Building a Fantasy Language—the Primeal

Language forms the crux of cultural values. From language, memes, traditions, and values emerge. The pillars of humanity. When I began Blade of Dragons, building a fantasy language that would aid me in developing the world of Atlas was vital. Enter the Primeal.

I’ll describe my experience with building a fantasy language, followed by tips from other world builders.

As a language used by the ancient Highborn on Atlas, the Primeal contains powerful phonetics and mantras. To use magic on Atlas, the practitioner must evoke words and hand gestures. Most of these I borrowed from ancient traditions here on Earth.

Objections Behind the Primeal

The Primeal has provided depth to Atlasian culture. It strengthened the world building, while heightening the immersion and character interaction. The mysteries woven into the Primeal reflect on the plot and character arcs too.

I got the idea of building a fantasy language from novels such as Mistborn, The Faded Sun Trilogy, Lord of the Rings, and others. Using this method, I borrowed from Latin and Hindu. The process was easier than I thought, as I wasn’t developing a language from scratch. The downside to this was that there was less of a unique feel, compared to other fantasy languages.

Vocabulary of the Primeal

Albeit, I took a relatively simple approach to my fantasy language than most. The Primeal is, roughly, a form of butchered Latin. Many of the words have similarities to Latin vocabulary, with some Hindu and English bits thrown in.

Examples of the Primeal Language

  • Aspectä rey’lief (Aspect-TAH-Rey-LI-eff): May the Aspects’ grace follow you (used as a friendly farewell).
  • Aum (AH-ooh-oom): Creation.
  • Egüs (Ei-gu-ah-sh): You, it.
  • D’wyrm (Di-were-um): Tongue of dragons.
  • Lumasil (Lu-MAS-sil): Light of hope.
  • Me’puläm (Me-Pul-LA-um): My love, my shining star (a title used among lovers).
  • Tal’draco (Tall-der-AH-co): Dragonite.
  • Tal’snak (Tall-sh-NAH-kek): An offensive slang for a half-Dragonite.
  • Sal’av (Sal-LA-of): Hello.

Magic Applications of the Primeal

Many of the words used in modern Atlas are crude dialects of the original language; yet they still carry powerful vibrations that can influence reality. The simple word, sal’av, can evoke good will and ease in another’s heart. Another word, tal’snak, summons fear and perhaps anger in others.

Weaving together strings of power words, an individual can produce complex spells and influence reality. This act of magical weaving, or Shifting, is widespread on Atlas. The reader gets a strong example of this starting from the first scene to the final chapter.

Things Left to Consider

The Primeal, to Earth human ears, may sound musical and otherworldly, but I haven’t nailed down the specifics. I’ll research fantasy languages more to add depth to the Primeal, the feel, the vibrations of the words.

That said, I discovered some resources useful for building a fantasy language.

1. The Zompist Language Kit

This fantasy language construction kit is perfect for conlangers and is ideal for fantasy and sci-fi writers. The page guides you through the basics, such as sound, grammar, syntax, usage, and any world building bits. It’s straight forward and free online. There’s also a word generator that produces a list of words, but you’ll need some Javascript experience to use it.

2. Lingvo

Lingvo is an excellent resource on real world cultures and languages. Everything from Germanic and Babylonian dialects are available. This resource is more beginner friendly.

3. Interactive IPA Chart

Here’s a page that is an invaluable reference for new and experienced conlangers. The page explains the sounds of human language and how they are pronounced. This allows world builders and writers to go a step further with their languages.

4. IPA Keyboard Bind

This module goes with the previous as it helps bind certain IPA symbols to a single stroke. I found it useful, but not essential.

5. Google Translate

Don’t hate me for this one, but Google has a decent language engine that can provide ideas or vocabulary for new writers. The quality of translation leaves room to be desired, though.

When designing the Primeal, I had to consider the following:

  • The sounds of the language
  • A glossary, or lexicon, of words
  • The grammar, syntax, and feel of speaking the words
  • The magical and cultural implications
  • How the alphabet is modified for cursive handwriting

Like other world builders, I borrowed from preexisting languages to make my job easier. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a proven method that does work. Even English language contains words borrowed, butchered, or stolen from other languages.

