We've all heard of the Hero's Journey, one of the oldest story structures in literature. If you've somehow managed to avoid hearing about this trope, I'll direct you to my podcast about it here.
In addition to the story structure, the Hero's Journey comes with eight character archetypes, or types of characters that we see repeated across various media. These eight characters appear in almost every story you've ever read, and that's what we'll talk about today.
One important note: archetypes are characters, but characters should not be just archetypes. You don't want the entirety of a character's identity to be "the herald" or "the guardian," or you're going to have a very flat character, and thus a very boring story.
Many characters play the role of two or more archetypes over the course of a single story. Or the story will drop an archetype completely if their hero doesn't need a mentor. Sometimes these archetypes aren't even characters, but events or forces of nature. Survival stories don't really have a "villain," just a nasty setting and series of rough obstacles.
The eight archetypes are good to know for inspiration, and to better understand the inner workings of your own story. So feel free to use the archetypes, but make sure to actually flesh out your characters in a way that they're filling their roles because they have their own reason, and not "the author told me to."
The hero is, unsurprisingly, the main character. The guy we're rooting for. Our eyes and ears into the crazy world they're about to join.
Using the Hero's Journey as a template, the hero starts off in their Ordinary World, whatever that may be: the modern human world, a farm, a near-future dystopia, whatever.
In the Hero's Journey, they're flawed. Regular. Relatable. Sometimes you get a James Bond or John Wick, but usually it's more of a Neo or Katniss. Sometimes they're happy and content with their lot in life. Other times, not so much.
The hero is usually the first character we meet in a story, and they're always the one we as an audience spend the most time with. I'm not going to tell you how to write a compelling hero. There are already a gazillion blog posts and YouTube videos about that, and we've got seven more archetypes to meet.
Bottom line: our hero is our main character living their ordinary life, until the herald shows up.
The herald is the person/creature/event that tells the hero and audience "shit's about to get real." They give the hero their Call to Adventure, bringing about major change in the hero's life and direction of the story.
Going into deep symbolism, the herald represents the hero's internal need for change, that the hero cannot stay as they are. They must change their ways and step into act two.
Sometimes the herald is not a character, but an event. Specifically, the catalyst. Or they're the character who plays a major part in the catalyst, like how Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games is just the person pulling names out of a jar. She's not the catalyst herself, but she is the character who triggers the necessary change needed for Katniss to volunteer, and that makes her the herald.
Think R2D2 in Star Wars, bringing Leia's distress message to Luke Skywalker. Of course, R2D2 does more than just drag Luke into the story. Most heralds either go on to be allies, mentors, or antagonist.
Now that the story is kicking into gear, our hero needs to know the ropes. They need a training montage, a guide to the second act's special world, or some equipment.
Enter the mentor, one of the most identifiable character archetypes in storytelling.
The traditional mentor is your Obi-Wan, your Gandalf, or some other wizened old person who takes the hero under their wing. They might need a little pushing and prodding to get their elderly butts into gear, or perhaps they doubled as the herald and are directly responsible for involving the hero. Either way, they're an invaluable ally, with a wellspring of knowledge and usually some sort of parental role for the hero.
Thus, they have a very high mortality rate. Killing off these kinds of mentors serves not only to deal an emotional blow to your audience, but also drives the point home to the hero that it's all down to them.
But old white guys in robes and pointy hats aren't the only option. Sometimes you get reluctant mentors who literally have to be dragged kicking and screaming to teach the hero (Peter Parker in Into the Spider-Verse).
Sometimes the mentors are actually villains who have been raising the hero to be a villain (Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins). These mentors either switch sides and join the hero--usually with some sort of heroic sacrifice--or they end up as the Ultimate Villain/shadow and have to be taken down.
Sometimes the mentor is a young child who inadvertently teaches the older, grizzled hero about life (Russel in Up). These types of mentors can even have their own character arc alongside the hero's, making for a richer story.
