• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

Hard Heroes: Part I

Samurai Champloo ‘Sunset Warriors’ by Starxade

Recently Tarran Jones ask how do you manage to make your characters harder without being too hard? I immediately thought of three things—truth, goals and flaws.

Truth: If you want a character to be edgy, capable, ingenious, impervious AND believable, you have to start with a grain of truth and that means knowing their history. A good question for the writer to ask is how did they become thus?  A strong or hard-edged character gets that way because of something—a combination of things usually—both in and out of their control. The reader needs to able to at least speculate on what that ‘something’ was. They need to know the why.

In my Quantum Enchantment series, Kreshkali is tough as titanium.  She’s completely engaged in her cause but seems for a long time to be disconnected when it comes to love, particularly when that love is in the shape of a young man named Teg. The reader knows why she has such thick skinshe’s been whoring for water since she was fifteen and it’s taken the shine off her romantic notions. Kreshkali’s history makes her actions believable, and that is the place to begin.

Sometimes the ‘hardness’ of a character is developmental. It plays out before the reader’s eyes. This is the case with KJ Taylor’s Arren. (he) doesn’t actually start out as a particularly strong character. He’s immature – a characteristic he never really loses – deeply insecure, and a bit too proud for his own good. But he is brave and resilient, enough to survive things that would have destroyed a lesser man. He becomes hardened by what happens to him. He survives, but loses his heart. I think that’s the real tragedy of his story, and it’s what always kept me fascinated by him.

Whether it’s back story or current events, the why of a character becomes their truth and that gives them soul.  Tracey O’Hara’s  Antoinette has a lot of edge—physical skill, strategic intelligence and street smarts, yet most of her life has been in the single minded pursuit of the enemy . . . she’s had little time to actually form relationships, making her rather emotionally naive and vulnerable . . . We think of single-minded focus as an attribute until we see what Antoinette had to sacrificed to achieve it. It’s almost as if her goals are the driving force that moves her, and the story, forward.

Goals: The character’s goals are the next ingredient in writing ultra strong personalities. Kreshkali’s trying to save Earth from a totalitarian regime and keep the magical lands of Gaela from becoming contaminated in the process. Antoinette is out for justice. Arren’s just trying to survive in a world that’s done him wrong. When Nicole Murphy wrote Maggie, she had this character’s goals firmly in mind.

I wanted to show a woman who was prepared to make her own choices and wear the consequences  … Maggie has little concern about what others think  . . .  she also doesn’t have a lot of respect for authority  …  she’ll do things just to ‘stick it to the man’, so to speak, rather than because it’s the right thing to do. Giving characters a history and making their goals clear shows the reader the why. No exposition is necessary because it’s implicit in everything they say or do.

Special thanks to K J Taylor, Tracey O’Hara and Nicole Murphy for their input and contributions to this topic.

What part does a character’s history and goals play for you as readers, writers and editors? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Part II explores the complexity of strengths, weaknesses and flaws with thoughts from Traci Harding, Stacia Kane, Kylie Chan, Mary Victoria, Duncan Lay and Satima Flavell.

Kim Falconer is the author of the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption trilogies, set in the worlds of Gaela and Earth. The first book in the Quantam Encryption, Path of the Stray, is out now and the sequel, Road to the Soul, will be out in March 2011. Kim is also an astrologer and runs Falcon Astrology. She is based in Byron Bay in Northern NSW, Australia

Bringing Characters to Life (Why zombies make rotten lovers …)

Cast of characters from HBO’s True Blood (Based on Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Series

It takes more than a description and a few lines of dialogue to bring characters to life. They must be fleshed out in believable ways—grow, change, exhibit emotions (or repress them), have likes and dislikes, flaws and attributes. Basically, they have to be ‘real’ people. If characters are not fully developed, they won’t engage the reader, and that means the story ends before it even gets started.

If characters feel like cardboard cut outs, the story will fall flat on its face. No matter how brilliant the plot, characters have to have a potency of their own—driving and charismatic. If they don’t feel alive they might as well be zombies, and that’s not going to make anyone’s’ heart throb. If a main character can be replaced by one of the flesh-eating undead, it’s time for a radical makeover.

Lao Tzu said character is destiny and it holds true in fiction as in ‘real’ life. How characters think, what shaped their past, what hopes excite them, as well as their physicality, combine to create what will happen to them in the future. Achieving this level of characterisation boils down to one thing—know them inside and out! (Read Jennifer Fallon’s rule number three.)

When a new character pops into my head, (for me it is just like a light bulb going on) I see them in a scene. They might be in a fight, making a spell or making out. No matter. With that first look comes an idea, a name and then a horoscope. I create a ‘star charts’ for each one of my people. It’s more instructional than a Myers-Briggs personality test!

