Thursday, July 30, 2015

Routine is Great For Writers, But Terrible For Your Story

I've mentioned in the past that, for a time, I was an editor at a small press. The way my contract worked was that I received no money up-front, but I would be given a small percentage of the royalties when the book was released. It wasn't an ideal situation, but I figured that if I edited good books with potential, and if I edited enough of them, then I could count on a fairly regular check. The problem, of course, was that small presses aren't flooded with brilliant novels written by the next genre leaders; they're beacons for slush.

It's like this, only significantly more unpleasant.
While slogging through that slush I remember one particular story. In this story our main character was a veterinary assistant, she lived on a small hill in a small town, and rode her bike everywhere. She would ride into work in the morning, have lunch at a cafe, do some grocery shopping after work, and then ride her bike home to make dinner. I remember this cycle specifically because it was repeated over, and over, and over again. In the first half of the book (all I managed to read) the reader was dragged through her completely pedestrian routine no fewer than four times. She didn't run into mysterious figures in the bread aisle, or receive a tape that would self-destruct with her coffee... she just trundled through her boring-as-shit life waiting for something to happen to her.

The Never-Ending 9-5

Most of us live our lives based on routines. We go to work, we come home, we sleep. We go to the gym three days a week, and we work out at the same hour every time. Some of us even eat lunch at the same goddamn place every day when our break comes up. The point of a novel, though, is to focus on the things that move your plot along, and which contribute to the story. So if Stacy is a waitress, we should see her go through her average workday one time in chapter one or two. If Tom is going to college, then show us his class schedule and mention the course load he has to establish that he isn't neglecting his responsibilities. Once you've established that your lead has a job/vocation, though, it's time to focus on the plot.

But then an ancient order of assassins recruited Tom into their ranks, and he never graduated.
This doesn't mean that you immediately jettison your lead out of his or her routine, but it means that you do not focus on it anymore. If Stacy is at work then it should be because something happens while she's there, or because she's about to be called away by the mysterious young man who left a bizarre stone on her table as a tip. Tom might be in class, but while his chemistry professor is droning on, he's replaying the strange events of the previous evening and drawing out timelines in his notebook.

The focus isn't on washing dishes or taking notes; it's on driving the plot forward. Work, school, etc., cease to be important. The regular routine of your character's life is the background of the play, but it should not be center stage.

Also, if you end every chapter with your lead going home and going to sleep, then chances are you really need to spice up your story.

Uses For Your Background

I'm not saying you shouldn't establish who your character is, and what they do. Those are important traits, and in the case of cop thrillers or private detective stories that's what the book is about. Not only that, but by following your lead around to his or her job you get a sense of the world around them. You know whether the story is set in a small town, or in the depths of dark, dirty city. If you're writing sci-fi or fantasy story, though, then your lead's daily life is one, big piece of exposition. Whether they're building space ships or serving in the town militia, everything your lead sees and does, every conversation they have, is going to lay the ground work for the world around them.

The shrouded ruins of Old Neve were forbidden... and horrors dwelt within.
In addition to showing us the world, though, your lead's day-to-day gives us an insight as to who he or she is. By watching them in their natural environment we see if someone is dutiful or clever, lazy or cantankerous. We see what they excel at, and what they fail at. However, all of this is setup to your book, and not the book itself.

Put another way, people would be really interested in a compelling story about Detective Jack Warner, and how he has to navigate his own strengths and weaknesses to solve a triple homicide that might mean indicting one of the most powerful men in the country. By contrast, no one would be overly interested in a book where Detective Warner makes traffic stops, writes tickets, gives depositions on open-and-shut spousal abuse cases, then goes home and ticks another day off work until retirement.

Your character's routine is like the fiber in your diet. Yes, you need to have some, but no you don't want every chapter to be bland, boring bowls of cereal.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why "Fake It Till You Make It" Is Great Advice For Authors

Do you know who Hulk Hogan is? Chances are the name makes you think of a guy who used to be famous for terrible action movies and speedo-theatre (professional wrestling for the lay person), but who is now famous for being on reality TV and making you feel better about your own life decisions. However, did you ever ask how a tow-headed lunk from muscle beach managed to earn the moniker "Hollywood Hulk Hogan" in the first place?

Because he told everyone he was famous, and after a little while they believed him.

