Tag Archives: Fantasy

My Writing Projects – Short Story World Building and Revision

For those of you interested in my fiction writing, I thought I would post an update on what I am currently working on.

At the moment I am focusing a bit on short fiction. As you might have seen from a previous post, I have gone back to a story I started a while ago, but didn’t finish – and I’m trying to work out how to best revise that.

I am also working on the background of another short story – a fantasy piece about an old Wizard who has forgotten his spells. For this story, I decided to really invest in doing more world-building and character development than I might normally do for a short story. I am almost treating that side of as if it was a novel – although it won’t have as many characters as a novel and some aspects of the world don’t need to be as fully fleshed out – for instance I am only focusing on one country and two main cultures. A lot of the work so far has been working out the magic system – as that’s the main crux of the story.

That’s meant I have made much slower progress than I might normally when writing a short story – I’m probably spending about an hour a day on it and its taken me a few weeks so far just to get most of the world-building done! But I have enjoyed it and I am interested to see if the work I have done adds richness to the story – will it all have been worth it?

I also have to get on and edit the 3rd part of Stonehearted. Hopefully that should be out for the autumn. Check out  By the Sword’s Edge and By Fire and Sword for the first two installments. If you like medieval action and adventure, I think you’ll really like them.

That’s it from me – I’m also writing a one player D&D adventure for a friend – might post that online at some point too!

(The Picture above is Witchcraft (Allegory of Hercules)  by Dosso Dossi (1490-1542).

Lost Mine of Phandelver – a Critique 

First a disclaimer –this isn’t a detailed review of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure module that comes with the new D&D 5th Edition Starter Box set, but rather a bit of a critique of it based on my own expectations for new Dungeons & Dragons 

What I’m saying is that I won’t offer a detailed analysis of the adventure or go into a lot of the details of what it’s about – so you if you want that have a look elsewhere – but rather I’m going to offer some views on why the adventure, although well produced, doesn’t work as I wanted it to – and how I think it could do more.  

So a bit of a moan really! Here’s the problems I had with it: 

  • It’s still pretty much a Dungeon bash. Although there’s some links between the different locations – finding Gundrun and looking for his brothers, once there the PCs just move from room to room and fight whatever they come across. There’s no sense of something actually happening.
  • The plot is a bit weak – sure help out Gundrun and there’s someone who wants to do bad things. But actually what has the Black Spider got planned? What will he do if the PCs can’t defeat him? We don’t really know. If they knew he was going to destroy Phandalin or Neverwinter, then I think that would add to the sense of drama – and the motivation to do something about him. As it is, the plot revolves around helping some dwarves get stuff – just facilitating greed at the end of the day! The lack of plot driving and adventure has always been a problem with D&D from what I can see, and this adventure really enforces that feeling for me – Warhammer Fantasy Role Play has always done a much better job of making players feel like they’re part of an actual story – and encourage roleplaying. 


Lost mine of phandelver

Here’s what I Iiked about it: 

  • Great production values and art – lovely maps 
  • Good tips for new DMs and how to help players get started 
  • The pre-generated Player Characters are well balanced and have some good motivations that link to the locations in the adventure – but I think more could have been made of that in the actual adventure itself – as the DM might forget about the links and could be reminded by some help text in the adventure.  
  • The encounters, monsters and fights are fun for starting adventures – some classic monsters are included, which allows new players to enjoy D&D as it should be.

I hope this critique doesn’t put people off actually getting the D&D Starter set though – it’s a great set, has a wonderful summary of the rules. I just wish I’d taken the time to add a bit more to the adventure to make it more plot driven and exciting!

Fixing a Broken Story – Helix Intercalculator

I am sure most writers have stories kicking around that they have either not finished or are not happy with publishing. Something about those stories went a bit wrong – the premise was not exciting enough, the characters didn’t engage the writer, and the story just petered out – or if you struggled to the finish, you thought “hmm – this ain’t right – I’ll do something else”.

I have some stories like that. One short story that I was writing set in my fantasy world of Ladmas, had quite a few words written – over 5,000, so in theory should have been pretty much written, but in reality the first draft was far from complete. So I went back recently to take another look at it to see if I could just get it done, edited and then submitted for publication.

The story in question is called “Helix Intercalculator.” The weird title isn’t relevant to this post, nor is the detail of the story so I won’t explain it here – perhaps one day it will be available for publication!
But I thought it might be helpful for other writers for me to explain how I went about trying to fix the story – in fact I’m only in the early stages of that – so I think this will be part one of two or more posts looking at how that process went.

Here’s what I did

1. I read the story again.

Pretty simple! But how you read a story when editing is quite important. It really depends on what kind of editing you need to do. To start with I wanted to remind myself of what the story was about and try to work out what I needed to do to finish it. To start with I didn’t realise that it was a bit broken as it was.
I started making corrections of word-choice and typos as I read, but I decided that I actually wasn’t engaged in the story – there was something wrong with it. So I left the red pen for making other comments instead rather than replacing words.

