Be Like Bosch

How insanely inventive can your monsters be? Be like Bosch & Think Surreal

I wrote a fairly detailed chapter on creating your own monsters for your novel in my non-fiction manual: “So You Want To Write Fantasy?” and I don’t want to go over old ground — but I have been asked how crazy our quirks and extravagances can be when we are creating scary and grotesque creatures … and I guess the simple answer is that you should allow your sleeping brain (your dream mind) to do the creative thinking for you when it comes to Writing Monsters. Surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous, automatic, or subconscious creation, has always been the best place to find the most terrifying yet believable monsters.

Surreal art

The power of creative imagination is limited by the prosiacs of science, convention, and acceptability (perhaps even permissibility, in certain cases) but brain activity is not limited by social conventions or self-imposed impediments while sleeping, so the manifestations you experience in your dream state is said to be driven by your deepest desires (obsessions) or by your greatest anxieties. So the monsters of dream visions become:

  • Wild and untamed
  • Motivated by obsession
  • Spurred by desire
  • Ambitious
  • Unbound and unlimited

The 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch created around 25 works of art (which we know of) but the best known is a triptych altarpiece called: “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (shown below)

Garden of Earthly Delights - Hieronymus Bosch

There are three parts to this creation, on the sides (these are painted in wings, which fold inward) it represented the Garden of Eden and the Last Judgment. In the center, it depicted an image of an unholy existence that begins (as you look at it) to be a familiar scene, perhaps, a theme park or a holiday camp, but when you examine the ideas more closely, you see that it contains an a bunch of surreal monsters.

For example, there are giant unicorn cats, men who make love to owls, children with plums for their heads, and camels with human bums instead of humps. It is certainly driven by the artist’s subconscious cue: his dream mind. This is the first “surreal” art that became world famous, but there have been many others since. The right hand panel (the hell panel) contains images like a giant bird eating humans, which are excreted like eggs, only to fall into a vat of vomit that has been seasoned with pieces of silver released from another man’s butt.

A squashed albino flying fox holds another guy against a table and stabs him in the shins with wooden spoons. A pig wears a nun’s habit, while dogs in armor and thumbtack helmets bite into a man’s windpipe. I don’t know what Hieronymus Bosch had been doing, having such bad dreams, but I guess he would have kept the famous dream interpreter Sigmund Freud in work for a few years!

Pig in a Habit

Be like Bosch. Try these techniques to create surreal monsters for your fantasy fiction:

1: Découpé aka chaos magic

This is where you allow your unconscious brain to decide the shape of your monster for you (from a set of inputs). It is often a matter of writing a few words on separate sheets of paper and shuffling and rearranging just two (maybe three) into a new “concept”.  The trade-off, of course, is that your final creation has been limited by your previous original choices. Would your dream brain have done the same? Yes, maybe. Perhaps a brain that is asleep can only use images it has “cut out” of your day-time waking experiences (thus, découpé) and so derives from your conscious brain. In other words, you cannot come up with something completely new, but a variant of something you are already familiar with. The advantage is that if you’re thinking a thing up from a set of inputs given by society, then others too (your readers) will identify and appreciate the horror of what you imagine. That’s why “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is so horrifically monstrous, it’s because we recognize the demon within.

stay puft

2: Razor blade chaos

This is more or less exactly the same as decoupé, to some extent, but the inputs do not come from your own brain but, instead, from the brains of others. So, using this technique, you find and cut out nouns from printed matter  (hence the razor blade) and this is normally done from a newspaper or magazine and you mix them up and come up with new two-word creations. Apparently, the poet T. S. Eliot used this technique for some of his ideas in the 1922 poem, The Waste Land. And pop artists David Bowie and Thom Yorke used razor-blade chaos techniques to create surreal ideas for their lyrics. If you look for “monster nouns” in printed mater then employ the razorblade technique you might come up with truly innovative ideas.

3: Startle response

Regardless of what comes to mind, make sure your monster startles the reader — that is, your concept will be so totally unexpected that it will make them jump! You will know how much I dislike worn, hackneyed or overused themes in fantasy: spooky sheets, headless horsemen, flashy vampires, naive goblins, callous trolls, exalted dragons and so on. I call all of these monsters “scooby doo constructs” not only because you can find them in any kid’s cartoon mystery, but because the writer clearly does “not have a clue…”  If you use shop-worn monsters, ask yourself this: where is the surprise? Where is the horror? Where is the alarm? A monster in your dreams will be so horrible it will literally knock you out of bed. It’s so scary it gives you a jolt. A real bad monster will flabbergast and awaken you. It will jab you into consciousness. Surprise represents the difference between expectation and reality.

The Knight's Dream

4: Unexpected awakening

The appearance of your monster must be totally unforeseen and unprecedented. I don’t just mean that your monster shouldn’t resemble anything else in creation (it might) but its manifestation should be unforeseen. To bear witness to this, remember that millions and millions of people will have seen “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and yet the albino flying fox (to take just one example) is totally remarkable and the concept stuns the viewer. It’s adventitious — and that means it seems to be there by chance or whim rather than by plan (that’s the genius of Bosch) and is therefore not an integral part of our expectations. That’s what makes it so scary, so creepy. That’s what makes it surreal.

