Hello again, people! This post is the third and final writeup for the third and final day of LTUE, Life, The Universe, and Everything, the Fantasy/Sci-Fi writing convention!
As there have been two writeups prior to this one, I’ll assume that you’re familiar with the process and not bother to re-explain how this works here. So hit the jump, and let’s recap the third and final day of LTUE!
So unlike yesterday where I was too exhausted to write about the panels I was on, today I’ll be writing as I go to hopefully stave that off. Intercultural Literacy was one of the first panels of the day, and also one that I was on! Which thrilled me greatly, as not only do I love writing about all sorts of neat people and cultures (from Elnacier to the Makalay) but because the panelist selection here was awesome!
So, what did I take away from this? The resources available today for writers are vast for learning about cultures, traditions, people in general! We can talk with people around the world, find their resources, but we need to be careful not to let out own bias or culture “overrule” the one we’re writing about.
When it comes to creating cultures, looking at how cultures around the world solve the challenges presented by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can inspire us to build traditions and cultures that do the same.
Religion in Sanderson
This panel was an interesting one, and one that got a lot closer to an upcoming Being a Better Writer post than I expected it to. Here we had five authors talking about how (and what) author Brandon Sanderson does right when writing about religion. Because a lot of his characters are religious. From vary religions, which the panelists were quick to point out (and in fact, that’s what made it work). One of the first things the panelists noted was that even though there was a common thread of “people can become better,” there are no characters that are perfectly right or wrong. Characters that have the truth of the divine in Brandon’s books are still often wrong and right, sometimes almost back to back, while characters that aren’t “in” on the actual divine (even in a setting where characters can interact with a god or God face to face) can sometimes be more right. Basically, the panel pointed out that Sanderson never forgets that people are people and that faith can lead to a wide range of beliefs, even when they’re people that can interact directly with a diety for a world.
They also noted that Sanderson has a wide variety of religions in his stories, with a wide array of beliefs and traditions. In addition, one panelist pointed out that Sanderson’s treatment of the wide range of proselyting religions (or atheism), they felt, was fantastic.
But one thing they spent some time all agreeing on (which will be the focal point of the aforementioned BaBW post) was that what makes Sanderson’s writing on religion (or even against it) so strong is that he doesn’t tackle the weaknesses, but rather has the characters portray/quest after/exemplify the strengths, the strongest positions, and then act accordingly. Rather than what a lot of authors do, which is “make characters stupid” and build a weak strawman to batter down in a battle. By allowing characters to express the strengths of their position, the panelists posited, Sanderson’s work was much stronger and more real than those that only pried at weaknesses or picked obvious sides.
An interesting panel, and definitely worth listening to.
The Paradox of Water and Diamonds: Why Rare Things are Valuable
Another informational panel that was a lot of fun to listen in on (and be in the chat for) this panel was all about discussing the “paradox” of how things we need for immediate survival (like water) can end up dirt cheap while things that aren’t needed for immediate survival (like diamonds) become expensive.
The answer, at least that the panel arrived at, is stratification. Once a society has established for its immediate needs, they’ll begin to stratify and look for ways to show that stratification. Such as having a pineapple on your table in old world England. You never ate it. It was there to say “I can afford to acquire this ultra-rare, hard-to-acquire thing.”
They then segued into food and how culture and commonality impact what’s in “demand” and it’s price. In Japan, for example, sushi is cheap and easily accessible. Not so in other places.
They also discussed for a bit how rarity and the cause of demand change. Ruby and gold, the panelists pointed out, used to be in demand because they were shiny and said “look how awesome I am.” Now ruby is used in high-end machining, and gold in valuable electronics, so both have a new demand on them competing with the old.
The last thing they covered, because the chat was and asked about it, was “artificial scarcity,” for items that are only rare because of market control/perception control. For example, diamonds or college textbooks. At which point the discussion entered the realm of monopoly, free market, and the concept of paying for the skill or knowledge behind the creation of something, rather than the direct, immediate cost.
Fun and thought provoking!
Interesting Magic Systems
This was a panel I came to mostly to hear what other people were saying (and to my amusement, heard some paraphrasing of my own words from prior panels) but I still did take some notes that the panel pointed out, which I’ll list here:
- Clever and creative win every time. An example that was offered was a fantasy series where the protagonist’s magic was essentially a bag of holding, and they used this in clever ways.
- Magic needs to be utilized in every aspect. If it can be commercialized, someone will, and should, in your world.
- Keep your rules consistent. Don’t cheat the reader.
- Anything is possible if you do it well.
Domesticity in Fantastic Settings
Sometimes you go to a panel and get exactly what you expected, and sometimes you are caught completely by surprise. This was one of the latter ones. I expected that this would be a panel about exploring how magic affects a domestic home life. What I got was a panel on the role of a home life and how it’s overlooked or used in fiction, fantastic or not.
Which isn’t to say that it was bad panel, and I don’t mean to give that impression (so if I did, my bad). This was a great panel. They opened by talking about what the role of a home is, and then expanded on that. It’s a gathering place, a safe location. Where you can bond and coordinate with others. A base you can return to (them pointing this out immediately made me think of both Subnautica titles and how building a “home base” is such an important, vital step in that game, as is the sense of relief felt upon returning to it).
Now, they then spent a lot of time pointing out how homes can vary between cultures, and even independently inside a culture. One panelist issued the challenge of ‘walk five minutes from your house, look at someone else’s home, and it’ll be very different from yours no matter where you are.’
