Tag Archives: fantasy

Q&A: Creative Materials

I’ve been trying to think of “creative” materials to use in my fantasy world. How do you think bismuth would fair as the base for armor/weapons?

Not well. Bismouth is a brittle metal, and won’t hold up in combat. It was used as component in some bronze alloys but, as a metal, it’s unsuitable for weaponry.

If your setting is using bronze age technology, it’s possible they’d use bismouth contaminated tin and copper, to produce bronze, but unless your character is a smith, that’s not the kind of detail which would be relevant, and trying to wedge it into exposition could be awkward. Even then, it’s more likely that they’d view it as some variant of tin or lead.

So, let’s step back from this and dig into the more general question: How do you go about incorporating “creative materials,” into your setting?

Before you can answer that, you need to answer two previous questions. Why do you want those materials? And, what do you want to do with them?

When you’re creating a setting, introducing fantastical elements can help to make the world more memorable. Your setting has elves, has magic, has vampires, whatever. Over time, the audience will acclimate to certain elements in a genre. So creating a fantasy setting today where almost anyone can perform some basic magic isn’t nearly as memorable as if you were writing the same story in 1930. Within that context, unusual materials can go a long way towards selling that.

At this point, you can sometimes get more attention by eschewing parts of the, “standard fantasy setting.” Which is to say, if you want your fantasy characters fighting with bronze, iron, or steel weapons (depending on the technology they have), you’re not under any obligation to include these things simply to be different. One thing that doesn’t suffer from diminishing returns is creating compelling characters who behave realistically, in a way the audience can identify with. Unusual metals and mystical artifacts are there if they serve your story, or help you build build detail into your world, not because you must include them.

In very simple terms, you can use strange or exotic materials along with other fantastical elements to separate your audience from the world they know. You create a less grounded setting, which affords you greater control over your world. Depending on the kind of story you’re trying to tell, this can be a benefit or a problem.

The second part of this is, what your material does in your setting. There are a few ways this can go.

If you’re inserting a material as a replacement for something that existed historically, then that’s going to build towards your setting’s strangeness. If this sounds like it has to be a 1:1 conversion, that’s not strictly true. Your setting may have some kind of resin, or hard bones that function as a replacement for armor or weapons. You may have some kind of sea creature with a carapace that will hold up for decades after death, and can take a serious beating. You may, simply, have some alternative animals that are used as mounts or pack animals. The important thing is, you’re filling a cultural niche with something that doesn’t exist in the real world.

Replacing elements will lead to a less grounded, more fanciful setting, particularly as you stack up elements. Juggling elements like this can make your setting more complex and memorable, or it can render the entire thing obtuse, and difficult to understand. Handling these kinds of elements becomes a juggling act. Said juggling act becomes more difficult when you try to write to people who are familiar with the genre and newcomers. There are real rewards for this kind of approach, and it is something I’d recommend you experiment with or at least research, but it’s not something you can expect to nail on your first attempt.

You can introduce elements that replace anachronistic concepts that wouldn’t exist in your setting, but would be familiar to a modern audience. The idea of a fantasy setting with cell phones may strike you as odd, but there are plenty of settings that do incorporate modern technology into a fantasy setting under the guise of something else. Communication crystals or spells allowing telepathic contact and remote viewing.

The tricky part here is figuring out exactly what all of these pieces would reasonably do to your world. Even minor tweaks can start to have significant consequences. More aggressive wildlife will mean better fortified settlements. Without that, the settlements would be overrun and wiped out. So, this becomes a necessary precaution. If you have truly massive pack animals, then major trade routs could easily form along land routes instead of along waterways, leading to a very different geography, potentially one with far less interest in water travel in general. This is particularly true if you have vitally important materials that don’t naturally occur near the water.

Conversely, if your fantasy setting is dependent on something pulled from the water, they may go even further. Magical research, and even mundane technology could go far further towards deep sea diving if some leviathan down there is the source for carapace armor, or the only place to mine some otherwise unobtainable ore.

However strange your world becomes, it’s vitally important to remember one thing: For your characters, this is normal. (Unless they’re native to a different setting and get dumped into it. At which point, everyone around them will still be in the mindset of, “no, this is normal; stop gawking at the sledge, they get nervous when you stare at their eyestalks.”)

If you’re not chasing strangeness, then unusual materials often become a way to indicate that a given weapon or item is special in some way. The first example that may come to mind is Mithril, from Tolkien, but there’s actually a long history of people making up metals and imbuing them with special properties. Some quick examples include: orichalcum, which Plato ascribed to Atlantis, and adamant (which is where we get the terms adamantium and adamantite), which referred to an improbably strong metal or substance (and is the root for “adamant,” in modern English, if I remember correctly).

