Tag Archives: Fictorians

Write What You Know or No?

All right, Mark Twain, sounds simple enough.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard this sage advice: write what you know.

Our experiences help shape who we are and what we believe about the world, so they can be valuable veins to mine when it comes to writing. No one person in the world has had the same combinations of experiences as you. However, many have had similar combinations of experiences and have lived in the same time as you. That connection of shared, similar experiences can help engage readers and draw them in to your book. This is why the saying, “Write what you know, ” is so popular in writing circles.

But this advice isn’t the end-all be-all. Plenty of arguments can be made against it.

Oh, I see what you did there.

What if a physical handicap has limited the writer in combat experience, but the writer wants to write a medieval sword fight?

What if you’re a boring person? Do you just write about owning seven cats at one time because that’s what you’re familiar with? What not showering for three days does to the human body? Not clipping your toenails for three months?

While those topics can be very interesting and you should totally write about those, perhaps there is room for adding more information to your story even if you haven’t yourself experienced it.

This month, the Fictorians will discuss personal experience verses imagination: which

Okay, I don't even know anymore.
Okay, I don’t even know anymore.

is more important and where the two intersect. We’ll also consider how far you can/should/maybe shouldn’t go to experience what your characters experience. We’ll include some interesting experiences we’ve had, which may or may not include learning how to deal with post-combat stress, retracing Nikola Tesla’s footsteps, butchering our own meat, and breaking bones.

Later this month, we’ll get an exclusive interview with Fictorian Frank Morin, author of the series The Petralist.

Now we’re curious. In the comments below, please tell us how far you’ve gone to gain experience for writing!

 

Meet The Fictorians: Evan Braun

“Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We’d love for you, our wonderful readers, to get to know us better. That’s why, each month, Kristin Luna will interview a member of The Fictorians. We’ll learn more about each member, such as their writing processes, their work, where they live, and what they prefer to drink on a cold winter’s day. We hope you enjoy this monthly installment of Meet the Fictorians.

 

Meet the Fictorians:

Evan Braun

1

 

Kristin Luna (KL): Hi Evan! What are you drinking right now at this moment?

Evan Braun (EB): I am enjoying a cool, refreshing glass of Fresca, which is probably my favourite beverage of all-time. (I say “probably” because I go through phases; next week I might answer Diet Dr. Pepper, but I’ll be wrong. The real answer is Fresca.) While I’m on the subject of Fresca, one of my greatest frustrations in life is that in Canada we only have the original citrus-flavoured variety, whereas in the States you have access to the sweet ambrosia that is Peach Fresca and Black Cherry Fresca. Unfortunately, the folks at Coca-Cola, likely in conjunction with the Government of Canada, have decided we don’t deserve good things.

KL: Maybe Canada and the U.S. should come together and have the Fresca Peace Talks? I think you guys deserve some Peach and Black Cherry Fresca!

So, few people other than the Fictorians know this, but you were our intrepid leader since nearly the beginning. How many years exactly?

EB: The Fictorians started in March 2011 as a loose collective of bloggers. Though I was involved from the start, there was no leader per se. I gradually stepped into a leadership capacity about a year and a half later.

KL: What was it like in the beginning? How was the group The Fictorians formed?

EB: The original group of bloggers met in 2010 at the first annual Superstars Writing Seminar in Pasadena. The idea of forming a writing blog came about while we were nursing drinks at the hotel bar, which I think is how all convention-goers come up with their great ideas. We spent the next year in close communication, forming an accountability email list where we’d make weekly goals and report on our progress to each other. And then, almost exactly one year later, the Fictorians made its debut.

Like I said, there was no leader, and in fact we barely had any organization at all. We had a loose commitment to blog once a month, and to schedule our posts for certain days, but there was nobody to make sure any of this got done. We strived to post three days a week, which I think is a good goal at the start of an endeavour like this.

From there, our numbers grew, people came and went, and now we have a bona fide organizational structure undergirding the whole enterprise.

