Tag Archives: writing

Risking her life: Sue Parritt on Strong Female Characters

Sue Parritt is an Australian science fiction author. Her first trilogy tells the tale of a futuristic Australia ravaged by climate change, and racial oppression.

BELINDA: Tell us about Sannah, what makes her strong?

SUE: Sensuous, emotional and dramatic, Sannah, 39, a descendant of Environmental Refugees from the drowned Pacific Islands, is the Storyteller for Village 10. Storytellers–one for each Brown Zone village–are trained to deliver a distorted version of history to ensure compliance and reinforce White superiority. An articulate speaker, Sannah employs both voice and body to weave a spell around her audience. She also plays the role of ‘lover’ to many White men, to gain information useful to the Women’s Line, an undercover group that assists political prisoners on the run to flee the country and find sanctuary in egalitarian Aotearoa. Intelligent and savvy, Sannah knows what it takes to survive in an oppressive apartheid society ruled by tyrannical troopers, but willingly risks her life to ensure clandestine truth-telling continues. In twenty-fourth century Australia, she is a third-class citizen, but despite her low status, she believes in the power to effect change. This, plus the determination to engage in seditious activities whatever the consequences, makes and keeps her strong. Continue reading

Brave, Vulnerable & Scared: Felicity Banks on Strong Female Characters

Felicity Banks is the author of Heart of Brass a steampunk novel about a young women with a brass heart and a family obligation that’s interupted by a criminal conviction.

BELINDA: Tell us about Emmeline, what makes her strong?

FELICITY: Emmeline has been taught that her duty is to marry well, giving her family the financial security that they need—and saving her younger siblings from poverty in the process. No-one finds it easy to think outside of the box society puts us in, but Emmeline is eventually able to find another way to fulfil her duty as well as acknowledging what she really loves. . . SCIENCE!! Continue reading

Strange and peculiar things: An interview with Amie Irene Winters

Amie Irene Winters is the author of Strange Luck, a fantasy series about a girl named Daisy and a secret realm that built on stolen memories.

BELINDA: You’ve just released the second book in your Strange Luck series, The Nightmare Birds, tell us a little about the heroine, Daisy.

AMIE: Daisy is one strong and cynical chick, but she also has a kind heart. She possesses the unique ability to create and destroy worlds, but that’s not all. There’s a dark reason why she is able to do these things, and only when she accepts who she really is will she be able to defeat the Order of The Nightmare Birds.

BELINDA: I love the Theatre of Secrets. What inspired it?

AMIE: Thank you! It was a lot of fun to write about the mysterious Theater of Secrets. I’ve always loved the concept of the supernatural creeping into the real world, especially stories with dark magic and unseen monsters (I’m a big H.P. Lovecraft fan). A mythic circus operating beneath a bustling city seemed like the perfect setting to invite strange and peculiar things.

BELINDA: Tell us a little about the Nameless.

The cover of Nightmare Birds, book two in the Strange Luck series by Amie Irene Winters
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AMIE: The Nameless in a beautiful and dangerous world built using stolen memories. The memories are collected by a dark entity who is in search of the perfect memory. All of its residents, called Collectives, were lured there using a variety of tactics. Vain people can be lured with a map to the Fountain of Youth. People who love space or exploration might be lured under the pretense that the map is a wormhole to another galaxy. Daisy fell into the Nameless’ trap in search of immortality in hopes of saving her ailing father. The terrain and everything in the world are based upon other people’s memories, so you’ll find everything from famous wizards in fairytales to talking stuffed animals all looking to escape while retaining their memories before they are stolen.

BELINDA: What’s your worldbuilding process like?

AMIE: After coming up with a general idea for a world/other realm, I look at how it got to be that way. This really helps to fill in the backstory and develop a richer history of the world’s existence. Then, I work in all of the good and bad things in the world which can be used to help and hinder the characters. The rest I leave up to free flowing. I try not to plan things too tightly so that they may change, develop, and grow. I might go into writing with a specific idea about the world and as I’m writing think of something that works much better.

BELINDA: What sort of things do other authors in their worldbuilding that bug you?

AMIE: I think creativity and originality is most important, then planning the logistics. I think a lot of authors do this backwards and spend all of their time planning magical rules and scenarios, but not focusing on the imagination/fantasy part of it. I honestly get bored reading a book that’s all rules and no imagination.

BELINDA: What books do you think are examples of great worldbuilding?

AMIE: Harry Potter and The Neverending Story are my favorites. When you feel like you are completely and totally there, the author has succeeded in immersing you in the world they’ve created—in a world you don’t want to leave.

BELINDA: How many more installments are there in the Strange Luck series?

AMIE: There will be four books total, including a prequel. My newest book, The Nightmare Birds, is the second book in the series. I’m currently working on Book III.

