Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Does Your Masquerade Pass Muster? (Thoughts For Modern Fantasy Stories)

How many times have you read a modern fantasy story where an entire supernatural world is kept completely in the shadows? Whether it's vampires in their ivory towers making secret deals with politicians, cabals of wizards waging war on werewolves, or eldritch beings whose stirrings send ripples through space and time, the general population doesn't know about these things. And most folks, if you tried to tell them, would look at you as if you were a crazy person.

Cynthia, James isn't a vampire. If he tried to bite your neck without consent, file a sexual harassment complaint with HR.
This approach does you two, major favors as a writer. The first is that it means you don't have to re-write any major world events or locations in important, noticeable ways. This means all you're doing is adding the underground stuff, and putting in secret, hidden places that only the denizens of the Night World know about. The second is that it gives your story an extra added thrill, because if this secret world is only known by a few people, then it could potentially be real.

That's a powerful shot, and it's one reason this kind of story is so popular. However, there is one thing that can make or break your story on pure suspension of disbelief... the strength of your masquerade.

How Does No One Know?

This is not a rhetorical question. If you are asking your readers to believe that an entire secret society of dark wonders walks among us, then you have to explain how no one has noticed them. And as the world marches ever onward into the age of satellite surveillance, smartphones, and instant video, this becomes more and more important.

There are a few things you can do to make your masquerade feel more believable, though, and to get your audience focused on your story rather than on the premise you're asking them to swallow to get to your story.

Right, right, no one knows it's the plague because of his mask. Anyway, back to the duke and his party...

#1: The Veil

The first (and in my experience most common) way to have a masquerade is to have a metaphorical or literal curtain of invisibility around the secret world, typically thought of as the Veil. For example, in the Vampire: The Masquerade setting the vampire community has a huge, proactive network meant to keep their existence secret. They own the cops, they own the judges, they own the newspapers, and if there is information they don't want released then it simply will not circulate. Not only that, but it is extremely difficult to collect evidence of a vampire, and what evidence there is looks more akin to shaky Bigfoot-capture footage than proof of nosferatu. So between the money, the power, and the community rules against breaking the secret, they hide themselves in the shadows. There are literally hundreds of these bloodsucking undead monsters all around the world, but their existence is covered up by lackeys, and the efforts of those looking to hide information, camouflage evidence as false, and to make vampires into a popular fiction that couldn't possibly exist.

Some setups go even further, though. In Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, for example, being a part of the secret world means that regular people simply stop registering your presence. You can maybe get their attention long enough to ask a question, but as soon as they look away they'll forget they ever even saw you. You exist as a member of the secret world, now, and by virtue of that membership are apart from the world of the mundane in a real, complete sense.

For those wondering, the second option is harder to do in a unique way, but is strangely easier to swallow since you can just say, "Because magic, that's why."

#2: Isolation

The second thing you can do (particularly if you want to avoid the above approach), is to make the supernatural elements of your secret world rare, and far away from prying eyes. I call this the horror movie approach, since it seems like immortal hockey-masked murderers, ghostly child predators, angry spirits, and demonic possessions would get a lot of attention... but because they're isolated, rare, or unusual, they just don't. Even in horror movies where there are secret societies, church divisions, or multiple generations of victims, it seems like no one in the general population ever lends credence to these stories.

Because it's easier to hide something when it's rare.

If you think about it, this is the key to a lot of cryptid beliefs. Even if you comb every inch of Loch Ness, or beat every push in the pine barrens, it's a lot more believable that one (or maybe a handful) of creatures could evade being discovered in such a big area. Hell, we're still finding isolated tribes of people in the rainforest, and we've been exploring that area for centuries!

One of the best examples of this in my opinion was the Clive Barker novella Cabal. In it a man is driven to hunt down the legends of a city of monsters beneath a necropolis in the middle of nowhere in Canada. A place called Midian. Beneath that necropolis we find the tribes of the moon, who are the monsters from all of our folklore. Hunted nearly to extinction, Midian is one of their last refuges. And we believe it, because their sheer isolation, combined with their relatively small numbers, means that they very well could have escaped notice for decades... or centuries.

