This plant is a Snow Flurry Astor, a perennial considered by some to be a weed because the leaves have serrated edges and it grows wild. Yet, it is beautiful and natural. In North America, we have inherited an attitude prominent in the Victorian era in which everything must be classified, ordered and controlled. Victorian men were convinced they could turn nature to their desires and tame it for their benefits. Victorian gardens are planned and layout out systematically. Everything goes in its place. What does not fit in the scheme is torn out.
Order was not restricted to gardens. From the Victorian attitude, people are also classified, ordered and controlled for the benefit of those in power. Herein is a root of racism, misogyny and the destruction of the environment we all depend on for survival. People who fall outside the norm are treated as weeds. They are stripped of their human rights and respect to benefit those who have ordered our society for their short-term gain. Diversity in the garden is condemned. Diversity in society is persecuted.
It is time to stop planting lawns and promote meadows, both for flora and people.
In a masters course, world renowned and award winning author Salman Rushdie said authors should writer they know, and authors have to know a lot. He went on to say authors need to research the subjects and people in their books with journalistic skills.
Writing what you know can entail emotions. You have likely experienced many emotions in you life, both good and troubling. This is material to draw upon. You can also extrapolate and heighten emotions and experiences you have had. You may want to write about a character who has a broken arm. You can research broken arms and read accounts by people who have broken an arm. To bring about the emotional response, think about a time when you had a toothache or other injury. Mentally transfer the pain to an arm and multiply it by 100.
Yet, writing what you know can go beyond emotions when you create situations and cultures that are not your own. Another thing Mr. Rushdie said is if white people can only write about white people and black people about black people and men about men and women about women, the form of the novel is dead.
To write about cultures or people outside your personal experience requires you to both study the subject in detail and speak directly with people of different communities. Mr. Rushdie sites a major female character in one of his books who is strong and competent. He is not a woman, has not personally experience the exclusion many women do, has never given birth. He talked to woman and used a historical woman who was strong in the ways his character is as a role model to effectively create a whole and compelling character that people believe in.
Artists and writers have been subject to persecution, banishment and death over history when they stood up to prejudice, tyranny and injustice and changed the world.
Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist changed child labors laws in 19th century England. His story was unpopular with industrialists and politicians who profited from the practice. When people read the story that was serialized in a magazine, they leaned a truth they were unaware of and demanded change. The Politicians were forced to pass laws protecting children from what was de facto slavery.
That is one of the roles of art in society. The shock of the new. The voice to speak out when it's unpopular because it's right.
Everyone must decide what they want to do with their lives and whether they want to stand up and possibly be ridiculed or worse. Some have died because of their views. Murders of journalists in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and other dictatorial nations is on the rise, yet journalists continue to expose what is really happening outside the propaganda.
Vladimir Putin falsely claims his forces are liberating Ukraine from Nazis and are not bombing hospitals and launching missiles against civilian apartment buildings. Anyone in Russia today who says it's a war or contradicts what Putin says can be arrested and disappear, never to be seen again. Yet, journalist, authors, poets and individuals have courageously stood up and told the truth.
Democracies dies through complacency one step at a time. It is regained when individuals stand up.
I’m getting ready to release Covenant With the Dragons, the final volume of my epic fantasy series The Carandir Sage. The evil dragon can wake at any time. Civil war rages. Missions to seek aid are thwarted. A young princess born away from the strife is tempered to return and face the evil. It is.
Up to now, the books have been available on Amazon and in physical bookstores through a process called print-on-demand. It sounds great. There is no upfront printing costs because books are only printed when ordered by bookstores and libraries. The orders pay the printing costs plus my profit.
Unfortunately, it costs up to 40% more per copy than if the books are printed ahead of time in a batch and there is a grave risk. Since the 1940s, bookstores have demanded the ability to return unsold copies to publishers. When this happens, I must cover the printing and shipping fees. Up to December of 2020, I had only had 5 books returned and the profit from other sales more than covered this. That December, a bad player with an Amazon store ordered 200 books and promptly returned them all. Other independent published have had the same thing happen to them. I have no control over how many books are printed and distributed with print-on-demand. I can’t even restrict who orders books. In January of 2021, I had to pay an unexpected $2,000 in U.S. finds for those returns. I was forced to mark all of my books as nonreturnable to protect myself. This means that sellers like Barnes & Noble in the states, Indigo in Canada and others will list the books in their online catalogues where books are paid for at the time customers order them, but will not stock them in physical stores. That and the higher retail price I have to charge puts me at a competitive disadvantage.
