Thursday, January 27, 2011


So I'm still editing the Butterfly Lady and I'll doubtless start on its sequel at some point soon but as that's all nutted out, I'm thinking of preparing a stand-alone novel that I can write alongside the sequel in case the series sputters out at Book 1. The stand-alone has suggested itself in bits and pieces. By the way, stand-alone makes me think of some cool titles such as 'I stand alone' and 'Alone I stand' but I don't think either is appropriate for this particular novel as one of the themes will be a community coming together to battle some horror (which is rare in fantasy so this'll probably be more of a horror novel in a fantasy setting).

So, time to mention the basics and then brainstorm on what each 'basic' means.

Setting: A mining community in the Realms outback in my fantasy milieu.

Theme: Community versus a terrible calamity.

This will immediately make it a bit unique in fantasy novels. Most such novels involve one person, often with some form of super power, or a team of specialists, seeking out danger and making a difference. In this instance, several members of the mining community will be responsible for the salvation of the town ... or in the bid to stay alive. It'll depend on how bad the big, bad Thing will be.

Mood: Hope and Horror. Always. This is me we're talking about. Unlike with the Butterfly Lady series, it'll be more about the Enemy Without than the Enemy Within (though of course internal conflict will feature).

This means that the protagonists will be a little more vulnerable than in most fantasy novels. The few with magic will have an edge against the enemy but not the answer. Cuts can, and will, get infected. People will struggle and get tired. There is no Chosen One. No powerful soldier to save the day. No obvious hero. In fact, I have in mind a miner's wife / kitchen hand who is physically abused by her ailing husband as one character.

Technological Setting: Early-to-mid Victorian in certain places though technology has gone in a different direction.

Gunpowder (which is antithetical to life / spirits in my world) isn't used and this will make the mining technologies quite different to Victorian mines. The steam engine and telegraph have also not been invented so the place will be all the more distant and isolated although the mine itself will likely be closer to the cities. There will need to be greater self-sufficiency in this community.

Characters: There will be multiple POVs in this instance. I'm thinking five. One will be the aforementioned battered kitchen hand. Another will be a foreman (not sure if that's the right title, haven't researched it yet) in the mine who will be rather gruff and straightforward and take issue with the university graduate. The university graduate is a member of House Carrington (a noble house full of bankers, so to speak) but he's married into House Rosentia (a noble house renowned for its eccentric and malevolent people). So he'll also have to deal with a lot of social stigma despite his wealth and status. He's here to research his thesis on Improved Mining Technologies. There'll be a rather bored low-level Auditor (sort of a cop / judge / Homeland Security mish-mash) who keeps an eye on the community and deals with the Work Permits and who'll also clash a bit with the graduate and the foreman. I'm not sure who the fifth person will be. Perhaps a child in the community? Or one of the town elders?

So already, just from this small brainstorm, I have a wealth of ideas and I haven't even touched upon what foul contaminant or entity might be affecting this mining town. Originally I was just thinking a Mine Gone Bad but I've now decided to widen the lens and look at both the town and mine combined. It'll be more Horror than Fantasy but the setting will be strictly in a Fantastical World and that means there'll potentially be issues of sidhe (embodied spirits), spirits (ephemereal intelligences), an orc-troll hybrid (another animal race similar to humans), though I'll want to keep the mythology simple to emphasise whatever horror lies within this place.

Thus far, much of the brewing has focused around dialogue snippets that suggested characters. By doing this exercise, I now have a far greater understanding of the depth of the research I'll need to undertake alongside this novel. I also have a better understanding of where I'll need to branch out to or from. So while percolating the novel, I'd strongly suggest sitting down and starting to organise it. Simply through the act of organising your ideas, you'll start generating more.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

PSYCHOLOGY: Bad Minds Wear White Hats Too!

Everyone wants to paint themselves as the hero of the piece. No one wants to be the bad guy, even if they want all the rewards of doing a Bad Thing. Here are a few different ways someone might convince themselves that they are in the Right (even when they're Wrong).

