So you want to be a fantasy writer? Good. The two most important rules of writing are: 1) write, and 2) read. Do lots and lots of both, as often as you can. The third rule is 3) join a writing group. Nowadays, anyone can be part of a writing group of some kind. The Internet has opened up whole new avenues of expression. There are a plethora of writing groups on the web; just do a search, and you’ll find lists of groups filled with fellow writers striving to improve their craft. Here’s one from the top of a google search: Critters.
The question, though, is which should you rely on? An on-line writing group? Or something off-line where you can meet face to face? There are advantages to either.
An on-line writing group opens you up to more potential criticism (this is actually an advantage). You can get lots of feedback from a great many knowledgeable people. In this day and age, every writer should be getting feedback from somebody; you don’t have an excuse to write alone, except maybe timidity (of course, that’s what I’ve been doing lately—so, I’m pretty much a raging hypocrite here). And if you want to be successful as a writer, you have to get over your timidity. Get your work out there and get some eyeballs on it. The more you do this, the more you accustom yourself to criticism, the better you will get at accepting and dealing with such criticism. Responding to constructive criticism is how a writer learns to grow. There is a disadvantage to an on-line writing group, though, or any writing group, for that matter. There is such a thing as too much criticism. Any piece of work can be criticized from some angle. And if you are striving to reach a point where your work can no longer be criticized because it is perfect… you will never get there. At some point, you have to decide the work is ready and you have to start submitting to editors.
On off-line writing group is a slightly different animal. There is a significant difference in receiving feedback face-to-face. There is more of an ebb and flow. You can respond to the criticism as its happening and you can learn to more effectively defend your work. For myself, I like the more personal touch of a face-to-face writing group (at the moment, I’m not in one, I’m getting all my criticism done via e-mail by my sister). But again, there are drawbacks. I get put off whenever the writing group gets too large. I prefer a group with maybe four or five other writers of comparable or superior skill; this gives you quality feedback from which you can learn a great deal. And not so much that you’ll be overwhelmed.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject.
“The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson is a much shorter book than many of Brandon Sanderson’s other works. The copy I have is only about 170 pages long. To me it came across as kind of a long short story, instead of a novel. Maybe it was intended that way; I’m not sure. Anyway, the story is set in the same world as Brandon Sanderson’s first novel: Elantris. However, it’s hard to tell that on first blush. The magic system seems different—which it shouldn’t be, as it is the same world. There is no mention of the Dor at all in this book, but there are a few references to some of the countries from Elantris, like Fjordell, but that’s about it. It says in the postscript that it is set in that world so I’ll have to take Brandon Sanderson word on that.
Like I said, the magic system seems different than before; I had to think about it to find a similarity. And, as far as I can tell, it is this: writing. The magic systems introduced in Elantris all involved some form of writing to invoke their power. This book introduces a new form of writing to invoke magical power. The main character, a young woman named Shai, is a master Forger. And the term Forging here, is more reminiscent of the term meaning copying something than it is heating steel and shaping. That had me confused on the back copy. When I originally read it, I thought she was creating a whole new soul for the Emperor from nothing… something I find, if not impossible, at least philosophically unsatisfying (although it is, of course, Brandon Sanderson’s book). Her actual task in the story is slightly different. The Emperor’s true soul is still there, it is just suppressed and inactive due to injury. She must, through the art of Forgery, construct a new history for the Emperor and his soul, allowing him to function. Because it is a Forgery, it won’t be a perfect method of “healing”—there will be gaps in his knowledge, etc…–but it will give the Empire its ruler back and allow him to function similarly to the way he did before he was injured. Hence, it will be as if he has a new, slightly faulty “copy” of his original soul. At least, that’s how I understood it.
There isn’t a lot of action in this book. It consists mostly of Shai being in prison and talking to/figuring things out about her captors. A considerable amount of effort is also spent developing and explaining the magic system.
I was having certain issues while reading the book, so that I had some difficulty concentrating on it. As a result I’m not comfortable giving it a precise rating, so I will give it a range. I’d say it is somewhere between three and a half, and four stars out of five. It seemed worth reading to me, but I won’t swear by that testimony.
As of today, the Blurb Blitz Blog Tour for my book Drasmyr is officially over. Initially, we planned on having twenty stops, but we were forced to remove one because it involved a strictly adult site… and I don’t feel that is a good fit for my book.
So, the tour is over. We will be awarding the prize sometime this weekend, and we will announce it on Monday. Have a great day and a Merry Christmas.
The fantasy literature genre, like any other genre, evolves over time. The standards of good fiction of yesteryear are not necessarily the standards of today. One of the elements of fantasy literature that has evolved through the years, and one that I’ve touched on, if only slightly, in other posts, is the number of characters. No, I’m not talking about the tendency of characters to multiply as you write—I’ve written about that directly before—instead I want to explore the issue of whether or not there should be just one main character or many. Of course, I say that, but I think in most pieces of fiction there is just one main character, but there may also be a whole bevy of support characters with very detailed backgrounds and interactions.
Take Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time,” for example. The main character is unquestionably Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn. However, there is a whole host of “lesser” characters (Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve, Egwene, Elayne, Aviendha… just to name a few). Most of these “lesser” characters warrant an entire story thread all to themselves. And, at a certain level, it seems these “lesser” characters are almost as important as the main character. We come to care about them as much as we do the main one, and we learn much of their stories. In fact, I don’t feel comfortable calling them “minor” characters, because there is just too much time and development devoted to each one individually. I don’t know what to call them. Maybe “major” characters? That seems to work. And I have used that term elsewhere: actually I’ve gone further, and distinguished between major major characters and just major characters. I think, in the above, Perrin, Mat, and Egwene would be major major, and the others merely major (are you confused yet?). Basically, there are more shades than just “main,” “major,” and “minor,” so those can serve as general groupings, not discrete categories.
Anyway, every writer must make a decision about how many main/major characters he or she is going to write about. As I’ve said elsewhere, there is an upper limit here. One cannot write an intelligible piece of fiction featuring fifty major characters. It just won’t work. “The Wheel of Time,” as noted above, has somewhere around seven major characters. I think that is pretty close to the max. The problem is, of course, the resulting story is invariably incredibly long. “The Wheel of Time” is currently on the fourteenth (or is it the fifteenth) and last book. So, I guess the point of this post is to warn starting writers about the critical decision that they must make concerning the number of characters. And I’ve found, through my own experience, that it is best to answer this question sooner rather than later.