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Created Works Round-Up: January 2024

A banner that reads "Created Works Round Up: January." In the upper left corner is the Duck Prints Press logo with a rainbow of duck prints around the left and bottom of it. On the right is the Dux mascot, a white duck with an orange beak and orange feet and a pleased expression on their face.

Duck Prints Press’s monthly “created works round-ups” are our opportunity to spotlight some of the amazing work that people working with us have done that ISN’T linked to their work with Duck Prints Press. We include fanworks, outside publications, and anything else that creators feel like sharing with y’all. Inclusion is voluntary and includes anything that they decided “hey, I want to put this on the created work’s round-up!”

Check out what they’ve shared with us this month…


cruel forgiveness by Cedar McCafferty-Svec

art || transformers || m/m || idw rodimus prime/armada megatron || teen & up || no major warnings apply || complete

summary: Digital drawing of IDW Rodimus and Armada Megatron based off a scene from a roleplay server on dreamwidth. Megatron is faking his own death and making Rodimus watch.

other tags: self harm, canon mashup, based on roleplay

TUMBLRLINK


Stay by Smehur

art || baldur’s gate 3 || m/m || astarion/tav || mature || no major warnings apply || complete

TUMBLRTWITTER


Astarion by Smehur

art || baldur’s gate 3 || no ships || general audiences || no major warnings apply || complete

summary: This started as a silly colored pencil doodle and ended up my best drawing so far. Anyway, I love him.

TUMBLRTWITTER


A Godsdamn Kraken by Smehur

fiction || baldur’s gate 3 || m/m || astarion/tav || mature || no major warnings apply || 7,760 || complete

summary: Astarion and Tav met before the events of the game – and immediately got in trouble.

AO3


Self Help & Writing Advice by Tris Lawrence

blog post || original work || no ships || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 781 || complete

summary: I don’t like self-help books. Which means I often don’t like writing advice books.

Which sucks because I really want to like both of them. I am positive there are things I could learn from them.

TUMBLRPILLOWFORTLINK


ND Creative: Time, Focus, Organization by Tris Lawrence

blog post, nd creative series || original work || no ships || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 957 || complete

summary: Time, focus, and organization can be complicated things as an ND creative.

TUMBLRPILLOWFORTLINK


Things I Thought Were Mine by enchantedsleeper

fiction || fence comics || m/m || nicholas cox/seiji katayama || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 9,235 || complete

summary: Nicholas, Seiji, and the King’s Row team are invited by Jesse Coste to join him at an exclusive summer retreat for elite fencers at the Coste residence. Surrounded by reminders of the life he could have had, and with Jesse determined to pick up where he and Seiji left off, can Nicholas survive the week without some closely-held secrets bubbling to the surface?

other tags: Canon divergence AU, hurt/comfort

AO3


a dream or two (away from you) by enchantedsleeper

fiction || fence comics || m/m || aiden kane/harvard lee || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 8,845 || complete

summary: Everyone knows that magic isn’t real. Never mind that Aiden, crown prince of Feldhaven, has been having strange dreams from a young age in which he meets and plays with a young boy from a far-away kingdom.

He can’t explain it, but he isn’t concerned – until years later, when an eighteen-year-old Aiden is suddenly introduced to the new Captain of the Guard: Harvard Lee. The boy from his dreams.

other tags: mediaeval fantasy AU, slightly handwavey dream magic, friends to lovers

TUMBLRAO3


You Make Sense of the Devil by Hermit

fiction || mcu, criminal minds || m/m, f/m, poly (multiple genders) || james “bucky” barnes/emily prentiss, james “bucky” barnes/steve rogers || mature || rape/non-con || 15,772 || complete

summary: A ghost from the BAU past reappears and drags up unfinished business for Aaron Hotchner. The ripples are enough to call back missing team members and spread well beyond the circle of his influence.

other tags: Timeline What Timeline, MCU fusion, Criminal Minds fusion, liberties were taken with the legal system, Case Fic, No One Is Okay, canon typical trauma, Past Rape/Non-con, Flashback, discussion of trauma, Implied Polycule

AO3


Tremble by Tal

fiction || link click || m/m || cheng xiaoshi/lu guang || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 2,096 || complete

summary: Cheng Xiaoshi has a bad time in a photo. Lu Guang is there in the aftermath.

other tags: Hurt/Comfort

AO3


Phase Shift by Terra P. Waters

fiction || original work || platonic or familial, f/m || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 99,500 || ongoing series

summary: Despite being a self-professed science geek, high school freshman Camilla Mitchell has had a secret imaginary friend for years. It comes as quite a shock when said friend, Emma, accidentally drags her into a dimension full of hostile telepathic creatures. Cam’s friends, her brother, Oliver, and her mother, Kathryn, work furiously to solve her disappearance and bring her home. Other members of their small Minnesota town disappear, one after the other, including Lizzy Becker’s best friend, who is ripped from her arms. Lizzy badgers loner Oliver into working with her to rescue their missing loved ones. They discover a bridge between the two worlds—a bridge that allows the hostile creatures from Cam’s newly-discovered dimension into ours. If there’s a bridge, there’s a way to rescue the people taken. Right?

other tags: Tags: science fiction, alternate dimensions, teen characters, friendship, bisexual main character (minor references), lesbian character, nonbinary character, aliens; Content warnings: disordered eating, emetophobia, child abuse mention, homophobic bullying, teen characters in danger, gun violence, physical violence, abduction

TUMBLRPILLOWFORTLINK


The Last Drop Cafe by Terra P. Waters

fiction || stranger things || poly (multiple genders) || jonathan byers/chrissy cunningham/steve harrington/nancy wheeler || explicit || creator choses not to use warnings || 77,500 || complete

summary: Nancy Wheeler is in her last year of college, about to graduate with her journalism degree. She’s just working as a barista at The Last Drop Cafe until she can find a real journalism job. She loves her boyfriend, Jonathan, though there’s been some tension lately, and she’s not quite sure how long the relationship is going to last. At least she lives above the coffee shop, which makes rolling out of bed at five in the morning to go to work slightly more tolerable. Her upstairs neighbors, Steve and Chrissy, are newlyweds eager to start their family. When a case of sleep deprivation and mistaken identity ties the two couples together, things quickly get complicated. But maybe complicated is just what Nancy was looking for.

other tags: Coffee Shop AU, College AU, Mistaken Identity, Polyamory, Somnophilia, Accidental Non-con, Unplanned Pregnancy, Birth, Hospitals

AO3


Phase Shift by Terra P. Waters

fiction || original work || platonic or familial, f/m, f/nb || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 99,500 || complete

summary: Despite being a self-professed science geek, high school freshman Camilla Mitchell has had a secret imaginary friend for years. It comes as quite a shock when said friend, Emma, accidentally drags her into a dimension full of hostile telepathic creatures. Cam’s friends, her brother, Oliver, and her mother, Kathryn, work furiously to solve her disappearance and bring her home. Other members of their small Minnesota town disappear, one after the other, including Lizzy Becker’s best friend, who is ripped from her arms. Lizzy badgers loner Oliver into working with her to rescue their missing loved ones. They discover a bridge between the two worlds—a bridge that allows the hostile creatures from Cam’s newly-discovered dimension into ours. If there’s a bridge, there’s a way to rescue the people taken. Right?

other tags: Science Fiction, Horror, Aliens, Teen characters, Alternate dimensions, Friendship, LGBTQ+ characters, Hearing Impaired Character, Eating Disorder, Child Abuse, Gun Violence, Kidnapping, Teenaged Characters in Peril, Minor Character Death

TUMBLRLINK


Prayers of Descent by unforth

fiction || tian guan ci fu || m/m || hua cheng/xie lian || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 1,648 || complete

summary: After 800 years in the Heavenly Court, Xie Lian receives a prayer with a simple request: “can I see you, your highness, just one more time?”

other tags: Canon Divergence, Jun Wu/Xie Lian

AO3

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How to Pitch to Duck Prints Press

A post by Duck Prints Press staff editor Lacey Hays.

In the publishing world, the word “pitch” conjures up a certain image. Perhaps you’ve been asked to write an “elevator speech” so you can quickly pitch your story to an interested party at a conference or meeting. Maybe you’ve participated in Twitter pitch-parties where you only have 255 characters to hook an agent. Every publisher and agent has their own expectations, and we are no different at Duck Prints Press. Since submissions are open again, we thought we’d take out some of the guesswork and tell you what we, as a press, are looking for.

For authors who have never worked with us before, the application asks for two  submissions: a writing sample and a pitch. The requirements for the writing sample are listed as part of the rubric for each anthology. We’re often looking for something a little different with each project, so we highly encourage you to look over the rubric and follow it closely when selecting a piece of your writing to share. Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward. We want to see the best of you—a polished selection of writing that sings to your abilities as an author.

