Literature is filled with fictional realms and alternate universes. As a writer, the key to creating them rests in your ability to unlock your imagination and explore the endless possibilities you find there. In my supernatural horror stories, my main characters are demons and angels, so I have to invent their characteristics, personalities, and abilities. They reside in Middle Earth and behave like ordinary human beings, but they also frequently visit Hell and travel to remote places on the surface of Earth. This leads to all kinds of mischief and brutal confrontations, since I’m dealing with opposite ends of the spectrum in my evil verses good storylines. However, there are lots of different directions to go as a writer, if you want to build a fictional world of your own.
In all truth, fiction is fiction and how ever you define your fantasy world depends in a large part on the creatures or inhabitants living there. It may sound obvious, but you need to develop a tone to start with. Is this going to be a crazy adventure full of talking dragons and subverted fantasy tropes, or a gritty alternate reality where every baby born at midnight becomes a cyborg? Will your characters have the gift of magic or prophecy? Is your story based on real places with a few tweaks here and there, or is it set in an eighth-dimensional plane of existence? Are you planning to use a specific genre or are you going to use a combination, throwing your readers off with unexpected twists and turns.
Fantasy worlds are fun to develop because they’re not bound by the laws of reality. But you still need some restrictions, even if you invent them. Perhaps magic does exists, but it comes at a terrible price. Maybe your characters can’t breathe in the post-war atmosphere, but their pets can. There could be time travel in the universe you’ve created, though perhaps there’s no way to change the future. Pick your own brand of logic, insert interesting, believable characters, and stick to your self-imposed rules as much as possible.
If you’re crafting a whole fantasy world, you’re probably going to have a few different races and cultures. But they need more than one trait to make them unique and to keep them well defined in your story. As you craft nuanced, multi-dimensional cultures for your fantasy realms, consider drawing inspiration from real world cultures and shared experiences. Look to world history if you ever feel stuck, and remember that the past is long and full of weird, wonderful events that might even surprise you.
So be creative, whether it be developing an enchanted forest or a planet made entirely out of gold. Just try not to feel constrained by copying the fantasy realms of other writers. Originality will set you apart and establish your name as a unique, creative storyteller.
I’m currently working on ANNIHILATION, Book 2 in my new SOUL SEEKER Series. While writing this book during the Covid-19 pandemic, I find myself being taken to dark places and struggling daily to get out, which oddly mimics the stark reality of my story. I can’t help wondering if other authors believe that the negative energy in our current situation has altered their storylines, or dampened their creativity the same way it affects visual artists. As an art gallery owner, I remember how 9/11 turned everything dark for months on end…and varying shades of grey for artists. Can the same be said for published authors and struggling writers? If so, how is it possible to capture the happiness we once knew and reflect this in our work when everything seems so dire?
I found the answer while researching positive responses to depressive influences and would love to share this with anyone who might be interested.
The first step towards conquering negativity and quelling your chatterbox mind is to recognize the types of thoughts you experience as they occur. I found seven types of negative thinking that affect writers, although I’m sure there are more. How many of these do you recognize?
1. Mind-reading: Mind-reading thoughts impact you the most when self-esteem is low. You feel 100% certain that you know what someone else thinks about your work and this can lead to the loss of confidence. This in turn can lead to you talking yourself out of doing things because you believe you ‘know for sure’ what the outcome will be.
“I can tell that they don’t like my writing. I know she thinks I’m not good enough. They didn’t like my work last time so they’re not going to like it this time.”
2. Generalizing and filtering-out: When you have negative thoughts, sometimes you latch on to one small thing that might have gone wrong – a struggling writing session or unwelcome feedback – and you blow this up out of all proportion. At the same time you also filter out anything positive that might have happened, reaching an unrealistic, negative conclusion.
“They didn’t like paragraph three so this must mean that the entire premise of my work is flawed. I kept getting distracted in my last writing session – I’ll never finish if this keeps happening. I’m beginning to think I should give up.”
