2020 Year in Review/2021 Writerly Resolutions

Although, if I’m to be honest, “resolutions” seems so chiseled in stone and imposing than just “goals” so perhaps we’ll just go with “goals.”

Anyway.

Last year I made a resolutions plan for 2020, some of which I’ve accomplished, some of which I have not. Like the goal of 60 submissions. I don’t think I even made 40 (*cough* 28, according to the Grinder) in 2020 but, erm, there was the whole plague and quarantine that happened, and I lost easily six months of potential writing productivity to just a general sense of hopelessness and defeat. But, hey! Three acceptances! Same as last year, so fewer submissions but same rate of acceptance. Go figure.

I did, however, hit every one of those goals for Dead God’s Bones. I finished the editing pass, then did another, found betas, got feedback, did more editing, found more betas, did more editing, and got my submission packet together. Then decided, er, might be better to wait till 2021 for this. Querying in 2020 didn’t seem either wise nor feasible, so I mostly researched agents, put together my list of who to send it to, and just generally did prep work. I did write at least five short stories (five exactly) and I also started the next book (more on that later—possibly more on that in a separate blog entry). I also did a bit of painting, so there’s that?

I didn’t end up querying In Blood another 20 times; I think I did five or six more then retired it. I thought I’d be absolutely heartbroken but a year of distance between querying it and three years of distance from writing it, and I can see its flaws more clearly. It’s not a bad book, and there are elements of it that I still love, but I’m all right with it just being for me. The component parts don’t fit together as seamlessly as DGB or the new book, and I’d like to think I’ve leveled up as a writer.

So I suppose that’s 2020. The most surprising things this past year mostly happened around my day job. I was promoted, realized I’ve reached the ceiling for advancement/pay without a degree in the field, so applied, was accepted, and am now going back for yet more college.

Moving on to that handy bulleted list I used last year.

2021 Resolutions Goals:

  • Hit 40 submissions again. I need to get back into the habit.
  • Start querying Dead God’s Bones with intent. I have my list, I have my packet, all that remains is to do the legwork. So far, my agent list is about 15 agents strong at this point, but for DGB, I’m going for more targeted querying than I did with In Blood. We’ll see how that works out.
  • Continue working on the new book (more on this in its own dedicated blog post). I’d like to get 20k words in by the time I start school, and while I’d love to have the draft done by this time next year, not sure how feasible that is with grad school looming. I’d be happy with halfway by January of 2022. Anything else is extra credit.
  • Go to school. Again. This time, though, instead of a degree in writing, I’ll be working on a degree in libraries. In my day job under another name, I’m the Assistant Head of Circulation. My goal, however, is to specialize and become either an Outreach Librarian and/or a Reference Librarian.
  • Write 5 new short stories.

Onward to 2021!

Ode to Morrowind

Because in real-life, I’m fighting the fluctuating but constant feeling that I’m either being gaslighted by society at large or that things are utterly bleak and hopeless, and in the U.S., we’re experiencing so much social and political upheaval ramping up to an election with potential results that, frankly, terrify me, I’m going to use this space to babble about a video game that shaped how I write and what I write about.

That game is Morrowind.

Look at those graphics! Look at those giant bug critters! Look at those…people with eldritch horror tentacles ripping their way out of their faces…hm. Y’know, in the original low resolution on an old 90’s block screen, you didn’t quite get the visual horror of these guys that modern high resolution retexturing mods give them.

Anyway, this video game was THE video game for me, though as a kid, I had issues with sticking to a choice and playing a character for more than six levels, along with just not quite getting what I was supposed to be doing. So, as a kid, the guidebook was my bible. Like, really, I carried the guidebook around at school and when the glue in the spine crumbled from so much reading, I put the pages in individual protector sheets and stuck them in a binder. I also read a lot of the in-game lore books, since I was mostly restricted to Seyda Neen, Balmora, and maybe Ola Oad or Aldruhn if I felt particularly daring. A few times I ended up in Sadrith Mora, but since I usually didn’t play a character long enough to unlock the levitation spell, I couldn’t go past the entrance halls of the Telvanni towers.

These convenient portal-pads for the magically deprived weren’t a thing in Morrowind, so if you wanted to go exploring Telvanni towers, you needed the levitate spell or something enchanted with levitate.

