Focusing on The Order of Altare first draft. Making progress and hope to post again soon. Thanks!
Tag Archives: fantasy
I had a conversation with a writer friend recently (by conversation you should understand that to mean I.M. chat) about magic as used in fantasy fiction. He noted that the wonder and awe of magic in a story was what appealed to him. He also mentioned that for him as a reader, if the magic was too well-defined, into a system of sorts, then it became more of a technology than a mysterious force.
We discussed how this point of view was reflected in Tolkien’s works, particularly in Lord of the Rings, where magic is used infrequently, is so rare that only a few possess the power to perform magic, and the source of power and how to use it is never really explained.
I agreed that that approach in a story is very powerful and keeps magic at a distance so it feels like a big unexplained and awesome force. For many readers this is what they want and expect of magic in a story, and a story written in this manner can be successful on multiple levels. If Tolkien’s works are an example of this, and many consider him to the grandfather of the epic fantasy genre, then this model is a good one.
However, there are caveats to storytelling with magic as a rare, mystical force. This is where the author must balance the power of magic within the story with the influence arcane powers can have on the plot. Best selling author, Brandon Sanderson, devised what he calls Sanderson’s First Law–you can read his article here, where he discusses the limits of how magic can influence the plot based upon how well said magic is defined for the reader. The text of the law is below.
Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic. (*”satisfactorily” added later by Sanderson).
So, Sanderson is arguing that the reader derives story satisfaction in fantasy fiction by the relationship between magic and solutions to conflict or problems for the characters.
In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf possesses great magic and it isn’t really explained how he got it, how he uses it, and what is the scope of his powers, but it doesn’t bother us because he uses magic so infrequently and his influence on the story is minor or indirect in most cases that it never feels like we need to know more about the magic. Gandalf is ancient, wise, magical and it seems that he always has always been. He is a true wizard. We don’t need to know if the source of his power is the earth, the sky, the moon, a mutation, part-Elven blood, a talisman he wears, or formal words of power he has learned. We accept that he is a wizard and his actions provide us with wonder and awe at what he can accomplish in certain situations. But he can’t save the world alone with his magic, he can’t destroy the One Ring, and he can’t defeat Sauron alone. So, although we love when he can use magic and its effects are powerful, he solves many more problems with his leadership, his blade, his wits, or his allies.
Would Lord of the Rings be more satisfying if we knew how Gandalf’s magic worked, how Sauron’s magic worked, how the Elves’ innate magic worked, or what power enlivened the Ents? I think for that great story, it would take away the wonder of Middle Earth. It is a magical realm and thus many places, races, and people are touched by magic. That’s all we need to know to be satisfied by the story.
This is what I think my writer friend meant in our discussion.
On the other hand, my writing and reading preferences lean towards the other end of the spectrum noted in Sanderson’s First Law. Like Sanderson, I like a well-developed magic system that the reader learns along with the characters. I like that a particular setting can possess great magic and much of it can seem powerful, wonderful, and awe-inspiring when it isn’t known, but can also be seen as highly useful, practical, and influential when understood and the magical power is harnessed by those characters who acquire or discover their own innate arcane capabilities.
With a defined magic system, the author can then use magic more often and in more various plot circumstances to solve problems or have characters overcome conflict because the reader will possess enough understanding to know how the magic should work, what its effects are, and most importantly what the limits of magic are.
Magic then becomes a sophisticated tool, weapon, cure, power, or method that operates within known boundaries that operate like real world laws of physics do for us. In this perspective, magic is indeed science that we don’t yet understand. Those that can learn it, can use it in a defined manner. The usefulness of the magic isn’t in the innate power of the magic itself, but in the judicious, clever, or appropriate application of its power by the characters. So, magic can’t solve problems, but the characters can use magic in a way that can solve problems.
Sanderson’s own Mistborn world has such a defined magic system. Allomancy as one of his magic systems is called, is the ability of a character to ingest metal flakes or powder suspended in liquid, and then harness that “source” to achieve a desired effect. Ingesting steel powder, for example, allows the allomancer to “push” with force against sources of steel in the world around him. If the object has less mass than the allomancer, the object moves away from him in a telekinetic manner, like a thrown ball or knife. If the steel object is fixed or weighs more than the allomancer, his body is propelled or pushed away in the opposite direction. A competent allomancer can use this to push down on a steel beam and propel himself into the air in huge leaps that can be timed to resemble flying if there is a constant source of steel on the ground below him to push upward on.
As an element of magic, this steel pushing power has defined attributes, logic, and limits. It behaves within the known laws of gravity and forces of wind, rain and other elements. It is a power we do not have in the real world, but if we did, theoretically we could learn how to use it ourselves.
