Category Archives: Writing

Guest Blog: The Work by Kenneth Lawson

One sits in front of a blank computer screen and wishes the words would just magically appear on it. If one could only twitch a “Bestselling American Novel.”  But alas, the only person who could twitch a novel into existence was Samantha from the TV show Bewitched.

In September 1964, a new show arrived on ABC television. Bewitched followed the misadventures of a female witch married to a mortal man. A half-hour comedy that put a variety of interesting spins on normal family and business life with a witch involved.

What piqued my interest in this show concerning writing is one specific visual trick that they often used on the show. Samantha twitching her nose and making miraculous things happen. House cleaned, animals and people appear or vanish, and that’s just the small stuff the writers had her doing. While the effects worked perfectly in the overall story of the characters and their made-up world, in the long term, this introduced the audience to a concept of “Instant Gratification.” All they had to do was want something, and it would appear out of nowhere.

While anyone in their right minds knows we can’t just twitch our nose and get our work done, or clean our house, or any of the other things they did on the show, there is a broader concept or idea if you will. The idea that a vast majority of the things one wants or needs can almost magically appear.

A key example of this is Amazon. As anyone who belongs to their Prime service knows barring weekends, and holidays or the like that if they order something on Monday morning, chances are very good the UPS truck will be at their door by Wednesday afternoon. This, in fact, a form of “Nose Twitching”  One wants it, a couple of mouse clicks and the package on its way.  Not much more energy expended than twitching one’s “Nose.”

Another great example of the “Bewitched Syndrome” is Pandora, or any online music or movie service. One wants to listen to some classic Sinatra,  a couple of clicks on their mobile device of choice and it plays. One wants to watch a movie or series, a couple of clicks on the remote, and it’s playing on their preferred screen.
There was a day not that long ago when if one wanted to listen to Sinatra croon one had to do “The Work.”

Go to the record store, find and buy a Sinatra record, go home, remove the record from its jacket, place the vinyl record gently on the turntable to keep from scratching it and turn on the record player. The record spun, and mechanically, the arm with the needle moved over to the record and dropped, and the sounds of music came from the speakers. But wait, you weren’t done.

Once that side was over, in about 10 -15 minutes, you had to remove yourself from your favorite listening place and return to the turntable, turn the record over and repeat the process. These are but two of the many examples of the way people have unconsciously​bought into the “Bewitched Syndrome.”

Years ago there was only ONE phone in a house. It usually hung on the kitchen wall, with a LONG cord to the receiver. If one wanted to call someone, they had to know the actual phone number. In years gone by, they didn’t have 7 digit numbers like we do today, you had an exchange, such as the famous BR-549 from Hee Haw fame. You called the operator and told her who you needed to call, and she’d connect you manually to her switchboard. See. More work.

And if you missed a call, You were out of luck, and probably never know it, unless they told you later they tried to call. Today? Instant access, the “Bewitched Syndrome.”

There are so many examples of  “The Bewitched Syndrome” and how it is incredibly easy today to “Twitch” our way through life. To have a wide variety of things done or gotten for us almost magically.

But there are a lot of things there is NO shortcut for. Writing is one of them.

To create, one must sit down and actually do the work. Write the words, build the paragraphs and the chapters, and eventually one word at a time, build a book.
And you can be proud of it. Because you didn’t make it appear out of thin air, you did the work, put in the time, and energy it takes to create.

Bewitched has inspired a generation to create new worlds and tell new tales in different ways. The Bewitched writers did the work to create a television program. Now you must do the work to make your stories come alive, as actress Elizabeth Montgomery did the work to make Samatha come alive on the screen.

Yes, I’ve wished many times over the years I could twitch my nose and have my stuff done.

But alas, I’m mortal like the rest of us.

And I have to do is“The Work.”



Author Bio:

Kenneth Lawson 1

Kenneth Lawson was born in 1961, in Western NY. He was born with a heart disease, called Transition of the Arteries. He is believed to be the first in the US to survive the procedure called the Mustard procedure.

He started writing as a teenager He enjoys classic movies and television, and a variety of music. When not enjoying movies. He can be found writing his eclectic mix of science fiction, mystery, and time travel.

Today he lives in Central Virginia, with his wife of 30 years, and the youngest of their four children.



Fantasy Genre: The Spectrum of Magic

The Fantasy Genre

Fantasy magic

The Spectrum of Magic

 Many things separate the fantasy genre from other genres, the variety of characters – dragons, fairies, elves, dwarves, etc. – talking trees, or mystical locations, but none are as important as the magical system that you use.

As you create a magical system, there are acceptable patterns that you may follow. Remember to create a system unique to your story and always consistent.  Adam Johnson writes about magical systems and how to create them.


Hard magic, Soft magic, and the Middleground.


Soft Magic:

Soft magic is an underlying force that isn’t quite explained. An Example is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien never really explains the way his magic works so, we are left with a sense of wonderment and feeling like there is powerful energy at work in the background. He executes this well because he doesn’t use magic to solve the character’s problems. He doesn’t just have Gandolf teleport Frodo to Mount Doom because that wouldn’t make any sense to the reader and would subsequently make the magic and by extension, the whole story, seem weaker.

