- They're very keen to show you just what a wide range of herbs they've collected.
- They're even more keen to sell you a wide variety of herbal recipes.
- They do actually say what the recipes do and what ingredients are in them.
- They don't build their houses out of gingerbread.
- They have a modestly sized cauldron and refuse to cackle.
- They're not afraid of water or a decent moisturiser.
- They refuse to have anything to do with eye of newt on animal cruelty grounds.
- They do turn up, discreetly often, to put right those spells cast by evil witches because they hate the idea of the latter giving all witches a bad name.
- They will turn evildoers into frogs, toads etc partly because they have a soft spot for amphibians and want to increase the numbers.
- They don't go around selling bright red poisoned apples.
Witches, in my fictional Fairy Kingdom, come in all shapes and sizes. Most are happy to be the traditional wise woman. The others are the ones who want to take the realm by force and destroy those who won't support them (including their own kind where necessary). So how to spot the good witch then:-
Of course perspective varies from character to character. The same event can be intepreted in many different ways (all with valid reasons) so which do you choose to write up? Which event is important enough for your story to be shown from differing perspectives? Which are the most important perspectives your story needs you to show?
Perspective can change over time both for individuals and societies so how do historical events in your stories reflect that? Can you show why the perspective changes (for example, more information is now known about an event which makes interpreting it now more meaningful?).
Politics and religion can have radical implications on perspective too so do you need to bring that into your story or to show how your characters are affected by these?
And whose story are you telling? Whose perspective is the most important that the story has to carry?
All worlds (and people!) should examine themselves to learn from the past. To learn what works and what doesn't. What will lead to war and what will avoid it.
So what mistakes have your characters made? What do they do to avoid repeating them or are they oblivious of the need for this? What mistakes has your fictional world as a whole made? (I'm thinking internally and externally here - what mistakes has your world made in looking after its own environment? How does your world get on with others it has contact with?).
Do your characters study history? Does the world you've put them in remember its history as we tend to do with things like Remembrance Sunday and so on?
My new Chandler's Ford Today post In the King's Footsteps On the Great Ships Trail looks back in time to the medieval era and shares news of a new woodland walk which will take walkers down to the River Hamble. Henry V's ship The Grace Dieu was found there relatively recently. The walk will be "launched" during a free Medieval Weekend at the end of July though I am curious as to just how you launch a walk! (Just go on it perhaps!). The post also looks a little at what life would have been like then.
What would living in the past mean for your characters and fictional setting? Whatever world you're in (real or virtual!), there will be good and bad things about this so what are they? What happens to those who seem to be stuck in the past?
What role do historians, archaeologists and archivists play in your fictional world? Who is the custodian(s) of the "official" history (as every government will have one!)?
Have things improved in your fictional world and how? Who was the instigator of needed changes and what resistance did they face? Equally is your fictional world keen to forget/cover up its past and if so why? Does it succeed in doing so?
The past can generate stories too!
Compulsory reading material varies from species to species in the magical world but some common ones are:-
Most of the time I have little problem in coming up with a title that suits the works I'm wriitng. Sometimes I struggle and more than once I have had to use a "working" title to get me going which I change later on. I find I have got to have a title so I can get on with the project I'm workng on. I've tried writing something without a title attached to it (thinking I'd fill that in later) but this doesn't work for me.
Song titles, film titles etc can be a useful source of pointers to help develop your own titles. Sometimes the theme of the story can make the title spring out at you. Sometimes it is realising what the theme is afterwards that can help you finalise your title. But however you come up with the title, I think the important points are:-
A good title can make you smile (I've come across some great punning ones). Others pique my attention but all grab my attention.
Song titles can be a great inspiration for story titles and also themes. To name some examples:-
The trials of life of course vary from person to person and this should be reflected in fiction too. But trials in life will vary from world to world too. There will be problems a magical world faces no non-magical world ever faces (mainly what do you do when some power mad wizard, with access to an incredible range of spells, goes on the rampage).
So what trials of life does your fictional world face and how does it handle them? Are the trials a threat to the world's existence or irritants that everyone has learned to live with (probably because it is too much hassle to remove them altogether)?
