Guest Post: Writing Uplifting Stories by Casey Blair

A few years ago, I decided to try writing a fantasy book as a web serial. It was a project I came to for a lot of reasons, but one of the keys was that I wanted to have a way to put a little joy out into the world on a regular basis with my writing.

That idea spawned a whole cozy fantasy trilogy, which is now complete! And I am Kickstarting funds to officially publish them as books.

That starting seed, that fundamental goal to bring joy with story, shaped the whole trilogy in ways I didn’t initially predict. After all, what does it even mean to write fiction that is “uplifting?” As with anything, people have different tastes for what brings them joy or makes them feel validated.

When it comes to uplifting fiction, I think of this along an axis of “escapism” to “realism.” To be clear, I don’t consider either of these a value judgment: tastes vary, and we all crave different kinds of stories at different times.

For some people, what they want is fantasy that takes them away from their problems. They want to read about other worlds that don’t have the same micro and macroaggressions—or even just the minutiae of daily life—that they have to deal with every day of their actual lives.

For others, those fantasies are unrelatable at best, or erasure at worst, pretending real-world problems don’t exist rather than giving us characters who grapple with them and triumph in some fashion, empowering us in our real worlds thereby.

Fantasy authors have the power to invent the entirety of what goes into our worlds, what’s explicit and implicit. Do we choose to carry over the sexism, racism, queerphobia, ableism, and all the rest from our world and tell a story where characters find happiness despite their oppression? Or do we imagine a world where those oppressions don’t exist, and in so doing invite the reader to imagine other ways of being worth striving for?

Both approaches can be radical. Both can be triumphant, validating, and uplifting stories—though not necessarily for the same audience, and that’s fine.

In Tea Princess Chronicles, I tried to find a balance between them. I wanted to write about people who care about other people, and lifting up everyone around them, and gutting oppressive systems who prevent that; people who do the work, without the feeling it can be too easy to drown in while doomscrolling on social media that caring is a necessarily joyless slog. I wanted to tell stories about people who find ways to make things better, in small ways and large, that don’t feel like wallowing in awfulness but instead inviting joy.

More like the feeling of drinking a warm cup of tea in front of the fireplace on a chilly day.

Whether I succeeded, whether any story succeeds, is a judgment for each individual reader. But I think living with joy, and spreading joy, can be fundamentally radical, and storytelling is one of the most powerful mediums for it. For me, that’s what “uplifting” fiction does, in whatever form it takes.

BIO: Casey Blair writes adventurous fantasy novels, including the cozy fantasy series Tea Princess Chronicles and the novella Consider the Dust. After graduating from Vassar College, her own adventures have included teaching English in rural Japan, attending the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop, and working as an indie bookseller. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest and can be found dancing spontaneously, exploring forests around the world, or trapped under a cat. Find out more at or follow her on Twitter @CaseyLBlair.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

Posted in guest post | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Less Than a Month to You Sexy Thing’s Arrival!

The fabulous cover illustration is by Mike Heath.

I’m counting down the days till YOU SEXY THING comes out. It’s not my first published novel, but it’s my first one with a major publisher, Tor Macmillan, and it’s a book that I have enjoyed writing SO much! I just turned in book 2, have started book 3, and have notes for more along the way.

“Farscape meets the Great British Bake-off” is how they’ve been billing the book. If you’ve missed the hoopla so far, it’s the story of a band of former mercenaries who’ve opened a restaurant on a space station and are doing well, so well a critic may be about to bestow a coveted Nikkelin Orb on the restaurant. But then a mysterious package arrives, things start exploding, and they have to steal a ship to escape. But that ship’s intelligent, and it’s not so sure it wants to be stolen.

Some of the reviews so far:

  • “A romp. If you’re the kind of person who likes Mass Effect, or enjoyed Valerie Valdes’s Chilling Effect and Prime Deceptions, or fell head-over-heels for Tim Pratt’s Axiom trilogy… then this book is definitely for you. This is a fast, zippy novel that hides some surprisingly substantial emotional heavy lifting under its hood…. Cozy-with-a-soupçon-of-suspense hoot-and-a-half.” ―Locus
  • “Rambo (Tabat Quartet) launches a delightful, action-filled space jaunt, packed with engaging alien species, a bioship that learns emotions, and witty references.” – Library Journal
  • “Fun, fantastic, and delicious―I loved it!”―Ann Leckie, author of Ancillary Justice
  • “Fun and action-packed…. This action-packed space opera is loads of fun.” ―BuzzFeed
  • “If you like Mass Effect, or enjoyed Valerie Valdes’ Chilling Effect and Prime Deceptions, or Tim Pratt’s Axiom trilogy, Cat Rambo’s space opera romp You Sexy Thing was made for you. Captain Niko Larsen and some of her surviving company got out of the military of the Holy Hive Mind the only way they were allowed: by becoming artists. Their artistic calling is their restaurant, but it’s only one step along Niko’s grand plan that’s been thirty years in the making — a grand plan that’s either interrupted or sped up when the station the restaurant is on blows up and the restaurant crew, plus an extra special guest, find themselves on a biological ship en route to pirate space. Fast, pulpy, explosive, and full of feeling, You Sexy Thing is an utter delight. I thoroughly recommend it.” -Liz Bourke

