Category Archives: fantasy

Writing various forms of fantasy, the whys, hows, and “Now what?”s.

99 Cent Sale! The Fright Factory!


by Lillian Csernica on February 1, 2018

Welcome to Women in Horror Month!

To celebrate, I am offering The Fright Factory for just 99 cents.

Learn the fine art of suspense, how to make monsters, and more! The techniques I explain are the very ones that helped me write and sell the stories available here:

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It’s a great way to celebrate

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The Three Ways to Tell A Story


by Lillian Csernica on January 29, 2018

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Lots of people are writing these days. Lots of people have stories to tell, whether fictional or autobiographical or somewhere in between. Sometimes the story is so clear and strong it almost writes itself.

Then there are the many other times when writers have to figure out what to do with their ideas, characters, plot twists, etc. What is the BEST way to tell the story? Outline first, or just dive in? Build the plot, or hang out with the characters?

There is plenty of advice out there on what to do and how to do it. It all boils down to these three approaches.

The way the writer wants to tell it.

When I first wrote The Heart of a Diamond (Literal Illusion, Digital Fiction Publishing), I told it from the POV of Princess Tavia. At the time I thought she was the character who had the most to lose. As the story progressed, I discovered the hero really did have a lot more to lose. So I rewrote the entire story from Prince Khestri’s POV. Same events. Most of the same dialogue. The ending turned out to be the same Big Picture event with the adjustment of some key details. It’s a much better story with richer magical elements, greater tension, and a more effective climax.

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Classic story structure.

These days many writers identify themselves as being plotters or pantsers. Always being one to defy easy categorization, I’m what they call a “plantser.” I will rough out some general notes about the part of the story I either know the most about, feel most strongly about, or both. Then I’ll plunge in. I confess I am a big fan of classic story structure, mapped out most clearly in Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. If you haven’t read The Hero With A Thousand Faces, rush right out and get yourself a copy.

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How the main characters changes in the course of trying to achieve the story goal is the essence of the story and its meaning. It’s been my experience that following the tenets of classic story structure ensures high stakes, rising action, and the suspense that makes a good story worth reading.

The way the story itself wants to be told.

Most writers have at least one anecdote about how one or more characters took off in another direction, dragging the story into unsuspected twists and turns. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Other times it can be terribly confusing. This is where all the advice about having an “Anything goes!” attitude toward the first draft makes life easier. No limits. Play around. Listen to your characters talking to you and talking to each other. We might know what we want to say, but the story may be bigger than that small piece of meaning.

Just the other day I pulled an old short story out of  my files. I had sold it and even made some money from it. Still intrigued by the central idea, I started to tinker with it. One thing led to another, the characters mutated on me, and now it looks like the original story turned itself inside out and the three main characters all changed gender and nationality and the stakes are a whole lot higher. Wow!

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5 Quick Tips to Get You Through That First Draft


by Lillian Csernica on December 20, 2017

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Write the ending first. It will probably evolve. That’s fine. You can change it. When you have a destination in mind, it’s easier to map the route, right? Same goes for stories. When you know what you’re aiming for, you can figure out how to put the best obstacles in your main character’s way. He or she will fight harder and then win a bigger victory.

Go where the energy is strongest. Listen to your characters. Write down what they want to tell you. They may have ideas that haven’t broken through to your writing mind yet. I know, some days you just can’t figure out what to write next or how it should be written. Find a conversation, a bit of internal narrative, or some big disaster in the story that captures your imagination. Run with it! See where it takes you.

Experiment with POV. Who has the most to lose? Who has nothing to lose and everything to gain? Writing from the antagonist’s POV can provide useful insights. You don’t have to use this writing in the actual story. The better you know what’s going on in the minds of each of your characters, the more precise and vivid their actions and dialog will be on the page.

Go big or go home. Push your action, your characters, your magic, your tech, as far and as hard as you and it can go. Don’t be timid. Readers want powerful writing. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for the brushstroke technique, but when you’re trying to finish that first draft, it’s better to go all out. Throw in everything and the kitchen sink. The editing process is the time for picking and choosing which story ideas to keep.

Finish it. Until you finish it, you can’t submit it. Until you submit it, you can’t sell it. I know that’s obvious, but it’s important to bear all this in mind. Writing is hard work. The initial rush of a new idea wears off and then you have to figure out the rest of the story. It’s easy to get swept up in a new idea and leave that other one sitting on your mental back burner. FINISH IT. The only way to learn how to write better, stronger stories is to get all the way through them one at a time.

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To All of You, Many Thanks


by Lillian Csernica on Thursday, November 23, 2017

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Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S.

Today is also my son John’s 19th birthday.

Today my oven is out of commission (and has been for about two weeks). We shall be dining at the Ideal Fish Company down by the Santa Cruz Wharf. It promises to be quite a feast.

Today I have written 1865 words of my new fantasy novel for #NaNoWriMo. I just finished, as a matter of fact. Now I can go eat dinner and party, having made today’s quota.

