February 8, 2010

Dungeons & Doldrums

Posted in Creativity, Tales from the Author's Desk at 11:12 am by jajohnson7

At some point in the fantasy writing universe, everyone decided it would be awesome to write a high adventure story about a boy who was secretly a king team up with fighters, thieves, mages, and priests to defeat the villain taking over the medieval-based world. Since when did we (the writing community) allow Dungeons & Dragons to overrun our creativity?

Don’t get me wrong. I love playing D&D and other rpgs. But I am so tired of seeing the same plots over and over again. And if it’s not the same plot, it’s the same setting with the same characters. Thieves with hearts of gold, priests questioning their god(s), mages learning to harness their ultimate powers, etc. I’m sure these were good characters at one point (maybe in the mid-fifties), but now they’re just dull cliches.

Cliches can have their uses, however. For my NaNoWriMo novel, I took those basic characters (prince, mage, thief) in the medieval setting, and turned them on their head. I had the omniscient narrator of the story step up and take over the novel. Granted, I could probably do a lot more with it than I did, but that’s for editing to sort through.

But glancing through other books, where did the creativity go? It’s like people just gave up and decided to follow Tolkien’s example, complete with elves, dwarves, and orcs (which can also be found in D&D).

Please, do yourself and your readership a favor: take the time and effort to build an original world.

February 1, 2010

The Dark Elven Lord of Aathylvin…Bob

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 10:58 am by jajohnson7

Ah, the mysteries (and pronunciation problems) of fantasy names. Is there anything more likely to send the un-initiated screaming in the other direction as if chased by the basset hounds of hell themselves?

But which do you prefer? The Saruman’s and Eowyn’s, or the Harry’s and Percy’s. Maybe you’re like Tamora Pierce, whose first quartet has names like Alanna and George, but whose latest features Beka and Rosto. Maybe, a la Order of the Stick, humans have “normal” names and other species don’t.

I have always preferred the strange names. They just…radiate fantastical elements. It wasn’t until I was trying to invent decent names for my current project’s characters that I realized how much trouble it is.

I have always had trouble with names. I once had a baby doll named – wait for it – Baby. I had the bear from the Snuggles commercials. When I saw he had a name on his tag already, he officially became: Snuggles.

So why should writing be any different? I’m constantly referring to random fantasy name generators, trying to pick out decent pieces that work well together, but I consistently end up with unsatisfactory results. I kept pushing the problem aside however. I told myself I was going to make this work.

Until now.

I just don’t care anymore. Why waste all the energy on finding the right “fantasy” name when I can just as easily pick out a normal name. Besides, for my main character, Evelyn Ward sounds so much better than Kaya Brinnasdaughter (first version) or Kaya Ward (second). And her sister’s name is pronounced almost identically whether you spell it Hana (first/second) or Hannah (third).

That still leaves me with the problem of naming spirits, but the humans are going to have normal names and like it!

January 25, 2010

The Dream Sequence Nightmare

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 12:03 pm by jajohnson7

For some reason unknown to me, dream sequences are all the rave. Want to increase your word count in NaNoWriMo? Write a dream sequence! Want to foreshadow a major event or character? Write a dream sequence! Want to inject some humor into your otherwise gripping drama? Write a dream sequence!

…God I hate them.

I’m sorry, but when did someone decide that the best way to move the plot forward was with a dream sequence? To make matters worse, they’re usually really long, and sometimes very random.

The best dream sequence I ever saw was a short paragraph in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It said that Quirrel’s turban was trying to make Harry switch into Slytherin. Now the first time around, you think it’s just his nerves at being Sorted. You quickly forget about it. It’s not till the second reading that you realize Voldemort seems to be meddling. Genius.

If only all dream sequences could be like that. It’s usually chase scenes, mysterious vibes, or fears of losing someone. Not exactly the most exciting scene ever.

And let’s not forget the absolute worst way to use the dream device:

“And then he woke up.

The End.”

January 20, 2010

A Villainous Balance

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 9:58 am by jajohnson7

In my planning, I’m having trouble coming up with a proper antagonist. Since I know this is a common complaint, I’ve decided to open the floor to debate.

I can’t just have a villain. I need a proper villain. Someone who is going to spend every iota of strength they have to screw over my protagonists. They can’t be too strong, or my book will never end; but by the same token, they can’t be too weak, or there’s no point in having the book at all. What, then, is the perfect villainous balance?

A bona fide villain isn’t required, really. Man vs. Nature/Technology/God/terrifying-mix-of-all-three can totally fit the bill. Heck, Jane Austen just uses selfish scoundrels and daunting relatives for her antagonists. And why not use them in a book centered on relationships?

