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

Interested in joining my mailing list? Members will receive free poetry, special deals, messages to inspire and empower your life, reflective essays, and short stories not seen on my blog. You’ll also get the latest news on projects.
Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
—Ed R. White

Join my email list below:

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

What is Good and Evil in Fiction?

Humans have always struggled with the question: what is good, what is evil? A primordial dilemma, evil paints the picture of villains, antagonists, darkness, violence, and oppression. No one likes evilness, but what is being evil in fiction? Is wickedness a subjective phenomenon of the ego?

A Story of Black and White

With the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist is drawn on a campaign, fights the antagonist, and finishes the quest. The antagonist may be a villain, or another force trying to foil the hero. There are many types of heroes as there are villains., but heroes are not always good, and villains may not always be evil. This spectrum of good-evil paints a more realistic picture as seen in human nature, and helps connect with readers.

Ergo, the good versus evil conflict often adheres to a black/white trope. To make distinguishing characters easier. Evil characters prefer hurting or manipulating others for personal gain. That said, an antagonist shouldn’t be evil just for the hell of it. That paints a dry, undeveloped antagonist.

Shades of Gray

While heroes are virtuous and villains cruel, protagonists move the plot towards a goal and the antagonist opposes it. A hero could be an antagonist, and the villain the protagonist. Think Infinity War, where Thanos, the protagonist, achieved his goal of getting the Infinity Stones.

In the olden days, stories always had the hero as the protagonist. Everyone wants to see goodness win, right? Well, that gets old. Fast. With the rise of anti-heroes, everything isn’t so black and white anymore. Readers connect with anti-heroes so well because they reflect the mixed nature of humans.

Anti-heroes are a curious breed due to their methods and personalities, which are a lot more chaotic than most heroes. They often jump between good and evil polarities at will, as long as it serves their goals. This makes them a strong protagonist, shoving the plot forward continuously. Traditional heroes may come off as bland, unrealistic, or predictable; but their adherence to virtue makes them likable and appreciated.

Meanwhile, the antagonist force may be a dark god, a federation to preserve tradition, or an organization dedicated to eradicating a certain species from a world.

Good and Evil in Worldbuilding

Plot is, in essence, a tug of war between two opposing forces. Light vs. dark, good vs. evil, freedom vs. security, knight vs. dragon, unstoppable force vs. unmovable object—and so on. There are a variety to pick from for a story. A traditional good vs. evil may come off as cliche and underdeveloped. Involving more depth, more reasoning behind the motivations of each force, is helpful.

Ask:

  • What does the protagonist want to achieve? How will he do it?
  • Why is the antagonist opposing him? What methods will the antagonist use?
  • How could a reader classify the relationship, the tug-of-war, between these two forces?
  • Is the protagonist a force for good? Whose good?
  • What does the antagonist wish to protect from the protagonist?

With the relationship between the two forces established, use it to create tension and drive the plot. If either the protagonist or antagonist receives too much slack, the plot—or the rope in the tug-of-war—will go flaccid. Of course, the protagonist must eventually win, but not until the end of the Hero’s Journey.

Case Study: Pepper Slyhart

As the protagonist of Ethereal Seals, Pepper has traits of the typical hero: sympathetic, courageous, and ambitious. But, she is prone to anger, reckless behavior, and shortsightedness. Society often looks down on her, given her half-dragon genetics, and she falls into depression and brooding. Given her chaotic good character, she has a tendency towards extremism, sometimes hurting or neglecting others in the process of achieving her goals. This places her slightly towards the anti-hero spectrum, but not quite in it.

For those into David Hawkins’ work, Pepper calibrates only in the 200s and 300s in the scale of consciousness. Her habit to dip into anger, fear, desire, and pride makes her unpredictable and dangerous to friends and enemies alike.

Mapping Out Good & Evil

On the chart above, we see the theory on emotions and states of consciousness. Note the level 200, where courage begins and pride ends. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say emotions that calibrate below 200 are ‘evil’. This paints villains as individuals stuck in states like shame, guilt, fear, and pride. If so, evil characters in fiction are those suffering from these demented states. Heroes would associate more with the upper states of consciousness; those above 200.

