Saturday, 23 September 2017

Writing process : how to keep the ideas flowing?



Many writers write, but do not talk much about their process. Or how they come up with their ideas. I thought I’d share a little bit about my own. Truthfully, it’s a mystery to me, yet an endless source of fascination where these authors get their ideas from. I wondered why authors turned to drink, like Poe, Chandler and Hemingway, many who were notorious for their use of drugs and intoxicants as a source of enhanced creativity, or a deterrent to depression. I don’t know, it was never my thing, drugs and alcohol. Then I started to understand the process better, as I became more serious about my writing. The ideas don’t come when a person is in a ‘normal’ state of consciousness. They come in an altered state, one much closer to where the magic manifests. I have to say that it can happen without intoxicants, but only very carefully, and with a lot of discipline. They happen by grace, and in unexpected moments, and through cultivating a channel.

By ‘cultivating’ I mean, letting the state grow, in the same way a seed grows from the ground up. A plant, for example, with proper water, light, and in a conducive environment will thrive. Without it, in contrary conditions, will become unhealthy or die.

I cannot help but think that many of those writers who suffered from addictions did not have the fortune to tap into this awareness, and many ultimately died.

My process for priming the writing process is to get out in nature. I get out on the bike in the park, soaking in the fresh air and energy from the trees. Its an oxygen rich environment. Especially in the fall when there are no bugs and the air is fresh and the smells of falling leaves and humus are in the air. Suddenly the barriers dissolve. Things that I was previously stuck on, come in a flash, and new plot twists I couldn’t imagine are suddenly there, where before I could be staring at a blank screen. It might sound trite, but it works. Likewise, meditation works as a means. All the problems, tough issues of plotting and character, loosen up when I clear my head and put my focus on the goal. The goal, being coming up with a winning story. Try it out, if you havent already.

To answer the question ‘Where do authors get their ideas from’, the closest I can come to an answer is, by grace. We tap into a channel and by magic, they are there. Sure, we are influenced by what we have learned and seen and our overall experience, but the way by which the organic process takes place is something of a mystery. Getting that channel open is the key.

Meditation: some times I spend up to a month engaged in a process where there is no writing, just accumulating data, and visualizing the world and the premise.

By meditating, I mean closing the eyes, and visualizing the scene and characters. Many ways the protagonists can act, sink or swim. There’s an almost overwhelming number of possibilities. But not so many, if one takes into account character and theme. I try to study each character or possibility, and notice how it makes me feel. If I get a strong sense for a particular action, or piece of dialogue or setting then I put it high on the watch list. If I don’t, I put it on the backburner. The process continues. One thread of action or drama or plot finally emerges, and that’s the one I run with. It gathers weight as I visualize it more and more and imagine how it relates to the overall story.

Then comes the difficult task of merging all those ideas into a cohesive whole. World-building, character development, theme, setting. I used to treat all these as separate entities, now they work together. The world is a means by which the character(s) overcome their struggles. Likewise the character is an extension of the world and helps to enhance it. It’s complex. Yet the beauty is, all these details come together by the very simple technique of ‘feeling’. As I described above, how does it feel if the heroine or hero abandons her/his duty to search out the magic item, or save the orphan? Is it right? yes! Or no, is it going in the wrong direction?

Also there’s this feeling I get when I wake up in the morning. It’s an instant thing. Either the character I just wrote about did something that works and furthers the plot, or they didn’t. At which point I get this sinking feeling and know that somewhere I went astray and I should rework the plot into something better. This process continues. I’ve thought about this a lot and come to the understanding that this changeover state from sleep to waking, from dream to waking, is a time when we are closer to the subconscious. The subconscious knows and is accessible to more intuitive understanding of the whole than our waking state brains are. In those moments of lucidity we are connected to something higher than our individual selves, something closer to our pool of archetypes, upon which we can draw and upon which all great stories are based.

I keep bits or pad of paper wherever I go, getting the ideas down as soon as they come. They are easily lost if I don’t. Usually I have about 4 or 5 stories on the go at any one time. The worst is to have no ideas to fall back on and have the urge to write, but a block.

