There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

In Need of An Oracle? June 29, 2013

One of the things reading epic fantasy has taught me is that oracles are not to be trusted. They tend to be elusive, philosophical individuals that are more about fudging the truth and being mysterious, than being a font of good advice. (Except maybe for the Oracle in the Matrix, she was kind of cool…).

But where do we go when we’re writing epic fantasy and in need of specialist help?

In our stories our heroes either go in search of Jedi masters (or the equivalent), or more often than not (especially in the case of Jedi masters) one just happens along at the perfect moment. Or they go to some amazingly well-known, usually exclusive, but endowed-with-the-knowledge-of-the-ages learning institution (that inevitably doesn’t have all the answers after all). Or they bypass the whole she-bang and learn through the school of hard-knocks (I get knocked down, but I get up again…).

So does the same hold true for us?

The Master Writer: It seems that there are many of us working on the great epic fantasy, but only so many masters of the craft to go around. Sadly we all can’t be the chosen one (son of Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker), able to discuss the finer points of our writing with the Gaiman’s and Rothfuss’s of our time. But unlike (most of) our characters, we at least have the internet.

Many of our favourite authors are available, if not for a cup of coffee and a chat, at least to give us some great advice based on their own experiences. Websites and the ‘frequently asked questions tabs’ are great places to glean advice. Search interviews with your favourite authors, and check out inspirational speaking engagements on youtube (one of my favourites was Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts (Philadelphia) – check out the link here).

Higher Education: Maybe not Jedi-school, but a great creative writing course could be the way to go. I was particularly fond of the University in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear. Like a grown up Hogwarts it contained magical classes and opportunity for invention and advancement; not to mention fees that caused Kovthe no end of grief.

If you happen to live near a good school that understands and can nurture your talent for fantasy writing – and are able to attend – you are a fortunate person indeed (and I’m very jealous). However if not, you can always check out on-line courses (I can’t recommend any personally, but feel free to comment on your own experience in this area).

If you don’t want to pay to enrol (and gain the benefit of personal feedback) there are some helpful classes recorded on youtube. I stumbled across this Creative Writing Course for science fiction and fantasy authors taught by Brandon Sanderson at Brigham Young University, which contained all sorts of interesting genre-related information (such as some good general tips for map-making / world building – like making sure your rivers run down toward the sea).

A Band of Like-minded Peers: That really didn’t work out for the Jedi (bad bad Anakin), but when it comes to writing groups – there’s something to be said for getting together with other creative types and encouraging each other to push those  writing limits. I’ve often imagined being part of a group like The Inklings, the writing group that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien belonged to.

In my own experience talking to someone else who gets the appeal of epic fantasy tends to help me spark new ideas, or challenge the ways I’m trying to tell a story. It’s not every day that the Tolkiens and Lewises of the world find each other, but at least on-line – through blogs such as this one – we can find other people to chat with, bounce ideas off and occasionally have a true creative meeting of the minds. Visit the blogs of other fantasy writers and get chatting in the comments, you never know who you might meet!

Trial and Error: For many of us this is how we find our way. We write 150,000 word first drafts (especially if we’re epic fantasy writers) that require epic editing more than anything else. We look at the fantasy novelist’s exam and realise we’ve ticked 80% (or more!) of the boxes. We discover that our clichés are very loosely veiled and aren’t fooling anyone (except perhaps ourselves). And sometimes our writing just sucks on its way to getting better.

But take heart, most of the pioneers of fantasy writing wrote without a road map. They believed in themselves, followed their vision and wrestled with words the same way we do, while they were writing their ground-breaking stories.

I don’t believe in oracles outside of fantasy, but I do believe we have plenty of resources available to help us realise our own fantastic stories. If you have any favourite places to go when you’re in need of expert advice (for epic or fantasy writing) we’d love to hear from you in the comments!

– by Raewyn Hewitt

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Creating Your Fantasy Bible: A Lesson in Geography June 27, 2013

If you Google “Geography in Fantasy”, you will find all sorts of articles and blogs on the subject. Since we are delving into how to create your own fantasy bible, it only seems fitting we add another blog article to that list.

So why do we, as authors, need to create entire maps of the world we drop our characters into?

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Fantasy World Map by Dan Meth

So your world can end up on here, of course!

One can dream. But also, no. The more obvious answer to that question is so the characters (and you) know where they are going on their journeys. Some people think of Middle Earth as a character just as important as Frodo. Geography is a foe that Frodo and his group have to battle. Even Dorothy on her journey through Oz has to deal with the lay of the land on the way to Emerald City.

