The Obsession with Making Writing Real

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One thing I have to make clear before I get started is that I’m not saying “realism sucks”. Every genre or style has its time and place. As much as I love fantasy, I’m open to all forms of the genre and I also adore classics/literary/contemporary fiction etc (not to mention the fact I like my historical fiction as realistic as possible). So, let’s just begin by saying yes, realism rocks just as hard as fantasy. Glad we could get that out of the way 😉

What I do mean, however, is that sometimes striving for realism takes over. While glaring errors can take you out of a story, sometimes criticism of contemporaries can get a little nitpicky (like, whether or not a particular school has a netball team or whatever). And I’ve written at length about why I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for fantasy. More recently, there’s even been a particular obsession with real experience. Which, you know, can be a problem since not every book is (or should be) an autobiography.

atticus finch quoteFor starters, writing is often about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. That’s kind of impossible if you’re never allowed to think outside your own bubble. And while I’m not saying poach anything you like, or that everyone is capable of doing this, some people really are amazing at putting themselves in the mind’s eye of someone totally unlike them (one of the best examples being Rowling’s depiction of abuse, when, as far as I know, she hasn’t experienced this herself).

The other huge problem is how subjective this can be. While one reader might give you the go ahead, another might say you got it totally wrong. This can be even more troubling when you consider the fact that even if you have the same experience, it doesn’t mean you relate to it the same way. It’s frankly horrifying to see authors attacked for writing about their own experiences- which happened to Leigh Bardugo recently over Ninth House. I’m gonna be real: I lean heavily on my own experience in my writing, so it strikes a nerve to see people lashing out at writers over this.frieda-norris-quote-sisterhood I shouldn’t have to point this out, because it is fairly obvious, but here we go: you can’t make claims about someone’s experience without knowing the individual intimately (and even then, it’s pretty rude).  In fact, I’ve had people do the “ugh you don’t know about this, so shut up!” routine to me over things I *definitely* do know about (though, of course, they don’t know that). I’d say it’s safer not to assume you know a stranger’s life story, but that’s just me 😉

What’s more, even if I’ve been critical of a book for being unrelatable, I find it really helpful to hear why other people got something out of it. Not everything can be relatable for everybody– so it’s cool if you disagree with me on something. It gives me a chance to hear another perspective.

Plus, a huge amount of this simply comes down to personal taste. That’s what I tried to get across when I wrote the post “Don’t Write X”- it’s just not possible to appeal to everyone- and that’s okay! I can accept, for instance, that some readers are into fantasy for the world building and complex systems- ergo hyper-realism is important to them. Just because it isn’t the case for me, doesn’t mean I get to rain on their parade and decide all books should be super fantastical. There’s room for both hard and soft magic systems! Similarly, I’ve heard one writer say they find it pulls them out of a contemporary if the names don’t match up to modern trends… whereas I’m all for the quirky names! Barring huge illogical inconsistencies and glaring errors, these things will always be hit or miss. It’s about finding the right readers for a particular book.

For me, books aren’t all about how precise they are; they’re about the endless possibilities they contain. And so I’m not going to obsess over the realism (especially cos even complex magic systems basically come down to *because magic* anyway 😉).

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So, what do you think? Is realism the be-all and end-all for you? If not, where do you draw the line? Let me know in the comments!

Fantastic Fantasy for November Nights!

I don’t know about you, but as the nights get colder and the days get drearier, I start to feel a bit more like grabbing the nearest dragon and taking flight into some bookish fantasy worlds… which is why today I’ve got some excellent escapism for us all, with a fun fantasy list:

(NB Yes, you can always just reread Harry Potter, but you don’t need me to tell you that, do you? 😉)

wizard heir

Wizard Heir– of course, if you need something with one foot still in this world, then I cannot recommend the Heir series enough! There is a book that takes place before this, but I tend to pick this one as my favourite because *my goodness* this book hit me in the *feels*. On the subject of faves…

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Discworld DEATH series– where would I be without this series? I started my Pratchett journey with the Death books and I couldn’t have fallen more deeply in love with the humour, quirkiness and sheer wit of this series. If you’re searching for funny fantasy, with a darker twist, then look no further!

Neverwhere

Neverwhere– I feel like Gaiman and Pratchett always go together in my mind. If you don’t feel like travelling as far as the Discworld, however, this reimagining of London is the *perfect* book for this time of year: dark, unique and layered.

a darker shade of magic

A Darker Shade of Magic– speaking of a fresh take on London, Schwab’s *magical* series will certainly win over fantasy fans (that is, if you haven’t already read it 😉)

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Raven Boys– more or less still in the real world, this atmospheric series plays with fantasy in innovative ways and will win you over with its complex characters (also ahhh so glad Rowan is getting more books!)

hazel wood

Hazel Wood– let’s take a trip somewhere a little different. And my goodness, this book is different! If you like luxuriously written and gloriously imaginative stories, then this gothic blend of fantasy and fairy tales will sweep you off your feet.

