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Category: Fantasy

Every story needs its own world

Posted in Artwork, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Setting, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

Every story needs its own world and, if you're writing fantasy or scifi, that world has to be built.

I started Structures of Earth not quite two years ago, then put it on pause to write the Chained Adept series first (see background). At the time, I had a vivid image of the river town where the action was happening — the capital city for the country in which the story is set, rather the way London functions for England.

But where was that country, and what place in what world did it occupy?

One thing I learned from The Chained Adept — it's fun (and not too hard) to build a world map for a series and much better to do it at the start rather than to try and retrofit one after most of the story is done. That way, the “real world” constraints can ground the story and drive some of the plot logistics issues.

The world of The Affinities of Magic is a new world, and it needs its own maps. I took Fractal Terrains 3 out for a spin last night and started seeding the world settings until I found one I liked.

The world of The Affinities of Magic

Here's what that globe looks like if you unroll it, with a pointer showing where my temperate northern hemisphere initial city is located. (I haven't designated any national/imperial boundaries yet.)

One thing is already clear — there will be large differences between the cultures on the inner sea and those with access by water to the rest of the world. That inner sea may be 4200 miles wide, but it's still a restricted body of water, warm equatorial water, and the ecosystem in and around it will be unique.

See? That's something I didn't know before I generated this map. Hadn't even thought about it.

Restarting a series

Posted in Characters, Fantasy, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

Book Cover - Structures of Earth, from The Affinities of Magic seriesI was about a quarter of the way into Structures of Earth when I put it aside in late 2015 to write a different series: the four books of The Chained Adept, the 4th and final book of which was just released.

Why would I do that, interrupt a series?

Well, there were several issues…

Series longevity

I intend for The Affinities of Magic to be a longish series, the way a detective series is. The characters will grow over time and their role in their world will evolve, but the focus will be almost exclusively on each individual story rather than an overall series arc. There are long-term issues that drive some of the characters, and those will show progress (or setbacks) across the books, but not an integral sort of series arc, the sort you're accustomed to in a trilogy, say, where you must “destroy the ring!” or achieve whatever goal you started with.

Some detective series work this way (the ones that don't just reset the characters with each new entry). Each book has a problem to solve that is important to the characters, but in the background the hero is getting older and having problems with his marriage, and an old flame shows up and then goes away again, and he gets wiser (or not) about how to handle certain situations, and so forth.

In The Chained Adept and The Hounds of Annwn series, there's an overall story arc to the entire series, though each book is a complete story of its own. For the former, that arc is probably completed, but for the latter — who knows? Might get longer. I have ideas…

World building to last

Creating a series like that meant I had to approach world building and character building (especially teams) for the long haul. Longer than four books, anyway.

I put some serious work into the technology of magic underpinning the “rules” by which the guilds (and others) operate, since the fundamental premise of the series is that they follow someone who is the “young Tom Edison” of magic — someone who figures out why the rules work the way they do. The whole series background is set in the resulting industrial revolution caused by these discoveries, with our hero at the center of it. I've always enjoyed technology of magic issues — perhaps that's a reflection of my fondness for hard science fiction.

All that is very interesting, but you can't tell stories about concepts. Stories are about people.

The Chained Adept has been released

Posted in Fantasy, Release, and The Chained Adept

The Chained Adept - Full Front Cover - 297x459
A STRONG WIZARD WITH UNANSWERED QUESTIONS AND A CHAIN AROUND HER NECK.

Penrys’s past is unknown, but she’s got a better grip on her future: find out where she came from, discover what happened to her, and figure out how the unremovable chain around her neck makes her different from other wizards.

What any of this has to do with the renewal of an ugly war between neighboring countries, half a world away, is just something she’ll have to sort out, along with the rumors of wizards where they don’t belong.

Assuming, of course, that no one removes her as a threat before she can find her footing.

All she wants is a firm foundation for the rest of her life, with a side helping of retribution, and if she has to fix things along the way, well, so be it.

Order direct from the author, or see the publisher for retail sites.

Words and history

Posted in Fantasy, Language, The Chained Adept, and The Chained Adept

Anachronisms
Anachronisms

There's one thing a writer of fiction learns early — don't knock a reader out of your story because of words that mean what you want, but that the character would never have used.

If you're writing a work of contemporary fiction, that usually means matching your dialogue to your characters. The impoverished nine-year-old is not likely to use gold-plated words, except perhaps as a comic gesture.

For non-contemporary fiction, the bigger problem is anachronism. When you remember that “khaki” comes out of British imperial rule in India, you are well-advised to avoid it as a descriptive term in a book on the Crusades, or in a fantasy world where neither Britain nor India have ever existed.

