R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Tag: fiction writing

A New Way of Looking at Elves in Fantasy Literature & Games

I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy and playing games like The Witcher 2 and Dragon Age: Origins lately, and I find myself focusing on elves. It’s fascinating to see how much Tolkien influenced the depiction of elves in popular culture. Even within this all-encompassing version of elf-ness, there are many different angles that could be explored to create something new within the fantasy literature sphere.

Common depictions of elves

So these games and books got me thinking: elves are always kind of depicted the same way, but even in these similar forms, there are issues that nobody really explores. For example, elves are usually “similar to humans but fairer and wiser, with greater spiritual powers, keener senses, and a closer empathy with nature.” While games like Dragon Age portray them as persecuted, second-class citizens, that wiser/fairer bit is generally accurate. In addition elves are usually immortal or extremely long-lived. This fact is what inspired this post.

If elves live longer than humans, then why is it a common theme in fantasy literature and games for elves to have a smaller population than humans? You commonly see elven characters saying things like, “Humans multiply like insects” or “humans are short-lived people with no connection to nature.” Why is this?

It seems to me that an author could create something really interesting if they explored the underside of “elven culture.” While they are normally serene and harmonious, sometimes authors portray elven society as rigid and socially stratified. There’s so much potential there: a society where you live a long time, but are kept limited in the role you’re able to play.

Elven societies in fantasy literature

Also if men multiply quickly, then why don’t elves? Apparently Tolkien wrote about elven reproduction and sexual norms in “Laws and Customs among the Eldar” in The History of Middle-earth, but I haven’t read it so I can’t elaborate. But still, you’d think because they live for such a long time that elves would be having children like crazy. Do they only have one set of children or something? Why do you rarely see works that focus on elven overpopulation? Think of the social implications of that.

Or if elves don’t have lots of children, is that because they have an extremely low birth-rate where their pregnancies, eggs, larvae–I don’t really know how these made up beings breed–rarely carry to the full term? If that was the case, that low birth-rate would influence almost every level of society.

Imagine if a writer explored these things in a fantasy setting. A stratified society dominated by reproductive issues like a low-birth rate or a high infant mortality rate would at the very least be different from the standard “elves as wise, harmonious nature-lovers” you see so often.

Other fantasy tropes and races

What other fantasy races would you like to see explored from a different angle? Sick of technologically-inclined dwarves that mine for treasure all day? What about blood-thirsty orcs or hungry halflings? Let me know in the comments.

Characters Count: Keeping Them Consistent

Engaging characters can make or break any story. You could have the coolest setting in the world  and a mind-blowingly awesome plot full of ups and downs, thrilling twists, and a dramatic conclusion, but they would amount to a fat load of diddly (squat optional) if your readers don’t care about your characters.

Readers Notice Inconsistencies

I just finished going through the first round of content edits and revisions on The Exile’s Violin. One of the common threads that ran through the editorial notes centered on my characters and their…character (for lack of a better word). I’d written them behaving one way earlier in the book, but by the end they were reacting to things in ways that just weren’t them. I didn’t keep my characters’ character consistent. And if my editor noticed, you can bet your ass that readers would pick up on it too.

Novel writing

For example, my main character, Jacquie, comes across as a no-nonsense type of young woman, one that may have anger issues, in the opening chapters. However as I was reading later chapters, she was doing things that were completely out of character. Trying not to cry after a setback instead of getting angry. Feeling ashamed instead of not caring what other people thought–especially when she hadn’t done anything wrong. She didn’t have that spark that made her interesting in the beginning.

Avoiding Flat Characters

All the writing advice gurus talk about making sure your characters change and grow–avoid flat, two-dimensional characters! But there’s a difference between character growth and inconsistency. You better break out your red pen and do some rewriting when you see these kinds of mistakes.

Red pen

Having a character learn to care about other people rather than just themselves, that’s growth. When two characters develop romantic feelings for one another in an organic, unforced way, that’s growth. When a character hates eggs in chapter 2 but then spends the rest of the book only ordering omelettes, that’s an error. So when Jacquie starts crying all the time (seriously it was embarrassing how many times I’d put that in there), it looked like her behavior was coming out of left field. I rewrote those sections to have her keep her original attitude. As a result, her character stayed more consistent, but still retained room for growth.

You can turn inconsistencies into genuine growth though. Using that egg example: you could add reasons into the story, plot points, dialogue, etc. that shows why that character learns to love eggs to the point where they’re eating omelettes for every meal. That would be growth.