Geography plays a more important role than most people realize. Even if you don’t have your characters traveling across the lands on an epic journey with a rag-tag group of hobbits, dwarves, and elves, it is important that you know where your characters are coming from and who their allies might be. Let’s use the Fantasy World Map as an example. if you look at Fantasia, it is surrounded by mountains, which can serve as a natural defense border. The one weak point of attack might be the ocean, but they would be able to see the ships coming. However, if Fantasia’s closest ally is Avalon, this might serve as a problem. Look at the lengths soldiers from Avalon would have to travel in order to come to Fantasia’s aid.

Now let’s think about culture and how geography plays a part in that. Westeros is completely separated from the other lands. How closely linked do you think the cultures of the people of Westeros might be to that of the Dreamlands? Obviously, there is no direct influence since the people aren’t connected. But with Middle Earth, Narnia, and Oz, their cultures might be influenced by one another.

Trade is also heavily influenced by geography. In this way, the natural defense border of Fantasia might work against it, making it harder to trade with others. Fantasia isn’t an island like Westeros, but yet (depending on travel in your world), it might be just as isolated from the rest of the lands. Further, this isolation might make the people of these isolated regions harder. Survival might be more difficult in a land where trade is scarce and mountainous lands prevent much growing.

As you can see, geography is definitely something you want to take some time with. Start with the main land involved in your story, or where you characters’ journey starts. Then figure out who the allies of that land might be, and who their enemies are. You can probably already answer those questions, but the next step is figuring out where those allies or enemies are. Once you know that, begin mapping. For your thriving areas, make sure you keep in mind that the land has to be thriving as well. Lush forests, farmland, bodies of water…all these play important roles in the survival of a civilization in a geographic region. Do you have desolated, neglected regions? There needs to be a reason for their desolation, if it isn’t a man-made reason. This is where your geographic obstacles might come into play: Deserts, vast oceans, overgrown forests, dead land, mountains, etc. Now, start drawing! And don’t worry. You don’t have to be an impressive artist or cartographer (like Dan Meth up there with his Fantasy World Map) to make your own map. To make you feel better, I’m attaching the map of Estridia, from my fantasy MS Heirs of War, I (just) made (updated).

Next time, we’ll be talking about what to include concerning your governments and societal rules in your encyclobibliogrimoire. For now, hit the comments and tell us how your map is coming along, or sound off on what you can observe from my example with Estridia.

~Mara Valderran

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Map of Estridia from the series Heirs of War by Mara Valderran

 

Getting Down & Dirty June 22, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 5:30 am
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~ K. L. Schwengel

Every writer out there is familiar with the concept of Show, Don’t Tell. You all know how it works.

Tell: Frederick was wet and miserable.

Show: The rain plastered Frederick’s hair to his head and soaked through his heavy cloak making it hang across his shoulders like a giant’s arm. Cold rivulets of water trickled under his tunic, slithering down his back and sending a shiver through him. With every step his feet squished in his sodden boots. If he were meant to be this wet, he’d have been born a duck.

That may not be the most masterful writing, but you get the idea. Showing raises the level of intensity by putting the reader in our character’s skin, making them feel, smell, hear, see everything our character is.

But where do you draw the line? When does it become too overwhelming?

There’s no right answer to that question, by the way. It becomes a matter of personal preference. But it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while. Personally, I like gritty — or what I’ve recently seen referred to as “grimdark”. I want to read stuff that makes me squirm if it’s making the characters squirm. Not everyone does. Some fantasy authors take that to the extreme and then get dinged for it in reviews. I got dinged for it in First of Her Kind and I didn’t think I was even being all that gritty.

Art must be fearless. That’s the tagline of friend and fellow author Devin O’Branagan and it’s something I tell myself anytime I feel like skimping on the details. If my character is a prisoner in a damp, dark cell, telling my readers the straw strewn on the floor smells bad is . . . well . . . weak. Bad like what? If, as a reader, I wrinkle my nose at the author’s description of what that straw smells like, I’m going to really empathize with that character a whole lot more. As a writer, I want my readers empathizing because that leads to caring.

Fantasy is definitely a genre with several camps. On one side we have the light-hearted, sometimes humorous, epic romp that has the Happy Ever After ending and doesn’t make us squirm in our seats. On the other is the brutally honest, face in the dirt, bugs in your teeth, hard-hitting, pulls no punches type. In between, a mix of the two. As a reader, I definitely lean toward the hard-hitting side. As a writer, I try to find a balance. I don’t want the violence, sex, or realism to ever be termed gratuitous but I realize that is also in the eye of the beholder reader. As long as it is essential to the plot and the character, and happens naturally, then I don’t consider it to be gratuitous

So how far do you go to sink the reader into your character’s skin? As a reader, how uncomfortable are you willing to get? Are there any particular authors you think handle this well, or not so well?

 

 

Cover Reveal: The Coldness of Marek (Serengard, #1) June 19, 2013

Filed under: Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 7:55 pm
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Today is a very special day here at There & Draft Again. Today we are happy to reveal the cover of The Coldness of Marek, book one in the Serengard series by our very own Rachel O’Laughlin. And because she is one of our own, we have a very special treat for you! Stay tuned after the reveal for an excerpt from the book. And by stay tuned, I mean keep reading on.