Unusual materials also have some basis in history. (Not counting orichalcum, which may have been an actual alloy, or could have been something Plato invented for rhetorical effect.) Superalloys like crucible steel and Damascus steel were quite real. Similarly meteoric iron was sought after because of how valuable the metal was to a smith. Chemically most of it is an iron/nickle alloy, but this stuff was one of the first sources of metallic iron, before smelting technology was developed.

If your setting has unusually advanced magic, it’s possible they’d have access to metals that just wouldn’t exist historically: like titanium. In the real world, titanium wasn’t discovered until the eighteenth century, and wasn’t refined into a metal until 1910. (Somewhat obviously, the minerals were always there, but they went undiscovered until 1791.) However, if your setting has magical means to locate and identify metals, and access to forge temperatures far beyond what real world technology allowed (specifically, high pressure, non-carbon based forges, for titanium), it’s possible you could have this stuff in your setting. (At that point it’s probably worth remembering that Titanium was, explicitly named after the Greek titans, so the name may not carry across, even if the metal does.)

Mixed with all of this is the idea to single out a weapon and indicate it’s special. This has some historical basis. Weapons made from superaloys or meteoric iron were highly regarded historically, and may be the origin of stories about magical weapons and artifacts. It’s entirely possible your otherwise grounded setting may have a sword made from starsteel, that’s a symbol of the king, or a “magical” sword with the wavy bands of Damascus steel. This stuff was real, and for users who were unfamiliar with the origins, Clarke’s Third Law holds. (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)

Somewhat obviously, there’s nothing to stop you from having an artifact made from some material that’s been otherwise lost. This is, sort of, how Plato used Orichalcum in his discussion on Atlantis. The material and objects created from it were almost forgotten, but (supposedly) still existed.

It’s entirely reasonable that your character may be questing for an onyx-jade sword, or something equally bizarre, in an otherwise grounded setting. This works particularly well if your setting has a pattern of fallen civilizations, and exists in a dark age after some lost golden era. (Incidentally, this fits with how Europe viewed itself through most of the middle ages, ending near the enlightenment. So, there is historical precedent in this approach.) This can also leak over into outright science fiction elements, if that’s what you want.

The most important part of incorporating “creative materials” into your setting is in the name, be creative. Look for opportunities where you can start to seriously alter your world. Ask yourself, “what would this mean to the civilizations of my world?” Look for opportunities to connect your ideas, and how they would interact with one another. But, most importantly, be creative. If you want to have something fanciful or strange, don’t feel limited to the periodic table.

-Starke

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hey i’m creating a race of fairies and since they generally have small builds and metal such as iron cold steel are deadly to them what are some good materials to use for the fairies to craft their weapons, i considered gems but doing some research i realized substance like diamonds and crystal are utterly impractical even for the fairies.

Well, fairies are magic. If a fairy wanted to wield a diamond sword, they could and no audience would question it. Magic is the solution to a lot of problems. The weakness of a weapon forged with magic is, of course, a steel blade but that only matters if they’re encountering humans wielding steel on the regular. Fairies can do whatever they want and dance merrily on the graves of scientists the world over, so don’t let that stop you.

Blades of pure light.

Blades of diamond.

Blades from plants.

Fairies wielding magma blades or swords forged from stardust.

A sword of glass containing the beating heart and heat of the sun.

Futuristic fairies who behave like aliens in Iron Man style power armor formed from plastics/polymers wielding lightsabers and firing bolts of plasma.

They’re fairies. Sky’s the limit here. Except, it’s not because then we catapult ourselves out into space. Go however far your imagination takes you.

Look to myth for your solutions, especially the Celtic Sidhe. Unless you’re dealing with a modern setting (and even if you are) mythology has already developed solutions. It’s a great place to start your search.

However, here are some things I’ll point out:

Cold Iron/Cold Steel are a reference to a specific forging technique rather than a type of metal, though in folklore it can just mean steel swords. Still, this will open up your options some.

Cold Iron for fairies dates back to when iron forging was still mostly new, or less common. There’s certainly lore out there with mythological fairies fighting warriors wielding iron blades, but were unbeatable until new forging techniques were developed.

Ask yourself: is it the forging technique which makes these swords dangerous to your fairies or is it the metal itself? In which case, then you can cut out “cold” as it’s just steel.

Here’s the Wikipedia article about iron in folklore. It may help you some in your search.

