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Brooke Shaffer

Author, Ski Patroller, and Pasta-Eater Extraordinaire

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Writing Historical Fiction: Who

In this installment of WHF, we're going to discuss people, characters and historical figures.

Your first instinct might be to include as many famous historical figures as possible.  Civil War?  Not without Honest Abe.  World War II?  Need me some Churchill and Eisenhower, right?  Not necessarily.

First off, you need to figure out your main character.  Who is the plot centered around?  Where is the character going to go, and how is he or she going to develop?

Let's say you're writing about the Civil War.  Your whole plot is basically a story from the front lines, both sides. Your first main character is a young man, twenty years old, who goes to fight for the Union.  The second main character is a comparable character in the Confederate Army.  Maybe they both have girls they're trying to impress back home.

It is immediately clear that you're probably not going to be talking to Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis in the first couple chapters, if at all.  Your main characters' sphere of influence is going to be restricted to family and immediate superiors, the other grunts in his unit.  Maybe you use the girlfriends as home field points of view, but they're not going be talking to generals or presidents either.

Now then, maybe your main characters are phenomenal soldiers and rise through the ranks, perform admirably, and carry on past the Civil War.  Then you can start bringing in higher brass, more famous names.  Maybe your characters become politicians and speak to the president.

Don't add in famous people randomly just to say that they're in the story.  Now then, that isn't to say that you have to cut out all things famous.  Maybe your soldiers attend the Gettysburg Address.  If it is a natural progression of the plot, then it is entirely appropriate, even demanded.  Your characters probably aren't going to sit down and have afternoon tea with Lincoln afterwards, but it is an appropriate use of character.

If you're all bummed about not being able to use Lincoln or Lee or Grant, don't despair.  Look up old actual Civil War rosters.  Find the units, find the commanders.  There is a wealth of information out there about history and ancestry.  Maybe you only get bare minimum information, a name and birth date and some scattering of other tidbits, or maybe you find a whole treasure trove.  So maybe your Union soldier gets bumped from infantry to cavalry because you can find out more about his commander.  Maybe your Confederate soldier goes from infantry to the medic tent.  That's the beauty of historical fiction is that sometimes the truth is more fun.

So, when considering who to include in your historical fiction, look at the perspective of the main character, his initial sphere of influence, and where and how that sphere changes and expands.  Consider which events your character is likely to encounter, which we'll cover more in a future installment.

Writing Historical Fiction: When and Where

In this first developmental installment of WHF, I'm going to cover the when and where aspect of writing historical fiction.  In elementary school, you probably learned that this was the "setting" of the story.  In the real world, there is so much more to it.

When considering historical fiction, sometimes you already have an idea of what time period you are going to use, and it's usually pretty vague.  The Middle Ages.  The Industrial Revolution.  The Civil War.  Ancient Egypt.  Things like that.  They give the reader a general idea of what to expect, but a good historical author needs to get a little more in depth, especially as you get more and more recent and records are more readily available.

You need to decide when you need to start and stop, the span of your story.  For example, Of Saints and Sinners covers roughly from 1815 to 2006, with a gap from 1855 to 1923.  That's important to know.  It really is.  Why?  Because then you have points of reference for what you can and cannot include in your story.  OSaS might make reference to an impending war, but the Civil War hadn't happened yet.  Similarly, social media in the early 00's was extremely limited and nowhere near as prevalent as it is today.

You also need to decide how much you intend to cover in that span of time, what your focus is going to be.  If your book spans only a few months, maybe detailing a particular part of a war, you are going to need ten times the information for that time period than another author who is simply passing through on their way from one year to the next.  Maybe one book needs all the movements of the French Resistance after the Nazis conquered France in World War II.  Maybe you only have to mention that World War II happened on your way from the 1930's to the 1950's.

As another example, the first book in The Hands of Time spans from about 1710 to 1963.  I highly doubt you want to read a four thousand page novel, so in that instance, there is a little picking and choosing of events, how and why and where and when the characters pop up in history.

That being said, equally as important as when your story is, is where it is.  Borders are not idle things.  They tend to change, most often with war and the rise and fall of various kingdoms.  Did your country of choice exist in the same way it does today?  Did it exist at all at that time?  Did it become annexed by another country and so it actually doesn't exist today?  Where were its boundaries?  Who were their neighbors?

All right, so you've got your when and your where.  You've got the span of time you intend to cover, and you know the borders of your lands.  It's always easier to write about a history you know.  It's easier for an American to write about American history, because we understand the points of reference given, and even if we don't remember the exact sequence of battles in the Civil War, we are vaguely familiar with them.  Similarly, it's easier for a Frenchman to write about French history, and he probably has more knowledge of Napoleon's exploits.  And a Japanese man to write Japanese history, a Polynesian to write Polynesian history, and so on.

If you intend to write about or include in a major way history that you are largely or completely unfamiliar with, don't let yourself get caught in a pile of fudge.  Don't get all the way to a major battle, then chicken out and go to black out action because you don't know what you're doing.  Don't overtly rely on generic titles like "the commander" or "the king" or whomever.  Don't rely heavily on generic geography either.

