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Archive for October, 2010

Crossing Genres for Commercial Publication (Cross-dressing Styles using Advanced Editing Strategies for Any Genre)

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 31, 2010

The effervescent A A Bell has the first book of a new series out. Since Ms Bell has managed to sell a series ‘Diamond Eyes’ with a science fiction premise (with mystery and a whole pile of other things) I asked her how she managed to cross the genres. Take it away:

PS. Watch out for the give away question at the end.

Greetings fellow speculators!

Rowena has posed me with a doosie regarding how to get away with crossing genres in commercial fiction – a question which Richard Hatch (Apollo, Battlestar Galactica, original ’78 version) also raised with me during his recent visit to Australia, because it’s a question that’s also rife throughout the film industry.

“Lots of people have been saying that SF is dead… [but] you have combined SF with a paranormal element in a contemporary setting… how did you integrate the SF elements into the contemporary story?”

Specifically, how did I combine the seven genres of paranormal fantasy, science fiction, poetry, military action, crime, romance and psychological thriller without precipitating a toxic sediment?

To understand, first, I’ll have to argue that SF is not dead – from my perspective it’s morphing/maturing beyond the “pure” genre of science fiction into speculative fiction (the new meaning for SF[1][1]), in a way which offers room for a natural blend of genres which must also complement each other uniquely for each story. Effectively, this permits a wider scope for wider technologies and invites more possibilities and opportunities to cross-dress our genres. Whereas SF – the old definition – seems more to me like an emperor with new clothes; still out for all the world to see, but only those of us who are attuned to what it was can recognise it for what it is now, and as such, it’s infiltrating other genres en masse. Personally, I’ve secured contracts for 7 novels in 7 years under various pen-names (not counting numerous short stories), all with major publishers and all with strong SF elements – the strongest being Diamond Eyes, which scored a 3 book deal in one contract – and yet none have been reviewed as science fiction.

And it’s not just my take on it, because Diamond Eyes (which provides a new slant on time travel, offers a fresh take on ghosts and mentions a physicist who uses two math formulae to “prove and double-prove” the existence of God) is being pitched by the whole marketing machine as fantasy, while being reviewed as a psychological thriller or paranormal romance/crime/espionage thriller. I think one of the main reasons for this level of infiltration, is because the SF elements are all organically embedded within the setting and the “make-up” of the characters– literally drawing as much attention as the shade of the heroine’s sunglasses – while each of the new “fantastic” worlds seen by the main character are what command centre stage every time she opens her eyes.

In our own fast-changing world, which is already rife with “fantastic” opportunities and “tomorrow technologies” is it any wonder that such elements are so readily accepted in the environment of a wider story – often even expected – by a market that can still shy away from health food if we label it health food? To many people, it seems that science fiction sounds more like “homework” while fantasy sounds like a “holiday”, and yet how many wouldn’t go anywhere on holiday without their mobile phone, ipod or laptop?

There’s a lot to learn from others who’ve already passed this way – writers who’ve successfully lured skittish readers and viewers into loving their stories, regardless of the SF elements.




For example, my old neighbour has to be one of the top ten most recalcitrant science fiction haters in the history of the known universe, and yet he also loves:

  • James Bond, Mission Impossible, Iron Man, Spy Kids and anything else that’s dressed up with “tomorrow technology.” Arguably, even CSI, Burn Notice, MacGyver and others which stretch the abilities of current technology or human capabilities, or crunch time-lines, can also be lumped in with fiction that features scientific-based extrapolations.
  • The Stepford wives, dressed up as a “comedy thriller” where all the perfect women in town are robots… hello? Robots!
  • The Lake House, marketed as drama, fantasy and romance for Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, when the central idea is time travel. Hmmm…
  • Eureka, marketed as a comedy-crime series for TV about a laid-back sheriff who plays good shepherd to a “little town with a big secret”… i.e. top-secret town full of mad scientists and their wacky inventions… yep, definitely no chance for science fiction there either.
  • The Big Bang Theory; an almost fatally hilarious comedy TV series that’s basically a nerdy version of neighbours, laced with some of the wittiest takes on scientific facts and theories I’ve ever heard. Every episode is blatantly named after a formula or theory but there’s no sign of SF as a genre in the advertising pitch! Oh, and 3 of the 5 main characters are physicists, while the forth is “just” an engineer for the international space station. Sure, he only designed and built the lavatory, so mankind really could “go” where no man has gone before, but still… space is space, right?
  • And what about Numb3rs? Pitched as crime, drama, mystery and thriller – anything but fiction with science, yet the DVD covers and credits are all dripping with scientific formulae! And for any aliens who just landed, that 3 in the title, is not a typo. Never an episode goes by that we don’t get at least one full-on heavy-duty fully-foreshadowed science/math lesson, and it’s delivered so cleanly as an organic part of the main character’s “make-up” that even my neighbour can spot a pattern of murders in the news nowadays and say “Oh yeah, the cops are gunna need the hot zone equation for that. It’s like a lawn sprinkler…”

Let’s face it, even Star Wars is pitched to the contemporary market nowadays as action, adventure, fantasy and last of all, sci fi. It’s just a royalty saga in space now.

In each case, it’s not the scientific concepts or exotic settings that attract and maintain attention. It’s the people with problems.

I know some industry observers are deeply concerned that this still presents evidence of writers being forced to “mainstream” the genre, dumb it down or bring it down to earth (large E as well as small). And as an author who’s been asked to tone down or eliminate the science in a previous series under another pen-name in order to keep the series “focused” on the situation comedy and crime, I can fully appreciate how frustrating it can be. At times, it can even kill creativity stone dead. But I also think it gives us the chance to smarten up, take a closer look at what’s really important to the characters and their situations while also reaching a much wider readership/audience.

