Category Archives: Craft & Skills

Really epic Epic Fantasy

lotr posterI love epic fantasy. It’s always been one of my favorite genres to read, and of course the very first book I tried to write was epic fantasy. Didn’t go so well, but I have an epic fantasy series I plan to release eventually, so I’ll get there.

What makes epic fantasy so, well, epic?

The best epic fantasy, whether they’re a Tolkien spin-off or some other giant, multi-volume series of tomes big enough to prop up the sagging foundation of a house, there are some common elements that make great epic fantasy work.

Think Tolkien. He was really the father of epic fantasy, and a big ingredient in his special sauce was the world he created. Many other successful fantasies leveraged that world and resonated with the work Tolkien did. World-building is a huge element to most epic fantasy, and few authors do it so well.

The Name of the WindOne who does is Patrick Rothfuss. In The Name of the Wind, he creates a vibrant world, full of magic and music and poetry that does an unrivaled job at transporting readers into another world. Fans want to explore the world with the hero, linger there, and wallow in the depth of the vibrant cultures he creates.

George R.R. Martin takes a different approach. His political intrigue and huge cast of characters who get killed off more than just about any other series, transports readers in a very different way. The intricate plot, warring families, and intense action has captured an entire generation of readers.

Usually when we think of epic fantasy, we think magic, and the king of awesome magic systems is Brandon Sanderson. Whether the dark, gritty world of Mistborn or the hugely epic Stormlight Archives, Brandon always delivers intricate magic systems and unexpected twists and turns that keep readers clamoring for more.

There are many other great examples of epic fantasy, but these are enough to get a sense of the challenge facing authors trying to break into the epic fantasy world. The stories really need to be epic, usually there’s a large cast of characters, the stakes are as high as they can get, and the magic can be in a powerful magic system, an intricate political world, or a setting so majestic people don’t want to leave.

So what are your favorite epic fantasies, and why?

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Setting as Character

This is my second post this month in the “special sauce” category. Last time I talked about research. This post is about writing, and how to add interest to the story.

Writing, as an avocation, is as prone to fads, convention and conformity as pretty much any other human endeavor. If you pay any attention to the reams of “advice” that are thrown at aspiring writers from all corners of the literary world, you will soon see not only the current orthodoxy, you’ll see the currents and tides of changes to convention as one fashion fades and another rises…

For example, the current conventional “wisdom” includes the following “rules:”

  1. Never, ever, ever have a prologue.
  2. Adverbs are the sign of weak writing.
  3. You have to grab the reader by the throat in the first sentence, or you’ll never get to the second.
  4. Passive voice must be avoided like a literary leper.

I could go on.

One of those current conventions is that long, detailed descriptions of places and things are BadWrongWriting of the first order. After all, it violates several of the most important rules. It’s passive. It’s full of adjectives and adverbs. It interrupts the action.

It has been said by many successful editors and writers that it is unlikely that J. R. R. Tolkien could have gotten The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings published in today’s market. Too flowery. Too slow. Too…. boring.

If that is so, it’s a shame. As a writer, part of my joy in writing is in building worlds and bringing them to life for my readers. But reality is what it is, and as much as I personally love that style of writing, I have had to accept that if I want to write stories that are accepted by both editors and readers, I have to respect that convention, even as I hope it fades.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on bringing my worlds to life. Instead I’ve taken another approach, and that approach is what I call “Setting as Character,” meaning I treat the world as a dynamic, interactive part of the story, instead of as a passive stage to move my characters around and through.

Here is an example of what I mean. Suppose you have a setting of a lush jungle and your protagonist has to find a ruined temple to advance the plot. You’ve gone to great trouble to create that jungle in some detail, including deciding the major flora and fauna, the weather cycles, the climate, and some level of history. Having done that you could bring the reader into that jungle like this:

“Dammit!” Joe cursed.

Blood welled up from shallow cuts on his forearm. With a gloved hand, he yanked the tangled, thorny tendrils of devil’s rose free, sending a shower of drops flying, making him blink. The cool water eased the oppressive heat, and he closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the sensation.

Image result for stock jungle photos

A fibrous root caught his toe, making him stumble as it ripped loose, exposing a length of lichen-studded granite. The ancient rock caught his eye, it seemed out of place compared to the ubiquitous red sandstone of the area. Placing one hand on the thick trunk of a towering fern, he leaned down to study the strange stone…

In other words, make the setting part of the story. Have your characters interact with it, struggle against it, savor it…

Give your world a personality. Show the reader its spirit.

 

Accidental Style

This month’s topic really made me sit down and think. Secret sauce? What writing secrets or style unique to me could I have developed? After all, I don’t even have anything published yet. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous for me to even position myself as having a style? Is a ‘Dave Heyman’ style story even a thing? If there is one, it’s not a conscious one.

For starters, I set about on some inventory. I may not have anything published, but I’ve written quite a bit. Three complete novels, each more than a hundred thousand words, with the fourth novel in progress. One novella that adds another fifty thousand words, and a dozen or so short stories. I’d say I’ve written more than a half-million words in the past three years, so there’s enough data there to sift through and see what they all have in common.

