The novel I started writing at the beginning of this year (currently on ice) is a high fantasy with mages, magic swords and creatures that only exist in ancient legends. I’m planning to finish it still, as it’s the story that convinced me to start writing after walking around with it in my head for five years, but I got hopelessly stuck with it about seven thousand words in and I think the best approach for this NaNoWriMo is to start afresh.
In the meantime, here’s a scene I wrote about one of the characters. It wouldn’t have formed part of the novel, but was rather an attempt to get inside one of the character’s heads along with a bit of backstory for the novel itself.
As I approached the clearing I had my first glance of the creature. My breath caught in my throat. How could anyone call such a magnificent beast a monster? It had killed a deer, a great white stag. It gripped the carcass with its talons, ripping out chunks of flesh with its powerful beak. Its hind paws braced it, claws digging into the dirt, tail twitching from side to side, like a cat’s.
I stepped from the treeline. A branch snapped under my foot. I froze, but it simply continued feeding; it had nothing to fear, not the King of all creatures. I could sense my brothers in the trees around me. They weren’t there to help me should the beast attack but to see whether the prophecy would be fulfilled. I waited.
It finished its meal and looked round at me. I wanted to run, but that would have been certain death. Instead, I slowly walked deeper into the clearing, stopping before I got too close. It moved towards me. My heart was beating so loudly I was sure the beast could also hear it. I had to stay still. They value courage above all else. It halted in front of me. I’m a tall man but I found myself staring at the feathers at the base of its neck. Maybe it was monster.
It reared with a shriek that pierced the air, unfurling its massive wings, its talons snapping inches from my face. I managed not to flinch. It lowered its head until its beak was level with my nose. I stopped breathing entirely. I was looking into the eyes of a gryphon. It stared at me, studying me. This was no mere animal.
It stepped back and bowed, spreading its wings close to the ground. I couldn’t believe it. The King of beasts was submitting to me. I ran my hand over the soft feathers of its neck and down the muscular back. I looked up and saw my brothers emerging from the trees. One after the other they dropped to one knee. Othos knelt last, a look of disbelief on his face.
I mounted and settled my knees in the hollows between its shoulders and wings. With the first flap of its wings it shot into the air. I did not expect such a large animal to get airborne that quickly. I threw my arms around its neck as the trees fell away below me.
The gryphon turned towards Thunderhead Mountain. It knew where I wanted to go without me having to steer it, not that I knew how. I was flying a gryphon! No mortal had ever done something like that. As we soared over the highest peak I spread out my arms and did a summoning spell. From the four corners of the sky the winds rushed to me, gathering the storm. Lightning flashed around me as my mount ascended above the clouds. The power was intoxicating.
I pulled the sword from the scabbard at my waist. The opal in the hilt glowed with black light as it sensed the magic in the air. We dove into the centre of the storm. I held up the sword and lightning hit the blade, again and again, drawn to it by the most powerful of spells. The gryphon flew through the tempest, unperturbed by thunder or wind. We rode the storm until the blade was glowing with fierce blue light and I could see the flashes of lightning in the stone on the hilt. I had done it. I, Malthus Gryphon-Rider, Warden of Thunderhead Mountain, Mage of the First Order, had captured the power of the storm.
Copyright © 2013 Herman Kok
8 thoughts on “Prophecy”
Interesting. I enjoyed reading this. The third paragraph needs to be stronger though. I look forward to reading more.
Could you perhaps expand a bit on the third paragraph? What’s not working for you?
The gryphon is introduced in very positive terms in the first two paragraphs (e.g. “powerful”, “magnificent”, and as the “king of all creatures”), but then you abruptly stop in the third, then continue on in the fourth (about how fast it can take off = strong). In order to make the sense of awe flow better throughout the entire piece, I’d like to see a sentence or two added in the mentioned paragraph. Perhaps, between the part when the protagonist moves closer to the gryphon and vice versa, a description of another physical feature like its eyes and a moment of eye contact between the two may be sufficient to achieve that, or detailing how the gryphon approached him/her may work too. Also, when the gryphon halts infront of the protagonist, adding a small detail about how close they’re standing might add to the suspense.
