What ya got against series?

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Sometimes a story takes more than one book; but tread carefully, for there are many pits to stumble into.

What always surprises me as lurk around different forums is the hate series seem to get from some individuals, particularly series that reach great success like Harry Potter. “The author is just milking the cash cow,” they will say, or “Don’t they have enough money.” What these individuals don’t understand is that writers don’t write series to increase their money intake — at least not in most cases. Writers write series because they have a story they want to tell and it is just not physically possible to tell it in one book.

I will admit in some cases series are expanded for profitability. The Twilight Series (I refuse to call it a saga because it just is not one) is a good example as it was expanded at the request of the publisher, and it shows in the later two books where nothing happens for prolonged periods of time because Stephenie Meyer had only originally planned for one book. And that is one of the challenges with series: They need to be planned out thoroughly. Lack of proper planning is perhaps one of the big reasons people roll their eyes at series.

Without proper planning, you can have subplots that don’t go anywhere or are forgotten over the course of a long series, character whiplash, and a hoard of other problems, which always glare off the page to discerning readers. Writers must always consider the end point when writing a series; properly plan/outline the novels; write out character changes/growth/or planned back slides and the reasoning behind them; write down subplots and how they are resolved; and more.

While J.K. Rowling stated she had planned out the entirety of the Harry Potter series, I seriously doubt it. Why do I say this? The sudden inclusion of the Deathly Hallows in book seven. There should have been lead up to these magical items prior to book six — and no the inclusion of the cloak of invisibility does not cut it because the concept of the Deathly Hallows was not mentioned beside it. This could have been corrected if the items were referenced in one of the earlier books; perhaps, Hermione could have noted them from one of her readings, etc. If this had been done, readers could have had an “AH!” moment, rather than be left to scratch their heads and wonder why Rowling pulled these items out of nowhere.

The other plus to properly planning out a series is you have a rough idea of how many books you need to tell your story, and it should help prevent you from having a book (or books) in the series that does nothing — that does not push the plot through to the end. This is a real danger when writing series and will only serve to frustrate readers who will grumble. It will also help prevent wandering series that might outlive you, e.g., The Wheel of Time series.

No doubt, even if a writer takes the time and follows through with their plans, there will still be gripers and that is something that will never change. Even so, writers should not shy away from writing series; after all, the most important thing is for the writer to get out their story with perfect execution, so the plot bunnies don’t drive them crazy.

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To hyphenate or not to hypenate

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A hyphen can bring further clarity when placed properly.

As a copy editor, I have to read a lot of freelancers’ articles, and often times, I am amazed at the interesting grammar choices they bring into the sterile, grammar disease-free environment of our editorial office. They bring in grammar flavors of the month, going in cycles of wanting to put a comma here one month and then the next deciding there really wasn’t supposed to be a comma there after all. What is hilarious is they all seem to pick up the same flavors at the same time. And when they all pick them up at the same time, sometimes it tricks the copy editor into thinking they have missed something, and that is when the copy editor needs to slap themselves and say: “No! These freelancers are wrong!”

The most recent flavor, or STD as I like to joke, is hyphenating -ly adjectives with other adjectives, eg., a partially-deaf individual or the publicly-owned complex. Where they picked this up, I have no clue, but it is wrong. -ly adjectives are never hyphenated with another word per the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style.

So what can you hyphenate? Well, you can hyphenate two words that do not end in -ly for one, eg., blueish-green sea, worst-case scenario, well-read child, and so on. You also hyphenated ages when they are in front of the noun like the five-year-old child or the 100-year-old house. The linked to chart is a lifesaver when it comes to tackling the hyphen. Another friend is the dictionary, which will show compounds that are hyphenated.

In high school, I had a teacher who whenever we had questions would always tell us to look it up. At the time, it would drive me crazy, but nowadays I am exceedingly grateful, because it has made me capable of hunting down my own answers — to be self-reliant. It is a skill all writers need to have, and that is why you need the tools to find the answers to any questions you might come across while writing. Purchase a stylebook (most publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style) and use it! Have a dictionary on hand to look up not only meanings, but also hyphenation and compounds without hyphenation. No one is going to hold your hand while you write, and if you intend to publish, you need to weed out as many mistakes as possible, which means look it up!

Not All Animals Act Like Dogs

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I neigh or whinny: I do not bark!