Soft magic can be a great tool for creating a sense of wonderment in your world. However, you must be careful in how you use it. When creating a soft magic system, you should do it in a way that just supports the characters and the feel of the story. You should not use magic to solve problems in a soft magic system. If you do, it will feel like you’re creating new rules for each situation to give your character a way out. That gets old really fast. Often, in soft magic, Spells won’t turn out the way the character intended them to. If something completely unexpected happens, that the character didn’t see coming, that’s ok because the reader didn’t see it coming either. So, in Soft magic, the Magic system should be there to support the ambiance of the story, not advance the plot. Unless the magic causes problems for the character, then, it’s perfect for the plot.


Hard Magic:

Hard magic is where the author lays out the rules and applications for the reader. This is done so the reader can have fun and feel like a part of the magic. It also allows the author to come up with all kinds of tricks and twists within their magic system. These are my favorite types of systems to write. They allow me to have fun creating the system. As a reader, I love understanding the inner-workings of a magic system and seeing what the author comes up with and if it seems comprehensive to the rules set forth.

If you think of it in superhero terms, You are introduced to your hero then you are introduced to their powers. Once you know what their powers are, you already have a great idea of what they can do and what their limits are. From there the author can use those abilities to come up with a whole host of abilities that remain within that power set. Each new ability that makes sense will excite the reader and give them a greater sense of realism.


The Middle Ground:

The Middle ground is creating a balance between those two ends of the spectrum. It means giving your reader a good idea of what to expect while still maintaining a sense of wonder within the world. The Harry Potter series is a perfect example of a great middle ground magic system. Ms. Rowling gives us some general guidelines to how her magic works. We know that they need a wand and that they need to know the correct incantations. Those rules stay pretty consistent throughout the series but, She also adds new rules and new applications of magic in each book. This allows her to retain a great sense of wonderment over all. So, each individual book stays very consistent with the rules that have been introduced in that book. This means that her whole series was somewhat soft magic but, each individual book was hard magic. This created a wonderful balance that is a blast to read and easy to get lost in.


 Traditional Forms of Magic

  • Abjuration: The power to protect/heal.

The school of Abjuration is focused on defensive and healing powers. The can create physical and magical barriers such as walls and force fields. The create glyphs and wards to protect an area or person. Glyphs and wards have an incredible range of effects and intensities. They are activated by an enemy crossing into it or passing through it. Once activated, a ward will release the effect that has been stored in it. It can be anything from trapping the enemy to transporting them to another dimension, even instant death.

Abjurers also have potent healing magic. This can range from healing minor cuts to restoring entire limbs. Depending on your magic system, Abjurers can even bring the dead back to life.

Feats include:

  • Defense Powers
  • Force-Field Generation
  • Healing


  • Conjuration: The power to transport living and non-living things.

Conjuration is a craft that requires a great deal of Studying and research. There are several applications of this magic but, The primary way it’s used is for summoning. Summoning is The act of pulling a Creature/Demon or Entity from their realm or their home and transporting them right in front of the mage. Summoning can work a few different ways as well. The creature summoned can be under complete control of the mage, The creature could just attack whatever he sees, and the mage has no control. The Summoner must draw pentacles on the ground. One for themselves and one to contain the creature. From there, the summoner will employ tactics to either strike a deal with the creature or torture them until they agree to help.

Regardless of the tactic, the summoner must always be wary. The creature summoned is not happy to be pulled away from home and usually, want to kill the summoner. So great lengths are taken to ensure the casters safety and the creatures cooperation.

Summoners can also use their power to open portals to different destinations.

Feats Include:

  • Creation
  • Summoning
  • Teleportation


  • Divination: The power to gain information.

Divination is the school of magic that focuses on gathering information, viewing, and probability. A mage that uses Divination is often called a Diviner. Let’s say you encounter a new situation or machine. You have to experience the situation to figure out what will work and what won’t. After you learn how it works, you’ll start to learn why it works as well. A Diviner can skip those steps by looking at a situation and automatically seeing all the various outcomes for the situation.Divination can also be used to make predictions.

With the Aid of a crystal or a scrying glass, a Diviner can Watch things happen in real time as if he were there. powerful practitioners of the craft can even read thoughts from Far away.

  • Extrasensory Perception
  • Magic Sensing


  • Enchantment: The power to influence the minds/emotions.

Note:  This is the magical application of enchantment on another living being. Enchantment of objects follows a different set of rules and can have limitless outcomes.

Enchantment is the ability to control someone’s mind or their emotions. Enchantments can come in many forms but, it is important to note that it does not include possession of a host’s body. The Enchanter can only control the mind and the body, not enter it. Enchanters use this power to make people perform tasks or to tip the odds of a situation in their favor. It is sort of like hypnosis in a sense. In Star Wars, Jedi’s use a form of Enchantment that they call “The Jedi mind trick.” It is a strong power of suggestion that essentially brainwashes the subject. This can also be used for interrogation and the extraction of information.

Feats include:

  • Invocation
  • Mental Manipulation
  • Emotional Manipulation


  • Evocation: The power to control the forces of Nature for a variety of effects.

Evocation is the practice of Calling forth energies to work for you. It can be summoning fireballs or affecting the energies in your own environment to achieve things like telekinesis. In the hands of an experienced wizard, the school of Evocation can be used to cause tremendous damage. Users of Evocation can call forth lightning and projectiles of concentrated magic energy.

