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.

One Method For Incorporating Feedback In Your Writing

If you’re a writer, at some point between you putting the words down and it going out to its intended audience, you’re probably going to solicit some feedback (and if you don’t, you probably should).

Be it from one or all of these:

  • an alpha reader
  • a flock of beta readers
  • a writing group
  • a critique partner
  • a paid editor
  • an agent
  • an acquiring Editor for a publishing house
  • or your mom

you’re likely going to receive some feedback other than, “I loved it! Don’t change a thing!”

But, when that feedback is more nebulous or overarching than typos and wording, it can be tricky to know where to start.

Here are the 6 steps I follow when receiving reader feedback

Step 1 – Read the feedback

You’d think it would go without saying, but it’s easy to get ticked off three comments in, decide that the person who sent the feedback totally doesn’t get your book, your genre, and might not read your language, and storm off.

Luckily, I can calm my knee-jerk reactions by subscribing to what I call:

Morgan’s Rule Of Thirds

  • 1/3rd is line and copy edits – easy to fix or skip if it’s a stylistic thing or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • 1/3rd is where the reader didn’t get your story and/or your writing style. You can probably ignore these. (But, don’t delete them just yet….)
  • 1/3rd is the stuff that you thought you’d fixed, but really? You’d just painted over it and called it ‘good enough’.
    • These issues are typically related to the tricky things like:
      • motivation
      • set-up
      • emotional impact

Step 2 – Give yourself time to cool off

Sit on the feedback for a couple hours, or days, or weeks. However much time you need before you open it back up, and can face it without your ego screaming.

Step 3 – Analyse the feedback and fix the little things

Maybe this should be two steps, but as I go through, line-by-line, I usually fix the little things- even if they might get deleted later. The typos and line-edits, so that the feedback is reduced to something I can actually process, without the noise of all the little stuff.

Look not only at WHAT the feedback is saying but WHERE it’s saying it. The reader might have given you edits telling you how to fix it. They are only SUGGESTIONS, not fixes. But look at the scene, the paragraph. Maybe there is something confusing, maybe it wasn’t set up properly and that’s why the reader got confused, maybe you need to move the scene.

Is there some way that you can make it so the way you had it was inevitable — given the world, characters, and issues? Is there a better way to change it, so that the pieces come together more smoothly?

The reader might be wrong about how to fix it, but they often know WHERE something needs to be fixed.

Step 4 – Make the edits

This is where you make the complicated changes — cutting or moving scenes or characters, fixing pacing, adding tension, condensing backstory.

Whatever you’ve decided needs to be done — taking suggestions and doing with them as you will.

Step 5 – Reread and blend the new stuff with the old

Whether you’ve used the suggested wording from your reader or your own phrasing, edits don’t always fit in smoothly with the rest of the manuscript.

After you’ve agonized over the feedback, debated how to integrate it, and finessed it with all of your skills, it’s still gonna need a bit more polish.

You’re gonna need to re-read the lead up THROUGH the outro of the sections you’ve revised. Along the way, you’re looking for:

  • continuity errors
  • awkward phrasing
  • scene pacing
  • repetitious paragraphs or phrases (my favorite)
    • The number of times I’ve added a paragraph to emphasize something, then found I’d already had it in there, nearly word for word a page later — where it fit better in the pacing… Well, let’s just say it’s more than a handful of times.

Step 6 – Send it out again

I like to send it to 2 types of people

  1. People who have read it before, to make sure I didn’t break anything
  2. A new reader, to make sure the confusion points were actually fixed

I write fantasy, so there’s a lot of world building involved, but even if you don’t, you may want to do this. An old reader can spot a lot, but they can’t tell if you’re introducing everything in the right order — soon enough as to minimize confusion, but slow enough as to not overwhelm the reader.

You can only have someone read your story for the first time, once. After that, your world starts to become familiar territory.

***

And that’s it. That’s my editing process. For each and every round.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post – ’cause I’m ready for step 5 with my current revisions!


Do you have any editing tricks that I missed?

Anything you prefer to do differently?

Vlog: Writing Secondary and Minor Characters

You might know all about your main character, but a world isn’t a world without other people!


Do you have any tips you like to use? Any fun go-to minor characters?

Building a World – #Balticon Panels

The panelists for this were Joy Ward, Michael Underwood, Don Sakers, T Campbell, and JL Gribble

What Do You Find Most Writers Forget?

  • Geography (T Campbell)
  • Planets are big and not all just one climate (Don Sakers)
  • What’s outside the focus of the setting  (Michael Underwood)
  • Doing their research (Joy Ward)

What Cultural Blind Spots Have You Noticed?

  • What do you eat on an alien planet?
  • Klingon meter maid – who does everything else if it’s a warrior race?
  • Making unique people WITHIN a species/race, rather than the exception to the species/race
  • Do more than ‘warrior race’, ‘science race’, ‘ice planet’, ‘jungle planet’. Species and Planets are huge!
  • Economics!
  • Try to make sure you know how they handle Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs (which Maslov hated and came up with just before a lecture)
  • Interpret things based on your culture’s society, NOT the writer’s personal culture. Study History to see how cultures other than yours did things.

Suggested Fiction

  • “To Hell And Back” – About an autistic hero and flips a lot of related tropes.*

Craziest Experience : Done for Research or That Got Worked Into Your Writing

  • JL visited the Parisian Catacombs.
  • Michael spent a semester at sea- hitting 10 countries, including the Viet Cong tunnels. “The world can be your library.”
  • T Campbell was walking home at 3am, from college in Savannah and someone ran at him. He ran the 2 miles home and heard someone shout, “Hey!” Looking about for the accomplice, he spies a neighbor, sitting on their porch, just hanging out. “You’re dumb for being out at this hour!” They shouted, tossing something at him. T caught it without thinking and looked down. It was a can of mace.
  • Joy Ward met an animal translator and her skepticism got talked away. Now, she’s (with the help of the translator) interviewed almost everything from elephants to hissing cockroaches. (Everything but seals.)
  • Don learned NOT to ask a hospital records staff how to illegally access 20 year-old records. (After asking at four different facilities…)

Other posts I’ve done on World Building Panels:

*Not sure who the author is. Looks like might have been refering to: The Damned Busters: To Hell and Back by Matthew Hughes