Tricksters for Treats

by Chantal Boudreau

In the spirit of Halloween (and inspired by a short story submission I just sent out to a venue with a trickster theme), I thought it might be fun to address one of the tropes or arch-types of fantasy: the trickster. This type of mischievous character can appear in many different forms; from devilish deities to cunning spies to impish children, they can serve the sake of comedy relief, plot catalyst, annoying villain or even wisdom-instilling teacher by punitive measures. While not necessarily the protagonist in a tale, they are common to fantasy writing of all sorts, sometimes sidekick, sometimes rival and typically entertaining.

The trickster has strong roots in an assortment of mythologies, from Loki in the Norse mythos and Anansi in African lore to Coyote in North American Native legend, the mischief-maker seems ever present. Perhaps it ‘s because tricksters are a natural component to human social circles. Most people love a good practical joke, as long as they aren’t the butt of it. And we all need a good laugh from time to time.

But tricksters in story tend to be more than just someone with a playful sense of humour, the clever mischief-maker. Their tricks can be a unifying force, leading others to work together to counter their antics. They can be the cause of the trouble initiating a particular quest in a quest tale. Or in some cases they are the key, because they are inevitably brilliant and can be just as much a solution as a problem.

In addition to myth, tricksters are everywhere in fairy tales too. They are the playful fairy, the conniving fox, the dastardly witch or wizard or the wondrous talking cat in boots. It is no surprise that as characters, they transitioned to young adult and adult fantasy fiction.

And while tricksters are more commonly male – think classics like Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mouser or Flinx in Alan Dean Foster’s books – female tricksters are out there too. Tricksters and Pranksters: Roguery in French and German Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Alison Williams dedicates a full chapter to the female trickster and some books, like Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen, by Tamora Pierce are centered on a female version of the arch-type. They are out there.

Male or female, the main point to the trickster is fun, and therein lies the treat. It need not be trick or treat – you can have both.

So how about you treat yourself to some trickster today. Might I suggest The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, a fantasy anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, for starters?

Exploring Backstory

by Autumn M. Birt

There have been a few posts recently here on the Guild of Dreams discussing how an author can share backstory to a novel. Be in a prologue, weaving in the details, or an info dump (or not!), there are always important bits of a storyline that need to be shared to more the plot forward.

I think there is one more use for backstory that we haven’t covered: reader exploration.

I know when I’ve read a short story or novel that really hooked me, I’ve googled the author and book, spending time perusing what they write, hope to write, and any information about the world they’ve created. That is why an author spends all that time developing a website, for those readers who know that there is instant access to more online.

How this happened is backstory to my latest WIP!

There are famous authors doing this or fans are doing it for the author. Think about how much information is out there on the world of Harry Potter. Books mentioned as part of the curricula of Hogwarts are being written. That is filling in backstory!

With that in mind, though I never envision that level of devoted interest, I’ve begun spinning out some of the backstory to my current dystopian work-in-progress, Friends of my Enemy. You see, for dystopia, the backstory on why the world is in such a bad state is really important. But the problem with backstory is that prior events to the story have backstory. And that loop is where I found myself when I wrote Friends of my Enemy.

Rewrote, actually.

You see the two novels that make up the storyline are based on a novel I wrote (and never published) a few years back. I liked the idea, but it needed work. And it needed some explanation. So to really flesh out the world, I wrote short stories set before the novel begins. I ended up with eleven short stories and references to huge events that happened before the short stories. Hmmm…

Which left what to do with those events? Leave them as references as well, allowing the reader to fill in details? Write more short stories? I decided to blog them.

Some of my on-line backstory uses created news articles, which have been a lot of fun to make!

That the events happened is important to the story, but the details I’m putting into the blog posts are less so. Instead, it has become a fun way for me to share and flesh out the story line. If a reader wants more information, the as yet to be published novels will refer them to the blog and the book’s page with its timeline. Considering I’m writing about cataclysmic events taking place in our near future, I feel strange saying how much fun I’m having researching and writing about such things as the pandemic of 2039 and the drowning of Miami in 2042.

