Indie Review: “Shadows in the Stone” by Diane Lynn McGyver

In her book, “Shadows in the Stone,” Diane transports us into a fantasy world that she describes with enough expertise to fully immerse a reader. There are some overlaps into our own world, but they do not shake a reader out of the fantasy. Now, you may be thinking, “All fantasy does that.” Yes, you’re correct, in the sense that the moment an author mentions a sword, a shield, or a horse, they’re pointing to the real world. However, Diane brought in the concept of canned foods, and described a diligent accounting / government system within Aruam Castle, complete with pre-made forms, records, and bureaucratic filing. Yet she incorporated it so well into her world-building that any reader will seamlessly accept.

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Love is the fine lace woven through the main plot. We see familial love, the love of friendship, and romantic love all growing from the main story. It is the driving force behind the actions and determination of the characters.

Besides love, during our time within Diane’s world, there is murder, mayhem, magic, sword-play and a long, gritty pursuit. From these struggles and hardships, much is revealed about the characters’ pasts, loves, and fears. These aspects of the characters are revealed as a consequence of the main plot, rather than being conveniently parachuted in as filler material.

On Writing Quality: Diane Lynn McGyver stands head and shoulders above other indie authors. Her dialog flows well, as does her setting and internal descriptions. She knows how to show and not tell better than most. There is also a skillful knowledge of writing at work. Diane knows how not to overuse ‘to be’, adverbs, and a throng of other useless crutch or weasel words.

Word Creation: One item in the skill set of any fantasy / sci-fi author is creating new words and terms, either for things out of this world or renaming the mundane. I’ve seen other books where this practice is performed ad nauseam, to the point where a lengthy glossary is needed. But Diane managed it flawlessly. I especially liked her creations of sumortide, springan, yesternight, and Hauflin. These words helped me to immerse and stay there (very crafty, Diane). DLM


 F.Y.I  –  Diane maintains a spiffy blog as well


Characters:  “Shadows in the Stone” is a deep look into the heart and soul of the Dwarf Bronwyn Darrow. Now, I simply ask you to drop all of your Tolkien Dwarven standards. Diane has beautifully tweaked and redefined the notion of Dwarf, both in the physical and cultural sense.

Bronwyn Darrow stands as one of my favorite characters ever created within the sci-fi / fantasy genre. The other is Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Let that sink in about the company Bronwyn Darrow keeps.

Parting Thoughts: I enjoyed every page of “Shadows in the Stone” as you will too. This is the first in the Castle Keepers series, which is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

Editing Crutch Words

When we (the Queen and I) were on the cusp of completing the final draft of my fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I came across an intriguing post by #WritingCommunity member, Indie Author and Editor Dan Alatorre. His blog post concentrated on the dreaded phenomenon known as “crutch words.” Just when we thought we were safe, it was back to the draft for another round of editing.

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What are crutch words?

They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become over-used). These repeated words / phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage needs to be reduced.

What do I mean by “usage”?

Word usage falls into two broad categories. First, there is description / exposition and second, there is dialog. I’ll use the word “look” as an example in exposition.

Janet flashed a stern look at him.

Occurrences like this are borderline “telling.”  You can allow about fifteen per novel; just make sure they are distant from each other.

John looked at Janet’s stern face.

Blatant “telling” and also “distancing.” Please edit (with extreme prejudice) such usage from your manuscript.

On the flip side, the word “look” seems quite natural in dialog:

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come over here and take a look at this.”

Proper, simple, and to the point. Good job!  Now here’s an example where I make a special effort to  avoid the word “look.”

“Hey, Janet! Amble over to my location and visually scan this old photograph and let’s see if it surprises you?”

An overzealous crusade to edit any and all occurrences of a crutch word in dialog may result in stilted, wooden, and unrealistic conversation.

In another example, you may have placed the word properly, but it appears too many times within a short space.

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come here and take a look at this.”

Bill glanced over his shoulder and said, “Now look, I can’t drop everything whenever you think you’ve found something important. Keep searching and we’ll look everything over later.” He huffed a breath and stared at John with a disdainful glare.

“Don’t look at me like that.” John flung the photo into a box.

Every single line of dialog is perfectly acceptable. However, “look” is used four times within five lines of text. Do not only refer to the sidebar within MS Word. When you do a search for any crutch word, scroll though and look for clusters.

Is it possible to use a crutch word to one’s advantage?

People, not just authors, have crutch words in their arsenal. Therefore, to make a character more realistic, give them a crutch word or phrase that is reflective of their personality. Remember to use it and don’t abuse it. If a particular character has a verbal crutch, don’t let another character say the same phrase or word as much.

In Storm of Divine Light, I used the word “quite” thirteen times in dialog. The main secondary character, Cyril, uses it seven times, Maynard four times, Dagorat once, and Liberon once. I gave the character Cyril the phrase “Quite right.” Maynard says the same with some frequency, but I also established that he and Cyril are peers in age, education, and social status.

How to find those crutch words

I searched on-line for crutch word lists. Although some results geared toward public speaking and therefore contained “Um,” “Ya know,” and “like.” I found enough sites to compile a general list, but then came the ultimate problem associated with crutch words in your manuscript:  finding the personal ones unique to your own brain.

You may find those elusive personal crutch words by searching for a different one. When I searched through my manuscript for “very,” MS Word also highlighted “every,” “everything,” “everyone” and “everywhere.” In this way, I discovered that “every” was one of my personal crutches. By the time I was done, I had an extensive list to scrub:

  • A bit
  • A few
  • Actually
  • Almost
  • Appear
  • As though
  • Basically
  • Beginning
  • Certainly
  • Could
  • Definitely
  • Each
  • Every/thing/one
  • Felt
  • Finally* (Obliterate this one)
  • Gaze
  • Glance
  • Heard/hear
  • Just
  • Look
  • Nearly
  • Nod
  • Only
  • Probably
  • Quite
  • Rather
  • Reach
  • Realize
  • Really
  • Saw
  • See
  • Seem/Seems/Seemed
  • Shrugged his/her/their shoulders
  • Simply
  • Slightly
  • Some / Somehow
  • Touch
  • Turn / return
  • Very
  • Virtually
  • Was
  • Watch
  • Wonder
  • Would

Remember to apply the principles of usage and frequency when hunting these buggers down.

I’m somewhat knocked out by the difference between a crutch word-cleaned draft and the preceding draft. My manuscript for Storm of Divine Light became tighter, and neater. Or shall I say more groomed?

Did you find this helpful? Did you find a personal crutch word not on my list?

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Balancing Your Chapter Titles

Back in 2016, while still writing and editing my first fantasy novel, I wrote a post concerning the pros/cons and naming conventions of chapter titles. Since then, I’ve learned more about the ins and outs of creating them. First, a chapter title must be true. An author should never title a chapter something like “A Stampede of Pink Elephants” when there is no stampede or even a mention of a pink elephant, real or imagined, within the chapter. This notion of truthfulness brings us to the next problem, and the reason that creating chapter titles requires writing and editing skills, too.

We may label this second can of worms “honesty to a fault.” Imagine a sub-plot dedicated to the romance between the main character, Mary, and the detective, Richard. Naturally, the pages spent building up the romance teases the reader and forces possibilities and questions to grow in his or her mind. Will one die? Will they break up? Will they get married? Perhaps the end of chapter ten is a cliff-hanging hook. Will Richard save Mary in time? Too bad you titled chapter sixteen, “Mary and Richard’s Wild Wedding.” The author created an honest title, but his/her table of contents is nothing more than an extended spoiler list of the novel.

Here are the chapter titles for Storm of Divine Light:

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Chap.  1 The Signs & Portents of Mage-Sense

Chap.  2 The Confessions of Brother Maynard

Chap.  3 Religious Relics Are People Too

Chap.  4 How to Roast a Goblin

Chap.  5 Secret Steps

Chap.  6 The Metamorphosis of Liberon

Chap.  7 Under the Stolen Kiss

Chap.  8 In Hot Pursuit of a Mouse

Chap.  9 Affection’s Afflictions

Chap. 10 The Last Wagon

Chap. 11 The Incredible Gnomish Vision Tube

Chap. 12 A Bloody Fragrance

Chap. 13 Soft Footsteps in the Dark

Chap. 14 Forks in the Road

Chap. 15 Suns, Moons, & Stars

Chap. 16 May the Light Shine upon Thee

Chap. 17 Something Stirs in the Wood

Chap. 18 Across the Queen’s River

Chap. 19 Ancient Rites Fulfilled

Chap. 20 Red Desert Rezzin

Chap. 21 Palatial Brevity

Chap. 22 The Price of Blood

Chap. 23 Golgent on the Horizon

Chap. 24 Weapons of Light

Chap. 25 Bulls, Ballistae, & Bandoras

Chap. 26 Guilder’s Gambit

Chap. 27 Stronghold of Shadow

Chap. 28 Full Circle

Chap. 29 Vows

I hope these chapter titles create an air of mystery and will entice the reader rather than reveal the whole plot of Storm of Divine Light. Of course, they are all truthful descriptions as well.