If you want to write Urban Fantasy with fairies then I’d go with the forging process rather steel itself. The reason is that they couldn’t go anywhere. At least, not places like the US or Europe or anywhere there’s a high steel content in the buildings, cars, and sewer systems. Even with a shift to polymers too much of the major metropolitan centers in the developed world are built on steel bones. Science fiction fairies re-emerging in the future where all metals are polymers has more potential.

Honestly, any army from a period using steel or iron weapons could curb stomp fairies if they’re allergic to the metal. Using the forging process moves all to some and then down to almost none, making way for the future fairyocalypse of 2018.

-Michi

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Hi! I’m not sure if this qualifies as a ‘fight’ question, but I’ve run out of places to go for help. So if you answer, I really appreciate it. Fantasy world. MC, trained military, is trying to plant a tracking device on a pirate airship. He originally hid the tracker in a lure of special cargo. Events happen last minute that force him to keep the tracker on his person and get it aboard the ship that way. My problem is, how he-or me as the writer-get him to be taken prisoner. Thank you so much.

Well, he’s on a pirate ship and he’s… not a pirate.

Here’s something to know about pirates or anyone who spends lots of time alone in a small enclosed space: they know each other. In particular, pirates are rather loose and democratic organizations. They’ll know if they’re taking on new crew, and they’ll know who that crew is. If he’s found aboard their ship (and he will be), he won’t be able to pass himself off as one of them.

Criminals who run successful raiding operations aren’t stupid, especially those who’ve managed to keep at it for any length of time and are difficult to track. They live outside the law, they are outside its protections, and they know what the punishment for their capture will be. (Usually, it’s death.) This goes for every single member of the crew, not just the captain or their leader. Pirates generally get treated as stupid in vast swaths of media. They’re not. They’re smart. Many of the pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy were ex-navy of one sort or another. Many of the pirates making up this crew will be former sailors trained by a branch of the same military your MC comes from. They know what a military man looks like. Their survival is dependent on avoiding authority, and tackling those isolated targets they can successfully take. A criminal needs to be able to spot a policeman, including one in plainclothes. Their ability to continue operating depends on it.

So, how does this guy get captured?

He’s not a pirate, and hasn’t convinced them that he’s their new recruit. (At this point, he can’t. Too short on time. Too late. They’ll know who their new crew are.) He’s trapped in an enclosed space, aboard a ship, that is probably in the air if he able to stay hidden after they took off (as they’d almost certainly slit his throat before leaving if they found him). He has nowhere to go, no way to get off that doesn’t involve encountering enemy pirates who will recognize him as a stranger and an enemy.

He’s going to be taken captive. There’s one of him, and many of them. The only question left is how to get him out of the situation, instead of falling to his death by many thousands of feet when they chuck him overboard.

The real question for you is not: how is he taken captive? It’s: what reason do they have to keep him alive?

If he’s really lucky, he ditches the tracker before they find it on him and can make up a believable story. If he’s sort of lucky, they chuck the tracker overboard and lock him in the brig. If he’s super unlucky, then he’s going over the side and it’s “goodbye, MC”.

Stowing away is not an act with a lot of great career options ahead.

If you’re really having trouble coming up with ideas, I’d take a step back and go research pirates. You’re shortcomings here are based a lack of understanding for your MCs opponents. If you have a character getting caught, then the actor is the enemy. Those are the characters you need to focus on. It’s easy to assume that one character (the main character) is the driving force of all action, and because you (the writer) are most closely associated with them you see most of the situations from their perspective. However, this will catch you when you’re trying to write fight scenes or any kind of story action that relies on other parties to drive your story forward.

Spend some time with your villains. Figure out how the pirates function, how they work, what their command structure is (if they have one, lots of pirate ships were democratic with their captains voted in), and how they’re functioning. If you’re basing these pirates on the Golden Age of piracy, it might behoove you to look at history. The behavior of the pirates was often a direct response to the military/naval organizations of the time. The British Navy, for example, was well-known for being tyrannical and naval captains were given carte blanche over their crew. The Chain of Command was god, and their word was the ultimate law. It didn’t matter how mad, nightmarish, or suicidal the choice may be. If you ended up with a sadist as an officer, there were few appeals and you were at their literal mercy. The rules were strict. Many pirates were sailors fleeing that abusive lifestyle.

Take some time to figure out how your pirates function, how they live, what their ship looks like, etc. If you’ve gotten stuck, it’s usually because you’re focusing on the wrong characters. Spend some time with the ones who discover your MC and take him captive. That should get you back on track.