Would someone who isn't a superstar ever dress like this?
There's slightly more to the story than that (Hogan still had to go to the gym, work out, develop a persona, etc.), but a great deal of Terry Gene Bollea's success seems to have been derived from his tendency to walk into a place like he was the most important person there.

Authors could learn a lot from this muscle-bound lug's career approach.

Becoming A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

It takes a lot of swagger to walk into a room like you belong there. If you mix that self-confidence with charisma and a touch of professionalism, though, then you have a cocktail which will get you everywhere you want to be. Want to set up a book signing at a local store? Chances are good that a smile and a "I'm here to help you" attitude will make it happen. Do you want to become a panelist at a convention? Contacting the head of programming with a can-do attitude and a hearty handshake accomplishes wonders. Want a job working for a particular publication or website? Kick in the door, and ask for it. It's astonishing how often they say yes.

I'd like benefits, and a cut of the AdSense earnings, too!
This attitude sounds like something that won't work if you don't have a six-figure deal, talk show interviews, and a Big Name publisher at your back, but it's surprising how often you can get the things you want with moxie, flair, and by convincing other people that you are doing them a favor (and by that I mean actually giving someone the impression that you're helping, instead of saying those words to them in the tone of "you owe me for this"). In fact, sometimes all you have to do is speak clearly, logically, and with professionalism to make people think you're the next big thing.

Why does that work? Well...

Because Most People Have No Idea Who Is And Isn't Important

In my long-ago blog entry Things You Should Never Say To A Writer, I mentioned that one of the most irritating questions you can be asked is, "Have you written anything I may have seen?" The reason this is irritating is because it challenges you to prove that you are someone famous enough to be legitimate... but the flip side of it is that most people will hear the word "author" and be impressed instead of skeptical. You can use that to your advantage.

So you're like... published, and stuff?
It's all about presentation. If you show up confident, friendly, and with a few novels, collections, or anthology credits under your belt, it doesn't matter if you're not an international best-seller... you're an author. Maybe you can add additional angles by billing yourself as a sci-fi author, or a local author, to make you more appealing to the people you need to impress. And if you are sitting at a table with copies of your book(s) for sale, ready to sign them, then a lot of people are going to come over to see what all the fuss is about.

After all, you're an author, and since you're there in the flesh you can pitch to your future fans just why they should start reading your book(s) today.

Network, Hobnob, And Step Into Those Big Shoes

One book signing isn't going to make your career. One interview in the local paper isn't going to catapult you to fame and fortune. However, every time you show up to an event you meet new people (fans and event coordinators alike). You hand out more business cards, get people to at least look at your book (even if they don't buy one), and your reputation grows a little bit more. If you can keep up your Rolling Stone impression, then it's just a matter of time before you start running into people who see you as a regular. Those people will introduce you to their friends, and their friends will bring their friends, and pretty soon you're getting invites to appear at more events, you have people asking you back, and suddenly you're not faking it anymore; you've become the person you told everyone you were.

Just don't forget to keep writing books while you're doing all this.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How To Recognize (And Avoid) The "Why Didn't They Just" Clause in Your Writing

"At last, we have you Mr. Bond," said the menacing figure in black.

"Perhaps you do, but-"

A gunshot echoed through the room, and the top of Bond's head evaporated in a spurt of gore. Blood ran from a hole between his eyes, and his dying body fouled his tuxedo pants. The henchman dropped the twitching meat that had formerly been one of MI-6's finest agents, and their leader holstered his compact nine millimeter. They walked away as if nothing had happened, the agent's death already less than a memory.

Said no book ever.

Despite the fact that no book will ever have a scene like this (unless George R. R. Martin starts writing spy thrillers), we've all wondered why this scenario has never happened. The hero is placed in a weak position before a ruthless villain or an unstoppable situation, and instead of letting the story follow the logical flow, the author chose to use a hackneyed trope, a bizarre coincidence, or what can only be described as meta knowledge (something the author or the reader knows, but which the character cannot possibly know) to make the story go a different way.

This is referred to as the "Why Didn't They Just" Clause, because when you finish reading the scene the first thing you're going to ask is, "Why didn't they just," followed by the obvious course of action.

Why Does This Happen?