Today I am marinating in gratitude. It’s been a rough year. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I can come online and find people on Twitter, on Facebook, at the games I play, and here on my blog. Kind people, funny people, sincere people, people with good hearts and sharp minds and dazzling powers of creativity.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog. Thank you for your supportive comments, for your reblogs, for all the ways you help me feel like I really am part of a community. All the hard work I struggle to accomplish really does mean something.

Thank you. God bless you. I wish you all the best.

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Road Trip! EuCon 2017!


by Lillian Csernica on November 9, 2017

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Here I am in lovely Eugene, Oregon. I’m part of the volunteer team for the Eugene Comic Con. It promises to be a spectacular show, with an impressive line up of Hollywood talent and some of the best names in the comics industry.

Two of the stars I’m most excited to see:

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Martin Klebba, known for his roles in Scrubs and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

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Deep Roy, who has had a long and impressive career in movies ranging from The Return of the Pink Panther with Peter Sellers to the recent remake of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnnie Depp.

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One of the key reasons that convinced me to make the drive from Santa Cruz, CA all the way to Eugene, OR is my son John. He began drawing when he was just two years old, watching Blue’s Clues. He liked to draw the clues along with Steve. Watching the Veggie Tales animation series introduced John to a more advanced level of sketching. The Special Features on the DVDs included lessons from the show’s creators in the techniques of sketching Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and other popular members of the cast.

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At EuCon this weekend the folks from Imagination International Incorporated, creators of the Copic markers, are sponsoring the art contest. Winners will be announced Sunday afternoon. In one of the exhibit halls, III will have the Art Bus available. Space will be provided for all the artistically inclined attendees. Copic markers will be provided, along with paper and other materials. My wonderful son John will be on hand to offer tips on creating that one of a kind superhero or capturing the beautiful autumn landscape that makes Oregon such a picturesque place to visit now.

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I will be at the convention, not in my usual official capacity as a professional writer, but even so. If you can join us and you spot me while I’m running around doing volunteer errands, by all means, say hello. EuCon is a great show, family friendly, lots of wonderful people and plenty to see and do.

Hope to see you here!

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New Release! Killing It Softly, Vol. 2


by Lillian Csernica on October 30, 2017

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Just in time for Halloween, Killing It Softly 2, another collection of short stories to be read with the lights on and the doors locked!
Part 1 – Another Space, Another Time
The Whims of My Enemy – Amanda J. Spedding
A Moveable Feast – Jenny Blackford
Softly into the Morning – L. D. Colter
Whispers in the Wax – Tonia Brown
The Screaming Key – Lillian Csernica
Framed – Diana Catt
Bloody Rain – Rie Sheridan Rose
The Idlewild Letters – H.R. Boldwood
Kristall Tag – Holly Newstein
The Adventure of My Ignoble Ancestress – Nancy Holder

Part II – Monster Party
The Devil’s in the Details – Stacey Longo
Octavia – Chantal Boudreau
The Skeench – Debra Robinson
Sandcastle Sacrifices – Jennifer Brozek
Unfilial Child – Laurie Tom
Milk and Cookies – M.J. Sydney
Figaro, Figueroa – Karen Heuler
Scarecrow – Vonnie Winslow Crist
A Great and Terrible Hunger – Elaine Cunningham

Part III – Cognitive Deception
Belongings – Abra Staffin-Wiebe
Evil Little Girl – Barb Goffman
Blue – Julie Travis
The Devil Inside – Shannon Connor Winward
Shining Brook and the Ice Moon Spirit – Jean Graham
Damaged Goods – Lindsey Goddard
Project Handbasket – Rebecca J. Allred
Behind the Eight Ball – Lena Ng
A Faithful Companion – Deborah Sheldon
Omega – Airika Sneve

Part IV – The Changed and the Undead
Little Fingers – Christine Morgan
Golden Rule – Donna J. W. Munro
Fifth Sense – Tina Rath
Cycle – Rebecca Fraser
The Hand of God – Gerri Leen
Vile Deeds – Suzie Lockhart
The Holy Spear – Barbara A. Barnett
Skin and Bones – Rebecca Snow
Death Warmed Over – Rachel Caine

Many of the contributors here also appear in the first Killing It Softly anthology, also well worth your attention.

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Fantasy for Fun & Profit


by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2017

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That’s right. I’ve gone and done it. I have officially signed up for NaNoWriMo 2017.

I’m in the editing stage of The Flower Maiden Saga, so this year I’m going back to basics and writing a good old-fashioned sword & sorcery novel. When I first started to read fantasy, I gravitated to C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and of course Conan the Barbarian. Red Nails remains one of the most chilling and thrilling stories of its kind.

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Now the tricky part will be getting my daily 1667 words written while I’m doing all of this November stuff as well:

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A road trip up to EuCon in Eugene, Oregon. John will be teaching drawing classes in the Art Bus, which is sponsored by Imagination International Incorporated, the folks who make Copic markers.

