writing tips

World Building

Perhaps your story centers on a village in a deep forest, so thick that journeys to another village take a monstrous effort, and people who venture into the forest often vanish. Why wouldn’t wrong, and varying, stories spring up to explain the disappearances? Only one of them might be right, or none. The right story doesn’t have to be the only one that exists. Show people believing different things, and there’s a brand new sheen of verisimilitude added to your writing.

This is the type of thing I want to have happened with Dante. Residents who discover he can teleport at will do not trust him FOR A REASON - teleporting is linked with the Avatar Incidents. People who knew this prior to the Avatar Incidents will have immediately asked him about his involvement. There will be rumors that it's because of a poisoned water source, angry gods, etc.

Elders and Mayors should RARELY be of this sort. Ten years on, most are just looking for pragmatic ways to DEAL WITH THIS SHIT.

Townships would turn against each other fairly quickly -

  • Why aren't you hit as bad as we are? What deals have you made? Maybe they're doing this to us!
  • Why are you always hit? Maybe they're a bad town - bad things happen for a reason - they deserve it. Why do we always have to help them/share our food? We weren't hit, why should we suffer for them?
  • This would increase rumors - somewhere there's a town of teleporters who do this. Chesire Cats legends - Dante should have heard the legends and wonder if they're true. Dante stays around Bremen because they tolerate him fairly well and because he's researching where he came from.
  • Bremen folk tolerate him because they're familiar with him/think helping him will stop the Avvies/will be a useful hostage if those responsible show up
      • That last is not far wrong. When Chester shows up he dallies because he's baffled by Dante and later allows himself to be jailed because he's realized how young Dante truly is and how clueless/helpless.

2) Remember that people play.

A side effect? The town stores are always restored to "full" when an instance starts? Sometimes hidden treasures/magic items that weren't found by the Avatar are left behind? That could be interesting because if you're a shop keeper that RARELY gets found by an Avvie because your shop is NOT on Main St and every time it's over, you're actually making a profit - they aren't as keen as others to have the Grimms stop it.

4) Metaphors they live by.
To take an example from twentieth- and twenty-first-century American culture, we tend to talk about disease as war. The immune system attacks the invading viruses. We take medicines to kill or subdue the sickness we have. T cells destroy the cells of tumors.

Dominion is steeped in Grimms - they have history about how the Brothers stopped the rips - their metaphors are writing, books, knowledge - Once Upon A Time - it's a common opener - it should be SAID to Ryan. Never "once" or "back in the day" - it's almost always - once upon a time - other towns are nearby ?? word needed or faraway towns. Every thing is in pastoral fairy tale terms.

Writers/Storytellers are the teachers - not quite Harper Hall - but similar.


Something to keep them grounded. I’ve talked about striking a balance, because seriousness can become doom’n’gloom and optimism can become singing light-hearted touchy-feelyness. Yet serious optimism also needs something to keep itself grounded, so that everyone in the book does not seem impossibly clever and awesome and noble—which, by itself, is nothing but another kind of type.

I believe ordinariness is the best anchor here. Everyday problems, practical problems, character traits that are not grand overarching flaws or virtues that determine the fate of the universe, relationships that flourish based on messiness and emotion rather than just rational consideration, quiet moments, inconvenient plot twists, will all help remind readers that these are men and women who live and die like the rest of us. In fact, the best seriously optimistic fantasy, for me, doesn’t feature characters who are extraordinarily skilled or talented; they feature characters who have traits that normal people could just as easily possess, but magnified. And not every trait will be exaggerated, either. A heroine could be brave enough to refuse the easy way out because it’s against her principles, and still be a boring conversationalist. Remember to keep some parts of your protagonists earthly.

This helps lend a sense of reality to the world, too, so that the stage is not divided into Our Heroes, Our Villains and Everybody Else, implying some huge gap of worth that simply doesn’t exist. And it can help the plot along. Plot problems caused by hunger, thirst, weather, and the like are often more believable than the idea that the villains are everywhere and control everything.

Decisions, Decisions

3) The ‘character makes a decision’ story. I’ve mentioned this before in other contexts, notably about how much more compelling it would be if the character’s ability to save everyone and everything hung on a decision than on the magic skills she was born with, or how wonderful protagonists are who actually choose to do things. Reluctant heroes, reluctant kings, reluctant leaders, reluctant mages, whose reluctance means nothing in the end, are a dime a dozen in fantasy. There’s a true hostility to decision-making, to active bustling, to wanting, among a lot of fantastic subgenres, as can be seen by the position of the people who do have those traits. That’s right. They’re almost always the villains.

Just for once, fuck that. Show me a character whose decisions and own desires to change his situation drive the action. If he learns lessons, have them be lessons that he set out to learn. Astonishing, isn’t it, that someone might decide to study the situation, study it, and then make up his own mind? Yet in our world, people do it all the time. I see no reason it should be exiled from the myriad worlds of fantasy.

