Monday, January 30, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing by Cindi Madsen


Whenever I get stuck in my work-in-progress and I ask my husband what I should do next, his go-to answer is “put some aliens in there.” Or his other favorite, “have a dinosaur chase them.” (Yeah, he’s just full of helpful ideas.) 

So what do you do to add tension when your book isn’t about characters on the run or aliens or dinosaurs? You have to make all the nothing things, which really aren’t nothing, of course, something. Amp up the chemistry between your hero and heroine. Make their goals more important. Put more obstacles in the way of their accomplishing their goals. Do whatever it is you have to do to make your readers care; make them need to find out what happens next. 

At one critique group, one of my writing partners said, “I think you just let all the tension out of your scene.” But there was an apology and happiness and everything was right with the world. When I re-read it, though, I realized she was right. I tend to want to resolve everything and make everyone happy—give people their closure at the end of a chapter. But once you let the tension go, the pacing slows, and your reader could end up bored, or worse yet, putting the book down. 

So as I write and revise, I’m working to make all the little things bigger. The past, personality traits, goals, obstacles, and body language can all add to the scene so that whatever’s going on, there’s going to be a whole lot of ado about it. So let’s get out there, grab those readers, and never let them go. (Er, not, you know, in the stalkery, they're-going-to-get-a-restraining-order way.) Just remember, while drama in real life equals sucky, drama in books equals awesomeness. Good luck!

(Originally posted at the author’s blog, http://cindimadsen.blogspot.com/ on January 27, 2012.)

About the Writer:  Cindi Madsen sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting, revising, and falling in love with her characters. Sometimes it makes her a crazy person. Without it, she’d be even crazier. She has way too many shoes, but can always find a reason to buy a new pretty pair, especially if they’re sparkly, colorful, or super tall. She loves music, dancing, and wishes summer lasted all year long. Look for her YA novels, All the Broken Pieces with Entangled Publishing and Demons of the Sun with Crescent Moon Press out fall 2012. More information on her website: cindimadsen.blogspot.com.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Quote

It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write.  – Sinclair Lewis

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Roadmap to Indie Publishing by DeAnna Knippling

(Editor's Note: This is DeAnna's handout from last week's Write Brain session.)

Want to put up an ebook but don't know how?  (Or just want more facts before you make up your mind?) Here are the bare minimum steps you need to consider when self-publishing an ebook:

1.   Material. Short stories that are not under an exclusive contact with their publisher are probably ideal (they've already been edited). However, any story to which you own the rights will work.  If you don't know if you have rights to your story, please read The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman at Nolo Press.
2.   Freelance Writing Business. Even if you are not going to be a full-time freelancer, you need to set up your business to help prevent IRS issues. See Nolo's checklist, "Start Your Own Business: 50 Things You'll Need to Do" at their website. You won't need to do most of the stuff on the list.
3.   Marketing. 1) Author website. 2) Social media like Twitter or Facebook (I love Goodreads & Library Thing, too). 3) Keep an eye out for reviewers; expect to send them FREE ebook copies.  4) Specialty markets relevant to your specific book - e.g., fishing websites if you're selling a fishing murder mystery. 5) Local writer groups = word of mouth.
4.   Editing. If you know how to edit and are confident in doing so, you can edit your own stuff.  If not, get editing, by hook or by crook as it is readers' single biggest turnoff. Ask around; if you know other writers, you know someone who can edit.
5.   Formatting. Read The Smashwords Style Guide at www.Smashwords.com.  Follow it.  There are more advanced methods, but this will work.
6.   Cover Design. Create a cover using images for which you have the rights, either 1) your own private images or 2) images that you have obtained from a stock photo company or have a signed contract from the artist. Look at the cover sizes for lists of books at Smashwords: your cover must look readable & interesting at postage-stamp size.
7.   E-Publishing. I recommend publishing at Smashwords (www.Smashwords.com), which feeds to all kinds of other sites, like Sony and Apple.  I also publish at Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon - kdp.amazon.com) and PubIt! (Barnes & Noble - www.PubIt.com). If you follow the Smashwords style guide but remove all references to Smashwords from your ebooks, you can use essentially the same files to publish to PubIt! and KDP.
8.   Validating. After you have published, check your files and decide whether you can live with any weirdness. Developing formats = unpredictable results.
9.   Announcing. Announce publication via any marketing you have set up.
10. Having Patience. I hate being patient.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  Least favorite part of the whole thing.

