Crafting High Fantasy: Setting the Stage

That First Chapter

Writing the first chapter is something I struggle with because I want those first sentences, that first paragraph, that first page to be absolutely fabulous. So, sometimes I’m afraid to write anything at first. I don’t have a lot of time on my hands lately. My three sons, my husband, and my full-time job as a reading teacher keeps me extremely busy!

Since I want that first chapter to draw readers in and never let them go until they’ve completed reading the book, place it down, satisfied or at best, hungry for the next book, I’m overly cautious. And sometimes frozen with fear. Deer-in-headlights-frozen.

Now, I dare not say that I want the first chapter to be perfect because such a place doesn’t exist.perfection and writing

The first chapter is extremely important. Especially when it comes to high fantasy. High fantasy (or epic fantasy) is a subgenre of fantasy defined by its setting in a fictional universe or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot. Whatever that means, right? Thanks Mr. Wikipedia.

Basically, high fantasy, is one of the hardest fiction subgenres to write. I mean, think about it! You’re creating your own world! The continents, the oceans, the seas, the cities, the roads, the people, their cultures, who they trade with, who they fight with, who they may or may not worship. Everything. Single. Blasted. Thing!

It’s overwhelmingly . . . FRACKING-FUNTASTIC!

And the first chapter has the potential to introduce so many things:

  • the mood
  • the tone
  • the main characters
  • the conflict
  • the antagonist(s)
  • what’s at stake
  • the setting

When I originally wrote Prelude to Morning, I didn’t know that it would be a trilogy. I had some ideas that it could possibly be a series. Well, that was only if it didn’t remain a stand-alone novel. After my oldest brother, Serge Desir, fellow author and video game bad-ass and author E. Rose Sabin gave me some brutal and honest feedback on the book’s weaknesses, I realized I had a lot of work to do to make the book as wonderful as it should be. And for a  time, an agent was interested. Until, the world-building fell apart. 🙁

So, I searched for help and re-rendered the map (thanks E. Paige Burks) :

Before:

Reath Before Map

This one I doodled over two days in a composition notebooks years ago. In 2013.

After:

Reath After Map

This one I began drawing on poster board. Still not done!

Next, I created a timeline, which I’ll share in a future post.

The timeline helped me to layout the history of the world of Reath (rhymes with death — an anagram for Earth). The timeline included:

  1. The prehistoric era
  2. Past wars
  3. Catastrophic events

All of these events shaped the world as it is now for the main characters.

So much depth. So much culture. So many languages. So many places. So overwhelming like our world, Earth. And how does one condense so much beauty into a single book.

Which put me at an impasse or is it a fork in the road?

One path would lead me to writing a book that would be heavy enough to murder someone with:BIG BOOK

And a third path appeared to me.  . . I’d have to break the story into more than one book.

And Then there were Three . . .

Bloodcraft Trilogy — (why the term bloodcraft ?–which I’m proud of coining — more on that in a future post).

However, I loved the idea of music being interwoven into this world and used different types of movement names in each of the three books that echoed and underscored the story’s themes.

*Book 1: Rhapsody of the Gods

A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.

Book 2: Prelude to Morning

Preludes are characterized by being short and sweet (relatively), with a melodic and/or rhythmic motif that is featured throughout the piece.   This motif will recur throughout the piece, sometimes differing slightly as the music progresses.  A prelude may be played on its own, or as a preface to another piece, usually more complex.

Book 3: Nocturne of Twilight

Nocturnes are generally lyrical and tranquil pieces. The nocturne is known for being expressive above all else. It follows no specific form, but evolves as the music progresses.

To Prologue or Not To Prologue

In the first several drafts of Prelude to Morning, I originally included a prologue in the beginning. After researching prologues and learning that they’re only necessary if the opening is out of time sequence with the remainder of the story. So, I decided to rename the prologue as chapter one.

However, in my paranormal urban fantasy, Forbidden, Book One of Gabriel Lennox Series, a prologue was necessary because it fit that description and helped to create a creepy ending, which I wrote as a near mirror image epilogue. Thus, coming full circle. New Approved Cover 2015_Forbidden

How do you go about setting the stage for your high fantasy novel?

*Cited source

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Getting to Know You

On my desk, I added a “thank you” note, which reads: “Thank you for taking the time to sit down and spend time with us. Signed, Your Characters.”

The act may seem silly, but the note actually motivated me to place my butt in the chair and write. Even when I was tired, pregnant, and just wanted to curl on the couch and rest.

In order to create believable characters, we need to know them inside and out: the good, the bad, the ugly, the unspeakable, the terrifying, their most embarrassing moments, and their triumphant pastimes. We need to get to know all the things about them.

“So, tell me about yourself? Do you dabble in painting? Do you enjoy coloring outside of the lines?”

And though not everything we know about our characters will appear in the story, these pieces that make up a character’s backstory are important. Because honestly, if our imaginary friends (and enemies) aren’t real to us, they most likely won’t be real to readers either.

I’ve used a lot of questionnaires in the past. At this time I’m using Marcel Proust’s character questionnaire in order to learn more about the two main characters, Alexander Brennan and Tierryn Black, of the second book in the Waking Dream series, “Moondust”. They’re both middle school students. I may teach middle school students, but I’m not completely attuned with their adolescent hopes, fears, dreams, desires, goals, secrets. So, even when I will myself to remember what it was like to be a preteen or a young teenager, those moments seem so foreign to me. Both Alexander and Tierryn are both lucid dreamers. I’ve experienced lucid dreaming on many occasions so if write what you know is true, then I’m doing something right when it comes to that piece of the drafting puzzle. And finally, both characters experienced a lot of growth in the first book titled, “Moonstruck”. I want to make sure that that growth is clear in the second book. Also, for new readers who may not start with book one, I want to include significant events smoothly and in a natural and organic way within the sequel’s plot.

There’s a new antagonist to the series, Mary Katherine (Merricat) Komatsuzaki, (a half Black and half Japanese girl). Since she plays such an important role in this second book, I’ll need to learn more about her too. And of all the questionnaires I’ve seen, the Marcel Proust one seems to suit my needs. 

Besides being a priceless tool for fleshing out characters, completing the questionnaire for each character is a great writing exercise that I think will brainstorm scenes, advances in the plot, enticing twists and turns, which should all lead to the story’s climax and resolution.

Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire

This questionnaire was invented by the noted French author Marcel Proust. These questions are frequently used in interviews so you may want to pretend you’re interviewing your characters.

  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What is your current state of mind?
  • What is your favorite occupation?
  • What is your most treasured possession?
  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  • What is your favorite journey?
  • What is your most marked characteristic?
  • When and where were you the happiest?
  • What is it that you most dislike?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What is your greatest extravagance?
  • Which living person do you most despise?
  • What is your greatest regret?
  • Which talent would you most like to have?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  • What is the quality you most like in a man?
  • What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  • What do you most value in your friends?
  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
  • Whose are your heroes in real life?
  • Which living person do you most admire?
  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  • On what occasions do you lie?
  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What are your favorite names?
  • How would you like to die?
  • If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
  • What is your motto?

That’s the goal! That’s the feeling I want readers to express about my books!

I found this questionnaire at writingclasses.com and a Word.doc format can be found here.

What do you think? Is there anything missing from this list that should be included? What other questionnaires do you find useful?

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