A big thank you to those who entered the free giveaway to Within, book two in The City of the Magicians series. I’m sorry about those who didn’t win a copy but there is always the giveaway for Quickening, book three coming in 2023!
Since you enjoy reading fantasy, you might also have dreams of writing one. To help you, I’ve started a blog on my author website www.petergribble.com called, How to Write a Fantasy Series. There are only two posts at the moment but more are on the way.
What bugs you? What ideas, hurts, injustices, constraints wear away at you? What questions provoke you? Intrigue you? What answers just aren’t good enough? What questions need clarification? What are your “What ifs” questions? What if someone does or does not declare their love for someone? What if someone decides to help––or not to help? What if someone decides not to fight and attempts a different approach?
For me, a longstanding, unresolvable matter was––and still is––the utter waste of war. The conundrum: How do you contend against it without falling into its snares? During the Vietnam War protests, a question of brief circulation asked, “What if they had a war and nobody came?” It was a quiet little wow! moment for me, a young teenager at the time and became my “What if” question. I never thought to write about it but it resonated with an earlier experience I had when I was a young boy.
Something in me woke when I was nine. I was standing in the midst of tens of thousands of little white crosses stretching as far as the eye could see. My Royal Canadian Air Force dad had been transferred into NATO when I was eight and our family moved to France. At every possible weekend and holiday during our three years there we traveled by car and camped throughout Europe, an amazingly rich experience for a child.
By the second summer, my parents wanted to see the war memorials in northwest France. They must have lost friends during the war but the war was never explained to me. Before school started, I was told, “There was a war. Germany lost. You don’t talk about it. That’s all.” Attending an international French school for the kids of NATO and the diplomatic corps required this courtesy, so the sight that day of the endless rows of uncountable crosses converging to the horizons was baffling. Mother was trying to exercise my sluggish adding and subtracting skills by asking me as we stood in front of various crosses, “And how old was this one when he died?” I don’t remember those – the ones ending in 40-something – only the last one. His death occurred in a year I hadn’t seen before: 1917 and his birth year was in the 1890s. “Mommy, the numbers are wrong,” I said. She replied, “That’s because he died in the first world war.” I was flabbergasted into silence. There were two wars? In the same place?
By the afternoon my parents were excited. We had reached the Vimy Ridge Memorial where so many Canadians died. When we parked something in me had had enough – all those little white crosses; all that commemorated death – and I quietly refused to get out of the car. My parents were miffed and left me in what they must’ve thought was some childish sulk. I, however, felt an enormous inarticulate vindication. I knew all that death was wrong and wondered at the novelty of my righteous certainty.
Back in Canada, as a teenager, I learned about Gandhi’s non-violent movement and its success in throwing the British out of India, heard Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches and read his essays. Yet pacifism did not appear to be a comprehensive solution. Critics raised valid issues: How would Gandhi’s movement have fared against the Nazis instead of the British Empire? Or Stalin’s purges? Or China’s cultural revolution? Pacifist attitudes after WWI factored in delaying Britain’s preparations and entry into the war against Hitler. Deepening the conundrum was the unaccountable acceptance-resistance of European Jews entering the maw of extermination. Pacifism seemed to fail before brutal tyrants who could care less about noble stances. On the other hand, Dr. King’s non-violent approach has contributed, three generations later, to the Black Lives Matter movement.
While I remained in provisional sympathy with non-violent approaches, the pacifist versus barbarian theme needed exploring and eventually, I started The City of the Magicians with this as a founding premise. The writing of it took me––and is taking me––in directions I never expected.
So, what bugs you? What ideas, hurts, injustices or constraints nag you, wear away at you? What questions provoke you? What questions need clarification? What answers just aren’t good enough? What are the “What ifs?”
It’s one place to start from. As you explore this, your writing and your characters will likely take you in directions you never expected.
It was going to be different from anything I had written before. One big book. Working title: The Epic. A big book with beginning, middle and end with all loose threads wrapped up, the lost found, the mysteries solved, motivations exposed, love satisfied, the baby delivered, the solutions sound and closure satisfying.
It didn’t turn out that way.
A scribbled note at the 5:00 pm entry line of Friday, September 25th in my 1998 appointment book indicates this was when I started writing The Epic.
A month later I attended a session at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival where my partner Robert Blackwood was the moderator interviewing a panel of six mystery authors, three of whom were from other countries. He asked these three to open the discussion on how the city in their mysteries served not only as backdrop but as a character in their books. The authors and their cities were Peike Birmann—Berlin; Paco Ignacio Taibo II—Mexico City and Kinky Friedman—New York City. The answers were illuminating but the question had dazzled me. Then and there, it handed me the book’s title: The City of the Magicians and established the City itself as a character.
Unfortunately, I did not start my current journal until February 18, 2011 and so missed the opportunity to record more closely the first thirteen years of creative developments. However, I keep all writing notes. Every one of them. My constant companions are a pen and a reporter’s spiral notebook easily slipped into a back pocket during outings or placed beside my pillow at night. Currently, I’m on notebook number 29. These are written in a shorthand I developed years ago for taking notes in class. More will be covered in a future post: “Writing Habits.”
The last chapter of City (now the ending of Book 3) was completed at 4:45 pm on Friday, February 17, 2012 after 13 and a half years and 898 pages later. Robert had bought champagne to celebrate and having read the last chapter said, “Don’t change a word!” Nor did I but an entry five years later (Tuesday February 7, 2017) indicated I had been continuously rewriting and editing the rest of the manuscript during that time to bring it up to the standard of the last chapter. Even then, the book had yet to undergo mitosis—a cellular division into the first three books of the first trilogy … but I get ahead of myself.
So while I’m personally cautious about set formulas for writing anything, and why the title of this blog was ammended to: How One Fantasy Series was Written, I hope the suggestions and advice offered here will help you write your own fantasy series.