Patricia K McCarthy: On Writing Fantasy Fiction

Patricia K McCarthy is an Ottawa writer and author of six paranormal fiction novels. If you have any interest in the genre or modern fantasy, they are well worth reading.

In January, she made a presentation to the Ottawa Independent Writers on science fiction and fantasy. It sets out the history of the two genres and what makes them special to their followers. It contains a lot of good advice for any aspiring writer.

If you enjoy the presentations, check out her web page  www.patriciakmccarthy.com for more information on Patricia and her books. If you get the opportunity to meet her, say hello. She’s very friendly.

Writing tips and style guides

If you’re working your way through a NaNoWriMo manuscript and or a novel or short story you started on your own and are wondering if it’s ready to submit or have printed, one matter you should pay close attention to is how well it follows standard publishing spelling and grammar rules. Many of these topics are covered in style guides.

One helpful one that is available through the Ottawa Independent Writers has been developed by Ottawa writer and publisher Bob Barclay. It’s a great starting point for new and experienced writers trying to get their literary efforts honed for public review. A PDF version is available for download.

The Canadian Press offers The Canadian Press Stylebook and The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling books for all those tricky words writers have to contend with.

The Pilcrow can be a good editing tool for a writer

By Alex Binkley

After months if not years of writing, the story is finished and the crucial job of editing it well begins. You have plenty of goals in this step—making sure it makes sense, will hold a reader’s attention and doesn’t contain grammar and spelling mistakes. You can also work at removing repetitious and superfluous words.

As you probably wrote it on your computer, print it in a different font and edit the paper version making notes about areas that need fixing. After you’ve inputted the changes, hopefully your manuscript will be error free, tighter and better over all. Make sure you back up the story several different ways. I use memory sticks and my Gmail account.

Then you reach the day when you think it’s ready to be read by others. Beta readers are invaluable if they are experienced writers or possess expertise in your genre. My science fiction stories have been aided by readers with real science creds. Hopefully the beta readers will also be proficient at catching any remaining spelling and grammar errors and other slip ups.

There are other editing tricks. One is to read the manuscript from the end to the beginning. When you read it the usual way, you can become caught up in the storyline, which you are already familiar with. If you read it backward starting with the last paragraph, you actually check it line by line. You’ll be surprised at how many missing words and punctuation marks you’ll find to say nothing of those characters or places that sneak into the wrong part of the story.

It’s during this process that it’s a good time to turn on the Pilcrow. What’s that you wonder? It’s the old mark for a paragraph. If that doesn’t help you find it in the assortment of editing tools at the top of the page, search online for Pilcrow and you will receive far more information than you probably ever wanted to know about it. In my computer’s Windows 10 program, it’s in the middle in the first row of editing marks and tools when the Home button is selected.

Turned on, the Pilcrow will reveal all the editing marks and more in your story. It’ll show a dot for the proper space between words. You can find out if you’ve properly and consistently indented the paragraphs. At the end of the paragraph it’ll tell you if you have left extra spaces between the final period and the pilcrow, which moves the computer to the new paragraph. Extra spaces between words and sentences and at the end of paragraphs are generally considered as the mark of a real amateur.

Another good editing trick is to read the manuscript out loud. That will help you find clumsy wording and missing words. Some people even record themselves reading the story and play the recording so they can hear how it sounds.

If you have any editing tricks you’d like to share, email me at alex.binkley@sympatico.ca

The Circle of the Chosen: where to buy it

The Circle of the Chosen is now available on most of the usual distribution channels.

In paperback:

Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook book format.

Chapters Indigo

E-books—Can-AM books, which is my distributor, says The ebook platforms such Kobo and Barnes & Noble all have the title for sale. Let me know if there is a problem.

Smashwords has it available as epub.

In Ottawa the books are in stock at Books on Beechwood.

I usually carry one or two copies with me.

A Top Ten Books List

This is not in order of preference. I like all these books and their authors.

  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham was my introduction to science fiction. I read the rest of his books with equal fascination and admiration.
  • The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov but he also wrote so many other stories that I enjoyed.
  • 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke. Like the previous two, he wrote so many great books. Someday I will reread them once I have finished all the ones I now have to read. These are the writers who inspired and influenced me the most. If I could come anywhere near emulating them, I would be happy.
  • Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Overwritten but still wonderful. Read it several times.
  • The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Again overwritten but such a sweeping series.
  • Catch 22 by Kurt Vonnegut who turned me onto fiction and humour.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams who further showed me the value of humour.
  • The Neanderthal Parallax / The Hominids Trilogy by Rob Sawyer. This is what-if fiction at its best with lots of science to back it up. He has many other great books.
  • Beneath Vaulted Hills by Sean Russell. The first book in the River into Darkness trilogy—excellent fantasy.
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. This is storytelling as good as it gets.  

