I met Bryan Thomas Schmidt last year when I was looking for a roommate at World Fantasy Convention. Turns out, he’s written a scifi/space opera that’s been summarized as “Moses in Space!” His first novel is out–he’s written a tremendously fun throwback story that reminds readers of Star Wars. Here’s Bryan’s guest post with tips for writing with better characterization. He makes a number of good points, and I was able to pick up some nice ideas from his article:

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The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

One of the keys to good storytelling that hooks readers is creating relatable characters. What are the tricks apart from character naming to accomplish this challenging task?

To start with, create individuals not stereotypes. Yes, characters have a story function. Yes, some of them are even like tropes, filling necessary roles like comic relief, the buddy, the confidant, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there and fail to flesh them out. People are unique, no two the same, and so should it be with your characters. Each character should respond differently to a particular situation from any other character. For example, fight scenes, can often be a place where characters blend into one and all react the same. Instead try treating such common scenes as opportunities to reveal character through uniqueness. How would one character fight differently than another? Work this in and your story will be richer, your characters stronger. There are many other common scene types where you can similarly emphasize the uniqueness. Look for them.

Second, each character should have his or her own vocabulary. People use words differently, so your characters should as well. One of the best ways to distinguish and develop characters is through dialogue. Educated people use more sophisticated words, while less educated people structure sentences  differently. Think of this as you develop each character’s voice and use it to set them apart, create conflict and develop them throughout your story. Vocabulary, in fact, is far more effective than attempting to create accents. Phonetically, accents already pose problems and can even devolve into silly or, far worse, confusing dialogue styles which detract from the story.

Third, another way to develop character is by choosing the protagonist whose point of view will tell particular scenes. I tend to consider who has the most at stake in a particular scene and make the scene happen in that POV but there are varied theories. Whatever your method, your characters can be developed well through use of POV. For example, I had a scene where a couple are fighting. At the same time, an old enemy is stalking them with intent to do them harm. I told the scene from the enemy’s POV, even though he never interacts with the couple because it allowed me to further both the romantic storyline and the antagonist’s storyline in one scene through his internal monologue as he witnesses their discussion. Three character arcs and two plotlines were thus furthered in one short scene.

Fourthly, People’s tastes vary, and so should characters’. What they wear, how they choose it, etc. can be a part of characterization. Everything from color to fabric choices to scale, formality, and even clothing cost can be used to establish character. We use such things daily as we observe others to determine things about them, and readers will use such details as clues to define characters if you include them. Sartorial Style can be a tool for characterization.

Fifthly, we all have our favorite do-dads, don’t we? Things we take with us everywhere we go. The cliches for women are purses and for men, perhaps, favorite hats, but we all have something. Sometimes it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. Other times, it’s carried around for all to see. Props are a great tool for revealing character. Spend time observing people around you. What props does each person have? Keep a spreadsheet or list of potential props for characters. Yes, when writing fantasy or science fiction you might have to be more inventive than just copying from a list you made at the mall. That’s called writing, dears. In any case, props can add great flavor and speak volumes about characters.

Sixthly, who a person spends his or her time with says a lot about them and so use it to develop your characters well. Fellow characters, animal or otherwise, can be great for revealing character. We see how they interact with each other and we learn volumes about who they are. Think about it: what would the Lone Ranger have been without Silver or Tonto? What about Batman without Robin? There’s a reason Michael Keaton quit after two movies: he was lonely (Ok, that might be just a guess).

Seventh, it seems obvious but sometimes it’s easy to forget to dig deeply into a character’s past for material to develop the character. Even things you know about them but don’t include in your narrative can be of value. All the experiences of that character’s past serve to shape who he or she is becoming, from determining responses to various stimuli to emotional hot points from happy to fearful. When your character seems to become stagnant, review what you know about his or her past, then ask yourself if maybe there might be more to uncover which would help you as you write. You can only have too little backstory, never too much. It’s core to the internal battles all people face and will enrich your ability to write your characters with depth and broadness that stretches outside the boundaries and limitations of your story itself.

