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June 19th, 2005

07:26 pm: Writing fantasy without magic
Yes, before we start, just in case, I do believe it’s possible to write fantasy without magic, I don’t consider it an essential requirement of the genre, I don’t think that any novel set in another world but not using magic is therefore “historical,” blah blah blah. If you’re dead-set on convincing me that this isn’t true, save your keystrokes. I’m simply not going to agree. A novel set in a world with invented history, invented people, invented countries, and so on can be fantasy. It doesn’t have to be alternative history (particularly if it’s not closely based on an Earth country), and it doesn’t have to be science fiction (particularly if it doesn’t deal closely with science and the effects of science on human lives). Neither do we have to make up a whole new genre label just for these books.

So. What happens when you take away the magic but write in another world? I’ll be discussing that below. (I suppose there could be a way to write urban fantasy without magic, but as I can’t think of what then would separate it from a mainstream or mystery novel set in a city, I don’t discuss it).

Fantasy without magic )

A poll on ideas for the next rant will be up shortly.

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June 15th, 2005

07:59 pm: Adult bildungsroman rant
It helps, I think, that a) I’ve been looking forward to this rant, and b) the fantasy books that I’ve enjoyed the most in the last month were both adult bildungsromans. One, Charles de Lint’s Memory and Dream, was a reread, and perhaps better than I remembered; the character’s adolescent past is entwined with recollections of her adult life, and she gets to see her mistakes in all their embarrassing detail before she gets to fix them. The second, Kim Wilkins’s The Autumn Castle, is wonderful for the consequences that linger on in the character’s life (despite what could have been typical Dead Parent Angst), for the different conception of Germanic(!) faeries, and for a portrayal of what really happens when adults act like spoiled children—or Mary Sues—in what the author aptly refers to as the “Real World.” I’ll be looking out for more of Wilkins’s books, definitely.

If you need a quick reminder of what a bildungsroman is, here’s the original rant I did on them, and here’s the definition: A novel whose principal subject is the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a usually youthful main character.

Doesn’t have to be youthful )

Fantasy without magic is next.

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June 13th, 2005

05:01 pm: City rant (second part)
The second part of the city rant.

Yeah, can’t think of any grander title than that.

Here we are )

Aaaand adult bildungsromans are next. And then writing fantasy without magic.

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June 10th, 2005

06:00 pm: City rant (part the first)
The first of two parts. There is just so much to be done here, and a lot of the information will be more or less useful depending on whether you’re writing urban fantasy set in another world or just using the city as a passing-through point.

Cities )

I have more ideas, for the second part, but that’s enough right now.

Interesting city-oriented fantasies:

-Terry Pratchett’s Guards subseries of Discworld novels
-Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic duology
-Steven Brust’s first two Khaavren Romances, and certain books of his Vlad Taltos series (particularly Teckla, which deals with what happens when the despised human immigrants start revolting against the Empire—in the Empire’s capital city).
-K. J. Bishop, The Etched City.
-Paula Volksy, Illusion.
-Simon R. Green, Guards of Haven and Swords of Haven.

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June 8th, 2005

04:56 pm: Deciding on your viewpoint character
This is just a list of questions, really. The answers will be different for each author, and it’ll all depend on the kind of characters you’ve created and the story you want to tell. I will give examples of considerations you might want to take into account and things I’ve seen that don’t’ work, but they’re examples rather than prescriptions; you may be able to make them work, and work very well.

Here’s hoping it will still be useful )

Cities next, yay! (Probably a two-part rant).

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June 6th, 2005

04:35 pm: Worldbuilding through layering
In case the title is confusing, I will say that this is a method of world-building which depends on little, tiny threads braided together at a time, or bricks of many different kinds piled on top of each other, or dozens of different kinds of food made into a meal (choose your favorite metaphor for writing). It does not rely on big honking tapestries and walls and meals that are just descriptions, or exposition, or history infodumps, or scenes of character introspection, or circular conversations. Some people can work like that. I can’t, and I also prefer to read books that don’t; while a book with big honking tapestries or walls or meals of [insert writing technique here] might have plenty of virtues, I consider the big chunks a neutral feature at best, not a recommendation. To add yet a fourth metaphor, I prefer books that are like Arabians rather than Clydesdales.

