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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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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My 2017 In Review

2017 has been a landmark year for me.

We’ve all seen the Best Nine posts on social media by now, those highlight reels for one’s digital world– but what about for our real lives? The things we’ve accomplished, seen, experienced? That’s what I want to share here, both to keep myself motivated and to share inspiration with others. Tell me in the comments below what you’ve accomplished this year!

First off, for the big achievements!

Graduated University

After countless 8 AMs, essay-writing frenzies, long hours both early and late, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in International Security, and minors in Chinese Language and Asian Studies. I wasn’t much of a partier nor a sporting-event attendee, and to be honest, I don’t regret the way I spent my time. My college experience was a (sometimes brutally) tough one, but it made finally getting that diploma so much more worth it.

Landed My First Full-Time, Adult-World Job

Before I even walked the stage, I was fortunate enough to already have a job lined up! It helps to have known since age 11 what I wanted my first ‘adult’ job to be, and thus far I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, even the paperwork. (I love paperwork.)

Actual image of me at the office.

**(For the curious people out there, I’m currently an English teacher at a popular education chain throughout China, though I prefer not to disclose its name for privacy reasons.)

Moved to China

I can’t adequately describe what it’s like moving clear across the world. A place where you don’t fluently speak the language, where you know absolutely no one, where the food and the climate are the complete opposite of what you’ve grown up around, and so forth. Scary? Boy, scary doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But. It’s more than just scary.

It’s exciting, it’s validating, it grows your courage and your sense of self. It tests your limits. It brings out both the worst and the best in yourself–then lets you decide which to cultivate. Though I’ve had many a struggle since I’ve been here and essentially no one to lean on, I am thankful to be here, and can’t wait to see who I am at the end of my year abroad.

P.S. I do, however, sincerely miss salsa. And Cool Ranch Doritos.  

Finished the First Draft of my 4th Novel, The Immortal

With my No Angels trilogy wrapped up in 2016, 2017 was high time to begin another tale. I’ve had the idea for The Immortal for many years now, so to have the first draft officially penned is a big milestone. I know it’ll take a while to polish, but I’m enjoying the slower-pace of editing right now, savoring the process, watching the prose develop, and so on. Currently it’s at about 65,000 words, one of my shorter works, but trust me when I say it’s my favorite by far!

 

With the bigger achievements of 2017 out of the way, here are my smaller (though still meaningful) accomplishments:

Made 12 YouTube Videos

I know what you’re thinking. “Okay, and that’s exciting why?” But here’s the thing: I’ve tried for years to gather the courage to post YouTube videos. I’ve probably made over 30 videos that I either never posted or posted-then-deleted, all because I was afraid. Afraid of getting embarrassed, of the quality not being good enough, and of 500 other things. But 2017 was the year I decided to say goodbye to those thoughts, because fear like that brings no value to our lives. You can check out my channel here, if you’re interested.

Improved My Photography and Video-Editing Skills

On some level, I feel like wanting to take beautiful pictures and videos goes hand-in-hand with travel. When’s the last time you saw something beautiful and didn’t want to share it with the world? However, it wasn’t until recently that I purchased a decent camera, and even then I was a complete beginner at how to use it. After enrolling in an online class on the lighting, composition, angles, etc. of photography, I’ve started to see steady improvement. I hope you have too!

Traveled to New Places

Traveling is something I hope to do every year, but that doesn’t mean I should take any of it for granted! I rang in 2017 with the love of my life in Denver, Colorado, and later we endured the heat of Las Vegas for a couple days of buffets, magic shows, and some good ol’ fashioned people-watching. A week and a half before I went to China, we went on one last trip together to our favorite US city, Seattle, Washington.

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From academics to adventure, 2017 has been a success, and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store–both for me and for you.

Speaking of which, what did you do in 2017? Sit and really think about the lessons you learned, the people you met, and the things you saw, then comment them below.  ♥

 

 

 

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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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