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Complete Guide to Fantasy

Last Updated, Aug 2010



    The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, Volume 1

    Fantasy Writer's Companion, Volume 2

    Dragon Moon Press.

    I confess that there is a bookshelf in my office filled with 'How to Write' books. I can usually pretend that I keep them for students, but the truth is, like a lot of other people, I have a couple of half finished manuscripts in my bottom drawer. When I get a chance to write I like to get in the mood y reading a couple of the better how to books. So I am always on the look out for good samples of the genre.

    These two volumes (and a third currently in production) contain sensible and useful advice for anyone contemplating writing a fantasy novel. much of what's here is common sense (such as John Teeham's advice that one ought to read broadly before trying to write) but more of it is extremely helpful resource material (like Tina Morgan's chapter on world-building which cites John Ross' 'Medieval Demographics Made Easy' to provide a table of how big a village has to be to support particular occupations: saddlers, butchers, booksellers, and so on.) Underlying all the contributors' essays is a philosophy of fantasy writing that suggests that one's novels require meticulous research, rigorous logic, plotting, character and setting development, in contrast to the "anything goes if it's magic" misconception of many general readers and beginning writers.

Volume 1 deals with characterization, race creation, world-building, plot construction, the details of medieval settings (clothing, food, medicine and halth, arms, armor and combat) magic, mythology, religion, martial arts, research and avoiding clichés, among other topics. Volume 2 extends the excellent foundations in the first volumne to introduce world building in Asian cultures; writing for young readers, incorporating horror, mystery, romance (and sex); developing alternative magic systems; writing for role-playing games and media tie-ins; writing Arthurian legend; and self-editing. A particular 'must-read' in this volume is Evo Terra's essay, "Fun with Flowers, Ferns and Philodendrons: Herbalism in Fantasy" which lays out the ground rules for this often abused element in fantasy stories. Again, the basic philosophy throughout is 'do th research, think it through, and get it right'.

Many of the contributors are not well known, so there may be a temptation to look to bigger names for "How to" advice, but it's clear these newcomers are experts in their respective fields; and no one author, even a big name, can be expected to cover all these bases equally well. And, again, the advice and philosophy is basic — you don't need a series of bestsellers to know you need to get, say, the vocabulary of the parts of a saddle correct, and its nice to have this handy desktop reference to provide some of that information.

Calgary publisher Gwen Gades has done a nice job of packagaing this series: both trade paperbacks feature dignified, scholarly covers — a parchment manuscript and quill pen for Vol.1, and a close up of old fashion typewriter keys for #2. The absence of dragons, elves and half-naked damsels means I can store these on my office desk without embarrassment.*

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the interior art, which is intended to be humorous illustrations of each chapter's theme, but which is too reminiscent of fan art for my tastes. But it is a minor flaw, which should not detract from an otherwise recommended series.

Well worth the price if fantasy writing is your thing.

Reprinted from NeoOpsis Magazine #8.

*It appears that more recent editions of these two volumes now sport covers with humorous dragons. I liked the original covers much, much better. But then, I am a stuffy academic, so your milage may vary.