Are the trials of life those things that inevitably come about as a result of the way your world is organized or because others abuse their talents/skills to the detriment of others? And how do they abuse those talents/skills? What stops them getting away with it?
Do the trials of life reflect the weaknesses of your fictional world and is it, via its characters, aware of that?
How to Spot a Real Writing Competition is my latest Chandler's Ford Today post and shares advice and warnings about real and fake contests.
The best fiction is genuine in terms of its characters, the way its world has been set up and in telling the story that is meant to be told. While false characters are vital (no story is a good one without a decent villain in it) and hypocritical characters can make a massive impact on the story, the feeling must be there in your reader that the people you have portrayed are honest to that portrayal. That is the hypocrite really is a hypocrite, that they have good reasons for being the way they are and so on.
The world you've set up should seem plausible. That is if magic existed and there were magical worlds, it could be like the one you've invented. Motivations for actions, of course, are timeless and cross genres. There will always be love stories, crime ones and so on. So there should be these things in the context of your world. Even if they're not your main story, hinting at these things helps add depth to your world. It makes it seem like a real one that there are things going on in the background you'd expect to find on any world.
Also come that happy day when you're published/promoting your work, being genuine is the best and only thing for you to be. People see through an "act". Even if they don't like your fiction, people always respond best to those they consider to be genuine.
Earnings take different forms of course. Does your fictional world have a currency and who "runs" it?
How do people earn their living? In a magical world, are they allowed to use magic to boost how they do? Can people improve their prospects and, if so how?
Is there the equivalent of income tax? If not, how does the government in your world raise its revenues? Is revenue earning capacity dependent on which magical group you're in? For example, are wizards naturally higher earners than witches? Also earnings don't have to be in cash and so often are not. In a fictional world, this will be even more the case.
How can people improve their eduation/jobs/magical training so they can earn more? Someone in your society has to be the lowest earner. Who and wny?
Another way of finding out more about your characters is to give them their "own" blog. What would they post about? Would their tone be serious or witty? Is the blog a private one, like a journal, or a public one?
How do other characters respond on reading the blog? Are there any consquences to what has been written? My Eileen, if she wrote a blog, would write whatever she wanted and damn the consequences but that is her attitude to life anyway. The Queen would keep a journal which would be under lock and key and several spells to prevent it being read by others as she would not want anyone to know what she really felt about issues or people. (Roherum of course would love to get hold of such a journal and would read extracts from it).
How often would your characters blog? Are there any subjects they can't talk about and why? Would any of your characters be banned from blogging because their public role bars them from keeping any kind of private record? Does anyone defy that?
One good thing character blogging could lead to additional material for websites and so on.
My most recent Chandler's Ford Today post was on a local show called the Fryern Funtasia. It was a lot of fun and it was great to catch up with some old friends too.
In my Fairy Kingdom setting, the villages and towns hold their own shows, where fairy tales are re-told and even acted out, amongst other entertainments on offer.
What local shows exist on your fictional worlds? Can anyone take part? What makes up the show? How often are such shows held? Are they broadcast to other parts of your fictional world?
In my fiction such shows are held to keep traditions alive, to encourage villages to support each other by going to other shows as well as staging their own and to entertain the people. The Romans were definitely on to something when it came to "bread and circuses" being necessary to keep people quiet and less likely to rebel against them.
Motivations can be strange things. What makes perfect sense to someone is idiocy to somebody else.
So what are your characters' motivations and how do they justify them (if only to themselves)? How do they dress things up? For example very few will readily admit to greed as being their motivation. They will insist on "having a need" that must be fulfilled and probably give lots of reasons for having that need (though the bottom line will still be they're being greedy!).
So other reasons why could include:-
Are there other ways in which characters fool themselves as to their motivations? And do they actually fool anyone?
Yes, this can take the form of religious belief. (In your fictional world, what role does religion play? What kind of religion does it have? I think there would have to be something even if it is very low key as I can't imagine any world where nobody believes in anything spiritual at all. To me that wouldn't seem real. I think some would believe in something beyond themselves. This would certainly reflect on our planet and I think a really good fantasy story, no matter what its setting, should enable its readers to identify with its characters and world in some way. Being able to identify with how that world handles faith would be one way of bringing your readers right into the world you've created).