So the environment influences the nature of any interaction with your monster (in other words, the thing isn’t just weird, but it’s in the “wrong” place at the “wrong” time.) To capture this thought and represent such ideas in your work, focus on describing touch, body movement, how time “moves” when the monster is nearby, and the pitch, volume, and intonation of any sounds your creature makes; (remember that sounds don’t just come from the creature’s voice box either… they come from the bones, guts, butt, muscles, hair, skin, teeth, etc.) The monster will also violate acceptable social behaviors or act in a way that most readers wouldn’t anticipate (a good example of this type of monster is “The Joker” in the Batman franchise.)

5: Juxtaposition

Dreams overlap and play with duality and counterpoint in a way that can cause night terror. So you should use juxtaposition to create monster visions: with this technique you move two different or contrasting items closer to or next to each other to make a comparison. The obvious example of juxtaposition is Beauty and the Beast. Less obvious, but still explicit, is Jekyll and Hyde (it must have been a spectacular idea when it was first published.)

Bosch used juxtaposition when he painted those pretty songbirds eating humans. The best of juxtapositions places two elements side by side to allow the reader to form their own opinions. Don’t forget that both “sides” can be represented within the same body, so Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same. And a monster can be wise and greedy. Or crafty but forgetful. Or blood-thirsty but gracious. Nevertheless, there should be an easily comprehensible contrast between the two elements.

And once you’ve created your monster, don’t forget to double-check with the surreal checklist. Is your monster?

  • Wild and untamed
  • Motivated by obsession
  • Spurred by desire
  • Ambitious
  • Unbound and unlimited

If it’s not one or more of the above (the more the better) go back to the drawing board and try again.

Good luck with your #monstercreation. Tell me how you get on and share tips, ideas or experiences on twitter @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

Is magic impossible? How can an author make magic more believable?

Is magic impossible? How can an author make magic more believable? Why do some readers hate the idea of magic? Here are things you can do to make magic believable

We want to believe in something that’s exciting, wondrous, and dumbfounding. It’s the nature of human expectation.

Our worldview has evolved so we expect to “attain” the unattainable “reach” the unreachable and “think” the unthinkable. This gives us the drive and determination to create and develop. So, of course, fantasy authors turn to sparkling promise and glistering dreamstuff when they write fantasy epics. They choose to rustle things from thin air, and they like to create characters that come super-equipped with extraordinary — perhaps even preposterous — potential.

And let’s be clear, science has taught us that nothing is truly impossible: “Any science or technology which is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic” said novelist Arthur C. Clarke. This means that if anyone ever reliably demonstrates magic, it’s not magic any longer… because it has become science!

But why do some readers hate magic so much? And what can we do, as fantasy authors, to offset or reduce these reader aversions?

Three Wishes

Well, for a start, it might be because these folk think of themselves as rationalists so they don’t base their beliefs on emotional responses and untested knowledge. They almost certainly don’t base their understanding of this universe on tittle-tattle. Such level-headed individuals are quite certain that there’s little or no physical evidence to show the existence of what we like to think of as “magic.” Most accounts of magic are just urban myths, cautionary tales based on symbolism, superstitions based on quasi-religious beliefs, fantasy inspired hoaxes or enjoyable ‘campfire’ anecdotes.

Often we learn of magical happenings by re-quoting or hearing about the experiences of a friend of a friend. (This is what’s known in social science circles as: FOAF) When sharing knowledge of supernatural experiences, there is a tendency to offer no actual firsthand testimony of a magical event; neither will any witnesses be put forward to test the accuracy of the testimony — in fact, the identity of witnesses is never known to the narrator, because witnesses to supernatural events are generally FOAF; in other words, the narrative is little more than hearsay. 

Second, there has never been a magic spell or an enchantment that has been subjected to peer review. So, without refereeing, how can we ever trust something that’s not been tested for quality standards or performance? How has its credibility been proved?

Book of Spells

Next there’s the upsyturvy conundrum. How come, not once, has there ever been an empirical scientific discovery that has been deemed wrong, only to be replaced by a more convincing magical explanation?  Yet, the upsyturvy upshot is very often the case —it happens the other way around, all the time. For example, here are some magical ideas that have scientific explanations:

  • stones that fall from space [physicist Ernst Chladni proved meteorites come from space, in 1794]
  • human-created force fields [these became a verifiable fact in 1995 with the invention of the “plasma window”]
  • invisibility [research into metamaterials to make objects disappear continue, breakthroughs were in 2006]
  • teleportation [entanglement of large molecules was proved possible in 2002]

And what about controlling gravity to move things around? Or manipulating cells so wounds fix faster? Research is being done into both those things right now, with marked success. So, how come we can’t “wish” a spacecraft into orbit or make a talisman that provides its wearer with immunization against all ills? How come angels don’t arrive to save people from disaster? How come voodoo doesn’t protect the rain-forests? And when (if) these things ever happen, won’t they be scientific break-throughs?