Overly Sarcastic Productions goes more in-depth about mentors in their video here, but the bottom line is mentors come in a variety of flavors, each tailor made for their hero.
If the mentor character teaches the hero how to survive their crazy new world, the ally character supports them. That isn't to say an ally's world should revolve around the hero; that would make for some very poor characters. But allies are just as invaluable to the hero as the mentor and, when done right, usually have their own personal character arcs.
If the hero is Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, his allies are the people hacking the cameras or distracting the guards while he runs around punching people.
Hermione Granger helps Harry research illegal spells and potential suspects while Ron gets him in and out of trouble.
Han Solo is, at first, very reluctant to help Luke rescue Princess Leia and only does it for reward money. But after overcoming his own personal demons, he becomes one of Luke's best friends and staunchest allies.
In addition to plot relevance, allies help humanize your hero. The best characters are given multiple environments and situations to grow and allow their audience to see all the different sides of them. T
he plot gives us ample opportunities to see how our hero overcomes obstacles and bad guys, but the best way to characterize your hero is to throw other characters at them and see how they react. How do they make friends? How do they interact with their peers? If they're some sort of leader or military officer, how do they treat their subordinates? Their family and friends? How your hero treats their allies tells us more about them than a million fist fights.
Also known as the threshold guardian, these characters serve to test the hero before they can go further. One of the most adaptable archetypes, guardians can be anything, from literal guards at the gate to reluctant mentors initially refusing to teach the hero to eventual allies.
Traditionally, guardians serve as the hero's first obstacle, right before they can get into Act Two. In The Dragon Prince, Callum and Ezren have to make it past their own aunt before properly starting their journey. She's not malevolent; she just doesn't want her two underage nephews to undergo a long, dangerous journey with an elven assassin who tried to kill them in the last episode. It's a fair argument.
But guardians also appear elsewhere in the story. They're the villain's henchmen guarding his evil castle that the hero has to either bribe, trick, or defeat in order to enter. They could be protecting a macguffin the hero needs to defeat the villain. They could be a giant monster threatening the princess in the tower.
Guardians are either killed, defeated and then forgotten, or turned into allies. It all depends on their character and the hero.
There is a thin line between hero and villain, ally and threshold guardian. The shapeshifter uses that line as a jumprope. Their loyalty is almost always in question, and they can have some of the most radical character development throughout the course of the story.
These are the characters who start off as the ally's girlfriend only to betray him at the last moment. Or they'll start as the villain's henchman and end as the hero's best friend. Or they'll be a morally gray third party, constantly flipping between helping the hero and helping the villain, constantly looking out for themselves.
Zuko from Avatar: the Last Airbender is a terrific example of this, especially in season two. He alternates between trying to capture the Avatar (objectively bad) and helping downtrodden villagers get food and shelter (objectively good). It's not until halfway through season three that he settles firmly into ally/mentor territory.
Gollum from Lord of the Rings is another excellent example.
Sometimes delegated to plain ol' comic relief, the trickster exists to lighten the mood and shake things up. Benevolent tricksters double as allies, cracking jokes and pulling pranks while helping the hero reach their goal. Or, like Dobby, they might think they're helping the hero, but in fact are making their situation that much worse.
Sometimes tricksters double as mentors: they're weird, funny, maybe fool the hero into doing household chores for them under the guise of serious training, but ultimately imparting much-needed wisdom and knowledge onto the hero.
At the other end of the spectrum are characters like Loki: malevolent, violent, sometimes full-on villains. They think it's hilarious when their pranks end with someone dead.
In the middle are neutral tricksters who mostly look after themselves and really only show up in the story to cause chaos and problems for the hero. Maybe they have a macguffin the hero desperately needs. Or they'll be shapeshifters, bouncing back and forth between heroism and villainy depending on which side is safer or more interesting.
The shadow archetype is the main force opposing your hero, usually represented by an adequately threatening villain. But it's much deeper than that. If someone asked you who the shadow is in Star Wars, you'd probably say "Darth Vader." That's not wrong, but the fact is every main character in the Star Wars saga struggles with the Dark Side, some more successfully than other. The Dark Side is just as much a shadow as Darth Vader.