This isn't limited to middle-of-nowhere settings like the Slaughter family's house in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You can have isolation in urban environments as a subject of blight, or even as a result of money. Monsters could live behind the walls of the old, venerable mansion just as easily as in the concrete gutters of half-abandoned slums. The key is that no one goes there, so how would they know?

#3: The Cthulhu Effect

Those who know the truth are deemed to be mad, and it is only by calling clarity insanity that the world can keep its eyes closed to the threat of the Old Ones.

Or, put another way, convincing someone of the impossible takes a lot of doing. Especially because people do not like to be proven wrong. Even if you can show them facts that proves their beliefs about the world are incorrect, humans have the unique ability to look you dead in the face and say that those are lies, what I know is true.

There is evidence of this all around you. How many people believe the world is flat, even though you have photos from outer space proving the contrary? How many people refuse to consider that the world is billions of years old, insisting that a holy book written in the bronze age is more accurate than carbon dating? How many people totally believe that if you cut taxes on the rich that the money will trickle down to the poor, despite decades of research that state that simply is not what happens?

Now imagine telling a populace who is more than ready to disbelieve easily-proven facts like this that vampires are real. Or that fairies live in the woods. Or that no, really, you can totally do magic? Even if you have video of yourself casting a ritual and summoning a hellhound, the first 50 comments on the video are going to be FAKE! with a helping of, "what editor did you use for this? It's really smooth."

People are stupid, pigheaded, and don't typically react with open-minded clarity when events transpire that could make them re-think their whole worldview. And you can use that to explain how an entire werewolf pack goes undetected when they masquerade as homeless people, or how the popularity of stage magic was engineered to specifically cover up occult practices in a phenomenal act of sleight-of-hand. People don't want to believe that these things are real, and while some of them might, those who see the truth are more likely to be thought of as delusional, dangerous, or both, rather than as witnesses to the world's radical truths.

You Still Have To Explain All This, Though

While you can use all sorts of combinations of the above explanations, the important thing is for you to illustrate how your masquerade functions. If your protagonist gets definitive proof of a werewolf attack, show how the camera doesn't want to be recorded what it's being pointed at. The video is choppy, problematic, and seems to malfunction. Even though it's clear to one character, you should show how others regard it as faked, or how they think this belief in werewolves is a manifestation of the trauma the believer experienced.

And so on, and so forth.

It helps if you have a Professor Van Helsing character to help explain things to the newly exposed, but it's also important to remember that Van Helsing was sort of thought of as a quack with odd, old-world ideas until he managed to convince several thoroughly modern men that the woman they'd been courting had, indeed, become a vampire. And to do that he had to prove to them she was attacking children, and chase her back into her crypt.

Despite their belief, and their slaying of multiple vampires, in the world of Dracula the living dead didn't suddenly get unmasked to the public. They were known to our protagonists who remembered themselves in their ignorance. Who knew that they never would have believed it either, and who understood that it takes extreme circumstances to make someone step over the threshold to the other side of the Masquerade.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing entry. Hopefully you found it engaging, and it got some ideas going for you! If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. To get updates on all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me, you could Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or head to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron. Either way, there's some free books in it for you as a thank you!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

For Better Results, Always Include Links To Your Archives

It takes a colossal amount of time, effort, energy, and luck to get someone hooked on a piece of content you made. Whether it was a blog entry, a gaming guide, a short story, a video, a novel, whatever you made, people don't seem to appreciate the sheer amount of Predator-like hunting savvy you need to have in order to sink that hook.

But sinking that hook is only the first step. Once you have someone's attention, you need to reel them in so they'll check out more of the stuff you made.

That was a tasty worm... got any more?
That's why anytime you create something, you should be sure to tell your audience exactly where they can get more of your stuff. And, in this digital age, that means you need to always include, at the very least, a link to your archive.

More By This Author...

Do you remember, in the time before smartphones and common-place Internet, when there would be a "More By This Author" page in the front of practically every book you picked up? It didn't matter if it was a hard-boiled crime series, romance novels, Westerns, or young adult books, if that author had other books on the market there was a list that told you their titles all the way in the front. And if the book was a second or third printing, and that author had released other stuff in the interim? You bet that list was updated.