3. Polarizing: This form of negative thinking often occurs when writers compare their work to others. Either you think your work is not good enough or conclude that if you can’t write like someone else, then you’ll never achieve any success.
“If I don’t get my work completed on the date I specified, then I might as well throw in the towel. If I don’t get the recognition I seek or win awards for my work, then I’ll never make it in this industry.”
4. Calamitous: When you experience catastrophic thoughts about your writing, you become anxious and unfocused. This can lead to negative spirals in your work habits and overall wellbeing.
“What if I never make it as a writer? I’ll never achieve my goals. Everything is wrong with the idea I came up with – it’s never going to improve or be accepted.”
5. Comparing yourself: Writers often compare their current progress – or lack thereof – with another time in their lives when they were able to accomplish more or found the writing process easier. You become overly self-critical and nostalgic for this productive time rather than simply accepting that your situation has changed.
“Writing used to be so easy – why am I finding it so hard now? I should be far further along than I am – what am I doing wrong?”
6. Blaming: This happens when you unjustifiably hold someone, some thing or some situation responsible for the problems you may be experiencing with your writing. Rather than taking responsibility for your own actions, you feel like you’re the victim of a situation and this can be damaging to the project you’re working on or any future writings.
“I would have never done that if they hadn’t told me to. The feedback I received ruined my life and ended my writing career.”
7. Blinkering: Sometimes you’re unwilling to listen to constructive criticism because you feel you are right and the listener is wrong. This type of thinking can lead to resentment and stalemating your work.
“I can’t see what they don’t like about my writing, there must be something wrong with them. I don’t know why they can’t see what I’m trying to explain. They’re just not paying attention or understanding my storyline.”
It’s not unusual to have negative thoughts about writing ideas, critiques and unsolicited responses, but it’s only by recognizing them for what they are that you can find a positive way to move forward. Push aside overly self-critical patterns and you’ll find yourself taking the first step towards overcoming them. Before you know it, you’ll find something uplifting, hopeful and rewarding in the stories you create.
Throughout history, in every form of media, the most integral and explored theme is the epic battle between good and evil. There are examples of this theme in classic literature, children’s fairy tales, poems, mythology, art, music, superhero comic books, pop-culture movies and Disney classics. Whether it be Robin Hood defending the poor from the injustices of the Sheriff of Nottingham or Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrificing himself at the hands of Darth Vader, stories and legends have greatly reinforced the concept of diametrically opposed forces of good and evil where good eventually prevails.
Evil takes many forms and runs the gamut from strong-willed characters who forcefully overpower their enemies to the more subtle, sly characters who use persuasion and manipulation to get their way. Be it for greed, lust, power, vengeance, etc., the evil will gain advantage for their desires at the expense and sometimes attempted total destruction of good. Good on the other hand, plays the under dog and is suppressed and abused for the early part of these dramas. We ascribe our own personal desires upon these good characters by sympathizing and relating to their struggle. Victimization is an important component to the good versus evil struggle, which provides justification to standing up against the evil force with sometimes brutal results. There is a sense of justice when evil characters “get what they have coming to them” at the hands of the Dirty Harry’s and Harry Potter’s.
These dichotomies are not isolated to fictional stories but spill over into the political, social, economic, theological, ideological and international struggles of everyday life. Each struggle has polarized sides of oppressors and victimized overcomers, who fill the roles in this epic battle. The lines of morality and ethics are obfuscated to compartmentalize people along a partisan divide. This can be achieved through use of a variety of influences that affect the behavior of individuals or whole groups of people. Some influences are inherently negative while others are neutral and situationally dependent as to whether they are positive and negative on society. All of these influences together determine the totality of our life on Earth by aligning people into these two dichotomies of good and evil.
