Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing can make a good story an amazing story.

Let me tell you a little something about myself: I’m one of those people. I can always tell where the story is going by reading into and picking up the hints dotted along the trail in books, tv, and movies. Now, I’m not a jerk. I never voice my predictions aloud because I’m not into the business of ruining it for everyone else. In fact, I’m usually disappointed in myself because I’m rarely surprised. I don’t do it intentionally, but I just can’t help but to deduce a conclusion from what’s given to me. I know I’m not special in this regard and I feel there’s a reason that I, and many others, are this way. The foreshadowing is done wrong. It’s lingered on, or out of nowhere, or is even out of place until the very end. Of course it’s even worse when there isn’t any foreshadowing and things happen because the writer decided “because I said so”. That is by far the worst crime here.

So, when should we use foreshadowing?

First let’s look at what foreshadowing actually is. According to Google, foreshadowing is “a warning or indication of (a future event)”. Foreshadowing can be necessary in certain conditions, but you have to be careful of how often and how strongly it’s implied. You can even disguise it in a way that it’s not noticeable. As an example of what not to do, I read a book a few years back about a princess (it was a historical fiction about a real woman) and at the end when confronted with physical conflict, she magically knew how to handle a rapier. She was not only gifted with this magical, yet never previously mentioned ability, but she was also able to beat another master. Moments like those feel as though the author pulled a suitable trait out of a black hat for convenience. Even the most simple sentence earlier in the story with a mention of training or experience would have solved any qualms I had.

The art of foreshadowing is also subtlety.

There is a fine, delicate, dear lord don’t drop that balance of foreshadowing. How do you apply it so that the ending makes sense, yet the clues aren’t super obvious? It’s impossible to do for everyone. Plain and simple. You have to cater it to the majority of folks. There are always going to be people like me calculating and predicting on a compulsive level. There will also always be people who need to be hit in the head with a brick (figuratively of course) in order to understand the clues. There is a balance, however, that can satisfy most consumers. Finding it can prove difficult.

What do I suggest?

I’ve heard many times that mystery/thriller writers outline their stories backwards. Well, and that’s the first thing too, outline your story. It is always an option to write your story and implement foreshadowing during rewrites because as you’re now well aware I say do what works for you. When it comes to creativity I don’t really believe there’s a right or wrong way to do things, just a suggested way. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself. Foreshadowing doesn’t have to be some complicated imagery or mysterious dialogue. It can be a simple sentence in passing. There, noticeable, but not shouting out “hey! look at me!” One of the best examples of foreshadowing I can give you is from the film Abnormal Beauty. If you want to watch it, well stop reading because spoilers ahead! It’s a Hong Kong film by the Pang brothers (who brought us The Eye) about “A teen girl with artistic inclinations, Jiney (Race Wong) takes acclaimed photographs but is unhappy with her work. After witnessing a fatal car crash and shooting pictures at the grisly scene, Jiney becomes preoccupied with death. Followed by the obsessive, camcorder-wielding Anson (Anson Leung), Jiney soon heads down a dark path. While Jiney’s friend Jas (Rosanne Wong) tries to help her, it may be too late to prevent her macabre decline, which has roots in a childhood trauma.”

The reason I bring up this film in particular is because of what I mentioned above, I am rarely surprised. This movie surprised me. It foreshadowed who the culprit was in a clever, yet sensible, way. Throughout the whole film you’re thinking it’s the friend, Anson. It seems a little obvious but that certainly hasn’t stopped filmmakers before. The killer (again, spoiler warning even though this movie is 12 years old) is actually in a bit part. Jiney goes into a bookstore to buy a book of photography on death and the clerk has her fill out an information card to join their rewards program. Well, the stalker is the clerk. It was quick, brief, and very effective! He had all of her information from the rewards card and even made conversation with her about the book and her interests. I know reading about it in paraphrasing has watered down the effect, but obviously this movie has stuck with me for that one particular reason. It was foreshadowing at its finest.

In my own novel I have things planted, some obvious and some not. I have things planted in the first book that don’t come to light until the third. A fantasy novel is different from a mystery or thriller, however, and that’s another challenge itself. What kind of story you’re writing will determine what kind of foreshadowing to use.

Let’s Do Some Exercises

1. What needs to be foreshadowed?

What are the parts of your story that have a twist? A climax? What are the things that you want to shock the reader with? What revelations?

2. Do those things need to be foreshadowed?

Your story may lead the way to a revelation without any need for foreshadowing. Foreshadowing shouldn’t be used for the sake of having it, but if it’s necessary. Like the princess example I gave above, foreshadowing was necessary to make it believable. Women weren’t traditionally taught how to fight or yield weapons in those times. However, it wouldn’t have been necessary if it mentioned her being a good dancer as it was common for royal women to know how to dance. You have to keep in mind general knowledge of the subject. Of course if it’s a made up world, readers will still fill in the gaps with the other cultural clues you give them.

3. Let’s Practice

Ex) I need to show my readers that Joseph can in fact ride a horse with no saddle, as it will be pivotal to the final scene.

