Writing Excuses 4.21: Writing Practical Fantasy

Coming to you “live” from CONduit, Writing Excuses is pleased to welcome fantasy superstar L.E. Modesitt (plus a slightly different Howard, by which we mean that Howard was out of town and replaced by Dan’s brother Rob).

Our topic for this episode is “practicality,” which is another way of saying “fantasy and science fiction may be unrealistic, but they should still be plausible within your definition of reality.” In other words, if you have an army of 1000 armored knights, you’d better have an economy and political system capable of producing and supporting them.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Imager by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., about a mage so powerful anything he thinks can become reality.

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54 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 4.21: Writing Practical Fantasy”

  1. I have a weird problem on this front. When I read, outside of very specific things that I am REALLY knowledgeable about (the big one being computers/writing code/etc) I tend to let a lot slide, to the point I don’t even think about it so long as the underlying drama of the story is good. However when I’m writing I always nitpick what I’m doing to the nth degree if I am not 100% certain I know the details are right, including the whole idea of “what would a magic system like x do in a world with tech level y” and similar.

    It took me forever to learn to just write past it, and to just make a note to myself that I should double check this part later to make it sane.

    Anyone else have that problem of almost over-nitpicking, and if so how have you dealt with it?

  2. Great podcast guys! Dan the fact with the dagger and the gold piece blew my mind I never really looked at it that way.

    Well in my case I do tend to nitpick a lot but as long as everything is self explanatory you shouldn’t have a problem with it. If you can make most of the things sound feasible without over-explaining them you should be fine. Just be sure that you got all variables/fact beforehand before you write yourself into a corner.

    Hope that helped Patrick. :)

    Come to think of it The Name of the Wind has a really advanced monetary system. Really recommendable.

  3. Yes i agree, the imager is a great story. Anyone who who enjoys logic, or logistics, or logic based games,will simply love imager.

  4. I would also point out that the more detail you include, the more correct the system must be.

    As an extended example, in Brandon’s Warbreaker we are told:
    1. How many gods are in the Pantheon
    2. How much a unit of magic (a Breath) costs (i.e. enough to feed a peasant family for a year)
    3. How much Breath it takes to keep a god alive
    4. How many undead soldiers there are in the kingdom
    5. How much Breath it takes to make an undead soldier
    6. How many undead soldiers the government keeps as a peacetime army
    7. How much it takes to maintain the undead soldiers (roughly)
    8. How much Breath it takes to extend a life

    All these details help the reader immerse himself/herself into the story, but it could have easily become jarring if some of the data started contradicting each other.

    For example, if we have 30 gods in the Pantheon, and each requires one breath a week, making the basic assumption that it requires the equivalent of $5 to feed a family for one day, we have to spend the equivalent of about $2.8 million just to keep the gods alive. With a few more calculations a reader can figure out how much the government is spending. In the book this was all shown to be happening in a fairly wealthy society with a large taxpayer base so there was no problem. However, I have read books were the author was not so careful in his/her calculations and the government/corporation/religious organization ended up spending more then the economy can support.

    Contrast that with Howard’s Schlock Mercenary universe:

    Thurl comes in and says “We do not have enough money to make payroll.”
    Tagon says “Lets find us a quick contract to get more money.”
    Enesby says “I found a job in the Oompa-Loompa system, but we will not make enough to replace that equipment that was broken in our last job.”

    We get the picture but even the most dedicated, analytical, and pathetically bored fan of the comic will have a difficult time finding a problem with the economy.

  5. Actually, in regards to the 5 gold pieces for the dagger: you’re not really saying that STEEL is worth more than GOLD, you’re saying that the blacksmith’s WORK is worth 5 gold pieces. Maybe blacksmiths are hard to come by? Maybe the use of weapons is tightly controlled by a government, and daggers are contraband, whatever. The point that L.E. was making is that there has to be a logical reason for the economics of your world.

    Love the podcast!


  6. CONduit was fun. And I got to listen to five new episodes of Writing Excuses back to back. :) And afterward, I got to buy a copy of Dan’s second book. :D It wasn’t the same without Howard, I must admit, but it was still amazing. Have a safe trip, Howard!

