—even better if the disease afflicts characters that the hero cares about. Mental illnesses can add further depth to the conflict, as the victim may experience situations that alter memory or cognition—even turning them into an aggressive mutant or monster. Now the hero may have to fight a loved one, offering moral conflict in the protagonist’s conscious.

3. Worldbuilding

A pandemic forces a society to explore its resources, introducing the reader to what’s in the fictional world. An economic slowdown—like we see in the real world—causes shortages of goods and services, forces people into a different state of mind, and encourages innovation in characters.

In short, a virus exposes the innards of a fictional world and allows a reader to become intimate with it.

Diseases in fiction—whether biological, artificial, or magical—drives plot and character progression in a fictional world. It creates atypical conflict that exposes the underbelly of a society—not just in the protagonist—and allows the reader to dissect the morals, financial resources, and technology of an afflicted civilization.


Thank you reading, as always! During these troubling times, perhaps we can derive some meaning from the Coronavirus and how it is exposing our society. Like the heroes of old, we too can defeat this invisible foe and establish a stronger, more orderly world if by learning from our own mistakes and what habits we have buried throughout the years. That said, maybe this virus can be seen as a good thing—a source of inspiration and growth for the human spirit.

Stay safe and healthy out there. And remember, we’re all in this together. 🙂

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The Hero’s Journey in Fiction

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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 spiritual seeker should understand. It illustrates a protagonist’s adventures, from a safe haven to the darkest dungeon—be they literal or figurative.

The Hero’s Journey is a story mechanic of the protagonist’s journey through the various acts of the story. Typically, there are four acts for each journey.

The first act of the Hero’s Journey introduces the hero. 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. Some are necessary to flesh out the story.

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, flaws, 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 incident 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.

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 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.

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.

Supreme Ordeal

The protagonist faces a dangerous challenge, often against the antagonist. 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. The hero must draw upon all the experience from the journey to survive.

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, elixir, or artifact, signifying the change in the hero’s life. The hero now prepares for the last part of the quest.

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. This ultimate tribulation challenges the hero, 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. Now cleansed of past flaws, the hero is 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. A new era of peace and reflection results. The prize may be 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, but things will never be as they once were.

Others Variables in the Hero’s Journey

There are extra elements in the Hero’s Journey, such as sub-journeys that stretch throughout a trilogy. Sometimes, the hero cannot return to society as they are, instead choosing exile.

How The Hero’s Journey Relates to Readers

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

Thanks for reading!


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Antagonists and Villains in Fiction

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Hello, my readers, to another installation about fictional worlds! It’s been a stressful time for all of us, so I wanted to entertain you with another post of mine: Villains in Fiction!

Last time, I discussed the purpose of disease in fiction. In many ways, disease is like an invisible antagonist that cannot be seen—but what about the villains that can be seen? What are they all about? What different types of villains in fiction are there? Let’s dig into it!

“Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph.” — Roger Ebert

Throughout human history, each movie, each story tale, has a villain. Some love them, others hate them, or even love to hate these nifty characters. They are the individuals who forge dynamic prose and brilliant screenplay—epic scenes and heart wrenching moments.

Antagonists

While a villain is selfish, naughty, or seeks to harm people, an antagonist—strictly speaking—is the opposing force of the protagonist, the lead of the plot with sympathic values towards the audience. Quite often, villains are the antagonist. However, you can have a villain as the protagonist—or even a hero as the antagonist!

Antagonistic Perspectives

An antagonist can help drive the narrative forward, develop the protagonist, and add color to worldbuilding. A villain is seen as “evil” to the eyes of the hero, but this is subjective. You could, for example, have a character appear as a villain from the viewpoint of most of the characters, but to others the villain seems neutral or even righteous.

Here are some types of villains I’ve chosen to examine. This list is by no means exhaustive.

I. The Anti-hero

In the case where the villain is the protagonist, you get an Anti-hero. Although evil, the Anti-hero believes in doing what he or she thinks is right. The Anti-hero establishes sympathetic relations with the audience and drives the plot forward through heinous acts. An Anti-hero usually has three important traits, which you can read more about here.

2. The Anti-villain

Conversely, an Anti-villain is a character with strong morals, yet accomplishes evil in the long-run. Perhaps an Anti-villain is a priest, wishing to purge “evil”, but he or she commits heinous acts to achieve this. Once again, “evil” is subjective to readers and other characters.

3. The Visionary

The Visionary sees the world in a demented state and wishes to fix it. These types of villains believe they are doing good—despite the fact they may be collapsing economies and killing millions, and they see the hero as an “evil” interloper.

4. The Madman

These types of villains are psychopathic and enjoy being evil, causing mischief, or hurting others for the fun of it. The Madman may have a sense of humor, in the case of the Joker, or even a ruthless, calculating demeanor like Lex Luthor. They will throw whatever resources they have at the hero, even if it costs them their life.