Final Thoughts

Building a fantasy language is a fun process, and it doesn’t have to frustrating or complex. It’s important to keep things simple enough for your readers, or else you risk losing them at the expense of your world building. Balance, as with all things in life, is what we artists strive for.


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, thanks for reading.
—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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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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On Naming Fictional Characters

Good names help both writers and readers move through a story smoothly.”

— Dan Schmidt

Naming characters in a fictional universe may seem like a simple task, but it can stump some authors. How do we approach this issue? Is there a method to naming characters? In this post, I’ll describe how I go about it, plus some helpful tools.

Some authors don’t name their characters in a specific way, instead opting for generic names without any particular rhyme or reason. Fred, John, Alice, Ryan, etc. I’ve found the generic naming system works better with simple, cheap plot themes. Even short stories or flash fiction. These ‘throwaway’ names, as I call them, work here.

A Little Research Goes a Long Way

Names have changed from era to era, at least in the contemporary world. Naming a post WWI character according to their era (e.g. the Depression-era 1930s) will seem more realistic than a 21st century trendy name. You can also go further and look up the root meaning of a name. Name.org is a great resource for that.

Fantasy Names

Other authors opt for unusual names like Legolas, Eragon, or Herä’eth. These name fit more of a niche role, with their uniqueness that speaks of a fantasy universe. That in itself grants the name attention. FantasyNameGenerators is a good website for those struggling to brainstorm.

Comic Names

For more humor, an author can name a character a funny name like Bananas. These comic names spell out the character’s attributes from the start; the author wants to make sure you to know this character’s name means something. In real life, people often name their pets in such ways, as it evokes comfort, warm laughter, or recognition.

Other Uses for Names

Names can influence how your reader views characters, particularly from their introduction. Using a scarier name, like Toothclaw, may evoke images of a bestial man, aggressive, proud, and strong. Others like Hymnfoot have a pleasant and comic feel.

Surnames

A character’s surname can be as important as their main name. Surnames are family or ancestral titles that imply characters’ bloodline, genetics, abilities, and even predictions about their future.The surname Brightshard has a fantasy ring to it, aye? It evokes images of crystals, magic, and even majesty. Meanwhile, the surname Worldscale also bears a fantasy vibe, but is more dragon-like and perhaps regal in its pronunciation.

  • With Blade of Dragons, one of my protagonists is named Gerald. The name Gerald means ‘Spear ruler of strength’ or ‘Rule of spear’. Gerald’s main weapon is a magical lance, his signature attribute. By using the name Gerald, I empowered his character and added depth.
  • My main protagonist, Pepper, doesn’t have a linguistic root meaning to her name. However, she has a fiery personality, can breath fire, and can summon wind magic that may make you sneeze. With her, I went with a name that was more reflective of her persona and magical aptitude.
  • A third character is named Tarie. In Zimbabwe, Tarie is short for Tariro or Tarisai, meaning ‘hope’ or ‘look’. Tarie happens to be a priest, representing the power of the Light, or hope, on Atlas. He dreams of bringing hope back to the oppressed people of Atlas, to help them see or look upon the Light again. In this way, the name Tarie is based off the character’s aspirations, his dreams.

Other than using the websites I linked above, you can check out ImagineForest, Writerswrite, and ElementalNameGenerators for all your fantasy needs. Here’s an article on additional tips for naming your characters effectively.

1. Genre

We’ve covered this, but you’re not likely to find a name like Legolas in contemporary fiction, unless it’s for intentional humor. Double-check your genre, and the era of your story, to maximize the efficiency of your character’s names. Things get a bit more complicated when you do niche genres, like fantasy-romance. In this case, fantasy names are appropriate.

2. Culture and Backstory Do Matter

Bonus points if you can incorporate world-building and backstory into your characters’ names. This helps tie plot elements together and gives off a wholesome vibe to the story.

3. Sometimes Simpler is Better

There are times when shorter, simpler names are nice because your reader can remember them. Other, longer names may throw a reader off. A dragon with the name Fyre’goras’thyr is certainly a mouthful, whereas the name Fyre works too. Which do you prefer, pray tell?