A few years ago, I bought the game and played it as an adult and…yeah, well, the graphics haven’t aged all that well and the combat is absolutely nothing like subsequent games (Oblivion and Skyrim). But! As an adult, I was able to, 1. commit to one character and 2. finally understand how to read directions. Because there are no map markers in Morrowind, and occassionally, the directions are wrong. After many, many years of never getting beyond the first major quest in the main quest, I finished not only Morrowind, but Tribunal and Bloodmoon, the two expansions.

It also gave me the opportunity to truly appreciate how much of an indelible mark this game made on proto-writer me, particularly in how I approach worldbuilding.

Morrowind has a steep learning curve, and it explains very little beyond the basics. Once you click past the tutorial, you are on your own (unless, of course, you have a guide). Instead, it immerses you entirely, and once you start scratching at the surface of the worldbuilding, you realize…it’s layers. Layers upon layers, and some of those layers are in direct contradiction with other layers, but both are, sort of, true. The sheer amount of reading available in this game is utterly staggering. Though the lore books average maybe four pages, there are hundreds. And, unlike subsequent titles, most of the game’s dialogue happens in dialogue boxes, with a single notable exception. Little is voiced. (But the little that is…oh, the sound of an Ordinator saying, “We’re watching you. Scum.” will forever be immortalized in my memory. Along with, “Mournhold! City of light! City of magic!” and “Wake up. There you go. You were dreaming. Now, what’s your name?”)

But the worldbuilding is so, so rich, and the quests and characters are some of the most unique in the Elder Scrolls series (excepting Elder Scrolls Online, only because that game is truly massive, and it does its fair share of callbacks to Morrowind, but I’ll get into it more later). And so much of it is conveyed with little explanation, forcing you, the player, to fill in the blanks and dialogue with it while the local fauna is trying to kill you as you run for your life under the canopies of giant mushroom trees. And if, like me, you’re one of those players who, when you stumble across a secret or uncover another layer of worldbuilding, you squeal in glee and treasure it like the shiny nugget it is, this game rewards you, and often. It encourages multiple play-throughs, simply because you are going to miss details, and every time through gives you something new.

Yet, it also plays a lot with the mutability of truth. Of how much perspective plays a role not only in history, but in how history unfolds in the present. And the importance of leaving just a bit of mystery, just a few questions unanswered, because it’s in those spaces that you let imagination proliferate.

So, basic rundown of the core concept of the game. By the emperor’s order, you’ve been pulled out of prison, stuck on a boat, and shipped to the very alien landscape of the island of Vvardenfell in Morrowind, one of the two eastern-most provinces of Tamriel. At first, you are an imperial agent who gets cast in the role of the Nerevarine, the reincarnation of Nerevar–an ancient Dunmer hero–and a sort of Dunmeri messiah figure. But, the further along in the story you go, the more tests your character passes, and it starts to become clear that you might actually be the Nerevarine, not just an impostor lookalike. Which coincides with the rise/reawakening of Dagoth Ur, the fellow behind the eldritch horror tentacles and, possibly, Nerevar’s murderer.*

It’s surprisingly tricky to find an image of all three together.

I say possibly. Because it’s also possible he was murdered by his own allies, Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil, who subsequently ascended to a mortal godhood and became the Tribunal. And even though you have the opportunity to talk to, well, two of the three (Vivec and Almalexia), you’re never given a clear answer as to what happened. How did Nerevar die? It’s unclear, and depending on the interpretation, all perspectives are true due to a dragon break. But even without the dragon break, it’s fascinating to hold up the pieces, the snippets that different characters give you, and see how they fit together. What overlaps, what doesn’t? And that approach, that uncomfortable “knowing but not knowing” is a fascinating technique that I notice I often use in my own work. What’s truth? Subjective. Different people have different takes, different theories, even when they were witness to the event.

Also, judging by the content of Dead God’s Bones, I also really love to engage with the idea of mortal gods. Oh, and when I do utilize the chosen one trope, it’s almost always the “you look like the chosen one, you’ll do” and the character becomes the chosen one through a “fake it till you make it” approach (or never becomes the chosen one at all). Which has similar parallels to Morrowind’s approach.

