Author Archives: Joshua K Johnson
Using History as Inspiration
Many of the best sci-fi and fantasy writers find a way to work history into their works. J.R.R. Tolkien used his experiences in World War I to write The Lord of the Rings, George RR Martin has used the War of the Roses as inspiration for Game of Thrones, and the list goes on.
As someone with a lifelong passion for the American Civil War and the resulting drive to minor in History alongside my English major, I find a great amount of satisfaction in using history to inform my writing. Sometimes it’s a very obvious inspiration and often more of a feel or sense of history.
Such is the impact of the American Civil War, and to a lesser degree the American Revolution, on my Gunpowder Fantasy. One of the first major conflicts with muskets and rifles, the first ironclad battle and one of the first major conflicts where railroads played a part, the American Civil War has had an obvious impact.
The world of Zaria is in a similar position to our own in the 19th Century. Railroads and rifles are a recent innovation and no major wars have been fought since their development. But all of that changes throughout the different series ilve been working on.
The rapid redeployment of troops swings battles, as it did in the battle of First Bull Run/Manassas, rifling and the accuracy and distance that it imparts result in casualties unimaginable before and maybe ever the first clash of ironclads are all events in Zaria that draw heavily from my research and knowledge of history.
With so many wars and technological innovations in our world, if your story involved conflict there is likely some historical event or battle that you can draw inspiration from. So read up on your history and you might just find something useful!
The Soldiers of Andivar
The world of Zaria is full of different militaries and tactics.
In the nation of Andivar, these tactics have resulted in a refined structure to the army and different roles to fill.
Infantry divisions can be easily divided into three primary combat roles: Skirmishers, Grenadiers, Regulars.
As in our own world in the 18th and 19th centuries, Skirmishers are primarily scouting parties and sharpshooters. Trained to work in pairs, typically separate from the main body of the army, Skirmishers move out on the flanks and forward of the main body to find the enemy and harass them with accurate fire and guerilla tactics.
Skirmishers are not trained to stand and fight in line formation and do poorly when pressed into service in such a role.
Typically armed with the most accurate and advanced firearms available, Andivari Skirmishers go to battle with long rifles and, occasionally, new looking glass equipped rifles for farther, more accurate shots.
Nearly exactly the opposite of Skirmishers are the Grenadiers. Drawn from those of the biggest stock, Grenadiers are best equipped for urban and trench warfare. They are the bruisers of the army.
Andivari Grenadiers are typically armed with carbines, their shorter length being more manageable in tight quarters. Though they can also be provided standard issue rifles.
The real power of the Grenadiers comes in the form of the grenades they are trained to hurl great distances and to devastating effect.
Finally, the regulars. These line infantry are what you imagine when you think of the average American Civil War soldier. Trained to use their rifles in concert with the rest of their company, they are the prototypical cannon fodder of the Andivari army. Less trained than the specialists Grenadiers and Skirmishers, they are the direct descendants of the levies of more primative times.
Mobility and Knowledge is the creed of the Andivari Cavalry. Once relegated to those wealthy enough to furnish their own steeds, the modern Andivari cavalry is more diverse both in their makeup and tactics.
The Gendarme are the most obvious holdouts of the efforts to make the cavalry a more equal group. Mostly consisting of nobility, the Gendarme are the shock troopers of the Andivari cavalry.
Armed with sabres and revolvers, they are not equipped or trained to fight at distance. Rather they close the distance with the enemy quickly and crash into unprepared infantry or cavalry and wreak as much havoc as they are able.
Lancers are the counter to enemy cavalry. They are trained to charge enemy cavalry units in formation and use their lances to break up the enemy clusters. Also provided with revolvers, in case of a melee, they are not suited to charging fortified positions or prepared enemy lines.
Hussars are the skirmishes of the cavalry divisions. Armed with carbines and trained for hit and run attacks, the Hussars do not get bogged down in the melee, instead relying on their speed and flexibility to harass enemy flanks.
