Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Small Author PhotoThe world of speculative fiction covers so many subgeneres. Earlier, I had Jason C. Joyner talk about his superhero novel and today I have Jenelle Leanne Schmidt, who writes epic fantasy. Welcome, Jenelle!

Me: Which comes first when developing a story – characters, setting, or plot?

 Jenelle: With regards to what comes first, personally, I think anything goes. Some authors start with a character. Others start with a plot line. Still others begin with their world-building. Although my stories tend to be heavily character-driven, I’ve used all three of these as my starting points, and I can’t honestly say that I prefer one over the other. What works is going to vary from one author to the next, and even from one story to the next.

 Me: What are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

 Jenelle: There are many challenges that are unique to writing speculative fiction. It deals with the imagination in ways very few other genres do, and begs the reader to suspend their disbelief a bit more than other genres.

One of the main challenges to writing speculative fiction is the setting. Most fantasy and sci-fi stories take place in different worlds. They may be connected to our world via a portal of some kind, but they are separate entities, and as such, they need to be defined and explained and described extremely well, as they are not places a reader can ever actually visit. If there is futuristic technology or magic or the characters have abilities that defy our laws of science, those things need a sensible explanation that the reader will accept as reasonable. This gets even more difficult if the story isset in our own world, because the author needs to come up with well thought-through explanations for the more fantastical elements of the story.

Another difficulty I’ve observed has been the overuse of tropes. Tropes can be a very good thing, but if they are consistently used in the same way, they become cliches.

 Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?

 Jenelle: When my inspiration runs low, it often means I need a break. Sometimes this means doing something else for a while and NOT thinking about my story, other times it simply means a break from staring at the screen – and talking through ideas I have or the problem spot I’m stuck on with someone else.

 Me: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write speculative fiction?

Jenelle: Be creative. Let your imagination loose. What tropic elements are in your story? Think about how you can turn them around and use them to surprise your reader. Make sure you think through the world-building aspect of the story and really make the setting come alive through your descriptions and explanations… and make sure that the setting is important to the story. If you could take your same story and not lose anything by setting it somewhere more mundane, then maybe think of ways to make the setting more important either through the obstacles it presents or the themes it can convey.

To learn more, visit Jenelle at the sites below.

Minstrels Call Cover

Jenelle Leanne Schmidt is a dreamer, compulsive opener-of-doors, and award-winning author of the new novel: Minstrel’s Call. She resides in Wisconsin with her husband and their four adorable children who are all named after characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Blog: http://jenelleschmidt.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JenelleLeanneSchmidt/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JenelleLSchmidt/

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Jason C. Joyner

36978778_10157217267360730_8470087880406990848_nToday speculative fiction writer Jason C. Joyner is joining me. His first novel, for the YA Christian market about superheroes,  just came out on July 3. Welcome, Jason!

Me: Which comes first when developing a story – characters, setting, or plot?

Jason: I usually see characters in a specific setting. My first novel was a man floating face down in the water, dead. I had to find out why and who cared about him.

For my YA superhero novel I saw two kids dealing with weird fallout from their powers. A kid with super speed who kept wearing out shoes, and a depressed girl who tried to dye her hair black but her hair turned back blonde because she can manipulate light.

From those images (because they are quite stark in my head), I’ll ask questions about the circumstances. The plot comes next, and I’ll think of settings to go with everything.

 MeWhat are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

Jason: Speculative fiction is fun to write, but you have to go beyond what you can research. In many other genres, you can research specifically the technology, weapons, vehicles, etc. that you need. I had to create routers that spread a mental suggestion across a campus. I used things like fiber optic cables as inspiration for another aspect of the story, but then I have to add the “speculative” factor.

 Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?

Jason: I have had plenty of rejections from agents, but I’m thankful that most have included comments like, “The talent is there, you just need to find the right project.” I’ll look at those or positive reviews of stories to remind me I can do this. I’ll look at Pinterest for images that inspire. I like to find soundtracks or epic instrumental music to get me in the mode of writing. Finally, I’ll set the timer on my cell phone. While the timer’s running I must write – no internet distractions, changing music, getting snacks. Hands on the keys then!

 Me: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write speculative fiction?

 Jason: Read widely. Write what you would enjoy reading, but be aware of the standard tropes if you’re writing epic fantasy vs. hard sci-fi vs. zombie apocalypse. Speculative is a broad term, and the fans of different sub-genres will expect certain things. It’s not that you can’t do new or different things, but be aware of what their expectations are.

To learn more about Jason and his new YA superhero novel Launch, check out the links below.

36969644_10157217267365730_1118897216069566464_nJason C. Joyner is a physician assistant, a writer, a Jesus-lover, and a Star Wars geek. He’s traveled from the jungles of Thailand to the cities of Australia and the Bavarian Alps of Germany. He lives in Idaho with his lovely wife, three boys, and daughter managing the chaos of sports and superheroes in his own home. Launch, a YA superhero story, is his first published novel.

