Writing Books/First steps

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Question
Hi there Vincent. I'm 18 and I've always held an interest in creative writing. I'm mainly interested in fantasy but unfortunately my minds corrupted with all of the fantasy cliches, from Tolkein to J.K. Rowling. The plots that float around my head aren't all elves and medieval Europe but I'm finding it quite difficult to find an idea that I'm comfortable with that has a little bit of originality.

It's something completely different for me. I'm a student who is eventually going to study economics at university, so I feel like I'm missing lots from creative writing armory. Is there any advice you could give me regarding improving my writing skills, the fantasy genre in particular or where you find the inspiration for your ideas. Sorry for the broad question, any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Happy new year to you.

Answer
Happy New Year, Nicky!

Yes, I very much understand your concerns.  But let me share my perspective about fantasy with you.

Familiar and often-used story devices (such as elves or a medieval-style setting) are not, in and of themselves, cliche.  Rather, they are conventions.  Other races are as "cliche" to fantasy as space travel is to science fiction.  It's just sort of a given.

Not that you're obliged to use other races.  You can write a fantasy with nothing but humans, if you want, just as you can write SF without rocket ships.

The point of originality, though, is not to come up with something totally outside of convention, but to do something out of the ordinary within conventions.

When I wrote WISH YOU WERE HERE, I knew I was using the familiar creatures of fantasy.  I was using magic.  I was using a feudal society where guns had not yet been invented.  All these are commonplace.  But the story I had to tell was that of a boy from earth who'd somehow been transported to this alien world.  I combined traditional fantasy with the "fish out of water" angle, plus a "coming-of-age" tale.  And that's what gave it a breath of fresh air, compared to a lot of what's out there.

Probably 75% of my fiction is character-driven, rather than plot-centric.  This means that I think up interesting characters first, then think of situations I can put them in... situations that will challenge them and hurt them, make the readers care about them.  For me, this is much easier than thinking up a plot, then designing characters who will fit the necessary roles.  And, I think, doing it that way makes your characters seem less life-like.  And characters are what really make fiction memorable, far more so than plot.

Take Harry Potter, for example.  Sure, the overall concept is fresh... but it's the characters of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the assorted professors and whatnot, that really make the stories memorable.  The individual plots might be great, but without the characters, they'd be trite.

So my recommendation to you, Nicky, is to focus on characters first.  Create the sorts of characters that you yourself find interesting.  Then go from there and figure out how you can torture them.  :)

And again, don't be afraid to use the familiar conventions of fantasy, or any other genre.  Just do something with them that's out of the ordinary.  Your readers will be familiar with these conventions.  So give them something they don't know about these things.

Good luck!  

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Vincent M. Wales

Expertise

I am a speculative fiction novelist (fantasy, science fiction, and so on). While I may be able to answer questions on non-fiction, my specialty is fiction. Please keep that in mind when asking questions.

Experience

For four years, I taught a series of fiction writing classes in Sacramento, CA.

Education/Credentials
BA in fiction writing.

Awards and Honors
My 2004 novel, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, won BEST FICTION in Fresh Voices 2006, BEST FICTION and BEST YA FICTION in the NCPA Book Awards, and placed as a finalist in BEST BOOKS 2005. In 2002, my novel WISH YOU WERE HERE won awards for Best Fantasy and Best Fiction/Drama in the 8th Annual SPA Awards. My latest work is a trilogy titled THE MANY DEATHS OF DYNAMISTRESS (a superhero memoir). The first book, RECKONING, was released in 2013 and won the SF category in the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival, took second place in the 2013 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for the SF/Fantasy/Paranormal category, second place in the SF category of the 2013 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Awards, and was finalist in Foreword's 2013 Book of the Year Awards, Fantasy category. The second book, REDEMPTION, will be released in early 2015 and the final book, RENAISSANCE, is scheduled for release in late 2016.

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