Best of all, I didn’t have to compromise my craft to achieve publication. Quite the opposite. By using advanced editing strategies, the work morphed completely into something new and more exciting, and yet the same with all the wrinkles smoothed over and agendas hidden more stylishly. Strategies such as:

  • re-vision-ing the original vision into something more commercially viable
  • re-framing through a new style of narrator
  • re-fielding, re-toning and re-moding the expanse, style and mood of the work
  • re-layering the text, subtext and metatext, and…
  • re-voicing the narrator from overt to covert…

… to name a few. I also rebelled and cranked up the SF elements for Diamond Eyes, which allowed me to revel and play with more exciting new concepts as well as fresh takes on old ideas. It took me ten years, and despite all the years of scratching my head, tearing out my hair and staring at screens, overall, it was really liberating. So many more unwritten rules for each genre, and yet so much more freedom to bend or break them.

Visionaries will always see the real deal. And we can still appreciate the hardcore “pure” SF genre inside such stories, no matter how they’re dressed, so long as they come with the same proviso as ever, I think; that they’re strong on people with problems, not just plots on planets (even if it’s just this planet.)

At least, that’s my two cents.

[1][1] Encompassing all speculative genres such as fantasy, horror, supernatural, science fiction and sci-fi, and yes there is a difference.

Give away question:

Mira Chambers, Bennet Chiron and Gabion Biche are the names of three characters from the Diamond Eyes trilogy.
Mira is an abbreviation, Chiron is a mythical character and Biche is from a lost language, but how did you pronounce Mira, Chiron and Biche, the first time you saw their names?
E.g., Rowena, would be row-ee-nah
(We’ll leave the competition open until Sunday 7th of November 6pm. Then A A Bell will pick a winner and I’ll announce it on Monday 8th November).

Posted in Book Giveaway, Book Launches, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Pitching, Publishing Industry, Visiting Writer, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

What does a Map bring to a Story- Part Two

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 30, 2010

Our visiting geologist turned writer, Chris Large, is with us again. This time he is looking at:

Rocks and Ore Deposits. Oh My!

Try writing a woodland scene where the only word you‘re allowed to use to describe the wondrously varied flora is ‘trees’.  No oak, no cedar, no maple, not even any pencil pine or scrubby undergrowth – just trees.

Writing convention encourages the discrimination of vegetation, even though not everyone can be expected to know what a cedar, or maple tree looks like. But when it comes to rocks, ‘thou shalt use the word rock, and rock shall be the word, for rock is the word that shall describe the rock’.

As a writer, you’re telling the story through the point of view of a character. If you use a scientific term (or a pseudo-scientific term), it’s going to jar unless there is a reason for the character to know it.  (Think of the medieval Alchemist looking for the Philosopher’s Stone). But just because your character has never heard of metamorphic rock, that doesn’t mean these kind of rocks don’t exist in your world.

Imagine your characters are scrambling up a cliff. I know I’m a weirdo geologist, but I tend to look at (and think about) rocks, and I’m sure you do too on some level.

‘Mangalore pulled himself over the cliff’s razor sharp rim. The dark, brittle rock had a heavy grain, like wood, and splinters of it needled his forearms opening painful, bloody cuts across his palms making  the climb a slippery and treacherous ordeal.’

Now, rather than a rocky cliff, we have an metamorphic rock with veinlets of a mysterious mineral which appears to cut like glass. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in the same way you strive to paint a colourful picture of your world’s flora and fauna, you can also sketch in the rocks and geomorphology, even though you can’t use the correct scientific word you can describe the rock and if it is a rock that your character is familiar with. He/she will have a name for it.

The average medieval peasant would have had words for flints, poor soil like clay, good red soil or black soil for ploughing, and they might use peat for burning. He/she might have seen marble on a fancy church floor or in a church sculpture. Depending on where they lived and how prosperous the local village/town was, they would be familiar with sandstone, flint, limestone and hard chalk which were used in the construction of churches or castles. A stone mason might have a preference for working in one stone over another, just as a carpenter would use different woods for different jobs.

Volcanic Rocks

If you’re writing fantasy and volcanoes are erupting all over the map, raining pyroclasic ejecta down upon your story from on high, you need to research what kind of effect this has. Your character might not know words like rhyolite (light-coloured volcanic rock), basalt (dark volcanic rock), tuff (ashfall deposit), pumice (light, glassy rock), or obsidian (volcanic glass). He/she might not know that molten rock below the ground-surface should be referred to as magma or that once it’s extruded, it can be called lava. But your character will be familiar with all these things and would have their own descriptive names for them.

Basalt is the most commonly used name for volcanic rock in literature. It’s dark, often black, and sometimes has small holes through it called vesicles. These are little bubbles of gas that were trapped in the lava as it quenched. Your peasant might describe pumice as the floating-stone and attribute magical properties to it. Caves, in the form of lava tubes, also occur in basalt. But you don’t have to use accepted nomenclature. If you’re writing fantasy rather than science fiction, you could substitute your own rock names like, “mountain glass” for obsidian.

Knowing how a rock forms and where it comes from could help you write a passage like:

‘Catching a bright flash in the shallows, Mangalore stooped and plunged his hand into the clear, icy water. After fumbling about among the river-washed pebbles, he pulled out a dark, angular shard, roughly the size of and ear of maize.

“Elka!” he barked triumphantly, holding the shard aloft. “Mountain glass! It must have washed down from the Peaks of Fire and Ash.”

Elka grinned wearily. “Now we will have arrowheads,” she said, relief evident in her voice. “And if we’re lucky, a buck for our supper.”

Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks are composed of weathered fragments of other rock types. They’re often formed under water, rivers and streams being extremely efficient mechanisms for transporting large amounts of sediment over long periods of time. And like the rings on an old tree, sedimentary rocks contain a historical record of what has happened in your world in the past.

