1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Seeking tips from fantasy writers

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mallory, Dec 21, 2010.

    Hey! I'm developing a story concept that's taking me out of my comfort zone of dystopia, horror and satire and launching me into the high fantasy arena.

    Just so you know, this is NOT meant to be one of those annoying "please give me validation," "please tell me what my characters should do" etc posts. I've got my basic plot figured out and outlined, although I haven't started writing yet.

    I've never written high fantasy before, and I was wondering, for those who have, are there any techniques (besides just good writing, of course) that make the good ones stand out? What do you like to see, and what rubs you the wrong way?

    Btw, it's not a LOTR rip-off. I've got the basic plot figured out; the only resemblance to LOTR is the group of people going on a quest, but there aren't any elves, dwarves, orcs, or rings of power.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It really varies, Mallory. Well-developed, three-dimensional characters are essential. A combination of both internal and external conflict is compelling to me. High stakes and a sense of mystery about the characters and what is going on always works well for me. Really, though, when I think about the Fantasy novels I like best, it is more or less the author creating compelling characters and telling a great story in a great way.

    Sorry that's so vague :)
     
  3. ministar
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    ministar New Member

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    An important thing in any story is setting a mood. Since you're used to writing dystopian and horror fiction, your writing style may be darker and more... abrupt(?) than the stereotypical fantasy writer. I'm not saying you should change your style, because that's what makes you recognizable as a writer, but think about the atmosphere you'd like to convey (whimsical? epic?) and watch your word choice, sentence structure, dialogue, etc.
     
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  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think writing the fantasy the way your story needs it to be. I adore Terry Pratchett and Anne McCaffrey but you can see the way they have forced their stories into their worlds. LOTRs for me does the same thing.

    Enid Blyton writes some of the best fantasy and with hers the worlds flow naturally. No matter what the character they contain humanity and they are fun. Somehow a tree with people living in it and lands that move and change at the top is believable. A flying chair that takes you where you want to go sure no bother lol
     
  5. Naiyn
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    Naiyn Contributing Member

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    You're characters are likely to encounter places completely unfamiliar to them. One problem I've seen in some fantasy that I've read, is that the party goes right through the dungeon or netherworld or what have you, with minimal fear, uncertainty, anxiety etc... The characters for some reason "just know" what to do and how to act in order to come out victorious. Sure, the battles and challenges might be intense, but without that initial show of emotion, the whole thing comes out flat

    These types of scenes (exploring the unknown) are great opportunities to capture the character's moods and thoughts as they encounter the strange and unusual. Every swing of the sword or casting of a spell becomes more intense when you know what the character is experiencing before hand.
     
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  6. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    When I'm reading fantasy, there are some story elements that win my approval most of the time. In no particular order:

    1. Emphasis on the competence that shows up in everyday life.

    Nowadays, there is a lot of distance between the ones who make and the ones who benefit. When you buy a chair, or a microwave, or a fire extinguisher, or a necklace, the odds are good that you have never met anyone involved in putting the item together. When you buy food, the wheat was often grown elsewhere, the cows for the meat were bred many hundreds of miles away, and the plates you ate your hamburger on came from Wal-Mart.

    In fantasy, I really like when the characters know where their tools and food come from. When cloth isn't just "cloth" but is something most people make on hand-looms at home in the dark months, the world feels more real. Same when the author brings up the local spices in the food, the sound of the blacksmith's tools clanging, the gentler ting . . . ting . . . of the silversmith's hammer as she shapes a bowl, the furniture shop where wet reeds are being woven into the seat of a rocking chair.

    When characters know that there is a lot of value in being competent enough to make useful things, the world feels more genuine.

    This can also be extended to include books that show the horses actually being cared for, the farmers actually bringing in food, the fighters actually practicing and exercising, and the bards actually tuning their instruments and practicing their songs. Too many stories drop those things away, because in our culture we don't put a lot of emphasis on those things. But when you're making up a world, you should take the time to show that the world is real by having your characters worry about the horse's shoe being loose, and having to practice on the pells every day, and having to carefully clean and oil their weapons after an afternoon's practice.

    2. Showing a non-modern worldview when it fits the story.

    There are a distressing number of fantasies that are supposed to be in another world, but then the author breaks her own worldbuilding to make things "better." Less sexist, classist, racist, or violent, for example. And it hurts my soul to see this happen.

    Societies that can't afford to feed and house a prisoner for life will kill or enslave their prisoners of war, and will probably use the death penalty on all kinds of criminal offenses. In many societies throughout history, people of better means frequently paid off judges to get a wrist-slap instead of being exiled or killed like a poor criminal would be. And when there's an emphasis on "noble birth" and titles and such, it's likely that a smart, competent commoner is going to have to bow and scrape in the presence of a stupid, bigoted, spoiled nobleman.

    It's not nice. But it is realistic. So please, if you're going to create a fantasy world, stay consistent to your society's mores. Even if that means the hero gets branded on the face for talking back to royalty.

