Tag Archives: The Art of Writing

‘A Helpful Hint for Writers’ (2013)

Just the other day Chagadai, the captain of King Ryons’ Ghols, his bodyguard, walked into the Bell Mountain movie I’m going to make someday, when my ship comes in. I recognized him immediately as Burt Kwok, who played Mr. Entwhistle in Last of the Summer Wine.

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This little game helps me to see and write about my fictional characters as if they were real people. I know, I know–movies and TV? You think that’s real? But I’m writing fantasies, not accident reports.

One of these days I’d like to try writing up a character who’s incompetent, foolish, scared of his own shadow, and worth absolutely nothing in a crisis.

On second thought…

‘Stop the Lousy Writing, Please!’ (2015)

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If there’s one thing that’s hard to bear, it’s reading page after page of forced sarcasm and dopey slang in a fantasy novel. Not that it would be all that great in any other kind of novel; but fantasy seems especially prone to it.


Much of this can be blamed on dim-witted adults who think they’re cleverly writing down to teenagers. By “teenager” they mean someone with the intelligence of a radiator hose. They’ve been watching too much television and way too many movies.

It’s hard to beat plain English as a means of communication.

I wish some of these writers would try it sometime.


‘Where Do My Characters Come From?’ (2016)

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Abgayle graces the cover of The Throne

Let’s face it. Half the fun of writing fiction is coming up with characters. But where do those characters come from?


Some of them, I dream of. I dreamed of Gurun and put her in The Last Banquet. Other characters come in because there’s a job in the plot that must be filled.

But however you come by them, write your characters as if they were real persons–not just stage props to make your protagonist look good. Using “minor” characters as props for the hero is as good a way as I know to write a book that sucks.

Look at it this way: are you a minor character?

‘Ivanhoe’ Revisited

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Every time you read a literary classic, it’s different.

I’ve just finished re-reading Ivanhoe, which I hadn’t visited in, I guess, ten years. Maybe more. And it was different. Almost like reading it for the first time.

At first I was a little put off by Sir Walter Scott’s language. Ivanhoe came out in 1830, just two years before Scott died; and I wondered why he’d written it in such a wordy, effusive, 18th-century style. What was he thinking?

By and by, it became clear.

Written by a modern writer according to modern story-telling and stylistic conventions, Ivanhoe would be… raw. Sir Walter approached the story with the delicacy of a man tiptoeing through a shop stocked with bottles of nitroglycerin.

Because this story is not a pretty story. Underneath the flowery language, it’s about hate, savagery, totally irresponsible leadership, lawlessness, anti-Semitism, and personal depravity. I mean, once upon a time, Scott could’ve been thrown into jail for writing such a story. No wonder he tiptoed.

Scott shows us medieval England–not really such a nice place to visit, and heaven help you if you live there. The Church is everywhere–and everywhere corrupt and ineffectual. Christianity is on everybody’s lips, with crime and violence in everybody’s hands. Even the good guys are dangerous: King Richard the Lionheart, traveling incognito to amuse himself, at his nation’s expense, is so unstable that Robin Hood soon realizes that even friendship with this king could be hazardous to your health. Cedric the Saxon, like a modern-day “progressive,” is pathologically consumed by ancient historical grudges. And then there are the villains.

You could rack your brain all day for a week and still not come up with anything too evil for Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert to do. And he’s one of the nice Templars. His friends are murderers and thieves.

Henry II did try very hard to put England on a sound footing as a nation, reforming the law code, straightening out an arbitrary and capricious government; but his two sons that followed him, Richard and then John, almost succeeded in tearing it all down. Their shortcomings are clearly seen in Ivanhoe.

Judged only by his writings, Sir Walter Scott believed in the power of goodness. Usually in his stories, good things are achieved by characters’ courage, selflessness, and other virtues. In Ivanhoe, most of the good things that happen are the work of God Himself.

