5 Things I Learned From Writing A Fantasy Book
Writing a fantasy comic wasn’t something I ever envisioned myself doing. I knew I wanted to write my own comic as a challenge to myself creatively. I drew a picture, people loved it and wanted more. I said.. okay… I’ll write a fantasy book. It all happened kind of suddenly. The next thing I knew I had three or four pages of the comic already drawn and scripted. It was almost more of a teaser really. I stopped there and thought… well… what’s next.
And that’s where the writing really began for me.
Now I don’t write comics traditionally. I don’t sit down and write out a script THEN draw the comics. No, I’m an artist first, so my first inclination is to draw thumbnails. I actually planned out my first fantasy comic in thumbnail form. It’s how I ideate. A lot of people ideate differently, but that’s how I do it usually. But the main takeaway is that despite being a little unconventional in my approach it was still a big picture first way of doing things. So before I give you my five takeaways from writing a fantasy book… I thought I should give you that little nugget.
So with that, let’s begin.
Keep it simple stupid.
In college, I took a fiction writing course with a semi-well known author as a guest teacher. I did alright in the class but one of the biggest critiques of my work was that while I started off stories extremely well, I tended to move stories into situations that were completely unbelievable and so far off the path that the stories kind of became a hot mess. So when I say Keep It Simple Stupid, I mean, I learned to keep my story as intimate as possible. I didn’t allow myself to lose focus. Moon Hunters it’s about a girl who goes on a quest and makes a big mistake. Then she has to solve/fix the mistake. There are no side quests, there are no unresolved plot threads and there are no characters that come out of nowhere for no reason. I made sure everything has a purpose and everything has a focus. I never thought I could write a story like that but the further along I got into the story the easier it was for me to keep things on track. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve really matured since college or just because I’m writing more but I do know to keep myself to that idea that this isn’t a story about a girl saving the world, but about her solving a problem and perhaps saving her community… making it more intimate… has really made this story better I feel.
See the characters through their eyes, not mine.
This isn’t something that’s easy for many people. Many writers struggle with this. And ultimately it’s up to my readers to decide if I do this well. But if I imposed my views of the world on every character I wrote, they’d all be very one note. One of the things that again has gotten even easier as I create this book is my ability to think and see the world as the characters I write rather than how I would be myself. This goes for both writing their actions and their dialogue. Lyria-Two Horns is very aggressive. She does things I most people wouldn’t do, partially because she’s very skilled but also because she’s cocky. Midak Stone-Slayer is a big guy, he’s tough, but he’s a big softie. He’s like a teddy bear. He doesn’t seek violence. Thesia, Lyria’s mom, is just the opposite of Lyria… in many ways… she’s very cold and unemotional. She’s quite conservative. All of these people react to situations differently. They also speak differently. Lyria says what’s on her mind. She rambles and talks… a lot. Midak is very caring in his speech. Thesia only talks when she has something important to say. Billy One-Snoot is very defensive, all the time. Every character has their voice and it should reflect their worldview, not my personal one
Every character is important
This is a lesson I learned after writing the first issue. I realized that I added three characters that were almost set dressing. I didn’t really give them anything to do other than just be in the way. I was lucky enough to get the chance to expand the first issue and my first goal was to give them more to do. By the second issue, I really wanted to make them more three dimensional. I don’t think I’ve fully succeeded but they have become more than they ever were. Now by important, I don’t mean each character has to be integral to the overall plot, but characters should be alive. They should have a story of their own, that while not always told, even unsaid it could be interesting in its own right. That’s the way people are in life… everyone has a story. It may not be the one you want to read but it contains surprises, highs, lows etc. That’s the way characters should be in stories we write. And when I can convey that through body language or through a momentary action or bit of dialogue… the more interesting the story becomes.
The world is bigger than the story.
This is something that weighed on me when I finished the first issue, prior to expanding it. It weighed on me even more after I was halfway through the second issue. I had started building a world. World Building is an interesting thing… it can be very daunting but as I was writing the story it began to dawn on me that the more I left unsaid the bigger the world became. What do I mean by that? Well, when it comes to dialogue characters themselves can reference things that people don’t know about. It’s okay. You don’t have to explain everything to everybody. Why? Because we go back to seeing things through their eyes… they’ve had experiences and lived through history that we haven’t. And you don’t have to stop the story and explain a reference to a war or point to where a location is on a map when a character mentions it every time. I tend to borrow heavily from dialogue written in the original Star Wars films as an example. Han Solo mentions the Kessel run and we get it.. we understand automatically he did something cool. WE DIDN’T HAVE TO SEE IT. It’s great we got a movie about it but seriously… we didn’t need that, not for forty some odd years did we need to see that movie to understand that he did something cool at a place. The world was made bigger by it. It’s the same with visuals. Sometimes I like to show big epic shots of the main city in Moon Hunters. It gives you a grand moment. But other times just having a busted up bridge in the middle of nowhere can give you an idea that people have lived in a place for a long time. Maybe there is an abandoned relic in a dark forest. How did it get there? Why would someone put that there? Those are moments where you get the reader mentally asking questions and as I wrote Moon Hunters my big regrets came when I realized I could have done that more. I could have added more of that to make this world bigger. I feel like I’ve gotten better at it but I still want to do more of that.
It’s okay to let the characters evolve.
You know many writers will say a character should change in the story from beginning to end. That’s true. But that’s not exactly what I mean. What I mean is that it’s okay to grow your awareness of a character as you write. As I said above I had three characters in issue one that really were just set dressing. I didn’t know what to do with them. But the more I wrote the more I realized how much I could add to their stories, and how I could flesh them out while still servicing the story. I said to myself it’s okay they aren’t perfect at the beginning. It’s okay that they become more nuanced as I write. None of the characters are perfectly imagined when you first write them. Even Lyria, the main character still has a lot of nuances left to be discovered. And that’s okay. It’s okay that I’m still learning and learning about this world as I write. Seriously, if it wasn’t then I wouldn’t have any fun writing it.
Anyway, those are the big things for me, things I’ve learned and come to understand as I’ve been having fun writing this series. I do think it will be interesting to look back and see if I agree with these but for now, these are the top things I’ve learned writing this fantasy tale.