Fantasy Maps: A Gateway to Adventure

A Map of the Lord of the Rings

The other day I stumbled upon the map you see above. It had me thinking how maps play into stories, and how vital they are to the worldbuilding process. Not only do they offer a reference for author and reader, maps add depth, immersion to that universe. I’ve written on making maps in GIMP and Wonderdraft, and Inkarnate is another program I plan to look into

My Experience with Fantasy Maps

LOTR was one of the first fantasies that blew me away as a child. I was fascinated by the maps, the various regions, doodads, and the route that the hero took to fulfill his quest. Having a visual diagram helped a ton as I read through the story. It had me wondering what else existed in Tolkien’s universe. What other towns, dungeons, and landmarks lurked at the corners of Middle Earth.

So enamored was I, that I attempted several maps of my own. Shameless to say, they were little more than scribbles, but for my six-year-old brain, I was delighted.

To this day, I savor the chance to examine maps at the start of a novel. As a creative writer with a geography degree, maps connect with me intimately. I’m conscious of the north arrows, the scale bars, the balance of landmasses, color contrasts. Everything. Even the font used can evoke emotions.

Questions to Consider About Fantasy Maps

Maps are one of the only visual cues readers get in a novel. It’s a rare opportunity to paint a world. In some cases, it can also pull readers in—or lose their interest if you’re sloppy. Authors can use maps to their advantage and snare a reader, so getting a map correct can be as important as writing the story.

When constructing a map, ask:

  • Does the map serve a purpose for the story?
  • Is it clear and easy to understand?
  • The symbols, colors, fonts, and presentation—are they appropriate and complement each other?
  • Can readers use the map to enhance their experience?
  • Does the map evoke intrigue? Worldbuilding cues? A ‘wanderlust’ feel for an adventurous reader?
  • What is the overall impression of the map?

Advantages of a Mapless Fiction

This isn’t to say that having a map is a requirement, although it does help add to a story. But what about stories without maps? They lose out on a big opportunity, a chance to impress or draw the reader in early. Readers must then form an idea of the world in their mind.

Surprisingly, this can have its own appeal. A mapless world puts the geography more in the hands of the reader; and while some readers may dislike this, others won’t mind. Some may even enjoy it. If an author chooses to go this route, sundry hints about the topography are recommended. The author may lean heavier on descriptive paragraphs and dialog cues. This helps the reader amass pieces to what the land resembles. From my experience, the mapless method works better in standalone novels. Maps shine in epic trilogies, where the author can build multiple maps between installments, forming a detailed continent or world.

Personally, I love maps, and a picture is worth a thousand words. Quite literally in this case. A map can save a writer a lot of work. There are several easy-to-use programs and methods as mentioned above.

What Else Are Maps Good For?

Maps are a splendid way for authors to brainstorm. The act of building a peninsula may evoke plot ideas. These are crucial during episodes of writers’ block, when authors haven’t a clue how to proceed. Studying landmarks and geographical details on a map can inspire an author, or even serve as good R&R from the labor of wordsmithing. Authors may be taking a break from writing, but they are still worldbuilding. Still thinking. Still creating.

While maps may not be for everyone, they are a convenient, fun, and stimulating activity. I’ve pulled more plot ideas out of mapping than I have staring at a blank page. And for that, I will always be a cartographer at heart. In my own way. 😛

What are your experiences with fantasy maps? Do you like creating them? Studying them? What stands out the most to you in a map? Leave your comments below. Thanks!

Galleis, a Wonderdraft Map I created

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What is Anger in Fiction?

As one of the primordial emotions, anger has formed a significant role in humanity’s history. From righteous fury to barbaric rage, anger is a force to be reckoned with. Likened to an inferno. The flames of one’s rage can pave one’s destiny, destroying whole armies, or consuming the person in the process. How do we illustrate anger in fiction? What role does this emotion serve for the protagonist?

Many of us have experienced anger in our lives. It’s a violent episode that may pass as quickly as it comes. In writing, emotions are difficult to master. Anger, in particular, can be daunting to tackle, but it is a driving mechanism that influences characters, plot events, and more. Anger is used as hubris for characters too. Everyone enjoys their young hero with a short-temper, goading him to take unnecessary risks and adventures.

In short, anger is a compelling means to reveal a story and produce tension.

The Definition of Anger

From Psychology Today:

Anger is one of the basic human emotions, as elemental as happiness, sadness, anxiety, or disgust. These emotions are tied to basic survival and were honed over the course of human history. Anger is related to the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response of the sympathetic nervous system; it prepares humans to fight. But fighting doesn’t necessarily mean throwing punches; it might motivate communities to combat injustice by changing laws or enforcing new behavioral norms.

