Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • September19th

    fantasyland5

    If you’ve ever looked at our world with discontent, unhappiness or a feeling of ‘I could do better than that!’ then fantasy writing is for you. In a lifetime of reading Fantasy and half a lifetime writing it, I’ve compiled a number of hints, tips and techniques for novice world-builders. And since I’m not loathe to offer advice, here’s a pick of the best of them.

    • Don’t place your Forest of Terror right next door to your Mountains of Doom alongside your Chasm of Eternal Fear. You can have too much of a good thing.
    • Remember: rivers flow from the mountains to the sea, not the other way around. Tempting though it may be to have water running uphill, the laws of hydrodynamics are fairly well understood and if broken, will have unfortunate consequences for urban sewerage and waste water disposal.
    • Weather happens.
    • Never try to have a capital of the Evil Empire of Doom without a Z, K or X in the name. It just doesn’t work.
    • The Web of Life is really tricky in imaginary worlds. Dragons as your top-level predator play hell with the food chain.
    • Never put anything interesting in the middle of your imaginary world. If your map goes to two pages, you can lose really interesting things in the gutter.
    • Cities are where they are for three reasons: protection, trade routes and ‘lost in the mists of time’. Always handy.
    • ‘Wetlands’ is a more congenial name for ‘swamp’.
    • There’s no reason why the north has to be cold and the south hot. Such an approach is Northern Hemisphere-centric.
    • Remember: you have to stop map-making sometime and start writing.
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  • May10th

    violette in the forest

    Lesson 1:  Never Trust a Wolf.

    People like David Attenborough would have you believe that wolves are harmless creatures, wonderful examples of nature at its finest – strong, noble, dignified.  Well, he’s wrong.  Fairy Tales have taught me that wolves are evil, nasty and cunning beasts who will stop at nothing to devour you whole.  Not only will they give you false directions while you’re wandering in the woods, they will even dress up in women’s clothes in order to deceive you.  If there isn’t a brave woodcutter nearby, you’re history.Henry on the wolf's back

    And, needless to say, you don’t want to be a harmless old grandmother when a wolf needs your nightie…  According to fairy tales, senior citizens the world over must be shaking in their beds dreading the knock that signals the wolf at the door.  Fairy tales show us again and again the sheer cunning of these canines as they manage to get inside and then, it’s goodnight Granny.

    And that’s not to mention the plight of those who choose to build their houses out of straw or sticks …  Fairy tales demonstrate over and over that these harmless home dwellers are persecuted not just by an ordinary wolf, but by a Big Bad Wolf.  And why?  Is it just because they construct their houses out of substandard building materials?  Is it because they don’t have the necessary council planning permits? No.  It’s simply because those inside these flimsy houses taste so good, especially roasted in a nice hot oven and served with plenty of apple sauce and crackling …

    But I digress.  Fairy tales have taught me: never trust a wolf.

     

    Lesson 2:  Learn to tell the difference between a wolf and your granny. 

    It might sound obvious, but this may be a vital survival step one day.

     

    Lesson 3:  Names are important.

    Fairy tales showed me just how important names really are.  For instance, if a character’s name happens to be something like Rumplestiltskin, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s not going to be the romantic hero played by Leonardo di Caprio in a soon to be released big budget motion picture based on the fairy tale of the same name.  Or then again, he might, depending on what you think of Leonardo di Caprio.  Whatever, a name like Rumplestiltskin would be like someone today calling their baby SnortyBottomFartyBreath and expecting them to grow up a well adjusted and rounded human being.The forest

    In fairy tales if your name is Jack, forget about having a dull life.  I feel sorry for those males in fairy tales who happened to be called Jack, and all they wanted was to have a nice quiet life and grow up and become an accountant.  Fat chance.  Every Jack in a fairy tale is destined to become a Giant Killer, or to Be Nimble, or to grow enormous bean stalks and steal treasure, or to be Jack Frost, Jack Be Nimble or one half of Jack and Jill.

    Let’s face it.  If you’re a Jack in a fairy tale, you’re going to wind up an action hero whether you like it or not.  When there’s Careers Counselling at Fairy Tale School, they don’t even bother with Jacks.  They’re just pointed at the door marked Danger, Fame and Fortune and that’s that.  If you’re a Jack, don’t even think about doing a traineeship at Target.  Jack’s are glory bound, no questions asked.