It’s all about how you present it to the reader. You can show them a character’s behavior in one instance and say, “This is fact. This is how my character acts.” That’s all fine and dandy. But if you then show the character acting differently in a similar situation and say, “This is fact. This is how my character acts” they’ll call BS. No author wants to have their readers call them out on something like that. It’s just plain embarassing.

Saying No to Fun Things; Saying Yes to Writing

Who doesn’t love weekends? I mean, I sure do. They’re great. You get to go out with friends, watch TV, play videogames, do sports type things, go on dates, and so on and so forth. What about weeknights? Isn’t it great to kick back after a long day at work and read a book, play some videogames, or watch some TV? You bet it is! Of course there’s one problem with all the activities I just listed: where’s the time for writing?

I feel like this a trap a lot of writers (including myself) can easily fall into. We all have friends, social lives, and significant others. We tend to have other hobbies and interests other than just writing. All of those activities, people, and hobbies take up time. So how do you balance all of them and still find time to write? You have to learn to say no.

It’s tough; nobody wants to say no to their friends when they invite you somewhere fun. Nobody wants to force themselves to write on a night after work, when the words just aren’t flowing. But sometimes you have to.

I fell into the bad habit of putting off writing. If it was a weekday I’d tell myself, “Oh I’ll write extra tomorrow” or “Well I can always write a ton on the weekend, so go ahead, watch that episode of Top Chef.” But then it’d be Saturday and I’d get invited to go hang out with friends. I’d tell myself that I had all day Sunday to write, so once again writing would take a backseat to everything else.

Writing is a craft, and it takes practice and dedication to get better at it. I desperately want to get better because I want to get more pieces published, and eventually support myself by writing full-time. I had to take a hard look at how much (or little) time I was devoting to my craft. It was painful to finally acknowledge that I was doing myself a disservice. But in the end, it’s been worth it. Since I realized what I had to do to get better, I’ve been able to make progress on a novel WIP that had been sitting dormant for months as well as begin rough plotting for a new novel.

How do I do it? I say no to fun things. When my coworkers go out to lunch: I say no thanks (Pro tip: always be polite when you decline doing fun things). I spend many of my lunch breaks writing. (Pro tip #2: Dropbox is a lifesaver because I don’t have to take a flashdrive with my most recent WIP to and from work) When I get home I only let myself watch a limited amount of TV and I don’t let myself go to bed before I’ve hit my word count. I write more even if I’ve already hit my word count goal during my lunch break. When it comes to weekends, I try to get my writing done during the day while I’m doing laundry or something rather than just playing videogames.

It isn’t always easy. Laziness is an extremely alluring option. But if I can learn to say no to fun things and activities, you can too. It’s the only way I’m going to improve, hone my craft, and one day get to do the thing I love full time.

Naming Your Characters

Naming the characters in your short stories and novels can be fun or it can be a huge nightmare. Sometimes you’ll write a character and you’ll already have the perfect name for them. And then sometimes this happens: you finish a chapter or story and it’s filled with characters with placeholder names. It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve lost count of how many characters I’ve had to call Guy1, Person McPerson, or Girl3 until I can find more proper names for them. I’m sure it happens to even the most famous writers. Imagine Stephen King writing all of something like The Shining but with placeholder names for Jack, Danny, and Wendy.

But luckily there are tons of resources out there for writers who’ve hit a roadblock when it comes to naming their characters. Here are some of my favorites. Some of them are geared more toward science fiction and fantasy, but others can work for any kind of story.

Seventh Sanctum — This website has a huge collection of name generators. It’s definitely one of my favorite sites. Some of the generators are more humorous than others, but overall it’s usually the first place I turn to.

Squid.org — This website’s random name generator is geared more towards fantasy, but still some of the options are really useful. It can only generate so many names at a time, but its options more than make up for that.

Behind the Name — This website’s name generator is made up of “real” names from around the world. You’re able to choose what countries and cultures you want it to generate names from. Also most of the names have descriptions associated with them so you can find out alternate spellings and meanings.

Ever Changing Book of Names — This isn’t a web-based generator. Instead it’s a program where you can download a free trial version. It contains thousands of different names from all around the world. You can even download different “chapters” that can generate names based on other fantasy works and universes. It’s a great resource for when you’re looking for a very specific type of name.

There are other resources out there, but these are some of my favorites. They’ve definitely saved me from submitting a manuscript full of placeholder characters.

When Inspiration Strikes

What do you do when inspiration strikes, when your muse speaks to you? (Sidebar: I hate calling things “my muse”) Most of the time inspiration doesn’t show up when you want it to. You get a bit of free time. You sit down, ready to bust out a thousand words or so, but then nothing comes to mind. You don’t know what to write about. The monolithic blank page scares you so instead you waste some time on Twitter or going through pages on Reddit. Then your time’s up and guess what? You got nothing done. Thanks for not showing up, Inspiration.

