The Hero’s Journey in Fiction

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Years ago, I read a fantastic book named The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. In it, the author details the Hero’s Journey. This is a powerful story element that every writer, artist, or spiritual seeker should understand. It illustrates a protagonist’s adventures, from a safe haven to the darkest dungeon—be they literal or figurative.

The Hero’s Journey is a story mechanic of the protagonist’s journey through the various acts of the story. Typically, there are four acts for each journey.

The first act of the Hero’s Journey introduces the hero. The second and third act elaborates on their ordeals, and the fourth finishes round circle. You may notice certain tropes or definitions used in each act. These are minor plot elements that form the Hero’s Journey. Some are necessary to flesh out the story.

The Ordinary World

The story begins in the Ordinary World, a mundane realm that may be a safe haven or even a prison for the hero. Here, the audience learns about the hero’s life situation, his/her abilities, fears, flaws, and personality.

The Call to Adventure

From the Ordinary World, conflict arises that stirs the hero from complacency. This may be something serious like an assassination or a minor incident like a strange phone call. The hero now has a choice to pursue the source of the conflict and resolve the issue, or remain in his or her realm.

Refusal

Initially, the hero may be hesitant to leave the safe boundary of the Ordinary World. The hero sees the risks involved and what’s to gain if s/he succeeds. Some stories skip this step with a willing or reckless hero who jumps onto the quest immediately.

The Mentor

The hero encounters the mentor, a wise or experienced individual. The mentor trains and/or guides the hero, providing new knowledge about the nature of the quest. This character is more often an elderly person but can manifest as a younger individual or inanimate object such as a legendary sword.

Crossing the Threshold

The mentor guides the hero away from the Ordinary World to the first Threshold—or the point of no return. The hero’s commitment is tested, determining if the hero is ready for the quest. The Threshold is the gateway to a new dimension, far away from the Ordinary World.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Now in a world of mystery and danger, the hero learns more about his/her new adventure. This strange world brings a host of challenges, allies, and enemies. Every obstacle is a stepping stone to unearthing the hero’s personality and capabilities. Abilities are sharpened, and pain is endured. Temptations are met, and the hero struggles with his/her inner shadow self.

Approach to the Dungeon/Inmost Cave

The hero prepares to enter the Inmost Cave. Setbacks occur, but the hero endures, priming for the Supreme Ordeal—an inner crisis that demands change from the protagonist. The hero must analyze personal flaws and push forward to complete the quest.

Supreme Ordeal

The protagonist faces a dangerous challenge, often against the antagonist. The antagonist can also be a dark reflection of a father figure, such as with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, with exaggerated flaws of the protagonist. The Supreme Ordeal is a highlight of the hero’s quest, and everything is at stake. The hero must draw upon all the experience from the journey to survive.

Reward, Seizing of the Sword

If the hero succeeds, s/he emerges as a changed person. The hero also receives an award as proof of victory; this might be a mythic sword, elixir, or artifact, signifying the change in the hero’s life. The hero now prepares for the last part of the quest.

The Road Back

With the quest completed, the hero begins to travel back to the ordinary world, which is the opposite of the call of adventure. Instead of worry or pain, fulfillment and satisfaction arise. The quest is not done, as the last challenge awaits the hero.

Resurrection

The hero faces a test or battle against the antagonist at the Final Threshold. This ultimate tribulation challenges the hero, requiring all the experience they’ve gained from their quest. Failure may result, leading to the hero’s death, a dearth of all hope, or even a severe injury that mars the hero.

The protagonist is reborn from the flames of demise, returning as a new person, transmuted into the true hero. Now cleansed of past flaws, the hero is equipped to end the adventure.

Return with the Elixir

The adventurer returns to the Ordinary World as a changed person—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Using the reward from the Final Ordeal, s/he improves upon the Ordinary World. A new era of peace and reflection results. The prize may be multifaceted, manifesting either as a damsel in distress, a powerful relic, or a shift in the climate of the realms.  At this point, the hero finishes the journey, but things will never be as they once were.

Others Variables in the Hero’s Journey

There are extra elements in the Hero’s Journey, such as sub-journeys that stretch throughout a trilogy. Sometimes, the hero cannot return to society as they are, instead choosing exile.

How The Hero’s Journey Relates to Readers

The Hero’s Journey occurs in every good fiction. It’s a retelling of human life, the growth of a person into a mature and wise individual. It is also a blueprint from which anyone can appreciate the heroic archetypes and make changes for a more prosperous, happier life.


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Describing Sounds in Writing

brown and black gramophone

When we think of the word sound, the last thing we may associate it with are words and phrases. However, sound and writing go hand-in-hand. Recently, I learned from a writing class how important sounds can be for strengthening prose—what a shocker!

In this article, I’ll discuss the various definitions and techniques that are often used. Many thanks to Mark Nichol for the awesome advice!

1. Alliteration

Alliteration is the pattern of multiple words in the same phrase with the same consonant sound. Here’s an example:

“Squaring our performances with our promises, we will proceed to the fulfillment of the party’s mission.”

Notice how performances and promises ring together? It provokes the reader subconsciously, so to associate those two concepts together and highlighting a theme of success. Process and party could also be associated.

“They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places.”

In this passage, distant, different, and difficult highlights the arduous adventure being described.

2. Assonance

Similar to alliteration, assonance involves the repetition of certain vowels, especially in stressed syllables, but with different consonant sounds.

 “Men sell the wedding bells.”
Go and mow the lawn.”

In the above examples, sell and bells followed by go and mow are what highlight the assonance.

3. Consonance

Can you guess what this term implies? That’s right, the repetition of consonants, particularly at the end of a word.

