26 March 2017

Using Bunnies in Epic Fantasy

My writing colleagues often declare a state of "writer's block" or else request help in deciding what happens next in their stories. Just as often I suggest introducing a magic bunny. And rather more than I would like, my suggestion gets a polite chuckle and goes nowhere. It's sad, really, because bunnies (or, rabbits, in their scientific designation) offer so much in the twists and turns of a story's plot, especially in an epic fantasy.

In the early days of social media, when everyone of my friends were posting pictures of their dogs and cats, I reached point where I was feeling saturated. Then, as luck would have it, I happened to see a picture of the most cute, most perfect itty bitty bunny wabbit ever! (Look to the right->) And so I posted it, simply for its cuteness - and with contemplation of that cuteness came a certain lessening of my stress level. Little by little I sought out cute bunny pictures and posted them. I soon became known as the bunny guy, both loved and loathed - mostly loved.

Then came the dramatic tome known as EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, which I have discussed at length here and here. Also here. (And here, if you are still curious.) Even though there are dragons in this mighty tale of daring-do, I found places where a magic bunny could make a significant contribution. After all, rabbits have a long history of portents in medieval people's lives - perhaps even further back to the dawn of bunnydom. Rabbits also have meaning associated with animal totems and sometimes serve as messengers of the gods ("More treats, please!"). Some of us place great meaning on the simplest of acts, such as "What Does It Mean When a Rabbit Crosses Your Path?" while conveniently forgetting a time long ago when mankind lived in fear of rabbits

But I digress.... 

I choose to use rabbits, nee bunnies, in much more wholesome roles in my Epic Fantasy novel. While always appreciated and adored, I've found bunnies work best as plot point prompts. In that capacity, they may be either a source of nourishment (if one is near starvation) or a harbinger of the future. They may also be recognized as symbols of fertility! (Recommended use: Have a bunny hop across the grass outside the bedroom chamber windows as your hero and the seductive queen begin their love making.) For further bunniness, I recommend this earlier post on this blog.

As a source of nourishment:

After some time on the trail, our hero and his cohort pick up a couple of rogues. The food they have to share is not too delicious.

    “I wish we had some drake walk across our path tonight,” said Gorral. “I need some meat. Real meat. Not this...this grandfather food, food for old men with no teeth....”
Corlan smiled at the boy.
“You need a magic bunny,” said Tam.
“What’s that?” asked Corlan. “A magic bunny?”
“Chef always said that. Whenever we would run out of food at the palace, he would pray for a bunny to appear in the garden. By magic.”
    “Did it work?”
    “Sometimes a bunny arrived just in time for dinner.”
    Corlan laughed and licked his fingers. “That would be magic.”

As a harbinger of the future:

At one point in the journey our hero and his cohort seek help from an old magus and body-stitcher, an ancient woman named Urma.

“I remember you talked about Yvella, but never said anything about Dreva. How are your powers now?”
“I haven’t gone up in flames yet.” Urma started to chuckle, then stopped herself. “Magic powers grow stronger as we count down the years. I have one-hundred-fifteen years now, with only fourteen more to live. So says the rabbit in my visions. I didn’t listen at first—who would take a rabbit seriously?—so I didn’t believe. Then she hopped ahead of me on a long trail and at each bend of the path sat a stone with my name on it, written in Luvali. Counting the stones, I came to the final number. The tally was complete. I knew then what day I shall be done with this life. That’s both a blessing and a curse.”

Furthermore, the qualities of the bunny can shed light upon a difficult situation:

In one of the interludes that together comprise a separate novella woven through the novel, we follow the adventures of a little princess and her faithful tutor as they flee the cruelty of the queen.

    “Some people, especially in the north and the east, believe we are born and we die, yes, then we are born again in a different body. It’s a great mystery. We say such people have twice-beating hearts. You could be one of them, little majesty. You are young in age yet much older inside. I have always felt that way about you, little majesty.”
    “Oh,” was the princess’s reply. “I always thought I was a bunny. I thought it was only a dream.”
    “Perhaps you were a bunny in a previous life,” said Jabuli.
    “If it’s true, I don’t remember it much. Vegetables is all. Lots and lots of vegetables.”
    “Do you still like vegetables?”
    “Oh, yes!”
    “Then perhaps it is true.” She smiled. “Now you are a princess.”
    Adora pouted. “I think I prefer being a bunny.”
    “Unless a dragon comes to eat you,” said Jabuli.
    “No, not then.” The princess watched the hillside, marked the city in the distance, the strait and the island beyond. “This is the farthest I have ever been from my slumber chamber. I never knew a world like this existed. It was only written on parches.”

In an earlier work of mine, THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY, I also used rabbits. In Book III, at a time of warfare, the opposing armies used giant war rabbits and battle hamsters, ridden by pilots and laser-archers. The beasts truly won the field that day! However, it is best to keep rabbits to a normal size and healthy disposition. Or else we might all succumb to the terror of the Middle Ages.
Not quite as I depicted them in THE DREAM LAND Book III, but...still impressive!
Therefore, when stuck in one's writing, always consider a bunny to liven things up. Fear not the hubris of old nor the salivation of culinary quislings, for it is only with the Zen of Bun that one may go forth with renewed vigor to face the world, a world which is often inhabited by decidedly unbunny-like dragons!

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

19 March 2017

Plotting an Epic Fantasy With Dragons

Once upon a time there was no epic fantasy with or without dragons. Then, one day, there was! How did that happen? I'm still wondering myself. When my head clears of the sleepy cobwebs, my intellectual mind reminds me that it is a simple thing we like to call plot - or, in the superlative, plotting.

Plotting is the positioning of plot points (i.e., "things that happen") along a route through a tale. With a quest tale, it is considerably easier because you have an actual route to follow. Such routes are best laid out on maps. The first step to plotting is to have a good map of the quest area. Normally these are not laying about willy-nilly in a dusty cartographer's shop. No, you might very often need to make your own. 

The first step is to find a map of any ol' place. Let's take America, for example. Find a map of America, that ancient land of myth and merriment that scribes will not cease talking about. Now, we know from our basic studies that the world changes through the centuries. We know seas rise and mountains rise. We know also that rivers may flow away and become lifeless canyons. We know that once fertile fields may become inundated by the sea and turn into marshlands. Forests will fall in one place yet grow thick in another. 

The second step is to mess up the map. Create chaos. Let the seas rush in and the lakes overflow. Let mountains sprout and volcanoes thrash the land. Quakes will alter the landscape, as well. Cities may need to be rebuilt as others collapse into ruin. We are talking centuries, remember. Kingdoms rise and fall, borders change. Legends are passed from campfire to tavern to a fine court of ladies and gentlemen. And there are always stories to tell that explain the world we inhabit today - the today of our tale.
The lower valley in the Ancient Era.

The lower valley as we know it today.
The third step is to designate a starting point. Let's say it is a city at one end of the map. Then designate a destination, perhaps at the opposite end of the map - depending on the size of one's map. Bigger is not always better; remember the stamina of your hero/heroine and his/her cohort. Think of the dangers along the way: a longer journey must necessarily be fraught with more dangers. Something significant must happen at regular intervals which will cause the hero/heroine to press on. Yet what does happen at those regular intervals must also be entertaining in its own right, almost as though that scene were its own tale.

The fourth and final step is to draw a line connecting the two points: start and finish. Next, draw an X at regular internals. These Xs will mark where something significant happens, such as a dragon attack. Perhaps there are wild people blocking the route. Or interesting ruins that must be explored. There may even be a magus or two here and there. Or a city, grand and glorious, that no one in your hero's party ever suspected existed. Or another dragon attack. The possibilities are nearly endless - though do keep in mind the length of the route and give your heroes a break once in a while. 
The entire realm of the Americus, circa 9845.
Keep in mind that a good tale has ever-worsening events. This rule was invented by scribes long ago who had too much time on their hands and too much ink on their nubs. This rule is important for testing your hero. A hero is not so heroic if all he/she must face is a magic bunny. Let your hero face doom. It's really not so awful. Remember that you can enjoy it all from a comfy chair. For your hero, however, it is a blessing: the chance to prove himself/herself and reclaim that reputation once lost (hence the need for a road trip in the first place). The final plot points should take your hero down to his/her worst, ready to fail, ready to die. Then go get a fresh cup of tea and let your hero/heroine dangle a bit.

Now that you have your plotting done, wish your heroes well and send them on their way with ample supplies and a healthy dose of fortitude and bravura. Perhaps assign a comic relief (a kitchen boy?) or some other minor actor (a hunchback?) to divert attention from the blustering braggadocio of the dragonslayer - for who else is best suited for such a journey but a dragonslayer in search of dragons? As scribes long ago were wont to scribble: "It takes a whole cohort to slay a dragon!"

You, too, can ride along on this heroic quest to rid the world of the scourge of dragons by reading EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS on slices of shaved wood or as light upon a smooth stone. The choice is yours.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

12 March 2017

The Quest for Magical Realism

The quest is everything. Each morning to arise and seek fortune in whatever form it may be found - that is a quest, is it not? To make hay while the sun shineth! That, too, is a quest. To live life in the fullest, if you can, and if not then to strive for such as best you can. For it is the quest which drives us on each day, not the petty amusements of good friends sharing jokes or poor road food we pretend is gourmet fare. Everything comes down to the quest. The quest is real. The quest for magical realism, however, takes more effort.

When I was challenged (yes, challenged, I say!) to write an epic fantasy with further stipulation that it must include dragons, my first thought was of a desert canyon where someone much like a gamekeeper in a park was tasked with culling the herd. That seemed suitable as an opening scene. 

Then, a few paragraphs down the page, my hero needed to move, so I typed 'horse' and immediately stopped. I thought to myself: 'Why does he ride a horse?' Everyone rides horses in fantasy! In fantasy worlds there must be more interesting animals to ride, so I imagined a stockier sort of beast and in my mind's eyes a hippopotamus appeared. I envisioned Mongo riding an ox from Blazing Saddles. All right, I said, let us go with that for now and see how it develops. Later, when the fantasy world that was blossoming slowly transformed into a far-futuristic America (though I would never have admitted it at that time), the hippo became the product of the "Clona Arts". There were no more horses to ride. For an epic fantasy, the stipulation to include magic was automatic.

And here our tale turns from fantasy to...well, something a bit more scientific. Is that allowed in an epic fantasy? In my less-than-humble opinion, if the persons at hand believe it is magic, then it is magic; for what is magic but science which has yet to be fully understood as science? Purists will disagree, yet allow us to inquire of a true magus. Joragus, the magus of Metta, explains how he does what he does magically by describing the nature of things in layman's jargon. Because magic nevertheless relies on rules which a magician would understand innately, it could be explained to anyone and thereby understood. It would be similar to a scientist explaining something complex to a simpleton - or a child. To whit:

“You must understand the workings of everything—everything seen and unseen in the world—before you can learn magic.” [said Joragus]
“Teach me, Joragus!” the boy shouted.
“As you wish.” The magus gave an annoyed glance at Corlan [the dragonslayer] who was happy to grin like a thief. “Everything is made of dust—very tiny dust, so small you cannot see it. The dust of the earth is solid so you can see it when it comes together in large enough piles. The dust of the air is thin so you can see through it even when it comes together in large piles. It is these tiny particles of dust which magic can move.”
“How does playing with dust stop a spear that’s thrown at you?” Corlan asked, a little more curious.
“Ah! I see your plan. You also want to know how to stop a sharp spear amidst the air.”
“That would be a good thing to know,” said Corlan with a nod at the boy. “Wouldn’t it?”
“Oh, yes,” said Tam.
“Have you ever seen lightning strike down from the sky?” asked Joragus. “That is the same fire-root that runs through every living thing. People, too.”
“If that’s true, how are we not destroyed by it?” asked Corlan.
“What is inside us is much smaller, not enough to hurt us. And yet, some people—a trained magus, for example—can draw together all of that fire within him and send it out just like lightning.”
“But I didn’t see anything like lightning when you held up your hand to stop the spear.”
“No, it is still invisible. Just as the air is invisible.”
“I think your magic is all in your words, old man,” said Corlan.
“I told you there is an ocean of tiny particles, like dust, that make up all the air around us. When I use my magic power to gather all the fire within me, I charge those particles with the fire. It’s like black and white. Everything is either black or white. The particles in the air are white—you can see through them and throw spears through them. When I send my inner fire out to those particles, they turn black—although they are still invisible to our eyes.”
“So these tiny dust specks turn colors....”
“No, it is merely a tale to explain to you what happens, to show you. A magic lesson for the boy...as you suggested.” He turned to Tam. “You follow my tale, don’t you?”
Tam nodded eagerly.
“When those particles turn black,” the magus continued, “they become tight to each other and nothing can come through them. They become like a shield, even though you cannot see it with your eyes. You must remember that our eyes do not see most of the things in the world—and what we do see is most often a mere trick of light. There is much more we do not see than what we do see.”
“So that’s what you did back there to stop the spear?”
“Yes, in brief.”
“Though not quick enough to keep the speartip from cutting your palm, eh?”
“As we say in magus school, it is better to be late than to never be ready at all.”

The goal in writing anything of the fantastic is to make it seem accurate and true, plausible at worst. The reader must believe in the possibility of the magic actually occurring. And in the extreme nature of a dragon attack, a good magus is good to have. You see, no matter how brave the dragonslayer may be, no matter how strong his will, how tight his belly, there may come a moment when nothing more can be done to ward off death. It is at this moment when a magus, even one in his fourth iteration, might step forward to save the day - and thereby be rewarded with yet another day. Another quest. For each day is a new quest, seeking forever the horizon, a new meal, and ultimately the final chapter.

For more pearls of wisdom, read on!


The Paper Version
The Kindle Version

For a different view, check out my interview on author Connie Jasperson's blog.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

05 March 2017

How to be a Master Dragonslayer

It is Spring on this side of the world, the time when a young man's thoughts of fancy turn to the scourge of dragons and how to rid the world of them. 

To that end were dragonslayers born and guild houses formed. Apprentice for three years and tally three kills and you become a dragonslayer. Fifty kills and you become a Master Dragonslayer. Not many make it to fifty. There are too many opportunities to be killed, either by fang, claw, or fire. Only a few can lay claim to a hundred kills and those warriors are held up as gods. Many retire from the guild when age and injury pile up. Only a daring few continue clearing the skies of the aerial beasts. 

One of these Master Dragonslayers is our friend Corlan Tang, with more than three-hundred kills. "Making the roads safe for clean boots!" is his motto, never one to endure boots soiled from falling dragon waste. No, he has sworn to rid the realm of all dragons, large and small, all of the varieties that terrorize his city. He even dares to go into the Valley of Death to do battle with them! He climbs the mountains, stakes claim to a rugged cliff with a far vantage and waits for dragons to wing past. Then he launches iron bolts at them from his dragonslinger weapon and laughs as they fall, crashing to the red soil below. Making the prince's quota each month, Corlan can then enjoy a good brew and a better woman during a few days of rest before once more returning to do battle with the dragons. 

Unfortunately, men can be jealous, can even petition the Prince to banish such a man as Corlan Tang, lest they never again be shown small against his dragon kill tally. Where is proof of his kills? He never brings back dragonware to show off - whereas Braden Batiste makes lavish parades of the carcasses of his killed dragons, and offers the flesh to the poor house kitchens! It should matter not that the braggart Corlan says he has 300 kills. 

The Prince, being a sniveling snoot of a man seeing threats to his throne at every turn, is easily persuaded. Never having been much impressed with Corlan's prowess in either dragonslaying or in his earlier profession in the military, the Prince knows it is better to get Corlan out of the city and have no further worries about the succession - now that the aged king, his grandfather, lies on his death-bed. Send Corlan out into the Valley of Death he so loves and be rid of him! Banish him for at least a year - that should be long enough for him to see death in the fire of dragonry - or else return then with sufficient dragonware to prove his claim as the greatest dragonslayer ever!

Yet the Valley of Death is a thousand miles long. There are tales of vast marshes at the far southern end where dragons lay their eggs on low islets and where the draglings hatch in the spring. If only he could journey there, thinks Corlan as he sets foot once more in the Valley of Death. Then he might smash their eggs and lance the draglings and thus be done with dragons once and for all time, thus saving humanity from their horrors. It seems a good plan, something to strive toward for the coming year. A quest worthy of a man with dark secrets and - what's this? - and a runaway boy from the palace kitchen! 

"Please, Sir, take me with you," says the boy. "They always beat me in the kitchen. Teach me to kill dragons, Sir, and I'll cook one for your supper!"

"Very well, lad," Corlan replies. "I have no choice but to take you. And don't call me 'sir'!"

And yet we must remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a dragon attack....

Available now in paperback at Amazon.com and Kindle.

(C) Copyright 2010-2017 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.