CSI: Fantasy Edition

When you’re writing a story, there’s usually SOMETHING the main character doesn’t know and has to figure out. Sometimes, it’s what someone else is thinking. It could be, where to find the mcguffin? But often? There’s a whole mystery to solve! With a body growing cold.

At Balticon53, Gail Martin, Kim TheComicBookGoddess, David Keener, and Keith DeCandido, lead by their moderator, and retired Baltimore detective, John L. French discussed the fun and peculiarities of dealing with investigation — fantasy-style!

The Principles of Forensics

No investigation should begin without the principle of that grandfather of forensics, Dr. Edmond Locard*. His exchange principle states that “every contact leaves a trace.”

Once an incident has been found, if there is any suspicion that it was not natural in cause, two jobs have been left for an investigator.

  1. Document the scene
  2. Find evidence that conclusively leads to the culprit

Determining cause of death – fantasy style

These days, everyone’s an amateur detective buff. Things we take for granted — from fingerprints to blood splatter patterns to autopsies were not accepted until the 1900s. In your fantasy world, you should make sure that your detectives don’t use techniques they have no reason to know.

For those violent crimes? Well.

With a body? Just like in real life, if a death cannot be determined to be a homicide, the investigation usually ends right there. Either marked down as “natural causes” or “undetermined.”

Without even a body? Well, before the modern era, it was common for people to go missing. Some were restarting their lives elsewhere — voluntarily or not. And others weren’t so lucky.

Of course, in a violent world, mercenaries, soldiers, and professional killers, (not to mention medical personnel) would have reason to know the appearance of common wounds or effects of their standard weapons (or magics or poisons).

Plus, with magic, depending on your world, you could find out a lot.

  • In worlds with necromancy, you could simply raise a murdered person and ask, or at least have the body lead you to the killer.
  • In worlds with sympathetic magic, the weapon or some left item could act as a compass to direct you to the killer or thief.
  • In worlds with trauma-based illusion spells, you could have an instant replay of the scene.

Ways The Panelists Use Magic In Their Detecting

Not all of our panelists have written detectives, but they all had good pointers or examples. And reminded us, even if you have magic, it’s a better story when it comes with complications of its own.

Keith – His world has a wizard (or 2) who have mastered a ‘peel-back spell’, that can show what happened. Given no audience, the wizard gets there before it’s been too long, and has the energy to cast the spell. And things done in the shadows… remain in the shadows.

Gail – Her world has necromancy, so she can find her leads! But, she can’t let the cops know how she knows what she knows.

Kim – Reminded us that homicide detectives have to be the smartest, because their victim is dead.

David – His world has magicians who can pull memories from both the living and the dead — only, the dead’s memories are often fragmented.

John – As a real life detective reminded us that when looking for motive, often, a homicide is merely an assault gone too far.


All-in-all, a dynamic and fun panel, that I wished could have covered more. Do you have any tips of the trade that our panelists didn’t get a chance to mention? Share them in the comments below.

Thank you for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips from my over-24-hours-of-Balticon53-programming to share!


*My notes literally had Picard Licard, not Dr. Edmund Locard. I thought that he actually had a rhyming name, and wasn’t sure it wasn’t actually just Captain Picard theorizing on the holodeck. Thank you google for correcting me.

Logistics and Tactics: Writing Campaigns

Most writers end up writing fight scenes — be they verbal or physical. But some writers, especially if they’re writing historical novels, epic fantasy, or military fiction are going to be in the fight for the long haul. They’re going to writing a Military Campaign.

At Balticon 53, Eric Hardenbrook, Kim Headlee, John Appel, Mike McPhail, and Charles Gannon sat down to talk about the tricks to handling a campaign.

First off? A battle might be won by numbers or technology, but a campaign is run on logistics and tactics.

What Are Logistics?

Logistics are a way of providing whatever the soldier needs.

Be it physical things like beans, bullets, or boards. Or things like transportation, pay, and sleep.