Links:
http://www.smashwords.com/b/52 (Smashwords style guide)
www.gimp.org | www.scribus.net | www.dreamstime.com (free image software and cheap legal images)
zenhabits.net (patience)
TIPS:

·    DRM or not?  I do not. I suggest if you do, make sure you publish in most formats, because DRM makes it illegal for readers to convert files to a format they can use.
·    Pseudonyms or not? I do, mostly because I don't want kids to unintentionally read my adult work.  I don't advise it: 1) I had to set up as a small publisher in order to handle both names' books; 2) You have to do marketing for each pseudonym AND for the small publisher; 3) Building a reputation/making money is slower, because you're splitting up your writing time between authors.  But it makes me feel better.
·    Will I sell a million copies? No.  From what I hear, things start to take off when you have about 25-35 things (short stories, etc.) posted.  PER AUTHOR NAME.  I've heard estimates of ~5 copies/short story or collection/month, ~25 copies/novel/month.  AFTER you have those 25-35 things up. I'm not there yet. I think because I'm still trying to find my niche for my adult stuff.
·    What if I mess something up? You will.  Take the story down, fix it, and repost.
·    Can I sell a story if it's online elsewhere for free? Yes, if you have the rights.  Ebook cover/format/possibly additional editing and/or material = value added.
·    POD or not? Get comfy with epublishing first.  POD is fun but probably won't make you any money unless you're really good at marketing.  Personally, I LOVE IT!  I'm currently using CreateSpace (www.createspace.com).  I suggest doing a few gift books first to get a feel for it and to read up on how to lay out professional-looking interiors.
·    Will big publishers hate me for being an indie writer? This should not be a problem UNTIL you are offered a contract.  If so, read the fine print very, very carefully to ensure that you can live with their requirements: they may stipulate that you have to stop epublishing anything under the same name or that will compete with whatever you're publishing with them.  I would check out The Passive Voice blog (www.thepassivevoice.com), written by a lawyer whose wife is in indie publishing.  He has some really good caveats and is available to review writer contracts.  Writer Laura Resnick (www.lauraresnick.com) also has good information.
·    Should I epublish or submit? I try to keep one foot in each world and have submissions going to short story and novel publishers all the time.  As I feel satisfied that I've been rejected from the markets I want most to get into, I epublish.  I also epublish stuff that's been published and I have the rights back on.
·    Am I a good enough writer? Only you can answer that question. My personal rule of thumb is that if I'm getting published with short stories (for money), then I'm writing well enough to epublish, too.  But sometimes the only way to find this out is let the readers decide, especially you don't fit current sales trends.
·    The biggest gripes about indie ebooks come from poor editing or writing a really good story: people dislike typos but HATE it when they hit the end of a book, especially if it's good.

Find DeAnna Knippling at www.deannaknippling.com (personal blog), www.wonderlandpress.com (small publisher website), or www.dekenyon.com (middle-grade pseudonym blog).  Contact me for ebook and POD formatting rates.  If you liked this handout, consider buying an ebook via www.wonderlandpress.comHow to Fail & Keep on Writing is a good writer-kick-in-the-pants book, if I do say so myself.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Column: Ten Tricks for Controlling Clutter (and Don’t Forget “Love is Like Oxygen”) by Karen Albright Lin

With the post Christmas mess and other disorderly belongings crowding me out of my home office, I decided to make a game of utilizing specific strategies for staying on top of the clutter that somehow multiplies exponentially, pushing in on me like a throng of rabid groupies around my computer.  It’s ordinary stuff.  I don’t collect dried white out, 3/4 used candles, or ancient computers—remember when the words flashed only in green or orange?  Those might be tempting, but dumpster diving isn’t my thing.

I’m talking about necessary items to a wife, mother, secretary, professional editor, writer, craftswoman, gift preparer, mail carrier, shopper, message relayer, filer, seamstress, lugger, nurse, florist, entrepreneur, speaker, banker, reader, donator, office supplier, card sender, decorator, and captain of the repository of all things necessary for everything from emergency lighting to party preparation to household necessities and a thousand other things…

The avalanche of objects precious to my hoarder self was making me feel claustrophobic.

Enough stuff to make one hyperventilate.  I couldn’t face the clean-up all at once because I didn’t have the time to devote days to the chore.   I couldn’t throw it all out and start over with a fresh clean study; after all, who would keep the nail polish remover that is devoted to rubbing price stickers off?  Who else but me would volunteer to pay and file the bills and create a nest for photos all the family members and friends have sent over the years?  How crazy would I be to think that my sons would actually keep the spare school supplies in their bedrooms rather than next to my stash of gifts for unexpected celebrations?   Sigh.