But is it really so easy to categorize people when, according to scripture, we were given “free will” to make our own choices? Some of the decisions we make affect the lives of others and might be interrupted as good, while others are labeled bad, but what about the people we tend to align ourselves with? Are they responsible for influencing our decision making process? Actually, there really is no choice in the matter. You, and you alone, are accountable for your actions with very few exceptions, such as actual mental incapacity. Every action you take is because you choose to take that action. It may be a series of choices that get you there, but it still comes back to you. So be wise about the decisions you make and consider the consequences of your actions before you make them. The battle-line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man, woman and child.
While in the midst of creating a new novel, I recently found myself struggling with the purpose of my story. Was I writing it to educate readers, to entertain them, or to transport them to another place during a difficult time in our lives? Perhaps, in a strange way, I was attempting to do all three without even being aware of it–without concentrating on the basic steps required for good storytelling. And what, say you, was the final result? A longer writing and editing process that no author wants to endure.
So, what’s the fastest way to create a memorable, page-turning story? Here is my simple answer. Years ago, while researching the secret to successful writing, I came to the conclusion that the key ingredient to creating great stories is constant practice. While I maintain this habit on a regular basis, I’ve come to the conclusion that the nature and unanticipated behavior of my characters often dictates the eventual outcome of their stories in any given situation. To further clarify, I have absolutely no control over my endings while I’m writing them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining or well written.
As readers, we seem to be satisfied when stories achieve certain effects, such as moving us emotionally, inspiring us, and encouraging us to think outside the box. With the advent and explosion of self-published books, there are now virtually millions of books of all genres on the market. So, as a writer, how is it possible to make your book stand out or be different? How do you keep readers coming back time and again, searching for your latest novel or upcoming release. Well, after reviewing stacks of notes from RWA workshops and various writing conferences, I believe I’ve discovered some great suggestions for turning a good story into an unforgettable, compelling one.
Are you ready??
#1) Make the dramatic content of your story strong. Example: ‘The neighbor’s bacon and eggs breakfast’ is not a story idea that is going to have readers clawing for a copy of your book. It is also highly unlikely that this subject matter would sustain an entire novel. But if the bacon is made from human flesh, the story scenario has greater dramatic potential as demonstrated by Thomas Harris’ popular Hannibal novels. Once you’ve discovered the resulting actions and the eventual outcome that develops out of your primary story scenario, you have a real, compelling story idea.
What are the key elements of a great, dramatic story? Conflict, Tension, Surprise, Extraordinary Characters, Flawed Behavior, Controversy, Mystery and, of course, Suspense. The list is commonly known, however, building a story with these components can be challenging when your goal is to create an intriguing, page-turning bestseller.
#2. How do I keep a reader’s attention? Try varying your prose’s rhythm and structure. Writing instructors often advise creative writing classes to write smart, punchier sentences. Short sentences are great for increasing pace and for helping to make scenes more exciting. Yet this could become monotonous for both the writer and reader, if a whole book is written this way. Changing the length of a sentence adds interest and can intensify drama, especially in a narrative story.
Something as simple as this can be intriguing. ‘He waited all day. It was cold and growing dark by the minute. Would anyone come?’
Exploring the rhythm of your writing consciously can help you write better sentences. Carefully crafted, creative prose makes a book better in any genre.
#3. What about characters? It’s important to create believable, memorable characters that readers either love or hate. Why do we find some characters more memorable than others? Because they have something that makes them stand out. It might be a unique voice, a persona or expression, a goal or motivation, their distinctive appearance or behavior, a flaw or weakness or perhaps a hidden strength.
Authors such as Charles Dickens is famous for creating larger-than-life, memorable characters. So what does each character in your book crave or long to accomplish? Why do they desire this and what do they have to do in order to gain it?
#4. Each part of a story needs to be effective in order to make it great. The best openings create fascinating introductions to the authors’ setting, characters and plot scenarios. Often times, the middle of a story sags or lacks plot movement. But a brilliant middle, might introduce new characters who help or hinder your primary character. This is good place to add subplots that supplement your main story arc, to reveal why your characters have certain goals, to indicate what’s at stake or to reveal the effect outside pressures are causing that hinders your main character’s success.
