Thoughts on Writing Fantasy Novels

Many of my readers often ask how I start writing, where do the ideas come from and what kick starts a project that might go further than one book? One of my concepts is something many might overlook.

Stephen King is a brilliant example of using poetry as a source of inspiration for probably his biggest series. Browns “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” published in 1855, was the inspiration that created the Gunslinger and Mid-world where the Dark Tower holding the universe together is under threat by forces of The Crimson King.

The opening line that led to the Dark Tower series of books begins with a simple sentence that sets this wheel of the story in motion.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Roland Deschain’s epic quest to find and protect the Tower spans eight books, one novella and graphic comic books that are still being published containing back story.

It is the opus magna that draws in many other stories reaching from Salem’s Lot to The Stand. Characters such as Marten Broadcloak, Walter O’Dim, Randall Flagg and the Man in Black (there are more names) are all the same antagonist. Walter being the key inside the Tower series, although it was in the guise of Marten that Roland first meets him.

I could talk long and long about this series, debate the merits of the attempted movie from both sides (positive and negative) and drop into the world of Ka, ye ken it?

However, this is about inspirations. Browns poem is exactly that for Roland’s quest. We have references to his early  friends that knew him as a child before gunslinger training. One of his close friends was Cuthbert. That was before Marten seduced his mother and forced him to take the trial with Cort. The youngest ever to beat him and fledge as a true gunslinger.

The horn blown in the final stanza is turned into The Horn Of Eld. The piece missing in each rotation  of the wheel until this last one. He emerges from the Tower with the horn in his gunna. Notable in the film as Idris Elba has it slung on his backpack. The turn King starts with in the books Roland does not have it. As he exits the Tower he does. Is it important?

Not hear? When noise was everywhere! it tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers, my peers –
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.

There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. ’Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.

I think so. Brown declared it in the final stanza above.

I also feel we meet Walter O’Dim in the opening two verses.

My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the workings of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.

What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch ’gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare.

Epic poem, epic book. As King says,

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

Heck, I was totally unaware of Browns poem before reading The Dark Tower.

Mind you, it was also Iron Maiden that put me onto Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner too.

Back to inspiration. My quasi opus magna is pretty much under wraps. It does have inspiration though. Not Brown, but Edgar Allen Poe. And no, it’s not The Raven…not yet….

A Dream” first appeared without a title in Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827, the title became attached on publication in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems in 1829.

Google often misses it and returns another Poe poem called “A Dream Within A Dream,” published in 1849.

What struck me is the narrators concept in the second line and waking up to find dreams smeared into reality. A confusion, if you like, that merges the two together throwing out the questions, “What is reality?” and “What is a dream?”

It’s perhaps one of several poems by Poe that engage the darker haunting mindset. Dreams feature and so does separation lead to broken hearts. Dreaming also changes the reality by which we accept day-to-day existence.

It gave me an idea to blend this into a story that has two protagonists with different conditions. One suffering post traumatic stress after the death of her twin sister. She suffers vivid nightmare. The other is someone she meets during therapy that suffers blackouts with no known cause that only manifest during the day.

Both are visiting other worlds and realities that medical science believes to be subconscious delusions. They are in fact entirely real and open up the door to a series of explorations I did on my manuscripts during this years A to Z.

A to Z links can be found here

These are in reverse order, most recent at the top

In that I have seen new angles on my work along with a new creation and world that wants to spread its wings into something I have bern considering for quite some time.

A Dream, Edgar Allan Poe

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed-
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted.

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?

That holy dream- that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding.

What though that light, thro’ storm and night,
So trembled from afar-
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day-star?

Two examples of using poems from past masters as inspirational sources for writers. Granted one is proper famous, and one isn’t… I’ll let you work out which is which!

I’ve tried to use Kings model on the Brown elf poem against my own concept construction. Inspiration can come from many places if you have eyes to look and an imagination to un-pick them to your own ends.

To me exploring structure in this way is fascinating. You don’t have to play by conventional rules and stanza analysis. In fact you don’t actually have to be a literature expert to appreciate them and twist the content into something new that can become an epic down the line.

A Dream is not an epic poem by a long shot. For me it’s one of several that began sparking an idea. I could probably write several posts on how I go about creating things.

Maybe I should!

I’d be fascinated to hear where other writers draw inspiration from too, so feel free to comment and discuss them.

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69 thoughts on “Thoughts on Writing Fantasy Novels

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  1. Inspiration is all around us. I think some creative people have a gift of noticing the world around them, and they draw this into their work whether it be consciously or subconsciously. People have a mythological nature to their thoughts.

    One way to draw inspiration is from mythology. Tolkien was a professor of mythology, and his works on Middle Earth are heavily inspired by Norse mythology, the stories told by the Vikings. Mythology itself is fantastic to read if one is a fantasy author.

    How about art? Can looking at a great masterpiece inspire writers to tell stories? Paintings can say so much with just that one scene. Why not look at some of the great works of art and create a story out of it?

    Philosophy shouldn’t be overlooked either. You mentioned a poem by Poe which asked questions about what’s reality and what’s a dream. This school of thought aligns with the philosopher Rene Descartes innate ideas. Descartes explored the concept of reality vs dreams to an extent. Good writing can help us to think and feel, forcing us to ask deeper questions about life. Good literature can incorporate philosophy, encouraging the reader to ask hard questions.

    1. Almost a post in itself here Jonathan. Great suggestions and many I use all the time. Fantasy writers have a wealth of history, myth and lore to draw from and philosophers are fabulous to ponder over and weave into the craft. Really enjoyed your comment and very much appreciated it is indeed. Thank you for the careful insights.

        1. My pleasure Jonathan. Anything getting grey matter musing is well worth it. More so if I’m taking more away from a posts comments than was first there!

    1. This one has been sitting for three years as a first draft. It got stirred up in the A to Z and grew somewhat larger in concept which is what it was always going to be. Just need to get the other three published first lol

  2. Love the Black Tower books. That opening line might be one of the most iconic in modern literature

    1. Same here. I’ve a collection of the graphic novels too which are packed with backstory and becoming quite collectible. The opening line becoming the final line too as Roland leaves the Tower was immense!

  3. I haven’t read anything by King except ‘On Writing’. It’s more a memoir than a guide, but it is useful.

    Reading widely is great advice, because you never know where your inspiration is going to come from. Most of mine comes from reading non-fiction about the fourteenth century, but one, as yet unused, idea came when I was standing on a beach looking at the Isle of Wight, another when I was in the British Museum last week and another from a newspaper article commemorating a historical event. Stuff just comes in, joins other stuff that’s already there and an idea comes out. The important thing is to put yourself in the way of lots of ‘stuff’. 🙂

    1. Very good insight into writing away from the traditional taught methods relying on Novakovich. Having struggled with those I found On Writing much closer to my way of writing.

      Reading widely is essential in my opinion. Not just for ideas, but to improve your own word use, vocabulary, grammar and so on. Anything and everything. Same with non-fiction as you rightly say. Visit places, museums, archives, and so on. Love that last bit… put yourself in the way of lots of stuff! Spot on!

    1. I’m not certain anything other than the DT is based on poems. Further research there lol. But that and the spaghetti westerns were the sources for this. It’s why film actor choice was received with some scepticism. Most king fans modelled Roland as Clint Eastwood and Walter as Lee Van Cleef from the westerns. That was his source, the graphic novels continue in the vein too.

      Fascinating though to see where inspiration comes from.

      Thanks for the kind comment too!

        1. I did consider doing a post on crosslinks between his books and a more contentious one on the film!

          I’m also a fan too. Working through the back catalogue now and filling in the missed books!

            1. Ooh, I’ve not read that! Thanks for the heads up. I’ll look into it as my current TBR begins to actually shrink!!

  4. Interesting. I didn’t realize that King used poetry as inspiration. I used to love reading King. Stopped after Cujo, tried reading Christine, but just felt he was going for the cheap horror. So I stayed away until the Dark Tower series came out. I refused to see the Dark Tower movie because I learned long ago that his work never translates well into movies.

    1. I’ve been a constant reader so to speak. I don’ t like everything, but the majority are pretty fine in my opinion. The DT was something else mind. From that a good deal of his other books blend in. Salem’s Lot being the obvious one. Walter appears in a few too. The movie was after the books and not really supposed to replicate them at all. I agree with you though, his work never really gets transferred to film well. Not sure why that is except the books create a certain ambience in the imagination. I’m not sure film accesses the same place. Either that or the screen writers don’t know the books very well. 🤔

      1. Yes, I like that “ambiance in the imagination.” I am the only person I know who hates The Shining movie because they changed so much of the book to fit into the movie and that stupid “Here’s Johnny,” line. I refused to read Carrie because I saw the movie in the theater before I even knew who wrote it. Once I did, I didn’t want to know what might have been changed from the books. There is something about the way King writes that scares the shit out of me. I remember reading The Stand and getting a cold while I was reading it and being afraid to go to sleep. That’s why your God Strain scares me! Funnily enough, I read and loved all the Harry Potter books and watched and loved all the movies even though I noticed all the changes. I guess they were able to keep the “magic” in the movies in a way that they can’t keep the “true horror” in a King movie.

