Book Review: Promise of Blood

promise-of-blood-1680x1050.jpg

(Disclaimer: Some minor spoilers ahead.)

Brian’s Style

Promise of Blood isn’t the first novel I’ve read by Brian McClellan. That honour goes to Sins of Empire, which holds a special place in my heart as both the first flintlock fantasy I’ve read, as well as the first title I purchased because of a recommendation read on r/fantasy! I seem to recall getting my hands on Sins either on its debut date or just a few short days later but it was fresh hot!

I’m not just mentioning Sins of Empire out of melancholy for by-gone times; rather, I mean to venture into a small comparison. If you came to me, asking which of these two books to get, I would point you to Sins of Empire. The writing is better, the twists and the action more memorable. The beginning of McClellan’s second trilogy is an established writer’s fourth novel, where Promise of Blood is Brian’s debut. I like to think that most writers, as they continue working on the craft, grow in skill, find more and more distinct voices and Brian is an excellent example of that.

…Which is not to say Promise of Blood is by any stretch anything less than an excellent first act to what has proven to be an exciting trilogy, filled with some of what I love most about fantasy. What makes it so?

The Plot

Revolution, bloody revolution! That’s how Promise of Blood begins — with our trilogy’s main protagonist, Field Marshall Tamas slaughtering the Privileged Royal Cabal in their sleep with the help of his Powder mages, dethroning the rightful king  Manhouch, rounding up the nobility and cutting that lot’s heads off while a million men, women and children watch the executions in Adopest, the capital of Adom’s public squares. Enough blood is spilt that the executioner could drown on it several times over.

And that’s just the start of Promise of Blood, one of the flagship titles of everything flintlock fantasy is supposed to be. Fast-paced, action-packed and ridiculously easy to read, this book was a blast.

The Characters

Promise of Blood follows three main storylines:

  • Field Marshal Tamas’ attempt to build a working government with his co-conspirators while securing peace with the Kez.
  • Inspector Adamat’s search for answers — when the Privileged were dying, each and every one of them cried a certain phrase in death, ‘You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.’ Adamat has his hands full in what turns out to be a more dangerous investigation than he imagined.
  • Taniel, the Field Marshal’s son, nurses his broken heart by going after his dad’s enemies along with a savage red-headed girl whose magic is entirely different and way scarier than anything else you’ll see in the trilogy.  Taniel and Ka-Poel’s shenanigans set up some of the most entertaining fights in the novel.

An additional plotline follows Nila, the laundress of a noble family, trying to save a young boy from his parents’ fate. It’s interesting but a lot less detailed than the rest of the plot; unfortunately it’s also the only female perspective, which is a pity since Vlora, who is one of Tamas’ gunpowder mage cabal, was the stand-out PoV in Sins of Empire.

Regardless, I loved these characters during their trials and tribulations. Tamas now shares in Dalinar Kholin’s title of “most likely older general to inspire me into fictional military service”. But Tamas is far from perfect — his past grievances with the Kez force his hand at a critical time.

The same can be said about Taniel. While a legendary powder mage, Taniel ‘Two-Shot’ is in a pretty bad place, psychologically, after two years of bloody war, only to return home to find his fiance bedding another man; the relationship between father and son is strained at best, especially considering some of Tamas’ orders later on in the book. Taniel’s addiction to gunpowder also grows worse as the book progresses.

As for Adamat, his storyline is a great way to get a bit of distance, a little break from all the Army and politics and it reads like an atypical Victorian detective story in all the best ways.

So many memorable side-characters — Olem, Lady Winceslav, Borbadeur; I could spend a good few minutes listing character names which’ll mean nothing to you since I ain’t spoiling any more than Ihave already.

The Magic System

The Privileged are this setting’s elemental sorcerers, men and women capable of touching the Else with their hands, each finger connecting to one of the four elements and the thumb for the aether (which, I’m told, some of the Ancient Greeks were crazy about!).

Gunpowder mages, while nowhere near as potent as the Privileged, gain enhanced senses when they snort or taste gunpowder charges. Where they lack in power, they make up for in reach and alacrity and the added benefit of being able to deflect bullets, force gunpowder to explode from a certain distance with their minds and all that.

