Magic Rules in Your Fantasy World

I’m not one for strict rules so while watching fantasy author Brandon Sanderson’s YouTube lecture “Magic System”, I kept thinking, The magic in my novels doesn’t have rules.

However, afterwards I considered the ideas he presented and once I broke through the dam, the rules flowed swiftly. The magic within the realm of Ath-o’Lea does have rules. Some are soft, others firm.

Sanderson imparts this sage advice: Flaws are more interesting than powers. Things your characters can’t do are more interesting than what they can do. Flaws and limitations of magic are interesting.

With that in mind, I considered the powers and the limitations used in my novels.

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Supporting Characters Who Stole the Show

When we set out to write a story, we know which characters are the main characters, the ones readers will cheer and invest emotions in. That is until books are turned into movies and actors cast to play supporting characters do such a tremendous job, they steal the show from main characters.

Did you know the main characters in Pirates of the Caribbean were Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner? Jack Sparrow was a supporting character . . . until he stole the show.

Did you know Phil Coulson was only a supporting character in The Avengers. Writers thought it was okay to kill him off . . . until fans rattled their cage to have him resurrected.

The same happened in Thor: The Dark World. They killed Loki, then realised he was too big a character to knock off, and they had to bring him back. He was supporting Thor, but we know how that went down with Loki fans.

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Critical Drinker Inspires a Wins vs Losses List

Shortly before Christmas, I stumbled upon the Critical Drinker, a YouTube critic mostly of films, but he critiques books at times, too. The Drinker is Will Jordan, author of Redemption: Ryan Drake 1. I’ve watched several of his videos for both the entertainment and insight in to how movies were constructed or, in many cases, how they were poorly constructed. As a writer, he comments on character development, plot and other aspects of story building.

His dissection of the three recent Star Wars movies is brutal. I am a huge fan of the original Star Wars trilogy – Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – and his critiques tell me the new movies are ones I never want to see. In fact, they should be burnt. The stories trampled over our heroes of the past and are extremely disrespectful to their legacy. While I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was, I had an inkling of what was to come.

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The Over-used Trope for Character Development

Over the weekend, I watched Good Will Hunting. No, I’ve never seen the movie before even though it was released in 1997. That was the year I was working 40 hours a week at a garden centre, giving birth to my first child and settling into a new house, so I didn’t watch much of anything.

Throughout the movie, I was waiting for the inevitable. I say inevitable because many of the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve watched the past 20 years have used death to jolt the main character out of their ‘destructive’ daze and into change for the better. I’ve seen it so many times, I can often pick which character will be sacrificed for the good of character development. If it’s a character I’ve invested emotion in, I pull back before the death, knowing it’s coming. If I’m unaware, it feels like a betrayal by the writer.

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J. R. R. Tolkien: Evoking Secondary Belief

I love ‘ah-ha’! moments especially when I find an explanation for something I’ve been trying to explain for years. In this case, the reason I write the stories I write has been answered by someone who also writes fantasy novels: J. R. R. Tolkien.

While I do not write in the same style of Tolkien, our goal is the same: to tell a story that evokes Secondary Belief (a belief up until yesterday, I had not heard about).

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Writing Characters Who are Consistent in Actions

A book I finished reading a few days ago has stayed on my mind; I can’t shake it. Not because it was a great story. It was an okay story. I’d rate it 3 of 5 stars. I seldom rate anything 5, so 4 is what I rate a book I really enjoyed reading.

The book is not stuck in my mind because it contained a life-changing message. It’s not because it made me think of the world from a different perspective.

The reason I can’t shake the book from my thoughts and why I can’t help but analyse characters in my novels is because of character consistency. I can accept a lot of twists, but my mind is tripping over the main character, let’s call her Jill, in this story. Here’s a brief description.

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Chemistry Between Characters

I was reading reviews last week for a book on Amazon. One of the main complaints by readers was there was no chemistry between the main characters who met and fell in love in the novel.

