Guest Post: Mazes, Traps, and Dungeons

Today on the blog is a guest post by the awesomely prolific Charles Yallowitz of the Legends of Windemere blog. Please take it away, Charles.

Thank you to Linda for offering to host a promo/guest blog. Now to get the introduction and promo stuff out of the way. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz and I’m the author behind the Legends of Windemere epic fantasy series, where the latest one is Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue. I also just released a 27-page short story for 99 cents called Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts, so you can get a quick, cheap taste of me . . . whatever. Let’s move on to the fun!

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Yahoo Image Search

One of the big standards of fantasy adventure books are traps and mazes. The latter isn’t as common as the former and I can already hear some people groaning about the topic because they think these are terrible concepts. Dungeon crawling in a book can be tedious and is more action than anything else. You can have part of a book involve a trap-filled ruin, but you need to try to have it be big, essential, and put some character development in there. Most importantly, the heroes need a real reason to be in there. Rescuing a kidnapped ally, finding a cure for a disease of one of the main characters, returning an artifact that could destroy the world, and things that are larger in scale than “find the random, possibly shiny treasure.”

First, mazes are relatively simple in and of themselves. Characters wander and talk while dealing with wrong turns and traps. This can be used for character relationship development, especially if you’ve built up a plot between them that has to be discussed. It helps to draw a crude map of the maze to give yourself a feel for it, though you can also get away without giving exact directions. “Time passes” and chapter breaks can be your friend here.

Second, when working with ancient ruins or dungeons or any trap-filled place, you need to consider a few questions:

  • Is this a place that can be easily accessed?
  • Is this a place that has been lost to the ages and recently found?
  • How fresh are the bodies of failed adventurers? Are there any?

The reason these questions are important revolves around the entrance. If it’s well-known and wide open, then anyone can go in there and you need to make it look that way. If it’s difficult to get to and you want it to feel abandoned, then you need a hidden door or entrance puzzle. These questions also help you figure out the trap types, because some people wonder how a trap resets if several people have sprung it over the years. Easy way to solve this is to put a living threat in the ruins that has the ability and instructions to reset the traps. Gelatinous Cubes are not acceptable.

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Yahoo Image Search

This brings us to traps, which are one of the standards of fantasy adventures. Any adventures really. From Indiana Jones running away from a boulder to James Bond in a booby-trapped elevator, traps are nasty surprises that an author can have fun with. In fantasy, you have magic to work with that opens a few interesting doors. Fictional poisons, spells, and monsters can play into this. You have pitfalls, arrow traps, swinging blades, fire traps, water traps, ejection traps, poison gas, boulders, illusions hiding spikes, setting off ghosts, falling into monster-infested pits, electricity traps, eternal sleep traps, explosions, Gelatinous Cubes (the bastards!), force fields, and overly complicated death machines. Just to name a fraction of them. Here are a few general tips if you plan on using traps:

  1. Create the way out before writing. One of the biggest threats to a trap is that the way out is random and ridiculous. It doesn’t have to be clear to you, but have the general idea that a character needs to do a specific action.
  2. Make it believable that the heroes can find and avoid the traps. Ignore if you plan on killing them off with the trap. But then people might realize that when they see they’re on the last page.
  3. Overly complicated traps can have simple answers and probably should. After all, if it’s a terrifying death machine, then people will think big. They might not immediately consider a simple, obvious method like looking for a button.
  4. Make sure the heroes can escape without outside influences and remember why that has to happen. People ask what the point of a trap is if there’s a way out. Here is my answer. A person who makes a trap would design it with an escape in case they fell into it or it was used against them. All you need is one gnome reverse engineering your electric fire pit trap and you’ll find it everywhere.
  5. Please make most of your traps lethal. Spitting darts the size of a fingernail without poison on them isn’t going to scare anyone.
  6. You don’t have to sacrifice a character to demonstrate the danger of a trap. Standing within a room of death or dangling over a shark pit can do wonders for suspense. It also keeps readers on their toes wondering if you’ll really kill a character.

