Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts

Brandon Sanderson Teaches Writing

I recently discovered these writing lectures by Brandon Sanderson, famed fantasy author, filmed and posted (with permission) free on Youtube.  I've only begun, but they seem very interesting and useful.  Check out the first one here.  Others follow.

Melinda Brasher's fiction and travel writing appear most recently in Hippocampus, Deep Magic, and Twenty-Two Twenty-Eight.  Her fantasy novel, Far-Knowing, is available on Amazon.    

Visit her online at here

Finding names for your characters

Find your character a name: click here  
If you're like me, you sometimes have a hard time coming up with names for your characters.  This can be especially difficult in fantasy and science fiction.  One solution:  online name generators.

In February, I posted about a cool  "what-if" generator.  Sites like this are good for laughs and for sparks that you can turn into stories, but they're a little on the novelty side.  Name generators, on the other hand, can be very useful in a day-to-day way if you don't intend your character names to be deeply symbolic and if you don't want to waste time, energy, and creativity coming up with names, especially for secondary characters.  

Many generators have various versions or settings, so you can search for names for anything from Japanese women or French men to colonial Americans, rappers, and English kings.  If your writing's a little more on the speculative side, you can search for elves, super villains, robots, heroic orcs, and a whole lot of other character types.  Some sites also have place name generators where you can discover the perfect name for your a small town, lake, hospital, planet, or mystic temple.

Generators should not replace your own creativity, but especially for minor characters and places only mentioned in passing, or if you're really stuck, they can be a life saver.

My favorites:
Fantasy Name Generator (also includes a lot of not-fantasy names)
Rinkworks (mostly aimed at fantasy, with cool settings like "very long names," "vowel-heavy names," and "mushy names")
Seventh Sanctum (One option based on names from US census data, many fantasy options including things like "dark elf" and  "pirate ship")

You'll discover many others online.

So, whether you need a name like Deidre Gordon,  Ronaldo JimĂ©nez, Alouko, or Swiftdemon the Striker, there's a name generator out there for you.

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

Multiple Points of View: Good or Bad?

POV (Point of View), is an topic that could fill whole blogs.  My question today is this:  What do you think of multiple POVs in a novel?  I'm not talking about head-hopping (seeing into multiple characters' heads in the same scene, jumping from one to the other as convenient).  I'm talking about telling one chapter or scene from one character's POV and then using a different character's POV for the next chapter/scene.

In my YA fantasy novel, Far-Knowing, I divide each chapter into 2-4 clearly marked sections which alternate between two characters' POVs (with a third making a few appearances).  The two main POV characters are two young apprentice mages, both young women, but with different backgrounds, skills, aims, and opinions about the world.  And they don't particularly like each other.  I loved writing the story from both points of view because it showed how the world is more gray than black and white, and that two people can interpret the same event completely differently. 

I've read quite a few books told from multiple points of view, including one of my favorite YA fantasy trilogies, Hilari Bell's Farsala, and a little one you may have heard of:  Game of Thrones.  

It's interesting to me, however, how divisive the style is.  Look at a couple of reviews of Far-Knowing:

"I normally don’t like stories that switch a lot from one point of view to another, and back again. There have been rare cases where I did end up liking them, in spite of multiple POVs --- but this book is the first time I remember finishing a book and thinking that the multiple points-of-view not only failed to detract from the story, but also made the story better. From the perspective of someone like me who is biased against that practice, this is quite a testament to Melinda Brasher’s skill as a writer. It’s terrific."
-from a 5-star Amazon review

"But for me this book had a major problem, and this was the manner in which it jumped from one character's point of view to another character's point of view. Many times, just as I was getting into the story, the point of view changed, and I had to reestablish the context. Some readers don't mind this kind of style, so I think many readers will enjoy this book more than I did."
-from an otherwise positive 3-star Amazon review

And these:

"The characters were well developed and you really got to see into Kalli and Ista's minds. I do however think that the POV switches came too frequently. I would've preferred the format to be different, but it wasn't too distracting."
-from a 3.5-star review

"I absolutely loved the changing perspective of different points of view of individual characters. Things aren’t exactly as they seem to be. Very true."
-from a 5-star Amazon review

Out of curiosity, I just looked at reviews of Game of Thrones that mention point of view (8 POV characters, by the way), and most say that it adds so much depth, that we really get to know all the POV characters, that it brings the story to life, that it shows how even the bad guys can justify their actions and aren't all bad.  Several mention that they thought it would be confusing or unnecessary with so many POVs, but that it worked.  Several say it WAS confusing at bits but it was worth it.  A few have warnings that the multiple POVs may put off readers looking for a simple tidy read.  