Huh... seems like each of the ducklings got a spin-off book. Put a pin in that, mom.
The reason these pages exist is that publishers know something very important about consumers... you can't depend on them to meet you halfway. If someone reads a book, they might very well enjoy the experience. They may even tell themselves that they'll look for more of those books at some point. But unless they loved that book, they aren't going to remember the name of the author or the series. And in the time before the Internet, they couldn't just ask Google to find the relevant information for them. If the local librarian or bookstore staff didn't know the book, series, or author the reader was talking about, then they were out of luck.

Worse, as any marketing professional will tell you, the more frustrated someone gets in the search of a product, the more likely they are to just walk away instead of making a purchase.

As such, the burden is on you to make your stuff as easy to find as possible. If you create videos, always put a link to your channel in the description, and in the end credits. You can find examples of this over at Dungeon Keeper Radio, if you're a fan of fantasy and gaming. If you write books, include a page of author works (and make sure those previous works are linked in ebook files, so readers can just tap their finger, and be off to the checkout). And if you write a blog, you need to be sure you give your readers all the information they need so they can find more of your work.

Take a look at the top of the page. Both halves of my archive are easy to see. Additionally, I have a link to my Vocal archive, since people who enjoy my work here might be curious enough to see what I write over there. There's also a link to my Amazon author page, for those who want to check out more of my work. And, if you dig back through my previous entries, you'll see that every post ends with a list of links for folks who want to connect with me, follow my work, and see all my updates as they happen.

Because sometimes you just need to offer the fish a hook. If they're interested, they'll chomp down on it themselves without a second thought.

That's all for my Business of Writing post this week. Hopefully it helped some folks who forget to mention they've got a whole mountain of other stuff their readers could come and check out. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And to support my work you can either Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. Every little bit helps, and there's free books in it for you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Who's Your 5th Business?

Beneath the skin of every story there is complicated machinery at work. Villainous machinations, misunderstandings, motivations, desires, dreams, and needs are the cogs and gears that turn the mechanism. All these parts and pieces are what fit together, fire your characters' synapses, and keep things moving forward.

Scene 1, Act One: The Gun Goes Off
While there are no universal rules for writing, there is language we can use to talk about these nuts and bolts. Our protagonist, for example, is our lead character. The antagonist is the opposition to our lead. We can talk about character development where the cast members change (or don't), we can talk about plot arcs, personal arcs, plot twists, prologues, and epilogues.

There is a term not all of us know, though. In fact, I just came across it the other day listening to Stephen King's Revival. However, the idea of the 5th Business is now locked in my brain as a term for certain pieces of machinery I hadn't codified before, so I thought I'd share it.

The 5th Business

As Language Hat tells us, this term comes from the novel 5th Business by Robertson Davies. The title is explained by a quote on the dedication page that reads:

Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as the Fifth Business.

What does all that mean?

Well, in the book this quote precedes, starts with a mis-aimed snowball. The action was precipitated by a character who had none of the traditional roles listed in the main cast, but whose actions meant they weren't part of the background scenery. In short, the character who threw that snowball became an agent of change. The snowball hit a pregnant woman, making her give birth early. It saddled the boy who dodged the throw with a sense of lifelong guilt. It affected other members of the cast in a profound way, acting as the nudge that pushed them onto certain tracks of development.

And now, my action complete, I'm off to someone else's story!
That is the role of the 5th Business; acting as an agent to bring about the Recognition, or the unraveling of the play. While this was an invention of the author (who attributed the quote to a Danish author in order to satisfy his publishers at the time), it is one that has a use when discussing the role of certain integral parts of your story's clockwork.

So whether your 5th Business is part of an inciting incident, or their actions are what set the stage for the upcoming events, ask yourself who they are. Not only that, but ask if they understand the events they're setting in motion, and whether they understand they are agents of your story. Because a lot of the time, the 5th Business really has no intention of meddling in someone else's affairs... but that doesn't stop their actions from crystallizing someone else's path.