David Hawkins states that 200 begins a transformation in consciousness, from self-serving to all-loving. This doesn’t mean individuals never fall back below 200, but that they will establish around their average level of consciousness. As a plot progresses, heroes should, therefore, rise in consciousness. Villain may fall back, as their flaws remain unresolved.

In this context, evil is a form of unresolved inner conflict, whereas good is an upward driving force. The hero serves as a reflection of the villain, and vice versa, as both parties still have some element of good and evil within them—no matter how small. That’s human nature. Fiction is a story about life, about who we are on this planet.

And that, my friends, is why I’ve fallen in love with it.


Interested in joining my mailing list? Members will receive free poetry, special deals, messages to inspire and empower your life, reflective essays, and short stories not seen on my blog. You’ll also get the latest news on projects.
Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
—Ed R. White

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

My Brush with Death

This isn’t a post on my usual topics, mainly a rant about something that happened to me recently. I’ve included reflections and some change of plans for the future.


December was heating up for me as an aspiring writer. I had promotions planned for my cover reveal and several ideas to help me publish my upcoming novel, Blade of Dragons. Personal life was great, and I was looking forward to the holidays; spending time with the family, and opening presents.

Life was good.

It was dark—though still early evening—when I had decided to drive to a nearby town for an errand. With my music on, my spirits high thinking about my book, I sped onwards. Despite the snow, the roads looked clear.

I turned around a bend in the road, going a little below the speed limit. The next I knew, my car was spinning. The world became a nightmarish blur, the ambiance a horrifying scream. My heart, strangely, filled with unexplainable numbness and peace; don’t ask me why.

I winced as my car crashed through two metallic objects, spinning onto some farm fields before it came to a standstill.

My mind still numb, I sat there, dumbstruck. Horrified.

What had just happened?

Other cars pulled over asking if I needed help. They said I tore through two road signs. One bystander called 911. The next I knew, an officer had arrived. He asked if I was okay.

I wasn’t sure. The gravity of the situation had started to sink in. Horror—and disbelief—surged through my mind as I climbed out examining my body, unblemished. My car had lost its one driver’s mirror, its hull a bit dented. But even still, the vehicle wasn’t in terrible shape.

The officer noted that had there been a car on the road or a tree in my path, I may have been crippled.

I may have died.

Some divine power had intervened—or I had been insanely lucky.

Shaking from the cold, the snowflakes blanketing my jacket, I answered the officer’s questions and received my papers. My parents had arrived by then via a call on my cell phone.

We drove home. Slowly. Still shaking, despite the warmth of my father’s car, I shook my head.

What had happened to change a peaceful night so much? And how had I gotten off so lightly? Sure, there was a ticket fine to pay, and car damages to repair. But I had heard of drivers who had died, their cars a wreck, from such an incident. I hadn’t a bruise. It boggled my mind.

Now, days later, I still think about it. Perhaps I was going too fast, trying to do too much in my life? Perhaps I needed to go slower and relax, to unwind and allow things to flow.

That’s the one thing I’ve gathered from this accident: that life needs to flow. It can’t be forced, lest disaster strikes. I was strangely fortunate to escape so cleanly.

That said, these fines may delay my plan to hire an editor with my funds already drained. That won’t stop me. The Creator gave me another chance at life, another chance to write my stories and be what he/she/it wants me to be.

And I will always be grateful.

I will always remember the luck, the blessing, bestowed upon me.

I will always cherish my life and the gifts given to me, the talent for writing that I have.

I am Ed White. Wordsmith of fantasy universes, survivor of car crashes, healer of ancestral wisdom, and seeker of divine truth.

Never take life for granted. Be grateful for the present moment.

Peace be with you all.


Interested in joining my fantasy book club? 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 for reading!
—Ed R. White

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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.


Interested in joining my mailing list? Members will receive free poetry, special deals, messages to inspire and empower your life, reflective essays, and short stories not seen on my blog. You’ll also get the latest news on projects.
Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
—Ed R. White

Join my email list below:

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Cover Art and History of Ethereal Seals

That’s right! My cover art for the upcoming novel, Blade of Dragons, is almost finished! Months in the making, it was a pleasure working with the cover artist. She had a keen sense for design, excellent communication, and patience with the numerous requirements I had for the project. I’ll certainly consider her again for future covers.

If interested, check out @ Cheriefox on Fiverr.

