Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Professor Ortega's DO'S AND DON'T'S for Fantasy

Hi randomly assembled SFF forum goers! My name is Lauren Ortega and chances are you haven't heard of me and find the "professor" in front of my name questionable.

Well first of all I'm allegedly well-known to a small group of people on facebook which is more than you can say for some people. Second of all go I'm better and smarter than you so don't question my credentials again.

Now recently it has come to my attention that many of you have a fondness for getting together and brainstorming ideas for fantasy novels. This is something I fully support! After all I myself happen to be a rather titanic fan of fantasy fiction, and the creativity frequently on display is one of the things I enjoy the most about the genre!

Granted there's about a 99.9% chance that any novel you actually publish is going to be utterly loathed by me. But please don't take this as an offense! I just mean that in all likelyhood the story you probably have an urge to tell will be an insipid, possibly racist, and certainly sexist rehash of other boring books.

Of course you might say to yourself "Well what do I care if this Lauren Ortega doesn't enjoy my work?" And that's a pretty fair question! Of course the answer is that I'm better and smarter than you and thus my ideas carry more merit, but that really just goes without saying.

However what I really want to do is help you! I want you to write the type of fantasy novel that I'll enjoy and might consider quality! And furthermore I aim to help you with a simple series of easy to remember Do's and Don't's that'll really take you all the way to the top.

Or at least keep you from turning into the next Terry Goodkind! Which we can all agree is something you don't want to do.



Probably the most simple instruction I can possibly give. The genre is "fantasy" which means "fantastical" peoples, places, and cultures exist. The geography might be strange and baroque, the people could have a value structure or system of government that bares no familiarity with our own, and there's a good chance they might not even be "people" in the first place.

You want to know half of what makes China Mieville's worlds so fascinating? Or what makes Morrowind still a blast to dick around in a decade after it's release? Creative and interesting worlds that can only exist in the imagination.


This is my reaction every single time an author INSISTS that I spend a few hundred(thousand) pages learning about what their stupid made-up line of kings did to make some line of stupid nobles so pissed. Also how does magic work? And why do dragons fly? And why do.....

Look just fuck that noise.

I don't even have an issue with the concept of  worldbuilding! I do it myself with my own ideas! Most of the time though it seems to be used in the service of adding structure to worlds that don't really need it. Magic has to have rules! Why? No real reason other than the author worrying about some nerdlinger calling him out with "LOL A WIZARD DID IT' every time his mage character activates his "turn marshmallow" spell.

Really it's okay to maybe not fill in all the gaps or chart the entire realm of the fantastic.


Again this goes without saying. Seriously we're all fucking sick of "chosen ones","darklords",and whatever other bullshit fantasy cliche you can name. The question is what are you going to do about it?

Now while the natural urge is to go "Oh I'm gonna create a chosen one figure! BUT I'LL BE SUBVERSIVE AND SHIT!" I strongly recommend against it.

Mostly because it leads to works like this:

And we need another of these like we need stomach ulcers.

No instead what I recommend is looking BEYOND the realm of fantasy and actually tackling things from a different angle or with a fresh character. I'm not a creative writing expert or anything, but I can't imagine it's that hard to maybe write a protagonist who's slightly different from Frodo Skywalker Reynolds the 3rd.

Also it might be a slightly good idea to create a character that ISN'T based on Dungeons & Dragons character you created at the age of 19. I still have fond memories of Lauren the Half-Orc(I am not deeply creative with names) but I'm not attempting to write a(what I assume) is a multi-volume saga about her and her half-orc adventures.


These are the worst and I hate them without question.

Points are further deducted if they have a catch-phrase. You become my enemy if they have a tragic romance in their path. And I will personally hunt you down myself if anybody uses the term "woobie" or one of it's derivatives to describe them.

                       DO FEEL FREE TO ADD SOME WOMEN

As a member of the rare sex known as "woman" I would like to express my interest in other women being prominent in whatever fantasy world you've created.

Female warriors, female business owners, female nobles, female thieves, bakers, mages, assassins, and just about any other job you can name. Add them in, act natural with them, give them the same time and attention as you no doubt will with the male characters.

Just try to handle them naturally! Avoid pitfalls like the "Exceptional Woman"(I.E. SHE'S THE ONE FIGHTER OUT OF THE BUNCH! NOT LIKE THOSE BITCHES WHO WEAR DRESSES!) and give them plenty of variety.

You can do it fantasy authors!!


 Now that you've got this strong female character I can understand the urge you have to add a rape sequence. It's character building, it allows you to establish that the badguy is REALLY bad , and if you happen to be an asshole you might even claim that it "takes an arrogant character down a notch."

And I'm here to say that this is a bad idea and you should not do it.

Seriously unless you REALLY KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU ARE DOING I would highly recommend you avoid this altogether. Authors that I trust have completely fucked up and made really offensive sequences, and I don't trust you whatsoever.

You've probably got various excuses but believe me I have heard them all and none of them are good.

And really there's probably a bunch more(HEY YA'LL HOW ABOUT PORTRAYALS OF MINORITIES THAT AREN'T DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPLY OFFENSIVE) but I'll leave that for next time! After all you have a lot of work to do and don't need me to yell in your ear anymore.

But seriously if I see one more cynical crippled guy I'm going to set something on fire.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sad Northern Songs: Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword

If there's one thing fantasy writers love, it's linking themselves and their work to mythology. Sooner or later a writer's going to namedrop Beowulf or Greek mythology in an interview, and finding a fantasy novel that doesn't have at least one bit of Celticism can be immensely hard.

This of course is hardly surprising, considering that the modern genre has deep roots in 19th century Romanticism and that movement's fascination with national consciousness and the(oftentimes simplified) myths behind that. Indeed works like E.R. Eddison's "The Worm Ouroboros" are written to emulate the mythological tales that inspired it. And one doesn't have to go into detail in regards to Tolkien and his interest in creating an Anglo-Saxon mythology via-Middle Earth.

That being said, most fantasy writers don't really have that good of a handle on mythology. This admittedly might be partially colored by my time actually studying folklore(and all the Jungian interpretations of Snow White that you can throw a stick at) but I frequently feel that many writers know the words but not the music when it comes to mythic works. They can replicate the heroic warrior culture of Germanic sagas, but they have a hard time with the absolute sadness at the center of so many.*

Poul Anderson's 1954 novel The Broken Sword does not suffer from that problem. And indeed stands as one of the finest fantasy novels ever written.

Back in the European Dark Ages war wages across the English countryside. Scandinavian invaders burn the shore, Christianity has all but usurped the Pagan beliefs, and underneath it all magic races battle each other in an endless war. The elves and trolls, powerful under-empires that regard humans with little more than disinterest save for one ability. The power to wield iron weapons, which is the bane of them all. To that end the elves hatch a plot to steal away a human child named Scafloc and replace him with a half elf-half Troll changling named Valgard. And in doing so begin to set off a series of events that will end in tragedy.

Of course there's ultimately more to the story, but revealing details about Scafloc's human father, a vengeful witch, the machinations of various gods, and ultimately the cursed sword Tyrfing, but there's so many details crammed into this less than 300-page** book that this post could keep going for a while.

Ultimately though the book's central arc is Scafloc and Valgard's alienation towards the two worlds(the one of magic and the world of man) that drives the plot like a steamroller to it's conclusion, and Anderson handles it with all the grim skill that's to be expected for this tale.

Poul Anderson was of course something of a natural at this. Though probably best known for his science-fiction, his influence on fantasy(Three Hearts and Three Lions being extremely important to the development of Dungeons & Dragons) is probably his best work, and it's blessed with his natural talents at characterization. While oftentimes prone to the silly politics(in this case gung-ho libertarianism) and typically overwrought pulp prose, Anderson separated himself from his contemporaries with a sensitivity that most of the others lacked. Rarely in Anderson's work will characters be divided into clearly good and evil categories, and even the worst of characters will still be treated with a level of understanding that's rare to see in books from that era.

Anderson also had a deep love and interest in his Scandinavian heritage and folklore, which is seen time and time again in his work. Unlike many other writers though Anderson was able to get at the real heart of these stories, crafting melancholy tales of people trapped in fates they don't wish for and struggling(mostly fruitlessly) against them.

The Broken Sword takes all these qualities, boils them down to their bare essence, and proceeds to create a tale that could stand shoulder to shoulder with any Nordic Saga in it's apocalyptic fury.

*And really for sheer bleakness Germanic and Persian mythology stand on a depressing peak.

**This is always a plus as far as I'm concerned. The Broken Sword's an epic but there's no wasted pages in it whatsoever. I can only imagine how many books it'd take to tell this story today.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My very first post

So this is my blog about fantasy fiction. I like fantasy fiction very much. However I'm pretty terrible about writing introduction posts.

So I'm just going to say that in the coming days I plan to turn a loving(and oftentimes critical) eye on the genre I'm devoted too.

Tears will be shed, friendships will be broken, but hopefully somebody comes away with a good book they haven't checked out before.