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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dealing with Cliches in Fantasy Fiction - Ross Kitson

The Writers' Blog welcomes its second UK author in a row. I personally enjoy the different spellings of such words as favorite. Ross brings us a thoughtful blog about cliches. He writes fantasy fiction and his novel, Darkness Rising, is recently published. I hope you will comment on your own thoughts about use of cliches below.

The Cliche Cracks.

First of all thanks to Gary for the opportunity to ramble on his excellent blog and hopefully share some useful aspects of my own experience in writing.

I’ve created for most of my life but only taken to formal writing in the last three or four years. As a teen I was an unashamed nerd, wallowing in role-playing games of every genre and it was this that drove me to read everything in fantasy and sci-fi and horror that I could get my spotty mitts on. As writers we are first and foremost readers.

After years of drawing maps on graph paper, poring through monster manuals and creating traps that would make the dude out of Saw pack his bags and retire to Alaska, one of my mates challenged me to write a book. I’d toyed with the idea for years but career had sort of got in the way (I work as a doctor specialising in critical care).

So I set about creating my book. I approached it with the analogy of building a house in mind—well perhaps a scuzzy trailer badly positioned next to an algae choked lake. So the foundations were the thoughts, the ideas, the notes jotted on any blank surface (my palm-top = my hand). I planned epic vistas in my head on the commute to work each day. The foundations were laid with maps, history, cultures, characters and, of course, plot. Then the frame went up- a bare metal skeleton of where the story would go, from start to end. Then the writing, the filling in the gaps—the detail, the dialogue, verbose prose and drama. And when it was built? The decoration came with the self-editing—making it personal, readable, attractive to others.

What a great analogy, I thought. And I looked at my new build and thought—right, time to get in on the market. But then a creeping sense of dread—like Chthulu itself was tickling my bits with his squid chin. Was that a crack I saw, running down the newly plastered wall? I followed it down, deeper and deeper. Crom’s halitosis, I cursed, it runs into the foundations.

It was the crack of cliché.

It permeates every genre—the cliché—but perhaps the fantasy genre is one of the most affected. It began with a casual comment from a friend who read the MS along the lines of ‘disadvantaged hero gains great ability and embarks on epic quest.’ It struck me like a soggy halibut. Everything about my book was cliché. I had a main character as a slave, who then gains powers and escapes. Does she escape to lead a fruitful life gambolling in the fields? Hell, no. She embarks upon an epic quest (groan), with a group of companions (agreeably not a wizard in a pointy grey hat, a dwarf, elf and four hobbits), to find an ancient artifact (noooo.....), from an undead sorcerer (groan...). My heart sank as I saw my 170k MS dissolving before me... why hadn’t it occurred to me that this was cliché city? And it was the first book in a trilogy...OMG, a trilogy...fantasy cliché.

So I found myself self-flagellating in an Opus Dei –like fashion. I trawled the internet looking for lists of fantasy clichés and ticking down them. ‘Oh, God, I’ve got dreams...’, ‘A tavern...’, ‘A common tongue...’

Then someone said to me—who gives a monkeys... is it a good book? Well, I think so, I said. I’m proud of what I’ve written, although the clichés...

Enough about the clichés, they said. Has it got good characters, good dialogue, drama, tension? Well, I replied modestly, it’s not bad, but the clichés...

Are they there for a reason? You see writing anything within a genre will involve some cliché. They are there by virtue of previous popular work. They are there because that was what people want to read. And agreeably some have been done again and again, but if we take those and try twist them a bit, make them (and I’m aware this is oxymoronic) re-freshed cliché, then we can still have work that feels vital and original.

So my hero is actually a heroine. She’s not a slave—she’s ‘trapped’ in servitude. Her abilities aren’t so wonderful. The magic she uses makes her mentally ill. Her mentors are an obsessive-compulsive mage from a nation that throws sorcerers on the fire to brown their toast with, and a thief who learned to fight from a wandering ronin. The undead sorcerer is actually quite charmingly evil and we almost empathise with his grand scheme, which will ultimately make all folk in the world equal. There are ancient artifacts, but they are not quite what we expect. There are vampyrs—but they ain’t twinkly. The common tongue has a very good reason for being there.

As writers we can’t avoid some clichés. Work saturated with them will be dull, re-cycled, derivative—but even in cliché ridden genres we can put our own spin on them, use them to our advantage. They will draw in fans of the genre and even make the genre more appealing to ‘outsiders.’ I say embrace them, but mess ‘em up a bit.

I think of my favourite fantasy book of the last ten years—the Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch—and even that’s not immune to them. It’s an incredible book that at its core has a likable thief with a hard-as-nails sidekick. So not far off Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser or Robin Hood and Little John. Yet Lynch takes the well worn premise and injects such style into it that I was left shell-shocked by the book.

That’s what I aspire to as a writer- clichés and all.

Darkness Rising is available as an e-book on Amazon at or

It is soon to be released as a print edition via Fantasy Island Book Publishing.

My blogs are and

Thanks again for this opportunity



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Piecing Together A Novel - Ethan Spier

UK Author Ethan Spier shares his thoughts about piecing together his first science fiction novel, KINESIS. Please share your thoughts about constructing your novel in comments.

Firstly, thank you for reading this far. I’m certain you haven’t heard of me before and this blog is my first attempt at trying to impart any kind of advice to fellow writers. My name is Ethan Spier and I have been writing stories for many years, but still feel extremely new to this game. I’ve written short stories since I was a child but I have recently delved into the world of novel writing.

Secondly, thank you Mr. Gary Starta for providing this platform, on which I hope to provide some thoughts on the process of writing, and in particular writing in a way that might evoke emotions in our readers.

Thirdly, writing is hard! I don’t care what people say, the actual task of sitting down and creating something on a blank piece of paper (or computer monitor these days I suppose) is a difficult task. Well… at least I think so.

But I’m pretty sure that any writer - no matter how creative, prolific, talented or confident - all think the same thing at least once in their career.

When I wrote my debut novel, ‘Kinesis’, I thought about it several times a day and that was after planning the novel for a good six months before I actually began the first chapter.

I suppose the hard part isn’t the actual process of forming sentences out of words, but more the process of choosing the right words for any given sentence.

As a writer of fiction, I want to evoke emotional resp
onses from my readers and this is something that is much more difficult that I first suspected. When I write a scene, I know what I want the reader to feel; I know the emotional responses I want the reader to experience. But the actual task of choosing the correct words and sentence structure is something that can take a lot out of you!

Occasionally I’ll re-read one of my scenes and I’ll know that I’ve missed the target by some way and this can be extremely frustrating, but eventually the time comes when you just have to say ‘it’s as good as I can make it’.

Evoking the desired emotional response from a reader can be an extremely difficult task. Indeed, evoking any emotional response can be hard enough. After all these are just words on a piece of paper (or computer monitor these days I suppose… sigh).

I think something that can help in this task is making sure that you, as the writer, are absolutely certain where you are coming from in any given scene. I wrote ‘Kinesis’ a good year or two after coming up with the original idea. I didn’t feel like I could write it to begin with. I just had the flicker of an idea that I mulled over for a long time. Eventually I reached the point where I simply couldn’t not write it anymore. I was excited by the idea and as I thought about how the story would progress, I became more excited. I could envisage certain scenes in my head and I knew how I wanted the reader to feel during these scenes.

When I think about it, these are the scenes in the novel that were the easiest to write because I could feel the emotion as I wrote them. In my opinion, they are also the better pieces of writing in my novel. There were other scenes that were simply there to tell the part of the story that needed to be told. I had no particular emotion about them one way or the other, they simply needed to be produced in order to progress the narrative. But others – the ones I am most proud of – are the ones that were the clearest in my mind.

I suppose the point that I’m trying to get across (if anything) is, I think the best writing comes from the place where the author can see and feel the scene around them as they compose the piece. This might sound obvious, and to be honest… it is! But it’s also something that can’t really be over emphasized… at least in my own and humble opinion.

Basically, If you feel the emotion of what you write, as you write it, then you have a better chance of translating that to the reader.

And fourthly(?) - If nothing else, translating something to the reader is surely what writing is truly about.

Ethan Spier

Debut novel ‘Kinesis’ available for kindle:



Twitter: @ethanspier