Tag Archives: fantasy writing

The New Book’s Coming!

For the past two weeks I’ve been working like a fury on book revisions, doing those last tweaks and polishes in an effort to get the story and characters exactly right.  And the dialogue … pesky qualifiers begone!  My latest deadline is the end of this month — eek! — and next week I resume teaching at the university — double eek! — so I’m juggling a lot at the moment.

Unpacking after the Great Move continues to wait, although I have to say I’m growing just a tad weary of Braum’s cheeseburgers and have gone as far as locating the box labeled “forks.”  That box, however, isn’t yet opened because the book comes first. 

But to get back to book information:  the title is now official.  It’s CRYSTAL BONES.  I’ve seen an early scan of the book cover, and it’s going to be eye-catching.  My twin protagonists, Diello and Cynthe, are featured in profile on a burgundy background.  The title is done in ornate letters that shine like crystal — lovely!  I can’t wait until I’m able to show it to you.

Yesterday I let the computer run word searches through the manuscript while I combed my mind for better synonyms.  It’s easy to grow careless as a writer, to fall into bad habits of weak sentence structure or overused vocabulary.  Just as I can indulge in too many cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes to the detriment of my waistline, so can I let my prose become flabby.  And all my whining and moaning and complaining this year about revisions means nothing now, because I’m proud of where the manuscript stands at this point.  Proud and grateful to my editor who has prodded me into creating a story that’s toned and sleek.

If only I could say the same thing about my figure!

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World Building: Consistency

One of the challenges of good world building is consistency, making sure all the details you cook up will work plausibly together.  See, it isn’t just about assembling copious amounts of background history, mythology, character biographies, etc.; it’s also about making sense.

Ever hang three gibbous moons in the sky because it’s such a cool image?  Then make sure you aren’t writing about a seafarer becalmed on a gentle ocean.  Three moons equal chaotic tides and weird currents.  Shipwreck is likely.

Or maybe you’ve designed a society with members that advance in status and position through regular assassinations.  Interesting, unless the protagonist is gregarious, frequently throws lavish parties, invites strangers to partake of his hospitality, and doesn’t employ a bodyguard or a food taster.  Is he a fool?  Probably, but he’d better not live to a ripe old age.

A story world is made believable through consistency, vividness, specificity, and accuracy.  In the previous two paragraphs I’ve shown you examples of inconsistency.

You achieve vividness by using specific terms rather than vague generalities.  Here’s vague:  The desert was hot.  It looked like a big, brown wasteland.

Instead … the wastelands were an anvil, the sun a hammer beating on Bara’s skull.  Every breath scorched his lungs.  Thirst swelled his tongue, but with his waterskin hanging empty on his belt, he had nothing to drink except what perspiration he could lick from his upper lip.  Tottering across sand that burned his boot soles, he peered at the wavering horizon without hope of reaching it in time ….

Whenever possible and appropriate, incorporate the physical senses (taste, touch, hearing, sight, smell, and magic) because they will provide a compelling sense of place.

Accuracy comes from research.  If your characters carry swords, determine what kind they are, including whether they’re designed for slashing or stabbing, and what their length and weight are.  Do you know anything about swordplay?  Learn the rudiments.  There are all kinds of guides, books, and Internet articles on weaponry, footwork, and combat skills.  Better yet, talk to fencers and watch their bouts.  Don’t rely on what you see in the movies.  Hollywood sometimes mixes blades, hilts, and fighting styles for bigger spectacle.

And if your characters ride horses, for pity’s sake go to a public stable and rent an animal for an afternoon.  Ride it.  Learn how to saddle and bridle it, how to get on and off properly, how to groom it, and how to feed it.  Inexperience and unfamiliarity will always show in your written copy, no matter how hard you try to fudge.

If you’re an urban dweller, spend a few hours in a park or drive outside the city to the woods.  Draw in the scents and sounds.  Feel the slight temperature variance in the air.  Distinguish between the rustling of a tree canopy in the breeze and the furtive stirring of a mouse in the brambles.  Listen to the sound of your footsteps over dead leaves, or muddy ground, or twiggy undergrowth.  Then go home and bring it alive on the page.

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World Building: Magic

Magic is to fantasy what hot fudge is to a sundae … sublime!

When building magic into a story world, determine the following:

Will your protagonist have magical powers?

Is magic common or unusual in your setting?

Is magic feared and despised or considered desirable?

How many and which characters will possess magical powers?

Who is the most powerful?

What is the source of the magic?

What are the limits to the magic?

What does the magic cost?

If you can answer these questions in terms of your story, then you’re well on your way to weaving magic intrinsically into the world and plot.  But let’s consider the last two questions in more detail.

Does magic carry a price?  I think it should.  At the very least it should bring a certain amount of responsibility for the character possessing extraordinary powers.  If she can do anything she wants, can turn her teachers into toads and conjure up limitless quantities of hot cocoa with real whipped cream without suffering any consequences, pretty soon we’re going to have an individual out of control.  Because power without restrictions leads to corruption, doesn’t it?

After the initial rush of delight, the fun fades pretty fast and suddenly we’re sated with hot cocoa.  So what else is there to get into?  Consider the SORCEROR’S APPRENTICE segment of Disney’s animated classic film, FANTASIA.  Mickey is lazy and wants to wield magic without putting in the necessary study and practice.  He conjures up a spell to animate a mop into doing his chores for him, but pretty soon the magic runs amok and Mickey lacks the skills necessary to stop disaster.

The best, most effective depictions of magic restrict it and set limits around its use.  And there need to be consequences to using magic.  That’s why the old fable restricts the genie in the bottle to granting only three wishes.  It’s the limitation on the magic in Aladdin’s lamp that creates the fascination with this very ancient story:  how will the wishes be used; how will they go wrong?

You can set any parameters around your story’s magic that you want, but once you do you’re required to abide by them.  This helps build natural suspense into the plot.  What if, of the three wishes, there’s only one left and now the protagonist must decide between saving her poisoned friend’s life or saving her own as the dark wizard tries to destroy her? See the dilemma?

Can you cheat through this, maybe fudge the magic a little so everything works out?  Absolutely not!  How can you enthrall readers if you cheat?  Set the limits, push the limits, shove your protagonist through an awful choice, and let her battle the consequences.  That keeps magic alive and vivid, woven through the very fabric of your story.

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