Cover of the space opera novel, You Sexy Thing, by Cat Rambo, published November 16, 2021

Preorder now!

Please preorder if that sounds interesting! Here’s some links for doing so.

Barnes and Noble

Or request it from your local library! Most library systems have a webform for requesting books that you want to see them acquire. Here’s the information you might need for that:
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 125026930X
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1250269300

I have some bookplates if you’d like to get a dedication and signature for your copy. Mail me a shot of the receipt, your mailing address, and how you’d like the dedication made out.

Posted in you sexy thing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Video: Using the Word Frequency Count Feature in Scrivener for Editing

Posted in video | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Storytelling Ourselves Out of Paralysis

Storytelling Ourselves Out of Paralysis

by Christina De La Rocha and Ariel Kroon

One of the best things about science fiction is that it lets us try futures on for size. Do you look good in dystopia, finding the hero within while you rise from the wreckage of civilization, raging through the thrills of a dangerous world? Or do you look better invading the spaces that technology is about to open up for us, stumbling into unintended consequences hilarious, heart-wrenching, and severe?  

The growing solarpunk movement thinks you’d look best in a near future of the sort we’d actually like to live in. The cheerful color scheme complements every complexion. The hope here is that by narrating ourselves into a future where things have turned out well, we can increasingly believe that such a future is possible. Then, armed with that vision of what we could accomplish, we might wake up and start working on it instead of keep sleepwalking into the perfect storm of man-made misfortunes bearing down upon us.  

Because we really are sleepwalking right now. To take it a metaphor further, we, the people of Earth, are the deer staring paralyzed into the headlights of global warming, decimated ecosystems, accelerating economic inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, failing states, refugees, wars, the pandemic, misinformation and propaganda, totalitarianism, hatred, and division. The here and now could easily turn out to be the prologue of a dystopia that only the most savage will enjoy and it’s hard to imagine there will be much in the way of heroes.  

In fact, we’re doing worse than sleepwalking. Those of us who have been shouting about greenhouse gas emissions and the state of the environment for decades are baffled that the collective response of humanity has been to drive its car faster toward the brick wall.  

But at the individual level, it’s almost understandable. We are worried but overwhelmed, thinking, how could I possibly do anything about every single issue we’re facing? How could any action take make any difference at all? So what if we’re on track for having to deal with catastrophic climate change and ecological collapse at the same time that the maximum number of human beings that will have ever simultaneously existed on Earth will all be needing to eat, live somewhere, and have a job. What can do about that (except move to Montana and start stockpiling guns, ammo, and freeze-dried food)?  

But, honestly, enough of that narrative, says solarpunk. What a horrible, self-fulfilling prophecy. Better to decide that we can do something about these problems. That we can create a positive future for ourselves, especially if we start solving problems together. After all, problem solving and cooperation are things our species excels at.  

Would it help get us moving if we started weaving ourselves into narratives in which we have acted to make the future a better place to be? Why don’t we try it? Let’s start creating visions of ourselves having dramatic episodes in fabulous yet feasible futures.  

That can mean setting stories‒full of human dreams, passions, conflicts, and conundrums‒in a world where we have changed the way we do everything, having gone green, clean, friendly, fair, just, inclusive, and supportive of as many people as possible. It can also mean telling tales set amongst the conflicts that will arise as we ditch fossil fuels for renewables (hopefully) in time to avert global warming disaster. Other stories might involve our attempts to engage safely in sun-shading or carbon sequestration to dial global warming down before we trip over climate tipping points of no return. In these stories, characters could romp through cities that we have revamped into working better for people or through lushly rewilding landscapes made possible by our overhaul of agriculture and our abandonment of overconsumption. Some tales could even be fables woven through with the warmth of cultures that have backed away from today’s every person for themselves attitude in favor of community, belonging, and collective problem solving.  

