Crumbs of the Great Craft Masters

I want to give credit to Toby Hewson who gave me this idea: What I learned from the Gods of Fantasy? I have learned from many authors, not just the craft masters, but this post will focus on the select few. 

Terry Pratchett taught me about invention of an old theme. He created a world that was fantastical and yet so familiar. His satirical approach to Discworld was always engrossing and we welcomed familiar themes as they surfaced among the new ideas in each new novel.

George RR Martin taught me about depth of character in supporting roles. There is no excuse for making every single character special or unpredictable. It does not have to happen immediately, but when a character steps from the limelight to center stage, we are enthralled, but not totally surprised. This is a huge task for anyone and Martin does it with a thousand characters. I have mentioned before how much I have learned from him. Okay, I have also taken his name in vain, but I am full of respect for him.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

Stephen King taught me about simplicity of language and being accessible to readers. I am too much of a wimp to appreciate his stories, but On Writing is my writing Bible, and required reading…annually.
J.R.R. Tolkien taught me the opposite. It is possible to write elaboration, flowery, delightful fantasy prose. Can you describe a forest in three pages? Y’betcha and they will even make it into a movie or six. Tolkien also taught me the importance of giving my fantasy world a sense of history and leveraging that throughout the saga.

Terry Brooks taught me about having a well-worked story that had no loose ends or unnecessary scenes so the story flows. Brooks also has built a rich history of his world – Shannara – and a genealogy that excites his many followers. Again, his writing is very balanced between plot (action) and character development. He has the ability to give a strong and distinctive voice to each of his main characters.

Terry Goodkind is edgy without going over-the-top. His stories are simpler, but he adds little traits to make his characters familiar to us and a great job bonding us to them.

R.A. Salvatore taught me to create a rich world and non-stereotypical characters. His first Drizzt book takes place underground and is so impressive. I remember being blown away by it. I have not been disappointed going forward.

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There is much we can learn from these masters of our craft, but the most important one is READ, READ, READ.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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Cinderella The Savage and Saruman The Sweet

A common question that I field at readings is how/why I chose the name of a particular character? I find it surprising because I would never have thought to ask such a question of my favorite authors. Either I considered their names a perfect fit  (and so never thought about it), or the author probably didn’t remain my favorite for long.

But it is a good question. A name, particularly for a protagonist or main character, is a significant part of the experience. If it appears ten times on every page and gets stuck in your throat, it is either a big problem or you need some lozenges on hand.  And if we are talking about a series, then that character is going to be around for some time. 

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R.A.Salvatore, one of my role models and favorite authors, challenges us with his drows.

With the fourth Wycaan Master novel safely ensconced in the hands of my editor, I did what every author without a life or with a compulsive disorder does and began Book 5. My dear friends, Seanchai, Rhoddan and Sellia, have appeared in every book, so we are closing in on a half million words by the time I finish this one. I am trying to restrain myself from discovering how many times each name has appeared.

Having attended a number of events with people who have actually read my novels (they exist!), I discovered that everyone pronounces Seanchai differently. I am particularly proud of his name and love being asked why I chose it. In Celtic culture, a Seanchai was a traditional storyteller and, in my books, the Wycaan magic that our protagonist learns is based upon words and stories.

While providing what I hope is a cool answer, I see in their expressions how it is difficult that people struggle to say or hear. I am, of course, the worst offender. My non-existent Celtic notwithstanding, I have spend a good part of my life in the Middle East, where we sound like we are clearing our throats every time we put a ch together. It can be unsettling at first, because you flinch thinking the person is about to spit on you. but a serious ch is essential to the language and I worked very hard to master it.

More locally, I discovered people use che as in the name of the Cuban revolutionary. At a recent event, two friends decided to help me with a more interactive reading, each taking different parts, and each inevitably pronouncing Seanchai differently. We had a blast, but I wonder how those in the audience who had not read any of the series coped.

Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

I guess it doesn’t really matter until the movie comes out right? And by that time, pronouncing his name will be the last thing on this elated author’s mind. Slightly more realistically, I would love to produce an audio book since I derive such pleasure from them on my long, daily commute. 

