What I Want to See More of in Fantasy

I love fantasy stories. It’s the genre I was almost exclusively raised on, from The Chronicles of Narnia to Harry Potter and beyond.

However, as I’ve gotten older and read more widely, I’ve developed a problem with the fantasy genre. No, it’s not the ever-present tropes or the derivative material, though that’s certainly made many stories stale. No, my biggest issue is with something else.

It’s the world-building itself.

This isn’t a list of what not to do in world-building, because I feel like conversations in that vein leave so much out of the broader picture. If I just say “don’t make a derivative European fantasy world”, that does nothing to point you in the right direction.

Here is what I want to see more of in fantasy:
Varied Medical Systems

Is it just potions? A wave of a magic wand and, bam, you’re cured? If so, I would advise taking a deeper look into developing your medical system. Is it tied to religion or purely science based? What is the basis of the medical system, and why? How did people gather their medical knowledge, or is it completely disorganized? Who gets medical care at all?

Significant Religious Systems

Religion plays a big part in our world, impacting politics, culture, and so on. However, this is rarely something I see in fantasy stories. If religion is acknowledged at all, it’s a relatively universal system with little diversity between nations. That would be akin to pretending only one religion (let’s say Christianity, for example) existed out in the world, and that there was only one sect of it, no less. Think of how different our world would look without that one religion.

Unless you want a neat and tidy and bland world, do something different. Create disagreements, create schisms and religious texts for followers to dispute over, create opposing beliefs, and so on.

Monotheism, polytheism, dualism, deism, pantheism, etc. The list goes on and on.
Different Governmental Structures

Look, I get it. Monarchies are cool. I certainly use them a lot in my stories, but there is SO much more out there, especially if you’re building an entire fantasy world from the ground up. There are democracies, oligarchies, stratocracies, crowned republics, and so forth. Is it realistic for a world to only have monarchs? How would different countries interact with each other, like for instance a parliamentary system engaging with a despot nation?

Mixed Gender Dynamics

While biological sexes are distinct, gender is very different. It’s a social construct. The roles and rules our society has made up surrounding them are just that. Made up. That’s not to say that they’re useless (which is a whole different discussion outside the scope of this blog), but it does mean that they’re mutable. And why should every society have the same way of looking at men and women, especially in fantasy?

Show me societies where childrearing is of prime importance, where men are the primary healers and teachers, where women have roles in governance and business. There are examples of these things in our own world, so why not in fantasy?

Above is a Mosuo woman of Yunnan, China, one of the world’s few remaining matriarchal societies.
Diverse Source Cultures

Look, there’s a lot more inspiration out there than just Medieval Europe. I promise. Many people draw inspiration from other pre-existing cultures for their works, and there’s more than enough material out there. Ancient Sumer (where my upcoming novella The Stolen Sun takes place), Korea’s Chosun dynasty, Mesoamerican Aztecs, Gupta period India, Ethopia’s Axumite empire, and so on. Spin the globe, pick a spot, and research that area. It’s a big world out there.

Our world isn’t a bland monolith. Don’t let your story be one.

 

Some people may feel bogged down with all of these questions, or that these details are boring. Thinking that way is missing the point.

Thinking about these things when world-building can generate a wealth of story ideas, add flavor and richness to your plots, and set it apart from other stories. It will only serve to distinguish and enrich your creation. I can’t tell you how few stories I’ve read that have variety in any of these aspects.

And wouldn’t it be nice to be original?

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


 

Until next time!

 

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My First Camp NaNoWriMo Experience

Camp NaNoWriMo Banner

So, you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo. But have you heard of Camp NaNoWriMo? I hadn’t until a fellow writer introduced me to it.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, wherein an online community of people attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Why? Because people revel in pain, I suppose. While few complete the challenge, it still serves as a good starting point for beginning a novel.

However, I never participated in NaNoWriMo before, largely because I felt the format of the challenge was too restrictive.

Camp NaNoWriMo is far more flexible. Essentially, you get to choose how many words you want to write/hours you edit for/pages you do a storyboard of/etc. during the month of July. It’s for any and every type of creative, and is largely self-determined. When I heard this, I decided, hey, what the heck. I had a short story I wanted to turn into a novella anyhow (The Stolen Sun), so I signed up and never looked back.

It has been a great kick in the ass. Apologies for the profanity, but it really has been.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret. Before Camp NaNoWriMo, I hadn’t written in over a year.

“Egads!” you exclaim. “How can a writer such as yourself not write?” Exactly. I had been so busy editing what I’d already written and trying to stop writing altogether that I simply had not written anything at all for a year. When I heard about Camp NanoWriMo, I decided to change that.

Day 1:

I joined my writing ‘cabin’, (a group of likeminded writer friends; in this ‘cabin’ you can update others on your progress, see others’ stats, etc.), updated my project info, and… didn’t write anything. In my defense, it was a crazy busy day, and by day 2 I had written 1,200 words. So there’s that.