Here's a technique to help avoid "fake foreign history fudge." Add a minimum of fifty years to your intended span, both before and after.  Maybe go for a hundred, depending on what and how much you want to cover.  So if you intend to cover Slovenian history from 1830 to 1900, start reading about Slovenian history starting in 1780 to 1950.  Wars don't just happen out of thin air, and the political web is an intricate thing, built up over many years.  The more you understand about how things got to where they start in your story, the better you are able to take those threads and manipulate them.  And maybe you'll discover things you never knew before and decide to include.  As a neat little example, a little exciting tidbit to reveal about In the Hands of the Enemy, I did not fully understand the role Madagascar played in World War II.  In my history class, it was all about Europe.  But it's not called World War II for nothing, and I had to go digging.  It was a gold mine, and I'm excited for you to read about it and experience it.

Reading about what happened afterwards is just as important because it tells you where and how your characters are supposed to land.  Were the people happy and rejoicing at the war's end?  Or were they afraid of what retribution may come down upon the commoners?  Was the new leader a calm, level-headed, intelligent man of good character and integrity?  Or was he a sly snake who would shake your fist with one hand and stab you in the back with the other?  Understanding "what happened after" is just as essential to the story as the story itself.

With that, I will say that once you go digging, especially if you're truly enthusiastic about your project, it can be hard to figure out what not to include.  Sometimes you might feel guilty about not including more.  What about this incident or that person or this or that or this or that?  That's the point when you need to go back to your outline, your time span, and reevaluate your story, your plot, the whole trajectory of your project.  What needs to change?  What would make a more believable story?  What is a more natural sequence or flow of events?  If there truly isn't anything you can cut and still make a believable, flowing story, is it time to consider breaking it up into multiple books?

***SPOILER ALERT FOR OF SAINTS AND SINNERS***

That was something I ran into with Of Saints and Sinners.  I could have easily made Owain's story into three books.  First book, his life in Wales and England, culminating in his escape from prison.  Second book, his voyage across the Atlantic and life in America, looking for his brother, culminating in his entrance into the cave.  Third book, emerging into 1923, adjusting to the shock and change, and his life as a Timekeeper, finally coming to a close with his adoption of Tommen.

As I mentioned before, I didn't do this because it was unnecessary and I felt it detracted from the story at large.  While it would eventually tie in to the rest of The Timekeeper Chronicles, the amount of information to get there would be unproductive.  It wasn't about a history of Wales or England.  It wasn't about the history of the United States leading up to the Civil War.  It was about Owain.  Keeping the focus on Owain for three full novels meant a lot of mischief and crime, a lot of going to jail, a lot of dull banking and business.  In a nutshell, it would be boring, repetitive, and serve no functional or narrative purpose.  We know he was a selfish, arrogant, drunk murderer.  We know he made a fortune and then lost it all when he killed six men and was sentenced to hang.  We don't need each detail to be its own chapter.

***END SPOILER***

So you may find yourself having to make some tough decisions.  It's not fun or easy, and this is just considering the time span and geographical boundaries you need to cover.  Next time we'll cover the people.  Won't that be fun?

Writing Historical Fiction: Decisions, Decisions

So I'm going to start a new blog series on historical fiction.  Why? you ask.  Because although The Chivalrous Welshman is contemporary, the rest of the series are not.  Owain's novel, Of Saints and Sinners is 99.999% historical.  The Hands of Time series will be majority historical.  Other future series and novels will be majority or entirely historical.  So I thought it important to impart some tidbits of knowledge and form on writing HF.

This installment is simply about preliminary decisions.  You've already made your first decision; you want to write historical fiction.  Chances are, this did not happen in a vacuum.  Maybe you saw a movie or a documentary, maybe read a book, but something inspired you to write historical fiction.  If this novel idea did spark in a vacuum, however, well, you have a lot more decisions to make.  Let's go through them.

When and where?

In school, this was called the "setting" of a story.  When and where is your story going to take place?  For historical fiction, we should add another interrogative and ask "how long?"  What time span is your story going to cover?

Of Saints and Sinners covers from about 1820 to 2006-ish, with a significant jump in between, from 1855 to 1923.  The Hands of Time is going to range far more significantly, from about 1715 to 2013, again with a significant jump from 1970-ish to 2013.  Those jumps are significant, and they are a huge factor in the story.  Maybe yours won't have magic Time Portals, but you should consider the span of your timeline.

Typically, HF falls into two categories for timelines: a character's lifespan, or a significant event.  We'll cover those in the next installment.

Who?

Once you figure out when and where your story takes place, you need to populate your world with people.  Chances are, unless you're writing historical NON-fiction, your main character is going to be a fictional person, a skin that readers can slip into and experience the things going on around them.  Probably they have a fictional family, too.

But they are not the only people in the whole world, right?  You need neighbors, friends, townspeople, and a governing body of some form.  It's a safe bet that common people, especially the further back you go, don't have a lot of information to their name.  They might appear only on a census record, a marriage certificate, a tax record, even a jail record.  So while these people may have existed, they can still be used fictionally.

The higher up the food chain you go, the more information is available.  Governors, presidents, kings and queens, these people may have one or more biographies written about them.  It would do you well to read some of these if they play any decent part in your story, or even if they don't.  We'll go over this in greater detail in a future installment.

What?

