Author Interview: Jen Williams

Just a couple of weeks ago, I posted an article discussing my most anticipated fantasy debuts of 2014. That article had a fantastic response and I’m so pleased that I am able to introduce these new authors to those of you who hadn’t yet heard about them. One of those new authors is Jen Williams, whose novel The Copper Promise is released in just under a week’s time.

Author Photo

Following that, I’m pleased to report that Jen has kindly agreed to give an interview for Fantasy In Motion! So, without further ado, here is what transpired…

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Hi Jen, thanks for joining us today.

I wanted to start this interview talking about you as a writer. When did you first know you wanted to write fantasy? What inspired you to take that path?

I’ve always leaned towards fantasy. When I was a kid I refused to read books that were set in our world, or involved normal kids doing normal things. My very first stories, always heavily illustrated by me, were about dragons, pirates, and secret treasure – so not a lot has changed. I loved stories set in strange lands, in places that didn’t exist in our world, and as I got older I became more interested in mythology and folklore. When I first started thinking about writing a book I didn’t even question what genre it would be; fantasy has always been the place where anything could happen, and I found that deeply appealing. With The Copper Promise, I had quite suddenly fallen back in love with traditional fantasy, and it occurred to me that I’d never really written anything like that. I wondered what would happen if I embraced the kind of fantasy I’d grown up loving, and the book was the result of that.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Dawn Finch

We interviewed Dawn Finch, author of Brotherhood of Shades, her debut novel, a contemporary YA fantasy set in London. Brotherhood was published last month in paperback by HarperCollins and is set to be the start of an exciting and unique fantasy series!

Dawn Finch Author

Dawn, welcome to Fantasy In Motion. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you very much for inviting me, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog a great deal and I’m a huge fan of fantasy maps. I have a designer working on a map of Brotherhood locations at the moment so I’m looking forward to sharing that before the end of the year.

Could you start by telling us a little about your novel, Brotherhood of Shades?

Brotherhood of ShadesBrotherhood is a contemporary ghost story with roots in the sixteenth century. Adam, a streetwise homeless teenager, dies of cold and starvation on the streets of London and after death is recruited into a clandestine organisation called the Brotherhood of Shades. The Brotherhood is an organisation of ghosts set up after the Dissolution of the Monasteries to oversee the passage of the living through the World Between.

The book details Adam’s transition into the Brotherhood, and their battles with demonic forces as they attempt to retrieve a coded manuscript, and protect the world of the living, from the world of the dead.

How did the idea/inspiration for the story come to you?

One of my first jobs was at the education office of a Cathedral and I used to dress as a monk to take children on guided tours. I was aware that young children worked in monasteries and had a brutal and harsh life there, and I felt that it was an untold story. Brotherhood started off as a short story but I liked the central character and knew that he had more to say and it grew from there. I’ve always loved ghost stories and felt that I wanted to bring classic ghost stories to a modern audience.

I was interested to see that you’ve previously worked in publishing and in libraries. Do you think that working with books has helped you as a writer?

I have always worked with books, but my first job in publishing was hardly what I’d call “in” publishing. I worked in the post room and one of my jobs was sorting the slush pile and making sure the unsolicited manuscripts reached the right desk – or not! Some of the manuscripts were, well, shall we say, odd! I certainly learned how not to submit a manuscript after wading through manuscripts that were sometimes barely legible. I think my favourite was one written on serviettes that had clearly been written whilst very drunk and made no sense whatsoever but became increasingly angry as the pile of tissue went on. The writer ended up ranting about how the publisher would be insane to reject them, but never actually got the point about the subject matter.

I have worked for over twenty five years in libraries and I am the current vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group. I campaign hard for all schools to have a library and a librarian as I see this as essential to the literacy of our children, and our adults. Working in libraries has taught me so very much about books, and I read constantly. I always say to young people that if you want to write, first you must read!

Who would you say are your favourite authors/books?

