Book Reviews

The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference

The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference, by the editors of Writer’s Digest Books is just one of the many resourceful books writers can purchase to help them plan and write the fantasy aspects of their novels.

Out of the books I have read for writers, this is so far the most complete reference for fantasy writers, covering the topics of: traditional fantasy cultures, world cultures, magic, witchcraft and pagan paths, commerce, trade and law in contemporary fantasy, fantasy races, creatures of myth and legend, dress and costume, arms, armor and armies, as well as the anatomy of a castle. Here is a more in-depth look at what the book covers:

In Chapter 1 – Traditional Fantasy Cultures, Michael J. Varhola, talks about feudalism, manorialism, Christianity, the social order, ecclesiastic titles, knighthood, political entities, peripheral cultures and terms.

In Chapter 2 – World Cultures, Michael ventures to the worlds of Africa, Asia, Mesoamerica, Other Mesoamerican cultures, North America, Oceania as well as South America. There are many intriguing pictures from these different cultures throughout this section.
In Chapter 3 – Magic, Allen Maurer and Renne Wright touch on the history of magic, principles of magic, what magic does, ritual and ceremonial magic, secret societies, divination, and building your own magical worlds.

In Chapter 4 – Witchcraft and Pagan Paths, Allen and Renne cover the topics of how to recognize a witch, classical witchcraft, gothic witchcraft, family or traditional witchcraft, new-pagan witchcraft, new age neo-pagans, language of witchcraft, dictionary of terms from witchcraft and magic.

In Chapter 5 – Commerce, Trade and Law in Contemporary Fantasy, Sherrilyn Kenyon delves into commerce, punishments and trade and barter systems.

In Chapter 6 – Fantasy Races, Andrew P. Miller and Daniel Clark bring to us the races of dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, goblins, orcs, half-lings, hybrids, merfolk, trolls, minor races, non-western races, created races as well was individualization and characterization.

In Chapter 7 – Creatures of Myth and Legend, Miller and Clark give us an alphabetical listing of such creatures such as banshee, hydra, golem, gorgons, Cyclopes, dragons and so on.
Sherrilyn Kenyon returns with Chapter 8 – Dress and Costume. Here she discusses clothing materials, colors, women’s clothing, men’s clothing, shoes, children’s clothing, clergy and chastity belts.

Michael J. Varhola returns with chapters nine and ten. In Chapter 9 – Arms, Armor and Armies, he talks about arms, armor, armies and beasts of war. In Chapter 10 – Anatomy of a Castle, he talks about castles and other fortifications, castle life and the siege.

In this book, there is everything a fantasy writer needs to know to create rich detail in their stories and characters. This book will make a great addition to any writers book shelf and will prove invaluable in the years to come.

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Book Reviews

Building Believable Characters

The Writer’s Digest Sourcebook for Building Believable Characters, by Marc McCutcheon is one of the many useful resource books put out by Writer’s Digest Books.

There are many building blocks for writers when it comes to crafting the foundation for stories. Creating characters is one of the most crucial elements writers must develop. Without characters, there is no story. However, many writers are uncertain about how to go about creating characters and bring them to life on the page.

Building Believable Characters offers great advice from other writers as well as a character questionnaire. The questionnaire is in-depth and asks the writer to fill in such information on their character such as name, weight, height, age, body type, physical characteristics, race, religion, gestures, skills, occupation and so much more.

After the questionnaire, there is a chapter titled Character Thesaurus. Under this chapter there are subsequent sections touching on: Face and Body such as complexions, skin types, blemishes, eye type, shape and color, noses, hair, facial hair, body types and so on.

Personality/Identity covers personality traits, bad habits and vices, psychological/psychiatric problems, diseases, disorders, afflictions, hobbies and sports, along with a few others.

Facial expressions, body and vocal language includes anger, anxiety, fear, shock, pain, suspicion, guilt, arrogance, disgust, nausea, happiness, love, grief, drunkenness, laughs, etc.

Dress involves clothing such as dresses, skirts, pants, shirts, coats, undergarments, shoes and boots, hats, sweaters, glasses, fashion styles and others.

Dialects and Foreign Speech runs through Southern (US) Accent Pronunciation Guide, British Expressions and Pronunciations, French and Spanish vocabulary, as well as Italian, German and Russian vocabulary.

Given Names and Surnames from Around the World pulls together names from English, Scottish, Irish, French, Berman, Jewish, Dutch, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Scandinavian, Russian, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese.

The last section covers character homes such as adobes, log homes, bungalow, Cape Cod, Greek Revival, Georgian among many others.

I personally have used Building Believable Characters to create characters from my own novels and short stories. The result was having vivid characters whom I knew more intimately than I thought possible. My characters were alive on the pages and therefore generated more emotion from my readers as they followed my characters’ lives throughout the book.

Marc McCutcheon has an excellent book here and I recommend it for novice writers uncertain of where to begin with building their characters, as well as for professionals looking to juice up their characters.