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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

So I read a book by a highly respected author and it… disappointed me. No names, no title, because this shouldn’t be personal. I’ll be examining that book for my next few posts. Just trying to pick apart why it didn’t work and what I can do differently in my own stories.

My first issue was with the villain. He was all swagger and bluster, with an incredible arrogance. He was so indignant that his enemies were defying him. Just because he was invading them, torturing and murdering a certain segment of the population, oppressing everyone else — why could they not see his greatness?

Which sounds like a villain, right? But that’s all there was to his character. There was no characterization, it was all shtick.

Plus, for the first 3/4 of the book, his reputation as a villain was way out of proportion with the abilities he showed on the page. When he finally started doing evil stuff, as opposed to just badgering underlings, the author was so coy about it. He would look at “the thing in the cage” and gloat over what he’d done. But I had no idea what he actually had done. Maddening!

As a writer, I can guess that the author was trying to create suspense about a Big Reveal. As a reader, I felt like I was being played games with.

This is my first lesson from the book, because I have a hard time with villains, too. I usually have two POV characters who are in opposition, and I tend to focus on their conflict. The so-called villain is left as an afterthought. I really need to not be such a weenie, I guess, about fully inhabiting my villains.

That said, playing games with the reader is definitely not the answer. What do you guys think? I could use a few tips for creating effective villains.


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I mentioned that as Fang Marsh develops I have to make some decisions about the plot and the outcome. The most significant of these is about the magic my mages wield.

In the series, Minstrels of Skaythe, mages rule the land through fear and oppression. Their power is based on lethentros, an energy born from entropy and death itself. Because their source is so dark, it inevitably destroys them. Either another mage kills them to seize their power, or they go mad and their own power consumes them.

The Minstrels, who seek to bring hope to the land, use a different energy. Their source is vitalis, the energy of pure joy and life itself. With their power, they can heal all injuries and create hope in the hopeless. However, people who are healed by them develop an attachment. They can no longer live in the despair they knew. This power to literally change who people are is a grave crime to the Minstrels.

What I have to decide is whether vitalis can cure a mage who has channeled lethentros. Meven’s foundling, Elldry, is using lethentros after experiencing a deep trauma. It makes him volatile and paranoid. Meven wants to teach him to use vitalis instead. I have to figure out if this is even possible, and what the consequences may be.

I’ll have to confront this same question at other points in the series. Enemy mages may want to seize the Minstrels’ power for themselves. Others will be offered healing and have to decide whether they want it. Ultimately, if the Minstrels confront the evil overlord, Dar-Gothull, they might try to heal him instead of fighting back. Will that work, and is it ethical?

By the end of Fang Marsh, I will have to decide what happens when vitalis meets lethentros. It should be an interesting discovery!


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This summer I’ve been plugging away at the next Minstrels of Skaythe novella, tentatively titled “Fang Marsh.” Yes, that’s the one whose title I’ve been trying to figure out. I’ll get there, eventually.

Meven, a mage who rejects her society’s cruel way of life, stumbles on a traumatized child, who is also a mage. She takes this foundling with her, hoping to save him from the madness that eventually claims most mages in Skaythe. Meven herself is very closed-in and doesn’t recognize that she might need help, too.

That was all planned. What I hadn’t planned for was a house boat full of water folk whose lives she might affect. The authorities are going to come looking for Meven. (Thus keeping up her tension and danger.) If they hide her, the consequence will be severe. I want to establish the possibility that the water folk may betray her, even though they are good and kind people.

There’s also a young man who is smitten and will keep turning up, despite her rejecting him. Shonn doesn’t know she’s a mage. I have considered that he might be the one who betrays her, after learning the truth. Or, he might be just the man she needs. I haven’t decided.

So it’s going slowly, but it’s going. What had been vague ideas and outcomes need to come into focus. And I know that they will. I’ve learned to trust my muse over the years.


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Last time, I mentioned that I’m trying to devise a suitable title for my current novella in the Minstrels of Skaythe series. But after I got done with that blog post, I realized I might not have to work so hard.

“There’s probably an app for that,” I said to myself. And I was right!

This one, on Reedsy, offers you a title if you haven’t even started writing. It shows an option for if you have already written your book, but gives no way to enter any keywords that would make the title relevant to that book. This one, at Fantasy Name Generator, gives you a list of ten possible titles, but again offers no way to use your own subject matter.

This held true of every title generator I could find out there. Although I could generate random titles as a way to spark inspiration, I guess for my actual WIP I’m gonna have to do the hard work myself.


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How do you decide what to call your book? For some of us, this can be almost as difficult as actually writing the story. This matters to me, because I frequently tweet about the status of my WIP, and it helps me tie those together if I know what the title is going to be.

I suppose one thing that might help is to walk through a bookstore and see what kinds of titles are being used. You can also search online, of course. Certain trends will jump out right away.

