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.

8 Replies to “Writing Fantasy Heroes”

  1. Well to my mind, what makes a hero is that the hero embodies the virtues and values of a society. However the hero does so in a human way not a godlike way, which is to say the hero shows human weaknesses and a key element of their heroism is overcoming their weaknesses to some degree with their virtues.

    Also, congratulations on the completion of your book. One question though, why isn’t William King listed among the contributors?!

  2. Hmm I’d like a copy of this. May as well try to win one. Ok what do I think makes a true fantasy hero -Three parts to the question- Pr 1. True- the truth of any character comes from a direct connection between the character fand the writer. If the writer draws on themselves truthfully, honestly even painfully, that will breath life and authenticity into the character they are creating Being TRUE is probably the most important thing about any character. Second, a fantasy hero- not just a hero,(if a hero can ever be called just, aside from in the obvious way). The fantasy bit is easy. The character might themselves have fantastical attributes or the world is fantastic, as if other than simply being an attempt to render the factual world. (only an attempt, because all writing is fantasy at some level) The heroic bit. Well, this might be a very specific and individual thing. For me the heroic bit is always that the hero is ordinary, or at least sees themselves that way, and usually they doubt themselves and their motives and tend to have a lot of trouble settling on what is black and what is white. Characters that think, in other words. But to be heroic, they also have to be characters who, when faced with great and terrible challenges, BECOME extraordinary in how they handle them. It is the becoming extraordinary that is the really interesting part of a story, I think. That sort of hero, even if they ultimately fail, makes me feel a sort of pride and admiration that lifts my spirit and makes me feel, if only for a second, that I could be that brave, that compassionate, that kind, that clever…

  3. They seem to me to be those people who do the things that others can not or will not do and do it out of a sense of their own moral code. They can be beaten, betrayed and more than once nearly killed, but keep going on. Even when these characters should give up and their own fears and biases urge turning their backs, they go on. The heroes will stumble and fall, make good and bad decisions, but in the end they will pull themselves up (or allow themselves to be pulled back up) and continue on. It seems to me a true hero makes you want to believe that if you find yourself in a dire situation (physically or morally) that you could rise to the occasion.

  4. It is difficult to choose only one trait when in essence the whole of our being makes us what we are and who we are; however since the contest requests that we provide only one trait then I feel I must go with:


    Courage seems like such a pedestrian answer but it is not simply courage that is necessary but it is courage in the face of immobilizing personal fear,courage in the face of dangers larger than you could have imagined and events that make you tremble with fear. Frodo and Sam are the smallest creatures yet they are asked to face challenges that bigger people can’t manage and in fact they help large creatures through some of their tough moments. The whole journey is as frightening as one can imagine and it leads them far from home but they persevere and are heroic in their endeavors. Sweet Harry Potter is a small child when he begins fighting a monster who has slain so many people he loves and admires and yet he says his name aloud when adults won’t and he faces him over and over again even though he knows that his death is almost certain. Even Mrs. Frisby in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh faces all of her fears of the rats and the farmer in order to save her family. These tiny creatures, these heroes with no muscles but their hearts and brains can triumph over might because they are courageous and they fight on even when we the reader feel that they should run and hide.

    So my answer (very long answer) is courage in the face of deep personal fear.

  5. For me, the essence of a hero (fantasy or otherwise) is their ability to inspire us.

    The exact qualities which incite this feeling can be many and varied, and are often influenced by the values important to the culture of the author and his or her audience. It may be the prowess of a Heracles, the cunning of an Odysseus, or the courage and self sacrifice of a Frodo Baggins. Each provides a very different model of heroic behaviour, but they all elicit our admiration.

    My love of fantasy literature was cemented as a twelve year old discovering ‘A Princess of Mars’ during the summer holidays. John Carter’s old world chivalry really struck a chord within me and greatly influenced my formative years and the type of person I wanted to be.

    As the protagonist in a story the ‘hero’ (usually) needs to invoke our sympathies, but to become heroic they have to provide an exemplar of behaviour that inspires us, creating a desire to be extraordinary, and the will to strive for it.

  6. A hero is someone who stands up for what he believes, and is willing to risk everything to see those ideals fulfilled or held. Of course, to be a hero, those ideals have to be generally aligned to what is usually considered ‘good’. He doesn’t have to be all-good, he doesn’t have to have any special abilities (though that helps), he doesn’t have to be likeable, but he has to be willing to fight for his beliefs and willing to risk or sacrifice.

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