A High School Prologue

Looking back, I am reminded of this whole journey when it begun. Some daydreams I had in high school were the start. I had a fierce fascination with shows like DBZ, video games like Zelda, and movies like LoTR and Star Wars. Yes, I was quite the nerd in high school. I joined an online forum to do some fan fiction roleplaying. The roleplaying was inane and childish, but it planted the seeds in my mind for future works.

Roughing the Manuscript

It wasn’t until my twenties that I developed the finer details for the Ethereal Seals series. I had named the series Ethereal Sages since the roleplaying days, but that name didn’t sit with me.

As ideas for the worldbuilding piled up, I compiled them into online archives, which grew by the week. Once I realized the breadth of this project, I tried sewing the threads together into a short story.

I had several chapters by the end. Shocked, I reread them, pleased with the work. I had my friend read it, and there I realized something:

My worldbuilding ideas were good, but my writing skills? Horrid.

But this realm called Atlas was too vast, too beautiful to give up on. I rediscovered a passion for fictional map making, and bought a program called Wonderdraft, of which is still in use. I also began to hand sketch my characters. The creative spirit had consumed me, and I knew I had found what I wanted to do in life.

The Fertile Crescent, where Book I takes place.

Healing and Spirituality

By the time the manuscript had been beta’d and polished, I had gotten into naturopathy and spiritual theory. The more I researched on healing and health, the more I found connections between it and my writing. It was obvious.

The healthier we are, the clearer we can think and create. Moreover, it’s known that each character in a story is a facet of the author. Like a reflection of ourselves. My writing had taken a much deeper role in my spiritual life. I began integrating messages and inspiratory scenes into my story. Gave Ethereal Seals a secondary purpose.

To empower readers with lessons that I had learned from my own life.

Then again, I now realize this is the crux of good storytelling.

Readers want to come away having enjoyed the story, having learned something. What readers crave is a story and a cast of characters they can relate to. The joy, the pain, and everything inbetween. Each good story is a retelling of our own lives; of the legacy humans live on this planet.

Life isn’t easy, and the quests of heroes should reflect that. The courage that heroes display during adversity is what every human—in their heart—desires. A hero is a role model, an archetype of the human being.

But I digress. To read more on the matter, see my articles on Good & Evil and the Hero’s Journey.

Campaigning Ahead

Things have worked out well for the novel, and with the cover art about done, I’ll need to hire a professional editor to work out some chinks in the story. With money tight as it is, I may need to push that back a bit until I can save up.

I also have a series of promotional campaigns planned for my Instagram author page, this blog, and my mailing list:

  1. A buildup to my official cover reveal, which will run one to three months
  2. A buildup to the story publication, an additional couple months
  3. Publication, a burst of promotionals in the first month after release
  4. Tapering off into a “maintenance” promotional to keep the book from fading into obscurity, as many new authors allow

To be honest, I am daunted by this aspect of writing, as social engagement has never been a strong suit. I may consider hiring an agent for freelance authors. This all depends on how kind the economy is to me in the next several months and years.

With hard work, commitment, and a little prayer, I’ll pull this off—and well. Blade of Dragons will be the first in the series of Ethereal Seals, of which the second manuscript is already drafted.

Thank you for reading. It’s through the viewership and support from readers like you that this dream is becoming reality.

A older sketch of Pepper Slyhart, the protagonist of Ethereal Seals; aka, my alter ego.

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

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

On Naming Fictional Characters

Good names help both writers and readers move through a story smoothly.”

— Dan Schmidt

Naming characters in a fictional universe may seem like a simple task, but it can stump some authors. How do we approach this issue? Is there a method to naming characters? In this post, I’ll describe how I go about it, plus some helpful tools.

Some authors don’t name their characters in a specific way, instead opting for generic names without any particular rhyme or reason. Fred, John, Alice, Ryan, etc. I’ve found the generic naming system works better with simple, cheap plot themes. Even short stories or flash fiction. These ‘throwaway’ names, as I call them, work here.

A Little Research Goes a Long Way

Names have changed from era to era, at least in the contemporary world. Naming a post WWI character according to their era (e.g. the Depression-era 1930s) will seem more realistic than a 21st century trendy name. You can also go further and look up the root meaning of a name. Name.org is a great resource for that.