Or even several someones.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing. Hopefully some folks out there find this interesting, and if you'd like to see more work from me, go and check out my Vocal archive. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or becoming a regular, monthly patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, there's a lot of free stuff in it for you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How Do You Make A Living Writing? Easy... You Need Fans

If you read any writer blogs (mine included) you'll find dozens of entries about how to get more people to look at your books. You'll find all kinds of advice on how to take advantage of algorithms, which platforms to use for the best signal boost, and how often you should update your social media... but every now and against it's important to remind yourself where your money comes from.

Because it comes from your readers. You could have a utility belt of cool gadgets and marketing theories, but when it comes down to it, without your readers you aren't clearing any checks any time soon.

There's a new one in the series? Score!
So before you get too caught up in writing a new blog post, sharing a new status update, or in putting together another ad campaign for your book, remember, those are the means, not the end.

Focusing On Fans Gives You Some Perspective

You need to hit big numbers in order to clear big paydays, but it's important to take a moment to remember that every one of those numbers out there is a person. They're someone who selected your work, and who read it. They had an experience with something you created, and they came to you looking for something particular. They gave you their time, their energy, and in a lot of cases, they gave you their money.

Thank you, Sumo_577. I will never forget you.
Aside from feeling humbled that there are people out there who voraciously consume your work (or who like it enough to review it and tell their friends about you), it helps to remember that you're not just pleasing algorithms and getting arbitrary up-views from robots. You write for people, and it is those people who constitute your audience.

Then you need to act accordingly.

That means when you're posting in a forum, remember that the people who see your words will form opinions of you. When you're on a panel, or giving an interview, think about the ramifications of what you say, and the thoughts you express. If you're frazzled and stressed, but someone got the courage to approach to ask for a photo or an autograph, remember that they support you. Be polite, be professional, and always thank them for the help they give you. Basically all the stuff I mentioned a while ago in Your Brand is Just as Important as Your Books.

There's more than just cultivating your image, though; you need to treat your readers (and potential readers) like people.

That means you should climb down off your soap box, and talk to people rather than talking at people. Engage with them, and have a conversation rather than shouting out your view, thought, or ad for your book and then walking away. If someone talks about your work, take a moment to thank them. Be sincere. And, if you really want to sweeten the deal, give them something for free as a way to thank them for being one of your readers. An ebook usually works nicely, because even if they don't prefer electronic reading, it often is the thought that counts because it shows that you noticed them, and value them.

Once you get into this kind of mindset, and you incorporate it into your attitude and practices, you might be surprised how many people it draws. And especially how many readers will keep coming back (or offer other forms of support for your work) once they realize you aren't just thinking of them as numbers on your monthly royalty statement.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment. If you like my work, and want to see more of it, remember to check out my Vocal archive! If you'd like to help support me, then consider leaving me a small tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or becoming a regular patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, some free stuff and my gratitude will both be yours! Lastly, to stay on top of all my latest updates just follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Remember, Fantasy Can Be Anything You Want

What do you think of when you hear the word fantasy? Is it hobbits and elves? Dwarves and magic rings? Knights in shining armor fighting dragons? Wizards with long beards and big staffs alongside orcs drooling black ichor as they roar and rush into battle?

Tell me this, though... do you think of grim monster hunters with muskets? Battle-ax wielding barbarians hammering at the steel skin of lost alien guardians? An abandoned noble raised by the jungle venturing into a forgotten land to overthrow its saurian overlords?

I ask, because all of that stuff is fantasy, too.

For those looking for required reading.

There's So Much More Out There

I've railed against this before, and I think it bears repeating. Tolkien's contributions to the genre, and setting the mold for what people tend to think of as high fantasy (the sort of thing with huge timelines, epic, sweeping backstories, ancient wizards, secret princes, and that sort of thing), is all well and good... but it is not all there is out there.

Tell you about a thing that happened to me a while back. I was at a convention, and found an old, plastic-bagged copy of previously unpublished Conan short stories by Robert E. Howard that was printed several decades ago. In the introduction for the collection there was a line talking how the writer hoped to see interesting work from a new up-and-comer to the genre... that up-and-comer was J.R.R. Tolkien.

