Tag Archives: science fiction

The Hero’s Journey: How to Leverage the World’s Most Powerful Story Structure

From Moses to Star Wars, the Hero’s Journey is the foundation of millennia of storytelling. How can you leverage it in your own writing?

Do you want your stories to “work?”

Writers work hard at their craft. They struggle to build a story that makes sense and delivers the goods on emotion and thrills.

And so often, even after months and years of labor, a writer can’t get their story to “work.”

There are a lot of reasons why a story might not work — why it confuses readers or fails to engage them emotionally — but one major reason a story doesn’t work is structure.

Thankfully there’s a structure you can use that has a proven track record of success. This successful record is so long, in fact, that we don’t know when it started.

That structure is called the Hero’s Journey, and it’s going to transform your writing.

What Is the “Hero’s Journey”?

Our understanding of this classic structure begins with American literature professor Joseph Campbell. Campbell was interested in the way mythology affects our lives today and began digging into myths — lots of myths.

In 1949 he published The Hero With a Thousand Faces outlining what has come to be known as his “monomyth,” a theory that all stories are, in fact, the same. That “same story” is the Hero’s Journey.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

A girl from the middle of nowhere wakes up one day to find that things are horrible, and someone has to do something about it. But she’s scared, and can’t bring herself to stand up and fight back . . . until the village elder arrives and teaches our young protagonist the ropes.

The girl sets out to find the source of her society’s problems, forcing her to leave. Along the way she encounters new faces, some of whom join her as companions, others of whom try to kill her or steal her valuables. She suffers some loses along the way, learning some truly difficult lessons.

Then, she and her companions find the source of evil: some kind of mighty fortress. The heroes storm the fortress and come face-to-face with the villain. The hero and the villain square off and the hero is killed or mortally wounded . . . only to use her resources to recover and vanquish the bad guy for good.

The hero and her surviving companions return home triumphant and bestow some kind of blessing, like food, rain, or peace, on the community.

If you’ve heard a story like that, then you know the Hero’s Journey.

Here are some examples.

“I Know This Story . . .”

Have you heard the story of the orphan boy living in the cupboard under the stairs?

Or perhaps the story of the girl in District 12 (the crappiest District) who would not only survive an unwinnable deathmatch, but become a symbol of liberty?

Maybe you’ve heard of the baby boy who was going to die in a mass genocide, but whose mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile River . . .

If you didn’t catch those, here they are in order: Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), and . . . Moses.

There are also variations of it, like the Anti-Hero’s Journey, a story arc for characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White. Either way, it’s still based off Joseph Campbell’s foundational research in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. 

So here’s the big question: Now that you know what it is, what do you do with it?

Hero’s Journey Step #1: Start Ordinary

We have Hollywood screenwriter and executive Christopher Vogler to thank for our condensed version of the Hero’s Journey. If you’re curious, his most notable credit is a film that makes explicit use of the Hero’s Journey: The Lion King. 

Fun sidebar: The Lion King and the story of Moses in Exodus have the exact same structure. Attempted rise to power, failure and flight, return and victory.

In Vogler’s simplification of Campbell’s theory, there are twelve steps to the Hero’s Journey (and I’m going to cover each one in-depth in this series, of which this post is the first).

The first step of the Hero’s Journey: The Ordinary World.

6 Common Features of the Ordinary World

Let’s take a look at the elements of the Ordinary World. Some of these are essentials, while others aren’t necessarily essential, but are common in the vast majority of Hero’s Journey stories you’ll encounter.

1. The Average Joe

Every story begins with an “Average Joe.” He or she is someone you could be, or could be near to.

Think about how simple or average Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are, at least at first. Yes, they both have something interesting about them (Harry’s scar, Katniss’s hunting skill), but neither of these things are earth-shattering . . . yet.

2. No Parents

Another notable trope of this step is a lack of proper parents. Think about it: How many heroes do you know of whose parents are either missing, dead, or nonexistent? Orphans abound in heroic journeys.

Harry Potter’s an orphan, and Katniss has to play the mother role. Moses’s father is a mystery and he is given up as an orphan. Luke Skywalker’s parents are . . . well, you know. And Rey, in the newer Star Wars movies, is obsessed with finding out the truth of her family. More on that to come in December 2020.

3. A Disadvantageous Beginning

This has a powerful effect of bringing these heroes low. They begin at a disadvantage. How many heroes do you know of with a rock-solid family and support structure in place? There are some, but they are few and far between.

Take Peter Parker/Spider-Man, another classic orphan. He’s been adopted by his aunt and uncle (RIP Uncle Ben) because his parents are dead/missing/who knows. Even Superman, with his adopted Earth parents, feels like a stranger because his true parents died during the explosion of his home planet, Krypton. Even these mighty superheroes suffer from a trauma that human beings know all too well: the destruction of family and community.

4. A Simple, Mundane, Boring Life

Many elements of the Ordinary World are obvious. Your hero’s life is simple, mundane, even boring. He or she is often from the countryside, or lives as a stranger in the crowded, soulless metropolitan bustle.

5. Low Expectations

Other elements are less obvious. One is that no one expects anything of the hero. He is assumed to probably amount to nothing. That is, by everyone except the Mentor character (coming soon in Step #4!). It will be the Mentor who recognizes the hero’s potential heroism and talent and coaches him into that role.

6. A False Sense of Security

Another element of the Ordinary World is a false sense of security. Everything should seem, at least on the surface, peaceful and well. But in the underbelly of this world — or lingering outside its boundaries — conflict and injustice rages.

I’m reminded of the tranquil peace of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, embodied by the jovial mood at Bilbo’s birthday party. Yet that mirthful spirit is erased once Bilbo uses his magic ring — the One Ring of Evil, we soon learn — to play a trick on everyone. From that point forward, the Shire is no longer peaceful and safe, but a fragile domain whose borders are penetrated by wraiths and wild creatures in search of Sauron’s Ring.

