Monday, 18 July 2011

Tips on writing fantasy by Jo Reed

Thinking of writing fantasy? Today Jo Reed, author of the Blood Dancer series of novels, shares her expertise. 

Writing fantasy is easier than most other genres, someone said to me the other day, because you can just make things up as you go along. There aren’t any rules – it’s not the real world, so you can do anything you like. It’s an opinion I’ve heard many times, but as any writer who has tried their hand at fantasy knows, nothing could be further from the truth. Creating your own universe is an exciting prospect, but it is a path fraught with pitfalls that even the most experienced fantasy writer can fall prey to.

To start with there’s that question of rules. Every world has them, and if you are making them from scratch, it’s much harder than using the ones that already exist around you. Readers need to understand how that world works, so once you have established an environment, and what your characters can and can’t do, you’ve made a contract you can’t get out of. Successful writers are ones who construct the rules at the outset, know them inside out and make sure everything, from characters to the weather, obeys them. Readers of fantasy have very high standards. If you slip up, they’ll be the first to tell you!

Having spent a very long time creating a new world and sorting out exactly how it works, there is always a temptation to tell readers, in painstaking detail, all about it, and forget that what you set out to do was tell a story. The characters should demonstrate what is and isn’t possible as the plot unfolds, just as they would in a conventional setting. I can think of one or two epic fantasy novels, even from writers I greatly admire, that fall into the trap of pages of scene description with nothing much ‘happening’ – at which point I skip to the next bit of action, regardless of whether I might have missed something important. Usually I haven’t, although I can understand the writer wanting to show just how much work they have done on the fine points. Readers just want to know what happens next!

Fantasy, just like every other genre, needs to follow the conventions of good storytelling. It sounds obvious to say that it needs a beginning, middle and end, but what makes this so much harder to achieve in fantasy writing is that it may take three or even more novels to complete the story arc, and the writer has to keep readers interested through a huge number of pages. The characters may be supernatural in some way, but they must have recognisable emotions, flaws and attributes that make people care what happens to them, and keep on caring through the gaps between publications. That’s tough! 

Jo Reed lives and works as a writer and lecturer in the Southwest of England. She is the author of the Blood Dancers series of novels, the first of which, The Tyranny of the Blood, was published by Wild Wolf Publishing in 2009. The second novel in the series, A Child of the Blood followed in 2010.

Jo won the Daily Telegraph travel writing award in 2009, and her short stories have appeared in many national magazines, including Mslexia, The People’s Friend and Words with JAM. Her next Blood Dancers novel, Malim’s Legacy, is due for publication later this year, and she is currently working on a fourth novel.
The Writer’s ABC Checklist


srsphoenix said...

Hi jo.. lovely to hear from you in person, I have already read your first two novels and can’t wait for Malim’s Legacy. You certainly practice what you preach with your creation of a believable story with just enough detail to allow for imagination. Budding authors should take heed and there will be lots of new wonderful worlds to explore.
cheers Srsphoenix

Jo said...

Hi srsphoenix - first of all, thank you for reading the novels, and I'm glad you enjoyed them! Your comment about inserting 'just enough detail to allow for imagination' is an interesting one. Writers so often forget that readers do have imaginations, and that a large part of the fun is using it! I was chatting with a reader the other week who described how she saw one of my characters in great detail - she had made a picture in her head of who he was which was different from mine in many subtle, yet striking ways. I was delighted by that - she had put her mark on my writing, which was wonderful as it meant she must have been really involved with it. Whether it coincided exactly with my own imaginary picture wasn't so important. For me, part of the excitement of being a writer is letting the story loose and seeing what other people do with it!