Book Review: Divine Summons

During my break from non-fiction research, I stumbled upon this jewel on Goodreads. I was impressed by the strength of the prose and the story. Rebecca P. Minor did a pleasant job at it. Let’s delve into the details, shall we?

Premise & Worldbuilding

Divine Summons has a classic fantasy atmosphere with elves, dragons, monsters, and magic. I’m a sucker for fantasy tropes, and the immersion had me sold within the first chapter. Traveling between elven cities, ancient caverns, and dark forests, the story never turned stagnant. There’s plenty of lore that kept me intrigued, not to mention the splendid battle scenes and dialog.

Characters

Taken from a (mostly) first-person POV, the story conveys excellent character emotion, dialog, and prose flow. The cast of characters provided conflict, worldbuilding, and comic relief details. One issue was the shifting from first-person to third-person POV throughout the story. Most readers would gawk at this—and I certainly did—but I overlooked it in favor of a story that held me fast.

Magic System

A soft magic system governs this story, with whimsical, flashy outcomes and unspoken costs. The god, Creo, governs the faith-based school of magic in this story. Albeit, the magic performed some ex deus machina in some scenes, which came off as unsatisfying for me. The author could have worked the magic better into the conflict and story, rather than have it as a lever to fix plot or character-conflict issues.

Conflict

Tension and pacing were solid, despite the subpar execution of the magic system. The characters found themselves in plenty of horrid situations. The expositions and inner struggles were well done, and complemented the strong cast of characters. Immersion had me turning pages, particularly the fight scenes, which were excellent. Battles were endowed with plenty of details, but never too many to make them cumbersome.

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The Good

The characters, pacing, tension, and immersion painted an addictive story. Details on lore and worldbuilding enhanced this, providing an enjoyable read from start to finish except for a few scenes. Battle chapters were excellent.

The Bad

The shift between first-person and third-person POVs felt jarring and marginalized the main character. Some of these third-person POVs were somewhat unnecessary, congesting the pacing and story with minor details. The magic system came off as a prop to save the main character at worst, and a flashy addition at best.

The Ugly

The story had a few graphic scenes, but that was it.

Divine Summons was enjoyable, despite its shortcomings in its magic system and POVs. The rich worldbuilding had me hooked, and the sword fights and dialog scenes were pleasant. I’ve already started on the second book, and it reads stronger than the first, so I am hopeful. For any fantasy lovers, Rebecca A Minor has a great series that’s sure to delight readers who can overlook its blemishes.


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What is Good and Evil in Fiction?

Humans have always struggled with the question: what is good, what is evil? A primordial dilemma, evil paints the picture of villains, antagonists, darkness, violence, and oppression. No one likes evilness, but what is being evil in fiction? Is wickedness a subjective phenomenon of the ego?

A Story of Black and White

With the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist is drawn on a campaign, fights the antagonist, and finishes the quest. The antagonist may be a villain, or another force trying to foil the hero. There are many types of heroes as there are villains., but heroes are not always good, and villains may not always be evil. This spectrum of good-evil paints a more realistic picture as seen in human nature, and helps connect with readers.

Ergo, the good versus evil conflict often adheres to a black/white trope. To make distinguishing characters easier. Evil characters prefer hurting or manipulating others for personal gain. That said, an antagonist shouldn’t be evil just for the hell of it. That paints a dry, undeveloped antagonist.

Shades of Gray

While heroes are virtuous and villains cruel, protagonists move the plot towards a goal and the antagonist opposes it. A hero could be an antagonist, and the villain the protagonist. Think Infinity War, where Thanos, the protagonist, achieved his goal of getting the Infinity Stones.

In the olden days, stories always had the hero as the protagonist. Everyone wants to see goodness win, right? Well, that gets old. Fast. With the rise of anti-heroes, everything isn’t so black and white anymore. Readers connect with anti-heroes so well because they reflect the mixed nature of humans.

Anti-heroes are a curious breed due to their methods and personalities, which are a lot more chaotic than most heroes. They often jump between good and evil polarities at will, as long as it serves their goals. This makes them a strong protagonist, shoving the plot forward continuously. Traditional heroes may come off as bland, unrealistic, or predictable; but their adherence to virtue makes them likable and appreciated.

