I’m delighted to welcome my first guest to the aspects series – Rick Haynes, whose specialist subject is medieval fantasy. Over to you, Rick.
What World Do You Want To Create?
It all seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? You have all these ideas in your head racing around and around like eager puppies, but what next? Maybe a beer, glass of wine or coffee is needed as you sit back and relax? Or perhaps you are fast asleep and the pieces come together, waking you up in an instant. As you reach for pen and paper you’re off and running.
Me? I think of the size of my new world first and all the locations. Will it be in one land, or many? What about mountains, seas, rivers, castles, villages and people?
But what about your story? Have you given thought to a past, present or future world? How about the history, their laws and rules? Is your world full of humans or magical beasts, not forgetting the ruling classes? All of these elements need to be considered to make your world believable. The list goes on and on, but now I pause before the puppies bark too loudly.
Where Are You?
Without having some idea of scale it’s impossible to gauge distances. For example, how far would a horse travel in four hours? Sounds easy enough but other factors, like the terrain and the load that the animal was bearing, need to be considered.
Drawing a map takes time but it’s worth it. I prefer to draw mine in pencil, they’re no masterpiece but for me my mass of swirls and squiggles are very meaningful. I envisage a castle with turrets, crenellated battlements, inns, stables, barracks and the main quarters. I move on and draw the surrounding area, the nearest river, the hills and the local villages. Bit by bit my map takes shape, and as it does, I am already seeing parts of the story unravel in my head.
I’m all for making life as easy as possible, even if others believe my map looks like the doodles of a five-year-old child. There are programmes you can buy to draw really good maps, but I prefer my way – I confess my tech skills are poo. Choose whichever route suits you best but I would strongly recommend that any map is better than none, and it makes a good starting point for your new and exciting fantasy world.
In Your Head.
Characters can get in your head and why not?
Something will send a spark into your mind, and bit by bit, sparkles multiply. Soon the flame burns brightly and a protagonist arrives to haunt you. Making a few notes about physical attributes, dress, mannerisms and attitude starts the journey. It won’t be long before you wonder what you have created. Some authors say that their characters lead them, others that they lead, but it matters not, for once they have been safely delivered from the security of your mental womb, they’re yours for life.
If they cause you headaches and you can’t sleep, then look in the mirror and think. You may even end up enjoying the masochism. You should also be thinking about governments and the inhabitants of your world, technology, living standards and historical events, as all could be meaningful in your creation. Take your time and let your brain wander into endless possibilities.
I bet you hated it as much as I did but times change. If you want your work to be as perfect as possible, then do your homework and do it to the best of your ability. Firstly, think about the language that you are using. “That’s cool man” is okay for a modern story but completely out of place in the middle ages. Check what words were used in your chosen era. I’m not one for constant foul language, but when writing about warriors my characters scream at me, putting the words into my head. I’m sure that you will be in the same position, but don’t overdo the swearing as for many a reader it’s a big turn-off.
I’ve used the word ‘bollocks’ many times and several readers told me it was too modern. Alas, their information was incorrect. ‘Ballocks’ was old English for testicles and it soon changed to Bollocks. In Tudor times there was a Bollock Knife, so called because of two lobes on the handle resembling a pair of men’s balls. If I hadn’t checked beforehand one of my favourite characters would have said something like, ‘poo’ or ‘damn’, well not really, but you get the gist.
Weapons, clothes, even the habits of the people in that time were very different to our modern-day world, with survival often being top of the list. So check them out, make notes, and ensure you get the details correct.
An accurate description of your world really does matter, especially if you want it to stand up to scrutiny. I can assure you that some clever sod will query your work, and as much as it hurts, they are occasionally correct. It makes sense to take your time and do your homework.
To Plan Or Not To Plan?
As you have read previously, I draw a map and think of my characters, making notes as I go. I will also write down a few personal details of them, their appearance, likes and dislikes, but not much else, for my brain sends me a string of helpful messages as I type.I do let my mind wander though, and I am lucky that I can see a scene in my head. Taking my main protagonist in Evil Never Dies as an example, I visualise Tarn swinging his mighty broadsword, the blood running and the screams of the dead and wounded. Seeing his aching body after a vicious battle and imagining his anguish of so many dead, makes me portray him, incongruously, as a man who craves peace, and he is.
Welcome to the world of my imagination folks. To summarise, I write as I go, for pictures of the land become clear in my mind. My characters sometimes lead me, but more often than not I lead them. I know a few writers that plan everything in advance. They start with all the chapters, then the characters and plot lines, breaking them down into sections so that all the planning is carried out before they write one single word.
I’d go nuts with that method for it would stifle my creative juices, and to be honest they’d probably be drier than the Sahara Desert if I did. Yet that way of careful planning works for some. The latest trend or your favourite author’s methods may be great, but if their way is not your way, then don’t be seduced. Take your time, experiment, find a method that you are comfortable with and stick with it. After all, it’s your plan. Think Beyond The Now.
Supposing, just supposing you have this great idea for a tale? As your world develops the number of words increase, more characters are added, and your planned 70k novel is going to be a bit bigger than you thought. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Possibly. I’m stating the obvious, but stay with me. More scenes mean more characters, more action, more dialogue, more description and more planning.
It’s all too easy to come unstuck by,
a) Bringing in superfluous characters.
b) Adding too much description.
c) Having to go back and rewrite gaps in plot holes.
When your masterpiece is finished, your first task – well once you’ve walked away from it for a week or two and recovered your sanity – is to read, read, read again and cut like hell. As Stephen King wrote ‘It’s like murdering children, but it has to be done.’ I think you get the gist of his metaphor. Pre-planning will really help once you are ready to do, well whatever you decide. I never thought I would ever finish my first book let alone publish. Looking back, I would definitely have changed my modus operandi, but that’s life and I’m still learning.
Do you want to have fun?
Listening is very important to authors and if you haven’t joined a local writing group, why not? The advice and help is free, the chocolate biscuits great and the friendship long lasting. What about your characters? Mine talk to me as I type. Sometimes I even listen when they lead me astray and I’ve gone off in more directions than those on a compass, but then I am a forgiving man. World building takes time, yet often the writer is too eager to finish the story and cannot see the wood for the trees. Whereas, another reader can spot an error in a flash, well they haven’t been poring over the same manuscript for months on end, have they?
Now is the time to assess your new creation. You gave it life, nurtured it over the months and soon it will be thrust into the ever growing world of global books. What a frightening thought. You’ve created a world of your own making and it’s time for others to see it.
Do You Want To Have Fun? If you don’t then forget everything I have written.
But there is more, as your world is now ready for others to enter and to enjoy the magic you have created. The next new world is already taking shape inside your head. You simply haven’t felt the power growing yet.
I wish you the very best of luck.
Thanks for reading.
That’s a fascinating insight, Rick. Thanks for letting us into your world.