Maps in Fantasy Fiction: Tips and Tricks

Crafting a map for a 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, when done correctly, a map benefits 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.

Setting Up

You can use whatever media you want to design your map. I use a free program called GIMP. Set your image borders appropriately, and use a DPI of 300×300, in case you ever print out the map. Search under advanced settings for this feature.

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.

AtlasMapTutorial2

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. Color coding. This step can be done in several ways, but in my example, I use pure color to indicate trees and mountains.

AtlasMapTutorial3

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. 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.

AtlasMapTutorial4

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.

AtlasMapTutorial5

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.

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. You can make one yourself, or download a free-stock photo.

AtlasMapTutorial6

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 good.

AtlasMapTutorial7

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.

Also consider using New Times Roman, or Courier. You want text that is easy to read, not necessarily fancy ones like I tried above.

Try adding in a background behind certain captions to improve readability. Don’t make it too sharp, just enough to accentuate the caption’s letters. Notice the difference below:

Layer 8: Border Details

Try adding in some special effects to your borders. This will help your map stand out! Maybe mist or fading out of the ocean. I went with scroll parchment.

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. Clouds with shadows are nice too. Go wild! Remember, this is your map and fictional world.

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 a few of them. Remember, there are thousands of ways to design a map, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I hope this article has helped get you started with the map making process. Cheers. 🙂


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Book Review: Stalking the Wild Asparagus—and Herbology in Ethereal Seals

A week ago I finished a nonfiction book on foraging. It was a very enjoyable read, as it played into one of my biggest hobbies. It also had me thinking about the herbology in my fantasy novel, Blade of Dragons. I’ll provide a rundown of Stalking the Wild Asparagus, then tie in concepts to my own world building.

Premise

The book is organized like a reference manual. Each chapter describes a specific herb or plant, the lore behind it, how to harvest and process it, and so on. There were several foods, like cattails, which I never realized could be ground for flour.

The author also takes time to describe personal stories associated with each herb and how he went about acquiring it. I found it entertaining and educational.

Prose

The chapters are fairly short and straightforward. The author does a good job conveying information, but some of the terms are outdated. The book was published sixty years ago, so it’s not too surprising. A new reader might get initially confused at this.

Information

As mentioned above, there are useful bits of information in the book. Each chapter has its own lesson: “do’s” and “don’t’s” when handling wild plants. It still fascinates me that one can walk along a trail and gather a whole bag-full of edible greens and herbs.

The author covered everything from wild crab apples, to purslane, watercress, even fishing bluegill from local ponds. Free food, many of which are taken for granted.

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The Good

Stalking the Wild Asparagus is a handy field guide for foragers and the curious. Considering the times we are in, having access to one of these books may not be a bad idea.

The Bad

Some of the terms and methods explained in the book are outdated and may not apply to the modern reader.

The Ugly

The author is slightly condescending towards races of color and labels he gives. This may create uncomfortable moments for the reader.

Stalking the Wild Asparagus is an effective tool for foragers, preppers, and wild foodists. The outdated jargon aside, a reader will get a lot of use out of this book.

After finishing Stalking the Wild Asparagus, it had me thinking about my fantasy novel and the herbs that Atlas uses. Who says nonfiction can’t influence a creative writer? Exploring culinary and medicinal foods in one’s setting is a fun way to world build too!

Atlasian Herbs

  • Berryshroom: A sweet tasting fungus that enhances the immune system; it is a common side dish in Atläsian cuisine. Berryshroom is often found in dark places, like caverns and bogs.
  • Bitterwort: A vinegary herb used in many medicinal tinctures. When over boiled, it becomes hallucinogenic. Bitterwort is the staple for many medicines across Atlas, although it must be handled carefully with its caustic nature.
  • Frostleaf: A minty and soothing herb with a mildly sweet taste; it is often used for sweetening drinks. This herb grows in very cold regions and is a delightful sight for any adventurer braving the cold.
  • Grassfoot: An herb with a mildly sweet taste; used for garnishes and sweetening tinctures. Unlike its cousin, frostleaf, the grassfoot variety grows on lush meadows
  • Gospelberry: An herb with a potent and sweet aroma; it is unsuitable for eating, but excellent for perfumes. However, if overboiled, gospelberry can make a fine tea. Interestingly, gospelberry often grows near holy sights on Atlas. This earn the berry its name.
  • Ravenberry: A berry with a pungent and sour taste; when fermented, it turns sweet and sour, ideal for alcohol cocktails. Ravenberry’s black hue and indelible dye are its signature features.
  • Savormoss: An edible lichen prized for its nutrition and delicious, pungent flavor—if you can stand the sour aroma. Savormoss grows everywhere and its prized for its abundance.

Preparation in Ethereal Seals

I drew from alchemical methods in Earth’s history when devising herbal preparations. Many Atlasian herbalists use cooking or fermentation to process these herbs. Teas, tinctures, and broths are all common. Some herbs, like gospelberry and bitterwort, can take longer to process. Others, like savormoss, can be eaten raw.

That said, the above list of Atlasian herbs will likely expand into the second and third book. It has certainly added depth to the story, and it plays a little into the protagonist’s arc. I have books like Stalking the Wild Asparagus to thank for my inspiration.


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Life and Death in a Fantasy Universe

Within fiction, some characters don’t share the typical life spans that Earth humans experience. Unusual lifespans in fantasy and science fiction can influence culture and plot considerably.

We all enjoy our fantasy stories about long-lived elves, immortal dragons, or extraterrestrials who supercede death. When writing or reading about these characters, it can be hard to sympathize with them. We humans have lives of 80 to 120 years at best.

Learning to Humanize

It’s important to connect characters with readers. With fictional races, ensure the reader understands the lifespan beyond each creature. Ask if a particular lifespan serves a purpose. Are elves, as an example, long-lived because of certain worldbuilding elements in the story? What the pros and cons of living this long?

Use immortality or long lifespans to an advantage. If used to create tension, all the better. Maybe the protagonist will outlive all her friends. What emotions does that create? Is it fear, sorrow, or worry?

Cultural Impacts

If a race of elves outlives a race of humans, how might that change the way each society views each other? Are the cultural functions of elves slower, more ponderous? Are the humans ever envious, or perhaps angry at the elves? Are the elves are arrogant and see the humans as lower-beings. Michael J Sullivan’s book, Age of Myth, does an excellent job of this.

Politics

If elves are long-lived, how does that change childbearing laws, if there are any? Do they procreate often, or not very much? How is it impacting the government’s role in regulating the population? We can ask a million questions with these. Take time to explore each one and world build.

Religion

A society’s view on death can be a good way to world build and even build a cast of characters up. Weave spiritual principles into the life and death narrative. The more one examines each of these facets of a fictional race, the stronger the reader’s grasp on things.

Due to changes in the sun and gravity compared to Earth, the people of Atlas live 150 to 250 years on average. Full-blooded Dragonites may reach 1,000 years, whereas half-dragons are closer to 500 to 750 years.

Because of these variables, the characteristics of Atlasian society is different than here on Earth. Lives aren’t as short and years may pass quicker for an Atlasian than an Earth human.

Culture in Ethereal Seals

Atlasian culture is advanced, to the point of space travel. Technology allows anyone to summon food at will through crystal devices. Healing technologies and magic also exist, which can mitigate the risk of death.

Death is looked upon as a somewhat foreign phenomenon. Oftentimes death is the result of battle, rather than starvation or old age. When it does occur, it creates a visceral reaction in most Atlasians, who might not be accustomed to it, nor the violence associated.

There is more consideration towards major societal changes, and families don’t procreate as often. A family might have a child once every 30 to 70 years at most.

Atlasian Politics

With longer lifespans, Atlasian governments handle things slower than here on Earth. Youth is considered anyone from the ripe age of 18 until 50, whereas anyone over 100 is of middle-age. Most leaders are chosen based on seniority for this reason. An Atlasian who has lived 200 years is much more experienced than someone at 100.

The main ruling body on Atlas, the Dragonite Empire, is more conservative, with the average Dragonite living up to 1,000 years. Some Dragonite families may only have a few children throughout their whole life, others have none. Due to their high vitality, Dragonites may act arrogant towards other races, and see themselves as protectors of Atlas.

