Different Types of Magic

Different stories call for magic to be used for different things. Because of its versatile nature, there isn’t really a limit to what magic can do. The limits are put in place by the writer of the world, who will have decided to do so for a variety of reasons.

If you’ve read several different fantasy novels, you’ll likely have noticed that no one really uses magic for the same reasons. Some authors will make magic purely an offensive entity, where it’s used for fighting or to fend off those using magic to attack. And while this is probably the most common type of magic, it’s far from all that’s possible.

Personally, I like it most when a story allows magic to be used for pretty much anything. This means that the magic isn’t really limited by the author’s desires, but more by the physical limitations of the user, the world, and the user’s strength. When magic is used to enrich a story like that as more of an everyday tool rather than a sacred ability that’s only used when absolutely necessary, it makes magic feel more real.

Anyway, onto what this post is actually about. What kinds of magic are there?

Honestly, I don’t think you can make a list of the different types because magic in fiction is just that, magic, and it’s not really limited to anything but what the writer tells it to be. You want magic that does the opposite of what you tell it to do? It’s possible. Or maybe you want magic that can’t do anything more than grow flowers from nothing– that’s possible too.

On the other hand, you can divide magic by its use though the list would still be extremely long. An example would be like I said somewhere above, combative magic. That’s an enormous category; there are so many ways that someone could use magic to benefit them in a fight. But there are still a couple thousand completely different things magic can be used for.

Let’s see… there’s also magic that you could use to help with everyday things, like brushing your teeth, cooking, and cleaning. Or… a little bit trickier would be magic that alters your physical capabilities, so things such as eyesight, strength, etc.

If you keep the possibilities relatively normal, I mean, more or less what you’d find in our world, magic wouldn’t be as versatile as we know it to be. But as soon as you start thinking of magic in a full-blown fantasy world, what you can do with it quadruples. You’ve got telepathy, healing, flying… Magic could be somehow attuned to different elements, and there’d be people around that could start fires with a simple touch, or talk plants into growing faster. Then you’ve got the people who can make it rain, snow, or grace the world with sunshine.

You know, I’ve read quite a few books and have always loved fantasy. But even after reading a dozen or so books in the genre, I’m fully aware that it’s only a taste of what’s possible and what people have already written. Saying that, I want more. I don’t think I’ve read anything yet with an incredibly unique magic system or someone who has used magic in a completely outlandish way. I’m dying to see something that’s different than what’s considered “normal”.

How about you– what do you think about magic and its many uses? Have you read any books with an amazing magic system or know someone who has given magic an entirely new use?

~Erynn

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Writing About Real People

This isn’t something I think about often because I write fantasy, most often with a set of completely fictional characters. It’s not uncommon, however, for people to incorporate people in their lives into their writing in some way.

For example, writers often take traits from people they know (either desirable or undesirable depending on the character) and giving them to their characters. Doing this achieves several things, but most notably it gives fictional characters a touch of realism. Sure you can create a character with characteristics you’ve never seen or experienced firsthand, but like describing a location you’ve never been do, doing so can create some inaccuracies that the people who have are likely to catch.

I’m guilty of doing this because I know that it works. Taking one real trait you’ve experienced and slapping it onto a character that’s otherwise completely fictional can add some much-needed depth to a character that otherwise doesn’t have much going for them.

Some people write about characters completely based off of people they’ve met or heard of in real life. Personally, I don’t do this because in the world of fantasy, too much realism can ruin the experience (at least in my opinion). Don’t take me the wrong way– I just think there’s a huge difference between authentic experiences and realism. Anyway, especially when you’re just learning how to write, taking someone you know and throwing them into a fictional story can open your eyes to how story building and characterization really work. You might not run into issues deciding what your character would or wouldn’t do in a situation (if you know them well enough, the decision might even seem natural to you) but that only helps you spend more time writing and less time thinking. Not necessarily a bad thing, no?

Then we have writing about real people in real situations. I think you can do some really good stuff with this so long as you’re not writing in any genre that disallows “real situations” (I mean, your typical fantasy isn’t going to have a situation where a main character meets someone while working on their computer at Starbucks, so yeah). I don’t have too much to say about this because it’s not my cup of tea. But people do it and have found success in it– so why not?