“Their maid has spread the word of their deed.”
Cheer and beer go with sorrow and tomorrow.”

Here, you have maid, spread, word, and deed. Cheer and beer with sorrow and tomorrow make another pair. The word pairs doesn’t have to rhyme, only share the final sound—rhyming comes later. 🙂

4. Onomatopoeia

When you have words that translate as sound effects, this is onomatopoeia.

“A splash disturbed the hush of the droning afternoon.”
“Her heels clacked on the hardwood floor.”

5. Repetition

Repetition is, well, repeating a word or phrase to emphasize the message of a passage.

“When we arrive at the store, we will buy something. When we buy something, we will pay for it. When we pay for it, we will take it home.”
“When I find you, I will catch you. When I catch you, I will cook you. When I cook you, I will eat you.”

These examples creates a percussive effect on the reader’s mind to push the meaning of the passage.

6. Rhyme

This one should be a given, or else the writer may be forgiven (hahaha ehem…). Poetry often makes use of rhymes, but normal prose can too!  In fact, here’s a nifty tool I discovered that helps with rhyme words. Enjoy.

7. Rhythm

With rhythm, the prose is altered to create tempo.

“The eager coursing of the strident hounds
And the sudden pursuit of the mounted men
Drove the bounding prey ever on.”

Here’s an example taken from Dr. Seuss:

“I’m Yertle the Turtle!
Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler
of all that I see!”

Shorter tempo creates a faster rhythm, and vice versa. With the proper rhythm, sentence length, and prose structure, a writer can add depth and even emotion to prose.

When we describe sounds, we lean on the other four senses (touch, taste, smell, and sight) to paint a picture. Here’s a list of ways to describe sound in writing. Credit goes to Amanda Patterson.

Words Describing General Sounds

  1. audible – a sound that is loud enough to hear
  2. broken – a sound that has spaces in it
  3. emit – to make a sound
  4. grinding – a sound of one hard thing moving against another
  5. hushed – a sound that is quiet
  6. inaudible – a sound that is difficult to hear
  7. monotonous – a sound that is always the same and never gets louder or quieter, or higher or lower
  8. muffled – a sound that is not easy to hear because it is blocked by something
  9. plaintive – a sound that has a sad quality
  10. rhythmic – a sound that has a clear, regular pattern
  11. staccato – a sound where each word or sound is clearly separate

Describing Pleasing Sounds

  1. dulcet – soft and pleasant
  2. lilting – a sound that has a rising and falling pattern
  3. listenable – easy to listen to
  4. mellow – a soft, smooth, pleasant sound
  5. melodic – beautiful sound
  6. musical – sounds like music
  7. pure – a clear, beautiful sound
  8. rich – a sound that is strong in a pleasant way
  9. soft – quiet and peaceful
  10. sonorous – a sound that is deep and strong in a pleasant way
  11. sweet – a pleasant sound

Describing Noisy Sounds

  1. at full blast – as loudly as possible
  2. almighty – used for emphasising how loud something is
  3. brassy – a sound that is loud and unpleasant
  4. deafening – a sound so loud you cannot hear anything else
  5. ear-splitting – extremely loud
  6. explosive – a sound that is loud and unexpected
  7. howling – a continuous, low, loud noise
  8. insistent – a continuous, loud, strong noise
  9. loud – a sound that is strong and very easy to hear
  10. noisy – a sound that is full of noise
  11. percussive – a sound that is short, like someone hitting a drum
  12. piercing – a sound that is very  loud, high, and unpleasant
  13. pulsating – strong, regular pattern
  14. raucous – rude, violent, noisy
  15. resounding – a sound that is loud and that continues for a while
  16. riotous – lively and noisy
  17. roaring – a deep, loud noise
  18. rowdy – noisy and causing trouble
  19. sharp – a sound that is sudden and loud
  20. shrill – a sound that is loud, high, and unpleasant
  21. thundering – extremely loud
  22. thunderous – loud
  23. tumultuous –  a sound that includes noise, excitement, activity, or violence
  24. uproarious – extremely noisy