That’s an impossible question! My favourite author is always the author of the book that I’m currently hooked on. When I find a book that I really enjoy my immediate response is to buy the entire back catalogue and read everything. I have so many favourites so it wouldn’t be fair to pick one out.

What was your first encounter with fantasy fiction? Have you always wanted to write in the genre?

I’ve always loved fantasy. I grew up in a hard-up area and the future did not seem promising for any of us kids. For me fantasy was the perfect escape and it remained that way and so when I came to write myself it was fantasy that drew me. I was never really interested in reading about the real world, and was far more interested in the world out of the corner of your eye.

I read Ray Bradbury, Susan Cooper, Ursula K LeGuin, Alan Garner, Brian Aldiss, Joan Aiken, the list is very long, shelves full of doorways to different worlds.  I wanted to be somewhere else, I wanted to be chased across moorland by ancient spirits, battling my way out of dark houses in whirling snowstorms, fleeing scarlet-eyed wolves across wild moorland, conjuring spells to hold back demons, escaping dark forces hell bent on destroying me… basically anywhere other than a tatty and cold school heading for a job in a factory.

When I came to write myself it was not as if I had a choice. I think that all writers need to find their voice and the story will roll out. I didn’t really choose my genre, it chose me.

What was your route towards publishing your first novel like? Any advice you would give to any of our readers who are looking to publish their first book?

Oh dear, my route was very long and complicated! This book was almost published a number of years ago and then the imprint went under and I was left without a publisher. I was lucky in that I did have an agent and he supported me and encouraged me to keep going. My book still didn’t sell (the public seemed to have moved on to an obsessive desire for sparkly vampires and ghosts were not deemed fashionable) and so I focussed on my other work in school libraries.

Writing is a very isolating business and a friend encouraged me to upload my work to the writer’s site – Authonomy. I wanted some feedback and it was nice to have the opinion of other writers. My book was very quickly spotted on there by the man who almost took it to print the previous time! He remembered Brotherhood and recommended it to the rest of the team and they enjoyed it so much that they took it to print. These days it’s not about pleasing one person of course, your work has to be enjoyed by a team of people including the marketing team.

My advice would be to be prepared and get some professional editing if you can afford it. I’d buy the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and try to get an agent first. There are a few writer’s conferences throughout the year where you can meet agents and publishers and those are a sensible investment. Work on your pitch though! If you can nail your plot down to a sharp thirty second pitch, and then hand over a card with your details on, that can do it. I know a good number of people who have secured agents on a “could I ask for thirty seconds to pitch my work to you?” Agents are used to this approach, and a good one won’t mind. If they do mind and react badly, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with them anyway!

Where do you stand in the print vs. e-book debate? Do you think paper novels have had their day or is there room for both formats?

Video did not kill the radio star! I think there is more than enough room for both formats, and we need both. I love my e-reader as I travel a lot and can’t possibly carry hundreds of books around with me in any other format, but I also love print books. A recent survey suggested that people often read the book first on e-reader, and then buy the print copy to keep if they enjoy it – I know I’ve done this! There will always be books that simply do not work in e format, academic and study books for example. Students need to be able to annotate several texts and compare them all at once using several indices, that’s just not possible in e-book form. You simply can’t lay six kindles out in front of you and jot down notes on the pages!

I think that print publishers need to start to be more creative and to offer more for the print version to encourage people to buy it. Maps work so well in printed books, and extra material only available in the print version, or beautiful binding and covers, and maybe offering a free e-version if you buy the print version?

There is a good reason that books will last, they are the best at doing what they do – carrying words. The main thing is that they do not become unreadable. Twenty years ago I remember working with floppy discs and microfiche but now these formats are virtually unreadable, whilst books hundreds of years older are still perfectly accessible.

