Attitudes towards LGB characters in your fantasy land

Image free from PixabayFantasy is a genre full of tropes, many of which I love: castles, dragons and magic are just a few of my favourites. Some of the tropes, however, aren’t so pleasant. Many fantasy societies closely resemble the medieval English culture they are modeled after, including not just the castles but the strict class structure and the oppressive laws. Main characters tend to rebel against these structures(even when it makes no sense for them to do so) but they are almost always there.

But… Why? Why can’t our fantasy societies have different morals? They can still have castles, can still have kings and courts of nobles, without needing the entire moral code. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make sense for most of these societies to have such identical morals. Most fantasy societies are already so radically different from our own histories that it only makes sense for them to have completely different morals. There’s one huge difference:

Magic

Magic is found to some extent in pretty much every fantasy story, but few people really explore its full implications. The implications of healing magic are simultaneously the most profound and the most under explored. You see, advanced healing magic probably means a lot less infant and child mortality. Things like compulsory heterosexual marriages made a lot more sense when you’re dealing with a 30%(or higher) infant mortality rate. Survival of the species takes precedence. At that point sex is 95% about creating the next generation and 5% about pleasure if you’re lucky.

A world where magic has allowed your civilization to flourish much the way science has allowed ours to flourish–and to do so much earlier in their development–will likely have totally different attitudes about things like work, relationships and sexuality. If they’ve figured out how to heal your character’s mortal wounds with magic they’ve definitely figured out how to save children from common yet deadly illnesses and extend the human lifespan at least a little bit. This makes the need to have children less desperate, making sex more about pleasure the same way it happened in our world.

Maybe I’m just an optimist but I believe cultures become more progressive as their lives get easier. It’s why we’re seeing a huge swing back to conservatism in so many places right now: one country after another has been thrown into financial turmoil and we’re all so screwed we can barely help ourselves, let alone each other.

And hey, if your fantasy culture has different attitudes about sex it actually makes sense for your main character to have even more progressive views. What doesn’t make sense is how every woman living in a near copy of medieval Europe seems to be obsessed with the idea of marrying for love when they have literally lived their entire lives under the assumption that they will have an arranged marriage. These women have often also been taught love is a learned thing, something achieved through marriage rather than a reason to marry, so why the hell does every single one turn away from their entire upbringing?

You don’t even have to change the morals completely. With the histories of many fantasy worlds it doesn’t make sense for them to be totally accepting of everything. There will still be taboos. People who are different may simply be tolerated rather than actively accepted. No culture is perfect and I’m not saying yours should be either–that would probably take most of the fun out of it.

What I’m suggesting is that our fantasy worlds don’t have to match our own history so closely. The possibilities of our genre are literally endless. Yes, many fantasy tropes are wonderful, but we need to move beyond them and expand the genre into new territory. The world is changing and so should our stories, because the world changes faster when we change the stories we put into it.

Have you ever read a fantasy novel about a culture where they’re more open about sexuality? Have you written one yourself? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!

Tips from Nanowrimo veteran CaptainQuirk

raccoonHello, fellow WriMos.
I’m a five-time NaNoWriMo winner (plus one Camp NaNo). Here’s my advice for crossing that 50,000 word finish line.

1. Socialize
Writing can be lonely. The fun of NaNo is that you’re embarking on your quest in tandem with a bunch of other people who love writing just as much as you do. Go to events. Make friends. Share your tales of joy and woe. Having fun with other writers really does make it a lot easier when you sit down alone to write.

2. Set The Tone In Your Writing Environment
It can help you get into “writing mode” if you set up your writing space according to whatever makes you feel creative. For example, you can post sticky notes with inspirational quotes on the wall by your desk. You can also set the scene for your story by incorporating elements of that story world into your environment. For example, if you’re writing about dragons, change your computer wallpaper to a picture of a dragon.