Ironically, I have no idea where the name Rhoddan came from, I really don’t. I was looking for something that suggested stability and loyalty – go figure – but I feel the name fits perfectly. Certainly, the upside is that everyone agrees on how to pronounce his name, so hey, he can stay alive…for now!

The Greeks deserve credit for conveying much about their characters through names. Zeus is truly a name fit for a god and the king of the gods at that. And how would you react if your daughter told you that she was dating a dude named Hades or Loki? Lock her in her room, I’m sure. Thor sounds like a badass, and Aphrodite – well, best I leave that to your own imagination.

Moving to our own gods, and I think the old professor did a pretty good job all round, particularly with his hobbits. Bilbo Baggins is already lovable and you have only seen his business card. Friendly, courteous, and clearly one who drinks tea, eats Second Breakfast, and has a clean handkerchief in his pocketsss along with, of course, a ring of apocalyptic power. Who doesn’t these days?

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Tolkien did so well naming his hobbits – see this awesome list – and he nailed it with Gollum. If a name conveys considerable information, we understand that this is one twisted fella, with a name that just sticks in your throat.

Ilana, since you ask, comes from the Hebrew for tree. I chose this quite deliberately as I was looking for something stable, beautiful, and important to the existence of the characters around her. Alon means oak in Hebrew, so you see I have an affinity with trees, and At The Walls Of Galbrieth was conceived in a beautiful ancient redwood forest.

The names of minor characters is also important as an author spends more limited time extrapolating their characteristics. Since they appear and disappear so often, you want these names to be remembered and to also convey something about the characters. Certainly, when you have over a thousand characters stretching over several hefty tomes, yes I’m talking about you, Mr Martin, this becomes especially challenging.

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There is an advantage when reading ebooks, that you can search back to find references to a character, but this is impossible in an audiobook, and while a glossary of characters is helpful to flick through in most circumstances, it is not recommended while driving and listening to the audio book. App anyone?

What is your favorite name for an epic fantasy character? Which author shines at their selection? And which character does not fit the image you imagined from the name?

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Gods Of Fantasy – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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Pass a summer evening in a quaint English pub, mid 20th century, perhaps in the old town of Oxford. Caress a pint and listening to a few graying professors discuss semantics, philosophy, and the ancient languages long forgotten outside the sheltered walls of academia. What else can one possibly ask for? 

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Imagine these tweed-clad, pipe-smoking academics, hatching more than another challenging semester to try the greatest minds of this fair isle. Each is a king in the making or, more accurately, a kingmaker. For they direct more than the destiny of kings and noble houses. They raise kingdoms and conquer lands. They build great dynasties, bring whole species back from the mists of extinction, and set those of noble birth and principle to stand against evil.

Sip your beer, mull over the words, much of which you might not understand. Dwarves, elves, of course: but hobbits? Marsh-wiggles? Listen as the professors strategize great battles, masterfully marshalling unicorns, dragons, giants, minotaurs and proud ents.

You slowly realize that you sit among the Gods, the creators of Middle Earth and Narnia, who hold court on Tuesdays at midday in a local public house. Perhaps it is The Eagle and Child, or The Lamb and Flag across the street. They read each other’s work and offer critique as writer’s groups have for centuries and continue to do so today.

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I may never have understood much or been accepted into such an elite. They would have torn my work to shreds on grounds of philological shallowness (I had it checked – it’s not contagious), criticized me for imprudently suggesting that a 100,000 word novel can serve as more than merely an introduction.

They would have demanded richer world-building – take twenty pages to describe a forest, I dare you – unyielding heroes, and infallible plots. They would have challenged the age-old legends dressed up in fictional costumes, and raised an eyebrow at some of the language or innuendos.

Most likely, I would never have dared reveal my stories to the old professors of Oxford, to the most famous writing group in history. I would never have been more than a fly on the wall at a meeting of The Inklings, but would have returned week after week to sit at the feet of the Gods and hear their banter.

