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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

GUEST POST: The Nuts And Bolts Of Writing A Fantasy Novel by Matthew Siegard

It’s not the easiest thing to write a novel and, for the first time, ask people if they want to read it, much less purchase it. With all the thousands of accomplished novelists whose works are now easily accessible with a cheap Kindle download, it’s difficult to imagine that my own voice is worth someone’s time and money. I think what finally convinced me to take the plunge is that I managed to write the novel I would want to read, rather than one catered to a demographic. I figured if I had a ball living with these characters (and killing many of them, tragically), and put in the work to tell the story clearly, why be apprehensive about it?

I’ve been working seriously at writing novels since I was in high school, which was way, waaaay too early for me to begin thinking that I had:
 1) the skills to write a coherent novel, and
2) enough life experience to write something thoughtful.

Then again, someone isn’t a finished product on their first try. I’ve been writing pretty consistently since then, bouncing from genre to genre. Along the way, I joined a writers group that I’ve attended ever since, eventually becoming its de facto coordinator, and learned all about the bad habits that I could ignore when I was writing mainly for myself.

A few years ago, I took a shot at the fantasy genre after dabbling in sci-fi and horror, writing what would eventually become “Fatebreaker, Book I: A Pact of Lies” after many drafts, taking inspiration from anything from Tolkien, to Robert E. Howard, to Jim Butcher, to Ray Harryhausen movies. At its core, it’s an adventure story centered around a group of people undertaking a mission to retrieve something from a mysterious temple, but the simplicity of the mission definitely runs off the rails once the group discovers more about the temple… and each other.

Because I care about authenticity, I think I spent more time researching things like what to call a particular part of an ancient-era sailing ship, or understanding the division of power in ancient empires, than I did actually write about my characters smacking monsters or befriending/alienating each other. Still, the gruntwork was worthwhile, because I got to write a story that I care about, incorporating all the things I love about other stories, and all the things I wish they would do. I wrote about a snide, wisecracking thief, Raven, who has both my worst traits and the ones I’d love to have, and I’ve forced him into an adventure full of monsters and spells and doozy plot twists. It’s a lot easier to write a variation of myself, going on the adventures I wish I could have (if pain and death were not a factor), rather than trying to craft a completely hypothetical person.

My hook for Fatebreaker was always fairly simple: to write a story about a character who shouldn’t be the hero. Of course, we’ve all read about anti-heroes and unlikely heroes, but my character of Raven should be a cynical and frustrating sidekick, and yet he’s the protagonist. He is a capable fighter, but hardly exceptional. He has no magical ability or inborn power. He has no famous heritage or claim to any great title. A bit like Tyrion Lannister, he’s forced to work with others who have those advantages. I like to think that if Raven were not the central character, he would be the character most certainly killed off by the novel’s midpoint. I often find the difficult, less capable side characters the most sympathetic, because they have the most to fear, so I wanted to avoid focusing only on the “elite” characters and make Raven central to this story.

What he has going for him are two things: he prepares himself extensively in a wide variety of knowledge and skills, and he is willing to do things that others will find unconscionable if they help achieve a goal he cares about. Unfortunately for the other characters, what Raven cares about is often likely frustrating for his companions and my readers.

The formative experience in Raven’s life is that his brother was supposed to be the “chosen one” and was killed because others forced him to attempt the impossible. That was what threw Raven’s life into a spiral and taught him contempt for higher callings, and it’s why I eventually settled on “Fatebreaker” for the name of this book and the series I’m writing. I know that Raven has a fate in that he’s being written by an author who has a plan for him, but to the best of his knowledge, he’s just a man adrift in the world, with no higher power he trusts and limited perspective to understand the consequences of his actions.

That’s the kind of character I want to read about: one who not only doubts whether he’s worthy of the fate thrust upon him, but who doesn’t believe there’s a fate for him at all. That’s what would take real courage, to risk your life and others’ without any reassuring force at all to tell you what must happen. Stories like The Walking Dead tap into that fear. I enjoyed writing that fear into an epic fantasy novel. At the same time, I didn’t want to be dismissive of people in the story who do have confidence in their purpose. Raven interacts with knights who believe in the exceptionalism of their nation, a priestess with faith in her god’s nearly pacifist teachings, and a sorceress with absolute devotion to knowledge. They’re not portrayed as ignorant, because I know wise and confident people of that sort in real life. I wanted to get my fantasy universe away from the idea that the world comes down to one philosophy, one force that makes itself obvious. The reader doesn’t need me to tell them how the world is ordered, and my characters won’t get any easy satisfaction in that regard.

In a nutshell, I set out to write a sword and sorcery novel, but wound up caring even more about a character who’s not sure what type of world he belongs in. He’s not sure where he’s going, but he’s fun for the ride, to which I can relate. And there are plenty of monsters and fighting too, don’t worry.


GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Matthew Siegard lives in Gainesville, Florida with his beautiful fiancé, who encouraged him to finally stop editing and take a go at publishing. He works as an analyst during the day, and saves writing about sword and sorcery for after hours (mostly). He reads a great deal of historical non-fiction, along with classic and contemporary genre authors such as JRR Tolkien, HG Wells, George RR Martin, and his favorite, Jules Verne.

Matthew currently organizes the Gainesville Fiction Writers group in his hometown, facilitating discussion of writing approaches and tough critique of each other’s work. He’s happy to write in any genre, but is focusing now on epic fantasy, although the closest he has ever come to actual medieval warfare was fainting while learning about 19th century surgical techniques in a Civil War fortress.

You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewsiegard, or on his Goodreads author page.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB:In the ashes of the old Empire, a world of great men and new nations rising from the ashes of a fallen empire, Raven is a talented pain in the ass. A cynical, arrogant thief and fleecer, he has a dagger and lockpick up his sleeve and a comeback on his lips. He was once the younger brother of a boy who was prophesied to be an invincible warrior, and who was killed for that mistaken belief. Now he has only venom for causes and talk of destiny, happy to be a successful nobody. But when a mysterious job goes bad, he finds that the secrets he holds are vital to the coming war between the republic of High Iyanor and the necromantic dominion of Kishoria.

He is captured and coerced by an Iyan captain into guiding an expedition to find a long-forgotten weapon before the Kishorians can reach it. He joins a team of soldiers and mages, and if the danger were not enough, his party includes not only another fated young warrior but a member of the jotunn race that killed his brother. Bitterly, he leads them beneath the Temple Among Worlds, and they fight through barbaric goblins and cosmic monstrosities, navigate dark mazes, and sabotage horrific traps. Raven is distrusted, but only he knows that he has been courted by the Kishorians with a promise: betray the Iyans, and walk away wealthy.

When plans fail, heroes fall, and deadly secrets are revealed, Raven’s cynicism and self-interest is tested by the valor of his companions. He might lead his allies to ruin… or he might use his dark reputation to lure his enemies into his most daring con yet.

Catch the rest of Matthew's tour at these various stops:
1) March 28th - Books That Hook (excerpt + giveaway)
2) March 29th - Cover To Cover (excerpt)
3) March 30st - Fantasy Book Critic
4) March 31st - Bound 2 Escape
5) April 1st - C.B.Y. Book Club

Note: Temple art from the Elder Scrolls Wiki.


Jennifer Schaper said...

Thanks for hosting today!

Jen at Book Lovers Tours

M. R. Mathias said...

Try writing a 735k word trilogy in a prison cell. There is no backspace key on notebook paper. :-)

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