You might be wondering why this would ever come up in your story, but consider this: such rocks may contain fossils of ancient plants, beasts or even extinct civilisations. If volcanoes erupted nearby (or far away) the rocks may contain layers of ash, or even tuffaceous beds. If a meteor struck your world in the distant past, throwing a cloud of glassy dust into the atmosphere, you could well find evidence of it in sedimentary rocks. And let’s not forget that slabs of sandstone make great building material. What an irony it would be if your thriving, law-abiding city was built from sandstone containing the fossilised relics of an ancient empire of creatures possessed of dark magics and evil urges? What if the dead were to rise right out of the walls of the towering sandstone mansions of the city’s most venerated leaders?

Caves often appear in fantasy books and there are often convenient glowing worms or rocks so that the characters can light their way. Knowing how a cave is formed and what kind of formations the characters are likely to come up against, makes your description of the cave’s tunnels much richer.

Cave systems can occur in limestones when weak acids within groundwater act to dissolve the rock over time. Changes in the chemistry of the groundwater can determine whether it is dissolving or precipitating carbonate.  Limestone is also a sedimentary rock and can form in two ways, firstly via the breakdown of a coral reef, or secondly as a chemical precipitate from a supersaturated groundwater. This is how stalagmites and stalactites form.

Caves can also occur in sandstones in coastal areas where wave action erodes the porous sandstone around faults in the rock. A coastal sandstone cave would not normally be deep or form an extensive network. Often coastal caves form blowholes.

Metamorphic Rocks

One of the best-known metamorphic rocks is the common schist, and frankly, you don’t need to know any more than that. I mean let’s face it, one totally screwed up piece of crud looks pretty-much like another totally screwed up piece of crud. They have a ‘grain’ and tend to split along the grain of the rock. They’re often veined and appear stretched. Marble is a metamorphic rock, having been converted from limestone. Where would king’s palace be without marble? Which brings us to…

Ore Deposits

Unless the inhabitants of your world are going to base their technology on stone and wood alone, they are, at some point, going to have to get their hands dirty in a mine. And while your inner tree-hugger might prefer to believe that elves and other faerie-kind sit around reading love poems all day under majestic, riverside willows – those pewter goblets, ornate belt buckles and exquisitely sharp swords were all forged from metal, which is dug from the ground.

Middle Earth had a few mines, the Mithril mines of Moria being the most prominent. Saruman the White also set his goblins to work for want of iron. Where the hobbits, elves and men came upon their iron, copper, lead and various other metals we can only speculate. Of course a mine is not something that need necessarily appear on a world map, but a large mine would attract significant numbers of workers. In the real world, towns of thirty thousand or more people spring up in mining districts, so it’s a little odd that there aren’t more mining towns in fantasy realms.  The only race that seems to get into mining are dwarfs.

If you’re going to describe a mine, you should try to get a few of the details right because – and this is only an empirical observation – a lot geologists read sf/f. The first thing to know, because I’ve come across this in books before, is that although they can be paired to make stunning jewellery, gold and diamonds are unlikely to naturally occur together. Diamonds will generally occur on their own within an intrusive rock known as Kimberlite, or can be washed into river systems. Gold is usually found in veins (often with quartz).

Iron can be won from magnetite ores. Magnetite is (you guessed it) magnetic, and therefore not too difficult to locate when it’s close to surface. When discussing polymetallic deposits, copper and nickel often occur together.

There are so many styles of mineralisation, it would be impossible to go into them all, suffice to say that if you are planning to insert a mine into your world, you will benefit from doing a little research first. The internet is a great resource for information on ore-forming minerals.

To cut this very long story short, not everyone needs to be Kim Stanley Robinson, but if you want your maps and rock

descriptions to make sense, do a little research. For some writers, this post will be so much nonsense because their world rides around on the back of a turtle, or exists in a bubble in fluid space. Or better yet, is nothing more than a gleam in the eye of the mighty Dream King.

But for those who want something Earth-like and quantifiable, this may help. Geology isn’t rocket science, it’s rock science, which, with a little application, anyone can master to a basic level of understanding (look at me). If you want a river that looks like the Mississippi, find the Mississippi on a map. Observe its luxurious curves, how it flirts with the landscape.

To make your map sexy, first make it real. Only then can you go about moulding it into the total package, making it the papery equivalent of a certain spacefaring minx from the 1960s. On the other hand, if you rush it without paying your respects to natural processes, you’re more likely to end up with the original piecemeal clunkmeister.

That’s it from Chris. I’d like to thank him for taking the time to put these posts together. If you’d like to catch up with him, he can found here.

Chris is a mineral explorer and has spent more than 15 years looking at rocks, sawing them in half, drilling holes into them, licking them, and sticking little eyes on them and giving them to his kids. Many of those 15 years have been spent in a tent in a desert. He now writes from home in Hobart while completing a MSc in Economic Geology.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Dark Urban Fantasy …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 29, 2010

Readers of the spec fic sub genres have noticed the advance of a related sub genre appearing on the bookshop shelves – Dark Urban Fantasy (DUF) or Paranormal Romance. This cousin of spec fic’s Dark Urban Fantasy has been doing really well, gathering a legion of readers. (For my light hearted take on the topic see the Mad Genius Club post here).

So I invited Eleni Konstantine onto the ROR blog to share her insights. Eleni has just set up the Dark Side Down Under blog for this sub genre.

Thanks Rowena for inviting me to the ROR blog. Great to be here with all you fine folk.

I’m here to talk about my views on what the differences between Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and Dark Urban Fantasy are.

Years ago when I joined the Romance Writers of Australia I used to say that I wrote Fantasy with a romantic subplot. Then I thought it may be Fantasy Romance but have come to the realisation that to add the word romance in there the romance is the main focus. Mine is not. Since then, I have gone back to my original concept. I write Fantasy with romantic elements.

Having said this, I have noticed that when I use this term when querying I get the response of ‘not sure of the market’. Sigh. Am I in a no-man’s land where I have too many romantic elements for fantasy readers and not enough for romance readers? So really what is the difference?

