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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: World-Building

Kristen is away at a conference in San Francisco….so that means today, you get ME! And despite what the title implies, I’m not here to talk about the failed New Year’s diet (ask me if I even bothered).

diet, fantasy, food, writing

No, today, you get a super special fun rant from me about food in the fantasy genre. Why? Because I can. But also, because it’s a real problem.

Not to mention that our characters are going to end up with some serious nutritional and health issues if all they ever eat are bread and cheese.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some bread and cheese as much as the next person. But…even if the story is loosely Ye Olde Faux Medieval, there seriously has to be more than just bread and cheese in the larder. 

It seems like such a small thing, doesn’t it? Of course Our Heroes™ are going to pack food for their quest or steal it along the way (or buy it...why do they never have money to buy stuff?). Bread and cheese seems simple and safe to use. Yet, these details, as seemingly throwaway as they are, define the difference between amateur hour and professionals.

Because why have bread and cheese when you could have dried figs and honey, sweet spiced mead, smoked meats with cracked pepper crusts, and hard savory biscuits that soften when used to soak up the juices of any meat or stew cooked over the campfire?

The Locavore Diet

If we are dealing with a fantasy setting that is pre-any-kind-of-industrialization (magic notwithstanding), then there are certain things we have to keep in mind.

Good world-building includes consideration of climate and geography. Do characters live in tropical mountains regions or cold mountain regions? This question naturally leads us to comparisons with more familiar, Earthly parallels. For example, tropical mountains could easily be the rain forests and mountains of Rwanda and the Congo. Cold mountain regions could be Scandinavian or maybe Inuit.

diet, fantasy, writing

While we might not be writing an exact transposition of those cultures into our fantasy world, there are some hard facts about climate, farming, and resources that we need to understand, and real information about those regions can help us. Year-round farming may be possible in the tropics, but food spoils faster in the heat. Farming is a bigger gamble in cold climates as there is just one shot at a growing season. On the other hand, characters have a refrigerator right outside their door for nine months of the year.

Geography and seasonality also determine the nutritional profile of a character’s diet. Colder climate settings could mean increased meat and dairy, possibly with fish and root vegetables. This is a diet that also happens to suit the body’s ‘insulation’ and energy expenditure needs to survive the cold. Warmer climates provide an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, all which have high water content which help keep the body regulated and healthy.

Locals might drink well water and be okay, but Our Question Heroes From The Kingdom Next Door™ probably shouldn’t. Without indoor plumbing, sewage systems, and water filtration, I’m pretty sure that giardia would also still be a thing. And magical springs are a whole other headache. I mean, what is the bacteria in our digestive tract supposed to DO with enchantments?

Too much? TMI? Whatevs.

Ye Olde Tupperware

Going back to the whole pre-industrialization thing, let’s stop for a moment to consider food storage.

On the one hand, it’s kind of awesome to think of a world that’s by default 100% organic and 100% non-GMO (mostly because they don’t have any other choice). Also, there’s no low-fat anything unless it’s a vegetable or straight-up starvation. And there’s the eternal toss-up between dying of hypertension/heart disease because of all the salt used to preserve food or dying of some really nasty gastro-intestinal parasite (that wears a little wizarding hat because hey, magic!) because Guidwyfe Jellichoe wanted to try this new-fangled thing the traveling physick had mentioned called a ‘low-sodium diet.’

diet, fantasy, writing

In very general terms, food preservation breaks down into a couple of processes: salting, smoking, spicing, and sun-drying. There are probably more, but let’s just roll with these for now. The mains goals of preservation are to remove moisture or change the chemical balance to slow sensitivity and decay. Each has pros and cons that are dependent (you guessed it!) climate and geography.

Salting gives us delicious things like salami and bacon, but there was a time when salt was either hard to come by or fairly expensive if you didn’t live close to the ocean. Smoking works, but it’s pretty miserable to do when you live in 100F heat with matching humidity. Sun-drying is only as good as the number of hot, sunny days that coincide with a harvest. Using spices is one of the ways people change the chemical balance of food. An example of this would be making curries – which, incidentally uses spices that only grow in those climate regions…which is kind of a neat trick on nature’s part, though I still take issue with covering 2/3 of the world in UNDRINKABLE water. LOL

diet, fantasy, writing

If Our Heroes™ need to take food with them, how are they going to carry it? What kind of pre-industrial packaging are we going to have? Leaf-wrapped lembas? Hard, smokey cheese wrapped in linen? Wax-sealed clay jars for wine? Again, think about the impact of geography and season on the food storage and transportation options for Our Heroes™.

Have a Snickers, Cait

I know that I tend to be a little over-enthusiastic about going down research rabbit-holes. It’s the frustrated ivory tower academic in my soul. And the beautiful part about fantasy is that it really doesn’t require all that much research.