So, what do you think?  Have you ever written anything in this style?  Do you have any examples of books you love (or don't love) told like this?  When you read one, do you find yourself hurrying through one or more POVs to get to your favorite character?  I'd love to hear in the comments.

And to see for yourself what you think of the POVs in Far-Knowing, Farsala (Fall of a Kingdom), or Game of Thrones, click the links below.

Far-Knowing, by Melinda Brasher
Fall of a Kingdom (Farsala #1) by Hilari Bell
Game of Thrones by Geroge R.R. Martin

Melinda Brasher loves casual hiking, taking photos of nature, playing in the shallow little river that runs through her Czech town, and hanging out at home writing.  Her short fantasy story, "Chaos Rises" is now FREE on Amazon (and everywhere else).  Her microfiction (38 words) recently won honorable mention in On the Premises' Mini Contest #25.  Read "Dusk" for free here.  Or visit her online at

The Story that Needs to be Told--Patrick Ness

In A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, a monster tells young Conor three stories and then demands that Conor tell him a fourth story--his own story.

The monster's first tale is about a regent (a witch who wants to marry her own step-son to keep herself in power) and the rightful heir (a good ruler who we later discover committed a heinous and unnecessary act to assure himself the throne).

But Conor is confused.

"I don't understand.  Who's the good guy here?"

There is not always a good guy.  Nor is there always a bad one.  Most people are somewhere in between. 
Conor shook his head.  "That's a terrible story.  And a cheat." 
It is a true story, the monster said.  Many things that are true feel like a cheat.  Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers' daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving.  Quite often, actually.  You'd be surprised.
-From A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness 
inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

The story is a good one.  It's the one Conor needs to hear, even if he doesn't understand yet.

Sometimes we as writers have to tell the story that demands to be told--even if it doesn't fit the patterns.  Even if it blurs lines and breaks rules.  Even if some people will call it a terrible story and a cheat.  

Because sometimes these are the most powerful.

Melinda Brasher loves visiting alternate worlds through books and exploring this world through travel. Check out her newest article on Go Nomad:  “Hunting Mushrooms in Wallachia.”  For some free short fiction, read “Stalked” on On the Premises or “A Learned Man” on Electric Spec.. Visit her online at

What I've Learned from NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don’t know about NaNoWriMo, it’s an event that takes place in November every year.  Hundreds of thousands of dedicated writers all over the world each pledge to write a rough draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words) in one month.  That’s almost 1700 words per day:  a serious commitment and an exhilarating one.  I wrote my first Nano novel in 2009, starting at midnight November 1 in my pension in Znojmo, Czech Republic.  I wrote all the next day on foggy train rides in South Moravia, the perfect mysterious setting for writing my tale.

I now have five Nano novels under my belt.  It’s a great experience and I highly recommend it.  Here are some things I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo that can apply to all writing, not just crazy novel-in-a-month challenges.

1)  Have Concrete Goals and Record Your Progress.  “Write a novel this month” doesn’t work as well as “Write 1700 words today.”  During NaNoWriMo, I update my word count daily on Nano’s cool website so I can get a visual of how well I’m doing.  It’s really motivational.  You can create similar charts on your own, with spreadsheet graphics, other computer applications, or simple paper charts above your desk.  The very act of physically marking off your progress (or realizing you haven’t done the work to allow you this satisfaction) really helps.

2)  Band Together with Other Writers. In Nano, depending on where you live, you can join regional groups that host in-person planning sessions, parties, and write-ins throughout the month.  Even if you don’t have an active regional group, there are virtual write-ins and word wards (where you compete to write the most words in a set time limit).  NaNoWriMo forums are fantastic places to go for inspiration or to do research for your novel.  Ask what arsenic poisoning feels like, or how much beer costs in Germany, and you’ll get answers.  It’s amazing.  In non-NaNoWriMO life, writers’ groups are just as important.  I am and will be eternally gratefully to my writer’s critique groups, who not only help me become a better writer and catch my stupid typos, but who motivate me to write, write, write, so I can submit regularly. 

3)  Lock up your Inner Editor.  When you’re trying to get a story down on paper, try not to re-read and edit as you go.  It slows you down and may kill your inertia once you get going.  I used to edit a lot as I went.  Every time I sat down to write, I’d go back several page sand re-read and edit before I started writing.  Sometimes I’d run out of time or creative energy and never get to the actual writing part.  In Nano, if I wanted to reach 50,000+ words in 30 days, I couldn’t afford this, so I would open up my document, read maybe two paragraphs, and then start writing. And my rough draft wasn’t as rough at the end as I supposed it would be.  Now I try to implement this “just get it down first” style of writing even when I’m not in a time crunch.

