Guest Blog: Janice Hardy!

Good morning, Legendary readers! I’m so psyched to have this guest blogger today. Janice Hardy may cause me to fangirl just a little. I’m in love with her Shifter series, but you’ll have to wait for next week to hear my review of it. (You can already tell I completely hated it, right? LOL) Well, I’m going to step to the side and let her take over. Enjoy!

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Chasing Down the “What If?”

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Hello everyone! I’m delighted to be here today to talk about turning sparks of inspiration into a story. “Where do you get your ideas?” is one of the more common questions I get as an author. Every idea has come from a different place, but what connects them is the need to answer a question.

  • What if a society could buy and sell pain? (which turned into my novel, The Shifter)
  • What if (a certain creature) created the vampire myth? (which turned into my newest novel, Blood Ties)
  • What if someone spent most of their life as an undercover spy? (which is the novel I’m currently working on)

Sometimes my ideas follow the “how would?” question, but it’s the same principal. Something sparks my imagination and a question about it appears. I start thinking about that question and it leads to possible problems and story conflicts, and then my characters start appearing. Sometimes the characters come first, and that leads me into their worlds and their problems. From there, I build the story.

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For The Shifter, the world came first, since I needed to explore how a society would buy and sell pain. I needed to work out the economy and practical aspects before I could figure out who might be trapped in that situation and have a terrible problem to solve (the protagonist). I decided that the magic users (the healers) of this world could heal by drawing pain and injury out of a person and putting it into an enchanted metal, and then the metal was sold and used for things, such as weapons and defensive items. I knew immediately that my protagonist was someone whose power worked differently, and that was the source of her problems–and the key to her success over those problems.

And thus, Nya was born. She’s unique in her world–a pain shifter who can heal, but she can’t sense the enchanted metal, so she can’t get rid of that pain unless she shifts it into another person. In order to help someone, she must hurt someone else. Her dream is to be a “real” healer, so this is a terrible power to have. Even worse, her city is under enemy occupation, and if she’s captured by the enemy, she’ll be used as a weapon against her own people.

All I needed then was a reason for Nya to risk herself in this world. So I had her little sister (also a healer) disappear for sinister reasons (no spoilers!) and Nya had to find and save her. Once I had this basic answer to my “what if?” question I could brainstorm where the story might go and plot my novel. The “how would?” questions really came into play here, as I wondered:

  • How would Nya use her ability when threatened?
  • How would Nya feel about hurting some people to help others?
  • How far would Nya go to save her sister?

It was a lot of fun for me as a writer to turn Nya loose and discover the answers to those questions.

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Blood Ties followed a similar process, but the focus was a bit more on my protagonist Grace from the start. I knew that “vampires” were after her for a particular reason, but I had to figure out why. The vampire angle went so well with blood I had to use it, but I wanted it to be about more than food source. I chased the original “what if?” idea down and created what I hope is a fun twist that blends two myths in an unexpected way.

 

 

My current project has gone in the opposite direction. It’s heavily character-driven, so all my “what if?” and “how would?” questions are delving deep into the personality and behavior of the character, such as:

  • How would an undercover spy reconcile lying to people she calls friends?
  • How would she feel about her people versus the people she’s been living with?
  • Where would she draw the line between her loyalty to her friends and her people?

Unlike my first novel, this world is developing around the character to help explore and show the conflicts and consequences a long-term undercover spy would face.

What I enjoy most about developing a novel through “what if?” questions, is that they always give me somewhere to go. They allow for endless possibilities for plots and situations, because different characters will behave differently even in the same situations. Change one aspect of a character’s personality and I can change the whole story.

It also frees me to brainstorm an idea without restrictions. It’s easy for writers to get scope-locked on a plot unfolding a particular way, and that can make us miss less obvious (and usually more interesting) solutions to our character’s problems. But chasing a “what if?” question can go anywhere, and lead to surprising twists and outcomes that are just as much fun to write as they are to read.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re a writer, I hope this sparked some interesting questions about your own stories as well.

What draws you to a story? Do you enjoy exploring “what if?” questions as a reader? What about those of you who are also writers?

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy. When she’s not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.

