People of the Shadows

I love this image.

I love this image.

A year ago I started a segment called “Inside Idasia,” addressing some of the facets key to the world of The Hollow March. Religion, Politics, and a touch of good old fashioned geography, to paint a few pictures (and I really do need to set down and write out a few more of those, with At Faith’s End just around the bend, but silly me, anytime I find myself wanting to write about my world, I find myself inherently writing more for the world. Short stories: my anti-drug.)

Well, that’s all fine and good for worldbuilding, but today I thought we would take a few moments to address another key facet of that gem: the fellows in the shadows.

“Let’s get out of here before one of those things kills Guy!” ~Gwen, Galaxy Quest

For any book, we tend to know our characters. They drive the story. They set us on the path. They’re the fellows in the spotlight! Good-good, very good. But what about the other guy? You know, that fellow actually doing the work, fighting the battles, offering life and limb to the king sitting back on his horse and musing on the morality of war. I suppose in Star Trek terms, they would probably be called the Redshirts. Poor, sweet redshirts.

Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a doomed...

Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a doomed redshirt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your heroes have trainers. Your kings have soldiers. Your armies have blacksmiths and tailors and who knows how many other people there to keep the greater machine going. Even the farmer is key, though his screen time is likely faint, for the food he provides that keeps hero and army alike moving through the motions.

These are the figures that add layers to your stories, dear friends. Even the people we don’t see should be key to the tale—we should know they are there, and be able to piece out what they do. It adds layers to your world to have the personality there. The society. The living, beating heart of your creations. Not everyone can save the world, but everyone—young, old, mother, father, son, daughter—plays a part in its continuation.

I’m not saying you should stop the pace of your book entirely and slap us with the biography of every Tom, Dick, and Mary Sue that happen to be crossing on the trail, but there should be fleeting glimpses of the world beyond your characters. Let their eyes see it, fleeting, unconcerned perhaps, but let those glimpses in—the light it can shed on your world, even in the span of a sentence, can be telling.

Essentially: make your world feel lived in. Your main character is there to drive us forward, but let us know there is more than his own soul. After all, if we never see traces of the thing he/she’s fighting for, then how do we feel the connection to that fight? Make their world our own.

Gryphon gargoyle, Bryn Mawr college

Did you know that in The Hollow March gryphons are not only alive and well, but utilized as beasts of burden and scouting steeds? Do they play a huge role critical to the story of the plot? No. But they are there, lurking, moving, pecking at the dirt for grubs and grass and the like. Glimpses appear. Nonchalant entrances into otherwise focused scenes. But just those glimpses tell us something we would not have pieced together of the world otherwise. (Also, there will be more of them in the upcoming At Faith’s End. A few faces may even be eaten—but you didn’t hear that from me.)

Insight—it’s a beautiful thing, no?

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10 Things To Know About Your Book (Part 2: Or, the Literature Strikes Back)

Have you read part one, as yet? If not, then I think you’re taking this a little out of turn, don’t you? Honestly, if there’s only two parts and you can’t snatch them up in the right order…

 

Well, really.

 

That said, if a little refresher’s in order, we already covered from conflict to purpose and that quaint little road we call “the beginning.” The frame of the thing has taken shape, but some of the juicier bits still require that special bit of tweaking only an author can muster. Be it of love or a very compulsive and twitchy tick we call “the scribbles,” the meat of what is to come still remains, and the mind finds itself faced with the following:

 

  1. What are your characters’ goals?
    Good, bad, or Swiss—figure out what makes your people tick. What do they hope to achieve?
  2. How do they intend to achieve those goals?
    Fantastic, your people now have goals! Now how do they hope to actually bring them about? Bearing in mind, of course, that your characters are mostly (unless they’re not) human, and their goals and methods can be as flawed as reality.

    Light Yagami

    Light Yagami. So flawed, “flawed” must be put in air quotes for him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. Educational, point-making, and not being used for profit, nor do I claim to own the character or his likeness…etc. etc.)

  3. How do you intend to pace this beast out?
    Are we going to learn as the characters learn? Or shall we be privy to more than their mere eyes can catch, to heighten the tension by knowing they are about to face a cruel trial? Pacing is, at its heart, deciding exactly how you want to take your story and relate it to us, the collective reader. It’s a balancing act. Throw everything at us at once, our heads spin, our gaze dulls, and we realize there’s no more substance to be had. Dance around too long before throwing us a line, and our eyes wander, we lose focus, and lose interest there as well. Find your voice. Know your story. Then feed it to us piece by piece.
  4. Where is the action?
    Are there to be battles of arrow and steel? A dramatic crescendo of cannons? Passionate clash of the heart? Or a social duel, politicians warring at the pulpit with words, and a society hanging in the balance? Depending on what your book is, the style of action may differ greatly, but you should know how you’re going to captivate us, and give us our climax of literary greatness, and when and in what increments you intend to pursue it.
  5. Remember that awkward moment when you blew up the world? Good times.

