Clarion Workshop for SpecFic Writers

This will be a short one guys (and I promise this has nothing to do with the fact that I have a bunch of class assignments staring at me, promise).

ūüėČ

Moving right along, all of us here at AD&W are SpecFic writers and I like to think that a large portion of our readers are as well. ¬†If so, there’s an upcoming event that I think you all should be aware of and if you don’t try for it this year, at least you have the information for next year =]. ¬†It’s called Clarion. ¬†I almost didn’t do this post because I thought, Jace, c’mon. ¬†You were the only dork that had no idea what Clarion was before someone told you, everyone else is on the ball here. ¬†But then I thought, what if? ¬†What if someone’s never heard of it, like I hadn’t? ¬†And isn’t that what gets us SpecFic writers going, the big ‘What If’?

Clarion is a 6-week workshop specifically for Speculative Fiction writers!  Each week a different published author (or editor, I believe) teaches a seminar or lecture.  There are actually a few different branches of Clarion, each with a different line-up of instructors.

There’s Clarion San Diego, which, unsurprisingly, takes place in San Diego. ¬†You can read up more about it HERE. ¬†And then there’s Clarion West, which happens in Seattle, and you can read more about that¬†HERE. ¬†(Clarion South happens in Australia but have been unable to locate a suitable venue for a little while now and is indefinitely on hold.) ¬†Both events take place from June 23rd to August 2nd/3rd ¬†And the deadline to apply for both is MARCH 1ST, 2013. ¬†So read up, read the FAQ, read the application instructions and, if you’re like me, read the Scholarship information several times because it¬†does cost money but there are scholarships and financial aid that you can apply for geared specifically to help people attend these workshops. ¬†There are application fees to both (around $50) that is pretty unavoidable and, of course, nonrefundable.

I realize March 1st is in only 3 weeks so that doesn’t give your (or me) much time, but like I said, it’s information definitely worth storing for next year! ¬†I do hope at least someone found this post useful. ¬†Who knows? ¬†What if someone reads this, applies, and gets in!

There’s that ‘What If’ again. ūüėČ

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Antagonists: Who, Why and When

The antagonists, the villains, the ‘baddies’, you’ve got to love them. In many scenarios, they give our good guys purpose. Whether it’s defending the people they love, the home they’ve always known, or¬†fulfilling¬†some greater sense of destiny, without the bad guys they would just have to settle for living out their life in peace and¬†without¬†adventure.

Pft, boring!

A few months ago, Dean C. Rich talked about villains and Salty Sam (it’ll open in a separate tab, go take a look). In it, he discusses the concepts of your villain having a purpose, a reason for mass genocide, world domination, or whatever other twisted machinations they have up their sleeve (or evil robe, we don’t judge). I’m hoping to expand on that topic just a little bit by posing three questions I think we should all consider in regards to our villains and how they fit into the plot of our stories.

WHO?

Who is this guy? Where did he come from? What was his childhood like, his teenage years? Who is he to the rest of the bad guys? Does he have any bad guy competition? (I’ve always wondered if the Batman villains have quarterly meetings to discuss who’s hatching which even plan during what time of the year since they rarely overlap. Very polite, these guys.) Who is he to his henchmen? Their boss, their fearless leader, the guy holding the chains and¬†wielding¬†the whip?

The Badguy is like any other character in the book. Like Dean said, he can’t be evil just to be evil, he has to have motives, just as the heroes do. Like any other character in the book, his actions will have consequences and lasting effects. On the heroes, on the setting, on his own plots.

WHY?

We’ve already touched on this a little but, WHY is this guy the way he is? What’s his motive? There are the favorites: world domination, power, money, he wasn’t hugged enough as an evil toddler. Dig a little deeper. Honestly, I cringe a little whenever the whole reason a Baddie is doing what he’s doing can fall under power, money or domination. It feels a little lazy to me because it’s very easy to take those building blocks (’cause that’s all they are) and raise them to the next level. You can start by asking, Okay, once he’s got all this power and money, what does he intend to do with it? Is there a grand plan? Whether or not this plan comes to fruition doesn’t matter. I wholeheartedly believe your Badguy needs to have a goal in mind, something they’re aiming for beyond the power and money. Because, really, that’s a pretty shallow reasoning for being a Baddie. Unless that’s what you’re going for. But consider this, if your Badguy has no ultimate plan, no aspirations, no skinny jeans stapled to the wall (okay maybe that’s just me), then how will you ever convince the readers he’s a force to be reckoned with? How will you convince them to care? Or to be¬†legitimately¬†concerned the good guys may not win?