#5. Most important of all, make every line of dialogue count. When characters speak, we gain a sense of their personalities, viewpoints, vulnerabilities, quirks, and attitude about any given subject. Having two or more characters sit at a table talking rarely moves the story forward unless the conversation has a purpose such as deepening or developing connections between them. In a great story, characters get to the point as quickly and realistically as possible. There are very few pleasantries and even fewer filler words because dialogue serves the plot, while holding onto the reader’s attention.
#6. Who is the unseen and most influential character in a story? Believe it or not, it’s the immersive setting. It’s not just a house with shape and color. It’s about details–about a place with personality. Is it old and dank, shutting out the light of the world, or is it light, charming and elegant? Besides giving a setting personality, it’s important to make it fascinating, inviting, challenging or just plain frightening.
Also, keep in mind that old neighborhoods change with passing years. Characters might feel different about a place from their childhood. You know…lack a personal connection they thought they would have after revisiting it. If you write about a real, historical or contemporary place in particular, you need to know the landmarks, the demographics, the underprivileged areas and the rich ones. Do the required research to understand what it is celebrated or nefarious for, as readers will recognize inaccuracies and will often point them out.
#7. What is the conflict in your story? When we read the word conflict, we often think of harsh words, violence or physical fights between adversaries. But there are many kinds of conflict that can be used to improve a story. Internal conflicts create tension, leaving readers wondering if the characters they’re rooting for are capable of overcoming emotional roadblocks or the hurdles in their lives. The same characters might also grapple with their environments or struggle with a natural phenomena.
#8. How do I leave my reader wanting more? The best tip of all is to deliver a knockout ending, as it leaves a lingering impression. The final lines will either entice a reader to seek out other novels you’ve written or result in recommendations of your work to other readers.
So what exactly goes into a great ending? The best answer is the resolution of the primary conflict. But it’s also important not to make the story’s closure so tidy that it’s predictable or a cop-out by ending the story as quickly as possible or with for a happily ever after resolution when it’s not needed. Sometimes, leaving a reader guessing is the best ending of all. Just make sure that any dramatic tension is held off until the end. This can be done by keeping your readers guessing or not revealing the identity of a villain until the very end. However, if you use a surprise plot twist, remember to keep the surprise believable and the last line as powerful and remarkable as the first line in your story.
For anyone unfamiliar with the award-winning Threads book series, let me take a moment to bring you up to speed on this action-packed collection, now available on Amazon.com.
Book One – Severed Threads: Expert divers Rachel Lyons and Chase Cohen reunite and risk their lives to find treasure hidden under the sea to save the ones they value most.
Book Two – Buried Threads: Rachel and Chase accept a contract to recover missing samurai swords, which are cursed with a time-ticking prophecy of the complete annihilation of Japan.
Book Three – Banished Threads: Rachel and Chase travel to England to secure her uncle’s blessing for their wedding, however, a murder and an art gallery robbery delay their nuptials and challenges the strength of their relationship.
Book Four – Twisted Threads: Devon Lyons (Rachel’s brother) becomes a pawn in a dangerous game of revenge when a female Japanese assassin boards a cruise ship traveling to the Caribbean on a mission to find and destroy.
When it comes to writing a novel, a well-thought-out plot is an essential element for effective storytelling. Something has to move – to change from bad to good, worst to better, in order to satisfy your reader. This change, from Point A to Point B, can be shown in the following ways:
A physical event (Point A = a psycho killer is picking off everyone in town. Point B = police arrest the killer).
A decision (Point A = a character wants to practice law like his father. Point B = the same character decides to be a ballet dancer).
A change in a relationship (Point A = a boy and girl hate each other. Point B = they fall in love)
A change in a person (Point A = a character is a selfish jerk. Point B = they realize the benefit of donating their time.)
