Gail Z. Martin: Plotting out the Plot


Outlines are great, but I have discovered a new power tool when it comes to plotting—flow charts.

Publishers like to see a synopsis and a detailed outline. These help a lot, but I’ve found that when I really get into the nitty-gritty of writing, they often are too high-level to point me in the right direction. In a 600+ page epic fantasy with multiple point-of-view (POV) characters and interweaving plot threads, it can get difficult to keep straight who is doing what to whom.

Enter the flow chart.

Mine are pretty simple. I use either several pieces of legal-size table paper taped together or a white board. I start with chapter numbers across the top, and the names of the POV characters down the left side. Then I note who is doing what in each chapter. Usually, one character owns the [...]

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So Good to Be Bad: The Study of a Bond Villain


I remember being on a panel about Character Construction and hearing the con’s distinguished Guest of Honor say something along the lines of “You want to make your villains complex and multi-layered otherwise they resemble something out of a James Bond movie

My own reply to this was “You say this as if it were a bad thing.”

Let’s face facts — no villain is more fun to watch in action than a classic James Bond Villain. I’ve heard authors mock the megalomaniacs of Bond’s world, dismissing them as forgettable, cookie-cutter caricatures. I find this argument irrevocably flawed as we all recall with delight that legendary exchange between Auric Goldfinger and James Bond as an industrial laser is slowly inching its way up to Bond’s body:

Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

The crafting behind a Bond Villain begins with a [...]

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Greetings from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: A Formal Introduction from a Steampunk World


peculiaradjectivestrange or odd; unusual : his accent was a peculiar mixture of Cockney and Irish.• [ predic. ] informal slightly and indefinably unwell; faint or dizzy : I felt a little peculiar for a while, but I’m absolutely fine now.

occurrencenounan incident or event : vandalism used to be a rare occurrence.• the fact or frequency of something happening : the occurrence of cancer increases with age.• the fact of something existing or being found in a place or under a particular set of conditions : the occurrence of natural gas fields.

Greetings, Friendly Reader of Ætherblogs far-and-wide. My card…

Oh, dashitall, that really doesn’t work here, does it?

Greetings, Friendly Reader of Ætherblogs far-and-wide. My name is Wellington Thornhill Books, and I am the Chief Archivist and — much to my dismay — Active Field Agent serving at Her Majesty’s behest from within the [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part III


5: Research

I flat-out love research, as I find it inevitably sparks new ideas for a story or novel. If you’re writing in the ‘Here & Now,’ it’s not quite as necessary, but unless you do exactly what every last one of your characters do, and you have the same background, education, and interests as all of your characters, you’re still going to need to go out and seek information. In my classes, I give my students this scenario: Your character is a upper-class woman living in New York in 1855. Your story starts with her waking up in the morning. How happens next? What’s she wearing? And from there, I give them a (brief) outline of how such a woman from that era would generally be dressing — which usually leaves them a little stunned.

As writers of speculative fiction, we generally have a lot of research to do. [...]

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Philippa Ballantine: Dawn’s Early Light


The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, is the steampunk series I write with my husband, Tee Morris. (In case you are wondering Steampunk is a form of science fiction set usually in Victorian England. Here’s a bit of a deeper explanation from our website. )

The story was first conceived as a podcast audio drama we were going to charge for. It was a spin-off concept from a novel idea that Tee had and we had briefly discussed. My idea was to co-write with Tee, who was just a friend at that stage, so that I didn’t have to do all the work, just in case the podcast for pay scenario didn’t work out. We never really expected it to go anywhere, but we had only written three chapters before our agent rang and said someone was interested in it as a novel.


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Amy Sterling Casil: About Like Fire


Like Fire is not yet published and I am offering a beta read version to the Magical Words community, in love and trust. I’ve done a number of collaborative projects over the years, and these were always the best, most rewarding things I’ve done. I will be publishing this book later this year – with all the improvements and changes suggested by beta readers taken into full consideration, with full acknowledgement. So it is your care, love and consideration as those who love fantasy literature, to help make this the best venture possible.

Here’s the story of the book. The basic concept is, what if a leader at a critical juncture – overseeing the survival of all, with capacity to stop killing and violence, or to continue it – was a woman, not a man? What if King Arthur had been a woman? Abraham Lincoln?


Well, the [...]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part II


In the first installment, I covered the first two strategies: 1) the Physical Details, and 2) Show vs. Tell. We’ll pick up from there…

Strategy 3: Dialogue

I think, for me, that this may be the Big One — the strategy with the most impact on characterization for both good or ill. If you fail at getting the dialogue right, the character will also fail, but if you get it right… well, then the character will stir and come to vivid life on the page.

With dialogue, we add an entirely new sense to the character, because as soon as you enclose words inside those quotation marks, the readers begins to not only see the character, but to hear her or him. We give the character a voice — and each character should have her or his unique voice. Everyone who grew up before the time of your phone telling [...]

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