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.

NaNoWriMo: Getting to Grips with your Novel

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Have you ever been asked what your novel is about and found yourself unable to answer? If you have, it’s most likely that you don’t know your story quite as well as you should. It’s essential that you can summarise your entire book into one or two sentences, because that’s the best way to really get to grips with it yourself. Forget your winding plot lines for a few moments and let’s get down to the basics.

First, answer these questions:

  1. What is your protagonist’s name?
  2. What genre is your novel? (If it’s a mix of many, pick the one or two that are the most prominent).
  3. What is your word count? (You probably won’t have an exact one yet, so instead write down the number of words you’re aiming for).
  4. What is your protagonist trying to achieve in the novel? What is his/her main goal?
  5. What triggers the story?
  6. Who is your antagonist?

If you’re finding that you can’t answer any of these questions for any reason, go back to the drawing board and have another look at your planning. These should all be pretty easy to answer, and shouldn’t take up more than one or two sentences each.

Now you need to combine all of this information into one sentence. That’s right, one sentence with a maximum of 60 words. Sound scary? Here’s one formula for it that works well.

(Book title) is a _____ word (genre) novel about (protagonist), a (occupation/role in story/age/personality trait) who must (main goal) after (trigger).

For example, here would be some answers to the questions above:

  1. Jack Jones
  2. Fantasy
  3. 90 000 words
  4. Needs to find the mystical globe of Oria to set his sister, Emily, free
  5. A goblin from Wath kidnaps his sister
  6. Horfin, the goblin king

Here’s a summary from those answers:

Peartha is a 90 000 word fantasy novel about Jack Jones, a pessimistic lorry driver from Earth who must find the mystical globe of Oria and travel to Wath to rescue his sister, who was kidnapped by the goblin king.

Hopefully you’ll find that completing this exercise helps you to really get to grips with your novel and understand exactly what’s going on in it. Feel free to rearrange the sentence structure to whatever you think fits your novel the best.

Have you managed to get a sentence you’re really happy with? Then enter our competition with it!

Share your sentence in the comments below or on our Facebook page for a chance to win a free edit of your first three chapters.

Competition ends on Friday 16th October.

A Writer’s Workbook

Before we start our prep sessions for NaNoWriMo we thought we’d let you in on a little secret.

This is a huge help when it comes to taking on NaNoWriMo, especially for the first time. It’s a really handy workbook that has pages and pages of prompts to get you thinking about your novel. We think if you’re doing the challenge and have a spare £12 you should definitely buy it. There’s a link to the Amazon page here, or it’s also available in a lot of book shops, such as Waterstones.

Look out for our first preparation session later this week, where we’ll be looking at ways to really get to grips with your novel.

Creating a Convincing Character

Without good characters a story won’t be interesting, and without an interesting story you won’t get readers. Imagine your favourite book, and then imagine it without your favourite character; it doesn’t work, does it? You have to have a developed and realistic character for your story to really stand out, and that’s what we’re here to help you with.

To write a good character that’s enticing and believable you need to know as much about them as you do about yourself. This includes knowing about their childhood, their first kiss, that time they broke their leg playing hockey, everything. Even if you’re writing about an eighty year old man you need to know all these things about his life so you can really get him on the page. It sounds like a lot of effort, and it is, but it’s definitely worth it and could be the difference between a publishing contract and a forgotten manuscript.

So how can you get to know your character so well? It can be quite enjoyable to make up a back story for your character, and we think a great way to do it is just by answering a few questions. We often use the questions below with writers who are struggling with their characterisation, and it really helps them to develop their characters. Try answering them for your protagonist, and then maybe have another go at answering them for your antagonist.