Nor is there is anything worse than coming to a dead end with a story. I’ve learned to let go, know that somewhere down the road the story will all come together. Usually sooner rather than later, if I don’t push it too hard. The harder I force it, the slower it goes.

So, in recap, here are my techniques: I keep a file of rough ideas which keeps growing week to week. I get out on the bike into the fresh air and trees. I meditate a lot. I visualize the scenes, the action, the drama, the character relations and reactions as they unfold in real time in my minds eye. I also join critique groups to help me flesh out plots.

As for the editing process, it’s always at best a drawn out affair. Most writers can attest to that. I have less problems now than I used to, being more diligent about fleshing out a plot outline...with beginning, middle, end, before committing to any writing. Painful reworkings in the past have taught me to avoid the temptation of ‘diving right in’ before having a working plan from the beginning. Fun yes, but a nightmare in not taking into account the overall picture.

Lastly but not leastly, ideas never happen through staring at a blank screen.

And second to lastly, I’d like to mention the power of mixing it up, not always writing the same scene or story, or in the same genre. For example, the last project I did was a sword and sorcery fantasy, now it’s on to a SF horror. It forces me to switch gears. Different settings, different characters, different premises, it keeps it fresh. Also it’s more challenging.

These are all tools help keep the channel nourished—that and working hard at it. It’s also a matter of affirmation. For example, If I think I can do it, then I can. If I think I can’t, it’s something’s too hard, or out of my reach or too ambitious or pretentious then I probably won’t be able to pull it off. But If I say, yes I can do it, and even write one sentence of a plot outline to an ‘unreachable’ story, then I’m one sentence closer to manifesting that opus. Again trite, but it something that’s so basic as to work. This blog article, for example, was written in all one go in a few hours, but only after I thought about it for a week, collected my ideas, and then spit it out in one go, knowing it would manifest seamlessly and not only be something important I had to say but of benefit to others.
  
What’s your creative process?

Chris’s recent writings include Avenger : a swords and skulls fantasy, free for a limited time, and a new SF thriller n the works, a sequel to Audra.

Check out Septembers free book giveaways

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Early September SF and Fantasy Giveaways

Lots of exciting, free SFF titles this month...

 

Click any of the giveaways below to download your choice of free books...

Four new Chris Turner free books in the group giveaways, plus 100+ other authors' titles!

Fantasy and Sci Fi Giveaway

Young Adult and Teen Fantasy giveaway

SF and Fantasy Book Giveaway


I would also like to introduce my new sword and sorcery series on booktrack (with a fantasy soundtrack). Also available on kindle and other bookstores:

https://instafreebie.com/free/feYuG?source=author

Avenger

Happy reading!

Friday, 17 March 2017

New Release ‘Beastslayer : Rise of the Rgnadon’





Two chieftain brothers lock swords...yet band together to survive the beasts of Mount Vharad.

New adventure in the spirit of Conan and Jurassic Park!

I have put the first part of the story to audio, a synchronized soundtrack that makes the reader feel as if part of the world. Read it on booktrack for free here.

Features music from Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’, Antonin Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ and Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony, plus a variety of ambient sound effects that give the reader a truly movie-like experience.

The book is freely available on kindle, itunes, smashwords and other book sellers...

Hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Creating soundtracks for books

Sounds like a pretty neat idea? An online reading experience with a soundtrack...

YES!

I was introduced to booktrack last fall by Chazz Hill-Hayr, singer-guitarist for FWD. My experience has been this: FUN! This free tool is an invaluable author resource. After copy-pasting your story into a new project, it's just a matter of minutes before you're dragging some sound excerpts overtop of the text and you're good to go. You can then playback and mix the audio to taste, tweaking volume and fade-in and fade out settings. The simplicity of the interface is almost disarming. I was able to get up to speed in less a day and was well into making my first booktrack.

Truthfully, I was taken by surprise by the amount of audio there is to choose from. Every genre imaginablefrom world, celtic, new age, rock, classical, to pop, jazz, orchestral, epic, funk and much moreif that is not enough, possible to upload your own... Some of the tracks have styles and quality reminiscent of Hans Zimmer and John Williams. You can search by category (there are many categories to choose from), or by mood, or you can type in a phrase reminiscent of a track you would like in your story, like 'airplane' or  'lion roar' or 'quiet strings' or something like that, and then select from the matches.

From the reader's perspective, readers can play back the story at variety of speeds, or let the story auto-adjust to their reading rhythm. A bonus.

The audio the author chooses is completely arbitrary. It's a good idea to stick to themes, but interesting to note that there is no limit to the the number of tracks that can be layered on top of each other, thus creating amazingly rich results. So, for all audiophiles out therebooktrack is a dream.

The accompanying audio can be made as thin or thick as desired: from muted ambient to multi-layered symphonic scores. I like to thicken it up, to create a dramatic mood.  Not only because I'm a bit nuts, but because I spent my early days cloistered in a studio mucking around on 4-tracks and 8-tracks composing tons of electronic music.

Perhaps the most powerful capability of booktrack is its ability to add mood and ambience to a story which would not otherwise be possible in a regular ebook read.

It's also very entertaining to add effects, and, in conjunction with the music, I think this to be the closest authors can get to making a 'movie' out of their books on their own resources.

To sum up my experiences:
(*) booktrack enhances the overall reading experience.
(*) is free.
(*) easy to use.
(*) audio is readily available (and possible to upload custom audio).
(*) is a great promo tool for authors and musicians.
(*) offers an unlimited flexibility of style of presentation.
(*) is simple to edit of existing work, or add additional chapters to current releases.

Did I mention author promotion?

YES! A GREAT way to promote ebooks.  It's an easy investment: soundtracking an intro chapter or two or a sample excerpt, or short story and tagging it with links to Amazon, Smashwords, ITunes, etc...
It's possible to create your own author page, listing your works and bio.

I posted a booktrack link to the prologue of Denibus Ar, an archaeology adventure, as a teaser on a LibraryThing giveaway (till April 7).  Similarly, sample episodes I posted for the fantasy-adventure, The Relic Retriever on a LibraryThing giveaway (until April 18). One episode, Lim-Lalyn, is a romp through the Xanthian desert on a treasure hunt. Another, The Isk Rider of Bazuur, is a mystery and adventure focused on unveiling a masked marauder.

It's possible to embed booktracks right in your website, thanks to new functionality supplied by booktrack. Readers don't have to leave the author's page to experience the rich audio component. If they don't like reading online? Readers can download the booktrack app and read on their phone.

My latest releases are Pirates of the Poesasian ... and Grinneth, a jungle and sea adventure. This has been featured on the booktrack main page, featuring an eclectic mix of tribal and classical music.

Give it a spin! Hope you have many fun hours creating awesome soundtracks to your books!

ps> Tutorial here on how to use booktrack.

And here are some sample booktracks to show what kind of textures it's possible to create:

Magical Entities Are Not For Sale (young readers, easy listening, acoustic/atmospheric themes)
The Movie Maker (near future SF,  techno/rock themes)
Curse of the Crugmut (dark fantasy, Lord of Rings, classical themes)
Wolf's-head : The Yard (comic fantasy, uses 'Bugs Bunnyish' themes with 'Punch and Judy' effects)
Wolf's-head : Prince of Ogres (more of the same)
Audra (SF space horror, spaceship battles, alien noises, alien planet ambient sounds)
Ahrion's Minions (sword and sorcery, zombie thriller, suspense themes with creature effects)
The Jisil-ou-az-lar (far future SF, ethereal, ambient synth styles)
Tournament at Bergum (heroic fantasy, horns, strings, sword battles)
Phane (young adult SF, electronika from my 'New Horizons' album)
The Brain Machine (SF, techno themes)
Koruka's Prophecy (historical fantasy, world music, Egyptian themes with desert and tomb effects)
Flowerfly (YA SF, classical, easy listening themes)
The Bones of St. Isis (adventure fantasy, mixed styles and classical)
Enchantress of Rurne (heroic fantasy, dark, atmospheric and world music themes)
Lim-Lalyn (fantasy adventure, desert battles and classical, tribal, mid-eastern themes)
The Isk Rider of Bazuur (fantasy adventure, mixture of synth, pop, classical)
Grinneth (fantasy adventure, tribal, shaman, sea adventure, creature effects)
Pirates of the Poesasian (adventure, sword fight effects and classical music)

Visit my author page for updates...

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop



‘Blog hop’, you say? What the devil is that?
 
A big hand of gratitude to Jeff Whelan for introducing me to the ‘blog hop’. Jeff is the author of the zany SF-odyssey Space Orville, a recommended read, and a huge supporter of indie authors.

The blog hop is a way for authors to talk about their WIP and their latest opus and get the word out.  In the process, blog readers can be introduced to other aspiring authors.

Cover art by Steve Bissonnette


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An exiled treasure-hunter and his misfit band struggle for survival against unscrupulous villains and ‘weird’ and dangerous creatures.

What genre does your book fall under?

Heroic fantasy and perhaps loosely, sword-and-sorcery.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

More the need for some self-entertainment.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I will expound freely.

Grinneth features several rogues, Risgan the Relic Retriever (Robert Downey Jr), in particular, and other infamous villains:

Xoltux the Shaman: Steve Buscemi
Captain Karshan: Ray Liotta
Ivith the Pirate: Joe Pantoliano
Jester the Pirate: Bruce Willis
Gorgere the ‘Mermaid’, although the appellative is debatable: Milla Jovovich
Grinneth, the ‘Unknowable’: Judi Dench

I’m glad to say that Grinneth is not only FREE, but is also part of The Relic Retriever series which features an eccentric pantheon of characters—unfortunately many of whom have gone the wayside by the time Grinneth arrives.  Alas, the full cast is:

Risgan the Rogue: Robert Downey Jr
Afrid the Sorceress: Peter Dinklage, the ‘Imp’ from Game of Thrones, also Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams were close runners-up for this prestigious role, with a bit of CGI.
Moeze the Magician: Colin Morgan from the TV series ‘Merlin’.
Jurna the Journeyman: John Cusack
Kahel the Archer: Andy Garcia
Hape the Homeless: Edward Norton
Farella the Pontific’s Consort: Michelle Pfeiffer
The Pontific:  Anthony Hopkins
Ravenna the Thieving Acolyte: Angelina Jolie
Melfrum, the Alchemist, Jouster and Knave: James Gandolfini (aka Tony from the ‘Sopranos’)

The Thornkeep and Lim-Lalyn episodes feature Kahel, Jurna, Risgan, Moeze and the fretful Hape.  The whole series is chronicled in The Relic Retriever.


I tag 7 fellow indie writers now who may expound upon their brilliant creations.  They will be posting their Next Big Thing blog posts in a week’s time.  Over to you, guys!
Ross McKitson, author of the Darkness Rising series

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The glue of enduring SFF: having a past, present and future



A rich tale encompasses all three time dimensions: the past, present and future.  Is a story just suddenly over after the last sentence, or are there questions that linger in the reader’s mind?  Is the reader thinking about what will happen next after the last scene? Has a sense of time and grandeur been conveyed?  This ‘lasting impression’ is a feature which makes some stories stand out more than others.

It is often difficult to include all three components in one story.  Most good books offer at least two of the three, present and past.  I believe using all three provides maximum interest.

The ‘past’ is used quite effectively in many of the best fantasies, as in Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.  Each spotlight character seems to have a past that is developed throughout; the dialog is rich, tales of deeds and past goings on abound.  Whereas every story contains a ‘present’, ie some immediate action and conflict, not all stories are enriched by a past history or legends leading up to the conflict.  Fewer even contain a glimpse of what is to come.  Exceptional stories contain all three.

The Matrix for example, encompasses all.  We are given haunting glimpses into the long tragic past of humans versus machine throughout the film, until finally the bomb drops as the horrifying truth of ‘the human world’ is exposed.  The immediate conflict is established early on, with the introduction of ‘Mr. Anderson’ and his nemesis, ‘the man in black’, and ultimately progresses to the quest of a few edgy rebels defying the all-powerful ‘collective machine’.  Finally, we are left wondering: what are the ends of Neo’s supernormal powers?—as he flies up in the sky, like an exalted superhero.

The Mad Max film, The Road Warrior, encompasses similar scope.  As viewers, we experience the main character, a cynical drifter flashing back on his sad past when unexpected violence took his wife.  From the desolate setting, thuggish characters and lunar ambience, we get a sense of a world that has slowly degenerated to a hostile dystopia. The present conflict in the petrol rich band engages us totally with the ongoing battles.  The reprobates on wheels are wholly horrid.  The viewer is left ultimately with a poignant look at the future when the bandits are destroyed and we are left asking “where are Max and the gang to go”?

The Planet of the Apes develops well in both books and films the past, present and future.  The story arc entails a major conflict of humankind versus apes: featuring a reversal of fortunes, sometimes apes winning, sometimes humans.  Glimpses too emerge of a long-spanning history and the stirring vision of a stark future of a continual conflict between these two groups.  The saga continues.  Even more than the sense of primal conflict presented by the author, is felt the ever-present sense of impending tragedy, moved along by the setting and the mood.

As SF author Theodore Sturgeon demonstrates in his incomparable Microcosmic God, a good SF premise can be taken to extreme heights.  This short tale is rich with implication and grandeur and well worth the read. The fantastic tale deals with technology and knowledge gleaned by homespun creatures—workhorses, ‘Neoterics’, enslaved by a mastermind in a hermetically sealed environment, left to dig for knowledge. Amazingly, the bizarreness is complemented by the richness of science, featuring electric transmitters, nano-chemistry, eugenics, artificial synthesis, and other stuff.  A snapshot of the final commentary is chilling:

“Some day the Neoterics, after innumerable generations of inconceivable advancement, will take down their shield and come forth.  When I think of that, I feel frightened...”

The reader is left for a long time pondering the ramifications of Sturgeon’s musings.  Years after reading this story, I still think about ‘what could happen’ when the Neoterics are unleashed.  It is the author’s genius that created this lasting impression.

Some well-written stories tend to rely wholly on the immediate present to make their statement—yet still leave a lasting impression.  This is evident in the classic ‘life and death’ situation faced by the protagonist where every excruciating detail of the scene is given—a crash landing in Andes (I am Alive), falling down a steep mountain and bleeding to death, trapped in a cave, mine, underground grotto, or life in a prison (The Shawshank Redemption).

Whereas some stories tend to focus on the immediate present, others tend to make use of past and future to create depth.  The film AI, based on the book Super-Toys All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss, encompasses a massive time span.  The main conflict comprises a robot boy wishing to become human. The viewer is left with a sense of awe, wondering what is to become of the ‘brave new world’ of man and machine, as evolution of human and computer spans millennia upon millennia.

Across A Billion Years, by Robert Silverberg, is a fine work crafted to leave a lasting impression. The civilization of the ‘High Ones’, an ancient alien race, has reached the plateau of achievement, such that that there is nowhere else for them to go.  They become sterile and static. Yet the knowledge that these beings accumulated is astounding—their machines still amass data, yet no one is there to look.  A purposeless task, and the reader tries to fathom the scope of what they have achieved and what Silverberg is suggesting. The story is recklessly playful—albeit, it leaves the reader attempting unsuccessfully to imagine the age and scope of the universe that Silverberg is describing—even too, the potential beings that inhabit it, and the infinity to come.  Where will it go from here?

“What is going to happen” even after the immediate conflict is resolved is a significant question. This question is a natural offshoot of apocalyptic fiction, such as zombie horror and end of world scenarios.  The highly-popular Resident Evil offers a peek into a savage past, with a computer narrative describing the brief history of the underground turmoil in a laboratory complex far below the surface of the earth that went awry.  Not only is present conflict featured, with the kickass heroine hurtling to knock down zombies and manufactured freaks, but a disturbing vision of the future lingers—the masses of infected beings congregating on the doomed complex.  Such lingering questions are somewhat reminiscent of the hanging doom left at the end of the first Walking Dead series.

From my own specfic writings is Phane which incorporates similar devices: past, present, future.  The derelict past is reflected through the weary eyes of the character Simil, an eccentric inventor, a recluse, who expounds upon the past technology of humanity that went warlike, to the curiosity-smitten Kolbe, a youth who listens only with quizzical wonder to his prospective role model.  He learns how humanity came to colonize the galaxy, and then unwittingly brought about its ultimate decline.  Kolbe’s present-day challenge is to stand up against his bullying peer group and their uneducated conditioning, in order to embrace his personal passion for science and to devote himself to the task of learning.  A far-reaching future chord is left lingering . . . the boy may be the future . . .

Likewise, the Jisil-ou-az-lar, a dystopian SF, features an increasingly chilling outlook on the human fate.  In this far future world, oceans cover the major land masses as the polar ice has melted.  The reader experiences a vertigo, a ‘brave new world’ of a new kind: seafarers struggling against extreme climactic conditions, braced for a harsh existence in a sunlight-killing world.  The implications of the protagonist’s struggle against numerous opportunistic rogues, and the images left in the reader’s mind of a bleak future for earth, leave an imprint of melancholic speculation.

Similarly, in the heroic fantasy, The Temple of Vitus, Risgan the roguish adventurer must embrace his potential fatherhood after all his many harrowing escapades against sea pirates, villains, weird creatures of land, sea and air and a questionable cult leader installed on the coast.  What is left lingering, is the rogue’s gloomy prospect of wandering hostile lands in exile for eternity.  Yet of all of these plights, his fatherhood seems the most imminently worrisome.

These lasting chords resonate in the reader’s mind for good or bad and create a dimension above a tale’s main story line.  The ‘cause and effect’ that naturally emanates from use of a past history serves as a vehicle to promote more introspective thought, and in the case of dystopias, a dire warning.  For all writers and readers, I am curious if you feel similar sentiments.  I am interested in your views . . .

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Writing episodic fantasy


What seems to be every writer’s dream is to create a credible character-world that can be continued, is immensely popular, is original, and goes viral.

Sounds easy?  Perhaps, not quite.  The Oz books, the Tarzan series, Conan, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser all create this mystique, also the Dying Earth books, Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, Robin hood anthologies and more, including TV series of countless numbers.

I think the secret lies in incorporating some simple but powerful elements:

(i) Each episode comprises a complete mini-adventure, containing a beginning, middle and end.  Readers can be satisfied in short increments—with the possible exception of the first episode which introduces the main character(s), sets up the initial conflict and describes the world.  Depending on how much world-building is involved, the first episode may remain a teaser.

(ii) The episodes are preferably centred around a main character or group of characters.  The story gains lasting appeal because the viewers and readers come to know the character(s) and want to learn more about the them while expecting entertaining twists and turns.

Being a fan of adventure, I subscribe to the philosophy of introducing a legend or history behind a character, a monster, hero, talisman, demon or magic item.  The story builds upon this foundation.  With escalating tension, the tale has the chance to write itself.  The history of talisman, character or setting provides depth, interest and an inherent mystery to the unfoldment.  An implicit realism is built.  It is an effective world-building ploy.

(iii) The main character(s) ideally should be likeable.  Nobody wants to plod along rubbing nose to chin with unlikeable characters.  But then, where do villains come in to play?  If they are villains, how did they come to be villains?  If they are villains, are they are trying to become non-villains?  Often ordinary or benign characters are only likeable because of their contrast to villains.  Even villains can be likeable (a la Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’).  If the reader can empathize early on with the good guy or villain then the author has an elevated chance of creating an engaging tale that will become popular.  The key issue is readers like to read about characters they enjoy, even if they are startled by some of their actions.

Another monkey wrench is that not all readers have the same tastes.  For example, a reader looking for a Walt Disney Bambi  character is not going to be enthused about murderous vampires or bloodthirsty pirates; neither is the diehard sword-and-sorcery fan going to be empathizing much with a maudlin hero from a harlequin romance.  So, genre and target audience are important.  Storywriters cannot please every reader.  Scanning the reviews of any popular book online shows a surprising number of negative posts listed.

The problem of the ‘likeable character’ is a real one and another way around it is to create a variety of characters in the story, both evil and good, and with natures in between.  Readers can bond with the good ones and wish the knife for others.  This expectation of the knife is a powerful ploy.  George Martin does a good job in the Game of Thrones series.

Incorporating the above elements may sound easy, but is not necessarily easy to do.  It may take a lengthy time for a writer to develop these skills.  At least to be aware of these elements is helpful.  What is engaging for an author often is not engaging for a reader, and vice-versa, a dissonance which in itself is a tricky issue.

(iv) The character-world ideally should be interesting.  The immediate example that comes to mind is the era-gripping ‘Star Wars’—an incredibly rich, detailed world of planets, machines, spaceships and futuristic colonies.  The ‘world’, albeit, is only as interesting as the characters.  Take out Han Solo and Darth Vader and the world is somewhat lacking the same spice.  Discarding C3PO and Jar-Jar wouldn’t have the same effect.

Worlds don’t have to be so elaborate.  The Cube and Hypercube movies centre around a setting of only a series of empty rooms.  The idea is so bizarre, frightening and captivating that it works.  Successful worlds can be created out of practically anything.  The tremendously popular Indiana Jones, set in a 1940’s world, is larger than life, very colourfully engaging, and yet it is light on fantasy aspects, outside of the dramatic representation of the ‘magical ark’ and roller-coaster ride through the mines in the Temple of Doom.

(v) Setting up each episode as a mystery can be an effective formula too, though not essential.  Developing a mystery works well if the writing is effective.  Readers become interested in provocative situations and characters.  Readers are excited to learn more about the unanswered questions in the story.  As a tale progresses, a reader is more willing to learn about the central character(s) episode by episode.  Subsequent episodes advance the overall series, heightening the reader’s interest in the protagonist or quest.  The success of an episode’s coherency is largely dependent upon a storyteller’s writing skill.  An overused magic item, might cheapen the drama or deaden the pace.  A well-defined magic item used skilfully in the hands of a discerning protagonist moves the plot along at a steady pace.  The reader learns more about the item in question.  A hero who uses a magic lamp with no explanation can sacrifice dramatic tension, but one with an exotic magic lamp or carpet from a faraway land, crafted by a sorcerer’s hand, with a story to its telling and what hands it has passed through and why, is much better.

The formula I used to write my recent fantasy-adventure novel, The Relic Retriever, encompasses legends and a build-up of suspense around a single character, a treasure-hunting gambler and rogue.  There are seven episodes in the novel.  Each story is complete in itself:


I have introduced a unique setting in each episode.  The same picaresque character reigns throughout, with ultimately a resolution of the initial and central conflict in the final episode.  The beauty of the format is that each mini-story can be enjoyed on its own.  One does not have to know what happened before.  Generally, this is a difficult scenario to muster.  Most series need to be read in sequence.  From a marketing perspective, this is better.  If order remains unimportant it is more lucrative.  New readers can be introduced in the story at many entry points.  If they like what they are reading, they’ll read more, and possibly go back and read previous episodes or plunge ahead into later ones.  To get around discontinuities between episodes, I insert a short paragraph or prologue in italics at the beginning of each section.  This is a technique used by many authors (like in the Conan series), which has the possible side-effect of hooking the reader into reading more.  The italicized preambles briefly describe what has gone before the subsections.  I think this inclusion can be limited to a few sentences or avoided completely by constructing the story with enough skill that events and plot knit together seamlessly.  Likewise, the character and scene is best carefully and cleverly developed.

Movie series, such as, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Dexter, etc, take advantage of this stylistic technique—flashing brief recaps of events in the first five minutes of the episodes.  It is harder to achieve in print form because of the lack of time to dole out previous details, or resort to the dreaded info dump which quickly stultifies readers.  Few stories are engineered in such a way that a reader can start at page 100 and know what’s going on.  Much is reliant on the author’s ingenuity in keeping the continuity and in designing the story to fit an ‘easy-to-read’ model, not dependent on backstory.

The format of The Relic Retriever is similar to that used by Jack Vance in his incomparable Eyes of the Overworld—one of my personal favourites.