This question asks what the focus of your story is.  This is not necessarily about your character, but it is the guiding principle of your plot.  Is your story a historical romance (very popular in war novels)?  Is it about a political struggle, certain people trying to keep power amid troubled times, or other people trying to gain power by overthrowing the regime?  Is your story about exploration of the human condition via a series of events?  Is it about exploration and survival, Lewis and Clark perhaps, or some poor soul exiled to Siberia?

Many times, there will be several plots intermingling--a king trying to keep his power while trying to woo his frustrated wife and worried about his son who is fighting in the war--but the focus should be the one to tie them all together.

While some of these things should be decided before you start writing (such as the when and where), others will typically unfold in the process of writing and editing.  This is not an excuse not to do some planning, but being too rigid can be just as detrimental as too open and unprepared.

World and Current Events

While your story may not have anything to really do with war or politics, they are still very present in everyday conversation.  Having a general idea of what is going on in the world can bring some livelihood to your conversations.  Plus everyone always has an opinion on current events, which can actually help in character development, as long as it's real conversation or arguing, and not manufactured tension.

Essential Elements

For any story, you need to consider small elements.  These are things like clothes, housing, and inventions.  While you can sometimes be forgiven for slip-ups (bringing in inventions a year or two early, etc.), sometimes the inclusion of these details can make a story feel more real, more alive.

***

Each of these things, and other elements as I think of them, will be covered in more detail in future posts.

-Brooke Shaffer

How Am I Supposed To Read These Things?!

You may have noticed it a little at some point in the past couple weeks, but now the big announcement that the next exciting installment of The Timekeeper Chronicles is set for release late next year (think November/December).  That is, The Hands of Time. The new trilogy will focus primarily on Rifun and Cassius, how they got to where they are, how they met, where Isthim comes into play, and it gives more details on the events surrounding the Dispersal of 1963.  I'm not going to give any more than that at this time.

This does not mean that The Chivalrous Welshman is ending.  In fact, it's only just getting started, and Free Time is still on schedule for a Summer 2020 release.

That's great, you say, but then how am I supposed to read all of this? One side novel is one thing, but a whole new series?

Yes, I answer.  And that's not all.  In fact, there are several more series in the works in the TKC universe.

Oh, wonderful, you say, another media universe.

Well, if you haven't read my take on media universes, I will put it simply, in the context of TKC: The Chivalrous Welshman is the solid backbone of the series.  It is the core, the center, the hub of all the information you will ever need to know.  Unlike some universes (*coMarvelugh*), it is not utterly imperative that you read every itty bitty side adventure to follow the main narrative.  There will be enough information, enough back story, enough filler, in TCW books, to propel you to the end.  In the same way that Of Saints and Sinners was not mandatory to understanding Windup or Stopwatch or any future books, so the upcoming side series will be.  They will provide greater context, depth of character and motivation, and may drop a few nuggets of information and trivia about your favorite characters.

On that same token, each series is designed to be standalone so that any new reader can start with any series and not be completely lost in the shuffle of characters and events.  The series feed into the backbone rather than branch off of it.  It is also completely self-contained so you can finish the last book and not feel as though something is missing.  Again, more fun to read them all, but not mandatory.  That said, for those of you already familiar with the characters and how Time works, etc., the new series may serve as a nice refresher of the basics of Time and the Time industry, or it may simply provide a new perspective on things through various cultural and historical lenses.

But, Brooke, you say, that doesn't answer the question. How am I supposed to read these new series in conjunction with all the other books?

Excellent question, says I.

There are a few different ways you can read through them.  I might include graphics later as more books and series are released.

Method One: By Release Date

The books are released in an intentional order.  Of Saints and Sinners came after Windup in order to elaborate on Walter's speech.  Releasing it between Tick Tock and Windup might have worked to some degree, but it fits better after Windup.

Similarly, although The Hands of Time will cover a time period mostly separate from The Chivalrous Welshman, its direct connection to the events of the first four TCW books makes it so that it is best read after Stopwatch, when that arc is more or less resolved and segues into another, greater arc.

For two grueling years (yes, I'm a glutton for punishment), there will even be three books released in a year, one Spring, one Summer, one Fall/Winter, one book from three different series.  My God, you say, why would you do such a thing?  And how am I supposed to read those?  The best answer would be, in the order that they are released.

Method Two: By Branch via Release

Basically, this is like going on a total side quest.  So, the first book of The Hands of Time is releasing after Free Time.  This method would basically mean breaking off of TCW after Free Time, going to read The Hands of Time in its entirety, then coming back for book six of TCW.  Or, breaking off after Free Time, reading THoT, going to read Totally Mysterious and Unknown New Series, then returning to TCW.

Method Three: By Series

Maybe you're a purist and want to finish each series by itself before moving on to another series.  That's fine.  I would recommend reading TCW first.

At the risk of giving away too much information way too soon (as in, years in advance), you will be safe in this method up to Book Ten of TCW.  By the time we get around to this, I'll probably have detailed graphics and stuff, or you can check the Timeline on The Timekeeper Chronicles website.

TCW was originally scheduled to have fifteen books (sixteen, but then I axed the last one).  If you know my writing methods, I bull through the series and, quite frankly, I'm almost done with the complete TCW series (woot!).  After some deliberation, I elected to break up the series into two parts with a dividing line between Book Ten and what would have been Book Eleven.  I'll elaborate more as we get closer, but mostly it was logistics and pacing and other things.