But, it DOES require the time and effort to think things through. Just because we are writing fantasy doesn’t mean we get a pass on facts, logic, and realism. If anything, it SHOULD hold us to an even higher standard of rigor in order to help the reader become fully immersed in the world and invested in the characters.

Thoughtful, unique details can make a moment come alive. Illogical or trite details can turn a reader off faster than Gollum can say, “Sssssally sssssellsss sssseashellssss.”

Just a little time spent with Dr. Google, Professor Wikipedia, and Head Librarian Google Books (all free except for some parts of Google Books) will be worth its weight in cursed dwarvish gold when it comes to creating a fantasy world that readers want to visit again and again and again…

Have a Snickers, Cait (Redux)

No matter how ranty I seem, teaching about fantasy world-building is one of my favorite things to do (no joke). And, this Friday, I’m teaching one heck of a class on it. Three hours live (plus recording) of 1,001 things you can do to make your fantasy world stand out from the crowd (something that no amount of newsletter advertising or Rafflecopters can do for you long-term…).

 

Wizards, Wishes, and Washboards–Next Level World-Building for Fantasy

Taught by USA Today BSA Cait Reynolds February 22nd, 7-10 PM EST ($99)

THIS IS A 3-HOUR CLASS BECAUSE THERE IS LITERALLY SO MUCH TO COVER! (Remember, you also get a recording of this class to keep forevernevernevernever)

Come prepared to take LOTS of notes and ask lots of questions!

This class will cover a REALLY wide range of topics, including (and certainly not limited to):

  • WTF is etymology, and why does it matter?:  What are the fundamental rules of creating names, vocabulary, and language;
  • This land is your land…: We will dig into geology, geography, cartography, and probably some other ‘graphy-s’, and how to use them literally in world-building;
  • Keeping it real: Tips and tricks for keeping your characters relatable to readers, even if they have tentacles/magical powers/chip implants;
  • Trope is as trope does: What elements of fantasy are ‘required’ for the genre, and how to separate those from the eye-roll-inducing tropes (I’m looking at you, servant-girl-turned-magical-warrior-princess!);
  • Thinking it up vs. thinking it through: Just because it seems like a cool idea to have glow-in-the-dark dragons doesn’t mean it actually is, and who knew it would come back to bite you in chapter 17, stalling out your book, and…yeah…or, how to spot ye olde speed bumps before they wreck the carriage;
  • DETAILS ARE FUN!: This is the motherlode of all the different nitty-gritty details that either lure the reader into the deep end of immersion or leave them cold in the kiddie pool;
  • AND SO MUCH MORE…

More Classes from Kristen!

ON DEMAND: A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting

Taught by Kristen Lamb, $55 Delivered to YOUR computer to enjoy at your leisure.

SALES: For Those Who’d Rather Be In Witness Protection

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, March 7th 7-9 PM EST $99

Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind 

Too many voices telling ALL THE THINGS! AHHHHHHHH! Taught by Kristen Lamb, Friday, March 15th, 7-9 PM EST ($55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD)

Yes, I will be teaching about Instagram in this class.

Story Master: From Dream to Done

Taught by Kristen Lamb, March 28th, 7-9 PM EST ($55/$349 GOLD)

Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE

Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, March 30th 2-4 PM EST $55

Say it with me: world-building is fun.

Seriously! It’s the only way—aside from global domination—we will ever get to arrange the world exactly as we want. Don’t like green peppers on your supreme pizza? Banish them! Hate people who squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle? Declare them subversive enemies of the regime!

world-building

Yet, some genres are trickier than others when it comes to creating backgrounds and context. Science fiction, ‘apocalit’ (zombies optional), horror, and dystopias all require as much if not more work than more mainstream genres like historical when it comes to world-building. Why?

Because unlike historical, where it is mostly a matter of doggedly researching established facts, speculative fiction forces us to create those facts.

What’s more, we must do all this while keeping an eye on opposite ends of the setting spectrum. We have to track the big picture logic and global structure as well as check for consistency and catch everyday details.

As if that weren’t enough, we have to embed all of this into prose that is designed to give momentum to the narrative, not serve as a expository guidebook for the Totalitarian-Regime-Next-Door.

world-building

Worst of all, if we don’t get it right, the reader is the one who suffers. Our brains recognize hiccups in logic on a subconscious level. This can lead to reader attention wandering, which can easily become the dreaded…BOOKMARK MOMENT.

Burn the world with a burning reason

Good stories always have at their heart a burning reason. It’s the message, the theme, the desire to share a truth of life that drives us to write. I talk more about the burning reason in this post.