    And you have to be lucky with names in fairy tales, too.  Look at Snow White and Rose Red.  A bit unimaginative, don’t you think?  It’s like calling your dog Mud Brown.  But anyway I’m glad they didn’t have any younger brothers and sisters.  What would they have ended up as?  Sky Blue?  Tree Green?  Butter Yellow?  Blush Pink?  They’d start to sound like they should be in a paint colour chart not a fairy tale.

    Whatever, Fairy Tales have shown me that names are important.

     

    Lesson 4.  Take Care of Your Feet.

    You never know.  They could be your ticket to marrying the Prince and living happily ever after, which sounds like a pretty good gig if you can get it, as long as he allows you your personal space with plenty of room to grow as a human being.

    A note: the glorious illustrations above are by Virginia Frances Sterrett who died tragically young and really deserves to be better known.

     

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  • January20th

    fantasy-735265_1280

    After a recent trip to the chemist I’ve become convinced that the pharmaceutical industry has hundreds of Fantasy writers working for it.

    I’m not sure if this has been a deliberate policy of recruiting down-at-heel Fantasy writers whose last trilogy was cut short after Book 2 or if hordes of canny Fantasy writers have seen an opportunity to ply their craft in an area of untold riches, but there is little doubt that the language of Fantasy is everywhere you look in over-the-counter medications.

    What I’m talking about is the names of these preparations. Some might think that these names are nicely sciencey, but to the veteran Fantasy reader the effect is entirely different. Running an eye along the shelves, one is immediately transported to far off, mystical realms where larger-than-life characters wield powers far beyond mortal ken and converse in eldritch tones while consulting ancient scrolls that speak of doom and great deeds.

    Consider Zantac, for instance. It may be the name of a useful anti-heartburn medication, but it could equally be the name of a sorcerer of great power, but one with a fatal weakness that will turn him to dark and malignant plotting.

    Voltaren is a handy cream for bruises and muscle pain, but it sounds as if it could be the name of Zantac’s mortal enemy, a venerable mage of great power who is troubled by actions in his past that were prophesied by a wise woman of whom he took insufficient notice, the fool.

    Once started in this mode, it’s easy to detect the hand of the Fantasy writer. Below, I’ve listed some pharmaceutical items the names of which would be perfectly at home in a major fantasy series. See what you think.

    • Allerfexo. A bard, and possible comic relief. Known for his ribald versification, and is likely to have his head cut off after offending some noble or other.
    • Mylanta. Possibly a place name, a far-off land of beauty and many lakes, ruled by a queen who is both just and fair.
    • Gaviscon. Rugged, but internally tortured, main character. Stolid, taciturn, loyal. Not dull, though.
    • Flixonase. Companion to the rugged, but internally tortured, main character. Humorous. Possibly plays the flute. Borderline annoying.
    • Hirudoid. A warrior tribe in a distant land – ‘the fierce and unrelenting Hirudoid’.
    • Claratyne. Another place name, possibly in the mountains and featuring many towers. ‘To see the spires of Claratyne is to see the heights of creation.’
    • Telfast. An innkeeper. Wears an apron. Fat.
    • Lamisil. A sorceress of formidable power, the dread Lady Lamisil. She has a notable laugh that probably drives men mad.
    • Finalgon. A lesser wizard. Appears once in the story and then is never heard of again.
    • Zovirax. Evil. Wizard, warrior, doesn’t matter – is simply evil. Bound to be, with a Z and an X in his/her name.
    • Vosol. A soldier. Brave, loyal, accompanies the main character into dangerous territory and dies for his trouble.
    • Alcon. Possibly a city – ‘brawling, bustling, breathtaking Alcon’. Possibly a thief – ‘nimble-fingered Alcon, to whom no lock is barred. Possibly a river – ‘swift and deep the mighty Alcon ran, league to league, through forest and mountain, from the plains to the sea, unmatched in its breadth and wetness’.
    • Savlon. A city. Not a very interesting one.
    • Coloxyl. A villainous duke. Oily, ingratiating, sinister, and sports a sensational goatee.
    • Dulcolax. Another villainous duke? Not as villainous as Coloxyl. Good with money, though.
    • Sorbolene. ‘Ah, Sorbolene, fair Sorbolene, the fey and star-eyed elven queen!/She makes this world both kind and clean, does hygienic Sorbolene!’ Or similar.
    • Imodium. Another city, most likely with a fortress that will be besieged by the ravening hordes of evil. Has impressive walls.
    • Combantrin. The dark and doom-wracked warrior overlord, Combantrin both stalks his fate and fears it. Whatever that means.