But with that breakup, everything after Book Ten is a cluster and everything before Book Ten is a cluster, and there are two side series after Book Ten.  You could feasibly read those side series first, but you would be hella confused to try and start any "Before" series after that if you weren't already following at least TCW.

Maybe I'm making things too complicated with stuff that hasn't happened yet and is years down the road.  As I said, I might make some cool graphics to help out with this as more series begin to emerge, especially in those two hellish years with three books coming out (why do I do this to myself?).

One more question, you say.  How am I supposed to afford all of these books?

Fair question, says I.  Ebooks are nice, or you can go to your local library and see if they would be interested in purchasing said books.

-Brooke Shaffer

Why Star Trek's No Drama Policy Wasn't As Bad As You Think

So the other day, Adam and I were watching Star Trek on TV (Deep Space Nine and Voyager) and I remembered something about the earlier Star Trek shows that few are probably consciously aware of.

From the beginning, Gene Roddenberry decreed that ST was not allowed to have conflict between characters onboard the Enterprise or in Starfleet in general.  Not that they had to sing kum-bah-yah, but there was not allowed to be drama and major conflict between them.  This changed with Deep Space Nine and all subsequent series/movies because GR kicked the bucket and the writers were given more leeway.

Now, regardless of the preaching early episodes spouted, the overall concept of the no-drama policy actually wasn't too bad.  GR wanted to illustrate a future in which humanity had finally come together and put aside differences.  As a storytelling technique, I think it's fabulous.  Let me illustrate.

Turn on any TV show today and there is inevitably drama between characters.  Soap operas are all about the drama.  But any decent show inevitably succumbs to the temptation of manufactured conflict.  Chicago Fire is a good example.  House is another example.  The original premise of the show is pushed aside for personal problems that eventually take over the whole thing.  And I'm not saying that it's bad to change things up now and again to keep things fresh and interesting, but the answer is not always drama.

My favorite ST series is The Next Generation.  Hate me, shun me, it's true.  I grew up on Captain Picard.  Captain Janeway and Voyager is a close second, but I'm going to go with TNG for this piece.

TNG was a little preachy in the beginning, and some of the episodes are rather ridiculous.  But in not having extensive personal conflict between characters, it allowed for more focus on the plot.  How do we stop the Romulans from taking over this sector of space?  How do we keep the peaceful inhabitants of this planet safe from an asteroid heading straight for them?  How do we deal with this omnipotent Q continuum?  How do we gather the information we need without tainting the thoughts and imaginations of a primitive society?

Plot moved plot.  It allowed for a cleaner story arc over the course of the season and allowed for some phenomenal character growth.  Picard being assimilated by the Borg was a stunning twist, and with no drama to muck it up, it begged the question of how they were going to rescue him or would they be forced to potentially kill him?  It made that decision so much more important.  Similarly, Worf's divided loyalties between the Federation and the Empire, his war over whether to honor his duty to his uniform or his duty to his family and his honor, it came as a pivotal moment in the series, not just another cheap plot twist designed to move a slow-moving, drama-riddled, sludgy series along.

In the first season, Tasha Yar was killed off.  Behind the scenes, she felt as though she wasn't being respected and her character was underutilized, etc., and she wanted out.  In the show, though, it showed a level of seriousness that the characters might not always be safe.  Tasha's dead.  Would Worf leave and return to the Empire?  Would Picard be lost to the Borg forever?  These are questions about plot.  They're not cheap thrills from personal dramatic conflicts, an annoying Will-they-won't-they, ultimately who cares?  And even in Star Trek: Nemesis, that moment when you are praying that it will be a happy ending to the series once and for all, and Data sacrifices himself, it matters because there isn't a ton of baggage following him.

That's not to say that personal conflict should never happen.  Having no personal conflict at all is unrealistic and can grow very stale after a while.  Similarly, characters still need to have a measure of personality.  Wesley Crusher is an excellent example of how to write a two-dimensional character.  But keeping it to a minimum is not a bad thing.

A good example of getting off the high road and into the mud really comes in Deep Space Nine.  Written after GR's death, when the writing restrictions were loosened, DSN got off Cloud 9 and the idea that humanity now sings kum-bah-yah, and it started tackling some more complex issues.  It managed to stay largely away from the drama, and it focused more on the serious side of things, war rather than exploration, dealing with the Dominion and the Maquis at the same time.

Voyager, I think, came the closest to being overridden with personal drama.  It was well-managed in the sense that it was believable and also moderately suppressed.  One little Federation craft is stuck on the other side of the galaxy in the Delta Quadrant and has to make it home.  None of the present crew are expected to survive; it will be all of their children and grandchildren.  Being stuck in close quarters with so many people under those conditions is going to put some strain on people, and personal conflict is absolutely expected, as well as some ill-advised romantic encounters.  At the same time, they are alone with no allies and no backup, and if they want to make it home at all, they have to get along and make things work.