The Lord of the Rings gives us two shadows: Sauron and the One Ring with its tendency to bring out the worst in everyone around it.
The shadow of The Martian is the planet of Mars itself.
Shadows can be internal or external or both, depending on your hero. They almost always prey on the hero's greatest weakness. If the hero wants to defeat the villain, they have to defeat their inner demons, first. Both of them count as the shadow.
I would be lost without my bullet journal (bujo). It's one of the few modern-day trends that I am completely, unabashedly grateful for.
I'm writing this post under the assumption that everyone here knows what a bullet journal is, and is looking for inspiration for some new spreads. Specifically, spreads for writers and bloggers to stay organized.
Most of these spreads are what I have in my own bullet journal, which also includes the rest of my life: chores, calendars, birthday wish lists, etc. But whether you bujo like me or you have an entire journal dedicated to just writing or blogging, you'll definitely find something here to help.
Note that I'm using pictures I've pulled from the internet (properly captioned) because my own spreads are messy and private.
Bujo Spreads for Writers
Bujo Spreads for Bloggers
Bujo Spreads for Both Writers & Bloggers
Those are my spreads! What bujo spreads do you use as an author or blogger?
A list of the worst female character tropes I’ve ever had the displeasure of finding in books, movies, and TV shows, from the love interest to the “strong female character.” If you’re a writer working on their next story, I am begging you: please don’t include these horrible cliches.
What are your least favorite female character tropes?
Related videos/blog posts:
The Lone Vagina (video)
Damsels in Distress (podcast)
Worst Tropes: Romantic Subplot (video)
Worst Tropes: the Female Mentor (blog post)
How to Write Female Characters (blog post)
We Need to Destroy the "Strong Female Character" (article)
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Stop me if you've heard this one before:
You're sitting down to write, staring at the white page, wishing more than anything to fill it up with story. But no matter how much you try to will your fingers to type, the words just aren't coming.
Or perhaps you're doing everything in your power to avoid going even that far. The dishes need to be cleaned, the living room's a mess, and you should probably do your laundry. Anything to avoid sitting down and pushing out a story that is lodged somewhere in your head and refuses to come out.
Welcome to writer's block, the most notorious villain facing all authors.
If you've clicked on this blog post, you've probably struggled with this nebulous fiend before. Or perhaps you're currently caught in its clutches, trying to find a way to move past it so you can actually finish writing your book. In which case, I can try to help you.
What is Writer's Block?
This might seem like a stupid question, but it's worth clarifying: what is writer's block?
The official definition is "the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing." Basically, no matter how much you may want to write, something in your brain is stopping you from actually doing it.
There are two basic types: traditional writer's block and project block.
Project block happens when you're stuck on one particular story or project. You've started writing it, possibly even have an outline, but now you're halfway through and...you're stuck. This one is responsible for all the unfinished projects cluttering up your desktop and filling your drawers.
Traditional writer's block is when you can't write at all. Maybe you thought you had project block and decided to take a break from one story to work on another before going back, but the words aren't coming there, either.
Sometimes, writer's/project block is a sign of burn-out. If you've been cranking out two thousand words every day for the last month, then for Christ's sake, take a day off. Go to the beach, spend some time with friends, do whatever you need to recharge. Writing is like any job: sometimes, you just need a break.
Of course, if you've already tried that and the block is still there, then that's a whole other issue. Which is probably why you're here.
Every author handles writer's block differently. I'm going to show you some ways that I, personally, push past it. I cannot guarantee that they'll work for you, but it's worth a shot.
How to Conquer Writer's Block: 7 Tips
As you can see from this chart, quarantine has given me way too much time on my hands:
Go watch Avatar: the Last Airbender. It's amazing.