Meanwhile, the antagonist force may be a dark god, a federation to preserve tradition, or an organization dedicated to eradicating a certain species from a world.

Good and Evil in Worldbuilding

Plot is, in essence, a tug of war between two opposing forces. Light vs. dark, good vs. evil, freedom vs. security, knight vs. dragon, unstoppable force vs. unmovable object—and so on. There are a variety to pick from for a story. A traditional good vs. evil may come off as cliche and underdeveloped. Involving more depth, more reasoning behind the motivations of each force, is helpful.

Ask:

  • What does the protagonist want to achieve? How will he do it?
  • Why is the antagonist opposing him? What methods will the antagonist use?
  • How could a reader classify the relationship, the tug-of-war, between these two forces?
  • Is the protagonist a force for good? Whose good?
  • What does the antagonist wish to protect from the protagonist?

With the relationship between the two forces established, use it to create tension and drive the plot. If either the protagonist or antagonist receives too much slack, the plot—or the rope in the tug-of-war—will go flaccid. Of course, the protagonist must eventually win, but not until the end of the Hero’s Journey.

Case Study: Pepper Slyhart

As the protagonist of Ethereal Seals, Pepper has traits of the typical hero: sympathetic, courageous, and ambitious. But, she is prone to anger, reckless behavior, and shortsightedness. Society often looks down on her, given her half-dragon genetics, and she falls into depression and brooding. Given her chaotic good character, she has a tendency towards extremism, sometimes hurting or neglecting others in the process of achieving her goals. This places her slightly towards the anti-hero spectrum, but not quite in it.

For those into David Hawkins’ work, Pepper calibrates only in the 200s and 300s in the scale of consciousness. Her habit to dip into anger, fear, desire, and pride makes her unpredictable and dangerous to friends and enemies alike.

Mapping Out Good & Evil

On the chart above, we see the theory on emotions and states of consciousness. Note the level 200, where courage begins and pride ends. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say emotions that calibrate below 200 are ‘evil’. This paints villains as individuals stuck in states like shame, guilt, fear, and pride. If so, evil characters in fiction are those suffering from these demented states. Heroes would associate more with the upper states of consciousness; those above 200.

David Hawkins states that 200 begins a transformation in consciousness, from self-serving to all-loving. This doesn’t mean individuals never fall back below 200, but that they will establish around their average level of consciousness. As a plot progresses, heroes should, therefore, rise in consciousness. Villain may fall back, as their flaws remain unresolved.

In this context, evil is a form of unresolved inner conflict, whereas good is an upward driving force. The hero serves as a reflection of the villain, and vice versa, as both parties still have some element of good and evil within them—no matter how small. That’s human nature. Fiction is a story about life, about who we are on this planet.

And that, my friends, is why I’ve fallen in love with it.


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Poems in Fiction—Worldbuilding—Ethereal Seals Poetry: Eulogies of Deliverance

Poetry triggers interesting reactions from readers. Not only is it a jump from storytelling long-form, but it invites rhythm, a detail of creativity not seen elsewhere in the story. I always found poetry bits to be fascinating—or tedious if they were too long and poorly done—in a story.

My theory is the poetry activates different parts of the brain. It’s nothing short of refreshing and invigorating, particularly when changing back to the storytelling prose. Used right, poetry adds many things to a manuscript, such as:

  • worldbuilding
  • insights into the protagonists; their reactions, views, and inner struggles
  • gives readers’ a “break” from long-form prose
  • invites higher details of creativity
  • perfect medium for foreshadowing, adding tension, among other plot devices

A fantasy without poetry feels dry and incomplete. If looking to spruce up a fantasy world, try incorporating some poems. This isn’t to say that sci-fi or contemporary fiction can’t have songs.

Be creative.

Stretch the mind and unite it with the heart, the soul. RhymeZone and Hemingway are great tools for poetry. Also read other forms of poetry to get inspired. Shakespeare is always a good choice, but try genres that reflect what type of poetry. Check out this post on Haiku, a form of East Asian poetry. Yes, there are myriad ways to express a poem, and the strength of poetry is only limited by one’s imagination.