Now, a lot of people don’t like these things in literature because they fall into the cliché category. My suggestion is to do it if it fits the story and ignore the complaints. The important part is that the traps, mazes, and dungeons make sense within the story. So don’t use them as filler and make sure to give them a purpose.

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Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn’t working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. Legends of Windemere is his first series, but it certainly won’t be his last.

Thanks, Charles! In honor of the release of Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts, I’m giving away two copies. Please comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced June 17.

Cover Reveal: Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts

Coming on June 1st for 99 cents!

Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts (Cover by Nio Mendoza)

Ichabod Brooks & the City of Beasts (Cover by Nio Mendoza)

In a time of heroes, a man will take any job to provide for his family.

Ichabod Brooks has earned a reputation for taking the jobs most men and women fear to challenge. This reputation has brought him to the charred remains of a small village nestled within the hills and forest of Ralian. The ruins are a source of strange monsters that terrorize the countryside and repeatedly elude the local guards and hunters. The few brave souls who have entered the creatures’ lair have yet to come out alive or dead.

The chances of survival are slim, but that generous payment is too much for Ichabod to resist. After all, a man and his family have to eat.

Author PhotoAuthor Biography

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn’t working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. ‘Legends of Windemere’ is his first series, but it certainly won’t be his last.

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Cover Reveal: Emergence

I don’t think I’ve done a cover reveal on the blog before. First time for everything, huh? So here it is, the first cover reveal for a fantasy book by adult fantasy author and host of WIPpet Wednesday, K. L. Schwengel! (I believe she also keeps flying monkeys on retainer. You’ll want to stay on her good side.)

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Here’s a synopsis:

coverrevealEmergence—Book Two of the Darkness & Light Series

The battle for Ciara’s power has drawn the full attention of the Emperor and the Imperial Mages, forcing Bolin to put duty above safety and take her to Nisair. It won’t be an easy trip, even with an Imperial escort and a Galysian elder accompanying them. Especially since Donovan has found himself some new allies, one of who wields a dark magic that has literally gotten under Bolin’s skin.

For Ciara, coming to terms with the increasingly tangible manifestation of her power could destroy her. Even if they make it to Nisair—something that grows more unlikely by the day—there is no surety of safety for Ciara, or any of them. Not with Donovan willing to gamble everything to achieve his goals, or Bolin’s uncharacteristically reckless behavior, the result of which is the attention of something that has everyone worried.

Loyalties will be tested, lives will be lost, and no one will emerge unchanged as they find things are not always so clear on the line dividing Darkness and Light.

About the author:
K. L. Schwengel lives in southeast Wisconsin on a small farm with her husband, a handful of Australian Shepherds, Her Royal Highness Princess Fiona the Cat, and assorted livestock. Growing up as the youngest of nine children, and the daughter of a librarian, Kathi spent many hours between stacks of books, and secluded away in dusty archives, drawn to tales of medieval heroes and conquering knights. With so many characters and ideas spinning in her head, she had to get them onto paper or risk what little sanity she possessed. She has been penning wild tales of magic and mayhem as long as she can remember, but opted to follow her artistic muse first. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts and spending many years working as a freelance artist, grocery clerk, art teacher, graphic designer, stable hand, advertising account coordinator, dog trainer, and process technician (among other things) she answered the call of her writing muse. When not writing, Kathi trains and trials working Australian Shepherds, still paints, dabbles in photography, graphic design, and anything else creative her assorted muses send her way.

Kathi’s work is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other online retailers in paperback and eBook versions. Signed copies are available via her blog.

How to connect with Kathi:
Blog: http://myrandommuse.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KLSchwengelWrites
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/kathils01/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KLSchwengel
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6871795.K_L_Schwengel

17305823Here’s the back cover blurb for First of Her Kind—Book One of the Darkness & Light Series:

Everyone, it seems, wants to dictate what Ciara does with her life: Serve the Goddess, destroy the Goddess, do as you promised your aunt. All Ciara really wants is to keep the two magics she possesses from ripping her apart.

And that’s not going to be easy.

Not only are they in complete opposition to each other, blood ties pull her in divergent directions as well. And then there’s Bolin, the man sworn to protect her. There’s no denying the growing attraction between them, but is it Ciara he wants? Or her power?