Fantasy Names

Other authors opt for unusual names like Legolas, Eragon, or Herä’eth. These name fit more of a niche role, with their uniqueness that speaks of a fantasy universe. That in itself grants the name attention. FantasyNameGenerators is a good website for those struggling to brainstorm.

Comic Names

For more humor, an author can name a character a funny name like Bananas. These comic names spell out the character’s attributes from the start; the author wants to make sure you to know this character’s name means something. In real life, people often name their pets in such ways, as it evokes comfort, warm laughter, or recognition.

Other Uses for Names

Names can influence how your reader views characters, particularly from their introduction. Using a scarier name, like Toothclaw, may evoke images of a bestial man, aggressive, proud, and strong. Others like Hymnfoot have a pleasant and comic feel.

Surnames

A character’s surname can be as important as their main name. Surnames are family or ancestral titles that imply characters’ bloodline, genetics, abilities, and even predictions about their future.The surname Brightshard has a fantasy ring to it, aye? It evokes images of crystals, magic, and even majesty. Meanwhile, the surname Worldscale also bears a fantasy vibe, but is more dragon-like and perhaps regal in its pronunciation.

  • With Blade of Dragons, one of my protagonists is named Gerald. The name Gerald means ‘Spear ruler of strength’ or ‘Rule of spear’. Gerald’s main weapon is a magical lance, his signature attribute. By using the name Gerald, I empowered his character and added depth.
  • My main protagonist, Pepper, doesn’t have a linguistic root meaning to her name. However, she has a fiery personality, can breath fire, and can summon wind magic that may make you sneeze. With her, I went with a name that was more reflective of her persona and magical aptitude.
  • A third character is named Tarie. In Zimbabwe, Tarie is short for Tariro or Tarisai, meaning ‘hope’ or ‘look’. Tarie happens to be a priest, representing the power of the Light, or hope, on Atlas. He dreams of bringing hope back to the oppressed people of Atlas, to help them see or look upon the Light again. In this way, the name Tarie is based off the character’s aspirations, his dreams.

Other than using the websites I linked above, you can check out ImagineForest, Writerswrite, and ElementalNameGenerators for all your fantasy needs. Here’s an article on additional tips for naming your characters effectively.

1. Genre

We’ve covered this, but you’re not likely to find a name like Legolas in contemporary fiction, unless it’s for intentional humor. Double-check your genre, and the era of your story, to maximize the efficiency of your character’s names. Things get a bit more complicated when you do niche genres, like fantasy-romance. In this case, fantasy names are appropriate.

2. Culture and Backstory Do Matter

Bonus points if you can incorporate world-building and backstory into your characters’ names. This helps tie plot elements together and gives off a wholesome vibe to the story.

3. Sometimes Simpler is Better

There are times when shorter, simpler names are nice because your reader can remember them. Other, longer names may throw a reader off. A dragon with the name Fyre’goras’thyr is certainly a mouthful, whereas the name Fyre works too. Which do you prefer, pray tell?

Character naming is vital in fictional universes. While it doesn’t have to be perfect, it can make or break your characters, the feel of your plot, or the details of your world-building. Taking time to refine your character names will allow them to shine and pull the reader in. Remember, this is but a part of building your story, and it can still be fun when you put your heart into it.


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 for reading!
—Ed R. White

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Hero’s Journey in Fiction

download

Years ago, I read a fantastic book named The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. In it, the author details the Hero’s Journey. This is a powerful story element that every writer, artist, or spiritual seeker should understand. It illustrates a protagonist’s adventures, from a safe haven to the darkest dungeon—be they literal or figurative.

The Hero’s Journey is a story mechanic of the protagonist’s journey through the various acts of the story. Typically, there are four acts for each journey.

The first act of the Hero’s Journey introduces the hero. The second and third act elaborates on their ordeals, and the fourth finishes round circle. You may notice certain tropes or definitions used in each act. These are minor plot elements that form the Hero’s Journey. Some are necessary to flesh out the story.

The Ordinary World

The story begins in the Ordinary World, a mundane realm that may be a safe haven or even a prison for the hero. Here, the audience learns about the hero’s life situation, his/her abilities, fears, flaws, and personality.

The Call to Adventure

From the Ordinary World, conflict arises that stirs the hero from complacency. This may be something serious like an assassination or a minor incident like a strange phone call. The hero now has a choice to pursue the source of the conflict and resolve the issue, or remain in his or her realm.

