For a bit of fun, I thought it would be great to examine the TV series, Once Upon A Time, which, in my opinion, started strong before faltering in quality and becoming laden with oh-so-many plot holes, inconsistencies, disappearing characters, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I still love OUAT despite all its flaws. However, I thought it’d be fun to glean writing lessons from it. Even though a novelist doesn’t have all of the external factors that can plague a screenwriter or showrunner, such as actors leaving before your narratively ready for them to, there are still commonalities embedded in the simple act of telling a story. (Spoilers begin after this point.)
I have previously written about my self-publishing journey: why I opted for this pathway and how I pursued it. Heritage Lost was my first full-length novel release, and as such, there was an immense learning curve that my short story releases couldn’t prepare me for. There are numerous things that I will do differently (as long as I don’t self-sabotage myself) with my next release.
Here are the top four elements of my release that I would do differently, especially now as I reflect about six months later.
No. 1: Better Time Management
I gravely miscalculated the amount of time that I would need to finish up the final polishing revisions, which pushed back the formatting of Heritage Lost and, in turn, the finished paperback cover as an official page count was needed to determine the spine’s dimensions. Yes, there were circumstances beyond my control–a death in the family–that greatly impacted my original plan of having everything wrapped up by the end of my vacation from the day job. However, if I’m being honest with myself, I should have had a larger dent done in the revisions even before my vacation.
Full disclosure: I’m not Catholic, but I could really use the divine intervention of saint Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists — I am both — to sort out the mess my series notes have become for the Heritage Verse, thus saving me from a madness of my own making.
When I wrote my fantasy series, I meticulously plotted out a series bible for it (a paper binder at the time). However, with my sci-fi novel, I have engaged in rather opprobrious cataloging efforts. I will have people remark when I’m explaining world-building elements that it’s pretty incredible the amount of information I have and they always ask how I keep it all straight. The answer? Very poorly. I’m trusting my brain too much to remember it all, and now as I’m diving into the sequel novel, I am finding that some information is slipping, meaning lost writing time as I have to pause and refresh.
And that is where a thorough series bible would come in handy. For those who are diving into series, series bibles really are essential. When you are world-building, there are so many details to keep track of, and without a series bible, some of those details are going to fall through the cracks. In my own experience recently, I am finding myself going back through my published book more than I thought I would need, and it would just be so much easier and quicker to have a document that tracks everything I need for continuity as it pertains to characters, plot, and world-building elements. Continue reading
On a forum that I frequent, one poster launched a discussion in regards to death in fiction, asking why the majority of authors feel the need to resurrect characters or never kill them all along. This, in turn, got me thinking about fictional deaths both in the books I read and the ones I write. Ultimately, I think it is unfair to say that the majority of writers will reverse character deaths (or make it so they’d never actually happened), though there are plenty of death tropes (I’m sorry, but you clicked the TvTropes’ link on your own accord … it’s on you) that show writers do from time to time give into this temptation — though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The statement that “a majority of authors” do this, however, rubbed me wrong. And since I predominantly read fantasy and science fiction, I was further peeved when it was suggested that these two genres don’t have room for realism when it comes to death. Yes, some fantasy and sci-fi worlds have resurrection or death workarounds built into their fabrics, and that is fine. When you pick up these books, you very often have a good idea of what you are getting into. However, both of these genres also have entries that strive for death realism. And as far as I’m concerned, there is room for both in fiction, especially when the rules around death are clear and honored within the world. Continue reading
You’ve done your research, like really, copious amounts of it. There are a piles of books scattered around your house and don’t even mention the hoard of URLs and downloaded journal articles clogging up your computer or other devices. What’s this?! There’s a loose end, there’s another one, and no, are they multiplying? Don’t fret. No matter how thorough your research, there will be gaps that sources can’t answer. Records get lost or destroyed, near contemporaries erode others, and certain bits of historic minutia go unrecorded. Life would be boring with all the answers, right?
For a fiction writer not knowing is frustrating and can leave a project on uncertain grounds. If I don’t know X, how do I proceed? Can I proceed? Don’t let X derail your writing project. You are writing fiction, which gives you the opportunity to use creative license to fill in gaps. It is something historical fiction writers have been doing forever.
Resources for writers are bountiful, especially in the digital age. You can find all sorts of obscure bits of trivia online. You can also access digitized journals or books that you might not be able to access outside of a college town. There is so much that can be discovered, and it is exciting!
In this post, I’m sharing the resources that I have found beneficial in my own research project. Continue reading
Experts are everywhere, and they’re in every field, no matter how obscure or niche. Most, if approached respectfully, are more than willing to help writers with their fiction projects, and they can really benefit any manuscript no matter the genre.
You write fantasy? Experts can still help! They can make up for what you might not know in swordsmanship or horsemanship. Similarly, if you are trying to create a fictional language, a linguist might prove insightful on your mission. Crime writer? Experts can prevent your seasoned detective from looking like a rookie. Hard sci-fi? Experts can tell you if your science passes muster. Historical fiction? Experts can answer little details.
Many genre writers have become pros at reaching out to experts for added realism to their novels. While a lot of information can be gleaned from nonfiction novels, there is nothing like talking to a real-life human being and bouncing questions off them. Often times, you will receive perspectives that you might not have considered on your own or learned new information that hasn’t appeared within your textual research. Experts might also suggest texts that you haven’t found on your own, particularly primary sources that might not be readily available to those who are not in the know.