Whatever it is that a soldier needs to do their job well, it’s up to the support staff to provide it. And? Logistics inform the tactics, just as much as terrain and enemy movement.

5 Ways To Portray The Effect Of Logistics When Writing

This is clearly not a comprehensive list, the panel wasn’t long enough for that. But here are some good concepts to consider when incorporating logistics into your writing.

  1. Living off the land. This is a traditional thing for armies to do. It sounds so hippy-dippy, maybe some hunting and trading. But, in reality? It was mostly stealing from farmers and merchants. Plus, plundering whatever cities and towns they conquered.
  2. Account for travel time. Horses need rest, rivers flow in one direction and oceans have tides. Mis-information can have you take 1 day to travel in the wrong direction, and 3 days to travel back. Plus? You still need to feed your army (and any animals or gas/etc your tanks/trucks)
  3. Scavenging. Just because something is broken beyond repair doesn’t mean it doesn’t have useful parts.
  4. Pay attention to carry weight.
    • With historical inspired writing, armour and gear can weigh a lot.As you get more modern, the gear and protection keep getting lighter — so we keep adding more stuff to keep our troops safer. And more trucks of supplies and gadgets.In modern/futuristic setting, you might just think you can print out what you need on demand. Just know that real-life 3d printers are SLOW. And you still have to carry the component materials.
  5. In The Field. When not in outright battle, securing parameters, calming citizens in your occupied territory, etc — all these things are going to require actual people, on their feet, face-to-face with hopefully non-violent citizens, often mixed with enemies in disguise. No matter how high tech you get, there’s probably going to be people involved on the front lines. Unless you annihilate everything.

Writing Campaigns Versus Battles, 7 Things To Think About.

Once again, this is just a list of suggestions. Things that come up during campaigns that show up less during a battle. There are millions of differences, but here are a few.

  1. Logistics matter. A lot.
  2. Soldiering has a lot of down time. What sort of mischief do the soldiers get into in their off time?
  3. There are more support personnel than front line fighters.
  4. What to do with the ‘problem soldiers’, that haven’t gotten themselves kicked out yet.
    • Great thing to do – if you’re a writer – give them a mission. You either get the mission accomplished, or you’ve got fewer mouths to feed.
  5. The modern Command and Control Center isn’t some guy standing there barking orders (typically). It’s more like 20 people staring at different screens with information coming in, and the guy ‘in charge’ standing around going “hmmmm…” and hopefully listening to his subject matter experts.
  6. Orders aren’t barked out last minute. Any halfway competent military is going to have multiple plans, and contingency plans. When it’s go time? The order’s more like: We’re good to go for Plan B, modification 3.
  7. Reverse engineering. Romans were huge into this! It’s been around for a while. Don’t assume just because one army has the technical advantage that they’re going to keep it for long.
    • In fantasy, if you’ve got magic with verbal and physical components, people are going to be spying.
    • My thought? Add some extra things, and hide some of the real requirements to throw them off!

A Few Closing Thoughts on War

Friendly fire. Is it?
Military intelligence. Is it?
Just-in-time supplies. Are they?

“War is entropy, not order.”

“If you would have peace, prepare for war”


Have you written any campaigns? Any tips that our panelists ran out of time to mention?

Thank you for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips from my over-24-hours-of-Balticon53-programming to share!

#31 Query Corner – Life From The Opposite Side

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

LIFE FROM THE OPPOSITE SIDE: FROM SOCCER MOM TO ADDICT AND HOME AGAIN is a memoir about a life torn apart, lost, then picking up the pieces.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

Life From The Opposite Side sounds like a very personal, but fascinating journey. The initial query read a lot like a blurb though — lots of trope phrases, few details. My suggestions:

  • For queries, plot matters! Avoid high level descriptions-instead, be specific when detailing decision points.
  • Make sure to vary your sentence structure
  • Personally, if I don’t have a personal connection to the agent, I don’t try and stretch for one, or state the obvious (i.e. My genre is on your wish list) and just skip that portion. But some agents really do like it, so that part is up to your discretion.

Queryist’s Original:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna’s 15-year marriage crumbles in a single night (why?), she is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. When she meets Micah on a dating website, (don’t start 2 sentences in a row the same way) she becomes trapped in a world of drug addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse. Will Glenna find the strength to get away before she loses everything she holds dear? (Very TV guide, little feel for the voice of the story)

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by
[PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely,
Q31


My Revision:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna catches her husband 
(cheating on her/discovers he’s gambled away their life savings/abusing her for the last time? Or is he the one who abandons her?), she finds herself at the end of a 15-year marriage, and is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. Wanting to feel wanted, she joins a dating website, where she meets Micah.

Glenna is swept away by Micah’s charm and in her eagerness to prove herself worthy, doesn’t walk away when he offers her drugs. As he drags her down into a world of drug addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse, Glenna begins to lose herself. Glenna must find the strength to get away before she destroys her own life, and that of her sons
 (or lose them to CPS? her ex? to drugs themselves??).

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by [PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q3
1


The queryist was pleased with my suggestions and after another round of revisions, here’s the final (for now at least) draft.

The Final Query:

Dear AGENT,

When Glenna catches her husband cheating with a younger woman, she finds herself at the end of a 15-year marriage and is forced to rebuild her life from scratch with her two young sons. Wanting to feel loved again, she joins a dating website, where she meets Micah.

Glenna is swept away by Micah’s charm, and in her eagerness to prove herself worthy, doesn’t walk away when he offers her drugs. As he drags her down into a world of addiction, mental illness, gaslighting, and domestic abuse, Glenna loses her way and everything she holds dear. Glenna must find the strength to get away before she destroys her own life and the lives of her children.

Life From The Opposite Side: From Soccer Mom To Addict And Home Again is a memoir complete at 65k words. I’ve previously been published by [PLACE A] as well as [PLACE B] and [PLACE C].

[Paragraph about why I picked this particular agent and how I know him/her.]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q31

It sounds like Queryist 31 has come a long way. Thanks to her for sharing her very personal story, of both her downfall and her growth. Best wishes in the query trenches!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

Yes, You Can Be a Writer –Even Without A Visual Imagination

Not everyone has a visual imagination.

Apparently, there are many of you out there who can ‘see’ the story in your heads like you’re watching a movie.

Not me.

I know I’ve addressed this before, but until I started writing and talking to other writers, I’d always thought that was figurative. Not literally what was happening in other people’s heads.

I think my imagination is more story-board, sketches, and background plotting. Just like much of my writing is in my main character’s head, much of my imagination is… well… in these almost famous words

“I read and I know things.”

-(not quite) Hermoine Granger

It’s hard for me to describe my imagination to you visual people. I like to say that my imagination is more “conceptual.” Even in my dreams.

When dreaming (or novel plotting) I don’t SEE the color green, I just know that the wall is green. If a person in my dreams is walking out the door — I can know where they’re going and why and how they’re feeling… But, the figure is more of an outline sketch. Not quite a shadow.

I read ridiculously fast — some of it is probably skimming, but I spent several summers playing with a ‘learn to speed read’ kit my grandmother had. I read for the plot, I dive through dialogue.

If I hit dense description? It slows me waaaaaay down.

Game of Thrones, anything with complicated battle scenes, very lyrical and densely described worlds. My brain just doesn’t process those at the same rate.

Luckily for me, this doesn’t mean I can’t picture images in my head, but it takes a lot of focus. And I’m still not 100 percent sure it’s not me reading the image’s “legend” to know what color goes where. (All of this is probably a minor form of the condition: aphantasia.)


Today, I ran across a friendly blogger who took it as a matter-of-course that writers can visualize plots like movies. And I had to correct him, despite agreeing with the rest of his post.

He replied, accepting that not all writers were that visual. But, he went on to say that he was, because he plays D&D and writes fantasy.

Worn stop sign, in front of trees, a solid white wall half hiding a brick building.
Photo by Mwabonje on Pexels.com

Uh. Hard stop there.

Oh, honey.

I create worlds and cultures and windswept plains. I build trade routes, and religions, and nations. And I play D&D every month.

Not having a visual imagination doesn’t keep my imagination grounded, by any means.


But, occasionally I need a crutch. When I need to describe a person or place, I’ll google image search until I find something that feels right for my world or my characters. I mean, isn’t that what Pinterest is for?


Do you have a visual imagination? Let me know!

If not, how does your imagination manifest itself for you?

Dealing With The Emotional Roller-Coaster of Being A Writer

Being a writer, especially one with internet access, can be a complete roller-coaster of emotions.

Of course, we knew before we begin dreaming of writing that book reviews could be the height of joy or the depths of crushing blows. But, it used to be that you’d only see the professional reviews and could ignore them if you wanted.

Nowadays, it would be better (and less distracting) if writers only knew what people thought of their writing when they had the energy and focus to go look, and prepare to improve their craft.

NOT distracting them from what they’re in the middle of.

NOT when they’ve had a rough day of writing and feel like maybe they should throw the towel in.

NOT when life is dragging them down, and the internet’s nasty review is ready to kick them when they’re already down.

But, when you’re a writer, there’s so many other things that can bring you up and crash you down.

In the past week? I’ve been all over the place. Often on the same day.

My most recent roller-coaster of emotions

UPS:

Last week? I entered an overnight flash fiction contest — and WON! Well, I won a free book and bragging rights, but it’s still something.

DOWNS:

Then I got home to find heavy feedback from my mentor.

When I reread the passage? I couldn’t believe I’d sent that to her. I’d remembered the passage having been edited and being dark — yes. But, a rather different flavor of dark.

I dragged my feet getting back to those edits.

BOTH:

The next day, a dear writer friend, with a story pitch that harkens to one of my favorite moves, announced that she’d been offered representation by an agent.

She’s worked hard, reworked her novel, and dealt with some setbacks. I was so proud and excited for her.

But?

I was also jealous and frustrated to be stuck in revisions. Again.

Writing Requires Resilience, Persistence, and
Perseverance

Resilience

the capacity to recover from set-backs. Like facing that scene and editing it into something I can be proud of and eager to show my mentor.

Like recognizing my jealousy and longing to be at the same stage as my friend whose most recent query netted her an agent. And accepting the fact that I want to make my novel better before I enter the query trenches again.

Persistence

firm continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty. I keep writing and putting my work out there.

For that flash-fiction contest? It’s usually posted on Fridays, and open for submissions on Saturdays, for 24 hours. So many times, I’ve created an entry, and then forgotten to post it. But, I still keep my eye on it, and still draft up entries on Fridays.

For my writing? After reading my writing and recoiling in horror, I let that settle in me for a bit. After a day or so, I cracked open that manuscript to see what I could do. And revised it, until I was something I was happy to share with my mentor.

But you know what? I think I can do better. I’m going to edit that chapter again.

And for querying friend? I’m so proud of her and I can’t wait to be in her shoes again. I know I’ll be ready to put myself back out there, when my time comes.

Perseverance

persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

My win? It took a bit to get there.

I tried to post from my phone, but it wouldn’t let me. I tried again hours later, and still nothing. I borrowed a friend’s ipad, logged into an incognito window, and finally managed to get my 100 word entry entered.

Several finalists were announced, and the judge asked for input. No one voted for mine. A couple people wanted me to explain in.

Despite the lack of votes and assurance, I found comfort in making it to the finals, and despite all odds? I WON!

As for my writing. I’m going to keep at it. Querying when I can, polishing the rest until it’s something no one can resist — and they start begging for more.

And for my writing friends? I’m going to be there to celebrate their wins, share their writing with the world, and lend an ear whenever stress or setbacks send them reeling.


What sort of emotional roller-coasters have you been on lately?

Do you ever worry you won’t be able to handle it, when your writing gets popular? 😉