-Michi

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Hello, I am writing a ‘Apocalypse’ story that also has mythical creatures in it and I am unsure how strong I should make them compared to humans. One of the main characters is a 16 year old Elf who was trained since he was ten, and I don’t want him to be too strong. Elfs can use Runes and subtle illusions in my story. I am unsure on the power levels of other Mythical creatures (like Fae, Ghouls, Centaurs, Merpeople and Chimera) as well.

They should be as strong as the story requires. There is no
concrete answers here, just world building, which is, ultimately, on you.

Let’s start with your main character. Elves (or Elfs, if you
prefer) aren’t real, so they don’t age at a fixed rate. Which means, saying he’s 16
years old isn’t that useful. I understand the intent behind your
statement, but it’s probably important to step back for a minute.

If we’re taking D&D’s setting basics, and running with
those, a 16 year old elf is a small child. Conversely, D&D’s perfectly
happy to call a 16 year old human an adult. This is, of course, assuming your
setting’s elves aren’t completely ageless, come into existence fully matured,
and then never change.

It’s worth remembering, when you’re building a fantasy
setting, that you control all of the
variables. Sure, your human characters should, probably, come across as mostly
human, in most cases, but even that’s not set in stone. Accusations that
Aragorn is unrealistic are fairly rare, and this is a character who’s in his
80s. (And, yes, there’s an entire internal justification for that, but Tolkien’s
race of Men aren’t really human. They’re another flavor of mythical beings,
like his elves and dwarves. Aragorn is a step further from that, but the point stands.)

When you’re talking about elves, that’s a very open topic.
Depending on your source of inspiration, that could be anything from beings
that are basically human characters, that have access to very advanced magic or
technology (and no, this isn’t an oblique Stargate reference), a variety of fae, normal
people who’ve been altered by some release of magical energy, or just another sentient species wandering your world. It’s up to you to define who and what they are, in your setting.

This also spills over into what sets them apart from a “normal”
character. What your elves are
is influenced by what you want to talk about. (Because your main character is an elf, their nature is far more important than if they were a minor side element in your setting.) Once you have that, then
you can start to extrapolate how your elves are different from other beings in
your setting. This could be as simple as your character being lumped in with
the other mythical beasts and viewed as a different flavor of monster by the
people he’s trying to save (or not), or it could be a coming of age story. This
will seriously influence what your elves are. How alien they are. How they age.
What their society looks like. It also affects how strong they are. Depending
on what you’re creating, it’s entirely possible your character is already a
superhumanly powerful engine of destruction by 16, whether he has the emotional
maturity to handle that or not. In turn, that would seriously influence how
elves are perceived by others in your setting. Or, he could still be a small child. Where he lands between these points is something that needs to fit the story you’re trying to tell.

To varying degrees, the same is true of the other creatures
in your world. If they’re supposed to be incredibly powerful, to the point that
normal beings can’t even slow them down, the apocalypse is an extinction event
in motion, then that’s your answer. If they’re more of an environmental hazard
that a well equipped group can deal with, again, that’s your answer. If they’re
a nuisance that only becomes a serious problem in large numbers, you get the
idea. In practice, you’ll probably want a mix of these things, depending on
what your setting needs. It’s entirely reasonable that you’ve got fairly common
threats like ghouls that can be dealt with, while still having far more powerful
beings like titans or leviathans wandering the world wrecking things. How these
interrelate will be influenced by the story you want to tell.

World building starts with the idea of wanting to tell a
story, and having a vague idea of what you want to talk about. Then
extrapolating a world that supports those ideas. Finally, you go back through
and start nailing down the fine details, like, “how powerful are these monsters?”
or, “how did people react to their arrival?”

This leaves me in a slightly awkward place: without knowing
what you’re trying to do, you’re asking for some of the final detail work
without knowing what you wanted to do in broader strokes.

At a very basic level, the more powerful the creatures are,
the more severely isolated human communities will be. I’m using power as an aggregate
here, endless swarms of easily dispatched monsters that will overwhelm and
obliterate can be more effective than a skyscraper sized
behemoth that shrugs off any injury.

At the extreme end, humans may be restricted to a handful of
small enclaves, and extinction could be imminent. On the other hand, you could
easily have a setting where survivors have retaken and fortified entire cities,
with heavily armed caravans wandering between, and smaller enclaves scattered
across the world.

It’s entirely possible you’re setting up an environment like
The Witcher. There are monsters, but
they’re more of a pest than a real threat, and the apocalypse which unleashed
them on the world is a dim memory.

There’s an old cop-out answer on physics exams, “the
problem cannot be solved with the available information.” That seems to apply
here. When you’re building your world, you have the  ability to shape it to fit your narrative.
Think about the kind of story (or stories) you want to tell in it, and build
your setting accordingly.

-Starke

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Book Smugglers Calls for Fiction Submissions for ‘Gods and Monsters’ Anthology – Pays up to $500/story

writingcareer:

Book review blog and digital-first publisher Book Smugglers (est. 2008) has issued an open call for submissions to find the best original speculative fiction short stories based on the theme of “GODS AND MONSTERS.” Founders and publishers Thea James and Ana Grilo plan to publish a minimum of three stories, connected to the main theme, between May and August 2017. Original artwork by a commissioned illustrator will supplement each story.

Writers are encouraged to inject their creativity into the Gods and Monsters theme and create a story that excites and inspires them. It can be Gods VERSUS Monsters, or Gods but not Monsters, or Monsters without Gods. Writers may overturn these sample themes, embellish upon what “gods and/or monsters” represents, and fine-tune the concept to other plausible nuances and genres under the Speculative Fiction genre.

Keep reading

The Fantasist eZine Opens Temp. Reading Period to Find Novella-Size Fantasy Stories – Pays $50/story

writingcareer:

Writers have until September 30th to submit long-form fiction to The Fantasist, a new online quarterly magazine of novella-length fantasy stories.

The purpose of The Fantasist is to widen the classification of fantasy, to strengthen and interweave the discussion around speculative fiction, and to amplify the role of fantasy within that discussion.

The publisher plans to publish three original fantasy novellas the third Thursday of every third month starting in December.

Keep reading

Okay so the back ground of my story is that everyone has the same super power. With hard work and other factors there powers can become stronger or weaker. The natives of the world are at war with other beings just as powerful as them. Now there are a number of chosen one types of characters who have a second type of power. They are either friend foe or neutral. How could you write a fight scene with super powers then write a training scene

This is a really hard question to answer without context and primarily why we don’t talk about how to write superpowers in anything other than generalities. Every setting with magic or superpowers come with their own rules and we’re not privy to what those rules are. Our focus on “realism”, technically just how weapons work in the real world, comes from that. Telling me “superpower” or even “telepathy” or “telekinesis” doesn’t actually help me much if I don’t know what it affects, it’s strengths and limitations, or how it gets used. I mean, even just telekinesis runs the gamut from “can pick up silverware” to “fling bus with startling accuracy” to “devour star system”. Move over to Star Wars, you’ll find Luke’s small time stuff in the Original Trilogy like choking, jumping, and retrieving fallen weapons to Starkiller dragging an entire star destroyer out of orbit. In the EU, one Sith Lord used the Force to slam two stars together to destroy a fleet that was chasing them. Babylon 5′s telepaths go from “can’t quite read your mind, but can tell their minds are being read” to “detonate entire planet”.

How do you write a fight scene with superpowers? You have to figure out what the superpowers can do and what they can’t do. Where the assumed upper limit is, where the actual upper limit is, and what that means for your story. Unfortunately, the primary onus for that is going to be on you.

You’ve got to figure out how the powers work, how they manifest, and the rules this society has erected to keep everyone in check. How they influence their day to day lives. How they’ve evolved to make use of them. Etc. Really good settings have very solid world building that show all levels of the society and how the powers at play have affected them. Harry Potter, for example, does an excellent job of showing the utility of magic and how the Wizarding World has evolved their use of magic to aid their everyday lives. Rowling creates a sense of wonder while simultaneously grounding the reader into her world through some rather mundane activities like travel or cleaning the kitchen.

So, world building. Fantasy settings need it. The rule set grounds you into the world. Writing combat is fairly easy once you gain a basic understanding of the rules, how they get broken, and how people behave when under pressure. Once you as the author figure out how to start thinking from that perspective, it gets a lot easier to predict how your characters are going to behave. While superpowers ultimately don’t alter the baseline of how people behave that much, they do change how the problems get solved. New toolkit, new methods with which to solve problems. Start asking yourself some basic questions:

If I had this power, what would I do with it?

How would I use it to affect my day to day existence?

What parts of my life would it make easier?

What would it make harder?

If someone was threatening me, what would I do?

Inside out rather than outside in. Then, consider the other character’s perspective in the scene. How do they respond? What do they do? If everyone has the same power and one character is more experienced at using theirs than the character who just activated their powers, then it’s unlikely the newbie can overpower them. Even if they are actually stronger. And, as you said, the strength talent is the based on hard work anyway. Your protagonist is probably going to get their ass beat the first time out and that’s okay.

Really.

(And if they show their special Chosen One ability in that fight when under pressure, I just want you to know that’s… very cliche. Not that you can’t do it, just know almost everyone does.)

If you’re confused or unsure then I suggest a Lit Review to see if that inspires any ideas. A Lit Review is when you go out and read a bunch of novels or view a lot of media that’s similar to your own idea to gain a better understanding of your genre. You’re not reading or viewing for enjoyment so much as raiding for ideas. It’s helpful to review what other authors have done in order to find inspiration for your own work.

You want to write a scene which involves a character new to their powers and unsure of how they work fighting someone else? Get thee to the fantasy section of the library or start reviewing superhero movies. From bad to good, there are a lot of examples from the humorous to the serious of characters screwing up, nearly dying, or scraping by.

This is all important when it comes to writing training sequences. Why? You as the author are teaching your audience about your setting. Your characters actually have to learn something and that something should be applicable to the job they’re going to perform. This requires understanding that something well enough that you can communicate what it is, what it does, and why to the characters and your audience. You want to write a training sequence for a spy? You need to understand the tradecraft and what a spy actually does. You want to write a military training sequence a la boot camp? Probably best to learn what the military is actually doing because they’re not just teaching their recruits how to kill people.

Sports movies are often mocked for being corny and cheesy, but the secondary aspects of the training are actually more important than the training itself. In the Karate Kid remake, for example, a huge part of Dre’s evolution as a character comes from his training with Mr. Han. He’s not learning to beat people up, he’s learning responsibility, respect, and building his confidence.

Good training sequences demonstrate an author’s understanding of their setting, their characters, and their subject matter. So, to teach, you first must develop your own understanding.

All combat training comes in three tiers: the physical (the body) and the psychological (the mind), and the additional overlay of whatever their training is molding them to become. This is the insidious part of training that most writer’s miss. Training isn’t just teaching you how to fight or how to use your powers, it’s changing how you think, it’s affecting your morals and your values, it’s redefining your perspective, and, in some cases, a character can come out of it as an entirely different person.

Is your character’s mind being broken down so that they can be remolded into a proper fighting machine? This is what Stanley Kubrick was talking about in Full Metal Jacket, the military’s dehumanization of recruits and stripping them of their previous identities in order to transform them into soldiers. I bring up Full Metal Jacket because it remains the go to resource for most writers when they’re writing military training sequences, but many imitate without understanding. The other big one is Fight Club. Often the theme of dehumanization actually ends up in the story through the training sequences and is portrayed as a good thing. Divergent is one such example where the themes of dehumanization and rather brutal abuse are introduced via Dauntless training methods but never extrapolated on.

Why? Because the process of transforming someone into an out and out psychopath is treated as “just hardcore” in a lot of fiction. That is the point of the Fight Club itself, by the way. It’s not about teaching someone how to actually be good at fighting. It’s actually about adrenaline junkies, about getting high off asserting physical dominance over someone else. If you want a novel that’s legitimately talking about “toxic masculinity”, then Fight Club is it. Real training doesn’t actually look anything like Fight Club, but then Fight Club isn’t actually about creating competent soldiers.

Some Quick Don’ts:

1) Don’t overestimate to be more impressive.

This is a pitfall almost everyone falls down the first time, but I’m mentioning it because everyone falls down it. Figure out what people can get away with in the real world when training, then compare that to the characters in your setting, and build into that. There’s nothing more annoying than the character who supposedly spent a year or five in solitary confinement showing no signs of sensory deprivation or crawling up the walls.

Boot Camp does blast you with near constant exercise in order to weaken your mind. If you’re interested in what they actually do, there are resources available to tell you the training regimen. It’s fairly sophisticated in what it’s actually doing.

2) Don’t go for shock value

The ones who fall down the Fight Club trap are usually going for shock value. Shock value is worthless in the long run. Substance is better.

3) Don’t forget that this is about teaching.

If the sequence isn’t teaching us something about the world, the powers, and the characters or advancing the plot, then the sequence is not necessary. And really pay attention to what your training is saying. This isn’t really one of those “fake it until you make it” endeavors, you gotta teach.

-Michi

Not completely sure if anything like this has been asked before, but I’m writing YA Fantasy and I’d like to involve more sword fighting in it (completely *no guns involved*), even though it’s set in modern-ish times. Can you think of any possible reasons why guns can’t be used/would be useless?

The big one that’s usually pulled out is magic. The idea is that magic and technology don’t play nice together. Dresden Files (and most of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genre), Shadowrun, and Arcanum, all make use of this concept to varying degrees. It’s not that guns are technically no longer useful, it’s that they don’t work when faced with magic and thus magic users/fantasy monsters have no reason to use them/are incapable of using them. It’s an either/or situation.

Your characters are going dragon hunting or finding a troll in the sewers, then they probably aren’t going to bring guns with them. They’ll take an enchanted sword or any other necessary equipment for dealing with the threat. This will expand out to the mass majority of society. Your police officers will probably still keep their guns for dealing with non-magical threats, but may also carry a silver sword or whatever else they need to subdue the now magical threats their job requires them to deal with. You don’t actually need a special department for that either. It’s just that there are now psychics, telepaths, and magical knights on the Force. The major thread here is that people will adjust, society will adjust, and it will go on.

Also, if you don’t know that the cop you’re character is dealing with is a telepath, then life in general just got a whole lot more interesting.

This one is very common in the genre, though. One of the others is that magic was gone for a long time and society developed without it, then it returned. This skips out on having to explain how society developed without guns but also can lead to a more post-apocalyptic setting environment due to all your comforts (like cars and computers) no longer working.

You have Highlander, where it’s tradition. The sword is also the best way to ensure they get a clean beheading in their duels which allows them to take the other Immortals power. This doesn’t stop non-Immortals (and even some Immortals) from carrying or using guns, but it does mean you’ll most likely always see two Immortals dueling each other instead of using another alternative.

If you were wanting to excise just guns, then you’ve got a bit of a problem. The gun is directly related to technological and societal advancement. This includes the technological benefits that you are enjoying right now such as your computer, the internet, the car, and the socioeconomic changes of the past 400 years. The reason why feudal lords were able to keep control of their populations was because they had a monopoly on violence. The gun disrupts that monopoly. It creates a world where it no longer takes talent, training, or skill to kill a knight.

The British Empire. The United States. Colonialism in South America, Africa, India, the Middle East, and China, would all have looked very different, if it happened at all. Without guns, our modern world just isn’t the same.

I hate the butterfly metaphor from Chaos Theory, but the spirit of it holds weight here. You change one aspect of history and then, consequently, everything that hinged on it also changes. A good example of a narrative which explores this concept is Alan Moore’s Watchmen, if you read while having a solid understanding of American history/the Civil Rights era/the Vietnam War, etc, you can really see how the creation of Doctor Manhattan specifically changed the landscape of history. Starke suggested reading it with Where the Domino Fell by James Stuart Olsen and Randy W. Roberts, which is about Vietnam and American foreign policy after Vietnam. It’s a quick shot from 1945 to 2010. It’s also worth noting that Doctor Manhattan made the gun irrelevant, he also made nuclear weapons irrelevant and that endlessly perpetuated the Cold War.

I would read the comic before watching the movie because there’s a lot of little details that get lost, but if you really want to change history then I’d label Watchmen as required reading.

This is all me leading into to saying that whatever you do with your setting, it would be a good idea to start thinking about consequences. Not big consequences, the small every day consequences that lead into your sense of safety and security. Think about aspects of your life where instead of imagining “what would it be like if I had magic”, ask yourself “what would it be like if that person over there had magic and I didn’t”. What would life be like if we didn’t have a police force, or a fire department, or hospitals. Do you still go to the dentist when you have a toothache? Or do you visit the faith healer up the street instead? What proofing did the supermarket put in to keep the technomancers from screwing the barcode readers? Did the Department of Justice establish a special magic division? How does one keep telepaths and clairvoyants from cheating on their exams?

It’s questions about quality of life that usually result in the best worldbuilding. It’s not “what do I want it to be like”, it’s “if I changed this, what would be different?”, “what would the possible outcomes be?”, “how would people try to abuse the new systems?”, “how would other people stop them?”. The more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll find, then you can establish a sense of daily life in your setting which feels normal.

-Michi

In the latest Hobbit movie, (keeping this as spoiler-free as possible) an elven sword, clearly not designed for throwing, is thrown some 25 or 30 feet upwards and buries itself in the chest of an orc. The question is: is this even possible given the design of the weapon? (look up Thorin Oakenshield’s sword, Orcrist. The sword in question is similar to that.)

I can’t remember if Thorin’s weapon is an Orc-bane, like Glamdring or Sting… but, basically? No.

It’s kind of important to remember that, even in Tolkien’s books, the entire setting is pushing towards a kind of epic of myth. Everyone is capable of feats that are well beyond actual human limits. Whatever issues I have with Jackson’s adaptations, it is a basic concept from the source material he clearly understands.

Given that Tolkien and Robert E. Howard are probably the two most influential writers for modern fantasy, and both of them were prone to that in their own ways, it probably doesn’t matter for your writing.

But, no, throwing a sword with enough force, and accuracy, to impale someone is basically not possible.

-Starke

I have a question & I apologize if it has been answered before but– I am writing a medieval/fantasy novel & my MC is a very hard working farm girl who ends up getting into a quest that will need her to use some kind of force/weaponry. I don’t want to do the clichéd “very natural with no training with a sword/bow” but I need her to be decent with some kind of weapon. I am thinking an axe would be the most realistic for her past, or possibly a flail/mace. Any help is greatly appreciated.

I’d give her three weapons: one ranged, two close combat. I’m basing my choices below on her background and I’ll explain why.

Sling

Staff

Dirk/Dagger

These three cover your basic necessities while giving you the ability to branch out over the course of the story. Let me explain each in detail:

The Sling – the sling is the weapon of the farm child, one children still use to defend their flock from attackers both animal and human. It’s a great weapon, easy to maintain and use with ammunition everywhere with the potential for deadly accuracy.

Like the sword, the sling comes with it’s own thematic history when found literature as it was the weapon of choice for David when he fought and killed Goliath. It is a literary flashcard that this person is an underdog meant for great things.

Yes, it’s the weapon of the child but your character starts the story young. This is their coming of age. Besides that, it’s a great weapon and one you don’t have to worry too much about when it comes to logistics. The only downside is that its themes indicate someone who is intelligent, canny, and cunning, who performs the unexpected, and breaks the conventional rules to change to odds to their favor. (It also takes way less time to set up than the bow.)

The Staff – the staff is a basic, easy to use weapon that has an advantage over the sword in terms of reach and provides the base for training in more advanced polearms like the spear or the halberd. The learning curve is quick, it’s easy to practice, and it’s the weapon of the wizard/traveler.

If your character is going on a journey, she needs a walking stick. A walking stick that stealthily transitions into a beat down stick. She’s not professionally trained so taking on a city guard or knight early in the story is going to be a last resort, but she couldn’t have done that with an axe or a flail/mace anyway. If asked by the local city guard or lord, she has a convenient justification for carrying it and given that she is a peasant this is probably a good thing.

The Dagger – the dagger covers basic hand to hand, if she can’t get to the staff or the sling, then she can fall back to this. The dagger will give her the advantage in an unarmed/unarmored fight which she needs because she doesn’t know how. She may need someone to teach her how to hold it and strike with it, but it’s another weapon that is very easy to learn the basics of.

Other suggestions: a club, a cudgel, or a hand axe (like a hatchet)

On the mace/flail/morningstar: these are weapons meant for armored melee, specifically against enemies in plate. They won’t do your character a lot of good if you’re not planning on having her go after guys in mass melee wearing heavy plate. Since she hasn’t been trained to use it or fight them anyway, I’d suggest avoiding it.

Between the three, she has better odds than if you give her just the one. Also, the one weapon concept is really, really stupid. She’s going to face a variety of challenges over the course of her journey and there is no one weapon fits all. Different tools for different challenges. This is necessary to understand if you ever want to break out into more specialized weaponry because it’s important to remember that a highly specialized weapon only has an advantage under a very specific set of circumstances and combat variables. Any of the above weapons (ignoring the flail, the mace, and the morningstar) are weapons that would be ones she’s grown up with and make sense given her background.

There are some important things to remember: The weapons I’ve suggested won’t help her when it comes time to take on a professional warrior a la a knight but given your character’s background there’s no real helping that anyway. The axe won’t help her either. They will help with encountering bandits on the road during her travels and defending herself in tavern brawls, weapons that will provide her with the opportunity to fend someone off and give her time to adjust to her new surroundings. Some weapons like the sling are preemptive and can be used dangerously when at range to take out men in armor if they’re not wearing helmets. It won’t help her if they see her and catch her.

Combat is about skill and experience than it is about any physical qualities. Not all weapons are created equal and it’s best not to underestimate the training of the enemies she will be facing. It’s best to remember that these guys are dangerous to her and direct force like taking on a whole garrison full of guards to get to one single target may not be the wisest choice. (Is it ever?) Despite their lack of experience, your character has a unique perspective to apply when solving situations. Let them live in that place. Little John wasn’t a super fighter but he still managed to dump Robin Hood in a river.

A hero is made a hero by their brains, not their brawn. By understanding their limitations, you’ll be better able to work out how they might uniquely solve their problems. Fighting a better equipped enemy on the enemy’s terms is not cowardice, it’s stupid. Your character will never be able to “catch up” to other characters that have been training to become warriors since childhood, just like how during the Star Wars Original Trilogy Luke never really became Vader’s equal in martial skill. He matches him in other more important qualities and those qualities are what cement him as a hero.

-Michi