Social media:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jasoncjoyner– You can join my Facebook group, The Heroes’ Hangout at https://www.facebook.com/groups/229022587673013/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/jasoncjoyner
Instagram: www.instagram.com/jasoncjoyner
Launch Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/jasoncjoyner/launch/
Launch playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/124166539/playlist/4sB5rCXHYQ0wxA43gB7Oyr

Purchase links:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Launch-Rise-Anointed-Jason-Joyner/dp/0998624381/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_img_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=83XMXW8YRKBH0DTKNW9V

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/launch-jason-c-joyner/1128415598?ean=9780998624389



Monday Sparks — Writing Prompt: Character Sketch

fantasyw-3281907_1280So who is the person in the picture? He’s obviously a super-being, but what kind of super-being? Hero or villain?

When I first saw the picture, the costume reminded me of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of Aztec mythology. The sunrise or sunset made me think of a southern city baking under a tropical sun. I did some research and learned Quetzalcoatl was the god of the wind and the dawn. So here’s my take on a new superhero:

Name: Quetzalcoatl

Real name: Unknown

Location: Latin American city

Super powers: Flying. Commanding the wind. Powers strongest in the hours after dawn, weakest on moonless nights.

Antagonists: Criminals and anyone who preys on helpless people

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Michelle Levigne

michelle-levigne-LR-2Because I am focusing this month on speculative fiction, I have asked several authors who specialize in that genre to guest blog. First up is my friend Michelle Levigne. Michelle writes in many genres, not just speculative fiction, but in that category she covers steampunk, fantasy, and science-fi.

Me: Which usually comes first when developing a story – characters, setting, or plot?

 Michelle : Plot — but even that isn’t right. Usually the story starts as an idea, an image that comes into my head, a spin-off from another idea, a chance remark someone makes, a joke, a “Hey, what if THIS happened instead of what happened in the movie/book?” or sometimes a reaction to a cool idea that was badly done and I think about how I could do it better — or at least differently. C.S. Lewis said the Narnia books started with just an image he had of a faun carrying parcels, walking through a snowy wood. Just yesterday, I remarked to my mother that all the Hallmark “royal wedding” stories are soooo cookie cutter, so I dreamed up an idea that was the opposite of the checklist they offer. For instance, my royal wedding (If I ever wrote it) would have a princess, not a prince. He breaks it off because he is a threat to the kingdom, not just to a bunch of social rules. She would abdicate her throne for him. Someone conniving is trying to throw them together instead of tear them apart. Someone wants to hurt her tiny kingdom, instead of allegedly “protect” it. See what I mean? 

Me: Since you write in multiple genres, do you have a favorite? Have you ever started a story in one genre and switched it to another?

 Michelle: I can’t say I have a favorite genre. The requirements of the story sometimes pick the genre. For instance, magic would work better than superhero/telepathic powers (although some might claim they are actually the same thing) or the social situation I need for my story works better in a past culture rather than futuristic, or vice versa.

And yes, that just happened to me. In fact, I’m still working on the switch. I wrote a book a few years ago that was the first in a planned 4-book series, science fiction, near-future, taking place on a farming colony set up on an alien world — Earth is starving and it’s worth the expense of setting up alien colonies to feed the planet. I am changing it to fantasy, where it’s not an alien world but a series of worlds on the other side of a magical doorway. Instead of rebel colonists and alien creatures, I have very angry denizens of Faerie who were driven from Earth and want their planet back. Even if they have to kill off all the nasty mortals. I had to gut large portions of the setup for the SF series to make it fantasy, but I think it’s a better book. And hopefully a better series someday.

 MeWhat are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

 Michelle: The world-building — which is the fun part, sometimes — but it’s tricky because you’re building a WORLD. How much do you make like the modern, terrestrial biology, society, technology, politics, and how much do you change? How much science do you have to know, to keep people who know more in those areas from throwing the book against the wall because you broke all sorts of laws of science? How much can you get away with by having your characters either ignorant of the physical/scientific/magical laws, and how much do you have to explain, and where does vital information stop and info-dump begin?

There’s a little bit of a challenge to try to make it unique, and not follow trends that have gone on so long they’ve become cliché. Because as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. You can work so hard creating a totally unique setting — you believe — and then just after you turn the book in to a publisher, a book is released to critical acclaim that makes you swear someone was hacking your computer every night, to steal your story.

This actually happened to me when the TV show “Beauty and the Beast” was on. I had just finished a script and had requested the release form, to send it to the production company. That week, an episode aired that had my general idea {drugs invading Down Below) and even some of my lines, starting with, “That’s not the Vincent we know.” Yeah, right, like Ron Koslow needed to spy on our writing group that met at McDonald’s every Tuesday night?

 Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when you’re running low?

