The Post-Pandemic Future of Fiction

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We don’t know what the real future looks like yet, but it’s almost certain the world will not return to the way it was. What effect is this going to have on writers of fiction? I suppose works considered “contemporary” would almost have to reflect what’s really going on in our world, but should they? Must they? How do authors in the middle of a series handle this crisis? Do they incorporate current events or continue the series as originally planned?

I assume some readers will actually prefer stories that make no mention of the pandemic and it’s wrenching and unwanted effects on our lives. Most people read to escape reality for a while, and with the pandemic literally everywhere, there’s little stomach for more of it in their reading material!

Admittedly, I would be hard-pressed to craft a compelling story where everyone is trapped at home, can’t meet face to face, or really do much of anything without fear of dropping dead! (Well, Stephen King could probably come up with something even more frightening, but I would have no interest in reading it.) On the other hand, how can I get away without at least mentioning the life altering affects of the virus in my work?

Some claim this will be over soon enough and relegated to the dustbin of history. If so, it might be unwise to focus on the pandemic in our current and near-future books. Instead, we could offer a mix of fleeting references alongside the familiar setting of  a world in which life as we knew it still (mostly) applies.

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It’s right for us to ask questions, yet I don’t claim to have the answers. Only time will tell what readers want and expect, and of course, the new normal is evolving as we speak. Going forward, perhaps book descriptions should include a content label such as “Pre-Pandemic” or “Post-Pandemic”  to help readers make an informed decision before they purchase. Realistically, what works today may not fit the world of tomorrow at all. By  “dating” our books amidst a very fluid and quickly changing situation, we risk publishing stories with what could be a very short shelf life.

As a writer, what changes will you be making, if any, to your stories or the way they are marketed? What about a series already in progress? Will the pandemic and it’s effects show up in your writing – a little, a lot, not at all?

As a reader, what do you expect your favorite authors to do in response to recent events? Do you vote for escapism, realism, or something in between? How might this affect your decision to purchase?

This is an issue we cannot ignore. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

PS – until things have settled down, I don’t plan to incorporate the pandemic into my writing, including existing series. 

Fantasy Maps – From Brain to Page

My next book, Rise of the Draman, is a fantasy dragon tale set in medieval times. After writing began, I sketched out a rough map (we’re talking grade school quality here) to use as a reference point. Eventually, I ended up with four, detailing the kingdoms and places where most of the action took place. They not only ensured consistency, but imbued the story with a sense of reality.

As things became more complicated, I toyed with the idea of including maps in the book. Why? While I did my best to describe the world in sufficient detail, words on the page will only take you so far. A good map will enhance the story, help the reader understand action and character motivations, and simplify complex scenes.

“Like a good novel itself, a map draws the reader into its created world, but still leaves room for imagination to fill in the rest.” Clay Andres

Now comes the tough part. I knew I couldn’t draw them, and the available do-it-yourself software was either too expensive or hard to use. What to do? I mentioned the desire for maps to one of my faithful beta readers, and she volunteered to create them for me! The before and after images below speak for themselves.

 

Dramanshire Map

 

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Created by Kari C.

 

The artist and I exchanged many emails and texts to fine tune what I wanted, clarifying various features and making changes which reflected the story as written. The process was exciting and not nearly as stressful as I imagined. In the space of one week, she churned out four completed hand drawn maps! In her spare time!

I’m even more excited about Rise of the Draman now and can’t wait to see what my readers think. While I would love to share all four, you’ll have to buy the book to see the others! They’re beautiful, super COOL, and take my story to another level.

“One of life’s greatest treats, for a lover of books (especially fantasy books), is to open a cover to find a map secreted inside and filled with the details of a land about to be discovered. A writer’s map hints at a fully imagined world, and at the beginning of a book, it’s a promise. In the middle of a book, it’s a touchstone and a guide. And at the end, it’s a reminder of all the places a story has taken you.” Sarah Laskow

Publication is tentatively set for early April.

