Of gods and men

I am a fan of mythopoeia, by which I mean I enjoy the process of creating myths, building legends. I have just finished writing the eighth chapter of the current novel, in which my mythopoeic tendencies kicked into high gear (to the extent that I wound up emailing the University’s lecturer in Hebraic and Semitic studies for help – fortunately she’s a friend of mine, and not some random person finding slightly crazed emails in their inbox!), and I can’t wait to get cracking with chapter 9, in which the whole fictional universe I’ve created goes completely mental.

My friend Jo, who is also writing a novel (and now the word-count race is seriously on, as she’s on 60,000 while I’m on 80,000), recently posted on her blog a quiz all fantasy authors should take before ever committing pen to paper. Since Sci-Fi – even military hard sci-fi – is at best Fantasy’s kissing cousin, if not actually its sibling, perhaps I had better take the time to answer the questions too…

  1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages? In the first 50 pages of my first book, a dreadnought is sabotaged, a commando force pulls of a stunning intelligence coup with a dockyard worker, and a bar fight leads to the threatened destruction of an embassy. That should be plenty.
  2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage? Nope.
  3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it? Nae King! Nae Queen! Nae Laird! We willna be fooled agin!
  4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy? No, it’s about consequences.
  5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world? Oh please.
  6. How about one that will destroy it? No!
  7. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about “The One” who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good? Still no.
  8. Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information? Johnny Exposition is absent from the dramatis personae.
  9. Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise? No.
  10. Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character? Absolutely not.
  11. Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician? Not even a little bit.
  12. Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel? No.
  13. How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”? No. In real life, slow warriors tend to be dealt with by quick wee scrappers who don’t respect the narrative convention you’re describing…
  14. How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”? No. The other characters would not tolerate the refusal to divulge.
  15. Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around? The female characters in my books tend to have vastly better things to do with their time, given that most of them are in uniform.
  16. Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued? My female characters are all heavily armed and take a dim view of the prospect of being captured. So ‘no’.
  17. Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals? My female characters kick ass, not because I’m making a feminist argument, but because that’s what the situation demands of them. They’re cool on their own terms.
  18. Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters? No. Although Susan apparently makes a mean cup of coffee.
  19. Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters? No.
  20. Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”? No.
  21. How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”? No.
  22. Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different? No.
  23. Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief? No.
  24. Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy? In a trilogy of books mostly concerned with spaceborne warfare, you would be amazed at the number of uses to which I put my ships.
  25. Do you not know when the hay baler was invented? I have no idea when the hay-baler was invented. There has been literally no point in the last half-a-million words where such knowledge has been even remotely relevant!
  26. Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like “The Blasted Lands” or “The Forest of Fear” or “The Desert of Desolation” or absolutely anything “of Doom”? I think there may be a map featuring ‘the blasted coffee-stain’…but no, I’m making that up.
  27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then? No.
  28. Is this the first book in a planned trilogy? Ha ha ha haaa! I’m writing the *last* book in the trilogy!
  29. How about a quintet or a decalogue? I could foresee a prequel trilogy (to be honest, I’ve already laid a lot of the requisite groundwork) as well as a few spin-off novels – not part of the series or featuring the same characters, but set in the same universe.
  30. Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book? Never seen one. I will acknowledge that these are hefty tomes.
  31. Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you’re still many sequels away from finishing your “story”? Didn’t you see what I wrote as the answer to question 1? And that was just the first 50 pages!
  32. Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books? I work on one book at a time, and I work in chronological order. After I finish ‘The Wings of the Dawn’, though, I may start into the first of the prequels, which I have tentatively entitled ‘Sons of Heaven’.
  33. Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far? I wish I was in his financial ballpark!
  34. Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group? Some anecdotes based on the experiences of some military friends may have cropped up…but I think they would object (and remember: they’re armed) to being described as ‘a role-playing group’.
  35. Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm? I keep borrowing my actual friends and introducing them as characters. But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking, is it?
  36. Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names? No. I will confess to the inclusion of a Kuznec-class destroyer called the Nakoval’n’a, but that’s an accurate transliteration of the Russian (it means ‘Anvil’).
  37. Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables? Of course not, since characters in books aren’t allowed to have names that long. Just ask Pollyanna.
  38. Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named “Tim Umber” and “Belthusalanthalus al’Grinsok”? That depends. Are people allowed to move from one place to another, or is such thinking an affront to homogeneity?
  39. Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings? No.
  40. How about “orken” or “dwerrows”? Oh dear lord no.
  41. Do you have a race prefixed by “half-”? No. Although I quite like the idea of, for example, ‘the half-lunatic Proleons’…
  42. At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines? No.
  43. Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG? No – although on occasion characters have *used* RPGs. By which I mean, of course, Rocket-Propelled Grenades…
  44. Have you done up game statistics for all of your main characters in your favorite RPG? Uh? No.
  45. Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast? No. They’d probably want some wizards or something.
  46. Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls? No. They *also* exist so that charcters can get royally scocious.
  47. Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t? No, it hasn’t been a relevant political system.
  48. Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place? Given the distances involved in galactic travel, if anything, I think my characters get about a bit on the quick side…
  49. Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won’t break the plot? No. My characters are mostly at the mercy of events.
  50. Do any of the magic users in your novel cast spells easily identifiable as “fireball” or “lightning bolt”? No.
  51. Do you ever use the term “mana” in your novel? No.
  52. Do you ever use the term “plate mail” in your novel? No. Despite referring to Halesteel armour plate, Carbon Ceramide armour, Ablative armour, Contiguous Microspine armour, Electromagnetic shielding and various other active and passive defensive systems, never once have I referred to ‘Plate Mail’.
  53. Heaven help you, do you ever use the term “hit points” in your novel? No.
  54. Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs? More than Lead, roughly equal to Tungsten, about half as much as Uranium?
  55. Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest? No. You can’t even use mechanical systems that way…
  56. Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day? No. But ‘delicate’ sounds about right after all that exertion!
  57. Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it? No. Not even a magic boomerang.
  58. Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar? No. Although there is a class of assault shuttle called a Scimitar, so it’s not wholly beyond the bounds of possibility…
  59. Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor? No. Although ships have successfully rammed each other.
  60. Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more? Depends on the sword. Have you tried lifting a Scottish broadsword?
  61. Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains? No.
  62. Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns? No. Although there are some, because I really and truly just can’t help myself.
  63. Is your hero able to withstand multiple blows from the fantasy equivalent of a ten pound sledge but is still threatened by a small woman with a dagger? No. My characters have a much better understanding of close quarters battle than that.
  64. Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man? Surely that depends on what the arrow hits? An arrow, unlike, say, a high-velocity rifle round, doesn’t deliver sufficient kinetic energy for impact/shock damage to be as much a factor.
  65. Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an “on the road” meal? I do. But given that the characters are in military spacecraft just cruising, they have the time…
  66. Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead? No.
  67. Do you think that “mead” is just a fancy name for “beer”? No. It’s fermented honey, isn’t it?
  68. Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion? No (on many different levels)
  69. Is the best organized and most numerous group of people in your world the thieves’ guild? No.
  70. Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death? No. Though he has no difficulty meting out that punishment for *significant* errors.
  71. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute? No. Although at one point they do drag along a historian, who has a good line in useful information.
  72. Is “common” the official language of your world? No.
  73. Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before? No.
  74. Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings? No. My politics are more sophisticated than that!
  75. Read that question again and answer truthfully. Hell no!
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About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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One Response to Of gods and men

  1. eruntane says:

    Eeep! Word-count race notwithstanding (which, incidentally, I will almost certainly win because while you’re chasing well over 300,000 I don’t expect to exceed half that), the stories we’re writing are a lot more distantly related than cousins. Namely, yours is a serious trilogy, researched in depth and intended for publication, while mine is the continuation of a couple of short stories that happens to be approaching the length of a fairly slim novel, involves minimal research and exists almost solely for my own entertainment.

    Still, good to know you passed the test!

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