Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon (06 March, 2012)

Ya know, hang around the fantasy genre long enough, and chances are pretty good that you might come across a dragon.  The reptilian beasties have been either benefiting or terrorizing the human race for hundreds of years and throughout many different cultures.  They have been the subject of myths, movies, and books, the level bosses in video games and the eponymous hero of a children’s song that seems to have been inspired by an illicit substance.

Dragons are and have been so popular, they run the risk of becoming passé after several centuries.  So, if you’ve wanted to employ a dragon or a dragonesque creature into your fantasy epic but wanted to avoid cliché, why not take a trip around the Internet and see what you can substitute your charming, fire-breathing monstrosity with?

Mythical & Fantasy Creatures is a great storehouse of information when it comes to entities of the unreal. One of the first things I noticed was how simple and uncluttered the site design was.  There are categories listed for just about any phylum of creature you’re looking for, from avian to serpentine, large to small (if you’re looking more for division than phylum, plant-like creatures have their own section too).

Click on a category on the left – say, Large Creatures, for instance – and a new page pops up with a helpful definition of what exactly “Large Creatures” is intended to mean.  In this case:

“Large sized mythical creatures are a range of fabulous monsters and fantastical creatures, they are from myths, folklore and legends, or in some cases are based upon exaggerated descriptions of real creatures. Other of these creatures origins are from popular modern fiction.”

On the right side of the page is a list of creatures kept in the site’s library.  Here I saw listings for massive things like titans, chimera, and manticore. Out of curiosity, I clicked “cockatrice”:

“The Cockatrice is a snake like creature, which has a pair of great wings that are seen to come from that of a great eagle or that are leathery wings like a dragons. Characteristics of a Cockatrice are that it has glowing red eyes with black pupils. Cockatrice has a magical gaze that it can petrify an attacker to stone.”

Dragons?  Please!  All they can do is set stuff on fire!

Ah, well, anyhow, if you ignore my advice and want to find more inspiration for your dragons anyway, not to worry:  Mythical & Fantasy Creatures has a separate section altogether for Dragons and Serpents. What’s more, the site designer wasn’t content to just say “Here. Dragons.”  Instead, the visitor is offered the option of learning about fantasy dragons, culturally significant dragons (such as those found in Chinese traditions), and serpents of both land and sea.

The amount of information on each creature varies.  Some entries are about a paragraph or less long, some – such as the entry on the kraken – contain tons of information, including historical references to the creatures that, once upon a time, were actually thought to be real.  Regardless, what is clearly evident is the amount of love, work, and research that was put into the page.

As if all that weren’t enough, the site also features designations of mythical beasts by culture.  Looking to get ideas from the members of the Egyptian pantheon?  Want to base a hero off of a Norse god but can’t come up with any ideas than Thor?  The site covers Celtic, Mayan, and elemental beasts (fire, water, that kind of thing) in addition to those, and has a whole Greek section off to itself.

Sometimes when coming up with the ultimate monster/friendly creature, a writer often needs help coming up with inspiration.  Turning to the classics – especially the ancient classics, born in less cynical days unspoiled by the scientific method – can provide ideas for the unearthly fauna that will roost in the dreams – and maybe the nightmares – of readers for years.

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon (02 February, 2012)

Having been a child of 1980’s cinema, I was exposed and became enamored of science-fiction movies with a good dose of action in them.  From the eye-popping SLAM!-BANG! of the early Star Wars saga to the bloody shootouts of Robocop, action sequences were the go-go juice that inspired my imagination whenever I sent my heroes on their perilous quests.  Just as fitting in fantasy as in sci-fi, pulse-pounding action sees us through classic scenes of knights battling dragons and elves battling orcs.

The task of putting an action sequence in your story can be tricky and frustrating.  Not being a visual medium, literary stories don’t have the advantage of simply showing the audience what’s happening; the reader must be told what’s going on.  As a lot of the excitement of action relies on a chain of events happening in quick succession, the risk emerges of losing the reader’s interest through wordy, overworked description.  Conversely, it’s kind of difficult to sell the heart-pounding suspense of “He swung his sword and almost chopped the other guy’s head off.”  The entire sequence can come off as a ‘You had to be there’ moment.