Personally, I tend to come up with ideas at the weirdest times. The situation I just described above rarely happens to me. Not because I’m an amazing writer, full of ideas all the time. It’s just that I don’t try to write without a plan already in mind. But where do these plans come from? Weird places and strange times. The shower for instance. I’ll be taking my morning shower and bam! I’ve got an idea for a short story. Or what about when I’m falling asleep? I love and hate when that happens. I have to get up and write my ideas down or–what usually happens–text my ideas to myself so they’ll be on my phone in the morning.

I swear I’m trying to go somewhere with this post. Inspiration shows up unannounced. I write down my ideas so I don’t forget them. Then I try to use those ideas. A real life example: I’m working on a short story right now tentatively titled “Land Swimmers.” The idea came to me as I was falling asleep a few weeks ago. Instantly I knew that I had to do something about it or I’d forget it in the morning. I sent myself two texts and I’m so glad I did. Oh, the actual image/thought that sparked everything? “Giant worms that come out when it rains. Jump out of the ground like dolphins.” Yup. That’s where “Land Swimmers” is coming from.

What about all you other writers? What’s the weirdest time/place that inspiration has hit you? What’d you do when that happened?

Project Name: “Land Swimmers” (working title)

Deadline: 6/20/11

Word count: 1,663

 

Breaking Ground & Being a “Real Writer”

I’m having a very surreal moment right now. I’m breaking ground on my 2nd novel of 2011–my 3rd one all time. I just finished the outline for The Price of Loyalty after the end of a marathon day today. You’ll see what I mean when I get to the word count section. This is the longest outline I’ve ever written, so hopefully it’ll be easy to fill in the cracks when it comes to the actual writing part.

Let me break down the surreal part. I consider myself a writer, but in my head there’s a tiny voice that sometimes tries to tell me that I’m faking it. I’m not a real writer. I’m just someone who wishes they were a writer. When that voice kicks in the acceptances, the rejections, the completed stories, and even the two completed* novels don’t count for shit. It’s kind of annoying actually. I hate when that voice pops up. Well it’s kind of happening right now, but this time it’s a little more incredulous instead of discouraging. It can’t believe that I’m starting another book, never mind the fact that I just finished one a month or so ago. Writing yet another book is something real writers do. Okay, maybe it still is just discouraging.

Screw it! I’m writing another book. In a few months I’ll finish the rough draft, and then maybe that little voice will shut the hell up.

*By completed I mean I’ve finished one to the point where it’s suitable for submission. Its sequel has a complete rough draft but hasn’t had any edits or revisions. It’s kind of pointless to start really revising that one because it can’t really be sold on its own.

Here’s my statistics for this mentally exhausting day.

Project: The Price of Loyalty (outline)

Deadline: N/A (was supposed to be 6/1)

Word count: 7,964

 

Small Problem–What to Do Next?

I just finished putting the finishing touches on the rough draft of my sci-fi/steampunk novel Terraviathan. I had a 7 page document full of all the names I needed to implement into manuscript. I just finished doing that. Man my hands hurt from typing ctrl+b to unbold all my placeholder names.

Of course now that I finished, I realize I have a small problem. Terraviathan is a sequel. While I tried to make it as standalone-y as possible, it helps a lot if you’ve read The Exile’s Violin. And this is where things get complicated. The Exile’s Violin is unpublished. It won’t stay that way forever, but I don’t think I’d be able to get this book accepted anywhere without TEV getting accepted first. Now if a publisher does show interest in TEV, I can tell them I have a sequel ready to go, but until that happens, Terraviathan is forced to sit on the sidelines.

So what do I do next? I have outlines for two more novels ready to go. Remember The Swarm? Yeah, I have that one. I also have an outline for a novel set in the same universe as “Runner.” It’s called The Price of Loyalty and it’s straight up sci-fi/borderline space opera. I want to work on it, but my brain’s a little worn out right now. So here’s what I think I’m going to do. I’m going to write some short stories for a couple of weeks; there are publications and anthologies out there I want to submit to. Then when I’ve had a little bit of time to decompress, I’ll start work on The Price of Loyalty. The funny thing is, I already have 6 chapters finished. I’ll probably rewrite most of them, but it won’t be like starting from absolute scratch.

I also have a vague, vague idea for a 3rd book in the TEV/Terraviathan universe set after Terraviathan. That’s always on the table. I also started thinking about a spin-off standalone novel featuring some of the characters from Terraviathan. It’d be more military oriented. That could be fun too. The possibilities are endless!

