May 30

Makers of Magic: New Project

I've been working on this one for a little while now, but I decided it's time to announce it on my blog.

Makers of Magic will be a single-author themed anthology, thirteen stories in twelve settings (two Gryphon Clerks ones), each with a different kind of magic-user as a character. Mostly, the magic-using character will be the protagonist, but sometimes the antagonist, or maybe even a secondary character.

A single-author anthology unified by theme rather than setting is unusual. I'm sure someone else has done it, but I'm not aware of any. The reason I'm doing it is simple: I like stories about magic-users, and I noticed I'd written several and decided to go for a collection.

I'm submitting these stories out to magazines and anthologies, in the hope of getting as many as possible published before I do the collection. It's a kind of social proof thing. The downside of that is that I'll have to wait for the rights to revert, and that sometimes takes a year from the date of publication, so the book is unlikely to be published before late 2015 (more likely early 2016).

Given that I'm planning 13 stories, and my stories average about 3000 words, it's probably going to have a total wordcount around 40,000, unless I find a story that needs to be longer.

The Wizard
seanmcgrath / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

So far I've written four stories which are out on submission, and which cover Necromancer ("Axe Stone: Svart Detective"), Sorcerer ("Family Curse"), Wizard ("Alix and the Dragon", though I may write another wizard story and substitute it), and Alchemist ("Lock and Key"). I have another one in beta ("Mail-Order Witch"), and a sixth story partially written (no title as yet; it's about a thaumaturge). The settings include a mashup of a sword-and-sorcery city with Damon Runyon's noirish 1930s New York; a city that could possibly be Edwardian London; a secondary-world dukedom; a sword-and-sorceryish place with similarities to the Crusader kingdom of Outremer; and more-or-less contemporary Alaska.

The rest of the stories will cover Mage, Shaman, Adept, Illusionist, Warlock, Theurgist and Enchantress, unless I have better ideas, which is always likely.

The tone of the stories I've written so far generally includes some humour, though that's not always the case (the sorcerer story is pretty serious, and more like an old-style Weird Tale of the 1930s). That's not to say that they don't also include drama involving love and/or death.

I'll be sure to post about any of the stories that get accepted for publication elsewhere, so you can pick them up if you want to get in early, and it's likely that one or more of them will end up as bonus content for members of my mailing list.

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May 23

Is Speculative Fiction?

I'm going to do a foolish thing here. I'm going to set up a distinction.

Nothing is more likely to lead to arguments than definitions, but here we go.

Speculative fiction. It's a term that's used to cover SF, fantasy and (supernatural) horror, and the bits and pieces that fall in between and across those genres. Bizarro, weird, surrealist, magical realist, slipstream - you could toss them all into a broad definition of spec-fic, though it's more often used for SFF: science fiction and fantasy ("oh, and horror, I suppose" as an afterthought).

Let's look at the first word, though. "Speculative". Spec-fic is based around the idea of "what-if". In science fiction it's usually "what if this technology existed?", and in fantasy "what if magic existed?", though there are vast numbers of exceptions to those generalisations.

I'd like to argue, though, that after a particular trope becomes familiar enough, it's not "speculative" in the strongest sense any more. It's just a counterfactual setting. Everyone understands space opera, now. You have spaceships, probably warp or wormhole drives, quite possibly blasters and stunners, usually some kind of artificial gravity/antigravity, there's interstellar trade, there are space colonies, there may or may not be aliens of fairly predictable types (comedic, antagonistic, just plain weird). A space opera that only uses these tropes, that doesn't introduce anything new to them, can be an excellent and very enjoyable story, but it doesn't really speculate all that much. It's using a set of trope technologies established in the mid-20th century (notably, the computer technology isn't usually very advanced, sometimes not even as advanced as our actual present-day tech in a story written today), and has not very much to do with the current state of science. Writing a space opera of this kind is like writing a planetary romance: it's a literary genre that's become established with a certain set of assumptions and understandings about how things work, and we continue to enjoy it even though we know now that things don't really work that way.

Everyone, likewise, understands paranormal romance. There are supernatural creatures, most commonly vampires, werewolves, and/or Fae (in roughly that order of popularity). There may or may not be witches/wizards. These elements are, in many ways, background. They're furniture. They're not what the story is, in any strong sense, exploring, any more than a cosy murder mystery explores crime or a spy thriller explores international espionage.

