Winning World-Building

The other day I watched a YouTuber talk about his love for all things Pokémon—the games, the anime series, and movies. He could probably name all 800+ Pokémon, including the regions in which they can be found, and also the different towns players visit in the games and anime.

Now, that’s a fan! When you create a world, you want it to be appealing enough to attract dedicated fans like this who love visiting over and over.

   

Who wouldn’t want to visit a world with creatures as cute as Torchic (right) or as majestic as Xerneas?

With the subject of world-building, maybe by now you’re thinking of the various planets in the Star Wars series or fantasy places like Westeros (George R. R. Martin), Hogwarts (J. K. Rowling), Pixie Hollow (where the Disney fairies live), Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), Narnia (C. S. Lewis), Oz (L. Frank Baum), Windemere (Charles Yallowitz), or Middle-earth (J. R. R. Tolkien).

I think about Lothlórien or Narnia, and how I’d love to live in either place for the rest of my life. (Mordor is a definite no as a place to retire, however.)

 

Hogwarts would be fun also, now that He Who Must Not Be Named isn’t an issue any more. I also think of Oz, since I’ve been rereading some of the books. Who wouldn’t want a lunch or dinner pail full of food that you can pick ripe off a tree the way Dorothy, the plucky orphan from Kansas, did in Ozma of Oz?

       

Even if I wouldn’t want to make my home in a land (looking at you, Westeros), I still enjoy a visit via a book in the comfort of my own home. I love to learn about the different animals and plants in a land. Like Fizzle in Windemere. To learn more about him, click here.

But the aspects of a world that really resonate with me usually meet a felt need. Sometimes when problems crowd the horizon and I feel helpless, I long to escape to a land of magic where full-course meals grow on trees and adventure is just around the corner. Or sometimes, I crave a place suffused with wonder (look—tiny fairies) and peace when life seems gray or full of battles.

Yet many of the worlds I read about have problems like wars and hunger. In Ozma of Oz, Dorothy wound up lost and hungry. Maybe that’s why that dinner pail tree made such an impression on me. She found it after a struggle.

And how could I forget that the peace in Narnia came after the defeat of enemies like the White Witch?

So, maybe the world-building in each series I mentioned really resonates with me, because a skilled author has shown the compelling efforts his or her characters made to overcome their problems, and thus build a better world.

Now, that’s winning world-building!

What is your favorite fictional world to visit? What do you love about this world?

Dorothy illustration by John R. Neill found at the Project Gutenberg website. Westeros/Essos map from geek.com. Lothlórien image from somewhere on Pinterest. Oz map from fanpop.com. Narnia map from toknwasiamknown.wordpress.com. Torchic from imgarcade.com. Xerneas from pokemon.wikia.com. Star Wars planets image from somewhere on Pinterest. Hogwarts from rmvj.wordpress.com. Disney fairies from fanpop.com. Ozma of Oz book cover photo by L. Marie.

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More of the Perfect Bathroom Reading

Awhile back (2013 actually), I wrote a post on the pastime described in the title. Yes, I decided to go there again. (Get it? Go there? Okay, I really should let that go. Ha ha! Aren’t you glad I stuck around four years as a blogger?)

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Anyhow, the subject came up again recently, and since I have a blog, I decided to discuss it here. No subject is too inane for me to write about. Perhaps you wish some were. Well, it was either this subject or a discussion of what I had for lunch (grilled ham and cheese—see, not much to talk about).

So, what makes for good bathroom reading? Need it be waterproof? What are the criteria? Have they changed in the last four years? Good questions. Well, I’m still very particular about my bathroom reading. As I mentioned in a previous post, novels (non-graphic novels) don’t really work for me, unless the novel is something for which putting it down is next to impossible. But if it’s that impossible to put down, I would remain in the bathroom for hours, reading. (Not a bad thing, really, if you live alone. With a family sharing a bathroom, however, this would be a bad thing.)

I prefer something I can flip through, and perhaps quickly read a section. That’s why, at least for me, magazines (the extent of my nonfiction bathroom reading), alumni newsletters, fun catalogs, and graphic novels still make the perfect bathroom reading. (Nothing much has changed in the last four years.) I love the blend of images and text, which makes finding an interesting place to land very easy. And for the most part, I don’t “cheat” by taking my reading material out of the bathroom to finish reading later. Like I said, this is bathroom reading. It remains on the shelf in my bathroom.