This, of course, is the Inciting Incident, the step where you SHOULD begin your story (for the sake of hooking your reader). But that Inciting Incident, or “Call to Adventure,” must happen in the context of a quiet, seemingly peaceful world where your hero is a nobody who isn’t expected to do much at all.

3 Ways to Create Your Ordinary World

How does this apply to the stories you’re telling? Here are elements of the Ordinary World you can use to bring your hero low before they begin the climb to greatness.

1. Upset the parent structure

To keep things fresh, don’t just “kill them off.” Maybe one is missing. Maybe the parents are divorced and mom/dad remarried, while the other is off on some adventure.

A great example of innovation within this element is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, where Peter Quill’s journey (as an orphan, mind you) takes him back to his father with plenty of twists along the way.

2. Lower the expectations

In the beginning, no one can know how heroic your protagonist will be. Don’t fall victim to cheesy irony or heavy-handed foreshadowing. Keep your hero low, and bury him/her in the judgment of the community.

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The same can be said for the community, or “World,” itself. Often a community will expect nothing of itself because no one expects anything of it.

Think about that town you grew up near that was “trash.” Maybe it was your town. What effect does that have on its people?

3. Create a false sense of security

As the writer, you know conflict is coming. It has to come, either from within or without.

But the community, and possibly your hero, can’t know it yet. Everything needs to seem happy and fine. Remember that the effect of this false sense of security is suspense, a priceless effect you want to provide your readers whenever possible.

Let’s Get Ordinary

It’s time to start spicing and seasoning your storytelling with elements of this timeless and beloved story structure.

What are you working on now that could benefit from some of these archetypal elements? Why not try adding some elements to your current work-in-progress, or to a finished draft you’re struggling to revise?

And be sure to keep an eye out for my next article on Step Two of the Hero’s Journey!

What Ordinary Worlds can you think of in stories you’ve read and watched? Let us know in the comments.

By David Safford

Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

101 Sci-Fi Tropes For Writers

Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. Writers can use this list of 101 sci-fi tropes to add some Zap! to their writing.

Science Fiction is the computer geek of the fantasy genre. It is also filled with tropes.

What is a trope?

A trope is a commonly used literary device. It can be a cliché and it can be used well.

Sci-fi tropes are everywhere. For example, “beaming” up to the Enterprise in Star Trek is a Trope used by the writer of the show, Gene Roddenberry, to save money on expensive space shuttle sets. It has become iconic and people would miss it if it was taken out of the show.

How is it used?

Tropes are used as shorthand to explain complicated things. For example, Light-Speed is used to explain a complicated way of travelling through space very quickly. If you do this you don’t have to waste words trying to educate your reader when you want to get on with the plot.

101 Sci-Fi Tropes Writers Should Use

These are very common Sci-Fi tropes used in successful books and series. I have taken them from TV shows you may know and 100-year-old books you probably won’t. Regardless, many of these are used every day to make the books and TV we all love to read and watch.

By reading these, you will be inspired to create your own work. You should add a twist to any old idea to make it seem new. But, old tropes die hard and that’s because they are too good to be forgotten.

