Writing in Shared Worlds: An Introduction to Hellmaw

Friday, November 27th, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

Hellmaw logo-smallEd Greenwood, of Forgotten Realms fame, just announced a slew of new worlds he’s created, all under the banner of Onder Librum. These are all shared world initiatives, meaning that creatives can come and create their own stories in the setting.  These worlds offer a variety of settings for readers, including sword and sorcery, space opera, hard SF, gothic romances… something for everyone.

It’s freaking cool, and at a scale that I’m not sure has ever been done before.  As soon as Ed told me about these new worlds, I jumped in enthusiastically and without looking (still falling off that cliff, and still haven’t hit a cactus). I signed up with a tight deadline for book set in Hellmaw, a dark urban fantasy shared world.  With daemons. It’s pretty fun (the second book in the series, Dragon Dreams by Chris Jackson, just came out).

I was a bit concerned about writing in a shared world. Questions bounced around my head like pop rocks in my mouth. Will I feel stifled? Will I understand the lore well enough? Will there be enough coffee????

So, with these concerns in mind, here’s what writing in a shared world helped me learn about my writing.

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Transitioning from Short Story to Novel

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 | Posted by Michael Livingston

"The Hand that Binds" art by Matt Hughes

“The Hand that Binds” art by Matt Hughes

There’s a lot of writing advice in the world. A person trying to read it all, in fact, would likely never be able to get anything written: I suspect more is written about writing in a given day than any one person could feasibly read in that same timespan.

That doesn’t mean that writing advice isn’t useful, of course, because it can be absolutely essential to a writer’s development. In my case, for instance, one of the key bits of advice I ever received as a young novelist-to-be was to try to cut my teeth on writing short stories. Doing so, it turned out, allowed me to hone my craft in smaller, more manageable chunks. It also led me to my first fiction sale: to Black Gate, which published my story “The Hand That Binds.”

Publishing short stories was an amazing experience. In composing and selling short fiction I learned far more than I could have ever imagined, and each of those “little” victories of publication were a shot in the arm of the best drug available to a writer: the confidence to know you can do it. So for me (though admittedly not for everyone), starting with short stories was vital to the development of my career.

What I want to talk about today, though, is that next move: transitioning from short stories to novels. Because although I loved (and still love) writing short fiction, I knew I wanted more. I wanted to be a novelist. What follows are the five principles and one rule that helped me make that leap.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: The Younger Sibling of 1st & Tight Limited 3rd: Simple Limited 3rd & The Case for Choosing A Single-Character POV

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Victorian POV

This is Part 5 in the Choosing Your Narrative POV Series.

We’re continuing our examination of eight POV approaches commonly used in Fantasy. (You can find links to the previous installments in this series at the end of this article.) This week we’re looking at another variation of 3rd Person that is more closely related to 1st Person than to the Omniscient 3rds. And, I’ll explain why I think a single POV is most often the best choice for a traditional fantasy narrative.

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World Fantasy 2015: It’s the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of Convention Reports

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Saratoga Hilton

The Saratoga Hilton, site of the 2015 World Fantasy Convention

Ask a literary agent how writers should pursue representation, and they almost always say, “Go to any convention, and we’ll all be in the hotel bar.”

In years past, I’ve tried agent/author speed dating at the Nebulas weekend, pitch sessions with agents at writing conferences, commenting on agents’ manuscript-wish-list blog posts — all the in-person variations but the bar, because the bar is not my natural habitat. Then again, in years past, I didn’t have an award in my pocket. Lots of people may be ambivalent about awards, but agents like them. This year I figured I might be out of my element, but I would no longer have that aura of desperation that surrounds unpublished novelists with no specific prospects. I finally had something an agent might want.

So I set my sights on the World Fantasy Convention, a con known for a base of attendees consisting almost entirely of professionals in the field. I love a good panel, I love a good reading, I love a good casual schmooze, but I had a mission. One that was certain to throw me into a wide variety of interactions that would range from the awkward to the absurd, with perhaps a little sweet spot of productivity in the middle.