A change in the reader’s understanding of a situation. (Point A = a character appears to be a murderer. Point B = the reader realizes the character is actually innocent and made a false confession.)
For authors who find plotting on foam core board the best way to organize your chapters and subplots before developing them, I applaud the endless hours you’ve invested but have no interest in making notes on sticky pads in various colors and later attempting to decipher my writing. Plus the resulting roadmap could prove incredibly daunting, especially when multiple points of view are involved, in addition to unexpected twists and turns in the plot.
The beat sheet is also a great tool for charting every scene, however, after attempting this method for a new book, I soon realized that I’d spent endless hours on the building blocks for my plot which lacked dialogue or narrative flair. As soon as I began writing, I found myself detouring from my storyline all together and rewriting my sheet to stay current with my story’s evolution.
Ultimately, the solution to organizing my characters, directing their activities, and advancing my plot came with an introduction to Pinterest. Although authors often use boards on this site for compiling ideas, collecting quotes, and categorizing writing techniques, I found it an excellent way to dissect my entire story and to “visually” plot each chapter, as well as each book, with the use of character images, settings, and prop photos that describe the corresponding scene. When a board is completed, it also serves as the perfect tool for creating a book trailer and developing an advertising layout.
A good fiction book needs to be filled with action. The good guys are after the bad guys, the doctor needs to find a cure. From the beginning to the end, the reader can’t bear to stop reading because the action just keeps coming.
The best answer goes something like this: “Write the book you’ve always wanted to read.” Now that might sound easy enough, until you sit down at a computer for twenty minutes wondering where the hell to begin. After attending a zillion workshops and taking notes that will probably never be read again, I can honestly say the formula for creating a powerful story is relatively simple, provided you include a few key ingredients. You see, in fiction, the writer’s job is to entertain, to draw an emotional response from the reader. The reader is often looking for suspense, action, and to go on a journey they have not been on before, one they will not easily forget. Readers want to get drawn into and experience the story for themselves. They want characters they can relate to and form a personal connection with. But most importantly, they want a good book. One that leaves them anxiously awaiting each turn of the page. With this in mind, here are the elements I consider essential to writing great fiction.
Well-developed characters: The characters in the book must be well developed and believable. The characters should remind you of your teacher, your lawyer, your doctor, or maybe even your best friend. Even though they are fictional, they come alive for us in the story.
Action: A good fiction book needs to be filled with action. The good guys are after the bad guys, the doctor needs to find a cure. From the beginning to the end, the reader can’t bear to stop reading because the action just keeps coming.
Great Plot: The writer keeps the reader guessing right to the end by using surprising, realistic plot twists. Just when we think we know “who done it” – bam – a new twist creeps up and a story involves more. As we near the end we wonder if there is time to solve it? Will it have a happy ending? Most readers long for a good ending to their story as they grow fond of the characters in the book and want to see the best happen to them.
Enjoyable to Read: Readers want to have fun. They want to escape into this book and for the moment forget the day’s events and challenging issues that face them. They want a personal connection with the characters and also they want a story that inspires them to make a difference.
Keep Your Audience in Mind: When writing fiction it’s important to remember to keep the audience in mind. These are the people who will be picking up your book and buying it and also hopefully recommending it to a friend or family member. For your particular book, what do they want to read? What will keep them on a Friday night turning each page to see what happens next. It’s different with each book, but once you capture your audience you have the makings for a success.
Writers write about what they know. They can bring the sounds, colors, and images of their world to life in their story. Fiction is where writers get the opportunity to bring you into that world and keep you there until, “the end.”
A romantic adventure set in the exciting world of salvage diving, treasure hunters, and modern-day pirates, Severed Threads is an action-packed, crowd-pleasing page-turner.
Four years ago, Rachel Lyons’ father died in a mysterious diving accident, ending her love affair with the sea, as well as her love for her current flame, Chase Cohen, who was there when Sam Lyons died. Chase disappeared from Rachel’s life shortly thereafter, with no explanation. Since then, she has buried herself in a new corporate job and new life devoid of treasure hunting.