I think there is space in the market for all formats and we need to remember that it’s the story that counts, not the object that carries it.
Do you have any ‘top tips’ for aspiring authors out there?
Don’t give up, and don’t be precious – get advice and share and grow a very thick skin! I know so many people who say they want to write a book and seem to think it is easy, and that’s why people quit. The first time they get a knock-back, or hear something negative, or actually can’t stick at it to get those words on paper, people quit. If you really want to write a book you need to first accept that it is incredibly hard and time consuming work. It is not something to take lightly and dip into now and again, it takes time and dedication to get over a hundred thousand words down! Once you’ve accepted that it is hard work, and that you will have to make sacrifices to achieve it, then you can do it.

Young people ask me all the time how to become a writer and I always say – write down all the things, and then write down some more!Are you able to share with us what you are working on at the moment?I am currently working on the sequel to Brotherhood which is set in some stunning locations from nineteenth century Paris, to London and on to a remote Scottish island. The sequel is very Steampunk as I have a bit of an obsession for automata and machines. I’ve had this idea churning away for some time and am hugely enjoying writing my machines, and avoiding all jokes about the ghost in the machine!

Dawn, thank you very much for your time!

Thanks again for inviting me on board, and I very much look forward to reading more!

Brotherhood of Shades is available now from Amazon. You can also keep up to date with Dawn at her website.

“King Rat” & a New Short

Today, I want to briefly talk about what I’m currently reading and also bring your attention to a new piece of flash fiction I’ve just made available here on the blog.

King Rat by China Miéville

I’ve never read China Miéville before. As a fantasy fan, I guess that should make me feel ignorant/shameful/unworthy (delete as appropriate). But you know what? It doesn’t. See, I like my fantasy quite traditional. As much as I love Mr. Grimdark himself, Joe Abercrombie, and his brilliant novels, I still need my fix of magic, quests, dragons and bearded men yelling: ‘By the beards of my forefathers, I shall have my revenge!’

Don’t get me wrong, though, I do read “normal” fiction too. Dan Brown is a guilty pleasure, I make sure to occasionally read sci-fi and I’ve dipped into William Boyd, Ian Fleming and Iain Banks. But China Miéville was an oddity. A fantasy author who doesn’t write about elves, wizards or dragons and almost manages to cross over into what you might call “literary” fiction. As a writer, I always try to broaden my horizons when it comes to reading. The more varied reading experiences I have, the more I’ll learn how to shape my own style and grow my “writing toolset”. Anyway, enough fluff, on with the post!

So, King Rat, what’s it about?

When Saul Garamond’s father is murdered in mysterious circumstances, Saul is left as the only suspect. Arrested and placed in a cell, he is rescued by a strange man called King Rat who needs his help to defeat an old enemy known as the Ratcatcher. King Rat introduces Saul to the real London, a grimy world where every rubbish bin contains a nourishing meal and where rats squabble over scraps of territory in the sewers. And then he reveals the truth about who Saul really is…

I’m about a quarter of the way through with this book and I’m enjoying it so far. It’s quite surreal, while at the same time feeling really familiar and grounded, which is a difficult thing to convey I think. The characters are all well-crafted, particularly King Rat himself. I’m not so keen on the characters/storyline of Saul’s friends, Natasha and Fabian, but I’m hoping something happens soon to draw me in (I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about Jungle music and Natasha’s vehement love of it for several pages). I need to be patient and give the characters their chance to shine, so I’ll reserve judgement on that for now.

I love the overall tone of the book and the atmosphere that the author has created around the character of King Rat, as well as his penchant for cockney-rhyming slang. I’m still a little puzzled as to how King Rat is a rat, but in human form, so I’ll read on to discover more. I may check out the New Crobuzon series at some point, as I can only begin to imagine what Mr. Miéville could do with a secondary-world fantasy.

Three Brothers: An Unfortunate Tale

And lastly, I’ve just added the titular flash fiction to the Shorts section for your reading pleasure! This was a piece I wrote a long time ago and self-published on Kindle as a bit of an experiment. Needless to say, I learned a lot about the Kindle platform, but now I want to share this story with you all. Basically, it’s a fantasy take on the tale of the Three Little Pigs and should hopefully have you chuckling and on the edge of your seat simultaneously…

Just hit the link below to check it out!

Take me to the story!