KL: You already let the cat out of the bag, so I don’t mind reminding everyone that you live in Canada. Do you draw inspiration for your writing from your surroundings?

EB: At this moment I’m looking out my window at a seemingly endless field, flat as three dimensions can produce, covered with at least a foot of snow—three or four feet where the snow has drifted—and the overcast and foreboding skies presage an imminent winter storm poised to dump another foot and a half. Once the snow starts to fall, everything will be white and I won’t be able to distinguish the horizon between ground and sky. Beautiful. And horrible. Definitely a mix of those two.

But do my surroundings inspire me? In a way, yes, I think they do. I’m currently working on a novel about a small colony on Mars, and its population and social structure is quite similar to the small town I actually live in. And of course, on Mars the colonies are isolated and the weather bitterly cold (albeit a lot drier than my prairie reality).

KL: If you couldn’t live in Canada, where would you live?

EB: I guess the easy answer might be… Hawaii?

The only other place I have lived is Huntsville, Alabama, for two and a half years, so I’ve had a good taste of the American south. As much as I enjoyed my time there, and made some of my very best friends, the experience only sweetened my appreciation of home. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there was a time, when I was younger, when I wished I lived somewhere bigger, better, and busier than the quiet little place I’m from. I don’t feel that way anymore. And it turns out I really like quiet.

Not to make a joke or take this in a cosmic direction, but honestly, how strange and scary and life-changing and inspiring would it be to leave Earth and live on another planet, like Mars? Our generation is almost certainly going to see people do this in our lifetimes, which I think is just mind-boggling. So there you have it. It’s Canada or Mars for me!

KL: I hear you about someplace quiet. And Mars should be reeeeeeally quiet.

You have been busy with your series The Watchers Chronicle. Is the series complete?

EB: Yes, I’m finished that series now. It’s three volumes—The Book of Creation, The City of Darkness, and The Law of Radiance. The third book came out this past spring, and it’s done now. Of course, I reserve the right to go back to it at some point in the future. There are a number of nooks and crannies in that story which haven’t been told yet.

KL: What’s something important you learned about writing and/or about yourself while writing The Watchers Chronicle?

EB: My biggest lesson in writing was that it’s so much harder to finish something than it is to start it and keep it going. While I was writing the third book, I was flooded by one amazing cliffhanger idea after another. It would have been so easy to ramp up the story to an irresistible climax and then defer the endgame for another book—and I imagine I could have kept doing that for quite a number of volumes. Writing a satisfying and definitive ending is hugely difficult.

As for my biggest lesson about being a human being? Well, that would be related to the pains and joys of collaboration (I had a co-author), busting through creative logjams, and working through the difficult and painful process of making compromises.

KL: Speaking of pains and joys, what’s your ideal writing time look like?

EB: In the middle of the night. Being self-employed, I have the freedom to work any hours I choose—and by extension, write for whatever hours I choose. This means I usually get up around noon and go to bed around 4:00 a.m., with my prime writing time happening right at the tail end of that “day.” For me, nothing can beat those quiet, distraction-free hours.

KL: Any words of wisdom you’d like to impart on our readers?

EB: It’s nothing profound. I hear all the time that the one quality that sets really successful people apart from the rest of humanity is dogged determination. You just have to keep going, no matter what. Yes, make changes and adjustments when you hit a roadblock, but never stop. Because getting back up to speed and rebuilding lost momentum is a crushing weight.

KL: Second to last question, I swear, what is your favorite snack? (Crossing my fingers you’ll say Boy Bawang.)

EB: Kristin and I are both partnered to Filipino men, and as such have recently been introduced to the joys of Filipino cuisine. (Except balut, no thank you!) Now, I’m not sure “cuisine” is the appropriate term for a heavily salted deep-fried corn kernel, but anyway, that’s Boy Bawang for you. The best flavours are classic garlic, adobo, and butter.