Synonyms for Anger

Below are synonyms and expressions of anger. Neither of these lists are exhaustive; there are myriad ways to express anger in fiction. Selecting the right ones for a scene is important. Consider the Emotion Thesaurus if you need a reference. I use this book all the time and highly recommend it.


acrimony
animosity
annoyance
antagonism
displeasure
enmity
exasperation
fury
hatred

impatience
indignation
ire
irritation
outrage
passion
rage
resentment
temper
violence

Character Expression of Anger

difficulty listening or speaking
flaring nostrils
face flushing
jerky movements
protruding eyes
laughter with an edge
screaming
aggressive behavior
noisy breathing
cracking knuckles
fists clenching
shaking fist
grinding teeth
muscles tensing
swearing
flourishing weapons or tools

Anger often leads to impetuous behavior and decisions. This can result in comical or dangerous situations for the protagonist, depending on the consequences. Anger can either come out altogether, or it can fester. The latter is an excellent choice for building tension internally for a character. Be careful how a scene builds up to a protagonist’s anger episode. If the trigger seems contrived, the emotional release will be too.

In storytelling, anger can be used to:

  • expose a character’s strengths and weaknesses
  • drive the plot
  • create comic relief
  • induce tension
  • reveal information

Calibrating Anger

According to David R. Hawkins’ book, anger calibrates fairly low on the scale of consciousness (calibrates at 150 out of 1000). Anger derives itself from fear, shame, and guilt. In essence, anger is a form of attachment. A character is afraid of so-and-so, be it from wounded pride or the massacre of millions.

Revealing Anger

That rage motivates the protagonist to act. To change the status quo. During these scenes, get inside your character’s head. Strip them naked of all preconceived values, and allow their primal identity to emerge. Consumed by anger, they can be an unstoppable avalanche—or a bumbling fool.

In these moments, the reader may see the true colors of the protagonist, his values, fears, doubts, and so much more.

In Blade of Dragons the protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, is a short-tempered heroine. Throughout the story, that rage often exposes her to tight and dangerous situations. Pepper’s anger is also associated with the Dragonsoul, a draconic curse that haunts her bloodline. Through use of meditation and mindfulness, Pepper tries to defeat her built-up rage; most of it stored from her childhood, bullied as a half-dragon. Subconsciously, she feels guilty for the rest of her species.

Pepper’s Calibration

Guilt, which calibrates at only 30, is among the lowest levels one can go on while living as a person. Below that is shame and annihilation.

Despite this, Pepper is a virtuous protagonist with tremendous courage. She doesn’t sit back watching injustice, is self-sacrificing, and helps drive the plot from start to end. She sometimes sees life as feasible and even hopeful. From a consciousness standpoint, Pepper calibrates at only 165 at the start of the story. Her low points resonate at guilt (30) and her high points at willingness (350).

By the end of book one, her calibration rises to 285, especially after her encounter with the divine Faber. Now she lingers more at the levels of courage (200), willingness (310), and even reason (400). Throughout book two, her consciousness remains at 300 until she encounters her next teacher. Although there are scenes and even chapters where she falls back into the lower levels of rage and despair, curtsy of the Dragonsoul.

For more info on Pepper, see my post on her.

Anger in fiction is a common tool in storytelling. Pepper Slyhart is a prime example of the ill-tempered youth trope who stumbles upon adventure, just as our own ego bumbles into trouble. Pepper uses her rage to drive tension and plot progression, while furthering her character arc and those of others.

We all share the same quest, the Hero’s Journey towards the higher levels of consciousness, and anger is one of the steps we must climb.


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Hard Magic, Soft Magic: How to Use Them in Creative Fiction

Magic—a word tossed around by authors and wordsmiths for decades. Magic is an abstract phenomenon with incredible potential, and such power usually comes with a cost. As a widespread tool in worldbuilding, when misused, it can wreck havoc on a story, figuratively and literally.

Magic in Creative Fiction

Your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

—Sanderson’s Law One

As shown in Brandon Sanderson’s 2020 lecture, there exists two types of magic in fiction: hard and soft.

Hard and Soft magic

Hard magic is where the laws, definitions, and limitations of the magic are explained. The reader is aware of what the magic can do. This makes the magic more predictable and better for solving problems or establishing structure in a world without reducing tension. It forces more work onto the intelligence of a magic user.