Here’s some poetry from my WIP, Ethereal Seals. The poems are songs given by priests to the dead and dying to ease their passing. For more information on life and death on Atlas, view my post on Life and Death in a Fantasy Universe. Enjoy! 🙂


Deliverance Eulogy I

Rest easy, my brothers, my sisters

For many starturns, you endured the pain of Umbra’s blisters

May the Earthmother protect your spirits unto the Celestial Heavens

So that you too may meet the divine Seven

Oh, how we wail at the torment you received

And in our hearts, we are all so grieved

Rest easy, my brothers, my sisters,

For it will not be long, and you will be at peace

Deliverance Eulogy I I

My brothers, my sisters; we wail for your loss

Though the Shadow is gone, victory comes with its cost

Our tears shall forever water these sands

Hearken our words, the divine hymn we place unto your hands

Find your Deliverance unto the Celestial Heavens

So that you, too, shall unite with the Seven

Be blessed in the higher planes

Where, for eternity, you shall reign

Aspectä rey’lief, departed souls, departed knyghts

For we bless you with this song, an eulogy of the Aspects’ might


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—Ed R. White

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Writing Sidekicks and Side characters into Fiction

Everyone knows Robin from Batman, or Samwise Gamgee from LotR. How about Han Solo from Star Wars, or Luigi from Super Mario Brothers? These beloved sidekicks are treasured by many for the legacy they leave, what they help the hero create. That isn’t to say sidekicks lacks their own hero’s journey. Many sidekicks develop character arcs—and even series unto themselves.

Developing a Sidekick

“Behind every hero, there is always a wisecracking, obnoxious Nincompoop!— Samos on Daxter

During the hero’s journey, the protagonist encounters companions to join the quest. Sidekicks are different. A sidekick fulfills a role of greater significance than a companion. They often have their own powers, story arcs, POV scenes, and inner tribulations. A sidekick helps lift the hero up and adds to the story sometimes serving as a foil to shore up the hero’s lack.

Interestingly, sidekicks are often of the same gender as the protagonist. If of the opposite gender, sexual tension typically arises in the form of a romance subplot. A sidekick often knows the protagonist better than most characters and can offer new ways to relate to the hero.

Sidekicks come in many forms. Some are competent, others are not. They help drive the plot and the protagonist’s arc. When heroes fall down, sidekicks are there to pick them up. Unlike the hero, a sidekick can afford to die, although at great expense—and usually towards the end of the story. Sidekick deaths should be carefully planned, for it will create a void in the hero’s journey.

The role of the sidekick in literary fiction is sometimes hard to describe. They may be the friend or mentor of the hero; they may be the narrator & nominal main character of the story whilst the hero gets the credit and is more interesting (King’s “The Body for example) Some of them always save the hero’s bacon (Jeeves & Wooster) & others are just plain loyal. —CQSteve on List Challenges

The Many Roles of Sidekicks

Some heroes are amoral, confused, or simply need guidance. Unlike a mentor, who takes a big role in the protagonist’s development, sidekicks are closer to adjuncts. Sidekicks often provide:

  1. Comic Relief—to contrast a hero’s temper, lack of morals, or as a foil to better emphasize the protagonist’s qualities.
  2. Perspective—providing a different look at the hero. The sidekick may have a unique relationship with the hero, some trait that helps the sidekick stand out. They can also add useful POV scenes that reflect on the hero.
  3. Conflict—creating soft tension that provokes thought in the hero or the reader; opportunities for character growth.
  4. Plot Inertia—moving the story along should the hero ever stagnate.
  5. Subplots—adding to the worldbuilding or depth of the plot.

Case Study: Ashia Worldscale

In my novel, Blade of Dragons, Ashia Worldscale fits the role of sidekick. She offers plenty of comic relief to offset Pepper Slyhart’s brooding episodes. Ashia also aids Pepper whenever the Dragonsoul, a draconic curse, seeks to control her. As a relative, Ashia had played a big role in Pepper’s childhood arrangements, saving Pepper and her father from the enemy.

