Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #3

Yep! Another Tuesday BaBW post. While this has been the standard for the last three weeks, I don’t think I work this next Monday, so hopefully I’ll be able to break this chain and get back to posting these on their usual time. Granted, I could write them ahead of time … but the other blog I post these on doesn’t allow for scheduling, so it’d just end up fragmenting my reading base more than it already is, and since I’ve been working on the days I would normally write these in advance …

Anyway, I’m doing what I can. I’ve also noted, however, that my blog postings have really slowed lately. Especially since starting my job. The frequency of my postings has dropped about 50%. Which isn’t great. I’ll see if I can get some more posting done to keep everyone more up to date, even as I work on finishing the first draft of Shadow of an Empire and move Colony towards Beta.

Right, now, on to today’s posting! Today I’m clearing out some of the more short, easy answers from my topic list, which means it’s time for another micro-blast! Number 3 (1 and 2 can be found at those links, respectively). Micro-blasts are when I have a selection of topics up that are good questions … but aren’t necessarily worth long, drawn-out answers. It’s not that the questions are bad, but that the topic is usually precise enough that the answer can be a paragraph or two rather than a longer, in-depth explanation. So rather than give a shorter BaBW post, I collect several of these shorter, simpler questions together in one post and tackle them altogether.

Right, now that the explanation’s out of the way, let’s get to answering!

Do I Need Fantastic Creatures in My Fantasy?
No, actually.

All right, let me explain a bit more. Usually when we think of fantasy we think of fantastic creatures: Beings like dragons, unicorns, monstrous beasts, etc. Such creatures fill the realm of myth and legend the world over, and are a common sight in fantasy stories. But do you need one in your story?

Well, no. There are plenty of stories out there where the fantastic and the incredible happen without any sort of mythical, shocking, or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary beasts and creatures entering the narrative. A lot of stories are about human interaction, no beasts needed. You can still write a fantastic fantasy without any indication or even mention of fantastic beasts, and there are plenty of fantasy books that prove this as well. For example, take the success of GRRM’s Game of Thrones books. Granted, they pull in dragons and other fantastic beasts as the series moves on, but such elements only, if I recall correctly, appear right at the end of the first book—the rest of that introduction to the series draws more on the characters and the goings-on of a political kingdom to keep you reading (as well as lots of incest and other elements, which is why I only ever read that first book and didn’t care to move on).

My disinterest in the series aside, the first title in the series shows that your fantasy doesn’t need to have fantastical beasts in order to be gripping. You can write a fantastic amount of drama, magic, and excitement without ever needing a fantastical creature.

Now, simply because you don’t need a fantastical beast doesn’t mean you can’t include them in your lore/world. And the way I see it, there are two ways you can do this.

The first is from the lore angle. This is where you’re providing flavor, a bit o spice, to make your fantastic place pop off of the page and give it more context. Worldbuilding, in other words. For example, in Shadow of an Empire, there are large herds (both wild and owned by ranchers) of creatures called boval, which are a herd animal that’s a bit of a cross between a steer and a buffalo. They form one underpinning of the local economy where the story takes place, and the characters occasionally see them or people dealing with them, but overall, the boval is usually just a bit of flavor for things, rather than something that interacts with them directly. It’s meant to paint a better picture for the reader of the wider view, and that’s what it does. So it’s a fantastic creature that’s window dressing, a little element to help them visualize what life is like in the outlands. Lore.

One small caveat here I should mention. If you do go the lore route, you need to pick and choose where and where you do it. If you throw tons and tons of extra lorebuilding detail on dozens of creatures at a reader, you’ll wear them out. Keep things straightforward, and think of it like  a spice: a few dashes on a meal can be a nice flavor, but too much can overwhelm everything else.

Now, the second angle is the direct angle. This is where the creature not just exists in the story, but is a direct part of the story. It interacts with elements, plot or character-wise, and shapes things as the story moves forward. This is akin to the dragon that kidnaps someone, the beast that’s terrorizing citizenry, or really any other direct interaction that’s going to not just be mentioned in passing, but be a part of the story itself that influences the characters and plot in some way.