  • Animate/Reanimation
  • Elemental Manipulation
  • Energy Manipulation
  • Telekinesis


  • Illusion: The power to create illusions.

Illusionists are often overlooked and thought of as being weak. This is not the case at all. Being able to trick the mind is an incredibly powerful tool. Creating illusions is pretty self-explanatory. The caster creates a vision of something that’s not really there. Seems simple right? The Illusionist, however, can be incredibly deceptive and has the ability to get themselves in and out of virtually any situation. The only downside for them is that their illusions must be real enough to fool even the most perceptive of people. If someone is very sharp mentally, they can see through the illusion for what it really is.

Some feats include:

  • Disappearing
  • Illusive Appearance
  • Psychosomatic Illusion
  • Subjective Reality: create illusions that become partially real.


Necromancy: The power to manipulate the forces of Death.

Necromancy is often regarded as the darkest of dark arts. Many of the spells and rituals require some or all of someone’s life force. So, you either have to drain them or kill them to gain the catalyst you need for power. Necromancers are obsessed with power and will stop at nothing to become more powerful. The ultimate goal of any necromancer is to become immortal. Necromancers can raise the dead from their graves and control legions of them depending on their strength and ability. They can speak with the dead and gain control over the undead, i.e., a powerful necromancer could control a vampire, but an extremely powerful vampire isn’t likely able to be controlled. If a necromancer becomes extremely powerful in his lifetime, he has a chance to come back to life as a lich after he dies.

Some Feats include:

  • Immortality
  • Undead Manipulation
  • Skin/bone grafting


  • Transmutation: The power to transform living or non-living

Transmutation is the ability to transform one thing into another whether the subject is living or not. Granted, as with anything else, there are varying degrees of difficulty. It’s one thing to turn a cup into a pencil but, quite another to turn a person into a plate.This can be used a wide variety of ways.

Some feats include:

  • Elemental Transmutation
  • Shapeshifting


Contemporary Magic

  • Blood Magic


The mage uses his own blood as a source of power. Blood mages can achieve incredible feats and perform incredible acts of power, all of which are considerably gruesome. The blood mage typically performs a ritual or speaks an incantation to build up the magical energy then, they cut themselves to release the magic along with their blood. So, essentially they pay for magic with their blood or their life force.

Blood Mages can also Twist and bend the blood of another to cause excruciating pain or to control them like puppets on a string. This type of magic is typically considered evil or taboo even in the most diverse of fantasy worlds.

As you create your magic system, remember that the desired goal is for your reader to suspend reality and engage in your world. Provide them with a structure that makes your magic plausible, and they will want to inhabit your world.




Article was written by Adam Johnson for Writer Unite! Workshop




Adam Johnson

Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Fantasy Genre: Fantasy Worlds –  Creating Imagination

Fantasy Worlds – Creating Imagination

Fantasy world

“The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes.”
― Lloyd Alexander


As a writer of fantasy, you are in control of your reader’s imagination. No other genre allows a writer to create a world for a story to exist in impossible ways. Consider a cloud city in science fiction story. Science fiction can suspend reality to a point, but the events, spaceships, and weapons involved require that there be some grounding in the laws of physics as we know them to be plausible. Those floating cities need anti-gravity machines to exist. Not so in fantasy, magic makes the cities float.

That is not to say that rules do not exist when world building in the fantasy genre. As discussed in a previous article, the magic selected or created for the story must have rules that are followed to be plausible.

Where to begin? You should begin with the plot of your story and your characters. Consider the adventures your character will have throughout the story and then imagine you are the reader. Where would you want the story to unfold? Let’s start with the basics.

The World

Your story can exist anywhere. Create an entire world, a hidden realm, or a magical world existing within a mortal world. The sky can be orange, the grass purple or crystal, the possibilities are endless.

Build your world by considering the following:

  • Time Period: Is your adventure in an ancient realm or a modern world? Much of the rest of your decisions regarding the world you create will be influenced by the time period you set it in. Agrarian, industrial or technological? Don’t forget to determine their calender.
  • Where do your characters live, forest, mountain, valley, desert? Near a river or an ocean?
  • Cold, hot, temperate. Does it rain or snow or is there endless heat? Are there major storms, with lightning, thunder, torrential rains, typhoons, whirlwinds? Or is the climate stable… perhaps due to magic?
  • Inhabitants: Describe your characters. Color of hair, eyes, how they move. Decide the clothing they wear. What is their language and is there more than one language spoken? What is their diet?
  • Flora and fauna: What animals exit? Are they used for food, burden, transportation, or recreation? Determine the trees, grasses, flowers, agricultural plants.
  • Dwellings: Do they live in wooden or mud huts, stone houses, or palaces, suburbs or the city. Single-family units or tribes?
  • How do they educate the population or those with magical skills?
  • What is their social and family structures? Their beliefs? How do they interact with each other? How do they care for the sick? How do they entertain themselves? Do they have common values or are they in conflict? Are they militaristic or passive?
  • History: How did their civilization evolve. Has magic always been a part of the world? What races of magical beings have been lost or still exist. If more than one realm, are they at war?
  • Employment: Do they trade or barter? How do people make a living? How are they compensated?
  • Transportation: Do they travel via magic, or beast, or in a mechanical vehicle?

Adam Johnson writes about the aspects of world building that often get overlooked.