4)  Plan Plenty of Time to Revise Later.  My first NaNoWriMo novel is in print and available.  I’m querying my second to agents.  But my third, fourth, and fifth?  They’re in the trunk, not completely finished and mostly unedited.  What I’ve failed to do is commit as much (or more) time to polishing these novels as I did to writing the first drafts.  They say, of course, that writing is 1/3 of the work and revising is 2/3.  So plan for this and don’t let your drafts languish in Rough Draft Land.

So this year I’m not writing a novel during NaNoWriMo.  Instead, I’m rewriting and revising a trunk novel—still in 30 days, still a huge challenge.  And though I’m a little sad not to be writing something new, I’m excited about readying my old work for public eyes. 

It’s not too late for you to start Nanowrimo:

If you want to read my first NaNoWriMo novel (on sale now in honor of Nano), here’s the Amazon link:  Far-Knowing 
Far-Knowing is also available at other major online bookstores.

Melinda Brasher loves visiting alternate worlds through books and exploring this world through travel. Check out her newest article on Go Nomad:  “Hunting Mushrooms in Wallachia.”  For some free short fiction, read “Stalked” on On the Premises or “A Learned Man” on Electric Spec.. Visit her online at

Get Your Fantasy Story Published: Insider Manuscript Submission Tips From an Editor

I was recently contacted by a rep at Writer's Digest Books & Magazine. If you are not familiar with this awesome writer's resource, be sure to check it out after reading this guest post written by Scott Francis, a Content Editor. Then go to my website and check out the page they sent me about writing YA Fantasy.

Ask anyone. The biggest question when you're a writer is likely "how do you get published?" Some writers start thinking about it way before they should—before they've focused their attention on improving their craft and writing a good story. In my opinion that should always come first and if you're serious about getting published, well, then that's your first step, isn't it? Make sure your writing is good and write something worth reading. 

That said, when you are ready to get published, what do you do? There's plenty of advice on how to get published out there—volumes and volumes written on the subject. But within all that wealth of information that's available, how do you know which advice is right for you, especially if you write within a specific genre like fantasy (or an even more specialized niche like fantasy YA or say paranormal YA romance)? The key (aside from having a really great manuscript) is in being detail oriented and communicating well. Sounds easy enough, but if you've been writing for any length of time at all, then you know it can be tricky. Here are a few tips that I hope will help you in your search for publication.

Do Your Research

Before you approach a book publisher with your novel submission make sure you research the kinds of books they publish—you don’t want to send your futuristic cyberpunk novel to publisher looking for dragons and swordplay.

Obviously you should know the subject matter they deal with (and you can often find this out easily enough from their website or a market listing). But beyond that, I recommend dipping into a few of their books. See what the voice of the writers they tend to publish is like. What tone do their books have? It may sound obvious, but if you like what you are reading, then it's more likely that your book will be a good fit. If something about the books turn you off then maybe your writing isn't a good match for what the publisher is looking for. It doesn't mean your writing is bad—only that you're not compatible. As with dating, maybe it's best to just be friends.

This applies to short fiction as well. Before shopping your short story around make sure to read the publications you intend to submit to. Reading other stuff out there will help you zero in on the right publications to target your stuff to, and chances are it will also help your writing. After all, to write well you should read a lot.

Read the Fine Print

I can't stress enough the importance of carefully reading the submission guidelines. Everything you need to know about the way a publisher (or publication) wants to see material submitted will be outlined there. If you don't read them, you're setting yourself up for failure. It's like showing up for a test in school without having studied. Sure, you might skate through somehow, but the odds are definitely not in your favor. Guidelines exist for a reason. Read them. Follow them.

Query Letters

The query letter is your admission ticket. This gets you through the gate, so it's important to do it right. The best way to do that is to keep it short and to the point. The agent or editor who reads your letter wants to know in the fewest words possible what your book is about. Period. My advice is this:

  • address the agent or editor by name
  • deliver a short sentence or two that tells them who the main character is and explains the crux of the plot
  • offer any relevant details about yourself (this should be short and only be included if it seems like something that might be helpful in selling the book)
  • and finally ask them to contact you if they are interested in seeing a submission package

For short fiction you can ignore this last point since for most short stories you'll be submitting the piece itself along with a cover letter. (All of the above info works just as well for a cover letter as it does a query.)