Refusal

Initially, the hero may be hesitant to leave the safe boundary of the Ordinary World. The hero sees the risks involved and what’s to gain if s/he succeeds. Some stories skip this step with a willing or reckless hero who jumps onto the quest immediately.

The Mentor

The hero encounters the mentor, a wise or experienced individual. The mentor trains and/or guides the hero, providing new knowledge about the nature of the quest. This character is more often an elderly person but can manifest as a younger individual or inanimate object such as a legendary sword.

Crossing the Threshold

The mentor guides the hero away from the Ordinary World to the first Threshold—or the point of no return. The hero’s commitment is tested, determining if the hero is ready for the quest. The Threshold is the gateway to a new dimension, far away from the Ordinary World.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Now in a world of mystery and danger, the hero learns more about his/her new adventure. This strange world brings a host of challenges, allies, and enemies. Every obstacle is a stepping stone to unearthing the hero’s personality and capabilities. Abilities are sharpened, and pain is endured. Temptations are met, and the hero struggles with his/her inner shadow self.

Approach to the Dungeon/Inmost Cave

The hero prepares to enter the Inmost Cave. Setbacks occur, but the hero endures, priming for the Supreme Ordeal—an inner crisis that demands change from the protagonist. The hero must analyze personal flaws and push forward to complete the quest.

Supreme Ordeal

The protagonist faces a dangerous challenge, often against the antagonist. The antagonist can also be a dark reflection of a father figure, such as with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, with exaggerated flaws of the protagonist. The Supreme Ordeal is a highlight of the hero’s quest, and everything is at stake. The hero must draw upon all the experience from the journey to survive.

Reward, Seizing of the Sword

If the hero succeeds, s/he emerges as a changed person. The hero also receives an award as proof of victory; this might be a mythic sword, elixir, or artifact, signifying the change in the hero’s life. The hero now prepares for the last part of the quest.

The Road Back

With the quest completed, the hero begins to travel back to the ordinary world, which is the opposite of the call of adventure. Instead of worry or pain, fulfillment and satisfaction arise. The quest is not done, as the last challenge awaits the hero.

Resurrection

The hero faces a test or battle against the antagonist at the Final Threshold. This ultimate tribulation challenges the hero, requiring all the experience they’ve gained from their quest. Failure may result, leading to the hero’s death, a dearth of all hope, or even a severe injury that mars the hero.

The protagonist is reborn from the flames of demise, returning as a new person, transmuted into the true hero. Now cleansed of past flaws, the hero is equipped to end the adventure.

Return with the Elixir

The adventurer returns to the Ordinary World as a changed person—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Using the reward from the Final Ordeal, s/he improves upon the Ordinary World. A new era of peace and reflection results. The prize may be multifaceted, manifesting either as a damsel in distress, a powerful relic, or a shift in the climate of the realms.  At this point, the hero finishes the journey, but things will never be as they once were.

Others Variables in the Hero’s Journey

There are extra elements in the Hero’s Journey, such as sub-journeys that stretch throughout a trilogy. Sometimes, the hero cannot return to society as they are, instead choosing exile.

How The Hero’s Journey Relates to Readers

The Hero’s Journey occurs in every good fiction. It’s a retelling of human life, the growth of a person into a mature and wise individual. It is also a blueprint from which anyone can appreciate the heroic archetypes and make changes for a more prosperous, happier life.


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 for reading!
—Ed R. White

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Book Review: Divine Summons

During my break from non-fiction research, I stumbled upon this jewel on Goodreads. I was impressed by the strength of the prose and the story. Rebecca P. Minor did a pleasant job at it. Let’s delve into the details, shall we?

Premise & Worldbuilding

Divine Summons has a classic fantasy atmosphere with elves, dragons, monsters, and magic. I’m a sucker for fantasy tropes, and the immersion had me sold within the first chapter. Traveling between elven cities, ancient caverns, and dark forests, the story never turned stagnant. There’s plenty of lore that kept me intrigued, not to mention the splendid battle scenes and dialog.

