My first attempt at original fiction- draft of a fantasy novel

This is a link to the first few pages of my first attempt to write original fiction (as most of my stuff consists of saga and other adaptations). It’s the fantasy novel I mentioned in the OP of my story ideas thread as a fusion of The Hobbit and Oliver Twist. It’s actually intended to be a saga-type tale with the archetypal Artful Dodger character as a hero (which is why Bjarki Thórinsson is basically a fantasy-Norse version of Dodger and sounds similar).

Explanatory note about the setting and names: The country this is set in is based loosely on medieval Iceland and Norway and the Icelandic/Old Norse calendar is used: Ylir, Morsugr, Einmánuðr, Góa, Harpa… that said this world is a fantasy world loosely based on our own (well basically our world with renamed countries and magic and mythical creatures).

Character names and characteristics:"Everyone has traditional Norse names. Thórinn is my attempt to anglicise the male name * Þórinn * closer to the Old Norse/Icelandic spelling. Thráin(n) isn’t only Thorin Oakenshield’s father but a well-used Norse name from the Saga Age; it’s the name of a minor villain in Njáls saga as well as a dwarf in Voluspa and a berserker in Hromunds saga Gripssonar. This character was explicitly named after Thorin in The Hobbit. Bjarki means “little bear.” In this case Dísa (mentioned) is short for Ásdís, a common female name.

Critiques of how the premise works (because let’s face it “orphan raised by dwarf leading a gang of child thieves in fantasy not-Iceland gets involved in commissioned robbery along with his gang” sounds a bit cute or at least humorous, like something on a comedy show or that you might read to your 3-year-old cousin. Although that could be because I still associate “dwarf” with typical fantasy dwarf in my mind and fantasy dwarves are usually not thieves, adding to that comic feel) whether Bjarki works as a medieval Icelandic steampunk Artful Dodger, whether the Icelandic-influenced setting is well-conveyed and whether Thórinn is enough of a manipulative, creepy yet somewhat caring Fagin clone are appreciated.

TBH I don’t know what to make of this myself. When I look over it it seems as if some of the characters are more 2D (I’ve noticed this in my other side projects) and that the plot is thin. Not fishing for compliments but I honestly think it’s not as good as it could be and I don’t know why. Any advice for improvement and opinions on characterisation and premise are appreciated.

Note to the OP: This critique thread is for the entire first draft, not just the pages posted so far. So I’ll make more posts explaining bits and pieces people might not “get” . That’s if it isn’t irritating.

Also “Reykjaholl”(Smoky Hill) is a reference to Saffron Hill, the London neighbourhood where Fagin’s hideout is. It’s also an actual place in Iceland (a hill that serves as a tree preserve) but I didn’t know that at the time I was looking for a name and I thought I’d made it up.

Link doesn’t work.

Does thiswork?

I’m already waiting for heaps of ''what are you smoking, Morwen? This is a completely incomprehensible piece of crap/shit and what’s with the gratuitous Icelandic, clichéd street urchin dialect and borderline ethnic/religious stereotypes? This sucks!" and “How do you improve it? Don’t write fantasy, because you’re no JRRT/CS Lewis/Anne McCaffrey/Ursula LeGuin/Lloyd Alexander/insert favourite fantasy writer here” or “Don’t write professionally” type comments. That or “Stick to adaptations because your original ideas are crap.” Because honestly I don’t even think it’s that good/think it’s a piece of crap. Well yeah, I don’t think it’s that good and I occasionally want to laugh at the premise and think it’s a piece of amateurish crap. I would laugh if someone told me they were writing a book with that premise. My attitude would be “Are you serious? LOL.”

Not in a position to review it, but I can confirm that this link works.

Good luck with the effort.

BTW what I mean when I say “original fiction"is fiction based on ideas I made up myself, not fiction that’s not based on a living author (or author whose works are still in copyright)'s works. Despite what I wrote the story is less a retelling of The Hobbit with Dickensian elements and actually more ''The Hobbit meets Oliver Twist” (see what I mean about wanting to laugh at the premise even though the story isn’t intended to be a comedy? The two works clearly don’t match but I’ve seen similar ideas that did work. The Hobbit for the caper element and Oliver Twist for child pickpockets.)

Some observations:

  1. Ditch the thorn and other non-standard characters. They’re distracting.
  2. Writing is good and seems to sketch Bjarki as a character nicely.
  3. You need to get some sort of plot going (yes, even this quickly).
  4. Needs a narrative hook. Why not show something interesting the character is doing, rather than sketching out his background. In a novel, you learn about characters as you go along; you don’t have to sketch it out in the beginning.

Essentially, there’s something here, but you need to figure out what your story is and start to show it.

Now number 4 is probably what makes me think it’s crap. It happens all. the. time. with all the original ideas I tried. I tend to find that bit works easier with adaptations because in an adaptation you already have a plot and just need

I want to model Bjarki on Egill Skallagrimsson (Egil Skallagrimsson) or Grettir Asmundarson. I see him as the hot-tempered anti-hero, impulsive, impatient and a bit of a trickster with a code of loyalty (comes of growing up on the streets). Good with words but not exactly a skald like Egill. He has a bit of his namesake in him too.

Basically the typical saga anti-hero with a Dickensian background. Any advice on that? My aim to this was to write a YA fantasy using the society of medieval Iceland and conventions of sagas as a loose basis.


On the thorn: noted. I’ll get rid of those. But eg. Ásdís is an Icelandic spelling of an Old Norse name. Maybe “Asdís” works better.

Accent marks are OK, but use them sparingly. At the same time, the non-latin characters will confuse much of your audience.

All right. You have a character. Make something happen to him. Have him shot at, or arrested, or find the One Ring. I find the first chapters required a lot of work to set up the engine that drives the story. You character needs to want something, and something should happen to give him a chance to get what he wants. You don’t need to know where he is going, but you need to set him on his journey.

The thing about Bjarki is that I don’t know what he wants and (if you-in-general are someone whose characters talk to them) neither does he. The old saga standby of “a reputation” would help: Bjarki is a child thief in an industrial medieval-style society where your "name"means everything, even to the poorest people forced to foster their children to thieves, baby-farmers, tradesmen or the godar as servants or even sell them as slaves. Kings engage skalds to write praise-poems for them.

I do know that [spoiler: early in the story [del] the Artful Dodger [/del] Bjarki recruits
[del] Oliver Twist [/del] Oleifur Thorgilsson (another foundling who turns out to have English ancestry) into the purse-cutting children’s gang run by the [del] Jewish[/del] dwarvish fence with a heart of gold [del] Fagin[/del] Thórinn.

But before that he could do an Egil and hack apart another kid’s skull. The other kid would be “one of Skallagrim’s fosterlings” Skallagrim being a rival gang leader whose lover’s [del] Nancy[/del] Dísa.

Basically, by the end of the first chapter hit him with something that turns his world upside down. If he’s a thief, have him get caught and sentenced to death. Have him steal something whose owner is homicidally eager to get it back (maybe have a friend – one who he’s been closest to for years – be mistaken for the thief and be horribly tortured and killed as he secretly looks on). He tries to give back the object, but the villain goes after him for daring to steal from him.

Forget about Oliver Twist, too.

Bolding mine. Can you please explain what you mean by this part? The idea of a dwarvish kidsman/Fagin-- “kidsman” is the technical term for someone who looks after kids and trains them to steal and in Fagin’s case sells the stolen goods-- isn’t something I’ve seen before and I really want to use the idea of a dwarf giving a home to, educating and leading a gang of child thieves. Also I want to use a medieval/steampunk setting with magitek which is partly why I wrote in the Dickensian element.

Edit to above post: “Dwarven fence/kidsman” also makes a change from all those dwarven jewellers, smiths and miners. Plus non-human characters tend to be in stereotyped roles in a lot of fantasy. “Fence” is certainly far from being a stereotyped “dwarf” profession.

Here’s what I want to avoid:
Our Dwarves Are all The Same.

Also: an old image of Fagin, Nancy and Oliver from the first talkie version of OT.Notice Fagin’s headscarf? Part of my inspiration for doing this was so I could base a character on the Fagin in thismovie.

Thislink probably works. Posted here as an attempt to explain why I want a Fagin-inspired character.

Surprised that not many people are commenting on it based on the number of critiques most story threads tend to get (based on what I’ve seen so far on the SMDB).

First of all, apologies for bumping this thread when I’m still working on adding a bit of plot to this story.

Does anyone have opinions on FantasyCounterpartCultures? What’s the difference between “egregious perpetuation of stereotypes” and “using real-world human cultures respectfully as a basis for cultures of various non-human groups?”

Eg. The dwarves of Issenheim and other Not!-Western European countries (and Not-Eastern and Southern European countries) are based more-or-less on Eastern European and Southern European) medieval Jewish people (See JRRT) complete with being prohibited from owning land or engaging in occupations other than blacksmithing, mining, usury, banking and receiving stolen goods. Frost jotnar stand in for the Sami and various Arctic Native American or Inuit ethnic groups depending on where they live. Does this always carry iffy implications? It seems like it does just from Googling.