Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: Cait Reynolds

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday! I’m back, along with Denny Basenji, opinions on words, and a new haircut.

Also, I do know that I owe everyone my freshman year high school photo. I will post that on Friday. *pinky swear*

So, today, I’m talking about world-building for epic fantasy and science fiction. Of course, there are specifics to each genre that could merit their own blog post (and will eventually get their own blog posts), but for today, I want to talk about what they both have in common, especially when it comes to creating a world that is paradoxically both alien and familiar, comfortable and unpredictable, and just as human as you or I – tentacles notwithstanding.

Two Peas in an Alien Pod

Why are epic fantasy and science fiction similar, you ask? Well, let’s start with the most fundamental problem both face. It’s a misconception on the part of writers that regularly drives me to call upon the holy, withering powers of the Red Pen of Wrath.

 

The problem is this: a premise is not a plot.

I am just as guilty as anyone when it comes to this. I would get the coolest idea for an epic fantasy story with dragons, or a magical sword, or…or…a shy, downtrodden young girl who comes into her magical inheritance and has to save the world. Or, even worse…a space opera or an oppressive alien society bent on conquering a post-apocalyptic Earth…

You get the idea. And, that’s all it is. An idea. It’s a premise, a setting, the faintest concept sketch of a backdrop. It is not a plot. While the plot and characters are shaped by the world we build, we must first have a firm idea of the actual story we want to tell before we go indulging in literal flights of fantasy.

The best, most enduring, and most powerful epic fantasy and science fiction tell stories that are rooted in deep philosophical and ethical questions about how humanity (no matter what the species “we” are in the story) makes choices when pushed at warp speed into a magical corner.

A premise is great, but what is the burning reason why we need to write this story using this setting? If we can answer this question, then we are on the right track and are good to keep going with our world-building.

Culture Shock

Let’s just put it out there from the get-go.

Fantasy that uses the ‘faux medieval fallback’ is lame. Worse, it’s lazy, and I am not going to waste the precious hours of my life reading that crap. If an author can’t be bothered to build a world that goes beyond throwing in some Lord-of-the-Rings-style magic into ‘The Princess Bride,’ then, I can’t be bothered with his or her book.

Science fiction that so blatantly ignores human nature is also lame to the point where it can undermine the believability of an entire premise. For example – and yes, this is going to be controversial, and don’t flame me if I got it wrong because this is based on a memory from years and years and years ago – when I was watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard said that we had evolved beyond the need for money, I laughed. And then, I got mad. Seriously??? I don’t care if it’s dollars or hotel points on Risa, you cannot convince me that given the nature of the personal and psychological problems the TNG cast dealt with demonstrated that humanity had evolved beyond our basic competitive biological nature. We would need some serious genetic rewiring in order to let go of our need to gather and accumulate resources. When I could forget that little issue, sure, the whole premise was great. When I couldn’t? It was like a bad itch with no ideological cortisone to hand.

The absence of technology does not mean a society has to be simplistic with two-dimensional characters like the mustache-twirling villain or the reluctant young hero with chronic self-esteem issues. Conversely, the presence of technology doesn’t automatically cancel out all of society’s more complex, sticky social issues.

Good world-building in these genres should be an uncomfortable process. It should poke and prod at the difficult questions we tend to avoid on an everyday basis. We know we are doing it right when we feel a kind of culture shock, just like when we wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a strange hotel room on the first night of a trip to a foreign country. Sure, it’s a bed and a room, but something about it just feels fundamentally different, no matter how much it is the same.

The More Things Change

When we are creating a future or fantasy world, we obviously have to cover all the bases of politics, religion, education, economics, industry, regionality, food, etc. It’s the kind of exercise in thinking, imagination, and logic that forces us to play every idea six moves out to see if it still works and what else it might effect. However, almost more important than the differences we create are the similarities that we keep.

Not everything needs to be changed and/or renamed. That’s not world-building. That’s complication, not complexity. It’s also the biggest and easiest trap for us to fall into.

A world that is over-complicated and needlessly different puts and keeps distance between the story and the reader, and that’s not even dipping a scaly alien toe into the issues of character development.

So, how do we determine what needs to be changed? Some of it comes from the necessities of the plot, and some of if comes from the implications of physical realities of the setting itself (Dune is a great example of this). At the end of the day, though, we need to ask ourselves some basic questions every time we want to change something:

  • Is it relevant to shaping the character’s personality, motivations, and decisions?
  • Is it necessary to the plot on a macro or micro level as a source of conflict?
  • Can it be used as a stressor to up the tension or accelerate the pace?
The Sand Prince by Kim Alexander

One of the absolutely best examples of this that I have recently read is Kim Alexander’s The Sand Prince. It’s not just epic fantasy and an astoundingly exquisite example of world-building. It’s a riveting, meaningful story with characters I identify with and have come to care about deeply. If you read it (and you should), look at the way she uses food and colors to drive home desperation, hopelessness, anger, and stress. That’s just one small way she uses details to up the stakes for her characters and relentlessly drive the story toward its riveting climax.