And, for DGB at least, I often channel the visual, mm, texture of Morrowind and, to a certain degree, Oblivion. Less so Skyrim, not sure why. I often wish I had the ability to convey truly alien creatures the way visual media–such as games, movies, or art–can do. Writing is filtered through the reader’s perspective, and so such things require a different kind of building to maintain clarity. Sometimes, I wish I could drop a reader into a landscape like Vvardenfell the way Morrowind does but, alas, my skill is not yet high enough. But I can try, to some extent.

For fun, here’s an ascended sleeper, what those tentacles-from-the-face-guys eventually become. The painting is also, shockingly, one of mine.

Still, I so very much enjoy building massive worlds to only show the surface, inviting a reader to scratch and see what’s underneath. Or, in the case of short fiction, since short fiction is limited in word count and what can be explored, setting up the illusion of great depth of worldbuilding. I strive to give just enough hints, while maintaining just enough mystery, to engage my readers’ imagination, and invite them to piece things together and fill in the blanks for themselves. Mostly because I want to recreate that experience that Morrowind provided me, but for someone else.

Also, as a side thing, I still haven’t found a literary equivalent of this game. I’m always on the hunt for suggestions, though, so if you’re familiar with Morrowind and have read something that channels the same spirit, please suggest?

Remember how I mentioned this would relate to ESO? Right, so when I bought ESO and started playing it for the first time, I hadn’t realized that the version I got came bundled, original game plus the Morrowind chapter. The game started, there was a tutorial thing, I did it because, er, ESO has a bit of a learning curve too, if you’re used to TES games. Anyway, tutorial over and…I’m in Seyda Neen. More so, I am on that DOCK, the one from the beginning of Morrowind and…the music is playing, and it’s reminiscent of the original soundtrack, to the point that some things are direct covers of the original, and…oh, the feels. So much sentimentality going on. And then I start walking and run into this thing:

Vvardenfell has a thing with tentacles…

And went, “What the hell is that? And what are those?”

The vvardvark, a critter that, by TES III: Morrowind, is extinct.

Apparently, the in-game explanation for why this Vvardenfell’s flora and fauna look a little different (beyond developments in graphical capabilities and changes in aesthetics due to different development teams) is that ESO’s Morrowind is a little under a thousand years prior to the events of TES III: Morrowind, and things change. Notably, things change a lot if your island is an active volcano and only gets more active, and covers your land in a fine dusting of ash. Which actually makes a lot of sense. One of my critiques of the Elder Scrolls universe is that, between games, there often isn’t a huge visual difference, though hundreds of years may have passed. Beyond Vvardenfell, the entire architecture of Mournhold is different which…also makes sense, seeing that in a hundred years or so, it’s going to get razed.

TES in general has a thing for reoccurring characters, and ESO is no exception. There are a lot of references in ESO’s Morrowind to TES III: Morrowind (similarly, Skyrim’s Dragonborn expansion references a bit, though not quite as thoroughly).

Ah, Barilzar…why does your name sound so familiar? Oh. Right. That Barilzar. The one of the Maze Band. And, oh, thank you for helping us save Vvardenfell from certain destruction, here have a few…crystals…for your experiments…oh. Um. Enjoy lichdom? Sorry that my Nerevarine kills you? And that my Vestige, er, dooms you?

I have shamelessly bought the Ald Velothi bug-style Redoran house in ESO and have, also shamelessly, decorated it to be as Morrowind-reminiscent as I could, with a few nods to the Clockwork City because, second to Vvardenfell, it’s by far my favorite area. Also, Clockwork City gave that denied chance to speak to Sotha Sil, seeing that events of Tribunal make that rather impossible. He’s…interesting. Philosophical but also very meta, very sideways-aware he’s an NPC. It’s an interesting conversation.** Vivec is Vivec, and by the end of the Vvardenfell chapter, I was questioning just how much I was charismatically manipulated into certain actions. Hmmmm… And Almalexia is…slightly less insane. But, also, roped me into saving her temple and then gifted me with a lamp? It felt a little anti-climactic, but also very fitting.***

However, since I’ve now cleared Vvardenfell, Clockwork City, Stonefalls, and Deshaan, I’m off to Shadowfen, which is very much new territory to explore, given that there hasn’t been an Elder Scrolls game set in Blackmarsh since Arena, but that’s set on/in all of Tamriel, and Daggerfall is as far back as I’ve gone so far.