    Again, this has to do with the world feeling real. When the authors spare the hero some grisly fate just because he's the hero, I feel betrayed. Don't be that author.

    3. Shiny magic systems.

    Full stop. If you have a neat magic system, with rules that you don't break, a cost involved, and a lot of limits on what the characters can do, I'll buy your book and share it with my friends so they'll buy the book. This is why a big part of why books like Mistborn, The Last Stormlord, Transformation, The Name of the Wind, The Dresden Files series, and the Night Angel trilogy are so good.

    The other things I like aren't limited to fantasy. Things like strong characterization, good worldbuilding, unusual environments (jungle, desert, the coast, the high mountains), and so on. But I suspect a lot of that just falls under "good writing," so I'll leave it at that.
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Awesome guys, thanks a bunch. I really appreciate all the feedback. HeinleinFan and Ministar you've given me lots to keep in mind.

    Any specific tips for naming places, races etc? (I'm good with naming characters) It's turning out to be harder than I thought - I don't want to have some name that sounds like a slight variation of a name that's been used for 1000s of other things, with 1000s of teeny slight variations.
     
  8. Holden
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    Holden Senior Member

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    If you are naming areas that are close to each other, or under the control of a certain person or group, make sure the names sound like they could be from the same language. Of course, this is different occasionally if they are conquered territories, but keep them relatively similar.

    You wouldn't find Krez'to'pex next to Malanana.

    Usually for names, I start with a simple sound and built from there. A vowel or two, then add a consonant. Fort instance, I'll have "Al" and then add "mor" and then finish with "ra."

    For the reader's sake, the names don't have to be six syllables with apostrophes and dashes. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. ;)
     
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  9. R-e-n-n-a-t
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    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

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    This.
    For some reason, some people seem to think that just because something is a fantasy story, the characters are allowed to be unphased by death or scary ordeals. In a decent book I'd read quite a while ago, The Telling Pool, the MC responds mostly realistically, albeit perhaps a bit too fearfully (idk) to their first life-or-death situation. It certainly makes the character a lot easier to sympathize with.
     
  10. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I'm pretty sure that all the names of mythological races come from descriptive names in ancient languages.

    Example:

    Elf: http://www.word-origins.com/definition/elf.html

    It means "nightmare" in ancient German.

    As far as I know the word "Human" comes from "Humane" which is what I believe the Greeks thought was the defining character of man. Not all languages use that word to name us.

    So, I suggest thinking about your races and invent names that define their most important characteristics. You can name them in English or some variation of a foreign language.

    General Story:

    Magic:

    I like two types:

    1. Wild magic where the characters are pulling magic out of their butt.

    2. System Magic. This is where theres rules and regulations about how you can use magic. I recall a superhero from a long time ago who got powers taking a drug that only lasted for one hour per day. He had to choose his battles well. Having to follow rules of a system means the character must have strategy.

    Characters:

    I like characters who live by a code of honor that makes their behavior a must. They might wish they were back at the Inn, but their code says they must take care of business, so they do. Conversely, I enjoy characters who just don't care and do whatever just for laughs. Combining characters like that in a party would make for good dialogue.
     
  11. HeinleinFan
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    When naming places, remember that most human-named places are really, really simply named. Either they're named for the person / kingdom that owns them, or they're named for some resource there, or they're named by their appearance / geographical feature.

    California -- hot furnace. New Amsterdam -- new lands owned by Amsterdam. The Barony of Gervais -- the land owned by the Baron of Gervais. Sierra Nevada -- snow-covered mountains. Scotland -- the land where the Scots live. Yorkshire -- the shire of York (presumably the Duke of York). Coursegold and Finegold are places in California named during the Gold Rush. The Great Rocky Mountains -- self-explanatory.

    As for ethnic groups, a disconcerting number of them are named "the people," either "the people of this tribe," or "the people of this place" or something similar. The ones that aren't are usually ones that have moved beyond the tribe-identity and are looking for something broader, such as the place where their ancestors lived. When people in America got so they couldn't tell whether they were Finn or Turkish or German or Saxon or Scottish, they just settled for "American" or "Caucasian" as a descriptor.

    As for other species, well, we don't have any data on what they'll name themselves. So you'll probably be fine, whatever name you give them.
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of fantasy writers use Welsh lol and place names in Wales but tweaked a bit.

    My names are from all over the shop (I mean my three main protagnonists so far have been Angus, Socrates and Nathaniel one is Scots, the other Greek and the other Hebrew based) however for most places I tweaked or used existing place names - Scotia, Moravia (old names for places in Scotland), Ceylonica, Meditereanea, and Covesea Island are my main places. Covesea (pronounced Cow-see) is a beach near here. Cities I took from mostly local places. Main city of Scotia is Aberburgh (Aberdeen and Edinburgh), Ceylonica has two - Burghead and Culbin (they are local names of villages), Meditereanea some how ended up with Switzbergen no idea how lol and Covesea Island has the very imaginative Seatown for its capital. Based entirely on it is a town by the sea.

