Creating Fantastical Creatures

The most amount of fun you’ll have being a fantasy and science fiction writer is making up your own creatures and supernatural attributes. You get to take your idea and turn it into a living monster that will haunt your pages and make your story magical for everyone that reads it. Creating them can be pretty hard though, especially when it comes to originality, so here’s a few tips on how to get started.

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Base them on others

Don’t be scared to base your new creature on one that already exists. If you were really into Greek mythology as a child, it’s perfectly okay to start your creation off with the image of a minotaur at it’s heart. Starting with something that you already have a strong idea of means you’ve got something to build on and make your own. It’s not copying or unoriginality, it’s having the courage to build on what other great writers have started. You don’t have to start with an already fictional creature; using an animal as your base works just fine too.

Make it fun

One of my favourite ways of making a new creature is by picking attributes out of bowls and mushing them together to shape something new. What I do is create multiple lists. One would be of powers, another colours, another of body shapes and another of weaknesses (you can add more if you like, but this is generally enough to get me started). I then cut each individual item from each list up, fold them into tiny pieces and put them in bowls that match the category. After that, it’s just down to picking one piece of paper from each bowl until I’ve created a creature I’m really happy with. It’s a fun way of creating something new, and also gives you some writing prompt material for other stories.

How do they get around?

How your creature moves from A to B can really make a difference when it comes to writing your story. If they’re just going to walk you’re going to need to make sure they have bodies suited for walking. This is the same for flying or driving, for everything really. Alternatively, you could give them an ability like teleportation or super speed that helps them move from place to place in a less conventional way. Doing this means you don’t have to shape the creature’s look around their travel. Whatever you do with it though, make it suit the character. If your character is someone that wows crowds and has an air of power about them, make their form of transportation quite showy. Similarly, if they’re a character that goes bump in the night, make them move in a way that will put your readers on edge.

What do they eat?

It’s a bit of a daft question really, and it’s something that might not even come up in your story, but knowing what your creature eats can change who they are or how you portray them. It can also be great for adding humour to your story, or horror if you’d prefer. For example, a small, fluffy kitten with teleportation abilities and big eyes would be cute to a reader, until on one page it’s seen to eat the souls out of baby elephants. Doing something like this gives another dimension to an otherwise flat character and can help to shape your story.

How do they fit into their world?

This won’t apply to all of you, but for those of you setting your fantasy story in the world we live in you need to decide how you can get your creature to fit in. If you’re writing in this reality, we’d surely notice if huge, hairy ogres are walking around Liverpool on a Friday lunchtime. To counter this you would need to think of a way for these creatures to fit in, whether it’s a visual camouflage device, invisibility or shape shifting abilities. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer here. What made it truly terrifying was that the vampires looked just like humans until they came to feed, then their shapes would contort back into their natural form. It worked great to scare watchers as it was realistic and terrifying.

 

There’s just a few tips for when you’re creating your fantasy character. Most of all though, just enjoy doing it. Creating your own monster is so, so fun and can really help your imagination strengthen. And when you’ve decided on what your creature will look like and do, try drawing or painting them. Sure, you might not be a top artist, but making the character into something you can look at will help you to write them better and develop them into something you’re truly proud of.

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Book Review: The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2, edited by Teika Bellamy

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 is a collection of short stories written by various writers on the theme of mythology and fairy tales. Published by Mother’s Milk Books, a Nottingham based publishing company, it’s a creative triumph that really shows off the talent of emerging and established writers.

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The collection is a great read, I think especially for fans of mythology and fantasy. Unfortunately though, it’s the weakest story in the collection that serves as our first taste. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent story, but to me it lacked the originality and flair that the other stories are brimming with. It seemed to fall flat at the end, with no clear conclusion or resolution, resulting in the feeling that the story has just been cut off. I imagine if this story were in the middle of the collection I wouldn’t have noticed these small flaws, but I always hold the first story of an anthology to a very high standard as it’s that piece that will make me decide whether to read on or not. It’s a shame that this one didn’t quite hit the mark, but nonetheless I read on and the rest more than made up for it.

My favourite story in the collection is The Jungle Goddess, written by Anuradha Gupta. I love the exotic setting that stands out amongst the dull English background of the other stories. It’s vibrant and refreshing, with a spark of energy that brings the tale to life. Gupta has written the story in the present tense, and whilst it’s very unusual it’s done so well that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

The drummers drop their sticks and a silence falls over the crowd. Men and women, all turn to stare at the vision before them. Gungun, with her dark untamed locks tumbling down over her bare shoulders and breasts, adorned in nothing but a silver anklet, stares back absently at the blazing fire and the grey shadows that stand all around it.

