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Class: Sources of Fantasy

Image of druid, dragon in dark valley

Sponsor: Lawson Writers Academy

Warlords, Druids & Dragons

Where is the road to a New York Times bestseller? Let me point you in the right direction—write a fantasy! Different sources of fantasy have inspired a torrent of novels and films. I’m sure you’re familiar with Rowling’s Harry Potter novels or G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Or perhaps you’ve read Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Alrassan or The Last Light of the Sun? Jack Whyte wrote histories of royal courts with complicated relationships between a royal family and their nobles. All very byzantine.

Yet, there are oceans of supernatural creatures and people who know just how to wield magic power without a single novel to tell their stories. Most fantasies are influenced by Old English, Celtic or Norse traditions; this course will concentrate on those origins. But there are the stories of Dracula and vampires set in Transylvania, Romania. This course may inspire you to create a new subgenre!

You must still have what most readers expect: a structure with a major character who has a problem or a need. You tell the same stories in different ways. (You may have heard that once or twice before.) A fantasy will have all sorts of supernatural people and creatures. Tolkien’s books are chockablock with hobbits, elves, orcs and dragons; you get your fill of engaging characters in his books. In the novels of GRR Martin and Guy Gabriel Kay, you have palace intrigues galore. Where did all that inspiration come from?

Your task will be to find original magic for your fantasy. Create a world rich in detail, at least initially, and capture the reader in this world. But don’t betray that world. If a creature exists at the beginning, it must exist at the end unless you’ve had a mass extinction. Whatever they are, humanoid, animal or alien, whatever their language and culture, the main characters must have some human characteristics which appeal to (human) readers.

European tales called märchen are of ancient origin, and you may read about old birth and marriage customs or unusual forms of inheritance. The hero, often poor, can gain an audience with kings and may win the hand of the king’s daughter in marriage. And live happily ever after, of course. When you read these stories, you immediately think of the Middle Ages. But imagine the same story told in the Elizabethan era or the Roaring Twenties or the indeterminate future. Add a leprechaun or a nice banshee. (I like banshees.) Or a talking tree, a malevolent robin or a kindly old alien. And stir.

What you will learn:

  • The different types of fantasies
  • How to build your fantasy world
  • How to create exotic places, peoples and times
  • Introduction to supernatural creatures
  • How to deal with exposition (& avoid info dumps)

Who should take the course?

  • beginning writers who aren’t sure of how or where to start a fantasy novel
  • intermediate writers who want to learn how to humanise animals or supernatural creatures and endow them with real needs and goals
  • advanced writers who want to add something new to a fantasy series
Late Medieval Castle with turrets & hoards
A Magnificent Castle Backlit by Lightning

Course Overview

Lesson One: Subgenres

  • tales of King Arthur, Fionn mac Cumhaill, fairy tales, sword & sorcery, high fantasy, etc.
  • determining the magical element which is unique to your novels
  • choosing a subgenre
  • examples from books and films

Lesson Two: Worldbuilding

  • landscape: the fairy hills, the middle world and the world above
  • housing
  • making real places imaginary
  • matching setting to theme
  • dressing your characters

Lesson Three: The Old Gods

  • a selection of old gods
  • fairies
  • priests, shamans, druids

Lesson Four: Creatures

  • having fun with magical creatures: dragons, bogles, pixies, sprites
  • fairy godparents and other helpers
  • threshold guardians
  • character development exercises

Lesson Five: Ancient Peoples

  • lost races
  • ancient languages
  • medieval peoples
  • early medieval languages
  • warlords
  • alphabets, calenders
  • archaic law: outsiders & insiders, nemed (sacred) status

Lesson Six: Character Archetypes

  • character archetypes
  • enneagram types
  • creating the hero and his/her love interest
  • fashioning the villain (antagonist)
  • secondary and minor characters
  • names for your characters: Celtic, Norse & exotic
  • place names
  • matching setting to theme & mood

Lesson Seven: Background

  • courtship & marriage – medieval
  • making a living
  • rivalries
  • plagues
  • invasions & wars
  • a nod to George R. R. Martin & Guy Gavriel Kay

Each lesson will challenge you with questions or exercises & discussions which will help you write your fantasy novel.

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