WHEN?

This is the question that popped into my mind that spurred this whole post. You may think with a well defined concept of Who the Baddie is, where he’s coming from and Why he’s doing what he’s doing, you’ve got enough to get started. Weeelll, I mean, you could, if you really wanted to. OR, you could ask your self one more question that could make all the difference.

When does he make his dramatic appearance? As SpecFic writers, heck as writers period, we’ve got certain ‘rules’ drilled into our brains. Start with the action, being one of them. But let’s consider, is there such a thing as starting with the action too soon? ¬†I’ll use two movies that have come out recently as examples, while trying to avoid any spoilers.

Wreck-It Ralph. If you haven’t seen a commercial, go ahead and youtube it. I’ll wait. So, the general idea we’re given is that it’s a dude that is unhappy with his game and his lot in life and decides to go on an adventure and starts trying out different games.
The reality? As a mockery, one of the other characters challenges him to complete a task and if he does, they will give him the one thing he’s always wanted. Bam, our Ralph has purpose.
But where’s the Baddie? Our villain doesn’t show up until well into the movie, I’d venture half-way through. While trying to complete his task, Ralph meets some people, makes some friends, and wants to help them get what they’ve always wanted in life by helping them stand up to those standing in their way. By the time the Badguy shows up, we know Ralph, we’ve seen his struggles, why he’s unhappy, we’ve seen him go for the gold, we know his new-found friends, we saw them meet and build a bond. We’re invested in these good guys so that when Badguy shows up, we WANT the good guys to win. We care if they’re in trouble, may get hurt, or may have their dreams wrecked.

To make it even more delicious, the Badguy isn’t even who we were led to believe it was all along! PLOT TWIST. (Seriously, that movie is amazing, you should watch it. I know, I know. But Jace, you cry, there are hairy barefooted halfmen and bearded-men and wizards running around! Yes, fine. Go see your precious Hobbit, THEN SEE WRECK-IT RALPH.)

Moving along…
Obviously, there’s got to be a flip-side to all this. Is it possible to introduce your villain too soon? Can it do damage? Yes, I believe it is and it can. Here’s another movie example.

Rise of the Guardians is a great movie but it falls short for me and I think I’ve narrowed down the entire reason to the introduction of the villain. Have you seen the trailers? We know there’s this badass Russian Santa, Sandman, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and all the fangirls’ favorite: Jack Frost. We know they all get together to fight against a foe that is apparently targeting children by using fear. We get all of this from the trailer. When the movie starts we get a nice little prologue from Jack then we jump to Santa and within the first 10 minutes the Badguy makes his appearance. Santa seems genuinely unsettled, enough to get the gang together, but it felt a little …off to me. I didn’t know enough about the characters, their personalities, their wants and hopes, to really fear for them going up¬†against¬†the Badguy. Yeah, you could argue that they’re all based on very well-known and prominent figures from fairy tales and folklore so what else is there to know, but they’re still unique to this world (hello? Russian Santa with TATS?). So as the story progresses I have to get to know these characters while I’m getting to know the Badguy. And to be honest, I liked the Badguy. He had his Who and Why fully conceptualized. Which only made it harder to really root for the goodguys and boo when he came around.

It’s possible this was done intentionally. The antagonist in Guardians isn’t¬†exactly¬†pure evil, he’s doing what he’s good at, what he’s meant to do. Just as in Wreck-it Ralph the badguy isn’t who we think he is, and Ralph isn’t really a terrible guy afterall, even though he’s the villain of his world. (In that respect both stories do an amazing job of tackling the topic of settling for your ‘lot in life’ versus discovering who you really are and being happy with it. But, that’s a topic for another day.) ¬†I recently told a fellow SpecFic writer that I’ve often noticed when beta’ing and critiquing that there seems to be this mad-dash to get all the important characters introduced to the reader within the first few chapters, sometimes, within the first one or two! ¬†So we’ve got the MC, their buddies and the bad guy. ¬†It feels unnecessary to me. ¬†You’ll overload the reader with, at the moment, unnecessary information and prevent them from building a bond with any of the characters, which is needed for them to give a hoot. ¬†For myself, in my own MS, we see the handiwork of the badguys within the first chapter, it’s the instigating event, but we don’t meet the bad guys until several chapters later, once we know who our heroes are, their personalities and their goals.