Lastly, there’s the immutable balance of universal forces to contend with. In the universe there’s an equilibrium that depends on fundamental forces such as: gravity, strong force, weak force, and electromagnetism. It’s possible that there are universal forces yet to be discovered, though there can’t be many and they must be rare. But we can safely assume that the balance of the universe can’t be shifted or confounded without Cartesian notions of causation.

So what can we do about these inconsistencies as fantasy authors? How will we make our magic more believable? How will we bridge the gaps and jump the obstacles?

Magic Orb

As a fantasy author, you might one-day face a crisis… how do you include “acceptable” magic in your writings? Here are some tips:

  • Write about emotions. Emotions are magic. We cannot see them. They cannot be evaluated. And they manifest themselves in different ways and differently from person to person. However, they are part of our human experience and being emotional is a magic we all perform. Concentrate on emotions in your storytelling.
  • Write about storytelling. Words are magic. Think about it. As an author you pass a “thought” from one person to another using telepathy and a scatter of runes (runes are just the ink spots on paper or dots on the screen). How does this magic happen? How does a story materialize into the mind of the recipient?
  • Write about maths. Numbers are magic. Numbers don’t really exist. They are simply convenient ideas that might be scratched onto paper or evaluated.
  • Write about money. Money is magic because numerals are magic. Money doesn’t exist. Money is just a convenient idea that can be easily assessed within a spreadsheet.
  • Write about humans. Humans are magical beings. You don’t need unicorns and werewolves to add magic to your story. We come “out of nowhere” and one day we will enter “into nothingness.” However, for a short time we are capable of singing, laughing, inventing, creating and loving. Isn’t that magical? We seem so ordinary, yet we encompass everything that is impossible. And that is true magic. Isn’t it?

Comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

5 Ways to Prove a Paranormal Experience Was Plausible

Or: the pragmatic approach to paranormal verification

What may appear to be a puzzling supernatural experience / manifestation to one witness may have an entirely rational & scientific explanation to a better informed researcher. It is imperative that we rule-out any obvious explanation for unexplained phenomena before drawing conclusions.

Most of us know that bumps, creaks and all kinds of strange noises and sensations (the so-called bumps-in-the-night) can be readily attributed to drying building beams, expanding floorboards, bats in the attic, mice behind the plaster, breezes through vents, etc. Anyone who has encountered the hiss of a barn owl when agitated (they like to hang out in old lofts, church-yards and ruins) will attest to this. It’s the most chilling and macabre sound you can possibly imagine (check the video at the foot of the page.) We might place these explanations under one broad heading: “environmental and biological.”

ghost in the mirror

But less is known about the following rational explanations for “paranormal” encounters — and these should also be taken into account when we review and examine someone’s testimony:

No.1

The Frequency of Fear

Below the range of human hearing, infrasound will cause strange sensations in some people. Humans will not naturally hear sound below 20 Hertz, but some people unconsciously respond to these lower frequencies. It has been scientifically proven that feelings of fear or dread can accompany low frequency vibrations

Remedy: Eliminate any sound waves below or around 19 Hertz (fans, heaters, pumps, etc.)

No.2

Unusual Electromagnetic Fields

In many ghost hunting activities electromagnetic field (EMF) meters are played with, but without proper explanation. It ought to be remembered that these gauges are typically used to diagnose electrical problems with domestic wiring etc. According to a reliable neuroscientific study, magnetic stimulation (even weak fields) can produce what some witnesses describe as “an inexplicable presence” in a room. If the Earth’s geomagnetic field needs to be checked, a gauss meter (magnetometer) will be required.

Remedy: rule out all electromagnetic fields, use an EMF meter to check that none are present

No.3

Toxic Hallucination

If it can be convincingly proven that drugs, narcotics, intoxicants, or any other substance had not influenced the witness prior to their encounter, it is still possible that carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and / or pesticides were present. Carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, and also some pesticides, cause symptoms of panic, paranoia and loss of consciousness (also, hallucination)

Remedy: Check the area with a multi-gas meter for flammable gases, CH4 / CO / O2 and H2S, and also use a formaldehyde detector, to establish an absence of toxic gases

haunting

No. 4

Sleep Paralysis

It is well known that sleep paralysis causes subjects to hallucinate (they hear, feel or see things that are not there) — so it must be clearly established that the witness did not fall asleep during their encounter. It is known that previous poor sleep patterns can trigger this condition, and also psychological stress, or abnormal sleep cycles, so we should rule these conditions out before further investigation. The use of commonly obtained antidepressants is also the cause of sleep paralysis.

Remedy: rule out all triggers and ensure the witness uses a device to monitor blood oxygen levels, heart rate, body position, body movements, intensity of snoring (a diagnostic PSG device) in future tests. This will help to detect and track sleep

No. 5.

The Ghost Train Principle

Studies show that participants who “expected” to be thrilled at some kind of event (because they visited a supposedly “haunted” place, for example, or they voluntarily took part in a game where certain results were expected —a séance or a ghost hunt, perhaps) will experience the same sense of excitement and gratification as all the other participants, even though nothing tangible actually “scared” them or even made them nervous.

