Very good questions

And, I hope, very good advice! I was handed these questions just recently, but thought they were good enough I ought to share my answers on the blog.

“(Do) you know of any books or resources on the writing craft? Also, I was wondering if you have any ideas on how to creatively insert history into your fantasy book (I have a huge, and I mean huge, background to my….story) and what point of view is best for such a work. You use third person omniscient in your Elmeria book, correct? I have too much stuff on (my book) not to write an epic story about it, so I just wondered what your thoughts are.”

Now THOSE are great questions. I also feel awfully flattered that they were handed to me, of all people! I may feel miserably unqualified, but I shall do my best.

Books on the Writing Craft

Let me begin by saying, I LOVE reading books about writing. I love it. I nearly always glean something from them, even if it’s only a sentence, a thought, a word. However, few are so good I would wholly recommend them to people, so here you have my select few that have helped and taught me over the years.

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. Mrs. Levine was one of my favorite authors when I was younger. She is well-known for her original twists on age-old fairy tales, and her books include Ella Enchanted, Fairest, and the Princesses of Bamarre. In her book (written for ten-to-fourteen year-olds but still chock full of wisdom) she shows you how to capture your reader with unexpected magic. She says many things both profound and practical, and she’s the one who taught me that, if you want to be a good author, you must be a cruel one. At first I was puzzled, but I’ve taken it to heart now and believe me, she is very right. Writing Magic is a very short book, but well worth the six dollars to buy it.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brand. This is a fairly old book, written earlier in the nineteen hundreds, and it was out of print for quite some time. I was overjoyed to discover we actually owned a copy of it and it’s been frequently taken down from my shelf and pored over. Mrs. Brand has excellent insight, mixing, like Mrs. Levine, practicality with magic. Though it is an older book don’t worry about it being ‘dry’ or ‘dusty.’ She has a fresh view and I highly recommend her book. Now, note – for me, this is not a book that has slapped me in the face with an “Aha!” moment. Nothing so glorious. Rather, this is one of those books that is just a pleasure to read, whether it influences your craft or not.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Cristopher Vogler. My friend Keaghan recommended this book to me – oh, nearly two years ago now (my, my, time flies! to quote Enya) and it is so full of helpful stuff I don’t know where to begin. It was written for screenwriters but is superbly helpful for any kind of fiction author. You don’t have to follow the exact pattern it sets, but it follows a pattern of mythological structure ages old and shows how it is used even today.

As for the second question – aha! I knew my brain hadn’t been worked enough today. ^_^ This is a much more difficult question than it might appear, especially when concerning my Elmeria series. Why? Because Elmeria began – and continues to be – an ‘as she goes’ story. I have no idea what I’m doing, I follow the river. My characters lead me hither and yon on a merry chace fraught with danger, and I scrabble along behind frantically trying to jot it all down before something else happens – or worse, they sit down and decide to do nothing at all until it suits them to get up again.

Every author has their own way of going about worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is, in fact, one of the key elements to writing. Your reader wants to have a firm grasp on where they are – but there are two extremes.

On one hand, you have authors who provide you with so much worldbuilding that you aren’t sure where to begin. This can be both helpful and overwhelming, and a good example of this style is Tolkien. Middle-Earth was an extensive and intricate creation, complete with peoples and languages and customs and histories and kings so innumerable one could spend an entire lifetime studying them.

Tolkien managed to pull it off and became famous for it, but even he had his flaws. For instance, I don’t necessarily want to know who ruled thirteen rulers ago and what he liked for breakfast (though some might find these details helpful). I LOVE “The Silmarillion,” but for me, the first section of the book was next to boring and nearly put me to sleep. The creation of Middle-Earth took so long that I was itching for stories of the actual people – of elves and men and hobbits – and could hardly keep myself from leaping ahead.

And then, there are those authors who seem to have no idea what they’re writing about. This is especially prevalent in science fiction stories, particularly in Star Wars universe novels. I get tired of trying to pronounce names like “Xylandrtrrria” and “Ptthbtarn’nes’lyya,” and I often find myself wondering if these people had any idea what they were doing. In fact, sometimes, poorly built words give me a headache and I feel like this:

Learn the fine lines between too much and not enough. Here are some excellently crafted worlds that I would recommend reading about in order to learn the techniques behind good worldbuilding:

Incarceron and Sapphique by Catherine Fisher. This series is an excellent mixture of fantasy and steampunk. The world created was done very well; simply but solidly. Plus I love the books.

The Inkworld Trilogy by Cornelia Funke. The world of Inkheart is colorful, exciting, and dangerous – also, one of my favorites to pop in and out of from time to time. Perfect if you want inspiration for a fantasy world.

Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld. Another excellent example of a hardcore Steampunk world; these books are also very clean and sport gorgeous, highly detailed illustrations.

The Narnia Series by C. S. Lewis. I know, right? How could I forget these? Lewis managed to create a believeable, fantastical world without  boring us to death with details. He created a rich environment for our imaginations, and is one of the best examples of a worldbuilder.

The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques. After the first book, which seemed a bit awkward, like a lost child who didn’t quite know its place in the world, this series became near-perfect. The world of animals is unqestioned and made completely believeable – so much so that it might seem odd to come out of your room and remember there are people and you are not, in fact, an otter or a squirrel or a hare or even a mouse.

