Extra Puppy Post

Okay, first, here’s another cute video! Very brief, but Morgan REALLY wants the puppies to chase her. They are just a hair too young to really join in games of tag with adult dogs, but it’s adorable to watch them make their first attempts.

Also, here’s a cute picture that shows how I start crate training. The crate is just there in the living room. Naamah gets her meals in the crate because she’s slow to finish her food and this way I know she’s the one who’s eating it.

Anyway, these two puppies crept in there to yearn after Naamah’s cow hoof toy. She wouldn’t let them have it, so they just went to sleep instead. If I were keeping them, they’d move very easily from sleeping crowded together in a crate with the door open –> sleeping with an adult dog in a crate with the door closed.

If you ever have two puppies at the same time, by the way, it’s important to take them for walks separately and crate them separately and train them separately. Every day, not just occasionally. Otherwise you can get sibling syndrome in which one puppy becomes massively overdependent on the other (or both become overdependent at the same time). Either way, both puppies develop distorted personalities, often seriously distorted. Here’s a post about this. Chatting with very experienced dog people makes me feel that breed is not important as a predictor, as it’s a rather common problem for all sorts of wildly different breeds.

Nothing like this ever happens to my puppies when I keep littermates, which I have done several times, nor to breeder friends of mine who have kept littermates. That’s probably because our babies have an entire pack structure to fit into and therefore don’t focus just on each other in such a pathological way. Also, of course I train each puppy separately; nobody can train two baby puppies to both do basic obedience at the same time. You have to focus on one and then the other. Even so, I generally crate each puppy separately at night, with a friendly babysitter adult rather than a littermate. During the day, if the babies want to crowd into a crate together, that’s fine. I leave crates open, and it’s not unusual to see two or three dogs in one crate, a lot like the above picture, except all adults, so they’re kind of lying on top of each other. My three young girls like to do that, sometimes with both boys crowded onto the dog bed on top of the crate.

Ah, I really want to keep a puppy! But two boys are enough! I hope Morgan and/or Naamah will give me a lovely little female puppy later this year. Preferably both of them!

Please Feel Free to Share:


The Evolution of Gaslamp Fantasy


[G]aslamp fantasy is fantasy that takes places any time during the 1800s, with some exceptions. Under its umbrella are Regency and Victorian fantasy, and some gothic fantasy fits as well. Some may also dispute whether steampunk is a sub-genre of gaslamp fantasy or vice versa …

Gaslamp fantasy was birthed from exploding public interest in the fantastical, supernatural, and the occult during Queen Victoria’s reign, though at the time it was just called fantasy, fairytales, or the fantastical. … Since then, gaslamp fantasy has evolved and now encompasses much more than strictly Victorian England. … While still set in and around the 19th century, authors are envisioning fantasy tales in places other than England, such as in America during the civil war.

I guess? I believe I was simply thinking of Gaslamp Fantasy as a more fantasy-feeling Steampunk — Steampunk but with fewer gears, I suppose. And less steam. The above therefore sounds about right. Around a 19th Century level of technology, with fantasy. How is that different from Historical Fantasy that happens to be set in the 19th Century? I suppose I would say: It’s not different. Gaslamp Fantasy is a subset, not of Steampunk, but of Historical Fantasy. It’s is a sister taxon, so to speak, of Steampunk.

The Book Riot post provides examples. Let me see … Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill, yes, that’s the one I was thinking of. Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, which I believe I tried, but the opening didn’t really pull me in. (I know lots of you loved it and I should therefore try it again.) Ah, here’s The Conductors, which someone at Book Riot definitely loves because this is the third post I’ve seen that featured this book. It’s one where I have a sample, but you all have confirmed that it’s pretty dark and maybe not something to read until I’m in the mood for that.

One more, and this one is new to me:

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng 

For those lookin for some gothic horror mixed with their gaslamp fantasy, I give you this haunting and alluring novel. Published in 2017, Under the Pendulum Sun takes on Christianity vs. the meddling and trickster Fae. Victorian missionary Catherine Helstone goes to Arcadia, the land of the Fae, in order to find her brother Laon, who went missing on his missionary trip. There, she resides in the mysterious house of Gethsemane, trying to unravel the mystery of the missionary that arrived before her and her brother, who tried and failed. It’s really unlike any book I’ve ever read, and I mean that in the best possible way.

