There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

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.

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Avoiding Fantasy Pitfalls April 6, 2013

One of the advantages of writing fantasy is the big backdrop to the story – spanning time, space and the furthermost reaches of the imagination. Yet sometimes a story can get lost on a big canvas. So before creating a bold new world, it’s worth bearing in mind some of the pitfalls of writing in the fantasy genre.

1. Description Overload. Beware of overwhelming the reader with too much detail. Although it takes a lot of time to create a new world, remember you’re telling a story – not putting together a documentary. World building is about providing a framework and highlighting the unique qualities of your setting. As the author it’s important you know the intricacies of your creation; but ask yourself, does the reader really need to know?

2. Too Many Characters. Great epic fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, is able to weave together multiple storylines that both draw the reader in and convey a sense of scope. For lovers of this kind of fantasy, the advantage of seeing so many points of view provides depth and perspective. However, as good as Tolkien and Martin undoubtedly are, many people won’t read their stories because they are complicated and it’s hard to invest in so many characters.

3. The Never-ending Story? Does your book have an ending? Or are you stringing it out over 10 instalments?  Sure it’s great to have a captive audience. I’ll usually follow a good author through a series, a saga or a decent set of chronicles (there is something comforting about a familiar world and characters). But there comes a time when as a reader you want a resolution. Padding the plot, creating impossible obstacles, or manufacturing new and even more evil enemies, can end up frustrating a reader. Keep the end in sight. Give your reader a bit of a breather at the end of each book. And know when enough is enough.

4. Point of Difference? With all the scope in the world at our disposal, there are still common fantasy elements that tend to be revisited time and time again: Vampires, elves, faeries, dragons, objects of power and prophecy are well recognised within the genre. But as Alec Austin so aptly noted;

A dragon must learn to make a good first impression if it is to do well in this life.

In essence if a reader has encountered hundreds of dragon stories, your dragon will be subject to comparison. So you’d better make it good. Agents are always asking what makes a story unique. If you’re working with fantasy tropes, at least make sure your story has a point of difference.

5. Poor Craftsmanship. I’ve been at ‘literary’ writing courses, where fantasy writing has been considered the poor relative to literature. Don’t believe it. Storytelling is an art form that sells. But it doesn’t matter how imaginative your story is if you can’t tell it well. So ignore the detractors, hone your writing skills and bring the reader along for the ride.

The great thing about a pitfall is – once you’re aware of it, it’s much easier to avoid.

– by Raewyn Hewitt

 

First of her Kind release day! February 4, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — thereanddraftagain @ 6:00 am
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Hi all!

Today it is my pleasure to announce the release of FIRST OF HER KIND (A Darkness And Light Novel) by our very own K.L. Schwengel!

FOHKcover

Blurb

Everyone, it seems, wants to dictate what Ciara does with her life:  Serve the Goddess, destroy the Goddess, do as you promised your aunt. All Ciara wants is to keep the two magics she possesses from ripping her apart.

And that won’t be easy.

Not only are they in complete opposition to each other, blood ties pull her in divergent directions as well. And then there’s Bolin, the man sworn to protect her. There’s no denying the growing attraction between them, but is it Ciara he wants? Or her power?

None of which will matter if Ciara can’t overcome her fear and learn to use her gifts.No one knows the depths
of the ancient power she possesses, or what will happen if it manages to escape her control.

Will she lose herself entirely? Or be forever trapped between darkness & light?

First 200 words

“Ciara pulled the hood of her fur cloak over her head and slogged through the deepening drifts up the hill toward the house. The winter wind howled like a maddened banshee, tossing her lantern light across the swirling snow to create eerie shadows that wavered and danced around her. Even with the lantern, Ciara couldn’t see an arm’s reach in front of her. If it weren’t for the fact she’d traveled the path from the barn to the house numerous times every day for the past four years, she could have easily gotten lost. It already felt as if she’d been walking far longer than normal. She tugged her scarf over her mouth and nose, ignoring the ice crystals forming on its edge. Her feet had long since gone past merely chilled to painfully cold, making them harder too ignore. She peered up the hill between blasts of wind and caught a glimpse of her aunt’s cottage — nothing more than a hulking, dark shape amid the churning white wall around her. Then the wind gusted and snow obscured her vision once again.”

Doesn’t this sound great?!

Here is where the book is available for purchase:

SmashWords (ebook)

Amazon (ebook)

Amazon (paperback)

Barnes & Noble (paperback)

You can congratulate Kathi on her blog, her Goodreads page, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Happy release day Kathi!

EM

 

 

Tackling Fight Scenes January 19, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 7:00 am
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If you’re writing epic fantasy, odds are at some point your protagonist is going to have to fight. Whether they’re a sword wielding battle-scarred pro, or an inexperienced newcomer terrified of conflict – there are a few universal rules that can help.