Writing 1K a Day

If you’ve ever had a go at writing fiction, short story, flash fic, full-blown novel or otherwise, you’ll know how difficult it can be to maintain a good pace. By that, I mean it’s not only hard to write something every day, but also to write enough every time you put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard. I know I struggle with both and for the last six months (at least) I haven’t really been that serious about my writing. Various events are to account for this (birth of my son, getting married, getting a new job) and, when I realised that, I gave myself some slack.

But now I am back in the saddle and ready to write. And not just write, but write and FINISH a novel. I know, right? Who would have thought I hadn’t ever achieved that in twelve-ish years of writing. Continue reading

Author Interview: Luke Scull

Luke Scull is a British designer of computer RPGs and writer of gritty fantasy. His debut novel, The Grim Company, was released last month and is set to become an exciting new fantasy series with enough teeth to take on the big players in the genre. We were lucky enough to put some questions to Mr. Scull – here’s what transpired…

Luke_Scull780

Luke, thanks for joining us today.

Your debut novel and first in a trilogy, The Grim Company, is available early 2013 from Head of Zeus. Could you introduce us to your world and the series overall?

The world of The Grim Company is that of the traditional fantasy setting fallen to a state of ruin and decay. The gods are long dead and immortal tyrants have divided the land between them. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo 2012 Approaches!

As you may know, National Novel Writing Month 2012 is fast approaching. If you don’t know what this momentous occasion is all about, I’ll tell you. It’s about writing a novel in a month.

There. Easy, right? Well, maybe.

Any other time of year, it would certainly be a seemingly impossible task. But during the month of November, during NaNoWriMo, the ball is in your court. There are a few reasons why it’s so much easier to write during this event and here they are:

  1. There are loads of other people around the world writing away, just like you.
  2. Everyone’s progress and goals are tracked and put into a leaderboard.
  3. You get regular pep talks from the organisers and also support from your fellow writers.
  4. If you reach your goal, you have a full novel written by the end of the month! What could be a better reward?

So, the reason I’m telling you all this is because during November we here at Fantasy In Motion are going to go NaNoWriMo crazy! That’s excited-crazy, not crazy-crazy.

Among other things we’ll have:

  • A weekly catchup where you can all come to the blog and share your progress and see my own.
  • Regular advice and handy tips from myself and published authors.
  • Maybe a guest post or two.

If that all sounds like fun to you, make sure you pay us a visit during the next few weeks and during November and we’ll help one another get into NaNoWriMo mode!

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The Importance of Being Competitive

Do you like what I did with the title there?

Nah, I didn’t think it was that good either…

Today I want to talk about writing competitions and how important they are to a fledgling writer. It’s sometimes as easy as Googling “writing competitions”, but other times you’ll only hear about them by word of mouth.

I’ll start by giving you a list of current competitions that you can enter:

  • Fish Publishing – These guys run four competitions annually, including a Short Story and Flash Fiction competition. It’s judged by renowned poets and authors and the prize is pretty good.
  • Writers’ Forum – This site runs a monthly short story contest. It’s a reputable site and well worth a look.
  • Whidbey Writing Competition – A contest based in the USA, but open worldwide. You can write about anything and for any audience.
  • Cazart – You can enter short stories or flash fiction, you can swear and it’s £5 to enter. It’s open throughout 2012 each month, so get over and have a look!
  • Flash 500 – A humorous verse contest. The prizes are pretty decent, for the length of your piece (30 lines).
  • Cinnamon Press – These guys run a range of writing competitions, which change regularly. It’s a good idea to bookmark their competition page.
  • Fantasy Writing Contest – This is a yearly contest, run by Fantasy Faction, for fantasy writers. If your story wins, it gets entered into an anthology with a host of other well authors’ work. They start taking submissions from 1st January 2013.

You might be thinking, ‘Yeah, so what? I might win a small amount of money, but I might not win anything at all.’