A lot about that sounds promising. Have any of you read it?


Here’s a Tor post: What is Gaslamp Fantasy?

This post was referenced in the Book Riot one. It’s interesting because the author of this post, Terri Windling, provides a list of examples and includes …

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Well. No. This is making me want to restrict the definition of Gaslamp Fantasy: Historical Fantasy set during the 19th century, excluding Pride and Prejudice and Zombies plus anything else remotely like that. What I mean is: Gaslamp Fantasy, to me, requires a certain tone. Dark and gritty is fine. A high fantasy tone is fine. But zombies? Not fine.

Windling suggests The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. That’s a fun one. I haven’t read anything by Powers for a long time, but he’s a great choice for historical settings.

Oh, here’s a funny post by AJ Lancaster: What Even Is Gaslamp Fantasy?

When I finished the first draft of The Lord of Stariel, my friends and family asked, not unnaturally, what it was about.

“Well,” I said. “It’s a fantasy novel.”

This was and remains 100% true. It is a fantasy novel. There is magic. Excellent – genre nailed down.

However, fantasy is a giant genre, so I tried to be a little more specific. The attempt to pin down my subgenre quickly became a depressing exercise in things my novel lacks. It isn’t medieval, grimdark, epic, urban, or steampunk. It’s historicalish but it’s set in its own world. It isn’t about sword fights or going on a quest. There are fae, but it isn’t a fairytale retelling.

For a while I called it ‘fantasy romance’ because those are two things it definitely contains – even though the romance isn’t exactly the main plotline.

Eventually I did find a weird niche subgenre label for it in addition to fantasy romance: gaslamp fantasy. This is a subgenre that (a) most people have never heard of and (b) is basically defined entirely by what it’s not.

I think that’s funny — defining the subgenre by what it’s not — take away all the other subgenres and if it’s historicalish (in a 19th century way), maybe it’s Gaslamp Fantasy! And I suppose if it’s not historicalish, it’s quite possibly High Fantasy, because that’s something of a catchall term. If it’s not that, then what the heck, call it Low Fantasy, since there’s no working consensus about what that means, so you can definite it however works to suit the particular book that you have in mind.

I notice that The Lord of Stariel sounds a lot like The Keeper of the Mist in terms of basic conception (probably nothing else). Here’s the description from Amazon:

The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.
Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised?
His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense?
His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?
Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave.

That’s a lot like Keri’s three-half brothers, all of whom are considered more likely candidates to succeed their father.

And then of course Keri inherits the title, plus the ambiguous powers, plus the increasingly dire problems. I’m sure every possible detail is completely different, but plainly this is a setup that appeals to me, so I guess I should take a look at The Lord of Stariel. Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Okay, so, what does Gaslamp Fantasy mean to you, if not: Historical fantasy set in the 19th century, not too silly in tone. That’s my working definition. I better quit before I bog down in an immense attempt to list (or worse, define) all possible fantasy subgenres. That way lies madness, as we all know, though attempts can be fun as long as you’re prepared to throw up your hands and quit before dotting every single “i” and crossing each and every “t.”

For books to try in this subgenre, I personally suggest Sorcery and Cecilia as my personal favorite Gaslamp Fantasy. Goodness, that one has a great price right now; if you haven’t got it, consider picking it up immediately. This one is by Patricia Wrede and Carolyn Stevermer and it’s an absolutely delightful epistolary novel.

Or else Marelon the Magician. This one is by Patricia Wrede on her own and I’m not sure, but I may like it even better than the above. There’s a wonderful scene at the end, the one where everything gets sorted out and the two brothers reconcile, that I wish I’d written. I love that scene a whole lot.

In both cases, there are sequels. In both cases, I think the first books are the best, and they each stand alone, so if you wanted to try one or the other series, or both of them, that’s a fine idea.

If you’ve got a favorite Gaslamp Fantasy, by all means drop it in the comments!

Please Feel Free to Share:


If you’re Enjoying the Puppy Posts

I can’t get my phone to send this video to my email, but I CAN get it to upload videos to Facebook. HERE is a super-cute video of Puppies One and Three playing with Naamah.

If you don’t have time to watch even a very short and very cute video — you should enable the volume, by the way, because their tiny puppy barking is highly adorable — but here is a photo of Boy Three, totally crashed after playing

Plump Boy Three likes to sleep right next to the water dish, probably because it’s cooler there than on the dog bed. He’s going to tick over four pounds tomorrow, by the way.