  7. For me, I only notice these kinds of worldbuilding issues if something is wrong. I don’t usually read a book and think “oh wow, the author did an excellent job with the ecosystem of this planet” or “the economics of this society is really fascinating.” Even in the books that thought this all out really well, the sense of wonder wasn’t a purely intellectual exercise; I fell in love with the world because I felt immersed in it, not because I knew intellectually how it worked. Still, when the economics/ecology/etc is broken, it jolts me out of the story very quickly.

    Are there people who get that sense of wonder just from intellectually understanding how a world works? I suppose there’s the hard sf camp, but those people are in a league all of their own.

  8. I know this comment will be wholly unpopular, but my biggest nitpick on Tolkien is the lack of practicality in his world building. Oh and I do not “hate” Tolkien. I’ll cut him some slack since Cultural Anthropology and the facts we know about building cultures, etc weren’t available to him at the time (Cultural Anthro came after him),

    What I’m picking on is his elves– “They are elves–they are a peaceful race.” (Though Tolkien also talks about long wars the elves were involved in outside of The Hobbit and the trilogy.) and dwarves. If they are truly a different species or subspecies, I don’t see how their cultures could exist like they do.

    I’ll put it this way– Humans gained brain capacity by the ability to scavenge and hunt. (This was a Discovery channel special where they went over brain capacity and found that the majority of “smart” animals are either predators or omnivores.) Do elves really stay vegetarian? And if so where do they get enough food in the woods (no sunlight) to grow food to support that many people on that large of a civilized scale? Yet people want to make the elves peaceful, so they add that they are vegetarian. Sorry, this has a cost. Either the elves when they evolved were meat-eaters at some point, or they suffer from deficient brain capacities. (Also from an archaeology stand point, meat allows people to travel. You can’t be a caveman and a vegetarian if you’re traveling up the coast. How many poisonous meats do you know v. how many poisonous plants do you know? Coast travel is the most practical mobility.)

    OK, you have an advanced civilization of elves living in the woods. Sorry, but you cannot support a large local population of people living in the woods. Most people either have to be horticultural–this is slash and burn or they have to be agricultural. The elves, however, were pretty sedentary up in the trees with buildings like that. It did not seem like a pack and move culture. How are they supporting the people? There are two answers you can have–some elves are agricultural. All elves are warfaring folk who also deal in high commodity exchange. Neither are practical because from what we know of humans, agricultural societies breed war. Why? Because land becomes necessary to own and buy. Elves had no means of getting food… and I don’t believe one enclosed garden is enough. To get that advanced there has to be other solutions.

    Elves also showed job specialization–a feature of agriculture. Surplus==lazy people. Lazy people equals artisans and job specialization.

    Elves can make advanced weaponry–sorry, but you need surplus for this to happen. Where do you get surplus in the woods eating vegetables? Slash and burn isn’t enough for this. Agriculture is. This means you need warfare to exist and then the advanced elves in the woods don’t exist.

    My other nitpick is sugar. Sugar is a luxury item. This means you need warfare to get enough surplus to feed your soldiers and get more impoverished people than you to grow your sugar. Most sugar (save sugar beets) also grows in fairly tropical climates. (Tolkien should have realized this part at least). Yet the Shire was temperate. (I read The Hobbit). They ate Pasteries. Pasteries have sugar. Where did they get the sugar? The British Isles got its sugar by not growing it locally, but by extreme imperialism. Tea, coffee, tobacco, sugar were all featured in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. (Yes, there is honey, but if you read historical accounts on honey and bee keeping you’ll see how impractical it is for say–making a pie like featured in the books and the loads of pastries mentioned. Laura Ingalls Wilder featured how expensive and rare sugar was.) You do not spend your own fields on luxury items. If you want to feed yourself, would you seriously grow only sugar? To get these things you need a slave population. Yet Tolkien claimed the Hobbits were peaceful.

    I also have an issue with the Dwarves living in the mountains with a load of riches, no running water, no means of supporting themselves internally except for trade. Trade was used by humans for some outposts which did not have supplies, however, usually there was a parent settlement. Plus, if you truly live underground, then the majority of your people will be 1. near blind 2. albino. Dwarves did not have these features. How did they truly evolve when none of the species farmed at all?

    BTW, all Agricultural societies thus far have had slavery or near slavery. Industrial does too, it’s just better at hiding it from the population. Saying something like… Maybe the elves found a way around slavery and ranked systems… that’s fine if you want to state it, but HOW did they do it? An army of robot slaves instead? Who operates the robot slaves then?