Speculative fiction has given us some of the most memorable burning reasons in all of literature. They incinerate our complacency and comfort zones, leaving only questions and ashes in its wake.

Can’t think of any speculative fiction books off the top of your head? How about:

Farenheit 451, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Lorax, The Stand, Neuromancer, Ender’s Game, Divergent, World War Z, Underground Airlines, Brave New World, Ready Player One, A Clockwork Orange, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (just to name a few…)

world-building

Now, imagine doing a lightning round of ‘Name the Theme’ for each of these books. You just started ticking off themes and messages in your head, didn’t you? I know I did. For a fraction of a second, I also relived the deep existential unease each book left me with.

Coming up with the burning reason can be uncomfortable because it means asking hard questions. We have to skate a little too close to the edge of moral insanity. It’s the double-dog dare to look through a mirror darkly and see some chilling truths about human nature.

world-building
UN-Successories

However, if we do our job well in coming up with the burning reason and translating it into world-building, the reader will remember our story long after the thrill ride through post-apocalyptic totalitarianism (zombies optional) is over.

Means to an end (of the world as we know it)

The good news is that once we have come up with the burning reason, we have done the hardest part of the whole exercise. If we feel wrung-out, slightly distraught, and in major need of a glass of wine, then we know we’ve done it right.

world-building

Now that we know why our world exists (i.e. the message), it’s time to figure out how we are going to convey that message. In other words, what are the tangible means that will give us the ability to show-not-tell when it comes to explaining this brave, new, freaky world?

Let’s take Fahrenheit 451 as an example. The burning reason of the story (pun FULLY intended) is to make us question censorship and the role of mass media in society. Bradbury then translates the qualms and questions into both physical objects (paper, books, written word, flame-throwers, the Wall) and social structures (‘firemen,’ the governing laws, the underground culture of dissent).

world-building

In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Margaret Atwood uses color and clothing to deepen the impression of the politicization of women’s bodies. An old Scrabble game set becomes another tangible symbol of oppression, rebellion, and consequences.

World-building
Women dressed as handmaids promoting the Hulu original series “The Handmaid’s Tale” stand along a public street during the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Film Interactive Festival 2017 in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder – RTX30ML9

From the Barbaloot suits of ‘The Lorax’ to the spice and sands of ‘Dune,’ speculative fiction requires a blood sacrifice of something ordinary. We find the everyday things that best represent the burning reason. Then, we offer them up to be stretched, twisted, and torn until they become truly frightening.

Until they become perfect.

Twist and shout

The good news is that we are done with the really hard parts. Figuring out the burning reason behind our world involves uncomfortable questioning. Identifying the tangible symbols requires logic and hard choices. But turning the symbols into that freaky mix of familiar-and-yikes?

That’s fun.

Okay, so maybe you and I define ‘fun’ a little differently. Is it so wrong for a girl to enjoy daydreaming about turning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into Twitter handles that secretly hide the not-so-benevolent intentions of a multi-national cabal bent on eradicating our civil liberties in a post-nuclear-zombie-disaster era?

world-building
This is why writers can’t have nice things.

In all seriousness, this is the part of world-building where we get to flex our imaginary muscles and muscular imaginations. Once we have a tangible symbol, we need to put it through an intellectual stress test.

Let’s look at ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card as an example. The burning reason behind the world-building is questioning how far we are prepared to go to survive as a species. The tangible symbol is a military academy (among other things). The stress test is that Card stretches the concept and purpose of a military academy to its most extreme limit.

While these academies have a goal of instilling loyalty and discipline, producing genocidal sociopaths isn’t in the brochure for West Point.

world-building

We take the concept and purpose of each symbol and either stretch it to its limits…or compress it until it becomes oppressive. The books in Fahrenheit 451 are examples of compression. Books are compressed by fire and memory, leading the reader back up through pondering the concept and purpose of books, and eventually to the questioning of censorship and mass media.

Whoa, did I just bring that full circle? Boom, baby!

The whole world in our hands

World-building is the most fun a writer can have when it comes to distributing death, distruction, and dystopia for speculative fiction. (Legally. Whatever you do in your off-time is your business. *snerk*)

world-building

When it comes to the down-and-dirty process of creating our worlds, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. While I like to nail down every detail I can, from toilet paper to totalitarianism, other writers prefer creation-on-the-fly. Both methods work. There are also problems with both methods. My way can be a bit too rigid and create unnecessary roadblocks. On-the-fly creation can lead to logical holes the size of the Grand Canyon.

world-building

At the end of the day, both methods require a balance between flexibility and attention to detail. Both techniques work best when we grant ourselves the grace of time. Time to think. Time to imagine. Time for our brains to catch up and wave the red flag of contradicting details. Time to find deeper meanings and motives behinds the symbols and reasons.

Time to create the best dysFUNctional world we can.

What’s your favorite dysFUNctional world? Tell me in the comments!

Regularly scheduled mayhem

No surprise here, but I have SO much more to say about this. I am itching to talk about space operas, zombies, YA dystopias, and flavor-of-the-month apocalypses.

From limits to liminality, I have a LOT to say about world-building in general. Kristen is kind enough to occasionally remove my muzzle and allow me to spout off deconstructionist analyses of various books, shows, and movies. But then, the timer goes off, and the muzzle goes back on. *le sigh*

world-building
…because SOMEONE (aka Supreme Emperor Denny Basenji, blessings upon his paws) is an a$$hole at the vet…

Still, she has found a way to channel my slightly manic musings (after we realized the electro-shock therapy just wasn’t working). Kristen and I are offering a Saturday workshop of three classes about speculative fiction. I’ll be teaching world-building (naturally). You’ll get a double-teaming treat of me and Kristen TOGETHER for the character class. Then, Kristen brings some sanity back to the proceedings (after using the tranquilizer gun on me) with a class on plotting for speculative fiction.

If you’re interested, check out the classes below! More classes listed here.

Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
  • How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

Kristen Lamb, villains, craft, writing tips
Kristen without makeup, LOL….

Many of us have been there. It’s late. We know we have “adulting” to do in the morning (which is in two hours). Our sensible self has been nagging us to get our @$$ to bed so long we smothered it with a pillow around midnight. Whether it’s a book, or Netflix or HBO or FX…we tell ourselves just one more episode. One more chapter. We can stop binging any time we want.

Suuuuuure…

Uh huh.

What is it that makes us lose all sense of responsibility and common sense when gut-hooked by these stories? By and large…VILLAINS.

But what goes into creating a truly terrifying villain? Or a villain who steals the show? Perhaps a villain who gains more fans than the HERO?

Excellent question.

To be blunt, villains are the soufflé of the character world. Preparation must be handled with utmost precision and care or it all goes FLAT.

Villains are among the most popular and memorable characters in all of storytelling history from Grendel to Darth Vader to Ramsay Bolton.

Yet, though these characters are extremely powerful, they’re (strangely) ridiculously tough to write. Villains can too easily become one-dimensional mustache-twirlers, too dumb to live, too boring to care, or just plain silly and unsympathetic.

I.e. Kylo-Ren, or as I like to call him, “Darth Emo”.

But, when writers do things right? It is the glorious Villain Soufflé writers are proud serve and readers/audiences cannot wait to devour….and then flat out stuff themselves half to death.

Face it, the hero is only as good as his/her opposition. The better the villain, the better the story. The better the story, the deeper the GUT HOOK. Want an audience who binges on your stories? There are many ways to do this, but nothing works quite like…

VILLAINS.

All righty, so today? Three critical ingredients for the perfect villain. Even though the villain character has limitless variations, we can at least address some NECESSARY ingredients that cover most every memorable villain.

Sort of like if you wanna make banana pudding, bananas are kind of a big deal. Yes, there are infinite variations of banana pudding but some ingredients have to be there or we don’t have banana pudding, we have something else entirely.

Villains are much the same.

Ingredient One—“Noble” Qualities

No blog worth its salt can discuss legendary villains without at least a nod to Game of ThronesIn fact, I could blog on villains for the next year using GoT and barely scratch the surface (of course it helps that George R.R. Martin has a cast of 2,312 characters).

Ah, Cersei though.

How we love to hate her. Yet, why does she resonate? Why does her character strike such a visceral chord? What makes her dimensional and real instead of a paper doll mustache twirling caricature?

First, she has “noble” qualities. She LOVES her family (her brother perhaps a bit too much for our comfort, but whatever). She’s a mother and will do anything for her kids to help, assist, promote, protect or even AVENGE them.

Literally.

She is fiercely devoted to her children (even a child as terrifying as Joffrey) and heaven help anyone who messes with her cubs. She’ll melt you with wildfire…then drop a city on you.

For reals. She did it

*Cersei drops mic then half of Westeros*

Most of us have kids, family, friends, loved ones, or even pets who we’d turn insta-psycho to protect…which is why we connect with Cersei. We share this powerful emotional vector which makes us hate her then root for her then hate ourselves for rooting for her.

Ingredient Two—A Sympathetic Viewpoint

Believe it nor not, Cersie possesses a highly sympathetic viewpoint. She’s a woman in a man’s world. Of all the Lannister children, SHE was the only one who paid attention, and who outpaced her brothers by a million miles regarding Rule with an Iron Fist/Throne 101.