What we’re looking for in a pitch is more subjective and a bit different from other presses. Many presses only accept fully written stories, so a pitch is used as a teaser to drum up interest. We choose authors for their storytelling ability, assessed by their writing samples, and then ask them to write us a new, never-before-seen story. While we don’t expect authors to submit completed stories, we do want to know you have a fully realized story you want to write that interests us and fits within the anthology’s themes and requirements. In essence, what we would like is a cross between a teaser and a summary—something interesting that tells us how the story will unfold and lets us see how it might fit in with the other stories in the anthology.

Here are our suggestions on how you can create dynamic and interesting pitches specifically for Duck Prints Press:

  • Spoil us! No, seriously. We want to know the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story. Or, if not the end, at least give us a clear view of story progression with an intriguing hook. We need to know there is a story in your heart and that you know where it’s going.
  • Fit the brief. Every anthology is unique. Each one has a list of requirements, and your pitch should make it clear how your proposed story fits those requirements. If the anthology asks for a certain genre, a certain type of character, or a certain type of relationship, call those things out. Don’t make us guess.
  • Give your pitch some character. Who are the main players and what are their relationships? How do you want these relationships to resolve? Found family? Tell us! Enemies to lovers? Same! The characters don’t need names yet, but they nonetheless need to live and breath on the page.
  • Plot is everything. What does the main character (MC) want, what is in their way, and how does their life change? What motivates your MC? Who, or what, is the antagonist, and why? How do you want to resolve the plot (even if you leave off on a question?) You won’t convince us you’re ready to tell this story without conveying these aspects of the story.
  • Make us feel. Is there longing in your story? Passion? Anger? Romance? We want to get a feel for the tone as we read your pitch. Please make sure it matches the tone we’ve asked for in the anthology, though. A grimdark horror story for a “happily ever after” anthology won’t make the cut.
  • Take all the space you need. Each pitch has a maximum number of words. We give plenty of room to make sure you can fit everything you need because we’re looking for so much more than an elevator speech. Be aware of the flow, though. You want to be concise and exciting.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Your pitch is as important as your writing sample and should be edited to the best of your ability. It should be formatted well, have good sentence variety, use excellent grammar, and have been spell checked. We don’t expect perfection, but editing is a major part of our process. We like to see that our authors turn in their best work every time. It can often help to have someone else look over your work before you turn it in. We strongly encourage the use of alpha and beta readers for all press work.
  • Tag it. We ask that, in addition to submitting your pitch, you also submit a list of preliminary tags. Think about how you would tag this story if you were to post it on Archive of Our Own. Will your story contain potentially upsetting content like sexual abuse (on screen or off screen?) Character death? Harm to children? Our staff has a variety of life experiences and while we strongly believe in your freedom to write what you want, we believe equally in harm reduction and giving people the tools they need to curate their own experiences. We request more general tags as well. Are you planning a story that you’d call fluffy? Is it angst with a happy ending, or hurt/comfort, or whump? We’d love to see tags similar to those that would go in each section of an AO3 post: major warnings/potential triggers, type of relationship (if any), and “additional tags.” You don’t have to have everything single thing in there, and they can potentially change, but tags help us assess what tone and specific content you’re planning to include in your story, once it’s fletched out from short pitch to full length. Tagging is not optional.
  • Most of all, have fun! If you are in love with your story, we will see that love. You are applying to write with us because you have a passion for writing that you want to share with the world. Don’t get lost in the details and forget. We have authors from around the world who have written for a huge variety of fandoms, people who are native speakers and grammarians, people who speak English as a second (or third) language, people who dabble in every genre. What do we all have in common? A passion for the craft. We love to write, and we want to work with people who also love to write. You—yes you!—can do this, and we can’t wait to see what you have to show.

Looking for more information? We’ve got you covered; this is not the first time we’ve written about pitches!

Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more.

Through the month of January, 2023, all new monthly backers on our Patreon and ko-fi can claim a merchandise freebie in addition to all their backer rewards – which, depending on your backer level, could include a free copy of this story! Why not take a peek at what we have to offer?

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Aetherpunk

By a member of the Duck Prints Press staff who has chosen to be anonymous.

Note: Punk genres are diverse and always changing. Duck Prints Press is not trying to give a complete explanation of aetherpunk here but rather a bit of inspiration. Take what you want from it to create your own aetherpunk worlds!

On January 5th, Duck Prints Press will be launching recruitment for our next anthology: Aether Beyond the Binary, a collection of stories featuring main characters outside the gender binary living in modern or near-future aetherpunk Earth! This begs the question: what IS Aetherpunk? Well, read on and learn all about it…

Prologue: From the Aether

Scenes from the Aether #1: Bloomington, Indiana, 2013:

Lin steps into the café down the street from their apartment. The lights of the shop glow a pleasant green, reminiscent of the owner’s own magical aura. Soon, when Del opens the shop for customers, they’ll turn a more standard blue, but for now Del’s shop is cozy and quiet. Lin smiles, looking forward to seeing their friend. 

A shower of blue sparks flies from the kitchen’s open door, and Del scrambles out, cursing. When he sees Lin, he breaks into a wry smile. 

“Breakfast on the house?” he offers, his shorthand for pleading. 

“That’s the third time this week,” Lin chides, barely holding back their smile. They roll up their sleeves to go tinker with Del’s new, “improved” baking oven. “Why not use your old one?”

“The aether this model uses is supposed to be more efficient!” Del exclaims. Then, with a sad smile: “Plus no one trusts my powers. They still think the color’s associated with… you know.”

“Yeah.” Lin knows. They think of Del’s infamous brother, the deadly alchemist. “I’ll help you, but this is the last time.”

“Mhm,” Del says, nudging Lin’s shoulder, and adds telepathically, You say that every time.

You could try not being so smug about it, Lin half scolds, half laughs. 

“Why wouldn’t I be smug? My handsome, brilliant friend, the undisputed genius of the IU School of Aetheric Engineering, is fixing my pipes for free.”

Lin blushes but maintains their chiding tone as they say, their warm face hidden behind the stove where the power supply has once again leaked from its pipes, “Not for free. For breakfast.” 

-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member

Part One: What’s in a Punk (genre)? 

There’s been an explosion of punk genres since Bruce Bethke’s 1983 story Cyberpunk launched the genre. Though Bethke’s story may have given a name to this phenomenon, in his Etymology of “Cyberpunk” Bethke credits William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) for really defining the core tenets of the genre (Bethke, 2000). He also marvels at how the cyberpunk character trope (“a young, technologically facile, ethically vacuous, computer-adept vandal or criminal”) has stayed remarkably stable over the years since his story was published. In 2022, when I’m writing this, it’s still very similar. The cyberpunks in the cyberpunk genre are the sorts of lone heroes who often arise in the isolating environments fostered by advanced computer technologies.

Why am I rambling on about cyberpunk? Because, dear readers, cyberpunk is the progenitor of all genrepunks. As the most widely explored and utilized punk setting, it has provided the blueprint on which other punk genres are built. In essence, every punk after cyberpunk is a reaction to cyberpunk, either embracing or pushing back against its ethos. After cyberpunk came steampunk: a retro, adventurous answer to cyberpunk’s gritty and dystopian futurism. Then came others: dieselpunk, sandalpunk, biopunk—even the very meta “mythpunk” to which Neil Gaiman’s work is often attributed. These days, even non-punk fantasy is often punk-adjacent. 

So what makes punk stories… punk? For a story to be classified in a punk genre, it typically requires two key elements: a distinctive type of technology (whether social technology like myths and lore or physical technology like steam engines, diesel-powered airships, or nanobots) and a point of view about that technology. 

The technological distinctions can seem fairly obvious: atompunk features tech powered by nuclear energy; nanopunk, tiny robot technology; biopunk, genetic engineering and biotech; dieselpunk, diesel-powered machines. But focusing on only the tech aspects can make people miss the point of having multiple different punk subgenres. 

Take this paraphrased version of a forum conversation, circa 2015: 

[User 1]: Hey, I’ve been hearing more and more about this genre called ‘aetherpunk,’ but I can’t figure out what it is. How is it different from just steampunk but with magic? 

[User 2]: Sorry to tell you, friend, but it’s basically just “steampunk with magic.”

[User 1]: Ah. So, completely useless, then.

This view is common but misses the point. The tech alone does not make punk punk. The second necessary element is the cultural context of the technology: how does it affect the people who use it every day? How dissociated do those people feel from their environment? From their government? From the inevitable march of society, driven at least partially by technological advances using the genre-specific tech? Punk genres live and breathe for their exploration of the intersection between technology and culture. 

Genreunk is a response to the world we live in. Cultural evolution happens when technologies—lore, steam engines, printing presses, atomic bombs—intersect with cultural habits and traditions and shake them loose. We don’t live in the only, or the best, possible world. When we write punk, in some ways, we’re rewriting cultural evolution. We’re asking for a new way of thinking about the past and how that carries forward into the future. How we would be different. How we would be the same.

Punk isn’t just a genre. It’s a tool for understanding humanity. 