5. Femme Fatale

Seductress, siren, temptress—the Femme Fatale is a female character with malicious intent. Often she seduces the hero in clever ways, provoking him/her towards actions of moral ambiguity. The Femme Fatale may promise the hero power, clout, wealth, or even sex for surrendering to her.

6. The Beast

The Beast is a feral animal or a monster, with a desire to feed, gain territory, rampage, and reproduce. It has a primitive mind and cannot be reasoned with. Some beasts may appear justified for their rampage, like in the case of Godzilla. Others are confused and lost in modern society as with King Kong.

7. The Machine

Similar to the Beast, the Machine has one motive: disrupting the hero’s plans. The Machine is pure logic and can be even more dangerous with its lack of morals and emotions. See the Terminator series as an example.

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8. Evil Incarnate

Some villains are pure evil by nature. Dark gods or devil embodiments do heinous acts because it’s what they do. Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is innately evil, and opposes Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring. Sometimes these types of villains have certain morals they follow, a code that guides them to destroy.

9. The Outsider

The Outsider is an outcast or disliked minority, detached from the world. Though intelligent and experienced, the Outsider is bitter towards society and holds a degree of vengeance. Outsiders may also have a cult following who champion their cause. Motivated by this revenge, the Outsider is led to commit vile acts, often opposing the society-accepted-protagonist—whom the Outsider also despises.

10. Nature

Nothing can oppose the will of Mother Nature, and unlike other villains, this variant can seldom can stopped. The hero must discover how to mitigate the damage, whether from a storm, a virus, or violent earth changes. Fortunately, conflicts caused by Mother Nature typically resolve on their own once balance is restored.

11. The Authority Figure

The Authority Figure is in charge of a lawful system, and he or she seeks to maintain said system through rules. This villain symbolizes restriction and control, whereas the hero may want freedom. Authority Figures are seen in a wide variety of genres—and they can be anything from a school principal, a police chief, or an emperor. While not wholly evil, Authority Figures only wish to maintain the status quo and do their jobs.

Other Villains in Fiction

There are numerous categories of villains in fiction, such as the Mastermind, a criminal overlord; the Henchman, who follows the Mastermind—and others. Some villains fall in multiple categories—they are a difficult breed to classify, and considerably more interesting than the cliché heroes that are often repeated. I encourage you to check these two articles out for more information.

An original hero will often break away from traditional stereotypes and establish his or her own set of moral values, not necessarily agreeing with society. Perhaps this is why an audience finds Anti-heroes more engaging and reflective of human nature. Anti-heroes also struggle more internally and this plays better with the audience.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for more content during this Quarantine with yours truly—and stay safe. 🙂

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Reflections on Pepper Slyhart, my OC

Hello, my readers, to another installation, this one about my main character, Pepper Slyhart. My post will break down Pepper’s character, her progression over the years, and what made her into what she is today.

Pepper is the main protagonist of my upcoming fantasy series, Ethereal Seals. She’s a hotheaded young lady with a sword, which instructs her on her journey. As a half-dragon hybrid, society shuns Pepper for her half-breed blood. She must conquer her own fears and insecurities to save Atlas.

What Are Her Flaws?

Pepper is prone to anger, and emotions often sway her judgment. She sometimes acts before she thinks, leading to dire, or even hilarious, situations in the story. Because she compares herself to her hero father, Pepper has self-esteem issues.

Due to a childhood accident, Pepper has difficulties flying through the air, while other characters take it for granted. Her ability with magic is subpar, considered novice-level.

What Are Her Strengths?

Taught by her war hero father, Pepper is familiar with swordplay and crystalsmithing. She is resilient against hardship and has excellent problem-solving skills. With her athletic physique, Pepper is agile, able to dart around as a blur.

Unfortunately, her perseverance can also be a double-edged sword, as she may push herself too hard or demand too much of herself. With her half-dragon nature, Pepper can regenerate from cuts and bruises. Upon command, fire and ice can shoot from her lips, decimating foes.

The Early Days

My very first sketch of Pepper circa high school

In high school, I had this idea for a hotheaded, weapon-swinging heroine. Back then, Pepper was called Amelia, named off a childhood character. I took her on various adventures on roleplaying forums, where I met some lifelong friends. At the time, my series was called Ethereal Sages, and to be blunt, it was a horrid mess of adolescent passions. For more info on my writing journey, check out my article here.

Anyway, it wasn’t until grad school that I decided to refine my series into something more professional. Enter Pepper Slyhart.

The Writing Begins

As I started with Ethereal Series, Pepper was a very underdeveloped character. She was a whiny brat without much sympathy for others besides her best friend, Tarie Beyworth. Her story arc was simplistic and lacked the finer points of any good story.

Years later, Pepper now had a love interest (subplot), she had a magical affliction (another subplot), and her spirit had entwined with the planet as a whole.

