Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: writers

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday again, and you know what that means! Well, first, it means the obligatory photo of Denny Basenji. But right after that, it means that I’m going to take the Red Pen of Wrath to a topic, and today’s topic is medicine. Specifically, medicine in fiction. Why? Because I’m tired of being jerked out of stories by medical inaccuracies. It’s the literary equivalent of having to dig for a vein…for the third time.

So, first: Denny Basenji.

This is Denny Basenji coming out of surgery last summer. He’s wondering if the patient will get peanut butter ice cream…or maybe peanut butter jello…

Okay, let’s get down to business.

If we are going to put a character in the hospital, we need to know how to do it. We also need to know what happens inside a hospital and how long people stay. We need to know what nurses can and can’t do, what doctors can and can’t do, and why our character’s friend-of-family-doctor can’t simply take charge of her care. We need to know what happens after a character goes home in terms of when they can go home, why they are allowed to go home, and what the follow up care is.

I’m not a doctor, but I play one in my books

Why listen to me? Because I’m a f*cking gold star club card holder at Massachusetts General Hospital. Here’s a list of my experience and “qualifications.”

Yours truly getting her monthly immune suppression therapy intravenously. Still smiling after two tries for the iv and three separate sticks for blood work.
  • I’ve had a kidney transplant since 2007. I’m a walking encyclopedia on infectious diseases, pharmacology, and clinics.
  • I’ve had cervical cancer. Luckily, mine was caught early and completely by surgery. But, I went with my friend Jaime to her chemo treatments – all 19 of them. I know a few things about how chemo works now.
  • I have been hospitalized for infections, accidents, near-death drug interactions.
  • I’ve been taken in ambulances, taxi cabs, and driven myself.
  • I’ve ended up in the hospital in everywhere from Portugal to New Mexico.
  • I was hospitalized for pneumonia. Wheeze, cough. Cough. Ow.
  • I’ve been hospitalized for multiple infections of various kinds as a result of having no immune system (thanks, kidney transplant!).
  • I was hospitalized for a stomach infection (that had an upper GI endoscopy involved – SO much fun).
  • I’ve had miscarriages from 6 weeks to 5 months.
  • I’ve had enough iv’s and blood draws that I could be an iv nurse. Or part-time vampire.
  • I’ve worked in hospital administration. I am surrounded by friends and family who are doctors and nurses.
  • I’ve had ultrasounds, x-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s, stress tests, bone density scans, you name it. Interventional radiology procedures like angiograms are lots of fun, too.
  • I’ve sat at the bedside of my father as he went through heart attacks, surgeries, and finally the strokes that killed him. I know what it’s like to watch someone die.
  • I know how an ICU works.
  • Blood transfusions. I’ve got a frequent customer punch card.

Basically, I am at the hospital 2-4 times every month for various reasons. Mostly outpatient appointments, but I’ve got a collection of more than 30 wristbands that tell the story of my inpatient experience. You can just call me Dr. Cait. Or Nurse Cait. Or Frankencait.

Just one teeny weeny example: how to put a character in the hospital

So…there’s a famous set of books about a color somewhere between black and white…lots of people object to the rather “adventurous” sex scenes in it. Others object to the objectification of women and power dynamics of the main relationship. Me? I object to the ham-handed handling of the protagonist’s injuries that land her in the hospital.

She’s injured. She falls unconscious. She wakes up in a hospital room with her husband’s mother – a pediatrician – helping to manage her care.

Cue the…

 

Let’s call our character “Jane,” as in Jane Doe.

Please disabuse yourselves immediately of the standard “Jane wakes up in the hospital and doesn’t remember getting there.”

It almost NEVER happens like that, and if it does, Jane will have had to have been in a horrific, life-threatening accident. It’s actually pretty rare that people lose consciousness. The body’s defense mechanisms drive us to remain conscious, or at least semi-conscious, as much as possible.

If Jane does fall unconscious, the norm is to “surface” fairly quickly. Minutes, usually. Again, do your homework about just what could cause prolonged unconsciousness – and the side effects. Jane could be facing oxygen depletion in the brain and potential brain damage. Jane could have swelling of the brain, another life-threatening condition. Jane could have sustain other neurological damage. Prolonged unconsciousness is no joke, so please stop using it as a plot device unless you  know what you’re doing.

The Emergency Room

This is going to be the way Jane goes into the hospital in 99% of situations.