That got me thinking about my characters. Is there chemistry between them, particularly those in love? I didn’t take chemistry in high school, so it’s a subject I know little about. However, I did take years of physics, biology and astronomy, so I understand the law of attraction, friction, biological similarities, procreation and out of this world relationships.

When it comes to chemistry, I feel lost, unable to say if my characters have it because I am so close to them and I can’t define it. I can see chemistry between actors. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have great chemistry in the Thor movies. But what does that mean exactly? They have a come back for every line the other says? They work well together? They play off their shared past experiences?

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What is Your Character’s Favourite Food?

Biscuits and Cranberry Jam
Homemade cranberry jam on my homemade biscuits.

I read an article last week about character flaws and quirks. Every one should have them unless it’s a nameless character there for one line.

This got me thinking about my characters and their quirks. I love quirks because we all have them, and they make us unique. My characters also have their favourite unique food they like that might not be liked by the average individual. I think everyone has this, too, so it goes well in a story.

I love cranberries, and I’ve eaten cranberry sandwiches for as long as I can remember. All through school—all 13 years—I’ve eaten these sandwiches for lunch. While many classmates in high school bought their lunch at the cafeteria, I brought a bagged lunch with, you guessed it, cranberry sandwiches. It was my thing. When I started working, the main item in my lunch was that sandwich. (PS: I’ve never had a urinary tract infection.)

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Tip for Choosing Character Names

Thought for the dayWhen I started reading fantasy novels in my teen years back in the 1980s, I struggled with the pronunciation of some of the far-out names authors had given their characters. To get through these stories, I turned names such as Gorggegx in George in my mind and kept reading.

Why fantasy authors feel the need to create strange names always confused me. It came off as part of the genre, I think. When I started writing fantasy stories, I thought about using similar names, but I quickly put it to rest and stuck with names I could pronounce.

Since then, I’ve encountered many odd names in the genre, and I continue to do the same thing: turn them into simple names.

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Writing Male Characters in Romance Novels

REblog“Dominated by women, as both readers and writers, romance still needs strong male characters. So how do you write male characters for romance novels? Author Richard (RJ) Gould, explains.

When it comes to the genre of romance, women dominate. Most romance writers are female, most readers are female, and plots predominantly centre on the female point of view. At this early stage, I should point out that I‘m a male author who writes romance fiction. I’m not unique, but I am a rarity. My publisher, Accent Press, badges my novels as contemporary women’s fiction and several literary agents have suggested I use a female pseudonym. Adopting ‘RJ’ as opposed to Richard is my cowardly compromise. At Romantic Novelists’ Association events, including the annual conferences with up to 200 participants, over 95 percent are women and several of the few males write under a female alias.”

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Character Sheets

Know your charactersIn a recent blog post, I discussed the importance of Style Sheets. Another form sheet equally important is the character sheet. Even if a story has only a handful of characters, a detailed list will help keep them in line and their hair colour from changing from chapter to chapter.

A character sheet is a life saver if a novel contains many characters or is one in a series. During the first edit of Shadows in the Stone, I created one to save my sanity. The story contains 74 named characters. Some of these individuals were mentioned only two or three times, but it was important to keep their individual stories straight, along with their age and the weapons of their choice.

What to put on a character sheet is up to the writer. Personally, I use the following headings.

Name

The full name of the character is written in the first column along with nicknames, ranks, titles and keys to pronunciation (if it is an unusual name). With regard to nicknames, I add a note about who uses them.

For example, we may know a character as Chris, but his mother might still call him Christopher while his best friend calls him Shortie.

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My Library of Books for Writing Fantasy

5x5 fantasy bookA short time ago, Ernesto San Giacomo posted his 2015 Reading List. In the list was Writing About Magic by Rayne Hall.

I commented, saying I had several books about magic, herbs and stones to help me with writing my fantasy stories, but I hadn’t read that one. A list was requested, but I hadn’t gotten around to making it until tonight.

