Posts Tagged ‘The Magister’s Mask’

A long time ago, in the mid-90s, I was seriously getting ready to start my first novel (The Magister’s Mask, 2004), but I was a little bit stuck on what it should be about. It wasn’t so much that there was a specific story burning a hole in my brain. More like, every book I was seeing on the shelves sounded exactly like something I had already read.

By that point, I had already been reading fantasy voraciously for around 25 years. Maybe I’m slow on the uptake if it took me that long to notice how market forces encouraged writers to produce work that was similar to what had already been successful. Anyhow, in my youthful arrogance, I decided that if other writers were going to write the same old thing, I should be the one to write something different.

As part of my planning and exploration, I literally made a list of things that I was not going to write about. I was already seeing those too often, and remember, my goal was to distinguish myself by writing something nobody else was writing.

Among the things on my “no-write list:” vampires, werewolves, elves/fairies, quests against Ancient Evil, lost princes, chosen ones. Not that I’m knocking any of these ideas. If people still like them, more power to you. However, I wasn’t going to go there. Although eventually I did write a quest novel (Too Many Princes, 2007) and a werewolf novel (The Grimhold Wolf, 2015), I mostly stuck to my list.

I have lost that original list, but every so often, I look at the bookshelves and do an update. Now aren’t you curious what’s on it? (Or maybe you think you can guess.) Well, lucky you — next time, I’ll tell you what’s on my current No-Write List.

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For point-of-view, that is. I know you all wanted to know my secret for making the perfect mint julep. Sorry, that will have to be another blog.

When approaching a new project, I do some research and planning ahead of time. I draw maps and sketch out the cultures. However, beyond the initial 2 to 3 plot events, I go by the seat of my pants. The way I make that work is my secret strategy. Are you ready?

I will never have just one POV character. This is something I learned from my first novel, The Magister’s Mask. When you only have one POV, that person has to be present for everything that happens. Each conversation, battle, espionage, journey… That same character has to be there.

It would be exhausting for one person. It also would be limiting in some ways. For instance, that one POV cannot be killed, or there is no way to go on telling the story. Many authors cultivate multiple POV characters so that they can really threaten some of them, while still keeping a cast at hand.

Personally, I like to go more deeply into characters, but I always have at least two points of view. Often, the two are on opposite sides of some central question, but they both are basically good people who readers can sympathize with. Each POV knows some things that are happening, but not all. Because they are in tension, they don’t bring their knowledge together until quite late in the story.

I developed this technique with my second novel, Too Many Princes. Brastigan is the bad-boy prince, and his brother Lottress is more bookish. They both get sent on a quest, but then there’s a coup back at home. I ended up bringing in their sister, Therula, as the witness to all of that. So when the princes returned home, the reader knew there was an ugly surprise waiting. It really cranked up the suspense.

How it works is, as I’m writing, I take turns between the POVs. When I get to a good point of tension with one, I switch to the other. Sometimes I get stuck on which POV to use in a certain scene. Sometimes they overlap and you get the same line of dialogue from both POVs. Ironically, the reader knows more than either character, yet I can use this technique to keep them from guessing the outcome too easily. The information they think they have can change in the other POV.

That’s it. My secret strategy for POV. How do you use POV to build your stories?

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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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First, I want to thank David and Craig for responding to my initial call for feedback on what exactly my genre is.

When I reflect on the things my stories have in common, it comes down to two concepts: family and magic. Almost every one of my books has had some kind of family issue at its heart. After all, who knows you better than family? Who can hurt you with a word, or lift you up? In Too Many Princes, the brothers Brastigan and Lottres go on a quest, but the story is really about how their relationship is threatened by conflicting goals in adulthood. In Masters of Air & Fire, a sibling group of young dragons struggles to stay together after the death of their mother.

I get a lot into the magic with my world-building. If magic was real, how would that shape society? In The Gellboar and The Seven Exalted Orders, mages are separate from other people and there are restrictions on magic for the public good. In The Magister’s Mask and The Necromancer’s Bones, magic is common and well understood. They use it for things like preserving food, where we would use refrigeration technology.

In both of these, perhaps, I do follow more closely to High Fantasy than Low. Grapping with ideas and consequences around magic is High Fantasy. Family might not be as obvious at first, but you can’t deny the importance of family drama in series like A Game of Thrones.

So maybe that’s where I land — but I’d still like to hear from more of you. And if you’ve read my books, why not take a minute to leave a review? It will really make a difference!

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