Jul 22, 2015

Getting Cultured: One of My Favorite Parts of World-Building

Right now, I'm working on planning a new fantasy idea I have, and recently it's dawned on me that I love a book with a really unique and distinct cultural aspect to it. It can be a real culture that's different from my own, or it can be a neat fantasy culture. Either way, it adds something to the story. So, today I'm going to talk about some things I'm doing to develop the culture for my fantasy novel.

1. Choose a "Base" Culture

It helps me to have a real culture to base my fantasy culture off of. It can be just one culture that I kind of make my own, or it can be a combination of two or three different cultures. Either way, this gives me a nice starting point and a way to help me add a little bit of realism to my story.

2. Determine a "Defining" Characteristic

This can be a particular attitude, hobby, architecture style, whatever. But having something that makes them stand out and/or ties them all (or most of them) together can help cement your fictional culture and help it to stand out.

For some fictional examples, I'm thinking of The Winner's trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. You have the Valorians, known for their strength, fighting skills, and sense of honor. Rutkoski tries to tie these things into as much as possible. These things are their "core" per se. Then, there are the Easterners. Man, oh man, I love this culture so much. It is one of my favorite fictional cultures. It's actually what inspired this blog post. They have a love for "small things" as Arin points out. You see this trait come out in a few different ways.

3. Figure out the Land They Live In

Where you live can have a big impact on how you live. A group of people living in the desert are going to far a little differently than a group of people living in the middle of a rain forest. They adapt to their climates differently, and chances are, it's going to affect some pretty big aspects of their culture, and not just their food.

Going back to my example from The Winner's trilogy, the Easterners live in a plains-like area, and this affects how others interact with them. It also means they live alongside tigers, which causes some problems for the main character. See how figuring out the culture and everything that goes along with lends potential conflicts for your characters?

4. Write Out Their History

What major events have happened to this people group? How have they shaped them? What's their contact with other cultures been like, and how has this contact affected them? We are affected greatly by the people we live around and the stuff that happens to us. A war-ravaged culture is going to act a bit differently from an isolated culture that's known a primarily peaceful existence.

Alright, so those are the big ones that I have! Do you have any tips to add to my list? Or any good books with a unique/distinct culture (fictional or otherwise)?

Jul 20, 2015

Half Blood Blog tour: Author Interview + Book Spotlight

Hi everyone! It's me, Eliza Noel. Today, I'm interviewing Jaye L. Knight as part of the Half Blood Blog Tour.

How old were you when you published your first book?

I was eighteen years old and had just graduated from homeschooling. Actually, the money I used to publish came from my graduation gifts. :) So everyone who gave me money for graduation helped launch my career as an author.

Neat! What advice do you have for teen writers who are juggling schoolwork, chores, writing and possibly other stuff?

I admit, I’ve never been very good and keeping schedules for myself, but when you have a lot going on, it is very good to have a set writing time. And when you sit down to write, make sure you eliminate distractions, such as the internet. Also, don’t try to write perfectly. Just get the words down. You can always fix things and edit later. You’re more likely to get much more writing done that way, especially if you have limited time.

It's definitely hard to get much writing done without first silencing your inner editor :) Any important tips on indie publishing?

Research is key. The more you know about it, the better. Also, persistence. Nothing happens overnight. It takes a lot of work, but if you love it as much as I do, it’s worth it.

And finally, the big question: do you prefer pen and paper or a laptop for writing?

Right now, I write on a Neo2, which is a very nifty little writing gadget. It’s a portable word processor with zero distractions. It’s awesome. I get so much more done with it, plus I can bring it anywhere.

That's cool! Thanks so much for stopping by :)

Book Spotlight

Jaye L. Knight’s new novella, Half-Blood, has been released! Learn more about this prequel story to Ilyon Chronicles and make sure you also enter the tour giveaway at the bottom!
Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00026]
About the Book
The gasps and murmuring grew. Though some were hardly more than whispers, clear words reached Jace’s ears—dangerous, monster, animal, soulless. He tried to back away from their accusing eyes, but the collar pulled hard against his throat and held him in place.
For all his years as a slave, Jace has known nothing but the hatred people hold for his mixed blood—one half human, the other half the blood of a race considered monsters. Always, he is the outsider and quickly learns it is better to keep to himself. But, when his volatile ryrik blood leads him to do the unthinkable, he is thrown into a world of violence and bloodshed.
Forced to become a gladiator, Jace finds more and more of his heart dying as his master works to break down his will not to become the monster everyone believes he is. When a stranger interferes with his master’s harsh punishment, Jace’s world is upended yet again. But with it comes the possibility of hope that has long since died. Could the man possibly hold the key to escaping the hopeless darkness that is Jace’s life? Is there such a thing as life beyond the cruelty of slavery?
See where Jace’s story all began . . .
amazon-buy goodreads
Haven’t discovered the world of Ilyon yet? Find out more at the official Ilyon Chronicles website!
About the Author
JayeAuthor2015Jaye L. Knight is an award-winning author, homeschool graduate, and shameless tea addict with a passion for Christian fantasy. Armed with an active imagination and love for adventure, Jaye weaves stories of truth, faith, and courage with the message that even penning stories since the age of eight and resides in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
You can connect with Jaye on her website, blog, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Etsy, and on her new fiction forum where you can interact with other readers of the series.