And as I move forward with a new epic fantasy trilogy, Games of Fire, I’m trying to keep an eye out for backstory that would make an interesting blog post. With fantasy, I’m much freer to discuss nuances of the world, such as why the cities of the archipelago have ancient warding stones on its borders, as well as to discuss murky history like the Forgotten Wars!

Blogging backstory has become a fun way for me to explore the world without having to worry about putting too much in the novels. I can world build, discuss nuances with readers, and explore a world I enjoy writing about. Who knows, it might lead to another story.

How do you as a reader feel about discovering more about a story through blog posts and online? If you are an author, do you blog about backstory?

- Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy trilogy the Rise of the Fifth Order. She has also been blackmailed by its characters into writing a new epic fantasy series, Games of Fire, set in the same world while trying to chaperone characters from a dystopian novel who run around with swords and guns. No one is playing nicely with each other! Learn more about her and the world of her books, where her mind has permanently relocated, at AutumnWriting.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads (supposedly).

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Novelist

by Bruce Blake

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A few things happened in the last couple of weeks that have had me thinking about what goes in to being a novelist. We may not like to admit it–writers tend to be a bit on the shy and reserved side–but it does take someone special to complete the journey that is the completion of an entire novel.

The author's wife engaging in blatant husband promotion.

The author’s wife engaging in blatant husband promotion. Photo by Jo-Ann Way of Nuttycake Photography.

The first thing to set me pondering the plight of the novelist was my wife. For those of you who don’t follow regularly (or didn’t click the link fourteen words ago), the love of my life is a performer: she sings and acts, she is a burlesque diva and producer of shows, and she is also a playwright.

As a performer, she thrives on the feedback she receives from her audience, both during and after the performance. Their energy feeds her and her energy feeds them in a symbiotic relationship the likes of which an author will likely rarely experience. The feedback to a live performer is instantaneous–for better or for worse. Claps, whistles, cheers, autograph requests, wedding proposals, and so on. As writers, we peck away on our computers for months or years, loathe to show the product to anyone save our editors and trusted beta readers until it’s done, then we release it into the world.

Once it’s out there, the best we can usually hope for is the occasional review to pop up on Amazon or Goodreads; quiet accolades that pale in comparison to the thunderous applause of a rapturous theatre audience. Sure, a few may have the pleasure of a public reading and the requisite book signing afterward, but reading a snippet of a larger work hardly equates to watching an entire concert or play.

I was also struck by the difference between writing a novel and crafting a play. The major difference is easy to spot: the length. I don’t know how many words are in my wife’s current play (Stories of Love and Passion), but it is far fewer than the 100,000+ that typically make up a novel. That is not to say that it is easier to write a play–far from it. I don`t think I could have done what my wife did, but fewer words typically take less time. The next step after the writing was complete was to work with a dramaturge–the theatrical equivalent of an editor…sort of–and a director..

The jobs of the dramaturge and director are not only to make sure the correct words are set out in the right order, but that they

I think this is what my editor looks like, but I can't be sure. The picture is from her site, but it could be a fake.

I think this is what my editor looks like, but I can’t be sure. The picture is from her site, but it could be a fake.

are spoken properly, inflected in the proper way, that things are in the right place. To accomplish this, my wife and her dramaturge/director had to actually speak to each other. They met both by Skype and in person and more occasions than I can count. In comparison, I’ve worked with the same editor for seven of my eight novels (the fabulous Ella Medler) and we have spoken exactly…zero times. Skype? Nope. Face-to-face? We’re not even on the same continent.

Lonely.

The other thing that happened was an introduction to a man who wants to be a writer and has begun five novels and completed none. If the rest of you are anything like me, this is not an isolated incident. Many people I have bumped into have started novels only to abandon them, typically around halfway through. Many more have simply identified the desire to write a book, never to even get the first word down. So what is it that keeps these would be literarians (is that a word? Did I just coin a new term a la Willie Shakespeare?) from completing their books?