Do you use chapter titles when you write or prefer them in the books you read? Which chapter title of Storm of Divine Light intrigues you the most?

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Progress Report

The covers (ebook and print versions) for my upcoming fantasy novel are complete. I’m still addressing the concerns of some beta readers. The slow process of reading the manuscript out loud has also begun.  Actually, more than a beginning; we’ve completed the first sixteen chapters. I’m not ready to reveal the cover or title. But allow me to simply divulge this tidbit…SoDL: Tales of Tyrennia, Book One.

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Never Trust an Author with a Clean Desk 🙂

I heartily recommend reading your manuscript out loud with a partner. I’m almost stunned at the quality of the end product. Every craft book, or self-help blog post I’ve read have proven their weight in gold. The stream-lined manuscript comes in at three-hundred-twenty-three pages. My formatter says that it will equal more in print, around twenty pages extra.

The first drafts for books two (M&M: Tales of Tyrennia, Book Two) and three (TFW: Tales of Tyrennia, Book Three) are done as well. These drafts are somewhat raw, but I’ve been through the first five chapters of book two and feel it’s ready for another set of eyes.

I guess that’s what happens when one advances their wordsmithing craft. I’m ready for beta readers after three drafts rather than ten or twelve.

Now it’s your turn to give me your progress report. Tell me about your Work-In-Progress.

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2019: Scribbling Forward

Editing and polishing, and then more editing, are the best words to describe my hopes for 2019. I have no goals for writing any new material this year. Stacks of short stories, multiple fantasy novel manuscripts, and blog posts, are screaming for my attention. Oh, the writing is done, but I’m left with the refining. Besides editing, there’s the search for beta readers, addressing any of their valid concerns, and then the slow process of reading out loud.

I’m toying with the idea of a new FaceBook page for finding betas and starting an online critique group. The live chat program known as Discord (popular with gaming guilds) seems to be the perfect venue for such a group. Imagine attending a critique group while nestled comfortably in your PJ’s (I’m sure some of you have a pair with attached fluffy bunny feet), cat on your lap, and a soothing hot beverage. What a perfect way to receive some feedback for your #NaNoWriMo writings from 2018.

Tell me about your work-in-progress. What’s on the back burner? Or a project that’s about to begin?

Every Time You Reply…Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

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Names in Fantasy Novels

Naming Conventions Can Be Quite A Sticky Problem

From the Seven Seas of R’haquirkh to characters names like Ma’charlkh, and the city of Shavartanshiquilltengshui, the naming conventions within Fantasy novels can be veritable tongue twisters. Such discombobulated names that almost contain every letter of the alphabet with apostrophes can aggravate and disorient readers much like a jump cut from a French New Wave film.

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If any of the above names have actually appeared in a Fantasy Novel…well that’s just dumb luck.

Of course, from the other side of the coin comes an equally viable point of view. A main character named Paul, with his trusty sidekick Tommy, and love interest Lucy, from Milltown, could also serve as a means to prevent reader immersion. These names are too close to the real world and can block out your world-building efforts.

Names I’m Using

In my forthcoming fantasy novel, the first in the series called The Tales of Tyrennia (were you able to pronounce that?), I use the following names. I suppose I tried to be somewhat exotic without being too far-fetched.

Main Character: Dagorat – Secondary Characters: Cyril; Katrina; Liberon – Tertiary Characters: King Baldomir; Brother Maynard; Craicwyth; Magda; and Lhinthel (the Elven Queen). Villains: Lamortain and Xantasia.

Kingdoms: Ravenna, Quintalia, Easterly

Cities & Towns: Mentiria, Jalken, Ethelton, Dun Targill

Of course I’ll ask my beta readers too, but I’d to like to have it all fixed before I send them anything.