Character naming is vital in fictional universes. While it doesn’t have to be perfect, it can make or break your characters, the feel of your plot, or the details of your world-building. Taking time to refine your character names will allow them to shine and pull the reader in. Remember, this is but a part of building your story, and it can still be fun when you put your heart into it.


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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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Making Fantasy Fiction Maps in GIMP: Tips and Tricks

Crafting a map for a fictional universe can be a handy resource for readers. Not every fiction has a cartographic reference, nor is it a requirement for good work. However, when done correctly, a map benefits both author and reader.

In this article, I’ll give an example of how I create my maps. You can take what you find appropriate and apply it to your projects. Hopefully, this tutorial will get you started. It may be a bit complicated and technical but bear with me.

Setting Up

You can use whatever media you want to design your map. I use a free program called GIMP. Set your image borders appropriately, and use a DPI of 300×300, in case you ever print out the map. Search under advanced settings for this feature.

Layer 1: The Background

When you have your blank canvas set up, first address the background. My personal preference is a basic fill tool. Your mileage may vary, depending on what kind of background your story needs. Most maps are continents, so they require an ocean or blue background.

Something like this:

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I did a fill command in GIMP for the ocean backdrop here, then added some darker shades to indicate ocean depth.

Layer 2: Landmass

The next layer I work on is the outline and general fill of the land. Choose a yellow, peach, or brown color that resembles dirt or clay—or do whatever you want of course—for the land color.

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You can use a pathing or pencil tool to create the black outline of the land, as shown, then use the fill tool. Most land isn’t perfect or smooth. Go for jagged edges along coasts or coves to simulate water erosion. You can also get creative and design fragment islands.

Layer 3: Land Color/Features

With the general land layer in place, you can focus on the more detailed facets of your map. Color coding. This step can be done in several ways, but in my example, I use pure color to indicate trees and mountains.

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I used a light green to represent grasslands, dark green for forests, blue for lakes and rivers, brown for mountains areas, and white-brown for snow. Select all of layer 2 with a wand tool, so you don’t create color outside the landmass.

For the water masses, I went back to layer 2 and erased parts of it. Doing this allowed layer 1 to fill in where lakes and rivers lie.

Layer 4: Additional Land Details

This is another optional and flexible step, depending on what you want for your map. I added redundant mountain figures and then floating islands here. This gave the map more depth.

AtlasMapTutorial4

Here’s a tip: create one mountain figure and then use the clone stamp tool to easily replicate it. This makes it a lot easier! 🙂

Layer 5: Landmarks

Now that you have your land finished, it’s time to add landmarks! What do I mean? Cities, castles, special areas, and so forth. No, you don’t have to draw an entire castle—use symbols to represent them.

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I used simple dots with minor details. You can certainly be creative with this and draw one small castle—then, using the clone stamp tool, replicate it wherever.

Layer 6: Map Legend

Every map needs a legend—a reference to tell readers what your landmarks mean. A north arrow or distance bar is also handy. You can make one yourself, or download a free-stock photo.

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Position your legend so that it doesn’t overlap over map details. Choose a location where there is a lot of “empty space”; this will add visual balance to your map.

Layer 7: Captions

You need captions that specify major or minor points on the map. Include text for your legend, a title, and any additional information a reader should know. A small bit about who authored the map is also good.

AtlasMapTutorial7

In this example, broader or more critical areas have a larger font size, while minor or smaller areas have a lower font size. If I were to do this over again, I’d probably make the font size for cities a bit larger, but at the same time, I don’t want to crowd the other map details with text. On an ebook or actual copy, the text would scale larger, but in the thumbnail here, it’s smaller.

Also consider using New Times Roman, or Courier. You want text that is easy to read, not necessarily fancy ones like I tried above.

Try adding in a background behind certain captions to improve readability. Don’t make it too sharp, just enough to accentuate the caption’s letters. Notice the difference below:

Layer 8: Border Details

Try adding in some special effects to your borders. This will help your map stand out! Maybe mist or fading out of the ocean. I went with scroll parchment.

