I recently had a discussion about story ideas with another author. It spurred me to share the inspiration for my work in progress, The Venerable Dawn: Ascension.
In August 2019, I took a writing class after being eliminated from a Corporate America job for the third time in my career. The first homework assignment asked us to browse throughDiscover Magazine and find an article that captured our imaginations. The piece I found was “They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code and Found a Secret Society Inside.” Two parts grabbed my curiosity.
First, this article told how a linguistic specialist used algorithms to crack the Copiale Cipher. But it wasn’t the use of computer technology that interested me. Instead, it was who created the code, the Oculists, a group of ophthalmologists loosely tied to the Freemasons. Throughout history, freethinkers like these doctors formed secret societies to escape the suppression and persecution of the Church, who deemed such groups as heretical.
I’ve always been fascinated by such well-known groups as the Freemasons, Illuminati, and Rosicrucians. Many people are familiar with the Freemasons from the National Treasure movies and the Illuminati from Angels & Demons. Another clandestine group, Priory of Sion, is featured in The De Vinci Code. Nowadays, there are many collegiate not-so-secret societies. The Ivy League groups such as Yale’s Skull and Bones and the Quill and Dagger at Cornell are some of the most notable. Look them up; they are interesting and fun to see who former members are.
The cracking-the-code part of the article caught my attention because of my interest in armchair treasure hunting. It began in a roundabout way, starting when I discovered that Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass included moves for a chess game in the narrative.
Like most everything with me, this fascination dovetailed into the discovery of two incredible books, Masquerade and The Secret.
Masquerade is a picture book by Kit Williams, published in 1979. It includes clues to the location of a golden hare hidden somewhere in Britain. The answer to the elaborate puzzle is hidden in fifteen illustrations. The whereabouts of the gilded woodland creature remained unknown until 2009.
The Secret is a treasure hunt created by Byron Preiss. The clues were included in the book published in 1982. The quest involves searching for twelve boxes buried at secret locations across the US and Canada. The author would reward the finder with a precious gem in exchange for the chests. Only three of them have been found as of October 2019. Some speculate that the remaining boxes may never be found.
In many ways, geocaching and Pokémon Go are today’s treasure hunts. Fun stuff for kids and adults alike. I mean, what’s not to love about going on a quest to find a cache and reviewing the log for those who came before them? Or capturing virtual creatures in real-world locations?
I’m so pumped simply writing this post. It tells me that I followed the right path of inspiration for my story. Now tell me about your inspiration. Or let me know what you think about secret or not-so-secret societies and treasure hunting.
I’ve spent the last few days organizing my created world file for The Venerable Dawn: Ascension (working title). This file includes everything from the initial dump of my worldbuilding thoughts to the most recent reiteration of its elements. During the first draft, I layered in bits and pieces of worldbuilding throughout the narrative, and like the story, my world evolved. As I worked on the second draft, I experienced a moment where I felt a few of the pieces weren’t cohesive. The logic didn’t flow in my mind, and I decided I needed to spend some time on my World History 101 textbook.
Speculative fiction is set in a created world. Depending on the genre, these universes can be quite elaborate. Those in science fiction and high fantasy, the most intricate. As a contemporary fantasy, my created world parallels our own universe with a slight deviation. Humans with a genetic variation, a magick gene.
Like their terrestrial peers, college-aged trubreds are required to take two courses of World History as part of their indoctrination. And like other gen ed course requirements, the material becomes vague over the years. Many of us can relate to the mandatory US Government classes in high school and college. We remember the basics, but many of the finer details are lost.
Hence, my late thirty-something main characters are continuously reminded to do their homework to refresh their memories by their mentor. Their destinies depend on it. Not one to follow anyone or anything, my protagonist realizes it’s in her best interest to use the history textbook to help her understand and accept her unwelcome fate. If she has no choice in the matter, she’s determined to be prepared as much as possible. Even if it’s nothing but a bunch of hocus-pocus to her.
Someday, I’ll publish my World History 101 textbook as a companion to the series. The current word count is about 17,000 or 40 pages, with more organizing and editing to be completed. For now, I’ve organized the pieces that caused me to pause, and to my delight, they are cohesive. I just needed a refresher. Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, chapter four.
Research for my most recent submission to my critique group included the Sphinx and the art of seduction. Let’s talk about the Sphinx first and save salacious discussion for later.
THE SPHINX First, the correct spelling of the monolith standing guard over the Great Pyramids of Giza is S-P-H-I-N-X. Someone who shall not be named kept spelling it “sphynx” which is not the same as the Sphinx. A sphynx is a hairless cat. The Sphinx in Egypt is a mythical creature with the head of a human and a lion’s body.