We see this disposition in common-or-garden fairground attractions: even taking a mediocre and unsatisfying ride on a “Ghost Train” ride will provoke shrieks and squeals in us as well as our friends, even though we are not scared at all! Humans like to be scared, and it’s more more fun to be scared when we’re with other thrill seekers; we enjoy sharing the tingle & excitement of spooky times. This way, people will be exposed to social influence (friends in a group will be delighted with the possibility of something supernatural happening, while the more pragmatic tend to go along with things, maybe because they don’t want to let folks down… in fact they want to please them) — this is when a witness may become susceptible to deception (of self and others). This phenomena is known as: suggestion through positive social influence. After all, what’s worse than a naysayer or spoilsport at a Halloween party? Nobody wants to be dubbed a party pooper or a buzzkiller… right? Even the most ambivalent and sober person will want to “go along” for the ride.

Remedy: rule out positive social influence by limiting the number of witnesses. If there’s a requirement to have more than one witness at an event, each witness must be unknown to any other (all must be strangers) and this fact must be established beforehand, and be beyond any doubt. Witnesses must not come to an event with any pre-conceived notions. For example, they must not think it’s a séance.

Tips, ideas or comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

Five ways to over-deliver in your next novel

Five ways to over-deliver in your next novel

A story to be told

1: Make sure you treat your characters as if they are “real” actors playing a part in your production. Treat them like valuable artists and they will become your most precious assets. What does this mean? It means that the person on the page ought to be seen (by you) as “real”. The participants in your novel have their own basic emotions, needs, wants, and requirements. But you, as the author / director of the narrative, will want these troupers to “appear” in the production and to act a part. So be kind to them. Negotiate with them, reward them, reassure them, and flatter them. I like to imagine that they are waiting outside in a dressing room and preparing their lines. You will walk in and announce that you are looking for a hero, or a champion, or maybe a rogue or even a minor role, for example a bartender or a school secretary, and everyone who enrolls will advance forward to shout “Choose me! Choose Me!” They all want to be in your production. They are keen to help…

Think of it this way, if I offered you or your best friend a minor role in a big-budget movie, you (they) would take it seriously, right? Wouldn’t you want to give your role some personality, oomph, pizzazz, persona or other uniqueness? Yes, of course you would. So, treat your actors (background roles, or otherwise) as performance players on your movie set.

If you follow this advice, the characters will not be “cardboard cutouts” of proper people. They will absolutely be proper people!

2: Give all your people a set of positive and negative traits. I mean, everyone. If you fill your actors with what I call “Kinetic Potential” they won’t let you down. They will entertain and reward you. But this means that you will have to make them “wholly rounded” individuals, and this will require them to take-on some negative as well as positive traits (and vice versa for antagonists). So find two or three “negatives” for your protagonist; for example, a Harry Potter type character is also impulsive, obsessive, reckless (choose your own, these are just my suggestions!)

And you don’t have to make your antagonist admirable or likable… but why not make Him, Her or It more convincing by creating a genuinely three-dimensional anti-hero that betrays positive (yes, positive) traits? For example, Lord Voldemort is a charismatic leader, Darth Vader is a skilled space-pilot, and Dracula is an attentive and passionate lover.

I use the Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, and I hope you will too. It helps because it provides the visual clues, the non-verbal “ticks” — if you like — so it means you will tend to “show” rather than tell (which is a good thing!)

3: Give your characters identifiable obstacles. We don’t all have a physical disadvantage or a history of abuse, right? We are not all orphans. So it’s hard to precisely relate to these burdens, isn’t it? But we have all lost something that we treasured. We have all found ourselves on the wrong side of events or arguments. We have all done poorly in an important test. We have all felt bad because we could not achieve what we wanted. We have all missed-out on a treat or a reward. We have all been scared of not living up to someone else’s standards. We have all been disappointed. So give your characters obstacles that will be understandable to all readers. So they might feel empathy.

If you follow this advice, your audience will identify with your characters; and all their strengths, weaknesses, and struggles will be realistic

4: What’s in Area 51? Don’t you just love a mystery. What is yours? I emphasise this: your story does not have to be a detective novel or a thriller to have an enigma hidden inside it. All stories can be vastly improved with a fascinating secret. Have you conceived one yet? I hope you did, because even if it’s a “side show” to the key events, it will continue to drive your narrative. Think of your mystery element as a new ship: it has to be designed, tested, and it has to be launched (preferably fairly early on.) You have to talk about it. It should be seen from a distance. And then it must be lost. Although perhaps it may appear in view (from a distance) at various times. But we don’t get on board. Nobody gets on board. Not until the time is right. And that’s right at the end! In the big reveal!

5: Make your players mysterious by giving them facets of character. This will mean that your actors will not be inexplicable mystagogues or (worse) carbon copy tropes. We know that traits reveal a character’s underlying values ​​or beliefs, but to make your people absolutely compelling, we need to take their negative & positives (see tip No.2 above) and dig into them, to root out the facets.