KL: [Audible stomach growling]

EB: Well, to be honest, while that is the most recent snack to be added to my repertoire, I’m not 100% certain it’s my true favourite. I’ll probably never get over the simple, high-caloric pleasure of eating a bag of Doritos one chip at a time, sucking the last morsel of radioactive-orange nacho cheese into my gaping maw. Sorry, that got a bit gross.

KL: Not gross at all to this Doritos fan! I hope one day I get rich enough or get a really fancy grant or something to sleep on a bed of nacho cheese Doritos. I can just eat my way out of bed every morning, and fall into a crunchy bed every night.

ANYWAY. Final question: what is your favorite Fictorians post that you’ve written so far?

EB: This is an insidious question. Because I don’t recall, at this moment, any one post that I’m especially proud of, I had to go through each of them to refresh my memory. And it turns out I’ve written 67 Fictorian posts to date. So thanks, Kristin.

Well, because I took the time to peruse my entire Fictorians past (it turns out 2013 was a good blogging year for me), I’m going to provide my three favourite posts. Here goes.

3. “It Doesn’t Happen in a Straight Line”, September 2013. Here, I break down the many plateaus of my burgeoning writing career, and what I’ve learned from them.

2. “Making the Science Work: Freedom through Limitation”, March 2013. In this post, I examine the relationship between science reality and storytelling convenience.

1. “Platonic Relationships in Fiction (a.k.a. ‘The Glue’)”, February 2013. I remember struggling mightily to come up with a good blog idea for Romance Month, so I waited until the last minute. And then this came out, and it’s my clear favourite.

 

If you have any questions for Evan, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

The Monster Mash: Writing Sex Scenes, Part One

A guest post by Joshua Essoe.

This is an intimidating subject, and one I think many authors have a lot of questions about. Should the characters indulge in a little horizontal refreshment? Do they or don’t they? Should I or shouldn’t I?

In loving someone else, we really do discover things about ourselves. The act of sex opens up all kinds of emotional territory for us, and it’s great to show characters discovering themselves through their physical loving of one another.

First, let’s decide if your story needs a love scene. Just like any other scene, ideally, it should do three things–advance the plot, show character progression, and turn you on . . . I mean entertain. If the sex can reveal character, or advance plot, or increase tension, you should consider including a little limb mingling in your story. Especially if the genre encourages it.

I read an awesome quote from Delilah S. Dawson who writes the Blud series:

“Remember in Mallrats, where they were doing the dating show, and the suitors were asked if their kisses were like a soft breeze, a firm handshake, or a jackhammer? Gil answered, “Definitely a jackhammer, I’m in there with some pressure and when I’m done, you’re not the same as before. You’re changed.” And we laughed, because he was a douche. But your sex scene should be like that: it should move the story forward and somehow affect the characters emotionally. Maybe the hero learns to open up, maybe the heroine decides she wants to be more aggressive in her real life, maybe they’re just having what they think is a last fling before a giant orc battle. But it has to mean something, or else it’s just porn.”

So here are some things to consider:

A) Is a character’s personal life necessary to the story?

B) Should the sex be explicit or implied?

C) What genre is it for?

Each genre is going to cook the meat and potatoes a different way, and have different expectations and limitations. Do your research and find out what is required, and what is prohibited. Keep in mind that just because a story has a sex scene in it, it doesn’t make it erotica any more than an action story becomes a romance because there is a romantic relationship in it.

Sex scenes and romances are all about the tension. They’re about building that moment that readers are waiting for. That moment where one thing turns to another. That first kiss after all those “innocent” touches, or all that longing. It’s that slow build to that first moment where the clothes finally come off, or the first time that one character finally admits that they love the other. The buildup is where it’s at. That’s what’s interesting and engaging. The reward of the actual kiss, or the I-love-you, or the sex is nice, but it means little without the buildup of characters and those characters’ desires. Wine and dine your readers before taking them home. Everybody enjoys some foreplay.