And on the Seventh Day, Cait Taught a Class

If you’re feeling exhausted and perhaps even a little overwhelmed by this post, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Even God needed to rest on the seventh day, proving once again that world-building is hard.

However, even God had a system for creation, and I am teaching a tiny, pale version of that on Friday, July 28, 2017 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Class Title: Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY July 28th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy are the double agents of the literary world. They simultaneously provide exotic escapism while at the same time serving as a ruthless mirror of contemporary society.

Whether it’s magic or technology, these genres bend rules and toy with the impossible.

However, it is also perilously easy to fall into the trap of bending every rule to make it easy for yourself, your plot, and your characters. When the fantastic becomes too fantastical, your world begins to lose its magic, and readers begin to distance themselves from the emotional impact of the actual story.

This class will cover a wide range of topics, including:

– Etymology: If you are going to make up names for people, places, food, customs, magic/technology, etc., you need to understand the fundamental rules of creating language.

– What’s normal and carries over from our world/time and doesn’t need description vs what is different and should be described

– How much magic or science do you have to know in order to build your world effectively?

– How to keep it real: tips and tricks for keeping your characters relatable to readers, even if they have tentacles/magical powers/chip implants.

– Spotting tired tropes and DOING BETTER. Make your fiction unique. No retreads! “Oh no, not another young, timid girl who becomes magical/laser-wielding social warrior!”

In a world of a gazillion forgettable fantasies and sci-fi stories, let Cait help you take your WORLD & STORY to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL. When world building is done right? Fans will be BEGGING to do fan fiction with the worlds you create.

World Building GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

World Building PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

Register Here!

***

For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES WITH USA Today Best Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

There is nothing wrong with sitting in a bar on Halloween wearing steampunk. Even if no one else is.

It’s me! I’m back! It’s another #SquattersRights day on Kristen Lamb’s blog, and today, I’ll be talking to you about steampunk (and no, you do not capitalize it because it is just another genre like horror, fantasy, or romance).

Some people like to credit Will Smith with ushering in the great age of steampunk because of that stellar cinematic festival of delight: ‘Wild Wild West.’ However, they are wrong. Steampunk originated with the original badass Victorians who actually used steam and their imaginations to dream up some crazy shizz.

What’s that I hear? The cat call for me to name them?

H.G. Wells. Jules Verne. You might even argue that some of Edgar Allan Poe’s lesser-known stories dipped a timorous toe into steampunk.

So, what is steampunk? Ha! Trick question. I’m not going to define it because there are far too many sites out there that spend blog post after blog post debating the finer delineations and spraying down commenters with flame throwers. I could say it’s kind of like pornography. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

What I will do is share with you some of the key characteristics of steampunk and how to avoid the world-building pitfalls that make readers flip tables and leave books in the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile. Obviously there is a lot to world-building that is common to all genres, but a few things are specific to steampunk, and while they are part of what make the genre so fun, they also require more work than most we generally think. At least, if we want to do the job well and play the role of frantic slave to KENP. (See my manifesto, er, blog post over at caitreynolds.com)

Victorian, Schmictorian

The first question we have to ask in creating a steampunk world is just how Victorian do we want to get? An undeniable part of the charm of steampunk is the contrast between the stodgy, fussy prissiness of Victoriana and the wild, unexpected consequences of ‘steam science’ upsetting the well-ordered apple cart of society.

You probably know what I’m going to say here. Wait for it…wait for it…

That delightful contrast can only be created if we do the research.

Boston in 1875 was a very different place from London in 1881, and even more different than Paris of 1890. I’m not talking just about the style of dress, which went from bustles to leg-o-mutton sleeves. I’m talking about political movements, social changes from abolitionism to colonialism, the development of the modern police force and formalized investigative techniques, and that little tiny detail of scientific progress and industry.

A lot of writers make the mistake of thinking that just because they are writing steampunk, they can get away with not doing research. They couldn’t be more wrong, and it shows in their shoddy, unbelievable world-building. Even worse is when writers mention something that they think would be a cutting-edge invention, yet the invention had in reality already been around for several years.

Without a firm grounding in historical knowledge, steampunk produces characters that are anachronistic (I’m looking at you, feisty heroine who doesn’t want to get married and wants to be an inventor), a society that is a poor pantomime of actual Victorian manners and beliefs, and steampunkish inventions that are trite and unexciting.

