Indie Review: “Shadows in the Stone” by Diane Lynn McGyver

In her book, “Shadows in the Stone,” Diane transports us into a fantasy world that she describes with enough expertise to fully immerse a reader. There are some overlaps into our own world, but they do not shake a reader out of the fantasy. Now, you may be thinking, “All fantasy does that.” Yes, you’re correct, in the sense that the moment an author mentions a sword, a shield, or a horse, they’re pointing to the real world. However, Diane brought in the concept of canned foods, and described a diligent accounting / government system within Aruam Castle, complete with pre-made forms, records, and bureaucratic filing. Yet she incorporated it so well into her world-building that any reader will seamlessly accept.

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Love is the fine lace woven through the main plot. We see familial love, the love of friendship, and romantic love all growing from the main story. It is the driving force behind the actions and determination of the characters.

Besides love, during our time within Diane’s world, there is murder, mayhem, magic, sword-play and a long, gritty pursuit. From these struggles and hardships, much is revealed about the characters’ pasts, loves, and fears. These aspects of the characters are revealed as a consequence of the main plot, rather than being conveniently parachuted in as filler material.

On Writing Quality: Diane Lynn McGyver stands head and shoulders above other indie authors. Her dialog flows well, as does her setting and internal descriptions. She knows how to show and not tell better than most. There is also a skillful knowledge of writing at work. Diane knows how not to overuse ‘to be’, adverbs, and a throng of other useless crutch or weasel words.

Word Creation: One item in the skill set of any fantasy / sci-fi author is creating new words and terms, either for things out of this world or renaming the mundane. I’ve seen other books where this practice is performed ad nauseam, to the point where a lengthy glossary is needed. But Diane managed it flawlessly. I especially liked her creations of sumortide, springan, yesternight, and Hauflin. These words helped me to immerse and stay there (very crafty, Diane). DLM


 F.Y.I  –  Diane maintains a spiffy blog as well


Characters:  “Shadows in the Stone” is a deep look into the heart and soul of the Dwarf Bronwyn Darrow. Now, I simply ask you to drop all of your Tolkien Dwarven standards. Diane has beautifully tweaked and redefined the notion of Dwarf, both in the physical and cultural sense.

Bronwyn Darrow stands as one of my favorite characters ever created within the sci-fi / fantasy genre. The other is Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Let that sink in about the company Bronwyn Darrow keeps.

Parting Thoughts: I enjoyed every page of “Shadows in the Stone” as you will too. This is the first in the Castle Keepers series, which is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

Names in Fantasy Novels

Naming Conventions Can Be Quite A Sticky Problem

From the Seven Seas of R’haquirkh to characters names like Ma’charlkh, and the city of Shavartanshiquilltengshui, the naming conventions within Fantasy novels can be veritable tongue twisters. Such discombobulated names that almost contain every letter of the alphabet with apostrophes can aggravate and disorient readers much like a jump cut from a French New Wave film.

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If any of the above names have actually appeared in a Fantasy Novel…well that’s just dumb luck.

Of course, from the other side of the coin comes an equally viable point of view. A main character named Paul, with his trusty sidekick Tommy, and love interest Lucy, from Milltown, could also serve as a means to prevent reader immersion. These names are too close to the real world and can block out your world-building efforts.

Names I’m Using

In my forthcoming fantasy novel, the first in the series called The Tales of Tyrennia (were you able to pronounce that?), I use the following names. I suppose I tried to be somewhat exotic without being too far-fetched.

Main Character: Dagorat – Secondary Characters: Cyril; Katrina; Liberon – Tertiary Characters: King Baldomir; Brother Maynard; Craicwyth; Magda; and Lhinthel (the Elven Queen). Villains: Lamortain and Xantasia.

Kingdoms: Ravenna, Quintalia, Easterly

Cities & Towns: Mentiria, Jalken, Ethelton, Dun Targill

Of course I’ll ask my beta readers too, but I’d to like to have it all fixed before I send them anything.

Did any of these names make you stumble? Got any suggestions or changes?

History in a Fantasy Novel

The history of your world should play a major role if you are writing a fantasy or even a Sci-Fi novel. Imagine how a reader will feel when they are dropped into a civilization or a post-apocalyptic setting without any knowledge. Surely this scenario can make anyone feel like a stranger in a strange land. History is an essential part of world-building.

Of course, one has to naturally avoid long-winded historical passages when world-building. After all, it’s a fantasy novel not a history textbook. Earlier, I discussed the use of Technology In Your Fantasy World. Dropping such hints tells us where a civilization or society currently stands, but it doesn’t speak about how they got there.

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Reflect for a moment upon Gandalf returning to Bag End to impart his knowledge about the Ring to Frodo. The scene plays out with a sense of urgency rather than seeming conveniently dropped into place as world-building filler material by Tolkien.

