Sunday Levity: Pun Fun!

posted in: Sunday Levity | 2


I’d like to dedicate this Sunday Levity post to my sister-in-law.  She’s a punner.

Puns nowadays can almost seem kitsch.  Dad jokes are soaked in them yet there seems to be this continual employ of them in our water cooler circles.  Sometimes, they can be funny and unexpected.  Sometimes they are clever and earn the slow clap treatment.

Whatever your feelings towards the play on words, I hope you are having a great Sunday and surrounded by people you love and love you back.

Enjoy the video I’ve attached!  It’s punny!

The Disposition of Exposition

If there’s anything in writing fiction that needs to be done well and balanced throughout the arc of the story, it is exposition.  The inserting of background information for the sake of explaining characters, history, setting, culture, etc. is tricky for first time writers.  As with many literary devices, this is especially difficult in fantasy.

In works of fiction set in the real world, in real places, during real eras, most of us can draw from our education and/or experiences to fill in the gaps.  If I’m reading a book set in the United States during the 90s and certain people, places, music, and events are mentioned, it is very likely I’m able to draw from my time growing up in the 90s (I was born in ’84, so I’m well-aware of the decade).  Yes, I was a freshman in high school by the end of the 90s but as the years go by, I know more about the global conflicts, major historical events, sporting events, etc. (lots of etcetera’s in this blog post, right?).  I think you all get my point.

Fiction set during this era doesn’t need a lot of exposition.  If you grew up or were starting a career or nearing retirement during the 90s, then you knew the culture.  If you are reading a book (let’s say a John Grisham novel set in this time), I guarantee you don’t need much background explained on a national level.  If we are talking about Grisham’s “The Runaway Jury” then we are looking at Mississippi in the 90s.  Exposition here would focus on the setting the story takes place in and the region and those cultural nuances that would be prevalent.  That’s very little to expound upon to the readers because one would be able to presume the majority of readers in the US would be familiar with the time period, social issues, etc.

Now, let’s jump to fantasy.

In fantasy, you are being introduced to an entirely new world with its own history, society/culture, foods, religions, conflicts, and more!  One thing I’ve run into when speaking with people who are not the biggest fans of fantasy is that they struggle to immerse themselves in a world that they are so unfamiliar with, filled with ideas and things that are not explained in detail.  I get this.  So much in a fantasy world needs to be revealed in order to understand the roles and complexities of the world the plot takes place.  However, we as fantasy writers (I being one of them) run into a problem if we try explaining every new thing that is unlike something in the real world.  We slow down the action of the narrative if we do this.

The problem in doing so takes the reader out of the story and they are forced to read paragraphs of information that almost acts as a pause button.  I’ve seen fantasy writers tackle this problem of exposition a few different ways.  The first is a glossary or primer (I’m a fan of this method) that usually can be found at the back of the book where people, groups, events, etc. can be explained and defined.  The second way (I’m not a fan of this) is adding footnotes at the bottom of the page.  I have struggled reading books using this method because I always feel I have to drop my eyes to the bottom of the page when I come across that footnote letter or number within the prose.  It’s very inconvenient.  I’m curious to know how many readers prefer either method or could care less.

My preferred method in my own writing when dealing with exposition is looking for ways to explain background information either through the dialogue or inner thoughts of the characters.  The problem with this method however is that the reader has to wait for it and be on the lookout.  For example, in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction series I post at the end of each month (I hope you all are enjoying them and my promise to create a primer is still in the works) I am giving you all very little information about the world due to lack of writing space.  Flash fiction in its desired format limits the amount of words I can provide, so my goal (and this is a bit of an exercise for me) is to give you hints of things, reinforce them from time to time in each new story, and allow you to make important connections.

It is my feeling and belief that if I just explained the Wielders and the Shoals they are able to access and harness the power of, I would be denying you the joy of the small windows of story provided.  Now, maybe that’s my own ignorance and you all are just like, “What the heck is going on here?!  Just tell me!”  If you are, there’s your call to action, hahaha!

Seriously, though, I understand the struggle to not have exposition in new, unknown fantasy worlds.  I truly do and my hope is that I can give you the answers in ways that do not slow the story or act as a distraction.  It’s my belief (and preference to be honest) to learn as I read and trust that the writer will explain things naturally without inundating me with info dumps every other page.  I’d like to think I’m not alone in that.

Call to Action: Show of hands.  Who’s completely lost in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction stories and would like a future post or a working primer to be added to the website so some things can be explained?

No Dragons, Dwarves/Elves, or Dreams/Prophecies: Access Denied

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0
Something I continually encounter when telling people I’m a writer and they ask, “What do you write?”, is I have this sense that they have preconceived ideas when I answer, “Fantasy”.  I can see it in their eyes.  “Oh, so dragons, elves and magic.”  Not a question but a definite statement.  To which I silently in my head respond, “I should have said fiction…”

I don’t blame people for this assumption.  I get it.  All you have to do is look at the main cultural references we have in our society.  Lords of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and most recent, Game of Thrones.  These big ones have set the stage and have planted the seeds one would expect from fantasy.  (Wizards, dragons, and elves, oh my!)

Unfortunately, I do not have the means or assignment to correct people on how vast and wide the fantasy genre has come since Tolkien laid the modern foundation.  I wish I could have that job, trust me! (King of Correction!  Hear me!)  Alas, I do not have that honorable title, but thankfully, I have a blog and I can voice my knowledge and experience in the genre to better help people who may not be big nerds like myself.

Three tropes or elements you will not find in my writing: dragons, dwarves/elves, or dreams/prophecies.

I’m going to dissect each of these somewhat quickly.  These are not tropes like my previous blog posts on magic but rather ones I have intentionally avoided because I choose not to employ their function in any of my stories.  None of these are intrinsically overdone in the genre and I often enjoy them when done in a new way in the books I read.