Currently, there are a lot of book titles that are some form of “the Thing of This and That.” For example, the popular series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. These kinds of titles have an interesting flow, but there are so many using that format already that I wouldn’t want to go that route.

There also are a lot of titles that are just one word. Jaws and the YA novel Crank are both strong one-word titles. There might be two words, as in The Firm, or three (including ‘the’ as a word) as in The Dragonbone Chair and The Dark Tower.

Some are like, “The Thing’s Thing.” The Ranger’s Apprentice is a well known juvenile series. There’s also my own The Magister’s Mask. Then you have “The Thing of the Thing,” made famous by The Lord of the Rings.

For me, I really want to have a strong rhythm, while at the same time saying something accurate and engaging about the book. The Seven Exalted Orders is one of my favorite titles. For my current WIP, I really only know the location of the story, a place called Fang Marsh. So I’m tweeting about Fang Marsh, but ultimately I think I’ll need a little more than that for a title.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think makes a great book title, and how you create good titles for your own work.


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I’m buried with work for SpoCon, including final schedule tweaks, badge lists, and door schedules. So here’s a snippet from The Tower in the Mist.

The viewpoint character is a rebel who’s been arrested and finds that his strength of purpose may not be as great as he had thought.


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Today I’m sharing a snippet from one of my blogging friends, Jason H. Abbott.

Although it may seem related only to current events around climate denial, in fact, I think it applies equally to our publishing industry. In 500 years, will we think of Traditional Publishing as a “lost civilization” that failed to adapt?


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At the start of my thread on journeys, I mentioned my publisher has had a manuscript for several years without letting me know a publication date. Actually, she hasn’t even let me know she’s accepted the manuscript. I’m sure you all know the feeling. Waiting for news, wondering if the story is so bad they don’t even want it.

It could be a woman thing. We’re told so often to just sit and be quiet and wait. Even though I tell myself I’m bold, still, I’ve been waiting two years for a publisher to notice me. Really, I think it’s an author thing. The publishers have all the power, and if we get push, they’ll just cancel the deal.

But recently, the same publisher, who is also an author, announced publication of a new series with a different imprint. This finally spurred me to ask her if the original imprint is now defunct, and if I needed to get my manuscript back.

For once, she answered immediately. No, the publisher is not defunct. And the day after that, the last editor I worked with let me know the publisher had contacted him about editing the new book, since he edited The Seven Exalted Orders.

So maybe, finally, I might be able to tell you that Trials of the Eighth Order is coming out soon. I am definitely glad that I spoke up.


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Ever since Lord of the Rings, it seems like every fantasy novel has to include a journey or quest. Why do we do this?

One advantage of having your characters go on a journey is that it takes them out of their comfort zone. They’re in unfamiliar territory, surrounded by strangers. They can’t anticipate what people will do. No more comfy house to return to, either.

They might have gear if the trip was planned, but if they left suddenly, they have to spend time on survival tasks such as searching for water and shelter. If your story is more humorous in tone, there’s lots of opportunity for fish-out-of-water episodes. For darker stories, you can emphasize heat or cold, adverse weather, thirst or hunger, wild animals, and other hazards of hitting the road unprepared.

Journeys allow the writer to vary the setting and introduce new wonders or dangers. Travel can imply a wider world around the story events. Reactions to these new vistas may deepen the characterization of people in the story. You can add more conflict if the characters get lost or argue about where to go next.

It’s also very folkloric. Many of the great epics and story cycles involve heroes who go somewhere and fight a monster or achieve some other great feat. If the characters need to learn a lesson of some sort, inspiration can come with the travel.

What about drawbacks? I’ll look at those on Saturday.


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Something I’ve noticed recently is how often the stories I write involve someone going on a journey. In Too Many Princes, the title characters went on a quest. In The Seven Exalted Orders, two of the characters were running away from the others. In the sequel, The Eighth Order, which the publisher has been sitting on forever, they also chase someone across the countryside. In The Grimhold Wolf, a character was abducted and the other ones went to rescue him. In Masters of Air & Fire, the characters’ home was destroyed and they had to search for another one. In The Weight of Their Souls, the characters were traveling home after a war. In The Tower in the Mist, soldiers are taking their prisoner to a special prison — on the other side of a haunted forest. In The Grove of Ghosts, the MC is traveling to break a curse.

Only in The Magister’s Mask, The Necromancer’s Bones, and The Gellboar did everyone basically stay at home and do stuff there. That’s three out of eleven tales involving some sort of travel.

I must confess, I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself with the journeys. My current WIP, Fang Marsh, starts with the main character on a journey. Now that I’ve thought about it, I’m going to have her arrive at a destination and stay there. This will make some other parts of the plot easier. For one thing, the villain and her henchmen will be able to find her!

What do you guys think — am I worrying too much about this?


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