1. Stakes

If your character is going to risk life and liberty there had better be a good reason for it. The greater the stakes, the more the character is going to risk. So although Bilbo may lament the loss of his handkerchief at the beginning of The Hobbit he is hardly going to face down a trio of trolls to save it. However if the lives of 13 others are at stake, and his survival outside the Shire depends on their release, he’s more likely to risk his life to save them.

Your character’s goal is never the fight itself. The fight is always a vehicle to achieving something else. (Freedom, recovering something, obtaining information, saving someone).

2. Tension

There should be moments when it looks like your protagonist has failed. There’s nothing worse in a fight scene than your hero walking it. The guards are dispatched without much effort, the key to the cell door is easy to find, and a fast horse waiting by the door whips them safely off into the night.

It’s always easy to up the ante – just think of what could go wrong and let that play out.

The guards are able to raise an alarm. The stronghold is holding a tournament so it’s not just everyday guards, but champion fighters now swarming the halls. The person being rescued isn’t there.  When they are located the only key to their cell was attached to the belt of the guard the hero just pushed out the window. A portcullis is lowered trapping them inside. And when they manage to fight their way to the wall – they see the horse and companions waiting outside have been grabbed too.

But because you’re clever, your hero finds an ingenious way to escape and free the companions at the same time.

When your protagonist escapes by the narrowest of margins, your reader will hopefully feel relief rather than disbelief.

3. Plausibility

It doesn’t matter how physically amazing your hero is, there is no way one person can defeat a whole army in hand-to-hand conflict. Know your characters skills and design a fight sequence that will work for them. In The Lord of the Rings the hobbits manage to avoid many fight scenes because they are small enough to crawl off unnoticed. However when Sam defeats Shelob he uses his small stature and her greater size to his advantage.

4. Focus on the Action

I love the dictionary definition of action:

The state or process of doing something.

Not planning, thinking, or talking about what’s going to happen. The actual doing.

Fight scenes are cause and effect. Someone throws a punch, you either get hit or you dodge it. If you get hit, you rally as fast as you can (even if you are wobbly or winded). If you dodge, you need to counter in some form. Your characters don’t have time to over think, so don’t do it when you’re writing either.

That’s not to say a fight scene is just a blow-by-blow account either, just that the character’s main focus is in the moment. They can feel despair as their face hits the dirt, because in that moment all they can see is the holy grail (the goal) slipping away from them. Just remember the opponent wants to end this fight fast too, so keep it moving.

5. Pace

Write fast. Use short sentences. Employ explosively active verbs; thrust, tackle, smash, mash, pummel, hammer, crush…

6. Recovery

Make sure the character feels the impact afterwards. Fighting always takes its toll – whether it’s in the form of injuries sustained, or counting the emotional cost of achieving the goal.

Fights are as unique as the opponents, and ultimately as the writer you are in control of the circumstances and the environment. The key is to get inside the head of your character and play to their strengths.

 By Raewyn Hewitt

 

The future of High Fantasy January 2, 2013

Hello and Happy New Year!

I have mentioned it before on my blog, but I’m always surprised to read that some agents will represent all Fantasy sub-genres except High/Epic Fantasy. As if High Fantasy was a narrow market without a future.

So today I ask: what is the future of High Fantasy in 2013?

As YA High Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas explained in 2011: “High fantasy isn’t dead. If you say it is, you’re not looking in the right places. Perhaps the good stuff doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, but it’s out there, changing perspectives and broadening imaginations, reminding us of what it is to be human, and daring girls who love nail polish and boys to dream of something more.”

In 2013, and to prove this point, I am therefore eagerly anticipating:

– the third season of Game of Thrones on HBO (April 2013)

– the second Hobbit movie (December 2013)

– the latest Adult releases by Robin Hobb (March 2013), Mark Lawrence (August 2013) and Brandon Sanderson (October 2013)

– the latest YA releases by Leigh Bardugo (June 2013), Sarah J. Maas (August 2013) and Rae Carson (September 2013)

– debut books by Elizabeth May (May 2013) and Myriam Forster (February 2013)

… and I’m hoping for many discoveries and surprises!

What about you? Which High Fantasy book/TV show/movie are you looking forward to in 2013? Leave us a comment below!

EM

 

World Building: In the Beginning… December 19, 2012

One of the most satisfying things about reading and writing fantasy is exploring new worlds. Whether it’s our own world transformed in a magical retelling, or a completely new creation; the joy comes because it feels real. As writers of fantasy, the question then is – how do we go about building a brand new world and making it feel as tangible as this one?

1. Start with the story.

Your world is always the backdrop to the story. It doesn’t matter how magical your unicorns, how grand the soaring spires of your cloud city, or whether the healing properties of the bobo berry have eliminated sickness forever; they won’t dazzle anyone if they aren’t relevant to the story.

So get a good feel for your story first, and then build the world up from there.

Who are your main characters? Where do they live? Who do they interact with? What political / cultural / geographical influences impact upon their lives? Unless you have a particular love of creating complete worlds from scratch (and some do), your world building need only extend to those elements that will directly or indirectly impact on your character.

