Fantasy and Breaking Every Rule

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I went to my Pinterest feed and this was at the top. "I call that absolutely Providential!"
Something I love about fiction, particularly fantasy, is the freedom given to the author in how the book will play out over the course of the pages. There are no limits, so to speak, to the ways in which an author may weave her book.

There are of course the given rules of fantasy, as there are rules for everything. Right? Maybe? No?

You must have fantastical creatures.
Not necessarily. Psithurism originally had no animals aside from your typical bunch of forest creatures and the horses that were being ridden from time to time. Granted, in the re-writing I've added other-worldly beings, but that is only because I feel for Psithurism uniquely they are a needed touch of interest. If you like your story the way it is, sans centaurs, fauns, mermaids, pegasus and What Not, leave it that way. Don't let the stereotypes dictate your work. It's your story: write it.

Said creatures have to be of your own invention.
Wrong again! Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to invent an entire world, creatures, possibly even language? Unless you plan on following in Tolkien's footsteps (and if you do, I look to you in awe: I have no such talents) stick with the creatures you know. Odds are your reader will find it much easier to read the book if he/she already understands the beings, and doesn't have to flip back to remember what they were. Odds are you will be able to write much more smoothly without having to flip back to your spare description page. Life's a whole lot better when you know what you're doing!

That isn't to say you can't cross breeds, of course...

You must invent your own world.
This, I could debate both sides. While I hesitate to call a self-contrived world unnecessary, as it is generally customary, the fact is that you do not have to throw your characters off of the earth. There have been a good handful of books in which fantastical creatures mix with the animals of our earth, and if you have reason enough (such as a setting in Medieval times or an old legend) it can be widely effective. Dragons in 21st-century New York City, however, is veering on Science Fiction, which is an entirely different topic.

Your hero(ine) must be a girl.
Don't look at me like that! Every fantasty book on the YA shelf has a dragon on the cover and a heroine fighting it. Or perhaps it looks like a boy for the first few chapters, before we discover the heroine's gone and cut her hair, pixie-style (it looked better before). Mix it up a little, write about a boy! Besides being a little more realistic and an excellent challenge, I personally prefer fantasy books with male leads. I already know how a woman's brain works - tell me about the boys'!

There are more that could be tapped, but for the sake of this post I'll cut the list here: you know the cliches. I challenge you not to avoid them (that's becoming cliched as well, you know) but rather to forget about them. Write your story the way it wants writing. And if you're good enough, you won't have to worry about stereotypes. They'll be worried about you. 

7 comments

  1. And this is very, very good. ^.^ Thanks for sharing, m'dear.

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    1. I think I've said this 100 times but it's true: I'm so glad you liked it. It's a wonderful thing to be liked (especially by people you like).

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  2. I know some people claim to write fantasy because it's easier than writing historical fiction, and on the one hand, I take that point; but on a more subjective level, I look at fantasy and think, "Man, that's a lot of work!" Even when you take the basic building blocks of our own world (and really, what else do we have to work with?), putting them together to create a unique environment and atmosphere demands incredible imagination. (Side note: this is one of the things that never ceases to impress me in regard to Jenny's Plenilune world. The fertile imagination concentrated in her, I'm afraid.) It is nonetheless encouraging, though, to take note of your points and recall that we are not all Tolkiens. The important thing is to understand what you're doing with the fantasy - to know where the focal point is. Too glamorous a world can be a distraction from the main thrust, while subtlety (and a few fantastical creatures!) can be a wonderful garnish.

    All that to say: yes'm!

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    1. I believe I went into writing fantasy with the same mindset, that it would be somehow easier. Um, no! The world of Ardet has taken me a while to develop, and even now that I feel I've got a better handle on it, I've still got developing to do. I think the most difficult part about the world-building, as you said, is making it not obvious but transparent; especially when you've worked hard to understand your world, it's difficult to let it sit in the background as it ought. ;)

      I'm glad you liked the post! And if I'm not mistaken, I may have convinced Elizabeth to do a similar one with historical fiction (which may interest you as well). We shall see. ^.^

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  3. I'm converting a historical into a fantasy, so this post is so helpful. Thank you Bree!

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    1. Now that is a task! I'm glad to know I was of some use to you along the way. :)

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  4. Hallelujah! Maybe if more people read this post, the fantasy market would stop cannibalizing itself and the writers would put out more personal and unique stories.

    The novel I'm writing started out with a girl as the protagonist. And then, I realized that this guy I'd been trying to squash into a sidekick was who the story was REALLY about. So I know what you mean about remembering male leads.

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