This is what I currently have in my bathroom. Yes, that issue of Entertainment Weekly is as old as dirt. But it’s still fun to look at. And that’s definitely not the latest issue of Game Informer. I usually pass those on to some friends as soon as I finish them. Somehow I managed to hold on to this one.

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I also have this series, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi (books 3 and 7):

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For more about this fantasy series, go here (the author/illustrator’s website):

Maybe a month ago, I read a great article on the work of Sir Fraser Stoddart, a professor at Northwestern University (see photo below left) who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Now, an article of that depth took several sessions to read. Took over a week to read Game Informer’s article on the three doctors who founded BioWare, the videogame developer. (That was a long article.) An article on George R. R. Martin (bottom right) took a few days to finish.

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But I guess the point I’m making is that I love my bathroom reading. It’s just as special to me as my bedtime reading, though the time I spend doing it is a bit shorter. 🙂

Do you keep reading material in your bathroom? If so, what?

Bathroom image from somewhere on pinterest.com. George R. R. Martin photo from christianpost.com. Sir Fraser Stoddart photo from chemistry.northwestern.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

You Know, You Almost Had Me

Indonesia2002Wildlife-LI’m talking to you, Doubt. There you were, lurking about like a bloated but still hungry spider every time I heard, “No” or “I don’t take high fantasy novels.” I fell into your web for a while. But now I want out.

Hold on a minute, Doubt. Someone somewhere is probably asking this question: “What’s high fantasy?” Let’s ask our dear friend, Wikipedia, shall we?

High fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its setting in an imaginary world or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot.

Gandalf2Thank you, Wikipedia. Some high fantasy books/series you may have heard of include

• The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
• Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
• The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond Feist
• A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
• Earthsea (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, etc.) by Ursula LeGuin
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
• The Abhorsen series (including Sabriel) by Garth Nix

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Go here for others. Writing a good high fantasy novel, let alone a series, takes a ton of effort that includes research. Yes, these worlds are made up, but the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry still apply. You have to research such things as the anatomy and physiology of animals and which types of plants and trees mix well together, even if you’re making up your own animals and plants. But the people who write these books put in the effort, because they love what they do. I don’t have to tell you this. If you love their books, you love them because their authors loved them first.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it, Doubt? I stopped loving my books and valuing the high fantasy genre because of the few who didn’t value them or the genre or because they valued something I’m not currently writing. Shame on me.

And shame on me for thinking that I should switch to another genre in the belief that a story in that genre will sell or at least get noticed. Okay, Doubt. I’ll give you that round. I’m human. I fear writing a book absolutely no one would want to read.

But you know what, Doubt? Remember the times when I’ve written books that paid $500 on a work-for-hire basis? Though the publishers profited greatly and I didn’t get a cent in royalties, I enjoyed the writing ride.

And that’s what I’d lost sight of, Doubt—the fact that I enjoy the ride, regardless of who else does or whether or not I profit by it. I profit by the fact that I get to visit characters I love. And I love even the characters who do ghastly things. They remind me that I’m not perfect—that I sometimes do ghastly things. And one of the ghastliest things I’ve done recently was to stop writing.

Jordie the Jester (my blog mascot, given to me by Lyn Miller-Lachmann) is handing me a tiny notebook (it’s actually a playing card, but I’d like to think of it as a notebook), which I guess is his way of saying, “Get back to work.” Thanks, Jordie. You always know just what to do.

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Thanks especially to my good friends Sharon Van Zandt and Laura Sibson for coaxing me out of my hiding place and telling me to get back in the saddle and continue writing my series. You are the best! Maybe someday, my readers will thank you too. 🙂

As I end this post, I’m reminded of words spoken by Charles Xavier to Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past (you have to see the movie to know why and how): “Please Charles . . . we need you to hope again.” Truer words were never spoken.

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Other good posts on the courage to write or writing past doubt:
http://ellaroutloud.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/tattoos-confessions-guilt-continuing/
http://www.lisaakramer.com/2014/11/09/writing-through-the-frustrations/
http://writeatyourownrisk.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/writing-encouragement-and-poetry/

Spider from divydovy.com. Gandalf from lotr.wikia.com. Book covers from Goodreads.

Check This Out: The Compass Key

Hello, and welcome to one of my favorite pastimes on the blog: author interviews. Today on the blog is the always awesome Charles Yallowitz, the author of the Legends of Windemere fantasy series. Welcome, Charles!