Ashia and Pepper get along as sisters, with the latter having few if any friends. Ashia is peppy, upbeat, and always willing to pick Pepper up, should she ever fall into a malaise. Ashia also has her own subplot with the antagonist, threatening to assassinate her entire family and unmake her nation’s legacy. Quite a tall order.

Unlike Ashia, who is energetic and bouncy, Tarie Beyworth is a gentle, soft-spoken foil, who is more romantically engaged with Pepper. His plot is tied into to the main villain, as seen in later books. When I wrote the three characters, I had Pepper as the heroine, with Tarie and Ashia as supporting characters. It’s no coincidence that the three grew up together, in a sense. With Ashia’s long Dragonite lifespan, however, she served more the role as nanny early on—with Pepper’s mother having vanished, and Tarie an orphan.

It makes me reflect on the numerous aims behind Ashia’s character, how she started out purely for comedy relief in draft one, then expanded onto additional roles. I’m no expert, but having multi-faceted characters, particularly sidekicks, is always a plus, and I find it delighting in stories.

What are your thoughts on sidekicks? Have you any favorites? What do you feel goes well with a sidekick’s persona? Leave your answers in the comments below. Cheers!


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—Ed R. White

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Writing Log 7/7/21

Short post today. It’s been another busy month for me. Between balancing my meditations, workouts, day job, reading and writing, the days speed by. Ethereal Seals takes another step towards series completion.

Cover Artist Get!

In the interest of book presentation, I’ve secured a cover artist for book one of the series. The price should run about $350. This package includes an e-book cover, print cover with spine and back, and additional goodies like possible social media kits. I’ve spoken with the artist at length, and she has a good feel for what I’m looking for. Sending her the mock cover and sketches of Pepper, I’m confident she’ll come up with a solid product.

To be honest, I’m not ready for print publication, but my intuition tells me to go for the print package should I ever need it. My brother works for a book supplier, and I have ties with a retail company. Having my own marketing podium with Ethereal Seals would be an excellent step forward. I have tools like Mailchimp and Buffer to help me promote my brand online when the time comes to advertise.

Writing Progress

Progress of book two’s manuscript has slowed considerably. I’ve been stuck on the final chapters for weeks, and not due to laziness or procrastination. I’ve written at least three whole revisions of the final battle. Progress is slow but sure. At times, it feels like I’m slogging through a swamp, and then some. Finishing all the character arcs and vetting plot holes, inconsistencies, etc. is a nightmare for me during the final showdown scenes. I’ve also adjusted book one’s story to have it flow better.

Thankfully, I’m almost done. It should be fun to do a couple revision passes—especially for the final chapters—before I open the doors to beta readers and have the manuscript torn to pieces again.

After book two, I may take a break and work on Tempest of the Dragon or Muffins and Magic for a spell. I’ve also plans to go on some meditation retreats and hikes. Whether this will be in New York or elsewhere, I haven’t decided.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for further updates!


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
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Life and Death in a Fantasy Universe

Within fiction, some characters don’t share the typical life spans that Earth humans experience. Unusual lifespans in fantasy and science fiction can influence culture and plot considerably.

We all enjoy our fantasy stories about long-lived elves, immortal dragons, or extraterrestrials who supercede death. When writing or reading about these characters, it can be hard to sympathize with them. We humans have lives of 80 to 120 years at best.

Learning to Humanize

It’s important to connect characters with readers. With fictional races, ensure the reader understands the lifespan beyond each creature. Ask if a particular lifespan serves a purpose. Are elves, as an example, long-lived because of certain worldbuilding elements in the story? What the pros and cons of living this long?

Use immortality or long lifespans to an advantage. If used to create tension, all the better. Maybe the protagonist will outlive all her friends. What emotions does that create? Is it fear, sorrow, or worry?

Cultural Impacts

If a race of elves outlives a race of humans, how might that change the way each society views each other? Are the cultural functions of elves slower, more ponderous? Are the humans ever envious, or perhaps angry at the elves? Are the elves are arrogant and see the humans as lower-beings. Michael J Sullivan’s book, Age of Myth, does an excellent job of this.