In the ambulance, Jane will have a paramedic with her, taking her vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature), and doing emergency stabilization if necessary:

  • Epinephrin shots to reduce allergic reactions, anaphylactic shock, angioedema, etc.
  • Morphine for pain management
  • Possible treatment for diabetic reaction
  • Defibrillation for cardiac arrest, along with emergency cardiac medication (depending on the situation)
  •  Insertion of an iv and bag of saline hookup if signs of blood loss, dehydration, low blood pressure, etc.

Forget what you see on tv about arriving via ambulance. It doesn’t happen that way. Unless you have a machete sticking out of your forehead (I saw that arrive at MGH once when I was in an ER bay myself – that was fun), there will be no running or shouting.

The paramedics will remove Jane’s gurney from the ambulance and wheel her inside. A triage nurse will be waiting, as well as a hospital registration admin. If Jane is conscious, the hospital registration admin will ask her for basic information like, has she ever been a patient here before? Does she have an insurance card with her? Name, date of birth, address, person to notify, etc.

Please note, that even if Jane is in a ton of pain, as long as she is conscious, the hospital registration admin will ask these questions. Trust me, I’ve been there before. It’s not fun to answer questions like that when you are burning up with fever or writhing in pain, but it has to be done.

Fever of 102. Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection). Missed complete organ failure by just a few hours. Bored out of my mind waiting for further test results. What to do? Play Candy Crush and take selfies. Because you can be near death, in the ER, and FULLY AWAKE.

The triage nurse in the meantime will be getting the paperwork and rundown from the paramedic. This will be happening calmly and quickly. Once Jane is done with the hospital registration admin, the triage nurse takes over.

Treatment in the ER

The triage nurse takes Jane from the arrival area into the treatment bay area. In an ideal world, Jane is given a curtained-off bay right away. In the real world, Jane might be placed “in orbit,” which means that her gurney will be lined up against the wall with other patients on gurneys, waiting for a bay to open up. Jane will receive the same level of care, just not in a bay.

Once Jane is in a bay, the triage nurse will return to her work at the triage station, and Jane’s primary nurse will come to take care of her. Jane’s primary nurse will also probably have an assistant – a patient care assistant or PCA.

Whether able to do it herself or with the help of the nurse and PCA, Jane will be changed into a hospital gown, and her clothes and personal effects put into a big plastic bag labeled with a sticker printed with all of her information and also the same barcode that is on her hospital band. Oh yeah, almost all hospitals now have barcodes on hospital bands now. These are scanned when medication is administered.

Jane’s primary nurse will ask for her version of the story of what happened to bring her to the ER. The nurse will also ask Jane about any medications she currently takes, as well as any allergies she has. While this is going on, the nurse will be putting on a blood pressure cuff (absolutely always), electrodes for echocardiograms (depending on the situation), taking her temperature (absolutely always).

Jane will be asked to rate her pain level from 1-10, with 10 being the worst.

Now, here comes the kicker. The nurse leaves Jane now. That’s right, unless Jane is actively bleeding to death or having cardiac arrest or something similar, Jane is left alone with a call button. This is because the nurse now goes and enters all of her information into the hospital records system, which then feeds it to the assigned doctor.

Ah, finally, the entrance of the doctor…sorta.

Jane will not meet the doctor just yet. The doctor will review Jane’s situation and order bloodwork, maybe a urine test, and possibly other tests like an ultrasound or x-ray. The doctor will also “write an order” for pain medication if needed. The doctor will also write an order for any anti-nausea medication or fever-reducing meds like Tylenol.

Once the orders have been entered into the system, two things could happen. One, the ER has its own mini-pharmacy with basic medications (anti-nausea drugs, Tylenol, certain types of pain medications), and the nurse can unlock the pharmacy cabinet with her ID badge. Or, the hospital pharmacy receives the orders on their computers, and processes all the requests, sending a delivery person to bring the meds to the ER.

This whole process generally takes anywhere from 20 minutes up to an hour and a half. Yup. Jane just has to cool her heels and suffer through this time. It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.

The nurse returns to Jane, drawing blood (which is a whole other post), and administering whatever medications the doctor has ordered. If Jane has to have an x-ray or ultrasound, a transport person will arrive and wheel her in her gurney off to the imaging area where she will be placed in a waiting area until the next available imaging tech is ready for her.