I have started a Kickstarter campaign to print a batch of Covenant With the Dragons with a lower price and get it into physical bookstores through a distributor. This will allow me to make appearances again where I use my decades of theater experience to engage customers and sell lots of books. My stretch goals include printing batches of all my titles to get completely out of print-on-demand.
There are just 16 days left to reach the goal. If you could make a donation it would help greatly. Even small amounts add up. Whether or not you can make a donation, you can help me by sharing this message with people you know who might be able to. https://tinyurl.com/2p9v9jyp
Some writers misunderstand the phrase, “Show don’t tell.” One is distant and vague. The other is specific and involves readers in the story. You could write:
It was a hot summer day when Mary walked to the beach. She wanted see Tom and hoped he was not still mad.
This tells readers about the day. It presents a superficial look at the situation. The characters are not engaged. Events happen in a vacuum. This is want’s meant by telling.
Consider something different:
Sweat dotted Mary’s freckled face as the summer sun blazed down on her. She shuffled past the row of brightly painted houses on her way to the beach. Tom’s angry scowl from the night before came to mind; his jaw tensed; his face red. She was certain he would be on his surfboard as he was every day. Was he still mad? Would he talk to her? A tingle churned from her stomach to her chest.
Both examples give the same information. This second one allows readers to see Mary and Tom. It places them in a physical space. It also demonstrates both character’s emotional states with physical descriptions. The passage will have greater impact and stay with readers longer. This is what is meant by showing.
There is a fine line in writing between foreshadowing and telegraphing. Foreshadowing consists of facts, incidents or dialogue that appear to be insignificant at the time, yet prepare readers for future events in the book.
For instance, a character might say, “Sara used to deliver newspapers in college to support herself. She had a great arm and could put the paper on a porch every time. She was always good with her hands. I remember how she wanted to be a sculpture from the beginning. Her job let her stay in school where a professor noticed her work and suggested she enter the state competition. That was the beginning of her art career.”
On the surface, the conversation seems to be about Sara as an artist because it moves from throwing newspapers to Sara being good with her hands to Sara being able to stay in school because of the job to Sara’s big break so she can become an artist. Her ability to throw newspapers accurately is hidden within dialogue and will fall to the back of the minds of readers until a later scene where Sara has to throw a key to a character who is trapped in a cage. The seemingly unimportant fact about her ability to always hit a porch with a newspaper leads readers to believe she can toss the key accurately. Without that piece of dialogue, the reader will not believe Sara capable of this act.
Foreshadowing can be taken too far. If the dialogue had said that Sara practiced throwing objects because she was always worried she would come across animals caught in cages where she couldn’t reach them and wanted to be able to knock the cages open. Her throwing ability in the piece of dialogue would become as import as her art career and readers would be waiting for Sara to encounter something locked in cage. When the scene comes where Sara finds a person locked in a cage where the key is hanging on a shook, readers will think, “Oh, yes. Sara will throw that key into the cage.”
This becomes telegraphing and removes the suspense. When Sara tosses the key, readers will have expected it instead of being surprised when she comes up with the solution. Her action is now mundane instead of satisfying.
Foreshadowing is all about subtlety.
Beyond the Shallow Bank, my women’s historical novel with elements of Celtic mythology, won first place in the Magic, Legend and Lore category and third place for Historical Fiction at The BookFest Awards for Spring 2022. The awards ceremony took place on 2 April 2022 in Los Angeles as part of the semi-annual conference. The ceremonies and panel discussions were held online this year. https://www.thebookfest.com/book-awards-spring-2022-first-place/2/.
Beyond the Shallow Bank is told through the perspective of an artist named Margaret Talbot who fights her way into the male dominated world of publishing in the late 19th century to become a magazine illustrator. In 1901, she suffers a life changing crisis and comes to a small Nova Scotia fishing village where she meets another woman rumored to be a selkie, a magical being from Celtic mythology who walks on the land as a human and swims in the sea as a seal. With the influence of the villagers, and Margaret’s own self-determination, she strives to discover who she is and what she truly wants.
Publishers Weekly Booklife Prize said, “Wimsett's novel is quickly paced without the events of the story feeling rushed… Engaging characters and the right amount of fantasy help elevate the novel above standard genre trappings while retaining enough of the conventional elements of historical fiction. Margaret is an engaging protagonist…”
Nova Scotia writer Susan Haley, author of a number of Canadian titles including A Nest of Singing Birds and Petitot said, “The wonderful romantic plot of the book with its magical twist and turns gives substance and resonance to Margaret’s multiple dilemmas. Beyond the Shallow Bank presents a delightful picture of a Nova Scotia fishing village with all its characters: the madman inventor and the man who carries the ashes of his dead wife around with him. Beyond the Shallow Bank contains descriptive passages of the sea which are wonderfully poetic. The writing in this book has both depth and psychological complexity, as well as humor, in the interactions of its large cast of village characters. Perhaps best of all, for the lifelong reader, it is a book to sink into, put down reluctantly, and wonder about long afterwards.”
Writing a synopsis for a novel can feel like a daunting chore. How do you capture a long story and the essence of the characters? It seems impossible.
Yet, any novel can be reduced to a single sentence. The Lord of the Rings is 1,200 pages long with The Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. It can be described as, “A seemingly insignificant character succeeds in stopping an evil that would destroy the world.” This is the core of the story. Of course, there’s a lot of action and characterization in the book. Many things happen. J.R.R. Tolkien created an entire world that feels so real one can imagine stepping into it. There is lore from ancient days and songs. Many cultures are presented. The book has battles, hardship and humor. There are many themes expressed. All of this supports the main core.
In writing a synopsis, look to the core of your book. What are you trying to say? What is the main story line? Who are the main characters? If the agent asks for 1,000 words try to give them a 500-word synopsis. That's two single spaced pages. Agents will appreciate it because they are very busy. Just as importantly, a short synopsis demonstrates that the main story line follows an arc and that you have a grasp on your story.
You may think that if they just knew the minute details they would be enchanted. That is not the case. They will use your synopsis to sell the book to publishers and they have less time than agents.
Your query letter and synopsis are the first things an agent will read. They have to demonstrate that you are writing at a professional level and one indication is the ability to present the major themes in clear and concise language.
David A. Wimsett is the author of women's historical fiction, science fiction and epic fantasy novels.
There is no pain to match that of losing a manuscript or those perfect paragraphs you just finished. I started writing with pen and paper, then moved to a manual typewriter before I entered the holy land with an electric typewriter. Wow! I never worried about the typewriter breaking down because everything was on paper and I never lost a word.
Then, I began using a word processor. It certainly made edits easier, though I still write by hand occasionally and put it into the word processor. I couldn’t see a downside until the first time the computer crashed while I was working and several pages were lost to the ether. This was followed by an incident where I meant to delete a word and accidentally deleted an entire paragraph in the days before undo. It was an interesting sight, a man screaming, “No!” while physically pulling up on the delete key. One morning the hard disk failed to boot. fortunately, someone had hidden all the razor blades.
Today, we can undo mistakes while the machine is running, but machines and disks still crash. Worse, computers are now vulnerable to viruses and ransom wear attacks. A good defense is to back up a copy of your data. The best defense is to back up your entire drive, data, programs, settings and operating system.
There are many external hard drives and software that can allow you to easily do just that. They plug into a USB port on your computer. Make sure to buy a USB3 device as they are 10 time faster than USB2. Special backup software can then make a complete image of your drive, like an electronic photocopy, so that a single file, a directory or the entire drive can be reloaded to return you to a safe state. In this way, if you lose a file you can retrieve it. If you are infected by a virus that cannot be removed with virus protection software, another subject, or a ransom ware attack takes over your machine, the last image backed up can be reloaded to write over any virus or ransom ware encrypted files and you are back in business. The worst-case scenario is that you lose the data since the last backup. Even this threat can be reduced if you periodically save important files to a USB drive or to cloud storage while working.
There are many choices for backup hardware and software that range from less than $100 to a few hundred. Here is my routine.
I have a 4TB (4,000,000,000,000 byte) USB3 drive that is turned off while I am working so that even if my computer is taken over, the latest backup cannot be accessed. I use a program that places the backup software on a USB dive and makes it bootable so I can start the computer and don’t have to access a possible infected hard or solid-state disk. The program I use starts the UNIX operating system that can read Windows and Macintosh files systems. Once booted, I can save or restore an entire image of my disk to include the boot sector, operating system, programs, settings and data, even if my computer has been corrupted or rendered useless by an attack.
Every Sunday, I shut down the computer, turn on the external disk drive, insert the bootable USB drive and boot the computer from it. There is not connection to the Internet so no viruses can be downloaded. I then do a complete image backup to the external hard disk. This can take several hours so I select an option that turns the machine off when the backup completes.