“As the herd galloped beside his pick-up, Joseph laughed. The dip in their backs and flowing manes reminded him of his younger years before he gave in to the saddle. His freedom on the bare back of his own chestnut mare brought him closer to her. The saddle blocked the connection he always felt towards Daisy, but as time wore on and his health declined the mane and bare back gave way to the bridle and horn he would need to hold onto.”

Not my best example, but an example nonetheless. So if later on in the story Joseph finds that he can once again reprise his role as a cowboy without a saddle, it’s believable and certainly doable. It also plays a double role in laying out his backstory whilst preparing the reader for future accomplishments.

Ex2) I need readers to know that my princess is proficient with a rapier.

“Princess Royalface waved goodbye to her father as the carriage passed through the iron gate. She covered her mouth with her manicured hand, tears welling her eyes. She was going to a strange husband, home, and livelihood. Gone were the days of playtime and fanciful daydreams. In her mother’s absence, King Royalface taught her the skills of a well-versed prince; the art of politics, war, and hours of practice with a rapier. She beat him for the first time when she was twelve, and over the years as her father slowed and she quickened, the princess found herself faking incompetence to ease his old pride.”

This serves as not only foreshadowing but as character development. It not only says what skills she possesses, but her relationship with her father. From this paragraph we know what kind of man her father was and the love they held for each other.

The examples are in full paragraphs to show how nonchalant a foreshadowing example can be implemented into other character development.

Until Next Time…

For some reason this was a difficult blog to write, so if I seem all over the place I apologize! XD I hope this has helped somewhat. Foreshadowing is difficult to organize because it is in such varying degrees affected by genre, story, characters, etc. So many things. Keeping that in mind, it doesn’t have to be a big deal either and it sometimes isn’t even necessary. I’ll leave with this: if you do use it, use it wisely.

Dragon Bloode: Covet available everywhere ebooks are sold.

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Release Hiatus

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Dragon Bloode: Covet

Hey! I’m sure you noticed I didn’t post last week, or even on time this week! I’ve been super busy getting things together for my debut novel’s release on June 17th. I thought it best to announce a hiatus instead of just not posting. XD When I return I’ll have a new world building blog post! (told you I would think of more). Until then, be sure to check out Dragon Bloode: Covet (available on Smashwords & Amazon) and use the code to get a free download once it’s released from Smashwords. It’s not available for free on Amazon because it is not enrolled in the KDP Select program. The Smashwords code will be available until July 17th, so be sure to pick it up before then!

Dragons.

Once a mighty race of winged gods, they’re reduced to three. No longer do they resemble the scaled flying marvels of their ancestry, but the humans who interbred with their forefathers. The Bloode is thin and dying.

Mishka Williams’s dark fantasy debut is spellbinding. Dive into a realm rich with magic, Dragons, and lust. Set against a gothic backdrop in the world of Alperin, Williams takes you to the Draak Empire. Rife with division between the Emperor and his Dragon generals, the empire faces enemies on all fronts. From the Fae, the Elves, and from within.

What’s in a word count?

self organization

Self Organization by Courtney Brown

For starters, here’s a basic rundown of word counts:

0-500 MicroFiction
500-2000 FlashFiction
2000-7500 ShortStory
7500-15000 Novelette
15000-40000 Novella
40000-110000 Novel
110000+ Epic

Don’t take these definitions to heart as there is no common agreed upon number or even names for word counts (that I’m aware of). Although, despite what I just said, 50k+ is accepted as novel length just about anywhere. You’ll find varying definitions of word counts across the web, but these are my own take (based off of many other opinions of course).

A lot of people worry about word counts for their genre. Some think fantasy novels should be around 80-90k while others think they should be around 100k. Mysteries should be between 60k-80k and romances hover around 50k. There are good reasons for these guidelines, but just keep in mind that is exactly what they are: guidelines. It’s important to note there is a reason behind the suggestions. You don’t want a thriller too long or it might exhaust the reader. A sci-fi or fantasy that’s too short can be disappointing or not spend enough time in the fictional world the reader has fallen in love with. That being said, my take on word count is: pfffft. 

Yep. Back when 95% of publishing was with traditional publishers it made sense to follow these guidelines more closely. Printing off books is costly and publishers weren’t likely to put their money into a 100k+ novel about the thriller of Bob and his tomato dog (with exceptions of course). We live in a different era now. E-readers have all but eliminated the cost of publishing and publishers can take more risks than they used to. That’s of course not including anyone who goes the Indie route (although it should be noted that if you use Print on Demand your printing costs increase with page count). Here’s my suggestion: don’t worry about word count. Really. Just write your story. Do what feels organic. A reader would rather have a 30k sci-fi novella that was an excellent read vs a 60k novel that was too long winded. Go for quality over quantity. Don’t worry if your romance is 100k words. Is it interesting? Is it a fast read and compelling? Those are the things to look at.

When you’re editing don’t be concerned with how much longer, or shorter, your story is getting. Be concerned about the story itself. Concentrate on what’s important and the length will fall into place naturally. Focus on the flow and make your cuts (or additions) based off of fluidity as opposed to word count. The only time I take word count into consideration is for cataloging purposes. Is it a short story? Novel? Novella? Those are titles to simply categorize stories into groups of similar length. As I said, there is a reason for word count averages for genres, I won’t deny that, but I think word count is one of the last things a writer should focus on during the creation of their story.