To a Dragonite, long lives invite loneliness, as friends of other races die long before they do. Death is seen more as a release from their duties in that lifetime. A reprieve. Dragonites have a higher appreciation for death, whereas other races fear it.

Atlasian Religion

Whether through fear or respect, all Atlasians see death as an inevitable process. When one dies, it is believed they ascend into the Celestial Heavens and become one with the divine Aspects. Those of a wicked nature may visit the Celestial Hells.

After an unknown period of time, the soul is then said to recycle itself, returning back to the mortal plane in a different form. Reincarnation. This comes at a price, as the soul forgets who it was, carrying over trauma and tendencies from previous births.

Burial

Burial is a sacred process, called a Deliverance, which calls for priests or priestesses to evoke the name of the Aspects. If a priest isn’t available, certain prayers and mantras can suffice. Bodies are buried within the ground of Atlas, called the Earthmother, a deified form of the planet.

Priests are sought by kings, army generals, and cutthroat mercenaries alike. Most believe that if a corpse isn’t given a proper Deliverance, the killers may experience horrible repercussions from the Aspects, for the soul will be unable to reincarnate.

What are your views on life and death in fiction? Do you have a story that explores these concepts? Leave your answer in the comments below. Thanks for reading!


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What is Joy? How do you Describe it in Fiction?

The other day we covered the emotion of fear in fiction, and how useful it can be in creating tension within a character. Today, we travel to the opposite side of the spectrum: joy.

Joy is a state of happiness or delight, often seen with positive emotional changes. We all have experienced joy at one point in our lives. This happiness can be a powerful tool in fiction as it heightens characters’ expressions, shows them at their best.

While it can be fun to break a character down into the depths of fear and despair, joy is refreshing and relaxing for the reader. There are characters with up-beat personalities, often used for comic relief or for balancing out the fear and gloom in a story.

How Do We Define Joy?

Quoting from Dictionary.com, joy is:

1. The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation: She felt the joy of seeing her son’s success.

2. A source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated:Her prose style is a pure joy.

Describing Joy in Fiction

Joy is harder to flesh out than fear in storytelling. Joy requires a deeper level of authenticity that connects to the reader. Writers should be wary of cliches or other mundane terms that weaken the expressions of joy.

Some Character Expressions of Joy

  • smiling, singing, or dancing
  • heart leaping
  • laughing, joking, or teasing,
  • vigorous, excited energy
  • high sociability
  • hugging, kissing
  • confidence, willingness, optimistism
  • restraining from certain quirks
  • daydreaming
  • giving or sharing
  • a clear, strong voice
  • a straight, but relax posture
  • higher than usual strength or endurance

The Dance of Joy and Fear

Remember, joy can’t create tension like fear can. Joy’s purpose is to command relief to the reader. Too much joy all the time, and the story feels dull. Too much fear, and the reader can quickly get exhausted. Instead, a balance of the two is ideal.

Going Deeper

We should ask ourselves how our characters feel when they are happy. What are their dreams? What are their fears that counterbalance that joy? We can put ourselves in the characters’ shoes and savor every ounce of emotion that compromises that joy.

It’s important to show and not tell the emotions, as showing draws the reader deeper into the character. There are exceptions when telling is preferred.

Joy, as wonderful as it sounds, is another device used in the cog of storytelling. It has specific purposes associated with it. Some of these are to:

  • Contrast with dark or hellish themes
  • Motivate a depressed character towards a goal
  • Worldbuild, based on a culture’s perspective of joy
  • Briefly break tension to give the reader a reprieve

Example 1: Lord of the Rings

Let’s examine the Shire: a merry place full of feasting, greenery, and food! It’s kin to a paradise and has—ahem—all the comforts of home. Now contrast that with the dark, hellish realm of Mordor. With Sauron’s evil encroaching upon Middle Earth, the Shire makes his realm look that much darker.

Example 2: Theft of Swords

Royce Melborn is a dark character, often depressed and aloof. His comrade, Hadrian Blackwater, is more optimistic and idealistic. This contrast is excellent and helps drive their character arcs forward. It also creates an entertaining exchange between the two.