Could it be the stark terror of being so completely alone?

Write on, brave authors. I’m with you in spirit.

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Bruce Blake has written and self-published 8 novels and is likely hung up on the subject of loneliness because his wife recently left for a five-week tour with her new one woman play. Turns out Mr. Blake isn’t quite the bachelor he once was.

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Motivation and the Writer, Part 5: Bouncing Back

Since May, I’ve been writing about Victor Vroom’s theory of motivation and how it applies to the writer set. In short, this theory is all about expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.

In my last post, I explained the death of a writer’s motivation as one that is often due to failed instrumentality; that is, when a book has been written and it fails to sell (the means do not lead to the expected end), motivation suffers.

If you need to catch up, go ahead. Read it all here.

Before we can move on to the last bit about motivation (valence, or value), we need to take a look at what happens when…well…nothing happens.

We’re capable of writing that great novel. We have the ideas, the time, the ability. We put our pens to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and we write until we reach “The End.” Finally, after completing our novel, spending time editing it and having it edited, writing another draft or five, we’re at the point where we’ve decided to sell it. We are ready to strip naked our souls and let the world gawk at us.

The problem is, no one is gawking (the novel doesn’t sell).

There are several things we can do at this moment, and one of them involves the delete button. However, I think I would be correct in saying that this rejection of our work is something that all writers have in common. And what were we told about all those other writers who failed at first?

We’re supposed to “bounce back,” right? We’re supposed to try and try again.

Here then is a trait of personality that not all people have. It’s called resilience.

GumbyResilience is that deep quality that allows some people to be kicked around by a cruel life and yet still come back like Rocky or Gumby. Resilient people won’t let failure overwhelm them and suck dry the marrow of their motivation.

What are some of the factors that make a person resilient? How about a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback?

You see, even after the means to the end—the instrumentality of an effort—fails, resilient writers are blessed with an outlook that allows them to move forward in time and not focus on failure.

Simple to do, right? Well, what if you’re not a resilient person? What can you do?

The American Psychological Association (APA) has listed a few tips to help you build resilience.

  1. Make connections (that whole “social networking” thing existed before Twitter, you know)
  2. Help others (nothing feels better than that)
  3. Maintain a daily routine (write, edit, repeat)
  4. Take a break (just not for years…try it for a day or two and take a walk on the beach or in the forest)
  5. Learn self-care (really, if you don’t feel good, you won’t want to bounce back)
  6. Move toward your goals (did you set a goal in the first place?)
  7. Nurture a positive self-view (you are good at what you do; how many people have actually finished a novel?)
  8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook (again, how many people have accomplished what you accomplished?)
  9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery (keep learning and learning about yourself)
  10. Accept that change is part of living (we know that, but there are many people who are resistance to change)

There is a lot of help out there to help you bounce back after failures.

The last bit of Vroom’s motivation theory has to do with valence—what do you value?

Until next time…stay strong.

The season of darkness approaches

IMG_0352By Scott Bury

It’s fall. My favourite season.

To some, fall is the season of decay, or winding down to winter. “It’s the time when everything dies,” someone once told me.

To me, it’s very different. The temperature falls, the nights lengthen. School years begin again, the harvest gets into high gear. Fall, to me, is the time to begin projects. It’s energizing.

Fall for the fantasy writer

As I’ve said before, I derive a great deal of inspiration for my writing from the natural world. I like to get out into the forest (not too far away from my house—one of the benefits of living in Ottawa), close my eyes and feel the forces of the earth.

And there’s a particular spirit to autumn. I’m not the first one to think so, not by a long stretch. The ancient Greek myth of Persephone is a personification of autumn and winter; Tolkein’s depiction of the final days of the elves in Middle-Earth is a metaphor for autumn, for a fading time.

Image courtesy DailyDot.com

George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is set in an extended autumn. “Winter is coming” is the catch-phrase of the northerners, and it’s a saying heavy with meaning: there are forces gathering that you have absolutely no ability to change, turn or affect in any way, so you had better make sure you have enough fuel and food stored to survive. Oh, yah, and fix that drafty window and put really heavy locks on your doors. Maybe sharpen those obsidian knives, too.

