Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Avoiding Fantasy Tropes

I'm wrapping up my second novel, a fantasy/steampunk adventure novel which I'll likely blog about in more detail soon. But as I begin to think about my next novel, I already know there's some things that I want to stay away from and some things I want to try. I'm calling these my "story rules". Think of them as guidelines; not necessarily set in stone, but I'm going to look to them as I start outlining. If and when I violate one of them, I'm going to have to rationalize such rule breaking (only to myself, of course).

As an example of a rule, a writer of fantasy might have one called "No elves". Another might be, "No quests". I saw a list geared towards writing science fiction once where one of the rules was "No FTL".

Some people don't like setting these sorts of boundaries. I suppose going in already having decided to do or not do something can stifle creativity. These are probably the same people who feel outlining creates the same barriers. To each his own, I say. Personally, I like planning things out beforehand. This is just another way to help in that process.

So, without further adieu, here are the rules I will be using for my next novel.

1.) No traveling

For this novel, I want everything to happen in one place. In my first novel, The Hall of the Wood, it's a journey (of non-epic proportions) just to get to where the action is happening. Even when they do get there, they're running around in the woods quite a bit. I guess the latter can't be helped, whether it's the wilderness or a city. They can't exactly sit in a room the whole time. But, for this novel, I want the story to take place in only one place. No traveling about. I have a pretty good idea what sort of setting I'll be using, too.

2.) No ancient relics

No devices of ancient origin with powers waiting to be revealed.

3.) No fated heroes or special ancestry

Everyone has a past, but in this story no one will have a past all that extraordinary or far-reaching. Sure, they may have heroic or villainous deeds in their background, but it will be their background and not some legacy passed down from generation to generation.

4.) No characters with dark, personal secrets or pasts

Not all main characters have to have dark secrets hidden away to be gradually revealed to the reader. Such secrets all too often have something to do with the current antagonist. I'm as guilty of this one as the next writer. It's a trope that works well, albeit readers can sometimes grow tired of it, right? In this next novel, no deep, dark secrets. It's a road I just don't want to go down on this one.

5.) Minimal or no magic

I lean more and more towards this anyway as my world-building moves away from sorcery and to a sort of pseudo-science. I'm finding it's much more interesting than trying to think up the next great magic system or leaning too heavily on one that's already been done to death.

6.) Do have a strong supporting cast of characters

Main characters should be strong, smart, and daring, but they shouldn't be the only ones with the brains and the brawn. In this novel, the main character is going to be average in some ways, but exceptional in others. But one of the first things he does as the story gets rolling is setup his support infrastructure. I mean, where would Special Agent Jethro Gibbs be without his team? (sorry, the wife's got NCIS on in the other room)

7.) Do have villains who are motivated by more than just greed

Greed is nice, but all too often it can become the sole motivating force behind a villain. This tends to lead to flat or boring villains that we've all seen too often.

8.) Do research pertinent topics thoroughly

I research, but only enough to make it sound like I have some idea what I'm talking about. I'd like to take that a step further by infusing some authenticity into my writing. I don't know how this one will go; I'm all for basing certain things on reality, but I write fantasy, so… If nothing else, I have certain topics in mind that I'll like to read up on, if only to give myself ideas.

Writing Update #33

It's been a long while since I've posted anything that only focused on my writing progress. For a while there, I had committed to posting every week. I was using this as a way to hold myself accountable for getting some writing in on a regular basis. The reason I stopped was exactly what I worried about from the start: just doing the weekly posts became a chore unto itself. No reason I can't make a post every once in a while, though, and so here we go.

I'm still working on my second novel. Most of it is done, but I need to go back and smooth out some rough edges and consolidate the ending as I think it's too long right now. I actually set it aside for a little bit about a month ago while I shift gears to some shorter work. From that effort, I posted Fine Wine, a short story about an assassin who makes a deal, in my short fiction section. From that story emerged another, longer tale, about the same assassin who is hired for a particularly unusual job. It's called Killing the Dead, and is out to Realms of Fantasy right now. If that doesn't work, there are other top level magazines (top level being defined as those that have the highest pay rates) it will go to next and then to the lower paying markets and then possibly to the free markets. Worst case, I'll post it here.