SHE was the Lannister most qualified to rule, but instead, her father hands her off like chattel to marry a fat, sloppy, philandering joke of a leader, King Robert Baratheon (which explains a lot of why she chose Jaime *shivers*).

And it is this ever-pervasive powerlessness generated by the world she had no choice being born into that pisses her off more than a little (and rightfully so).

Her one brother Jaime has more interest in prancing around the country playing knight when he’s not in bed with her (*twitches a tad*) and the other brother Tyrion–in the beginning at least–is a drunken, womanizing, hard-partying dwarf she blames for her mother’s death.

She’s surrounded by men more “qualified” to rule from the Iron Throne and by “qualified” I mean they have man parts. The lion’s share of Cersei’s insane desire to gain the throne for one of her sons can be largely attributed to the fact that she believes she can rule vicariously through them and the requisite “man part.”

Of course after Season Six she’s there to blow $#!& up and she’s all out of children. High Sparrow is now a smoking crater glowing hotter than a Cherynobyl Ferris Wheel.

And that “Rule by Man Part Mandate”? She melted that, too…

The simple lesson is if Cersei had been born a man instead of a woman in a man’s world, a villain never would have manifested to begin with.

Remember this when crafting your villain.

In fact, though often we loathe Cersei, a lot of us gals can kinda sorta sympathize. Some of us wouldn’t have minded a few caskets of wildfire to unload on the last sales meeting.

You know the one.

That meeting where the boss’s drinking/golfing buddy who’s never had an original thought in his life stole your idea then landed your promotion solely because he possessed Mystical Man Part Powers.

Yeah.

And for the guys? Despite the Mystical Man Part Power, you have your own version of this “powerless and %$#ed over” scenario, which brings us to…

Ingredient Three—The Villain is the Hero of His Own Story

Moving away from Game of Thrones…. *pries fingers loose*

Why do we SO love Loki? Because Loki kind of has a good point and is the hero of his own story. In ways he is the male version of Cersei.

Bear with me.

For those who’ve slept since Thor released in 2011, Thor is the movie where we first met the Tom Hiddleston Loki we all know and love and hate…but mostly love.

In Thor, we’re tossed into a tale as old as time—sibling rivalry.

In the movie, Odin has created a fragile truce between Asgard and the Ice Giants. When the Ice Giants make a sudden play to retrieve the Casket, Thor (about to ascend as the new king) directly disobeys his father’s orders and runs off full of himself, all half-cocked and ready to do some damage.

Thor has zero concept of this little thing called “consequences.” Loki, however, does appreciate consequences both for Thor and the realm and his family, and is actually a far better choice to rule Asgard.

Loki, ever loyal, genuinely loves and cares about Thor (and the kingdom), and goes along with Thor’s raid on the enemy…all the while trying to talk Thor out of being a dip$#!t.

Alas, Thor’s asshattery creates a mass mayhem and places the kingdom in peril. Thor makes enough of a mess that Odin essentially puts Thor in the Asgardian version of TIME OUT—which apparently involves New Mexico.

This “punishment” only further demonstrates Odin isn’t truly punishing Thor, because everyone knows Lubbock, Texas is the far superior location for an Asgardian TIME OUT if Odin was serious about making Thor miserable.

Odin also decides to take a nap instead of putting Loki in charge, even though Loki’s still left to clean up the giant mess Thor made.

Giant mess, get it? I kill myself. Moving on…

In the midst of all this, Loki discovers his whole life is a lie, including his identity, and he experiences betrayal coupled with personal extinction.

He resents Odin for a vast number of legit reasons, but mostly he hates Odin for ever considering a selfish buffoon like Thor to rule Asgard. Thus, Loki sets out to prove his worthiness to his real father and place the realm under New Management.

With all Loki has endured, how he’s been betrayed, and his goal that the realm be ruled by “cooler” heads—pardon the pun—we the audience find it tough not to see Loki has some seriously valid gripes.

We see he really IS the hero in his own story.

In the End

I’ve given y’all three basic, but critical ingredients for a villain readers will love to hate or maybe even love. Villains are incredibly fun to write, but since they’re by nature unstable, volatile and often combustable, they need to be handled with care.

I’m teaching a brand new class Villains and Anti-Heroes TOMORROW and that’s where we get time to deep dive the really cool stuff, so I hope you will join me! I have been STOKED to teach this more advanced class and had to move it due to losing my voice last week, so y’all got another shot at signing up (recording is free with the class if you can’t make it in person).

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What are your thoughts? Does this help you understand how to give depth to your villains? Who are some of your favorite villains from the page or even the screen, small or big?

Which villains resonated with you and WHY? Which villains do you remember years later? You never get tired of re-watching the show or movie or rereading the book? What villains make you binge watch? Trade gas money for Netflix?