But my main thoughts here are what characters believe about themselves and others.
These can be some good questions to help with outlining characters before writing about them in depth. Equally the answers can be good stories in themselves.
One of the best assets to any society is its library for reasons of literacy, being a community meeting place, encouraging the love of reading and so on. And you can tell a lot about a society about how it treats/reacts to its library service. Much as I hate the idea of library closures, it has been good to see so many in the UK come together to oppose these.
So what kind of library does your fictional world have and how does it treat them? Are librarians seen as Keepers of Knowledge or a threat to the regime because they know so much (particularly about what has gone on in the past)?
My local library is very good at supporting authors and holds quite a few book signings and other events. How does your fictional library support your writers? Again is writing encouraged or are writers seen as potentially dangerous given we deal with ideas?
Part of my Chandler's Ford Today post - Fun Day - Fryern Funtasia 2016 - reveals details of a concert being held to raise funds for St. Anne's Hospital, Tanzania where they are looking to update their plumbing and provide new toilet blocks with flushing toilets.
This led me to think about what would count as luxury and necessary items in a fictional world. For me, decent sanitation, flushing loos, good, clean water and so on are the basics of life and I can't imagine being without them. (And hope I never have to find out!). So what would be your luxuries? What would be basic necessities? Would your characters agree on what you come up with?
Can anyone aspire to the luxury market or is that restricted? If so, how is it controlled? Are necessities easily available or do people have to work particularly hard to get them? Can luxuries or necessities be taken away as punishment where the government of your world deems it appropriate?
Can a character in your world experience a rags to riches type story? And how do they adapt from a life of hardship to a life of wealth? (Just how long did it take Cinderella to adapt to her happy ever after ending?!).
Being in control is of phenomenal importance to the Queen. While Eileen has some sympathy (the monarch is bound to want to ensure their realm is at least reasonably stable), the great rebel feels her cousin takes it too far and wants to control everything.
So on your fictional world(s) who or what is in control? What is the government like and is it accountable? Who controls the media (and how is that made up)? Who fights the controllling influences and are they successful? What happens to those who fall foul of the criiminal justice system?
Is there a long history of civil strife in your ficitonal setting? How does the past affect people's every day existence? What literature is acceptable in your world? What is banned and why?
Just as we have a mixture of good traits, bad habits and irritating traits, so should your characters. Eileen is courageous, bends the rules and is as stubborn as they come. How good that is depends on (a) what circumstances she is in and (b) who is on the receiving end of this. The Queen does not approve at all. Eileen is a pain in the neck to her and to Jenny yet when you want someone with grit to tackle the latest magical threat, Eileen is the one to call. So explore how your characters react to one another and why.
How well do your characters adjust to circumstances and/or other characters as they change? Jenny becomes more adept at magic and more aware of what her mother’s up to and Eileen is aware this is not necessarily a good thing as what she used to get away with, she can’t now. How your characters react to and handle changes reveals a great deal about them...
Also think about what reaction you want to generate in your reader and check that those likely reactions are what you want to achieve. Are the sparks your characters generate off each other the ones you meant to write? Or are your people surprising you by their reactions (if so, how? Do you need to look at how you've portrayed them initially? Or is the surprise a one-off thing due to the situation you've put them in but you have found out this is the way they react under stress?).
Reactions are good. It shows there is life in your story, it is an active, moving story. Nobody stays still in life for long. Your characters shouldn't either.
There's a kind of hush that spells trouble if you come across it. It is the kind of hush where everyone else around you knows what's going on but you don't (usually because you turned up late for the briefing. Of course this may be a case where you were deliberately misinformed). It is often the same point where some stupid volunteer suddenly realises they've let themselves in for a mission that is likely to be suicidial (but it seemed a good idea at the time!). Who are your "stupid volunteers" and what dangerous mission are you sending them on? Are the stakes high enough? Will your volunteers have any assistance, magical or otherwise?