But how could stories showing us thriving in the midst of or on the other side of the remaking we need to do to our societies, methods of energy production, and infrastructure help us take action?  

Well… what if they stoked our enthusiasm for the revolution we are about to undergo that will be as disruptive as the Industrial Revolution that dragged us toward modernity and didn’t rest until it had set the stage for world wars, the collapse of a couple of empires, and the covering of so much of the planet in roads, cars, concrete, and a whole lot more people? Then we would no longer be paralyzed by our fear of such a great set of changes.  

But even if these stories just normalize little things, like driving electric cars, living near wind farms, having solar panels and heat pumps, or availing ourselves of the extensive and convenient public transportation networks that we deserve to have, they could still help us shake that fear of the future that has been paralyzing us.  

It is, at any rate, worth a shot, and it’s a shot that Solarpunk Magazine is taking.  

You probably haven’t met Solarpunk Magazine yet, as it’s the new kid on the block who hasn’t actually moved in yet. Our first issue will burst upon the scene in January 2022. We already have some great stories, pleasing poems, and fabulous non-fiction lined up for you.  

But paying contributors professional rates takes funding and, in his day and age, that means a Kickstarter campaign. Check out ours, which will run until October 30, 2021. For $5, you can secure your copy of our inaugural issue. $10 gets you the first two issues. $25 scores you the whole first year (which is six issues). Plenty of other goodies are on offer as well!  

Every $4K that rolls in funds one issue. As of October 11th, we’ve secured enough funding for the first four issues, and we’re hopeful about getting enough funding for the entire first year. So come pitch in and help us storytell a wonderful future into existence.  

Speaking of which, you can also support Solarpunk Magazine by writing. We need your solarpunk stories, poems, essays, interviews, and articles. Our first ever window for submissions will be open from Nov 1-14, 2021 and we are looking forward to reading your visions of a future we could happily inhabit together in peace, prosperity, and greenery.

BIOS: Ariel Kroon and Christina De La Rocha are non-fiction editors at Solarpunk Magazine.

Ariel (she/her) is a recent PhD in English Literature, specifically in the field of Canadian post-apocalyptic science fiction published between 1948 and 1989. In addition to academic interests in feminist posthumanism and affect theory, she enjoys and pursues speculative futures with an environmental bent, queer optimism, radical hope, and garden dirt. She is an ancient Tumblrkid and hugely appreciative of solarpunk and hopepunk communities. You can find some of her talks on YouTube or read her personal webpage.  

Christina, a recovering biogeochemist and oceanographer raised in Los Angeles, California, has washed up on the shores of northern Germany and lives in a settlement with notably more chickens, cows, and alpacas in it than people. She has published a pop sci book or two, has had a few stories and articles published in Analog, tries to be entertaining on Twitter (@xtinadlr), and occasionally updates her website.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

Posted in guest post | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Writing with Cannabis by Derek Nason

Do you like getting high sometimes? Do you like writing? Have you always suspected that these two activities would go really well together but didn’t know how?

Well, here’s how.

I’m going to share my favorite buds to write with and also leave you with some tips on how to find your own favorite.

For the purpose of clarity, assume that you will be consuming dried cannabis flower. If smoking or vaping dried flower is not possible or desirable for you, there will be more near the end about edibles, oils, etc. But for now, continue as though smoking isn’t a problem for you. Not all strains are available in forms besides dried flower. The industry is still young. And still, disappointingly, subject to prohibition laws in some places.

If you’re new to cannabis, it can be hard to know where to begin. Same if you’re new to buying legal weed. In like, a store.

Some of us have spent years consulting little more than a ‘field’ or a ’dealer’; neither of whom care whether they’re giving you indica, sativa, or a hybrid.

Broadly speaking: indica gives you a ‘body-high’ and sativa a ‘brain-high’. You might assume that since writing is a creative activity, you’d always be looking for sativa. But don’t sleep on indica. Remember: you will be physically using your body to write your story. We haven’t evolved into a singularity yet.

My preferred strains for a solid, two-hour writing session in the morning or afternoon are all hybrids. My favorite two are Jack Haze and Mac-1.

Jack Haze is more sativa-tending and Mac-1 is more indica-tending. Jack Haze is available from 7 Acres, which is an easy to find brand.

Mac-1 was bred by Capulator’s Cut and is only available to companies that meet their conditions for cultivation. The easiest way to find a store selling Mac-1 in your area is to use Leafly. The Mac-1 I smoke is by Edison.

Both strains provide an uplifting, energetic boost, propelling you through ultra-clear thoughts as though you’re taking the greatest shower you’ve ever had. If your brain is bushed from storming for your WIP, it will suddenly alight with suggestions.

