Making the Impossible Possible: Creating the Rules of Magical and Futuristic Worlds

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I attended last year and had so much fun, but this year I was pleasantly surprised to see many panels for writers (comic/graphic novel panels, and fantasy/sci-fi panels) as well as a big turnout for literary guests. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns series, Anna Dressed in Blood series), and Marko Kloos (Frontlines series) and get them to autograph their books for me. But while there, I attended the Making the Impossible Possible panel which focused on writing and worldbuilding for authors of fantasy and sci-fi.

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The following authors participated in the panel and gave great advice to aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors: Charlie N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician series), Emily R. King (The Hundredth Queen series), Marko Kloos (Frontlines series), J.D. Horn (Witching Savannah series), and Jeff Wheeler (Legends of Muirwood series).

The format of the panel was the moderator, editor Jason Kirk, posed a total of six questions to the panel of authors. Keep reading to find out what was asked of these fantasy and sci-fi writers as well as to see what their responses were. I found their responses to offer great advice and writing techniques to better improve my own fantasy and sci-fi writing.

Question 1

Each author in this panel writes their own rules to govern the worlds they create. How does this work when the same rules don’t apply, even though you may be writing within a similar genre?

  • “You need to choose your main character as a one in a million type of person. You need to write your characters as the person who brings the magic to the world and not necessarily have been the chosen one.”
  • The general discussion around this question discussed how it’s important to have governing rules within your world, but to not let them overshadow your characters. Let your characters shine through in the world they surround themselves in.

Question 2

In Fantasy or Sci-fi we often find that the main character always tends to be exceptional. So, if no one is exceptional is there no story?

  • “In Sci-fi, you play within the confines of that structured society. Nobody is different from each other since they all have the same governing laws of physics and biology applying to them. So, the characters in this genre work within their existing system to prove their abilities or skills.”
  • The authors on the panel discussed how it would be even more interested to see more work of fiction in fantasy and sci-fi who fall out of the “exceptional” phase and are characters that work harder to prove themselves versus having everything be naturally gifted to them. It even makes the character more relatable to the reader, no more what fantastic setting the character may be placed in.

Question 3

Every author has their own writing process. Do you start with world-building or do you start with the character or the plot or themes?

  • “Start with the character, then the world becomes a crucible for them.”
  • “Your characters act depending on what the world is and the action or reaction they do becomes the plot.”
  • “Look for the tension, the drama. Ask yourself, why do we follow these characters? Why tell this story in the first place? First find the drama that the character will face.”
  • “If the world is complex enough, all these conflicts come up naturally and then the character, character’s motivation, etc. will follow.”

Question 4

Does your world need to be completely believable to make it work?

  • “As long as you don’t break the suspension of disbelief.”
  • “I can excuse sloppy physics [in Sci-fi] if the story, the plot, and the characters are absolutely believable.”
  • “It doesn’t have to be so much as believable as it has to be intoxicating enough to completely pull you in.”
  • “Don’t overdo the details to try to make it as ‘realistic’ and ‘believable’ as possible. Too much in the details can cause a big learning curve for your reader and can prevent them staying with your story.”
  • “Build the world and characters quickly so you hook the reader in. The strength of your story are your characters who provide the real emotions, real reactions the reader can connect to despite them being in an impossible world.”

Question 5

How do you solve your mistakes?

  • “Take a slice of humble pie from your critique partners.”
  • “Incomplete or sloppy world-building will lead to mistakes. If you ask, what does my character do now? Then you didn’t do enough world-building to throw enough cool things at your characters.”
  • The panel then gave examples from their own work where edits and proofreading provided great feedback for their novels in which they had to go back and rewrite certain parts to make the story turn out better.

Question 6

What tip do you have for aspiring writers?

  • “Think outside the box. It’s all about originality. Do something that’s less expected.”
  • “Don’t try to chase trends. Don’t write to market it. If the book is good, it’ll have its own market.”
  • “Just tell your story. Keep going.”
  • “The world around you can create something different. You don’t have to create something new, you just need to write it in a new way.”
  • “Read what you like to write. It keeps you immersed in your world. Steal little pieces of what you like and make them into your own.”

The panel was then opened to take questions from the audience. Here are a few of the questions that I found to have really good advice in their answers.

  • How do you build a society in your stories? This was answered in 4 parts.
  1. “Ask yourself, what type of government do you want? The kind of government you create governs the rules and freedoms your characters are subject to.”
  2. “What weird customs or traditions do your characters partake in? Create a history for each tradition.”
  3. “Everything is a result of what has come before. Make sure your society has a history.”
  4. “Do real research of Earth’s own history, then tweak it and make it your own for your story.”
  • How do you organize everything when you are working on a current novel?
  1. “You need a story Bible! It’s just 1 document where everything is stored and you can do a quick search.”
  2. “Use Scrivener. This allows you to keep you draft, research, notes, and edits all in one document.”
  • How do you write mundane tasks to make them see fantastic?

