There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Writing Obstacles: The Best Laid Plans, Orcs, and the Kitchen Sink November 20, 2013

At heart I’m a storyteller. I’d like nothing better than to spin tales upon gossamer threads, write so ferociously that my fingers develop callouses as tough as the sole of a hobbit’s foot, and to sweep my readers off on a journey that will both entertain and challenge them. Yet it can be a hard slog carving out time to make this writing dream a reality, because often things happen that make writing time as elusive as the one ring itself.

The Best Laid Plans.

The problem with a plan is you can’t cover every eventuality. This morning I planned to get up at 6am and have at least an hour working quietly on the blog before the family woke up. At 6.15 the first child came out rubbing his eyes, delighted to find he had his mother all to himself…

In a story, thwarting the plan creates good tension. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf hasn’t even finished giving Frodo his super-secret-brief when he finds Sam Gamgee ‘not listening‘ outside the window.  Not to mention the Fellowship so carefully put-together at the Council of Elrond lasts about five minutes when the chips are down. In fact the most successful plan in the whole story is Frodo’s very vague idea to head in the direction of Mordor and see what happens.

As a writer, I’m learning Frodo’s attitude is pretty good: you just have to keep heading in the general direction and do what you can.

Dealing with Life’s Little Challenges. (Or Overrun by Orcs)

The foes that come against our characters come in all shapes and sizes. If I had to describe the challenges I’ve been facing lately I’d say they are life’s Orcs. Not complex or difficult to overcome, but annoying and arriving en mass.

This week I’ve locked my keys in the car on the main street in town at night, planted a whole heap of seedlings only have half of them blown out of the ground by a freak wind-storm, dug up by cats, or scratched out by the neighbours chickens who found a hole in the fence. In a fit of spring-cleaning madness I sprayed the oven with oven cleaner (that part doesn’t take long) – but when I had to clean it out in a hurry could only find 5 (yes you read that right) left hand kitchen gloves. The top of the plug snapped off while the sink was full of water and I had to pry it out with a knife and I dropped a big tub of crayons and miscellaneous craft objects all over the floor just before dinner guests were due to arrive.

None of these things are a big deal; but they can be time-consuming, frustrating and certainly aren’t productive.

However I love Merry and Pippin’s strategy with Orcs: Keep a low profile and crawl away if you have the opportunity. It’s easy to be distracted by things going awry, but try to keep things in perspective. If things go wrong, do what you have to, but try and protect your writing time too. Sometimes you have to leave the water in the sink and deal with it later.

Everything Including the Kitchen Sink.

Sometimes life throws the most unexpected things at you – including the kitchen sink. The same way writing challenges come in all shapes and forms; plot problems, lack of inspiration, the hard slog of editing, illness, family commitments, unexpected visitors… Whatever form your obstacle takes, consider the dogged determination of your own characters and make a commitment to keep up with them. After all, if we can come up with creative ways to get our characters out of trouble, we can surely come up with ways to overcome any writing challenge.

Have you faced any writing challenges this week?

-by Raewyn Hewitt

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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

 

The Role of the Epic Fantasy in a Byte-Sized Future February 9, 2013

In this modern age where everything seems to be getting faster, smaller and more simplified, what is the future of the epic fantasy? Will a genre known for its length, survive in a culture raised on sound bytes and fast fiction?

In order to really understand the future of epic fantasy we need to understand exactly what it is.

Wikipedia lists epic fantasy as being synonymous with high fantasy:

High fantasy (also referred to as epic fantasy) is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot.

A fair definition, although I think it a stretch to suggest any story set in an imaginary world could be an epic. I prefer the definition offered by our very own Jessy Montgomery:

Epic: This genre is as big as the name hints. It deals with the human journey, the creation of philosophy, and it really digs into the human condition. Everything from the main character to the villain to the armies are big. Typically hinges on some sort of world destruction. Think Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien.

But the experts aren’t all singing from the same song-sheet. Jeremy L.C. Jones wrote a great piece entitled: Something Greater: An Epic Discussion of Epic Fantasy, for Clarkesworld Magazine, where he invited 28 writers of epic fantasy (including Terry Brooks, Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson) to comment on the genre. His very first question – What is at the heart (or core) of Epic Fantasy?’ – got so many different responses, you can only conclude any definition is subjective.

Nevertheless the overall feeling was epic fantasy is about story on a grand scale; big themes, sweeping scope, a ‘wide lens view of the world‘ and something ‘you just feel … in your bones‘.

But as the traditional publishing model is being forced to adapt to the new digital age, writers of epic fantasy – known as much for the size of their word counts as the scope of their stories – need to be open to new ways of storytelling.

1. Consider the Serial.

Although I am a big fan of the door-stopper novel (the sheer weight of Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind gives me little shivers), the future may look quite different when it comes to how the story is delivered to readers.

This youtube generation, with a love of blogs, vlogs, tweets and social media – are more open than ever to the short-byte serial. Ironically this smaller serving approach could be a great option for the writer of epic fantasy. Instead of having to manufacture a story arc for each of the six books in your story – call them instalments release them regularly (at novella size?) and readers can follow until the story reaches its natural conclusion. It’s all about how frequently you make contact with your market (and saleable units).

2. Offer Individual Storylines.

This is a favourite (and lucrative) fall-back of romance novelists. Rather than tell all the stories at once, each family member gets their own book. Because the reader is already invested in the world, they can be very loyal to this kind of series. Which is great for generating income.

Epic fantasies often include multiple POV characters and storylines – so teasing these out could be a way of telling the big stories on a smaller scale. I’m not sure how well this will work in practice, because often it is the pulling together of these threads that mark a great epic tale – but the potential is there and worth investigating.

3. Go Cinematic.

Epic stories, make great movies (emphasis on the plural) – because of the scope, action and drama translate to a visual feast. So the writer of epic fantasy would do well to consider the film-makers art of story structure, to get a handle on delivery of big elements in a limited time frame.

I personally love watching movie directors (and their team) explain the techniques they use to bring their vision to life. Although a novel and a film have distinct differences, it doesn’t hurt to consider other techniques in an attempt to reach a wider audience (and to ensure your book could easily be adapted to film).

4. Multi-Media.

The trend seems to be moving towards reader interaction and experience. Artwork, short-films, book trailers, maps, photos, music, recipes – fiction writers are already using many of these to attract readers. I must admit as a writer, I find this a daunting leap out of my comfort zone; but it is important to understand how the market is evolving.

In my opinion there will always be a place for epic fantasy. The reason it has been around so long is because it speaks to a timeless human yearning for something greater than oneself.

I think K.V. Johansen sums it up beautifully:

‘Or maybe the real reason I write Epic Fantasy is that at the age of eight I read The Lord of the Rings multiple times, and it sank into my marrow and told, This is what Story means; this is what Language is; this is how words work magic.’

What do you think?

by Raewyn Hewitt