    This isn’t to pick on poor Tolkien and say he was all wrong so much as to point out that sometimes you need to question the tropes you are handed and maybe do them better. If you are aiming for a jump of faith, make that jump of faith believable.

    Oh and Brandon said he doesn’t know about horses… so I’d like to modify the adage of write what you know…

    The adage should go.
    1. Write what you are passionate about.
    2. Research what you don’t know.
    3. Find an expert when lost.
    4. Blame the expert when someone nitpicks you later. ^.~

    One of my Betas/Alphas usually is an expert in something I don’t know and I ask them to fact check the draft for me. I also hit them up when I’m writing the draft and doing edits.

  9. David,

    I honestly didn’t have much to say about the practicality of fantasy (since fantasy is definitely not my forte). But I was there for two other episodes and you’ll hear plenty from me.

  10. @Rachel

    I think that you may have missed something. While you were quite rightly criticising Tolkien’s work based on the inaccuracy of how elves and/or dwarves could have evolved, within the principles of natural selection (!), you failed to discuss the scientific validity of the MAGIC in Tolkien’s work.

    Please rectify this with a further, vastly overlong post.

  11. Dan, you are my hero. Never thought of asking my brother to put my world into d20 and then try to break it alongside his RP buddies. I am calling him after this comment.

    Alan, very jealous of you. Five episodes in a row and Dan’s book? Awesomeness.

    I miss Howard, but L.E. was great. His blog is always informative and practical as well. I think I know who to buy next time I am at the store now.

  12. I will say this about Tolkien: it always bothered me how the Rohan civilization was a Viking analog instead of a Mongol/Turkic analog. The Rohirrim were horse-riders and cattle drivers living on a vast, unforested steppe–why would they 1) settle in cities instead of living a nomadic lifestyle, and 2) build their cities almost out of wood, a very scarce resource? It would have been much more realistic to have them live in yurts and mud/adobe houses, and have them be much more nomadic.

    That said, though, the rest of Lord of the Rings was so incredibly awesome that these quibbles with the Rohirrim didn’t bother me too much.

  13. Also, I don’t think the laws of evolution apply to Tolkien’s world. The elves didn’t evolve from single-celled organisms–they awakened on the shores of that lake when the Maia goddess first set the stars in the sky.

  14. @Rachel

    Although I tried 2 or 3 times, I never could get into Tolkien’s writings. I must say that I enjoyed your post more than I think I could have enjoyed The Hobbit. And it wasn’t quite as long. :)

  15. I often find that I don’t notice too much when something is done wrong, as long as it’s done wrong but well, (Horses for example, if they are treated as animals then it’s not so unacceptable) but I do notice when it is done right and really well.

    the same goes for Economies, though that may have come from accepting a gold coin as a valid form of currency without thinking that Gold is incredibly valuable on a world such as ours, and there needs to be a reason it’s so low in value comparable to something like Steel.

    Raymond E. Feist is one who I found does Horses almost perfectly, and by reading the way someone does it correct, it help me to get it right when I have to write in a Horse (or Horse analog).

  16. “4. Blame the expert when someone nitpicks you later. ^.~”

    Or ignore him for lacking the imagination of thinking of a solution to a nit-pickers problem for something that is so far beyond the scope of the story such as Cultural Anthropology in Tolkien’s setting.

    Also Tolkien’s setting is explicitly creationist. While this does not rule out all of your arguments at least have of them are irrelevant in this light.

  17. Okay, I hate to double-post, but I must point out something in relation to the dagger/gold question:

    For most of human history, steel has been as valuable, weight for weight, as gold.

    Until the invention of the hot blast furnace, steel was a very, very rare commodity. The reason for this is because no one understood where steel came from. For thousands of years, the only way to get steel was by accident. Iron refiners would put iron into a furnace and [skipping a few steps] iron metal would come out of the furnace. Every now and then (perhaps once in a thousand casts) a silvery-colored metal would come out of the furnace instead of iron. This was steel, and the chances of making it were completely random. Stronger than iron, it was highly prized, but because of the unreliability of producing it, it was extremely rare. Thus, you could only barter for it with gold.

    Only when the industrial revolution came along did steel become economically feasible for anyone except the affluent. So when a merchant tells me I can get a steel dagger for only five gold pieces, I call it a deal.

