My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.
While exploring the ruins of an old castle, Mordekai and his sister Monique accidentally destroy an old tower only to find themselves in a different place, or time, entirely–with a mysterious princess on their hands who thinks ever noble’s name must begin with an “M,” among other absurd things. Mordekai isn’t about to admit to his real name, so he tells her to call him Sir Kai while they wait for Monique and Brisbane the bumblebee to rejoin them.
F: Fantastic Creatures
“Thank you, your mightiness.”
“You may call me Mural. As you saved my life and the realm, I see no need to…”
But Mordekai never got to find out the rest of Mural’s sentence. Just then, there was a thud, like the sound of something falling against the castle wall.
“What was that?”
Mural was on her feet, her face expectant and stern. “That was my uncle.”
Another crash, and Mordekai began to wonder whether this uncle was using a battering ram or hurling rocks from a trebuchet. Or does he have all the technology, to where he can use cannons? “I think we’d better move to a more heavily defended location?”
She shot a glance at him, her blue-green eyes almost disdainful. “I would not hide from him for all the world.”
“But…he doesn’t sound happy.”
“No. He isn’t.” She raised her chin defiantly and said, “He has undoubtedly been watching, waiting…perhaps he even placed a spell upon my enchantment, to be notified if I ever awoke. But you, who braved so much, should not be undone by the threatening thunders of a…”
Just then, the stone wall collapsed, and a giant, flying goat appeared. For a moment, Mordekai could hardly speak as he noted the angry gleam of its eyes, the ribbed black of its straight horns. It wasn’t as bad as a dragon, but it didn’t look pleasant all the same. Drawing his sword, he said, “That’s your uncle?”
“One of his minions. The vanguard of his army. I’m sure the others will be here soon.” She began to move at last, gathering a few things from her bed as though packing, even as the goat came towards them, head lowered to batter them straight though to the other side of the wall.
Mordekai hastily slashed his sword in the direction of the goat, assuming a menacing manner he was far from feeling. Thankfully, the creature retreated, bleating loudly, its face such as would rival an elephant in proportion. No wonder it knocked down the wall. “So now what?” He wouldn’t last long in a fight. He might be faster, but one shove from the goat’s horns and he’d be knocked clear into next week. Or back to my time. I’m not sure which.
“Now we leave the castle, as you say. After gathering what we’ll need,” she added, throwing a cloak over her shoulders.
“But you just said…”
“I would not hide from him. But his minion has seen me, alive. We may now go.” She faced the goat for a moment, and it instantly tried to fly at her. Mordekai hacked away at it, and it turned on him. With a tilt of its massive head, it knocked his sword away. Then, hooking a spear-like horn on the bottom hem of his leather jerkin, it began carrying him off.
“Wait, hey! Put me down!” Mordekai yelled. His stomach was squished against the horn as his light armor pinned him against the hybrid’s head, but the goat didn’t seem to care. Its thick, furred wings beat through the air, and he was left in his precarious, partly-upside-down position.
“Courage, Sir Kay!” Mural said, mispronouncing his name. He tried to shift so he could see her–see the ground and whether he could get away–but all he caught was a glimpse of her face as they flew straight up into the sky. “Brisbane will be sent to accompany you. And we shall mount a rescue. You have my word!”
I think I’d rather have my sword, Mordekai thought. He could see the ground now, between the unfurled wings and the goat’s shoulder, and it looked very far away. And disorienting, he added as he quickly shut his eyes and told his stomach to think good, non-quesy thoughts. This whole thing is just a dream, brought on by concussion. I hope.
Fantasy stories are known for being fantastic. If you don’t have anything out-of-this-world–no magic, no talking creatures, no special powers–then you should ask yourself whether you’re really writing a fantasy.
But the challenge with fantastic creatures is that you must choose them wisely. They have to fit the world you’re creating. They have to make sense. It’s nice if they haven’t been overdone, but it’s more important that you make them your own. Just choosing something strange (like flying goats) isn’t necessarily going to bring a new, exciting element to your story. A well done dragon can be better than flying monkeys unless you manage to make the flying monkeys unique. To give them personality. To make them come alive, imaginatively.
In this case, because the flying goat doesn’t talk (or hasn’t, at any rate), and because we saw so little of it, it’s hard for it to be a powerful addition to the story. Goats aren’t known to be awe-inspiring, and while it is capable of fulfilling its plot function (breaking down the castle wall and carrying Mordekai off), it doesn’t necessarily have much individuality going for it. Any other flying thing could’ve done just as well (it could’ve been replaced by evil butterflies and we’d have been none the worse, story-wise).
So, whenever you deal with the fantastic, spend some time integrating it and making it come to life. Figure out why it has to be the strange creature it is with the powers it has. Contemplate its strengths and weaknesses. Don’t just toss it into the story and move on.
Until the next letter,
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo courtesy of gratisography