What do I mean? Well, let’s say your hero is friendly. Doesn’t that also mean that we can easily manipulate them? Abusive people will “burden” a friendly soul with problems or cause friendly folk to do things that they would rather not. By being friendly (all the time), will your friendly player follow their own wishes or dreams? Or will they just be doing things for others? Think about it.

And say you have decided that your antagonist is impatient — doesn’t this mean they will busy themselves on projects, get things done, work to strict deadlines, be remarkably well organised, and generally well-prepared? These are the “facets” — or, if you like, the counterparts of good / bad attributes. If you work on the facets of character (the contradictions found inside the traits), your create characters that will become ever-more mysterious but, at the same time, magically, more relatable too!

Please let me know how you get on. Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

how to use previz in your novel

What is previz story-boarding? How will it help you write better scenes?

It was a dark and stormy night…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies…

We are all used to launching a story where the “seeds of imagination” become planted in the mind of an audience and ground rules are introduced at the outset… this “start” in a narrative journey is a technique that must have been employed by storytellers for millions of years.

But perhaps we give less thought than we ought to in developing each scene in a yarn. There is some sense in this — it is unnecessary to remind the audience every-step-of-the-way how stormy the weather is, or that the events occur in outer space or Dorothy lives on the prairie — but it is useful if the author, the character (and the reader) know what is expected of them all the way along along their journey: (which is why stand-up comedians “refresh” the backdrop of their story as they go along: so these three guys stepped into the bar… and like I said, they were celebrating a big win...)

The “seeds of imagination” have to be replanted (or at least watered and re-fertilised, as the storyteller goes along the narrative journey) and rules must be restated and recalled. It is best if an author does this reiteration & reinforcement before the characters embark on a new scene, so everyone (author, reader, character) knows what is expected beforehand.

You will know that film directors use story-boarding techniques, either in the form of sketches or, more often these days, through the use of digital technology, to plan and conceptualise each scene in their film so that the finished product is accessible, intuitive and contextually transparent. They call this pre-visualisation, or PREVIZ for short.

The benefits of using PREVIZ (pre-visualisation) in movie-making is that a director can adjust lighting, camera position, character movement, stage direction, and even think about editing before “the shot” — thus saving money, time and effort and also concentrating resources. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the PREVIZ approach is the ability to target and engage with the “cause and effect” before going ahead with a scene. Why? Because once a director (and players) are certain of “cause and effect” everything else fits into a coherent sequence of events that will facilitate the shoot and make the scene easy to act & follow.

Like film directors, I suggest that you use the PREVIZ approach in creating your scenes, principally in the “setup” phase and more especially in complicated scenes, before you get to the “inciting incident” that is, the point of the scene. This will help you avoid purple prose and become less melodramatic and clichéd in your storytelling.

Here are some prompts that might help:

  • What will the background sounds be? (Include background dialogue here, that is, words the “crowd” or minor characters will speak.) Also, what natural sounds can be heard? Or perhaps there’s an absence of natural sounds: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.
  • How will the scene be visualised? Will you write this with a “wide angle” so you and your audience see the full extent of events on the widest canvas, or will you zoom in on the action so the reader can feel breath and smell the blood? Will the scene start with a panoramic view before you frame your principal players? Think about how the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the Star Wars movies, maximised a wide-screen focus before getting very close to the faces. First, this will help “set the scene” to activate the reader’s imagination, and it also serves another purpose: it shrinks and / or subdues even the greatest hero / opponent, so they fight against the world / universe / landscape. The terrain is another “adversary” or obstacle that they must overcome. The immensity of the challenging landscape might threaten to overwhelm them long before they set eyes on their opponent.
  • make a list of the sensory inputs you could use: textures, smells, tastes, foley sounds (boots crunching on gravel, coughing, clocks ticking). You can use some or all of these in your final writing.
  • Now think about the emotional state of your characters. How do they feel physically? How do they feel mentally? Remember previous experiences or encounters; for example, if you gave them a wounded arm in a previous scene, won’t this change events? Similarly, if a protagonist or antagonist becomes emotionally ill / damaged, won’t this have an impact?
  • What intellectual point do you, the author/director, want to convey in this scene? Will the lesson be: Don’t play with matches? Let sleeping dogs lie? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Try to pin down a proverb or proposition that summarises your moral object or lesson. It doesn’t automatically have to be a maxim or mindset, it could just be the artistic or visual “point” of the scene, i.e. corn ripens fastest as frosts are settling in, or: a woman’s anger melts between night and morn. Note: You won’t literally tell this maxim to the reader (you might hint it) but it will be helpful if you know the intellectual point before you write your scene. It will help you adjust the settings: i.e. lighting, mood, “camera” angle, etc. And it will also help your character development if you (and your character) are familiar with the intellectual points.
  • Narrative and context. We will place this scene between other scenes (unless it is the opening of the book), so think about how the scenes before and after will be influenced by this scene. This will help you build your transitions.

Your storyboard previz will be a set of bullet points or, if you’re a visual/spatial thinker, it might take the form of a cloud diagram or just some ideas sketched onto sticky notes and taped to your mood board.

