I was especially gratified when he told me how his children loved Bell Mountain as he read it to them. They called it simply “Jack and Ellayne.” I think they were five or six years old at the time–way under the age of the target audience. But I’ve heard this a lot, over the years–mostly from adults.
Anyway, it’s an interesting article and I was very pleasantly surprised to find it available online.
I keep saying “Christian fiction” has to be at least as good as, and preferably better than, ordinary secular fiction. But I read so much “Christian” stuff that isn’t, I’m beginning to think no one believes me.
I found myself, as I was reading, thinking, “I like this!” I still thought so by the time I’d finished it.
We know author Allison Reid as “Weavingword,” a friend of this blog, and Shards of Faith is a “companion book” to the three books of her Wind Rider Chronicles. Somewhere between a novella and a novel, with a length of some 45,000 words, Shards of Faith takes us back in time to events preceding the main story line. It’s sort of a side trip, focused on Broguean the Bard, who last appeared as a minor character in Book 3, Visions of Light and Shadow.
In Visions Broguean is middle-aged, an entertainer who makes the rounds of taverns, not someone whom most people would take seriously–except it becomes evident that he is hiding behind a carefully constructed facade, and has a secret. In Shards we find out what that secret is.
Broguean has revoked his monk’s vows and left the monastery–run by a corrupt and evil abbot, and a prior who goes on to become the chief villain in the trilogy so far–to become a bard and a heavy drinker. He has abandoned a heritage which seems too high for him: he believes himself to be unworthy of it.
But the leaders of the faithful clergy have not forgotten whom he really is, and wind up recruiting him as a secret agent in their battle against evil men aligned with dark supernatural forces; and the job turns out to be vastly more dangerous than any of them bargained for. In the course of his adventures, Broguean has to come to terms with the conflict between what he is and what he ought to be–and that’s what makes this book special.
Once upon a time an author would have included all this in the main body of the story, via flashbacks, dialogue, etc. That can get messy. The companion book is a way to impart this information without interrupting the flow of the main story. The only problem with it is that if you read it as a stand-alone book, you won’t be reading it in context.
Ms. Reid has come a long way in her mastery of characterization; meanwhile, as usual, her quasi-medieval setting is authentic and convincing. There’s still an awful lot we don’t know about the main story–like, for instance, why the bad guys are calling monsters into the world, what they hope to gain from its destruction–but we hope that will be remedied in the next installment or two.
I like stories in which ordinary, believable people–not superheroes!–are called upon to do extraordinary things: because they have to, there’s no getting out of it, and they make do with the resources that God provides for them, sustained by their faith in His Word. Need I mention that every heroic act in all of human history so far has been performed by a real person, not a superhero?
Even when you’ve got a hero on the scene, even when you’ve got King Arthur, he can’t accomplish much without the help of unnamed, unsung men and women who share his vision, fight for it, work for it, and sacrifice for it. There’s way too much fantasy whose authors don’t get this: but Allison Reid does.
My books are fantasies about people and places that never existed, so in a literal sense I can’t “see” any of it–I have to imagine it. That might be the toughest thing about writing fantasy in particular and fiction in general: first you try to see what isn’t there, and then you try to make the reader see it. If that sounds easy, well, it ain’t.
The artist, Kirk DouPonce, uses live models for the characters on my books’ covers. I can’t do that. The most I can do is try, in my mind, to cast known actors and actresses as characters in my story. When that works, it works very well.
(As long as my head’s still full of Novocain, I might as well just keep on writing.)
The girl in the boat is named Gurun. She originated as the central character in a dream I had one night. I made her a character in my books; and then cover artist Kirk DouPonce brought her to life. Almost alarmingly so! He painted her exactly as I saw her, first in a dream, then in my mind’s eye as I wrote about her. I don’t know how he does that.
People ask me how real the world of my fantasy novels is to me, its creator. “Unknowable” was wondering about that today. Well, Gurun seems real to me; and she was also real to Kirk.
