Saturday, 29 August 2015

How relevant is Body Language in writing? by Jo Johnson-Smith

Now we all know how to read the written word, hell you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't, but the thing is this, how do you describe the way a person moves or interacts with another?

How far do you go to describe an enemy of someone when they can't interact with them? Say your character sees their enemy walk into a room, do they feel nothing and stay still, or do they tense up, shift position to confront them? Emotions aren't just spoken through dialogue, they are spoken through the body of our characters.

Have a look at decent actors, even silent movie actors, they get over the emotions of the scene without speaking, without the use of words and we should embrace this theory when we write.

Description of emotional states is more than words, it's physical, when someone is really upset and hurt they curl inward, pull themselves small, hide their head, stare into nothing while silently crying.

Remembering how to move and feel is important when we write, how our characters feel at a particular time is just as important as what they say. We all recognise good writing and we can recognise when something is wrong with a piece of writing that feels 'dead' or missing something.

Nuances of body language we pick up all the time, the feeling of unease that builds as someone sits at a table, unblinking, staring ahead at nothing, the stillness of their body and yet the brooding sense of a mind out of control, just on the edge of madness.

Just in those few words we have a scene of a man at the end of his rope, he's said nothing, done nothing but we can 'feel' his emotion through the stillness of his form but the staring he does shows us what he's thinking.

All of us pick up on nuances of characters, the way someone walks, they way they move across a space, what they say and how they say it. All of it is important, we have a inbuilt ability to 'read' people, it's what makes us human and we use it unconsciously but as writers we need to pull this ability into our writing and to create fully rounded characters and situations.

Especially in fiction, fantasy and science fiction where the believable is stretched we need to be assured that we know where the characters we have are going and what they are feeling. We need to know what they would do when faced with enemies, friends, lovers, aliens or dragons, we need to inhabit them fully to bring them to life as real people.

Let's have an example

Version one
Hey let's get going eh? We've only got ten minutes.....chop chop!”

Version two
Looking at his watch for the fifth time, blowing out his cheeks as his kids almost ran through him, “Hey let's get going eh?” Hunching his shoulders as he took the kids bags in hand, seeing his eldest half dressed at the top of the stairs hair dripping wet. Sighing deeply and growling the last few words out of his stressed body, gripping the handles tighter as she flounced back into her room. “We've got ten minutes......” the sound of the hair drier went into high gear. “Chop chop!”

There we go, the same person described just with dialogue and the second with emotion and it describes their personality better. A rushed father with a deadline who isn't going to make it, a man who crushes his anger down instead of shouting at his girls. He can see his day becoming undone but he just lets it go when he hears his eldest daughters attempt at hurrying.

We get a better view of someone when we round them out, we give them a fullness that we pick up on and feel as we read them. It makes them more real, more human and if we're writing aliens we can use that difference to make their difference more visible to the reader. That they don't do the usual human thing, that they are truly alien t the rest of us, in the world of robotics it's the perfection that stands them out from the messy humans. But if you want to blur the lines here, have a messy robot and play with the constructs to false foot your readers.

Body language is something we should all try to remember, that the body's position is important in how we describe them as a character. How they stand and sit, what they wear and why, how they speak and when they speak and to whom. It's all important to the character and the story we're writing, body language is natural let's try to make it natural in our writing too.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Backseat Drivers: Why your characters know the story better than you - by Chris Joynson

There comes a point in every writer’s life when their characters are so well defined in their own minds that the characters take on a life of their own. You can hold conversations with them as naturally as you would a real person, and even though you think you know inside and out, they will continue to surprise, show unseen depths and sides as you continue to write them. They are your friends, your children, your babies. And just like real people, they fight back.

You may assume that just because you created their world, breathed life into them, and designed their appearances and characteristics, that you somehow have a say in how they act. This is your show and you are its master surely? (Throws head back in hysterical laughter). No, not in the least. You see once the characters come to life they will act as they see fit, and that won’t always mesh with what you want them to do.

