If you’re Australian like me, you’ll know a snag is something to be enjoyed in a slice of white bread at the local hardware on a Saturday or Sunday morning. For everyone else, a snag is an obstacle to overcome, or a protrusion you catch your clothing on.
Though it’s not the official term, you can also hit a snag in writing. I won’t say it’s anything like writer’s block (I don’t really believe in that particular phenomenon anyway), however I do know that while writing you can come across a snag that pulls you up and you’re having to consider how to get around it.
I hit such a snag recently while writing The Cursed Gift. I was happy I’d managed to get the first five chapters relatively sound (FYI, I am a lot further along than that), but I needed to check for a detail and reread those first five chapters…and almost put myself to sleep, they were so boring.
This was my snag. The story itself was beginning to take shape, how do I then go back to the start and make it more exciting without disrupting the rest?
Funnily enough, I enjoy these kinds of challenges, and I had an idea on how to fix it. I realised I’d been too focussed on getting Max from A to B, I didn’t stop to think that her journey should be a little more interesting. Also too, with fantasy, a lot of world building can be included that will only make for a far more intriguing story as these details come to light later on. I’ll talk about Promises in another blog post.
So whether your purpose is to get to the local hardware for a Sunday snag, your character’s journey needs to have a little more sizzle.
*Warning: this post contains spoilers of my book The Ancient Wish If you haven’t read it yet, check it out here.
Did you know that the first library was founded in 7th century BC and belonged to the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal? It’s located in Iraq and is said to contain some 30,000 tablets, most of which are archival documents, and the like, but there are a few works of literature including a 4000 year old text called Epic of Gilgamesh.
Most people will have set foot in some form of library, be it the one attached to your school, or the public one you claimed you were visiting to ‘study’. Nowadays all it takes is to type whatever you’re curious about into your phone, and voila! There’s your answer…or at least the answer according to the gospel of the internet.
When it came to designing the world of Abnyr where people didn’t have mobile phones to just Google what they needed, what better opportunity than to create a library of my own!
I created Bibliothecary – the lection, or library of Poel Ohneon – so Max, Peng and Hazel would have a way of learning more about the legend of Ondraj. Since the story itself had been consigned to mythical status, it made sense that there should be a place where all the books and scrolls about said legend would be available for study.
I called it Bibliothecary, because I wanted to combine the latin for book – I remember all too well having to include a bibliography at the back of my school assignments – and an apothecary – a cabinet full of tiny drawers that contain all manner of wonders and treasures. Just like a book!
I particularly focussed on the children’s area, and this came from memories of my own experiences in the local libraries when I lived in the ACT, Australia. One thing that stood out for me was the smell. It seems to exude knowledge, adventure and the means of escaping whatever else might be happening outside.
The children’s section usually housed books for ages from toddlers to teens. I vaguely remember a pile of cushions (perhaps not anymore with society’s need for sterility), or comfy seats to sit back and indulge in another world or adventure.
That’s what I wanted to emulate with Bibliothecary’s children’s are on the belvedere level being rows of shorter stacks of shelves, and plenty of space to relax with a book.
Sadly, I don’t get to visit my local library as often as I’d like, but on the odd occasion when I do, I find it a place of absolute pleasure.
Do you frequent the library often? Let me know in the comments below:
I have always been fascinated with the concept of steampunk. Aside from the environmental concerns that I won’t be going into (because in spite of the idea that to use machines that require steam you usually have to burn coal, steampunk is just an idea, and not an actual practice), I very much like to think about modern day items that could be powered by steam. There’s also the amazing look of dials, pistons and lots of copper pipe, and another big part of the allure is the Victorian era style that goes along with it.
What is it about steampunk that I find so appealing? Sure, there’s the aesthetics as I’ve previously mentioned, but steampunk is also a cross genre concept with it’s feet firmly planted in both the fantasy and scifi. It comfortably sides with fantasy where it feels a natural extension to the magic and make believe of another world, like a steam powered saddle for horse (think rockets, guns, the ability to make tea on the go, that kind of thing), a dragon or the unfathomable enormity of whatever creature you think requires this tech. On the side of scifi, it enhances the classic Victorian era of horse and cart, with mechanical creatures transporting their riders, or giving users access to the internet via a steam powered laptop.
Though I couldn’t say what first attracted me to steampunk, I know it’s been a fairly recent addition to my interests. I have always admired Victorian era fashion, and when steampunk elements are added it creates an even more stunning ensemble.
I was running errands at my local shopping centre which has a lovely little jewellery shop called Raymond’s Jewellers when I found this gorgeous piece and couldn’t resist. It was created by Veronese Design and reminded me so much of Peng’s gun as I’d described it in The Ancient Wish, I just had to have it.
When I first began planning The Direbright Series I wanted to create a world that used steampunk as its technology, but wasn’t necessarily a story about steampunk. You’ll be excited to learn I am diligently working on book two: The Cursed Gift.
I don’t tend to work on my novels chronologically (I’ll let you know my style of writing in another blog entry), however I have completed the first few chapters which will help shape the plot for scenes I’ve already written as ideas and the direction I wanted before I started with Chapter One.