The next morning, I remove the USB boot drive, turn off the external hard disk, boot the machine normally and begin working. During the day, I will insert a data USB drive and copy critical files to it, then eject the USB drive so an attack can’t corrupt it. Every Monday through Saturday (when I don’t take a day off) I shut down the machine, turn on the external disk drive, insert the USB boot disk with the backup program and boot from it. Then, I perform what is called an incremental backup where only the files that have changed since the last backup are saved. This usually takes less than 15 minutes. The next Sunday, I make a new, complete image backup. In this way, I can recover to the last backup copy I’ve made or to a previous time in history if I accidentally corrupt a file. After three complete cycles, I delete older backup files to save space on the USB drive. At that point, they are no longer needed.
You might say that you store all your data on a cloud and don’t need to backup because the cloud provider does that, however, even cloud computers are susceptible to attacks, or the company hosting your data could have a service interruption or go out of business. A local copy of your work is valuable insurance. Though I spent decades in the computer industry, you don’t have to be expert to make safety backups of you computer. Just follow the direction in the box.
David A. Wimsett spent four decades in the computer industry as a developer, project manager and head of a consulting firm. He recently left to pursue writing full time. His books include Beyond the Shallow Bank – women’s historical fiction with elements of Celtic mythology, and The Carandir Saga – an epic fantasy series set in a multicultural world or gender equality consisting of Dragons Unremembered, Half Wakened Dreams and the forth coming Covenant With the Dragons that will be released in the spring of 2022.
It has been some thirty years since people began using the Internet through the Worldwide Web, www.
I first saw the Internet at a research center in the 1980s. At that time, It was used to exchange scientific documents in text form between universities, government contractors and research facilities. There was no general public access.
When the worldwide web was introduced, one intention was for people of divergent believes and backgrounds to have a place to exchange ideas in an electronic town hall meeting so that everyone could better understand how other people felt to foster respect and find solutions to problems built from these exchanges. It still offers that ability, as well as the opportunity to keep up with family and friends, and to learn new things.
Yet, much of the chatter has fallen into commercial advertising with people trying to sell some product and service. In Facebook groups about writing, I have seen thoughtful answers to questions posed by members. Many of these answers have helped me. I have also seen replies in which someone is just trying to sell a service without any helpful suggestions at all.
The Internet has also spawned groups and communities whose members are closed to any opinion that they do not agree with. These people are not willing to listen to facts or opinions that contradict their stickily held beliefs. Some of these people demand quick, simple answers to complex questions and the answer they want to hear is, “It will all be taken care of if you follow these easy steps.”
The truth is, we face many complex issues and different people have pieces of the answers. Unfortunate, there are those who only listen to one politician, one religious leader or one celebrity who they believe to have all the answers, even when they don’t.
This does not have to be the case. All of us, every human being, has the capacity to think critically and understand things, even complex ideas. Some people have expert knowledge in particular areas and others have the temperament to see things in a specific way. Still, given time and effort, we can all use our brains to comprehend intricate concepts.
Like a knife that can be used to cut fruit for a salad or to injure someone, the Internet is neither angel nor demon. It is our actions that determine if it is a tool to help ourselves and others or a wall to cut us off possibilities we want to avoid.
Media outlets in Canada have recently featured programs about the struggles of people living with mental illness and the toll it takes on them, those close to them and society.
I finished a most amazing and powerful book of poetry by Yogesh Chandra this month. In The Flower That Went Mad, the poet opens his life to reveal his struggle with the mental illness bipolar disorder that has dragged him from manic highs to suicidal depression.
It is an intimate and powerful collection of poem that reveal the anguish and ecstasy of his trials. Chandra never shies away from the details of his life and emotions, the good and the bad. It is raw and uncompromising, yet full, of vision and imagery that carries readers on his journey. He speaks of his own experience and the effect his illness has had on those around him. The honesty with which the poems are composed are instantly engaging.
I can well imagine how The Flower That Went Mad can help people living with mental illness to gain perspective, insight and hope. As well as revealing the inner turmoil to those around them.
No matter the career path people pursue, they start off knowing next to nothing about it. Carpenters must learn how to pound nails. They may have watched every episode of a particular home improvement show, but until they gain the experience of actually doing it, they will hit the wood as much as the nails and half of those will be bent. The same is true in other professions. Initial exposure is a good grounding, but there is a difference between knowing a thing and knowing the experience of a thing.
This includes writing. It takes time to learn the nuances of the craft; language, characterization, dialog, plot, suspense, comedy, drama and so forth. We all begin by imitating the styles of writers we have read until we develop our own unique voices, much as art students copy masterpieces to get the feel of how the original artists captured light or expressed emotions. Through this process, writers accumulate techniques they will continue to use. They will also gain the perspective of experience to better understand what they want to say and how to say it. There are those who pop onto the art scene with works of brilliance, however, for most people, it can take years to master the craft of an art.