“Write characters’ reactions to that task. Like in Harry Potter, Harry thinks the dishes washing themselves in the Weasley’s house is magical and fantastic, but Ron just thinks it’s completely normal.”

This was such an amazing panel to sit on and I hope you found their advice to be inspiring and helpful to your own work. Below you can find the Goodreads page for each author named here so you can check out their work and get hooked onto some fun new series.

Kendare Blake

Charlie N. Holmberg

J.D. Horn

Emily R. King

Marko Kloos

Patrick Rothfuss

Jeff Wheeler

What Every YA Author Needs to Read

These past few weeks has been quite a whirlwind since coming home from the Writer’s Digest Conference. I had the opportunity to meet and go out to a yummy dinner of meatballs (vegan meatballs, of course) with the author/speaker Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela has her own novel called DIY MFA, which really shines a light on the craft of writing as well as the business of being an author. So, it was a nice surprise to see that Gabriela had sent out her DIY MFA newsletter to us attendees that discussed an important, yet often overlooked, issue about being a writer. In this newsletter, she answers her question of the week, which is, “How many new release books should a writer read in their genre?”

I was so inspired by her answer that I thought I’d make a post of my own that combines her response, which is a simple outline that anybody can follow, with mine, which details the specific books to be on the lookout for in the YA contemporary genre. But to answer the original question, the answer is going to be different for everyone since each person has their own pacing. So, to best answer this question, Gabriela ignores the quantity you should aim for but rather focuses on the quality and types of books you should be reading. This consists of two lists – an essential list and then a customized list.

On the essential list, you need to cover your ABC’s.

A is for Anthology of Short Form Literature.

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I recommend the Norton’s Anthology of Children’s Literature for both YA and MG authors. This is a great way to get short bursts of inspiration in children’s books, middle grade and YA. I love the section that focuses on fairytale retellings in YA. It’s so fascinating and wonderfully detailed.

B is for Book of Prompts

I have yet to purchase a book of prompts, but Gabriela has great recommendations including the Now Write! series edited by Sherry Ellis. This series has specific genre-related books to help YA/MG authors too.

C is for Craft Reference

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A reference book will help you when you have questions about character development, or setting, or plot. For YA, I recommend Cheryl B. Klein’s The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.

Now, for the customized list. This relates to what you want to write. You’ll have to follow Gabriella’s Four C’s to build up this list.

1. Competitive (Comp) Titles: These books are books that compare to your own work. It helps to know what books are already on the market that are similar to yours, since it’s useful to use comps in pitches/query letters to agents. It shows that you know the YA genre and how your book fits into it. So, for my comp title I use David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite meets Little Miss Sunshine. You only need 1-2 comps, so that’s the good thing. Just keep an eye on new books (no more than 2-3 years old) and see which book is most similar to yours.

YAReadingList42. Contextual Books: These books put your novel into context, including references and research materials. This is really important to have in mind if you are writing YA Historical Fiction, which is a booming sub-genre within YA. I currently  have these research books, for an idea I have for a MG I want to write.

3. Contemporary (Recent) Books: This reiterates the same idea with comps where you want to try to read a couple new releases in YA each year. For this though, I would try to aim for the last 18 months. That way you know who’s new in your genre as well as stay on top of trends. I really enjoyed the great depiction of mental illness and the process of recovery as a recent theme in YA in such books like Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella and The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati. But I also love the diversity and portrayal of immigrants in books like The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

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4. Classics: These aren’t just “old” books, but rather leading books that helped create and/or shape the YA genre. For me, I believe J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye to be the first YA novel and I recommend it to those trying to master the art of tone and voice.

So, I hope I was able to narrow down Gabriella’s advice to the YA genre. I love this community of YA authors and I can’t wait to see it grow and develop as a genre. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see my writing evolve within this genre as well.

Top 5 Comic Book Series/Graphic Novels

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With Comic Con in San Diego less than a month away, I am excited for all things nerdy – cosplay outfits, superhero movie panels, and, of course, comics! I am lucky enough to be attending Comic Con San Diego this year, so stay tuned to keep posted. I will have many posts coming soon about making cosplay outfits and accessories, comic book lists and recommended reads, as well as reviews of the panels that I plan on attending. But, until the end of July rolls around, I’ll probably be focused on making cosplay costumes (can you guess who I’m going as?) and reading as many comics and graphic novels I can get my hands on. So, in the spirit of Comic Con, I thought I’d make you a list of my top five favorite reads for whether you’re new to comics or you are the comic-obsessed veteran. I know comics can sometimes be pricey, so if you can’t afford them then I suggest checking out your local library because they have many comics/graphic novels in circulation. So, I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did.

watchmenWatchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

There’s a really good reason why this is the only graphic novel to make Time Magazine’s “100 Best Novels” list. It’s simply genius with the double story-line and the amazing world building developed not only through the plot, but through the end-of-chapter-segments ranging from newspaper clippings to adverts. It’s so immersive, I bet you won’t be able to put it down once you pick it up.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

This on-going series is an epic space opera fantasy (have I caught your attention, yet?) depicts a husband and wife, Alana and Marko, from long-warring extraterrestrial races, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their daughter, Hazel, who is born in the beginning of the series and who occasionally narrates the series as an unseen adult. It’s refreshingly humorous and seriously addictive.

lazarusLazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

This dystopian science fiction comic book series depicts the world divided among sixteen rival families who run their territories in a feudal system. The main character is Forever Carlyle, who is the military leader for the Carlyle family. With the themes of family and loyalty ever present, this story’s amazing world building is similar to Watchmen’s. Also, it’s currently in the works to be adapted for television. So, make sure to read it before it becomes one of the coolest and most badass show on TV.

the wicked and the divineThe Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

This series is a contemporary fantasy comic book that is largely influenced by pop music and various mythological deities. Imagine gods as rock stars. The narrative follows a young teenage girl, Laura, as she interacts with the Pantheon, a group of twelve people who discover that they are reincarnated deities. This discovery grants them fame and supernatural powers, with the stipulation that they will die within two years – part of a ninety-year cycle known as the Recurrence. This series will make you laugh out loud as well selecting your favorite god to root for.

DescenderDescender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

This series follows a young robot’s struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. In this cosmic odyssey, is pitted humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling space opera. Plus, the unique illustrations and coloring (resembling watercolor) give a fresh appeal to the story.

 

Book Review: Draw the Line

DrawTheLine

After attending the gay pride parade in my town (Olympia, WA), I can say that I am newly reinvigorated with such optimism, hope, and love, that can only come from the LGBTQ community. And in honor of this beautiful spirit, I wanted to review one of my favorite YA books whose main protagonist is a gay, seventeen-year-old artist living in Texas. That book is none other than Laurent Linn’s Draw the Line.

I feel like this book is very underrated and under the radar since I hadn’t heard of it before I found it on the shelves of my library. But, do not overlook this novel. It truly is a hidden gem in the YA genre.

The main character, Adrian, makes such an adorkably cute narrator. With all his nerdy references, Adrian navigates high school by being the class introvert and a talented artist. He stays in the background, until he witnesses a hate crime that pushes him forward, to the point where he cannot remain invisible anymore and he has to step forward and do something about it. Linn wonderfully details high school life with descriptions that are so relatable that almost anyone can see themselves as Adrian. Such as:

“To a gray T-shirt, I added faded jeans, cheap old sneakers, and a gray hoodie … my almost perfect cloak of high school invisibility” (5).

Or, here’s an example of the classic teenage insecurity and doubt that I’m sure all of us have experienced at one time or another:

“Hey, yeah, it kinda works. Oh, god, no it doesn’t” (3).

If you can’t quite relate to the introvert, fly-on-the-wall aspect of Adrian’s personality, then you can easily enjoy the nerdy pop-cultture references. Such as:

“Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope. Oh, yes, I pray to Obi-wan” (8).

And, as if you need another reason to pick up this book, Mr. Linn illustrated all the comic panels that Adrian draws in the novel. How awesome is that? Not only can Linn write such an amazing and honest voice that details the high school experience, he can even draw amazing comics!

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Here are some of the comic panels from the novel. Adrian draws upon his life to create his superhero alter ego, Graphite. The comic panels work wonderfully in illustrating Adrian’s thought process after certain events take place. These reflections add so much depth and understanding to the story’s plot. It also helps the reader process the events that take place, so much so that I wouldn’t want to read this novel without them.

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As you can see, I have mad-love for this book. And I think you will enjoy it just as much. So, make sure to check out this book, which dives into the theme of accepting the LGBTQ community in a funny, charismatic way.

Writing in NYC

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If you are like me (writing notes on any scrap of paper to later type up into your novel), then I recommend taking your writing to the next level by going to a writer’s conference. There are several taking place all of the country this summer. These might seem a little pricey, but if you have a complete manuscript ready to be viewed then these conferences are the perfect place to pitch your novel to agents. Plus, all the workshops and seminars you’ll take part in is worth the price of admission alone. At the end of August, I’ll be at The Writer’s Digest annual writer’s conference in New York and I can’t wait to hopefully make some new connections as well as pitch my novel to agents. Wish me luck and fingers crossed 🙂