Picture of a Cabin
While this is a far cry from my online writing cabin, I can dream.
Day 10:

At this point, my word count was 4,962–which meant my novella had already surpassed the original short story in length! I also had already gathered research materials at this point, 11 heavy library books on ancient Mesopotamia, and was incorporating historically accurate information into the story as I went. I was riding an immense writing high at this point, and had already done 2 write-ins with other local cabin members.

Picture of Some Research Material
A page from one of my research books. Here is depicted two lamassu, guardian beings, in the rocky Mesopotamian landscape.
Day 20:

This day was… less great. Still great, but I was feeling down because my writing hadn’t been as consistent. I had written over 1,000 words on each of the previous 3 days, and then nothing on day 20. In my defense, I was incredibly sick, but still. It stung. All I could do was hope that I’d be able to get back on that horse and finish my 20,000 word goal before August 1st. I was already sitting at 9,109.

A gif of Justin Timberlake looking scoldingly at the camera.
Me to me when I don’t write.
Day 28:

On July 28th, I reached cloud nine. After a few word sprints, many late nights, and sacrificing my lunch breaks and sleep to write, I had reached my goal of completing my first draft for The Stolen Sun. I didn’t hit 20k, but the story didn’t require it. It reached its natural ending at 17.5k. As you can see from my word count tracker, there were ups and downs on this journey. Days when I wrote diddly, and days when I made leaps and bounds. But ultimately, the biggest thing that contributed to my success was the accumulation of small, regular efforts.

Ending Word Count

Overall, I’m incredibly happy that I participated in this.

This whole project is a great way to kick one’s butt into gear and put some serious words on the page. The goal flexibility was really the stand-out factor for me here.

But ultimately, there’s nothing magical about the month of July. There’s nothing Camp NaNoWriMo gave me that I couldn’t have done on my own. Aside from a word tracker and a group of dedicated writer friends, all that was holding me back was myself.

I sincerely hope this month-long exercise has helped get me back into the habit of writing regularly. At the very least, it’s been a fulfilling and rewarding experience that I recommend every creator try. While I still need to edit my novella two or three times, this experience alone has been huge in getting me this far.

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


Until next time!

 

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Why I Tried to Stop Writing

It’s true. I tried to stop writing.

This might come as a shock to some, as it well should. I’ve been writing consistently for over a decade and a half, so why would I try to sabotage myself? Why would I derail myself from something I’ve so long considered a dream? Simple. I was tired of trying to find balance.

When I initially graduated from college, I decided I was going to stop writing.

Not forever, but the plan was to stop writing for one year as I pursued different passions, traveled, and ‘discovered’ myself (whatever that means). Because writing hurt. Writing was difficult. It required getting up early or staying up late, it meant forgoing social events and spending whatever free-time I found outside of work/school to research and outline, it meant tearing your work apart for the thousandth time in pursuit of something better. It’s hard work, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it anymore. At first I was in high school, then college, then in the working world, always caught up as I tried to balance my academic/work life and my literary aspirations.

So I swore off the balancing act. It required too much time, too large a part of myself, and, to be entirely honest, it stung to be confronted with the very realistic thought that this would likely never be my career.

So I tried to give up. With the amount of time I invested into writing, surely I could invest that time into something else I’d more realistically attain, right?

At the time, I was set to move to China, where I’d no doubt be as busy as ever working and studying and exploring, so it would be a good time to leave my writing days behind. Or so I thought.

I’ve already talked on this some, but my time in China was not what I thought it’d be. When I felt isolated and insignificant, I gave in and let myself write a bit. When I had a toiling day at work or an encounter with yet another harassing or ogling person, I set aside some time to write. And when I was laid up in bed, unable to go much of anywhere or do much of anything, you know what I could do? I could still write.

I had tried to be done with writing, but clearly it wasn’t done with me. Even when my health left me, even when my wanderlust and verve left me, my stories were still by my side.

And so I fell back into my love of all things literary. Even on the days that I was feeling fine and could walk about and explore, I still set aside time in the wee hours of the night to write and edit and outline. It started with those small bits at first, until I was writing and editing more per week than I had been the whole month before that, on and on. Sometimes writers joke that they didn’t chose to write, but rather that they simply can’t stop. I understand that on a whole new level now.

Over this past year, my attitude around writing has experienced a dramatic shift. At the beginning of it, I’d actively stopped myself from writing. I didn’t post about it much, if at all. I tried to put my current projects on the back-burner. Jump forward to now, and I’m editing nearly 900 words a day, reading daily, and so forth. I’m on track to be well into my fourth book’s, THE IMMORTAL, second round of edits by the end of this year, and have outlined about 2 and a half books this year thus far.

Yes, finding balance and sacrificing time outside of work to write is hard. But as I’ve found, it is so, so worth it. And I’ll never make the mistake of thinking it isn’t ever again.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." -- George Orwell

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