I cannot believe how many writers tend to give animals, largely horses, dog-like traits. Disney/Pixar is especially guilty of this — I could not help but groan that the horse in Tangled behaved so doggish, despite the fact that I knew it was done for humor. It is understandable why some writers have the animals in their novel take on doggish traits, because let’s face it, must individuals have had more access to dogs during their lives compared to with horses, cows, chickens, etc.

While the trope is commonly¬†used for humor, serious writes need to get — well, serious. Find places where you can have access to animals that appear or play a major rule in your novel, or find people who raise them and work with the animal on a daily basis. In this era of the internet, there is no excuse not to be able to do the latter with several handy dandy forums specializing in different animals and different animal breeds. The NaNoWriMo forum is also a great place to pose questions about different animals behaviors and receive a multitude of responses.

Beyond the species itself, writers need to research the breeds they will be using in their novels as they will have different temperaments, mannerisms and behaviors. In my experience with pigs, Yorkshire pigs are more high-strung when compared to Hereford pigs, Hamps or Durocs. In the goat world, I’ve observed Nubian goats tend to be easier to startled compared to Oberhasli goats or Alpines. Horse breeds are no different with “warm-blooded,” “hot blooded” and “cold bloods” breeds all having unique feels.

Writers also need to understand that some animals are just not domesticated. A wolf is not going to play fetch, even though they are closely related to the domesticated dog. Komodo dragons will not make cute, cuddly pets. While it is acceptable for characters to approach non-domesticated  animals, the writer better be portraying their characters as ignorant, naive, stupid or just plain arrogant. There must be repercussions or the writer should have the animal flee.

For some fun reading on this topic, visit TvTropes.com for a list of examples. For information on horses, the most commonly misrepresented animal, visit The Horse Forum or one of the other countless forums dedicated to one of man’s oldest companions: the horse.

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My kitty Jazzlyn, aka Jazzy, says, “Hi” and that she is not a smelly dog.

A fantasy writer’s pet peeve: Stop screaming anachronism

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What do you mean, there were no castles in pre-Norman England?!

What is an anachronism, you ask? Merriam Webster’s definition is as follows: 1. an error in chronology, especially a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other; 2. a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place, especially one from a former age that is incongruous in the present; and 3. the state or condition of being chronologically out of place.

An example of an anachronism is as follows: You are reading a book that takes place during the Civil War and penicillin is used to treat infections. What is the problem with this? Well, penicillin was not discovered until 1928 by Alexander Fleming. For a funny example of a lot of anachronisms, visit The Sage’s Master Piece Fanfic Theatre.

Where My Peeve Comes In…

It never fails when someone reads my fantasy novel I will get complaints about anachronisms: “Would they have that back then?” The addition of the “back then” usually makes me sigh as by that they are referring to medieval¬†Europe — even though my world/continent resembles a 1700s Europe more, most readers are too used to fantasy taking place in medieval times, so they automatically assume that time period no matter how many clues are placed that point to another era. And that is where my pet peeve resides.

“Back then” does not work with my world: It is not Earth. My world has developed in a different way and has its own history that while inspired from some of Earth’s historical events stands on its own. For an example, there is no Christianity, no Islam, no Buddhism, and so on in my world. The religions of my world, while some might bear some resemblance to earthly ones, have allowed for quicker medical discovers without religion preventing certain medical studies, such as cadaver research. And that is really just the tip of the iceberg of small changes here and there that have affected the development of my world, well really just one continent that like Japan went through a period of time where it was isolated from the rest of the world.

Of course, not all fantasy and science fiction novels are exempt from anachronisms. If you are going to have you space crew travel back in time to 1951 Earth, ‘In God We Trust’ should not appear on U.S. paper currency (it did not appear until 1957). Similarly, fantasy writers who simply take on a medieval setting without fleshing it, or their world, out may stretch their readers’ suspension of disbelief passed its limits since they have not been given any reason to expect technology or items that are not from Earth’s medieval period.

Fantasy writers need to know their creation inside and out to know what is possible within it and why. Hard rules need to be set and stuck to. Fantasy writers should also avoid ill-fitting descriptions, e.g. “as fast as a jet plane,” in a world that does not have jet planes.

However, writers need to know and accept they cannot appease everyone; there will always be someone who will nitpick a word for being too modern despite the word having actually been around since the late-1600s. With this in mind, fantasy writers need to write what they want to write and what is right for their story while still maintaining logical rules.