From there, they moved on to talking about how homes are handled in fiction, noting that often a protagonist will lose their home (or have it become unsafe) with a goal being to make it safe once more or find a new one that is safe for them. Harry Potter, they noted, uses the Dursley home to establish a base that makes the magic world new and exciting. Lord of the Rings has the characters leave the safety of home to grow in the wider world. And then work to learn how to reestablish themselves when they return (and in Frodo’s case, he is unable to, he’s changed too much).
As for building homes? They noted that it’s based on logic (of some kind), so you can work through a “chain” of what leads to what. They did note that if you’re building a home not to forget things such as what people wear, what they eat, what tools they use (as well as where all of this comes from), but also how they speak and talk.
All in all a great panel, and a nugget of gold for anyone that showed up.
Strong Women as Protagonists
Well of course I attended this panel. With what I’ve written on the topic before (both in Being a Better Writer and with the protagonists in my books), I wanted to hear what other authors had to say on it!
As you might imagine, they indeed had a lot to say. Some of which you’ll find very familiar if you’ve been here for long (or read a few of my books; I’m proud to say that more than a few of my female protagonists pass various tests).
So, where did they start? Well, they laid out some elements of a strong protagonist, regardless of gender. I’ll give you the list:
- They are capable. This is not required to be, exclusively a physical attribute.
- They make their own choices. Choices that come with consequences, good and bad.
- They have weaknesses.
From there, they talked a bit more about capability and strength, noting that what is “strong” varies from person to person or from culture to culture. Strength, the panel pointed out, could be kindness. Or persistence. Or a lot of other things.
Then? Oh, I loved this: They gave examples of some of their favorite female protagonists that were strong in one way or another. One of the first examples offered? All of the “Mane six” from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Which I would agree with 100%. Another panelist put forward Christine Avasarala from The Expanse (show and books, though personally I prefer the show incarnation) for being a fantastic complex and strong female protagonist, and another went all the way back to the 90s and brought up Dana Scully from X-Files.
They also listed a few characters that we don’t see much of in books, such as unlikeable female protagonists (“Where are they?” was brought up more than once). Or mothers as a protagonist themselves (there was a lot of chat about this, but I was proud to be able to bring up Alma from my short story Monthly Retreat).
But with all this, the number one thing that they kept circling back to was: Make your female characters real people. Not archetypes. But real people. Grow past limits of archetypes and stereotypes. Do research.
Do not let your character be a lamp (just there) or a Mary Sue/Gary Stu.
Basically, write a good character.
Advertising: Booster or Bust?
Delivering a full write-up of this presentation, which was from a single presenter, would be a massive undertaking, so I’ll just offer some highlights. The effective places are Amazon, Bookbub, and Facebook. Google may be one day.
However, advertising is a dangerous razor’s edge to walk. If you’re not watching it daily, you’re going to bust, and these services have issues with large publishers buying up all the ads at a loss they can afford … but regular authors cannot.
That, and getting ads that work are a job in and of themselves. Graphics, marketing, etc, all have to be worked with. Daily. Constant monitoring. Worse, some of these companies, such as Facebook, have run awry of, well, politics and policies that can hamstring things in an instant.
As was said near the end, be prepared not to get any advertising money back. You may get nothing.
Personally: Word-of-mouth remains by far and away the best way for books to spread and sell. Nothing beats a fan who just finished a book telling their friend about it, and that person becoming a new fan.
Round Table: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Self-Publishing
So this post was tightly in line with the one before it, though being a round-table it quickly moved in its own way. So what did they have to say? Well … they did summarize the best thing about being independent/self-published. And bear in mind, each of these authors was either a full-time hybrid or self-pub/indie who got in early.
Control. The good/best is you have control of everything. Control of the cover. Control of the numbers. Control of everything. Overwhelming? Very possibly. But if you want this kind of control, you will have it.
From here, things shifted into talking about whether or not current indie storefronts (Amazon, etc) are worth it, or if setting up your own website is a better idea. Some of the authors were doing it, others were looking at it, and others were waiting. But it’s certainly a possibility, some even said it would be the future.
Now, from there they moved onto offering their #1 Cautions with regards to self-pub/indie. Which summed up, very quickly, as “Be professional. Cut no corners. Edit, have a good cover, do it all.”
Another point that was raised: Doing this on a budget is really hard. One panelist suggested having a lot of disposable income to throw at it for a long time before seeing a return.
Lastly, be personable. Trad pub cannot be as individually focused as an indie/self-pub can. Take advantage of that!
Humor in the Fantastic
“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
That very true line is why I went to this panel. And then, to my utter shock, one of the panelists opened with ‘Well, we need humor because doing something like running a bank is really boring and who wants to read about that?’
To which I immediately made an offended jest in the chat on Axtara’s behalf. I mean … come on! (Someone send that panelist a copy of Axtara!)
Anyway, so they talked about a few things I’ll make note of here. The first was the idea of using humor to defuse a tense or dangerous situation. As the panel pointed out, people do this! It’s a very real thing to sort of “defuse” situations.
Now, as far as writing humor? Well, one panelist made a point that there’s a difference between being witty and just writing snark, which is very important to keep in mind (one is directed at ripping into someone, which can be fun and funny, but is more volatile, and each has its own audience). It was also pointed out that a good bit of comedy is starting on familiar ground before taking a sudden turn into the absurd. “Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.” from Sir Terry Pratchett for example. Or overwhelming characters to the absurd.
But one thing they all came back to was that what you find funny may not be funny to your audience. So test it, and keep an eye on your jokes and how they land with your Alpha and Beta Readers.
And with that … LTUE 2021 is DONE! At least, for me. There are a few more panels, but I am pooped. Thank you to the convention volunteers, the panelists, and everyone else who made it possible this year! I’ll see you all next year!
And readers? I’ll see you Monday.