Hey, everyone! Make room for the new kid!
I bring this up because for me, fantasy was more about the Weird Tales days. Where you'd have dashing swordsmen and frenzied barbarians side-by-side with lost alien civilizations, shape-shifting lizard men, Puritan witch hunters, and all sorts of other nonsense. They were all strange stories that at the time defied genre labels, as many of them mish-mashed elements of what we now think of as traditional fantasy, horror, science fiction, and others into a single story. But the thing is, no one was interested in putting a label on what was and wasn't fantasy. It was allowed to be as strange, as weird, and as unusual as the writers could conceive of, and to go in all sorts of different directions.

My thoughts, to you out there reading this... embrace that.

Want to puts guns into your fantasy setting? Do it, I would love to see more dragon hunters using high-caliber weapons. You want aliens? Cool, Lovecraft wasn't the first to do it, and he sure as hell won't be the last. You want civilizations that bear no resemblance to the traditional half-dozen square miles of pseudo-English countryside that get dug out of the Middle Ages? Go nuts! You want magic that merges with alchemy and technology? Make it happen!

And if someone tries to tell you that's "not really fantasy" then you should ask them what they would call it instead. Because gatekeepers are going to keep doing their thing, but it can be amusing to watch them sputter as they try to tell you that a story about a fictional reality with all the hallmarks is somehow not allowed to wear the same label as a story about elves and dwarves.

Don't feel you have to limit yourself thematically, contextually, or even aesthetically when it comes to the fantasies you choose to write.. because we could all use a breath of fresh air.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Hopefully some folks found it interesting, and it sparked some new ideas. For some unique takes on fantasy, consider stopping by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out, or heading over to Vocal to look at some more of my work. If you'd like to stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support my work consider leaving me a little tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron. In either case, there's free stuff and my thanks just waiting for you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Want More Eyes on Your Work? Try Sideways Marketing

In order to clearly define who you are, and to make yourself easy to find for readers who are looking to buy what you're selling, authors tend to do our very best to carve out a niche for ourselves. Usually that niche is built around the genre we write in (or at least the genre we're best known for), and all the keywords we try to associate our names with. And sometimes you can get so invested in that label, and the niche that you're aiming for, that you forget your work might appeal to more than just that specific, target audience.

The question, of course, is how do you broaden your impact zone to include more readers?

Well, I've changed the sign. Was sort of hoping the rest would just come.
If you've been wracking your brain over this particular question, then might I suggest something I call sideways marketing?

What Is Sideways Marketing? How Does It Work?

To understand sideways marketing, you need to understand sideways thinking. Also called lateral thinking, it's a type of problem-solving where you tend to examine preconceptions, sift through wishful thinking for potential solutions, and let your creative processes take over. It is most defined, though, by asking one, important question... why?

How does that help you sell books, exactly?
Since lateral thinking is sort of hard to wrap your head around, I'll provide a concrete example that I just had some small success with.

About a month ago, I wrote an article titled What Is The Monster in "The Ritual"? For those not familiar with the film, "The Ritual" is a horror movie with an extremely unique monster in it. A group of friends go hiking in Sweden, they wander off the path, and find themselves in the territory of a primordial creature... a god that was all but forgotten from the old days. One of its worshipers tells us that it is a jotun, a bastard child of Loki, but we never hear its name spoken. So I laid out my theory as to which of the god of mischief's children the monster was, and how its identity might be reflected in the film's creature design.

Now, when I completed this article, I did my best to boost its signal through channels that focused on horror... because, after all, it was about a horror movie. And while I got some positive results from Facebook, Reddit, and several other places where I lurk, the overall numbers were not that great. And, since the earnings for that article depended directly on the number of readers I attracted, I had to figure out some way to get more people to read it... but how?

That was when I asked myself why? Specifically, I asked why I was restricting myself to horror-specific avenues. Because while there were definitely folks interested in my viewpoint who were horror film fans, the discussion was about a modern piece of art depicting a Norse god and Norse mythology. Once I realized that I'd been the one choking my potential audience, I expanded my marketing efforts to include pages dedicated to mythology, to history, and to the lore and religion of the Norsemen.