That last phrase, ‘theoretically we could learn how to use it ourselves’ is what appeals to me as reader and writer. I like the wonder and awe of magic, but even more, I love the idea that if I had the innate power, I could actually learn to use these magics because as a reader, I’ve learned to understand how the magic works, and I can connect with the characters even more so because I want to be those characters for the duration of the story. I want to use the magic they have. I want to be the hero who has wits, weapons, and magic to face down evil and save the good people of the world from destruction or enslavement. I become the viewpoint characters and use magic with them, because I know how to use the magic the way they do and am thus more fully vested in the outcome of the story.
That is what resonates for me as a reader and because of that, I write in the same manner. I have developed a complex magic system that has rules, economics, defined attributes, a specific source, varying levels of power, and both known and unknown qualities that can be learned, studied, and pursued. This magic systems interests me and hopefully, when applied to my epic fantasy series, will interest my readers.
Magic in fiction seems to be applied in a spectrum or scale of wonder on one end and system on the other. Most writers of fantasy fiction fall somewhere on that spectrum.
Where do you fall?
Do you agree or disagree with Sanderson’s First Law?
What style of magic to you prefer to read? To Write? A defined system or an arcane power? Both?
Please share your thoughts as either a reader or writer and let’s continue the Great Magic Debate.
…or how I am going to do it.
The first step in escaping unpublication is outlined in the progress update below:
I may have mentioned previously that the working title of my writing group’s anthology is Offerings. Here’s a brief progress update on this project.
Five stories were submitted for review by the group on August 1 with first draft critiques due on August 17. Based on those critiques, each writer will make revisions/edits with the goal of completing and submitting a 2nd draft by September 5.
As you can see from the progress bar to the right, my own story “The Last Portal” has almost 90% of the 2nd draft to go this weekend.
Is it obvious what I’ll be doing until the end of Labor Day?
So, a little more about this project and my story to pique some interest.
Offerings will be published electronically in e-book format and will be available on Kindle, Nook, iPad, and any other eReader device on a date in the near future. I’ll give a more specific date when we get the details settled.
The anthology will contain six stories which are more accurately called novelettes, since each will run at least 10,000 words or approximately 25-30 pages long. Therefore the finished collection will contain close to 200 pages of stories.
The stories will be of the fantasy genre, with a few being epic fantasy, and at least one being contemporary or urban fantasy. Each story builds on the common theme of sacrifice and/or the price of freedom.
My own story, “The Last Portal” is an epic fantasy story about sacrifice that currently runs about 15000 words. I have mentioned before this story is set in the distant past of the same world in which I am writing a fantasy series. I hope this story can serve as a way to enrich the story world of Laurentia and provide a mythology or history for the characters in the future.
So what is my story about?
A disgraced member of the divine Jadra race is called upon to discover what threatens the Portal that protects their underground civilization from the evil and corruption on the surface. However, nothing is as it seems and the threat is far worse than he could have imagined.
Once my story has been fully edited and finalized over the next several weeks, I will post excerpts here for all to preview.
So far, this has been an exciting venture and I look forward to the next steps as we all compete final drafts of our stories and prepare the collection for e-book publication.
Since we are publishing this anthology ourselves, we are handling the editing, formatting, book cover, submission, and accounting ourselves. It will be interesting how the details unfold and I’ll provide updates on each significant step so you can see the process in action.
With the changing landscape in publishing and the access authors have to directly provide stories to readers, the path ahead seems ready for travel. Writers no longer need to wait for some distant agent or editor to endorse or accept their work. If you write at or near a professional level, you can escape unpublication on your own. You can put your stories directly in the hands of readers who are eager for new stories and discovering new authors.
For far more expert advice than I can provide. Read the “Think Like a Publisher” blog series on Dean Wesley Smith‘s blog. He is a publisher, editor, author, and teacher who has written and published over a hundred fictional works. His advice is golden.
Soon, I’ll be posting about my experiences setting up my own publishing company.
Is anyone else involved in the publication process? How is it going? What have you learned?
With a couple of days to spare, I’ve dragged myself up the steep trail and have planted myself firmly on the summit. The elusive first draft of my novella, “The Last Portal,” is complete.
My wife/muse/first reader gave me the thumbs up, so I submitted the story to my anthology group this past Tuesday for editing. Thus begins at least two rounds of scrutiny and polishing to elevate the story to its peak altitude (mountain metaphors intentional).
So, what was my process for writing a 16,000+ word story?
Since this story is set in the fantasy world I created for my novel series, the world-building had already been done. I decided on characters and a single significant event that would be considered a legend or myth by the protagonists in the novels (which occur chronologically some 5000 years later). The same way we look back thousands of years for our history, mythology, legends, and origin stories.
