Archives for April 2013

And The Winner Is…

I have once again been struck down by Nurgle  who has visited upon me yet another of his plagues. Overwhelmed by wheezing, sniffling and feverishness I decided to let the Writing Fantasy Heroes contest run another day. I have risen from my sickbed and with the aid of the D&D random die roller, chosen a winner. All of the entries were excellent and I’d like to thank everybody who took part. 

And now, without further ado, I fumble with the envelope while the orchestra performs a drum roll, and then I reveal that the winner is Damon Richard. Congratulations, sir!

Writing Fantasy Heroes: Tyrion

It’s Writing Fantasy Heroes week here so I thought I would chip in with my two cents worth about one of fantasy heroes I have worked on recently. I’m going to use Tyrion, one of the two main characters in my ongoing High Elf trilogy, as an example.

This process of developing Tyrion was a little different from creating a character from scratch, since Tyrion already exists as part of the Warhammer universe. What I’ll be talking about is how I put flesh on his bones and hopefully turned him into a well-rounded and complex character as well as a believable hero.

In epic fantasy, the word hero obviously has two meanings. There is the one that we apply universally, an individual who either possesses extraordinary courage or performs extraordinary deeds or both. Then there’s the meaning in the narrative sense, an individual who is the protagonist of the story. In more realistic fiction these two don’t necessarily go together but in this genre, they tend to.

As authors, it’s our job to make the hero believable and to a certain extent sympathetic. Being believable doesn’t mean you have to fill the reader in on every minute of the hero’s backstory, or show how he got to be how he is (although it does feel that way in a lot of modern fantasy). It just means the hero needs to be convincing when he walks on stage. If you want examples of what I mean by this take a look at David Gemmell’s Druss, Robert E Howard’s Conan or Michael Moorcock’s Elric. These are all fully formed when they walk on stage. They are convincing because of the way, they act.

Since the character is also the hero in the narrative sense, he is going to have to be somebody we can root for. Hopefully the audience can, and certainly the writer must. If you’re going to write a book or a series of books about a character, there has to be something that motivates you to do so. You’re going to be spending months or years in this character’s head and there needs to be something that keeps you going back there.

It helps if there’s something about the character you can like or admire, preferably both. My basic formula for fiction is create characters I like, admire and/or sympathise with then torture the bastards. By this I mean put them through the emotional and physical ringer. Threaten them. Cause them harm.  I have built a decades-long career on this simple formula.

Anyway, let’s look at Tyrion. Tyrion is an elf prince of the line of Aenarion. He is arguably the greatest warrior of his people in the current age of the Warhammer world. He is honourable, courageous and heroic. Fair enough– but what I need to know is how did he get to be that way? There must be a reason for it. As I said above, normally I would not feel compelled to show the reader any of this. I just need to know it and be able to allude to it in the story. In this case though I was commissioned to write what was basically an origin story for the character so I will need to show the reader all of this stuff. 

Physically, it’s easy enough. He is of the line of Aenarion, a descendant of the super-humanly powerful demigod who originally ruled the elves. This is already an established part of the background. Tyrion bears a resemblance to Aenarion and has quite obviously inherited some part of his power. He is more than mortally quick and strong, with a natural understanding of weapons and combat. That’s the upside. The downside is that all of the descendants of Aenarion may share his curse. It’s something that will make him suspected by his own people in the long run. There’s a point of attack when it comes to causing the character problems. When writing fiction this is invariably a good thing. The more trouble you can heap on a protagonist the better.

Psychologically we need to find out why he is the way he is. In part, it’s because of the culture he comes from. The High Elves of Ulthuan place a premium on things like nobility, keeping your word etc. They live the chivalric ideal. Even the worst of them pay lip service to it. The question is what makes Tyrion outshine the typical High Elf.

The place I chose to start looking was the logical one– his childhood. Tyrion was brought up far from the great cities of the elves, by his aloof widowed father, with only his sickly crippled brother and the servants for company. He grew up reading and believing all the great heroic epics of the elves, and dreamed of getting away from his dull home life and taking part in such things. He felt his father, a wizard, despised him for not being intellectual, scholarly and wizardly. He mistook his father’s protectiveness of his sickly twin as a preference for his brother who was, after all, more like his father. He actively sought an arena in which his gifts will allow him to shine. When his father’s old friend, the warrior Khorian Ironglaive, came along and offered him a chance to find a place in the world as a warrior, he jumped at it.