Happiness, like fear, can be a potent tool in fiction. When used right. A careful balance of joy and tension creates an enjoyable play of emotions that will delight readers.

What are your thoughts on joy? How would you have it portrayed in stories? Are there any favorite books that illustrate this? We’d love to hear in the comments below. Thanks for reading!


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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. 🙂

#fiction #worldbuilding #writing #reading #literature #villainsinfiction

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Blade of Dragons Update: Blurbs, Taglines, Longlines, and more!

Hello, my readers, I’m back with another update on my manuscript, Blade of Dragons! It’s been a stressful month (for all of us I would imagine), but my manuscript is approaching the end of the beta stage—at least I hope.

Anyway, I have some items to share that involve general manuscript preparation. Most any author follows this formula.

There are several tools an author uses to promote or describe a book. These include: blurbs, taglines, loglines, cover descriptions, and synopses.

Blurb

A blurb is a brief statement designed to promote the book. The blurb may be by the author, a reviewer, an editor, a publishing company, or anyone else. A blurb is designed to perk interest and add a silver-lining to the book’s appearance. A blurb may appear on the front or back cover.

Logline

A logline is a book compressed into a brief paragraph. It should be concise while packing a punch. The main character, antagonist, conflict, and any other relevant detail is included, giving the reader an idea of what the story is about.

Tagline

Short and witty, a tagline is a statement that doesn’t tell anything about the book. It’s more of a catchphrase or trademark to the author’s story.

Description

Book descriptions are like an expanded logline, often around 150 to 200 words. Besides the tagline and blurb, a description is meant to lure the reader into opening the book. First sentences are crucial in descriptions, as this will convince the reader to read the story.

Synopsis

Designed more for the eyes of an agent, a synopsis is a larger description, varying anywhere from 500 to 2000 words. Short and long synopses are both viable, but modern agents err more on the shorter side. A synopsis should mention the protagonist’s arc, showing the agent that you’ve built a complete, alluring story.

I’ll give examples of the manuscript tools I mentioned above using ones from my book. Mind, these aren’t official, nor are they polished. Still, they should give you an idea of each category.

Blurb

Exciting, hard-hitting, and exotic. Blade of Dragons is an action-packed story filled with vivid storytelling and likable characters that will hold you spellbound from start to finish.


This blurb reads promotional, coming from a reader who enjoys the story.

Logline

Pepper, a cursed farmer’s daughter, inherits her father’s sword, ancient technology that can save her planet from a dark goddess. But her draconic blood seeks to undo all she holds dear.


I kept the logline short. In a more compressed form, it almost gives a stronger punch, I noticed.

Tagline

The legend of a farmer’s daughter, cursed with the blood of dragons.


Perhaps not the shortest or wittiest tagline. Still, this one stuck with me, and it’s consistent with the other items mentioned above. It also invokes a good degree of intrigue.

Description

Whimsical Magic. Arcane Technology. Romance.

Can Pepper Slyhart use her father’s sword, a weapon with unfathomable power, to save her planet? With her childhood friend, Tarie, Pepper embarks on a dire quest. She enters a war against a dark goddess that has scoured grasslands, scorched forests, and devoured great cities.

Pepper unravels the terrible price of her sentient blade, a connection to the Ethereal Seals Gate, which powers technology and sustains her planet. 

But her half-dragon heritage seeks to betray Pepper, and Tarie may be the only one who can save her.

Are they able to fight a war on both fronts, or will the Shadow claim their souls?


Notice that I include certain keywords in the blurb. The reader will know that there are: swords, a dire quest, a dark goddess, a heroine, technology, and a dragon-like race. This suggests a science fantasy genre, the type of message I hope to convey. The beginning ‘trio-word’ technique I used is a popular strategy to create rhythm and intrigue.

Synopsis

Uhh, no, I won’t post that here—it’s way too long. Regardless, I do have a short (two page) and long (seven page) synopsis written if I need it. My synopses break down the story piecemeal, proving I have a solid and complete book. Any agent or publisher who reads it would get a good idea of what the story is about: the characters, conflict, the driving force of the story, and so forth.