So I sat down and did just that. When I was done, the results really surprised me. Turns out I have a few tendencies after all. Over time I had in fact created a ‘Dave Heyman’ style, completely by accident!

A few key elements of my style:

UNUSUAL SETTINGS – With the exception of my very first novel (which is set in a very traditional ‘epic’ fantasy setting) I seem to favor less traditional settings. A ‘city’ made up of lashed together sailing ships. Nepal in 1950. An isolated community completely inside a frozen crater.

I figure I like unusual settings because it gives me more to work with. A rolling countryside and castles on the hill are fine, but I’ve been there. I want to go some place new, talk about something I haven’t seen a hundred times. I never thought about it before, but the words speak for themselves.

GRAY VILLAINS – They say your villain should be the hero of his/her own story, and that’s something I really believe in. Thus, I am not surprised to see I’ve been humanizing and complicating my antagonists in most of my work. Even as they stand in the heroes way, they usually have reasons for doing so that could be construed as positive, their good or evil more a matter of perspective. Again, I didn’t really set out to do this, but this is the same sort of villain I like to read about.

Interestingly enough, my heroes are nowhere near as gray. This might be an area I can improve on in the future, but again I have to recognize I’m not that big a fan of the anti-hero in the fiction I read.

OPEN ENDED CONCLUSIONS – Okay, this one I had already noticed before this little exercise in self-reflection. I don’t like to tie things up nice and neat and put a bow on top. I like endings that allow the reader a little freedom to express some of their own creativity. I realize this is not what everyone wants, but try as I might I just don’t feel satisfied writing those endings where I place the last puzzle piece in during the last chapter.

Of course, I never leave the major questions or plot arcs unaddressed, but I like a little blank spaces here and there. I also like leaving a few minor dangling threads that could be picked up later.

So, those are three elements that I guess represent my ‘style’. I never sat out to establish those, and I wouldn’t recommend a new writer try to do so either. To me, you style is something you will create cumulatively over time and you’ll always be tweaking and modifying it as you go.

Like a lot of things in writing, odds are your style will work better the less you think about it.

See you next time!

 

Using Whole Foods in your Characters’ Diets.

Since the month seems to be focusing on the food aspects of writing, I thought I’d be trendy and go in the organic direction. When I think of organic or whole foods, I think of simple, the way nature intended, unadulterated ingredients. In relation to characterization, I think of characters with a rich and unique background, not created to fit the story, but naturally emerging from their setting, lifestyle, and experiences. Many of my readers tell me that’s my special sauce, that my characters are unique and distinctive from one another. How did that become my strength? I’m not sure, but here are a few ideas.

Psychology and people watching: I didn’t like people as a child. When I was young, I decided that people were cruel, selfish, devious, and impossible to interpret or understand. I may have been somewhat lacking in social skills. I determined that animals were superior in all ways. As I grew older and a bit more mature, I realized I had to get along with my fellow humans and the best way to do that would be to understand them and why they do what they do. Thus started my non-career interest in psychology. As I learned, both from books and personal experience, my attitude shifted. I love people. We’re amazing, complex, and limitless. The way that who we are merges with our genetics, environment, and experience, shaping every person to be a little bit different is fascinating. One of the aspects of writing that I love the most is the opportunity to present my characters as truly unique individuals.

Language: I speak multiple languages, sort of, and the acquirement and exposure to these languages has led me to an interest in linguistics. In brief, I grew up in an area with many Spanish speakers, studied French in school, served for my church in the Philippines and learned Tagalog and Ilokano, and our young family went to German-speaking Switzerland for my husband’s post-doctorate employment. The only language I ever became fluent in besides English was Tagalog, now long forgotten. Still, the study of those languages along with listening to people speak from different geological, socio-economic, and educational areas, gave me a sense for how different everyone expresses themselves, not only from one culture to another, but also as individuals within those cultures. I believe that understanding bleeds through to my characters, giving them distinctive ways of expressing themselves.

History: I love history. If I had the history channel I’d never get any writing done. One thing that all of us have in common is a distinctive history. That history doesn’t just span a single person’s lifetime, but extends into the generations before. In looking at my characters’ backstory, I try to look at why they had a childhood like *blank,* why they believe *blank,* and what is their connection, physically and emotionally, to the community around them. I don’t necessarily go through in-depth interviews or write everything down, but as I think about those things, my characters develop a unique personality in my head. I tend to see a lot of my scenes and people during my pre-writing like one might see a movie. Bits and pieces of their history, including how that history evolved will churn in my thoughts, the characters and setting birthing from one another.

Like any good recipe, these “natural” ingredients mix together to create a balanced and tasty meal. In the same way, various characteristics combine to create well-rounded individuals in our stories, with strengths and weaknesses, distinctive patterns of speech, and unique wants and needs. I don’t know if this list helps in any way with your own writing, but I hope that as you consider these points with the characters you create, you can see them as unique people, friends or enemies, as real in theory as the people you interact with on a daily basis are in reality.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the upcoming Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net