More often than not the "Why Didn't They Just" Clause crops up when an author wants to achieve tension, but does so in a way that introduces obvious logical problems. For example, the reason none of James Bond's villains put a gun to his head and blow his brains out is because, if that happened, there would be no more story to tell. Your lead is dead, the bad guys won, finito. So to ratchet up the tension villains put James in supposedly inescapable death traps, and then walk away with the understanding that the job is as good as done.

And now they can steal his sweet, sweet car.
There's cognitive dissonance there, though. On the one hand the author has told us this villain is ruthless, intelligent, and efficient in order to give our hero something dangerous to oppose. That's why the inescapable death trap trope makes no sense; a canny, successful villain wouldn't believe James was dead until he saw the body. So, to avoid the logic problem you simply need to create another, easier-to-swallow scenario where James can't just be executed. For example, the villain might need to know certain pieces of information that only the secret agent can provide (as we see in Daniel Craig's Casino Royale). Bond may be a valuable bargaining chip, which could be used to procure freedom for other enemy agents. There are all sorts of ways to keep the lead alive, and give him a chance to escape, without violating the "Why Didn't They Just" Clause.

I'll give you another example; one from a book series that is less trope-prone than 007's world.

It is still British, though.
The Harry Potter series is about a secret world of magic existing in the modern day. Harry goes to school, and gets embroiled in adventures which culminate in him fighting Grand Dragon Hitler the undying lich-lord of evil. We are repeatedly shown in the later books that the forces of evil and tyranny are smashing the agents of justice, and soon it will come down to a single fight, mano a mano, between Harry and Lord Voldemort.

There's a big hitch, though, and it's one that we're made deliberately aware of in prologue. In a passage which has nothing to do with Harry, and which he can't possibly know about, we see the Minister of Magic speaking with England's Prime Minister. The scene is essentially a summation of how an army of giants, werewolves, witches, and dark wizards are coming out of hiding in the British Isles, and they're fighting a war of conquest that's breaching the traditionally held secret boundary. They're winning, and he makes no bones about how many good guys are dead or dying. The M.o.M. then turns around and buggers off.

Now, the point of this scene is to increase tension, and to show the reader what's really at stake. The non-magical characters, who are arguably far more numerous than the magical ones, are left in the dark, sitting around and waiting for their fates. The first words that went through my head after hearing that was, why didn't the prime minister activate the S.A.S., put MI-6 on the job, and go to war to defend his country?

I see a wand. Permission to engage, sir?
The reason that didn't happen is that this book series is not about a bunch of hard cases in black kit going toe-to-toe with giants, werewolves, and a magical hate group for the fate of their nation (more's the pity). The books are about Harry, and he has to be the hero for the book's formula to work. The problem is that by using the tool of "inform the mortal leader how bad things are getting," Rowling left a great, big logic gap in the center of her story. If you cut that prologue out it doesn't change the book in any significant way, and it eliminates the cognitive dissonance that will drag across the reader's mind like nails on a chalkboard.

Common Clause Violations

It's easy to lose your head when your story starts to run away with you. With that said, there are some scenarios that can snap suspension of disbelief if you aren't careful.

1. Calling The Cops: When something bad happens to you, you call the cops and report it. Your wife was murdered? Your house burned down? Someone made a threat against you? The boys in blue are your first port of call. Unless your lead is someone who has compelling reasons not to go to the police (they didn't catch the killer before, lead is a criminal and has to handle it himself, situation came with a "don't call the cops" sticky note that's being followed), that's the logical first step.

2. Being Arrested: The other end of the spectrum is characters whose epilogue should include communal showers and pumping iron in an orange jumpsuit. A one-man vengeance-fueled crusade is pulpy fun at its best, but if you don't explain how your lead got away at the end then there will be a lot of readers scratching their heads and Googling just how many laws he broke by the end of the book. This is doubly important for characters who aren't secret agents or career criminals who have no experience evading the law or covering up crimes.

3. Relationships: No one is good at relationships, contrary to what the gurus might tell you. However, how many times have you watched a series of truly improbable coincidences unfold and just wondered why he didn't call her up and ask for an explanation, or why she didn't come over to his apartment, sit him down, and tell him what was happening and how she feels? If readers start wondering that, the next thing they'll wonder is why they're reading this book.

4. Deus ex Machina: If you've established that a particular plot device (or just a regular old device) exists, and that it can solve certain problems, there is no reason for those problems to go unsolved as long as the device works. For example, if you're being stalked by a crazed killer, and you have a cell phone, 911 is your best friend (see #1). In older books where cordless phones were the hot new thing this choice isn't an option, but if your story is set in a world with security cameras, streaming video, and phones smarter than their users, you have to take that into account.

There are other situations where this clause comes into effect, of course. The key is to look at every decision your characters make, and every twist your plot takes, and ask yourself why. For example, if your by-the-book police inspector has a hunch, and it's one he could very easily confirm through a little bit of investigative legwork, why would he start kicking in doors and pulling his gun without confirming the facts?

The reason is because it's exciting, but that excitement comes at the cost of the suspension of disbelief.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sell More Books By Getting Featured Reviews on Amazon

Book reviews are the life blood of an author's income stream. The more reviews you have, the more people are talking about your book, and the more likely you are to be moving copies. Not only that, but a book with a lot of reviews is going to show up closer to the top spot in searches, and you're going to see it featured in those annoying "other customers with similar shopping habits to you bought this book!" section on Amazon. In short, a well-reviewed book is a book that sales algorithms are going to push onto new customers, doing a lot of your work for you. If your book isn't getting reviews, though, then it might be time to start taking a more active hand in that process.

Seriously, who could say "no" to such an experience in literary masochism?
"But wait," you might say, "Isn't deliberately jacking up your reviews on Amazon wrong?"

Very astute of you, theoretical reader. If you're thinking of people who create dummy accounts to leave positive reviews of their own books, or who pay shadowy organizations to say nothing but good things about them, then yes, that is very definitely wrong. That isn't what I'm talking about, though. What I'm talking about is soliciting reviews from people (typically in exchange for a free copy of your book), and making sure that your book has people talking about it.

Not All Book Reviews Are Created Equal

Some folks just stopped reading because they figure they've done this step already. They have friends and family members who are eager to get their hands on a copy of their latest release, and who have assured them they'll pay real money for a copy, and leave a positive review. Hell, if needs be, these mystery authors can enlist their co-workers to get another dozen comments put up on their Amazon page as well.

Even crazy Uncle Billy said he'd give you a good review!
Now, the truth is that for every 10 people who say they'll give you a review, you're probably only going to get 1 person who follows through. Still, that means even real introverts should be able to manage 20 reviews or so if they ask everyone they know both online and off. While that's great, and you should never turn down a review if someone offers it, you might be trying to buy a new car by saving pennies. What you need is a few bills with Grover Cleveland's face on them (and in case you've never seen such a bill, those are worth $1,000 or so).

Metaphors aside, what I'm telling you is that Amazon (and other, similar sites) don't give every review the same amount of weight. So while your mom leaving a positive note on your latest book is going to be taken into account, it won't give you the kind of serious cred that a 5-star review from Cliff Bigname will. Cliff, you see, is a featured reviewer who has written hundreds of reviews, many of which are checked as helpful by other shoppers. Cliff's opinion is therefore given more weight, and if he and 10 of his fellow featured reviewers all give your book 4 and 5 star reviews, each one of theirs may be worth dozens of reviews from readers who are considered much smaller voices in the community.

So if you want to get a big spike in your views, and possibly move yourself up the search results list in your genre, it's a really good idea to get those big names to stop by and read your book.

How Do I Do That?

You ask them.

If you don't know any featured reviewers on Amazon, that's okay. All you need to do is follow this link to go right to the current top reviewers. Once you have their information all you have to do is email them a polite request to review your book, along with a no-strings-attached electronic copy. Thank the reviewer for their time, and wait. Sometimes you'll get an email back telling you that they're your new #1 fan. Sometimes you'll get a polite "no thank you." Sometimes you'll hear nothing. Whatever the response is, accept it professionally, and move on to the next person.

You'll get about the same results with Amazon reviewers that you'll get with book bloggers or newspapers; 1 in 10, if you're lucky. So remember that when you're looking at the number of tendrils you've put out there, and you wonder if you should send just one more email before calling it a day.