In my upcoming fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I only delve into several great ancient battles and religious history. Both are incredibly linked to the main plot and the mystery at hand for the main character.

Another “history” would be backstory for characters. I used some of the same techniques and will discuss the in a future post.

I cringed at the thought of writing a chunk of history and sweated profusely when chapter 3 “Religious Relics Are People Too” was read at a critique. Oddly enough it passed with flying colors.

The trick was to “seed” the history in the previous chapter.

In chapter 2, there are sub-characters discussing and comparing historical notes. The main character listens and sometimes get frustrated by their knowledge. He wants to jump in and ask questions, but feels foolish. Later, he’ll accost one of them alone for the information he needs. His sense of “itching” for more information transfers to the reader. A sense of urgency made everything in chapter 3 flow without the aforementioned “contrived” element and seems perfectly plausible.

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History and backstory have to be present in order for a complete world-building experience in a fantasy novel, but many feel intimidated by it. How about you? How are you handling history or backstory in your novel?

Technology in Your Fantasy World

Fantasy novels can cover so many different types of worlds. It doesn’t always have to be a medieval or agrarian setting. Remember, pre-computerized or pre-electrified societies had guns, cannons, and steam power. Have you wandered into Stormwind City in World of Warcraft lately? While many players ride around on traditional steeds, others ride dragons, and still more have motorized transportation. There’s no reason that a little technology can exist in your world as well, if you wanted.

Sometimes a map, creature encounters, or a sword fight are not enough. A reader needs to know what type of world s/he has been thrust into upon opening your book.

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Public Domain Image Courtesy of Pixabay

Now I’m sure some may say, “They know they’ve purchased a fantasy novel. They should know what kind of world to expect.” All well and true. But how to best describe the intricacies of your world? One unique aspect may be the level of technology.

Exposition right out the gate is definitely NOT the way to go. Imagine opening a book or using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature and seeing something like…

It was the third age after the fall of Westernia. Many people roamed far and wide over the centuries. They built communities, new cities, and were now the denizens of four separate Kingdoms. The distances created new languages, regional accents, alliances, and war.

However, all the Kingdoms would unite when faced with a common enemy blah blah blah… Maybe this could work as a blurb, but not as a chapter opening.

Here’s My Approach

A better way to build your world is in dribs and drabs emerging from the story and characters. As an example, in my forthcoming novel Storm of Divine Light, I have a single passage from the middle of Chapter 3 that locks in my world’s technology level and a few other things.

***

The vendor blinked his over-sized eyes and smiled ear-to-ear at Cyril, as only a Gnome could do. He held out a small, plain steel box, about two inches square and a quarter inch thick. With a flick of his fingers, the Gnome flipped the top open to reveal a wick and a gnarled metal wheel. His thumb pressed on the wheel, and after a quick quarter turn, the wick burst into a small flame.

Cyril raised his eyebrows and smiled. “By Korak’s staff! Instant fire.”

“I’d hate to hear the price,” Daggorat said.

After a hearty round of bargaining with the vendor, Cyril paid eight Golden Claw pieces. He proudly admired the gadget as they walked away. “An amazing feat of Gnomish ingenuity and craftsmanship.”

“And you accuse me of being impulsive. Just twelve copper-jacks for our breakfasts. We could eat at the tavern for almost a whole year on that money. Why does everyone trust those Gnomes?” Dagorat shook his head. “It must be those huge childlike eyes.”

“Oh, stop casting shadows upon my enjoyment.” He moved closer and whispered, “Besides, with this fascinating little trinket, I can make fire without suffering the company of dark mages. Or bending to their will.”

***

Within this small passage, I’ve introduced Gnomes, the monetary system, some information about the technology level of the world, and something mysterious concerning both Light and Dark Mages. All while keeping the story flowing. This is the approach that I’ve had the best feedback from at critique groups. Give it a try and see what it can do for your writing!

Hope you found this writing tip helpful.

DON’T GO – COMMENT BELOW!

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The Special Language of #Fantasy

If you’re either a reader or an author of fantasy then it’s a probable bet that you’ve read The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. You may remember with a smile words like taters, olyphaunt, pipeweed, and eleventy-first. It was this precise nature of playing with words that brought Middle-Earth to life in a very special and unique way.

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“J.R.R. Tolkien, Da Morto” by Daniele Prati used under Creative Commons License.

As part of fantasy world-building, other authors must do the same but in our own way. We should learn from Tolkien and create a #writingtip for our usage. However, we must define what is special about the words. Firstly, you just can’t make up some strange word that is going to act like a speed-bump to the reader. You didn’t need a glossary or a long winded description to recognize “pipeweed”. You knew what it was and recognized Tolkien’s playfulness the second you read it.