2. Details, Details, Details.

Only in the planning stage – and always with your eye on the world your characters experience. This is the time to get creative and do some research. You probably need to have some idea about history, geography, geology, flora and fauna, culture, language (patterns, or idiosyncrasies if you aren’t keen on creating a whole new language), and mythology.

Create a reference document / folder or visual diary and note down things that make the world unique. Draw a map. The more you know about your world the more substance your story will have.

Keeping good records can help with consistency. This is even more important if you’re writing epic fantasy, when it can be quite difficult to keep the entire world straight in your head.

How much time you devote to this is entirely a matter of personal preference – some people like to set a time limit on their research (for fear of never being quite ready), others adopt a more organic approach. The key to remember is that each element should add something to the story.

3. Less is More.

There is a big difference between knowing all the properties of the bobo berry, and listing them all out as encyclopedic rote. It’s unlikely your reader has bought your book for a lesson on biology. So when you’re writing the story your aim is to weave the detail in seamlessly so it feels organic.

As Juliet Mariller so eloquently phrased it:

Ask dedicated readers of fantasy, and epic fantasy in particular, what makes a book special for them, and I’d guess a majority would place good world-building high on the list. I’m talking about novels in which the secondary world is so well realised and so expertly woven into the story that the reader becomes immersed in it within the first few pages: a world that’s convincing, consistent and fascinating. Its parameters and its quirks won’t be set out for us in long passages of descriptive exposition, but will be integral to the plot and will emerge as the story unfolds.

How much detail you provide is largely a matter of taste. But if it sounds like you’re narrating a nature documentary, or reciting a history lesson you might want to rethink your approach.  Remember the old advice is always good: Show don’t tell. And show in a way that would feel real to your characters and their situation.

4. Gaze Upon the World with Wonder.

I love Patrick Rothfuss’s attitude to building fantasy worlds:

We get to build castles in the sky, then show them off to people.

So if you’re going to dream, dream big. Pay attention to the world around your characters. Find the little details that tell more than their face value and truly enhance your story. The way you will build your fantasy world, will no doubt be as unique as that world itself.

– Raewyn Hewitt

 

The Hobbit Movie: An Unexpected Delight December 14, 2012

When Peter Jackson announced he would be bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit: or There and Back Again to the big screen, the obvious question was how would it compare to his epic Lord of the Rings movie trilogy? Rumours of padding, and taking liberties with the story continued to gain momentum when it was confirmed earlier this year that his adaptation would be told over not two – but three movies. For a book of barely 300 pages that is more children’s story than full blown epic, many wondered how Jackson was going to pull it all together and stay true to the original tale.

Fortunately Jackson has proven he is a masterful film maker with safe hands, and the result is a movie which blends both the light-hearted and almost comical elements of the book, with the darker vein of a wider history (Sauron’s gathering power) foundational to The Lord of the Rings.

The story is based around a group of 13 dwarves, lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), set on reclaiming their mountain fortress from the ferocious dragon Smaug. The wizard Gandalf, (beautifully revived by Ian McKellan) who is aiding the group insists the unsuspecting (and put out) hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) complete the party. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey sees the unlikely heroes set out on their quest, armed with only a fancy key, an incomplete map, and a grim dwarven determination to put things right.

Suffice to stay with two more movies in the offing the group barely get a glimpse of the Lonely Mountain, but there is plenty more going on to keep the viewer riveted for almost three hours. The scenes are spectacular and varied, ranging from homely Hobbiton, dreamy Rivendell and the vast Goblin (Orc) halls in the Misty Mountains to the rich gold-laden mines and treasure chambers of the Dwarves.

The special effects are amazing and cutting edge. I wasn’t able to see the new 48 frame per second version which has been roundly criticized (so I can’t comment on how that impacted the viewing experience), but the 3D experience was rich and vibrant. The sequence shot with Gollum was sublime. Even better than previous offerings – as the graphics, writing and acting were all right on point. The action scenes, fast paced and multi-dimensional (at one point there was so much going on I struggled to keep up just watching), didn’t disappoint either.

As for the cries of taking liberties with the plot and padding with back story, there is perhaps some truth. Radagast the Brown (wizard) is introduced to the story to tie in the impact of the growing dark power. Azog the Orc, who rated only a mention in the book (as killer of Thorin’s grandfather), is elevated to the villain of the piece and a new storyline is pieced together to tie the movie into a cohesive whole. Stretching the story? Maybe. But Jackson has made an honest effort to stay true to Tolkien’s wider work while still delivering a memorable cinematic experience.

The movie sits well alongside Jackson’s previous film offerings and was a joy to watch. For fans of Tolkien’s larger works, it’s also a good excuse to dig back into the original text and find the small references Jackson mines to flesh out his film.

Highly Recommended!

Review by Raewyn Hewitt: Reader and writer of epic fantasy. Some of her earliest and most precious memories were of being snuggled up in bed as her Nana read her The Hobbit.