But there’s much more than that: the autumn equinox, which we just passed, is the time of year when light and dark are balanced. To the ancient Celts, it was a time of the year akin to dusk, when the veil between this world and the “other” is thinner, and passing through it is easier.

We can also think of it as a time of balance between the forces of light and dark, sky and earth, sun and moon.

This writer

What are some of the ideas that come to me in the fall? The transfer of energy, for one—from the solar (celestial) sphere, stored in the earthly (chthonic) in the form of fruit. The dark season is the time when the celestial forces are secondary to the chthonic.

The harvest season is the time to turn our attention away from abstract, ethereal concerns and to the real day-to-day concerns like storing food for the winter—making jam, pickles, preserves, cutting firewood, making sure the tools you need in winter are all working, and making sure that you have enough various supplies to survive a season when nothing grows and there will be days, or periods several days long, when you just won’t be able to leave your home.

I feel balanced on an edge in fall. I’m filled with energy, with a desire to move forward, to write those stories that have been rattling around in my brain. To complete Dark Clouds, chapters of which I’ve previewed on this blog; to write the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, which I’ve outlined.

There are so many things to do, so many stories to write, so much inspiration to be taken from the season. I’m getting to it right now—

Pic-ScottBuryScott Bury is a writer based in Ottawa, Canada. His fantasy works include The Bones of the Earth, Dark Clouds, What Made Me Love You? and Teri and the River.

Visit his

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

Backstory Without Prologue?

In AM Justice’s post about prologues, she gives us a few guidelines for the user of prologues, including the advice: “Don’t include if, unless the story won’t work without it.”

I’m not one to argue about prologues: I decided not to include them in my works but I’ve seen them done incredibly well.

If you decide, however, that a prologue won’t work in your novel but you feel like there is a story that can shed light on your story, world, or characters, consider a different approach.

Like my own works, Gunpowder Fantasy author Brian McClellan has used short stories as a way to build his characters’ backstory and origins. Without these, the people of his world are well-rounded and deep; with them, the people of the Powdermage universe take on personalities that wouldn’t have made sense to develop in the main novels.

So what are some tips for building characters and backstory through secondary works?

-Have a Story
Without a story, your secondary work will be pointless – you’d be better off conveying information through other means. Do the same groundwork as you would for your novels.

-Build Something
If you’re going to use short stories to worldbuild, you can go wherever you like. But if you’re using these extra works to build an identity of personality, obviously you want your characters to play some role.

-Be Consistent
Finally, be consistent. You don’t want to use your short stories to build a character if it doesn’t match up with the personality in your main works.

Cheesy Fantasy Movies, Part 2

Not long ago, I wrote a post about some pretty awful fantasy movies, and why we love them in spite of their ultimate cheesiness (or, quite possible, because of it).  In that first post I discussed Beastmaster, Willow and Legend.  Now I have three more movies to get off my chest.

Hawk the Slayer

Hawk the Slayer

There’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of this bizarre fantasy flick, but I’m often surprised by how many people have heard of it.  This movie has “the 80s” written all over it, from the flair of the opening credits to the overly synthesized music to the mist-filled cinematography…all that’s missing is Richard Simmons and a soundtrack by Phil Collins, and we’d be all set…

The evil Voltan (Jack Palance, breathing heavily and using his scowl to terrific effect) is the scourge of the land, and when he and his men kidnap the Abbess of a small convent the sisters turn to a band of heroes led by the man called Hawk (John Terry, years before he was Jack’s alcoholic father on Lost), who has cause to hate Voltan (they’re brothers, you see, and Voltan sort of…killed…Dad).  Armed with a cool-looking magical sword (the bottom of the hilt is a hand gripping a glowing orb) and aided by Gort (a “giant” with a hammer), Ranulf (a warrior who manages to get his ass kicked in almost every scene), Crow (an elf, not the wise-cracking robot), and Baldin (a “dwarf” with a whip), Hawk and the others battle Voltan to an excessively Quincy Jones-like soundtrack and (spoiler alert!) ultimately save the day.