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Special Guest: J. B. Garner

Hello legendary readers! Today, we have special guest author J. B. Garner. I recently read his book Rune Service and fell in love, but you’ll get to hear more on that one next week. This week, he’ll be sharing some seriously helpful advice on balancing your writing. And heeeeeeeere’s J. B.!

Hello! My name is J. B. Garner, author, editor, and fellow reader, living in Pensacola, FL. I hope you’re all having a great day, and I also hope you’re ready to talk writing! MeLeesa asked me if I could take a second to talk about one of my favorite topics when it comes to the art of wordsmithing, so thinking about it, I decided to have a chat with y’all about description in fiction and how we look at the world, both real and fictional. Enjoy!

As a writer, your job is a hectic one. Not only do you need to create and characterize your cast, you have to script the plot, provide dramatic tension, and so on. One of the most important duties you face is the creation and description of the world surrounding your characters. After all, every actor needs a stage on which to perform!

There are many theories and styles of writing descriptive text, too many for such a humble article as this. What I want to focus on today is the balance of description with the action of the plot. Essentially, the effect that unbalanced description and exposition can have on the pacing of your story and how to work around this unbalance in a natural way.

We all know what unbalanced description looks like. When every character is introduced with a paragraph of lovingly written description, from top to bottom and every bit of clothing, that is unbalanced. When every intricacy of the environment is laid out, that is unbalanced. When every action is laden with adverbs and adjectives, no matter how minor, that is unbalanced.

I’ve heard it said that the more senses you can engage with the reader, the more memorable your writing becomes. I don’t deny this, but it must come in a natural balance. Trying to engage too many senses at once or simply giving into purple prose causes the kind of unbalanced text blocks I talk about above. The detrimental effect this can have on your plot, especially the pacing of it, should be obvious.

Worse yet, unbalanced description is unnatural when it comes to how we perceive the real world. When you meet someone for the first time, especially in passing, do you really pay that much attention to them? The human mind loves to generalize and categorize things to deal with the amazing breadth of input our sense provide. On first sight, most things in our environment are categorized and then put into a box, then otherwise ignored until we force ourselves to focus on them.

That’s why unusual things draw our attention so easily. They don’t fit in a predetermined category and our brain sends the signals that we need to focus on this thing closely. Even on things that we focus on, data doesn’t just come in like a computer readout. Different people focus on different aspects of people and objects. Not every detail is immediately apparent or important. On top of that, the situation the observer is in dictates a lot about where his/her focus will be. A character in a dangerous action sequence will have far different priorities and focus than one sitting at a bar, for example.

You can use this naturalistic approach to description and observation to balance out your descriptions. As we naturally pick up details over time as focus and perception change, you can likewise parcel out description over a scene instead of clumping it all up in one paragraph. Consider what a character’s focus might be and use that to describe the most important details at the time, bringing the rest out as they come to the fore.

You can even use this technique to add to your characterization efforts. What a particular character sees first in another can be a clue as to their priorities, background, and knowledge. How a character sees their world can be as insightful as how they interact with it.

I hope that was helpful! Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Wow! Thanks J. B.! I suddenly have the urge to go back and check my new manuscript to see how I’ve been ding with that. Lol.

Ok. To learn more about J. B. Garner and his work, just click here.

J. B. Garner was born in Baltimore, MD on December 1, 1976, the youngest of three children. While still young, the family moved to Peachtree City, GA. His parents always encouraged his creative side and J. B. began writing and drawing from an early age. Though considered talented by his teachers, he never fully applied himself and bounced through high school and into college at the Georgia Institute of Technology. During his freshman year, his father died suddenly.
Grief and lack of purpose caused J. B. to drop out of school. If not for a few close friends, he might have dropped out of life as well. Taken in by his friends and given a second chance, J. B. matured, applied himself, and finally, after over a decade of hard work, is now back to doing what he loves the most: writing.

Guest Blog – Carrie Dalby

 

Hey guys! Today we have author Carrie Dalby guesting on the site. Yay! Carrie is a good friend of mine and amazing writer. I’ll be talking more about her book Fortitude later this week. For now, say hi to Carrie!