Maybe none at all. After all Fantasy – and what I define fantasy here is the traditional fantasy – does have all sorts of elements in it. This includes action, adventure, mystery, and relationships including romance. Love is a powerful factor in many fantasy tales.  I may not need the term “romantic elements”. Maybe it comes down to marketing.

And this is where the paranormal romance and dark urban fantasy debate comes in. To me when you use the word romance, it focuses on the relationship between the hero and heroine. Yes there are subplots and other things happening but this is paramount as well as a HEA (happily ever after) or at least a happy for now. Now DUF on the other hand does not have to focus on a romantic relationship. It can have a romance in there but it’s not the only factor and there is no promise of a happily ever after. It can also be darker and grittier and a hero in a DUF novel can be more unpleasant than one in a paranormal romance, where readers want to fall in love with him even if he is rough around the edges.

But with the marketing machine, readers may find each of these types of stories in the other category. There is a broader audience to sell to if you place them in other. So is it just economics? Yes and no.

I notice the same sort of cross over in libraries. One copy of a book – say Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson Guardian series (which I classify as a DUF and has romantic elements), may be found in the romance section, in the fantasy section, or in the horror section (vampires, werewolves). In some libraries there is a separate paranormal romance section. Again it’s about trying to get more readers to read. I suppose the more readers they have, the more the library can justify its existence, so maybe it IS all about economics.

Still a condensed version of my classification is – (I’m a former librarian, my life was to classify items for many years *smile *):
Fantasy – traditional fantasy set in another made up world, or maybe some crossover of another world with ours. There can be a lot of romance or little or even none depending on the tale.
Paranormal romance – set in an urban ‘earth’, contemporary or futuristic setting, with paranormal/supernatural elements or creatures, where the romance is the main focus, and a guaranteed HEA.
Dark Urban Fantasy – set in similar worlds to the PR, but the romance is either not the main focus or not there.

On my website I say I’m a fantasy and paranormal writer because then I can cover both PR and DUF if I so choose, and not all my short stories have romance in them. Sometimes depending on the audience, I add the phrase romantic elements in there.

I’d be interested to know what you all think of this topic?

While I’m here, I’d like to plug a new blog – Dark Side DownUnder. It is by writers from the RWAus Paranormal group banding together to showcase speculative fiction with romantic elements and our members. Yes we’ve used the romantic elements because big or small romance has a play in our work. We launch on the 31st – Halloween is appropriate don’t you think? So we’d love if you come along to join us with a chance to win some great prizes in the coming weeks.

~Eleni Konstantine

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Genre Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Finding your Character’s Voice

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 26, 2010

This is a Sunday Craft post that’s turning up on a Wednesday. The VISION list has been discussing how writers find their character’s voice, so I thought I’d ask the RORees for their insights.

Richard Harland:

How do I find a character’s voice? Well, basically, by not looking for it. I’d never try to envisage a character’s voice as something that could exist all by itself – I mean, turns of phrase, speech patterns in a vacuum?  I only start to discover how a character speaks when I try them out interacting with someone else. Then it becomes a question of how they try to influence others, bounce off others, show a particular face to the world … and that’s what produces their individual voice. Character determines interaction with others determines way of speaking to others determines typical turns of phrase and speech patterns. That’s the sequence that works for me.

I’m talking about a voice within a third person narrative, of course. It’s different in a first person narrative when the character is the narrator. I’ve just had huge struggles over a story called “Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism” for an international anthology called Ghosts by Gaslight, and my struggles were 90% over getting the right voice for the narrator. It had to be a 19th century voice, therefore formal and proper, but at the same time intense and emotional. A difficult balancing act – and I began the story the story five times over before getting it right. Maybe that’s my only advice for a first person narrator’s voice – keep on experimenting, however long it takes, because if you haven’t got the voice, you haven’t got anything.

For Richard’s Writing Tips see here.





Tansy Rayner Roberts

I’m just coming to the end of a trilogy that’s more complex than anything else I’ve ever written, largely because of voice.  I have several POV characters, most third person and a few first person, and it’s hard work to keep them all feeling like they have a distinct voice.

My personal ideal is that you should be able to tell whose eyes the scene is being shown through even if they’re not named (though of course I do always name them, I’m not that mean!).  My main trick for capturing voice is vocabulary – I like to have a few key words that are specific to a particular character, something they use more that others don’t.  I also like to use phrasing that links back to their past or their interests – so my dressmaker sees the world in craft metaphors, the performer from a small fishing town uses theatrical comparison and sea shanty style insults, my aristocrat has a higher sense of entitlement and impatience and a complete tomcat sensibility which means he wants to have sex with everyone he meets…

There is no perfect way, but I do like to have a few things to cling to with each character that makes me feel as if I am in their head, and telling this part of the story through their voice.  Swearing is a great key to each character – some characters swear more than others, some more creatively, some prissily, some boldly, and some not at all.  Though as with anything you can overdo that kind of difference – you don’t want to end up as a parody of your own techniques!  I hope I get the balance right.

Having said all that I am REALLY looking forward to my next book which will only have one POV character, first person, and one single voice to capture.  Oh, the luxury!

Maxine McArthur:

Sometimes a character’s voice is there from the beginning. Halley was like that. I did a little tweaking in the middle of writing Time Future because the plot changed greatly, but basically from the moment I wrote the prologue—which stayed pretty much the same without rewriting—she was ‘there’. In my head. Which was a bit scary.

Tacs (a character in my present project) is like that, too. I’ve never had to struggle to wonder what he’s going to say or do. With these characters, the right words tend to come out easily.