Words That Help You Show And Not Tell

  1. babble – a gentle, pleasant sound of water as it moves along in a river
  2. bang – to move, making loud noises
  3. beep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
  4. blare – to make a loud and unpleasant noise
  5. blast – to make a loud sound with a car horn
  6. bleep – a short high sound or several short high sounds
  7. boom – to make a deep loud sound that continues for some time
  8. caterwaul – an unpleasant loud high noise
  9. chime – a high ringing sound like a bell or set of bells
  10. chink – a high ringing sound when knocked together, or to make something do this
  11. clack -to make a short loud sound like one hard object hitting against another
  12. clang – a loud, metallic sound
  13. clank – a short, loud sound
  14. clash – a loud, metallic sound
  15. clatter – a series of short, sharp noises
  16. click – a short sound like the sound when you press a switch
  17. clink – to make the short high sound of glass or metal objects hitting each other, or to cause objects to make this sound
  18. cluck – to make a short, low sound with your tongue
  19. crash – a sudden loud noise, as if something is being hit
  20. creak – if something creaks, especially something wooden, it makes a high noise when it moves or when you put weight on it
  21. drone – to make a low continuous noise
  22. fizz – a soft sound that small gas bubbles make when they burst
  23. groan – a long, low, sound
  24. growl – a low, unpleasant noise
  25. grunt – to make a short low sound in your throat and nose at the same time
  26. gurgle – the low sound water makes when it is poured quickly from a bottle
  27. honk – to make a loud noise using a horn, especially the horn of a car
  28. hoot – to make a short loud sound as a warning
  29. mewl – crying with a soft, high sound
  30. moan – a long, low sound
  31. neigh – to make a high loud sound like a horse’s neigh
  32. peal – if a bell peals, or if someone peals it, it makes a loud sound
  33. peep – if a car’s horn peeps, it makes a sound
  34. ping – to make a short high sound like the sound of a small bell
  35. pipe – to make a very high sound, or to speak in a very high voice
  36. pop – a sudden noise like a small explosion
  37. putter – a short, quiet, low sound at a slow speed
  38. ring – to make a bell produce a sound
  39. roar – to make a continuous, very loud noise
  40. rumble – a continuous deep sound
  41. scream – to make a very loud high noise
  42. scream – to make a very loud high noise
  43. screech – to make a loud, high, and unpleasant noise
  44. scrunch – to make a loud noise like something being crushed
  45. sigh – a long, soft, low sound
  46. squeak – to make a short, high noise
  47. squeal – to make a long high sound
  48. squee – to make a loud high noise because you are excited or happy
  49. thrum- to make a low regular noise like one object gently hitting another many times
  50. thud – a dull sound when falling or hitting something
  51. thump – to hit against something with a low loud sound
  52. tinkle – to make a high, ringing sound
  53. wail – to make a long, high sound
  54. wheeze – a high sound, as though a lot of air is being pushed through it
  55. whine – a high, loud sound
  56. whirr – a fast, repeated, quiet sound
  57. whisper – to make a quiet, gentle sound
  58. whistle – to make a high sound by forcing air through your mouth in order to get someone’s attention
  59. yelp – a short, loud, high sound, usually caused by excitement, anger, or pain
  60. yowl – a long, loud, unhappy sound or complaint

Writing sound is a fun process that adds depth and life to prose. Becareful not to overdo it, though. We should make sure sounds make sense, have a purpose, and relate to our writing. In more serious genres, less is better. Poetry and inane novels (like Dr. Seuss) can get away with it more.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Years!


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POV in Prose and Writing

antique book hand knowledge

Points of View

POV (point of view) in prose is a vital storytelling element, likened to the camera of the reader. Imagine looking through the eyes of one person for the entire story. In that camera, there’s a degree of trust, faith that the reader holds in the storyteller. Maybe it switches to another character as the story progresses. However, if authors violates POV rules, they risk losing the reader’s trust. Deception is never good. POV is difficult to master, and for new writers, mastering POV is crucial.

left human hand photo

Why is POV Important?

The storyteller’s perspective serves as a filter. If done wrong, the reader can be confused, or the way the story presents itself damaged. Switching from one perspective to another throughout a book can be startling, disturb story immersion, and create tension or distrust between reader and author. It can be done, but only by those experienced enough in the art.

Stay consistent and predictable with a POV. Establish the storyteller’s perspective early, and the reader will build trust and enjoyability with that story.

First-person

In life, we are all born in the first-person perspective. Even as someone reads this article, their brain absorbs it from this POV. I, me, my, we, ours—these pronouns define the viewpoint.

When using this POV in prose, it can be useful for exploring the character’s inner universe. Stick to one character’s perspective per scene, if possible. Avoid head-hopping, which is jumping from one character’s thoughts to another without a scene or chapter break.

Show the character’s emotions, why they do what they do.

Examples of First-person

I woke to the strident calls of my alarm clock as the morning rays stung my eyes. My heart pounded in my ears.

Flashes of my previous day returned. I was with my friends finishing our activities at school. Then, we saw it, the one thing a highschooler wished he would never see.

Attributes of First-person

  • The narrator becomes the character
  • Creates an emotional and intimate experience with the reader
  • Makes prose more objective
  • The plural of first-person is “we,” the singular is “I”
  • ‘We’ or “our’ is an anonymous way to strengthen formality in articles
  • Avoids “head-hopping” from one character to another without scene breaks
woman crouching on dock pointing at water

Second-person

You are reading this article. I am talking to you or you all in second-person. This is second-person POV. The narrator, instead of jumping inside the character’s head, dictates to the protagonist what is happening. In this way, the actor “hears” the narrator rather than becoming one and the same.

Second-person is often used in emails, tutorials, and other dictatorial pieces. The narrator brings the reader into the story and encourages them to engage in the plot or prose rather than from the remote standpoint of a character. In this way, second-person is more intimate than first-person.

Attributes of Second-person

  • Dictatorial POV in prose, more often used in the present tense
  • The reader is in the story rather than inside a character’s mind
  • The pronoun “you” can be singular or plural—can also use “you all”
  • More intimate and emotional with the reader than first-person
  • Excellent for tutorials, certain novels, and articles
  • Perspective strictly limited to the reader

Examples of Second-person

You woke to the strident calls of your alarm clock as the morning rays stung your eyes. Your heart pounded in your throat.

Flashes of the previous day returned. You had just finished school activities with classmates. Then, you saw it, the one thing any high schooler wished they would never see.

person standing on top of rock

Third-person

This perspective pops up in many kinds of novels, particularly romance, sci-fi, or fantasy. The narrator refers to characters by their name or as “he,” “she,” or “it.” Third-person also finds popularity in news reporting and business writing.

There are a several types of third-person perspective, as it’s one of the more complex perspectives.

1. Third-person Limited

With this perspective, the reader is a separate entity from the characters. The narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single character.

2. Third-person Multiple

Third-person Multiple opens additional information that Limited cannot convey. Multiple character perspectives are included, rather than just one.

3. Third-person Objective

This perspective comes from a neutral perspective as if the reader is an invisible spectator at the scene. The reader—separate from the characters—watches the scene play out. Descriptors that describe internal emotions are to be avoided here.

