Wednesday Writing Tips: Writing a Fantasy Series

Writing a fantasy series? Do’s and Don’ts

By: Bridget-Now Novel

Authors such as George R. R. Martin and J.K. Rowling are living proof that the fantasy genre offers aspiring authors a crack at building vast fandoms and spin-off empires (hit movies, TV series, even candy products materialized from fictional worlds). If you’re planning writing a fantasy series of your own, here are do’s and don’ts for creating your own multi-novel fantasy story:

First, what is fantasy fiction? Some historical background

Our oldest literature is fantasy fiction. From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Homer’s The Odyssey to Beowulf, the stories that survive from ancient civilizations are stories of Gods, magic, quests and monsters. The word ‘fantasy’ comes from the Greek phantasia — ‘power of imagination, appearance, image, perception’ — and acquired the sense of ‘fantastic imagination’ from the 1500s onwards. From the 1920s, the word acquired stronger connotations of wish-fulfillment (‘a day-dream based on desires’).

Modern fantasy contains many of these root meanings. Its authors give us complex, imaginative worlds, supplying vivid day-dreams to fulfill our desires. Character’s have magic healing (or destructive) powers. Heroic saviours defeat powerful malevolence and restore order and goodness. It’s undeniable that fantasy remains one of the most popular genres (the ‘Fantasy Writers’ group is one of the most populous writing groups on Now Novel).

 
Portrait of a young J.R.R. Tolkien

Some consider J.R.R. Tolkien the father of modern English-language fantasy fiction. There were early 20th Century fantasy novels written prior to Tolkien’s The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings cycle (such as Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees and The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison), but the commercial and critical success of Tolkien’s work (and the Chronicles of Narnia novels by his friend C.S. Lewis) launched the modern genre.

Tolkien based his own work on his scholarly interests in northern European mythological sagas and linguistics. Another source of symbolism for many modern fantasy authors is the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, which draws on Tolkien’s fantasy world of orcs and dwarves itself.

Character types of the fantasy genre such as elves, trolls and wizards create instant genre recognition, as do plot clichés such as the motley band of co-travellers who meet in a tavern. To avoid your series seeming like a mere rehash of these tropes, it’s important to add your own slant. J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular world in her Harry Potter series is full of re-imaginings of old fantasy tropes. Her reworkings range from different animal familiars (owls replace cats) to flying-broomsticks re-imagined as state-of-the-art sports gear.

Here are several do’s and don’ts for writing your own imaginative fantasy fiction series:

Do: Read widely within and around your genre

This advice is almost a cliché in itself, and yet it is common because it is so necessary.

The only way to really become familiar with the clichés and pitfalls of the fantasy genre is to read a lot of fantasy novels. As you read, think about what works and what feels obvious and overly-indebted to previous authors. The broader the scope of your reading, the better you will know what kinds of fantasy worlds, character types and plot topics are underrepresented. Of course, you can also satirize clichéd types, as authors such as Sir Terry Pratchett have done.

Don’t: Rely on worn-out fantasy character types

Clichéd fantasy character types such as the orphan-boy-who-is-chosen-for-a-great-task abound. Harry Potter is one example. Because of the strength of Rowling’s series as a whole, and the size of her series’ cast, a few clichés don’t detract much. When a fantasy series lays down one clichéd character after another (the fearful sidekick, the grumpy dwarf and the reluctant-orphan-hero), a series starts to feel more derivative.

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Wednesday Writing Tips: Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding

By: Daniel Arenson

Fantasy and science fiction are about other worlds. Sometimes worlds in the distant past, full of wizards and dragons. Sometimes worlds similar to our own but touched with magic. Sometimes other planets or our own planet in the future. One of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of writing speculative fiction is building your world. How can you invent a world that is unique, exciting, and feels real?

THE PREMISE

Does your world have a high premise, a unique selling point? A Song of Ice and Fire is about a world where seasons can last for years. Dune is about a desert planet. The Chronicles of Amber is about one true world casting infinite “shadows,” including Earth.

You can create an imaginary world simply by inventing new locations–a forest here, a mountain there. But a unique “theme” to your world will help it stand out.

My series Moth is about a planet that doesn’t spin around its axis, leaving one half in perpetual sunlight, the other in eternal night. Each side developed its own cultures, and day and night clash throughout the series. I could have created a simple world where two kingdoms battled, but actually dividing the world between day and night made Moth more memorable.

What makes your world unique?

THE MAP

Fantasy novelists often draw maps for their worlds. This process can help you learn more about your world. As you draw coastlines, mountains, swamps, forests, ruins, and settlements, you can let your imagination run and invent new locations and cultures as you go.

When I created the map for Moth, I used software called Campaign Cartographer. But a map can be as simple as something you draw with pen and paper.

Take a look at my map for Moth here. As you can see, I divided my world into two halves–one half in eternal sunlight, the other in endless night–fitting the theme of my world. I then added geographical features (mountains, forests, rivers) along with cities, roads, ports, and borders. As I was drawing the map, I was also inventing new cultures. Who would live in the desert? What would my islands’ civilizations look like? Drawing the map helped me invent not just the geography but also the people living here.