You see the problem is when you first come up with a story the characters aren’t much more than a few scribbles of notes that move through the plot like chess pieces, but the more you write the characters, the more you learn about them and get the sense of their voice, the more they change. In the end the characters you’re writing will be vastly different to those cardboard cut-outs you initially came up with.

This means that inevitably you will come to a part of your story where the characters refuse to do as they are told, because what you want them to do no longer fits their character. Now there are two ways around this, either you break the character and force them do what you want, or you have to backtrack, reconfigure the setup so that the character’s actions fit with the character, or maybe even take a different route entirely. Now while the latter options may sound like a pain, they are far more preferable than the first. If you see the character as a real person, then so will your readers, and if you break the characters they have come to love they will hunt you down and, well they’ll probably just voice angry complaints, but you don’t want to upset your readers that much.

Look, I know your story is your baby, and its perfect the way it is and nothing could ever make it better, but you have to be open to change. Your characters develop as you write them, and the story has to follow them. Who knows what new ideas might come to you down the line, what flash of inspiration or suggestion from a friend, and that’s long before the editor comes knocking at your door with their array of sharpened pens designed specifically to carve up your book. You have to get used to the idea of change, and accept that the story you end up with won’t be exactly the same as that original synopsis you had in your head.

It’s a scary thought, but its ok, because your story will be better for it. The world is not a static place, and your story will continue to grow as you write it, you’ll learn more about your characters, and even how you write will improve. So when you find that your characters aren’t doing as they’re told, perhaps you should sit down and have a talk with them to find out what the problem is. Your story can only get better.


Saturday, 22 August 2015

How to write sex scenes by Jo Johnson-Smith

Yes, you CAN write a sex scene!
I know as writers we're supposed to be able to conquer the worlds we create and the characters we bring forth but there is a sticky little piece of fiction that makes some of us seasoned writers run for the proverbial hills.

In reality, writing sex scenes between characters, we all get flustered and confused even in our own lives but when we're alone it's almost like we're being asked to open up our darkest selves and pour it onto a page for others to read.

But it isn't, we have to remember that we're writing a character, a figment of imagination, our imagination and as such we're in control of it. We're not revealing anything of ourselves, only of the character we've created, that the character may enjoy a light bit of spanking before bedtime not us.

We need to be clear in our definitions of where we start and our characters begin, to map out their tendencies beforehand, that maybe the uptight star commander may like to be a submissive in bed, allowing the partner to take some physical control because their job (the gruelling fourteen hour shift) takes everything they have to give. And giving in to someone else and letting them choose when your tired out isn't always a bad thing.

To let your imagination flow into these spaces doesn't fill everyone with dread, but if it does you can always go for the old fashioned, 'their heated skin met, falling back into the arms of ecstasy they strove to find eros in each others embrace.'

Otherwise you let the reader fill in the blanks, but in doing so I think you allow someone else to decide the inner nature of your characters, the real grist and gristle of them. That you've handed over some of their depth to someone else to fill. When what most authors aim for is a real flesh and blood person you can see and feel and that includes their sex appeal to the opposite or same gender.

I'm not going to go into the whole gender bias now of heaving bosoms and thrusting rumps here, no not at all..... Just that you should have your own language of sexual desire, whether it gets it's fulfilment or not. Think of the many romances that have smouldered and burned yet have never been consummated, looks, smiles, even the way a person stands can be sexual, it's up to us the author to make it so.

Have a look at 'The Thomas Crown Affair' the scene with the chess game, which is sex played out in public on a chess board, it's all in the way the fingers move and the eyes meet. You have more to your imagination than just the pink and wobbly bits (which are fun to write about, trust me) but if you can't face it look for a more sophisticated way.

But for those of you who want to bite the proverbial cherry, then read on and learn a few things about body tensile strengths and the heights of tables versus groin heights.

Sex, we all know it, we've all had experience of it somehow or somewhere, from the films we watch to the pornography that tells us everyone should be hairless and have two balloons for breasts.

No, in reality there are tables that get in the way, pets that want attention at the wrong moments, guests that you forgot you gave a key to and people who are washing your windows at the wrong moment.

Forget the Karma Sutra, what most people get is a quick ten minutes of fumbling bliss, a quick swift change over because knees/backs/ankles are hurting and you can hear someone coming up the path!