Politics

If elves are long-lived, how does that change childbearing laws, if there are any? Do they procreate often, or not very much? How is it impacting the government’s role in regulating the population? We can ask a million questions with these. Take time to explore each one and world build.

Religion

A society’s view on death can be a good way to world build and even build a cast of characters up. Weave spiritual principles into the life and death narrative. The more one examines each of these facets of a fictional race, the stronger the reader’s grasp on things.

Due to changes in the sun and gravity compared to Earth, the people of Atlas live 150 to 250 years on average. Full-blooded Dragonites may reach 1,000 years, whereas half-dragons are closer to 500 to 750 years.

Because of these variables, the characteristics of Atlasian society is different than here on Earth. Lives aren’t as short and years may pass quicker for an Atlasian than an Earth human.

Culture in Ethereal Seals

Atlasian culture is advanced, to the point of space travel. Technology allows anyone to summon food at will through crystal devices. Healing technologies and magic also exist, which can mitigate the risk of death.

Death is looked upon as a somewhat foreign phenomenon. Oftentimes death is the result of battle, rather than starvation or old age. When it does occur, it creates a visceral reaction in most Atlasians, who might not be accustomed to it, nor the violence associated.

There is more consideration towards major societal changes, and families don’t procreate as often. A family might have a child once every 30 to 70 years at most.

Atlasian Politics

With longer lifespans, Atlasian governments handle things slower than here on Earth. Youth is considered anyone from the ripe age of 18 until 50, whereas anyone over 100 is of middle-age. Most leaders are chosen based on seniority for this reason. An Atlasian who has lived 200 years is much more experienced than someone at 100.

The main ruling body on Atlas, the Dragonite Empire, is more conservative, with the average Dragonite living up to 1,000 years. Some Dragonite families may only have a few children throughout their whole life, others have none. Due to their high vitality, Dragonites may act arrogant towards other races, and see themselves as protectors of Atlas.

To a Dragonite, long lives invite loneliness, as friends of other races die long before they do. Death is seen more as a release from their duties in that lifetime. A reprieve. Dragonites have a higher appreciation for death, whereas other races fear it.

Atlasian Religion

Whether through fear or respect, all Atlasians see death as an inevitable process. When one dies, it is believed they ascend into the Celestial Heavens and become one with the divine Aspects. Those of a wicked nature may visit the Celestial Hells.

After an unknown period of time, the soul is then said to recycle itself, returning back to the mortal plane in a different form. Reincarnation. This comes at a price, as the soul forgets who it was, carrying over trauma and tendencies from previous births.

Burial

Burial is a sacred process, called a Deliverance, which calls for priests or priestesses to evoke the name of the Aspects. If a priest isn’t available, certain prayers and mantras can suffice. Bodies are buried within the ground of Atlas, called the Earthmother, a deified form of the planet.

Priests are sought by kings, army generals, and cutthroat mercenaries alike. Most believe that if a corpse isn’t given a proper Deliverance, the killers may experience horrible repercussions from the Aspects, for the soul will be unable to reincarnate.

What are your views on life and death in fiction? Do you have a story that explores these concepts? Leave your answer in the comments below. Thanks for reading!


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Fantasy Maps: A Gateway to Adventure

A Map of the Lord of the Rings

The other day I stumbled upon the map you see above. It had me thinking how maps play into stories, and how vital they are to the worldbuilding process. Not only do they offer a reference for author and reader, maps add depth, immersion to that universe. I’ve written on making maps in GIMP and Wonderdraft, and Inkarnate is another program I plan to look into

My Experience with Fantasy Maps

LOTR was one of the first fantasies that blew me away as a child. I was fascinated by the maps, the various regions, doodads, and the route that the hero took to fulfill his quest. Having a visual diagram helped a ton as I read through the story. It had me wondering what else existed in Tolkien’s universe. What other towns, dungeons, and landmarks lurked at the corners of Middle Earth.