Part Two: Clear Air, a History of Aether

In the beginning, gods breathed their essence into the emptiness of space, and aether entered the universe as the material through which the stars and planets moved. Humans in ancient Greece, attuned to this invisible presence, named it “clear air” and declared it the fifth element, along with earth, water, air, and fire. Other cultures gave this energy different names or didn’t name it at all but nonetheless knew it was there. Over a thousand years later, medieval Europeans called it “quintessence” and hypothesized that this element, rare on Earth, could be distilled in order to cure mortal ailments. Aether was a substance that could make rocks burn and lights glow. It became a key ingredient in classic alchemical experiments in the West.

Aether has always been the bringer of light, the unchanging medium through which energy travels in waves from its source to the lenses of our eyes, to the leaves of hungry plants, to everywhere on the planet and throughout the universe. Indeed, it was so recently believed in and well-known that late 19th-century spiritualists took photos of ectoplasm and declared that ghosts could send messages through the aether. 

Then, a mere hundred-odd years ago, we lost faith. 

The idea of aether seems preposterous now, when we know about electron fields and the theory of relativity which states that nothing in the universe is stable or unchanging (and we certainly don’t need a special medium that exists to move light around)—but is it really so much harder to believe in aether than in electron fields? Or in dark matter?

Why shouldn’t we be swimming through aether like a fish swims through water?

Part Three: What is Aether/Punk?

Aetherpunk, the genre, explores what the world would be like if, rather than finding out aether was simply a confused explanation for how energy moves through space, we discovered that it was a real element, something we could both detect and harness. The nature of the aether isn’t what makes aetherpunk what it is. Rather, it’s the exploration of the development of society from the turning point when we discover that the aether is real—how that changes the world, the people, the past, and the future. 

Aether, the invisible force, can be everything and nothing. It can be magic, or it can be material. In some disciplines, like alchemy, it’s both. Aether is made of faith. It’s ephemeral, often immaterial, and only visible once the viewer knows what they’re looking for. It can cause disaster or provide beautiful, clean energy for wondrous technologies. It can be a source of progress or of fear. But in the end, it’s still a thing that must be discovered and cultivated. It can’t be forced into existence.

Aetherpunk as a genre is more naturistic than earlier punk genres like steampunk or cyberpunk. Natural materials find their way into clothing and buildings and weapons and tools, and the shapes of these man-made elements are designed in ways that enhance their ability to harness aetheric power. There might be constructs of stone or finely-honed metal held together by aetheric energy, beautiful steel weapons that cut through stone using atom-thick edges of pure aether, skyships and buildings of gold, or of clear stone, or of glass and crystal. And the technology bathes its surroundings in a luminous glow of aetheric light. 

Like solarpunk and lunarpunk, aetherpunk is a hopeful punk genre. When aether is discovered and harnessed, it brings about flourishing communities and can help to heal the world. Of course there are dark sides—the dangers of a volatile power source that not everyone can control, the frustrations of the people who are unable to use that power for themselves—and anyone is welcome to write a dark aetherpunk story. But aetherpunk doesn’t come with the same inherent baggage as steampunk or cyberpunk. Likewise, people can write utopian steampunk and cyberpunk, but that’s the opposite of the “standard” core of the genre. Aetherpunk wants to explore humanity in a universe where we don’t struggle simply to light our homes. Where the power that runs everything suffuses the universe, and therefore everyone can reap the benefits. A world where our source of power doesn’t send millions of people to an early grave. What sorts of stories would emerge in this sort of world?

Part Four: Steampunk but with Aether?

Now that we’ve described what aetherpunk is, let’s return to that dreadful forum post, and ask for ourselves: what makes aetherpunk more than just “steampunk but with aether”? 

In short, everything.

First is the nature of the energy that powers the technology. Steampunk is a retrofuturistic genre that centers on the era when steam, fueled by wood and coal, was the main power source, around the turn of the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution. It harkens back to the aesthetics of the era, with wood and steel and glass materials, wooden ships that ply the air, clockworks and rivets and tangible, heavy things that work through sheer force. Steam is a thing with weight. It will melt your flesh from your bones, and it’s born not of faith, nor internal strength, nor the careful distillation of spirits down to their quintessence, but instead through fire. Another resource needs to burn to make it. Entire lives are spent feeding coal into the voracious maws of steam engines. 

Aetherpunk, as we’ve described, is born of magic, and thus the technology to use it focuses on cultivation and focusing energy rather than on producing something by force. Even the most cursory look at the nature of the energy source shows us how every aspect of society linked with producing that energy is different between steampunk stories and aetherpunk stories.

There’s also a very important cultural distinction between aetheric stories and steam-powered stories. In steampunk, the adventures of sky pirates and nobility are built on the efforts of a vast lower class who are systematically shut out from steam’s benefits. It may not matter to the story at hand, but the underlying class tension is always there. Like cyberpunk, steampunk takes inequality as a given, and places singular heroes into that world.

Aetherpunk is more utopian and egalitarian. There’s no assumption built in that in order for a person to use their magical flying ship, someone else must suffer to create the energy needed to fuel it. This distinction makes all the difference in how aetherpunk and steampunk stories are told. 

In either case, the power source can be wonderful or terrible, can fuel dystopian nightmares or hopeful solutions to the troubles that ail the world. But the fundamental nature of these technologies affects the way characters think and speak about the world they inhabit. Is it a place of smog or of shimmering lights? Is it a place where magic competes with technology, or is it a place where magic is the technology? The answers to these questions are different in every punk genre, and those differences should have a profound impact on the story’s narrative.

Where will your aetherpunk story take you?

Epilogue: From the Aether

Scenes from the Aether #2: San Francisco, 2043

Shining, multicolored bridges bend but do not break in the powerful earthquake that, in previous eras, would have shaken buildings from their foundations and dropped bridges into the bay. Drivers and pedestrians cling to whatever safety they can as the structures sag and sway and finally, after all is done, snap back to form as though the past minute was only a bad dream. 

Trill breathes a ragged sigh before stepping back onto zir motorcycle and kicking the starter. A blue glow and a warm hum are the only signs that the bike is powering up before Trill finishes crossing the bridge, a little jumpy from the unexpected shaking but no worse for wear. Ze has a long way still to go before ze arrive at Heloise’s house. Ze can’t wait to see zir friend, who is finally home after her long trip to Lima where she was training magicians to harness their power. 

Trill rides north into the mountains while the sun sets to zir west, out above the ocean, and the world glows orange and pink. By the time ze powers down zir bike, the sky is silky black and filled with stars. Trill climbs toward Heloise’s small house, which is built into the slope; the soft blue glow of natural aether in the rocks lights the way. Ze knocks on Heloise’s wooden door;  Heloise answers with a hug around Trill’s waist, her face pressed into Trill’s chest. Trill laughs, something in zir heart finally relaxing.

It’s been a long eight months. 

She pulls Trill inside, into this warm place she’s made in the lonely hills above the bay, and even though ze doesn’t deserve it, Trill revels in her welcome. It feels like coming home.

-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member

Examples of Aetherpunk

As aetherpunk is a young genre, examples are sparse, and there are many opinions on what “counts” and what doesn’t. For example, some people consider Lord of the Rings to be aetherpunk, due to the way it brings magic and technology together (especially in Mordor and in Sarumon’s plot line) and the way the magic interacts with society. The below list should not be considered exhaustive, just as this post shouldn’t be treated as The Last Word on the nature of aetherpunk.

Books:

Games:

About Duck Prints Press

Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more!

Want to support the Press, read about us behind-the-scenes, learn about what’s coming down the pipeline, get exclusive teasers, and claim free stories? Back us on Patreon or ko-fi monthly and read your fill!

Sources

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Commonly Confused Words: Saucy Edition THE SECOND

A bit over a year ago, we posted our first Commonly Confused Words: Saucy Edition. Since then, we’ve spotted more very confused word usage, and we had some folks tell us some confusions they’d encountered, and now we’ve compiled those into Commonly Confused Saucy words TWO: Electric Boogaloo.