In the short story field, in particular, referencing a trope can be a useful shortcut in a limited space, which enables you to get to the story itself without a lot of tedious explanation. I've become more aware of this as I write short stories. It's one of the tricky things about short stories in my Gryphon Clerks setting, especially, which is very different from the usual tropes in ways that I don't always want to dwell on, but which need to be conveyed somehow if the story is to make sense.

As well as these heavily troped settings, there's also a rising phenomenon - you can see it in the award nominations and the Best Of anthologies - of "literary" stories that have small, sometimes vanishingly small, spec-fic or counterfactual elements. For example, the Hugo-nominated short story "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," while a good story, is not speculative fiction by any rigorous definition. It contains speculation, but the speculation is counterfactual within the world of the story.

Scaring !
blavandmaster / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Now, I'm aware that I'm not going to bring about a revolution in which we all agree to save the term "speculative fiction" for fiction that actually, you know, speculates, and does so in fresh ways, and in which that speculation is at the heart of the story and couldn't be removed without killing the patient. For better or worse, and quite probably it's for better, "speculative fiction" has a broad definition rather than a narrow one. It includes the troped settings in which no new speculation is taking place, and the literary stories with a minor counterfactual that may not even make a difference to how the story goes.

What I would like to do is start at least a small amount of discussion about whether we could do with a few more terms. Maybe a spectrum of "tropedness" for subgenres like space opera and PNR, so we can talk about whether the story has just taken all its furniture ready-made from the archetypal space opera and pushed on with the action, or whether it's a story about what it might actually be like to be in space. Whether it's a vampire romance according to the usual template (so far as worldbuilding goes), or whether it's playing with, subverting, even adding to the tropes.

I'm starting to sound evaluative, so I want to make clear again: A heavily troped space opera can be highly enjoyable to read. Not having much original worldbuilding in your book can leave more room for character and plot, and if that's what you do with it, more power to your arm. If I'm reviewing, I probably will mention that it's on the familiar end of the familiar-to-fresh spectrum, and that I personally would like more freshness, but many other people will love it exactly because of the familiarity, and it is meet and right so to do.

Likewise, maybe a spectrum of "light" to "heavy" would be a useful way to talk about whether stories have speculative elements at their core or are using them more as decoration.

And finally, I personally would like more freshness and heaviness from time to time in my spec-fic. I hear good things about Anne Leckie's book Ancillary Justice in this connection, and I will probably read it at some point soon, even though it sounds darker than I usually like. There are still people writing spec-fic with a high level of speculation. The trick is finding them when there's not a clear vocabulary to describe such a thing.

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Apr 16

Technique: Parallel Stories, Slow Reveal

I review books from Netgalley, and I recently got two significant short story collections: Writers of the Future Volume 30 and Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eight. So far, I've only read the first one, but it's taught me something.

Of course, that's exactly why I read it; I wanted to see what is considered really good spec-fic short story writing these days, rather than just reading classic short stories. I've been writing a few short stories lately, mostly for the collection I'm doing with HDWP Press, and based on the feedback I've had I seem to be getting better. I'm yet to sell a story to a major magazine, but I've had a very encouraging personalised rejection from Strange Horizons and some good comments from critique groups.

Part of the point of writing short stories is to improve my craft by working at the short length, and then take those lessons into my novels. Here's the lesson I learned from several of the stories in Writers of the Future, which I call "parallel stories, slow reveal".

The clearest and best use of the technique is in Shauna O'Meara's story "Beneath the Surface of Two Kills". At the opening of this story, we learn that the narrator, a professional hunter, is hunting a rare animal for the last meal of a convicted felon on death row. As the story progresses, we discover more about the "two kills": the one which the hunter is working towards, and the one which we know occurred in the past to place the killer in prison awaiting execution. The hunter thinks about the news coverage he has read of the killer's stalking of his victim as he, in turn, stalks the rare beast.

This works for a few reasons. Firstly, the parallel stories obviously reflect on each other (and the conclusion differentiates the two characters). Secondly, as also happens with several other stories in the same collection, we start out knowing the ending of a story that occurred earlier, and gradually learn how that outcome occurred.

Now, given how some people react to "spoilers", you'd think that would be a problem, but done well it actually keeps the reader's interest. We know the outcome, but we don't know how it came to be, and we want to.

