fantasy

Characters: sympathetic, interesting, or both?

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This post is partially inspired by John Gwynne’s epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen. I’ve read three books of the series, and overall I have enjoyed them quite a bit. If I had to make comparisons for the series, I’d say it’s what you would get if you crossed the Belgariad with Game of Thrones. Somehow, that mix works. I recommend it for those of you who want to see a modern update on a more classic type of fantasy.

But there’s one aspect that trips me up a bit as I’m reading it. There is a significant amount of point-of-view time given to characters that quite simply are not sympathetic at all. Some of them are still interesting characters, but I don’t care what happens to them (other than perhaps rooting for them to die). This results in an uneven reading experience for me, and when I’m reading these chapters, I simply want to get back to the characters I like.

This brings me to a larger question. What are readers looking for? Would people rather read about sympathetic characters or unsympathetic characters who are still interesting? As a reader myself, I don’t mind occasional time spent in the head of an interesting but unsympathetic character. But then there are books that take this to an extreme. An example of this, for me, would be The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker. The characters are all complex and interesting people, but I couldn’t stand reading about them because I honestly wouldn’t have cared if they all died.

On the other hand, you can give me a flat character who’s sympathetic, and while I might not love the story I’m reading, I’ll still root for them. Maybe that makes me a heretic. After all, it seems these days that the trend is to write about antiheroes. For me, antiheroes are good as a spice. Maybe you have one or two point-of-view characters who fit that description. In Gwynne’s series, it still generally works because you don’t spend nearly as much time with the unsympathetic characters. A lot of that time is meant to reveal what the antagonists are up to, which can be difficult to establish when you’re using third-person-limited point of view.

This same issue has been my biggest struggle with some of the bigger fantasy series out there (A Song of Ice and Fire, Malazan, The First Law trilogy, The Broken Empire, etc.). I don’t hate the books by any means. I see what others like in them. But when I read them, I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as something by Brandon Sanderson or Jim Butcher, authors whose characters may not be as complex. But I like them.

In my own writing, I have to be careful to strike a balance between what I enjoy as a reader and writer and what other readers will enjoy. Most of the time, it isn’t too hard. I know my audience is more Brandon Sanderson readers than George RR Martin readers. My books have a fair amount of violence in them, but they wouldn’t be considered Grimdark by any stretch of the imagination.

Modern fantasy has influenced me in some ways, however. I will admit that I kill my fair share of characters (perhaps some GRRM influence there). But I still write in a world where there’s at least a fundamental theme of hope, where heroes screw up but still try to do the right thing. And, yes, I do sprinkle in a few antiheroes (and anti-villains–they’re so much fun to write).

So I’d say I strike a balance on this spectrum. I want my characters to be both interesting and sympathetic. Of the two, I’d say I lean more toward sympathetic, but I don’t want to write boring characters either. It can be a delicate balance, and to make my characters interesting, I make sure that they make mistakes. A perfect hero is a boring hero. Flaws are what make us (and characters) human. And yet I believe a hero can be flawed without being a terrible person.

Now I fear I’m rambling on. What are your thoughts on this question?

Tentative release schedule.

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With the release of Empire of Chains in the books now for two weeks, it’s time for me to address when I’m going to get more books out. I have drafted two entire series, so at this point, it’s a matter of beta reader feedback, editing, and cover art before I can release the rest of these books.

Ideally, I’d like to release one book every three months or so. At times, I may go faster or slower than that. It depends on a number of factors.

Tentative release dates:

WORLD IN CHAINS

Empire of Chains (Book 1): June 30th, 2017. You can get it here: Empire of Chains

The Shadowed Land (Book 2): September 2017

The Gilded Empire (Book 3): December 2017

The Winds of Time (Book 4): March 2018

SUNWEAVER

Sunweaver (Book 1): October 2017

Fireweaver (Book 2): January 2018

Sunlord (Book 3): April 2018

THE GOD WAR

Watersong (Book 1): Spring/Summer 2018

Godchild (Book 2): Summer/Fall 2018

Endlord (Book 3): Fall/Winter 2018

Please note that Godchild and Endlord have not yet been written. Release dates for The God War are all subject to change. Some of it depends on the editing and revision process. Some of it depends on the wait for cover art. I usually send out a request for cover art while I’m drafting the final book in a series.

I will also post a page on my website with release dates.

Getting back in the swing of things.

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The release of Empire of Chains was a very exciting day, but it also has hurt my writing productivity. I’m spending a lot of time on social media and a lot of time obsessing over my sales and pages read.

Today, though, I managed to do some writing again. It was just over 1000 words, but that’s a good start. I’m currently working on the second book in my God War series. At this point, it looks like it will probably be a trilogy.

I have been editing and outlining while I haven’t been writing, so these days haven’t been completely lost.

For anyone who’s looking for an action-packed modern take on the classic quest fantasy, I urge you to give Empire of Chains a chance. It’s only $2.99 to buy, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.

Empire of Chains is officially released!

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Today marks the release of Empire of Chains. This is a day I’ve been looking forward to, and dreading, for a long time. This book has been with me in many forms since I was 15 years old (I’m now 27, for the record). When I first wrote this book (and series), it was not very good, and that’s a nice way of putting it.

But in the 12 years since, I have grown as a writer. I’ve written other stories, but this one has always held a special place in my heart. A lot of the initial setting details and the main characters have remained mostly the same, but pretty much everything else in the series is much different from what I originally wrote.

And much better, I should add.

Originally, I wrote a cliche-riddled story about heroes going on a quest to defeat a dark lord. Since then, that story has evolved. There’s still a quest, but it’s not as much of a focus. There’s still a dark lord figure, but he’s not really a dark lord. In fact, from his perspective, he’s a hero. He does terrible things, but they’re all in the name of creating a better future.

You’re probably wondering why you should read this. First and foremost, it’s classic fantasy updated for modern audiences. As a reader, I enjoy the feel of series like The Wheel of Time and authors like Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson, especially, takes a lot of the common fantasy tropes and puts his own spin on them. That’s what I like to do in my books as well. I want to write the kind of stories that made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place, but I also want to make them feel new and fresh. I like stories with a lot of action and magic, and with characters who I can root for. If you’re looking for Grimdark, I’m probably not the author for you. I do include some dark elements in my work, and there is a fair amount of death in my stories, but I’d say I write more PG-13 fantasy.

There’s some mild language, fade-to-black sex scenes, and a fair amount of violence. But I think anyone from about age 12 and up can read my books (possibly even younger depending on the maturity and reading level of the child in question).

This is deliberate on my part because I also write young adult and middle grade fantasy. I don’t currently have any in the works, but I do love writing for those age groups, and I wouldn’t want my younger readers to read my other books and find they’re not appropriate for their age group.

In this regard, I’d say my target audience is a lot like Brandon Sanderson’s in terms of age and interests. I’m not claiming to be Brandon Sanderson. Id love to be held in the same regard someday, but right now, I’m just another self-published writer trying to find his way in a crowded field.

I hope you’ll take the chance on my series, and if you enjoy it, please do leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Also tell your friends and family. Word of mouth is the self-published author’s best friend, whether that’s telling someone in person or leaving reviews online.

Series Review: The Dragon Brigade by Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes

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I recently finished the final book in this trilogy, and it was an enjoyable ride. I’ve read Weis’s work before. I enjoyed the original Dragonlance trilogy, though it is pretty cliched stuff by today’s standards. Her Death Gate Cycle (also with Tracy Hickman) was one of those series that I really grew to love by the end. It was similar to Dragonlance in some ways, but it showed more depth and an interesting world (or rather, multiple worlds).

This series has a very different feel. It’s a world of magic and airships and dragons. Most notably, it does not have the generic Tolkienesque/D&D races that I’ve come to expect from Weis. That, for me, was a major bonus. I don’t hate these races by any means, but I rarely see them done in a way that feels fresh.

I’ve always felt the biggest strength of Weis and her various partners (from what I’ve read) is creating characters that are fun to read about. This series is no exception. I loved the dynamics between friends Stefano and Rodrigo. The priest, Father Jacob, was also a lot of fun to read about.

Description of the first book (from Goodreads):

“The known world floats upon the Breath of God, a thick gas similar to Earth’s oceans, with land masses accessible by airship. The largest of these land masses are ruled by the rival empires of Freya and Rosia. Magic is intrinsic to the functioning of these societies, and is even incorporated into their technological devices. But now a crucial scientific discovery has occurred that could destroy the balance of power-and change the empires forever.”

I’m personally not a fan of this description. It’s a bunch of worldbuilding without giving us much about plot or character. The world is fun, but there’s a lot more to the series than that.

My reviews of each book:

BOOK 1:

“Overall, this was a very enjoyable mixture of Steampunk and High Fantasy. The start was a bit slow, but there was a lot of great action in the last two thirds of the book. The writing is nothing special, but that didn’t bother me. I found myself connecting with the characters. It’s nice to see authors who still like their heroes on the heroic side.

Weis has worked both alone and with co-authors during her career. I haven’t read all her stuff, but I’d say this is probably the best first book in a series I’ve read by her. The Death Gate Cycle comes in second while Dragonlance is a distant third.

This one did recycle some ideas from the Death Gate cycle, but that didn’t bother me. This one is definitely more modern in feel. I also like that it’s a Gunpowder fantasy. It’s kind of nice to see a mixture of guns and dragons (and airships).

Overall, I recommend this book for readers who are looking for something that will hit the same spot as Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay series and Jim Butcher’s Cinder Spires. While it’s not as good as either of those series, I enjoyed it.”

Rating: 8/10

BOOK 2

“This was an enjoyable book, probably on par with the first in the series. The characters are fun, the world is interesting, and there’s some good action. These books don’t quite make it into my list of favorites, but I still enjoy them quite a bit.”

Rating: 8/10

BOOK 3

“I really liked this conclusion to the Dragon Brigade trilogy. The final battle was very epic, and I enjoyed spending time with these characters throughout the trilogy. This series is loaded with action, airships, floating islands, and fun characters. It’s a testament to the fact that Weis can write good stories outside of her Dragonlance work.”

Rating: 9/10

Overall, I’d give the series an 8.5. It’s nothing complex, but it was fun to read, and a lot of times, that’s all I’m looking for.