When an athlete prepares to enter a competition or join a team, he or she trains hard. They eat right. Consuming the right calories is as important as doing the right exercises for a serious athlete.
Scholars train their minds before taking intense evaluations. They take practice tests and study. They might even seek a tutor to help them prepare.
When a writer sets out to write anything, especially a new writer or one attempting a new type of writing, he or she must train.
Later this year, I will dive into outlining and then writing my first full-length fantasy series. I have been world-building for this series off and on for about four years now as I’ve been publishing books in other genres, and I have written some short stories in this world. Although I’ve tinkered with my style and voice and daydreamed about this entire story, outlining and developing such a massive story in my own world is not something I’ve done before.
Like athletes and scholars, I’m preparing for my own type of training—training to write fantasy.
How Does This Look for Me?
Training to Write: Preparing
Like every writer, I have much to learn—about craft, about my process and style, about my readers and about the industry.
For this upcoming series, I have identified a few specific topics I need to research and study:
How to world-build well
It’s not enough to create another world, a new form of magic, my own creatures and characters, a language and rules to govern them all. I don’t just want to build a world; I want to do it well. The only way to do that is to study and then to practice (more on that in a moment).
Some questions swirling in my mind center around the language I’ve already begun to build. When it comes to creating a language, what is the best way to go about it? Should I take a few extra courses in linguistics? Which of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings can shed the most insight on his language-building prowess?
Best practices for fantasy
Not only do I want my writing to be done well and my story to be good, but I need to make sure I’m crafting a marketable piece of literature. Something that readers of fantasy will accept; something that non-fantasy readers might even appreciate. How can I create such a complex world and then present it in simplistic beautiful prose that readers of all preferences can enjoy?
Understanding my sub-genre
Descriptions of epic and high fantasy vary, depending on where you look. Based on the preliminary studying I’ve done on the topic, my work seems to embrace aspects of both sub-genres. If that is the case (and those descriptions even hold true following further study), am I crafting some sort of new hybrid? I lean toward believing the wisest man of all: “… there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9); which leads me to wonder who else has combined features of various fantasy sub-genres and to desire to study their works.
Training to Write: Exercising & Practicing
The greatest athletes, scholars and writers spend vast amounts of time exercising and practicing.
My exercise comes in the form of simply writing—every single day, without fail, in one form or another. I’ve been exercising this way for two decades professionally, but I’ve been a near daily writer for most of my life.
Over these years, I’ve sculpted my muscles for focusing on a topic. I have strengthened my abilities to convey a message, move a reader or fill their imaginations with new images. And, along the way, I have raised my stamina for the self-discipline required to sit down and write everything from an email to a blog post to a book to an epic fantasy series.
It’s in the practicing, though, where I use these strengths—these “muscles”—and their abilities to transform them into a desired product. I have practiced specifically for this upcoming series through these four outlets: writing short stories set in this world with some of the characters; dabbling with poetry since it will play a key role in my prose; daydreaming about my world, characters, languages and overarching story; and listening to the faeries when they whisper in my ear.
Training to Write: Obtaining Tutors or Coaches
Coaches and tutors take athletes and scholars with promise, determination and natural ability and guide them to improve, to push themselves, to become more than they were. Writers have all the masters of language and literature who have gone before us to serve as our coaches.
I have learned (and will continue to learn) from fellow writers around me, from authors who I follow and whose words I have found reliable and from the masters of my chosen genres.
Without doubt—no comparison—the master of masters of fantasy is J.R.R. Tolkien. I have learned more from reading his books and studying the editing notes of his son Christopher in his posthumously published volumes than I could hope to learn from any of the most advanced degrees in existence.
He was a genius in many ways. I am grateful for all the wisdom he has left behind in his notes, letters, essays, lectures, translations and published works.
Yes, I will study others, as well; but Tolkien is my ideal.
Training to Write: Consuming Proper Nutrition
How, you might ask, can a writer “consume proper nutrition”? Everyone knows we survive on chocolate and caffeine.
I’m writing about what books we’re consuming. As I lead up to finally beginning the intense drafting of this series, I plan to read only fantasy. I mentioned this during my monthly Book Club on my Facebook page back in December 2019 and asked for recommendations from my followers. I received a ton of great recommendations for books I should read. You can see some of them in the comments of that month’s video.
As I prepared my “meal” list for this “diet” of fantasy reads, I considered each suggestion carefully. Does it contain the lean content I need to study for my purposes or does it have too much “fat” to make it beneficial right now? Is this an author whose writing I enjoy and whose writing reminds me of my own in some way—or of how I’d like my writing to be? Does their work teach me something or inspire me in some way?
Below you’ll find my list so far. I shared this list with fellow readers during my April 2020 Book Club and now I’ve finetuned it a little more for my purposes:
The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Chronicles of Narnia series
The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, also The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Last Legend: Awakened
The Last Legend J.B. (Joshua) Wichterich
The Lamb Among the Stars Series
Further plans include: leafing back through some of Maggie Steifvater’s books and perusing Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, V.E. Schwab’s The Shades of Magic series and Amy Harmon’s The Bird & the Sword Chronicles.
Training to Write: Stretching My Mind and Abilities
As I take on the marathon outlining and drafting process, I will seek to maintain my flexibility when plans need to change or when new knowledge shifts my process or story or approach.
My plan is to push myself to dig deeper, to write the more challenging scenes, to push the envelope on my writing style and even on the fantasy norms, if my story calls for it.
Training to Write: Giving It My All
Once I’ve done the hard work of training, I have no choice but to follow through, make it all worth it and leave it all on the page. This story has been in my heart too long for me not to do my absolute best to bring it into being in the best way I possibly can.
Readers, what draws you to any book and what makes you claim it as a favorite? If you read fantasy, what are your favorites? Do you have more fantasy suggestions for me? If you do enjoy fantasy and have read some of my short stories, does my style remind you of other fantasy authors? Who?
Writers, how does this look for you? Have you thought of it as “training” to write? If so, what does your training look like? What have you found to be the most invaluable training methods? I would especially love to hear from you if you’ve trained to write fantasy. Share your fantasy or craft tutorial recommendations!