Here are some ways I can think of to use the slow reveal:

  • Hint at something surprising about the character early on that doesn't match up with what you've revealed about them so far.
  • Let the reader see a terrible (or wonderful) outcome looming, of which the characters remain ignorant until it happens.
  • As the story opens, let the reader know that the character feels a strong emotion (fear, anger, sadness) about something that happened, but don't tell them why (or what) until later.
  • Show a character learning something that another character has already learned, and tell their stories in parallel.
  • This is a classic: Start the character out in a fix. Gradually show how they got into it as they struggle to get out of it.

Like any technique, this can be done badly and fail. Used well, though, it holds the reader's attention and keeps them reading. Watch out for it in my future stories.

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Apr 10

Review Books, Win Books

So, review deal, involving free books for you.

I want to increase the number of reviews I have for several of my books, mainly so that I can use promotion sites that require a minimum number of Amazon reviews.

If you post a review of any of the following books on Amazon, let me know, including the link to your review, and I will send you another of my books, of your choice:

Now, most of those promotion sites also require a minimum of 4-star reviews, or an average above 4 stars.

I want to be clear here. I am not saying that I will only give you the free book if your review is 4 or 5 stars, because that would be undue influence.

However, if you've given one of my books a review with less than four stars, you will need to explain to me why you would want to read another book of mine, given that you didn't enjoy the previous one that much. "So that I can assassinate your book" is not going to be a reason that convinces me to facilitate that process.

Your free book doesn't have to be one of the three above. It can be Gu or Realmgolds if that's the book you want. You can see all my books, including blurbs, on this page.

Contact me in the comments or via the gmails (mikermnz) if you want to participate. Thanks!

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Mar 07

UPDATE: Anthology Plans

This is an update to my previous post, in which I announced a small short story collection.

I've now pulled that collection off Amazon, for the best possible reason. I've agreed with Charles Barouch of the small press HDWP Books to issue a solo anthology later this year under the HDWP imprint, including my contributions to HDWP's Theme-Thology collections.

Charles's vision for the anthology is that it'll have 10 stories in total (there may be more). Here's a partial summary of the contents, which includes the three stories I mentioned last time:

Good Neighbours: An elderly woman must answer the classic question: Who is my neighbour? (Formerly appeared in New Realm magazine in December 2013.)
2700 words.

Vegetation: In an old Elvish city, plants are everywhere. And goodness knows, someone has to look after them. A lighthearted, Wodehousian piece involving the petty politics of volunteer organisations.
2300 words.

Gnome Day: An idealistic young clerk helps out on the night the gnomes are freed, and meets three people who will change his life: the woman who will become his wife, the gnome man who will become his best friend, and the gnome woman with whom he'll share a tragedy.
6000 words. (This story is available for free to subscribers to my mailing list.)

Not Like Us: A beasthead clan leader contends with the botched Human Purity invasion of her village (as mentioned in Realmgolds), and must decide how much she wants to resemble the invaders. (Originally appeared in Theme-Thology: Invasion.)

Brothers: When a highly literate Asterist scholar meets a smelly Earthist shaman, things don't go the way anyone expects. (Scheduled to appear in Theme-Thology: New Myths.)

Weave: (Non-Gryphon Clerks.) All of a sudden, everyone in the world is connected in strange and frightening ways. (In progress; for submission to Theme-Thology: Real World Unreal.)

Intrusion: The story of the dwarven hack of the farspeakers in Hope and the Clever Man, told from the dwarven side. (In progress; for submission to Theme-Thology: Mad Science.)

Names: (Non-Gryphon Clerks.) In an afterlife in which everyone is a collective being, made up of everyone who's ever lived who has the same name, a person with a unique name has an advantage. But what advantage? (Currently on submission to a well-known genre magazine.)

Fixer: The man called Fixer knows everyone, and helps connect people with needs to those who can meet them. What happens when a confidence man wants to exploit Fixer's network? (In progress.)

You'll note that's only nine. I'm sure another will come to me in due time. (It might be that noir dwarf detective story in the style of Damon Runyon that I started once, in frustration at the story of a noir dwarf detective that was so clod-hopping and ponderous that I just couldn't stand it. Or not.)

Earliest publication date is probably around June for this one, assuming I sell "Names" to the magazine I'm targeting. They gave me a very positive personalised rejection for another story which was all about why that particular story didn't quite work for them, despite its many good qualities, so I'm having another go. Their exclusive period is two months from date of publication.

More bulletins as events warrant.

