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Entries in fantasy (12)


Week Twenty Seven: Parented!

Read it. Read it and weep.

Between this and last week's story (or excerpt, I guess), I seem to be 1,290 words into a fantasy novel I had outlined about a month ago but then sat on. The great surprise is how much I enjoy writing a scene here and another scene there, rather than starting at the start and working my way through. I'm someone who has to watch movies and their sequels in the order they were intended. I'll never read the end of a book before I begin it (not to name names, Breda). 

But for some reason none of that applies here. Maybe it's because I have so much reverence for story that I'm terrified of writing a bad one, but if I can just sit down and tell myself Today, the merchant talks to Garith about parenting and taking responsibility... and also he's kinda drunk, it feels more like playing than work. I know some (or many) of the details will change later, but for now I'm just exploring character. And building something, scene by scene.

So the time has come, ladies and gents. I'm gonna try to write a book. I'm setting myself a deadline of October 31st for the rough draft (~90,000 words). Too ambitious? I defy your caution.

Please wish me luck (and lots and lots of impulse control).

Meanwhile, did this week's prompt do anything for your own writing?


Week Twenty Six: Objectified!

I surprised myself with this one and ended up writing a scene from late in Book One of my epic fantasy series that I had outlined but not yet started. I guess now I officially have!

Kyra from Week Eight's story was a rough sketch of Kaira, one of the main characters in this planned series. There are some obvious similarities, but I don't think I'm going to follow that story exactly. Or maybe. Kind of. We shall see!

Anyway, here's my Week Twenty Six

Leave yours/links to yours in the comments!


Week Eight: Fantasy-ed!

Week Eight's completed challenge can be found here!

This is the first true short story I've attempted since graduate school. In writing it, I had to overcome a number of self-imposed stumbling blocks that have kept me from attempting something just like this for many a year now. Basically, I had to get over myself. 

And the result...? Well, you decide.

Please, I would love some feedback on this one. What worked? What didn't? What do you hope to see more of? You can comment on this post, or on the story itself, or contact me directly

As I've mentioned, the intent here was to better flesh out one major character of my theoretical fantasy series. It took some time (you may have noticed), but, having done this, I truly believe that things will get easier from here. I feel... accomplished.

Anyway, check it out! And I've hinted before (and the story itself has a disclaimer on it), but there's some dark stuff in there. I don't want to upset anyone, but I also don't want to spoil the story, so please contact me if you want to know what exactly that dark stuff is before you read it.

Reflections, and Week Nine's several challenges (microfiction week!), to come this weekend.


Week Eight progress: So it turns out that I'm crazy

Writing is hard.

I have been plugging away at, as promised, a short tale involving a major character from a fantasy series I may or may not ever write. Trying to find both character and world when you haven't decided much about either has proven to be... well... a challenge. Here, for example, is the first paragrah of the rough draft:

When she was much younger — a child of four or five — Kyra had been, actually, a princess. Not the princess, of course: that was [Name] of [Name], the only daughter of [Name], who had been king over [Name] most of his long life. His passing took Kyra and her family out of the line of succession. Used to be they received an allowance from the crown each year (“a stipend,” her mother called it… it was an allowance, Kyra knew now; just enough coin to keep them and several other small houses just like theirs from raising a small army and pressing their rights), but that all ended with King [Name]. Because of the [Treaty of Something] drawn during the [Times of Somesuch], a rival family was able to assert their claim to the throne and, in so doing, force Kyra’s parents to learn a trade and spend the rest of their noble lives working for their stipends. 

Likewise, I find myself having to ponder currency, how townsfolk aquire their water, whether or not there is a town guard and why, etc. etc. And then I have to stop myself from stopping, and just throw in a placeholder for the sake of not losing momentum. But the story is at a place now where all these decisions I have delayed will actually inform what the protagonist can do, and I've felt overwhelmed and stuck. 

So a few nights ago I decided that I hated the story, hated the world, hated having to write in a setting I don't know yet. The next morning I talked with my girlfriend about making it more modern — transposing everything into our world or something very similar to it. This seemed appealing. Then, in the shower, I resolved to just finish the tale I'm writing right now, post it to this blog, and move on to shorter things until I'm actually ready to attempt a larger work. Maybe just focus on writing plays since that seems to come easier for me?

And then, during my lunch break, I re-read everything I've written in my story to date and kind of... liked it...? And I figured out what happens next — a quick way to keep the story moving and avoid getting stuck in procedural.

