Since we’re right in the middle of November—national novel writing month—I thought I’d offer a few tips for all of the writers out there, dipping their ink-smeared fingers into the fantasy-end of the book pool.
One of the compliments I often get from readers, is about the “inventiveness” of the world in which my Yancy Lazarus books takes places. Though there are lots of monsters and freaky-deaky creature-features dotting the pages of my books, you’ll nary find a vampire or werewolf in sight. Not that I have anything against vampires or werewolves, but I go to great lengths to dredge up creatures from some of the far-flung regions of the world: Rakshasa, Leshy, Sirens, Bubaks, Naga, Ahuizhotl, and a hundred other things—some made from scratch, others from obscure mythologies. And my fans seem to appreciate seeing something a little different on the page. So I’m here to share my tips and secrets for writing more creative urban fantasy:
1. Read Widely:
I love the Urban Fantasy genre. Seriously, love it. Can’t get enough of it. Read it all the time. But it’s also important to read outside your chosen genre: romance, historical, mystery, thrillers. Take time to read a little bit of everything. If you only ever read in your chosen genre, you’ll never be exposed to new ideas, concepts, or writing voices, and, as a result, your writing will stagnate. Reading only in one genre creates a type of feed-back loop, where you constantly process what has already been done, instead of seeking out new things that haven’t.
2. Get in a Fight:
Okay, so I’m not actually advising you to go punch someone in the nose … no, definitely not. And also maybe, yes—unless you’re a prosecuting attorney, in which case I deny everything. There’s a common axiom in the writing world, “Write what you know,” and generally that’s good advice. Building on your own experience is, perhaps, the best way to write authentic fiction. With that said, the more experiences you have to draw from, the better and more creative your writing will be. It’s fine to write a fight scene, but there’s nothing like actually getting punch in the gut or face to give you a little perspective.
3. Go to Cool Places:
Travelling broadly is an invaluable way to expand your horizons as a writer. If you want to write about some place strange and exotic, first try visiting some place strange and exotic. Google pictures are great, but they can’t quite capture the experience—the smells, the sounds, the chaotic hustle and bustle. Encountering different cultures can also offer you great prospective, and can grant you access to a new realm of unexplored mythology. Vampires, Werewolves, Greek Mythology—we’ve seen it. Mixed it up a little.
4. Collect Stories:
“But I can’t afford to travel widely,” you say. “I’m poor … I’ve never even seen a Passport … I also have an irrational fear of pigeons flying into a jet engine and killing everyone on the plane.” Fine. Fair enough.
Even if you can’t go places, or pick a fight, you can talk to people who have done those things. Are you writing a war story? Go visit a Veteran’s nursing home. Trust me, the residents will be more than happy to share their precious, and unique, stories. Plus you’ll be doing something nice. Maybe you want to write a story about Asian culture, but can’t afford to a flight to China. Just think outside the box. There’s likely a whole community of folks hailing from all parts of the globe who would love to tell you about their experiences and culture. Just get out there, make some friends, and get creative.
5. Live Life:
All these pieces of advice can really be boiled down to one easy tip: Live a life worth writing about. Reading stories are great. Writing stories are great, too. But our experiences—the relationships we have, the places we go, the books we read—ultimately shape the kinds of content we produce. So get out there, do cool things, and I promise your writing will be far more creative and will also improve a hundred fold.
What are some of the life experiences that have most heavily influenced your writing? I’ll go first:
My years as a Marine, my experience as a combat Vet, and my time as a missionary serving in Thialnd have been hugely influential in my Yancy Lazarus books. Your turn. Share in the comments below.