Lastly, another that seems obvious, but developing your character’s likes and dislikes can take you all kinds of places, especially when you examine how they might clash with those of the characters around them and even the attributes of the world around them. All kinds of instances will soon arise where you can reveal more of the character through actions resulting from these traits. In the process, your story will have built in conflict and drama and perhaps even humor you might not have thought of before. Character traits are a great way to add spicy detail to your story, surprising and entertaining readers at the same time. And don’t just limit yourself to personal preferences either. Character traits can also include physical ticks like clenching hands when angry or a slight stutter or even a limp or other defect.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

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Welllll, not quite. But the Indie Book Podcast did (in an audio review), and they filled in nicely. Spoiler: Two thumbs up. They talked about The Black God’s War for about 7 minutes, and I really loved hearing their thoughts (I especially loved that Jane liked Narayani, Aayu, and Duilio–three of my characters that don’t usually get as much love as the others). I also found their criticisms right on the mark and helpful.

IndieBookPodcast.com is a book review podcast that focuses on indie/self-published books and news about indie publishing. Next week, their episode will also feature a brief interview with me.

Thanks very much, Jane!

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SFSignal.com melds the minds of science fiction and fantasy writers every Wednesday, inviting authors to answer a new question each week. This week, my brain was invited to the stew. Ewww!

The question was:

Q: What is the role and place of maps in Fantasy novels? Which are your favorites? Why?

In my comments, I talked about my own experience with commissioning a map for The Black God’s War and gave links to some of my favorite maps, including maps from:

Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera, Book 6.
Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold
David Anthony Durham’s Acacia
Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn
Kevin J Anderson’s Terra Incognita series
Selina Fenech’s Memory’s Wake
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
And, of course, my own.

I could link to those maps from here, but then you might not see all of the cool things over there. So check it out!

You might’ve seen my map for The Black God’s War:

Map by Jared Blando, TheRedEpic.com

But I haven’t shown the original map that I drew for Jared Blando at TheRedEpic.com (he’s the artist of the above map):

 

Good thing there are real artists in the world, eh?

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23
Aug

#5MinuteFiction Finalists! And the Winner is …

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III   in Flash Fiction, Giveaways, Weird

The Black God's War (Novel)With 11 votes and two more votes than the two who tied for second place, the winner of #5MinuteFiction Week 65 is …

DL Thurston@DL_Thurston

Congratulations, DL! It was a close one, but you edged out Sharon and Brian. In addition to considerable bragging rights, you’ve also won a free copy of The Black God’s War (ebook or trade paperback). DL’s winning piece of flash fiction is the first one presented below.

Thanks to everyone who participated! It was a lot of fun for me to host and judge the event, and I truly got a kick out of everyone’s submissions. Thanks for playing and I hope to see you again soon.

 

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The five finalists for this week’s #5MinuteFiction are, listed in the order of submissions:

DL Thurston / @DL_Thurston

redshirt @redshirt6

kaolin fire@kaolinfire

Sharon Wachsler@aftergadget

Brian Cortijo @briancortijo

All I’m sayin’ is, if I had entered this competition, I don’t think I would’ve been one of the finalists. And the writing prompt was about my book. These folks are good! A little too good, if you ask me. I suspect foul play. Perhaps souls being promised to powerful discarnate entities? But I have no evidence, so …

The winner gets bragging rights and a free copy of The Black God’s War (paperback or ebook). While you’re waiting for the winner to be announced (tomorrow morning, after I wake up, maybe around 8 or 9 am Pacific?), you’re more than welcome to check out this in-browser, five chapter preview of The Black God’s War. You can find more info on the book, including some reviews, here on my blog.

And now, your Devil worshippers finalists.

DL Thurston@DL_Thurston

“When the ten gods of the Kingdom of Rezzia went to war with the mystics of the lands of Pawelon, neither side could gain any advantage until a young man was found, born of common stock, who…”

“Wait wait wait,” his grandson griped. “Is this another one of those chosen one saves the day stories?”

“But those are the best kind of stories.”

“Why?”

“They teach us that anyone could be special.”

“Nuh-uh. Special people are special. If you’re not, you just get to be killed by orcs.”

He shifted in his chair, uncomfortable about the line of questioning but proud of his grandson for seeing through the stories.

“Alright, then, what kind of story would you like to hear?”

“What was the world like when you were a kid?”

He beamed and with an impishness in his voice said, “oh, I doubt you want to hear about then. It was boring.”