Well that’s not the attitude to have. If you’re serious about your writing and you want it to lead somewhere one day, it’s a really good idea to enter some competitions. Here are the benefits that I see from taking part:

  1. You’re committed to finishing a piece of writing (especially if there’s an entry fee).
  2. You’re focused on an end goal and possibly a prize.
  3. You’re usually confined to a particular genre/theme.
  4. In some cases, you make connections with other writers and it’s great for networking.
  5. It maintains your “edge”.

That’s right – like the knives in your kitchen drawer, there’s always one that’s sharper than all the rest. If you want to be successful, you need to make sure that’s you. Writing contests are great for honing your skills, expanding your toolset and exercising your “writer’s brain”.

If there’s one thing you do today, why not commit to entering a competition and start planning out your story?

I’m also going to do a special series of posts during the approach to NaNoWriMo in November, to help you get prepared and learn all about this annual tournament.

If you’ve got any questions about entering competitions or need some advice on writing, drop us a comment below!

~ James

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More on NaNoWriMo from the blogosphere:

Author Interview: Tim Marquitz

Welcome to another Monday morning, the start of a new week and a brand new interview with author Tim Marquitz!

Me

Tim is the author of the Demon Squad series and a myriad of fantasy and horror stories. He once worked as a gravedigger, loves martial arts and is a familiar face on fantasy forums across the web.

I’m really excited to have had a chance to pick at Tim’s thoughts. Read on to discover what he had to say… Continue reading

Worldbuilder’s Workout – Transport

Worldbuilder's Workout

In our last Worldbuilder’s Workout, we talked about Distance. Well, today we’re going to look at Transport.

By Land

By their very nature, fantasy worlds are usually medieval, in technological terms. What did people use back then to get around? Horses and their own two feet? It’s sort of correct, but not very imaginative. Horses/mules were important because they were the tools that drove society. They drew wagons and carriages, helped farmers work their fields and transported goods from one place to another. However, they were also expensive; in much the same way that some people can’t afford to buy a car nowadays. Bicycles weren’t invented until the 19th century, so walking was the other option. But that shouldn’t be the end of the matter. Think how someone who buys a horse and cart could profit from it. The medieval world had taxis, just not as you know them today.

Carriages

By Sea

Sailboats and rowboats are usually the transport of choice for the high seas. When you start bringing in steam-powered ships, you edge out of fantasy territory and start to add in steampunk elements. There’s no reason why you can’t do this, but I’m talking about standard fantasy here. Writing about ships and adventures at sea can be really good fun, but you need to know your stuff. Look up some basic information on sailboats so that you have a good idea of where everything is on one and how they worked. You can adapt things for your story’s needs, but I find its always best to stick relatively closely to established real-world rules.

By Air

Now, this is an interesting one. Airships or dragons/giant birds are usually what we’re presented with in fantasy. I find airships don’t sit well with me. Warcraft uses them, but I feel they detract from the fantasy setting a little. Giant winged creatures, on the other hand, can sometimes work if done well. However, I would advise steering clear of dragon riders or anything similar, as this has now become a huge fantasy cliche, in my humble opinion. Magic systems providing flight is another option, of course, which I cover in the final section.

Airship

By Any Means

Depending on how cleverly you can do it, you could try to invent new ways for your world’s inhabitants to get around. It could be magic-based or not. What about a new species of animal that’s different to a horse in some way? How about a crude and unexplained form of electricity that is used to give speed to ships? Or what if instead of roads there were tracks and horse-drawn wagons ran on them? The possibilities really are endless, it’s just up to your own imagination!

What’s your view on transport in fantasy settings? Got any ideas/questions for the community?

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Remember – if you missed the chance to take part in the second episode of our community-written fantasy story, you can still leave your entries by following the below link!

Friday Fiction: The Story – Episode 2

More Worldbuilder’s Workouts…

Worldbuilder’s Workout – Distance

Worldbuilder’s Workout – Distance

Worldbuilder's Workout

It’s Wednesday, it’s time for a brand new Champion Post! I figured I’d kick off the new Worldbuilder’s Workout feature with the topic of Distance.