Honestly, Hawk the Slayer is so utterly cheesy its hard not to like it.  The film is hokey from the very first frame, and like a lot of the rest of the movies on this list that’s truly where the charm lies.  John Terry is a capable actor, and his ability to keep a straight face in spite of all of the heavy-handed zaniness going on around him actually helps to keep the film grounded.  And what is there not to love about Jack Palance running around with half of his face hidden and acting menacing?

 

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Barbarian is considered by many to be among the staples of the genre — a bare bones, well-plotted, efficient sword and sorcery adventure with plenty of blood, babes and mayhem.  It never overextends itself, and never tries to be something it’s not.

Conan the Destroyer…yeah, not so much.

The sequel eschews the linear model of its predecessor and goes for “bigger, badder, more” (the failing, honestly, of most sequels).  This time, legendary warrior Conan (Arnold Schwarzeneggar, The Guhvenator himself) is recruited by the secretly evil queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, taking time off from kicking Superman’s butt) to help Princess Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo) recover a sacred jewel in exchange for Taramis returning Conan’s lost love from the grave.  Accompanied by far too many other characters — Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain, without a slam dunk in sight), the captain of Taramis’ guard; Akiro the wizard (Mako, reprising his role from the first film and chewing on the scenery); Malak (Tracey Walter), a bungling and thoroughly annoying thief; and Zula (Grace Jones), a warrior-dame who the producers really wanted to be in the movie — Conan secures the jewel from the tower of the evil wizard Thoth-Amon (Pat Roach) and returns only to learn that Taramis plans to use the treasure to revive the Dreaming God and wreak havoc upon the world.  Oops.

Conan the Destroyer can be enjoyed on a very visceral, corny level.  The action sequences are well done, and there’s plenty of excitement to be found, but as a sequel this film is pretty lacking.  The original, even for as simple and sometimes cheesy as it was, had a soul to the proceedings, a sense of gravitas and conviction in spite of ultimately being about a big warrior running around and smashing things with his sword.  Conan the Destroyer, sadly, is full-on cheese, and while that’s perfectly enjoyable in its own right, the film could have been much better.

Krull

Krull

This, probably my favorite of the “cheesy” fantasy movies, is a highly enjoyable epic fantasy adventure that just happens to really be more sci-fi than fantasy.  Alien invaders called the “Slayers”, minions of “The Beast”, descend in their flying fortress and launch a ruinous attack that slays both of the monarchs of the world of Krull.  When Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) — who prophecy foretells will have a child who will one day rule the galaxy — is kidnapped by the Slayers, it falls to her betrothed, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and an old sage named Ynyr (Freddie Jones) to rescue her.  Aided by a cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw), a bungling magician (David Battley), and a band of escaped convicts (including Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson), Colwyn must find the elusive Black Fortress, lair of The Beast, which changes its location with each new dawn.

The only thing cheesy about Krull is the inherent sense of corniness present in most 80s fantasy flicks, because, all things considered, this is a pretty good movie.  The characters are a bit thin, yes, and The Beast’s efforts to woo Lyssa (who really does little more than run around the Black Fortress and look distraught) grows tiresome, but the battle scenes are well choreographed, the Slayers are sufficiently frightening opponents, and the special effects are, for the most part, pretty decent for a moderately budgeted film (though the scenes involving the Widow of the Web’s lair are, admittedly, pretty awful).  The soundtrack is even good (though it came at that stage in James Horner’s career where he was basically writing the same theme over and over again…if you get the main titles for Krull, Star Trek II and Willow confused, don’t feel bad, because they’re essentially the same).

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That’s it for my list.  What are some of your favorite fantasy cheese fests?

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Steven Montano watches too many movies, and there’s no question they’ve rotted his brain.  He also writes fantasy novels and likes to get lost in the woods.  Find out more at his website.

