Posts Tagged ‘Bryan Thomas Schmidt’

Setting a new world record, Bryan Thomas Schmidt is now the first person to have written two guest blog posts here. His first was about creating relatable characters. I’m honored that he wrote another significant post for me and Dionysus in the bar, this time on a perennial question in fantasy and science fiction circles: what is epic? Btw, the second book in Bryan’s Saga of Davi Rhii was released just yesterday. The man writes epic-fun space opera, his work ethic is epic-inspiring, and he is an epic-awesome friend. We hope to see you in the comments!

Before I turn this over to Bryan, here are some other great posts on this subject from the fantasy side. N.K. Jemisin wrote one of the most interesting things I’ve read on What is Epic Fantasy? Chloe Smith at Fantasy-Faction covered good ground in “What Makes Epic Fantasy ‘Epic’?” And Clarkesworld featured what is indeed an epic discussion of epic fantasy (and because there’s always a sequel, part 2) featuring 26 popular authors, one agent, and an editor discussing the heart of Epic Fantasy. I’ll add some quick thoughts to the comments on this post.

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The Returning by Bryan Thomas SchmidtWhat does it mean when a story is described as epic? Epic fantasy comes to mind as do historical epics, and epic romances. These are common associations in which people use the term “epic” to describe stories or genres. But in science fiction, space operas are the typical subgenre with which the term “epic” is most associated. Per the dictionary, epic means “long story; long poems about legendary heroes; sagas or prose epics about famous men and women, especially of medieval times; synonyms: heroic poem, legend, narrative, saga, tale; antonym: short story.

Okay, so now that we’ve clarified that. Yeah, right, doesn’t help much.

When I interview authors and ask them to describe epic fantasy, terms like “high stakes,” “good versus evil,” and “save the world quests” are commonly thrown out. George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire, the basis of HBO’s popular Game Of Thrones TV spectacle is epic fantasy. So is The Lord Of The Rings and stories like Wheel Of Time, Terry Goodkind’s Sword Of Truth, Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance. The list could get quite long, but you probably get the idea. So let’s look at what’s epic on the science fiction side: Star Wars is considered an epic saga, along with Frank Herbert’s Dune series, TV series like Babylon 5FarscapeBattlestar GalacticaStar Trek, and Firefly, even Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Space Odyssey novels.

What makes these stories epic?

Epic stories take place on a large scale. They typically occur on more than one planet or across an entire continent or planet (in epic fantasy and historicals) with large casts of characters and complicated storylines. Political maneuvering tends to play a big role as do romance and battles against incredible odds and very ruthless antagonists. Heroes may work in groups, typically just a few in number, or they may work alone. Usually there is a mentor character of some sort and a sense of coming of age for the protagonist in some way, although exceptions do exist.

Epic stories tend to have large set pieces: scenes with large armies or many ships or vehicles or people involved, most often in battles. They tend to have lots of action and melodrama, although this doesn’t have to be of the exaggerated community theatre-type. Often differences in ideologies play a part such as the Dark and Light sides of the force in Star Wars or the different parties chasing the One Ring in Middle Earth. Quite often large families are involved or at least several generations of a family such as the Skywalkers, the Baggins, the Rahls, etc. Many times a member of the family has betrayed the rest or the family has split into factions. Sometimes there’s a lost prodigal. And sometimes there’s romantic competition.

The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Last but not least, epic stories tend to have many creatures. This can take the form of mystical beings like dwarves, elves, trolls, etc. or aliens from other planets. Usually they are sentient beings and can communicate with each other somehow. Often they conflict over culture, needs and goals. But they all tend to be players in the larger drama in some way. Whether historical or fantastical,  epic stories always project a sense of history, a largeness, as if the world and its populace have existed long before the immediate story and will exist long after. There’s a historical stage on which events take place, whether real or make believe and its implications for the larger world and its inhabitants tend to be high stakes. Overall, the story tends to involve a quest or journey the outcome of which has bearing on a lot more than just one individual’s life.  In adventure fantasy, like sword and sorcery, you might have a lone hero saving damsels or fighting bad guys to win glory or prove his honor, but the outcome is much more about his personal journey than the entire history of the world or planet itself. Epic stories tend to involve earthshaking consequences for the whole world itself.

All of these are common themes one can find in epic stories as we tend to encounter them today. I’m sure you’ll recognize many of the elements from the stories mentioned but I’ll bet you can think of other stories with these elements. Moses’ The Black God’s War and my own Saga of Davi Rhii are epic stories, for example. What are some other elements I didn’t mention which you think should be on the list?  What are some of your favorite epic stories and why do you like them? I look forward to dialoguing with you about that below.

In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

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I met Bryan Thomas Schmidt last year when I was looking for a roommate at World Fantasy Convention. Turns out, he’s written a scifi/space opera that’s been summarized as “Moses in Space!” His first novel is out–he’s written a tremendously fun throwback story that reminds readers of Star Wars. Here’s Bryan’s guest post with tips for writing with better characterization. He makes a number of good points, and I was able to pick up some nice ideas from his article:

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The Worker Prince by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

One of the keys to good storytelling that hooks readers is creating relatable characters. What are the tricks apart from character naming to accomplish this challenging task?

To start with, create individuals not stereotypes. Yes, characters have a story function. Yes, some of them are even like tropes, filling necessary roles like comic relief, the buddy, the confidant, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there and fail to flesh them out. People are unique, no two the same, and so should it be with your characters. Each character should respond differently to a particular situation from any other character. For example, fight scenes, can often be a place where characters blend into one and all react the same. Instead try treating such common scenes as opportunities to reveal character through uniqueness. How would one character fight differently than another? Work this in and your story will be richer, your characters stronger. There are many other common scene types where you can similarly emphasize the uniqueness. Look for them.

Second, each character should have his or her own vocabulary. People use words differently, so your characters should as well. One of the best ways to distinguish and develop characters is through dialogue. Educated people use more sophisticated words, while less educated people structure sentences  differently. Think of this as you develop each character’s voice and use it to set them apart, create conflict and develop them throughout your story. Vocabulary, in fact, is far more effective than attempting to create accents. Phonetically, accents already pose problems and can even devolve into silly or, far worse, confusing dialogue styles which detract from the story.

Third, another way to develop character is by choosing the protagonist whose point of view will tell particular scenes. I tend to consider who has the most at stake in a particular scene and make the scene happen in that POV but there are varied theories. Whatever your method, your characters can be developed well through use of POV. For example, I had a scene where a couple are fighting. At the same time, an old enemy is stalking them with intent to do them harm. I told the scene from the enemy’s POV, even though he never interacts with the couple because it allowed me to further both the romantic storyline and the antagonist’s storyline in one scene through his internal monologue as he witnesses their discussion. Three character arcs and two plotlines were thus furthered in one short scene.

Fourthly, People’s tastes vary, and so should characters’. What they wear, how they choose it, etc. can be a part of characterization. Everything from color to fabric choices to scale, formality, and even clothing cost can be used to establish character. We use such things daily as we observe others to determine things about them, and readers will use such details as clues to define characters if you include them. Sartorial Style can be a tool for characterization.

Fifthly, we all have our favorite do-dads, don’t we? Things we take with us everywhere we go. The cliches for women are purses and for men, perhaps, favorite hats, but we all have something. Sometimes it’s small enough to fit in a pocket. Other times, it’s carried around for all to see. Props are a great tool for revealing character. Spend time observing people around you. What props does each person have? Keep a spreadsheet or list of potential props for characters. Yes, when writing fantasy or science fiction you might have to be more inventive than just copying from a list you made at the mall. That’s called writing, dears. In any case, props can add great flavor and speak volumes about characters.

Sixthly, who a person spends his or her time with says a lot about them and so use it to develop your characters well. Fellow characters, animal or otherwise, can be great for revealing character. We see how they interact with each other and we learn volumes about who they are. Think about it: what would the Lone Ranger have been without Silver or Tonto? What about Batman without Robin? There’s a reason Michael Keaton quit after two movies: he was lonely (Ok, that might be just a guess).

Seventh, it seems obvious but sometimes it’s easy to forget to dig deeply into a character’s past for material to develop the character. Even things you know about them but don’t include in your narrative can be of value. All the experiences of that character’s past serve to shape who he or she is becoming, from determining responses to various stimuli to emotional hot points from happy to fearful. When your character seems to become stagnant, review what you know about his or her past, then ask yourself if maybe there might be more to uncover which would help you as you write. You can only have too little backstory, never too much. It’s core to the internal battles all people face and will enrich your ability to write your characters with depth and broadness that stretches outside the boundaries and limitations of your story itself.

Lastly, another that seems obvious, but developing your character’s likes and dislikes can take you all kinds of places, especially when you examine how they might clash with those of the characters around them and even the attributes of the world around them. All kinds of instances will soon arise where you can reveal more of the character through actions resulting from these traits. In the process, your story will have built in conflict and drama and perhaps even humor you might not have thought of before. Character traits are a great way to add spicy detail to your story, surprising and entertaining readers at the same time. And don’t just limit yourself to personal preferences either. Character traits can also include physical ticks like clenching hands when angry or a slight stutter or even a limp or other defect.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

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