Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why (and How) I Write Fantasy: Skhye Moncrief Revisted

Hi, Amber. Thanks for inviting me back to ramble. :) Since I've previously answered your basic questions about why I write fantasy, I'll just leave the link for the interested to hop over to your older post and check out my answers. Today, I'm dealing with the biggie...

Amber: One reviewer says of Feral Fascinations "Ms. Moncrief seamlessly blended earth religion, new-age mysticism, paranormal events, shapeshifing rogue spies, and a who-done-it twist." How do you put all that in one story and keep the fantasy within our "suspend belief zone"?

Skhye: First of all, I'm going to admit I ramble. And this is just a simple question to answer. So, bear with me!

I discussed Amber's question with my critique partner the other night. It's difficult to just start with one of the components of FERAL FASCINATIONS' story world the reviewer thought I blended well together. When writing, I always begin my attack from a Deep POV angle. Then they say write what you know. I guess I've been interested in most of these subjects at some point in my life. What you basically do is deal with the blending inside the characters' heads... Once you understand why they make the choices they make, you're about a third to half of the way through your rough draft. If anyone tells you they know everything about their story world when they begin, they're either working on book two or lying. *snort* Trust me. You can never know every hurdle your characters will face based on your initial story synopsis. Yes, it's true. I don't pants much these days. I usually have most of the pivotal scenes/turning points planned in a story before typing my opening (extremely boring) first line. I'll explain with my latest wip...

I revised every scene in the heroine's POV in chronological order to ensure I get the right perspective in her thoughts. It doesn't take but an hour or two. So, that's how I operate. If I'm working in an ideology or paranormal events, I revise for that layer. Writing is all about reflecting culture. Anthropology is the study of culture--past or present, extant or extinct. I write each character from a different culture specifically in that cultural mindset. Their shoes, their hairstyle, their metaphors, their spirituality, how they feed themselves, what they eat is all part of their cultural details... You have to weave that information into each character and pit them against characters with different ideas about life, i.e. from different cultures. So, I took what I knew about alien abductions, werewolves, vampires, New Agers, Goths, and 2012 winter solstice legend, wove it together, and wrote FERAL FASCINATIONS. If you don't feel comfortable with weaving so many "great" subjects together, find a good introductory cultural anthropology textbook to begin understanding how to weave various worldviews into one story by beginning with what a culture is. People who ride motorcycles are a culture. That culture has its own subcultures. Think gangs. People who treat their pets like children are a subculture of a bigger culture. Religions break people in the USA into subcultures. With FERAL FASCINATIONS, I had a Native American hero from Earth and a New-Agish heroine extraterrestrial. Both were easy for me to write given I'd always been nuts about Native American cultures and I had to heavily immerse myself in New Age everything to write my Time Guardians series.

The New Age information wasn't so simple to understand. It took me about three years to deal with the Tarot, numerology, color/scent/crystals in magic, astrology, Pagan, and Wiccan info while researching alchemy, Celtic mythology, time travel, Druids, and medieval literature. I even took classes in Medieval Lit and Reformation Eng. Lit to get into the minds of my Druids. So, don't just jump off a cliff and try to weave so many things together. Tell yourself you have to do research. Me, I just did the research. I'm a big research junkie. And use Deep POV to make the info you deliver real.

Deep POV helps you delve into the innerworkings of your POV characters' minds. Trust me. You will love writing with my little formula that loads of authors use to reveal why each character exists. in other words, this means you'll fill up every line in your book with GMC {goals, motivation, and conflict}. Fantasy readers can wait a little for valuable GMC in a fantasy novel. But you can't expect them to wait very long. Remember, reveal it line by line as your characters are forced to move forward. Line-by-line revelations are merely the micro-GMC of your story. Debra Dixon's Goals, Motivation, and Conflict is the book you will need to explain GMC thoroughly. The other book is Jack Bickham's SCENE & STRUCTURE. He pushes the little formula I mentioned. {stimulus->internalization->reaction} What in the heck does this mean?