The story is new and the writing is truly excellent. This extract is just a small example of the imagery and innovative writing that Gupta uses in the story. It’s a fantastic story that really shines out in the collection.

Little Lost Soul, written by Marija Smits, is very different to the other stories in the collection, mainly because of the writing style. I find Smits’ writing to be very literary and of a high quality that could easily produce the next Penguin Classic. It’s hard to find the right words to describe it. I guess the closest I can think of is to compare it to the writing of Philip K. Dick. For me, it resembled his writing very much, with its industrial, futuristic setting and amazing writing. I look forward to reading more of Smits’ work in the future.

Lilasette is a story that for me really embodies the spirit of the publishing company, whilst giving us a true fairy tale. It has a great evil queen that steals her servant’s newborn baby so that she can have a daughter to shape into her own image. Despite not being a main character, it’s the servant who really stands out in this story. Her empowerment is to be admired and she really helps to shape the story into something that reminds you of why mothers are so important.

It’s also worth giving Ana Salote’s story a quick mention. Her fairy tale twists what we know and gives us a refreshing take on a fairy. I think it is great writing and I really enjoyed the 21st Century, slightly gritty realism of the story. The title Grimm Reality is very well chosen, and embodies Salote’s writing style.

On the whole the book is very well put together. It’s a good collection of varying stories and has been edited and produced very professionally. I was a bit disappointed to see that the same fairy tale has been used twice in the book. Up until the very last story I was really impressed that I hadn’t come across any obvious repetitions, but the last one was a little too similar to the first for me. However, the editor clearly recognised the similarity as they’ve started and ended the collection with these two pieces. If you can’t avoid a repeat, embracing it like this is the best way to do it.

The real highlight of the book is the illustrations. I don’t know where Teika Bellamy found Emma Howitt but she’s the silent shining star in the book. Howitt’s illustrations are beautiful and intricate and really help to bring each story to life. I hope more people take notice of her work, because it’s so beautiful that it deserves to be scattered across books everywhere.

 

Overall this book really is worth a read. I loved the stories, especially the modernised ones, and felt that they all slotted in well with each other. Having not read The Forgotten and the Fantastical 1 I can’t really compare the two, but if that one is anything like this one it’s most definitely worth a read. Full of fairy tales for adults brimming with truly fantastical characters, this collection belongs on everyone’s bookshelves.

A Short Guide to Adjectives

adjective – a word naming an attribute of a noun, such as sweet, red or technical.

 

No story is complete without adjectives to make it stand out. Without them we wouldn’t know what our favourite characters look like or what it’s like to be stood in a fantasy world. For this reason they’re my favourite type of word, so here’s a few pointers on how to use them well.

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The Power of Three

There’s a lot of power in threes, which is why we use them so often. The three little pigs, three musketeers, you get the idea. This works for adjectives just as well as it does for everything else. Things tend to sound better when there are three words together, especially when describing something. Take a look at the following sentences.

Olivia had short, dark, curly hair.

Olivia had short, dark hair.

Which sounds better? Although the first gives more information, the second reads much better. If you think it’s absolutely essential for that third adjective to be there, give it to the readers in another way.

Olivia had short, dark hair that fell in soft curls around her face.

This sounds much better and still has all the information in it. You don’t have to stick religiously to these rules though. If you think three adjectives before the noun sounds best in a particular sentence that go ahead and use it. Generally though, stick to using just one or two.

Use All Five Senses

We use all five of our senses when describing and remembering things in our day to day lives, so why wouldn’t we use them in stories too? The sense we use most often is sight, so it makes sense to use this the most in our work, but remembering to include the others will really improve the quality of your writing. Tell your readers what a room smells like, how food feels in a character’s mouth, what sounds are coming from the tent in the woods. Just in case you’ve forgotten, here are the five senses you can use in your writing:

Taste

Touch

Smell

Sight

Sound

Using all of these rather than just one or two of them will help plant your reader firmly with your antagonist in the world that you have created.

