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Fantasy Writing Course

Musings on writers, writing and reading fantasy.


Writing the Dreaded First Chapter

Mon, 23 Jun 2014 10:20:00 +0000

I say the dreaded first chapter because many writers struggle with this chapter.  JK Rowling actually wrote the first chapter of the Philosopher's Stone fifteen times before she was happy with it.  And when you think about it, alot has to be deftly weaved into this chapter.

Your opening sentences must provide the reader with some reason to carry on reading.  In the case of the Philosopher's Stone, it was the Dursleys who are introduced first with their values of 'being normal' and their fear of anything slightly 'strange.'  So by the end of the chapter when the little orphan Harry is carried to their doorstep by three odd looking people, you know that their lives will never be the same again.

Any first chapter must also contain a setting and character description.  The description of the Dursleys provide a light tongue-in-cheek humour which is carried on throughout the book.  Light is contrasted with darkness.  Humour with the evil Lord Voldemort or the one who must not be named.

Along with an interesting opening, entertaining humour, an element of mystery is introduced to keep the reader in suspense. 

Was JK Rowling successful after 15 attempts at chapter 1?  We think so!

Fairy Princess Raena - Lost in the Great Storm

Mon, 23 Jun 2014 08:50:00 +0000

Far, far away, in a distant land where the wind sings lullabies and the rainbows paint dreams, there stands a tall and proud mountain. A silver Tipsy-Turvy River winds in and out of its rocks, down and around the mountain all the way to the rich green forest that lies at its base.

The Silver Mountain Forest is no ordinary forest. It is, in fact, home to every sort of woodland creature imaginable. From talking bugs and birds to pixies and sprites; from grumpy gnomes and goblins to the good fairy folk; all of them live happily in the enchanted kingdom of the Silver Mountain Forest....


To Princess Raena, daughter of the Fairy Queen Faye, the forest was her playground, filled with endless opportunity for adventure and exploration...

“I'm old enough now,” she said. “I can protect myself. Mother and Nanny Bee are so busy they won’t even know I’m gone.”

And with that she snuck into the forest.

“This is so much fun!” she said, flitting from one branch to the next, feeling free to go wherever she pleased. Spurred on by excitement, she went deeper and deeper into the forest; much farther than Nanny Bee would have taken her.


But what happens when poor Princess Raena is washed away to the dark side of the forest in a terrible storm.  Will she escape the horrible hag and the terrible troll?

By Carly Van Heerden

For more information go to


Interview with Anaka Jones, author of the Night Horses

Sun, 10 Mar 2013 20:05:00 +0000

Anaka Jones’ debut children’s illustrated book, The Night Horses, tells the story of the secret lives of a group of barn horses and their friends.  Currently attending the sixth grade at school, she lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her family, two dogs (Kona and Bella), a lizard and a frog.  Anaka hopes to be a Marine Biologist/Veterinarian one day.  She loves swimming, learning to scuba dive, playing soccer and reading books.  Her favourite animals include dolphins and whales.  She also loves sharks! What books were among your childhood favorites and why?We're Going on a Bear Hunt was my favorite book. It was fun to read.   I like the Corduroy Series very much too. What are your favorite titles today and why? The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. It's a mystery and I get very involved. Did you always want to become a writer? Yes.  One of my passions has always been to write books! What encouragement helped you along your way?My family, my mentor and friend Lauren and my 3rd grade teacher helped me alot along the way.  Lauren was in school when I was in 2nd grade. She was part of a trailblazer program with our Elementary School. She helped me a lot personally, to feel confident and to focus.Lauren and my mom and dad helped me learn to like school more when I really didn't like school. My 3rd grade teacher helped my confidence grow and was always nice. My mom and dad encouraged me and helped me to do my book from my early drawings... and have always told me I can do anything I dream of by working hard at it.Did you face any early challenges to finding success on this path? Everybody has a few bumps in the road along the way, but I've been very lucky with support from my family and friends. What was the inspiration for the Night Horses?All the horses and my teacher at the barn where I learned to ride.The Night Horses is full of beautiful illustrations. What came first - the images or the words, or did they come together?They came together. I drew the illustrations starting in 2nd grade.  If you look at the Facebook page, you can see some of the covers over the years. My dad saved the paper versions and did scans of everything over the years.Then I drew the final crayon/pencil drawings with my mom, and we (my mom and I) sent these along with detailed photos and pictures to the lady we hired to do the pro-versions.  We sent photos of every horse face, feeders, barn, along with the page by page drawings. We chose all the fonts and the placement of the words on the pages and showed examples of the types of illustrations I liked as well.Do you have any plans to write a new book?Yes, I am working on a few new books and someday I hope to make movies.  I really hope to do both... more children's books, and also screenplays for movies. I want to make movies too, either as an actress or maybe a director someday.Thank you for this interview Anaka.As already mentioned, The Night Horses is a delightful story book with colorful illustrations.  It is sure to be a bedtime book your child will call for again and again.  You can find out more about the Night Horses here.[...]

