Friday, February 17, 2017

Supernatural Friday: World Building in Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

I have always been fascinated by world building. From science fiction to fantasy to horror, there must be reasons why a character or a whole slew of characters would
react as they do in their world. Their actions, their thoughts, the reason they fall in love with the person they do, it’s all about how their universe revolves.

It determines what kind of story you’re writing. Like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. She built a whole world, making it hard science fiction. She gave reasons for why the dragons were needed and how the alien world and its people were. Now, The Witch and the Familiar by Sapphire Phelan, is set otherwise in a city that Tina Epson lives in.  Other scenes are set in Hell. Readers find that Tina works for an independent bookstore in town, Cup of Tea and a Book. She lives in an apartment she moved in after leaving her parents’ house. Except for a few friends, she lives alone in town, as her parents had moved to Florida after retiring. She’s mortal in the first book and likes to live a normal life. But in this world building, this character never gets a chance for that, as unusual circumstances make her come to a decision for normalcy or not.

World building makes the author research the myths, legends, and fairytales. If you want to know about vampires, then nonfiction books and online websites about vampires are a good place to start. Some of it will find its way into the book; more snippets later will sneak in. A lot of the author’s research may never find their way into the storyline. But it’s good for the author to have all the information for their own use, to look at when writing. One more thing with world building is readers bring expectations to reading, like rules of beings and creatures of myth, legend, and fairytales. The reader will have these in their mind. You will have to take the vampire, werewolf, god, or ghost, and make the reader go past these rules and believe you made another way these beings to behave. Your explanations do not have to be the most fantastic, but you do have to have them.

World building should include something else: background. Think of a movie. You have the main actors. But you also have the extras, or background as they are called in the movie business. You’re thinking, “No, extras aren’t that important, not when your hero or heroine is the real focus of the story.” But let’s look at the newest movie out, Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be in the games as tribute to save her younger sister whose name had been drawn from the girls’ bowl for the Reaping. When Effie Trinker says, “Let’s give a big applause to our newest tribute,” no one says a word or claps. You know what they are truly saying. So those extras are important to the scene. The same goes for the book or short story you are working on. Later in The Witch and The Familiar, Tina and the demon bunny, Fluffy, are traveling through Tantalus, a part of Hell, encountering demons and lost spirits. These characters may not be in the story again, but at this point and time, they flesh out Hell, as much as descriptions of this version of the Pit looks like do.

When you build your world, another thing is that you must be consistent in your rules. That means keeping them as you began them. Editing will help in catching these kinds of mistakes. A good critique partner for just this would be another great thing to have. I have files on various important characters in my stories, their traits, what they do, etc… and use these to go back to if something comes up that I’ve forgotten about my character. After all, if what you’ve written goes against any of the rules you’ve created in your world, then there has to be a logical, rational reason it happens differently at the time, reasonable to you and the readers. Such as if iron is poisonous to the fey, but suddenly later in the story, the character can pass through a fence of iron, there must be a reason why they can do this time (maybe they had found a spell that enables them to). Don’t just have them unable to do something because it isn’t convenient to your story. Being consistent is what makes the suspension of disbelief your readers are willing to have held together.

Your world’s historical past should not overwhelm or dominate your current story. If it does, then you will bore your readers, most of all, you’re writing the wrong fiction. A paragraph of it will be all you need.

Is there an inventive language in your story? It’s okay, but don’t make it so difficult for your reader to understand that they can’t follow along or have to wade through it. If it makes your reader stop to figure out and ponder about it, well, it isn’t helping your pacing. The reader needs to be engrossed in the story so much they can’t put it down, and at no time, should it make them stop and close that cover. If the reader needs a degree to understand your book, then you lost the battle to keep most readers engrossed in your tale. Glossaries are a useful way to deal with this, but better if you don’t make your reader stop so much your reader to keep reading ahead. That’s not to say you can’t. But nothing that will stop the reader reading.

World building is fun, as long as you think about presenting your world right. It’s all about drawing in your readers and keeping them coming back for more. It’s about giving them a vacation from reality they can suspend disbelief and enjoy.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Supernatural Friday: Give a Werewolf a Valentine's Card

Every year on February 14th, most people exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with their special “valentine.” Valentine’s Day. This day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century, but it has origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. It was also dedicated to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus—those twins that fed at the teats of a she-wolf.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection in classical mythology. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus, and is known in Latin also as Amor ("Love"). His Greek counterpart is Eros.  Eros appears in Classical Greek art as a slender and winged youth, But in the Hellenistic period he became more and more portrayed as chubby boy, with the bow and arrow to represent uncontrollable desire.

Cupid is a minor character in myths who serves mostly to set the plot in motion. The only time he is a main character is in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, when wounded by his own weapons he experiences the ordeal of love.

The history of Valentine’s Day, along with the story of its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. Also during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, another reason for Valentine’s day to be one of romance.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, everyone martyred. One legend claims that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him put to death.

Other tales suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before he died, the legends goes on to say that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression still in use today. 

So when you celebrate with your loved one on the 14th, think of how closely the supernatural has to do with a day for lovers.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Supernatural Friday: Women Writers of Horror

Why would women write about monsters or ghosts? I am sure there are readers who say stick to writing romance or fantasy. But women have just as much right to write the scary stuff and about monsters as do their male counterparts. After all, in the long run, it's all about the story. 

At, an article mentioned how women writers “often found the supernatural a way to challenge and condemn their role in society.” It seems male writers have dominated supernatural fiction, those like M R James, Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Oliver Onions and others.  But female writers have been on the horror scene in the past, too. Shirley Jackson, for instance. She wrote, The Haunting of Hill House, the only story to this day that scared me in the daytime, in a room full of people. Others had to do it at night, with me in a room alone. Susan Hill who wrote Woman in Black, is another. A classic ghost story from 1892, is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Her nameless narrator, suffering from post-natal depression, is confined to bed rest under the care of her doctor husband and begins to lose her mind.  Confined to an old nursery with ghastly wallpaper, she sees strangled heads and unblinking “bulbous eyes” in its pattern. Eventually, a skulking female figure appears, seemingly trapped behind the bars of its design. Is it the narrator’s own hidden self? When her husband enters to find her tearing down the wallpaper, she tells him “I’ve got out at last. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper so you can’t put me back!”

Do women authors use ghost stories to exorcise their resentments over societal restrictions? After all, it can be said that the ghost is the ultimate outsider – an absent presence, all-seeing and yet unable to partake of life in any meaningful way. Do we have insight differently from male writers? Can what a woman writes be more downright frightening than what a man writes? Is the way we pen the words on paper or type onscreen haunt the person as they read? Maybe we even make the monster sympathetic. Still horrifying, but a monster the reader just care about. Or not.

With February coming around and Women in Horror a theme for the month, this may be the time for readers to discover female horror authors. There are those I am sure readers already know about; Anne Rice, Sarah Pinborough, Laurell K. Hamilton and Caitlin R. Kiernan.  Others are Tanith Lee, Elizabeth Massie, Lisa Morton, Yvonne Navarro, Carrie Ryan, Cherie Priest, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and much, much more. A friend of mine, Kari Kilgore, published this great vampire dark fantasy novel, Until Death. It made the Dram Stokers nominations for first novel.  A good place to check for women horror writers is at Horror Writers Association. Try someone new today. 

So instead of picking up that Stephen King or other male horror authors, try several feminine writers instead. We just might bring "SCARE" to a whole new level.