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New Dragons, Zombies & Aliens Podcast
Given how much trouble videos have been giving me lately, I finally caved and decided to do a podcast instead. And guys, it is SO MUCH EASIER. I should've done this years ago.
Because I'm lazy, the podcast is the same name as my blog: Dragons, Zombies & Aliens. Here is where you can find the episodes:
The Hero's Journey
Note: her post has been edited for clarification.
On Finishing a Trilogy - or Attempting To
I say recently – it’s published in the UK and Commonwealth on 5 September, so in fact I finished it at the start of the year and then just had copy-edits and proofreading to complete. That said, it feels as if I’ve only just finished it, and I think that’s mostly because it’s still sitting there in my head, poking my brain with a stick and making unhelpful suggestions like “why don’t you rewrite chapter 7?” and “but what if he lived instead?”
Writing a book is tough – I think we all know that. Writing a trilogy is…well, the logical answer is three times as tough, but it doesn’t quite work out like that. Most days it felt 30 times as tough; others it felt only a third as tough. But one thing is certain: when it comes to that last book, you better get it right. You better find every last one of those dozens of plot threads and throw-away comments and surmises and write them to a satisfying conclusion. Because if you don’t, there will always, always be an eagle-eyed reader who gets in touch – probably publicly on social media – to tell you what you’ve missed.
Aside from the little details, there is, of course, the rather larger issues and challenges of the main and sub-plots, not just the story but all the stories woven through it. Not just the hero’s quest but their character development and inner journey. Not just who wins, but how and why – and what it means for the world and all your named and unnamed secondary characters.
The more I think about it, the more astonished I am that – according to my publishers, at least (review copies are yet to go out at the time of writing this) – I’ve managed to pull it off. But it was not easy.
Getting a publishing contract for my debut novel, Godblind, was a dream come true. Having spent a good 13 years perfecting that – or making it as good as I could; we still went through a few rounds of edits – it was a pretty terrifying proposition to discover I had only nine months to write Darksoul, the sequel. And, in the end, while I did draft it in time, it needed so much work that my publication date was pushed back a few months so that I could work with my editors to refine the plot and pacing issues – of which there were many. Second book syndrome is real and it is ugly.
It’s so ugly, in fact, that when I came to draft book 3, Bloodchild, I had a major crisis of confidence. I’d spent some time convinced I’d torpedoed my writing career before it even got off the ground, that Darksoul had been such a disaster from the publishers’ perspective – not the final product or the sales, but the amount of work they had to do with me – so all of a sudden I decided I had no idea how to end the trilogy. I knew what needed to happen, but I didn’t have a clue how to get there. I was paralyzed with doubt for weeks – and the countdown to my deadline was ticking ever louder in my ears, which didn’t help.
Eventually I started to write and there were days, even weeks, when I galloped along and everything was going brilliantly. Other times when every paragraph had to be dragged kicking and screaming from my brain. It was the difficulty of writing a novel plus the anxiety of finishing the trilogy off with the right impact, the right outcome for the characters, the story, the world.
And when the draft was done, I had exactly zero idea if it was any good. That’s not an exaggeration. It was 143,000 words and I couldn’t have told you if any of them were good. I simply didn’t know: that second book crisis of confidence had lingered into the third and didn’t seem to be inclined to leave. The only way I was going to know if it was good was if someone else told me it was – I didn’t trust my own judgment.
(Aside: do I sound as crazy to you as I do to myself? What a fruitcake.)
So, anyway, what did I do about this crisis?
The biggest thing is that I admitted it. I spoke to my family and a few clever and supportive friends. I ranted about my lack of ability and how I’d ruined my lifelong dream, about how I’d never get another publishing deal. I had a couple of tearful breakdowns.
I also sent it to my agent and got some brilliant feedback and suggestions for changes. It was just the right mix of praise and critique and it told me that I was, in fact, on the right path and it was, after all, a good book. And so I reread the draft and then rewrote it, incorporating a lot of my agent’s feedback and refining the rest of it so that it better fitted in with where I saw the story ending. And it was better. I could see straight away it was better. Knowing that gave me the impetus to send it off the publishers and my editors.
