This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I attended last year and had so much fun, but this year I was pleasantly surprised to see many panels for writers (comic/graphic novel panels, and fantasy/sci-fi panels) as well as a big turnout for literary guests. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns series, Anna Dressed in Blood series), and Marko Kloos (Frontlines series) and get them to autograph their books for me. But while there, I attended the Making the Impossible Possible panel which focused on writing and worldbuilding for authors of fantasy and sci-fi.
The following authors participated in the panel and gave great advice to aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors: Charlie N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician series), Emily R. King (The Hundredth Queen series), Marko Kloos (Frontlines series), J.D. Horn (Witching Savannah series), and Jeff Wheeler (Legends of Muirwood series).
The format of the panel was the moderator, editor Jason Kirk, posed a total of six questions to the panel of authors. Keep reading to find out what was asked of these fantasy and sci-fi writers as well as to see what their responses were. I found their responses to offer great advice and writing techniques to better improve my own fantasy and sci-fi writing.
Each author in this panel writes their own rules to govern the worlds they create. How does this work when the same rules don’t apply, even though you may be writing within a similar genre?
- “You need to choose your main character as a one in a million type of person. You need to write your characters as the person who brings the magic to the world and not necessarily have been the chosen one.”
- The general discussion around this question discussed how it’s important to have governing rules within your world, but to not let them overshadow your characters. Let your characters shine through in the world they surround themselves in.
In Fantasy or Sci-fi we often find that the main character always tends to be exceptional. So, if no one is exceptional is there no story?
- “In Sci-fi, you play within the confines of that structured society. Nobody is different from each other since they all have the same governing laws of physics and biology applying to them. So, the characters in this genre work within their existing system to prove their abilities or skills.”
- The authors on the panel discussed how it would be even more interested to see more work of fiction in fantasy and sci-fi who fall out of the “exceptional” phase and are characters that work harder to prove themselves versus having everything be naturally gifted to them. It even makes the character more relatable to the reader, no more what fantastic setting the character may be placed in.
Every author has their own writing process. Do you start with world-building or do you start with the character or the plot or themes?
- “Start with the character, then the world becomes a crucible for them.”
- “Your characters act depending on what the world is and the action or reaction they do becomes the plot.”
- “Look for the tension, the drama. Ask yourself, why do we follow these characters? Why tell this story in the first place? First find the drama that the character will face.”
- “If the world is complex enough, all these conflicts come up naturally and then the character, character’s motivation, etc. will follow.”
Does your world need to be completely believable to make it work?
- “As long as you don’t break the suspension of disbelief.”
- “I can excuse sloppy physics [in Sci-fi] if the story, the plot, and the characters are absolutely believable.”
- “It doesn’t have to be so much as believable as it has to be intoxicating enough to completely pull you in.”
- “Don’t overdo the details to try to make it as ‘realistic’ and ‘believable’ as possible. Too much in the details can cause a big learning curve for your reader and can prevent them staying with your story.”
- “Build the world and characters quickly so you hook the reader in. The strength of your story are your characters who provide the real emotions, real reactions the reader can connect to despite them being in an impossible world.”
How do you solve your mistakes?
- “Take a slice of humble pie from your critique partners.”
- “Incomplete or sloppy world-building will lead to mistakes. If you ask, what does my character do now? Then you didn’t do enough world-building to throw enough cool things at your characters.”
- The panel then gave examples from their own work where edits and proofreading provided great feedback for their novels in which they had to go back and rewrite certain parts to make the story turn out better.
What tip do you have for aspiring writers?
- “Think outside the box. It’s all about originality. Do something that’s less expected.”
- “Don’t try to chase trends. Don’t write to market it. If the book is good, it’ll have its own market.”
- “Just tell your story. Keep going.”
- “The world around you can create something different. You don’t have to create something new, you just need to write it in a new way.”
- “Read what you like to write. It keeps you immersed in your world. Steal little pieces of what you like and make them into your own.”
The panel was then opened to take questions from the audience. Here are a few of the questions that I found to have really good advice in their answers.
- How do you build a society in your stories? This was answered in 4 parts.
- “Ask yourself, what type of government do you want? The kind of government you create governs the rules and freedoms your characters are subject to.”
- “What weird customs or traditions do your characters partake in? Create a history for each tradition.”
- “Everything is a result of what has come before. Make sure your society has a history.”
- “Do real research of Earth’s own history, then tweak it and make it your own for your story.”
- How do you organize everything when you are working on a current novel?
- “You need a story Bible! It’s just 1 document where everything is stored and you can do a quick search.”
- “Use Scrivener. This allows you to keep you draft, research, notes, and edits all in one document.”
- How do you write mundane tasks to make them see fantastic?
“Write characters’ reactions to that task. Like in Harry Potter, Harry thinks the dishes washing themselves in the Weasley’s house is magical and fantastic, but Ron just thinks it’s completely normal.”
This was such an amazing panel to sit on and I hope you found their advice to be inspiring and helpful to your own work. Below you can find the Goodreads page for each author named here so you can check out their work and get hooked onto some fun new series.