Basically, what I'm getting at is that you don't need a ton of drama to have a well-rounded story.  Let plot move plot, and let the characters develop in such a way that when things happen, they mean something.  Foreshadowing is good, but continuously adding drama baggage is not.  Would Worf's departure have been as dramatic if he had constantly fought with Picard and made threats to leave and generally not gotten along with anyone?  No.  But building up his character as being the only Klingon in Starfleet, having that divide, siding with Starfleet for so long but now having to make this awful choice, it means something.  It is a monument to be recognized, not another marker on a long trail.

Brooke Shaffer

Cloth Books Retiring

Before you get all bent out of shape, know that it's not as bad as it sounds (except for purists, maybe, but I have no control over this).

So I got an email from my printer today saying that blue and gray cloth is being retired and replaced with digital prints.  What does this mean?  Well, if you're a hardcover lover, take off the dust jacket and you will find a cloth wrap around the actual hard cover.  It makes it pretty and still denotes the title and author in the event something happens to the dust jacket.

All this means is that the actual, physical cloth is going away and things will be printed digitally, sort of like a case wrap (usually found on textbooks, etc.).  It will look like blue or gray cloth, but it will be a print instead.  Similarly, the foil stamping for the title and author will be straight digital.

The reason given for this is both cost and time.  It's cheaper and faster to make a digital print rather than glue and stamp cloth.

Personally, I love the actual cloth and the foil stamping.  I am really sad to see it go.  Unfortunately, I don't have control over it as it is the printer's decision.

The change will take place October 22.  There will be no delays in any orders, no downtime predicted downtime.  But I felt the need to give you guys a heads up.

Brooke Shaffer

Editing and Reboots

This last week, Adam and I went to see the new remake of The Lion King.  This post will have some general, vague spoilers, but quite frankly, it's a remake.  And if you don't know the story by now, you're either a child or an idiot.  Point is, there will be spoilers.

Anyway, seeing the new remake got me thinking about editing and how stories change.  So this post will be about editing and refining, as well as some periods of ranting about the new Lion King.

That said, the first thing I have to get off my chest is that they absolutely ruined several key points in the movie.  Not in the sense of plot, just in execution.  For example, in the gorge scene, the original animated version far exceeds the remake in that the emotion is so raw.  I burst into tears when Scar says, very slowly, "Long live the king," throws Mufasa off the ledge, and Simba screams, "No!"  I get chills just thinking about it.  The new remake misses it so bad, it's like the time you go to kick a soccer ball and wind up on your butt.  The emotion in the new remake is so underwhelming it just murders the story.

AHEM.  So, anywho, it will now be noted that not every complaint I have about The Lion King can be directly applied to a written work.  While it can be difficult to convey the exact intonation you want your reader to hear when reading certain lines from certain characters, varying your word choice can aid in this.  Even simple changes can have an effect on the scene.  Compare:

"I'm not going," he said.
"I'm not going," he stated.
"I'm not going," he commented.
"I'm not going," he insisted.

Even without the use of adverbs, changing the word can subtly change the overall meaning or intention of the phrase.  Going back to The Lion King:

"Long live the king," he said.
"Long live the king," he growled.
"Long live the king," he hissed.

I'm sorry, that just really bothered me.  I almost cried because it was so bad.

Moving on to something that can be considered for both visual and written stories.  Plot.

One thing that the remake Lion King has over the original animated one is Scar's relationship to the hyenas.  In the original, it's just kind of assumed that he's their pal and sort of a pseudo-leader and that's why they follow him.  No explanation is given as to how they became friends (and anyone who cites the books or comics or anything like that is going to be mauled because we're talking straight apples-to-apples comparison) or why they haven't attempted anything like this before.  In the remake, Scar is not automatically their leader.  Instead, Shenzi is the leader and Scar goes to her with a proposal, one leader speaking to another.  This closes up a lot of holes in my opinion, and I found this thread to be far more believable and well-developed than simply a given or assumed plot point.

I'm not trying to say that everything needs a long, drawn-out backstory.  And, really, Scar and the hyenas don't have one in the remake.  It simply gets restructured.

Another point that got reworked is the lead-in to the gorge scene.  In the original, Scar just tells Simba that his father has a surprise for him and to sit on a rock.  Oh, and to practice his little roar.  While Simba does practice his roar, etc. etc., there was never a guarantee that he would.  In the remake, Scar tells Simba that he can make up to his father by roaring so loud that it goes beyond the rim of the gorge.  Then his father will forgive him for the graveyard incident.  It doesn't add anything, but it makes it more believable. (But this does not forgive the treachery of a failed gorge scene.)

I think the best part, strictly speaking action, was the final duel between Scar and Simba.  It was little overdone with unnecessary dialogue, but the fight itself was stunning.  It was an actual fight, not just a little catfight (see what I did there?) relying on slow motion.  Translating this to books, sometimes you have to skip the dialogue and go to the action.  Make sure you have good spatial description to ensure action that can be followed, but don't have your foes constantly hurling insults at each other.  Your scene might be a little shorter, but better to have a scene that's short and good than so long your reader starts skipping over parts just to get to the end and find out what happens.

When editing your story, going back over the first draft and wondering how the hell you thought it was anything even resembling a masterpiece, you don't always have to add more and more and more and try to explain and explain your explanations and build this whole monster.  Sometimes, the best thing you can do is make a few tweaks here and there.  Ask yourself what would happen if you kept things the same, and what would happen if you changed things.  Maybe something needs to change, maybe it would be better staying the same.