4. Third-person Subjective

Subjective perspective can use internal dialogue strictly through the words of the narrator. In subjective, the narrator takes a larger role in telling the story, rather than letting the characters do all the work. This creates distance between readers and the characters but may improve pacing.

5. Third-person Omniscient

This POV is a more extreme version of Subjective. The narrator acts as God and reports any and every thought or development between characters. This is perhaps the most difficult POV in prose, as it includes a large amount of detail and multi-tasking, or mandatory head-hopping without scene breaks.

Omniscient is a powerful perspective that can shorten prose and travel anywhere in a character’s history, but it can also be overwhelming for the reader if done wrong. If using this perspective, watch out for data dumps that slog the pace or may confuse the reader.

Attributes of Third-person

  • Places the reader in spectator mode, watching characters
  • May offer a variety of perspectives to suit the narrative
  • Provides a higher volume of information for the reader
  • Less intimate than first-person or second-person
  • Easier to confuse multiple third-POVs

Examples of Third-person

Tom woke to the strident calls of his alarm clock as the morning rays stung his eyes. Tom’s heart pounded in his throat.

Flashes of his previous day returned. Tom was back with friends, and they had just finished their activities at school. Then, Tom saw it, the one thing a highschooler wished he would never see.

black and white business career close up

FAQ For POV

This isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to include questions as needed. These are designed to help think about POV and which one may be best for a story.

  1. How does the story relate with the perspective of the characters? The reader? The narrator?
  2. What do I (the author) feel from watching the characters from a particular viewpoint?
  3. What emotions or traits should be presented in the story? What POV best suits this?
  4. What should readers feel as they progress through the book?
  5. How should readers connect with the characters?
  6. Is there an underlying message associated with the perspective chosen?

The Takeaway

  • Establish the POV early
  • Stay consistent with the story’s perspective
  • Don’t head hop
  • Stick to first or third-person perspective for easier writing
  • Show don’t tell, whenever possible, for a deeper POV
  • As with any set of rules, know when and how to break them while maintaining reader trust

Knowing characters on a intimate level and how they experience the plot is core to prose perspective. POV is the lens through which the reader receives the story. If the lens is clear and precise, the story is told well. If it’s dirty and cracked, that’s the type of tale readers will see.


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Antagonists and Villains in Fiction

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Hello, my readers, to another installation about fictional worlds! It’s been a stressful time for all of us, so I wanted to entertain you with another post of mine: Villains in Fiction!

Last time, I discussed the purpose of disease in fiction. In many ways, disease is like an invisible antagonist that cannot be seen—but what about the villains that can be seen? What are they all about? What different types of villains in fiction are there? Let’s dig into it!

“Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph.” — Roger Ebert

Throughout human history, each movie, each story tale, has a villain. Some love them, others hate them, or even love to hate these nifty characters. They are the individuals who forge dynamic prose and brilliant screenplay—epic scenes and heart wrenching moments.

Antagonists

While a villain is selfish, naughty, or seeks to harm people, an antagonist—strictly speaking—is the opposing force of the protagonist, the lead of the plot with sympathic values towards the audience. Quite often, villains are the antagonist. However, you can have a villain as the protagonist—or even a hero as the antagonist!

Antagonistic Perspectives

An antagonist can help drive the narrative forward, develop the protagonist, and add color to worldbuilding. A villain is seen as “evil” to the eyes of the hero, but this is subjective. You could, for example, have a character appear as a villain from the viewpoint of most of the characters, but to others the villain seems neutral or even righteous.

Here are some types of villains I’ve chosen to examine. This list is by no means exhaustive.

I. The Anti-hero

In the case where the villain is the protagonist, you get an Anti-hero. Although evil, the Anti-hero believes in doing what he or she thinks is right. The Anti-hero establishes sympathetic relations with the audience and drives the plot forward through heinous acts. An Anti-hero usually has three important traits, which you can read more about here.

2. The Anti-villain

Conversely, an Anti-villain is a character with strong morals, yet accomplishes evil in the long-run. Perhaps an Anti-villain is a priest, wishing to purge “evil”, but he or she commits heinous acts to achieve this. Once again, “evil” is subjective to readers and other characters.

3. The Visionary

The Visionary sees the world in a demented state and wishes to fix it. These types of villains believe they are doing good—despite the fact they may be collapsing economies and killing millions, and they see the hero as an “evil” interloper.

4. The Madman

These types of villains are psychopathic and enjoy being evil, causing mischief, or hurting others for the fun of it. The Madman may have a sense of humor, in the case of the Joker, or even a ruthless, calculating demeanor like Lex Luthor. They will throw whatever resources they have at the hero, even if it costs them their life.

5. Femme Fatale

Seductress, siren, temptress—the Femme Fatale is a female character with malicious intent. Often she seduces the hero in clever ways, provoking him/her towards actions of moral ambiguity. The Femme Fatale may promise the hero power, clout, wealth, or even sex for surrendering to her.

6. The Beast

The Beast is a feral animal or a monster, with a desire to feed, gain territory, rampage, and reproduce. It has a primitive mind and cannot be reasoned with. Some beasts may appear justified for their rampage, like in the case of Godzilla. Others are confused and lost in modern society as with King Kong.

7. The Machine

Similar to the Beast, the Machine has one motive: disrupting the hero’s plans. The Machine is pure logic and can be even more dangerous with its lack of morals and emotions. See the Terminator series as an example.

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8. Evil Incarnate

Some villains are pure evil by nature. Dark gods or devil embodiments do heinous acts because it’s what they do. Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is innately evil, and opposes Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring. Sometimes these types of villains have certain morals they follow, a code that guides them to destroy.