Even after reaching a professional level, you will discover that the process of learning never ends. There are always new things to discover. This requires a willingness to continually evaluate yourself as a writer and to examine critiques. They could come from other writers, professional development or a critique group. A major difference between professionals and beginners is the ability to override their egos, accept that everyone can improve and commit themselves to that improvement.
Effective critiques are a service and a gift. A good critique examines of how effectively themes or points are expressed and only covers the work. It is not a statement about the writer or a way for the person offering the critique to serve their ego at the expense of others. As such, effective critiques are respectful yet direct in their comments, pointing out what worked and what didn't. Rather than trying to change an author's intention or themes, critiques should cover how effectively the writing expressed the themes and offer suggestions to make the themes more comprehensible. When writers examine critiques about their works, they can gain a better understanding of how to best communicate to readers, though no one is bound to take any suggestions if they feel they want something to be presented in a specific way.
Some new writers can be hypersensitive about critiques. Even respectful suggestions may be considered personal attacks. They may think of their stories as their babies and each word their blood on the page. I have actually heard these words used in writing groups. Some writers might say that their mother liked their manuscript or their friends enjoyed it. These attitudes are a great impediment to becoming a professional writer. Mothers like everything about their children and friends may not want to point out faults. Writers must look to people involved in writing who are willing to comment on how effective their work is. They must also separate their own egos from the work and realize that it is just a piece of writing that does or does not express what was intended. If it doesn't, it must be changed.
Many beginning writers fear that they will run out of material and must jealously guard what they have written by never removing anything. In truth, authors have an inexhaustible source of new ideas that they can draw on by just sitting down, writing them out, seeing how they read, and following threads that are suggested by the material. I threw out five times as much text as what was published in the final manuscript of my first book. Entire characters, cultures, locations and plot lines were removed because they did not serve the story or character development. I was always able to create new martial that did tell the story I intended.
Apprentice carpenters begin in near ignorance. They get experience on the job, go to training courses and proceed through the ranks to become master carpenters. There is no shame in not knowing everything at first, but we humans are impatient, even more so in this wired world. We must all be willing to swallow our egos long enough to study our own work and listen to others in the profession to become masters.
I’ve been selling my books at a local farmers’ market for several weeks. This has given me the opportunity to meet many people and have very interesting conversations. Some of these are about fantasy fiction and involve dragons, as they are a prominent part of a fantasy series I am selling at the market.
The dragon has different meanings in different cultures.
In the west, they often represent evil and are associated with wanton destruction and hording. They are sometimes referred to as worms and have a strong link with snakes. The serpentine shape in northern European cultures is often linked to disruption.
Yet, in eastern cultures, the serpentine shape represents power that brings about change in the world.
Eastern dragons represent strength wisdom and success and are associated with many natural elements such as rain to water crops. A legend speaks of Koi fish leaping up a waterfall called the Dragon Gate to become dragons themselves. This metaphor is carried forward today in China as meaning someone who moves up in station through effort.
The discussions at the market considered how fantasy stories in the west do not need to be tied exclusively to European mythology and that melding other cultures can expand and enhance fantasy fiction. I feel that in doing so, writers must understand the different cultures whose tellings are melded together and be respectful of them.
Continue reading "Discussions at the Market - Dragons"
Being surprised by the action of a character or an event in a story is fun to read when that trait or incident falls within the logical world of the story. When these things are sprung upon us with no preparation, they seem like they are occurring in a different tale entirely.
Many authors bleed in information that give clues to readers about what might happen so that the possibilities are in the backs of their minds. This is referred to as foreshadowing. When that thing occurs, we believe it. Suspense is created by carefully revealing information as the story progresses.
Some writers withhold information that they only reveal at the very end of a story thinking this creates suspense. It doesn’t. It can frustrate readers who are following a story step by step and are suddenly thrown a curve ball out of the blue that ties everything up. This is referred to as Deus ex machina, god out of the machine, where the plot is wrapped by an outside force at the last minute.
Authors can string events and characterizations anyway they want, left, right, center, counter clockwise, to reveal "Ah Ha" moments of surprise. When readers are prepared, they feel satisfied and say to themselves, “I didn’t expect that and it’s the only way the story could have ended.” When the material shows up with no connection to what’s been happening or characters do things that contradicts their nature without explanation, it can come off as unbelievable and even ridiculous.