Tyrion’s childhood also provides another invaluable insight into his character. He is close to and protective of his sick brother. They were each other’s only real companions during a formative period of their lives. This gave Tyrion a genuine sympathy for the weak, unusual among elves who typically despise anything less than perfection. It also gives him another vulnerable spot. He is in the habit of sticking up for his brother, which often gets him into trouble. It’s a habit of behaviour that gets transferred to other people in need of protection. Emotionally, Tyrion is already programmed to defend the weak.It is one small keystone in the foundations of his heroism.

It has already been established that Tyrion is semi-immortal, handsome, charming, rich, brave, powerful. He is a perfect wish-fulfillment fantasy figure. There’s a major problem. As described, he is too sickeningly perfect. There’s nothing there that I can particularly identify with. There are no flaws. We all have them, and once we’re beyond a certain age we tend not to believe in characters who don’t have them. Even in the greatest of heroes there has to be some shadow to balance the light. Without it, you don’t have a real person.

Let’s take a look at his background again. Tyrion is an archetypal elf as portrayed in the Warhammer world. This means among other things he is arrogant and more than somewhat self-centred. These are not particularly attractive flaws but at least he has some to be going on with. They’ll do as a start. We’ll get back to them.

With heroes, there’s always the problem of motivation. Why do they put their lives on the line? In real life people usually become heroes in answer to circumstances. They rise to the occasion, often because they have no choice.  In fantasy series, heroes put themselves on the line again and again. It’s always possible they do it for selfless and noble reasons. In fact, if they are heroes they ought to, but they ought to have other reasons as well, sometimes darker ones. The problem of motivation is compounded for Tyrion. He is an elvish prince. The chances are he will live for millennia in the greatest luxury his world has to offer if he does not put himself in harm’s way. We must ask ourselves what would motivate someone like him to do such a thing?

The easiest way to do this is not to give him a choice. He lives in the Warhammer world so enemies will always come looking for him. This is, in fact what happens in the first book. He has inherited not just some of Aenarion’s power but also one of his enemies as well, the mighty demon N’Kari. In addition, there are always the people he loves to threaten as well, friends, family, lovers; it’s a time-tested way of forcing action heroes into action.

That typical elvish arrogance can be used as the basis of a pride that will force Tyrion into action when called for. He is proud of his lineage. He feels the need not to let down the family name (if you want to see how powerful a motivator that can be, take a look at the Roman Republic which was built mostly by competing families of patricians seeking to enhance their family reputations. Since I was using the late Republic as a partial model for how the High Elves are depicted, bringing this in allowed me to tell the reader something about the society Tyrion comes from as well. That’s a bonus.)

He needs something more though, something darker, something less admirable, something to add real shadow to all that light. In Tyrion’s case this can be achieved by one simple change. He enjoys combat. He enjoys the thrill of triumph. But in particular he likes to kill. It’s the ultimate marker of victory. He takes a visceral pleasure in it.

In a way Tyrion is a monster behind a hero’s mask. And he sometimes feels himself to be so. He is not only a great warrior he is also very clever. He understands what he is. He understands too that it’s a huge disadvantage in the society in which he lives. He keeps himself on a leash and only let’s himself off it in circumstances that will do him some good.

He is also genuinely noble in his way. He is ashamed of what he is and he feels that this killing lust may be the way the curse on the bloodline of Aenarion manifests itself in him. He wants to be a hero but he feels it would be all too easy for him to become a villain. There is a war taking in place inside him between his better side and his worse side, and it makes him interesting to watch. Hopefully he has gone from being a cardboard cut-out to something more rounded and believable.

To finish up, I would just like to remind you that there is still a chance to win a copy of Jason Waltz’s very fine book Writing Fantasy Heroes. If you’d like to learn about how Steven Erikson writes his epic series or how Brandon Sanderson writes his compelling fight scenes, here’s your chance. Just read Jason’s post and leave a comment. 

Writing Fantasy Heroes

Today I am pleased  to have a guest post by Jason M Waltz, the publisher of Writing Fantasy Heroes and many other fine works via his company Rogue Blades Entertainment. Jason and I have crossed paths in numerous sword and sorcery forums and and his knowledge of  and his sincere love for the genre have always impressed me. I am really happy to have him here talking about his latest project, a book with a stellar lineup of contributors which  is  certainly worth the attention of the writers among you as well as anyone who is simply interested in how the fantasy genre is written. There will even be a chance to win a copy of the book itself. Anyway, without further ado I’ll hand you over to Jason…

Howdy all! I want to begin by expressing my thanks to Bill for inviting me to discuss my latest release, Writing Fantasy Heroes (Rogue Blades Entertainment, 2013). This 54,000 word how-to book has been a project of passion for me for almost four years—and I’m dang proud of it. Gathering this assortment of authors, convincing them to offer tidbits of knowledge, and finally holding a completed manuscript was an exciting process. Mostly.