You undoubtedly know Charles from his blog. But do you know his series? Five books have been published, the latest of which is The Compass Key. (Read the synopsis here.) Take a look at the groovy covers with art by Jason Pedersen.

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Later, I’ll tell you about a giveaway I’m hosting. If you’ve read an interview on this blog before, you already know what I’m giving away. Let’s talk to Charles, and you can see if you’re right.

El Space: Now that you’ve published the fifth book of your series, what have you learned about yourself as an author?
Charles: I learned that I’m still learning how to improve my style. Through writing full-time, I’ve made friends with other authors and some editors who have given me pointers. So I’m using this knowledge to improve my writing as I continue. My core style remains the same, but it’s more the mechanics and how to make things neater that I’m improving on.

Honestly, the fifth book didn’t really change anything for me. I expected a lot to happen, but it seems to be business as usual as far as sales and social media activity. In fact, I was kind of disappointed since so many people said “things change” when the fifth book of a series is released. So I’m starting to think that I should focus more of my attention on editing and writing the other books than hunting for trends. In that respect, I’m falling back into the role of carefree writer than number-obsessed author, which is what I was for a little while.

El Space: What pleases you most about your characters’ evolution? Is there anyone whose growth surprised you? If so who? Why?
Charles: I like how I never know exactly how the characters will evolve. I get the basic ideas of where I want them to go, but they routinely take detours, fall a few steps back, or go in opposite directions. It feels very organic and natural since I’m not forcing them to step out of their established personalities just because I want them to be a certain hero. I think it makes the characters more relatable since everyone has had moments where they fall back in their personal “evolution.”

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Luke and Nyx

It’s hard to pick a character who stands out since so many of them went differently than what I planned. Baron Kernaghan, the main villain, came out a lot more benevolent and kind than I expected. I enjoy writing his scenes because I actually like the guy even when he’s doing something evil. Every piece of his past that appears makes him more human and oddly sympathetic. On the other hand, another villain was supposed to start off mildly evil and rise into sadistic menace. Then I started writing him and his first big scene is him torturing one of the female heroes. I’m not sure where this character can go from there and I really look forward to the book where I get to kill him off because he’s so vile.

El Space: What did you find the hardest about writing The Compass Key? The easiest? Nonspoilery, of course. 🙂
Charles: The hardest part about The Compass Key is that it closed up a lot of old plotlines and introduced several new ones. It was a rough transition and I was always wondering if I was doing justice to the things I was retiring and introducing. This was made more of a challenge with the book having more action scenes than the previous volumes. I believe I counted 36 separate fights throughout the book, which is why I had the characters showing signs of mental and emotional exhaustion near the end. Don’t get me wrong though. Writing the action scenes was a lot of fun and it helped me see how the heroes interacted with each other, but it felt strange to have so much action after being more focused on dialogues and character interactions. Nothing I could do though, because everything was necessary. Oh and there’s a scene near the end that was truly gut-wrenching to write.

The easiest part about The Compass Key was that I had been planning it for so long. It’s a turning point book in the series, so I’ve had to foreshadow toward it. So it meant that there was more of a foundation than the books that had their own relatively contained story like Allure of the Gypsies and Family of the Tri-Rune. Those had planning, but they were so character driven that things kept changing as I wrote. That wasn’t the case with this one because it was very much about jumping from the old stories to the new.

El Space: If a videogame were to be made using characters from your series, what would you envision as a quest? What characters would be involved in the game?
Charles: Somewhere in my room is a notebook with information on a Legends of Windemere videogame and I believe I got as far as designing Timoran Wrath. Given the epic quest and character-driven stories of the series, I’d go with an RPG along the lines of classic Final Fantasy, though I’d like more active combat where you can switch between the characters on the field. Again, I have the naïve setup somewhere and I think I had it as squads depending on how many characters were involved in the scene. Since you need all of the heroes in the story, it would be set up that you could take control of whichever one you wanted.

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I do remember there was a side quest where you gathered magical instruments, sheet music, and other bard-based items so that the six champions can perform in a tavern. It doesn’t come up that often in the books, but each hero knows how to play an instrument or sing.