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Describe what your character looks like
  4. Education/occupation
  5. What’s your characters earliest memory?
  6. Describe your characters childhood
  7. Describe the relationship your character had with their parents and siblings as a child
  8. Describe the relationship your character has with their parents and siblings now
  9. What does the character want from life? What is their ambition?
  10. What personality flaw(s) does the character have? Remember, no one is perfect. Your character will have at least one flaw.
  11. What is their greatest fear? Was this fear caused by anything in particular?
  12. What are people’s first impressions of this character?
  13. Write about their first love
  14. Write about a particularly important moment in your characters life. This can be anything, from a day at school to getting married.
  15. Write about a time when your character was unhappy
  16. Write about a time when your character was at their happiest

These questions could carry on forever, and the more you do the better your character will be when you get them on the page. Do this at the start whilst planning your novel, and then if you feel like you’re losing touch whilst writing you can look back at your answers or write more about different parts of your characters life.

Do you have anything else you like to know about your character before writing? Let us know what you write about in the comments below.

The Snowflake Method

Snowflake Method

Last week we gave our advice on planning a novel, and although it works great for us it might not have worked out for you. If you gave it a go but just couldn’t get on with it, try this method instead. It’s called the Snowflake Method (created by Randy Ingermanson), and a lot of writers we’ve provided editing services for have produced their novels from it. So if our method didn’t quite tickle your fancy, give this one a go:

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

Do you use a different way to plan your novel? Let us know in the comments section below.

Happy writing!

A Quick Guide to Planning Your Novel

So you want to write a novel, huh? Well, it doesn’t just happen overnight you know. It takes lots of planning, preparation and cups of tea, and even when it’s done there’s still plenty of editing and rewriting to do. It’s tough work, and it’s even tougher if you’re going at it alone, but you don’t have to. There are plenty of blogs out there that exist just to help writers, and that’s what we want to do too. So we’ve decided to start with the very basics. Here’s our way of turning that idea into a basic novel plan.

Stasis

Who is your protagonist, and what is their normal, everyday life like? Write down what your character’s life is like before the novel really starts.

Trigger

Something must happen to disrupt your protagonist’s life, and this something must trigger a response. This could be a death, a letter in the post, anything to challenge the protagonist either emotionally or physically.

Voyage

Your protagonist must now set out on some sort of adventure in reaction to the trigger. This is where the story really starts, and you get to throw your protagonist into a whole new world that they’re not used to. It could be a new relationship they have to get used to, a new planet they find themselves on or even an accident they need to recover from. There must be an end game though, something they’re adventuring for. This voyage must lead to something, and that something is whatever you want to happen towards the end of the novel.

Surprise

This is where you get to throw things in your protagonist’s way so they have to really work to finish their quest. A protagonist without obstacles makes a very short and boring book. They need things to overcome, not only to make their voyage harder but also to build their character. We’d suggest thinking of three main obstacles for your protagonist to overcome for now. Of course add more in later, but for now three will give you something to work with.

Critical Decision

Your protagonist must now make a decision that will directly affect the climax of the novel. This decision can completely change how the story ends. It needs to be big and it needs to be a hard one to make. It has to put them protagonist in a difficult position so we can see how they get out of it.

Climax

This is it. This is the end of the journey. This is what they were searching for from the start. But how do they get it or find it? Is there a battle, is there an argument, or is there just one last obstacle to pass that’s bigger than all of the others? Is your protagonist even going to get what they want, whether it’s to escape a world or to save a loved one? This is up to you, but make it big.

Changes

So your protagonist has finished their voyage, that’s great, but how have they changed? Throughout this journey your character must have developed and the world must have changed for them. Write down the consequences of this adventure for the protagonist.

Resolution

Your character must now return to their old life, back to what it was before their adventure. They probably won’t be satisfied being back there, and it’s probably a little different in their eyes, but nonetheless they’ll find ourselves at the start of the novel again. Think Harry Potter returning to the Dursley’s at the end of his first year at Hogwarts and you’ll find your ending.

That’s it, our favourite way to plan a novel. This plan will work for most genres, although it isn’t the only one out there. If it doesn’t work for you, find another one, there are plenty to choose from. If you’re a little stuck when planning using this guide, take a break and try fitting one of your favourite stories into it to see how it works, just like we did with Harry Potter in the resolution section. Is this a method that works for you? Let us know below!