Watch That Moon

Bob is a local author and publisher at Loose Cannon Press. Here are some suggestions on writing from him.

By Bob Barclay

I would like to encourage my fellow writers to pay attention to the moon. It is one of our most powerful natural symbols, and we all use it to set our scenes. But, like everything else in the natural world, the moon obeys the immutable laws of the universe, so we should treat its appearance with respect.

Even well-known professional authors forget that plausibility does not cease at the edge of the atmosphere. For example, and internationally acclaimed author and winner of prestigious awards writes that “a crescent moon was rising in the west.” Impossible: as the Earth rotates, all celestial objects, including the moon, rise in the east and set in the west. The crescent moon rises in the east before dawn.

Another award-winning author describes her protagonist walking out to the ice rink late at night, lit only by the thinnest crescent moon. Again, not possible: the new moon is a dusk phenomenon, and it would have long since set; the scene could only be illuminated by a waxing moon, half or greater.

“The full moon, amid a field of a million stars, lit the scene as bright as day,” writes a well-known Canadian author. However, when the moon is full and high its glare washes out the stars. Only the brightest of stars can be discerned at the full moon.

One can have a million stars, or one can have a brilliant full moon, but not both. I have read of a full moon floating high in the sky at sunset, when orbits dictate that as the sun sets in the west, so the moon rises in the east.

One must also be careful to address the passing of time. In one classic novel, a raft passing down a river is lit by a full moon, while the very next day the moon has become a crescent. Such inattention to detail causes the reader to question the plausibility of the entire world the author has created, so let’s try to avoid opening fissures in our narrative by ignoring the operation of the orbs.

Circle of the Chosen: notes for a book launch.

These were my speaking notes for the launch of the Circle of the Chosen Nov. 3 at Books on Beechwood in Ottawa.

A stack of Circle of the Chosen being received by Books on Beechwood.

My introduction to science fiction came in 1971 when one of my Canadian Press coworkers I shared a Montreal flat with left a copy of John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids on a coffee table. He had gone to the office while I was transitioning from a morning to an evening shift. It was a soggy fall day and having nothing pressing to do, I started to read the book.

I spent the whole day reading the story and the next day combed local book stores for other of Wyndham’s works, which include The Day of the Triffids and the Midwich Cuckoos. From there it was onto Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and countless other SF writers. Along the way I found copies of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and was surprised how much I liked Tolkien’s story telling and the world he created. Terry Brooks is another fantasy writer I follow.

While SF remains my favourite genre, I wanted to try writing a fantasy novel. According to Anne Marchand, one of my beta readers, The Circle is also romance novel. I’ll leave it the readers to judge how successful on the romance side.

My first two novels, Humanity’s Saving Grace and A Biot’s Odyssey, were straight sci-fi and I tried to make them as scientifically plausible as I could. I like to think my third book, Ultimate Wizard, is a mostly sci-fi with some magic thrown in to enliven the tale.

The Circle is about the struggle between the Evil and the Spirit. The Evil wants dominion over the Lands of the Great River while the Spirit wants to preserve them for its followers. To stop the Evil, the Spirit must find a champion who can withstand the Evil. What it doesn’t realize is that the champion cannot do it by himself. It requires the love and support of those to him to do that. That’s what our hero must learn. The Circle of the Chosen are those who will give him the power to succeed.

The stories I’m working on now are all sci-fi as well and I hope some of them will make it into print in the coming years. To me, it’s an interesting process combining what-if and what’s plausible in a story that people will hopefully enjoy reading.

Would I write another fantasy? I have to admit that as I worked through the various rounds of editing and revising The Circle, I could envisage a sequel using some of the characters in this book and some new ones.

In the meantime, I make notes about stories that I would also like to write as well as finish the ones I already have in various stages of completion. If I can stay on course, my next book will be Intelligent Design, a post apocalyptic story.

I also would like to write a follow up story to my first two books using the Biots in them and other robots they encountered in the second book to set out exploring the Milky Way and in the process rescue a species from another galaxy.

I’m fortunate in having a good team of writing friends who I can bounce story ideas off and get valuable ideas for developing plot lines.