They will justify themselves. They will rationalize away what they have done to make it more in line with acceptable social conventions or their own ideal principles. The story will phrase it so that their actions was either the right thing to do and that any sane person would have done the same ... or at the very least, that it wasn't their fault. Someone else was to blame. The dissonance between their own ideal self and their actual actions might lead them to repeat the tale to anyone who will listen. It might even form an internal monologue if the dissonance is strong enough. The story will often have more details than are necessary because the speaker feels they have to back up their words with fact in case others disagree. There is a greater need to make the tale 'water-tight'. (Of course, the same could be said for someone who whole-heartedly believes in an unpopular topic).

Dr. Matt has a brilliant quote on his web-site: "If you have to try to convince yourself, that means . . . you're not convinced!"

Why accept the blame when you can accuse others of doing you wrong? You don't just need a scapegoat for others to blame. You can invent one for yourself. This is the foundation of "I kill because no one ever loved me" or "if she hadn't dressed like that, I wouldn't have raped her" and plays into the self-justification. This can also work on a more subtle level. A long-winded self-justifying tale of how a co-worker had made his working life a living hell with an oddly succinct statement of how they tricked the Manager into firing her before launching once more into Why the co-worker deserved it.

More a motivation than a justification, excitement is still worth a mention. Some people just get a kick out of other people's misery. Perhaps it's the sudden adrenaline rush from risking reprisals or other consequences. Perhaps its the flush of power - knowing you can do that to someone. Maybe it's just some primal instinct that the bad guy has more than anyone else. Someone like this likely believes that others would do the same if they could - they're either too weak or foolish and thus in their own way deserved it.

Some people just make a point of underestimating how bad their actions really are. They think they're not really hurting anyone really. An excellent example of minimisation would be a classic self-justification from Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy where a rapist said women should stop whining about how horrible rape is because a woman's capacity to have sex is unlimited and thus they're not really losing anything.

Actual Justification.
Also, when building your opposition, don't forget that they might be as righteous as the protagonists' allies. This can be especially brutal and effective when actions on both sides are escalating matters and you can understand everyone's motivations. Who's in the wrong? The tribals or the miners? Both are warring to support their own way of life.

Personally, I love when an author surprises me with a villain's motivation. When I sit there, and I can almost understand where they're coming from. When the most atrocious crimes almost seems reasonable and rational given that argument (and ignoring a whole bunch of other facts). It's kinda creepy having that shudder down your spine and going: "Wow, that *almost* makes sense ... but it's still wrong."

Next week I'll do something on the psychology of Shame.

Monday, January 24, 2011

RANT: Giggle Fit of Pride

Well, there's little more enjoyable than popping over to your novel for a quick revision only to find that you absolutely adore the first line of your novel. So, forgive me for my moment of boasting (promise it'll be over soon), but here is what, to me, is an absolute gem of a line:

Scary things always happened at home but only naughty children cried about them.

I have edited Chapter 1 at least fifteen or so times. It's the chapter that's given me the most trouble (unless you consider the last chapter but endings always bug me). The fact that the first line finally feels right to me, makes me go 'wheee!'

TIPS: Show the Unexpected

Well, there I was lurking on other people's posts when I found this little gem described by Liana Brooks. Come up with five things that your reader wouldn't expect about your darling little characters and find a way to drop one or two of them into the story. These can certainly add a lot of depth to what might otherwise be a derivative character.

I'm wondering if that's what my personal favoritest Writer of Fiction, Ed McBain, did. All of his characters, including his minor characters - no, especially his minor characters - were rivetingly interesting because he'd take your expectations and play with them in some way. People had their eccentricities, their foibles, their strange ways of perceiving the world, and even when all those details weren't brought onto the page, you could just sense the hints behind the words of a deeper, crazier world of people who could have stepped onto the stage from Real Life.

So, go on everyone ... come up with 5 unknown facts about your characters, major or minor, and see if that can have an impact, even if it just means that the minor character you see for a page is a little gentler and better-educated than the stereotypical truck driver.