There will be another post about X-rays, ultrasounds, MRI’s and CAT scans, and interventional radiology, but for now, you just need to know the basic tests generally don’t take too long, and they can all be done with Jane either still in the gurney if she’s unable to move, or with Jane standing up.

Jane is returned to the waiting area in imaging until a transport person arrives to take her back to her bay.

The nurse will check on Jane, run her vitals again (blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature), assess her pain, and make sure Jane is as comfortable as she can be (did I mention the WARM blankets that they have available for patients?). There is no food or drink until at least initial results are back.

Denny Basenji strenuously objects to the no food or drink policy.

Then, it’s another waiting period for the results of the bloodwork and the other imaging tests to come back. Once it’s all back and the doctor actually has a minute to review everything, Jane will finally get a chance to meet the doctor.

The doctor will knock and enter, introducing himself (could be a herself, but for the same of less confusion with pronouns, I’ll go with a Dr. Taylor McHotterson), and asking Jane to tell him the story of how she came to be in the ER. Yes, it’s in her records, but every new nurse and doctor she meets from here on out will request her story. It’s protocol.

The doctor will definitely listen to her heart and her lungs, and potentially check her joints for swelling, as well as doing a hands-on exam of her belly to check her organs.

Then, Dr. McHotterson will explain so far what they have learned about Jane’s condition. Depending on what is wrong, this could result in more tests, starting intravenous drug treatment, emergency surgery (and no, they’re not going to run down the hall with her down on the gurney unless she is literally dying), admission to inpatient treatment, or discharge. Any or all of this basically requires Jane to do…nothing. Except wait. And try to sleep. If she going to be admitted, the staff has to contact the correct ward, find out if there are any beds available, and if not, when they might be or where else they would have to put her. All of this could take anywhere from an hour (record-breaking speed) to 12-14 hours, with an average of somewhere between 3-6 hours of waiting.

Do we really need to know all this?

Well, yes. We might not have to describe everything in agonizing detail like I have done above, but knowing the process will make the Jane’s inpatient scene more realistic. Having a basic grasp of the facts about whatever injury or condition our characters have helps us create more detailed, immediate, and immersive experiences for the reader.

Still, it can be daunting, trying to figure out what we need to know and how much we need to know medically, and then learning what we need to leave out in terms of writing craft. The good news is that with a little thinking, a little logic, Dr. Google, and MY CLASS, you can learn not just how to figure out your character’s medical care, but how to use it to up the tension, pacing, and conflict in your story!

 

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $40.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, August 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

From fainting to family doctors in the OR, fiction today is full of medical malfeasance. Watching George Clooney or Ellen Pompeo run through the ER yelling “Stat!” may seem like just what the doctor ordered to up dramatic tension in fiction, it’s more likely to be 20cc of the wrong medicine.

Nothing shatters the fragile suspension of disbelief for the reader like inaccuracies, whether it’s historical, behavioral…or medical. Whether your character is injured in a car crash, poisoned, knocked unconscious, or comes down with the flu, it’s critical to get the details right.

Like a first responder, this class is on the scene to help you resuscitate realism in your medical scenes. This will be a crash course on how to avoid making the most common mistakes and how to get the facts for whatever you inflict on your characters in the future.

This class will cover:

  • From ambulance to admission, how your character actually ends up in the hospital;
  • What happens while your character is inpatient (from blood work and imaging, to iv’s – especially iv’s!!! – and hospital food);
  • The different kinds of medications, treatments, and timelines for characters to recover from a wide range of illnesses and injuries;
  • The truth about knocking your character unconscious: how, how long, and what the short- and long-term consequences are;
  • From birth to death, clinical procedures and protocols;
  • How to research medical information and get it right in your descriptions.

At the end of the class, we will have an open Q&A sessions where you can ask about medical scenarios for your characters.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. http://caitreynolds.com

 

For the month of AUGUST, 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).

****And MAKE SURE to check out the NEW CLASSES classes below including the final class I will teach before taking off for NEW ZEALAND! I’m keynoting there for the Romance Writers of New Zealand, which while SUPER COOL….I’d be lying if I didn’t say the trip wasn’t making me more than a tad nervous.

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

Malpractice: Getting Medical Facts Right in Fiction. $40.00 USD. Wednesday, August 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST.
OMG! Like, How to Write On Fleek YA. $40.00 USD. Wednesday, August 23, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, August 30, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Class Title: Beyond Lipstick and Swords: Creating Strong Female Characters. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 9, 2017. 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

It’s Wednesday, which is on its way to being officially renamed in the U.S. calendar of holidays as “Cait Reynolds Blogs for Kristen Lamb” Day. Denny Basenji, however, thinks it should be renamed “Curly Tail Problems” Day.