And now that I have thoroughly confused you, on to the rant )

A lot of this is tied up with plot, character, and setting, I notice. Well, done properly, a book will be that tapestry or brick wall or gourmet meal, not a bunch of loose ends or tumbled stones or sardines next to ice cream. And Arabian-like fantasies that move, touch on aspects of world-building, race away and circle back, light and swift, have always been my favorite kind.

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June 4th, 2005

08:27 pm: Brutal fantasy rant
Ah, here we are.

Just as with the rant on transformative fantasy, I’m essentially defining a subgenre here. As with transformative fantasy, it’s a subgenre I like, and one that a lot of the fantasy books I love fall into. This means that I burble.

Like, a lot. As in, this isn’t as much of a rant as a long, long stream of burbling.

Brutal fantasy )

Several of the brutal fantasies I like—especially Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series—get slapped with the labels “depressive” and “horrible.” But that’s the point of not flinching, of stirring up the shitstorm and then facing it, of using dilemmas instead of imagining a way out of them. There’s plenty of comfort-oriented and happiness-oriented fantasy out there. I think this subgenre deserves a place, too.

Other brutal fantasies:

Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God series
Carol Berg’s Rai-kirah books, especially the second one (Revelation)
Sarah Micklem, Firethorn
Glen Cook’s Black Company series, especially She Is The Darkness

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June 3rd, 2005

04:09 pm: Rant on surprise endings/in-story revelations
This is a rambly rant, in which I write about points as they occur to me, and not all on surprise endings.

There’s some in-story revelations stuff, too )

And, yes! The brutal fantasy rant is next.

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June 1st, 2005

03:25 pm: Other fantasy education ideas
The last of the education rants, on ideas that don’t fit anywhere else. Some of these actually present more flexible plots than the academies or schools, I think; a lot of the school fantasies end up sounding the same. (Of course, one could argue that that’s a convention of the genre, but in that case I would prefer to read a less conventional genre).

Fantasy education: Miscellaneous )

*checks poll* The rant on surprise endings and in-story revelations is next.

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May 29th, 2005

03:48 pm: Magic education rant
The mage education rant, once again focused on training a protagonist in ways that will not trigger my automatic KILL reaction.

Fantasy education: Magic )

“Magical training” really should be magical training as often as possible, not just an excuse for random episodes of platitude prattle in between the protagonist flinging fireballs, meeting her one true love, and saving the world from the Dark Lord. *pokes books like that*

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May 24th, 2005

05:50 pm: Fighter training rant
Here’s the rant on training fighter heroes. For most of this, I assume that the character in training is your protagonist. It doesn’t have to be so, but I’ve read one too many books where a character went from novice status to expert status in a simply ridiculous way, and that makes me focus a lot of my advice on the subject.

(Just a note: Will answer comments on the previous rant later. Right now, my hands are hurting badly and I've still got 1300 words to go for the day on my short story).

On education: Fighter training )

Hmmm. This came off sounding like a list of frustrations with young fighter characters.

Well. It is.

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May 22nd, 2005

06:32 pm: Fantasy education rant: Some general ideas
I realized as I started this rant that I had way too many ideas, and, moreover, that many of them didn’t fit in the same rant together. So I’m dividing it up. This rant is on general ideas about fantasy education. There will be two separate ones on training in weapons and magic (since there are so many fighter and mage heroes), and one on informal ways of education that take place outside an academy or school environment. Thanks to the people who suggested this rant; it’s good material.

On education: General ideas )

That was fun.