To get that satisfying result, it is necessary to prepare readers for possibilities with foreshadowing. It’s a subtle device. Too much information given away in a blatant manner can destroy any surprise. This is referred to as telegraphing. If clues are given in too elusive a manner, readers may not notice or remember them. These clues leave small doubts and suggestions in the back of the mind. Not every clue needs to lead to a conclusion. Incidents and objects can be inserted into a story that are intended to throw readers offtrack and distract them from the real clues. Director Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, The Birds, The Man Who Knew Too Much) referred to these types of clues as MacGuffins.
To use foreshadowing effectively, information must be revealed as if it means nothing at the time or is a minor part of a larger plot device. When the final incident is revealed, readers will recall it and accept the ending because they have been prepared with the suggestion that something like that could occur or that the character might act in a certain manner.
In a novel, incidents of foreshadowing can be inserted throughout the story. They build up in the background of the world and are often unnoticed until the big event is sprung. Foreshadowing can be used to prepare readers for several incidents, not only the end of the book, and produce satisfying of course moments throughout.
Let’s assume that we are writing a novel about a successful career woman named Jane. At the end of the book, she turns down a big promotion to leave and open an antique shop. This is a major decision. For the ending to be satisfying we must demonstrate Jane’s thinking process and detail incidents in her life that lead her to this action.
At the beginning of a book, we can have Jane toying with the idea of opening such a shop but considering it impossible because she has few savings and has always just scraped by in life. She finds her current job deeply satisfying. The idea of an antique shop remains in the back of her mind as unattainable. A promotion would pay enough to save the money required but that would take years and seems far off. She feels she can’t leave to start a full time business and she would be too tired to do something part time if she got a promotion.
If we only see her at work and the rejection of the promotion is just dropped on readers at the end, they will find it unbelievable because it would seem completely out of character. Fictional character in a novel can swing wildly from one state to another, however, they must act within a range of internal logic.
If Jane constantly makes rash decisions, flies of the handle all the time or shows other traits of instability, readers might accept her turning down the promotion but it will just be another of her antics and have no real significance. To make her leaving important, it needs to be an act that seems out of character but has been eluded so when it happens we see growth in Jane. An outside force can be introduced at the end that forces her to take this action but that is Deus ex machine and is generally unsatisfying.
Showing growth in Jane requires the creation of moments where she confronts impediments and questions her life. These can be small incidents. Perhaps she makes toast one morning and her old toaster burns the bread. She can show exasperation and even admonish herself for not replacing the toaster when there was a sale the week before. This has nothing to do with her turning down the promotion yet signals that not everything in Jane’s life is satisfying.
There is an old saying, “The boulders I can walk over but the pebbles get in my shoes.” Putting enough pebbles in a character’s shoes over time builds tension as small irritants add up. That, however, is not enough. There has to be an inner motive and desire hidden within the character that, at the beginning, feels unimportant, seems unattainable or is one that the character is not consciously aware of.
We could give her an opportunity, say a local antique dealer wants to retire and will allow Jane to buy the business in low, installment payments with nothing down. Such a device might seem to be foreshadowing but it could ruin the story by both giving too much information of a future event and invoking god in the machine by presenting an opportunity that she has not worked for or expected. As a general rule in drama, it is best for unexpected incidents to hinder characters who must draw on their inner strength to overcome the obstacle, thus allowing them to grow.
If going to antique shops is an enjoyable pastime, even though she can’t afford to buy anything, readers will be subconsciously prepared for Jane to try and open one herself. Other clues need to be inserted. For instance, a friend can be with Jane while visiting a shop and tell her that she has a real eye for antiques and would be a great dealer. Jane can then say, “I’ve thought about it but I like my job. Besides, where can I get the money?” We can then have her look longingly at the items in the shop before moving quickly to something else, say a traffic accident occurs and the two women run outside. This action scene will pull readers away from Jane’s yearning look in the shop but the suggestion will stay.
Simply giving Jane the desire to run an antique shop does not mean she is capable of doing so. Another incident might be introduced. She could become friends with the owner of a shop who has to leave one weekend to visit a sick relative and asks her to step in and watch the store. Jane can make the biggest sale the shop has ever had and the owner can tell her that she should open her own shop. Jane rejects this idea. Besides the money required, she thinks about how much she loves her job and career. In addition, she feels frightened of taking such a risk and decides stability is better than reaching for a dream. Even though she rejects the idea, it is still present. Having Jane return to work and showing her immersed in her career while doing an excellent job hides the idea of owning a shop but the big sale she made and her competency in business demonstrates that she has the savvy to do so.