But where does that leave my novel? It’s Regency, so I can have the usual slimy scallawags and horrid in-laws. But it’s also Fantasy, which usually requires a villain. I think all of my previous stories have had a legit bad guy. For this novel, I’m going to avoid the “take over the world” types, of course, but what will fit my needs? A person? An artifact? A dark force of some sort, such as spirits?

The best idea might be to just write and see where the story takes me. Perhaps my scoundrels and in-laws will develop magical tendencies all on their own. But I’ve gotten into the habit lately of planning at least major events. To be honest, I used to write off the cuff, but doing so now terrifies me. As far as this post is concerned, what if it turns out that my villains aren’t up to scratch? Or are so powerful they leave nothing of my main characters but a scratch?

In my last novel (the yet to be revised one), I think my antagonist was too powerful. So I limited him. Turned out, I had limited him too much, but I found a way to get around it, thankfully. Still not sure if that’s worked out to my satisfaction yet. That will come about in the future editing process, hopefully.

So. How do you deal with your villains and that evil balancing act?

January 15, 2010

The Rise of the Kingdom of Fan

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 10:10 am by jajohnson7

Fanfiction has taken an interesting turn over the years. I’ve watched the genre go from a fun creative exercise to a way to practice and develop the craft to its own publishing realm. Case in point? Jane Austen spin-offs.

My dad likes to joke that if my mom and I started a Jane Austen book club, we could read for years and never come close to running out of material. There are so many novels on Mr. Darcy’s point of view in Pride & Prejudice alone. Add in sequels, prequels, supernatural versions, mysteries, modern adaptations, you name it, it’s written.

But why? Why can’t we just leave well enough alone? Why are we compelled to saturate ourselves with fanfiction?

Because people love Pride & Prejudice. They love it. They can’t get enough of it. They need to know what happens after the last page. They need to know what happens before the first page. They need the deleted scenes, the alternate realities, the modern versions, and they’ll never get sick of it.

How did we come to this? When did fanfiction become legitimate? Are people really that lazy that they can’t come up with something completely original? Are you telling me that I can take all those stories I posted on fanfiction.net and actually put them in print? That’s probably not true. I don’t think Harry Potter’s ready to be fanfic’ed into oblivion.

I like to joke (yeah, lots of jokes in this one) that all I have to do to break into the realm of publishing is write a Pride & Prejudice spin-off. I mean, why wouldn’t I want a piece of the fanfiction pie? I don’t have to worry about creating characters, the basic plot’s already in place, and given the plethora of material out there it’s bound to be published.

Why haven’t I done so, you ask? Don’t worry, I’ve got a plot up my sleeve. Just needs some more outlining.

January 11, 2010

First Impressions

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 8:19 am by jajohnson7

You know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover?”

I totally do that.

And let’s face it, who doesn’t? Fantasy covers are smeared with big-breasted, scantily-clad women; buff, usually shirtless, men with huge swords that are obviously a compensation; or Merlin wanna-be’s who are clearly too powerful to make an interesting story. Who wants to read books like that? I sure don’t.

Okay, maybe the artist fails. Maybe s/he didn’t even read the book, they just drew what they liked or were good at. But chances are they know enough to be able to translate the main characters or points of the plot into an enticing image to draw in the readers, and if they can manage to fit them into the molds I mentioned above, I’m not sure the book could hold my interest.

Then again, it’s just a cover.

Still. I prefer that other adage: “less is more.”

January 4, 2010

Why My Head Will Implode

Posted in Tales from the Author's Desk at 10:48 am by jajohnson7

I don’t know about you, but I have way too many ideas to ever write down. There are just too many choices. How do you decide which ones to focus on and see through to the end? (Heck if I know.)

In the About the Author section of Charles de Lint’s Wolf Moon, he says that he wanted to read a fantasy story that wasn’t full of epic battles and troubled kings, but a fantasy story about normal people. He couldn’t find one, so he wrote one instead. I intend to do the same.

For my 2010 project, I made a list of the elements I would like to see in a fantasy story. I enjoy divine-mortal interactions, the kind you see in Tamora Pierce’s books and the Percy Jackson series, so that went on the list. I enjoy hidden or mistaken identities. That was number two. I also included debates, like fate vs. free will, and tried and true topics, like the tension between mortality and immortality.

After I made the list, the story just seemed to fall into place. Or at least, the wide angle lens version did. I still have no clue how to get from point A to point B, but it’s a start.

But what about my other ideas? The stories I’ve been playing around with for the last few months? If I just toss them on the mental sidewalk, what will happen to them? There is no way all of these stories will come to be. I guess the trick to being a writer is knowing which ideas are worth pursuing, and which ones are better off being left in the mental trashcan. I certainly hope my 2010 project turns out to be the former, otherwise I’m in for a rough year.