I had to improve my environment.  Like a juggler in training, I started with small steps, the easiest ones.

I was born with a clutter gene.  I had a tendency to create great piles of paperwork that resembled the Rocky Mountains just outside the window.  I always had the noble intention of sorting through it all--in a week or so.  But digging through them later took time I couldn’t spare.   I had to break that pattern.   

Solution one:  Develop the habit of immediately filing bills, receipts, medical records, even depressing correspondence such as SASE decline-letters from agents.  No more piles allowed.

There were boxes of every shape and size full of gifts I collected throughout the year and Christmas wrapping paper.  It was January.  I hardly needed to look at that stack for eleven more months. 

Solution two:  We all need exercise, right?   So do aerobic stair stepping by finding a little corner in the basement storage area and climbing up and down repeatedly with loads to stash away in well-marked boxes.  Great!  Four square feet of the study freed up for walking.  Make sure you break into a sloppy sweat so you can skip calisthenics for the day.  No time lost. 

The closet and shelves were filled with vases, sewing kits, packing envelopes, even craft items and Halloween costumes that hadn’t been used since my boys were in elementary school.  I suspect other writers who are spouses and parents relate to this.

Solution three:  Every once in a while there’s this obnoxious craving to visit YouTube and listen to favorite 70’s pop songs.  LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN?  Pure nostalgia.   Let that wonderfully tacky music be background entertainment as you make piles that you then attack, one at a time, each time you come to your study.  BEFORE you check on those email loops take care of one pile.  Reward yourself after the next pile with a visit to Facebook. 

There are tricks to dealing with each of the piles, even the ones that strike fear into your heart. 

Solution four:  Wrap the vases as if you’re moving, nestle them into labeled boxes, and shove those suckers into the basement storage area (that place becomes very handy and crowded, but it’s out of sight, out of mind).  Hooray!  The march up and down with the boxes qualifies as exercise.

Solution five:  Relocate the sewing kits into the hall closet where the towels, Mylanta, and shampoo can keep them company.  The packing envelopes deserve a spot in stacked egg crates along with other office supplies used regularly. 

Solution six:  Those craft items that promise to keep the grandchildren entertained – once you have them in ten years or so?  Time to let them go.  Donate them to local art teachers (they’ll take anything).  The Halloween costumes?  Come on, the scarecrow garb can be offered to friends with kids.  Besides, recycling feels good.      

My desk was scattered with research materials for articles I plan to write, tomes bookmarked for later reference, works in progress, lotion and Burt’s Bees Lip Balm, batteries that may or may not still have juice, lotion infused Kleenex, a computer bag I hadn’t used in several months and lots of office paraphernalia like tape and scissors.  Most of it would be better out of sight.  Others I’d need easy access to.

Solution seven:  Lotion, lip balm, and Kleenex are allowed on the desk.  But in the corner, not in the work space. 

Solution eight:  Tape and scissors go in the desk drawer--If that is too crowded, take half an hour to listen to your favorite talk radio personality discussing politics while you go through the drawers and find better places for that chaotic junk. 

Solution nine:  Materials for articles in progress, lists of books you want to buy, agent-search spreadsheet, etc.  File them.  Are you unable to find room for them because they are crowded with the bills from Solution One?  Next time you are heading home from the critique group meeting, buy lots of file folders and a huge file cabinet from the Habitat For Humanity thrift store.  Use it.   

Solution ten:  That stack of books?  Tuck them into the bookshelf, duh!  Work in progress?  Put it right in the middle of your now-clear workspace where it’s supposed to be.      

Can you guess what my favorite trick to straighten out my office is?  LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN, of course. 

So there you have ten ideas.  Do you have any other hints to help control the clutter?  I can always use more.

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at www.karenalbrightlin.com.



Sunday, January 22, 2012

Quote

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.  – Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Column: The Business of Writing - The Editor’s Seat by Linda Rohrbough

I remember several years back while visiting a New York Times best-selling author friend, I went to dinner with a group of writers. When several of the others left the table on an errand, I ended up alone with a writer I didn’t know well. She asked me how I got some well-paying writing work she’d heard about. So I asked her a few questions, then gave her some advice.

Next thing I heard, a year and a half later, she was making six figures. Turns out the dinner was a set up and my author friend deliberately left me alone with this writer so she could ask my advice. Evidently, now that writer was going around telling everyone I coached her into her current success.