It’s just a case of adding a few small details to bring the piece together, me thinks. Just my opinion… 🙂
Thanks. I’ll definitely go look at it again. Always feel free to make your criticism as detailed as possible on fiction I post here. It will only make me a better writer.
Really enjoyed that! Great description of the gryphon; I could almost see it as I was reading. And the intensity of the action building with the storm and culminating with the glowing blade, very evocative and nicely done.
You have a real talent for pacing (I’ve seen that in your song title challenges too).
I can understand you putting this to one side though and taking a fresh start on something else — I think that can be a good way to rediscover inspiration. You’ve definitely piqued my interest on this though, so it’ll be cool to hear when you get back to it.
Thanks so much for this feedback. I must admit that this is the result of a complete rewrite after an extensive critique by a writing buddy. The first version wasn’t nearly as good.
I’ll definitely be coming back to this, but first I have to do some serious worldbuilding and rethink my protagonist and supporting cast. I’ve come to the realisation that pantsing isn’t going to cut it for high & epic fantasy. At least not until I have the geography and mythology sorted out. I can almost understand GRR Martin taking seven years on a book. On the other hand Terry Brooks churns out three a year. What’s your approach in terms of planning, if I may ask?
Goodness, I didn’t realize GRR Martin took that long to write his books. I think I fall a bit on that side of things, haha. It’s amazing that authors like Brooks can be so prolific. I’d love to know the secret.
I think you’ve hit on one of the major planning issues for high fantasy literature — world building. I’m not sure how representative this is, but I’ve read a number of times about fantasy authors formulating settings for years before starting on their books (Joe Dever, of Lone Wolf fame, is a good example). I did the same. Not so much in a planning sense, but in thinking and imagining. And not because I’m disciplined or have any special foresight (too bad!) but because I enjoyed it and daydreaming about make-believe worlds was a lot more interesting than my job at the time!
None if this is helpful though if you’re writing your book and are planning the world at the same time. I think the best advice I could give is to be selective. If you’re creating an entire world from scratch, you could do just that and never write your book. You’d end up with loads of cool places and cultures and myths, but you might never use them, unless like Dever or David Eddings you have your characters doing a lot of exploration.
I think its best to focus on the places you will be writing about (and the lore and geography and politics associated with them) — really flesh them out. I’ve tried to do that too even though I’ve had lots of time to plan. At the same time, I think it works well to have a kind of ‘big picture’ concept of the rest of the world (i.e. enough details to draw on if need, but with the freedom to come up with the particulars if/when necessary). That way the world will make sense and be consistent, and you’ll have the time to really enrich the places your story centers on.
As for characters, I think they’re much more tricky to get right (but, more rewarding when you do). Why? Because, at least for me, it’s really hard to plan their development when much of it actually comes as I’m writing. With that said, with some of the things I’ve written in the past with no planning at all, my characters have veered off into incoherence. So, now I try to approach this in a similar way to world building. I come up with a kind of big picture concept for them — What sort of person are they? What challenges will they face? How will they react? and How they will grow (or not)?
That actually sounds more structured than it is though. For me the absolutely key factor with characters is where I see them ending up. Basically their story and is structured around the process of them reaching that developmental place (which serves as a kind of target to keep things on track). In the course of wring and iteration this objective may adjust somewhat, but even if it does, I’m left with an organically formed character that makes sense because they’ve been growing in my thoughts and writing all along the way. Of course, a pitfall is sticking too rigidly to original ideas on character development if things have evolved differently – and then trying to shoehorn characters into something that feels contrived or unnatural. If they’ve developed in an entirely different direction than intended, I think that’s fine. The story’s ending can be adjusted to match (I think many authors don’t decide on an ending until, well, near the end…)
Anyway, sorry, I’ve written a book here! All of this works for me. You may have a completely different approach, but I’m happy if any of this helps. I’d love to hear your thoughts on planning too if you have any spare time from your writing (I’m guessing you’ll be pretty snowed under in November 😉
Write away. I like hearing what works for others. I’m still figuring this out, so anything can potentially help.
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