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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Awkward Sex Change

Last week I shared feedback I had received to add stronger female characters in my YA novels to distinguish them from traditional epic fantasy. I have to admit to feeling motivated to do this just from a desire to contribute to breaking from the sexist images that I feel pervade in millennial culture (another topic in itself).

Heeding this advice, I have begun to convert a powerful and wise (male) teacher into a female. It has been an interesting and revealing process.  At first, it seems just a matter of changing he to she, him to her, and man to woman.

But as I make the conversion there seem to be a number of questions arising and a sharp look at his/her behavior. Firstly, I realized that the teacher does almost all the cooking. When it was a guy I never noticed: now I do and feel a need for her to teach our hero some cookery lessons.

There are other scenes that need to modified. Imagining the shock when my young teenage son reads that they cast off their clothes and jump into the lake, one would assume naked, made sense when it was two guys, but now an elderly  woman and teenage boy… hmmm.

The fighting aspect doesn’t faze me. I am happy that she is a fearsome warrior and that she teaches to try and solve conflicts in a peaceful way first. Ironically, as the reluctant teacher spends more time with the protagonist, he becomes more paternal to the young elf.  While I enjoyed this when the teacher was a man, as a woman it seems almost…stereotypical.

Changing the gender of a character, I discovered, is far more intricate than just converting he to she. But in doing so, I feel I am strengthening my novel and the epic fantasy genre. More importantly, I hope that I am making a statement that will resonate with my two sons and their friends.

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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 will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).