However Mac-1 also has more of the physical effects you might look for in an indica. This can be helpful if one of your writing barriers is anxiety.

The Science is still catching up to the generations of wisdom from the consumers on this, but I believe indica targets more of the body’s CB2 cannabinoid receptors. CB2 receptors are abundant in the gastrointestinal tract.

With indica, the effects on the vagus nerve in our tummies is immediate. And anxiety treats our vagus nerve like a punching bag.

My favorite straight-up anti-anxiety strain is Sensi Star, which is widely available. I’ve had the 7 Acres and Spinach brand Sensi Stars and they’re both great. If I’m having more anxiety than usual, I might sprinkle a bit in with my Jack Haze or Mac-1.

If physical pain is a barrier for you, I recommend a more potent indica such as I.C.C. (aka Ice Cream Cake), or Wappa 49. I also recommend you see a medical professional and look into medical cannabis.

If neither anxiety nor pain are a barrier to you, and you’re someone who would be too easily distracted by, for instance, how good it feels to wiggle your toes right now, you might do better with a sativa. Your CB1 receptors are most abundant in our brains and Cannabis sativa aims right for them. There are literally too many good sativas to recommend. The easiest thing would be just to try them all.

Keep in mind that brainy sativas are more likely to give you paranoia. If you suspect paranoia would be a writing barrier for you, choose a low THC% strain, or a strain with a more balanced ratio of THC:CBD, or avoid sativa altogether.

If you don’t like to smoke but still want to give writing with cannabis a try, edibles and edible oil are a nice way to go. A cheap way to explore this is to buy an indica oil, a sativa oil, a CBD oil, and find a combination that works best for you. The cheapest brand I’ve found anywhere is Soleil.

If you’ve never taken edibles before, you need to approach with caution. Smoking gives you the peak of a high immediately. Whereas with edibles, you will be high for 2-4 hours before you even reach the peak. And you will be stuck at that peak for another couple of hours.

And some effects of a dried flower will be heightened. Indicas will have your skin feeling tingly for longer. And sativa will give you a prolonged change in your perception of time.

For some, 8 hours is too long a time for time not to exist. For me, it’s perfect.

If you find a strain you like in dried flower like but don’t like smoking, and you also perchance enjoy baking, you can get a butter infusion kit. A homemade cookie is actually my favorite way to consume.

Finally, take your time. And don’t be intimidated by all the choices and the jargon. Not all weed jargon is necessary to enjoying weed.

Don’t worry about ‘terpenes’, ’tasting notes’, or any of that. That’s just pothead stuff. And potheads like me fetishize pot. How it smells or tastes has no bearing on how it makes you feel. Or in any case, the causal links are too acute for beginners—or even some seasoned potheads—to discern.

As a final note, I just want to add that if your area is still under prohibition laws, or if it only recently became legalized, please consider donating to a local marijuana legal defense fund. No one on Earth should be serving a prison term for cannabis.

Derek Nason lives and writes in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, where he owns and operates a special care home for men with mental illness. His speculative fiction has appeared in Fusion Fragment, Abyss & Apex, and anthologies by Gehenna & Hinnom and Belanger Books. He can be found on twitter @dereknason.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

Posted in guest post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kickstarter Interviews: Andrija Popovic, Juliet Kemp,

I did a number of interviews on my YouTube channel to promote a Kickstarter I’m part of, a trio of theme anthologies from Zombies Need Brains. Here they are, collected.

Cat interviews Andrija Popovic about his contribution to upcoming book, Noir, edited by David B. Coe and John Zakour, produced by Zombies Need Brains.

Cat interviews Juliet Kemp about their contribution to upcoming science fiction theme anthology, Brave New Worlds, edited by S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier and produced by Zombies Need Brains.

Cat interviews David B. Coe about his upcoming anthology, NOIR, co-edited with John Zakour, produced by Zombies Need Brains.

Cat interviews writer Jacey Bedford about her contribution to upcoming science fiction theme anthology, Brave New Worlds, edited by S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier and produced by Zombies Need Brains.

Cat interviews writer José Pablo Iriarte about their contribution to upcoming science fiction theme anthology, Shattering the Glass Slipper, edited by Crystal Sarakas and Rhondi Salsitz, and produced by Zombies Need Brains.

Posted in publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Patreon / Zoom Event Schedule Changes

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m doing some rejiggering of my schedule. Here’s how that will affect things for Patreon patrons. If you’d like to support me on Patreon, follow this link.