9. The Outsider

The Outsider is an outcast or disliked minority, detached from the world. Though intelligent and experienced, the Outsider is bitter towards society and holds a degree of vengeance. Outsiders may also have a cult following who champion their cause. Motivated by this revenge, the Outsider is led to commit vile acts, often opposing the society-accepted-protagonist—whom the Outsider also despises.

10. Nature

Nothing can oppose the will of Mother Nature, and unlike other villains, this variant can seldom can stopped. The hero must discover how to mitigate the damage, whether from a storm, a virus, or violent earth changes. Fortunately, conflicts caused by Mother Nature typically resolve on their own once balance is restored.

11. The Authority Figure

The Authority Figure is in charge of a lawful system, and he or she seeks to maintain said system through rules. This villain symbolizes restriction and control, whereas the hero may want freedom. Authority Figures are seen in a wide variety of genres—and they can be anything from a school principal, a police chief, or an emperor. While not wholly evil, Authority Figures only wish to maintain the status quo and do their jobs.

Other Villains in Fiction

There are numerous categories of villains in fiction, such as the Mastermind, a criminal overlord; the Henchman, who follows the Mastermind—and others. Some villains fall in multiple categories—they are a difficult breed to classify, and considerably more interesting than the cliché heroes that are often repeated. I encourage you to check these two articles out for more information.

An original hero will often break away from traditional stereotypes and establish his or her own set of moral values, not necessarily agreeing with society. Perhaps this is why an audience finds Anti-heroes more engaging and reflective of human nature. Anti-heroes also struggle more internally and this plays better with the audience.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for more content during this Quarantine with yours truly—and stay safe. 🙂

#fiction #worldbuilding #writing #reading #literature #villainsinfiction

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False Starts and Introductions to Novels: Too Cliché or A Forgotten Skill?

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“At dawn, the sun either shines itself or hides behind clouds, promising what the day will bring. So it is with introductions in stories.” —anonymous

Most agents and editors would balk at the suggestion of a false start intro. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting beginning, so long as it’s done well. Then again, the last time I read a false start in a novel was years ago. Is it now a forgotten technique, shunned by writers? The problem is that false introductions are usually poorly done and give off a flat feeling for the rest of the book.

First Paragraphs

The first few paragraphs of a book introduce an author’s style—his or her prose rhythm, subtle insecurities, and other narrative patterns. A book is like an onion; it has layers of emotional and mental components embedded into the prose.

This is especially the case in early drafts, where the author is still figuring out what he or she wants to do with the story. Analyzing one’s writing patterns in drafts can lead to improvement and growth for writers. It’s what I do. I read and reread over my manuscripts to analyze them.

A Handy Exercise on Introductions in Prose

There’s an exercise in this article that I recommend. An author examines the first 250 words of the story. Heavily. Dissect it, break it apart, and ask:

  1. What is the purpose of this introduction?
  2. Why is it set up like this?
  3. Is there a hook for the reader?
  4. Is the introduction short enough for the sake of clarity and pacing, but long enough to express its purpose?
  5. What patterns does this intro reveal about the book as a whole?

These questions are by no means exhaustive. Invent questions and discover how many perspectives and shades of grey the introduction can produce.

The first 250 words are crucial to the rest of the story and should let the reader know what they’re in for. Most readers picking up a book at the store—or skimming it over on Amazon—will do this to see if the story interests them. If it’s worth their time, money, and energy. Books, writing, and reading are all about an exchange of energy.

Can the author provide a worthwhile exchange for the reader?

Keeping Introductions to Novels Interesting

I once heard a fellow writer say:

“Stories are like skirts. They have to be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.” —anonymous

While that might not be the cleverest of examples, he did have a point. Stories, and particularly introductions—since introductions are a significant part of the prose—should be short and sweet, including everything that should be there.

Hooking Readers in the Introduction of a Novel

Here’s a helpful article on hooking readers in the introduction. The author mentions driving the prose with curiosity and conflict—elements that provoke the reader, tempting them to read further.

Internal dialog or exposition can hint at a character’s insecurities, flaws, or other issues. I’m not big on exposition myself—too many writers turn internal narration into a dry monologue that is boring to read, but that’s a topic for another time. Still, its a useful tool and it does have a place.

Stress is…Good for Readers?

Readers love stress and anxiety in a story; they hate it in real life—so, give them what they want, am I right? And do it early on, promising them the reward they will receive if they delve deeper into the story. Dangle that carrot! Gosh, sometimes I feel like a drug dealer with these dopamine-filled scenes. 😦

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Don’t be Afraid to Use False Introductions

Approach the introduction with a sense of clarity and purpose for the reader. Have a plan for the intro, and reflect that throughout the story. The promises made in those first 250 words should come full circle. Otherwise, the introduction is nothing more than a prop that can not—and should not—stand on its own.

Striking a Balance

A solid introduction to a novel is vital. Take time with it, and review it on a routine basis. Even after the twentieth read through, authors may discover new insights about themselves as writers. Even as souls. Each piece of the story, the characters, the scenes, are reflections of the author.

Ask:

  1. Is it long enough to cover everything?
  2. Is it short enough to keep it interesting?
  3. Does it dangle the carrot appropriately, leaving the reader begging for more?

If a writer can bond the reader with the main protagonist and the story within the first few paragraphs, then congratulations! That writer has accomplished a feat that most struggle with. Beginnings are, for me, the funniest part of a new story, but they can also be the hardest.


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks again for reading!
—Ed R. White

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New Thoughts on Creativity

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“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent, with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.”

—Henri Matisse

Throughout time, we humans have expressed creativity with a passion. Whether through art, writing, music, or other media, creativity is what drives us to live.

To aspire to new heights.