Yes, you should. Because that last email might be the shout that starts the avalanche.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tips For Writing Modern Fantasy

While it's been around for a relatively long time, modern fantasy has exploded over the past decade and change as one of the most popular genres out there. From Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, to the Mercy Thompson novels by Patricia Briggs, you'll stumble over the genre everywhere you go. It's no surprise that it's so popular, either; the modern day is the world we're all familiar with. So instead of inventing our own imaginary nations we can simply use the world we all live in as a base template we can modify.

This makes everything ten times easier on you as the author.

Trust me, building your own city is hard enough. You don't want to build your own world.
That doesn't mean modern fantasy is easy to write. I know this both from personal experience (by writing stories like "Little Gods," found in The Big Bad II), and from trying to help friends and fellow authors flesh out their worlds. The following is a list of tips you should think about before you knuckle down on your story.

Tip #1: Ask How Everything Has Been Kept Secret

There are two kinds of modern fantasy; the secret world, and the open world. The secret world is just that; a modern world where fantasy creatures and magic exist, but which are for one reason or another something the world at large does not know about. Jim C. Hines's Magic ex Libris series is a prime example of this (seriously, go check these books out), as is the World of Darkness series of roleplaying games. This style of world makes your life a little easier, because regular society ticks on with almost no one the wiser. It also provides the this could be real thrill that we all have when we look down a dark alley at night, and we wonder if that was someone taking a shortcut, or a vampire on the prowl.

That said, you still have to give us an explanation of why no one seems to know what's going on.

You expect me to believe that was some swamp gas and a weather balloon?
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to do this. Men in Black show up to scenes of supernatural happenings and shush up what happened, the most powerful vampire in the city secretly controls the media and the police, there are so few creatures that incidents are few, far between, and happen in the middle of nowhere, or people just refuse to believe what they're seeing when it confronts them, for one reason or another. Whatever method of enforcement you choose for your world, you have to make sure it's both consistent and believable.

For example, if you have a vampire on the loose in the city and he's being hunted down by a special, supernatural division of law enforcement, that works. A single vampire can be written off as a crazed serial killer. But what happens if someone gets a video of this vampire putting his fist through an engine block, or security footage shows him disappearing into a cloud of smoke? In order for a secret world to remain secret you need to have believable ways to cover up what's happening, and in the modern world where millions of people have a camera riding around in their pocket, that can sometimes stretch belief if you don't put some thought into it.

Also, before you start thinking open worlds are easier, ask yourself how you'd give a life sentence to a vampire convicted of murder. Do vampires have rights at all, being dead? Can they get married, and can they purchase property? If someone is a werewolf, does that mean they can't get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition? Are religious organizations protesting those who have relationships with shape-shifters? How long has the general populace known, and what measures did governments and societies take? These questions are different, but no less complicated than keeping everything a big secret.

Tip #2: What Is Your System of Magic?

One of the constant features of most modern fantasy settings is the existence of magic. The question you need to answer before you even consider putting words on the page is how does magic work in your world?

Don't laugh, it could happen.
There are a lot of systems of magic. There's ritual magic, where you have to go through prescribed rituals including obscure items, saying the right words, and making the right offerings in order to have an effect. There's the idea that magic is about channeling your willpower (an idea espoused by Aleister Crowley and David Eddings both). There's the system where magic requires certain items (wands, rings, amulets, etc.) to access and perform. There's what I refer to as the X-Men method, which is that certain powers are handed down through different bloodlines. There's a variation of this I call the Not-Quite-Human method, where there was an introduction of something inhuman along your family line. Your great-grandmother may have had congress with a demon, you might be descended from ancient fae folk, or perhaps one of the old gods decided to appear to your mother in a shower of golden light.

These are just a few examples, but whatever method for your magic you pick it has to be consistent, and you have to define its limits. For example, can magic bring people back from the dead? If so, are there any consequences? Can it be used to travel in time? Make someone immortal? Give animals the ability to speak English? None of these things are out of the question unless you say so. If you're going to make rules, though, don't break them for effect. Rules are the realities of the world you're creating, and if you start ignoring them your audience is going to stop trusting you any time you say something is or isn't absolute.

Tip #3: What Creatures Exist In Your World?

One of the biggest, most important decisions you're going to make is which creatures do and don't exist in your modern fantasy story. For example, say your main character is a werewolf. All right, you have introduced an element into your world. What kind of werewolf is this character? Is it the "I change during the full moon, whether I want to or not" kind of werewolf, or is it the much sexier, "I change whenever I want to, because I'm in control of my own body," kind of werewolf? Is the change a curse like in some kinds of folklore, or is it a change brought on by wearing a wolf skin like in old myths? Are there other shape changers in your world, like the leopard men of the South American jungle, or the pink dolphins found along the Amazon who are rumored to change into men in white suits?