    See what I mean? Over-the-counter medications abound with names that could have been ripped straight from the pages of Fantasy novels. The alternative explanation is, as I’ve suggested, that Fantasy writers have found a neat sideline, a way to make some bread-and-butter money through their stock in trade – inventing names. Is it any wonder that wandering around today’s chemist is like entering a grand, epic, sweeping tale of good versus evil, where fast magics are unleashed and brave goatherds are revealed to be the rightful heir to the throne after his or her courageous and self-sacrificing deeds.

    Thank you Big Pharma.

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  • May21st

    Bold statement – writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy (of certain sorts) are almost identical undertakings. A Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall? The same thing, really.

    Think about it. Writers of both have to introduce and explain an unfamiliar world. Writers of Historical Fiction and writers of Fantasy can’t assume the shared knowledge that writers of contemporary fiction can.

    Writers of contemporary fiction can take a great deal for granted. They don’t have to explain the social mores, the political structure, the clothing, the standard layout of buildings, methods of transport, forms of communication, common technologies, and thousands of other details of life that affect and intersect with their characters.

    Not so with the writers of Fantasy and Historical Fiction. We have to help the reader come to terms with a world that could be alien in countless ways.

    The first step for both of us, of course, is that we have to be familiar with the world we’re introducing. Here’s where our jobs may diverge a little. The Fantasy writer has to work from scratch, whereas the Historical Fiction writer doesn’t.

    Let’s face it, most Fantasy secondary worlds are derived from history. Fantasy writers are always scouting around the world and going back and forward through time looking for fertile areas as a springboard into world creation. Take a time period and location that’s in turmoil, tweak the events and the names a little, add some magic and there’s the beginnings of a framework for a solid Fantasy trilogy or two, easily.

    Therefore, both Fantasy and Historical Fiction writers spend a great deal of time researching, in order to be utterly cognisant with the world we’re about to introduce.

    After this comes the delicate task of sifting in all this background detail. The challenge is to do this without boring the reader. After all, we’re writing fiction, not textbooks.

    There is a higher challenge, though. The higher challenge is not just to do this without boring the reader, it’s doing it without the reader even noticing and therein lies the art.

    The key term I use here in trying to define what writers in both genres are trying to do is that we’re trying to make our worlds convincing. Even though the world may be unfamiliar to the reader, we have to convince her/him that the setting is a believable one, one with a coherence and an underpinning that resonates with the human experience. The setting could be archaic, primitive, old-fashioned or exotic in unearthly terms, but writers need to give the reader entry into this world by making it a plausible one.

    Done well, this accounts for some of the allure of both genres. They both take readers somewhere different, somewhere outside the ordinary, somewhere fresh and exotic where characters can play out their dramas in ways that extend the range of human actions, interactions and possibilities.

    All in all, sometimes I think the only difference between writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy is that one has magic and one doesn’t. I’ll leave you to decide which.

     

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  • November6th

    A writer has many challengesold measurements france when creating a consistent, self-sustaining fantasy world for a story. Some are easy to anticipate, but others sneak up on you. After months of preparation, mapping, outlining and imagining, many a Fantasy writer has leaped into the first draft intoxicated by the joy of the world she has created, only to be brought up short by something apparently minor which results in some ceiling gazing and mumbling things like, ‘I really hadn’t thought of that.’

    One of these insidious little aspects of world-building often overlooked is the business of measurement – distances, lengths, weights, volumes and so on. Once you start writing your epic, you’ll be surprised to find how often we need to refer to such things. How far away is the enemy? How can you give some indication that your hero is lifting something really heavy? In your fully imaginary world, how do the residents measure their surroundings? And when they do, how do they refer to them? Read More | Comments

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