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Feb 24

Short Stories, and an Announcement

I've put three short stories up on Amazon as a collection for 99c. I plan to publish more short stories this year - potentially, I'll add them to this same collection, and get Amazon to alert purchasers to an "update" so that people who've already bought them get more stories at no extra charge. (Edited to say: There's at least a possibility that the small press HDWP Books will bring out an anthology collecting the stories I've done for their Theme-Thology volumes as well as some other short stories of mine later this year, so I've pulled the mini-collection. Further details in this follow-up post.)

The three stories are:

Good Neighbours: An elderly woman must answer the classic question: Who is my neighbour? (Formerly appeared in New Realm magazine in December 2013.)
2700 words.

Vegetation: In an old Elvish city, plants are everywhere. And goodness knows, someone has to look after them. A lighthearted, Wodehousian piece.
2300 words.

Gnome Day: An idealistic young clerk helps out on the night the gnomes are freed, and meets three people who will change his life.
6000 words. (This story is available for free to subscribers to my mailing list.)

Speaking of writing, I've been accepted as a contributor to the popular Fantasy Faction fansite. I'll be sharing some of my reviews there, and I also hope to publish some blog posts. These will be posts that I would previously have put up here with the category "Manifesto-esque Rantings" or "Craft". Instead of publishing those posts here, I'll focus more on making this a site for my readers, not so much for fellow writers. I'll share any Fantasy Faction posts as they're published, via my Google+ profile. I may also make a page on here as a directory to them.

Fantasy Faction gets about 2000 visitors a day and has already won a couple of minor awards, so I'm pleased to be writing for them. Since what I write for them will be reviews and posts I was going to write anyway, I promise it won't slow down the production of Gryphon Clerks fiction.

 

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Feb 11

Writing Two Stories at Once

I recently read C.L. Moore's Judgement Night (review here), and it got me thinking.

Moore was writing in the pulp era, very successfully. She and her husband Henry Kuttner (whose first contact with her was a fan letter he wrote, believing she was a man) often collaborated on their stories, but in the interests of not disappearing down a pointless rabbit-hole I'm going to assume that the stories with her name on were primarily her work.

Moore's stories, while definitely in the pulp mould, had extra elements that lifted them out of the ordinary. Her Wikipedia entry notes her use of the senses and emotions, but I'm going to talk about something else she did, which I refer to as "telling two stories at once".

External and Internal Stories

Drastic oversimplification time: one of the key differences between "genre" fiction and "literary" fiction is often that "genre" fiction has a lot going on externally (events that you'd see on a movie screen), whereas "literary" fiction has a lot going on internally to the characters (thoughts, emotions, internal dialogue, reflections on the meaning of life). This makes it unsurprising that most of the top-grossing movies of all time have been "genre" movies: science fiction, fantasy or thrillers, primarily.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with this. Sometimes, I'm in the mood for a story that doesn't attempt to do anything more than entertain me with the external events. As a matter of taste, I'm personally seldom if ever in the mood for a story that has very few events but a lot of internal reflection. What I really like a lot, though, is when someone manages to pull off both at once, which is what Moore did in many of her stories.

Double Double Toil and Trouble...
Arbron / Foter / CC BY

Most of the stories we recognise as "classic literature" do this. Shakespeare has murder and walking spirits and Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane, but he also has "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" and "Out, damned spot!" Dickens, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, most of the authors whose names everyone recognises tell two stories at once: the story of the outward events, and the story of the significance of those events.

By the significance of the events I don't just mean their significance to the characters, though that is how we encounter it, through the characters' eyes. The authors who are best at this manage to make the characters' thoughts, reactions and emotions point beyond them to something more universal about being human.

For example, the story "Judgement Night" in the collection of the same name is about the fall of a galactic empire. However, it's also about the heir to that empire, and her close brush with a love affair, and how her training as an amazon warrior makes her reject the emotional and relational side of life, and how that influences the empire's fall. And that, in turn, is about masculinity and femininity, relationship and connection, competition and conflict, love and death. It's all woven together. If you told just the story of the fall of the empire, it would work as a story by itself, but it wouldn't have the richness and depth of the story that Moore does tell.

How I'm Applying This

If I look at someone else's craft, it's at least partly to improve my own (that's a big part of why I write reviews).