Do you guys write about purely fictional people or do you try to take characteristics from people you know and add them to your characters?

~Erynn

What Makes a Great Antagonist?

One of my favourite things about writing and creating stories is throwing a good antagonist in the mix. This is because it’s not always the protagonists that bring the story to life– a good antagonist that genuinely frustrates you or makes you sympathize with them can build the story, too. When the characters go out to deal with the bad guy, you want the reader to be interested in the protagonist’s adventure, don’t you? At least for me, if I don’t care about the antagonist, the main characters lose a bit of their charm, too.

If it’s so important, then, what makes a good antagonist? Personally, I find that it depends on the type of story you’re trying to tell. Since I write dark fantasy with magic and plenty of killing– right and wrong are skewed and so is our perception of the antagonist.

There are a couple things that work, in my experience, to bring out some really interesting antagonists. For one, I like stories where the antagonist isn’t necessarily “evil”. They’re a person (or a collection of people with a similar mind) that think, act, and believe differently than the protagonist. And sometimes, instead of making them some crazies that want to kill everyone for no discernable reason (aka people who are obviously crazy and you have no reason not to fight against them), having the antagonists be people who just don’t agree with the protagonist can be exciting. It can make you think: Why don’t they agree? If the protagonists are so good, why doesn’t everyone follow them? Even better, sometimes a well-crafted dissenting party that you’re supposed to be against can win you, the reader, over to their side and have you thinking that maybe the protagonists aren’t right after all.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective.

I think one of the best ways to make a good antagonist is to make your story more grey than black and white. When even your antagonists have to consider the moral consequences of their actions, you know you’re making something more than “this guy is good and this guy is bad”.

An example of this, in my own writing, is that there are essentially three different antagonists. One of them is a “player” in the other two’s game and becomes a separate antagonist later because she doesn’t align with either the protagonists or the other antagonists. She fights against everyone, and not just to save her own skin– she’s doing it for what she thinks is right. She doesn’t want to rule or control the world, but instead has her own list of reasons. This character isn’t the purest of people, but the reasons why she fights might even be reasonable to sway you to her side.

That’s not to say that an antagonist that is obviously evil can’t be exciting to read about, but I think there are a lot more variables that you need to get right with if you want to be successful doing this.

Ask yourself things like…

Why is this person “purely evil”?

Does this character still have enough traits to be interesting, even if my readers can’t really sympathize with them?

There are, of course, many other questions you could ask yourself while building an antagonist, but that should be a good start.

What kind of antagonists do you enjoy reading about the most? What kind do you like to write about?

~Erynn

Strong Female Characters?

As a writer who frequents websites where there are plenty of other writers, I often see people asking “as a male writer, how do I write strong female characters?” and vice versa. And there’s nothing wrong with that– all writers will excel at different areas, and some people will struggle with the characterization of characters of the opposite sex.

Let’s first go over what the difference between the roles of male and female characters. This is going off of my experience with writing and reading, so your experience may vary.

Finding a book with a strong, independent woman isn’t hard. I’ve read novels with a variety of female characters with different purposes, placed in different positions within society, and though they are considered “strong” for different reasons, they are still strong. For example I’ve read a book with a rather important character being a princess (often considered a position where the character is supposed to be extremely feminine) but has no desire to get married off to some prince even if it would be “doing her duty”. I’ve read books about average female citizens who aren’t physically strong, but still highlight themselves throughout the story as characters you’d be interested in reading about in pretty much any situation they’re thrown into.

Male characters, on the other hand, are almost always already physically strong. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Writing a story about a character that can be intimidating and fight their way through any mess is easy, and often fun. People love reading about those characters (I know I do) and that’s part of why they’re so common. In turn, male characters that are charismatic, influential, and attractive are common because people like reading about them.

But, unfortunately, it’s still much more common to read about poorly written female characters than poorly written male characters. Yes it happens, and yes we notice it, but the occurrence is rare in comparison. Ever notice how a lot of “different” characters are considered unlikeable or poorly written? Often that’s because they don’t fit the stereotypical mold set out for the story they’re being placed in and are different in ways that make them unrelatable to the typical audience. It’s not because the character is poorly written, in this case, that’s just poor public taste. Anyway, I’ve gone a little off track…

In a lot of books, female characters exist solely for one of these two reasons: For the purpose of adding in a romantic relationship, or to add a woman that’s “strong”. And by strong I mean a woman who is a warrior with no interest in men or, rather, anything but her sword and defeating the enemy. Often times these characters could completely disappear and the story would be much better off for it.

