Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just Because It’s Make-Believe Doesn’t Mean You Can. . .

Please welcome guest author, Suzan Harden, who offers great tips on writing fantasy.

A writer creating any type of fantasy still needs to do her homework.

“But this isn’t real!” you say. No, but it has to be believable. You have to construct a story that’s so logical the reader is willing to throw away his knowledge of everyday life to follow your character’s journey.

Here are some tips I hope will help you as you write your story.

1) Your character shouldn’t be omnipotent.

If the character is all-powerful, your story’s over on page 1. I’m not saying your character can’t be powerful, but there has to be a limitation or a flaw to keep the conflict going. Not even Merlin (The Once and Future King by T.H. White) could do everything, and his fatal flaw was showing off his knowledge to sweet, young things who liked to stab people in the back.

The other problem all-powerful characters is that such stories come across as Mary Sue fantasies, i.e. a projection of the writer’s wishes and desires.

2) There should be rules in your world, and they should be consistent.

Your reader isn’t going to trust you if you have your heroine says she has to have a particular stone/flower/herb to complete X spell in Chapter 3 and doesn’t use the same requisite item for the same spell in Chapter 15.

Can you break your world’s rules? Yes, but the exceptions need to be consistent with the rules you’ve already established. Take Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter books. Dark-hunters are dead warriors who’ve sold their soul to the Greek goddess Artemis. The process to get their souls back leaves the Dark-Hunters’ significant others with horrible burns. In Dance with the Devil, Zarak’s true love, Astrid avoids the pain because Zarak still had his soul. Zarak had been so dirty and deformed when he died that Artemis couldn’t bear to touch him to take his soul.

3) You probably shouldn’t break the rules of physics, even in a fantasy.

The biggest ones I see broken are the conservation of mass, the conservation of energy, and Newton’s third law of motion, also known as the equal and opposite reaction rule. As a Bachelor of Science geek, these annoy me the most and throw me out of the story.

Take shapeshifting for example. The average weight for an adult male North American wolf is about eighty pounds. If a two hundred-pound man transforms into a normal-size wolf, where does that extra mass go? And how does he get it again when he transforms back to a human? This is one of the reasons I love Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn, and it’s one of the few gripes I have about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Professor McGonagall should not be the size of an average house cat without any sort of explanation.

Also, using Newton’s third law of motion gives you the price your character may pay for using magic, i.e. your potential flaw. Christopher Paolini used this to great effect in Eragon.

4) Know what you’re talking about when you mix religion and magic

I’m not talking about political correctness. You can definitely have religion and magic in the same book. But I see too many urban fantasy and paranormal romances writers throw the terms “Wicca,” “Wiccan,” and “witch” about in a way that shows they have no concept of the true meaning of the words.

On the other hand, Dan Brown made The Da Vinci Code so believable that it scared the you-know-what out of the Vatican.

5) If you use an existing myth, do your research and find a new take on the story.

Sometimes digging past a certain source material can give you new ideas for your stories. Bram Stoker blended Eastern European myths concerning vampires with the historical Transylvanian prince, Vlad Tepes, to create Dracula. Many of those vampire myths can be traced further back to the Greek demi-goddess Empusa and the Hebrew demon Lilith, both of which seduced young men and drank their blood. Lilith may have possible connections to various Assyrian, Babylonian, and Sumerian female demons (scholars still debate the etymological sources) who acted as succubi.

As for a new take, Anne Rice transformed vampires from evil blood-suckers into tortured anti-heroes with Interview with the Vampire. Lynsay Sands turned them into survivors of Atlantis. MaryJanice Davidson’s vampire queen is a self-absorbed ex-secretary with a show fetish.

The key thing to remember is to enjoy writing your characters and guide them through new paths in the fantasy arena.


Blood Magick is the first novel of Bloodlines, an urban fantasy series.

It’s not the family you’re born to. It’s the Family you join.


Caesar Augustine has survived on it for millennia, but his friend Natasha believed she was close to a cure for vampirism. When she dies and her lab notes disappear, Caesar’s only chance to walk in sunlight again is finding her granddaughter Bebe, the one witch Natasha would trust with her research. But getting Bebe to trust him is another matter altogether.


Dr. Bebe Zachary has feared and mistrusted vampires for seventeen years, since the night she witnessed two of the bloodsuckers brutally murder her parents. When Caesar Augustine comes to her with an insane story that her grandmother’s death was no accident, the last thing she wants to do is believe him. Except her cousins have challenged Bebe for leadership of their coven, somebody definitely wants her dead too, and Caesar is the only the person standing between her and the grave.

Blood Magick is currently available through the following retailers:



Bethany said...


You're right about making sure it's believable and sometimes you don't know if it is or isn't until you get a critique partner to look at it. I tend not to mind about size when it comes to shape shifters--I figure the extra mass (in fact, I never thought about it, to be honest). I haven't read "Harry Potter" so I don't know very much about the shape shifting in that novel, but in others the mass never occurred to me.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-)

Ciara Gold said...

Hey Suzan, first, thanks again for being my blog guest. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and the book. Caesar was quite yummy.

Bethany, thanks for stopping by. I read the first Harry Potter and convess, I didn't make it to the end. I loved the plot and characters but...

Melissa said...

I've always thought building new worlds would be tons of hard work. Lots of great points to remember here! :) thanks, Suzan!

Suzan Harden said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by. I'm nose deep in some necessary tasks, so I'll be back later tonight.

dragonfly said...

Thanks for the excellent advice. No matter what genre you write, you still have to establish rules in your world and stick by them. Good one, Suzan.

Suzan Harden said...

Thanks, June. I hope it helps.

Penny Ehrenkranz said...

Suzan, you offer some excellent tips for writers interested in fantasy. While I haven't written any fantasy novels, I do write fantasy short stories. I agree with everything and stress how important each one of your tips is.

Ciara, I also want to let you know I've awarded your blog the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award. Please stop by my blog tomorrow and pick it up.