Writing Advice: Prologues

I am trying something new. Instead of a written writing advice post, this is my first video on writing advice, covering the subject of prologues in fantasy novels.

This is my first video of this type, so I’m interested in feedback on how I could improve it, as well as ideas for other topics I could discuss.

The series/books I discuss in this video are:

The Lord of the Rings/The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien

A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin

The Kingkiller Chronicle/The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling

 

My biggest problem with writing is not writer’s block, but new ideas. I will have a half-finished first draft that needs writing, or a second or third draft that needs edits, or a fanfic that’s half-posted with people in the comments saying they can’t wait for the next chapter, and a new, shiny idea will pop into my brain and go, “You’re writing me now.”

That idea sits in my brain, soaking up all the creativity energy, demanding to be written, taking up the space where I can think about writing things and crowding out all the other stories.

And I know I should be finishing the half-finished things, but this idea is just there and writing it feels easy. I can force out a couple of hundred words of the thing that I was supposed to be finishing, or I can blast out a couple of thousand words on the new thing with no apparent effort. And it all seems to go great until that idea is no longer so new and shiny. It’s become another half-written story and there’s another new idea jumping up and down in my brain going, “Me! Me! My turn!”

It’s very easy to have a hundred half-written first drafts with nothing ever finished. It takes discipline to force yourself to go, “Yes, I know that the new idea is shiny and exciting, and I will write a bit of it today, but I still need to dedicate some time to the other thing.”

One of the reasons I’m posting this now is because I’ve recently written several thousand words of a new and shiny idea, while the third Shadows of Tomorrow book is nearly finished, requiring edits on the last few chapters. It would be very easy to ignore the editing while I go write the new thing, but I’m putting this post out here as a commitment to myself that I will do the editing. If I just play with the new and shiny, nothing will ever get finished to the point of being read, so I will be getting this editing finished and I’m posting this publicly to try and hold myself accountable.

2019 Writing Goals

I tend not to set new year’s resolutions, but I do like to come up with goals for things I would like to achieve in the upcoming year. Here are my writing-related goals for 2019.

  • Finish editing Shadows of Tomorrow book three and get it accepted by the publisher.
  • Finish at least the first draft of Codename Omega book four.
  • Run another writing workshop.
  • Earn out my advance on Wolf Unleashed.
  • Successfully launch A Monster’s Kindness, which was accepted by Less Than Three Press earlier this year.

Of all of these, the Wolf Unleashed one is going to be the hardest to achieve but the point of having these goals is to push myself.

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince cover artThe Cruel Prince by Holly Black is a young adult, fantasy novel dealing with the political machinations of the fae. Jude’s mother used to be married to a faerie lord but she ran away with their half-faerie daughter, married a human, and had two purely human daughters: Jude and her twin. Then the faerie lord came looking for her. He murdered Jude’s mother and took the children back with him to his lands.

Years later, Jude is being raised alongside the children of the lords and ladies of faerie, who resent having humans among them. Bullied and belittled by the faeries, Jude hates feeling powerful. She wants to do something to get real power so that she won’t be hurt again, but her path to power involves making a deal that may put her in even more danger when she agrees to work as a spy for a prince of Faerie.

This is an interesting story that deals with politics and factions all vying for power. As Jude learns more about the different players, we get a feeling for how the different groups interact, but it also feels sometimes that this is barely scratching the surface. There’s an interaction quite late in the book when she turns to another character for advice and I think this is a key moment, because it shows how complicated the situation really is and how much Jude is struggling with it.

Jude is a great character. She’s clever but young enough that she makes mistakes that are believable. She gets into difficult situations through her own actions, but the reasoning that got her there makes sense. She’s not exactly nice, but it’s understandable why she acts the way she does. We see enough of the bullying and pain she suffers through that her choices make sense. The same is true of some of the other characters. There are characters who are horrible people, but you get enough of a glimpse of their lives to understand how they became that way.

There are a lot of horrible people in this book, but there are some who are friendly and fun. I really enjoyed the scenes between Jude and the other spies. The other relationships I really liked were those between Jude and her sisters. I got a feeling of a real family relationship between them. There are arguments (even a duel at one point) but also love. They fight with each other, but also fight for each other. They don’t always agree, but they always care. The dynamic between the sisters is there throughout the book and plays out in interesting ways, sometimes adding to the conflict and sometimes helping Jude. That complex dynamic helps even a story about magic and faeries feel grounded in something real.

This book isn’t going to make my favourites pile, but it’s definitely an enjoyable book of its type. I have no particular criticisms of it. The story is interesting enough to keep me reading and the characters are nicely rounded. A solid four stars.