Often, which of these words an author uses marks the difference between a story being very sexy, and a story being very strange, so to all writers out there – it’s worth learning the differences, asking for help, or Googling if you’re not sure!


fellate vs. filet vs. fillet vs. flay

fellate (verb): to perform fellatio on a person (as in: to perform oral stimulation on a person’s penis). For example: “Parting her lips, she eagerly fellated her boyfriend.”

vs.

filet (noun): a piece of lace, usually with a geometric design; OR, a French word for a cut of meat. For example: “My hobby is filet crochet.” For example: “I’d like to order the filet mignon, please.”

vs.

fillet (noun): the English spelling of the French word “filet,” referring to a cut of meat. For example: “The advert from the grocery store said fillet of fish is on sale.”

vs.

flay (verb): to remove the skin from a creature. For example: “The person screamed as the torturer flayed their skin from their body.”


taut vs. taught

taut (adjective): pulled tight; alternatively, ship-shape. For example: “He pulled the rope taut and the sails unfurled.”

vs.

taught (verb): something an instructor presented to a learner in the past. For example: “She taught him how to pull the rope taut and unfurl the sales.”


baited vs. bated vs. batted

baited (verb): many meanings, such as: to persecute or exasperate (”He baited them into attack by mocking them.”), to harass or attack by biting and tearing (”The dog baited the cat.”), to place bait (”The fisherman baited his hook.”), to entice or lure (”Good deals baited hopeful house hunters.”

vs.

bated (verb): to reduce the force or intensity of something; to take something away. For example: “She waited with bated breath.”

vs.

batted (verb): the act of using a bat against someone or something. For example: “The shortstop batted third in the line-up.”


pore vs. poor vs. pour

pore (verb): to study or gaze at something intensely. For example: “He pored over the document.”

vs.

pore (noun): a small opening in the outer covering of an animal or plant. For example: “The close-up was so intense that you could see every pore on their nose.”

vs.

poor (adjective): to lack material resources. For example: “I can’t afford lunch because I’m too poor.”

vs.

pour (verb): to cause a liquid to flow in a stream, possibly from a container (”The juice pours from the pitcher.”), or can be used figuratively, for example “She poured out her feelings in a rush” or “The tycoon pours money into their investment.”)


wither vs. writh vs. writhe

wither (verb): to lose vitality or freshness. For example: “After the flowers were cut, they withered quickly.”

vs.

writh (???): writh is not a word.

vs.

writhe (verb): to twist into folds, to twist until something distorts, to twist (a part of the body) as though in pain, to suffer keenly. For example: “He tickled my foot, and I writhed in discomfort.”


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Editing Tips for Beginning Editors

This is a guest post written by Adrian Harley.

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet you already have a lot of the skills you need to be an editor. Even among full-time professionals, a lot of editing skill comes from reading a ton—you get an “eye” for when a sentence just doesn’t look right. The more you read professionally edited work, the better you get at it. (Fanfiction is incredible, obviously. But fanfiction has its own quirks, and the grammar and punctuation can vary, so I’m not confident recommending it as a way to brush up your instinctive grasp of when a sentence “looks right.”)

The specifics of what you do as an editor can vary a lot depending on what you’re editing and who you’re editing for, so in this post, I’ll be covering some of the basic principles that I think will be helpful no matter what type of editing you do. Broadly, I’ll be going over language-related tips and profession-related tips. 

Language

I won’t be going over the nuts and bolts of grammar here, as a zillion good guides to it already exist online. Grammar Girl is my go-to free resource, and a lot of grammar and punctuation questions can be easily answered online or in a style guide from your library. I looked up the rules for commas a LOT in my first years of editing, and I still have to double-check them sometimes. A lot of the fiddly details differ between guides (how to write a.m. and p.m.; serial comma), but the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation stay the same across guides. 

Professionally, those fiddly details are a big chunk of editing. Do you write out numbers less than 20? Less than 10? Do you capitalize titles like “President” all the time or only in certain situations? There’s no one right answer, which is one of the many reasons there’s no “right guide” to editing. A style guide will decide many of these questions for you. If you pick up editing as a profession, your employer will most likely have a style guide in mind. You may want to pick one for yourself if you do freelance editing. That way, you won’t have to re-decide on every job, and if you get repeat clients, you’ll be sure their text is consistent across all their documents. A “series bible” for fiction works on similar principles. 

Whether you’re looking at those fiddly details or at the big picture, one principle of editing is to never take anything for granted. Someone says there’s five ancient orbs needed to defeat the dragon? You’d better count the orbs. Make sure every proper noun in the story (names of people, places, things) is spelled the same every single time. This is the kind of thing you’ll get quizzed on if you ever apply for a professional editing gig. Every editing job I’ve ever applied to has an “editing test” of at least a page, and it usually has at least one of those errors (if not both).

Another major thing to watch out for is colloquialisms, especially ones that mean multiple things. A short list of common errors I see:

“Since” should only relate to the passage of time; it does not mean “because.”

“While,” again, should only refer to time—two things happening simultaneously. “But,” “although,” “whereas,” and others are good substitutes for the other sense.

“Due to” does not mean “because of,” it means “caused by” (and I’ve seen some editors argue to not even use it for “caused by” and to only use it for when something is owed to someone).

“If” will often need to be replaced with “whether.”

Obviously with dialogue, that’s a whole nother story, but be careful about these in narration, even with a colloquial narrative. They can introduce unintentional double meanings.

When you’re moving from basic accuracy to style, you’ll often need to “tighten up” the language. This might be something you’re used to doing in your own writing. This doesn’t mean all prose should be sparse! But as an editor, part of your job is making sure that every word is contributing something, no matter whether the sentence is flowery or stark. One exercise is to go through and see if you can cut one word from every sentence. Depending on what type of editing you do, you’ll have different “filler words” to look out for. My personal demon is “just,” so I always do a search for that when I’m revising my own work. In my day job, the word “provide” often signals a clunky phrase that could be condensed into a single, better verb (e.g., “provides assistance” vs. “helps”). 

You’ll look for a lot as you edit, so don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. A simple search can make sure you’ve caught issues like “while” and “since.” Other issues are best solved in their own read-through. For me, I try to do a read-through specifically for passive voice. I often skip over passive voice on my all-purpose read because, well, the sentence makes sense, doesn’t it? So my eye simply doesn’t catch it if I’m not on the lookout. As you edit, you’ll figure out what process works best for you.

And to wrap up the language section—checklists are your friend! I used to have a post-it of all the things I knew I struggled with, and I’d systematically search the document for those trip-ups after I did my first read. You can customize your own checklist with whatever snags give you trouble.

Professionalism

A huge part of editing as a professional is in how you interact with other people. Your whole job is telling people they’re wrong, after all, and you often have no control over whether they’ll listen to you. Everything you can do to make the criticism easier for them helps!

My favorite “one weird trick” that my first boss taught me is to turn every criticism into a question. If you’re suggesting a significant revision, “How about…?” is one of my favorite leads. If you have no idea what’s going on, do your best to figure out what might be causing the issue, then form a question around that. “Are there missing words here?” is kinder and more useful than “Huh?”

Essentially, your role as an editor is to advocate for the reader. This “reader stand-in” role can help frame critique as well. Will the reader understand this? If you’re in one of the more-technical editing jobs, that question may be completely necessary. As an editor for scientific research, I’m often editing documents meant for people who know way more about the subject matter than I do. The framing of “the reader” is also a useful tool in your toolbox for fiction. You may be editing something that you are not the target audience for. Or, on the other end of the scale, you may know without question that you’re reading something incomprehensible. The polite device of “the reader” helps add a level of depersonalization to the critique.

Unsurprisingly, for editing, communication is key before you even start work. “Editing” covers a huge range of possibilities. Make sure you and the author are on the same page. Do they want a proofread—only correcting glaring errors? Do they want you to improve the phrasing of sentences? It can go all the way up to practically rewriting the thing, if you’re working at a corporation and the authors aren’t professionals. This conversation beforehand will let you know whether you should make “artistic” suggestions as you read, whether you need to stick with nuts and bolts, or something in between.

If the author says they only need a proofread and you discover the whole thing is terrible, that’s when some tactful emails come into play. Never start doing a higher-level edit unless you’ve talked about it with the author first. You have much better odds of an affirmative if they feel like they’re collaborating with you–that you’re both in it together to make the best document possible. As far as the tactful emails go, be kind and be specific. If you have examples of what you’d like to correct, throw those in. It helps the author know what to expect and make an informed decision.

And sometimes the author says no, and that’s okay! You must wash your hands of it. It’s not your name on the thing, and if you don’t put it in your resume, it never will be (fresh out of college, I worked on a couple truly awful novels that nobody will ever know I worked on). Perfectionism is HARD to overcome, I know, but accepting the errors gets easier with practice.

And finally, if you’re still wondering, “Am I cut out to be an editor?” I would recommend the words of Neil Gaiman. In his excellent “Make Good Art” speech, he says that as a freelance artist, you need to do good work, do it on time, and be pleasant to work with. And then, he adds, “You don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine.” I recommend the whole thing if you ever want to battle imposter syndrome, because the same tenets apply to editing. At least I think they do. You don’t need to be the perfect editor—nobody is. But I guarantee that you have most of what you need already, and I hope this has helped.

Biography

Adrian Harley, one of Duck Prints Press’s editors, has been a full-time professional editor of scientific research for 10 years. Their freelance and ad-hoc editing has run the gamut from books to blog posts to family members’ cover letters. They’ve been published in Duck Prints Press’ And Seek (Not) to Alter Me and the forthcoming She Wears the Midnight Crown, as well as OFIC Magazine. 

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Received Asks: How Did You Pick the Name You Create Under and What Influenced that Decision?

A collaboratively written post by multiple members of Duck Prints Press. The input of every individual author has been used and lightly edited with permission and credited in the way they’ve requested.

