Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Conflict in Fantasy: It's Not Always About Swords! : Guest blog by S. A. Bolich

Conflict in Fantasy: It's Not Always About Swords!

One thing I've noticed about reviews of my fantasy novel, Firedancer, is the surprise and pleasure of the readers when they discover that they've stumbled upon a high-fantasy world where the action doesn't depend upon the usual clash of swordsmen. I love swords and sorcery as much as the next person, but I set out in Firedancer to write something completely different. I'm happy to see I succeeded in satisfying readers anyway.

I read a lot of beginner fantasy stories and novels through the writers' workshop I moderate on Yahoo Groups, Other Worlds Writers Workshop ( I see a lot of intrepid swordsmen and all of the usual battles and wars over various objects of desire. But conflict comes in a million forms, and since we all know that conflict of some sort drives the plot of any book of any genre, I just took a different route with mine.

In Firedancer, the conflict comes in two forms. The "magical" conflict that makes it fantasy is between the Firedancers themselves and the living fire that spends its existence plotting how to get out of its prison underground and destroy the world. The "mundane" conflict is between the characters, and all of it is driven by normal human behavior. There are no Evil Overlords here scheming to rule the world. Every single person in Firedancer wants to save the world. They just can't agree upon how to go about it, and so they deepen and prolong the danger because their various fears and self-interests won't let them work together.

And, just to add another level of conflict and richness, there is tension caused by a much nicer emotion: love. My heroine, Jetta, has lost her lifemate and is still grieving. Yet her new partner has long been secretly in love with her, and to make matters worse, a man from a different clan, with magic completely incompatible with hers, is showing interest as well. Talk about an embarrassment of riches! On the one hand, she must stand and fight the fire that threatens them all; on the other, she wants only to flee and stop feeling disloyal to her dead love.

They are us, and we are them (except that oh, how I wish I could dance like Jetta!). And, truth be told, I wish I were as fearless as she is about getting in the face of people who annoy me and tell them to just stand down and get on with the job. She has to get on with hers, or everyone is going to die, including the people who disagree with her. Have we not all faced conflicts where the stakes are less but equally frustrating?

What sort of conflict do you prefer in your fantasy? Sweeping, epic clashes of armies and clanging of swords? Lovers' spats and subsequent makeup sessions (or consequences of both)? Backstabbing, intrigue, dysfunctional families? End-of-the-world survival stuff? All of the above? None of the above? Share your thoughts! I'd love to hear them.

S. A. (Sue) Bolich

S. A. Bolich
Masters of the Elements, Book 1

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Sky Warrior Books

ISBN: 978-0615592916

Number of pages: 394
Word Count: 133,000

Book Description:

What do you suppose that fire thinks about as it cooks your dinner behind its cage of containment stone? Jetta ak'Kal knows—but no one listens to a Firedancer who has failed to protect her assigned village from an assault by living flame.

The Ancient, the strange, elemental fire imprisoned at the heart of the world, took her lifemate, her reputation as the most talented Dancer of her generation, and nearly her life. Now her clan demands she redeem herself, yet seem strangely indifferent to her insistence that the Dance itself that has always bound the Ancient seems to be failing. Assigned to Annam, a village with no previous experience of fire, Jetta and her new partner, Settak, find themselves battling the naive ignorance of the villagers, the hostility of arrogant Windriders whose mastery of air could kill them both with the flick of a finger, and occasionally each other as they struggle to find new and more powerful forms of the Dance.

Pursued by fire crawling up through every crack, by a new love she does not want, and a nagging suspicion that there is more to her assignment than her clan bothered to tell her, Jetta must forge unprecedented alliances in this high and beautiful place before the Ancient breaks free—for if it does, there will no longer be anything left to fight for.

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Author Bio:

S. A. Bolich is a full-time freelancer who writes on a wide range of topics ranging from travel to horses to web design—and of course, fantasy and science fiction.  A native of Washington state, she resides there again after serving six years in Germany as an army military intelligence officer. She graduated summa cum laude from college with a degree in history, which she confesses was greatly aided by devouring historical fiction of every era and kind through her formative years.  She is also a lifelong horsewoman and shares her knowledge in the popular "Horses in Fiction" blog series at, in which she helps writers keep their equines from falling into the trap of Hollywood clich├ęs.

Her first novel, Firedancer, Book 1 of the Masters of the Elements series, was released in September 2011 by Sky Warrior Books, with Book 2, Windrider, appearing in May 2012.  Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, On Spec, Damnation Books, and many other print magazines and ezines, as well as the steampunk anthology Gears and Levers 1, the military SF anthology Defending the Future IV: No Man’s Land, and the wolf-themed fantasy collection, Wolfsongs 2.  Currently she is working on Seaborn, Book 3 of Masters of the Elements.

Twitter: sabolichwrites

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