What say you readers? ¬†Am I way off-base here? ¬†Does it really matter when you introduce your villain so long as they’re well-thought out, genuinely threatening and have a plan? ¬†Can you think of any examples when a villain was introduced very early on but it didn’t have any adverse effects to your enjoyment? ¬†Or when they were introduced much later in the work but by that point you just didn’t care? ¬†Do you think Batman would be more or less badass if he rode a unicorn? ¬†What if it was a robot unicorn?

The Ingredients of Spooky on all NaNo’s Eve

First and foremost, Happy Halloween everyone! I hope it’s a safe and pleasant one. Especially for those of you on the East Coast. My entire family lives there and I know how bad it’s been, my heart goes out to all of you!

When I saw the blogging schedule weeks ago and realized I was lucky enough, as a horror writer, to have my post land on Halloween–well, I squealed. (It was very dignified, I promise.) I had a conversation with my mother not too long ago about Halloween and how it’s changed over the years. She isn’t a fan of the gory decorations like body parts and the like. She doesn’t find it to be ‘scary’ and instead feels it’s just excessive and unnecessary. She prefers the subtle spookiness, cobwebs and dark hallways, old gravestones and eerie sound effects. Two very different types of spooky, but each can be, and often are, effective.

The same goes for writing. A while back I did a post discussing ‘Gore Bags‘ or really, what does gore contribute to your horror works? Let’s take a broader look at the topic. When writing, how do you know whether to go with a bloody scene, bits and pieces flying everywhere or with growing suspense and a thick, creepy atmosphere? What about a blend of the two? There is no right or wrong way to go about it. You have to know your story as well as your audience. While you may have started out wanting to write a splatterpunk serial killer type mystery, how have the characters and setting evolved as the story progressed? Will they still make the same uneducated decisions they did at the beginning of the ordeal that led to mayhem and possible deaths, or have they wised up? If they have, the odds of someone falling into a gory trap decrease. Unless, of course, your antagonist grows with them.

Likewise, if you’re going for a strictly atmospheric spook-factor, these factors still apply. Say your characters have been trapped in a scary mansion, complete with secret passageways and a fog-heavy cemetary. The first few hours, or even days, are bound to be nerve-wracking, but the longer they’re there, will the setting have the same effect, or will the characters have grown desensitized to it? If they have, you may have to dial up the spook factor. Pull out that shambling figure or wailing ghost you’ve been saving.

The list of what frightens people varies drastically. I have a close friend that is terrified of spiders, and while zombies are gross and the gore is unsettling, they don’t frighten the ever-livin’ out of her. For me, it’s the exact opposite. I wouldn’t recommend relying on the ‘tried-and-true’ tactics in this situation. Gore may unsettle many, but it doesn’t necessarily frighten all. A darkened hallway with disconcerting soundeffects will unerve quite a few and bore others. It’s impossible to please everyone. As with many aspects of writing a novel, focus on pleasing yourself and staying true to your characters. Odds are, so long as you have real characters that a reader can identify with, what frightens the HeartyHeroine will frighten the reader.

Finally, while you’re stuffing your faces with obscene amounts of candy corn and chocolately goodness, NaNoWriMo lurks in the shadows. It watches you. It won’t strike just yet, not for a few hours at least, but when it does, it will have all month to watch you writhe in writing agony.

I won’t go too far into the joy, and terror, that is NaNoWriMo, I’ll save that for perhaps tomorrow’s post as well as my own blog. I will say that I am participating in it, and will be using this opportunity to step out of my comfort zone! Which is a¬†frightening¬†concept all on its own. I hope to see you there!

What frightens you in both reality and literature? Do you find gore in literature to be scary or trite? What about atmosphere and suspense? Do you intend to participate in NaNoWriMo? How about candy corn, got any you’d like to share with me?

