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Writing inspiration for speculative fiction

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: On a dark, rainy night, someone is digging in a cemetery.

graveyardw-384604_1280This prompt is based on a real life incident a friend of mine told me about. Late on a summer night, in the pouring rain, my friend, her husband, and her sons drove home from a restaurant. She lives across from a cemetery. As they passed it, they noticed that someone had parked his car so the beams of the headlights fell on a grave. The person was digging.

There’s more to the story, but I don’t want to ruin your inspiration. You could use this first line for crime fiction, family drama, or speculative fiction. You could even use it for a humorous story. Let me hear where your imagination takes you!

On a dark, rainy night, a man digs in a cemetery and …

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts for Speculative Fiction

fantasyw-2704453_1280For my last prompt of the month, I chose this picture. I like the contrast between the girl who is dressed in clothes from our time and the setting, which looks futuristic. I also like the hazy sunset. It seems appropriate for a story set in July or August. How would you write this scene from the girl’s POV? Here’s mine:

“A whisper of a breeze signaled the coming of night. As the police jets patrolled the city, the broiling sun slid to the horizon. In fifteen minutes, I’d be free. At least for a few hours, sneaking into the cracks and crevices in this city where the patrols either didn’t know about or didn’t go and no cameras watched. I checked my phone. Time to go. I got up and walked over to the street lamp. I wrenched aside a loose metal panel and set my phone inside. Now I was invisible in the city. I went to the door and ran down the steps.”

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, C.S. Wachter

IMG_1297 (1)My last guest blogger for the month on speculative fiction is C.S. Wachter. Her series is epic fantasy. And she also uses initials for her pen name! Welcome, C.S.!

Me: What comes first when developing a story—characters, setting, plot?

C.S.: The story seems to come to me as a vague notion to start. An impression. The Sorcerer’s Bane (my first book and book 1 of The Seven Words) started out one afternoon in August 2015. After coming home from meeting with a couple neighbors who encouraged me to write, I sat down at my laptop and typed a couple sentences: “Travis Illk was a seasoned world skipper. He had traveled the skipping lines—those mysterious wormholes between the seven planets of the Ochen system—into and out of all seven worlds for the better part of forty years.”  Those few words set my world framework (seven worlds, all distinct, joined by wormholes). They also set Travis up as the kidnapper who would work for the demon-possessed sorcerer, Sigmund. At that point, I wrote the prophecy that would set the tone for all four books in the series. I followed my nose. It was like the story already existed as a unified whole and I just needed to dig it out of my brain. As I moved forward through the story, more was revealed and at about the half-way point, the final pieces of the puzzle fell together in my mind. I know this is rather a disorganized way to go about writing, but it works for me.

The characters seemed to write themselves. At one point, a character I had envisioned as part of my protagonist’s support group turned out to be the exact opposite, a major part of the enemy’s team. I didn’t know it until I started typing. The first words out of his mouth were so negative. I just let him go in that direction.

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

C.S.: One challenge was placing the story in a world that is relatable while still creating a unique universe. I coined a couple words but kept that to a minimum to imply ‘different’, then used those terms in ways that would make them easily understood. 

Another unique challenge for me as a Christian was to remain faithful to the bible while presenting Christian truths without mentioning God, Jesus, or the Bible. My protagonist is a chosen Light Bringer. The One (God) speaks to him. It was important to me that I portray the One as a personal being who is not silent. That he speaks and acts within the worlds of Ochen, and that needed to flow out of the story itself, so it didn’t feel forced or phony.

Christian speculative fiction is a small niche market, but it’s growing. The challenge is to increase this market by helping others to understand that speculative fiction can be a viable way to weave Christian truths into an exciting story. People are touched by stories; they are reached on a visceral level non-fiction can’t reach. Non-fiction has a role, and it’s vital to the Christian life, but fantastical stories can create memories in ways non-fiction can’t.

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

C.S.: First, prayer. Every day. Writing is a gift from God and I thank him for that daily. I ask for guidance continually. When I’m going to sleep, especially if I’m uncertain what direction to move in my story, I pray for inspiration to come to me while I’m asleep.  

Take a break and go for a walk. It’s not unusual for words or images to come to me when I’m out walking my dog. I always have my phone handy and write in Notes often.

Reading books. I read a range of genres from non-fiction and philosophy to classics to speculative fiction. But I read most in Christian speculative fiction because it speaks to me and stimulates my imagination.

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

C.S.: Read voraciously in your genre (especially authors who have a reputation for writing well). Speculative fiction has so many sub-genres it’s important to understand the differences between them. For example: Space Opera has a whole different feel and voice than dystopian. Fairy tale re-writes are very popular now, but you need to understand the genre and how to appropriately switch up the story to make it fly. Magical realism is a whole other field because it must be set in the world as we know it but with subtle changes that must be believable even if fantastical.

Join an online group like Realm Makers Consortium. Friend others who are writing speculative fiction. Go to conferences. Join a critique group. I’ve tried some of the larger groups online and if that works for you, use the experience. I know others who have found great support that way. For me personally, meeting regularly with just a few people is more productive.  

Let your imagination soar. Write fast and furious; allow your story time to take off and grow. When it’s written, then take the time to edit slowly and carefully. Trying to edit while writing can plunge you into a never-ending cycle of re-writing without moving forward.

And—last but certainly not least—have fun with it. Take joy in the process of creation.

Learn more about C.S. in her bio and links listed below.

C.S. Wachter lives in rural Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, with her husband Joe, one German Shepherd, and three cats. She and Joe have been married for more than forty years and have three sons, one grandson and one granddaughter.

Ms. Wachter earned her degree in Performing Arts and English Education from Rowan University in 1975. She compares developing a character’s perspective to preparing for an acting role. As a life-long lover of books, she has read and enjoyed a variety of genres. However, after reading J. R. R. Tolkien in middle school her favorite has been, and remains to this day, Fantasy with a Christian perspective.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cswachter/

Website: https://cswachter.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17719497.C_S_Wachter

Click below for Amazon links:

Amazon author page

The Sorcerer’s Bane

The Light Arises

Monday Sparks: Writing Prompt for Speculative Fiction

whale-2722172_1280What if whales did live in the sky? How would that affect the weather? Flight patterns?

I can just hear an announcement at the airport: “All flights are cancelled from JFK today because the Cloud Humpbacks have begun their annual migration sooner than expected. We will resume flights as soon as it is safe.”

What if all the life in the sea was in the sky? Would we travel by sea? Weather reports would have to include what the animals were doing, unless I did a total reversal and had the sea act like the sky and have all weather originate there.

What “what if” questions does the picture spark for you?

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/

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