Did any of these names make you stumble? Got any suggestions or changes?

Call Me Crazy Because…

I started writing a Sci-Fi novel, the first of a series for Camp NaNo 2017. Why is that crazy? Because I have two #fantasy novels, one novelette, and eight short stories sitting on the editing pile.

Blame #CampNaNo 2017

During the last week of June, I decided to not participate in Camp NaNo 2017. The sight of my editing list (I’m staring at it right now. It looks like a hideous monster waiting to consume me) was beginning to get on my nerves. As I sat in front of my computer in my writing space ready to work on the dreaded editing backlist, a flash went through my mind like a lightning bolt, a special delivery from the writing muse herself.

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Suddenly I saw a series of Sci-Fi novels based upon a single main character. This is quite a different approach from my current novels. For my fantasy series, The Tales of Tyrennia, I can go anywhere within that world and write about something within a particular Kingdom.

I could’ve made some notes and put the Sci-Fi series on a back-burner for a rainy day, but no-ooooo. People, or should I say other authors made a few Facebook posts about Camp NaNo 2017. Then other authors chimed in about their projects and preparations; the temptations overwhelmed me.

Let The Insanity Begin

I can’t dedicate my usual time during this NaNo session on account of Little Frankie, but so far I’ve completed the first chapter. Also, I must say, the words are coming easier and my first draft quality is a giant stride away from the drafts of my first scribblings. Hopefully, as I hammer this one out, I won’t have to spend as much time on numerous editing passes.

Perhaps, the change has occurred because I haven’t written new material in a long time. I have kept my nose to the grindstone with minute editing details for an extended period of time; those long hours have honed my wordsmithing skills.

In The End

I’ll try to write a follow up post on August 1st and let you know how things turned out for the month. Of course, I’m going to ask the same of you.

What are you doing for Camp NaNo 2017? How many WIPs have you abandoned this month?

History in a Fantasy Novel

The history of your world should play a major role if you are writing a fantasy or even a Sci-Fi novel. Imagine how a reader will feel when they are dropped into a civilization or a post-apocalyptic setting without any knowledge. Surely this scenario can make anyone feel like a stranger in a strange land. History is an essential part of world-building.

Of course, one has to naturally avoid long-winded historical passages when world-building. After all, it’s a fantasy novel not a history textbook. Earlier, I discussed the use of Technology In Your Fantasy World. Dropping such hints tells us where a civilization or society currently stands, but it doesn’t speak about how they got there.

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Reflect for a moment upon Gandalf returning to Bag End to impart his knowledge about the Ring to Frodo. The scene plays out with a sense of urgency rather than seeming conveniently dropped into place as world-building filler material by Tolkien.

In my upcoming fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I only delve into several great ancient battles and religious history. Both are incredibly linked to the main plot and the mystery at hand for the main character.

Another “history” would be backstory for characters. I used some of the same techniques and will discuss the in a future post.

I cringed at the thought of writing a chunk of history and sweated profusely when chapter 3 “Religious Relics Are People Too” was read at a critique. Oddly enough it passed with flying colors.

The trick was to “seed” the history in the previous chapter.

In chapter 2, there are sub-characters discussing and comparing historical notes. The main character listens and sometimes get frustrated by their knowledge. He wants to jump in and ask questions, but feels foolish. Later, he’ll accost one of them alone for the information he needs. His sense of “itching” for more information transfers to the reader. A sense of urgency made everything in chapter 3 flow without the aforementioned “contrived” element and seems perfectly plausible.

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History and backstory have to be present in order for a complete world-building experience in a fantasy novel, but many feel intimidated by it. How about you? How are you handling history or backstory in your novel?

Music: The Other Writing Muse

 

I once read that you should never listen to music with lyrics while writing. Naturally, I ignored that suggestion and later learned that it is truly a sound piece of advice.

Luckily, besides my towers of classic rock CDs, I have a cabinet full of classical music. There’s Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Prokofiev, Chopin, Wagner, and many others. Classical CD’s are quite the bargain as well. You can get a stack for the price of two or three of the stuff charting on Billboard. Not sure if they’re a bargain on iTunes, but I’m sure someone will post in the comments about it (psst…that’s a hint).

trebleBeside a broad paintbrush approach, think about music that compliments your subject. Listen to Chopin while writing something romantic, Wagner for a major battle scene, Grieg for a morning scene or writing about Dwarves. However, if you need to listen to something between writing spurts, then go ahead and break out that classic rock catalogue.

