Books for Fantasy Writers

What books should fantasy writers read? Well, any books they like, actually, and the more the better, but what I am getting at is what books might help us to be better writers? Here are some ideas for books I have found useful, broken down into categories for your comfort and convenience.

But before I do, can I just say that if you want advice on the building blocks of novel-writing, and are intimidated by the jargons used in works of literary advice, or are perhaps new to this whole writing a book lark, hie you at once to Jesse’s Studio, where the estimable Jesse Stuart has just such (excellent) advice laid out in clear and easy to understand language.

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The Pathless Wood

I’d like you all to have a read of this and tell me what you think. Is it properly creepy, or does it need a bit more chill?

Let me explain. This is an inset story in Aiella, and replaces the original version, which was a) not very good b) somewhat derivative and c) irrelevant to the setting.

To set the scene, Aiella and Dartea have been commissioned to escort young Lady Talia D’Inverno on a secret trip across the mountains, and they take the first part of the journey by boat up the river. Our heroines soon discover that Talia is what Dartea describes as a ‘flouncy little whatsit’, spoiled and arrogant, and a sore trial of their patience. One night they camp in a forest glade by the river. As a form of mild revenge for all the trouble Talia has caused them Dartea decides to wind her up by telling a creepy story.

It is an evening in late summer, it’s getting toward dark, the trees stand tall around them, seeming to move slightly in the haze from their campfire, and this is the story Dartea tells:

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Writing Update

Well, all the edits are in, and the storyline changed. I think it’s better this way round. It took some editing around to get Aiella’s backstory cemented in its new place, to make sure everything that needs to be mentioned is mentioned at the correct juncture, and also to make sure that, now that the Big Reveal is near the end, I don’t give away the goods too soon. And, to improve the narrative flow, I expanded the trigger story (in-joke) somewhat, so it can stand on its own a little better.

So, now what? Well … so far two beta readers have complained about the seven-year gap in the storyline, and suggested I fill it with a new story. This is an attractive idea, but … the book as it stands is 300 pages and 145,000 words long. Add much more and it will have to be split into two books … and the way the stories are set up now, there isn’t an obvious split point. So I’d probably have to write another story, to provide that split point … and is this ever going to end? At some point I’m going to have to cry FINISHED!, and then decide what the hell to do with it.

Not to mention there is the sequel to work on, and what about my other project, the comic fantasy, stuck in plot hell for nearly two years now? Eep.

Anyway, I have also been reciprocally beta reading, and much to my relief all four books (by three different authors) have been well-written and entertaining, even if historical romance and grimdark SF are a bit out of my usual field. I hope I have been able to contribute something to the development of the books in question. I will publicise them all when they are published!

How’s your writing going?

I’m only making plans for Aiella

The best thing for the blues is to do something constructive, so I’m going to have a look at the major surgery needed for my novel Aiella. Briefly, it has been suggested that the first part of the first chapter, dealing with her childhood and the Lamentable Tragedie that drove her into exile, be moved to stand instead as the next-to-last story in the sequence. This means that the book starts with our heroine staggering half-dead down from the mountains, starved and snowblind, and the reader has no more idea of who she is than the farm folk who take her in have. So that part of the story needs re-jigging, so there are no references back to the previous story, only mysterious hints, and also it needs more description of her to be added, by way of introducing her to the reader. (I’m thinking out loud here).

Then, as the stories progress, her Mysterious Past and just what it was that led her to a life of wandering and exile is almost as much of a mystery to the reader as it is to the other characters … there are a couple of crucial scenes involving a wanted poster I need to look at, to determine how much to give away there. I think this is a better effect than having all the backstory explicated at the beginning, and the readers (if any such there be) can let their lurid imaginations speculate on what might have happened.

So far so good. Now, the really hard part is transplanting that backstory, currently sitting proudly at the head of Chapter One,  to the less elevated position of Chapter Thirteen. There is going to have to be some kind of framing for it, to account for its anachronous position, and as it stands it isn’t very suitable for framing. I haven’t worked out how to do this yet. Obviously the trigger for its appearance is Aiella finally confessing all her past misdeeds to Dartea, which is a thing that already happens, but the story is too long and too objectively written (3rd person) to be passed off as Aiella’s recollections. If it were a film I could do a slow dissolve and then a caption, RHEGED: 35 YEARS EARLIER, but writing it in to a novel is a little trickier.

More thought required!

Aiella: the novel

One of the things I did in 2016 was to finish one of the two novels I have been writing for most of the last two years. Would you like me to tell you all about it?

Oh. Well, tough. I’m going to tell you all about it anyway.

I say finished, but I’m still editing bits of it, and I say novel, but … well, it kind of isn’t. It’s actually fourteen discrete but connected stories, of varying lengths, covering thirty-five years or so in the life of the main character, the eponymous Lady Aiella.

Aiella is … a wanderer, a thief, an exile and to most of the people she meets, an enigma. The stories follow her from childhood, through love, loss, tragedy, exile, and long years of restless wandering, until she at last finds some kind of redemption. Along the way she meets her faithful companion Dartea, and together they encounter assassins, authors, elephants, pirates, music-hall performers, diplomats, smugglers, a Princess and a very troublesome mule. Recurring at various points in the story is the third major character, the notorious Black Jackie Nyman, smuggler, burglar, fence and lover.

The story is … a romance, a comedy, a thriller, and a tragedy. But for the purposes of general classification, I call it a fantasy, inasmuch as the action is set in the imaginary land of Tenaria.

The story is not … a conventional fantasy, however. There is no magic in Tenaria. No gods, no elves, wizards, werewolves, vampires, dragons, amulets, witches, ghosts or any kind of magic ring whatever. You will not find so much as a hint of a prophecy, and not a trace of a Quest. I have invented no languages, nor do my characters use gratuitous faux-medieval English. (Any thees and thous you find are dialect, not archaisms).

Also, there are no … guns, improbable mechanical devices, knights in armour shining or otherwise, no lurid descriptions of sex and no map.

There are … jokes, kisses, bits of song and poetry, stories-within-the-story, adventures, arguments, fights, swearwords and characters who are anything but straight (in several senses of the word).

Oh, yes, and I’ve already started writing the sequel.

So if any of that intrigues you at all, I’m looking for readers to tell me if it’s any good or not, because I’m damned if I know. Drop me a line in the comments below, or send me a direct message on Twitter @sloopjonb1960, and I will provide you with an e-book copy to the format of your choice. It’s 144,000 words long, just so you know how much of your time it is going to waste.

Thanks 🙂