        1. Brilliant comment Jenifer. I only watch a film after reading the book. More so if it’s a favourite author. It leaves me better placed to keep reading. Kings books are infamous for not being translated into film well. My theory on this is his writing aims to draw the reader into a core character. It’s more a psychological connection. Trying to put the psyche of that into film breaks down. It never draws the same connection. The Stand works because the reality of sudden dystopia is tangible. God Strain was aimed that way too, a ground zero contagion where nobody realises. The spread is exponential. Stopping it is wishful thinking. It’s hard to read yes, but equally bizarre to write. I stopped because I couldn’t find a viable solution. Unlike Indepedence Day there wasn’t a quick fix. That said, I do have an angle now. And it could turn it into a book.

          Re Harry Potter. Rather like LOTR, it is film transferable because we buy into several characters and the antagonists. It’s less psychology dependent. King makes us become the protagonists. Let’s us see who they are before putting an extraordinary situation into them.

          In Carrie, I felt for her. Home life, bullied at school. She was a tragedy. The supernatural element was blown in to do what most bullied people want to do but can’t. The book is way better. Avoid Miss Peregrine film too. That one totally veers from the book !

          1. Too late. Saw the Peregrine film but never read the book. Fun/scary at the time story about Carrie. Saw it in the fall when leaves are off the trees and the storms are getting really windy. After the last scene people screamed and then quickly headed to the exits. Someone opened the doors just as the wind was whipping up a 30 or 40 mph gust. Leaves and garbage blew past the doors and then the wind slammed the doors shut. More screaming as people made a mad dash for other doors. My laughter didn’t start until I was in the car.

            1. Eek. Thing is the Peregrine film was OK. Just had the wrong girlfriend lol. That and a few other huge differences. Still enjoyed it more than a King adaptation though. Which is sad. I do feel Kings work is transferable but both script writer and directors really must be huge fans and well versed in his books. Carrie was maybe the best of those. Your recounting of watching that is, forgive me, rather funny 😂😂

  5. I was put off poetry at school by an epically awful English teacher, it took me years to discover that poetry can be inspiring, awesome, stirring, heartbreaking and truthful all in one. Not a bit of wonder that King used such a great poem as inspiration!

    1. Ditto. I had to do Thomas Hardy and the Trumpet Major AND his flipping poetry. At sixteen life’s too short to be reading that stuff. It killed me on poetry entirely. More so because interpretations were rigid. I don’t buy into that. It may have a particular meaning, but each reader might see them in a different way. It took me years to find them again and even now it’s very specific. Epic poems and people like Edgar Allan Poe.

      Absolutely King took a huge amount from that one too. Epic poem into epic book series.

      Thank you for the comment too! Much appreciated!

  6. I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft this past winter, and I can’t tell you how many times he mentioned the importance of reading when it comes to great writing. I feel that this post just adds on to the memoir I just read – bringing me deeper into his story. He never mentioned the use of poetry in his work, but I can see where it would have been an inspiration for him. Another great post, Gary!

  7. Using poetry for inspiration makes perfect sense. I think most of creative writing and artistry build on the inspiration of others. It’s my favorite part of being a creative human.

    1. It’s obvious once pointed out! I had that sensation reading Browns poem after finding King used it. Why I never considered it before then I’ve no idea!!

      Thanks Angela and yes, it does add value to creativity too

    1. Lol, dare I ask if the event attendees escaped or not?? I know what you mean though. Anyone who doesn’t write would find some of my thoughts well disturbing 😂

  8. I love reading how other writers find inspiration. I find it in the strangest places. A song or a movie will catch my attention and then an idea pops in my head. I bet it’s the same way when you read poetry. It never occurred to me to read poetry to get inspiration. What an awesome idea! Keep up the good work, Gary!

    1. I think I’m always learning when reading post from other writers. Not the technical ones as they tend to recycle things a bit. The ones that are specific to the writer though I find fascinating. Keeps spirits up too!

      Thank you Lisa!

  9. Thank you for sharing these great examples! It does come down to that point you highlighted – if you want to write, read! I’ve been finding that audiobooks are a great way to study tone, which in a good book or piece of writing is usually obvious, but hearing it can sometimes spark creativity and inspiration for a new character or alteration of a conversation.

    1. Thanks Kelsey, reading is a must. The audiobooks thing is a good idea too. I’ve never actually listened to books that way. I also find myself looking at films with an eye to plot and whether it hangs together properly too. That and people watching trying to work out what they do and who they are!