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Darkest Part of the Forest– are you hyped up for Queen of Nothing coming out soon? Well, why wait! You can always check out some of Black’s other *fantastic* fairy stories. This one even gets a shoutout in Folk of the Air!

through the woods

Through the Woods– this sort-of fairy tale retelling has a spectacularly spooky feel and really works if you’re still looking for some Halloween vibes!

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Blackwing– if you’re craving even more darkness, then why not try this vivid and distinctive grimdark series? It’s the kind of book that takes you far from the family and lingers with you long after you finish.

king of scars

King of Scars– to be fair, I could’ve picked any one of the books in Bardugo’s grishaverse. I chose this partly because I read it recently, but mostly because really evokes a darker Russian setting that suits the approaching wintry mood. I feel like it really embraces the coming darkness- which reminds me of…

sabriel

Sabriel– by far one of my favourite fantasy series, this classic necromancy tale is the book that showed me how deliciously dark fantasy can get.

And that’s all for now! Which fantasy lands do you like to escape to at this time of the year? Let me know in the comments!

Favourite Fantasy Worlds I’d Love to go on Holiday To…

 

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So, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought of packing it all in and going off to fantasy land- I was feeling the wanderlust last month and went on a jaunt a couple of years ago in January 😉 With that in mind, I’m gonna try my hardest not to repeat too many destinations (and if there are any shockers missing from the list feel free to check out my other posts). Also, these are places I actually want to go- so no Panem or Westeros for me! I’m gonna try and play it safe- starting with…

Faerieland– okay perhaps not the safest first choice. However, I’m often captivated by faerie realms, but few are more intriguing to me than Holly Black’s take in Cruel Prince. I’ll just make sure I take some iron and rowan berries for protection!

Iwagoto– aka the world from Shadow of the Fox. I mean, I really want to go to Japan, but a fantasy version of Japan *with* Kitsune?! YES PLEASE! This mythical creation by Kagawa has set my imagination alight and I’d whizz off tomorrow if I could.  

Discworld– well, obviously 😉 My first stop would be the Unseen University, to say hello to say hello to my bestie and stock up on some books/bananas!

Lyra’s Oxford– let’s be fair: real Oxford is a very pretty city. But I have always wanted to have my own daemon and meet Gyptians and witches and armoured bears… so yeah I need to take a trip here. If only I could get my hands on a Subtle Knife…

The Night Circus– I think when people talk about fantasy worlds, this nearly always comes up. And there’s a good reason for that! The Night Circus is a whole other level of captivating magic- and I think most of us would give an arm and a leg to be able to go!

Ravka– oh Russia would be amazing to go to- but how much more so would Grishaverse Russia be?! Preferably with the Darkling as my guide 😉 (he’d be good for tourism, really sells the place 😉)

Narnia– I have to admit, I have checked many-a cupboard looking for Narnia. Alas- to no avail! One day though, I’m sure I’ll stumble into the land that is always winter and meet a friendly lion who will eventually crown me queen monkey… what? It could happen! (also, I wouldn’t say no to a few Turkish Delights- yum!)

Neverland– speaking of the classics, I’d quite like to pop off to Neverland sometime soon. I rather fancy going somewhere I can never get older (even if I’d probably fit in more with the pirates than the lost boys at this stage 😉)

Wonderland– this one might be more of a risk, what with the crazy queen shouting “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” Even so, I think it’d be worth it to say hello to the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter. Plus, I could always make a beeline for the mushrooms of course…

Ingo– I haven’t seen nearly enough underwater worlds- and none are done as well as this. It’s the kind of story that has an utterly unique feel and I would love to explore it more for real!

Howl’s moving castle– Wynne Jones always had a magical way with her settings- and none more so than Howl’s Moving Castle. She (literally) brings it to life and I couldn’t think of anything more fun than bouncing round the globe in this awesome travel home.

Alright, I didn’t go to deep into the danger zone there 😉 What do you think of my list? Would you like to go to any of these worlds? Is there anywhere else you’d rather go? Let me know in the comments!

My Favourite Mythical Creatures

 

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From Tolkien’s elves to Pullman’s daemons, mythical creatures are often the backbone of fantasy. I’ve talked quite a bit about how they can pull me into a story, but I’ve never said which are my *absolute faves*- though never fear, that day is here!