Finally, the dragons of the Andivari Cavalry are better labeled as mounted infantry. Trained in both mounted and foot combat, they are armed with long guns for fighting in foot and carbines for acting more like hussars.
Dragoons are largely used to ride out ahead of the main body, dismount and occupy a position long enough for regular infantry to arrive, then mount back up and move to the next advanced position. When it does come to a fight, they behave similarly to skirmishers in small group engagements and delaying actions against the enemy.
The Andivari Army has spent hundreds of years perfecting their tactics and every Marshal knows exactly how to use each element of their force to subdue the enemy and claim victory for their nation.
If you’re just finding this blog recently, you might notice a major gap on between my last couple of blog posts. Almost 3 years in fact.
Well, there’s a reason for that. Without going into too much detail, my life for the last few years has been a bit Topsy Turvy. But the creative spurt has finally returned and I should be posting more frequently as well as working on my world more.
I hope you stick around, check out my books and look for my future endeavors!
Academic Papers as Fantasy
An idea that I’ve had floating around in my congested writer’s head is the idea of using an academic paper as a means of telling stories and world building.
I already have several concepts running around for stories that I could tell with this form of writing but I have run into a couple of issues that I think that this type of writing would run into.
The first, and probably most daunting for me, is the fact that all of the primary and secondary source documentation that these essays would need to cite and use as arguments would have to be written first, which could be a dry and uninteresting process.
One solution for this would be to have someone else write the essays and ask for the primary and secondary sources from the world builder. This would introduce an element of surprise and would also prevent the world builder from slanting their source documents to fit the essay that they want to write.
Of course, this means gathering writers that you trust and like their writing style so that the stories are interesting and stay true to the concept.
Another problem I could see with this approach is that, without a narrative drive for the essay, it might be a bit boring to read and would really only be interesting for people deeply invested in the world you’re trying to write about. I think of this as the long form reddit posts that people write about fan theories. For those invested in the fandom, these essays can be intensely interesting but for those on the outside they’re fairly boring.
I think that overall this is an endgame type of concept, most suitable for once you’ve completed, or nearly completed, the narrative arcs that you’ve set out and are trying to fill out the concepts and ideas that you’ve explored in your books.
So, for now, these ideas will remain on the back burner. But I’d love to hear if anyone would find these interesting, ways to keep readers and invested and other ways to bring this concept to market.
With the first couple passes of edits completed for Loyalty Betrayed, I’ve begun the arduous process of querying agents.
I’m currently building a list of agents and agencies who are interested in Fantasy and should get the ball rolling soon.
If any of my readers are agented authors who have agents open to queries, please drop me a line if you’d be willing to refer me, the help would be appreciated!
Otherwise it’s into the query trenches I go!
A “Novel Web”
Over the last couple of years I’ve been jotting down random ideas for stories and just letting them sit while I work on other stuff. Occasionally I’ll go back and add some stuff to them, but for the most part they just sit and wait.
Recently, I’ve decided to take several of those ideas and blend them together. While I’m working on edits for Loyalty Betrayed, I’m taking the time to plot out what I describe as a Web of Novels.
These stories are set on Zaria, a few years after Loyalty Betrayed. The basic idea is that there are 6 different threads of independent stories, but they’ll weave into each other and impact the events of the other threads.
Sometimes this will be direct interaction and sometimes it will be a “knock-on” effect of an action in one thread causing a reaction on another thread. It will be interesting plotting this as I want to make sure that everything is lined up. Which means I’ll be writing about 250,000 words of outline total. Should be fun!
Loyalty Betrayed Draft 2 Complete
At just shy of 91,000 words, the second draft of Loyalty Betrayed is complete.
There are still some story lines I need to beef up in editing, but I’m working on my next project while I let it rest for a little while. Ideally, I’d love to be able to get it edited and cleaned up in time for PitchWars at the end of September, but we’ll see how it goes. The prologue and first chapter have already been heavily edited, so I have a head-start on that.