There’s also lesser magic manifested in individuals called Knacked, who possess certain talents (or Knacks), like Olem, for example, who doesn’t need to sleep, or Adamat, who remembers everything he’s ever seen. And neither of them are insane because of these magical abilities!

Sanderson himself has praised it as a good magical system and I thought it read great. There’s plenty of depth as well, as the novel progresses — and the next two books in the trilogy add a lot to make the magic systems feel even more distinct.

Closing Thoughts

‘The Age of Kings is dead…and I have killed it.’

This is an excellent novel, which begins with a promise of blood and delivers through and through. Whether you’re following Tamas’ decisive dealings against internal and external threats alike, Taniel’s chasing around of dangerous targets or Adamat’s investigations, there’s plenty to be loved about this first part of the Powder Mage trilogy.

Will I reread this? You bet! 

The Verdict? Buy it, Read it, scream at your dad angrily until he caves in and reads it too. It’s what I did.

How about the score? It’s a five out of five on Goodreads and it bags the ‘Most Promising to Deliver Loadsa Blood’ trophy!

You’ll love this bloody, bloody book if you’re into:

  • violent revolutions eerily reminiscent of the French revolution;
  • Angry, angry mages doing loads of damage with their fingers and/or guns and sharp objects;
  • Fast-paced reads which suck you in all the way;
  • loads of blood, really;
  • Political intrigue, subterfuge, betrayal and more! Prob’ly.

To close this off, the reason behind me reading this first trilogy of Brian’s is to celebrate the release of Wrath of Empire, Sins of Empire’s follow-up and the second book of his sequel trilogy in the Powder Mage world. I’ll soon post the reviews of the second and third books since I read them both for two consecutive days (and what joy that brought me!) but the end goal is to review McClellan’s newest novel, and hopefully his best yet!

Thank you for reading!

Dungeon Master’s Diary, S01, Session 01: Beginnings

Beginning a D&D campaign is a daunting experience, especially when your entire experience role-playing is in a few Pathfinder games. Dungeons&Dragons’ latest edition is by no means an overly complex game. Most of the rules are explained in a clear, forthright way, and both the Player’s Handbook(PHB) and Dungeon Master’s Guide(DMG) are excellent books, introducing both the basics necessary to begin, as well as plenty of intermediate and optional rules — especially in the case of the DMG.

This first session either introduced or continued the stories of several characters from a short-lived summer sit-down with a group of six people, which relied on the Pathfinder ruleset and was quite the challenging first outing for me as a Dungeon Master.

My players were happy enough with it, or so they told me, but more importantly, I got to plant the seeds to what I envisioned as the main conflict.

The player characters found themselves on the Tenebrae island, the land of the Einhorn Duchy. Ruled by Duke Gregor Einhorn and his family, the Duchy began as a sprawling human colony. Soon enough, races of myth and legend, unseen since a war three thousand years in the past, make contact with the Duke and his people.

Cautious at first, eventually the Duke opens his lands to these strange creatures. Elves, dwarves, gnomes and more began mixing with humankind. That was the jist of my description for the setting of the game.

We see many fantasy worlds, especially D&D ones, which are entirely comfortable with a plethora of races mixing together, brushing shoulders against one another. I wanted to explore a world in which this diffusion had just occurred — that’s the main reason as to why I chose to put a single restriction on any half-elves my players were interested in playing. They could be no older than 22-25. (Somewhat vague, but giving too many details from the get-go backs you into a corner a wee bit.)

The main conflict I spoke about wasn’t anything too original — the Empress’ mage was checking in on the Duke. He didn’t want to be too obvious about it, so he asked one of the Empress’ soldiers (fighter PC), Captain-lieutenant Kalis Dargon, to investigate whether the Duke was planning to break away from this far-off Empire.

Kalis’ player(S.) is the most experienced D&D player at this point, having played since 4th edition so I gambled on anchoring the main plot to his backstory, on which we worked on together. I reckon doing a lot of that with most of the players who had the time and will to do so — three out of the original four’s backstories offered focal points at various times over our game, and continue to weave the story threads.

Nothing’s worse than a static world in which your players’ backstory has no meaning.