Feathers and Flying Machines

Dirigibles, ether, and time travel machines are some of the stock technical steampunk ‘accessories.’ It can be a lot of fun to figure out how to reverse engineer today’s gadgets and make them work using the technology, tools, and material available in the 19th century.

But, creating the technological and mechanical anomalies of steampunk is a delicate balancing act. If we fall off to one side, we risk over-complicating things with gadgets that are irrelevant to the plot. If we fall off to the other side, we fail to come up with anything really interesting or useful to the story. So, how do we avoid doing this?

There are a couple of things we can do.

First, decide exactly what year we are writing about. I don’t care if I pick it out of a hat, but if 1877 is the year that comes up, then that is what I am going to use. Why? Because I need to the year I’m going to base all my research on. In addition to all the general historical research I’ll do, I will go further and read everything I can about the state of science, industry, and transportation in that year. By doing this, I’ll know precisely what scientific advancements they had achieved, how they traveled, and what machines were being used and invented. I’ll also read about the state of medicine to know just how badly I can injure my characters or how sick I can make them while giving them a fighting chance at recovery.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at this point, so instead of trying to upgrade everything mechanical to steampunk, I’ll narrow it down to two or three things that I want to be fun and different – always provided that they are relevant to the plot. I’ll figure out what the machine does, what it doesn’t do, what can break it, what can fix it, and what powers it. I’ll give it some features that are futuristic or advanced, but I will also set firm limits on what it can do.

All of this has to be based on facts, with logic and rules guiding the creation of the steampunk features of the story. Because of the complexity of world-building, steampunk requires an almost religious adherence to logic in order to keep the reader from getting lost in confusing details and conflicting ideas.

Oh, and while I’m at it, let’s just get one thing perfectly clear: there is no reason for characters to wear hats and gloves inside the home, nor would any self-respecting woman wear her corset on the outside of her clothing. It’s not just being a stickler for historical details. It’s about logic.

Now, if my characters need to wear a wrist brace, I will make sure that the gadgets or weapons on the brace are absolutely necessary to the plot and will come in handy late by being either exactly what the character needs or exactly what he/she doesn’t need (therefore creating more fun…er…conflict). This also goes for goggles.  Characters are not going to wear their goggles on their heads or hats unless they are actively in the middle of something that would require them, or they soon will be. While outlandish steampunk fashion looks cool on book covers, a more reasonable nod to reality makes for a more enjoyable, organic story for the reader.

Gaskets and Gaiters

Naturally, this is merely a fraction of what I have to say about steampunk world-building. Given a chance, I can rant by the hour. In fact, Kristen has given me a chance to rant…er…instruct by the hour. I’m teaching an entire class on steampunk!

Click on the image to register!

 

Class Title: Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY July 21st, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Who doesn’t love some steampunk cosplay? Corsets, goggles, awesome hats…

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read. However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

  • Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms?
  • Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk?
  • Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry. This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

  • Polite Society: Just how prim and Victorian do you want to get?
  • Science, Technology, Medicine, and Industry: How to research these without dying of boredom?
  • Creating the Blend: How to drop in historical details without info-dumping, and how to describe and explain your steampunk innovations without confusing.
Register here!

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES WITH USA TODAY Best-Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

     

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Classes with Award-Winning Author Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

Method Acting for Writers: How to Write Deep POV August 1st (TWO WEEK CLASS) $85

Beyond Lipstick and Swords: Writing Strong Female Characters   September 9th $40

It’s Cait Reynolds again, and you know what that means…muahahahahahaha

Image courtesy of memegenerator.co

Historical romance is full of strong-jawed heroes in possession of a good fortune and in want of a wife…whether they know it or not.

In fact, if you add up all the fine, vast estates throughout England, you’d probably end up with a country the size of the North American continent. Actually, better add in Central America just to make sure we have enough acreage. (Thanks to my friend Britt for pointing this out to me all those years ago.)

For every Lord So-and-So, and Duke of Blah-Blah, there is a lovely, feisty young lady who much overcome a sad lack of fortune, sudden misfortune, or the tragedy of unfortunate connections in order to save the day, the estate, and the hero…who naturally obliges by falling in love with her.

Oh, wait. Sorry. Gone off the rails there.

We’re not talking puerile plotting today (and besides, that’s Lamb’s specialty). I’m here to talk about how to write about an ingratiatingly indignant and independence-loving heroine together with her seriously sensitive and sinfully seductive hero so that they are not walking, talking anachronisms that make readers want to tear their eyes out with the pickle fork.

Before we jump in, can I just ask…does it always have to be Regency England? Really? Historical writing is hard enough without thousands of experts ready to jump in and point out any inaccuracy or anachronism. I mean, I have seen virtual fisticuffs break out among the delicately natured about the precise method of shining Hessian boots as mentioned in a particular book.