In the meanwhile, I’m looking forward to Skywind, and fan-made port of Morrowind’s intellectual spirit into the Skyrim engine. They are making their own models, they’re making their own textures, they’re building Morrowind from the ground, up, but using Skyrim’s more modern infrastructure. And I absolutely cannot wait. This is the game that’ll woo me away from ESO, I guarantee. My grand-plan is to, eventually, play Skygerfall (the Daggerfall main quest remake in the Skyrim engine, a mod that’s already released), then Skywind, then Skyblivion (the Oblivion recreation in the Skyrim engine, much like Skywind), then eventually, replay Skyrim and actually do the main quest without taking a year break in the middle. And, depending on how the release schedule ends up, maybe being able to then play The Elder Scrolls VI.

Maybe.

Look at this amazing thing. This is going to be glorious when it releases.

And thus brings a close to my long, rambling ode to a game near and dear to my writerly heart. If not for Morrowind, I certainly wouldn’t write the way I do, and I wouldn’t be fascinated by the concepts that I am. Or, er, quite as obsessed with worldbuilding.****

After writing all this, I do find myself craving a new playthrough. Hm. (Wait for Skywind, I tell myself, wait for Skywind.)


* I don’t feel like this is a spoiler, since this game was released in 2002.
** There’s some a few references to what ends up happening to Sotha Sil peppered around in the dialogue. He apparently has defense measures set up for three potential, and possibly only, threats to his life. One is himself. Another is an angry daedric prince. The third is Almalexia. Very much a “Hah!” and “Oooh…” moment.
*** Also, fun and somewhat weird thing, but if you start playing in the Morrowind chapter, then go back and wander into Mournhold, you’ll run into a familiar face from Morrowind…who’ll have no idea who you are, because ESO is designed to go chronologically for character development, but being an MMORPG with multiple expansions, doesn’t guarantee a player will meet that character at the start of their arch.
**** It didn’t fit in the essay, so this is postscript, but the Elder Scrolls universe also plays, at least worldbuilding-wise, with cultures which aren’t based on a good vs. evil dichotomy, which is rare in high fantasy. A reoccurring theme within the Elder Scrolls is more an order vs. chaos, which is fascinating.

Well, This Has Languished…

I admit, I’ve slacked on updating this blog. While I’d like to place the whole of the blame on Covid-19 and quarantine it’s…not entirely the culprit. Yes, quarantine has thrown my usual schedule off-balance, but my lack of blogging has less to do with a world-wide pandemic, and more to do with having little to say.

So, because I have little to say, and most of it is fairly inane, I’ll arrange it all in bullet-point style.