It’s not just visuals, either. You can convince all your senses it’s time to write. I drink hot chocolate with cinnamon in it only when I’m writing, and in doing so, I’ve set up a response that “triggers” creativity. If you want to, wear a hat or a bandana or fingerless gloves that put you in the state of mind for writing. Not gonna lie – I’ve been working on a superhero novel, and I wear goggles on my head while I’m writing.

Sound is another important key. Not only will good background music block out distracting noise, it can help you get into your story world. Go to YouTube and look up background music that suits the setting or emotional tone of your story. Personally, I find instrumentals are better than music with lyrics. In addition to music, there’s also fireplace sounds, cricket sounds, www.rainymood.com, http://www.soundsleeping.com/index.php, and http://www.coffitivity.com.

3. Know Thyself, and Know Thine Writing Habits When Thou Art Distracted
Some people can go to writing events and actually write. Some people go there just to socialize. Know which kind you are and plan accordingly.

4. Participate In Word Wars
You know those mini-contests where people see how much they can write in 10 minutes? Do those. A lot. It’s amazing how fast words add up.

5. Don’t Worry About NaNo Tropes And Dares
You may be encouraged to include certain things in your novel. Long-standing NaNo tropes include: trebuchets, the Travelling Shovel of Death, Mr. Ian Woon, (and, if you’ve spent any time in Toronto NaNo’s chat room, you can count Deathbot in there as well).

There are also dares, which can be as vague as “your main character receives a mysterious letter” or as oddly specific as “an army of radioactive penguins rollerblades across New York City.”

In my personal experience, these are not too helpful. Hey, if they help you break out of a scene where you’re stuck, then great. However, if you already have a clear idea of what you want to write, or if that wacky stuff doesn’t fit your story world, don’t try to twist your story out of shape in order to incorporate dares. A story with too much “randomness” can get boring and alienating. Stay true to your vision, and only use dares if you’re stuck or if you’re writing short stories that can bend without breaking.

Note: this is just my personal opinion. If you like dares, that’s great too.

6. Introduce New People, Stuff, and Places
When someone or something new comes up in your novel, it needs description. That adds more words, and it’s fun to write. Also, imagining new stuff can inspire you about what should happen next. If nothing else, your characters reacting to the new person, place, or thing will give you yet more words.

7. Let Your Characters Argue
For one thing, this adds more words. For another, it’s a deeper exploration of each character’s personality and how they handle conflict, which can make for better characterization and a deeper understanding of their motivations.

8. When You Can’t Write, Daydream
Let’s say you’re stuck on the bus and you don’t have your writing stuff with you. Use that time to daydream about your story world. Put new scenes together and look forward to writing them. That way, when you have the opportunity to write again, you have a new mini-goal of getting to that special scene.

9. Have Your Whole Novel Be Something That You Need To Say
There is nothing more motivating than a chance to speak your mind. If there’s an issue that matters a lot to you, write your novel about it. I’m not saying it has to be boring and serious, if fantasy or comedy are more your “thing,” but incorporate that passion into your fictional world. No matter what time period, planet, or universe your story takes place in, the characters are going to act human. If there’s something you have to say about the way people interact, or how they see themselves, or how they see each other, you can put that in your novel. If nothing else, let that be your motivation to finish, so that someone can one day read it and hear your message.

It doesn’t have to be a sweeping global issue, mind you. Something as simple as kindness, respect, or refraining from judgement is something you can explore with your characters. It doesn’t have to be the “moral” of your story, but it can occur. It doesn’t have to be anchored to the everyday, either. In fact, setting this in a fantasy or science-fiction world can make it a lot more interesting. In any case, if you have a message to send to the world or a question you want to explore, your novel is a perfect way to do so.

10. Write Or Die
This thing is so very helpful. www.writeordie.com. You pick an amount of time, a goal for how many words you hope to write in that time, and you start writing. If you stop, it plays annoying music at you to force you to write again.