Zoom events:

I will continue to be at weekday afternoon co-working events moderating them whenever possible; they are shifting from 1-3 PM Pacific time to 2-4 Pacific time.

Unmoderated co-working hours will continue to be midnight (12-3), morning (8:30-10:30), and evening (7-9). They are available to anyone who wants to log in.

Writing games will happen every other Wednesday from 12 -1, starting September 1. After that they will happen September 15, 22, October 6, 20, November 3, 17

Clean and chat will continue to happen every Friday but will move from 11-12 to 12-1.

I will sporadically run writing games and/or offer free classes each month when my schedule allows; notice of these with links will be posted on Patreon and Discord.

Short Story Club

The short story discussion group will continue to be recorded for peoples who can’t make the live event. Those hour-long discussions will happen twice a month. Links to pdfs of the stories, the recordings, and other resources will be posted in the #thepanel channel on Discord.

Here is the list of September and October stories.

Saturday, September 4, 10-11 AM Pacific time – Leigh Brackett, “The Sword of Rhiannon”
Sunday, September 26, 1-2 PM Pacific time – Karen Joy Fowler, “Game Night at the Fox and Goose”
Saturday, October 9, 10-11 AM Pacific time – Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild”
Sunday, October 24, 1-2 PM Pacific time – Pat Cadigan, “Angel”

Other Stuff

The Discord channels will be unaffected, and you will still get other stuff like discounts on classes // fiction and snippets // Taco pictures and videos // news of upcoming appearances // storyprompts

Posted in patreon | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Happening with the Story and Advanced Workshops

I announced before I left for Launch Pad that I’d be teaching a couple of sections of my short story workshop but then I was not great about publicizing and didn’t get a wealth of sign-ups, so I’m shifting the schedule out.

My life has shifted around and so I’m changing the timing of these as well as some of the other Chez Rambo events. I am overall trying to reclaim my scattered schedule somewhat in order to focus on getting the book I should have turned in already done as well as the final Tabat book and so on and so on.

In terms of reclaiming my schedule, I’m doing the following:

  • Defending my morning for writing more fiercely and having an established schedule that includes avoiding email/Internet/phone stuff until noon as well as self-care stuff like yoga stretches and a walk.
  • Not taking any new coaching or editing clients.
  • Redoing the Patreon schedule (see Patreon for details).
  • Being better about maintaining a todo and accomplished list.

Here is the description of both classes with the new dates, followed by how to apply, scholarship details, and the like. The new deadline for applying for either is September 7.

Short Story Workshop

Each two and 1/3 hour session will cover one aspect of writing in this order: story structure (session 1); character & dialogue (session 2); world-building (session 3); plotting and pacing (session 4); revising and editing (session 5); submitting stories and other career basics (session 6). The 7th session will be used to catch-up on material and questions that have arisen along the way. Sessions 2 through 7 will also be used for workshopping stories; students are expected to submit at least one story for workshopping over the course of the class. Class is limited to 15 students total.

Sessions will be recorded and will be made available 48 hours after the class. A dedicated Discord channel will be made available for participants.

The class will take place from 7-9:30 PM Pacific time Wednesdays Sept 15, 22, 29, Oct 6, 13, 20, 27

Advanced Workshop

Students are expected to come with a working knowledge of fiction basics. They must have A) previously taken my short story workshop or comparable experience, such as Clarion, Clarion West, Odyssey, or a similar multi-session, fiction-focused workshop, or B) have at least three fiction publications.

This is a journeyman level class. The material will be driven by the students, who will be invited to submit up to three questions for each session on a particular focus, such as character and plot, worldbuilding, or story structures. The second half of each session will be used for workshopping stories; students are expected to submit two stories for workshopping over the course of the class. Class is limited to 12 students total.

Sessions will be recorded and will be made available 48 hours after the class. A dedicated Discord channel will be made available for participants.

Class will take place Tuesday evenings 5:30-8 PM Pacific time Sept 21, 28, Oct 5, 12, 19, 26, Nov 2

Application Details

To apply for a space in the story workshop, please submit 1000 words of fiction (does not need to be complete) and a 250-500 word statement about where you currently are as a writer and where you would like to be 2-3 years down the line from there. Please include which section(s) you are applying for. Mail the application here.

To apply for the advanced workshop, please submit 1000 words of fiction, any classes you’ve taken through the Rambo Academy, and a 250-500 word statement regarding your qualifications and what you’d like to work on in the workshop.

If you are applying for a scholarship in either, please include a 250-500 word about why the class would be useful for you.