  • Since quarantine, I’ve started to beta-read more (and beta-read outside my usual network of writer-friends). Which is also why there hasn’t been a “Month of Books” since…oh, wow. March? Two months ago? Wow. Anyway, beta-reading, by its nature, tends to require me to read slower and devote far more attention to, well, everything. Meaning, I can’t just sit back and read purely for the enjoyment of it, and because it requires so much more mental energy, I haven’t been reading much else. BUT! I have read some excellent yet-to-be-published fiction, and that has been a joy. 
  • It has also gotten me ruminating on writing and writing craft, something I haven’t actively done since finishing that degree.
  • This might result in more blogging. We shall see.
  • Still waiting on beta-reads for my own novel, but they’re starting to (slowly) trickle in. Most of my readers are, understandably, distracted by a world-spanning pandemic, so it might take awhile longer.
  • imagesInstead, I’ve started preliminary brainstorming for book 2. Should I? Probably not. If I was wise about this, I’d instead be writing something entirely unrelated, because the likelihood that the first book not only being picked up by an agent, but also by an editor, and the publisher gambling that it’d do all right enough to warrant a book 2 is…beyond astronomical. And yet…I still find this story, these characters, this world compelling, and the ideas for book 2 are starting to spark. Will it go beyond brainstorming? Maybe. Maybe it’ll go to the outline stage. Will I write it? Now? Eeeeeeeh. I don’t know. But it’s lovely to have a large project percolating in my brain again. I’d hit a bit of a slump immediately after finishing “Dead God’s Bones” (heretofore referred to as DGB). By extension, or perhaps, as a result, book 3 is also starting to take on more substance than the vague “it’s book 3!” it’s been since I started writing DGB.
  • I’m currently playing with the idea of expanding a short story into something longer (novelette or novella, not sure yet). The story came close to being published in an anthology I’d submitted it to, and hilariously, I’m going counter to the expectation and instead of turning around and submitting it somewhere else, I’m thinking of ripping it apart and stitching it back together as something new. I realized, after receiving the rejection, that I have no idea how to write a romance story. And this was supposed to be a fantasy romance. I also realized that the thing that was missing (other than the romantic spark) was the other half of the romance’s viewpoint…and why most slow-burn romances have dual PoVs. It’s hard to convey that both characters have feelings for each other when we’re in only one head and that head is not only in denial, but convinced the other doesn’t care. So I’m going to have some fun with this, I’m going to make a whole slew of mistakes, and I’m going to write a romance, goddamnit!
  • Speaking of short fiction, I’ve been writing a little of it here and there. I sold two pieces, which will be coming out at some point in the future, and I’ll update this with links and such when they are.
  • 407798-the-elder-scrolls-online-morrowind-playstation-4-front-coverThe other reason I haven’t been reading much has been because I buckled and bought the Elder Scrolls Online, and have been happily traipsing down memory lane on Vvardenfell. It’s not exactly the same, of course, but I’m enjoying the way the developers interpreted and reinterpreted the lore…and it filled that void for a stable Skyrim I’ve so desperately dreamed of (my Skyrim—and Oblivion for that matter—are notoriously glitchy, partly because I mod, partly because the game engine is unstable). So I’ve become an ESO player.
  • I also caved and bought a subscription. Because crafting materials take up so much space. I wanted that crafting bag. I’m not even actively crafting and I wanted that bag. There’s just not enough inventory slots available for materials and still be able to pick up that fancy pair of boots. Was this wise? Not sure but, hey, haven’t regretted it yet.
  • Eventually, I’ll roll up another character. Namely, my beefy high elf sneaky-fighter who’s been my main in Skyrim for the past long while. Why high elf, you ask?
    Osrin
    Osrindil, soon, you shall return to Tamriel, though I think high elves start in Summerset? Need a pirate hat though…
     Because I find it bizarrely amusing to play a masked, swashbuckling high elf wearing a giant feathered pirate hat gallivanting across Skyrim. Also, if you play high elf, when you infiltrate the Thalmor embassy, you can steal a set of Thalmor robes and waltz right through, and since I have mods for immersive sneak-centric characters, there’s just something very satisfying about waylaying a Thalmor inquisitor, putting him in a choke-hold, rendering him unconscious, and stealing his clothes, to go sneering off past all the Thalmor guards unmolested. It just…completes it, y’know? 
  • On the topic of ESO, their music is gorgeous. I purchased the soundtrack and it’s become my new ambient music for when I’m working/writing. Worth it.
  • I did have my first piece of nonfiction published, “Viewpoint Intimacy Through a Third Person Lens,” which, I hope, will not be the last article/essay of mine that appears somewhere that isn’t my blog.
  • Also, I made a website for my artist alter-ego (about damn time).
  • Since I’m home due to Covid-19, I’ve had more of an opportunity to take photos of the wildlife in my yard:

And that’s it for my bullet-point updates. 

I don’t know about the new WordPress blog editor interface. I’ll get used to it, eventually, but it’s going to take a little while. It likes doing odd things to my image formatting, though having the new slideshow option is nice. I’m not using it, but it’s nice.

No Month of Books for January

I admit, I haven’t done much reading this month. Or, rather, I haven’t done much reading of other people’s writing. I’ve mostly been reading my own. Specifically, that long, still-unnamed fantasy cop drama novel I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. In order to hit my self-imposed deadline of finishing initial edits/getting the book ready for beta-reads by the end of January, I’ve been doing little else.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve also  been playing Skyrim. A lot of Skyrim.

H2x1_NSwitch_TheElderScrollsVSkyrim_image1600w

See, I downloaded the “Legacy of the Dragonborn” mod, and for the past few weeks, have been dividing my free-time between working on edits, and working on filling out my fantasy museum. The mod basically turns you into a fantasy Indiana Jones, and you get to go around Skyrim finding relics and/or putting together your exhibits, and pretty much just making your museum a visually stunning place to walk through.

