Creature Spotlight: Unicorn

UNICORN: A white horse with a goat's beard and a large, pointed, spiraling horn atop its head.

Unicorns often symbolize purity and grace. In medieval times, it was believed that only virgins could lure unicorns into capture. The horn (alicorn) was considered magical in the medieval era, supposedly used in medicines and jewelry to protect against poison or other dangers. The unicorn became the symbol of medieval apothecaries. In eastern regions, the unicorn had different variations of appearance. It was also sometimes said to look like a goat with a single horn.

Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the unicorn's existence. Unicorns are mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible. They also appear in Chinese mythology, where they are interpreted as a sign of good times. In the popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, drinking unicorn's blood grants a person immortality.

The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.
-British History 1603

What mythical creatures are you curious about? Help me choose what to post on next in the comments section.


Creature Spotlight: Wyvern

WYVERN: A legendary winged reptilian creature with the head of a serpent, two legs, bat-like wings, a barbed tail, and eagle-like talons.

Wyverns are often lumped together with dragons, but their physical features are quite different. Also, they cannot breathe fire. In western folklore, their most treacherous aspect is their poisonous tail stinger. Other accounts claim that wyverns can breathe poison. Wyverns are fierce and violent predators, often associated with war, pestilence, sin, and even Satan.

Wyverns often appeared in medieval heraldry and folklore. They are mentioned in Dante Alighieri's Inferno. 

What mythical creatures are you curious about? Help me choose what to post on next in the comments section.


Creature Spotlight: Mermaid

MERMAID: A mythological creature with the a female human head and torso, but the tail of a fish.

In many mythological works, mermaids are similar in nature to sirens. They sing to humans or gods to enchant them, and thereafter drag them underwater. In some stories, the mermaids simply forget that humans cannot breathe in the deep dark of the ocean, as they can. In others, they are spiteful creatures who drown humans for fun or out of hatred.

The first legends of mermaids date as far back as 5000 BC, with numerous tales and many claimed sightings reported since then. Works of literature involving mermaids include The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling.

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown. 

-William Butler Yeats

What mythical creatures are you curious about? Help me choose what to post on next in the comments section.


Writing Fantasy: Creating a World Step 4

This is the fourth and final post in my "Writing Fantasy: Creating a World" series. Each step may take some time, and will likely stretch out over the course of your world-building, as new ideas spring up and mesh together.They are intended to give you a starting point if you're unsure where to begin creating a world for a fantasy novel.

My previous post, which you can find here, focused on the political structure and recent history of your world--whether kings or nobles rule your land, and whether wars have happened in recent decades. After the first three steps, you should be well on your way to illustrating your world's geography and knowing something of your world's inhabitants and what their racial relations are like. Once you've grasped at least the beginnings of those steps, feel free to move onto the final step in this series:

Step Four: Culture

In this step, it's time to flesh out how the inhabitants of your world live and interact on a daily basis. Is there a common language in your land? Are religious beliefs far-spread, or different in every region? How does each race believe your world was created? Do the poorer people act the same as those who are wealthy?

You may also want to consider the types of clothing and residences that are common in each region. Do elves wear rich robes, or thin fabrics? Do dwarves live in manor houses, or in holes in the earth?

Also, touch on the topic of magic. Are there wizards and magicians in your world? Can anyone do magic, or is it something that must be learned? What are the dangers? If you use a magic system, make sure that it doesn't make everything easy, or the challenges your characters face will not feel like challenges.

Take time considering whether there are cultural festivals in your world, and what the months and days of each year are called. Grasping the culture and tradition of your world allows for a rich story setting when you sit down to write your fantasy masterpiece. Each of the steps I've gone over so far will continue to develop as you write your story, but it is helpful to have a strong foundation before you even begin. Fantasy worlds must be complex and realistic, so don't rush the process of creating one. Patience will do you well in the end.

Now it's your turn--have you made up any languages or magic systems for your novel? How did you go about creating them?

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

It's about time this blog starts branching out. I have three artistic loves in life: writing, music, and film.

Ah, films. A good one wrenches your heart out, gives it a good launch into the air, and brings it back to you with a few pieces missing, just to make you feel something. The pieces should return in a few days.

Recently, I journeyed to a nearby cinema with a group of friends, sat in a comfortable red seat, and watched the screen light up with the latest in a saga: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I have to admit, I did not have high hopes for this movie. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it garnered my attention and made me wish for another sequel.

Yes, Jack Sparrow is the same as always. Rogue-ish, probably half-drunk, and still insisting that a "Captain" belongs somewhere in his name. His hair has changed color a little; it has a slight golden tint to it. Interesting. In this segment of his life, he seeks the Fountain of Youth. He finds himself joining forces with an old enemy, Captain Barbossa, against the evil pirate Blackbeard (whose ship can shoot fire, and who has zombies for crew members. kinda freaky. also never explained). Blackbeard thinks he needs to drink from the fountain due to a prophecy concerning his death by a one-legged man: Barbossa. Oh, and there's someone else seeking the fountain, too: the Spanish. There's the perfect mix of action and romance, with some great twists along the way.