Tamara Hecht is a writer, illustrator, filmmaker, and story enthusiast.  Her favourite holiday is Halloween.  “Welcome toMonsterville is her first published book. Check out her website or purchase your copy today!

 

Keeping Factsheets

Last year I wrote about creating a factsheet about your story, but this year I’d like you to take it to the next level. I’d like you to create factsheets—pages of point form notes—documenting everything you know about the following things:

Your world— what time period is your world set in? What are the places your characters live in called? Is there magic or high technology? Perhaps there’s no technology. How do they document time? What religions are common? Anything you know about your world should be put on one piece of paper you can easily refer to as you write your novel.

Every character— every character that has a significant part to play in your story should have a fact sheet with every piece of information you know about them. This will help you when you’re trying to remember what colour eyes your main character’s second cousin has, and is especially useful if you have a large cast or a first person narrator.

Every place— if your characters do a lot of travelling, you’ll probably want separate factsheets for every town/city/country they visit. Creating one for every inn is excessive, but if you’re working with large noble households, you might want one for each of them.

The story itself— what must happen? What are you heart set on including in your novel? This should be something you can base a solid outline on, and will be a place where you can note how your novel changes during the month, because believe me, it will.

Once you’ve created these factsheets, put them in a file that you can keep at your workspace. Every time you work on planning your novel you should be updating one of these sheets, and you should keep updating them throughout the writing process. Keeping notes of everything you know and everything you learn about your world, characters and setting will make editing much easier. Not only does it help you prevent continuity errors in the draft itself, but it allows you to incorporate major changes into a full rewrite without reading the entire first draft.

This is something I’ve only been doing for the last two years, and if I’d started keeping factsheets sooner I probably would’ve skipped three drafts of Moonshadow’s Guardian. So take the time today to create your factsheets and make a place for them in your writing space.

Create a Legend

No matter what kind of novel you’re planning to write next month, and even if you haven’t gotten that hammered out yet, creating a legend can still be a useful exercise. We’ve all heard urban legends before so don’t let a modern setting sway you from this exercise. I’ve even had full fledged novels emerge from short two page legends, so take some time this weekend and make sure you create yours.

What do I mean when I say a legend/myth?

By this I mean a story that everyone in your main setting—whether that be a village, a town, a household or an entire country—knows and knows well, that may or may not be true. Usually these involve great heroes and have some sort of lesson in the way they’re told, but they could just be a fun story… or history that nobody believes anymore, the choice is yours. You can also choose your own word count goal for this exercise, but it should be at least a page.

Take your inspiration from the Encyclopedia Mythica and please leave the first sentence of your legend/myth in the comments below.

Dealing with School/Work Related Interruptions

School and work are both important, but focusing on one or the other to the exclusion of all else can be dangerous. We’re often told to put these things above all else, which can lead to self-neglect and even self-hatred. Capitalism tells us to focus on what makes us money and ignore that which nourishes the soul. Since these beliefs have been drilled into us since we were kids, they’re difficult to ignore.

Unfortunately work and/or school will probably always be factors in your life. The key is to make sure that they don’t interrupt your writing time more than absolutely necessary. So how do you keep school/work out of your writing time?

1. Don’t take on extra responsibilities. If you don’t have to stay at work late, don’t. If you don’t have to join that after school club, don’t. If it’s not going to help you advance in life, say no. Remember that the writing won’t happen if you’re always exhausted when you get home. Remember that in ten years you’ll be more upset about not having finished that novel than you will be about missing extra hours at work.

Sometimes you’ll want to take extra commitments, and that’s fine too—as long as you still carve out daily writing time, and refuse to take on extra assignments that you’re not passionate about. Think about how you’ll feel in ten years. Will you be sad that you missed that extra workshop? Will you be sad that you didn’t help create the yearbook? Or will you be sad that your novel is still only half finished?