When you’re creating a fantasy world, one of the most important things you need to work out is how big it is. It’s no good creating a smorgasbord of countries and regions if, when you start writing, it only takes a few minutes for your characters to traverse them. Similarly, you don’t want to get to the climax of your story and then realise your protagonist needs to travel for six months before they can take on the bad guy.

So, here’s the big question. How do you work out distances?

First, you should work out what sort of size you want your world to be. Is it roughly the size of Earth? Is it smaller? Larger? Here are some rough measurements for our own world:

Circumference = 24900 miles / 40000 km

USA coast to cost = 2500 miles / 4000 km

UK north to south = 420 miles / 680 km

Once you’ve decided what size the world/landmass is, you need to choose a unit/units of measurement to be used by the inhabitants of your world. For my own story, I currently use leagues for distances traveled and a unit of hands for height. It feels satisfyingly medieval/old world and yet it still gives an accurate impression of distance and movement.

Here’s a few simple conversions for changing our modern measurements into archaic ones. If we look at the unit of one mile, the other measurements are:

Miles = 1

Kilometers = 1.6

Yards = 1760

Feet = 5280

Leagues = 0.3

Furlongs = 8

Link = 8000

Chain = 80

If you want to be really original, you can always create your own units of measurement. It might be a good idea to keep the calculations the same as one of the above, though, to make it easier for you.

Now that you have your world measured out and you know roughly how long it takes to go from A to B, you can go ahead and plan out how your characters will move around their environment.

I hope you enjoyed reading today’s post – let me know what you thought. Next time we do a Worldbuilder’s Workout, I think I’ll talk about transport, whether it’s on land, at sea or otherwise.

Writing by Quotes – Discworld

 

Discworld

I told you the next post today was going to be good, didn’t I? Welcome to the third installment of Writing by Quotes! When I was trying to decide which work of fantasy to focus on today, I considered Warcraft. I know it’s fantasy, but I think it would be nice to focus only on written works (and their movie adaptations) rather than video games. So, today we’ll explore the whimsical world of Discworld!

Let’s just say that if complete and utter chaos was lightning, he’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting ‘All gods are bastards’.

~ The Colour of Magic

This wonderful quote comes from the first installment in the Discworld series. It’s the first one I read and still a great read now. I love this quote because it’s very Monty Python-esque and makes me chuckle each time I read it. If we applied it to writing, I think the major piece of advice to take from it would be to think of this when you’re writing characters. Sometimes, characters do stupid things. Really stupid things. Usually it’s just a part of their personality, but other times it’ll be the author’s fault. If your character taunts gods and evil guys without a care for his safety, he should get obliterated. Be careful what your protagonist does…

Demons have existed on the Discworld for at least as long as the gods, who in many ways they closely resemble. The difference is basically the same as between terrorists and freedom fighters.

~ Eric

This same comparison can be applied to protagonists and antagonists (good ones, anyway). It’s good to paint characters in shades of grey and make the reader question who’s got the moral high ground and who hasn’t. If characters are falling a little flat and lacking depth, add a bit of uncertainty and make them question their own actions.

Death

‘You know me,’ said Rincewind. ‘Just when I’m getting a grip on something Fate comes along and jumps on my fingers.’

~ Interesting Times

A brilliant quote which explains what we as writers do to our protagonists to keep things interesting. If the goal is too easily achieved, we lose interest, don’t we? Make it difficult–make it brutal, even–and the readers will thank you for it even if your characters don’t.

Librarian

‘Look out of the window. Tell me what you see.’
‘Fog,’ said the Chief Priest.
Vetinari sighed. Sometimes the weather had no sense of narrative convenience.

~ The Truth

I have to say, I love this. It reminds us as writers that the world carries on around your characters when they’re going about their business. Things shouldn’t just work out perfectly all the time. Maybe your characters are going to have a walk under a clear, starry sky? Well, maybe that night there’s a storm and the characters have to find shelter instead. There might even be a greater opportunity for development in such a situation. Think about it.