Please Feel Free to Share:


How to be a Beta Reader

Here’s a potentially useful post from Jane Friedman’s blog: Looking for a Beta Reader? Flip That Question Around.

Why do I argue for the flip? Two reasons:

  1. Because helping each other is always a good thing (you’re not the only one with this dream!), and
  2. Because the more you practice your editing skills, the stronger you will become as a writer.

Which is true, sure, but I’m more interested right now in the practical suggestions for how to do a good job as a beta reader. Here they are:

  • Think about more than grammar, punctuation, and spelling perfection.
  • Think about celebrating strengths just as much as pointing out areas needing more work.
    • When you see an awesome line, celebrate it.
    • When you love a character, let the writer know.
    • When you’re terrified or swooning or utterly fascinated, applaud how the scene is crafted.
  • Think about specific notes that could be helpful to the writer.
    • Where are you confused?
    • Where does the story seem to wander off-focus?
    • Where is a motivation or a plot twist unclear?
    • Where does the story seem slow?
  • When you finish, see if you can articulate what the book was about (the plot) in three sentences or fewer and what you saw as the overarching theme or takeaway. (The writer will be inspired when your understanding matches their own, or if it doesn’t, that too can be telling!)
  • Think about what would be helpful to you if you were the writer receiving feedback.
    • Critique with kindness not brutality.
    • Remember you are in “editor” mode, not a “ghostwriter” tasked with rewriting anything as you would do it.

I’m interested in this right now because (a) I’m currently beta reading a manuscript for Sherwood Smith; and (b) I’ve got workshop critiques to write for a workshop that’s taking place in July; and (c) I’m just curious because my expectations for various first readers are quite different. Let’s take a look at the above …

Okay, here’s my takeaway:

Yes, first, it’s easy to get distracted by tiny queries about grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Do you want this one sentence to be in the present tense? Why? is a legitimate query, but very small scale. If you are just proofreading, that’s useful, but it’s not the same as beta reading. Beta reading is, or can be, a lot more like editing than proofreading.

Second: yes again. It’s very nice for the author if you cheer nice phrases, good description, effective lines of dialogue, etc. I’m saying this from personal experience. Please don’t hesitate to put in little smiley faces and nice little “wonderful” comments in the margin. That’s a great thing to do. Thank you for doing that.

Third: yes, when you feel iffy about something, train yourself not to make an excuse for that iffy section. “Oh, I’m sure it’s really all right,” is fine from a reader, but not great from a beta reader. Pause and add a comment. If you can figure out what you don’t like, that’s fine (“I suddenly lost interest and found myself skimming through this part.” “I suddenly can’t stand this character after she did this.” “Oh my God, he would NEVER do this!”) If you can’t figure out what you don’t like, you can still add a comment (“Something here isn’t working for me, but I’m not sure why.”

Fourth: I hadn’t thought about pausing to summarize or articulate the theme. I’m terrible at spotting themes, but sure, it’s neat when a reader comments in a review, “The powerful theme of ….” and is completely and obviously right that this is one of the themes.

Fifth: Yes, resist the urge to rewrite the sentences. It’s not your book.

And finally, not from the above, different first readers are good at different things and that’s fine.

When I ask someone if they have time to read something for me — a request that everyone should always answer with NO if they do not have time; I completely understand that — but sometimes what I’m looking for are broad emotional reactions to different scenes. Does the scene really nail it for you or is it off? If you can put a finger on why a scene doesn’t feel quite right to you — maybe it feels truncated or something — that’s fine, but it’s also fine if you just are doubtful about that scene, period. That’s what I want. That’s plenty to help me re-focus on what is going on in that scene and think about ways to possibly make the scene more effective.

On the other hand, I might be looking for editorial feedback about pacing, places where the worldbuilding feels thin, or feedback about awkward sentences or phrases. Or maybe all I want to know is whether the relationships ring true — maybe that’s someone’s particular focus and I want to make sure that the central relationships are working. Or whether the story feels finished, does the conclusion feel like a conclusion, maybe THAT is the one thing I most want to know.