Two days ago, a member of Duck Prints Press posed the following questions to our blogging team:

  • Whether you publish under a pen name or your given name, what factored into your decision to use one or the other?
  • Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name, or were there other reasons? 
  • If you use your given name, do you feel safe? 
  • What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]? 

A number of us replied, and we all felt that the compiled responses would make a good post to share, as “whether or not to use a pen name” is a recurring question we often get in-server, and is likely one many of y’all out there thinking of publishing your original work have pondered as well. 

Do you publish under a pen name or use your given name, and what factors influenced your decision to use one or the other?

@arialerendeair: I publish under a pseudonym and always will! I decided to go with names that riff off my fanfic name (Aria Lerendeair) – Aria L. Deair (for non-erotica) and Aria D. Leren (for erotica) because I’ve built a community and wanted it to be a bit of an in-joke when they find/buy my content. If someone were to find the story organically – they might get the name reference, they might not. It’s a fun way to create not-separation between the names and have one for the different genres! 

boneturtle: I (try to) stay anonymous aside from necessary contracts because of personal safety as regards certain family members. I honestly don’t worry about strangers knowing who I am, but if I am aiming for anonymity I have to commit.

Annabeth Lynch: I use a pen name, but I plan on taking at least the first name as my legal name when possible. I won’t share that or my pen name with my family because 1) they don’t know I write, and I’m not content to share that with them at all, and 2) I don’t want them to know I’m queer. They likely wouldn’t be hellish about it but I would certainly be mocked. Also, now I live in the south and while I live in a liberal section because of the nearby colleges, the place I want to move after my husband’s schooling is ~liberal~ in a vague way but definitely not as good as where I am now. It’s one reason why I’m hesitant to try and get my books in bookstores that might want in-person events.

Dei Walker: I went with a pen name for the erotica I wrote for DPP (and I’ll keep with that), but the first name holds a link with my real name in some ways. My husband’s a teacher at a fairly prestigious private school, and there’s a degree of “yeah my wife writes smut” that’s okay with colleagues but isn’t okay if the parents find out about it if they use search engines to learn more about me.

Willa Blythe: I chose to use a pen name. One, my real name is kind of weirdly spelled and I don’t actually even use my first name because it is a very popular name from the 80s that my parents left a letter out of… I go by my middle name but I spell it differently than what’s on my birth certificate, and I’ve gone by this name since I was 18. Everyone in my life knows me as (NAME) save my family, and they know I go by that. It’s not a nickname, it’s my name, and that’s fine. 

Anonymous: I decided to use a pen name for two reasons: 1) my name is incomprehensible to English speakers – not only is it hard to pronounce, but it also uses special characters; 2) I’m a primary teacher in a small town where gossip goes wild (for example, when I decided to go part-time so I have more time for writing it was going around that I was pregnant ) so I don’t want anyone to find out that I’m queer and write queer romance. There are idiots out there who wouldn’t want me to teach their kids because of that. I eventually came up with a pen name that is a word play on my legal name so it still feels like me, and the people I want to know would recognize it as me but strangers are unlikely to make the connection.

Nina Waters ( @unforth ): I publish under a pen name because people always mispronounce my last name and my understanding is that it’s better to make a pen name people can pronounce. Back when I was still considering trad pub, I was planning to use multiple pen names so I could write across genres. Nina Waters was gonna be spec fic and romance, but I love historical drama type stuff too and like. Those sell better with a male name on them? So I was gonna use either C. P. Houck (so, my actual initials and last name) or Charles (or maybe Chuck) P. Houck, since Charles is a family name (my uncle, my grandfather, and my great grandfather on my dad’s side are all Charles’s). That all said, when I decided to go the small Press creation route instead, there was basically no way to keep my real name out of things since as the owner I have to put it on all official paperwork, which means it’s filed with the government and a matter of public record. Since anyone could access it, there didn’t seem to be much point in keeping it a secret/separate. 

Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name? What other reasons influenced your decisions?

(some authors included their answers to this in their replies above)

Nina Waters: Not really, though I did originally concoct the Nina Waters name for a really silly version of personal safety? I was writing a thing based on my unrequited feelings for someone and I obviously couldn’t put that under my real name without risking them figuring it out, so I needed a pen name. I never did finish that project lmao and now I would never bother but the pen name stuck. 

arialerendeair: Part of [why I use a pen name] is because I was doxxed (and received threats) from a non-writing community almost a decade ago. I’m not afraid of attaching my real name to my works – I’m proud of them! But with the very real possibility of that happening again at some point in the future, I didn’t want to risk it!

Willa Blythe: There was an additional reason that using a pen name was important to me, though. When I wrote fan fiction, I was the victim of a targeted hate campaign aimed at people who wrote fanfiction about a certain character. I wrote fic that I loved and I stayed in my corner, but I got aggressive and hateful messages constantly about not only myself but also my young son, for the crime of choosing to write about a young man of color instead of the overwhelmingly popular white m/m ship in that fandom. It was alarming, especially when people I didn’t know sent me messages about my workplace and my movements there. Prior to that, I’d been pretty open online. I’m not now. I take doxxing very seriously. My son’s safety, but also my own and my roommate’s, are of huge importance. I write about things people don’t love: complicated queer relationships, critiques of capitalism and white supremacy, critiques of religion and spiritual practices, etc. I have to do what is necessary to create distance between my real life, my fandom life, and my writing life. That said… I’ve done more to separate my fandom and writing identities than my real and writing identities, for a variety of reasons. It’s complicated, but as much as I love fandom, it does breed a certain kind of entitlement that my personal friends and family just don’t have.

If you use your given name, do you feel safe?

@owlishintergalactic: My wife and I had a huge conversation about the implications of me writing under my wallet name. I am quite politically involved in the Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education sectors in my county and state. This is a sector where being openly LGBTQ can cause problems with a particular subset of parents and voters. Yet, we don’t believe we should have to hide who we are and that we are LGBTQ – like many other parents in our state. We decided, in the end, that since I don’t write anything more racy than “mature,” it makes sense to build my platform using my real name. My writing is a part of me. It is a part of my advocacy. It’s my profession. But it is a risk, and it’s mitigated some because I live in one of the most open and inclusive communities in the US. For the most part, though, I do almost all of my online work under a variation of Owlish because it creates a layer of protection between me and the internet masses who don’t always have the best intentions.

Nina Waters: I. uh. Mostly? I definitely worry about it. I’ve been thinking about getting a P. O. Box for the business so I at least don’t have to use my real address all the time too. I worry that if someone took offense to the kind of work I do, they could go after my children, and that scares the crap out of me. In retrospect I wish I’d worked a little harder to keep my identities separate, but they were already mostly merged by the time I had kids and I’d have had to completely restart with new screen names and everything, so it felt like it was already too late by the time the business became public.

What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]?

Nina Waters: The advice I give to people in the Press is if they’re even a LITTLE unsure, they should use a pen name. At any time when they decide they’re comfortable they can always switch to using their real name, but once the genie’s out of the bottle there’s no putting it back.

arialerendeair: There are a great many reasons to choose to use a pseud! For your own personal reasons, for reasons involving your spouse, your family, your activism work, because the internet is a scary place sometimes and many grew up in the web safety diligence era. If you are picking up a pseud for any reason at all – great! They can be fun, they can be punny, (is it a coincidence that D is the middle initial for my pseud that I write erotica under? Nope!) and they can be a chance to reinvent yourself for an audience that doesn’t know you yet. There’s a power in being able to shape a persona – and sometimes it’s fun to grab that and see where it leads!

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Do you – yes, you, the person reading this! – use a pen name for publishing your art, fiction, or other types of creations? Have you kept your fandom, creation, and meatspace selves separate? We’d love to hear your answers to the above questions, so feel free to comment and weigh in!

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Planning Using the Three-Act Structure: Dystopian Novels

This is the third in a series of posts about the Three-Act structure, written by guest blogger Annabeth Lynch. Part 1: Romance Novels. Part 2: Mystery Novels.

It’s time for another crash course in writing! This time, we’ll be discussing the outline of a dystopian book. Ernest Hemingway gave my favorite description of being an author: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” So set up that typewriter and let’s start bleeding.

Before we begin breaking down this structure as it applies specifically to dystopian stories, a little background on the three-act structure. I’ve written about this structure as it applies to romance and mystery. Most Western novels are written with this structure, which is separated into three sections. First, the beginning, aptly named the Setup, is the first 25% of the story. The second act is called the Confrontation, taking up half the story, 25%-75%. The last quarter of the story, from 75% to 100%, is the Resolution. This is the novel in its most basic form. It’s a good measure of how the story needs to progress, but there’s a lot of wiggle room in such a broad system. Also, what should happen in each of these sections varies by genre, hence this series of posts. This time, we’re going to break down the acts into plot points and show approximately which events should go in each section when you’re writing a dystopian story.