Anyway.

We have to do the research. There is no silver bullet, no short-cut. We might not be doing the world-building of fantasy, but we are re-building a world that impacts every single thing our characters will do, say, think…and eat. Yes, certain emotions and reactions are consistent across time and fundamental to human nature. However, the way our characters understand the actions and circumstances that create those emotions and the way their reactions are expressed are absolutely rooted and shaded by their contemporary context.

Let’s take a look at a sample of the areas that we need to consider when tackling historical world re-building.

Dentistry, Dandruff & Deodorant

Perfume was invented for a reason. Back in ye olde, personal hygiene was far more…shall we say…individualistic? Perhaps optional would be a better word. I’m not saying people didn’t try to wash—somewhat. But, ‘somewhat’ had very different connotations and practices in the 12th century and the 19th century.

Even nobility had issues with the stink. I mean, think about it. You try walking around on a sunny, 70-degree day in several layers of silk and linen while having your internal organs constricted by whalebone. Oh, and don’t forget the wig (and attendant weevils and other creepy crawlies that would take up residence therein).

Bathing involved servants, buckets, lots of wood or coal, and a short soak in rapidly-cooling water. We should be considerate of Sally the under housemaid when deciding that your character is going to have a bath every day. She already has a lot of work to do around the house (including emptying your chamber pot), and helping to prepare a bath for you under the watchful eye of your abigail isn’t making her job any easier.

We don’t have to write that everyone stinks or about the housekeeper’s armpit hair. But, we need to think twice and do some research before glibly tossing out that Our Heroine shampooed her hair.

Watch Your Mouth

Seriously. If I read another manuscript where the author has used words like sure/okay/all right, I am going to reach for that pickle fork. But, it’s not just use of modern slang that can jar the reader out of the story, upsetting hoop skirts everywhere.

Even the way sentences in dialogue are constructed can indicate whether a character is speaking Tudorish, Regencyish, or Victorianish.

Image courtesy of Mental Floss

Even commoners would speak more formally than we do today—and the riff-raff, beggars, and laborers would also know just enough to speak with respect to their betters.

We should not make the mistake of thinking formal means ponderous or dull, though. It’s fun to play with that stereotype here and there, especially when writing the dialogue of a pompous, hidebound old windbag. But, formality and a more extensive vocabulary doesn’t mean we can’t have witty, chatty characters that are silly, sexy, and scintillating.

Help Wanted

Elizabeth Bennet did not repine the fact she could not go to university, or become a doctor or a soldier. She operated well-within the confines of acceptable social norms and expectations, and she did so because she naturally accepted that circumscribing and did not question it.

Why would she? It simply was how things were. Yes, she challenged the status quo about marrying for love, but she never challenged marriage or denied that there were only a handful of respectable options outside of marriage for a young lady.

This brings me to something that I see over and over again in stories: the feisty heroine who dreams of becoming X (insert impossibly modern career choice here). That’s not to say that we can’t write a good, convincing story about a heroine who dreams of becoming X, but we have to take a good, long, hard look at her starting place before we do.

Image courtesy of memegenerator.net

Seraphina is bored with embroidering all day and wants to join her brother and become a knight. She’s all about how girls can fight just as well as boys, and girls should get a chance, etc. She tosses her golden hair as she fights openly with her father about wanting to learn how to use a sword.

Cue pickle fork.

Seraphina was always closest to her brother Rolf. They supported and protected each other while growing up in a difficult family situation. When Rolf is called to go serve the king in a crusade, Seraphina panics.

She doesn’t want to be left alone to deal with the difficult family situation at home. She doesn’t think she could handle waiting months or even years for Rolf to come home—if he even makes it home.

She is backed into a corner, but because of her native courage, she makes a daring choice. She convinces Rolf to let her come along in disguise as part of his retinue. Along the way, she has to practice and sharpen up her fighting skills in order to pass for his squire. It’s a different world out there, when wooden swords are replaced with cold, hard steel.

Basically, people need to stop shoving heroines with 21st century values and beliefs into ye olde days. The only way to avoid making this mistake is to read and learn about the cultural values of the period and to immerse our brains into thinking in this way so our characters will behave naturally in harmony with the times.

Not Bread and Cheese Again!

Would people please stop having their characters eat nothing but bread and cheese? There is so much bread and cheese in poorly-researched historical novels that I feel nutritionally-imbalanced just reading about it.

There is no excuse for bread and cheese. If anything, historical food is one of the easiest areas to research! Just type ’18th century English food’ into Google, and BAM! You’ve got blogs, Google Books, PDFs of actual recipe books, and even photos of meals cooked from authentic recipes.