  18. Speaking of economics in writing-Last week it was mentioned that the paperback market in Britain is small/nonexistent. (Or already went past the tipping point maybe?) You have aroused my interest but Google tells me nothing. Can anyone enlighten me as to what was meant in last weeks podcast by that?

    On the subject of this weeks podcast I recently read Triplanetary by Doc Smith for the first time. The scientific anachronisms were so great that it seriously impacted my enjoyment. Perhaps if I was not a mechanical engineer it would not have mattered to me so much.

  19. “On the subject of this weeks podcast I recently read Triplanetary by Doc Smith for the first time. The scientific anachronisms were so great that it seriously impacted my enjoyment. ”

    I have to point out here that Triplanetary was published in a serial form from 1937 to 1938. If you’re that worried about scientific anachronisms, I suggest ignoring the early classics of science fiction, as science fiction tends to be no more accurate than the science of the day, and the science of the day for Triplanetary predates the advent of (practical) computers and the many advancements made possible due to rapid mathematical computation.

    And Alan has an excellent point about steel – perhaps the dagger mentioned should be an iron dagger, as that makes the point being made more valid. Metallurgical errors tend to be ignored by most readers since most people are not well versed in medieval metallurgical practice, or history. (Who here knew that nickel was named because of a nickel bearing mineral that looks like copper ore but isn’t, Kupfernickel, which translates to “Devil’s Copper” as the copper could not be extracted no matter how they smelted it.)

  20. @Rachel:

    Comments should not take longer to read than the podcast they are commenting on, lol. I don’t disagree with you, it’s just funny. Bah, I get that way about the Wheel of Time occasionally, and all my friends look at me kind of funny and say “Dude, you have spent waaaaay too much time thinking about that.”


  21. Hey! This is the first fifteen minute long episode I’ve heard in a long time. They are usually in the 17-20 range. :)

  22. The topic of this podcast was fine in the abstract, but I feel somewhat that it will lead people to worrying more about something than they really need to.

    It’s really only EPIC fantasy that concerns itself with all of the working aspects of a world. And so, let’s say we’re writing epic fantasy. On one side, you have the incredible time-sink of plotting a detailed world and only having the relevant aspects of it exposited in the work. And on the other side of this, any work of fiction, even modern fiction and epic fantasy, is going to have certain holes. All that needs to be done is to keep the plot and the characters believable in that part of the setting that they play in.

    Take the 10,000 knights example. To go with the assumption that each knight takes X acres of agriculture under Y tech level to support, you’re also accepting the assumptions that each Knight/Horse eats properly under a certain standard (maybe even properly under modern Amercian standards, which is an even worse anachonism). Assumptions 3,4,5,etc : 3) they’re a standing army 4) that has to have eaten consistently in the past 5) or have been paid 6) to be willing to go to war now 7) to protect a well fed/paid life that they have in their 8) native country. 9) And the leaders aren’t planning on them all dying so they don’t need to be fed. I’m willing to go with the author with his 10,000 knights, even not having shown all the coercion, starvation, conscription, taxation, premature death, unpaid life insurance policies. It’s because I know as a reader that these things attend war and that the existence of the 10,000 knights are not about all of these things, just some of them perhaps. If the author chooses to make the story about these things, I’ll appropriately fault him if he does it in a way I can’t believe, but I’m not about to let my private profession/penchant overshadow things. I’m a lawyer, but I’m not going to nitpick if I think that a particular political system vests the leaders of the world with insufficient inherent power to maintain themselves, or there is a lack of the bureaucratic/administrative complications in a particular government of a world that the author has painted. The story is rarely about those things.

    The same goes for the 5 gold for a dagger thing. Maybe the pieces aren’t solid gold. Maybe the dagger is not steel, but rather as history actually shows, the name “steel” is used to simply describe the most powerful alloy known to the people using that language. Or maybe what they call “gold”, isn’t actually Au, or they live in a Mayan-like society where gold(Au) is plentiful. There are a dozen other things I can’t think of. I don’t care.

    When it comes to world-building, I take the Pirate’s approach: There’s only one rule, what a man can do and what he can’t do. 10,000 who starve, sure. 10,000 who fly around on horses (not pegasi), I don’t think so.

  23. Despite the title being “Writing Practical Fantasy” I actually think the single best piece of advice was about writing science fiction: L.E. Modesit’s complaint about “techno-porn” because perhaps people won’t be knocked out of the story by the cost of daggers but if you’ve got technology that is only there as a shiny bit of imagination or a plot device than I think it will knock the reader out of the story.