    Nothing matches up with anything but it seems to work. The planet I called Litae based after the daughters of Zeus and because the meaning worked with the legends.
     
  13. David Pierce
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    I think the most helpful thing for any fantasy writer would be to take some time and play D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). From this you could take away how fantasy readers and D&D players long for realism and character building. My favorite fantasy writers are Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. They know there stuff, and better yet, know what fantasy readers want in a new world to explore. Together they have written 57 books. Dragons of Autumn Twilight is easily one of the best fantasy book ever written. It also produced some of the most loved characters in the TSR and Random house realm. The one of the best characters of all time was a mage. He cast no more then 20 spells over a the course of about 20 book containing him. Just food for thought.

    I have read alot of fantasy and played alot of fantasy games. I am almost always turned off by a new spell casting set of rules. There have been a few interesting new ideas in that realm but nothing tops TSR's vision of D&D. Also if you are going to put a group of characters into an epic story filled with adventure I would suggest planing out the world. Nothing ruins a good book for me like having to try to wrap my mind around a newly created world, new gods, and new spell casting systems. If you are going to go that route do it right, map it out, and create it like you were going to use it in a D&D game. That's my suggestion. There have been some great non D&D based books. But there have been thousands of epic much talked about fantasy books put out by following the path already set out by TSR (now wizards of the coast). I mean ask any Fantasy game player who Raistlin Majere is. They'll tell ya.
    Good luck.
     
  14. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    My advice (as a fantasy reader) is to let your world-building take the back seat, and the story and characters the front seat. The details of a world's history, places and magic system are important to the *writer*, so he can make the story feel consistent and make sense, but they're usually not very interesting in themselves to the reader.

    I think japanese comic book writers tend to be very good at this. Their fictional worlds often seem very detailed and well-researched, but they don't flaunt their hard work to the reader. They keep it to themselves, and only reveal it gradually over the course of hundreds or thousands of pages, as the story requires it. For example, Rumiko Takahashi is said to have calculated a student's budget for her romantic comedy Maison Ikkoku, but not so she could show off her hard work to the reader, just so she could make her main character's daily life more realistic.
     
  15. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    I like believable characters dealing with the unusual aspects of their world. I don't like authors explaining magic. In real life, do you explain how water runs downhill?

    Spend some time thinking about any fantastic elements you introduce and try to anticipate some of their consequences. In other words, don't give your balrog wings and throw him down a deep, dark chasm. (I'm talking about the movie here, so please don't quote the book. :))

    Please, no more D&D. In real life, people do not have classes, levels, or alignment.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Level isn't reflected in the novels. Really, none of the game mechanics constrain the novels, so it isn't a problem. The concept of alignment works just fine outside of the game setting though, at least if you understand it properly.
     
  17. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    I do understand it: the Good guys fight the Evil guys. It's like the Hatfields and McCoys; the difference between them is arbitrary. In real life, nobody is complete good or evil. People are a sort of mishmash of everything in between. IMNSHO, any book where people are fighting because one side is good and the other evil, it's a Wall Banger.
     
  18. R-e-n-n-a-t
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    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

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    No! No D&D! It's sooo generic...

    Seriously though, nothing ruins a book like making it exactly like a ripoff of D&D or LOTR.
    Make sure to add a new magic system. Ignore just about everything Pierce said. He seems to be more used to games than books.
     
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  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is in fact proof that you don't understand it. Alignment isn't a constraint on actions. It's merely an abstraction used to provide a framework for a character's world-view at any given time. And it doesn't provide the duality that you referenced (good v. evil), but rather is a continuum along two axes (good and evil; law and chaos). You could put people on that continuum fairly easily based on world view, philosophy, political outlook, etc.
     
  20. R-e-n-n-a-t
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    R-e-n-n-a-t Contributing Member

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    Yes, it IS merely constrained to actions, or every time I cast a fireball at my own dude I wouldn't switch to "chaos" (evil).

    Furthermore, two axes is not nearly enough. To say that I'm either "Chaotic Justice" or any combination of the several terms is ike saying that you're a dwarf reindeer.
     
  21. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    I do understand: everybody can be categorized and they never change. Superficial stereotyping is what it is.

    Sorry, but evil is not a noun; it's an adjective. It describes actions. Evil does not exists by itself. And yes, good is an adjective too.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Doesn't sound like you've played with a very good group. And your dwarf reindeer analogy makes no sense at all.
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You're entitled to your misconceptions. If you've played the game, I submit that you haven't played with a very good group. Alignment doesn't dictate actions in the game; instead, the reverse is true. Alignment is fluid, and character's alignment changes over time depending on what they do. It's still an abstraction, but not nearly as limited as you seem to think. It's merely a useful tool to represent generally a character's world-view at any given time.
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oxford English Dictionary has it as a noun
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It can be either, I believe.
     

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