Other Things to Consider

You could also add in fantasy details like sea dragons swimming in the ocean, or maybe other mythic creatures that add an “ancient” feeling to your map. Clouds with shadows are nice too. Go wild! Remember, this is your map and fictional world.

Creating maps is a fun activity that adds important detail to your story. A map can be a wide variety of things—and the example above is just a few of them. Remember, there are thousands of ways to design a map, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I hope this article has helped get you started with the map making process. Cheers. 🙂


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Disease in Fiction

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Hello, my readers. Today let’s discuss something that’s been on all our minds recently. Yup, that’s right—diseases in fiction. Right now, the world is in flux over the Coronavirus. It has created a bizarre, paranormal society where we’re all confined to our homes, some of us without jobs. The Coronavirus is like this invisible antagonist, challenging all of us right now.

“Plagues are like imponderable dangers that surprise people…” —Gabriel García Márquez

This makes one think: how would such events play into fictional stories? What examples do we see in published works for diseases in fiction?

Below is a list of diseases in fiction. These should give you ideas of how authors design them, both in fantasy and science fiction.

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1. Greyscale

If you’ve read Game of Thrones, you’ve run into this ailment. It’s a horrible disease that cause a person’s flesh—and later internal organs—to harden and die. Necrotic flesh coats the victim’s body, offering the appearance of cracked stone.

2. White Blindness

In the book, Blindness, by Jose Saramago, the disease robs its victims of eyesight. The protagonist is a woman who is immune to the ailment. Able to witness the world around her, the heroine must guide her comrades to safety.

3. Inferno

Created by Dan Brown, the Inferno virus renders people infertile. Used by the antagonists as a waterborne agent—and later an airborne one—this disease serves as a potent vector for conflict.

4. Nanoprobe Virus

No so much a biological virus as a form of nanotechnology, the Nanoprobe Virus is used by the Borg in Star Trek to gradually assimilate organic life forms. Victims become drones for the Borg Collective as nanotechnology slowly takes over their bodies.

5. Tyrant Virus

Also known as the “t-virus”, this disease defines the Resident Evil series. Developed by the Umbrella Corporation, the virus was designed as a eugenics project to cull world population and build an army of bioweapons—namely zombies. Umbrella eventually designed variants of the t-virus that affect victims in different ways.

6. Flare Virus

Found in the Maze Runner movies, the Flare Virus eats away at a person’s brain until they become mindless zombies. Like the Tyrant Virus in Resident Evil, the Flare Virus was designed by scientists to reduce world population.

Diseases are—surprisingly—versatile and useful in fictional worlds. An author, if clever, can use this disease as a plot device to strengthen characters and move the story forward. Disease can also be used to create conflict and established a degree of worldbuilding.

1. An Invisible Antagonist

Heroes can defeat a villain they can see and touch—but what about an antagonist that is invisible? Nothing evokes fear in a character like impotence. Finding a cure, or elixir, may be the only hope in defeating this intangible opponent.

2. Atypical Conflict

Diseases in fiction offer an unusual form of conflict—even better if the disease afflicts characters that the hero cares about. Mental illnesses can add further depth to the conflict, as the victim may experience situations that alter memory or cognition—even turning them into an aggressive mutant or monster. Now the hero may have to fight a loved one, offering moral conflict in the protagonist’s conscious.

3. Worldbuilding

A pandemic forces a society to explore its resources, introducing the reader to what’s in the fictional world. An economic slowdown—like we see in the real world—causes shortages of goods and services, forces people into a different state of mind, and encourages innovation in characters.

In short, a virus exposes the innards of a fictional world and allows a reader to become intimate with it.

Diseases in fiction—whether biological, artificial, or magical—drives plot and character progression in a fictional world. It creates atypical conflict that exposes the underbelly of a society—not just in the protagonist—and allows the reader to dissect the morals, financial resources, and technology of an afflicted civilization.