Share in the excitement of the release and enter to win a themed giveaway pack! Prizes include an autographed copy of Half-Blood, a blue feather bookmark hand crafted by Jaye, a bronze sword pendant, and a $5 Amazon gift card! (Giveaway is open to US residents only. Cannot be shipped internationally.)
Tour Schedule
Tuesday, July 14

Wednesday, July 15

Thursday, July 16

Friday, July 17

Saturday, July 18

Sunday, July 19

Monday, July 20

Tuesday, July 21

Wednesday, July 22

Jul 19, 2015

Benefits of an Awesome Soundtrack

 I like to listen to music while I write, but one has to set the mood correctly. Sometimes I listen to music with words and other times I can’t because I find myself accidentally writing the lyrics, oops! During battle scenes I like to listen to Marvel soundtracks and if I’m writing more in one character’s point of view I’ll listen to their “theme” song to help me write them better. Now, this doesn’t work for everyone, but it improves my writing a lot, you just have to experiment and see what works for you.
Listening to music that sets your adrenaline going and makes your heart beat faster helps greatly in writing getaway/battle/intense scenes.   
    You get a taste of what your characters are feeling as they race through the forest, dodge flaming arrows of death, or whatever they happen to be defeating at the moment. With the right soundtrack, you can picture yourself right there, in the midst of it all and that helps you write it better.
Music makes us feel deeply, and if you’re feeling deeply than you can communicate what the character is feeling better.
     If your character is feeling sad, and you’re listening to something that makes you feel sad, then you can communicate those feelings better and more intensely. Or if the character is happy or feeling at peace, it all works. If you and the character are feeling the same thing, chances are, you’ll write it out better.
Instrumental music can help a lot with blocking out background noise.
  If you have instrumental music playing then it’s a whole lot harder to hear voices in the background or dogs barking and just ordinary, everyday noises. It’s easier to picture what is going on at this point in your novel if you don’t hear your mom’s telephone conversation with her sister while trying to write. Maybe you just even have a fan blowing to block out the background noises.

Does music help you write? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

~Ashlyn Peters

Jul 13, 2015

Why You Need Brainstorming Buddies

Brainstorming is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. You're still completely in love with the idea. Chances are, doubts haven't yet crept into your mind about how good of an idea it actually is. You haven't grown tired of it yet. You're just starting out.

Here is where you get to explore all the fun facets of the world you're creating. You get to know the characters a little bit, play around with some of the plot. Here is where you can walk circles around your house, talking to yourself, and it's okay (please tell me I'm not the only one who does that XD). I love this part of the process!

But what makes it even better is when you have a brainstorming buddy to help you through it. I've been fortunate enough to have a couple of those over the past couple years, and the past week or so I've been chatting with two of them to help me get started on this new shiny idea I have.

So, I'm going to make a list of the benefits of having a wonderful brainstorming buddy (or two!).

The Questions

This is probably one of the most helpful parts of having a brainstorming session with someone else. They ask questions that make you think about things that maybe you hadn't thought about before. They point out potential holes that you wouldn't have seen on your own.

The Different Point of View

Because this person isn't you, they bring something else to the table: a different perspective. This can help bring fresh ideas that could potentially enhance your story. They look at things differently, so they can point out things that you wouldn't have thought of.

The Fresh Ideas

Sometimes, when you're brainstorming with someone, they can offer up suggestions for ideas. Even if you don't use these exact ideas, most of the time, they'll at least trigger spin-off ideas, and one of those spin-offs might be the idea that fuels your story.

The Listening Ears

Sometimes, it's just nice to be able to talk to someone about your idea. Sometimes, as you describe everything to them, you'll notice plot holes yourself, or maybe new ideas will spark just as you're telling them about what you have so far. For me, this is another incredibly helpful part of having brainstorming buddies: just having someone to listen.

So, if you're currently brainstorming for a new idea, I challenge you to find some people who will let you bounce ideas off of them if you don't have friends like that already. And be sure you return the favor!