What do you WIN? For the month of September, 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).

We are in the process of moving classes around due to the two MONSTER hurricanes so a fresh class list will be available next post. You can also dash over to W.A.N.A. International to check out what’s coming up and get your spot!

 

 

 

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, we are going to go the distance. Literally. No matter what genre we write, our characters generally go places. The physical distance between these places impacts the timelines of our stories, pacing, and tension. Distance, great or small, can also be used to create atmosphere or to illustrate differences between characters.

But, before we get too much farther (ha ha, pun fully intended), here is the requisite photo of Denny Basenji, who is determined to go nowhere and do nothing.

GPS, Equipages, and Transporters

Like I said, it doesn’t matter what genre we write. Every story takes place in a…well…place. Whether it’s another planet, a fantasy realm full of dragons, Regency England, or today’s Los Angeles, distance plays a part in shaping and defining the story.

Let’s tackle the easy stuff first. When we write about anyplace on planet Earth, all we have to do is use Google Maps to get a sense of location, geography, nearby locales, and distance (by planes, trains, and automobiles…and bikes and feet).

I generally keep a little written note of the locations in my story and how far from one to the other. It’s quick a quick reference guide for me as I write, and it eventually helps my editors and proofreaders ensure consistency.

Staying on planet Earth but going back in time, we are still dealing with the same locations (for the most part), so Google Maps is still our friend.

However, now, we have to add in another layer: transportation. Whether it’s a pilgrimage on foot, the complex transportation logistics of a Crusade, taking the carriage to the ball, or crossing an ocean or continent using steam-powered engines, the way our characters get places must be factored into the overall timeline and plot.

But…how exactly do we figure out how long it would have taken a farmer’s cart with two old horses to go twenty miles versus a smart little phaeton with a pair of bright, brisk ponies?

Ah, hello, Google, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

 No, seriously, you can google that stuff. It might take a little bit of digging (depending on how complex the logistics or how detailed you want to get), but the information is out there.

To prove my point, I just typed in, “average travel speed by phaeton and ponies” on Google and came up with a wealth of information about travel speeds and terrains (in both miles and kilometers!). If I really wanted to nail the exact amount of time it would take Mrs. Gardiner from Pride and Prejudice to go around the 10 miles of Pemberley’s  Park in the phaeton, I would probably spend about twenty minutes to half-an-hour digging through Google results.

For science fiction and fantasy, we get to create the rules, but then, *sighs* we then have to play by them. We can create any alien planet or mist-ringed elven realm we want, but as part of basic world-building, we must actually build the world.

Look at classics like Dune and Lord of the Rings. Herbert has very specific rules and details about space travel and distance between Fremen enclaves on Arrakis. In LOTR, Tolkien provides perhaps the most perfect example ever of using geographical distance to create tension and manipulate the pacing of the plot.

For science fiction, it’s worth doing a little Google, Wikipedia, and science magazine website digging to get a basic understanding of the distances between planets, solar systems, and galaxies – and, how long it takes to travel between them in lightyears. Keep a list of every space station, planet, and outpost, and their distances from each other.

We can talk about warp engines and wormholes all we want in science fiction, but we need to keep it consistent. If we get our characters into a situation where the only way out is to go to warp 10, but the scale only goes up to warp 9.9 (looking at you, TNG *wink*), then, we can’t just wave a magic wand and have the raven-haired, emerald-eyed, 22-year-old engineering ensign with a tragic past suddenly come up with a way to achieve warp 10. 

This is a direct violation of Lamb’s Law of Coincidences: You can use all the coincidences you want to get characters into trouble, but you can never use it to get them out of it.

In fantasy, the same rules apply. I would even go so far as to draw what I like to call a “stick-figure map.” That’s a polite way of saying a bunch of blobs and dots on a piece of paper with arrows between the dots indicating distances between cities, kingdoms, continents, etc.

Magical transport needs rules, just like sci-fi transport. Treat dragons like horses: how fast can they fly, for how long, are there different types of dragons that go at different speeds?

Personally, all my dragons come with a V8 standard.

Polite nothings about the roads and the weather.

Conflict! 😀
Just like it’s natural for us to complain about traffic, tell stories of bad flights, or share information about how to get to a certain location and how long it will take, characters talk about distance and travel, too.

“It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

“An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”

“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”

 

In this example from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, distance and travel are used to highlight the differences between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s wealth, social status, and character. It’s just one of the many brilliant examples of “show, don’t tell” in the book, but that’s another post for another time.

When I was writing a scene about the journey of one of the characters in Kristen’s and my zombie western, I did spend more time – probably close to an hour – learning about railroad journeys from the East Coast to Arizona territory in the 1870’s-1890’s. This was much more involved for several reasons.