In the Beginning, There Was the Prologue

A few months ago I wrote about folding backstory into a narrative to give your readers the vital information they need without hitting them over the head with a history lesson. In that post, I quoted this received wisdom:

Don’t use prologues.

That advice comes from agents and traditional publishers who believe, based on the contents of their slushpiles, that “prologue” means “deadly boring waste of my time.”

MedeaThe actual definition of prologue is a separate introductory section of a literary work. Etymologically, the word comes from the ancient Greek prologos, which described the preamble to a play that established the setting and provided background information to enhance the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the drama. The Greeks may have given the prologue its name, but I’d lay odds they didn’t invent the literary device. Knowing human beings, I imagine we’ve been prefacing our stories since people could speak.

Another argument against the prologue is that readers don’t read them. I’ve heard this from several people, who say they flip past any text labeled “prologue” until they find “chapter one.”

Wwalker

White Walker in television’s Game of Thrones

Say what? I can’t imaging skipping any part of a novel, least of all the prologue. It is part of the creative work and must be read as such. If a prologue is a boring waste of time, that’s the author’s fault, not a problem with the literary device. When done well, a prologue provides not only essential information to understand the plot, but also catapults the reader into the story. Think of the prologue to Game of Thrones, where G.R.R. Martin introduces the White Walkers. We don’t see a Walker again for several books, but the deadly encounter in the prologue lurks at the back of your mind, reminding you that all the squabbling over the Iron Throne is just a warm-up for the clash between ice and fire yet to come.

So what can we, as authors, do to encourage readers to stop skipping our prologues? For me, the answer isn’t “don’t write them.” Instead, I want to rehabilitate the prologue’s reputation. With that in mind, I offer this list of do’s and don’ts for prologues.

  1. Hook the reader. The first line of the prologue is the first line of your book, so don’t waste it. Also, don’t write a great first sentence and then ruin it with a backstory data dump—a bored reader will snap shut your cover (or snap off your preview screen) and move on. As an example, let’s suppose I’m writing a fantasy inspired by World War I. I could fill my prologue with dry geopolitical details about the history of my world, or I could portray the fuse-lighting event:

Cover-snapper: In the year 3642, the Western Alliance declared war on the Eastern Axis. The conflict began a month after the assassination of Queen Eleanor of the Hinterlands by Otto Smithson, an embittered serf who resented the quartering of the Queen’s troops in his village.

Hook: Otto’s gaze traveled past the rifle sights, down the length of cold steel, and through the sultry summer air to a patch of skin between the queen’s hairline and her eyebrows. Exhaling relief, he squeezed the trigger.

  1. WoT01_TheEyeOfTheWorldKeep it simple. Don’t ask your reader to learn the names of a lot of strangers who disappear in a few pages. The prologue of The Eye of the World, the first novel in Robert Jordan’s 14-volume, cast-of-thousands epic, includes just two characters and one major event. In contrast, a pre-publication draft of my novel Blade of Amber began with a prologue in which a young Queen Elekia lights the fuse for explosions that will occur decades later, during the timeframe of Blade and its sequel A Wizard’s Lot. Yet while Elekia’s actions are central to the novel, the circumstances surrounding them were complex. In that failed beginning, Elekia interacted with half a dozen different characters about matters which themselves required a lot of explanation and backstory. Early readers got overwhelmed and lost,BladeofAmber_final_sized for SW and many never made it past that opening. Blade’s prologue now features a simple story about two children playing with a piece of technology that plays a central role in the story: the Device. The Device works like the transporters on Star Trek, allowing individuals to travel instantly from place to place. By accidentally setting it off, the children allow Vic, the protagonist, to escape from bondage, which is the first major turning point in Blade. Meanwhile, Elekia’s backstory appears much later in the novel, when the reader knows all the players, such that her history is illuminating rather than confusing.
  1. Don’t include it, unless the story won’t work without it. A prologue should be as vital to your novel as a handle to a teapot or a foundation to a house. While a prologue is a stage-setting device and not part of the main story, good prologues always portray action that has major implications for the plot. Don’t waste your readers time with dry history, but do show your reader the seminal event that will bear the fruit of your plot.