Thank you reading, as always! During these troubling times, perhaps we can derive some meaning from the Coronavirus and how it is exposing our society. Like the heroes of old, we too can defeat this invisible foe and establish a stronger, more orderly world if by learning from our own mistakes and what habits we have buried throughout the years. That said, maybe this virus can be seen as a good thing—a source of inspiration and growth for the human spirit.

Stay safe and healthy out there. And remember, we’re all in this together. 🙂

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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.

Thanks for reading!


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Chapter 1 Excerpt from Blade of Dragons

 

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Hello, all! I’m getting ready to advertise my upcoming book, Blade of Dragons! Below is an excerpt from chapter 1 of the current manuscript. It’s undergone many changes in the past couple months after several revision passes and feedback from betas.

I’m excited that this project is finally reaching the next stage of its evolution, as I’ll be looking for an agent and maybe a cover artist within the next several months—provided that the Coronavirus situation has stabilized. I am looking for one more beta reader, if possible—let me know if you’re interested.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the excerpt. I do hope you enjoy it!


 

Blinking at the brilliance of the Twins, Pepper tilted her chin up to bathe in the sunlight if only to forget her troubles. Curling her toes in the dirt, she allowed the earth to swallow her feet. The grasslands stretched into the horizon like a blanket of green along the Fertile Crescent, heightening her comfort. In the distance, a few egg-shaped barns situated next to her pyramidal house, set with gemstone spires. Winterwall lay along the horizon, its snowy peaks piercing the sky.

With the drone of insects in her ears, she closed her eyes briefly to allow a breeze to rustle her hair—the familiar smell of manure on the wind. The climate was humid but balanced with a gentle breeze—typical Springcrest weather.

Pepper dug into her pocket and withdrew a golden coin. Along the penny’s worn edges was the depiction of a gauntlet shrouded in vines. Underneath the design was curvy Atläsian cuneiform.

It was the Slyhart family emblem. Pepper rarely went anywhere without it, and in some ways, it was a reminder of who she was—a Slyhart, not some animal or pariah. She placed the coin to the ground.

“Check for messages,” she said.

The penny flashed in response. “Checking etheric archives now, please wait,” it whirred.

From the coin, a light shot up a few inches high. The image of her father appeared with his red hair tied in a long ponytail. He was indeed athletic and tall, a splitting image of Pepper. A red goatee jutted from his chin, and he wore a blue jacket with a sword strapped to his undershirt, a pistol at his belt.

A second image appeared—her mother, in a silver dress and a green braid. She bore a stubby tail and pointed ears like Pepper, but had the addition of leathery wings behind her that the latter lacked. She frowned and hugged the redheaded man. “We hope this message reaches you well, dear. We’ll be home soon. There’s extra food and a month’s worth of melkä coins if you need it. Please promise to stay out of trouble and watch over the farm.”

“Your mom and I will be home as soon as we can,” the man promised. “It’ll be safer if you remain home. We’ll see you soon.”

He smiled as his silhouette wavered with the woman.

Pepper sighed and her shoulders sagged. That was the third message this month. The farm needed daily attention—and Pepper had promised her parents that she’d do it. She was never one to break a promise.

Putting the coin away, she whispered to herself, “Don’t worry, mom, dad. I’ll take good care of the farm.”

From her other pocket, she pulled out a fist-sized crystal of aquamarine. The stone, cold and jagged, shimmered like water. She whispered a mantra, and mist spouted from the stone, drenching the rows of crops around her.

Smiling, she spread her arms while the droplets of cool water covered her body. The crystal shrieked with a flash upon completion. You could never have enough water for your farm—and only a hundred more plots to go for the day. She rolled her eyes and shifted her shoulders, eager to complete her chores for the day.

“I see you’re still enjoying the farm, Pepper Slyhart,” said a soft voice.

She turned her head and her jaw dropped…


 

The Tolkien Hypothesis: Is Originality Dead?

 

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Hello, my readers, to another blog post from yours truly. Experts believe that everything has “already been written” or that originality no longer exists in the writing world. To abbreviate this notion, we’ll call it the Tolkien Hypothesis for this article—yes, I made it up, but bare with me.