A Book Review of Elfhunter: A Tale of Alterra, The World That Is by C.S. Marks

Wed, 06 Feb 2013 13:50:00 +0000

‘Though their clothing was plain, their weapons had been made by Elven craftsmen and were of the finest quality. The blades were engraved with runes and images of warriors and huntsmen. The sheaths that held them were of worn, dark leather clad with traceries of silver. The fishermen had never seen their like, nor ever would again.’

The wood-elf, Gaelen Taldin, had deep hazel-green eyes; her chestnut hair was cropped and wild, as though wind blown; she was ageless, content among trees with strong clever fingers and many unique talents.

She was accompanied by her cousin Nelwyn who was undoubtedly the most beautiful creature they had ever seen with long blonde hair; talented at climbing trees, archery and good at the healing arts.

But it was Gaelen who enchanted them the most with her ‘soft, clear voice singing in the Elven-tongue. A mournful song, more beautiful than any they had ever heard, rose above the sound of the rain. The archer lowered his weapon, transfixed… Though still grieving for her friends and weary with traveling, she radiated strength and purity of purpose.’


In Elfhunter by C.S.Marks, Gaelen Taldin and her cousin Nelwyn are on a quest to track down and exact revenge on the monster that killed their friends.

Elfhunter is an original account of survival, friendship and forbidden love in the magical realm of Alterra where elves and men fight side by side.  It is a compelling story with dwarf humour, unrequited love and tragedy.  I cried more than once reading through this tale of adventure and loss.  Elfhunter contains as many twists and turns as the path the companions follow across the land and under the mountains in order to warn as many people about the cruel monster as possible.  But while Gaelen Taldin is around, no one is safe because now the monster hunts her!


The story of Elfhunter is researched perfectly and no wonder for C.S. Marks is described as a Renaissance woman, a gifted artist and musician and one of the few people to have completed the prestigious Tom Quilty Australian national championship hundred-mile ride.  A lover of trees herself, you can tell she speaks from first-hand experience as the details of survival in the wild ring true.


You can purchase Elfhunter: A Tale of Alterra, The World That Is through Amazon.  It is available in both paperback and Kindle editions.  I’m certain you will fall in love with this story, just as I did.


Get FREE Feedback on Your Writing

Sun, 27 Jan 2013 17:00:00 +0000

To get FREE feedback on your writing - a critique of your first chapter between 1,000 and 4,000 words simply write 5 comments in the forum.  The comments don't have to be long - just 1 sentence will do.  Then send an email to attaching your chapter.  Your email is completely confidential and your ideas will never be passed on to any other person.  I will critique your chapter in a professional manner for FREE.

A Writer's Voice - The Meaning of Subtext

Wed, 23 Jan 2013 11:00:00 +0000

When we think about what a writer's voice is we might immediately think of dialect which is made up of the following components:Accent - how words are pronouncedVocabulary - to do with the education and time period of the author/characterGrammar - to do with the education of the author/characterWe might also think about the register of the text.  For more information go to this article.What I would like to talk about today is the subtext of the words on the page.  To illustrate the meaning of subtext, I will take two well-known characters from Harry Potter, Hagrid and Rita Skeeter.In Diagon Alley, Hagrid is with Harry in the wand shop."Good wand, that one.  But I suppose they snapped it in half when you got expelled?" said Mr Ollivander, suddenly stern."Er - yes, they did, yes," said Hagrid, shuffling his feet.  I've still got the pieces though, he added brightly."But you don't use them," said Mr Ollivander sharply."Oh, no, Sir," said Hagrid quickly.  Harry noticed he gripped his pink umbrella very tightly as he spoke.What is the subtext of this section?  Well, we know that Hagrid has been using magic so he is lying.  Hagrid's inner thoughts might go something like this:  Yes, they did snap it in two, but that don't stop me from using it.  In fact, I haven't stopped using it since I got expelled.  Not that I'd tell you that.  The two pieces are right here in my umbrella.  I've a good mind to use them on you now!The subtext is that Hagrid still does magic; is a rule breaker, but nonetheless trusted by Dumbledore to perform his most important tasks (such as helping Harry and transporting valuable items to Hogwarts).The next example is Rita SkeeterRita uses her quick quill to publish her real thoughts (albeit exaggerated) in the Daily Prophet.  She speaks in a sweet way, but writes like a wailing banshee."She's doing a small piece on the Tournament for the Daily Prophet.""Maybe not that small, Ludo," said Rita Skeeter, her eyes on Harry...."How do you think they'd feel if they knew you were competing in the Triwizard Tournament?  Proud?  Worried?  Angry?"Harry... could feel Rita Skeeter watching him very intently.  Frowning, he avoided her gaze and looked down at the words the quill had just written.Tears fill those startlingly green eyes as our conversation turns to the parents he can barely remember."I have NOT got tears in my eyes!" said Harry loudly.The subtext of this interview is that Rita has her own story to tell regardless of the truth about Harry.  She will make it more dramatic just to give her readers something juicy to suck.  When Dumbledore enters (the broom cupboard), she acts as though she is delighted and asks him what he thought of a previous article she wrote."Enchantingly nasty," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling.  "I particularly enjoyed your description of me as an obsolete dingbat."The subtext here is that Rita cannot be trusted further than her two-inch crimson nails.  As she has just interviewed Harry, that can only spell bad news for him.How do we as readers read between the lines or better still create text with sub-text?  We have to look for character actions that conflict with their words such as Hagrid clutching his umbrella or Rita gazing (hungrily) at Harry.  Text with sub-text always gives far more value than text without as it is two stories rolled into one.  When you give your text depth your readers will devour your every story.[...]

A Writer's Voice - The Importance of Register and Tone

Tue, 22 Jan 2013 20:45:00 +0000

Register in writing is the level of formality in the writer's voice.  The correct register will use text geared towards its audience's age and education.  In Harry Potter, there is a striking difference between the early books geared to a younger audience and the later ones geared to an older audience.  The level of language gets progressively more complicated. 

With well-placed words a writer's voice takes on a particular tone.  The tone can be sarcastic or sad, humourous or petulant.  In fact, you can make your voice sound any way you want.  How is this achieved?

"Tone, like persona, is unavoidable. You imply it in the words you select and in how you arrange them."

(Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing. Oxford Univ. Press, 1988)

JK Rowling used numerous voices, including the fun and carefree Weasley twins, the warm and honest Hagrid and the sinister Professor Snape...

To read the rest of this article please purchase the 12 Writing Secrets - The Unauthorized Version.

Short Story Competition - 21 September 2013

Wed, 16 Jan 2013 13:00:00 +0000

Fancy winning £100...

and the excitement of seeing your story printed online?  Well, this September we are paying homage to Tolkien's Hobbit that was originally published in 21st September 1937.  The word count should be between 3,000 and 5,000 words, written in the fantasy genre and must include one character whose name is taken from Tolkien's Hobbit.  The work should be unpublished, original and not written as a fanfiction piece, but should be inspired by the great writer Tolkien.

How to Enter

1. Get writing now;

2. Spread the word;

3. Make use of the fantasy writing course and master package to help you with your writing;

4. Make use of the resources and mentoring offered at the fantasy writing course;

5. Always remember to leave ample time to proofread your work.  If you think it will take 2 months to write, allow for 4 as you will probably want to make redrafts and edits;

6. Finally, have fun!

More details to come soon about how to submit your story.  Keep checking back.

The Characters We Shape Ourselves

Tue, 02 Oct 2012 21:55:00 +0000

"Write what you know."

How many times have you heard that said to you?  It is a common philosophy amongst writers that you should write from experience or research.  But in order to first accomplish this task, you have to get to know yourself.  This might be hard for some people...  especially if their personalities or characteristics are undergoing change.  Perhaps they have been knocked by a tragedy to a close friend.  Years ago, they would have reacted one way - by falling apart, but now they find themselves reacting quite differently... Not only are they strong, but they find that strength has nothing to do with being hard.  They can still feel the buffet of emotions, only they embrace compassion and sadness, along with self-respect and dignity.