There's a writing concept called "scene and sequel" that Jim Butcher describes very well. In this context, a "scene" is what I've been calling the outward story: some things happen. A "sequel" is where the characters reflect on it and make it part of their internal stories (and hopefully the greater, more universal story).

My first Gryphon Clerks book, Realmgolds, has lost some readers because they felt that I didn't do enough of the internal story sometimes. Other readers don't seem bothered by it; perhaps it's just that they're already enough like the characters (and me) that they get what I was going for without my spelling it out, that they naturally understand how a character like that would feel. However, if I'm to improve as a writer and satisfy more readers, I need to take that criticism on.

When I was writing Hope and the Clever Man, I had a scene in it where two of the characters get caught up in a riot. Bearing in mind the lessons I'd learned, I added a couple of sentences of sequel to the end of it, in which the characters said something like, "I've never been so frightened in my life!" "Me either."

Starting to deepen your stories can be that simple: taking a moment to show the reader what the events the character has just experienced mean to them.

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Jan 31

New Release: Hope and the Patient Man

Hope and the Patient Man is out today, and you can get it on the Kindle Store.

This is the sequel to Hope and the Clever Man. I've already referred to it as "Hope 2: The Patienting" and "Hope 2: Compressed-Air-Powered Boogaloo", but it's quite a different story. The potential romance at the end of Clever Man becomes actual, though there are several knotty problems: Hope's splashback curse from when she cursed her first boyfriend, a fairly serious head injury that indirectly results from it (I don't count that as a spoiler, since it happens practically on the first page), and the mystery of why her mother is so hostile to her.

I started writing it in August, while my beta readers were looking at the first Hope book, because the characters would not shut up. This is a good thing.

I now need to decide what's next. I have a largely drafted book set in the same time period as Realmgolds and most of the first Hope book, but it has multiple issues (as they say on Wikipedia). I'll probably toss it over to my miracle-working editor and she'll give me a two-page summary of how to rescue it and make it my best book so far. This is likely to involve several months' work, of course.

There are two more books to come out of the Hope characters. One is hinted at in Patient Man, and involves Mister Gizmo the gnome and his team as they try to rediscover the techniques for making an ancient elven material that will indirectly help the cause of gnome freedom. I've got a few chapters drafted, but it's not really singing to me yet.

The other involves Bucket, the Clever Man's gnome assistant, and Hope's best friend Briar as they navigate the choppy waters of politics.

Then I've got a heist novel planned, and then a kind of steampunk Star Trek airship voyage of discovery and diplomacy. Somewhere in there there may be another book or two that I'm currently vague on or unaware of. There's a general plan, but I uncover the details as I get to them.

All of which to say: the Gryphon Clerks series continues, there's plenty more to come, but right now, Hope and the Patient Man is fresh and new and I'd love you to take a look at it.

(Edited to add: With excellent timing, and much to my flattered surprise, the New Podler Review of Books has included Realmgolds in their Best of 2013 today!)

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Jan 30

Sir Julius Vogel Awards

So, I'm a New Zealand citizen who has released speculative fiction in the year 2013, which means my work is eligible for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards. These annual awards are named after an early Premier of New Zealand who wrote science fiction - proto-feminist science fiction, even. How cool is that?

The beautiful trophy for the Sir Julius Vogel Award

The SJVs, since they're run by New Zealanders, are more relaxed than the Hugos. I don't have to be sprinkled with the special big-publisher or big-magazine fairy dust to be eligible, I just have to have published. Here's what I've got that's eligible (in the format specified for nominations):

Novels:
  1. Name / Title of work: Realmgolds
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Novel
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: C-Side Media
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy
  1. Name / Title of work: Hope and the Clever Man
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Novel
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: C-Side Media
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy
Short Stories:

  1. Name / Title of work: Not Like Us (included in the Theme-Thology: Invasion anthology)
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Short Story
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: HDWP Books
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com (author); books at hdwpbooks.com (editor/publisher)
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy
  1. Name / Title of work: Good Neighbours (published in New Realm magazine, Vol 2, No 3, December 2013)
  2. Name of Author: Mike Reeves-McMillan
  3. Short Story
  4. Year of First Release: 2013
  5. Publisher / Production company name: fictionmagazines.com
  6. How to contact the producer / author: mike at csidemedia.com (author); doug at fictionmagazines.com (editor/publisher)
  7. Professional awards
  8. GENRE - fantasy

(If you want links to any of the works, they are all on my books page.)

Now, I'm not under any illusions that, even if people are nice enough to nominate me, there will be enough of those people to actually get me on the ballot, which is what happens if you have one of the five most-nominated works in a category. Voting is by members of the SFFANZ (the fan association) and attendees at their annual con, and frankly very few of them will have any idea who I am at this stage. But it is pleasing to think that I'm eligible.

Someday, I want to win a Sir Julius Vogel, and I think that's a realistic dream.

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Jan 21

Short Story Challenge begins

Something new today. I've decided to do a Short Story Challenge this year, which works as follows:

  1. I read and analyse a classic short story each month.
  2. I take what I learned and write a short story of my own.
  3. I submit it to magazines and anthologies until it sells, or until I run out of markets.
  4. Once the rights revert, I publish it on Amazon, either alone or as part of a collection, and/or make it one of the membership bonuses for my mailing list.

Several people I know on Google+ are joining me (some of them are doing slightly different versions), and you can follow along with the hashtag #shortstorychallenge.

I'm working, at least initially, from the Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, selected by Tom Shippey. It's a collection I own, I've read it before, and I know it has a lot of good stories in it, drawn from just over a century of fantasy literature (1888-1992).

I'm not planning to analyse every story in it, because I know I wouldn't follow through on that. Besides, I only need a dozen, and I want to throw some SF stories in later on as well (probably from the companion Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, also selected by Shippey, and which I also own). I may look at a detective story or two - my wife has about 30 mystery anthologies, including a couple of Oxford ones that she says are good - and possibly some mainstream short fiction, of which I also have a couple of collections. It's generally good to read outside your genre. It can freshen things up.

Here's my first analysis, then. It happens to be of a story that's freely available on the web: Lord Dunsany's "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth". I'll analyse it under a number of headings, which I'm making up as I go along, and italicise the things I take as lessons. Future analyses may differ in approach. In fact, that's highly likely.

Subgenre: Somewhere between Sword and Sorcery and Weird Tales. The events are S&S, the tone is Weird, and the combination works well. Crossing a couple of subgenres can have the effect of adding their strengths together.

Type of story: The plot has a strong Adventure core, but it's not just an adventure. It's also a Creepy Mood/Bizarre Experience story, like the ones that Lovecraft and co. wrote (going back at least to Poe). It has a Switch-up at the end, when the narrator questions whether it's an Hallucination or even a complete False Legend. This kind of category questioning is part of the Weird Tales genre, I think, and contributes to the genre's sense of confusion and fear.

Why the story works: It works more because of the atmosphere, the language and the tone than because of the plot, which is straightforward, with a minimal amount of tension in it (see analysis below). The adventure part would have made a decent story, perhaps a bit disappointing because the protagonist wins too easily. Those additional aspects make a great one. If you sizzle loud enough, you may not need as much sausage.

Language Elements: The names are the first thing to notice. The story itself is named after the fortress in it: The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth. Even its door has a wonderful name: The Porte Resonant, the Way of Egress for War. Then there are the names of the other places, people, and enemies: the town of Allathurion, its lord Lorendiac, and his son Leothric (the first two sound more-or-less Norman French, the third Saxon, and all of them Arthurian); the dragons Tharagavverug, Thok, Lunk, and Wong Bongerok, whose resonant, clanking names reflect their metallic nature; the evil magician Gaznak, who sounds like a Tolkien orc;  The Land Where No Man Goeth. Take the opportunity that names provide to evoke atmosphere.

Then there are the descriptions. "Then Leothric advanced towards a door, and it was mightier than the marble quarry, Sacremona, from which of old men cut enormous slabs to build the Abbey of the Holy Tears. Day after day they wrenched out the very ribs of the hill until the Abbey was builded, and it was more beautiful than anything in stone. Then the priests blessed Sacremona, and it had rest, and no more stone was ever taken from it to build the houses of men. And the hill stood looking southwards lonely in the sunlight, defaced by that mighty scar. So vast was the door of steel." That kind of description is hard to pull off, comparing something mythical to something else mythical that you have to explain, but if you can do it, you can convey a sense of a world that extends beyond the edge of this story; that's being shot on location, not in a sound stage. Give the audience something that only appears in the corner of their eye to make the world more real.

A number of the descriptions of the evil things mention Satan. This not only gives a context (Christianity) but also ties them together through the repetition.