Strive for realism, but remember the humour factor, condoms that don't fit first time, laughing at the position your in and the way everyone's bits wobble even then you don't want them to. Unless your character is a person who does this for a living (prostitute, concubine, gigolo) they are going to be nervous about starting out with someone new. Even if the blood is pumping and hormones are thrashing inside the bloodstream you still have nerves and a sense of humour.

Don't forget some people are silent as they make love, others are screamers, some growl, others purr, some like to fight and claw your skin, others just cling on so tight you think your going to pass out from oxygen starvation. Round out your characters, give them honest traits, like one guy likes red heads, but only with a good arse on her. Or a man who loves good shoulders on his men so he can feel small when he's being held close. What I'm saying is this......make them as real as you dare. Go as far as you dare to go and then go a little further. 

The more you tackle the taboo the easier it gets to deal with, from what writers of erotic fiction call 'missionary vanilla' to the outer edges of 'knot play, suspension and silk work'. Let your inner erotic muscle work for you, and I don't mean for you to go on a orgy of pornography. The most erotic thing you have is inside your skull, without it we wouldn't be able to imagine what a person would feel like to our naked touch.

Clothes are important, the more dressed a person is the more erotic it can be, it depends on the writing and the way you utilise the language you have. I'll give you an example....

Version One
'Her skirt was always clingy, it spread out under her finger ends, smoothly and swiftly she straightened herself up, meeting his look with her own.'

Version Two
'Her smooth silk skirt always clung to her thighs, taking it under her soft finger ends she allowed her hand to smooth the material down to her bare skin beneath. Seeing him watching her movements, seeing his eyes watch her hand stroke her own silk clad skin she slowly straightened herself up, meeting his hungered gaze with her own.'

The same experience, the same place but written differently, one from an emotionally bland place and one from an erotic or emotionally charged placement. Writing sex scenes isn't just about the bedroom, it's about the way your characters interact, do they find attraction to any of the other characters, and if so what do they do about it? We need to put these emotions into our writing if we want to seem as if we're writing realistic people and circumstances.

So if you find the sex in the bedroom a little difficult, just begin to include sexual thoughts, feelings, and emotions into your work and one day you'll find yourself writing a natural sex scene that comes from an interaction between your characters. If we freeze up our characters will too, relax and find it funny (which it can be trust me on this) you'll be able to write freely and openly.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Interviewing Your Character – Nice to meet you Romeo

It’s amazing how quickly characters become like real people, and authors quickly treat them like that and when written well so do readers. With a well written character, the author will often know them inside out. So how does it get like that? Well that will come through the written of the story, characters just develop that way. But to get yourself started many people will draw out some character sketches and others will actually sit down and interview their character.


There are several different way to interview characters but for the purpose of this interview I will stick to four different version.


Version one – 20 questions

This similar to your social media quizzes with the getting to know you questions. Examples are:

1.       If you could do anything today, what would it be?

2.       If money was no object, where would you live/go on holiday?

3.       What first impression do you give people?

4.       Does this change over time?

5.       What makes you happy?

6.       What are you most proud of?

7.       What are you most ashamed of?

8.       If you could relive on moment what would that moment be and why?

Version two – the basic

This is your basic information that informs the character without that characters opinion influencing the answers with opinions.

1.       Character's name

2.       Age

3.       Parents

4.       Siblings

5.       Children

6.       Appearance

7.       Strong personality traits

8.       Level of education:

9.       Current occupation:

10.   Particular talents/skills

11.   Strengths/Flaws:

12.   Main disappointments:


Version three – the close friend questions

These are the style of questions that you would only really ask a good friend, maybe over a glass of wine or two.

1.       What do you really want?

2.       What are you hiding?

3.       Do you use other people?

4.       Do they use you?

5.       How do you feel about that?

6.       How would you like to change things?

7.       What is the worst thing that could happen to you?

8.       What would make that so bad?

9.       Who has really hurt you and how?

10.   What is stopping you from living happily ever after?


Version four

This is like the chat show interview, where the questions will go with the flow and the next question will come because of the answer to the last question.