Let's look at something else that is universal across visual and written media: characters.

Oh boy, where do I begin?  A lot of my complaints stem from lack of emotion in the remake.  Scar was a dastardly character, but his vocal emotion in the remake was lacking.  This goes back to the point about word choice.  See above.

The other offender in this category is Rafiki.  His transformation in the remake was a huge love-hate for me.  On the one hand, he was given a much more believable medicine man role, and I absolutely loved the incorporation of the Zulu language into his character.  On the other hand, I feel like they made him too serious.  In the original, he laughed and jumped around and you couldn't help but get excited when he realizes Simba is alive.  And you can't help but laugh at his object lesson, whacking Simba on the head with his staff.  His conversation with Simba at the pool is so much more mature and developed in the remake, but I feel like the bridge between the conversation, the appearance of Mufasa (a CGI fail if there ever was one), and Simba's decision to go back, well, it kind of got burned.

My point with Rafiki, as far as character development, is that you don't have to choose between authenticity and personality.  Maybe the humor is a little different, maybe his actions are a little quirky, but a character that is too serious is no fun, no matter how unequivocal their wisdom may be.

Now then, for a point that is part plot and part character.  Pumbaa.  Love him, he's great, and pretty true to character across the remake.  The one thing about his appearance that made me want to grab a producer and punch him in the face was Pumbaa's unwanted PSA about being called fat.  In the original, there's this little bit about him being called a pig.  He is a pig, and he owns up to it, but you must call him "Mr. Pig."  In the remake, he goes off on some unwanted political body-positive PSA about being called plump or chunky or something of the sort.  Good God, if you want to pull a reader out of the story, put in a PSA.  I understand that characters have opinions and biases and leanings, and these may seriously drive their thoughts and actions.  But if you want just the PSA, your better bet is to sell a little ad space in your book so readers can rip it out later and get it over with.

Next up is an address to filler characters.  The remake introduced a whole community into Timon and Pumbaa's neighborhood.  This was a good move, in my opinion, because it helps to fill out the scene.  Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba are not the only ones living in their beautiful forest, and I can imagine that other animals might be a little leery of having a lion around, even if he is friendly.  And I will say that while their rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" may have carried on a little long, I thought it was funny as hell when it suddenly got cut off as Nala attacked.  Unfortunately, I think the filler characters ended up being overused by their appearance at the end.  Timon and Pumbaa came because they're Simba's friends, but there was no indication that any of the other animals were okay with Simba being around, as evidenced by the butterfly incident.  So what made them come all the way to the Pride Lands where the lions rule?  It doesn't make any sense.  Sometimes, you have to leave your characters where they lie.

I do have other complaints, but they generally fall solely within the context of the movie itself.  I am a little disappointed that they took out Timon's luau scene (and the best they could do was "Be Our Guest"?  Really?) but at the same time, I'm not sure how they could have put it in.  The same with the changes to "I Just Can't Wait To Be King."  Once the change in style is made, some things need to be cut.  And that happens.  You can't always keep everything.  If you do your story right, it should be a loose domino effect.  Change one thing and more things should change because of it.  Maybe not drastically, but they should.  Otherwise you're left with a series of disconnected events, like an anthology.

There is probably more to it than this, but I also intentionally waited a few days to write this so as to keep the ranting to a minimum.  The idea was to make this educational and a learning experience for those who have finished their first draft and are wondering how to make good changes in their second draft.  I fear I have failed.  It does read more like a rant.  I don't know.  Maybe you took something from it.

At any rate, it is worthwhile to compare remakes.  Disney is making it even easier with all the remakes they've been doing.  Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King.  I fully intend to do another one on the Mulan remake for the sheer fact that the remake is going to be more historically accurate and will not follow the original animated movie.  That alone is worth a look when you consider plot and characters.

If nothing else, you got my thoughts on The Lion King remake, so if you've been on the fence about it, maybe this will sway you one way or the other.

-Brooke Shaffer

Thoughts on Media Universes, Pt. 2

The other day I wrote a little bit about media universes, what they are, why people like them, what they bring to entertainment, and so on.  My conclusion on the matter was a bit cynical and pessimistic.  While I'm not sorry about it, because I don't apologize for honesty, I went home that night feeling as though I hadn't addressed everything, and the biggest issue was the fate of single novels.  Is it possible to still write, read, and enjoy a single novel, feel as though you have come to a satisfying conclusion without lingering questions or other things that must be explored in order to wrap things up?

The simple answer is yes, though it takes a special author and a special story to really bring out that story.  I'm not saying that every book must be a series, but for a single novel to have the same impact as an extended series (understanding that this is basically all subjective opinion) it must take all the elements of a series and smoosh it down into one book.  Maybe it's three hundred pages, maybe six hundred.

These elements are universal with any fictional story: character development, setting and environments, and plotlines.

Character development tends to be more direct or obvious in a single novel, because there isn't always time to show scene after scene to demonstrate a particular trait.  This may be modified for mystery characters who can't be revealed right away (such as a whodunit mystery).  But character development that takes too long and waits until the very end of a novel can feel rushed and even out of character.