  1. Faster than light is the bread and butter of all space travel in Sci-Fi. Breaking the rules of physics is often the best way to get your character from planet to planet.
  2. Techno Babble is speaking in high-tech tongues and it solves any problem the crew is currently having. “Reverse the polarity, the Glib-Glops are weak to theta radiation!”
  3. All artificial intelligences are evil. Especially the good ones.
  4. Chekhov’s Egg is like Chekhov’s Gun but directed by Ridley Scott. If you introduce an alien egg to the story it must hatch and eat someone by the third act.
  5. Alternative universes want to invade our own.
  6. Alternative universes contain evil versions of your characters.
  7. Alternative universes warn your universe of a devastating threat.
  8. Travelling to distant stars is very difficult and takes generations.
  9. Travelling to distant stars is very difficult and requires Cryosleep to get there.
  10. Travelling to distant stars is very difficult and is done by AI and robots while the humans sleep.
  11. Someone always wakes up to early from Cryosleep. Asteroids are usually involved.
  12. A ship is found with people who have been in Cryosleep for thousands of years adrift in space. Because they crashed into the asteroid.
  13. A ship is found where people have forgotten how their technology works and must be saved.
  14. The people who wake up are evil, but seem nice at first.
  15. The people who wake up are the last survivors of a once great civilisation and impart wisdom.
  16. The survivors of the once great civilisation die from the common cold before telling anyone the meaning of life.
  17. Space travel is very easy and takes no time at all.
  18. Space travel is very fast, but is very dangerous.
  19. Space travel is dangerous because it passes through an evil realm filled with monsters.
  20. Space travel requires a navigator to have magical powers to plot a course. Possibly, to avoid deadly asteroids.
  21. Space travel requires a navigator to take drugs to see the future. These drugs only come from one planet. Everyone is fighting over them.
  22. Space travel needs a special kind of computer or droid to plot a course and it takes time to calculate.
  23. Ships travel faster than light speed through real/normal space.
  24. Ships travel though hyper-space which is another dimension.
  25. Ships use Warp gates to travel through wormholes.
  26. Warp Gates were created by a long dead civilisation.
  27. Humans discover these gates and have adventures through them.
  28. Aliens are kind, intelligent push-overs and humans are destroying their worlds.
  29. Aliens are evil, brutal godlike beings trying to enslave humans.
  30. Aliens want to eat humans.
  31. Aliens want to lay eggs in humans.
  32. Aliens want humans to help them with a problem they are too “evolved” to solve.
  33. It turns out humans were the aliens all along.
  34. Humans were the aliens all along but they evolved into a different species.
  35. Humans use technology to evolve into a post-human civilisation.
  36. Humans use technology to ascend to a state of pure energy.
  37. Humans use spiritual nonsense to become beings of pure light and love.
  38. Humans use psychic powers to become one godlike over-mind.
  39. Humans once had these great powers, but lost them when the war with the robots/aliens happened.
  40. They now live under a god emperor keeping them from evolving too fast.
  41. The god emperor was an alien all along and the humans must rebel!
  42. The god emperor was a super-computer the humans forgot they made and they must figure out why.
  43. The super-computer had to do whatever the humans wanted it to do all along.
  44. The super-computer was keeping them safe from aliens.
  45. The super-computer was built to keep aliens safe from humans.
  46. Two species of humans evolve and are at war.
  47. They are fighting over ancient crimes.
  48. They are fighting over philosophical points.
  49. One is racist.
  50. One eats the other.
  51. One is technological and the other is super-religious.
  52. Space is empty and humans are the first species.
  53. Space is empty and humans start filling up the galaxy.
  54. Humans make aliens.
  55. They must fight these aliens. Possibly because they didn’t do a good enough job making them.
  56. Space is filled with aliens.
  57. Most are like humans with funny ears.
  58. Most are horrible eldritch monsters humans can’t even begin to understand.
  59. Turns out the humans are the real monsters. The aliens were just trying to save our environment.
  60. Humans and aliens hate each other and do nothing but have never-ending wars. Usually for the god emperor’s glory.
  61. Humans and aliens live together, drink together and have mixed species children. He becomes the captain’s pointy-eared best friend.
  62. Humans are less advanced then other races and are treated like children.
  63. Humans resent aliens for treating them like children and start a galaxy wide genocide using the aliens own technology.
  64. Humans work hard to be as advanced as the other species and become accepted as part of them. Perhaps in some sort of commonwealth?
  65. Space is full of Pirates.
  66. And Smugglers. The Important difference is that smugglers make better anti-heroes.
  67. Space pirates are a plague and the heroes must fight them.
  68. Space pirates are cool and help the rebels fight the evil Empire.
  69. Humans use nano-technology to make very small useful robots that can do anything.
  70. Oh, No! They became sentient.
  71. They want to replicate, consuming all matter they come into contact with.
  72. They want to be more human and build human bodies and start pretending to eat avocado toast.
  73. The humans defeat them using an ancient weapon left by a long dead race.
  74. The humans program them to be nice and become friends.
  75. Humans make copies of their minds.
  76. Humans clone themselves.
  77. Humans put their minds in the clones to live forever.
  78. Something goes wrong. Humans can’t have children anymore because of too much cloning.
  79. They must find non-clone humans to fix this. But that was thousands of years ago.
  80. They need time travel to fix this.
  81. They go through a wormhole/black hole to go back to the past.
  82. They recalibrate the deflector dish to emit tachyons to travel back in time.
  83. They can only send their minds back in time.
  84. Going back in time cannot change the future and they can do whatever they want.
  85. Going back in time means they have to be careful not to change the future.
  86. They change the past and come back to a different future.
  87. They must go back and fix their mistake.
  88. The space senate has blockaded all time travel.
  89. The heroes must get past the blockade in a stolen ship.
  90. The stolen ship turns out to be alive.
  91. It’s also pregnant and needs their help to save its child.
  92. The heroes must argue about the ethics of what they are doing until they are forced to take action.
  93. They turn out to be right and everything works out.
  94. They are wrong and they just helped an evil space wizard start a galactic civil war.
  95. The heroes spend the whole show arguing about ethics and nothing happens.
  96. The heroes decide that other races have different ethics and they should not interfere.
  97. They say ‘Screw their ethics. Ours are better!’ and interfere.
  98. This fixes the problem and the space people are happy with their new American constitution.
  99. The space people start a holy war to kill all humans.
  100. The space people and the humans fight until they have destroyed each other and nobody left alive remembers what happened.
  101. The war between the space people and the humans turned out to be a cold war allegory all along. They eventually make up over some red space wine and a plate of gross space worms.

I hope you had fun reading this list of sci-fi tropes and that it gives you ideas for your books.

By Christopher Dean

Source: writerswrite.co.za

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Top 9 Influential Female Characters In Science Fiction

Let’s take a look at some influential science fiction female leads and see how we can use them in our writing.  Here’s some strong, complex creations … None of them scream, faint or need rescuing. They’re the ones getting the job done. These 9 are my personal trail-blazers of female science fiction. Let’s go!

1) Princess Leia

We had already seen earlier in Star Wars that Leia could handle herself. The way she dealt with Vader and Tarkin after she was captured showed us that. But it was when Han Solo and Luke came to rescue her that Leia became so much more than a conventional damsel in distress. By taking over what had been seen as the male role, rescuing herself and generally wise-cracking her way out of trouble, she created a whole new type of character.

Write Tip: Change the action around! Get your characters doing what nobody (even the other characters) expects. If you can get the reader wondering ‘Where did that come from?’, you’re halfway there.

2) Ellen Ripley

The ultimate case of the quiet one, a by-the-book member of the crew … Yet she turned out to be the baddest of the bunch. She could fight if she had to, but that wasn’t what she was all about. Ripley had heart, integrity. A woman who could rise to challenges and one-line with the best of them.

Ripley displayed a range of emotion beyond a science fiction action hero. Ripley wasn’t snappily dressed, or the Hollywood idea of a conventional female character when she first appeared but that didn’t matter … In fact, this added to her appeal. She was anyone who saw wrong and wanted to sort it.

Write Tip: A character’s journey can start with the triggering of an emotion. It creates empathy with the reader or viewer; everyone relates to them. Identify a strong one and probe it with a sharp stick.

3) Sarah Connor

Sarah had a journey too, from timid waitress to protector, to fugitive soldier. Events, as they had with Ripley, changed her. While learning you’re the mother to the leader of the resistance in the future would be enough to change anyone, Sarah handles it.

If the movie had been made in earlier days, Sarah would be screaming and fainting and waiting for rescue. Instead, she proved she could do whatever was needed to keep the people she loved safe. And while she was about it, she showed us that just about anyone could do it too, if they ever had to.

Write Tip: What doesn’t kill a character makes them adapt. Give them a logical reason to change, a vision of what could be if they do.