Soft magic is when the magic has unknown costs, outcomes, or limitations. Whimsical, a soft magic can do anything the author wants. Soft magic runs the risk of reducing tension, whereas it can be a solution to almost everything unless a specified cost or risk is explained. A user of soft magic has few limits.

Then there is hybrid magic, which combines the two. While this category has the best of both worlds, it requires the most worldbuilding and planning. An author needs the whimsical nature of soft magic with a severe enough cost/limitation of hard magic. A hybrid magic needs to be interesting, supportive to the story, and comprehensive to the reader.

Examples of Hard and Soft Magic

Gandalf from LoTR is more of a soft magic user. He can accomplish almost anything he sets his mind to without much consequence. Yet he cannot be everywhere at once, nor can he defeat a whole army—let alone Sauron—by himself.

Frodo’s ring has the ability to destroy Sauron if discarded into Mt. Doom. To do this, Frodo must suffer, bearing the ring as a burden than a magical artifact. The ring has a set cost and magical ability for Frodo: turning invisible at the risk of his own sanity, or being detected by Sauron.

Do you see how the cost, the price involved, makes Frodo’s arc more interesting?

The Price of Magic

Flaws and limitations are more interesting than powers.

—Sanderson’s Law Two

A limited resource or consequence for using magic is vital for most magic systems. Adding additional penalties will increase the depth to how and why a character uses magic; it may test their integrity if the use of magic brings immoral or disastrous results.

Rand al Thor from Wheel of Time, who runs the risk of going insane every time he taps into his magic. While WoT’s Source magic is still whimsical in nature, it evokes a gamble with every use.

Next consider Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance series. Raistlin’s magic is more restricted in its use, and his frail body collapses into a fit of debilitating coughs whenever he expends himself.

Consequences of magic use, particularly severe ones, aren’t always necessary, but they can help. No matter what magical system you choose, bring a detail of tension along with it if possible, even if it’s only a minor one rather than none at all. 

More is Not Always Better

Before adding something new to your magic or setting, see if you can instead expand what you have.

—Sanderson Law Three

While having a fancy magic system rich in lore is nice, sometimes the simpler the magic the better. It can be easy to lose readers or yourself in the depth of it all. Sanderson suggests expanding first on what you have, before adding in anything new. The more variables added, the more complicated things become. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What principles are essential to my magical system?
  • What can I remove/condense for simplicity?
  • What are the costs of my magic? How do they play into character motives, tension, worldbuilding, and plot?
  • Is the magic simple enough to understand? Complex enough to make it interesting?

Case Study: Ethereal Seals

Shifting

The magic in my world, Ethereal Seals, is called Shifting. While Shifting draws lifeforce from the Shifter’s spine, crystals mitigate this. Instead, crystals take the brunt of the stress. Any Elemental spirits alive within the gemstone experience incredible agony.

Imagine being trapped in a prison your whole life, strapped to a generator like a battery?

This adds a moral dilemma to using crystal technology. The protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, realizes this, and her perspective of crystals changes through the story.

Vir’gol Pacts

A Shifter can insert powerful crystals into artifacts called vir’gols . Upon interfacing, the vir’gol can draw upon the crystal like a battery and funnel the Shifter’s spells. Much like a wand.

Most vir’gols have sapience, which allows them to speak freely. They can also do telepathy with their masters. Once a crystal is removed, drained of ether, or damaged beyond repair, the vir’gol loses its awareness. It dies.

The connection between Shifter and vir’gol is called a Pact. A Shifter makes a Pact after inserting the crystal and activating the device. An oath is spoken, binding the Shifter to the weapon (and therefore the crystal) until the oath is fulfilled.

Some Shifters form a Pact subconsciously, only to later realize and strengthen it. To break a Pact isn’t easy. It causes emotional upheaval in the Shifter, besides nausea, lightheadedness, and confusion. The vir’gol is also disrupted and its crystal damaged.

Conclusion

Magic is a fascinating concept to writers and readers. As a powerful tool for worldbuilding, and when supportive of the characters and plot, magic can help a story shine.

Peace be with you, and thanks for reading.


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Creative Writing Exercise—Depression

We’ve all been there. Isolated, confused, bored, discouraged. Depression is a common hurdle we as humans face. Yet, there is little more satisfying than conquering that malaise. The spirit of victory fills our souls, driving us to new horizons; for as we sink to the depths of hell, we can only rise to the heights of the stars.

That said, a character enduring depression garners zealous interest and support from the reader. The misery of the character is relatable, gripping, and strengthens the story—if written well.

What is Depression?

