Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guest Blog Post - Teresa Frohock

As the final of our January guest blog posts, I'd like to introduce Teresa Frohock. Teresa is a fellow OWW critter and the author of some deliciously creepy horror, and she also runs a very informative and helpful blog for aspiring writers. I'm happy to leave you in her capable hands as she talks about the "Quiet Moment".


When writing fantasy or horror, I think we often focus too heavily on the action and adventure aspects of the story to the point of cheating ourselves and our readers of a very special moment. It's when the protagonist experiences the psychic change that carries him or her through the story's climax. This turning point is as pivotal as the inciting incident that sets the story in motion, and handled well, gives the reader a logical reason for the protagonist's actions as the story is propelled toward the climax.

The quiet moment of your novel is where your protagonist stands in the eye of the hurricane and makes a decision that will affect him, and those around him, for the rest of his life. All action stops in a freeze frame as you enter your protagonist's mind and show the reader a reflection of his thoughts and your theme.

Here you must use the lightest of touches, the simplest prose, and the fewest words to convey what can sometimes be a complex emotional choice. Too much, and you're beating your reader over the head, too little, and your protagonist's actions won't make sense in the end.

Since I use the three act story structure, I like to place the quiet moment between the second and third acts of my story. This is the portion of the tale where my protagonist has been brought to his knees by the events around him; things could not possibly become worse.

All the pain, all the grief my protagonist has suffered coalesces until he has no choice but to change or die. I want him to reach inside himself and draw from an inner strength he either didn't know he had or forgotten he possessed. This is the point where my protagonist begins their emotional journey back into the light. Sometimes it's a sentence, a paragraph, or even a brief scene, but the character dictates the moment.

I love reading and writing the quiet moment in a novel. What about you? Does your novel contain a quiet moment? How do you handle the pivotal moment of your protagonist's change in your novel?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

ASIM

I had some great news this evening - the Hobbit Query Letter is going to be published in the October edition of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

I do feel a tad like one of those 80's rock bands still living off that one song, but overall I'm chuffed to finally be able to lay claim to a publishing credit.

It's a great magazine. Even without my article in it I'd have no hesitation in encouraging people to check it out!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guest Blog Post - Lindsay Buroker

To continue the January Guest Blog Post theme, I'm happy to introduce Lindsay Buroker, who I have asked to write about comedy in fantasy. Lindsay is another OWW comrade-in-arms and has been a great encouragement in my writing. She has, however, been responsible for me repeatedly showering my computer monitor in coffee, so I can safely say she is more than qualified to speak on the subject of humour.

Take it away Lindsay....

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Have your characters ever been called flat? Your stories boring? Your voice bland? Adding a splash of humor to your prose might be just the solution. Laughing readers are rarely bored readers.

If you feel humor has no place in your writing (you must write science fiction or “epic” fantasy), then you can skip the rest of this post, but if you’ve ever longed to have sample readers email you LOL about your tales, then read on. We’re going to talk about some tried-and-true ways to add the funny to your stories. They are the Setup and Punchline, the Rule of the Three, and the Callback. Even if you haven’t employed these tactics before, you’ll surely recognize them. Every comedian, sitcom writer, and witty genre author keeps them in the armory.

Setup & Punchline

Every joke is made up of a setup (the straight road) and a punchline (the unexpected curve). Let’s take a look at a Dungeons & Dragons classic (yes, I only quote the best!):

How do you know a dwarf raided your pantry?
Only the bottom halves of the shelves are empty.

How do you know an elf raided your pantry?
Only vegetables and fruits are missing.

How do you know an ogre raided your pantry?
Pantry? What pantry?

The first five lines, while funny in their own right, are the setup. The last is the punchline. You can see how everything before that builds the anticipation. Without the setup, the punchline wouldn’t be funny at all. This format is so familiar, that your readers are already primed and ready to laugh when they see it.

Okay, but who stops their stories to tell jokes? No one, we hope. But you can use the setup/punchline tactic to inspire laughter right in your narrative. Perhaps the dire, serious, tense situation is the setup, and then something unexpected happens (the fierce mercenary army is prepared to storm the hidden passage when the mage stands before the locked portal and cries, “Open Sesame!” and... everyone’s swordbelts unclasp and fall to the ground). Or maybe the personality of one your characters is the setup. Just think of how often you’ve seen the straight-man/funny-man set up. Or the adventuring party’s joke-cracking sidekick. Mixing serious characters with more lighthearted folk is a recipe for fun.