Of course, there’s a male side of that coin, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Regardless of the gender, aren’t you tired of reading book after book about what are essentially the same paper characters placed inside new stories? Do all our characters need to be intelligent machos that get all the ladies, or shy schoolgirls just looking to find their true love? No, they don’t. And there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways to shape your characters in ways that are different from everyone else’s characters while still keeping true to their core personalities and remaining suitable for the story you’re writing. You just need to find them.

The most common piece of advice I see for people struggling with this is “a strong female character should be like any of your male characters, but that they happen to be female”. While this is true sometimes, it’s not something you should be following like it’s the only way characters work. There are different types of strong, aren’t there? Unfortunately, this isn’t something I can really advise on. What makes your characters strong should depend on who they are and who you want them to be.

Alright, well I set out to write a post about something completely different than this turned out to be, but whatever. I’ve decided to stick with this.

What makes a character strong to you? Do you see male strength and female strength as something different, or the same?

~Erynn

What Does it Take to be Considered a Writer?

There are a lot of standards that gauge what we are and what our places are in the world. Some of these standards are personal guidelines in order to determine ones’ own position, but others are more official. In regards to the writing world, in my opinion, it’s more of a personal thing– but each and every person will have their own standards by which everyone else will be judged.

One person may not consider an author with six published books a real writer because they don’t meet their standards, whatever they may be. Though honestly, I think if you’ve published six books you’re a writer no matter what angle you look at it from!

Some people believe that being a writer means that you write every day. Others believe that it means you meet a certain word count each day.

But what does it really take to be a real writer?

To me, being a writer doesn’t mean that you write every day. It doesn’t mean that you meet that 1,500 goal every day. It doesn’t mean that you write a novel a month, or that you already have a bunch of published work. To me, being a writer is about who you are in your heart of hearts.Do you believe you’re a writer?

Do you believe you’re a writer? Then you’re a writer.

Do you think about writing every waking hour? Sometimes even when you’re dead asleep? Then you’re a writer.

Do you see ways to portray real experiences in your writing? Then you’re a writer.

There are a billion and one things that can make you a writer. You only have to decide which makes you a writer.

So, what makes you a writer?

~Erynn

How NOT to Write a Novel

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Book by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.

NaNoWriMo is quickly approaching and I’ve been recounting the last year. November 2013 was my first NaNo, and as I’ve mentioned several times before, when I decided I was going to take my writing seriously. During the last eleven months, I’ve gone through many methods to improve my writing ability, and as I’m now a paid writer, I’d like to consider myself rather successful.

One of the first things I did once I made the decision was to scour the internet for a book that could help me improve my craft. There are tons of them, and though I’ve stopped looking, I’m sure plenty of new ones will continue to come out every year. It took me some time to make my decision, but in the end, I purchased the book How NOT to Write a Novel.

Truthfully, outside of actually sitting down and writing, I believe this book has helped me improve every aspect of my writing more than anything else I’ve ever read. Sure, I’ve read a large amount of writing tips online and have significantly increased my writing ability because of these, but almost everything that you will read online in regards to assisting you with writing a book is trying to tell you how to do it. How NOT to Write a Novel completely reverses this by telling you exactly what not to do. And for me, at least, I found this a very valuable resource.

This is what my copy of the book looks like:

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Out of the 200 things you’re told not to do, there were 57!!! that I thought I ought to remember because they were mistakes I felt I would possibly make or were already making.

The following excerpt was one of my favourites and is one I believe I learnt the most from. It touches on something most people, I feel, aren’t quite sure how to handle. Lots of people want to cover the issue of race and/or politics in their books, but because of lack of experience in that regard, they end up creating something much worse than they would have if they ignored the issue altogether.

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I feel that the subject of race is very important in literature, but today, I’m going to talk specifically about fantasy because that’s what I write; perhaps some day I will touch on the entire topic.