2. Thought about the story as a reader

Once I got out of detailed editing mode this was a bit easier. I thought about the story from the point of view of a reader. Did the story make sense – what was missing? Did I engage with the characters? Was it boring or exciting? If so which bits of the story fell into those categories.

3. Making decisions on what’s wrong with the story

This is really all about judgment and I think quite important to getting revision right. Some people will say just write and don’t worry about revision. Others will apply lots of different methods to revising and editing a story – I think as a writer and editor you have to pretty decisive about what you feel does and doesn’t work in your story, and then figure out some simple ways to fix that. Sometimes if the solution is too complicated it might be better just to start again with a new story!

What I decided was wrong with my story

I picked up on a number of issues with my story:

• Slow start – the more exciting scenes were later in the story – perhaps I should start with those.
• Too didactic – the story was trying to make a point – which involved two characters talking over an issue – this in itself was a bit tedious – I decided to show not tell a bit more and make the theme more implicit in the story – although the characters would still have strong points of view on the subject.
• Too much background exposition – again use of show not tell, and also I should cut out irrelevant or long-winded background.
• Foreshadowing would help with background and also removing the need for too much boring discussion – hopefully I could weave this into my story.
• The structure was wrong – again the start was dull and there was too much chatting. I looked back at my notes and I hadn’t really outlined. I quite like writing without a plan as it’s fun, but when I do I tend to have problems finishing stories! Looks like a plan is needed with this one!

So next I am going to go back and look at the structure and try to rewrite the story – I think mostly it will be a radical rewrite, with perhaps some of the description of more exciting scenes left in. Hopefully that will work. I’ll aim to report back in a few weeks time on how I get on.

Review of Hell has its Demons at SFcrowsnest

Hell has its DemonsThe wonderful SFcrowsnest has published a review of my historical fantasy novel Hell has its Demons!

Here’s an excerpt from from the review:

What I enjoy most about Mark Lord’s writing is that he manages to convey a sense of period without knocking the reader over the head with detail. His settings feel authentic without being manufactured. The dialogue of his characters is perfectly readable and feels natural, as do their actions.

Click here to read the whole review. And to check out Hell has its Demons go here!

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In Search of Historical Fantasy


Medieval (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I think that I may have a problem as a writer. Hopefully not in the quality of what I do, but in the choice of one of the genres that I like to write in. I do write mostly historical or fantasy fiction, and quite often what I enjoy most is to write historical fantasy. However, I think there’s a problem with that.

The problem is that Historical Fantasy (note switch to capital letters – to provide some more gravitas) is a slippery genre to define. If you check out the listings at online retailers or on places like Goodreads – or reader discussions online – then you realise that Historical Fantasy means different things to different people – and don’t get me started on Wikipedia.

The issue is that my definition, I believe, doesn’t match with that of some others. For me Historical Fantasy should be a piece of fiction actually taking place in an historical setting. So for instance, for my Hell has its Demons story, the setting is Fourteenth Century England. I then add in fantastical elements – basically demons and magic in my story are real.

Yet it seems for other people – and for those genre listings on online retailers particularly – the genre is in fact anything that has a vague historical tinge to it. So you get books by Tad Williams, G R R Martin, Brent Weeks, Michael J Sullivan and Joe Abercrombrie all appearing. If you then look at the sub-genre of Medieval Fantasy – which I think I’m writing in, then you get pretty much the whole Epic Fantasy genre. I just can’t understand how those books muscle into my ghetto and claim historical/medieval definitions!

But another issue with the genre, even if you take a stricter view of it, is that it is a bit of a mash-up. There’s no Historical Fantasy section in traditional bookshops or libraries. There’s actually not that many well known authors/books in the genre. I would say a handful really still writing – Gabaldon, Novik. Susanna Clarke – who wrote what I would say is the defining book of recent Historical Fiction – doesn’t seem to be producing anything new at all, which is a great shame.

So in a sense I am writing in a genre without much of a real fan base. But hey, maybe that’s a good thing! I think there is a desire for this kind of fiction, and it would be great to see it better defined and promoted by the big retailers – kick out the second-world fantasy that includes armour and swords please!


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Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett is one of those authors that I grew up with as a teenager. He was publishing his first books when I was really getting into things like Fantasy fiction and role-playing games, so his parody of that whole genre really hit the button. The subject area combined a typically English sense of humour, similar in many ways to Blackadder, which was a favourite TV series for kids of my age as well, was perfect reading for me at the time.

I probably read his first 13 or so books in the Discworld series – up to Small Gods I think. After that I stopped. I was at University, had other things on my mind, and frankly I was probably a bit bored with the series by then!

But it’s always nice to come back to an old favourite and recently I’ve been doing that – time to get retro I guess. So I’ve been reading some of the Pratchett books I missed. I picked up I Shall Wear Midnight not knowing anything about it really. My fault – it seem this is the fourth book (?) featuring the young witch Tiffany Aching, AND … I see from the frontmatter that the books featuring her are ‘For Younger Readers’.

I wouldn’t describe myself as young! Would this be for me? Had I stumbled across Terry’s imitation of Twilight?

Yes and No. The plot is fairly predictable – a bit disappointing I thought. There’s an ancient evil that is doing nasty things to all witches (witches in Discworld being similar to magical social workers!) Only Tiffany (I was never really clear why only her) can sort it out. Along the way there’s a bit of a love interest – love triangle – hmm I think this is where the YA comes in. This book, I would suggest is for teenage girls – not boys, who presumably would be reading the regular Discworld stuff. It has a female protagonist – who’s clever, a bit lacking in self-confident, feels a bit put upon, and is in love with one guy, but should be in love with someone else. Feels like a combination of a Jane Austen novel and Twilight to me?

That sounds like I’m being really critical. I’m not. It was a good read and I didn’t mind the character, who was interesting, or the love triangle bit – which produced some humorous moments. The humour wasn’t anything special – I’m sure I used to laugh more when I was reading the earlier books, but perhaps that’s because it was newer then – but I think what I felt let down by a bit was the rather limp plot. The ‘ancient evil’ didn’t really make much of an appearance until a quarter of the way through. The first part of the book seemed more about establishing the character – which was OK, but I didn’t need it that much even though I hadn’t read the other books in this mini-series about Tiffany Aching.

I probably won’t read any other of the books ‘for younger readers’/teenage girls, but I am going to try some of his other more recent books – i.e. stuff that was written this Millenium! Monstrous Regiment is next on my list.


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My Reading Challenge – Hugo Winning Novels Since 2000

Cover of "The Yiddish Policemen's Union: ...
Cover of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel

Sometimes I read whatever I feel like, while at other times I try to read books based on a certain theme. So for instance a while ago I wanted to investigate how thrillers worked and read a number of thriller novels by authors I hadn’t read before. The idea was to get a good idea of how thrillers were structured and what made them ‘thrilling’. My historical fantasy novel, Hell has its Demons, has some of the elements of a thriller, so I wanted to make sure I was injecting a little extra thrill juice into it. I also from time to time read a bit of epic fantasy, but more in hope than expectation of finding something to match the range, depth and storytelling of Tolkien. Not much compares unfortunately.

Currently I am reading Hugo Award Winning Novels since 2000. My nagging doubt being that given my unhealthy obsession with things like epic fantasy I’m probably missing out on some really good speculative fiction. I’m tracking my reading over on Goodreads under a shelf called Hugo Award Winning Novels. I might also go the next level down and look at those nominated, and then move onto other awards – although there will be some crossover. I’m actually cheating and listening to an audiobook of a book only nominated – Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. But I’m also reading the paperback of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon.

Despite these good intentions I will no doubt give up on my challenge at some point and read something completely different!

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Fantasy Fiction would be good if it wasn’t for the silly names?

Harry Potter
Harry Potter (Photo credit: Pixelsior)

I have been discussing the aversion of a friend to fantasy fiction and tv/film and it’s interesting to note that their main problem with the genre – citing in particular Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, were the silly names – Mordor, Frodo, Targaryen etc. Why should they care about characters who were so obviously silly and made up to have names that they could hardly pronounce? They are not adverse to a bit of costume drama – having loved the Borgias for instance. Even though Game of Thrones uses names that aren’t that far away from historical ones didn’t make it any better apparently.

I did point out that Game of Thrones was immensely popular – but I have to say it probably isn’t as popular as Harry Potter, a fantasy series that really has crossed over into the mainstream. But what more mainstream name can you have than Harry Potter, Hermione etc. It’s only the bad guys who have silly names in Potter!

So where does that leave fantasy fiction looking for a mainstream audience? Ditch the silly names for your epic fantasy fiction novel – name your main characters Freddie and Ella? That doesn’t sound right somehow either. I think to a certain extent Paul Hoffman in his Left Hand of God series tried it – by using familiar historical and geographical names – and perhaps that worked in a way – or perhaps that just confuses the reader, or appears to turn fantasy fiction into just a post-modern game?

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Demon River Promotion – Free on Kindle from 2nd March to 4th March 2012

My fantasy short Demon River is now free for Kindle for three days, from 2nd March 2012 to 4th March 2012. Enjoy!

Set in a fantasy world of dark magic, Benetus, the King’s chancellor, fears the return of a rival he had thought banished from court. Benetus turns to the help of demons to rid himself of his enemy. But things are not always as they seem in the spirit world.

“Recently I had even felt the beginnings of optimism. After years of cloud and storm, the sun had broken through and I could at last bask in the success that I deserved. After all, who else now stood between me and the ear of the King?”

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Latest Fantasy Fiction News March 1, 2012

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