At those times, when I take a break, out comes The Beatles, Yes, The Stones, Pink Floyd, Dylan, or ELP. Yes, I’m a classic rock child of the ‘60s and ‘70s and I hope you are one too. If you’re wondering about my classic rock choices, then check some of those artists out on YouTube. There’s a plethora of uploaded music and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Another Inspirational Source

Last November during #NaNoWriMo, I wanted to complete the first draft of my second #fantasy novel. The second book in the Tales of Tyrennia Series is set in the Dwarven Kingdom of Eismark. At one point I became stuck. I wouldn’t call it a writer’s block episode, but rather a malaise. During NaNoWriMo 2016, I caught a bad flu and didn’t write for weeks.

So, I thought about what could serve as a healthy push about Dwarves. In a flash, I had an idea. I created a Dwarf toon on Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO). After running around Thorin’s Hall and a few quests in the mines, I found myself itching to write again. Suddenly the last three chapters flooded onto my screen. They poured out of me and practically wrote themselves.

The #LOTRO gaming experience turned a fledgling NaNoWrimo into something of a success.

What music or other media inspire you to write?

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Technology in Your Fantasy World

Fantasy novels can cover so many different types of worlds. It doesn’t always have to be a medieval or agrarian setting. Remember, pre-computerized or pre-electrified societies had guns, cannons, and steam power. Have you wandered into Stormwind City in World of Warcraft lately? While many players ride around on traditional steeds, others ride dragons, and still more have motorized transportation. There’s no reason that a little technology can exist in your world as well, if you wanted.

Sometimes a map, creature encounters, or a sword fight are not enough. A reader needs to know what type of world s/he has been thrust into upon opening your book.

Mythical Creatures Fairy Tales Gnome Control Troll

Public Domain Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Now I’m sure some may say, “They know they’ve purchased a fantasy novel. They should know what kind of world to expect.” All well and true. But how to best describe the intricacies of your world? One unique aspect may be the level of technology.

Exposition right out the gate is definitely NOT the way to go. Imagine opening a book or using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature and seeing something like…

It was the third age after the fall of Westernia. Many people roamed far and wide over the centuries. They built communities, new cities, and were now the denizens of four separate Kingdoms. The distances created new languages, regional accents, alliances, and war.

However, all the Kingdoms would unite when faced with a common enemy blah blah blah… Maybe this could work as a blurb, but not as a chapter opening.

Here’s My Approach

A better way to build your world is in dribs and drabs emerging from the story and characters. As an example, in my forthcoming novel Storm of Divine Light, I have a single passage from the middle of Chapter 3 that locks in my world’s technology level and a few other things.

***

The vendor blinked his over-sized eyes and smiled ear-to-ear at Cyril, as only a Gnome could do. He held out a small, plain steel box, about two inches square and a quarter inch thick. With a flick of his fingers, the Gnome flipped the top open to reveal a wick and a gnarled metal wheel. His thumb pressed on the wheel, and after a quick quarter turn, the wick burst into a small flame.

Cyril raised his eyebrows and smiled. “By Korak’s staff! Instant fire.”

“I’d hate to hear the price,” Daggorat said.

After a hearty round of bargaining with the vendor, Cyril paid eight Golden Claw pieces. He proudly admired the gadget as they walked away. “An amazing feat of Gnomish ingenuity and craftsmanship.”

“And you accuse me of being impulsive. Just twelve copper-jacks for our breakfasts. We could eat at the tavern for almost a whole year on that money. Why does everyone trust those Gnomes?” Dagorat shook his head. “It must be those huge childlike eyes.”

“Oh, stop casting shadows upon my enjoyment.” He moved closer and whispered, “Besides, with this fascinating little trinket, I can make fire without suffering the company of dark mages. Or bending to their will.”

***

Within this small passage, I’ve introduced Gnomes, the monetary system, some information about the technology level of the world, and something mysterious concerning both Light and Dark Mages. All while keeping the story flowing. This is the approach that I’ve had the best feedback from at critique groups. Give it a try and see what it can do for your writing!

Hope you found this writing tip helpful.

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