With one stroke of his fifty-pound sword, Gnorts the Barbarian lopped off the head of Nialliv the Wizard. It flew through the air, still sneering, while Gnorts clove two royal guardsmen from vizor through breasplate to steel jockstrap. As he whirled to escape, an arrow glanced off his own chainmail. Then he was gone from the room, into the midnight city. Easily outrunning pursuit, he took a few sentries at the gate by surprise. For a moment, arms and legs hailed around him through showers of blood; then he had opened the gate and was free. A caravan of merchants, waiting to enter at dawn, was camped nearby. Seeing a magnificent stallion tethered, Gnorts released it, twisted the rope into a bridle, and rode it off bareback. After galloping several miles, he encountered a mounted patrol that challenged him. Immediately he plunged into the thick of the cavalrymen, swinging his blade right and left with deadly effect, rearing up his steed to bring its forefeet against one knight who dared to confront him directly. Then it was only to gallop onward. Winter winds lashed his body, attired in nothing more than a bearskin kilt, but he ignored the cold. Sunrise revealed the shore and his waiting longship. He knew the swift-sailing craft could bring him across five hundred leagues of monster-infested ocean in time for him to snatch the maiden princess Elamef away from evil Baron Rehcel while she remained a maiden — not that he intended to leave her in that condition … .
This article by Poul Anderson is for anyone who is
a) interested in the role planning and research plays in writing fiction from a master practitioner of the art
b) frustrated by how fucking stale most of the tropes in high fantasy are
c) some combination thereof
Anderson is another giant, years ahead of his SF contemporaries. This piece is a sweet antidote to that oft-abused maxim, ‘write what you know’. Which for many mediocre (published) writers means ‘write nothing worthwhile’. Anyway here it is again, in its entirety on the SWFA website. Extra credit if you also get the feeling that George R.R. Martin keeps a copy of this on his desk.