Your world can be as fantastic as you want it to be. Never limit yourself when creating your world. However, you should start with physics that mirror our own. Meaning, gravity functions the same. Unless, your setting is an alien world but, the physics of that world must be consistent with what we understand about physics. This will keep the world at least somewhat familiar to the reader, making them more comfortable.

Consistency is key to plausibility. If you have made changes to your world, they cannot become an afterthought. Your world and your characters must be consistent, and any changes must be apparent and have solid reasoning for the change. Things should function as much like our world as it can while retaining the details that make your world special. (Such as the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The wizarding world had its own rules but, they were all consistent. Also, that world was hidden from the human world to show the difference and allow our minds to be more open to the concepts that she introduced after.)

It is your world but, it is not just about you. Your world should be somewhere that other people would want to live in. This means that your world should be so immersive that once the reader is finished, they are scrambling to find anything that will put them back in that world. It doesn’t just have to be friendly, it can be a treacherous world that no-one wants to find themselves in but, if you really capture that world in all its glory, the reader will be begging to come back.

Remember to ask yourself, who am I writing this for? Let’s not fool ourselves, we write stories because we love weaving a tale. There’s a story that we want to see come to life, and we take it upon ourselves to craft the story. With that being said, there is always an audience that we are writing for.


By Adam Johnson and Deborah Ratliff



Quotations from an article written by Adam Johnson for the Facebook group Writers Unite!



Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant chain management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.


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Fantasy Genre: Characters Verisimilitude


Fantasy character

Fantasy Characters: Verisimilitude

Since we are discussing characters, let’s talk about the most important tool an author can utilize when dealing with character development…


Verisimilitude, defined as the appearance of being true or real, is the author’s ability to make the character seem real. “How do I make my characters seem real,” you might ask. Your character should seem just as real to you as your best friend. You should know them like you know yourself. Make them unique, give them quirks, flaws, and traits. Give them jobs, families, and friends. To truly convey your character in a way that seems real, you must understand who that character is. Deborah has been kind enough to cover your crucial character types and some of the traits that make your characters stand out from the rest so, let’s dig a little deeper into the character’s and how detailing their profession can add considerable depth to a character.


Professions: In literature as a whole, people love reading about work, especially if it’s a job that they have been exposed to. This is just as important to a fantasy novel. You may not be able to write about jobs that are directly identifiable with the reader. Let’s face it unless it’s an Urban Fantasy, your Protagonist won’t be working behind the counter of a local McDonald’s.

However, you can still add a sense of realism to the professions included in your fantasy. Do some research into jobs that were held hundreds of years ago. Compare what you know about fantasy to what they were doing in the real world. We all know what a blacksmith is but, do you know what a quartermaster is? Do you know about the smithing process? The heat treat and the quench of the blade are crucial to the hardness, and its ability to keep an edge. It’s adding small detail like this into your work that really makes your story stand out. It also gives you credibility with the reader. Trust me, if talking about a profession that actually exists in the real world you want to have your facts straight. Being an author means opening yourself to constant scrutiny by your peers and the public. They will be all too happy to point out any mistakes you have in your details. This is not meant to discourage you but, to help you add the sense of realism that readers are looking for when they want to totally immerse themselves in your world.

What about professions that don’t exist in the real world? No, your protagonist won’t be working the drive-thru but, they might be an apprentice to a wizard or a master of potions. They could be a demon hunter, or maybe they are something we’ve never seen before. Regardless of the profession, all professions have rules and a lifestyle that comes with it. Compare your profession to real-world professions and find similarities. Find common complaints that your character might have about the work. Maybe your character absolutely loves his job but, doesn’t make a great living doing it. Put yourself in their shoes and see what they would be doing on a day to day basis. Would a sorcerer’s apprentice just hold things and watch his master perform magic? No! He would have to have detailed knowledge of the spell components his master needs and the properties of each. He would be charged with keeping the wizard’s study clean and organized. He would file all the books and scrolls for his master as well as run errands as needed. Again, it’s the small details that you add that make a profound impact on the immersive nature of your world.

Can you overdo it? Of course, you can! You don’t want to add small details to every little thing that your reader encounters in your book, or you’ll end up with a 2,000-page tome with step by step instructions on everything from blacksmithing to knitting. Details are important but, it’s the finesse that they are delivered with that make an author stand out. Your characters, your world is completely your own. You should know as much as you possibly can about them to deliver a real experience of suspended disbelief.







Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Writers Unite!:

The Fantasy Genre: Characters

The Fantasy Genre

Fantasy character

Fantasy Characters


“just because a mage wears the black robes does not make him evil.” 
― Margaret Weis


Fantasy characters. The moment we begin to think about them I suspect images of characters from our favorite books, movies, or cartoons begin to rise from our memories. Could be a witch or wizard, a dragon or troll, a superhero or an evil stepmother that reminds us of our favorite story. The question is not which character we remember but why. What characteristics of a fantasy character makes them memorable?

Fantasy stories are rarely simple. They are an incredible tale of the impossible told on an epic scale. With such a grand story there must be characters that are equally majestic. They form the core of your story and the conduit to complete the quest.

Overall, our main characters, the protagonist, and antagonist regardless of genre are the hooks we use to draw our readers into our realm. If we don’t provide a character that a reader can identify with the reader loses interest. In a fantasy, while there may be several main characters, the focus will always be on the one character who faces the ultimate conflict. Secondary characters also hold a very important role in the story. In addition to providing support for the main character, they carry subplot arcs to drive the story to its conclusion.

The Protagonist

The most important character in any story is the protagonist. If your reader does not identify with the protagonist, the quality of the story and other characters won’t matter. It is imperative to capture your reader’s heart for them to become engaged.

The protagonist is the hero, and in fantasy as in other genres, this character should possess the strength of soul and determination. Their commitment to the story’s goal and how they deal with conflict and obstacles in their path drives the narrative. Your hero should be flawed, hold secrets, be at times uncertain and afraid. The more human and ordinary the character is the more endeared they become to the reader.

Fantasy adds another level to the protagonist’s abilities, magic. Decide how your character will reveal their powers or skills or react to magic if they do not have powers. Is this quest the hero’s destiny or was he drawn in by accident? Does your character have a dark side, something that must be quelled to complete their task?

This is fantasy. Allow the magical tone of your story to flow through your protagonist.

The Antagonist

Ah, the evil genius. But should your antagonist be entirely evil? The answer is no. It is easy to assign only vile characteristics to a villain. Resist the temptation. As you give your protagonist flaws, give your villain some qualities that your reader can identify with as well. Remember, the villain thinks his motivation is correct. By giving your villain a reason for his evil ways, you bring depth to his actions. Weaving the villain into the lives of the protagonist and his sidekicks also strengthens the power of the antagonist to create greater conflict.

Secondary Characters

There will be sidekicks. There must be sidekicks. They provide a support network and are needed to show the human and vulnerable side of your hero. These characters may not always be physically with the protagonist, but they are an integral part of the story. In fantasy, the variety of characters is boundless and the more imaginative, the more interest for your readers. Think Muggles and Hobbits and dragons and begin to create.

Among the secondary characters you will find the following:

Best Friend: A single secondary character who is a confidant, loyal to a fault, someone, who would give their life for the hero. To create a stronger bond between hero and best friend add depth by disagreement, estrangement, competitiveness, or humor. Placing the best friend in mortal danger often provides the catalyst for the hero to grow and face the conflicts ahead.

Mentor: A classic figure in fantasy, the mentor gives guidance and educates the hero as he follows his destiny. The mentor, who may have magical powers or wisdom, could be someone familiar or a stranger, the relationship strained or close. At some point in the story for the hero to prove they have grown and no longer need their mentor, there could be an emotional parting of the ways.

Romantic Interest: We all love a good romance, and the fantasy genre is no different. A love interest also humanizes the protagonist, adding another layer to the hero’s vulnerability. Often a romantic partner can serve to challenge the hero to remain committed to the quest despite whatever adversities are encountered. Do not make the romance larger than life or it will overshadow the ultimate quest, keep the relationship grounded and real.

 In truth, these characters minus a magic spell or two, are characters found in any genre. The differences are often in the minute details. Be inventive, allow some characters not to be traditional. Never lose sight of the world you have created and allow your characters to reveal the magic it holds to your readers.




Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.


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WU! Workshop: Fantasy Genre

Fantasy genre 1


The Fantasy Genre


According to “Cliffnotes,” Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least).

As “Cliffnotes” is wont to do, a very succinct description. Factual but an injustice to this wonderous genre. The very word conjures up mysterious adventures, characters, creatures and most of all magic. Fantasy is a tale about the impossible.

The fantasy genre is part of speculative fiction which includes science fiction, superhero fiction, and horror/paranormal fiction. These speculative subsets differ from fantasy in one major component, plausibility. The characteristics of these genres need to reflect a familiar world. We measure the concept of space travel against our knowledge of physics. To have a superhero character, people of “normal” abilities must exist. Fantasy does not need that restriction. Trees can talk. Horses can fly. And magic exists.

Neil Gaiman in Stories: All New Tails writes, “I love the word ‘fantasy’… but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination.” 

Fantasy need not be realistic. However, there are common characteristics that must be present.

Characteristics of the Fantasy Genre 

  • Magic: Fantasy must include a system of magic and that system have established rules that are followed. This element of the story alone separates fantasy from other genres. Creating a unique magical system is one way to set a story apart from others. Remember, magic is a character in your story, create a memorable one.
  • Characters: The development of characters, while very important in all genres, is paramount in fantasy. The scope of a fantasy story lends itself to larger than life characters and to quite a few of them. While you will always have your hero and evil villain, you may have many main characters and strong secondary characters to drive the story.
  • The Challenge: The core of your story is the challenge facing your characters. Conflicts that both drive them toward and keeps them from their goals create tension and interest in your reader. With an extensive cast of characters, conflict can be internal, between friends or between enemies. To create a cohesive story, there should be one arcing storyline which includes all your characters striving for the same goal.
  • Environment: Where does your story exist? When you create your imaginary world consider its terrain, flora and fauna, its social structure, educational systems, entertainment, military, and how it is governed. The more intricate you construct your world, the more drawn your reader will be to it.

In addition to these basic characteristics, fantasy also has many sub-genres, each of which brings unique characteristics of their own. Marcy Kennedy compiled a list of the most popular fantasy subgenres on her webpage,

Fantasy Sub-genres:

Historical Fantasy – Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable historical time period and in a real-world location. This sub-genre encompasses things like the King Arthur legends and Robin Hood. It’s more about how the author plays with history, myth, and legend than it is about magic.

