4 Things I Learned from Writing Fantasy

1. People say they want originality, but not too much. 

How often do we see articles or hear in conversations that people want originality? No one wants to read a carbon copy of another story, obviously. When that happens, it is simply lazy and not worth the effort to read. However, originality is a tricky thing because most people approach genres with certain expectations. If those expectations are not met the end result could be a turn off to the intended audience. This isn’t always true, as I will address later on in the list, because while people are wanting familiarity, the Fantasy genre is changing. There are certain unspoken parameters of Fantasy that people expect, while at the same time demanding originality. How many Fantasy books written since Tolkien’s works have included elves, dwarves, and humans? Most, save for very recently. How often are elves portrayed as extremely beautiful and immortal or at minimum long-lived? Almost always. How often are Dwarves portrayed as greedy people with Scottish accents? Almost always. There isn’t anything wrong with including these things, but it goes to show that there is a lot of familiarity in Fantasy and most readers have come to expect this.

2. I cannot please everyone.

This is rather obvious and straight-forward. However, the truth is writers want their stuff to be liked. We wouldn’t do what we do, work as hard as we do, if only to expect most people to hate what we write. No matter how well the book is written, or how hard we work on it, someone will hate it. Someone will inevitably write a lukewarm or negative review and the temptation to let that crush us is great because we put so much time and money into our books. Yet, like anything in the arts, rejection is a part of it, in fact it is a necessity.

3. What’s popular isn’t necessarily what I like.

The popular trend in Fantasy lately is dark, gritty, with cynical undertones. I can appreciate some stories that take this approach, and I have even enjoyed them. Yet, I tend to enjoy the more traditional Fantasy of good versus evil and the triumph of darkness. Good doesn’t have to always win in every story though, but like everything in writing here must be a purpose to good losing. This direction of Fantasy isn’t what I grew to love about the genre. I know the purpose for the dark and gritty tales with characters dropping like flies is intended to be more realistic, yet personally I see enough evil in the world. That doesn’t mean the stories I read and write are always rainbows and sunshine, but what I am saying is that I don’t try to overwhelm my audience with darkness and gloom. I try to attract people who might read the Shannara books, or Tolkien more than GOT.

4. Selling books is harder than writing them.

Convincing strangers who never heard of you to buy your books is far more difficult than it is to write a book. With time and patience, a writer can finish a book and with editing and revising the story can become solid and publishable. Selling the book takes even more patience and a different type of creativity. Discovering one’s audience and placing the book in front of them is a constantly evolving process. On top of all that, generally it takes years to become established as an author and that is if you did everything correctly combined with factors outside of your control such as luck.

More Thoughts on Characters

There is a trend lately I’ve noticed.  Perhaps it’s been this way for a long time, but it didn’t start to grab my attention until about five years ago.  I don’t know if it is the hypersensitive culture we now live in that’s contributing or not, but it appears that individual characters in fiction are viewed as representing a whole group.  An example, someone I used to know made the comment he doesn’t like the show Home Improvement because Tim Taylor is aloof and a bad example of a husband, father, and a man in general.  That assessment may be true, but that isn’t the point.  Tim’s character isn’t supposed to represent all men it is an exaggeration of what some men might be like, or more specifically these are traits specific to his character that are hyperbolic due to the comedy genre. 

I have come across countless critiques like this where someone will complain about a character poorly representing women, the LGBT, religion, race, or anything you can think of.  There may be certain isolated incidents where this complaint is warranted due to shady motivations from the writer.  However, unless there is evidence to support that the writer is using a character to propel stereotypes, that shouldn’t be assumed.

The personality traits of my characters reflect on them alone.  If a woman has a weakness that doesn’t mean I think all women are weak or need to be saved by men.  If there is a male character in my books that is a little dull that doesn’t mean I think men are dull or can only survive if a woman is there to prop him up.

Fiction, if done right, should not be afraid to have a variety of characters and the personalities of the individuals in the story do not necessarily reflect on a greater whole.

Characterization

frushiansRecently, I heard powerful testimonies from a few people who endured several hardships.  It got me thinking about characterization in fiction.  We as reader’s demand that the characters grow and change over the course of a story.  That’s what makes characters relatable and intriguing.  On the other hand, we have all known people who remain pretty much the same throughout their entire lives.  They maintain the same behavior as they did in high school or earlier, even well into their fifties and beyond.

These people who would be labeled as “static” characters in fiction may have children, have gotten married, maintain a home and mortgage, but still excessively party and have an immature black and white view of the world.  Especially with all the explosive controversies arising lately. I have seen people from older generations have an “agree with me or you are evil” perspective.  Now, I understand I’m only getting a small glimpse of these people’s lives on the internet, but there are writings and social media posts from some folks that maintain a similar theme, “I’m right and everyone else is wrong.”  There are of course, issues that should be black and white, but immature virtue signaling that appears to be all too prevalent.