Are were-goats a thing?
Okay, so you've doped out your main character, his powers, and you've answered all these questions about shapeshifters throughout your world. Now you have to answer the question of whether or not there are any other kinds of creatures. For example, are there vampires? Werewolves V. Vampires has been a big deal ever since White Wolf did it in the World of Darkness, and it's been kept alive (undead?) by movies like the Underworld franchise. Okay, so you want to add vampires because the walking, human-eating dead are pretty common as far as world myths go too. Now you have to answer not only which vampire folklore you're going to consider true (does sunlight kill them, weaken them, or make them sparkle? Do crosses or garlic cloves do anything? Stakes, beheading, or burning?), but you also have to answer how that vampire folklore intersects with your werewolf folklore. Do werewolves who die rise as vampires, as some legends suggested? Can you be a werewolf and a vampire?

Every time you decide to add in additional folklore you have to answer all these questions, and make the chain even longer. If you decide to add in the Fair Folk of Irish mythology, or ghosts, or voodoo zombies, then you need to know how those things interact with the rest of the world. Are they all part of a common source (i.g. all monsters spring from the same womb, such as in Clive Barker's film Nightbreed), or does each kind of creature come from its own part of the world, with its own separate backstory?

There's another thing you have to consider when it comes to your creatures, though; do they have a boss? For example, if you have angels, that implies that somewhere just off-camera is the god Abraham and Mohammed prayed to. If you include rakshasa, that implies the Hindu pantheon exists (or at least existed), and if you have demons then it implies that, somewhere, the devil is doing his work.

Tip #4: Be Careful With Your Gods

Years ago, modern fantasy stories started bringing in gods as characters. Sometimes they'd just be there for the name recognition (we see this a lot in the Iron Druid series), and sometimes they'd be directly connected to the story (like we get in Neil Gaiman's American Gods). In this case gods are like your magical creatures, but writ large. Which is why you really, really need to ask yourself why they're here, and who you're letting in.

And why, if Thor is here, isn't HE solving your problems?
Some stories absolutely require the existence of some kind of divine being in order to hold the story's structure together. The Percy Jackson series, for example, needs the Olympian gods to explain their world, and why their leads have their power sets. It also justifies a lot of their monsters. In American Gods the whole point of the novel is the clash and competition of all the gods, both new and old, in America. Without their existence there simply is no story. Period.

That's all well and good. Gods are a lot like a double-barrel shotgun that occasionally goes off on its own; you really want to leave it at home unless you are absolutely convinced you're going to need it.

Why? Well, for one thing, because the existence of gods asks a lot of questions. Say you choose to put archangels in your story, and they fully admit that the Abrahamic god exists. Well, if we're to believe the source material, he's all-powerful. So if Yaweh exists, but then Odin and Zeus walk in on stage left, there's a BIG unanswered question looming over your story. Where does the power of one begin, and the power of the other end? Why, with such powerful characters clearly in existence and paying attention to the events of the world, is your protagonist even necessary? Why, if they clearly exist, don't these gods have more worshipers?

All of these questions have answers, and they'll differ with each author. But choosing to include every mythology and every pantheon is a lot like throwing every color of paint onto your canvas; it might look brilliant in your head, but if you're not both experienced and careful it will turn into one big, ugly mess.

Remember, It's Your Book

With all of this said, it's important to remember that this is your book. If you want to have shape-changing tigers who escaped from a zoo fighting a 10,000 year old vampire queen and her army of Voodoo zombie servants for the fate of a small town in Idaho, that is your right as the author. However, it is also your right to question aspects of the genre, and ask why doing things a certain way has become a genre trope. For example, why does modern technology always seem to go on the fritz when there's magic about (a trope I wrote about here called The Sliding Scale of Technology and Magic)? Why is there only a certain amount of spells you can use in a given day, which appears to be a holdover from roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons? Why do demons have to have bodies, even though their legends say they're formless spirits?

You can do things however you choose to, but you should always look at your decisions and be able to answer that all-important why.

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