But what exactly is creativity? How do we define this exotic beast and its role in our lives?

“Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.”

―Robert E. Franken

Creativity and imagination. These elusive terms are difficult to pin down. Human imagination shows terrific promise. It performs miracles while participating in humanity’s gruesome sins. Human vision has no limits, save the ones we place. With enough ingenuity and patience, the strength of creativity can move mountains. Channeling one’s creativity is paramount as humans. It is our birthright and sets us apart from lower life forms.

Who uses creativity?

Creativity is often affiliated with writers, painters, musicians, and so on. Yet imagination is so much more—even business people can use it. Some say creativity is an extension of free will, akin to our souls playing with our true divine nature, as co-creators of reality.

The Divine Wisdom of Imagination

What is creativity without a guiding hand to steer imagination’s wild nature? There is a certain degree of divine wisdom that handles the process. It’s an unconscious, intuitive ability, one that our rational minds cannot comprehend. One simply picks up a pen or brush and begins painting. At some point, we no longer create art—the art creates us.

All art becomes an inner reflection of our soul.

The Components of Creativity

Here’s a diagram that details the facets of creativity:

3-components-of-creativity
  1. Expertise is the logical, restrictive, and straightforward intellect. A left-brained category.
  2. Creative-thinking is the right-brained category of imagination, fertility, and freedom.
  3. Motivation is the commitment factor—the long-term objective; the journey wrought by the mind.

When these three categories mesh together, creativity ignites within us.

The Global Creativity Gap

Here’s another comparative study by Adobe regarding creativity and how people view it:

Adobe-State-of-Create-InfographicWEB

It is ironic that our world values creativity, yet most don’t live up to their creative potential. We live in a society of mechanized production rather than free imagination.

What will the future hold for humanity if we continue at this pace? Will it change? How?

Here are some pointers on upping your creative game. Forming a routine with these steps—along with commitment—could provide dividends.

1. Do Something You Enjoy

It was Einstein himself who proposed this idea. Performing a task that brings fulfillment can help ease stress, clearing the mind. Whatever it may be, include it in your schedule for that creative boost.

2. Do Nothing

Work and rest go hand-in-hand. Sometimes the greatest ideas come to those who unplug from our busy world.

“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”

—Alan Cohen

If you’re out of ideas, try relaxing or meditating. Practice mindfulness meditation for the best results. Here’s an older article I wrote on the science behind it. Sometimes when we rest, our minds our fermenting, priming for a creative surge.

3. Exercise

Exercise encourages body circulation. Long walks are a great way to feed your brain and stimulate creative juices. This case study alone suggests that walking improves creativity.

4. Embrace the Absurd

Sometimes the craziest ideas have merit. Many writers and artists, like Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, made use of the inane to fuel their creative works. Sometimes, from the depths of absurdity, genius can emerge. It can’t hurt, can it?

5. Another illustrative Diagram

Here’s a chart summarizing ways to maximize your creative potential:

stimulate-creativity-infographic_32181

Creativity is an elusive mistress, full of mystery and the arcane. Discovering the foundations of imagination may reveal untold secrets to humankind. In an age rife with conflict and misery, perhaps the solution is surrendering to the creative child within us.

That said, I’ll finish with one last inspiring quote:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” 

―Pearl S. Buck

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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks for reading!
—Ed R. White

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My Favorite Music While Writing

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Music has a powerful influence on the human brain, particularly with creativity. The mileage varies from person to person, as some prefer silence—which is its own type of music. I’ve found that my creative process increases when I play certain tunes. In this post, I’ll share with you some of the genres and bands that I listen to.

I listen to different types of music depending on my mood, activity, and environment. In this way, I view my playlists as a toolbox, allowing me to select particular tools to help me with an activity. That said, sometimes I deviate, but the list below gives a general idea of what I prefer and why.

1. Epic Music

Who doesn’t like epic or opera music? These tunes encourage excitement, creativity, and wonder in my brain. When I’m writing a jaw-dropping scene or a tense battle, this music is ideal. I like the bands: Two Steps from Hell, Audiomachine, and Ivan Torrent.

2. Chill Lounge

This is a slower, melodic music that allows me to space out and relax. When I’m talking with friends, co-writers, blogging, or writing a soothing scene, chill lounge is my first choice. Bands I like here are: Jjos, Alexander King, and Electro Pump.

3. Smooth Jazz

Smooth jazz speaks for itself. Like chill lounge, this genre helps me unwind, but without losing too much concentration in my writing. I view it as the middle way between epic and chill; it is also great for romance scenes between characters. I don’t have a particular band that I listen to with this genre—all smooth jazz is good!

4. Lofi

A genre of music that I discovered recently, lofi has happy tunes with a steady beat. I find this music to be best for travel or adventure scenes without a lot of action. Some lofi is very beautiful and helps me when I’m in a creativity jam. I find myself listening to oriental lofi when I write Tempest of the Dragon for that East Asian feel. There’s also video game lofi that I enjoy. No particular bands here.

5. Classical

Classical is a nice way to unwind while, like smooth jazz, keeps a steady beat to maintain concentration during writing. Sometimes I alternate between smooth jazz and classical. I enjoy: Chopin, Mozart, Vivaldi, and many more.

6. Anime/J-pop

This is cartoony, upbeat music that is perfect when writing comic scenes between characters or working on Tempest of the Dragon. Some of these tunes can also be similar to epic music. Favorites are: Kogarashi, Senso, Sakuzyo, and Konbanwa.

7. Progressive House

Progressive house is a melodic, curious genre (somewhat like trance in my opinion) that “raises my spirits to new heights” and gives me energy. I find this genre to be good when I need to brainstorm or work for very, very long periods of time. It’s basically audio coffee—if that makes sense. I like: Shingo Nakamura, Epicuros, and Gregory Esayan.