And now, after having read one-half of the first draft, littered as it is with placeholders and weird dead ends, I'm thinking that I need to stop thinking so much, that what I'm writing — though the words are not coming easily — is actually going somewhere and I should just surrender myself to that. 

So that's what I'm at. And because I don't want to limit your first impression of this story to "[Name] of [Name], the only daughter of [Name], who had been king over [Name]," here is the following paragraph:

Her mother took it hardest, and never ceased instructing Kyra in courtly manner, even years after her first blood, though of course there was no point anymore to heraldry, to curtseys, to being coy and demure. They were commoners now — even before they were “deposed” (again, her mother’s words), their claim was not the strongest. Kyra never was going to sit on that throne; now it was just official. Her father took soon thereafter to the bottle with great enthusiasm, squandering whatever royal savings they had on wine and wenches. Gambling, too. One night he must have taken his chances on a game he couldn’t afford, because the next morning Kyra and her mother found him at the door, cold, his throat sawed open.

Consider yourself teased.


Piers Anthony on growing up different

On the way in to work this morning, I listened to an episode of This American Life that told the story of a 15-year-old superfan of science fiction and fantasy author Piers Anthony. He had a troubled home life and ran away to seek out and hopefully live with his idol... several states away. It was a riveting episode, and there was a quote from Anthony at the end that really resonated with me:

"One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we're not that way from perversity. And we cannot just relax and let it go. We've learned to cope in ways you never had to."

The episode's transcript is here or (recommended) you can listen to it here.

Of course, who among us had a perfect childhood? We all have our wounds, but I found this inspirational because it came from a very successful and large-hearted guy who had once struggled mightily but found his way through.

I think I might run away to go and live with Piers Anthony...



November is National Novel Writing Month, wherein you are challenged to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. That's roughly 1,167 1,667 [thanks for the math assist, Nick!] words a day, every day. 

I will not be writing 1,667 words every day. I will, however, be starting the aforementioned novel-length work and hopefully using the momentum of NaNoWriMo to overcome my natural resistance to, you know, finishing anything.

My plan is to continue doing these weekly prompts, but instead of creating new characters and situations each week, they'll be used to inform a chapter or a situation from the novel. 

You can follow my progress here on the blog and also over at www.nanowrimo.org; my username is brandon.crose, and I'd love to see what you're working on!


Building a magical fantasy world...

So I've decided to attempt a character-driven story set in a magical fantasy world... but how do you build a magical fantasy world that is both compelling and uniquely yours? How do you weave in fantasy tropes (magical trinkets, a perilous quest, etc.) without unwittingly copying everything that's come before?

Brandon Sanderson talks about how The Lord of the Rings changed the landscape of fantasy literature forever—and perhaps not for the better:

[Tolkien's] work was so revolutionary that the market couldn't deal with it. Readers wanted more books like LotR, but other authors weren't ready to produce high fantasy yet. The only thing they could do was try and do what Tolkien did.

But they didn't do what Tolkien did. They didn't create a new world, with its own mythology, its own society, its own technology, its own races and creatures. This wasn't their fault—they just weren't ready to jump to that level. So instead they applied their considerable creativity toward copying Tolkien. Instead of creating true high fantasy, everyone created more low fantasy—but they used Tolkien's world as a base instead of our own. The result was a kind of tainting of the entire genre, a 'Tolkienizing.' Fantasy didn't mean 'the genre where the author creates his or her own unique setting.' It meant 'the genre where the books include elves, dwarfs, wizards, and quests.'

(Link to the rest here.)

Well, crud. And conversely, if I am going to build an entire fantasy setting that's uniquely mine, owing nothing to Tolkien et al.... where do I start? The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has a great series of fantasy worldbuilding questions to ask yourself... but now there's the threat of being overwhelmed by the scope of this thing before I've even written one word. For example:

  • How are the continents laid out? If there is more than one moon/sun, how does this affect winds, tides, and weather generally?
  • How much land is there, and how much of it is habitable?
  • Is the axial tilt and orbit the same — i.e., does the world have the same seasons and same length of year as Earth?

I could of course just start writing the story and figure out these details later, but that's going to make for some tough writing.

Have you tried to build a magical fantasy world? If so, what was the experience like for you? What were some helpful things to keep in mind?


Brainstorming Week Eight, continued

Per my resolution to make writing fun and not work (or to work at having more fun... whichever) I'm going to try something new with Week Eight's prompt, which is to use the idea behind it to inform a character or scene from a larger work.

A larger work? Doesn't he find the shorter works difficult enough...?