This is called a character arc.  At the beginning of a story, a character begins with one viewpoint and a certain set of qualities, however, over time and through tests, different qualities are revealed - strengths, weaknesses and growth.  Perhaps they come to have a different viewpoint over time.  Perhaps their socio-economic status has changed. Carefully pick scenes that emphasize the change in personality via emotional response, decision-making and dialogue.

Build rich characters.  The composition of each character will always be complex.  How can you begin to describe a lifetime of thought processes in a 60K novel?  Yet, with skillfully sketched character summaries, you can not only explain where a character is coming from, but you can let the reader successfully predict most decisions that a character is likely to make.  How?  You do that by showing what a character treasures the most. (See character motivation in the  Hermione Granger treasures knowledge she has received from books.  Therefore, when faced with a problem, you can say with 99% probability that she will go to the library.  Harry Potter treasures the memory of his parents.  He wants to avenge their murder at the hands of Lord Voldemort.  You can say with 99% probability that when faced with his enemy he will not shrink back in terror, but bravely battle.

I am reminded of the words of JK Rowling in her Harvard Speech:

"Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are."

The Lord Of The Rings As An Allegory For The Conflicts We Face In Our World Today

Sun, 30 Sep 2012 18:50:00 +0000

Many people have written about the Lord Of The Rings as an allegory for World War II and indeed, Tolkien was going through this at the time and it would make sense that this correlation be a viable one. Sauron is Hitler, the darkness in the East and we have the Allies in West. However, Tolkien was never happy about this being suggested and perhaps it is better to see it from the point of view, that this is how the book turned out as a result of the times that the author was going through, an emotional outlet perhaps but not a direct attempt to allegorise history. The Lord Of The Rings has as much correlation to historical events during the the time of the ancient Roman empire and the struggle of the European and British tribes to repel their invasion, as it does to world War II. It can even be related to the struggle that we face in the world today, against an enemy that rules by fear, manipulation and force, equally as dangerous as Hitler and equally as hell bent on domination. The enemy within is also the enemy that Tolkien deals with, the lust for power that bends men to it's will and fills them with darkness, the lust for dominion and the enslavement of others to do their biding. Today we face such a danger. The faceless corporations that pollute our sky’s and rivers, that destroy our forests and kill our wildlife. The ruthless elitists that seek domination of the entire globe to pursue their own greedy ends. The warmongers who kill the innocent daily to achieve their own ends, destroy the planet and seek to enslave the entire population to becoming their workers and drones.  Tolkien had a vision of the future and now that future is truly here.  World War II was perhaps just the beginning. Sauron is represented as a one eyed demi-god, master of darkness, seeker of power and dominion of the whole earth. The symbol of the one eye is used throughout history on many devices and is used even today on the Dollar - A pyramid that has one eye in the middle.  It is no coincidence perhaps, that the correlation between money being the root of all evil and the ring of power possessed by Sauron, the One-Eyed demi-God is so strong. The ring of power essentially corrupts all who come into contact with it and much like the pursuit of wealth through dubious means, it slowly corrupts people and makes them commit evil acts, like betrayal and murder, to possess it. The ring turns people into wraiths over time and slowly possesses their soul, much like money and the pursuit of power have today and throughout history, ultimately attempted to destroy the soul of humanity. Gollum comes into possession of the ring by murdering his friend and is thus ultimately undone by it, Boromir's greed and his intention to murder Frodo for the ring is his undoing and Denethor's misguided belief that the ring will save his city and make him the most powerful man in middle earth, leads to his ultimate suicide and indirectly his sons death.  Saruman's lust for power and his misguided belief that the ring will make him ruler of middle earth is also his undoing. The destruction of the vale of Orthanc and the burning of all the trees is much similar to the the Roman advancement through Britain, carving a path of destruction in their wake to feed their armies, hell bent on total domination. Even today the trees are being destroyed to feed man's greed and the slag pits and ash heaps of Mordor are a vision of an industrialised, spiritually disconnected future earth that has lost it's very soul.The forces of the West today, represent all the free people of the world who struggle daily against the oppressive corporate led governments that destroy our planet and seek to enslave the population to do their bidding.  Tolkien uses the idea of companionship and togetherness, overcomin[...]