Additional Items to Consider

My cover art (my own work) you can view at the top of the page. It’s still unofficial, and I may reach out to a professional to spruce it up. I included a map and glossary with my manuscript to provide additional reference material for readers.

When you design your own world, including a glossary or world map can help add depth to the story. I highly recommend it, especially for epic fantasy worlds.

Publication

I am unsure if I will go traditional or epub, but I am leaning more towards the latter. I may still find an agent to help me represent my book, as I am underread when it comes to marketing.

With that said, I hope you found this post to be informative and enjoyable. Good luck with whatever creative projects you might be working on.

Thank you for reading and stay safe out there.


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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!


I’m currently expanding my platform onto Mailchimp to develop a mailing community. Members will receive free poetry, short stories, and other gifts once Mailchimp is up and running. 

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Blog News, Store Updates, and Manuscript Progress

Hello, and thank you again for subscribing to my mailing list! I have exciting bits to share, in addition to some news that should perk your interest.

Blog News

I published some helpful posts on writing. They’ve garnered a bunch of views, and should be worthwhile to check out:

  • The Blank Page talks about starting a new manuscript and how to handle that dreaded first page.
  • A summary of Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 Lectures, which covers several hours’ worth of material. I’ve compressed them into a single post highlighting the juiciest tidbits.
  • A post on Query Letters and general business practices.
  • Describing Sounds in Writing helps writers convey sounds to readers—still raking in dozens of views!

Store Highlights

  • My store is gaining traction with new merchandise, designed to inspire and motivate. Several of the designs will have quotes from characters in my upcoming novel, Blade of Dragons. You can check it out here. Thanks for your patronage!
  • You can also check me out on Instagram and Twitter.

Manuscript Report

  • My new beta reader has been very helpful during our beta swap. I’m hoping to strengthen the plot and characters further before I reach out to a professional editor and start the publishing business.
  • Blade of Dragons got trimmed down a hefty amount. It went from 135,000 words to almost 125,000! That’s a lot of unnecessary fat. The prose reads tighter and many of those unnecessary scenes are gone.
  • I’ve started on the alpha manuscript of book 2. The general outline is done, and I’m eager to get to it in my spare time.
  • I’ve also returned to hand sketching to develop concepts of my characters. It’s been a blast, and I have friends giving me feedback. 


That’s all for now. Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter with more to come!


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Brandon Sanderson Lecture 2020 Notes

Bestseller of fiction: Brandon Sanderson

Hello, my readers, I’ve got quite a gift to share with you today. The other week, I watched Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 lectures on creative writing. The whole playlist runs several hours, but I’ve put together a concise list of tips that I found helpful. Enjoy.

(Note, the lecture # is just how I organized the notations, not which lecture videos they relate to.)

Lecture 1: On Writing

  • Always chase publication and book writing with a passion, but don’t be attached to it.
  • Just enjoy telling stories.
  • Try things, if they don’t work, try something else.
  • Pantsiers vs plotters; both work.
  • Know when to ignore the rules or the professionals.
  • With experience, you gain intuitive writing ability.
  • Make good habits for writing consistently. (This tip I bolded for emphasis)

Lecture 2: Plot and Character

  • Plot, character, and setting are glued together by conflict.
  • Setting is the least important of the three.
  • Stories make promises.
  • Introduction shows the promises.
  • Remember to detail a character’s desires and goals.
  • Indicate what kind of plot the story is about.
  • Promise–>progress–>payoffs.
  • Plot expansion twists can work.
  • Check out the Hero’s’ journey by Joseph Campbell

Lecture 3: Plot and Character II

  • Start the intro fast and explosive.
  • Sympathize the audience with your protagonist ASAP.
  • Multiple POV cast is a double-edged sword. It is good for variety, but readers will polarize towards certain characters and dislike others.
  • Subverting expectations and promises isn’t a good idea.
  • Exceeding expectations can make some subversions tolerable.
  • Escalate rather than undermine expectations.
  • Satisfying endings are better than a twist.
  • Writers’ block solution: don’t stop writing, finish the story.
  • Epistularies at start of chapters is a viable strategy.