There were challenges, authors that were unavailable, money and time that withered away, cover art that escaped, and authors that had to be replaced. There were a few low points when I feared the project may die…and a few high points as well, where I was delighted by a particular turn of events. Now that all is said and done, I am immensely satisfied. This collection achieved what I’d set out after late in 2009:  delivering a unified group of essays on the creation of the heroic character.

It surpassed my desires actually, as I’d aimed for a dozen essays and scored the addition of Janet and Chris Morris at the last moment after striking up conversation with Janet in the Facebook Heroic Fantasy group. I consider their insights on the ancient Western trademarks of heroism and companionship a real plus that rounded out the contents admirably. And the cover art—this cover art heralds the charge and kicks the gates open and yet it almost wasn’t! I won’t belabor the tale, but landing cover art for this book required heroic feats of perseverance and daring-do and I almost wasn’t up to it. Then out of my valley of woe came Dleoblack and his portfolio of excellent heroic pieces—a match made in Valhalla!

 Writing FH

So why did we need another book about writing? Writing characters even? And heroes? Doesn’t everyone know what makes a hero? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s that simple either. Writing Fantasy Heroes isn’t so much about the writing (though sound advice is present); it’s not even all that very particular to fantasy (though the authors are well-known contributors to the genre and the examples they use come mostly from it). And though it is about the creation and writing of characters who are more often than not protagonists of their tales and usually the heroes, this book is really a conversation about us.

I targeted known names in the SFF circuit for a reason—they either wrote beloved characters or were beloved characters themselves. Then I asked them to write as if they were sitting with fans and chatting of their own tales, their own characters, their own heroes. I invited them to spend a few moments sharing their points of view on the creation of ‘the hero’ and to bolster their opinions with examples from their own works. I sought to balance advice by tapping tenured professionals and first-contract signees, novelists to short story writers, bestsellers to consistent sellers. Gaming writers to script writers, science fiction to historical fiction, shared worlds to solitary; they’re all here and it’s all touched upon, and each of them agree. Writing a compelling and appealing character—let’s face it, if readers aren’t persuaded or pleased, we won’t grow addicted to your hero—boils down to one thing: the author’s honesty.

Your ability to be believable. This is what Writing Fantasy Heroes offers: thirteen, fourteen with Steven Erikson’s foreword, ways to prove sincerity. To authenticate those characters you writers want readers to believe in, and you readers want to discover. This isn’t a book only for writers; this examination of what makes the heroic heroic is for all of us. Shoot, even Orson Scott Card in his essay says it took writing this short piece to finally decipher what it required of him to transition the character of Ender from novel to screenplay. It isn’t about the rules of writing or the traditions of history or the experiences of publication; it’s about what’s believable and what is not.

The authors cover a lot of ground in their essays, contributing numerous ways of building and supporting believability from within and without a character. Their words are amazingly consistent and barely repetitious. Why is this amazing? None read any of the other contributions and rare were my content edits. Fourteen responses to my invitation to sit and tell us of the making of heroes, and each, through whatever mechanisms were valued by its respective author, delivers an unswerving message. I could not have planned it better. In fact, I’ve already fielded inquires regarding a sequel.

And now to the competition: What do you think makes a true fantasy hero? Just give your answer in the comments below. To encourage a deluge of suggestions, Bill and I have devised a little deal: after a week or so of comments, he shall randomly select from among the reasonable and sane submissions one lucky individual who shall receive an e-copy of the book sans an exchange of funds. In other words, one of you will win a free electronic copy of Writing Fantasy Heroes!

Writing Fantasy Heroes is available in print for US$14.99 from most online sellers and on the Kindle for US$7.99. Contributors consist of Alex Bledsoe, Jennifer Brozek, Orson Scott Card, Glen Cook, Steven Erikson, Ian C. Esslemont, Cecelia Holland, Howard Andrew Jones, Paul Kearney, Ari Marmell, Janet and Chris Morris, Cat Rambo, Brandon Sanderson, and C.L. Werner.

If You Can Push Save On Your Word-Processor You Can Create An Ebook

Some of you may remember me claiming some time ago that pretty soon you would be able to create an ebook by pushing the save button on your word-processor. Little did I know that it was close to possible even as I was writing that.