Sometimes a character’s voice develops as I write—the more I get to know them, the easier it is to express their thoughts. You have to court them. Murdoch was like this, and also Ishihara in Less Than Human. It’s an enjoyable process, this getting to know a character. It may involve quite a bit of rewriting, but that’s part of the fun. The words don’t come out as easily with these characters—yesterday I spent a good 15 minutes (I was also boiling an egg at the time, that’s how I know) finding the right two lines of description from a certain character’s point of view.

I think that ‘finding’ a character’s voice is a cumulative process, not a point of ‘aha!’ discovery. The more time you spend getting it right in the beginning (like my 15 minutes), the easier the words come as the story progresses. It’s as though the character’s voice wears a path in your subconscious, and when you step onto that path, like a record needle placed in the groove, you can’t go wrong. This is another reason I spend a bit of time each writing session re-reading previous passages—it helps set the needle in the right groove.

Trent Jamieson: (Warning, Trent was overcome by an attack of Whimsy!)

The Tournée Method

For this method you need at least six or seven jars, with their lids as well. Make sure you remove their labels, and wash the jars and their lids thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly they must be as clean as possible.

You will also need a very sharp knife, and I mean Very sharp, the sort of blade that will cut you if you if you look at it from the wrong angle. Yes, that sharp. A tournée or a bird’s beak knife as they are commonly known is best, though you may need it professionally sharpened. Most supermarkets sell them, but if you cannot find one there, try a shop that supplies kitchen items to chefs.

With your tournée knife, and your jars, (careful, don’t break them, the jars must be whole, the lid making a perfect seal) walk to the nearest bus stop or train station.

As you probably know, the four winds of the world gather there, there’s nothing they delight in more than blowing open people’s umbrellas, or mixing rubbish, dirt and air in whirling bursts to scatter over commuters’ finest work outfits. More importantly the four winds contain all the voices of the world.

Sit at the stop (or station), switch off your Ipod and listen. Listen in the most profound way you can, above the sound of approaching buses (or trains). Strain your ears. Listen to the voices of the world. You’ll find if they’re fast or slow or angry. You’ll know if they hate or they love. If they speak in long slow sentences or rush as rapid as racehorse, a real thoroughbred. You’ll know if they are educated or not, if they like to swear or sweeten their words.

Listen. Concentrate.

Now, when you have found what you are looking for, be quick, and be subtle. Open a jar, slip out your knife, and (careful not cut yourself of or others) slice the voice from the wind. You don’t need it all, just a sliver.

Fill each jar with a different voice, some will be heavy some will be light, when you have enough take them home and set the jars on your desk, or wherever it is that you work. Do not shake the jars! That would be cruel.

Each voice should last you at least six months, possibly twelve, enough time to get a novel written, enough time to know what that voice is saying, what it’s thinking. By the end you should be able to close your eyes and hear that voice even when it isn’t there.

At that stage you should be able to empty the jars, rinse, clean, then repeat as required.

Don’t you just love, Trent?

But what’s he’s saying is true. All the voices in the world are out there. You just need to listen. I catch a lot of trains. Commuter trains tend to be serious business, but trains at off peak times are real microcosm of the world. I listen and sometimes people talk to me. I must have a friendly face because people tell me the most amazing things.

So there you are, some insights on how writers find their characters’ voices.

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 14 Comments »

What does a Map bring to a Story?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 23, 2010


Thanks to Chris Large, Geologist Extraordinaire (and writer of spec fic)  we have an insight into how writers can bring more verisimilitude to our world building through maps.

Take it away, Chris.



A map is a pretty standard accompaniment to a fantasy novel, right? You’ve built a completely new world. You’re proud of it, and how well it all fits together. “And look here,” you say, “it’s all on this funky little map.”

Fine, that’s great – but why? I don’t know the exact landscape of Italy, but I can still read a book set in Umbria without feeling the need to refer to a map.

To a writer, a map represents a series of obstacles her characters must overcome to reach their goal. It can also add depth to her tale, provide her characters with a home, and her readers with a feeling of ‘place’. In the real world however, a map is a representation of the effects of natural land-forming processes on the countryside. These processes are occurring both at surface by way of weathering and erosion, and below the surface in the form of tectonic, mountain-building stresses. Now I’m not suggesting all sf/f authors get themselves down to their local university for a crash course in Geology 101 (though it wouldn’t hurt), but when world-building, paying attention to natural processes will lend authenticity to your landforms and waterways, and give you a much more visually appealing result than simply pushing a river through here, and plonking a mountain down over there.

So what does a map bring to a story? Nothing if its mountain ranges, glacial valleys and winding rivers are geologically ridiculous. In fact, in the same way that a hessian sack will obscure the killer curves of a gorgeous supermodel, a poor map can significantly detract from a ripping yarn. If you include a map in your story, shouldn’t a reader reasonably expect the landscape to play at least as significant a role as one of your main characters? Surely a black and white depiction of Brave New World’s supple hills and sensuous valleys is akin to the opening description of one of its deadly heroines. But you wouldn’t make the mistake of writing a (human) character with a mouth in her ear and four butt cheeks, so why create a map with equivalent flaws?

“Don’t be so pedantic!” I hear you cry. “It’s fantasy!” Okay, but as a writer you don’t want to look foolish, and as a reader you will lose confidence in a story without a solid foundation. Let me give this (slightly tangential, but bear with me) example of an Original Series episode of Star Trek called ‘City on the Edge of Forever’. Ruins dating back ten thousand centuries are discovered on the ‘Planet of Time’, apparently dating it as the oldest planet in the universe. However ten thousand centuries is only one million years. The Earth, which is far from an old planet, is thought to be around four and a half billion years old. Way to go Captain K.

So the Earth’s geological history is long, and humans have been around to witness only a tiny fraction of it. If you’re writing about a world similar to Earth – be it populated by elves, gnomes, trolls, whatever – it’s likely to be of a similar age, and to have undergone similar land-forming processes, and will therefore have similar rocks, mountains, and ore deposits.


