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Most of my posts will be to do with the books I write. Feel free to stop by my personal web page for how to obtain my novels.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wow, I never saw THAT coming!

I'm sure that different writers use different methods to write their novels. For me it works like this, after I have my premise and universe (see posts below), I finally set my story. For this I begin with my end, so to speak. I like to know the big climax of my story before I get down to figuring out anything else. Once I know the scene for the climax it will help me start to define my characters. And once I know who the main parties are, and how the climax will affect them, I go to the beginning of the story and figure out how to get them started down the road toward that climax.

Once I have a beginning and an end... there is this whole... middle part to deal with, the lion share of the story. It reminds me a bit of Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, when he says, "What was the middle part again?" Now, I don't just ignore the middle, at this stage I work out a rough outline of what will transpire, a path toward that epic climax that I already have planned, but... I don't force my characters to adhere to that outline. It ends up more of a suggestion list, or something to keep me going should I wonder what should be happening next.

Now, I've got my premise, my universe and world, my climax, my beginning, and my story outline, however, before I can actually start writing I have one more important stage of planning... characters. By now I have a list of my major characters and what they will generally be doing along the way, but at this stage it is critical to develop the personality of each of these people in my story.

To do this I need to understand pretty much everything about each of my major characters. What do they look like? What is their personality? Why do they have this personality? And, in order to understand this, I need to know their history, all the way back to childhood. How and why did they develop into who they are at the time my story takes place? What are their goals in life? Who are their friends, enemies and family? What haunts them from the past, and what do they desire to achieve in the future? The more you explore them BEFORE you start writing, the easier it will be to write the story, and to make the characters seem three dimensional, and alive.

This is very important to how I write my books, simply because I like to let my characters work out a lot of that 'middle' stuff in the book, rather than force them to my original outline. With characters that are fully detailed and real I no longer have to make up stuff, all I need to do is set up a situation and then see what they do.

I can't tell you how many times I am surprised by what my characters end up doing, or saying at any given moment in the story. Even though I am writing them, it is the characters that are making the decisions, and that often leads me down a path that I never saw coming.

Now, I still use that outline to setup some of the situations, and when needed I nudge my characters down that path, but I never constrain them to the path, and will often let the story go where they take it naturally. I do keep my climax in mind, and make sure that the main story that I want to tell unfolds at the proper speed and builds to the proper planned climax, but the road to that climax is filled with little surprises and scenes that I never saw coming.

Someone who wants to be a writer recently asked me how writers of big epic series keep all of this stuff in their head, and my answer was, "Well, we don't, at least, I don't. And I suspect that most writers don't." Sure, there are clues, and foreshadowing, and other things early in the story that tie into the later story, that's what having your climax and outline do for you, but there is so much that you don't know until you write it, even with the best of planning.

If your characters are real people to you, then sometimes you just go along for the ride and see where they take you. It's one of the most rewarding parts of writing a story, and if you flesh them out to start with, and give them a real life and history, they will become as real to you as any living person... in some ways, more so, because they come from your heart and soul. Good or bad, they still come from you. Let them show you the way in your story and you will often be pleasantly surprised, but no matter what, they will add to your story if you let them. And it’s nice to have friends help, even if they are the people in your books.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I don' t know, it's MAGIC!

Magic is a strange thing.  By definition we don't understand it, because, among other things, magic is "any mysterious or extraordinary quality or power".  Mysterious... or when someone just can't explain something, it's 'magic'.  In creating a fantasy world one of the elements of that world is invariably magic, but what is that magic? Is it a set of spells, some utterances that somehow 'magically' create an effect?  Possibly, but in truth I find magic without a system of logic the cheap way out.  I prefer to look at magic as the same thing as science.

When we look at our world, or universe, there are many unexplained things.  We tend to attribute these unexplained things as 'magic'.  Long ago wrapping a wound in a particular plant pulp would help heal the wound, and that was called 'magic', done by a 'witch'.  Now days we call those witches 'doctors'.  There were even witchdoctors.

Once it is understood, the science looses the term magic.  However, as long as the mass majority of people do not understand how it works, then it is still 'magic'.  So, for example, how did our universe begin?  Well, most scientists believe there was a big bang... fine.  What started the Big Bang?  What caused it to happen?  What came before it, because for something to start, something had to start it.  Nobody has a widely accepted theory on that... unless you figure in religion, which, in essence is the belief in magic.  A supreme deity fits quite nicely into the definition of magic, let's try it out: God is... a mysterious or extraordinary quality or power.  Yep, magic.

So, when creating a fantasy world, I like to go back to the beginning... of everything.  At least, the beginning of everything in the universe of this fantasy world (which has nothing to do with our reality, generally).  I like to understand how things work, and from that, come up with a somewhat logical system within that framework.  So how is this then 'magic'.  Well, I said that 'I' understand it, not the people who live in that universe.  To the masses in that fantasy world, there are unexplained happenings, and they call these things, magic.

Once I have an understanding of my universe I can set up a clear set of rules for my system of 'magic'.  Now, this could be spells, I have nothing against them, I would just want to understand what is behind those spells, what is the force, and how do a string of words control that force and shape it?  

In my NexLord series, the essence of magic came from the power of emotions and belief.  In Cathexis magic comes from three completely different sources (there is no limit to what people find mysterious).   The first was the property of the metal Cathexis, and how it can store a copy, or imprint of a person's thoughts and identity.  The second was their aura.  I got this idea from an old type of photography called Kirlian.   To quote from Wikipedia:

"Kirlian photography refers to a form of photogram made with voltage. It is named after Semyon Kirlian, who in 1939 accidentally discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a source of voltage an image is produced on the photographic plate.

Kirlian said that the image he was studying might be compared with the human aura. An experiment in evidence of energy fields generated by living entities involves taking Kirlian contact photographs of a picked leaf at set periods, its gradual withering corresponding with a decline in the strength of the aura. In some experiments, if a section of a leaf was torn away after the first photograph, a faint image of the missing section would remain when a second photograph was taken."

I was intrigued by this, and decided that I would base part of my 'magic' system on this phenomenon, though I took my own liberties with the concept since this is fiction.  As a tribute to Semyon Kirlian, in my books the school and practitioners of aura powers are called the 'Kir'nath, and the mercenaries also adopting some of those practices are the Tchu'lians'.  Put the first and last parts together and you get, 'Kirlian'.

The third system of 'magic' is that which the Necromancer's use.  For this I created a second universe, one where a kind of negative energy that had sentience fed on human souls (auras).  Since they fed on life, I made their power that of death, and thus called those who tapped that power, Necromancers, since that term is derived from 'necro-' which is a combining form meaning “the dead,” “corpse,” “dead tissue.”  While 'Necromancer' is defined as a noun:

a method of divination through alleged communication with the dead; black art
magic in general, especially that practiced by a witch or sorcerer; sorcery; witchcraft; conjuration.

And so I had my magic of life, 'Kirnath aura magic' and my opposite power of death 'Necromancers', and my strange metal, cathexis, which is also loosely tied into the Kirlian photography since inanimate objects like a coin, also showed this 'aura' at times: hence, the second book title, Conspirator's Coin. 

So there you go, magic, and how I generally figure out the magic system for my books.