Characters

Taken from a (mostly) first-person POV, the story conveys excellent character emotion, dialog, and prose flow. The cast of characters provided conflict, worldbuilding, and comic relief details. One issue was the shifting from first-person to third-person POV throughout the story. Most readers would gawk at this—and I certainly did—but I overlooked it in favor of a story that held me fast.

Magic System

A soft magic system governs this story, with whimsical, flashy outcomes and unspoken costs. The god, Creo, governs the faith-based school of magic in this story. Albeit, the magic performed some ex deus machina in some scenes, which came off as unsatisfying for me. The author could have worked the magic better into the conflict and story, rather than have it as a lever to fix plot or character-conflict issues.

Conflict

Tension and pacing were solid, despite the subpar execution of the magic system. The characters found themselves in plenty of horrid situations. The expositions and inner struggles were well done, and complemented the strong cast of characters. Immersion had me turning pages, particularly the fight scenes, which were excellent. Battles were endowed with plenty of details, but never too many to make them cumbersome.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2-2.png

The Good

The characters, pacing, tension, and immersion painted an addictive story. Details on lore and worldbuilding enhanced this, providing an enjoyable read from start to finish except for a few scenes. Battle chapters were excellent.

The Bad

The shift between first-person and third-person POVs felt jarring and marginalized the main character. Some of these third-person POVs were somewhat unnecessary, congesting the pacing and story with minor details. The magic system came off as a prop to save the main character at worst, and a flashy addition at best.

The Ugly

The story had a few graphic scenes, but that was it.

Divine Summons was enjoyable, despite its shortcomings in its magic system and POVs. The rich worldbuilding had me hooked, and the sword fights and dialog scenes were pleasant. I’ve already started on the second book, and it reads stronger than the first, so I am hopeful. For any fantasy lovers, Rebecca A Minor has a great series that’s sure to delight readers who can overlook its blemishes.


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 for reading!
—Ed R. White

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Poems in Fiction—Worldbuilding—Ethereal Seals Poetry: Eulogies of Deliverance

Poetry triggers interesting reactions from readers. Not only is it a jump from storytelling long-form, but it invites rhythm, a detail of creativity not seen elsewhere in the story. I always found poetry bits to be fascinating—or tedious if they were too long and poorly done—in a story.

My theory is the poetry activates different parts of the brain. It’s nothing short of refreshing and invigorating, particularly when changing back to the storytelling prose. Used right, poetry adds many things to a manuscript, such as:

  • worldbuilding
  • insights into the protagonists; their reactions, views, and inner struggles
  • gives readers’ a “break” from long-form prose
  • invites higher details of creativity
  • perfect medium for foreshadowing, adding tension, among other plot devices

A fantasy without poetry feels dry and incomplete. If looking to spruce up a fantasy world, try incorporating some poems. This isn’t to say that sci-fi or contemporary fiction can’t have songs.

Be creative.

Stretch the mind and unite it with the heart, the soul. RhymeZone and Hemingway are great tools for poetry. Also read other forms of poetry to get inspired. Shakespeare is always a good choice, but try genres that reflect what type of poetry. Check out this post on Haiku, a form of East Asian poetry. Yes, there are myriad ways to express a poem, and the strength of poetry is only limited by one’s imagination.

Here’s some poetry from my WIP, Ethereal Seals. The poems are songs given by priests to the dead and dying to ease their passing. For more information on life and death on Atlas, view my post on Life and Death in a Fantasy Universe. Enjoy! 🙂


Deliverance Eulogy I

Rest easy, my brothers, my sisters

For many starturns, you endured the pain of Umbra’s blisters

May the Earthmother protect your spirits unto the Celestial Heavens

So that you too may meet the divine Seven

Oh, how we wail at the torment you received

And in our hearts, we are all so grieved

Rest easy, my brothers, my sisters,

For it will not be long, and you will be at peace

Deliverance Eulogy I I

My brothers, my sisters; we wail for your loss

Though the Shadow is gone, victory comes with its cost

Our tears shall forever water these sands

Hearken our words, the divine hymn we place unto your hands

Find your Deliverance unto the Celestial Heavens

So that you, too, shall unite with the Seven

Be blessed in the higher planes

Where, for eternity, you shall reign

Aspectä rey’lief, departed souls, departed knyghts

For we bless you with this song, an eulogy of the Aspects’ might


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, thanks for reading.
—Ed R. White

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Writing Sidekicks and Side characters into Fiction

Everyone knows Robin from Batman, or Samwise Gamgee from LotR. How about Han Solo from Star Wars, or Luigi from Super Mario Brothers? These beloved sidekicks are treasured by many for the legacy they leave, what they help the hero create. That isn’t to say sidekicks lacks their own hero’s journey. Many sidekicks develop character arcs—and even series unto themselves.

Developing a Sidekick

“Behind every hero, there is always a wisecracking, obnoxious Nincompoop!— Samos on Daxter

During the hero’s journey, the protagonist encounters companions to join the quest. Sidekicks are different. A sidekick fulfills a role of greater significance than a companion. They often have their own powers, story arcs, POV scenes, and inner tribulations. A sidekick helps lift the hero up and adds to the story sometimes serving as a foil to shore up the hero’s lack.

Interestingly, sidekicks are often of the same gender as the protagonist. If of the opposite gender, sexual tension typically arises in the form of a romance subplot. A sidekick often knows the protagonist better than most characters and can offer new ways to relate to the hero.

Sidekicks come in many forms. Some are competent, others are not. They help drive the plot and the protagonist’s arc. When heroes fall down, sidekicks are there to pick them up. Unlike the hero, a sidekick can afford to die, although at great expense—and usually towards the end of the story. Sidekick deaths should be carefully planned, for it will create a void in the hero’s journey.

The role of the sidekick in literary fiction is sometimes hard to describe. They may be the friend or mentor of the hero; they may be the narrator & nominal main character of the story whilst the hero gets the credit and is more interesting (King’s “The Body for example) Some of them always save the hero’s bacon (Jeeves & Wooster) & others are just plain loyal. —CQSteve on List Challenges

The Many Roles of Sidekicks

Some heroes are amoral, confused, or simply need guidance. Unlike a mentor, who takes a big role in the protagonist’s development, sidekicks are closer to adjuncts. Sidekicks often provide:

  1. Comic Relief—to contrast a hero’s temper, lack of morals, or as a foil to better emphasize the protagonist’s qualities.
  2. Perspective—providing a different look at the hero. The sidekick may have a unique relationship with the hero, some trait that helps the sidekick stand out. They can also add useful POV scenes that reflect on the hero.
  3. Conflict—creating soft tension that provokes thought in the hero or the reader; opportunities for character growth.
  4. Plot Inertia—moving the story along should the hero ever stagnate.
  5. Subplots—adding to the worldbuilding or depth of the plot.

Case Study: Ashia Worldscale

In my novel, Blade of Dragons, Ashia Worldscale fits the role of sidekick. She offers plenty of comic relief to offset Pepper Slyhart’s brooding episodes. Ashia also aids Pepper whenever the Dragonsoul, a draconic curse, seeks to control her. As a relative, Ashia had played a big role in Pepper’s childhood arrangements, saving Pepper and her father from the enemy.

Ashia and Pepper get along as sisters, with the latter having few if any friends. Ashia is peppy, upbeat, and always willing to pick Pepper up, should she ever fall into a malaise. Ashia also has her own subplot with the antagonist, threatening to assassinate her entire family and unmake her nation’s legacy. Quite a tall order.

Unlike Ashia, who is energetic and bouncy, Tarie Beyworth is a gentle, soft-spoken foil, who is more romantically engaged with Pepper. His plot is tied into to the main villain, as seen in later books. When I wrote the three characters, I had Pepper as the heroine, with Tarie and Ashia as supporting characters. It’s no coincidence that the three grew up together, in a sense. With Ashia’s long Dragonite lifespan, however, she served more the role as nanny early on—with Pepper’s mother having vanished, and Tarie an orphan.

It makes me reflect on the numerous aims behind Ashia’s character, how she started out purely for comedy relief in draft one, then expanded onto additional roles. I’m no expert, but having multi-faceted characters, particularly sidekicks, is always a plus, and I find it delighting in stories.

What are your thoughts on sidekicks? Have you any favorites? What do you feel goes well with a sidekick’s persona? Leave your answers in the comments below. Cheers!


Interested in joining my mailing list? Members will receive free poetry, special deals, messages to inspire and empower your life, reflective essays, and short stories not seen on my blog. You’ll also get the latest news on projects.
Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
—Ed R. White

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.