I Think More People are Fans of Fantasy and Sci-Fi Than They Let On
August 15th, 2011
Fantasy and Sci-Fi books have always had a bit of a dysfunctional relationship with (capital L) Literature. The people who are true fans of the genres are some of the most diehard fans of all. They’ll wait in lines for days to get the newest iteration of their favorite fantasy world before anyone else does. They’ll dress up in elaborate costumes and flock to conventions to be with their nerdy brethren. They’ll put their favorite character on their underwear. But when you ask the critics – the “professionals” – they can’t find enough words to describe how terrible the genres are! Even worse, when you ask regular folks if they’re fans of books with blaster-slinging, dragon-slaying knights in shining armor, they laugh in your face and (impolitely) remind you how socially awkward you are.
When the movie comes out, everyone hops right on board! If you read The Lord of the Rings before the films came out, you’d be labeled a nerd. But as soon as those titles hit the big screen, everyone became a fan. If you read books like The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader in your free time, you’re a total geek. But who doesn’t love the Star Wars movies? Everyone’s a Sci-Fi fan when a new one of those comes out!
So why do Sci-Fi and Fantasy books have such a huge stigma, yet their silver-screen counterparts are considered pop-culture? Is it because people have this image of greasy-haired, pimple-faced, Mountain Dew chugging, Pizza Hut slurping basement trolls playing Dungeons and Dragons, rolling d20′s like DUB’s on a Chrysler (much like my mid-teen years, lol)? That’s definitely part of it. But I think it’s also because a lot of people, critics included, think that Sci-Fi and Fantasy books lack the intellectual substance and social commentary of more “high-brow” Literature.
Well critics… how about this?
Drizzt Do’Urden, R.A. Salvatore’s crowning achievement. At face value he’s a bad-ass dark elf with a nasty past and an affinity for flashy combat and witty quips. But on a much deeper level, his character also shines light on racial prejudice in a social environment. Drizzt has to work ten times as hard to earn respect for his deeds simply because of his Drow heritage. What do you have to say to that, critics? That sounds pretty intellectual to me! Not convinced? OK, try this one on. Sauron and the Ents in Tolkien’s epic. The battle at Sauron’s tower and the events leading up to it were symbolic of rapidly growing industry and its effect on the environment. Tolkien was enamored by the natural environment of the English countryside around his home when he was a boy and hated that industry was encroaching upon it. Still not enough? Fine. I can go on for days if I have to! In The Time Machine by Wells, the Eloi and the Morlocks were a very intentional social commentary on the concept of Social Darwinism and how the class system of the Victorian era was likely going to lead to the downfall of (then) modern man. The Eloi became weak and frail because their technology became so advanced that they no longer had anything to fear, and thus decayed physically because they no longer needed to defend themselves. Now, over a hundred years later, wasn’t Wells right in a sense, considering the luxuries modern electronics provide for us? How many people are weaker and less fit to survive in the harshness of the outside environment compared to previous generations because they’ve become sedentary? What do you have to say about that, critics?
The point that I’m trying to make is that the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres get a bad rap, and I don’t think they deserve it. These books have some of the most elaborate, imaginative worlds and characters of all, along with some hidden layers of intellectualism to spice it up, and maybe teach us readers something. There is obviously an appeal hiding within these genres somewhere, because whenever they hit the big screen (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Twilight, Harry Potter, Avatar, etc.) they are almost always mega-hit blockbusters. And when they turn into video games (Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Halo, Gears of War, etc.) they fly off the shelves. I guess sword fights and space battles are just more appealing visually than they are in print. Grow an imagination folks!
I think more people like these genres than they let on. Most of them just don’t know it because they’ve never picked up one of the books because of the stigmas and bad reviews that surround the genres as a whole. As real fans of Sci-Fi and Fantasy fiction, I think it’s our job to spread the word. So get out there and tell your friends to pick up a “nerdy” book! Chances are, they’ll love it!
Grow the ranks of the nerd legion!
4 Tips for Fantasy Book Writers to Help Master Their Narrative Voice
July 11th, 2011
I get a lot of questions about the voice my fantasy books are written in. In classes, workshops, and private reviews, I always hear people tell me that it sounds old, historic, and epic, but it’s still easy to read. Then, of course, they ask how I do it. Well, it’s actually not as difficult as they make it seem. There are just a few simple things that anyone can do to create a similar voice for their own fantasy stories. But before I tell you what they are, I first have to warn you that this narrative voice and style will not work for any type of story. In fact, if you try to use it for anything other than Epic/High Fantasy, or in some cases epic Science Fiction (depending on the scope) you’ll risk believability. No one wants to hear a modern day steam-punk murder mystery narrated by a ten-thousand year old immortal wizard that predates written history!
Or do they? … note to self … idea for next book …
Ok, where was I? Oh yes, use this voice wisely! Now I’m not going to give you all of my secrets, because I don’t want tons of books out there sounding exactly like mine, but I can give you a few tips to elevate your own narrative voice to fit the epic scale of your fantasy story or book. The rules are simple:
Do Not Use Contractions
There is no quicker way to make your narrator sound like he grew up in Detroit than to make him use contractions. This rule can actually be applied to characters as well. Read through the Lord of the Rings and tell me how many times you see Aragorn or Gandalf use contractions compared to some of the less serious characters. There are a few exceptions to this rule. One in particular gives you a real advantage on controlling tone. If you are trying to make one scene feel much more lighthearted than the others, perhaps a comic scene, make the narrator use contractions in that scene. The readers won’t know why it feels less serious, but they’ll pick up on it, I promise.
As a writer, the thesaurus can be your friend and your enemy at the same time. If you use it foolishly, you’ll sound like you’re trying too hard to sound smart. If you don’t use it enough (or at least have a strong enough vocabulary on your own) your work could end up sounding too casual or juvenile. The key is a balance. You want to use elevated words in place of words that sound blatantly modern, but you don’t want to overdo it. You’ll get a feeling for this the more you write. You’ll stumble across a word that you just know in your gut doesn’t fit the Ye Olde fantasy feel of your story and you’ll want to replace it. The trick is to replace it with a word that means the same thing, is elevated above the original word, but isn’t so elevated that the common person wouldn’t know what it means. For example – stupid. If your narrator calls a character stupid, he’s not going to sound very epic is he? Nope… but if he calls them foolish or ignorant, you hit it on the money. Those are words that people won’t need to run to the dictionary for, but they don’t get used very often in modern speech because they’re “smarter” words.
This is a trick that I use all the time. By structuring your sentences in ways that differ from today’s norm, but are still understandable, you create the illusion that the line might come from an older time. Truth be told, Old English is damn near unintelligible without years of schooling. The goal is not to mimic it unless you want your readers to pass out and drool all over your pages. But, the average person today doesn’t know what Old English sounds like, so if you write your sentences in a different way than they’re used to, you can make them think that the style is older than it really is. Sneaky I know, but it works, trust me. Take parts of the sentence from the end and stick them at the beginning. Pull something from the middle and glue it to the end. Turn it around backwards and slap it a few times… Well, that last one might not help, but it could be fun. I’ll demonstrate this trick at the end after I talk about one more thing.
Tense and Point of View
I write all of my fantasy books in Third Person Omniscient. I do this because High Fantasy tends to have a very large scope and it’s difficult to portray everything to the readers unless the narrator can tell them. The other reason I use Third Person Omniscient is because it lends a very God-like tone to the voice, which in turn makes it feel bigger and more powerful. Stories are always epic when they’re told by gods, right? Exactly! Tense is the other key to this. Once again, I always write my fantasy books in the past tense. I think the reason for this is obvious. My goal in everything is to make my books sound epic and historical. If you’re reading it in present tense like it’s happening around you, you won’t get that feeling. But past tense isn’t enough to nail down my specific voice. I use the “Past Perfect” tense. This tense is less progressive (and passive in my opinion) than other past tenses. Here’s an example: They were going. Vs. They had gone. The first is an example of the past progressive, the second is past perfect. Past progressive is typically how most people today talk in regular conversation, which is precisely the opposite of what I want. So I use past perfect which, to me, sounds much more finite (historic) and is also less common in modern speech, which does what? Makes people think it sounds old! Is it old? No, it’s just different. But it sounds cooler!
So those are the four tips for making your fantasy or sci-fi voice sound a bit more epic in scale than everyday speech. If you practice these techniques, learn to fuse them with your own writing style, and stay consistent (very important) throughout your book or story, you’ll see a big change in the way people view your works. To finish up this post, I’m going to post an example of all of these tips in action. One simple sentence. You tell me which sounds more Ye Olde!
Them: He hadn’t ever seen anything that powerful before in his life.
Me: In all his years, never before had he seen anything that powerful.
Hope these little tidbits help. Have a good one. Check back often for more blog posts and updates on the fantasy book Shard of the Old Ones: The Harbinger Awakens as it gets closer to being released. Also, my blog readers here will be the first to know, I have a promo video that’s going to be up on Youtube soon. It’s pretty great. Follow me on Twitter (the button to the right) to see it first when it comes out.
My Nerdy Fantasy Influences For These Books
July 7th, 2011
Hello there! This blog link has been empty for too long now. Time to fill it up!
The reason that it’s been neglected thus far is because I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what the perfect topic for the first post could be. After much deliberation, I have determined that the perfect topic for said first post is, in fact… nonexistent. So, abandoning all hope, I have decided to keep it simple. I’m going to briefly (as not to waste your time!) discuss some of the influences I’ve drawn upon while writing these books.
The first and largest influence is my love for all things fantasy and science fiction – I feel those two things go hand in hand. I have been a nerd of epic proportions for the majority of my life. I would watch Star Wars as a little kid then lock myself in my room, build Lego spaceships, and act out dramatic space battles – with epic dialogue and all – all by myself for hours. If I saw a picture of a knight or a wizard, I had to draw it. I loved the Renaissance Festival. I watched fantasy movies. I read fantasy books. I played with fantasy toys. I played Dungeons and Dragons, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft… the list goes on and on. I have nerd blood. As much as I’ve tried to hide it, deny it, and “be cool” in spite of it, I have finally resigned myself to the fact that I will wither and die as a nerd. And you know what? I’m OK with that!
Another major influence in writing these books is my passion for Tolkien’s works. As a well learned scholar of linguistics and Old English Literature, he set out to create a world so massive in scale that even a tale as monolithic as The Lord of the Rings, including its precursor The Hobbit, can’t cover it all. His works inspire me. So, when I decided to tackle this project, I decided to do a little research into what inspired him. Well, it turns out that Mr. Tolkien was a huge nature buff, which is why so much of his stories contain extremely detailed descriptions of landscape. This would eventually set a precedent for fantasy world building – one that I try to aspire to. The other thing that Tolkien really loved was old Germanic mythology, i.e. vikings and the Old Norse. In fact, if you look through some lists of Old Norse words, you’ll find words like Gandalf, which, if I remember correctly, means something like “wand elf” or “wood sprite” or something. I can’t remember off the top of my head. But many of his characters, towns, and locations are drawn directly from old Germanic. So, I figured if that’s what inspired him, I think I should let it inspire me too. After all, what other mythology is full of axe-wielding, ale-swilling, bearded barbarians? That’s sort of the stereotype for Fantasy! And what tale from Norse mythology is more epic than all of the others? Ragnarok – the Twilight of the Gods!
Yes sir, Ragnarok. There isn’t a tale more full of violence and intrigue than that one. So I got to studying. I even took a course on Germanic Mythology at ASU. I have drawn a lot from this tale and this mythology as a whole and incorporated a lot of what I learned into the Shard of the Old Ones books. The result, I think anyway, is something that echoes that scale but doesn’t copy it. Basically, if you know anything about Norse mythology, you’ll be able to pick out certain elements and make comparisons of my characters to characters in the myth, but nothing that you’ll find will be a direct copy. My stories are more of a tribute – a tip of the hat, if you will – at those myths and vicariously to Tolkien since he was so influenced by them as well. I hope you enjoy it. There will be plenty more previews to come.
Whew! So glad that first post is out of the way. Now I can try to focus this blog on some more lighthearted content. But, if this blog is too heavy for you to stomach, and you’d rather get some of me in much smaller doses, I do post fairly frequently on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/CurtisGalluzzo. Check me out there!
Have a great day!