When I read books, I find the worst offenders are phrases based on technology that the author forgot is modern, or at least, too modern for the context. “He's never learned to put on the brakes”, “He's just blowing off steam”, “He's a real live wire, isn't he?” — these are a slap in the reader's face in the wrong context.

Building the world of The Chained Adept – Part 2: Characters

Posted in Characters, Fantasy, and The Chained Adept

Part 1 is here.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Dungeon Masters and Fantasy Authors both need to create characters, but DMs have software to help them.

For my current series, The Chained Adept, I used a Character Card creator module from ProFantasy called Character Artist. Some writers browse the internet looking for photos that remind them of their characters, but I think that takes too long. I had much more fun coming up with an iconic “card” for some of the main characters in The Chained Adept.

These are not paper dress-up fashion dolls, and the choices are limited, but it's surprising how much you can do with the given tools to provide a very quick sketch. While I don't want to get too specific when describing a character for a reader, so that the reader can fill in much of the picture himself, I do find it helpful to get specific for my own view.

So, here's what I think about my main character (Penarit), her companion (Sanderel), and the commander of the military unit they accompany (Benir Zant).

Gallery

Of course, there's one big difference between Dungeon Masters and Fantasy Authors. The DMs don't care about keeping your character alive.

It's a good thing you can trust authors. Most of the time. Unless that character really, really, needs to go.

Dungeon Masters can be cruel. So can authors with a long series.
Dungeon Masters can be cruel. So can authors with a long series.

Building the world of The Chained Adept – Part 1: Maps

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Setting, and The Chained Adept

Writers of fantasy and science fiction books have special needs. Not only do we have characters to create from scratch, like every novelist, but we have entire worlds to build — not just the verisimilitude of the historical past, but entire planets, spacecraft, or fantastic realms. Our desks are littered with bad sketches of landscapes, terrible character portraits, and far too many scraps of idiosyncratic cosmogenesis.

You know who else has these problems? Dungeon masters.

Old school dungeon design software
“Old school” dungeon design software

The world of Dungeons & Dragons and subsequent games created a need for game masters, those referees who control the world of their game for their players, to make maps, create character cards, and so forth. Not surprisingly, there's an ecosystem of software to support this.

A couple of months ago, I invested in most of the software modules from ProFantasy and started playing around. I needed to design a complete secondary world for a new series, The Chained Adept, and it wasn't going to be modeled on Earth at the geology level (although I planned to keep the flora & fauna so that the readers wouldn't need to master an entire ecosystem of vocabulary).

I started by designing a planet, using Fractal Terrains 3. By providing a handful of parameters and tinkering with the results, you can create an infinite number of alien planets.

The World of the Chained Adept
The world of The Chained Adept

The Technology of Magic

Posted in Fantasy, Genre, Science Fiction, The Affinities of Magic, and The Hounds of Annwn

Thomas Edison's lab
Thomas Edison's lab

The Fantasy and Science Fiction genres are distinct in several ways, but there is a certain degree of overlap as well. Both of them specialize not in things as they are but in things as they might be. They may differ in where the emphasis of the story goes — SF is notorious for typically making “the idea” and its consequences the point of the story, not necessarily the characters — but in this post I want to concentrate on what they have in common.

I’ve read SF&F all my life, and the two genres are cross-fertilized for me now. I like my SF best when it has moral characters as well as ideas, and I like my Fantasy best when its magical or supernatural elements are treated consistently, as though they were science.

It’s a truism in an SF story that you can change just one thing arbitrarily (time travel works, men live for centuries instead of decades, there are sapient aliens we can meet) and, if you can do an adequate handwave in the direction of scientific plausibility, the reader will accept it, as long as the notional basis is scientific (rational). For example, there may be religion in SF societies, and there may be powerful beings who seem to be indistinguishable from gods, but you can’t have real gods (supernatural entities) as agents in SF (though you can have a belief in them). That’s because god(s) may or may not exist, but science has nothing to say on the subject. That’s why they are literally “supernatural”, not “natural”.

What you must do in SF, however, is deal with the change consistently, e.g., if men live for centuries, there will be social and economic consequences. The story can be about those consequences, or they can be a background to the story, but they must be consistent, and a very great part of the pleasure of reading SF is the exploration of the consequences of such an idea.

Fantasy is a broader category. It accepts that those areas where it differs from quotidian reality may not be capable of rational explanation. Hence you can have supernatural entities (gods, elves, demons) as well as beings that might or might not be supernatural (vampires, werewolves, dragons).