Epic Fantasy – Epic fantasies are what most people think of when they hear “fantasy.” They’re defined by a large cast of characters, multiple POVs, and complex plots. They’re set in a fictional world, and the plot often revolves around the rise and fall of kingdoms. The ultimate epic fantasies are George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Urban Fantasy – First of all, urban fantasy is set in a primarily, well, urban/city setting. You can’t set your fantasy in a medieval-esque pastoral setting and call it “urban fantasy.” It’s darker, grittier than most other fantasy, and you’ll usually find it populated with demons, vampires, werewolves, witches (not the Harry Potter kind), or zombies. Kelly Gay’s The Better Part of Darkness is an urban fantasy example. Urban fantasy is often confused with paranormal romance. While they can and do often have blurry lines, the best way to tell them apart is to ask if the core conflict is about two people falling in love. If the main focus of the story is on the relationship, then it’s a paranormal romance. If the main focus of the story is somewhere else, on some other conflict, even if it has a romantic subplot, it’s still an urban fantasy.

Superhero Fantasy – Secret identities, superhuman powers, and villains who are more than a little unhinged are part of what makes superhero fantasy so much fun. Superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and Captain America are all great examples of this genre.

Traditional Fantasy – Traditional fantasy is basically a teeny, tiny epic fantasy. It’s set in a secondary world (i.e., not our world) like epic fantasy, but it has a smaller cast of characters, fewer POV characters, and a plot that focuses more on a single character (or small group) and their unique struggle than on the creation or destruction of worlds/kingdoms. Magic in some form is usually a key element of traditional fantasy. A classic traditional fantasy is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The fraternal twin sister of traditional fantasy is sword and sorcery, where the plot focuses more on the swashbuckling adventures and daring doos of the main character than on the magical elements. In other respects, they’re the same. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is an iconic sword and sorcery fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy – This sub-genre of fantasy sets the story in our modern-day world (as opposed to historical fantasy) and, although they can have dark elements to them, they also aim to give their reader a sense of joy and wonder. Contemporary fantasies often involve a “world within a world.” If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve read contemporary fantasy. (Urban fantasy is actually a sub-genre of this sub-genre, but it’s easier to consider it as its own sub-genre. Confused yet?)

Alternate History – Don’t let its name fool you. Alternate history plots actually usually fall into the fantasy genre rather than the historical fiction genre because at some point in time the history of the story world diverged from the history of our world. What if the Nazis won World War II? That became the inspiration for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Depending on the focus of alternate history plots, they can also be categorized as science fiction.


Regardless of the type of fantasy that you choose to write, remember the world you are entering is full of magic, wonder, and the impossible. It is your job to take your reader there with you.




Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

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Interview with Romance Author Parris Afton Bonds on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk

Host Paul Reeves and Parris Afton Bonds, award-winning author of more than forty published novels, discuss the impact she has had on the romance genre. As one of three best-selling authors of romantic fiction, she is the co-founder of and first vice president of Romance Writers of America, as well as, co-founder of Southwest Writers Workshop.

The Parris Award was established in her name by the Southwest Writers Workshop to honor a published writer who has given outstandingly of time and talent to other writers.  Prestigious recipients of the Parris Award include Tony Hillerman and the Pulitzer nominee Norman Zollinger.

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 “People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.” 

― B.R. Myers


When I was in elementary school, I cheated. I cheated when I was forced to participate in spelling bees. A pastime it seemed my teachers thought was the most fun a student could have. I didn’t. And no, I did not write words on my palms or sneak a peek at the teacher’s word list. I purposely misspelled words that I knew how to spell so I could stop playing.

Spelling was never fun. Science was fun. Spelling was tedious, science was exciting. The quicker we got through the English lesson, the quicker I could do a science experiment.

I managed to get by with my little scheme for a while but never try to outwit a teacher, it rarely works. She caught on, and I had to play without missing words she knew I could spell.

The truth is I did well in English and literature, but my focus was elsewhere, my loves in school were science and chorus. Consequently, my knowledge and skills in grammar arrived by rote, not by interest. I should have been wiser.

Grammar is the foundation of communication. Without proper grammar, our thoughts cannot be expressed except as incoherent ramblings or incorrect meaning. I learned the hard way that grammar mattered in all aspects of life.

As a college freshman majoring in a science discipline, I took my first exam in Microbiology 101, my major. I was certain I had done well, plus there were ten bonus points. When I arrived at the class lab the day following the test, the lab instructor informed me that my professor wanted to see me.

Entering Dr. Weaver’s cramped, dark office crowded with antique scientific equipment, I was petrified. Maybe I hadn’t done as well as I thought. He motioned for me to sit and then handed me my exam. I had gotten a score of 103. Relief washed over me, then concern. What had I gotten incorrect? I knew the material.

Dr. Weaver noticed my confusion and smiled, a rare thing for him to do. He told me that I had done very well, but he wanted to discuss what I had not done well. Spelling. He had circled a few scientific words but told me he did not count off for spelling those words during the first semester, everyone misspelled names of bacteria. I misspelled seven common words, and he took a point off for each one.

He explained that while I had an excellent grasp of the subject matter, I needed to understand that how I presented my thoughts would influence how people perceived my credibility. Words matter, and the grammar used to structure those words matter too.

