S&S: Oliver Brackenbury – So I’m Writing A Novel!

Author Oliver Brackenbury is creating a series of podcasts on how he is going about writing a sword and sorcery novel. He’s got 26 podcasts on the topic so far. I’ve added them to my cue of audiobooks, interviews and movies I’d like to watch / listen to as I work on my own S&S project, Guardians Of The Dead. I’ll add more podcasts here as I get to them.

So I’m Writing A Novel website.

Books by Oliver Brackenbury.

Reddit post where I found this.

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Ep1 – So I’m Writing A Novel… Begins!

Notes: Brackenbury mentions Brian Murphy’s new book Flame And Crimson. I’ve posted an excellent interview featuring Murphy here:

S&S: Brian Murphy: The History Of Sword And Sorcery

7 basic elements for S&S stories:

  1. Characters of Action
  2. Dark, Dangerous Magic
  3. Personal or Mercenary Motivations
  4. Horror (Lovecraftian) Influences
  5. Short Episodes
  6. Inspired By History
  7. Protagonists are Always Outsiders

Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy, and its Digital Library

Overall, Episode 1 provides a lot of good info on the genre. Brackenbury didn’t pull any punches when criticizing Camp and Carter on how they used (abused) Howard’s work posthumously. Looking forward to Ep. 2!

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Ep2 – My Protagonist

Brackenbury talks about creating his main character Voe, including his inspirations and commentary on background details, religion and more.

This is not a knock on Brackenbury, but he chose a strong, powerful redhead. Really? When I write stories, and this is my personal eccentricity, mind you, I tend to see what paths other writers have tread upon, and I avoid many of those paths while attempting to blaze my own trail through the woods. In this case, look at the evolution of the Red Sonja character. She started out as Dark Agnes de Chastillon, was ‘enhanced’ by C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry, and ‘enhanced’ again as Red Sonya of Rogatino. These are all depicted as strong and powerful redheads. Is this the only viable archetype readers can handle?

What have I done in my Guardians Of The Dead story? First, after watching videos on 3-man, 4-man and 5-man tropes, I went with 6 starting characters to force a different dynamic into the story. Second, my original idea was for them to all have dark hair, either black or brown, but after looking for face pictures of women from eastern Europe, I adjusted the lead character into a blonde, and she’s not the tallest, strongest or most powerful of the bunch (but, spoiler, she might evolve that way).

Brackenbury stays close to the standard formula for his character Voe’s background and formula. It comes across to my rebellious ears as, if it was good enough for Conan, it is good enough for me. We are told not to expect a whole lot of back story for Voe, and that’s fine for Brackenbury’s choices and writing style.

Again, I veer away from the path that’s already been explored, because I have to. The first 50 pages of my Guardian story is an introduction where I deliberately kept the back story vague, but I give enough for the reader to figure out in snippets why things ended up the way they did. I covered the religion aspect even more vaguely, with the intention of getting the 6 protagonists on their feet faster and moving right away.

Overall, I’m enjoying listening to Brackenbury’s commentary and insight, and his humor that’s a little goofy at times, even if he does mention things like ‘toxic masculinity.’ I hope he understands that in today’s biased political atmosphere, writers like R.E.Howard, C.L. Moore, and probably even H.P. Lovecraft, would not be published today thanks to those kinds of buzz-words, and is another reason why so little traditional swashbuckling, ball-swinging, wench-humping Sword & Sorcery makes it into the public spotlight today.

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Ep3 – Brainstorming Stories

I’ve listened to this podcast once, and I’m about to a second time, so I can jot down my impressions.

2:35 – Brackenbury mentions trying to avoid overused plots, or cliches. If you’re new to writing, don’t worry about that. There are plenty of big-name stories out there that take well-known ideas or plots and re-use them. This is why Hollywood isn’t original anymore, and a lot of book editors push the same narrow quidelines in trying to copycat the latest NY Time bestseller. The most important thing for new writers is to write, to create functional stories from start to finish and learn character development and pacing, and keeping the reader’s attention. We’ve all seen the same lame redundant plot twists: the antagonist is revealed to be related to the protagonist, the close friend betrays the main character, the story starts out with an action scene, and then backtracks 2 days, 2 months, 2 years earlier to where the story should have started in the first place.

Once you have a grasp of storytelling, then you can move on to adding your originality to it. Your parents can morph into the benevolent guardian angel, or the overbearing captain who watches over you. Your best friend can be your companion in the story, and maybe also your rival. If your car gets a flat tire, that can turn into your character getting angry because he or she broke a special weapon, or was undermined in some way. Little things that happen in your life can become big things that happen to your protagonists.

6:15 – Brackenbury gives examples of inspiration for his untitled book. This is good stuff. I encourage new writers to keep a notebook, as he suggests, and write down ideas that jump out at you. If you have the time, develop / expand the idea right away, because once you put it down you might forget about it later. For my S&S story Guardians Of The Dead, I’m reading and listening to stories by R.E. Howard, C.L. Moore and H.P. Lovecraft, so far, and also reading The Savage Sword Of Conan adult comic, and watching genre movies or TV shows. (The Witcher on Netflix is pretty good, because he has Conan-size attitude and balls. The Wheel Of Time, not so much, because the good guys are always, or so far, running away.)

21:00 – A podcast listener asks why Brackenbury focuses on a strong, female protagonist. In my writing, I tend to jump around a lot, both for my characters and genres. I went on a cyberpunk tear over the last couple of years, with a long series featuring a strong female in a cyberpunk world, followed by a strong male in a shorter cyberpunk series. That led to burn-out, where I went to a strong male in a sci-fi space setting, followed by a strong male in an, ugh, cyberpunk mini-series. Now I’m on Sword And Sorcery with several strong females as the main characters. Usually, I jump from fantasy to sci-fi to horror, because that keeps my head full of fresh ideas, but the whole cyberpunk genre was new for me so I ended up in it longer than I would have normally. Also, I’ve moved away from horror, in modern settings at least. I didn’t realize that Lovecraft was such a big influence in Howard’s writing until recently, and that’s an aspect I’d really like to graft into my S&S stories.

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