Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fantasy Influences

As an extension to my last blog post I’d like to expand on the foundation that I have had to help set my scene for the future. All of the sources listed below I do rate as quality entertainment but for me more importantly they were building blocks to developing a vibrant imagination so if you pick one up I hope it has the same impact on you as it has for me.

First up let’s start with movies. Although I did read recently that interest in movies, particularly in younger generations, is dropping off due to a combination of home theatres becoming more popular and a preference to download and watch films at home. Still there are some great flicks out there and a few of my favourites, in no particular order, are these...

• Chronicles of Riddoch
• Gladiator
• Lord of the Rings Series, extended editions
• Braveheart
• Princess Bride
• Excalibur, 1981 version by John Boorman
• Beowulf, go the 3d version if you can see it for it’s a classic tale well told

Now I have covered books in my last post but that was looking at the path I’ve taken over the years and a guide for those looking to start reading fantasy, follow the link if you’d like to read more, so I do not want to rehash the same story here. Thus a small simple list here should suffice. An interesting note however; Fly away Peter is not a fantasy work but is such a great book I felt I had to include it...

• Empire series, Raymond E Feist
• The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series, Steven Erikson
• Magician, Raymond E Feist
• Twins series, Weis & Hickman
• Chronicles series, Weis & Hickman
• Fly away Peter, David Malouf

Now to the last vestment of fantasy that I tend to spend a great deal of time in; computer games. The popularity of this medium has shown to be expanding over the last 6 years or so with this industry now topping the entertainment scene in terms of gross dollars income per year. So what are some of the hallmarks here, as with the previous lists there is no particular order of preference?

• Baldur’s Gate I & II, the second game in this was one of the best fantasy games
• Neverwinter Nights I & II, this includes the expansions which in truth were better than the original games
• Total War Series, now totally 5 different titles of which Rome Total War was perhaps the best so far
• MMO’s, here there are a myriad of different titles such as LOTRO, Warhammer, D&D Online, Guild Wars many of which current releases are based around existing fantasy worlds or stories to help gain traction in terms of sales and interest.
• Half Life I & II
• Dragon Age Origins, this is one of the most impressive releases I’ve seen in quite a few years which is why I have chosen to use the toolset for this game to create some mods for my world. The only unfortunate aspect to this game is that it is purely single player, hopefully that will be fixed in time with an update.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, November 1, 2009


So where did it all start, what was the book that sent me spiralling on my journey into the made up worlds and minds of countless people? A valid question and one I will answer with this bookography below. This is not supposed to be a critique of the books nor is it a complete list of fantasy works I have read rather some simple impressions as a guide for readers who may be looking for new works to explore or where to start your journey of fantasy.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R.Tolkien, was the first fantasy novel I read during my primary school years and was a great read for those days. I do know many adults still read it and enjoy reliving the tale but I have never been able to go back to it even through I have tried a couple of times, with that said if you are a youngster looking to read a good tale then I can definitely recommend this for you.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula.K. Le Guin, although my memory these days is a little hazy when recalling days of old I do recall that although not completely imbibed with enthusiasm for this book (I would say that this is mostly attributed to the fact that it was required reading for my school) it did remind me about fantasy works which I had neglected for a long time and kick started my interest again.

The DragonLance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, back in the day these books are what truly drove my love of fantasy during my teenage years and I read both the Chronicles and the Legends trilogies, they have a great diversity of characters and a good storyline. What pains me here is when they released book 4 in the Chronicles series many years later I went back to read the Chronicles again only to discover that I didn't enjoy them as much and gave up part way through. This was due to the fact that they seemed to be aimed at a younger audience and the style of writing didn't quite entertain me as much as it did once. Still a great read for younger generations than I.

Lord of the Rings, J.R.R.Tolkien, well I guess it had to come around at some stage, although not one of my utmost favourite series this is considered one of the all time fantasy greats and I can't really argue with that so enough said.

Magician by Raymond.E.Feist, the whole series including Silverthron and Darkness at Sethanon were great reads again come into some of my favourite books as they were enjoyable to read at the time and great to reread now. They have engaging characters an in-depth world with lore and legend and a compelling storyline.

The Empire Series by Raymond.E.Feist & Janny Wurts, this is a three book series and would probably be my favourite books from the fantasy genre. Not only was the setting so well described and detailed but the characters were also completely fleshed out so that when I was reading I could and would often put myself into their shoes and try to plan how I would do things if it was actually me. This doesn't mean that they were predictable; rather it was so well written that I was able to engage with the characters and events described so in my view the hall mark of a good book.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy & Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A.Salvatore, now I have read nine books by Salvatore but really can't get into his writing or the books in a major way. Salvatore is a successful writer with many publication from the Forgotten realms setting and also some work in the Star Wars Universe I don't particularly like his style or really rate many of his books apart from Homeland which to me was his best work. So why have I read so much of his work? Well it stems from the fact that I actually love the Drow race and the Underdark setting of the Forgotten Realms as opposed to the books themselves.

Gardens of the Moon & Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson, this is where my journey has arrived to and I am glad I am here as these books rival my love of the Empire series detailed above. Erikson is an extraordinary writer who has used many traditional fantasy concepts and ideas and then melded them with the unique aspects of his world, the primary example of this is the concept of warrens. In doing so he has continued to grow the fantasy concept and reminds us that this genre is only limited by our own imaginations, a tune that rings true for me as I always say 'Imagination is Limitless'. I see this author as quite an advanced read but worth every second you can spend involved in his world and his stories.

As mentioned above this is only a small sample of what I have read but is a useful guide to give some direction to those creating their own path through the fantasy world.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Picking up the Pieces - How to start writing after a break

Unfortunately life sometimes gets in the way of your writing, artwork, photography or whatever your creative outlet or hobby is and you end up having a break from it. I've just come back from such a break and took some advice from a colleague who told me of a good way to get back into the rhythm of, for me, writing again, so essentially 'picking up the pieces'.

The process is simple and not too demanding, which is a boon for a lot of us out there, and can be adapted to suit your own needs. Basically challenge yourself. Challenge yourself to write, draw, photograph, or whatever your bent is, for thirty minutes a day for seven days. Of course the time can be manipulated to your needs so if you find yourself getting into a grove with what you are doing I encourage you not to stop but to keep going till you feel you're done for the day. What is important here is not so much the time aspect but the consistency of working.

What you'll find is that it may be a struggle for the day or two but after that you find it easier to pick up the pen and what you work on will actually be of better quality than on the first few days. An interesting aside is to look back at what you did on the first day(s) and compare that with what you are working on in the later stages of the challenge.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fantasy Ebooks and RPG's

As many of you would know my fantasy history is intertwined between a myriad of different media but without doubt the majority of my time was spent living in the fantasy worlds of role playing games (RPG's) and I thought that it would be a good idea to make a post regarding how fantasy novels and RPG's are entwined.

When looking at the history of RPG's it is obvious that a huge amount of their content is derived from fantasy works and in particular the classics such as Robert E Howard and J R R Tolkien who helped to define the genre as we now know it by laying down a foundation for us to work with. Thus it falls on us as the current users of fantasy to expand upon these early works and broaden the field of the genre and the depth of it for all to enjoy.

Probably the easiest example of how the two different media are connected can be seen through the concept of inspiration. Essentially written works offer those GM's who have writers block, or are struggling to get a good and engaging storyline that the players want to explore, an opportunity to pillage some of their treasure in the form of plot lines, character profiles or settings. By taking a broad basis from one or several different sources and changing a few aspects to it a previously struggling GM can have an enjoyable set of adventures ready to go.

Although this view only looks at one side of the coin as the reverse is also true, if you are looking to become a writer either for a job or just for enjoyment, then RPG's offer a boundless amount of inspiration and also a testing ground as to whether or not your plot lines, characters and detail engages the players enough to engage a larger audience. You can also look to use this medium to your advantage as it forces you to develop your world and hone the aspects that make it unique and fun to interact with.

So for me I see these two mediums as mutually supportive of each other to the benefit of the genre as a whole as each single aspect will help to spawn ideas and ingenuity for the other. The next phase of course is with the rapid increase of computer gaming RPG's to meld stories, ideas and worlds across this new platform.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What Creates a Good Villain in a Fantasy Work?

For any writer this is an important question to ask and also answer, for the antagonist(s) are vital elements to traditional stories and can help to develop not only the feel of the book, but the pace of plot development. A reader's attraction to the hero and also the protagonists' growth during the story are also elements influenced by a well thought out and engaging villain. Thus as so much can ride on this it's often a good idea to flesh out the antagonist in the story, find out why they have become what they are and allow the reader to experience it by gradually revealing it during the story, film or game.

When developing antagonists in your stories or games I have found it very useful to look beyond the traditional view of a villain which is so often alignment based, openly cruel or repressive or a member of a predefined race or organisation that's fan base already understands them to be, for lack of a better word, 'evil'. In other words a setting which uses a base level of constructed conflict to drive the events and actions of the characters. But what is there beyond this?

Two great areas to think about when developing villains is the psychologically motivated villain, and someone who is acting and performing contrary to the norm for the setting and it is this opposing behaviour which creates them as a villain in the eyes of the hero and reader.

In the first instance psychologically motivated individuals can pass amongst the normal populace unnoticed, striking either at opportunistic times or in a calculated manner. The beauty here is that these villains are hidden and can provide plot twists and surprises for readers.

The second option is also one I have become increasingly fond of, and have started to see utilised in other author's works, as the villain doesn't need to be a predefined alignment. The reason that this is appealing to me is that it takes away the whole good versus evil aspect which is so prevalent in our film, literature and history. This gives us a plotline and character engagements outside of this theme, allowing for the setting, storyline situations, events and character profiles to drive the story rather than an obvious linear progression based on a broader ethical stance.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Growth of Fantasy Ebooks

I love how markets work, the facts and figures that you can find in regards to product segments, their trends, strategies and their implementation. So it's of no wonder that I have had a quick search around to see what is happening in the world of ebooks and in particular with the growth to the fantasy genera.

As a brief overview there are really only two distinct camps with regards to the ebook phenomenon. Firstly are those who see this format as a waste of effort and energy to invest in, primary amongst those is the CEO of Apple Steve Jobs who has surmised his opinion as realistically people don’t read any more and as such it’s not worth investing time into developing. An interesting side note is that the Apple iphone is now going to have a kindle application on it, so an about face or simply a prudent business decision? I would like to believe the latter rather than the former as to me, and seemingly the vast majority of people who are writing on this topic, what we need to be providing is new technologically based formats for reading thus it’s about delivering a user-friendly platform or platforms to bring people back to the written word and as such you can see this as happening and it will continue to do so as this type of work becomes more widely available. Thus with the release of kindle2 in the EU and now the kindle application on the iphone we will see an increased number of people once again picking up written works.

On the other side of the coin are of course advocates such as myself who do believe that this format has longevity, flexibility and also a future. When you look at some basic facts there is great growth in the ebook format but what I personally found exciting was that the fantasy genera is actually one of the largest if not the largest segment in the market. There are actually a few good reasons for that, one is of course the large amount of content available, of which you can get some good works and some average works, as discussed in a previous post I do believe that our choice could still be expanded with the introduction of major works to the medium. Secondly is the technically savvy nature of fantasy fans. This alone allows for a greater introduction of titles to the genera as we are more likely to be picking up ebooks to read than other social demographics.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, May 9, 2009

When Enough Is Enough

We all love a good series of books, they are rewarding as you read them and should not only be satisfying at their end but should leave you with a passion that makes you want to talk about them with your mates. Personally I love those discussions where you and your friends have all read a series, have your own favourite characters and enjoyed particular parts of the books and relive the book and those moments when you talk about it. But the question I raise here when is enough enough and does this notion impact on fantasy ebooks?

It is a rarity to find a fantasy book that is not part of a series and this is for a range of good reasons, which include both tradition and demands from publishers but to me you do need to have a good length to a story, part of why you pick up a written work is to get immersed into the land, the characters and their plight. I really do not see that happening in just a single story, for me if I enjoy a world that has been created I want to expand my experience in the land and become a part of it and that means more than one episode. I have read a couple of what I term short books from the Forgotten Realms series put out by TSR, in the old days, but they were supplements to series for example fleshing out the history of a particular character or providing some short stories of parts of the world that I was already familiar with from reading other series, thus I already had an exposure to the storyline, without it I do not believe that these stories would have been as enjoyable.

So from a reader’s perspective I fully believe that a multi-book series is a positive aspect to my enjoyment of a writer, their world and their characters but it can be taken too far. Recently some friends and I were having an email conversation regarding a new MMO that was being developed using Robert Jordan's 'Wheel of Time’ series and one of my mates put forward this rather frank view, “I bet [the game will] never be finished just the like the series. Actually I can see it being just like the [written] series, and most other MMO's, where the first levels (and books) are awesome with atmosphere galore and then it becomes a tedious go nowhere grind fest. The author died before finishing the series possibly because after the millionth wasted subplot line his brain exploded.”

From a writers and creators perspective I love the idea of letting people become more attached to what I create, for to me it’s about creating that engagement, letting you all experience the joy, good times and fun that I have had not only in developing but also gaming in the world that I have created. It’s a chance to give something to you all. So for me it’s about the story that you create, the world that you develop, and providing it succinctly rather than draw it out. Kerry Packer was a media magnate in Australia and his network was the most successful in that country because he founded it on what was actually good media rather than drawn out rubbish, the world of writers should look to do the same.

Leia Mais…

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bring on the Fantasy Ebooks

Although not a brand new concept, as I believe the first ebook was written in 1971, the ebook market, and in particular the fantasy ebooks market, still finds itself in its infancy and initially I couldn't understand why when from a business perspective if you look at the return on investment (R.O.I.) from this style of product what you are potentially doing is taking massive profits with very little expenses, which is great ROI. In conjunction to this low cost of production you can provide a product whose sale price is markedly lower than its conventional counterpart, which in turn provides you with an opportunity to expand sales as consumers are more likely to be prepared to take a punt on a book thus compounding the earnings that can be made.

The reality is that the market is being stifled by one all important aspect, selection. Where are the big name draw cards in terms of written works being transferred to a downloadable format to bring in new consumers and opening up this format to a greater audience? One of the problems here is that those who have embraced this new medium may get too frustrated with it and leave, returning to the old school printed versions to get what they are looking for.

So what is driving the major publishing houses to restrict the release of titles in this format? One of the primary issues is intellectual property rights and piracy. This industry is of course not the first to have to deal with this issue, both the movie and music industry have been hit very hard by piracy from internet torrent sites and digital formats, and it is this that has driven attitudes of publishing companies and thus restricting our choices for this fledgling medium. But are their concerns justified or their response to this phenomenon working?

In reality their concerns are fair as intellectual property rights must be upheld and it is important to protect authors and publishing houses to the works that they have been created for without a decent wage going to those who have created the works nor those who are spending funds to promote and disseminate works in ebook format then the whole thing comes crumbling down and there will be no injection of funds for R&D, market research or marketing of new products or lines. For example if Amazon's kindle had not been produced as it was not warranted as the sales of ebooks were minimal we would be without this quality user-friendly option to read with. So their concerns I believe are just however I do think that their response to this issue is the wrong approach as consumers are still looking to obtain the big name fantasy novels in ebook format which in turn spawned pirated copies that can be downloaded.

This means that there is a missed opportunity by publishing houses for them to generate more readers of fantasy ebooks and grow the market at an even faster rate. The flip side to this is that at present unknown and fledgling authors, such as I, now have an opportunity to get in without big name competition looking to lock us out of the market.

Leia Mais…