Where To Find Experts
Experts can enrich your projects with a realism that you might not capture without their help, but where do you find experts to approach? Well, everywhere.
Universities and colleges can be a good starting point to find experts as campuses are a cornucopia of them, offering so many fields from entomology to rather specific historical time periods. Several professors have also written nonfiction books, journal articles, etc. that can be used as a starting off point for research. From that launch pad, you can write down specific questions about the subject or certain primary sources to ask these experts. For my historical fiction novel, I was able to find a historian who specializes in a certain religious group and he was able to provide a lot of potential resources that weren’t on my radar, but really helped me narrow down so much about my story.
Approaching professionals (think lawyers, law enforcement, contractors, plumbers, whatever you need to reach that realism) is another option. Most police departments and sheriff’s offices, for instance, have public information officers who should be able to field questions from writers or direct them to an expert within the department. Sure, you might strike out here and there, but you will find professionals who are more than happy to answer your questions.
Sometimes, experts are people you already know. For my fantasy novel, my expert was in the cubicle next door. My former coworker (I miss her!) had done a lot of work with horses and her daughter was also involved in saddle club at the time. She was more than happy to share pointers on how to write horses, little details that might get missed by someone unfamiliar with horses. You never know what information someone holds; it pays to talk with friends and family members about their interests and hobbies.
Be upfront and professional with experts when you reach out to them. Tell them about your project, how you found out about them, and what information you are looking for to help with your project. Plan out your questions in advance, and if they do have a book or several journal articles available, take the time to read them so they don’t feel like they are being asked to regurgitate what they have already written.
Not every expert will take the time to respond to inquiries and some might even be brusque. We are all humans and have a finite amount of time. Thank them for any response. If it is a negative response, move onto a hopefully more friendly source of information; however, always courteous. People talk, especially to others in their field. You don’t want to burn any bridges.
My piece about Adama/Roslin being my ultimate OTP (aka One True Pairing) continues to be one of the most popular blog posts that I have ever done to the point it keeps getting hits almost every day. I think it just goes to speak for the couple, which is so beloved even though Battlestar Galactica (2004) wrapped up in 2009. So, I thought I would share another sci-fi OTP that I love equally with Adama/Roslin for different reasons. And that pairing is Wash and Zoe from Firefly and (ugly tears) Serenity.
Unlike Adama/Roslin, Hoban Washburne and Zoe Washburne are already married by the time we meet them in Firefly. The audience can feel their love through their body language and honest chemistry. In addition to ensuring we only received that one season, corporate meddling almost robbed us of this couple as executives originally wanted Zoe with Captain Malcolm Reynolds. I’m eternally grateful that Joss Whedon stood his ground on this because the audience is given something that we are seldom given off the bat: an already-established relationship.
Like seriously, seldom in fiction is a main couple already established. Not only were Wash and Zoe established, but they were also happily married–I mean to the point of #relationshipgoals. There need to be more representations of happy relationships like Wash/Zoe, because while seeing a relationship develop can be juicy, seeing how a loving couple weathers life and keeps the romance strong is equally important.
The relationship isn’t without its disagreements, but they are arguments that feel real not the needless, over-the-top drama usually portrayed in fiction. With only one season, the bulk revolves around Zoe’s deference to Mal to the point she won’t ask for vacation time so she and Wash can enjoy some alone time.
They balance each other out, with Wash tending to be goofier while Zoe is down to earth and business. As a couple, they play off each other well. I can’t help but chuckle during the episode called Bushwhacked where all of Serenity‘s crew are being interrogated separately. Zoe is shown first and when asked about her and her husband’s relationship is telling him that “They are private people.” During his turn, Wash is blabbing about how much he loves his wife’s legs and being together with a warrior woman — he loves her and all of her.
One of the most touching scenes is during Shindig when they finally have downtime. It’s just the two of them in bed together, bantering back and forth about how if she falls asleep power-hungry Jayne will slit her throat to takeover while Mal is away. The scene continues with Wash sharing what he’d say in her eulogy. Moments like this just make them feel so real.
I just wish we would have been given more seasons to enjoy this couple; however, I am grateful that we received them at all. We need more happy, already-established couples that show us the best of what a relationship could be. Zoe and Wash do just that.
As a writer (people, in general, need this, too), understanding sources is vital. Not all sources are created equal, and because they are created by humans, one has to look at the creator of any text to see what biases or agendas they might have. Sometimes, veracity can be impacted by creator biases or unintentionally by having faulty information on hand. Taking sources with a grain of salt is doubly important in the current digital age.
But let’s first break down the different ways sources are categorized.
Types of Sources
Every time I turned in a research paper in any of my college history courses, it was expected to contain primary sources, usually at least two, in its bibliography. So what are primary sources? Well, they are firsthand accounts that were created during the time period you are researching; they are also often called contemporary sources. Going back to the actual time period and what people during it were saying is important because history morphs, people with axes to grind modify it, and it can take centuries for historians to work through those obfuscations–a good case study is Anne Boleyn, who had her appearance modified by sources long after she was dead. Continue reading
Research is a rite of passage for many a writer. No matter the genre, there is usually some level required unless the novel’s world is very small and completely within the realm of what the author knows. For some, research transforms into a never-ending rabbit hole–à la Alice in Wonderland–and writing never launches. It can be thrilling, it can be frustrating, and it can be overwhelming.
For those who are just getting started or who are struggling, I’m launching a six-part series exploring the ins and outs of research. This series will cover everything from understanding sources (including their veracity and biases) and finding experts to utilizing helpful resources perfect for writers.