Image courtesy of Me.Me

Also, pay attention to what your characters are drinking. Well water (hello, giardia)? Beer or ale? Possibly. You could have combination of sherry, wine, and port or brandy with dinner. Be careful of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate before the 18th century. Yes, they were around, but not universally, depending on the decade and country. And, don’t let me catch you talking about hot chocolate like it’s some Swiss Miss crap. Hot chocolate was just that. Hot. Chocolate.

So, next time you want to write food into your scene, don’t settle for Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles. Let loose with Sack posset, quail in puff pastry, Chelsea buns, turnip soup, and Portugal Cakes…with a couple bottles of good Madeira to go along with it all!

Dressing the Part

Our dear Charity has managed to get away from her odious great aunt and is at the house of her friend Isabelle, getting ready for the ball. We the readers are treated to an extensive description of fabric, décolletage, sleeves, overskirts, hems, and lace. Let’s not forget the incredible jewelry, hairstyling, and make-up.

There’s a whole other sermon I could write about the sins of describing outfits. Today, I’ll confine myself to discussing historical accuracy. We need to dress our characters according to their social position, and we know what that means (hint: it involves research). A barmaid will not have a closet full of everyday dresses. If some malmsey-nosed sot spills beer on her, she can’t go home and change. Most likely, she would go rinse out the beer from her skirt because this would be her only summer skirt, and her other outfit would be for winter. Maybe, if she was lucky, she would have one good dress for weddings and funerals, and that dress would probably have been cut down from one of her mother’s in a style of twenty years earlier.

Yes. That is me. I own a steel-boned corset, and it is damn comfortable!

Yes, almost all women who could afford them wore corsets. But, before you have our dear Charity go complain about having to wear a corset, stop. Just. Stop. That would be like complaining about wearing a bra. Yes, we all do it sometimes, and we know it’s possible to go without one. Yet, it’s not really a big deal. It’s just part of what we wear every day.

This also goes for cravats for the gents, because someone, somewhere thought it would be a marvelous little joke to make men strangle themselves every day in the name of fashion.

Clothing wasn’t so much put on as assembled onto a person, with people who couldn’t afford maids helping each other. Both sexes wore stockings (at least up until the early 19th century) with garters to hold them up. There were petticoats and felt strips, chemisettes and buckles.

Just be careful of underwear. Drawers, pantaloons, panties, and small clothes weren’t really all that commonplace until the 19th century. This means if you want to go deep POV, you could mention the occasional strategic draft…

Pickle Forks and POV

The point of all this work is to show, but not show off. Out of everything you learn, only 10% should make it into your book. Wait. Stop. There will be no flipping of tables while reading this blog! Hear me out.

It’s all about understanding POV. What is normal for the character versus what is noteworthy. Think about contemporary fiction: ‘Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potatoes.’ We can easily picture this in our minds. There’s a table, chairs, a dish, a bowl with potatoes and some kind of serving utensil. This sentence could work just as well in historical fiction just as it is (assuming we are working with a time period where potatoes were part of the European diet…and knowing that Taylor as a first name really wasn’t used back then but whatevs): ‘Sir Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potato and gruyere galette.’

We do not need to elaborate just to show off that you verified the status of potatoes or know how dishes were served in the 19th century. There is no real reason we should ever write: ‘Sir Taylor entered the formal dining room where even on ordinary, daily occasions, the family gathered to eat. He settled himself in an ornately carved chair and reached for the porcelain platter with the Potato and Gruyere Galette.’

Image (and RECIPE) from paperandsalt.org

Some people would snort and point out that there is nothing wrong with that sentence, that it is lovely and descriptive. Yes, it is descriptive, but would Sir Taylor really think about how interesting it was that the family used the formal dining room every day, or how ornately carved his chair was? Do we notice with mild surprise where our dining table is every time you sit down to eat? No? Then, why would Sir Taylor?

Stay focused on the character, the plot, and the action. All I had to do to evoke a fancy, historical feel to the food was to change it from potatoes to an actual recipe (one which George Sand was rather fond of). If I’ve done my job right earlier in the book/chapter/scene, I’ve already given you a feel for the manor house, its size, décor, etc., but all done in the context of dialogue and POV.

So, now that I’ve beat sloppy historical fiction about the head and ears, I’m going to tell you about an opportunity to learn how to do sufficient and efficient research to be credible, interesting, and subtle. I’m offering an online class on Saturday, July 8, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST on W.A.N.A.! Information and sign up links are below.

The Class

So, you want to write historical romance. Awesome. Now, you just need to learn everything about that time period. Yay! Yay? Oh…crap.