The-HobbitDragons– let’s just get the obvious one out of the way, shall we? 😉 These fire-breathing, war machines are easily my favourites. I will admit that when it comes to dragons, I am biased- for me, the perfect dragon is very Smaug-like. Clever, greedy, possibly evil… but completely badass!

 

girl in the towerGhosts– even though I’m totally afraid of scary stories, I can’t help but be drawn to ghosts in stories (a bit like how I’m scared of heights, but love rollercoasters). I can’t say that I have a definite favourite here, but I did realllly like the version in The Girl in the Tower, possibly because the Russian atmosphere gave me the chills in more ways than one.

 

crown of feathersPhoenix– I mean, it’s another creature that is fiery and can fly. Plus, it’s got powers often linked to resurrection- I think it’s fairly obvious looking at this list why I like them. Now for a lot of people, the first phoenix that will come to mind is the rather lovely Fawkes from Harry Potter, but recently I’ve discovered an even MORE EXCITING representation of this mythical creature… say hello the phoenix riders in Crown of Feathers! This definitely goes above and beyond any other depiction I’ve seen before!

shadow of the foxKitsune– when I first heard about these mythical creatures, I was falling straight down the rabbithole/foxhole of research, because they are so fascinating! Cunning and magical, they easily crept onto the list. And when it comes to the best version I’ve seen- well, that’s obviously Shadow of the Fox.

 

hollyblack-thedarkestpartoftheforestFae/Faeries/Fey– this one is quite on vogue lately- and I am living for it! I had so many options here for examples I could go with- I loved the evil Phaeries in Wooding’s Poison and I was tempted again by Kagawa’s portrayal in Iron Fey. Ultimately though, I decided to go with Holly Black’s Darkest Part of the Forest, for an atmospheric take that falls somewhere in between the two styles. 

And the last one that feels like a bit of a cheat…

circeWitches and wizards– I’m not sure I even count these as magical creatures- especially because their conception is so vast. And yet it would feel remiss not to mention them. Best by far that I’ve seen lately is Madeline Miller’s Circe– she takes the idea of talent and hard work, then melds them together in the most interesting version I’ve come across in recent history.

 

And that’s all I’ve got for now! What do you think of these creatures? And what are your favourites? Let me know in the comments!

Fantasy Tropes I Love

 

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Poor old genre fiction is often maligned- even by me 😉 Too often I talk about the downsides of tropes and themes I don’t like- so today, since I’ve got a lot of my Moaning Minnie opinions out of my system, I thought it would be fun to talk about some fantasy tropes I actually love!

hermione witch magic gif*Magic*- especially if there’s too much of it!! Which may sound weird to everyone- cos either you think like me “can there BE too much magic?!” or you think “welllll there are limits”. For me there are no limits! I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief for fantasy and this will always make me excited 😀

rhaegal dragonDragons– all the DRAGONS!! Now, I will admit, I’m a bit more discerning when it comes to dragons- as I said in my least favourite fantasy tropes post I won’t just settle for any old dragon. Still, that comes from a place of love, because I can’t really say it enough: dragons are my favourites!

 

Cgadget manool gadgets/magical artefacts– similar to the dragons, I’m not always into magical gizmo fixes all the problems/needs to be destroyed in order to save the world. That said, I do get a thrill when little magical objects find their way into the story and are shown off in a James-Bond-gets-his-gadgets kind of scene. 

zukoAntagonist turned ally– I just love redemption arcs. So, whether it’s an enemies to lovers twist, or an antagonist turned ally, I am super on board for this trope!! At the same time, I wouldn’t say no to… 

 

walder freyThe *just deserts* being served– as much as I love villains learning the error of their ways, I also enjoy them being punished just as much. Especially cos not all villains are created equal and sometimes it’s satisfying to see the Walder Freys of stories being served their own sons, Titus Andronicus style 😉

questQuests! A huge part of the fantasy genre is the hero’s journey and what better way to get them started than sending them off on a literal journey?! While I think this can easily go wrong or be done badly, I can still be tempted by a jolly jaunt into fantasy land. For me, this will never get old!!

