Friday, February 24, 2012

Fashion in Fantasy: Females

Let’s talk about clothes. Yes, those things you put on your body. Believe it or not, your fantasy characters wear them too (unless they live in a dystopian nudist colony)! This means that we as authors need to think about our characters’ fashion.

The first thing that comes to mind when considering female fantasy clothing is that quintessential fantasy look: the medieval princess dress. You know the one—flowing sleeves, silver belt, train sweeping majestically past the ankles. It’s the one every little girl wants for a wedding dress. In other words, it’s awesome.

But let’s have a bit of a reality check here. What would it be like to wear these dresses year-around, as our dear old princesses did? In the winter, sure, it might be warm enough. But then in the summer, you’d steam yourself to death! (Note to self: possible villain torture idea?) And let’s doublethink those sleeves, too. With all the excess trailing fabric, it would’ve been extremely bulky, clumsy, and heavy to wear on a regular basis.

Next, the general “dress” is a much more versatile art form. There’s your poverty-stricken rough and sacklike dress, and then there’s the gorgeous-silk-with-rustling-beaded-train-thirty-feet-long dress, which will give your darling heroine just the grand entrance at the Prince’s ball that will achieve her deepest dreams. In the steampunk variation, your heroine wears a corset over a loose creamy white peasant dress (which, by the way, always looks way too clean to be realistic).

Then there’s the question of what to wear under the dress. Hoopskirts can provide quite the comical spectacle, used atrociously. Petticoats can be a source of endless frustration, or else much-needed medical bandages (speaking of which, why do the heroines always tear up their petticoats? Why not the outer dresses?). Corsets are always a big hit.

As for colors, the possibilities are endless—limited only by your imaginative fantasy dyeing processes. Browns, greens, and “natural” shades like darker blues and purples seem to be particular favorites. However, don’t be afraid to throw in the occasional splash of lime green! You never know, it just might be exactly the touch of color your story needs.

All that is not to say that your heroine must wear a dress. Sure, it’s conventional practice. But who says fantasy is about convention? Personally, I think it’s all about innovation: dreaming the new and daring to step out into uncharted territory. So go ahead, let your girl try on the trousers or breeches of her dreams. Let her wear a tunic and cape if she so likes (more on those garments in the next post). Just make sure that you reason these things out carefully in the context of your world. If she’s breaking conventions and tradition, make that clear, and don’t be afraid to judge her for it.

Another note about fashions, too: before the Industrial Revolution (and thus in the time of most fantasy worlds), there was no such thing as ready-made clothing. Everything was tailor-made or made by hand to fit. However, as fantasy authors, we can take a few liberties here. For example, you could create a “magical” automated process for producing some item of clothing—say, lace. Then your evil villains (or long-suffering and impoverished heroes) can use this ingenious production method to achieve their evil or noble ends. (Actually, Christopher Paolini used this idea in his Inheritance Cycle, but I won’t spoil where it comes up specifically.)

Whatever you do, please don’t make it typical. Do something different—maybe a different fabric (fibers from the fireflower makes the dress fireproof?) or a different color (yellow dresses dyed in faerie wax makes the wearer fall into a deep sleep?) or a different cut (sure, maybe knee-length hasn’t been done in your world for a few centuries. Why should that stop you?).

Now go take a look at your fantasy stories. Where can you add more detail about clothes? Where can you change the details you include and make them realistic and—most importantly—different? Then come back and share what you think!

God bless!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Pros & Cons of Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis is a Christian fantasy author especially known for the Dragons in Our Midst and the Oracles of Fire series. He is one of the foremost Christian fantasy authors of this generation—in fact, I’ve found his books in local libraries from Arkansas to Asia.