Setting, as you might remember from grade school, is time and place.  1830's Europe.  Civil War era America.  Ancient Egypt.  The environment is the feeling of the immediate setting, a dark hallway, a wide-open atrium, and so on.  In a novel or a series, there may be a bit of an info dump into order to describe the environment.  The advantage of a novel over a series here, is that it's easier for a reader to hold that mental image throughout the story, whereas a series may require a little refresher here and there (or a remodel, like the Wheel).  The problem, though, is that some novels seem to think that because it's a novel, an environment is less important.  While we probably don't need to know the history of a little convenience store briefly mentioned on page 128 and nowhere else, not crafting a well-defined environment can have a detrimental impact on the plot and even the characters.  If a reader can't understand the spatial relation between characters, especially in an action scene, the whole scene becomes meaningless.  People are going here and running there, but it's just a blank slate if time isn't taken to bring the reader into the environment.

Plot has pros and cons for both a novel and a series.  For the novel, events can happen at any proper speed and wrap up nicely at the end, tied off with a bow.  The series author must decide where the plot breaks.  Where does the novel and the series plot break?  For example, Time to Kill and Tick Tock have very distinct plots.  Windup and Stopwatch do kind of run into each other, but the break comes at the coup.

The biggest stumbling block for novels concerning plot is two-fold, a bit of a fine line.  On the one hand, some novels have so many plots and sub-plots, and they're so scattered, that there is no possible way that they can all come together at the end.  Some novels need to be series, or just serials, in order to contain it all.  Or some plots need to be removed. On the flipside, just sticking with a single, rigid plot can leave the rest of the story feeling dry, maybe make a mystery novel sound more like a nonfiction police textbook.

When you pick up a single novel, you want to find an intriguing plot, whatever your genre, lovable characters (whether it's a crush love or a love-to-hate), and you really want to be brought into the story and stand there in the environment.  A series takes these elements and draws them out over several books.  A universe develops these elements over multiple series.

So it's not a bad thing to write or read a single novel.  Like anything, it's about taste.  A series is not inherently better than a novel, nor is a novel inherently inferior because the whole story is contained within a single cover.  Personally, I greatly prefer series.  You may not care, or you may like novels.  But I don't think single novels will be going out of style any time soon.

Thoughts on Media Universes

Just to clarify right off the bat, this has nothing to do with the media as we understand it to be the news.  This has to do with media meaning music, TV, and especially movies.  The fun media that we like to consume in some fashion.

I actually thought about this with any seriousness last December when I was interviewing for the Author Next Door (National Writers' Series).  She was asking about how far the series was going to go and this and that.  And then, with the release of Of Saints and Sinners, I actually considered that I am building a universe, and that such things are becoming more and more common.

When I say a media universe, the first thing you may think of is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, Black Panther, Doctor Stranger, and so on.  Ten years, dozens of movies.  Even if you don't watch it, chances are, you've heard of it.  What makes it a universe is that each story is (typically) independent of each other, yet it follows a (loose) general timeline (Captain America comes after Iron Man but they aren't direct sequels).  And every so often, characters will cross over.

In the book world, my favorite example of this is The Books of History Chronicles by Ted Dekker.  You've got The Circle series, the Showdown series, and others.  Each series is independent, but they all revolve around the Books of History.

The Timekeeper Chronicles is very similar to this, though it's only just begun to blossom.  The Chivalrous Welshman will remain the backbone of events and can be read without the aid of other series.  Likewise, other series can be read by themselves and have a distinct beginning, middle, and conclusion.  Of Saints and Sinners is able to be read by itself, though it is much more fun to tie it into the rest of the universe.  In the future, there will be more series to read: The Hands of Time, Akari-Bearer, and at least one more single, just to name a few.

But I was thinking the other day, why do it?  It's a lot of time, both to write and to read, and it can also add up monetarily.  Why do we like media universes?  What is the goal?

I think the answer is both simple and complex (yeah, yeah, I know, good going, very insightful).  But when we break it down into basic elements, it makes the bigger picture easier to understand.

Why do people write books?
This is the first question.  Why write at all?  Non-fiction aside,most people write fiction simply to entertain, to escape.  And the basic elements of a book is a beginning, middle, and end to a plot.  This can come in a variety of forms, the hero's journey, the three act sequence, or something totally off the wall.  We meet characters and follow them on adventures.  Sometimes, books are written to e serials, that is, independent books that feature the same characters and may follow a typical plot structure but can be read in any order.  Examples might be the Doctor Who novels, or many children's books like Clifford the Big Red DogThe Chronicles of Narnia may be a series or a serial because, although it follows a loose linear timeline, the books can generally be read in any order.

When does a book become a series?
A book becomes a series when there is more action to be had beyond a simple beginning, middle, and end, that can't be contained by three to five hundred pages, or whatever it is.  That's when arcing becomes important.

Perhaps the most common and easiest to explain example is almost any TV show.  I'll use the ninth season of Doctor Who as an example.  Each episode was its own thing, with a bad guy to be defeated or puzzles to solve or whatever, but the overarching theme was figuring out the identity of Bad Wolf.  At the very end of the season, viewers discover that it is, in fact, Rose. (Sorry, but Season 9 was so long ago, if you don't know that by now, then too bad.)