Example: I’ll randomly assign planetary placements for a new male character: Sun (individuality) Virgo, Moon (feelings) Scorpio, Mercury (brain power) Leo, Venus (relationships) Gemini, Mars (actions) Taurus, Jupiter (beliefs) Sagittarius, Saturn (boundaries) Aquarius, Uranus (group consciousness) Aries, Neptune (spirituality) Libra, Pluto (authority) Gemini.

Male character from Gaia Online

With chart in hand, I can say this character acts cocksure of himself but isn’t. He’s fun at parties; sacred of true intimacy. He takes orders if he respects the authority, bucks the system if not and has father issues up the yin-yang. Lonely childhood. He hides his vulnerability behind clever words, has intense eyes, holds a grudge and has no idea (yet) that he longs for something deeper, richer and more fulfilling that winning the next battle and yet another lass. His boots are always polished, favourite colour’s red, hates spiders, has a full head of hair (always will) and his friends say he thinks way too much . . .

I’ve discovered I’m in good company with my Astro approach to character development. Spec fiction writers Satima Flavell and Margaret Atwood use astrology to get to know their characters too. The idea is to treat them like people, friends and relatives you love (or hate). Know their history, their favourite breakfast cereal and how old they were when they first had sex. Get to that level of detail and you’ll never be accused of writing zombies (unless you mean to!).

I’d love to hear how other authors develop and keep track of their characters. Editors and proofreaders?

How do you do it? Comments most welcome.

Kim Falconer is the author of the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption trilogies, set in the worlds of Gaela and Earth. The first book in the Quantam Encryption, Path of the Stray, is out now and the sequel, Road to the Soul, will be out in March 2011. Kim is also an astrologer and runs Falcon Astrology. She is based in Byron Bay in Northern NSW, Australia.

Confessions of a reluctant writer

I could always string words together as a child. Stories were as natural as breathing. English class was the easy one with a guaranteed string of A’s – so much so that I became bored with the whole affair in my later teens and determined to study something else. It simply wasn’t hard enough to do an English Lit degree, I thought, with a massive dose of youthful hubris. I wanted a challenge. (Of course at that point I hadn’t figured out just how wonderful, complex and challenging the study of literature could be. Oh, cringe-worthy adolescence.) It didn’t help that my teachers glanced at my grades and invariably said something like, “So, you’re going to study English, aren’t you?” No, no, no. I had to be different. I wasn’t going to be what people told me to be. Continue reading

Fallon Friday – Maps: an undiscovered dome of pleasure (Part 2)

We were talking last week about maps and the geography of worldbuilding. Here are a few more questions to consider:

  • How do people communicate over long distances? (A note here about pigeons. Pigeons are called homing pigeons, because that’s what they do. They fly home. You do not take a bird, strap a vital message to its leg, and whisper “take this note to Prince Shagalot who’s somewhere on the road between here and Mount Gullible” in its ear, and expect it to do anything other than look at you blankly. Pigeons, after about six weeks, think wherever they are is home. So, if you want homing pigeons to send regular reports back to your king about how your noble quest is progressing, you’ve got about six weeks to get it done, buster, or you’re screwed.)
  • If you have non-human races, what territory do they consider theirs?
  • What are the penalties for breaching their borders uninvited?
  • How have human activities affected the landscape? (A large city where everyone is cooking over open flames demands a huge amount of firewood or coal. More than likely the land around any city has long been stripped bare of trees.)
  • If you’re not on Earth, how do the differences (more than one moon, brighter sunlight, less sunlight.) affect your world?
  • Does your world have equatorial, temperate, and polar regions?
  • Where is your farmland?
  • What do they grow?
  • What animals do they farm? (If you’re dispatching messages on parchment, you’d better have sheep, because parchment is made from sheepskin. Cotton requires a lot of water. Silk comes from silkworms, which means somewhere, someone is farming them, and purple dye is very hard to make naturally and is therefore very expensive, which is why it tends to be the colour associated with royalty. Purple robed beggars, however colourful you think they might look, are unlikely.)
  • What natural resources do your countries have (e.g. gold, iron ore, gemstones, etc)?
  • Is your terrain consistent with your natural resources (So let’s not be mining the limestone White Cliffs of Grover for gold, hmm…)?
  • What resources are in short supply?
  • What is the consequence of the imbalance of these natural resources between neighbouring countries?

I could go on, and on, and on…I won’t, but I’m sure you get the idea.

So toss your rectangular world map away and think beyond the borders of the three countries you’ve thought up names for. Give your world a convincing look and feel, rather than making it up as you go along to fit the story.