Of course, there are limits: no need to do this for characters that have a three-line entry and exit. They're just setting details!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Sensory Maps in psychology are the various parts of the brain that respond to sensory stimulation. I'm using the term, however, somewhat more broadly. I'm using it to refer to the ways with which we can alter our psychology through tampering with the environment around us. One's environment certainly affects one's opinions, moods, and behavior. Of course, how it affects us is at least somewhat dependent on personality traits and cultural expectations.

If we take a man from the rural outback, who grew up in a farm, and pop him down in the middle of a nineteenth floor block of cubicles that stretch out as far as they eye can see, you're going to get a significantly different reaction than if you take a man from Tokyo or one of the other mega-cities.

Small changes can also make an impact. Raising or lowering the temperature. Increasing or decreasing the noise level. Changing the type of noise (repetitive Christmas carols, the ocean, bird song, white noise, high-pitched humming) also has an impact. But what about light? Lighting quality can also affect things. Both the colour of the light and the type of light. If it's bright and glaring, we're more likely to feel awake, though it might make us feel more stressed. If it's 'warm', diffuse, and shadowy (like firelight), we're more likely to feel relaxed, if a bit more drowsy.

When we say we're aiming for a piece of description to evoke a mood, we're talking about these sorts of maps. True, the world around them won't conform to their expectations all the time or else it'll seem a bit ludicrous. However, there are often minor details that can be quite telling and can help readers who are trying to picture the location feel more connected to the mood itself.

So, here is my attempt to turn the humble office cubicle into a Force for Fear, Happiness, and Burn Out. I'm going to try to keep all the same words in place but change the feeling by simply changing the descriptive words.

Force for Fear.
One cubicle among many. That seemed to be the company mantra. Ninety cubicles on the 28th floor. Most were cast in darkness. The overhead lights were on a timer to go off unless there was enough motion in the area. It was one of the few modern renovations in a building constructed in 1886. My section still had lighting because I was working late. I had the elevator directly behind me and every so often it would ding as the elevator climbed past my floor along its creaking tracks. It still had its accordion door and every time it went past, I'd look back over my shoulder and see into the empty lift.

Force for Happiness.
One cubicle among many. That seemed to be the company mantra. Twelve cubicles on the 2nd floor. All were well-lit by the odd assortment of lamps we had brought in for the last show and tell. Mine was beaded. My desk was a mess of drawings, hand-written notes, post-its, and pot-plants. I had the window directly behind me, overlooking the park, and every so often I'd look back over my shoulder and gaze down into the main street at my home town.

Force for Burn Out.
One cubicle among many. That seemed to be the company mantra. Forty cubicles on the 28th floor. Too many fluorescent lights cast the floor in an all-too-severe light worsened by the bright white floors, walls, and ceilings. My desk was a maze of paperwork, all set out in neat little piles, all marked with little red lettering by my superviser. The lettering was so small I almost had to keep a magnifying glass on hand to read it. I had the window directly behind me, the window into my boss' office that is, and every so often I'd look back over my shoulder and see my boss looking back at me.

What do you think? And why don't you all have a go? Just set up the same location type (office, hospital ward, etc.) and give it three different descriptions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

PSYCHOLOGY: Grief and Bereavement

Two excellent finds in Jeannie Campbell's excellent blog are a series of articles on Types of Grief and Facets of Grief. These are very good reads and perfectly slip into my current research into reactions to trauma. It's always wonderful to find someone else succinctly giving you the information you need....

Funnily enough, a lot of novels include triggers for grief but I think the fantasy genre include the most but often deal with it the least. In some cases, this is because it wouldn't be appropriate to send a swashbuckling tale of magic and monsters crashing back to Earth. In other cases, it would be appropriate but it's hard not to be swept up in the action and exploration that comes naturally to most fantasy authors. It's hard to sit down and realize that right now the character would be thinking, 'Screw the shining whirl pool, the pretty fairies, and the gorgeous underground tunnels, this picturesque place doesn't make me feel uplifted ... it just makes me angry because the world somehow remains pretty while my life is destroyed'.