“No! No no no! Tell me!”

“Alright,” the grandfather said, “let me think. Ah yes. When the ten gods of the Kingdom of Rezzia went to war with the mystics of the lands of Pawelon, neither side could gain any advantage until I was found…”
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redshirt @redshirt6

When the ten gods of the Kingdom of Rezzia went to war with the mystics of the lands of Pawelon, neither side could gain any advantage until one day it was realized that they had been fighting themselves. It was finally discovered that the two had met at the boundary between worlds. On one side, the normal world, and on the other was a mirror world. Like a small tiger cub approaching a mirror and mistaking itself for another, it had taken a while to figure out.

Ultimately, the introduction of a cosmic ball of yarn resolved this epic struggle.

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kaolin fire@kaolinfire

When the ten gods of the Kingdom of Rezzia went to war with the mystics of the lands of Pawelon, neither side could gain any advantage until the city of Kalinga sold out. Their holy tomes, though critically acclaimed, and loved throughout the land, had not met with the approval his High Holiness Kann the Fourth. They gave the ten gods maps of the Mahayana passes; succored them after travel, and allowed them to stage. Sravasti fell shortly after, the stories penned at Kalinga swaying them body and soul. With the combined might of Rezzia, the ten gods, and Sravasti and Ashown against the capital, Kannauj soon fell. The monks of Kalinga quickly set to writing the histories—and it was known throughout the lands, and for all time, the great deeds of the press and the scribes who manned them.

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Sharon Wachsler@aftergadget

When the ten gods of the Kingdom of Rezzia went to war with the mystics of the lands of Pawelon, neither side could gain any advantage until the mystics had had their fair share of pizza.

It was well known that Pawelonian pizza was not only extremely tasty, with it’s batter-dipped oorangtilian and pickled onshulung giving it that certain flavor that reminded everyone who tasted it of their first orgasm, but it also rendered the eater incredibly strong, hairy, and full of second-Sight.

The Gods knew they were at this disadvantage, and no amount of Rezzian spaghetti could ever make up for it. No matter how delicious the basil-infused spider-fish was.

The Mystics, now sprouting a fine coat of silver fur, muscles bulging like frantian tigers, eyes popping up all over their bodies, and the backs of their heads, peeking through their new, thick pelts, turned to face the Gods.

They were ready. They’d had their glass of Cabernet imported from Earth, too. They strode to the battlefield, all eyes roving in 360 directions.

That’s when they saw it. The big marquee over the Rezzian town center: “Pawleon Pizza: Fresh, Hot, Ready, & Fur-Bearing in Five Minutes or Your Money Back.”

7,000 pairs of Mystic eyes blinked in consternation.

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Brian Cortijo @briancortijo

“When the ten gods of the Kingdom of Rezzia went to war with the mystics of the lands of Pawelon, neither side could gain any advantage until …”

James squinted at the two additional columns of text, shook his head, and closed the thin booklet.

“Alright, that’s too much.” He hated long, expository read-aloud text that had nothing to do with the module. Everyone did.

Well, everyone except Keith. He knew all this stuff cold, and he’d been waiting months to play The Black Cultists of Rezzia. He sighed a little bit, and closed his notebook, as James continued.

“The mystics of Pawelon have hired you to guard a sacred artifact from the cultists of Rezzia.”

“Which god?”

“What do you mean, which god, Keith? They’re cultists of Rezzia…”

“Rezzia,” started Keith, “is a place, not a deity.”

“Look,” said James, “do you want to play, or not?”

“Yes, but…”

“If you keep debating, no one else is going to have any fun.”

The rest of the table nodded eagerly in agreement.

“James, I understand that you’re the GameMaster, but it’s important to me that you at least try and get some of the details right. For example, if you’d even tried to read the intro text…”

“That’s it. While Keith’s priest is checking his book to see which god the cultists worship, a pack of starving wolves attacks the party. Roll for initiative.”

Keith sighed, deflated, and picked up his dice.

 

Who shall wear the crown? #5MinuteFiction Week 65
DL Thurston / @DL_Thurston
redshirt @redshirt6
kaolin fire / @kaolinfire
Sharon Wachsler / @aftergadget
Brian Cortijo @briancortijo
pollcode.com free polls

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What is 5MinuteFiction, you say? It’s an adrenaline-fueled, instant-gratification sort of writing contest. Sound fun? Great! Get in there and get dirty!