However, things are starting to get complicated. Rachel’s brother is in deep trouble with some dangerous people, and one of her father’s close friends needs a priceless Chinese artifact to end a deadly curse. In order to save the ones she loves, Rachel must team up with Chase to find the Heart of the Dragon and other promised riches. Their shaky partnership is thrown off balance by secrets, hidden motives, and unmistakable romantic tension.
McFarren expertly blends Chase and Rachel’s personal story with an exciting treasure hunting narrative punctuated by detailed diving knowledge. One moment Chase and Rachel are fending off sharks and discovering ancient treasure; in the next, their sizzling chemistry lights the pages on fire.
The plot develops quickly, while action, intrigue, sensual romance, and surprising twists and turns abound. The author’s descriptions of an underwater world are vivid and breathtaking, and a supernatural edge colors the search for legendary treasure. The main characters, Chase and Rachel, are wonderfully flawed and are surrounded by interesting and well-developed secondary characters that add depth to the story.
Severed Threads is an exciting and engaging read, simply perfect for fans of romantic suspense.
A lone figure stood in the estuary lookout nestled in the trees above the North Sea on the Holderness Coast, waiting with restless anticipation as Gwen Gallagher approached the cliff’s edge. A quick adjustment to the night- vision binoculars allowed the watcher a closer view of the twenty-eight-year-old secretary as she savored the last autumn sunset she would ever see. The crisp, cool air picked up speed, leaving her long black hair sailing like a ghostly pirate’s flag behind her. It lifted the hem of her black skirt slightly, exposing her white, shapely legs and black suede booties to the wintry elements. Her blue eyes sparkled as they swept across the landscape, appraising the beauty surrounding them. She raised her chin toward the darkening sky and smiled, obviously believing the note she had received, inviting her here, had come from her married lover.
As Gwen moved even closer to the edge, the watcher took a deep breath. All that remained between this ludicrous woman and the vividly blue ocean was two meters of solid rock. From the lookout vantage point, there was barely enough light to confirm that she was staring down at the tossing sands and churning water, mesmerized by the early evening breeze. All it would take was one push, and she would feel the rush of wind through her hair and see the crystal-blue sea one last time as she slammed headlong into the jagged rocks.
Interested in reading my latest release and providing your honest to goodness review? Much-anticipated Banished Threads– the third book in my Threads series, featuring treasure hunters and adventure seekers Rachel Lyons and Chase Cohen, will be coming to Amazon, B&N and independent book stores this spring (Creative Edge Publishing LLC, March 20, 2016). If you’d like to receive an advance copy, please let me know and I’ll try my best to accommodate the hosts of review sites willing to spread the word.
Book Summary: While vacationing at the Cumberforge Manor in Bellwood, England, Rachel and Chase attend an elegant dinner party hosted by her uncle, Paul Lyons, and his aristocratic wife, Sara. Before the evening ends, a priceless collection of Morris Graves’ paintings are stolen from her uncle’s popular gallery, throwing all suspicion onto his wife’s troubled granddaughter Sloan, and turning Rachel and Chase into crime-stopping sleuths. Determined to clear Sloan’s name and, in the process, win Paul’s favor, Chase scours the countryside looking for answers. In his absence, the police accuse Rachel’s uncle of an unsolved murder and secrets surrounding her grandmother’s death and the deaths of Sara’s former husbands turn his wife into the most likely suspect.
With the true villains hell-bent on destroying Paul and his family, solving both crimes while ensuring her uncle’s freedom not only endangers Rachel’s life but that of her unborn child. Will Chase save them before the kidnappers enact their revenge or will the ultimate price be paid, as predicted by a vagabond fortuneteller?
Read the book to find to out! Send your request for Banished Threads to Kaylin@kaylinmcfaren.com.