So my author friend asked me, “What did you say to her?”

And I wondered, what did I say to her? Because if I could remember what it was, I’d say it to myself.

Here’s how the conversation went.

I asked her about what she did now and about her background. She was working in a bank at the time, but she used to own a magazine. I remember I was stunned.

“You had a magazine? And you’re asking me how to get work? My gosh, girl, you’ve seen it from the other side.”

She just looked at me without saying a word. But I was on a roll.

“You remember the freelancers you loved to work with? How they behaved?”

She nodded.

“So be THAT.”

She was quiet. I wondered if I’d disappointed her. The other writers came back to the table and the subject got changed.

What I wanted to ask, once I heard she was making six figures, was what THAT looked like. During our dinner, since I felt like she’d taken me into her confidence and the other writers would be listening, I never did ask the question. Turns out she had the ruby slippers on the entire time and didn’t know it.

But I took an editing job that lasted several months and now I know what THAT looks like. Because I see it from the other side of the table. So, if you’ll bear with me while I take the long way around, I’ll tell you what I saw.

First, and I know this will come as a shock, I know when an author is lying to me.

They say things like, “I will have the material done, but I might miss the deadline because I’m traveling and I can’t upload until I get back.”

Oh please. You can upload at Mickey D’s. Do I look like I have stupid written all over my face? (Now I sound like my mother.)

Even worse is when I hear something like, “I’ve got this really important party to go to where I’m the guest of honor, so I might miss my deadline.” Or I’m doing some real expensive activity (like taking my yacht out for the weekend, going on a cruise, or water skiing in Santa Barbara). And oops, the deadline is gonna suffer. Do they really think I’m going to say, wow, you’re the important artist and I’m just a small and humble editor, so go ahead and miss the deadline?

Or there’s silence. I send an e-mail. I wait. Repeat. Then they say they never got the e-mails. Or they refuse to acknowledge my correspondence. So I send them back the file to work on and three weeks later when I ask them how they are doing, they say they never got it.

What I didn’t know when I was just a humble author, is editors account to someone above them regularly for every deadline and the status of the project. Then the information is compared to the plan originally submitted by the editor after initial meetings with the author.

I also didn’t know that in some cases the editor doesn’t get paid until the final version is turned in and accepted. In that case, every delay by the author means a delay in the editor’s bottom line. But even if the editor is salaried, it makes them look bad, even incompetent, when authors are late. And that will eventually affect even a salaried editor’s job.

So I now understand why some editors got so angry with me when I was late. And why they often took the delays personally. I get now how insulting it is to the intelligence of another person to talk to them the way I’ve been talked to by some of the writers I work with. It reminds me of junior high when one of the popular girls would say she’d love to come to my party, but she had to wash her hair.

I never had high-dollar, going-out-on-the-yacht excuses, but I remember making excuses that probably were more lame than the ones I listed here. What I remember the most is being terrified. I was behind, I knew it, and I was either not sure about how to handle it or I was afraid to try. Or I underestimated the amount of time I needed. Bottom line was, I was afraid the editor or the house would pull the plug.

But sitting on the other side of the table, I realize now that the best thing I can do is when I’m going to be late, is just let my editor know. Call or e-mail them first, rather than waiting until they ask me where the work is. Tell them what’s going on (with a reasonable explanation) and give them an accurate and realistic estimate of when I can get the work in. They’re not going to like it, but they’ll have a lot more respect for me than if I make up “stories.”

I faced a project this year where I got behind. Given what I know now, I screwed up my courage, called the editor and just told them where I was at. It worked great. It turns out he was behind too and so instead of two weeks, I got an extra month to finish. I’d never known that if I hadn’t simply put my cards on the table. And he gave me some great tips on things I didn’t know from their end that would help me finish the project.

The other thing I see besides all the problems with deadlines, is writers turn in crap work just to hit a deadline. Then they get mad when I edit the work. I notice if the work is shoddy. I can see there’s some benefit to turning the work on time rather than ignoring the deadline. But I wanted to say to the writer, if you’re going to turn in schlock, at least have the decency to keep your mouth shut when I fix it. Plus, I wanted to add, if you’re going to scream about every change I make, I’m going to think you’re a baby.

And remember this. As an editor, I don’t get credit when you, the writer, look good. I may not even have my name on the project anywhere. You get the credit.