Faced with the need to get close to the Duke, our players explored the city of Moranth. Soon enough, they discovered an opportunity — the Duke’s son had disappeared during one of the last undead att–oh, did I mention the undead?

Aye, the undead were another thread of the conflict I had begun weaving for my wee lads. Nothing too original at all — the ancient dead awake, no one knows why, they begin attacking the smaller villages outside Moranth; they come from the seas, the fish is diseased, the ship of our human adventurers is the last ship to enter Moranth’s harbour before a blockade is enforced.

The blockade worked in two ways — first, it gave an in-world reason for my players’ characters not to just up’n’leave the island when the going gets tough; second, it created yet another, unspoken objective. Those characters who might want to get home now had another reason to disentangle whatever’s happening on the island.

Our group of adventurers discovered Boris Einhorn’s fate soon enough. Information about him was richly rewarded by the Duke, himself. Find his body, and…Bob’s your uncle. Probably not quite how the ‘Information wanted’ posters were phrased, but it’s been awhile.

They spent their sweet time considering how to go about finding the young Prince’s trail, discussing their plans loudly and in the center of city. Someone noticed, of course. That someone decided to place a little something in Logen’s pack.

Logen Thum is the company’s warlock/witcher; while using the warlock class, his backstory heavily borrowed from the Witcher universe. I allowed it because…who doesn’t like witchers in their universe? He’s a bit of an arse, though, and not nice to women at all. Something about spending all his life in a warrior monastery must’ve done its damage to the lad, but his heart is golden, and that’s all that matters! The lad who plays Logen is also one of my closest friends, so of course, I hand him an awful lot of rope and giggle as he hangs himself.

I’m a great friend.

At any rate, I asked P. to give me a perception roll, and he rolled high enough to tell that someone had tinkered with his pack; Logen sees a flash of movement and goes chasing the figure down. The rest of our adventurers follow.

He got the thief, blast his lucky die rolls! Surprise, surprise — the thief is a teenage girl who’s somewhat surprised to have gotten caught but there’s a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

The twinkle vanishes as Logen punches her in the stomach once, a second time — the rest of our adventurers catch up at last and Kalis, horrified, realizes that this girl is none other than the daughter of Duke Einhorn, and the heir apparent to the Duchy, now that her older brother’s disappeared.

Oh, boy.

Next up: An introduction to the rest of our characters, a lot more story, and behind-the-scenes decisions and a Dungeon Master’s reasons for them. Stay Tuned!

Saturday Night Gaming: Talking about Narrative in a Life is Strange, Before the Storm Review

Oh, look! I’m going to talk about talking about games! Bit redundant, if you ask me, but I ain’t the one who decides what goes up on the blog, am I?

What do you mean I am? I-I am?

Welp. There goes that excuse.

Anyway, I’m hard at work at a video review for Before the Storm, the prequel to the excellent Life is Strange(2015), and I’ve been wondering whether the way I decided to go about making the video is right and proper.

How did I go about writing the video?

I spilled the beans about what happens during the game. Step by step, I do my best to present the thread of the story, along with my take on it, what impression major choices left me with, and the like.

I could’ve gone another direction — like most review sites, I could’ve chosen to keep mum about the details of the story, could’ve talked about how the general lack of fantastic elements and the time travel mechanic grounds the story in reality and whether that’s a good thing, or a bad one; I could’ve probably spent a good five-ten minutes on that, while keeping generally vague on any significant plot points.

The thing is, I want to talk about the story. With what the narrative does right, with that one topic it handles wrong. I want to give my viewers — all fourteen of them — concrete, honest thoughts.

That’ll probably eat in whatever tiny number of people would consider watching a 30+ minute video by a no one on YouTube, and that’s alright. I don’t make these videos to please anyone but myself.

If anyone ends up watching along the way — brilliant!

If not…That’s alright, too!

Thank you for reading. Before the Storm is brilliant, by the way, even if the post ended up being less about the game and more about my review-to-be about the game! Hope you’ll check it out when I post it on Monday! 

 

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #16: Musings

Diary Entry #220

Catch up to what’s happening with the Unintentionally Helpful Villain by checking out The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #15!

