I have a confession to make: I’m not good at description. At least not in my first drafts. The movie-in-my-head plays an extreme close-up of the main characters. I get caught up in the dialogue and often end up with two talking heads in a white room.
And yet, I love reading fantasy. I love learning new magic systems and being transported to enchanting new places. Who can forget the haunted ruined city of Shadar Logoth in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, or the monstrous wall of ice in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones? Wouldn’t you love to vacation in Tolkien’s Shire?
When I started the second draft of Gate to Kandrith, I knew I had to add more description, but I found myself dragging my feet and, okay, whining about it. It had to be done, but it felt painful. Dull. Boring.
And if I, the writer, was bored, how was my poor reader going to feel?
Finally, I realized my setting felt tired because I’d read hundreds of novels with those same descriptions of grimy medieval taverns and giant golden gates. My solution? To really take advantage of writing about a fantasy world and devise settings that felt fresh and new. Instead of my heroine being chased down a clichéd alleyway, she’s pursued through a statuary mouth into the courtyard of the Temple of Malice, which oozes with black mud and is full of sharpened stakes to wound the unwary. Instead of being attacked on the road, Sara and Lance are standing on a stone slab in the middle of a waterfall when unfriendly Qiph tribesmen show up with swords. The Gate to Kandrith became a claustrophobic narrow gorge passing between two mountains. Even the inn they stayed at became a Temple of Jut, God of Travellers.
Sure, it was more work, but it was worth it.
What settings are you tired of? What fantasy novels have you read with great scenery?
RT Book Reviews 4 1/2 stars: “Filled with plotlines that range from political to fantastical, the adventure is what truly keeps readers engrossed…”
Nicole Luiken wrote her first novel at age 13. She is the author of eight YA novels, this is her first adult fantasy. She is hard at work on the sequel to Gate to Kandrith.