Announcing that you write erotic romances is certainly a conversation starter. Or stopper. Depending on your audience. Explaining that this is your livelihood and that you are proud of it will get you reactions from, “Wow, that’s cool!” to, “So, when are you going to write a real book?”

Let’s just get something straight, right off the bat. Erotica today is not “porn in pretty dresses.”

One of the first ground rules for taking an objective look at the changing face of romance publishing is to separate the quality of the writing from the message of the content.

The message of today’s romance, erotic romance, and erotica novels is that women are free to associate themselves (and pay the money to buy the books to drive this point home) with sexually experienced, sexually adventurous, and sexually knowledgeable heroines. Heroes today are expected to spend as much, if not more, time focused on the heroine’s pleasure than their own.

While certain tropes like the Cinderella rescue persist, the nature of their portrayal has changed. For example, you now find the Cinderella rescue scenario played out in LGBTQ romances as much as heterosexual romances. Often the “heroine” is just as or more successful professionally than the “hero” (regardless of gender or orientation).

Heroes now have room to be complex, and heroines can genuinely be strong. Erotic romance novels fearlessly explored issues of mental illness, adoption, divorce, depression, anxiety, socio-economic differences, even while so-called “mainstream” books were still tip-toeing around sensitive topics.

The readers of these erotic romances are a truly diverse group, and people are starting to take note of this sociological change (and you can thank good ol’ “Fifty Shades” for the mainstream media attention erotic romance has gotten).

But who are the writers of these books? These are men and women who sit down, day in and day out, and put fingers to keyboard to produce these stories. I am one of them.

I used to be tremendously embarrassed by the fact that I wrote erotica. I felt like everyone was always expecting me to use it as a “stepping stone” to my “real books.”

Well, guess what? The books I write as Fiona Blackthorne ARE real books. I lost sleep, tweeted, swore, chatted, paced, dog-walked, typed, ground my teeth, wrote notes on receipts, and sketched out entire storyboards for these books. I had to submit them to my publisher, Siren Publishing, wait for them to be accepted, then go through an intense, fast-paced editing phase that would leave your head spinning. Then, there’s all the marketing work I had to do to get my website up and running, and promoting my books.

Yes, I work from home, and yes, I can start my day in my pajamas. But my workday starts at 7:00 a.m. and doesn’t really stop until I go to bed. Sure, I can change the laundry in between chapters, but you can bet I’m still working through a paragraph in my head. Yes, I have a flexible schedule. That just means that if I need to work from 7pm to 2am because my day was already full of other stuff, then I’ll suck it up and work from 7-2.

You want to know what it’s like to write a sex scene…or seven for a book? Sometimes, it’s a delightful literary challenge, because I never want to write a sex scene the same way twice. I always am looking for different words, moments, things to notice, ways to enhance the experience for my reader. Sometimes, it’s good fun for *ahem* me as well.

Sometimes, though? Sometimes, it’s like pulling freaking eye-teeth. You can get really tired of writing sex scenes. You always have to be on your guard against dropping into the mechanical and clinical just to get through it.

Then there are those moments when you are thinking to yourself: “Okay, about 700 words left in the chapter. That means if I can get her to her climax, then, hmmm, no, that won’t take enough words. He’ll have to stop just short of it. Oh, and then he can actually pick her up and put her on the bed. That’s about fifty words right there. Then maybe he ties her up? That could be a good hundred words or so, and I could finish this goddamn scene in 500 words after that.”

Yeah. It happens.

Then, I remember Anais Nin, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and I am strong again.

Erotic writing has been around for as long as the oldest profession has been around…and when people couldn’t read or write, they carved things on walls and painted them in caves. Clearly, something that is so deeply tied to our biological drive for survival and procreation deserves attention, study, and respect, not dismissiveness or judgment.

This is why I am teaching a class on writing erotica. We write the stories that are the mirrors reflecting the changes in society’s sexual mores and gender roles. Good, bad, indifferent, it is our writing that helps to push boundaries, expand horizons, and drive acceptance.

Who are the writers of erotic romance? Why do they write this when they could simply leave out all the sex? What are the blessings and consequences of this life? For once, it’s time to tell our own stories.

