I am making excellent progress on my new epic fantasy novel, tentative title Bloodless.
As an aside, I’m not completely happy with that title. I’ve explored five or six more so far, but haven’t been able to decide. I probably won’t settle the question until the first draft is done, at least. Bloodless may end up being the title of the series.
I’m starting to think of this book as Gladiator meets The Name of the Wind. The protagonist’s life story is being told in lengthy flashbacks, showing how he ended up an arena fighter slave with an unusual magical ability. That ability has the potential to threaten the entire power structure of the Empire. But our protagonist is not interested in anything other than earning his freedom. He’s not the “chosen one.” In fact, to win his freedom, his final arena duel is against this world’s “chosen one.” What will he do?
The progress bar over on the right showed the book almost halfway through yesterday. Today, it’s dropped to 42%. That’s because I’ve realized the book is going to be longer than I originally estimated (and may still be longer than my new estimate!). Right now, I’m aiming for a length similar to the Heart of Fire books.
If all goes according to plan, you’ll be able to read this by the end of this year or very early next year.
I realized I hadn’t updated this blog in a while. The image above is one of the reasons.
Brainstorming! I’ve had two big sessions lately with two other people – one a writer like myself and one who can’t string a good text message together… but is a genius at finding holes in magic systems, economics, and so on. That’s in addition to all of the brainstorming and research I’ve been doing myself for almost a year now.
This is obviously not the Dragontek Lore series. That’s still coming along. Book four, Onyx, will show up late next month (exact date coming soon). Book five is moving into the revision phase, and I’m only a few pages away from finishing the first draft of book six.
But at the same time, I’m preparing to start a new epic fantasy. The scale is personal and huge at the same time, full of battles, magic, gladiators, unrequited love, a Chosen One who isn’t, and also blood. Lots of blood.
Curious? Stay tuned. Better yet, join the newsletter. They get updates much more often and quicker than this blog.
Recently, some friends recommended I watch the animated series on Netflix called Arcane. Based on the video game League of Legends, it features a wondrous world of both steampunk science and magic. The animation is incredible. The characters are fascinating and well-developed, even the minor ones. The world is a fascinating place with interesting sociological issues and struggles.
But it didn’t work for me at all. I finished the first season with a deep sense of disappointment.
Here’s my problem with it: there are no heroes. Every character who has high moral ideals ends up corrupted or dead or both. No one wins.
Am I reading it wrong? No, I don’t think I am. In an interview about the show, one of the creators said flat out: “Obviously, the story between Piltover and Zaun, it’s also super interesting, right? Because there is no right or wrong.” He went on to explain how each side in the conflict is right in their own eyes, and that’s what made it so interesting. He also talked about a certain character being “very disturbed” but there is a “motive” for the character being that way.
Most villains in good stories think they’re right. That’s part of what makes them interesting, sure. (Although stories can still be interesting with flat-out forces of evil. See: Sauron. Or even the Joker.) But my heart needs something more than misguided (and disturbed) people fighting it out.
It’s one of the same problems I have with the Game of Thrones series (among others). Every character who had high moral ideals ended up corrupted, dead, or both. “Oh, but it’s so deep and realistic!” people argue. I don’t care. My heart needs… resonance.
Last week, David Farland, a writer I considered a great teacher and somewhat of a mentor, passed away. One of the greatest things I learned from him over the past two years was the concept of resonance in writing. In fact, he wrote a whole book about it: Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing.
In some ways, I already “knew” this concept, but I wouldn’t have been able to explain them. Dave put it in terms anyone can understand. In short, resonance is a way of drawing power by repeating something that has gone before. In terms of stories, that means a good story will remind people of other good stories they know, OR it reminds people of their own experiences, their own powerful emotions. In the best cases, the story connects with the reader, provoking a strong reaction, because of that resonance.
One of the primary ways this happens for most people is through a hero. Not through someone who starts out super-powerful and walks into something they easily overcome. But through someone who struggles, who rises above their circumstances, not succumbs to them. In such cases, not only do our hearts resonate with the struggles, we are also inspired to be like the heroes, to rise above. We’re encouraged to be better.
Going back to the interview about Arcane, the “disturbed” character has a “motive” for being that way. Yes, because the character succumbed to circumstances, rather than rising above them. That’s how a villain is born.
I need a hero.
C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
Stories that are solely about villains (or morally questionable people) do not inspire us. We may feel a touch of resonance for their struggles, but the feelings left behind are nothing more than “Yes, I understand how that could happen,” rather than “Wow, that was fantastic,” or “I want to be like that.” In the worst cases, those stories can drag us down, depress us.
Some people label stories with real heroes as “noblebright,” a reaction against the currently widespread “grimdark” genre. Critics of the style argue that it’s not realistic, or paints too positive of a picture. And sure, that can happen.
That doesn’t mean our stories should ignore the dark side of life. Yes, bad things happen, and they should happen in stories. Truly horrible things, even.
But if our stories only tell of people who fall prey to their circumstances, who give in to how the world treats them, what does that say about us? That we can never be greater than our circumstances? That we should just accept the labels that are thrown at us? What kind of miserable people will we be if we do that?
No. Give me stories of people who reject that belief. Give me tales of those who struggle through a weakness to become strong. Give me absolute legends who rise above their circumstances to fight for those they love and for the way the world should be.
Or at least, that’s what our American culture has been saying for a while now. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more true. One question then arises: are boys not reading because they don’t like it, or because all the books are written for girls?
Consider the major young adult novel success stories of the past two decades. Aside from the outlier of Harry Potter, virtually every one of them feature a female protagonist (and are mostly written by female authors). Think about The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, and so on.
Does this mean boys will never read a story about a girl? No, of course not. BUT… they are much less likely to do so. This has been clearly established in numerous polls. Girls are much more willing to read a story with a boy as the main character than boys are willing to read a story with a girl as the main character. These are just facts, whether good or bad.
There are plenty of older books written for boys, but they don’t see those unless their parents seek them out, for the most part.
We can’t fully blame publishers for this phenomenon. After all, they’re trying to make money, and right now, the money is in female readers.
By doing so, they create a vicious circle: boys don’t read, so we won’t publish books for boys, but then boys can’t find books they like, so they don’t read.
But there’s another reason. A big one.
I’ve worked with teenage boys for over twenty years now. Every year, I ask new ones about whether they like to read. Most say no. And when I probe a little further, one big reason pops up.
School. “I hate reading, because school makes me read stupid stuff.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a variation of that statement.
Again, we can’t fully blame schools. If boys are taught to read things they like before the schools step in, maybe the problem wouldn’t be so bad. But they’re not.
What can be done? As far as I can tell, it’s going to have to start with parents, and it needs to start when they’re young. Get them exciting books. Books with action and adventure. Books that take them into new worlds and new places.
For those who haven’t been taught, it’s also not too late. It’s almost never too late to awaken a love of reading. I’ve heard stories of boys who hated reading until a teacher or someone handed them a copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or something like that. The right books can still work wonders.
This is why I’m writing the Dragontek Lore series. It’s aimed straight at young teenage boys. It’s fast-paced, full of crazy action and adventure (and dragons). Will this help some guys start to read? I can only hope.