Terry Goodkind did a masterful job of creating romantic tension in his first few Sword of Truth books. We really wanted Kahlan and Richard to get together just as much as we were invested in the central conflict being resolved. When they finally kiss and when they finally get together, however briefly, it is immensely satisfying.

Another excellent lesson from that series is that the tension of their love affair decreased exponentially with each new book that kept them apart. With the repetitive pulling apart and coming back together, it became frustrating. You can’t be a one-trick pony, no matter how good that trick is; you have to show your readers new problems, give them new conflicts. There’s only so long readers will be willing to wait, and only so much they’ll be able to stand before getting frustrated or bored and putting your story down.

You have to keep up the cycle of tension, but it has to be fresh tension.

So, okay, the characters really do need to do the pickle tickle. It’s necessary to the story, okay? How do you handle it?

Unless the tone and mood calls for it, unless the characters and the story call for it, don’t be needlessly crass. There are plenty of ways to describe things, and use implied information to inform your readers of exactly what is going on.

In one sci-fi manuscript I read, the writer plunged me into gratuitous sex scene after gratuitous sex scene with no build-up or tonal foreshadowing, and seemingly without purpose besides the writer’s desire to write raunchy sex scenes. It was like having a picnic on a cloudless day that abruptly begins raining frogs on you. It didn’t make sense and was quite jarring.

Language is important. The specific words you use are important. Don’t write a book that has a little flirtation, and then jump into a chapter where one character is practically raping another. Don’t abstain from using any harsh language, and then use all the filthiest words you can come up with when you get to your sex scene. Your story needs consistency and everything must be set up so that you are appropriately managing your readers’ expectations.

Tone is important, but don’t be afraid to have a funny sex scene either. Coming-of-age sex scenes, for example, could be just as much about the humor in the awkwardness as it is about that life-changing event for the characters. You can still do funny, and tender, and sexy all in one scene if you want. Life is nuanced, and so should your sex scenes be.

In part two, we’ll take a deeper poke at how far to go, tropes, and character penetration. Until then, don’t write anything you’ll regret in the morning.

Joshua EssoeAbout Joshua Essoe:

Joshua Essoe is a full-time, freelance editor. He’s done work for best-seller David Farland, including the multi-award winning novel, Nightingale; Dean Lorey, lead writer of Arrested Development; best-seller, James Artimus Owen; and numerous Writers of the Future authors and winners, as well as many top-notch independents. He is currently the copy editor at Urban Fantasy Magazine.

Together with tie-in writer Jordan Ellinger, indie success-story, Michael J. Sullivan, and traditionally published author and NY Times best-seller, Debbie Viguie, he records the weekly writing podcast Hide and Create

When not editing . . . ha ha, a joke. He was a 2014 finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and lives with his wife, and three horrible cats near UCLA.

Do You Wanna Know What Love Is? Do You Want Me To Show You?

Some like it hot. Others just plain don’t like it, hot or cold. I could either be talking about oatmeal or love. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a month’s worth of posts about oatmeal, so we opted for love.

But not just any old love. Complicated love. Confusing love. Forbidden love. Exhausting love. Unique love. Carnie love. Maybe not carnie love, but maybe someone should start talking about it, gosh darn it, because love is love! And while we have our individual experiences, we share one thing: we’ve all been touched by it. How we’ve been touched by it is a whole ‘nuther conversation.

But we’re about to have that conversation. How can you make love between two characters unique? Should you or should you not marry your cat? How do you reach outside your own experience to create unique, surprising love between characters? How can you get that guy to stop stalking you? We hope to answer most of these questions this month.

You can look forward to posts from all of your favorite bloggers, along with special guest posts by author Lisa Mangum, her talented filmmaker husband Tracy Mangum, Cthulhu convert and author Stephan McLeroy, aspiring author and illustrator Victoria Morris, and editor/hair god Joshua Essoe. Join us as we celebrate love and relentlessly pound the crap out of it this month!