Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Ty Johnston's 2011 Blog Tour

Fantasy author Ty Johnston’s blog tour 2011 is running from November 1 through November 30. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and More than Kin, all of which are available for the Kindle (http://www.amazon.com/Ty-Johnston/e/B002MCBQRU/ ), the Nook (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/ty-johnston ) and online at Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/darkbow ). His latest novel, Ghosts of the Asylum, will be available for e-books on November 21. To find out more, follow him at his blog tyjohnston.blogspot.com.

Too often I’ve run across readers who seem to believe fantasy literature is easy to write because the author can just make up anything. Almost always this type of opinion comes from someone mostly unfamiliar with the genre.

The truth is, there are a lot of details in fantasy literature which can’t be taken for granted. And readers knowledgeable in fantasy and history will call out authors who get those details wrong.

As I write mostly epic fantasy, I’ll stick to that sub-genre for my examples.

Epic fantasy takes place in a pseudo-historical world, commonly a pseudo-medieval world. That alone means writers of this genre need to have at least basic knowledge of history as related to the worlds they themselves create.

Practical knowledge also comes into play. If your hero is wielding a sword, what type of sword? How heavy is the sword? Why did he or she pick that particular type of sword?

Some might be asking, does it really matter? It will to a lot of readers, and writers need to be able to answer those questions. For example, my protagonist Kron Darkbow generally carries a hand-and-a-half, also known as a bastard sword. That’s a rather large weapon, though not the largest. He prefers such a heavy blade for several reasons, not the least of which are its heavier weight and length. He also likes the fact he can use the weapon in one hand, but can also utilize it in two hands, putting a little extra power behind his blows. Actually, in Kron’s world, such a large sword is on the verge of becoming anachronistic, a weapon of an earlier age, mainly because the growing use of magic is changing his world.

Kron also carries his sword on his back. Some might scoff, believing I have Kron do this because it is “cool.” The truth is, the easiest way to carry such a long and heavy weapon is to do so over one’s shoulder or on one’s back. Believe me, I know. I own a handful of battle-ready swords of a variety of types and sizes, and more than once I’ve had to carry one of them around for a day or more at a time. You don’t want some great big, expensive piece of steel hanging at your feet, scrapping along the ground.

But weapons are just one detail of which fantasy writers need to be aware. What about horses? Too often I’ve read a fantasy story in which horses are treated like cars. The hero rides his trusty steed across a continent or three, and the poor horse is lucky if it ever gets a break or a meal. Horses are actually relatively fragile creatures, despite their strength. They cannot travel long distances without needing regular rest and grooming. It was common for long-distance travelers during earlier historical periods to have several horses when on the road, one which they rode while the others were tethered behind; it was also not uncommon to have stopping points every so often, usually about every 30 miles, where a rider could purchase, borrow or trade for a fresh riding animal.

Also, writers of fantasy need to be aware of the politics and the religions within the worlds they create. Do such systems make sense within the framework of the world? What about that world’s history? What historical path was followed for a particular type of government and a particular religion to exist at a given time? These are not always easy questions to answer, but readers will expect answers. Oh, a reader might not directly confront an author about a particular point, but in this day and age, a reader might just do that. E-mail, anyone?

And then there are castles. Why are some towers round and others square? There are real, practical reasons for this, and writers need to know them. What about crossbows? Gunpowder? How does magic affect your world?

I could go on. I won’t. I don’t want to bore you. If I haven’t already.

Let’s just say, fantasy writers need to know their stuff. Writing fantasy is not just making it up as you go along, nor is it just jotting down whatever pops into your head. It takes time to put together a story, and hopefully the writer will do his or her job well and will get the facts correct.


Thank's Ty; this is a subject close to my own heart and I appreciate your comments. One of the things that brought the whole subject home to me, and made me begin to think about how much the details matter, was an abandoned project. I had a story sketch that involved a number of sacred items - and immediately thought of the 13 treasures of England from Celtic mythology. I had in mind powerful artifacts wrought by the gods in the hands of thirteen immortal heroes whose power waxed and waned according to the needs of their native land. I thought the 13 treasures would be a great start, each giving a unique power to the given hero. So, I did a little research and found, to my surprise, that the vast majority of the 13 treasured of England from ancient mythology granted.... food.

We forget, in this time and place, just how little food security there was in the pre-industrial world. Everyone was a little nervous of being hungry, all the time. Everyone worried about food. A storm, a cold snap, a blight, a drought, a flood, a disease that thins the herds, any one of a number of things that happened with frightening regularity could make life suddenly becomes harder than it already was for the majority. There are endless social consequences to this that might well effect your story and will certainly effect the attitudes of the inhabitants of the story. Of course, some of the details that crop up when you begin to investigate food for an ancient or medieval setting are simply window dressing to add verisimilitude, but they are none the worse for that; just for example, if you live in a city and want fresh milk... then there are cows in the city. And right there, as your character is being hunted through a city, there's the opportunity for a scene that has the ring of truth to it. And that makes it a detail worth knowing.


  1. Chris, thanks for hosting me on my blog tour. And I like your comments. Yes, food was a major concern of our ancestors, and continues to be so in some parts of the world.

  2. I like that fact that fantasy forces me to learn about all kinds of things so that I can get the details right. I may not have to become a professional at all the different skills, such as sword making, or sailing, but I need to know enough to make the settings real.

  3. Ty, excellent points. The best fantasy has a real world feel to it no matter how fantastic the magical elements get, and usually it's because the author did his (or her) homework. Chris, your comments about food are correct. I was reading a book earlier this year about William the Conqueror. It seems after taking the crown, he effectively ended a rebellion in northern England not on the field of battle, but by having his troops destroy all the farm implements. For years the people were too busy trying to keep from starving to engage in any seditious activities. This had long lasting consequences on both agriculture and population in that region. I'm planning on using that in a story I've been fleshing out.