Science Fiction Was Never The Same Again

Thanks to these three, the world of science fiction would never be the same. It was as if the genre had cottoned on to what a lot of people knew to be true. Real women could be the focus of a story! Not just one-dimensional eye candy or a motivator for men.

These women were strong and capable. They were in control, and they did it all with a witty reposte, just to remind you that they had the answer and they weren’t afraid to lead the way. They weren’t just female versions of the male action hero with martial arts and big guns (although they could do that as well). No, they had backstory, baggage. It made them human, believable, even aspirational.

Let’s take a quick look at a few more …

 4) Sarah Jane Smith

Doctor Who companion, nosy journalist and one of the first to use her wits and intuition over muscle and firepower. As well as being totally fearless, she was one of the team, redefining the role from that of helpless decoration to one of strong equal. And doing it with an opinion.

Write Tip: Every partnership has a hero and a trusty sidekick, two parts of a whole character. Why not give the sidekick the real power (the hero need never know)?

5) Dana Scully

She was the rational sceptic to Mulder’s excitable believer, the woman of science, sent to debunk and explain. Probably the greatest reason for the show’s success, her dogged determination to find an explanation left you wondering just where the truth ended. Although not averse to action, she proved that you could be just as effective with a computer or a test tube.

Writers tip: Every story needs a basis infact, once you convince the reader that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll follow your fiction.

6) Olivia Dunham

Another intelligent one, with the baggage that made her the ideal choice to investigate the fringes. Like Scully, the quiet voice of calm when it’s all going crazy.  Reserved but with purpose and empathy, unmoved by the revelations unfolding before her. And she had a double in an alternative universe, which is pretty cool.

Write Tip: Once you’ve got your fact out of the way, always remember; nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.

 

7) Andorra Pett

Andorra who? I hear you ask. Well, she’s my creation, my contribution to the genre. Andorra’s an amateur detective for the space age. She’s a person more on the thinking side of things, independent and initially unaware of how clever she is. Out of her depth at the start, as Andorra’s story progresses, she learns so much about herself. What’s more, in the process, as have so many before her, she changes. She finds the strength to survive and the courage to grow.

Write Tip: Never be afraid to take your character (and your reader) out of their comfort zone. Their reactions might surprise both of you.

8) Kaylee Frye

An engineer, and why not? Women can do anything. Resourceful and yet naïve; dependable and vulnerable, all at once. As well as keeping Serenity running; she was the glue that held the crew together, loved by everyone. To top it all, she knew what a Crazy Ivan was!

Write Tip: Having engineers or other specialists in your cast gives you the ability to impart backstory in conversation, even in the middle of the action. A few short sentences between characters is so much better than pages of boring facts.

9) Kathryn Janeway

Starship commander and breaker of rules. In the same way that a man had to do what a man had to do, it was her job to keep everyone together and get them home. If the means justified the end, she was willing to try it. Sometimes emotional, sometimes calm, always adaptable, like any good commander.

Write Tip: You need a focal point, a constant. It can be part of your setting, a place or an object. Or it could be a dependable character, a rock in an ocean of uncertainty.

Which are your faves? Let me know!

By Lucy V Hay

Source: bang2write.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Un-dead Darlings

Please welcome guest Barbara Linn Probst to WU today! Barbara is a writer, teacher, researcher, and clinician living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. She holds a PhD in clinical social work and is a dedicated amateur pianist. She is also the author of When the Labels Don’t Fit–a groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box children. To learn more about Barbara and her work, please visit her website: http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/

Un-dead Darlings

Kill those darlings.

We all know the cliché (actually, it was Faulkner, not Stephen King, who coined the phrase) and, accepting its wisdom, do our best to kill those beloveds no matter how much it hurts. Sentences, paragraphs, whole scenes – deleted, leaving a cleaner and stronger narrative.

Deleted from the story, but not from our laptops or minds. Many of us (okay, me, but I bet I’m not the only one) squirrel them away, hoping we’ll be able to squeeze them into a future manuscript.

Of course, that rarely works. Unless, by some amazing chance, a grandfather scene exactly like the one I just deleted is precisely what the new book needs, the darlings need to stay in their coffins.

However, there are other possibilities for this excised material if we abandon the idea of keeping our darlings intact as chunks of prose and consider, instead, what they indicate, arise from, and serve.

A good way to do that is by adjusting the lens and zooming in or out. Zooming in means identifying small bits of language that can be extracted from their context. An image, a descriptive detail, a noun or verb that captures a particular sensation – that may be all that’s worth saving from the passage.

In stockpiling these usable phrases, it’s important to note their referents so you’re clear about how they might be used later. Does a phrase denote arrogance, the experience of unexpected emotional softening, a sense of foreboding? Later, you might be searching for a way to convey that very quality, and you’ll have a private dictionary to turn to. Retaining the meaning, along with the words, also helps to check the tendency to insert a phrase where it doesn’t really belong, simply because you can’t stand not to use it somewhere – the hallmark of a soon-to-be-dead-again darling.

Zooming out, in contrast, means stepping back from the specifics of what you’ve written to its source. What was that grandfather scene really about? Was it remorse at having taken someone for granted, nostalgia for a sense of safety that’s no longer possible? Perhaps it was the yearning to be someone’s favorite again, or the memory of a child’s frustration in not understanding an older person’s allusions. What was the feeling at the scene’s core, and why did it matter to my character? What purpose did I think it would serve in the story?

These sensations, intentions, aversions, and desires are only accessible when you zoom out and view the passage from a wider perspective, letting the trees blur so you can see the forest – that is, ignoring the words so you can perceive their source.

You may not need to retain the specific words and sentences. Often, in fact, it’s best not to – since they can influence, limit, and obstruct your vision – but their source can become a wellspring for fresh material. By letting go of the verbal formulation and connecting, instead, with the origin of the deleted material, you’re free to discover new possibilities.