Some of these books are one-time reads, but others I keep on the shelf as references. I can’t remember all the properties of stones and herbs, and I can’t recall all the spells (though I make up a lot myself), so these are keepers for me.

Natural Magic – Spells, Enchantments & Self-development by Pamela J. Ball: This book provides insight to magic and how a sorceress might work her spells. Not every magic-user is the same, so you can take a little of this and a little of that to create a character. This book was okay, worth buying, but not my favourite.

The back cover states: Before there was formal religion there was magic, and to this day there are people who purport to perform ‘miracles’ with the aid of magical powers derived from nature or the spirit realm. These powers are still out there to be tapped into by us. All you need is the knowledge and know-how contained in Natural Magic.

This book reveals: How to become a natural magician, using knowledge gathered over thousands of years by magician and mystic alike. Techniques employing plants, trees, crystals and incense along with meditation, ritual, chanting and dreams. The tools to give expression to your creativity and beliefs. A wide range of methods to bring about positive changes in your life.

The Druid Magic Handbook – Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth by John Michael Greer: This book speaks of Life Force, the alphabet of magic, the elements, enchantment and Ogham writing. It gives a great history on the druids, which I thoroughly enjoyed and ‘connected’ with. I discovered many potential story lines by reading it.

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Why Everyone Loves Loki

I just spent ten days with three young children on spring break. The weather outside was frightful…at times, so we were cooped up inside most of the week. Besides the usual errands, project writing and cooking adventures, those children of Midgard kept busy watching their favourite movie series of superheroes. They even invited stray children from other households to join them in a movie fest of mammoth proportions.

Between explosions, realm hopping and fighting to save Midgard (for those uninformed beings: Earth) emanating from the livingroom, I heard laughter and impressive one-liners. I discovered the Midgardians sprawled across the chesterfields gripping half-eaten bowls of chips, Cheesies and popcorn not only liked the evil guy named Loki, but they adored him. They thought he was just as great as the superheroes who were saving the planet.

This piqued my curiosity. Why did they love this Loki guy? What did he possess? Charisma? Charm? Awesome power? A brave and loyal steed?

Evil doers were supposed to be disliked, perhaps even hated. Movie-goers are supposed to cheer when the bad guy goes down, but not the Midgardians in my house. They instead cheered him on, laughed at his expressions and repeated his dialogue until it echoed in my head for days later: “Mmm, Brother, you look ravishing!”

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Hands on the Wheel

Many years ago, deep into the forest of my youth, I heard this song for the first time. It captured my heart instantly. I had easily recognised Willie Nelson’s voice, and even though I wasn’t a huge Willie fan (though I did like many of his songs) I fell in love with this tune.

I don’t know why I still recall the moment I heard and connected with it. Maybe it was the circumstances around this song or the simple fact that it rang true in so many ways. It still does today. Maybe it was the melody. Either way when I hear it now, I want to get up, walk out the door with a backpack and hit the road to adventure.

But lets back track. The first time I heard this song was while watching one of my most favourite all-time television shows Northern Exposure. Anyone who faithfully watched this show knows exactly what I mean when I say, “this was one of the very few shows I set my schedule by”. I never missed an episode.

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Honour and ‘your word’

your wordThe Prisoner of War who took ‘keeping a promise’ to the extreme post on Steve Liddell’s Musings on a mad world blog is the first thing I read this morning. It intrigued me not only because of my interest in the Great War and the Second World War but because of its story about honour and holding fast to ‘your word’.

Can you imagine a British soldier receiving leave from a German prison camp to visit his dying mother? And then returning because he promised to do so? Well, it happened. Read Liddell’s blog for the whole story.

One of the themes found in my fantasy novel Shadows in the Stone is honour. The other is ‘your word’. In fact, these two words are found in the opening chapter. Readers don’t learn the power of those words until book two in the series Scattered Stones; they discover more about the price the promiser pays if they don’t keep ‘their word’ in book three Healing Stones.

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