There's something satisfying about working on a piece that is small and finite. Novels take a long time to write, with little or no reward waiting at the end. Short stories have the potential to bring satisfaction much quicker and with greater frequency. So, I'm exploring those markets now with the intention of getting a credit or two.

It's a little known fact that I do actually have one publishing credit to my name. It was so long ago I sometimes forget about it myself. I was about twenty (I'm 39 now), it was the first piece I'd ever submitted, and I made a very small amount of money off it. I actually still have the check; I never cashed it. The story itself is bad, bad, bad. I have a hard time even looking at it now, but there are few writers who don't look back on their early work and shudder.

So, that's it. I have another idea brewing for my "assassin with no name" character, as well as some initial background information that may leak little by little into each subsequent tale I spin about him. I'm having fun writing about him, especially with the shorter form; it has none of the "drudgery" of the longer one.

About Me

Scott Marlowe writes both straight-up fantasy and steamfantasy, which is a mix of fantasy and steampunk. We all know anything can happen in fantasy. But toss in some pseudoscience, an infernal machine or two, and some rampant sorcery, and you've got a true recipe for disastrous adventure and fun.

When he's not writing, Scott enjoys hitting the trails on his mountain bike or working outside around the house. He loves dogs, dark beer, and strong coffee.

Scott lives in Texas with his wife and two crazy dogs.

Fine Wine (A Tale of the Assassin Without a Name 1)

"Fine Wine" is a short piece I wrote in about an hour, with several edits following that initial brain dump. It started with a single sentence that just popped into my head: "Abelard ate a lot. That was why, after I'd slashed my knife across his belly…"

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Abelard ate a lot. That was why, after I'd slashed my knife across his belly, I half-expected his bulbous stomach, chock full of the tender roast, broccoli, soft rolls, and the most delicate shiraz I'd ever sampled—all served just an hour before by his fat merchantship's very own staff—to come tumbling out like a too swollen jellyfish. But something about the cut didn't feel right, and though Abelard clenched his hands to his gut and fell to his knees as I expected he would, there wasn't even a single, glistening trickle of gastric juice seeping out from between his fat fingers.

Seized by a moment of disbelief, Abelard gasped as realization of what had happened hit him. It's not every day a man falls prey to an assassin, especially after having just wined and dined said assassin at his own table. It's not a usual part of my fee, the wining and dining, but I don't pass it up when it can be arranged.

His lardship moaned, and fell to his back, still clutching his gut. Strange that there was no blood...

I sighed. Killing a man when he was down was too much work. Not very sporting, either. "Get up," I said.

"Why have you betrayed me, my friend?" Abelard asked between moans as he curled himself into the fetal position.

I'd passed myself off as a fellow merchant, come to the city to move some goods. "I did not betray you," I said, "for I was never loyal to you in the first place. Now, get up." It was a hard thing to ask of a man who'd just been eviscerated, but Abelard appeared to be holding his insides in well enough, so not completely out of boundaries, I thought.

"You've killed me, my dear, dear friend. I bleed, and soon I shall die."

I sighed again. I'd been warned about Abelard's theatrics.

I started to clean my knife—I'd need both hands to lift his bulbous body back into a standing position—when I noticed there wasn't anything to wipe off. I narrowed my gaze, holding it to the dim candlelight. Son of a—the damn thing had a nick in it! My best killing knife. Oiled, polished, and so sharp it cut flesh like hot butter. It was new, too, which annoyed me even more. I jammed the knife into its home at my belt, then grabbed hold of the front of Abelard's suit coat with both hands. Grunting, I heaved him to his feet.

Abelard stayed standing, barely, his eyes closed and his face turned from me. He was visibly shaking. Couldn't blame him for that.

"What have I done to provoke your ire, my friend?" he asked between clenched lips.

"Shut up. I'm not your friend." I knocked his hands away and felt at his 'wound'. His coat and shirt were cut, but there was something hard—not soft flesh—beneath it. I ripped the opening wider and raised an eyebrow at the leather money belt—stuffed full of coins—fastened quite snugly just above his bulbous waistline.

"You wear a money belt in your own home?" I asked.