‘In a world where we all move in curves he proceeds in a straight line. And going straight in a world of curves makes things happen.’

~ Night Watch

Why write a meandering, round-the-houses story, when you can get straight to the point and whack your reader in the face with a tonne of action, mystery and intrigue? Just imagine how much quicker you can write and how much better it could be if you head in a straight line? I’m not saying you should cut corners, but you can always stand to streamline the way you write.

The Novel That Didn’t Write Itself

Today I want to share a story with you all. I hope you all get something from it.

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Fantasy In Motion Presents…

A Fantasy In Motion Production…

From the guy who writes this blog…

Critics are calling it “Get out of my office before I call security”…

The Novel That Didn’t Write Itself

One day there was a novel. Well, there would have been one if it had been written. It existed, but only in spirit.

So, one day there was a novel’s spirit. This particular spirit wanted to be a fantasy novel. It was full of fantastic things like dragons, epic journeys and little furry, squeaky things that nobody really knows the name of. Since it had first been dreamed up, it had always wanted to be a novel and nothing else. Not a racing driver. Not an astronaut. Not a movie star. It was a novel’s spirit and being a novel was all it had going for it.

But there was a problem.

There was an evil writer called Zanniberous Zanzini VI (let’s just call him Zan). All his life he had been mocked because of his name and so he vowed that one day he would name a character after himself and nobody would ever laugh at him again. So, he started writing a novel. He’d planned it well, created a believable world and invented brilliant characters. It was going to be a success. He was going to be a success!

One fateful day, however, he stopped writing. He played video games, he read books and he watched TV… but he didn’t write his novel. Every day, he went online and read about other authors. He read their blogs, their interviews and devoured every bit of advice they threw out there. Zan was ravenous. He was going to have all that one day. He just knew it. But every time he sat down to write, he thought of something else he could be doing instead. Maybe I can just complete that level on Halo first? There’s a ton of TV I need to catch up on… maybe I could do that for an hour first? Every time he thought about playing games or anything else, he lost interest in writing.

And so this cycle continued.

With every day that passed, the novel’s spirit grew weaker. No new ideas were flowing into it. It was dying. Every time Zan’s computer started up, the novel’s spirit looked to him for help. It tried to stand out, to make its desktop folder look inviting. But Zan always ignored it and loaded up a game instead.

Curse these games with their characters made out of pixels, their empty promises of engaging stories and their drug-like addictiveness! the spirit thought. What makes them so much more interesting than me?

From then on, the spirit would watch Zan from beneath a deep stack of folders. It would watch as the writer created new stories and dreamed up new ideas, only to consign them to an ever-growing folder called ABANDONED. The novel’s spirit would talk to the other hollow spirits and learn about their time spent with Zan.

‘I was going to be about a secret agent and a thrilling race against time!’ one said. ‘But then he just left me half-way through the first chapter and he never touched me again.’

‘He promised me the world!’ another cried. ‘He named me “The Ultimate Story”. He came up with all sorts of maps, histories and designs for me, but he… he didn’t even start writing.’

It was summer now. ABANDONED had grown over the past year and it had become a dangerous and confusing place. The spirits all peered out from their hiding places and watched as Zan loaded up a new file and gave it a name. The writer looked tired now, drained even. He started to type something and then stopped. He deleted the letters, stabbing at the backspace key with venom. He moved the mouse and hovered over the ABANDONED folder. His eyes were full of memories, hopes and desires. He looked at the folder and sadness showed on his face. Suddenly, he threw the mouse at the wall, kicked away his chair and stormed from the room.

Weeks, months and then years passed by with no sign of Zan. Eventually, some men in blue uniforms came and started removing things from the room. One of them leaned over and looked at the screen. The novel spirits looked back at him hopefully.

‘Hey look at this, Stevens!’ the man said, waving over his friend.

‘Jesus,’ Stevens muttered, staring at the computer screen. ‘This guy was the big time, wasn’t he?’

‘Yeah,’ the other said. ‘He was big time alright. A big time nut job.’