So enamored was I, that I attempted several maps of my own. Shameless to say, they were little more than scribbles, but for my six-year-old brain, I was delighted.

To this day, I savor the chance to examine maps at the start of a novel. As a creative writer with a geography degree, maps connect with me intimately. I’m conscious of the north arrows, the scale bars, the balance of landmasses, color contrasts. Everything. Even the font used can evoke emotions.

Questions to Consider About Fantasy Maps

Maps are one of the only visual cues readers get in a novel. It’s a rare opportunity to paint a world. In some cases, it can also pull readers in—or lose their interest if you’re sloppy. Authors can use maps to their advantage and snare a reader, so getting a map correct can be as important as writing the story.

When constructing a map, ask:

  • Does the map serve a purpose for the story?
  • Is it clear and easy to understand?
  • The symbols, colors, fonts, and presentation—are they appropriate and complement each other?
  • Can readers use the map to enhance their experience?
  • Does the map evoke intrigue? Worldbuilding cues? A ‘wanderlust’ feel for an adventurous reader?
  • What is the overall impression of the map?

Advantages of a Mapless Fiction

This isn’t to say that having a map is a requirement, although it does help add to a story. But what about stories without maps? They lose out on a big opportunity, a chance to impress or draw the reader in early. Readers must then form an idea of the world in their mind.

Surprisingly, this can have its own appeal. A mapless world puts the geography more in the hands of the reader; and while some readers may dislike this, others won’t mind. Some may even enjoy it. If an author chooses to go this route, sundry hints about the topography are recommended. The author may lean heavier on descriptive paragraphs and dialog cues. This helps the reader amass pieces to what the land resembles. From my experience, the mapless method works better in standalone novels. Maps shine in epic trilogies, where the author can build multiple maps between installments, forming a detailed continent or world.

Personally, I love maps, and a picture is worth a thousand words. Quite literally in this case. A map can save a writer a lot of work. There are several easy-to-use programs and methods as mentioned above.

What Else Are Maps Good For?

Maps are a splendid way for authors to brainstorm. The act of building a peninsula may evoke plot ideas. These are crucial during episodes of writers’ block, when authors haven’t a clue how to proceed. Studying landmarks and geographical details on a map can inspire an author, or even serve as good R&R from the labor of wordsmithing. Authors may be taking a break from writing, but they are still worldbuilding. Still thinking. Still creating.

While maps may not be for everyone, they are a convenient, fun, and stimulating activity. I’ve pulled more plot ideas out of mapping than I have staring at a blank page. And for that, I will always be a cartographer at heart. In my own way. 😛

What are your experiences with fantasy maps? Do you like creating them? Studying them? What stands out the most to you in a map? Leave your comments below. Thanks!

Galleis, a Wonderdraft Map I created

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Hard Magic, Soft Magic: How to Use Them in Creative Fiction

Magic—a word tossed around by authors and wordsmiths for decades. Magic is an abstract phenomenon with incredible potential, and such power usually comes with a cost. As a widespread tool in worldbuilding, when misused, it can wreck havoc on a story, figuratively and literally.

Magic in Creative Fiction

Your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

—Sanderson’s Law One

As shown in Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 lecture, there exists two types of magic in fiction: hard and soft.

Hard and Soft magic

Hard magic is where the laws, definitions, and limitations of the magic are explained. The reader is aware of what the magic can do. This makes the magic more predictable and better for solving problems or establishing structure in a world without reducing tension. It forces more work onto the intelligence of a magic user.

Soft magic is when the magic has unknown costs, outcomes, or limitations. Whimsical, a soft magic can do anything the author wants. Soft magic runs the risk of reducing tension, whereas it can be a solution to almost everything unless a specified cost or risk is explained. A user of soft magic has few limits.

Then there is hybrid magic, which combines the two. While this category has the best of both worlds, it requires the most worldbuilding and planning. An author needs the whimsical nature of soft magic with a severe enough cost/limitation of hard magic. A hybrid magic needs to be interesting, supportive to the story, and comprehensive to the reader.

Examples of Hard and Soft Magic

Gandalf from LoTR is more of a soft magic user. He can accomplish almost anything he sets his mind to without much consequence. Yet he cannot be everywhere at once, nor can he defeat a whole army—let alone Sauron—by himself.