Dragon
wili_hybrid / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The whole story uses an "elevated" and pseudo-antique style, the kind of style William Morris pioneered (following Spenser's Faerie Queene): "unvanquishable" rather than "unconquerable" or even "impregnable"; "save for" rather than "except for". This is incredibly hard to pull off (judging from the number of people who fail at it). You need a very large vocabulary and a good ear. All too many writers who attempt it have a much smaller vocabulary than they think they do, so they use the wrong word and make themselves look like idiots, and are prone to dropping modern colloquialisms into the middle of the high-flown prose at intervals and completely spoiling the effect. Dunsany has the linguistic chops to make it work. He knew what he was doing, and he could probably have explained it if he had to. Unless you can explain how and why this works, don't try it.

Plot: Let's attempt to apply the Seven-Point Story Structure and see where we get to.

Hook: The village by the dark forest full of fae is peaceful (paragraph 1). A little... too peaceful, if you know what I mean. Already, we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hint at trouble as early as you can.

Plot Turn 1: The village becomes troubled by evil dreams (paragraph 2). There we go. Don't hold off too long on the plot turn.

Pinch 1: The magician can't defeat them with his best spell. (There's actually a brief try-fail cycle here, by a minor character, the magician, who doesn't reappear later, and the protagonist isn't even introduced until it's over.) The protagonist doesn't have to do everything.

This sequence also does a lot to establish both the tone and the world: there is magic, there's a culture that crosses various kinds of landscape containing camels, elephants and whales, even a village magician commands great power. Make the minor details work to establish world and tone.

Midpoint: Leothric steps up and volunteers to go and defeat the dragon-crocodile Tharagavverug in order to get the sword Sacnoth, so that he can defeat the sender of evil dreams. We have a sub-quest. Arguably, the whole sub-quest, in which he must demonstrate tenacity and courage and therefore his worthiness for the main quest, is part of the midpoint. The points can be extended sequences, not just moments; the midpoint is a demonstration of fitness to be the hero, not just a decision.

Pinch 2: Leothric fights his way into the Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth. This is a kind of try-fail cycle, the kind that looks like success. He keeps achieving tasks (break down the door; scare off the camel-riders; get past the spider; pass through the hall of princes and queens; resist the temptation of the dream-women; cross the abyss; fight the dragon; fight the other, more dangerous dragon), but none of them are the task he wants to achieve: fighting and defeating Gaznak. In his talks on the Seven Points, Dan Wells alludes to the example of The Princess Bride, where the Man in Black's contests with Inigo, Fezzik and the Sicilian, and the encounters in the Fire Swamp, are "try-fail" cycles. He wins, he progresses, but he doesn't yet achieve his ultimate objective: to escape to his ship with Buttercup. Try-fail cycles can involve the protagonist winning.

Leothric doesn't have any serious trouble with any of these obstacles, yet the story remains interesting, because they're so beautifully described and everything is so evocative. This is similar to Dunsany's models, the Arthurian quests (Gawain and the Green Knight, for example, which also gets echoed later with the detachable head). Success against opposition, even easy success, doesn't have to be boring, as long as the opposition is interesting and the success isn't instantaneous.

Plot turn 2: Leothric finally confronts Gaznak, and just when it looks like he will lose (because Gaznak's sword can destroy Leothric's armour, but not vice versa, and Gaznak's detachable head trick prevents Leothric from beheading him), he figures out that Gaznak has another point of vulnerability: his wrist. This has been set up in advance, so it doesn't feel like it comes out of nowhere, and in exploiting it he adds intelligence to his already-demonstrated virtues of courage and tenacity. Set up the solution, even if only half a dozen paragraphs before. Have the hero snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It's never too late to have the hero show another quality that's consistent with his character.

Resolution: The evil dissipates, Leothric returns home and the village is again at peace. Return to status quo ante is an acceptable resolution; the hero has changed, but the world may be back to how it was. 

After the resolution comes the little twisty doubty thing in the last four paragraphs. If anything, this makes the story more of a legend, claims for it the status of a traditional tale rather than a newly-made-up story, as well as raising the epistemological question of what is true, what is real, and how we know. Those are questions academics ask more often than ordinary people, and perhaps they were preoccupations of earlier generations more than our own. It's not necessarily something to imitate, but I think it works for this story.

So there's my analysis. Now I need to write my story. I have a story in progress, but I'm not sure that the lessons I've learned here are directly applicable to it, so I may need to start another.

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