In some ways, it’s very peaceful. In others…I never quite realized the level of frustration I’d feel hunting for a relic knee-deep in Rieklings, and still being unable to find it because it clipped slightly through the chest it was sitting next to and if you didn’t already know exactly where it was, finding it was next to impossible. Or the annoyance of walking into the armory and seeing that one display that’s missing a few pieces…

I’d also forgotten how glitchy Skyrim can be. So many falling mammoths. So many companions that get stuck in the “dying” animation and just…keep falling over. In doorways. Stopping me from walking.

Gr.

Still, if you’re playing Skyrim on PC and find yourself bored with the same-old, same-old quests and dungeons, and you like having a visual marker for your completionist tendencies, I highly recommend “Legacy of the Dragonborn.” If you’re playing Special Edition, the new and improved, completely overhauled version of “Legacy of the Dragonborn” just released. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks gorgeous.

Thick book.

As for edits, the book isn’t shrinking as much as I’d hoped. What I get, I suppose, for heavily outlining beforehand and editing big-picture stuff as I go. This draft will probably come in at the mid-180,000’s for word count, which leaves me with the puzzle of going with the length OR cutting the book in half and having two 90,000-word books instead.

The danger of the latter is that, firstly, book one won’t “finish,” it’ll end on the cliff-hanger moment-of-change. Secondly, as it is now, the book is a “fair play” mystery, with the murderer and the clues hidden under (a mountain) of red herrings, but hypothetically, a reader could work it out (and they might easily; I won’t know until I get beta-feedback). If the book is split into two, the focus is then less on the mystery and more on the characters and how they go about solving the mystery. There’s also the (smaller) concern that they might appear too short at 90k.

On the other hand, if it remains one book, it’s still 180,000 words. Which is long. Especially for a debut. Especially for a non-epic fantasy debut (it’s probably closer to a fantasy adventure novel than anything else).

Decisions, decisions…

Anyway, A Month of Books will return February.

Fantasy, Armies, and Economics

fantasy-4317735_1280
Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

Today, I want to talk fantasy. And epic armies. And economics.

Yes, they connect.

First off, I have no expert knowledge in this subject. I’m neither an economist nor do I have a military background of any sort. But I read a lot of fantasy, and I write a lot of fantasy, and recently, I’d been mulling on the topic of fantasy warfare when I’d realized an army in a book I was reading had no food. Which then spun off to other musings, and things (namely, my suspension of disbelief) started crumbling. While this…discussion…is more aimed at epic and grimdark fantasy, it can also be applied to military science fiction and more battle-oriented space opera (though I’ve noticed that military sci-fi tends to be more realistic about the, uh, monetary cost of war). Anyway. Onward!

If you, dear reader, intend to introduce some warfare on a grand scale into your fantasy world, I would like to remind you of a few things:

Armies are big.

Armies are expensive.

Armies eat a fuck-ton of food.

They also, as a whole, move very, very slowly. Mobilizing an entire army and having it move, say, twenty miles is an undertaking. Namely because of supply trains. Because your big-ass fantasy army (which shall be, from now on, referred to as the BAFA) is really made up of thousands of people, and if those people are marching and burning calories, they’re gonna need to eat to replace all that energy expended, especially if you want them to then fight when they get to wherever they’re going (I’m not even bringing up the issue of clean drinking water).

L5dSqUwBut it’s not just food. It’s supplies. It’s equipment. It’s (if you have cavalry) all the horses’ tack and their grooms. It’s all those damn tents. The bedrolls. The cookware for preparing all the aforementioned food (unless you’re going to make them all march on hardtack…expect lower moral). Oh, and all the army’s support staff (the blacksmiths, the quartermasters, the cooks, the grooms, the healers/medical personnel, the engineers for the siege equipment, the army administrators—all the logistical supply for the logistical supply). Armies are big. And bulky. And cumbersome. And, when everything is moving in concert with all its various parts, starts to feel insurmountable. When taken as a whole.*

It’s still made up of individuals.

