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Monday, June 8, 2015

GUEST POST: How To Write A Fantasy Novel (In Six Difficult Steps) by John R. Fultz

Writing. Nobody ever said it was easy. Writing a novel is a Herculean task, akin to mucking the Augean stables in a single day, even though it takes months or years to complete a book. So why bother?

Even when you reach the point where your novel is finished--you've workshopped it, edited it, revised it, and gotten it as perfect as possible--you're still only halfway there. You still have to find an agent and/or a publisher. Then, when you're lucky enough to have your book released into the world, you have to deal with the fact that no novel is ever universally loved. No matter who you are or how good your writing, no matter how many people like it or love it, there will always be someone who hates it. You'll have to endure the naysayers, the unqualified (and the qualified) critics who diss your work, and nobody will care about your "feelings" when they post a bad review of your book.

To be a pro you'll have to learn to deal with negative feedback, and you'll have to rise above it. To be a pro. That includes resisting the urge to "fire back" at negative reviewers, even when they're entirely incompetent. Do Not Engage. You'll have to let your work speak for itself, as any piece of art should. People are entitled to their opinions, even when those opinions are in direct opposition to your own. Ain't Freedom of Speech grand? God Bless America.

Finally, you'll have to work as hard for your second book deal as you did for your first. As a very knowledgeable person once told me: "It never gets easy until you have a break-out hit." So what does that mean, "a break-out hit"? Well, in publishing terms it means one of three things:
  1) You've written a best-seller. This rarely ever happens. Ninety-nine percent of writers keep their day jobs.

  2) You've landed a movie deal to option/adapt your book. This could mean a very large check for you, but sometimes it's far less money than you might think.

  3) You've won a prestigious industry award of some kind. Despite what you might think of awards and the worthiness or unworthiness of the awards themselves, the industry sees awards as a sign of worth. Winning an award could mean a ticket to greenlighting your next project. But most writers don't win awards. (If most writers won awards, there would then be nothing special about winning awards.) Even if you DO win an award it's still no guarantee of commercial success, although it usually helps a bit.

Yes, the writer's life ain't easy. So why bother?

Why would anyone cloister himself or herself away for months at a time to dream up imaginary worlds where imaginary people have their imaginary adventures? Why spend huge segments of what little time you have on earth pursuing such daft endeavors?

Why? Because you're a writer. A storyteller. A magician. A shaman. Stories are inside us and they gotta come out. If you're a writer you'll know it because you won't be able to stop it. Oh, sure, you'll stop sometimes--get frustrated, maybe even swear it off forever--but you'll be back at your keyboard as soon as the next Big Idea hits you. Writers write because they have to, not because they want to.

Yes, being a writer ain't easy, but there's nothing else like it. To write is to bend and reshape reality, to build a bridge between souls, to leave your mark on eternity. To harness a dream from the ether, force it to take shape in the physical world so it can be someone else's dream as well. Writing is magic, and not only can it change the world, it has changed the world. Many times over. Every time a great work of fiction enters the world, things have changed for the better.

Anything worth doing is going to be difficult, and writing is no different. It'll never be easy, but that challenge is part of why you love it so much. Knowing a few things can help you on your journey. So here are the Six Difficult Steps to Writing a Fantasy Novel...

1) Do Your Homework: Write short stories, learn story structure, characterization, find your voice, hone your narrative skills. While there are novelists who have never written short stories, I believe it's important to master the short-form before you tackle the long-form work. There's no reason not to do it. Writing short stories provides you with skills, confidence, and experience that you'll need when you start to tackle your Big Novel.

Every single story you write is a learning experience. Sending out those stories over and over will toughen you up, get you used to rejection, and if there's one thing a writer has to be able to handle it's rejection. Writers get rejected WAY more often than they get accepted. The more you write, the better you get, the less rejections you get, and better able you are to handle it. But writers never stop getting them, so they build a suit of metaphorical armor from their rejection slips.

2) Read Plenty of Great Novels: This may sound a lot like #1, but it's more about familiarizing yourself with the field you're trying to enter. Not so you can copy other's ideas, but so you can learn from them--and avoid repeating them. You have to know what's out there so you can know if your idea is something new or simply a fresh take on something that's already done. It's been said there are No New Ideas, but only new ways to use the Old Ideas. In order to do that, you have to know what the Old Ideas are. You don't have to read every fantasy that's ever been written--you don't even have to read most of them. But you should have a passing knowledge of the history and standout achievements of any field before you attempt to join in and add something new to the canon.

Follow the authors who thrill you, the ones who make you want to write every time you read them, the ones who write the way you WISH you wrote. Study their paragraphs, their sentences. Break apart the language you love and find out WHY it works, and why you love it. Do this for years--many fantasy fans have been doing this since they were children--to the point where it becomes a habit. Then, forget about all that stuff and do your own thing. Let everything you've learned bubble its way out of your subconscious in your writing. Don't sweat the technique. Get your mojo workin'.