Dialogue provides the ideal opportunity for joke placement. In the vein of not-so-subtle self-promotion, I’ll delve into one of my own Goblin Brothers short stories for an example.

...A rolled piece of light brown paper slid out. Malagach grabbed it before it could fall into the water.
“It’s a map,” he said after a quick perusal. “A treasure map.”
“How do you know?” Gortok asked.
“All the traditional indicators are here: topographical representation of terrain features, a dashed line depicting a route, and a black X marking the final destination.”
Gortok leaned over Malagach’s shoulder to look. “And it says TREASURE MAP at the top.”
Maybe it’s not the instant classic of D&D joke, but it’s an example of setup (everything until the last bit of dialogue) and punchline used within the natural flow of a story.
Let’s move on to the next way to inject humor into your stories, the Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three

Fact of life: things are inherently more funny in threes. The “Rule of Three” is a classic structure in which a joke is set up, the setup is reinforced, and the punchline breaks the pattern.

Why is this funny? Who knows? Mathematically speaking, three is the smallest number you can use to establish a pattern and break it. But math is boring, so let’s just agree to accept this proven method.

Example:

You’re reading this post to further your education, to improve your writing, and because you’re bored at work.

Punchline, reinforcement, and unexpected curve.

The perspicacious readers will notice the dwarf, elf, ogre joke from the earlier example not only demonstrated the Setup and Punchline but also obeyed the Rule of Three. Now you know why you were helpless to keep from chortling.

The nice thing about the Rule of Three is that it’s easy to work into your writing without slowing down the pace. It only takes a sentence, so you don’t fall into the trap of having characters banter on for pages without plot advancement (not that I would ever be guilty of this, no, not me...).

Try using it in a setting description; it’s a great way to add zip to what might otherwise be a bland bit of prose. Example: Several indicators suggested this was not the most luxurious ski lodge: the broken hot tub, the peeling paint, the yellow snow.

Now that we’ve mastered the Rule of Three, it’s time to double the laughs with one of my favorites, the callback.

The Callback

The callback is simple; it’s just a reference to a joke you made earlier. It’s easy to implement, and people love it. And why not? If something tickled you once, wouldn’t you be delighted to relive the moment? Also, it can make for a satisfying conclusion to your story.

I’ll plunder my own work again for an example.

The first joke takes place in the middle of the story:

Robhart tilted his head and seemed to truly look at Malagach and Gortok for the first time. “You’re not like city goblins I’ve met.”
“Actually,” Malagach said, “we’re not particularly like mountain goblins either.”
“Ma says we’re especial,” Gortok said.
Malagach looked at his brother. “When did she say that?”
“Last month, when I added that extendable door-flap opener to the hut.”
“The thing she tripped over in the middle of the night?” Malagach asked. “I believe what she said was we were especially trying.”
Next, we’ve got some action, conflict resolution, and otherwise exciting stuff, and then we join the heroes again in a bit of denouement:

“...the stories told about us would have to be named after me, and I’d be the star,” Robhart said. “The hero, the main hero, can’t be a goblin.”
“Why not?” Gortok asked.
Robhart chuckled. “Who’d want to hear stories just about goblins?” He waved a quick goodbye and hustled off to turn in his orc hair.
Malagach and Gortok stared after the human.
“I’m middling sure people wouldn’t mind stories about us,” Gortok said. “Me, for sure.”
“Why you?” Malagach asked.
“I’m the cute, lovable, especial one.”
“That was especially trying,” Malagach reminded his brother.
“Close enough.” Gortok winked.
The callback is an economy of sorts. Set a joke up once and then milk it for all its worth. (If I were a better humor writer, I would have tapped into the Rule of Three and used that joke three times in my story!)

There you go: three humor-writing tricks of the trade that will never let you down. Always remember, laughing readers are never bored readers (and they writer nicer reviews, too).
Three Ways to Add Humor to Your Stories

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Updates...

In October I mentioned that I had sent off The Ghost of Ping-Ling to a publisher, Omnibus Books, here in Adelaide.

Last week, the publisher rang to say that she had just finished reading the manuscript, had really enjoyed it, and wanted to ask me a lot of questions about it (which she did). She then asked if I would make some changes and resubmit, so the manuscript can go to the next stage of the submission process.