When John O’Neill asked me to write a con report, I told him I had none of the kinds of impressions people record in them. What I had instead was my misadventures in agent hunting. John was laughing already, and urged me to post it.

If you want to know about the World Fantasy Awards and their banquet, memorable quotes from notable figures, the controversy over the toothless harassment policy, I’m not your girl. Not this time, anyway.

But you can time-travel back to the start of my most recent unfinished agent hunt and watch me indulge my hubris.

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The Series Series: Why Do We Do This To Ourselves? I Can Explain!

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Wheel of Time-small

What’s up with the Big Fat Fantasy books? Books that crest a thousand pages, books that fell forests, books that travel in savage packs of series. We wait three years, five years, ten years for the next volume. Meanwhile, the scope of what the author must remind readers about between installments expands  (a storytelling problem anatomized over here by Edward Carmien). We click over to the fan-run online encyclopedia to remind ourselves who the characters are, both because it’s been so long since the last volume, and because the cast size is just that large.

Yet many of us love such books. In my case — and maybe yours, too — not just a few odd specimens of the type, but the type itself.

Thomas Parker laid out all the objections that can be leveled against the sprawl of our genre’s most popular novels, not as an outsider but precisely as an insider shocked at what has become normal to him. (Embrace the tongue-in-cheek hyperbole and just go with it — the main point’s still sincere.)

Someone please tell me. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves, we devotees of science fiction, horror, and (especially) fantasy? What did we do to deserve this? What crime did we commit in some previous existence that we now have to expiate with such bitter tears? Judge, I deserve to know! I demand answers!

If readers are asking themselves that question in that way, even in jest, you can bet the authors are, too, often with a greater level of frustration.

I have to marshal all my hubris to say this in public, but guys, I think I might have the answer. Seriously, not just an answer, but maybe the central answer.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tip From Theodora Goss

Sunday, November 15th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Theodora Goss-smallThis week’s Pro-Tip comes from Theodora Goss, a popular and multi-award nominated writer of fairy tales and poetry who teaches writing at Boston University and the Stonecoast MFA program. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her short story “Singing of Mount Abora” won the World Fantasy Award.

Do You Write for More Than One Medium or in More Than One Genre? Why?

Let’s see, what have I written? A novel, which is coming out from Saga Press in 2017, with a sequel in 2018. Novellas, short stories, poems, essays. Some of my poems have been set to music, although they weren’t intended as song lyrics. I’ve written a poem to accompany a work of art in an exhibit. I’ve even written academic articles. There are certainly things I haven’t tried, but I’d like to . . .

Why do I write in different genres? Part of the reason is that for me, writing is half craft and half art. Writing in different genres lets me work on my craft: writing a poem, for example, will force me to pay attention to rhythms and the sounds of language, while writing a novel is an exercise in plotting, in constructing a more thoroughly realized world than I can create in a short story. Every genre requires something different from me, and writing in them all allows me to remain flexible, to practice my craft in a variety of ways.

The other part of the reason is that I love doing different things, just like a dancer who is trained in ballet but does modern and jazz, for the fun of it, to see what they will require from her, to rise to new challenges. I love new challenges! I haven’t yet written a script or a screenplay, but who knows… maybe someday!

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Living in a Moroccan Medina

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The Jemaa al-Casbah, the mosque in the Casbah, just uphill from my house, that broadcasts predawn sermons over a loudspeaker.

The Casbah mosque, just uphill from my house, broadcasts predawn sermons over a loudspeaker.

Hello again, Black Gate readers! You may have noticed that I dropped off the blog, and indeed the rest of the Internet, for all of October. You did notice, didn’t you? You didn’t? Well, I was gone. I spent the entire month on a writing retreat in Tangier, Morocco. I’ve written about visiting Tangier before on this blog, but this time I decided to dedicate a longer time in the city to some writing. My current project, The Last Hotel Room, is a novel set in contemporary Tangier, and I thought it a perfect opportunity to try out my own version of a writing retreat.

Through local contacts I was able to rent a house in the medina, the old historic quarter. My house was a traditional building of northern Morocco — two stories and a rooftop terrace surrounding an airshaft topped with glass. Sunlight and ventilation came courtesy of the airshaft, the only other windows being small ones in the downstairs kitchen and upstairs kitchenette. The interior was cleverly designed so that each room felt open to the sunlight from the airshaft while remaining out of view of the other rooms, providing openness and privacy at the same time.

This sort of architecture has an unusual acoustic effect. Noises next door and on the street just outside sound like they’re coming from inside the house. Your neighbor’s door opening sounds like your door opening. It’s a bit weird at first, but it never makes you nervous because your house is a fort. Doors are made of metal and secured with heavy bolts. The airshaft has a cage-like barrier to keep people from dropping in unannounced. My two windows were both well above street level and protected with iron bars.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: 1st Person and Tight Limited 3rd – A Closely Related Duo

Sunday, November 8th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

water drop POV

This is Part 4 in the Choosing Your Narrative POV Series.

We’re continuing our examination of eight POV approaches commonly used in Fantasy. This week you’ll find our second and third POV forms – First Person and Tight Limited 3rd – are so similar they’re virtually identical twins. Think of the I vs. He or She pronouns as names: the equivalent to dubbing twins Mary and Carrie.

  1. 1st Person

This uses the I/Me/My pronouns. This can be a very powerful and intimate point of view.

But it can come across as self-indulgent and can slow the pacing of the story. It is more difficult than it first looks to do it successfully, though it’s not nearly as difficult as 2nd Person.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tip From Martin Mundt

Sunday, November 1st, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Martin Max-smallThis week’s Pro-Tip comes from Martin Mundt, who has a cult following among attendees of live readings series in Chicago, and fans of dark, twisted, humorous horror. His third short story collection, Synchronized Sleepwalking, has just come out.

To Outline or Not to Outline — What Works for You?

I don’t know if I approach the concept of outlining a story in the same way as anyone else. I start with an idea, and then I begin brainstorming about it, coming up with scenes, characters, dialogue and descriptions that seem appropriate. These can be anywhere from one sentence to one page long. Somewhere along the line of writing down these bits and pieces of the story – whether they’re bits and pieces I end up using or not – I end up figuring out the story and the characters. I normally end up with between 4 and 20 pages of notes, and I usually get the opening and closing scenes near the beginning of the process. The bulk, but not all, of the scenes, in the middle of the story, come later. Then I arrange the scenes in order, and fit them all together from beginning to end.

So, it’s not an outline actually, but it’s the way I’ve always written stories, and probably one of the reasons my stories sound a little off. For good or bad, I can’t say.

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Quick and Dirty Outlining for NaNoWriMo

Friday, October 30th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page


In a retro SF setting, Derick and Tina are freelance archaeologists. He’s a veteran soldier but she’s a poor little rich girl who thinks it’s all an adventure…

(I was going to blog about stuff related to Swords Versus Tanks (so about swords and tanks, mostly) but I’m busy editing Episode 3 (“Pyramid of Blood”) and NaNoWriMo is here…)

The writing process is always a cycle of trial and error, call it “create and tinker.” Humans are better at problem solving than inventing in a vacuum. No surprise, then, that the real story building usually happens in the tinker phase. Unfortunately, most new thoughts apply to characters and plot, e.g. we look at the scene we just wrote and realize it would be better with ninjas, and if the main character lacked her right foot. Sure we can write the rest of the book as if that were now true, but as the changes accrue, most of our first draft becomes condemned, which seems… inefficient. This is why I like outlining.

Now I think the optimum outlining system helps you engage with different levels of your story, hence my book Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic. Alas, since NaNoWriMo is now on us, you’re probably feeling too twitchy to read it or anything like it!

So, here instead is a hacked-down approach that should still help…

First, Review Your Objectives

Your aim is to produce a 50,000 word novel in a month. Allowing an average of 5K words a chapter, that means a mere 10 chapters. Each chapter comprises 1 big scene or 2 regular scenes.

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