Cost for either class is $599 for Patreon supporters and former students; otherwise $799.

The story workshop is limited to 15 students; the advanced workshop is limited to 12.

Posted in classes & workshops | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: 4 Essential Tips for Writing Cinematic Fantasy by Savannah Cordova

Fantasy is quite literally a magical genre, and as a fan, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing that magic brought to life. From epic undertakings like the Lord of the Rings trilogy to dazzling new Netflix series like The Witcher, adapted fantasy has more than proven its entertainment value and staying power in recent years — which may have some fantasy writers wondering, How can I do that with my book?

Of course, blockbuster dreams shouldn’t be your only motivation; in order to succeed as a fantasy writer, you need genuine passion for your story, regardless of whether it ever hits the big screen. That said, there are definitely some things you can do to make your book more vivid and “cinematic”! Here’s how to strike just the right balance to write fantasy that’s both compulsively readable and potentially watchable.

Create a unique, vibrant world

When writing fantasy, worldbuilding should come before all else. If you don’t lay out your geography, cultures, and magic system(s) first, your storytelling will almost certainly feel thin or haphazard in places. Not to mention that a well-established world is key to a great adaptation: the realm you create will serve as the visual and atmospheric backbone of your show or movie, so make sure it can hold itself up.

You might start by thinking about your world’s predominant beliefs and power systems. What folklore, religious influences, or other major ideas have shaped it, and which might clash and lead to conflict in your story? What group is in power — or which groups are contending for it — and what are their motives and ambitions? How have factions arisen within this context, and to which do your main characters belong?

Once you have a strong sense of these elements, you can think more about the “fun” cinematic details: what your world will look, sound, and feel like. Consider your wider setting — whether that’s a collection of feuding countries or the far reaches of outer space — as well as smaller ones that will lend your story color. Flesh out what people do on a daily basis: how they work, interact, and take care of themselves, and how all this reflects the society in which they live.

Finally, think about what will distinguish your world from other fantasy worlds. Will it be based on unusual mythology? Will it offer a new aesthetic, or revitalize an old one (as Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, now being adapted as Shadow and Bone, has done for steampunk)? Though cinematic considerations should not take precedence over organic worldbuilding, it never hurts to muse on this sort of thing early on.

Plan rewarding character arcs

Now you’ve hammered out your world, it’s time to fill it with characters that will engage readers and viewers alike. Though some might argue that writing physically attractive characters is the best approach here, those of us who have watched too many shows on The CW will know that even stellar looks can’t make up for poor characterization — which is why you should focus on strong character arcs instead.

Why highlight character arcs in particular? Firstly, because fantasy tales can easily get lost in their own grandeur. You need human stories to act as an anchor, otherwise people will simply stop caring. And secondly, because at the end of a (usually lengthy) fantasy book or adaptation, readers want to feel the journey was worth it. If your characters don’t end up changed or at least reaffirmed in their principles, people will wonder, what was the point of all that?

To give you a jumping-off point: a strong character arc should intrigue readers from the beginning, giving them a sense of the character’s potential for various outcomes. As the story unfolds, the character will face obstacles — often in the form of other characters on their own journeys — and make choices that determine who they become.

The trajectory of this arc depends on what role you want each character to play. For example, you might have a character renounce their previous goals and become an antagonist, moving the story in a brand-new direction. From there, you’d need to work out whether this character will revert or fight it out with the protagonist. But either way, you’ll have the audience deeply invested — and ultimately rewarded with an exciting, emotional (and yes, cinematic) finale.

Hone your action and dialogue

Action and dialogue are two more crucial elements when writing screen-friendly fantasy. However, there’s a reason this tip reads “hone” rather than “increase” — though you might be tempted to cram your fantasy with epic battles and rapid-fire dialogue, quality remains much more important than quantity.

When writing action (used here to mean “physically active things the characters are doing”, i.e., not thinking or sleeping) it should be pacy and easy to visualize, yet not overwhelming in its description. Whether your characters are dancing, feasting, or hiking up a mountain, provide just enough detail to conjure a clear image while still leaving some things to readers’ imaginations.

The only exceptions are tide-changing fight scenes, for which you can take a beat-by-beat approach to draw attention to their significance. This scene from Dorothy Dunnett is an excellent case study in descriptive, revealing action; see how she uses long, all-in-one-breath sentences to illustrate the rush of action. Of course, this isn’t the only way to write a good fight scene — you might find that short, staccato sentences better reflect the punchy combat styles of your characters, or that interspersing the action with dialogue creates more emotional resonance.