2. Work smarter. Find ways to complete your tasks faster without sacrificing performance. There are always short cuts. Look for the ones that won’t damage your grades or your career and take them. Finish as much as possible while you’re at the office or in the classroom so you can focus on writing when you get home. Often you won’t be able to control how many hours you spend at work or in class, but by working hard during that time you can minimize the amount of work you take home.

Stay focused at work or in class and you’ll get everything done in record time—and you’ll be able to write guilt-free when you get home.

3. Say no to social engagements more often than you say yes. Why is this under the school/work category? Well, odds are that you have some friends at school or in the office. And that those people invite you to dinner or to the bar or to different events. Say no twice for every time you say yes. Say no if you know it will cut into your writing time. Be willing to leave early to write—nobody will look down on you for leaving early, and if they do, they’re not good friends anyway.

Saying no is hard. I struggle all the time with saying no to social commitments, but I’ve gotten better at it over the last couple of years and I’m getting better at it all the time. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then when you see how much progress you’ve made in that time you’d otherwise be spending at the bar, you’ll be happy you made the decision to say no.

On the other hand, maintaining friendships is important, so say yes once in a while. Real friends don’t mind if you’re busy, but they want to be valued too.

Conclusion

You’re probably going to be working or in school for a long time. Everyone has to accept that one of these things will take up five, eight or even twelve hours of their day, five days a week, for a large chunk of their lifetime. What we can do is make sure that we don’t let work and school eat our life to the exclusion of what really matters to us—writing, working towards our dreams and nourishing our souls.

How much does work/school detract from your writing life?

Don’t forget to take a look at the other posts in this series:

Disturbances in Your Writing
Eliminating Guilt
Dealing with Family Interruptions
Dealing with Technological Interruptions

Define Your Success

Defining success for yourselfSuccess means different things to different people. The media often portrays success as a house, a long-term partner, kids and money. Your family probably has their own definition of success, based on both the media’s definition success and their own feelings. Your friends probably each have their own definition of success too. Even the strange old hermit down the street has her own definition of success. Though success is only one word, it has as many definitions as there are people.

What is true for everyone, though, is that you will never be truly happy if you don’t strive to reach your own definition of success. Too many people go chasing after their parents’ ideas of success, and end up with diplomas and careers they care nothing for. They gain all the trappings associated with success–a well-paying job, a house, a family–but remain miserable because this definition of success isn’t what they really want.

As the year comes to a close, I will be figuring out the steps I need to take to get closer to my definition of success in 2013. The changing of the years is always a good time to think about how you’ve lived over the last year and to find ways to improve upon it next year. And so as I struggle to figure out what the most important things I can do to reach my definition of success, I’d like to help you create your own definition of success and a plan for getting there.

At first it might seem simple, but creating your own definition of success can be difficult. It requires total honesty with yourself, and requires you to abandon everything you’ve been taught about what success is. It requires you to look beyond what society expects you to say and figure out what’s really important to you.

Lucky for you, I have an exercise designed to help you do just that.

Define your own success: An Exercise

First, close your eyes and imagine that everything you know now is gone. The cars have all run out of fuel. The internet and most electricity is gone altogether. Governments are falling apart, one by one.

In this time when the luxuries of the modern era are gone, what is still important to you? Write down everything that comes to mind. These are the things that truly matter to you–the things that would still matter to you even if your circumstances were completely changed.

Now ask yourself what your definition of success is. Feel free to make it as long or as short as you want to. Include everything you can think of. You might want to do this as a free write and time yourself to make sure you aren’t thinking too hard about what you put on the paper.

Once you’ve got a definition written down, look at the list you created earlier. How does each item fit into your definition of success?

If any of the items on your list don’t fit into your definition, that means it isn’t really true to who you are. Now is the time to start editing your definition. Don’t stop until it includes all the things on the list of what is most important to you. A definition that’s missing anything you care deeply about won’t actually make you happy, even if you get there.