The book is set to be released August 6th and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with you! (Really, we couldn’t. We’re even posting about it on our personal blogs!) The Coldness of Marek is available for preorder now. Be sure to follow her on Twitter or Facebook for more information on the release!

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Serengard has been under Orion rule for centuries. Centuries of insufferable adherence to laws and traditions that none of its people ever asked for or agreed to. Raised by her scholarly grandfather in the fiery southern city of Neroi, Trzl is out to turn the monarchy into a free society where knowledge is king and no one has to be subject to the whims of an Orion.

As the rebellion escalates, her choices have an eerie impact on the revolution at large, elevating her to a position of influence she has only dreamed of attaining. But there are downsides to her power: appearances and alliances that must be upheld. One of them is Hodran, a rich rebel who wants to aid her cause, and another is Mikel, a loyalist farmer who wants to destroy it… and who just might be winning her heart at the same time.

By the time Trzl realizes she is in too deep, she has an infant son and a dark mess of betrayal and lies. She runs, to the farthest corner of the kingdom, in hopes she will be left alone with her child. But she has a few too many demons. Someone she once trusted takes her captive among the chilling Cliffs of Marek. She is thrown back into the political mess she helped create… at the mercy of a man she never wanted for an enemy.

Excerpt:

He broke away from her gaze and sat down on the cool earth. They were on a hill, with a little patch of hardwood behind them. The valley below was swathed in tall grasses with tiny blue flowers on the tips. Trzl didn’t know what crop they were. She settled herself next to him, not too close.

“Do you sell your crops for a profit?”

“Yes. A considerable one.”

She giggled at him. “Your face is covered with enough clay for you to be a cart horse yourself.”

“Your own face is etched with dust.”

“It is? Get it off. Please!”

Mikel reached for her face with his bare hand. She stiffened, surprised at the roughness of the fingers she felt against her skin. “I did not think you would…use your hand.”

“I did not think you would let me.” He lingered on her chin, cupping it. The hold was possessive, yet it did not disquiet her.

“Your hands are rough. I would think a man as rich as you should have soft hands.”

He gave a snort of disbelief. “What kind of farmers have you been consorting with?”

Trzl just shrugged, a tiny smile tugging at her mouth. She was annoyed by the way he talked, all sophisticated, but his voice was deep and vibrant. She wanted to hear it all day. Wanted his hand to stay on her chin all day.

“You believe in the monarchy. In the books of Derev, the rules of the land.”

“I believe in them, yes. As everyone once did.”

She laid back and rested her head in the grass, wrapped his sooty and bedraggled cloak about her and tried not to shiver. The sky above her was a clean blue, the kind of clear one never saw in Neroi.

“You believe your fellow men should be forced into a way of living for the sake of your own class?”

“No one has ever forced them. It is tradition. Keeping the ways of the books is for all of our sakes. If the land is not cultivated and the law of the books kept, ruin will come.”

“The Orions invented the lie to ensure they always get their tributes.”

“You say that, but the land has always reflected the care with which it has been treated. My parents and their parents before them can attest.”

“You know your parents?”

“Yes. Did you know yours?”

“No.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Did they give you your money?”

“I earned it.”

“So you claim.” She felt an inexplicable anger toward him. Why did he have to be deathly committed to something that was wrong? She knew she could never put up with his beliefs. Not for more than an hour or two. And she wanted desperately to put up with him.

Excerpt from COLDNESS OF MAREK © Copyright 2013 by Rachel O’Laughlin. Used with permission.

 

My love affair with Legend June 15, 2013

Filed under: Inspiration,Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 7:34 am
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When the movie, Legend, came out, I was thirteen years old. It had everything my young teenage heart could wish for: love, magic, unicorns, and a battle between good and evil. Also, a handsome, peasant hero in love with a princess, a villain with horns and cloven feet, elves, faeries, pixies, goblins, and of course, a flesh-eating witch.

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Now, as a woman and writer of fantasy, the movie still captivates me, despite the negative reviews by the critics.

The plot is simple: the hero must defeat the villain to save the world from eternal darkness. The theme is more complex: neither light, nor dark, can truly destroy the other, for they’re dependent on one another. The characters each have his or her own role to perform that supports the branching elements of the plot.

I’ve used Legend as a template for storyboarding. Often my plot overwhelms me and I need to narrow it down to its most basic before branching out or creating sub-plots. I want to make sure my theme carries through from beginning to end, and choose the best elements to represent or symbolize this theme. Character development is the most important to me. Are each of my characters necessary? Do they have a purpose? Do they create conflict, aid my MC, have hardships of their own? Do they grow at all? Do they inspire me?