Magical creatures and or races in the traditional sense simply do not play any significant role in the worlds I’ve created.  If you’ve read any of the series I recommended in my fantasy reader’s guide post, then you know that I have a preference for worlds and stories that read more “human” in nature.  This does not mean there are not other kinds of races in these books (Stephen Eriksons Malazan series is chalk full of different races that are awesomely imagined) but there’s a bit more creativity and imagination involved.  For myself, I’ve created races that seem familiar to the reader but in the end are their own.

I’m actually not big on books or stories involving dragons as major characters and/or plot elements.  There are plenty out there but I’ve truly never been a fan.  Smaug in my mind is one of the best examples of a dragon in fantasy.  Robert Jordan does not use dragons but actually calls his savior-of-the-world main character, The Dragon, which I really liked because it called to the fantasy element instead of including it in the Wheel of Time series.

Dreams and prophecies are elements I have avoided on purpose.  I could easily throw these into the narrative of the Ravanguard series but I consciously did not because I did not like the idea of using them as a crutch, which I think some series utilize to that advantage.  These are seemingly always used as a means of foreshadowing and installing the hero as the savior to all mankind (again, a bit overdone in the genre).  I prefer to use foreshadowing without these because I find that it’s more difficult and a challenge.

George R.R. Martin actually does this very well despite his use of dreams and prophecies.  He explores foreshadowing by use of language and visuals, which is what I have tried to emulate in my own way.  In fact, if I were ever to use dreams or prophecies as a literary device, I’d probably try to do it in a way that has not been done before.

For anyone who is looking forward to reading my stories, I hope this is helpful and lays out what to expect or in this case “not expect”.  Fantasy is not restricted to these few common/popular elements.  If that’s what you like, there’s plenty of options out there!  Trust me.  The vast coffer that is the fantasy genre overflows with different worlds and subgenres that have their own mix of devoted fans.  Sometimes, I wish there was another way to describe what I write but my use of limited technology, magic and swords kind of puts me in the barrel.  That’s probably why enjoy the genre so much: it’s not constricted but goes as far as the writer’s imagination can stretch.

Call to Action: I admit, there is one series of books that involve dragons that I am interested in reading.  Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is an alternate history fantasy that has dragons in the Napoleonic Wars.  That just sounds like a fun read.  If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!  If not, then it may be worth exploring.

Fun with Foreshadowing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 1

Let me start by saying I love the literary device of foreshadowing and as I revise and edit, I have thought about it more and more.  Some writers are big on allusion or theme or even setting.  I commend those who frame their writing with these aspects (really, I do).  For me though, it’s about the foreshadowing threads interwoven in the framework of the plot(s) tapestry.

By definition, foreshadowing is hinting at what is to come.  This can be subtle and apparent depending on the use by the writer.  For example, a writer could use an object noticed or used by a particular early on and then have that object play an important role later on (usually in the final act or climax of the story).  One example I continually see used as an example is if you were to see a gun on a mantle or one placed in a desk drawer. It’s very likely this element could come into play to impact the outcome of the plot.

In my opinion, the two best examples of foreshadowing used effectively in an epic fantasy story can be found in Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.  I know… I know…  I reference these two a lot in my blog posts and I’ll try to discuss other works in the future but for now, these are the two that I return to whenever I think of the proper and effective use of foreshadowing.

I could use examples here but I won’t because the nature of a foreshadow is to allude to something in the future, which in our current culture is notably called a “spoiler”.  I wish I could!  But I won’t.  All I can do is recommend you read these series.  The best foreshadowing in epic fantasy is usually presented in the first book and does not come to pass until the last and towards the end of the series.  Some big payoffs definitely add to the fanfare of readers.

What has happened with me in the Ravanguard series has been beneficial when it comes to these deep details.  My method for writing the series without stopping has allowed me to see where the story has gone and then as I edit and revise, I can recall a “future” event happening in book 2, 3 or 4 and go back and then see if there’s a place for foreshadowing to work.  There’s one key though: it has to make sense within the prose.  There is a balance and trust me, I do not look for spots to drop in foreshadowing just to be cheeky (well, okay, sometimes I do but those are more for the readers who are paying attention).

I think one could argue my approach to foreshadowing is somewhat cheating but I would argue it’s just fun writing.  Sometimes, these foreshadows are quite clever and subtle and sometimes they’re right on the nose.  Both are fine and my hope is that my readers would simply consider it good storytelling.  There’s a sense of intrigue to be added too because you as the reader (and I do this too whenever I’m reading a new book.  I pay close attention to details, thinking it could be a bit of foreshadowing) are more invested in the these details.  I could never be a speed reader because I fear I would miss what I love most in the writing.

Another fun aspect I’ve run into in my own writing is that I have sometimes stumbled onto a moment of foreshadowing accidentally.  Seriously!  I have been planning the story arc of one of the next books, thought of an idea for a character and been like, “Wait, didn’t this thing happen back in book 1?”.  I’ll go and check and boom!  Slap my feet and call me Chip, I inadvertently set up a foreshadowing moment!  Now, it’s probably coincidence but I actually attribute it to my advanced internal, subconscious understanding of the world and characters.  Almost as if I know it all before I should.  (I know, you’re not buying it.)  Truthfully, though, the readers will discover in due time that I have foreshadowed some things that I hope brings delight and maybe a little shock.

Any literary device used is meant to add to the enjoyment of the reading experience.  When used properly and not in abundance to the point of distraction, these practices are worth getting better at.  I definitely encourage looking for these in the books you read.  Train yourself to look for it and see if it pays off.  Happy reading!

Call to Action: See below a video of foreshadowing in popular movies.  Obviously, there are possible spoilers so here are the movies in the top ten list: