Tag Archives: fantasy

High Fantasy:What Is It?

Recently I was asked to explain what the high fantasy genre actually encompasses. Not an easy task, given the plethora of sub-genres abounding in speculative fiction these days, but nevertheless I had a crack at trying to make sense of how they all tie together and overlap. There is no real guide on how all the labels fit together, but this is my attempt at explaining what I think all these categories mean.

Click here to read the full explanation.

The Nuance In the Name

I recently guest posted for @abhinavjain87 on the importance of character names, particularly in a fantasy context, although not exclusively.

What makes a good name? Does it really matter what you call characters? Will readers care all that much?

For answers to these questions, and others, stop on over to read the full post here. You can also see some examples of my names and what they mean to me, and tell me if they evoke similar imagery and feelings for you. What did you call your characters, and do you feel they ‘fit’?

Epic Fantasy Saga, Shadows of the Realm by Dionne Lister, on Sale Jan 8-22!

Shadows of the Realm

Shadows of the Realm is an epic fantasy for teens and adults. Join Bronwyn and Blayke, two young realmists, and their animal companions, as they are forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known to undertake a dangerous journey towards Vellonia, city of the dragons.

The gormons are invading, slipping through the corridors between realms, and they want blood, lots of Talian blood. Will the young realmists learn enough of the Second Realm magic to prevail, or will everything they love be destroyed?

The first book in The Circle of Taliaseries is on sale from the 8th to the 22nd of January for the bargain price of $1.99 on Smashwords and Amazon. Grab it and escape into an original and enchanting world filled with mystery, danger, dragons and adventure; you won’t be sorry!

Dionne Lister is a Sydneysider (for our overseas readers, Sydney, Australia) and she is currently studying an associate degree in creative writing.  When she’s not writing, she’s trying to keep fit or she’s on Twitter. Dionne co-hosts a hilarious podcast called Tweep Nation, which can be found free on iTunes, and Club Fantasci, a speculative fiction online book club. 

You can download Shadows of the Realm free at Amazon and Smashwords

The Writer’s Tool Belt by Brad Cameron

Today I’m welcoming Brad Cameron to guest on my blog.  

Brad is from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest. He is a middle school Humanities and Language Arts teacher who has been inspired to write Young Adult Fantasy through his countless hours of teaching and reading to students. He is an avid follower of all things mythological. When not writing, Brad spends his time in the outdoors either on his bicycle or motorcycle touring the stunning countryside near his home. Brad is currently working on book three in The Zeke Proper Chronicles, The Gates of Asgard, due out in the Summer of 2013.


One of my greatest joys as an author of Young Adult Fantasy Fiction is the opportunity to visit with some of my readers: elementary, middle, and high school students who’ve weaved their way through the streets of Alder Cove alongside Zeke Proper, the hero of my fantasy series. During their journey the students have begun to discover Zeke’s unique connection with the Norse gods and in some cases, the renewal of some long forgotten myths. During my visits, I am constantly told that when they read the stories they often feel as if they are “right there” that they can see, feel, hear, and sense what is happening in the story. The comment is often followed with the inevitable question: “How do you make the images so clear?” My response is always the same: I strap on my writer’s tool belt. 

The contents of my tool belt, when finally exposed, reveal no great secrets. The tools are the ones that English teachers have been talking about for years: metaphors, similes, personification, etc. However, like any tool, its proper use is paramount. Descriptive writing is so much more than just smattering many detailed words on paper. Descriptive writing is constructing the proper words with images that are familiar to the reader. 

Imagine that you are in an unfamiliar country, struggling to learn a new language. A stranger among your small group of new friends begins to tell a joke. When he finishes, everyone, including himself, begins to laugh, but you stand there, looking embarrassed and confused. However, the problem isn’t that you didn’t understand the words he used; you’ve been studying hard, so you know what the words mean. The problem is that you didn’t comprehend the context of the words. Perhaps the joke depended upon your need to understand a particular cultures’ idiom or custom with which you are completely unfamiliar. Or perhaps the teller wanted you to rhyme a word with another in order to understand the punch line. In either circumstance, you’re baffled, and a little disappointed, because you missed something that was apparently quite funny. A writer, in order to be successful, can’t afford to baffle or confuse his readers. He has to choose words and context clues with which the reader is familiar, thus pulling him/her into the scene so that they can see, feel, taste, or hear whatever it is he is trying to describe.

As an example, I will use a passage from Book 2 in The Zeke Proper Chronicles: The Serpent’s Ship. In this scene, Zeke is engaged in an early morning run near his home. The story begins to take on an ominous impression. 

“Zeke’s chosen route headed up Pike Street where his own house stood, quiet and sleepy, like its inhabitants. The road stretched for a quarter mile before taking a slight left turn and coming to a dead end. Zeke entered a cul de sac where the houses seemed to circle in a protective arch. Zeke passed through a cleft between the homes, still bent against the force of the wind and rain and found himself on a sodden trail where muck, fallen leaves, and pinecones littered the ground. He tried hard to keep to the edges of the path where the ground was more firm, but instead kept finding himself slipping into the middle of the trail where the rain accumulated, causing his feet to slosh and stick with each step. When he lifted his foot, the earth emitted a disgusting farting sound that, despite the discomfort he felt, made Zeke laugh, a tight smile etched across his strained face.” 

In this example, I try to use images that would be familiar to most students: the long march to school on a blustery, cold day. And the sound of a fart? Well, let’s face it; we all know what that sounds like. Imagining Zeke’s early morning trek, then, should not be difficult. Creating authentic images is imperative to good writing. A reader who has lost his vision of the story stops reading.

