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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Personal Goals for 2018

Personal Goals for 2018

I’m a firm believer in New Years Resolutions. I make a list of goals every year, and typically accomplish at least 80% of those I’ve set. But as I’ve discussed previously, this year has not at all gone as planned. Between being stalked, experiencing a downturn in my health, and so on, things have been all over the place, causing me to take a look at my goals and my life. There are some I’ve taken off the list. There are others I’ve added. It’s been difficult for me in that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and want to hold myself accountable to my goals– but I’m also learning that it’s okay to adapt to new circumstances, even if they’re not the ones you thought you’d ever find yourself in.

Here are my new personal goals for the rest of 2018:
Read 10 More Books

I’ve already read 10 books this year, and am in the process of reading my 11th as I write this. With those plus the other 10, that should bring my target this year to 20 books read. This is much less than in other years, but what with a full-time job and everything else going on, I figured I’d cut myself some slack. Whatever that is.

Travel to One More Country

One of my goals for 2018 was to travel to at least 3 new countries. I’d figured it would be a breeze. I had plans to go to Bhutan, Vietnam, Mongolia, etc. before that was all dashed by my crappy health. But, I did get to go to Hong Kong* and Macau*, so . . . that counts for something, right? That plus my plans to visit Mexico for the first time will let me reach my goal!

* While these are both SARs of the People’s Republic of China, they are still defined as separate travel destinations by the Traveler’s Century Club by nature of their cultures, histories, and identities.

Finish first round of edits on The Immortal

I completed drafting THE IMMORTAL last summer. At the time, I’d tried to force myself to put it out of mind and not edit it for a while. (This was in my ‘I don’t want to be a writer’ phase. An awful time, really.) While deep down I wanted to complete my first round of edits on THE IMMORTAL before the year was out, I didn’t put it on the list. Which is akin to sacrilege for me.

Now I’ve made it one of my primary goals. And I’m well on course to complete that goal by the end of July!

Stay consistent with my online presence

This seems like a silly goal, I know. On the surface, it is.

But it’s not about getting likes or comments or anything like that. As I’ve made clear in my other posts, it’s been a rough year for me. Certainly not the worst, and I’m grateful for many of the things I’ve experienced, but it hasn’t been a cake-walk. Being able to connect with like-minded individuals online has been a godsend, and it’s really helped me reconnect with my passions and motivators.

Thus, managing my online profiles is my way of checking in, of holding myself accountable and staying connected to my online communities.

complete my first novella

Never did I think I would write a novella. I didn’t know just how awesome they could be until recently, and it certainly wasn’t on my initial resolutions list for 2018.

Some of you may recall a short story I wrote almost 3 and a half years ago now, titled The Stolen Sun. It was about a young boy and his ailing mother who are called upon by a deposed sun goddess to restore her to the heavens. I loved it, but I always felt like there was something fundamentally off about the last half’s execution. No matter how I tweaked it, no matter how I rewrote chunks here and there, the problem persisted. All the places I had submitted to felt the same.

But underneath it all was still a great story. So, I’m casting out to old work entirely. No more reworking, tweaking, or moving around. We’re starting from the ground up, and I’m now attempting to make a novella out of it!

 

While I have a few other, more personal goals, these are the major ones I have for the rest of 2018. How have you done with your yearly goals? Do you set any to begin with? Whether or not you do, comment below with one tangible thing you’ve done this year!

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Productivity Update: June 2017

It’s been some time, hasn’t it? Much has changed since my last update, with exciting new developments and more.

 

I currently have over 60,000 words written for this bad boy! Still pushing along, and I’m hoping to finish at 75,000 by early August. This is easily my favorite work I’ve ever penned, reaching from Alexander’s conquests to China’s Communist Revolution, from lost alchemic rituals to the bonds that thread us all together. I can’t wait to get this in the hands of readers! Obviously I have a great deal of work ahead, but I’m looking forward to it all the same. I’m hoping to be done with my first full edit of The Immortal by the end of 2017.