According to the Emotional Thesaurus, depression is a state of withdrawal, sorrow, and reduced vitality. An individual may look gaunt, sunken, weary, or psychologically imbalanced. Eating or social misbehavior are common, as are feelings of pessimism. Other symptoms include:

  • lethargy, saggy posture, unkempt appearance, frequent crying
  • a vacant stare, no energy or motivation, an aged face, insomnia
  • nightmares, disease, poor concentration, shallow breathing
  • panic attacks, chest pain, numbness, sluggish speech, thoughts of suicide

Life becomes a chore, a swamp to wade through. A depressed person sees little joy or purpose in living. While depression is a normal, and even healthy response to severe loss or daunting challenges in life, if it lingers, it can fester upon the soul as any wound can. Modern terminology coins this clinical depression.

Writing Depression Into Characters

While depression is horrible in real-life, it serves as an excellent tool in writing. Depression provides tension, character development, and trials for the protagonist to overcome. Many known protagonists like Frodo, Harry Potter, Eragon, Batman, and Jon Snow suffered this ailment. It’s also seen in many prominent figures in history: Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, and several others. Once one’s inner demons are vanquished, the true hero emerges. See my post on the Hero’s Journey for more on this.

When describing your protagonist’s depression, have the reader feel the visceral sorrow, anger, and loneliness that is crushing upon the hero. Depression needn’t be sudden, it is often slow and gradual, like a disease that smolders upon the soul. Drive the hero to the brink, the “all is lost” point. Drill surprise and suspense into your reader, and they will all-too-eagerly read on.

Depression can also nurture grudges between other characters and breed new tension. It will challenge the hero’s morals. It will pull them closer to the antagonist’s ways; attempting to kill the hero’s spirit in the righteous sense.

Coping Mechanisms for the Hero

Some heroes will, instead of dealing with depression, mask it with peculiar techniques. They may try to block it out entirely, using a costume, armor, new personalities, new home, or a new profession. They are hiding from what they know still festers in their hearts. Eventually, the issue rises to the surface, forcing the protagonist to evolve or suffer.

If the latter, heroes go through a much longer ordeal, witnessing the Inner Hell over and over through their own thoughts and actions. Or that of others reflected back at them. This Hell can be a persistent, helpful tool for the plot and character arc. It allows for deep, inner exposition, the kinds you wouldn’t ordinarily find.

As writers, our job is to weave together that inner journey for our protagonists. To help them grow. Let me repeat myself: there’s nothing more satisfying to a reader than watching a sympathetic underdog rise from the dregs of hellish depression.

Uses of Depression

  • drives the plot and character development
  • provides tension and challenge
  • enables rich exposition
  • relatable to readers

Case Study—Pepper Slyhart

I enjoy tearing my protagonists down, ripping apart their hearts, and leaving their souls in shreds. Then I resurrect them in newfound glory. My own protagonist, Pepper Slyhart, makes an excellent example of this. As a half-dragon, despised by society, Pepper deals with a lot of shit from her countrymen. She is spat on, ridiculed, threatened, and attacked. It’s little wonder she has depressive episodes.

In the early parts of Blade of Dragons, Pepper is your token underdog, a farm girl with little hope in life. She looks up to her father, a role model. It takes a terror event and the words of a wiseman to encourage her to undergo the journey, as most heroes are reluctant to take.

Later, Pepper suffers horrible nightmares, the kind that can kill you in the waking world. She also experiences some setbacks in her quest. Depressed, alone, she engages in deep self-analysis of herself, her values, and why she still pushes forward. Scenes like these remind the reader of a character’s direction using depression as the fulcrum. It humanizes Pepper, despite the magical abilities she may have. Despite the fact she’s a half-dragon.

Confused and alone, Pepper is driven to the brink of madness by the Dragonsoul, threatening to take over her body. To defeat the spirit of the hero.

To date, Pepper has been my most dramatic protagonist to write. They say that each character is a piece of the author, and if so, she is a facet of my own inner demons. One day I intend to defeat them and fortify my spirit, as Pepper will succeed against hers.

Peace be with you, and thanks for reading.


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My Experience with Fasting & Creative Writing

A short post today, as I’ve been busy with increasing hours at my two jobs, as well as manuscript progress.

As a casual faster, I’m still new to the ritual, but it has been a rather enlightening experience. Fasting, for those who don’t know, is withholding caloric intake for a specified interval. As a society, most of us eat too much. It shows on our waistlines, and in the various degenerative diseases running rampant.

My Experience With Fasting

The idea of fasting is to kickstart the body’s regenerative ability. To clear the mind. Years ago, I had heard about writers and artists who had used fasting to enhance their creative power. Curious, I gave it a try.

I started slow, no-breakfast fasting, using fresh juices or fruit instead. The intermittent fasting helped my morning productivity. I had more energy to get things done, more inspiration to read, research, and write. I used to be an advocate for a “big hearty breakfast”, but I would grow lazy and depressed every morning. Little got done around the house, let alone on my writing.

Later, once I got into 24 to 36 hour water fasts, I got some serious detox symptoms. Night sweats, chills, fever, heart palpitations—it scared me. However, I was bored without food, and I found myself with lots of free time—and with a high degree of focus. During these fasts, there was serious progress on my writing.

The first 24 hours I was the most productive, as my body still ran on stored energy from the previous days’ food. Once my tolerance for water fasts increased, day two became almost as productive. Day three is where I crash and must rest. Still, my mind is clear and I usually brainstorm wonderful ideas for my stories and characters. Meditation during a fast is most helpful. I’m hoping to reach the 7 to 10 day benchmark someday, life and work permitting, to see how my body and creative ability evolves.

My Breakfast Relapse

The other week, due to variables outside my control, I had a big breakfast in the morning. Sure enough, I became nervous, unfocused, depressed, and the rest of the day was shot. I ended up avoiding writing, for my mind was full of unexplained anxiety and my body was fatigued. I used to feel like this most of the time, back when my writing was a lot worse. It proves—at least for me—that intermittent fasting is an indispensable tool for wordsmithing (aka writing).

How to Begin

If you’re a writer, artist, athlete, or some other hobbyist, why not give intermittent fasting a try? The beginner fast is 16-8, meaning you avoid eating and drinking (besides fresh juices) for 16 hours after dinner. The remaining 8 hours you feed on solid foods. You can do 16 hours on water too, for improved cleansing. Advance until you can go 20 hours on water/juice, and 4 on solid meals.

The best way I’ve found to do this is to have a morning juice, then a meal around noon, followed by a meal around 4-o’clock. It doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve gotten creative with it—as I love to with food, one of my other passions—and my stomach feels well nourished by the end of the night. I’d caution against fruit juices for those with candida issues. I had to resolve mine beforehand, and iodine and boron are good places to start. These minerals are also good for boosting brain power and creativity.

Curious about fasting? What are your experiences with it? I’d love to hear in the comments below, thanks! 🙂


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Reading Habits Questionnaire

As creative writers, we share a common habit, one that drives us into untold worlds, dimensions, and adventures. It’s a ritual shared by many for generations.

Reading.

It makes us what we are.

A writer friend was curious about her own reading habits and started a questionnaire. I decided to do the same. For me, reading is a pleasant pastime. It has its charms and can easily draw me in. I can’t go a day without reading, in fact! Anyway, onto the questions.

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

Not particularly, though I prefer outdoors in the sun, my bare feet dug into the earth.

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

I use a taro card. The taro are imbued with mystical properties—the one I use associates with abundance and wisdom. I find it’s ether helpful in my reading journeys.

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter / a certain amount of pages?

I prefer end of chapters or scenes. It’s convenient. Sometimes I stop midway through a scene, but rarely.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?

Heavens, no! I prefer to separate the two rituals. For me, food time is sacred, as is reading time. Mixing the two dilutes the experience of both—although some water is fine.

5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?

Sometimes I play music to suit the tone of the chapter. Otherwise, I avoid it; see my above response.

6. One book at a time or several at once?

I prefer one book at a time, but I’ve done up to three at once. Again, I’m not much of a multitasker, as it dilutes the experience.

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

Anywhere. Reading is a portal, transporting you away from reality, so it doesn’t matter for me.

8. Reading out lout or silently in your head?

Silent and sweet to myself; it adds the sugar on top, so to speak.

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

Never. Should a hero or heroine dodge a quest and rush for the ending? The richness, the nectar, is found in the journey itself.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

I try to keep my books as neat as possible, but my hand often bends them anyway.

11. Do you write in your books?

Only in non-fiction. The notations are helpful for future reads to highlight specific details. For fiction, I wouldn’t dare.

12. When do you find yourself reading? Morning, afternoon, evening, whenever you get the chance or all the time?

Afternoons and evenings. My mornings are reserved for meditation, yoga, and juicing.

13. What is your best setting to read in?

Quiet, peaceful, relaxed. This puts me in a zen-like state to absorb the book best.

14. What do you do first – Read or Watch? 

Either or.

15. What form do you prefer? Audiobook, E-book or physical book?

Physical books, followed by e-books, and then audio books. I’m more visual, so physical novels work best.

16. Do you have a unique habit when you read?

Popping my right thumb, afflicted with Gamer’s Thumb. I blame it on too many video games in preceding years.

17. Do book series have to match?

Yes. I follow series chronologically to make the best sense of it all.

18. Favorite Genre? (added in some questions of my own)

Fantasy and Sci-fi for fiction. New Age and health for non-fiction.

19. Sub-genres?

Romance mixes well in Fantasy and Sci-fi for me. Epic Fantasy is wonderful too.

20. How often do you read? How many books, on average, a year?

I read everyday, aiming for one to two hours. Sometimes, when I’m busy, I only do 30 minutes. I’m not an avid reader, averaging 20 to 30 books a year, in addition to dozens of articles online. Many of the books I read tend to be 500+ pages due to my love of epic fantasy.


There you have it. Have about you, dear reader? Any reading habits or quirks? When do you find time to read or study? I’d love to hear in the comment section below. Also, if you’re blogger, consider yourself tagged!

Thanks for reading.


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Book Review: Dragon Champion

I came across a nice read at the library the other week: Dragon Champion by E E Knight. The characters and the plot were uniquely written, and the pacing fast and exciting, though it started a bit slow earlier on. I enjoyed the read, and may continue to the sequel.

Premise

The plot follows the life of a young dragon—named Auron—from birth, through war, dragon romance, and fellowship. The first half of the book was lacking in its plot depth, as it was Auron traveling the world. Granted, the first few chapters were better about it. The dragon protagonist explores new lands and encounters friends and foes in odd places. Many of the descriptions were splendid, and the fantasy immersion excellent.

Length & Readability

Close to 350 pages, Dragon Champion delivers a rich story in a reasonably-sized volume. The scenes and chapters read well, though some of the paragraphs were harder to read than others. Rewording various sections would have improved readability.

Characters

The characters are a mixture of humans, elves, dwarves, and dragons. The interesting part was the perspective of Auron and his draconic views coloring the story. As most stories follow the path of humans or hominids, I enjoyed the change.

Magic System

The magic felt underdeveloped in Dragon Champion. There were mentionings from chapter to chapter, but little of it was shown. As with my previous book review, the story could have done without it. Although it did help fill in for fantasy ambiance and worldbuilding, so I wasn’t overly concerned.

Conflict

The tension and pacing were excellent. It drove the plot from chapter to chapter and gripped me better than most books. Developing challenges for a dragon provided an atypical approach to tension. I appreciated how creative the author was in this regard.

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The Good

Dragon Champion had wonderful tension, action, and a slew of colorful dragon characters that interested me. The lore and story were rich and enrapturing.

The Bad

The first half of the book—sans the intro—was sluggish and the plot on the weaker side. Some of the chapters were harder to read than others, and I found myself backtracking to understand it all. Other characters—mainly the hominids—felt lackluster, boring, or undeveloped.

The Ugly

I don’t have anything to add here. Dragon Champion was a solid book, with its share of strengths and flaws.

Auron’s story was a worthwhile read, and I am considering the sequel. Its fine dragon characters, unique PoV, action, and worldbuilding made up for its rough start and average readability. If you’re a lover dragons, be sure to check out E E Knight’s work. You won’t regret it.


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Wonderdraft: A Mapmaking Tool for Writers, Artists, Gamers, and More

A while back, I did a post on GIMP for fantasy mapmaking. Since then, I’ve experimented with another program, Wonderdraft. Like its kin, Inkarnate, Wonderdraft has some useful tools for building that beautiful, jaw-dropping map just past the cover title of a novel.

Wonderdraft is software purchased online that can produce maps with a wide variety of styles and settings. Unlike GIMP, Wonderdraft is more specialized for map making, and Inkarnate more so. From what I gathered:

  • For clever artists and techno-geeks: GIMP
  • For mapmakers, writers, casuals: Wonderdraft
  • For hardcore DnD GMs, players, game designers: Inkarnate

But overall, it’s up to whatever suits one’s interests and goals. I’ve seen writers produce excellent maps with Inkarnate, and GMs work wonders with Wonderdraft.

What Makes It Unique?

Wonderdraft stands out with its versatility and community-driven addons. Moreover, the software requires a single payment of $30, while Inkarnate is $25 a year, and GIMP is free. For its price, Wonderdraft brings a truckload of options for mapmakers, with easy-to-learn tools that anyone can understand. The software is also offline, installed on a computer, whereas Inkarnate requires a wifi connection last I checked. GIMP also has a learn curve if someone wants to use it for mapmaking.

To summarize, Wonderdraft is:

  • Simple and easy to use
  • A one-time $30 payment to own for life
  • Community support, addons, and more
  • Offline access

To begin, open the program. Select new highlighted in the image below. A menu appears with settings for the new map! Go with the defaults. If a computer is powerful, it should run the higher resolutions without an issue, otherwise it will lag.

A user can play with the styles and templates, for each has a different feel and can be changed later.

For this tutorial, I’ll go with the default settings, the theme being Terra. I’m greeted by a menu of options as seen below. First I selected the landmass wizard to the left. A menu popped up on the right.

The landmass wizard is a tool that auto-generates a randomized piece of land every time it’s used.

This is the landmass I got from the wizard. To adjust the preferences for the landmass generated, play with the menu options on the right. Next, I’ll color the land to give it depth using the landmass color brush. I used the jungle palette for this, but it can be anything that suits the color scheme of the map.

Custom colors are also possible using the brush tool. Select brush size, opacity, and velocity as desired.

Next, I added in some water for realism. Using the lower landmass tool I gouged pieces of the landmass. The result is a series of lakes. The raise landmass tool does the opposite: it creates land from water.

The mountain brush is self-explanatory. With this tool, there are a plethora of mountain symbols to pick from. I went with transparent mountains, which match the color of the landmass.

The symbol tool is where the fun starts. Everything from buildings, directional arrows, towns, and cities are here. Using the symbol scale, I set the relative size of each object. Custom and transparent colors are also an option.

I added in some yellow landmass in the upper left.

The label tool is where I put my captions for each symbol or land region. Various fonts, font sizes, and colors are available. I can set the text curvature, auto-generate names, and add in bright font outlines to bring out certain captions.

I selected the frame tool below to add in a border for my map. It isn’t required, but it looks fancy, no?

The box tool within the labels tool creates legends and cut-outs for important information in the map. Below, I used it to credit the author.

Played with the theme tab along the menu at the top. Switching from terra to pastel produced the following result below. While the map looks better, the directional arrows faded into the background. I left it in to serve as an example; be sure to take this into account whenever switching the theme or color scheme of the map.

And with that, the map is—relatively speaking—finished!

Wonderdraft is a fantastic tool that is easy to use, as seen in the tutorial above. There are yet more tools included in the software, in addition to community contributions and addons that expand on Wonderdraft’s capabilities. For only a single $30 payment, Wonderdraft is gift to creative writers, artists, and gamers.

I’ve created a couple maps for my upcoming novel, Blade of Dragons, plus some custom fantasy maps that popped into my head. Each one was a blast to make.

With that, I hope you’ll give Wonderdraft a try. Have any other questions about Wonderdraft? I may be able to answer, so leave them in the comments below. Enjoy!


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks again for reading!
—Ed R. White

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Book Review: Sword of Fire

After finishing a long beta read and dealing with more hours at work, I’m ready to get back to blogging. In the meanwhile, I finished another fantasy book. The Sword of Fire by Katherine Kerr was an interesting read.

Premise

The story of Deverry is a generic fantasy with dwarves, elves, dragons, and humans. Here’s where it gets interesting. Politics plays heavily into the plot, and even the overall feel of Deverry. Several scenes take place in royal courts, towns, and conferences where lengthily dialog ensues. The dialog was excellent, and the character cues spot-on.

Length

At around 350 pages, the story wasn’t a boor to read. Chapters and scenes were well organized. The author also included a bonus short story at the end, explaining more of Deverry and its characters.

Characters

Many of the characters are politically motivated. Corrupt laws and loopholes riddle the land of Deverry, and aristocrats are often at war. One of the protagonists, a young law student (if those could exist in medieval fantasies; they’re known as bards here) goes on an adventure with sellswords to save the kingdom from the corruption. Other characters serve as nobility PoV perspectives.

Overall, the characters began shallow and dull, but they grew on me later on. Katherine Kerr has a unique way in how she bonds characters to the reader; subtle at first, but heavily towards the end.

Magic System

Dwimmer (sorry if I butchered that) is the soft magic system in Deverry. It isn’t seen much, but when it is, intriguing results ensue. Mind reading, telepathy, telekinesis, and elemental manipulation are some of the abilities used. Nonetheless, it didn’t contribute much to the story. Moreso, it felt like it was there for the sake of the genre: a fantasy.

Conflict

The tension and pacing were slow and gradual. There weren’t many jarring scenes; even the more brutal ones were mediocre; though there was one scene that struck me. The ramp in tension towards the end of the book was, at best, underwhelming.