Now, the world-building in Science Fiction can be a little different. Remember the tachyon particles from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and how often they were used in the series? People had no idea what a tachyon was; yet, their nature never really had to be explained. #Sci-Fi fans (including myself) just accepted it.

I’ve set out to accomplish the same type of playfulness in the world-building of Tyrhennia in The First Light. Take a look at a scene as two characters have breakfast at the Sword and Anvil Tavern in the city of Mentiria:

Daggorat leaned forward. “You should write a book about the common speech of the three kingdoms. Especially tavern slang.” Cyril responded with a negative grunt. Then Daggorat said, “Back home in Easterly, flatcakes and bangers are roundcakes and porklogs. It could be an interesting book.”

“Certainly not,” Cyril said. “Judging from the intellectual capacity of those three nobnoggins that we refer to as kings, such a treatise would probably start another great war.”

Did you pick up on the meaning of flatcakes, roundcakes, porklogs, and nobnoggins? Readers in the U.K. will recognize banger as sausage, while U.S. readers may not. However, from the use of porklog, the reader should be able to infer the meaning of sausage. Of course, The First Light is not laced that heavily with this type of vocabulary. You’ve just witnessed its most concentrated use in Chapter 1. I don’t do this again until another tavern scene in Chapter 7 and again in Chapter 14 when some characters are studying a map. I couldn’t use the word “geography” in the world of Tyrhennia, so I made up the word “tyrhenostrophy”. How do you feel about word-play for the sake of world-building?

Elvish Lives!

When it comes to world building for a fantasy novel, an important step would be the creation of another language. There’s an entire world being presented in a fantasy novel, which means different, races, cultures, climates and geography.

Elves can be an important part of any fantasy world. I love them, and refuse to create a world without them. However, I am not going to simple take Tolkien Elves and drop them into my world. Sure, they may look the same, but they will not act the same or have a similar history. Therefore they shouldn’t have a similar language either.

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Photo Andrew Dobrow (Creative Commons License)

I’m a linguistic dilettante, so I can’t resist. I’ve decided that Elvish (Varnya) on my world will be based on a three letter root system, which is of course the basis for the Semitic languages. The language will also be conceptual, and will use prefixes, suffixes, and infixes to create different words while maintaining the conceptual three letter root.

I took the Russian word for “word” – Slovo and created my three letter root SLF (“V” and “F” are very similar). Next, I thought about all of the words that could be associated conceptually.

Letter – word – sentence – paragraph – book – author – library – alphabet – message – scroll – to write – writing implement

Next it’s just a matter of vowels, prefixes, suffixes, and infixes to create all of the necessary words. I’ve also decided that the infixes “la” and “lu” are only for verbs and “doers” of the concept.  Therefore, the word for “letter” in Varnya would be Salaf, and “author” would be Salulif.

I know that in fantasy novels, created languages can be either a cause for depth or confusion. It’s a fine line to walk. How do you feel about created languages in fantasy novels? Do they help to immerse you into the fantasy world, or do they cause confusion and distance?

The World of Tyrennia

I’m writing a fantasy novel called Storm of Divine Light. It is the first in The Tales of Tyrennia series. Set in a Tolkien-inspired world with other muses like the famous tabletop Role Playing Games (RPG’s) Dungeons & Dragons, and Pathfinder. Also, there are the equally inspiring experiences associated with Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) and World of Warcraft (WoW).

Within Tyrennia are the three Human Kingdoms of Ravenna, Easterly, and Quintalya. Ravenna is the most powerful and wealthy kingdom as is its main city Mentiria, which also lies near The Shantokran, a separate area for light mages.

In the far North lies the Dwarven Kingdom and The Golgent lands of the Dark Mages. There are also Gnomes and Halflings lands as well as an Elven refuge.

Eleven of the first twelve chapters are set within Mentiria, a hustling and bustling cosmopolitan city containing taverns, saloons, guilds, and shops of all sorts. The tale opens during the Festival of the Summer Solstice, in which readers will encounter street vendors, performers, magicians and drunkards. The city’s atmosphere and culture provide ripe raw material for tales, adventure, and world-building.

Within the novel’s pages, the reader will follow a quest-based adventure with my two main characters, Dagorat and Cyril. Something precious and powerful has been lost (and no, it’s not a ring), and our heroes must retrieve it. Along the way they will be joined by interesting personas, all of whom bring something unique and fun to the journey.

Although classified as a fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light has a healthy dose of humor, magic, religion, romance, mystery, action and adventure.

Is Tyrennia the name of the world or simply the main continent? Or both because the continent is the known world?

You’ll have to read to find out.