Many series, whether visual or written, have an overarching plot involving the protagonist and antagonist and an ongoing conflict between them.  The series typically ends when the bad guy is defeated, whether through political maneuvering that takes more than four hundred pages to detail, or a physical confrontation that requires more time to make it believable and impactful on the reader.

When does a series become a universe?
I'd say a series becomes a universe when there are multiple series revolving around the same overarching plot or theme.  In the case of The Timekeeper Chronicles, the overarching theme is Timekeeping, the Akari, and a number of considerations when it comes to its impact on humanity socially, culturally, religiously, politically, and so on.  Each book contributes to this with its own plot adding into a larger plot theme for the series which connects with other series in the universe.

Why write a universe versus a series?
The first question should be why write a series, other than extending a particular plotline?  Often this has to do with emotional involvement, getting to know the characters in such a way that they become real people.  It's an investment.  You become friends or enemies with certain characters and want to see them succeed or fail.  With a series, you spend more time with the characters than you would with a single book, which is why a TV show might run for a bazinga—I mean, a bazillion seasons, but a movie might get only one or two sequels.  You'll spend hours upon hours upon days with a TV show character, versus only a few hours with a movie character.

A universe can allow for similar expansion and investment in more characters.  The Chivalrous Welshman centers around Tommen's viewpoint, although Stopwatch did detour from this quite a bit.  But with the added series opening up more viewpoints, like Walter in Of Saints and Sinners, it allows for, not only the development of themes, but greater depth of character and plot.  Future series will address various viewpoints of the Dispersal, something only alluded to in TKC.  And it provides character perspective from different walks of life.  Rifun and Cassius come from very different cultures with very different practices, different worldviews which a Westerner would consider bizarre and even foolish.  But to them, it's life.  Micah and Micaiah had a very unusual childhood and certain events absolutely defined them.

A novel may skim the surface of the water on a jet ski, maybe go snorkeling a little and see some interesting things, but a series takes you beneath the waves, to see and touch and swim with the fishes.  Universes may take you to multiple locations to see new things, or see old things in a new way.

So this all brings us back to the question of why universes are becoming so popular.  While I do believe that Marvel brought it front and center, I think the real reason is simply escape.  We want to become invested in something, in other people, in other people's problems, but without actually getting involved physically.  We want to explore all these great places and read about these people, but we don't want to actually get physically sucked in.  We want to know what happens, but we don't necessarily want to help.  And anyway, the end has already been written.  Something is going to happen.  We just get to read about it.

Yes, it's a cynical perspective, but one look at social media or the evening news would tell you why.  People suck, and because it's real, we are involved in some way.  But a book, a whole new universe where we just read about the problems, know that everything turns out all right in the end, that's what we want.  Maybe we don't want a stereotypical John Wayne plot, maybe we like Game of Thrones where no one is safe and everything is usually up in the air to some degree, but whatever the case, it's not ours.  The universe doesn't exist, not really.  The people don't exist.  The problems are fictional.  So we get extensive character development, multiple prolonged plots, and plenty of emotional investment from a variety of perspectives.  And none of it is real.

On the other hand, what if it was?

-Brooke Shaffer

Summer of Fun and Other Exciting Things!

And so, with the official release of Stopwatch, we kick off an excellent summer of fun!  Plenty of cool new things popping now or in the very near future.  Here's just a quick rundown of the new features available, starting with the biggest one: The Shop!

So, if you click on the "Shop" link there in the main navigation, you will be transported to a whole new world!  Not really.  But in this shop, you are free to order books and purchase sweet new swag merchandise, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, journals, and more.  You are even able to pre-order books more than thirty days in advance (like Of Saints and Sinners).  Shipping is available to all U.S. states and territories, and all of Canada.  If you have questions, check out the FAQ.

Also available, these on the Timekeeper Chronicles website, are an updated Time Agents page, giving you the details on the various ranks.  Training profiles are also being devised.  These are different from the standard character profiles, in that, the training profiles would be similar to what a Time Agent's record might look like in the Wheel.  Biographic details are absent, but you do get a basic list of abilities and such.  The second thing now available on the TKC website is a handy dandy Timeline.  Fascinating and clickable, it should help to straighten out a few things and let you see how characters and events relate to each other within the world, especially important as more books and series are released (did I say that out loud?).

Now, for other summer fun things, I want to take a poll of interest.  Leave your comments here or post on the Facebook page.  If you check out the Time Agents page on the TKC website, you'll see a bit where I'm going with this, trying to fill in all of the Regions and Districts and populate them with people.  Problem is, if I do it all myself, it gets difficult and boring, and all the people sound the same.

The idea here is that, using the release of Of Saints and Sinners as a launching point and running probably until Thanksgiving, opening up something like an Adopt-a-Character event.  You supply the name, rank, and a general training description of a Timekeeper or Harvester to populate the database.  While events and other things within the Timekeeper Chronicles are already pretty fixed in terms of primary and secondary characters, particularly interesting people may pop up in future books as tertiary characters and passing mentions.

It's just an idea, and details are still coming into focus, but let me know your thoughts, if you would be interested.

Other than that, good things are happening here, and I hope they are for you, too.  Have a nice summer, guys.

End transmission.

-Brooke Shaffer

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