 

Mirkwood_Peek_01Going into the *wilds* and coming back transformed– this is an age-old trick in folklore, which Tolkien drew on and famously made a part of the genre. It’s very typical to read a fantasy novel where the main character ventures out into the unknown (most often represented as forests) and learns something dark and twisted about the world or themselves. It’s a stalwart part of the genre- and I can’t get enough of it.

got-credits-picMysterious libraries/castles/schools– naturally, adding magic can make the mundane more special- who knew? 😉 Seriously though, some locations blend better into the fantasy realms. Personally, I really appreciate when buildings are transformed into something creepier and more enigmatic. Speaking of which…

casperGhosts and necromancy– blame Garth Nix’s Sabriel for cementing my love for this one 😉 Funnily enough, I’m easily creeped out, yet I still firmly believe the ability to bridge the divide between life and death is one of the best things about fantasy. It’s such a great opportunity to explore interesting and unearthly themes. I can’t quite get enough of fantasy books which draw up the veil and dance over this line.  

helms deep rohirrimAll hope is lost… oh no wait it isn’t! Also known as the “here comes the cavalry” twist. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I get all jittery when the author makes me truly believe we’ve reached the end of the road and then *DADA* reinforcements come at the last second.

 

And that’s all I have for now! What do you think of these tropes? Do you have any favourite fantasy motifs of your own? Let me know in the comments!

Books With The (Somewhat) Dreaded Book Travelling Syndrome

Book Travelling Syndrome Definition: the art of getting so lost in your own story that plot, character and everything else is forgotten in favour of random adventures

Yes, I made the term up, and no, it’s not taking off. I feel like the response to this post could be very Mean Girls…

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Whatever- it’s totally a thing. And I know it’s a thing, cos it’s something I’ve struggled with as a writer. So I’ve decided to compile a list breaking it down, into the good, the bad, and, well you get the idea- enjoy:

The Good

Hobbit_cover

The Hobbit– Yup, even my beloved Hobbit has it, that’s why I got it into my head that this was a good idea in the first place (as I explained here). I won’t say I have no regrets about this cos it’s not always a great storytelling strategy. At least, most of the time, as we’ll come to see…

NeverendingStory1997Edition

Neverending Story– again, this book tricked me your honour, cos sure it has “neverending” in the title, which would imply boredom, but this is *far* from boring. In fact, it’s one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. I owe it so much as a story- but also *shakes fist* curse you for filling my head with so many bad structuring mechanisms.

The Bad

Eragon_book_cover

Eragon– really not the worst book on this list- but it does meander about a lot pointlessly.

phantastes

Phantastes– it’s alright, but it has plenty of pointless meandering about and is quite forgettable.

And the Ugly…

The_Eye_of_the_World_UK

Eye of the World– I’m sorry to disappoint fans of this book, but oh-my-gawd I was so bored with this! I think this was like a sledgehammer over the head that book travelling *doesn’t always work*- so I guess some thanks is in order, in a way.

The_Wise_Man's_Fear_UK_cover

Wise Man’s Fear– one of the most disappointing sequels I have ever read. And one of the worst things about it was all the unnecessary different places (inevitably where Kvothe would pick up another skill, then be on his merry, ambling way).

Hope you enjoyed that very random post- my cold-smothered brain thought was a good idea… What books do you think suffer from book travelling syndrome? Let me know in the comments!

Worst Fantasy Novel Plan- EVER!

*Lovingly made for all fantasy fans*

Ever wonder how cliche fantasy books get written? Well wonder know more, because this is the ultimate guide for writing the WORST fantasy novel imaginable! Enjoy!

pathetic fallacy sad-face-doctorBefore we get started we need a prologue about *mysterious forces* at work. It must be overladen with plenty of pathetic fallacy- make sure that wind roars and rain falls- you set that tone! Please note that this can’t have any actual bearing on the plot, because that would be daft. Instead, let’s flashback 10000 years, before the dawn of mankind, to where a magical talking rook-creature-thing lived. There- that seems sufficiently random and obscure. Now we can forget all about that and get to the actual plot…

*****

Welcome to the village of Farplace where nothing ever happens and say hello to this random farmhand Nut M Portant (Nut for short). He doesn’t have many hobbies, except horse riding, being the only person around who practices sword fighting with a staff, and visiting the old guy with the long white beard who lives on the edge of the village (watch out- he’s gonna be important). Also he spends a lot of time complaining how bored he is.

bored

wargBut then!- lo and behold- something dark and evil and wolflike (but with a human voice for convenience sake) comes to the village late at night and kills the Nut’s father, who, with his dying breath tells him to go to the old guy for help. It turns out that old guy is an important wizard known as The Last Wizard Standing (didn’t see that plot twist coming, did you?).

Yet Last Wizard is not feeling particularly helpful right now. He sends Nut on his way *immediately* without giving him any information or guidance, just an old sword.