Sven, mine Prime Librarian, is a self-made man! I know that to be true, for I saw him rise from the dirt and mud and turn most humanoid. How he hath accomplished such a task, I couldn’t possibly imagine.

My newly appointed Head Librarian is a kind young man, begging me to show mercy to Sven, to use instead this great wrath that so beats inside this unknowable female chest against mine ex-wife. He even tells me Sven was the one who sent him to aid me in my time of grave need.

Poppycock.

A Head Librarian need must be made of harder stuff, as Sven was.

Hmmmm. It would appear I need must do a rather unfortunate something when mine original body is returned me.

Diary Entry #222

Long has the Head Librarian ridden on mine were-rabbit back, and longer yet have I ran, but at last the stench of several dozens of moldy Librarians is felt within the air. At long last, I shall close mine mitts betwixt the throat of the vile body-snitching ex!

Strange how this entire journey has changed me. I have learned much — sometimes, turning the enemy to ash between your boot need not be seen as the only move left to a man of action.

Turns out, tearing throats when shifting into a rabbit is even better for that! ‘S all about that personal touch, you see.

Now, I sleep. Tomorrow, I face the wife, kill Sven, and destroy this wretched piss-hole of a country.

Or at least all the rabbit hunters in it.

Writing Advice: Premise (The Anatomy of Story, Chapter 2)

There are many ways to start the writing process. Some writers prefer to do it by breaking the story in its seven primary steps–to be explored in Chapter 3. Most begin with the shortest expression of the story as a whole, the premise line.

The premise is your story stated in one sentence. As soon as you decide to pursue one idea and codify it within your premise, you’re locked into it — so you better be happy and certain with your choice.

What you choose to write about is far more important than any decision you make about how to write it.

Premise is the one decision on which every other decision you make during the writing process is based. If your premise is weak, there is nothing you can do to save the story.

Premise is a classical example of the dangers of a little knowledge, its inherent structural weakness is found in the fact that it offers you only two-three scenes; the scenes just before and after the twist that makes your premise unique. A novel’s premise may have double-triple the number of scenes that the premise of a movie.

You have to remain flexible and open to all possibilities. This is where using an organic, creative method as guide is most important.

Developing your premise

Step 1: Write Something that may Change Your Life

If a story is that important to you, it may be that important to a lot of people in your audience. When you’re done, no matter what else, you’ve changed your life.

To follow this particular step, you need to know yourself. For that, you need to explore yourself. Get some data on who you are, via these two exercises:

  • First, write down a wishlist of all the things you’d like to see in a book. That’s what you’re passionately interested in, and what entertains you. You might jut down imagined characters, cool plot twists, great lines of dialogue, themes you want to explore or care about. Write it all down without worry for organization or any considerations.
  • The second exercise is to write a premise list. Write as many premises as you want, as long as they’re one sentence each. This’ll force you to be clear about each idea. It also allows you to see all your premises together, in one place.

After that, a look at the key patterns will start to emerge about what you love. It’s your vision in its rawest form. The exercises are designed to open you up and to ingetrate what is deep within you already.

Step 2: Look for what is possible

Explore your options. The Intent here is to brainstorm the many different paths the idea can take and then to choose the best one. Ask yourself “What if…?” so as to define what’s allowed in the story world, and what isn’t. Let your mind go free, and don’t censor or judge yourself. No idea is “stupid,” those often lead to creative breakthrough.

Step 3: Identify the Story Challenges and Problems

There’ll be particular problems embedded in the story idea, and you can’t escape them. You want to confront these, and solve them if you wish to execute your story well. Most writers identify the inherent problems of their stories too late (if at all). The trick is learning to spot the big ones right at the premise line. Of course, you won’t be able to diagnose every problem this soon in the process.

Step 4: Find the Designing Principle:

Problems and promises known, you now have to come up with an overall strategy for how you will tell your story. The overall story strategy, stated in one line, is the designing principle of your story.

The designing principle helps you extend the premise into a deep structure.

The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole.

It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It is what makes the story original. It’s the seed of the story, in short. It tracks the fundamental process that will unfold over the course of the story.