It will not, (as I have observed on some maps) have water that runs uphill. Yes, rivers love to flow toward the sea, but under no circumstances will they run over mountain ranges to get there. Neither will they weave strategically between the foothills of the aforementioned ranges, because even though foothills may be little more than the annoying whimsy of your publisher’s cartographer, they still represent high-ground. Water is reasonably predictable in so much as it generally flows in the same direction as gravity’s pull, so unless the dread wizard Aarchon Demonstricus is exerting the mighty power of Jawlock’s Amulet of Fantastical Water Summoning from his secret mountaintop lair, running water will normally stick to lowland regions. If you’re unsure which way is up on your map, try sketching on some contours. It makes things a lot easier.

This said, and once again acknowledging that rivers absolutely and positively adore making for the sea, mature river systems generally won’t strike across county like a sprinter who really, really needs the can. Rather, they will take their time, meandering casually across the flood plain with all the enthusiasm of a pensioner making his way back to the retirement home bus, after a leisurely afternoon of lawn bowls with his mates. The older the river, the more pronounced the meander. This is because water runs fastest around the outside of a river bend, eroding the bank, and slowest around the inside of the bend, depositing sediment previously held in suspension.

People build along rivers because they need water to survive but they can pay a price for this.  Flooding can wipe out a town or a crop. Or flooding can fertilize the land, as it is in Egypt. The Nile flooded every year, bringing rich sediment to the soil and making farming possible. The locals built their lives around these floods. When the floods didn’t come there was famine. Rivers were also used as highways. The Vikings travelled all over Europe via major rivers, settling where Moscow is now, which is where the name Russia (Rus) comes from. So the writer needs to consider which kind of rivers they have in their world and how the locals use these rivers.

While we’re on a watery theme, inland water cannot exist in isolation. A lake without a feeder is akin to a barfly without a scotch: it’s either faking it, or it’s only there for messy, late-night sex. Sure, transient water such as that found in salt pans can exist on rainfall alone, but as soon as the rain stops, the pans will dry. Permanent lakes require continuous feed, and that means large catchments and significant supply via creeks and rivers. A glacier is a great source of slow feed for a lake.


But water is only one side of the story. How about mountains? Where do they spring from? Are they the equivalent of acne, popping up unwanted and unheralded across the face of your map? Or is there a more quantifiable mechanism at work? There are two easy ways to build mountains. One is by compressing the landscape until it folds and buckles, the other is by volcanism.

If you apply lateral compression to your landscape it has little choice but to either fold, or fault. If the rocks are ductile they will fold, if they’re brittle they will fault. In the case of faulting, one block will ride over the top of another, creating mountains. Equally, if you apply extension, or pull your landscape apart, one block will drop, creating a valley.

On Planet Earth, the process of plate tectonics dictates where and how the Earth’s crust is created, and where it’s destroyed. A series of mid-ocean ridges are the birthplaces of new crust (and potentially represent the spawnpoint of all life on Earth). Convecting magma from the mantle or asthenosphere, erupts onto the seafloor at divergent margins. To make way for new crust, the plate must move. Where the mobile plate meets a static plate, the mobile crust is subducted and remelted, often resulting in volcanism. If you want to see an example of how to apply this theory retrospectively to a well-known fantasy world, you can read my short piece entitled, “The Tectonics of the Misty Mountains,” appearing next year in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine # 51.

The above theory is dependent on crust being destroyed at the same rate it’s being created. Some geologists don’t believe this is the case, suggesting instead that the crust is destroyed at a much slower rate, and that the Earth is therefore expanding. Of course your characters aren’t going to stand around debating which of the various mountain-building processes are most likely apply to what mountain ranges, but at least if you know, things will make sense on the map.

And how your characters interact with the landscape has to make sense. Say the writer decides the mountains in their world are products of volcanic activity, which is still hissing away. How is this going to affect the people who live in the region? Can they harness the steaming water? People build close to volcanoes because the soil is particularly rich. But, like rivers, there’s a price for this soil as the volcano may erupt again. Do the locals have myths about past eruptions and buried villages?

If the writer’s characters are living in a mountainous region, how they farm will be affected, (terraces, anyone?) as well as how they travel. (Wheels aren’t much use in steep, rocky terrain). If the mountains are particularly high, they will affect rain flow, so the villages on the inland side will be dryer and could struggle to make a living from the soil, while the villages on the coast side will get more rain and live a more comfortable life. This could set up conflict between the two kingdoms. Now you see why where you put the mountains, the type of mountains and what effect they have on the land is important.

Next week see Part Two: Rocks and Ore Deposits, oh my!


Chris is a mineral explorer and has spent more than 15 years looking at rocks, sawing them in half, drilling holes into them, licking them, and sticking little eyes on them and giving them to his kids. Many of those 15 years have been spent in a tent in a desert. He now writes from home in Hobart while completing a MSc in Economic Geology.

See Chris Large’s blog here.

Posted in World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

Winner Announced

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 21, 2010

Lara Morgan has dipped her hand into the virtual ice-cream bucket and pulled out…


Cyndie, you’ve won a copy of Lara’s new book, The Rosie Black Chronicles. Just leave your email in the comments section and I’ll get back to you.

Meanwhile, see Lara Morgan’s post on Writing for Young Adults here. And read a sample chapter of her book here.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Genre Writing, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

In the beginning …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 16, 2010

We writers spend so much time over openings. This post over at the Mad Genius Club made me think about openings.

There is the first paragraph,which has to sparkle so much it grabs the jaded editor and then it has to grab the fussy reader, browsing through the bookstore. (How important is the first paragraph when a reader can download the whole novel instantly, often for free?).

But the real challenge is  the opening chapters.

These opening chapters have to set up the world which is harder for speculative fiction writers because even a Dark Urban Fantasy writer’s world has different rules from the one we live in.  Holly Lisle has some tips on getting to know your world here.