Once you’ve got your definition of success, please share it in the comments below. In this case, I’m not just asking this because I want to hear from you–I’m asking you to share your definition of success because sharing it will give the words power. Anyone brave enough to share their definition of success will also get the opportunity to work with me in order to refine it and to create a plan to move towards that success in 2013.

So what is your definition of success?

Under 24 Hours Left!

Today is the last day of November for most Nanoers, though some of our friends “down under” have already run out of time. For those of you lucky enough to have a few hours left of November, today is the last day to make a final push towards 50, 000 words or whatever your final goal for the month happens to be.

Of course, unless you’ve already made arrangements for it to do so, life probably won’t just stand still so you can finish your novel. I myself have a full day of school followed by an evening school trip to dinner and a movie premiere. This means that while I’ll probably be lugging around my laptop all day, I probably won’t get a chance to write until at least 9:30 tonight. Still, I am hoping to write a couple thousand more words before midnight hits.

So today, no matter what your word count is or what you have to do, I challenge you to write with me. In fact, I challenge you to find some time on this final day of November and write at least 1, 667 words. It might not get you to your goal, but at least you will be able to say you tried, that even on the last day you didn’t give up.

And tonight when the clock strikes twelve and November ends, give yourself a pat on the back no matter what your word count is. It is time to celebrate, because the only way to be a loser in Nanowrimo is to give up.

Tonight, I congratulate you, my fellow Nanowrimo novelist. You have survived Nanowrimo 2012 and hopefully come out of it with a novel–or at least most of a novel–and some new experiences and insights. Now, let’s hope the world doesn’t end before you manage to get the darn thing out into the world.

What’s Next?

Usually in the first week of December I write a post discussing what to do when you’ve finished your novel. In the interest of organization and planning ahead, this year I’ve decided to write the post before November ends.

So what should you do after you finish your novel? You can do just about anything, but I have two main suggestions which I hope you’ll take seriously. The first is that you should keep your momentum from November. The second is that whatever you do, you shouldn’t start editing your novel.

Now, before you get all righteous and tell me how your family needs some love and your novel is horrible and needs editing like some people need heart surgery, let me explain what I mean. I don’t mean for you to ignore your family completely for another month. What I mean is that now, when your family’s already used to you taking some writing time out of every day, you should explain to your family that you need to write and create a writing schedule. Of course you can spend less time writing than you did last month, but the important thing is that you write regularly. It’s easy to fall out of the habit of writing regularly and to let your family distract you, but if you maintain a regular writing schedule, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you finish projects–and at how much better you feel.

Now, about editing your novel. The reason I tell you to wait is because to properly assess any piece of writing–or art, or just about anything else–you first need some distance from the work. Since you’ve just spent a month living and breathing your novel, you really won’t have that distance on December first. Instead, put your draft aside for the month and work on something else, preferably something quite different from your novel.

So if you’re not working on editing this novel, what should you be doing this December? Well the first thing is to pick up any other writing projects where you left off. This December I plan to finish my edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian; while there are several other projects waiting for me to get to them, this one is most important to me. Once you’ve finished those projects–or if you’re someone who really needs to have multiple things going so you can switch when you get stuck on one–start the project on your list of possibilities that is most different from the novel you just finished writing. For example, once I finish editing Moonshadow’s Guardian, I will be putting all of my energy into producing a non-fiction ebook with information and exercises for writers. This will distract me from my fiction, ensuring that when I get back into it I’ll have the distance I need.

Long story short, this December you should make a point of working on something new or finishing an old project totally unrelated to your novel, and you should make sure to work on this project every day. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you keep even a small amount of that November momentum and work at it every day.

Week Three Pep Talk

Today’s guest is a long time Nanoer and a dear friend, known lovingly by the ToNano community as Tabs. Though she hasn’t actually lived in Toronto for the last many years, she is just as much a part of my Nano family as all the people who do. Please give her a warm welcome.

