• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Fallon Friday: 10 Pitfalls Waiting to Trap Potential Fantasy Writers

Not having any idea of how big a whole world is. Think for a moment about how big planet Earth is. Now, pick a hero, send him on a quest. Oh, and while you’re at it, take away all but one continent, two or three countries, all languages but one, give Earth a temperate climate all over said lonely continent, with maybe some snowy regions a few days from the one of the only three cities you have left, and populate the entire animal kingdom with only horses, dogs, the odd cow and no insects. And when you get your MS back with “thanks, but no thanks” scrawled across it, take a moment to wonder what the editor meant when they said your world building lacked “depth”?

Trying to imitate someone else’s plot. This is a double-edged sword. You can be totally unoriginal and make bucket-loads, provided you can present an old idea in a new way. It takes talent, however, to do this, so be very careful before you try it.

Trying to be too original. There’s innovation… and there’s being so far off the rails nobody but you and the three friends you were sharing the bong with when you thought up your epic storyline get what you mean. Be original, by all means, but do it sensibly.

Forgetting epic fantasy needs more than one plot. Big epic trilogies tend to need big epic plots with multiple characters and intersecting plot lines. By all means, have a major thread running through your story, but you’d better be a cross between Shakespeare and Elmore Lenard if you think you can squeeze a three book deal out of a publisher for a story about two people alone on a raft looking for the magic talisman that’s going to save the world at the end of book 3.

Forgetting pack/transport animals need to eat, drink, and rest occasionally. Trust me, even if you manage to get this past an editor, you will not get it past the various animal experts out there that populate the world of fantasy readers. They will know. And they will scoff at your ignorance. Loudly. On their blogs. And to everyone they meet.

Assuming everything you see in the movies is true. I had a young writer assure me once that you could knock a person unconscious by simply tapping them on the head because that’s what they do in movies. Let me assure you this is not the case. I know this because I once (accidentally, of course) dropped a 15lb bowling ball on my ex’s head from about 6′ off the ground and it didn’t even crack his skull, let alone knock him out. Nor do people ride at a gallop for miles with a bullet wound in their leg, win a fist fight after being shot in the shoulder, or solve complex mathematical problems in their head, ten minutes after being brought back from the dead. Physical violence has consequences. And not just bad guys die from it.

Thinking that because fantasy is all you read, you’ll be able to write it, too. I was asked once, at a con, what was the best thing a fantasy writer can read to help them write better fantasy. My answer was: a newspaper. Sad, but true, kiddies. How can you write a convincing imaginary world, if you have no idea what makes the one you live in work? Without exception, all the successful fantasy writers I have ever met are grounded, practical people capable of holding a conversation just as easily about politics, religion or current affairs as they are about magic. In fact, most of them prefer to discuss politics, religion or current affairs (except Trudi Canavan who prefers to talk about knitting). And not a single one of them believes in magic. But damn, they can write about it well.

Breaking your own rules. In its own way, magic is a force like any other. It has certain rules and you have to stick to them, even if you’re the one making up the rules. If your magic is lunar, then you’d better not have anyone working it by day. If you’ve said it’s impossible to make pigs fly in chapter 1, you’d better not have your enemies launch an airborne pig attack in chapter 57. Make up your own magic rules, by all means, but don’t go changing them half way through the story because you’d discovered flying porkers would be handy, after all.

Stereotyping. JK Rowling has made poo-loads of money writing what is, essentially, a story about a kid in boarding school. What separates her bank account from the wannabe’s is that she found a way to make her hero different. Isn’t her first chapter of Book 1 titled “The Boy who Lived”? Enid Blyton never thought that one up. Fantasy with a drop-dead gorgeous virgin princess who needs rescuing from an evil sorcerer by a handsome goat-herder (who is really a lost prince) and his amusing sidekick will get you nowhere. It’s not that you can’t use the plot, but you’d be better off with the amusing princess and her drop-dead gorgeous sidekick rescuing the evil sorcerer from the psychotic goat-herder… you get the idea? It’s not the plot, it’s the woefully written characters that’ll kill your epic every single time…

Overwriting. There is absolutely no need to ever use the words “very”, “really” or “suddenly” in your narrative (you can use them sparingly in dialogue if you promise to be careful). Nor should you need to qualify your dialogue with adverbs. In fact, try not to use anything other than “said”. And watch out for redundant writing. Things like ‘the end result” or “hesitating for a moment”. And read every single sentence with the word “that” in it. And then read it again leaving out the “that”. You will be amazed.

Jennifer Fallon shares her tips on writing every Friday and she is -not- a potential fantasy writer, having thirteen fantasy novels published with Voyager! Her latest book is The Chaos Crystal and it’s available across Australia, right now!

7 Responses

  1. Nor do people ride at a gallop for miles with a bullet wound in their leg

    I watched Heroes last night and Elle got shot in the leg, bled quite a bit and then made out with Sylar on the beach … and I was like ‘What? Isn’t she in PAIN?’

  2. I read Isabella Bird’s account of travelling on horseback through Japan accompanied only by a translator in 1878, and apart from a magical end goal (and, indeed, magic) it managed to convey so well what many fantasy novels fall short of: the real hardships, marvels, adventures and dangers of travel and rough living, poorly behaved horses, flea-ridden guest houses, etc, along with incredible landscapes, customs and cultures very strange to the writer, and so forth.

  3. I shall take that as a book recommendation – thank you.
    I remember that in Diana Wynne Jones’ book ‘The Crown of Dalemark’ there was a fantastic scene where Maewen goes to the ‘toilets’/outside outside an inn, and the smell makes her retch – much more realistic in the olden days I think! And she wants water but there is only beer.

  4. These are excellent points, particularly the tendency to ‘ …populate the entire animal kingdom with only horses, dogs, the odd cow and no insects.’

    It reminded me of LOTR when they are crossing the marshes outside of the Shire. They are full of biting midges. Sam (I think) asks ‘What do they eat when they can’t get Hobbit?’

    It’s the little details that make it real 🙂


    Seriously, this list is almost depressingly relevant. I can’t count the number of times I’ve encountered those very mistakes in published books.

    (Funnily enough, I started using “said” almost exclusively because I noticed how JKRowling did it and thought it was cool.)

    I spend ridiculous amounts of time reading “pitfall” lists, articles, analyses, sporkings and people wingeing on their LiveJournals, simply because it helps me to realise things like this. There are so many things that are so easy to miss, things you don’t even think of.

    Reading things like this led me to include lines like:

    “The sword’s edge was quite blunt – it had been made to hack limbs off, not do surgery”

    I had fun with that.

  6. My book will need so much revision after this. *sigh* Particularly my ‘suddenlys’ and verbs other than ‘said’.

  7. Excellent advice!

    Ariel Ceylan

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