Frodo’s ring has the ability to destroy Sauron if discarded into Mt. Doom. To do this, Frodo must suffer, bearing the ring as a burden than a magical artifact. The ring has a set cost and magical ability for Frodo: turning invisible at the risk of his own sanity, or being detected by Sauron.

Do you see how the cost, the price involved, makes Frodo’s arc more interesting?

The Price of Magic

Flaws and limitations are more interesting than powers.

—Sanderson’s Law Two

A limited resource or consequence for using magic is vital for most magic systems. Adding additional penalties will increase the depth to how and why a character uses magic; it may test their integrity if the use of magic brings immoral or disastrous results.

Rand al Thor from Wheel of Time, who runs the risk of going insane every time he taps into his magic. While WoT’s Source magic is still whimsical in nature, it evokes a gamble with every use.

Next consider Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance series. Raistlin’s magic is more restricted in its use, and his frail body collapses into a fit of debilitating coughs whenever he expends himself.

Consequences of magic use, particularly severe ones, aren’t always necessary, but they can help. No matter what magical system you choose, bring a detail of tension along with it if possible, even if it’s only a minor one rather than none at all. 

More is Not Always Better

Before adding something new to your magic or setting, see if you can instead expand what you have.

—Sanderson Law Three

While having a fancy magic system rich in lore is nice, sometimes the simpler the magic the better. It can be easy to lose readers or yourself in the depth of it all. Sanderson suggests expanding first on what you have, before adding in anything new. The more variables added, the more complicated things become. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What principles are essential to my magical system?
  • What can I remove/condense for simplicity?
  • What are the costs of my magic? How do they play into character motives, tension, worldbuilding, and plot?
  • Is the magic simple enough to understand? Complex enough to make it interesting?

Case Study: Ethereal Seals

Shifting

The magic in my world, Ethereal Seals, is called Shifting. While Shifting draws lifeforce from the Shifter’s spine, crystals mitigate this. Instead, crystals take the brunt of the stress. Any Elemental spirits alive within the gemstone experience incredible agony.

Imagine being trapped in a prison your whole life, strapped to a generator like a battery?

This adds a moral dilemma to using crystal technology. The protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, realizes this, and her perspective of crystals changes through the story.

Vir’gol Pacts

A Shifter can insert powerful crystals into artifacts called vir’gols . Upon interfacing, the vir’gol can draw upon the crystal like a battery and funnel the Shifter’s spells. Much like a wand.

Most vir’gols have sapience, which allows them to speak freely. They can also do telepathy with their masters. Once a crystal is removed, drained of ether, or damaged beyond repair, the vir’gol loses its awareness. It dies.

The connection between Shifter and vir’gol is called a Pact. A Shifter makes a Pact after inserting the crystal and activating the device. An oath is spoken, binding the Shifter to the weapon (and therefore the crystal) until the oath is fulfilled.

Some Shifters form a Pact subconsciously, only to later realize and strengthen it. To break a Pact isn’t easy. It causes emotional upheaval in the Shifter, besides nausea, lightheadedness, and confusion. The vir’gol is also disrupted and its crystal damaged.

Conclusion

Magic is a fascinating concept to writers and readers. As a powerful tool for worldbuilding, and when supportive of the characters and plot, magic can help a story shine.

Peace be with you, and thanks for reading.


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

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Creative Writing Exercise—Depression

We’ve all been there. Isolated, confused, bored, discouraged. Depression is a common hurdle we as humans face. Yet, there is little more satisfying than conquering that malaise. The spirit of victory fills our souls, driving us to new horizons; for as we sink to the depths of hell, we can only rise to the heights of the stars.

That said, a character enduring depression garners zealous interest and support from the reader. The misery of the character is relatable, gripping, and strengthens the story—if written well.

What is Depression?

