Writing Christian Fantasy Tip #2: Be Brief
Instead of a lengthy introduction, I shall heed my own advice and jump straight into my second tip of writing Christian fantasy. (In case you have just joined us, this is the second installment of a series called “50 Tips for Writing Christian Fantasy.” You can view the first post here or follow on Pinterest here.)
Writing Christian Fantasy Tip #2: Be Brief
I love asking people what their opinions are about the books and the movies of The Lord of the Rings. Sometimes I find a kindred spirit who loves the books, but mostly people like the movies better. When I ask why, they list these reasons.
- “Good books, but really, really long!”
- “Too much description. Pages and pages!”
- “Just get to the story! Stop the history.”
- “Where did Arwen go and why isn’t she really in the books?”
As any self-respecting Lord of the Rings fan, I am always shocked and horrified. How could you not fall in love with the books?
Today’s audience is different than when Tolkien wrote his novels. In this modern age, we are used to getting what we want right now.
When writing Christian fantasy, weave your world in through the dialogue and conflict. Sprinkle it throughout the book, much like you would experience when traveling to another country. I’m not saying to delete it all. (You might have to get rid of some if you have tons.) Just rework it throughout the book instead of dumping it all in one place.
Why It’s Better to be Brief in Christian Fantasy
As you can see, readers want the story to progress. When you give them pages of history, it reads like a textbook. But small details of the surrounding or history can deepen the story.
For example, let’s say the main character is finding out that his parents were massacred years ago instead of dying for sickness like he’s been told. He could remember another person, Rah, he had always heard stories of. “This is what Rah must have felt when he heard that his parents were murdered.” Perhaps the main character would look across the rocky cliffs that held the wild dragons and think how hard life is.
Secondly, by lightly touching on history, you add to the mystery and perhaps give yourself a prequel to write. Don’t always give your readers every answer. In real life, we don’t always have all the answers, and sometimes it’s fun to play with the readers. For example, in my first book, Toxic, I quite innocently had one of my character hear a howling and then think, “It couldn’t be a wolf. All the wolves were killed in the Great War.” Out of a 92,000 word book, this sentence has created the most interest, and I plan to go back to this one day. (Incidentally, I have no idea why there were all killed, but I’ll figure that out later!)
Read through what you have written. Note anywhere you have a long paragraph or more of history, custom, language, or description. Reevaluate those sections. Can you separate out that huge chunk and weave it in throughout the dialogue and action?
What do you think? Do you love the long description and backstory? Do you always want more history while you read? Or do you want the story to continue?
I like the detailed descriptions! I was kept gripped by one Mercedes Lackey novel (Owlsight) for hours but when I stopped to think about the plot, all I could say was that a girl had discovered she had healing powers and had moved out of her parents’ house to set up her own “health clinic”… and that was about it. But all the detail and the human touches made it so readable.
I understand and completely agree! But I think a lot of the detailed descriptions can be woven into the plot so you learn a little more about her past or her feelings or whatever as the story progresses, instead of giving pages and pages of straight background.
I think there is a fine balance between being descriptive and being overbearing. One of the things I like best about Jordan’s books is how well he describes the world he has created. I end up smelling the food in the inns, feeling the breeze (a character all its own in the books), seeing the rolling hills and forests. It is engaging and powerful, allowing the reader to fully immerse in the world being presented. On the other hand, one of the things I find the most frustrating in Jordan’s books is the tendency to repeat descriptions in later books, as though the reader hasn’t been on the journey with him from the beginning. I think you should always describe something as fully and completely as possible in the first draft, then determine what can be winnowed without losing the imagery you are striving to convey. There is a tipping point that you need to be careful to avoid, but at the same time, too little description always leaves me annoyed and feeling as though the author hasn’t really thought through their world enough. Seems to me that the world in which a story takes place is as much a character as the individuals inhabiting that world, and deserves the same respect and development as those individuals.
But then, I’m not an author, so maybe that isn’t how it should be done…
I completely understand what you are saying. The first couple books of Jordan’s swept me away, but then I got bogged down on the later ones. I still need to read the last 4. They’re sitting on my shelf, impatiently waiting for me. I’m not saying to not use description. I’m just saying to be careful. I am re-reading through The Sword of Shannara and noticed how in the second chapter, Terry Brooks goes into 16 pages of world history. Whew! I agree that some scenes need it. If you’re coming into a new city or castle, then you want to describe it. I also think that you can weave it through the scene. Have some dialogue going on as they enter the city and intersperse what’s around them as they walk through the gates. Probably one of my faults as a writer is being too quick to move on. It’s planned and developed, but I’m afraid people will get bored, and so I don’t include it so much. Thanks for bringing the perspective of a reader because that’s most important!
Just my opinion, but as Jordan got towards the middle of the series, he seemed to get bored with the writing. It lacks passion after book 6 or so, and I have discovered it is very easy to see an author’s passion for their work in the way they write. The last books written by Sanderson are written with passion, and are reminiscent of the first books in the series. Maybe that’s the key to description…not done for it’s own sake, but because the author wants to share their vision with the world!
Interesting observation. I agree, although I know some people who love each book. Passion is something that can disappear when having to hit deadlines. However, I like your key of description. Thanks!
I’m enjoying this series. Keep it up!
Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying it!