THE CULTURES

Fantasy and science fiction worlds often feature different cultures. Each of your fictional civilizations should be unique. What weapons do they use? Longswords, scimitars, katanas, ray-guns? What armor and clothing do they wear? What gods do they worship? What are their naming conventions? What is their history? What is their cuisine? The list of questions goes on.

When creating my fictional cultures, I often “borrow” bits and pieces from real Earth cultures. In Moth, the people of Ilar wield katanas, wear samurai armor, and build pagodas, all borrowed from Japan. Meanwhile, the people of Orida sail longships and live in mead halls, giving them a Nordic feel. The ruins of Til Natay, deep in a jungle, are inspired by the ruins of Ta Prohm in Cambodia.

While my fictional kingdoms aren’t copies of any real civilizations, they do include elements from cultures in our own world–weapons, ship designs, architecture, and so on. For your own worlds, you can seek inspiration from Earth or simply create your nations whole cloth.

You can also let your civilization’s environment influence its culture. On the dark side of Moth, there is no flora. That affects the cuisine of the people living there. I show them eating a variety of mushrooms, salted bat wings, deep water fish, and other foods that don’t require sunlight. Fire is precious on Moth’s dark side, with public fireplaces being elaborate and holy places of congregation. My “night folk” even wear the luminous lures of angler fish as jewelry, trapping the light in glass beads. Different environments–desert, mountain, sky, planets with vastly different geographical features than Earth–will similarly affect your world’s cultures.

Many fantasy novelists simply create copies of medieval England. For your world, you have a chance to create more varied cultures, seeking inspiration in all of Earth’s continents and your own imagination.

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Wednesday Writing Tips: How to Write Dialogue

How to Write Dialogue: 10 Simple Rules (Plus 5 Mistakes to Avoid!)

By: Reedsy

No matter what your genre, learning how to write dialogue effectively is a vital part of any writer’s education. Poor dialogue can make readers put your book down in disgust — but great dialogue can transform your characters into truly believable people, and your readers into satisfied customers.

Of course, the best kind of dialogue isn’t just believable. It also provides exposition, involves distinct language depending on who’s speaking, and — perhaps most crucially — moves the story along. Without dialogue, you’d just have pages and pages of description with barely any character dynamics or interpersonal drama. How boring would that be?

Because dialogue is one of the essential components of strong writing, we want to help you get it exactly right. To that end, we’ve put together this list of rules, examples, and more that will have you writing sparkling conversation in no time! We’ll also cover how to format and punctuate dialogue, for those who aren’t sure exactly what goes where.

If you’re especially curious about formatting, go ahead and skip to #10 using the table of contents on the left — otherwise, let’s jump right in with dialogue rule #1.

1. Enter the conversation late

Alfred Hitchcock once said that “drama is life with all the boring bits cut out.” Comparably, we could say that good dialogue is like a real conversation without all the fluff. And one of the best ways to cut out that boring fluff is to enter the conversation as late as possible.

Think about it: few “classic” scenes start with characters going, “Hey buddy! How are you doing? Wow, long time no see.” This is because people enjoy making inferences based on details in action and speech — and the last thing you want to do is insult their intelligence by spelling everything out for them.

For a more tangible taste of this technique, here’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin talking about the first scene of his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Social Network:

“We started at 100 miles an hour in the middle of a conversation, and that makes the audience have to run to catch up. The worst crime you can commit with an audience is telling them something they already know. We were always running ahead.”

Sorkin’s ability to give the audience just the right amount of detail is a huge strength, and something all writers should strive for. So don’t slow down to accommodate your readers — make them catch up to you.

how to write a book

The dialogue in The Social Network is famous for its sharp edges and quick pace. (Image: Sony Pictures)

2. Keep dialogue tags simple

Dialogue tags are the phrases in your writing that indicate who’s saying what. For example: “I can’t wait to read this article,” Rita said. In this case, “Rita said” is the dialogue tag. It identifies the speaker and clarifies the action.

Of course, there are plenty of other dialogue tags besides “said”: stated, declared, proclaimed, the list goes on and on. But when writing dialogue, you generally want to keep these elaborate tags to a minimum.

As American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard put it:

“Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But ‘said’ is far less intrusive than ‘grumbled,’ ‘gasped,’ ‘cautioned,’ ‘lied.’”

The key word that Leonard uses here is “intrusive.” You want to bring readers into your scene and make them feel like firsthand observers, without drawing attention to the fact that they’re actually not. When you raid your thesaurus for fancy dialogue tags, you risk taking readers out of the scene for a brief display of your verbal virtuosity.

In that vein, keep your tags simple — use “said” where you need to, and other dialogue tags even more sparingly. Luckily, much of the time you don’t even need a tag to show who’s speaking; either readers will already know, or you can imply it another way. Speaking of which…

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