My next project, the “Web” of novels planned to take place 8 years after Loyalty Betrayed, is in the high level outline process right now. Twenty-five Novels spread across 6 Independent but Interconnected threads. I’ll make a post on that soon.
If anyone would like to Beta Read Loyalty Betrayed, feel free to drop me a line!
Flying Through Rewrites!
As I mentioned in my last post, I threw out almost all of Loyalty Betrayed.
The story was stilted and felt like I had forced it into a box. I kept the Prologue and Chapter 1, but the rest of it got the ax.
Over the course of the last week I wrote an entirely new chapter-by-chapter outline, which clocked in at about 7,500 words, and I’ve been working on my second draft.
And let me tell you, having written the story once and then refocused it with a new outline, I’ve been tearing through the words. I’m currently sitting at approximate 45,000 words and I’ve run through about 1/3 of the outline.
The focus I’ve had is incredible. This is the first time I’ve ever trashed a “complete” draft, rebuilt and restarted and I’m really enjoying the pace. I’ve veered off a little from the outline here and there, but then I do that regularly. It’s the 10% or so of my brain that’s a “pantser”.
I’m on vacation starting today so I have about 8 days of no work with which I hope to really lay into this draft. I’m looking forward to finishing it and getting back into edits. I’ll update more as I go along!
If anyone is interested in Beta-Reading when I get this draft complete, let me know!
So, I threw out 80,000 Words…
I was reading through Loyalty Betrayed (aka Series 2;Book 1) and I came to a realization.
I had originally conceived of the story as a retelling of Othello, with significant changes to the cast and the overall storyline (its more a political betrayal for the bride of the MC than it is a physical betrayal). But I ended up feeling that I had leaned too heavily on the source materials.
The storyline didn’t flow the way I wanted it to, I shoehorned in certain scenes just because they were in the play.
So, I took the first 2 chapters and threw the rest out. I needed to add a bunch of content anyways because I had removed a secondary plot of about 40,000 words (that’s going to either be a companion novella or Book 2 in the series, not sure which yet).
I spent the last day writing a new chapter-by-chapter summary and just wrapped that up at a little over 7,000 words. Now to get to the actual rewriting process.
The Magic/Tech Formula
In the world of Gunpowder Fantasy, there is a fine line to walk between magic and technology.
Magic will necessarily impact how technology develops within your world. If magic is extremely common, useful and easy to use, why would people develop technology like steam power and rifles? On the other hand, a lack of magic will facilitate the advancement of these technologies much like it did in our world.
To that end, I’ve developed a rudimentary formula that can help you determine what your starting point should be so you get the most out of your world.
On the magic side of things, I have 4 scores: Commonality, Functionality, Difficulty, and Cost. All rated on a scale of 1-10.
Commonality, How Common is Magic?
For Commonality, you want to decide how common you want magic to be in your world. Can everyone use magic, either through natural talent or the ability to learn? Then you’re going to give your magic system a Ten for commonality. Is magic, inversely, very rare, either because it requires a rare natural talent or years of study? Then your magic system gets a One.
Functionality, How Useful is Magic?
For this score, you want to decide what areas of your world magic can affect. Can your magic users do anything they want with magic? Fireballs, teleportation, communication, etc. If you want magic to touch every part of your world, you’re going to give it a Ten. On the other hand, if you want magic to be very narrowly useful, then a One score is appropriate.
Difficulty, How Difficult is Magic?
If you want your magic to be difficult to control or learn, then give it a Ten. If you want your mages and wizards to be able to weave magic and cast spells without much challenge, then score a One.
Cost, What Does Magic Cost?
No cost magic that can be cast all day and without fear of repercussion? A Ten. MAgic that costs life energy and exhausts the mage, or even blood magic that requires a sacrifice to achieve? A One
Once you have determined these scores, you add them together for a maximum total score of 40 for a common, easy to use, very useful and low cost magic system. A very rare, marginally useful magic system that has a high degree of difficulty and cost will rate a minimum of 4.