3) Build Your World: Whether you're writing historical fantasy or imagined world fantasy, you'll need to create a setting that's believable, no matter how distant in time and space it may be. In order to design a realistic fantasy world, study the real world. Look at the great cultures throughout history, the mighty empires that have risen and fallen. History can be an incredible inspiration for fantasy writers. Decide how close to the real world you want your story to be--or how far.

If you know how nations, provinces, kingdoms, and cities work in the historical world, you'll know how they work in your fantasy world. If you know how people lived in a given historical period, you can extrapolate that to your fantasy world. If your fantasy is set in the modern world, you still need to know that world and its history. 

Before you ever sit down and draw the inevitable Fantasy Map, you need to think about your fantasy world, and you'll need to know how it works. Governments, geographies, myths, superstitions, wars, disasters, everything that might possibly come up in your story. Bottom Line: You'll need to know a HUNDRED times more about your invented world than your reader needs to know. For every fact you give in the novel, you'll need to know ten more that never come up. When the world begins to live in your mind, it's ready for the page.

4) Choose Your Characters: Get to know them before you start writing the story. Remember that all characters have a life before you start writing about them--unless they're being born in the opening scene. You need to know their personal histories, what role each of them plays in this fantasy world you've created, and most importantly: What Do They Want? Characters must want something, or they're not worth following. Characters are motivated by something they desire, even if that desire is something as simple as mere survival. Other characters will want things that interfere with or directly oppose your main characters' goals. That's where your plot begins.

5) Let Your Plot Arise from Your Characters: It's been said before that "Plot is Character, and Character Plot." Nothing could be more true. When your plot arises from the choices that your characters make--logical choices for logical characters, insane choices for insane characters, it doesn't matter--when plot arises from character, it feels authentic. Whenever you're uncertain of where the plot should go, there's only one thing to do: Look to your characters. Get inside their heads (even the ones you despise). Even the most minor supporting character wants something. In every scene you write, remember to ask yourself what these characters want. That will determine what they do in every scene. Know your world, know your characters, and you will begin to know your plot.

6) Finish It: There's one big thing that separates "real" writers from "wannabe" writers. Real writers finish what they're working on. It may take weeks, months, or years, but a writer needs to stick it out, follow through, make it to the end. A writer has to finish what he or she begins because otherwise nobody will ever get to read it. If nobody's reading what you write, there's no way you can have a career as a writer. Sure, you can write only for yourself and leave behind a pile of moldering manuscripts that have never seen the light of day, but you'll be much happier if those manuscripts get out into the world while you're still alive where people can read them joyfully and with enthusiasm.) The first rule of getting a novel published is Write It. Until then it's all just lip service.

Once you've finished the First Draft, you're not done. You have to go back and read what you wrote, and you have to revise. The best thing to do when you revise is to CUT-CUT-CUT. Cut out every single unnecessary word, sentence, and paragraph. Strive for simplicity, clarity, and economy of language.

If you want to write poetry, then write poems, but if you're writing fiction your work has to read like prose. Prose has its own rhythm, one that comes from an author's personal style. But it won't matter how pretty and lyrical your sentences are if people can't see beyond them to the raw ideas. Less is more. Never forget that.

Finish your book, no matter how long it takes. If it never gets finished, you can't move on to the next project. And moving from project to project is what a writer spends most of his or her life doing. It's a journey, not a destination. Write what you love, not what you think will please someone else.

Enjoy the journey because even though it's a hard road, there's nothing else like it.

The writer's journey is a great adventure. Write On!


Official Author Website
Pre-order The Testament Of Tall Eagle HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: John R. Fultz lives in the North Bay Area of California but grew up in Kentucky. John's Books of the Shaper trilogy includes SEVEN PRINCES, SEVEN KINGS, and SEVEN SORCERERS (Orbit Books). His short story collection, The Revelations Of Zang, is a series of interrelated tales born in the pages of WEIRD TALES and BLACK GATE.


About THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE: A young warrior's vision-quest unveils an alien city full of magic and mystery. As a tribal rift threatens to destroy Tall Eagle's people, night-crawling devils stalk and devour them, so he seeks the wisdom of the high-flying Myktu. These fantastic beings offer him hope, a chance for rebirth and prosperity, as two separate realities converge.

Yet first Tall Eagle must find White Fawn—the girl he was born to love—and steal her back from the camp of his savage enemies. His best friend has become his deadliest rival, and now he must outwit an invading army of conquerors to lead his people into the Land Beyond the Sun.

THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE is the epic saga of The People, as told in the words of their greatest hero.

NOTE: Panorama landscape art courtesy of Frank Att.



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