To reinforce the possibility that she might open a shop even though she feels satisfied in her career, tension must be introduced at the workplace. She can spend all night preparing a presentation and learn the next morning that the project was canceled the day before and her boss didn’t tell her. A supervisor can take credit for her work and Jane has no way to prove otherwise. She can’t tell herself, “One of these days I’m just going to walk out and open an antique shop if I don’t start getting some respect.” That is too blatant and is a device called telegraphing. All surprise is removed from her final actions.
Instead, she can feel disappointed, even angry, and remember how much fun it was making the big antique sale and how satisfied she felt because she knew the worth and history of the piece. Then, she reminds herself that she is good at her job and likes it, even with the irritations. Both possibilities now hold equal weigh.
This needs to be followed by victories at work to keep the idea alive that she might stay in her career. Things go very good for her and readers will question if she will open a shop.
We’re at the end of the novel. The pieces now have to come together. Jane must examine herself and make a choice. In doing so, she considers her dreams and her fears and the choice she makes reveals her true nature.
The job she has is all she’s ever worked at. It’s familiar. She knows what to expect, both good and bad. She might become a manger. The money could be great.
Yet, the passion of her dream floods her mind and won’t leave her. As authors, we need to reach deep into Jane’s character and have her confront her wants and fears. Is she really looking for money? Is she trapped in a cycle that will lead nowhere? What are the risks of leaving? What are the risks of staying? What scars will inflict her soul if she takes the easy path?
We have shown Jane to be a smart and competent person. To have her turn down the promotion and open the shop she has to be shown to truly want that and device a plan to make it a reality. She has to make sacrifices. This is where we really have to work and earn our keep as authors. Does she have an old family heirloom that she promised here dying mother she would never sell? Will she give up a luxury apartment that her friends are so impressed with to live in a hovel or the back of the store? Will she have to walk away from friends who are immersed in the business and will no longer want to associate with her? Is she willing to fail and lose everything to live in poverty? Whatever it is, it has to be foreshadowed earlier to prepare the reader. The decision can’t be easy and Jane must both embrace her passion and devise a way to make it work if she is going to open a shop.
If we have prepared readers for that possibility by demonstrating her passion for antiques, her competency in the field and her ability to manage a business, they will accept the conclusion of the book and be satisfied.
This, by the way, is the end of the story, the fact that she has chosen to take a leap of faith. Adding scenes where she buys a shop and struggles to make a go at it would be anti-climactic. This is the story of a woman overcoming her self-doubts and standing up for what she wants. She may succeed or she may fail. That’s not the point. It is the fact that we see her inner strength come out and her willingness to do what she loves that makes the story complete. Of course, we could have her accept the promotion and give up her dreams to live a predictable life. That would be a completely different story and would still reveal Jane’s true inner self.
I may never write this story. I made it up on the fly as an example of how foreshadowing can work. I do, however, use these and other similar techniques in my writing.
David A. Wimsett is the author of several books that examine characters who reveal their inner selves through their choices in life. These include Beyond the Shallow Bank in which a woman searches for who she is and what she truly wants as well as The Carandir Saga, an epic fantasy series set in a multicultural world of gender equality.
People get up in the morning, eat food, do things and go to sleep. This all happens in our physical world. What does that world look like? It might be assumed that a story set in Cape Town or New Your or Beijing of today requires little or no detailed descriptions. Writers can draw on actual buildings, customs and politics. Yet, all stories benefit from descriptions of the world where they occur. Some readers may have never been to Beijing and others might remember or imagine it in a far different way than the author intended. Novels that take place in worlds that readers can envision engage readers better and make the stories memorable.
When authors set their tales in a world of fantasy and magic, the details must be created. This is world building. The story might be set in contemporary times, such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Yet, the elements of magic and the settings of Hogwarts are all creations of the author. There is no actual school of magic and wizardry, nor are there dragons and unicorns. The books draw on many established concepts such as castles and fantastic beasts, yet the details had to be shaped by the author to engage readers.
Fantasy stories can be set in completely different worlds that never existed. There were no hobbits until J.R.R. Tolkien put them in Middle Earth, which itself does not exist. The world of his imagination draws from earlier tales from largely European cultures and, as with Harry Potter, it is fashioned in a uniquely detailed way.
A clearly defined world in a fantasy story is vital in maintaining the suspension of belief required for readers to become absorbed in them, be they sword & sorcery adventures of epic tomes.