While I'm sure many of you can think of multiple incidents of protagonists getting upset over death, what about the more subtle triggers of grief. Think of the average fantasy novel. It often involves a character living in a small village or town for all their life, rarely visiting other towns, and then leaving forever and flying / running / hiking through six different types of terrain. They have a bout of grief, wail and gnash their teeth, but generally this is only if their home town is actually destroyed or if they were exiled. I've been stressed by moving house into a bigger house a few suburbs away ... yet these people who up and leave small towns for the big beyond don't bat an eye unless some great trauma happened.

The characters often visit places that are similar to their old rundown villages and strikingly different like a city in the clouds, yet they're barely touched by homesickness or nostalgia. They barely even think of their own towns or villages, unless its a memory of some traumatic incident or another, and even in the case of trauma - it rarely flavors the mood. Have you ever been stressed out of your mind? Or scared? Or even nostalgic? It changes how you see things. Thinking on it, even a young adult or more light-hearted fantasy could use at least a few touches of these responses. It just adds a touch of depth that is rarely seen but which could really help me identify with a character.

How many of us have been excited yet sad when leaving home for the first time? Or had a pang of nostalgia over some small thing? How much easier would it be to identify with a character who had similar responses to leaving home? I'd assume it'd be all the more stressful for someone who has never left their village before, as well. It'd be the equivalent of moving to a radically different country. Divorces have happened over less.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PSYCHOLOGY: Using Trauma In Novels

Most novels involve the protagonist undergoing some form of trauma. Due to this, I’ve already done two research articles here and here on this topic. Generally in a fantasy setting, these traumatic experiences are generally considered just part of the normal, everyday lives for the protagonist. In these settings, the protagonist struggles less with such issues of trauma because the sudden, negative incidents are expected and fit perfectly into the victim’s frame of reference (how they see the world) because their culture treats murder, violence, and cruelty as simply a part of life.

Of course, car accidents are quite common in our society but we often find ourselves experiencing some trauma from them, especially if someone died or was badly injured, so arguably, even acceptance that these issues can happen isn’t insurance against being traumatized by them. So, while the cultural manifestations of trauma (symptom duration, types of symptoms) and the causes of trauma (severe humiliation) may differ between our world and the fantasy setting, there still should be some form of psychological consequence. At least, assuming that you’re going with a more realistic setting. Some fantasy novels are sheer escapism and they wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if the reader had to watch the protagonists’ developing trauma.

I’m writing a novel, the Butterfly Lady, which features a few forms of trauma in a young boy’s life. Most of these traumatic themes and experiences wouldn’t be out of place in your average fantasy novel or even fairy tale (death of a parent, betrayals, instability in childhood, somewhat self-imposed exiles, fear of self) but what I’m trying to do with the Butterfly Lady is explore these themes and experiences. Basically, take a young boy and see how he would deal with these various issues. Sure, there’s magical powers, demons, conspiracies, and murder mysteries to unravel, alongside some hopefully interesting places to explore, but deep down a story is about character and the character of Jason Arneil is hopefully complex enough to warrant all this attention.

Of course, the protagonist isn’t the only one traumatized. He has family and friends. There’s the various people that he meets. An entire village suffers one particular trauma and everyone has to come together to deal with it. So trauma features fairly heavily in this novel as the characters’ response to conflict. A lot of the inner conflicts come from both material needs and psychological needs but also responses to trauma.

So I need to do a fair bit of research to make sure the psychology is about right. I need to ask myself, how do people cope with natural disasters or warfare and how does this differ depending on the scope of the trauma and their own cultural and psychological resources? What does betrayal do to a child’s psyche? What would growing up and thinking you’re a monster actually entail? And what is it like to be on a slippery slope of alcoholism and drug addiction?