The Rules

* You get five minutes to write a piece of prose or poetry in any style or genre. Just make it up and have fun!

You must BEGIN your entry with the following sentence (it’s related to my novel, but you get to make up your own story):

When the ten gods of the Kingdom of Rezzia went to war with the mystics of the lands of Pawelon, neither side could gain any advantage until …

(Note: The above sentence is the prompt. The picture below is just for decoration/inspiration.)

Map by Jared Blando, TheRedEpic.com

To enter, leave a comment with your entry on this very blog post. I’ll close the contest at 1:45 pm Eastern (you should only write for five minutes and then immediately post your entry).

At the close of the contest, I’ll nominate five finalists and put up a poll in a new thread. When I wake up on Wednesday, I’ll close the poll and declare the winner.

For updates, follow us on twitter with the #5MinuteFiction hashtag.

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(Posted earlier …)

This is gonna be fun! My blog is hosting an excellent flash fiction contest that’s normally organized every week by my writer-friend, Leah Petersen. Leah has a SciFi novel coming out through Dragon Moon Press in the Spring of 2012. It’s called Fighting Gravity, and I’m sure I’ll be talking more about it down the road.

Since I get to be king for a day (host and judge of #5MinuteFiction), this week’s contest will be fantasy-flavored and The Black God’s War-flavored (that’s my epic fantasy novel that just came out this month). The winner will win a free copy of my novel, whether in ebook or trade paperback (winner’s choice). You can also read a free 5-chapter preview of my book in your browser.

The Black God's War (Novel)
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The Black God's War (Novel)The Black God’s War has arrived, to my sincere surprise, with some very kind reviews from three outstanding book reviewers.

GraceKrispy from MotherLode is a well-respected reviewer who rarely gives out 5 stars (so far, only four other 5-star reviews on her popular blog this year), but she had this to say at the end of her review of The Black God’s War:

If you follow my reviews regularly, you know I don’t give many 5 star reviews. In my way of thinking, there are almost always things I would have changed about a story. Although I’ve listed a few things I’d change about this story (clarify chapter headings and characters’ thoughts), I find that (hours later), I can’t stop thinking about the characters and their journeys. I find myself contemplating the messages that were delivered (whether overtly or veiled). Overall, I find I really can’t stop thinking about this story. Unforgettable story, intriguing characters, compelling journey with unexpected twists- in short, a very satisfying and engaging read. Isn’t that why we read for pleasure?

Then today a review came in from Derek Prior at IndieFantasyReview. Derek wrote a rather critical review of my previously released novella and he’s not the type to blow sunshine, so this was nice to hear:

The Black God’s War is, to date, the finest example of quality independent fantasy I’ve seen. This is undoubtedly due to Siregar’s willingness to write and rewrite until each chapter feels just right to him … As a reader, I was left with absolute confidence that this writer knows his world and characters inside out …

He’s also no slacker when it comes to presentation of his material either. This book has been professionally and extensively edited, proofed, and formatted. There is a remarkable map and a great cover.

This is what indie publishing is all about and I have no qualms about recommending this great novel.

A third professional review also arrived just today. It’s from Robert Duperre at the Journal of Always. Robert wrote the sort of deep, thoughtful, and thorough review that every author dreams of receiving. Here’s an excerpt from his 4.5 star review:

“… there is a rather brilliant climax that left me grinning from ear to ear …

In conclusion, The Black God’s War is a unique experience. The plot is intricate, the characters even more so, and the message is one of beauty. By the time you flip to the last few pages, I hope you have the shivers just as I did, which is how I know that Moses Siregar is going to be around a long time, and his voice, one of unity, passion, and loving sensibilities, is important – in the world at large as well as literature.

So bravo, Mr. Siregar. You wrote a damn good book. You should be very proud.”

Goodreads:

The Black God's War [A Stand-Alone Novel] (Splendor and Ruin, Book I)


Use the arrow in the bottom-right to turn the page:

Goodreads.com

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Some of you already know that I’m a co-host at the Adventures In SciFi Publishing podcast. Last week, in honor of the release of my novel, my friends Shaun and Brent interviewed, well, me. We discussed my early background, how I got into writing fantasy fiction, my influences, The Black God’s War, and the state of publishing today.

