Religion in Fantasy

At some point during the world-building process, writers run into the issue of faith.  What do your characters believe in?  What is their religion, if they have one?  What religions are present in the world you’ve created and how do they affect that world?  Fantasy is usually not a godless place; in fact, it’s rift with religious ideas.

Fantasy books traditionally have polytheistic leanings because… well, it’s easiest.  The pantheon of gods and goddesses is often very active in the world, and special priests or priestesses known as “clerics” or holy warriors called “paladins” can call directly on their patron god/goddess for help in battle or healing.  It’s often indistinguishable from magic… but the source is divine.  Krynn from Dragonlance and Faerûn from The Forgotten Realms are two massive fantasy worlds with hundreds of books that have very active and localized pantheons.  In these worlds, there is no question about the existence of gods and goddesses because the effects of their power can be very clearly seen.  The afterlife of heaven and hell or somewhere in between is very, very real.

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Dealing with Discouragement

Recently, a friend and fellow writer told me they felt discouraged about writing. They were upset about so many people being unable to spot the differences between a good story and a bad story.  Real gems languish in dusty corners while insults to the English language fly off the shelves.  And not just books, but movies too.  Their question was: “If people can’t tell the difference between good and bad stories, why put forth the effort of crafting a really good story?”  Thinking out the rules of the world, creating three-dimensional characters, filling plot holes to make a seamless narrative…all of that takes work.  And if people don’t notice and don’t care, then why bother?

(NOTE: The movie links contain spoilers!)

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To Write, You Must Read

One of the greatest and most basic rules of thumb in the world of writing is: “Write a story you would want to read.”
 
The next question is, “What kinds of stories do you enjoy reading?”
 
Once you’ve answered these two questions, your journey into the realm of writing has begun. And yet, so many writers seem to forget these basic questions. Too many get caught up what they think other people want them to write, or what other people want to read, or what kind of story formula will guarantee sales that will make them a multi-million-dollar success. If you start coming at stories from that angle these days, you are only sabotaging your own efforts. Your readers can tell when a story has heart and when it was written with calculation designed to draw them in. To an extent, every writer is trying to pull readers in, but the difference is this: are you trying to hook them because you think you have a good story to tell? Or are you trying to hook them for the money and popularity?

Accepting Criticism With Grace

No one likes criticism.  No one wants to hear that the paper or story or script that they spent days, weeks, months, even years slaving over is no good.  Or even that only parts of it are not good.  “Sorry, you missed the mark, try again.”

Rejection hurts.  Criticism hurts.  It’s like watching someone sucker-punch your infant child while having your fingers amputated because you aren’t worthy to be a writer and then having salt and alcohol slathered over those gaping, bleeding wounds.

Okay, I don’t think I’ve felt quite that extreme a reaction to criticism, but it is a lot like amputation and birth contractions, coming in waves with occasional sharp pangs that make you want to crawl into a hole and hide your face from the world forever.

But like the pain of a birth or an amputation, criticism is necessary in order for us to grow.

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Everything Old Is New Again: How Not To Be Afraid of Clichés

Cliché.  Perhaps the most dreaded word in the history of writing.  The last thing any writer wants to hear about their work is, “This story is so unoriginal.  It’s riddled with clichés!”

The dictionary definition of a cliché is:

  1. a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, such as “sadder but wiser,” or “strong as an ox.”
  2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of color, musical expression, etc.
  3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

It’s a word, phrase, stereotype, character type, or even storyline that is way, way, WAY overused.  I’ve heard some people accuse Shakespeare of using too many clichés.  Little do they realize that he came up with half of the expressions that were so witty and original at the time that everyone wanted to use them until society got sick of them.

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