Of course, for all you potential readers out there, don’t worry. ‘Hope and Horror’ has always been my favorite mood. Without one, you can’t really emphasize the other so there will be some really positive themes in my novel that I will need to research. I’ve already researched love in a few articles (here and here) and there are other areas of positive growth I’ll need to research as well. How does a person build resilience? What does mental health look like? Why is it that some people actually do become better people after experiencing trauma? And how does hope, forgiveness, optimism, and social sacrifice work, anyway?

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Well, I remember reading about how multiple POV books can be fun because of the differences in how different people view the world and each other. Since I'm writing a 3rd person restricted viewpoint (one viewpoint character), I don't get to do this but it would still make a fun exercise. I'll use the characters near the start of the Butterfly Lady for the writing exercise. I suggest you all give this a go as well, especially with minor or secondary characters that you don't much understand. I'll set the subject at fishing somewhere between Chapter 2 and 3. After Jason's 6th birthday but before his 12th, so, let's say, 10.


Lirrian Verdan couldn't stand fishing. She didn't understand how so many men could sit or stand for hours and stare at a piece of glorified string dangling in the water. To make matters worse, even boys, who otherwise would be off in the trees, playing games, chasing each other, and doing other sensible things, could somehow turn into statues at the lure of a fish. Well, boys who weren't Jason. At least that was a kid you could count on. A bona fide, excitable, chit chatty kid. Unlike Ongar who was so happy to sit and stare at string that she was surprised a bird hadn't turned his hair into a nest. Lirrian wanted to throw the whole rod into the creek but that wouldn't be the nice thing to do so she sat and drew in the dirt and made only a few comments about how boring this was. How could Jason not see how dumb this was and how stupid Ongar was?


Compromise. That's all it took. Ongar wanted to fish and Lirrian wanted to play so maybe they could spend half their time fishing and the other half of their time playing. At least, that's what Jason wished would happen. Lirrian complained and stretched and yawned and fidgeted the whole time and tried to get him to side with her about a game they should play. Sure, she'd be quiet for a time but it was a hunter's calm ... quite and poised and waiting to strike. Of course, it didn't help that she was right and this was boring. Still, it was what Ongar wanted to do and as friends they should help him do it. So he tried to distract her and play with her quietly and all the while Ongar calmly ignored them like they weren't even there. It was so getting so frustrating he wanted to scream but that wouldn't help anything so he kept running back and forth and trying to keep his two friends from having another fit at each other.


It was a shame girls didn't have deep voices like men. That way Lirrian's voice could lull him to sleep rather than set him on edge. Constantly whining and changing her pitch to make sure he couldn't drown her out. How was a boy supposed to relax and unwind with that galah squawking in his ear? Fishing was peaceful and practical and meaningful. The Divine Son was a hunter, after all. A boy should be able to just sit and enjoy and not worry about irritating girls threatening to pull their stupid hair out. At least Jason seemed content to deal with her prattle. There was a boy you could rely on to never have his feathers ruffled.


Hmm, well, that was surprisingly fun considering the topic. Which one did you pity the most?

Oh yeah, and by the way, I'm actually figuring on Dark Fantasy, or Fantastical Horror, for this one so don't let the youthful protagonists fool you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Changing Thursdays

Well, I've decided that my Thursday plan feels more a chore than something exciting so I'm going to change it up. Rather than it be Ethnography / Book Analysis on alternating Thursdays, I'm just going to go with Writing Exercise Thursday. This might be analysing a book, doing a comparative ethnography to flesh out my world, or something different. That gives me the variety I need and hopefully others might get inspired by some of the exercises. Tomorrow I'll do an exercise based around POV switches and descriptions.

I think this is also a good web-site for writing exercises, too, that I may use:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fallacious Arguments Part 3

So, today’s example will be a court case example. Don Brown has been accused or murdering his wife and rather than focusing on the evidence, the prosecutor has decided to use his superior oratory skills to confuse the jury while summing up the case. First, he makes an Appeal to Ignorance, “Don Brown failed to prove he didn’t kill his wife, therefore he must have done so”. This is a fallacy because the assumption is based on something being true/false because it has not been proven otherwise.