* * * *
It’s ironic that this year has been the hardest year for me with NaNoWriMo and yet here I am, writing a pep talk. But the thing with NaNo is that not every year is going to be your golden year. We’re rounding into the last week, which I always find is my toughest. I get frantic, I get upset, and as I look at my word count goal, I find myself feeling like I’m just not going to make it.

The last week is always tough. That’s why there are two things that you should focus on to get you through.

1) No matter what you finish at, even if it’s not the goal you set, you’ve likely been more productive on one novel in a single month than 90% of writers will be in a full year. That’s a lot to be proud of.

2) If you fall short of your NaNo word count goal, it’s not over. Sure, you’re not going to be pounding out 1667 words a day for the rest of the year, but the project doesn’t have to end on Nov. 30.

This is the point in the month where you need to look back at what you have accomplished and remind yourself of the great work you’ve done. To look at it and realize that you have done fantastic this far, and that, as much as reaching that 50k, 100k or whatever your goal is would be awesome, you’ve already done awesome. The last week isn’t the time to panic. It’s the time to focus your energy on finishing up the story as much as you can. It’s the time to breathe and cheer yourself on, because you have done something awesome. This is the week to make sure that, if you haven’t done so already, you have fun with it. Because really, when it comes down to it, that’s a major part of what NaNoWriMo is about — having fun.

So don’t give up, and certainly don’t give in. Keep on going, and focus on doing what you want to do with that story this week. It might just surprise you how much more you end up writing.

What to do When You Can’t Stand Your Novel Anymore

Whether it be due to your characters rebelling, your story shifting, your muse abandoning you or a dull ache in your wrists, at some point this month you will hate your novel. In fact, you’ve probably already had a moment like that. At some points during the drafting process–both inside and outside of Nanowrimo–you will be unable to look at your novel anymore. The key is to remember that these moments pass, prepare yourself to play catch up and then go off in search of something better to do than look at your novel, because staring at your novel at these times will probably give you the intense urge to delete the whole thing.

Today I’m going to suggest an activity to distract you entirely from the awful draft you’ve been working on all month, one that’s in keeping with my practice of productive procrastination, an activity that will keep you moving towards success as a writer while also distracting you from the less pleasant task at hand.

So what should you do when you can’t stand your novel anymore? Start planning future projects! Do you have any idea what your plans are for December? If not, now’s a good time to start making them. It’s also a great time to start setting your 2013 goals. By starting now you’re actually getting ahead, giving yourself more time to plan the next year than many people do. You’re also staying productive, even though you’re refusing to face your novel.

Of course, depending on whether or not you’ve already given this some thought, you might not want to start making to-do lists for next year right away. Instead, you might want to brainstorm future projects. One way to do this would be by creating a mindmap of potential project ideas. Another would be to create categories that sort ideas in terms of topic, genre or length.

When you’re choosing what projects you’re actually going to put on that list, first consider what you’re actually able to accomplish in a given period of time. Consider the obligations you already know you’ll have–school, work, childcare, that sort of thing–and how much time you’ll have after those. Then consider how much time each kind of project takes you. Once you’ve figured out an average time for each kind of project and you have an idea of the time you’ll have available, create a list of the projects you plan on completing in the time period you’ve chosen.

My advice when you’re creating a plan, whether it be for a month, a year or a day, is to plan for two thirds of the projects you want to complete. Humans are over confident and that over confidence leads to over commitment and a cycle of procrastination and guilt. Life is also impossible to predict or understand completely, so leaving some room for error is always a good idea–this way if a family catastrophe occurs or you come into a new project you never expected, you have some leeway.

In December I’ll be talking a lot more about creating your plans for the next year, but right now, if you can’t stand your novel, the best thing to do is get ahead by planning out your 2013 now. When December comes around you’ll be happy to find yourself already prepared with the beginnings of a plan–or a detailed plan, depending on how much you hate that novel right now.