 Michelle: I take a break. I read. I watch movies. I go do chores, because usually the low point of inspiration is just a feeling of, “Okay, I thought I knew what happened next but I can’t find it,” and I give my brain a break. Usually when I’m busy doing something else, the solution shows up. I can’t count all the times I’ve been driving or sitting in church or doing something else and I get the “fix” for a problem in a story, or I get an idea for character background, or I get a new tangent for the plot that is a lot more fun than where I planned to go originally. I’ve learned to always have paper and pen ready. I feel sorry for my Sunday school teacher, who must think I’m taking notes all through class, but I’m actually replotting the current story, or brainstorming as I work through a new idea for a new project.

A good stimulus for creativity is to go watch a movie or TV show or read a book that is just ludicrous, and you have to wonder who wasted the money to produce the wretched thing and then inflict it on the watching/reading public. If the idea is good, but the execution stinks, naturally you start thinking about how it could have been changed and fixed. And sometimes come up with a completely new, original story. Or at least a bit of inspiration for a character or background or piece of technology or a side story or just a fun tangent to explore.

And when all else fails, chocolate lubricates the mental and creative gears.

 Me: What advice would you give to someone interested in writing speculative fiction?

 Michelle: #1: Have fun. Unless you have incredible luck and a faerie godmother or you’re disgustingly talented right off the bat, it’s going to take years to produce something someone will want to publish. So make sure you’re writing what makes you happy and feeds your soul, because that is what will keep you going until the day “the call” comes.

#2: Play in other people’s playgrounds, first. Meaning write fan fiction. There are hundreds of fandoms out there, for anything you can think of. Fan magazines. Online sites where people post bits of stories and artwork and homemade videos. Get into fandom and find people who will be honest and kind, and who will grant you the freedom and wiggle room to explore your own vision for the fandom you love. You want people who will give you feedback on your use of established characters, situations, settings, customs and technology. This is a place where you can practice writing stories without having to spend time and energy creating the worlds. Like walking into a theater full of costumes and a full set on the stage, and you’re free to make up a play that goes with the costumes and set.

Then when you’re ready to launch, and write in your own worlds, you might just have friends and followers who will cheer you on and come explore your playground with you.

Me: Thanks so much for stopping by! To learn more about Michelle and her books, check out her bio and links below.



On the road to publication, Michelle fell into fandom in college (she is a recovering Trekker, and adores “Warehouse 13,” “Stargate SG-1,” “The Dresden Files,” and “The Librarians.”), and has 40+ stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a BA in theater/English from Northwestern College and a MA focused on film and writing from Regent University. She has published 80+ books and novellas with multiple small presses, in science fiction and fantasy, YA, and sub-genres of romance. Her official launch into publishing came with winning first place in the Writers of the Future contest in 1990. She has been a finalist in the EPIC Awards competition multiple times, winning with Lorien in 2006 and The Meruk Episodes, I-V, in 2010. Her most recent claim to fame is being named a finalist in the SF category of the 2018 Realm Award competition, in conjunction with the Realm Makers conference. Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She is a tea snob and freelance edits for a living (MichelleLevigne@gmail.com for info/rates), but only enough to give her time to write.




Writing Tip — Favorite Story: The Time Machine

Time MachineI don’t remember when I first read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, but it has remained one of my favorite sci-fi novels. I’m sure I decided to read it after watching the 1960 movie based the book. That movie is still a favorite of mine.

Mr. Wells starts his novel with two intriguing chapters. In the first, the Time Traveller describes his theory of how people ignore Time as the fourth dimension. In the second the Time Traveller’s friends gather at his house for supper. When he doesn’t appear, they begin the meal. As they are eating, the Time Traveller bursts in on them, disheveled and limping. with a story of how he left in his time machine that morning and has just returned from the trip.

In the introduction in the version of the book I own. science fiction writer Greg Bear says that the invention of a machine that would allow people to travel through time was a completely new idea imagined by Mr. Wells. Before that, any story concerning time travel used magical means. Not only is this the first book Mr. Wells wrote and established his fame, but Mr. Bear also calls it “the first modern science fiction novel.”

What I learned from The Time Machine is the importance of world-building. Mr. Wells describes what the area that used to be London looks in the year 802, 701. Two settings have always stuck with me. The first are the golden sunsets. The Time Traveller overlooks the seemingly peaceful pastoral scene under the setting sun and likens it to what he thinks is the sunset of humanity. Many times when I’m out on a summer evening, I remember this setting.

The second setting is an abandoned museum. The Time Traveller explores this when he is trying to figure out what has happened to his time machine, which disappeared shortly after he arrived. There’s something poignant about this building designed to showcase wonders and educate people left to ruin. When I visit a museum, like the Field Museum in Chicago, I imagine what it would look like empty, with decades of dust weighing down everything. What would a person of that distant time learn about us?

What are some of you favorite sci-fi or fantasy novels?



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