Another way I could say this, essentially is that while you don’t need to have fantastical beasts in your fantasy, if you do include them make sure that you’re giving them a purpose. This purpose can be flavor (by the way, they don’t have goats but a large toad-like thing), world-altering (messages are sent using these tiny, intelligent, trained dragons) or even character altering (messages are sent using personal, tiny, intelligent, trained dragons). Don’t simply throw something in because you think your fantasy story needs a kick. If you’re going to include a fantastic creature, give them some purpose.

How Do You Deal With Fanfiction of Your Own Work?
This one is interesting, and basically comes down to both what you’re writing. Granted, all of us probably hope that we’re writing something that will lead to fanfiction of our work, or other fan creations, but when they actually come, do we want to look at them? Because when it comes to fanfiction … well … No, not really.

Let me explain. If you yourself are writing fanfiction, and then someone else creates fanfiction of your fanfiction (yes, this happens all the time), then you can just go ahead and read it. If you’d like (and I’ll get to that in a moment). But you’re already writing for-fun-not-profit material using someone else’s copyright (sort of “borrowing” for fan enjoyment of ideas, etc). Which means if someone borrows from you, well, you didn’t have claim to it anyway, so there’s no real worries. Go ahead and read it.

Worries? Yes, worries. If we go to writing published fiction, the kind of stuff that you’re going to hold the rights to, and someone writes fanfiction of that, do you want to read it?


This might seem odd, maybe even counterintuitive. Why wouldn’t you want to read what a fan wrote in your universe? Isn’t that awesome that someone loves it so much that they’re writing in it?

Yes, it is. But you still don’t want to read it (and this is why authors don’t read their fanfic, save in select, special cases). The problem is that once you read it, legal tangles arise. See, suppose you write a story with a cool magic superpower, and then someone else sees a way you can take that a step further and writes a fanfic of it. Now suppose you read that fanfic, think “Cool!” and use it or something like it in your next story.

And then the fanfic writer sues you for stealing their idea and work.

Yup. Granted, this is an extreme example, but it’s the risk that comes with reading fanfic. See, everything you’ve created that the fan uses is yours … but anything they come up with can technically be argued as theirs. And if they think you’ve used something that was “their” idea—even if it wasn’t—you could be in for a bad time. Even if nothing legal comes of it, the ramifications with your fanbase can be devastating.

The solution, then, is simple. You don’t read fanfic. And that way, if someone says “Hey, that’s my idea! I wrote it when I wrote X story!” you can simply shrug and say “Great minds think alike, congratulations, but I don’t read fanfic, so I didn’t get it from you.”

So, basically, if you’re writing with the intent of publishing, don’t read people’s fanfic of your work. Thank them, congratulate them, but don’t read it. If they’re level-headed fans, they’ll understand why, even if they insist they’d never do something to you (Hint: don’t trust this. Anyone can say it).

Fanart? Fan-music? You’re probably fine (most authors don’t seem to mind sharing such things to facebook or on their sites). But fanfiction? No, not until you retire for good.


Anyway, that’s it for this week, and for this edition of Micro-blast. Got comments on what you read, or other questions you’d like to see answered? Post ’em!

3 thoughts on “Being a Better Writer: Micro-Blast #3

  1. Totally agree on both fronts. Magic beasts are definitely not needed. I’d argue that even magic can be not included and you can still get a great story?. Does it take fantasy elements to make epic fantasy, or just an imagined landscape?


    • You can write a great story without fantasy, but I’d have to say you can’t write a great fantasy story without some element of fantasy. If you remove all the fantasy, then it’s no longer fantasy, just fiction of another genre. Fantasy is defined (loosely, depending on who you ask) as a story that contains the element of the fantastical, something we really can’t experience in the world we live in. A landscape may be described as fantastic, but still be something one can go see (for example, New Zealand), while magic is something that can only exist in the realm of the story.

      So yeah, you definitely need those fantastical elements to be a fantasy. You need the unreal, the amazing. Without it, you’re simply writing fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

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