Writing Tips from Pokémon Sun and Moon

If you read this post, you’ll recall my mentioning that I’d almost finished this post. Well, here it is, finally. Bullet undodged.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s a joke title if ever I heard one. Why doesn’t she just get to the giveaway winner already? Patience, my young padawan. That will come in time.

In case you’re wondering (even if you aren’t, I’m still going to tell you), Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon are two versions of the same videogame developed by Game Freak for the Nintendo 3DS—one of the many ways Nintendo celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Pokémon franchise in 2016. I have both. Each game has its own variations.

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Because of the popularity of Pokémon Go, even if you didn’t play it, you’re probably familiar with the concept of catching Pokémon to collect and train.

Starter Pokémon

Starter Pokémon

Essentially the game is a hero’s journey. The hero—you—leave home and battle several threshold guardians (friends, island captains, and kuhunas) in order to reach your goal—becoming the world champion Pokémon trainer.

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One of the most fun things about the game is that as your character explores, he or she finds useful items either on the ground, or they’re given to your character by others in the game. These items help your Pokémon grow stronger, which is your main goal as a trainer. But knowing which ones to use at different points in the game is part of a winning strategy.

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Videogamers love clues that can help them figure out how to succeed in the game. So what does this have to do with writing? Well, consider the fact that readers also like to be successful. They like clues that help them make predictions about a story’s outcome. Which brings me to writing tip number 1: Foreshadowing is a way of cluing the reader in on what’s upcoming. A character in your story might say something that triggers an “ah-ha” moment in the reader and helps him or her anticipate what could happen later on. So, foreshadowing is how you help a reader win in the game of reading.

Tip number 2 probably goes without saying. But I’ll say it anyway. Make each threshold increasingly difficult to help your characters grow. This is what’s known as upping the ante or raising the stakes. As you start off Pokémon Sun or Moon, the first threshold guardian is challenging, but far less challenging than the ones later in the game. But at each level, your Pokémon are growing stronger. By the time you reach the end—the final five trainers—your Pokémon should be at a level where they are able to successfully defeat the five. So, overcoming increasingly difficult obstacles makes your characters grow.

Tip number 3 goes with the second tip: Make your antagonist three dimensional. Duh, right? A three-dimensional antagonist As you play Pokémon Sun or Moon, you’ll run across a surly kid named Gladion who demands to battle you every now and then. He’s often rude to you. But he’s not just a bully. Gladion has a very poignant back story and an interesting motivation, which you learn during the course of the game. Knowing his story helps you begin to understand what makes this kid tick and even empathize with him. And that’s the reaction you want from a reader. You want them to care about your antagonist, even if he or she is horrible to your protagonist.

pokemon-sun-moon-trailer-screenshot-12Okay, I’ve lectured you enough. If you read the interview with Andy Murray (click here for that), you know I’m giving away a copy of Mythos, the volume in which Andy has two short stories. His publisher, Michael Kobernus, kindly offered an ebook of Folklore, book 1 of the Northlore series. Too cool for school!

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The winner of both of those books is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congratulations, Charles! Please comment below to confirm, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide your snail mail address and the email address you use with Amazon. I’ll forward the latter to the publisher for the Folklore giveaway. Thank you to all who commented.

Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon logos from segmentnext.com. Starter Pokemon image from inthegame.nl. Gladion image from capsulecomputers.com. Obtaining TM image from gamerant.com. Hau image from usgamer.net. Professor Kukui photo by L. Marie. Book covers from Nordland Publishing.

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Check This Out: Mythos

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4. Despite my name, I don’t like tennis!

El Space: What interested you about writing stories for this second volume? When I read the premise, I couldn’t help thinking of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m also reminded of Juliet Marillier’s Bridei Chronicles, in which the author mentions the Picts’ desire to hang on to their religion as Christianity moves forward in the land.
Andy: Well, I knew that the Northlore series was a planned trilogy of books, and being a part of volume one was such a positive experience I wanted to be a part of the succeeding book. Folklore was a great collection of prose and poetry, with something for everyone, and Mythos feels like a step up. They complement each other perfectly.
I’m not familiar with Bridei Chronicles, but I know what you mean about American Gods. The stories in Mythos are arranged in chronological order, in many different locations, and some of them are indeed set in modern America. The premise of the collection is that with the advent of Christianity the old gods knew that their time had come and they withdrew, but they didn’t cease to be. These are their continuing stories.

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El Space: What was the inspiration behind your stories, “Into the Storm” and “Saga”?
Andy: My wife and I used to be foster carers. A private tutor used to visit the house to give extra tuition to a teenage girl who was living with us. Through no fault of her own she had missed out on a lot of schooling and was behind many of the students in her class. In a bid to encourage her English, the tutor decided to set a writing competition for the whole family. My wife was mortified. She stipulated that our stories could be about anything, but had to bear the title ‘Holes’. I came up with a story set in the Somme of the First World War, you know: foxholes, shell holes, etc. But also a depiction of how some people seemed not to be made in the same way as others, as though there were pieces missing from their character and they were riddled with holes. I can’t recall how exactly I put it now, but it was along those lines. Anyway, I had that story lying around, and when I saw the call for submissions for Mythos, I took it and adapted it in a way that fit Nordland’s criteria. ‘Holes became ‘Into The Storm‘.