Dystopian novels usually clock in at 60,000 to 120,000 words, so we’ll base the word count on the average, which is 90,000. Though dystopian novels are often turned into series, for simplicity’s sake we’ll work with the idea that this novel is a stand-alone. This same structure can be used on a larger scale for a series if desired, though – just recalculate the word counts appropriately.

The Setup

This act is about laying the foundation of the novel. This is where your hook should be, right at the beginning. Additionally, the reader should get a glimpse of the main character(s) in their average life and develop a baseline understanding of how the world works. In a dystopian novel, some aspect of society or the world is exaggerated and therefore causing problems for the characters. The main two causes of a dystopia are a man-made disaster or a natural disaster or descent of society. Readers will want to know what caused your specific dystopia to come about and how these events have affected the populous.

At the 12% mark (approximately 10,800 words in), the inciting incident should occur. After the world is established in the reader’s head, it’s time to introduce the crux of the plot. In dystopian books, because this subgenre can be used in multiple larger genres (like sci-fi or fantasy) there’s a lot of room to work with different types of stories you can tell. Regardless of which direction you choose to write in, the inciting incident should affect all the main characters and function as a call to action that they will undoubtedly rise to –  whether because they want to incite change or because there’s no other option left to them.

By 20% (18,000 words) of the way in, all the important characters should have been introduced. This goal is a little flexible because worldbuilding takes a little longer in dystopian novels, but you shouldn’t take much longer than this. The other characters will need the remaining word count to really make an impact on the plot! You don’t want to run the risk of a seeming deus-ex-machina solution by waiting to introduce a crucial character only at the critical moment.

The Setup ends at 25% (22,500 words), when the first major plot point should occur. This is where the story starts to pick up and the heroes’ journey begins. They embark on their mission or escape their bonds, or they’ve learned some hint about how to fix the world, or they or someone they know comes down with the illness plaguing the world – whatever needs to happen to move them into the next stage of the story.

The Confrontation

This is the meat of the story. It makes up roughly half of the whole novel and includes most of the build-up. Now is the time to ratchet up the tension and help the reader get their bearings in the developing story situation. This part will contain most of the important plot points except the three C’s (more on those later) since, in dystopian stories, the first act is will usually be focused on world- and character-building.

At about 37% (33,300 words) is the first pinch point, and is also usually a good excuse to give a little more backstory. Anything that connects the main character(s) to the main “problem” of the story should be brought up. Were they present when the military rolled through to institute a police state? Was their mother instrumental in the creation of the disease? What does the state of the world now mean to them, and what do they plan to do about it? Clear up some of the past for the readers!

50% (45,000 words) is the midpoint. As in most genres, this is the time for a false high or a false low. A false high would be a point in the story when it looks as though the journey is coming to end, when the characters appear on the verge of being victorious and winning the day only to be crushed under the weight of finding out they’re only halfway done. On the flip side, a false low would be when all looks hopeless until they find something or someone that will help them rise up and take their victory.

Around 62% (55,800 words) comes the second pinch point. This can take a few different forms. It could be another chance for you to reveal the backstory, like a flashback, or, if – for example – you’re writing a romantic subplot, this could be a moment that brings the couple together and increases intimacy. This pinch point should mainly further the secondary plot, whatever thing(s) your character(s) is struggling with beyond the main conflict.

The end of act two comes with the second plot point at 75% (67,500 words). This is when the stakes are raised to an all-time high. We’re approaching the end now and the characters should feel the pressure. Unfortunately for them, this is also when things should go sideways. The worst possible thing happens, but it doesn’t deter them (at least, not for long).

The Resolution

We’re almost done, and you’ve reached the action-packed, fast-paced part of the book. This is where the three C’s I mentioned earlier come in. The C’s stand for Crisis, Climax, and Conclusion.

The Crisis kicks off at roughly the 87% point (78,300 words) of the story. Having overcome the problems from the second plot point that ended the Confrontation, the characters are thrust once again into danger, whether by circumstance or by their own actions. This is also when they often learn a life lesson that will be important to overcoming their adversaries.

The turnaround from the Crisis to the Climax is quick, coming in at 90% (81,000 words). The big showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist, who is usually the perpetrator of the problem(s) plaguing the world. A large chunk of the book should be taken up by this fight, with guns blazing and all the new technology introduced in this world brought out to play.

When reading the Conclusion (the final few thousand words), readers will want to know how the world is after the perpetrator of the suffering has been removed from the picture. This can also be an epilogue if you prefer a more in-depth look at where the characters are now.

And that’s the whole book! The three-act structure outline for a dystopian story has more room for interpretation/changes because it can be applied across multiple genres and scenarios, but that just makes it more fun! Remember that while this is a general guide, you are who makes your book. No one can write the same thing the exact same way you would, and that’s what makes it special. Until next time, happy bleeding!

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How the Disney Method Can Help Your Writing Process

A guest blog post by Mitchan!

Do you have problems beginning that new story percolating in your head? Are you feeling afflicted with writer’s block? Are you stuck on a scene with no idea how to move forward? Do you feel that your current ideas are stale and trite? Perhaps the Disney method can help you!

If you work in business or design, you might have heard of it before. The Walt Disney method is a creative strategy designed to find and develop unconventional ideas. While inspired by the way Walt Disney worked, the method itself was proposed by Robert Dilts in 1994.

In the Walt Disney method, the creator divides thmself into three separate roles: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. These three roles must work separately in three stages: 

First, the Dreamer brainstorms ideas in a focused way. The more the better. No limits or restraint. There are no “bad”, “stupid”, or “impossible” ideas; you can embrace the crazy and the stupid as much as you want. It’s still a focused brainstorm: you’re dreaming for an objective, say, a new amusement park attraction, ways to get your characters out of a pinch, the funniest and/or most character-focused problems you can add to your story… anything you need ideas for. 

  • Instead of sitting down and writing or typing your ideas, walk around and record yourself saying your ideas out loud. Speak without pause for 5 or 10 minutes. Look above the horizon to stimulate your creative brain. Some business websites recommend setting up different rooms for each stage of the process, so why not try a change of space? Go outside or to a room different from the one you usually work in. 

Once you’ve got loads of ideas, it’s the Realist’s turn. The job of the Realist is to look at the Dreamer’s ideas and think: How do we make them possible? The Realist doesn’t say “No”. It’s not the Realist’s job to say whether an idea is bad or won’t work. In this role, you must assume anything is possible and limit yourself to asking: How can I execute this? For our amusement park example, the Realist would select and bring in specialists who could make plans to turn a crazy idea into a real ride. 

  • Listen to the recording you made in the previous step. Without discarding any ideas, start with the most interesting or promising ones, and develop them. Write a rough draft or the details of what would happen in a scene. Do the necessary research. Reorganize scenes as needed. Try working on a whiteboard with markers and post-its: a place where you can stand up and look at your ideas in front of you. 

Once you have a solid proposal, or in a writer’s case, a complete first draft, the Critic comes in. The Critic’s job is to detect and correct flaws, mistakes, and risks (something crucial if you’re making an amusement park ride!). This is the moment to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work, what stays and what goes. 

  • Sit down with the printed-out draft on the desk, where you can look down at it, and use a red pen to mark places that need re-working or any contradictions in the narrative. Tighten the phrasing and clear up confusing details. Clean up the draft.

The stages then repeat as needed: for more ideas, go back to the Dreamer, then develop them, then edit again. 

The changes in position help to change your own perspective on the work, to dream or execute or evaluate more objectively. 

You probably already do something similar in your writing process: you have an idea, make an outline, write a first draft, then a second, a third and fourth and so on. You have alpha and beta readers who help brainstorm ideas, develop them, and correct the draft.  

Personally, the most helpful takeaway of this model is the neat separation of the roles. The Dreamer and the Critic cannot work in the same stage: criticism stifles creativity. When I’m outlining, brainstorming, or writing a rough draft, it helps me to keep this in mind. If I find myself getting judgmental about my story, I take a deep breath and tell the Critic to shut the fuck up. Whenever I’m blocked, I’ve found it often comes from me being too critical in a stage of the process when I need to be dreaming or just executing. 

Of course, the three roles are equally important in the creative process. Without the Dreamer we wouldn’t have new ideas; without the realist we would never do anything with them; without the Critic the work wouldn’t be as clean and clear as it can be. 

I have used this method before to write a stand-up comedy routine, which requires a lot of crazy ideas and well-developed set-ups and punchlines, but it can work for any creative needs. I have also applied the brainstorming method to develop the heist in my upcoming story in She Wears the Midnight Crown, as well as to think up character-based conflicts for previous fanfiction and original stories.

As with any other strategy or method, it’s up to you to try it, use what works for you and discard what doesn’t. I hope this can help you if you’re stuck, or at least inspires you to try something different! 

Have you ever used the Walt Disney method? How was your experience? Would you do anything differently? Are there any other methods that work better for you that you’d like to recommend? Let us know! 

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How to Ask for Feedback on Your Writing

A guest post by boneturtle (@fishwritesfic).