To give an example:

In my earlier now-abandoned novel, the adult daughter of the protagonist was writing a master’s thesis on Georgia O’Keeffe.  The “reason” I had her doing that (ouch) was so I could sneak in a backstory scene in which the protagonist came upon O’Keeffe’s Black Iris and had a profoundly transformative experience. The adult daughter’s thesis served no real purpose in the story, however, nor did the museum scene. They were, appropriately, killed off.

Yet there was something about the O’Keeffe painting that stayed with me – something it implied and evoked that I needed to express. It noodled around in that murky in-between part of the brain where creativity often occurs and then burst into life unexpectedly a year later, providing the genesis for the (much better) novel I’m currently working on. Without that now-dead darling, the new novel wouldn’t exist.

Zooming in and zooming out are inverse processes. In the first, context is discarded, freeing the words from their moorings; the focus is narrow, precise. In the second, words themselves are discarded, freeing the intention that gave rise to them; the focus is wide, diffuse, not yet confined to a specific manifestation. In neither case is the “darling” preserved intact, in the hope of shoe-horning it into a new slot. We’ve all tried that, and it doesn’t work.

We need not adopt either strategy, of course. Darlings can stay dead. But that would be a shame, since they often contain much that’s of value. That’s why we love them.

Do you, like me, have a file of deleted material?

What life might the material still contain if you approach it in a fresh way?

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Genres–Zombie Apocalypse

The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post every day except Sundays during the month of April on a thematic topic. This year, my second year with A to Z, I’ll cover writing genres.

Definition

Zombie Apocalypse: in which the widespread rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization

Tipsa to z

  1. The literary subtext of a zombie apocalypse is usually that civilization is inherently fragile in the face of truly unprecedented threats and that most individuals cannot be relied upon to support the greater good if the personal cost becomes too high.
  2. For a zombie event to be apocalyptic, it needs to involve a large number of undead, shambling around, or, if you’re into the more modern zombies, running.
  3. Being undead must be spreading throughout the population or it’s not apocalyptic.
  4. Initial contacts with zombies must be extremely traumatic, causing shock, panic, disbelief and possibly denial, and hampering survivors’ ability to deal with hostile encounters.
  5. The response of authorities to the threat must be slower than its rate of growth, giving the zombie plague time to expand beyond containment.
  6. The society must collapse as zombies take full control while small groups of the living must fight for their survival.
  7. Zombiism must not only spread throughout a population but throughout the geography. It can’t be contained in a single area.
  8. The stories usually follow a single group of survivors, caught up in the sudden rush of the crisis.
  9. The narrative generally progresses from the onset of the zombie plague, then initial attempts to seek the aid of authorities, the failure of those authorities, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters’ subsequent attempts to survive on their own.
  10. Such stories are often squarely focused on the way their characters react to such an extreme catastrophe, and how their personalities are changed by the stress, often acting on more primal motivations (fear, self-preservation) than they would display in normal life.

Popular Books

  1. Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
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  3. Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  4. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
  5. The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse by Stephen Jones
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  7. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  8. World War Z by Max Brooks
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  10. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Click for complete list of  2018 A to Z genres

By Jacqui Murray
Source: worddreams.wordpress.com

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How to Write Mythology for Fantasy and Science Fiction

Most writers probably don’t appreciate enough how much of an impact mythology has on our modern-day storytelling. No matter what genre you write in, mythology has played some role in shaping it, even if you don’t realise it.

It stems all the way back to ancient times before written language was even invented when myths formed the first stories told around campfires. Each of the basic story types listed in Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots can trace their origin back to ancient myths somehow. Homer’s Odyssey is a literal ‘voyage and return’ story. Most of the Arthurian legends center on a knight going out on a quest then returning to Camelot for their reward. In a sense, we are still adapting and building upon the stories invented by our ancestors.

But mythology does much more than just inspiring stories. It also gives books more substance and expands the fictional worlds of speculative fiction.

Why mythology in stories is important

Myths have inspired much more than just stories. They have influenced everything from the names we give to planets to the morals we pass down to children.

It makes sense that since mythology makes up an important part of our real-world culture, it should also be an important part of world-building or fiction writing as well. Adding in a fictional mythology makes a created world more believable and makes a fictional story in a real-world setting more realistic.

Other genres won’t rely upon it quite as much, especially contemporary fiction, but it can be useful there too. Ancient stories which stand the test of time can provide writing prompts or inspiration. Modern-day adaptations of old fairy tales or folk legends may have been done a lot, but there is still a lot of original ideas you can get from them, particularly if you choose a story that isn’t quite as well known. The Golem and the Djinni did this well by taking two completely unrelated and lesser-seen mythological creatures and placing them together in late 19th-century New York.

It is probably even more important in science-fiction than it is in fantasy. A story taking place across multiple planets means there will be even more cultures with their own mythologies to explore, and even more which have shaped and influenced the world and the species which inhabit it. If an alien race seems bland or unrealistic, it might well be because they don’t have any mythology or sense of history.

Good and bad examples

Terry Brook’s Shannara series is an example of mythology handled poorly. The world in this series has an interesting backstory; it is not a make-believe fantasy world but a post-apocalyptic future of our own world in which society has devolved to pre-modern life.

Yet the author doesn’t go nearly as far enough as he could have done with this concept. It could have had modern day stories become a part of the post-apocalyptic mythology, altered slightly to show how stories change as they are re-told over generations.

The Lord of the Rings would be a good example, probably because Tolkien extensively studied mythology and understood how it worked. In fact, he wrote his Middle Earth stories to give England its own mythology to rival the Greek or Roman myths. Not only are his works heavily inspired by many different works of mythology, they have their own sets of legends to expand upon the world, which makes Middle Earth feel incredibly old. There are already historical events so old that they have become myth. There are statues lying half-crumbled in the ground. The characters sing songs and tell each other stories of their own race’s folklore. It is all part of what makes Middle Earth seem so real and inviting, and a major reason why his books are so beloved and influential decades after they were written.