Most stories don’t have a designing principle; it’s already abstract, the deeper process going on in the story, told in an original way.

Designing principle= Story process + original execution

It’s the “synthesizing idea,” the “shaping cause” of the story.

Be diligent in discovering this principle, and never take your eye off it during the long writing process. Don’t do as most writers do, by picking a genre and imposing it on the premise, forcing the story to go through events associated with the genre in question; draw the designing principle out of the one-line premise.

Step 5: Determine your Best Character in the Idea.

Always tell a story about your best character.

The best character is the most fascinating and challenging character, always.

Step 6: Get a sense of the Central Conflict

Ask yourself: “Who fights whom over what?” and answer the question over one succinct line. All conflict will boil down to this one issue, codified in your answer.

Step 7: Get a sense of the single Cause-and-effect Pathway

A good organic story has a single cause-and-effect pathway; this is the spine of the story and without it, the story will fall apart.

The trick to discovering this it ask yourself: “What’s my character’s basic action?” One action that your hero takes is more important than any other, and unifies every other action the hero takes, and that’s the cause-and-effect path.

Step 8: Determine your Hero’s Possible Character Change

That’s the second most important thing to gleam from your premise line: the fundamental character change of your hero. Character change is what your hero experiences by going through his struggle.

WxA=C ( Weaknesses x Action = Change )

The basic action should be the one action best able to force the character to deal with his weakness and change.

That’s the basic sequence of the human growth – what you, the writer, must express above everything else.

Write down a number of possible options for the hero’s weaknesses and change.

Remember that premise work is extremely tentative, especially concerning character change.

Step 9: Figure out the Hero’s possible Moral choice

The main theme of a story is often crystalized by a moral choice the hero must make, typically near the end of the story. Theme is your view of the proper way to act in the world. It is your moral vision, and it is one of the main reasons you are writing  your story.

Theme is best expressed through the structure of the story, the moral argument where you make a case for how to live, not through philosophical argument but through the actions of characters going after a goal.

To have a true choice, your hero must either select one of two positive outcomes or, on some rare occasions, avoid one of two negative outcomes.

Step 10: Gauge the Audience Appeal

Be ruthless in answering this question of commercial appeal. Don’t fall into the either-or trap of believing that you can either write about what matters to you or what sells. Always try to write something you care about, and also think will appeal to an audience.

Coming Next: Chapter 3 – The seven Key Steps of Story Structure

Magnus Commentary: Well, wasn’t that one hell of an interesting read? While I am far from subscribing to John Truby’s idea that his is the best way of going about writing, this is certainly a fascinating look at a methodology that I’m more than willing to try.

There is also a lengthy writing exercise which calls upon us, the readers of said novel, to attempt to follow these ten steps. It’s in the book, and you should check it out; I’m currently attempting it with an idea for a novel that’s been stuck in my head for some time now, and I’ll be happy to report my progress to anyone who’s interested. Comment below!

PS I decided to go without my own thoughts on the premise, as I’m still playing around with the methodology.

Writing Advice: The Anatomy of Story, Chapter 1

I’ve been thinking about today’s blog post–quite a bit, in fact. I decided that instead of offering you some of my own hard-earned wisdom(insane laughter), I would take you on my exploration of John Truby’s well-regarded, well-known book, “The Anatomy of Story.” 

The plan is simple: Make a post about each chapter (sometimes the posts about a chapter might be more than one, depending on how complex the chapter is).  Within these posts I will attempt to extract the most important advice, guidelines, techniques and so on by retelling and rephrasing the most important parts, those that jump at me from the pages of this book; I will occasionally offer my own commentary and views, no doubt a great deal less worthwhile than Mr. Truby’s, but none the less, mine. It is *my* name on the blog, after all…ain’t that right, lads’n’lasses?

I hope that this little adventure will be useful and worthwhile not only to me, but to you as well, dear reader. So let’s begin!

CHAPTER 1: Story Space, Story Time

It’s no easy feat, creating a great story. Showing the how and why of human life — perhaps the end goal of storytelling, all things considered — is a monumental job.

There are numerous obstacles in your way.  Take common terminology: what help are terms like “rising action,” “climax,” “progressive complication” and so on, when we get down to the nitty-gritty of practice? Those terms, so theoretically burdened and broad, are meaningless and lack practical value for storytellers.