 

—Originality in Writing—

What is originality, and how does it come about? If you look at stories written today, you can find several Harry Potter doppelgangers, a LOTR inspired tale here, and maybe a Star Wars look-a-like there. Even romance novels are produced mechanically with an almost predictable formula.

 

—Enter the Tolkien Hypothesis—

How do we explain this phenomenon? Are writers taking the “easy way out” and piggyback riding on successful, legendary writers? Is it true that authors are struggling more and more to produce original, creative content? Where do we draw the line between a story that is inspired and one that is copied? Whew! That’s a lot of questions to answer, so, let’s take it nice and easy….

 

Creativity and Springboards

Many aspiring writers, like yours truly, become fascinated with certain authors (ahem…Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, et al.) In our excitement to share in the celebration of creativity, many authors based part or—god forbid—all their story on these authors.

The intention may not be to copy, but we enjoy using these successful stories as springboards for our imagination. Sometimes, we may jump a little too high and hit the ceiling, so to speak. I certainly did when I finished my alpha manuscript of Ethereal Seals book 1 (which is now called Blade of Dragons).

After reviewing my rough manuscript, I realized—much to my horror—that I had basically written a sloppy LOTR with Star Wars themes inserted haphazardly. I had committed a Tolkien Hypothesis crime! After several revisions and harsh critique from readers my manuscript is now on its own path. It still has similarities to LOTR and Star Wars in it, but Ethereal Seals has a unique feel, something that makes it stand out.

Does this mean I regret creating my alpha manuscript? Certainly not. I actually cherish my old writings, because they were the springboards that I needed to get my own creativity juices flowing.

 

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Writer or Robot?

Some writers may intentionally copy story structures because they are employed by certain companies. There becomes a robotic need to churn out XYZ number of novels a year for a profit. In this sense, originality is purposely ignored for financial gain.

The other day, I was at the supermarket and I scanned a dozen romance novels on the self. They all had classy catchphrases like “The Italian Prince’s One-night Stand” or “The Duke’s Scandalous Heir”. It was almost as if I was looking at the same book reprinted with slightly different wording.

Even in the fantasy section, books with “Dragon-this” or “Dragon-that” seemed a little less than original. This is actually the reason why I changed my book title from Dragonsblade to Blade of Dragons. To me, it reads more original and still has a strong punch.

Anyway, I prefer to read books that have life in them—novels with heart and soul, not replicas retelling the same story with a few different plot devices. Not to say all mass market books at like that, but most that I’ve read are.

 

—The Road to Victory—

What is Success?

How do we, as writers, define success? An aspiring writer can finish a 2,000-word short story and consider it an achievement. Other authors don’t feel satisfied until they have an entire epic trilogy published—and then some. For me, success is subjective, and the milestones we set are our own. But it’s also important to pace ourselves and be patient with who and what we are.

 

The Whimsical Muse of Creativity

After years of pushing myself too hard, I’ve realized that my imagination is whimsical and volatile. Sometimes I enter a “writer’s zone” and can easily churn out a few thousand words within an hour or two; other times I struggle to get down a little as 300. It’s important, in my opinion, that we discover and nurture the personality of our inner muse. Once we do this, success is only a matter of time.

 

—In Conclusion—

From my experience, originality doesn’t come from copying off successful writers; nor does it involve a phobia of inspiration. We, as original authors, must forge our own universes through the springboards we acquire from others, while keeping the Tolkien Hypothesis in mind.

Much of the world is only focused on profits or time-constraints and may have lost sight of the human imagination. This doesn’t mean we, as writers, cannot express our inner muse to society. The more fun you have with it, the better—and we set our own milestones and victories. We don’t have to buy into the mechanical urges of corporations, nor should we forgo imagination for worldly success and money.

Originality and creativity go hand-in-hand, and neither can be rushed, lest we fulfill the Tolkien Hypothesis. Writing is as much of a growing process for the story as it is for the writer :). And with that, I’ll leave you a quote…

Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.
– Joseph Conrad

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Thanks a bunch for reading! If you enjoy the content here please click that “follow” button below. I’m also interested in a final beta reader for my science fantasy manuscript—if you’re interested, contact me. Cheers. 😀