    Oh, and Dan’s suggestion to give your ideas to a roleplaying group was priceless. Any GM can tell you that Role Players can break anything.

  24. @Rashkavar

    I was trying to point out (clumsily, I’m no aspiring writer, just an interested fan) that each person will have their own hang-ups. L.E. Modesitt Jr. is bothered by “Fantasy Economics” at least in part because he has worked as an economist.

    I have read plenty of golden age sci fi before. It happened to be when I was but a lad, a long way on the other side of my science and engineering education. I suppose that may have had something to do with it all. On the flip side, maybe I just don’t like “Doc” Smith.


    I can get you as many “gold coins” as you want. They cost $1 US each. You can pick between some lady named Sacajawea or a bunch of dead guys. The old saying about assumptions still rings true. Thats no reason nit-picking can’t still be fun though :)

  25. Yeah, I didn’t want to harsh too badly. There are some good methods presented here about how to develop ideas. Thinking about economics in order to get ideas that enrich your setting and enhance reader enjoyment is good.

    However, world building for 180,000 words of backdrop for every 250,000 you write for fear that you will alienate economists/equestrians/horticulturists is a really bad idea. You will never get anything done at that rate while you still need to work 9 to 5 to pay the bills. What’s more, it leads to the really poor, derivative, prophesied hero fantasy that everyone was tired of reading ten years ago.

    I probably speak for a lot of people when I say that I’d like more character and plot per mile of setting in my fantasy. I would also like to someday maybe read a book by Brandon that has horses in it :) Think of what a Mistborn could do with horseshoes!

  26. “Think of what a Mistborn could do with horseshoes!”

    Oooh that poor horse! ;)

  27. Great podcast! Missed Howard, but Rob and L.E. are very welcome guests.

    And it’s a subject close to my accountant’s heart (studying economics is kind of a curse, I guess). :-) Whenever I see or read something, I’m always asking, Well, who paid for that? and Who did all the work?

    My first answer, for my own stuff, is to look at a historical society that’s working at the level I want and see how they did it. If you want to know how many knights show up at your battle, look at some real battles (and shouldn’t you be doing that anyway?)

    I love the idea of getting some gamer friends to break your world – even better are engineering friends who also game. :-)

    Interesting thought – if everyone can do magic, then it has no economic value. The answer to that is, only if everyone can do all magic equally well. But, devout little capitalist that I am, I would expect individual specialization based on individual talent. One of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones, often writes worlds where everyone has some talent, but levels and direction vary. Some people have very homely talents: a chef might have a talent for baking spells, an artist might put charms in their drawings to draw a viewer’s eye or to make sure the colors don’t fade, a builder would endow his houses with strength. Other mages would be far more powerful and able to perform greater feats, but they would be rarer.

    I vote for more podcasts on how to make things work, and common mistakes that don’t work – this one only scratched the surface. :-)

  28. Ummmm, so when did it become a crime to have a long post. Personally, I think it was a little bit harsh to get upset with Rachel because she had a long post. You don’t have to read it, you know. You can just skip it if it is too long. But for someone like me, who was actually interested in what she had to say, the post was just the right length, and it sure didn’t take me 15 minutes to read it. So, don’t feel bad because people dissed you Rachel. You made some good and relevant comments, and people should appreciate that. Maybe people felt like they had to resort to Ad Hominem attacks in order to defend LotR.

    With that said, I wanted to rebut your argument about the elves. You claim that Humans gained higher brain capacity by hunting and scavenging, essentially by being Carnivores or Omnivores. You then cite a Discovery Channel episode. However, you seem to have forgotten that Tolkien started work on LotR close to 100 years ago. It was published seventy years ago. How do you expect Tolkien to have access to scientific research that hasn’t come about except in the last twenty years? That is like saying that Shakespeare needed to use less monologues to better accomodate a television audience, or that Walt Disney should have used better 3D Rendering in Snow White. You can only judge an artist by the tools that they have available. At the time that Tolkien was writing, Evolution had not really come into its own as a theory, and a large portion of society still looked at it as a radical fringe theory.

    Secondly, you mention how the elves couldn’t have had a large society in the woods. However, keep in mind that Humans and Elves are not the same thing. We are talking about an essentially alien race with a completely different evolutionary background. (Of course, Evolution doesn’t even come to play in LotR, because these are all species created specifically by certain deities). Also, they are a largely diminished race. There just aren’t that many of them. We are not talking about a huge nation. We are talking about a very small community living in the forest. This is because they are all packing up and moving into the west. Before they started to diminish, they were a much more warlike and agricultural society, but now they are fading from the world.

    This is one of my issues with all the arguments about certain books based on some kind of scientific framework. I am not an Evolutionary Scientist, I am not an Economist, I am not a Geologist, I am not a Rocket Scientist. Why should I be measure on a scale with people who are? I am an Educator, and I see people making mistakes all the time regarding education and psychology, even from people who tout themselves as being accurate authors like Modesitt. But I am not going to say their books are bad just because they don’t know enough about my field to get everything right. I will just do that stuff right in my own books. Of course, you do get books that make gross errors in a variety of different fields, and end up with things that are incredibly unbelievable. (Codex of Alera, I’m looking at you). But if a book has a satisfactory plot and moving characters that I can believe in, then it covers a multitude of mistakes in setting. You can’t do everything right all the time.

    ps. I really don’t have an argument against your comments about Hobbits and sugar and tabacco and what not, except to say that Hobbits are awesome, and it is cool that they are fat little peace loving creatures who like to smoke pipes.

  29. Good podcast once again. I just finished reading the five book series Vatta’s War by Elizabeth Moon. It’s an excellent science fiction read and realistic economics is a large part of the story. like in one part Ky had the dilemma of having enough money to buy farm equipment to sell to one planet but no way to get it there because after buying the equipment she did not enough money to fix her spaceships drive unit, or if she use the money to fix the ship she won’t have enough to buy the farm equipment to sale for more profit. Also a lot of good military strategy involved in the spaceship battle scenes. I recommend this series if you like sci-fi.

    Oh, the poor horses in Mistborn that were unfortunate enough to be wearing iron horse shoes. I remember in that one battle scene the horses and their mounted soldiers were sent flying in all directions. I would assume that their landings were less than graceful, most likely more of a splat.

    Going back a few episodes to the one about Stealing For Fun and Profit. I saw the Disney movie Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time. It was a very good movie, lot’s of fun and action and the prince was cute. But, without spoiling anything, go see it and then tell me that Disney didn’t just reuse the basic plot to The Lion King.

    Bree :)

  30. @Matthew Watkins:

    Based on the rest of your post, you’re _probably_ not addressing me with your comments, but just in case you are, I just thought it was funny. Hence the LOL rather than scathing criticism. I also said I agree with her. Then, just in case there was doubt about my intentions, I softened it even further by making fun of myself for the long conversations I have with some of my friends regarding the Wheel of Time, which amounts to the same thing.

    I’m sorry if it came across to you wrong, I had no intention of insulting anyone! If your comments were directed at someone else’s post, it helps to but @ and their handle, so we know. Thanks!

  31. @Brenna, re: the Prince of Persia.
    You mean Hamlet.
    Well actually that opens up a near infinite regress, but if I was a script writer I start ripping off Hamlet first, it is a gran literary tradition.

  32. @Onymous. Hamlet? I think not, as I have never read it. Shock, horror, dismay… I know, sad but true I never really got into Shakespeare. I did have one literary class in high school that wanted to, however do to budge constraints the school was forced to choose between buying books and new football gear. Guess which won.

  33. Honestly I’ve never read it either. Shock, horror, dismay. Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever read/seen the entirety of a Shakespeare. My class had to read Faulkner instead, and let me just say expecting 10th graders to read As I Lay Dying is a sick joke.

  34. Onymous, Brenna: The Lion King is largely a softened version of Hamlet with lions and random other animals instead of humans. (“Softened” here meaning “something a 5 year old can see and both comprehend and not be scarred for life.” Hamlet is one of the harsher plays around, though it is well worth seeing (or even just reading). And Onymous: expecting an average tenth grader to appreciate any classic literature is a bit of a sick joke. Even I wasn’t particularly interested in it and I was quite probably the most well read student in my school at the time. Course, there’s still a host of classics I’ve been meaning to get around to at some point.

    Justice1337, BikerAggie: “Think of what a Mistborn could do with horseshoes”? I recommend reading (or rereading) Well of Ascension. Keeping away from any spoilers even to those who’ve yet to read Mistborn, a certain prominent Mistborn manages to do some pretty interesting things with horseshoes near the end of the book.