I’m interested to know what other writers do once they finish working on a novel? It’s in that phase where it needs to sit and marinate before any revisions are made. What do you work on next? Dive right into another novel? Short stories? Or do you just take some time off from writing altogether? I want to know.

Current Project: None!

Deadline: None!

Word count: 0

Why Word Count Isn’t Always the Best Method

As you may have noticed, I use a nifty (read: simple) little bit of html in my posts to provide a graphic that shows my word count progress. However, word count isn’t always the best way to keep track of your progress.

For short stories–or works without chapters–word count is a perfect way to keep track of your progress. Say you’re writing a short story for submission and the publisher/zine/whatever only accepts stories up to 4,000 words. You might not want to write exactly 4,000 words, but keeping track of your word count is a hassle-free way to keep yourself on track.

As I’ve found out working on this second novel, word count doesn’t always work. I set a total word count goal for myself: 80,000. A fairly standard novel length, maybe a little longer than standard. Some people like 75,000. Anyway, I just hit 61,000 today (and I’m still going). According to my spreadsheet I’m a little over 76% complete with my novel. Wow! I’m over 3/4 of the way there! Not quite.

I may be 3/4 of the way to my arbitrarily chosen goal, but when it comes to completing the actual story, I’m not at that point yet. I’ve started keeping track of my chapter progress along with my word count. Right now I’m on chapter 19 out of an outlined 28–or 67% completion. Not quite as impressive isn’t it?

Both keeping track of chapters and word counts are useful tools in measuring progress. I just have to remember that word count isn’t everything. I’ll keep posting my little graphic though, because I like seeing it go up. And even if it is a little inflated, it still represents progress. Honestly, I’ll be happy as long as the first draft of this novel is shorter than the first draft of my previous one. If I can keep it under 100,000 words, I’ll be ecstatic.

To all of you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day: have fun, stay safe, make sure to stay hydrated to avoid hangovers. As for me, I’ll be staying in and plugging away on The Exile’s Violin 2. Here’s today’s word count. (I’ll update it again later tonight.)

Oh yeah! Before I forget: There’s a reading/launch event for Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions at Neptune Coffee (85th and Greenwood, Seattle) from 8-10 pm. Go if you can! I can’t ’cause I’m in the wrong state. Right coast, wrong state. You can pre-order the anthology here. You can also read an excerpt from one of the stories, “Necrosis,” here.

Project: The Exile’s Violin 2 (working title)

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Daily word count: 3,399 (as of 6 PM PST)

“Dark” Scenes are Easier to Write

My WIP novel is a thing. Yessir. It’s coming right along. Today I worked on a pretty pivotal scene where the main character has to get some information from a crooked cop who’d just sold her out. She uses some questionable methods that her best friend and accomplice doesn’t approve of. It creates tension between the two characters, and their relationship is already full of drama and baggage.

Some scenes and chapters are easier to write; I get that. But why is it the darker, the more disturbing the scene the easier it is to write for me? I’m not sure I want to examine the implications of what that means about me as a person. This “ease” with which dark scenes come to me has happened before. It happened during certain short stories, and now it happened again while working on The Exile’s Violin 2. I’m not complaining because it means I got a lot written today. Hopefully the rest of the project goes this smoothly.

What about you all? Are there certain scenes or types of scenes that just come easily to you? How do you map out these kinds of things ahead of time–if at all?

Project: The Exile’s Violin 2

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Daily word count: 4,897 (today) & 2,382 (yesterday)

 

“Neurolution” to be Included in Biopunk Anthology

Good news everyone! (I always say that in the Professor’s voice from Futurama). My short story “Neurolution” is going to be featured in the anthology Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions by Timid Pirate Publishing. The anthology is set to come out in March 2011, so it’s just around the corner!

I found out that the story had been accepted a couple of weeks ago, but I had to keep it quiet until the announcement went live on their website. Maybe they announced it a couple of days ago, but I just saw it tonight.

I wrote “Neurolution” specifically for the anthology, so it felt twice as good when it got accepted. It was the first time that I’d tried to write something biopunk-ish. I’ve read a little bit in the genre, including Deadstock and Blue War by Jeremy Thomas, so I knew some of the genre’s conventions. It’s always a little bit of a risk when you write something based on pretty strict guidelines. If it doesn’t get accepted there, what are you supposed to do with it? Luckily, that didn’t happen in this case.

I can’t wait to see the cover art and get my copies of Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions. I want to read all the other squishy, creepy, grotesque stories in it.

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