  10. Uugghh that I had to log in first but yea… your posts always leave me with a lesson… I ordinarily won’t pick a book that reads ‘dark tower’ but maybe I still need to be more open minded about my choice of books.
    A lot of things inspire me to write.. people, love, economy, life generally. Not much from poems but I now know better.

    1. I do try and come up with the odd useful post lol. Is that because “Dark Tower” sounds like proper horror? This series is more dystopian collapse involving wizards, two worlds and a gunslinger based on spaghetti westerns!

      Inspiration can come from virtually anywhere. I used this tack because both Kings DT series and Browns poem are “epic.” I do like epic poems because they tend to tell a story. Obviously most poetry can be interpreted in any ways too. That gives scope to improve our literacy and find new prompts at the sane time 😊

    1. Thanks Raimey. It was explored as a theme for the A to Z challenge. I say explored, but it was to go through four manuscripts and copious notes as a refresher for me!

      If you have read The Dark Tower books then look up Browns poem. It’s so obvious, and King makes no effort to conceal it was the inspiration either. Amazing what comes to light when one starts digging 😊

  11. Daily life inspires me always to write, in combination with my personal thoughts about it. I love your ‘muze’ to be poetry. Inspires me to keep writing it 😉
    ps; thank you! for the support at GooglePlus.

    1. Same here Patty, but if I’m honest, to start moving into epic fiction for me this inspiration has to be something more than daily stuff. That said once the idea is there, daily stuff fleshes it out!! The poetry I like most is epic ones. They have stories ripping through them. Even the A to Z has created a whole new idea too. It gave me back story too!

      G+ I’m still trying to get the hang of. Will always like your posts there if I see them too xx

        1. Thanks for the suggestion Patty, I’ll check his out now!

          g+ looks good, but using it well… err if you work that out let me know post haste 🙃 x

  12. I read almost no poetry, so have completely missed this huge well of inspiration, although when studying ltierature the suggestion to dip in to song lyrics as an alternative to poetry certainly did do the job.

    Most of my writing to date has been short, so inspiration has come from a word, a phrase, a photograph. But for the forming of a piece of lengthy writing – so far, it’s been an odd mish-mash of facts that makes me think “I wonder”.

    1. I hear you there! At school I was put off poetry because we had to do Thomas Hardy’s the Trumpet Major and his poetry for exams. It has a huge effect in me there because at a young age I found it dreadfully dull. Two years of that killed it for many years after. Then I found heavy metal and Iron Maiden who did a track based on Coleridges Rime of the Ancient Mariner. That took me into epic poems and off into myths and legends. King threw me at Browns Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came and that took me off to Poe.

      Music is fabulous too. I’ve always followed lyricists more than actual tunes. Early Marillion has some fantastic ones. This line stuck forever… “To write the rites to right my wrongs.” Also fell into Gothic music too because of the haunting lyrics.

      Short fiction I struggle with because I’m always looking for a bigger story. I’ve connected with loads of writers though that often throw up flash fiction challenges.

      I’m my opinion if you are thinking “I wonder” then you’re half way to having a go to find out 😊

  13. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.-

    I can’t love this quote enough. Reading how others have approached a story, idea, thread, is often how I find inspiration. I go from that moment of “why didn’t I think of this?” to “How can I use this, make it my own.”

    Anyone who claims to be a writer but doesn’t read…man I can’t wrap my head around that.

    Excellent post. And your book sounds intriguing.

    1. Thanks Fenster. That quote hit me when I read On Writing by King. It’s one of those in your face realities. I’m with you on writers who don’t read too. Just can’t get where they come from. It’s like saying
      “I’m an electrician”
      “Oh, where did you go to college?”
      “I didn’t….”

      I actually used this years A to Z challenge to wander through my manuscripts dedicated all of it to that and creating a new character during the posts with an idea for an epic of sorts!

      Thanks for popping over. Love connecting with IWSG bloggers and writers!

  14. I would never have thought to look for inspiration from other forms of literature but it is probably a gold mine, loved the Poe poem as well, dreams are where a lot of my inspiration comes from 😊

    1. Same here Kate. It was when I was reading around Kings Dark Tower that I came across its influences from Childe Roland. Since then I’ve become fascinated by epic poems and Edgar Allan Poe as a writer. The more you look the more you find idea wise. A gold mine it certainly is.

      Many thanks for the lovely comment 😊

    1. People watching is absorbing in my humble opinion. So many character ideas form that way. I agree too, many things can make a leap into the imagination. Non-writers might perceive this as totally mad 😂

      Thanks for the lovely comment Ronel!

    1. Very true… that said I find Browns poem and how it led King to the Dark Tower absolutely amazing 😳

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