Below, I’ve outlined some of the pros and cons of his work that I found when reading the Dragons in our Midst and Oracles of Fire series (I haven’t read any of his other works yet, so none of the comments below apply to them).

o   One of the best things about these stories is the strong Christian themes found in each story. I love that Davis upholds the Christian ideas of redemption, sacrifice, sin, prayer, repentance, and so forth. He provides an excellent example of strong Christian elements yet exciting fantasy worlds and characters.
o   Davis’ Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series contain a fascinating interpretive history of the earth spanning from creation through the modern age. I was enthralled and captivated by the creative ways in which Davis chose to weave events in our history—like King Arthur, the account of the Genesis flood, and Nimrod from the Old Testament—with his stories of dragons.
o   While I found some of his earliest writing (Raising Dragons, for example) a trifle stiff and plain, I have really enjoyed reading Davis’ progression as a writer into much more subtle and complex grounds in his later works.

o   The stories may feel “pushy” to non-Christians, since they overtly advocate such activities as prayer and trust in God. However, since these books were written for a primarily Christian audience, this may not be a real issue.
o   As with all interpretive stories, Davis’ theology can be contended. For example, in Circles of Seven, the hero must travel through the seven “levels” of hell and be the human savior of the dragon race. While Davis does explain this in the story, some may feel rather squeamish about spiritual liberties taken therein.
o   For myself personally, I was not always satisfied with Davis’ writing style and with the plot of the stories themselves. Several times, I felt that the climaxes were forced by characters’ stupidity rather than their conscious choices. In addition, I disliked how some of the female characters felt like damsels-in-distress without much individual personality.

On the whole, despite the flaws mentioned above, I enjoyed Davis’ work and I would recommend it. As Christian fantasy writers, it’s important for us to see what others are doing well, and seek to imitate them. It’s also important to discuss them, so here’s a few questions to get you thinking:

If you’ve read any of Davis’ books, what did you think of them? Do you agree with the pros and cons I wrote above, or do you have some of your own to contribute? What elements in his stories make them “Christian” fantasy, and have you used any of these in your own writing?

If you haven’t read any of his books, then, without further ado, I point you in the direction of your local library: go get ‘em! (Don't let their size--or their dragons--intimidate you. They're worth the read.) Then come back and join the discussion :)


Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: Techniques of the Selling Writer

Techniques of the Selling Writer was recommended to me as “the best guide to writing fiction ever written” by the prominent author and writing coach Randy Ingermannson. I’ve found Randy’s (free) e-zine at Advanced Fiction Writing to be invaluable in my writing journey.

Anyway, he recommended the book Techniques of the SellingWriter—which, coincidentally, has been sitting on my shelf unread for about a year. So I dusted it off, dutifully poised my pencil to take notes, and began to read.

From the back cover:

This book provides solid instruction for persons who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it. It gives the background, insights, and specific procedures needed by all beginning writers.

The lessons taught here are plain, practical good sense. The book gives you concrete tools for how to construct your book, but encourages you to follow your own feelings—the perfect balance of freedom and instruction.

Swaine is not didactic, but his approach to writing is strongly motivated by years of teaching and publishing his own writing. In the book, he covers the following lessons:

~ a basic understanding of words and how (not) to phrase them

~ how to group individual words into “motivation-reaction units,” where some cause inspires some effect on the one or two-sentence level

            ~ how to group motivation-reaction units into scenes and sequels

            ~ how to group scenes and sequels into story pattern

            ~ how to create the kind of characters that give a story life

            ~ and assorted tips for writing and publishing excellently

Each chapter is full of entirely practical steps, and I cannot emphasize enough how they have transformed my writing. In particular, his recommendations for building conflict have been absolutely invaluable to revitalizing my limp, dragging, actionless stories.

This book is not specifically for fantasy writers—because it is so inclusive that it spans genres. If you’re at all interested in seriously writing a story that others would want to read, then learn from this book! Read it and apply what you learn to your writing. If you’re anything like me, you won’t regret it.

Be sure to get it here! (P.S. I am not endorsed to write any of this. If I start doing Google Ads or Amazon affiliates, I'll be sure to duly warn you and loudly protest/proclaim my reasons.) God bless!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Amor: When You Can't Run & You Can't Hide

To cap off this mini-series on fantasy weapons, today’s post will be on various types of armor. I’ve written about swords and bows, which are all very well if you’re fighting with them. But what about protecting yourself from those missiles of doom? Here’s where armor can come in handy. I’ll begin by going through variations of armor throughout the ages, and then discuss how to best incorporate those forms in your fantasy story.

1. Leather Armor
-- Dried animal skins were used from ancient times for clothing. The next step, then, was to dry the animals skins into leather, then strengthen them by soaking them in wax or some other hardening chemical, thus creating a protective garment.

-- This is best for poorer or more “primitive”/less developed cultures, especially ones where enemies don’t have advanced weapons. Keep in mind that the poorest people would probably just go to battle with the clothes on their back, maybe a bit of padding. Leather is probably the easiest armor to supply, but, as with everything easy, it’s not the best protection. (Note: the picture on the side is more complex than leather armor would generally be.)

2. Scale Armor
-- The next so-called “evolution” in armor technology was the introduction of scale armor. True to its name, scale armor involves attaching thousands of pieces of leather or metal together to form a scaly surface. Naturally, this form of armor offered much better protection than simple leather armor.

-- Because the scales are simply “woven” together, scale armor is relatively easy to make and can be supplied to a large number of troops on short notice. Note that this kind of armor does clank a lot, so if you’re looking for a good armor for your band of ninjas, this is not your best bet!

3. Plate Armor
-- Ah, the joy of knights in shining armor! Yes, folks, this is the honest-to-goodness armor of King Arthur fame. Plate armor is basically large pieces of metal shaped to cover a large area of the body and linked together through various straps and strings.

-- Let me stress that Plate armor is not your standard issue damsel-in-distress-wear. Because of all those large pieces of metal, it’s incredibly heavy and expensive to make and wear. Thus, use it sparingly, perhaps by strong, well-trained nobles or your own knightly battalion. (One thing I’ve always wondered: once you’ve taken hours to get the whole outfit on, what do you do if you need to use the bathroom?)

4. Chain Mail Armor
-- The final realm of armor is chain mail, which is made from thousands of metal rings that are pressed or riveted together. One of the best things about chain mail is its high maneuverability, unlike plate armor. It also provides excellent protection against all sorts of blunt, slashing, stabbing, and otherwise-maiming weapons.

-- If your culture has advanced smiths with a lot of time and metal on their hands, then this is the armor for them. Just do be aware that chain mail is by no means mass-produced—it takes a lot of resources to construct. Still, for the occasional fight-to-the-death, this little baby would sure come in handy!

Of course, if your hero/heroine is the Chosen One, gifted with superb fighting powers and the ability to stay alive almost indefinitely (or at any rate through the duration of your 200-page volume), then this whole post is irrelevant. You can get on with your story, and all armor-clad enemies beware.

I would also like to make another note that applies, not just to this post, but to also the previous posts on swords and bows. What I've mentioned above are various types of armor and gear as we know them on earth. However, we are fantasy writers. If you would rather make up your own weapons and protective coverings/armor unique to your world, go right ahead! If you don't feel quite so inspired, you could simply modify one of the earthly items into fantasy garb more appropriate for your world.

To exemplify this, let's turn to our old favorite, J.R.R. Tolkien. In the Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and company travel through Moria, a (supposedly) abandoned Dwarvish mine. This mine was especially famous for mithril, a silver-like metal that was light and strong and incredibly valuable. You may recall that Frodo had a chain mail shirt of mithril that was weightless, supple, and--more important--protective. It saved him from dying at least once! 

So, to follow Tolkien's example, you could utilize something like dragon-skin for your leather armor, making it impregnable to fire. Or use the Jubjub plant to keep your scale armor from clattering. The options are only as vast as your imagination! (Thanks a bunch to B.L.S. for the suggestion to include this idea in the post.)

If this post sparked your interest, most of my information for came from this excellent article. I highly recommend checking it out for more information. God bless!