And then it was time to wait again. And while I was waiting, I continued working on a new book. That’s the thing with publishing: you’re constantly leap-frogging between projects. Here I am, doing promo work for Bloodchild (well, this is supposed to be promo, though I suspect I’m just making myself sound like a crazy person) while at the same time waiting to hear back on a new project AND writing the second installment of that new project.
Last year, I was building on the success of Godblind by promoting Darksoul while drafting Bloodchild. The book you’re promoting is always at least one book before the one you’re currently working on; it gets rather confusing at times.
When my first round of edits for Bloodchild came back I was terrified. The email sat in my inbox unopened for four hours while I paced up and down and chewed my nails and contemplated cracking open the gin. It was going to be another Darksoul; I knew it.
Sure, there was work to be done and stuff that needed to be changed, but the edits were extremely positive. Perhaps I had learnt all the lessons inherent in second book syndrome after all. Maybe I really could do this, be a trilogy author!
There were still a couple of small battles to be had over character arcs and the number of living and dead main protagonists (I had to sacrifice one to save another; it was like choosing which of your dogs to give away. Monstrous), but in all, I’d been on the right path and done a bloody good job. And yes, perhaps that sounds arrogant, but one thing I have learnt from all this is to have at least a little faith in myself. It wavers on occasion, but if I don’t think I’m any good, I’ll never get the draft into my agent’s hands, let alone anyone else’s.
Fast forward four months and the book is done: edited; copy-edited; proofread. The next time I see it will be in its final form, out of the chrysalis and spreading its red-soaked wings. And I couldn’t be prouder. It’s been a tough road, but one that I know I’m very privileged to be able to walk. Not everyone gets a publishing deal. Not everyone gets the levels of support I’ve had. Believe me, I know I’m lucky.
The Emotional Fallout
I’ve spent at least 15 years with these characters. They’ve been, without hyperbole, both friends and family to me – yes, even the terrible, evil ones. And now I have to say goodbye, not just to the ones who didn’t survive to the end of the trilogy, but to all of them. I don’t think it’s too strong to say that once I handed back the proofread and knew that that was it that I went through a period of mourning. (Again, fruitcake. I know).
But to know that I don’t get to hang out with my buddies anymore, that I don’t get to hear Ash’s jokes or Tara’s terrible ideas, Rillirin’s earnest and burgeoning self-belief, Crys’s reluctant heroism, makes me genuinely sad.
I guess the only thing I can do now is wish them well and go on an adventure with some new friends and family. It feels a bit like a betrayal, but as much as I could write their shenanigans and romances and escapades forever, it’s time to move on. Time to challenge myself with something new, something broader and different and other.
Time to get stuck into my next series. I wonder how hard this one will be.
A literature graduate from the Open University, Anna loves all things speculative, from books to film to TV, including classic Hammer and Universal horror films, as well as the chameleon genius of David Bowie.
As a beginner in Historical European Martial Arts, with a focus on Italian longsword, and a second Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, she’s no stranger to the feeling of being punched (or stabbed) in the face, which is more help than you would expect when writing fight scenes.
Fantasy is a huge genre, encompassing a ton of tropes, subgenres, and rules. But a near-universal trait of fantasy is the use of magic. I mean, if a story doesn't have magic, can it even really be considered fantasy?
But writing magic is a bit daunting. So much has already been done, how do you stand out? What rules should you put in your magic system to make it interesting but not constricting? How do you make it fit with the rest of your world?
Those are all big questions, and each of them probably deserves its own blog post. But we're going to tackle all of them here, so buckle up.
Hard vs. Soft
(insert dick joke here)
A hard magic system has rigid rules and regulations. Think Avatar: the Last Airbender or Fullmetal Alchemist. There are limitations, costs, materials needed, training, technicalities, etc. You either can't break the rules at all, or you can try and end up losing a few limbs.