Be Bold

There are so many adjectives out there to choose from, so why is it that everyone uses the same ones? How many times have you read that something is big in a book, or that skin feels like leather? Words like big are used so much that they don’t have a massive effect on us. If you really want to express that something is big then use a different word that’s full of meaning and paints a picture in your readers heads. I mean, if a child is describing an elephant, to them it’s not big, it’s humongous. Using synonyms can really boost your writing and strengthen the world you’ve created.

Adjectives are the most important part of your writing, and if you follow these three tips your writing will really stand out and shine. And if you’re ever unsure about an adjective or want to find a new and interesting one to use, grab a thesaurus and have a look.

How To Meet Other Writers

Writing is a solitary hobby that can leave you feeling secluded and lost. When times get tough and you’re lacking the motivation to write, being alone can result in you giving up. The best thing to do in these times is to talk to other writers, others that know what you’re going through and what to say to help you get going again. Not only can these writers give you support, they’ll also be full of great writing tips and advice, and you can give them some too. Meeting others though can be hard, so here’s a few ways to get you started.

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Conferences

I find these the best way to meet other writers. You have to pay to get into writing conferences and festivals, which straight away tells you the people you’re meeting are serious about their writing. Not only will you be meeting many like-minded people at these events, you’ll also be spending the day learning about writing and publishing. If you want to meet writers of a specific genre there are some events that do focus purely on one genre, for example crime or fantasy. Make sure you talk to people and get their contact information too; most of these people will be just as eager to meet other writers as you are.

Facebook

Facebook is full of writing groups that are open for anyone to join. These groups are for people to share their own work and give helpful critiques on other peoples. You can also ask for advice and generally you’ll get a nice, friendly response. I’ve only ever had one unpleasant experience with Facebook writing groups, so chances are you’ll be just fine.

Writing Workshops

Paying to attend workshops in your area can help you to meet lots of writers that are local to you whilst improving your writing. You’ll spend the entire workshop with people that are clearly interested in the same area of writing as you, or struggling in the same area, and this will create a bond that can keep you in touch long after the workshop is over. It can be really useful to make local contacts, as it will be easier to keep in touch or even to meet in person occasionally.

Writing Groups

There are numerous writing groups in most cities, and to find them all you have to do is look hard. These will be groups of writers that meet once a month to share and critique their writing, usually based on similar genres. It’s nice to have these face to face meetings and deadlines as it will get you to write something rather than nothing each month.

Arvon Courses/ Writing Retreats

These are pretty expensive to go on, but if you can save the money they’re definitely worth it. You go live in a cottage or a villa or something like that for a week with other writers (often with food included) and spend the entire week writing and editing with the guidance of a professional writer or editor. The course itself will help you to get your novel written, whilst the people you meet could become your writing friends for life.

 

Most of the ways of meeting other writers costs money, but it’s worth it. The writing community is huge and everyone is very supportive of each other. Not only will being a part of it help with your writing, but it will also help you make friends with people you can really connect with. And in a few years, once your novel is written and published, you can help guide the newer writers to their success too.

Guest Post: Gareth Baker on Indie Publishing

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“My name’s Gareth Baker, and I’m an Indie Author – and a proud one at that.”

It took me a long time to feel that way, especially as some writers I’ve met often look down their nose at me. At first, I didn’t blame them. I felt the title tried to sound grander than it was, and for the first year or so I referred to myself as a self-published author. Looking back, it was like I was apologising for myself. That yes, I agreed with the nose starrers that I wasn’t good enough and was cheating by jumping the queue. But then I slowly came to realise, about a year ago, that I had worked hard – very hard – to achieve what I had and that I was more than a self-published author, but a creator, a learner, a writer and an Indie publisher.

This April I will have been an Indie for three years. That length of time both seems like a lifetime and a blink of an eye. To be honest, I never wanted to be an Indie. I’d sent off a handful of applications to agents and publishers (not many really) and did what most people do – gave up. Then my friend published on Kindle, and not to be outdone, I did the same. My plan was to self-publish for five years, writing at least one new book a year, and use it as an apprenticeship, learning my craft. By April 2018, I will either be successful or be aiming at the traditional route (as well as being an Indie) as my apprenticeship will be over.

So far my business (and I do see it as a business. I don’t write for art, but I do write for fun), Taralyn Books, has published six books, with around another five waiting to come out in 2016. I now write under two names: Gareth Baker for children’s fiction and G H Mockford for thrillers and, coming later this year, fantasy. Whether Taralyn Books will publish other authors in the future is something I’ve yet to decide, but I have considered it.