    BikerAggie: I didn’t mean to put you down by my last comment, just pointing out that scientific anachronisms ought to be expected in stories that are about 70+ years old. If they were fully up to date with cosmology and whatnot, I’d suggest someone has recently developed a time machine or had an absurd degree of insight and should have gone into science 70 years ago rather than writing fiction about it.

  35. This might sound stupid but it literally just occured to me an hour ago. If people want to get some criticm or advice on their writing, or find out how hard it is to actually get people to read their stories they should post on a site called fictionpress. Mind you be weary about posting anything you want to publish or you wont be changing. If you write up a whole story and someone copys and pastes it they wont be able to sell it, but their is a digital copy of your story floating around so yeah.
    Sorry if it sounds silly but im on it and i think it’s improved my writing. Mind you their are alot of teenagers on it(myself included) so that may be a deterent to some.

  36. I liked Hamlet. I didn’t get blown away by it, but i liked it. I never really got into classics (probably because they’re from a diffrent time and what’s good then will have less of an impact now) but i liked Hamlet.

  37. @Rachel and Derby

    Your dismissive attitude towards Tolkien reminds me of those who justify their atheism by the fact that the Bible and other religious scriptures is historically inaccurate and therefore cannot have any value. Some books transcend the historic period they’ve been written in, becoming a poetic metaphor for the human condition, moreover, the condition of the universe. If you miss that in Tolkien’s works, I am sorry for you.

  38. Now we have the full set. The patronising, point-missing scientist, and the patronising, point-missing religious person.

  39. My take on the “write what you know” adage

    Write what you know
    Learn what you write
    Write it the way you know it
    Find someone who knows it better than you

    I have been listening to this podcast for almost a year now. As I struggle to become a better writer, I learn more each day. I don’t pretend to be an expert (on anything) but I have figured out ways to research and to write that work for me. I’m working on my second novel (deep into comprehensive editing) and there are several places where I’ve felt woefully unqualified to write on the subject.

    First, I look it up. I read books, I watch documentaries, I look at websites, and I talk to people. Second, I find a way to write the subject. If I’m writing something that I’m not an expert on, then I write it in a way that feels natural to me and according to my central character’s opinion.

    To use the example of horses: I would go to the stable in town. Some stables have special days where you can pay a flat rate for the day to go riding. Talk to the people at the stable. On a day like that, the stable is trying to get people interested in riding and potentially signing up for lessons. Also, there are generally people who have taken lessons for a while and can provide insight into horsemanship.

    I’m not saying that a couple hours on a horse will make you an expert. But the information gained from such a day can give a writer insight into how to write an unfamiliar subject.

    A specific problem that I’ve encountered in practicality is the ONE MILLION DOLLAR RANSOM trope. A fellow writer in a short story class wrote a story that used that trope. When I was writing the critique for his short story, I looked up the weight of such an amount of money and it’s impossible to shove a million dollars in a suitcase. It seemed dramatic at the time so he used it.

    The Million Dollar Ransom trope leads me to another problem, writers writing stories like movies. Basing their concept of reality on movies and writing in such a way that evokes a detailed film or episode synopsis.

    Well, I’m out of excuses, I’d better get back to writing.

  40. @Leigh: A million dollars in $20 bills is 1000 stacks of 50. I’ve seen about twenty times that much stacked on a bakers’ rack in the Federal Reserve bank. No, a million in twenties won’t fit in a briefcase, but it WILL fit in a good suitcase.

    A briefcase will nicely hold a million in hundreds, though. You only need 200 stacks of fifty.

    (Note: This all assumes minty-fresh, crisp, wrapped bills.)

  41. @Howard Tayler: 50 bills weighs about 49.15 grams. 49150 grams for 1000 stacks for 20s. Converts to roughly 108 pounds. An unwieldy amount of cash. Roughly one-fifth that for for 50s.

    I admit that I forgot the context for my critique of the writer’s story was how the character was using the money. The writer specifically used a large sum of money that was stored in a safety deposit box. I read the story a couple years ago so I can’t recall the specific amount but I do remember the key to my criticism, he described it as singles. A simple mistake that distracted to the point that the technical problems of his story are the details that remain clearest in my mind.

    The key, I guess, is to know the details and use them the right way if you’re going to use them.

  42. this was my favorite and most helpful post but even though its fantasy you should still research..alot

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