Ideal Features in a Fantasy eBook

As much as I would love to keep mucking around with my writing and drawing until I go back to uni (middle of July), it will soon be time for me to start working on my fantasy eBook prototype for my thesis.

I want it to address some of the problems people commonly have with fantasy books. For example, some readers of large fantasy books complain that it is too difficult to keep track of different characters, especially if they have similar names (though this is probably more of an issue with the actual writing than with the format itself). Others find themselves lost in the fantasy world, unable to follow where the characters are travelling (some fantasy books provide maps, but it can be annoying to have to flip back and forth between the map and your current chapter, so many readers don’t bother and choose to simply “go along” with it). There are also those who have trouble imagining what the places and characters actually look like (again, this is sometimes more of an issue with the writing), and wish for at least some visual representation of the world they are exploring. Since eBooks have the capacity for interaction, it should be easy enough to come up with features to reduce or remove these problems. Some features I’ve already come up with include:

  • Pop-up glossary.
  • Ability to click and hold a character name for more information, eg. click for name, pronounciation and picture, hold for brief description.
  • Ability to click and hold a place name for a pop-up map, eg. click for basic map showing borders, towns and landmarks, hold for more detailed view of terrain.

I’m aiming to have it ready for user testing by week 1 or 2 of second semester, so I’ll be spending the last three weeks of my mid-year break working on it. I suppose there are heaps of awesome features I could potentially include in my prototype – and would, if I had more time – but I’d rather it have a few well-implemented features than a bunch of features that are a bit buggy or don’t really add that much to the reading experience.

Anyway, now I shall throw it open to anyone who happens to read this blog. What problems do you have when reading printed fantasy books, if any? Are there any features you would like to see in a fantasy eBook that you think would make reading it easier or more enjoyable?


About Rebecca J Fleming

Some random geek on the Internet who likes playing with coloured things. Also, I like to put Easter eggs in the microwave.
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8 Responses to Ideal Features in a Fantasy eBook

  1. Hyperlinks with more info from previous books (i.e. in troilogies) to remind you who a person is/was… it’d also save authors from exposition…

    Oh, and sound effects! That’d be awesome! Like when you got to a key scene… or at each chapter!

  2. I was just thinking, “cut the exposition.” Seems like every big fantasy struggles to find a graceful reader the cultural, political and physical histories of the world or parts thereof. That could be abstracted to a non-linear appendix (or series of appendices), allowing readers who prefer flow to detail to skip. If executed as a series of items (as non linear overlays or, using javascript, as content that is hidden/revealed on the page), the extent to which this information is revealed at different times could add a new dimension to the narrative.

  3. Tony Tulloch says:

    Often there is a certain amount of history involved and this usually adds to the confusion. If it is to play an important part in the story, then a timeline would work well.

  4. I’ve two thoughts (I’m blonde and it’s late!) which may or may not be helpful:

    1) An ebook should still be a BOOK first and foremost. So with the exception of a decent index etc, the fewer features in the book itself the better. Your glossary and press-name-for-info ideas are great, and would enhance the reading experience rather than distract from it. But as a general rule of thumb, focus on the story and not on the shiny.

    2) Specifically about Fantasy books. Despite being an elf, I must confess I’m not a big reader of the genre. But what made someone like Tolkien (arguably) great was his adaptation of ancient mythology, plus the coherence of the fictional world that he created. And what makes 99% of Fantasy fiction suck donkey balls is that it doesn’t tap into the myths and archetypes that are innate to being human (read Joseph Campbell if you haven’t already) and at the same time, their stories inhabit an incoherent or hackneyed version of someone else’s fictional world. So go back to the source, and create a Fantasy world that is REAL.

    Oh, and Holly Lisle has tons of useful practical stuff on writing and getting fantasy published, so I often point people there:

    Which is 3 things. Told you I was blonde! Anyway, I hope that helps.

    Best of luck, James x

  5. It sounds like your other commenters have offered good advice. I’m not a big fantasy reader, so I have little to say….

    I am a new e-book reader, however, and don’t really know how to use the many features available.

    Thanks for visiting my blog, and congrats on your progress.

  6. shanjeniah says:

    I never imagined there could be so many features to an ebook! SQUEE!!!! You have managed to solve nearly every dilemma I’ve encountered while reading fantasy novels.

    I might also suggest an option to have sections and pronunciations read aloud. That would be more helpful to me than a written pronunciation.

    I’m so glad you stopped by my blog, so that I could find this treasure trove! I will most certainly be reading more here! =D

    • Thanks for stopping by 🙂 I actually did have spoken pronunciations in the final prototype I made. Though they sound a bit dodgy (I had to use a free online text-to-speech converter; could have voiced it myself but I hate my voice haha). There is an option at the start of the book to include sound or not, and if sound is included, it reads the place/character name aloud when you open the related pop-up. hmm Maybe I should do a blog write-up of my eBook prototype, after working for so long on my thesis I was so sick of looking at it I pretty much just shoved it in a cupboard and forgot about it 😀

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