Well, faithful readers, the goal has long been to write a fantasy/sci-fi series of some kind, but I've always felt too overwhelmed by the scope of such a thing. And of course that's still the case, but a few broad strokes have started to fall into place and I'm approaching something not unlike an outline. With very, very general characters.

And here's where Week Eight's prompt comes in: I want to use the concept to flesh out and explore one of the series' major characters. This may or may not become part of the larger work, but for now I'm just interested in the kind of exploratory writing that prolific writers (those mythical, dignified beings for whom writing is never a struggle) do on a daily basis. 

I don't know much about this character. I think she's a she, kind of a capable rogue type, a Gypsy-like person (or has been traveling with them for awhile)... quick to use humor as a defense mechanism, pretends that she is pragmatic and crass but deep down she's disappointed by how things have turned out for her. Her careless actions are contrary to who she wants to be, but in line with the kind of person she thinks she is.

Hey-oh! Week Eight's theme. Wham.

I still don't know how fantasy this fantasy world is, the names of the continents or kingdoms or if there even are kingdoms. I don't even know her name. All I know is that she's made a niche for herself in a merchant caravan of some kind, but she came from a very different life...


Brainstorming Week Eight

[The Unwritten Kitten was sick for a week—like, three-visits-to-the-vet- and forcing-nourishment-down-his-gullet-via-syringe sick—and so my writing output has been not so much. But he's better now, and so we return to our regularly scheduled blogging endeavors...]

Week Eight's challenge reminds me of a phrase inscribed in the "buoy's" bathroom at Outward Bound's Hurricane Island center many years ago: "The true measure of a person is what they do when no one's watching." I used to really take stuff like this to heart—I was very lost, but still searching like hell for home. Somehow, these aphorisms felt like guideposts, even if I didn't quite know what to do with them.

[Also, isn't it great that even the bathroom graffiti at an Outward Bound center is meaningful?]

Which is all very interesting, but how to turn the sentiment into a story. "You are a person of little worth if..." isn't the most interesting theme. I don't particularly want to read about someone the author has judged to be of little worth. It's going to read like a parable.

I could turn the prompt inside out: write about a person of great worth who is deliberate with his/her non-verbal actions.

Every so often I come back to the idea that I ultimately want to write in a literary/genre hybrid style, but for some reason in these prompts I keep pushing toward straight literary. Maybe this person of great or little worth lives in a magical fantasy world? Or on a spaceship? Or on a spaceship in a magical fantasy world?

Maybe it's not about a person of variable worth, but the question of how to determine worth is somehow central to the story?

Man. I dunno.


Reflections on Week Six

[Read the completed story here!]

It's kind of illuminating that the only way I'm able to break these silly prompts into actual stories is to stretch the meaning far enough that it becomes an almost new idea. There's a reason (apart from a near-chronic case of procrastination) that I didn't turn any of these ideas into stories when I first jotted them down nearly 12 years ago.

(...12 years...?! Eff.)

Anyway, if they didn't quite work for me then, the inertia of not having touched these ideas in over a decade makes all of them seem that much more stale. So really how else could this work? I understand now that part of the process of each week's challenge is that I have to make the idea fresh and exciting again—otherwise, this is just homework. (And I have always excelled at not doing homework.)

So that's a useful revelation.

For this particular challenge, I thought I would attempt science fiction or fantasy, but that felt like too much of an investment right now. I do eventually want to write a series of sci-fi/fantasy-ish books, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet.

(Possibly I'm just building it up so much that I'll never start. I've also been known to do this...)

Anyway, this challenge involved some brainstorming, a bit of freewriting, some procrastination, and finally an hour of freewriting one day (mopey rambling about why video games are a lot more fun than writing—I will spare you the agony of this) followed by outlining, writing, and revision over several hours the next day.

Overly observant readers will notice that I named the siblings after the siblings in Week Two's challenge. I just liked the names, okay? And I've always thought that Blake would be an awesome girl's name. Blake knows what's up. She's extremely likeable, sure, but you do not mess with Blake.

For the longest time I struggled with the bones of the story—single child or sibling? is the boy or girl older? does the older sibling trick the younger into going down into the basement? or accidentally lock him/her down there? Knowing that it was going to be a children's picture book with 16 pages of text forced me to narrow the scope of the story to its bare essentials, which is good for me, since I tend to get verbose.

The final result is cute, I think, and has a moment of two that makes me smile, but I don't think it's an instant classic. Let me know what you think in the comments. Don't be shy—constructive criticism is always welcome!