You can find Brad and his work at the following links:
Link to Twitter: @camgang817 https://twitter.com/camgang817
Link to Facebook: The Zeke Proper Chronicles http://www.facebook.com/#!/TheZekeProperChronicles?fref=ts
You can find my guest post on Brad’s blog, on researching the fantastical, here.

Worldbuilding: What Goes Wrong If You Don’t Get It Right

Worldbuilding Gone Wrong

In fantasy, we ask a lot of favours of our readers, the key one being suspension of disbelief. We take liberties with reality, and for this to work, the reader needs to accept those departures as fact. If they don’t, the entire plot will fall down. 

This is true across the whole gamut of fantasy sub-genres (and a lot of science-fiction too). If you’re writing an urban fantasy about an underground society of werewolves, or vampires living amongst us, you need a plausible reason why humans haven’t noticed. If they’re running around killing people indiscriminately and leaving a trail of bloody corpses, the reader isn’t going to accept no one’s noticed. 

This is why often these societies in urban fantasy have rules about not killing/feeding on humans, or have particular methods of doing so. Men in Black, while science fiction, has a similar problem – one solved by the neuralyser device. This is all worldbuilding – adding elements to the real world to explain and/or allow the reader to accept the departures from reality that we write about.

In high/epic fantasy, we take it a few steps further and build a world from the ground up. It’s often a completely different planet, with different people, different culture, different laws, ethics and societal values. You can do almost anything within the framework of a high fantasy world.

Provided it’s consistent with and explained by your world. 

You can’t, for example, set up a society in which women have no power or rights, and then have your female protagonist blatantly disregard the rules. In reality, she’d be arrested, stoned, killed, or punished in some other manner. If, in your book, she’s not, then that’s unbelievable (an early mistake of my own). 

You make the rules, but you have to play by the rules you invent. 

Another thing said about fantasy is that it’s even more important to ensure the characters behave true to our understanding of human behaviour than in other genres. The reason for this is because we are already asking the reader for so much suspension of disbelief in relation to the world of the story that the reader is more likely to notice when characters don’t behave true to form. 

Why is this relevant to worldbuilding? Because characters are a product of their world, their time, their culture and society, and their personal experiences.

Am I belabouring the point? Maybe, but I have a reason. 

You may have seen my review on The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty. I formed certain views about the sexual practices in that book amounting to the torture and debasement of humanity for no reason except sexual gratification – and I mean psychopathic torture, not consensual BDSM. A few people have remarked ‘but yes, it’s fantasy’ – and I’d like to make the point that it doesn’t matter. I’ve been reading fantasy for 22 years, and writing it nearly as long. ‘It’s fantasy’ isn’t an excuse for poor writing.  

So let’s look at worldbuilding using that book as a case study. 

The reason the book didn’t work for me isn’t because of the sexual practices depicted, but because of the worldbuilding – or lack thereof. 

So here are a few of the questions I asked that should have been answered by the worldbuilding and weren’t:

  • Why were Princes and Princesses offered up by their parents to this kingdom knowing the physical and sexual abuse and humiliation and degradation their children would be subjected to? I’m a parent, and I can attest to the fact that the maternal instinct to protect is very powerful. Even the notion of someone treating my daughter this way stirs a primal, even feral, violence. It’s very difficult to accept a parent would tolerate this treatment. I assume the reason they do is twofold – one, they underwent the same experiences, and are essentially broken i.e. they were mistreated to the point their will broke and they will now do anything to please their tormentors. A kind of Helsinki syndrome. Two – the threat of political retribution, war, total annihilation and destruction of their kingdom. Unfortunately, neither of these reasons are spelled out – I’m making assumptions;
  • Assuming my assumptions are correct, why should I notbe enraged that these people have been essentially tortured to the point their will is broken? No good reason for my acceptance of this act as anything other than vile torture is offered. Also, in all the hundreds of years this has been going on, I’d think one father would have snapped and marched to war rather than see his daughter or son mistreated, but if so, no mention is made of it.
  • Why does an entire society (not just a few sociopathic individuals) think this behaviour is OK? I got pulled up by an editor because a scene in which a tavern full of men accepted, condoned or participated in a rape was unrealistic. How much more so then a whole society? Terry Goodkind does a good job of this in his Sword of Truth series, offering religious and political ideologies fed down from the Emperor, and condoned and encouraged at his order by soldiers and priests, as the reason an entire culture behaves in a given way (albeit some of this compliance is procured solely by fear and there are still a few non-conformists, as in any society). No explanation is offered by Anne Rice, and we see none of the members of this society fighting against or protesting it’s cruel practices. Historically we have examples of cultures that were fairly brutal, but these are cultures in which essentially ‘might makes right’, and women are treated hardly any better than animals. How do we explain the apparently cultured and educated mistreatment of captives in Sleeping Beauty by a culture where women seem to have relative equality? I can’t.
  • Even if there was a good reason, my god, wouldn’t you get bored? I was bored just reading about all the spankings. Submersion in even the vilest kind of debauchery eventually gets boring. This is why serial killers escalate in violence – they need to engage in more extreme behaviour to get the same high. And I’m expected to believe this culture has existed for hundreds of years without varying the boring old spanking routine? Puh-lease.

See what you get if you don’t build your world properly? A reader asking very hard to answer questions. If a reader develops this kind of attitude to your book, they won’t be coming back for more. 

Please, build your world properly. Make sure it explains and moulds the behaviour of your characters. Make sure your characters aren’t flagrantly breaking the rules of the world with no consequences. Make sure there are rules, because in the absence of a compelling framework for this new world, we’ll default back to our own.

Getting your worldbuilding wrong can make getting anything else right very difficult.  ‘It’s fantasy’ is not an excuse. 

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