First, based on the exact year we are using, I needed to find out just how far the westward railroad expansion went. I discovered that while there was service to California already, the first tendrils of track had just begun to breach the borders of Arizona.

Therefore, the character would have had to end his rail journey a good 200 miles from his destination and take a stagecoach the rest of the way.

The time I spent researching this was not wasted, and not just for the fact that I was assuring that my facts were correct (socking it to the trolls!), but I realized how much this particular journey would represent abandoning civilization for the character, and it also gave me an opportunity to add in a hint of backstory for his relationship with another character whom he meets at a hotel in Denver when he is making arrangements for the next stage of his journey.

The failure, shortcomings, and limits of transportation provide us with fantastic tools for ratcheting up the tension.

Not to bring up bad memories of math class for many of us, but if character A is 60 miles away and trapped with a bomb set to go off in an hour, and character B can only travel 30 miles-per hour, what is going to happen to character A? (Leave your answers in the comments! Bonus points for creativity and flash fiction LOL.)

***

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, 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 FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

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, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

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It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday, which today means, not just me, Cait Reynolds, but also Kim Alexander! Today, we begin by not only sharing the obligatory Denny Basenji picture, but also ONION! Because who doesn’t need more Onion in their lives? RIGHT?

Denny and Onion. Together at last.

Kim recently came to visit me (okay, she came to visit her brother, but I live in the same state), and we indulged in various shenanigans. Thankfully, none of which resulted in either of us needing bail money. But it is always within the realm of possibilities.

We decided that since have…er…taken up residence on Kristen’s blog and are teaching classes together, it would be good for everyone to know a bit more about us. So, today is a fun post with a Q&A.

So how do you two know each other, anyway?

Kim: We had the same publicist at a now-defunct publishing house! So we spent a lot of time drying each other’s tears. Cait used to like to prank call and pretend she was the New York Times book reviewer, it really brought up my spirits.

Cait: I pretty much knew we were soulmates when she sent me a mug that says, “We go together like drunk and disorderly.” Add in trips to see each other, questionable plans for larceny at Book Expo America every year, and a mutual love of the distillery industry, and well…yeah.

Out on the town. Together. Not committing felonies. At least, none that were detectable.

In a Thunderdome-style-loser-leave-town cage match, who do you see coming out as the victor?

Kim: Well, I’m scrappy, but she’s a lot more aggressive, and she fights dirty. On the other hand, I do store up my rage, and I have a lot stored up.

Cait: I’m just gonna come out and say it. Me. I would win. Don’t let my innocent looks and sunny attitude fool you. I’m a tough OG. I ran a playground gang in second grade.

What’s your favorite historical period to obsess over and why?

Kim: I am all about Dark Ages Europe. If there is the word ‘plague’ in the blurb, I will read it. It was a time (I think) that the walls between the real and unreal were much thinner–maybe because we had far fewer distractions, and life was so uncertain.

Cait: Really? I have to pick one? Whatever! Nobody puts Baby in a corner! I’m going to say France from 1600-1900. That’s right. Multiple time periods. *mic drop.*

What is the name of your pet and what do you actually call said pet?

Kim: Onion is his government name, but we call him Mr. Handsomeness Man, Squeakzilla, My Real Boyfriend, Big Sexy, and Bubba. (He answers to none of the above.)

Cait: Denny Basenji must live with the indignity of being called Bobenny, Smuppy Puppy, Lil’ Poopie, Booberry Banana Face Baby Butt, and Denny M’boops (dictator of a small African country in his mind). He is giving me side eye even as I type this. Oh, and did you know that Kim has a fish? I nearly asphyxiated when I saw this the first time.

What do you think you’d be good at despite having no evidence at all to back you up?

Kim: I feel like I could be excellent at roller derby. I’m low to the ground and I’m good at fighting my way through crowds. Plus, they have cool nicknames, and I am seriously in the market for a nickname.

Cait: I have seriously been worrying about this question for days. Every time I came up with something, I rationalized how I could manufacture evidence to back up my claim. Therefore, I have decided that I would be good at the following: Mars colonist. I’m totally creative and manipulative, and I would have all the other colonists working hard to make sure I survived.

Why do you write fantasy/epic/para/romantic/tentacle?

Kim: I’m much more interested in relationships than battles, so epic fantasy might not be an obvious fit for me. But I am addicted to world building, particularly when it comes to clothing, food, color, jewelry, manners–the things we surround ourselves with that inform who we are. I love the idea of seeing our world through fresh eyes, which my main character gets to do. Also magic!