Sometimes I get a submission and I know it is off but I have to think about it a while before I can figure out how to fix it. That’s brain drain and it takes time. It’s helpful to remember the editor didn’t go to the trouble to do all that reorganization because it felt good to one-up the author. They did it because they think it makes the work better.

One thing I have done well as a writer is recognize that an editor can make me look good and express my gratitude. And even if I have an editor who looks to me like they are changing things for the sake of change, I save my arguments for the big ticket items, and let the small stuff go.

Being on the other side of the table has helped me be a better author. And I’m grateful for the experience. Now I know what I told my friend that made her so successful. I, too, had the ruby slippers on the whole time. And now I’ve given you a pair. So try them on and see how they fit. Because you can do this, too.

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." She recently won the 2011 Global eBook Award and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award for her new novel. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website: www.LindaRohrbough.com.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Call for Anthology Submissions

Pikes Peak Writers is pleased to announce it has partnered with Courtney Literary to create its first ever short story anthology, to be released in conjunction with the 20th Annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April 2012.

The theme for this anthology is “Moving Mountains.”  Stories considered will be between 1,000 and 5,000 words in length and will relate to the theme.  All genres of stories will be considered. No poetry.

Submission instructions and an online submission form are located at http://www.pikespeakwriters.com/html/anthology_2012.html.  Stories must be submitted NO LATER THAN Wednesday, February 29, 2011.

This is an unpaid anthology, to be used as a fundraiser for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference Scholarship Fund.  Through this fund, Pikes Peak Writers offers opportunities to attend the Pikes Peak Writers Conference to those who would otherwise be unable to attend due to financial hardships.  Authors whose stories are accepted for publication will receive two free Contributor Copies and the opportunity to purchase additional copies at a discount.

For additional information, please visit the Pikes Peak Writers Website at http://www.pikespeakwriters.com/html/anthology_2012.html , or email anthology@pikespeakwriters.com.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thermodynamics of Magic Systems by Laura E. Reeve