The internet is full of information about the Sphinx, but I was more interested the monument’s little-known facts. Some of its secrets and mysteries. The first is the underground tunnels and chambers. They can be accessed at five points: a hole in the top of the head, another in its back, one at ground level at the end of the monument, a crud doorway on its north side, and a hole between its paws behind the dream stela. Fringe speculation suggests another access point under the Sphinx’s ear, but it has been debunked. It’s actually a fitting used to affix a beard, the remnants of which were found near the paws. Sadly, the underground world of the Sphinx has been excavated more than once and doesn’t hold any more secrets or mysteries. And unlike the Great Pyramids, visitors cannot venture into these tunnels and chambers.
What’s the dream stela, you ask? It is a rectangular stele (an upright slab similar to a gravestone). According to archeologists, the Sphinx’s stela is about a dream Thutmose IV had as he rested in the shade of the monument. At the time, the Sphinx was covered in sand up to its shoulder, and it promised to make Thutmose ruler of Egypt if he clears the sand away. Thutmose did, and he became king.
The most interesting facts are the Sphinx’s riddles. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx guarded the entrance to the city of Thebes. She would ask travelers a riddle to allow them passage into the city. Anyone who could not answer it was devoured by her. The first riddle: which is the creature that has one voice but has four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet at night? The answer: Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then uses a cane in old age. Oedipus solved this riddle, and according to the myth, the Sphinx killed herself. There’s a second riddle: There are two sisters; one gives birth to the other, who in turn gives birth to the first. Who are they? The answer is “day and night.” Technically, the riddles aren’t connected to the Egyptian Sphinx, but they are still really cool.
Now for the fun stuff…
THE ART OF SEDUCTION Bad boy antagonist, Damion is a master of seduction, a purveyor of sensuality. I, on the other hand, am not so proficient at the art. I needed a little help to make his actions and dialogue fit his persona and stumbled upon Robert Greene’s book, The Art of Seduction. Who knew there were nine types of seducers? Not me, so a little bit about each of them for future reference:
The Siren plays on the notion that men are always searching for new experiences and adventures. Her calm, unhurried demeanor combined with a dazzling appearance instantly captures man’s attention. There’s a danger about her. She makes him pursue her, always a bit out of his reach. You know, men like the chase.
The Rake is a man who incessantly pursues a woman by showing her ardent devotion. He seems to be madly in love with her and uses words and language to show his devotion. Like the Siren, there’s a sense of mystery about him. He uses his reputation as a lady’s man and recklessly in love to his advantage. Every woman wants him, but she’s the only one who has him.
The Ideal Lover is a fantasy lover who makes himself irresistible to a woman by giving her what seems to be missing in her life. Think Casanova, who presented himself as the epitome of what a woman desires. Or Madame de Pompadour, who become the adventure that King Louis XV needed in his life. Your homework is to google both of these characters to enrich yourself.
The Dandy offers the kind of forbidden freedom that most people can only dream of but never achieve. A non-traditionalist, a dandy often relies on insolence to attract the opposite sex. But a male dandy is not aggressive. He’s sophisticated and graceful. A metrosexual man. A woman dandy has masculine qualities in her appearance and attire. Examples include Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, and Lou von Salome. as prototypical examples of male and female dandies. All of them seduced a large number of people using their ability to break conventions and represent an almost forbidden freedom. More homework for you.
The Natural has an irresistible innocence about him. He’s impish, vulnerable and defenseless, open and spontaneous, traits that make the object of her desire lower his guard. His persona, a refreshing experience in contrast to the daily seriousness of adult life. Greene’s example of this type is Charlie Chaplin. Who do you think is a more contemporary Natural?
The Coquette plays with emotions. By alternating between unexplained warmth and coldness, he creates tension with anticipation. A sense of insecurity, not knowing what is coming next. A bit narcissistic by making his target relentlessly pursue him until she reaches the point of no return. Then he pulls her back in with a show of warmth and attention.
The Charismatic is self-sufficient and driven. He uses his powerful personality and his way with words to sway emotions. His target looks to him to save her. He seduces her by creating contradictions like cruelty and kindness, power and vulnerability, etc. I admit I fall for charisma because I’m a romantic at heart.
The Star is a fascinating creature with a larger-than-life persona. He appeals to his target’s attraction to the strange and mythical while playing up his human qualities at the same time. Jack Kennedy is a classic example of this type of seducer.
Now you have your homework assignment. Let’s have some fun and post your answers (thoughts and questions, too) in the Comments.
I recently finished my latest submission for my critique group. My usual routine is to take the week off while waiting for my critiques to come in. The time away from writing lets my story simmer for a bit and refreshes my mind in preparation for the next round of 8,000+ words. Something fun I like to do during this time off is look back at what I researched for my latest submission.
My obsession with research comes from two sources: my career as a tax professional and a science fiction literature class. First, substantiation plays a huge role in the field of tax and accounting. An auditor is not going to buy your explanation without proof substantiating your claim. The key to indisputable proof is thorough research of the law as it applies to your facts and circumstances.