    How does it end?
    The ending must tie up the loose ends (but know that there will always be at least on reader there to point out all the loose ends you didn’t address to their satisfaction!), resolve the overarching conflict (unless you’re tying this into another series, you rascally devil you), and give your readers something to show for sticking with you for so long.

 

And that, as they say, is that. Ten Things. Beginning to end and through enough meat to put some serious flesh over the heart of your masterpiece. Now you just have to write the bloody thing. But don’t worry, buck up kiddo, after that comes the real fun–editing.

 

Wait: we did cover sarcasm’s importance in literature, right?

 

But seriously, while I may not have covered everything, these questions are all key to helping relate your story to us. If it doesn’t mean something to you, after all, what are we supposed to take away? A wise man once said that every scribble is piece of your soul poured out on the page–you’ll never get it back, but if you’re lucky, you can share it with the world. Help to make our eyes dance with envy of that soul, friends.

 

Give to us the world.

 

10 Things To Know About Your Book (Part One)

The book!–what makes it tick? What makes it move? What makes it stir the heart and mind?

That’s right, boys and girls, today we’re talking literature, and not just any old book either–your book! Please proceed to feel warm and fuzzy inside.

In every book, there are certain things that should be obvious to the writer, things that should be formulated and plotted and planned and beaten with that little stick we call the honing. (Mind you, this is different from the Shining: ideally it doesn’t end in an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson. Though I suppose that does lose it some points…)

The man forever-known as Johnny.

In point of fact, there are a great many things we should know, but I’ve done my best to narrow it to a list of ten. Then I went through the additional trouble of lopping them into two separate meals for you–so try not to gorge, and hopefully, you may find a little purpose in our first five:

Some quests are nobler than others, I suppose.

  1. What is your story’s purpose?
    What does it exist? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the plot, the story, and the characters struggling toward? Or, if it is perhaps an educational or otherwise non-fiction novel, what do you hope your readers to take away from it in the end?
  2. What sets your book apart?
    You can also turn this into: Why should we care? (But the former does sound much nicer.)
  3. What is the conflict?
    Honestly, this can be anything from zombies to family to an evil stork with the baby (welcome to the bizarre nature of my mind), but there must be conflict, something to drive the story and its characters on. Note, of course, that there can also be many conflicts within this category—internal and external, and a variety hodgepodge of delicious mortifying interaction (if you’re as cruel to your characters as I can be). You need to think what challenges your character, and how it’s going to be fought…or more simply, how they’re going to deal with it.
  4. From inside on of the hobbit holes, on locatio...

    From inside one of the hobbit holes, on location at the Hobbiton set, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    How does it begin?
    Aha! So you’re one of those clever rogues that already has the ending all figured out. Well done. Now you just need to get there which means…oh crap, that’s right, you actually have to find a point to begin. Shall it be at the beginning? Or shall you do the ever-popular in the middle and reflect scenario? There’s always starting from the end, of course—but if you then turn the story into having been an elaborate dream, please note neither I, nor you, nor the internet can save you from the torch-wielding mob that shall likely come for you. You have been warned. In many ways, the opening is the most important. It has to seal the deal for the reader. Introduce the conflict (or hints of the conflict). Don’t lose us to the abstract, but don’t beat us down with a straight-up info dump either.

  5. What is the opposition?
    Obviously, this ties into the conflict, but it’s important enough to stand on its own. Who is the catalyst? The man, creature, or group driving the woes of this story’s forward momentum? Who has it out for your characters, and why? Give them as much life and attention as you do your heroes, and you’ll be glad for it. Single-minded antagonists can be fun and all…but it makes them all the more insidious to make them real.
    Furthermore, this goes beyond mere avatars of the opposition, to the very notion. It could be a stock market crash. Incompetent bosses. An earthquake that has severed all the power lines. The opposition can be legion, in the right hands, and it is all the more way to present us with a living, breathing world.
English: A screenshot from Dracula Italiano: U...

Say it with me now: Con-flict. Also fangs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)