“So Romeo, how do you really feel about Juliet?”

“She’s really hot and I’m not meant to like her, because she’s from this rival family, which kinda makes her even more hot.”

“So do you think that is some of the appeal?”

“Well, yes, it kinda gives things an extra edge.”

“What attracts you to that extra edge?”


As you can see, each style of interview has different uses and will show you a different part of that character. And as for the style you chose to use, and the questions you ask, well that is really up to you and depends how important a character is. For a main character you might want to go through all four different styles of questions and for a smaller character you may just want to know the basic. Either way, have fun with it any you might find some fun facts out about your characters that surprise you and bring those characters to life as real people.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Kathryn Said Versus I Said: Point of View in Fiction

One of the first questions that you will have to ask yourself when starting a new piece of fiction regardless of whether it is a drabble, short story or a 400 page epic novel (and all the variations in between), is what point of view you want to use. My personal choice is either to go with third person limited, although I have wrote a fewer smaller pieces in first person. My reason for this choice is because I like writing characters internal dialogues and both of these points of view let you really get inside the character(s) head(s) for long periods of time. I will not dwell on the merits and problems with my choice here, that is for another post at a later date, instead for this post I will give you an overview of all the different choices you can pick when going with point of view.


First Person

Is where a character narrates the story in his/her voice. The type of story will often use me, my, mine, I etc. You will see the story entirely through this character view with their thoughts and opinions forming as much of the story as the action taking place within a scene.

Advantages to this view point are:

·         It creates an immediacy and connection with the protagonist. You are inside that character’s head and there is no filter from their emotions, thoughts, feelings, secrets.

·         Due to the close connection to the protagonist and the reader, it creates a level of believability. You see the story through that character view point and understand their feelings and with no other characters to follow, you  believe what that character is telling you.

·         It can help develop the character. As you are in that character’s head you will see their personality more as they view events. People always put some type of interpretation on events and if you stay in a character’s voice you will get a slant on that character be it funny, philosophical, laid back, hyper etc.

·         “Easy to write.” People use I statements every day, so writing this style is similar to way you think and talk naturally. Just be careful as first person is never as easy as you first think as writing from this point of view can have several restrictions.

·         You have a clear perspective and filter for the story. In first person you know who the story is about.

Disadvantages to this point of view are:

·         It is a limited viewpoint. In first person you are only ever seeing what that person sees, feels, knows etc. To get a different characters opinion that character has to be told about it.

·         It can be a restrictive voice. The story is told from your protagonist’s view and their voice needs to match their background and experiences. Therefore you need be careful to use appropriate language throughout. Would an Army General use the word minging or a teenager use the word unscrupulous.

·         You can easily create a biased narrator. You only see what your character sees. Your character voice will have opinions and they will share these with a reader without the reader seeing the other side to the story.

·         Character can quickly become seen as self-centred or can lack surprises as you will know how a character will react in scenes as you have been in their head throughout the build-up.

·         The constant use of I can become repetitive.

Books in first person:

·         The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

·         The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – Mark Haddon

·         Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn


Second Person

This is very rarely used in fiction. Instead of the more commonly used he/she/me/my, the author uses you and your, making the story directly about the reader. In this point of view the reader actually becomes the main character and is placed right in the centre of the action.

Advantages to this point of view are:

·         It is unique – most readers will not have read a fiction book from this point of view and if they have read one, it’s doubtful that they will have read too many more. Second person is normally reserved for non-fiction instruction style books.

·         It pulls the readers right into the action. The use of ‘you’ makes the story about the reader.

·         It stretches your skills as a writer. Most people are not used to writing in this style, so the skill of creating the story becomes a challenge.

·         It is personal. It is as if the story is a letter from the author to the reader which asks you questions.

·         It forcefully puts the reader in protagonist’s shoes and therefore makes an impression.

Disadvantages to this point of view are:

·         People are not used this style of writing which means it can be jarring. This means people can be pulled out of the story or at the very least find it strange.

·         It is hard to do well and keep the style consistently through the story.