How to work mythology into your writing

In speculative fiction, mythology doesn’t need to be on the forefront of your make-believed world, but it should be at least partially important in some way.

There are many creative ways that you can work it in:

  • An old legend might hold a clue to the main character’s quest or motivate the hero when they need it.
  • Finding out that a myth is actually true.
  • Solving the mystery of an old story.
  • Discovering ancient ruins.
  • Characters telling stories from their homelands to each other.

Stories set in the far future can greatly benefit from having their own mythology, perhaps even using modern-day stories or real-life figures distorted over time to become legends. This can really help to give the futuristic setting a sense of place and time and make the futuristic setting more believable.

Even in contemporary fiction, mythology can be used to great effect. Your main character’s favorite fairy tale or the story they loved most in childhood can say a lot about them and might have influenced their personality or moral character. Or your character’s own favorite story can give them inspiration when they need it, just as they do to us in real life.

No matter what genre you are writing, the way you exposit these myths will be important. If it is a widely known myth such as Hercules or King Arthur then the readers will need little if any explanation, since they are already such an integral part of our culture that most people at least know the basics about them. If you choose a story or figure which isn’t quite as well known then you will need some exposition, so long as it doesn’t go overboard.

Writing your own mythology

If you are writing a speculative fiction story, one of the best parts of worldbuilding isn’t just crafting the world of your story but also inventing an entirely new set of myths and legends for however many races or cultures exist in the world of your book. Essentially, you can write stories within stories.

But it is difficult, especially when you are putting so much time and energy into constructing the main story, so many authors skip it and leave their fictional world feeling empty.

This doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours on it or devote pages of exposition to explaining these myths. But the more attention you do give to worldbuilding, the more realistic and tangible your fictional world will feel, especially if you have given attention to its mythology.

Expositing fictional myths should be done like the example given above – only when it is needed without going overboard. An entire chapter of characters sitting around a campfire and telling stories can provide an important moment of character and relationship building, but the stories they tell should become relevant at some point later in the story.

But how exactly do you write mythology in a world which is already fantastical? Just as with most other parts of world-building, taking clues from real world mythologies is an excellent starting point.

This goes far beyond copy-pasting the Greek or Roman myths and changing the names around. It means looking at the types of stories and characters that make up mythology and their significance in the real world.

To make up your own myths, ask yourselves these questions:

  • What is the creation myth?
  • Is there a pantheon of Gods or just one?
  • Who are the key figures and inspirational heroes in these stories?
  • What are your world’s constellations?
  • What do they think causes phenomena such as the Aurora Beorialis?
  • What role does magic play in these myths?
  • Are there any people who still worship the mythological pantheon, the way neo-pagans do?

Don’t take your clues only from the most popular myths. Look into less common mythologies or stories which aren’t talked about as often outside of their own cultures, such as Aboriginal mythology or the Finnish Kalevala. Fantasy races such as elves and dwarves stem from European mythology, but races inspired by other continent’s myths would be entirely different, and much more original and creative.

Again, like real myths, fictional myths might play by different rules. Our own myths often include magic or direct divine intervention which don’t exist in reality, so your fictional myths might also bend the rules of the universe you are creating. You could even turn this into a plot point, such as characters discovering that the magic in their old stories isn’t fictional like they previously thought.

Writing mythology into a story, especially a work of speculative fiction, may be a headache, but it will be one of the most valuable pieces of worldbuilding and characterization in your entire story. You may well become just as fascinated with writing your fictional world’s mythology as you are with creating the world and story itself, or find yourself with a set of mythology you never previously knew about for inspiration.

By Jessica Wood
Source: refiction.com

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Fiction Writing Exercises: Narrative Arcs

Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This one focuses on story structure and examines narrative arcs within stories and across multiple scenes and installments of a story. Enjoy!
Narrative Arcs

An arc has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The events within an arc result in some kind of change for the story world, characters, or direction of the plot.

In serial or episodic storytelling, a story arc is an ongoing story line that spans multiple installments. An arc might last through several episodes of a television show or several issues of a comic book. In literature, an arc might stretch across multiple books in a series.

A narrative arc (or dramatic arc) is similar to a story arc, except it doesn’t have to occur across multiple installments of episodic storytelling. A narrative arc is any arc within a story, including the central plot and any subplots. Narrative arcs can occur within a single scene or span across a sequence of scenes.

Characters also experience arcs when they undergo a progression of transformation.

That’s a lot of different types of arcs. To make matters more confusing, the terms for story arcs, narrative arcs, and dramatic arcs are often used interchangeably.

Study:

You can use any type of story for this exercise: books, comics, TV shows, or films. Find a series that you’ve enjoyed, and examine a small sample of installments. For example, you can look at five episodes from a TV show or three novels from a series. Make sure you’re using serials, which use ongoing stories across multiple installments, rather than episodic installments, which are separate but loosely connected.

Make a list of three to five story arcs found across the installments you examined. Do the arcs intertwine? Are they occurring simultaneously, or are they consecutive? How does each arc relate to the central plot?
Practice:

Create a set of three story arcs that would span multiple novels in a series. If you’re already working on a series, feel free to create arcs within your project.

For example, start by writing quick summaries of at least five novels in a series (about one paragraph each, highlighting the central plot of each installment). Then come up with the three arcs, each of which would span multiple novels.

As an alternative, you can develop ideas for a television or comic book series.
Questions:

What is the difference between a story arc and a dramatic arc? Why are story arcs effective in serial storytelling? How is a character arc different from a narrative arc? What types of arcs are most important in storytelling?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Write Fictional Characters as Complex and Realistic as You Are—The MBTI for Writers Series

What’s the secret to writing fictional characters readers fall in love with? What makes us reread our favorite novels, revisiting the same characters through the years like old friends?

Some writers are naturals at it. Lifelong people watchers, they seem to “get” how other people work without trying. So of course their fictional characters are complex and realistic. Of course their characters leap off the page.

But not every writer is an expert in people.

That doesn’t mean your characters are doomed to be cardboard cutouts. There’s hope for the writers who have something to say but aren’t sure yet how to create characters realistic enough to say it.

If you struggle to create characters who are complex and distinct. If you find yourself scratching your head at every plot turn, unsure of what your character would say or do or think next—then you know the struggle.

You know what it’s like to want your character to become so real, she takes over the story—but every word you write just reminds you she’s still a stranger.

So how do you flesh out a character who falls flat? How do you fix cliched, unlikable characters? How do you define characters who are too predictable or distinguish the ones who act just like every other character in the story?

There’s a tool for that.

It’s called MBTI. And it’s your new secret weapon for creating fictional characters as complex and realistic as you are.

This is The MBTI for Writers series.

Fictional Characters Made Easy: What We Cover in MBTI for Writers

  • What exactly MBTI is (the quick and dirty version for writers)
  • A simple overview of the 16 MBTI personality types (i.e. what’s really going on inside the heads of each personality type)
  • Quick tips for getting into each type’s head so you can see the story through their eyes—even when the character is NOTHING LIKE YOU (Because what better way to know how they would act and respond to the plot than to see the world how they see it?)
  • How to use each of the 16 MBTI types as a character mold to build out an endless cast of truly unique, surprising, and ultra-realistic fictional characters your readers will love (and love to hate)
  • What so many people get wrong about MBTI and how writers can use it to their advantage
  • Ways to build out each personality type so each one is new and unique—no matter how many times you’ve reused the mold

Series Contents

Out Now:

Coming Up:

  • See Through Your Character’s Eyes: How to ‘Experience’ the 8 MBTI Functions Like Your Fictional Characters Do
  • How to Make Each Character Type Unique—Even If You’ve Used That Type Before
  • 11 Smart Reasons to Create Your Next Fictional Character Using MBTI
  • Do You Really Understand Your Character? Cheatsheets for Writing Each of the 16 MBTI Types
    • ENTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ENFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • INFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISTP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFJ Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ESFP Character Design Cheatsheet
    • ISFP Character Design Cheatsheet
  • Common Arguments against MBTI (And Why They’re Dumb)

Source: mandywallace.com

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How to Create Convincing Science Fiction Technology

Technology is a vital part of science fiction. Even if your story isn’t about a technological change, differences in technology will define the aesthetic of the setting and the possibilities available to the characters.

So how can you go about imagining convincing science fiction technology?

Why Convincing Technology Matters

Before delving too deeply into this, it’s worth considering why convincing technology matters. After all, other genres get away with making up whatever they like, as happens with fantasy and steampunk. Even some science fiction glosses over the details of technology, apparently treating it as unimportant.

One reason to pay attention to technology is your readers. While there are science fiction readers who don’t care about the details of the science, there are also many who do care. They’re passionate about understanding the underlying principles behind the way a future world works. They have a decent grasp on science and technology, which they will use to critique your work.

You can ignore these readers, but you do so at your peril. They often sit near the heart of fandom and can be among the most vocal advocates or critics of a book. Winning them over will provide you with a valuable support base, and if they don’t like your science then you’ll see it in your reviews,

There are other reasons too, beyond pleasing pedantic readers, reasons that will help you with your writing.

The first is that technology brings the world to life. Think about how much laptops, smartphones, and cars define our modern world. In the same way, the right technology can help to make your imaginary world feel real.

Developing a convincing system of technology can provide great inspiration for your storytelling. The way characters travel can inspire chase scenes. The way they communicate can inspire situations where they become cut off. The way they relate to their technology can shed light on how characters view the world and what inspires them.

Even if the outline of your story is already fully rounded, knowing how the technology works will make it easier for you to tell the story. If you know what makes a spaceship works then you’ll know how it could break down and how the crew might try to fix that. Knowing in advance means that you don’t have to stop the flow of writing to work it out.

How to Create Convincing Technology

The process of creating convincing technology starts with understanding modern technology and science, which means research.

Read up on the state of technology in the area you’re concerned with. What’s out there. How it works. How it’s used. Find out about what’s at the cutting edge, where experts in the field think this technology will go next. Look at how it got to this point, so that you can understand the way it develops over time.

When doing this, it’s important to look at the underlying principles. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s award-winning Children of Time is grounded in the fundamentals of evolution, not just the principle of information being passed on in the genes, but the way that this shapes changes over time. Though the evolution is exaggerated, the changes it creates in an insect population are convincing because they’re detailed and grounded in science. The result is an evolutionary pattern that is fascinatingly different from our world.

For most technology, you’ll need to consider design as well as science. A car’s design is about more than just the way an engine works and what makes an aerodynamic shape. It’s about how many passengers are included, where to seat the driver, where to place controls, how the vehicle provides feedback to the driver on what it’s doing, and a thousnad other factors. The same applies to any piece of technology, from a sword to a smartphone. So think about the design of the technology in your story. What aesthetics have shaped it? What issues of practical use? There are dozens of different ways the same tool could be designed, so look for one that says something about the society it’s used by.

While science fiction technology is mostly grounded in reality, it’s always going to depart from our world in some way – that’s what makes it science fiction rather than science fact. When deciding how to deviate from reality, it’s often good to work from the principle of the one big lie. This is one thing about the science of your setting that you’ve made up, like a form of psychic powers or faster than light travel. Readers will accept one or two big lies better than lots of little ones, as the one big lie and its consequences creat a coherent whole.

Work out the implications of your one big lie, including the different technologies that stem from it. Sell it well enough and your readers will believe.

Technology in Context

The way that technology is used is as important as the technology itself. Understanding how your technology fits into the world is vital to making it convincing.

New technology doesn’t start out as accessible to everyone. The Rocketpunk Manifesto blog has provided a simple, handy model for considering how it spreads and becomes more accessible.