Abelard had been in all day, so there'd be no reason for him to be wearing such a thing. Unless he'd been prescient enough to prepare himself for a hasty, moment's notice departure. Too late for that now, though.

"One can never be too careful." He took his own turn examining himself. When he realized what had happened, he laughed a quick, sharp laugh that died on his lips the moment he looked into my eyes. There wasn't anything humorous there.

With shaky hands, he undid the coin-stuffed belt and held it out to me. "Take it, my friend." He gestured with a flabby arm. "It's yours. Only... let me live. I beg it of you."

I knocked the money belt from his grasp. "I've already been paid."

"Yes, but—"

This was supposed to have gone down quick. The only thing keeping Abelard from screaming for help was the fact that his staff was gone for the night. Too bad they'd have such a big mess to clean up in the morning. I slid my knife from its sheath for the second time.

Abelard visibly shrank from sight of it. I reached out lightning quick, grabbing hold of him.

He did scream then, but it was such a low, pitiful sound I almost felt sorry for him.

"Sorry, Abelard, but you've made your last bad deal. You must have really pissed some people off for them to want you dead this way." Evisceration was a slow, painful, horrible way to die. It was to Abelard's fortune that I was here. I'd make the first cut like my employer wanted, let it bleed for a while, then follow it up with a quick stab under his arm and into his heart. No one would examine him that closely to notice the mercy stroke. I wasn't a complete monster.

"W-Wait!" Abelard said. "I can offer you more than just coins if only you will spare my life! I have other wealth, my friend! An estate outside the city—it's yours! My place in the Silver Gentlemen's Club—though it will pain me to surrender it—for you... Women! I know the best—"

"You have nothing I want. Now, let me finish this. I have an appointment at Lady Bellum's later this evening, and I'd rather not keep my Crusus Sabeler, '74, waiting."

Abelard wasn't giving up. "If not those things, then perhaps..." He looked about the study, perhaps hoping for some sort of inspiration. It didn't matter. He had nothing I wanted. Then something must have hit him, for his face lit up. "Lady Bellum, did you say? Her ladyship runs a fine wineshop, yes? I believe they carry a full line of honeyed and—"

"What's your point?"

"Wine, my friend! I saw you how fancied the syrah at dinner! A fine blend, made from grapes picked from my own vineyard. 'Tis a spicy combination of blackberries and pepper... one of our finest! Seasonally rare, too, my friend. We only produce so many bottles."

"So you'll give me a bottle for sparing your life?" I asked, not amused.

"No! I mean, not a bottle, but a full year's supply!"

He had my interest. There weren't very many things I'd trade a life for, but the syrah had been exquisite: soft on the tongue, satisfying going down, with only the faintest hint of spicy pepper left behind. It'd be tricky satisfying my employers. They wanted blood. They might just send someone else out to finish the job. Plus I'd take a hit on my reputation; I wasn't known for leniency. I'd have to make my next job... messy.

"Make it a five year supply and you've got a deal," I said, countering.

Abelard visibly blanched. "Five years, my friend? Five years is such a long time, and life can be so dangerous. One never knows—"

"No, one doesn't." I pressed the flat of my blade hard against his belly.

Abelard turned a shade whiter, but he was already nodding in agreement. "Five years it is, my friend. Only leave an address and I will arrange—"

I stepped away. "Have a bottle a week sent to Lady Bellum's." I could see him already doing the math in his head. A bottle a week for that many years... "Tell your coachman to put it under my name. Miss a delivery, and I'll be back."

Abelard nodded, his jowls quivering.

I put my knife away, then I turned around and left. I always was a sucker for a fine wine.

Next Steps

The adventures continues in The Killing Knife, available for free at Amazon. Give it a read and please remember to leave a review.

The Hall of the Wood, now on

My fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood, is now available on the Barnes & Noble web site. This comes courtesy of Smashwords, which signed an agreement with BN to distribute eBooks through the Barnes & Noble site.


The retail price is the same as everywhere else: $0.99.

You can also purchase The Hall of the Wood from this site in PDF format, from Amazon in Kindle format, or from Smashwords in a plethora of formats.

The deal that Smashwords inked is a good one, I think. It gives the writer a single point of submission, and since Smashwords also signed similar deals with Amazon and Sony, you're widening your distribution with minimal effort.

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