Guest Post: Making The Transition From Horror To Fantasy (Or, Shifting Gears) by James A. Moore
I have said on more than one occasion that I don’t really believe in genres. I write what I want to write and I worry about selling it later. That’s true. But it’s not a complete truth. There are differences in the genres. Both from a writer’s perspective and in the market.
So now that I’ve offered up a paradox, I’ll try to explain.
I do not consider what genre a story is when I’m writing it besides the necessary aspects. If I’m writing a horror story set in the modern world, it will, by nature, require less world building than a straight fantasy novel. Why? Because the world is already there. I might tweak it a bit, adding an occasional ghost or zombie or demon, but the world remains the same as the one I live in.
In a fantasy setting such as SEVEN FORGES, there’s a great deal more effort involved. I don’t have a world yet. I have to create one from scratch. Now, that isn’t always the case, but it most decidedly was for the world of SEVEN FORGES. There are a lot of fantasy tales set on the very planet where we live, though they are usually in the far distant past or the far-flung future. I chose a different path because, frankly, I’m not going to be kind to the people or the planet before the tale is told. The setting has never existed before. I wanted that for a reason. I didn’t want to employ any sort of creatures that have existed anywhere else in the past. I decided that any creatures roaming in the darkness here would either be human, or they would be as original as I could manage. No dragons, no elves, no fairies, no werewolves, no vampires, et al. Not even a few lonely ogres, no matter how fond I am of them.
It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I wanted to start from scratch. Believe me, I learned very quickly that there’s a lot more work involved in creating a world than most people might suspect. It certainly caught me off guard and I was prepared for it, or at least I thought I was.
It’s not just building an imaginary city. It’s not even a country. There’s so much more to it. There’s history: Even if you never write down a word of that history, you have to know it. You have to understand the cause and effect for each and every part of it. I’ve made mention of the Wellish Overlords in the SEVEN FORGES books, and while they have never shown up, and they might well never show themselves (I never once said they were dead) I still have to know who they are, what they are and how they’ve interacted with both the Fellein Empire and with the Sa’ba Taalor. They have, for the record. They are the only group outside of the Fellein Empire that has ever encountered the Sa’ba Taalor. How? I’m not saying. Not yet, anyway, but it happened. It’s even mentioned in the story Angry Robot just posted on their site, called “When Korwa Fell.”
There is a history there. It might be vague, even for me, but once upon a time the Wellish Overlords were a force to be considered and even now, they might make a comeback.
In THE BLASTED LANDS I point out that Tyrne, the city seen as the center of the Empire is, in fact, home to the Summer Palace. It’s where the emperors of old used to go to enjoy the warmth of the season. I also point out that the tradition was set aside when the Emperor, Pathra Krous, decided he just didn’t want to go back to the true seat of the Empire. I did that for numerous reasons, but one of the biggest was to show exactly how much power the Emperor has. Simply by deciding not to move, he change the balance of power in the empire and in the cities where thousands and thousand of people live. There are consequences to that action that take place in the second novel. It’s not a decision made lightly: there are reasons for it. But that, too, is an example of history that is added into the story. It has to be there. It isn’t a central part of the tale, but it’s important enough for me to mention.
I actually counted. I have upwards of fifteen separate deities in the world of the Seven Forges. Seven of them are worshipped (actively) by the Sa’ba Taalor. The rest are from scattered pantheons. Some are still worshipped and some almost completely forgotten because over the course of a thousand years, things tend to change.
History. It’s a part of a world that has to be there but noire importantly, as a writer, I think if it’s lacking, readers will know. I try very hard not to bog down my stories with unnecessary history, but a few pieces here and there are integral to adding the right level of reality to a fantasy tale. And in the case of horror stories set in the modern world that’s still true. It’s just easier to add in without causing confusion.
Here’s another one for you: Geography. World-building means having to create the map of the world, or at least the parts that are seen. Have you watched GAME OF THRONES? One thing I love about the show is that the beginning sequence is different each season. There are more locations added to the collection of cities shown because they had been added to the series. The same is true (though honestly it wasn't intentional, just a happy accident) with the Seven Forges series. I have added a lot of locations in the second book and in the third there will be even more. Some have already been mentioned in the past and some are coming out of the story’s evolution, but they are definitely being added.