The men both laughed and walked away, carrying armfuls of Zan’s belongings between them. The spirits of ABANDONED all looked out at Zan’s desktop and gasped when they saw the wallpaper. It read: “Zanniberous Zanzini VI is a bestselling author from Manhattan, NY. He lives with his–” the words stopped there. Across the writing, the words “THE END” had been drawn hundreds of times in blood-red.

Zan was never published. He never even finished a story. The police found him dead in his bathtub, clutching a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing to his chest.

He never learned the most important lesson of all: novels don’t write themselves. So, if you sit there ignoring your novel’s spirit day after day, playing games to help you block out the nagging voice in your head, remember Zan’s fate and change your life today with one simple step. Write. Even if it’s terrible, embarrassing or full of spelling mistakes, just write. After all, nobody’s going to write your story for you, are they?

* * *

And you thought it was going to be lighthearted the whole way through, didn’t you? Well, sometimes life is funny and then sometimes its not. That story was based on nobody real (thankfully!) but it was very loosely inspired by my own experiences over the last few years. I’ve only recently managed to get it together and actually devote myself to one story and know that I will finish it at some point. I’ve never gotten particularly frustrated or down over my lack of progress (I’m a pretty level-headed person) but I always wished that I would just finish at least one full-length novel.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Leave me your thoughts!

What is a Fantasy Cliche?

So, have you ever really considered this question? If I asked you to give me an example and explain why it’s a cliche, could you?

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of the word:

A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

Archetype is another word you often see cropping up in fantasy-related discussions:

An archetype is a universally understood symbol, term, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated. Archetypes are often used in myths and storytelling across different cultures. Archetype refers to a generic version of a personality. In this sense, “mother figure” may be considered an archetype, and may be identified in various characters with otherwise distinct (non-generic) personalities.

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Here’s a list of classic fantasy cliches and archetypes:

  • The quest story
  • Stupid barbarians/old wizards
  • An object that holds the power to destroy great evil
  • Evil without a reason
  • Orcs, elves, dwarves, dragons, etc.
  • The chosen one/orphan
  • Prophecies
  • Lack of strong females
  • Drawn out fights
  • Characters who never get injured in battle
  • Unpronounceable names
  • Invented language systems

So, if we think logically, if we invert those cliches, we should get some pretty original stuff, right?

  • Smart barbarians/young wizards
  • Evil with a reason
  • No fantasy species, only humans
  • Lots of strong females
  • Short, bloody fights
  • Protagonist frequently injured
  • Realistic names

Yeah… the problem is, a lot of those have been done to death too. Sometimes badly, sometimes well.

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How do we be original?

The trick is, taking a cliche or archetype and tweaking it very slightly. It’s a really nice psychological ruse. Just have a think about all your favourite stories/games/movies – do you know how they tweaked a stereotype or overused idea? Here’s a few ways in which a small change can have a big effect:

  • A young boy is destined to defeat a great evil, but he doesn’t discover this until he has grown older. Now a middle-aged wizard, he must fulfill is true purpose.
  • A stupid barbarian and a clever thief – a classic team, right? Not this time. The barbarian is a master thief in disguise and uses his deception to confidence trick others.
  • Elves, orcs and dwarves dominate the surface world. Humanity dwindles. But now it has a chance. Empowered by a powerful wizard, humans acquire potent new abilities and take the fight to their sadistic oppressors.

Even just taking a story like Star Wars and swapping out Luke Skywalker for an advanced servant droid who is destined to defeat the Empire, the whole dynamic of the story changes. How will he interact with C-3PO and R2-D2? Will he fight for more rights for droids in the galaxy? Will he see humans as his slavers? We could even have followed Darth Vader as an antihero and it would have made the story entirely different.

What’s the lesson?

You don’t always have to come up with a completely original idea – in fact, I believe there are no truly original ideas and there never were. Nature already beat humanity to all the greatest stories, long before we existed. The key is how to make something feel original by putting your own twist on it and creating intriguing characters.