On the other end of the spectrum, soft magic systems don't really have rules. Or if they exist, they're very flexible. Think Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. Yes, Gandalf is a wizard and does magic stuff, but...what exactly are the rules for his magic? Does he actually need his staff, and if so, why? Why does he teleport to the dwarves in peril in The Hobbit but needs a horse to get around in Lord of the Rings? (That last one is more bad writing and "because plot!" but the fact remains: LOTR never defined Gandalf's powers enough to say that he couldn't teleport, which is why he does.)
You can, of course, write a system that incorporates both hard and soft elements. For example, in Avatar: the Last Airbender, the rules of bending are strict. The bending laws are only just loose enough to allow for a couple of special abilities like metalbending and healing, which are natural extensions and evolutions of traditional bending. No one's expecting Zuko to suddenly start waterbending, and if he did, this would cease to be the greatest show on television.
But on the other hand, anything to do with the spirit world is completely up in the air. With the exception of "you can't bend in the spirit world," the rules for what Aang sees and does in that realm differ from episode to episode. He and Roku basically travel back in time in season three. And that makes sense because, unlike bending, the rules of the spirit world are not as clearly defined.
The type of magic system you choose--hard, soft, or blended--is mostly decided by what type of story you want and what role and flavor you want the magic to be. If you want predictable magic with harsh rules, limitations, and consequences, your magic system will probably be hard. If you want unpredictable, mysterious, and/or chaotic magic, it's going to be soft.
If you want to be extra sneaky, you can create a magic system that appears to be soft at first, but as the story progresses the characters find out that there are actually some pretty strict rules and prices to magic, making it in actuality a hard system. This can be cool if the story involves discovering magic, the way scientists might discover a new element. The consequences of dicking around with magic that the characters underestimate or don't fully understand can result in a Chernobyl-scale disaster.
Just be careful to stay consistent with the rules you do set out. No reader likes to be told "Magic can only be done if you do X, Y, and Z," only to have a character fling a never-before-seen fireball at the bad guy with no explanation other than "plot" or "it's the main character and they're special." That's a deus ex machina, a.k.a. bad writing. Soft magic systems in particular run the risk of falling into this trap, as they don't tend to have as many costs and limitations as hard magic systems.
You have to remember that one of the most important elements of writing isn't magic or worldbuilding, but stakes. You need to convince your audience that something valuable is being threatened, with a real risk of being destroyed. You can't do that if your characters are pulling new, god-like powers out of their asses because of the Power of Friendship.
Popular Types of Magic
-enchantments & curses
I'll direct you to Overly Sarcastic Productions' video on magic here, as they also talk about this in further detail. (But for some reason, Red doesn't mention magical creatures, which seems like a gross oversight on her part.)
Potions tend to be the most scientific type of magic, which makes sense given that the creation of potions was considered a science in our world for centuries. It's pretty similar to chemistry or cooking: you throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot, add the correct amount of heat or cold, and the result can turn you into a bear or give you super-strength. It goes without saying that the more technical you get with your potions, the harder you magic system becomes, whereas if you just have potions as something you can buy at a dollar store in a D&D campaign without really going into how these potions are made, it remains a soft magic system. (Though it might be fun to take economics, supply and demand, and a competitive market into account when creating a potion marketplace.)
Enchantments and curses are another old-school type of magic. It's a type of magic that is specifically targeted at a person or group of people, usually to their detriment. This is the kind of magic you see most often in fairy tales: someone insults a witch, and they get turned into a toad until they can coerce a young girl into giving them a kiss. Stuff like that. These tend to be almost exclusively on the soft end of the magic system scale, largely because the people doing this type of magic are only in the story long enough to do the curse, and so their character and backstory remains nebulous and mysterious. Sometimes the curse or enchantment comes from a potion, blurring the line between the categories.
Prophecies are, again, old school. People have been trying to see into the future ever since we had a clear idea of what "the future" actually is. But prophecies tend to have a little more weight than a guy tossing a bunch of bones on the floor in order to predict the weather. Prophecies often address major events and world players, and nine times out of ten it's about a Chosen One defeating the Dark Lord. Rick Riordan mixed it up a little bit. In the Percy Jackson series, every quest starts out with a prophecy from the Oracle. Why? Not only does it keep the Greek mythology theme going, but it also serves as a guide for the characters. The Oracle says they're going to need five people, so they choose five instead of the traditional three. She says to avoid traveling over land because the earth goddess is cranky, so they'd better build an airship. It tells them where to go and, often, how to do it. Which isn't to say that the prophecies don't get misinterpreted. That happens all the time, and offers excellent conflict and plot twists. Getting the Oracles working again is the major conflict in the ongoing Trials of Apollo series because they're that important.
Magic items mostly started as gifts from the gods to mortals (think Perseus's magic helmet and mirror shield used to kill Medusa). Nowadays, they're pretty much any item with any type of magical properties. Valyrian steel kills ice zombies. Enchanted jewelry corrupts people. Sweaters knitted from enchanted yarn are bulletproof. Another modern interpretation to the magical items is essentially making them characters themselves. Tolkien's The One Ring almost has a character of its own. It has wants and needs. Other magic items are full-on sentient and can even talk, like Jack, the magic sword from Magnus Chase. Items are unique on this list because, unlike almost any of the others (possible exception of potions), they can be used by anyone. The Genie's lamp in Aladdin is originally used by the hero, but switched hands to the villain, Jafar.
Magical creatures are a whole other thing. Every culture has a grocery list of them. Dragons, genies, sea serpents, phoenixes, unicorns, and so much more. They're also constantly evolving. Authors have been doing new spins on dragons for centuries, or they just make up totally new creatures. And these magical creatures' role in the story varies. Sometimes they're just props or macguffins, like a magical horse that allows the characters to reach the epic showdown in time. And sometimes they're entire characters in their own right. They can even be the main character.
And finally, spells. They're kind of the "miscellaneous" section of the magic list. It usually involves waving a wand, saying the magic word, or even drawing certain shapes on the floor. It's generic, but also very broad, and typically grants authors the most wiggle room and creative freedom.
Anyone who's read Harry Potter will note that J.K. Rowling created a magic system that encompasses all of these elements, while Game of Thrones only uses half, and Avatar: the Last Airbender only has spells and creatures. This is totally something you can do. Choose one, choose all, roll a 1d6 to randomly choose how many and which ones you get. It's fantasy. The world is your oyster.
Magic in Your World
Who, exactly, gets to have magic? There are many possibilities. The most popular include:
-It's something you're born with or without, like hair or skin color. (Percy Jackson series.)
-It's something that theoretically anyone can do, they just need access to a lot of training. (Think Doctor Strange.)
-It's something that can be given to you by a supernatural/divine entity, like paladins and clerics in Dungeons & Dragons. Conversely, this power can then be taken away from you if you break this entity's rules.
-Related to the divine entity thing, magic can come from a magical artifact. This would be Thor's hammer, which was able to grant thunder and lightning powers to non-demigod Steve Rogers when he took it.
There are probably others, but these are the ones that I've come across the most frequently. If magic is a natural resource--or perhaps it uses a specific resource to work--then you can play politics in your story by having a country or various groups of people vie for power over that resource.
Sometimes you can mix and match different sources. The benders in Avatar are born with their powers, but they also need a mentor and years of training to get it right. Percy Jackson has demigods and monsters who are born with their abilities, but also a plethora of magical items that do a variety of things, including see the future, and even a potion that can raise the dead.
Once you figure out where your magic comes from, you can work on how it's viewed within your fantasy world. Are there certain types of magic that are outlawed or taboo? If so, why? Is it technically available for everyone but really only the super-rich or other powerful groups can actually get access to the required training? How is magic used in the wider world? Are there wizard construction workers who make a living by building houses in five minutes flat? Are there dragon rodeos? Do pharmacists need to know about medicinal potions as well as the pills we know today?
Seriously, there are limitless possibilities here. Maybe you're insecure about your magic system not being the most original, but the way you incorporate it in the modern world to create an urban fantasy is original, and that's honestly more important. The quality of the story will trump the originality of the idea any day of the week.
Well, that's not entirely true. Successful blogging is tough. You need to come up with, write, and edit at least one blog post a week. You have to promote on social media. Put together and send out a newsletter. Keep the rest of your website updated. Connect with guest bloggers, or other blogs where you can be the guest blogger. And this is in addition to the rest of your life: family, friends, hobbies, a "real" job (or two), maybe even school.
So how to bloggers stay on top of it all? The key is organization.
And I can hear my entire family laughing even as I write this. At first glance, I am one of the least organized people out there. But that's not entirely true. I'm messy, for sure. All my crap gets everywhere, I never do chores, and I have a bad habit of procrastination. But I love making calendars and schedules, and I've found ways to cheat my procrastination. This is mostly done by creating little deadlines. For example, I usually make one YouTube video a month. I break that entire process down: one week for making a script, one week for recording it, two weeks for editing. I tell myself "I have to have this one part done by Saturday the 9th," which means it gets done on Saturday. But hey, it works, because I'm not rushing the entire process at the last minute.
Now, organization is a little different for everybody. What works for me might not work for you. So I'm just going to talk about the three things that are critical to my personal success as a blogger and hope that it proves helpful to you.
#1: A Monthly Calendar
But I cannot keep more than a few days' worth of tasks in my noggin. Which is why the monthly calendar is ideal for me. I like being able to see what I'm going to be writing about at a glance. The posts I do on this website, my BitchShelf column at Luna Station Quarterly, YouTube, Patreon, and any short stories/novellas/novel due dates I have, all of them are right there.
I tend to plan out everything a month in advance, and have at least a vague idea of what's going to happen next month. It saves me a lot of time and headache. I know what all the deadlines are, I know at a glance when I need to promote what, and since almost everything is in pencil I can erase whatever I need and rework it.
#2: A Journal
Journals are important for idea-keeping. A possible new blog post popped in your head during your day job? Write it down and then get back to work. Someone suggested a new TV show you might want to watch and review for your blog? Whip out your list and add it. Found a different blogger's post to be really inspiring and/or awful? Write down the topic so you can do it better. Seriously, take this journal with you everywhere.
(It didn't work for me, but check out "bullet journaling" on YouTube. If you do it right, then you get this journal and your calendar in one place.)
Eventually, you'll have a whole backlog of ideas that you can go to when it's time to plan next month's posts. Most of my blogging ideas tend to revolve around writing tips, since book reviews are self-explanatory, and I post at least one Writing Tip article a month.
It's hard looking at that blank space and thinking, Shit. What the hell am I going to write about this time? But it's a lot easier if you have a ready-made list of ideas to get you started.
Accountability has many different forms. For most writers, it's a terrifying creature known as the editor. Editors give hard deadlines, and if writers don't meet them, it's a shit storm.
But bloggers don't usually have editors. Most bloggers, like me, are solo. There is no one person, no authority figure, holding us accountable if we post a day late, or even skip the whole week.
Except your readers.
Once your readers get used to a certain pattern from you (in my case, a blog post every Friday and a guest post/interview every Wednesday), they will wonder if you don't stick to it. One of the biggest "secrets" to a successful blog is consistency. If you're not consistent, you will lose readers.
One thing that I do that keeps me accountable to my readers as well as help me stay organized is I post my monthly schedule to my patrons over on Patreon. Two days from the time this post goes live, I will tell my patrons exactly what's going to happen in August: who the guest bloggers will be, what the regular posts will be about, what the YouTube video is about, as well as any short stories or novellas that get published that month, too.
This way, if I fail to post on time, my most critical readers, the ones who financially support me, will know. And that's an excellent kick in the pants.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!