Just so with the ‘three-act theory,’ which, while a lot easier to use in practice, is a mechanical view on story, hopelessly simplistic and almost inevitably leading to episodic storytelling.

Great stories are organic – living, breathing organisms that develop, in a way eerily similar to the human body.

We could define a story as: “A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted, and why.

Three distinct elements can be observed: the story itself, the speaker (or storyteller), and the the listener, or audience.

Good storytelling lets the audience relive events in the present so they can understand the forces, choices and emotions that led the character to do what they did. Stories are really giving the audience emotional knowledge–what we can easily dub as wisdom–in a playful and endearing way. (Magnus’ commentary: I thought that was a really nice view and explanation on stories.)

The storyteller constructs a sort of puzzle, to be figured out by the listeners. Two major elements go into the construction of this puzzle:

  1. The author presents the audience with information about a made-up character; and
  2. He then withholds the certain information–which is crucial to the storyteller’s make-believe, by forcing the audience to figure out who the character is, what his motivations are. That’s what draws the audience to the story; without it, we no longer have an audience, and the story stops.

THE STORY

All forms are a form of communication that expresses the dramatic code.

But what is the dramatic code? It is, in simple terms, an artistic description of how a person can grow and evolve. Let’s explore this concept further:

  • Change is fueled by desire. (“I want, therefore I am.”)
  • A story tracks what a person wants, what he’ll do to get it, and what costs he’ll have to pay along the way.
  • Characters who go after their desires are forced to struggle; it is that struggle that effects change upon a character.

The ultimate goal of the dramatic code is to present a change in a character, or to illustrate why change didn’t occur. The different forms of storytelling frame human change in differing ways, of course.

The dramatic code expresses the idea that human beings can become a better version of themselves, psychologically or morally. The story body is made of many parts: characters, plot, revelations, the story world, the moral argument, the symbol web, the scene weave and symphonic dialogue.

Theme is the brain of the story, characters–the heart, story structures are the skeleton, and so forth. Each subsystem of the story consists of a web of elements that help define and differentiate the other elements.

STORY MOVEMENT

Nature uses a few basic patterns to connect elements in a sequence. Storytellers use these same patterns, individually and in combination, to connect story events over time. Let’s see which those are:

  • Linear Story: Tracks a single main character, from beginning to end.
  • Meandering Story: Follows a winding path without apparent direction.
  • Spiral story: The character keeps returning to a single event or memory, and explores it at progressively deeper levels.
  • Branching is a system of paths that extend from a few central points by splitting and adding smaller and smaller parts.
  • Explosive Story: Has multiple paths that extend simultaneously. These stories also put more emphasis on exploring the story world, showing the connections between the various elements there and how everyone fits, or doesn’t fit, within the whole.

WRITING YOUR STORY

What writing process will give you the best chance of creating a great story?

Most writers use an approach that is external, mechanical, piecemeal and generic. We will work, instead, towards a writing process that may be described as internal, organic, interconnected, and original. It’s no easy process.

You’ll construct your story from the inside out, meaning that:

  1. You must make the story personal and unique to you;
  2. You must find and develop what’s original within your story idea.

With each chapter, your story will grow and become more detailed, with each part connected to every other part.

Next Up: Chapter 2: Premise

Things are heating up!

 

 

Writing Advice: Showing and Telling

Early on, when I first started sharing my writing, a number of people gave me the following advice: Show, don’t tell.

That’s good advice, I thought; it helped me in identifying a particular weakness my writing had at the time. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this particular piece of advice should have a caveat: Show, don’t tell…much.

Anything good I’ve read has both Telling and Showing. To only Show, or only Tell will inevitably end up as…well, not good! The point is, if you’ve got something that you’re afraid is too Tell-ish, perhaps you should leave it that way…at least until you get a clear look at your work.

Let’s unpack the two.