Note: Scott explains in a footnote that he was forced to bring Athelstane back from the dead because his printer was “disconsolate” over the dull glutton’s demise. When I read this in high school, I thought it was just about the most ridiculous thing I’d ever read. But now I’m old and experienced enough to appreciate how Scott handled this near-impossible task–turning it into a comic scene that made me laugh out loud. Like, the poor guy has come back from the dead and still nobody listens to him!


‘Literary Crimes’ (2015)

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I read a lot of fantasy, and a lot of it is poop. That’s usually because it’s full of literary crimes.


The Know-It-All Elf and The Invincible Female Warrior–what would certain writers do for characters, if they didn’t have these worn-out cliches to fall back on?

Then there’s crazy dialogue. There’s only one thing worse than long passages of speech written in what the author images to be dialect. That’s long passages of speech in which the author wanders in and out of dialect.

The mystery of it all! We wouldn’t know these cliches for cliches if they weren’t crammed into books that actually got published–thousands of ’em.

‘How to Write a Fantasy Novel’ (2010)

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This piece appeared in Chalcedon’s print magazine in 2010, shortly after Bell Mountain was published. I’ve had a lot of practice writing fantasy novels, since then.


There’s still a great unmet need for Christian fantasy, especially for Young Adult readers.

My books would appreciate some company!


‘Not-So-Minor Characters’ (2015)

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Chock-full of really cool characters–my books

Just about the most annoying books you can read are those in which the hero is obviously a stand-in for the writer himself, and the other characters are only there to make him look good. Oh, fap!


If you’re going to do that, you might as well go into politics, where it’s expected. Capitol Hill always has room for one more fat-head.

Highly recommended: the Inspector Ghote novels, by H.R.F. Keating. You can learn a lot from these–or just kick back and enjoy them.

‘Christian Reconstruction… and Fantasy?’ (God’s Providence at Work)

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In this 2014 Chalcedon magazine article, I traced some of the many steps of God’s providence by which I came to write my Bell Mountain novels. It started with a young R.J. Rushdoony reading Cornelius Van Til, and starting a correspondence with him–while I was still, literally, in knee-pants.


You have to view these things in retrospect, because you can’t detect them while they’re happening. God’s work is subtle: best to view it from a distance. Get up too close, and you can’t see anything.

Anyway, here’s how my books came to be written, and why they’re written the way they are.


‘Dracula Revisited’ (2015)

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I read Dracula every few years. In fact, for my money, none of the many Dracula movies quite measures up to the book–although Christopher Lee’s portrayals of the monster will go down in history.


The last time I read Dracula, I was amazed by the things author Bram Stoker can get away with. Great heaping dollops of Victorian schmaltz. It should be unreadable, but it isn’t. In fact, the somewhat strange literary style adds, rather than detracts, to a sensation of being in the attic of a deserted house, all dry and musty, and suddenly thinking you hear someone else, who’s not supposed to be there, coming up the stairs…

Lunch with Sir Walter Scott

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I received a copy of Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, for Christmas. The edition they forced on us in high school convinced me that Sir Walter was an idiot. I was not aware that the editors had done him a mischief, tearing all the guts out of his book and leaving only the hollow shell of a rather silly story. So it was decades before mere curiosity–could it really have been that bad?–moved me to read it again.

And it blew me away. Ivanhoe is a truly great novel that richly deserved to be a classic.

But there’s another thing to love about my Christmas present. They’ve included all of Scott’s notes and footnotes on Ivanhoe–how he came by this or that tradition, this or that old song, what he was thinking when he had a character perform a certain action, etc. It’s the next best thing to having Sir Walter sitting across the room from you and talking to you.

How I would love to sit down with him over tea and cigars, for a nice long natter! He had a gift for taking the reader along with him as he wrote the story. He had a gift of self-deprecating humor. I’ll bet the two of us together could talk the sun across the sky.

Well, of course I can’t do that, unless it’s one of those things the Lord has in store for us in heaven. But what I can do is always be available to my readers–and friends!–right here, on this blog. Ask me anything about my books, or how I write them, whatever. I love talking about stories, and how they come to be told.

Wouldn’t that be cool, if some famous writer read this, and replied?

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