Medieval illustration of the four elements, seasons, solstices, zodiac signs and ages of man. Image from Wikimedia
This week I’m excited to bring you a guest post from urban fantasy author Ken Hughes, who’s taking a closer look at the four elements and the use of elemental magic systems. Ken is the author of the Whisperers Series and the Spellkeeper Flight Series, and has recently released his latest book, Freefall:
“Water. Earth. Fire. Air.” Those are the first words in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but we’ve seen the same four-elements structure of magic and worldbuilding in so many other fantasy stories that the dreaded word “cliché” is never far away.
Still, the difference between a cliché and a classic might just be how long it’s been since we’ve seen that idea handled well (which Avatar does, yes). And fantasy does love its classics. Continue reading
A short break in the decades series this week, but for a good reason – to bring you a guest post from Brian D. Anderson! Brian is the author of over 20 fantasy novels and has recently signed a book deal with Tor. He’s here to share his experiences in making the transition from indie to traditional publishing and the challenges he faced in moving between these worlds:
So you’ve written a few books, had them edited, paid for a cool cover, learned how to market, and as a result, had a great deal of success selling them online. You’ve even quit your day job. Maybe bought a house or a car…or both. Life’s coming up roses. You’ve achieved something special. Something spectacular. You are a professional novelist! Moreover, you’re an experienced indie, well qualified to pass on your wisdom to the never-ending river of up-and-comers dreaming of emulating your accomplishments.
That’s more or less how I felt a few months ago. For seven years, I have enjoyed a degree of professional success in indie fantasy. Not to say I was at the top of the heap. But I sure wasn’t at the bottom. I had an agent, had made a few significant audiobook deals, and been nominated for an award or two. But that’s where it stopped. I’d reached the limit of where I could go on my own. If I wanted to continue up the ladder, I had to find a way to break into traditional publishing.
Harry and Hermione, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, 2010
So I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately, but I thought I’d get back into the swing of things this week with an examination of some more Uncharted Territory in Fantasy. Full credit for this post’s topic goes to Kumquat Absurdium, whose comment from earlier this year has inspired me to take a closer look at platonic male-female relationships in fantasy stories:
“Why can’t you have a male and female protagonist combo that remain completely platonic throughout the book? We need a movement for this – support #PlatonicProtagonists! It’s not strictly a fantasy problem but it is a problem in fantasy as much as anywhere else.”
Now to be honest, I love a good romance, and I’m not at all averse to sexual relationships in the fantasy I read and watch. That said, I think it would be refreshing to see more platonic friendships between men and women in fiction, because the different dynamic that these relationships offer can be satisfying and rewarding in its own unique way. It might also better reflect the fact that men and women can be friends in real life.
I do, however, think there are reasons we don’t see a lot of male and female protagonists in such friendships: Continue reading
This week I thought I’d get back to exploring some Uncharted Territory in Fantasy and spotlight a type of character that I wish I encountered more often in the stories I read and watch: a hero or heroine that doesn’t have a royal birthright, a noteworthy lineage, or a reassuring prophecy to prop them up.
I admit, this isn’t completely ‘Uncharted Territory’ as there are examples out there of characters with more uncertain destinies. However, it’s still something I think we could afford to see more of, not only because royal heirs and chosen ones can get a little tiresome, but because I find they can sometimes rob the story of a tension or devalue a character’s achievements (e.g. when a special bloodline or inheritance is unveiled in a late surprise reveal I find it especially disappointing). Here are three reasons why: Continue reading
This week I’m excited to bring you a guest post from writer, English teacher and Marvel fan Josiah DeGraaf, who blends the fantasy and superhero genres in his writing. He takes a look at what fantasy authors might learn from the successes of genre-mixing in superhero fiction:
If you aren’t much of a superhero movie fan (or even if you are), the upcoming slate of movies Marvel alone is trying to push out may seem rather exhausting. 10 more films in the next three years with plans through 2027? It’s no wonder you have people like Spielberg predicting superhero films will go the way of the Western and burn out in the near future.
Yet, despite all the films churned out by Marvel and DC, moviegoers keep purchasing tickets without any signs of stopping. Superhero stories are a (relatively) narrow genre—and yet many viewers (such as myself) regularly see two to four superhero films a year, despite the criticisms Marvel’s received for weak villains and paint-by-number three-act stories.
How has Marvel been able to keep selling tickets without running into genre fatigue? There are multiple reasons, but there’s one I’d like to focus on: Marvel keeps the genre feeling fresh by mixing it with other genres. This is a skill that not only budding novelists can be taking advantage of—but a skill some of the best fantasy authors today are using to craft unique and brilliant stories. Continue reading
Because I write and think about fantasy fiction quite a bit (as the title of this blog might suggest), I occasionally notice interesting spots of “uncharted territory” in the stories I read and watch – i.e. concepts, ideas or character types I rarely come across. I don’t mean obvious things that no one would expect in the genre anyway, but small, specific things that I try to find examples of and am intrigued when I come up with close to nothing. So I thought these might provide good inspiration for a series of posts. Continue reading
One of the criticisms I often hear levelled at books is that they take a while to “get interesting”. Even well-crafted first chapters can be a tad slow if the characters, world and story haven’t fully sunk their claws in yet. Nonetheless, I think most readers know to stick with a promising book even if it’s not immediately riveting, because they will be rewarded if and when those claws do sink in. Some of my favourite books had beginnings that didn’t powerfully hook me, so I don’t expect to be utterly wooed from the first line, or even the first few pages.
Occasionally, however, I am. Some books have striking openings that grab me and tug me forward, creating a level of excitement I might not normally expect for at least a few chapters. I always find these beginnings impressive, and enjoy trying to pinpoint what it was about them that drew me and other readers who raved about them in so completely. So for this post, I thought I’d do just that, and look at few “hooks” from beginnings that enthralled me: Continue reading
Call me old fashioned, but a God in fiction should have god-like powers. What exactly are those? Well, a snap of the fingers and they can bring drought, famine, flood or plenty, kill hundreds, create hundreds, change the world or influence people’s lives and fates. Hell, they are usually the ones that created the world in the first place. Most importantly, their powers trump everyone else’s. If they’re a god, they’re more than everyone else: they’re the ultimate power.
This leads me to why I often have a problem with gods traipsing around centre-stage in fantasy novels, TV shows, or films. If they’re no longer a mysterious, largely absent and only mildly-interfering power, they can become problematic. Here are a few reasons why (and I’m well aware other people may not mind these things as much as I do!): Continue reading
Writers spend a good deal of time fretting about the opening sentence of their novel, just as readers enjoy quoting first lines from their favourite books. This is understandable, given so much is riding on that first impression. But what about closing lines? What about the final words that resolve the story and linger in a reader’s mind after they shut the book?
It’s a question often asked by aspiring authors wondering if their manuscript is several thousand words too long or short, but it’s also an intriguing one for readers to consider: is there an ideal length for a fantasy novel?
Every book is different and for any suggested word or page count you see, you are likely to encounter several popular fantasy books that are outside of it. Nonetheless, as someone who reads a lot in the genre and has also submitted work to competitions, agents and publishers, I thought I’d tackle this topic from three different perspectives:
- how long popular published fantasy novels are,
- how long the industry (agents, publishers, competitions) prefers them to be,
- how long readers prefer them to be.