I have to be able to “see” it and “hear” it as if it were a movie playing in my head; that if I don’t, I can’t write it. In that sense it’s real to me. While I’m writing it, I have to be, as it were, in the scene I’m writing about. As if I were standing there in person, watching and listening. I don’t imagine this comes to any writer except with many years of practice and literally by the grace of God: it is a gift of God, so I can’t brag about it. I’m grateful He has allowed me to do this!
I can hardly wait to see what ideas He’ll give me for the next book.
So yes, in a way, it is like really being there. I lose track of the time, once I really get going.
And then I close the legal pad and put down my pen, and I’m back in New Jersey.
If fantasy writers heeded the advice, “Write what you know,” we’d all be out of business. But it does raise a tricky question: How can you write believable stories about imaginary people living in an imaginary world? Which, of course, is just what a fantasy writer does.
People who don’t like fantasy usually say the reason they don’t like it is because it’s so full of rubbish. The rubbish is the stuff in the story that they can’t believe in. And speaking for myself, that would include needlessly complicated names, names that sound like popular pain relief products, and unbearably predictable stock characters–the invincible female warrior, the crusty but benign wizard, buxom tavern wenches, lusty barbarians, know-it-all elves… enough already!
And then there’s the fantasy which anyone can see is a thinly-veiled exercise in self-glorification, in which the writer’s personal stand-in is the hero and all the other characters are just thrown in to make him look good. This is even worse than know-it-all elves with names like Mylanta and Feenamint.
So how can anyone write a fantasy that the reader will be able to believe in as he’s reading it? (If he continues to believe in it after he’s done reading, that’s a problem beyond the scope of this little essay.)
Without writing a book about it, I think the fantasy writer needs to do something that good writers do no matter what kind of fiction they write.
Watch what people do and listen to what they say. And above all, be interested in them!
Character is the key. If your fictional characters act and think and speak and feel like real people, they will draw the reader into your imaginary world.
If they’re one or two-dimensional nothings, because the writer is always interested first and only in himself, and not in other people, your imaginary world will suck no matter what else you do with it, fill it with castles, monsters, and fantastic beings as you will.
It’s not just fantasy writers who have to pay attention to what other people are like, and try to do them justice, even if they’re fictional.
It’s all writers in all genres, all the time. The writer who can’t be bothered to look into another human heart, and feel at least some kinship with it, has nothing worthwhile to say.
(Note: I try to steer clear of “news” on Sunday, as a way of observing the Sabbath. And also as a way of hanging on to my sanity.)
In his epic fantasy, The Worm Ouroboros, E. R. Eddison wrote in a unique and probably inimitable literary style and wrapped up the story in a brilliant, unexpected stroke that takes one’s breath away.
The story opens with the lords of Demonland, on the planet Mercury, holding a sumptuous wingding at one of their highly decorative palaces. In the midst of the festivities, a servant announces a visitor: “Sire, it is an ambassador from Witchland and his train. He craveth present audience.”
The ambassador’s message is so flagrantly insulting that it starts a major war. After many heroic exertions, and coming within an inch of losing the war, the Demons finally win, conquering the Witches root and branch–total victory.
Gathered to celebrate their triumph, they play host to a princess who is a special favorite of the gods, and whom they rescued from the Witches during the war. She tells them she has the power to appeal to the gods on their behalf, that they shall now be rewarded by having their greatest wish granted.
Well, the Demons have a problem: having wiped out Witchland, there’s nothing left for them to do, and they’re bored–bored to the point of desperation. Voicing their discontent, they can’t quite bring themselves to say what it is they really wish for. But the princess knows.
And suddenly the servant barges into the throne room with an astonishing announcement: “Sire, it is an ambassador from Witchland and his train. He craveth present audience.”
Well, who saw that coming?
It was a touch that made the book immortal, and very few writers would dare to do the same.
For those of you who wish to become fantasy writers, there is a lesson here: when you’re tempted to stop–don’t! Crash through the wall and let your imagination have its way.
And never, never end a chapter with a sentence like, “And then nothing much happened for the next four chapters.”
There’s not much point in writing a fantasy novel if you’re not going to be bold.