Also, a college literature course ingrained the concept of plausibility in my mind. Readers must be able to suspend their disbelief in the created worlds of speculative fiction. Plausibility is achieved on several levels, but research is essential for factual believability. In my created world, a human subspecies is threatened by extinction. In order to be credible, I spent the good half of a day researching extinction.
Hence, research accounts for a lot of my time at the computer. Sometimes, I spend more time researching a topic than writing about it. While I’m a firm believer in doing my homework, I stress about the time it takes away from adding word count to my manuscript. An inner struggle inherently ensues to rationalize that this time is well spent. When I find myself in this place, I remember what I learned from a virtual class with best-selling author, David Baldacci.
An entire lesson of Baldacci’s lecture series was dedicated to research. During one part, he talked about his collection of binders full of notes. As an example, he referenced a 3-inch notebook with his research about nuclear weapons. He used these notes for only two paragraphs in one of his books. Vindication; my research time is a good investment. Oh, and I have a lovely collection of binders, too.
For my last submission, my research topics included: ~ Burns as in first, second, and third-degree burns. ~ Swordsmanship for one never knows when a character might need to lob the head off of a menacing creature. ~ Smaug, the dragon from The Hobbit ~ Body language of horses ~ Ancient woodlands ~ Barn floorplans
Always a fun exercise, but heaven help me if my computer is ever search by authorities of any kind.
Recently, I’ve been looking for guidance about writing short stories. Why? Because short stories are recommended for new fiction writers, and I’m new to fiction writing. They help us hone our skills before delving into the complex work of writing a novel. Practice makes perfect. Mistakes can be made without wasting a lot of time because writing is an investment of time. Staying true to my nature, I ignored this advice and dove head-first into a novel. I might be setting myself up for failure, but I feel have nothing to lose at this point.
So if I’m not creating short stories to practice the craft, why am I interested in learning about writing them? Simply said, to make money. According to some sources, making money selling short stories might be as improbable as a new writer tackling a novel. The trade-off is the loss of time spent on my book. But at least, I’ll be practicing my craft using the recommended approach. A win-win from my point of view. And if I’m lucky, I’ll make a few bucks, too.
During my quest to educate myself, I happened upon a book about the subject. The Write Practice Presents:Let’s Write a Short Story! by Joe Bunting. It contains a lot of great content about writing short stories and selling them, too. While I highly recommend this resource, this post is not a book review. It is about something I learned about my own writing during this exploration.
My ah-ha moment occurred while reading a segment about the literary techniques used for award-winning stories. Namely, Pulitzer and Nobel award-winning pieces. Now I am not a literary writer by any stretch of the imagination. My genre of choice is speculative fiction, urban/contemporary fantasies in particular. The style of this genre tends to be edgy; some have a noir feel to them. But my style is more characteristic of literary writing.
Let’s start with a list of the techniques cited:
1. Using long sentences 2. Using short sentences 3. Lyrical prose 4. Making an allusion 5. Using an eponym for character names 6. Be specific 7. A story within a story 8. A wide scope
Using Long Sentences Whether it’s technical or fiction writing, I tend to write long compound sentences. Here’s an example of my writing:
Holding her Celtic cross necklace in the palm of my hand, I whispered a few verses of her favorite song, “Vincent,” into it and told her to wear it tonight to keep my spirit near her heart.
My sentences aren’t too long. The above example is only thirty-seven words, which is about average for my long sentences. Eleven words less than Cormac McCarthy’s forty-eight-word sentence cited in the book. Neither of them even close to the Tim O’Brien’s seventy-seven word cited example.
Another difference is both book samples are full of conjunctions whereas I rarely use more than one in my long sentences. Also, they disregard the punctuation rules whereas I’m a stickler about it, even if it’s first draft. I know it’s a fault, but I unabashedly own it.
Using Short Sentences One of my favorite techniques is punctuating my long sentences with short sentences. It’s so satisfying.
Twilight cast brilliant shades of yellow and orange bleeding into red, purple, and deep blue upon the horizon as we cruised over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the gateway to our destination, Sullivan’s Island. Red brake lights flashed intermittently.
They are great at grabbing the readers’ attention after a series of compound sentences or long run-on sentences, full of conjunctions.
Lyrical Prose My style has a lyrical quality:
A warm summer breeze scented with the sweet fragrance of nearby lilac blossoms caressed my skin. My grandpa sat next to me. With each gentle rise and fall of the swing, his voice grew stronger and louder, drowning out the static noise ringing in my ears.
I hit the jackpot with this example of my writing. It includes a long, a medium and a short sentence. More importantly, it has quite a rhythmic flow to it. I used it as my illustration because several critique partners commented on its quality. In particular, they noted my descriptive language which I think is characteristic of fantasy writing. But not so much for urban fantasies like my story. Descriptions in this genre are more straightforward, not too fluffy or willowy.
