Write what you would want to read

I’ve been writting a lot about RPGs over the last couple of months and now I very suddenly find myself not really caring about it anymore. I probably return to in some months, but now I find myself a lot more interested in fantasy books. Got a good stack of material to read, but it’s not nearly as much as I’d like. Some Kane, some leftover Conan and Kull, more Hellboy, and still most of The Witcher. But these are all series I already know and am familiar with. I also could really go with something new for  change.

And frankly, I don’t like most of contemporary fantasy as well as most classics of the 90s. I just don’t care for Mistborn, Malazan, Wheel of Time, and that Abercrombie and Hobb stuff. I’ve also been toying with writing something myself for about a year now. And the number one advice given to all writers is “Don’t write what the market currently demands. Write the kind of stories you would want to read.” And if there isn’t really anything like what you would want to read, even better for you because there probably are other people who also would like to read it but can’t. Yet. And I know at least one guy at Fantasy Faction who has made wonderful requests for recommendations for stories I would love to see as well. “Mythic fantasy”? “Fantasy Indiana Jones”? “Something like Morrowind”? Fuck, yeah! Sadly, nobody could give us any really good pointers.

I’ve approached work on my Ancient Lands setting always from the perspective of stories to be told in it, not as a game world, even though that was the original motivation. And I would really like to write some stories for it. Which now that I have all the places and peoples named actually becomes possible.

So, what is it that I would want to read and want to write?

  • Sword & Sorcery. Duh!  Sword & Sorcery is the genre I love the most and that brings together many of the themes and styles I enjoy the most and which I feel confident to be able to use and say something about. Specifically, I want stories that are hands on and all about things actually happening and being done. Plots with immediate conflicts and goals, which progress at a steady pace and start with a clear goal and end with a clear conclusion. Not stories that are simplistic and one dimensional, but stories that are not asking “How does it make you feel?” but “What do you want to do about it?”
  • Episodic Content. If you know the things I read, this also should not come as a surprise. Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock all wrote like this, as did Wagner in his better works, and you also find it with Sapkowski and Mignola. The big problem I have with most current popular fantasy is that stories are often planned right from the start to be released as 3, 5, or even 10 volumes, often of 400 pages each. That can work for hardcore readers who read 1000 pages every month, but is nothing you can pick up when you spontaneously feel like it. Maybe the story is not actually working for you but you only notice that after 500 pages. Or you do like it but have to wait 20 years until you finally get the answer. I want fantasy in managable portions where you can pick one up and reach the end within two to four hours, maybe up to 10. If you don’t feel super strongly about it it is no big loss and you can pick up something else next. Can be same writer and even same character, but a different story. And you don’t have to read all of them to make sense of what you’re reading right now. Pick the stories that interest you, skip the ones that sound dull and maybe come back to them later.
  • Oldschool “Swords and Dragons” Fantasy. It might very well be that I am misinterpreting the descriptions of most current fantasy books but my impression is that almost all of them take place in worlds that are late 19th century Europe with early 21st century thinking. Or actually it’s a futuristic setting where most of the high-tech was lost. Say about Tolkien what you want (and I have a lot of bad things to say about his books), but I want more shit like that! Giants, dragons, trolls, castles, spears, ghosts and the whole shebang. Isn’t anyone doing this anymore? Well, someone should!
  • Age of Myth. We had been talking about this on Fantasy Faction, if something like “Mythic Fantasy” could work. And with my background in cultural studies and religion (those years were not in vain) I think it should work wonderfully. What I think is needed to make fantasy feel mythic is to have very strong contact and interaction between the mundane world and the world of the supernatural. And not urban fantasy style were vampires and werewolves are hiding among humans. More like demigods, fey kings, ancient immortals, oracles, magic caves and islands and all that stuff. This seems to me the one thing that appeara to be the most absent in current fantasy. Guess who is the one person who loved this stuff and dove completely into it? My old nemesis Tolkien. In this important point I think he was completely right and it’s the one thing that later immitators forgot to copy.
  • A world unlike any other. I complained about settings that feel too much like the normal world above, but I also don’t have any love for settings that simply add a bit of magic spakles to real world countries and cultures. 16th century France with Airships is still France. I don’t want just magic and monsters added to the real world, I want a completely new world with its own places and people. Stuff like Morrowind or Dark Sun. We get them in games, why not in books?
  • Bronze Age Fantasy. Not only do I not care for early modern settings, I also feel not too hot about the middle ages either. Instead I really want something that is more about small kingdoms and clans of barbarians.

That’s the stuff I want to read. And if nobody is writing it, I shall have to do so myself.

4 thoughts on “Write what you would want to read”

  1. I assume you’ve read Leibeir’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories. If not, consider this a big recommendation.

    Have you tried Saunders’ Imaro books? Conan in ancient Africa is a the elevator pitch. You’ve got: short stories collected into books, steel vs. magic, straightforward plots, and a more tribal, less medieval Europe feel.

    Also: if you write awesome Bronze Age S&S, I will devour it! :D

    1. Yeah, I read Leiber. Not a huge fan of his stories, but he really knew how to present it in a very entertaining way.

      Haven’t read Saunders yet, but always plan to do so.

  2. Did you ever read Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself? I didn’t really care for his short stories either, but that book really tuned me on to the man’s writing style.

  3. I hit the link to (re)suggest Saunders. But I see Brian beat me to it. So I’ll just “second” instead. I always say that I’m a big fan of sword & sorcery as well. But I’m beginning to realize that it’s not strictly true. What I’m a fan of is a specific subset of what’s already a specific subset of fantasy. Moorcock hasn’t grabbed me based on a couple of attempts. Lieber, the jury’s still out. Read Glen Cook’s “Tower of Fear” (Cook generally being hailed as S&S). And, while I enjoyed it, it felt more like Game of Thrones than Conan. So there’s something very specific about Howard and (probably) his Lovecraftian tones that I like. Saunders’ Imaro is hands-down the closest in tone to Howard’s Conan, in my view, while still introducing enough new material (an African-based mythology) to feel it’s new and not more pastiche. It also feels episodic, not quite in the same way that Howard’s short stories are, but there are clearly story arcs that don’t take an age to develop and conclude.

    Now’s the time, Yora. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

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