Jul 10, 2015

Five Reasons Why I Hate My Villains and the One Reason I Love Them

1. They are annoying.
Seriously, have you ever had a villain in your head? They are the most annoying creatures on this planet. And that’s saying quite a lot for me, since I have three brothers under the age of 10.  Always talking about how they’re gonna rule the world and be so epic and you roll your eyes and think, “Yea, right…”
2. They hurt your favorite character(s).
They do. It’s true! Whether mentally or physically. And I really like my main characters so it makes me mad when people mess with them. (All of you non writers will be giving me weird looks right about… now. The authors will understand.) I know I write the book, but it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about my villains being evil.
3. You are always wanting to conform them.
Let’s face it, we authors write awesome villains. And they would be totally awesome as a hero but then… there’s no villain! The story has no point. So you can’t conform them, so instead, you go and write a long sad poem about how he/she will never be a hero.
4. They’re braggy, proud, and have the hugest egos.
Villains like to talk about their egos quite often. It’s annoying. They are convinced they will win and when they don’t, oh boy... You have an angry braggart on your hands, and believe me, that is not fun.
5. They break your heart.
Now, if you can write a borderline villain, that’s almost there, almost being a hero, then you are a brave, brave author and I commend you for your work. But, with a borderline villain, comes some sadness, because of reason number 3 above. You can’t conform them. So yea, your heart is saddened because of this borderline villain.
And the one reason I love my villains is…
1. Even though they are evil, maniacal, proud, and annoying, they are my villains.
  Yes, my villains are bad, but I love them anyway. I made them, so I kinda have to like them, because they belong to me. You don’t dis my villains, because even though they are bad, they are really good at being bad. ‘Nuff said!