Traditions

I enjoy celebrating Christmas even though I’m not religious. I enjoy spending time with my family, exchanging gifts, eating good food, seeing all the lights everywhere, decorating the Christmas tree, and all the different traditions that go around it. But you also find that different family groups have their own traditions and practices. For some families, religion is the central piece of the celebration and so there are carol services and nativity events, mangers and midnight mass. For others, religion doesn’t play a part in it and the traditions are centred around family and friends.

We have a few traditions in my family. Like meeting up to go and look at the wildlife photography exhibit in the Natural History Museum. Various aunts, uncles, cousins, partners of cousins, and so on all meet up to have a look at the photos and then go out for a nice meal. This isn’t something you would find in any summary of the Christmas traditions, but it’s something we’ve done for a few years now and so it’s become part of our tradition.

We have other things, like a trip to the cinema on Christmas Eve with my parents, and a hamper that we all contribute too. This isn’t a fancy hamper packaged up by a shop, but a box that we all fill with special treat foods, things that we don’t get very often, or things that just seemed different and fun. Sometimes things in the hamper are specifically intended for one person (like the crystallised ginger my mum loves) but other things are intended for all of us (like a shared chocolate orange).

So why am I talking about this on a writing blog?

I think when world-building, it’s tempting to make everything too homogenised. All the people in this area follow the same religion and practice the same traditions in the same way. In the real world, it doesn’t work that way. Everyone has their own subtle takes on the standard. Even in the same region, culture, and religion, you will find variations. It’s worth including that in your stories, and especially tying it into other factors. The differences around a shared experience can be a great way of highlighting other differences between characters or showcasing their backgrounds or even bringing in moments of conflict and character development.

Perhaps one character makes a big deal about the shared meal because they used to go hungry a lot when they were younger, and having lots of good food is a reminder to themselves that those days are over. Perhaps one character follows an older set of traditions because of a religious upbringing. Perhaps one character feels that they have to shower everyone with gifts while another feels uncomfortable receiving so much and ashamed because their own gifts are small. Perhaps that could be a cause for resentment between those characters.

I enjoy creating traditions, rituals, and celebrations in my world building, but it can be fun to think about all the different takes people might have on these same traditions, and the ways that they might add to them based on their situation or character. Next time you’re inventing some big holiday in your world, consider each of your characters and imagine how each of them might treat this holiday a little differently.

Christmas Fair

Last weekend was the start of Christmas fair season for me. I use these fairs as an opportunity to sell my books as well as a few other items, such as hand-stitched pin badges and bookmarks, which helps to cover the cost of having a table. This fair was one held in a local school and it’s one I did pretty well at last year. One of the highlights of last year was the guy who wanted to buy badges for all of his grandchildren who cleared out half my stock in one go.

This year wasn’t quite so successful. It started out reasonably and I sold three books and some badges in the first hour (including a girl who bought a bi pride badge who then came back to buy a rainbow one for her girlfriend), but after that it got dramatically quieter and I only made one more sale for the entire rest of the fair. I didn’t take it personally because it was quiet for all the stalls around me. The guy across from me selling wooden toys and puzzles looked like he might be falling asleep at times.

I did have some good conversations and a few people took cards saying that they would look up the e-book versions, so fingers crossed about that. I also got some chuckles for my new bookmark designs. This was the first outing for my “aliens believe in you” and “always finish what you sta…” bookmarks and both of them amused people, which was what I wanted.

I ended up rearranging my stall part-way through. I started out with all the books on one side and all the other stuff on the other, but then I rearranged it so that the books were in three groups with the other things in between. Any thoughts on which layout looks better? Leave your opinions in the comments.

Christmas fair stall Christmas fair stall

It wasn’t my most successful Christmas fair, but I still sold four books that I wouldn’t have sold if I’d stayed at home, so I’m counting it as a win.

Call for Interviews

It’s been a while since I’ve done an interview on this blog. I do author interviews of writers who publish science fiction or fantasy books. I’m especially interested in authors who include LGBTQ+ representation or who otherwise showcase diversity in their writing.

If you are an author who wants to promote your books through one of these interviews, let me know. You can contact me by leaving a comment on this blog post, or by filling out this short form with your contact information and a bit of information about your books. I generally conduct interviews over email by sending a few questions at a time for you to fill out when you have an opportunity. Filling out the form doesn’t guarantee that I’ll do an interview with you if I feel that your books aren’t a suitable fit for my blog, but I do want to support other writers so get in touch if you think you might be a fit.