Lecture 4: Magical Systems and Worldbuilding

  • Sanderson Law One: your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.
  • Soft magic: unknown cost or outcome of a magic.
  • Sanderson Law Two: flaws and limitations are more interesting than powers.
  • Sanderson Law Three: before adding something new to your magic or setting, see if you can instead expand what you have.
  • Use world building in service of character and story building, not solely for showing off or building a world.
  • Use more concrete methods through the eyes of the characters to worldbuild.

Lecture 5: Characters, Dialog, and Humor

  • Characters as living tools to tell your story, the plot’s message.
  • Establish empathy between characters and readers.
  • Show others characters liking them.
  • Establish motivation: show something they want, but can’t have. Connect personal desires of a character to the plot.
  • Show character progress. How are they going to change? Show flaws or the journey taken.
  • Characters ruled by: likability, proactivity, competence.
  • Iconic hero does not change during the course of a story.
  • Flaws: things to be overcome.
  • Handicaps: the character does not have control over these.
  • -Quirks: things that make the character imperfect, but unique.
  • Don’t write characters to a role.
  • Avoid bland monologues.
  • Dialog should convey likability, proactivity, competence, character arc, motivation, and humor.
  • Dialect: is a personal choice, but less is better.
  • Use dialog beats to slow down scene to focus on subtext.
  • Telepathy: italics with ‘said’ tag, but up to author’s choice.
  • Women in the Refrigerator: characters (especially female) killed off, tortured, or raped to further the plot or protagonist’s arc.
  • Killing a character properly fulfills an arc, or it is the direct cause of the character’s choices.
  • Wikipad, Dropbox, Hemingway are good programs to use.
  • Humor is difficult and subjective.
  • Comic drops to cut tension and induce humor.
  • Comic juxtaposition: contrasting qualities to create humor.
  • Repetitious scenario can create humor.
  • Rule of three cycles of humor with gradual escalation.

Lecture 6: Publishing Traditionally and Indie

  • Agents take 15% publishing profit, but do a lot of the business work.
  • Query letter->synopsis–>sample chapters->full manuscript.
  • Vanity press charges money to publish your novel. Stay away from them and agents who funnel to them.
  • A good agent will never charge you money.
  • Book offers with loan advances 10-20k for new authors split between costs.
  • The bigger the advance budget for publishing a novel, the better the publisher push.
  • Editors want to help you improve the story and make suggestions.
  • You can pay back advance and cancel contract if you change your mind.
  • Indie published authors get 70% of profit.
  • Platform writing via blog posts or website is important to have an online presence.
  • Need a good cover for your novel (300-500$ suggested).
  • Also need good copyediting (0.007-0.009cents per word suggested).
  • Content edits (0.012-0.015 cents per word).
  • Proofreading (0.003 cents per word).
  • Cross author promotions with other authors is a good idea.
  • Mailing lists like Mailchimp are important to form an audience and fan base.
  • Recommended Amazon price for epub novels is 2.99 to $9.99.
  • Be wary of scams or vanity presses.
  • Amazon is now a pay-to-play for advertising ebooks: thousands of dollars a month to advertise.
  • 10-15% of cover contract for Hardcover sales.
  • 6-8% of cover Paperback sales.
  • 10% of cover Tradepaper sales.
  • As a traditionally published author, you want advances that you can earn out in a couple of years.
  • Indie publishing undercuts markets.
  • Less $ for lower word count, more $ for higher on indie publishing.
  • Book signing to improve reputation and make connections, but it is a lot of work and money to pay for travel, rent, etc.
  • Sales within first week is significant, especially for best seller list.
  • Niche genres: mashing two genres together.
  • Free short stories do work to promote for indie publishers, but not for profit.

I’m currently expanding my platform onto Mailchimp to develop a mailing community. Members will receive free poetry, special deals, and short stories once Mailchimp is up and running. For more details on my current projects, visit my portfolio. I also have an online store, selling t-shirt designs with quotes from characters in Blade of Dragons. Many are inspirational and spiritual in nature. Be sure to check them out here.

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