BELINDA: Can you give us any hints about what’s to come?

AIME: There will be lots more dark magic and strange things creeping into the light. Stay tuned for details.

About Amie Irene Winters

Amie Irene Winters, author of the Strange Luck Series.
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As an environmental conservationist, Amie Irene Winters has had a lot of unique experiences—from participating in archaeological digs and camping solo in the Rocky Mountains, to writing grants and designing natural history museum exhibits—but writing fiction has always been her passion. 
She’s the award-winning author of the Strange Luck series. 

Originally from California, Amie has lived in every region of the U.S., and currently resides in a small town in western Pennsylvania. She loves hiking, traveling, baking desserts, and spontaneous adventures.

You can connect with Amie via her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and buy her books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-MillionBook Depository and Kobo.

Image courtesy of Crisco Photography (via Flickr) used under a Creative Commons license.

On starcats, worldbuilding and cinematic storytelling

This is a reposting of an interview I conducted as part of the launch of Leonie Roger’s second book, Frontier Resistance, and has been edited to reflect the growing list of Leonie’s published works.

Frontier Resistance by Leonie Rogers
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Starcats are the kind of animals that we all would have nagged our parents to get for Christmas. Fortunately for our parents, starcats only exist in the works of Leonie Rogers, author of the Frontier trilogy.

Set on the alien world of Frontier, where everything is deadly, the Frontier trilogy (starting with Frontier Incursion and continuing in Frontier Resistance) tells the story of Shanna and her starcats as they defend their home from the invading Garsal.

Q) How did you come up with starcats?

I’ve always loved cats. I’m a cat person. When I began to write about Frontier, I always knew that the settlers needed to have some kind of special companion animal, so of course my mind gravitated immediately to cats. The normal house cat isn’t big enough to be much help on a planet as dangerous as Frontier, so I began to imagine a larger cat, and all of a sudden the cat was 100kg, and had glow-in-the-dark markings that flickered and glowed. They’re able to vanish at will, move at extraordinary speeds, and are completely loyal to their chosen humans. They also like to sleep on the bed, just like any other cat. As a result, beds on Frontier are often built with humans and starcats in mind.

Q) As someone who shares her bed with 2 regular-sized cats, I applaud the Frontier bed-makers’ thinking.

When you started thinking about the setting for the Frontier series, what came first, the starcats or the planet’s dangerous ecology?

I think I might be a little odd. I write from the pictures inside my mind. The initial concept for Frontier came from one of those pictures. I pictured a girl scaling a cliff face, above a dangerous jungle. I immediately knew that the girl was called Shanna, and that the planet was dangerous. I always knew that the settlers would need some kind of companion animal so that they could be safer than just humans alone on an alien world. So, it’s probably dangerous ecology, followed by starcat companions.

Q) That makes two of us! I also write from pictures inside my head; I think of it as a cinematic approach to writing. How does it work for your approach to world building?

It’s nice to meet another ‘pictures in the head’ person! Sometimes people give me funny looks when I try and explain it…

It’s very much like I ‘see’ the vegetation, I ‘see’ the animals, and then I just describe what’s happening. Sometimes it means that I use way too many adjectives – I’m an excessive user of adjectives – which then have to be edited out. Having said that, I have to make sure that my world building makes sense – that the ecology actually works, and that the world is believable. In my first book I wrote a scene that involved a tornado serpent, and because of the way the serpent appeared in the story, I had to explain that they were very rare, and constantly roaming, otherwise Frontier would have been completely depopulated and also denuded of vegetation. It’s one thing to know all of that inside my head, but another to realise that the reader isn’t actually reading my mind!

I think a key element to world building is to make sure that the world you’re building hangs together. For me, practically, it means that I sometimes have to slow the pictures down a little to examine them properly, or later on, go back and edit really well so that I weed out the ‘silly pictures.’

Q) Do you do all of your world building in this fashion, or do you employ other methods as well?

Most of the time I see the images inside my mind, and then I write them down, but at the same time there’s stuff that isn’t pictures. That’s the stuff that’s the building blocks of the society I’m creating – things like socio-political stuff, governmental organisation and the odd bit of back history that motivates the characters. Every now and then I’ll even write a short story of the back history so that it solidifies itself in my mind and makes sense. I have a few of them tucked away in folders on my laptop. I like to think that the world I’ve built is almost another character.

Frontier Incursion by Leonie Rogers
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Q) I think you’ve done a really good job. In fact, as I was reading Frontier Incursion, I was struck by how the characters interacted with the environment, not just in their physical movement through it, but in how they used and recorded the things they saw. It was a little like David Attenborough meets Bear Grylls. Is this utilisation and observation of the natural environment inspired by your work with the SES (State Emergency Service)?

