Setting is a crucial part of storytelling. Setting affects the story in many ways. What challenges do the protagonists face from nature and their environment? How has the landscape shaped the culture of the people who live there?
There are some common tropes for fantasy and sci-fi stories. Fantasy stories are often set in a parallel version of medieval Europe, with small villages, walled towns and thick forests to traverse. Sci-fi stories are often set on gleaming high-tech space stations. There’s nothing wrong with these settings, of course. Sometimes they suit the story perfectly.
But an unexpected setting can result in an unexpected kind of story.
Mirages and Speculations is a fantasy and sci-fi story set in a different kind of landscape: the desert. Think wind-swept plateaus, scorching sands, and arroyos. Come discover if that glimmer on the desert horizon is a lake, or the gleam of light off the side of a flying saucer. If those swirling clouds are dust devils–or djinn.
Seventeen authors of science fiction and fantasy take you into worlds both futuristic and fantastic under the desert skies.
You can order it as print or e-book from Amazon here.
Many writers benefit from the camaraderie of National Novel Writing Month. Writing is often a solitary pursuit, whether as occupation or as hobby. Knowing that there is a vast network of people out there going through the same things you are creates common ground.
Whether on formal NaNoWriMo boards and hashtags, or just on your own social media with people you know who are also doing NaNoWriMo, you can find people to vent to, people to talk to, people who understand.
If you’ve been reaching out to a writing community–taking part in a writer’s group, going to cons, networking, attending launch parties, anywhere writers tend to gather–you will already know the people who like “the writer lifestyle” more than the actual writing.
These are the people who love to talk all about the plot and characters for their novel, even though they’ve been talking about the same story for years and still haven’t finished their first draft. These are the people whose book is on its 39th draft, but they’re considering changing the main character in a heavy rewrite. These are the people who say they want to be pros, but act like hobbyists.
If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo, will you be spending most of your NaNo time writing a novel, or will you be spending it on social media or at in-person gatherings talking about your story, writing in general, how your day is going, what coffee to order…instead of actually writing?
If this has been you in the past, ask yourself what you really want. Do you want to complete a novel? Or do you want to hang out with people you think are cool and talk about your ideas?
There’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with finding friends to share your hobbies. But if completing a novel is a secondary goal, be honest with yourself. Spend time with like-minded people and support your friends who are working hard to finish their books.
Conversely, if completing a novel is your primary goal, be wary of how you spend your time. The bulk of your NaNo time should be spent accomplishing that goal. In-person gatherings can be fun, but if you’re more productive on your own, make a choice that supports your goal. Online updates can be motivating and online venting can provide you with support, but social media posts do not count towards your word limit.
Finally, you may have a challenge if you are serious but your friends are hobbyists. If they are true friends, they will understand how important your goal is and support you as you work to reach it. However, you may have issues with acquaintances who resented the time you spend on writing, as it takes time away from mutual brainstorming, character-building, plot-creation “hobby” time. If your friends are angry because you are working on your book instead of proofreading the 39th draft of their novel, drawing art of the new character they’ve created for their story that they’ve been writing for the past five years, or just hanging out with them in the coffee shop, then your “friends” are more interested in what you can do for them than in your success.
Fortunately, NaNoWriMo events can help you connect with new people who are as serious about their writing as you are, so even when you are putting the bulk of your time into writing, you can know that you’re not alone.
In the past year I reviewed story pitches for a small publishing house. Prospective writers were asked to provide an outline of their story, including protagonists, antagonist/conflict, and a brief summary of the plot.
Most writers were able to adequately describe their heroes and the challenges they would face, often from villains/enemy characters, sometimes from nature, circumstances, or their own old beliefs. But several writers didn’t show cause and effect in their outlines. Often, these were the same writers who ran into trouble while creating their stories.
“My hero is captured by the enemy king and put in prison, but she escapes…somehow.”
“My hero”s sidekick finds out…somehow…that his ex-boyfriend is in trouble and decides to go help him.”
You’re writing away, following your outline, and you’ve successfully gotten your hero thrown into prison…but now you’re stuck, because you don’t know any way to get her out without resorting to cliches (look! a loose brick in the back of the cell!) implausible coincidences (the guards all get the Spotted Pox and are too sick to pursue her) or power creep/god-moding (it’s fine because my hero is tough enough to beat up all 20 guards at once!)
Meanwhile, your hero’s sidekick is riding to his ex’s rescue, leaving your readers wondering why anyone would put their entire lives on hold to go haring off after a former lover, or how he even knew his ex was in trouble to start with. You’ll explain it later (like, perhaps, when your editor points it out?)
Getting stuck during the writing process, and weak spots in the story, can be avoided if cause and effect are worked into the outline.
“My hero’s sidekick finds out from his ex’s sister, a prison guard at the king’s palace, that his ex has signed on to a dangerous scouting mission. She begs the sidekick to go with him and keep him safe. He agrees, on one condition: his friend (our hero) has been thrown into the king’s dungeon for speaking out against government corruption. If the sister helps him break our hero out of prison, both of them will go to assist her brother.”
In summary, knowing what happens is only half of what you need….you also need to know why and how it happens. If you’ve pre-planned why and how, you’re less likely to get stuck during the writing process. You’re also less likely to feel tempted to resort to cliches, coincidences, and over-powering your characters just to keep the story moving forward. And your manuscript will have a lot fewer weak spots, where a character seems to psychically know some crucial bit of knowledge, or a glitching machine will suddenly start working properly again, or some other event occurs “because the author needed it to” rather than because of any in-story chain of cause and effect.
Fill your outlines with why and how. Show cause and effect–how one event leads into another. You’ll have an easier time writing and end up with a more satisfying story at the end.
Be careful if you do. There’s something in the water…
…and it’s got teeth.
The first two Fossil Lake anthologies explored the beautiful horrors of Fossil Lake. The third, Unicornado!, mixed fantasy, disasters, and terror. Now, for the fourth, we’re back at the Lake and it’s now hosting some very toothy critters in its depths.
Sharkasaurus! draws inspiration from monster movies, Jaws, and Jurassic Park to take on our fears of what lives in the dark water. Proving that gory and funny aren’t necessarily opposites, my story, How to Make a Monster, puts a new twist on the old mad-scientist character so often responsible for The Brain That Terrorized The City…
A female academic, taking the fall for ethics violations, moves to the tropics and tries to rebuild her life to the tune of Jimmy Buffett songs. But when the land sharks start mawing down on tourists, and her old co-worker shows up to track down who’s responsible, this mad scientist has to say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em….
Plus thirty-six other weird works of fiction prose and poetry.