Jennifer Fallon’s worldbuilding does the talking – she’s the author of thirteen fantasy novels including the recent  Tide Lords quartet. The final book in the quartet, The Chaos Crystal, came out last month. You can read more from her at her website and blog.

Fallon Friday – Maps: an undiscovered dome of pleasure (Part 1)

There’s a standing joke among the denigrators of fantasy that says the first rule of world building is that your world must be rectangular, because this fits nicely on a page.

I beg to differ. These days it’s more likely to be the unpublished fantasy that remains caught in the rectangular zone. This isn’t to say there haven’t been some very successful “rectangular world” stories published, but if you’re hoping your publicist (better yet, the critics) will ever use the word “epic” when they describe your world, start by thinking outside the box. Literally.

In my opinion, it should be compulsory for anybody wanting to write fantasy to take a class with NZ author and map-freak, Russell Kirkpatrick. This is a man who describes mapmaking as an “undiscovered dome of pleasure” (which might give you an idea of his passion for the subject, plus a few other insights into his psyche that might not be safe to inquire too closely into … hehe). If you’re planning to create a believable world, you’d better make sure you, geography and meteorology have more than a passing acquaintanceship.

So… here’s another list of questions you should be able to answer off the top of your head:

  • What is the geography of the area where your story is set?
  • How much of your world will the story cover?
  • Are there other countries?
  • Can you name at least four of them off the top of your head? (If you think this is unnecessary, take a look at an old map of Europe and check out how many countries you can cram into a relatively compact – and dare I say almost rectangular – space).
  • What are the most outstanding geographical features of your landscape (tall mountains, large deserts, grassland, etc)?
  • How does this affect the climate?
  • How does the climate affect the landscape?
  • What flora and fauna are indigenous to the area? (There’s no need to go overboard here, but unless you’re writing about Hannibal, you’re not likely to find elephants in high, snowy mountain passes)
  • How does your geography affect travel? (Horses won’t survive in the desert for long; Camels aren’t terribly useful in the snow. Remember, the climate will impact on travel considerably. Winter snows and spring thaws will change the way people move and when they move as rivers freeze or annually flood (think the River Nile).
  • Is your society compatible with your weather patterns? (i.e. does your hero ache to be a member of the Saharan Ice Hockey team? I hope not.)
  • Cities cannot survive without a reliable water supply. Where does your city’s water come from?

More of these riveting questions next week….

Jennifer Fallon’s worldbuilding does the talking – she’s the author of thirteen fantasy novels including the recent  Tide Lords quartet. The final book in the quartet, The Chaos Crystal, came out last month. You can read more from her at her website and blog.

Voyager author Russell Kirkpatrick, mentioned above, did the maps featured in the Tide Lords books. Click here to visit his website.

Fallon Friday — The question of magic

Truth be told, I’m not a fan of magic. It gets you into all sorts of trouble when you’re writing, particularly of you can’t answer the following questions:

  • Is there magic?
  • How does it work (wands, spells, farting …)
  • What are the rules?
  • What are the consequences of using it? (Exhaustion, opposite and equal reaction, uncontrollable need for sex …etc)
  • How many people can wield the magic?
  • How do they screen for magic users?
  • Are they reviled or revered?
  • Are they natural or do they need to be taught?
  • Is there a dark side?
  • Is the magic unlimited or will it run out eventually?
  • What are its limitations?

You see, the problem with magic is that it’s, well, magic.

If you can light a candle using magic, why would you use a match? If everyone can light a candle with magic, chances are, matches haven’t been invented.

Your magic system needs to have limitations, ethical, physical or moral. There has to be a reason why your hero doesn’t just turn the Evil Bad Dude into a frog, the moment he starts getting a bit snippy.

If your characters can wield magic, it will affect everything they do, and often how they do it. It must have consequences, and there have to be times when they’re going to have trouble with it, otherwise, you don’t have a story.

Above all, once you’ve made your magic rules, stick to them. You can’t have your magic-wielding hero wreaking havoc all through the first half of your story, only to have him unable to do a damned thing later on when he’s captured by the aforementioned Evil Bad Dude, because he can’t use magic on Thursdays. We need to know, pretty much from the outset, that Thursdays are a problem for our boy.

If your reader ends up tossing your book across the room with “that’s silly, he could have just snapped his fingers and killed the guy ‘cause it’s Tuesday”, you have a serious problem.

There’s a reason Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite, you know. Think about it.

Jennifer Fallon may not be a fan of magic, but she has plenty of fans spellbound with her latest series, The Tide Lords quartet. The final book in the quartet, The Chaos Crystal, came out last month. You can read more from her at her website and blog.



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