8. Chiptune

Remember that music you heard when playing Mega Man, Zelda, or Mario as a kid on your NES? That’s chiptune! This genre had been forgotten for years since its introduction in the 80s and 90s, but now it’s making a comeback. Chiptune has a comic flair like J-pop, but with a swift beat. It’s a good music for fast-moving, action or battle scenes. My favorites are: Tombofry, Rolemusic, and Sasakure.UK.

9. Psybient

Psybient is an…acquired taste. It has a deep, alien feel that works for bizarre or mysterious scenes. The music may leave you wondering about yourself, your characters, and where they are all going. My top choices are: SiebZehn, E-Mantra, and Johnny Blue.

10. Dark/Deep Tribal

I listen to this genre if I need to write a shocking, or dark atmosphere to encourage visceral emotion in the reader. Most deep tribal also have a steady drum beat, likened to the heart, and are mysterious like psybient—or even pseudo-erotic for intense romance scenes. Some artists I’ve listened to are: DJ WOPE, Moshic, and Mundeep.

Yes, I listen to a lot of music. Each genre holds a unique function to me, as I connect with the tunes on an intimate, and almost spiritual level. The music alone can transport me to another reality, engrossing my mind in its creative juices. I love music, as much as I enjoy writing.

What types of music do you listen to? I’d love to hear in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

person using microphone

 


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Fantasy Month Survey!

It’s time for #fantasymonth again, and I’d like to thank @A. M. Reynwood for reminding me. This year’s theme is fandoms. Being such a broad category, I decided to do a survey of questions.

1. What Are Your Favorite Types of Fantasy-ish Genres?

When it comes to fantasy worlds, I enjoy straight-up fantasy, science-fiction, adventure, with a little romance or dark fantasy thrown in.

2. Are There Any Particular Titles You Enjoy Most?

Way too many to list, but what comes to mind are…

  • Video games
    • The Legend of Zelda
    • Dark Souls
    • Metroid Prime
  • Novels
    • The Lord of the Rings
    • Eragon
    • Dragonlance
    • Mistborn
  • Movies
    • Thor
    • Star Wars
    • The Hobbit
    • The Matrix
  • Anime
    • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers
    • Rurouni Kenshin
    • DBZ

3. What Are Your Favorite Types of Protagonists?

Anyone with strong passions, evokes empathy, is competent, and carries a legendary sword, firearm, or token that sets them apart from others. A flawed hero is always more interesting than a near-perfect one.

4. Antagonists?

Villains who aren’t afraid to get in your face or make you hate them. Villains who aren’t walking cliches with their own mission and inner journey. A good villain, in my eyes, will also evoke empathy.

5. Favorite Fantasy Media? Books, Video Games, Movies, Comics, Etc?

Softcover novels.

6. Preferred Fantasy Tropes?

Elves, dragons, food, and magic. You can see more at my recent blog post.

7. If You Could Envision Yourself As One Protagonist, Who Would It Be? Why?

Link from the Legend of Zelda. He’s courageous, carries a legendary sword, and is soft-spoken (if he talks at all). I tend to be quiet, but I take initiative, and own a few sword replicas.

8. If You Could Only Bring One Kind of Item With You on a Quest, What Would It Be?

Good food, and lots of it!

9. Your Favorite Type of [insert legendary weapon here]? Swords? Guns? Hammers? Etc?

A tie between swords and guns for me. Ideally a “bladegun” like what my protagonist carries in Ethereal Seals.


There you have it, my answers for fantasymonth! If you’re reading this post, and you feel ambitious, answer the survey questions on your own blog or in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks for reading!
—Ed R. White

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What Are My Favorite Fantasy Tropes?

In fantasy, you have a plethora of tropes that are reused; most of them never lose their charm. Everything from elves, dwarves, dragons, and halflings! In science fantasy, the scope expands to robots, cyborgs, aliens—the sky’s the limit.

These formulas represent time-tested values that readers adore. Personally, I have my own set of fantasy tropes that excite me. Below, I’ll discuss some of my favorite ones, not in any specific order. I’ll focus strictly on the fantasy elements, but they can be applied to sci-fi too.

Who doesn’t like elves? An elf—by general definition—is beautiful, slender, graceful, and powerful. Elves have played a large role in fantasy since the Tolkien days—and continue to do so. Usually as a force for good, elves help maintain the order of the world they live in, often living in cities that are in harmony with nature. There are also dark elves, or drow, which are an evil-aligned race.

Another favorite of mine, dragons are the epitome of power, feral beauty, and arcane mystery. While elves are usually good, dragons have played a multitude of roles ranging from villains, to advisors, and even heroes. Dragons are a wild card in how they have been used throughout all fiction, let alone cultures across the globe.

Magic is a whimsical topic—and a detailed analysis of such a trope is clearly beyond the scope of this humble article—that symbolizes the human imagination. Anything from fireballs, to teleportation, flight, or telepathy falls under this category. The price of using magic can be just as fascinating as what it produces. An author can conjure whatever he or she wishes via magic; that’s what makes it such an unpredictable and exciting trope. Brandon Sanderson does a wonderful job explaining it in his lectures.

Alchemy is the transmutation of an object into something else. Lead to gold is a classic example, but you can make other things like herbal elixirs too. In fantasy settings, authors often use alchemy as a profession characters use to make a living, a means to heal others via healing salves, or—even better—a plot device like in Mistborn. In other ways, alchemy can be a religion or way of life that shapes a character’s decisions.

