Magic versus Technology: Setting the Rules for Your Fictional World

Today the terms “fantasy” and “science fiction” are becoming broad, catch-all terms that encompass a wide range of sub-genres. Most people don’t just write fantasy, they write urban paranormal romance or YA epic fantasy. The same with science fiction: there’s everything from space fantasy to steampunk to retro-futurism. This is a good thing, because the person who likes fairytale retellings with a dark urban flair may not be a fan of epic high fantasy. There’s room for all of the sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative sub-genres, and all their mash-ups and cross-overs, too.

But even with all of the genre-crossing, I believe it’s still important to define whether your world is magic-based or technology-based.

This does not mean that anything with magic is automatically fantasy, nor does it mean that anything with technology more advanced than the steam engine is science-fiction. I believe the distinction lies is how the world of the story is governed. More to the point, it’s how you as the writer establish the rules of your world. A magic-based versus technology-based world has more to do with the culture of the characters and how they interact with world around them, and less to do with whether the characters wave magic wands or fly around in space ships. Continue reading

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Why I’m Writing Short Stories Instead of Novels

I’ve always considered myself a novelist. I love long involved stories, the more epic the better. As a kid I loved The Chronicles of Narnia, then I read The Lord of the Rings and others (The Silmarillion, etc.) I love a thick novel with a thick plot (like The Historian), and my favorite TV show is the sprawling sci-fi epic Babylon 5.

And so, I began writing what I loved reading. In middle school I had an epic fantasy series that I wrote on for several years (I’d planned to make it a seven book series, and wrote first drafts of about two and a half books). When I first started this blog a few years ago, I was working on an epic fantasy trilogy inspired by the folktales of Finland.

While I have not given up on either fantasy series, both have been temporarily shelved and I’ve started writing short fiction. Because of my love of long epic stories, I never thought of myself as a short story writer. Continue reading

Creating Fantasy Creatures: It’s Okay to be Unoriginal

Everybody loves Hobbits and Thestrals and Wookies.

A Thestral from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

A Thestral from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

What do these creatures all have in common? They are unique to their particular stories or worlds (as in Middle-Earth, the Harry Potter series, and Star Wars, respectively). It’s fun to read about (or watch) new creatures in fantasy stories, and it’s just as fun to create them. Inventing the name for your new creature, what the adults look like versus what the babies look like, culture and language, what they eat, where they live. All of these are important world-building tasks, especially if you’re inventing a new species from scratch. We all want to be original and have our fantastical races stand out in the fantasy-creatures crowd.

But I’d like to make the argument that it’s okay to be unoriginal – at least to start with. Thousands of years of human culture has given us hundreds of amazing and creative creatures in mythology and folktales from around the world. Continue reading