Best and Worst Fantasy Creatures

July 5, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Despite being a fantasy writer by nature, I have noticed a distinct lack of fantastical references on my blog, mostly because I am focused on the art of writing in general and have tried not to be genre specific. That said, today I want to focus on fantasy.

Below is my list of favorite fantastical creatures and the books in which they feature. I’ve tried to think of one example where they are used really well and one example where the creature has become groan worthy. Certainly feel free to add your own opinions to the list.

1. Dragons – of course the list had to start with dragons. Whether we are talking wyverns, wyrms, drakes, western hunters, pernese, doesn’t matter, I love dragons. Yet they are quite frequently a hit and miss character in books (and movies, but that is an entirely different blog post).

  • The Best: Strabo from the Magic Kingdom of Landover Series (Terry Brooks). Who can dislike a dragon that can cross the mists between worlds, is intelligent and yet shockingly ego-centric, noble in a way and yet infuriatingly stubborn on other issues. By far my favourite dragon and the only down side is the limited book space he actually gets.
  • The Worst: Lady Ramkin’s dragons from the Discworld Series (Terry Pratchett). I don’t think the world really needed exploding dragons, no matter how amusing they might be.

2. Fairies – or faeries, doesn’t matter how you want to spell it. Surprisingly, fairies are few and far between in the books I choose to read. A shame, because these tiny characters could be absolutely incredible.

  • The Best: Applecore from the War of The Flowers (Tad Williams). The foul mouthed fairy dominates every scene she is in and despite her small size, utterly dominates Theo as he stumbles blindly around in fairy land. Quick witted and utterly devoted, she is definitely a fine example of fairies in action.
  • The Worst: Simon from A Modern Magician (Robert Weinberg). I love this story, and I love Simon’s character, but he is a terrible fairy. Admittedly, they are actually changelings, and they borrow their lore from Shakespeare, and in the modern age they now pose as long lost relatives or exchange students, but something about him is distinctly unfairy like.

3. Elves – way too broad a category really. Particularly when you consider how many different variations there have been on these characters. Still, they have a very active role in a large number of fantasies, and when used well, work superbly.

  • The Best: All of the elves as presented in The Deverry Series (Katherine Kerr). One of the best elvish cultures created and brought to life. Particularly in the later books of the series, the elves very much become dominant characters and are thoroughly enjoyable.
  • The Worst: ?

4. Ghosts – always did love a good ghost story, but the key word is good. Ghosts that simply spook for no apparent reason and finally at the end reveal that they were somebody someone knew really don’t work for me. I like ghosts with personality and voice.

  • The Best: Ariel from A Knight of the Word Series (Terry Brooks). Made from the memories of dead children, she serves The Word and delivers messages to those in need, as well as protecting Nest as she tries to save the Knight from his Demon stalker. Ariel is a fascinating character, though rather short lived.
  • The Worst: Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling). Despite saying I liked ghosts with personality, Nearly Headless doesn’t really work for me and most of the time I found myself wishing that he and the other ghosts of Harry Potter would simply disappear. Though, I make an exception for Moaning Myrtle who was thoroughly entertaining.

5. Vampires – I really couldn’t do this list without including vampires. I’m a little biased in the vampire category, given I was a Buffy fan and that kind of skews my view point a little. Vampires are classic characters that have been given so many contemporary twists, and in many book shops even their own section, that I just had to include them.

  • The Best: Not technically a vampire (dhampir, half human-half vampire) I am giving best vampire to Magiere from the Noble Dead Saga (Barb & J.C. Hendee). Her dress sense, her attitude, and her continual ability to thwart destiny are incredible, as is her ability to get herself into the worst kind of trouble. Besides, the vampires she hunts are quite interesting, and very resilient – more so than the usual vampire. Makes for some very interesting reading.
  • The Worst: Again, not technically vampires by any definition of the word, but I place the entire Cullen family from Twilight (Stephanie Meyer). Not actually dissing Twilight, simply pointing out that glistening, venom producing creatures that do not grow fangs and can go out in daylight, don’t actually qualify (at least in my version of reality) as vampires. If she had named them something else, maybe I would have got over this already.

As I said right at the start of the list, please feel free to disagree of give me your own examples. I would love to know what you think about fantastical creatures in books.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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More on Plot

June 13, 2010 at 5:58 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Continuing on from yesterday where I looked at losing the plot in the mess and lack of clarity about what the plot actually is.

For me, plot is about characters. The events are less significant than how the characters react to them. In that way, the small and insignificant can take on much greater meaning when seen through the eyes of the character and the character reactions keep driving the story forward. But that isn’t always how people see stories.

So what makes a plot interesting?

The argument about there being no new stories certainly has quite a lot of weight behind it and if there are only seven plots (though you could contest that number if you like) then how do you make your particular plot line sound new and fresh and interesting. We’ve seen from the Avatar phenomenon that just putting a coat of paint on an old idea (moving a previously explored plot to an alien world) doesn’t really work as far as stopping criticism of rip-offs, meanwhile clearly the old story worked and so people found definite enjoyment in the plot even while criticising the movie.

One of my favourite segments from Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (the television series) was when they described the basic theme of this one band’s songs. Boy meets girl who kiss near a setting sun which then promptly explodes. The way that line was delivered in the hum-drum, we’ve seen this all before, etc, etc was hilarious. How can the band continue to sell the same song over and over (though I guess many bands do this already when I think about it)? What makes a plot original and feel new?

I don’t know that anyone can actually answer that question because it is like trying to figure out what is going to be cool tomorrow. Plenty of stories that have been straight out rip-offs have become legendary while the original subject matter has faded into obscurity, meanwhile other writers get stones thrown at them because they dared to have a jealous best friend or a disgruntled worker.

What I do know is that there has to be some underlying point to the story for me to enjoy it, even if that point is only that there is no point. I know that heavily moralistic tales that feel the need to beat me over the head with the author’s values bore me. I know that every time I read a fantasy that starts with a farm boy I seriously question whether to read the next page or not. And I know that any book with a dragon in it will at least get my attention for a little while regardless of how bad the rest of the story may be.

Share your thoughts – what makes a good plot?

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