I’ve seen suggestions — I don’t remember where — that you should have a bunch of beta readers, including some that don’t really read your genre and at least one who doesn’t really like your writing. (I think that’s weird advice.) I don’t know; to me, it seems that a couple beta readers are plenty, but someone needs to have good editorial skills and someone has to get what you’re trying to do with relationships and provide feedback just about that. Those are the two crucial types of beta readers as far as I’m concerned. The first person says, “You’ve said this before, this is repetitious, can you cut these two paragraphs?” The second says, “Oh, this poor guy, I just want to give him all the hugs!” Both are really valuable feedback.

And THEN proofreading, which as you all know is simultaneously invaluable and hopeless. I sent myself SUELEN as a mobi file so I could read it on my phone, which I did very slowly over the past week, and you know what? I found about thirty sentences to fiddle with and THREE MORE ACTUAL ERRORS. Well, surely that’s the last of the actual typos! (I am fairly sure it will turn out not to be the very, very last ones).

Please Feel Free to Share:


Character Voice

Here’s a good post from Writers Helping Writers: 3 Ways to Infuse Character Voice

Vocabulary and the way a character speaks are the outer layer of character voice—the icing on the cake. Instead of trying to build character voice from the outside in, get under the character’s skin by revealing how they experience and interpret the story world from the inside out. …

The three ways, incidentally, are what the character notices, their opinions about what they notice, and what actually matters to them.

What you know is inside a room will almost certainly be different from what the viewpoint character notices. What gets noticed depends on who does the noticing. Everyone sees the world through the lens of their own mindset, a potent brew of knowledge, experience, motivations, goals, preferences, hopes, fears …

People are opinionated. They have beliefs, and hopes, and prejudices about virtually everything they encounter. …

I’m not sure it’s possible to have a truly reliable first-person protagonist. That specific person is going to have, by definition, their own individual point of view, which includes, yes, their beliefs and hopes and prejudices; their expectations about how the world works and what people are like; their own feelings about how people ought to behave and the standards against which they judge everyone … all of that is indeed beneath the vocabulary and syntax that the author gives that protagonist. Same with close third; everything in the story is seen through the perceptions and attitudes and beliefs and expectations of the protagonist.

Omniscient viewpoint allows the author to step back from the protagonist(s) and, by showing the reader everyone’s perceptions, attitudes, believes, and expectations, prevents the voice of any one character from pervading the narrative. Of course, if you take that far enough, the omniscient narrator then takes on life and acquires a distinctive voice too.

Syntax and vocabulary do matter, however. This is a somewhat different topic, or a different aspect of the same topic, but I was thinking about that recently, because I heard someone comment (as seems to happen constantly) that no one these days uses “whom.” Yes, we do, and you know who particularly uses “whom” in their casual, ordinary conversation? Your super-formal characters in your novels, that’s who. All mistakes and non-formal locutions become jarring if placed in the mouth of a character who ought to, and usually does, speak with a formal style. They are jarring because they do not match the established voice of the character or because they prevent that character from establishing a credible voice in the first place.

If the author can’t use formal syntax herself, she will never be able to write a character who is convincingly formal. That’s a painful limitation to impose on yourself, which is why authors ought to learn how to use “whom” correctly; and the subjunctive mood; and “less” versus “fewer,” and whatever other features we expect in formal English and don’t necessarily expect in less formal contexts or from informal speech.

… and while on this topic, I will just say that the worst offender is incorrect “him and I” constructions. I am thinking right now of multiple examples of important characters who should not make that kind of mistake, but do, and neither the author, the copy editors, the proofreaders, or the beta readers caught it. Or if someone caught it, they didn’t think it was important.

Wrong. It is important. The author should know how to shift into formal locutions no matter how casual speech is put together in everyday life and no matter how less formal characters might speak. Mistakes like this can do brutal damage to the voice of a character who ought not make this kind of error.

I therefore nominate this specific mistake as Top Mistake To Make Sure You Fix If You Are Writing A Novel. Here is a post about this error. Here’s another. And another. If you’re going to put this kind of error into the mouth of a character, fine, but you should do it on purpose because that’s the way that character ought to speak, not because you yourself don’t know the correct form.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Update to the Use of Medieval Weaponry

Here’s a question on Quora on this very topic, answered by Eric Lowe: What were the relative advantages and disadvantages of various medieval weapons? How do I decide if I should use a sword, a spear, a mace, or a battle axe?