Guest POV

4) The ‘equal time’ story. I suppose one could divide the simplistic lesson story in two: the ones where the protagonist learns the lesson, often from someone older and wiser, and the ones where the protagonist teaches the lesson, often to someone older and wiser. In the latter, I always wonder how the other person feels. Does the man widening his eyes and exclaiming that he knows women are equal now experience any true epiphany, or is he doing what looks politic at the moment, until he can get out of these crazy people’s company? Does the mother whose daughter “teaches” her that she has magic and is therefore worthy and special really hate her daughter, or was she really convinced that she was raising her daughter the right way and astonished at this bitterness?

I don’t want shadows for characters to practice their lessons at, I want characters. Try telling the story from a divided viewpoint. It will almost certainly mean that longer stories are necessary, because it’s hard to get more than one viewpoint inside, say, a 1000-word story. But it will also present a doubled perspective, and almost certainly a more complex one, on the story that unfolds.

When the whole world is changing and shifting and cracking, on the brink of war or destruction or magical catastrophe, would people living in that world, and especially the ones on the front lines of the change, really remain exactly the same? Would they never doubt, shiver, waver, alter? Wouldn’t their doubts sometimes be greater than a few angsty questions that the author permits them for three pages before they see something that confirms to them that they’ve been on the right side all along? Wouldn’t they sometimes be utterly lost, without a clue of the right thing to do, and so make imperfect decisions?

Do you want to demonstrate that people are neither really good nor evil, as a lot of fantasies do these days? Then do it. Show characters changing, flexing, revealing different folds of themselves, rather than being slaves to an outline so rigid that they can’t breathe because you need them to do certain things so badly. Quite often, a story like that suffocates its characters, and drags along their corpses, never noticing. Corpses are a little stiffer, but they can still be posed, and that’s all those stories really need them to do.

Especially true for Dominion residents. Yes, some of them have been waiting for a HERO to save them, but the Mayor and Elders and others have been dealing with this for over 10 years. There is a structure for a reason and the Grimms are smashing it.
The trial should be A REAL TRIAL - they are NOT being prejudged. The society is genuinely debating a very real issue.

The characters don’t know they’re going to survive, or shouldn’t, yet many of them act like suicidal idiots without near enough justification. They don’t coordinate the last-minute escapes and rescues, they always find a healer just when they need one, they can count on one of his faults blinding the villain at the crucial moment—lessening the work they need to do to defeat him—and they know what to do because the gods and prophecy have told them what to do.

A point. From Bremen, Ryan and Rebecca should try to establish a base - a place where their items are safely stored and where medical help is available.

Season to Season

People do not stop growing when they achieve something. Failure is allowed to change a person in fantasy, though, of course, heroes rarely fail. (Personally, I think this is because authors usually put them in a situation where their failure will mean the damnation of the world, and that’s unfair. You shouldn’t make your readers cheer for the hero to succeed just because of what will happen if he doesn’t). But success isn’t. Character A and Character B fall in love? Immediately, they stop growing, and they will be in love from that point forward. The author may introduce Big Misunderstandings and a few tests of faith, but do not be fooled. They will not fall out of love. They will not become different people who are in love in a different way. They will always be frozen lovers, in the perfect position.

Character C becomes the ruler of his kingdom. He freezes. He will be that same shining king, flushed with his heroic triumph and well-regarded by his subjects, forever. No one will doubt him, or mutter against him, or find out that a dragon-killer isn’t always the best-qualified person to lead the country. He will never grow tired of ruling the kingdom, or make a stupid decision, or appoint the wrong adviser, or fall in love with the wrong queen. He’s a pretty smiling cameo for the rest of his life.

Character D keeps the world from exploding. Now, Everything Is All Right. There are no scars to be cleaned up. There is no mourning for dead comrades, because either they’ve died for the greater good or they’ve gotten themselves resurrected. In fact, I don’t have to keep going, because you can see point 1. Change is reversible, but more than that, it only needs to happen up to a point. After that, characters die.

No, not literally. But they might as well have.

Core Conflict Resolutions - "Sexual Tension Can Never Be Resolved"

Bullshit. Grimms is not about any one character or pairing. Rebecca and Dante can flirt, date and sleep together. Or not. Dante can realize he has a connection to Rebecca that's NOT romantic.

What Grimms *is* about and cannot be resolved without a gear shift is perception of reality.

Is Ryan a Hero? Everyone perceives him to be and treats him as such. He does do heroic things. But so does Dante. What makes a Hero?
Is Rebecca a Princess, a Witch, a Wife? She cannot be the perfect thing she thinks they want. Dante tends to find her imperfections as things adding to her perfection. It's idolatry and she is both flattered and exhausted by it.
What is Dante? He is every bit the Hero Ryan is but believes he is a villain.
Chester is NOT a villain - he is anarchy in a world of black and white. Americans will tend to sympathize with him and want to like him, but I would LOVE to show an actual Anarchist in television. He cares - and cares deeply - for certain people, but he does not care about their goals. He doesn't think they should want the things they want. And if they do they should not impose them on others.

Everything is about perception and balance. I need to make sure Ryan makes as many mistakes as Chester - and they will probably be worse.

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