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The Good

The Sword of Fire has charming characters, a unique premise in Deverry—mixing fantasy with political intrigue—and good throwbacks to history. The Silver Dagger faction, a clan of dishonored mercenaries, was fun to read about and played well into several character arcs.

The Bad

The magic system, while interesting, did little to enhance the story or characters. In fact, the plot could have done without it. Tension was underwhelming and poorly executed into prose.

The Ugly

Some of the old English terms seemed amusing and sometimes awkward. I wasn’t particularly a fan of their usage, but they still established a nice “historical fiction worldbuilding” feel.

The story of Deverry was decent. With its premise, characters, and political issues, The Sword of Fire offered much potential for its worldbuilding and story arcs. Despite this, poor tension, pacing, and an awkwardly executed magic system made the read tedious at times. I enjoyed it, but won’t be reading the sequel.


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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks for reading!
—Ed R. White

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Ethereal Seals Blog Update 4/12/21

It’s been a while since I shared an update. Editing book one of Ethereal Seals, working on the manuscript for book two, a long beta read, lots of health and healing research, plus increasing hours at my day job—I’ve been quite busy.

Edits and Revisions

After another read through of Blade of Dragons, I’ve finished edits as they relate to changes made in book two: Heart of Dragons. Most noticeable was Gerald Highmane’s character arc, changed from a minor villain to an antihero with his own story.

I’ve added breadcrumbs and Easter eggs—messages if you will—from certain authors I admire, like Arnold Ehret and David Hawkins. The majority of these messages relate to spirituality and health. Needless to say, Ethereal Seals is a New Age life improvement book disguised as a science fantasy.

Publication

I am satisfied with how the book reads. After passing it along to a professional editor and/or proofreader, the manuscript should be set for publication. Then I’ll need to find a cover artist to polish up the book cover.

I’m hoping to expand upon my mailinglist and perhaps hire a freelance agent to help spread word of mouth before I officially publish. This may take a while, but I’m in no hurry. Book two—and perhaps book three—will be well on its way by the time book one is released.

Exploring Atläs

It’s been fun revising the manuscript from its older self. I’ve realized there’s too much worldbuilding potential to squeeze the story into a trilogy. Four or five books is what I’m aiming for. If I could describe Heart of Dragons in one word it would be thus:

Exploration.

There’s plenty of worldbuilding with new kingdoms, villains, and protagonists. I delve into Gerald’s backstory more and explore his connection to the other characters. Tarie Beyworth and Pepper Slyhart also see a sizable degree of character growth. The prose retains its rich worldbuilding, coupled with tense action scenes and romantic feel.

Maps and Word Count

I’ve also finished the beta map for book two. I use a program called Wonderdraft, an excellent program for DIY fantasy maps. I’ll plan to do an article on the program soon.

Unlike Blade of Dragons, set at 130k words, book two will hover closer to 150k. The theory behind the word length is: if your readers loved book one, they won’t mind—and may love—the content in the second installment. Many writers have told me you can take more risks with book two. Whether or not it works, we’ll see.

I’ve enjoyed helping my beta with his second installment of his Eternal Defenders series, a classic fantasy story. As I may have mentioned, sci-fi and fantasy are among my favorite genres to read. There’s something about Thomas’ series that grips me, perhaps the way he structures his world. It also reminds me of some older video games, like Warcraft, Zelda, and Morrowind. He’s come a long way in improving his writing, so be sure to check him out here.

The past several weeks have been brutal for me, from a healing perspective. I’ve finished several short water fasts, plus a nigh 3-day water and salt only fast. My gut felt all twisted up, aching, yet by the time I finished, I felt renewed. Reborn. I’ve also hired a trainer at a local gym to help me rebuild my body on feeding days.

Though still a neophyte to cleansing, the more I read about it, the more I realize how crucial it is. For everyone. We’ve been inundated with so many toxins, poor lifestyles, and childhood traumas that it takes effort to dig through it all. The more I detox, the better my creativity and ability to brainstorm and worldbuild.

Some of the books I’ve read through recently on healing and nutrition are up on my Goodreads page.

It isn’t my passion, but I’m grateful that it’s a low-stress retail job—with a health food niche added in. I’ve applied for additional hours in other departments. With the added income, I’ll manage my expenses better and pay off my worthless college degree student loans.

Thanks for reading. May your cup overflow with abundance, creativity, and joy.


Interested in joining my mailing list? Members will receive free poetry, special deals, messages to inspire and empower your life, and short stories. You’ll also get the latest news on projects.
Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks again for reading!
—Ed R. White

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