Who also, if they’re doing this as a mode of employment, like to be paid. Where are you getting all the gold necessary to fund this? Honestly, this is usually why my suspension of disbelief starts to waver when the BAFAs come out. If the writer hasn’t built a believable economy, I start to question where the funds are coming from. By the way, you know what’s more expensive than armies? Countries. Good lord, those are giant money-sinks. But back to the armies.

It’s possible they may be unpaid, untrained conscripts. Expect some wholesale slaughter if they’re up against a superior force. Also, expect a lot of desertion. However, a few epic fantasies I’ve read lately have been going the route of religious fanaticism to keep their unpaid, untrained constricts standing in lines. …okay. You can have that once, maybe twice, but seriously, it’s starting to get lazy, imo. And they never seem to fall apart quite as frequently nor in the same way as they do in history…

So. Either you are paying your army or your conscripting them. There’s also a third option: pillage-as-pay (or raiding).

viking-army-fantasy-art-7-4kNow, if you’re going to go down the pillage-as-pay route, there’s one inherent flaw: if there’s no pillaging, there’s no pay. If the food, supplies, and money for your army is going to come from the people you’re invading, all the invadees have to do is set fire to their fields and starve you out. You’ll likely run out of supplies long before they run out of country to flee over. Aaaaaand then you have issues of low moral.

(Seriously. It’s like a giant game of Oregon Trail here.)

Let’s say you don’t want to invade. Instead, you’re on the defending side, fighting back the invasion with a standing army. That still costs. They still need housing. They still need to eat. Else you’re going to get the low moral problem.

Low moral, by the way, means people start to resent you. And people who resent you are difficult to convince to go fight and die on your behalf.**

Now, stepping sideways into a specific example, and something that’s been lately bugging me.

512px-Woodville_Richard_Caton_-_Poniatowski's_Last_Charge_at_Leipzig_1912
Poniatowski’s Last Charge at Leipzig Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.

Cavalry.

Fantasy writers, please stop misusing cavalry. I know, I know, it looks dramatic in the mind’s eye to line your cavalry up with all their shining armor and lances, and have them suicide-charge against the enemy’s cavalry. Cue flashing weapons, crunching armor, horse squeals, and sprays of blood.

Remember what I was saying about armies being expensive? Cavalry is really expensive. Not only do you have to train your soldier to ride and fight from horseback, you need to train the horse…and horses are not cheap. So you’ve got food, housing, animal care, training plus room and board, training, and arming/outfitting for the human (oh, and pay), and this is just one cavalry-person. Fantasy likes to have cavalry numbering in the hundreds upon hundreds, and every one of them costs.

Are you seriously going to throw your cavalry into certain death? Or are you going to keep them in reserve and, if desperate, dismount your cavalry and have them fight on foot? Save the horse for when you actually need a horse—say, for when you need forces to go from point A to point B quickly, or when you need speed for engaging/disengaging, such as having them to flank and harry the sides of a force.

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And while we’re on the topic of cavalry, what about anti-cavalry? Where are the damn pikes? The spears? The pointy-things partially made for downing horses? And what about anti anti-cavalry? I don’t quite remember who said it, but I know it was at a GenCon panel a few years ago, but someone pointed out that those big heavy claymores? Those are for lopping the ends off of pikes so they don’t impale your cavalry. Now, I recognize this needs citation to be accurate, but if it is, where are the claymores?

Warfare seems, at least to my eyes, to be weapons and counter-weapons (and armor, and tactics). There should be depth to war strategy (honestly, this is why I usually avoid writing from the viewpoints of generals; it can be hard to grasp the stakes when we’re talking about thousands and thousands of people being moved this way and that on a map).

Though it’s a common thing to poke at in fantasy, I will also reiterate that horses aren’t machines. There’s a few wonderful series of articles about horses and fantasy on Tor.com, and I highly recommend taking a gander.

Also, a bit older, but this article on Fantasy-Faction about building fantasy armies might be worth a look while you’re at it.


* We’re talking whole armies here, not skirmishes/raiding parties. Smaller groups can get away with less support.
**While, yes, if we’re talking fantasy, there could be other ways to compel an army to fight, such as through magical means. However, this can lead to the army becoming just a homogenized lump of faceless humanity and little more than a prop to introduce conflict into the narrative.

If anyone knows who did the other three images, I’d love to be able to properly attribute them.