Also at the same time an elven woman with an unpronounceable name (something like llwellgenlle). She’s from an order of Only Women-No Men Allowed (seriously keep out!) comes to the village seeking the slayer of the wolfthing (shall we just call Swargs- from the old tongue title meaning It’s A Warg- and be done with it?) She’s totally not allowed relations with ANY MAN- which means she’s perfect for a prospective love interest.

sword fightingNut runs into said love interest just as he’s coming out of Last Wizard’s hut. He is instantly struck by her beauty. Conveniently- for the sake of the plot- a Swarg pounces just as they cross paths- but Nut really easily smites the beast! (very important to note here Nut’s amazement as he’s never handled anything more than a practice sword before). The female falls into his arms in a swoon.

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“Hail fair maiden, I thee help!” he says to her (note: always mess up the syntax for conversations- we don’t want the dialogue to be too comprehensible).

She responds in her native tongue (he understands- naturally- even though till now he’s only spoken “common”- keep up!) (any and all translations must be done by the reader using the helpfully provided dictionary in the glossary)

“Ah fair maiden!” Nut goes on in common, for the reader’s sake. “Never fear- I have thee saved, thou wilst now be my love interest and have no need to speak at all, except for the occasional incomprehensible word, you are most welcome.”

Last Wizard comes out of his house and applauds. “That was all a test- congratulations!- you’re not dead- that means you passed!”

Yay! That’s a relief, isn’t it? As we let that sink in, Last Wizard explains that he has some very important information (though he’s shaky on the details cos *reasons*) pertaining to a quest because of a prophecy that he can’t remember the exact details of…

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“Prophecy? What prophecy?” Nut asks, emboldened by Last Wizard Standing’s words.

“Prophecy- oh er- mumble bumble… Yes it’s important… but I think the soup’s burning…”

Okay so that’s enough explanation. I think it’s a good time for the Priestess/Elf/Love Interest to announce she was looking for him too- so she’s joining the quest as well. And it’s probably a good time to infodump about why she thinks it’s important to save the world- something about the trees talking and the origins of Village Farplace came and some crucially-non-crucial stuff about magical creatures… (be sure to include as much of your world-building notes as possible here- you never know how many opportunities you’ll get and you must make the most of every. single. one.)

so damn bored

wizardAlrighty then, time for the quest! Make sure to bring this forgetful wizard along for the ride, but make sure he forgets anything expedient when asked and only use his powers when you’ve written yourself into a particularly tight scrape you can’t get out of with logic (it happens). You now have the perfect plot-foil. You’re welcome 😉

Where are we going? Who knows! How long will it take to get there? Doesn’t matter! Just make sure to include these landmarks on the journey:

  • A secret cache of weapons in a not-at-all well-hidden tomb (make sure to describe weaponry and helms in excruciating detail)
  • A very beautiful, peaceful place they can rest (but not live in permanently) that’s home to the elves- preferable to visit after a run-in with some more swargs and norcs (not orcs- keep up!)

rivendell

  • An inn where they drink yummy yummy mead (actually I have had this at a fair once and can confirm it’s pretty darn good, so I get why people in fantasy drink it now, but I digress…)
  • blanked out writingA place where “natives” live- description is blanked out for offensiveness (no I didn’t actually write this bit, what do you take me for?) Here they learn important *lessons* they never thought they would from *insert ambiguous term* people.
  • You can also pad out this section with creatures like: A dragon with a hoard, some friendly dwarves, sex goddesses, a thieves guild, a rebellion, goblins, riddlers, ents, basically anything from Tolkien you’ve not managed to rip off yet.

smaug 4

Please insert intermittent exposition because, as the author, I’ve done all this work on the world building and you need to hear all of it damn it!

mordorFinally they arrive in scary, scary Ochaye- which is supposed to be the villains’ lair, but this early into the story you’ll only get a projection of him. We have the opportunity to drop lots of very mysterious truth bombs like “I killed your parents… something… lost prince… something something… chosen one.”

That sort of thing- make sure it whets the appetite, but doesn’t actually reveal anything too expedient this early in the story. Oh- did I mention- this is obviously going to be the start of a series (of an indeterminate number of books). But don’t worry- you won’t get a sequel for years cos this is a fantasy… Annnd I’m leaving it there.  The projection of the baddie disappears in a cloud of smoke. I’m sure I’ll continue this one day, but in typical fantasy fashion I’m gonna go focus on writing something else now. (Maybe an anthology of all the backstory I couldn’t squeeze in…)

Voila- you now have a terrible fantasy novel! Leave it for three years, let your readers stew, and come back when they’ve lost interest.