Fortunately, there are those out there who have experienced success in writing action.  I’ve done a little digging around and found some sound advice from around the Internet that may help with chronicling not just a battle, but an awesome battle.

One of the key elements of creating another world is populating it with unearthly creatures, the way-out nature of which could distract from the tone of the story. Storm The castle.com has a wise bit of advice about that featured in the piece, “How to Write a Great Combat Scene – Advice for Fantasy Writers”:

Handle Strange Creatures Realistically – When writing a creature into a combat scene, whether it be a Troll, Ogre, Goblin, Orc, or any other type of exotic fantasy creature, it still must follow the rules of flesh and blood. You probably don’t have a real fantasy creature to model combat motions after, but you will have a familiar creature that you can use as a template for motion. Fantasy creatures are almost always distortions of real creatures. Trolls become very large men, Goblins are wiry and quick, and Centaurs follow the template of horses. What you can do is to transfer your thinking about the creature in terms of what it is similar to. How would a horse move in this situation? How would a very large man move in this combat scene? These transferences of physique work well and make the combat realistic.

If you go check out the rest of the great tips listed (there are a number of them), remember to check out the other pages as well.  Storm the Castle has a treasure trove of fantasy-based craft projects and other goodies.

Elfwood.com is a massive collection of science-fiction and fantasy on the web.  Their stated goal to “provide a place for amateurs from all over the world to share, teach, and inspire a new generation of dreams” is backed up by their large library of stories and artwork, as well as the Fantasy Art Resource Project (FARP), an elaborate series of tutorials intended to aid the struggling visionary in the creative process.  In her article “Writing Action”, S. B. ‘Kinko’ Hulsey provides an excellent example of writing action by, in fact, providing an example of written action.  She starts with a rather drab, wordy piece of text and uses valuable tools to improve it.  A great piece of advice is to carefully choose one’s words, which can really make a difference in presenting action and keeping the play-by-play from getting boring.  Consider the following passage:

Janis leapt into the air, clearing the large, granite boulder without touching it with his plain, brown leather boots. He saw a glint of metal out of the corner of his eye and turned to see a huge ugly monstrosity of a troll swinging a large, engraved sword, made by dragons by the looks of it, at the boy. Jumping backwards, Janis avoided the sword and countered with his rapier, its strong, plain blade holding up to the strength of the beast.

Pretty clunky. But once it’s jazzed up with more arresting verbiage:

Janis leapt into the air, clearing the boulder easily. He caught a flash of metal out of the corner of his eye and whirled to see a huge troll swinging a sword straight at the boy. Leaping backwards, Janis avoided the blade, then countered with his rapier, its blade holding up to the strength of the beast.

… it becomes more interesting, and shorter to boot.  Brevity in an action sequence is important – and the article even says as much.  There’s much more inspiring information in the article, as well as the rest of elfwood.com.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Finally, what better place to learn about something than a site called about.com?  I’ve gone there many a time for other issues (everything from food safety to finding the right kind of freeware to do a project), and lo, they even have an entry about writing action, Ginny Wiehardt’s “How Do You Write Action Scenes?” One of the more soothing elements of the article is that it starts right off saying “Action scenes are really hard to write: it’s not just you.”  Good to know I’m not alone.

Get up and act out the scenes as best you can (though I realize this is not always possible when writing fantasy novels). As you act it out, you’ll also get ideas for other things you can describe. You might also try watching action sequences on screen (you could even observe or take a martial arts or fencing class). How do people tend to fall, on their sides, on their hands, etc.? What sorts of exclamations do they make? Do they wipe sweat away, or do they ignore it? How does a body respond when a sword (or hand, foot, etc.) makes contact?

Sage words. One of the keys to writing fantasy or science-fiction is to ground the world into some kind of reality.  This makes the characters and the situation relatable to the reader. I, for example, have never been to a high-tech park nestled in the jungle of a Central American island that saw bloodshed and disaster after the scientists that brought dinosaurs back to life lost control of the facility, but Michael Crichton provided plenty of effective descriptors of the action and the environments in Jurassic Park for me to relate to the danger the characters were in.

These were just a handful of search results.  Action writing can be a hassle, but it can also be a satisfying challenge met.  Never give up until you’ve created something that flows on the page as fast as it flows in your mind.

KMS

All of the quoted material is copyright their respective authors.