This is, of course, not an offer to publish. It's quite possible (maybe even likely) that at the end of this process nothing will happen. But even if that's the case, to have been noticed in the slush-pile is a wonderful encouragement, especially as I had been fully convinced I would get nothing more than a rejection letter.

So, I now get to dust off GPL and get my teeth into some more editing. I also have to write a synopsis of the remaining four books in the series, and draw a map.

In the meantime, if anyone can tell me how to add about 10 more hours to the day, I'd be really grateful...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Weight of Souls

Tonight I finished draft 0 of The Weight of Souls (insert joyous music and cheering crowd noises). I have to say, it turned out much better than I had hoped, and I'm now a firm convert to the Driving Without Headlights approach.

So many times, I started with a rough idea of what I wanted to happen, but when I sat down and allowed myself to type as my thoughts came, the story went in directions I would never have thought of in a planning session. Whether this is because of some strange operation of the subconsciousness, or the natural outcome of allowing the characters to be themselves, or some other reason that could well be debated by cardigan-clad academics over a few glasses of red, it worked.

Now I have to print out the draft and get it bound. Then I get to immerse myself in the scintillating delights1 of the editing process.


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1 There is absolutely no sarcasm here. You will absolutely never find sarcasm on this blog. Absolutely not.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Guess it Must be Summer Again.

As I write, we've just finished putting our most precious possessions into a pile in the lounge-room, ready to take to my mother's house tomorrow. The weather forecast says we're in for 43 degrees C and a fire-danger rating of Catastrophic, and the memory of the disastrous bushfires in Victoria a year ago is still fresh in everybody's mind. Our plan, which appears to be the prevailing wisdom after the Victorian experience, is to get out of the danger area before the danger comes. So my wife will be spending tomorrow - heavily pregnant and with two three year old boys - in a very tiny flat which is, at least, air-conditioned, while I will be at work keeping a wary eye on the news.

It's a very interesting experience to condense your most precious possessions to a pile big enough to put into a car. Photos are always included, though nowadays most of them are on a portable hard-drive rather than in paper form. Toys for the boys are an obvious feature - as many as we can possibly take, as are portable and important items like cameras, old (and sentimental) books, drawings and stories from my childhood, documents, and a few changes of clothes. In the end, it comes down to what we will absolutely need, and what we will absolutely never be able to replace, should the worst happen.

I don't really think we'll have much to worry about. Apparently, our region is not in the high-danger list. But we can't lose anything by getting out anyway, just in case.

And now, I think I'll go and look at tomorrow's weather forecast for London. That's sure to cool me off.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ghost of Ping-Ling

A few people have asked about my wait for GPL and whether I've heard anything. I did get some news a few days ago, along the lines that I'll be waiting a bit longer before I hear anything.

At least now I know it was received! I'll keep you informed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dull News & Spam



That Facebook thing,
That Facebook thing,
I do not like that Facebook thing.

Would you like to be my friend?
And cyber hook-up, without end?
My numbers are quite good, it's true,
But they'd be better still, with you.

I would not like to be your friend,
Or cyber hook-up without end,
But kindness puts me at my best,
And I'll click "yes" to your request.

Would you like to say hello?
And watch our scanty friendship grow?
I'm at my keyboard all the time,
Just log right in and up I'll chime.

I do not wish to say hello,
And wish you would not poke me so,
I have you as a friend it's true,
But I don't quite remember you.

Would you like this on your wall?
It's cute and kitch and does enthrall,
It's kittens, cars and men so fat,
I'm sure you would laugh hard at that!

I would not like it on my wall,
Your sense of humour, does appall,
I took you as a friend, it's true,
But put some space `tween me and you.

Status updates! Surely now,
You'd love to hear (upon the hour),
About the food I ate for tea,
Or what I watch on our TV?

I would not love to hear your news,
Or listen to your wretched views.
I wonder, though it might sound drear,
What life you have when you're not here?

I mix up "their" and "there" and "they're",
I can not spell, but I don't cair.
I end each sentence with a "lol",
Just so's you know I'm being droll (lol).

That's it! I will not take it so,
I've had enough, you have to go,
You'll see your numbers drop by one,
But you won't care it's me who's gone.

With just one click I say goodbye!
I cut you loose and breathe a sigh,
But then, in horror, I do see,
ANOTHER friend is poking me!