Baby, It’s Hot in Here!…a Sizzling New Class from Cait Reynolds

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, August 4, 2017

Erotica is one of the most difficult genres to write.

Wait. No. Erotica is one of the most difficult genres to write well.

From pacing (literally) to placing, this class is gonna go…deep. Yeah. Couldn’t resist. In all seriousness, how do you handle the paradox of writing a book with compelling characters and interesting story when it’s really about sex?

The answer is this: good erotica is not about sex. It is about seduction and intimacy. In this class we will cover:

  • Understanding why readers choose erotica, what they are looking for, and how to both deliver and guide them to wanting more;
  • How to apply and adapt standard plotting structures to erotica;
  • Creating a story that is interesting enough to sustain a full-length novel;
  • Developing characters that are complex, memorable, and desirable;
  • Avoiding repetitive, mechanical sex scenes;
  • Maintaining the heat throughout a  book;
  • How to push yourself to write better and use quality as a unique marketing strategy;
  • Bonus: history, fun facts, and trivia about literary erotica through history!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

In a world of a gazillion forgettable erotica books and romance novels, let Cait help you stand out in the one way no marketing can compete with: hot, unique stories that turn readers into fans who will BEG you for more! 

Erotica GOLD

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

Erotica PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and a detailed edit and critique of one sex scene up to 2,500 words.

Register today!

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. Learn more at http://caitreynolds.com.

 

For the month of AUGUST, 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).

****And MAKE SURE to check out the NEW CLASSES classes below (including writing layered characters and strong females) and sign up!

Summer school! YAY! We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

Malpractice: Getting Medical Facts Right in Fiction. $40.00 USD. Wednesday, August 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST.
OMG! Like, How to Write On Fleek YA. $40.00 USD. Wednesday, August 23, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, August 30, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Class Title: Beyond Lipstick and Swords: Creating Strong Female Characters. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 9, 2017. 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

 

 

OhmygoshitisWednesdayandthatmeansitistimeforMEEEEE!!!!! In other words, it’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, I’m going to talk about the fact that there is nothing new under the sun.

And, by that, I mean that every variation of story has been told before. Every culture from every time period has its version of Cinderella, its Aladdin or Jack, its greedy kings and tricky old witches. No matter how many magical mice, talking mirrors, or transportation-challenged pumpkins dress up the tale, every story has at its heart the most basic, most fundamental truths about the human condition and human relationships.

Denny Basenji doing his imitation of a wise crone. His cryptic advice to the hero/heroine: “Only peanut butter can help you now.”

Myths and fairytales appeal to our innocence, our belief in justice, and our sense of history. The fact that most of them have happy endings doesn’t hurt, either. The past two years have seen a kind of renaissance in retellings and modern interpretations of these classic stories. A handful have been very well done. The rest have been inconsistent efforts that show very little thought and research has been put into understanding the nature of both mythology and fairytales and how to translate them into contemporary settings.

Celebrity Death Match: Myths vs. Fairytales

So, is there a difference between the two?

Absolutely, and it goes beyond their definitions. But, let’s start with definitions for the sake of clarity.

From merriam-webster.com:

Fairytale:

  • a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (such as fairies, wizards, and goblins)
  • a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending

Myth

  • a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon
  • parable, allegory
  • a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone

Here are some other differences between fairytales and myths:

  • Myths are not obligated to have a happy ending;
  • Fairytales do not have to have a moral or philosophical agenda;
  • Myths are often closely tied to world creation stories, religion, and attempts to explain natural phenomenon prior to scientific understanding;
  • It is understood that fairytales have never been believed to be real, whereas myths were frequently accepted as fact.

There are more differences and finer distinctions, but I’ll just add in one more. You can always tell it’s a real fairytale because people/animals/magical creatures are cheerful and sing when doing housework.

Research is a Myth…or is it a Fairytale?

Okay, so say we have this great idea retelling ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ We’ve seen the Disney movies, and we are happily humming ‘Be our Guest’ as we open the blank Word document. We know the story cold, and we may or may not have a picture of Luke Evans as Gaston tucked away on Pinterest.

We are ready to start writing. Except, we aren’t.

If all we are doing is using the movie as our guide, we have missed out on the fact that the historical fairytale has variations that include a father who was a merchant, a sudden loss of fortune, two wicked sisters, and a pretty sharp lesson about the costs of indecision and not keeping your word. If we haven’t done any research, we wouldn’t know that the the fairytale actually has origins (at least in Western culture) in the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, or that another lesser-known fairytale – ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ – spun out from that myth.

