Revisiting a Forgotten World

Writing Updates

I’m still working on my fantasy trilogy that has been my writing project for a couple of years now. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about some stories I wrote and a world I created many years ago. I don’t want to neglect my time spent on my current projects, but I also want to make some time to revive this older set of stories. Those stories were the ones that got me to where I am today.

Birth

This fantasy world of these old stories was my first foray into epic fantasy – I created a complex world, dozens of characters, and enough of a history and timeline to cover several novels. Initially it didn’t start out with all those elaborate details – it began as just one book, and the story was a rather obvious copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I wrote it in fifth grade, and it was probably barely 20,000 words (I don’t have a word count, since the story was hand written in pencil on notebook paper). Still, not a bad middle-grade “novel,” I suppose – and it was the longest story I had ever written and completed to that point. It spawned a two-part sequel, part one of which I wrote in middle school. Then for a while I left that world behind in favor of Star Wars fan-fiction, a lengthy story about horses on a magical island, and other assorted short stories.

Revisit

I revisited this world sometime in high school, with some fresh ideas and a slightly more mature command of writing and storytelling techniques. I wrote another novel which was intended to be a prequel to the one I’d written in elementary school, and I made plans to re-write that one.

The world was becoming more complex: I crafted different races and cultures, deities and religions, history and geography. I planned out a seven-book saga, even though one novel (and one and a half MG novelettes) is all I had written at the time.

In my college and post-college years I moved away from that world again, launching a new fantasy series, amid more short stories and some pitiful attempts at poetry. But even with all the school assignments, Shiny New Ideas, and other creative projects, I never forgot my first fantasy world that I built.

Revive

And now, even though I’m deep in the middle of something else, I’m feeling a burn to go back to this ancient world that has lain quiet and patient for so long. It requires another revamp – a bigger overhaul than just rewriting a childhood story. Change of format, change of storytelling structure, some changes to the timeline of history that I had created.

But the bones of the world are still there. I spent collectively years creating the complex societies of the centaurs, and the religion of the elves. I came up with detailed descriptions and biologies of several species of dragons, and a magical treasure that managed to make it through all the different versions of the world.

Even though I’m not fond of editing and rewriting, this revisiting is not the same thing: it’s a foundation, dusty but firm, that I can use to build on anew. Editing, revising, and rewriting will come much later, once I’ve got some new stories. But for now, I’m excited to be once again exploring a world that was my first love, in a sense. Let’s see where the stories take me this time.

Please share with me! Have you ever done a complete overhaul of a story idea, keeping it the same yet creating something new? Do you have a story or idea that’s stuck with you for years?

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10 Quotes from Science-Fiction and Fantasy

We can learn a lot from fantasy and sci-fi. Sometimes we need to hear a truth come from the mouth of the Other, or to see our situations mirrored in a fantasy world. So here are ten of my favorite quotes about life from fantasy and sci-fi books, TV shows, and movies.

Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny.The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others. – The Wizard, The Wizard of Oz

Words are, in my not-so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. – Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Equality is the nullifier of individuality… Equality is the despot destroyer of self-worth. In a world of sameness, there can be no heroes. – The Watcher, “Earth X #3,” Marvel Comics

Who’s the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him? – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens. – Gimli, The Fellowship of the Ring

‘Impossible’ is a word that humans use far too often. – Seven of Nine, “Hope and Fear,” Star Trek: Voyager

You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are. – Aslan, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We all have a destiny. Sometimes we do not see it, because we have been taught to believe that we are not important. – Delenn, “Comes the Inquisitor,” Babylon 5

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. … I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. – Puddleglum, The Silver Chair

What is one of your favorite sci-fi or fantasy quotes about real life? Please share!

Creating Fantasy Creatures and Alien Species – Real Animals as Magical Races

In a previous post on this subject, I gave some tips for creating convincing and relatable creatures to populate a fantasy or sci-fi world. In this post, I will continue in that vein, but I will come at it from a slightly different view – that is, using animals as characters in your story.

This post is not about creating fantastic new monsters or magical animals, though I might do a post on that later. This is about using familiar, “real” animals as sentient characters or races. While the practice of having sentient, anthropomorphized animals in fantasy is not especially common – except perhaps in children’s books – it can be a valid fantasy storytelling element even in YA or adult fiction.

In my previous post about creating fantasy races, I emphasized two key points in creating believable creatures: elements that make them human, and elements that make them non-human. Both, I believe, are necessary to create convincing, well-rounded fantasy creatures.

The non-human element is probably obvious – you as a writer are seeking something different, something besides just another fantasy kingdom filled with humans. Whether they are Klingons or Elves, the “otherness” aspect is part of the point of fantasy.

But equally important is the human element. There must be some way for the human reader – if not the human characters – to relate to and understand this magical race of “other” in your story. Some common ground should be there – even if the point of your story is the search for that common ground. You can write about Klingons all day long, but always remember that your readers are human.

So how does this work if you want to imbue real animals with magic and use them as the “other,” the alien race? To illustrate how this can be done, I’ll use examples from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. (While both of these series might be considered YA or even children’s literature, they are stories that are complex and mature enough to be enjoyed by adults).

What are the qualities that make them non-human?

In my previous post about creating fantasy species, I discussed three main categories to consider: physical traits, emotions or mindset of the species, and the general culture.

In the Narnia books, there are plenty of non-human creatures – and some of the most non-human of all are the Talking Beasts. The badgers, bears, mice, and dogs that have human speech and mannerisms are perhaps more alien than the fauns and centaurs and gryphons. Though they live in harmony with humans, they are very much non-human.

The physical is the most obvious, of course. Even though some Talking Beasts can walk on their hind legs and wield tools (like the heroic mouse Reepicheep), they are very much animal in appearance and behavior. No cartoony animals in cute clothes in these stories. Each species still behaves according to their animal nature as far as attitude and mindset – the fiercely loyal dogs, jittery hyper squirrels, gentle and aloof deer.

While the humans fight wars, voice their opinions, and rage against Aslan in the name of free will and progress, the Talking Beasts don’t change. Their steadiness of behavior and belief sets them apart from every other sentient race in Narnia.

They love and respect the humans, but the Talking Beasts are quick to remind everyone that they are most definitely not human, and are not trying to be in any way. The Talking Beasts are proud of their Otherness. The magic of Narnia makes them more than mere animals, but they never will be human – and they want to keep it that way.

What are the qualities that make them human?

As I mentioned before, some human elements are needed in your magical animal race if you want your human readers to relate to them at all. Even if the “otherness” is part of the point of your story, having at least some common ground can help to emphasize all the elements that make them non-human.

In Philip Pullman’s books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), the Panserbjørne (Armored Bears or Ice Bears) are at first appearance very animalistic and “other.” These Bears tend to shun human contact, but they are master craftsmen and metal workers. Their physical dwellings and societal structure are more human than animal, with their castles, metal armor, and sense of honor.

The Ice Bears, though emphasized as different and “other,” experience the very human emotions of fear and shame, hatred and love. The Bears have a king and their own laws for their kingdom. Almost the opposite of the animals in Narnia, who live in their natural habitats in the wilderness, the Ice Bears depend on their created laws and their skill with tools to hold their society together.

While the Bears and the humans have reluctant contact at best, until the plot of the story forces them together, the two species have more in common than each one believes at first. The Bears are animals and the Bears are Other, but just like humans, they hate and love and will fight to preserve their world.

Animals as sentient races and important characters can be a valid storytelling element for YA and adult fantasy, I believe, as shown by these examples. Always key is the human element, and the non-human element.Whether it’s a sword-wielding mouse, an armored polar bear, or some other animal, choose your beast and go create some magic.

ABC Book Challenge

I borrowed this idea from The Magic Violinist, a great writer and blogger who is always giving me good ideas.

This challenge is to list books that I’ve read, one for every letter of the alphabet (skipping words like A and The in the titles, of course). My list is a little bit of everything – fantasy, children’s books, classics, non-fiction. So here goes!

AAleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse

BBeezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

CThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

DThe Devil’s Horse: Tales from the Kalevala by Keith Bosley

EEchoes of Mercy by Nancy Alcorn

FThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

GThe Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino

HThe Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

IThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

JJust-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

KKirsten’s Surprise by Janet Shaw

L Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

MMara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

NNight Mare by Piers Anthony

OOnce Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

PPiercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti

QQ-Squared by Peter David

RRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

SThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

TThe Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter

UUltima Thule: Explorers and Natives in the Polar North by Jean Malaurie

VVoyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

WWisdom by Bonnie Watson

XX-Men: Empire’s End by Diane Duane

YYertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss

Z Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife

What about your reading list? Have you hit every letter yet? Please share!

My Superpower

I am entering this blog entry into a contest by Positive Writer called “You are a Writer.” Check out his blog for links to many other inspiring stories!

 

I’ve always loved stories—the more fantastical, the better. Alien planets, magical worlds, the supernatural living among us—I like it all.

I would wish, sometimes, that I could live in one of those stories. It’s not that I hated my life—I had a wonderful childhood, loving parents, all my basic needs met and a few luxuries on the side. A great environment to grow up in, but nothing special, or so I thought at the time.

I wanted to be special. To be the one who opened the wardrobe door and discovered Narnia. Or woke up in Oz and saved the day.

I wanted to fly with the hidden angel wings on my back. Or wield the magic sword. Or be the holder of the key to the secret land of the unicorns. I played games, and wrote stories, and read stories, and wished I was something special.

Why couldn’t I have a cool superpower like one of the X-Men? How come all the hidden trails in the woods always dead-ended at the edge of the highway instead of taking me to a magical fairy realm? No hole in the ground ever led to Wonderland, no ring I put on ever made me invisible. Nothing special.

Then suddenly one day, not so very long ago, I realized that I was wrong. All these years, daydreaming about things that didn’t exist, were not futile fancies or a waste of time. All this time, I’d been honing my magical talent, my special power.

I could tell stories. I could think of worlds and people that had never existed before, and never ever would if I didn’t think of them and give them life. I could create the places I longed to visit, the amazing creatures I longed to see, and share them with other people.

I’m a writer. That’s my superpower.

I have a mind, and a voice, and a pen. And I can use them to create magic or save the day.

You have a mind, and a voice, and a pen. What’s your superpower?