Speaking of which, let’s talk dialogue (no pun intended). Like character arcs, this is important in every story, but especially in fantasy; it adds another human element that will keep readers invested. And witty banter is a real breath of fresh air onscreen!

But writing great dialogue is easier said than done. To tackle this challenge with confidence, nail down your characters’ voices before you dive into your story. You can try dialogue-based writing exercises — or, if these feel too random, write a few prequel stories about what your characters were doing before your central narrative began. Whichever exercise you choose, just remember to really delve into your characters’ minds in order to grasp their distinct voices.

As your story progresses, you’ll be surprised how much your characters have to talk about. Once again, honing is key. Though you can draft as much dialogue as you like, keep only the best lines in your actual book — not just the clever ones, but those that also enhance characterization or serve the plot. The rest you can save for a rainy day, like the sequel or even the eventual adaptation, which will likely place more emphasis on dialogue.

Use plot twists wisely

This article on writing cinematic fantasy would be remiss if it didn’t discuss plot twists. From Snape being a double agent to Gandalf coming back from the dead, a thrilling twist is often the cherry on top of an action-packed fantasy… just be careful not to overdo it. To extend the sundae metaphor, one or two cherries is fine, but more than that and you’ll make your readers sick.

Audiences particularly dislike out-of-nowhere twists, so make sure any twists you do include make sense within the story. If you find yourself throwing in a twist when you haven’t built up to it enough, whether to liven things up or because you feel like you “should, ” stop right there! You might think it’s cinematic, but it’ll only come across as cheap.

That said, it’s fine to come up with a twist at the end of your book, then go back and sprinkle in hints throughout your story — “mak[ing] it look like you knew what you were doing all along,” as Neil Gaiman advises. You might even devise a twist that could be revealed now, but would have much better payoff down the line. If that’s the case, be patient; your readers will appreciate the strategic mastery of saving the big guns for later books.

And of course, if a bona fide “twist” simply doesn’t suit your story, don’t force it. Books aren’t adapted on the basis of twists alone; people want fantasy tales with wildly original worlds, compelling characters, and creative writing to rival the likes of Jemisin and Le Guin.

Sure, it’s a tall order. But won’t it all be worth it when you’re the showrunner on your very own fantasy series? With these tips in mind, you might just have the next Game of Thrones on your hands… only your ending will be a lot more satisfying.

BIO: Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers.  In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and fantasy, as well as writing short stories.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

Posted in guest post | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Alienation and Marginalization: Demons, Robots, Aliens and Monsters in Fantastic Literature by Laurence Raphael Brothers

It doesn’t take any very profound insight to see that the roles nonhumans play in speculative fiction are often stand-ins for humans. In first-intention and unselfaware work (two very different things, see below), nonhumans are often monstrous and hostile. They frequently stand in lieu of othered humans who the writer might think it improper to name directly, or for that matter who the writer is intentionally dogwhistling by associating their secondary attributes with the negative qualities that racism and other forms of bigotry have painted for them.

And yet there are dangerous animals and people in our world who are hostile, sometimes implacably hostile and deadly dangerous, and in principle there should be nothing wrong with embodying these figures in fantastic fiction, even in pared down and totally inhuman forms from which all other qualities but their monstrousness have been flensed. In real life, sharks and venomous snakes and grizzly bears are not generally malicious, and their relative danger is far inferior to that of automobiles, diseases, and police officers. But in fiction, does it do any harm to pretend they are terrible threats? As always, the answer is yes, and no, depending on technique and presentation.

Cover of THE DEMONS OF WALL STREET.The trope-subversive reaction to monster stories generally involves their humanization. The dragon-viewpoint story that sees the questing knight as a villain, the sympathetic look at a fallen angel’s rebellion, the AI who comes to life only be oppressed and treated as a thing by their creator, the alien whose attempts to help humanity are viciously rebuked: all these acknowledge the base form of the monster story and turn it on its head. In many cases, the inversion is charmingly, touchingly, and effectively achieved, but again the final result depends on the author’s insight and skill, not just the fact of the reversal.

So what makes a monster story good or bad, or for that matter, a monstrous-sympathy or anti-monster story? In a word, understanding. In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells had two objectives: first to present the visceral fear of the monster to his reader, the overwhelming power of an implacably hostile foe whose strength cannot be contested. But he also wanted to present his idea of what indigenous populations such as the Tasmanians must have experienced when British colonial military forces invaded. There’s no characterization of the Martians in Wells’ book. They’re apparently trying to seize terrestrial resources, but it’s not as if they twirl their mustachios and speechify to a captive audience. They just do their thing, obliterating any opposing military forces and casually wiping out civilians who are in the way until finally they’re overcome by terrestrial disease. (This last is so that for Wells’ didactic purposes, something like the status quo can be regained, with a cautionary warning.) This is an example of a “first-intention” monster story that is nevertheless self-aware; the monsters are simple to the point of being simplistic and more or less incomprehensible, but their action and the reason for their action is based on the writer’s understanding of humanity and his hope to prevent his own people from adopting the monstrous role of his Martian invaders.

