Tag Archives: Terry Ervin

A Challenge in Writing Fantasy Short Stories

by Terry W Ervin II



One thing on every writer’s mind as they are planning and writing a short story is word count. In almost every instance the shorter the work, the easier it is to find a market for it. It’s a balance of words, quality, and the story to be told.

In any case, there are more markets that accept 5000 word short stories than 7500 word stories, and some prefer word counts under 4000. Even those that indicate they will consider a 7500 word piece state it has to be really exceptional to be published. Consider in context what is being said, since I believe all publishers sift their submission pile for what they believe are exceptional stories. The longer the story, the higher the hurdle for it to reach publication.

Now consider writing a fantasy story. The writer has to introduce the reader to the created world, demonstrating or explaining ‘how it works differently’ as compared to the reader’s mundane, everyday world. The world building has to be packed within the context of the story while keeping the plot moving forward. Give the readers just enough to make sense, enabling them to understand. Allow the readers to fill in some of the blanks where ever possible.

An example to illustrate: A writer doesn’t need to explain to readers how an insecticide bug spray works (and its limitations) on a cockroach menace. The average reader can see the property owner in his mind’s eye removing the cap, pointing the can and pressing down on the nozzle, while avoiding inhalation of toxin. But a writer of fantasy may have to explain how a net stung with iron beads might be used by the royal gardener to snare the flitting fairies that have been stealing the blooming royal snapdragons.

In both examples the character is trying to get rid of pests, but the former dealing with the cockroach infestation would require fewer words than the latter dealing with the fairy menace. Maybe it would only require thirty words spread over a few sentences, but that adds up quickly when considering a word count limit of 5000. Why include the episode about the iron affecting magical creatures? Maybe it’s a way of establishing the rules or laws of that world for when a larger, more dangerous magical foe comes into conflict with the protagonist—so that the full explanation isn’t necessary, possibly right in the middle of intense action.

Maybe that’s part of what interests readers of fantasy—the discovery of new worlds and creatures, and how they interact. But there’s more than just how the fantasy world differs from the reader’s everyday experience. The story also has to include characters the readers want to follow through their interactions and adventures. Creating characters and relaying the story’s action takes words too—if at all possible everything tucked nicely into the 5000 word (or less) box.

So that’s the challenge. Write a short story with all the necessary elements, while including content related to the fantasy setting that is both necessary and intriguing. And keep the word count under the limit.


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Freebie Friday from Terry Ervin

Our guest blogger, Terry Ervin, was nice enough to share his book trailer for Flank Hawk.

You can view it at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCVKXkAXOlk

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Goal: A Sequel that Compliments while Truly Standing Alone

by Terry Ervin

I spent a good part of the spring and into the summer figuring out how to write The Blood Sword Gambit (working title), sequel to Flank Hawk and the second novel in the First Civilization’s Legacy series.

A sequel sounds easy, right? Sure, when I typed the “The End” to Flank Hawk, I knew the basics of what would happen in the next novel, and then fleshed it out a bit while submitting Flank Hawk to publishers.

So, what’s the problem? I’m an author, right? And authors know these things. As to the first question: The problem is getting the balance just right. The second question: Yes, authors do know these things, and that’s how I went about finding a way to strike the balance.

What balance? A sequel is a complete work in itself but continues the story of the preceding novel. Blood Sword continues Krish’s story, but to do so it’s necessary for new readers to understand a bit about who Krish is, including friends, associates, and his experiences. While I’d love for those readers that start with the sequel to go back and read Flank Hawk, I want them to be able to enjoy the second novel without having to go back and read the first. But if they do so after reading Blood Sword, I want them to enjoy Flank Hawk—the conflict, struggles and excitement, and discovery of the world in which Krish lives. I also want readers of Flank Hawk to enjoy its sequel, and not to be put off by references to events in the first novel—things necessary for those who haven’t yet read and enjoyed Flank Hawk.

Okay, that’s what every author who writes a series strives to achieve. With that in mind, I went right to the source: Authors who’ve successfully done what I was preparing to attempt.

My Criteria:

a.     Writes action-filled stories, in first person, past tense.

b.     Although one story arc was completed in the first novel, a larger storyline continued to be explored.

c.     Events and choices made in the first novel impacted what happened in the next.

d.     Characters, from close friends to associates in the first novel continued to influence what happened in the second—even those that died or didn’t appear ‘on stage’ in the second novel.

Naturally, I went with authors I’d read previously and enjoyed: Steven Brust (Vlad Taltos series), Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber series) and Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake series).  I read and reread the first two or three novels in each series, and even listened to audio versions when possible, all the time paying close attention to when and how the authors made reference to previous information and events within the context of the second novel’s storyline.

It reaffirmed what I already knew:

1.     There’s no secret formula with respect to when and how much previous information to provide in the sequel.

2.     It’s handy for readers of previous works in the series to be reminded of past events.

3.     Linking the previous storyline with the current one as well as weaving both into the overall direction of the events for novels to follow provides a consistent and enduring foundation for readers to comprehend and recall the who, what, where, when, how and whys of the created world, conflicts and characters.

After the careful study, I also came away with examples of techniques the authors used, including methods and timing that allowed for smooth transitions from present to past and back, while foreshadowing the future.  Things like dialogue and POV character recollection, intertwined with character motivations (directly stated or implied), items and places, scenes and descriptions all played a role.

And as I work to complete The Blood Sword Gambit, I am integrating those techniques, merging them with my own storytelling method and writing style—working to get ‘that balance’ just right.

If you do give Flank Hawk a try, and/or The Blood Sword Gambit (when it’s released), either way I hope you’ll let me know if my effort was a success.

You can listen to the audio from when Terry was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WBpTSY07

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