The answer to that is partly… I was a volunteer with the SES for a number of years in Western Australia, prior to moving to NSW, but I’ve always been fond of the bush, and particularly walking in the bush. As a teenager and young adult, my group of friends would go walking on day trips, or backpack for a week or so somewhere in the Western Australian wilderness areas. One of the most useful adages of writing is ‘Write what you know.’ The people of Frontier like their natural environment, and so do I. Even now, I walk for exercise, and love seeing the native wildlife on my wanderings. The Scouts of Frontier can navigate flawlessly and they’re very competent with climbing and abseiling – I wish I was as good as they are – and I drew on skills learnt when I was a vertical rescue team member and search team member in the SES in the Pilbara.

The Scouts of Frontier are their people’s lifeline. The things they learn keep their community safe and allow them to spread out across the planet, so they have to be keen observers and they’re extraordinarily well educated. In that way they are both Bear Grylls and David Attenborough – who I suspect would enjoy exploring Frontier!

Q) Do you have a system for organising your world building, or do you keep it all in your head?

I began with lists and a card index, but a lot of it’s now written down in the bodies of three manuscripts. As I write, I try and update my character list as I go so that I can make sure that they’re consistent. Consistent as in the same sex, with the same cat (who is also consistently one sex), and the same name spelling. I also have a reader (our eldest daughter who’s now 21) who tells me bluntly when I’ve got something wrong. As you can imagine, sometimes you can get those things mixed up, despite the fact that you invented everything! I have all kinds of files with all kinds of funny names in folders on my laptop. I’m a bit obsessive about backing it all up as you can probably imagine.

Since finishing the Frontier Trilogy I’ve begun to experiment with a program called Scrivener. It has spots to file all of those things into one document, so that with a click on the sidebar I can pull up a character sketch, a helpful link if I add one and I can label chapters/scenes if I wish. So far I’m liking it, as it has everything in one place which makes it simpler than having ten documents sitting in my task bar.

Q) You’ve finished the trilogy already?! Wow! So, since you’ve only just released book 2, Frontier Resistance, when can we expect book 3?

Well, that will mostly depend on Hague Publishing! I submitted the manuscript last week, however submissions for this year have actually closed, and they’re flat out with several other books, so I can’t imagine it’ll be particularly soon. One of the reasons I submitted it knowing all the above was because I needed to stop fiddling with the manuscript. It had been completed and compiled, it had ‘rested,’ and I’d gone through three complete edits myself, so it was time for me to leave it alone.

Authors are often picky, and we can edit ourselves into oblivion, looking to perfect that “one little thing – oh and then that other thing I just noticed! But hang on – I need to change that over there so the other thing makes better sense…and I really hate the way I worded that, so I’d better rewrite that whole chapter…” Sometimes you just have to stop, and wait for some external feedback from a completely objective other party.

Q) Sounds like excellent advice. What other advice would you give to young writers, and readers, wanting to create their own worlds (and possibly, starcats)?

The biggest thing is to keep writing. If you never try, you’ll never know if you could have done it. That seems self evident, but it’s still very true. You also need to think – a lot.

Examine your work for plagiarism. Being influenced by another writer’s style isn’t plagiarism, but blatantly reusing their work or world is. Get someone else to examine your world – sometimes we unconsciously model our world building on someone else’s world.

Remember that you are unique, and so are your stories, and somewhere inside of you, you have the special thing that’s different. For me, it’s been starcats. For you, it might be a volcano made of cheese, or a talking frog, or perhaps you’ve just invented the most amazing time travel machine using two straws and a piece of elastic BUT it has nothing ‘Timey Wimey’ about it!

When you’re world building, use concepts that you really know about. Stuff you actually do or have experienced in real life, or talk to someone who knows a lot about those things or does them. If you want to know how to shoot an arrow, go and learn or talk to your local archery club people. You need to convince your reader that what you’ve created is really real, so that when your character is experiencing something in the story, they’re seeing, feeling and experiencing the right things.

It also needs to hang together. You need to know which way in your world is north or south and you need to know how the government works and why there’s only one language (or lots of languages) and where your character fits into the world. I tend to think about this stuff a lot, mainly because readers are picky, and I know this, because I’m a picky reader.

Having said all of that, none of us are perfect. We’re often blind to our own faults as writers, and having that external set of eyes that says “Hey Leonie, did you know that that bit really sucks?” or “Leonie, did you realise that you’ve just plagiarised Tolkien?” is more valuable than you can imagine.

Q) Thanks for that Leonie. With Frontier Resistance out and the third book with your publisher, what’s next for you? Will we be seeing you at NaNoWriMo?