Once your have your Total Magic Score, you divide it by 8. Why 8? Because that’s the sweet spot that I found for impact on technology.
Writing a Gunpowder Fantasy means that you have embraced that technology and society will be advancing beyond the stasis of Medieval Europe that many fantasies embrace, at least in some areas and at some rate.
Base Technology, What is your Starting Point?
For the most part, I would recommend giving your world a base technology score of Ten so that the modifications work the best.
Progression, How Fast/Far Will Tech Go?
This score is rated from 0-2, in .5 increments and measures how fast and how far technology will move over the course of your story. There are two determining factors in this score: how long will you be in this world, and how fast do you want technology to develop. The first part is fairly simple: do you want to write a Stand-Alone Novel? Then technology is not likely to advance very far. A series, especially focused on conflict, will typically advance beyond your starting point (See my Post Here on the Arms Race).
Inversely, if you’re writing a series you’ll want to see a progression of technology rather than rapidly leaping from one technology level to the next, so this will lower the progression score.
Final Tech Score
Now that we have the parts of our formula in place, we can put it to work as such:
(Base Tech)-(Progression)-((Commonality+Functionality+Difficulty+Cost)/8)=Final Tech Score
For what this score means, I have a 4 point scale for technology that impacts Weapons, Travel/Communication, and Society.
One – Worlds with a final technology score of 1 will be at the very basic end of the Gunpowder Fantasy Spectrum. Weapons will be in the mid to late Match Lock era with primitive artillery. Travel will be entirely beast of burden driven, with no steam-powered trains or ships. Communication will be messenger and courier based. Society will likely still be in the feudal stages or even despotism and there will be no collective labor groups.
Real World Example – Early Colonial Period of the United States; Europe from the 15th to early 18th centuries.
Three – As your technology score rises, so does the access to firearms and artillery. A world with a 3 rating will have smoothbore, flintlock rifles, moderately early smoothbore artillery and mortars. Travel will still be animal driven, though a high 4 score might be in the early stages of railroad development and communication will still rely on couriers or messengers. Absolutely monarchies will be replacing the feudal system but collective labor will still be a thing of the future.
Real World Example – Revolutionary War Period of the United States; Seven Years War in Mid-to-Late 18th Century
Five – A middle of the road score will see percussion muskets in use and the early stages of railroad travel coming to life in your world. You might also see the first stages of telegraph systems at a high 6 rating. Early representative and democratic governments start to replace the ancient kingdoms and empires as labor begins to collect under the banner of guilds.
Real World Example – The Mexican-American War of the 19th Century; Crimean War in Europe
Seven – Rifling has entered the world of firearms, allowing for more accuracy at longer ranges and a shift in combat tactics. Artillery will have started to implement rifling as well. Railroads, and even the early stages of steam powered ships, will be common in a world with a rating of Seven . Telegraphy will be common, allowing for rapid communication across entire nations with minimal lag. Democracy will still be a developing form of governments but labor will be strongly collectivized in Guilds and even the earliest formation of Unions could be seen.
Real World Example – American Civil War
Nine – The most advanced bracket of technology in a Gunpowder Fantasy, a score of 9 will see the use of repeating rifles and revolvers. Railroads will be extremely common and well-developed as will the use of telegraphy to communicate complex orders and news. Democracy will be the government de jour and Unions will have replaced Guilds as the most common form of Collected Labor.
Real World Example – American Imperialist Period of the late 19th Century, Industrial Revolution.
Beyond these technologies, you start to lean into Steampunk territory. In the end, no matter where this formula leads you, it’s your world to do with as your please. I hope that this proves helpful, however, in pointing you in the right direction for where your technology should start and where it can lead based on what your goals are and how far you want to take the Gunpowder Fantasy Genre.