El Space: Recently I read an article at this website on the future of science fiction and fantasy. How would you answer the question posed there: “What is the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy?”
Charles: The future is ahead of us and possibly behind us. The genres are kind of weird because it really depends on what an audience jacks into. I can only speak for fantasy, but currently it’s all about dark, gritty stories with political intrigue and anti-heroes. This is probably due to the popularity of Game of Thrones. Before that, you saw more quest-based stories like Lord of the Rings and there were the series revolving around a chosen hero like Harry Potter. So there are cycles that happen within fantasy and you never know when it’s going to come around.

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If people are wondering if these genres will vanish then the answer is no. Fantasy will always be around because it’s pure escapism and I think that will always have an audience. There does seem to be a rise in people reading to find plot holes or show how science disproves magic, but that could just be a vocal minority. In the end, fantasy will survive and continue drawing people out of reality either by quests, gritty dark fantasy, or whatever else the genre will evolve into as new authors appear to put their own twists on things.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Charles: Right now I’m finishing up this interview. After that, I’m going back to editing Family of the Tri-Rune in my project to read through all of my books and use my new knowledge to clean them up a bit more. This is nothing more than cosmetic changes and I’m double-checking my continuity. I already have the first 8 books written, so I want to make sure everything is in its proper place before I tackle Book 9. That’s another big transition book, especially for two of the heroes. As far as publishing goes, Curse of the Dark Wind is still being edited and I’m waiting on cover art. I’m not able to say when it will be released, but I’m hoping for December to take advantage of Christmas. It really depends on how chaotic things are for me and everyone else involved.

Thanks, Charles, for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by!

You can find Charles at his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Twitter. The Legends of Windemere series can be found at Amazon. One of you will win all five books of this series. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on Tuesday, October 21.

Cover art for the Legends of Windemere by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Final Fantasy image from arts-wallpapers.com.

A Public Declaration in Favor of Fantasy

I’m Laura Linney, your host for a new season of Masterpiece Classics. Except I’m not really Laura Linney. But don’t change the channel just because I’m not. I felt the post warranted an authoritative air.

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The real Laura Linney

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (five seconds will do it), you’ll discern that I’m a fantasy fan. I read fantasy. I write fantasy. I read and appreciate other genres and have written other types of fiction. Nonfiction too. But I gravitate to fantasy like a moth gravitates to a light fixture. I’ve written about my need for fairy tales, now it’s time to go on record that the greater genre umbrella—speculative fiction, specifically fantasy—is my genre of choice.

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You might say I already made that abundantly clear when I wrote about fairy tales. I would say I haven’t, because I’ve run across a few who, based on their suggestions about what my next fiction project should be, still hold out hope that I’ll someday snap out of this fantasy obsession and write something else. Sorry. You’re in for a long wait. . . . But feel free to send chocolate just in case.

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I first declared my commitment to fantasy back in my undergrad days. Those were challenging days, since we often had to hide from marauding dinosaurs. Early in the morning I would grab my trusty club and brave the wilds on my way to my writing core classes. Back then, saying you wrote fantasy usually garnered you the type of look Oliver Twist received when he asked for more gruel at the workhouse. Of course that was before even cuneiform writing was discovered. I was ahead of my time.

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A typical day at school . . .

Over the years, I’ve heard people complain about fantasy and cite the unpronounceable names, weird animals, and “fantastic” situations as reasons why they “can’t get into fantasy.” One of my ex-coworkers from years back said, “The stories are too made up.”

28876Last time I checked, all fiction stories are “made up.” Otherwise, they would be nonfiction. But I take the meaning. Fantasy stories are a clarion call to the imagination. A skilled fantasy writer snatches you off to an imaginary world and makes you believe this world is as real as your own. Or perhaps the writer skews our world a little differently by the addition of a fantastic element. (For example, dragons in the Napoleonic era ala Naomi Novik’s series.)

If you read Andra Watkins’s April 18 post on the effects of sustained reading on the brain, you came across this article: “How Reading Lights Up Your Mind” by Christy Matta. The article cites two fantasy realms: C. S. Lewis’s Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. If you’ve read these authors’ series, I don’t have to say much to get you to picture in your mind some aspect of these worlds. You’re already there, aren’t you, roaming the roads in search of Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, hobbits, or elves. Perhaps you’re thinking of ways to dodge or defeat orcs. This is the type of mental firing the article discusses.

