Tag Archives: Jim Butcher

U is for Unpredictable


by Lillian Csernica on April 24, 2013

A long time ago when Tangent still published a print edition, I wrote a column reviewing short horror fiction. My number one complaint? Predictable plotlines. That’s a major weakness in any story regardless of genre. Editors and publishers (and reviewers!) want to see fresh, new, unpredictable storytelling.

How do you learn the art of writing unpredictable plot twists? Reading widely in your field certainly helps. Knowing what the competition has already done will help you stretch beyond that. Look at Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files. In book after book, Butcher just keeps raising the stakes. You have no idea how Harry Dresden is going to cope with the latest set or impossible odds and grueling emotional stakes. Jim Butcher delivers every time.

 PLOT: Brainstorm all the possible ways your protagonist could try to solve the problem situation. No matter how obvious, how logical, how predictable. Dump all of that out of your head onto paper. With that list in front of you, you’ll begin to get ideas for more creative and unpredictable solutions.

 CHARACTER: Many writers start with a character in mind. Here are two ways to proceed.

  1. Give that character some kind of physical or mental trait that is unpredictable. Be careful with this one. Check your chosen “symptoms” against known medical conditions. You might create a character that seems unique when in fact you’ve reproduced the traits associated with autism, especially Asperger’s Syndrome. (Every Aspie is unique, but that might not be what’s best for your story!)
  2. Take something away. During bad weather an airplane pilot goes deaf and can’t hear the instructions from the air traffic control tower. A master chef suffers some trauma that takes away his senses of taste and smell. A professional photographer gets hit in the back of the head in just the right spot to make him or her “face blind.” What do these people do now?

SETTING: Put that character into a situation so foreign to his or her native environment, educational background, moral paradigm, etc. that solving the problem situation is going to take a whole lot of luck and adaptation on the run.  S.M. Sterling does a brilliant job of this in Island in the Sea of Time, the first book of the Nantucket Series.  When a strange storm blows up off Nantucket, things go so wrong that when the weather clears, both the island and a Coast Guard windjammer are stranded in the Bronze Age.

You also have the option of combining two or even all three of these story elements. Just don’t go overboard.  There’s a fine line between the Unpredictable and the Unbelievable.

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Filed under Blog challenges, fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Writing

Reinventing my personal space


by Lillian Csernica on March 12, 2013

Three months ago my husband and I bought a house and moved in.  What did I unpack first?  The manuscript, notes, notebooks, and other miscellanea involved in my current novel.  Then I went into the garage and began the excavation required to locate the boxes that contained my Japanese reference library (the novel is set in Satsuma, Japan, 1867).  Next came my favorite fiction, one whole shelf devoted to Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld books and another to Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum series and another to Jim Butcher‘s Dresden Files.  I find these series to be inspirational.  Not only is the quality of the writing great for recharging my word batteries, seeing the commitment those authors have made to producing novel after novel after novel gives me concrete motivation to do the same.  I’m still looking for the boxes that hold my collection of ghost story anthologies.  I love a good ghost story, especially from turn of the century authors such as A.M. Burrage and Marjorie Bowen.  I’ll find them.

The point here is simple.  Underwear and a toothbrush and caffeine and those other daily necessities can be acquired easily enough.  The exterior space you live in affects your interior life.  I now own the space I live in, both outside and in.  I must take care to avoid unnecessary clutter.  I must surround myself with all that is positive, nourishing, and uplifting, sights and sounds and smells and textures that will support me as I labor through each day, writing the fireworks and sword fights and love scenes as well as helping John with his homework and listening to Michael struggle to tell me about his day.

Beware unwanted clutter.  Beware even more so unloved clutter that stirs up bad memories.  Feng shui says such clutter gets between you and what you really want, slowing you down and sucking away your energy and sabotaging your dreams.  I still have boxes to unpack and tchotchkes to deal with, but I shall be ruthless in the defense of the spaces where I dream, both in my office and in my heart.

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Filed under Family, fantasy, Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing