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WHERE ARE ALL THE WIZARD ARMIES?

 Wizards are powerful, it’s well known. Gandalf, Voldemort, and even Darth Vader. They are a common staple of fantasy. They usually have an abundance of knowledge to go along with their power. Yet, there are never any wizard armies in fantasy? (Unless you consider Dumbledore’s Army—which I don’t really do).

Is there something about the profession that makes them strictly introverted, loners?

Or maybe they don’t like to march side-by-side. They like to spend too much time with their books, and sometimes that can lead to a dismissal of physical pursuits. They have to study long and hard, after all, to learn all of those spells. Who has time for P.T.?

Maybe, soldiers are just afraid to spend time around a one-person nuke. I would be. But they’re wizards, shouldn’t they like spending time with one another?

Or maybe if too many wizards are brought together, the mana they use to cast their spells would interfere with each other. (But I don’t think that’s true).

Could it be they take orders about as well as a barrel of wet cats?

“Private, take that hill.”

Now, the Drill Sergeant’s a frog. Ribbit!

But there must be something about their character, or wizardry in general, that precludes them from signing up for their country.

It seems like the most sensible thing to do. Think how unstoppable a wizard army would be, plus you wouldn’t have to spend all that money on swords and armor or bullets and guns. Do you see how awesome a wizard army could be?

Wizard armies would rock. They would rule. They’d leave other armies with no clue what to do.

But they don’t exist, they never have, kinda like Big Foot doing improv.

Maybe it’s just an impossible dream, to see a wizard army out in the field. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll write that story someday—but it won’t be anytime soon--I still have too much Sword and Sorcery I need to consume.

What do you think about this subject? Why are there not more wizard armies in fantasy?
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4 Things Sword and Sorcery Needs to Improve to Become More Popular

When I was submitting to e-zines and magazines, one thing I noticed was that even though fantasy had a lot more opportunities to publish short stories online than other genres—sword and sorcery was rarely wanted. Some, said that they accepted sword and sorcery, but on reading their issues it became clear that sword and sorcery was not really something they published. Epic fantasy, for the most part, is the king of the fantasy genre. Sword and Sorcery is the red-headed step child.
What makes sword and sorcery viewed in such a manner? Why is it often seen as the lesser of the fantasy sub genres?
I think there are a few reasons why sword and sorcery has progressed into the role it has in fantasy and maybe by realizing this, and adjusting to reader desires, it will be become more prevalent in the future. Here are some thoughts why sword and sorcery may be sidekick rather than the hero when it comes to fantasy fiction.

1. Length - Robert E. Howard the inventor of Conan and the father of Sword and Sorcery published his works in the pulp era. Magazines were plentiful and short stories were a major source of entertainment. Sword and sorcery stories were born during this period. Their length and style of plot based fiction was perfect for shorter works. Readers didn’t mind reading short stories. Howard only wrote one Conan story that was of novel length. That fact never hindered the stories that were published or peoples interest in reading Howard’s work.

Today, readers want to invest in multi-book worlds. They want massive, sprawling trilogies, or ten book long series. They don’t want shorter works because they end too soon, leaving them to hunt for something else to read.

Sword and sorcery is a plot driven story type focused usually on a single character’s personal problems. It just doesn’t have a need to span multiple volumes.

Solution: Write single volume tales featuring one particular character. Character X and the Murdering Mummy … Character X and the Badlands Pirate … Character X and the Slithering Sorcerer.

2. Clones - Howard and Tolkien are both well known and successful fantasy writers. Success breeds mimicry. But in the case of sword and sorcery versus epic fantasy, the things people copied from the two masters are completely different.
From Tolkien, people copied his world and the types of people that populated it, the epic size of the tale, and the moral certainty of good versus evil.

From Howard, they tried to capture his writing style.
So, in the case of Tolkien you end up with: Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs, trilogies or longer novelizations, good versus evil, Halflings, the artifact hunt/quest, and the reborn dark lord from 1,000 years in the past.

Some of those things are what people enjoy the most—long stories, epic sized tales, good heroes battling evil.
But, part of what weakened sword and sorcery as a genre is what writers inspired by Howard tried to emulate—his voice. Voice can be one of the most important things a writer brings to their work, but when they try to copy someone else’s voice—it just doesn’t ring true. It comes off sounding fake or false (and they never do it as good as the original).

Solution: Simple. Write using your own voice.

3. Hack-and-Slash (and the movie experience) - This may be one of the greatest obstacles to sword and sorcery’s success. Combat scenes are difficult to do well, even in plot focused works.
But even in plot focused works—the reader needs something more than hack and slash—they still need story and characterization.

I think part of the reason the last Conan movie failed—is because they thought all they needed to show was Conan in an action scene to act as all the characterization they needed.
Action scene, followed by another action scene, followed by another action scene, followed by cheesy banter, followed by, yep, you guessed it—another action scene.

The reason so many sword and sorcery movies failed—is because they were made as only plot scene with nothing but action and no character development.

Solution: Give readers a character that has emotional depth. Conan, had depth. He wasn’t just a stupid hack and slash barbarian.

4. Grey characters and anti-heroes — Most readers want to read about the noble knight in shining armor—the unvarnished hero. They want to read about good versus evil. Sword and sorcery doesn’t necessarily provide that. It has shades of grey and darkness, it’s the antithesis of epic fantasy.

George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” makes use of grey characters. But Martin, doesn’t just stop at making a character grey. He shows their good side. He shows their bad side. He shows how they struggle between the two and how people interact with that character based on the facet that other’s have seen. Jaime Lannister isn’t just a kingslayer—he’s a hero in his own right. The Hound isn’t just some non-feeling, badass thug. He has fears and emotions.

Solution: Make your characters grey or an anti-hero if desired. But, also show the other aspects of their personality, make them feel so that they can bring something to the reader more than just another hack-and-slash adventure.

To wrap it up, I would like to hear from you. What are some of the things you think sword and sorcery needs to improve upon to become more popular in the genre where epic fantasy reigns supreme?
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On Average, Endings are More important than Beginnings

The most important beginning, and one of the most important parts of story-telling, is the very beginning of the tale. There is a reason for this. If the very beginning of a story fails—the reader stops reading.

Otherwise, endings generally are more important than beginnings.

What do I mean when I talk about endings?

I mean the full scope of story-telling. The macro and the micro. The macro includes the end of a novel, or the end of a series; but it also includes the end of a chapter.

The micro is the end of a sentence. The end of a paragraph. A joke may have only three lines—but the ending must nail it.

It’s difficult to surprise someone in the beginning. They’re learning about your characters, the world, the situation. But it’s easier to surprise someone with an ending. Like a magician, the writer can lead the reader down the path; shaping, and molding the experience, inferring that the story will head one direction, but underneath, building the reasons and leaving clues that it’s not really going to end like that. And it’s magic when it works. The reader is delighted.

Why are endings so important?

There are many reasons why endings have power and importance in writing and literature.

One reason is because it will be the last chance to make an impression, to leave the reader with something memorable, that last tug of emotion or impact to make the reader feel—something.

It has been said that beginnings make you want to read the novel, but endings make you want to read the next one.

Endings have less work to do than beginnings and they also have a different job—they don’t call it a climax for nothing.

Beginnings are the news—it fills you in on the details. Endings are your favorite t.v. show—you can’t wait to see the next episode.

Beginnings always start off cold. They have a job to do. They have less room to make an emotional punch. A beginning must introduce: who is in this scene, when and where does the scene take place, what’s going on, how have things changed since the last chapter.

A beginning starts at a standstill, gains momentum through the middle, and then delivers a climax in the end.

Endings don’t have the same responsibility. They don’t have to explain or set the scene. They don’t have to guide or build. The endings job is to deliver.

Endings benefit from the job the beginning and middle do—and that’s why they are important in the macro and the micro. The shackles are off and they can run, and soar, and dive, and leave the reader breathless and wanting more.

Stop and think about your endings—do they jab? Or do they sizzle out with little enthusiasm?

Every chapter is a mini story. Set the scene with the beginning. Raise the tension through the middle—then end with a climax, or a cliff hangar, or a wallop!

Make use of your endings! Push the reader into the next chapter.

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12 CLASSIC VILLAINS FOUND IN FANTASY

12 CLASSIC VILLAINS FOUND IN FANTASY

I’ve recently thought about the types of villains that appear in fantasy novels. After some thought I came up with twelve villains that frequently appear in fantasy stories and the types of obstacles they pose for the hero.

1. The Warrior (Single) - There are different types of warriors who utilize their strengths in varying ways during combat. Some are strong. Some very skilled and technical fighters. Some are fast.

If the warrior is strong. They will usually tower over the hero.

If the warrior is more skilled or faster than the hero they will usually be equal in size to one another.

More often than not they are aggressive characters who are not afraid to meet the hero in battle—in fact, since they are warriors, a one on one confrontation is usually what they seek.

Example in literature: Conan the Cimmerian

2. The Soldier (Army) - The soldier can appear very much like the warrior. In fact sometimes they are one and the same.

What makes the soldier different is they will rely on others for help. They will use their command to confront the hero as an army. They will prefer group tactics instead of individual combat to defeat the hero.

Usually, the soldier is not as good at single combat as warriors are, therefore their main goal isn’t to force the hero into that type of confrontation. They will use their ability to command to try and win the day.

Example(s):

3. High Wizards / High Sorcerers - High wizards and sorcerers are very powerful and dangerous. They are skilled at magic and have it under their control. High sorcerers are usually very intelligent and that is how they came by their mastery of sorcery.

Their intelligence may have also enabled them to take over leadership of a nation or influence as an advisor to the king. They may also be in charge of an army or henchmen.

For a hero, this can be the most difficult type of magic using being they will face (except for maybe a demon).

Examples: Merlin and Gandalf

4. Wizard / Sorcerer - What separates Wizards and Sorcerers from High Wizards and Sorcerers is that they may be only middling in their use of magic. Maybe the world they live in has limits on how powerful magic is or limits on the ability of magic to be used successfully in combat. Or it could be that the wizard just isn’t very good.

Even though these wizards are not as powerful as high wizards and sorcerers they can still pose problems for sword-wielding heroes.

Example(s):

5. Monster (Single): Often the antagonist a hero has to face will be of the monster variety. This monster may be roaming the wild, or it could be the plague of a town or village. The monster could be the creation of a wizard, or the result of a demon being summoned from another plane of existence.

Very few people will be willing to oppose the monster—so it will fall to the hero to face it.

Example(s): Dragon, Grendel

6. Monsters (Group): Monsters in groups, individually, are not as powerful as monsters that fight alone. However, they do have some type of advantage because they are a monster. Fighting in a group multiplies whatever that advantage is. Because they are monsters and because they are many they pose serious problems for any hero to face. Often the hero will end up fleeing before them, and must find some other way to defeat the creatures besides the use a sword.

Example(s): Undead

7. Trusted Henchman (Single) - The trusted henchman is usually someone who is skilled at whatever their methodologies are. It may be a sorcerer following the orders of the king or a soldier that is in charge of the infantry. Whatever role the trusted henchman has they are capable at achieving results. Before the hero can confront the main antagonist, they will have to overcome whatever the trusted henchman puts in their way. The trusted henchman has three main purposes in fiction: 1) accomplish whatever their boss commands, 2) Defeat the hero, 3) Weaken the hero for the boss to finish them off.

Example(s):

8) Henchmen (group) - Are somewhat similar to the single variety. They have the same purposes, but they may not be as skilled as the single henchman. Each member of the group may be less skilled at producing results than the single henchman and on an individual basis they are generally weaker than the hero. Since there are many of them, if they are skilled henchman, each one may have a certain area they do excel at (examples: warrior, wizard, soldier, etc.), it just will not pose as significant a threat to the hero on a one-on-one basis.

The opposite of a skilled group of  henchmen is a group of morons. They may pose a slight threat to the hero, but they usually screw things up. Generally speaking, the more henchmen there are, the weaker each one becomes. If there are five, then each one will have like 1/5 the power. If there are ten, then each one will have about 1/10 of the power.

Example(s):

9. Clerics / Priests - Clerics and priest function pretty much like high sorcerers and wizards. The difference is, where wizards get their power from magic, clerics and priests get their power from faith to a deity. Also, they never function alone. They always have followers.

Clerics and priests have charisma that cause some groups of people to devoutly follow them. Those who chose to follow such as these will also be of the faith—and they will be true believers willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause.

There are basically two types of cleric priest that oppose the hero.

1) The moral cleric or priest. This priest represents good. Or things that should be viewed as good. But the reason they stand in opposition to the hero is because they are too strict in their beliefs. Stand with them or against them—they have no room for sinners who do not believe as they do.

2) Evil priest. These priest are just evil to the core. They worship evil and sacrifice people to honor their evil deity. They are as committed to their god(s) as the good clerics are—the only difference is that their god is just no good.

10. Cult members / Acolytes - Acolytes are similar to henchmen. They are very devout and will die for the priest who rules them. Generally speaking, they have no individual identity and will always function as a group. They cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be bought. They will not betray their god or their priest. The only thing that will stop them is death.

11. The traitor - Traitor are very common. They have different reasons for betraying the hero, some of those reasons might even make sense.

What makes this opponent different from all the others is the fact that they are close to the hero or someone who is trusted. They will remain hidden until they are discovered or they have to reveal themselves in order to make their betrayal work. More often than not, their betrayal will result in the hero failing at some crucial point.

12. The warrior-sorcerer - Warrior-sorcerers do not appear that often in fantasy.  Most likely because they are two totally different skill sets that require  quite a bit of training to excel. At most they will operate 50/50 in the two traits. Generally, this individual will be more warrior than sorcerer (unless the hero is a sorcerer, then it will be reversed). In actuality, most warrior-sorcerers will be the protagonist of the story. But every-now-and-then they will appear in the heroes way.

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Blog Hop--My Writing Process

I was invited to participate in this blog hop tour, by my friend and SF writer, Carmen Webster Buxton. You can learn more about her writing process on her blog hop post: Why (and How) I Write. Carmen writes stories where the effect of technology, as well as culture and society, has on the characters within that milieu. I want to say thank you to Carmen for inviting me to participate in this event (I'm a blog hop newbie).

So, in this hop there are a few basic questions that I've been asked to answer regarding my writing process.

1. What Am I Working on Now?

I'm currently working on a sword and sorcery novelette (or what was supposed to be a one) about a warrior who's in search of a legendary wizard. His village was decimated by a magical spell and he needs the wizard to help set things back to normal. But before he can find the wizard, whom he is beginning to believe doesn't exist, he runs into a young boy who may or may not be a well intentioned thief. The boy's crime doesn't go unnoticed, and soon, the warrior must extricate himself from the situation. The only problem is--the boy may be his only clue to finding the wizard he's looking for.

Here's the cover:
COVER_sword hunt3

2. How Does My Work Differ From Others in Its Genre?

I think my work differs from others in the sword and sorcery genre because I have an interest in both simplicity and a little more depth. The simplicity part comes in the use of language. Some S&S stories are very florid in the structure of the sentences. When I write, I like to achieve a simpler, smoother transition from word to word. I still aim for the descriptive elements that help make sword and sorcery what it is, I still try to make interesting worlds, and still try to write incredible battles--I just try to do it with less words and hopefully that will make for stronger imagery.

The more in depth part is trying to add literary elements to a sub-genre that is better known for its action. I try to do this either through the characters and their struggles or based around the idea of the plot.

3. Why Do I Write What I Do?

I think, when we are young, those first new experiences can influence us for the rest of our lives. I can still remember when I saw "Star Wars: A New Hope" at the drive-in theater--it was pure magic. I can still remember the first fantasy trilogy that I fell in love with--"The Dragonlance Chronicles". I always loved reading whether it was comic books, fiction, or the marketing copy on the back of the cereal box. Writing allows me to explore worlds that only exist in my imagination, but through my imagination I can make it so that those worlds and those characters truly exist. In the long run, stories are only a reflection of the world we live in.

4. How Does My Writing Process Work?

Hmmm...well my writing process needs a little bit of an overhaul (which is one of the things I'm working on now).

I'm in one of those painful stages of learning where you try new things that you're not completely comfortable with. You take parts from here, add parts from there, flip that switch on, then turn that one off, and hopefully when you have it all figured out everything will work beautifully...

But it's a process.

What I've discovered though is that I'm good with beginnings. For me, beginnings are easy. They're gold. They're excitement. They can be grabbed from almost anything. The flash of an idea, a question, a character, an interesting situation. I know how to mold beginnings, I know what questions need to be answered. I know how to make them exciting.

I also know about endings. Endings come from your beginning. Endings must answer all the important questions you raise in the beginning. A good ending can be very satisfying, and sometimes, you can just feel when you have the right ending for the story.

Now, my trouble starts with middles. I've learned some things from different sources, but middles are still my Achilles heel--they're where I get lost in the wilderness.  And that is what I'm working on figuring out.
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3 EASY WAYS TO CREATE A MONSTER FOR YOUR STORY

( It's been a long time since I last posted on this blog. I've given some thought to posting once again in 2014, but a recent forum thread gave me the inspiration to write this post. )

big-foot3

The world is full of stories where man battles a savage beast. But in fantasy and horror those creatures are often more than what mother nature intended and the hero is forced to struggle against a creature of supernatural origins. Sometimes though, coming up with just such creatures cause angst in many writers. Here are three easy ways to generate a creature worthy of a hero for the ages.

1. SUPERSIZE IT!

Classical examples: giant spiders, giant sea creatures, giant insects

The first method is rather quite simple. Give the creature a dose of gigantism. Anything becomes dangerous when it’s much larger than your hero. Bilbo Baggins struggled against giant spiders, Captin Nemo fought against giant squids, and Jack had trouble once he climbed a giant beanstalk and ran into giant men. Even a sweet, little rabbit will become dangerous when it’s the size of a tank.

Most creatures once turned into giants will have their strength multiplied. And if the animal has special attack weapons, they become even more dangerous--Watch out for that giant lobster!

2. COMBINE TWO CREATURES

Classic examples: minotaur, centaur, werewolf

Another age old method to create a cool monster is to take a beast in your left hand and a beast in your right--and smash them together. The resulting beast will have a unique appearance and way of acting based on how you want to arrange the parts:

a. head and body

A minotaur is just a man’s body with a bull’s head attached to it. The Egyptians believed in gods who had a man’s body and another creature’s head. Anubis had a jackal’s head, Sekhemet the head of a lion, Horus the head of a bird.

b. merged humanoid

A merged humanoid is a creature that has a man’s body (head, hands, legs, torso), but they’re in animal form. A good example of this is the werewolf. When the full moon rises the werewolf comes out to hunt and the man completely gives way to the beast. OWWWWWWWWWWW!

c. unique

A unique creature is one where a primary attribute of one creature is given to another. Take a bird’s wings and put them on a horse and you have Pegasus. Take a bird’s wings and put them on a man and you have a birdman. Figure out what’s special about a particular animal and then give that attribute or skill to another one.

d. half and half (no you don’t want to put this in your coffee)

The last method of combining two creatures is to make one half of the creature one animal and the other half another. From the waist up a centaur is a man, from the waist down he’s a horse. From the waist up a satyr is a man (except for the horns on it’s head), but from the waist down it’s a goat. Figure out a way to bisect two beasts, then figure out which halves you want to combine together.

# Special Note:

One thing you may want to consider when you combine a creature with a human in the above methods is how humanized that creature becomes. A creature that has a man’s body, or a man’s upper half, or a is just a man with a creature’s unique gift is that the new creature may still act in a human manner. The creature may have language, culture, cities, intellect, tribes, and customs. If so, consider how the animal part affects that group. Think about how the combination changes the man.

3. COMBINE MORE THAN TWO CREATURES

Classic example: chimera, sphinx, hippogriff

There are a few creatures that are a hodgepodge of beast when it comes to how they’re thrown together. They combine more than two creatures into one. For example the sphinx has a man’s head, a lion’s body, and an eagle’s wings. When you want to create such a patchwork beast consider these parts of its body: head, body or torso, limbs (arms and/or legs), and maybe a tail. Combine the parts together and you have something no one would want to meet in a dark alley.

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Indie Author Rockstar Banners

Moses Siregar III has come up with an excellent idea for promoting Indie Authors. Each month six random writers are drawn from an available pool, and based on voting, one is selected as the Rockstar of the Month. If you're interested in learning more about the event check out its website, twitter page, or Facebook account.

I've also created a few banners for the occasion, feel free to download as many as you like:



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Flash Fiction: Parallel Lives

I wrote this for Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge. I hope you like it!


Parallel Lives
by A.R. Williams

Fireworks

photo by dhannte

Alejandro clutched the tiny flag that the woman at the desk had given him, bundled up in his fist. The overly bright lights in the room cast a harsh glare against the windows, making it hard to see out. He perched on his toes, elbows digging into the grate of the A.C. unit, face pressed against the glass and stared both at the road that led to the building and the twinkling blackness of the night sky. They hadn’t started yet, there was still time

Alejandro nibbled on his lip and tightened his fingers about the flag. The officer at the door, ordered everyone to rise and form a line. Alejandro’s father stood, pulled him away from the window and into the group of adults. Trapped between them as they shuffled forward, Alejandro marched out into the humid night. 

Headlights shone over the horizon, white hot like the stars in the sky. The bus pulled up just as everyone finished exiting the building. It stopped in front of them, engine growling, brakes screeching. The doors hissed open. 

“Let’s go people, get on board,” the officer yelled. 

They bunched together and slowly began to board, one by one. Alejandro and his father were near the front of the line. Climbing the steps, Alejandro raced to the back, weaving between people. The radio blared in the background.

“Yankees versus Rangers, bottom of the ninth, and what could possibly be the last batter of the game making his way to the plate.” 

Alejandro jumped into the back seat and stared back at the building. The seat moved as his father sat down beside him. Was he too late? Did he miss it? 

A crack split the air like the sound of wood breaking. 

“It’s a home run. He’s going home! Rangers win! Rangers win.” 

The bus lurched forward, forcing Alejandro back against the seat. He kept his eyes glued to the sky, waiting patiently. Just as he was about to turn away, it happened. Fireworks burst into the air: Red, White, and Blue. Alejandro smiled and unfurled his flag, waving it from side to side. 

“Papa,” he said, pointing. 

His father looked and nodded, then turned back around.

 

(C) copyright 2011. A.R. Williams