Let’s look at one of the classic examples of how grammar affects the meaning of sentences.

“Let’s eat grandpa” vs. “Let’s eat, grandpa.”

I doubt anyone doesn’t see the issues with the lack of a comma in the first sentence. The reasons for proper grammar are obvious.


General Reasons to Practice Good Grammar

In general, proper grammar is essential to communication, which, as stated earlier, is vital to all facets of life. The above example concerning grandpa shows how we emphasize ideas conveys meaning. For our thoughts to be understood, they must be conveyed with clarity and precision.

In business or social situations, first impressions are important. We are often warned ‘not to judge a book by its cover,’ an idiom that cautions us not to judge people by their appearance when first meeting them. First impressions no matter how hard we strive to be unbiased do matter. Whether the first time someone meets you is in person or via the written word, how you communicate with them is a sign of your intellect and education.

Proper communication also provides credibility, crucial as you build a career or a personal relationship.


Grammar for the Writer

Ask writers for their pet peeves about grammar and the list is endless. Confused words, dangling participles, incorrect verb tenses, their vs. they’re vs. there are among the errors cited. Yet, ask these same writers if grammar is important when writing and the results can be confusing. The answer is often no.

One of the components of writing is referred to as the writer’s voice. According to the website Pub(lishing) Crawl, “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can be thought of in terms of the uniqueness of a vocal voice machine.”

This definition is why there are conflicts over how writers perceive grammar. We develop a unique manner of presenting our work. The voice we present to the world is ours and ours alone and at times, to impart our personalities we may break the rules. We may write a sentence of a single word or offer a fragment of a sentence for emphasis. Poetic license allows us to depart from convention.

A bit of liberty in writing complete sentences for emphasis is one thing, but we have discussed that grammar increases clarity of meaning and raises our credibility. These two concepts, one writing correctly and the other taking poetic license, seem diametrically opposed yet remain an issue of contention among writers.

My opinion is that dialogue can be written as people talk, in slang, in sentence fragments, keeping grammar deviations to a minimum. The narrative of a story, however, should follow proper grammar.

As important as these general reasons for using good grammar are there are specific reasons for writers to understand the value of communication.

  • The ‘experts’ who offer writing advice suggest that we write our first draft without concern about grammar or sentence structure. We should write to get the story out. Errors can be corrected on subsequent edits. I disagree. I think we should make a habit of using correct grammar from the beginning. The editing process is difficult enough without adding to issues that can be dealt with as you write.
  • You will be offering your manuscript for review by beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. The novice writer with little experience needs to establish credibility. Sending a manuscript for evaluation with punctuation and spelling errors and poorly constructed sentences will not instill the confidence necessary to be taken seriously. That is not to say that any writer, regardless of experience, should submit a badly written manuscript at any time. They should not.
  • Many of us write simply for the pleasure of writing. The art of weaving words into a story brings a great deal of satisfaction. I suspect, however, that we also write for the pleasure of others. If we want our readers to become engrossed in our stories, root for our heroes, then give them a well-written book. If it isn’t well-written, it will be left unread.
  • The last reason to practice good grammar, respect for yourself. Writing a novel is not an easy task, but if you make an effort to create a well-written and well-crafted novel the results will be worth the time.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

― Dorothy Parker





Understanding POV is essential, or ought to be.

Arthur Herzog

When we pick up a book to read, we expect to become lost in words, feel as if we are part of the unfolding events. How we participate in those events is up to the author and the point of view the author has chosen.

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

— Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

The opening paragraph of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is considered one of the consummate openings in literature. Immediately, you know a great deal about the main character. A private detective who is “neat, clean, shaved and sober, which indicates he is often not and that he is meeting a wealthy individual, likely a client. This paragraph also indicates that you are going to experience the story through his eyes.

Point of view is defined by “Literary Devices” as “the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion, or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation. In literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem, essay, etc.”

Point of View Syles


“First-person narrators is the way I know how to write a book with the greatest power and chance of artistic success.”

― Anne Rice

The paragraph from The Big Sleep is an example of writing in the first-person point of view. We are experiencing the events through the eyes of the main character or at times, a secondary character, who is also the narrator.

We see what the narrator sees, only witnessing the actions of others but never knowing the thoughts of other characters unless they choose to disclose their thoughts through dialogue.

There are advantages to using this form of view. For the reader, it allows an intimate feeling with the character, you see, sense, smell, taste, what the character does. As a writer, the connection is personal, the character becomes an extension of your own persona. You see the events through your own eyes, tell the story in your own words. There are fewer filters as there would be if the writer were observing another character as in Third-person POV. In first-person, the character can express the thoughts they are feeling directly to the reader and provide exposition directly though memories.

While there are advantages to first-person POV, there are also disadvantages. The reader can never be certain of the narrator’s motives. Is this character being truthful, is there bias in how they think, are they providing the entire story.  The “unreliable narrator’ could misdirect the reader from the truth. It is also difficult for the reader to learn about the narrator’s description, not always necessary to the story but there are components of a character’s description that could impact a story.

This POV also presents only one side of the story, preventing both the reader and writer from seeing a broader view of the story and what the other characters are thinking. To capture the essence of the character, the writer must take care and skill to present the voice of the character, their mannerisms and how they speak to convey their personality to the reader. Another interesting aspect is that the reader will assume the narrator will survive the story which reduces the suspense.