Eric begins:

Man … this is, like, the ur-question for the medieval weapons section of Quora.

I love that this question isn’t trying to reduce things to a simplistic “which is better?” or, even worse, “which would win?” framework. Kudos on asking about relative advantages, which is the only reasonable answer you can give to the “which would win?” questions anyway.

I’ve spent six years on Quora answering smaller versions of this question. I think this is the first time someone has just come out and asked the big question directly.

So, this is all in Lowe’s book, but if you haven’t yet bought The Use of Medieval Weaponry, this answer provides a very brief review of when and in what situations these weapons might be used. With footnotes! And links!

Please Feel Free to Share:


I can’t decide whether this is charming or too silly to be charming

Here’s an answer I enjoyed on Quora. The question: What has a name that also describes what it does.

The answer: The Useless Box.

It’s a box. And it’s useless.

Click through and watch the video. Would you like a Useless Box? Or is it too silly for you? I can’t quite decide. However, if you’d like one, they’re apparently available from Amazon.

I’m filing this under What Will They Think Of Next.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Invictus Update: Argh, So Close

Nope, not quite finished with Invictus, which on the one hand is soooo annoying, but I’m soooo close.

Three basic comments about this manuscript:

A) I’m sure you’ll all be totally astonished to hear that it’s gone longer than my estimated maximum. I just passed 170,000 words this morning. My NEW estimate is SURELY not more than 175,000 words and maybe actually less. I honestly have ONE chapter to finish, ONE chapter to smooth out, and ONE chapter (a short one) to write. That’s it! I’m really sure this time!

B) I’ve gotten the “flow” back, which is great! Took about, what, seven weeks, but after gritting my teeth through a heck of a lot of words, I’m finally zipping right along and enjoying this last little bit. We are, needless to say, past the exciting climax and into the part where everyone works out their relationships and get set to move into the future. Although parts of the climax surprised me quite a bit and were therefore fun to write. Those parts may turn out not to flow smoothly out of previous bits, or may make previous bits unnecessary, so that’s going to be something to address early in the revision process. I can see that I’m going to start revising not at the beginning (I have been OVER and OVER that part), but almost smack dab in the middle.

You know, if you’d said at the beginning of this year, “I see that you have 90,000 words sitting here, but I don’t think that means you’re 2/3 of the way through this book — more like 1/2, I bet,” I … guess I would have found that plausible, actually. But I sure did not expect this draft to wind up quite this long. And of course it’s a bit annoying to think I’m probably going to wind up cutting it back pretty hard, but here we are, all part of the process.

C) The three-week break between semesters is over and boom! now that I have flow back, I’m inconveniently going to have less time to work on this manuscript. So I’m betting it will take a good week to actually finish rather than two or three days. Especially because I’m carrying puppies in and out and in and out, and feeding them, making sure to pick up Seriously Plump Boy Three so he can’t push the others out of the way and get far more than his share. And all that leads to sitting around watching the puppies. At this point they sometimes spend a bit of time scampering around in the living room, where I can pretend I’m looking at my laptop. Spoiler: when they’re out, I’m really looking at the puppies.

I just figured out that, at birth, Tiny Boy Four was 56% as big as Seriously Plump Boy Three. He is now 88% as big. So, basically, even Somewhat Smallish is starting to wear off as a nickname.

Anyway, by NEXT week, I should be typing THE END for Invictus, after which I will set it aside for a good long while and most likely turn promptly to Tasmakat. I just worked out something neat I should do toward the beginning. I mean, along with many, many neat things along the way from front to back.

I already have the cover for Tasmakat, by the way. Just the ebook so far because I have no clue what the eventual page count will be. I’m not sharing it because I feel like it’s bad luck to post the cover before I have a complete draft. But! I do plan to put Tasmakat up for preorder the very moment I have a complete draft, before I even start revisions. It will be the first book I have ever put up for preorder that far in advance, and I’ll be really keen on seeing how many preorders it accumulates. A lot, I hope.

I guess I should also think about getting a cover for Invictus. Wow. That feels like quite a step. That feels like a complete draft is nearly in my hand.

Please Feel Free to Share:


They Grow Up So Fast

You know, between birth and the time eyes open, really, not much seems to happen with puppies. They’re either strong and vigorous or, perhaps, weaker and in need of support, but as long they’re fundamentally healthy, then each day goes by with an incremental uptick in weight, but not much really changing.

Then their eyes open, and they make the very first extremely clumsy play gestures and start to get up on their tottery little legs. Books say eyes open from 10 to 14 days. For me, it’s usually more like 14 to 18 days. Regardless, everything happens faster from then on.

Hopefully they’ll try actual food. Even if they won’t, suddenly they’re much steadier and learning to walk on tile floors. Two days later, they’re wobbling around for ten minutes after nursing. Two days later again and they’re suddenly bouncing, not wobbling, and awake for a whole hour at a time, inconceivable the previous week.

I would say that with any luck at all, the puppies’ second month is truly enjoyable for everyone: lots more daily work, but much lower stress, with a tremendous payoff in cuteness, which increases by leaps and bounds through the four-to-eight week period. I start casual housetraining at five weeks, partly because it’s good for the puppies and good for eventual owners, partly because I don’t particularly like cleaning up messes, so it’s worth it to me to make an extra twenty trips up and down the stairs every day, taking puppies out, giving their cleanliness instinct a chance to develop. Also, usually I’m at least thinking of keeping a puppy myself, so obviously the more quickly the puppy is reliable indoors, the better.

Besides all that, outside time gives puppies a chance to develop both physically and mentally. From week 5 to week 6, my puppies learn to deal with uneven ground. They fall off a three-inch-high step and learn to understand edges. They gather their courage and venture a few feet from me or from one of the babysitter dogs. They also meet people — these pictures below were taken by a visitor (whose phone camera is better than mine!). This is the period where puppies benefit greatly from people coming to the home — it’s too early for them to go anywhere.

Boy 4
Boys 4 and 3
Boy 1

Then they come in and crash for hours.

This week, from Week 6 to Week 7, the puppies will get a LOT more physically competent and a LOT more independent. They’ll start zipping off on their own, exploring the far reaches of the yard and wrestling (inevitably) on top of the hostas. They’ll probably transition to hard kibble. They’ll stay awake MUCH longer, though they’ll still crash hard when they’re tired out. They’ll spend a lot more time out in the living room with the other dogs, and they might take their first very easy trip in the car and to town. I take them two at a time, first to my mother’s house, which will be their first different place. We’ll cross the street by driving around and around the circle drive to show them how car rides work. Then they’ll get to visit an office in town where people are always delighted to sit on the floor and play with puppies.

But none of that is quite yet. This week is a big transition week from dependence to independence. There’s no rush. They’ll let me know by their behavior when they’re ready for the next steps. Right now, they’re exploring the yard and learning the world exists and is filled with good experiences.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Writing Fight Scenes

So, I’ve been working my way rather slowly through Eric Lowe’s book The Use of Medieval Weaponry and also Marie Brennan’s book Writing Fight Scenes. These are both excellent, but I’ve found Lowe’s book more immediately useful. That is, I was reading The Use of Medieval Weaponry while doing final revisions for Suelen, which means I not only had a chance to reconsider various commas, I also switched out casual references to leather armor to “layered linen,” which is WAY MORE REALISTIC, it turns out, and did any of you know that?

Leather armor as a light armor for agile fighters is apparently almost entirely a fantasy invention, while in the real world, long jackets made of twenty or up to thirty layers of linen cloth were in common use by ordinary soldiers, and quite effective too. Particularly when combined with chain mail, because linen is highly resistant to cuts while mail is much more resistant to thrusts. This is really neat stuff to know about. I’ve never described armor in the Tuyo world because I didn’t want to encourage a European vibe, which is inevitable if you mention chain or (especially) plate armor, but I didn’t know what other kinds of armor I might want to use, so I kind of passed lightly over the whole topic. Linen totally lacks any particular connection to pop culture and can easily be defined as cheap, easily available light armor for ordinary soldiers. Now that I’ve read Lowe’s book, you can bet I will more readily mention and describe soldier’s ordinary gear in the future.

Eric Lowe also describes the actual use of all sorts of Medieval (and Medieval-adjacent) weapons – long sword, arming sword (I didn’t know there was a difference), greatsword, sword and shield, sword and dagger, sword and cloak, two swords, maces and axes, pole weapons. Much of the time, I’ve fortunately done plausible things. I based the Lau formation work with short sword and shield on the Romans, of course, so I knew that was fine, but it turns out that a sword alone, without a shield, especially without armor is a stupid way to fight … unless you consider honor and showing courage paramount, in which case it’s great! So that works fine for the Ugaro, especially since in real battle rather than duels they’d more likely fight with a sword-and-dagger or two-sword combination, both of which are good choices. The eagle warrior with the two swords? Great choice, very suitable! That’s a relief, especially since I did it that way just because the visual worked great in my mind’s eye.