None of which will matter if Ciara can’t overcome her fear, and learn how to use her gifts. No one knows the depths of the ancient power she possesses, or what will happen if it manages to escape her control.

Will she lose herself entirely? Or be forever trapped between Darkness and Light?

Emergence cover and author photo courtesy of K. L. Schwengel. First of Her Kind cover from Goodreads. Flying monkey from familyhalloweenmovies.blogspot.com.

Check This Out: Legends of Windemere (Part 2)

Welcome back to the blog. Glad you’re here. Help yourself to a beverage. With us is the cool and clever Charles Yallowitz, here to continue the discussion of his series, Legends of Windemere. Charles also is a poet, so I’m sure he appreciates the alliteration I just used. 😀 If you’re a first timer, you  might want to check here for part 1 of the interview with Charles.

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And of course, there’s a giveaway. Two of those who comment today will win the first three books of the series. But first, let’s talk to Charles.

El Space: How do you decide how much back story to include in each subsequent book of the series?
Charles: Since I write in present tense, I can’t do a narrative that goes over what previously happened. I have to remind readers about prior events through character dialogues. This creates a basic overview of the back story from the perspective of the continuing characters. I try to touch on the big events of the past and bring them up if it makes sense. For example, there is a betrayal in Prodigy of Rainbow Tower and it gets brought up from time to time, either by remembering the deceased character or somebody brings up the traitor. The trick to carrying over back story in present tense is really to make it appear natural within the course of a conversation. If you can’t fit it in, then don’t do it. You can either wait for an opening to appear or create an earlier conversation to bring it up.

Luke_Cross_SwordsEl Space: Which character is most like you? Least? If you were a character in your series, what powers would you have?
Charles: Luke Callindor [left] will always be the most like me, but he’s in much better physical condition. We share the same ability to become frustrated, and we think in ways that can confuse people. He does it in battle while I do it in my writing. The character that I’m the least like is probably Sari, since the one I’m really not like hasn’t shown up yet. Sari has a level of flirty confidence that I’ve never had. There’s a true sense of freedom that I get from her whenever I write her scenes.

In Windemere, I would train as a warrior, because I love swords. I don’t know if I’d develop any powers, but I would love to have Luke’s ability to see sound. It’s a small power that I randomly rolled in the game [Dungeons & Dragons] and kept for the book. His sound sight has turned into such a versatile ability that it’s become my favorite to use. This answer just turned into “I would be Luke Callindor,” didn’t it? My second answer is that I’d learn illusions and use them to tell stories in taverns and festivals.

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El Space: You have several female characters. What are the challenges of writing across the gender line?
Charles: I’ve never really thought about the challenges when writing my female characters. Their gender is only a guideline to help me remember pronouns and a few habits. I think a challenge for many is to make a female hero strong and feminine. There’s this habit of making a woman in fantasy either fragile with femininity or tough as nails with a more masculine attitude. The term butch gets thrown out there a lot, but I think it’s better to say that they’ve been androgenized. It’s very much about balance and pulling out the right aspects of a character for the right situation.

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Kira and Trinity

Nyx_GlowingOne thing that I have gotten in a little trouble for is that I don’t shy away from my female characters getting injured. I’ve read a lot of fantasy where the women will come out of a battle either unscathed or a little banged up, while the men are nursing some pretty bad wounds. I couldn’t see many of my female characters doing this, especially Nyx [right]. This has led to a few scenes where Nyx takes a beating while doling out enough destruction to avoid being called weak. So it is a risk to have a female hero who gets hurt in the same way as a male hero, because it touches on a sensitivity of some readers. The trick is to not do it often, not overdo it, and make sure it has a point for the plot instead of only gaining sympathy for the character.

pile_of_booksEl Space: I agree with that! Now let me ask you this: How has indie publishing changed since you first started? What advice do you have for an indie publishing newbie?
Charles: I haven’t seen much of a change since I’ve only been at this for a year. Amazon seems to come up with new promotions and rules every few months, but I think that’s part of the evolving system.