It may seem silly to do research on something that is fundamentally untrue and is by nature fluid and adaptable to time period and culture. Yet, without knowing about the people who wrote the stories, the system of beliefs that the myths came from, and the history of the time when a particular variation was recorded, we are losing out on a chance to delve into subtleties, textures, interpretations, and details that take a retelling from blasé to blazing.

One of the topics I cover in my Once Upon a Plot class is how to go about researching a myth or fairytale, what to pursue, what to set aside, and how to analyze the story in a more complex, contextual way.

World-Building for ‘Then’ and ‘Now’

When we do a retelling, one of the first things we have to decide is the setting. Will it be contemporary? Will it be historical? Will it be futuristic, steampunk, or some medieval-ish time?

This impacts what characters we decide to use, the deeper intricacies and devices of the plot, and the way we represent significant objects from the myth or fairytale (is that a pumpkin or a Porsche?). This is also, sadly, where most writers tend to take short-cuts. They use the generic ‘faux-medieval’ setting that is a haphazard mishmash of culture, technology, and clothing, or they set the tale in today’s world, not really thinking through the implications for characters, decisions, and objects.

A lot of writers use the ‘timeless’ setting in order to avoid doing historical research or any real world-building. Ideas for behavior, costumes, servants, food, castles come from whatever historical drama is on at the time (I’m looking at you, ‘Reign,’ ‘The Tudors,’ ‘The White Queen,’ and ‘The Borgias’). While those medieval-renaissance-ish shows do provide a lot of striking visuals and demonstrate how to make archaic-sounding dialogue accessible to modern listeners/readers, they are NOT to be used for world-building. Ever.

Even for fairytales and myths.

As writers, we are responsible for creating our own worlds, and it is our obligation to the reader to provide a setting that is detailed, well thought-out, and consistent.

Here are just a few of the questions writers should ask when picking a ‘timeless’ setting:

  • What is the level of technology, industry, medicine, and transportation?
  • What is the political structure of the ‘kingdom’?
  • What kind of social mobility or stratification exists within the ‘kingdom’?
  • What is the kingdom’s primary religion? Are there secondary religions? Competing or conflicting faiths? Holidays and celebrations?
  • What is the geography, geology, and climate?
  • What is the overall cultural feel (i.e. generic British, generic Scandinavian, generic Central European, generic Mediterranean?)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for a timeless setting. If we choose a contemporary setting, that brings a whole other set of issues into consideration, including normalizing any magical abilities within a greater social context, secrets vs. open practices, modern equivalents of historical objects or accessories, and how to maintain a character’s original attitude, purpose, and decisions while grounding him or her realistically in the here-and-now.

Bibbity Bobbity BOOYAH

You guessed it. I’m teaching a class on this very topic. All the details below!

Once Upon a Plot: Retelling Myths & Fairytales

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: WEDNESDAY, August 9, 2017, 7:00 p.m. EST – 9:00 p.m. EST

Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.

One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings. Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible.

Done wrong? A retelling is nothing more than a yawn-worthy yarn full of two-dimensional characters floundering through an unremarkable story with a bland, generic setting.

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

  • How to research a myth or fairytale, from origins to variations;
  • How to analyze in order to develop a deeper, richer understanding of the stories;
  • How to pick out the key elements, from characters and attitudes, to objects and settings;
  • Creating contemporary settings for retellings that are accurate, believable, and flexible enough to accommodate ‘magic’;
  • Creating ‘timeless’ settings that are unique, consistent, and immersive.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

GOLD PACKAGE

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

PLATINUM PACKAGE

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 NOW!

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. 

 

 

****And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY! We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! So scroll down and sign up!

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.

 

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World August 11th $45 w/ Cait Reynolds 

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

Baby It’s Hot in Here—Writing Erotica & High Heat Sex Scenes August 4th $45 General/ $90 GOLD/$150 Platinum

Classes with MOI!

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Elements of Literary—How to Write Character-Driven Stories August 3rd $40

Beyond Planet X, Monsters & Chainsaws–Mastering Speculative Fiction August 10th $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 $85 (two-week intensive class & lifetime access)

Beyond Lipstick & Swords—Writing Strong Female Characters September 9th $40

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