Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Goes Into Fantasy?

Yesterday I found a wonderful post with writing tips for fantasy authors for George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb taken from things they said at a recent event they were at. You can find it here. Some of the things are rather funny if you know their work, but most are very insightful.

Reading those quotes as well as thinking back to Terry Brook's book on writing has made me ask "What goes into Fantasy?" Fantasy writers seem to have a spark of imagination that takes them in a different direction. The horror and science fiction genres also have something, but it isn't quite the same. Fantasy authors (and I am thinking specifically of writers of epic fantasy) tend to create a world of magic and great good and great evil on a scale that dwarfs what you find in most other genres. Science fiction and Horror have to stay grounded in our world in various ways, where fantasy can take flight and leave our world behind.

What I've noticed in common is a big imagination. By necessity, that has to show up in childhood. Martin and Brooks both describe taking their toys, and going beyond the original purpose and creating their own cast of characters. I'm happy to say I did much the same. I had an eclectic collection of action figures. I think from Star Wars, GI Joe, Battlestar Galactica, and Indiana Jones, and few, if any, retained their original identities. I still remember one world I created, toward the very end. It was based on this line of florescent clear plastic swords for spearing olives in drinks. Well, they were the perfect size for the action figures and between the colors and the features out in the yard, a whole world was born. I remember drawing maps of it and planning something grander than the more intimate stories my action figures had. I think that world transitioned me from figures to writing because I still have a few and they are frozen at that time. One is one of the few minority GI Joe figures (Native American I think), wearing an Indianan Jones figure's coat, with a sword (very carefully painted with silver and orange florescent paint at the tip to look like it is glowing) tucked in the coat's belt. I have no recollection of who the character was any longer.

But from them on, I had more adventures on paper. Few went anywhere (a problem I shared in common at the time with Martin). Most of those lie forgotten in notebooks that fill boxes in one corner of my basement. I remember very clearly finishing my first story in Junior High. I think it was all of 9 pages. I have to confess that writing fiction took a backseat to school and career after that. I kept feeding my imagination. I felt the draw to write, but I wanted to write something that wasn't just a pale copy of someone else's world. I have to give credit some some of the Anime friends foisted on me for turning my head away from the standard European tropes that dominate most fantasy. When the idea came, it came full force and I had to write it. That's not to say that there are not several finished drafts that came before, but they were not of the epic scale. I had spent time polishing my writing and improving my ability to think ahead and avoid some of the rewriting that I find a chore, but Counterpoint to Chaos was my first epic novel. It was the first thing that was unique, like those stories I crafted while playing all those years before.

So I think the one thing you need to write epic fantasy is an epic imagination. There are many ways to build it. Playing with toys isn't the only way, but it is one way I see cited over and over. Many science fiction writers create their own universes, and many horror writers create figures to terrify, but epic fantasy writers put both of those together with magic, languages, mythology, and history to craft our stories. And I by no means mean to imply that science fiction or horror writers are lesser in any way. They have their own unique challenges that require their own unique skills. I only mean to say that what is required for each genre is unique and different from the others. Some writers stick to one while some have the skills to do multiple genres.

So the single thing that I think separates writers of epic fantasy from other genres, is that epic imagination that can craft wars, adventures, and dangers on an awesome scale and still craft characters that readers can relate to.

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