It can be daunting to ask for feedback on our work. Past negative experiences, horror stories from friends, fear of people disliking something we’ve worked so hard on, uncertainty about what to input to ask for, and many other factors can make it seem easier to write our stories alone rather than show them to another person. 

Once you understand how to ask for feedback, however, sharing your works-in-progress can become a valuable tool for gathering information and honing your craft. So if you’re struggling with your work in progress, hoping to publish or publicize your story in some way, or are looking to develop your writerly skills, read on to learn how to ask for the right feedback for your needs!

How to ask for feedback

First, and most importantly: You don’t need to ask for feedback. Whether you ask for input depends on your individual writing, editing, and publishing goals. This post starts at the point of assuming you’ve already decided that you’d like feedback, but are hesitant or struggling for whatever reason. Here are some tips on getting the type of feedback you’d like – feedback that helps you move forward armed with useful information.

1. Be specific

Do not let people guess what you want. They will guess wrong. 

Even experienced editors need to be given some directions so they can focus on the aspect(s) of the story that you’re concerned about. For example, if they give suggestions on a story element you’d thought was fine, but offer no comments about dialog which you’re afraid sounds stilted, you may end up feeling more anxious than before. So when soliciting feedback on your work, tell your reader exactly what type of feedback/information you’re looking for, and ask them not to color outside those lines unless you allow it. Your questions will help your readers focus their energy and give you feedback you can actually use. (More on what types of feedback or aspects of the story you may want to consider is later in this post!)

If your work is being edited for publication, this rule changes slightly since your editor will also be applying their own suggestions to help get your story ready for their particular outlet, but you’re still welcome to ask any additional questions and request feedback on the things you’re worried about! 

2. Think about what stage your story is at

Different stages of writing need different types of feedback. Too nitpicky early on, and you might waste effort polishing passages that don’t make it to the final story—and it’s easier to fix big-picture issues earlier in the writing process. A good rule of thumb is to start broad at first, and get progressively more specific as the story takes shape.

Early-stage: When you’re still brainstorming ideas and working on your first draft. Early-stage readers (often called alpha readers) are there to help you understand how your story is coming across but not to give value judgments.

Some example questions to ask early-stage readers:

  • Characterization: What are your impressions of the main character(s)? Who do you think they are, what are their motivations? What do you find interesting or cliche about them?
  • Worldbuilding/Setting: What is most interesting/surprising/confusing to you about this world? What is important to the people in this society? How is this world similar to or different from yours? 
  • Mood/Tone: Does it feel funny, dark, matter-of-fact, poignant, exciting? What parts make it feel that way? Is the narrator’s tone matter-of-fact, dramatic, funny, and does it feel jarring to read?
  • Plot: What do you think this story is about? What do you expect to happen next based on what you’ve read so far?
  • Sensitivity: If you’re familiar with the disability/job/experience described in this story, how well did it reflect your experience? Where did it fall short? What sorts of details would be more appropriate or accurate to include?
  • In General: What confused you? What excited you? What wasn’t as interesting? What made you want to read more?

Early-stage feedback is for collecting impressions, finding out what people are interested in, confused by, what they think the story is about, etc. This is important information for you as a writer as you aim to assess whether your writing is faithfully conveying your ideas. If people generally have the wrong impression about something that you thought was obvious, that could be an indication that you need to rework that part of the story to make the important details more clear. 

If solicited before you’ve completed your manuscript first draft, early-stage feedback can also give you ideas for how to move forward. If people are excited by a certain theme, you might decide to emphasize that theme. If they all expect the same thing to happen next, you might do something to subvert those expectations—or play into them—or, if it’s not at all what you had in mind, tone down the hints leading to that conclusion.

If you want reliable feedback, it’s often better to keep your questions general and avoid spoilers. For example, if you’re trying to figure out “does the reveal about Character A work?” and you directly ask that, your early-stage reader will already be clued in and on the look out specifically for that, so you won’t get a clear idea of what a reader who isn’t “primed” would read. 

 However, if you want to ask your reader for more specific or technical advice at this stage, be ready to share more so they can better help you (e.g. the story concept, where you’re at in the writing process, what unanswered questions you still have about the world, the characters, and the plot). You can always wait and share this information after they’ve read the passage if you don’t want to spoil their reading.

Middle-stage: Once you’re sure that your story’s most basic aspects are sound, try asking more technical questions about story structure, pacing, tone, and characterization. You don’t need to give much context; instead, see what the readers understood from the story itself. This helps ensure that your writing is clear and accurate to your intentions.

Some example questions to ask middle-stage readers:

  • Characterization: How does the main character come across to you at the beginning of the story? Have your impressions changed by the end, and why? What moments made you empathize with them? Do their actions feel justified? If not, what parts felt contradictory or confusing? What are your favorite and least favorite parts of them?
  • Worldbuilding/Setting: How does the setting affect the way you understand or think about this story? What details made you feel like you were really immersed in the world? What details or descriptions pulled you out of the world? What felt confusing or contradictory? What felt especially meaningful or cool? Did anything feel random, inconsistent, pointless, irrelevant or unnecessary? 
  • Mood/Tone: Is the narrator’s tone flowery or lyrical? Matter-of-fact? Is the mood (the feeling you get from the story) dark, funny, tense? Where does it shift, and do any of the shifts feel jarring?
  • Plot: Does the story feel ‘finished’ at the end? If not, what do you feel is missing? What unanswered questions are you left with? Are there any storylines that you wished you could have read more of? What parts did you want to skip or skim? 
  • Sensitivity: Same as for early-stage readers If you’re familiar with the disability/job/experience described in this story, how well did it reflect your experience? Where did it fall short? What sorts of details would be more appropriate or accurate to include?
  • In General: Same questions as early-stage, but also: what themes or motifs did you notice in the story?

The goal of these questions is to get more technical feedback; looking at the whole story, what works well, what is missing, and what takes away from the story’s success? These more specific questions can help you in your revisions as you decide what to elaborate on, rewrite, or cut.

Late-stage: After a few rounds of edits, you might be ready for a beta reader. In fanfiction circles, a beta reader is an all-rounder who helps with everything from brainstorming to proofreading, but here I’m referring to the person who reads your story before publication to give you one last chance for edits before sharing with the general public.

If you’re at this stage, you can ask many of the same questions as for early and mid-stage feedback, but also let your reader get more into the weeds about thematic elements, contradictions in characterization, plot holes, and details about the world that still seem inconsistent or confusing. Ask them to be picky; the story is all there, this is your chance to make sure it hangs together.

Spelling and Grammar Feedback: Once you’re sure your project tells the story you want to tell, you may solicit an editor to give you feedback on Spelling and Grammar (SPAG). It’s equally important to make sure this person is clear on what aspects of the story they’re supposed to focus on, and you should specify if you want their input at all on conceptual aspects of the story or if you’d prefer them to focus on clarity, proper grammar, spelling, and the other technical components of the story.

3. Choose your readers carefully

As important as the questions you ask is who you’re asking them of. Will this person respect your boundaries and only give the feedback you request? Will they be honest with you and non-judgmental toward your writing? Close friends and family can often seem like convenient, ready-made readers. However, unless you’ve worked with them before and know how they’ll behave, proceed with caution. People who are too close to you might be too gentle because they want to make you happy, or they might ignore your boundaries because they think they know what you need better than you do or that those boundaries apply only to strangers. If someone, because of their relationship to you, is going to give responses you can’t trust, don’t ask them. 

Great readers are often other writers. Join writing groups (Eventbrite, Meetup, NaNoWriMo regional groups, and local writing cooperatives are good places to start), writing courses (my personal favorite is the International Writers’ Collective, and Clarion is also widely popular and well respected, but also look for courses near you!), and reach out to people whose fanfiction or original writing you admire. It can seem scary to contact people out of the blue, but these are all people with the same hobby as you, and even if they’re too busy to work with you they’ll be happy to know you appreciate their writing!

You can offer to trade feedback, too. Trading feedback is a great way to build your skills twice as fast – as you learn to give critique, you can also better learn how to apply critical reading skills to your own writing. 

4. Ask for help from multiple people

Spreading out the job of giving feedback can make the job easier on your readers. It can also mitigate the sometimes intense emotions that come with getting feedback. If no single person is commenting on everything, then you won’t feel as burdened by any one person’s opinions.

Some areas you could ask different people for help with include:

Brainstorming: If you have a friend whose ideas complement yours, ask them if they have time to talk stories with you! All ideas are good ideas when you’re brainstorming.

Developmental edits: Developmental editors can listen to where you want your story to go, see where it’s at now, and help you cross that sometimes-frightening gap between the two. Some editors are trained in this, but a trusted writing friend who has editing experience can also be a huge help with developmental edits.

General Story Comprehension: Check that your story makes sense (and if not, where/why/how it went wrong). The example questions under the early-stage and middle-stage feedback stages are great for your general-comprehension readers.

Characterization: Although you have an idea of who your characters are, does that come across to your readers? Ask someone who loves characterization to help!

