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.
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!