TombsIn another case, your opening narrative may be as vital as that teapot handle, but it doesn’t meet the definition of a prologue: a separate introduction. Prologues usually involve characters who play a only peripheral role in the story or events that occurred years, decades, or centuries before the novel’s timeframe. Therefore, if your prologue features your protagonist, just title it “Chapter One.” Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Tombs of Atuan begins with a prologue that initially features the mother of Tenar, the central character. The preamble then glosses over Tenar’s early life as a child priestess before the book settles more firmly into Tenar’s point of view in chapter one. LeGuin is my literary idol—the author whom I most admire—so I hate to question why she labeled this opening “Prologue” instead of “Chapter One,” since it’s mainly about Tenar. I suppose the change in point of view from third person omniscient to third person limited might justify setting apart the opening as a prologue, but the separation seems unnecessary to me. On the other hand, LeGuin would probably argue that Tombs is about Tenar’s rediscovery of her self—her identity—and her consequent liberation from an oppressive regime, so the story of her early life as a sequestered priestess isn’t part of the main action of the novel, its purpose is to set the stage. Well…much as I hate to argue with a literary master, Ms. LeGuin and I will have to disagree on this one.

 

AM Justice

AM Justice

A.M. Justice writes fiction from distant times and places and chronicles journeys in the here and now. When she’s not critiquing the work of literary giants, she divides her time between her writing fantasy and historical fiction and writing for the healthcare industry. For updates on her work, she invites you to follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page, or visit her website www.knownearthworks.com.

 

Bridging the Gap Between the Expert and the Unknowledgeable

by Chantal Boudreau

Bruce Blake’s post on the unreliable narrator got me to thinking about narrators, or PoV characters, who are unreliable because of a lack of knowledge. Some readers are able to accept the character’s failing. Others find their narrow perspective hard to handle, especially if the reader is an expert in that area. Their ignorance, even if justified by circumstance, can be frustrating.

One example of this I ran into was when I had a test reader who worked in IT try out a story I had written involving technology gone wrong – a story where the protagonist was a technophobe and for the most part techno-illiterate. The character’s distaste for technology was a reasonable explanation as to why the protagonist had rejected the technology found in the story in the first place, which was an important component of the plot. My reader took issue with the main character’s technological ignorance, trying to impose his own understanding upon the unwary man (he should know this, he should expect that, he should be able to explain these things), even though as far as their technological knowledge base was concerned, they were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Technology was such a fundamental part of the reader’s identity that it created a disconnect between him and the protagonist that he just couldn’t circumvent.

I’ve seen this gap work the opposite way too, when a character is an expert and the reader lacks knowledge. I found this problem with Technicians and Scholars in my Fervor series and some of the more knowledgeable wizards in Masters and Renegades. The character gets excited about things that may not generate as much interest in the average person (think Sheldon talking physics to Penny in The Big Bang Theory) but his or her drive regarding a particular topic could be essential to the plot. As a writer, you may need to demonstrate that the character’s quest for knowledge can border on obsessive, but doing so can risk boring or even alienating the reader, so you have to tread cautiously.

So what can a writer do if this gap can’t be avoided? How does one bridge that gap for the reader while remaining true to the character and the story? How does a writer prevent that frustration or disinterest?

There are a few options. The first is being constantly aware that any difference is there. A writer can remind the reader of a character’s lack of knowledge through narrative or dialogue, at appropriate times, to reduce frustration. A writer can be conscious of when a learned character threatens to share to the point of an info dump. Listening to an expert blather on about a particular topic can put a less interested person to sleep.

Another option is to foil the gap with a secondary character – one more like the reader. That other character can point out an unknowledgeable character’s weaknesses with some sympathy or give the expert character a blank stare or a questioning look…or even a yawn… when they start going into too much detail. He or she can lend some understanding as to why the first character does what he or she does. This way, the impact of any knowledge gap on the reader is lessened.