Be Earnest, They Are

It’s no secret in my family that I write. ¬†So whenever someone has a grammar question, a ‘Rules-of-Storytelling’ question or just basic, can you proofread this, I’m the go-to-guy. ¬†Some time ago, my little sister (the 7-year-old) shows me a piece of paper and asks me ‘Does this story sound like it’s going good?’

It’s literally 2 or 3 lines of 7-year-old writing, which is it’s own category all together. ¬†All I can gather is it’s about a cat that steals stuff, sneaks around to steal stuff and tricks people to steal stuff. ¬†(She watches us play Skyrim, so think cat-person). ¬†Now, she’s 7 so I’m not going to tell her that there’s no real concept of a plot yet, her grammar & spelling is in the pits and I have no attachment to this character what-so-ever. ¬†Instead, I told that it sounded good so far, but there wasn’t much for me to go on yet.

As she’s skipping away I wondered how often the rest of us fall into that trap. ¬†We get an idea, we’re eager, we write a couple of chapters (or maybe even finish the piece) and then run off to show it to a few betas and expect substantial feedback. ¬†To some degree, I can see why. ¬†We want confirmation that our awesome idea is, in fact, awesome. ¬†That first ‘Yay!’ or ‘I can’t wait to read more.’ is critical, it’s an esteem booster. ¬†But what happens when that ‘Yay’ becomes a ‘Nay’? ¬†Then what? ¬†Do we rework those first few chapters so that they’re more awesome? ¬†And if so, what standard are we trying to meet? ¬†Our own or that of those first betas?

This is particularly detrimental if we haven’t even finished the entire work yet. ¬†If you have an entire MS and Beta-Gal doesn’t understand what’s being hinted at in chapter 3, then you’ll pull out the ‘Oh but wait until chapter 56!’ (Which is a whole ‘nother topic.) ¬†If you don’t have your MS finished, then you can’t pull out that ol’ standby because you don’t know what’s going to happen then. ¬†Yeah, you have an inclining, but it¬†hasn’t been written yet. ¬†And let’s face it, things change. ¬†Plots change, characters change, characters die, fat unicorns give out candy–anything can happen! Personally, I don’t believe it’s wise to¬†extensively¬†edit your beginnings when you have no idea what’s going to happen in the end or even the middle. ¬†(*Note I say extensively, some editing as you write isn’t bad at all.)

With my own WIP, there have been parts in earlier chapters that betas told me they didn’t get or it seemed confusing. ¬†My CP even told me an entire scene was good but hard to believe, I was asking the reader to suspend their belief a little too far, a little too close to breaking. ¬†Which sucked because I had no other idea how to tackle that scene. ¬†I NEEDED the characters to go in that direction, but if it wasn’t believable no reader would go past that chapter. ¬†It pained me, but rather than stress that scene, I kept writing. ¬†I’ll admit, part of me was being stubborn. ¬†Part of me wanted to believe that just ’cause it was¬†hard¬†to believe didn’t mean it was¬†impossible¬†and that I could leave it as is. ¬†Well, I kept writing and as I got further in the story something changed. ¬†CharacterB decided to go a different route. ¬†In order for me to make that route work I had to go back to the beginning and add in certain scenes, leave certain hints and guess which scene got caught up in that wave of change? ¬†I wound up re-writing it and I think it works much, much better. ¬†(No word yet from my CP though ūüėČ ) ¬†If I had stressed over that scene earlier and made changes, it would have been for nothing because eventually I would reach the point where CharacterB goes that different route.

Schrodinger’s cat argues that it’s possible I may never have gotten the inspiration that made CharacterB go a different way which changed everything else. ¬†My response? ¬†Exactly. ¬†Anything is possible, until you write ‘The End’¬†anything¬†is possible. ¬†Just as I couldn’t jump for joy over my sister’s cat-person-thief, you can’t ask a beta to give you appropriate feedback on an incomplete piece, it’s not fair to them or you. ¬†Finish your work, put your all into it, let your CPs read and re-read those various versions, they’re built for it, but give your betas a piece that is as close to finished as you can get it. ¬†Be Earnest, They Are.

What do you think? ¬†Is it better to make extensive changes as you go based on other’s feedback, or to finish the piece, making changes as you go when you feel the need to, and then seek feedback? ¬†Would you rather be eating an ice cream than thinking about editing? ¬†Yeah, me too.