Here’s episode 130 of AISFP. Thanks for listening!

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The Black God's War (Novel)Writing isn’t nearly as much fun without loud music in my face. I need your help so I can rock (or groove, or float) on.

I recently asked my homeys on Facebook and Twitter to recommend just one song for my next music playlist. These are the songs I’ll listen to as I write my next book, The Gods Divided (sequel to The Black God’s War, which comes out on August 1st). There’s still time to recommend a song (only one, please). I’ve listened to all of the current suggestions (thanks, y’all!), and here are the ten songs I’ve approved so far.

In no particular order:

Map of the Problematique, by Muse (from @AlexJKane).
Crystal, by New Order (from @RinnFalconer).
Call me When You’re Sober, by Evanescence (from @MumofBabyDavros).
The Last of the Mohicans, from the soundtrack (from @Strassur).
Timshel, by Mumford & Sons (from @charlotte_abel).
Roads, by Portishead (from @I_Pagan).
Sigur Ros, by Sæglópur (from Corey Podwinski)
Angels, by Wax Poetic featuring Norah Jones (Alexandra Geraets)
Sign of the Southern Cross, by Black Sabbath (Eric Kent Edstrom)
Remembering, by Karen Thurber (Karen Thurber‘s MySpace)

(I’ll keep adding songs to this list as I approve new songs.)

New songs added since I published this blog post:

Philosophia, by Guggenheim Grotto (@_MoniqueMartin_)
Anywhere on This Road, by Lhasa de Sela (Sarah Bartsch)
For Prayer, by Wye Oak (@iamfantastikate)
Blow Me Away, by Breaking Benjamin featuring Valora (lexcade)
Escape Artist, by Zoe Keating  (Timothy C Ward)
Threads, by This Will Destroy You (bennylol)
A Song for Starlit Beaches, by Yndi Halda (Machine_Gun_Jubblies)
Solitude is Bliss, by Tame Impala (MunkyAU)
Lobby, by The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble (thepaganapostle)
Welcome Home, by Coheed and Cambria (Barry Napier)

Feel free to comment with a song suggestion, and leave something like an email address or twitter handle in case I add your song. The first 20 selections will win paper copies of my book. EDIT: I’ve just reached 20 songs, but feel free to suggest a song if you’d like a chance to win a free ebook edition of The Black God’s War.

My taste is eclectic, and I like variety in my playlists. Thanks for your help, and check out the links to the songs above if you’re looking for a good time.

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A really cool thing happened to me last week. John Mierau (one heck of a good interviewer) talked with me about The Black God’s War, my process, and indie publishing. Here’s the interview.

I’ve conducted a lot of interviews with best-selling science fiction and fantasy authors over the last year. So it was terrifying interesting to be on the other end of the Skype connection.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the new map for my novel, here it is. I’ll probably blog about it soon.
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My dearest homeys, if you aren’t following David Gaughran’s truly outstanding blog, Let’s Get Digital, then you probably missed my guest blog post over there, Using “Free” to Generate Pre-Release Buzz. You can also check out the comments for bonus discussion.

David said some nice things about me, all of them lies:

One of the criticisms that self-publishers face is that they rush their work out. Sometimes it’s bad covers, or poor editing, but sometimes the book just wasn’t ready to be published.

Today’s guest poster, Moses Siregar III, understands the importance of making sure your book is the best you can possibly make it before you sent it out into the world.

Rather than be frustrated by seeing other indie writers dive in and rack up sales, Moses never rushed his work, instead taking the time to assiduously build his platform in a number of interesting ways, all building up towards the release of his novel at the start of August.

But seriously, thanks, David!

David recently released a free ebook called Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should. You can get it for free as a pdf from his website, or pick up a version for $2.99 from Amazon or Smashwords.

This guide contains over 60,000 words of essays, articles, and how-to guides, as well as contributions from 33 bestselling indie authors including J Carson Black, Bob Mayer, Victorine Lieske, Mark Edwards, and many more.

Did I mention that I recommend following his outstanding blog? Because it really is that good.
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