My advice to new indie authors is simple:
(1) Keep writing! Cliché, but true. I’ve seen a lot of indie authors stop writing and then wonder why people forgot about them.
(2) Connect with other authors to get support and talk shop. Many authors have paved the way for other indie authors. They know about the formatting, marketing, and other aspects of the business. Also, you never know what a new indie author will stumble onto and share with a veteran.
(3) Never publicly react to negative reviews, because that will make you look unprofessional. If it really bugs you, then find a friend or another author to vent to through emails. Just make sure they want to hear you rant first.
(4) Some people will tell you that this is a competition between authors. Well, it isn’t, because we’re all in the same boat. You will get farther and help the overall indie author community by sharing knowledge, joining blog tours, and supporting other authors. With every successful indie author, the choice to self-publish becomes more accepted as a viable path.
(5) Have fun. I don’t really have to go into detail here, do I?

El Space: Great advice. What authors inspire you?
Charles: Many authors inspire me, so it’s hard to pick a handful. I actually take a little from everything I read and watch, but I’ll try to give some kind of list. There’s the fantasy greats of Tolkien, Lewis, Saberhagen, and Le Guin. I love the characters written by John Flanagan in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series and Rick Riordan’s various series. To name a few others, Orson Scott Card, Edgar Allan Poe, Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist), and Mel Brooks. As you can see, I’m all over the place with my inspirations. It’s a miracle I can write a coherent sentence.

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El Space: How many books do you anticipate for your series? What are you working on now?
Charles: Legends of Windemere will have 15 books and another book will be done to clean up a potential loose end. After that I will have to decide on the next series to work on, but I’m probably going to start in on my vampire series. The Windemere vampires have an interesting history and that series is going to be a lot more brutal than what I’m doing now. I currently have two WIPs at this moment. One is preparing Legends of Windemere: Family of the Tri-Rune for a March release. I’m waiting on cover art and final edits to be done. I’m also writing Legends of Windemere: Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue, which is the 7th book of the series. I figure I’ll be able to relax around book 15.

Thanks, Charles, for hanging out on the blog with me! I’ve enjoyed your visit!

Looking for Charles? Head to his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, or Twitter. Legends of Windemere can be found at Amazon. Two of you will win the first three books of his series. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on March 7.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cover art of the Legends of Windemere series by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Legends of Windemere covers courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other covers from Goodreads. Sword from knife-depot.com. Books image from onkaparingacity.com.

Check This Out: Legends of Windemere (Part 1)

Hello. You’re watching PBS, and this is Masterpiece Theater. Okay, maybe it isn’t the real Masterpiece Theater, which features Downton Abbey and Sherlock. But I’m pleased to welcome authors who have written their own masterpieces. With me today and tomorrow is the wise and prolific Charles Yallowitz, author of the epic fantasy series, Legends of Windemere. Woot! You might know Charles from his blog of the same name.

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Three books of this series have already been published.

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Aren’t those covers awesome? Kudos go to the cover artist: Jason Pedersen. Also, throughout this post are characters from the series, illustrated by Kayla Matt. The next book in the series is Legends of Windemere: Family of the Tri-Rune. Here’s a synopsis:

Nyx still has nightmares about casting the genocide spell in Hero’s Gate. Every night her heart is gripped by the sensation of hundreds of goblins dying by her magic. By the request of Lord Highrider and Duke Solomon, she is returning to fix the damage she caused. With Luke Callindor and Sari by her side, Nyx is ready to face the vengeful goblins and opportunistic thieves that plague Hero’s Gate. Yet, there is a darker threat that was born from her violated magic: The Krypters.

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Cover concept art for Legends of Windemere: Family of the Tri-Rune

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss a series giveaway at the end of the interview. For today, Charles is waiting, and I have questions!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Charles: (1) I did fencing in high school and college. (2) I find it impossible to sit still when talking on the phone. (3) I went to college for a B.A. in Writing Arts without a backup plan, which is not recommended. (4) One of my previous jobs was Store Manager at a Hollywood Video. Unlike my time as a substitute teacher, I can tell the retail stories without crying.