I tend to let the world grow as I write. I trust myself to do this because I’ve done a lot of reading on sociology and anthropology. In fact the real art is not to introduce too much world building. The writer reveals only what the reader needs to know, as they need to know it.

These opening chapters  have to introduce the characters and make the reader CARE about them. This is terribly important. If your reader doesn’t care why would they keep reading? This is where Holly Lisle talks about bringing characters to life.

There’s a saying, have your character save the cat – meaning have them do something likable. I’d say, even if the character is doing terrible things, the reader will like them if they are doing these things for a good reason. So make your character’s motives powerful, make these motives something the reader can identify with.

Rather than constructing characters, I tend to throw them into conflict and see what they do. This way I get to know the character as the reader gets to know them. This has the added bonus of putting the character is danger which  raises the Worry Factor as I call it. The more your reader is worrying about the character, the more they are going to want to keep turning the pages.

These opening chapters have to introduce the conflict. If you throw your characters straight into trouble, then you’ve already introduced the conflict. By the end of the first two chapters (depending on the complexity of the plot) the reader should have a good idea what the driving force of the conflict is. Holly Lisle covers conflict here, both internal and external conflict.

So this is why opening chapters are so important. I often find that I’ve started too late and have to go back to write more before the original opening. Do you struggle with beginnings?

Posted in Characterisation, Genre Writing, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

Writing for Young Adults

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 13, 2010

Today we have Lara Morgan doing a guest post. Lara’s book, The Rosie Black Chronicles is published by Walker Books. We’ll be giving away a copy of Lara’s book, so watch out for the give-away question at the end of the post.

Writing for young adults wasn’t something I naturally fell into. Everything I’ve written previously has been for adults, but I found myself with a gap of time a few years back and I thought, why not write a story specifically for young adults? I’d been working on a complex fantasy trilogy for some time and I was really looking for something totally different to that and since I’ve often read a lot of YA I thought I would have a go at writing it. For some reason, I thought it might be easier.

Well the simple answer to that is, of course, it’s not easier, but it is a little different.

Firstly, and this is something I had pointed out to me by a fellow writer early on, it is vitally important that you don’t let any of the adults take over the story. It sounds bleedingly obvious really, but as a writer used to having older characters as the focus, this was a lesson that had to be learned quickly.

In The Rosie Black Chronicles I have two fairly prominent adults, Rosie’s aunt and a man called Riley, and at one stage in an early draft Rosie’s aunt began edging onto centre stage. I almost didn’t realise it until my mentor told me that Essie was becoming more interesting and getting better lines, than Rosie herself.

How to solve this? Well, in time honoured YA tradition I had to hurt her. Aunt Essie, that is not Rosie. Yes, I found one of the best ways of scaling down any adult involvement in the plot is to maim them. It was very freeing. Suddenly I felt the story begin to come alive and it allowed Rosie to step forward and show her true heroic colours. It was the most important lesson I learned about writing YA and it’s something I stick with now as I’m working on the second in the series.

The three other things that differ in YA are:

Word count – novels generally max out at around 85,000 words, which as a writer of door stopper size fantasy was a challenge for me.

Language  and Sex.

Those last two, language and sex, depend on how young your audience is and your publisher, but also very much on the kind of book you’re crafting. Generally there is a less is more approach for swearing and its pretty much assumed that graphic descriptions of sex aren’t appropriate for YA.

In Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, he cleverly masks the swearing of his main character in a way that is absolutely logical in the terms of the story, so that when a swear word is actually used once, and only once, by a character that scene resonates in a way that  would not have been possible had swearing been commonplace throughout the book.

That’s not to say bad language can’t be used in YA. I have read many books where it is present but it is clear from the outset that it is part of the characters and a reflection of their world and it not being there would make it seem as if the author were being coy and not telling the truth.

Sex in YA is a bit more difficult. One the one hand there is a certain view that as these books are aimed at a teen audience sex should be portrayed as responsibly as possible and something that is not casual or without consequence and I think, as a whole most YA novels tend toward this. Graphic descriptions of sex are irregular but references to characters having sex are generally just that, references without the actual act occurring or just plenty of heavy petting. I don’t have sex in my book, but sexual attraction is certainly present as I feel it would just be dodging the truth to pretend that characters in their late teens don’t have any such feelings. Because really, in writing YA, it is as important to tell the truth about people’s feeling and developments as it is in any fiction, regardless if you’re writing science fiction, contemporary fiction or paranormal romance. That’s all I hope to do with my stories; tell the truth about the world and the people in it and hope those who read it enjoy it.


Giveaway Question

How many years in the future is The Rosie Black Chronicles set?  (hint: watch the book trailer for the answer)

We’ll announce the winner in one week’s time, on Thursday the 21st of October.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Genre Writing, Plotting, Promoting your Book, Visiting Writer, Writing Craft, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

A round up of what the RORees are up to …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 12, 2010

For no particular reason, Trent’s going first.

Trent has just handed in book three of his trilogy and is madly doing the edits on book one. And while we’re talking about Trent, here’s a review of his latest book, Death Most Definite.  He offers Career Advice for the New Writer here.

Marianne has started her Cowpunk series and her anthology Glitter Rose is now available.  She now has the cover for the first book of her YA series, which has its own web site here. Check out the writing advice here.

Tansy has been working on the third book of her trilogy . Turns out book two has been renamed The Shattered City. For a sneak preview of book two see here.

Richard is polishing book two, Liberator. Having read it a ROR I can say it is worthy sequel to Worldshaker. And this is where you can access Richard’s 145 pages of writing tips.

Maxine is working on a fascinating story that involves time travel and the first world war. We read her book at the recent ROR and I found the scenes in the Sopwith Camel gripping. She’s about to set up a new blog with info on the new book, so I’ll add a link when I get it.