That’s something that happens in every story I write of course but not to this magnitude. In a modern setting I can say a character has gone off to Manhattan and most people can at least imagine the city, even if they’ve never been there in person there have been endless references—written and visual alike—over the years. But the eastern side of the continent that houses the Fellein Empire? There’s nothing. The valley of the Sa’ba Taalor? Nothing. They didn’t exist before. I can’t expect the readers to know about them. The characters in the book? Sure. The readers? Not a chance.
It’s not just building a world. It’s wrapping yourself into that world’s details. You have to know them even if they are never actually mentioned in the book. I don’t have to know the eye color of every character, but I have to know the cultures of the people, the history of their cultures, the beliefs of the people and how those beliefs have shaped them. Again, the difference is, I can cheat and use literary short hand for that when I’m writing a book set in the modern world. I can use the word Apartheid and expect that most of my readers will be able to catch the reference. Even if they can’t a simple Google search will clarify enough to let the readers understand. But I can’t do that with the Sa’ba Taalor, the magic systems used in the world I’ve created or the political history of the Fellein Empire.
The situation can be tricky. There has to be a balance. I want to give the readers enough information to understand what’s going on. I also dread the notion of boring my readers with too many details.
Lastly, one that I didn’t consider too heavily when I started the switch from horror to fantasy is names. There are amazing numbers of names already employed in this world. We have a long history and we have diverse cultures that, these days, are more connected than they have ever been before and that means names are known and plentiful.
And I didn’t want to use them. I didn’t want every burly man with an axe on his shoulder to sound vaguely as if he were born in the mountainous areas of Europe. I didn’t want every knight of the Empire to sound like he was fresh off the boat from England of Medieval France. I’ve actually set myself up for a fall here, and I hope to avoid it, because I have expanded a lot of countries and I’m doing my absolute best to maintain certain rules for the names and traditions of those areas.
Even among the Sa’ba Taalor, which in comparison to the Fellein Empire is a microcosm, there are seven separate kingdoms with seven different lifestyles. What they have in common is one massive thread of belief that ties those seven nations together. But still, King Tuskandru has a fairly simple name, whereas halfway down the valley and two mountain-kingdoms over the ruler, King Tarag Paedori not only has a different name, he lives a very different lifestyle. Tusk is nearly nomadic, and lives mush of his life wandering or basically hanging around in a cave. Tarag Paedori runs a military fortress with soldiers who practice every day and dwell in regiments. And there are five other kingdoms there, with different names, different philosophies and different rules of engagement. That is all very deliberate and leads to a bit of a challenge when keeping them all apart.
I did a trilogy of novels called the SERENITY FALLS trilogy. I once counted and I had 187 named characters in those books. That’s a lot of characters. I’m currently at 140 named characters in the Seven Forges books. That’s also a good number. Most of them are seen only once or twice, but I have to keep track of them and I have to make notes on them. Trust me, this is the first time I have ever had to keep a list of names to make sure I’m not creating more chaos than absolutely necessary.
Did I mention that I hate books where you need to a list to keep track? I do. I always have. So I want to make sure that when the characters show up a second or third time I remind people of who those characters are to avoid making it hard to read the books.
It’s an interesting challenge, switching from Horror to Fantasy and it’s a bigger challenge than I ever expected. I mean that.
And I’m absolutely loving it. If you can’t try new things, if you can’t challenge yourself to develop the necessary skills to expand you craft, then you just might not be in the right business and I love my business. I love writing and creating new places, new stories. I never get tired of it, even when it exhausts me.
There are more plans for the world of the SEVEN FORGES. There are plans beyond that world, too. I’m already working with a coauthor on another radically different fantasy tale with new lands to explore, new people to meet and new (and sometimes old) challenges to face.
It’s a rich universe of possibilities and I love exploring.
Thanks for having me as a guest at The Book Plank!
James A. Moore, May 2014, Seven Forges