~Ashlyn Peters

Jul 6, 2015

Ramblings on Writing Rules

I’ve always loved writing advice and writing rules. Okay, okay, so not always, seeing as I never  gave a hoot about this sort of thing before I got serious about writing. But since then, as far as entertainment goes, devouring blog posts about the craft has been up there with reading Jane Austen novels and eating dessert. And before we go any further, let me make it known that I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with writing advice.  (Unless, of course, it’s utterly lousy writing advice, in which case I’ll agree there’s a problem, or if the argument is that reading about writing is so fun one doesn’t get around to actually writing. *whistles innocently*) If I did, I wouldn’t be dishing it out.
However. I’ve semi-recently realized that my obsession with following writing rules has, in fact, had a negative impact on my writing, and a quick Google search reveals I’m not alone. There are a plethora of other great articles that discuss this phenomenon, along with possible courses of action to counteract it. My favorite, put out so frequently in some variation or another that I’m hesitant to attribute it to any one person, is: “I treat writing rules like the Pirate’s Code. You know, really more like guidelines.” A very fine point, that, but I’ve found it useful to go further and examine the roots of the matter,  and my hope is that my musings prove helpful to those of you in a similar pickle.
I think the roots of the matter lie in emphasis and prioritization. Hold those thoughts; it’ll take me a minute or fifteen to bring them full circle.  Often when I hear prioritization, what comes to mind is somebody trying to convince me that what they want to do should be my highest priority. When it comes to writing rules, that somebody is myself.  I insist -  to the point of editing out my own voice - that every single plot must be meticulously structured; that every single paragraph must be properly vetted; that every single dialogue tag must be replaced with an action beat. Hopefully it’s clear that while this path of rigid focus and perfectionism might improve my mechanics in select passages, it’s ultimately not a path conducive for growth as a writer. So how do I get off this path? Retracing my steps is a good place to start, so I guess that brings me to the question, “How did I get on this path?”
I don’t specifically recall the first time I read writing advice; thanks to elementary school Language Arts, I was exposed to it before I sought it. But, crazy as it sounds, I think elementary school Language Arts was where the seeds were planted, seeds that became ugly plants with the ‘roots of the matter’ I’m prattling on about. See, in fourth grade, I took a big standardized writing test designed to test students’ ability to meet certain standards. Standards ranged from things as basic as putting periods at the ends of sentences to things like “using vivid vocabulary” and “showing creativity”.  Outside the classroom, I learned  fancy words and imagination at least in part from books and family dinnertime conversations.  Inside the classroom, though, essay dates loomed, and in order to ensure that each kiddo could churn out a halfway decent five-paragraph paper by spring, more concrete and practical steps had to be taken. Word lists had to be memorized. Instructions for incorporating originality had to be obeyed.  It’s not that my fourth grade teachers were cold and cruel with no concept of a love for learning, oh no.  They encouraged discussion and curiosity and were overall pretty awesome people. But nevertheless, the lesson I subconsciously learned was that the art of good writing is conforming to a code to earn the approval of the Powers That Be.
By the time I was prowling around the internet for writing tips in middle school, I had embraced this idea unabashedly, except now my code came not from the state standards but from author blogs. Why did the principle take such a strong hold on me? Apart from early educational influences and the voices of the world wide web, one of the biggest reasons was that there was a period of time when I viewed areas of life through a lens of legalism.  I thought that to follow Christ was to live up to the standards and image of A Good Christian. I thought that the way to make friends was to fit in and impress people so much they’d enjoy my company. Across the board, spoken and unspoken rules held attraction in their consistency and promises.  Obey, and you’ll be okay.  Better than okay, even. If only you follow us, you can earn the title of brilliant or witty  or popular or angelically good.  With these mindsets running rampant, is it any wonder that they spilled into my writing process? That instead of keeping writing rules in their proper place as a necessary tool to build my stories, I’ve started making adherence to them the pinnacle of my ambitions so that I can bask in self-congratulations whenever I delete an adverb?
It’s easy to spot this line of thinking with the nitpicky rules one worries about in line edits, but the more I dig the more I see how pervasive it is. Too often I take sound tidbits and twist them into something stifling.  “Give the main character a good goal” becomes “Pick a ‘cool’ character goal that has what writing gurus would deem acceptable potential, never mind whether your heart is deeply invested in the story that would stem from it”.  Because of my craving for people to praise my premise, I lose sight of my love for writing with passion.  “Make the main character likable” becomes “Obsessively scroll through Goodreads and compile a list of characteristics reviewers want to see more of and pet peeves that are sure to land your heroine with labels like whiny and passive and angsty, and correspondingly construct a lead playing perfectly into the everyone’s expectations”.  Writing the right kind of character starts to seem more important than writing a character I care about.
Clearly the feat of fulfilling every aspect of the mythical Perfect Writing Formula is impossible, but let’s reflect for a moment on how absurd it would be if someone were actually happy about achieving this. It’s akin to a cook getting more excited about following recipes than making food. Of course there are recipes tried and true that include the key ingredients of a cake, but when was the last time you made a cake, tried a piece, and considered the confection a success because you used exactly three cups of flour and a tablespoon of sugar? The problem with coming to that conclusion  isn’t that three cups of flour and a tablespoon of sugar are bad things to put in the batter, or that you shouldn’t take pleasure in a job well done. Rather, declaring the inclusion of sugar and flour the highest priority forces you to accept that cake is nothing but a few elements thrown together, and it robs you of the reason you put sugar and flour in there in the first place: to have a cake with a sweet taste and the right texture.
By putting undue emphasis on methods someone decided one needs to follow to write a book, I risk forgetting that the crucial part of a novel plotting worksheet is the space I fill with snippets of my own story, and forgetting what it is I’m really after. If I long merely for recognition of my ability to hop through hoops, I might as well put my pen down here and now. Because I believe good writing can be and should be so much more than that. I believe it can be a force of power and beauty. And I believe that it should imitate life.  If we reduce our art to a collection of techniques and tricks, it instead imitates a machine, cold and predictable. It can do no more than mindlessly follow specifications.
I never aimed to write books mechanically, and I’d hazard a guess that those of you who walk this path with me didn’t, either. The good news is, that’s where this path leads, not where it starts. Before I wanted to write a narrative essay that would get me a top score on the fourth grade writing test, before I wanted to write a book that would get me billions of dollars and a spot on the bestseller list, I just wanted to write a good story. (Of course, I don’t think that should be my only end in writing, either, but that’s a discussion for another post.) I’ve retraced all my steps, and now it’s time to start taking new ones. And so we're back to asking, "How?"
I wish there were a nice checklist of things to do to become less legalistic, or a  step-by-step manual for becoming less method oriented,  but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s my core emphasis that has to change. Just as I need to make knowing God my priority instead of my prowess at keeping a Bible reading schedule, and just as I have to focus on loving others and forming genuine connections them instead of obsessing over what they think of me every other second, I must also make sure the question concerning a part of my manuscript is “Does this serve the story?” instead of “Does this follow the rules?”.  Showing-not-telling is great if it strengthens a scene, but not if all I’m showing is filler that makes the pacing drag. Cutting a modifier is the right thing to do if it makes a sentence more concise, but not if it detracts from the meaning I was trying to get across. And if something contributes to the voice of the piece, it stays.
If I can pay attention to these things, then maybe I can be reminded that good writing consists of something greater than tight descriptions.
Maybe I can learn to let my humor and heart and experience flow into my writing to be refined rather than trying to use a list of rules to somehow brute-force a book into being what the world thinks is funny, touching, and true to life.
And maybe I can realize that imbibing all the writing advice in the world won’t help me if I have nothing to say.  
If you relate, have something to add, or feel compelled to inform me that this post is the reflection of a fool bumbling her way to the obvious in a roundabout fashion and trying to pass it off as wisdom, you're welcome to share in the comments! However, I'll be in the car all day today and tomorrow, so I won't be the speediest in replying. 

- Miri Williams