I think a fishbone diagram is particularly useful for previz because the “head” of the fishbone is an arrow that faces the “problem” and all the bones along the spine are the “causes” so this helps you concentrate on cause & effect. Creately have a useful fishbone diagram tool here: https://creately.com/diagram/example/jrsug0ys/Fishbone+Diagram+Template)

Good luck with your previz storyboarding.

Let me know how it goes and if you have comments on Twitter @neilmach

Neil mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

How to write with passion

Writing With Passion
Writing With Passion

Does passion drive the core of your being?

If passion isn’t driving your creativity — your writing might be becoming lukewarm. How do you stop that from happening? And did you ever write with passion in the first place? Here are some helpful tips to help you keep your passion for writing. But, first, what is passion and how do we use this vital emotion when we write?

Passion is not a magical alchemy that only manifests itself in church or on a soccer field. It is there for us all, a free gift, to use as fuel. Passion is an unlimited and amazing fuel.

Passion inspires a person to live and to create. It’s about dreaming. It is about tangible creation. It goes beyond dreams though, to propel creative people towards excellence. If you don’t fight for anything, your life is empty. If you don’t allow your passion to develop, you will never become the entire self you want to be, you will never attain the complete youness of you.

Any creative individual is just the capacity and scope of their passions.

Passion comes from deep within the heart and, indeed, from the soul itself.

Passion is an emotion. And it is a wonderful emotion too. Emotions exist so we are neither hungry nor thirsty, nor eaten by a bear or trip headlong into a burning pit on our journey through life. Emotions keep us safe. Emotions help us make the right decisions. With emotions in control of our destiny, we will never be so shaken that we explode. The thrill of passion is that it focuses our efforts on the things that bring us the greatest rewards.

  • Passions rarely go beyond childhood. Why?
  • Successful people create their own passions — they don’t wait for them to come along
  • People don’t automatically excel at their chosen passion, it takes courage, practice & commitment to turn something into a passion
  • Creating and inventing are passions: shooting-down, sniping, demolishing or criticizing other people’s works are quite the opposite

So the best way to know if you (still) write with passion is to ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Is this the best way to be myself?
  • Who am I doing this writing for?
  • Does this writing represent who I think I am?
  • Does this work represent all the things I stand for?
  • Am I being honest with myself or am I doing this for someone else?
  • Do I love doing this? If not, why not? What stands in the way of my love?
  • Do I really enjoy this genre? Or am I kidding myself?
  • If I couldn’t do this type of writing, how would I feel?
  • If this were taken away from me, right now, would it weaken and diminish me or would it free me?
  • Does my creativity glow inside my core like a super-solar beacon?

If, after reading these points, you have doubts or hesitations, don’t worry just yet — it could be because you need re-calibration. This happens a lot to creative people. They lose their way in a maze of alternatives, fresh options, flip-flopping concepts, displaced loyalties, alternative goal setting, and general disconnect. In short, you might have lost sight of your dream.

So if you have reached a state of imbalance and perhaps stagnation too, do these exercises to get back on track:

  • read fifty pages every morning of a book you normally wouldn’t read anymore (because you’ve grown out of it.) I recommend Enid Blyton’s Famous Five’s or Roald Dahl’s The Witches or JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, but there are many more. Don’t care what people “think” about your reading choice, this isn’t about them, it’s about you
  • Use a time travel device. Tackle an activity you haven’t done in a long time or you’ve never done before. This will help your creative mind journey back to your childhood (get a pogo stick, hopper ball, skipping rope, skate board) Make sure the activity is physical and requires time and patience to get it right.
  • try your hand at a magic painting book (I recommend Federica Iossa and Sam Taplin, who do fantasy scenes that are quite magical.) Or play with vegetable modeling clay (Jovi do a pack of bright colors for about $9 or £8) Or try your hand at Pipe Cleaner Craft (a bumper pack of 200 stems is about $8) or get yourself a pom-pom maker, a kit without yarn is the same price as the above crafts. The idea here is to do something that requires attention (but not utter concentration) while you get better (and your creativity juices are re-focused) as you practice.
  • Listen to bubble-gum pop: (seek out “I Want Candy” and “Sugar, Sugar” [by The Archies] and “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”). See if you can find your own set of sweet soda sounds and add them to your playlist
  • create new words or terms to replace stale old ones. For example: a politician is a = figmentaller, an epidemic is a = verbubonic tombola, an election is = pickalumny, winter is the = season of giftragical gloomagles (these are mine, create your own and the idea here is to focus on things that currently irritate or distress you)
  • Pick a random topic each day and write 200 hundred words about it. Hubspot have a random topic generator here: https://www.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator I also like the random conversation starter here at capitalizemytitle.com: https://capitalizemytitle.com/random-topic-generator/ the general idea here is to write something that is normally “out of reach” of your mind

Tips to keep your passion for writing alive:

  • Practice makes passion stronger; if you don’t practice, your passion will disappear
  • Don’t feed your brain with fear and disappointment, set goals that are rational and sensible. Be nice (to yourself)
  • A challenge is all very well, but it won’t help if your passion is injured by an unrealistic self-imposed limit or unfair wordcount target
  • Reward yourself when deadlines are met. Reaching goals is satisfying and it’s part of the passion process. So, to make sure you’re full to the brim with energy, and ready to face the impossible again soon, give yourself a brief rest and reward yourself
  • Don’t imagine your goals must always be towering or staggering. Sometimes nice little goals that can be accomplished in a day or even a few hours can make a much bigger difference to your health and well-being than a passion that will take a lifetime to complete. Do you think Edmund Hillary just climbed Everest? Of course not, he did a lot of small hills. Do you think Haile Gebrselassie (Olympic long-distance runner) runs a marathon every day? Of course not, he merely jogs around his neighborhood. So keep your goals reasonable. And keep them fun.

    Keep the passion going!

    Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” out NOW on Amazon Kindle

Myth and Magic EP 18 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 18 SHOW-NOTES

Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Eighteen: 22M

This week I Discover the origins of Hogmanay. Is New Year about celebrating Elves who sent Trolls back home? Thinking about your own fantasy fiction project : what is your big idea? In this show I will provide you with some thematic suggestions for your own project. Also, find out who Enki was, and why this deity is connected with New Year. Also discover the ancient origins of January.

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hob dy naa

Perhaps this ancient festival is all about invoking the hill-men (Icelandic viking “haugmenn” or Anglo-Saxon hoghmen) aka “elves” who are called to banish the trolls and send them into the sea… and after much wassailing, merriment and first-footing… the Scots tend to celebrate New Year’s Day (Ne’er day) with a special steak pie dinner.

In Scotland, the first Monday after New Year’s Day was traditionally known as Hansel Monday, or Handsel Monday. It originates from the old Saxon word which means “to deliver into the hand” … a time for handing-out tokens, gifts and cash to those who have helped during the year. Money received during Handsel Monday is supposed to insure monetary luck all for the rest of the year

Don’t forget on the Twelfth Night (January 5) to chalk your door (or even better, get a stranger to do it) to earn blessings and protection for your house for another year. The letters CMB – perhaps separated by crosses and numerals (that form 2020) – will suffice. CMB are the initials of the three Wise Men (Magi) Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar as well as the initials for a short prayer: Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house.)

The first day of a month in the Roman calendar was known as the calends, because it signifies another lunar phase. It’s where we get the word “Calender” from. But for a long while, the New Year started on the calends of March! Huh?

January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after Janus who is the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology … but the original Roman calendar consisted of just 10 months totalling 304 days. But around 713 BC January and February were added to the year so each annual period contained 354 days (a lunar year.) So, get your head around this if you can, March was originally the first month in the old Roman calendar until Janus (the two-faced God of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, and doorways) gave his name to a new “First Month of the Year.”

January was known as “wolf month” by the Saxons and “oak moon” in Finland (oak moon) tammikuu

Cervulus or Cervula is the name of a Roman festival celebrated on the kalends of January.

In astrology this is the time of Capricorn (the tenth astrological sign in the zodiac). An amateur astrologer once told me that the symbol of the constellation is the “only mythical beast” but that only works if you believe the centaur is non-mythical (perhaps you do, which is why you listen to this podcast) anyway: the Capricorn symbol is a SeaGoat that’s based on Enki – the ancient Sumerian god of water, knowledge, mischief, crafts, and creation (also knwon as EA by the Babylonians.) The God is allegedly Hurrian in origin (the Hurrians were e Bronze Age people who lived in the area we now call Armenia) and the first temple to Enki was built in the area we now know as Southern Iraq more than 6,500 years ago… so Enki is very, very, ancient.

Enki was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization and therefore he is often portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity and he’s considered to be the the master-shaper of all the world, the god of wisdom and the master of all magic. Because Enki came from the water and, in fact, brought everything into being from the water, for astronomers, the constellation is located in an area of sky called the Sea or the Water, that consists of many water-related constellations such as Aquarius, Pisces and Eridanus.

Unsuprisingly, really, Capricornus the original SEA-GOAT is also sometimes identified as Pan, the god with a goat’s horns and legs, who saved himself from the monster Typhon by giving himself a fish’s tail and diving into a river. PAN is a Proto-Indo-European god that I have discussed before, but he’s the rustic God of of the wild, shepherds and flocks, and the nature of mountains. As the character Pushan he acts as a PSYCHOPOMP and is the oldest (or most ancient) deity.

So, when you’re wishing your neighbors, colleagues and friends a Happy New Year think again! You are, perhaps, calling on the sleeping hoghmen to protect them from marauding trolls, wishing them a fortunate wolf month” under an Oak Moon or invoking the master-shaper of the world, Lord Enki himself with the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to bring them prosperity.

How to write phantasmagorical fantasy fiction

I’m currently writing my #85k90 novel. That’s 85,000 words in 90 days… and, by the way, I don’t cheat myself… I write a new novel from scratch when I enter this type of challenge. So this will be an entirely different project to my #NaNoWriMo manuscript of 2019.