While we don’t need a PhD in history to write historical fiction, we do need to do your research so that we can avoid the pitfalls of anachronistic language, modern Mary Sues, and the unforgivable sin of having our characters pay morning calls before one o’clock in the afternoon.

But, how do we start researching? And, when do we end? How do we know we know enough to start plotting–let alone writing? How do we keep track of everything we need to remember?

This class answers all those questions and more.

  • Get a template that guides you through all the steps of research
  • Discover the tricks of effectively and efficiently using Google and Pinterest
  • Learn how to use historical context in character development (i.e. no more Mary Sues)
  • Find out when and how to take research shortcuts…and when you have to buckle down and just slog through it all
  • Learn how to build a research reference library of your own
  • Discover how to find non-fiction books that are NOT boring
  • Develop an understanding of what kind of historical details to put into your story, and more importantly, what to leave out

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Historical GOLD
You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story.

Historical PLATINUM
You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

 

 

Today I have a guest post from my lovely, yet ruthless editor Cait Reynolds and she is here to talk about an important topic, particularly for those in the romance genre. Yes, I am an expert at a lot of things, but shifters? I am deferring to Cait. She is hard, brutal, but really excellent in shaping—*wink, wink*—you into a way better author than you imagined you could be.

She’s kind of like that coach who razors your swollen black eye so you can see but you bleed and then she tosses you back into the ring to get your face hit some more. But in the end you win and nail the TKO and so you forgive her.

Eventually.

Anyway, without further ado, take it away Cait!

****

Much like Cait.

Shifters are hot.

Well, okay, we knew that. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a multi-million-dollar niche market for them. I mean, who doesn’t want to read and fantasize about a delicious Alpha male with rippling pectorals whose instincts are all about…mating?

Let’s not forget the possessive, protective, wild, and dangerous parts of the shifter male. The shifter hero is a sexy beast. Literally.

But, I’m not here to talk about any of this. In fact, I’m here to come down with the Red Pen of Wrath on the shifter genre. Get ready, because I’m going to be controversial, mean, and utterly, utterly truthful.

Ready?

Many shifters are boring.

Whoa. Yeah, I know. I figured I’d just come right out and go balls-to-the-wall. Before you run to the comments section to testify for the defense, hear me out.

I say many shifters are boring because far too many shifter romances cheap out on two things: world-building and character development. I know that most stories do include some basics about their shifters, but it is rarely enough.

The character development problem shares some traits with the overall issues of character development in romance in general, but there are specifics to shifter characters (and their mates) that are tied to world-building.

Basically, we have reached a point where the genre is saturated in stereotypes and tropes.

Stereotypes are never sexy, and tropes are trite.

How do we get away from it, though? Aren’t there certain things readers will want? Isn’t this taking the idea of shifter romance a little too far away from its purpose as an escapist fantasy?

A fantasy is only as good as how immersive its world is. If our shifters are skimming the surface, using shortcut stereotypes and tired plot gimmicks, then, it’s no wonder we’re struggling to be heard above the noise of 99,000 other ‘meh’ shifter romances on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

The business of shifter romances has always felt like a race-to-market to get the most pages read. With the Sword of KENP hanging over our heads, it’s less about quality and more about putting out 50,000 words every month.

There’s little time and even less incentive to ‘indulge’ in something like spending weeks—and sometimes even months—creating a world that both gives depth to characters and can handle the resulting complexity.

Don’t despair (or write me hate mail just yet). There are things we can do to ‘shift’ our world-building and character development to the next level, and all it takes is some time, patience, and thought.

The Literary Litmus Test of Awfulness

Okay. This is the hard part that is going to make you squirm, but you need to be honest! Answer the following questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’:

  1. My shifters live in a small, rural town.
  2. My shifters recognize their mates by instinct (scent, sight, gut feeling, etc.).
  3. Once my shifters recognize their mates, that’s it: instant devotion.
  4. My shifters think nothing of relentlessly pursuing their mates for the purpose of seduction and securing lifelong mating.
  5. My shifters mark their mates in some way.
  6. My shifters are dominant Alpha males.
  7. My shifters produce shifter children with their mates.
  8. My shifters run in a pack.
  9. My mates feel safe around their shifters.
  10. My mates might have trouble accepting the fact that shifters exist at first, but they eventually do believe it.
  11. My shifters have enhanced senses even in human form.
  12. My mates can smell their shifters and are attracted to their scent.

Let’s stop there, though I could keep going. You probably answered ‘Yes, but…’ to several of these, indicating you do use the idea but have a variation on it.

I’m here to tell you that isn’t good enough. Variations are like sprinkles on ice cream. We love all the sprinkles, but the colors all taste the same. They just look a little different on the surface.