 

Weekly Roundup: FICTION – It’s Good for Your Brain

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Neuroscience has some good news for both readers and writers of fiction – really. “Your Brain on Fiction” by Annie Murphy appeared in 2012, but I wasn’t aware of the article until recently.

“Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.”

Why is this significant? In the age of gaming and constant visual stimulation and entertainment, it seems the old standby of reading has more value than we thought (yes, even eBooks!). Did you ever wonder why you enjoy reading? This article goes on to explain what it is about fiction which activates the brain and brings pleasure. Authors take note – this research has direct bearing on story creation and character development!

To be honest, I am still trying to fully integrate the use of all five senses in my writing and have made some progress. On the surface, it is understood that doing so makes a better story and promotes the “show vs. tell” concept writers are continuously reminded to use. Now, research lends credence to what the writing gurus have been saying.

  • Science provides concrete evidence that the use of descriptive terms with strong odor associations, for example, such as cinnamon, lavender, and coffee, light up the olfactory cortex.
  • A similar brain response was noted in the sensory cortex in phrases involving texture, such as “The singer had a velvety voice” or “He had leathery hands”.
  • Sentences which describe motion like “John grasped the object” or “Pablo kicked the ball”, activated regions of the motor cortex.

Apparently, the brain makes little distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life, since in each case the same neurological regions are stimulated. Fiction actually goes above and beyond, providing a replica of reality by allowing readers to experience their characters thoughts and feelings. Even more intriguing, the brain tends to treat the interactions among fictional characters something like real-life social encounters, improving empathy and social skills.

“Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.”

For fiction writers, this research provides powerful encouragement and motivation. We must craft our stories with care, paying special attention to word choices and descriptions which engage all the senses, thereby transporting readers directly into the narrative. They crave it, demand it even, and we have the ability to give it to them. Our work then becomes more than mere entertainment but an exercise in brain stimulation and improved social interactions.

In the process, we create loyal fans who will not only enjoy our work but who will spread the word to others looking for a great piece of fiction. Think about that the next time you prepare to write!

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As I stated last week, Traitor’s Moon is currently being dissected by my beta readers. I have some feedback in hand, and so far they love the story! I have been busy correcting small errors, tweaking phrases, adding additional text where more information was needed, and debating the best location for the cast of characters list (it’s going in the back).

Let me give you an example of something one of my beta readers caught that no one else, including me, noticed. One of my mid-level characters is named Caleb, but in seven places I somehow changed his name to Jacob! Don’t ask me, because I still haven’t figured out why or how. The scary part is that my beta reader only noticed the switcheroo one time and almost didn’t mention it to me. I shudder to think how many bad reviews would have resulted from this single snafu. (It would be most helpful if scientific research could reveal why writers often don’t see their own mistakes.)

The quest for an attention-grabbing book blurb is ongoing, though after multiple re-writes I finally have an acceptable version. If you have never tried to condense a novel-length work into two hundred words or less, I challenge you to give it a go! It does no good to grab a potential reader’s attention with a wonderful cover, only to lose them with a ho-hum description of the book. This is one of those learn-by-doing skills which should come easier over time and, apparently, I need more time.

Along with all of this, I have yet to go back and make some minor editorial improvements to Expectant Moon. I’m hoping to attract new readers to the first book during the promotion phase of book two, so now is the time to do some housekeeping and make it really shine.

If that weren’t enough, it’s now tax time! Since I REALLY need my refund, this is going to get my full attention until it’s done. As Winnie the Pooh would say, “Oh bother”. Fortunately, he doesn’t know any swear words…

Meanwhile, I am not only gearing up for book three, Forbidden Moon, but am collecting information and ideas for the project which follows it (probably in the fall). WHAT? Yes, you heard me. Right now it’s a disjointed mess, but when thoughts come, I write them down! I’ve been known to run from the bathroom, dripping wet, to jot down an idea before I forget. Same goes for the middle of the night when I get up to use the restroom and end up scribbling notes for twenty minutes until my brain quiets down again. Hey – I can’t control when genius strikes, so give me a break!