Margo is up to her ears in revisions for a novel about selkies, due out at the end of 2011 in Australia and in Spring 2012 in the US and the UK.  She’s also putting together a fourth collection of short stories, called Yellowcake, which brings together stories published in all sorts of places in the last four years.   It’s coming out in Australia in March 2011.  She’s also writing a whole new batch of fresh short stories, which will come out in various anthologies in the next twelve months.  And she will be teaching at Clarion West in July of 2011. For more info, see here.

Dirk has been writing a Libretto, based around Bedlam, the Queen of the Faeries and Lord Byron, which promises to be a show stopper!

And I’ve been working on the new trilogy, The Outcast Chronicles , for Solaris.  I’ve blogged about how the clean up process became the rewrite process when I discovered I’d ended the book in the wrong place.

I might do something about setting goals for the next ROR Sunday Writing Craft post. Feel free to make suggestions for topics.


Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Genre Writing, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Plotters Vs Pantsers

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 8, 2010

Chocolate – the life saver of writers.

I’m doing my Sunday Writing Craft Post early this week because I won’t get a chance over the weekend. It’s been a mad week for me at work and it’s not over yet, as I have commitments at Conquest this weekend. For anyone who is interested, Marianne de Pierres, Trent Jamieson and Kylie Chan will be there.  Here’s the programme, there’s panels and workshops. I’m doing my Pitching Workshop on the Sunday afternoon from 2-4pm.

After last week’s post on plotting Chris brought up an interesting point. He asked if writers of different genres plotted differently, for instance, were writers of hard SF more likely to be planners, than pantsers. (For those of you unfamiliar with this term a pantser is a writer who starts of with a character or a scene or an idea and let’s the story take them. They just grab ahold of that tiger’s tail and hold on).

I’ve chatted with lots of writers over the years about their style of plotting but I didn’t have a definitive answer, so I decided to survey some writing friends. I posted a list of questions asking what the genre/s they wrote,  whether they were pantsers or plotters and what length they wrote (short story or novel), whether this made a difference to their style of plotting and if they changed genre did they change their plotting style.

I surveyed the Vision list and the Darkside Romance list. These authors wrote in a wide variety of genres and across the age range. So we had:  children and young adult (across the genres), traditional paranormal romance (ie stand alone books where the hero and heroine end up together), dark urban fantasy, fantasy, horror, magic realism and science fiction. Some were dedicated to the novel length but most said they wrote both short and long fiction and they ranged from not published, through published in short stories, to published and also New York Times best seller authors. (Love being able to say that). Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my survey!

I still don’t have a definitive answer to Chris’s question but I do have an insight.

When I asked writers if they were a plotter or a pantser the response was mixed, they could be both, depending on the length.

If they were a pantsers tended to say things like this writer:

‘Generally I have the feel of the story and a good sense of the world and the characters and I know how I want it to end, but exactly what the story is and how it will happen is then discovered as I write.’

I must admit, I did expect hard SF writers to be plotters yet the one writer who identified with this sub-genre of SF said:

‘I’m a plotter – but not a very thorough one. Generally, before I start writing, I’ll know what will happen to each of the main characters as the story unfolds – I tend to chart this with a rough timeline, splitting the novel into perhaps twenty ‘milestones’ with a sentence or two about who is doing what and why at each point, for each character. This is enough to get me started and generally keeps me on course to the end of the book. I also do character sketches and write a couple of pages about the ‘world’ to get me started. If the book is set in the future, I also sketch out a timeline for the various technical and social changes that have led to the ‘world’ of the book.’

So even though he didn’t plot every event, he did a lot of preparation before starting on the book because of the complexity. (Not that writing fantasy isn’t complex). Yet another SF writer said the opposite:

‘I think I’d be more inclined to pants-it on sci-fi because it seems to have more complex plotlines, and I don’t think I could imagine it all through without writing the story. Apart from that, if I was in love with a character I wouldn’t plot. I’d write her (or his) experiences to enjoy the journey and find out what happens together. Plotting first would ruin that.’

You’d think it would be simple enough to answer my questions with a yes or no, but these wonderful authors write across several genres, at different lengths, then they go and do things like experiment by plotting some books, and pansting others.

Others were wary of changing their plotting style. One author who favoured plotting felt ‘If I try to pants it, I end up in the most terrible mess.’

What was curious, was that if someone was a pantser for novels, they would often plot a short story. Or if they were a plotter for novels, they would pants a short story.

If they change their writing style from pantser to plotter for short stories it was because: ‘In short stories I tend to plot before I write — I find writing short stories is harder to be a panster, because short stories do not allow that “flexibility” to go off in to tangents.  One has to maintain focus.’

Alternatively, if they were a plotter for novels and they changed for short stories, they said things like this: ‘the shorter it is the less I plot!’

If they changed their plotting style it was because:   ‘The  odd  short  story that  comes  to  me  arrives  in  one package, so I  can  plot  in  advance. With  novels,  I  tend to  start  with  a  character  and a  situation and a general  idea  of  the  end,  so  I  have  to  flimmer  the first  draft,  at  least  until  I  have  an  idea  what the  plot  is!’

Many writers said the genre didn’t influence the way they plotted but others found it did.

‘The focus of the story/the genre does dictate how one plots e.g., a romance has to be closely plotted to the developing relationship with not many tangents, whereas a fantasy50/50 allows more plot other than the “romance”.’

Or their style of plotting changed ‘because some stories need a lot of world-building and/or backstory and/or timelines, so the ‘how’ varies from something that looks like a genealogy chart to something that covers the whole table with pieces of paper and card!’

So there you have it. There is no definitive answer on plotting styles when you look at genre. There isn’t even consistency in plotting style for authors regarding the story length because they switch from pantsing to plotting or vice a versa. Which just goes to show you why trying to organise anything with creative people is like trying to herd cats!

With something as individual as writing it all seems to come down to one thing, if it works, do it.




Posted in Genre Writing, Plotting, Writing Craft | Tagged: , | 22 Comments »