Many fantasy novels include different races. I’m not talking just about ethnicity (I will get to that in a bit), but rather entirely different races. You know, like the humanoid dragons in my novel Taichiren’s Heart, elves, or anything else that’s not labeled as a human. In real life, ethnicity is often what determines race, their traditions, their culture, their upbringing, and most importantly, how other characters feel and react around a character of a different race or culture. People who have been brought up in a different environment than person A won’t know or understand the environmental or cultural quirks that come along with being part of a different culture.

As I was a novice when I read this book, it didn’t quite hit me that it was something that can be and should be integrated into my stories. What kind of stigma do races have for each other? How do their cultures and societies vary? What happens if someone is dropped into a completely different culture? What are their thoughts, how do they react to their surroundings? How do they go about solving their predicament?

These, and more, are questions that can be asked in order to properly work in different races into a story. No culture is quite the same, no race is quite the same, no person is quite the same. This should be reflected in the story, and I feel it’s especially important to do so when you’re writing about completely different races that aren’t humans.

Though How NOT to Write a Novel only briefly touches on this subject, it was one that really opened my eyes to the depth inside stories. Not only do you have the background of your character to deal with, you have the background of their history, the stories and events that built who they are, where they came from, and how all of that shaped them and who they are. It shapes your story in a way that the plot doesn’t.

There are many things like this in How NOT to Write a Novel, all of which are immensely valuable for someone starting out or looking to improve. So if that’s exactly where you are, then I highly recommend picking up a copy of the book; maybe it’ll help me like it helped you.

Where have you gotten the best writing tips from? What is something that immensely improved how you write or how you looked at creating stories? Share them in the comments!

~Erynn

Writing In Video Games

Something I’ve been interested in for a long time is writing for an actual video game. What prompted me to go out and pursue this recently was an opportunity that I saw; not one that I could take advantage of now, but one that maybe I could be lucky enough to grab in the future. That opportunity was seeing a job opening in BioWare, a department picked up by EA Games dedicated to creating brilliant RPGs and the like. If I was maybe 10 years older, it would have been a dream come true… but lacking the age and experience needed to even interest such a company, it’s something I need to pass on for now.

Just to give you a bit more perspective, they were asking for a minimum of 5 years writing experience in a similar environment (writing and developing stories behind video games), in addition to university education. While I believe I write very good for my age (remember guys, I only just graduated high school this year), I’m in no way shape or form ready to take on such a task.

However, it solidified my desire to pursue something other than novel writing, and that’s why starting yesterday, I started seeking work writing for video games. I picked up a gig several months ago where I was supposed to write the story for a fantasy rpg, but it kind of fell apart. Well, fell apart in the sense that after the guy said he wanted me on their team he disappeared. 😥 Today I got in contact with two different people managing two different projects, one very interested in having me write for them. So maybe it something comes of it in the near future, I’ll be taking a step in that direction that I can tell you guys about.

I’d like to talk a bit more about my experience with that fantasy rpg I just mentioned. While I didn’t get too far into any of the work involved in that project, it was the beginning of a whole new era of writing for me. I opened myself up to the world of script writing (something I had little interest in before), and to the world of real world development. When you’re designing a world for a novel, you only have to see it well enough to write your readers into it. You have narrative readily available to throw your readers into the story, but that’s completely gone in video games. Instead of you writing and describing everything that happens around the reader, the reader is instead a player, and is experiencing the world as the artists pictured it, and it’s your job to reflect that world in the characters.

A video game I finished recently is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I highly recommend it if you like diverse combat, but that’s not what I’m here to discuss today. I picked up the game because my boyfriend said I should try it, and he reinforced this fact by supplying me with the information that one of my favourite fantasy authors, R.A. Salvatore, wrote the story for the game. Here’s an article with an interview with R.A. Salvatore regarding his involvement in the game.

What I’ve so far learned about writing for video games is that it’s nothing like writing a novel. You need to show the player the world you’ve spent so long building in a completely different way. Each and every character within the game, whether it be a simple farmer or a merchant is significant. Your story affects everyone, everyone the player touches, and everything that you, the writer, have yet to touch on yourself.

What are your thoughts on the stories behind video games, the writing that is involved in it? Have any of you ever written for a video game before (be it dialogue, quests, or developing an actual story)?

~Erynn

 

What is Action?