As much as a writer wants the reader to get inside a character’s head and relate to them, this won’t always work when there is a significant knowledge gap between character and reader. Sometimes the relationship has to be sacrificed in part for the sake of realism. The character can still be likeable and may offer up other traits in common with the reader so they can sympathize with them to some degree, but there may always be at least a little disconnect on an intellectual level. That’s not necessarily a bad outcome. A writer will never be able to capture the full interest of every reader with every character. And sometimes lending a reader a new perspective is the whole point of the tale.

Just something to consider the next time a character in a story you’re reading makes you say: “why would he/she think that?”

Will we rewrite all great male superheroes into women?

by Autumn Birt

Thor is now a woman.

Hopefully I’m not the first one breaking that to you and you’ve read the news. Marvel has rewritten the rugged, slightly depressed but definitely sexy, hero into a heroine. This goes along with other additions of great male characters, including a lovely she-hulk, spiderwoman, and heck, if you’re old enough, you can throw She-Ra in there. Actually researching this post, I realized there is a whole series of She-morphed names. There is also She-Dragon, She-Thing, She-Venom, and SheZow (ok, the last one is a little amusing).

imageI firmly believe there are not enough great female characters across all genres. Certainly not enough ones that break from stereotypes such a mother, protector, or sexualized icon. Sure, we are doing better than a few decades ago, especially in the indie arena. But there is still a prevalence in new literature of male dominated storylines, especially some genres. How many female detectives are out there or hard-nosed, tactical women military thrillers?

But is the answer rewriting formally make characters into female?

After reading a self-proclaimed tirade (not mine!) that took on this trend of remaking classic superheroes that have been men into women, I’m not so sure.

This insightful, if rowdy, comment that questioned why Thor had to become a woman and why does everyone wonder if the next Dr. Who incarnation will be a female made an excellent point. Thor has always been kick ass. There are female Asgardians. Why the heck does he have to become a she. I had a crush on Thor as a teenager. Now I’m admittedly confused.

The same can be said of Dr. Who. There are (were?) female Time Lords. Heck, the Doctor has a daughter! Why should he be recast as a woman? Does he need to be? What niche will that fill? Is it some final validation that women are important and have ‘come of age’ in the world of superheroes?

Gosh I hope not, because it feels as cheap as some of the rather unimaginative names. She-hulk — realy?

Apparently spiderwoman isn't a human woman based on that body...

Apparently spiderwoman isn’t a human woman based on that body…

Captain America, Thor, Superman, Spiderman… the list goes on, they’ve been around for awhile. So have Wonder Woman and a few other female characters that were, admittedly, invented more of a sidekick with a great body. Does remaking the guys into women fix this trend or are we just out of ideas on great characters?

At least the Xmen gave women a powerful role with some unique powers. And just when I started to believe that Marvel won’t take a risk on a unique woman superhero, they update Ms. Marvel by promoting the original to Captain and named a Pakistani-American teenage girl as the new Ms. Marvel. Wow and wow. Apparently someone out there at Marvel comics isn’t afraid of creating new ground for women or superheros. Even if Thor is now a woman.

And there are many amazing female characters not actually based on men out there in the indie universe. That is the trend I’d like to see growing and acknowledged. Writers are not out of great ideas for amazing characters. Heck, they can even come up with interesting names!

And as for this trend to create doppelgangers of male characters in female bodies, I hope it ends soon. The lack of creativity to create an exciting new heroine feels like a slight as big as only seeing sexy superheroines in tight leotards (at least the men get similar clothing!) who often need to be rescued.

What do you think? Is Thor better off as a woman?

Autumn is finalizing edits to her next dystopian story line, Friends of my Enemy, while pecking away at a new epic fantasy and planning a vacation in Peru. She needs a time travel device ASAP. Find out more about Autumn and her writing at her website http://www.AutumnWriting.com or find her online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page.