- Describing the use of magic and point of view in the fantasy genre.
- Worldbuilding, creating maps, and immersing ourselves in our own universes.
- Creating a world where our readers feel the emotion of our characters.
“Things” are not important, compared to your health, and ultimately your life.
Welcome to the twenty-fifth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with writer S. P. Stevens about the world of his fantasy stories.
Arthur: I really enjoyed your flash fiction piece, A LADY CALLS. What inspired you to write it?
Stevens: This piece was inspired by Hurricane Irma (Summer 2017), and by Mother Nature. I’m a visual person and images of people fleeing for their lives really got to me. When a disaster strikes, there comes a point of decision, whether to stay put, or get out – I thought I would explore this idea, and the human instinct to protect your possessions. The moral of the story, if there is one, is that ‘things’ are not important, compared to your health, and ultimately your life. It’s also worth noting that this planet can be quite a beast.
Arthur: Tell me more about your upcoming book, RANKERS CHARGE (coming out August 1st, 2018). Did you self-publish it, or publish it traditionally? What lessons did you learn? What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started writing it?
Stevens: RANKER’S CHARGE: DELIVERANCE AT VAN DEMON’S KEEP, is dark fantasy meets FINAL DESTINATION. It tells the story of an army unit sent to clear a mine of maddened creatures known as the Unbound. In essence it’s an Adventure story within a High Fantasy universe. It is a side project to my main WIP, BINDCRAFTER, an introduction to the world of the Feyrlands.
We set up a new imprint (Pitt Norton) to publish RANKERS. The biggest lesson learned is that publishers really earn their money. Put off by stories of traditionally published authors who receive minimal support (and sales), after having to cede control over their work and their rights, there seems little advantage to being traditionally published at this stage. I would consider it if someone loved my work enough in future though.
There have been many lessons learned about the book production process, things like: cover art takes months to commission, ARCs need to go out 2-3 months in advance, and that it takes a lot of ‘finishing energy’ to get a book out.
I deliberately kept the cast small and the goals concise.
Arthur: What was your approach to outlining RANKERS CHARGE?
Stevens: I learned a lot from work on my novel, including the benefits of outlining. The story of RANKER’S CHARGE was pretty organic, but I did have a two-page outline onto which I overlaid the ‘seven-point story structure’ to make sure I was hitting the right beats. I deliberately kept the cast small (for me) and the goals concise, so the structure took care of itself in the main. At an early stage, I had a plot which would have lengthened it to a full novel, but it was always my intention to write something short (mainly so I could keep focus on my main novel), so I cut the extras in the outline; the 7-point structure helped with this. I am an outliner at heart, it turns out.
Arthur: Did you have other attempts at writing a long work before RANKERS CHARGE?
Stevens: I have been working on an epic fantasy novel in the same world for the last two years (BINDCRAFTER – coming soon…) I wrote RANKERS to vent my creativity while BINDCRAFTER was going through the first round of Beta reading – which gave me three months where I was unable to work on it. It was a pleasant surprise to find I had learned a lot in the process of the first draft of BINDCRAFTER, which hopefully benefited Ranker’s Charge.
If brains came in boxes, mine would be on the outside.
Arthur: How did you develop the artwork for RANKERS CHARGE?
Stevens: We commissioned original artwork from a great freelance illustrator who specializes in Fantasy (they go by the name Fornal). We went back and forth several times, having provided a clear guide to the format of the scene. It took a while but the end result was awesome.
Arthur: What draws you to writing fantasy as opposed to other genres?
Stevens: If brains came in boxes, mine would be on the outside. Mainly, Fantasy is what I read, and love. I adore being spirited away, I love awesome magic, heroes, trials and tribulation. Fantasy is great as it allows the author (and reader) to explore life lessons from a safe distance. I want my writing to be multi-faceted, to look at life’s bigger, or smaller questions. Why create a dragon which only breathes fire and kills sheep, when you can have a dragon who has a dispute with the neighbors, or a drinking problem. (I also have issues with melodrama!)
I want my writing to be multi-faceted, to look at life’s bigger, or smaller questions.
Arthur: What books, TV shows or movies have inspired your writing?
Stevens: As a fantasy writer, other SFF authors are my main inspiration. I adore Douglas Adams for his take on the world, Terry Pratchett for his comedy, JK Rowling for her ability to get you to turn the page, David Eddings for his easy style, Neil Gaiman for the way he twists the world, just a little. There are many more…
Arthur: How did you approach world building for The Feyrlands?
Stevens: The world has grown organically over the last couple of years. I like to lay down, in the quiet, and see where my mind wanders. Often the world building comes from the characters and plot and ‘ooh wouldn’t that be cool’ moments. The physical makeup of the world is something else. It’s unique in that it spins around a binary star, so orbits and latitudes/ longitudes are not comparable with Earth – this side of things writes itself.
I like to lay down, in the quiet, and see where my mind wanders.
Arthur: How did you make your map for The Feyrlands?
Stevens: This was created using a combination of Campaign Cartographer (for the outlines and features) and Photoshop for text and effects. Campaign Cartographer is great – I like that it limits you in certain ways, while the terrain building and features are comprehensive; continent building is easy too, with the fractal design modes.
Arthur: Writing fantasy involves lots of name and title development. How did you come up with the names of your characters, cities and events?
Stevens: I often just write the first sound that comes to mind, sometimes I look at lists of horse names, soccer players, and other random collections. My countries are ‘linked’ to real world cultures on Earth, so depending where a character comes from I will use real-world names from those regions as inspiration.
Recently, my favorite technique for finding character names is to take two random everyday objects and join them. For example, table and pen – meet Tablen! You get the idea.
I also run polls on social media when I can’t decide between names, which is fun, but it turns out a lot of the time there is no agreement.
Why create a dragon which only breathes fire and kills sheep, when you can have a dragon who has a dispute with the neighbors, or has a drinking problem.
Arthur: How are you setting your writing apart from other fantasy writings?
Stevens: I write from the heart and my trope radar runs pretty hot. I do like tropes, but if I use them, it’s quite deliberate. Hopefully, my writing stands apart due to my ‘voice’ – which I have tried to let develop as naturally as possible. I think my themes are quite original, and genre-wise I straddle Grimdark/ YA/ High Fantasy – contributing to a lightness and hope at the center of everything. I can’t help it, no matter how dark I make things my characters always do the right thing. I joke with my critique group that I have invented a new genre called Grimlight. You read it here first.
Arthur: What was the editing process like for you?
Stevens: RANKERS went through three extensive Beta reads, which is where the developmental editing all took place, then three editing passes and a couple of copy edits. I’m undecided as to whether I actually enjoy editing, I like making the words better, but it can become tedious. My experiences with editors has been mixed, I think every writer dreams of finding their perfect word-fixer, but I haven’t as yet.
I love awesome magic, heroes, trials and tribulation.
Arthur: How do you promote and publicize your work? Is there a strategy which yields a better return on the marketing investment?
Stevens: We are still testing the waters as far as promotion goes. I love social media, so that pulls in readers. Apart from that, and paid advertising, we are concentrating on reviews and optimizing for search engines. I am trying to ‘find my tribe’ as they say, so a lot of the focus is on building my mailing list. I’m also a big fan of merchandise and we have a BINDCRAFTER range of t-shirts, mugs and bookmarks in the pipeline.
Arthur: Is writing your full time career? Or is it more of a side hustle? How do you make time for your writing?
Stevens: It’s fluid, as I do have quite varied interests and commitments, but writing definitely takes the majority of my time. I borrow the hours from my sleep when my time turner malfunctions…
I’m a visual person and images of people fleeing for their lives really got to me.
Arthur: With your book recently being released, what are you most excited about? Seeing how it sells? Starting the next project?
Stevens: I’m most excited about building interest for the BINDCRAFTER universe in general. I would love people to read and enjoy RANKERS, and hopefully if they like my writing style and characters they will be keen to read about Guyen, Mist and the other amazing characters from BINDCRAFTER, who are bursting to get out into the cosmos, and into readers’ brains.
Arthur: What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers? How are you doing this?
Stevens: For me, it’s all about immersion. I have made a very deliberate decision thus far to only write from one POV, and to keep everything linear, to strengthen this aspect. I am not a big fan of too many POVs, head-hopping, and flashbacks.
I want readers to feel something for my characters, to experience their highs and lows, to elicit emotion. I want readers to have the experiences I enjoy most when reading. For me, a lot of this relates to writing POV magic, as if it’s projected from the reader’s own fingertips. It’s a lot easier to write a Gandalf style character, where magic just happens and is never explained, but I prefer to know how my characters make it happen. Then, as I am going about my daily life in the real world, I can imagine how I would change it, and often do.
Thank you so much, S. P. Stevens, for sharing your thoughts on editing and worldbuilding with us. Make sure you check out his website and immerse yourself in his BINDCRAFTER universe.