But let me back up.

Lowe got into Medieval weaponry via gaming, then became an expert in historical European martial arts. He quotes extensively from surviving European fencing treatises, then explains those quotations again in modern language, which is not the part I followed particularly well since I have no personal experience in fencing. But then Lowe describes the sorts of situations where a weapon or weapon combination would have been particularly useful, as for example here: “Few other historical weapons combine the greatsword’s ability to threaten a large area with the ability to redirect its attacks as quickly as a sword. Both elements are critical to the greatsword’s role as a crowd control weapon. Unlike the cuts of two swords, which can surround a fencer with a rapid but short range flurry of blows, the greatsword’s cuts are relatively ponderous (I am speaking in relative terms: in absolute terms the cuts of a greatsword can still come eye-wateringly fast). However, the great reach of a greatsword means that it can keep opponents very far at bay. A single fencer armed with a greatsword can hold off a great many opponents armed with shorter weapons …” Lowe then goes on to describe exactly how this weapon could be useful for getting through an alley stuffed with opponents, defending yourself when totally surrounded in an open area, defending a ship against boarders, clearing a house, protecting a nonfighting companion from a hostile crowd of enemies … can’t you just see the fiction scenarios writing themselves at this point?

In contrast to Lowe, Marie Brennan comes to fight scenes via cinematography.

“So I had to figure out how to give the director what he really wanted – a big dramatic scene – within the constraints of the stage. … I sat down with the actor playing Troilus, and together he and I constructed an arc for the scene: how it would start, how it would end, what shifts would happen along the way. … Like a piece of music, it needed dynamics. And that meant digging into character, making use of the space, and lots of other things I now realize are integral to a good fight scene. … That’s what I came to understand about fight scenes. They’re part of the story, and not just on the level of plot [but also character].”

Lowe understands this too, as is clear in this Quora answer illustrated with a fight scene from one of Tamora Pierce’s novels. But using fight scenes to move the plot, build character, and support the story’s themes isn’t what Lowe’s book is about. It’s what Brennan’s book is about. Her books hardly touches on the mechanics of how weapons were used and how people actually fought. Brennan says up front, “… the details of how to fight are possibly the least important component of a fight scene. The crucial components are the same ones you’re already grappling with in the rest of your writing – description, pacing, characterization, and all that good stuff.” Which is true! But it’s still obviously useful to know how people actually did fight with a sword and a small shield, and why someone might choose that combination rather than two swords.

These two books are therefore highly complementary. But of the two … if you twisted my arm … I would kind of recommend Lowe’s book. This is because you, as a writer, can pick up the dramatic part of how to structure fight scenes by reading good fight scenes (such as the one in Tamora Pierce’s novel) that succeed in carrying forward the plot and building character, and watching cinematic fight scenes that are visually persuasive and compelling (such as the one in the Princess Bride). But nothing or almost nothing in fantasy novels or movies is going to tell you that leather armor wasn’t actually used and layered linen was; or how a whole bunch of types of fighting depended massively on grappling and wrestling to finish the job; or the specifics of how different weapons were used in a wide variety of circumstances. Not that an author has to accurately represent anything at all; in writing fiction, believability is a lot more important than accuracy and making things sound plausible is and should be the aim, not getting every single detail exactly right. But personally I do think it’s neat to also get things more or less right.

Overall assessment: these are both actually useful resources for writers. I’ve been highly, and I mean highly, disappointed in various other books that purport to be resources for writers. I’m thinking particularly of a book about poisons and figuring out causes of death that is all but useless for fantasy because it’s aimed so firmly at novels with contemporary settings, and one about injuries that deals with the subject exclusively from the modern point of view, where you basically stabilize the patient and head for a well-equipped hospital. Absolutely useless, both of them. In contrast with that sort of thing, if you’re writing in any kind of fantasy setting, both Lowe’s books and Brennan’s are great books to have read and to keep handy for reference.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Scroll to Top