Must a good monster story always be intellectualized? Not at all, hopefully needless to say. Consider Beowulf, another first-intention story, and this one with probably considerably less deliberate auctorial intention behind it. In this story, Beowulf is a pure hero, and both Grendel and his mother are pure monsters, though the mother’s desire for revenge is only natural, and this serves in some way to humanize her. But I shouldn’t leave the reader with the idea that self-awareness and understanding are modern qualities, and that older works are necessarily simpler, more direct, and more “primitive.”

One can see some very profound self-awareness in the nameless author of the Gilgamesh epic, who takes the monstrous and frightening foe Enkidu (created by the gods to give Gilgamesh someone to fight because he’s been ruining his own subjects’ lives) and turns him into a sympathetic friend. Along with the wild and uncivilized Enkidu (humanized through sleeping with a priestess of Inanna), and apparently as a result of their coming together, Gilgamesh matures from a boorish and casually destructive youth into a mature, responsible, and reflective adult. With its transformation of Enkidu from monster into a friend so intimate as to be closer than most lovers[1], the epic’s attitude may seem implausibly modern, except of course that our intuitive notions of what constitute “modern” and “primitive” are wildly biased in our own favor. Coming thousands of years before most classic western monster stories, the transformative early section of the Gilgamesh epic (the latter half mainly involves Enkidu’s death due to Gilgamesh’s arrogance, and Gilgamesh’s futile quest to resurrect his fallen friend) illustrates that anti-monster stories are at least as old and as essential.

Man, I hope all that didn’t come off as too pompous, or too obvious either. In my own stories, I most often do the inversion thing, but I have the deepest respect for people who can write first-intention monster stories without dehumanizing the antagonists or deliberately or unconsciously linking their monsters to othered humans in the real world.

But that’s a tough thing to pull off. In my stories, the apparent monster is frequently your friend, and the real monster is another human, or perhaps the social forces that move humans to act monstrously. For me, that kind of story is much easier to write.

My romantic noir urban fantasy series beginning with The Demons of Wall Street (Mirror World Publishing, 2020) and in its recent sequel The Demons of the Square Mile (Mirror World Publishing, 2021) features demons who are indeed monstrous in many respects, due to the horrible ecology and social forces of their native world. But they’re also oppressed slaves summoned and bound by financial industry banker-sorcerers who want to exploit their precognitive abilities to manipulate markets. Some of these demons are true to type, but others are capable of defying and transcending their origins to become people more capable of kindness and compassion than the abusive humans who summon and bind them. The real monster is late-stage capitalism; but I guess that’s either trite or obvious, depending on your point of view.

The main character in this series, occult PI Nora Simeon, is a deeply traumatized and alienated person, in danger of becoming a moral monster herself by dint of her isolation and lack of empathy. She starts the first book convinced that demons are essentially evil and destructive (note in the books they are beings from an alien realm of existence, not fallen angels). She soon learns that just like with humans, these qualities are contingent, not essential, and in the usual moral fashion, the worst monsters are those we make of ourselves. And with the help of her unusual friend and lover Eyre (met in the first book and becoming a Thin-Man-style romantic and professional partner thereafter) she wrenches herself free from her downward spiral; it’s not an easy thing to do, and it will take her the full arc of the series to become truly free, but like the rest of us, all she can do is take the next step. My own next step is tentatively titled The Demons of Chiyoda, a just-completed first draft that I’m getting ready to submit to my publisher. In the meantime, I hope you’ll take a look at the first two entries in the series, available in paper or ebook direct from the publisher as well as from most online bookstores.

[1] I suspect this to have been the first ship in history, and that therefore the epic of Gilgamesh could be the first example of fan fiction, too.

Headshot of Laurence Raphael Brothers.BIO: Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and technologist. He has worked in R&D at such firms as Bell Communications Research and Google, and he has five patents along with numerous industry publications. His areas of expertise include Internet and cloud-based applications, artificial intelligence, telecom applications, and online games. He has published many science fiction and fantasy stories and is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Find out more about Laurence Raphael Brothers on his website.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

Posted in guest post | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment