Friday, February 24, 2012

Writing Short Fantasy With James Hutchings

Today, James Hutchings, author of The New Death and Others is guest posting about writing short fantasy, so without further ado, here's James:
Cover for 'The New Death and others'

I think that when you say 'fantasy', most people get a specific picture; huge books, probably a series of huge books, set in an imaginary, medieval-like world (maps of which are at the front), in which a humble hero gets caught up in a battle for the fate of that world...all very much based on the template set down by Lord of the Rings, perhaps as interpreted by games like Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft. I like Tolkien, but I think he's overshadowed a lot of other styles of fantasy which I think are just as interesting. 

 I mostly write short stories. Often they're very short; three hundred words or less. I'm very influenced by Lord Dunsany. He's not very well-known now, but at one time he was one of the 'greats' of what we now call fantasy fiction. Although he wrote longer works, he did a series of very short stories which often had allegorical characters such as Death and Fame. One of his most famous books is 'Fifty-One Tales', which is now in the public domain so you can find it for free online. 

I've included a story that I wrote which is written in a Dunsany-like style. It's probably not going to make anyone throw away their Game of Thrones collection, but at least I hope to show people that there are other ways to go about it. 

THE GOD OF THE POOR 

In the beginning of the world the gods considered all those things which did not have their own gods, to decide who would have responsibility and rulership. 

"I will rule all flowers that are sky-blue in colour," said the Sky-Father.
"I will listen to the prayers of migratory birds, and you all other birds," the goddess Travel said to him. And so it went. 

At last all had been divided, save for one thing.
"Who," asked the Sky-Father, "shall have dominion over the poor?" 

There was an awkward silence, until the Sky-Father said,
"Come - someone must. Those with no gods will grow restless and cunning, and in time will cast us down, and we shall be gods no more." 

"Not I," said blind Justice, and her stony face flashed a momentary smirk at the thought. "Why not Fame or Fortune?"

"Darling I don't think so," said the sister goddesses together. 

There was a long pause. The gods shuffled their feet and avoided one another's gaze. At last a voice broke the silence. 

"I will," said Death.


Thanks, James! You can check out James's book here.

Your turn. Do you write short stories? Could you write a 300-word fantasy?

73 comments:

  1. My Answers-

    "Do you write short stories?"
    I try, but all bets are off after that...


    "Could you write a 300-word fantasy?"
    No, and I wish I could say otherwise.

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    1. That word count is definitely tough!

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    2. Even for you? I've read your fiction before and even if it's not this short, you are far from what I'd considered dawdling. I know you work to achieve that, but maybe between your daughter and the kids you taught you developed a better ear/eye for this than I currently posses.

      I know what the story wants, but trying to satisfy that and stay to a tight word count is still like pulling teeth for me, and I'm including the months of edits and rewrites to get them better.

      Rarely at target word count, but better stories, and making them any shorter risks taking the complete story feeling away.

      I wish I knew how to both satisfy my story's need without making them longer, and it's not a simple "Bloating/Over-writing" problem.

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    3. Taurean, I think some stories are just meant to be longer. There's nothing wrong with that. I've read your short stories. Yes, they are longer than mine, but they're great. Shorter doesn't mean better. And you are correct. I did have to work to learn how to cut down my word count. I usually have to cut and trim.

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  2. Thanks, Kelly, for featuring James and his work today. I love reading (and writing) short shorts. Although fantasy is not my thing, I enjoyed this piece very much!!

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  3. Good going! Writing a 300-word fantasy would surely be as hard a s writing haiku. LOVE that book cover!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it. The cover is pretty awesome, and I give James a lot of credit for being able to write fantasy of all things in such a short word count.

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    2. Catherine, I agree, and it doesn't even have to be fantasy, I just don't write short fiction well. I'm better thanks to ICL (Institute of Children's Literature) but nothing is ready for magazines, never mind the fact that there'e not going to meet this word count unless you can deal with vague fragments.

      Kelly, only you can find someone this envy-inducing talented. Great job to you both.

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    3. Thanks, Taurean, and what a great compliment to James. He definitely is talented.

      (But, Taurean, so are you!)

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  4. This story was great! Thanks for sharing :D

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  5. Nicely done! I shy away from short stories mainly because I think they are harder to write than longer works, at least for me. But this one told a great story in so few words.

    Great post!
    Michelle :)

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  6. Love the fantasy fiction. I like my RPGs, too. I've written a few shorts in the past, but I don't think I can do one less than 300 words. I'm definitely checking out Fifty-One Tales.

    Thanks!

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    1. You're welcome, Diane. I hope you enjoy it!

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  7. Thanks for featuring my work.

    Yours,
    James.

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    1. You're very welcome, James. Thanks for being my first guest blogger. :)

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  8. Michelle Pickett has left a new comment on your post "Writing Short Fantasy With James Hutchings":

    Nicely done! I shy away from short stories mainly because I think they are harder to write than longer works, at least for me. But this one told a great story in so few words.

    Great post!
    Michelle :)

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    1. Michelle, you were my post to my email for the day. I'm still not sure why this happens sometimes. Oh well.

      They are tough to write. I write them and I still find them difficult.

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  9. I have never heard of Lord Dunsany. What an interesting style James has! I have never tried writing a fantasy story.

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    1. The shortest fantasy I've written was about 2K. James is making me want to give this a shot though.

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    2. 2k? Try 5,000-8,000 in my case...LOL.

      It was the most significant writing I've done outside ICL and when Gabriel was in limbo.

      Some things were shorter, but frankly 1,000+ words is as short as I can go without sacrificing a complete story that doesn't give the reader a W.T.H. feeling, if you know what I mean. An "Over too soon" kind of feeling.

      That is why my progress with query letters, which need to be even shorter than this fine story, are some of my proudest accomplishments so far this year, and I need to honor that better.

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    3. Taurean, how long are early readers? I've never tried to write them so I haven't studied them enough to know. Maybe they'd be in your range?

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    5. Yeah, I wasn't really sure how long they were. We've got to find you some good paying anthologies. They usually allow for longer word counts and pay by the word, so it would work in your favor.

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    6. Feel free me to e-mail me anything you feel would be a good fit. I'm not finding anything that's not wanting lusty paranormal and nothing else. That still seems to be as in demand as it is passe to editors at publishers now, big or small.

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    7. Well, I was speaking about short stories that you'd find in most magazines with tight word counts.

      Me? Early readers? I mean am I the only one who finds the idea of consulting a word book all the time nightmarish and constraining?

      If I'm quirky that way, so be it.

      Have you seen a paperback Junie B. Jones book lately? They can slide under a door, THAT'S how short they are. I'm not saying never, but I'm not going to be this short anytime soon...

      Deleted the original reply above due to misspellings and confusing incomplete thoughts. Yeah, I'm a stickler that way.

      Taurean

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    8. I'll pass along anything I come across. :)

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    9. You're a perfectionist. You kind of have to be in this industry. Totally understandable.

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    10. Really? Some days I'm not so sure.

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    11. Sometimes it's hard to see certain characteristics in yourself. I think you push yourself to be as perfect as you can be. That's a good thing, but it can also be emotionally taxing sometimes.

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    12. Just in case that didn't come across the way I meant it, let me clarify. It can be emotionally draining on ourselves when we keep pushing to be perfect. Some days you just have to let yourself go and worry about perfection later.

      I think that makes sense now. :P

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    14. Yes, thanks for clarifying it that way, I get just what you mean.

      Much of 2011 was about emotionally draining agony on my part, and again apologize that you and those from my former critique group were unfairly caught in the crossfire, so in 2012 I vowed to avoid that at all costs.

      Sometimes it's hard to be clear without unintentionally making someone feel either ashamed/dumb or even more lost. Thanks for taking that care with that for me and others.

      Again, re-posted previous reply for incomplete thoughts. My typing's been wonky lately.

      Taurean

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    15. I think writing can be a really emotional thing for some people. It definitely is for me. I would never want to make anyone feel ashamed, dumb, or lost, so I'm glad you feel I'm careful with how I state things. I think being an emotional person (I throw myself wholeheartedly into what I love) I can empathize with a lot of people. At least I hope so.

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  10. Yay, James. That was poignant.
    I still consider the story picture book to be the most skilled writing I've done (when I did it well) and so - Yes, definitely- the short story is top-of-the-heap over here.

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    1. I like writing short stories, but short fantasy is tough for me. I have to try it now. James has convinced me. :)

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  11. That is a fantastic post, and such a moving short story. I love writing short stories, but don't think I could EVER produce a work that is so fully developed and thought-provoking as yours in just 300 words. Excellent job, James!

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  12. Great story. Brevity is definitely not an attribute I own, but I applaud it in anyone else!

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    1. I think we definitely have to applaud, James. :)

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  13. What a fun short! Thanks for sharing! :0)

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  14. Fabulous post! I found it so interesting and I give James so much credit for being able to write a 300 word fantasy. The story included in the post was great- so he obviously has a way with words!

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  15. Short stories are great. I enjoy writing and reading.. they're also great to help get your writing tight.

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    1. I agree. It really helps you improve your writing overall.

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  16. Oh wow.

    It's REALLY hard to get me into short stories. With me, the longer the better, series are the best - I just can't let go! lol

    But this story was...wow.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Sophia. James is very talented.

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  17. Kelly, I finally posted my tag thing, and linked back to your blog!

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  18. Yes. I love the short story and yet it drives me mad when I do it. Such economy of words and so much to express. Loved this post. Loved the short story.

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    1. It really can be tricky sometimes. James does it very well.

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  19. I enjoy Fantasy (though I don't think I'm a Huge Fan), and the piece James has posted is very enjoyable. Oh, and the cover is exceptional! Thank you for sharing. :)

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    1. You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed James's post.

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  20. Thanks Claudine. I've had a few compliments about the cover - although a successful self-published author also advised me to change it.

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    1. They thought I should get something more modern-looking.

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  21. Great cover. I have yet to master the art of a short story, which is why I prefer to dabble with poetry (it's a sort of short story). I do enjoy a wide variety of genres and for this I am wonderfully grateful. I always learn from other writers. Something for me to reach for, a short 300 word story..

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    1. Brenda, my dear, I've read your poetry and I'm sure you can write flash fiction. Poetry is great practice for it.

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  22. Amazing! I love this post idea. I do write short stories. I'm not writing right now. But I'm unable to write any story of 300 words. words are always my problem.

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    1. I've been in the 300s before myself but never under. I'm going to have to give it a try.

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  23. First off, I want to wish you the very best of luck with your debut YA novel, Kelly.

    I'd like to thank James on two fronts. First, for spreading the name of Lord Dunsany about; a very influential figure in his time but who is today, as mentioned, rather overlooked. (I've only read a bit of his output but would recommend to anyone 'The Fortress Unvanquishable, save for Sacnoth' - a longer piece, more what we think of as trad-fantasy I suppose, for which a reading is freely available at Librivox.) I'd also like to thank him for his fine story. It's strange, I tend to steer clear of poetry but lap this sort of tight, meditative piece. There are no superfluous detail in evidence, every word counts, and yet so much can be 'decompressed' from it and unpicked inside the reader's mind.

    I do think this kind of stuff with a word-count in the 100s doesn't get the attention it deserves. My guess is this happens for a variety of reasons. It tends to fall into the void between short stories with a count in the low 1,000s and at the other end of the scale exactly 100 word stories or tweet-length stories which seem popular at the moment in the online world. As so many writers seem to be overly concerned with word-count and this length isn't seen as so marketable, perhaps they tend to neglect it. (Of course, it's good to be creative within self-imposed limits as it focuses the mind, but I do think there's a danger of becoming a slave to this particular restriction which in any case is imposed from 'above' by the publishing world, or rather their marketing depts.) Also, when the narrative is so stripped back, one's left only with the overall point of the piece, the 'concept', the 'message' standing bare, and I think currently some writers shy away from this, not wishing to be seen as being instructive to their readers, of being 'preachy'. I agree it's a risk to make a philosophical point so succinctly yet not be seen as patronising - and I think James carries it off admirably. I'm reminded of a quote I stumbled across once: "Lord, let me never tag a moral to a story, nor tell a tale without meaning." (~ Henry Van Dyke, not that I've any idea who he is/was)

    Some writers are drawn to this form, others are not. It's worth a try if you haven't attempted it I suppose, but I think it ultimately comes down to preference: readers are drawn to all different lengths in the fiction they enjoy (I personally baulk at all those fat trilogies) and I imagine the same's true for writers and what they enjoy doing.

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    1. Thank you, Greg. And thank you for leaving such a great comment for James. I'm sure he appreciate it. :)

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  24. Sure do!

    By the way I actually wrote a collection of tweet-length fiction, which is free on Amazon or Smashwords.

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  25. How fun! Short story mythologies! Now this is something I'd love. I really enjoyed the story.

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