Fantasy as a genre has become extraordinarily popular with young adults, movie makers, and television viewers. Its unique abandonment of the world we know lets you have complete control of the world you create–there are no true rules in fantasy.
Which should make writing fantasy easier…right?
I don’t think so, and having read and reviewed many fantasy stories, I think it’s actually harder to write a good fantasy than to write a story set in our own world (at least, a contemporary novel in our own world). So, to examine this a little further, I want to include some quotes from J. R. R. Tolkien, who did a fantastic job creating a detailed history and complex fantasy world.
“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”
By its very nature of being broad, an author may be tempted to discuss or include the wide imaginative range of things he’s created, even if they have nothing to do with the story he’s telling.
“In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.”
Because a fantasy is filled with things that come directly from our imagination, it makes telling that story tricky. We can’t just say a few words and make our ideas understood, because we aren’t discussing a world that others have seen or visited. We have to not only tell a convincing story, but create a convincing world for that story, all without becoming didactic or wordy.
“Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise.
“To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story- making in its primary and most potent mode.”
Nowadays, it doesn’t seem as though “few” attempt “such tasks” anymore, and while readers of fantasy may rejoice at the wider range of novels available, there are some (like myself) who are dissatisfied with the details of these novels. We want other worlds we can believe in, where it feels like it developed as the results of generations of people, and not as the product of an author sitting at a keyboard.
So, if you’re thinking about writing a fantasy, please take the time to do it well. Don’t just give your society zeppelins, towering wigs, slaves, trolls, and goblins on a whim. Make each decision based on how the world runs. Even if it takes a while to delve into how such a world would work, and why, it will create a far stronger fictional world (and novel) as a result.
And a strong imaginative world becomes part of our literary traditions, a portal that we carve into stone for generations to cross. It becomes a dream we long to relive.
And wouldn’t you rather write that than just another story?
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by Jacky, Creative Commons
7 thoughts on “On Writing Fantasy #atozchallenge #amwriting”
Understanding the world you’re creating means that you have entered that world and are describing it to us through your story.If you don’t see a flying toad in the desert landscape then don’t create one. Smart. Excellent points. Nicely written. Gorgeous image. http://mefuller.com/
And even if you do see one, you need to set the world up to where we can believe you saw one, too.
Thanks for stopping by!
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Creating a fantasy world is hard but the payoff is, no doubt, great if done right. Any dream wroth relieving via a book is worth every second spent building it. Great post, Andrea.
I have read and loved fantasy books long before I was introduced to Tolkien. It has been a part of my reading habits since I can remember. And you are absolutely right: there are many books out there to choose from but only a few that truly do it well. It seems you are hinting that worldbuilding is the difference-maker between them, and I think I might have to agree. When an author knows the history of the world, the major events that shaped it and the parts of each kingdom/culture within the world that make them unique, it really shines through in their writing. Excellent post, and I love the use of those Tolkien quotes!
Oh, I’m glad you feel I just “hinted” at worldbuilding. I’m planning on talking about that next week for my “W” post. 🙂
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I’m looking forward to that post, then!
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I remember hearing a story from an author and writing professor, where one of his students wanted to create a world where conjuring fire through magic was a common, everyday skill. The problem was the student failed to recognize all the technological discoveries and specialized skills that came about because we live in a world where fire is created through specific materials and circumstances.
Instead the student simply took a common medieval setting and pasted “fire conjuring” onto it.
One of the professor’s first complaints was “What are houses made of? Can’t be wood and thatch.”
It’s very interesting how the smallest of changes can lead to such large ripples of secondary changes.