·         It creates a situation where reader is being told they are doing something that they haven’t done. As this is an untrue situation, readers can start to question the story.

·         It limits the reader ability to interpret the story on their own.

·         It can feel like the only reason that the author has written the story like this is as a challenge to themselves and therefore can lack in other areas – plot, character, conflict etc.

Books in second person:

·         Bright Lights, Big City – Jay McInerney

·         Instructions – Neil Gaiman

·         Winter’s Journal – Paul Ausher


Third Person

Third person is written from an outsider’s point of view. Instead of the use of I, me, my, it uses characters names, he, she to tell the story. This means that you can see outside the thoughts, feelings and what that character directly sees. Third person is split into limited and omniscient.


Third Person Limited

This enters a single characters head. This can be from a few chapters to the whole story. You can hear characters thoughts but it differs from first person as the story is still told from the outsider (author’s) point of view, no matter how many times it dips into a character’s head.

Advantages to this point of view are:

·         You can cheat. You can jump into your main character’s head, almost completely tell the story in a way you were writing first person but come out of that point of view and use third person when you want too. It’s almost as if you have the best of both points of view.

·         You head jump less frequently than in third person omniscient, which means that the readers have a settled voice throughout the story.

·         You can jump into one or two other heads for the odd chapter in the story if you want to.

·         As you are not always in a character’s head you are less likely to have an bias narrator.

·         Reads get to figure things out with the character, so they keep pace with them.

Disadvantages to this point of view are:

·         You are grounded in one character so unless you do a fair bit of cheating you are not going to pick up other characters views.

·         Not using I loses a certain level of intimacy.

·         It can become too introspective with too much internal dialogue and not enough action used.

·         Moving out of your character voice to take advantage of other third person and not first person perks can through readers.

Books in Third Person Limited:

·         The Giver – Lois Lowry

·         Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

·         Still Alice – Lisa Genova


Third Person Omniscient

This means that the thoughts of every character in the story can be used, however in reality this is usually kept to a handful of characters as to enter too many heads can be confusing.

Advantages to this point of view are:

·         You can use several different characters point of view in the same story, which means that you can switch to where the action is.

·         You can get a more fully rounded picture than using just one character of a scene and the story itself.

·         It is less biased and the story is less likely to influenced by a single character.

·         It’s less claustrophobic – it can be hard work for both the reader and author to stay in the same voice for a long time.

·         You get to the action and are less likely to be caught up in thoughts and not what is happening.

Disadvantages to this point of view are:

·         It can be seen as too impersonal as you do not really get to know a character or get the same connection that you do in third person limited or first person.

·         It is harder to withhold information and mislead readers away from plot points that you do not want to reveal yet as the reader can see everything that can happen from many different points of view. This also means that it is harder to use aspects of biased narrator to judge other characters and actions as you see multiple view points.

·         Unless the different points of view/voices are distinctively different it can make it hard to follow and work out which voice you are in.

·         It can be harder to understand a character’s motivation if you are not in that character’s head unless you really spell things out in the action.

·         You can break the flow of the story by switching characters too often  and annoy readers if breaking away from a character at an exciting part of the plot.

Books in Third Person Omniscient:

·         The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

·         Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkein

·         Under the Dome – Stephen King


I guess the only thing left to say is, although you need to keep to a single point of view in a story, you don’t need to do this for all your stories. You can change point of view from story to story, just like you would change the plot from story to story.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Building a Fantasy World: Writing History by Matthew Presley


Unless the world you’re writing about was freshly built by Gods/wizards/accident, it’ll have some kind of back-story. Whether the story itself references this history, or whether it’s something stuffed in your notes just in case it comes up later, coming up with a history fleshes out your world and gives you a chance to shot it’s more than a map and castles. It can also lead to coming up with interesting side-stories the bards can tell, or reasons why the Elves hate the Dwarves.

Let’s start with some general bullet points.

·         Don’t be afraid to be nasty...:            History isn’t a long list of people getting on. Wars break out, nobles get assassinated, barbarian hordes burn villages to the ground. As the world-builder, you have licence to be as mean as you like. Even good leaders have to make tough decisions, just as evil leaders might have a loving family.

·         But keep it in perspective:  It’s a personal bugbear of mine that fantasy, in an attempt to be realistic, edgy or amoral, will use rape as shorthand for villains or anti-heroes. It’s even turned up in a book aimed at young teenagers. Like I said, history isn’t a long list of people being nice to each other. But if you’re depicting rape, remember it’s a delicate minefield and it’s a lot easier to write badly than respectfully. The same goes for racism, homophobia, slut-shaming and any other bigotry that history’s rife with; if you have to depict it, it’d better be more than a way of showing a villain is capital E Evil.

·         Magic affects History:           Figuring out the prevalence of magic and its effects give new challenges to figuring out events like battles. How important are bridges when armies can walk over water, or fly? Why employ sentries if assassins have cloaks of invisibility? Why even have assassins if the court wizards can resurrect the king? In low magic settings, things like disease, peasant revolts, assassinations, famines and cavalry charges are still a problem. Generations are shorter if medicine is less prevalent. Likewise, in high magic worlds, there needs to be a good reason why immortal elves aren’t outbreeding humans, why an undead army isn’t constantly growing, or why giants don’t stroll into town and steal the cattle.

·         Change takes time:                 Magic and outside influences are used to explain sudden shifts from tribal worlds to high society. And there’s a good reason for this; if you read Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, you find out real moves to civilisation took thousands of years, involved cultural shifts in farming technique over warfare, and is difficult to depict in an interesting way. In low magic settings, however, the transition from roaming tribes to grand architecture should take generations, not years.

Generation I- The Barbarian King. Skrull the Bloodbraided successfully crushes the jewelled throne beneath his sandaled feet. His army is more like a tribe of fighters; each man and woman will be capable of living independently, but have sworn to aid Skrull in his conquest.

Generation II- The Warrior King. Volool the Dreaded inherited the throne, along with what jewels and gold his father plundered. The military is no less aggressive, but better trained and equipped; specialisations like archers and swordsmen appear among the brawlers, but still acts as a horde.

Generation III- The Soldier King. After the expansion of Volool’s kingdom, Malcrus the Argent has to protect a lot of land to keep his throne and his people from revolting. The military may still be aggressive, but now is developed into regiments and high specialisations. As cultures are absorbed, the army can pick and choose effective combat styles. Barbarians tribes may have one style (Vikings had sea warfare, Mongols had horsemanship, to simplify greatly), but a soldier army can have several.

Generation IV- The Knight King- King Brulgere has never had to defend his throne personally; his father’s army has dealt with any wars and rebellions, but has never needed to stand on the front line of a battle. He still wants to give the impression he’s a combat veteran, however, and so a stylised, low-risk form of combat is the answer. Tournaments like jousts or grand melees are held to give a sense of military prowess. Concepts like honourable combat form the basis for chivalry and subsequent laws.

Generation V- The Diplomat King. It’s been decades since the kingdom’s faced any problem smaller than another kingdom, and the rules of honour and conduct now open up the possibilities to engage other Kings peacefully. King Brulgere II is still the nominal leader of his Knights and army, and may even still learn a heavily ritualised form of combat, but most of his work is in peace talks and negotiations. If wars declared, he might post on a horse in full regalia for a painting, but nowhere near the battle his historians will connect him to.

This is a simplification; not all tribes fight upon first contact and a particular civilisation might not progress if one system of government works for their environment. But if you’re going to have grand palaces or specialist buildings like schools or temples, you have to give some thought as to how long that city’s been around.

·         History doesn’t wait:     If the heir to the throne has been missing for any more than a few years, there’d better be a good reason why no-one else has stepped in. The same goes for unpopular or ineffective leaders; if a family of opulent tyrants are in charge, they’re going to be facing potential revolution unless they have an effective way of keeping the citizens in check, be it magic, loyal armies or some other advantage (A phrase Jared Diamond uses is ‘monopoly on violence’; basically commoners aren’t allowed to attack each other, or not allowed to have weaponry).  However this isn’t an eternal resource; the Praetorian Guard turned on Caligula, while feudal Japan’s lower classes used improvised weapons when swords were outlawed. In short, if it’s been five hundred years since the royal family went into exile, the returning king will have to face more than an evil warlord; he’ll have every commoner he meets saying ‘Wait; this was a kingdom?’

·         Characters before names:           Even though history gave Britain seven Edwards, eight Henrys, two Charles, six Georges and two Elizabeths, fantasy history that uses the same name (or, a far worse crime, vowel replacements) is hard to follow and dull. Coming up with characters for each ruler and lord makes for more interesting stories. Everyone remembers Henry VIII; he married six times, invented divorce, the Church of England, and the Royal Navy (Though historians might argue with that). Elizabeth I? The Virgin Queen, fought the Armada, body of a woman but heart of a man. If you know a lot about history, changing a few aspects of a famous personality can make them unrecognisable in your fantasy setting (What if Henry VIII was a dragon? What if Oliver Cromwell was a wizard?). Alternatively, if you’re familiar with role-playing games, using their descriptions for character classes can stand in for a personality until you’ve figured out specifics. Remember that magic changes history; if the royalty rule by literal divine right, they’re not going to turn out the same as a non-magical hierarchy, and building a fortified castle on top of a hill might impress the commoners, but be laughed at by the dragons.

                An Example royal family

                 For simplicity’s sake, let’s keep the history we’re writing in human scale. Generations go up to 50 as a maximum; even the rich aren’t necessarily going to see their grandkids grow up, as medicine or healing magic aren’t standardised or readily available. Two surviving children by the same mother is the upper limit; for reasons of simplicity and taste we’ll skip over the probable infant mortality rates. Magic exists but is restricted to simple forms; spirit worship and shamanic magic over formalised divine power or wizards. Line of succession goes to oldest of the oldest, similar to British monarchy, but let’s be equal rights fantasy and say the eldest can be either gender. We’ll also say this kingdom is brand new; no previous rulers had enough clout to declare themselves king of the land, so our plucky barbarian is building from the bottom rather than overthrowing a tyrant.

                Okay, how old is our kingdom? If we say 100 years; about 3-4 generations of royalty since the Barbarian King first took control. It’s fairly sizable, but not yet big enough for specialised armies, education or grand buildings. The capital is less a city, more a large town, with a fort at the centre rather than a castle. Because magic is formal or well understood, the threat of flying armies hasn’t come up (yet); a wooden barricade with a ditch is enough to keep invaders out.

                So, the first generation of royalty;

                Horsemen had a massive advantage over foot-soldiers in ancient and medieval warfare, so it’s as good a reason why our king rose to prominence as any. But who’s his queen?

                We’ll go the Warrior Queen route; this is the first generation world after all, there’s not going to be pale and interesting types. Every member of the tribe would be expected to be self-sufficient, so a huntswoman would be a good wife to take. We’re also combining two fighting styles; horsemanship and archery, both of which give advantages over peasants with improvised weapons or foot-soldiers. King Horseman and Queen Hunter aren’t very interesting names, but they can stand in until we figure out the rest of their family tree.

                The heirs have more formalised versions of their parents jobs, but still within the warriors purview more than a soldier. As a leader, however, a cavalier would be more inspiring than an archer; chances are the younger brother would be the popular choice for the throne once King Horseman dies. Prince Archer might be forced into political alliances at this early stage; he’d certainly take a wife earlier and be more concerned with the line of succession. Prince Cavalier would be much more the spare prince; not settling into domesticity as soon, perhaps preferring battle and leading his warriors to attending his father’s court. So by the first King and Queen are dead, Archer would be married with children.


                ‘Mage’ in this world is a loose term for witch, fortune-teller, healer; we’ll settle on details later. In this instance, Prince Archer decided to ally with a proto-religion to make him a more credible ruler. His firstborn daughter is raised a warrior, who fully combines archery and horse riding to great effect. His second-born son takes after his mother, still using magic in a scrappy, hap-hazard way. But what about Prince Cavalier? He might be slower to settle than his brother, but he’s still a powerful fighter and potential leader. What’s stopping him triggering a war of succession?

Ah. Either his exploits on the battlefield finally caught up with him, or Prince Archer (Now King Archer) isn’t above fratricide. Like I stated above, history isn’t pleasant, especially in an early history as our kingdom has. Any followers that Cavalier might have had would have to be appeased somehow, unless the new King puts down his first rebellion.

                Princess M. Archer and her brother both got political marriages. Archer needed to keep lesser chiefs on-side after his brother’s death. As a warrior princess, though, M. Archer only had time for one child; a son whose closer to a heavily armoured knight than a lightweight mounted archer. Prince Mage had a lot more time for filling up the family tree; ‘Cleric’ suggests a more formalised version of the proto-religion, advancing on the shamanic magic of their grandmother. Giving him three children would be a lot for one wife though; we can have him remarry.

                So that’s our four generations; we’ve gone from Rohan-esque horsemen to the founding of a state religion. From the looks of it, this Temple will end up politically more powerful than the military.

                Naming our Nobles: More important than given names at this point are nicknames. Giving them a nickname reflects their personality rather than a list of funny names. Let’s start with our first generation;

                There’s two stories already waiting to be told. How did Darus end up with a golden steed? Is it literally gold, or did he decorate it? And Mara’s not just a hunter, but a lion hunter, and a successful one at that. How did they meet?

                Onto the next generation;

                Looks like our two princes aren’t nice guys. Garric is characterised as cold, swift, deadly; all traits of a modern day sniper, but transposed to an expert archer. As for his brother, far from being a noble horseman, is outright called a Devil! What’s more, laughing suggests a sinister, sadistic glee; he probably rides down fleeing enemies, lassoes them to his horse and drags them till they die! I’m glad his brother ends up killing him!

                Right, generation III;


                Here the given names are more important. Marani is similarly named to her grandmother Mara, while her brother had the same prefix as his mother’s name. Marani similarly evokes her lineage with her nickname; ‘Serpent’ sounds more noble than ‘Viper’, and the silver may be related to her hair, her armour, or referencing the Golden Age of King Darus. She was married off to a baron whose dad hung out with the Laughing Devil; chances are he wasn’t a nice guy either, so having a son called the Bloody Wolf tells that story. Likewise, Anaven’s two wives (we’ll say he remarried the sister after the first wife died somehow) seem to be similarly nasty, practicing some kind of black magic.

                Anasa and her son Anaven have similar nicknames, but going back to the first ideas we had, the Mage was introducing a basic religion to the royal line. She would be a herald, and the nature based shamanism could be called ‘the Wild Way’. Anaven is Devotee of the Wld; he’s dedicated himself to this religion entirely. Our kingdom isn’t old enough for advanced structures like temples or churches, so the fort could double up as a temple.

                Finally, let’s marry them off and have the last generation.

After all the nastiness in this family story, the final generation are looking a lot more noble. Darani is named after his great grandfather, while the three children of Anaven have followed him in devoting their lives to their new religion. However, they’ve decided to devote themselves to more focused aspects of the Wild Way. Anamir, whose mother used ashes to divine the future, decided to combine her slightly sinister magic with his father’s more accepted teachings to become a cleric of Fire. His half-siblings have taken less destructive choices; at this stage of our kingdom, farmers would be more important than hunters, so clerics devoted to rains and plants would be more use than a generic nature religion. After a few more generations, the religion might even formalise these concepts with Gods and rituals, but at this point it’s still early days. Darani’s monicker ‘the White Drake’ takes aspects of his parents (if you combine a serpent and a wolf, you’ll get some kind of drake-like creature) and made it into something more noble.


                How much of this should be in your story? If your story’s set in the royal court, a lot of the family history will come up, starting from the current generation and expanding backwards. If your story visits the royal court as a location, you don’t need to know the back-story but it can add flavour to the scene (and explain why there’s three different clerics present). It’s important to identify what’s story and what’s back-story; look at who your main characters are going to be and focus the story on them, rather than trying to give everyone a full story and making the whole thing needlessly complex. There are certain key events in our example kingdom’s history (Crowning of King Darus, assassination of Prince Baltus, founding of the state religion), but the reader doesn’t necessarily have to know the details.