 

THE-STOLEN-SUN-BANNER

A magazine almost picked this up, but then decided it wasn’t for them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Either way, I have this piece out on submission at two other places now, and if those fall through, I’ll take a step back to retool it. I mean, I wrote this two and a half years ago! The writing deities might just be saying it’s time to slap a new coat of paint on it, huh?

 

I was supposed to post a video at the end of May, but my old computer died, taking that (entirely edited! ?) video with it. However, I do have a different video that I am working on right now (5 Tips to Stay Sharp over Summer Break), so expect that soon! I’m also going to post videos on writing and language learning on my YouTube channel, so click this link and subscribe!

 

I have officially graduated with my Bachelor’s in International Security and minors in Mandarin Chinese and Asian Studies! And I’m moving! TO CHINA! I’ll be posting more on where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing there, etc. in the near future, but regardless I am incredibly excited to make my way out into the Big Wide World as a Certified Adult™. In the meantime, I’m trying to get visa documents squared away, working, writing, building up this website, and so forth.

 

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What are you up to during these summer months? Any projects or travels? Leave a comment below! Thanks for stopping by, and until next time!

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100 Days of Productivity Challenge: What I Learned

I’m an avid bullet journaler, and am pretty involved in the “studyspo” community online (studying/productivity inspiration). Lately a challenge has been circulating called The 100 Days of Productivity Challenge, which I’d decided to take a swing at. Boy, am I ever glad I did.

Before I’d started this challenge, my edits on The Final Advent were slow, and my progress on other projects was nonexistent. I hardly found time to write at all. I figured I’d get around to everything eventually, but my studies were simply gobbling up too much of my time.

frustrated-pc-user-3175881
Me.

Let’s flash forward to now, where I have completed editing (and have released!) The Final Advent, and have completed 11k of a different novel and a substantial portion of a short story. Both which I work on now almost every day.

Why the change? What about this challenge, something external and arbitrary, so changed my habits? It all boils down to one thing: momentum.

When I started the challenge, I knew to set realistic expectations. What with 6 hours of homework a night, I didn’t want to set myself on fire just to complete everything that needed tending. Whatever I did, it had to be small. I wasn’t sure it would even make much of a difference. I definitely didn’t believe I’d make it to day 100, thinking the effort would prove fruitless.

My first week went by. Those mere 15 minutes a day had given me a pretty nice chunk of completed work, and hence the more I wrote the easier it became. Plus it offered me a productive bit of respite from schoolwork.

As the time went on, my small fifteen minutes a day started racking up some serious word counts, and the momentum just kept firing me up and the ball kept rolling. Something started to happen. I wasn’t feeling guilty that “oh I hadn’t gotten around to what I needed/wanted to do today, guess I’ll get around to it some other time”; I wasn’t pulling my hair out in stress either. I was getting stuff done, with minimal pressure and a boost of encouragement.

baby-gifconfused-gifidkgood-luck-charlie
“This is. . . working?”

That trend continued, and to this day (long after the challenge) I still work on my writings almost every day. This challenge inspired me to kick my butt in gear, because there is quite literally no time like the present. (Pardon the cliche.)

Heck, I’ve even gotten a new weekly ritual out of it! Once a week I now take myself to a coffeeshop or bookstore, order a nice snack or drink (usually those ridiculously priced, diabetes-in-a-cup Starbucks concoctions), and sit down to write for a few hours. Productive, pressure free, and delicious. Plus oh-so-writerly.

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Ultimately, here is what I’ve learned from the 100 Days of Productivity Challenge:

  • Set realistic expectations. Don’t pretend you’re going to write 1,000 words in a day, because you won’t. Not if you’re already struggling to sit down and write as is.
  • Force yourself to do it, and do it early. The sooner in the day you complete your task, the more you’ll get done.
  • Make it fun. If you hate what you’re doing, you’re not gonna do it. Find someplace comfy. Eat something nice, and stay hydrated. Don’t hunch over and strain your shoulders, for god’s sakes. Make it as painless as possible.
  • Keep track of what you’ve already done. For me, that was word counts. If you’re studying something for instance, keep track of how much you’ve reviewed or your (hopefully) improving grades. Seeing what I’d accomplished was a huge visual payoff for me.

Have you ever done a challenge like this before? If so, how did it go? What did you learn?

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