Submission Package

Your submission package is what you send when you get a positive response from your query, asking to see more material. This may vary from publisher to publisher (which is why it's important to read the submission guidelines). Some publishers may want to see a synopsis (a short summary of the entire book's plot), some may want sample chapters, some may want the first 50 pages or so, and some may want the entire manuscript. Their response (or their submission guidelines!) should outline what they'd like to see. Follow those directions as closely as possible.

Submitting Fantasy Stories

So, what is different about submitting a fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal story?

The real answer is “not much.” The process is the same. The kinds of materials, the types of correspondence, the attention to detail—all of these things are pretty much the same no matter what genre you write in.

However, one important thing about fantasy stories is that there is often a great deal of information that needs to be conveyed in order for the story to make sense. After all, in many instances you've built an entire world that is different from our own, or you've invented a system of magic that has an intricate set of rules, or maybe you've created an entire culture or belief system. Such large concepts can be difficult to convey concisely, but that's exactly what you have to do. You need to boil down your fantasy world's setting or the natural rules that govern your characters' supernatural powers to a simple description.

Agents and editors have short attention spans (they have to do a ton of reading). Your fantastic planet filled with seven different warring races that are unlike anything known to mankind may sound amazing to you, but to an agent or editor it can sound like the other 10 projects that crossed their desk just this morning. What makes yours special? What the essential thing about your story that makes you want to tell it? If you can answer that question, then you have what you need to put in your query letter (hint: it usually comes down to your main character and his or her internal or external conflict). The other details are secondary and you should explain them in a way that is short and to the point, leaving out anything that might confuse matters or bog down your pitch.


Scott Francis is the editor of Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, the premiere resource dedicated to helping writers get published and find a literary agent. He is an editor for Writers Digest's writing books where he works to develop resources to help writers advance their writing careers in numerous ways including: improving writing skills and writing techniques, getting published, building an author platform, and learning to be a better writer. He is also the author of Monster Spotter's Guide to North America and co-author of The Writer's Book of Matches.

Pierre Dominque Roustan

I'm pretty sure this is VBT's first author interview and it's my pleasure to welcome Pierre Dominque Roustan, author of The Cain Letters. Pierre and I are members of the Facebook group Red River Writers and are participating in their organized tours.

Pierre, I know this is an exciting time for you - you are now published! Please tell us about you and your book.

Wow, this is a nice place you got here, Karen. It’s not every day I get to step out of my pad at the Writing and Reading Universe and explore. Allow me to introduce myself then! Pierre Dominique Roustan. Yes, you readers out there can say it: it’s a cool name. And that’s because I’m cool. I’m a 2nd generation Hispanic, born in Chicago, Illinois, son to a fiery Puerto Rican woman and a tough-as-nails Nicaraguan man. And, yet, you ask why I have such a French name…. Because my dad’s half-French. Yes. It’s true.

I’ve been writing ever since I remembered being able to walk. It was one of those things you just couldn’t get away from, you know? My parents had me tested for giftedness, and the results came back showing I was gifted. What gift(s) I had? Wasn’t sure. Didn’t care. So much so that I sometimes omit the pronouns when I write. However, my parents cared, teachers cared, others cared; and they saw something in me. It didn’t take me long to realize that I loved to write—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, anything. I just had this need to fill the white space on a piece of paper with some sort of manifestation of my imagination (that’s a mouthful there), so much so that I followed my heart and earned a B.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

As I stand now before you, I’m a published author. My debut will be released in December. The number of people I could thank outnumber my fingers and toes and the fingers and toes of my family. I’m not exaggerating. I think it’s fair that I give you some insight into my journey of publication, though….

I write urban fantasy and thrillers (and sometimes those two genres go together for me). My debut is a fast-paced thriller known as THE CAIN LETTERS. Look for it. However, it wasn’t my first finished manuscript, nor my first project.

I actually wrote my first ‘story’ at the tender age of 10, I believe. It was about 20 pages long. The next ‘story’ I wrote landed me a 200-pager. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I think I was a freshman in high school. I then wrote another story that stretched to 300 pages long. Here’s the real kicker, though; the next project I took on actually pulled in about 540 pages…. 154,000 words, and the best part about that was I, initially, thought that was too short!

Go figure. I guess I was long-winded.

And then came THE CAIN LETTERS. At 74,000 words, it moved fast. I had learned a lot about storytelling, about pacing, about plot, about character. THE CAIN LETTERS is a culmination of all that I’ve learned.