One other note about first-person POV is that this style lends itself well to short stories where the impact of a single point of view can be effective. However, it takes a skilled writer to create a character strong enough to carry the entire story.

Some examples of novels in first person POV, in addition to Chandler’s The Big Sleep are Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Second Person Point of View:

Rarely seen in fiction novels, second-person POV is prevalent in non-fiction writing, especially instructional or how-to manuals, and in advertising. In fiction, the narrator is telling the story to the reader as if the reader is the main character.

Ginny Wiehardt, in her article on website, describes second person as “from the point of view of a narrative onlooker who is writing about you, the reader: ‘You went to school that morning.’”

While it is true that the reader will feel as if they are the subject of the story as it is directed at them, creating a storyline and characters to maintain the focus of the narrator is extremely difficult.

An example of second person in fiction is found in Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Also called metafiction, this type of writing breaks the so-called fourth wall of theater or film by allowing the reader to be aware they are reading fiction. The first paragraph from Calvino’s work:

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, ‘No, I don’t want to watch TV!’ Raise your voice – they won’t hear you otherwise – ‘I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!’ Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: ‘I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!’ Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

Unique to say the least and why second- person POV is used in instructional manuals and advertising where the writer wishes to have the reader be the focus. The phrase “You first measure two cups of flour,” or an advertising slogan such as Hallmark’s “When you care enough to send the very best” or Nike’s “Just do it,” are examples.

Third-Person Point of View:

By far the most popular point of view used by writers and the most familiar to readers is third-person. This point of view detaches the narration from the characters and readers and is the most objective of all the points of view. Characterized by third-person pronouns, he and she, or by use of the characters names, readers are on the sidelines and not participating in the story only watching the events unfold from several perspectives.

There are sub-groups within the third-person point of view, the omniscient and the omniscient limited.

Omniscient is the “all-knowing” narrator who is aware of the thoughts and feeling of all the character. This narrator is the most objective (first-person the least) POV and therefore, trustworthy.

Example of Omniscient POV: (From Literary

Little Women (By Louisa May Alcott)

“Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt … Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression, which was seldom disturbed … “

“Alcott uses an omniscient narrator, as we hear a disembodied voice knowing everyone’s feelings and thoughts, exploring all characters from inside and out. Here, the narrator gives a description of the March sisters.”

Limited Omniscient is the third- person POV that can only share the thoughts and feeling of one character at a time.

Example of Omniscient POV: (From Literary

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (By J.K. Rowling)

Harry had taken up his place at wizard school, where he and his scar were famous … but now the school year was over, and he was back with the Dursleys for the summer, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly … The Dursleys hadn’t even remembered that today happened to be Harry’s twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn’t been high?”

“Rowling employs omniscient limited narrator voice, in which readers see what Harry observes, and know what he feels and thinks. They are, however, unable to follow what the Dursleys feel or think about Harry.”

Third-person omniscient is a powerful tool for an author and provides the richest experience for the reader. Knowing all of the information available allows the reader to connect with the characters interaction and become more involved in the story’s plot.

This POV does have one drawback, it does not provide the intimacy between the character and the reader that first-person POV does. It falls on the writer to create that relationship.

Deep Point of View

There is a relatively new (if you consider twenty years new) point of view being used increasingly in the self-publishing world.

Deep POV is third-person limited but takes the reader even deeper into the head of the character. It is designed for the reader to feel and see the story directly through the eyes of the character. This POV grew out of the show vs. tell movement where showing what is happening to the character is emphasized rather than simply telling the reader what is happening.

Dialogue tags and phrases like he thought or felt or saw are eliminated from this point of view which increases the intimacy with the reader.


Third-person –

“Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. She thought that there was no way she could back gracefully out of the dare. She wiggled her fingers around. She felt slime ooze between them.”

Deep POV –

“Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. There was no way she could back gracefully out of the dare. She wiggled her fingers around, wincing when slime oozed between them.”

There is some debate regarding the use of deep POV and changing POV’s within the same scene. I know of an author who can accomplish that skill masterfully and doesn’t appear to be head-hopping. However, most experts recommend not to change POV in the same scene.

One of the best testimonials about deep POV I have read is from romance writer Michele Sayre:

“For me, Deep POV removes any sense of someone standing around telling the readers what’s going on. Instead, the reader is seeing what’s happening in the scene along with their thoughts and feelings.

I use Deep POV, which is third-person because I like the freedom to switch POV in a scene if I feel the need to. In first-person, I would have to have a scene break to switch POV, and that would throw off the pace of a scene for me. Also, since Deep POV is a limited POV (in that the reader only knows what the character knows in that particular scene), it can prevent info-dumping like you might see in an omniscient-type POV. So for me, third-person limited Deep POV keeps the pace up, info-dumping out of the way, and completely brings the reader into the POV character without any authorial input.”

Regardless of the point of view, you choose to write in, there is one very important consideration. Maintain the point of view that you choose throughout the entire piece. The greatest loss of credibility for a writer is to confuse the reader is to switch points of view within a story. Consistency is the key to a clear point of view and a satisfied reader.


“Consider the difference between the first and third person in poetry […] It’s like the difference between looking at a person and looking through their eyes.” 
― Diana Abu-JaberCrescent