Showing is a way of describing what’s happening via the feelings that an event causes in the character that lives through it. Instead of informing, “She was afraid,” you try and show the fear; “The blood froze in her veins,” is one way to Show fear, and an unmistakable one at that. It doesn’t literally happen– most of the time, at least– but it gets the exact sentiment across. When you’re Showing, you will find yourself always looking for the right verb, since verbs create vividness in the mind of the reader better than most of the tools in your kit.

Telling is describing things as if you see those happening to someone else. It’s that part of your mind that’s narrating experiences in a calm, disaffectionate voice even as the rest of you is too busy with the heat of the moment, drowned in waves upon waves of emotion.

The ultimate reason for using both Showing and Telling is simple, really–the way we go through life is not only through us experiencing it, but through our awareness of the experience, as well. Showing and Telling aren’t opposites — they’re the end of the spectrum. Your works shouldn’t suffer from a complete lack of one and a drought of the other; explore the spectrum.

Enjoy the freedom that writing grants you and follow your vision!

PS If you’d like, you can try a fancy little exercise! Write a short scene, by only Telling. Rewrite it by Showing, and then — rewrite it a final time, this time by using both Telling and Showing!

Writing Advice: Memorable Characters

How do we create memorable characters?

Well, you’d need a dozen eggs, a bit of vanilla and seventeen cups of sugar to make your average Mary Sue; or you could whip yourself good old-fashioned one-dimensional characters by doing the same thing you’d do to get stale bread — don’t spend any time cooking them up in the oven; just make sure they’re one-note ponies, one and all.

These are not examples of memorable characters? Alright, alright, I’ll try harder!

What the above-mentioned is example of traps that writers fall in all the time. Perfect characters and one-note characters are both leading causes of aneurisms among enthusiast readers. By their very nature, these archetypes are dull; not in terms of ‘good’ dull–characters you’re writing with the intention of bringing something to your story by virtue of this attribute–but the kind of dull that makes your story just that much more unreadable.

You don’t want that.

You want your characters three-dimensional and unique. You want them to have flaws and strengths, to be internally consistent and not alien to the world you’re building around them.

Sounds simple enough, right?

…Perhaps I should dig into these points, just to be safe.

Three-dimensional characters require hard work and a lot of time invested in them. A good place you could start off with is by modeling your character after a real person you know; it’s not a method I consciously use, but I’ve heard that some people go with it, and are pretty happy with how it turns out.

I like to use chunks of small details as building blocks. I dislike bombarding my readers with every small quirk a character they’ve just met has; rather, it’s important to remember that just as we don’t notice everything there is to notice about a person the first time we meet them, neither do our protagonists, point-of-view characters and so on.

Unless you’re writing Sherlock Holmes. If that is the case, however, let me pose a question…do you really want to be writing Sherlock Holmes?

Don’t forget that your characters have lived lives before they appeared on page 423 of your novel. Draw from their past; you don’t have to write detailed backgrounds of every single character to appear in your book, but it’s good to have an idea of where they’re coming from. Sketch that with a few quick sentences over lunch break or on your commute from work or university; or if you’re too lazy (and you really shouldn’t be), think about it.

Finally, if all else fails, you can always go back to my Writing advice about Villains, and read all about how they act as foil to your protagonists, allowing all parties to learn more about where they stand in terms of morality, ethics, decency and everything else!

 

 

 

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain, Volume #12: Social Upheaval

Diary Entry #0190

Mine powers of tracking have proven useless in the quest to discover where Amara, mine treacherous, body-snatching former wife, has ran off to. I will not give up, however. She cannot hide for long.

Diary Entry #0191

I came across an apple merchant today. Apples, he told me, blessed by the gauntleted hand of the Dark Lord himself!

I did freeze in my spot as these words left the human’s lips. What fortuitous happenstance that this man should cross mine exact path!

Not nearly as fortuitous was the trader’s ability to answer mine benign questions; why, I had plucked merely one of his eyes out with my claws when he did succumb to the terrible finality of death.

I hope my Librarians are working on ways to deal with that entire ‘death’ debacle before too long.

The poor apple merchant did scream two words before his last breath did get expunged from his body. “Golden…! Superb…!” or something of the sort. Curious man, that one.

His apples are spectacular, however. I have now taken his cart, and will pretend to be a vendor of apple-ish delights!