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Making Thanksgiving happen.

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Celebrating John’s birthday.

And the usual daily chaos that keeps me on my toes.

All this and write 50,000 words? 200 pages? No problem!

Stay tuned, folks. Let’s see if I can make it to the end of November before my head explodes!

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Which Story Should You Write First?


by Lillian Csernica on August 28, 2017

44384633-creativity-and-imagination-concept-open-book-with-magical-city-inside-ship-palm-trees-tropical-islaYou’ve got two or more ideas in your head, fighting for your attention, demanding to be written.

It happens.

What do you do? How do you prioritize them? Maybe you really can write more than one story at once, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Everybody’s got a process. It’s good to know and respect your own. If you’re still somewhat new to writing narrative fiction, you might want to concentrate on one story at a time.

But again, which one?

The answer depends on knowing exactly what you want.

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Are you after the money? Go with the idea that’s most marketable.

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Are you out to make a statement or address an issue? Go with the idea that really sets your heart on fire, be it with anger, grief, or joy.

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Do you have what seems like a really cool idea but you’re all caught up in the worldbuilding and you can’t seem to make the characters behave and there’s all this research? Let that one sit. It sounds like it might be a novel. If you don’t have enough experience yet from writing short stories, writing a novel might be biting off more than you can chew. Do I know this from personal experience? Oh yes.

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When you get to the stage where you see ideas everywhere, that’s when you have to adjust your own settings as a writer. By doing so, you’ll be able to concentrate on the ideas that show up most strongly on the radar of your imagination.

How do you adjust those settings? Ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a deadline to meet? If there’s a submission window open and it has a firm deadline, that movies it up the priority list.

Is the idea time-sensitive? Seasonal themes often require submitting the story several months in advance, so keep an eye on guideline updates.

Do you have a particular word limit in mind? It might seem obvious to think flash fiction can be written in a shorter time frame than a novella. Shorter is often harder, because every word has to do that much more work. If you have more than one work-in-progress, the time factor is an important consideration.

Cost/benefit analysis

Will Idea A yield benefits that outweigh the costs of time, effort, marketing, etc.?

Opportunity cost

What else could you be doing instead of developing Idea A into a story? Maybe Idea B would yield more in the way of benefits long term.

If you want your writing to be more than a few random thoughts jotted in a personal journal while sipping a latte in the local coffeehouse, then this kind of analysis is very important. It may seem too cold and clinical to evaluate a creative effort in these terms, but hey, life is short. Make hay while the sun shines or the storms will come and all that hay will rot in the field. All that opportunity will be lost.

Regardless of which priority you choose, once you have settled on a project, there is one ironclad rule:

FINISH IT!

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All Writers Need This Skill


by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2017

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What is that skill? Eavesdropping.

From Wikipedia:

An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within. The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015)[3] and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013) include segments that display and discuss “eavedrops”, carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King’s wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear,[4] and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.[5]

I recently made the observation that cell phones have taken all the fun out of eavesdropping. When I said this, I was referring to texting. People have all kinds of conversations that people nearby can’t overhear, aside from the clicking of the keyboard.

A friend of mine pointed out that I was quite mistaken. He lives in San Francisco and makes frequent use of public transit. This gives him the opportunity to listen in on the amazing variety of really personal subjects people discuss when making actual calls on their cell phones.

Good point! This makes me feel better, even though most of the conversations I do overhear aren’t worth the time or attention.

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Eavesdropping is like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of mud before you see the gleam of real treasure. That one gleam can spark an idea that makes all that mud worthwhile.

When my younger son was little, he did what all little kids do, which is eat with his hands. At that time we had four cats in the house. Put these two facts together, and you get the day I heard myself say:

“Don’t get the cat sticky!”

People say the most absurd things, especially when they’re trying to be clever. I was sitting in the local Italian bakery on Sunday, writing in my journal while I ate a Lobster Tail. (I know, it’s not on my diet. I was celebrating my latest sale of a short story.) Two women came in and studied the goodies in the bakery cases. One said,

“The gelato is good, but the pastries are just a little too Italian for me.”

Sorry? What? If she didn’t like Italian pastries, why on earth had she come to an Italian bakery? Questions like this can get your imagination fired up. I could brainstorm ten crazy answers to that question. At least one might be worth building into a new story.

One of the greatest proofs of the value of eavesdropping is Harlan Ellison‘s short story Jeffty is Five. Mr. Ellison has said that the title came from a conversation he overheard. The actual statement was, “Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” By hearing it as “Jeff is five. He’s always five.”, Mr. Ellison found the seed of an idea. It flowered into a story that went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.

 

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Available Now on Smashwords!


by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017

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Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster. Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Want to find out if I really do know what I’m talking about? Fallen Idol appeared in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Just 99 cents from Digital Fiction Publishing!

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