Each line of your book should follow the model {stimulus->internalization->reaction}. Sometimes an internalized thought can function as stimulus or reaction. I've found my books are mostly internalization. That means, I get to reveal backstory by making it GMC for my POV characters in their thoughts. This is where you make everything personal. And don't have sentences like:
He thought the door looked solid, impenetrable.

That's telling. If you're in his head, he won't "he thought" about his thoughts. He'll just think. Put it in 3rd or 1st person in the exact words your character uses, i.e. Deep POV. Use a showing version.

The solid mahogany door couldn't possibly move. Nobody had enough magic/power to move this type of door. Except a magician/wizard/barbarian/fairy/weapons expert/locksmith. But the only thing that would get me past the dragon/witch/king's guards lay through that doorway. And if I didn't, the world would explode/the aliens would invade/the evil queen would triumph/the renegade gods would take over the world. 

You get my drift. You add value at the character level, making the story real line-by-line. Each stimulus forces the POV character to reveal what's at stake even at the micro-level. This means each sentence in your story IS important. The sentences all reveal characterization, GMC, or sketch out the scene. Isn't what they say in writing courses that every sentence counts? Don't dump backstory. Slowly reveal the subcultures of your characters (GMC) by weaving it in line-by-line. Your backstory will feel realistic in this line-by-line delivery. Second by second, the stakes change. And you've done your research enough to lay those stakes out at the micro-level. So, basically I'm saying make your story real. That way you've managed to keep your reader moving forward instead of hurling your tale across the room because you drew the reader out of the story.

The shape-shifting aspect of my rogue spies is just another paranormal type of story. Shifters can have jobs we have. Nothing new there. The big trick if putting all these different layers into a story is intimidating to you is to add one layer at a time. This means you will have to go back and revise every time you need to put in something like the New Age reasons for doing everything with my heroine. I revised her thoughts/dialogue just for that (I'll call it a quick double check read through). Then I had to go back and check my commander's dialogue for Zen-like points because he talks that way. My aliens are from different planets. Their ways of speaking/thinking varied too. Each one required a different revision. Now, some of these revisions are brief. Others require you read half your book, his or her scenes. My vampires slowly evolved as I wrote book one. I kept having to go back and rework them into what we know as extraterrestrials with large almond-shaped eyes, big head, and gracile bodies. These ETs cause lost time. I had to place that in the story with the inability of their victims to move--just like vampires make you incapable of running away through some kind of hypnosis! Vamps want to suck your blood. So do my ETs who are collecting blood for the emperor. I had no idea they'd be doing that. I just dawned on me when I began writing the history of the Blood Wars into my novel's first draft. But the point is not to dump it all in there at once. Make it real. Your characters will only think of what's bothering them at that second their thinking about what they have at stake. That's when you deliver the micro-GMC.

To be honest, I can write a complex novel-length story world in a month now. This process I use to produce a novel is just second nature these days. It's a system that works for me. Anyway, I hope that's answered Amber's question. ~Skhye

Amber: You did and more (snickers). Thanks for re-visiting Wordshaping and amazing us with your world-building techniques.

Feral Fascinations (Read chapter 1 & buy)
Time Guardians books (print & Kindle)
Skhye's 1st chapters
Skhye's website
Skhye's blog 

Check out Skhye's Contests
Monday, October 18 on at 
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She's always having a good one.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Great [post. Skhye and Amber.

    Loads of good advice there, Skhye, thanks - you always make me think!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks, Lyn! I feared I rambled too much!!! LOL

  5. I love that Skhye always tells me what I forgot to ask. Even Mr. Lonely noticed. ;)

  6. ROFL! I wondered what that was all about. *snicker* His name says it all!!! It looks like he was thinking about, x-hmm, cheesecake. ???

  7. Re-reading your post, I wondering if you should write a book on writing (and research)- in your spare time.

  8. I have started writing a book on world building. But I got distracted with my werewolf space opera and wrote more in that series. LOL! But the plan is to finish the world-building piece. ;)