According to the Emotional Thesaurus, depression is a state of withdrawal, sorrow, and reduced vitality. An individual may look gaunt, sunken, weary, or psychologically imbalanced. Eating or social misbehavior are common, as are feelings of pessimism. Other symptoms include:

  • lethargy, saggy posture, unkempt appearance, frequent crying
  • a vacant stare, no energy or motivation, an aged face, insomnia
  • nightmares, disease, poor concentration, shallow breathing
  • panic attacks, chest pain, numbness, sluggish speech, thoughts of suicide

Life becomes a chore, a swamp to wade through. A depressed person sees little joy or purpose in living. While depression is a normal, and even healthy response to severe loss or daunting challenges in life, if it lingers, it can fester upon the soul as any wound can. Modern terminology coins this clinical depression.

Writing Depression Into Characters

While depression is horrible in real-life, it serves as an excellent tool in writing. Depression provides tension, character development, and trials for the protagonist to overcome. Many known protagonists like Frodo, Harry Potter, Eragon, Batman, and Jon Snow suffered this ailment. It’s also seen in many prominent figures in history: Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, and several others. Once one’s inner demons are vanquished, the true hero emerges. See my post on the Hero’s Journey for more on this.

When describing your protagonist’s depression, have the reader feel the visceral sorrow, anger, and loneliness that is crushing upon the hero. Depression needn’t be sudden, it is often slow and gradual, like a disease that smolders upon the soul. Drive the hero to the brink, the “all is lost” point. Drill surprise and suspense into your reader, and they will all-too-eagerly read on.

Depression can also nurture grudges between other characters and breed new tension. It will challenge the hero’s morals. It will pull them closer to the antagonist’s ways; attempting to kill the hero’s spirit in the righteous sense.

Coping Mechanisms for the Hero

Some heroes will, instead of dealing with depression, mask it with peculiar techniques. They may try to block it out entirely, using a costume, armor, new personalities, new home, or a new profession. They are hiding from what they know still festers in their hearts. Eventually, the issue rises to the surface, forcing the protagonist to evolve or suffer.

If the latter, heroes go through a much longer ordeal, witnessing the Inner Hell over and over through their own thoughts and actions. Or that of others reflected back at them. This Hell can be a persistent, helpful tool for the plot and character arc. It allows for deep, inner exposition, the kinds you wouldn’t ordinarily find.

As writers, our job is to weave together that inner journey for our protagonists. To help them grow. Let me repeat myself: there’s nothing more satisfying to a reader than watching a sympathetic underdog rise from the dregs of hellish depression.

Uses of Depression

  • drives the plot and character development
  • provides tension and challenge
  • enables rich exposition
  • relatable to readers

Case Study—Pepper Slyhart

I enjoy tearing my protagonists down, ripping apart their hearts, and leaving their souls in shreds. Then I resurrect them in newfound glory. My own protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, makes an excellent example of this. As a half-dragon, despised by society, Pepper deals with a lot of shit from her countrymen. She is spat on, ridiculed, threatened, and attacked. It’s little wonder she has depressive episodes.

In the early parts of Blade of Dragons, Pepper is your token underdog, a farm girl with little hope in life. She looks up to her father, a role model. It takes a terror event and the words of a wiseman to encourage her to undergo the journey, as most heroes are reluctant to take.

Later, Pepper suffers horrible nightmares, the kind that can kill you in the waking world. She also experiences some setbacks in her quest. Depressed, alone, she engages in deep self-analysis of herself, her values, and why she still pushes forward. Scenes like these remind the reader of a character’s direction using depression as the fulcrum. It humanizes Pepper, despite the magical abilities she may have. Despite the fact she’s a half-dragon.

Confused and alone, Pepper is driven to the brink of madness by the Dragonsoul, threatening to take over her body. To defeat the spirit of the hero.

To date, Pepper has been my most dramatic protagonist to write. They say that each character is a piece of the author, and if so, she is a facet of my own inner demons. One day I intend to defeat them and fortify my spirit, as Pepper will succeed against hers.

Peace be with you, and thanks for reading.


Interested in joining my mailing list? Members will receive free poetry, special deals, messages to inspire and empower your life, reflective essays, and short stories not seen on my blog. You’ll also get the latest news on projects.
Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
—Ed R. White

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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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