In closing I want to point out a few examples of books that were very successful despite their length (which were against industry standards.)

Harry Potter (young adult word count suggestion 50k words)
The Philosopher’s Stone – 76,944
The Chamber of Secrets – 85,141
The Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253
The Goblet of Fire – 190,637
The Order of the Phoenix – 257,045
The Half-Blood Prince – 168,923
The Deathly Hallows – Approximately 198,227
(source)

Other YA Titles (that are supposed to be around 50k words)
Twilight: 118,975
Matched: 89,124
Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief: 87, 223
Eragon: 157,220
The Hunger Games: 99,750
The Giver: 43,617
Across the Universe: 98,469
Divergent: 105,143
Graceling: 115,109
Thirteen Reasons Why: 62,496
Inkheart: 146,809
The Golden Compass: 112,815
The Book Thief: 118,933
Uglies: 87,274
City of Bones: 130,949
Speak: 46,591
Looking for Alaska: 69,023
City of Ember: 59,937
A Great and Terrible Beauty: 95,605
The Luxe: 88,982
Shiver: 94,502
(source)

As you can see there is a trend of these best sellers. They defy their genre’s word count! (I know, not all of them, but most!) Until next time!

Supporting/Minor Characters

dieI’m a giant D&D enthusiast. I’ve been playing since I was 15, which makes for 17 years of D&D wonderment. D&D has driven my muse for both writing and artwork for most of my life and it’s all in thanks to not only the game itself, but the people I play it with. Sometimes I approach world building, or story telling, like I would a D&D campaign. Whilst there aren’t players to make things interesting (or totally derail your plans) it’s the same basic concept. An important aspect of planning a campaign, other than setting and the quest, is the fleshed out NPC (non-player character).

Supporting characters can build up or break down a story. As you’re developing people to live in your world and interact with your main characters, keep in mind that the more in depth you go with even those who share a brief glimpse into your main character’s world, the more realistic and believable their interactions will be. Essentially, try role playing. Don’t make a shop keep gruff and angry simply for the sake of entertainment. Why is he gruff and angry? Did his daughter recently run off and elope? What are his motivations for interacting with the main character in this way? I know it might seem a lot of work in the beginning, but for the sake of real world applications it’ll pay off in the end. There is always the risk that it won’t, but I don’t see the harm in putting in a little extra work. That NPC, or supporting character, had an entire life before the scene they’re in. They’ve had hardships, triumphs, bad days, good days, relationships and anything else that makes them a living being. Everything you’ve experienced in your life, other people have too in one way or another.

There’s even a name for this phenomenon: sonder.

In DB:C I have two mothers who are supporting characters. Their interactions with their children are based on their own past and histories. Every character that has a sheet in my stories has every blank on that sheet filled. Including history. I feel this keeps the world rich and three dimensional. I use the same character sheet for my supporting characters as I do for my main characters. Something else to keep in mind: if you create a minor character with a rich background early on in a series, you can always incorporate that character into a more important role later on. In the sequel to DB:C when I needed a minor character to fill a role, instead of making up another I was able to use one from my pool of supporting cast. Don’t get me wrong, new characters are necessary, but for a small task are they really? Why create more names and people for your reader to keep up with when there’s a minor or supporting character right there? Already made and ready and familiar to the readers?

By all means give your supporting and minor characters personalities, but not for the sake of just having it. Why are they kind? Why are they overweight? Why do they lie? It’s almost a study of psychology when you think about it. What are their motivations in life? What would it take to convince someone in that way of thinking to act as they do? This helps with the organic interaction between characters as well as maintaining a believable reaction. How many times have you read something and thought, or heard someone say, I don’t believe they would do that? Supporting characters aren’t just plot devices to fluff up your main character, they’re a huge part of the world around them. Don’t forget that your supporting characters are moving living beings in the background once you’ve left their store. They’re not static. They have lives. They would strive to always improve themselves and their lives just as you yourself would.

Yes, it’s more work. However, to me the best of stories are a lot of work. The best of worlds have things going on in the background that the reader might never see, but those same things affect the world and what’s going on around it. Those background people and events culminate to make up the living breathing world in which your characters and story live. It’s not easy being god of your own world, but boy is it worth it.

Until next time!

“Dragon Bloode: Covet” Cover Reveal!

Yay!! It’s finally here! My cover!! I love it! I’m super happy with it and thank you Anne Coffer for putting it together for me! Now I can start looking into doing all the things for promotional work. Bookmarks, posters, cards, etc…Woo. XD That’s not intimidating at all! Hope you like it!

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Dragon Bloode: Covet

Monday! Monday! Monday!

I hope you read that in an excited announcer guy voice, because that’s what I was picturing. This is going to be short tonight, I just wanted to say that to cut down on my daily work load I’m only going to post on Mondays from here on out. I’m sure my nonexistent readers are super sad. XD

By the way, Happy One Week Anniversary Blog!