Sensitivity readers and/or subject matter experts: When writing about an experience, location, or type of character that you’re not familiar with, try finding people who’ve lived that experience to check whether your descriptions resonate with them.

Beta reading: Ask someone who reads voraciously to go through the whole story and make note of all their unanswered questions, plot holes they spot, things they loved, things that were confusing, etc.

Proofreaders: Your beautiful grammar nerds. If you’re working with a publisher, your editor will likely do a proofread. If you’re self-publishing, don’t skip this step! Editing software can help but won’t capture all of those stray en-dashes where an em-dash should be. 

5. Remember feedback is a tool, not a prescription

When you get your feedback, don’t panic! It’s for you to use as you wish, and most writers only act on a small part of the feedback they receive.

You can use your reader feedback in unexpected ways. For example, if someone says that they really wanted to see more of a side plot, that may convince you to develop it more. However, if you didn’t want them to care so much and think it’s detracting from the main story, you could cut it and save it for its own story.

Additionally, there is no rule that says you have to ask for feedback for every story or stage of your writing process. If you’re writing a short story that you feel confident about, you might only want a quick round of feedback at the end. If you’re doing a long, multi-chapter piece, you might do a mix of early and middle-stage feedback for different sections of the story. One story might come so easily that it feels like it’s writing itself while the next needs lots of extra help. 

This is all normal. You’re not losing your touch if you need more input on certain stories; every story is unique.

6. It’s Okay to Ask for Only Praise

Normalize the writing cheerleader! As someone who has both given and received writer cheerleading, I truly don’t know how I wrote before discovering this. It’s less structured and has more emotional investment than other types of feedback, so is a bigger commitment for your reader. If you want a writing cheerleader, explain to your reader what you’re hoping for and ask them if this is help they’d be comfortable with providing. 

A writing cheerleader will shower you with praise, poke you for updates, and generally be your emotional-support reader. If you’re struggling to get words on the page or have been feeling down about your writing, they can make the difference between finishing your story and never touching it again. But even if your writing life is mostly smooth sailing, it’s still valid to want to find a reader who’s excited to read what you send them and who gives you unmitigated love in return. Let them boost your ego; you can be critical once the draft is written. No matter how cringey it may seem at first, the joy is infectious, and it works.

The Feedback You Never Knew You Needed

Before you start asking for feedback, you may wonder why anyone bothers exposing themselves to potential criticism. And even after this becomes a normal part of your practice, you will sometimes get feedback that doesn’t help or reflects the reader more than the writer.

So why ask for feedback?

Beyond developing your critical reading skills and learning more about your own writing, feedback can teach you about people: how they think, what they notice, what makes them care. It helps you understand how other people experience the things you write so you can start writing in those ways more deliberately. It can also help you learn to manage your “preciousness” about your own writing—when you let other people dissect your work, even if they’re not making value judgments, there’s going to be some discomfort. Learning to push through that for the sake of growth is like developing a superpower. You’ll start seeing your writing as the medium through which you communicate with your readers and developing ways to do that even more effectively.

Do you need to ask for feedback? Absolutely not. But if you’ve decided you want feedback and you learn to ask, accurately and clearly, for the kind of feedback you want, it can be incredibly useful, and—dare I say it?—fun.

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Planning Using the Three-Act Structure: Mystery Novels

This is the second in a series of posts about the Three-Act structure, written by guest blogger Annabeth Lynch. You can read the first post, Romance Novels, here.

Writing can be a difficult undertaking. Like most anything that’s worth doing, it’ll test your skills and determination. Ernest Hemingway gave my favorite description of being an author:  “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s beneficial to have a game plan to help you move along, even if you’re a pantser like me.

Are you ready to bleed? Good. Let’s start with the breakdown of the three-act structure. It basically separates the story into the beginning, the middle, and the end. They’re formally known as the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. The Setup takes the first quarter up to the first 25% of the full story length, the Confrontation is the middle half from 25% of the total word count to about 75%, and the Resolution makes up the last quarter, from about the 75% point to the end at 100%. This is a Western story composition, a typical structure across genres. I’ve already made a post about this structure in relation to the romance genre here, but though it follows the same rules, the plot points are different. What follows are the basic guidelines for a mystery novel, including the approximate word count at each milestone. Mystery novels are typically 80,000 to 90,000 and we’ll be working based on an expected word count of 90,000.

The Setup

This is where you lay the groundwork for your novel. As always, it should begin with your hook–the situation or goal that lures in your readers. After that, it’s time to begin your world and character building. Here you should establish the baseline for your world, anything that makes it different from the real world, and the reader should also get a feel for your character(s) and their routine. This part sets the tone for the rest of the book.

At the 12% mark (10,800 words in) is the inciting incident. In mystery novels, this will be the crime that will be investigated–the call to action that your amateur or professional sleuth will undoubtedly rise to. Whether they accept it right off the bat or after careful consideration, it shouldn’t take much longer than this point for them to decide to take action.

By 20% of the way in (18,000 words), all important characters should be introduced. As this is a mystery book, they don’t need to be introduced directly–the reader just needs to know they exist. For example, if you don’t want the antagonist to be someone that is actively on the page, that’s fine, but the reader must know that they exist, even if only as a mysterious “someone” committing the crime. Of course, it can also be someone that already has a name and has shown up in the protagonist’s life!

The first major plot point comes around 25% (22,500 words) into the book, at the end of the Setup. This is where the stakes are raised and the case starts to become personal to the protagonist. Whether it’s something small, like the antagonist goading them, or big, like a friend falling victim, it needs to be something that will cause the protagonist to feel closer to the investigation and throw more of themselves into it.

The Confrontation

This act is most of the book and includes almost all of the build-up and a fair amount of the action. This is the meat of the story. Tension and suspense are going to be thick here; now is not the time to skimp on detail. Senses are going to be your best friends during this section; your readers are going to want to feel like they are also solving this crime. Does the protagonist have goosebumps? Is the hair on the back of their neck standing up? The readers want to know it all!

At about 37% (33,300 words) is the first pinch point. This is usually when another person falls victim to the antagonist, but it can also be a good place for a look into the antagonist’s life. Perhaps we see a glimpse of them or get a piece of information about them as a person. Either way, one of the bigger clues should be dropped here, bringing the main character(s) one step closer to solving the mystery.

50% (45,000 words) is the midpoint. This is when your false high or false low comes in. A false high makes it look like the protagonist is going to be victorious and solve the case, but it turns out to have been misleading and they are back to square one. False lows are the opposite, making it seem like there’s no hope of ever catching the criminal just before they make a breakthrough in the case. In addition, this is typically when we discover the antagonist’s reason(s) for committing these heinous crimes and what motivates them.

Around 62% (55,800 words) comes the second pinch point. Here is another chance to get a look at the person committing the crime(s), whether through another victim or because the main character has gained more understanding or insight. This is also a good time for any development in an internal plot or goal for your protagonist, or for character growth that will ultimately help them solve the case.

The second plot point comes into play at 75% (67,500 words), or the end of act two. This raises the stakes of the plot to their peak. This is usually the part where we see the main character recommitting to solving the case (especially if they were discouraged by the false low or the high stakes). It should become clear at this point that the protagonist is going to have to confront (see what I did there?) the antagonist and possibly they should start plotting out how they will go about it. The plan usually doesn’t go as expected, but that’s a problem for the next part.

The Resolution

You’re getting close to the end now! This part is action-packed and, for the most part, fast-paced. Things are going to be falling into place, and setting up for a good ending. This section is comprised of the three C’s: Crisis, Climax, and Conclusion.

The Crisis kicks off at 87% (approximately 78,300 words). Now is when the big questions that have been posed throughout the story are answered. Will the antagonist win and get away with it all? Will the protagonist do what it takes to win? Are they strong enough to face what must be done? This is also when the main character figures out their overarching problems and learns the life lesson that the Setup posed.

The Climax comes quickly after the crisis, at 90% (81,000 words). All the clues should fall into place to reveal the culprit, and the showdown between the protagonist and antagonist finally occurs. Usually, there’s a moment where the main character looks to be beaten by the villain, with no hope to escape. There are many ways this can be solved–cleverness on the part of the protagonist, or rescue by close friends, or even teaming up with potential or past victims. However you go about it, it should be satisfying and connect to the core of the story lesson, goal, and the life issues previously introduced, such as the character embracing themselves or trusting others.

By the end, readers are looking for a view of how life is now that the criminal has been stopped. Conclusions often offer a glimpse of how the main character is doing and, most importantly, whether justice was served or if the antagonist weaseled out of it (which is often the case in multi-book series). This can also be an epilogue if you’re partial to them.

You did it! That’s the whole book!

I hope this is helpful for anyone struggling with the bones of a mystery story. Remember, this is just a general guide and you can modify/edit/reject any parts of this that you don’t like. You make your story interesting and unique! Don’t underestimate the power of your own input. Until next time, happy bleeding!