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May 19th, 2005

09:13 pm: Ten alternatives to writing a 'character learns a lesson' story
In a way (a very vague way) this is like one of those rants about things I think are cool and ignored too often, but it concentrates more on plot and characterization ideas than world-building or themes. And it springs directly out of having read far too many fantasy short stories that follow the exact same structure.

What is that structure? Very simply: A character starts out the story convinced of something, usually a philosophical idea, which is obviously Wrong. There’s another character in the story, who may be a sibling, parent, friend, lover, whatever, convinced of something else, which is obviously Right. By the end of the story, the Wrong character learns the Rightness of the Right idea and is instantly converted to it. The action of the story often has surprisingly little to do with the learning of the lesson. Examples are children learning to respect their parents, parents learning that their children are much more important and special than they ever gave them credit for, male chauvinists learning that girls are just as good as boys, and atheist characters learning that faith is Good and True. (I especially hate that last one).

I dislike them. There’s so many different stories to write. In fact, at least ten of them )

This rant gave me about three more ideas for more rants. Good deal.

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May 17th, 2005

06:56 pm: Smooth endings rant
This rant won by several votes, so here it is. (One nice thing is that I’ve read several examples of how to end and how not to end, recently, so I am all prepared).

Not crashing and burning, or at any rate not crashing )

*checks poll* It appears that ten alternatives to writing a ‘character learns a lesson’ story are next. That one ought to be fun.

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May 15th, 2005

06:50 pm: Seasonal variation rant
This is a fairly short one, since I’m concentrating more on world-building advice than technical knowledge.

Seasons change, and people change with them )

There will be a poll in a few hours’ time, as that marks the end of this section of rants.

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May 13th, 2005

04:41 pm: Writing empires rant, part two
The second part of the ‘writing empires’ rant, since the last one got too long to pack everything into one essay.

More problems to make things complicated )

Seasonal variation is next, and then it’ll be the start of another poll-time.

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May 9th, 2005

04:05 pm: Writing empire (first part)
This rant concentrates on some ideas for writing empires. I do think they’re different than kingdoms—though fantasy authors often don’t treat them any differently—and that there are a lot of questions and concerns they bring up that most authors simply ignore.

An empire is a lot more than its imperial family )

Damn it, there will have to be another half of this rant, as this got much longer than anticipated. Well, hey. It’s a fertile subject, and I’d like to see a lot more done with it than currently is.

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May 5th, 2005

08:43 pm: Some suggestions for revision
Just what it says. This is even less rant-like than some of the others have been.

Increasingly, I’m feeling that they’re not rants, but then a bitchy one will come along, and I have no better name for them. This one is not very bitchy.

Off we go )

…Never mind, that was quite bitchy. I guess I can still call them rants.

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April 28th, 2005

02:57 pm: More things Limyaael thinks would be really cool
This is a follow-up, in many ways, to the rant that I wrote here. That means more happy burbling, more “oooh, shiny!” ideas, and more dreams—I regularly dream about walking into a bookstore and finding books like this. I am always so disappointed when I wake up.

Oooh, shiny! )

*purrs* I am in a happy burbly mood now, which makes for a good one to go teach my last class in.

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April 26th, 2005

10:44 pm: Rant on creating distinct minor characters
This one does require some defining of terms, because “minor character” means different things to different people. To me, they are the third level of characters, two steps away from “protagonist” (who usually gets the most development, is often the person whose mind we share, and usually the person we’re supposed to cheer for) and one step away from “secondary character” (who receives at least some development, usually has an importance—such as sidekick or love interest—to the protagonist, and is supposed to occasion our sorrow if he or she dies). Minor characters are the ones who show up for at least a few scenes, have, if not a name, some recognizable features, and are necessary for the plot. Just because they’re so often functional, however, is no reason not to make them distinctive.

I almost feel like apologizing; so much of this is common sense )

I have not moved an inch in Lord of Snow and Shadows, in part because each minor character is a stereotype. There is no one for me to sympathize with in that book, and I’m thinking of giving it up altogether.

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