Fantasy stories are really historical fictions set in non-existent worlds. As such, they have all the elements of the normal world; cultures, politics, literature, customs and beliefs. Societies can cooperate or make war on each other. People have hopes, aspirations, fears, successes and failures. The difference between the real and fantasy world is in how the details of everyday life in these fictional worlds are connected and how they are influenced by additional factors such as magic and fantastic creatures.
Fantasy worlds are governed by their own internal logic that must be consistent throughout the story in the same way as technology in the real world behaves dependably (except for computers which are the devil’s plating and intended to torment us). If a certain type of spell is invoked one way in a scene, it must be invoked the same way in every scene. The details can be as imaginative as the author wishes as long as they are built in a way as to appear organic to the world. Readers will be distracted if a wizard draws a circle in the air to conjure wine and food in one chapter and claps hands together to create the same thing in another chapter. The one thing you do not need to do is explain or justify how magic works. It is just a given as long as the reader sees that it functions the same in every instance. In science fiction, writers often provide details about technologies in order to validate events in the plot. This is not required in Fantasy. Magic is just a part of each world’s fabric like the wind and rain. It occurs and readers will accept that. You should, however, show magic being used in scenes rather than just telling about it in exposition.
In making up geographies, cities, customs, religions, festivals and so forth, the sky is the limit. Writers can create floating towns, navigable rivers of lava, flies the size of boulders, portals between worlds and anything else they can dream up. Actual landscapes and settlements can serve as models to inspire the descriptions. Particular settings can influence the people who live there in customs and beliefs as is true in the real world. In Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, which is as much mythology as science fiction, the desert planet of Arrakis shaped the Fremen and influenced their culture, rituals and values.
When creating cultures, writers will often be influenced consciously or subconsciously by existing ones here on Earth whether contemporary or historical. Is a nation in a fantasy book similar to ones found in Europe, Africa or Asia? Do customs in the story resemble those from ancient Persia, European mythology or North American indigenous oral traditions? Does everyone in a world hold the same cultural values and have the same color of skin or are there peoples of multiple races and ethnic backgrounds? A danger writers can face is grabbing elements of different cultures or religions without understanding or respecting them. A created culture in a book can draw elements from many real world ones. Picking rituals and tales from cultures without understanding their importance to the original societies can lead to prose that are insulting and hurtful to a group of people. It can also lead to low book sales among large numbers of the readers.
The process authors use to build worlds varies. Some write out details before starting a book that establish magic, magical creatures, character traits, civilizations, lands, maps and the like. From this, an author can gain a grounding for the setting and people of the book. As with research for historical novels, much more detail will be created than ever winds up in the story. Some authors may be tempted to add all the made up research, as some authors want to do with their reteach for historical fiction. This should be avoided. The point of research, either in the real world or a fantasy setting, is to immerse authors in the world to such a degree that they fully understand their creations. From this, they can select key items that demonstrate those worlds and societies to readers.
I think about world building before I start a new book but I don’t spend a lot of time making up details about the world and characters before writing the story. I do make notes as I write to mull over choices about how magic works, the attributers of different characters or what kinds of terrain the novel takes place. I mostly create the details as I write in an organic process where the act of writing a set of sentences suggests how characters will react in the future and what physical attributes exist. To do this, I have to keep a sense of the plot and the characters in my head as I write, even for novels that exceed three-hundred pages. This allows my mind to roam and be unfettered with too many preconceived notions so that the story and the actions of the characters can flow and change as real life does while we encounter the unexpected, no matter how well we plan.
Not all world building occurs on paper or a computer screen. Sometimes, I will be about to fall off to sleep when an idea or the solution to a plot problem pops into my head. Then, I write it down on a notepad that I always keep close by.
Because of this, the first drafts are filled with inconsistences and dead ends that have to be altered and removed in the second, third and fourth drafts. This is not an impediment to me nor does it slow me down. I, and many other writers, use the first draft just to get ideas out so they can be crafted in subsequent drafts. As such, my first drafts are somewhat like highly detailed outlines but far more flexible to allow the story and characters to evolve. I don’t actually know what the book is about until I finish the first draft, and even then, things will change in subsequent drafts
All the magical spells, mountains and cultural aspects will become more consistent as I comb the work until I feel I have accomplished what I really want to say and established a world that, hopefully, readers feel they can walk into.
David A. Wimsett worked in the computer industry for over four decades and ran his own consulting firm before retiring from it to devote all his time to writing and publishing. His works include the Carandir Saga that takes place in a multicultural world of gender equality and includes Dragons Unremembered and Half Awakened Dreams. Covenant With the Dragons, the third and final book in the series, will be released in 2022.