Of course, it depends on what word-processor you use. It would probably be too much to hope that Microsoft would make creating an ebook possible from  within Word any time soon. Apple does allow you to create EPUB documents from Pages but to use that you need a Mac. Scrivener makes it easy to create both Kindle files and EPUB files but in order to get your book edited, the chances are your going to have to send it to the editor in a more conventional format and then reimport it into Scrivener which is a lot of work.

There is one word processor that lets you create your own ebooks easily and well. It runs on Windows, OSX and Linux and its free. Actually its two word processors now since there has been a code fork. You can either use LibreOffice or OpenOffice.

Either of these fine word processors can open Word files without too much difficulty and then you are good to go. All you need to do is install the writer2epub extension and make sure your document is properly formatted– just follow the basic rules mentioned in my article on creating your own ebook— and you are off. You’ll also need to download and install kindlegen if you want to create mobi files for direct upload to Amazon. The extension will even create a table of contents for you.

The extension installs 3 new buttons on your OpenOffice Toolbar, you can use these buttons to add a cover and appropriate metadata to your ebooks. I’ve tried the extension with LibreOffice and it works just fine but on my Mac I had some difficulty adding a table of contents to the Mobi file for Kindle.

Normally I would write a tutorial complete with screenshots showing you how to do this but the kind people of the internet have already saved me the bother. You can find tutorials at Liz Castro’s blog or at iloveubuntu.net.

So there you have it– a method of creating an ebook from within a free word-processor. Of course, now all you need to do is write the book, get a cover and get it edited. What are you waiting for?

Nice Review of Stealer of Flesh

There’s a very nice review of Stealer of Flesh here by someone who clearly understood what I was attempting. It’s attached to a short essay about the structure of fantasy novels which is worth your consideration as well.

Kormak Omnibus Released

So that’s the first Kormak Omnibus released. It comprises of pretty much everything that has been written so far; the first three novels, the short story Guardian of the Dawn, all my author’s notes for the series and a lovely parchment-style map by Chazz Kellner.

Parchment  the Old Kingdoms

I confess this is an experiment with a new format more than anything else. A lot of indie writers have reported having success with omnibus editions and the various Gotrek and Felix and Space Wolf collections Black Library have put out have always been my biggest sellers. The value proposition for the reader is obvious. I am aiming at a roughly three for the cost of two price point and throwing in the rest of the stuff as extras. If you’ve been putting off buying the series now might be a good time to give it a try.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Kormak books, they follow the fortunes of a monster hunter in a sword and sorcery world. The easiest way of describing Kormak would be imagine if Conan had his family wiped out by demons as a child and was taken in and trained by an order of demon-hunting warrior-monks. He’s a driven resourceful character armed with an enchanted dwarf-forged blade and a variety of magical amulets that protect him against evil sorcery. Each book details his quests and adventures in different fantasy realms as he fights against demons, necromancers, priests of evil gods and all manner of other monstrous beings.

These are tales of adventure in the classic sword and sorcery style I loved in my youth; fast moving, action-packed and told from the point of view of a sword-wielding hero in a world where humanity is embattled by the powers of darkness.

There should be three more books in the series this year. At the end of May/start of June (depending on how quickly I get my act together and revise the manuscript) City of Strife will be available. This is a change of pace for the series, an urban adventure, somewhat in the style of Fritz Leiber that sees Kormak caught up in a war between two great merchant houses while investigating a plague of monsters that is over-running the cathedral city of Vermstadt. It’s a spaghetti western in the style of A Fistful of Dollars with added were-rats and undead gangsters.

COS

By the end of the summer, I hope to release Taker of Skulls. This could best be described as Red Nails set in Moria. An urgent mission on behalf of his order takes Kormak to the haunted ruins of the great dwarven under-kingdom of Durea, a place where the barbaric remnants of the dwarven nation are trapped in a relentless struggle against the invading goblins and the Old One who leads them. Among other things, this features a fairly radical revisionist take on dwarves.

TOS

Towards the end of the year, we should see Ocean of Fear. This one is a sea-faring adventure complete with pirates, sunken kingdoms, a beautiful mer-woman warrior and the return of the Quan, the squid-like alien vampires last seen making life miserable for Rik in the Terrarch books.

OOF

That’s the plan anyway– let’s see how it goes!

The Kormak Saga Omnibus is available at Amazon.comAmazon UKBarnes & Noble and Smashwords. As ever Apple is dragging its feet a little but the book should be available on iTunes in the not too distant future.