Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Hands1I like action movies, spicy food, and long walks on the beach. Sounds like a dating site mantra, right? Well, there might be something more to this.

Real people have tastes, real people have likes, dislikes, and preferences. Real people discriminate both positively and negatively. Real people are unique. Shouldn’t our characters share similar attributes?

It’s easy to get lost in our plots, interactions, world building, story structure, prose, and a million other important building blocks of storytelling. But in any great book I’ve read, characters are at the center of it all. Characters who seem like real people.

My advice, learn about your characters. In an outlined, plot-driven story, it’s easy to forget about their decisions. It’s easy to make them do something because the plot requires it. But is that decision something our characters would make if truly given the option? Do we even know?

Spend some time building your characters. Get to know their families and friends. Discover what sorts of people they hang out with, and what they like to do in their free time. What decisions have they made in their past to get them to where they are today? What are their hobbies?

In addition, I recommend truly looking at whether they play inactive or active roles in your story. In other words, are your protagonists responding only to how your antagonist set them up, or are they actively progressing and growing based on their own motivations? Commonly, protagonists play inactive roles in the beginning of stories due to the antagonist’s inciting incident, then grow based on their experiences and interactions. However, most great stories I’ve read show the characters actively making hard decisions and progressing the story themselves – and from the very beginning – instead of being pulled along by the plot.

Now, should all the characters likes, dislikes, and preferences be included in the story? I say no. But as the writer, it is important you know them. Give hints to some, and reveal others. This will make a character jump out of the page and come to life.

In short, characters are people too! Know them better than your best friend, even better than yourself. You alone know their pasts, their present, and their futures. Show us who they are, connect us to them, and we won’t be able to put that story down.

I love a good fantasy world.  I live in the real world (and I assume you do too!), so I love the chance to visit different worlds when I read.  When I look at my favorite fantasy books, many are favorites at least in part because I love visiting the place where they’re set.

As a reader, I love elaborate worlds–but as a writer, I must admit that my first thoughts are usually around characters and plot, and much less about the details of where those characters live.  Fortunately, I found a very helpful resource to get me thinking in those directions: Patricia C. Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions.

This is a great tool for anyone trying to jump-start thoughts about creating a new world.  The list provides dozens of questions, often on things I never really thought about–but which spark all sorts of ideas once they’re brought up!

It starts with the basics about the world itself, like physical laws and whether you’re even on Earth.  There’s a section with questions about the magic system, and another one for people and culture: What do people wear, do they have special holidays, what foods do they eat and how do they buy that food?  Do they have culture-specific greetings, and are they friendly to foreigners?  There are also questions about government, geography, and languages…to just scratch the surface.

There are tons of questions on all sorts of aspects of the world.  You may not want to answer every question, but I find that even just reading them helped me to at least keep some concepts at the back of my mind as I write.  And sometimes it was helpful noticing which questions weren’t so relevant–for instance, my novel isn’t about large-scale conflict between countries, so generally all my kingdoms get along reasonably well, and questions about political tensions aren’t so relevant.  But thinking about what a story isn’t can sometimes be as helpful as thinking about what it is.

These questions helped me notice that I have a prevalence of evil magicians in my world, and I’d better explain why so many magicians are evil.  I also had to sit back and look at just how common I wanted magic to be, and decided that for most people in my countries, any magic more powerful than a trinket or a charm was fairly unusual–but not a shock to anyone either.  So they probably don’t cook their dinner using magic, but if they live near a dark forest, an attack by a rogue hippogryph has about the same likelihood as an attack by a pack of wolves.  And they don’t see talking cats every day, but might every year or so.

We know so many details about the culture we live in, but they’re familiar so we take them for granted.  These worldbuilding questions are immensely helpful for making you think about the aspects of the world that we generally don’t need to think about–so that you can decide what they might be like in another world.  If you’re creating a fantasy world or even considering it, then you should explore the Worldbuilding Questions.

And two more suggestions at the end of this post: not only did Patricia C. Wrede write the Worldbuilding Questions, she also wrote the brilliant Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which I highly recommend if you enjoy light-hearted fantasy.

If you enjoy fantasy of any kind, then I also have to tell you about the Once Upon a Time reading experience currently being held by one of my favorite bloggers, Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings.  All you have to do to participate is read and review some fantasy during the spring–and it’s much more fun if you also read other people’s reviews, which are all linked here.  It’s a great community of readers, and a fantastic way to find some new books to read…and new fantasy worlds to explore!

I have heard this so many times, and I have been determined that I do just that.  I put so much of my time and energy into crafting the societies, history, culture, and setting to my world that I knew I wrote what I loved.

I have the great privilege of working in a bookstore, now, and I love talking books with my  customers. We talked about authors and books at great length;  from Garcia to Bronte and the Illiad to McKinley. I have had some pretty awesome conversations.

I found myself talking to a person once, however, a week or so ago about my favorite fantasy novels. I told this customer that they all have a hint at mythology and folklore.  I like being in on the joke because I’m well read in legend and myth. It gives me respect for the author, and lets me know that he/she has done their research, and has the same interests I do.  I like it when authors acknowledge that that is the root of the genre.

Now, I’ve met people who disagreed and traced the genre through the literary tradition and so on and so forth.  But, to me, we are drawing from folklore. That doesn’t mean that my novel will hold a candle to the Monkey King stories or the Ulster Cycle, but I draw inspiration as much from those tales as from other fantasy and science fiction novels.

That made me think though, how much of my love of myth do I weave into my fiction?

The plots are old, drawn from a time when high fantasy and sword and sorcery held my attention.  But when I speak of why I like Tad Williams’ epics it’s because they’re fairy stories.  I like McKillip because her novels are evocative of Celtic or Medieval tales.

I like Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series because she draws on Celtic and Native American myth and weaves them with vampires and werewolves, a nod to modern trends and ancient heroes all at once.

I suppose my most recent writing has developed this flavor, but I think that while I am committing to finishing the novel this year, I should commit to changing it to reflect my aesthetic.  I have spent so much time developing the back story, the characters, but not so much on the areas I actually pick up a book for. I love a well developed world, but i have become pickier, I suppose.  So too, should I be with my writing. I need to give them life through a connection to our past.  Even if it is only a literary one.

Then I will know, without a doubt, that I am writing what I love to  read.

And we really should all write what we love to read…