Thanks for having me and hello, Legendary Readers. I’m happy to share a bit about my search for visual writing inspiration with you all today.

Seeking Inspiration

For a person who deals with words, I’m extremely visually oriented. From finding photographs of settings to collecting character images, I’m always on the lookout for pictures that represent my stories. My two published novels (so far) have somewhat abstract titles but they embody the theme of each book. In daily life I look for examples of Fortitude and Corroded (young adult books available from the Surge imprint of Anaiah Press.) When found, I feel an instant connection to these stories through the visuals representing them.

Nature is a great place to find fortitude. Check out this tree in my backyard that didn’t let a fence stand in its way.

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What could have halted progression became woven into its life, making the core stronger—it’s survived several hurricanes. Not only is the tree still growing, its providing a craggy surface for other living things.

 

 

I find the patina of corroded metal beautiful. The trials and weather of life turns bland metal into a gorgeous display of colors and textures, like this retro playground slide.

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Sometimes it takes looking closer to the world around you to find your inspiration. It can be as large as a rusted roof or as small as a nail.

 

 

 

 

 

Where will you find inspiration today?

 

Thanks Carrie for guesting today! If you guys want to learn more about this awesome author, just click here!

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While experiencing the typical adventures of growing up, Carrie Dalby called several places in both San Diego and Santa Cruz counties home and has lived on the Alabama Gulf Coast since 1996. Her two young adult novels, Fortitude and Corroded, released in 2015 and 2016 by the Surge imprint of Anaiah Press.
Currently she is writing a Gothic family saga for adults.
When Carrie isn’t reading, writing, browsing bookstores/libraries, or homeschooling, she can often be found knitting, volunteering, or attending concerts.

Guest Blog – Lilian Oake

Hey guys!! I promised that I’d introduce you to some of my favorite authors and friends, and today is the first in the series. Today, you’ll be reading a guest post from one very talented Lilian Oake. Lilian writes a variety of teen fantasy. In fact, you’ll soon be reading my review of her book The Dragon Cager. I will also be posting an interview with her over the next week or so, but all that’s in the future. Now, I’m gonna hand over the post to Lilian as she talks about writing epic battle scenes.

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Hello readers! Thank you for stopping by and taking a gander at what the random, crazy redhead is doing on the blog of MeLeesa Swann! I do hope to impart some helpful bit of info here.

 

 

 

 One of the greatest struggles in fantasy today, is keeping the reader engaged without constant epic-battles. Yes, the reader wants to start a story with action. No one wants a new story to start out slow and boring. Yes, war does touch on the senses and brings thrill to the reader. No, war is not the only way to bring on these feelings of excitement.

Some key points about battles in fantasy:

  1. If the reader isn’t already invested in the story for a solid reason pertaining to the plot, you’re bound to lose them before you even reach the first battle. Or soon after.
  2. The battle itself has to have purpose. If you’re just throwing it in there for the sake of delivering short-lived excitement, the reader is going to get frustrated, confused, and worst of all, have their suspension of disbelief ruined. If that happens, it’s not easy to keep your reader(s), in this book, or the next.

Character development should be your main focus—besides the plot itself. When the reader is invested in your character, then any and every experience conveys emotion. You want your reader to feel like they are the character, so they feel the clenching teeth of frustration with the MC. The palpitations of excitement. The sweaty palms of shame, or the set jaw of suspicion. With that connection, something as simple as silently climbing through treetops to spy on an enemy could keep your reader delving into your books just as well as any battle would. And this will keep the reader entertained, and enthralled enough to come back for more books.

Well, I hope these words speak to someone, and maybe even helps one of you readers figure out how to work through your own fantasy-writing problem you may be having. If ever you find yourself having an issue you can’t seem to work through, talk to someone about it! (I’ll even leave you my personal email here!) Sometimes, that’s all it takes—a good chat about your book and goals with a good listener.

Lilian

Lilianoake@gmail.com

 

As always, thanks for reading, guys! To find out more about Lilian Oake, just click here. AND her book The Dragon Cager is currently FREE on Amazon Kindle, but download fast. The sale ends Saturday! I’ll be posting a review of the book SOON, so check back. 

Hugs!!