Check out some of the previous interviews if you want to get a feel for what to expect.

Antagonists and villains

In writing, the antagonist of a story is a person who is directly opposed to the desires, goals, or well-being of the protagonist. They are the person that the hero of the story is fighting against or trying to overcome, or an obstacle in the path to achieving their desired outcome. Very often, people conflate antagonist with villain and often, especially in sci-fi and fantasy, they clearly are. Sauron in Lord of the Rings is the main antagonist and he is definitely a villain – a force of evil trying to conquer the world. Voldemort is a fascist murderer. But someone can be an antagonist without being a villain – and this can sometimes lead to interesting conflict and more nuanced stories.

I’m going to give an example for a TV show recently aired on Netflix that had surprising nuance for the kids fantasy show that it is: The Dragon Prince. Only a handful of episodes have aired so far, so it’s not certain what direction the writers will take the story or how the conflicts between characters will play out, but it seems to have a lot of potential for interesting dynamics between the characters.

The heroes of the show, the protagonists, are clear. The story is about two human princes, Callum and Ezran, and the elf assassin Rayla trying to stop a war by returning a stolen dragon egg to its mother. The antagonist of the show are more complicated because there are a number of characters who directly oppose these characters without necessarily being villains. I am going to give some spoilers here, so if you’re interested in watching the show, be warned, but I’ll try to avoid spoiling anything major.

Runaan is the leader of the assassins who come to kill the human king and Prince Ezran. He wants Ezran dead along with their father/step-father. He won’t hesitate to kill humans he comes across. At first glance, his character seems like a clear villain, except his actions are also about protecting the lives of his team, and getting justice for a crime committed by humans. Within the narrative, he is quickly put in a position where we as the audience are meant to feel pity for him. While he is narratively opposed to the heroes, we can have sympathy for him as well.

Soren is even less like a villain. When he is introduced, he is training Callum in sword-fighting, doing so in a teasing and joking manner that shows affection between the characters. He is a friend to the princes, and is a generally likeable character, laughing and joking, messing with his sister. He has his flaws and shows occasional meanness in his jokes, but overall his character is firmly on the side of the good guys. Except he is given the instructions to kill the princes. This order is framed as being for the good of the kingdom, to ensure that someone with experience is on the throne when war comes. He is told that this is for the greater good, but the choice still clearly troubles him. This is a character who wants to do what is right being told to kill the heroes of the show but still not quite being a villain.

Claudia is in a similar position. She is given the task of hunting the princes down and in an early episode tries to kill Rayla, but she does so to protect Callum and Ezran. She uses magic and sometimes has the appearance that would more normally be associated with a dark magic doer in a fantasy show, but she uses her magic to defend the princes from a perceived threat. Seeing the scenes where she’s joking with her brother, it’s hard to picture her as a villain, but she’s clearly an antagonist.

General Amaya is even more clearly one of the good guys. She tries to kill Rayla but she does so because she thinks Rayla is a bloodthirsty elf who had kidnapped the princes. She wants to protect the princes and the kingdom. She wants to stop someone claiming the throne through treachery. She stands in the way of the heroes’ goals, but because she is trying to help them without having all the information.

It will be interesting to see where the show goes with all these different character dynamics, but I’m looking forward to seeing it. As writers we can look at an example like this and think about how to put more nuance into the relationships between the characters in our stories. Just because someone is an antagonist doesn’t mean that they have to be an evil villain. There’s a lot of potential for interesting drama when they’re far from it.

Acceptance

While I was on the writer’s retreat which I posted a review for last week, I finished off a novella. This was a gay, fantasy, romance about a man being sacrificed to a monster and finding that the monster showed him more kindness than his former neighbours. I submitted it to Less Than Three Press, a publishing house that specialises in LGBTQ+ romances (a number of their titles are on the queer reading list), and I received the automatic response saying that I would hear back from them in approximately six to eight weeks.

When I saw an email in my inbox less than a week later, my heart sank, because the response was so much quicker than I expected and, from experience, rejections are always significantly faster than acceptances. I saw that email and I knew that my story had been turned down.

Or not.

Apparently acceptances can be that fast because they had said yes. They sent me a contract to publish the novella as an e-book, which I have now signed. The book still has to go through the editing process, but watch this space for more news as it comes out.

This is the fastest I’ve ever had a story accepted and it’s made me more than a little excited. It’s always a thrill to have a story accepted, but to have it accepted in less than a week on its first submission is something different. I can only assume that it means they really liked it and I can’t wait to share it with the world.