Gorebags! The New SpecFic Party Favor!

Wait…what?

For the less video game savvy of our readers, there is a game called Fallout 3.¬† In this game are bad guys called super mutants and raiders.¬† Whenever you take down one of their encampments you are likely to find sacks of gore strewn about their ramshackle place of residence.¬† That‚Äôs right, gore.¬† Just sitting there.¬† For the easily befuddled, it‚Äôs even called a ‚Äėgorebag‚Äô.¬† As a player you can choose to stick your hand in that gore and see if there‚Äôs anything worthwhile inside, like ammo or bottle caps (in-game currency) or maybe some drugs like stimpaks (health), y‚Äôknow, typical end-of-world paraphernalia.

Sometimes it‚Äôs worth the effort, sometimes it really isn‚Äôt.¬† Add to the ick-factor the game makes this horrible ‚Äėsquick‚Äô sound when you look into the bag.

Why would anyone ever want to stick there hand in there?  I don’t know, why does a lot of SpecFic literature these days, especially in the fantasy genre, seem to be constantly trying to out-gross the last hard-hitter?

Don‚Äôt get me wrong, I write dark fantasy, I‚Äôve put my characters through quite a bit, quite a graphic bit, so I‚Äôm certainly not against horror or gore in our fantasy works, I‚Äôm only asking you to ask yourself if it serves a purpose.¬† Does it, in some way, advance the plot?¬† Do we discover more about the characters‚Äô weaknesses?¬† Their strengths?¬† Is it more than BadGuy kicking puppies and killing messengers to prove how ‚Äėbad‚Äô he really is?

Let‚Äôs use Brent Weeks‚Äô Way of Shadows as an example, because it‚Äôs awesome and I love it.¬† It‚Äôs pretty horrific in those beginning chapters, and not just in a flat out blood-splatter kind of way either. ¬†I‚Äôm talking abuse, rape and poverty all dealing with children between the ages of 8 and 14.¬† He doesn‚Äôt pull any punches.¬† But it‚Äôs more than just a desire to say ‚ÄėWell, these are the slums and stuff is bad. ¬†See, look!‚Äô¬† We‚Äôre shown just how evil the BadGuy characters are and how much our Hero has to endure so that when the BadGuy makes his dramatic re-appearance years later, we‚Äôre just as terrified as our Hero.¬† We know what BadGuy is capable of, we‚Äôve seen it.¬† We know what our Hero endured, we were there with him when the blows landed and the tears fell.¬† It‚Äôs real to us.¬† That is a gorebag with ammo and a stimpak inside.

Here’s something else to consider: there’s more to horror than blood and guts or raping and pillaging.  There are episodes of The Twilight Zone that still scare the crap out of me using black & white TV, Rod Serling’s voice and some damn good characterization.  What about the horror of a situation?  Overcoming fears?  The power of suggestion is amazing so let your readers put their imagination to work.  Have you ever been in a situation where you had to confront someone or something?  You knew it was coming, but you spend the hours leading up to it dreading all the ways it can go wrong?  How often was your imagination, fueled by your irrational fears, more terrifying than what did come to pass?

I’m noticing what could be called a trend in some of the SpecFic works out there where it seems as though everyone is trying to one-up the last guy.  Characters, significant or otherwise, are killed for shock value.  How many books lately have opened with someone either dead, dying or in the process of being killed?  It’s not a bad thing, my own current WIP opens with a bar fight, but I think there needs to be more balance.  I think it’s a fine line and some writers are crossing it in an attempt to be more shocking, more bloody, more everything than the last guy, while their plot and characters sit forgotten on the curb.

Like anything else in your story, your horror aspects must be integral.  They must serve a purpose.  In my opening scene, I need you to see just how far my MC is willing to go to get what she wants, because the shit hits the fan pretty quick and we need to see what kind of girl we’re working with.  Do I succeed?  Not sure, guess I’ll find out.  What I do know is that if I removed that scene and started the book from the next one, no one would have any reason to believe this girl could hold her own.  It has a purpose.

What about you?¬† Do you include aspects of horror or the disturbing in your SpecFic?¬† How do you feel about books that do?¬† Is it purposeful or trend-ful?¬† Would a zombie fat unicorn scare you?¬† ‚ÄėCause it would me.