By Matt Holgate, author of ‘The Dim Realm’ and ‘Unforgotten’
Now that I’ve been at this writing gig for a few years – my fourth book is out this winter, more on that below – I’m sometimes asked for advice on writing, editing, even advertising, be it in person or social media. I haven’t kept track, but I?m pretty sure I’ve never recommended to anyone that if they choose to write fantasy, they should make it really long, throw in just enough mature content that you couldn’t automatically recommend it to younger readers, put in just enough horror so that you can justifiably scare a barbarian who would gladly run at a zombie with a sword, have epic fantasy where people talk like you or I might, and write all your books in a series rather than several stand-alone novels. And yet, that is what I do every day. Weird, right?
Maybe the moral of this story should be What the heck was I thinking?!? But the truth is, I’m having a blast, and so are my readers.
And besides, isn’t the golden rule of writing to write what you know? And I know all about fighting orcs with a broadsword, unravelling ancient mysteries, and outsmarting or at least outrunning mystic doomsday cults. Oh wait. No, I don’t. Oh well. The real golden rule then is one told to me by my late uncle, an English teacher:
Which is short for ‘Apply Ass to Chair’.
That is the key to being successful at anything, but most especially writing, and everything that goes with it.
Personally, in books, what I’m most interested in is character, and there are no short cuts. Not for me. They have to be developed. I want them to grow. I want them to defy their confines, their archetypes. I want them to surprise you, me, themselves. I want them to live and, yes, sometimes that means I need them to die ? because I’ll never say I want them to die. If I ever want that, I didn’t make them interesting enough. I create the plot situations, maybe, but if I’ve breathed enough life into them, they’ll tell me what happens next, not the other way around.
I like flawed, interesting people, in everyday life and in book life. (We can argue later about which is more real.) So, I have a killer orc warrior, but he’s an introspective religious fellow with a wonderful sense of humour. (Well, according to him, anyway.) I have a dwarf who is frankly aghast at his own standard-fantasy-dwarfisms. I have a teenager who looks at the fantasy world pretty much the way a non-fantasy reader would, and asks the same questions, and not always nicely. I start all my characters off in an epic high fantasy light, and then I begin to break them down, reveal who they really are, and it turns out they’re a lot like the rest of us. They are strong and they are frail, sometimes even in the same paragraph, because so are we.
Most importantly, I have to give them room to breathe. It’s a long road, and fortunately, one that readers are finding interesting, enjoyable and moving.
And while you can term my work dark fantasy, meaning I want the bad guys to be truly bad in a realistic kind of way, there’s an old axiom – you cannot have the dark without the light. So my characters have to laugh in the face of their struggles. They have to enjoy life and each other. There has to be fun. Sometimes, that’s the only way to cope in the face of horror.
I plot my books out pretty religiously ? which, truth be told, is about the only religious thing about me. I have to do that for a series that is turning out to be as long as ?The Resurrection Tower? series will be, where I’m currently writing the fifth of what is likely ten books. There are mysteries, and mysteries within mysteries to be solved. There are clues to be gleaned and pieced together by the protagonists and readers alike. Some are solved sooner, others later, and all I can promise is that they will all eventually be solved, not that you’ll always like how. But we go where the story takes us, wherever that may be.
I have set a road, but these characters continue to surprise me. How they react doesn’t always go to plan with my notes, but I let them ride. They’ve earned it. (And if you have yet to read any of my books, trust me, they’ve earned it.)
So if you want fantastic lands, dreams and nightmares come to life, dark magic, battle and sorcery ? you’ve come to the right place.
Slowly unwinding riddles and mystery? Check and check.
Book Four of the Resurrection Tower is coming out later this winter! Find the first three books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and more. Hard cover, soft cover and e-books all available.