"Magic" by Laura E. Reeve
(Originally posted November 14, 2011 at www.ancestralstars.com/)
When I was at a writer’s conference in Denver, I pitched to a science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) editor for a NY publisher. After expressing disappointment that I wasn’t pitching an SF manuscript, he brightened and said, “But I usually like Fantasy written by SF authors.”
“Because their magic systems make sense?” Being an avid reader of SF/F (and all sub-genres), I knew exactly what he meant.
He agreed.
Later I heard several writers at that same conference express why they liked to write fantasy (“It’s so easy, because you don’t have to do research,” “You can make everything up,” and “Readers don’t expect accuracy”). I decided I’d have to counter these misinformed ideas.
There are fundamental scientific laws and logic most readers understand intrinsically. If SF/F world-builders address these laws, the realism of their worlds will be enhanced and their readers won’t be getting that nagging feeling they’re reading a puffed-up idiotic Hollywood script. So, the first subject we’ll tackle is the laws of thermodynamics as they apply to magic systems.
FIRST LAW: THOU SHALT NOT CREATE ENERGY FROM NOTHING.
Physical sciences and engineering disciplines all address this rule in different ways (okay, okay—they don’t use King James English in their textbooks, but then, their textbooks are boring). When this law was discovered, chemists went off to play with gas pressures in closed systems while engineers used it to drive a stake through the heart of the perpetual motion machine, an idea most readers intrinsically understand is dead.
This law is about conservation of energy, meaning that energy can change forms and transfer from material to material, but it must come from somewhere. It can go through many transformations but in the end, a closed system will have the same energy it had in the beginning. Heinlein put it succinctly in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (yet another concept most readers understand).
Basically, magic can be considered the application of energy. As a fantasy writer, please take time to figure out where the energy for your magic comes from. Before you grumble about this heinous limitation upon your creativity—it’s a world-building exercise where you’re in total control and your magic system will benefit from it, I promise. Just because the energy comes from somewhere doesn’t mean it has to be rare or limited. For instance, it could come from sunshine or starlight or the life force of plants, animals, the universe (“Feel the Force, Luke”), etc. It can come from generous gods or the ground one walks upon. If you do pick an essentially unlimited source, you’ll find this raises other questions, such as: Why isn’t everybody performing magic? And, if they are, what will be the ramifications upon society, economics, etc.?
To the contrary, your energy source could be incredibly constrained, having to be mined from the ground by imprisoned faeries during a blue moon in winter. Obviously, its scarcity will have ramifications. Hunt down and define those complications; you’ll discover more about your characters and world.
Consider, as well, how characters would channel/transform/wield this energy. What are the risks and the costs involved? If magic in your world is fueled by the internal energy in characters, then I would expect to see an incredible cost associated with a work requiring great power. After all, how much energy could be pulled from characters before they turn into dry husks–and before a reader says, “Come on now, this is a vapid Hollywood creation,” and throws it against the wall?
SECOND LAW: THOU SHALT APPLY ENTROPY, BECAUSE NATURE DESIRES DISORDER.
The second law of thermodynamics was discovered when trying to explain the direction of spontaneous change. Scientists observed that gas always expands to fill a vacuum, but never spontaneously contracts. Nature obviously abhors a vacuum, but why? Why do chemical reactions always proceed in one particular direction? Engineers also noted that heat (energy) never flows from a cooler to a hotter body. Spontaneous change is predictive and has a direction, but scientists wanted to know why. The answer: Systems change toward greater distribution of energy, toward greater “disorder,” which scientists called the entropy of a system. Entropy turned out to be measurable.
You’re probably thinking this entropy stuff can’t possibly be sensible to readers. Surprisingly, it’s quite intuitive when stated this way: Systems naturally change toward greater disorder, and it often takes more energy to apply or maintain order than disorder. We see examples of this in our everyday lives. It’s so much easier to drop your stuff on the floor in the family mudroom than put it away in those nicely labeled cubbyholes. Eventually someone (mom or dad) snaps and orders a family clean-up. Everyone finds it takes a good amount of energy to impose order upon that mudroom, while it seemed to naturally change or “decay” into disorder.
What does this mean to magic systems and your average reader? Let’s say you have a mage encase a city in a magical forcefield. No one can get in or out of that city. After this feat is performed, are you going to have the mage walk away with the guarantee this forcefield will be in effect forever? Only if you want your reader to dump your book, because we all sense that something of such high complexity and order requires energy to maintain it. This applies to even small abstract entities/spells like “wards,” as well. A fantasy I recently read had mages using wards like doorbells to sense when they had visitors and identify them. The author mentioned these wards needed continual maintenance—a careful detail that made her world more solid.
What if, instead, that mage reduced the city to dust? Would the reader believe the job is done and the mage can walk away? (Moral/ethical implications aside, of course.) Yes, the reader would consider the task completed and irreversible, but why is that? Because our world has engraved the instinct in us that no energy is required to maintain immense disorder. Furthermore, we understand the energy required to reorder that dust back into a city would be astronomical. The second law of thermodynamics is behind the maxim that “destruction is easier than creation.”
Entropic change also affects knowledge (Information Theory has the principle of degradation, where changes to information over time/transmission are irreversible). Everybody knows how the Greek Dark Ages and the Western European Dark Ages walloped advancement in those civilizations. From our own history, readers sense that a body of information requires continual energy to stay “ordered,” meaning relationships between data must be maintained or adjusted as knowledge increases. Copies must be made, distributed, and protected, whether by monks or computers.
In fantasies, having plot-critical magical lore established hundreds or thousands of years ago has almost become stock background. When information has to be transferred over many generations, when it must survive wars and natural disasters, the author should create inaccuracies and gaps. Otherwise, the credibility of the entire world is weakened. If your character is lucky enough to find good (never perfect) information, the author should provide hints on how it’s been preserved, whether through immortals with eidetic memory, fanatic quill-wielding clerks, multiple copies, special preservation methods, or survivable mediums.
WRAPPING IT UP…
If your magic system fits within these first two laws, it will feel natural and solid to your readers. These simple premises are ingrained: we know energy comes from somewhere and we assume spontaneous change always moves toward disorder. We instinctually feel that the natural progression of time makes organized matter “decay” toward randomness. Use these instincts—based on natural laws of thermodynamics—to your benefit.
Make your magic, and your worlds, real to your readers.
About the Writer:  Laura began writing SF and Fantasy in the fifth grade, but it took her thirty years to learn to finish her novels.  Along the way, she spent nine years as a U.S. Air Force officer and her civilian jobs ranged from Research Chemist to Software Development Lead. In 2007, her dream of becoming a "paperback writer" came true with a 3-book contract from Roc for the Major Ariane Kedros Novels (PeacekeeperVigilante, and Pathfinder). Laura lives in Monument, Colorado, where she writes fantastical worlds, struggles with high-altitude xeriscape gardening, and dabbles with digital art. For more, see her web site at www.AncestralStars.com.