So, I came up with characters who would do something so significant they would be remembered as legends or myths in the story world. My goal was twofold: produce a new original story for my group anthology and deepen the story world of my upcoming epic fantasy novel series.
To complete this story, I wrote between two and three hours per day for three solid weeks. I estimate the first draft of this story took me at least 32 hours. That seems long, but at 16000 words, that averages 500 words per hour. I am not a blazing fast writer, since I often stop writing to think through the scene or the characters actions and how the plot should progress. I had written an outline and short synopsis for this story, so it wasn’t discovery writing. Even with a story plan, I spent big chunks of writing time thinking through a plot point or deviating from the outline for a better story path.
The result is under review by my writing group. I’ll update soon once I get some feedback.
The process of collaborating on an anthology project has inspired me to expand my focus on short fiction. I have rekindled my enthusiasm for short fiction, finding the process creatively satisfying. Thus, I will soon have another new project to discuss as I prepare another novella for publication. More details to follow. Yes, another teaser. This project is even more exciting to me because it is a novella that introduces a potential stand alone novel in the historical/modern fantasy genre.
What do you do to reach the proverbial summit in your writing? How do you stay with a story until the end?
No, it’s not raining. Really? Rain in the desert? And because there is no rain, the rivers are dry, the lakes are static and the climate is stable. Hot and dry, but stable.
What I refer to is a creative flood. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Project Q, my anthology short story, has just exceeded my target goal of 10,000 words. While this is good news and I’ve enjoyed the ride on the whitewater rapids of 1000 plus words per day, the story is only 2/3 completed based on what has to happen.
What does this mean?
It means that the story dictates the story. No, that is not a philosophical paradox. In my experience, goals and targets are merely mile markers on the journey to “The End.” The end of the story is not a destination, it is the end of a journey.
Okay, I’ve lost you. Here’s an analogy. With a car and a GPS, you pick a distant city and drive a specific, direct route to get there and arrive in a relatively precise amount of time after having traveled a relatively precise distance. With travel, this is what we want in most cases. Predictable planning.
No so with writing. The goal with writing is to create a journey, not reach a specific destination. The story idea may suggest a general size, short story versus novel. But can you really predict that a particular short story will be exactly 10,000 words or a novel will be exactly 200,000 words? Does it make any sense to expand or contract a story to fit into arbitrary size parameters.
Yes and no. If you’re writing for periodicals, there is typically a finite space allotted to fiction and that will have a word count limit. See the guidelines for the specifics. If you’re writing for category fiction, your novel may need to be within a certain narrow range, e.g. 50,000 – 55,000 words based on the format for that category. See publishers guidelines for specifics.
Outside those types of markets, it makes less sense to confine the story.
In my case, the anthology for which I am writing has a “suggested” and “agreed upon” target word count of 10,000 words, but no real upper limit. Sure, those parameters are somewhat arbitrary, but the story will ultimately determine the length.
My deadline is this Sunday. My story has reached my initial minimum target, but it is not finished. So, for me, for this story, I will not dam the flood and will let the river rage on.
What are your thoughts on story length?
I recently posted a teaser about a new side project that I began recently. It is time for more details.
I have been invited to submit a short story to an anthology co-created by members of my writing group. There should be six stories each at 10,000+ words in length. So, not really short stories, more like long stories/novellas. The genre for the anthology is fantasy (including urban, paranormal, historical, epic, etc). I will post more information about the title and contents as they become finalized.
We are all working furiously on this new project which we will publish as an e-book via Kindle, Nook, and other avenues sometime this fall. You can track my own draft progress on the sidebar under the Project Q: First Draft progress bar. Q stands for Quindecim, the name of our writer’s group. For those of your not conversant in Latin, Quindecim means “Fifteen”. Again, more details to follow as the plan unfolds and deadlines are hit.
I am very excited about this project as it will allow me an introduction to both project collaboration and self-publishing online. My story is a legend set in the world of my epic fantasy series and is complementary to the two novels I am in the process of writing, The Lost Tower and The Codex of Shrines.
Check back soon for more updates. Our first deadline in July 31 and I will have a post about the story writing process around that time.
A brief alert to everyone that I will be announcing details of a major new project in the coming weeks. While I run the marathon that is writing my epic fantasy novel, The Lost Tower, I am now involved in a side project that will fully illustrate the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Does that sound vague enough? Good. I am holding off on sharing the details until a bit later. Check back for updates.
I am very excited about this project and it will serve as an excellent foray into the world of publishing. There, that’s a little hint.
More to come.
In the meantime, read this announcement by J.K. Rowling regarding the Harry Potter franchise and you’ll know why my decision to e-publish my epic fantasy series feels like the right one.
Link to article in the Huffington Post.