Overall, it was the conflict, the various problems and flaws she had, which made Pepper interesting. No longer a whiny brat, her character developed new depth, a more human and relatable character.

At the time, I had also picked sketching back up, some of it digital, to flesh out Pepper’s concepts.

Tweaking and Polishing

It has been an experience, watching Pepper grow. I’ve never had children, but if I ever do, I’ll know what it feels like. Pepper continues to level up by the month as I receive more beta feedback, and the process is ever so satisfying.

I can’t help but feel parental pride in my heart, if that’s what it is, as I’ve helped grow this character. Pepper is like a daughter to me. I’ve been with her through all the pain, pleasure, and confusion she’s experienced. She’s become a huge part of my life, years I will never regret.

Although I have multiple books planned for Ethereal Seals, followed by additional arcs, her universe will eventually be put to rest. It will be a sad moment in my life, but one I will also look back fondly upon.

I thank the Creator for gifting me this creative ability, to construct and refine fantastic characters like Pepper Slyhart. Not everyone will like her, but I’m confident she will have a dedicated fanbase one day. Thanks again for reading!


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My Favorite Music While Writing

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Music has a powerful influence on the human brain, particularly with creativity. The mileage varies from person to person, as some prefer silence—which is its own type of music. I’ve found that my creative process increases when I play certain tunes. In this post, I’ll share with you some of the genres and bands that I listen to.

I listen to different types of music depending on my mood, activity, and environment. In this way, I view my playlists as a toolbox, allowing me to select particular tools to help me with an activity. That said, sometimes I deviate, but the list below gives a general idea of what I prefer and why.

1. Epic Music

Who doesn’t like epic or opera music? These tunes encourage excitement, creativity, and wonder in my brain. When I’m writing a jaw-dropping scene or a tense battle, this music is ideal. I like the bands: Two Steps from Hell, Audiomachine, and Ivan Torrent.

2. Chill Lounge

This is a slower, melodic music that allows me to space out and relax. When I’m talking with friends, co-writers, blogging, or writing a soothing scene, chill lounge is my first choice. Bands I like here are: Jjos, Alexander King, and Electro Pump.

3. Smooth Jazz

Smooth jazz speaks for itself. Like chill lounge, this genre helps me unwind, but without losing too much concentration in my writing. I view it as the middle way between epic and chill; it is also great for romance scenes between characters. I don’t have a particular band that I listen to with this genre—all smooth jazz is good!

4. Lofi

A genre of music that I discovered recently, lofi has happy tunes with a steady beat. I find this music to be best for travel or adventure scenes without a lot of action. Some lofi is very beautiful and helps me when I’m in a creativity jam. I find myself listening to oriental lofi when I write Tempest of the Dragon for that East Asian feel. There’s also video game lofi that I enjoy. No particular bands here.

5. Classical

Classical is a nice way to unwind while, like smooth jazz, keeps a steady beat to maintain concentration during writing. Sometimes I alternate between smooth jazz and classical. I enjoy: Chopin, Mozart, Vivaldi, and many more.

6. Anime/J-pop

This is cartoony, upbeat music that is perfect when writing comic scenes between characters or working on Tempest of the Dragon. Some of these tunes can also be similar to epic music. Favorites are: Kogarashi, Senso, Sakuzyo, and Konbanwa.

7. Progressive House

Progressive house is a melodic, curious genre (somewhat like trance in my opinion) that “raises my spirits to new heights” and gives me energy. I find this genre to be good when I need to brainstorm or work for very, very long periods of time. It’s basically audio coffee—if that makes sense. I like: Shingo Nakamura, Epicuros, and Gregory Esayan.

8. Chiptune

Remember that music you heard when playing Mega Man, Zelda, or Mario as a kid on your NES? That’s chiptune! This genre had been forgotten for years since its introduction in the 80s and 90s, but now it’s making a comeback. Chiptune has a comic flair like J-pop, but with a swift beat. It’s a good music for fast-moving, action or battle scenes. My favorites are: Tombofry, Rolemusic, and Sasakure.UK.

9. Psybient

Psybient is an…acquired taste. It has a deep, alien feel that works for bizarre or mysterious scenes. The music may leave you wondering about yourself, your characters, and where they are all going. My top choices are: SiebZehn, E-Mantra, and Johnny Blue.

10. Dark/Deep Tribal

I listen to this genre if I need to write a shocking, or dark atmosphere to encourage visceral emotion in the reader. Most deep tribal also have a steady drum beat, likened to the heart, and are mysterious like psybient—or even pseudo-erotic for intense romance scenes. Some artists I’ve listened to are: DJ WOPE, Moshic, and Mundeep.

Yes, I listen to a lot of music. Each genre holds a unique function to me, as I connect with the tunes on an intimate, and almost spiritual level. The music alone can transport me to another reality, engrossing my mind in its creative juices. I love music, as much as I enjoy writing.

What types of music do you listen to? I’d love to hear in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

person using microphone

 


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