Being an Indie’s no easy task, and after three years I am finally beginning to reap some rewards. By that I mean I am financially breaking even. This next year, my fourth, I hope to begin realizing my ambitions of making it a viable source of (realistic) income.

Over the course of the last three years, I have learned many valuable lessons. If you’ve researched how to be a successful Indie (there’s plenty of people willing to give you advice, and many who will charge you for that information too) you may have heard some of what I’m about to say before. When I started out I did some research, but, in the end, decided to throw myself into the ring and learn from my own mistakes. Learning to write a novel – and I mean learn – has been my most valuable experience and one I can’t really outline here as each novelist has to find their own style/path. Did I waste time by not standing on the shoulders of giants? Perhaps. But for me, making my own mistakes was very powerful.

I call the lessons I’ve learned “The Five Challenges of The Indie Author”, and here they are.

Challenge 1 – Time

The biggest enemy of all non-professional writers (by that I mean people who do not make a living solely from being a writer) is finding the time to write. If you’re holding down a full-time job and have a family, where do you find the time? My blunt answer is this: if you really want to tell that story, you will. Get up an hour earlier than you need to. Go to bed an hour later. Most importantly, turn off the TV. It’s as simple and difficult as that.

Then there are writers who have the time but can’t settle or get sucked into Facebook or other distractions. Those writers need to learn some self-discipline and join what I call the Writers’ Gym, or ask themselves what are you afraid of? These words might sound harsh, but only one person is going to write that book – you. Focus. Show some dedication. Get the book written.

In short, while time is an issue, if you want to write a book, really write a book, you will.

Challenge 2 – Money

Some people will tell you that being an Indie is low risk financially, and if you want to present a poor product (or you are highly skilled in editing, Photoshop, marketing etc), or only an e-book, it may well be. In the first two years of being an Indie, I lost money and not because I spent it unwisely (well, maybe sometimes). Producing a quality book, especially if you want to create hard copies, is going to cost you money.

With this challenge, I think you have three options open to you:

  • Publish with what money you have and then pour any profits back into the product. This is what I did.
  • Find a source of money (several thousand) – your own, a family member, take out a bank loan. I did consider the last of these options last year.
  • Rob a bank or win the lotto. I advocate neither of these as one will land you in prison, the other is unlikely.

Now you have some money, you have to decide what you’re going to spend it on. Cover? Editor? Formatting? There are many people who can help you with these, and many of them will charge you a lot of money to do it. Unless you have money to burn, learn to do as much of this as you can for yourself. If you only have enough to pay for one of these, get a great cover. If you can’t afford an editor, get at least four friends to read your typescript and then save up and use an editor as soon as you can. They can be invaluable.

Challenge 3 – Knowing your Audience

Are you writing the book you would want to read? If you’re not, give up. You need to be enjoying yourself. Are you writing a book that fits a genre that you read a lot? Make sure you know what your audience expects. I’m not saying don’t experiment and put new angles on things, but you need to give your audiences what they want. Having said that, many successful Indies find a niche market.

Challenge 4 – Marketing

I’ll be honest with you, this is the area I still have to master, especially in the e-book market (most of my sales are hardcopies). The advice is to use Facebook, Twitter, a blog. I’ve tried all of these with no effect. Perhaps I didn’t persist for long enough. In the end I chose to focus my energies on being a prolific writer so that I have a large catalogue of work.

Challenge 5 – The 3 Ps

Patience, persona and persistence. These three words are probably the key for all writers, traditional, Indie or otherwise. It’ll take time (unless you’re incredibility lucky) and it’ll feel like you’re treading water, or, worse yet, sinking. If you have the drive and the talent, it will happen. Give it at least five years.

Here’s my final piece of advice. Write the story. Don’t worry about getting it word perfect, just get it finished. I spend at least three times as long rewriting and editing than I do writing the first draft. That’s okay, and everyone works differently, but if you keep polishing the same bit over and over, you’ll never finish.

So, those are the challenges I’ve faced and some of the lessons I’ve learned. I’m about to enter my forth year and this will be a critical one. I feel I’m finally hitting my stride in terms of finding an audience and a style. If you want to be an Indie, go for it, pursue your dreams, but know this; it won’t be easy.

If you’d like to find out more about me or my books please visit www.taralynbooks.com or if you’re more interested in my books for children, www.gareth-baker.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook. Please follow the links on my website, and sign up for my newsletter.

Take care, and look after yourself,

Gareth