My Worldbuilding

Elmeria is not a very creative world. Or at least, it wasn’t to begin with. It was your standard, cookie-cutter fantasy world complete with elves, dwarves, and men (no hobbits or orcs, I’m happy to say) and there was really nothing original about it. It wasn’t until the rewrite that it began to take on a life, a color all its own, and new creatures and people began to populate it. The Faren – ethereal, aloof, and apparently not taking sides in any wars. Ghols, eerie messengers with their own secrets. Oh, and yes, pirates! Pirates are men, of course, but they count as special people, I think.

To the world itself, there is not much back story. It was created by Amar, messed up by one of Amar’s creations who is still wreaking evil havoc wherever he can (though his evil havoc has an eviller purpose behind it) – but, unlike some of my friends, my world doesn’t have extensive plotting and planning behind it. I haven’t designed any languages for this book (except Centauri, but I decided to use it for another book) and most of my energy goes into crafting different races.

Fortunately, I’m growing better in the worldbuilding area and have actually now been told I’m good at it – a compliment which tickled me pink and still makes me happy, since that was an area I felt deeply flawed in. *claps* Let this be a lesson to you, readers – if I can do it, YOU certainly can!!

I hope these were helpful to you and I hope you enjoyed them; if there was something I didn’t cover or which you would like me to post about, feel free to leave a comment and ask me about it!

Credendo Vides,

Mirriam

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18 thoughts on “Very good questions

  1. These were really interesting! And made me feel better about my pantsing most everything I write, and my minimal world-building. And Writing Magic was a really great book– I read it a few years ago, and I think I should reread it…

  2. Can I make another craft book suggestion? “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. And I just started reading “Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve Your Writing” by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. Not even half-way through but really enjoying it!

    Also, “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott and “On Writing” by Stephen King are great for encouragement, some craft, and just seeing what it’s like for published writers. Warning–both books contain some rough language, especially King’s (surprise, I know :P).

    Oh, and EXCELLENT examples of world-building. Also, just to give sci-fi a fair shake, The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld and The Dark Trench Saga by Kerry Neitz are ones I’d recommend.

    • Thank you very much, Kat!!! I’m going to have to check out the books you recommended =D I’ve skimmed through Bird by Bird and On Writing; I’ll have to fully read them! Oooh, the Uglies were good! I found myself using phrases like ‘bubbly’ a lot. -_-

  3. Mirriam, it’s Shaynie, the girl who left Facebook. Do you remember me? I stumbled across your blog from…I don’t remember where, and I love it. I printed out your post “Recipe for Page Turners” and posted it above my writing desk, because I love your advice and blog so much.

    Okay, just letting you know that.
    Love,
    Shaynie

    • OF *COURSE* I remember you, Shaynie!!! I miss you on facebook; but thank you so much for stopping by and letting me know you like my blog! ^_^ And I’m so honored you posted it above you desk!!! Thank you!

  4. I’m reading the Inkheart books at the moment. They are so good!!!

    I completely agree about the Lord of the Rings. I got the feeling that the author loved his world better than the characters, and so it wasn’t the sort of book I really enjoyed. On the otherhand, the Door Within had a great balance. (I love that book. 😉 )

    Is your book a parallel of the Bible?

    • Ah; the Door Within is also great! No, it isn’t a parallel of the Bible, but it has the same basic allegorical beginnings (Amar casts Oscariath out, Oscariath starts trying to submit the earth, and all that) =)

  5. I admire Catherine Fisher so much for what she did in Incarceron / Sapphique! The world is incredible, and worldbuilding is definitely not one of my strong points 😛 Anyways, I’ve read Incarceron three times and love it more and more each time through.

    Leviathan and Behemoth (and Goliath) are so amazing and I’m a huge fan of the series. The world is SUCH a strong point! I got to meet the author last fall 🙂

  6. Mirriam! Long time, no “see”! I thought you had stopped blogging (I think you had deleted your Blogspot blog) a year and a half ago. I was thinking about you just the other day, so what a delight to stumble across your blog. 🙂

    Great post with some fabulous suggestions. I LOVE The Writer’s Journey…I was actually the one who introduced it to Keaghan. Small world!

    ~Grace/Raewyn

  7. Hehe, but the Sil isn’t a novel. Lots of people forget this, but it’s just a compilation of Tolkien’s notes by his son. I’m guessing that a lot of the lists of the Valar and the creation of Middle-earth would have been dropped from Tolkien’s final copy if he had ever decided to finish it for publication. (Or else put at the end as an appendix)

    If you ever get a chance to read his History of Middle-earth set, you can get a peek at some of the other things he’d planned…. there’s some gorgeous stuff in there. (I’ve read three or four volumes out of the set)

    • Okay, okay, the Sil isn’t *technically* a novel, but let’s not be picky here. XD Oooh, I’ve read some of the Histories, those are AMAZING!!!

  8. Mirriam, I picked up Incarceron at the bookstore today! I’m going on a trip in about a week, and I had a bunch of book money from my birthday, so I’ve started putting together the books I want to bring with me. And I got Incarceron, because a) it looked interesting, and b) I knew you really liked it.

    • *squeal* AWWW I’M FLATTERED!! You’ll love Jared, I know you will. And Kiero for that dash of bad-boyness since Jared is just so perfect =D

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