Over the next ninety days I’ll try to provide you with the first steps you require to make your fantasy fiction a fact… not fantasy. I’ll continue to give you magical and mythical facts and news but I’ll also begin to propose some advice for your own work.

Anyway, I think that it’s time to start to develop a fantasy fiction novel WITH YOU and we have to start somewhere.

What literary element will come first?

Character?
Plot?
Theme?

You might have some juicy ideas about character and plot… but what about theme? My belief is that this must come first. Oh Scheiße (or a word to that effect) I hear you whimper. Yes, I know it will make your brain hurt… but think about like this. Did Tolkein really start with barefooted, fattish, weed-smokers? Did he even know where his main protagonists would take him? (Academics suggest the LOTR was initially intended to be one volume.) Urm, my guess is that he thought about his theme first.

WHAT’S A THEME? It’s the story’s BIG IDEA

Tolkein’s BIG IDEA might have been something along the lines of: will the meek inherit the earth or will they be tempted by evil along the way?

Likewise, is the The Chronicles of Narnia just about a bunch of kids using a magic wardrobe to visit another world? ( Lewis had been toying with the wardrobe idea for years, anyway.) Or is it a book about a terrible White Witch (probably based on H. Rider Haggard’s She, anyhow) who finds herself at war with a lion-hearted King-God? No, I’m guessing C. S. Lewis started with the theme of redemption… something along the lines of: could guilt (not sin) ever be forgiven?

So I suggest you start with your THEME. Once you have your BIG IDEA firmly rooted in the back of your mind, your characters and (later) your plot will be easier to sketch-out.

Now, I don’t expect it will be easy for you (but it will be a lot easier to work out your THEME before you start to write, believe me) because it is not a tangible thing. Nevertheless, it will (likely) set the tone of your work too. Just make a rough note, a hazy idea will do, to begin with, and then let the haziness ferment in your brain for a while. Once you’ve let the idea sloosh around in your brain for a while, try to write down what’s known as a thematic statement…

Thematic statements might include:

Does love have the power to destroy lives?
Is the world filled with morally grey characters or are there true Good and Evil characters?
What are the the consequences if a person seeks power over love?
Survival of the fittest
Can a person overcome prejudice and fear to bring about justice?
Is a person who runs away from society also running away from themselves?
Notice how these themes tend to be about the universal human condition or universal truths about being a human. Don’t worry if your book is about Dragons, Elves, Aliens or Warthogs… the point is that it WILL BE READ BY HUMANS (one hopes) so it must appeal to their nature.

Don’t worry – your theme doesn’t have to be original (just don’t nick mine, ha ha) REEDSY have a great little quiz you can try, if you’re still grappling with this idea: Why not give it a whirl? https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSct16CneLuaDpYWubPBMqhnl5QJVKdtz_Vr-JkeOMWj35qneA/viewform

The THEME for MY fantasy fiction novel (the one I’m writing right now with you over the next 90 days) will be : Can a person have two sides to their character or does one side have to die to allow the other side to live? PLEASE DON’T COPY IT!?! Think UP your OWN theme. And try to develop just ONE THEME.

Once you begin writing your first draft, you’ll find your THEME will become rooted in your mind and will help bring out your character’s flaws or will appear in any obstacles she/he/it will have to overcome to reach a conclusion and, depending on your ability, it might also reinforce your motifs. Don’t worry about this right now, the main thing is that you have a Theme to begin with…

Fantasy Fiction News Bronze Age burial mound damage

This week the BBC reported that police in in Monmouthshire, South Wales are investigating reports of “appalling damage” at a Bronze Age burial mound at Llanvaches which dates back 3,000-4,000 years.

WENTWOOD is the largest ancient woodland in Wales

The BBC say the “Gwent Police Rural Crime Team” have suggested the destruction was caused by off-road vehicles and said immediate prevention measures were being put in place.
The Woodland Trust shared pictures of its Wentwood site, near Newport, on Monday afternoon, where tyre tracks had covered the monument.
And the site manager Rob Davies said that the damage has been “an ongoing problem”
“A feature that is around 3,000-4,000 years old has been damaged within a few minutes,” he added.
“This is a Bronze Age burial mound, a scheduled ancient monument, and the damage caused is therefore a criminal offence.”

Burial mounds (often seen on maps marked as tumulus) were used by late neolithic people in Britain to bury their dead and mainly used between 2200BC and 1100BC . Two Round Barrows are located within Wentwood Forest.

An astronomical alignment at the Gray Hill stone circle near where the Wentwood Forest damage had been caused suggests alignment on the midwinter sunrise, downhill towards the South-east, between two standing stones, named the “First Piper” and the “Second Piper.” A distinctive notch on the horizon adds to the weight of evidence behind the solsticial alignment claim.

Tolkein talks about Barrow-Land when describing his “Middle-earth” and the famous home of of Bilbo Baggins (and Frodo) is a hobbit-burrow dug into the top of The Hill… not dissimilar to a Bronze Age mound.

Next week: Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eighteen of MYTH & MAGIC 22M

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