All of us probably have different beliefs regarding the concept of action. In literature,  a scene can be regarded in many different ways; only a handful of those being what the author intended the scene to be seen as. This isn’t because the scene was written poorly or people are misinterpreting what the scene actually means, but rather because each individual person is likely to perceive things differently than everyone else.

The same thing goes for preferences, or in this case, what action really is to a certain reader. Some of us consider a heated romance scene real action, and others, blood and guts and death. In the end it’s really a matter of preference, but no matter the person, their “true” version of action will always elicit an emotional response. It’s really as simple as that.

Personally, I appreciate all sorts of action. I love reading gore filled, bloody massacres where the protagonist may or may not live, and I can’t say that I don’t like those nail biting romance scenes. If the writer reaches out to you in a scene and draws an emotional response from you (be it positive or negative), in one way or another, they’ve succeeded.

What kind of action do you like?

~Erynn

Food In Fiction

There’s a fine line between your characters literally starving to the reader and telling them a bit too much about their eating habits. Truthfully, adding scenes where your characters are “eating” may seem boring, but it can really add purpose to your story (and make it a bit more realistic). Really, it’s not like you have to add a scene where your characters do nothing but eat, and it’s not like you have to give the food itself much thought. People who hunt for details in your story will appreciate the small addition.

While the line I speak of is somewhat vague, it’s definitely there; it’s just about fine tuning it to your actual story. Are your characters going on a wild adventure through the wilderness? Well, chances are if it’s actually the wilderness, there’s not going to be an inn in the middle of nowhere for them to stop every day and eat, so they’ll need to be prepared, or even better, know how to gather food themselves.

If I recall correctly, series such as LotR and The Dark Tower make mentions of the character’s rations every here and there. I think these two series of the top of my head are good examples of what I’m trying to emphasize here. Both of them do a great job at mentioning that there is food, and how they got it (given from other people, purchasing, hunting, etc). On top of this, they actually make use of the time the characters spend eating, meaning while they eat- and let it be known that the characters are eating while having them talk about something important. I guess an example of this would be Roland & Co. eating what were they called… vegetarian burritos? while they palaver before bedtime on the road.

So in the end, I’m just saying don’t forget to add the aspect of food to your writing; I’m also saying to avoid doing it for no reason. It’s not something huge and definitely not something everyone will notice, but it’s still another one of those many things you should add onto your list of considerations.

Have you read any books that touch on food really well, or ones that you thought were unrealistic because there was no mention of it at all?

~Erynn

The Minor Details

When writing I always find myself fussing over the minor details of a story. At a glance you may think that they’re nothing you should be worrying about- especially if you’re still sorting out major details such as your plot- but that’s far from true. Minor details are often what make or break your story. They can be the difference between pulling a reader in and making them take a step back and think “woah, that doesn’t make any sense”.

I’m not talking about specific word choice and phrasing here, as that’s something completely different, but rather tiny facts or actions that come about because of the story you’ve set in place. These are most often the things that cause mini plot holes and inconsistencies throughout the work, and if you’re a reader like me, chances are whenever you notice one you become a bit annoyed too. If something just doesn’t add up, it’s likely that not enough thought was put into it. So don’t make that mistake, and put as much thought into them as you can spare.

I find that a good way of keeping track of everything is by simply recording everything you use in your story. For example, a side character that appears more than once might have blue eyes. You write this once as a descriptor, but later on when they appear again, you might not remember that character’s eye colour since you have a hundred other characters. You’re not sure what colour you made them- but you’re sure you specified what colour- though you can’t remember where in the book you wrote it. So you say they’re green because that’s what you believe you said they were.

Of course, for this scenario, you know that’s wrong. It’s important to note, again, that lots of readers have a terrible habit of noticing small inconsistencies like that.

So as I mentioned before, a good way to avoid it is by recording everything. In Scrivener you can create separate pages to keep track of things such as places, events, characters, and any other details you think are worth remembering for use later. You can also do this by keeping a separate word document to do the same thing, or a notebook where you write it down.

It might seem like a large inconvenience for something so minor, but it’s worth it. You’ll make your readers happy and your book or story will be much cleaner. I highly advise it.

What do you guys use to remember small details about your story. Do you write it down to remember, or do you have another way?

~Erynn