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C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien

If you’re not a fan of fantasy, I get it. You don’t want to be proselytized any more than I want to be told what I should be writing. You don’t care that George R. R. Martin, Catherynne Valente, Brandon Sanderson, N. K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin, Patricia A. McKillip, and others are critically acclaimed, award-winning fantasy authors. (And let’s not forget a writer named J. K. Rowling. You may have heard of her.) Maybe for you, even science fiction is more palatable because its roots in science point to a semblance of rules and measurable boundaries. Even if the action takes place “in a galaxy far, far away,” a galaxy entirely made up, the story seems believable to you because our solar system is situated in a galaxy (the Milky Way) and men and rovers have traveled to the moon and Mars respectively. Maybe you have a cousin at Cal Tech studying jet propulsion who helps you wrap your head around the possibilities of warp speed.

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I’ve made peace with the fact that if you think fantasy is icky poo, maybe you wouldn’t crack open a book of mine out of fear that you’ll find some unpronounceable name or a weird creature—a justifiable fear, since you will find both. If so, you’ll miss all the fun I’m having, because fantasy writing is mind-blowingly fun. It’s like being a kid watching clouds and imagining that she sees all kinds of things. But beyond the whimsical aspect of writing, there’s also the need to ground the story, to provide frames of reference to help readers understand the world and relate aspects to what they know. That’s the hard part.

So knowing that, maybe our paths will cross someday on the pages once I finish the book and send it out into the world. See? I’m truly a fantasy writer if I believe that maybe someone who dislikes fantasy will look my way. I can dream, can’t I?

A good post on the fantasy genre: http://childliterature.net/childlit/fantasy/

Laura Linney photo from celebs.com. Tolkien photo from the-hobbitmovie.com. Lewis photo from pjcockrell.wordpress.com. N. K. Jemisin photo from opionator.wordpress.com. T-rex from animaltheory.blogspot.com. Chocolate truffles from thefoodsite.net. Fantasy creature from findwallpaper.info.

Hopelessly Devoted

If you’re an Olivia Newton-John fan, you recognized that the title is part of the title of a song she sang on the Grease soundtrack—“Hopelessly Devoted to You.” And perhaps right now, that song is going through your head like it’s going through mine. If that bugs you, I’m sorry. Let’s move on. (Unless you really want to hear the song. Here’s a link to a video.)

A fairweather-fan isn’t exactly brimming with hopeless devotion. More than likely, you know a fair-weather fan or two. They come out in droves when a team is winning and readily buy the T-shirts and bumper stickers. But when a team is in a slump, they’re nowhere to be found.

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That’s why I have to admire fans of the Chicago Cubs. In the past years, when the team failed to bring home a championship, the fans still cheered.

In 2005, when the White Sox won the World Series, a Chicago Cubs fan admitted to me that he still couldn’t cheer for the Sox. After all, he was a Cubs fan. Though a Sox fan, I understood his dedication to the Cubs. I also understood my need to gloat.

Recently author Robin LaFevers wrote an article entitled, “On Discipline, Dedication, and Devotion” for Writer Unboxed. It was kind of her to write it, since I had planned to write this post on the subject. Now I can be lazy and piggyback off what she wrote. Thank you, Robin. You might read Robin’s post here, especially since she explains the difference between discipline, dedication, and devotion to writing.

I can’t help latching on to this quote from that post:

When we are devoted to something, there simply are few things on earth we’d rather do or spend our time with. It’s not just about what you want to say or create, but involves the very act of creating itself.

Lately, I’ve been evaluating whether I’m disciplined, dedicated, or devoted in my writing. If I’m devoted, to what exactly am I devoted? Though I’ve read and loved many kinds of fiction, I’ve generally felt a pull toward fantasy writing. I’ve never been to LeakyCon (the Harry Potter convention), the Discworld convention, or Comic-Con though. Some devoted fans might say I’m not devoted enough to fantasy. (I try to go to the Bristol Renaissance Faire each year, however.)

Those devoted to a team, a person, or to something else they consider dear sometimes test the devotion of others who profess a similar interest. If you’re truly devoted, you’ll hit all of the benchmarks of devotion. This is very true of fantasy fans.