First comes the experimental phase, in which the technology is unusual, unreliable, and only in the hands of a select few – think modern spaceflight. Then comes the government / megacorp stage, when the technology is mature and reliable enough to be replicated but costs so much that only huge organisations such as powerful nations can have it, as is currently the case for submarines. This is followed by a stage in which it’s accessible for commercial purposes and private ownership by the super rich, like owning an airliner. Finally the technology becomes available to private individuals, becoming ubiquitous, as smartphones have done in the past decade.

Understanding where on the spectrum your technology falls will help in understanding how it fits into the world you’ve created, how easy it is to access, and what challenges characters might face in getting hold of it. It’s also a useful way of setting limits on a technology, if making it ubiquitous would spoil your plot.

Once you’ve worked out the maturity level of the technology, think about who has it and why. What do they use it for? Why do they use this technology rather than something else?

Consider the consequences of the technology. For example, railways and the telegraph transformed western society. They made it possible for people, goods, and messages to travel at previously impossible speeds. The world became more connected, news travelled almost instantly, and the difference in power between nations with and without these technologies expanded hugely.

Technology can shape society in all kinds of ways. The need for precious metals for microelectronics has led to pollution and the mistreatment of miners in poor but resource rich countries. Those microelectronics have also allowed the internet, making most of human knowledge availalbe at the touch of a button. This has accelerated the pace of technological change, allowed dispersed social movements, fostered relationship between people on different continents…

You get the idea. The consequences of a technology can transform society on every level, and thinking that through makes your technology more real, as well as adding new story possibilties.

Case Study: Spaceships

Spaceship design, as discussed by Dr Nick Bradbeer in a presentation at Nine Worlds 2017, provides a great example of some of these principles.

Spaceships are currently at the experimental phase of maturity, though recent developments are nudging them into the national / megacorp zone. They’re very hard to make and get hold of, and they’re not entirely reliable.

The principles needed in designing a spaceship are similar to those in designing a ship. You have to take into account the ship’s role, its size, and its layout. The role will define what equipment is needed, such as weapons for a fighting ship or storage for a cargo ship. It will also tell you how many crew are needed. These parts together define its size, as there needs to be space both for specialist equipment and for crew facilities, incluing space for sleeping, eating, and recreation, as well as facilities to deal with waste, to create or make up for gravity, for people to do their jobs, etc. The layout is largely defined by finding the most efficient way to put these pieces together, inlcuding protecting people from the heat of engines and efficiently connecting different systems.

Design-wise, a spaceship can be pretty much any shape you want.  This creates freedom to make something that reflects the setting and culture you’re working with.

The big lie for spaceships is usually a faster-than-light drive. This is needed to connect together different places in an interstellar setting, and is such a common big lie that most readers will just accept it in some form.

So the research for spaceship design is a mixture of ship design and cutting edge space technology, combined with whatever design suits your vision.

Building Better Sci-fi Worlds

Whether you’re writing a vast space opera or a day-after-tomorrow dystopia, convincing technology makes for convincing science fiction. And along the way, it can provide you with the inspiration to make deeper, more interesting stories that engage your audience.

By Andrew Knighton
Source: refiction.com

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25 Word Lists for Writers

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Beyond Paper Editing

Editors’ tips for writers

Thursday, 10 July 2014

by Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

I like lists—especially word lists. They help me to make sense of the world. Below is a round-up of useful word lists for writers. Use them to check for and address potential problems in your writing.

Needless Words

We all do it—use words that clutter up our writing. If you know what those words are, you can hunt them down and obliterate them.

10 Words to Cut From Your Writing at Entrepreneur

Needless Words at Tech Tools for Writers. This word list is nicely packaged in a macro that you run in Microsoft Word.* Talk about a timesaver.

*See this 30-second video for how to add a macro to Word.

Craft Words

There are parts of the writing craft that many writers struggle with at some point in their writing journey—telling too much instead of showing, for example. Some clever word wranglers have taken the time to create word lists that can help you to attend to common writer missteps:

TellingWords at Tech Tools for Writers—identifies words that may indicate instances of telling

-ly Words at Tech Tools for Writers—highlights adverbs often used in dialogue, which may indicate that you’re telling instead of showing. Often, he said and she said will suffice.

Historical Words

If you’re writing historical fiction, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with vocabulary from the time period in which you’re writing. These word lists will take you back in time.

100 Words that Define the First World War at the Oxford English Dictionary

Flapper Speak: Dictionary of Words from the 1920s and 1930s, by Margaret Chai Maloney

Glossary of 80s Terms at In the 80s

Genre Words

Some genres of writing have their own vocabularies. Learn the words genre readers will expect to read.

A Glossary of Science Fiction Jargon, by Eric S. Raymond

Sensual Words for Romance Writers, by Annette Blair

Gangster Glossary at Night of Mystery

Hard Boiled Slang Dictionary at Classic Crime Fiction

English Dialect Word Lists

For tips on writing with dialects, refer to How to Write Authentic Dialects, by Arlene Prunkl. These word lists will take you the rest of the way, eh!

A List of Quaint Southernisms at Alpha Dictionary

Glossary of English and British Words at Project Britain

Glossary of Canadian English at Wikipedia.org

Words from Other Languages

If you’re writing a book set in a another place, or if a character’s cultural background is of importance to the story, seasoning your story with the occasional foreign word or phrase is de rigeur.

French Phrases Used in English at the Phrase Finder German Loan Words in English at About.com

Russian Words Used in English at Daily Writing Tips

Spanish Words Become Our Own at About.com

The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know at Daily Writing Tips

Confusable Words

It’s easy to confuse words that look or sound similar, or that mean something other than what you think they mean. These lists will help you to sort out some of the more common confusables.

Misused Words by Daily Writing Tips

Commonly Confused Words by Oxford Dictionaries

10 Words that Don’t Mean What You Think They Do at Daily Writing Tips

Misspelled Words

Your word processor’s spell check can catch most of your misspellings, but not all of them. Here are some words that sneak through spell check or trip up writers.

Common Misspellings

Words Often Misspelled Because of Double Letters

There are many more lists that I can add to this round-up. If you have a favourite word list, tell us about it in the comments below.

 

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