I enjoy reading about the different types of civilizations in a fantasy story. An elven society may differ from one book to another, for example. How do the people function in said society? What roles does said society play in the plot? From culture and economy, you can derive things like currency, prejudice, personal values, and even a magic system.

Food heavily influences culture, reflecting how the world is assimilated by the protagonist and his/her society. Bonus points to authors with unique fruits or herbs with special nutritive properties. Like alchemy, food can play a big role in the plot. Those feast scenes make any reader salivate, and healing potions can change the course of a battle.

Who says a writer should stop at elves and dragons? How about a mix of the two with its own racial name, abilities, and cultural values? Creativity can work its own magic and weave beautiful fiction. Magical beasts can be ally or foe for the protagonist—and such creatures help shape the conflict of the plot, giving depth to the reader’s immersion.

In Blade of Dragons, I turned my protagonist into a mythical creature: a half-dragon with draconic abilities shunned by society. It gives my heroine depth and adds conflict, intrigue, and creative depth.

A fictional world is only limited by the author’s imagination. Each new story is a dive into untold depths. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading and writing fiction so much.

What are your preferred fantasy tropes? What are your thoughts on elves, dragons, and magic? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, thanks for reading.
—Ed R. White

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The Blank Page and Writers’ Block

white book page on yellow surface

Hello, my readers. How are you doing during the lockdown? Okay, I hope?Today, I’ll discuss the dreaded Blank Page that haunts every writer at one point in his or her career. I’ll also mention the tricks and tips I’ve used in overcoming writer’s block.

A new story always begins with a blank page or screen. This is the beginning of the writing process and it can seem daunting to any writer. What do we do? What do we write? Failure to move forward is often called the Writers’ Block.

Writers’ Block: The Daunting Prospect of Beginning

“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” —Picasso

Just like with a blank canvas, a white page can be overwhelming. It’s a door into infinity, where God gives us the keys and allows us to create our own universe. Yet we hesitate out of doubt and uncertainty. Why is this?

The Social Facet of Writing

To quote another writer:

“You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.” —Jennifer Egan

As humans, we are social creatures. Any creative works we share with our family and peers. We hope for the approval and validation of what we are, our talents, and our direction in life. Rejection is like a knife to the gut and we become a failure—or so our ego wants us to believe.

Questions and Self-reflection

Because of these social mechanisms that wire the brain, we may hesitate in front of a blank page. Emotions of confusion, wonderment, procrastination, or anxiety also arise.

  • What will I write? I can’t think of anything.
  • Will the final product be good enough?
  • Am I wasting my time doing this?
  • How do I start this blasted process?

These are some questions we, as writers and artists, may ask.  Five minutes pass, and then an hour. The page is still blank and the creative process is stuck at a deadlock.

aerial photo of vehicles in the city

Anyone can break through this block, and I’ll provide the tools to do it. When a writer enters a realm without blockage, the clouds clear and the creative subconscious regenerates.

Here are some techniques I use when dealing with writers’ block.

1. Time and Space

Establishing a quiet area where I won’t be disturbed for writing is crucial. I make sure it’s comfortable and quiet. I ask my living mates not to enter for a designated interval. This is my time to center—and I consider it a part of the writing routine.

2. Relax

Before I tackle a blank page, I learn to relax and let go. I fight against the urge to think about anything, even my story. It can be difficult sometimes, but regulating my breathing using a technique called pranayama certainly helps.

Dedicate a part of your day to meditate or even stretch your body, even if it’s only 5 minutes. Some people do better at night, other people in the morning. Meditating or stretching before you begin writing may be ideal. Find a time that works best for you.

3. Creative Tools

I’ve used things like music, essential oil fragrance, and colors to enhance my creative focus. Some authors produce amazing work listening to music—others with no sound at all. Everyone is different; experiment, and find what works for you. It certainly took me a while to develop my creative toolkit. Don’t rush it—remember to relax.

4. Have Fun—Stay Positive

Any sense of competition or raging ambition within my mind creates anxiety. There is an urge in my ego to write perfectly and I compare myself to professionals. Believe me, it can get discouraging.

When I look at writing from a positive perspective, things get easier. I now write because it’s fun and I want to share my stories, no matter how good or bad they are.

5. Creative Exercises

Sometimes I try a short exercise to get my creative juices flowing. A small poem or haiku, as I mentioned in my previous article, has worked wonders for me. Here are some additional ideas from Vicky Fraser.

6. Simplify

A messy workplace or disorganized writing portfolio is the worst. I keep all my writing projects organized in a portfolio for routine review. This shows me how far I’ve come and encourages me to keep writing.

Having an organized portfolio also gives ideas from previous projects to use in newer ones. Simon Lund mentions some similar methods Hemingway used for his writing projects.

7. Acceptance

Improvement comes naturally with time and I accept that I will never be the best or the worst. When I surrender to this idea, my creative juices run wild.

Acceptance and surrender don’t mean that I make myself a doormat for life, nor should I lack healthy ambition. I accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to create the things I can, and develop the wisdom to distinguish the two.

Once I realized this, I started happening to life, rather than life happening to me. I need to remind myself of it, of course. For more information on centering yourself, see my article on the Creative Intelligence inside all of us.

The solutions for writers’ block and the Blank Page are numerous, and I encourage you to seek out your own methods. I hope this article has given you some good ideas to start with. Thank you very much for reading and I’ll leave you with this quote:

“He doth entreat your grace, my noble lord,
To visit him to-morrow or next day:
He is within, with two right reverend fathers,
Divinely bent to
meditation,
And in no worldly suits would he be moved
To draw him from his holy exercise.”

William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third

white and gray floral ceramic cup and saucer near black typewriter and book

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