‘Saga‘ was born on a half hour bus journey from Manchester to my hometown. I was sat on the upstairs deck, daydreaming. This is how I sometimes get lines for my poetry. In my reverie, these spontaneous lines crossed my mind:

She asked me to write a four word love story:
she came home early.
She asked me to write a four word horror story:
she came home early.

I don’t know where this came from. Do we ever, really? But I began to think about it. How ‘she came home early’ could fit both love and horror stories, and what they implied. But, more importantly, I began to wonder about who ‘she’ was who was doing the asking. By the time I reached my destination I had the story finished in my head, but not trusting my memory I jotted down the outline on the Notes part of my mobile phone.

El Space: In a 1957 interview with Truman Capote [photo below] in The Paris Review, Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” How would you respond to this?
Andy: Well, I love Capote, and I know that he was a very disciplined and methodical writer. I’m also reminded of Dylan Thomas referring to ‘my craft or sullen art’. In contrast with these two huge figures, though it may sound simplistic all I can say is that I write the type of fiction and poetry that I would like to read, and endeavour to make them the best that I can.

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El Space: When it comes to short story writing, which comes first for you: a character; a situation/plot; or an image? Any of the above? None of the above? I mentioned image, because C.S. Lewis once explained that the image of a faun with an umbrella came to his mind way before he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Andy: A faun with an umbrella—that’s pretty cool! I wonder if he was on a bus? 🙂 I think for me the gist of the story comes first. I have in mind the kind of thing that I want to say, and in pondering on how to realise this everything else is born.

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El Space: What was your introduction to writing?
Andy: As a child I loved books, and loved writing too. My primary school teacher expressed concern to my mother one parent’s evening about the type of books that I read—James Herbert, Stephen King. But I later learnt that that same teacher used to pass my stories around the staff room for the other teachers to read. On my last day, before leaving for high school, she wrote in my autograph book ‘I hope you manage to get a book published one day‘. I tried to track her down recently to present her with a copy of Heading North, but was unable to find her. I’ve not given up, though.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I’m actually on the second draft of a novel at the moment, provisionally called ‘Seasons On The Hill‘. It is about life on a northern housing estate, as seen through the eyes of different, interacting characters. The estate in question is actually a fictionalised version of where I live. Although none of the characters are based on real people, many of the situations involved really happened. Maybe with a little embellishment. Part humour; part tragedy. The stuff of life, yes?

El Space: Yes! Thanks, Andy, for being my guest!
Andy: Thank you Linda for this opportunity. As I saw someone comment recently upon one of your posts: you’re such an enabler!

El Space: Aw. I’m just glad people want to stop by here. 🙂

If you’re looking for Andy, head to Facebook and his blog.

You can find Mythos at Amazon. But one of you will find it in your mailbox or on your tablet. How? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner TBA on February 4.

Mythos cover from the Northland website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Truman Capote photo from biography.com.

Check This Out: Heading North

Here on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. You probably know him from his blog, City Jackdaw. We started blogging in the same year, each reading the other’s fledgling efforts. So I’m thrilled that we’re here today to not only say happy birthday to him but also to celebrate the launch of his poetry collection, Heading North, which was published recently by Nordland Publishing. Woot!

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I haven’t moved very far from my roots—I live next door to my childhood home [in Manchester, England].

manchester_map2. I have a thing about sharks, courtesy of watching Jaws as a kid.
3. My dreams begin while I am still awake.
4. I almost died from loss of blood after an accident with a vinegar bottle when I was eighteen months old. Imagine a world without City Jackdaw!

El Space: I can’t! 🙂 Please tell us how this poetry collection came about. How did you come up with the theme? What was the time frame for putting the collection together?
Andy: I saw a call by Nordland Publishing, a great new Norway-based publisher, for submissions of fiction and poetry inspired by Scandinavian folklore for an anthology that they were putting together. My story, about a Myling, was accepted and came out this year in The Northlore Series Volume One: Folklore. I was particularly pleased as this was my first published fiction. I also have a poem in it.

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The editor contacted me, enquiring about other work, and we got talking about the possibility of doing a poetry chapbook. Nordland were planning to publish books by different poets in a series under the umbrella of “Songs of the North.” The first book, recently released, is by a great poet named Katie Metcalfe, and I have been given the daunting task of following her.

I came up with the idea of a collection of poetry arranged in a deliberate order, reflecting a journey of both geography and time: from the childhood and youth of summer in the south, to the mortality-facing winter of the north. Hence the title Heading North. I already had some poems that fit this theme, and I wrote some new ones to compliment them. The collection took shape over a period of about six months. The oldest work included in the collection are two poems that were written around twenty years ago, and the newest being a last-minute addition from when I recently went to Sweden, when, it being the furthest north that I have ever been, I thought it too good an opportunity not to write something for the book.