What do you think about steampunk? Let me know in the comments below:
I am obsessed with word counts. My current work in progress is sitting at just over 60k, and even though I have a couple more chapters to go, I’m beginning to panic that it won’t be long enough. I’ve been scouring the web trying to find out the word counts of other authors, and came across this awesome site: http://www.arbookfind.com.au (no affiliate) which gives the word counts of practically every book ever written! As handy as it is, my question still remains, what IS long enough? Having looked at some of the more recent YA fantasy series, my concern is, that if it isn’t above 100k in word count, then it’s a paltry excuse for a book… Really?
Word counts for YA novels etc, according to WritersDigest.com, are categorised as falling between 55 – 80k. But in the following paragraph it mentioned that if it’s higher than 80k, then it had better be scifi or fantasy, because there’s the element of world building etc that can extend the story. Helpful as this is, it still kind of skirts around the question a bit, but then if we’re going to have to go by any single publisher’s overall opinion then we’re all doomed, because these can differ depending on current trends, the genre, the publisher’s preference etc.
Recent YA Fantasy
Just to name a few of the more popular, and recent YA fantasy word counts, here’s a handful of examples as a ‘first book’ in the series, because rarely is there ever standalone fantasy fiction anymore:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (99750)
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (89778)
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (118975)
Eragon by Christopher Paolini (157220)
The lowest word count here is close to 90k, which certainly fits in the requirement, and Nevermoor has been making waves since it came to light at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2017. So is a writer’s perception of what is an acceptable word count all in their head?
I’m sure you’ve noticed that a rather significant YA fantasy is missing, but I’ll come to that later. What I do want to have a look at are some of the YA fantasy novels from several decades ago, when fantasy perhaps wasn’t as rampant as it is today.
Earlier YA Fantasy
Here are a few examples of YA fantasy that you may or may not have heard of:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (49965)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis (36363)
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (41523)
The BFG by Roald Dahl (37568)
Some might argue that some of these examples aren’t YA fiction, but I disagree. The Magic Faraway Tree, written by the legendary Enid Blyton was a beloved author with many a young fan who gobbled up her books, even as they got older.
The BFG, written by Roald Dahl is just as loved now as it was when it was first published and has even been transformed into a movie. And in spite of CS Lewis’ most infamous classic, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, being the shortest in this list, how many times has it been reprinted and retold on screen? And of course A Wrinkle in Time has just been made into an incredible movie as well.
In trying to answer the question of ‘how long is long enough?’ it seems the answer runs along similar lines as ‘how long is a piece of string?’ What’s important is that the story is told, that the characters are well formed, that the setting is believable, and that you are able to escort your reader to a world that for the most part is a great deal different to the one they currently reside in.
If taking into account the whole checklist of planning and writing a novel, the actual word count comes in at maybe number 73 in the list of things that need doing. In fact, it shouldn’t even matter, but, I think what worries authors and writers and does have them considering the word count is the end result of, how does it look on the shelf?
Is Word Count Really Important?
Now let’s look at the missing piece… the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling, because it’s probably a good basis for comparison in that it’s fantasy, was written for the YA market, and has perhaps been the go to of ‘what to do to become a super successful author’:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (77325)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (84799)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (106821)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (190858)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (257154)
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (169441)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (198227)
Rowling’s first book in the series is 77+k words, and most people are aware of the story of how it was rejected multiple times, and then came to perhaps be the most phenomenal series of books ever written. What I’m trying to point out here though, is that Rowling didn’t break the 100k mark until her third novel in the series, and then it was only just over. As the plots grew thicker, and more and more was discovered by Harry and co. the size of the story also grew. But what’s important is that Rowling didn’t need to carry all seven of her books over the 100k mark. She told the story, and once it was finished, that was its word count.
Writers are too caught up with word count because it seems that it’s the norm (it definitely seems like the current trend) to cross that 100k mark that no one ever set as the limit. No publisher stood up and said that all fantasy YA books, from now on, must be over 100k! Because that would lead to poorly written work and novels full of guff simply to tip it over the scale, and there’s plenty enough of that without actually asking for it.
So as much as word count is my obsession, and probably will continue to be, as a writer and author, I can’t find it in myself to do wrong by my readers, and fill a book with inconsequential narrative or description simply to reach a word goal.
Write the story, and once it’s all said and done, if that is your word count, then you’ve done a fantastic job of getting it there.
What do you think? Are word counts more important that the actual content? Let me know if the comments below.
My all-time favourite genre to write is fantasy, followed very closely by sci-fi. I read a lot of it too, which might seem obvious, but sometimes I find others’ perceptions of fantasy aren’t to my taste. Mind you, it’s always a good idea to read a range of genres anyway for inspiration, to help with ideas, and to hone the skill of writing – as all writers should.
Sometimes when I’m reading fantasy something I’ll find a bit disappointing is when I come across the same, almost stereo typical creatures in those stories, because even though the writing and the story might be great, the author lets it down with a cookie cutter set of creatures.