Cait: I love exploring what it takes to push a character over the edge of disbelief to belief, whether it’s in the paranormal, magic, or the fact that you deserve to be loved. I am fascinated with the transformative power of love in all its forms, from romantic to learning to love yourself.

Our books. You can find them on the “Books” page of this blog!

Tell me about your main character. This will be a startling insight into your personality.

Kim: Are you implying I am a half human/half demon prince who masks his social anxiety with alcohol?

Cait: Well, based on the zombie western Kristen and I are writing, I would have to say there is a bit of me in the 19th century Parisian debutante with social anxiety and agoraphobia, the battle-weary Prussian doctor who is a militant pacifist (because he likes irony), and the sheer cussedness of Zeke the goat.

What can people expect from taking your Fantasy World-Building Classes?

Kim: From me, you’ll learn the value of staring out the window. Not kidding! Most of my worlds are completely invented, so where I do my hardest work is thinking things through. We’ll talk about the stuff that may not immediately occur to you when you sit down to write. Cait has a very different method of approaching her work, which I guess is valid, whatever.

Cait: Kim stares out the window. I’ve literally seen her do it. For me, you’d find me going down a research rabbit hole or making orderly lists and notes of things in my world. That’s how I’ve come to specialize in giving the improbable a hint of the possible, which is what doesn’t just immerse a reader into your world, but pretty much gives them concrete boots and tosses them in the literary east river.

Our three-class bundle. You can also sign up for each class individually, but hey, don’t you WANT all the Cait & Kim you can get?

When you strike it rich and get that JK Rowling theme park money, where will you be found?

Kim: Railay Beach in Thailand. Third hut from the left.

Cait: Venice. In my palazzo. Drinking really, really good espresso.

Desert island book?

Kim: The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which taught me everything I know about writing fantasy, and writing in general.

Cait: The Complete Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson. And, I’d probably try to sneak in my “Life with Jeeves” omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse. Because the storytelling, characterization, and use of language is so masterful in these books, you find something new literally every time you read them.

Building a Better Fantasy World, from Planets to Partying

Kim and I have a lot to say about what goes into creating a fantasy culture. So much, in fact, that we had to break it into three classes, and we are STILL leaving stuff out (though, we’ll probably teach those in October). Anyway, here are some descriptions of the classes for you!


FROM THE GROUND UP: PUTTING THE ‘WORLD’ IN WORLD-BUILDING FOR FANTASY

Instructors: Cait Reynolds and Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 13, 2017. 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST

So, you’re writing a fantasy novel. That’s great! But before you put the first spell in the Mage’s mouth or the first sword in the princess’s hand, you have to stop, drop, and roll around in the geography of your bold new world. After all, the better you know the lay of the land, the more at home your readers will be.

This class will look at what goes into the world (literally) beneath your character’s feet. Topics include:

  • Distance: you can get there from here, but how long will it take?
  • How’s the weather?
  • Making maps work for you: where do you put the mountains?
  • What’s for sale? Import, export and commodity.
  • Portals, Doors, dimensions and realms–pick one (or more!).

GETTING TO WORK: PROFESSIONS, POLITICS, AND PRODUCTION IN FANTASY WORLD-BUILDING

Instructors: Cait Reynolds Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 20, 2017. 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST

If you’re working on a fantasy novel, chances are you’ve already decided what the ‘feel’ of your universe will be. This class will help you turn that feeling into a working, fleshed out civilization.

Before we’re done, you’ll know where your world stands in technological advances, what everyone does for a living, and how they get to work every day.

From the wench in the pub to the backup janitor who cleans the jump-drive, everyone’s got to have a gig.

Topics include:

  • Bronze, stone, atom, or magic? Level up!
  • What do you do all day? Putting your characters to work.
  • How did you get here? From feet to flying cars (or monkeys), pick a ride.
  • Do you take plastic? Economics beyond ye olde marketplace.

ROMPS AND REVELS: ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE, AND CULTURE IN FANTASY WORLD-BUILDING

Instructors: Cait Reynolds Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 27, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

When a bunch of characters get together, the first thing they’ll do (after slaying the dragon/alien/Elder God) is want to kick back. It’s human(ish) nature!

So let’s explore what the denizens of your fantasy world do on their free time. It can be the serious business of organized religion to the even more serious business of sporting events, to the most serious thing of all–fashion.

In this class, we’ll find out what your characters are reading, what they’re eating, and which team they’re rooting for. Topics include:

  • Celebrity and pop culture – who are the Biebers and Beatles of the world? Why is it important?
  • Ceremony and ritual – religious and/or secular celebrations.
  • What fashion dictates – what your shoes say about you.
  • What is the equivalent of chocolate cake and champagne in your fantasy world, and who gets the first slice?

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, 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 FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

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, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

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