In order to find the Fountain, Jack, Penepole Cruz's character (Blackbeard's daughter), and crew must first find and capture a mermaid, because a mermaid's tear is required for the Fountain's ritual.

And now we come to it: MERMAIDS.

They, in my opinion, were the best part of the movie. Almost like vampires, but so much cooler. According to legend, they catch sailors and drag them into the depths of the ocean, drowning them and gifting them to the sirens. I would absolutely love to read some great literature with mermaids as the villains.

But in Pirates 4, one mermaid, Syrena, is different than the rest. You're just gonna have to go watch the movie to see how :P

Movie Grade: A-


Writing Fantasy: Creating a World Step 3

This is the third post in my new "Writing Fantasy: Creating a World" series. Each step may take some time, and will likely stretch out over the course of your world-building, as new ideas spring up and mesh together.They are intended to give you a starting point if you're unsure where to begin creating a world for a fantasy novel.

My previous post, which you can find here, focused on the races of your world--the inhabitants of your planet and where they reside. After the first two steps, you should also have some idea of your world's geography, and a potential map for reference. If you've completed those steps or are struggling with the physical characteristics of your inhabitants, feel free to move on to:

Step 3: Political Structure & Recent History

Who rules your fantasy world? A king and his court? A council of nobles? Have there been wars in recent decades? Or is the land peaceful and quiet, about to be stirred by an unfortunate event?

In this step, focus on the political spectrum of your fantasy world, and consider your world's recent history. While recent history is back-story in your novel, it's important to have some sort of grasp on where your world has been and how it will now change in the course of your novel. Without change and conflict, you have no story. Does your conflict derive from exterior forces, such as armies or treacherous rulers? This is the step to begin considering such things, by understanding the atmospheric setting of your story.

Now it's your turn--what kinds of political machines rule in your fantasy land? How do you develop your world's back-story?


Writing Fantasy: Creating a World Step 2

This is the second post in my new "Writing Fantasy: Creating a World" series. Each step may take some time, and will likely stretch out over the course of your world-building, as new ideas spring up and mesh together.They are intended to give you a starting point if you're unsure where to begin creating a world for a fantasy novel.

My first post, which you can find here, focused on the geography of your world--the physical characteristics of the planet. But after the first step, you should have some idea of your world's geography, and also a potential map for reference. If you're struggling with the physical characteristics, feel free to move on to:

Step Two: Peoples of the World (Races)

In this step, you should focus on who will populate your fantasy world. Are there only humans? Elves? Dwarves? Goblins? A completely new race of beings that you want to make up?

You don't need to develop the names and cultures of all of your races yet, but it's a good idea to start considering which major ones will live in your world. Whichever races you choose, it's important to figure out which parts of your world they will inhabit, and also what they look like. The climate in a particular region affects the physical characteristics of those who live there. For example, a human who lives in a snowy mountain region where there is little sun will likely have paler skin than one who resides in the desert.

You can also begin thinking about the evolution and history of your races, as this plays a part in where certain types of beings live in a particular world. Have certain races mingled with others and inter-married, creating half-breeds? You don't have to answer all of these questions now, but having an idea of what races inhabit your country will help you on your way to fully creating a fantasy world.

Now it's your turn--what types of races live in your made-up world? In what regions do they reside?


Writing Fantasy: Creating a World Step 1

Writing YA fantasy has been a favorite of mine since I could write. So, I decided it would be fun (and hopefully engaging) to focus more of my blog posts on the fantasy genre. Today will mark the first post in my new series, which I have coined "Writing Fantasy: Creating a World." Highly original, I know :P

When I first sit down with the intention of creating my own world from scratch, there are a series of steps that I go through, often somewhat unconsciously. I'll be going over each step, for the next several blog posts. Each step may take some time, and will likely stretch out over the course of your world-building, as new ideas spring up and mesh together.They are intended to give those of you who are interested a starting point, if you're unsure where to begin creating a world for a fantasy novel.

Step One: Geographical Features

If you have a knack for drawing, this step might be a favorite. The very first thing I do is determine what kind of fantasy world I want to write about. A vast earth-like world similar to Tolkien's Middle Earth? A far-off volcano planet? A world covered in water save for a tiny island in the center? Pick a setting that inspires you, because you're gonna be stuck with it for an entire novel, or maybe even a trilogy/series. You don't have to develop every single geographical feature right away (after all, geography and plot need to weave together in a novel, and that often develops through the writing process). But having a starting point is essential.

