Tag Archives: Middle Earth

Fantasy Literature: Time Management in a Story

“Drasmyr” was the first novel I ever wrote. It tells the story of a traditional gothic vampire in a fantasy world of wizards and warriors. It’s kind of like Dracula set in Middle-Earth. I wrote it stream-of-consciousness about seventeen, or so, years ago. Since then, it’s been edited and re-edited, and finally self-published. The events of the entire novel take place over roughly a week’s worth of time. Most novels span months and years of time telling the story of a character and how he or she changes throughout. Not mine. Just a week. The reason it occurs over such a short time period is because it was written stream-of-consciousness without detailed plotting beforehand. Things just ran together, and events built from one to the next. The end result was fine, but if I want to expand it into something of an epic fantasy tale (which I do), I’ll have to expand the timeline a bit. Most epics don’t take place over the course of a month.

 

I’m currently working on the follow-up novel, “The Children of Lubrochius.” For this one, I’ve expanded the timeline to a whole season or so, about three months. At least, that’s the plan. But managing the timelines of the various characters and their activities is difficult. As I did not plot the whole thing out in detail before I wrote it (I used the hybrid plotting/pantsing approach), I’ve been running into some difficulties of late and they are mostly with respect to the timeline. It’s not that I have event B taking place before event A that caused it, or anything quite so serious, it’s just sometimes, since there are multiple story threads, I find one character or another sitting on his thumbs for a week or more when the others are going about their business. I could solve the issue by collapsing the timeline, so that everything took place over the course of a week or two, but I don’t want to do it that way. I’m sure I can resolve the issue with a little effort, but it is worth noting for the lesson it teaches: do the timeline before you write the story! Duh! So much for the pantsing approach. In the future, I will add far more structure to my pre-writing plotting. That will save me some headaches. But I suppose it’s a learn-as-you-write type of thing.

 

Of course, most readers probably wouldn’t notice the difficulties inherent in the timeline. I know for myself, not once in my life have I gone through a book with a fine toothed comb to sketch out the timeline of the story in detail. I just get caught up in the events and get swept away… or bored out of my skull as the case may be. As long as events follow each other in the appropriate chronological order, I think I’m reasonably okay. Still, it pays to be thorough. I will fix what I can. And I will have proofreaders.

 

I guess what I’m saying is: The more I write, the more I find myself shifting to the plotting-beforehand approach. Timelines are a part of this. They give structure to a story and they should not be overlooked. Maybe the reader won’t notice minor discrepancies, but it could be disaster if they do.

Fantasy Literature: Creativity Run Amuck: When The Details of Your World Bewilder

Drasmyr Blog Review Tour

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I am currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings.” It’s an interesting book; so far, I don’t think I like it quite as well as I like his Mistborn series, but it’s still interesting. There is one thing, I’ve noticed, though that I would describe as a weakness. I won’t review the whole book here (partly because I’m not finished yet), but I do wish to address this particular defect. Basically, I think Brandon Sanderson is suffering from too much creativity. Seriously. I really do.

He’s invented a whole new world, which is not unusual for a fantasy author. But the problem is he’s populated it with so many things specific to that world, the reader cannot keep track. I’m sure when he plotted the details out beforehand, it made perfect sense… and I’m sure it’s all internally consistent. But I can’t keep track of it all. And I’m a reasonably intelligent person. It’s not just as simple a thing as throwing a few extra moons orbiting his world. No, it’s deeper than that. To be honest, I don’t know how many moons he has. I know there are at least two, but more probably three or four. He refers to them by name, which is not uncommon, but not frequently enough for the reader to really get a feel for them. But that’s just moons. Everybody has multiple moons on their worlds now. He goes further, though. Our standard earth week is replaced by a different one—again, in itself, this is a small detail. There is an abundance of plants and animals unique to his world. Again, no problem there. He even went so far as to develop specific plant materials for clothing that are unique to his world.

Looking at it from a world designer’s viewpoint, it all makes sense. It’s just that it’s a bit overwhelming. I can’t keep all the details straight, and to a certain extent, that is detracting from my enjoyment of the book. I remember when I read “The Lord of the Rings,” and there was a reference to “October 3rd” in the first book. Of course, it makes absolutely no sense that a completely alien world would use the same month and date as we would now (of course, Middle Earth was supposed to be an Earth of an earlier epoch—but I digress), but at least that made it easier to follow. Fantasy tales taking place on alternate worlds shouldn’t share some of the things we take for granted on this world. But how far should you take that point? Should we write like this:

It was the erp of Echma, in the sel erp-thann-quiat. “Asglick morlack” Vitr said. “Gunth gwit creyl.”

 

What does that mean? I dare you to figure it out. It’s all perfectly logical. “Erp” is a numerical value, because you know an alternate world wouldn’t use the same names for numbers as we do. “Echma” is the name of the month, or month equivalent. “Sel” means year, though I can assure you, it does not consist of 365 days, each lasting 24 hours. “Erp-thann-quiat” is the numerical value of the year in question. “Asglick morlack. Gunth gwit creyl” could just as easily be “Good morning. It’s been a while.” as anything else. The important point is that they are not speaking English. Like I said, it all makes sense, but it doesn’t make for entertaining reading.

Good fantasy writers will know how to strike a balance between realistic variety in the description of their worlds, and keeping the work as a whole readable. Another example of  creativity gone too far happened in Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch series. In that series, he made the mistake of giving multiple names to each of his deities. The justification was, of course, that different cultures would use different names for the same deity—kind of like how the Greeks and Romans named their respective pantheons in our world. This makes perfect sense from a logical point of view, but it makes reading the book a little more difficult. There were four books in the series, and I think I only had one or two of the deities figured out by the time I finished, and that’s not a good sign.

Of course, Brandon Sanderson and Tad Williams are both excellent writers; but even the best of us make mistakes. But I think this mistake is serious enough to be worth pointing out.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for today.