Monday, January 28, 2013

What We've Learned About Writing Fantasy

As I've been chipping away at the third book in my Unfairy Tale series, I've been reflecting on how much I've learned about writing fantasy over the years. The main thing I keep coming back to: Be patient with your story. The characters, plot, world, etc. might feel flimsy at first, but every round of revisions will make them stronger. 

That's my bit of wisdom. Let's hear what some other Inkies have to say.

Hilari Bell's 3 rules for writing about magic:
1st Rule: Magic must cause more problems for your characters than it solves. 
The title of the writing tip in which this appears is: Taking Away the Easy Button--'nuff said.
Corollary 1 of Bell's first rule: If the climax of your novel is a magical duel, it better be something besides magic that lets the hero win.
Corollary 2 of Bell's first rule: Don't make your magic so powerful that there's no excuse for the hero not to use it to solve his problems.
2nd Rule: Magic can't happen offstage.
Which not only means that the POV character can't just shut her eyes while magic is happening, it means that the author has to describe it in detail.
3rd Rule: All characters in your novel must react to magic in the way that a real person in that situation would.
Because the way to make your reader believe in the unbelievable is not to have the POV character accept it, but to have the POV character doubt it, and have it proven to him.

Dawn Metcalf's three magical tips: 
1) Read, read, read & write, write, write. (True of all genres, but still!)
2) Believe it. If you, the author, believe in yourself and your world and could answer any question that might come up in order to explain how everything works, then that will read true on the page.
3) Don't go with Idea #1. Your first idea lights the spark, but it's usually the easiest idea, the one that floats on the surface of your thoughts. Keep pushing, delve deeper, ask hard (and often contradictory/devil's advocate) questions in order to have what Terry Pratchett's witches might call Second Thoughts and Third Thoughts about your idea. It's amazing how it will gain width and breadth and spread in directions you never would have imagined. That is it's own kind of magic!

Lisa Gail Green's short but sweet advice:

1. Always write about what excites/interests you the most.
2. Write what scares you. Let go of your inner editor at least for the first draft.
3. READ.

Erin Cashman's writing encouragement:

1. Allow yourself a lot of imagination time. Take walks, turn off the radio if you're driving alone . . . really let the What ifs play out in your head. Have the courage to take a big leap of faith.
2. Don't talk yourself out of something because you're afraid it seems stupid. When I first wrote the scene when my main character communicated with a hawk I worried it seemed cheesy. It ended up being my editor's and my agent's favorite part of the book.
3. If a character has a power or gift, it should feel authentic to that character. Don't just put it in as a plot device. Think about what it would be like to be him or her, and write accordingly.
4. Have fun and have faith!

Jennifer Nielsen's words of wisdom:
I've learned that magic has to have rules. As a beginning writer, I looked at magic as the er, "magical solution" to any sticky situation in which my characters might find themselves. Now I understand that within any world that I create, there must be strict definitions for what magic can and cannot do, where it originates from, who can and cannot use it, and whether there is a price for its use. Defining those rules gives structure and authenticity to a fantasy story.
Okay, now it's your turn! What's the biggest thing you've learned, as a reader or a writer, about fantasy?

11 comments:

  1. Wow, great rules. Running right back to re-evaluate my WIP!

    In my case, my biggest lesson has been not to get so entranced with the magical challenges that you forget your main character started out as a kid with a real-kid problem. The evil fairy has to be vanquished in the end, but so does the bullying at school.

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    1. Ellen, that's a great point. Your character should be dealing with problems before the story even starts.

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  2. One writing tip that helped a lot with my own world building was from Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. He talks about asking yourself: "What's the price of magic?" So, like Hilari said, how does using this magic or gift complicate things for your character?

    For example, in my YA fantasy AIRE, thinking about the "price of magic" lead me to ask: what happens to my heroine, Analisia (Ana), when she uses her gift of visions? Is there some negative side-effect? Is it debilitating in some way? How does it complicate her relationships? Are there any rules in her world about using this gift? Maybe her gift is extinct and now considered the stuff of legends and folklore. Maybe she's been forbidden to use it--and, if so, by whom and why? Maybe it's someone she loves & respects. So...what would compel her to use her gift anyway?

    And the same led me to think about the hero, Jovani, and his gift too.

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    1. Lena, isn't it amazing how that one question can help shape your characters and your entire story?

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  3. Loved hearing the tips on how to create good magical systems. I'm kind of struggling with creating one now so you've given me a lot to think about.

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    1. Magical systems are not easy! Good luck with yours, Natalie!

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  4. My thought is that magic, fun and thrilling though it might be, should ultimately be used to illuminate and express the characters' emotional journeys, and not the other way around.

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  5. This is fantastic! Not only was the post enlightening with all the writing tips, but the comments have been extremely helpful to me as well. Thanks everyone!

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    1. Carmen, I'm so glad these tips have been helpful!

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  6. I love reading/listening to Hilari talk about the rules of magic (we're in the same critique group!). Everybody's advice thought provoking. Thanks!

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