Here are some examples of geographical features you might want to include in your fantasy world:
-volcanic activity
-ice lands

Variety is good when it comes to creating the geography of a world. Also, pay attention to what types of ecosystems lie next to one another in real life, as a sense of reality is important even in fantasy. Once you have an idea of how the world looks in your head, it's often helpful to sketch it out in the form of a map. Feel free to google search or look at published fantasy books for ideas about drawing your map. Develop something that you feel comfortable using, and remember that it doesn't have to look perfect. It's just a reference that will help you when you sit down to write your story.

Now it's your turn to speak--have you ever created a map for your story? What's the first step you take when creating a fantasy world?


Three-Act Structure

This past semester, I took a college course entitled Broadcast Writing and Production. Although its focus was on writing for news, television, and the screen, many of the topics touched upon are relevant to creative writing and, in particular, the writing of novels.

Every novel has structure. Whether this is pre-planned in outline form by the author or arisen out of revision work and "pantsing" the story, the structure is there. Being aware of a three-act structure beforehand can make writing a whole lot easier. The following structure is derived from a movie's three-act structure, but can (and should) be used as a guideline in novels, as well:

1. Establishing scene: the first scene of a story is pivotal. It needs to include a--
2. Narrative hook: something that draws the reader in right away, whether it be dialogue, action, or interesting details.
3. Introduction of protagonist: the reader should meet the main character(s) ASAP, as he/she/they should drive the story.
4. Introduction of antagonist: who or what is the protagonist up against? This should arise ASAP, too.
5. Introduction of problem: if a story has no conflict, then it is not a story. A conflict should exist from the beginning, though the protagonist may not be immediately aware of it.
6. Complication leads protagonist to confront problem and take on antagonist

1. Aftermath of complication: The protag may defeat the antag, but it is not a complete victory.
2. Back-story for action: This is when it is best to bring character histories into play, through the action and complications that arise in the story.
3. B-storyline(s) developed: Romantic and other sub-plots of the story come into play.
4. Antagonist developed: The reader learns more about the antagonist's back-story. Evil plotting may ensue.
5. Another complication overcomes protagonist who seems defeated by problem and antagonist

1. Preparation for climax: The protag begins to realize the weaknesses of the antag, heading towards a way of defeating the antag and the problem.
2. Resolution of sub-plots: Tie-up all loose ends!
3. Climax: Make it epic.
4. Epilogue

Happy Sunday!


The Dilemma of POV

One of the first things most authors decide on before beginning a novel, short story, or poem is the point-of-view the work will be written in. However, I have come across a couple people who never heard the specific names of the various POVs, or knew why some might be considered "easier" than others.

Today, I will go over the three most common POVs used by writers, provide examples from published works, and mention some pros and cons of each.

First Person
In this POV, the narrator of the story is one of the characters involved in the plot, whether minor or major. Words like "I" and "me" are used to describe to describe the narrator's viewpoint. This is the most limiting POV, because it restricts all narration, thought, and bias to one character. However, it can also strengthen the bond between reader and character, because the reader will get to know the narrator so well. Here's an example from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:

As we walk, I glance over my shoulder at Gale's face,
still smoldering underneath his stony expression.
His rages seem pointless to me, although I never say so.

Third Person, Limited
In this POV, the narrator only reveals the emotions and interior thoughts of one character, while relaying only external behaviors of the others. This makes it more similar to First Person, but allows for more freedom because aspects of the story not related to the main character can still be illustrated.
Words like "he," "she," and "they" are used to describe the action in the story. Here's an example from Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell:

Jiaan wondered uneasily which of the commander's enemies
had bribed the priests to say it. And why.
No, he didn't envy his half sister.
Even if she was a silly, spoiled she-bitch.

Third Person, Omniscient
In this POV, the narrator is considered "all-knowing." This means that the narrator already knows how the story will end, what conflicts will happen along the way, and also what every character is feeling. Therefore, multiple viewpoints are available to the reader, and the author has the most freedom concerning how he or she wants to explain an event. The downside is that the author runs the risk of distancing the reader from the characters too much.
Words like "he," "she," and "they" are used to describe the action in the story. An example from a specific moment in the story would look very much like Third Person, Limited, while on overview would illustrate how multiple viewpoints are touched upon.

It's important to note that POVs can always be tampered with. There are many books where, for example, 3rd person limited is used, but each chapter is devoted to a different character's perspective. As long as it's not confusing for the reader, choosing a POV is just a guideline.

Happy writing,


Book of the Month: Fall of a Kingdom

Book: Fall of a Kingdom
Author: Hilari Bell

If you're in the mood for a young adult fantasy novel this month, check out Fall of a Kingdom. Based on the Persian myth of Sorahb, the story follows three young people (Soraya, Jiaan, and Kavi) as their kingdom, Farsala, is invaded by the Hrum empire. The book is the first in the Farsala Trilogy. It's a favorite of mine due to its crisp style, its beloved (but definitely flawed) characters, and its unique aspects, such as the way it portrays magic. I highly recommend adding this to your summer reading list!