Making an allusion This term was new to me; I had not heard of it before I read this book. It involves making a reference to another literary work by using an image, a character, or even a direct quote. Most readers won’t recognize when an allusion is made, but it’s exciting for those who “get it.” It adds depth to their reading experience and makes them feel like they connect with the author on a different level.
Technically, I don’t make allusions. Instead, I pepper a lot of symbolism throughout my story. For example, the theme of my story is new beginnings, and I refer to birch trees whenever possible as they are symbolic of new beginnings. A grove of trees is described as a grove of birch trees. A character throws a couple more birch logs onto the fire. Another character makes a cup of tea with Chaga mushroom, which grows on birch trees. Most readers will miss these subtle details, but they will be really cool for the reader who picks up on them.
Using an eponym for character names Eponym, another literary term I was unfamiliar with, but its definition is simple. It means naming a character after someone famous in some manner. Oddly enough, I was very deliberate when I bestowed my characters with their names. I wanted them to have significance and mean something to the reader. Some of the names I use are Lilith, Sam, Darcy, and Damion. They are a bit cliché, but again, I proudly own it. Other names include a nod to King Arthur and Magnum PI.
I suspect I’m not unlike my peers when it comes to character names. They are something most writers are thoughtful about. If you’re a writer and haven’t thought about the role of your characters’ names, you might to think about them. On a side note, rethink using names that are difficult to pronounce. While they add nuance to your story, they can distract your readers, too.
Be specific This technique means not speaking in generalizations, and I associate it with the artful use of descriptions. Based on examples in the book, literary writers describe blue birds as blue jays and red birds as cardinals. Or the wind whipped the willow’s branches rather than the tree branches.
If one thing is consistent in my young writing career, it is my descriptions. I’m a very descriptive writer, and critique partners either love them or hate them.
A story within a story I’m not sure if my story within a story is comparable to this literary technique. Simply put, it means one character tells a story to another character. An example used in the book was from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, where the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina is a play performed for a drunkard who’s made to think he is a nobleman. A little bit of a complicated illustration of the concept, but nonetheless, illustrative.
My story involves a legend about the demise of former rulers. Throughout the tale, details about the legend are revealed, which impact the plot. To me, this scenario seems like a story within a story. In fact, a lot about my Book 2 is included in Book 1.
A wide scope The scope of most literary novels is national or international, meaning they are set in times of war like Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Toll set during the Spanish Civil War. Or other notable time periods like TheGreat Gatsby’s portrayal of the Roaring 20s.
The setting of my story is contemporary, but the legend mentioned above is rooted in the early 19th century England. A time of transition between the Georgian and Victoria eras. The culture and practices of these eras are interwoven throughout my novel. Another technicality where my setting doesn’t quite fit the definition. Yet there is a presence of a historical time period.
Literary writing is about experimental styles and breaking the rules. I’m certainly not an Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, or Cormac McCarthy. But I think I’m breaking the rules of my chosen genre by using some of the same literary techniques used by them.
More importantly, I didn’t intentionally apply these techniques; they came naturally to me which continues surprise me. It proves we learn about ourselves as we seek knowledge. The take-way is never stop learning, make it hobby.
Learning the craft of writing includes lots of reading, and as an aspiring writer, I read several novels over the holidays. One of my favorites was Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews.
A husband-wife team co-authored Magic Bites using the pseudonym, Ilona Andrews. Published on March 27, 2007, it is the first book in the Kate Daniels series. There are twelve books from Kate’s point of view and a number of novels from the other characters’ point of view. I aspire to be as prolific as this writing team.
The urban fantasy takes place in Atlanta where magic and technology vie for superiority. Set in 2040, Kate’s sole-surviving family member, her guardian, Greg Feldman is murdered. During her investigation, she interacts with rival factions, each with their own agenda, and an ancient supernatural being.
Kate earns her living as a mercenary in a world of shapeshifters, necromancers, and vampires. In the simplest terms, she’s badass. Obstinate and sarcastic, she wields a magic sword, named Slayer, which she carries in a sheath on her back. When looking for the leader of the Pack faction, Curran Lennart, a lion shapeshifter, she calls out, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” The undercurrent of a developing romantic relationship between Kate and Curran flowing throughout the tale is palpable and enticing.
The created world is well developed. But I’m not sure the book would have been as enjoyable if not for the bonus material including FAQ, character bios, and descriptions of the factions. I love speculative fiction, but the worlds in even well-written books boggle my mind sometimes. In this case, reading the supplemental information beforehand kept me engaged through the entire 366 pages.
For me, Magic Bites was a great case study since I’m in the process of writing an urban fantasy from a first-person point of view. I’m looking forward to diving into the prequel soon.