Diary Entry #0193

I came across a small town today. The tracks of the merchant led me here, and so it was my hope that I would find mine wife doing whatever it is that body-snatching wives do when they’re not busy being dreadful.

A big deal for me, this; first small town I walked into, since being cursed within this wretched body. First one I didn’t rip apart with mine wererabbit teeth. Ah, but how I wished to!

Upon mine entry into the market, I was immediately attacked–but not by peasants with forks, as I have come to expect from small towns. Nay, I was instead assaulted by men whose sensibilities had been offended. They decried mine advances upon the ‘honorable business of trade and free market that only good, King-kissed men have any business doing,’ and then proceeded to explain how mine presence would be much better appreciated in the ‘werehouse.’

Unnerving was their knowledge of my nature as shapeshifting wererabbit, and so I demanded they tell me if the ‘Dark Lord’ had left word to deter me from mine quest. I do not believe any of them heard me; so loud was their constant prattling. I did not much care to listen any further, and so I took my cart and left.

Later did I find an inn; I have heard of these places, of course, through mine many worldly affairs. Did not expect so much ogling to be taking place inside. Questioning the men as to the dangers that excessive staring might bring upon their bloodshot eyes was reason for laughter alone. None would explain to me! Thoughts of ripping their spines until they could laugh no longer came quickly upon me, but I persevered; for I did not wish to announce mine arrival.

A maid-like girl then took me away, and so she explained to me things. Such oppressive things did she tell me, that I was filled with fervor and so, before the night was done, I… led a revolt and so slaughtered every ogling fool in town.

It was only later that I discovered A Horrible Truth.

 

Writing Advice: World-Building

World-building is a tricky subject. Too much of it, and it ends up clogging the story. Too little, and

the setting ends up feeling too far removed from reality. There are many different aspects of world-building we can touch upon, but the most important thing you have to remember is…

If you like it and it’s part of our world, don’t be afraid to use it!

Too many writers forget that it’s alright to use realistic elements to their worlds; those can only add to your writing, enhance it. I’m as much of a sucker for magic, fantasy religions and amazing storytelling as you’ll ever find; I absolutely love to see authors add real-world elements to their works. Once you do that, you can then work to subvert that real-world aspect in order to show, rather than tell, how magic works.

Imagine for me, if you will, a world in which wizards with telekinetic abilities are fairly common. How would that affect a maritime nation’s…docking bays, for example? Would shipmasters pay a dozen men to load and unload their expensive, fragile cargo, or would they prefer to pay the local mage, who works faster and more efficiently?

Would lantern lighters be used in big cities where pyromancy wizards could snap their fingers to do an otherwise lengthy, tedious job? How about agriculture; how would the entire process of growing and harvesting food change if your world had magics that could be used to cultivate and grow plants at a much greater rate?

We can see positives to these examples, to be sure, but what’re the negatives? Could you pinpoint them for me?

Thinking about the socio-economic consequences of a given type of magical or religious system has on the world ensures that you add a complex layer to your fiction. It takes hard work, but the added level of realism makes up for it.

I’ve mentioned religion a few times now, and I feel obliged to expand on that particular topic. Religions in fantasy are often based on Greek and Norse mythology; borrowing real world religions can work very well, as seen in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos– in those books, Catholic Christianity is fascinating to read about.

Two of the central characters of Hyperion are Catholic priests–men who have put their faith in (what is at this point) a crumbling, dying religion. It’s understandable why we find the church in such a state of disrepair; seven centuries later, Christ has yet to rise again. In the face of more attractive religions such as Zen Christianity, Catholicism simply wanes.

Later, because of events I won’t spoil, Catholicism does reemerge as the dominant religion; but this time, as a much more sinister organization, akin to the Catholic Church that was behind the Inquisition; thus, past and future intertwine.

Again, it’s important to build on how exactly the religions you borrow from work differently in your world. A good point to start from is…are they based on real events, or not? If they are, how accurately do they represent historical events? How much of what you know about the religion in question is common knowledge?

Question like these will help you create a solid foundation on which to build on!

The topic of world-building is hardly exhausted with this short discussion; next week, however, I will try and tackle exposition, and how not to bore your readers to death. See you next week!