I heard a quote, “If you aren’t growing you are either stagnant or regressing.”  That means if we are not actively seeking out growth than we are at very least staying the same.  It is entirely plausible to have a story of static characters and have it be “realistic.”  That would not be an engaging tale that most wouldn’t finish.  We expect growth and change from fictional characters, but what if we held ourselves to the same expectation?  In the real world, true well-rounded people who are constantly growing sometimes seems like the exception.  Imagine if that was the case in fiction?  Everyone would undoubtedly be bored.  It is easy to fall into the rut of routine of work, bills, and general numb feeling to the day to day life.  I challenge myself and those reading this to work toward growing a little every day.

5 Misconceptions About Being an Author


1. It’s easy

There is more to writing a book than sitting down in pj’s and creating a wild story. Books require research, even fictional ones, planning, and plotting. Writing the book is a very small piece of being an author. Then once the book is published, whether you are traditionally or independently published, marketing is something you will have to do mostly yourself. Once the book is out there the author will need to come up with a marketing plan and sell it. Selling the book is arguably more difficult than writing it, especially if you are new. While marketing the previous book(s) you wrote you had better get going on your next project. The more books that are out there, the more likely you are to sell them.

2. It’s not a real job

To those that assert this I ask the question, “Can you define what a real job is?” Does one have to work for a company for it to be a real job? Does one have to create a company for it to become a real job? This assertion is less offensive to me than it is silly and ambiguous.

3. It’s a fast way to make cash

No, one must have a specific calling to be an author because there is very little money in it. It takes A LOT of time and resources to produce a book, and it is rare to see much of a profit in return. There are a handful of famous authors, and some people assume that it is an easy way to make money. Obviously, not everyone is that naive, but since becoming an author myself I’ve been surprised by how many I’ve met who believe this.

4. Writer’s block is a common problem

Sure, creativity comes in varying degrees. Sometimes it’s easy to write a couple thousand words in a day, and other times all I can manage is a few hundred. Nevertheless, writing needs to happen. It isn’t about quantity it is about quality, and if that means a writer can only manage one hundred words in a day then so be it. No one who calls himself an author will not write simply due to writer’s block. Writing is our job and calling, meaning we must do it whether we are feeling it or not.

5. There is a “right” way to write a book

Anyone who has researched how to write a novel will come up with varying viewpoints on the subject. There are common threads such as outline the novel, write whatever comes to you while not worrying about quality, then revise and rewrite until it is perfected. I don’t favor that approach. My first draft is far from flawless, but I do take care to write as best as I can in that moment. Instead of rewriting entire manuscripts, I go through each one and revise and reword within the same document. The backspace key is my best friend as an author.

Writing

I’ve been on the writing Journey for a couple years now, and there is a major lesson I have learned. Knowing what to write is vastly different than knowing how to write it. 

I typically have the plot mapped out, but when I get to certain scenes it is difficult to figure out how to write it. In those moments it is difficult to just crank out three hundred words in a day instead of my goal of one thousand. The responsibility of an author is to find the right words as well as paint a picture with words, and sometimes that task is difficult to overcome. The irony with this problem is the harder I think about a scene I’m stuck on, the more difficult it is to write it. The lesson I have taken from this is to just sit down and write, and try not to be concerned about the quantity of words I churn out.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to produce large quantity of words every day, but I’m slowly realizing that isn’t the point of writing. Sometimes, a writer must struggle with a scene or single sentence even. That is what’s important.

Would you Recognize Evil? (What is Evil Pt. 2)


I discussed here evil and what it is and how villains in both fiction and reality see themselves as good. I briefly discussed this in that post, but feel that it needs to be further explored, would we recognize evil even if we saw it? Can a culture become so warped that it no longer knows evil when it infects it? History confirms without a shadow of doubt that it is very possible, look no further than Third Reich, or Russia during Stalin’s rule.

Those are just two small examples of long history when humanity has adopted a sort of reverse morality. This is a lesson to all of us, that we must be diligent. It doesn’t take much for evil to become popular and acceptable. Evil isn’t always a megalomaniac, it is often subtle, with seemingly harmless ideas. The difficulty of evil is that it doesn’t always look or feel evil or destructive. It seeps in and slowly poisons everything around it.

Fiction of all kinds address this very issue, and it should serve as a metaphor for what could happen in the real world. Real human history also shows us what happens when we allow toxic ideas to spread and infect until they are normal and they evolve into terrible atrocities. Other than being diligent ourselves how can we stand in the way of evil? The greatest way is to measure it against truth and to not be silent.

Often, we hear “don’t preach at me,” or “don’t lecture me,” when we share our perspectives on morality. Obviously, there is a way to share our thoughts in a way that is more receptive to someone else, but sometimes people simply don’t want to hear differing perspectives. Some folks are so married to their ideology that they cannot even listen to other views. This sort of attitude is never constructive for anyone and does nothing to help society. The thing is, we need to diligently keep an eye out for evil seeping into our lives and culture. Sometimes we need to be “preached” or “lectured” at. Surely no one would deny those saluting Hitler needed it. We see it in both fiction and history, an evil idea becomes popular and those who need to hear truth reject it out of pride and ultimately people suffer. Let us leave this sort of pride in fiction where it belongs.

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