For those aspiring writers out there, let me tell you: following a dream kills. The good thing, though, is your passion for writing makes you reborn every single time. Through every rejection, every bout with writer’s block, every setback, anything getting in your way, that desire to write brings you back up. Every single time. Let me tell you how dreaming kills: I received over 100 rejections for THE CAIN LETTERS, about 97% of them from literary agents. And those 100 rejections were spread over one year, almost to the day. The middle of March, 2008, was when I finished the manuscript. I just signed my contract with Eirelander Publishing about four days ago—without a literary agent. Funny how time flies.

You never know what’ll happen. I just learned to keep trying. It paid off.

Those who’ve followed my blog might know a bit here and there about the book and the characters, but let me paint a picture for you real quick:

Enter: Alexandra Glade.

An auburn-haired, gray-eyed beauty of a woman, black trench coat, turtleneck and tight pants, armed to the teeth with all kinds of weaponry. Think “The Matrix”, “Underworld”, “Blade” with a little bit of sex appeal, and there’s Alexandra for you. There are days I regret a little bit creating her in my head, because I worry that she might beat the living hell out of me. Because she can. She’s essentially a trained killer.

Only she kills vampires. For a living.

With her team, an organization known as the Berith Lochem, Hebrew for ‘Divine Covenant’, she hunted rogue vampires and other abominations for the sake of God alongside her comrade Kyan Tanaka, a Japanese man bred into the world of a mercenary until he found God. With remarkable resources, the Berith Lochem served the Vatican and other clients looking for a cleansing of some kind. They were like bounty hunters.

It was easy, you know? Hunting vampires. The life was so linear. And simple. Until a strange book surfaced that seemed to be of some interest to many of the damned—most notably two master vampires of cunning strength and power, two of the strongest in the world, actually—a Russian known as Nikolas Stahl and a savage Los Angeles native named Mason Richter. The book had ancient knowledge regarding something that had been locked away, secret, since the beginning of time—

The origin of the vampire. How it all began.

No longer was Alexandra’s life so linear. Her journey suddenly came upon forks of all kinds. And obstacles.

The book, dating way back to the times of the Exodus, revealed the origin. And it was a shocking one. One that would shake the pillars of the world, of faith—

The world’s first vampire was the world’s first murderer. Fitting. And terrifying.

Cain, brother of Abel, son to Adam and Eve, had struck a deal with Satan to cleanse himself of the guilt, the shame, the despair of a dying world and the mark of banishment on him. The cleansing took away his humanity, took away his soul even—and made him into what was commonly known as…vampire.

Driven by blood, as a reminder of Abel’s blood on his hands, Cain walked the earth. Immortal.

What Alexandra realized was that Nikolas and Mason planned on finding Cain. The secret book revealed his hidden location for so many centuries. What Alexandra feared was what they intended to do once they found him—

It didn’t take her long to realize that they were planning on killing him. These two master vampires, countless ages apart from a man of the book of Genesis, were going to silence the father of the damned.

Now on any other day, Alexandra Glade, Berith Lochem vampire hunter of vengeance, she wouldn’t have a problem with the idea of the father of the damned dying. But she knew Scripture. And what she knew terrified her even more than Cain….

She couldn’t allow Nikolas and Mason to kill Cain.... For the sake of the world hung on the balance that Cain had to live. All her training, all her scars, everything, anything that made her who she was, a hunter, she had to forsake and leave, protecting the very first vampire from death. All to save mankind.

Could she make such a decision? With her duty, her need to hunt and kill vampires, her fierce vengeance…. Could she reject all of that…. And save a fierce killer like Cain?

I’ll let that simmer in you a little bit. I can’t give all of it away, people. Come on! You’ll have to read the book when it debuts.

THE CAIN LETTERS is, indeed, a beginning of what is most definitely a series for me. Having landed a contract, you’ll see a few more continuations, following the adventures of Alexandra Glade and the Berith Lochem. But until then, face the fear that is THE CAIN LETTERS. And believe. Believe in evil.

That’s all I got for all of you, readers. Give it up for Karen Cioffi as well! Put your hands together. It has been an honor being her guest, and do give her the honor of reading her work as well. Feel free to make as many comments as you like! Karen and I will be checking. Questions? Concerns? Coffee? Cupcakes?

Well, that's not quite all, Pierre will be back tomorrow with a questions and answers interview.

Don't forget to stop back tomorrow,


Authors Need to be Realistic

By Terry Whalin  @terrywhalin Over the years, I’ve met many passionate writers. One brand new writer told me, “My book is going to be a best...