I’m currently experimenting with a few new characters. I have several different things in mind, all quite different and I’ve been playing around with the characters, using a few short stories, just to get them solid in my head. There’s two in particular who have interesting stories to tell, and I’m vacillating between them, trying to decide if I want to tackle ‘Plague in Space’ or ‘Aliens Invade Earth’ – with a few more twists than those themes suggest. And I also had this weird image of a girl who wakes up with a talking wombat on the foot of her bed…

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. Is that a bad thing for a writer? And I’ll be on a blog tour with Frontier Resistance during the NaNo month, so I’m guessing perhaps not. Of course it doesn’t mean I won’t be writing – I’ll just be trying to juggle the new story/ies, a blog tour, the other job and two kids arriving home from Uni instead!

Sounds like you’re going to be busy!

Thanks Leonie, for taking the time to let me pick your brains about starcats and worldbuilding. It’s also great to meet another ‘cinematic storyteller’.

Leonie Rogers
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You can read more about Leonie, her cats and her books on her website, and connect with her on twitter (@RaeYesac) and Facebook.

Leonie’s Frontier trilogy starts with Frontier Incursion, continues in Frontier Resistance and concludes with Frontier Defiant, due for release this year. Additionally, she has short stories in May the Fourth: A Collection of Stories Across Time and Space, The Cat The Crow and The Cauldron and the upcoming Novascapes Anthology 2, due in March 2016.

Header image courtesy of clement127.

Writing loglines

Wizard of Oz logline – Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.
Awesome, in a wrong yet funny way.

Right under ‘title’ on Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, there’s a little box called ‘tag line’ (but should really be called ‘logline’), which, frankly, used to scare the whatsits out of me.

What’s a logline?

A logline is your short story, novel or epic fantasy saga, summarised in a single sentence. It’s your pitch, your calling card, the line you pull out whenever you’re asked what your book is about.

Why do you need one?

Because, if you’re standing in an elevator and someone says they’ll give you a million dollars if you can tell them what your book’s about in ten seconds flat, what do you say?

It had better not be ‘umm’.  Continue reading

Phase drafting and writing faster

Writing faster than greased lightning is one of the holy grails of writing, or, at least, it is in my world. The thought of being able to whip out a decent first draft in under two months makes me giddy, let alone one. While there are many methods that can help you do that, phase drafting is the one that works for me.

At it’s most basic, phase drafting is the step between your outline (if you have one) and your first draft. If you’re a pantser, it’s like outlining without actually outlining and if you’re a plotter, it’s a way to test drive your plot, fill in holes and follow any interesting tangents that come along. For a more comprehensive description, read ‘It’s Just a Phase’.

Note: the Self-Publishing Podcast team uses the same method, but with a different name, which they explain in episode 64 of their podcast. They’ve also provided a sample document, which is well worth the download.  Continue reading

Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet and Scrivener

A screenshot of my novel ' class=
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I love the beat sheet’s word count per beat.

About the same time I revisted the BS2, Jami Gold posted an excellent article about using beat sheets with Scrivener. What I liked most about the article was the idea of using the target word count for individual chapters and scenes to lay out the beats.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to word counts, I find big numbers like 100k pretty intimidating. One of the beauties of the beat sheet is that it breaks down these numbers into manageable chunks. For a 100k-word novel, however, some of those chunks are still 25k words, so I took the idea one step further, with Scrivener.  Continue reading

Advice for writers staring out

I recently received an email from a writer who’s just starting out, and they wanted to know if I could give them any advice. It’s the first time anyone has asked me for writing advice, and I was very flattered.

Since my first full-length work isn’t quite finished, I wasn’t sure how much advice I could offer. Then I thought back on what I’ve found the most difficult thing about writing and what’s helped me.

In my experience, writing a novel is hard. It’s hard, not because of the technical aspects of it, but because of all of the self-doubts that crop up along the way. You’ll probably find yourself thinking things like ‘I’m a cruddy writer’, ’this book is stupid’ and ‘I’m never, ever going to finish’, the sorts of things that totally discouraging you from writing. That’s why you need to be persistent, to keep writing despite the self-doubts, and stubborn, for when persistence fails you.  Continue reading

Blake Synder's Beat Sheet, with template

Cover of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
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If you want to understand how the beat sheet works, check out this book.

Best for those outling a new work.

What’s awesome about it

  • The word count for each beat

What’s not-so-awesome

  • It’s daunting, especially when your manuscript is half-written
  • No capacity to outline subplots

The awesome

When I first came across Blake Synder’s Beat Sheet (BS2), I was half-way through the manuscript for Hero and the word count for each beat made me to blanch. The idea of trying to shoehorn my (at that point in time) pantsed story into all of those little boxes (opening image, catalyst, black moment) with their prescribed word counts, was more than my brain could take, but when I went back to the BS2, a new story in mind, they appeared as godsends.  Continue reading