Whenever I mention a love for fantasy, I’m generally asked, “Have you read George R. R. Martin’s series? Tolkien’s books? Tad Williams’s books? Robert Jordan’s/Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time? Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series? Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series? Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind or The Wise Man’s Fear? Harry Potter? [No one ever asks, “Have you read J. K. Rowling’s series?” It’s always, “Have you read Harry Potter?”] Kristin Cashore’s series? Rick Riordan’s series? Any of Jasper Fforde’s series? Anything by Neil Gaiman, Patricia McKillip, Lois McMaster Bujold, George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, or Juliet Marillier?” These are “benchmark” fantasy authors and series. And there are many others, of course (like Raymond Feist, Sharon Shinn, and Garth Nix for example). Though I’ve read books by all of the above (um, I quit at book 7 for Wheel of Time; I’ll probably return to it at some point), I still have to question whether I’m dedicated or devoted in light of Robin’s definition. After all, I’m not just a reader of fantasy. I’m a writer of it.

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I look at a writer like Charles Yallowitz, and I see devotion. He has his Legends of Windemere site and series (two of his books are shown below) and poetry, and already planned several other books in the series. On his blog, he regularly talks about his characters and magic and includes excerpts from his books and character sketches. He writes guest posts for other blogs as well. See? That’s devotion.

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And then there are the participants in the WIPpet Wednesdays, hosted by K. L. Schwengel. Many post excerpts from more than one fantasy novel.

Do I have that level of devotion? If I allow myself to be stopped by rejections, procrastination, or anything else, I can’t say that I do. Take for instance the other day. Instead of continuing to work on the magic system for my novel—a necessary activity—I sat and played Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns. Why? Because I had a moment of self-doubt. Finally, disgusted with myself, I quit procrastinating and returned to the world building. And you know what? I felt better.

That incident prompts me to ask myself: Am I dedicated or devoted to my own series? Or, am I content to be entertained by the hard efforts of other people (like Charles or Lois or J. K. Rowling)? What about you? Are you disciplined, dedicated, or devoted? To what? How do you show it?

Book covers from Goodreads.

The Fictive Dream

You know that feeling you get when you suddenly realize there’s a hole at the back of your sweatpants, and you’ve just showed the UPS guy more than your signature? Mortified to the point of death is an accurate description. If you know that feeling, welcome to my world. And I truly wish this was a made-up story (it isn’t; it happened last week), or that I had the assurance of never again clapping eyes on this guy. Alas, avoidance is impossible, since my street is within his route.

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If you cringed at my story even a little, you have the right mindset for a fictive dream. What do I mean by that? Take a look at this quote from The Art of Fiction by John Gardner:

In great fiction, the dream engages us heart and soul; we not only respond to imaginary things—sights, sounds, smells—as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as though they were real. (Gardner 31)

Man rides cloudSo, how does one go about creating the fictive dream? Don’t look at me. I really am asking you.

You’re still looking at me. Sigh. Fine. Let’s examine the dream state first. In a dream, we experience the tang of ripe strawberries, the velvety softness of a flower petal, the fulsome beauty of a sky at sunset—as vividly as if we were awake. We solve problems or escape from them. And that in a nutshell is the fictive dream—total immersion in a story. As Gardner explains, “Fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind” (31).

Consider the last book you read that gave you the sense of stepping behind a curtain into another world—one in which you longed to dwell. Maybe you think of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, thanks to J. K. Rowling’s vivid imagination, or you think of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and its sequels. Or perhaps Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is your drug of choice (I would live in Lothlórien if I could) or you prefer classic books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Zorah Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Coming to the end of that fictive dream was as startling as waking from a dream, wasn’t it?

In the fictive dream, not only are the senses fully engaged, a reader’s empathy is as well. If you feel nothing for the characters or their conflict, total immersion is not possible.

Authors weave their stories to keep a reader (or listener) engaged. As I consider how to craft such a story, I keep this advice in mind: I must be fully immersed in the world. If I’m not fully engaged, how can I expect you the reader to be? If I only half-like my characters or even . . . shudder . . . hate the “bad” characters, as if my role is to judge them, how can I expect you to love, sympathize with, or even come to a place of understanding about them?

What do you see as the key ingredients of the fictive dream? What book have you read that fits this model? Has there ever been a time when your familiarity with a story, or the situation depicted, prevented you from being fully immersed in it?

As you consider those questions, I’ll leave you with this cat, who seems to be living the dream.

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Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1983, 1991. Print.

For another great post on the fictive dream, click here.

Man riding a cloud picture is from anintrospectiveworld.blogspot.com. Shocked smiley face is from shocked free.clipartof.com. Footrest cat is from LOL Cats.