Taking any of these stereotypes or tropes and working it so it becomes something more than just a pink sprinkle instead of a red sprinkle involves hard work, failure, and some success.

The goal is not to write a shifter romance at the level of Tolstoy. But, who doesn’t want to write a better, more engaging story with hotter characters and a world that grabs the reader’s imagination and doesn’t let go?

Today, we’re going to look at how having a deeper, richer understanding of ‘the nature of the beast’ will help you do just that.

Native American Magic? Yawn.

Seriously?

What a cop-out.

Yes, I am pushing buttons, but, once more, hear me out. Using some generic Native American magic—or, insert generic magical accident/two-sentence explanation here—as the raison d’être for shifters doesn’t just show me that there is sloppy world-building.

It shows me that the author doesn’t really want to do the work in order to write a character that has any depth, complexity or backstory.

We don’t have to spell out every single detail of how our shifters came into existence, but knowing all this will influence our writing at a fundamental level. Our characters might interact with each other and strangers differently.

They might have a radically divergent opinion about something from the heroine who isn’t a shifter. They could face challenges that non-shifters have no clue about, but that could breed resentment/courage/patience/etc. Maybe, they are prejudiced against non-shifters or shifters from other territories.

Every shifter species has an origin story. Think about how important origin stories are to every culture on the planet. From the oral traditions of tribes in Papua New Guinea, to the book of Genesis, even to “On the Origin of Species,” we have a psychological bedrock of these spiritual, mythological, and intellectual origin stories that form the basis of everything we build about our identities and societies.

Imagine you are born a shifter. You are eight years old and ask your father about where shifters come from, and why you are different from other kids. “It was some kind of Native American magic that happened when our ancestors moved here, son,” is an explanation that might suffice for an eight-year-old (though, knowing eight-year-olds, I highly doubt it).

You ask the same question at twelve. Sixteen. Twenty. Twenty-five. Who are you? What are you? Why are you?

If all I got in response was that one sentence, then personally, I’d feel pretty damn lost, isolated, and threatened by the rest of the world, even if I was bonded to my community of fellow-shifters. It’s like showing up for the first day at a new school…every day…for the rest of your life.

Yet, somehow, all of these shifters are totally cool just going around their daily business, completely content to accept the “It was some kind of Native American magic that happened when our ancestors moved here, son” explanation without further questioning or emotional impact.

Now, we’ve come to the point where you might look at me and say (with a degree of asperity I probably richly deserve), “It’s all well and good to say, ‘Develop an origin story,’ but, how do you actually do it?”

An origin story has the following key components:

  • a creator
  • a moment of creation
  • a purpose for creation
  • a challenge to creation
  • a lasting consequence of creation

Let’s translate these points into concrete questions you can use to build a creation story:

  1. Who created the shifters? (alchemist, shaman, wizard, demons, etc.)
  2. What happened when the first shifter was created? (Killed the creator? Mated? Captured and tortured for witchcraft?)
  3. Why were the shifters created? (To fight vampires? Protect from demons? Protect a certain geographical location?)
  4. If they were created to fight something, what was it? Does the threat still exist? If it doesn’t, has that changed the nature of the shifters and their culture over time? Is there a similar threat that still exists? If so, how does the shifter react to it, or any danger, for that matter?
  5. Were the shifters first created in Europe or North America? What century? What culture? If they came from North America, you need to do research about the indigenous tribes of the time and their beliefs. If they came from Europe, were they part of Christianity or part of a pagan religion (and, no, you can’t just say druids and shortcut that sh*t)? Are there cultural customs (food, celebrations, ceremonies, beliefs, etc.) that the shifters have retained and practice in human or animal form that are related to their culture of origin?
  6. How do your shifters reproduce? (Mating, biting, alchemically?)

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start building this origin story, you find yourself asking more and more questions. This is a good thing! In fact, this is one of those rare occasions where you should allot plenty of time to go down various rabbit holes and chase esoteric details.

You might not use everything you find, but you never know when that one, little, insignificant fact might become the pivot point for an entire character…and, that is when the fur begins to fly.

Genes and Jeans

I am a math-and-science reject, at least in practical terms. God gave us calculators for a reason. However, I have a layman’s fascination with science, and I try to use it in my writing because it adds so much more to every aspect of a story.

(Why writers should read about science is a whole other blog post of epic soap box-ishness.)

When it comes to shifters, you can’t get away from science. If you do—and most do—you lose out on the opportunity to use one of the most important tools in building an immersive world.

What does science do? It gives our world, our story, and our characters that flavor of reality and tantalizing hint of plausibility that makes readers greedy for more.

So, if we’re going to science! all the things, what does that mean in terms of research for those of us who are scientifically-challenged?

Let’s start with the basics and use wolves as an example.

Most of us have a somewhat basic grasp on wolf biology and behavior because we have waggy-tailed variations running around the house, perking up at the sound of the peanut butter jar opening. We know that wolves live in packs, have an incredible sense of smell, and stamina to travel long distances.

But, did you know that the theory of the ‘Alpha Male’ wolf has been significantly revised? It turns out the study was based on research that used wolves held in captivity and not wolves in the wild. In the wild, wolves live in more dynamic social structures where dominance and submission are driven by complex factors of age, parental relationships, sexual maturity, abundance or scarcity of prey, etc.

A simple Google search on ‘wolf behavior’ brought this article up. This raises interesting questions about having an ‘Alpha Male’ in your shifter pack.

What if there was rivalry for the alpha position? What if it was based on competitive mating opportunities? What if one of the men used his position as owner of the biggest company in town to drive off a competitor for a mate’s attention?

Wolf cubs tend to grow up and leave their natal pack, either joining another pack or forming their own. Does this wolf behavior impact the human side of your shifter’s family relationships? Do the sons of the town tend to move away? If the human side overrides it, what are the tensions it creates?

Does your shifter’s human hair color match his wolf’s fur? What if, instead, your wolf pack bore coloration and markings that had evolved according to their habitat? The density of a wolf’s fur, its color, and its ability to retain heat all vary based on the latitude in which the wolf lives.

Do your shifters have to get haircuts more often in the winter because their wolf fur is thicker? Does human pattern baldness affect your wolves? (I’m serious! These are the kind of questions that keep me up at night!)

Don’t even get me started on geeking out about the various theories on the evolution of the wolf. Why settle for a North American gray wolf when you could have an Italian wolf, the Dinaric-Balkans cluster wolf, the Carpathian wolf, and the Ukranian steppe wolf?

When it comes to the physical attributes of shifting from human to wolf form, you can let your imagination run wild—literally—and make it bone-breakingly painful and violent, or you can make it quick, smooth, and deadly. But, once in wolf form, the rules of biology must come back into play to some degree.

You can make your wolves over-sized and preternaturally strong, but for goodness’ sake, set some limits! Maybe they can run fast, but for how long? Maybe they have keen eyesight, but only at night? Maybe they are capable of breaking down doors and crashing through windows, but exactly how resistant is their skin to tearing?

Creating an all-powerful shifter wolf is the equivalent of a Mary Sue who never leaks snot when she cries. Setting limits based on real biology and behavior gives you more scope for challenge, conflict, and character development.

Sexy Taylor the wolf shifter is blindingly fast, but he can only run at that speed for half-a-mile. Tessie, who-will-be-his-mate-when-she-surrenders-to-his-charisma-eventually, is a mile away. Will he get to her in time? Can he push past his natural endurance limits? What happens if he doesn’t?

Sexy Taylor the wolf shifter also looks super hot in blue jeans. However, we’re just going to leave the whole clothing debate for another day. Suffice it to say that if your clothes shift with you, there’s definitely some extra hocus-pocus going on at a molecular level.

Though, it does bring to mind a plot bunny of a wolf shifter community that discourages visitors by labeling itself a nudist colony, since shifting generally involves nudity…

Shifters are the ultimate bad boys. They are the—sorry, I have to do this—party animals of the romance genre. They are unabashedly sexual and offer a dash of danger. Winning the heart of a shifter falls somewhere between winning the lottery and getting a puppy for Christmas. We read shifter romances for escapist fun and to indulge in dreams more intense than what we might dare in real life.

The point of all of this is not to dampen your enthusiasm for writing shifter romances or to bash the genre needlessly, but rather to bash the genre where needed in order help writers take their stories to the next level.

I want to lose myself in a world that feels so real, I forget that it isn’t. I don’t want to waste my time reading another shifter story that feels like someone did a ‘ctrl-H-replace-all’ for the names and slapped a different cover on the same damn story.

Writing is work. Writing well is hard work. Writing well about a world that is rich, complex, and dynamic? That’s hellishly hard work…

But, so, so worth it to the reader.

***

Thank you Cait! And make sure to check out her class on Shifter Romance listed below!

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***Will announce April’s winner next post. I was supposed to do it this post but I lied. I am a writer, it is what we do. I will get to it! 😛

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Individual Classes with MOI!!! 

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 May 25th, 2017

The Art of Character $45 May 18th, 2017

NEW CLASSES/INSTRUCTORS!!! 

Shift Your Shifter Romance into HIGH Gear $35 May 19th with powerhouse editor Cait Reynolds.

Researching for Historical Romance (How to NOT Lose 6 Hours of Your Life on Pinterest) $35 May 20th

 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook