Writing An Epic Fantasy Series Is Not Easy

I dropped in on an interview by Franny (not sure if this is her real name) who runs the Mind Reader blog. I have visited a few times – she writes great book reviews. Franny interviewed Meredith Bond, author of Magic In The Storm, (full interview here) and opened with the following question:

“Why is almost every book published now part of a series? Have you noticed this? I don’t think I’ve seen one single stand-alone title (aside from anthologies) in over a year! Is this a good thing? Isn’t it good enough to find books by an author you like without the books having to be tied together in some way?”

Ms. Bond’s answer is thoughtful and worth reading, but she does claim, frivolously I hope, that we authors are “lazy bums.” I took exception to this. Writing a series of books in one world with many recurring characters demands that we show this world in different forms throughout the series. In fact, I draw my own world-building inspiration from nature and I hope I will never stop seeing new lands and areas of natural beauty. When we see a beautiful vista, it is a family joke to say in a breath-taking voice: Alagaesia, a tribute to the beautiful world that Christopher Paolini built.

imgresSimilarly, my characters do not stand still. They grow, and as they age, experience conflict and love from a different perspective, as do we all in the ‘real world’. Terry Brooks is a master of this with his Shannara series.

I would venture to suggest that the onus is even greater with recurring characters because we need to show significant depth in their development. Perhaps it is easier to create a new warrior, hero, heroine, villain etc., in each book, because you can keep them relatively shallow.

Next month, The First Decree, my second Wycaan Master novel, will be released by Tourmaline Books. Since the Xmas holiday break, I have been writing Book 4 (Book 3 is written but not edited) and am about 30,000 words in. My characters are older, wiser, have more to lose, and a greater sense of responsibility.

They are growing up and each developing into the unique, ever-changing individual that they are. I care about them too much. I would never let them languish and become stagnant. What kind of a father would I be (I am, however, in no rush for my real kids to grow up!)?

There are obvious and legitimate reasons to write a series. Every author wants to build a readership and why not create an ongoing relationship between readers and the characters they are rooting for?

Tery Goodkind wrote 12 books in the Sword of Truth series.

Tery Goodkind wrote 12 books in the Sword of Truth series.

I don’t mean to begin a feud with Ms. Bond because of one phrase in an otherwise excellent interview, but it struck a chord. I recently told a friend that I have written a book a year for the last seven years (I am published in two genres), and she responded by saying that it must be easy for me.

It is not. I work very hard at my craft, spend considerable time building the world of Odessiya, and worry about my characters and their destiny. I cry when a main character dies (I can even cry several times as I reread, and reread, and reread) and feel equally exhilarated when they succeed.

The story flows out of me but I put considerable time and effort into it. I wake up early and go to bed late, squeezing in a full-time job and hopefully trying to be an active parent and sharing husband.

When I finish writing a first draft I am exhausted mentally. But I’ll keep coming back for more, just as a marathon runner pushes themselves beyond their limit during a race, but knows s/he will be back running soon.

There is an incredible high when the words flow, exhilaration as a plot unfolds, and pure joy when someone says: “Hey. You’re an author, right? I read your books.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The First Decree-hi resolution

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.

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Ever Been To The World I Invented?

How do you explain to someone how to write about a place that you made up? Or a race that has never existed? How to describe the unexplored or give directions to a destination that you have never been to?

Fantasy (and sci-fi) writers are in a unique position in the writing world. A friend of mine is writing a historical novel from the Vietnam War. It is from a time and place that she never experienced. Yet, thorough diligent research and patient interviews, she has built an authentic account of the jungles, the battles, and the actions of soldiers.

But I have to confess, and let’s just keep this between you and me; I have never met an elf, never yielded high magic or walked and breathed underwater (I tried the latter – it didn’t work). In Wycaan Master, one of my elves performed a particular feat. He will do it several times throughout the three novels and his teacher explains the rudiments to him. Nonetheless one of my dear friends from my writer’s group (not a fantasy writer) proclaimed: “elves can’t do that.” 

Our group boasts a number of very smart people, all of whom I am sure, thought what one asked. “Oh really? How many elves do you know?”

We laughed and decided that these were my elves and I could do what I want with them. It was amusing and yet, who sets the rules?

The obvious answer is that the market does, and the market is the reader. Buy a fantasy writer a couple of beers and s/he will admit that we all live in the shadow of the greats, with Tolkien being the greatest of them all.

In the pantheon upon which the great Ring Writer sits, are others held in great esteem. I am devouring Terry Brooks‘ Shannara series, and so I came across a book he wrote to explain his craft.

 The book is called: Sometimes The Magic Works – Lessons From A Writing Life. Brooks deals with such issues common to all who write fiction such as plot, characters, hook, dialogue etc., but he also spends time on more specialized aspects such as world creating, or even how it is different perhaps to hold the threads of a plot through a number of books or corresponding paths in a single book.

I read through Sometimes The Magic Works – Lessons From A Writing Life once, enjoying his autobiographical content as much as his craft teaching. I am going away soon for a week and plan to take the book and reread.

 I have two questions:

 1) What makes writing fantasy different from other genres in terms of craft and technique?

2) Are there other good books on writing that are specific to the fantasy genre?

Drop me a note on the blog or tweet any suggestions. I appreciate your help.

Good Writing and Reading,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).