This is a bit of a kangaroo court with the jury functioning as a simple formality so the prosecutor also makes an Appeal to the Stick and attempts to coerce or threaten the opposing party (the Defense Attorney) into giving a poorer defense. “Only a fool willing to endanger the lives of his family would be willing to defend this man.” Another example of this is when a teacher counters a student’s argument with a threat of detention.

The Prosecutor then makes an Appeal to the People by claiming: “Everyone in this town knows that Don Brown is guilty. How could this be if he were not guilty?” In other words, since it’s believed by the majority to be true, it must be true. He then makes an Appeal to Authority – “The Mayor himself has called Don Brown a guilty man” which he follows up with an Appeal to Accomplishment – “And we all know the Mayor is a just and kind man who has fairly overseen negotiations between factories and the union on many occasions.”

The prosecutor than figures that a bombardment of Appeals to Emotion is in order whereby he relies upon manipulating emotions to win an argument rather than using valid reasoning. He begins with an Appeal to Consequences “If Don Brown is declared innocent, then that would mean the Mayor, witnesses, and police would all be conspiring against an innocent man, and as that cannot be and should not be, Don Brown must be guilty.” He then adds an Appeal to Fear: “If Don Brown is guilty and freed, then he will set an example to other murderers, that they might murder with impunity, and who will be safe then?” An Appeal to Flattery: “But the just and righteous jury, with a mind to such details, will, in their wisdom, make the right decision. Of that I have no doubt.” An Appeal to Ridicule: “If there is a conspiracy against Don Brown, then I guess that means there is a conspiracy to use satellite technology to read people’s minds and we might as well all go cover ourselves in alfoil.” An appeal to pity or guilt: “If you pronounce him innocent while doubting his innocent, and you had to stand before his murdered wife, could you look her in the eye?”

They still look unconvinced but most of the jury are poor and multicultural and the man on trial is quite rich and white so an Appeal to Spite where he exploits their bitterness towards him could be in order. “Declaring him innocent will be just another example of letting the rich, white man do as he will to whomever he pleases.” This is also an Appeal to Poverty whereby the prosecutor tries to get the jury to think the conclusion (his guilt) is affected by the defendant’s financial situation. If the situation was reversed, it would be an Appeal to Wealth whereby poverty becomes a statement that someone is in the wrong. The prosecutor capitalizes on all of this by throwing in some Wishful Thinking by requesting they base their decision on something pleasing to imagine rather than according to evidence or reason: “Declare him guilty and you will prove that we live in a country where neither money nor race can protect anyone from the long arm of the law.”

Now they are in a warm and cozy space, an Appeal to Motive is made whereby the prosecutor calls into question the motives of the defendant’s alibi: “Yes, Mr. Hartley said he was with her at the time but he is a notorious chauvinist who is unlikely to care about the death of any mere woman.” An Argument from Silence attempts to draw a conclusion based on a lack of contrary evidence: “Some may say there is little evidence to convict this man but, in fact, there is even less evidence to suggest that the murderer was any other man.” Finally, he makes an Appeal to Tradition (the argument is said to be correct because there is a long-standing tradition behind it): “It is a fact that most victims of murder are murdered by their partners, thus, Don Brown’s wife was killed by none other than Don Brown! I rest my case.”

For two final appeals that I couldn’t slot under the last examples, you can have an Appeal to Nature: “Even eating worm wood and tree bark is better than eating lollies because it’s a natural product” and an Appeal to Novelty: “Of course this mobile phone is better than yours. Yeah, it has no added features but you bought yours a year ago and I bought this one yesterday. It’s superior because it’s newer.”

And that’s it for my Fallacious Arguments segment. And remember, there’s nothing to stop someone from either using these fallacies in a con game or, better yet, using these fallacies to justify their own way of thinking. I find fallacies really help me understand how a person can think something that contradicts all evidence to the contrary. Rationality need not always apply to arguments or even beliefs.