I’m done with evil, aggressive dragons that are the overall threat to the heroes, beautiful mermaids who sing like angels, sweet unicorns that are shy and hard to find, and fairies that live in flowers and nurse sick animals. Of course, I’m well aware that not EVERY single fantasy book mentions these creatures, and I’m also aware there are many fantasy books that DO in fact buck the trend, which is awesome. What I’m talking about, and the point of this post is to create your OWN unique creature that doesn’t have a predetermined set of characteristics to manipulate how it looks or behaves. Your very own animal, be it humanoid, can fly, swim or run extremely fast, is from YOUR imagination and it’s completely your own creation.
There are three aspects to consider when creating your own one of a kind totally unique creature:
Step 1: What is its purpose?
This needs to be your first question when creating your own unique fantasy creature. Why? Because otherwise, why are you including it in your story? There’s little point creating something so out of this world interesting only to have it lolling away in the background. It’s going to be front and centre, so it needs purpose.
Is the hero going to ride it? Be threatened by it? Have to rescue it? In creating its purpose you’re bringing it into the plot, which means it may as well be interesting.
Step 2: Where does it live? Or more importantly, where did it originally come from?
The second factor when creating a fantasy creature is the kind of environment where it would be found naturally. This is where you need to refer to your world building.
You may have all the imagination in the world, and it is very tempting to just go for broke, but it does pay to consider the environment of your creature because it helps make it even more believable. If you’ve created a creature that lives in trees, you might consider giving it claws to grip branches, or long finger like appendages to hold on, or some kind of sticky slime that enables it to cling in some way. You don’t have to railroad yourself to a strict set of rules, but do consider where the creature would naturally live in ‘the wild’ because this is the environment it’s ‘evolved’ to live in. Yes, it’s a fantasy world, but again, it makes it more believable rather than everything just runs on the magic of the place, so anything goes!
Step 3: What does it look like?
This is the really fun part because this is where you can ultimately go for broke. Once you’ve determined the creature’s purpose, and the environment it’s initially come from (remember, it doesn’t have to stay there – consider your purpose), then you need to consider it’s features.
You don’t have to stick to convention here, if it’s a creature that lives in a tree, there’s no harm in giving it colourful scales to attract a mate, or fins to assist in flight direction. It might have fur to insulate against heat, but sheds it and absorbs the chill of winter through its skin. Whatever you decide, you can allow your mind to generate a truly unique creature of your own choosing.
Once you have your creature remember the point isn’t then to write page after page of description for it. Your reader has the ability to fill in the blanks, you just need to give the general idea and let THEIR imagination fill in the rest. Remember, further description can be added throughout the rest of the story, but what you initially want to do is implant an image of a creature unique to the story that a reader is going to suddenly feel attached to, and will be glad the hero rescued (rode, or needed) it all those chapters ago when it fulfils its purpose.
Be sure to consider these points during your world building, or when thinking about the type of creatures you would like to fill your fantasy novel with. Once you’ve mastered the basics of purpose, environment and features you‘re well on your way to creating a whole zoology of creatures totally unique to the world you alone have created.
Next time I’ll explain ways on how to give an unusual name these creatures so they are easy to read and pronounce!
If you have other ways of imagining fantasy creatures, please let me know in the comments below!
Planning out a story is a lot like cooking dinner. And I don’t mean a massive dinner party with twelve guests and a four course meal (although, that does still count). What I mean is, you have to decide what you’re going to serve; be that for the week, that night, or a special occasion. Obviously you determine what you need; do you already have it, have you run out of anything, and what do you need that you don’t have yet. Then when the time comes, you prepare the food; chop the vegetables, marinade the meat (or not), turn on the oven or stove and actually cook everything. There’s even the necessity of getting everything ready for the actual meal itself; setting the table, dishing it all up, and finally calling everyone to come and eat. There’s a lot to it, and the same can be said of the planning that is essential when going about writing a novel, short story, or even a blog post. Otherwise it comes down to little more than beans on toast every night.
Writing needs planning
Chances are, like me, you’ve had a brilliant idea for a story, banged out a couple of scenes, or a good chunk of it, only to fizzle out when the inspiration dries up, and you’ve reached a point where you simply don’t know how to get the characters from A to B, or even Q.
When I started out turning my writing into a serious hobby, planning for a novel was a hindrance, I found it boring and stifling when I’d rather be writing. Eating the meal is far more satisfying than all the preparation beforehand. But you wouldn’t be eating without it. Same again for writing. Though it’s not my absolute favourite part of the job, I know it’s absolutely vital to ensure the story is written well, and any hiccups along the way can usually be answered.
If you’re new to cooking, you’ll usually turn to a cookbook, or look online for people who are a lot more knowledgeable about the subject. That’s what I did for my writing. I did a bit of research on how others did it, and as I learned I began to explore different ways because not everyone has the same tastes.
Planning for more than just dinner
I’ll explain and explore several ways in which to plan, plot and eventually pen out that story. Though I won’t necessarily include the recipes for that dinner party, I do hope my ways of writing help you on your own writing journey.
Planning your writing is as essential as planning dinner