I won’t bore you with every facet of Legend I adore, but I will ask you: What movie/book do you watch/read over and over again and never tire of? Why? Is it the mythology, the world-building, the time-period? Once you know the answers, you’ll know what story to write. And more importantly, you’ll love it.

My love affair with Legend has lasted twenty-seven years. I want the same with my stories.

Happy writing!

Kate

 

That’s how it’s done: Shadow & Bone June 13, 2013

I know there are a million reviews for this book. I’m pretty sure EVERYONE read it last year, and everyone bought the sequel last week. So reviewing it would be pretty redundant. But I thought it would be fun to go through and parse it from a writer perspective. Most of the fantasy writers I run into are writing for Young Adult these days, and this is a Young Adult Epic Fantasy Series that is TOTALLY taking YA Fantasy by storm. I want to point out just a few things that the first book in the series really hit on the head.

Opening Hook Includes Massive Worldbuilding Without Info-Dump
I read the first four chapters multiple times. They were masterful– masterful, I tell you! The Shadow Fold, the Volcra, the Unsea, all of it is introduced cleanly through action. We get a clear picture of the setting and the forces at work, as well as most of the characters that will be in play for the entire novel.

The Important Characters Are Dealt
There are often so many characters in fantasy, we want to introduce them all at once. In SHADOW AND BONE, all of the main characters are put in play right at the beginning, but Bardugo also made it obvious which people we really need to pay attention to, and whom can fall by the wayside. There aren’t a bunch of confusing extras. We meet the main character, Alina, the love interest, Mal, and the villain (in fine, dark form), The Darkling. All the other characters that are introduced later are great, but the reader understands that they aren’t front and center, at least not in the first book. (This requires more effort when you have multiple POVs, but it’s not impossible.)

Action That Pulls Us In, Mystery That Keeps Us Reading
By the end of these first 75 pages, our main character has just escaped grave danger, is torn from the boy she just might love, and set out on a mission that may lead to destruction. We learn that Mal and Alina have deep devotion to one another and want to keep each other safe, but other than that, we’re left to guess at where their relationship may be headed. We also have no idea what the Darkling may be up to, and whether he is good or bad at the core.

As The Quest Changes, So Does The Main Character
As the story progresses and Alina discovers more about Ravka’s history and what is expected of her, her goals change multiple times. She grows with each new revelation, learns how to adapt and how to succeed. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your main character is likeable or learns from their mistakes, but there must be growth while remaining consistent. Bardugo did this perfectly.

Happy Ending, With Danger Lurking
So many times I get to the end of a book and find it tied up with a pretty little bow. In a series, you just can’t do that. There must be a perfect balance of satisfactory close with enough bad stuff about to hit the fan that we are afraid for the characters and MUST keep reading. Not going to spoil the end, just in case some of you haven’t read it, but seriously. Go read it. Then you can see what I mean about all the things this book did right. And of course, then you can buy SEIGE AND STORM!

— Rachel O’Laughlin

Putting in a picture of the second book in the Grisha Trilogy, just because.

 

Point of View June 8, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 2:57 pm
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Point of View in fantasy novels traditionally leans towards third person, but it is possible to successfully write a story of this kind from any perspective. No, really, it is! The difficult part is not the actual writing, but deciding which point of view would suit your narrative better. Below, the different POVs are listed out to help you understand them and choose which works for your story:

First Person (Female)- If you’re writing a young adult fantasy, a female main character, narrating from her first person perspective is probably the best choice. Since the audience at this age will mainly be female readers, the inner thoughts, wishes, fears and dreams of a female protagonist should help your readers connect with the MC and the story.

First Person (Male)- If you’re writing a middle grade fantasy, a male main character, narrating from his first person perspective is probably the best choice. Readers at this level are typically boys so a male protagonist will be someone they can immediately connect with. Girls at this age are also very accepting readers and shouldn’t have an issue reading about a boy.

Third Person Limited- Once the narration is given from outside the protagonist, the narrator themselves take on a certain persona. Depending on whether your main character is male or female, the limited view of the narrator will likely mirror characteristics from this person and that can aid a middle grade or young adult audience. In a limited narrative however, they don’t have much personality and are rather much more like an observer standing on your MCs shoulder.

Third Person Omniscient – This perspective is even further removed from your narrator, regardless of their sex and tends to work best for adult readers. As an omniscient narrator, they can contain their own sort of personality beyond that of the protagonist, or not, it’s your decision. Typically, this kind of narration demands the knowledge of everything in your world and the people within it, so it can create confusion and difficulty in keeping secrets.

No matter which narrative style you choose, be sure that it is the right choice for your novel, your main character and your audience. Of course, any of these can be used in any genre or category of fantasy, the aforementioned groups are only a suggestion.

Sometimes writers have a favorite point of view to use, what’s yours?

~Rachel H