El Space: Ha ha! I had the same major as an undergrad. How did you get started writing fantasy? What attracted you to the genre?
Charles: I began as a fantasy reader when I was young, because I loved the idea of magic and fighting with swords. It was so different than what one could easily find, so I felt unique for knowing about these things. This led me into Dungeons & Dragons as well as a short-lived Lord of the Rings club in seventh grade. We had to learn some Elvish and make our own weapon, so I was that level of nerd as a kid.

92806The writing of fantasy began in high school after I read The Book of Lost Swords by Fred Saberhagen. It was closer to comic book superheroes at the beginning, because I was focused more on characters than the world. Eventually, I branched out to create my own fantasy world, because I was attracted to the idea of designing something that people could explore. On Earth, my readers knew the locations and the science behind things. On Windemere, my readers are discovering the cities, creatures, and magic that would be seen as common to those who live there.

One final thing that drew me to fantasy is that it held my imagination more than any other genre. I really had to let my mind go to visualize what was going on in the books I was reading, which I saw as fun. A goal of mine is definitely to create the same level of escapism for anyone who reads my books. Hopefully it helps them relax and enjoy themselves.

Luke_Cross_SwordsEl Space: Did you have a series in mind before or after you wrote the first book—Beginning of a Hero? Please walk us through the process of developing the series and your magic system.
Charles: Beginning of a Hero is based on a college Dungeons & Dragons game where I played Luke Callindor [illustration at right], so a series was always planned. I simply didn’t have any idea exactly where it was going for a while, because I wasn’t the one running the game. Eventually, I was told the main plot and worked the rest of the series into it. The game ended long before the story did, so I reimagined a lot of things. After I wrote the first few chapters of Beginning of a Hero, I saw that things occurring in a game don’t always translate to a book. Supporting characters are flimsy, villains get no scenes, and it’s rare that the group is split up for their own plotlines when you are in a game. This required that I deconstruct the original idea and rebuild it as something more literary.

Lich_Glowing_HandsAs for the magic system, I had some extra time to figure that out. In Beginning of a Hero, the only casters were the Lich and Aedyn Karwyn. The Lich [illustration at left] is a necrocaster, so he operates differently by manipulating the life energy of others. This eventually got changed to the concept of auras. Aedyn Karwyn is a priest, so he gets his power from his faith in a deity. It wasn’t until Nyx [illustration below] debuted in Prodigy of Rainbow Tower that I had to sit down and figure out how she does what she does. I came up with the idea that everything in Windemere has a magical aura due to the realm of magic crashing into the physical plane and merging with it. This means a caster is using their own life energy to create spells, and they’ve trained their body to regenerate that energy at an above average rate. They use various focuses like words, ingredients, and gestures to give some order to the trade. Well, most do because Nyx is something else, which gets revealed around book 5 or 6.Nyx_Glowing

El Space: You have quite the cast of characters. How do you decide which character gets to be the star of a book? What are the challenges of working with an ensemble cast?
Charles: I try to give everyone even time, but the main plot of the book tends to decide on who is going to take center stage. I try to give each character a time to shine in every book even if they’re not the focus. Still, some get more attention than others. I can say that Luke Callindor and Nyx will end the series with more spotlight time than the rest of the main heroes. This is because the series started with Luke, and Nyx has a deeper connection to their main quest than the other characters. She’s been training for the upcoming battle since she was a toddler, so it’s difficult for her not to take a central role.

The biggest challenge with an ensemble cast is making sure a character doesn’t fall into the cracks between the others. The best example I have now is Sari, an orphaned gypsy who debuts in Allure of the Gypsies. She was in the spotlight for a while, but it’s becoming more difficult to give her a subplot beyond the romance that she has going. This means something will have to be done to put her in a position of focus. To do this, I’m going to have to divide the group for a book or two. Many times an ensemble cast needs that “fracture period” to give characters who are going stale a chance to refresh.

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Fizzle and Fritz and Bessaria

Gotta stop here today. Tune in tomorrow for more “Masterpiece Theater” L. Marie style. Can’t wait to learn more about Legends of Windemere? You can find Charles at his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Twitter. Better still, head to Amazon!

Legends of Windemere cover art by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Legends of Windemere covers courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other covers from Goodreads.