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El Space: What’s the genesis of a poem like for you? Do you get an idea and start jotting down words? How much revision is involved?
Andy: Most of the time I “get” a few words or sentences when I am out and about, normally thinking of other things. My antennae must be up. I try to make a note of them, otherwise they become lost. When I was a postman, I used to scribble lines on “while you were out” cards. No wonder the post was always late! Then, when I have a little quiet time, I rewrite those words and take it from there. Normally I write them pretty fast, maybe an hour at the maximum, once I have that initial inspiration. There might be the odd word or line that doesn’t feel right and I will return to it later. I find that, for me, labouring over them doesn’t work. It becomes heavy, while inspiration is light. If I’m struggling, I leave it for another day.

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Sometimes I mess around with words, a bit like how musicians jam on their instruments to come up with a song. While sitting in front of the TV, or listening to music, I write down any old thing that immediately comes into my head, adding lines together, substituting one word for another, until occasionally, something starts to take shape. There are times when the poem takes on a life of its own and runs, becoming by the end something totally different to what it was at the beginning, subject wise.

El Space: What first brought you to poetry? What causes you to stick with poetry?
Andy: In my schooldays I used to write humorous poetry, daft things really. I still have some off these lying around. Being a big Beatles fan, I discovered that John Lennon used to write similar, nonsensical things that were compared to the English poet Edward Lear. I have never read Lear, but knowing that one of my musical idols wrote things in a similar vein to me kind of validated it for me. But I never had any pretensions about it—it was just something that I did for a laugh. In my early twenties I discovered The Doors. Jim Morrison is one of the few rock stars to be taken seriously as a poet, and through him I discovered the likes of Blake and Rimbaud. Everybody points to somebody else! Poetry, fiction, music—they are all part of a family tree.

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I have stuck with poetry because it is how I think, and so it is how I express myself. And of course I love words, and the endlessly possible combination of words.

El Space: What do you consider to be the qualities of a first-rate poem?
Andy: I think this is different for everybody. One man’s meat is another man’s poison: I think that this is especially true of poetry. Music too. Different styles and subjects speak to different people. Sometimes a poem can touch you but you cannot say exactly why. In a similar way, I am not one for explaining the meaning of my own poems. I like people to take from reading a poem what they will, as long as the poem itself is not too obscure.

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El Space: On your blog, you also post a lot of old photographs. How have you united both passions—old photographs and poetry?
Andy: You remember that great, old photograph that has featured on my blog a couple of times: “Mary and her grandfather, Jasper, around 1900”?

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El Space: I do.
Andy: Well in a poem called “Old Town,” there is a woman reading a book by Truman Capote (I had The Grass Harp in mind), and she is using that old photograph as a bookmark. I love old photographs such as this one, although most of the time we never know the names of the people that feature in them, and never know what happened to them after the photo was taken. Did they go on to have good lives? Tragic lives? Were they part of a great love story, or now lie miles away in foreign soil? Are their descendents walking around among us now, unaware of these people and their own beginnings? This absence of resolution both haunts and gets the imagination going.

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El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Andy: All of them! I am never without a book, or a backlog to work my way through. My wife bought me a Kindle in a last-ditch attempt to consolidate what space is left in our home. My favourite book, like so many other people, has always been To Kill A Mockingbird, since I discovered it in my English Literature class, and these days I am working through many titles from the Penguin Modern Classics range. But I read anything, all genres. Recommend me a book, Linda—I will read it!

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El Space: Let me think about that. 🙂 In the meantime, what advice do you have for people who would like to start writing poetry?
Andy: Do it! Don’t worry about style and subject and comparing yourself to others. Just keep writing and find your own voice. It develops over time. Some of my very early stuff from when I was younger makes me cringe now. You will never see it—I’m burning the evidence.

El Space: Ha ha! What are you working on now?
Andy: Currently I am writing the second draft of a story for the next anthology in the Northlore series. It involves the Scandinavian God Loki being in the trenches in First World War Belgium. After that I am gearing up to attempt a novel-length book of short stories containing recurring characters, based in a fictionalised version of the town that I have grown up in. But that is a big step up for me, in terms of length. Let’s get Christmas out of the way first! And, of course, some poetry.

El Space: Thanks, Andy, for being my guest.
Andy: As a long time reader of your author interviews, I’d like to thank you for this opportunity.

El Space: My pleasure!

Heading North is available from Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble.com.

I’m giving away a copy of Heading North to a commenter. The winner will be revealed on December 14.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of Andy Murray. Other covers from Goodreads. Manchester map from manchester.university-guides.com. Winter image from natural-hd-wallpapers.blogspot.com. Jim Morrison from pedrocolombo.blogspot.com. John Lennon from veteranstoday.com. Birthday image from sodahead.com. Poetry images from fanpop and msfindlater.blogspot.com. North compass image from en.wikipedia.org.