What I found was that horror fans were passingly interested in what I had to say. But that mythology fans were quite interested in my interpretation of the monster, and the choices the creature design team had made to realize the bastard child of a shapeshifter onscreen. And that interest led to comments, discussions, and a much more sustained effort by readers to pick up my work, and see what I'd had to say.

I more than doubled the exposure, clicks, and reads in less than a day, just by including a niche I hadn't actually considered when I'd first written the piece.

It Takes Some Getting Used To

Lateral thinking is not something you just start doing one day. It takes practice, time, and effort. However, in terms of your marketing, every successful application of a sideways strategy helps create a kind of mental muscle memory. And, even better, it often helps you see future places you could expand your work into.

Sometimes it's obvious what you can do to get your work in front of more people. However, if you take a moment, and examine your strategy, you might find there are some really simple adjustments you're not making that might open the floodgates.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing topic! If you've had any great successes by applying lateral thinking to your marketing efforts, feel free to boast about it in the comments below. For more of my work (from discussions of the effects cannibalism has on the human body, to how you can make parchment paper using tea) check out my Vocal archive. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me in my work, you can drop a tip in my jar by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or you can become a regular patron by going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and signing up. Free stuff, and my eternal thanks, await you!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Authors, Remember, You Don't Have To Re-Invent The Wheel

If you're an author, then chances are you want your stories to stand out. You want to be thought of as new, unique, fresh, and different both from those who came before you, as well as from your contemporaries. Speaking as someone who enjoys experimenting with genre mash-ups, I get this feeling. However, I have a piece of advice I'd like to share for all the folks out there getting brain cramps from their mental gymnastics.

Don't try so hard to be different that you lose sight of what you're here to do.

Seriously, it's okay to use an old mold. You don't have to start from scratch.

Store Bought Is Just Fine

Have you ever tried to cook something from scratch? Whether you were baking a cake, or making your grandmother's old meatloaf, it was probably a great deal more difficult than using store bought ingredients, and just whipping them together. And sometimes that effort is really worth it. Sometimes, though, there's no way to tell the difference between homemade and store bought. Even if you put ten times as much sweat, effort, and swearing into doing it the hard way.

Writing is kind of like that.

Let's say, for example, you want to tell a high fantasy story. However, you want to stand apart from other entrants into the genre, so you do your best to scrape off all the serial numbers you can find. Traditional elves, dwarves, and orcs? Nope, they're gone. Then you go through the traditional bestiary, and you toss out all the dragons, ogres, trolls, unicorns, and other stuff. You flip the assumption of a human-centric world, and put a different creature at the top of the food chain. You make your own magic system, you add in non-medieval technological elements, and you put together a massive timeline of events for how your world got to be the way it is.

There's nothing wrong with any of these changes... provided they are in the service of your story, themes, and narrative. As soon as you start making changes just to be different, that's when you can end up cutting off your nose to spite your face.

And that won't get you anywhere.
As an example, say you choose to keep the basic archetypes of fantasy races (the long-lived ones, the not-quite-as-long-lived crafters and enchanters, the humans, the bigger, tougher humans who are a different color, and at least one race that's like humans, but tiny), but you rename them something specific for your world. Nothing says you can't, but you need to ask why you're putting in all that effort (and asking your readers to learn a bunch of new names and titles)? Is it because your creatures are already different enough from their store-bought variety that your readers would have trouble thinking of your red-skinned Marat as orcs, or your insectoid immortals as elves? Or is it just because you want to avoid as many familiar touch-stones as possible?

Changing something because it adds to your story, or because it supports the themes you're working with is good. Avoiding tropes that have become problematic, or even regressive, is great. However, refusing to use something because it might be considered a trope, or because someone else did something similar in their world so yours has to be different, is just punishing yourself for no reason. And worse, it's possible that if you don't use any trope, or have anything that feels familiar, your readers might feel lost instead of intrigued. So change responsibly, and make sure the changes you do make are always in the service of the story, world, and theme rather than out of a need to try treading fresh ground.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing advice. For folks who'd like more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or dropping me a tip over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page.