There's a kind of hush that tells all at the Palace and its immediate environs that Eileen has turned up again. The hush is like a sense of dread that there is bound to be trouble and the Royal Household usually batten down the more valuable objects and at the same time wonder how much damage the great royal rebel will do this time. In your fictional worlds, who is your great troublemaker? What caused them to become like that? What kind of trouble do they cause? Who clears up the mess?
What is kept hush hush by the government(s) in your fictional settings? Why? Are there any whistle blowers and what happens to them if they get caught? There should be several story ideas in those questions!
Every writer builds on what’s gone before. The trick is to put in your unique ingredient to add to the mix. For instance, it is widely known that fairies can be cruel and capricious. My ingredient is to get one fairy so fed up with that she defects. I then shaped Eileen's character around that basic plot point.
How do your characters develop? Do they develop? (The lack of development can reveal a lot about a character in itself). Also development doesn’t necessarily have to be for the better. Bad experiences can make characters bitter. That in turn can affect their relationships but that character is still developing.
What does your character have to lose/gain? Is the stake high enough? How does your character cope with crises? Do they bring out the best or the worst?
Can you make use of your character’s memories to shape them? For instance, the Queen’s mother was murdered, obviously having a traumatic effect on the Queen and triggering her wish to keep her family close to her, no matter what it takes. That led to the Queen behaving in ways she would not normally have done.
Do your characters have friends? Could friends be useful for subplots (though note these still have to move your tale along and shouldn’t be a distraction or a device to get your word count up)? Can the friends guide your characters as to which route they should take? And friends can get it wrong, just as much as the main characters can by themselves. Best example of a good friend in my view is Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings.
Do your characters have depth? Do they fall in love, hold grudges, take revenge? Do they develop say from wanting revenge to finding revenge wasn’t as satisfactory as they thought it might be? Can you see why your characters act the way they do?
Do you show why your characters are villainous? Is the reason good enough to keep the villainy going or can it be overcome? Do you show how your world works? What’s the system of government? Are there those who resent the way things are run?
Your characters’ main attributes should be evident through (a) what they say and (b) what they do. Having said that great fun can be had with hypocritical characters or those who don’t think they are hypocrites but everyone else around them knows differently! Eileen, for example, thinks hypocrisy is something that happens to other people! Do you like your characters? Can you see good points even in your villains?
Are there ambiguities in your world that frustrate your characters or that they can take advantage of? How does your world treat criminals?
I tend to use photos (ones I've taken) to help inspire me with fleshing out the descriptions of my Fairy Kingdom. I work out from the photos what could reasonably exist in a magical world and what would be different but I do find seeing that initial picture gives me a good starting point.
Magazine, newspaper pictures etc can also be good sources of inspiration. Incidentally to avoid any copyright issues, I only use my own pictures on my websites but of course that doesn't stop me being inspired by other images I've seen. It's the writing that is inspired by what I've seen that makes it on to my websites, blogs, Chandler's Ford Today posts and so on.
Landscapes are the best inspiration for me. The picture at the top of this was taken in the Scottish Highlands on one of my holidays and just looking at it I can sense the wildness, the freedom, the sheer space there. (And remember how cold it was on top of that hill too!). But that wildness and space has helped me flesh out my fictional world. Sometimes it can inspire opposite reactions. My Fairy Kingdom has areas made barren by too much magic going through it during historic magical wars. Looking at the above picture, I see these barren areas as the direct opposite of the image.
So how can you use pictures to inspire your writing?
My writing sessions are made up of a section on blogging (my Facebook author page and websites), then I'm usually writing a post for Chandler's Ford Today and then I finish with my fiction work (short stories and novels). I like having a wide variety of things to work on and think generally it is a good thing for a writer. There's no chance of being bored for a start!
Yes sometimes writing plans have to change due to unforeseen circumstances but I've always been able to come back to whatever it was I was working on. So how do you plan what you write? And when it comes to your fictional characters, are any of those writers by profession? How do they plan what they write (if they plan at all)?
How do your characters plan things generally? How do they handle unexpected circumstances? And how does your society react to journalism (especially if it is critical)? Are writers respected and well paid (a definite yes for anyone claiming to write fantasy!) or are they despised?
Other questions you could put to your characters to discover what really makes them tick could include:
I'm Allison Symes and write fairytales with bite, especially novels and short stories.