For here the Gods gave birth to great worlds and left them as a legacy to us and to our children, long after they departed this world. Every Wednesday night, I sit around a table in a coffee shop in Berkeley, sharing work with other aspiring authors and wonder: do the Gods look down upon us from Writers Heaven?

lewis-and-tolkien1

Do they tut and shake their heads at our adverb addiction, our unwillingness to kill our darlings? Or do they even now move pieces around the literary chessboard. Protect the king! Advance the knights! Who, I wonder, are the pawns?

As we write a new book, a new chapter, do we not imagine the Gods walk among us?  Do they peer over our shoulders at our swanky writing machines, judging every word we write, every world we build? 

The Gods once sat in an old English pub. Now they stand behind us in coffee shops and at kitchen tables, urging us on, watching us walk the path they forged, taking on the quest they started.

For the Gods still walk among us and inside of us. The stories have been told but must be told again in different ways to a different generation. We sign these books in our own names, but humbly acknowledge those who molded us in their image as storytellers.

And now they are the flies on the wall and we who pound the keyboards. Take a moment, draw another pint, and raise your glass:

To the Gods of Fantasy!

 =========================================

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on  Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Gods of Fantasy

Pass a summer evening in a quaint English pub, mid 20th century, perhaps in the old town of Oxford. Caress a pint and listening to a few graying professors discuss semantics, philosophy, and the ancient languages long forgotten outside the sheltered walls of academia. What else can one possibly ask for? 

imgres-1Imagine these tweed-clad, pipe-smoking academics, hatching more than another challenging semester to try the greatest minds of this fair isle. Each is a king in the making or, more accurately, a kingmaker. For they direct more than the destiny of kings and noble houses. They raise kingdoms and conquer lands. They build great dynasties, bring whole species back from the mists of extinction, and set those of noble birth and principle to stand against evil.

Sip your beer, mull over the words, much of which you might not understand. Dwarves, elves, of course: but hobbits? Marsh-wiggles? Listen as the professors strategize great battles, masterfully marshalling unicorns, dragons, giants, minotaurs and proud ents. 

You slowly realize that you sit among the Gods, the creators of Middle Earth and Narnia, who hold court on Tuesdays at midday in a local public house. Perhaps it is The Eagle and Child, or The Lamb and Flag across the street. They read each other’s work and offer critique as writer’s groups have for centuries and continue to do so today.

220px-Birdandbaby 

I may never have understood much or been accepted into such an elite. They would have torn my work to shreds on grounds of philological shallowness (I had it checked – it’s not contagious), criticized me for imprudently suggesting that a 100,000 word novel can serve as more than merely an introduction.

They would have demanded richer world-building – take twenty pages to describe a forest, I dare you – unyielding heroes, and infallible plots. They would have challenged the age-old legends dressed up in fictional costumes, and raised an eyebrow at some of the language or innuendos.

Most likely, I would never have dared reveal my stories to the old professors of Oxford, to the most famous writing group in history. I would never have been more than a fly on the wall at a meeting of The Inklings, but would have returned week after week to sit at the feet of the Gods and hear their banter.

For here the Gods gave birth to great worlds and left them as a legacy to us and to our children, long after they departed this world. Every Wednesday night, I sit around a table in a coffee shop in Berkeley, sharing work with other aspiring authors and wonder: do the Gods look down upon us from Writers Heaven?

 lewis-and-tolkien1

Do they tut and shake their heads at our adverb addiction, our unwillingness to kill our darlings? Or do they even now move pieces around the literary chessboard. Protect the king! Advance the knights! Who, I wonder, are the pawns?

As we write a new book, a new chapter, do we not imagine the Gods walk among us?  Do they peer over our shoulders at our swanky writing machines, judging every word we write, every world we build? 

The Gods once sat in an old English pub. Now they stand behind us in coffee shops and at kitchen tables, urging us on, watching us walk the path they forged, taking on the quest they started.

For the Gods still walk among us and inside of us. The stories have been told but must be told again in different ways to a different generation. We sign these books in our own names, but humbly acknowledge those who molded us in their image as storytellers.

And now they are the flys on the wall and we who pound the keyboards. Take a moment, draw another pint, and raise your glass:

To the Gods of Fantasy!

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.